Another Chance - Book Two

Chapter Thirteen: Just a Matter of time

By Zarek Dragon


Jim was back on the phone with the nine-one-one center as he told them he would be. They advised him not to hang up on them again. Jim gave his word that he wouldn't. "We have a couple of rescue squads and the sheriff department on the way. Is the vehicle in any danger of catching fire?"

"I don't think so, he just plowed into my passenger door," Jim was still crying but he had been calmed down enough by the person on the phone that he could speak more clearly. Jim opened his door and got out. The dispatcher advised him to not stay out of the vehicle for too long, lest hypothermia set in. Jim got back in the car.

"Ooooo, what happened?" Joe moaned.

Jim yelled in the phone, "My brother's awake!" Then he looked at Austin and said in a lower voice, "But Austin still isn't responding. Please hurry…"

"You should be hearing the sirens any minute. Sorry, but they can only move so fast with the weather," the voice on the phone said.

"I know, I'm just worried, but I do hear the sirens now," Jim replied.

"I'm here for you until they arrive. You're doing a good job. Do you have any injuries?"

"Maybe some small cuts where the glass hit me when it shattered. I don't think I have anything serious, but I'll let the EMT check to be sure."

"May I ask your age, you seem to have a good head on your shoulders and act very mature," the voice queried.

"I turned sixteen in May," Jim told the dispatcher.

"And it was just you, your brother and cousin in the car?"

"That is correct, and a deputy is standing outside my door now," Jim informed the dispatcher.

"Yes, Deputy Archer has confirmed that he is there. Thank you for staying with me on the phone." With that, the call was terminated. Deputy Archer asked Jim to give him as much detail as he could as to what happened. Jim told the deputy about hitting a patch of black ice causing the car to fish tail at first, but then go into a spin. He said that when he stopped, the car managed to not hit anything. Then the pick-up honked its horn a few times, but they never slowed down or even tried to go around him.

"The driver of the pickup is a nineteen-year-old. He and his buddies borrowed the truck from his dad without permission. He claims that you made a left turn in front of him without warning," Archer told Jim.

Jim's jaw dropped. "That's a lie. He had plenty of time to stop or go around me. I swear, I was spinning," Jim was exasperated.

"Relax, I can see marks made by you spinning. And I see no reason why you would have made a left turn as there are no places to turn. I know that you're telling the truth. And I can tell that since he didn't even comment about you spinning, he probably did have time to stop or go around," Archer assured. An EMT came up to them.

"We need to use the jaws to rip that door off. Car looks totaled anyway," the EMT stated.

"Whatever you have to do to save my cousin. He's way more important than the car," Jim started crying again. With the help of another EMT, Joe climbed out on the driver's side from the backseat. The EMT gave him a thorough check-up and determined that he was fine. Then he looked Jim over for any injuries. Aside from a few bandages on his face, Jim was alright.

They had Austin out of the car and on a gurney checking him out. His breathing was shallow, but he was breathing. He had a strong and steady pulse. They loaded Austin into the ambulance and one of the EMTs asked if one of the boys wanted to ride along. Jim told Joe to go take care of Austin. He needed to be here to get his car taken off the road.

"Just so you know, I could give you a citation for failure to maintain control, but I don't think you deserve that. I don't think that you purposely spun your car, it just got away from you on the ice. Them," Archer said as he pointed to his partner loading the other boys into the back of another car, "They will get reckless operation, joy riding and a few other charges. I am citing them for hitting you. Once the tow truck gets here, I'll drop you off at the hospital." Archer wanted to comment that if Austin died, he would charge them with vehicular homicide as well, but didn't think this was the right time to make that comment.

Jim just mouthed a "thank you." He had cried so much that his throat was sore.

Heather and Brenda were at the hospital waiting for the ambulance. When it arrived, Heather felt relieved upon seeing Joe get out on his own. He ran up to Heather and put his arms around her. Brenda watched as they took her little boy to the emergency room. Heather had one arm around Joe and put the other arm around her sister. "Where's Jim?" she asked.

"They would only let one of us ride in the ambulance. Jim really wanted to come, but he felt it was his responsibility to take care of his car and get it off the road. He said that he would find a way here," Joe averred.

It was several minutes before Jim walked into the Emergency Room waiting room. "Have you heard anything yet?" he asked coming through the door. His voice was rough, but you could hear the concern in his voice.

Archer was coming in behind Jim. He looked at Brenda and Heather and asked which one was Jim's mom. Heather moved to hug Jim, indicating that she was. "I'm sure that if Jim were to tell you what happened, you would believe him, but it might be better if it were coming from me. As best as I can tell, other than skidding on ice ending with his car spinning, Jim did everything correctly. He was slowed down for the road conditions, he didn't panic, and he called nine-one-one right away. I wish more drivers were like him. As I told Jim, I am citing the boy who hit him and their insurance should cover the cost for a new vehicle. And it makes me happy to know that Jim did express more concern for his passengers than the vehicle."

"Thank you, Deputy. I was sure of what you said about Jim, but it is nice hearing it from you." Deputy Archer gave Heather one of his cards with the accident report number written on it. Then he asked Brenda if she had heard any news about her son. When she shook her head, he headed out the door.

Jim sat in one of the chairs, got up and paced the floor and sat back down. He did that a few times until Brenda asked him to stop. He sat in the chair beside her and tried to apologize but his throat was so dry that nothing came out. Heather handed some money to Joe and asked him to go get everyone a can of soda.

Brenda took Jim in her hands, "Did you hear what that deputy told your mother? I'm glad that you are willing to accept the responsibility, but this wasn't your fault. I'm not blaming you, so quit blaming yourself. You understand?"

Jim nodded his head but then started crying into his Aunt Brenda's shoulder. She wrapped her arms around Jim assuring him that everything would be alright. A doctor came out of the emergency room. "Who is Austin Jordan's mother?"

"I am," Brenda stated.

"We've run every test that we deemed necessary and other than a few cuts from the glass, he has no injuries that we can find. His brain is fully active, so we don't know why he's unconscious. It's just a matter of time before he wakes up. We'll keep him here and monitor him until he does. Unfortunately, I can't say when that will be. It could be hours, days, months, or even years."

"Years? Can I go see him?" Brenda asked.

"Yes, but only you for now. They'll be moving him to a room soon, then the rest of you can visit with him. Talk to him, we believe that'll help him come around," the doctor assured.

Brenda went back to the emergency room. Joe looked at Heather. "I should have been the one in the front seat, then he wouldn't be injured," he cried.

Jim put his arm around Joe, "Don't blame yourself, if it's not my fault, it's definitely not your fault."

"But…" Joe started.

"No, I was the one driving, if I hadn't skidded on the ice, none of this would have happened. There was no way of knowing, and you were being a nice cousin. I believe he is old enough to sit in front, so don't blame yourself. If you want to blame anyone, blame either me or the boy driving the truck that hit us," Jim demanded. Joe nodded his head.

"I don't think this is a time to blame anyone. And Jim, you need to quit feeling guilty. Be glad that Austin will be alright. You heard the doctor, it's just a matter of time," Heather assured him.

"Can I stay here until he wakes up?" Jim asked.

"You mean other than school and working at the ranch?" Heather queried.

"No, as in I don't want to leave his side until he does," Jim pleaded.

"You have to go to school, and what about the horses?" Heather was giving him a stern look.

"We only have the rest of this week and three days next week before break starts. And I'm sure there are enough people at the ranch to look after them."

"And what about Colby and Kuno?" Heather understood Jim's grief but wasn't about to let him give into it again.

"Joe, would you…" Jim started to ask.

"No, they are your responsibility. Either you are taking care of them, or they will be gone when you decide to come home," Heather knew that she couldn't get rid of the dogs. She became too fond of them as well. She really didn't like having to do this, but if she didn't, Jim could revert back to his state of depression.

"That's not fair, Mom. You wouldn't really get rid of them just like that would you?" Jim was crying.

Heather was holding Jim, "I love you too much to let you do this to yourself. If you want to visit Austin every day until he wakes up, fine. If you shut down the rest of your life, I am afraid of what will happen to you. I don't want to get rid of the dogs, but if that's what it takes, I will."

"Can I at least spend tonight here and Joe can pick me up in the morning for school?"

"Yes, but only tonight, and then after school, you can spend two hours," Heather felt this was a good compromise.

"I love you and can never tell you enough," Jim said hugging his mom.

"I know you do," Heather replied and started rocking him.

"I know what I want for Christmas, and this is a present that I will gladly accept before Christmas," Jim stated.

"I hope you get it way before Christmas. And I'm sure that we all want the same thing," Heather was on the verge of crying, but fighting it back as best as she could.

Brenda came out of the ER looking distraught. "They're moving him to his room now. My little boy looks so helpless with all those tubes and machines attached to him."

"I'm so…" Jim started and Heather smacked him.

"It's not your fault," she scolded.

"I understand that, but even if I weren't there, I would feel sorry for Aunt Brenda having to go through this," Jim explained.

"I know you would, but please, at least for now, don't say you are sorry. It sounds like you are blaming yourself," Heather said lovingly.

"OK, I won't," then looking at his aunt, "but Aunt Brenda, I wish that you didn't have to go through this. I love that little guy in there and I can only imagine your pain right now."

"I know, honey. I just keep clutching at the doctor saying it's just a matter of time before he wakes up. What I wouldn't give to trade places with him."

"That's being selfish," Jim snapped. "Sure, you wouldn't be suffering from him lying there like that, but imagine the rest of us, imagine the pain he would go through worrying about his mom," Jim admonished his aunt.

"Never really thought about it that way, but I still wish I could take on any pain he is feeling."

"Right now, he's not feeling any pain. He's just in a deep, very deep sleep. He's in his room and all of you can see him."

"And before I forget, Brandt is on his way but it's a twenty-one-hour flight from Kanazawa, Japan. He told his company that his son was injured and needed him. They agreed that family comes first and would find someone to cover in his absence."

"At least that's some good news," Jim said smiling.

They walked into Austin's room and Jim grabbed his hand. "Hey buddy, I know this isn't my fault but I need for you to wake up and tell me that you understand. Please wake up, we all miss your bundle of joyfulness." Jim felt Austin's hand move. "Did he just squeeze my hand?"

"Possibly, just shows that he's not comatose. If he were, he would still hear you but not be able to respond. Fact that he did squeeze your hand is a good sign. A nurse will check on him hourly until he wakes up. I suggest that you spend some time with him, then go home and get some rest. You can come tomorrow and if he wakes up before you get here, a nurse will call you."

"I'm spending the night with him. I don't want to leave him until he wakes up, but Mom says that I need to continue my usual routine," Jim declared.

"Your mom is correct. It wouldn't do him any good for the rest of your life to be neglected. I'll allow one of you to spend the night, but the rest of you need to go home shortly."

"I'm sorry, Aunt Brenda, if you want to stay, I can go home," Jim offered.

"No, I can spend the night tomorrow night if he hasn't awakened by then. Thank you for caring," Brenda said as she hugged Jim.

After everyone left, Jim sat in the chair beside Austin and started talking to him. "Hey little buddy, I'm sorry that you got injured. Everyone keeps telling me that it's not my fault, but I'm the one who suggested we go for a drive, and I was the one behind the wheel and lost control. I know that it was an accident and I shouldn't blame myself, but I need you to wake up and tell me that it's not my fault," Jim was sobbing hard.

"It's not your fault," a voice said behind Jim making him jump. He turned around to see Deputy Archer standing there. "I just finished my shift and wanted check up on him. The other deputies chipped in and asked me to pick up this teddy bear for him."

"The doctor says that nothing is wrong with him, he's just in a deep sleep. Why won't he wake up?" Jim put his head in his hands and started crying.

"He will when he's ready. I'm just glad I won't have to add any other charges to those boys. I'll check in on my way to the station," Archer "warned" as he headed out the door. Jim turned back to Austin and continued talking.

"Would you like for me to bring you a pillow and blanket?" a nurse asked causing Jim to jump again.

"Can't I just sit in this chair all night?" Jim asked wiping his eyes and sniffing.

"I can make the couch up into a bed and with it being light's out, you may want to lay down and get some sleep. You want to be fresh when he wakes up."

Reluctantly, Jim did as the nurse suggested. He didn't realize how exhausted he was and fell asleep right away. He woke up standing in a field. His dad was playing ball with someone. "Dad?" he called out.

"Hey, Jim, just teaching Austin how to play ball," Jon said.

"Austin's in the hospital. We were in a car accident and I was driving," Jim was on the verge of tears again.

"No, that's just his body. He came and found me and I told him that he needed to go back, it's not his time yet. And you can quit blaming yourself. Those boys could have missed you if they wanted, but they thought it would be funny. Got me?"

"Yeah Jim, not your fought," Austin said. "I wanna pway wif Uncle Yon for a few hours, but I wake up soon."

Jim woke up feeling calmer than he had since the accident. He opened his eyes to see Joe staring at him. "Good dream I guess, from the look on your face. I brought you a change of clothes and the hospital said you can use the shower. We have an hour before school starts."

"Austin was playing ball with Dad. He said that it wasn't my 'fought' and that he will wake up soon. That was what I dreamt, anyway," Jim exclaimed.

"I'd say that was just a dream, but somehow whenever our dad is involved, it seems to be more than just a dream. Any idea when?" Joe was a little shocked.

"No, but I don't want to go to school just in case." Joe was getting ready to argue that the school would call Heather when Jim added, "But if I don't go, school would let Mom know. I can't disobey her, but I want to be here, too."

"Go take a shower and change. I believe he'll wait for you to be here. He knows how much you want to be here when he wakes up," Joe encouraged Jim.

Jim gave Austin a peck on the cheek. "I'm going to go take a shower so I can go to school. I'll stop back when I get out of school, ok?" Jim asked.

"Ok," he heard Austin's little voice say. Joe looked in disbelief. "Told you I wake up soon, and it's not your fought. Dem boys was mean."

Jim started crying when he heard Austin speaking. Joe pulled out his phone and called Heather right away. A nurse came rushing in, "Austin's monitor shows heightened brain active… He's awake?"

"Can Jim and Joe take me home?" Austin asked.

"I need the doctor to come look at you, but I'm sure you can go home shortly after. Have either of you called his mother yet?" the nurse asked.

"I did," Joe announced. "Mom and Aunt Brenda are on the way."

"Jim, you need a shower before school. You smell funny," Austin said bluntly.

Jim kissed Austin on the cheek, grabbed his clean clothes and said he'd be back soon. Deputy Archer was coming down the hall as Jim headed for the shower. "Any change?" Archer asked.

"He just woke up," Jim told him. "He's awake." Then Jim hurried to the showers before anyone saw him starting to cry in relief.

When Jim got back to Austin's room, Archer, Heather, Brenda and Joe were standing outside the room. They explained that the doctor was examining him and would rather they not be present in the room. Shortly after, the doctor came out. "Other than saying he was playing ball with his Uncle Yon this whole time, I see nothing wrong with him. Who is Uncle Yon?"

"That's what he used to call my husband. With Jim, he always managed to say the J, but he called my husband Yon instead of Jon," Heather explained.

"Yeah, Dad was killed by a drunk driver almost two years ago, but he's been showing up in our dreams lately. This morning I had a dream that Dad and Austin were playing ball in a field. Dad and Austin told me that the accident wasn't my fault, or as Austin said it, my fought, that the boys thought it would be fun hitting my car. Then Austin said that he would wake up soon. I'm telling you, his spirit was playing ball with Dad."

"You dreamt it and he claims it. I'm not about to argue," the doctor said. "I would like to keep him here for a few more hours for observation, I think he'll be fine to go home at noon."

"Come on Jim, we need to head to school," Joe stated. Jim didn't argue.

Several students asked about Austin when Jim got to homeroom. They said that they heard about the accident on the news and recognized Jim's car. Dusty looked at him, "You totaled that car? It was a new car when we gave that to you and you totaled it like that."

"I know, but it wasn't my fault. And John Andrews said that the frame was bent on the passenger side. He said that the car can't be fixed."

"Who's John Andrews?" Dusty asked.

"He's the mechanic that Jackson always uses. Who do you use?"

"No idea, Dad has always taken care of that for me. Only thing I ever worry about is the oil changes and gas. Dad takes care of the rest. So are you getting another Challenger?"

"I really loved that car, so I probably will. Unless, do you think they'd let me make payments on a Viper?"

"Dude, you get a Viper and you'd be envied by the entire school. Dad paid cash for one and he won't let me drive it. After seeing the news with the EMTs using the Jaws of Life on your car, he really won't let me drive it."

"Not sure I could afford the insurance for a Viper, but it would be fun to drive," Jim stated.

"My dad had to put forty thousand dollars down and have a credit check ran just to test drive his."

Jim couldn't wait for his classes to get over. He wanted so bad to see his cousin, hopefully at home and active.

Third period, Joe pulled out his homework assignment. He had nine hundred forty-six words already so it was almost done. He added,

Just yesterday, we were in a car accident. Jim loved his car, but when our cousin was in trouble, Jim's thought was on him and not the car. The passenger door was ripped off. No, not by Jim, while he's a hero in my eyes, I know he doesn't have super human strength. The EMTs asked for permission and Jim told them our cousin was more important than his car. And he loved that car.

Jim carries the weight of the world on himself sometimes, but he holds his family and friends to be most important. The love in his heart is bigger than his body, so I'm not sure where he stores it. In my book, he is the best hero a guy could worship.

Joe finished writing and handed it to his teacher. "You do realize that you don't have to turn it in until we return to class, right? I encourage everyone to do it by next Wednesday," the teacher asked. Joe nodded his head as the teacher scanned his paper. "Of course, as good as this paper is, I wouldn't change a thing. You'll get a hundred for this."

Joe sat at his desk as the teacher started to read it to the class. Jim started tearing up hearing what Joe wrote. He always knew that Joe thought of him as a hero of sorts, but hearing the teacher read the paper was almost too much. "I'm no hero," Jim said to himself, "I'm just me."

When the last class, which was study hall, was done, Jim walked out to Joe's SUV. He called his mom to see if Austin was home or still at the hospital. "He's here and wanted to play with your cars. I hope you don't mind," Heather replied.

"He's welcome to 'pway wif' them whenever he wants. I only keep them for him, and then maybe when Zac and I have a son eventually."

"He really loves you, you know?" Heather stated.

"I know Zac does. And I think Austin does, too," Jim teased knowing that she was referring to Austin.

"You're a brat sometimes, but a loveable brat," Heather chuckled.

"I know, we're on our way home. Tell Austin that he best have my car ready so I can play when I get home," Jim warned.

"He already has the GT in a garage, he says, waiting for you to come home, and he has another car for Joe. Said he knows the two of you will want to 'pway wif' him." Heather chuckled.

Joe drove home and the boys said they had no homework, so they started "pwaying wif" Austin. As they played, Austin looked at Jim, "We was gonna see the horseys last night. When you get your car fixed, can we go see dem?"

"They can't fix my car, buddy, I'll have to get a new one. Perhaps instead of playing cars right now, we can go see them now, if Mom approves." Austin took off.

"Aunt Heather said supper be ready in tree hours, we need to be home by den," Austin said upon returning.

"Can you drive us, Joe?"

"Nope, but I'll sit in the back while you drive. Austin can sit up front," Joe responded.

Jim knew that Joe was forcing him to relive the route up to and past the accident. He didn't think it would be an issue, but he loved how his brother was throwing him "back on the horse." He took the keys from Joe and told him thanks.

They pulled into the ranch without any issue. Jim got out and helped Austin. He walked between Joe and Jim as they headed to the barn. "Who do you have there?" Jackson asked.

"Dees are my cousins, Jim and Joe," Austin replied. Jackson started to laugh.

"Austin, this is Joe and my boss. His name is Jackson," Jim introduced them.

"When I get older can I work for you, too? Dey tell me, you da bestest boss ever," Austin asked.

"If I'm still here, you betcha," Jackson responded. Jim gave him a funny look. "By the time he's old enough to work here, there's no guarantee that I will be here. Ryan may be a Supreme Court justice and we could be living in Washington. That happens, I hope you and Zac take good care of this ranch."

"You had me worried, there." Jim stated.

"Well, we have no promise of waking up tomorrow, so that is possible, but I hope not for a very long time. For example, I heard about your accident on the news and from the Andrews brothers. Surprised that you didn't call me. What are you doing about a vehicle?"

"I was too worried about Austin yesterday. As for a vehicle, I'm waiting to hear from the insurance company," Jim answered.

"Come on, we gotta see da horseys so we cans get home for supper," Austin stated, pulling on Jim and Joe.

"Will Austin and his mom be here for the Christmas party?" Jackson inquired.

"And his dad. Uncle Brandt should be here when we get home. Aunt Brenda borrowed Mom's car to go pick him up," Jim informed Jackson.

"Good to know," Jackson stated. Then looking at Austin, "When we have our Christmas party, you want to help pass out presents?"

"Yeah! Sounds like fun," Austin gave Jackson a smile that would have melted the Grinch's cold heart. Then Jim and Joe let him drag them to the barn. When Jim showed him Gold, his eyes got big. "He got bigger since last time I saw him."

"He was still a baby when you saw him. You moved away shortly after he was born. And you got bigger, too," Jim explained.

"I not get that big," Austin stated. Jim and Joe laughed. Then they headed home.

Jim let Joe drive home, and Austin went to sleep in the back seat. As Joe pulled into the driveway, Heather's car was back. Jim woke Austin up and told him that someone was waiting for him in the house. "Who, Santa?" Austin asked.

"No, someone better than Santa," Jim told him.

Austin rushed to the door and had trouble opening it. Someone inside opened the door for him. "Daddy!!!" Austin exclaimed and jumped into his dad's arms.

"I heard that you were in a car wreck and took long nap," Brandt Jordan stated.

"Yeah, but don't blame Jim, not his fought. Mean boys plowed into us. I found Uncle Yon and he pwayed ball wif me, then told me that I need to go wake up. Mommy and Jim really needed me to wake up."

"Sounds like you were busy while you slept," Brandt chuckled.

"Hey, Uncle Brandt. I'd like for you to meet my favorite brother, Joe," Jim said smiling.

"I'm your only brother," Joe stated shaking his head.

"See, that makes you my favorite by default," Jim stuck his tongue in Joe's ear. Joe made a face and started wiping the saliva out of his ear with his finger.

"Between Brenda and your mom, I've heard so much about you. You'd almost think that I've known you as long as Heather has. And one of your teachers called right after I got here. I heard that you wrote a spectacular paper. He read it to Heather and asked if he could post it."

"Really? I didn't think it was that good, just something from the heart about how I feel about Jim," Joe couldn't believe that the teacher called about it, let alone wanted to post it.

"It was an awesome paper," Jim stated. "I was so moved about what he wrote. Sure, I am guilty of everything he said, but I never saw any of it as heroic."

"The way you took responsibility and stayed by Austin's side, that sounds pretty heroic to me," Brandt told Jim.

"Yeah, Jim's my hewo, too," Austin stated. Jim looked like he was on the verge of tears. He's always felt loved, but it's hard to feel any more loved than this very second. Just then, Kunoichi jumped on him wanting a kiss. Jim laughed and then kissed her.

"And I hear that you offered to give up your room while we're here. If Austin grows to be half the young man that you are, I'll be happy," Brandt said.

"Austin is doing a fine job. You ever decide that you want to give him away, I'll take him in a heartbeat," Jim scolded his uncle.

"Never give him away, not in a million years. And I didn't mean that like it sounded. I meant it as a compliment to you. I think he will be a lot like you and I am so proud of him. Just before he left with his mom to come here, he saw a homeless boy crying. He gave the boy his teddy bear hoping it would comfort him."

"See, he's a hero right there," Jim said picking Austin up.

"You not gonna tickle me, are you?" Austin asked.

"No Buddy, but I thought you deserve a hug," Jim responded.

"Daddy, I've been sharing Joe's bed and he's been telling me stories as we go to sweep."

"What kind of stories?" Brandt asked.

"Kinda wike da ones you tell me, but he does funny voices. You should hear him do Goldiwocks."

"Maybe I should listen to him tell you it so I can get some ideas," Brandt said taking his son from Jim's arms.

"Don't wike when he does da three wittle pigs. He tickles me when the wolf huffs and puffs."

"You don't like being tickled?" Joe asked. I'm sorry, you should have told me. I won't tickle you if you don't like it."

"Maybe evewy now and then, but not evewy time da wolf huffs and puffs," Austin stated.

"OK, when I tell you the story, no tickling, but I can tickle you now," Joe threatened.

"Gotta catch me first," Austin said and took off screaming up the stairs, not realizing he had no escape.

As it got closer to the last day of school before Christmas, the classes were getting more difficult to get anything done. The students were getting excited and the teachers were having a difficult time keeping their attention. The Calculus teacher dropped a stack of books onto his desk. "Now that I have your attention everyone, pull out a blank sheet of paper. We are having a pop quiz. And every day that you don't want to sit and listen, there will be a pop quiz."

The room got very quiet as the students sat down and pulled out a seat of paper. The teacher wrote five problems on the board. He told them that they have until the end of class to solve them and it was an all or nothing quiz. One wrong answer gave them a zero since they didn't want to take their seats and listen.

Jim had four of the problems figured out, but was stumped on the last one. He and Dusty both raised their hands. "Yes?" the teacher asked looking at Jim.

"Maybe it's just me, but I'm not sure that you wrote the last problem correctly," Jim stated.

"Yeah, I have the other four done, but I am having issues with that last problem as well," Dusty added.

"Anyone else having problems with that question?" the teacher asked sounding a bit agitated. Then looking at Jim and Dusty, "Bring your papers to my desk, so I can see if you wrote it down correctly."

They walked up front and the teacher didn't even look at the problem. He just put a big red x through the problem. Their hearts sank a bit. Then he looked over the rest of the paper. After a minute, he wrote a hundred at the top of each of their papers and "good job" under it. Looking at them, he said in a lower tone, "I did that on purpose to see who would catch it. Truth is, this quiz can't count as an actual one, but those that catch it and get a hundred will get extra credit, not that either of you need it."

He let them out of class for the last few minutes they had remaining and they walked out smiling. "Did my face look like yours when he marked out that last question? I thought sure that he was going to give us both zeroes," Dusty said with a hint of relief in his voice.

"Your eyes got big, and I know mine did as well. I could feel them trying to pop out. He didn't even look to see what we had written and he's been a fair teacher all year, so I don't know why I thought he was going to be a dick about it."

"Well, you know you are one of his pets, don't you?" Dusty chuckled.

"Yeah, you chuckle that way because you are his other," Jim snapped back.

"At the risk of sounding conceited, I think we are the two smartest in the class."

"Does sound conceited, but I believe we have the highest grades in the class. Know what you're averaging?" Jim asked.

"Before that quiz, my lowest grade was a hundred," Dusty chuckled.

"So you have a hundred average, then. Damn, how can I beat that?" Jim questioned.

"Best that you can do is tie. What's your average?"

"We are tied," Jim smiled. They spotted Joe coming out of his Algebra class. "What's up, Bro?"

"Not much, the teacher is losing it, though. He asked what the value of z was if x minus ten was equal to y over ten."

"Wait, where is z in that question?" Dusty asked.

"So you see what I mean," Joe said. "When I wrote the value of z is undeterminable on my paper, he gave me a zero and said that if I didn't like it, I could take my paper to the principal. Then he told me to get out of his classroom. I'm heading to the office now."

"That's rough, but you are right," Dusty stated. "Not sure what Mr. Duncan will do, but I see you not getting a zero on that paper."

"Yeah, anyone with intelligence can see that you wrote the correct answer. What about the other kids in the class?" Jim asked.

"They were still trying to figure out the question when I left. I think they are scared after he called me an idiot for writing that."

"He called you an idiot?" Jim's face turned red. He snatched the paper from Joe and thought about confront the teacher. Instead, he went to Mr. Duncan's office.

"Jim, why aren't you in class?" Mr. Duncan asked.

"Dusty and I finished our quiz and he let us out early," Jim started. Dusty and Joe came walking in. "Reason I am here, Joe was given a zero on his paper and he said that the teacher called him an idiot. I wanted to confront the teacher but didn't want to get myself in trouble. Joe's answer is right, but even if it were wrong, that teacher has no right calling anybody an idiot."

Mr. Duncan took the paper. Before he even looked at it, he agreed with Jim about the teacher calling anyone an idiot. "Well, looking over this paper, only thing I see wrong is this big red zero. Joe, you are correct. I will make sure that it is recorded with the correct score. Before I confront the teacher, did anyone else hear him call you an idiot? Don't get me wrong, I'm not doubting you, but if there are witnesses, I can take harsher actions."

"He said it loud enough that the entire class heard him. They all gasped," Joe said almost in tears.

"You are not an idiot, Joe. And Jim, thank you for coming to me. You are a great student and I wouldn't want to punish you for a teacher being an idiot. Today will be his last day in this school, I assure you."

The boys followed Mr. Duncan to Joe's algebra class. They stood outside the room and could barely hear Mr. Duncan tell the teacher that he need to go to his office. They didn't hear what the teacher said, but Mr. Duncan raised his voice some more, "I said right now, I will have a calculus student standing outside this door watch the class for the remainder of the period. Or maybe Joe, so he can explain why his answer is correct."

"But that idiot had the wrong answer," the teacher raised his voice now so they could hear him.

"No, he didn't. And he is definitely not an idiot. I wanted to do this in private, but you leave me no choice. Pack your things and leave this moment. You are done here. I will not tolerate a teacher calling a student an idiot. I will sit in for the rest of your classes until my secretary can get a substitute."

Joe was smiling as the teacher left the classroom. He didn't wish ill on anyone, but it did feel good hearing what Mr. Duncan said. Mr. Duncan looked at the boys, "Can you three sit in on this class? I need to let my secretary know what's going on and make some calls for me. I don't care if you dismiss it, or you can discuss that problem."

"Sure thing, Mr. Duncan," Dusty said. They went into the class room and told the students that those wanting to get ready for their next class may do so, but anyone who wanted to discuss the problem could.

"I don't understand the problem; how do we figure out the value of z when it's not even there?" one student said.

"And that's what the issue with Joe's paper was. He said that it was undeterminable. There is no way to figure out its value. As for x and y, they could have a number of possible answers as long as they maintained the same relationship," Jim stated.

"I agree with Joe, you can't figure out a value for z," a girl said. Almost made Joe sick when she fluttered her eyes at him.

"Well, I may not like the gay twerp, but at least he was smart enough to put the correct answer and had the balls to stick up for himself," a boy wearing camo pants and a brown t-shirt said. Jim never noticed him before, but that was the same outfit that Alejandro and Jerome were wearing last year. Must be a "uniform" for gay haters, he thought to himself. And at least he did give Joe some credit.

The remaining days before school let out for Christmas, Joe had a substitute teacher. On the last day, he told the class that he had been asked to take over the class and he was considering it. "I've only seen this class for three days, but you seem to be a very bright class and I look forward to trying to challenge your minds. All I ask is that if you ever don't understand something, feel free to either ask in class or come up to me in private. If it doesn't embarrass you to ask during class, please do in case another student has the same question."

"That sounds fair," Joe let slip without thinking.

"I will always try to be fair. I prefer you to raise your hand to speak so we don't get chaos, but I won't hold it against you if you slip saying something like that."

Joe smiled. He definitely hoped this teacher would take over the class, he seems cool. The boy in the camo pants raised his hand and the teacher called on him. "This may not be the correct place to ask this, but I feel a need. I've been raised in a gay-bashing home. My parents forced me to join a gay-bashing gang. I don't agree with the gay life-style and if my friends knew I was saying this, I'd get my ass kicked." He started.

"Watch the language and I'm sure this is not the correct place to ask what you are."

"Sorry about cussing, but they would. I'm only asking this here because you seem like a cool teacher. First, I want to say that I have a lot of respect for Joe, his brother and his friends that don't hide the fact that they are gay. You guys have more guts than my so called friends. Some of them I think are really gay and just hate because they are afraid. They keep telling me that I need to hurt someone for being gay, but I know that you would never try anything with me so I see no reason."

"OK, I think I understand your problem. I don't know what to say, you can't seem to leave the group without upsetting your parents or those so called friends. You seem to have the right attitude, but you seem stuck. I simply don't know what to say," the teacher felt sorry for the kid.

"You don't have to like how I live or who I love, but I appreciate that you do seem to respect my right to it," Joe declared.

"Just so you know, I was told that I had to break your legs this weekend or I will have a fat lip. I told them that while I don't like you, you haven't done anything to warrant violence and they might as well give me the fat lip. Be careful though, they might try to do something to you."

"I want their names," the teacher said.

"I can't do that, if I gave them to you, I may get more than just a fat lip. I can take that for doing what I believe is right, but I can't risk more. At least Joe is warned."

"Are they related to the ones in the pick-up that plowed my brother's car?" Joe asked.

"Can you be related to yourself?" the boy asked. "Don't get me wrong, they never planned that, but when they saw the opportunity."

"They almost killed my eight-year-old cousin," Joe started getting agitated.

"I know, and I want to file to be emancipated or something. I don't want any part of my family or this gang. Hate is wrong."

"OK, enough on that topic. If you want to discuss this after school, I'd be happy to listen and maybe we can figure something out for you. We have gotten way too far from algebra."

"Sorry, but like I said, you seem cool and I felt a need." Joe thought that the boy had a serious look on his face. He may not like Joe, but at least he doesn't hate. Part of him wishes that he could be friends with the boy.

When Joe met Jim before the next class, he shared what the boy told him. Again, Jim wanted to take action but he decided to call Deputy Archer instead. Rest of the day was almost a blur. Jim finished his essay for English turned it in. Jim's last two classes was study hall. Joe had Home Economics and then study hall.

Heather was watching the news intently. The announcer was going on about some incident that happened at the high school, "A junior at the high school was just found in a dumpster at the school. We can't show any images of the boy at this time or release his name. What we do know is that the boy is sixteen with dark brown hair and he was stripped naked. His genitals were removed. As soon as we can give more information, we will. The police and sheriff department do have a suspect but we can't reveal any more at this time."

Heather was worried, waiting for Jim and Joe to come home from school, praying that it wasn't Jim. From the description, she knew it wasn't Joe but it could easily be Jim.

Horse Runner

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