Scott grabbed a can of linen white paint from the discontinued shelf at Sherwin Williams, paid for it, and headed for the door. He'd promised Tara to replace the battered shoe moldings in the family room tomorrow. The paint store was the last store in a nearly deserted strip mall that closed at nine, and it was now 8:55. In fact, the clerk, annoyed at the last-minute purchase, was about to turn the key when he arrived. The other store fronts were already dark except for the grocery store at the other end that stayed open until eleven.
He was headed toward his van when a disturbance outside Kroger's caught his eye. Two boys were hassling what was probably a Kroger's employee in the parking lot. If he didn't know better, he'd thinkno wait, it was his son! He recognized the Red Wings jacket they'd bought Jeremy for his fifteenth birthday. His blond hair was also a dead giveaway. His head seemed to glow green under the fluorescent parking lot lights.
Jeremy and the other boyone he didn't recognizewere pushing up against the girl, sticking their hands inside the pocket of her maroon apron, spinning her around. Was it just teenage stuff or something more? The girl didn't seem to be making much of a fuss. The other kid suddenly grabbed her around the waist and started dancing, some kind of old-fashioned waltz, sashaying around the cart return, pumping her arm up and down. Jeremy laughed and began clapping to provide a tune. Scott would know that laugh anywhere and pinpricks of embarrassment spread across his scalp.
Hadn't Jeremy been around when Scott left home twenty minutes ago? Sitting at his computer perhaps? Watching TV? No, Jeremy never watched TV anymore. Truthfully, Scott wasn't sure if he'd been there or not. Kids lived in a world of their own nowadays. And his son's eyes always seemed to be fixed on his cell phone or his iPad. Once he could drive, he'd be around even less.
Suddenly, the girl, who'd seemed only mildly disturbed by the ruckus seconds ago, screamed in a piercingly high pitch. Headlights from a car entering the lot caught the threesome in its beams, lighting them up a stage.
The girl, whirling, coat flung open, was one of the baggers at Kroger'sScott recognized her nowthe one with Down's Syndrome. The boys took off as the car pulled up, brakes squealing. The car door opened and the girl scrambled in. She was sobbing, shrieking even. The word inconsolable came to Scott's mind. She was inconsolable because of his son.
Scott was shaking so badly that he could hardly put the key in the ignition. His first thought was: could the girl identify his son? Then he felt ashamed. What he should do was to go over to the car before it left and set things right. Tell her father or mother that he'd speak to Jeremy, make sure such a thing never happened again. Soothe the girl with those words. Make amends.
But once his son was identified, and by him no less, would it end there? Wasn't it likely the parents would report Jeremy to the principal of his school? On the other hand, if Scott kept quiet, it was possible nothing would happen. Especially if the girl didn't know either boy. How often did Jeremy go into Kroger's anyway? He didn't have a license yet, couldn't be sent on such errands.
Scott, needing time to think, sat quietly when the car finally pulled away. Nothing had to be done immediately. He knew where the girl worked, how to contact her. An apologyor whatever you'd call it could be followed up on anytime.
What he'd do instead was to go home and confront his son. Take him asideno sense in dragging Tara into thisand tell him that such behavior was unacceptable. That girlsespecially ones like this should be treated with respect, care. She suffered enough from her condition without people adding to it.
Why didn't Jeremy know this? Why was he tormenting this girl? Both Tara and he were good citizens, weren't they? Good examples to their kids. Should a parent have to tell a child not to mistreat others? Wasn't that sort of thing innate? Along with advice on drug use, Santa Claus, and sexuality, should it be necessary to say, don't harass girlsespecially ones with a disability. He'd never considered it. He wondered if Tara, who saw more of the kids than he, had ever had such a talk with Jeremy or Norah. Well, he couldn't ask her. She'd wonder what had brought up such a question. She was intuitive with things like this. Before he knew it, she'd have the whole story out of him. And he'd have to explain to her why he hadn't acted on the spot. He'd have to confront that himself.
Jeremy was sitting at the kitchen table working on his geometry homework when Scott walked in. He looked angelic. His chin was downyhe didn't even shave yet. His physique was still a child's. The Red Wings jacket was tossed across the opposite chair.
Scott hung it on a hook and pulled out the chair. "How's it going, guy?"
Jeremy didn't answer. Math was not his best subject and he should probably have a tutor. Scott's father had paid for one for him back in high school. Somehow the guy, a college student he thought, had gotten him through the SATS and Calculus 1.
"Did you hear me, Jer?" Couldn't the kid even lift his head?
"Dad, you want me to get into college, right?" The words seem to slide out of the side of his mouth. Like a gangster in a bad B movie.
Scott grew still. If he brought up the incident at the strip mall, he had to demand something from his son. How could he acknowledge he saw it and not make Jeremy suffer some punishment? There had to be a price for such behavior.
And, much like admitting he saw the incident to the girl's family or to his wife, telling Jeremy he saw it could end badly. It could spiral out of control, especially if Tara inadvertently, and in spite of his best intentions, became involved. It would seem like a conspiracy between them if he didn't demand something.
Then there was that other kid. Shouldn't he be called out on it too? It was he who danced the girl around the lot while Jeremy watched. Should merely watching such a thing require putting a nasty blemish on a high school record?
Jeremy looked up. "Something you wanted, Dad? His son's eyes were bright, the same blue as the day he was born.
"Just wanted to ask if you needed some help?" Scott swallowed. "You know, with the math."
Jeremy's eyes grew wide. "You're no good at math, Dad. Last time you helped me I flunked the test." There was bitterness in his son's voice, but Scott chose to ignore it.
"Okay. Guess I'll catch some TV then."
"You do that, Dad. I'll wade through this stuff myself."
From his recliner across the room, the TV set on mute, Scott watched Jeremy struggle, knowing he had little help to give him.
Copyright © 2012 by Patricia Abbott