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    Parker Owens
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

A to Z - 7. Eric

No  major warnings required.

May 26

I was right.  It did hurt to start walking again.  I was stiff and sore and tired.

After I left the McDonald's last night, I found a street heading north, into a residential area. It was fully dark by then, and getting chilly. I limped along quiet streets, following no real path or pattern, just trying to walk away from the bright lights and the main roads.

I crossed a railroad track.  The street I was on led me toward a brightly lit building. It had to be a school, but I never went near it.  I was on the north side of town, and out of my little territory. I turned on the next street headed south, and away from the lights. More streets, more houses, most of them nicer than mine. Well, nicer than mine had been.

I could see in a few of the windows, people staying up late. People watching TV, older folks reading, kids playing video games. Families. I wanted to cry. I was always on the outside looking in; hoping for I don’t know what. Love? Maybe. I wanted some of what they had in their warm, golden, lamp lit homes. But my family had disappeared long ago, and now I was on my own.

I wandered for a long time, staying out of the lights, except to cross a big street once. I saw very few cars, and no police. Were they were looking for me? Not here, at least. They could have been watching the bus station, but honestly, I didn’t even know where to find it.  I just hoped I didn’t wander past it by accident. Another good reason for staying off the main streets and away from well-lit places.  Eventually, I found myself on the west side of town, standing on the street, wondering which direction to go.

I was exhausted.  I realized I hurt badly, and my mind was just plain tired, too.

On my right, an open lot. On my left, across the way, a nursing home. The sign said "Brightlook Acres." I wished for a wheelchair I could rest in. I was nearly asleep on my feet.  I stared for a full minute. On second thought, it was a brilliant idea.  A nursing home would be the last place the police would look for a runaway teenager.

I slowly walked across the parking lot. Outside the building, a walkway led around one end to the back.  I followed it. In the muted safety lights, I could make out a small sunken garden tucked in behind the building, with wooden benches and a little fountain running. Best of all, a low brick wall ran between the main building and the garden.  I could lie down, on the grass, out of sight of anyone, and rest awhile.

I took off my pack and used it for a pillow. I buttoned up my jacket and wrapped my arms around myself for warmth. I was out before I could realize how uncomfortable I was.

I woke up in bright, early morning sunlight.  I was being prodded with a stick. Hard. I blinked. I got prodded again. Correction.  I was being prodded with a cane.

“Neil?”

The voice belonged to an old woman. I blinked in the early morning light again. The sun haloed her white, wispy hair. She prodded me again.

“Neil, what in hell are you doing there?”

I sat up, grabbing my pack. My sore midsection reminded me that sitting up too quickly was a very bad idea.

“Why haven’t you left for school yet, Neil?”

Her ancient face was creased with anger and agitation.

How to respond to this?  I looked around quickly. It was just the two of us out here.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I’m not…”

“Neil, I’m telling you, get out and get to school before your father…”

She stopped. Her face looked uncertain. It seemed to crumple.

“Neil?”  She looked at me, her eyes pleading.

She looked lost inside herself for a second, maybe two. This poor old woman thought I was her son, I guess.

“Neil?”  Perhaps she was about to cry.

What the hell was I supposed to do? There was really only one thing I could do.

“OK, OK, mom. I’m going.” 

I tried to act a role I never got to play before. Mother? Don’t remember. Dad? If I overslept, he’d walk in, haul me out of bed, whip me hard and then throw me out the door, with my clothes coming after me, if I was lucky.

I stood up.  I’m not all that tall, but I towered over this little figure in her pink bathrobe, bent over her cane. I tried to smile down at her.

Her face cleared, firming into a thin smile.

“That’s a good boy. You’re just a little late.”

She took a step toward me, hooked her arm through mine, and walked me very slowly around the garden.

“That’s right.  You like to sleep in, you naughty boy, don’t you?” 

I felt warm from the contact. Her face came to life, and her eyes twinkled when she looked up at me, as if we were sharing a big secret. Like we were old friends.  Like we were family. My heart felt a little squeeze.

“Well, you’ve got a big day at school ahead of you today, don’t you?”

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I mumbled, “yeah…a big test in…Chemistry, mom.”

“Oooh, that’s right. You’re growing up so fast.”

She stopped and looked at me carefully. 

“You look just like your grandmother.  You have her eyes.”

Grandmother.  I hardly knew I had a grandmother.  I mean, I must have had grandparents, but I never met them. And my eyes? Dark brown. Big deal.  I wonder what she saw.

“What was she like, mom?”

I couldn’t resist the question.  Even if it was someone else’s grandmother – even if it was something from the clouded imagination of a senile old woman, it would be nice to hear about a family. I could pretend, for a moment.

“Oh, she was a real pistol, your grandmother. She got into such scrapes as a girl.  She met your grandfather at a dance. They had the girls and boys line up, and there they were, at the end, opposite each other. They danced the first dance, and the second, and all the rest of them, too! And her father – your great-grandfather Benjamin, that is – had absolutely forbidden her to go. Well! When she came home late that night with your grandfather in tow – you can’t imagine the fuss. We heard that story over and over and over, as kids, you know.”

She looked wistful.

“Now when are you going to bring some nice girl home?”

Ouch. I’d never bring anyone home, and not a girl, that was for sure.

“There isn’t anyone yet, mom,” my voice a little tighter.

“That’s all right,” my companion soothed, “none of those girls are right for you, anyways.”

That was the truth.

We reached the end of the garden walkway.  The path led out under an arbor and around to the front of the building.

“Well, Neil, you need to get to school. I don’t want you being late.”

She disengaged herself from my arm. I turned to go.

“Oh! Wait!”

I looked back.

She dug in the pocket of her robe, and brought out a quarter. She put it in my hand, and curled my fingers around it for me.

“I forgot your lunch money. Wouldn’t want you to go hungry, eh?”

My eyes filled with tears.  I did the only thing possible. I gave my aged angel in pink a big hug.  I felt her frail arms wrap around me, holding me tight for a second. A lifetime. I bent my head down and kissed the top of her head.

“Thanks, mom.”

She looked up and beamed at me, and then let me go.  I took a step back, waved, and then walked away out of sight.

On the side of the building facing the street, things looked very different from the night view. I still had no idea where to go or how to get there. I had less than $20, no clothes but what was on my back. I stood, fidgeting, on the parking lot side of the building. Thinking about which way to go.

An older model sports car chose that moment to zip into the parking lot. It swerved in my direction and pulled up at the curb. Before I could start running, the driver’s window rolled down, and the occupant leaned out.

“Hey, kid!  You’re at the wrong end of the building. The kitchen entrance is down there.” 

He pointed ahead of him to the far end of the sprawling structure.

And then it registered.  Kitchen entrance. Why would I go to the kitchen entrance? I must have hesitated too long.  Stupid me.

“I’m glad you’re early, kid.  There’s a lot of work to do.  I’ll meet you there is a sec.”

He revved his engine and pulled away to the far end of the parking lot.

So he expected someone at the kitchen.  For what?  I walked in the direction he indicated, cursing my instinct to obey an instruction. Or maybe it was because there was a kitchen involved – that might mean some free food. Breakfast.  I was really hungry.  Still, I reasoned that if I walked away, someone would come looking for me.  Someone would get called, and everything would unravel.  Of course, if I played along and the person who they really expected showed up, I’d have to run anyway.

I found my way to the end of the building, turned a corner, and found an open door to a large tiled room, which clearly looked like a food prep center. I stood there, not knowing what to do.

I felt relieved when the driver of the car found me.  He was short, stocky, olive skinned and dark haired.

“So, no day off from school for you, huh?  It’s nice of the vocational center to send work-study people out even when they call classes off.”  He grinned. “I’m Ramon.  And you are?”

I was stumped.  No way could I use my real name.  I had to think fast.

“I’m Eric.  Eric Anderson.” Eric from my last name; Anderson from my middle name. That would work.

I stuck out my hand, and Ramon shook it. 

“OK Eric, you’re completely new, right?”

I nodded.

He went on, “You’re gonna get trained here in catering and food service.  We mainly work with special dietary needs and medical conditions, so pay attention.  First of all, hygiene.”

Ramon led me over to a closet with uniforms for kitchen staff.

“After you scrub yourself up over there,” he ordered, giving me a once over, “put on your uniform, and report to my office down the hall. And yes, you have to wear this,” he added, pointing out a little scrunchy thing with an elastic band. “No hair uncovered in the kitchen,” he stated.

Normally, I wouldn’t have put on the little hair net thing unless it was something Dad was going to make me do.  But now, it would cover my shaggy blond hair, and maybe the cut on my scalp, too, with a little luck. Anyhow, it would make it less likely anyone would recognize me.

But maybe nobody would have the time to do that.  It looked like the people working right now worked very hard, and none had a second to spare me a glance. 

I scrubbed - it felt good to get at least some of me clean – and went into a changing area to put on the uniform I had been given.  I put my backpack in a locker and reported as Ramon instructed. 

My first task was to bleach the floor and counters in the dish room; I got told the correct proportions of bleach to water to soap in the solution and got everything cleaned and dried off. I managed to work around my aches and sore places, and tried not to limp.  I didn’t want anyone paying attention to me.  Ramon looked in as I finished and smiled. 

“Good work. You’re quick. Now we learn to work the dishwasher.” 

I learned to run the dishwasher, to make sure the water temperature and detergent levels were properly set for sterilization, to load and unload.  I learned how to use the waste grinder, and how to get it unstuck when it jammed. It jammed a lot, apparently.

Ramon introduced me to a short, bright woman named Suzie, who took me through making mass-produced, low-salt, low-cholesterol scrambled eggs, which would go out on a whole bunch of trays to residents’ rooms shortly.

When we were done, we started serving them out into individual covered plastic dishes. My stomach rumbled, audible even over the noise of the busy kitchen.

Suzie laughed.

“Didn’t get any breakfast, did you?” 

I shook my head.

“Don’t worry.  Most of you high school boys forget. Here.”  She turned around and grabbed a pair of plain doughnuts from a tray on the opposite counter.

“Thank you,” I said. I hesitated.

“What’s wrong, Eric?”

“It’s just…it doesn’t feel right taking these from the old people here.  Maybe they’re looking forward to something like this, and…and I’ve eaten their breakfast.”

A smile opened on Suzie’s face. 

“Oh, Eric, that’s all right. We make extra, so there’s plenty.”

I practically inhaled the first doughnut, and thought about trying to save the second one for later when I was about halfway through it. 

Afterwards, I helped run the dishwasher for the breakfasts and the kitchen cleanup, and then I helped with lunch prep.  Again, I got to snack, and I even got a lunch out of food left over.  Again, I ran the dishwasher and mopped and cleaned up.  It was mid-afternoon by the time everything was done. My body felt enormously tired, but I'd held up all right. Nobody was beating on me if I got something wrong, which was a plus. Best of all, I rarely looked over my shoulder, or remembered that I was running away.

At three o’clock, Ramon walked into the dish room and took my mop from me. He smiled widely, showing white teeth.

“OK, Eric, you’re done for today.  You did a great job for a first day, man.”

That alone made it worthwhile spending the day in the kitchen here. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had said something so nice to me.

“Come to my office.  You need to do some paperwork, OK?”

I followed. 

He handed me a form.

“You gotta mark in your hours when you get in and when you leave.  You got here extra early, so I did it for you this morning. Next time on Tuesday, you have to sign in and sign out, too.”

I marked the time where he pointed to it, signed right next to my hours, and handed the form back.

“OK – you put your uniform in your locker, get changed, and we'll see you again on Tuesday.  Glad to meet you, Eric.  It’ll be good having you here for a few weeks.”

“Thanks,” I managed to get out. “It’s been a good day for me, too.”

I turned and left the office.

When I stepped out of the building, the sun was headed west again. I had pretty much wasted a day of running, but maybe the police had forgotten about me. That didn't seem likely. I wondered if Ramon would like the boy I’d replaced today better.  Probably, he would. 

At least I’d gotten free lunch and snacks today.

So which way to go now? I had no idea where I was.  All I wanted to do was get out of town. Away. Despite my good day at the nursing home, I couldn't stay there, waiting for something to go wrong. Everything looked different in daylight. Cars were moving on the streets.  School buses plodded along their way.

Wait. School buses?  I thought there wasn’t any school today. Maybe only the high school was closed, not all the schools.  So these would be little kids, middle school kids going home?

It took just a minute to spot a partly full school bus.  I walked in the direction it drove, pretending to be a kid on his way home from school, and in a half hour, I was walking out of town to the west.

 I caught a glimpse of the mountain in the distance.  I could walk that way, away from the highways that the police probably expected me to try. Maybe if I could get up and over the mountain, I’d find myself in a place that didn’t know who I was or what I was accused of.

I set my face west and kept going until I had to rest.

As I write, the light is fading, and I’m holed up in an abandoned barn. I’m a long way out of town, but don’t ask me how far I’ve gone. I can see the mountains from here.

Many thanks to Craftingmom for editing, encouragement, and tactful commentary.

A review of any sort is most welcome. Thanks.

Copyright © 2016 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments



I'm glad he got a free meal (well, not really free due to all the work he did) and a taste of some kindness. You had me tearing up with the whole 'family' scene. I wonder what's in store for him next.

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On 10/10/2015 04:56 AM, Valkyrie said:

I'm glad he got a free meal (well, not really free due to all the work he did) and a taste of some kindness. You had me tearing up with the whole 'family' scene. I wonder what's in store for him next.

For once, the world cuts Stephan a break. And the scene with the old resident of Brightlook Acres was really fun to imagine.

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Probably the best thing he got was experiencing someone praising him.
Having the surrogate mother and the love she showed was good, but Stefan knew she was a tad past understanding. No, the praise I think might be better for him with his future human contact.
Walk over the mountain?? :o Poor Stefan.
Looking forward, as always, Parker! A great story!

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On 10/10/2015 05:10 AM, skinnydragon said:

Probably the best thing he got was experiencing someone praising him.

Having the surrogate mother and the love she showed was good, but Stefan knew she was a tad past understanding. No, the praise I think might be better for him with his future human contact.

Walk over the mountain?? :o Poor Stefan.

Looking forward, as always, Parker! A great story!

Stefan/Eric probably has no idea what to do with praise. It hardly makes any sense for him. This whole chapter was such a relief to write after the earlier ones...

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Beautiful chapter - nice to have something nice happen after all the darkness of the previous chapters. The interaction with the old woman was especially poignant.

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On 10/10/2015 06:34 AM, Diogenes said:

Beautiful chapter - nice to have something nice happen after all the darkness of the previous chapters. The interaction with the old woman was especially poignant.

That chapter was one of my favorites to write. Stefan/Eric finally gets some warmth and a bit of luck. Poor kid probably hardly knew what hit him.

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So Stephan got a little lucky today. Obviously this kid is starved for affection and understood the elderly woman was likely in the same boat - lost in memories and Stephan filled them.
Nice that he managed to get a meal.

 

NIce chapter, Parker. I look forward to more...

 

tim

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On 10/10/2015 11:02 AM, Mikiesboy said:

So Stephan got a little lucky today. Obviously this kid is starved for affection and understood the elderly woman was likely in the same boat - lost in memories and Stephan filled them.

Nice that he managed to get a meal.

 

NIce chapter, Parker. I look forward to more...

 

tim

As I replied elsewhere, I really enjoyed writing this chapter. For Stefan/Eric, it's a break in the storm clouds. He'll have a chance, now, perhaps.

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The fates of kindness smiled on Stefan today. He had some food to eat. I'm glad that for a little while he got to pretend he had a family. He was smiled at and hugged. It all probably went a long way in boosting his spirit. I want it to last a little for him...
Nice chapter Parker..

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On 10/11/2015 11:30 AM, Defiance19 said:

The fates of kindness smiled on Stefan today. He had some food to eat. I'm glad that for a little while he got to pretend he had a family. He was smiled at and hugged. It all probably went a long way in boosting his spirit. I want it to last a little for him...

Nice chapter Parker..

The other thing worth thinking about is that Stefan/Eric found himself giving a part of himself away to that faux grandmother who wasn't all there. One of those remarkable 'what ifs' that writes itself into a story.

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At least he got fed. I wished he could have stayed on, but he probably would have been found out. He needs a place to rest and heal. Not just run.

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On 10/12/2015 05:29 AM, Puppilull said:

At least he got fed. I wished he could have stayed on, but he probably would have been found out. He needs a place to rest and heal. Not just run.

Unquestionably, he would have been found out. Stefan/Eric can't really hang around waiting for someone to put the pieces together and identify him...

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Hmmm, I thought it was 'Stefan'?

 

Anyway...definitely the praise the manager gave him trumps the food! But thank God he got to eat!

 

You know, he's very smart. He knew he would be the prime suspect if he told the detective that his father beats him within an inch of his life on most days. How on earth could he possibly overpower his big, burly sperm donor? There's no way. I'd be really curious to find out how he died. Who is out to get him? Certainly not Stefan's mother - I'm sure he killed her. She would not leave on her own without her child if she knew what kind of a monster she married. Nope, he killed her.

 

It's too bad Stefan/Eric couldn't hang around to at least get paid! Oh, and why would the kitchen manager give him a form to fill in his time, but not to fill in his social security number for payroll purposes? Wonder what happened to the kid who was really supposed to be working. lol

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On 12/10/2015 01:31 PM, Lisa said:

Hmmm, I thought it was 'Stefan'?

 

Anyway...definitely the praise the manager gave him trumps the food! But thank God he got to eat!

 

You know, he's very smart. He knew he would be the prime suspect if he told the detective that his father beats him within an inch of his life on most days. How on earth could he possibly overpower his big, burly sperm donor? There's no way. I'd be really curious to find out how he died. Who is out to get him? Certainly not Stefan's mother - I'm sure he killed her. She would not leave on her own without her child if she knew what kind of a monster she married. Nope, he killed her.

 

It's too bad Stefan/Eric couldn't hang around to at least get paid! Oh, and why would the kitchen manager give him a form to fill in his time, but not to fill in his social security number for payroll purposes? Wonder what happened to the kid who was really supposed to be working. lol

Thank you for your comments and for reading! As it happens, the kinds of work/study programs some high schoolers work don't involve pay, but rather training and school credit. The paperwork was probably related to the school. There are some things we just don't know, because Stefan/Eric doesn't know them - but of course, you're aware of that. I couldn't seem to get the father's death into the narrative very well, so, we don't know what happened. They called off school that day, so Stefan/Eric appeared in the place of some other kid. Guess they'll have to Dort that out when school reopens. I really do appreciate your reading this story and your thoughts. Thank you so much.

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Poor Eric! He just soaks up positive attention and compliments. He's so unused to them.

 

He's so quick to learn! How is it that none of his teachers noticed? Even if Stefan was trying hard to be invisible, there should have been clues of his obvious intelligence and cleverness. They are professional educators, how did he slip between the cracks his entire life?

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On 05/26/2016 03:23 PM, droughtquake said:

Poor Eric! He just soaks up positive attention and compliments. He's so unused to them.

 

He's so quick to learn! How is it that none of his teachers noticed? Even if Stefan was trying hard to be invisible, there should have been clues of his obvious intelligence and cleverness. They are professional educators, how did he slip between the cracks his entire life?

Perhaps his teachers could not see beyond the scruffy clothing or downcast expression; or perhaps Stefan's own impenetrable walls deterred his teachers. Some public schools are woefully underfunded, and classes are still quite large. It is unfortunately possible that Stefan simply slipped by them without exciting too much comment, especially if his work was solid, but not stellar. Working with his hands, on a definable task may be a different matter altogether, and he has Ramon's and Suzie's full attention. In any event, it is good to see Stefan/Eric get some positive attention for once. Thank you for your comments!

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I was a kid who slipped beneath most teachers’ radar. I didn’t cause problems. Only a few teachers recognized that I was much more intelligent than my grades indicated. Of course, in most classes, I was so bored that I tuned out the class nearly entirely. I never did homework. My memory was good enough that I was able to pass my tests easily. But I always thought I was dumb because of my grades.

 

But I wasn’t completely ignored. I had personal interactions with some of my teachers over the years. I stayed after class and had short conversations with some of them. But I’m sure most of them forgot who I was by the following year (which was fortunate for my younger brother who was a much better student and in all the advanced classes I should have been in).

 

Recent psych tests have proven my intelligence is much higher than I ever thought.

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It's amazing to me how much I remember students from years past. As a teacher, it's often those short one on once conversations and experiences which stick in the mind. I imagine Ramon will remember Eric for a long time, too. 

On April 13, 2017 at 7:48 PM, droughtquake said:

I was a kid who slipped beneath most teachers’ radar. I didn’t cause problems. Only a few teachers recognized that I was much more intelligent than my grades indicated. Of course, in most classes, I was so bored that I tuned out the class nearly entirely. I never did homework. My memory was good enough that I was able to pass my tests easily. But I always thought I was dumb because of my grades.

 

But I wasn’t completely ignored. I had personal interactions with some of my teachers over the years. I stayed after class and had short conversations with some of them. But I’m sure most of them forgot who I was by the following year (which was fortunate for my younger brother who was a much better student and in all the advanced classes I should have been in).

 

Recent psych tests have proven my intelligence is much higher than I ever thought.

 

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I'm glad that Stefan/Eric had an opportunity to get a meal or 2, even though he had to work for it. I hope that he can get away before the police find him and he gets arrested for the murder of his father. I'm hoping that his uncle doesn't find him, because I hate to see him get molested by his uncle. That's all he would need on top of the beating that he endured by his dad which left him with severe welts and bruises on his back and rear end. 

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On 6/26/2017 at 5:01 AM, Parker Owens said:

As a teacher, it's often those short one on once conversations and experiences which stick in the mind.

I didn’t realize you were a teacher!  ;-)

 

People have told me I should teach (or should have taught)! But I don’t think I have the patience others think I have. If it’s a brief ‘one on once’ situation, I have no problem because they’re going to go away relatively soon anyway. It’s when I’d be dealing with the same group for months on end when I start to lose patience…  ;-)

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5 hours ago, Butcher56 said:

I'm glad that Stefan/Eric had an opportunity to get a meal or 2, even though he had to work for it. I hope that he can get away before the police find him and he gets arrested for the murder of his father. I'm hoping that his uncle doesn't find him, because I hate to see him get molested by his uncle. That's all he would need on top of the beating that he endured by his dad which left him with severe welts and bruises on his back and rear end. 

 

Stefan had managed to escape by the luck of misperception and mistaken identity. For once, luck is on his side. He has endured so much. Yet he is still on the run, still hunted. Thank you for reading and commenting. 

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10 minutes ago, droughtquake said:

I didn’t realize you were a teacher!  ;-)

 

People have told me I should teach (or should have taught)! But I don’t think I have the patience others think I have. If it’s a brief ‘one on once’ situation, I have no problem because they’re going to go away relatively soon anyway. It’s when I’d be dealing with the same group for months on end when I start to lose patience…  ;-)

 

Yes, guilty as charged. I’m a teacher. We all teach, to some degree or another. Stefan taught me a great deal as I wrote his story. 

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1 hour ago, Parker Owens said:

Yes, guilty as charged. I’m a teacher. We all teach, to some degree or another. Stefan taught me a great deal as I wrote his story. 

I once taught a group who were attending an Anger Management Group how to fold a modular origami ornament. It takes 12 modules to make a complete ornament. I was surprised that only one person decided it was too difficult, but stayed to watch everyone else fold. No one got frustrated, crumpled up the paper, and stormed out! I had pre-folded a bunch of modules so they wouldn’t have to fold all the modules themselves. Everyone seemed happy to have learned a new skill.  ;-)

 

When I worked in a computer store, I enjoyed showing customers new ways of doing things. It was fun coming up with metaphors to explain how computers work (more RAM means you have a larger desktop to spread your work around, more hard drive space is like having a larger file cabinet, virtual memory is like using a board to extend your dining room table for Thanksgiving – the further out you extend it, the more likely it is to collapse, etc). Of course, this was the ‘90s when virtual memory was more likely to cause your computer to crash!  ;-)

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This is my first proper re-reading of A-Z. It is a delight to come across vignettes like this chapter which I'd completely forgotten. You crafted them with such care. Yes. they're characters we don't meet again, but they're real. Not thin paper cut-outs. 

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