Alone Together; A Tuneful Tale Chapter 2: Inside the Fire

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Alone Together: A Tuneful Tale Chapter 2: Inside the Fire

In the fall Earl started preschool. The hoped for socialization with age-mates failed to materialize. He steadfastly refused to play with the girls or do anything that might earn him the much dreaded label of ‘sissy’. At the same time he didn’t enjoy typical boy activities and play. While he half-heartedly played with the boys, he did so angrily which usually degenerated into violence. The violence discouraged the boys from wanting to play with him and Earl wound up in time outs. As had become his normal, he never smiled or laughed and it seemed as if his face was frozen in a demi-frown. He would answer questions and even asked questions, but for the most part he was intensely quiet. By the end of the second week, he’d earned the enmity of the other boys and the frustrations of the teachers and aides. They did discover that he seemed happiest, at least relatively compared to his normal anger, if he was allowed to be alone. At least while alone he stayed out of trouble. With no one willing to play with him, when they went outside for free time play, Earl simply ran around the playground. As the weeks passed, he incorporated jumping and tumbling over the outdoor toys developing a style of kiddie-parkour. The teachers were concerned as he leapt and tumbled about the playground but he never cried or complained when he landed hard. They were more concerned some of the other boys would try to copy him but Earl’s dour demeanor kept others from following his lead.

During lesson time, Earl excelled. The staff were amazed at his ability to read. He was also meticulous staying within the lines when coloring pictures. Even freehand drawing his pictures were easily identifiable. Other than having virtually no interaction with the other kids, he was doing well. At home he poured over the books and worksheets his brothers brought home devouring every bit of knowledge he could.

<*> <*> <*>

By Thanksgiving the entire extended family realized Earl was off in his own world. While polite and obedient, he made no effort to interact with the family although he begrudgingly interacted if they specifically asked him. After Thanksgiving dinner when Jane asked the grandkids what they wanted for Christmas, she was filled with trepidation when she asked Earl. Everyone held their breath.

"I do not want any presents," Earl declared flatly. “I haven't taken the presents anyone got me last year out of their boxes. Just give me cash, then if there is something I want I can get it."

The family was relieved there had been no drama and the request was reasonable. Of course it was not normal for a four year old but then Earl was most certainly not a normal four year old.

Christmas went off without a hitch. At home, since he could read and to get him at least somewhat involved in the holiday, Linda asked Earl to dispense the gifts, doing so efficiently. Earl opened the envelopes addressed to him, barely glancing at the cards before snatching the cash inside. Later at the grandparents with the extended family, Earl again dispensed the gifts, amazing the adults with his ability to read. Again he merely scanned the card before pocketing the money.

<*> <*> <*>

The next incident happened just as the school year was ending. James normally took the boys with him to the barbershop every six weeks. They’d get their hair trimmed to no more than one inch long on the top while tapering shorter down the sides and back towards the neck. Earl had managed to elude accompanying his brothers for the last five trips. James was growing upset that Earl’s hair had grown to nearly three inches long. In the past he’d announced haircut day in advance which had enable Earl to weasel his way out of getting his hair cut.

Saturday morning as the family ate breakfast James announced they’d all be taking a ride when they were done. Jeff and Zach eagerly pestered him about where they were heading but James just smiled and said it was a surprise. As usual Earl sat sullenly quiet. After the dishes were put away the family of five piled into their SUV. Only a mile away they pulled into the strip mall parking lot outside the three seat barber shop the family used.

Jeff frowned and asked “Our surprise is going to the barber?”

Pleased with his deception James answered, “When we’re done we’ll go to Cabelas and get you fishing gear for when we go camping this summer.”

From his car seat Earl glared daggers at his father but kept quiet.

“Good morning, James,” the head barber greeted. “Trims for the you and the boys?”

“Yep,” James smiled in return. “Even managed to corral Earl this time so we’d best start with him.”

It was clear to everyone that Earl was far from pleased. They all saw the pure rage in his eyes and his tightly clenched fists.

“Hello Earl,” the barber greeted in a friendly manner trying not to set the youngster off as he placed a booster seat on his chair. “Climb up on this booster seat.”

Earl glared daggers at the man and his father. “I’m not getting my hair cut,” Earl growled in response.
“Yes you are,” James firmly pronounced as he grabbed Earl by his upper arms lifting him to the booster seat.

“NOOOOOOO!” Earl primally screamed as he twisted, kicked and squirmed to escape. One flailing foot found it’s mark in James’ groin.

“OOOFFF!” James gasped as he doubled over dropping Earl.

Earl dropped into a roll coming out on his feet and was out the door of the shop like a bullet. By then James was on his knees holding his groin. Jeff, Zack, the barbers and customers stared wide eyed and open mouthed.

“Earl,” Linda yelled as the little lightening streak flashed passed her. She followed him out the door.

Earl ran as if his life depended upon it, dodging and weaving through the cars on the parking lot. Reaching the road he turned and ran on the berm heading back home. A few customers stepped outside to watch the chase, clearly amazed the little kid could run so fast. Linda gave chase, at first slowly gaining ground on him. However, she wasn’t used to running, so quickly ran out of breath. Although she’d gotten within fifty feet, she was too winded to continue. Fear, anger and downright hatred for his father energized Earl as he ran. He didn’t even hear his mother calling after him.

By the time Linda returned to the barber shop she was furious. James sat on a chair still wincing in discomfort. Jeff and Zach were getting their hair trimmed.

“I hope you’re happy,” Linda snapped. “I told you this was a bad idea! He’s gone, I assume and hope he’s heading home. “I’m taking the SUV to find him. You three can walk home!” With that she left.

Linda saw no sign of Earl until she pulled into the driveway. Earl defiantly sat on the front steps.

“You tried to trick me,” Earl growled as he stood with his fists balled. “I refuse to get my hair cut! I don’t care how long it gets! If you force me to get it cut there will be hell to pay! Like dad says, payback is a bitch! It might take weeks or even years but I’ll get back at you!”

Linda was stunned by the sheer hatred in Earl’s words. A chill swept through her as she realized he was dead serious about exacting revenge. It had already been a year and a half since that horrible Thanksgiving and he had not recovered from that and was still holding a grudge. The anger and hatred that had been roiling his soul had boiled out.

“Okay, no haircut,” Linda soothed. “I promise. But you will have to keep your hair clean and brushed.”

“Okay,” Earl simmered down.

“Please come with me while I go get your dad and brothers,” Linda soothed.

To her surprise he did so. When the guys got into the car they all looked at Earl, James with barely controlled anger.

“”Don’t you dare try to retaliate,” Linda huffed to James. “I found him at home sitting on the front steps. I’ve promised him we will not force him to get a haircut on the condition he keeps his hair clean and brushed. That’s the end of it!”

While there was a lot more discussion between the parents after the boys were in bed, Earl was allowed to let his hair grow. James was finally learning Earl was his own person and unafraid to stick up for himself.

<*> <*> <*>

Each summer the family went camping and fishing. Earl learned with a determination that put his brothers to shame. He got a weird thrill skewering the worms on the fishing hook. He gleefully learned to gut the fish and chop off their heads. At the same time he learned how to set up a campfire, learning how to assemble the wood and tinder.

For most activities the family was doing Earl cooperated. When it came to organized sports, Earl adamantly refused to join a team. He’d attend games in which Jeff and Zach played although he never cheered them on. He didn’t put up a fuss during the occasional family excursion to a professional game, usually the local AA MBL affiliate. But it was clear in his posture and attitude he was far from a happy camper The family learned to accept Earl as an intense, tough, quiet, solemn boy. James learned not to force Earl into activities.

The school district had four elementary schools K through 4, two middle schools grades 5 through 8, and one high school grades 9 through 12. By the time Earl took the tests for placement in kindergarten he blew the testers away with his ability to read, write and do math at a third grade level, oldest brother Jeff’s grade from the previous year, as well as how articulate he was. The people doing the testing realized Earl would be bored silly in kindergarten since he was far past that point. They decided to let him skip kindergarten. The main concern was how he would interact with his classmates. Linda explained that Earl had no sense of humor, never smiled and liked being alone to the point that although he interacted with his brothers, he didn’t play with them. In addition she explained that while he never started any conflicts, if he was pushed, he’d lash out.

<*> <*> <*>

When the school year began, Earl started first grade, Jeff started fourth grade and Zack began second grade. The kids in the first grade class quickly learned Earl had skipped kindergarten to join their class. That created animosity between the age appropriate first graders and Earl. Earl’s taciturn demeanor only added to the disconnect as he made no effort to make friends with his classmates. The fact he blew through all the lessons further alienated him from his classmates. During recess he ran nonstop doing parkour moves wherever he could. Everyone at the school wondered about the weird quiet boy with the penchant for running while admiring his parkour skills.

Some of the older guys, especially Rick, the huge eleven year old fourth grader, thought Earl needed to be put in his place. When they learned Earl was the little brother of Jeff and Zach, they began taunting the brothers about their weirdo baby brother. Fortunately James and Linda had anticipated such situations and discussed how to handle it. Jeff and Zach merely shrugged their shoulders readily agreeing Earl was weird.

That reaction confused the potential bullies. Rick frowned, “Aren’t you going to stick up for him?”

“We don’t have too stick up for Earl,” Jeff laughed. “And you don’t want to mess with him. Zach and I avoid fighting him. Earl likes pain. The more he’s hurt, the harder he fights, and he fights to win. If he gets a bloody nose he laps up the blood and swallows it. Somehow it energizes him. If you’re dumb enough to want to tease him, be prepared to be hurt because once he lashes out, he won’t stop.”

Several of the kids who were friends of Jeff and Zack and often visited the Daly home verified the brothers were speaking the truth. “He tries to walk away but if he’s cornered, look out. He totally freaks out and there is no stopping him.”

The bullies kept a wary eye on Earl for several days but saw nothing that hinted he presented any danger. They even spoke to his classmates discovering he was just as weird in class as he was on the playground but had shown no violent tendencies. That only increased their curiosity and animosity. One day during recess they set themselves up to block the route Earl ran.

It was Earl’s practice when encountering human obstacles to non-aggressively change course to avoid contact which is what Earl did when faced with the wall of bullies. On the next lap the boys shifted to become more obnoxious. Their antagonistic actions didn’t phase Earl since he merely changed course. This pattern continued for several days with the boys getting increasing frustrated in stopping him. Their efforts grew bolder and more determined to provoke a confrontation.

While Earl seemingly didn’t react to the provocative actions of the bullies he was aware of them. It quickly became apparent to him they were trying to harass him. Their efforts upset him but he buried the anger using it to augment his strength and stamina. Earl channeled the emotional pressure into faster laps and more daring parkour moves.

Most of the kids on the playground quickly picked up on the actions of Rick and his recruited thugs. It became sort of a game to see how the actions of the boys escalated with every lap.

The week before Halloween, a dozen boys lined up forming a ‘V’ shaped human wall with a four feet wide space at the antapex funneling Earl toward the space. As Earl shifted for that space Rick jumped in front of Earl standing with legs spread and his hands defiantly akimbo in an arrogant superman pose with a nasty sneer on his face. Those watching gasped since Earl was going too fast to stop. The teacher on playground duty had seen everyone watching the action during Earl’s earlier laps and was heading toward the boys to scold them so she witnessed the big kid’s action.

Earl didn’t hesitate or try to swerve although he did a slight stutter step. His timing was perfect as he ran right up the front of Rick like the parkour move where you run up a wall and do a back flip to your feet. On the way up one foot impacted directly in Rick’s groin almost crushing the eleven year old’s testicles. Earl’s last step going up Rick, the kickoff for the back flip, was on Rick’s face. Earl did a high back flip as Rick toppled over backwards. Blood was gushing from the squashed nose of the silently gasping Rick as his head bounced THUNK! and bounced THUNK! a second time on the rebound off the tarmac while the impact of his torso knocked the wind out of the unprepared bully. Earl stuck the landing in the space Rick vacated and smoothly continued running as if nothing had happened.

A loud inhaled “AAAHHH...” was heard from Rick as one hand grabbed his crotch and the other grasped the back of his head while he curled into the fetal position. As soon as the massive inhale ended a loud stuttering “OHH...OHH...OHH emerged before quickly morphing into genuine crocodile tears and horrific sobs.

Everyone was stunned by the ferocity of the brief encounter. That Earl had so easily laid out Rick, a boy four times his size, seemingly without injuring himself, stunned all those who witnessed the two second encounter. That Rick, in the fetal position, was rolling about on the tarmac openly crying and bleeding heavily stunned them all. The teacher immediately pulled her phone to call for the principal and the nurse.

Earl ignored the open mouth stares as he blithely continued his parkour run about the playground. Everyone made room for him as he came near. The principal and the nurse jogged onto the playground heading directly to the crying Rick.

The principal was stunned to see the school’s biggest bully bloodied and rolling on the tarmac crying his eyes out while holding his crotch and head. He looked about expecting to see someone unconscious and bleeding but saw nothing. The nurse knelt by Rick and began triaging his injuries. She made Rick lie still and told the principal to call for an ambulance as Rick had suffered a severe concussion

“What happened?” the principal asked the playground teacher with total confusion.

“He and his cronies have been trying to block Earl from running around the playground but he ran around them,” the teacher explained. “Then they lined up leaving one place for him to run. As Earl approached the hole, at the last second Rick stepped in to block him. Earl didn’t slow, simply ran right up his body launching into a back flip off of Rick’s face. Rick went down, bouncing his head off the tarmac and I guess took a shot to the groin in the process. Earl simply landed on his feet and kept running.”

“Earl took Rick out?” The principal said with a look of disbelief on his face as he watched the little dynamo running and jumping as he circled the playground. “Rick is four times his size! It looks like he wasn’t even hurt!”

“I don’t think Earl was hurt,” the teacher agreed. “After the collision he didn’t slow down or stop. He just kept on going as if he had done one of those parkour moves running up a wall and doing a back flip. I have no idea if he intentionally took Rick out or if it just happened. I do know those boys intentionally formed a line funneling Earl to the gap and that just before Earl got there Rick stepped into the gap with his legs spread and arms akimbo intentionally blocking Earl. There was no way Earl could have stopped or avoided slamming into someone so he simply ran right up Rick.”

The other students decided not to ever mess with weird Earl when they saw the ambulance pull into the playground just as the bell ending recess rang.

That night as the Daly family ate supper, Jeff and Zach excitedly narrated the destruction of Rick. “It was so cool! Earl was running around the playground doing parkour like he always does. At the last minute Rick stepped in front of Earl in a Superman pose. Earl just ran right up his front, did a back flip off his face and kept on running. He must have kicked him in the nuts too. We heard a double THUNK as his head bounced twice off the tarmac as he went down. Rick was rolling on the ground bawling his eyes out and his nose was bleeding pretty bad! They took him away in an ambulance!”

Earl just continued eating ignoring the table conversation as usual.

Concerned Linda asked, “Earl, are you okay?”

Earl looked up momentarily to nod his head then returned to eating.

James asked, “Rick... is that the big kid who flunked two years?”

“Yeah,” Jeff chuckled. “Earl’s maybe a quarter of his size but he sure took him out!”

“Well no one from the school contacted us,” Linda said. “Do you know if Earl’s in any trouble?”

“I doubt it,” Jeff smiled. “The principal got the names of the kids who formed the wall but just looked at Earl as he was still running laps and shook his head.”

<*> <*> <*>

Frank Bean had been a top notch college athlete. Unfortunately he was also an uber jock in addition to being an ass. After graduation he was a last round pick in the NFL draft to the Eagles but was cut before the preseason ended thus never making it into the pros. That hurt his ego but the good old boy network helped land a good job. Those first years he was eager to make it big and worked hard. Frank married Karen who just completed her nursing degree and Rick soon followed. However his jock mentality kept him from advancing. Watching others be promoted while he remained stationary proved too frustrating to handle, especially as he saw those he played with and against in college making millions in the NFL. Stuck in his job, he began to drink. The more he drank, the worse his family and work lives became until he was finally fired. Karen was furious and began nagging him to get his act together. After that he’d gravitated into selling cars becoming an obnoxious but successful used car salesman. Unfortunately, he wanted to relive his glory days through his son, becoming a bully to his son and wife.

Frank pushed Rick into sports, going so far as hiring an after school personal trainer for the second grader. The personal trainer was a gung ho muscle bound flake who was able to BS Frank. Rick, desperate to please his dad, put everything he had into the “workouts” even on the days he didn’t work with the trainer. The result was Rick failing second grade. Karen had been growing increasingly upset about Frank’ obnoxious masculinity and how it was hurting Rick. His failure in school pissed her off and oft nasty arguments ensued as her frustration with Frank emerged as burgeoning shrewishness. Karen made sure Rick did his school work before working out during his second time through second grade and the trainer summarily was fired. During third grade Frank pushed Rick into playing Pop Warner Football. Then came participating in a junior wrestling league. Rick’s grades plummeted as he again put all he had into training. Karen and Frank argued every night about how forcing Rick to concentrate on sports at the expense of academics was hurting his future. By the time Little League Baseball started in late March, Rick was failing third grade. While Karen made Rick study and do his homework, Frank continued to push him to athletic excellence even telling him not to worry about school. The upshot was that Rick failed third grade. Incandescent at the out of control machismo of her husband and son, Karen pulled Rick from all sports threatening Frank with divorce if he tried to undermine her demand that sports be eliminated from Rick’s life. It was at that point Frank’s drinking began morphing from functional alcoholic to outright drunk.

Rick passed third grade the second time through. However by that point the damage had been done as Frank discovered interscholastic sports had grade and age limits. By failing two years, Rick would age out of participation in eligibility for junior and varsity sports. Most importantly, no one reaching age 19 by July of a school year could participate in varsity sports for the following school year. For Rick, that would meant he’d be ineligible to play sports during his junior and senior years of high school, years that were critical for proving one’s athletic prowess to earn collegiate athletic scholarships. Frank’s hopes of vicariously living Rick’s sports success abruptly ended any hope of a sports career. Frank proved just how much of a jerk he was by angrily belittling Rick for being stupid. Rick’s self esteem plummeted as he’d sacrificed academics trying to please his father by being an outstanding athlete.

<*> <*> <*>

Karen Bean panicked when she received a call from the school that Rick had been injured during recess and taken to the hospital. The principal told her what Rick had intentionally stepped in front of a five year old and that the little guy simply ran over Rick, that he’d fallen and bounced his head off the tarmac, had a bloody nose, and bruised groin but had not lost consciousness so the trip to the hospital was precautionary. As she left work and drove to the hospital she wondered what he'd done this time. She was fed up with Rick's bullying but knew it was all because of his redneck macho man father. It really surprised her that he had been hurt when he intentionally stepped in front of boy who was running on the playground. She was stunned when she discovered the boy who ran him over was a five year old a quarter of his size and the little kid had not been hurt! She knew Frank would flip out.

Rick was totally embarrassed and berating himself that he’d ended up in the hospital. He had a terrific headache from the concussion he'd received, two black eyes and a very tender reset nose not to mention the discomfort of a severe bruise lower down. It all happened so fast he had no idea how the little guy had run him over. His dad was going to be so pissed off he'd had his chimes rang by a five year old a quarter of his size. His mom would also rip him and his dad new ones.

When the tests and exam were over Rick was placed into intermediate care for overnight observation. Karen was relieved Rick had no permanent injury but also super upset by his actions. “Rick, you know I love you but you do some really dumb stuff! Why would you even think of messing with a little kid! You’re lucky he wasn’t hurt! You have no one to blame for your injuries but yourself. Your father has been way off base with his demands that you pursue sports and be the toughest boy in school. As of now those days are over! Do you understand?”

Rick was afraid of what his mother would do to him once he went home. He knew her punishments were far worse than his dad’s but at least she loved him.

After Rick nodded Karen did her best to console Rick hoping he’d finally learned his lesson.

Frank came into the hospital just before visiting hours ended having stopped and had a few before arriving. After learning what had happened Frank flipped. “A five year old! A freaking scrawny five year old put you in the hospital! How in the hell did he do that!?”

“He’s always running around the playground doing that parkour junk. I tried to block him,” Rick softly answered in shame.

Frank was clearly angry. “You TRIED to block him?”

Linda was getting angry at Frank’s tone of voice and knew where he was heading. “The little guy ran right over Rick. The principal said the kid wasn’t even hurt and just kept running. With his record of bullying the principal is giving Rick a two day suspension so just let it drop.”

“Let it drop? Let it DROP?” Frank hotly retorted to Karen before turning back to Rick who was trying to sink into the bed. “You let a little kid run right over you, putting you in here and he wasn’t even hurt? He should be in a comma or dead! God knows you’re such an embarrassment!”

“That’s it,” Karen hissed as she blew her temper. “Obviously you haven’t figured out this is all your fault! I should never have let you hire a personal trainer for a seven year old! He was held back twice because you filled his head with idiotic macho fantasies about sports! Now you come in here while he’s laying in bed with a concussion and your concern is not for his well being but for how he embarrassed you? You are an even bigger ass than I thought! Now you listen here, you horses ass! I’m spending the night here. First thing in the morning I’m calling the lawyer and starting divorce proceedings! When Rick is discharged and we get home tomorrow you better have your bags packed and be out of the house because I’ll be trashing everything of yours left in the house. Now get the hell out!”

Frank was left speechless, but even drunk knew better than to argue with the shrewish Karen when she was this pissed off. Angrily he stormed out of the room and the hospital.

Rick was surprised at his mom's vehemence. Even though he’d been held back two years, he wasn't dumb, but he'd been dominated and bullied by his dad all his life. The more he tried to please the man the more he pushed and bullied. Rick couldn't remember ever being praised by him but he’d sure been called every derogatory name in the book! Truth be told he was physically afraid of his dad and hoped his mom carried through with filing for divorce.

Frank tore out of the parking lot intending to stop for a few more beers. He didn't notice the police car driving past the parking lot exit until he broadsided it. Since he had his hands at twelve o'clock, the deploying airbag slammed both his hands into his face breaking his nose and blackening both eyes while knocking him out.

An hour after Frank left, Karen’s cell phone rang. When she saw it was Frank, she was tempted to let it go to voicemail. Rick had dozed off so she stepped out of the room. “What do you want?” she barked.

“Mrs Bean,” a woman’s voice asked. “I’m a nurse at St. Joseph’s hospital. Your husband was in an accident and is in emergency. His injuries are not life threatening but he has a concussion, black eyes, and a broken nose.”

Karen sighed with pent up frustration. “Did he injure anyone else?”

“He broadsided a patrol car but the officer did not require treatment,” the nurse stated. “Can you come in?”

“I”m already here,” Karen replied. “My son came through emergency this afternoon so I’m in the hospital up in intermediate care. I’ll check at the nurses station and be down.” Karen headed to the nurse’s station explained what had happened telling them she’d be back and okaying the staff to tell Rick what happened if he awoke.

By the time Karen entered the treatment room Frank was in the maudlin zone of drunkenness. “I’m sorry. I know I screwed up, big time,” he sobbed as tears rolled down his cheeks. “Please don’t throw me out.”

Karen sighed heavily. While she had lost her love for him, she still cared for lunkhead. “You’ve earned a DUI by hitting a cop. You’re drinking is out of control. If you go into rehab THIS week and stop drinking, stop, not back off, stop, I’ll give you another chance. You’ll also stop bullying Rick and me. If you don’t finish the rehab or if you take even one drink, we’re through!”

In a melancholy funk, Frank tearfully agreed.

The treating doctor decided to keep him overnight for observation of his concussion. Karen explained her son was already in the intermediate care for overnight observation for a concussion. So they made preparations to move Frank there so both could be discharged together.

Once home after being discharged, Rick had time to reflect on his life. He’d always been the largest kid in his class. The sports training he’d undergone in second grade had toughened him up and strengthened him. Even after the trainer had been fired Rick spent hours every day in their home gym working out using strengthening programs the personal trainer established. At his dad’s urging to be better in sports he’d let his academics slide resulting in being held back. His dad made him continue working out. During his first time through third grade the workout schedule established by dad took up nearly all of Rick’s free time. His mom was livid when his first report card came home. She insisted he do all of his homework before setting foot in the home gym. She also went ballistic on his dad. For the second and third marking period his grades reached 70°. The last marking period coincided with the Little League season. For his age Rick was quite bulked up but so aggressive he was often ejected from games for unnecessary roughness. That led to being benched and when his dad raised hell about his son being benched, Rick was thrown off the team. During that time, despite doing his homework, his grades once more crashed resulting in being held back to repeat third grade. Karen was so upset she forbid Rick from even attempting to join any sports teams on penalty of divorcing Frank. Without playing sports, the second time through third grade Rick earned ‘A’s, just as he was doing in fourth grade. Rick was beginning to understand his mom was right, sports made you stupid.

Rick missed two days of school. His self-esteem had been shattered. His father had instilled in him that physical prowess was the most important thing in life. Yet all it got him was flunking second and third grade and being utterly humiliated by Earl. While Earl had speed and endurance, he certainly didn’t come close to matching his own bulk and strength. Yet the little guy had steam rolled him as if he was a measly stalk of corn. Coupled with his dad’s drunken driving, hitting the cop’s cruiser, and now heading to alcoholic rehab, Rick realized strength without intelligence was simply useless redneck BS.

Frank took a medical leave from his employer to enroll in a six week alcohol rehab program.

When Rick returned to school his former henchmen avoided him. They’d had to serve in school detention for their part in the fiasco. The fact he’d been taken out by a five year old and cried his eyes out in front of the entire school ruined his tough credibility. It also tore out a huge hunk of his self confidence. The former thug found himself lacking self confidence and an outcast. Guiltily he realized that as a tough guy poser he had bullied others to make himself feel powerful.

<*> <*> <*>

By the end of the first marking period it was more than evident that first grade presented no challenge for Earl and that he was bored by the curriculum. Twice a week the guidance counselor began to administer Earl the end of year tests for first grade. He scored perfect on each test. Then she began giving him the second grade end of the first marking period tests which he again passed with perfect scores. The powers that be at the school realized that academically Earl was way beyond his classmates and that his mere presence in a classroom distracted the other students. Since Earl never broke the rules and followed instructions, and the school wanted to be rid of the bizarre genius, with the cooperation of the school librarian, they decided to have Earl report to the library instead of a classroom. The principal and Guidance Councilor wanted to set Earl up on a self study course using the syllabi for the second, third and fourth grades.

The school then contacted Linda and James about placing Earl on a self-study program based in the library where he could work at his own speed while being monitored and tested. Since he’d already finished the first grade lessons and was plowing through the second grade, he could move right on to third grade and even fourth grade material depending upon his pace and grades.

Linda and James weren’t sure what to do. They knew Earl was bored in school since he was helping Zack with his second grade lessons and Jeff with his fourth grade lessons. They understood Earl could easily handle the second grade classes but were concerned about socialization with his classmates. During parent/teacher conferences the teacher and guidance councilor bluntly informed them Earl had made zero effort to socialize with his first grade classmates and simply glared at anyone who made an effort to socialize with him. His continuous dour disposition prevented the kids from even wanting to get involved with him. Earl’s saving graces were his superb academic prowess, that he never stepped out of line, that he followed all the rules and if specifically asked to help a fellow student understand a topic willingly did so. Linda and James reluctantly agreed to allow Earl to go onto the self-study program the school was willing to set up.

Earl knew he was continually depressed and unhappy. In his heart he knew he was a girl but had a horrid boy’s body. In an effort to establish her existence, Earl decided she needed a name. Searching the internet she discovered the name Devon, which was of Celtic origins meaning ‘defender’. As Devon, she was defending and thus preserving her female self. His family had made it quite clear that he was NOT a girl and would not tolerate any girlish attitudes or activities. Even at five years old he thought about taking his own life to end his agony. What little love he had left for his family was steadily evaporating. His brothers gave up trying to make him laugh. If they tried tickling him he’d explode in a flurry of screams and retaliatory attacks. All too often Earl felt himself slipping even deeper into despair. Researching depression on the internet he stumbled over cutting to control emotional pain. The troubled boy found the entire concept of cutting yourself was bizarre yet strangely attractive.

Due to the intransigence of James and Linda concerning his gender, Devon dug in her heels, refusing to buckle under their demands she behave like a boy and was forbidden to free herself. The way she now lived was hell. Thus her dour existence. Earl was merely a hard shell used to protect the girl hidden deep inside. The flame of girlishness still burned bright inside the shell refusing to be extinguished. Learning was the only action she could do without ridicule or torment. Thus while she was well above average intellectually, the self taught and enforced discipline of learning enabled her to far exceed her peers. Cynical maturity came at the expanse of childhood.

Devon did a YouTube search for her name. The first music video listed stunned her. The song spoke to her damaged soul becoming a bizarre anthem for her life! As her Earl shell ran he softly sang the song to himself, using the beat and the words to fuel his stamina and bitterness while clinging to herself.

{Inside the Fire <*> by Disturbed <*> Disturbed )

Oh Devon, Won't go to Heaven She's just another lost soul, about to be mine again!
Leave her, We will receive her, It is beyond your control, Will you ever meet again.
Devon, One of eleven, Who had been rendered unwhole.
As a little child, She was taken And then forsaken.
You will remember it all, Let it blow your mind again.
Devon lies beyond this portal, Take the word of one immortal
Give your soul to me, For eternity, Release your life,
To begin another time with her, End your grief with me
There's another way, Release your life
Take your place inside the fire with her
Sever, Now and forever, You're just another lost soul about to be mine again
See her, you'll never free her, You must surrender it all, In your life to meet again
Fire, All you desire, As she begins to turn cold and run out of time
You will shiver, Till you deliver, You will remember it all, Let it blow your mind again
Devon lies beyond this portal, Take the word of one immortal
Give your soul to me, For eternity. Release your life,
To begin another time with her, End your grief with me
There's another way, Release your life, Take your place inside the fire with her.
Give your soul to me, For eternity, Release your life
To begin another time with her, End your grief with me
There's another way, Release your life, Take your place inside the fire with her
Devon, Among the livin', Who had been rendered unwhole,
As a little child, She was taken,, And then forsaken
You will remember it all, Let it blow your mind again.

The song brought tears to Devon’s eyes. She was a girl who’s life was denied her, forced to live a pseudo boys life she hated. She even planned for the time when she couldn’t take it anymore, she’d fix her parents! Hidden in her attic bedroom she'd hidden the utility knife she'd stolen from her dad's tools. She knew it would be messy but having to clean up her blood would be a fitting revenge for the agony they forced her to live! She'd slash her wrists just inside the attic door at the bottom of the steps. Then she'd walk down the hall shaking blood all over the walls and floor, then descend to the first floor flinging her blood everywhere! On the stairs, the walls, the ceilings and the furniture; laughing the entire time until her life giving blood drained and she lost consciousness welcoming eternal oblivion! They would never get her blood off the floor, walls, ceiling and furniture... or their hands! But not yet... not quite yet. Devon began to tease herself by making shallow cuts on the inside of her upper arms and on her inner thighs, just enough to draw blood but not enough to bleed. The pain felt exquisite! It made her feel alive!

<*> <*> <*>

While Earl kept to himself at school, Devon was aware of the other students. She noticed Rick had lost his followers and had been ostracized by everyone. No one wanted to let him join in their play so he forlornly wandered about the playground with his hands jambed in his pockets. She’d heard Jeff talking that everyone had shunned Rick.

The Monday before Thanksgiving Earl approached Rick. Everyone on the playground watched the encounter with baited breath. It was Devon who spoke. “It’s no fun being all alone is it?”

Thinking Earl was there to gloat, Rick’s gut reaction was to lash out. But when he looked at Earl he realized there was no aggression in his face, instead seeing a sort of forlorn kindred soul. “No, it isn’t,” Rick softly answered. “How do you put up with it?”

“I don’t need friends,” Earl snarked. “I study and learn. I also run. It’s good exercise and keeps me agile. Parkour isn’t a sport and it’s not competition, it’s simply pushing your body and learning your limits. It also helps release the tension that builds up inside of you. I think I’d blow apart if I didn’t have parkour to burn off the energy and adrenalin. You should try it. You can follow me, study how I tumble, roll and jump then try it yourself.”

With that Earl began to run. All eyes followed him, especially Rick’s as he thought about what Earl had said. For the first time he really looked at Earl’s athletic parkour run, realizing the little guy was good. When Earl ran past Rick, Rick fell in behind him. Rick quickly realized there was no way he could match Earl’s skill and athleticism without practice. But that didn’t discourage Rick because he knew any physical activity took practice.

After that day, every recess outside saw the two boys, Earl leading the much larger Rick, running around the playground. The duo didn’t talk or otherwise interact. If questioned both said they were NOT friends, that they were merely being alone together. Each insisted they wanted to be alone and running parkour was a solitary pursuit. They simply ran with Rick gradually adding parkour moves. The other kids gave the weirdos a wide berth.

Since Earl wouldn’t talk about school, Jeff was responsible for reporting on Earl’s school’s activities. Needless to say Linda and James were concerned upon learning Rick was following Earl as they ran around the playground. Zach assured them it was okay. “I’ve only seen the dorks talk to each other once. They’re alone together.”

<*> <*> <*>

By the start of the second semester Earl was settled into his self study. The five year old had completed the second grade material and began the third grade lessons. The regular students were wary of Earl. They knew that he’d skipped kindergarten and had completed first and second grade in one semester and was now working on third grade. To them it was obvious he had to be super intelligent and that alone was quite intimidating. Add to that what he’d done to Rick as well as how he spent every recess running around the playground doing parkour with Rick as a tail, they all backed away from him.

Every day Earl heard their whispered comments from the students about the freaky little weirdo. The fact he was breezing through the curriculum earning a 99% average alienated him from the teachers and staff. The kid was downright spooky and the fact he never smiled or laughed scared everyone. The school staff was quite concerned about Earl’s constantly dour outlook on life. The school guidance counselor began to once more meet with Earl twice a week in an exasperating attempt to break through the iron defense the dour boy had erected.

Shortly after the start of the second semester Rick stopped following Earl. The big guy had a black eye and a forlorn almost hopeless look about him. After three days Devon approached him again. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Rick sighed heavily.

“Just tell me, I won’t judge or condemn you,” Devon stated.

Rick was quiet for a few moments, fidgeting under the unwavering gaze of the smaller boy. “My parents are getting a divorce. My dad went to rehab to stop drinking and it worked for a bit. Tuesday night he stopped for a beer after work and came home drunk. Mom tried to throw him out and he started hitting her. I called 911 then tried to stop him. That’s how I got the black eye. Now he’s in jail and it’s all my fault.”

“It’s not your fault, it’s your dad’s,” Devon stated simply. “Did you twist his arm to make him drink? No, he did it on his own. Not your fault. Now let’s go.” Earl took off running.

After two laps Rick reluctantly joined in but the big guy’s spirit seemed to be even more broken.

It was raining the next day so recess was held indoors in the cafeteria/gym. Knowing it was too crowded to run indoors with all the other kids around, Earl brought his notebook and headed for Rick. Soon the duo was ensconced at a table. Earl brought up a YouTube video he’d saved to share it with Rick.

“I find songs that speak to me,” Devon explained. “This one really eats into my soul and I think it will help you, too.” Earl plugged in a set of headphones and played the Disturbed video of “Inside the Fire”. They repeated the video until the end of recess. The driving beat and lyrics spoke to Rick, too. It fired his darkening soul.

The next day as they were running around the playground, Rick was softly singing the song to himself as they ran.

<*> <*> <*>

Rick’s dad was out of the house with a court order not to harass them. He received a six month suspended sentence, had to attend anger management classes, and avoid using alcohol. Any parole violations and he’d be sent to jail.

Earl and Rick developed a bizarre relationship. They seldom spoke but spent every recess together. Without the distraction of friends and sports, both earned straight ‘A’s. Devon never revealed her existence to Rick for fear she’d be once more rejected. She was mature enough to know the crush she had for Rick was childish and impossible.

By the end of the school year Devon completed the fourth grade earning across the board ‘A’s.

Six year old Earl would be moving to the middle school to begin fifth grade with his oldest brother, Jeff, and also with Rick. The elementary school was relieved to have Earl and Rick out of their hair.

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Comments

Oh boy, when I was a little

Oh boy, when I was a little boy I got into Slipknot and Disturbed. I enjoyed them so much more than other bands. I can definitely relate to the main character. Maybe a bit too much. I'm excited to read more, keep it up.

wicked sad

I sure hope something turns around for them

Ok love this

Alice-s's picture

I see a lot of me in Devon. Good story

Wait, what?!?

Beoca's picture

I feel like JS saw my comments from part 1 and was determined to throw a wrench into it, something truly unique. Mission absolutely accomplished.

Earl’s not unique at all, though his intellect is on another level from Heath’s largely due to the school being more supportive of him (Heath spent extra time in the library, but was forced to stick with the pace of the curriculum at least on paper). Rick is another thing altogether - a regular guy who sees the light, but who isn’t family. Interesting to see if they end up opening up to each other at all; they can relate to one another at a certain base level. I honestly think that Rick is coming to see his getting hurt as the best thing that could have happened to him, and I suspect there are questions that Earl has that Ricks can answer.

Another JA dad!

Jamie Lee's picture

Gads, just how many JA dads are in this story? Forcing a seven-year-old to undergo physical training over school work? Did someone operate on Frank and replace his brain with his butt?

Frank can't stand it that he didn't make it into the pro football league, but that was his own doing so no one but him is to blame.

So the big bad JA had to go and force his son to become something he wasn't, then run him down every time he didn't meet daddy's standard. Constantly tearing a kid down only results in a lot of pent up anger, and sets the kid up for one heck of a fall unless someone doesn't step in as Karen did.

Earl saw himself in Rick, a boy who no one wanted to be around because of what happened and his grades; strange how the grades each received caused the other kids to hate both boys instead of spurring others to attain higher grades.

Others have feelings too.