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The Owens Family
I rode my bike up to the side bike rack, trying not to think that it’s seat would be the last comfortable seat I had for a while.
I pulled in, wrapped the chain twice, once around the front wheel and once around the body, just like Mom had taught me.
I sighed, then headed around towards the front entrance.
I was at school early, so I could get it over with.
At breakfast, I’d asked Mom and Chuck about having friends over during Christmas holidays for some role-playing.
“Isn’t it a little early to think about that?”
“So I can do it any time?”
“Well,” Chuck answered, looking at Mom, “we’ll have to talk about… Okay, good point. We’ll talk about it and let you know in a few days, okay?”
I smiled and went back to my cereal.
I also used that as an excuse to leave early, just saying I wanted to talk to Kevin about our role-playing group. I wasn’t lying totally - I did want to talk to Kevin, and role playing would probably come up, but it wasn’t the real reason.
As I came to the front entrance, they were hanging Christmas lights. They didn’t put a ton of lights around the school, but the main entrance always got a few.
As I came through the door, I saw a bunch of decorations out, and some of the eighth grade kids - all Student Council, I think - were putting up some other decorations.
Trying to be casual and not draw attention to myself, I slipped past them and headed towards the office.
I’d gone in through the front, not expecting to have an audience, so I headed towards the lockers, before deviating to the side staircase. Before I could even take the first step towards the hallway of the damned, Mr. Blankenship came through a side door.
“Mike,” he said with a nod.
“Hi, Mr. B.” I said, sounding a bit queasy, even to myself.
“Did your Mom sign the note?”
I nodded. “Chuck did,” I added as a small correction.
He nodded back. “I hope this won’t cause problems between you and John,” he said.
I shook my head. I was ambivalent about our principal living a few houses away from our new home. To be honest, John was probably my least favorite of the Blankenship kids. He liked animals, and had some cool pets, but it seemed like he was always getting into some kind of trouble. Actually, his big brother, Jake - who was a year ahead of me - seemed a little cooler than John. It didn’t seem like he and I had a ton of stuff in common, but at least he wasn’t sports crazy.
There were several other boys already waiting. A couple of them were dedicated troublemakers, but there was another kid there. Four different elementaries fed into our middle school, and I didn’t know all the kids from the other schools yet, but I vaguely recognized this guy. He was kind of small, and in a couple of my advanced classes, but really quiet.
Mr. Blankenship took up permission slips from everyone, then stepped into his office. A minute later, he stepped back out without his coat or briefcase, but carrying a clipboard.
“Greg Yates,” he said, comparing the notes to his clipboard, then making a note, when the small, blond kid stood up.
Greg looked pretty miserable as he shambled along behind our principal.
There was a moment or two of silence, then a pretty loud pop. A few second past before another one, and the sound of someone calling out. Another moment passed by before the door opened. Greg walked out, face down. Before I could see more than that, I heard my name called, and I pushed myself up to follow Mr. B into his office.
“You know why you’re here, Mike?”
“Chuck signed this, so I guess you agree with the facts, and he agrees you deserve it?”
“Yessir,” I said again, a bit more quietly.
He nodded. “Anything in your back pockets?”
I took my comb and wallet out and put them on his desk. Then, at his instructions, I bent across the back of a chair.
I hadn’t seen the paddle when I came in, but now I felt it pat my butt. It was there for a second, then there was a slight whooshing noise before it cracked across my ass. It felt more like a baseball bat than a paddle, and I had to clench my jaw to keep from crying out. It hurt a lot worse than I remembered from my last paddling.
There was almost no pause before the paddle cracked down again, and I yelped, but I think I managed to stifle most of it. It really didn’t hurt as much as the first one did - maybe I was numb. At least, I hadn’t thought it had hurt as much, but, oh my gosh, when I tried to stand up, it blazed up like I’d thrown gas on embers, and I thought I was going to cry.
“All right, Mike, you can stand up. Let’s try not to see each other this way again, okay?”
“Yes, sir,” I managed to reply, and I think my voice was pretty normal.
He’d already put the paddle down and was holding the clipboard again. When he opened the door, I walked through it.
Kevin was there now, and I kind of nodded at him, without looking up too much. From what I could see, he looked pretty worried.
Besides Kevin, there was another kid who’d just got there. Mr. B took their slips, then called someone else. I turned the corner and headed for the closest bathroom, instead of the stairs, hoping for a good rub and a chance to wash my face, before I had to see anybody.(To be continued)
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- Christmas with the Kramers
(Friday, Dec 2)
This was going to be the family’s first real Christmas together and I decided weeks ago to go all-out for it: Tree, Santa, reindeer, magical elves, and competitive-level exterior lightning. I noticed most of my neighbors used the previous weekend to get their lighting up, so I took off a half-day to get started early to catch up. Unfortunately, I wasn’t counting on the rain.
Luckily, I was able to get most of the lighting hooks set up before it got too wet, so I was in the process of disentangling the lights in the garage when I saw the school bus pull up about two blocks away to deposit a pack of kids. Most of the girls were prepared with umbrellas, but the boys just took off in a jog towards their respective homes as soon as they were off the bus. I shook my head softly as I saw Eli grab the hand of Evan and start a brisk run towards me as the rain picked up in intensity.
As they approached the driveway, I saw a brief look of surprise from Eli when he noticed me in the garage and he veered his trajectory from the front door towards me.
“Hey Mark,” he muttered as he took off the hood of his coat and shook his hair with a hand. “You’re home early.”
I grinned as Eli disengaged himself from his older brother’s grip and rushed towards me for a hug. “Dad! Can I help put up the lights?”
Despite him being slightly damp from the rain I still picked him after he motioned with a jerk of his thumb. “Sure, kiddo. Just waiting for a break in the weather before heading out again.”
I glanced over at Eli and saw him fondling the lighting strands I had already straightened out. He didn’t show nearly the same level of overt excitement as Evan, but I could still see some sparkle of interest in his eyes. Even though he was 5 years older than his brother, he still tried to act far more mature than the 11 years of age would normally allow. I was hoping the next few weeks would allow him to become more of a kid again.
I put Evan down and walked towards Eli. He wasn’t as much a hugger, but he gladly accepted one from me anyway. “Any homework?”
He shook his head and followed the lighting strand around to the end plug. He took the other end of another lighting strand and attached it. The garage lit up even more as the rest of the bundle illuminated in its giant tangle.
“Cool,” he whispered.
“Yeah, it’s been a long time since I last put these up. I’m surprised there aren’t more lights out since they’ve been in storage for so long.”
The last time they were used, I was still in my first marriage and the giant wad of lights likely reflected the mood I was in when I last took them down: I figured they would never be used again since I knew my marriage was coming to an end.
“Mind if I help too?” Eli asked quietly as he started to untangle the lights.
I smiled. “I was counting on it.”
Even though we had spent last Christmas as a family of sorts, this would be the first official once since I married Erin in the summer and adopted Eli and Evan as my legal sons. Eli wasn’t comfortable calling me ‘Dad,’ but Evan only vaguely remembered the man who fathered him, so he picked up the usage eagerly. I was excited we’d be rounding out the family gathering when my eldest son Max joined us next week.
“I’ve got some snacks in the house. Once you get settled, come back out and we’ll get this lighting show started.”
Even Eli grinned and they took off towards the kitchen for the cookies waiting for them. I looked at the massive tangle of lights and groaned softly. Oh well, at least I had helpers now.
It took us the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening before the lighting was done. Erin was working late at the hospital and I was exhausted from multiple ladder excursions, so it was definitely a pizza night and I opted for delivery. Unfortunately, the rain conspired to make it a rather busy night for our favorite place, so after an hour of waiting, Eli was getting grouchy.
“Can we just go and pick it up instead? I’m hunnnngrrry!”
I sighed and shook my head. “By the time we got there, the driver would likely have left already.”
“You should have picked it up if it was going to take this long,” he huffed.
Even though Eli acted more mature than his fifth-grade peers 95% of the time, the other 5% tested my patience. He and I frequently butted heads while I was dating his mom, but we had come to understanding after the wedding and we had grown much closer as a result. In fact, now that I looked over my glasses at the glaring and apparently malnourished boy, I realized it had been almost 6 months since I sat him down and explained a few things.
“Woulda, coulda, shoulda.” I said dismissively.
I saw his hackles rise up and I immediately regretted the flippant response. Before he got his next sentence out, I grabbed him in a quick hug and he stopped short of whatever he was about to say.
“Relax. I’m just as hungry as you are,” I assured him. “It will be here soon.”
I released him and he nodded with a sigh. A few seconds later the doorbell rang, announcing my prophecy had been fulfilled.
“Go get your mom and Evan while I get the food.”
He nodded and before I even got up, he turned his head towards the stairway and shouted “MOM! TURBO! PIZZA’S HERE!”
‘Turbo’ was the affectionate nickname he called Evan and I thought it fit the little bundle of speedy energy quite well.
“I’ll get the plates too,” he said with a smirk as I glared at him for yelling.
By the time I paid the driver and returned with the two pizzas, Erin and Evan were bounding down the stairs. I opened the boxes and frowned. “Hmm.”
“Where’s the pepperoni?” Eli asked with a whisper.
“I think we got the wrong order.”
Eli frowned and I saw his face scrunch up in potent mixture of anger and disappointment. “What! No!”
“Calm down, Eli. I’ll get it worked out.”
It didn’t help that we got an order from people who apparently had horrible taste in pizza toppings. “Who puts pineapple on a pizza?” Eli asked as his voice rose indignantly.
Evan and Erin joined us and looked at the two pizzas. One was Hawaiian style with pineapple and Canadian bacon, the other was green pepper and black olive.
“Gross,” is all Evan said and joined his mom and brother in glaring at me.
“What? I didn’t order this. I’ll call and get it worked out,” I said defensively.
Erin nodded and led Evan away back upstairs as I got my phone out. Eli huffed and sat down at the kitchen table, glaring at me as he grumbled a few words that I’m sure he didn’t want me to hear clearly.
After working it out with the manager, I sat down at the table. “They are making us new pizzas and they will prioritize the delivery. Thirty minutes, kiddo.”
“How hard is to get a pizza order right?” he mumbled.
I shrugged. “It’s a busy night. Everyone makes mistakes.”
“This is your fault! You should have just picked it up.”
I frowned at him. “Eli, please watch the attitude, okay? Everything will work itself out in 30 minutes or so. Go get your tablet and I’ll give you an extra half-hour of screen time.”
“I don’t want to play on my tablet. I want to eat pizza!” he yelled back defiantly.
“First warning, Elijah,” I warned quietly. “Please calm down.”
After his dad died, Eli tried his best to fill the void by being the so-called man-of-the-house, something that was requested by his father in one of the last moments they shared together. Unfortunately, Eli took it far too literally. As Erin struggled to recover from her own grief at the time, Eli did his best to take care of her and Evan – at least as much as an 8-year old could manage. After complaining of stomach pains a few months later, Eli was diagnosed with a stress-induced ulcer. It was treatable, but it was enough of a shock to get Erin out of her depressive state and resume her parental role.
It was one of the first stories Erin shared when we started dating and she felt very guilty about it even now. I figured it was also a contributing factor on how little discipline Eli actually had as I entered the family picture over a little over a year ago.
“That’s lame, I don’t deserve a warning for you screwing up dinner,” he complained under his breath.
He was sitting opposite of me at the kitchen table, but as I looked at him sternly, he dropped his frown and glanced away. I leaned forward and grabbed his chair, pulling it towards me to get his attention. His anger shifted to worry as I took his hands and pulled him up, moving him towards my right, and over my lap.
“Mark, wait! I still have another warning left!”
“I know you do, Eli. But based on your attitude this evening, I’m just preparing myself for the inevitable. I’m certain you’ll be going through your final one any second now. And soon after, we can commence with the festivities on your bottom.”
I reached over and grabbed a large wooden spoon from the counter and rested it on his left cheek. We hadn’t been in this position since our first serious talk after the wedding. It was very effective then and it established the two-warnings per day system that allowed him to avoid what he was in position to receive.
I tapped his bottom lightly a few times. “Any other complaints you’d like to lodge against the household management this evening?”
He shifted uncomfortably and I heard him chuckle from my apparent good-humored question. “No, sir. I’m quite pleased with the service, actually.”
“Excellent. Glad to hear,” I said as I pulled him back up. He resurfaced with a slight grin.
“So thirty extra screen time minutes, right?” he asked with a smirk.
I nodded. “Least I can do for screwing up dinner.”
He grinned and took off for his room as I sighed with relief. I was actually getting rather good at this parenting thing. Maybe I can even handle Max when he arrives.
Last edited by Jack on Fri Dec 02, 2016 6:14 am; edited 2 times in total