title

First published by James Jewell in 2017.

 

Copyright © James Jewell, 2016.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise without written permission from the publisher. It is illegal to copy this book, post it to a website, or distribute it by any other means without written permission.

 

First Edition.

 

 

 

Publisher’s Cataloging-In-Publication Data

(Prepared by The Donohue Group, Inc.)

 

Names: Jewell, James, 1982-

Title: In the shadows of the city : a novel / James Jewell.

Description: First edition. | [Lake In The Hills, Illinois] : [James Jewell], 2017. | Interest age level: 013-018.

Identifiers: ISBN 978-1-5136-2227-9 | ISBN 978-1-5136-2226-2 (ebook)

Subjects: LCSH: Coming of age—Fiction. | Teenage boys—Fiction. | Cities and towns—Social aspects—Fiction. | Social conflict—Fiction. | Race relations—Fiction. | Justice—Fiction. | LCGFT: Bildungsromans.

Classification: LCC PS3610.E94 I5 2017 (print) | LCC PS3610.E94 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6 [Fic]—dc23

To my wife and children who love me despite my many flaws.

A Simple Thought

Book 1: Innocence

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Book 2: Friends and Enemies

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Book 3: Darkness

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Book 4: Loss

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Book 5: Rebirth

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

A Simple Thought

 

If success is not defined by any particular boundary or finish line, and those who are successful do not stop once they have reached success, then why chase it? What good is success if you can lose it as quickly as it was gained? Maybe we think success equals happiness. People are searching for happiness, and if you are happy, then you may consider yourself successful even if you have nothing tangible to show for it. But most people are only happy momentarily, like a child who at Christmas receives the toy they have been waiting months to play with. At the moment they open it, they feel briefly gratified. They may play with it for hours or even days, and then they must once again chase their elusive dream.

So the question becomes “What are we chasing after?” more than “Are we successful at what we are currently doing?” Therefore, maybe success is better defined as “finding something worth chasing after.” And if I find it, I hope that after my life here is over, at least for a while, until my name disappears from the few pages of history that it may grace, people will say that I truly found something worth chasing after.

Book 1: Innocence

Chapter 1

 

Outside the snow accumulated steadily against the old single-pane windows, which stretched from floor to ceiling. From the mezzanine level of the dorm entrance, a grand view of the falling snowflakes had a calming effect on Jack. He sat staring into the swirling white currents of snowflakes as he kicked his feet up onto the empty chair next to him and put his book down on the small, round table to rest his eyes. It was a bittersweet moment. He felt solitude, something he had not felt in a long time, and he welcomed it. Not yet far removed from the treacherous environment so familiar to him, he felt a sense of comfort in this foreign, lonely place. Yet he still couldn’t trust it; he didn’t know how to.

Just weeks ago he had buried his best friend. Twenty-two years of life ended in a moment. He felt responsible. He felt he could have done more. For years a black hole had seemed to engulf his entire life, and to this very moment, he had been scraping and clawing to pull himself out. Now he stood at the precipice and could feel the roar of the dark abyss calling for him, pulling him back as though he stood at the edge of a giant waterfall, inches from being pulled over. He hoped he had what it would take to finally leave it all behind and never look back.

This was his one chance, and as he sat staring out the window of the dorm entrance, he knew one thing: He was not going to be a victim. Now, he knew that every inch of ground he made moving forward was impacted by only one thing—his own determination and effort. And for the first time in many years, he had hope. He knew that he had to keep fighting—and that he could fight longer and harder than anyone.

It was his first night in the dorm, and he felt a little unsettled. He took it all in as he made his way to his room. It was such a strange place to him, with everyone leaving their doors open in the hall and coming and going from each other’s rooms constantly. He could hear commotions of all sorts going on clear down the hall. It was as foreign to him as being in another country. Yet it was different, and he longed so much for something different, something to take his mind away from home, away from heartache.

He shut the door behind him, shrugged off his heavy black Carhartt coat, and draped it over the back of the chair. He’d left the TV on, and the local news was playing: events at the library, a random accident on the highway, and a new county ordinance were the main headlines. As each newscast played, he found it strange that all of the stories were just regular news accounts. No politics, no crime, just stories. The countryside is quite a different place, he thought.

As dusk settled in, the loneliness of night weighed heavily upon Jack once again. His bed stood in a corner against the cinderblock walls. He sat on it, took off his shoes, and climbed in beneath the covers. He felt the cold radiating from the off-white walls and touched the dimples as though they would tell him something, perhaps spell it out in braille. He felt sadness overwhelming him, and like many nights before, he began to think about his friends. He had left so many people behind, so many people he would never see again. He wished for just one moment that he could see his friends, the few he’d ever had, that they could just one more time be together again. His heart began to ache with such a tremendous pain that he could not bear it. He clenched his teeth and wrung his hands until he could not feel his fingers.

Jack had exhausted himself, both physically and mentally, from the whole process of moving away from home to all of the endless paperwork that had to be completed or tracked down to the countless other details that had needed taking care of. He could feel the exhaustion taking its toll on him as he lay there, eyelids slowly closing, his anxiety and anger fighting his body’s instinct to sleep.

Tears welled in his eyes as he thought of one thing: Why? Why had he fought all this time? Why had he been put through—and why had he put himself through—so much? Just to start over at the beginning. He felt he was starting his climb all over again, even though he had barely survived the climb to the last summit. He put his pillow over his face and screamed into it at the top of his lungs with exhausted desperation, “Why!”

No answer came—just deafening silence as his mind drifted off into the dark infinity.

Chapter 2

15 Years Earlier

 

It was an unsettling hot August day. A slight breeze made its way down the steep incline of Glenwood Drive, blowing lightly through the almost-white whims of hair on the scrawny boy standing at the bottom of the street. The whisper of air offered him only the least of comforts from the sweltering heat. Jack, at that moment, was concentrating toward a bend in the road where the rest of the street disappeared. The heat rising from the road contorted its appearance, and the street seemed to melt away before his eyes. He began to daydream, his pale blue eyes aimlessly staring off into the distance.

Jack was very young and still unmolested by the frivolous wants that consume the thoughts of men both rich and poor. He looked at the world in a unique manner, a child’s perspective. Not yet influenced by the perversities of the day, he had a clear perception of how we as a people should be treated—a perspective mostly derived from the lessons he learned weekly in Sunday school. It is a travesty that this view of the world offered by children is a simplistic one that is destined not to last.

What is it exactly that causes us to change our innocent way of thinking as a child? Why is it that some of us no longer dream about changing the world? That we no longer think we possess the answers to ridding the plagues on our society?

Perhaps it begins with the end of innocence. Children change as the world begins to make its impression on their young minds. We are all destined to one day cross that threshold of life that somehow changes our way of thinking. We might not abandon our previous beliefs and morals completely, depending on what kind of impression life makes on us, but in some ways, our values are altered entirely. Soon, unbeknownst to him, Jack would also succumb to this end of innocence.

Suddenly a figure emerged from the bend in the road where Jack had directed his attention, causing him to break from his daydreaming. The blacktop surface was blistering hot, creating a mirage-like illusion on the surface beneath the feet of the walking child, now a recognizable figure.

A smile spread across Jack’s face. He had been waiting for about ten minutes now, an eternity at his age. It was the only person he could have been expecting, his only friend, Henry. Neither of them could remember a time in their lives when they did not know one another. They grew up in the church together, and their mothers had held vacation Bible school at their homes together in the summer since before Jack and Henry were born.

Henry’s complexion was a dark mahogany tone. He had curly black hair, dark brown eyes, and a build much larger than Jack’s. Physically they were at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Mentally they were one and the same. Their interests were so closely intertwined that they could practically read each other’s minds. They spent almost every day together when the opportunity presented itself. For years they had fed off each other’s interests, encouraging one another’s physical, mental, and artistic abilities. Though their resources were somewhat limited, they had learned to make the best of every opportunity that presented itself.

It was nearing the end of summer, the time of year when every child begins to count the number of days left until school resumes with bitter anxiety. To a child the first day of class seems to be the first day of a lifelong punishment of hard labor. Perhaps if they could understand the alternatives to education, they would realize school is the best thing for them.

Jack and Henry had spent most of the summer exploring each other’s backyards. One of their favorite pastimes was digging holes in their backyards looking for precious gems, gold, and other things they were never going to find, but at least the idea captivated their minds for countless hours. They did discover that their yards were teeming with small veins of coal, and they filled bucket after bucket in hopes of making a small fortune, not realizing the meager potential of their labor. That was until their parents made them aware of their displeasure at having their yards dug up in return for buckets of black rocks.

With their hopes of becoming young entrepreneurs dashed and their usual summer activities having lost all excitement, they found themselves trying their hand at new things they thought would be fun. Whenever a child is bored with everyday activities, they soon invent new ways to stimulate their interests. Unfortunately this usually results in getting into some sort of mischief, whether they know that their endeavors will lead to negative outcomes or not. Perhaps that is the origin behind the old phrase “Idle hands are the devil’s tools.”

The best of their ideas was a result of combining two of their favorite pastimes: baseball and throwing stones. Since it wasn’t too exciting playing baseball with two people, and throwing rocks at the trees in the woods also had its limitations, they thought it was a rather good concept to combine the two by playing home-run derby with stones and Wiffle ball bats. The objective of the game was quite simple: Hit a rock from the neighbor’s driveway over Henry’s house situated across the street and hopefully over the tree line into the woods and score a “home run.”

After a rather uneventful day of exploring Jack’s backyard, they decided it would be a lot more fun if they were enjoying their favorite sport. They shot down the street toward home field: Henry’s house. The sun sat low in the sky, and the day hung on them like the smell of soiled clothing. They reached Henry’s driveway in full stride and continued to his backyard. There were plenty of rocks to be scraped up from the ground and sifted from the dry, cracked earth. Their bats of choice were large, red, Flintstone club–type bats that gave off a THOOOM sound when they struck a rock.

They each would take five swings at a time. Each swing that was not a homerun was considered an out. Jack stood with the neighbor’s house to his back and the wind to his face. The dark orange sun shone in his eyes from just above the tree line, making him squint. The dirt and perspiration ran down his face in stripes of brown. Henry stood across the street with a fist full of stones in one hand and a single stone in the other. His dry fingers grasped the rock, and he lofted it lightly toward Jack.

With one magnificent swing of the bat, Jack sent the stone whizzing through the air. The smashing sound it made when it hit the front window of Henry’s house horrified the two youngsters. All the laughter and excitement from that point ceased. Jack’s heart sank to his stomach, and a knot began to form in his throat so large he wondered if he might choke. Henry’s mother appeared at the window wailing like a banshee. She fixed her gaze on the boys, and her voice resounded through the children’s ears as she called Henry in for interrogation.

Jack stood there astounded at what had just taken place. A short moment later, Henry’s mother poked her head out the window again. “Go home, Jack,” she said. “Your parents are expecting you.”

Jack skulked, slowly making his way up the street, which he now wished were miles long, anything to avoid the chastisement that awaited him. He was beside himself. How could he have made such a dim-witted decision? Hitting rocks with baseball bats over people’s houses? His parents would surely have his hide for this one.

When he arrived home, his parents greeted him with a torrent of “How could you have done it?” and “You weren’t raised to do stuff like that!” He knew what the inevitable outcome of all this commotion was. He would soon be the recipient of a blazing crack on the ass with the paddle his father kept to commemorate such impish occasions. Of course Jack could foresee this outcome in two ways: by the distasteful stare his father cast in his direction and of course the phrase uttered by all religious men before inflicting pain on their children’s backsides: “Now this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”

After his barrage of reprimands, a swift blow to his backside, dinner, and a warm bath, Jack was retired to bed early to think about the repercussions of his negligent acts. Such thoughts were ensured by the fact that there was still an hour or more before the sun would disappear over the horizon. Jack lay there thinking for quite some time, not knowing how to feel about the situation. It was the first time he had been in any real trouble with his parents. The closest he had been previously was when he’d accidentally pulled his mother’s cucumber plants from the ground thinking they were just weeds in the garden, and even then he was not punished. As a matter of fact, he had felt more anxiety over the situation than she had.

This would be the end to summer fun for Jack and his young comrade, and maybe the end of their innocent days. They were at that age when they fully understood the profoundness of crime and punishment. More than just right and wrong, they now navigated a complex set of rules where one could be held accountable for actions even if they had not meant to do wrong in the first place. It was no longer acceptable to claim that you didn’t know or understand these rules.

Jack was grounded by his parents for the few weeks left before school. The two boys would have to resume their adventures once classes had commenced again.

Chapter 3

 

School resumed on time despite the numerous prayers Jack made pleading for divine intervention or some other means to postpone the commencement of second-grade classes. It wasn’t that he disliked learning; it was that he was a shy boy. Having to meet new teachers and classmates was more unsettling to him than the workload ahead. His one consolation was that he was no longer on punishment and would now be able to resume his usual daily activities.

He was so caught up in school and the excitement of being able to play outside again that he didn’t even notice that a new family had moved into the house next door. The place couldn’t have been vacant long; he didn’t recall seeing anyone move in or out of it. He only learned about his new neighbors when his parents talked about them at the dinner table one night.

The next Saturday began as most others. Jack and Henry set out to accomplish all they could before the lunchtime hunger pain became too much to bear. After Henry’s mom made them a few sandwiches, they were at it again, playing a few more games of basketball before exploring beyond the tree line behind Henry’s house and down the steep embankment deep into the woods. There they pretended to explore the jungle and the wildlife that lived therein. That lasted until about six, when Jack had to be home for supper.

Jack made his way up the street, past the nine houses that separated his property from Henry’s. As he stepped onto his driveway, he noticed a set of short, stubby legs protruding from beneath his father’s work van parked in front of the house. They appeared to belong to a child. Jack approached cautiously, letting an inch or so of the body reveal itself with each step. Finally he could make out the young man and saw that he was amusing himself with something as he lay there. Jack called to him, “Hey, watcha doin’?”

The startled boy replied cautiously, “Just drawin’ a picture.”

Jack looked down at the etchings scribbled on the paper and the strange pebbled appearance influenced by the asphalt beneath the page. “On the ground?”

“Yeah.”

“But ain’t it hard to draw on the ground like that? With all those bumps and stuff?”

“Why does it matter?”

Jack shrugged. “It don’t, I guess. What’s your name anyways?”

The boy smiled. “Mitch. I just moved into this house right here,” he said, pointing. “What’s your name?”

“Jack. This is my house right behind us.”

The two boys seemed to hit it off as natural as anyone could, carrying on a pointless conversation as though they knew each other. Mitch stood up and brushed himself clean of the specks of dirt and asphalt clinging to his facade. He was about even in height with Jack but a lot pudgier, especially in the face. His hair was light brown and sat on top of his head in one massive, curly puff. Mitch was noticeably darker in complexion than Jack but nowhere near as dark as Henry.

While still brushing his chest clean, Mitch looked up and asked, “You wanna come check out some of my toys? They’re all out on my back porch.”

“Sure, if your parents don’t mind,” Jack replied curiously. He was used to having to ask for permission to play in someone’s backyard, and with their toys and such.

Mitch had not even thought of having to ask permission to invite someone over to play, and he thought about Jack’s remark with amusement as he escorted his new acquaintance to his backyard.

Jack followed him up the small hill in his front yard and around the side to the back porch. There, amassed in a pile in the middle of the porch, lay a small treasure trove of figurines, matchbox cars, army men, vehicles, and every toy known to boykind. Jack stood there in awe, unable to make up his mind as to what he wanted to go after the most. Mitch scrambled immediately to retain his most prized possession: a rundown, decrepit-looking Winnebago that must have been painted over at least a dozen times. Jack could make out at least three different colors it had been in its short history. “What is that?” Jack inquired with a bewildered expression.

“The Bageler,” replied Mitch with an air of confidence and a proud grin.

Just then the back door swung open violently, straining the springs and hinges on the screen door nearly to failure, and both boys turned their heads in the direction of the startling interruption. A young man who bore a striking resemblance to Mitch appeared in the doorway and then took a few steps toward them. Jack noticed they had the same exact hair, complexion, and build. He stood there for a few seconds, glaring at the unfamiliar boy on his back porch. “Who’s this?” the interrupter beckoned to Mitch.

“My friend Jack. He lives right next door,” Mitch replied nervously. The young man turned his back to the two of them and proceeded back into the house, grabbing the door and slamming it shut again as quickly and with as much force as he’d opened it. “That’s my brother, Randy. Don’t pay him any attention. He always acts like that.” Mitch tried to act nonchalant about the matter, but Jack was a little disturbed at Randy’s harsh attitude.

As soon as they had begun to enliven their imaginations with all the playthings strewn about, they were once again interrupted. A tall, fair-skinned blonde woman opened the screen door and stepped out on to the porch. “Hey, little guy. What’s your name?” she asked as she peered inquisitively into Jack’s eyes.

Jack blushed and could barely work up a response. That was his usual reaction toward adults he didn’t know. “I’m Jack,” he finally managed.

“Yeah. He lives right next door,” Mitch added.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you. I’m sure you and Mitch are going to get along just fine.” She turned her attention to Mitch. “Dinner’s almost ready, so you’re gonna have to come in and get washed up.” She swung around to meet Jack’s empty stare, just to drive home the point that their playing was done for now.

“That’s all right; it’s almost time for me to eat too,” Jack replied. “I’ll see ya later,” he said as he got up.

Mitch huffed and then rolled the Bageler one more ferocious time toward the edge of the yard and into the fence, sending the action figures flying out in the violent collision. Then he got up and followed his mother into the house without saying another word.

There was a gap at the end of the fence where a massive pine tree towered above the houses, and Jack knew he could squeeze through the separation between the branches and the last fence pole. He had never tried to go that way before, but then again, he had never had a reason to cut through the side of his neighbor’s yard before.

When he opened the back door to his house, he was greeted by his mother, who was putting the finishing touches on dinner as his father sat down to the table. “I was just about to holler for you,” she said. “Go wash your hands. Dinner’s almost ready.”

As he washed his hands at the kitchen sink, Jack told his parents about his encounter with the two kids who’d moved in next door. He told them how many toys Mitch had and how he’d met his mother and older brother. For some reason his family didn’t seem as impressed as he was. Maybe if they could see all the toys for themselves, he thought.

After dinner Jack performed his usual nightly routine. He was forcibly given a bath, the worst part of the day in his opinion, and then he watched about an hour of television before retiring to bed.

He lay there in bed for longer than usual that evening, thinking. Not about anything particular, just staring out his window at the night sky, kind of daydreaming, at night though.

A light flashed on in the room directly across from his in his new neighbors’ house. He saw Mitch and Randy enter the room and move closer to the window. He could hear faint voices, and their heads bobbed up and down, in and out of view along the window’s horizon. Jack could tell they were playing with something on the floor right below the window ledge. He got up and approached the sill, putting his forehead right up against the windowpane; he wished he were there, playing alongside them.

Just then the most remarkable idea popped into his head. He looked all around his room for a small object, perhaps a piece of plastic from a broken toy, something he could use to throw at their window. He knelt down and picked up a button that must have fallen off one of his shirts. Then he walked over and turned the handle on the window, slowly cranking the hinge open as wide as it could go. He winged the button across the twenty-foot gorge separating the two houses, just narrowly striking the bottom corner of the other window.

Mitch and Randy were obviously startled. They both got up and took several nervous steps backward. They couldn’t see Jack in his dark room, and the light in their room prevented them from seeing anything outside. Jack promptly realized this and went to turn the light on.

Now they could see him, and the chill that overtook them a second earlier quickly subsided. Mitch walked over, opened the window, and took the screen out. “What’s up, Jack? I didn’t know that was your window!” he exclaimed boisterously.

Ssshhh! I’m supposed to be asleep,” Jack nervously interjected.

“Sorry,” Mitch replied, sinking his head into his shoulders. Randy, seeming friendlier than before and perhaps a little inquisitive as to who this kid was, walked over to the window to join the conversation. They talked for a little while, mostly contemplating what they had on their agendas for the next day and discussing what kind of toys each other owned.

Jack heard someone stirring below him in his parents’ room and put his finger to his lips. A voice pierced the silence: “Who are you talking to, Jack?” his mother called as he tiptoed hurriedly to turn out the light and scurry into bed.

“I’m just sayin’ my prayers,” he called back, suddenly feeling the guilt of lying and using his prayers as an alibi. He turned and looked over at the other window just as Mitch and Randy were closing the blind. His mother didn’t come all the way up the steps, which provided some relief to him, as he hadn’t had time to close the window.

Jack spent several extra minutes praying that night in hopes of receiving forgiveness.

Chapter 4

 

The next morning Jack awoke to the sunlight shining on his face through the open blinds. The birds chirping incessantly a couple of feet away from his window made for an effective alarm clock. His anticipation of the fun he was going to have resumed instantly, but play was going to have to wait until he came back from church.

Jack stood up and looked out the window. He saw no signs of activity and began to carry out his usual Sunday morning routine. He got dressed, made his bed, and went downstairs to fix himself a bowl of cereal. Jack quickly squeezed in and out of the home’s single small bathroom in between his parents getting ready in there. He put on his usual church attire and sat at the bottom of the basement steps waiting for his father and mother to get ready. This was his sanctuary from the commotion upstairs. He sat there and waited for his parents to run down the steps in a scramble to get into the car so he wouldn’t be yelled at for not keeping up with their pace.

Church that day went slower than Jack thought was humanly possible. He couldn’t keep his mind from wandering. He kept imagining all of his new friend’s toys that he would be able to play with. He almost knew exactly what they were going to do every moment for the rest of the day.

As soon as he got home, he hurriedly changed his clothes and ran downstairs to ask his parents if he could go next door to see if Mitch was allowed out. His mother was a little skeptical about his new acquaintances. “I don’t think so, Jack,” she said. “I don’t want you just showing up at the new neighbors’ house all the time bothering them.”

And so, Jack spent most of the afternoon moping from one window to the next, waiting for his friends to come outside.

Several hours later, Jack had given up all hope of seeing his friends and was about to head on down the street to see his old faithful buddy, Henry. Just then his ears pricked up as he heard voices outside growing nearer. He rushed to the window to see who it was. Unfortunately, it was no one familiar. Four boys were noisily making their way down Glenwood, talking to each other at nearly the top of their lungs, though they were only a few feet from each other. They might have actually lived in the neighborhood for all Jack knew, since he was not allowed to travel any farther than Henry’s house.

They made it to the front of Mitch and Randy’s house and came to a stop. One of the four walked up to the stoop and knocked firmly on the screen door. A few moments later, the two recluses walked out the front door together and greeted the others. As they turned and walked back up the street, Jack felt the anxiety growing in his stomach. He rushed to throw his shoes on as he watched his opportunity to have fun that day walking away.

Without thinking he tucked his laces into his shoes, crammed his feet inside, and grabbed the first thing he saw that he might be able to play with: a soccer ball. He raced down his driveway in pursuit, kicking up gravel as he went. That was enough to grab the attention of the group of boys, and they quickly turned to see who was running toward them. Jack slowed his pace to a quick step.

The four strange young men had a rather unique appearance. They all wore loose, baggy jeans and T-shirts. Two of them had their hair braided tightly to their scalp in rows. One of the other two had his hair puffed out with a comb protruding from it, and the last kid had his hair cut rather short. The only thing among them that seemed to be exactly the same was the menacing stare they gave Jack as he walked toward them. He was not sure what that look meant, but he was certain it was not a welcoming gesture.

“What’s up, Jack?” Mitch shouted as he turned and recognized his new acquaintance.

“Nothing. Are you about to go somewhere?” Jack asked.

Mitch hesitated. “Yeah, I was about to go and hang out with my brother and them up the street,” he said, trying not to sound as if it was an open invitation for Jack to come along.

“Oh … I was just coming out to see if you wanted to hang out down here,” Jack said as one of the other boys walked up to him with his hand out. He had an uneasy feeling about the young man’s gesture.

“Let me see ya ball,” the other called out, staring intently back at Jack.

Figuring it might buy him some extra bargaining time, Jack reluctantly handed it to him. He watched, puzzled, as the kid took the ball and began dribbling it between his legs like a basketball as he walked away.

Mitch’s heart was already set on following his older brother around; perhaps some of the coolness oozing from the other boys might rub off on him. Jack opened his mouth to speak, but Mitch cut him off. “I’ll be back in a little while. Are you gonna be home?”

“Yeah,” Jack replied, disappointed.

Just then an agitated Randy interrupted. “Come on, Mitch, or stay here.”

Mitch peevishly looked at Jack and then started to walk away. “See ya later,” he said as he turned.

Jack noticed that the boy dribbling his ball had turned and started to walk away with it, joining the rest of the departing group. “Hey, can I get my ball back?” he said as he started to walk toward the kid.

“No,” was the kid’s only reply, without so much as a look back at Jack.

His disappointing day was now turning to sheer anguish. “Come on; just give it back to me.”

This time the other did not reply, but just kept walking. Randy, not wanting this day to turn into any more of a hassle than it was already, said, “Just give him the ball back before he starts crying or something.”

“Fine,” the kid said. He turned around holding the ball out in front of himself, lofted it lightly, and punted it high into the air, sending it hurling over the neighbors’ house across the street.

Jack turned and watched it sail out of sight. He let out a faint sigh as he walked, humiliated, toward the neighbors’ house to recover his ball.

After sifting through the jungle of weeds and cars around his neighbors’ house, he finally found his ball and moped back to his driveway, mentally exhausted from the embarrassing ordeal. There he sat on the stone wall of his driveway, contemplating this disappointing occurrence. He sat there for so long, throwing the gravel from the driveway at the creases in the wall stones and attempting to land them in the cracks, that he lost track of time.

He was still sitting there when he heard a faint pattering of footsteps making their way down the street toward him. This time he was not concerned with who it was. Through the two large pine trees that made an arch over the walkway to his front door, he saw a figure trudging up the steps. Just before the person could reach the front door, Jack spoke up. “I’m right here.”

Mitch, undoubtedly bored with tagging along with his brother, had come to see if Jack wanted to hang out. Of course Jack was anxious to do anything that would take his mind off the events that took place earlier, and he and Mitch went off to explore whatever their imaginations could draw them into.

Chapter 5