Resisting the Tycoon’s Seduction Introduction
Eight year old Marissa watched with sad, tearful eyes as her mother’s coffin was lowered into the ground. She held onto her sister’s hand, but Sierra was only two so she was too young to understand what was happening. Marissa knew. She understood and she was so sad she could barely see through the tears streaming down her chubby cheeks. The pain in her tummy was making her feel like she wanted to throw up, but her father would get mad at her if she did that.
Her nanny stood behind her, a hand on her shoulder and every once in a while she would pat her shoulder, as if that were supposed to make her feel better.
It didn’t. She didn’t think anything would make her feel better. Her mother’s arms had always been soft, always inviting. Every time Marissa suspected that the monsters were hiding in her closet, about to invade her room, it was her mother who seemed to instinctively know that she was scared and would come in and sing to her until she fell asleep.
Sierra’s hand tightened on hers and Marissa looked down. Her little sister might not understand, but she knew that Marissa was sad. Which made the tears flow down her baby cheeks as well.
Marissa wiped the tears away and tried to smile down at her sister. Sierra didn’t need to understand. Marissa would protect her. And when Sierra started to get the monster visitors, Marissa knew that she could make the leap far enough from her bed so the toe-monsters couldn’t catch her. That way, she could go to her sister’s room and sing to Sierra until she fell asleep. She could do it, she told herself firmly. Sierra needed her now.
Back at the house, Marissa breathed a sigh of relief that they were finally away from the cemetery. She didn’t like the idea of her mother there either, but she couldn’t ask her father to bring her home. Somehow, she knew that her father wouldn’t allow that, might even get angry with her.
“Come on, Sierra,” Marissa coaxed. “Let’s go get some lemonade.” She took Sierra’s hand again and led her through the large house. In the back yard, set up beside the pool, there were four bar stations, all with her father’s men surrounding them.
Her large, round eyes looked at the crowd, wondering which place might have the lemonade that Betty, her father’s housekeeper, had promised her. No one else was drinking lemonade so she wasn’t really sure where to go. She looked around, but everyone had a glass with a dark liquid in it, or a beer bottle. She knew all about the beer bottles because her mother used to complain about them filling up the garbage cans instead of the recycling bins.
Marissa tried to think of good memories of her mother so she could tell them to Sierra, but she was thirsty and hungry now so it was harder to think.
“This way, little ones,” Betty whispered from the doorway of the kitchen.
Betty put Sierra into her special chair, the one that gave her enough height to sit at the table while Marissa climbed onto one of the stools. In the middle of the table sat a large pitcher of lemonade and Betty poured them both a glass. “There you go, dears. I have some sandwiches for you as well.”
Marissa sipped her lemonade while she watched the party unfold outside the kitchen windows. She saw her dad laughing at something someone just told him. Lots of men were around and only some women. The women didn’t look very sad about her mother “passing”, Marissa thought. She heard Betty sniffle behind them but nothing made sense today.
It was such an odd feeling, knowing that she wouldn’t ever see her mother again. The only explanation people kept giving her was “Cancer”. She didn’t know who “Cancer” was or why that person was more important than they were. Surely “Cancer” should be more polite than to take her mother away.
Marissa nibbled on the sandwich Betty placed in front of her, but watching her father laugh and joke with his friends had made her hunger disappear. For some reason, his laughter seemed to deepen the sad feelings she was trying to ignore. She wanted to yell at him, to stomp her feet and demand that he get rid of “Cancer” and bring her mother back.
She didn’t do anything like that though. She’d watched over the years and knew that no one yelled at her father. The one time Marissa had heard someone raise his voice to her father was Bruno Cordova. He’d been a huge, ugly, mean guy.
Come to think of it, Mr. Cordova hadn’t ever come back to the house. She supposed that her father didn’t invite anyone to his parties if they were mean.
But that didn’t make sense either. Because her uncle Carl was pretty mean. He was always pinching her if she passed by him. She’d learned to steer clear of him and would make sure he didn’t do that to Sierra either. It really hurt when he pinched her.
With a sigh, she stared down at her half eaten sandwich, her tummy starting to hurt again. She looked at Sierra who was busy eating tiny bites of fruit. Sierra’s chubby cheeks crinkled into a smile as soon as she realized Marissa was looking at her. Blinking back the tears, she smiled as well. “It’s going to be okay, Sierra,” she whispered.
Ten Years Later…
Marissa sat next to her sister on the sofa, both of them watching a movie and relaxing. It had been a hard week with Sierra coming down with the flu first, then Marissa. Her father had actually left the house because he hated being around sick people which suited them just fine. The house was much quieter when he wasn’t around. Besides, they had Betty to help them out.
“Have you chosen which school you want to go to?” Sierra asked, her voice barely above a whisper. Both of them were pretty worn out from trying to fight this bug.
Marissa sighed, trying to hide her frustration from Sierra. “Dad wants me to go to the University of Chicago,” she said, keeping all inflection from her tone so Sierra wouldn’t know how upset she was about their father’s decision.
Sierra lifted her head slowly from the pillow. “I’m sorry, Mari. I thought you were a shoe-in for Northwestern. Do you know why they rejected you?”
Marissa smiled and shook her head, patting Sierra’s hand. “I’m not worried about it.”
Sierra looked at her older sister for a long moment before she realized the truth. “You got in, didn’t you?”
Marissa shrugged one shoulder and pretended to become interested in the movie.
“You should go,” Sierra stated firmly, sitting up and fighting the urge to rush to the bathroom again. “You’re smart, Mari. You shouldn’t let this opportunity pass you by.”
Marissa smothered her sob, not wanting Sierra to know how desperately she wanted to get out of this house. Northwestern was only forty minutes away from where they lived so it wasn’t like she’d even be very far away. But her father had put his foot down about attending anything other than a school close to home. Marissa thought about arguing with him, or even not arguing and just leaving the house and doing what she wanted, but she had no means to pay for school and no one would give her a loan or financial aid. Not with her father’s income.
She could get a job, but the tuition, room and board at Northwestern was almost sixty thousand dollars for just one year of school. She couldn’t afford that unless her father was willing to pay. “The University of Chicago is a very good school,” Marissa countered.
Sierra shook her head. “Yes, but it isn’t Northwestern where you deserve to go!” She slumped down, her frustration showing. “Dad won’t let us do anything!” she whispered furiously.
At that moment, the character on the movie flung a baseball over to his stereo system, turning off the background snoring sounds before his parents entered his bedroom.
At the same moment, Sierra and Marissa both looked at each other, a slow, mischievous grin spreading across their faces. “Do you think…?” Sierra started to ask.
Marissa was almost laughing because she’d had the same thought. “Dad hates it when we’re sick,” Marissa continued. “I’m sure there are sounds…”
Both women bounded off the sofa, pushing any lingering symptoms aside so they could fashion their escape. With Marissa on the keyboard, they surfed through the Internet until they found wav files with just about any disgusting sound a sick person might make. They giggled as they made their plans, even figuring out how to wire small speakers to their beds as well as inside their bathrooms complete with remote controls. Sierra was the inspiration for the remotes saying that one of them needed to be outside the room if their father were to question the other’s sickness.
“Do you think it will work?” Sierra asked the next day, her flu completely forgotten as they drove to the store for the speakers.
“I think it’s perfect!” Marissa said, stopping by an ATM machine to get cash. If they’d learned one thing from their father, it was to never leave a paper trail. And since their father reviewed all of their credit card statements, it was best not to have their purchases create any questions.
It took them over a week to set up all the equipment they’d bought, not because there was a lot, but simply because they weren’t exactly sure how to wire all of the connections. Thankfully, their father didn’t ask any questions about their outings or silent bedroom activities. He was just relieved to be able to come back into his house. He’d gone to Miami for “meetings” during their last bout with the flu.
They tested their equipment over the next few months, carefully planning their “sicknesses”. They no longer asked their father if they could attend social functions because they didn’t want to give him a head’s up for the nights when they wanted to be “sick”, and therefore give him any suspicions.
Marissa had to laugh the first time Sierra went to her middle school dance with her friends. She started becoming “ill” three days before, but didn’t miss any school. So on Friday night, when her father looked at her and saw the pale skin and white lips thanks to their creative makeup application, he stayed away. Betty reported back to him later that evening that she’d heard vomiting in the bathroom. The following morning, Marissa was sitting at the breakfast table when Betty reported back to her father about more noises, knowing perfectly well that Sierra had spent a fabulous night out with her friends and had been home in bed by ten o’clock. She was just sleeping in today. By Sunday, she’d made a miraculous “recovery”.
Marissa’s class schedule was approved by her father, but he didn’t see the weekly computer classes she started taking on Thursday evenings. Nor was he aware of Sierra’s boyfriend, Marissa’s math classes, Sierra’s cooking classes or the dozens of nights they finally got to spend with their classmates and friends now that they had a reliable system for avoiding their father.
Zeke watched with growing frustration as the two older boys pushed the younger one around on the playground. A smarter kid probably would have just walked on by, but Zeke had been ridiculed all his life for both his enormous size and the tiny, dilapidated house he and his father lived in. He was sick of bullies. It didn’t matter if the abuse was physical or verbal, in Zeke’s mind, it was wrong.
He’d been heading home from the library which was a long walk and he still had about two more miles to go. It was almost dark so his dad would just be leaving for his job at the factory as a night janitor. Their town was dominated by the factory and its owners. The pay was pretty bad, the work conditions even worse but it kept the two of them fed. Zeke’s dad didn’t mind, as long as Zeke continued to thrive.
He placed his library books on the ground and walked over to the three boys. “What’s going on?” he asked casually, placing his hands on his hips so he was ready with whatever might happen.
Now that he was closer, he recognized all three of the boys. The older ones were Billy and Tommy while the younger one was less known to him, but Zeke recognized him as the son of the factory owner, Joshua Sanders. He was pretty skinny and probably about the same age as the two other boys, but smaller and wealthier, making the kid a prime target for bullies. Being the richest kid in the city had some disadvantages, he realized suddenly.
“This is none of your business, Zeke. Just keep on walking. Or did you miss that dirty hut you and your Pa call home already?” Billy snickered.
Tommy joined in the laughter, shaking his head as he added, “Don’t you have some garbage to dig out of your bed?”
Neither Zeke nor Joshua thought the quips were very funny. Taking another step closer, Zeke said, “Any reason Josh here needs to be pinned against that tree?”
Billy only pushed Joshua’s shoulder harder, causing the smaller boy to cringe. “I’m okay,” Joshua squeaked out, obviously reacting to the pressure of the two boys’ increasingly threatening grip.
“Doesn’t look like you’re okay,” Zeke said. A moment later, Zeke reached out and took the wrist of both bullies and twisted. “Josh, you sure you’re okay?” he asked while he maintained his hold. If the boys didn’t move, there was no pain in their arms. But since the boys kept trying to break free of his hold, Zeke knew they were hurting. Zeke’s father also helped out with maintenance problems around the karate school so Zeke had been allowed a few free lessons. They were coming in handy now.
“Let go, you stupid oaf!” Billy screamed.
Zeke looked down at Joshua, trying to determine if he was telling the truth.
“Thanks,” Joshua said, rubbing his shoulders and trying to smile up at Zeke. “But you can let them go.”
Zeke released both of the boys who quickly scampered back, glaring at Zeke who was a year older, but more than a foot taller. Zeke had always been self-conscious of his size and strength, but since there wasn’t anything he could do about it, he might as well use it to his advantage.
“Why don’t you both head on home?” he suggested.
Billy and Tommy were cowards. Unfortunately, they both had a huge dose of false bravado and they weren’t going to put up with commands, even from someone older and much bigger. Standing on either side of Zeke, they felt they had the upper hand.
“We can take him, can’t we, Billy?” Tommy called out, crouching down slightly, raising his fists in a fighting stance.
Billy looked at his friend warily, but didn’t want to be perceived as weaker. So a second later, he too took up the same position, both boys ready to pummel Zeke into the ground.
Josh tried to intervene, but Zeke just shook his head. “I’m okay,” he said with absolute confidence.
Billy and Tommy stupidly rushed him at the same time. Zeke didn’t even hesitate. He simply took a step backwards and both boys collided into each other, falling in disgrace onto the ground.
Joshua laughed and Zeke even had to chuckle as he watched the bullies try to figure out what had just happened. It was like a comedy act and Zeke wasn’t even breathing hard.
Billy wiped his nose, realizing that he’d knocked it into Tommy’s shoulder or elbow, he wasn’t exactly sure which. “You’re going to pay for that,” Billy growled and started towards Zeke again.
Zeke reached out and put a hand to the shorter boy’s head. Zeke was taller which meant all of his limbs were longer as well. So Zeke held Billy more than a foot away from him while Billy’s face went redder and redder with both the exertion of trying to break Zeke’s hold and the humiliation of being bested so easily.
When Tommy started to rush him, Zeke released Billy’s head which caused him to fall onto his face. Because of the angle of Billy’s fall, Tommy’s foot caught on Billy’s legs which caused him to tumble back down to the ground as well.
This continued for several minutes with Zeke barely even touching the two boys while Joshua had to cover his mouth to stifle his laughter. And each time Billy or Tommy stumbled, they would bruise or bloody another part of their bodies not to mention the mud and grass stains on their clothes and faces. Meanwhile, Zeke and Joshua remained clean and unblemished.
“Why don’t you two give it up and just go home?” Joshua finally asked when he could control his laughter enough.
Bill and Tommy turned around to glare at him. Billy couldn’t see through one of his eyes because he’d run into Tommy’s knee during one of his falls so it was almost swollen shut. While Tommy had completely missed Zeke during one of his rushes and fallen into the tree. The bark had badly scraped Tommy’s cheek. There wasn’t a great deal of blood, but it would look horrible in the morning.
Zeke was already late getting home and he was hungry now, which wasn’t unusual since, because of his size, he was pretty much always hungry. But these two boys were an irritation he didn’t need.
“Enough!” he shouted when Billy and Tommy picked themselves up and shifted around on unsteady feet, prepared to come at him one more time. “Go home and get yourselves cleaned up! This is over! You’re going to leave Joshua alone.”
Tommy looked at Billy, who only glared back at Zeke with fury in his eyes. Tommy nudged Billy’s shoulder, finished with being humiliated himself. “Come on, Billy. Let’s get out of here.”
Billy didn’t want to go, but doing this alone seemed suicidal. “Fine. But this isn’t over,” he growled.
Both boys grabbed their book bags and headed home on unsteady feet.
Joshua came over and stood next to Zeke, shaking his head as they both watched until the boys were far enough away to no longer be a threat. “Thanks for helping,” Joshua said softly, extending his hand with gratitude. “They were really going to hurt me before you stepped in to help.”
Zeke shook the little guy’s hand. “No problem. I’ll walk you home just in case they’re hiding around the corner. They’re weasels so I wouldn’t put anything past them.”
Josh looked up at the sky. “It’s pretty dark. Shouldn’t you be getting home?”
Zeke glanced up as well, then shrugged. “It’s okay. It’s not far out of my way.”
Joshua looked relieved as he picked up his own book bag, then waited for Zeke to lift all of his school and library books into his arms. “Don’t you have a book bag?” Joshua asked, walking beside the enormous kid who had saved him from a brutal pummeling.
Zeke shrugged. “Not really.”
Josh didn’t say anything, suddenly realizing who he was talking to. “Well, thanks for helping,” he said, feeling awkward because his father paid Zeke’s father so little. He was starting to understand the painful differences in their family incomes.
They talked about different things as they made their way across the park and over to the huge Victorian house at the edge of the town. This was where Joshua’s family lived. It literally was the largest house in town while Zeke’s humble abode was arguably the smallest and shabbiest. But at that moment, they became friends despite the economic deltas in their lifestyles and their dramatic body size differences.
“Want to come in for dinner?” Josh asked.
Zeke stood on the steps of the house and shook his head. Josh was wearing a button down shirt with pleated slacks and nice shoes. Zeke was wearing a tee-shirt with a ragged hem which barely fit him. This was the third day in a row he’d worn this pair of jeans. It wasn’t because he was lazy and hadn’t bothered with a clean pair. It was that he only had three pairs of jeans and had to wear each of them multiple days. Food was the priority in his father’s household. Clothes came much lower on the list.
“Thanks but I’d better…”
“Joshua!” a female voice said from the doorway. “Where have you been?” she demanded, coming down the stairs with fury in her eyes.
Zeke stared in wonder at the woman wearing a tailored, black dress and high heeled, black shoes. She even wore pearls in her ears and make up. Ms. Sanders was possibly the most beautiful and sophisticated woman Zeke had ever seen.
He’d never met his own mother. She’d died giving birth to him but he’d seen her wedding picture. It was faded and torn up now, but he’d always loved looking at her smiling face as she hugged his dad.
“This is Zeke,” Joshua stated loudly, not answering her question immediately.
Joshua’s mother stopped and looked at Zeke. “Hello, Zeke,” she said, extending her hand politely. “It’s very nice to meet you.” She looked at his face and his clothes, shaking her head. “Have you eaten, dear?” she asked kindly.
“He saved me from Billy and Tommy,” Joshua stated proudly.
Joshua’s mother stopped, her eyes turning back to Zeke with tears shimmering on the edges. “What were they doing to my son?” she demanded with quiet fury.
Zeke shifted uncomfortably on his heels. “They were probably just playing around,” he said, trying to make light of the trouble.
The beautiful woman pulled herself up and took a deep breath. “Those boys are horrid!” she stated emphatically. “If I weren’t so polite, I would go over to their houses and speak with their mothers!”
Zeke suspected that she wasn’t going over there because she was afraid of yet another confrontation, but he kept that opinion to himself. If it were his son, he probably would be calling the police about now.
“Well, that settles it,” she stated firmly. “Come inside and have some dinner. You look like you could use a home cooked meal.”
Joshua rolled his eyes. “You didn’t cook it, mom,” he teased.
The woman huffed as if that were irrelevant. “Regardless, the boy needs food, as do you.” She shushed them both inside the house. “Zeke, give me your phone number and I’ll call your mother to let her know that you’re staying for dinner. We’ll drive you home afterwards as well.”
“There’s no need, Ms. Sanders,” Zeke said, putting his books down on the floor next to Joshua’s book bag.
“Of course there’s a need. I don’t want your mother to worry,” she countered, looking at her son meaningfully.
Zeke shoved his hands into the worn out pockets of his jeans. “My mom’s not around.”
Ms. Sanders held the phone away from her ear. “What do you mean? Is she at the PTA meeting tonight?”
Zeke sighed. “She died,” he said finally, hoping that would end the conversation.
Ms. Sanders wasn’t sure what to say to that. “Oh,” was all that came out of her mouth. “Well, then your father?”
Zeke shrugged one more time. “He’s already at work,” Zeke explained self-consciously.
Ms. Sanders stared for a long moment as she absorbed this information. “I see,” she said softly and hung up the phone. “Well, it is much better that you’ve come here for dinner then,” she finally announced, regrouping quickly. “Come along, boys. Dinner is already on the table.”
She led the way into the pristine dining room, introducing Zeke to Joshua’s father. “It’s nice to meet you,” Mr. Sanders said, closing the newspaper and standing up to shake Zeke’s hand. “And where have you been?” Mr. Sanders said to Joshua, tussling his hair.
Zeke watched the people before him, amazed at how much the whole scene looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell picture. He thought his jaw was probably on the floor when a servant walked through one of the doors and put an enormous meat loaf onto the center of the table. There were already roasted potatoes and green beans as well as a salad just stuffed with different kinds of vegetables.
“Zeke, you sit over here,” Ms. Sanders was saying. “Take your seat, Joshua,” she admonished.
Both boys took their assigned seats and Zeke tried to take cues from everyone else, not sure about the appropriate behavior. When they all sat down and said a prayer of thanksgiving, Zeke wasn’t sure exactly what to do but he pretended to bow his head as well.
“Hand me your plate, Zeke. This dish is pretty hot,” Mr. Sanders explained.
Obediently, Zeke handed Josh’s father his plate, then watched with his mouth watering in anticipation as Mr. Sanders cut a thick slice of the meat loaf for him.
Unfortunately, the meat loaf didn’t make its way onto the plate. Because Josh was regaling his mother and father about Zeke’s rescue, the way Billy and Tommy kept falling over themselves trying to beat up Zeke and their mumbling humiliation as they walked away. At the beginning of the story, Mr. and Ms. Sanders simply looked at the two boys with horror and anger that anyone would dare to hurt their son. But by the end, they were laughing so hard, they were having trouble breathing, gasping between bouts of hilarity.
Meanwhile, Zeke’s face turned redder as they looked at him with gratitude and amusement but Zeke’s stomach started growling in pain and hunger. He’d had lunch but it was one of the school lunches and they were never enough for him. Usually, his father had three or four sandwiches already made by the time Zeke got home from the library for his dinner and Zeke never had to wait politely.
This time though, Zeke endured, even pasting a polite, if embarrassed, smile on his face and tried not to think about the delicious scents wafting around him. He and his father had soup occasionally, and every once in a while, his dad would come home with a whole chicken. But he’d never had meat loaf before. And he’d never had potatoes that looked so appealing, so warm and delicious. He couldn’t even imagine what the salad and green beans would taste like, and as the Sanders family continued to laugh about the early evening’s foibles, Zeke wondered if he ever would.
“Good grief, those boys are a nuisance,” Mr. Sanders finally said, wiping tears of laughter from his cheeks. “I’ll have a talk with their fathers in the morning, but I think we need to get the police involved. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and I’ve spoken with the fathers on more than one occasion so obviously, a gentleman’s handshake isn’t going to work. Legal steps must be taken,” he said firmly.
Ms. Sanders agreed with him but Zeke was just relieved to finally have some food in front of him. He waited until everyone else was served before picking up his fork. Not because he knew that was polite, but simply because he had no idea what he should do. So he waited for Mr. Sanders to pick up his fork and did everything the other man did.
He ate slowly, just like everyone else at the table. Unfortunately, everyone else wasn’t a growing teenager. So even by the time he’d finished off the ice cream for dessert, he was still hungry but kept quiet. By the end of the night, he thanked Ms. Sanders as he got into Mr. Sanders’ sedan. As Mr. Sanders drove him home, they talked about various things and Zeke was proud of how well he was able to keep up his end of the conversation with the older man. The factory came up several times with Mr. Sanders grumbling about competition with other manufacturers.
Zeke jumped out of the car that night, thanking Joshua’s father for the ride home. As he walked through the door, his mind was already going through what he knew of the factory, the various machines his father had mentioned and several ideas stormed through his mind. He sat down on his bed, munching on one of the sandwiches his father had left for him while he worked through the math in his mind, quickly coming up with a solution for one of the issues Mr. Sanders had discussed.
When the blue, flashing lights showed up outside his bedroom window, Zeke stood up and walked out of the house. Standing on the broken, wooden stoop, he shielded his eyes as the sheriff approached.
“Zeke Vaughn?” the gruff man called out, shining his flashlight in Zeke’s face.
Zeke nodded and took another bite of his sandwich. “Yes, sir,” he said quickly. “My dad’s not home. Can I help you?” he asked politely, but something about the way the sheriff was approaching was raising the hair on the back of his neck.
“You sure can. Turn around and put your hands on your head,” the sheriff commanded.
Zeke wasn’t sure what was going on. He was thirteen years old. And he was being arrested? This didn’t make sense.
“Excuse me, sir?” he asked, again, trying to be polite, but he was becoming scared.
The sheriff walked up and smacked the sandwich out of Zeke’s hand. “Think you can push around the smaller kids, beat them up and get away with it, huh?” he asked cruelly, twisting Zeke’s arm and slamming him up against the rough wood of their ramshackle house.
Zeke’s initial thought was to wonder if his sandwich would still be edible if he could pick it up off of the ground quickly. But the sheriff was snapping handcuffs on his wrists then dragging Zeke across their scraggly front lawn before shoving him into the back of the car. Zeke wasn’t sure what to do or even how to get in touch with his father. He was scared, hungry and unsure of how to proceed or even what he’d done wrong. Was he being arrested for not beating up Tommy and Billy?
An hour later, after being put in the holding cell with two other drunks, he finally figured out what was happening. Billy and Tommy, along with their fathers, stormed into the sheriff’s office, going on and on about how a brute like Zeke shouldn’t be allowed out of jail if he were going to beat up their sons. And Tommy and Billy played it up well. They were still bruised and bloodied, their eyes tearing up at all the appropriate moments. When the sheriff was looking, they were sad and scared, but when the sheriff looked away, the two boys would smirk across the office space in Zeke’s direction, an “I told you so” expression on their bruised faces.
The sheriff didn’t give Zeke a chance to try and reach his father and he spent a cold, terrifying night in the holding cell with no blanket and no food. He barely slept that night, too afraid of what might happen to him. No one knew he was here and it didn’t sound like the sheriff even cared.
Zeke’s home was pretty small, just two rooms with one of them being his tiny bedroom which didn’t include any windows. The main room was only big enough to hold a sofa, a television set and a small refrigerator, stove and sink that barely worked. As Zeke looked around the jail cell, he closed his eyes and pictured a place where he would have lots of room, space that would let him cook anything he wanted and a bed bigger than this whole sheriff’s office. There would be lots of sunshine and everything would be clean, he thought to himself.
He held that picture in his mind as he curled up into a ball, trying to find a comfortable place on the concrete floor so he might get a little sleep. He was tired and scared and not sure what the next day would hold.
When he heard his father’s voice the following morning, Zeke stood up quickly, ignoring the shooting pain in his legs from having slept on the cold, concrete floor. As Zeke looked at his surroundings, the walls seemed to close in around him. The bars were made of cold steel and the wall he was leaning against was freezing cinder blocks, the paint chipping off and making it feel even more frigid. There wasn’t even room for him to straighten his legs without kicking the other two men in the holding cell.
“Sheriff, I can’t find Zeke!” his father was saying. “He’s only thirteen years old. He should be home getting ready for school, but he didn’t eat his dinner last night and his bed hasn’t been slept in.”
The sheriff adjusted his belt along his hips and raised his hands to calm Duncan Vaughn down. “Slow down Duncan. Your son is fine. He’s been arrested for assault and has spent the night in the holding cell.”
Zeke’s father looked over, his eyes widening in horror as he saw in his son behind bars. “What? Why?”
The sheriff stepped in between father and son, shaking his head. “Duncan, you can’t see him now. He has to go in front of a judge for sentencing.”
Duncan was furious. “Are you telling me that you kept a thirteen year old boy in an adult holding cell and didn’t even bother to contact me? What kind of a man are you?” his father huffed. “And who says Zeke beat him up? Zeke doesn’t do that sort of thing!”
The sheriff was ignoring his father. “Zeke beat up Tommy Thornton and Billy McCabe. You should go over and see their fathers, maybe apologize.”
There was a loud noise outside of the doors a moment before Mr. Sanders stormed into the sheriff’s office. “Sheriff! What the hell is this I hear about you arresting Zeke Vaughn? How in the world could this have happened?”
The sheriff faced off with both furious fathers, his hand resting on his pistol in a threatening manner. “Now hold on, gentlemen. I have two angry dads who are pressing charges.”
“Are you referring to your drinking buddies McCabe and Thornton?” Mr. Sanders sneered ominously.
The sheriff wasn’t having any of that. “I may be friends with them, but they claim their sons were beaten up by Zeke Vaughn. I had to take action.”
“Not by arresting my son!” Duncan Vaughn roared. “He’s only a boy!”
Mr. Sanders huffed up, putting a hand out to hold Duncan back. “First of all, you damn well know that you broke the law by arresting a minor, putting him in with adult violators and then by not calling his father immediately. My secretary is already calling the governor’s office to see about pressing charges against you!” Mr. Sanders said in a low, growling voice.
This obviously got the sheriff upset because he started to huff and puff himself. But Mr. Sanders wasn’t finished. “Furthermore, Billy and Tommy assaulted my son. If it weren’t for Zeke here, my son might be in a hospital bed. Instead, those two cowardly boys ran home and lied to their fathers about what happened to cover up the beating they gave each other because of their own ineptitude. And if you don’t believe me, ask Ms. Jamison. She watched the whole thing from across the street. Zeke Vaughn didn’t lay a hand on Billy or Tommy.”
“So how did they get all beaten up?” the sheriff blustered, furious because he couldn’t intimidate a smaller man. And because he knew he’d done the wrong thing by arresting a minor but didn’t like his authority questioned by anyone.
“Why don’t you start investigating instead of just being a stupid, cowardly bully yourself?” Mr. Sanders challenged.
Ms. Jameson, a sweet, elderly lady who had lived across the street from the park for at least the last fifty years, stepped into the sheriff’s office, her eyes snapping around until she saw Zeke in the holding cell.
“Oh, you dear, sweet boy!” she gasped and rushed over to him, putting her elderly hands on Zeke’s fingers. “If I’d known that the sheriff had done this to you, I’d have been here earlier. I just heard the news and I’m sorry I am so late,” she said, her voice crackling with both age and emotion.
Turning around to the sheriff, she said, “Release this child immediately, George!”
The sheriff blushed but stood his ground. “Now Adelaide, I have to…”
The diminutive, elderly lady was not going to be patronized. “You have to do nothing more than release him immediately. You messed up, George! Now get the keys and release him or I’ll do it myself!”
With one more huff, the sheriff walked over to the door of the jail and opened it up with a key attached to his belt. “Okay, so what’s going on?” he demanded when Zeke and Duncan were hugging.
Adelaide pulled her white, wool sweater over her shoulders and glared up at the sheriff. “I saw the whole thing. That stupid oaf Tommy knocked Joshua to the ground, grabbed his collar and then Billy and Tommy pinned Joshua to the tree. Zeke was just walking home and stepped in. All he said was to stop but Billy and Tommy wouldn’t release Mr. Sanders’ boy. So Zeke took their wrists and did it for them. Next thing I knew, Billy and Tommy were on the ground with Zeke and Joshua standing there looking at them.”
It was at that moment that the two boys in question stepped into the sheriff’s office, obviously dressed up for court in their Sunday church clothes so they could tell their sob story to the judge. Tom Thornton heard the last of the explanation and started to interrupt but Mr. Sanders glared him into silence. Since Mr. Sanders was also Tom Thornton’s employer, the man backed down quickly.
Zeke stood beside his father while Adelaide Jamison continued telling the story, causing Zeke’s father and Mr. Sanders to chuckle at the retelling, just as it had done the previous night at dinner. Even the sheriff had to smother his laughter at some of the antics relayed.
When Adelaide was finished, the two boys were still looking angry. “I think it’s time you arrested Billy and Tommy for filing a false police report,” she said with a sweet smile towards their fathers. “And Duncan, I think you should get yourself a lawyer. What George did to your son was wrong and I believe you have a very good lawsuit against him.” She pulled out a card and handed it to him. “My son is a lawyer but don’t feel that you have to go with him. I’ve told him about the situation which is why I’m here. He urged me to step in and do something about the problem before it went too far.” She said this with an admonishing look at George.
By the end of the week, things had improved considerably. The two boys were expelled from school for fighting on school grounds, the sheriff was on unpaid administrative leave for abuse of power, enforced by the state’s attorney general who stepped in to make a name for himself, Duncan was given a raise and the two boys’ fathers were fired for being dishonest.
Throughout all of it, Zeke watched and learned. He was impressed that life could turn out so well if one stood up for something.
He even got a job out of the whole mess. When he went to Mr. Sanders and showed him his calculations on how to increase the factory’s shift work without a significant increase in cost, Mr. Sanders hired him on as a special intern, working with him after school.