Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Right of Wrong by Jerry W Crews

A series of astonishing revelations rock a lowly farmboy's world, in Jerry W Crew's darkly comic moral tale of family politics, which culminates in the courtroom.

When I was young we were poor but proud. At times we were too proud. Pride led my Pa and Ma to resist taking what was rightly theirs. They felt some sense of moral obligation to let bygones be bygones. I did not understand what motivated them to be so lackadaisical and was determined to right the wrongs against my family and to collect the just dues owed us. At the time I did not fully understand it, but I let pride dictate my actions. As it turned out, I should have left good enough alone.

My family worked and lived on a farm owned by Joshua Hawks. It was the only life I knew as my grandfather had moved there to work for Joshua's father. Grandpa and Grandma had worked there all their lives and raised a family. When they died it was passed on to their only son, my father. Pa fell in love with a young lady from a nearby town and so he and Ma made a home on Joshua's farm.

We were provided a small house at no cost and my Pa was paid a meager wage for working the corn fields. My Ma kept up our little house while looking after me and my younger sister. Three times a week she would make her way to Joshua's mansion and help in the kitchen to earn a little more money for our family. In the wintertime when there were no crops in the field my Pa would do errands around the farm to earn enough to get by.

Times were hard for us. Pa and Ma barely made enough to get by and there was no hope of ever improving our lives. We were considered poor white trash and the Hawks family, though never treating us harsh, was never beyond reminding us of our standing in the community. More than once I had seen Joshua and his rich buddies snicker at my Pa as we passed his home on the way to the corn fields. My Pa never said a word but I noticed and silently cursed the ground Joshua stood on. If it had opened up and swallowed him whole I would have danced and sang all the way home.

Joshua had one child, a son named Isaiah. He went by his nickname "Ike" and he was my age. In fact, we were born only a week apart. We were known to dislike each other and had several fistfights over the years. Finally, Joshua complained to Pa and ordered him to make me stop "whooping on his boy." Pa simply told me to stop fighting or he would take his belt to me. That was enough to get my attention and make me toe the line.

It was not the easiest thing to do when Ike made fun of my clothes and told me I smelled like a cow pasture. There was nothing I could do about my clothes but I knew I did not stink. Ma made sure I bathed every day and she worked hard washing my sister's and my clothes. They may have been ragged but they were clean.

I never understood why Ike had to act that way. He was given everything and I had practically nothing. Why did he want to try and take the little dignity I had left? The only thing I could figure was that he was just plain mean. He must have learned it by watching how his old man treated people, especially my Pa and Ma.

One time, after promising my Pa I would no longer fight Ike, my sister and I were walking by the mansion when his poodle came charging out of the house and tried to bite us. It scared my sister and she screamed. I kicked the dog in his ribs and he went scurrying off yelping all the way. Ike came running out of his house as mad as I had ever seen him. I tried to explain I was just protecting my sister and me from being bitten. In his anger he called my little sister a "whore." She did not know what it meant but she knew Ike was mad and was not saying anything nice. This made her cry. I had heard the word before but did not fully understand its meaning. All I knew was Ike made my sister cry. That was enough for me to punch him the belly. He bent over in pain and said he was going to tell his father. I told him to go ahead and I would tell his Pa what he called my baby sister. Even Joshua, as mean as he was, would not condone calling a little girl such a name. I never heard any more about this so I guess Ike never did say anything.

So it was and so it continued until after I had turned eighteen. This was when my world turned upside-down. I had an inclination of things to come when Joshua's aunt Mabel had come to visit him one summer evening. She had not seen me since I was a baby and on this particular day I happened to be walking by as they sat in the rocking chairs on the front porch. She was busy telling Joshua something about what the county commissioners were planning to do and how it would upset all the righteous sensibilities of God fearing people. I had no idea of what she was talking about but when I strolled by she stopped in mid-sentence. She yelled at me to come over closer.

I cautiously approached the porch and said, "Yes, ma'am?" She stared at me hard and asked, "Ike, why are you wearing those ragged old clothes?" I was about to correct her when Joshua spoke up, "Aunt Mabel put your glasses on." She fumbled in her pocket and found her bifocals. Holding them in front of her eyes she looked me up and down then declared, "He sure looks the way you did when you were younger. A fine, handsome young man, but where did he get those clothes?" I looked at Joshua but he just kept rocking in his chair and did not say anything.

"I'm not Ike. My name's Billy. I'm Billy Grayson." She squinted even harder to look at me again. After looking me up and down one more time she muttered, "So you are. So you are." As I turned to leave I saw her swat Joshua on his arm. He just shrugged and kept on rocking.

I never gave that incident much thought until later when the truth about things was revealed. Being a grown young man I became interested in young man things. I wanted to leave the farm and get a job in town but Pa and Ma were against it. They said they could not afford to take me to town every day for a job, and I guess this was true, but I suspected the real reason was they needed my help working the farm. Any work I did was less they had to do. So, I shelved any dreams I had of leaving and hunkered down and helped out.

One day when Pa and Ma had already left for the day's work I was still eating breakfast. My little sister, Madge, was busy washing the dishes my parents had left behind. I was daydreaming about something not that important and carelessly reached for my glass of milk, which I promptly spilled all over my shirt. Ignoring my sister laughing at me I cleaned it up and went to change. My other two shirts were dirty as now that I was bigger my Ma expected me to do my own laundry. I wasn't quite as diligent at it as she was.

Quietly cursing to myself I hurried into my parent's bedroom in the hopes of wearing one of my Pa's shirts until I got mine cleaned. In my rush I accidentally opened my Ma's dresser drawer instead of my Pa's. I had never had the opportunity to look at women's clothing up close before, especially their intimate garments, and was quite fascinated by all the things she had. They sure were different from the stuff us guys wore. One item particularly caught my attention. It was a skimpy black negligee. At the time I didn't think much about it, other than how fine and expensive it looked. It did look out of place in her drawer beside her other clothes. They were all plain looking and the negligee looked like it cost a hundred dollars.

Later in the afternoon, when I was shucking corn, I remembered something that had happened a few months earlier and it got me to thinking. Now, I'm not a peeping Tom, but I am curious. It was unusually hot one evening so I decided to go for a walk and hopefully cool down a bit. It didn't help much but as I was strolling by the Hawks' mansion I heard a noise coming from one of the bedrooms on the second floor. All the lights in the house were off and there was just a little light coming from the bedroom. The noise I heard was music. I like music and I didn't recognize this particular piece so I decided to investigate it a little further.

There was a big oak tree beside the house (it's still there), and so I shimmied up it and perched myself on a big limb directly across from the bedroom. I couldn't see a whole lot but I could hear the music quite well. It was a pretty tune with a good beat and I was enjoying it until I saw movement in the bedroom. I crunched down in an effort to avoid being seen and watched the shadow of a person walk past the window. It was a woman. I did get a glimpse of her backside as she walked away and, now as I was shucking corn it came to me... she was wearing a skimpy black negligee. Afraid of being caught I slid down the tree as fast as I could. As I was sliding I clearly heard Joshua Hawks say, "Come here baby."

Now I was perplexed at all this. I was already having a hard time figuring out how my Ma could have such an expensive piece of clothing and now I remember seeing a woman in Joshua Hawks' bedroom wearing what looked like the same negligee. The only thing I could figure was Joshua's wife, Darlene, must have bought the negligee and then gave it to Ma when she got tired of it. The only problem with this reasoning was Darlene is a rather short and large woman. I'm not trying to sound cruel, but I didn't see how she could fit her body in such a small piece of clothing. Besides, the backside of the woman I saw was tall and slender. She looked more like my Ma than she did Darlene. Normally, I'm not the suspicious kind, though I've become more so over the years, but all this did get me to wondering.

About a week after finding the negligee in Ma's drawer I awoke in the middle of the night. Usually I'm a sound sleeper, but it was hot and I was thirsty, so I stumbled to the kitchen to get me a drink of water. While I was standing drinking from a glass my parent's bedroom door slung open and Ma came out giggling. She was as surprised to see me as I was to see her, and I was especially surprised to see her wearing the negligee. We stared at each other for a minute and then she turned and went back to her room and closed the door. I was astounded. When I got a glimpse of her from the backside I had no doubt as to whom I had seen in Joshua Hawks' bedroom. It was my Ma.

To say I was shocked and bewildered is an understatement. How could my Ma do such a thing? How could she betray my Pa, and with someone like Joshua Hawks? All this left me in a very bad mood, to say the least. I ignored her as much as possible. The thought of what she had done hurt too much. I could hardly bring myself to look at her, and when she would speak to me, I would respond with as few words as I could.

She took note of my attitude and let me sulk for a few days. Finally, one morning after Pa had left for the fields she sent my sister on an errand and then turned to face me about the way I had been treating her.

"You've been awful quiet the last few days," she asserted.

"Yep."

"You want to tell me about it?" she asked.

"Nope."

She turned to the sink and picked up our big cast iron frying pan and slammed it down on the kitchen table. It startled me so bad I almost wet my pants.

"Billy Grayson don't you dare treat me this way!" she yelled. "I'm your mother and you will show me the respect I deserve!"

"You don't deserve no respect," I barked back at her. "At least, not in my book."

I shrunk back in fear fully expecting her to smack me upside the head, but she just stood there with the weirdest look on her face. She put the frying pan back in the sink and then sat down beside me at the table.

"Billy, what's wrong?" she asked in a kind and sweet voice. "Are you upset because you saw me the other night?"

"Yeah, I am," I replied.

"Well, son, it wasn't improper," she tried to reassure me. "You don't need to fret. I was clothed and you really didn't see anything."

"I saw more than I wanted to see," I declared.

She brushed her hair off her forehead and said, "You're eighteen now, son, you're gonna have to accept the facts of life. Your Pa and me love each other and we're not ashamed to share that love with each other."

"It ain't loving Pa that you should be ashamed of," I mumbled more than said.

"What are you talking about?" she asked - I could tell she realized I knew more than she thought I did.

So, I went ahead and told her about me climbing the oak tree at the Hawks' mansion and how I had seen her in Joshua's bedroom with nothing on but the negligee. She didn't have to say anything as I could see in her eyes it was the truth. Finally, she touched my hand and offered, "There's things that happen that it's best you don't know about."

I was flabbergasted. That's all she could say? She betrays my Pa and that's all she has to say? I angrily stood up and shouted, "You treat Pa that way and you think it's okay?"

"That's not what I was saying..."

I couldn't let her get away with this. "Don't try to explain it. I don't want to hear it. To think you had an affair with a man like Joshua Hawks, who looks down on us like we're dirt, is far more than I can deal with!"

"Billy, you don't understand..."

"Oh, I understand plenty!" I continued yelling. "I understand a man like him is gonna pay for how he's treated us. I'll see to that!"

Before she could respond I went into the living room and grabbed the shotgun. Despite her pleas I pushed by her and headed toward Hawks' house. I was determined to make things right even if it meant filling him full of buckshot. My Ma went screaming out to the field to get my Pa. I didn't care as wrong had been done and I was determined to set things right. On the way to the house I realized I hadn't grabbed any shells so I wasn't going to be able to shoot him, but I figured I could club him to death with the shotgun if necessary.

I marched right into the house. Joshua was in his library and I busted right through the door and pointed the shotgun at him. He eyed me over the top of his glasses and then arrogantly said, "Boy, in this house we knock before we enter a room."

"You've done disgraced my family and I'm not gonna let you get away with it!" I shouted as he slowly sat down in his rocking chair.

"And how have I done that?" he haughtily asked. I wished I had shells in the gun so I could have blasted that smug look off his face.

"Oh, you know what you've done!" I stammered. His lack of fear at having a gun pointed at him was throwing me off. I guess I had expected to see fear in his eyes and had hoped he would beg me for his life. "It's bad enough you've treated us like dirt all these years, but now I find out you've done violated my Ma!"

"Treated you like dirt?" he asked in mocked surprise. "Why, boy, I've done nothing but provided your family with gainful employment. I would think you would show some gratitude to me for that."

"Wow! You've got some gall, old man!" I continued yelling. "You sit there all smug and everything. I know you had sex with my Ma and I'm here to set things right!"

"So, that's what this is all about," he surmised as he rubbed his chin in thought.

It was at this moment my Pa and Ma came rushing into the room. Ma yelled my name and Pa just stood there surveying the scene. Finally, he ordered me, "Boy, put the gun down."

"I ain't doing it, Pa," I objected. "This man's gotta pay."

"What's he done?" my Pa asked.

"Tell him Ma. Tell him what this scoundrel's done!" I shouted at her.

She looked at me for the longest time. It was quite an awkward silence. Finally, my Pa spoke again and offered, "It's all right son. Just put the gun down."

"Pa, you don't know what these two have done behind your back!" I screamed.

"Yes, I do," he said. At first, I thought I had misunderstood him. He knew? If he did, then why wasn't he as mad as me, or even madder since it was his wife?

"Yes, I do," he repeated. I slowly lowered the gun from pointing at Joshua. "You know?" I stammered.

"He's known all along, Billy," my Ma declared.

"That's right, son," my Pa offered. "Your Ma and Joshua spend some time together twice a month."

Well, to say I was shocked would not be the half of it. They'd been having a regular affair and my Pa was okay with it. None of this was making any sense to me. The only thing I could think to say was, "You're gonna have to explain that one to me."

"I will, but first give me the shotgun," my Pa said.

"Oh, it ain't got no shells in it," I mumbled as I was still in a state of shock. Joshua laughed at this and asked, "How was you gonna shoot me?"

"I wasn't," I replied. "I was gonna beat you to death."

My Pa took the gun out of my hand anyway just to be safe. He set it on a desk and turned back to me, "I guess you're old enough to know the truth."

"Son, I want you know I love your Pa very much," my Ma interjected. I looked at her and sneered but she continued, "It's just I like Joshua, too."

"And I like your Ma," declared Joshua. "I even bought her a beautiful sleek black negligee. She looks good in it."

"You stay out of this!" I shouted at him. "I still don't like you and may try to hurt you, yet."

"Now, calm yourself, boy," my Pa said. "It's okay. Your Ma has certain needs and Joshua helps her with them."

"She takes care of some of my needs, too," smirked Joshua. This was too much for me. I was tired of his attitude and so I lunged at him with the purpose of smashing his smug face into the back of his skull. My Pa caught me before I could reach him and pulled me out of the way. "You can't hurt him!" he yelled at me.

"Oh, yes, I can!" I shouted back.

"No, you can't," he said a little softer. "He's your real Pa."

Well, as you can imagine, this hit me in the chest like a ton of bricks. All I could do was mouth in disbelief, "My Pa?"

"Yep, I'm your biological father, boy," Joshua declared. I was in a state of denial but I flashed back to that time when I was fifteen and had been mistaken by Joshua's aunt Mabel for Ike. At the time she had told Joshua I looked exactly the way he did when he was my age. Now, what she had said came rushing back to me and I understood what she meant.

This revelation was too much for me and I slowly sank to the floor. "I'm his son?" I kept saying over and over. My Ma sat down beside me and put her arm around me. "It's okay, Billy. Your Pa was willing to raise you like you were his own. I know he loves you as much as if you were his."

"I surely do," agreed my Pa. "As far as I'm concerned, you're my son."

Slowly my mind starting clearing itself and I was able to do a little bit of reasoning. "So, Ike and me are brothers?"

"You're half brothers," interjected Joshua. I still didn't like him.

"We were going to tell you before you left home, at a time when you wouldn't get so upset about it," my Ma explained. "But you had to go and see us together, so we're forced to tell you now."

I still was not thinking the best and all I could do was nod my head in agreement. After some more clouded deliberation I declared, "Well, this just ain't right. Joshua oughta be made to look after his children better than I've been looked after. Ike gets to run around in all his fancy clothes and all I've got is three sets that has to last me all year."

"That's because his mother is my wife," Joshua declared. "Your mother belongs to another man and this is what he provides for you."

His attitude was starting to get on my nerves again, so I shot back at him, "Oh yeah, that makes perfect sense. He knows who his Pa and Ma is and he gets to be the rich kid."

"I didn't say I was his father," revealed Joshua. "I said his mother is my wife."

Well, he just dropped another ton of bricks on me. I stammered, "He's not? Then who is?" My Pa looked down at the floor and then sheepishly replied, "I am." My emotions had already been torn ragged and now my Pa was admitting to being the father of Ike. I felt like I was going to die right there in front of everybody.

"That's right, boy," Joshua smirked. "My wife and him made a son and I've been raising him like he's my own. Like I said earlier, it's that way because his mother is my wife."

I weakly said, "Pa?"

"It's okay," my Ma said trying to reassure me again. "When I'm with Joshua a couple times a month, where do you think your Pa is?"

Well, I couldn't help it, I threw up right there on Joshua's fancy carpet. He started cursing at me, and so Ma and Pa escorted me outside. The fresh air helped and it wasn't long till my head starting clearing again. Finally, I looked at them and asked, "Is there anything else you want to tell me? I can't get any sicker. I ain't got nothing left on my stomach to upchuck."

"No, not really," my Ma said.

We started walking home when I remembered my little sister. I turned to her and asked, "Who's Madge's Pa?"

"That's me," my Pa replied with a little more pride than I thought was necessary. We walked a little further and then I looked at Ma and asked, "You are her Ma, right?"

She laughed and assured me she was.

So, that was how I found out my rightful heritage and it was not long before I started plotting on how to cash in on it. Like I mentioned earlier, we were poor but we were proud. I became intent on making Joshua pay for his years of neglect and right the wrong I felt had been done me and my family. As it turned out, not only was I proud, but I was stubborn with a dash of stupidity thrown in.

A few days later Joshua and Darlene, figuring the cat was out of the bag, told Ike who his real father was. He didn't take it as good as I did. We could hear the yelling and cursing all the way down to our little house. I went outside and saw Ike storm out of the mansion and jump in his new car and tear off down the road. If I would've had a new car, or even an old car for that matter, I would've done the same thing when I found out who my real Pa was.

When I went back into our house Ma was busy at the kitchen sink and Pa was reading the newspaper in his chair in the living room. I approached him and told him what I'd been thinking.

"Pa, can I talk to you about all this stuff?"

"What stuff?" he asked like he didn't know.

"Well, you know, about how we're gonna make old Joshua pay for what he did," I declared.

He looked at me real hard and put down the paper. Ma overheard me and came in the room to join us.

"I don't see where he's gotta pay for anything," my Pa replied.

"Well, it seems to me he owes us something," I offered. "Most men are willing to take care of any children they father."

My Pa thought for a minute and then said, "You said I was your Pa. I take care of you, so, he don't owe us a thing."

"But, we've been poor all our lives," I continued. "This is a chance to make a better life for ourselves. Old Joshua can afford it. He's as rich as they come."

"It wouldn't be right," my Ma declared. "That means I'd be taking money for what I did and I ain't that kind of woman."

I had to think about that for awhile. It seemed like she was saying it was okay to be a slut but it was wrong to be a whore. That didn't make a lick of sense to me but I wasn't going to argue the point with her, especially with her within striking distance. Finally I said, "Well, I think he owes me."

"I don't see how," my Pa asserted. "You've been my son and we've given you everything you need."

I chose my words carefully. "I know, and I appreciate it, but I could have a whole lot more if Joshua would do the right thing."

"Oh, son, be careful of swelling up with pride," my Ma said as she wagged her finger at me. "You know 'pride comes before a fall.'"

"Well, I think this family's got a little too much pride," I boldly declared. "Joshua owes us, he owes me, and we're too proud to do anything about it!"

"You need to show a little more respect for your Ma than to say something like that," my Pa bristled as Ma moved uncomfortably close to me. By uncomfortable I mean within arm's reach.

"Look here, young man," she sternly said as her voice rose to the occasion. "What I do with Joshua is mine and your Pa's business. You are to stay out of it and don't try to do anything foolish! Do you hear me?"

I didn't respond to her, more out of fear than disagreement with her. There was an awkward silence and finally my Pa said, "Son, I think you'd better go on and go to your room. We'll see you in the morning."

It was still light but I could see he was right. As I trudged off to my room Ma took one last parting shot, "You think about what I said. You think long and hard about it."

So, as I lay on my bed in the twilight I took her advice. She told me to not do anything foolish. The only thing foolish to me was to not do anything. It was time to put what I'd been planning into motion. I was convinced what I was going to do was the best for me and my family. The next day I was going to go to town to see a lawyer.

In the morning I left them a note and hitched a ride to town. I knew exactly the lawyer I wanted to see. He was Grover Breckinridge, a man who held a terrible hatred for Joshua Hawks. At the time, I didn't understand the origin of his hatred but I knew he was the most likely person to help me get my just dues.

I marched into his office without an appointment and asked to speak to him. His young secretary, Sissy, smiled at me and said he was busy. She was so beautiful and sweet I almost forgot why I was there, but it came back to me.

"I need to hire him!" I declared in a loud and demanding voice.

"He's busy," she said again as her smile disappeared.

"I have been done wrong and I need him to fix it!" I continued yelling, making my voice as deep and manly as I could. It was designed to impress her more than anything else, and I think it was working until my youthful voice cracked and pitched higher than hers. She started to reply when Grover came out of his office in a huff.

"Who's making all this God awful noise?" he demanded. She pointed her finger at me. It was a cute finger, all petite and well manicured. I was somewhat transfixed by it until I realized I had better explain my reason for being so loud.

"It's me, Mr. Breckinridge," I asserted. "I have come here to hire your services."

"You got any money, boy?" he asked with a smirk. "I'm not cheap."

"I will if you take my case," I replied.

"Well, make an appointment," he replied as he turned back to his office. "And be quiet about it."

"I want to sue Joshua Hawks," I continued. He stopped in mid-stride and turned back to me.

"What's he done to you to rile you up so?" he asked as I could see his interest in me had grown considerably.

"I've done found out he got with my Ma and they made me," I declared as unflinching as I could while glancing at Sissy to see if it impressed her at all that my real father was a very rich man.

Grover walked over to me and placed his hand on my shoulder. "Joshua Hawks is your father?"

"Yes he is, and I want to make him pay!" I said with as much force as I could muster.

"Well, this is interesting," he said with a smile. "Come on into my office and let's talk. Sissy, hold my calls."

We talked most of the morning about my family situation. Several times Grover licked his lips in eager anticipation of getting Joshua into a court room and taking him for all he could get. That was okay with me. I wanted him to do all he could to set things right.

He was so impressed with the case he agreed to handle it pro bono up front with the stipulation he would get fifty percent of any judgment awarded. I agreed to it because I figured old Joshua owed me a lot and there would be plenty for everybody. As I was leaving I apologized to Sissy for my earlier behavior and thanked her for letting me see Grover. She sure made my heart flutter when she touched my hand and told me she was looking forward to seeing me again when I came back.

It was late in the afternoon when I got home and faced Ma and Pa. They were not happy with me leaving all the day's work for them, so I explained to them how they would no longer need to work as hard as they did once Grover had collected our rightful dues. Instead of being happy over our future windfall they became quite angry at me.

"Boy, you're stirring up a lot of unnecessary trouble," my Pa declared. "There ain't no need for you go off and do something like that."

"He owes us and I've got my mind set that he's gonna pay," I shot back at him. "I would've thought you would be happy at what I'm trying to do."

"Happy?" my Ma yelled. "You're ruining everything and I'm supposed to be happy?"

"I ain't running nothing," I protested. "I'm trying to make things right!"

"Oh, yes you are," she continued. "When Joshua finds out about this he'll take it out on me and he won't care to see me no more! You're just ruining everything!"

I was shocked. After all this, she was more interested in her two days a month of immoral lust than what was best for our family and me.

"Well, I've made my decision," I stubbornly declared. "I'm eighteen and I'm old enough to do this on my own!"

Pa chimed in, "And Darlene won't care to see me no more, either!"

I had about all I could stand so I shouted, "What's wrong with you people? Is that all you can think about?"

Ma looked at me with those cold piercing eyes she used when she was about to tan my hide, "It's the one extra pleasure we allow ourselves and you're trying to take it away from us."

"But, don't you see how he's used you?" I protested. "He treats us like dirt, don't pay us hardly nothing at all, and then he gets to pleasure himself with you."

"I don't feel used," my Pa asserted.

"Me either," agreed Ma.

"He pays a fair wage and gives us this house to live in," Pa continued. "Why would we want anything else?"

"I like the way things are just the way they are," my Ma interjected.

It finally dawned on me my Ma and Pa actually enjoyed their way of life and were resentful of anyone trying to change it. I didn't understand how they could think that way and, to this day, I still don't understand their thinking. In frustration I blurted out, "Well, this is just dandy. I try to make things better and all you want to do is to go on living in your little Sodom and Gomorrah!"

This was when Ma slapped me. She slapped me hard and it was the last time she ever did. I stood there sneering at her and then stomped off to my room. It was my way of keeping them from seeing me cry. The tears were not from the slap, but were coming from finally understanding that my Ma and Pa deserved the snickers done behind their backs by other folks.

Ma and Pa were right. Two days later Joshua received the summons for the lawsuit and he got as angry as a man could get. He ordered us out of our house and off the farm. I went to Grover and he obtained an injunction against this and we got to stay in our house. Joshua let us keep working as he couldn't find anyone to work as cheap as we did, but he had nothing to do with Ma anymore. Darlene was mad too, though I suspect she was more embarrassed than anything else. But she wasn't mad enough to keep her and Pa from still sneaking around to see each other without Ma and Joshua knowing.

About a month after this Darlene came down to our house to see me one day when I was alone. I always liked her and never understood how she could stand to live with a man like Joshua. After some small talk she got to the point, "Billy, Joshua wants you to drop your lawsuit."

"I bet he does," I bristled. "He wants to deny ever fathering me."

"No, that's not it," she asserted. "He feels it would be better if things were kept private and out of the public eye."

"Yeah, I'm sure he wants to keep everything quiet," I smirked. "That's been the problem around here. Everybody wants to keep everything undercover so nobody will think any less of them."

She bit her lower lip and then said, "He's willing to give you some money if you'll drop the suit."

This caught me by surprise. I always figured it would be settled in court. "How much?" I asked.

"He said five hundred thousand dollars if you're willing to never expect anything more," she revealed. "That means that's all you'll ever get. You won't be in his will and you give up all your rights as his son."

That was a lot of money, especially when the most I had ever seen in my life was a ten dollar bill, but I suspected it was small potatoes to a man like Joshua.

"He doesn't even regard me enough to come and offer it himself?" I reflected. "He has to send you instead."

She shrugged her shoulders and asked, "What do you want me to tell him?"

I thought for a minute and then said, "Darlene, I've always respected you. I still do, even though you and Pa do what you do. But let me ask you, if you were me, what would you do?"

She patted me on the arm, turned and started walking toward her house. I yelled after her, "You didn't answer me."

She kept walking but shouted back at me, "See you in court, Billy."

Our family was not the same. It never was again. Ma and Pa became more and more distant with me as the trial date approached and they stayed that way for several years. One bright thing was it brought Madge and me closer. She had always been my little sister and I had treated her that way. Now, she was the only family member I could turn to and she always had a willing ear and encouraging word to say. Without her kindness I would have been the loneliest person in the world.

A few days before the trial was to start Ike came by our house to see Pa. They talked for a long time but I never did find out what they discussed. All I know is he surprised everybody and enlisted in the army the next day. I believe he was intent on getting as far away from our families as he could. As for me, my thoughts were consumed by the upcoming court drama.

The lawsuit itself did not attract much attention until one of the local reporters for the newspaper decided to run an article about it. Then it became the talk of the town. People took a great interest in whether a poor eighteen-year-old boy could get his just due against one of the stalwarts of the community.

The day for the trial came and I was basking in all the attention as Joshua fumed. He refused to even look at me as we took our seats in front of the judge's bench. I sat between Grover and Sissy while Joshua was beside his high-priced fancy dressed lawyer. Seated behind me was Madge as Ma and Pa refused to attend. Darlene was behind Joshua. I took a quick look around before the judge came out of his chambers and was surprised as to how many folks were in attendance. It was a full house with a few men but mostly women and some children. The bailiff ordered us all to rise for the judge's entrance and Grover gave me a reassuring thumbs-up.

A jury was selected and we went through the opening arguments. Finally, it was my time to take the stand as the plaintiff. After I was sworn in I took my seat and could feel Joshua's eyes staring a hole through me. I don't think anyone ever wanted someone dead as much as he did me at that moment. With Grover's expert help I stated my case as to why I thought I deserved to be treated as an heir of the Hawks' fortune. Also, I was looking for restitution in the amount of two million dollars for being his biological son who was neglected by him for eighteen years. I explained how I had to grow up poor and do without due to his negligence. Grover asked me if I had been emotionally scarred from such mistreatment and I agreed I had.

Then it was time for my cross examination. I braced myself for the worst. Grover had drilled me with different sample questions and I felt I was ready for anything Joshua's fancy lawyer could throw at me. But, he surprised me by not trying to break me. All he asked was how I was raised and whether I had suffered as a child growing up. The point he was trying to make was Joshua had provided a home and employment for my Ma and Pa and therefore, had indirectly taken care of me. He insinuated that would have been enough for most folks and wanted to know why it wasn't enough for me. I replied because he treated Ike better than he ever treated me and no one could tell me this was right.

We were all surprised when Joshua decided to take the stand in his own defense. Grover said he was sure his lawyer advised against it but Joshua was a stubborn man. He was used to getting his way and he wanted to tell the world what an ungrateful brat I was. His lawyer let him talk and he rambled on about how he had the highest regard for my Ma and never regretted her getting pregnant. He said he knew he had an obligation toward me and that was why he had provided for my Pa and Ma. Then it was Grover's turn to cross examine his testimony. This was the moment Grover had been waiting for all his life, to get Joshua on the stand and under oath. He almost jumped out of his chair with excitement when it came his turn.

"So, Mr. Hawks, you say you kept the Grayson family employed on your farm in order to make sure Billy, your biological son, was cared for," Grover restated. "Is this correct?"

"Yes, it is," replied Joshua as he looked with scorn at Grover. There definitely was no love lost between the two men.

"So, I assume then that once Billy's mother was pregnant, you never had relations with her again," Grover surmised. "Is that correct?"

"Well, we didn't stop right then," he replied.

"Oh? But after Billy was born you did stop the affair," Grover continued. "Is that correct?"

"Well, no we didn't stop then, either," he answered as he started to squirm uncomfortably in his seat.

"You didn't?" asked Grover with mocked surprise. "Then, Mr. Hawks, just when did you stop your affair with Billy's mother?"

"Uh, it was about three months ago," he muttered more than said.

"Three months ago?" restated Grover. "That was about the time Billy filed his lawsuit against you, wasn't it?"

"I believe it was," he agreed as I noticed his lawyer drop his head in a sure sign of defeat.

"So, can we say you kept the Grayson family as employees on your farm for the simple purpose of satisfying your carnal desires, and not for the welfare of your illegitimate son?"

"No, that's not it at all..."

"Can we not say you have shown no desire to accept your parental responsibilities for a child bred by another woman other than your wife?" continued Grover as the volume of his voice increased with each point made.

"No, you're twisting things..."

"Is it not true that you despise Billy Grayson, wished he was never born, and put pressure on him and his family to settle out of court to avoid further embarrassment on your part?" Grover asked, by now almost shouting.

"No, no, no..."

"Isn't it true the son you raised, Isaiah Hawks, is not your biological son, but was fathered by another man?" continued Grover.

"Yes, but..."

At this revelation a roar went through the courtroom and the judge had to bang his gavel to restore quiet. Grover took a moment to let everything sink in, and then with the confidence of having Joshua right where he wanted him he asked, "So, please tell us Mr. Hawks, why over all these years have you treated someone who is not related to you at all better than you've treated Billy Grayson, who in every sense of the word is your son?"

Well, it had become so quiet in the courtroom you could hear a pin drop. Sissy reached over and grabbed my hand and held it tight. This was somewhat of a distraction as I was trying my best to concentrate on Joshua's response, but I can't say I really minded. Joshua was so mad and stared at Grover so hard I believe smoke would have boiled out his ears if it had been possible. His face was the reddest I had ever seen and it was all he could do to keep from shaking. Finally, Grover spoke, "We're waiting for your answer, Mr. Hawks?"

His lips moved as if he was about to say something when a lady stood up in the back of the courtroom and shouted, "Your Honor, Joshua Hawks is the father of my little girl!"

Another roar tore through the room and the judge kept banging his gavel trying to quiet everyone down. It wasn't long before another woman yelled, "He's the father of my two boys!" Another woman held up what looked like a four month old baby and declared, "This is his!" One after another arose and shouted the fact that Joshua was the father of their children as the judge kept swinging his gavel in a vain attempt to restore order to the room. I quickly lost count of how many women kept coming forth. Joshua Hawks may have been a mean old goat but he sure knew his way around women. Eventually, one woman stood up who I recognized. It was Shelly Breckinridge, Grover's wife, and she yelled that Joshua was the father of her son. It immediately dawned on me why Grover had such a dislike for Joshua. I found out later he didn't know the child was Joshua's, but he did know she had an affair with him, and this was the reason for all his bitterness.

As soon as one woman would quit speaking another stood and took her place. It was an amazing sight to see. The judge finally gave up and tossed his gavel down and ordered the bailiff to clear the room. Seeing all this Joshua stood up in the witness stand and glared at Grover and then at me. He was so red faced I thought his head was going to explode. His head didn't but his heart did. He grabbed his chest and fell down dead.

It's been several years since that day in the courthouse and things have certainly changed. The fortune I was hoping to gain never materialized as there were so many families laying claim to Joshua's estate that when it was all divided out we each received a settlement of fifty thousand dollars. I only got half of that because I had agreed to give Grover the other half for representing me. So, the dirty little secrets of Joshua Hawks came out into the open, but I would have been financially better off if I had settled with him instead of going to trial. But, like I said earlier, I was proud and stubborn and this was the final result of me trying to make right of the wrong I felt done to me and my family.

Now, before you go and start feeling sorry for me, let me tell you everything turned out all right for everyone. Grover and his wife reconciled and seem to be as happy as ever. He loves their son and treats him as his own. Ike has made a career out of the army and is moving up the ranks. We speak from time to time and he's really not a bad person. The army has done him good. His mother, Darlene, remarried. Being rich all her life she knew exactly what to do to snare another rich man. There is a rumor that she and Pa still see each other but I've never asked. I thought I'd best leave that one alone.

Ma and Pa moved to town and Pa got a job in a hardware store. Ma works at the dry cleaners. It took a while but they finally accepted me back in as a cherished member of the family. I don't know if they will ever fully understand why I did what I did, but they appear to be willing to let bygones be bygones. And besides, they're doing quite well, as my little sister, Madge, married a very wealthy man. He likes us all and treats us just like family. Anything Ma, Pa, or me need or want, he goes out of his way to see that we get it. He's a good man and they love each other very much.

As for me, I'm working as a paralegal for Grover while I study law at the university. He says I have a knack for arguing and I might as well make a living doing it. As for Sissy, she and I got married two years ago. I still have a hard time believing she fell in love with someone like me, but I'm not going to question it. I'm just going to enjoy it as I love her with all my heart. She's expecting our first child. It will be Ma and Pa's first grandbaby. Sissy and I together both assured them the child was mine. It seemed the right thing to do.

2 comments:

  1. this reads to me like an old fashioned american fifties story/movie, they don´t make them like that any more, type thing. but there´s more i feel,it´s about feelings and resentment and of course, as mentioned, pride.
    the style of writing is i feel very clever and evokes the period.

    michael mccarthy

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  2. Read like a good old southern USA story. It had a very good twist for an ending. Great job. Keep up the good writing.

    Jim Allison

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