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The Best of Intentions

by Chris Yeager

     Rain pinged against the roof of the 1977 Monte Carlo as James sat and looked to the front of the school building. Water seeped around the edges of the T-tops and collected into cold fat drops which would land with a splash on the sun-bleached gray plastic of the dashboard. James barely took notice. He felt the weight of the crowbar resting in his lap. It was cold and wet with condensation.

      James looked again at the small photograph, the kind you get from a machine in a grocery store, where you sit in a booth, and it spits out a string of 5 slightly moist black and white photos. This photo was carefully cut from the rest. James had found it inside his Sarahís purse. It showed her kissing a blonde haired kid. He stared at the face in the photo. The kid couldnít be more than 16 years old. He didnít know the kidís name. Sarah wouldnít tell him.

      It was ten after two. Already students were starting to trickle through the entrance at the front of the school building. There were several entrances to the school. The one in back opened into the parking lot, and there were several smaller exits around the perimeter of the building. The students exiting on this side hustled through the rain to cars parked on the street or to one of the bus-stops down the road.

      The first time James had waited outside the school, he had picked the rear entrance, parking in the lot behind the school. He knew the boy went to this school with his wifeís daughter, and from the picture he looked like he might be a senior with his own parking space. He had told his boss that his step-daughter was sick, and he had to get home early on Tuesdays because his wife got off late. This was the third week in a row that James had come out here, and the excuse was running thin. This was something that had to get done and he would spend every Tuesday for the rest of his days out here if thatís what it took.

     James studied the faces of the students as they exited the building. Largely ignoring the girls, he focused on the face of every male student that had the stocky build and thick neck of the kid in the photograph. He wrapped his fingers around the length of the crowbar. It was short, about 15 inches long. James had picked it up as a day-laborer on a job-site years ago. The foreman, a real hardass by the name of Gerald who loved to make the laborers wash his truck when the regulars had gone home for the day, had left it on a bench when he went to the john. James had stashed it in his trunk, and there it stayed until last month. It had little pocks of rust from several winters in the leaky Chevy, but it would do the job.

      James jammed the crowbar between the driverís seat and the center console, so that only the flattened end barely stuck out. The kids were starting to come out in one large group now. It was after 2:30. Classes had been dismissed for the day. James opened the driverís side door and stepped out into the wet street. He pulled the collar of his jacket close around his neck, and pulled the brim of his black baseball cap low over his eyes. He walked forward to get a better view of the students coming out of the school. He stood directly across the street from the entrance and pulled his phone from his pocket. He held the phone at his waist level and tilted his head as if he were looking at the display, but his eyes were fixed on the faces of the students as they streamed out into the street.

      His heart rose in his chest. He saw him. He was shorter than James had expected, maybe 5í 6". James had expected from his build that he would be a burly football player type, but his stocky build in the photo had been exaggerated by his short stature. The kid hit the street and turned left to the end of the block, crossed over to Jamesí side and headed away from the school.

     James turned and made his way back to his parked car. He started the car and waited a moment. James knew that there was no street parking on that street and that the kid would have to walk over to the next block if he was going for a car and even further if he was walking home or to the pizza parlor that the students sometimes went to after classes.

     James pulled the car into the street and slowly made his way down the block. He turned left at the next street, the way that the kid had gone. He could see him way down at the other end of the block. The street was filled with kids and James had to move slowly. The kid took a right at the corner. James slowly followed. He stopped at the intersection to let a large group of students cross the street. He kept his eyes on back of the grey hooded sweatshirt. The kid stopped at a small brown Toyota and stepped into the car.

     James turned to slowly follow. The Toyota pulled out into the street with James right behind. James touched the sharp end of the crowbar tucked next to him, reassuring himself that it hadnít slipped down under the seat. James followed the little Toyota a few car lengths behind. He was close enough to keep an eye on the car, but not so close as to arouse suspicion. After a few blocks the Toyota turned right onto an arterial, and James let a few cars go by before he turned to follow. It was best to have a few cars between us.

     He followed as the small car merged onto the freeway and headed north out of the city and into the suburbs. This just keeps getting better, thought James.

     The two cars traveled north through the freeway traffic for the better part of an hour. The overcast was thick, and the sun was getting low in the sky by the time the Toyota pulled off the freeway with the Monte Carlo close behind. The kid pulled into a gas station and parked next to a pump. James pulled into a parking space next to the station market and watched in the cracked driverís side mirror as the kid pumped gas into his car. James looked around at the other people at the gas station. There were a few others pumping gas and another inside paying the attendant. No one was milling around, and it didnít look like anyone was paying attention to anyone else. It was getting dark now, and the rain had picked up from a drizzle to a downpour. The evening commute was in full swing, and traffic was getting backed up. Everyone appeared to be in a hurry to go about their business.

     James watched as the kid hung up the nozzle. As he walked into the station to pay, James turned his head and watched him walk past through the driverís side window. He looked at his watch. It was just after 4 p.m. He would have been getting off shift about now. The wind whipped the rain against his windshield. It was pooling into sheets.

     The door to the service station opened and the kid walked out, holding a short length of aluminum pipe with a small key chained to the end. James felt his heart race in his chest as the boy walked towards the Chevy and turned the corner, heading towards the restroom at the back of the service station. James felt his hand grasp the end of the crowbar beside his seat and pull it into his lap. He clutched its length with his white-knuckled fist. The kid used the key to open the restroom and went inside. James pulled the latch on the door and stepped out into the cold rain. He held the crowbar close against his leg so that it would not be easily seen.

     James stood for a moment, his mind blank of conscious thought. The rain fell against his cheek and soaked through the leg of his pants. He stood in a puddle, and water seeped into his left shoe, quickly soaking his socked foot. His arms felt heavy at his sides, as if all the strength had run from his body, but still he gripped the weapon tightly in his fist and walked forward towards the restroom. He felt as if his body was propelling itself forward. His legs felt distant, as if he were a passenger in another manís body as it walked to the door of the restroom and stood before it. With his jaw set and his chin against his chest, his eyes were fixed on the peeling white paint of the door.

     James heard the sink shut off and the whining sound of a hand-dryer. The door opened, and the kid almost bumped into him in his rush to leave the restroom.

     "Shit, sorry man," he said. He held up the small key, offering it to James and said, "Here you go."

     James stood there, unmoving; his head was low, his eyes not meeting those of the boy standing before him.

     The kid stood for a moment before his eyes found the crowbar clutched in the right hand of the man standing in front of him. He took a step back into the restroom and reached for the edge of the door to close it.

     Wordlessly, James stepped into the restroom with the kid and closed the door behind him.

Ö

     The house was warm and softly lit. James was carrying a plastic bag. He walked into the tiled entry-way of his home and hung his wet coat in the closet just inside the front door. He could hear the TV on downstairs.

     "Is that you, Hon?" said Melissa from the family room, just downstairs.

     "Yeah itís me. Itís awful out there," said James as he walked down to meet her.

     Melissa sat in one of the two easy-chairs that faced the TV in the large family room. She turned off the television with the remote in her hand.

     James said, "How did it go today?"

     Melissa stood up and walked towards James. She threw her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder.

     James gently placed his hand on the head of his fiancť and held her for a moment.

     "Silly question," he said softly, "How well could it have gone. How is Sarah?"

     Still resting her head on his shoulder, Melissa answered, "I donít know. She hasnít talked much. Iím hoping that she can put this all behind her now. I canít imagine what she must be going though."

     "Did the Doctor say anything aboutÖ it?" asked James.

     Melissa lifted her head and looked him in the eyes.

     "He said it would have been a boy, but that was about it. He said that it went well. She should be okÖ.physically," she added.

     Melissa closed her eyes and James could see that tears were welling up and her cheeks were already red and glistening. It had been a rough time for her as well. With a quiver in her voice she said, "When I think about what that boy did to herÖ"

     "I know, Hon," said James. "I think you were both right about not calling the police. She would have had to relive the whole thing for months while it all got sorted out, and in the end it wouldnít have changed what happened."

     "I donít know," said Melissa, "it just makes me so mad. I want something terrible to happen to that boy. He shouldnít get away with what he did to her."

     James was silent for a moment. He took a breath and said, "I saw him today."

     Melissa straightened and looked up at James, her eyes wide, "What?" she said, "I thought we talked about this! What happened? What were you thinking?"

     "IÖ" began James, "I donít know what I was thinking. I found a picture of him with Sarahís things. I never told you and I asked her not to mention it. I waited outside the school for him. I donít know what I was expecting to happen, but I followed him. I justÖ I just wanted to talk to him, I think, maybe scare him, make him understand that he wouldnít get away with what he didÖ what he did to Sarah."

     "What did you do, James?" asked Melissa.

     "I backed him into a corner. I had a thousand things that I wanted to say to him, a hundred scenarios rehearsed in my head, but when I saw him my mind just went blank. I couldnít think of a single word. I just stared at him. I donít think he knew who I was, but he was scared. I just kept looking at him. Itís like I was frozen. I wanted to tear his head off. Tell him who I was and that I knew what he did, but I just couldnít. I handed him the picture I had and just walked away. I donít know why I did it, but I had to do something. In the end there wasnít anything I could do, nothing that would change what had happened. Heís just a kid, too. I know it doesnít sound fair, buts itís the truth. Nothing can change things. Nothing can erase it or make it right, and nothing I could have done to him would have made things any better."

     Melissa pulled James closer, held him tight. She kissed him on the cheek and said, "You have been so wonderful through all of this. I know that being with a mother canít be easy, and you have been so kind to her. She isnít your responsibility, but you took her into your home as fully as you took me in. We owe you so much. Sarah loves you like a father you know, even if she doesnít always show it."

     "I know. I love you both so much," said James. "Is she upstairs? I brought her a present."

     "Sheís in her room, doesnít seem like she wants to talk much, but I think she would be happy to see you."

Ö

     James pulled the teddy bear from the plastic bag. The bag was covered with little droplets of rain from the walk from the car. Sarahís door was open and James walked in. Sarah sat on her mattress facing away from the door; she was looking at the floor and did not look up when he spoke.

     "Hey," said James, as he sat on the bed next to her. He placed the bear on the bed behind her and put his arm around Sarah.

     They sat like that in silence for a few minutes before Sarah spoke.

     "Hey," she said without looking up.

     James squeezed her shoulders with his arm. He said, "How are you doing?"

     "Iím OK," said Sarah.

     "Really?" said James, "I know this has to be hard for you. Itís going to take awhile, but maybe now you can move on. Youíre young, and you need to remember that you didnít do anything wrong. You did what you had to do."

     Tears began to trace Sarahís cheek. With a voice choked with tears she said, "I made it up."

     James was silent, he felt as if the blood had drained from his face. After a moment he managed, "What do you mean?"

     "Anthony," said Sarah, "his name is Anthony. Weíve been seeing each other since the summer. Itís not his fault, I wanted to. I didnít know what to do. I didnít want to tell my mom that we were sleeping together. She would have been so mad. When I found out I was pregnant she asked me how it happened. She said, "who did this to you?í and it just came out. I thought that I could make it all go away by saying that he raped me, as long as I never said who it was no one would get in trouble."

      James felt all the strength run out of his body, when he spoke to Sarah it was as if he was hearing someone else talking, "Oh SarahÖ oh God, Sarah, Iím so sorry."

     "You didnít do anything wrong!" said Sarah, turning to face James. "Youíve been so supportive and so kind to me. I couldnít have asked for more from anyone. Iím so sorry that I lied to you. I just didnít know what to do."

      James stood. He looked down at the girl sitting on the bed and softly said, "itís not your fault." He turned and walked slowly from the room, closing the door behind him.

     Sarah laid down on her bed above the covers. She picked up the teddy bear that James had left behind and held it close. There was a little spot behind its left ear that felt wet. Sarah touched it with her finger tip and pulled away. It was red. It looked like blood.


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