Runaway

by Pete Tucker

Part 1 – REBELLION

Gladstone wasn’t a bad place to grow up. It was certainly a well-to-do town. The average household income well surpassed most towns you’d set foot in anywhere. Many homes were borderline palatial . The town had all the trappings of status and wealth.

Scottie Pruitt’s family fit the mold. Dad, an Air Force vet, was a Vice President at a major pharmaceutical company. An accomplished executive, he still wore a bit of his military bearing about him. Folks at work still called him Captain.

Big Pharma had a foothold in New Jersey, but Mom was a Director at a telecommunications firm. Between them both, they made for one high-powered corporate couple.

That is not to say that the Pruitt’s go-go lifestyle bade well for Scottie. Their parenting approach, when they were available, wasn’t always magazine perfect. How could it be? There was hardly the time.

But Scottie was a teenager now. In a profound way, the damage had already been done. In earlier years, Scottie had craved attention that he didn’t always get. His quotient of self-worth had suffered without his folks even realizing it. He was a quietly angry kid.

Some families elsewhere in New Jersey, on Saturday morning, might feast at the firehouse pancake breakfast. Not here. Scottie Pruitt’s family was off to the fox hunt on Saturday morning, a favorite occasion of both of his parents. It was the place to be seen.

Yes, the Springtime hunt was colorful, but it didn’t particularly impress Scottie. To the youngster’s credit, he saw holes in the ostentation of the event. To Scottie, it was just another example of what he perceived as his parent’s self-absorbed world.

A typical teenage boy, he appreciated the hunt for one reason. Some of the tailgate parties were attended by sweet damsels in his high school junior class. Gill Street St. Bernard’s School was private, with a notable selection of the opposite gender. This factor alone impelled Scottie’s attention to schoolwork.  Not much else.

Girls helped to dull the incessant aggravation of life at home where he was frequently reminded, especially by his Dad, that he’d “better tow the line.”

Scottie’s rebellious nature was thus fomented. He failed to see the reason why he had to attend this school. Who were his parents trying to impress, anyway? Sure they must have an impressive bottom line? So what? So did a lot of folks in this town.

A summer job?  Much to his parent’s dismay, Scottie pretty much eschewed the notion. Why bother, he questioned. A lousy couple of months for lousy pay.  It was hardly worth it. His dismissal of the job question quite aggravated Mom and Dad who hoped that their example might rub off on their son.

Then it happened. Scottie was jilted. He thought for sure this girl, Sarah, was a keeper. They’d been dating “hot and heavy” for more than a year. Then Boom! She dropped Scottie like a bad habit. Suddenly she didn’t want to be “tied down”.

It was a humbling experience. It was a maddening experience.

Scottie’s Father wasn’t very consoling. “Suck it up” was the extent of his fatherly counsel, further irritating Scottie.

Of course, every day called for passing this girl in the hall. Scottie used those instances to attempt a reversal of the situation, but not to any avail. He was just further vexed.

From there, Scottie’s existence was a moody conundrum. Coupled  with occasional spats with both parents, he found himself in a foul lurch for a while. He was troubled. His grades slumped badly which further roiled things with his parents. Scottie was figuring that something had to give.

One day the situation went from bad to worse. A regulation screaming match ensued with Dad that came to near fisticuffs. Scottie walked out of the house with stated intent not to come back! He’d had enough.

“To Hell with them”, he swore to himself. “By nightfall they’ll think twice about how they treat me . See if I come back to this dump.”

This certainly wasn’t the first time that Scottie had felt rage toward his parents. It was, however, the first time that he was compelled to run away. In no time he realized that he had no rudder, had no idea where he would even go! In short order, he was befuddled.

That doesn’t matter, Scottie thought to himself. Just go somewhere. Get as far away from this place as possible. His was a bitter resolve. By tonight, he’d have his pain-in-the-ass parents pretty shook up. He would no longer tolerate the intolerable.


Part 2 – UNCHARTED TERRITORY     

It didn’t take long for Scottie to realize how ill-prepared he was for his spontaneous tantrum, though he didn’t see it as such. All that he knew was that he wanted to get away from his parents… fast!

Hurriedly, he walked down to the end of his street. He had no warm clothes, no money… no plan. Right now that didn’t matter to him.

He had never hitchhiked before, but Scottie faced oncoming traffic and stuck up his thumb. Beginner’s luck found him.

Unlike many instances for the average hitchhiker, Scottie was picked up shortly. To his good fortune, he hadn’t stood with thumb up long enough for neighbors to even notice that a neighborhood kid was hitchhiking. That wasn’t too common in Gladstone.

“Where ya headed?”, the driver questioned.

Henceforward, that question was to reverberate in Scottie’s mind for some time ! He felt foolish. He had no answer, but Scottie thought quickly. Silly as it was, school lessons flashed across his mind.

Of course! Pioneers didn’t really know where they were going, either.

“West”, he replied in truly knee jerk fashion. “Out of Jersey and west.”

The driver stared at Scottie a little quizzically.

“Oh”, he replied. “ I thought you were local. Well, I can at least get you to the 206 entrance ramp. From there, stay on 206 North to 80, then head west to Pennsylvania. You visiting somebody?”

Scottie indicated yes. The driver got him to the ramp. The car stopped. Scottie got out and thanked the driver.

That was easy, he thought to himself as his thumb went back up. He’d be to Pennsylvania in no time, if that’s all it takes. Scottie stood for half an hour at the 206 ramp before his next ride picked him up. At least he’d been able to calm down a little.

He even had time to ponder a bit about what he was doing. What about the haphazard decision he’d just made to go to Pennsylvania? How did that come about? He scarcely knew.

What does he do this evening when it gets colder? Scottie recognized how half-assed he was going about this venture. Doesn’t matter, he thought to himself. Mom and Dad had a lesson coming to them!

“Where ya goin”, his second ride asked.

“You’re in luck, Buddy. I’m going to the Water Gap.”

Scottie didn’t even know where the Delaware Water Gap was, but he learned from his driver that it was in the right direction, up to Interstate 80. The driver indicated that he could get Scottie pretty close to the ramp, but then he’d have to cut him loose.

“You can’t hitchhike on Interstates, anyway”, his driver noted.

Scottie was about to divulge that he had no idea about that, but he zipped his lip. Maybe the less said, the better. He was starting to learn that he didn’t know too much about what he was doing.

As the car got close to where he had to get off, he asked one final question of his driver.

“Can’t ya just stand at the beginning of an entrance ramp with thumb up and not get hassled?”

Scottie was departing his ride near a ramp commonly used by truckers at a Pilot Truck Stop.

The driver nodded his head toward the ramp. He smirked as he was driving off and said, “Now your thinking, Buddy.”

Scottie guessed that he was making decent time, but then compared to what? He didn’t know. Not to mention, he didn’t know where he was going , anyway. He resolved to just keep moving.

Next, an eighteen wheeler picked him up.

“Where ya headin’ young fella?”

“Pennsylvania”, Scottie replied.

“Hell, man. You’re not but five miles from Pennsylvania. It’s a big-ass state. Ya gotta town?”

“Nope. Just take me as far west as you can”, Scottie said.

The trucker looked at Scottie a bit askew. He indicated that he was heading home, something about Bradford County and Wells Township. It was quite a haul from where they were right now, the trucker warned.

“That sounds good to me”, Scottie guessed.

Given that answer, the trucker figured he’d be with this youngster for a while. Might just as well get to know him. He extended his hand to Scottie. I’m Charlie Wentz. How do you do?

Turns out,  Charlie Wentz could talk the chrome off a trailer hitch ! That was OK with Scottie. The long ride would go by faster. Indeed, they talked about a host of things.

Eventually the truth came out. Scottie was on the road today because he “needed a little break from the parents”. Charlie grinned a mile wide.

“Hey, I did that once. Don’t worry, you’ll be all right.”

That alone gave comfort to Scottie. Sooner or later, their conversation got down to brass tacks.

What the hell was Scottie going to do in a few hours when Charlie gets home?

“ Man, you gotta have a place to sleep!”,

Scottie felt a little inept. He hadn’t thought about that yet.

“You probably just have the clothes on your back, don’t ya?”

Scottie shook his head yes.

Charlie prefaced his next comment with a big, cheesy smile.

“Man, you’re pretty worthless, aren’t ya?”

Only because Charlie smiled, Scottie smiled.

Charlie chuckled a little. Scottie did, too.

With that, they both broke into full bore laughter. It continued for a while. This was a defining moment in their fledgling acquaintance. First, Scottie finally realized that he had to reach up to touch bottom. He was at the lowest of low points. It was sadly laughable. What the hell was he doing, anyway?

Secondly, Charlie had been in this spot before. They simultaneously realized how pathetic the situation was! They settled in for a few hours of road-bound chuckling and bullshit.

Then, as if in sync, the laughter stopped. They both knew it was time to get serious. They were now on Rt.6, getting closer to Charlie’s home.

“Listen”, Charlie said, “You can’t sleep in my house. I don’t even have the room. Besides, it’s getting dark already. The wife and kids have no idea that I’m packing a stray steer.

“Fortunately, it’s not gonna be too cold tonight. I have a spare flannel shirt right behind your seat there. You can have it. It’s an old one.”

“I have a little barn. Nothing in it right now, but some bales of hay. You can sleep in there tonight. You can borrow our bathroom to shower in the morning after the kids are off to school and my wife at work.”

“That’s kindly of ya, Charlie. Thank you. I have one question.”

“What,” Charlie replied.

“What’s a stray steer?”

“That leads me to another question”, Charlie said. “What do you know how to do? Did you ever farm?”

“No”, said Scottie. “Why?”

“Well, what are you going to do tomorrow? That’s what folks here do. They farm. If you stay here, you gotta earn your keep. You need a little dough in your pocket”, Charlie noted.

“Well, I’ll work. I’ll learn.”

“Tell you what,” Charlie said, “Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to my neighbor, Tom Banks.  He milks about 150 cows. Farms nearly a thousand acres. I’ll bet he has something for you to do.

“I think he has a small bungalow that maybe you could hang your hat in. No guarantee.

Tom will work your ass, that’s for sure.”

“That sounds like a plan”, Scottie said.

Wow, he thought. What a stroke! Charlie was a good guy to know.

Charlie’s eighteen wheeler pulled up to his small house that fronted on a back back road, gravel it was, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Stars were everywhere in the nighttime sky. Scottie had never seen such a spectacle. There weren’t stars like this in Gladstone!

“Let me hop inside and tell Donna what I’m up to. I’ll be right back out .”

In minutes, Charlie returned to the truck.

“My wife’s a little nervous that some stranger is sleeping in the barn. I assured her that you weren’t a murderer. I better be right!”

They both chuckled.

Charlie explained that his little barn was a stone’s throw away. They’d do better just to walk. Charlie grabbed a pillow from behind the seat in the cab. In no time they had a bale of hay busted open and spread out on the barn floor.

“Beats sleepin’ with the chickens”, Charlie said.

Scottie had a sheepish look on his face. He was now officially a fish out of water.

“Now listen”, Charlie said, “Tom Banks’ dairy barn is a few hundred feet from here. In the morning, make yourself useful and go introduce yourself. He’ll be in there milking. So he’s not surprised, I’ll call him and tell him you’re here. Otherwise, you can do your own talkin’.

Scottie and Charlie shook hands and bade each other good night, Scottie expressing profuse thanks.


Part 3  –  ENDLESS FURROWS

Scottie slept surprisingly well. It was just first light when he rolled out of the hay. Having arrived in the dark, he couldn’t wait to see his surrounds in the daylight. Opening the barn door reminded him of the dramatic drawing of a theater curtain.

The landscape here was green and beautiful! This surely wasn’t Gladstone. There were hardly any houses as far as the eye could see. Just fields and pastures dotted with cattle. There was almost something majestic about this place.

Scottie saw a barn in the distance. It was probably Banks’ dairy barn. He looked down at the new-looking sneakers and khaki pants that he had on. He mused for a moment. How much did he look like a farmer? Probably not too much.

And how about a toothbrush?  Wouldn’t that be nice? He emptied his bladder behind the barn.

Oh well, Scottie figured, smiling to himself. Might as well go milk a cow ! He walked in the direction of Banks’ barn. Truth be told, he’d never been in a cow barn before. Was he ready? Ready as he’d ever be, maybe!

Scottie opened the barn door and entered. Whew! A pungent smell filled his nostrils. This would take some getting used to!

He peered down a seemingly endless row of black and white cows. Two boys were working at the other end of the row. Scottie figured them to be about his age. He walked down the aisle toward the boys. They exchanged uncomfortable Hellos.

Scottie asked for Tom Banks.

“That’s my Dad”, replied one of the boys. “He’s in the milk house. He’ll be right out.”

The boys weren’t of a mind to talk much. They were busy with what they were doing.

Tom Banks opened the swinging milk house door and ambled down the aisle to where Scottie was standing.

They acknowledged each other with head nods.

“ You Scottie Pruitt?” Tom questioned.

Scottie nodded his head yes. They both shook hands.

“Yeah, Charlie said you might drop by. You ever milk a cow?”

“Nope.”

“Ever scratch chickens?”

“Scratch chickens?”, Scottie replied with a questioning inflection.

“Ever scratch your ass?”

Scottie grinned, but was befuddled. He had no idea what Tom was asking.

“No”, he replied.

“Well you better hurry up. It’s gotta itch by now!”

They both burst out laughing. At least Tom Banks had a sense of humor.

“Did you ever operate a tractor?”

Scottie thought for a moment.

“Well, yeah,  a lawn tractor.”

“No, no. A real tractor, not some Junior Miss thing.”

Tom got serious for a minute.

“Look,” he said, “Charlie told me you might be looking for something to do. I could always use an extra pair of hands, but I wasn’t looking for help. I couldn’t pay you much, anyway. Best you could do here this morning is just watch what we’re doing and learn as much as you can. Ask questions.”

Scottie got used to the stink and asked a ton of questions.  As he did so, the jocular tenor between him and Tom Banks continued. Even Tom’s boys, Nate and Nick, loosened up a bit. They chided Scottie about his “city” clothes . It was all in good fun.

“Where the hell you from ? How’d you get here ?” Tom fired a few questions to ‘size up’ this obviously out of place arrival in his dairy barn.

Scottie was already thinking on his feet. What was the best half-truth answer he could come up with, not knowing exactly what Charlie Wentz, the truck driver, had told Tom about him ?

“ I’m from down the road a little bit”, Scottie said, remembering the last sign he’d seen at the end of yesterday’s hitch-hike. “Over by Sayre.”

Tom Banks was fine with that answer, noting to himself that there was no car parked by the barn.

“Geez, How’d you get here?”

“I hitch-hiked”, Scottie replied.

Tom looked Scottie up and down.

“Guess it’s easier to get a ride when you’re wearin’ your Sunday best”, Tom suggested with a smirk.”

“Hey, it got me here”, Scottie replied.

“Hope you’re not worried about getting your duds dirty.”

“Looking forward to it”, Scottie answered.

That was good enough for Tom. In fact, he liked this kid. He had a certain verve about him.

In short order, Tom put Scottie to work. Nate and Nick taught him about checking each cow for mastitis before the milking machine went on. Scottie was fascinated by those machines and the way the whole system just conveyed the milk to the tank in the milk house. Before the milking was done, the Banks had Scottie doing other odd jobs. Hey, this kid from the city was all right. Funny, too.

Eventually their conversation yielded the fact that Scottie was here without even a roof over his head. Scottie explained that he’d had a bit of a “falling out” with his parents.

Nick and Nate sequestered their father in the milk house to suggest that maybe Scottie could sleep in a little apartment they had above the milk house.

Dad wasn’t of a mind to commit to that so quickly.

“Get him on the 4450 and have him disc those last forty six acres that we turned over yesterday”, Tom said to his boys.

Tom was making reference to one of his four John Deere tractors, model 4450, a 121 horsepower beast that was attached to a disc. The disc breaks up and further refines the plow furrows, a step in the process of seeding a field.

After a hearty breakfast in the Banks kitchen, Nate familiarized Scottie with the machine. After four or five rounds in the field, Scottie had the hang of it. Completing the field would round out his day until evening milking.

Geeez, Scottie thought to himself. Tom Banks said he wasn’t really looking for any help. What happens when he is?

At the day’s end, Scottie joined the Banks for dinner, too. Tom mentioned to Scottie the apartment above the milk house.

“That would be more than kind of you”, Scottie said.

“Well, consider it your day’s pay, for as long as you’re around”, Tom noted. “I don’t guarantee that it’s real clean up there.”

“More than I could ask”, Scottie said.

“ Well, hey, you bedded down in the alfalfa last night. At least that’s what was sticking out of your hair when you came up to milk this morning. Guess you’re moving up a notch from that.”

Scottie was soon drifting off to sleep. As he did, he could still hear the roar of the tractor in his ears. His body still felt the undulation rendered by the big green machine as it gripped its way over endless furrows.

He’d done a day’s work. He got along splendidly with the Banks folks. That was more than could be said about home. He wondered about home. The folks probably wondered about him. Of course they did, Scottie surmised.

Despite his renegade departure from his parents, he nodded off feeling OK about himself.

He’d made his way. Others had helped, but he had made his way. Two nights now that he had a roof over his head and a full belly.

Scottie felt a little sense of accomplishment. That was new to him. He felt appreciated.

He soon fell asleep.


Part 4

Three months had passed since Scottie had set foot on Bradford County soil. He had done a ton of work for the Banks and they had treated him well. He didn’t yet realize it, but his uncharted path had rendered him an education that no pile of dollars could have bought him. He had learned so much. Unwittingly so!

His only intent had been to get away from home.

He had made his way, his own way. No one could take that away from him. His path hadn’t always come easily, but then again, it was miraculous that he was comfortable in his present situation.

Scottie was the first to recognize that his adventure away from home had been enabled by lots of kind people. He thought deeply about this. What about the motorists who, one by one, had given him rides up to Bradford County?  What about Charlie Wentz, the trucker, whose barn he’d slept in that first night. He still wore Charlie’s flannel shirt.

These people didn’t have to do this, but out of kindness they had. Scottie was grateful. Had he sufficiently thanked all of these people along the way?

The Banks.  Was Scottie ever indebted to the Banks ! They had singlehandedly taught him so much about so many things. Not to mention, they fed him every day and put a roof over his head. Who does that, he thought ?

Would Scottie ever use all of the knowledge that he’d gleaned from the farming stuff? Somehow that didn’t seem to matter. Knowing it was his stuff now. It was an education that would never be wasted, no matter what he did in years to come. He was proud of that.

Years of high school could never have taught him what he’d picked up in the last few months.

These thoughts gave Scottie pause. Perhaps a little contrition. He wondered about his folks. Surely they’d thought about him a few times over these months.  Maybe he’d taught them a lesson or two. Maybe they wouldn’t be so miserable to him if he ever returned home.

Naaah. Let them stew! Yes, he missed home, but he was fine where he was. Besides, the Banks needed him.

A few days later, Scottie found these thoughts recurring. He wondered. Maybe his old girlfriend, Sarah, would give him a little clue about things on the home front. Scottie entertained the notion of giving her a call. He’d have to be careful, though. Don’t bungle it now.

He and Sarah had  broken up in a friendly way. Yeah, she’d probably be willing to talk to him. She might be surprised as Hell, too. Scottie still had a thing for her.

He pondered. Who’s phone could he borrow to call Sarah? A few days went by when he accompanied Tom on a trip up to the Tug Hill Plateau, well into upstate New York to deliver a load of barley.

It was there that he borrowed a stranger’s cell phone who fell for Scottie’s poverty plea.

He found a private spot. He listened as Sarah’s cellphone rang. Perfect. He still remembered her number.

“Hello.” Sure enough, it was Sarah’s voice.

“Hey, Babe! How ya doin?”

Seconds of stone silence passed.

“Scottie? Scottie! Is that you?!

“It’s all of me, darlin’.

“Scottie, what are you doing? Where are you? How are you?”

“ I’ll only answer those questions if you swear to secrecy,” Scottie said.

“Secrecy? You’ve been one big secret for months now”, Sarah exclaimed.

“Yeah, but I’m serious, Sarah. It has to stay that way. I need you to promise me.”

“Okay, Scottie. I’ll do that.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m in Ohio.”

“Ohio! What are you doing in Ohio? Scottie, this place is crawling with people looking for you. Well, it’s calmed down a little now, but there’s yellow ribbons on trees! And your parents are a mess !”

“How do you know that?”

“Scottie, they’ve called me. They’ve come to visit me. That’s something ! I’m supposed to be your ex-girlfriend.

“They miss you so much. They would do anything to have you back home. They love you, Scottie. They’re absolutely distraught that they’ve driven you to do this! OHIO!”

Scottie and Sarah continued their discussion for some minutes. They touched on what it would take to “re-enter the atmosphere.”

“Scottie, listen. I don’t want your folks to know that we’ve had this conversation. Why don’t you just mail them a letter? Tell them that you’re fine. Tell them that you feel badly about what you’ve done, but drive a hard bargain. If you’re going to come home, you want assurance that you’re not coming home to the same situation. And, if they go to the cops, you just won’t come home.

“I’ll bet you that when they get that letter, they’ll tell me about it, presto.”

“Why do you say that,” Scottie questioned.

“Well, we had a pretty emotional conversation. I shared something with them.”

“What?,” said Scottie.

“Well, I told them that I never stopped really, really liking you.”

Scottie smiled. Melted, rather.

It was a fortuitous phone call. From what Sarah said, maybe things really would get better at home.

The phone call had to end. The stranger was waiting for his phone. Scottie assured Sarah that he would try to call her again in a week or so to hear if his parents had called her after receipt of his letter.

Their goodbye was wrenched with emotion. Sarah begged Scottie to come home.

“I’m so glad”, she said “to have the chance to tell you how I miss you. I was stupid to break up with you.”

Scottie and Tom Banks had to stay overnight at Tug Hill. Scottie didn’t sleep much. In their dimly lit motel room, he put pen to paper. In the morning he mailed the letter to his parents, post marked Constableville, New York. No return address, of course.

In the meantime, the call to Sarah was a bit of an epiphany for Scottie. He resolved, come Hell or high water, to go home.

He thought about how best to square off with the Banks. He had only told them half-truths about the reason he had set foot on their farm in the first place.

Scottie had a chat with the Banks boys  at breakfast, in their kitchen, as usual. They were quite understanding, however Tom couldn’t resist the temptation to chide him a little.

“A ha. All this time we’ve been harboring a boy fugitive. Your pretty slick there, Scottie. I’m surprised we haven’t had a visit from a man in blue!”

It was a tearful goodbye with a promise from Scottie that he’d come back to visit some time.

“If I can ever find this God-forsaken place”, he kidded all the Banks as their door banged shut.

Scottie stepped out onto the gravel road that meandered past their farm. He had one possession more than when he showed up in Bradford County.  He was wearing the shirt that Charlie Wentz had given him when he was shivering cold.

In a little while, an old, weather-beaten pickup stopped to give him a lift. A profound chapter in his life had just closed. Come what may, he was heading home.


Part 5 – RETURN

It was 3:30 P.M., that same day.

Loretta Pruitt, Scottie’s Mom, was conducting a high level company meeting. Her secretary was instructed not to allow any phone calls to interrupt the meeting… with one exception. That exception had been in place for three months now.

Loretta Pruitt’s plight had become very public within the confines of her company. She had been very moved by the extent of everyone’s support. Regardless, it was emotionally draining for her to answer the daily litany of inquiries as to her son’s disappearance. It was wearing on her.

At this point, the lack of news evoked the question that none would even suggest.  Nonetheless, no one knew the answer, at least not in Gladstone, New Jersey. Was Scottie Pruitt still alive? Near silently folks wondered and whispered.

At this length of time, statistics on runaways did not suggest a positive answer to that question.

Loretta’s meeting was getting a little intense with a  subject on the controversial side. In fact, she was in the middle of making a point when the intercom buzzed.

“Yes, Rose”, Loretta answered, mildly flustered.

“Loretta, you want this one…  more than anything! Line two.”

Surely there was no question who the call was from. A smile creased her lips, but gave way when she burst into tears.

“Covering her face, she said excuse me.” With tears practically gushing from her eyes, she said, “I’ll have to take this in my office.”

Her colleagues clapped as she exited the meeting room. There was no question what was happening.

Loretta closed the door to her office. To little avail, she attempted to compose herself. She picked up a flashing line 2.

“Scottie”, she softly spoke.

“That’s no fair! Somebody already told you it was me.”

With that, Loretta screamed a gleeful shriek. Scottie perceived that his Mom was crying at the same time.

“Scottie, Honey, are you OKAY?”

“I’m fine, Mom, but a little tired. I’ve been hitchhiking all day.”

“Oh, Scottie, Honey, you have no idea how relieved I am. Where are you ?”, she sobbed.

“Well, I hope it’s OK. I’m in your living room.”

“Oh, Scottie. It’s our living room! Of course it’s OK. Give me twenty minutes. I’ll be there in a jiffy.”

“Mom, don’t rush. Be careful. Is Dad OK?

“Honey, you have no idea! He’s gonna be so happy that you’re home.”

Scottie immediately gauged that things had changed. On his journey home he’d given serious thought about the grief that his actions must have caused his parents over the past months. Thankfully, Mom didn’t seem indignant, not even a little.

Dad might be another matter.

Loretta didn’t even return to her meeting. She wiped her tears, grabbed her attaché and bolted from the building. She felt indescribable elation. Driving home, she mused that her son had just counseled her to be careful driving. What? Was he growing up or something?

Her smile was indelible!

Loretta stopped to call her husband with the news. He was coming home, too.

Scottie and Mom were already steeped in conversation when Dad walked in the door. Initially his face was stern. He first walked to the kitchen and placed a bag on the counter. He turned and faced Scottie, still stern.

“Corporal, you have been AWOL. Do you recognize the sentence that a Court Martial would render you for that insubordination?

“No”, Scottie cowered.

“Well, I’ll tell you your verdict right now. I brought Shrimp with lobster sauce and pork fried rice. You are to eat it until you are absolutely stuffed!”

With that, Lieutenant Pruitt held open his arms.

“Damn it, boy, welcome home”, he said.

The two of them hugged with full-bore smiles.


EPILOGUE

Mom, Dad and Scottie all feasted on Chinese, which was Scottie’s uncontested favorite. Scottie was beyond pleased with the folk’s unconditional open arms.

An hours-long conversation lasted into the evening. Scottie’s folks were about floored by his stories of farming with the Banks.  He had worked and was conversant with a variety of subjects upon which his parents were clueless. Mom and Dad were proudly impressed.

Although they had suffered months of worry and dismay, it now seemed that there son had grown up by leaps and bounds. He had matured to an extent that they never would have thought possible in three months. It was nearly euphoric to have him home.

Despite the now pleasant course of his homecoming, Scottie became serious for a moment. He thanked Mom and Dad for not being angry at him.

“Your Mom and I talked about this”, Dad said. “To be angry would be predictable. To forgive… not so much.”

They all smiled broadly. Scottie’s education had just advanced another big notch.

The doorbell rang. Loretta got up to answer it. An enthusiastic greeting was audible.

“Oh, Scottie, I have a surprise for you”, Mom said.

With that, Sarah entered the room. Scottie was awestruck!

The two engaged in what was surely a grownup embrace! Their thoughts at this moment remained unspoken, though they held each other’s hands with a clench.

As it went, Scottie’s ill-considered runaway was unwittingly a catalyst. The family pulled together with unexpected compassion.

Scottie and Sarah? Well……. they were a bit young yet! Time would tell.

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