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E Jean Beres
"He loves you Will.
Your father shouldn't have done what he did he was wrong, but he paid for it, and now he's coming home."
Will had told his friends that his father was in the army and stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Will's father was serving time in jail for stealing a pair of steel-toed shoes in order to get a job.
That his father was being released on Saturday filled Will with fear, fear of the lies he told.
Everybody at school would soon find out the truth.
Will had just started the new school three months ago.
His mom had been trying to get a transfer with her job so they could move and be closer to the prison, then they could see his dad often. Also his mom would be making more money which they needed to keep their old car running and pay the never ending pile of bills the mailman brought.
Will had been all for the move, not because they'd be closer to the prison, but because he'd be going to a new school where no one knew what his dad had done.
Word had spread about his father at the old school after a neighbor had witnessed his father's arrest for shoplifting.
Since then, Will had been in constant fights to defend his dad and his grades had fallen drastically.
At the new school, when he'd told the kids and teachers that his father was in the army, they respected him, liked him.
They looked up to him and that felt good.
Now, he threw himself across the twin bed with the sinking mattress and hit the pillow with his fist. He couldn't force the tears back where they belonged. They seemed to have a force all their own.
"Okay, God, what now?" he asked angrily.
Saturday was only four days away.
Will could hear the kids now.
"There goes Will's dad, he's an ex-con!" "Hey, Will, you're a liar!"
Will scrunched the pillow over his head and cursed.
A second later he heard the bedroom door open as his mother came in. He felt her hand smooth over his hair and he jerked away, he was no baby.
He heard her sigh, he didn't mean to hurt her feelings.
"Lies have a way of catching up with us, Will."
"What was I supposed to do, tell everybody dad stole a pair of shoes because he couldn't afford them?"
"No, not everybody, just your friend's maybe, if they're really your friends, they'd understand."
"Yeah, right. I wouldn't have any friends if I told the truth."
"You don't know that, you think all parents are prefect?"
"Maybe not, but they're not in jail."
Nothing his mother could say would change how he felt.
Saturday arrived, no matter how hard Will tried to wish it away.
His mother drove them to the bus station.
His dad had been in jail for ten months.
Will had written to him, but when he called them he ran out of the house. He didn't know what to say to his dad, he felt ashamed and scared.
The bus station smelled of hot dogs and coffee.
Buses were leaving and arriving all over the place.
"I hope the bus is on time," his mother said nervously.
Will noticed his mother wore her Sunday dress and had fixed her hair real pretty.
Suddenly, his mother rose from the bench where they were sitting.
It was exactly four minutes after twelve on the big round clock over the ticket booth and Will knew the worst, he realized he was alone.
His mother had hurried to meet the gaunt looking man pushing through the heavy glass doors and carrying a cardboard box.
He wore a worn denim jacket, the same jacket the police had arrested him in, same jeans, same scuffed brown boots.
He looked cold and something in Will's chest started to ache. Tears stung his eyes, he wanted the anger to come back.
Suddenly Will felt another heart beating against his own.
Then he felt familiar, strong arms wined around him.
Will could smell the cold air on the worn denim material.
"Dad," Will cried softly.
"I've missed you so much, Will."
The words filled Will's aching, empty heart like a balloon filling with air and then ready to burst he reached his arms around his dad.
"I've missed you, too."
He didn't know if he had spoken the words or just thought them.
He felt so confused.
Back home, Will watched his dad eat dinner.
His mother had cooked his dad's favorite meal, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, cornbread and asparagus.
Funny, Will thought, it was his favorite meal too.
"In prison they taught me how to repair cars," his dad told them, his voice eager, hopeful.
"My parole officer got me a job."
"What about your record?" his mother asked.
"They inform the employer before the person is hired."
"Everybody in town is gonna know where you've been, Dad!" Will blurted out, hunching in the kitchen chair, the fear starting to seep in like a piece of rotted fruit.
"I can't hide that, Will. I'm not the first man around here who made a mistake and went to jail. My parole officer told me this area has several people who are being helped because they went to jail. I can't and don't forgive myself or excuse myself for the shame I've caused you and your mother.
I was praying you could forgive me, Son. It would mean an awful lot to me."
Will shrugged and remained silent.
"I was stupid. The lawyer who defended me told me that the man at the construction job would have loaned me the money for the steel-toed shoes had he known. But my pride wouldn't even let me think about asking."
A few days later, Will struggled with the lie, wanting to tell his two best friends the truth about his dad. But the truth wouldn't come out.
When Will found out that his dad was going to assist the shop teacher at school, he told his mother he was sick and couldn't go to school.
Then the county paid for a new pair of steel-toed shoes for his dad and Will had to look at them every day.
After school, on the third day Will had stayed at home his two best friends, Ryan and chuck, rode their bikes over.
Through his bedroom window, Will could see his dad working on their old car in the driveway.
"Hi, Mister Bellman," Will heard Ryan say.
"Hi," his dad answered.
"Are you gonna show us how to put in sparkplugs tomorrow?" asked Chuck.
"That's what I've got planned. You boys did pretty good at changing those tires today."
"Thanks. Is Will still sick?" Ryan asked.
"I think he's feeling a little better. Go on in."
Will heard his mother let his friends into the house.
In another second they were in his room talking to him and telling him how cool his dad was.
"Why'd you tell us he was in the army?" Chuck asked, hanging his baseball cap on Will's chair.
Ryan plopped down on the bed where Will huddled against his pillow.
"You could have told us," Ryan said hurt. "We're best friends you know."
"I'm sorry." Will swallowed hard.
"My dad had the same parole officer your dad has now. He was in jail for two years for DWIs.
Now he is doing real good. Never drinks," Ryan explained.
"My folks said everybody makes bad decisions sometimes," remarked chuck.
"Yeah, life is hard sometimes, you know? Good thing this town has programs that help people like our dads," Ryan said.
'Our dads.' Will felt as if a ton of bricks had been lifted off his shoulders.
"Hey, I can stay out until it starts to get dark. Let's go riding, we don't have homework!"
Chuck grabbed his baseball cap from the chair and shoved it down on his head.
"You feeling like going?" Ryan asked.
Will suddenly realized his friends liked him even though his dad had been in prison.
They understood, and Ryan knew all about what he had been feeling.
"Come on Will, let's go now that you're not sick anymore," Ryan said smiling.
"Do you guys mind if I don't go this time. I need to talk to my dad."
Will followed his friends outside and said he'd see them tomorrow at school.
He then he walked to where his dad was changing the oil in the car which had been freshly washed and looked pretty good.
For a few moments, Will watched his dad, thinking nothing else mattered-his dad was home. They were a family.
Will hunched down in front of the car.
"You real busy, Dad?"
His dad slid out on the dolly. "Never too busy for you, Son."
His dad had grease splattered on his face and work shirt.
He looks just like Mister Cramer, their shop teacher, Will thought smiling.
"I do forgive you, Dad. I think I did a long time ago but didn't know it.
I'm sorry it took me so long to tell you."
"Thank you, Will. That means an awful lot to me."
Will knelt down on the dolly and hugged his dad, he felt the familiar arms go around him and hold him tightly.
Thanks God, for helping me have the courage to tell my dad, he prayed silently.
Then the dolly began to move, slowly at first, then faster as it headed down the slanted driveway towards the street.
Will and his dad started laughing.
"Hold on!" his dad yelled, letting the dolly roll to the very end of the driveway where he stopped it with his steel-toed shoes.
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