Tenderfoot

by Jim Fields

There were ten of us—three older boys and the rest of us younger ones. We were walking single file up the mountain on a hot summer day in July. The trail was getting steeper as we slowly worked our way up to the top, but still we pressed on. Grant Miller was our leader. He was a sixteen-year-old, six foot two, muscular high school quarterback with eyes that became narrow when he was mean, which was quite often. With his deep tan and athletic frame, Miller cast an imposing figure and everybody knew not to mess with him. He rarely talked, but when he did, Miller made it clear he was in charge and we were to do things his way. Behind him was Terry Hayes, a fifteen-year-old baseball player, famous for hitting more home runs than any other high school player in the city. Hayes acted like he was Miller’s assistant, always ready to do the older kid’s bidding, yet the two of them would sometimes share private jokes that the rest of us couldn’t understand. The other older boy, Brian Belfry, also fifteen, wasn’t a jock; he was just average in every way—the kind of guy who would always go along with what everyone else wanted to do. Then there were the rest of us—the newbies. I had just recently turned eleven and had graduated from Cub Scouts to join Troop 352 at my school in Omaha, Nebraska. I was spending the week with my troop at Camp Old Broad Axe, which was located outside of Nemo, South Dakota, not far from Rapid City. This was my first summer camp.

That morning we had started our hike from the main assembly area outside the chow hall by the flag pole right after breakfast. Now, four hours later, it was almost noon and we still weren’t at the top of the mountain. This long hike was the last requirement we needed to complete in order to earn our hiking merit badge. Hiking wasn’t something I wanted to do, but my father, who had recently become Scoutmaster for the troop because nobody else would, insisted and there was no arguing with him about it.

I don’t know why we couldn’t talk or have fun on the hike, but Miller had told us all to shut up and “pay attention to our mission” after we began it that morning. Consequently, we all trudged along, and after a few hours I felt like we were on some kind of death march. I struggled to keep up as sweat poured on my glasses and ran down my face. I ached all over and my feet felt like I had cement blocks for shoes. Soon, I was lagging further and further behind the boy in front of me, and I could tell the others behind me were growing impatient, especially Brian Belfry, who took up the rear to make sure we all stayed on course and out of trouble.

“Close that gap, Jimmy,” he said to me in a loud voice. “You hear me? Get a move on.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled. I forced myself to pick up the pace and practically ran to catch up to the boy in front of me, which was not an easy task since the trail had now become even steeper than before.

Thirsty as hell after running to “close the gap,” I removed my old Army canteen out of its holder on the camouflage utility belt that was around my waist and took a big gulp of water. Unfortunately, Miller, who had turned around to see what the commotion was behind him, saw me do this. “Did I call a water break, Rothery?”

“No, but my throat is dry.”

“Too damn bad. Put that away right now or I’ll pour it all out and you can go thirsty for the rest of the day.”

I reluctantly put the canteen back in its holder on my belt. A few of the other boys snickered, but I ignored them and just tried to focus on how beautiful the scenery was, even though we had passed the tree line some time ago and everything around us only consisted of rocks. Eventually, we reached the end of the trail and were now at the top of the unnamed mountain.

Although I had to admit the view was rather magnificent, I didn’t care because I was completely exhausted, so I found a place to collapse and recover. Judging how everyone else reacted pretty much the same way, I’m not sure that they cared much about the scenery either. Even Miller and Hayes were breathing heavily, and Brian Belfry had wandered off to some nearby bushes with dry heaves. I couldn’t stop gasping for air. My legs and ankles hurt, and I could feel blisters forming on the bottom of my feet. Finally, Miller gave the okay for us to drink some water. I eagerly unscrewed the top of my canteen and began pouring its contents down the dry gulley that was my throat.

“Whoa there,” Miller said as he ran over to where I sat on the ground and yanked the canteen out of my hand. “You already had your water break earlier.”

“But, I’m so thirsty…”

Miller smirked. “Too bad. Instead of just sitting here complaining, why don’t you come help me?”

“With what?” I looked up at him and squinted to keep the sun of out my eyes. Miller just smiled at me, but his eyes gave away the meanness I knew dwelled inside him.

“You’ll see.” He yanked me up off the ground and called out to the other older boys, Terry Hayes and Brian Belfry, to come with us. Then he turned and addressed the rest of the newbies, who all sat on the ground worn out, their bodies also covered in sweat.

“The guys and I are taking Rothery with us to get firewood. When we get back, we’ll make lunch. In the meantime, you boys stay put.”

The other newbies nodded their heads that they understood and watched us leave, curious to know why the older boys had chosen me instead of one of them.

As Miller led the way, Hayes and I fell in behind him as Belfry once again brought up the rear. Instead of taking us down the same trail we had used before, Miller confidently walked to the other side of the mountaintop where a different trail began and started hiking down it at a quick pace, which was difficult for me to keep up with—not that he cared. We walked and walked, and I began growing impatient.

“Where exactly are we going?

Miller turned and shouted back at me, “I already told you. We need to get firewood.”

“But there aren’t any trees here!”

Brian Belfry, who was behind me, whacked the back of my head and said, “That’s why we need to hike back below the tree line, you dumbass.”

“Oh.” I did my best to keep up with the pace, but there was already a big gap between where I was and Terry Hayes who was in front of me.

“Man,” Hayes muttered as he turned around to look at me. “I’ve never seen anybody so out of shape. You’re like an old man in a kid’s body, you know? Hell, my grandpa moves faster than you, kid.”

Miller chuckled at Hayes’ remark, and then I tripped on something and fell flat on my face. This made them laugh.

“Jesus,” Miller said. “This kid can’t even walk.” They all stopped and gathered around me as Miller pulled me up by the collar of my Snoopy T-shirt. He squinted at me and said, “I bet your Daddy’s really proud to have you as a son.”

I brushed the dirt off of me and looked at him, confused. “What does that mean?”

“Face it, kid. You’re a loser.”

“No I’m not.”

“Wanna bet?” Miller squinted his eyes at me. “Ever play any sports like football?”

I shook my head and said no.

“What about baseball?” Hayes asked. “Even in your condition, you could still be an outfielder.”

Again, I shook my head no.

Belfry cocked his head. “I suppose given your height you haven’t tried basketball?”

Again, I shook my head no. “I don’t like sports. I just like playing the piano.”

Miller shook his head in disgust. “Like I said, you’re a total loser. No wonder your old man became the Scoutmaster of our troop. Hell, if I were him I’d want to be a father figure to other more manly boys too.” He raised his right arm and flexed his bicep to prove his point.

I tried to not show that Miller’s remark had stung, but Hayes poked me in the stomach and said, “Oh look, I think the fat boy’s going to cry.” This got a chuckle out of them all.

After that, we resumed our hike, eventually reaching an intersection of trails. Miller chose the one on the left that led us down deep into the forest. Later, we came to a clearing where there were the remains of a campfire that was probably used the day before.

Miller stopped and said, “Well, here we are.”

I looked around and saw fallen branches everywhere, so trying to be helpful I gathered up as many as I could. “Will this be enough?” I asked.

Miller exchanged a knowing look with the others. He smiled and narrowed his eyes. “You really think we’re here to get firewood? Are you that dumb?”

“What?” I asked.

“Get on your knees.”

“Why?” I didn’t move.
Miller stopped smiling. “ I said, get on your knees, Jimmy. Do it now!”

I must have hesitated for too long because that’s when Terry Hayes came up behind me and pushed me down to the ground. I looked around as he and the others formed a semi-circle around me.

“You’re gonna love this,” Miller said, as he moved his hand to unzip his pants. The others did the same.

Then everything went black.

*****************************

“Honey, are you okay?”

I opened my eyes and I felt someone poking me in the ribs.

“Jim, are you all right?”

Blinking rapidly, I realized I was in bed with my wife, Lori, and not back at the camp thirty years before. I sat up and leaned against the headboard. Lori also sat up, turning on the lamp on the end table close to her side of the bed. She put her arm around my shoulder in concern and rubbed my back.

“I’m fine. Just a bad dream, that’s all.”

Lori frowned. “Since when do you have nightmares?”

I shrugged. “It’s nothing. Let’s go back to bed.”

“You’re sure you’re all right?”

I nodded yes.

“Okay,” she said, unconvinced, and patted my back. She leaned over and turned off the light and we both lay back down, readjusting the covers and trying our best to get comfortable again. I pretended to sleep but couldn’t, my mind replaying those memories inside my head like an old videotape being rewound and then fast forwarded over and over in an endless loop.

The next morning I sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee, as Liam, my eleven-year-old son, sat on the opposite end eagerly eating a large bowl of Cheerios. Lori stood at the kitchen counter, preparing to put chicken breasts and vegetables into the Crockpot to cook our dinner for later that night. For some reason, Liam had a lot more energy than usual.

“Dad, do you know what day this is?”

“Tuesday.” I said. “Why?”

Waving his spoon in front of him and jumping up and down, Liam said, “That means the meeting is tonight. I can’t wait!”

I turned and looked at my wife, still busy preparing our dinner at the counter. “What meeting?”

Lori stopped what she was doing and turned towards me. “Don’t you remember? I told you about it last week. A group of parents at Liam’s school have gotten together to reform the old Boy Scout troop. Only now it’ll be open to both boys and girls since the Scouts recently changed everything.”

Feeling a knot starting to form in my stomach, I looked over at Liam who was grinning and nodding his head in eager anticipation.

“They’re no longer called Boy Scouts,’” he said. “Now it’s named Scouts USA so they can include everyone, even girls and gays. Isn’t that awesome?”

I didn’t know how to respond to that so I just said, “Oh, right.” I got up to get another cup of coffee. “So what’s the meeting for again?”

Lori sighed and stopped cutting up the tomatoes she was working on. “It’s some kind of orientation and then parents can sign up their kids afterwards.”

I leaned against the counter and contemplated how to respond. “And you think Liam should join?”

“Yes, of course,” Lori said as she resumed her work. “Why not?”

Liam got up out of his chair and dutifully put his empty cereal bowl and spoon in the kitchen sink. Afterwards, he stood next to me and said, “Dad, once you and Mom give the okay at the meeting tonight, then I can go to camp in June. They told me that I’ll even get to go canoeing!”

I stared down at my eleven-year-old boy who looked almost exactly like I did at that age: pudgy, out of shape, and cursed with a high-pitched voice since puberty hadn’t set in yet.

“So let me get this straight,” I said. “You spend all of your time in your room playing Fortnite and eating Little Debbies and now suddenly you want to go out in the woods to hike and canoe? Give me a break.”

Lori stopped cutting up the mushrooms she was working on and spun around to confront me. “Jim, what are you doing? That’s no way to talk to your son.”

“Maybe not,” I said, looking over at Liam, who acted like he was about to cry. “But it’s the truth.”

“Gee, Dad. You’re always telling me how I need to spend more time outside and how I need to get more involved at school. And now that I found something I want to do you make fun of me. That’s not fair!” He ran out of the kitchen and down the hall to his room, slamming the door shut over and over just to make his point.

“Happy now?” Lori asked, pointing her knife at me.

Baffled, I couldn’t find the words to make it clear to her that this wasn’t about Liam being lazy or chubby. How could I let Lori know that the last thing I wanted was for my son to join an organization that had caused me so much pain and that I was just trying to protect him? How could I tell her my worry that if Liam joined the Scouts something awful might happen to him like it did to me thirty years ago?

Lori dumped the freshly cut chicken and veggies into the Crockpot and turned it on. Then she walked over and sat down next to me at the table. “What is this really all about?” she asked, her eyes searching my face for an answer. “Why don’t you want Liam to be a scout?”

I shrugged. “I have my reasons.”

*****************************

I spent the morning at work in a daze, completely zoning out during our conference call with the office in Seattle. At noon, I declined an offer to join my coworkers for lunch at the Mexican restaurant down the street and instead sat at my desk staring blankly at the computer screen. I couldn’t stop thinking about my dream and the events in it that happened so long ago. The worst part of it all was that I had no memory of what happened after Miller, Hayes, and Belfry unzipped their pants. My mind always went blank. Why? Imagining the possibilities only made things worse. After being forced to kneel on the ground that day, all I remember is later running away from them through the woods.

Somehow, I managed to break free from Miller and the gang and took off as fast as I could, which I’m sure wasn’t all that fast considering how out of shape I was back then. Even so, the fear and panic I felt propelled me along at a speed faster than anyone could imagine, especially them. However, soon they were after me, pursuing me as quickly as they could.

“Whoo hoo!” Hayes yelled. “Look at the little bunny go!” I didn’t dare turn around to see them, I just kept moving forward on the trail, my legs spinning in motion like wheels on a train.

“We’re coming to get you fatty!” Miller called out to me, “You’re gonna pay for this!”

Hearing that almost made me wet my pants, so I forced myself to move even faster, gasping for breath and feeling the ache in my legs. By this time, I was in the densest part of the forest, and I still had no idea where the trail would lead me; I just hoped it was back to camp. A half-mile later, the trail split; I could either continue going straight ahead or take a new one that veered off to the left. I chose that, hoping to throw them off. However, when I took a quick glance over my shoulder, I saw that I hadn’t deceived them at all and worse yet, both Miller and Hayes were gaining in on me. I tried to run even faster, my heart about to quit on me at any moment. Then, without warning, the trail in front of me suddenly ended since I had reached a cliff, and the only way over the stream below to the other side was an unfinished bridge that was blocked by a sawhorse with a sign on it: “BRIDGE UNDER CONSTRUCTION – DO NOT CROSS!” I came to a stop, panting and gasping for air. What was I going to do now?

The bridge was a project for the older and more experienced scouts that week. They were to cut down trees, remove the branches, and use rope to lash together an overpass wide enough for five people to cross at a time over the creek, which was hundreds of feet below. I was surprised nobody was there now because the chosen scouts usually worked on it for over eight hours every day. Even though it was only Wednesday, they already had the basic framework done, but upon closer inspection I could see that some of the long branches placed on the bottom to make the floor weren’t lashed together yet. I wasn’t sure how sturdy they were. Even so, I only had about fifteen seconds to decide what to do because Miller and the others were quickly approaching.

“There he is!” Hayes yelled as the four older boys came over the ridge—going downhill would allow them to run faster and catch up with me in a matter of seconds.

“We got you now, Jimmy,” Miller yelled. “And your ass is mine!”

I realized that there were only three options: I could either give myself up (never), jump off the cliff and into the creek, (too dangerous), or take my chances crossing the bridge. I decided to take my chances on the bridge.

Rather than just run across the makeshift bridge as fast as I could, it would’ve been more prudent to carefully walk across it slowly one step at a time, and if I had done that I would’ve seen that there was a gaping hole in the middle of it where the workers hadn’t yet lashed together branches to complete the floor. But with Miller and the others about to catch me and do God knows what, I didn’t have time to be careful, so I jumped over the sawhorse and barreled across the bridge at full steam until I dropped in the hole at the center of it and began falling hundreds of feet down to the stream below, gaining momentum like a skydiver without a parachute. Looking down, I saw the jagged rocks in the stream that awaited me, and I braced myself for a hard landing. The last thing I remember before blacking out was hearing Terry Hayes exclaim, “Oh shit!” just as I was about to hit the ground.

*****************************

When I regained consciousness, I was lying in a hospital bed and a nurse was standing to my left fiddling with some kind of IV hanging on a metal pole. She gave me a sad smile and said, “You’re finally awake. Good. I’ll go get the doctor.” A few moments later, a kindly looking older man came into the room, a look of concern on his face. After checking my eyes, pulse, and mouth, he told me that once Miller and the others got back to camp and reported what happened, it still took over two hours for my father and the rescue party to reach me. Because of the severity of my injuries, they determined it wouldn’t be safe to carry me back down the trail, so I was taken by Life Flight to the hospital in Rapid City, which was where I was now. The doctor also informed me that I had suffered a major concussion and that I had broken my left leg and right arm, sprained my left arm, and had a nasty gash on my right leg that required over fifty stitches. He made it clear that I was in for a long recovery requiring a lot of physical therapy and that I probably wouldn’t be able to fully walk normal again until the following spring. I let out a loud groan just as my father, dressed in his freshly pressed new Scout leader uniform with a “Smokey the Bear” style green hat, opened the door without knocking and walked into the room. My father asked the doctor to leave, so he could be alone with me. I knew what was coming next.

“Hello, son,” he said, sitting down on the edge of the bed next to me.

“Hi,” I replied.

We sat in silence for a minute as my father looked me over, shaking his head in either disbelief or disappointment —I don’t know which.

“Well, I hope you’re happy. ” He got off the bed and stood towering over me.

“Happy?” I asked. “What do you mean?” I tried to turn my head to look at him but couldn’t because of the brace around my neck.

“Grant Miller told me everything. How you wouldn’t follow his orders and kept causing problems during the entire hike. He said you ran off because you didn’t want to help get firewood. They were chasing you to bring you back when you fell through that bridge.”

I looked at my father in disbelief. “No!” I shouted as best I could. “That’s not true at all.” What lies had that asshole Miller told to cover up what had really happened? My father started pacing back and forth in front of the bed, doing his best to control his temper. How could I explain what really took place on that mountain?

“Dad, they led me into the woods and then formed a circle around me and unzipped their pants and…” but he cut me off before I could finish.

“I don’t want to hear it,” he shouted. “And if you think you can lie your way out of this, mister, you’re mistaken!” My father glared at me, and I knew that if I weren’t all bandaged up he would’ve hit me.

“But Dad …”

“But Dad nothing,” he snapped. “You think I’m going to believe your lies over Grant Miller, who’s an Eagle Scout?” My father pointed his finger at me as he raised his voice even louder. “Do you know how much trouble you’ve caused and what an embarrassment you’ve become?” His ranting hurt my ears, but with one arm in a cast and the other in a sling I had no way to cover them. “And do you have any idea how much all of this is going to cost?” He waved his hands around the hospital room to make his point. “Well, do you?”

I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing and for a moment I wish I hadn’t survived the fall. Maybe Miller was right. What kind of father would want someone like me for a son? As I thought about this, the doctor and nurses rushed into the room.

“Sir,” the doctor said, addressing my father. “This is a hospital. You need to be quiet. And this is no way to talk to your son. Especially after all of the trauma he’s experienced.”

“Trauma my ass,” my father yelled as the doctor pushed him out the door, slamming it shut behind him. Outside the room, I could hear my father continue to rant and argue with the doctor and other nurses, and I wished there was a way he could’ve been given a sedative that would knock him out for the rest of my life. By this point I was crying, so the nurse who had been there when I first woke up tried to console me, drying my eyes with a tissue since I couldn’t use either of my arms to do it myself.

“It’s all right, sweetie,” she said. “Your mother is on her way from Omaha. She should be here soon.”

It took months for me to recover. At first, I was confined to bed and had to be home-schooled. Later, I was allowed to leave the house and go to physical therapy for two hours a day. During that time, all I did was eat and watch my favorite tv shows. I ate everything in sight, and although she would never admit it, my mother was my accomplice, bringing me banana splits from Baskin Robbins almost every day and making sure the cupboards were stocked with my favorite cookies and doughnuts. Soon she had to buy me bigger clothes since nothing would fit anymore, not even my T-shirts. By the end of the following January, I completed my last physical therapy session. The doctor signed the forms allowing me to “resume all normal activities” and wished me good luck. Although I was now much heavier, I could still walk and even run if necessary without any pain. I returned to school and my life went back to the way it was before my fall.

“So, I heard you saw the doctor today,” my father said as we all sat at the kitchen table eating dinner that night. Mother had made his favorite dish—chipped beef on toast—the one meal I absolutely despised.

“Yes,” I said, nodding my head and wondering what his ulterior motive might be. “He said I’m fully healed now.”

“Good. That means you can come with me to tonight’s scout meeting. Let’s just hope your uniform still fits.”

Luckily it didn’t, and because my father didn’t want me showing up in what he called “civilian clothes,” I was temporarily spared having to endure another experience with Miller and the others. Even so, the following Saturday my mother took me to Canfields and insisted on buying me a new uniform in the biggest size they had.

“But, Mother,” I said as we stood at the checkout while the cashier rang everything up. “ I don’t want to be a boy scout!”

The clerk gave me a funny look and Mother shook her head. “Nonsense. What kind of message would it send to the other boys if you quit? And what about your father? How would that make him feel?”

However, seven months later my mother’s attitude about scouting would change after my father ran off with my former cub scout den mother to start a new life in Texas, conveniently cleaning out all of the bank accounts and my college fund first.

*****************************

After work, Lori, Liam, and I ate dinner and then went to Liam’s school. The meeting was held in the cafeteria, which was also the gym, and there were many more people there than I expected. As we searched the rows of folding chairs for three open seats, I overheard some of the parents’ conversations and could tell there was excitement in the air. Finally, the meeting began with a flag ceremony and the pledge of allegiance. Then a woman who worked for the local scout council spoke about how there would be separate units for boys and girls, so the troop wouldn’t be entirely co-ed all the time. After she said this, there was a loud sigh of relief from many of the parents who were worried that their children would be out in the woods sharing a tent with someone of the opposite sex. The woman continued and talked about how the scouts had become more inclusive, a word she used quite often, and how the organization now welcomed kids who were gay or even transgender (but not atheists—that’s where they drew the line). Then, she introduced a man who was going to be the new scoutmaster, but I didn’t catch his name because I was too preoccupied trying to think of a good reason why Liam shouldn’t join the troop. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with one, so I began paying more attention to the scout leader as he described all of the plans and activities he was going to implement for the troop. For some reason, he looked vaguely familiar.

“Who’s that guy speaking?” I whispered into Lori’s ear.

“Why that’s Mark Belfry’s father, Brian,” she said. “You know Mark. He comes over to play video games with Liam all the time.”

Brian Belfry. Of course; he was the guy who was with Miller and the others that day on the mountain. No wonder I thought I had seen him before. Although he had to be over forty by now, Belfry still had the youthful appearance of a much younger man, but I knew that he was still the same guy who had willingly taken part in my humiliation. I wondered why fate had found a way for us to be in the same room that night.

“Shit,” I said, as Lori kicked my leg, and parents all around us turned to give me a nasty look for swearing in front of their kids. “Sorry,” I mumbled to no one in particular.

Not long afterwards, Brian Belfry finished his speech and everyone clapped for him. Then all of the other parents and their kids rushed over to the registration table in the back of the cafeteria.

“So, what do you think?” Lori asked. “Shall we go sign Liam up?” We were the only people not in line at the table. Liam looked up at me, anxious to hear my reply, and I suddenly felt bad for what I was about to say.

“No,” I said shaking my head. “You know how I feel. Liam doesn’t need to be a part of this crap.”

“Oh Jim,” Lori said. “Stop it.”

I looked down at Liam as he tugged at my suit coat. “Dad, please? I really want to join and go to camp in Colorado next summer. After all, I’m almost twelve and I’ve never even seen a mountain before.”

I knelt down to his level and tried to cheer him up. “Tell you what,” I said. “I’ll take us all camping together in Colorado next July instead. We’ll even climb Long’s Peak. How’s that?”

Liam couldn’t hide his disappointment. “It’s not the same,” he muttered. As I tried to think of something else to say, a man behind me said, “Excuse me, is there a problem? Maybe I can help.”

I turned around to see Brian Belfry staring at me face to face. Naturally, he immediately recognized me.

“Jimmy?” he asked, looking closely at me. “Jimmy Rothery? Is that you?”

“Yes,” I said. “Hi Brian, nice to see you again.” I tried to hide my distaste for him. “And it’s Jim now, not Jimmy.”

“Oh yes, of course. Sorry.” He held out his hand and I reluctantly shook it. Brian looked me over, marveling at how I had turned out much different than the chubby kid he had known back then. “My God. It’s been what? Thirty years?”

“ I suppose so.”

“You look great!”

“Thanks.” I gave him a fake smile.

“I had no idea you still lived in town.”

“Yes. I only left to go to college.” I hoped Brian would stop talking and go away, but of course he didn’t.

Brian looked down and smiled at my son. “And this is your boy?”

“Yes, this is Liam.”

He looked at my boy and then at me. “Wow, he looks almost exactly like you were at that age.” He ruffled his fingers through Liam’s hair and I could tell my son liked the attention.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I said as Brian looked at me, puzzled.

For some reason, Lori decided to chime in. “Liam’s good friends with your son, Mark,” she said. “They’re always playing video games together.”

“Is that so?” Brian asked. “Well, both of our boys are going to have a great time together as part of Troop 416. I’ve got a lot of great things planned.”

“Oh I’m sure you do,” I said, not bothering to hide the sarcasm in my voice.

“And you know, I still need an assistant scoutmaster. You’d be perfect for it, Jim, especially since you’re an old eagle scout yourself.”

Lori and Liam both looked at me in surprise. I had never told them.

Liam gazed up at me in awe. “You were an eagle scout, Dad? Wow.”

Brian laughed. “So what are you waiting for? Let’s go get your boy registered.”

“Listen, Brian,” I said. “I don’t want to be your God damn assistant scoutmaster, and I don’t want my son to have anything to do with this filthy organization. In fact, why don’t you go fuck yourself.”

Brian just stood there silent as both Lori and Liam stared at me in shock. Around us, a few of the other parents who heard what I said gave me nasty looks. I didn’t care.

“Lori, Liam,” I said. “Let’s go. Now.” My wife and son remained still as I began to head for the main door of the cafeteria, but Brian grabbed my arm to stop me.

“What’s this all about?” he asked.

I looked at Brian like he must be the dumbest person alive. Then he figured it out.

“Oh,” he said. “Of course. Now I get it.” Brian let out a long slow sigh. “Jimmy—I mean, Jim. Let’s you and I go talk somewhere in private.” As he led the way out of the cafeteria, I told Lori I’d be right back. She glared at me and tried to make apologies for my behavior to the other parents around her. I followed Brian out the side exit and we stood in a hallway lined with lockers on each side. I leaned against one as Brian paced back and forth.

“This is about what happened that summer at camp Old Broad Axe, isn’t it?

I slowly nodded my head yes. “So, you remember?”

“Of course. What took place that day isn’t something anyone would forget.”

“I guess that means you also remember happily joining in on it too.”

Brian frowned. “Hey, that’s not fair,” he said. “I was a kid then and didn’t fully understand what those guys were doing.”

“Bullshit.” I pounded my fist against the locker behind me to make my point.

“Oh, come on,” Brian said, suddenly getting defensive. “You’re taking this way too seriously. After all, it was just a joke—a practical joke. So we all urinated on you…big deal. A little piss never hurt anyone, right?”

I glared at Brian. “You knew it was wrong. And afterwards you could’ve told someone or at least backed up my story. But instead you did nothing.”

We stood there in silence.

“I’m sorry,” he finally whispered. “I was just too scared.” Brian stared down at the floor and let out a long sigh. “Will you accept my apology now?”

I paused for a moment. He did sound sincere. “Okay.”

Brian half-heartedly kicked a locker with his foot. “You remember Grant Miller?”

“Yes. How could I forget that bastard?”

“Well, did you hear what happened to him?”

I perked up. “No, what?”

“He was arrested for child pornography two years ago. Got sentenced to over fifty years in the pen.”

“Why am I not surprised?” I looked down the empty hallway imagining Miller behind bars dressed in an orange jumpsuit. It was a pleasant thought.

“Yeah,” Brian said. “And just last month Terry Hayes had a fatal heart attack as he ran on the Keystone Trail. He was training for the Omaha marathon.”

“Good,” I said. “They both got what they deserved.” I gave Brian a wicked smile.

He turned away, not knowing what to say. I don’t know why, but a moment later the memory of what really happened after Miller and the rest of them forced me on my knees flashed through my mind for the first time. The parts of my memory that always were blank became clear. Miller and the rest didn’t just piss on me that day on the mountain; they did something more, and the realization of what actually happened in the clearing before I escaped and ran away caused me to suddenly vomit all over Brian Belfry’s shoes.

“Jesus,” he said, looking down at his feet in disgust. “Pull yourself together, man.”

“Sorry,” I replied as I took out my handkerchief and wiped off my chin. Then I handed it to Brian so he could clean the mess off of his shoes. As he did that, I turned and walked back into the cafeteria. Across the room, Lori was signing Liam up for the new troop. He saw me and grinned. Lori finished filling out the forms and looked over at me too, unable to hide the worry on her face. Afterwards, we went home and I put Liam to bed. Then Lori and I crawled into our bed. She read her book as I watched TV. Eventually, I turned it off and began to tell her about what really happened all those years ago. Lori listened intently and at one point began crying. When I finished, she told me how sorry she was and how much she loved me. Then we turned off the lights and lay under the sheets holding each other until I nodded off. I slept soundly that night for the first time in years.

About the Author

Jim Fields

Jim Fields is a resident of Lincoln, Nebraska, where he serves as the Academic Specialist at Doane University. His work as appeared in numerous places, including The Nebraska Review and the recently published anthology of emerging Nebraska writers, "The Flat Water Rises."