Author : Bill Richman

Bobby had always been a little different. His family felt it. So did the neighborhood children. His friends would have felt it too, if he’d had any. Of course, the other kids were quick to pick up on his oddities and use them to taunt him. He was used to that. Still, why did he have to hide what he felt? His longing to be accepted made him easy prey for those adults who knew what to look for and weren’t afraid to exploit it. Frank Martin was no exception. As a grounds keeper at the park, Frank saw a lot of kids every day, but his interests were very specific. As soon as he saw Bobby, he knew they were alike. It was only a matter of showing a little interest and acting a little bit friendly. Not too friendly, because that was dangerous. Just enough to pique the boy’s curiosity and draw him nearer.

“Hi!” Frank called to the boy, smiling and waving invitingly. “I’ve seen you around, and you look like maybe you could use someone to talk to.”

“M…me…?” stammered Bobby, looking around as though he expected the man to be addressing someone else.

“Yeah, you,” Frank chuckled nervously, glancing around to make sure no one was taking notice of them. “I’ve been watching you. I’ve seen the way you act. I know what you’re feeling. Do you want to come over to my house on Saturday? I think you’ll like it,” Frank blurted, knowing that he was going way too fast, but desperately afraid that he’d lose his nerve otherwise. “Of course, it’ll have to be our little secret,” he whispered, almost pleading.

“Um… well… I guess so…” Bobby mumbled, so stunned by the attention that it never occurred to him to wonder why someone like Frank would take so much interest in a boy like him.

“G…good…” stammered Frank, suddenly scared to death at what he’d just set in motion. “H…here’s my address. P…please don’t t…t…tell anyone wh…where you’re going.” With a trembling hand, he gave Bobby a small scrap of paper.

The lazy silence of Saturday afternoon was broken by a loud pounding and an angry voice shouting, “Police! Open the door!” Before Frank could do more than stand up and turn around, the door was thrown open, and an officer lunged into the room, followed closely by Bobby’s parents.

“What are you doing with my son?!?” screamed Bobby’s mother.

“I’ll kill you, you bastard!” shouted his father.

The officer pushed Frank roughly aside, revealing Bobby and another boy sprawled in full view on the couch, leaving little doubt as to what had been going on.

“Bobby!! What has he done to you?!?” wailed his mother.

“M…m…mom…? D…dad? It’s not his f…f…fault. I…I’ve felt this way for a long t…t…time now. Mu..mis… mister Martin is my f…friend.”

“Bobby? What the hell are you talking about, son? We raised you better than that!” moaned his father.

“D…d…dad? I… I’m s…sorry, bu..but it’s t…t…true,” Bobby sobbed. “I… I’m… a… a… r…r…READER!”

“Mister Martin, I’m placing you under arrest for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, possession of illegal materials, and teaching without a license. You’ll have to come with me,” snapped the officer, reaching for his handcuffs.

The well-worn copy of “Tom Sawyer” hit the floor with a crack like a judge’s gavel.


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