Two weeks passed with no sign of Dewayne. Cameron’s mom hoped that her son had finally distanced himself from the kid. She hadn’t spoken about him and, Cameron hadn’t volunteered any details, which was also relieving, and concerning at once. On this particular Friday evening, Jeremy and Josh were splayed across her couch and living room floor when she walked in from work. She could hear loud laughter and screams as she neared the room, which signaled they were probably playing video games although Cameron knew how much she hated him using his game system on the family TV. He jumped up, tossing his game controller to the floor when he saw his mom’s arm filled with her attache, and two large grocery bags in a poor attempt to appease her. She rolled her eyes and then delivered a dry smile to the boys, eyeing empty potato chip bags and sports drink bottles on her floor. At her presence, they sat up immediately like trained soldiers and offered jovial “good afternoons” in hopes that she would not lay into them for not only taking over her forbidden television, but for getting way too comfortable in her living room. The boys hurriedly began picking up after themselves and fluffing throw pillows and cushions on each sofa.
“We were about to leave, Mom. We’ll be outta your hair in a minute,” Cameron offered watching the boys continue to clean. She sat on a freshly fluffed cushion and reclined in a chair.
“Where ya’ll headed?” she asked.
“With “D”. He’s going to get a tattoo and asked us to come along.”
His mom sighed trying to hide her disappointment from the other two. That was a name she hadn’t heard in weeks, and now it was back and planted firmly on her son’s tongue-Dwayne.
“A tattoo? What for? I thought he was saving up for a hooptie so he could stop hopping rides to and from work.”
“Oh, he got fired from the grocery store,” Josh blurted before Cameron could signal him to be silent. Cameron’s eyes darted toward his friend, but the beans were already spilled.
“Fired?” she laughed. “I’m sure that’s a story I don’t want to hear.”
“Trust me, Mom, you don’t,” Cameron added.
“I just hope he wasn’t stealing from them. That would make you look bad since you are the one who recommended him for the job.”
“Nah. It was nothing like that. His mama’s boyfriend was tripping and so he had to lay hands…” Josh’s voice trailed off as both Cameron and Jeremy gave him a reprehensive stare. “What?” he questioned innocently. “I was just explaining that it wasn’t his fault that he got fired.”
“So, you mean to tell me that boy was fighting with a grown man and ended up somehow losing his job behind it? How do you connect those dots?” she asked, now actually intrigued by this story.
“It was nothing, Ma,” Cameron said dismissively.
His mom crossed her arms and sat up expectantly. He dreaded what was certain to come next, but he knew she wouldn’t relent until she got the answers she was looking for, so he took a long slow breath and began. “’D” was arrested last week after he got into a fight with his mom’s boyfriend. He walked in and saw him beating her up and he stepped in. One of their neighbors heard the commotion and called the police. When they showed up, they took both of them to jail. His mom didn’t even try to step in or nothing, even though “D” was protecting her. That’s messed up. He’s not even staying at home right now. He’s with his aunt.”
“So, I’m assuming his being locked up caused him to miss his shift and that’s how he got fired,” his mom concluded. Cameron nodded. His mom wanted to caution him again about this kid, but she was understanding more about why he was so attached to Cameron. She’d known that he didn’t have the greatest family life, but nothing this terrible. Understandably, he sought out an escape from his own misery through his friends. There was nothing for her to say that wouldn’t sound harsh, so she just gave a calm, “okay”.
Moments later, she heard the sound of a horn honking and the loud rumble of a motor. She peered through a small opening in the blinds and spotted the three boys—Cameron in the front passenger seat– piling into an old silver minivan. She shook her head, sauntered back to the sofa and reached for the gray Chenille throw strewn over its back to settle in for a much-needed nap.
The sound of glasses clinking from the kitchen awoke her. The bright sunlight beaming in from the cracks in the blinds announced that it was Saturday morning. Had she been that tired? She stretched her arms and legs and lifted herself up from the sofa, then began making her way toward the kitchen. There to her astonishment, she found a shirtless Dwayne pouring orange juice into a glass.
“Hey, Mom,” he beamed.
Cameron turned around from the kitchen sink where he had been in the middle of some sort of dance routine he was performing to a song that was blaring from his headphones. He flinched at the sight of his mom standing there in wrinkled clothes and disheveled hair wearing a scowl on her face.
“Oh, hey, Ma,” he said now nervously, fidgeting with a fork in his hand. He could feel the coldness coming from his mom’s stare.
“I guess my invitation to the sleepover must’ve gotten lost in the mail.” She shifted her eyes back to Dwayne and folded her arms across her chest.
“Ms. “J”, you won’t believe this, but my aunt was tripping last night cause me and the fellas stayed out a lil’ late with her ride, and she locked me out. So ol’ Cam told me it would be alright if I crashed here,” Dwayne explained.
Her eyes shifted back to Cameron. “Oh, ol’ Cam did, did he?” she asked, her brows knitted in aggression. “I tell you what then. Since you and ol’ Cam seem to be making all these grand plans around here, plan on washing all these dishes that you’ve dirtied, plan on sweeping and mopping my kitchen, and plan on mowing and edging the lawn before you do any further planning.”
Cameron wanted to speak, but he remembered the whole “silence is golden” expression, and decided it would be best applied in this situation.
“Oh, daaang, Dwayne sang, with cupped hands over his mouth. Ok, Ms. “J”. Me and my boy got you, but look,” he said, inching closer to her, pointing at his chest, “you got any Vaseline? This tattoo is itching like crazy! Check it out. You like it?” he asked with a wide, ridiculous grin.
Had he really done it? She couldn’t believe her eyes. She darted them toward Cameron who seemed to be purposely avoiding her gaze. Dwayne’s dark mocha-colored skin had concealed it from afar, but up close, she could see it clearly. Situated just above his left pectoral was a map of Texas with a star in its upper right side indicating the city of Dallas. Cameron, who also stood shirtless at the dishwasher, draped a dishtowel across his shoulder in a failed attempt to mask his tattoo in the exact same spot. His mom had loathed the idea of him getting the mark across his chest, but they’d had an agreement when he was a sophomore in high school, that if he waited until his eighteenth birthday and still wanted it, she would allow it. So, when the time came, she conceded. He’d chosen an homage to his birthplace: A map of Louisiana, with a star on the capital of Baton Rouge. Of all the hundreds of thousands of designs that he could have gotten, he’d chosen virtually the same idea as Cameron. His mom turned slowly and called out to him from the hallway as she began to walk away. He handed the dishtowel to Dwayne and told him to finish up the dishes.
“What the hell, Cameron? Are you kidding me right now?”
“I know this seems weird, Ma, but I can explain,” Cameron pleaded.
His mom sank down into the mattress as he continued.
“We had already had this planned since high school…that we would get tattoos to represent our city and state. “D” just wanted to wait until he got a little more bulked up first. Nobody wants a tattoo on a flat chest.”
“Yes, okay. Even if that is true, how do you explain his sudden desire to work out and watch football in the first place? He now wants to play the same video games, work at the same job, wear the same shoes, sport the same phone. I don’t know how you can’t see that this is a problem!” she exclaimed. She shook her hands frantically as she felt a ball of frustration boiling inside her.
Cameron sighed deeply while pondering his mom’s concerns. Had he been turning a blind eye to his friend’s behavior? “Listen Ma, you make a valid point. Going forward, I promise to pay more attention to what’s happening with “D”, but can you just fall back some? He can tell that you’re acting different with him lately.”
“Do you think I give a damn what he’s noticed?”
“I know you don’t, but please, just leave it alone. I’ll handle it,” he said. His words were soft and reassuring.
His mom agreed to let things be…for now. But she would be watching. She was not going to allow this boy to become a leech, sucking the identity out of her child simply because he had none of his own. And now, he was a leech with an arrest record. She knew that she’d raised a smart, independent child. Otherwise, this might be more troublesome than it already was. Thankfully, school would be starting in the Fall, and Cameron would be attending the local university on a football scholarship a few miles away. As far as she knew, Dwayne was not planning to attend college. Hopefully, this would distance him from her child. If it didn’t, she certainly would step in and take care of things herself.
To be Continued….