Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chapter 11

Sunday morning, Milo slipped out of church before the service was over and ran toward the hospital.  He knew that when his parents found out he'd be in for it but it was worth it to be able to talk to Amadeo for a little while before everyone in the state stopped by to see him.  He just bet that every person with a phone was on it last night, spreading the word, and those without phones were most likely told in person.  He pictured the neighbors scurrying around the neighborhood from house to house like field mice, spreading the word.  He knew for sure his mother had been on the 'gossip gadget', as his father referred to it, from the time she got home until dad made her hang up around eleven that night.

"Young man," the nurse chided, "visiting hours do not start until eleven o' clock.  It is only nine forty-five now.  You'll just have to wait.  You may sit in the lounge."  She then watched him until he plastered a hang dog expression on his face, and turned toward the indicated 'lounge'.  Lounge!  Milo thought sarcastically.  

Fancy name for a featureless room filled with uncomfortable furniture.  

He casually glanced backward toward the nurse who had turned her back to work on whatever it was she'd been doing before he'd walked in, then quickly swerved and darted into Amadeo's room, pulling the privacy screen around them so that he wouldn't be seen immediately.

'Deo smiled broadly when he saw his best friend.  "Thank God you're here, Mi.  Thought I was gonna go insane with boredom!  How'd you get past the dragon?"

"Wore my elven cloak, how else?" Milo replied, nonchalantly.  "Hey, love the lid," he said, gesturing to the knitted cap on his friend's head.  "Oh, um, when's she supposed to come back in?  Any idea?" he asked, concerned.

"Beats me!" 'Deo replied.  "I had breakfast about a half hour ago and they already came to pick up the tray, so I think you're all right till the doctor comes in."

"Hey," Amadeo whispered, glancing furtively around.  "I don't suppose you have any snacks on you?"

"Uh, no man, sorry.  Just got outta church.  What're you looking for?"

"Anything solid!  Popcorn?  Twinkies?"

"What," Milo asked amused, "they won't give you junk food in the hospital?"

"No, man!  They won't let me have anything solid!  It's all juice, tea, broth.  The most solid thing I've been allowed to eat is ice cream! And that gelatin?  Nasty stuff!  I don't know what they make it out of but it ain't food!  I'm dyin' here!"

"Solid, eh?" Milo put a thumb to his lips as he often did while thinking, then smiled and clicked his fingers.  "I know just the thing, Dae!  Ice cream soda.  It's liquid, right?  And you said they gave you ice cream, so that's in there too, right?  And you get ginger ale, right?"  

'Deo nodded, catching onto what his friend was saying.

"Cherry Coke!" they both said at the same time.

"Have no fear Kemosabe.  I'll get the word out and I know the kids'll be happy as clams to smuggle stuff in for you, just for the fun of getting it past Smaug*."

"Ah, you are a true friend, Mi." Amadeo said, relaxing against the pillows and smiling broadly.

"OK, so look, Dae!  I've been wanting to tell you what's been going on forever!  Wait'll you hear!"

"Hey, before you start, I'm just curious...where the heck were you that morning?  What day was it?  Anyway, I'm getting distracted...where were you?"

"Well, on the day forever after to be known as The Day of the Amadeo's Arthurian Adventure..."

"What?!"

"Amadeo's Arthurian Adventure," Milo repeated casually.

"Oh my God.  That's horrible!" Amadeo said disbelievingly.  

"How about 'Deo's Dilemma."

"How about 'Deo's Disaster?" he argued.

"Are you kidding, man?  You're a hero!  They're calling you 'Deo the Defender!"

"How about 'Deo the Nearly Decapitated!"

"Amadeo the Arbiter!"

"Amadeo the Ashen."

"Amadeo's Advent!"

"Amadeo's Annihilation."

"Amadeo the Avalanche!"

"Amadeo's Anticlimax."

"Amadeo the Assassin."

" 'Deo the Ditz!"

" 'Deo the Diety!"

"Whoa!  No way Jose!  I draw the line at sainthood!"

"Ok then, how about 'Deo the Diabolic?"

"Well, now let's not go crazy here."

"Amadeo the Assailant!  Amadeo the Audacious! I got more good ones than you have bad ones, so shut up."

"Idjit, hate to tell you but they're all bad."

"Jerk, now let me finish...the date of the Big Adventure was April 13th."  Milo said, capitalizing the words with emphasis.  "And I'm real sorry I wasn't there.  I, uhhh..." he blushed.  "Well, first I overslept, and then I kinda mouthed off to mom a few times and dad gave me about twenty good reasons with his belt that convinced me that wasn't the best thing I coulda done.  That's why I was late, or I swear, 'Deo, I'd have helped you.  You know that, don't you?" he asked anxiously.

"Yeah, man.  I know," replied Amadeo, reaching out to his friend to take his hand.  "I couldn't help but wonder if you'd been there helping if other people would have grown a pair and jumped in too.'

"No sense worrying about it now, Dae," Milo said sensibly.

"You're right.  So tell me, what's this exciting news you just had to tell me that it couldn't wait till regular visiting hours?"

"Well, if you're gonna be like that I'll leave and come back at eleven when everyone in the United States is crammed in here..."

Amadeo laughed.  "No, now don't be like that, mio fratello del cuore.  Spill."

"One of these days you're gonna tell me what that means if I gotta get you wasted to get it outta you."

"Ugh, don't even joke." replied Amadeo, who disapproved heartily of drugs. "So tell me before I bust.  What's happening?"

"Wow, now that I'm here I don't know where to start!"

"Wanna try going alphabetically?" 'Deo joked.

"Won't work, you know I always have to recite the alphabet in my head to know what comes next."

Amadeo twisted his lips and cocked his eyebrows which made Milo laugh.

"OK, Well, for one thing, Fishlock is gone."

Amadeo perked right up.  "Gone?  What happened?!"

"Students were approached privately, one by one, and asked about their experiences in Fishlock's classes.  Once they were told that someone had brought charges up against him and they were assured that their identities would be kept secret, from Fishlock anyway, since the school board might need to talk to them, a bunch of them spilled the beans. Once word got out, Barnes and Cobrane couldn't keep up with the stream of kids who came in and called to tell their stories.  People who already graduated came in and told their stories!  And get this, Barnes asked Fishface for his keys.  At first ol' Fishie refused but Cobrane... man he's my new hero, I'm tellin' ya... just looked at him... just looked at him, and Fishlock handed the keys over, and one of 'em fit the door."

Amadeo looked confused.  

"None of the teachers are supposed to have keys to the room where the grades are kept, Dae!  The only ones who are supposed to have keys are Miz Jennings, Mr. Barnes and Mr. Cobrane!  The members of the school board don't have keys either!  They have to ask Barnes, Cobrane or Miz Jennings to get the required records if they want any, and it has to be documented who wanted the records and when."

"No one knows when or how Fishlock got his copy but he wasn't supposed to have one!  I didn't know this before but even the room where the schedules and student records are off limits to the teachers.  If teachers want information on a student they have to request it through Mrs. Jennings, Mr. Cobrane or Mr. Barnes." 

"What about Sharon?"  'Deo asked suddenly.

"From what I heard she has to get permission to go in too.  If one of them opens the door for her she can get in and get whatever file they asked her for, but she doesn't have a key either.  Why?"

Amadeo frowned at that information.  If Sharon didn't have a key, how had she gotten into Angelo's file to get his schedule?  "No, no reason, really. Just curious."

"So anyway, Fishlock was brought up in front of a board of inquiry, the list of charges and the testimonials were read out loud, and you had to hear Fishlock, yelling that everyone was lying, everyone was against him, it was a plot to discredit him, he wasn't going to stand for it."

"They let the students in to listen?"  'Deo asked, surprised.

Milo grinned.  "Not precisely.  A bunch of us stood outside the door, and some others sat on the ground under the windows and listened in.  He wasn't exactly hard to hear, so it wasn't really eavesdropping."

"Where were all the teachers?  When did this all happen?"

"It was after school hours, and the teachers were... well jeez, I dunno but they sure weren't anywhere around where we could see them."

Amadeo grinned. "So he's really gone?"

"He's really gone.  'Grades have been adjusted accordingly,'" he said, trying to imitate Barnes which was a little harder, "He lost his tenure... whatever that is, and he was told that 'you will not be receiving recommendations from this school if you attempt to apply for a teaching position elsewhere.'"  

‘Deo had no idea who Milo was trying to imitate that time but they were welcome words, and he didn't care if Milo sounded like Donald Duck while he spoke them.

"So what else happened?  You said you had lots to tell me," Amadeo prompted.

"Oh, ok!  The cafeteria... remember how bad the food is?"

"Course I do," Amadeo said, sounding insulted.  "As a matter of fact, from what I can tell, the fine cafeteria workers moonlight here on the weekends!"

Milo grinned.  "Well, everyone boycotted the cafeteria.  Everyone brown bagged it, and they brought extras for the kids who didn't have anything at home to make a lunch out of.  At first there was a little problem some of the kids saying they wouldn't take charity, but the other kids?  They said ‘It’s not charity, it's one friend sharing his lunch with another friend.'

"When Barnes asked what was going on, that guy Darren got up and told him how the food was.  Then he invited Barnes to sit down at the table and try that day's menu.  Well, everyone there just bust out laughing when they saw the look on his face.  D'ja ever ever offer one of your friends a 'crabapple' and it was really a green persimmon?"

Amadeo laughed and nodded. He had in fact done that to Con the year before. It had been particularly funny since Con had fallen for the same prank the year before.

"It was priceless, Dae!  I wish I'd had a camera!  So anyway, the menu at the school got a lot better since then.  They replaced the people who'd been cooking, had someone called a die-titan write up a whole new menu. Someone's in charge of checking out the produce before it's delivered to the school, so we don't get wrinkled fruit anymore.  You can actually recognize what's on your tray now.  There's different kinds of soup offered three days a week, there's more choices for sandwiches other than bologna and peanut butter, and if you want a salad it's really crisp.  Remember what we used to call the cherry tomatoes?" he grinned.

"Eyeballs!" they said together.

"That's great!" Amadeo couldn't have been more pleased if he'd accomplished that feat himself.

"The only drawback is that there's suddenly a lot fewer cats and rats than there used to be." Milo said with a wink.

'Deo pulled a sick face. "That's just nasty, Mi."

"Oh, I got better for you!  Everyone has banded together against the bullies."

"Say that again?"

"Everyone travels in packs, even the geeks.  Some of them carry whistles and'll blow em if the school bullies come anywhere near them.  Anyone who hears the whistle runs to help."

"Hot dang!" 'Deo said happily.

"Wanna hear something really funny?"

"Sure."

"A bunch of girls beat up Oren Ogelvy," he laughed.

"You're joking?!  Oren is like seven feet tall and must weigh three hundred pounds!"  Oren had been held back twice in senior year and was the only guy in school that the other bullies had been afraid of.  If Oren had had his way he'd have left school after flunking out the first time without the added hindrance of a diploma.  His goal in life was to drive a big rig and he was sure he didn't need a high school diploma to do that, but his parents disagreed and forced him to continue his schooling.  This was Oren's last chance to graduate and he was even more hostile than usual as a result.

"Yeah, according to Molly Denton, Oren started up with her, Gretchen Pierce and Sue Peterson, shoving them around and pulling their hair.  So they just hauled off and started kicking and punching him, pulling his hair... 'Deo, no lie, the guy was half bald by the time they got done with him.  He even had bite marks on his arms and hands!  He ran like the devil was after him!

"No kiddin'!" 'Deo replied, pleasantly surprised.  "Good for them!"

"Yep, after what Angelo went through the students decided to put their foot down... feet?  Anyway, the students all look out for each other now, and some of the guys from the wrestling and football teams monitor that area behind the school before and after school to make sure no one else gets blind-sided.  The stoners weren't too happy with that though, because now they have to find a new place to hide and sneak their smokes."  Milo said with a smile.

Amadeo became serious.  "How's Angelo?  Is he included in the new protection plan?"

Milo looked slightly embarrassed.  "He hasn't been back to school since it happened.  What I heard is that his parents arranged for a tutor to go to their house.  I found out where he lives, though!"  Milo said encouragingly, "But his parents or one of his brothers always answer the door and all they say is that Angelo isn't available. Then they smile politely and close the door.  Same thing when we call his house.  Well, I mean, they don't close the door when we call cuz that'd just be silly, well, I dunno if they close the door when we call or not since I don't know if anyone might have been at the door at the time, but they hang the phone up nicely when I call," he added, "I don't even see him in town anymore."

'Deo looked closely at his friend to see if he'd been serious about Angelo's family not closing the door when people called on the phone and then shook it off.

"Where does he live?"

"Know that dirt road just down a ways from the Ketterly's?"

"Between them and the Mason's?"

"Yeah, that's the one."

'Deo raised his eyebrows.  Who on earth could live there, it was just about next to nowhere.  Phone service?  Must have cost a fortune to hook one up down there, he thought.

"Anything else happen?"

"Oh, yeah!  Curly Baker was suspended!"

"Curly?  What for?"

"Well, word is that Felix Garruson ran for help and a bunch of the teachers came out, including Cobrane and Barnes. Curly's the one that didn't come forward when Barnes and Cobrane gave everyone they saw the chance to fess up."

"What?  What happened?  Gave everyone the chance to fess up to what?" Amadeo looked perplexed.

"After you and Angelo were rushed to the hospital, Barnes and Cobrane started making calls to everyone's families, to tell them what happened.  Miz Jennings went into a few classrooms, looked around and then left, no one knew what that was about.  'Bout an hour and a half later Mr. Cobrane came on the PA and called an assembly.  Barnes got up to the podium and told everyone that some of the people who'd been standing around watching had been identified and the teachers knew who they all were.  

"Barnes said that he was going to give the kids the chance to come forward on their own, but anyone who didn't, they'd be suspended."

"One of the students raised his hand and asked what was going to happen to the kids who did tell, and Barnes said it depended on how truthful and helpful they were.  The ones who admitted to staying and not doing anything could face detentions and or a visit to Cobrane's office.  The one's who didn't would be suspended and possibly expelled... uh, what's the word?... pending... pending a hearing with the school board, for breaking the code of conduct and allowing another student to be injured and not getting help from someone in authority."

Amadeo nearly laughed. "Confess and get detention and paddled, or stay quiet and get suspended and maybe expelled.  Great choices there. Why didn't they just threaten to feed 'em peas and brussels sprouts, they'd've gotten the same results."

Milo wrinkled his nose at the thought.

"So, who came forward, do you know?"

"At first no one would talk about it.  Some of the bigger kids started talking trash about anyone who told, callin' em finks and stuff, but Cobrane got wind of it and called another assembly.  He told everyone what happened. Man, 'Deo, I didn't know, you know?"  Milo said looking distraught.

Amadeo wasn't sure but it looked for a moment as though his best friend were about to cry.

"Didn't know what?  Come on, man, waiting for you to spit out the story is worse than trying to choke down another bowl of chicken broth."

Milo gave a watery laugh and rubbed his eyes as though he were tired.  "I'm not sure what I'm supposed to tell you."

"Why don't we find out how much Mr. Rossi remembers today, then we can go from there?" came a voice from the doorway.

Milo and Amadeo jumped guiltily and turned to see Dr. Mendoza standing in the doorway with a wry grin on his face.

"Good morning, Mr. Jablonski.  I'm just curious, do you happen to have the correct time?  It seems that all of the hospital's clocks are running slow today."

"Gee, Doc, I musta forgot my watch at home today.  I'm not early, am I?" Milo asked innocently.

Amadeo tried but failed to keep the grin from his face, so he raised a hand to partially cover his mouth in a thoughtful gesture.

"Just a little," Mendoza deadpanned.  

"Young man!  What are you doing in here!?  I specifically told you..." scolded The Dragon, otherwise known as Ms. Greer.

"It's all right, Ms Greer.  I don't believe that Mr. Jablonski has done any harm. You're exactly on time however, I was just about to find out what our young man here has been able to remember since waking.  Did you bring your notepad and pen?"

With a final scowl aimed at the boys, Ms. Greer gave the doctor an offended look and replied, "Of course, Doctor."

"Are you ready to begin, Amadeo?" asked Mendoza.

"I guess so, sir.  What do you want to know?"

"What is the first thing you remember from that day?"

"Mmmmm, do you mean like, what I had for breakfast?"

"If you like," replied Mendoza with a smile.  "However, if you'd prefer we can skip over that and begin with what you saw when you arrived at the school."

"I saw Freddie and Brice tossing Angelo around like a football, and a bunch of people just standing around watching," 'Deo said, anger tinging his voice.

Ms. Greer wrote down every word, a grim expression on her face.

As Amadeo related what he could remember of that day, Milo looked increasingly distressed and held onto his best friend's hand, squeezing reassuringly when 'Deo recalled Freddie advancing on him with the knife.

Seeing Amadeo's agitation as he recalled the events, Dr. Mendoza suddenly said.  "That's enough for now, Amadeo.  Ms. Greer, please get Mr. Rossi a glass of cold water and a cool cloth."  

Milo's fingers were red and aching as his friend's grip had tightened with each word, but he would never complain. He could tolerate a little pain if it helped his friend feel better.  

Ms. Greer, with a much softer expression than when she'd arrived, helped Amadeo slowly sip some water and then bathed his face with the cloth.  "All right, honey, it's all right. It's all over and done with, OK?  All over and done with," she said softly, placing her hand gently on the side of his face.

Mendoza eased Milo's hand out of 'Deo's grip and placed it on his chest and then put one of his own on the boy's. "Amadeo, I'd like you to breathe with me, can you do that son?" he asked, calmly.  "Breathe in for six beats of your heart, and exhale for six beats.  Breathe with me, son.  Let's start.  Ready?  Come on, Amadeo, you can do it.  Breathe in for six... that's right... slowly now... out for six, good boy.  Let's do it again.  In for six... that's right.  Out for six.  Good."

When Amadeo's breathing returned to normal he leaned backward against his pillows.  He felt as wiped out as if he'd run a 10,000 meter event.  Ms. Greer took his pulse, wrote it down on the pad she'd been taking notes on and placed the cloth on his forehead.

"We'll talk more later, if you're up to it, all right, son?" Mendoza asked soothingly.

"I'm all right, Doc.  Really," 'Deo replied tiredly.  "I can go on."

"I know you can, but I think we should take a break for now, let you get your bearings."

"Doc, honestly, it's all right.  There's really not much more I can tell you.  They had me down.  I was pinned.  They were punching me," he hesitated.  "They had me pinned," he repeated, frowning in concentration as he tried to remember.  "One of them got up and started kicking me.  My face.  My head.  The other one kept punching me. I tried to put up my arms to protect myself... and then it's just dark after that. I'm sorry.  I can't remember anything else after that," he said apologetically.

"There's no need to apologize, Amadeo," Mendoza said kindly.  "Full or partial memory loss, whether permanent or temporary, is normal after injuries such as yours.  I'm frankly amazed that you've been able to remember as much as you have."

"Is it... is it ok to tell him what happened afterward?" Milo asked uncertainly.

"Amadeo?" Mendoza asked, concerned.  "Are you up to it?"

"I've been dying to hear what happened ever since this turkey woke me up the other day with his constant nagging, 'Wake up! Wake up!' " Amadeo said with an exaggerated look of long suffering.

"I'd have told you yesterday but you went and fell asleep on me before I could, dipstick!"

"Idjit."

"Jerk." 

Mendoza listened to the exchange with a bemused expression.  Ms. Greer's mouth never twitched but her eyes sparkled with amusement at the boy's banter.

"Well, I'm awake now!  Get with the words!"

"Wait'll you hear this!  One of the guys who'd seen the whole thing spoke up.  He said that Freddie and Brice had you down, that's when Brice got up and started kicking.  You stopped moving, and Freddie got up and went after the knife again.  One of the others tried to step on it to keep Freddie from getting it but Fred punched the guy and knocked him down, picked up the knife and started to go after you again."

Milo paused for dramatic effect. "Dae, you'll never believe what happened next!"

"There was an alien invasion, the entire human race was captured and they were rendered incapable of finishing a story."

"Jerk." 

"Idjit."

"All right, Melvin, don't get bent.  So anyway, that kid, Angelo?  Don't ask me how, but he got up and kicked Freddie in the..." he glanced at Ms. Greer with an embarrassed expression on his face, "in the, uh... i coglioni..." 

Amadeo guffawed and covered his mouth to control the volume, which caused him to snort instead.  Amadeo had been giving his friend lessons in Italian, starting with the 'naughty' words.  Leave it to Milo to remember that one.

Milo grinned, blushing partially from what he'd said and partially from pleasure that he'd made his friend laugh.  

Mendoza chuckled, and the corners of Ms. Greer's mouth turned up despite her best efforts.  She ducked her head over her notepad and continued writing to hide it.

"OK, so then he kicks off like he's about to run a relay, from the way he tells it kid's got some speed on him, by the way.  He jumped... man it was impressive to listen to, I gotta tell ya, and lands a flying kick to Brice's knee, and the two of them are curled up in the dirt like rolly pollys.  Angelo, he walks over to you, stands there a second or two and just drops like someone cut his strings.  That's when the teachers got there.  Anyway, everyone'd scattered when they saw Cobrane coming, but Miz Jennings told Sharon that Cobrane and Garcia took care of you and Angelo and Mr. Young and Mr. Stewart stood over those... J.D.s til the cops came and busted 'em."

"So they're in jail now?" Amadeo asked through his laughter. 

"Yep.  So anyway, just a few days after they were arrested Judge Thornton calls the... what's it called..."

"Arraignment?"

"Yeah, that's it!" Milo said, clicking his fingers.  "Thanks."

"All right, so they had the arraignment... and what happened?"

"OK, so they held it in a closed court.  Figured it would be a zoo if they made it open to the public so only reporters were allowed in. And Dae, they came from all over Georgia!  Look, I brought one of the articles for you to read."

Milo handed the paper to Amadeo who unfolded it.  There on the front page was a picture of two young men.  If the caption hadn't identified them as Brice and Freddie, Amadeo would never have known who they were.  Their hair was clean and trimmed, and both wore suits and ties.  

According to the article, the judge read the charges and instructed the two boys to enter their pleas.  Brice stood, claimed he had acted in self-defense and entered a plea of 'Not guilty.'  

Next to speak had been Freddie who also entered a plea of not guilty, following it up by announcing to the judge, "'We was jus' jokin' around with the dago when the wop went ape, screamin' and yellin' threats.'"  

According to the article, the lawyer had advised him to stop talking but the boy was on a roll and continued by saying, "'We tol' 'im real nice like t' back off but yer honor, I think the wop was gassed, he pulled a blade an' attacked us, see, so we had to rough him up a bit to get him to settle down.  We were the victims, yer honor, y' see.  It was a mistun'erstandin'.'"

Judge Thornton had sat back in his chair, clasped his hands on his desk, and declared the statement to be the biggest crock he'd heard in many a year.  He then remanded the boys to the county jail until their formal trial which would take place in August.

Amadeo grinned when he read the judge's verdict, then he refolded the paper and laid it down on top of the blanket.

"Are you all right, Amadeo?" the doctor asked.

"I'm fine, doc.  Just... confused.  People sometimes just don't make much sense to me."

"Same here, son," the doctor admitted.  "Same here."  He took a breath and let it out slowly.  "Well, Mr. Rossi, visiting hours will be starting in a few minutes, and then there's lunch, and physical therapy.  You did wonderfully yesterday.  Everyone was impressed with how well and how far you walked for your first time.  I know you'll make great strides.  But 'Deo, listen to me now.  You're young, you're strong, you're in good physical condition, but all that aside I don't want you to try to rush your recovery.  You did great yesterday, but you pushed yourself a little too hard.  When Sam and Gary tell you to sit and relax, you sit and relax, got it?"

Amadeo looked as though he were about to argue with the doctor's orders.

"Do you know what duct tape is, Amadeo?" Dr. Mendoza said sternly.

Amadeo blinked, taken aback.  "Yes sir."

"If Sam and Gary tell me that you're not listening to them, I'm going to come in here and duct tape you to the chair.  Understood?"

Amadeo and Milo looked at each other to verify that they'd both heard what they thought they'd heard, and then looked at the doctor, who looked very serious.  They glanced at Ms. Greer whose face was completely impassive, except for a hint of something in her eyes.  Was that a smile in there?  Who knew dragons smiled, but was that smile for them or against them, and was a smiling dragon anything like a smiling crocodile? If it was, Amadeo was in trouble.

Rather than take the chance, Amadeo replied, "Yes sir."

"Very well then, young man," Mendoza said, glancing at his watch, "It is 10:45 and I have no doubt that the lounge is near to overflowing with friends, family and well-wishers, so in a few more minutes Ms. Greer and I will open the doors. We'll see you again around 3:00, after your therapy session, is that all right?"

"Sounds good, Doc.  Thank you."

Dr. Mendoza patted the boy on the shoulder and he and Ms. Greer left the two boys in the room.

"Dae, I need to ask you a question, ok?"

"Was that your question?" Amadeo quipped.

"Cut it out, goofus, I'm serious. I need to ask you something."

"Ask away, my friend."

"What's a dago?  And what's a wop?  I asked my father and he said he didn't know."

"Dago is meant as an insult toward Italians, Spanish and Portugese.  It doesn't make any sense to me, to be honest.  It's like if I went around calling every Polish person a Milo just because they're Polish." he shrugged.

"And wop?"

"Depends on who you talk to.  It could either mean 'With Out Papers', W.O.P., meaning I'm here without identification, here illegally, and don't belong in this country, or it could be a mispronunciation of the word, guappo, at least that's what my father said.  Basically it means me and every other Italian are bad guys, trouble makers, members of organized crime and such.  Neither is correct but, eh, whatta ya gonna do?"

"Throw myself down on the floor and hold my breath until I turn blue!" They both said, laughing.

After a pause, Milo asked sheepishly, "Um, so, do you?"

"Do I what?" Amadeo asked with a puzzled look on his face. 

"Have papers?  I mean, you're not here illegally, right?  I mean, I don't care really, I'm just curious."

Amadeo smiled.  "Dad's parents came here in 1899, and dad was born on February 29th, 1904 in Pennsylvania. Mom's folks came here and settled in Pennsylvania in 1900.  She was born on May 22, 1908, making them, and their brothers and sisters, American citizens.  Mom and dad were married May 21, 1926 when dad was twenty two and mom was eighteen.  They moved back to Italy when dad's job transferred him there because they were opening a new branch of the factory and he knew the language.  All of us kids were born there, but we have dual citizenship... that means we're citizens of both Italy and America."

"That's so cool."  Milo said admiringly.  He'd have liked more time alone to talk to his friend but there was no time.  The Rossi clan, minus the children, filed in, followed minutes later by Mr. Barnes and Mr. Cobrane.

Johnny and Natie stood up and greeted the men, offering them the comfortable seats closest to the bed.

"We're only going to stay a little while, but thank you for the offer." Barnes said with a smile as he shook Amadeo's hand.

"We're very pleased to see you awake and well, Mr. Rossi."  Cobrane said, then shocked the teenagers by smiling.  "We've come bearing good news, Mr. Rossi," said Mr. Barnes.  "Your teachers, in light of recent events, have offered to waive the obligatory make up work required toward your final grade, as there are only five weeks left to the school year.  Since summer break is coming up soon, they've agreed to allow you to take your final exams at the end of June.  They will each schedule a day for the exam, and will, with your parent's permission, go to your house to administer them.  This will give you several weeks to study.  They will also provide you with study guides so that you will know which topics to concentrate on."

"That's very kind of you, Mr. Barnes," said Mrs. Rossi with a gracious smile.

'Johnny' gazed appreciatively at his wife.  He could listen to her voice all day. She was what his father had described as 'a real lady.'  She was soft and feminine and yet could be hard as iron when the need arose.  She was caring and gentle but was strong physically and mentally and had yet to run from any challenge.  She had a heart as big as the outdoors, loved her children without question and yet still had love to spare for their friends, who all called her 'Mama', and for every stray cat and dog that needed a little food and tenderness.  She had a smile that lit up the room and could charm the birds out of the trees.  They'd been married for thirty eight years and she only seemed to become more beautiful as the time passed.  

Other men would be possessive and jealous, and guard her like the treasure she was, but he had no need to be or do any of those things.  She was as devoted to him as he was to her, and he wondered every day what he'd done right to deserve such a marvelous gift.

Johnny dragged his eyes away from his wife long enough to thank Mr. Barnes and Mr. Cobrane as well.

"We'll be looking forward to your return to school soon, Mr. Rossi," said Cobrane, reaching his hand out to shake 'Deo's.

Amadeo put out his hand and clasped the man's outstretched hand.  "Thank you, sir.  It'll be nice to be back."




AN
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Reference to Smaug - The name of the dragon in The Hobbit
Author:                 J. R. R. Tolkien
Publisher:                       George Allen & Unwin (UK)
Published:                 21 September 1937

No copyright infringement intended

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