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cleancut
August 4th, 2017, 04:24 PM
I worked on this story all summer long. I think it is the best thing I've written so far. I hope you take the time to read it. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The Crooked Path of Cooper Strait

By Cooper Strait

Anyone want to hear a story?
Chapter One
(Strait way made Crooked)
Let me tell you about Cooper Strait. He wasn’t the type of boy to get into a lot of trouble. He obeyed his parents and teachers (most of the time), and went to Church, and Sunday School with his family. He’d run around with basically the same boys since first grade. Good grades came easy, and sometimes his friends would come over and they’d ride horses and spend the night. On a school night, Cooper spent an hour in the area, with his dad and his horse, then shower off the horse smell before dinner, and finished his homework before he went to bed. Mr. Strait was a busy man, but he put aside his cutting horse business for an hour each day to work with Cooper, and his horse after school. Mr. Strait was well known as one of the finest horseman in the Country, and Cooper wanted to be just like his Dad.
The summer of his eighth grade year couldn’t come soon enough. He was competing in the National fourteen through eighteen year old Reiners Show, and his Dad was the favorite to win the Performance Horses Closed Finals at the Tellepson Arena in Katy, TX. The Strait families’ participation in the circuit is partly responsible for making Parker County known as “The Cutting Horse Capitol of the World.” The family business did well that summer. Cooper won sweepstakes in his division, and that’s a big thing to be the best in the nation. His father won as well.
The summer came to an end, and school started up again. Sadly, things took a turn for the worst at the 9th Grade Academy. He was smaller than other boys his age, and that seemed to paint a target on his back. He endured a daily schedule of painful experiences. His hands begun to sweat, and a feeling like he was going to throw up hit him every morning as soon as the bus door opened. Ryder Daniels and his faithful minions, Craig and Brian, would corner him. Ryder ground his knuckles into his ribs while Craig and Brian took turns hitting the back of his head or giving him a nuggie. A nuggie sounds like a friendly thing to do but when someone rubs their clenched fist on your skull it’s amazingly painful, and gives you a headache for several hours. He told his dad, but he didn’t, or couldn’t help. His dad told him he would have to “tough it out.” He tried to stand up to them a few times but quickly learned that three against one fights don’t end well.
Coopers first class was gym. Ryder was in his class. Boy’s enjoyed pitching jokes about the fresh bruises on his ribs in the locker room as he suited up. They seemed to give Ryder special status for bigger and more colorful bruises. Basketball was dangerous; Cooper took several “accidental” shoulder charges that knocked him down. Ryder had shown the other boys that they too could “truck” him, and Cooper couldn’t do anything about it. The black top on the basket ball court was the source of road rash on Cooper’s elbows and knees. Cooper wondered why Coach didn’t wise up and stop them. Most of the time, he could hide his tears.
Lunch had its own set of pranks.
Monday: fruit punch “accidentally” spilled on his lap made it look like he’d pee’d his pants.
Tuesday: food clumsily knocked to the floor and “accidentally stepped on.
Wednesday: He kept his sack lunch tightly in his hands because he’d gone hungry several times when others would take stuff out of his lunch when he wasn’t looking.
Thursday: Trogger, an ornery orphan from the boy’s home, dropped jelly down the back of his shirt, which remained sticky for the rest of the day.
Friday: Food fight with Cooper as the primary target.
He was on his own, and he knew it. His old friends didn’t want to associate with him for fear that they would be seen with a loser. He decided that telling parents, or a teachers only made things worst. He sat up at night and tried to think of a way to get himself out of this mess. There is strength in numbers, and that was what Ryder had, that he did not. He needed to find some new friends that might stand with him. That could make the difference. But who would want to be a loser’s friend?
 Jocks: Forget that, they were the most likely to be the next to pick on him.
 Geeks: He was already a “geek.” More geeks just made a bigger target.
 Preps & Hipsters: out of the question.
 Cowboys: He tried to re-kindle a few friendships from his rodeo gang, but none of them showed any interest.
 Emo-rockers: He might find security among them, but the music made him sick.
 Druggies: By default he started hanging out with the druggies.
o Pretending to be a druggie had an unexpected consequence.

Chapter 2
Out of the Frying Pan

It only took a blink of an eye for Cooper to re-invent himself. And in that blink he found himself in Mr. Gable’s office trying to put the best spin possible on why there was 2 ounces of pot in his locker. The nick name for the school cop was “inch high private eye,” because he was short and stocky. Cooper could hardly look at Gables without snickering. His feelings about him had changed to contempt now that he was cuffed and waiting for transportation to Juvie.
This part of the story gets kind of inappropriate for the younger reader, so you might want to skip ahead. Cooper tried to convince “Inch High” that the pot wasn’t his. He complained that the hand cuffs hurt his wrists and that he should have another chance. When Mr. Gables got off the phone with the Weatherford Police Department Cooper could feel his heart pounding out of his chest. His mouth was dry, but he spit out the words, “thanks for nothing Inch High,” he gave himself a whisper laugh that came from the back of his throat. Mr. Gables closed the door and walk over to where Cooper was sitting. Gables was aware of his disrespectful nick name and wanted to put a stop to it. Cooper didn’t see it coming. Gables slapped him across the face considerably harder than his dad ever had when he’d get his butt whooped. You could see what looked like a hurt little boy in his teary eyes. Gables slapped him several times but Cooper couldn’t really tell you how many. Thoughts flashed through Coopers mind like a strobe light; he thought about the sting of his cheek, he thought about how ashamed he was, he thought about the sound of Gables hands onto his skull that made his head sound like it was made of wood, he thought about fighting back, and finally he thought about the realization that he was completely overpowered. His brain shot the fight or flight impulse to the front of his mind, but he could neither fight nor run. He cowered in fear, bending his chest to his knees, as he tried to dodge the blows. He was dizzy, taking quick short breaths as he tried not to weep. When he sat up his eyes were squinting and the corners of his mouth drawn in. His pain had morphed to anger.
This angry feeling became Cooper’s new best friend as the Police paraded him through the halls in cuffs. If he had any last semblance of a good reputation, he had lost it now. He felt like he couldn’t take any more. The Police weren’t any friendlier than Gables. Cooper hoped to receive some small amount of compassion, but the officers showed him none. It felt like he didn’t have any control over his body as he was pushed into the back seat with hand cuffs on. He watched his school going away through the window of a black and white Dodge Challenger. The flow of blood from his nose dripped into his mouth and caused him to gag. He wanted to wipe the blood and the sting of Gables blows from his face, but his hand cuffs prevented it. If anger was a flame, he would have been on fire. His clenched fists struggled against the steel that restrained them. Even the cuffs were cruel as they cut into his wrists. He wanted to fight, and the last remaining weapon was his voice. The officers warned him that if he continued to curse them that he wouldn’t like what would came next. He didn’t want to get hurt again, but he couldn’t stop yelling. He flexed every muscle, clenched his teeth and grunted and groaned. He was starting to calm down, but not soon enough. He looked up to see the officer in the front passenger seat point a taser at him and fire. The jolt hit him like running into a wall. It didn’t last long because he passed out. Passing out was the only small compassion for the day.
The police brought him in through two magnetically sealed doors, and into a room with a sign that said, “Intake and Processing.” Normally Cooper would have put up some sort of fight when Sergeant Hicks removed his shackles and took everything out of his pockets and demanded him to strip. Cooper was coming too as he complied with an embarrassing physical examination. He hated the brown coveralls that they gave him to wear, but he was glad to have something to put on. His anger was resurfacing like a ball that had been pushed underwater. He tried to make it go away but it was controlling him, and not the other way around.
Another officer took him across the room. He felt violated by him because he was forced to cooperate. He was fingerprinted, photographed, peed in a cup, and gave a DNA sample from the inside of his cheek. Then back to Sergeant Hicks for an orientation to lock up. Afterwards, Sergeant Hicks ordered him to get up and go into a “holding cell.” He was afraid of being in small spaces. Sergeant Hicks pushed him into a 4 x 6 dry concrete cell. His rage had risen to a fast boil. Once again his muscles were tensed and that dizzy feeling hit him as he took quick short breathes. He didn’t have any words; mouth fully open, he yelled and pounded his fists into the concrete walls. Sergeant Hicks showed up with a taser, and ordered him to sit down and cool off. Cooper couldn’t stop weeping and gasping for air, but he’d had enough pain for the day, so he sat down on the concrete floor, raised his hands, and muttered, “yes sir.”
Cooper spent the worst two hours of his life in that dry cell. The door opened and Sergeant Hicks ordered Cooper to follow him. Cooper waited a few seconds which was the most defiance he could muster on short notice. He was led into a square shower room with ten shower heads. Hicks ordered him to strip and shower. Cooper had heard the same scary stories that all of us have, about what happens to boys in the shower room of a prison. He pretended to not be afraid but his shaking naked body betrayed him. He was glad that there were Juvenile Detention Officers monitoring the room, and was glad to wash the crusty blood, sweat and grim from his face, neck, and chest. After getting cleaned up he went to the visiting area. His mom and dad were waiting for him in a glass room with a few chairs. Tears burned like acid down his red cheeks as he walked in to them. His mother whispered “son,” and his father’s ears turned red as he scolded him and reminded him that “he was in a lot of trouble.” Cooper’s anxiety surged over him like iodine in his veins. He felt dizzy, muscles tensed, and he tried to catch his breath. “Thanks for that Dad” he sarcastically chortled.
Before Mr. Strait could think of something more appropriate, he sneered at Cooper and bellowed “What happened to you? I don’t even know you anymore. What happened to you?” Cooper snorted, “you, you happened to me. I tried to tell you – I asked for help, but you said “I’d have to just tough it out.” Mr. Strait shot back, “oh, now it’s my fault, that’s typical.” Mrs. Strait stood and demanded, “Enough, both of you. We’ll see you this afternoon in court. We’ll be praying for you.” She took Mr. Strait’s hand and pulled him out of the room before he could say anything else. Cooper started to lay into her too, but he stopped in mid sentence when he saw her tears. The door closed and he whispered “I’m sorry Mom.”
Let me tell you something. There is no prayer that is more earnest than a Mothers Prayer. She lifted her eyes upward and pleaded for her son, “Lord, God. Cooper is in trouble and I feel so helpless. I’m giving Him over to you Jesus. Please God; Cooper has lost his way, so I’m asking you to do everything that a Wise God would do to save him.” You can be sure of it: God in heaven heard.

Chapter Three
Small Acts of Compassion

Defiance was Coppers hemlock as he sat in the waiting room. The sign said, “The Honorable Andrea Martin Presiding.” He thought that if she was so honorable then she wouldn’t make him wear prison issued coveralls and endure the shame of restraints around his hands and ankles. He felt like he didn’t really do anything wrong and resented having to endure this.
A man in a wrinkled tan shirt, and stripped brown tie pulled up a chair by Cooper. He muttered “My name is Ignacio Alonzo and I am your court appointed Guardian Ad Litem.” He didn’t know what that meant, but he was afraid that his parents were no longer his guardian. Mr. Alonzo was leafing through some papers as he told him, “I will be representing your interests in Court today.” He went on to say, “Your Initial Hearing would begin in about an hour.” “Today the court will read the formal charges against you. You must admit or deny the charges at this time. Judge Martin will make a detention determination, and schedule any further hearing dates.” Mr. Alonzo impatiently asked, “Do you understand.” Not wanting to seem stupid, Cooper nodded and gave a quick “yes sir.”
Mr. Alonzo spoke in a quick metered monotone voice, “The Police report states that they took 2.3 ounces of marijuana in evidence against you. You will admit your delinquent act when the judge asks for a plea.” Alonzo paused his well rehearsed monologue and waited for a response. Cooper nodded and whispered, “yes sir.” Alonzo continued talking, and every word cut Cooper like a knife. “You will be placed in a secure detention center for a period of time while you are waiting for your Pre-trial Hearing.” Mr. Alonzo spoke like he was reading off a menu. After that, you’ll be in holding for a period of time before you see Judge Martin again for your Disposition Hearing. Do you understand?” Cooper once again nodded while he said, “Yes Sir.” “Judge Martin will order your placement at a TYC (Texas Youth Commission), if you can manage to behave yourself; she’ll probably only give you 90 days. Do you understand?” Cooper whispered, “Yes sir.” Cooper, speaking in a high register voice, asked, “How long will I be locked up before I go to TYC.” Alonzo was irritated to answer the question, “The Court can legally hold you as long as they want before your Detention Hearing, but it is usually somewhere between thirty and ninety days.” With a fake concerned voice Mr. Alonzo tried to comfort Cooper by saying, “A word to the wise son, don’t start hoping for an early release, it’ll tear you up. You’ll be with us for a minimum of nine months.” Cooper shivered. It felt like his blood ran cold through his veins.
After a three hour wait, the wood paneled door opened, and the officer called “Cooper Strait.” Mr. Alonzo got up and motioned for Cooper to follow him into the Court Room. Cooper scanned the room. There were several official looking people, some with guns and badges, and of course a Judge. He shuffled in his leg cuffs to a table and sat down next to Mr. Alonzo. He was confused and overwhelmed. A lump in his throat signaled an unwanted flow of tears. He turned his head to see his Mom and Dad sitting behind him. He wished he could bury his face in his mother’s arms. The Bailiff ordered Cooper to stand and face front. Judge Martin addressed him asking, “Do you know why you are in Court today young man?” Cooper, trying to obey Mr. Alonzo’s instructions whispered, “Yes Ma’am. They found pot in my locker.” Judge Martin snapped back, “and where did this marijuana come from?” “Well,” Copper cleared his throat and thought about what he would say, “My friend told me that I could get pot from a guy who worked at Taco House. If the back door is closed then walk on by, but if it is open then knock 4 times and a guy would come and sell it.” Cooper didn’t know if he should give all this information, but he continued. “I handed him my money, and he handed me the baggy.” Judge Martin probed, “go on.” And so he did, “I didn’t want my Dad to find it so I left it in my locker at school. The next morning the school cop met me in the hall and brought me to his office.”
Cooper was startled when the Judge interrupted him by hitting the desk with a wooden hammer. He winced and then his face went limp. Judge Martin’s voice shattered the silence, “Young man, stop talking. I’ve heard enough.” Coopers body felt cool and clammy. Alonzo chimed in, “your honor, please except Coppers statement as his plea of guilty for his delinquent act. The Judge glanced toward a man at another table and said, “So ordered.” The man wrote something in a book. She looked back at Cooper and told him that he would be detained until his pretrial hearing. Cooper was ushered out of the court room and into an elevator that led down to a low security section called “Marzelle Lipscum Center.”All his dreams and hopes were dissolving away as he looked at the stark reality of being locked up. Cooper traded his brown coveralls for a pair of blue jeans, underwear, white tee shirt and a pair of black slip on sandals.
Surprisingly, being lock up wasn’t as scary as he thought it would be. No one bullied him like they did at his old school and he got to go to school with no homework. The food was ok, and Detention Officers were pretty nice as long as you did what you were told. Mrs. Stokes was his favorite officer because she seemed to authentically care about the boys. After a few months he asked Mrs. Stokes “how much longer do I have to stay here.” Stokes had heard that question too many times, “don’t ask honey” she replied. “We’ll let you know as soon as we get word.” The days went by, one day like the next, like experiencing the same day over and over again in a time loop.
A welcome change came three months later on Tuesday morning. He was working on a math worksheet in his second period class when his name was called and someone motioned for him to come to the door. He figured that meant that he was going to get busted for something and lose points, or have privileges taken away. He couldn’t think of anything that he had done wrong. Without any questions he followed the guy to that same glass room where he’d talked to his parents the first day of this nightmare. Mr. Alonzo was there on his right, along with a Probation Officer on his left. Alonzo told him “Your pre-trial hearing has been set for next Tuesday. The Judge will review your case and hear recommendations.” Your disposition hearing will be a few weeks after that. At that hearing, you will know the consequences for your delinquent act.” Cooper didn’t really understand all of that, but he trusted Alonzo because everything that he had told him before had happened just as he said it would. The Probation Officer, Miss Williams, asked him a series of questions like, “What have you learned while you’ve been here?” and “What are the problems that caused you to get in trouble?” Mr. Alonzo said, “The Judge would read Mrs. Williams report, and make a declaration of punishment of no less than ninety days at TYC.” Mrs. Williams went on to say, “My report will show how to solve the problems that caused you to get in trouble.” Mr. Alonzo added, “The Judge’s decision will insure that you will not continue to break the law.” As Cooper turned to Alonzo then Mrs. Williams, several times, he felt he was watching a ping pong tournament.
Tuesday morning came quickly. Mr. Alonzo arranged for Cooper to get a haircut and shave the fuzz off his chin and upper lip. He sternly warned him that “appropriate dress attire and conduct are required in court.” Alonzo added, “You must show Judge Martin that you take your case seriously.” They let his parents bring him khaki pants, white dress shirt, tie, and a pair of white tennis shoes.
Unlike last time Cooper was terrified of Judge Martin. He’d waited for four months for this moment. He came into the court through the same door and sat at the same table. The whole thing ended in less than two minutes. Judge Martin read Mrs. Williams report, and asked Mr. Alonzo for recommendations. Cooper had practiced what he would say at least a hundred times but Judge Martin wasn’t interested in anything he had to say.
The Bailiff ordered Cooper to stand and listen to the consequences of his Delinquent Act. Then Judge Martin addressed Cooper, “Kids today think that the rules don’t apply to them. If you want to end up in prison then I will be glad to send you there. Is that what you want?” Cooper’s voice broke, “no Ma’am.” Judge Martin continued, “I want to make sure that I never see you again in this court room” she warned, “so, the most appropriate action is for you to spend no less than 90 days at Abilene Boy’s Ranch run by TYC.” His heart skipped a beat and that dizzy feeling came back as his chest heaved to catch his breath. A flash of anger overwhelmed his mind. He clinched his fist in defiance. He felt like he did in Gables office after he’d been slapped. He wanted to fight, but just like in Gables office he sat still, knowing that he was totally overpowered, and didn’t want any more pain.
Mr. Alonzo was motioning for him to exit the room when a voice from the back of the room interrupted, “Your Honor, my I speak?” The Judge wanted to move to the next case due to a full docket. She looked inquisitively and asked, “Do you have something to add?” He introduced himself as Mr. Tulley. “I am a Child Advocate from The Pytheman Children’s Home near the 9th grade Academy that Cooper attended at the time of his arrest.” The Judge warned that she had already made her decision, but she would allow him to speak.
Mr. Tulley made the argument that “this was Cooper’s first offence,” and that “even though Cooper was culpable for the crime that both the state and Cooper may be better served with a Deferred Adjudication.” The Judge was impressed with Mr. Tulley’s ability to argue the case better that Mr. Alonzo. “Alright,” she retorted. “What is your recommendation?” Mr. Tulley happened to have his recommendations in writing. It was notarized and signed by Pytheman Home Director. The document read, “The Texas Pytheman Home is licensed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as a 24 hour general residential operation, authorized to admit boys and girls from 3 to 14 years of age. The report went on to say, “If the court determines that the circumstances of the case warrant, Cooper be given a second chance, if he satisfies the conditions set forth by the court. At that time the case can be dismissed and the charges dropped with no record of adjudication.” Judge Martin had one question for Tulley. Why does this boy deserve a second chance?” Mr. Tulley turned toward Cooper, winked, then faced the Judge and said, “Well, I just see somethin good in the boy.”
It was ordered that The Pytheman Home for Children would be held responsible to monitor Cooper’s success.
 He was fitted with an ankle bracelet that would alert Police of his location.
 Cooper was released into the Custody of The Pythian Home and his Parents. He was not allowed to leave the confinement of 30 feet from the parameter of his residence on the Strait Ranch, except for school and approved appointments.
 He was required to take biweekly, unannounced drug screening tests,
 He was required to attend school and maintain reasonable grades.
 He was required to perform twenty hours of community service at The Pytheman Home within a thirty day period.
 He was required to participate in four 30 minute sessions with a councilor.
 If Cooper satisfies these conditions for 30 days then the Pytheman Home will notify the court, and Judge Martin will dismiss the case with no record of adjudication. If he does not fulfill all conditions of his probation then he will be immediately arrested, and transported to The Gainesville State School Juvenile Correctional Facility.
This was the first act of compassion that Cooper had seen for quite some time.

Chapter Four
Welcome Home

The ride home was quite because, when in lock up, it is wise to not to speak unless you’re asked a question. It had not sunken in yet that he was in the free. Cooper had been craving two things; A juicy Big Mac, fries and a chocolate shake, and to lie, undisturbed, in his own bed. Dad broke the silence, “you hungry son?” “Yes sir,” came an immediate reply. Mom inquired, “Shall we stop and get something on the way home?” “Okay” Dad paused for a moment and asked, “What do you feel like mom?” “Don’t know honey. What do you feel like Cooper?” Mom acquiesced. Cooper couldn’t believe his good luck. “How bout Mc Donald’s?” Dad pulled into the Golden Arches just off I- 20 and Ranch House Road. Cooper didn’t have to think about what to order. Mom handed a sack straight from the window into the back seat. Cooper was more thankful for food than he’d ever been before.
His bottom lip and chin had begun to quiver and a lump in his throat seemed to betray him. Not sure why; maybe the food, maybe the fact that it was sinking in that he was in the free. His breathes turned into those short gasps just before you lose control and begin to cry. He was doing his best to hold it in. Reaching out for the sack, the shake fell and splattered on the grey carpet of the Ford Truck. Dad yelled, “Dam it Cooper.” His quivering lip gave way, and out came the tsunami of tears. Cooper repeated over and over again, “I’m sorry Mom, I sorry Dad.” No one was thinking about the spilled shake. Dad pulled over. Cooper buried his head in mom’s comforting arms, as Dad gave alternating pats and circular strokes on his back. “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.” repeated Mom. Cooper couldn’t eat a single bite of his lunch that day.
Monday morning came, and that meant back to school. The alarm sounded. Cooper hopped up, straightened the room and made his bed like a private in an army barracks. Mom sarcastically giggled, “We’ll, have to schedule you some more visits to The Marzelle Lipscum Center.” Cooper fell for it saying, “what the heck!?” Dad smiled, and juked Cooper while saying, “I think this is the first time you’ve ever cleaned your room and made your bed without being asked.” Cooper gave a fake hurt look, smiled, and wiggled his butt, like a little kid. Having to one up his son with a silly sarcastic suggestion, and a swift kick to his dancing rear end Dad said, “Do that some more, so I can remember it next time you need a butt whoopin.” “Okay Dad,” Cooper Tooted, “here’s somethin for ya,” as he lifted one leg for a friendly forced fart.” He swaggered into the kitchen where Mom had milk and Cocoa Puffs waiting on the table. Lapping up the last scoop of milk, he went over, in his mind, what he would say to anyone who asked where he’d been for 6 months.
Down the hall and into the bathroom Cooper undressed and stepped into the steamy warm water. It was great to not have the creepy eyes of the Detention Officers supervising every shower and bathroom visit. He dried off, slipped on HIS underwear, remembering that in “lock up” the underwear was clean, but fifty pairs came out of the dryer at the same time, and who knew who wore it last.
Mom had bought him a new navy blue polo shirt, and new khaki school uniform pants, that were long enough to hide the ankle bracelet, to wear on his first day back to school. She thought that new clothes might make him feel good. And it worked. He slipped on his Nike’s, and firmly decided that he would never again wear blue jeans, white tee shirt and black “slip on sandals”. Ever!
He walked out the door and down the familiar path to the bus stop like he’d never missed a day. The bus door opened, and by reflex, his hands started to sweat. His stomach muscles tightened as he gagged on a few half digested Cocoa Puffs. “Oh Crap,” he thought. “Ryder and his Minions.” With his head down he made for the first empty seat, but before he could sit, Ryder yelled, “How was jail dork bag?” Coopers face turned red, as the whole bus laughed at his expense.
Ryder boxed him in, and he felt the familiar pain of knuckles in his ribs and the slaps on the back of his head. Cooper had grown an inch while he was away. He thought that he might have gained some new courage from his ordeal in lock up. Ryder didn’t anticipate a sharp elbow into his soft belly. Cooper knocked the wind out of him. He gasped, and tried to catch his breath. Ryder shot back with a hard elbow to his nose, and a second to his mouth. Cooper slowly brought his hand to his bloody nose, then to his fat lip. He pushed his tongue through a gouge inside of his mouth where his tooth cut clear through his lip. At first the look on Cooper’s face told the story of a helplessness and fearful victim. Then, a primal yell came out of Cooper throat as if summoning some violent instinct from deep inside. Cooper focused the rage from every injustice he’d ever experience, as he pounded Ryder’s face until his fists were bloody. He grabbed Ryder’s neck and beat his head against the window until his scalp split and left a red smear on the window pane. The bus driver pulled over to stop the fight.
Every mouth quiet, every eye wide, looking at the spectacle of Ryder Daniels bloody face and limp body. Cooper stepped back. He felt as if he was coming out of a trance. He looked down at Ryder, and was horrified to see what he’d done. He faced Craig and Brian and tried to explain, “I didn’t mean to, I was only trying to.” He looked to the right side of the bus and explained, “You saw it, and it wasn’t my fault! He hit me first.” Everyone on the bus sat motionless, frightened at what Cooper might do next. He appealed to them all, “No, No! You saw it! He deserved it! Didn’t he hit me first?” He leapt out the bus door, tripping himself and falling in the dirt. He picked himself up, and ran all the way home. He slammed the front door and ran toward his room.
Mom reached out from the kitchen and caught the corner of his shirt “What’s wrong Cooper!?” Mom inquired. She tried to keep a handful of his shirt. Why are you home? He broke loose and ran down the hall to his bedroom, and locked the door. “WHAT’S WRONG COOPER? WHAT HAPPENED?” Mom demanded as she shook the door handle. “Open the door right now young man?” Cooper retorted, “No. Leave me alone, just leave me alone?” Mom’s fist pounded on the door, “Open this door right now. Tell me what happened? Are you alright? Open this door right now Cooper! Right now!” Cooper didn’t what too, but felt it would be in his best interest, at that time, to obey his mother. He reluctantly unlocked the door and Mom blasted her way in. He looked at his Mother with an expression like a dog caught digging up the garden. She saw his mouth where his tooth had ripped a hole in his lip. She grabbed his bloody hands. “What happened? Who did this to you?! Oh my God,” she ran from her room to the kitchen and back again looking for the keys to the car and her phone. “Oh my God. Cooper, who did this to you? What happened, who did this to you Cooper?” Mom demanded, not waiting for a response. She grabbed her phone and keys and started running to the car. “I’m calling Dad. Who did this to you? We’re going to the E.R. now. YOU HAVE A HOLE IN YOUR FACE! Get in the car, get in the car. Oh my God, look at you. How did you get a hole in your lip? Your hands are bleeding. What happened to you Cooper? Get in the car now!” Mom ordered, “We’re leaving. Get in the car.” Cooper sheepishly slid into the back seat while Mom freaked out yelling hysterically in the phone with his father.
Mom got off the phone and was ticked off when she saw Cooper trying to hide that he was laughing at her. “I fail to see what’s funny young man. Stop laughing.” She flicked a strand of hair out of her face and tried to hide that she was embarrassed about freaking out. Cooper was rolling in the back seat having a good laugh at his Mom. He’d never seen her have a melt down before. She was like a mama bear protecting her cubs. “Stop laughing at me you little turkey feather.” They both laughed so hard that tears came out of the side of their eyes. When Cooper finished, he wasn’t sure whether he was laughing or crying.

Chapter 5
Fulfilling the Condition of His Probation

Cooper told Mom the whole sorted story while they were in the waiting room. Dad arrived just in time to almost pass out as he watched the Doctor finish the last few stitches. Mr. Strait felt guilty about not helping his son to defend himself. He had no idea what Cooper was going through before he got locked up. “I’ve had it with this Cooper. Dam it, you’ve got to stick up for yourself or people will think you are a coward. Be strong and defend yourself. Why don’t you defend yourself?” It was hard for Cooper to talk because of the anesthetic, and the cotton strips between his gums and lip. He look like he’d had a bad Botox job as he tried to explain, “Dad, I anot a coweoord. I waasan’t theo one whu stratted it, but I berat the craaap oow tivem!” Dad asked, “What did you say?” Cooper repeated the same nonsense garble. “Honey.” Dad looked at Mom and asked, “Can you understand what he is saying?” “Of course I can.” Mom raised an eye brow, and tapped her foot as a complaint that Dad couldn’t understand plain English. “Well then” Dad said, “Tell me what he said.” “Cooper is trying to tell you that he isn’t a coward.” He told you that “he didn’t start it,” Mom fought back a smirk, “but he beat the crap out of him.”
Sometimes Dad suffers from foot in mouth disease, and this was one of those times. “Alright!” He lifted his hands like a referee signaling a touchdown. “Way to go. I’m proud of you boy. Good job!” Mom rolled her eyes and said, “You can’t say that to him. This is a time for the boy to learn a lesson about how to solve his problems without violence. Cooper is in a lot of trouble. Mom gave Cooper a solemn look, “you know Mr. Gables enforces a no tolerance for violence policy.” Cooper chimed in “Unbreelivable.” Mom kept scolding Dad, “I’ve called and talked to the school and they said that his actions traumatized Ryder Daniels and everyone on the bus.” She tried not to show it, but she couldn’t keep the corners of her mouth down. “They had to shave the poor boy bald because he needed some stitches on the back of his head.” She turned away from Cooper as she dissolved in to laughter, “And now he looks like a Naked Mole Rat.” It hurt when Cooper laughed, because the anesthetic was wearing off, but he laughed until bloody snot came exploding out of his nose.
Both sets of parents and the boys met in Principle Devault’s office at 9:30 the next morning. Mrs. Devault scolded all of them for making poor choices. “We can’t have this sort of bad behavior from our students.” The boys engaged each other in a stink eye contest as Mrs. Devault continued her lecture. “I am sorry but I am going to have to suspend both of you for a period of 3 days so that you can have a chance to think about everybody that you have hurt because of your lack of self control.” Cooper used that high pitched winey voice that so often made people feel sorry for him. “May I say something?” Cooper pleaded. Mrs. Devault wanted all to see that she was fair, “Yes you may.” Cooper cleared his throat and begun his heart felt plea, “Ma’am, If I miss school then I violate the conditions of my parole. Please Ma’am, don’t suspend me.” Sweat beads began to appear on his forehead and upper lip. “If you do then they’ll take me back to lock up. Please Ma’am; don’t make me go back there.” Cooper hated to beg in front of Ryder and his parents. “Please Ma’am; can you just give me one more chance?” Mrs. Devault was enjoying her moment of power. She had no intension of escalating this matter to the point of sending Cooper back to jail, but she was going to make him sweat it out for just a little while longer. “You have had your last 2nd chance young man. My decision is final.” And she told the boys, “go sit on the bench outside the door while the adults discuss things.”
Both boys stood, hung their head, and shuffled out the door to sit on the bench. Cooper looked at Ryder and chortled, “hey baldy, looks like you have a zipper on the back of your head.” Ryder, not wanting to let Cooper have the upper hand shot back an impromptu insult “Hey Swiss Cheese lip, I guess now you don’t have to open your mouth to drink anymore. You can just push a straw through the hole I made for you.” They both looked at the floor and laughed, feeling very cleaver for their creative insults. Next they glared at each other for a while until Ryder asked, “You aren’t really going to have to go back there, are you?” Cooper shrugged, “I don’t know. I mean I hope not.” Cooper was wondering, “Dang, Is Ryder actually being nice to me?” Ryder let the word “sorry” drop out of his mouth, and then a short pause before saying “I mean for everything, you know.” Cooper looked at Ryder out of the corner of his eye to confirm that this was really happening, then looked him straight in the eye and said, “yeah, no big deal.” And that is the strange way their friendship began.
Things weren’t quite as friendly in Mrs. Devault’s office. Both sets of parents firmly argued that their sons were the victims. As voices rose Mrs. Devault interrupted, “This isn’t getting us anywhere. Neither of your boys are innocent victims, and there is plenty of blame to go around. Both boys will spend their in school suspension doing homework under the supervision of Mr. Gables, who is our fulltime Campus Police Officer. This way we will handle the matter in house, and that will keep Cooper out of trouble with the court.” Mrs. Devault asked Mr. Strait to open the door to call the boys in.
Mrs. Devault made the two boys face each other, shake hands, and say “I am very sorry for what I’ve done.” After that awkward moment she explained how an in school suspension works. She further assured them that Mr. Gables would find some unpleasant work for them to do during the next 3 day. At that time she thanked the parents for coming in, and let us know that “we were free to go.”
Mr. Gables had a full schedule of humiliating jobs for them to do for the next 3 days. The boys appeared to be humbly willing to take their medicine at the strict hand of “Ole Inch High Private Eye” until his back was turned. Then they did as little as they could get away with, without getting busted.
There seemed to be a contest to see whose life was tougher. Cooper told Ryder about getting slapped by Gables, what it was like to be in court, and what it was like in Juvie. Ryder told Cooper that his Dad gets drunk and beats him with a wood club, and how he locks himself in his room when his Mom and Dad fight. A tie was called, in that they were both equally shocked at the others misfortunes.

Chapter 6
And Into The fire
Only pessimists say, “When things start to go well, you can be sure something horrible is right around the corner.” Thirty Days passed, and that put Cooper in the clear. Cooper’s jail experience gave him a reputation as a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks and that ensured that no one messed with him. His old rodeo friends all wanted to hang around him again, and Ryder sat beside him at lunch. He, and his Dad, had been spending more time together than ever. Cooper idolized his Dad and loved training horses with him in the Strait Ranch Arena. In the last few weeks his Dad, pretty much, let Cooper get away with anything. Cooper was tapping into his father’s guilty feelings, and milking it for everything he could.
Cooper was secretly collecting data for a science project. His hypothesis states “Fire retardant is not an adequate solution for many common household items.” At 2:00 am he snuck downstairs to transform the kitchen into a scientific research lab. First, he took the battery out of the smoke alarm. Next, he collected some items around his house and placed them on a pie pan in the sink. Finally, he sprayed fire retardant on them, and set them on fire. He copied the results on a piece of lined paper.
 Test sample 1. Fiber fill pulled out of a pillow.
o 3” flame, burned for 5 seconds
 Test sample 2. Strip of material cut out from a tie that Dad didn’t wear much.
o Almost no flame at all. Material melted immediately
 Test sample 3. 4 ping pong balls.
o Great balls of Fire!
Flames shot up the sink back splash and up to the window curtains. Cooper knew his parents were going to freak, so in an attempt to minimize the damage he climbed up on the sink counter and hit the flames with a tea towel. It was like one of those “stupid people YouTube videos.” The flapping towel only made the blaze worst. The flames danced onto the ceiling, and with his arms waving at the fire above his head, his knee fell into the sink leaving his head to slam into the corner of the cupboard. Down he dropped; hitting his head again on the counter, and then on the tile floor. He looked up at the flames and muttered, “Oh geez, I’m busted,” then passed out.
He woke up gasping for air, and annoyed at someone pulling on his legs. He wiped his watery eyes, which were irritated by the smoke, to realize that it was his neighbor, Mr. Sanchez pulling him out of the burning house. Before the first Fire Truck had arrived all was lost. No one escaped except Cooper. The whole house, barn and several of the animals were lost.
His parents gone. You think that you understand the world around you, only to wake up in a state of disequilibrium, finding that nothing is as you thought it was. One day Cooper was a member of a family, and the next moment he was an Orphan. The following week was a blur. Couldn’t make much sense of things, none of it seemed real. He stayed with his Aunt Vicky, who lived in an apartment in Arlington. She had taken care of the arrangements. All Cooper had to do was show up to the funeral. Over a hundred people gathered to show their respects. Cooper resented the people because they thought they understood the way he must feel. Each one, tried to meet Coopers eyes, and give an understanding nod as they made their ways to their cars and left. Cooper felt they had no business trying to share his sorrow. Nothing was more chilling for the boy than to see dirt pushed into the graves, covering the coffins where his Mom and Dad were laid to rest. He waited until everyone except Aunt Vicky had left before he allowed a tear to roll down his cheek. Then, only Vicky and God saw Coopers anguish let loose, as his sobs and gasps were yelled into the sky until he collapsed on the wet grass. Vicky tried to comfort him, but some things just can’t be fixed.

Chapter 7
I Hate Everything
Cooper was in a world that only a child, who had lost their Mom and Dad, could begin to understand. He had no reason care. No reason to put any effort into anything. There was no one left to tell him that he was good. He stayed with Aunt Vicky until she knew that she couldn’t give him what he needed. She had 2 kids of her own, and Cooper wasn’t fitting in. When at school he did nothing but find trouble; fights, lying, stealing, vandalizing. Vicky called the Pytheman home for help, because they had a history with him. Cooper wanted to get out of Vickie’s house. He knew that she was trying to discard him. His heart was cold and he hated everything.
Cooper packed all his belongings into a black suit case and Aunt Vicky drove him to the home. Cooper recognized Mrs. Ravenhall as she started the placement interview by saying, “we are here to determine if the Home would be a viable solution for the family's immediate need. Cooper’s lousy attitude came through loud and clear during the interview. They had not expected to be turned away. “I am sorry but at this time it would not be fair to our current residents to admit Cooper. Mrs. Ravenhall kindly gave Vicky the number of a CPS placement coordinator in the foster care system.
Vicky shook hands and thanked them as she started to walk out of the office when Coopers Guardian Angel showed up. Mr. Tulley was listening just outside the door. He peeked his head in and asked, “May I say something.” Mrs. Ravenhall warned that she had made her decision but that she would listen to what he had to say. Cooper thought, “Whoa, Dj Vu.” Tulley argued that “Cooper’s attitude was understandable; he is still in mourning.” Mr. Tulley reminded them that “they had history with the boy,” And that, “they knew what to expect from him when he wasn’t under such stress.” He volunteered himself to take Cooper under his wing and look after him. Mr. Tulley added that “if he could manage to stay out of trouble for thirty day’s then they could revisit the idea of allowing him to stay permanently.” Mrs. Ravenhall asked, “Is this acceptable to you Cooper?” Cooper figured that this was his best option and that if it didn’t work out he could run away. “Yes maam, I’ll give it a go.” Mrs. Ravenhall only had one question for Mr. Tulley, “Why do you think this boy deserves a second chance? Tulley winked at Cooper and turned looked at Mrs. Ravenhall and said, “Well, I just see somethin good in the boy.” She thought for a moment and then added, “All right Mr. Tulley, as you wish.” Cooper wondered, “What just happened and who is this Tulley.”
Cooper said his goodbyes to Aunt Vicky, and followed Tulley to the boys’ dormitory and introduced him to his new Dorm Mom. Normally he would find some sense of adventure staying a century old authentic castle, but on this day he found no joy. Mrs. Ally seemed nice. She introduced Cooper to the other boys; 8 boys in all, 9 if you counted him. There were 4 bedrooms:
 Bedroom #1: “Tanner was 2 years old and he got his own bedroom.
 Bedroom #2: Chase 6 years old, Eric and Elmer 7 yrs. AKA “The bed wetter’s room.”
 Bedroom #3: Byron and Derain 10 yrs , and Red 12 years old
 Bedroom #4: Cooper was to room with Trogger because they were the same age. Yes, the same ornery orphan who dropped jelly down his back.
Mrs. Ally left him alone to unpack and settle in. “I hate this place,” he thought, “and all the people here, with all their phony smiles and sweet words. The sky was starting to get dark and some clouds were coming in from the northwest.
Cooper wasn’t technically late for lunch because he didn’t go to lunch at all. He stayed on his bed and looked at the blank wall. Cooper wanted to send a message that whatever they wanted him to do, he would do the opposite. A light sprinkle of rain had started when he then wandered out into the pasture and got chased out by a bull. By 2:30 the kitchen was calling to his stomach, so he snuck in and found some leftovers in the fridge.
Looking for a way to escape the cold reality that his life has changed forever, he slipped out the back of the kitchen, walked down a stairway that led away from the castle walls. He saw a stone building that looked like it should have fallen down 50 years ago. He thought, “That would be a good place to go where no one could find me.” He opened the door and saw a plump old man in overalls working on a weed whacker. Not wanting to let on that he was looking for a place to hide, he feigned curiosity, “what is this place?” he asked. “This is my workshop Cooper.” It was Mr. Tulley. Cooper touted, “I’m not going to be around here for long,” Tulley grabbed another weed whacker off the wall and shoved it in Cooper’s hand. “See what you can do, won’t start. “Did you check the gas line,” Cooper asked as he looked it over. Cooper told Tulley about the night of the fire as he flushed the gas line and cleaned the spark plug. Tulley listened. Cooper concluded his sad story with a question that had been weighing heavily on his mind, “Why does God hate me?”
Mr. Tulley thought for a moment then began to speak “Lad, there’s something that you need to think about before you ask that question. God always keeps His promise doesn’t He?” “Yes,” Cooper nodded. Tulley went on. “Did He ever promise you an easy life?” Cooper answered, “I don’t know, I mean I guess not.” Tulley interrupted,” What did He promise you Cooper.” “I don’t know,” shrugged Cooper. “I guess nothing.” Tulley tilted his head, and lifted one eyebrow, “Didn’t He promise that He would give you the strength to carry on even when times get tough. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. All the boys in your dorm lost their parents too. Cooper nodded, and Tulley went on. “God still loves all those boys doesn’t he? God takes up the cause of the fatherless.” Tulley looked into his tormented eyes, “God does love those boys, and he loves you too. Doesn’t He? Didn’t He promise that he would never leave your side, No matter what?”
“I could care less. God hates me, and I hate Him.” The thunder was rolling in and the rain pouring. Cooper pulled the back of his shirt over his head and walked back to his dorm. Mrs. Ally was fit to be tied, “we missed you for lunch.” Cooper walked by her without even a glance, “Yea, whatever, guess I wasn’t hungry.” Mrs. Ally was not the type to be pushed around “you’ve got 30 days to get your act together, and this little stunt puts you one step away from getting your butt thrown out of here.” Cooper fained innocence, “What did I do?” Mrs. Ally pocked her finger into Cooper’s chest, and he backed into an end table, “Don’t play stupid with me. Let’s get one thing strait, when its meal time your bottom will be sitting at the table. I don’t care if you eat or not.” Cooper didn’t feel like a lecture, “Yes ma’am. Can I go now?” Mrs. Ally’s finger found its way into Cooper face. “I’m not through with you. Sit down.” Cooper sat. “That stunt is going to cost you. For the next thirty days you are going to stick with me like little duckling following Mama, and I’m your Mama, Got it!? Unless I give permission, you are going to be in seeing range of me. I hope we have an understanding.” Cooper didn’t want to argue. “Yes Ma’am, I understand. Can I go now?” Mrs. Ally was still irritated, “Yes Cooper, you go to your room and I don’t want to see your face until dinner.” Cooper’s face was red, “Oh my God, this is worst than Juvie!” Cooper stomped to his room.
Trogger was playing on an old game boy when Cooper kicked the door open. “This is my room!” Trogger yelled, “and you aren’t welcome, so don’t kick the door, or tick me off or I’ll kick your butt.” Cooper needed to set his dominate role as boss over all the boys including Trogger. “Go ahead and try it. Things have changed since your jelly trick.” Cooper thought, “Jelly trick, did I really say that? It made him sound like an idiot.” Trogger dismissed his feeble attempt to attain dominance as he continued with his game saying “You’re an idiot.” Cooper thought, “This is war.”

Chapter 8
Rebel Without a Cause
Cooper found that he could bully everyone in the dorm while still flying under Mrs. Ally’s radar. He’d convinced Tanner that he’d better do whatever he told him to do because he was really an alien, and when the “Mother-Ship” returned they would suck his brains out of their noses. Byron, Darien and Red endured a constant barrage of slugs, kicks, trips, and pink bellies. Oh, you never heard of a pink belly? That’s when the victim is pinned on their back while the perpetrator exposes their belly and slaps as hard and fast as he can, until reaching a bright pink color. Cooper could laugh at them for a whole hour while they tried to soothe themselves as they rubbed their stinging bellies.
He pretended to be Red’s friend one Saturday afternoon. He told him that “the well under the water tower had magic waters.” He told Red that “if you throw your most valuable position into its waters then you will be granted a wish.” Red was a big Star Wars fan. Everybody knew that his most valuable position was a 3foot x 3 foot cardboard cutout of the Death Star that hung over his bed. Cooper walked down to the well, with Red and his Death Star. Red lived in a fantasy world. He wouldn’t give up hope that his Uncle would someday rescue him. He seemed to never stop talking about it. The boys walked together to the pool of water under the water tower. “Are you thinking about your wish,” Cooper asked. Red closed his eyes and made an earnest prayer. Cooper shoved Red in the water, laughing, “Wake up Red, I’m doing you a favor. Your Uncle doesn’t want you. No one wants you.” Red screamed, “Get me out of here! If the pump starts I’ll get sucked under.” Red was right. The pump would automatically activate if the water level in the tower got low. Red swam as if his life was in danger. That made Coopers trick even funnier to him. Red couldn’t save his Death Star, but no amount of cruelty could stop him from dreaming about being rescued by his uncle. “There was no telling who ended up as the Alpha Male between him and Trogger. They played an endless stream of dirty tricks and pranks, on each other.
And then there was Earline. She lived in the Girls dorm on the other side of the campus. Cooper was at that age when puberty released an unrelenting hormone wash through his veins. Cooper was hoping for friendship with benefits, but Earline always stopped at first base. It turned into a frustrating friendship, but a friendship just the same.
Earline told Cooper there was the dead body of a boy in the south pasture. Cooper didn’t believe it of course, but at the same time he wanted to go for a look. The two conspired to sneak out of the dorm one night when everyone was asleep. They agreed to meet by the south pasture gate at 2:30am. The dorm was equipped with door and window alarms to discourage run-a-ways. Cooper and Earline knew how to disable the alarms on the sliding windows in the bathrooms. Successfully outsmarting the staff had been turned into an art.
Success. They both escaped without being detected, and there they were at the South Pasture Gate. Cooper looked forward to proving that Earline was lying about the dead body, “Okay,” Cooper demanded, “Where’s the body.” She motioned for Cooper to follow. The pasture hadn’t been mowed for a few weeks and the grass was high as they trudged to the spot. It was a small area of the pasture that had a chain link fence around it. Earline boosted, “Right there.” Cooper was starting to get creped out. “Where, I don’t see anything.” Earline pointed at the sign attached to the gate. It read, “Pytheman Home Cemetery.” Cooper objected, “There’s no dead body in there.” Immediately realizing it was stupid to say that there are no dead bodies in a cemetery. He tried to recover by asking Earline to “show him the dead body of a boy.” After all, that was her claim. “Right over here.” She pointed to a humble stone maker that read, “Charlie, 1909 – 1917.” Cooper felt a shiver up his spine, “He was only eight years old. How did he die?” Earline shrugged, “I don’t know. He must have lived here when he crooked.” Cooper was offended, “Don’t talk that way. Come on show a little respect.” Earline shook off Cooper’s rebuke saying, “Okay, whatever. You want to go to the magic wishing well? I heard about Red. What a yard ape.” “Sure,” Cooper snapped as he ran toward the well. Last one there has to go for a swim.” Cooper won the race by twenty yards. He stripped down to his boxers and jumped in while Earline was still running. “I dare you, jump in Earline, the water’s fine.” Earline wasn’t as adventuresome as Cooper. “I’m not jumping in there. What if the pump starts?”
Cooper was clucking like a chicken to taunt her, as the pump turned on. Cooper’s adrenalin kicked in as he tried to get out of there. Cooper swam for his life, but there was no fighting it. The pump sucked him down. He was disoriented as the swirling water made him do summersaults under water. Cooper struggled but to no avail. His lungs were burning for a breath. He opened his eyes and could see the bright light of the sun. He’d almost given up when his feet touched the bottom, as he aimed for the surface. He pushed and swam up, up up in a frenzy of kicking legs, and arms flailing. His head exploded out of the water as he gasped for air.


Chapter 9
The Rebel


His chest felt as if it were ready to bust as he reached the surface and filled his lungs with air. The bright sun light blinded his eyes as he pulled himself out of the water. He yelled for Earline, but she was nowhere in sight. Cooper stumbled in a state of disequilibrium. It looked to be around noon, but how could the sun have come up while he was under water? His head was spinning as he looked around. He’d only been under for seconds, so where did Earline go? Everything around him had changed. The paved parking lot with the big green awning, white vans and staff cars were gone. In their place were rows of corn, tomatoes, squash, lettuce and who know what all else. Down the hill there were stables; dairy cows and a barn filled hay and tack. The only buildings that remained were Mr. Tully’s workshop and the main building of the castle. The east wing with was under construction. He had to suspend his disbelief because what he saw with his own eyes simply could not be.
He must have been a sight to see: a disoriented, muddy teen, standing there in his boxers yelling for Earline. A gang of angry men came running toward him yelling, and shaking their fists. It didn’t occur to him that the men were angry with him until it was too late to run. He tried to hide his panic with a false smug expression. The men restrained him and threaten to turn him over to the constable for trespassing and attempting to vandalize thier water pump.
One of the men got a hold of him in a head lock. “Hey, you’re hurting me,” Cooper complained. He tried to wriggle free when his legs were kicked from under him. He hit the dirt face first. He could feel the force of the man’s foot between his shoulder blades and arms lifted over his back, pinning him to the ground. When who do you think came out of the workshop door, but Mr. Tulley. Tulley reasoned with the men, suggesting that “the Pytheman way was to show friendship, charity, and benevolence.” The big armed man who pinned him now pulled him to his feet. “I’m the Head Master: Mr. Grant. Get your clothes and get in the buggy. I’d whoop your butt right now, but instead I’ll take you home and let you daddy do it for me.” Cooper lifted his chin in defiance and blurted, “You can’t, their dead, and I can’t find my clothes.” Head Master whispered some instructions to a boy not too much older than him. “Follow me.” The boy ordered, “My name is Tyler.” Cooper turned to see Mr. Tulley give him a wink. “You go ahead with Tyler, we’ll talk later.”
Cooper followed Tyler to the back entrance of the main building. “Boy’s dorm’s upstairs. I’ll get you a bunk.” Cooper was about to walk in the door when Tyler pushed him. “You think you’re ganna drag mud on my clean floor?” Tyler sprayed him off with the hose and gave him a towel. The water was cold, but being a hot Texas day, it felt good. They walked 3 stories up on the outside stairs well and into the boys’ dorm. “Give em.” Tyler pointed to his boxers. “I’ll put em in the laundry.” Cooper had reluctantly gone along with everything thus far, so why complain now. The boy’s dorm was a long room with 3 rows of bunk beds: a row on both sides of the room and a row down the middle. Seventy five beds in all. Tyler gave him boxers, a few tee shirts, sleeping pants, a pair of bib-overalls, socks and a pair of work boots. Tyler laid some bedding on a bunk saying, “This’ll be yours. You know,” Tyler told him, “this means that Head Master is taken you on.” Cooper asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?” “You’re a Pytheman Boy now. So if you know what’s good for you then you’ll do what you’re told.”
“Ten minutes till lunch is on the table. Get dressed now and we’ll go eat.” The boys went downstairs to met 75 hungry boys. Cooper inquired, “Where’d they all come from?” Tyler answered, “They all live here.” He pointed to the open door. “School rooms are right down there. You’ll be goin there too. Don’t worry if you don’t read or do numbers. They teached me pretty good. Everybody’s got after school chores. The little one’s mostly milk the cows, collect eggs, and work in the garden. You’ll help toting bricks on the east wing.”
The children filed into the dining hall in lines, and stood behind their chairs. Cooper sat down until he noticed no one was sitting, and then he too stood. The Head Master commanded, “Sit.” The boys and girls all sat and recited, “Be present at our table Lord. Be hear and everywhere adored. We creatures pray that you would grant that we may eat in paradise with thee. Amen.” The room was then silent except for the silverware clicking, children slurping brown stew, and guzzling their milk.
After Lunch Tyler told Cooper to help do dishes and clean the dining hall. After that he would get him started at school. Cooper wasn’t interested in dishes or school. He slipped out the back door of the Kitchen to see Tulley for some explanation of what was going on. Cooper told Tulley about the well and how things were from where he came from. Cooper suggested that he was from the future and that Tully had something to do with it because he was the same in the past and the future. “What year is it”, demanded Cooper. “You sound like you had too much moonshine boy” laughed Tulley. “It’s, 1917 son, but if I were you I wouldn’t tell anyone else what you just told me” and winked, “unless you want to get put in the county asylum with the other crazy’s.”

Chapter 10
Blood, Sweat, and Tears
“Well, that talk didn’t help at all,” Cooper muttered to himself as he headed up the stairs to the dorm. He thought it might be nice to lie down on his bunk and think awhile. Head Master and Dorm Master were waiting for him. “It’s time you learn a lesson about do’in what you’re told son.” Copper played innocent, “What?” Head Master had a wood mallet in his hand. “Didn’t Tyler tell you to help with dishes and then come to school?” Cooper stammered, “Well, I didn’t, I was..” Head Master interrupted. “I’m fix’en to tan your hide.” Cooper stuck his chin up in defiance. “You can’t do that? You aint the boss of me.” Dorm Master took a firm grasp to Coopers shoulder and arm. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way. You decide.” He tried to wiggle lose, but the Dorm Master pushed him face first onto the bunk and held his arms strait out. Cooper yelled, “No. Don’t do this. Let me go. Help somebody.” The rest of the boys came running in to see what was happening. He thought, “I’m safe now, he wouldn’t dare do this if I have witnesses.” The boys yelled, “spank, spank, spank, spank. Head Master didn’t hold back, and the boys cheered him on with every whack.
Cooper was in school the next day, with a sore butt and a chip on his shoulder. He decided that they might be able to make him show up for school but that didn’t mean he’d do anything but show up. He didn’t pay attention or do his work. Lunch time didn’t come quickly enough. He didn’t file into the lunch room with his class. He pushed his way through the halls and tripped a 3rd grade boy with a brace on his right leg. “Out of the way Meat Stub.” The boy stood up, and hit Cooper on his chest. “You can’t call me that!” Cooper pushed him away. He was use to bullying third graders, crippled or not, but on this day he got some instant justice. Three of the big boys drug him outside, held his arms and punched his face. After they’d had enough they let him drop. “Don’t you ever touch Charlie again, you hear.”
Cooper didn’t like everybody laughing at him and his bloody nose during lunch. After lunch Mr. Grant took Cooper to the infirmary to have the Doc. have look at his bruised eye, and split lip. Charlie was there gasping for air. Charlie was breathing vapor through a mask over his nose and mouth. Cooper said, “Hey you little goon, you all right?” Charlie nodded, and Cooper added, “I’m sorry.” Charlie nodded again.
Cooper didn’t like what he saw when he returned to class. Head and Dorm Masters were waiting for him. The teacher was holding a paper with nothing written on it, and said, “This is how much work he did this morning. I won’t have him in class or the other students might get lazy too.” Cooper thought that would be a good time to make a quick exit, but Dorm Master was already at the door. Head Master told him to put his hands out, palms up as he showed Cooper the instrument of pain that was about to be used. It was a small wooden paddle with the words “Board of Education” written on it. Cooper withdrew his hands and said “you’re not hit my hands with that.” Dorm Master said, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way it’s up to you.” Cooper folded hands in his arm pits saying, “No. I’m not going to put up with this anymore.” Dorm Master came up behind him and grabbed his wrists and forced him to hold his hands out. Head Master wore him out. Cooper lost count how many times he got it, because he was squirming and trying to wriggle free the whole time. Head Master said, “You are going to finish the work from this morning as well as the work this afternoon.” Cooper sneered and said, “or what?” Head Master showed him the board of education and said, “or you won’t like what comes next.” Cooper’s palms were pink and stinging from being wacked, but he did his school work anyway.
After school he and Tyler carried bricks and mortar for the men building the new wing. It was a two story dorm for more children in need. By the end of the week he had sore muscles in places he didn’t know he had muscles, and his raw skin on his hands was blistering from the rough bricks. Tyler and Cooper started walking back to the dorm after work. “This way,” Tyler said, “We gotta shower before dinner.” Cooper went the other way; straight over to the Head Master and announced that he would have to have a different job because of blisters on his hands. Head Master looked closely at his hands saying, “You’ll be alright. How about you learn to do as you’re told? Eventually, it’ll be rewarded.” Cooper was dumbfounded, thinking, “How could he just brush me off like that?” Before he could scurry over to Tyler to tell him what happened he was backhanded by Mr. Grant. “Know your place boy. You don’t talk to Head Master unless he asks you a question. Got it!” Cooper whispered, “Yes Sir.”
Cooper thought, “Time to get out of here.” When no one was looking he ran out the North Pasture, toward Fort Worth Highway. Out of breath, he reached the spot. He knew that Fort Worth Highway should be there, but like everything else, nothing was as he thought it should be. So he followed a one lane dirt road (if you want to call it a road) toward the traffic circle in the center of Weatherford.
The big courthouse was there, right where it should be. Everything else was wrong. No modern cars, only horses, buggies and Model T’s, and all the building were different. He tried to bum some money for some food, but without any luck. The sun went down, and was hungry. He tried to talk the clerk at Venable Grocery and Feed into opening an account for him so he could get something to eat, but he was told that “they don’t give an advance to bums, and he better hit the road.” Cooper was tired and hungry and no one seemed to care. He was feeling sorry for himself, so he decided he would hang around until the Venable Groceries closed and wait till no one was around to break in and steal some food. The constable was eyeing him from his office window and decided that it was time to put his gun on and chase the vagrant out of town. Cooper saw the constable walking toward him and that made his heart pound hard in his chest. He put on a false smug expression to hide his panic.
“Where you from boy?” the constable demanded. Cooper fumbled with his words, and then blurted out the truth, “I was born and raised in Weatherford Texas.” The Constable interrupted, “If ya were I’d recognize you then, wouldn’t I? The constable turned Cooper around, pushed him up against a wood building and put cuffs on him all in one fluid motion. “Aint them Pytheman Boy clothes you’re wear’in. We don’t want your kind here.” He tossed him in the back of his wagon and drove him back to the Home to drop him off.
Head Master and Mr. Grant met the Constable out in front of the Castle. Constable pulled him out of the back of the wagon, un-cuffed him, and handed him over. Head Master ordered Mr. Grant to line the boys up outside. “Come, come, come, come , come,” yelled Head Master as the boys ran over and lined up. Head Master stood directly in front of Cooper and looked down his nose at him. “You see, you are a part of a community now. What one boy does…” Cooper interrupts yelling, “I don’t care, just get it over with. All you people do around here is think of new reasons to beat me.” Head master turned and addressed the boys, “you have not trained our new boy properly. It is your fault that he has run away, and it is you that should be punished.” Cooper couldn’t argue with that. Head Master continued “Tomorrow is Saturday. I know it’s normally you day off, but it will be a work day.” The boys moaned. Head Master turned to Cooper and said, I need the dirt in the new garden turned. You’ll have until morning to be finished. If you don’t finish then I’ll give you that whoopin that you thought you were going to get for runnin away. So, get started.” Head Master started to walk away, but then stopped and turned around “Tyler, you’re his friend. You can stay down here too, so he doesn’t run away again. The rest of you boys get to bed.”
The Head Master turned back to Cooper and explained. “You see, just like in the real world, when you do wrong it hurts the whole community, when someone hurts the community, then everyone suffers.” Cooper wasn’t angry like he had been in Juvie. Instead he felt sorry for himself, but at the same time he regretted bringing punishment on the whole dorm. He regretted not being a good friend to Tyler. And most unexpectedly, he didn’t like the feeling that he’d disappointed Head Master. The boys kicked the dirt and grumbled about having to work on their day off as they headed to the dorm. Cooper yelled, “I’m sorry, Hey come on man, I’m really sorry.” Cooper got a shovel from the barn and started work. After a few minutes Tyler went and got a shovel and started helping out. “I’m not doin this for you.” Tyler grumbled, “I just don’t want to be out here all night.” After a few minutes two boys came out and walked toward Cooper. Cooper stepped backwards not knowing what they intended to do to him. They walked right by him, and into the barn, came out with shovels, and without words started to help. Three more, then five, then the whole dorm shuffled out. Some picked rocks out of the ground, others carried rocks, others pulled up bushes and vines, others turned the soil, and others covered the ground with manure from the stables and pasture. Many hands make the load lighter. It was finished in less than an hour.
Head Master complemented Cooper for a job well done the next morning at breakfast, but complained that the rest of the boys were dirty, smelled like manure. Head Master understood, and was pleased. Maybe that’s why he only asked for a half day of work, ending with a picnic lunch with fried chicken, sweet lemonade and cookies.

Chapter 11
New Purpose in Life
Cooper decided that he should lay low and stay out of trouble the next few months. He and Tyler would get up, and saddle the horses before sunrise pretty nearly every day. The cold air would make their cheeks red and ears numb. It was a sweet. Cooper showed Tyler how to train a cutting horse. They’d ride out to collect rabbits that had gotten snared in some traps they’d set. The Pytheman property was bigger that it was in his other life. It extended out to the South all the way to where Cooper remembers the I-20 and East through Attwood Ranch, clear out to Loves Truck Stop. All open untouched land. The boys field dressed ‘em, and gave’em to the cook. Everybody loved briskets and rabbit gravy for breakfast.
He spent most of school time helping the younger boys with math, or reading to them. Cooper proved he had as much or more book leaning than the Teacher. Everyone agreed that Cooper would be a good Science Fiction Writer when he told the class that “all living things are made of cells, and that a cell is the smallest livening organism. The class laughed when he told them that some day they would send a man to walk on the moon.”
His blisters had turned into calluses, and spindly arms and legs had turned into bulk and muscle. He and Tyler raced to see who could bring more bricks and mortar to the brick layers. The building was within weeks from being finished. He was learning how to help plaster the walls, put in the plumbing, and lay the flooring. He was making plans in his head about someday using these skills as a trade. The hot summer had given way to fall, and fall turned to winter. He’d lived there now for 6 months. He didn’t think about his old life much anymore. He felt happy, part of something bigger than himself, and his good attitude didn’t go unnoticed by the Head Master.
It was 2:30, on a Friday and Cooper was looking forward to the weekend when a note from headmaster was handed to the teacher. “This is for you Cooper. Head Master wants to see you in his office right away.” Everybody knows that’s not a good sign. “What did I do?” Cooper asked, “What’s he fix’en to do to me?” Cooper walked as slow as possible. Knocked on the door and stopped.
Head Master waved him in, “Come, come”. He approached the back end of his desk and stopped without making eye contact and squeaked, “Yes sir.” Head Master had something on his mind, “Sit down Cooper. I want to know, if you like it here.” Cooper answered “of course I do sir. You’re not fix’en to send me away are you?” The Head Master had a serious look on his face, “Cooper, do you feel that I’ve been rough on you?” Cooper thought, “A straight question deserves a straight answer, ‘Yes sir, you have.”’ As soon as the words came out of his mouth he wanted to take’m back, but before he could another question came. “Can you see that everything I’ve done has been your good?” Cooper wanted to make up for the last stupid answer. “Yes sir. You’re the closest thing I have to a dad.”
Cooper was still trying to figure out if he was in trouble for something when Head Master said, “I’ve got a little problem that you might be able to help me with.” Cooper answered, “I’ll do what I can.” Head Master scratched his beard, “You know the new dorm is ready and the ‘Orphan Train’ is coming.” Cooper had never heard of the Orphan Train, and had a blank look on his face. Head Master went on, “There are hundreds of homeless orphans in the big cities on the East Coast, and they’re packing them up on trains and sending them West to find homes for them. I sent word that we could take 60 boys. I’m look’en for a Dorm Master Assistant: someone who could help the new Dorm Master, someone I can trust, someone who knows how things are done around here, someone who would care for those boys. I’ve been on my knees. I know that God has someone in mind, and I feel led to ask you if you’d be willing to take it on. Do you feel like you could be hard on 60 boys like I was hard on you?”
Cooper groaned, “Sir I’m not old enough to take care of myself, let alone 60 street rats.” It bothered him to say no. The Head Master had given so much to him, and never asked for anything in return. “I reckon I could try.”
The boys arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Cooper and Tyler got em fed and bathed, picked lice off of them and gave ‘em all the essentials; clothing, bedding, soap, toothbrush, and a bed all their own to sleep in. Cooper was busy from the time they got the boys up until lights out. They never realized how many things they have to teach just to get the routine down. Fixing cuts and bruises, helping bed wetter’s, boys skinny dipping in the cold well water, stealing, lying, spiting, kicking, afraid of the dark, helping with homework, teaching unwilling boys how to do a good job on their chores. It never ended.
Charlie, the boy with the leg brace, was in Cooper’s Dorm. He was sick most of the time. Stomach aches; coughing up blood, wheezing. There were several nights that Cooper spent holding Charlie’s hand because he was afraid and short of breath. He remembered the grave stone in his old life. He’d snuck out to see it with Earline. The grave stone read “Charlie 1909 – 1917.” Cooper didn’t know if he could change the future. He thought, the grave stone says that Charlie would die in 1917. It would be 1918 in three weeks. He figured he could cheat death if he could keep him alive till January. It was a week before Christmas and the ground was covered in a shimmery white blanket. It happened Christmas Eve. The boys were singing and opening presents in the dining hall. But Cooper sat with Charlie in the infirmary. Charlie looked up at Cooper and said, “I see Jesus, It’s time to go, I see Jesus.” And he breathed his last breath while Cooper stroked his hair and held his hand.

Chapter 12
It’s Time to Go
Cooper was over extended in every way. His body and mind tiered, and his spirits crushed. It gave him comfort to have been there for Charlie; someone to hold his hand, someone to hear his last words. His mind was in a fog that he had to snap out of it; he had boys to take care of. He kept replaying the picture of Charlie’s last moment of life in his mind.
The funeral was to be the next day, and Head Master asked Cooper to get up early and help Mr. Tulley dig the grave. Cooper was glad for that because he felt that a good talk with Mr. Tulley was overdue. He had some questions for him. “Why did he have to die? I saw his grave in my other life, and I asked God to save him. I asked God to let him live. Why doesn’t God pay me any mind?”
Mr. Tulley thought for a moment then began to speak “Lad, there’s something that you need to think about before you ask that question. God always keeps His promise doesn’t He?” Cooper answered; “You asked me that same question before, Yes,” Tulley went on. “Did He ever promise you an easy life?” Copper objected again, “These are the same questions that you asked me before.” “Yes,” Tulley agreed. “But you didn’t answer well, so God has done everything a wise God would do to get you to answer well.” Cooper thought for a moment then said, “Ok Mr. Tulley, The answer is no, God never promised me an easy life.” Tulley interrupted,” What did He promise you Cooper.” Cooper answered, “He promised that He would give me the strength to carry on even when times get tough.”
Mr. Tulley had another question, “Cooper, Do you believe that? I mean do you know it deep down in your knower?” Cooper realized that his experiences had made him feel different about God. “I do believe it. He’s been pretty tough on me, but I trust Him that it was for my good. Mr. Tulley, is Charlie in heaven?” Tulley answered, “What do you think?” Then Cooper said, “I don’t know. I mean he’s got to be somewhere. You can’t just disappear. How can I know that I’ll go to heaven when I die?” Tulley was pleased that Cooper’s heart was beginning to be inclined toward God. “You said that you have faith that God does everything for your good. Can you go one step further?” Cooper felt the comforting presence of the Lord, just like he had in church, when he was little. “What kind of step?” Tulley went on to say, “Could you make God boss of your life the way you’ve done with the Head Master? God wants to be your God Cooper, but he can’t save you unless you want you to be his person.” Cooper said, “Yes, I do what to be his person. I’ll let Him have his way, no matter what.” Tulley smiled and said, “Then, you know where Charlie is, and that you’ll be seeing him again, he just went on ahead of you.”
The grave was mostly dug and Mr. Tulley told Cooper to “go on and take care of your boy’s before they get into more trouble.” Cooper walked out of the East Pasture and toward the Water Tower, just in time to see those ornery rascals skinny dipping again in the well water. “Get out of there! You’ll catch your death of cold. Ya’ll are going to get your butt’s whooped.” Cooper took off his belt and ran over give it to’em, but the pump turned on before the last boy got out. Cooper jumped in and was able to throw the boy clear, but the water sucked him down. He was disoriented as the swirling water made him do summersaults under water. Cooper struggled but to no avail. His lungs were burning for a breath. Just before he passed out Cooper thought, “Whoa, Dj Vu Again”

Chapter 13
Crooked Way Made Strait
He woke up gasping for air, and annoyed at someone pulling on his legs. He wiped his watery eyes, which were irritated by the smoke, to realize that it was his father pulling him out of the smoky kitchen. Dad was yelling, “Oh, you are busted Cooper! You are grounded” Mom came running out of the kitchen with a fire extinguisher saying, “it’s ok, nothing damaged, just needs some new curtains and a coat of paint. Cooper jumped to his feet yelling, “Mom, Dad your alive, Dad, how can this be happening. You died in this fire and I’ve been gone for a year. You’ll never believe what’s happened.” Cooper passed out again. He’d hit his head pretty hard when he fell of the counter and hard tile floor. He woke up in a hospital room. His mom was there as he woke. She said, “You gave us a scare young man. Do you know where you are?” Cooper looked around, “Looks like a hospital room.” Mom went on, “Yes. This is Weatherford Regional Hospital. Do you know why you are here?” Cooper eyes were still glazed over, “No Mom why am I here?” Mom said, “You hit your head pretty hard and you passed out. You’ve been asleep for 2 days son.” Dad came in when he heard Coopers voice. “Son, how are you feeling? You were delirious at the house. I wish I had my phone to record you babbling on about everybody being dead and you being gone for a year.”
Cooper couldn’t hold it in any more, “I’ve missed you so much. I love you Mom, I love you Dad, please never leave me again.” Mom comforted Cooper, “okay, okay, we’re not going anywhere, and we love you too.” Dad added, “Hey son, look who came to visit you. It’s Mr. Tulley from the Pytheman Home.” Tulley smiled and said, “Well, I’m glad to see you made it back in one piece, we were all routing for you. After the visit Mr. Tulley asked, “Can I have a moment with the boy?” Mom and Dad walked out of the room, “Sure Mr. Tulley, you keep him company while we go have a bit to eat.”
Cooper broke the silence after his Mom and Dad were out of hearing range, “Mr. Tulley you know what’s happened. You’ve got to back me up. I know it’s real and you do to. If it didn’t really happen then why do I still have calluses on my hands, and why are my muscles still bulked up from carrying bricks?” “You sound like you had too much moonshine boy” laughed Tulley. “It’s, 2017 son, but if I were you I wouldn’t tell anyone else what you just told me” and winked, “unless you want to get put in the county asylum with the other crazy’s.”