For the least of these, p.1

For The Least Of These, page 1


For The Least Of These

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For The Least Of These



  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 1

  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness

  and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son

  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

  – Colossians 1:13-14

  The sound was deafening. Cheers and applause of this magnitude were reserved for the truly gifted – those amazingly talented individuals like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Elton John. And, apparently, like Rick Hartwood. I looked around at the audience. Everyone was standing; everyone was yelling; and everyone was clapping. Rick Hartwood ran back out on the stage for one final bow, and then he disappeared behind an accordion-style room divider. The clapping and cheering continued for another ten minutes, then it slowly dissipated as Rick’s fans left the auditorium.

  I was in no hurry to leave, so I sat down in my seat and waited for the crowd to disperse. My friend Alicia was sitting beside me with a satisfied look on her face. It was still too noisy to chat, but I was anxious to talk to Alicia. She smiled at me, and I knew she wanted to talk, too. As the crowd continued to slowly dwindle, Alicia could wait no longer. She leaned over to me and spoke in a loud voice.

  “I am so glad I came tonight!” she said exuberantly. “Rick was just so…he was great.”

  “I didn’t think you liked Rick Hartwood?” I said.

  “I didn’t think I did. But he did a wonderful concert. I know you were in heaven.”

  She was right. I was still in a state of amazement. Rick Hartwood had been my favorite singer for over twenty years – since I was only twelve years old. I had followed him through his early years when no one else had even heard his name. Now he was a big deal, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to share him. Not with Alicia or anyone else.

  “Brandy?” Alicia was tugging on my arm, “How did it feel to see Rick in person?”

  “Good. It felt really good.” What else could I say? How could I explain all the emotions that were swelling inside me? I loved Rick Hartwood. Not just his music, but him. It was impossible to put my feelings into words. Being in the same room with him - especially after waiting twenty years – was the single most exciting moment of my life. But Alicia would think I was crazy if I told her that.

  “We’d better go,” I said.

  We started down the aisle, and I took one last look at the stage. Our seats had been on the second level and nowhere near Rick Hartwood. It had been impossible to see his face without looking at the monitors that were on either side of the stage. Still, I had never felt closer to Rick. For me, we had been the only two people in the room. Now I had to resign myself to the fact that I would probably never see him again. Only a few weeks ago, Rick had announced his decision to stop touring. After only two more months, he would never tour again. Tears filled my eyes and I had to look away from the stage.

  “I have an idea,” I heard Alicia saying. “Let’s drive around behind the arena. We might see Rick leaving the building.”

  It was a stupid idea, but I wasn’t ready to give up on the magic of the evening. My face brightened as I said, “Okay, but we’d better hurry. He’s been off stage for almost a half hour now.”

  A few minutes later, Alicia and I were pulling into the back driveway of the arena. The parking lot was empty, and I pulled my little green car as close to the back of the arena as possible. The distance from us to the back door was about seventy-five yards, and there was a six-foot high chain-link fence blocking the way. Still, we could see two huge buses parked right outside. Both were emblazoned with the words “Rick Hartwood”. There were two people standing outside, but we couldn’t even tell if they were male or female – much less if one was Rick.

  “What time do you need to be home?” Alicia asked.

  “Last time I checked, I didn’t have a keeper. I go home whenever I want to. How about you?”

  “I’m usually in bed by now.”

  “Is someone gonna spank you if you are late?”

  “I guess I can stay out all night if I like. Since I live alone, no one will care. But what about Terry? Won’t he be mad if you stay out late?”

  Terry Bradford had been my roommate for the last two years. We weren’t married or even engaged. Heck, he wasn’t even my boyfriend, and he certainly didn’t run my life. “Why should he be? Besides, I’m a big girl that can do what she wants. And, like I said, I don’t have a keeper.”

  “I don’t see what keeps you two together. You’re as different as night and day.”

  “Maybe because we aren’t together. Not in the way you’re implying anyway.”

  “You know what I mean. Roommates usually have to have things in common to get along, just like romantic couples.”

  Alicia was right about Terry and I having little in common. I was a total bookworm-type. My picture was probably in the dictionary beside the entry for “dull”. Terry was a ball of energy always looking for excitement. My favorite pastime was curling up on the couch with Dean Koontz and a mug of hot chocolate. Terry preferred football – playing, not watching. He had played pro for one year until he hurt his knee. Now he played with the kids in the neighborhood and he coached at the local high school. My idea of team sports was having a couple of my friends over to play Canasta.

  “I guess,” I finally answered. “Honestly, I think Terry and I just put up with each other. We know what to expect, and it’s just too much work to break in someone new.”

  Alicia rolled her window down. “What will you do if you see Rick get on one of those buses?” she asked as she rested her head on the door. Her long dark brown hair whipped in the cool night breeze.

  “I don’t know. Probably pee my pants,” I answered with absolute candor. “Why? Are you cooking something up in that teeny-weeny brain of yours?”

  “Well, if it was my idol, I know what I would do.”

  “Are you going to share the thought, or are you just talking to stay awake?”

  She was quiet for a moment then she said, “I think you should decide what to do. He is your dream-guy. I don’t even like him.”

  “Thanks for the advice. Now I know why I keep you around.”

  The longer we sat there in the bright glow of the florescent street light, the more uncomfortable I became. I started thinking that Alicia and I looked like a couple of stalkers, and then I started listening for the police sirens. I started wishing I could get away, but the possibility of seeing Rick one more time held me in place.

  We sat there for almost two hours – right up until the moment that I said, “I really will pee my pants if he comes out. In fact, I’m going to pee my pants whether he comes out or not. I’ve got to find a bathroom.”

  There was an all-night diner right beside the arena, so we decided to go there. Alicia said she would watch the buses while I went inside to pee. I was only gone a minute or two, and Alicia was getting out of the car when I returned. “I’d better go, too, while we’re here,” she said.

  She went inside, and almost immediately, one of the buses began to drive away. I felt my heart drop into the pit of my stomach. I still didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I hadn’t wasted my night watching that bus for nothing. I ran towards the diner’s door, planning to drag Alicia out if I had to. She met me at the door – taking her time as usual.

  “Get in the car!” I
was screaming, and the patrons of the crowded diner were all staring at me. For once in my life, I didn’t care. This was a magical night, and it couldn’t end yet. Alicia and I sprinted towards my car and jumped in. I tore out of the parking lot, burning rubber and shifting gears as fast as my hands and feet would let me.

  “Now what?” Alicia said loudly. Was she excited or just terrified? I couldn’t tell.

  “I guess I’m gonna follow that bus,” I said. Just then, I noticed the other bus pulling out from the arena’s parking lot. The first bus was stuck at a red light, and the second one slipped in right behind it. Seconds later, I screeched to a halt at the same intersection. The buses made their turn, and when the light changed, I was right behind them.

  I could tell that Alicia was excited. “Stay behind them, Brand. He might be on one of them.”

  “You know his next concert is Mississippi. How far do you think I should follow them?” Once again, I was beginning to feel a little bit stupid. Still, I hung behind the buses as they pulled onto the interstate.

  “Until we see if Rick is on one of them. Speed up. I know this thing can go faster than those buses.”

  She was right about the car. It was a vintage 1972 Gremlin X – an eight-cylinder with three on the floor. My parents had bought the car the same year I was born, and they had given it to me on my sixteenth birthday. Alicia and I had christened the car “Sam”. Sam and I had a special bond, and I still couldn’t part with him after all these years. I had taken good care of Sam, and he was in pristine condition with more power than most cars on the road. But I continued to hold back. I wasn’t sure what Alicia was going to do. When it came to Alicia, you could never be sure.

  “Brandy! Pull around the damn bus,” she yelled loudly. When she reached this swell, I was afraid to ignore her. I whipped the bright green car around the last bus, and I cringed as I realized how conspicuous we were. Even without a tag number, the police would find us. There was no other car like Sam within at least a 500-mile radius. We were on our way to prison for certain.

  When we were neck-and-neck with the bus’ driver, Alicia hung out the window and shouted, “Is Rick in there?”

  Strangely enough, the driver did not stick his head out and respond. But he did stare at us in disbelief as I sped past.

  “You aren’t going to yell at the next driver, are you?” I asked Alicia.

  “No, of course not. Just pass him.”

  I started around the next bus and told myself that this bizarre ride would soon be over. There was an exit just a mile away, and I planned to take it.

  All at once, Alicia was yelling again. This time, she was directing her question to the back of the bus. “Is Rick in there? Come on, Rick. We just want you to wave at us.”

  I sped up and moved around the bus. I pulled in front of him, but I was going too fast to take the exit. My new plan was to get away from the buses as fast as possible. I glanced over at Alicia. Her blue eyes were on fire with excitement, and she had a fantastic grin plastered on her face. “I thought you weren’t going to yell,” I said angrily.

  “I said I wouldn’t yell at the driver, that’s all. Come on, Brandy. Lighten up. This is fun. Slow down so the buses can catch up.” I hadn’t seen Alicia this thrilled since the day we chased down a carload of football players. We’d been sixteen at the time.

  “I’m not waiting for those buses. In fact, I’m getting off the interstate at the next exit. They are going to arrest us for stalking or something. We could get in big trouble…”

  “That’s why it’s so much fun, Brand. What’s wrong with you? You were always a little more cautious than me, but now you’ve become a regular party pooper.” She was right.

  “Oh, no, Alicia,” I said, “I’ve always been a party pooper. Party poopers don’t end up in jail or dead somewhere beside the road.”

  Alicia’s eyes rolled up to the top of her head. “They never have any fun either. And what’s more, they tend to keep their friends from having fun, too. Brandy, we both need more excitement in our lives. Come on. Slow down. We’ll just follow them for a while and see what happens.”

  The next exit was just ahead. I put my blinker on and started down the off ramp. The buses were only tiny headlights in my rearview mirror. Alicia gave a heavy sigh as I slowed down for the red light at the end of the ramp. Before she could speak, I skipped through the light, crossed the deserted street, and came to a stop in the parking lot of a local bank.

  “I’ll be right back,” I said as I zipped out of the car and up to the ATM. As I waited for the machine to spit out my money, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Was there really something missing from our lives, or was Alicia just being foolhardy?

  Back in the car, I was greeted by stone silence. I threw the car into gear and left the parking lot so fast that we almost did a wheelie. Alicia seemed agitated as I turned the car onto the highway. Her composure changed when she realized that I was going back onto the interstate. “I can’t believe you are actually going to do this! Why did you let me think you were giving up? Aren’t you afraid we’ve lost them?”

  “I needed some cash for this road trip, so I had to go to the bank. Calm down; we’ll catch up to them. Have you ever known anyone that could outrun Sam?” Within moments, I could see the taillights of the buses. I slowed down a little and stayed a good distance behind the last one.

  “What are you doing?” Alicia asked. “Pull up beside them!”

  “No. I might have changed my mind about following them, but I still don’t want to get into trouble. Back here, they can’t tell that this is the same car that was pestering them before.”

  “If we aren’t going to wave and yell, what are we going to do? You were kidding about the road trip, right?” Alicia was beginning to have second thoughts.

  “Now who is wimping out? I was dead serious. It’s Friday night – no work tomorrow. We’re going all the way. Maybe we’ll get into Rick’s next concert. Maybe I’ll get to meet him. I’m ready for some action now, thanks to you. Now turn on the radio and let’s have some fun.”

  Alicia had a sober look on her face, but she didn’t speak. She reached over and turned on the radio. Like a prophet of the future, Rick Hartwood’s voice poured out of the radio singing one of his most popular songs, “Weekend Distraction”.

  I knew at that moment that I’d made the right decision.

  Chapter 2

  Vincenzo Moretti met Stacy Winters in 1969 – not at Woodstock, but at the annual summer music festival in Pensacola, Florida. They married a year later, and their first – and only – child was born in 1972. She was a chubby baby with dark blond hair and hazel eyes. Vince wanted to name her after a new song by the group Looking Glass, and Stacy agreed. And so I was christened Brandy.

  While I was growing up, I was always forced to call my parents Vince and Stacy; they were way too cool to be called Mom and Dad. They were undeniably the grooviest parents on the face of the earth, although calling them “parents” is stretching it a bit. They were more like the best friends you never wanted. You know the ones. They always agree with everything you do or say, and you always seem to be trying to avoid them. That was Vince and Stacy. If I had told them that I was dreaming of becoming a homeless bag lady when I grew up, they would have given their whole-hearted approval. I suppose it is great to have parents that encourage you, no matter what you want to do in your life, but my folks carried it way too far. And since I was a down-to-earth, level-headed, quiet and shy nerd, I desired parents that wouldn’t embarrass me at PTA meetings.

  I’m sure that most kids would have given their right arm to have my life. I never had chores to do, and there weren’t many rules. If I wanted money, all I had to do was ask for it; the reason didn’t matter. I was allowed to listen to my music as loud as I pleased, and I could stay on the phone with my friends forever. I never had a curfew, and Vince and Stacy never questioned me about where I was going or where I had been. I was free to make my own choices regarding cigarett
es, alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs. Most of these things held no fascination for me, but I did like having no chores and having money. Still, most of the time I yearned for my parents to put up barriers and set limits. I often felt unloved because they didn’t seem to care enough to restrain my activities or punish my failures. As a teenager, I found myself over indulging in the lawless confusion. I stayed out well past midnight every night of the week; I drank until I was wasted; I tried marijuana and a few other drugs. I even stole money from Stacy’s purse – just to see if she’d get mad. She didn’t. I finally tired of all the nonsense near the end of my senior year of high school. Unfortunately, by then it was too late to graduate with honors or win any scholarships, so after high school, I continued to live with – and off of – my parents.

  Eventually, I put myself through night school and became a cog in the big wheel of business. I had spent the last five years as an Advertising Planner – also known as glorified gopher – for a co-op grocery chain. In addition to one thousand other things, I contacted grocers and arranged special promotions and ads in their stores. I wanted to be the graphic artist that designed the chain’s print ads, but I had been bypassed for a promotion three times because I was too accommodating and too timid. I couldn’t afford to quit, so I endured the humiliation and continued to do my best.

  In my private life, I had finally escaped my parents’ chaotic house, and I enjoyed sharing a house with Terry. No one believed that we were not lovers, but it was true. Of course, Alicia seemed to believe me, but occasionally she would still insinuate that Terry was a lot more than just my roommate.

  I thought about all this as Alicia and I drove along behind the buses. Alicia had set me thinking about my quiet, unexciting life.

  The sound of Alicia’s voice startled me. We hadn’t spoken in almost an hour. “Did you see that sign? Only ten more miles to the Biloxi exit. That’s where his next concert is, isn’t it?”

  I cleared my throat and wiped at my eyes. “Yeah. Maybe I should get closer to the buses now.” Alicia nodded, and I decreased the distance between us by half. The thrill of the chase was about over. Or maybe it was just beginning.

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