After having phone sex, Mark and I talked for another half hour. Neither one of us said, "I love you." But the closeness and intimacy we shared were not only physically exciting and sexually satisfying; it was somehow comforting to me after all the drama I had been through recently.
I woke up the following morning, however, feeling guilty about cheating on Justin. I tried to rationalize what I had done with Mark by reminding myself that Justin had gone out with CeCe. But still, I regretted what had happened – well, mostly.
Mrs. Carlson knocked on my door just before I was about to go downstairs for breakfast. "Master James," she said through the closed door. "Your mother wants to see you in the drawing-room."
"Okay," I replied as I opened the door. "I'll be right down."
Mrs. Carlson didn't move. "It's not my place to speak my mind," she said. "But … stand up for yourself!" Then, she quickly turned and went down the hallway.
Mom was smoking a cigarette when I came into the drawing-room. It was 8:30 in the morning, but she had a glass of wine in her hand. The situation reminded me of the day Mom had told me that she was sending me to Arkansas to live with Aunt Gretchen and Uncle Nathan. I hoped that was what she wanted to say to me now. After all, that's where I wanted to be. I took a seat without speaking.
"I've decided that you will be going to boarding school," Mom announced without even looking me in the eye. "You need to learn discipline and respect. A military academy will teach you those things. I've arranged for you to attend the New York Military Academy in Cornwall."
I was dumbfounded! But something clicked in my mind at that moment. I knew I had finally had it with my mother's uncaring attitude and complete disregard for my feelings. I decided that I wasn't going to take it anymore.
"I'm not going to boarding school," I said as calmly but firmly as I could. "I'm going to court to become an emancipated minor. And I'm moving back to Arkansas."
"You'll start at the Military Academy in the fall," Mom said as if she hadn't heard me. "It's a good school. Many prominent families send their children there. Our friends John and Fanny Gotti sent their son there. Fred and Mary Anne Trump sent their son Donald there, too. And they all recommend it highly. You will go to Cornwall in two weeks for your orientation."
"That's not going to happen," I continued. "I'm not letting you control me anymore."
"Oh really?" Mom said in a condescending tone. "You still have to do as I say, James. I am your mother, and I have legal custody of you again. And if I must, I will have you escorted to the military academy!"
"And if I must, I will use everything I have to make sure you don't send me somewhere that I don't want to go," I said emphatically.
"You are a foolish boy, James," Mom said. "And you overestimate yourself. Whether or not you go to boarding school is not your decision. No court is going to grant your request for emancipation. Not at age fourteen! You are going to Cornwall, and you cannot do anything about it."
"Well, I can share my story," I said. "I bet the New York Times would be interested in writing about a young man whose mother was runner-up in the Miss America Pageant and then got herself knocked up by one of the judges. And I'd be happy to tell their reporters that the judge was a famous country singer who was already married and wanted nothing more to do with his mistress after he found out she was pregnant. And I couldn't leave out the part where the lady gets a rich man to marry her and raise the child as his own."
"How dare you!" my mother said as she glared daggers at me.
"Don't get so upset, Mom! Most people read about that weeks ago when the Jonesboro Examiner published the story," I said. "But here's the thing. The story gets even more interesting. The lady's new husband is disappointed with the young boy he agreed to raise. The man wanted a strapping young son who was athletic and masculine. But the kid turns out to be small for his age and fragile looking. The boy likes books and music, not sports. People think he's a sissy, and the man is embarrassed by his son. So, the man finally gives his wife an ultimatum. He wants the boy gone, or he will divorce her. And if they stay together, he wants a child of his own. The mother sends the boy away to live with his aunt on a farm in Arkansas. Later, the boy finds out that his mother and father are expecting a new baby. But sadly, that baby is stillborn. In the meantime, things don't work out well for the son they banished to Arkansas. The kid's cousin, a 16-year-old boy, sexually abuses him. And then, the boy is kidnapped! The kid is beaten and forced to perform oral sex on one of the kidnappers."
"Stop it!" my mother screamed. "You're lying! You just want to hurt me. I won't listen to any more of your foul language and selfish lies!"
I ignored my mother and continued as if she had said nothing.
"But the boy almost bites the man's dick off and manages to grab his kidnapper's gun! He shoots him straight through the heart. After the boy escapes, his parents insist that he return home to Connecticut. But the father, who didn't want the kid in the first place, is dying. And when the man passes away, there is a big problem with the Will!"
"Don't you dare!" my mother said. "We never talk about money – ever - to anyone!"
"It seems the Will leaves half of the estate to the dad's youngest child – whom he thought would be the new baby," I continued. "But since that baby was stillborn, the money goes to his only - and therefore youngest – child, whom the father hated. And the mother is so upset that she doesn't get everything from the estate for herself, she goes to court to have the Will overturned. But when she fears that things might not go well for her in court, she tries to become the Trustee of her son's inheritance. And then, she tries to get rid of her son by sending him away to a military school in another state. But the kid doesn't want to go, and he refuses. The mother threatens to have some hired henchmen drag the boy off to the military school. And, the kid threatens to tell the family's whole, ugly story to the news media."
With trembling hands, my mother finished off the rest of her glass of wine. She set the empty glass on a table.
"So, at this point in the story, the ending is unknown," I said. "Who do you think will win, Mom? If you want to find out, keep checking the newspapers. I'm guessing you'll never read the published story that would utterly embarrass you in front of the whole country. No, I doubt that would happen – because you will come to your senses and realize that the only way you win is to let me go – with my inheritance.
When I had finished saying my piece, Mom put out her cigarette and stood up. "You are a cruel and ungrateful little bastard!" she said.
"I was born a bastard!" I yelled. "And that's on you!"
"I am done with you!" Mom said bitterly. "The attorneys will handle anything else we have to say to each other. But you're still going to military school! That I promise you!" Mom left the room and headed up the stairs.
I took a deep breath. I had never stood up to my mother like that before, and I was glad that I finally did. But then, I realized that I was at war with her. I went to my room and called Mr. Rasmussen. When I got through to him, I explained what had just happened.
"I don't want to go to military school!" I said. "I want to go back and live with my Aunt Gretchen and Uncle Nathan! You've got to help me, Mr. Rasmussen! Please!"
"James, I am very sorry that you and your mother had such an unpleasant exchange," Mr. Rasmussen said. "Unfortunately, that emotional screaming match will just make our case more difficult. Your mother will probably use it to strengthen her argument that you are not mature enough to be out on your own."
"But she yelled more than I did," I argued. "I wasn't the one who started calling names! She called me a bastard!"
"Well, I certainly hope we don't have to get into that level of detail in court," he replied.
"What's going on with asking the court to grant me emancipation?" I asked. "Did you call my aunt? Will she take me back?"
I heard Mr. Rasmussen take a deep breath and sigh. "Things have changed in Tellico Falls," he said. "I'm not sure that you'll want to go back there."
"But I do!" I insisted."
"James," Mr. Rasmussen said. "Your cousin has been arrested. He admitted that the kidnappers promised to pay him if he'd make sure you'd be at the drug store the morning of the abduction."
I was shocked! "That can't be!" I said, knowing in my heart that it was true. But I didn't want it to be true.
"I'm sorry, James," Mr. Rasmussen said. "Because of Mason Dwyer's age, the court let him out on bail. He is not allowed to leave his parents' house. Under the circumstances, no one thinks that you should return to Tellico Falls."
When the reality of my situation slapped me in the face, I was terrified. "But where will I go?" I asked. "I can't stay here! And I won't go to military school!"
"Look, Mr. Rasmussen said. "I'll try to expedite your emancipation petition in the court. Until then, avoid your mother as much as possible. I'll call her attorney and see what we can figure out. In the meantime, think about what alternative living arrangements you might have. The court is unlikely to grant your request if you don't know where you will live."
For the rest of the day, I felt sick to my stomach. I had no idea what was going to happen to me. And I was afraid that I might never see Justin again. I may have cheated on him with Mark, but I was now sure that it was Justin whom I loved.
Somehow, I managed to get through the next few days. I called Mr. Rasmussen regularly, and he always took my calls. But he had no progress to report. And I was unable to answer his questions about where I might go. Although I was not one to pray regularly, I began praying several times a day. I knew I couldn't solve my problems by myself, and I was not sure that Mr. Rasmussen could fix things through the courts. I thought of what Pastor John at the Tellico Falls Baptist Church preached to the congregation about prayer, and I leaned on the comfort I felt believing in Jesus Christ. If I ever needed the Lord's help, it was now.
The following Sunday morning, I slept in late. I was exhausted from the stress I was under, and I had started to dread getting up to start each day.
I heard the phone on my nightstand ring. I hoped that it was Mr. Rasmussen with some good news. I picked up the receiver. "Hello?" I said.
A man whose voice I didn't recognize asked, "May I speak with Mr. James Covington?"
"This is James Covington," I answered.
"Wonderful!" the man said. "I was afraid that I might not be able to connect with you. My name is Bobby Jones. I represent Darren McCoy."
I was so surprised to hear from someone who worked for my biological father that I was speechless!
"I'm calling to see if there is any possibility that you can help us out of a jam," Mr. Jones said.
"My father wants my help?!?" I asked. "On what? I've barely met him!"
"Mr. Covington," he responded. "We need your assistance with a pressing matter. And I think we might have a great opportunity for you at the same time. Your father is currently on tour. His opening act just walked out. He wants to know if The Alliance could take over for them. I'd take care of all the arrangements, and we'd pay above the going rate."
For a moment, time seemed to stand still. Slowly, I felt a sense of peace descend upon me. It enveloped my entire body and mind. As if I were actually in the Tellico Falls Baptist Church, I heard Pastor John's voice. "From the Book of James, Chapter 1, Verse 12," he said. "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him."
"Mr. Covington? James? Are you there?" Bobby Jones asked.
"Yes," I said. I felt as if I were coming out of a fog. "I'm here."
"Well, what do you say?" Mr. Jones asked. "We really need you. You'd be the answer to our prayers!"
"Mine, too," I thought to myself. "Yeah," I said. "Ah, I'll do it. But I'll have to call Justin to see if he's interested."
"And Justin is your …?" he questioned.
"He's my ally," I said. "He's the other half of The Alliance."
"Oh yes," Bobby Jones said. "Darren definitely wants him. I hear he's quite the guitar player."
"He's terrific," I agreed. 'And he sings well, too."
"I'm sure he does. But from what your father told me," Mr. Jones said. "You're the real singer of the duo. But putting all that aside, there are a few things I need to tell you. I'm sure Justin may want to know about these things, too."
"Let me grab something so I can write it all down," I said.
"Well, your first performance is Tuesday night in Tucson, Arizona," Bobby Jones explained. "That's the day after tomorrow. We have six performances a week through August. You will travel on the tour bus with your father and his band. You will do a set of six songs each night. At least to start with, you can do songs you already know – as long as most of them are well-known country songs, of course. Oh, and before your first show, you will have to rehearse with our music guru. So, you've got to fly out tomorrow. I'll make arrangements for all the travel. You can get to the airport tomorrow, can't you?"
"Yeah," I said. "But what if Justin can't go?"
"Well then, you'll have to go on alone," Mr. Jones said. "And we'll change the program to read 'James McCoy,' instead of 'The Alliance with James McCoy.' You can perform by yourself, right?"
"Whoa! Wait a minute!" I exclaimed. "I never agreed to change my last name."
Bobby Jones took a moment before he responded. "Well, you see, James," he said. "I can call you James, can't I?"
"You can call me James," I said in a snarky tone. "Unless you're planning to change my first name, too!"
"No," he said. "We talked it over, and we decided that Darren McCoy, Jr. wouldn't be a good idea. But we do want the audience to know that you're Darren's son. It'll help us sell tickets. So, your name, at least your stage name, will be James McCoy."
"Fine," I said. "But 'The Alliance with James McCoy' wouldn't be fair to Justin. Could the program read 'James McCoy and Justin Pennell?"
"Sure," Mr. Jones said. "Why not? So, call Justin and get back to me ASAP! Hopefully, within the hour! We don't have much time to pull this thing together. Here's my number. And give it to your friend in case he has any questions."
I wrote down Bobby Jones's telephone number. When the call ended, I had to sit quietly for a moment. My head was spinning! I thought of a bunch of reasons to change my mind and say, "No." But there was a big smile on my face and joy in my heart. I knew I was going to do everything I could to make this happen.
I decided to call Mr. Rasmussen before I called Justin. I wanted to be sure I could take the job without my mother's permission. I knew attorneys didn't usually work on Sundays. But when I called the office anyway, a recorded message said that I could have his answering service page him in an emergency. To me, my situation was definitely an emergency! I followed the process to page Mr. Rasmussen, and he called me back a few minutes later. I explained everything that had just happened. I talked so fast that Mr. Rasmussen had to stop me several times to make sure he had heard me correctly. "Can I go?" I asked. "Can my mother stop me?"
"Wow!" Mr. Rasmussen said. "James, this might change everything. Would your father be willing to take joint custody of you? As the biological father, he might be able to get the courts to recognize his parental rights. Then, you wouldn't have to seek emancipated minor status. I'll get ahold of your mother's attorney and try to work things out. I've known the guy for years, and I'll knock on the front door of his house if I have to! Go ahead and talk to Justin. Given your mother's attitude, I think I can work things out. Don't worry. I'm on it!"
"Mr. Rasmussen," I said. "When you came to take me home from Arkansas, I thought you didn't like me. But now, you're doing everything you can to help me. I don't understand what's changed."
"I didn't like my boss telling me I had to be an interstate escort," he explained. "But handling legal situations like you have now is what I enjoy doing. I never disliked you, James. I think you are a fine young man. But I do advise you to control the snarky attitude. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."
"Yes, Sir," I said. "I'll work on that."
"Good," he said. "I'll be back in touch with you as soon as I can."
After a few deep breathes, I dialed Justin's number. His dad answered and called Justin to the phone. "It's James," he hollered.
"James!" Justin said as he picked up the line. "I'm so glad you called. Are you alright?"
"Yeah," I answered. "I have a question, Justin. Do you still love me?"
"Absolutely!" he said.
"Not CeCe?" I asked.
Justin was quiet for a moment. "James, I need to be honest with you," he said. "I made out with CeCe at the drive-in movie. I didn't go all the way with her, but, well, we took care of - each other's needs. I felt I had to do it– just so no one would suspect that I like guys. But it's you I love – no one else."
"I'll be honest with you, too," I said. "I 'got off' talking with another guy on the phone. I was jealous of CeCe, and I was lonely. The next morning, I truly regretted what I had done. I love you, Justin. And I don't want to be with anyone else."
"Was it Mark?" Justin asked. "I mean the guy you were talking to. You two seem really close."
I didn't want to answer Justin's question, but I knew I had to be honest. "Yes, it was Mark," I said. "But I'll never do it again. I promise."
"If I forgive you, will you forgive me?" Justin asked.
"That sounds like a great plan!" I answered.
"Thank you!" Justin said. "I was scared to death to tell you what I did with CeCe. I wish you were here in Tellico Falls so we could be together."
"Well," I said with excitement building in my voice. "Maybe we can see each other sooner than you think. I got us a gig!"
"Really?!? Where is it?" Justin asked. "In Arkansas?"
"No," I answered. "In Tucson."
"Arizona?!?" he said. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, my real dad – Darren McCoy – is on tour. And he lost his opening band. He liked what he heard when we sang at the country music contest in Jonesboro. So, my dad wants us to be his opening act – for the rest of his tour. Are you in?" I asked.
"Damn it, James!" Justin said. "You're trying to play with my head! I mean it, Man. Don't fuck with me!"
"Well, I never thought I'd hear you say those words to me," I joked. "But I'll assume you didn't mean that in the literal sense. Justin, it's true. My dad wants us in Tucson tomorrow. We perform six songs on Tuesday night to open his show. And then we stay on through the last show of his tour in August."
I think Justin was still in disbelief as I explained all the details to him. I made sure he knew that I was waiting for a final go-ahead from Mr. Rasmussen. "He's checking on everything, including talking with my dad's manager about a joint custody arrangement."
Justin finally believed me, and he was giddy with excitement. He agreed to everything. "And we can be together!" he said.
Magically, everything worked out about the tour. Both Mom and Darrin McCoy agreed to joint custody. I promised to turn the house over to my mother when I turned twenty-one. Justin's parents were excited for him and supported him in joining my dad's tour.
I flew out from Bridgeport the next day, and Justin left from Jonesboro. We couldn't wait to meet up in Tucson!
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