As they headed towards the mall, Cory's mind played with his new arrangement. He felt comfortable. That's all he knew. He thought back to his home in Plymouth and was wondering how his new life was going to play out. That was uncomfortable, but that was the future. But then that comfortable feeling returned. He felt okay with Richard. That was new.
"I was wondering how long this tee was going to last." Cory said, finally breaking the silence. "Most of the clothes I have are getting worn out, and maybe going back home to get my other stuff isn't such a good idea right now. But I do have a picture of my mom and one of Mike that I'd like to have though. And yeah, I could eat a horse and his barn too about now."
"Don't worry Cory. We'll eventually get the things that you'll need." Richard turned to Cory sitting next to him. "But tell me one thing. Why is it that teenagers have to eat 148 times a day?" Richard grinned.
Cory blushed. Cory said he would like to eat after shopping, so they walked into A&F first. Richard let him pick out his own clothes as Cory was better acquainted with teenage styles than he was. Cory looked at shirts, pants, shoes, jackets, socks, shirts, pants, underwear and then shirts again and even a brightly colored pair of racing swim trunks. He picked out two more pairs of pants other than jeans and headed for the changing room. When they finished buying the clothes Cory needed (Cory didn't get the swim trunks because as he had an old pair in his sports bag), they headed for the burger place located at the center of the mall.
It was around 3:00 pm when they finally sat down to eat. Most of the lunch crowd was gone by then, and they were seated by themselves at a window booth looking into the mall's interior.
Cory was watching Richard as they ate in silence. Every time Richard looked up he could see Cory's eyes move away from him.
"Are you staring at me, Cory?" he asked.
"I'm sorry. It's just that, that you've done more for me in the last 18 hours than my dad ever did in the last three years. Where do people like you come from?"
"Cory, I don't know all of what you've been through, but I hope that I can make it different for you. There are a lot of good people out there. Most people are naturally good people. Some are a little different than others, but generally good inside."
"But some people still don't like someone like me. It makes me sad to think that there might be someone out there that wants to hurt me."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I'm different. Because I'm gay."
"You've never really told me that, that you're gay."
"I thought you knew." Cory questioned.
"You've never actually used the word 'gay' before, but your dad sure wasn't bashful."
"He's the one who told you?"
"No. I figured it out before I talked to him, but he sure used a few choice words."
"And you're still willing to let me live with you?"
"Well, of course. It doesn't make any difference. Why should it?"
"I hear the way the other kids talk about people like me, and I know some people will hate me. I'm glad you don't."
"You're right, Cory. Not everyone will like you. But most of the people you meet will like you. You're no different than anyone else. But understand that everyone is a little different. Some people have black hair while others have blond hair. Some people are short while others are tall. Some people are straight while others are gay. That's all. But these differences between people are what make them human.
Cory had to lean back after listening to Richard, hearing him talk. This man was talking to him, talking to him like he was a real person, talking to him like maybe he mattered. His dad never did that.
Cory then smiled, "I think I'm going to like you."
"Thanks, I think I'm going to like you too. But Cory, can we talk about some rules."
'Here it comes,' Cory thought. "Rules? I suppose I had to expect that."
"My rules are just like those that any parent sets up for their kids."
Cory instantly became lost in time and space. He was sitting across from Richard, but his mind went elsewhere.
Richard could see the uncertainty returning to Cory's eyes and remained quiet, trying to figure out where he had just gone.
Cory had heard the word 'parent' and stopped hearing anything after that. He was wondering if he had heard it correctly, and then he started remembering his mom and how she used to take care of him. Richard wasn't his mom and Cory didn't think that he could ever replace her. But Richard seemed to be giving him a chance to be 15 again, to be trusted to follow his guidance. Cory felt a little silly for pondering on that one word, but deep down inside of him, he knew that one word meant a lot to him.
The smile returned to Cory, but this time there was no pain, only pure joy and maybe a sense of freedom. The smile was a mile long across his face.
Cory had just then joined Richard across the Rubicon.
"Where'd you just go?" Richard asked.
"Ah, nowhere. I'm right here. I was just thinking of my mom."
Richard smiled and continued.
"Okay. There are three basic rules. First, no drugs, second, no alcohol, and third, you've got to go back to school. Oh, there's a fourth, too."
Cory looked questioningly at Richard.
"You need to watch your mouth around me and other people. You swear too much," Richard said with an almost imperceptible grin.
"Okay, okay, sorry."
"Those will be the basic rules," Richard added.
Cory agreed with the rules set down for him.
"I've seen what alcohol does to my dad. I'll probably never touch the stuff. I don't smoke, regularly. I mean I've tried it a couple of times. I didn't like it. And, and what's wrong with swearing? My dad never said anything to me about it."
"I guess your dad didn't do much for you, did he?" Richard said, paused and then continued. "Cory? One thing about rules is that we need to trust each other so that we would know they won't be broken."
"I guess I know that."
"Actually, it's a lot more than that."
Cory looked puzzled.
"Cory, you don't know me yet and I know very little about you. We will, it'll happen, but over time. And as we get to know each other, something great is going to happen."
"That's when the trust will start. As we get to know how the other thinks, a trust will build. But for that trust to be real, we can't lie to each other. Do you understand?"
"I'm not a liar, you know?" Cory shot back.
"I didn't say you were. I'm just setting ground rules here. I won't lie to you and for right now, I'll start the trust between us by knowing that you haven't yet or won't lie to me in the future. How's that sound?"
"Yeah, I guess we are starting fresh, aren't we?"
The two sat quietly for a moment, each looking at the other. Richard, feeling that his point had been made, turned to a different topic letting the moment go.
"Okay, that's done with. Now, what school did you go to?"
"Plymouth High. I actually like school, but my grades may not show it."
"Do you have many friends there?"
"Not anymore. Mike was my best friend. I told you about him last night, but he moved away. I guess I really don't have any close friends left."
"I'm sure it won't take you long," Richard smiled.
As Cory and Richard left the mall, Richard noticed more spring in Cory's walk. Cory seemed truly at peace with himself. However, Richard needed to talk to him more about school, and he decided to open the conversation in the car. As they pulled out of the parking lot, Richard went straight to the subject.
"Well, Cory, I guess there is no better time like the present to talk about school. So, what classes in school are your favorites?"
"I guess I like science and math the most. Even English is good, too. I've always liked to read. I've never cared for any of the shop courses though, except I was taking drafting last year, and I really liked that. "
"Well not really. I like most of the things I'm taking, but I'm a little behind."
"Not doing enough homework?" Richard asked.
"My dad was usually asleep when I was home at night. I tried to finish my work, but sometimes I just didn't. Sometimes I just didn't want to do it. Sometimes I just forgot. Dad never cared whether I did my homework or not."
"Remember, one of my rules was that you have to go back to school, and part of that rule is that your schoolwork has to be more important than playing. You're old enough now to have seen that the people who matter in this world, people who do things, important things, couldn't do it without a good education."
Cory turned to Richard with a quizzical expression. "What do you do?"
"Me? I own a medium sized manufacturing company. We manufacture mostly small electronic components for the auto industry."
"Whoa, you own your own company?"
"Yeah, lots of hard work, but it's paying off."
"Did you go to college?"
"Had to." he chuckled. "The only way for me was to get the education I needed so I could fulfill my dreams."
"So you got a degree in business or something?"
"Actually, I got my first degree, my bachelor's degree, in Electrical Engineering. I continued on and got a master's degree in Business Administration."
"Man, that must have taken you forever."
"Well, it seemed like it at the time. I was 25 years old when I got out of school with my MBA. But looking over the past 25 years since then, it doesn't seem so long. You've got to remember that getting out of school is only the beginning. You've got a lot of time left to make something of yourself and make up for the time you spent in school. It's better to live a rewarding life, doing what you like to do for the 60 or so years that you have left than an unsatisfying one doing something that you hate. A good education will give you the tools to help make your dreams come true."
"That makes some sense. I never thought about it like that. I guess I've always known that an education is important, but I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. Can I do what you did?" he added.
"No, you do what you want and are good at. Someone important once said, 'Don't follow someone else's path'. You need to follow your own dreams, Cory."
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