The Boy in the Bin

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10) COUSINS

Raphael continued to test his boundaries in school, but he behaved smart enough to back off before getting into real trouble. He learned to be sneaky, too. He would do things like hiding the teachers chalk, increase the heat on the room thermostat and sit in classrooms other than his own; if only to make someone come looking for him.

His friendship with Johnny emerged solid and between the two , the teachers needed to be on a consistent alert. When Raphael didn’t think of something, Johnny would. They would map out their plans in a private session to get the maximum desired effect.

The teachers recognized these antics went on, but their actions never escalated to such a degree on cause any disciplinary action. They casually accepted this with a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude. Because of this, Raul and Sylvia received no alerts to the aggravation the staff put up with on a routine basis. Since Raphael always studied hard and learned from the story time Miss Gordon presented, he turned out to be an apt pupil with good grades.

Johnny couldn’t be a good student. He relaxed in his studies, got caught stealing from other students and/or the teachers and maintained a general bad disposition in school. Often, the staff would consult with his mother Maria, to voice their concerns. The outcome always turned out to be the same; with nothing being done.

Maria promised to motivate him to do better. After every parent - teacher conference, Johnny counted on getting slapped up by his mom and shoved into his room; even when Johnny begged her to stop.

The end result was, Raphael’s report card showed he performed above average and won the adoration of his parents. Johnny carried home a card saying the staff may consider holding him back from 1st grade. With his age being a year older than Raphael, failing Kindergarten would separate them.

Raphael came home from school one particular day to find both his parents in a heated argument in the kitchen. His parents ‘discussions’ like this happened before between Raul and Sylvia, but this shouting match presented something different. Raul stood with his briefcase in hand and Sylvia held her purse. When Raphael asked why all the noise, both parents turned and shouted, ‘GO TO YOUR ROOM’ and went back to their argument. He did as instructed and while behind closed doors, he listened in rapt attention at the heating vent.

“I don’t care what you think Raul,” Sylvia shouted, “I’m convinced he did take the money.”

“Honey,” he inquired, “is it possible you misplaced a couple of bills. You couldn’t be sure he took the money. You went to the store and the bills possibly fell out of your purse.”

“Bullshit, Raul,” Sylvia countered, “I gave Natasha $ 50 dollars to go to the deli and pick up the ingredients for our Sunday dinner. I checked and found 2 more $50 dollar bills in my purse, and now they are gone. I’m sure he is responsible.”

“Sylvia,” Raul reassured, “I’m not going to argue with you. There is no way to prove John took the money, even though you may be right. Why did you act so dumb on leave your purse lying around?”

“Me,” she shrieked, “now you are blaming me? Why you Bastard! You told me Johnny acted like a klepto. You found out the story from your client. Now I’m out $ 100 of my hard-earned money and all you can say is you will not argue with me? I don’t want his little prick ass back here again. EVER.”

Sylvia tossed her purse at Raul and stormed out of the kitchen. Raphael ran to the bed and hid under the covers, if his mom came in the room. The next sound echoing in Raul and Raphael’s ears was the slamming of the bedroom door.

Hmmm, he thought, perhaps I learned my slamming door trick from Mommy.

Raphael came out of and went in search of his father. He found him in his office, sitting at his desk and staring off into space.

“Daddy,” he questioned, “are nyou mad at me?”

“No Raphael,” Raul affirmed, “Daddy’s not mad at you. Mommy’s not mad at you. We got into a little fight; nothing else.”

“Is Johnny in trouble?”

“I’m not sure son,” Raul reasoned. “Mommy thinks he stole some money from her.”

Raphael was comforted by the fact of all aggression happening now, didn’t seem directed at him. He left and went to the living room to view his favorite TV show. Raul picked up the phone and call his sister, but he thought better of dialing her at the moment. He figured he would deal with the ‘John’ situation later. Instead, he got up and closed his office door and made another call.

Sylvia came out of her room, and without speaking, set the table for dinner. The three sat in near silence and ate the meal Natasha prepared for them. After dinner, Sylvia loaded the dishwasher and went back to her room. Raul sat watching the news and Raphael didn’t want to disturb him, so he went to his room also. Later in the night, he didn’t awaken to the squeaking noises so noticeable sometimes.

The next day, class began as usual. The students paired off together to work on their projects and lunch break came before Johnny finally got to talk to Raphael.

“Did you find a surprise in your bedroom?” he asked his friend.

“Did I find nwhat?” Raphael answered.

“The money,” Johnny laughed. “I took some bills from your mom’s purse and put them under the light in your bedroom.”

“No,” he replied, “I didn’t. But nthey nhad a big fight last night. Mommy and Daddy nwere fighting and I got sent to my room. The result nwas, I didn’t get to tune into nmy cartoons either.”

“I wanted to show you,” Johnny continued, “how easily you can rip people off.”

“My Mom is super mad,” Raphael complained. “She told my Dad she didn’t want nyou coming back to the house.”

“All you need to do is give the money back tonight,” Johnny announced. “Tell them you found the money on the floor. They will get their cash back and both will be confused about the situation.”

Raphael liked Johnny’s idea. He giggled at the thought of giving his mother $100 she assumed to be stolen and seeing her expression. They finished lunch break talking about various cartoon characters and making plans for what they would do during summer vacation. Raphael showed Johnny some of his drawings and Johnny showed Raphael a real bullet.

“Wow,” Raphael gasped, “nwhere did nyou get a bullet?”

“My mom keeps a gun in her closet,” he reported. “She hides a whole box of these on the shelf, but I took one.”

Later, when Raphael got home, he shot back to his room and peeked under the bedroom lamp. He found both $ 50 bills Johnny left. His initial thought centered on keeping the money and not saying anything about his treasure find. Two $ 50′s stood out a lot more than the $ 2.00 allowance Raul gave him every week. However, he decided against this plan for three strategic reasons.

A) He wanted Johnny to be his friend and keeping the money would be the same as blaming him for the theft.

B) He wanted Johnny to come over to the house again. If his parents hated him, he wouldn’t be able to visit him over the summer.

C) And most of all; how would he explain having $ 100. He’d never seen a large amount of money in his life before and he assumed somehow he would get caught.

At dinner, he pulled the crisp bills out of his pocket and plunked them down on the table. Both Sylvia and Raul stared at him like he mysteriously grew an extra eye.

“I found this on the floor in the bathroom,” he motioned. “Is this the money you are missing?”

Sylvia’s face turned all flushed and she couldn’t formulate a response of what to say. Raul picked up the bills and glared back at Sylvia with an accusatory glance. A momentary chill seemed to come across the table.

“I think this might be yours, dear.” Raul claimed. “Can you read me the serial numbers?”

“So I made a mistake,” Sylvia protested. “I can only say the money disappeared from my purse. Didn’t you ever make a mistake before?”

“You accused my nephew of stealing Sylvia,” he barked. “You made your accusations without any proof whatsoever.”

Sylvia reached out and grabbed the two bills and said a curt ‘Thank You’ to Raul. She got up and cleaned the dishes off at the sink. Raul decided not to push the issue and left her to her thoughts. Raphael suppressed a little secret smile, knowing he got away with something.

Somehow both the boys got through Kindergarten, First, Second and Third grades with no more incidents or major traumas. Even though the staff thought Johnny acted immaturely, he made enough of a concerted effort to get advanced to the next grades.

The summer break came every year and both boys pledged to get together sometime. The visits never happened because of the issues Sylvia blamed on little Cousin John. Raphael questioned his parents about when Aunt Maria and John might come again, but neither parent would say anything more than ‘Maybe Someday’.

Raphael did little during the summer, except for watching television and reading comic books. He wasn’t what you would call an outgoing person. He told his parents often he didn’t like the other kids in the neighborhood because they teased him.

Summers always bored little Raphael.

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