Walking Into Clouds

by Rick Beck

Chapter 25


We knew the sooner Cody got back on a regular schedule, the sooner he'd put the ordeal behind him. We used the weekend to be together and enjoy life. No one mentioned last week and Cody had nothing to say about it.

On Monday we both went to work, expecting the stocking areas and the shelves to be a mess, but it was surprisingly organized in a chaotic way.

We went right to work sorting things out. We reorganized the newest stock before we tackled the shelves to make them more customer friendly.

By noon everything was ship shape, and with only one truck that afternoon, we were ahead of the game.

Mr. Hitchcock came back to chat a couple of times. One of Jacob's college friends had come in on Friday and helped disperse the stock that came off the trucks.

"You don't look as nice as you usually do, Cody," Mr. Hitchcock said. "I am glad to see you. We've worried about you and the shelves haven't been this neat since you left. I'm glad you are back."

Work wasn't hard and it was way easier when I was with Cody. Mr. Hitchcock told me that the Wednesday trucks would come on Tuesday and Thursday. He'd be in court to attest to the value of Cody's work. I thanked him.

"I should be thanking you for bringing Cody by so I could hire him. Being in court is the least I can do. I hope it helps."

"Every little bit helps. He should have never been locked up," I said.

I don't think my plan was to bring Cody by and maybe Mr. Hitchcock would hire him. I liked keeping Cody with me, but knowing Mr. Hitchcock as well as I did, it could have been in the back of my mind that Mr. Hitchcock would offer Cody the job.

Cody and me working at Hitchcock's meant spending a lot more time together, and that suited me fine.

Taking him with me that Monday, not one of his regular working days, was more to get him out of the house than anything. If I'd been by myself that Monday, it would have taken me until closing time to accomplish what Cody and I did by noon.

Cody knew he had to go back to court and he wouldn't talk about it. I learned quickly that I shouldn't talk about it either. I didn't want to go back either. It was a visit that would pay dividends for Cody's future. As quickly as Mr. Grant asked for Cody's emancipation, the judge set a date for him to hear the motion.

I didn't believe the judge had to think much about it. How was he able to schedule it right away. Most judges' dockets were backed up as far as the eye could see. It indicated to me that Judge John Henry Robinson had made up his mind and I thought he liked what Mr. Grant proposed, but what did I know about judges?

For all I knew, he was planning to throw us all into jail.

How much the threat of a lawsuit had to do with it, I don't know. I'm sure Judge Robinson assumed emancipation Cody would end litigation on his behalf. I didn't know much about what took place in a courtroom but listening to Mr. Grant talk helped me form an opinion.

With Cody's friends wanting to go to court to speak up for him, I was reassured, but the nature of Cody's friends had me wondering how wise it was for all of us to be in court together. I was conflicted but I had no way to stop it, and I liked Cody's friends.

Judge Robinson didn't react negatively to conversation about Trans women or men with AIDS. He seemed accepting of the people who were mentioned. I suppose if a judge couldn't be open minded and accepting of diversity, he shouldn't be a judge.

I worried about going to court again as much as Cody did. Why ask for trouble by going into the lion's den a second time? I would back Cody and encourage him without feeling encouraged. I'd feel a lot better on Thursday, after the hearing, I hoped.

On Tuesday when we went into Hitchcock's, there were signs posted in the front and the back saying: Closed Wednesday afternoon.

I couldn't remember a weekday when Hitchcock's was closed between eight a.m. and eight p.m. Even when there wasn't a single customer for days on end in the evening, Mr. Hitchcock was there if one of his customers needed something.

It's how Hitchcock's had operated for several decades. No one had to think twice about running out for that one item they'd forgotten to buy for dinner. Hitchcock's was convenient.

Mr. Hitchcock was more loyal to his customers than they were to him. Even his best customers shopped for the bulk of their groceries at chain stores. No one knew their name but the price was right.

Anyone could depend on one of the super stores for anything they wanted night or day, but Mr. Hitchcock knew his customers and he stocked the kind of things they'd come in for at the last minute. They might look for hours in a super store and never find where the item they wanted was. Mr. Hitchcock knew where every item was.

The most you could expect from one of the super store clerks was a casual shrug, when they asked where something was.

"It used to be in isle 11, but I think they moved those to..., maybe try isle 17. They put a lot of weird stuff in isle 17," the clerk would say.

The idea Hitchcock's would be closed even for a couple of hours was rare and something customers would notice, but Mr. Hitchcock could put his hands on any item in the store when asked.

My mother was preparing for court too. I didn't know she intended to go with us, but of course she would. Cody was living in her house and he had a close relationship with her son. She'd have something to say about Cody, because teachers know their students.

"I pressed your gaberdine slacks, Clete. I have a dress shirt that looks nice with those pants, and Cody, I have your brown pants out. I picked up a nice blue shirt that will look good on you."

It was Tuesday and we did have places to go in the evening. We ate and got ready to go to Topsy's. Floyd had asked Cody if he was stopping by on Tuesday evening and Cody said he would.

I thought that keeping Cody busy was best, because in spite of his having a fan club, Cody would be center stage on Wednesday and there would be no way to get him out of the spotlight.

So if I wore him out Tuesday, he was more likely to get a good night's sleep before he went to court on Wednesday.

Mr. Bing was in rare form Tuesday evening, and even thought he didn't know I had a plan, he went along with it. Cody, who got progressively quieter during the day, came alive once Mr. Bing's trumpet began to rattle the liquor bottles behind the bar at Topsy's.

I kept picturing Officer Lansdale peeking in the windows, taking notes, and readying for a raid on Mr. Bing's honkytonk. No one came but Luther Small. He came in without being let in, so I imagined the side door was left unlocked.

Mr. Bing was back to chain smoking Marlboros. It felt like I hadn't been to Topsy's for longer than it had been. Being there with Cody gave it a different feeling. Everything in my life was made better by Cody's presence in it.

Cody brought the keyboard and Mr. Bing showed him how to use a couple of features that gave the instrument the ability to synthesize the sounds it made. There were an endless variety of sounds the keyboard could create, which expanded the sounds Cody made.

Since Cody was sweating, I figured my plan was working, but when the Top Tones showed up and stood in front of the stage to watch a while, Mr. Bing called it a day, or an evening.

"Business calls," Mr. Bing said. "We've got to set up for tonight. I'll see you in court on Wednesday."

In the end Cody was sitting at the upright piano to play the songs they liked playing together. It gave Cody an opportunity to sing, and as usual, he perked up when he was with Mr. Bing.

When we left to go to Floyd's, Luther said, "Tell him we'll pick him up between eleven and noon tomorrow if he's up to it. We'll pick up Vanilla first. Floyd's day won't be any longer than necessary if we drop him off first, after Cody is emancipated."

Mr. Bing no doubt was told by Luther how fast the judge jumped on Morgan Grant's motion for emancipation. He also read this as a good sign.

Luther had stood beside my chair, tapped his foot for a half hour.

We left. Luther stayed.

Cody's bruising was at its peak of coloration. The left eye was open but the eyelid was blue. The doctor told Cody that the blurring in the left eye should disappear. His jaw had a crack in it but if Cody didn't tackle any inch thick steaks for the next two months, it should heal without being wired.

The doctor was most worried about a concussion. He thought the dangers would pass shortly, but any blows to the head or whiplash motions could be damaging, and if dizziness persisted for another week, Cody should return for a more thorough examination.

The doctor wanted to cover all the bases, once we got Cody in front of him, and he was warning of the worst things that could happen. By being careful for the next few weeks, most of the danger of doing further damage would pass.

None of this moved Cody. It was what it was and he was always careful as he could be, but there were times when he had no control, like when he was locked up. At times like those Cody did what he could to avoid being beaten to a pulp, but there were kids who couldn't be avoided and then you took your lumps.

The best idea was to never be locked up, but in Cody's case, that was easier said than done and he wasn't sure being emancipated would stop zealous cops from jumping to conclusions when the mood struck at a time when Cody was crossing their path..

Floyd looked better than he had in weeks. He ordered Chinese food delivered a few minutes before we arrived. There were enough cartons to feed a small Chinese battalion, but I managed to sample everything. I could pack the food away if I didn't make an effort to control myself. That night I was all nervous energy and so I ate Chinese.

Floyd was subdued but talkative. He was happy to be alive and he credited Cody for knowing when to get him help. It wasn't necessarily the instructions Floyd had given, but you can only watch someone suffer for so long before you need to do something.

We didn't see Vanilla after Cody's birthday but Mr. Bing had talked to her. She was anxious to appear in court for Cody. Those three people were at the center of Cody's world. No matter what else happened, Cody knew he owed his well-being, if not his life, to Vanilla, Mr. Bing, and Floyd. I was certain of it and as unfortunate as his early years were, he'd managed to make the most of his life since.

I took my place at the center of Cody's life, but I knew there were other important people Cody needed. I could love him and care the most about him, but I couldn't give him what his three best friends gave him. If I didn't know them as well as I did, I might have been jealous, but together the four or us furnished Cody with most of what he needed.

Floyd spoke of his architectural past and how scared he was as a gay architect working in a large prestigious architectural firm.

"Every time I was called into the head architect's office, I was sure someone had discovered that I was gay."

"You obviously knew how to be an architect. Why would you be fired?" I asked.

"As I got my feet wet after college, AIDS wasn't far beyond that period of my life. Everyone who was gay was paranoid. They were saying the ugliest things about gay people. Any high profile firm wouldn't risk the scandal of having a faggot identified as an associate."

"What's that got to do with architecture?" Cody asked. "You can either do the job or you can't."

"That would be nice. Many professions won't hire anyone they know is gay even today. The pressure from the people who love to hate is immense and a well known firm might be seriously hurt," Floyd said. "Even as well known as I was, once I got past the death of everyone around me, there was no secret to keep. I had no social life. I was an architect all the time. Once I made my reputation as a first class architect, I came out to my firm. No one could fire me but I risked having my employees and associates walk out on me, but they didn't, and I began to speak about AIDS in public, at high schools, at civic events and such. AIDS needs to be discussed and I was just the gay man to tell the story."

"Anyone try to make your life more difficult because you speak out?" I asked.

"I get threats. I don't pay any attention to them. No one associates me with my firm. The subject never comes up. People at my firm know I speak out but most folks don't know me if I haven't designed the building they live in or work in. Architects aren't high profile. They mostly work behind the scenes."

"Everyone in court seemed to know who you are," I said.

"They did, didn't they," Cody said.

"If I'm remembered for anything, it'll be for the buildings I've designed in the city. No one is going to recognize me for being outspoken on AIDS. No one will say a nice word about me being gay, but I'd rather be remembered for my stand on AIDS. It's what took the people I loved out of my life at such a young age. I was never sick until the last few years. I was never outed, and I learned what I needed to learn from the best architects in the business. I have no regrets and I wish I could do more for people like me."

"They knew who you were in court," Cody said.

Floyd had run out of steam and he closed his eyes for a time.

Once he seemed alert again, I told Floyd Luther's plan for Wednesday and he said he'd be ready to go to court for Cody. There were hugs all around when we left.

I thought about all that Chinese food Cody packed into Floyd's fridge. He wasn't going to eat it. I tried not to worry about it.

My plan must have worked. Once Cody settled into my arms, he didn't move.

I'm sure of it because I didn't sleep a wink.

What if Judge John Henry Robinson decided Cody belonged in jail and that's where he intended to put him. What if his sympathetic display the previous week had been a ploy to lull us into complacency?

There wasn't much to say on Wednesday. Mom and dad sat in the front seat of dad's car and Cody and I sat in the backseat. No one had much to say on the drive into town. Yes, it was a nice day. Yes, we'd gotten plenty to eat and drink. No, we didn't need to use the bathroom before we reached the courthouse.

Mr. Grant met us at the parking lot two blocks from the courthouse. It was where courthouse employees parked and at lunchtime there were always empty spaces.

The short walk to where we were going allowed us to get some fresh air. Cody and I walked behind mom, dad, and Mr. Grant. We resisted the temptation to hold hands but it's what we wanted to do.

We entered the courthouse at twelve thirty. Mr. Bing, Luther, Vanilla, and Floyd were waiting on the first floor. We went upstairs together. Floyd got out of his chair to stand on the escalator. Vanilla was in charge of Floyd's wheelchair.

We were a somber group. We knew why we were there and it was for a good reason, but there weren't any good vibes to be found at the courthouse. I was still optimistic.

We came to a stop in front of Judge John Henry Robinson's courtroom. A few minutes after we arrived, Mr. Hitchcock and Jacob came up the escalator. They were both in suits. I'd never seen Mr. Hitchcock in anything but his work clothes, and he always had an apron wrapped around him.

We all smiled, nodded, and I explained that Mr. Hitchcock was my boss and Jacob and I had worked together for years. After the Hitchcocks arrived, we fell silent again.

It was up to the judge now. No one had anything to say about that. We would wait to see if we got what we came for.

As I looked at our irregular gathering, I realized that we were a nice support group for a kid who had no family that would support him. He'd collected us as he was growing up. We filled his need for some kind of support group. We did what we could for him and in return Cody did what he could for us. We were his family now.

Only Luther was a wild card. Mr. Bing played this card whenever Cody needed him. I was sure Luther felt more than a little responsible for Cody. Once Luther was called in, his job wasn't done until Mr. Bing was satisfied that Cody was safe

What Luther's and Mr. Bing's association was all about, and I would never dare ask, I sensed they'd established a bond a long time ago and only they knew what it was that bound them together.

At precisely one o'clock the bailiff opened the courtroom's doors.

Mrs. Marcum was seated at the defense table when we filed in. Mrs. Marcum greeted Cody and Mr. Grant. Mom, dad, and I sat on the front row. Mr. Bing, Luther, and Vanilla sat on the second row. Floyd was in his chair in the main isle beside where Vanilla sat.

No more than a minute late, Judge John Henry Robinson appeared through the door behind his dais. He took his seat looking grim. The bailiff stood facing him at the double doors, he looked both ways down the hall, and he nodded at the judge who nodded back. The doors were locked.

"If there are no objections, I'll keep the doors locked throughout the hearing. The fewer interruptions the better. I gave Mr. Pelham an opportunity to attend the emancipation hearing for Cody Cozy. He expressed no interest in the proceedings. I've had an opportunity to speak with Mrs. Marcum and she tells me that CPS doesn't have any objections to Cody's emancipation," John Henry said seriously.

"I see there are a plethora of folks sitting on the defense side of the courtroom, and as is my habit, I'd like to hear from those who wish to say something on Cody's behalf. As a judge, listening to the people offers me an opportunity to hear arguments I've not heard and consider situations I may not have encountered," John Henry said.

"I see several new faces. I'd like to start with them first and once you've each had an opportunity to speak, I'll ask to hear from Cody, and only then will I have something to say. I see what I believe is another Thomas in my courtroom. Let's begin with her," he said. I'm not picking on you but I've heard from the two Thomas men. It's always good to get a woman's opinion."

Mom stood up without needing to be coaxed. She wore one of the dresses she wore to church functions. As a teacher, she wasn't intimidated speaking in front of a gathering.

"I'm Regina Thomas. I'm married to Cletus Thomas and I'm Clete's mom. Cody lives at my house. He has lived with us for several months. I don't mind telling you that his disappearance last week was not in keeping with how things are usually done at my house. Once we knew where Cody was, we went about making sure he returned home as quickly as possible," mom said. "I don't mind telling you, where Cody was wasn't acceptable to me. Cody is a fine young man. I also wish to clarify something my husband told me he said about Cody's emancipation. My husband wouldn't hesitate to take responsibility for Cody, but he doesn't want Cody forced to live in our house. We want him to live there because it's what he wants."

"When Cody returned home, his condition was not acceptable to anyone. Someone, your honor," mom said. "took custody of Cody, and they failed to take care of him. Cody is bright, he's obviously learned to take care of himself with the help of friends, and those were difficult circumstances from what I've been told," mom said.

"Being forced to take care of himself, Cody has managed to endure his situation well. I've been working with him as a teacher. He wants to get his GED. He could pass the GED test without my help in my opinion, but we have the study book and we haven't covered all the material in it yet. He wants to do as well as possible, which I find admirable. The teacher in me wants to help him do that," mom said.

"As a former teacher, can you tell me what kind of student Cody is?" John Henry asked.

"In my brief time working with Cody, he'd be in the top ten percent of students I taught as a sixth grade teacher. Cody attended school through seventh grade. I'm sure in sixth grade he would have been one of the two or three students in each of my classes who excelled," mom said. "One of my joys as a teacher was discovering which of my thirty students would excel each year," mom said.

"I know your next question and I can't tell you what accounts for the couple of students who excel in each class. If I knew how they came to be better focused than the other twenty-eight students, I'd bottle it and sell it."

John Henry was amused by this comment.

"I would guess it had to do with the family, the upbringing, the involvement of the parents in the child's academics, but I'd be wrong. Cody has the most rudimentary upbringing and yet he's retained much of what I taught my sixth graders. He was paying attention to his teacher when he was in sixth grade."

"Cody has missed a lot of English and we're working on that. mathematics, numbers, he is good with numbers. Higher math he doesn't grasp as well. I have a similar difficulty with higher mathematics. Some people say it is because I'm a woman. That's hogwash," mom said. "I've known women who are mathematical geniuses. Sit them down to write a term paper and they get sweaty and out of sorts. The mind is a mystery we still haven't unlocked, but anyone who says women aren't every bit as smart, and as peculiar, as men, don't have their facts straight," mom said. "That is my opinion, even if no one asked."

"I've always had trouble with abstract concepts, such as higher math, but a term paper was no challenge for me. Cody's biggest problem comes from having his education abruptly stopped. At the same time he's quick on his feet and he learns fast. He seizes opportunity when it is offered and he knows when to accept help and who to accept it from. I attribute this to his abruptly being forced out on his own. Years ago, but not that long ago, kids were expected to carry their own weight by age twelve. If you weren't working in the field or doing something to earn your keep, you could expect to find yourself in hot water," mom said.

"I'm running on but you get the idea. Cody was able to survive by recognizing opportunity when it was presented and he had an eye for good people who have made good friends, your honor," mom said.

"My point is, if Cody had been born into a better family, he might be ready to graduate high school. He'd have no trouble getting into college. He hasn't spoken of going to college but he isn't that different from my son Clete in that respect," mom said.

"Neither has a strong objection to college, but they're simply not ready to commit to years more of sitting in a classroom. Clete is an athlete and he needs room to roam. Cody has been on his own for so long, going back to a classroom doesn't appeal to him," mom said.

"Probably not trusting adults would extend to teachers too."

"We hear how college is the only way for kids to go after high school these days, but that's a load of hogwash too. I think we burn kids out on education. We don't give them time to discover what it is they might really like doing. Everything must be hurried today. Why is that? What purpose does it serve to hurry kids into a profession they might later learn to loathe?"

I wanted to applaud but I didn't. Mom was on a roll.

"There is a trust issue with Cody and Clete is almost too trusting. Cody relates to me and my husband only because we come with Clete, and Cody loves Clete, so he puts up with us," mom said.

"When parents betray their children, fail them, that child might never trust adults. Tolerate them because they're everywhere, yes, but actually trust them, that isn't going to come easily for someone like Cody. He has learn to trust himself. Adults only get in the way when if comes to someone like Cody's survival. That's another opinion, your honor," mom said.

"Cody will be fine if the law stays out of his way. He's a good boy and he won't cause anyone any trouble, unless they leave him no other option. I doubt he'd do well in custody. He knows he can make it on his own, because he has. He's done that since he was thirteen. Locking him up would be one sure way of ruining him, making him mean. Anyone who locks up a child, needs to be locked up with him. If that's the best you can do, you've lost. Children are an open book, and we write their story by what we expose them to. Lock them up like we lock up an animal and they'll respond by becoming animals. Again, your honor, that's my opinion. For every bad kid there are a number of bad adults who contributed to that condition. Surely we've learned that much by now."

"I'll take that into consideration, Mrs. Thomas," John Henry said. "Go on. You have the floor."

"Of course there are the laws. Lord knows who makes them up, but I we see who enforces them. Now everything is changed. Cody hasn't been studying since he returned. I don't think he has his feet firmly planted under him in the few days he's been home. As I said, lock a boy like Cody up, and the damage can be considerable, and you've confirmed his belief that adults can't be trusted," mom said. "For helping a friend.... For helping a trans friend, and you can't tell me that didn't have something to do with this event, he's punished severely, beaten badly, and I don't know how you people live with the way you treat children. I don't want to know," mom said.

"We all make mistakes, your honor. No one here hasn't done something they wish they hadn't done. Should that mistake, no mater how misguided it was, be used to make sure that person can never be able to make contribution to the society you say you are protecting? No, I have the answer to that question. The law is for punishment and when that punishment ends, individuals should be able to rehabilitate and feel free to contribute to society in any way possible," mom said.

"Cody has been punished enough. It's time you stop blaming him for having lousy parents. That's my opinion, and I mean no disrespect, your honor. At least I don't think I do."

"I am listening, Mrs. Thomas. I do hear you," John Henry said.

"Anyway, I hope we can get Cody his GED quickly, because Cody needs that in his pocket. I'm hoping he recovers from this ordeal. I fear we don't have as much time as I thought we did. Thank you," mom said sadly.

Mom sat down.

"A mother's assessment of a situation can usually be depended on," John Henry said. "I appreciate the information you've given," John Henry said, looking toward our side of the courtroom.

"I see a couple of gentlemen who look as though they would like to speak and get back to whatever it was they need to do. I'd like to hear from what looks like a father and son," John Henry said, pointing toward Mr. Hitchcock and his son.

"I'm Kort Hitchcock. I own Hitchcock's Market. Cody works for me. He is a good worker. My shelves have never been as well organized as he keeps them. Between Cody and Clete, they put up the stock off the trucks and make sure the shelves are full. I too was unprepared to see Cody's condition, once he returned to work, after you people had him. I don't know what good emancipation will give him, but if it means the law will leave him alone, it's a good thing."

Mr. Hitchcock sat down and Jacob stood up.

"I've worked with Clete for about half my life. He's a hard worker and needs no instruction. He's a good guy and when he brought Cody to the store, well, pop hired him without knowing if he could do the job. Clete did not ask pop to hire Cody. That was pop's idea. One of his better ideas as far as I can see. We're glad to have him back at work."

"Excuse us, your honor," Mr. Hitchcock said. "We are never closed this time of day and we need to get back, but I needed to come to say what I could in support of Cody."

"I'll have the bailiff let you out. Thanks for coming today," John Henry said. "Does anyone have any rebuttal? You seem like an agreeable group. I wish it was always this easy. In case anyone is wondering, I play golf on Wednesday afternoons. Not much can get me to cancel a golf outing, but this did. I regarded this as important for me to do. I see a gentleman in a wheelchair. I would like to hear from him next, if you have something to say. That way you can go or stay if you want."

"I'm Floyd Dollar. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Cody. Not only did he get me help when I was in bad shape a couple of weeks back, but his friendship and thoughtfulness have kept me going a lot longer than I have a right to expect to still be alive," Floyd said.

"It was my illness that triggered the events that ended up with my two dearest friends being locked away. I wish it had been different but I wish I never had AIDS too. We deal with what is and not the way we wish things were. Cody came over last night with Clete. I saw how badly he'd been beaten. That way the sight of him isn't such a surprise today, but I can't believe that was allowed to happen, while you people had him in custody. I can't imagine treating anyone the way he has been treated. When I thought my presence might help Cody, well, he's helped me so much, I needed to be here for him. That's all I have, your honor. Thank you," Floyd said.

"Thank you, Mr. Dollar. Glad to see you are fairing better now. I have no particular order from here on out. I've heard from some of you before and I know where you stand. There is one person I have been waiting to hear from. I hope that she is willing to speak to us. She was with Cody when he was arrested and I suspect she feels like she was at the center of these events. I want to hear her story and I think I know which of you is Vanilla. Would you like to tell your story?"

Judge John Henry Robinson asked.

Vanilla smoothed down the front of her dress with her white gloved hands before she stood.

Her dress was white with sumptuous blue flowers printed on the fabric. Her broad brimmed hat matched her dress.

She took off the hat and placed it on the seat behind her along with a white handbag.

"I'm Vanilla," she said. "Yes, I have something I'd like to say."

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