We're Working On It

by Richard Norway

Chapter 1

It all started that sullen black evening in October of 2000 when he left his office in a bad mood. Somewhere around 10:00 pm, Richard drove out of the parking lot of his business complex in search of the interstate highway to take him home. It was dark out and it had been raining for hours. He kept thinking about his life and at 50, where it had been and where it was going.

Midlife crisis? Possibly. He didn't know. All he knew that night was that he wasn't as happy as he should have been. His business had grown to where he no longer felt in control: he was left out in the cold and his business didn't need him anymore. It had grown up and was self perpetuating.

Just as his entrance to the interstate approached out of the rain and darkness, a figure under the streetlight came into his view. He couldn't tell if it was male or female, old or young, but just by the way this person was standing and by his appearance, Richard sensed that something was wrong. He was sure that his mood that night was transferring to that person. He didn't like whoever it was.

He turned on the car's right turn indicator and slowed to make the turn onto the interstate. Again he looked up, and just in that instant, realized that the person had seen him and was putting its hand out in the familiar sign of a hitch hiker. Richard did not pick up hitchhikers, ever!

As he started to turn, he saw that it was a 'he,' a young male. His shoulders were drooped, his head bowed and Richard sensed that the boy's pain might have been greater than his own that night.

Richard hadn't made a decision about his life in years. He didn't understand why, he had no reason for doing it, but he braked hard, spun the wheel to the right and stopped the car 50 feet beyond the figure in the rain. He looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the boy pick up a sports bag and start running toward the car. The boy stopped running about 20 feet from the car and slowed as he approached the passenger side window.

Richard lowered the window slightly just as the boy leaned over and asked through the opening,

"How far are you going?"

"I'm going south for about 20 miles and then I get off the interstate to go home."

"That's okay," the boy spoke softly with no emotion. "Can you take me as far as you're going?"

"I suppose I can. Hop in and get out of the rain"

"Can I put my bag in the back seat?"


Richard unlocked the rear door and the boy threw his bag onto the seat as it was too large to fit on the floor in front with the boy. They both noticed that the rainwater began dripping from the bag onto the seat at about the same time. Richard looked up just as the boy said,

"Sorry, I can put this in the trunk if you'd like."

Richard shook his head. He was not about to get out in the rain to open the trunk.

"No. That's OK. Just get in the car and out of the rain," Richard almost scolded him.

The boy slid onto the front seat and closed the door behind him.

Richard looked at the boy for a moment and then looking over his left shoulder to see if the coast was clear, pulled the car onto the entrance ramp and began the journey south.

The boy was silent. He sat without emotion, looking down at the floor as water dripped from his head onto his lap. The boy looked cold and Richard sensed that he was frightened. He wondered if the boy was afraid of him or of maybe it was his own life in general. Richard wanted to at least lighten the mood and make casual conversation, although he kept asking himself what in the hell he was doing picking up this hitchhiker.

"How far are you going?" Richard asked in a calm tone, trying to ease the tensions in the boy.

"Just south."

Silence followed.

Something wasn't right. The boy was too quiet. Without knowing why, Richard had the sense that if he tried to talk to this youth, he would be treading on some grief deep inside of the boy. He didn't know for sure what was in the boy's head, so he decided to remain quiet.

"I'm sorry," the boy said after the long silence. "I didn't mean to be rude."

"That's OK."

Richard didn't try to talk to him after that, and the boy didn't offer any words of conversation either. Richard kept wondering why he'd picked him up in the first place. The boy was obviously a teenager, and as Richard was 50 years old, he knew that he had nothing in common with this kid, so he remained silent hoping that the boy would soon be leaving. But than the realization came to him that when he left him on the street, the kid would be out in the rain again in the same condition that he'd been in when he was picked up.

"Do you know how far Toledo is from here?" the boy suddenly asked.

Richard enjoyed the break in their silence but not wanting to become too involved with this boy, reluctantly answered.

"It's about an hour away."

Then Richard's curiosity started to overcome his reluctance. He wondered if the boy lived in Toledo.

"Any particular place in Toledo you're headed?" Richard asked.

"No. I just want to head south, maybe to Florida."

Richard eyed the boy. Why was he telling Richard that he was headed for Toledo then? Richard wondered. Then he wondered if the boy knew exactly where he did want to go.

"Long way to be hitchhiking," Richard questioned.

"You don't happen to have a map, do you?"

"Yeah, there's one in the glove box." Richard was trying to keep his answers short. This was not his 'best friend' sitting next to him after all.

A light flooded the car's interior as the boy opened the glove box, illuminating his face for the first time. He was indeed a teenager, about 15 or 16 years old, Richard guessed. His hair was dark in color. Richard wondered how much of that was due to the rain, and what color it would be when it was dry. Then he had to ask himself why he even cared what color his hair was.

The boy pulled out the map and opened it. It was a Michigan map that showed the route to Toledo and than the map ended, only showing the world according to Michiganders.

Richard turned on the overhead light so the boy could better see the map.

"Thanks," the boy said. The word had a slight upward inflection to it. Maybe the boy's fears were taking a hiatus, settling him, calming him if even slightly, Richard thought.

The boy reached over and pulled another map out of the glove box and opened it. This one was of the entire United States. The boy studied the map for a moment and than put his hand to his face and held it there. The magnitude of the journey before him began to cripple the boy's thoughts. He rubbed his eyes slowly, and a quiet sigh of hopelessness come out of him.

Then Richard looked...and saw.

The boy was crying. Those weren't rain drops on his cheeks, those were tears. The fears in the boy had now appeared to return or had not really diminished at all. The face of anguish was still on the boy, and now appeared to be growing as Richard heard a slight sniffle from the right side of the car.

The boy looked toward Richard, saw that he had noticed him crying, and quickly turned out the overhead light and, in an attempt to hide his tears, turned and started focusing on the side window. Silence for a moment was followed by that recurring sound of a sniffle.

Richard couldn't speak for a moment, silently thinking about the trouble sitting next to him. He didn't want to get involved anymore than he already had, but something inside of Richard's past kept his interest in this teenager. His mind kept telling him to leave it alone, don't get involved. He knew that he couldn't take a chance, his life was too stable. He could just float the rest of his life away without caring.

But something else reared up. He had to know. He finally had to ask.

"Is everything all right?"

The boy didn't answer as he continued his attention on the window. The world outside was lost to him, but the boy didn't care. His world was himself.

Again, Richard asked the question.

"Are you Okay?"

After a long silence, the boy left his outside world and rejoined Richard in the world within the car. He turned to face toward Richard, and in a soft voice said, "Yeah, it's OK, don't worry. I'll be all right."

That's when Richard saw the blood.

The boy's right cheek, high up on the bone, was cut open and a small amount of blood was still dripping downward. Realizing that he had exposed the right side of his face, and all that that could reveal to the man next to him, the boy put his hand up to his cheek and turned away.

"What happened to your cheek?" Richard asked, more forcefully than he had intended.

Sensing the boy's embarrassment, Richard immediately knew that he shouldn't have asked that question. He was getting too familiar with him, which is something Richard wanted to avoid.

The boy remained quiet; his eyes fixed to the window.

Richard drove the car quietly for another mile, but then reached over to the rear seat and grabbed a towel he had used for coffee spills and held it out to the boy. It was slightly damp from the rainwater dripping from the boy's sports bag which would help.

The boy took the towel and very gently held it to his face. After a moment, he lowered his head into the towel, the sniffles growing to the beginning levels of a cry.

Richard remained silent as he alternately watched the boy and the roadway ahead. He began asking himself what in the world he had gotten himself into. Trouble seemed to be in the car with him that night.

As the sobs began to lessen, the boy looked at Richard.

"Mister, I'm sorry. I just can't seem to help it."

Sorrow began to find its way into Richard. Although few words had been spoken, just by the way the boy said his words, by the politeness in his tone and the voice inflections he used, Richard instinctively knew that this was not a bad kid, and a kid who was in trouble. Richard's uncaring world showed the first sign of a hairline crack.

"Do you want me to take you home?" Richard asked thinking it was the least he could do.

"No, that's okay."

"Are you sure?"

The boy shook his head slowly, and then said, "I can't go home."

Richard twitched as this drama appeared to be getting thicker with the boy's last words.

Richard continued his questioning.

"Is something wrong?"


"Does your mom or dad know where you are?"

The boy sat in thought for a moment before answering. It was short and to the point.

"My mom died three years ago."

Richard gulped and then frowned. "I'm really sorry."

Richard had to pause but wanted to continue. He had to find a way to do something with this boy now that he was in his car. He knew he couldn't just leave him out in the rain.

"How about your dad?"


The boy's face turned quickly from the fears that were evident all evening to one of complete anger. Suddenly turning toward Richard and in a loud voice with more emotion than he had shown that night said,

"I can't go home, alright...?"

The boy paused slightly, trying to get a hold on his emotions, his anger, and then he continued.

"...because my DAD is the one who hit me. He's the fucking bastard that threw me out of the house tonight."

Richard froze and looked straight ahead at the freeway passing beneath him. His eyes foretold of the anger rising within him, and he couldn't look at the boy. Richard didn't know what to say. He'd heard of child abuse, of course, but had not witnessed it personally himself. He was now looking at that horror.

Richard began to crumble inside as his heart went out to the boy. He didn't know anything about him except for two things that he had observed: he was not a bad kid, and he was in trouble.

Richard didn't know what the boy had done to warrant this treatment, but from the few things that he perceived about the boy, he was ready to accept that the boy's condition was through no fault of his own. He dwelled on the idea that nothing that a teenager could do would warrant what had obviously happened to him. But just then the thought crept over him that even children can be capable of very terrifying acts.

Richard finally turned to the boy and saw him consumed by the countryside to the boy's right as it passed in the rain. The atmosphere in the car was stiffening. The boy had exposed a part of his horror and appeared to be closing down. He sensed that the boy was close to panic and wanted to bring him back to reality.

"Are you hungry?" Richard asked. "Have you had anything to eat tonight?"

The boy continued to stare out the window and remained quiet and motionless for what seemed to Richard like an eternity but was actually only a few seconds. Time is relative to the panic inside oneself.

"It's okay. I had a big lunch," the boy finally answered, but his eyes remained fixed on the window.

"I think you might need to get some food in you. It'll at least make you feel better."

The boy remained silent. No more words passed between them, and Richard continued to drive south in silence. But then, slowly, Richard turned the wheel slightly to the right and pulled onto an off-ramp. He spotted the familiar arches through the rain, turned right at the bottom of the off ramp and steered toward the lights of the restaurant.

As Richard navigated the parking lot entrance, he said to the boy, "I think the drive-thru will work for us. We can eat in the car in the parking lot. I don't think you want to go inside just yet."

The boy nodded his approval.

The car approached the drive-thru menu and the box below the billboard menu squawked, "Welcome to MacDonald's. Would you like to try our special salad and sandwich combination this evening?"

Richard simply said, "No." He then turned toward the boy who was now looking at the menu through the front window. The boy had that hungry look in his eyes, acknowledging the earlier lie about having had a big lunch.

"See anything that suits you?" Richard asked.

"Just a quarter pounder, small fries and a coke." The boy said, once again showing no emotion.

Richard turned back toward the squeaky box and ordered. "We'll have three quarter pounders with cheese, two small fries, a large coke and a small black coffee." Richard had planned on only having one of the burgers and one of the fries.

The box repeated their order, almost intelligibly, and then Richard drove the car to the first window, paid for the food and drove to the pick-up window. As they waited for their food, Richard's eyes focused on the windshield straight ahead while the boy returned to his post at the passenger window. When their order arrived, Richard took the food from the open window, handed it to the boy, drove the car to an empty parking space and turned off the car engine. Neither the boy nor the man spoke as silence seemed to be the way they communicated best.

As Richard ate quietly, he noticed that the boy was having trouble eating. It appeared obvious that the pain in his jaw was preventing him from chewing. Richard ate slowly so as to keep pace with the boy, their best form of communication continuing throughout the meal.

At the end of the last bite, they threw the papers, wrappers and napkins into the now empty food bag, and the boy leaned back on the seat. He remained motionless, but his eyes were focused on the roof of the car. The boy appeared to have finally relaxed and he let out a quiet sigh.

Hearing the sigh, Richard turned to him.

"What's your name?" he asked softly.

"Cory. Cory Anderson," the boy answered, still keeping his eyes fixed on the inside of the roof.

"My name's Richard."

Cory was silent.

After a few moments, Richard asked, "How old are you, Cory?"

"15," Cory turned toward Richard suddenly and said, "but I'll be 16 in two months." A small amount of pride had started to return to the boy.

Richard assumed that the boy was starting to relax a little by his enthusiasm at turning 16, and maybe his reluctance at being in Richard's car was waning.

But the slight break in tensions was overshadowed as Richard turned forward with concern on his face. He knew that he was getting in deeper with this boy, but he had to find out. In a concerned but soft voice, he asked,

"Can I ask you again what happened tonight?"

Cory's face filled with dread again as he faced forward.

"Mister…uh…Richard. Thanks for the food, man. I really was pretty hungry after all."

The silence in the car foretold of the tension again building between Richard and Cory. Cory had obviously side stepped the question, but Richard was determined to finish what he had started. He turned to look directly at Cory.

Suddenly, Cory turned toward Richard and, in a soft pleading voice with all of his defensiveness gone, admitted,

"Richard, I don't know what to do. My dad threw me out tonight and I just want to get as far away from here as fast as I can. I'm scared right now, okay? I just need to get shit in my head together, you know, figure out what to do."

Richard continued to look at Cory, but his face reflected his doubt in the story.

"It can't be that bad Cory. What did you do that's so terrible? I mean, your dad is probably out looking for you right now. I'm sure he's sorry for whatever he did to you tonight."

"No. You don't know him. I hate him. I fucking hate him! He's beaten on me most of my life."

Richard's rage began to return as he thought that there might be some truth in what Cory was saying. Cory was too emotional. This was no act, not some fantasy. But Richard had to know. He had to find out what was troubling Cory.

"So, tell me what happened."

After a short pause, Cory turned toward the front of the car and slid down into the seat. The next few moments – an eternity to Richard – ended abruptly as Cory began to speak.

"My dad had been drinking again today. He works from 3:00 in the morning till noon and is off the rest of the day. He drinks just about every day after he gets off work. When I got home from school today, his red eyes were waiting for me. He wanted to know about this 'letter' that I had written to a friend of mine. Mike, that's his name. Anyway, Mike's been my best friend all through school, but he moved away last year. We talk online a lot still, and sometimes we write letters; you know, cause IM'ing isn't always the best way to say what you mean. We've been able to talk to each other about anything. Anyway, my dad was holding this letter that I was going to send to Mike, but I hadn't finished it yet.

"Was there something in the letter that your dad didn't like?"

Cory lowered his head for a moment, then looked up and continued, "Yeah. I told you that Mike and I can talk to each other about anything. Well, I don't know how to say this..."

Cory turned to look for Richard's reaction and saw the concerned furloughs on Richard's forehead.

Richard then slowly said, "Cory. I'm not going to get mad at you," although his stomach tightened.

"Okay, okay." Cory turned away from Richard and began again. "I told Mike that I…that I'm not what he thought I was." Cory took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'm different."

"What do you mean, different?"

"Just…different. I'm not like everyone else. I like different things than Mike likes. Even though Mike knew what I liked, I hadn't actually told him before, cuz I'd been trying to figure it out. Anyway, I was telling him in the letter."

Richard didn't understand. This didn't sound like it was about music or sports or which girls the boy liked. But within moments, Richard's eyes brightened in surprise as the thought hit him of what Cory was maybe trying to tell him. Richard didn't want to go there, but decided that he would approach it sideways, still getting to the point.

"I didn't think that was much of an issue anymore. Your dad had a problem with it?" Richard asked.

Richard saw Cory relax after he heard the question, and it appeared that what Richard had just asked, seemed to fit with what Cory was saying.

Cory continued his story.

"My dad was put in jail once for attacking a man who he thought was, you know, different. He used such hateful words too, over and over again. I knew. I just knew that I could never talk to him about me."

Richard finally understood what was battling inside of Cory. There in the seat next to him was a young man who Richard had read about in the newspapers or had seen and heard about on the television news – one of the thrown away kids.

Richard's mind screamed as he realized the horror of what these kids have to face, and he knew he was a part of it too. That thought terrified Richard as he knew that he had turned his mind away from those kids before. Richard's own years of uncaring, the years of being isolated from the real world and the years of not seeing the hate that existed all around him, melted his soul. He sat back in the car seat and said nothing as these feelings overwhelmed him.

After a short pause, he sat up and asked Cory, "Do you have any place to go tonight?"

"I don't have any family here, but I do have an aunt living in Florida. I was going to go stay with her for a while."

Richard didn't know what he was thinking, and didn't know what he going to try to do. But then he also knew that he had to do something that he probably hadn't done since his wife died. Richard felt that he had an obligation to himself to do what he thought was right. He was going to take a chance.

"That's out of the question tonight." Richard's strength took over as the voice in his head screamed at him to stop. That voice would not be listened to tonight.

"It'll take you days to hitchhike there, so you'll stay at my place tonight, and then we can get this mess figured out in the morning. I can't just leave you on the road in the rain at this hour."

Cory began to plead, "Look Mister, Richard, you don't have to do this. You've already helped me out of the rain for a little while and thank you for the dinner, but..."

"Cory don't say anything more. Trying to hitchhike to Florida at this hour in the rain is just plain stupid. You're not old enough to be doing this anyway. And I'm not going to just leave you on the road. You have a place to stay tonight, okay?"

Cory couldn't respond right away; this development was new to him. He didn't know Richard, and he didn't know if he could trust him. He was starting to like him, but he was still a stranger. But what other choice did he have? he asked himself. Richard hadn't tried to take advantage of him. He had only seemed to want to help.

"Do you live far from here?" Cory asked.

"It's not far. I live in Belleville."

"Okay. But just for tonight, okay?"

"Cory don't worry. We'll get this all straightened out in the morning. Tonight, you just need a good night's sleep. Things will look a lot better in the morning."

Cory looked directly at Richard. His eyes were misting, and a slight curl of a smile formed on his lips. A whispered, "Thank you," could be heard as he sat back in the seat and rested his head. His eyes were open, looking up, but he wasn't seeing anything. Cory was deep in thought for a moment, but slowly closed his eyes. For the first time in years, a comforting calm had formed within him. He didn't recognize that feeling, it had been too long. He just knew that it felt good. And it started with this stranger.

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