An 'X'mas Carol Part Two, Chapter 7
By Jaech Reiter
Copyright 2010 by Jaech Reiter, all rights reserved
A Christmas and New Year's Eve Story Challenge Entry
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This story is intended for ADULTS ONLY. It contains explicit depictions of sexual activity involving minors. If you are not of a legal age in your locality to view such material or if such material does not appeal to you, do not read further, and do not save this story.
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Part Two, Chapter 7
Judge Breese called them forward and went through the facts at hand, as had been related to him. Ben didn't even try to refute a single one. Even the ones that seemed a bit exaggerated by various other 'witnesses' who gave an input to their first period teachers. Judge Breese however, had too many years on the bench to believe everything was true. He recognized a recalcitrant soul when he saw one; but that aside, he also believed there were a few other behavioural transgressions that Ben was holding in reserve.
"Now, Ben, look me in the eye and tell me if there is anything else to which you need to confess?"
"No, sir," Ben said, honestly, or at least he felt it was honestly said. After all, the whole reason he was there was because of how he had treated Timmy. That was pretty much it. And he said as much to the judge. Fran looked at him curiously, as though she was surprised that that was all he thought he had to say.
But that was all he had to say.
"All right," Judge Breese said. " In light of what I have heard from others and from you Ben, I am ordering you to serve 48 hours from this point, which means until Sunday morning at 9:30, as a NUDEP Offender Level Zero. I am assigning an additional 12 hours underwear time, as well. You will also serve at least 6 hours as a volunteer worker at this weekend's Winter Carnival for your school and another 6 hours of volunteer work for your school after your NUDEP status is lifted. You will serve that volunteer time at the discretion of your school, and they may ask you to serve clothed, or down to your underwear. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir." Ben still looked tightly wound, as though the news still hadn't managed to reach his core. But that was because he was entirely wrapped up at the moment with another thought. He could still hear the cries of Hunter Prentiss echoing in his brain.
"As for your induction," it was at this point that Ben visibly tightened up even further, " I'm going to take into consideration that you made the effort to call attention to your own wrongdoings and have not even tried to deny them, though I suspect a few were probably exaggerated, and I am going to dispense with your induction."
"What does that mean?" Ben asked, his voice tight with an extreme fear.
"It means," the judge said, " That I am not going to require one. You will not be inducted this time. But if I ever see you in this court again, I will . . . . . Ben?"
All the tension left his body immediately when he heard he was not going to be whipped, for surely they must have a grown man putting his all into it to get an older boy like Hunter howling right off from the start. Unfortunately, Ben was so tense, and his tension released so rapidly, that he fainted dead away before the judge could finish his sentence.
"He's going to have to work on that." The Judge said as he leaned over the bench to see Ben on the floor.
"Yes, your honor," Charlotte Scruggs said as she fanned her son, uncertain of what else to do or say at the moment. She had to admit, though, she also felt a bit relieved. Though she was certain he had deserved one; she wasn't quite ready for the professional spanking.
After reviving and able to stand, Ben apologized to the judge, mainly because he felt he was supposed to, and went over to the table as directed to remove his clothing. It was definitely more humiliating, he was realizing, to have to strip in front of people than to just simply be naked. Although for Ben, there would be nothing 'simply' about being naked. He was already feeling nauseous just at the thought of being around his friends as a Nudie Juvie.
But right now there was the matter of undressing in front of his mom and sister. Sure, his sister had seen it before, but not as such a designated and concentrated audience. And true, his mom had seen him nearly naked that morning, but there was a big difference between 'nearly naked' and 'naked', and a huge HUGE difference between seen nearly naked and watching stripping naked. It was hard, very hard to do, only complicated by the fact that his pre-embarrassment was making something else hard.
So he got as far as taking his button-up shirt off and toeing his shoes off before he hesitated. When he did that, the judge mentioned something about possibly needing to do the induction after all.
"Yes!" Fran exclaimed quietly. Their mom didn't like that excitement too much, but she let it pass without comment. She had to focus on Ben's need for readjustment at the moment.
For Ben's part, he really wanted to shoot his sister a dirty look, but he certainly couldn't afford to do that; he also couldn't afford to risk having an induction assigned to him. So he quickly began removing his pants first, hoping his T-shirt would cover him longer. He blushed however as he realized his mom was looking quizzically at his smooth legs while he neatly folded his pants. When he took off his T-shirt, he also caught a look of surprise from her. She was still staring at his underarms, or at least at that general area, as he was keeping them close to his upper body as he nervously folded his T-shirt.
He was pretty sure she had seen them though, noticed their total lack of hair and unbroken, unblemished smoothness, a smoothness matched by every area of his viewable body. There was just one area left to see now, and Charlotte surprised herself by the realization that she was actually looking forward to seeing this as well.
Ben thought Fran was enjoying herself way too much. And between her and having this strange anticipation evident in his mom's attention, he again hesitated. He looked up at the judge, almost imploring him to intercede and say that he changed his mind, that Ben wouldn't have to go ALL the way naked. That that was far enough. Please!
But what the judge did was simply raise his eyebrows. And still Ben could not move. The judge picked up the gavel and looked at the sound block, like he was about to strike it. Ben knew instantly that as soon as that block was struck, he would be placed in an induction, and he very rapidly whipped his underwear down to his ankles, surprisingly relieved as he watch the judge silently replace the gavel on the bench.
But Ben then realized, by the look of shock in his own mother's eyes, that he was now completely exposed, and looking down immediately saw that his hairless pecker was straining its 2 ½ inches toward the ceiling. His sister Fran had already broken out laughing. He quickly covered-up, or started to, even though it was really too late for that. But as he did so, he caught the judge shaking his head remonstratively and reaching again for the gavel. It took every effort that even a grown man might have to exert to pull his arms back. His own body showed the physical demands of the restraint, as though his hands and his groin were super-powerful magnets attracted to each other, and he was slowly and only barely pulling them apart.
Even when he got his quarter-clenched hands to his side, his shaking arms looked like they were fighting the effort.
"Well," his mother said, searching for something, anything, to say in the shock of how undeveloped Ben really was. " You definitely don't take after your dad in any way, shape or form; which . . . . . um . . . . . could be a really good thing, Ben. In . . . . uh . . . . . some aspects."
Ah, geez. Now he knew one of the reasons his mom must have hooked up with his dad to start with.
Fran was still laughing her head off, and Timmy was laughing as well, but more so because laughter was infectious than any other reason. Ben looked over and saw that the Bailiff, too, was wiping her eyes as she had been silently laughing at him so hard, and that was from all the way across the room. Just how hard was this going to be at school?? He didn't know if he could survive that, if this was any indication.
The absolute worse was looking over and seeing his mother trying to hide her laughter. Just like Timmy, it was more because of laughter being infectious, and like Ben, she was having a lot of stress suddenly released.
The Judge, too, was smiling. Another successful test of the NUDEP system. This would work after all. He then looked down at Ben's feet and gave him a gentle reminder that technically he was still wearing his underwear, even if they were around his ankles, and that he might want to quickly remedy that. As Ben pulled his underwear off the rest of the way, blushing even further as he realized that he was STILL stripping for an audience, Judge Breese called his brother and aside separately, in the presence of their mother, and went over the basic rules and expectations of the program with them, as well as to encourage them that this punishment was not only OK, but something that his brother needed very much. By the end of that, both were very much willing.
Once that was done, the Judge explained to all four of the Scruggs about the requirement of Minders, and the necessity of choosing the Principal Minder(s). Ben piped up at this point, saying he felt that it should be Timmy, since that was why he had offered himself up to start with, that was who he bullied (mainly --- sort of). The Judge immediately reprimanded him and let Ben know that he at no time would dictate his own punishment.
"However," the Judge continued. " You do have something of a point. Even though this is the only school day on which you will be naked, and though I think maximum effect would be seen having you around your peers, especially since you seem to be lacking what most of them take for granted."
With this the Judge waved his hand vaguely at Ben's naked crotch, and Ben wanted to crawl into his own skin and hide. Die maybe. And he could nothing about his sister laughing at this reference.
"However," the judge continued, " During your six hours volunteering at the Winter Carnival tomorrow, you will have plenty of opportunities to interact with and be seen by your peers. So for today, I am sending you to the elementary school, where you will, along with your fellow schoolmate, Kyle Carton, be an example for the up-and-coming youth on what happens to bullies and bad little boys, as well as provide a model for learning about the human body. You will be a good 'before' puberty example for Kyle's 'during' puberty example."
And with that, he was handed over to his little brother to be his Minder, though Timmy didn't look pleased or happy about it, though not for reasons that Ben would guess yet, though he would find out by mid-day. For the moment, Ben was seething inside too much, rankled at his less developed comparison to the snotty Kyle Carton who was a whole grade below him, and especially knowing that he used to be at the top of the puberty ladder in his grade.
And now, all because he was feeling 'charitable' for his little brother, he wouldn't get his dick, balls, and hair back for a long time. He would have to grow into them!! Now, no one would ever know the man he really had been, should be. They would forever remember him as the little naked boy in their class.
His anger didn't diminish through the morning at the elementary school, either, as he had to endure the constant stream of ridicule from boys (and some girls) younger than himself. He didn't have to suffer the fate of Kyle, who at various times was allowed to be touched and felt by the elementary students and even had to ejaculate once or twice for them. Thank goodness he was spared that horrific indignity, but he and Kyle did have several sessions together where they were required to basically boyhandle each other in various poses and postures in order to show off or elucidate various parts of their anatomy, and Kyle was none too gentle, especially with Ben's much smaller balls and his asshole, which Kyle poked hard enough once that almost a third of his finger jabbed into him (eliciting a strong 'eewwww' from the girls and gagging noises by the boys, followed by lots of laughter and things like 'wait til I tell my brother/sister').
Ben was able to restrain himself in doing the same to Kyle; he didn't want to get into even further trouble, as he noticed the teacher was watching him critically to see how he interacted with a 'younger' boy. He was, however, dismayed that Kyle did not get into trouble with his roughness, but then, Ben was a year older, and therefore, obviously, the older boy. Also, it was Ben who was in for bullying, not Kyle. Kyle, on the other hand, was in for disrespect to females and authority, so they weren't as concerned with how he treated another boy offender, especially a bully who was ironically as 'deficient' as Ben.
"Now wonder he's a bully." Ben overheard this from teachers talking, at least three times that day.
"He clearly has some inferiority issues."
And, unfortunately, his anger was also starting to show through more easily. So it also became: " He clearly has some anger issues. I wonder if it all results from his tiny little boys parts, or if there are some other issues?"
These 'misconceptions', or at least that's how Ben saw them, only increased his anger. He wasn't sure what he would do to the next kid that told him that he/she had a big brother/sister at Ben's school and just wait til they told him/her about Ben, or the next kid that said his/her older brother/cousin/neighbor wasn't nearly as small as Ben --- ". . . . and he's only 11 !"
Ben didn't see how this program was supposed to help him at all. He was tired, worn out, degraded, humiliated, ashamed, angry, frustrated, irritated . . . . . . . . How was any of this helping?????!!!
He wanted to punch a wall. Or a fifth grader.
Or Kyle. He really wanted to punch Kyle. Despite being naked himself, and even more at the mercy of the taunting and curious grade school students, Kyle never let up on reminding Ben of how much bigger and more developed he was than Ben, how much more of a man, how puny, pathetic, and sad Little Ben was. Kyle looked down his nose at the supposed older boy, sneered at him, and in general transferred all his negative emotions and thoughts onto the 8th grader. The whole time, Ben had to take it, knowing that if he did or said anything, he would be reported as bullying a younger kid, albeit only a 7th grader. But still, that's just what the elementary teachers were waiting for.
Couldn't he just go somewhere and scream??
After five hours of this, with lunchtime having been the absolute worst, Ben was allowed to go out for recess with the 4th and 5th graders. Finally, some fresh air. He was even able to ignore many of the voices that still harassed him --- except Kyle's, that one especially grated him --- and he looked for his little brother. He wanted to smile and wave, wanted to make some sort of effort in being the big brother he was supposed to be. It was as much for him as it was for Timmy, though. Ben desperately needed something to make this horrible day count for something he could use, give himself some excuse for going on.
But, he had the feeling that Timmy was avoiding him all day, mainly because the little boy just let the teachers or other students pass his brother around from place to place, wherever Ben needed to be. Even now, at recess, instead of Timmy standing by him as his Minder, it was some fifth grade boy who seemed way too interested in both Ben and Kyle for Ben's comfort.
Ben searched through the 4th grade classes coming out and found his little brother. Timmy just barely caught Ben's eye and then turned away as if he didn't even know him. Ben felt a little hurt by this. And a little miffed. It was for Timmy, after all, that he was even doing this. Well, Timmy and his own balls. But he had decided to put Timmy first, which meant sacrificing his immediate desire of getting his junk back; and now the boy was just going to ignore him?
But as he watched, he saw that Timmy wasn't very happy, and he wasn't interacting as much with others. In fact, it looked like he was being teased. Ben felt horrible. Of course he was being teased his 'big' brother was on display as an object of ridicule and, even worse, the 8th grader had the nads of a fourth or fifth grader. Ben's lack of development was just made even more glaringly obvious the longer he stood next to the smirking 7th grader with the 4 inch dick (almost an inch and a half longer than Ben's, when Ben's was erected), the hanging nuts, and the sparse pubic hairs, even with a few under his arm. What did Ben have? Bald, disappointing little boys.
Some big brother he was.
He understood, now, Timmy's avoidance and disappointment, and felt sorry that his brother was just bearing even more torment at the cause of him, even if indirectly this time. As he watched, he saw four or five fifth graders make a semi-circle around Timmy and taunt the poor boy to almost tears. Ben was once again becoming furious, but this time not self-absorbed. Unfortunately, there was even less he could do about this, except tell a teacher. Of course, now that he really needed one, there weren't any around. No wonder Kyle was acting so smug toward Ben and keeping up his endless litany of putdowns.
Ben watched further until he saw Timmy back away, pushing himself through a laughing crowd to retreat to the other side of the playing field. Then Ben recognized two of the boys. They were two of the three that he had seen on their bikes in the summer vision that Elias had showed him. The last boy who had turned back on his bike wasn't among them this time, but the other two taunting boys were mean enough on their own, worse that they had recruited three of their friends.
The rest of the day went as badly as the first part, except that Ben was able to keep Timmy's own anguish in mind, and that actually helped him. Still, it was bad enough that by the end of the long day, Ben was more tired than he ever had been. It felt twice as long as the longest day of his life should feel, and yet, surprisingly given the intense mortification of the day, it was already like a blur. Mr. Carton had a car sent around to collect Kyle and his little sister. But Ben and Timmy still had to wait for the bus and then ride that home.
Ben felt a twang of pity for Kyle when he saw that 9 year old Jessica Carton still had a gleam in her eye for the anticipation of the rest of the day, but then he canceled that compassion and found himself praying instead that Jessica had abundant reserves of energy and imagination for the whole rest of the weekend. This was only Kyle's second day. There were still at least three more.
Ben and Timmy boarded the bus, but Timmy just looked out the window, trying to ignore the snickers, trying not to cry. All he wanted was for his big brother to meet him at his bus stop one day, to be able to show him off, to prove to other kids on his bus and at his school that there was someone who cared about him. That at least HIS big brother thought something of him, and a popular, strong big brother, too. Instead he got this. A naked object of ridicule that didn't even have the balls to impress elementary students.
And Ben knew it, too.
About ¾ of the way home, still on the bus, and unable to take the silent treatment anymore, he tried just asking his little brother some specific questions unrelated (sort of) to the day.
"Timmy, how come you never told---"
"It's Tim." The boy corrected him harshly.
"Right," Ben noticed they had the attention of a few of the kids around them (and still, this far into the day, the kids couldn't keep their eyes from drifting down and staring at his naked, bald, little penis and balls). He swallowed the rest of his pride and tried to sound as meek as possible. " Sorry, sir. It's Tim."
Tim wasn't sure about how he felt about his older brother calling him 'sir', so he just didn't say anything at all, and kept staring out the window.
"Uh . . . Tim? . . . . How . . . . . . . Uh, when we had that, um, visitor, you know? Well, when I did, and you told me about seeing me and, uh, Elias, out at the park . . . . . . how come you didn't also tell me about seeing us at the bus stop last month?"
Tim just shrugged. " I thought you already knew about that one."
"How could I know about that one?"
Tim looked at his brother like he was retarded. " You waved at me!"
"Uh . . . . . yeah . . . . OK . . . . . I guess I can see where . . . . ." Ben's voice just trailed off. The whole thing was still too surreal. " So, did you see us any other times?"
"No. Just those two."
So maybe he really wasn't going to see Elias again.
"This our stop. Get up." Tim ordered.
Ben wasn't used to taking orders from his little brother and quickly threw out a 'yes, sir' hoping it was meek enough. And quick enough. Judging from the laughter around them and the embarrassment on Tim's face, he guessed it was. Tim was even less used to giving his 'little' brother orders; but he just wanted off that bus. He wanted to put this day far behind him, if even possible. Why did his brother do this to him??
Tim tried to walk ahead and stay ahead of his embarrassing brother, but Ben kept up.
"Hey, Tim, uh, you know that thing I had to do this afternoon? The one I told you about yesterday? Well, I still need to do it."
"I don't care."
"Tim, please, it's very important to me."
"I don't care!" He said even more assertively, though still not looking back.
"Please, Tim! I can only go if you go with me . . ."
"NO!" Tim yelled, whirling on his brother. " I'm not going!! And I . . . . DON'T . . . . . CARE!!!!"
He turned back around to stomp off, when he heard 'Please' come out of his older brother's mouth, almost like he was begging. Tim spun around to really go off on Ben, but was stunned to see that Ben was looking up at the sky, holding out his hands like a beggar. Then Tim remembered what Ben said about the Spirits watching him. He remembered what was at stake for Ben, and his heart did go out for his older brother . . . a little.
"Fine. OK. I'll go with you."
"Thank you! . . . I mean . . . .uh . . . .sir . . . um, thank you, sir."
Tim almost giggled, except that the whole 'sir' thing was embarrassing and awkward for him.
"Do you have to call me that? That whole 'sir' thing?"
"I think I really am supposed to."
"I don't really like it."
"You could look at as maybe a game, uh . . .sir. You know, just until Sunday when this is all over."
Tim had to think about this for a second. Actually . . . . it could be fun as just a game. Kind of like playing pretend with his older brother. Tim smiled. " OK. I can do that. It will be fun. You will call me 'sir' . . . . . uh . . . . peasant!"
"Yes, sir," Ben said smiling and giving a stiff bow at his waist. It was a whole lot easier doing it when they could pretend that it was just a game. Except for the part where he was still standing naked out in the street of his neighborhood. Yeah, no pretend game was going to help that part.
"So where are we going?"
"The Old Curiosity Shop."
"Where is that?"
"It's on the pedestrian mall downtown. We can take the bike path through the park. It'll only take 15 or 20 minutes."
"So why are we going there?"
"I . . . . . . can't tell you, Tim."
"It's 'sir', to you," Tim said smiling, enjoying this aspect of the 'game' he would get to play with his older brother. Then he pointed at the bright pink collar around Ben's neck yet just another source of severe embarrassment for the boy. Did they have to make it pink? And did they have to make it bright pink? and added, " And I order you to tell me. The rules of your program say that you have to."
All the color drained from Ben's face. Did his brother have to play that card? Ben couldn't tell him what he was really going for. But if he didn't answer the boy, then he would get in trouble for not answering. The real problem though, was that Tim wouldn't want him getting in trouble, and he wouldn't want to tell anybody that Ben refused to answer. Then THAT would get Tim in trouble, which Ben definitely did not want to happen. He really hated this system. What the hell was it trying to teach him anyway?
In the end, he decided to tell the truth . . . . and a lie. The lie was the reason he was going to give, and the withholding of the real reason. The truth was that the embarrassing thing he was about to say was actually true.
"I stole from the store." Ben said. He hadn't yet fully intended to divulge that, especially since he had gotten clean away with it. And he was starting to reason that if he never opened that sock drawer, then he wouldn't feel guilty. But there it was. And now he would have to deal with this also.
"You . . . . . . stole?" Tim asked with a pained look.
Ben felt horrible all over again; it was like he just failed his brother anew.
"Yes. I mean . . . . yes, sir. I did. But it was before I changed. Honest, Tim, I won't be like that after this. I'm not like that now. Promise. I even feel guilty every time I see the thing I stole."
"What did you steal?"
"A Nano, that orange one I told you was a friend's. It's mine."
"It's not yours." Tim stressed. Right and wrong was very clear to him. There was none of this grey excuse area that Ben liked to spin.
"You're right. It's not mine. It's just in my sock drawer."
"We should take it back." Tim said simply and turned to walk home.
"Tim, please, just let me have some time to talk to the owner of the store alone."
"Only if you promise to tell me everything you ever stole and promise to tell the people you stole stuff from."
"Uh, I . . . . I . . . . I promise."
Whoa. That was going to be one hefty promise. The biggest problem for Ben was that he knew he meant the promise. He was really going to have to keep it.
The boys left a note for their mom that they were going bike riding. Fran tried to protest, but Tim stepped in and said the Judge gave Ben to him for the day and that he wanted to go riding.
"All right, but you better be nice to Tim, Benny." She stressed his diminutive name, uncomfortably so for Ben.
"That's 'yes ma'am' to you, unless you need some reminders on your butt!"
Ben gulped. This was his little sister!!
"No ma'am, you won't be nice to Tim?"
"No! . . uh . . I mean . . . . no, ma'am, I don't need any reminders, . . . . at least, not spanks . . . . ma'am."
"So you'll be nice to Tim and watch out for him?"
"Yes ma'am. I'll be good."
"Good boy." She said, and smiled and patted his head, as she walked back into the house. Ben gulped again, and with it had to swallow the very last of the very small amount of pride he had left.
Ben hoped there was no one on the trails, but his fear of being seen soon became distracted by a more practical issue. He never realized how difficult it would be riding his bike naked. The seat really dug into his crack.
The boys rode down the bike paths the few miles into downtown, coming out into the park across the street from the start of the pedestrian section of the downtown shopping mall. Stores on either side of the bricked in walk were decorated festively for the coming season. Neil Trent and his wife ran an old specialty general store one block in and had for the last forty years. It was like an old time general store, but instead of the everyday objects, they sold upgraded, and sometimes imported, versions, as well as a few unique and unusual gift, decorative, and grocery items.
The Old Curiosity Shop was a Hampton County tradition that had to adapt to survive in today's market. Despite how traditional it was to shop there, the Trents still faced stiff competition from singled minded specialty stores that could afford to sell things much lower. The Nanos, therefore, could cost 10-20 dollars more at Neil's store, so where he couldn't compete in price, he made up for in service. All the same, shoplifting took a large and personal bite out of their livelihood.
There was a bench in front of the store and Ben asked his little brother if he would wait for him there, and he walked in, naked, in more ways than one, his hand clenched around the guilt of his walk of shame. He went up to the front counter. Mr. and Mrs. Trent were both behind the old time wooden counter having a visit with one of their regular customers who was paying for a radio controlled remote car. The conversation stopped as Ben walked up, with Mrs. Trent and the man paying for the toy giving the boy once over down his naked body and back up again.
"Son," Mr. Trent said, " You're missing a few clothes, aren't you?"
"Um, . . ."
"Um? Do you know English?"
Ben was scared stiff. Being naked wasn't helping.
"Why Neil," the man on Ben's side of the counter started, smiling as he did so, " I believe this is one of their, whaddya callems Nudie Juvies? Yeah, one them new Nudie Juvies. You remember that youth program that college professor wrote up a few years back? Looks like they finally put it to use."
"Yep, yep. So it does, Sam. So it does. Still doesn't answer what you're doing in my store, son. And aren't you supposed to be accompanied by someone?"
"Uh . . . yes . . . . yes, sir. My . . . . My Minder. He's outside. Right there, on that bench."
"I see. So you wanna tell me why you're here now, or is that still too hard?" Mr. Trent asked again.
"Not that 'hard' will help you too much, there boy," the man named Sam said as he again looked down the disappointing front of the boy.
Ben blushed, unable to ignore the statement, but to answer Mr. Trent, he stepped forward and placed his clenched hand on the counter, releasing and letting go of the contents of his fist. " I stole this from you a month ago."
He stepped back and everyone looked down at the orange Ipod Nano on the counter. The man named Sam just whistled, mentioned that he would leave this to Neil, giving the naked boy both a nod of his head goodbye and a shake of his head in disapproval as he left the store.
"The return period for electronics is seven days, boy." Mr. Trent said, seemingly nonplussed.
"I . . . . I don't understand . . . . ."
"What? Did you think I was just going to take it back, no questions asked, and say all is forgiven, boy? Especially after you've used it for a month or so?" Now the man looked angry, and his wife had a hard glare in her eyes, as well.
"No, I thought . . . . I thought . . . ."
"You thought what, boy??"
"I thought . . . . that . . . . you would take it away from me AND make me pay for it. And also that I would get into some kind of trouble."
At this both Trents raised their eyebrows. They weren't expecting something responsible out of the boy. But then they thought, of course:
"So the courts are making you do this, then?"
"No, sir. The court doesn't know about this."
"So your parents are making you?" Mrs. Trent asked him.
"No, ma'am. Just my little brother knows." Ben nodded to the back of the head of the cute 9 year old on the bench in front of the store.
"OK." Mr. Trent nodded, impressed with the boy, if this were all true, but still not wanting to make it too easy on him. He swiped the orange Nano into a drawer and locked it up. " Then you can have this back once you pay for it. Now, how are you going to do that?"
When he looked back up, he caught Ben glancing somewhat longingly over at the bikes. Ben snapped back, once again the fearful and unsure boy that had walked into their store.
"I thought . . . . maybe if you needed some help around the store. . . . ."
"So you want me to pay you so that you can feel good about stealing from me? Is that it?"
"No sir!" Ben looked startled at this accusation. That wasn't it at all. " No, sir, ma'am, I don't want the Nano, really. I mean I want to pay for it, but I feel bad having it. But that's not the main reason that I want the job."
Ben couldn't help it; his eyes drifted back to the bikes. They looked so cool, so new, so nice. Even his 'new' bike had been second hand, and these were top of the line bikes. Everything the Trents sold was good, quality merchandise, and at the higher end of quality. His head snapped back guiltily.
"I'll be damned. You want a bike?" Mrs. Trent tossed down her sales pad onto the counter in disgust. " That's what you came in here for? You steal from us, and now you want a bike?"
Ben looked down at the ground in shame. He glanced out the window at his little brother. He looked so happy on the bench, kicking his legs and waving at townspeople as they walked by with their shopping bags of cheer. Ben felt crushed. He had been hoping for a break here. He didn't want just any bike for Timmy uh, Tim he wanted the best.
Fortunately for Ben, neither of the Trent's were dense. They saw the shame, the desperation, the disappointing look out to that cute boy on the bench outside. Now, they both hated the fact that the little boy had come along. The innocence of him tugged at their hearts.
"Does he know?" Mrs. Trent asked.
Ben looked up in surprise. " How did you--?"
"Written all over your face, boy. Does he know you want to buy a bike for him?"
"No ma'am. It's why I asked him to wait outside."
At that point Tim looked around and smiled. The Trents smiled back and waved, and Ben motioned for him to wait a bit longer. Then he told the Trents about the old bike that Tim had to make do with (and pointed out the ancient dilapidated thing out the window), and how he was a bad big brother, and how he was supposed to watch over him, since their dad would never, should never, be back in the picture.
"And your mom?"
"I don't want her to know either. I just want to do it for Timmy. I don't want her thinking I was just trying to . . . . you know . . . . look good, or something."
"Well, I have to have her permission, first, before I hire you."
"You mean you'll do it?" Ben asked excited. " You'll let me work for a bike for Timmy??"
"Now hold on son, I didn't say I would. Didn't say I wouldn't either. But what am I supposed to tell her?"
"How about, just tell her part of the truth. I stole from you and I have to work it off and . . . . I don't know, work extra for punishment?"
"Hmmm. What's your name, son?"
"Ben Scruggs, sir."
"I have an idea, Ben. Who's the judge handling your case?"
"Judge Breese, but he's leaving town already. He's said he was going fishing this weekend."
"Oh, I'm familiar with Sidney's favorite fishing spots. Me and the judge go back a ways. Just wait right here, son." Mr. Trent took a cell phone off the counter and started dialing a number, walking to the back of the store for privacy. Mrs. Trent meanwhile told Ben to bring Timmy in to get a sucker.
"We don't have any money, ma'am."
"Oh, hush that, now. He's free advertising, his cute self out on that bench there."
So Tim came in and very happily got a sucker once Ben assured him it was OK, and didn't even complain when he was sent back outside.
"OK," Mr. Trent said as he came back in. " I have something worked out, though I'm not sure how much you'll like it. Actually, I'm pretty sure you won't. But it's my only offer."
"I'll do it."
"Well, hold on son, I haven't told you the details, yet."
"Will I be able to get my brother a bike?"
"Then I'll do it. It doesn't matter what I have to do."
Mr. Trent looked unsure, but nodded. " All right then. You're hired. But you still need to hear all the conditions that go along with it. Now Judge Breese and I worked this out. If your mom agrees, then it's a done deal. You'll work for me for 80 hours. Since you're under 15, I only have to pay you 4.25 an hour, which after taxes is about 3.75. Then I'll take out one dollar an hour for the Nano. After you work 80 hours, you get the Nano back, and we're clear on that. There will be just enough left for a really nice bike. Sound fair so far?"
"Hold on, the next part you may not like. If you work hard, then you'll get the bike before Christmas, and you can do the rest of the hours after Christmas. If you don't complete the work, either because you quit, or because you don't keep your grades up and that part's a must then you will default back into the NUDEP program at a higher level AND you will have the same number of hours you owe me doubled and added to a community service project. Clear so far?"
"Yes, sir." There was no way he was going to quit. Ben knew that; he was dedicated to doing this correct, to get Timmy a bike free and clear the right way. But the grades, that part scared him a bit. It meant he would have to buckle down. " I can do all that."
"One more thing, you'll do it all naked."
That stopped Ben cold. Literally cold. It was like he no blood left in him, or as if he were a NUDEP in some other state that wasn't Florida, some place where it wasn't 75 degrees outside. Surely he didn't hear right, except that he knew he had. He had heard it correct.
"Na-- . . . . .na-- . . . . . ." He couldn't say it.
"That's right. As the day you were born. There's another special band you'll have to wear, one that they give to naked community service time. But all 80 hours will be naked. That part is punishment for stealing."
Ben still looked to be in shock, as though he just couldn't quite process this. He looked back out at his little brother. He couldn't go back now. He just barely could nod.
"You sure, son?"
"Yes, sir," though it came out as barely a whisper. Then he remembered something else that crushed him. He looked over at the bikes sadly. " If you take out 2 dollars instead for the whole 80 hours, can I still get a bike?"
"No son, the bikes cost too much for that. By why would I? One dollar an hour over 80 will cover an Ipod Nano."
"I . . . . . . . . . ." He couldn't say it. He couldn't disappoint his little brother either. He had kept quiet about it this long, why not just keep going? Because he couldn't. He knew that. " I . . . . . . . . . There . . . . there were two Nanos."
Ben looked like he was about to cry, Actually more than looked like. One tear was already falling down his face. It touched Mrs. Trent more, this thief who was trying to become good for his little brother.
"How about we take out 1.50 an hour from your pay, and you agree to work for 120 hours. You'll get the bike before Christmas, but all the other aspects of the deal stay the same." She said.
"Now, hold on," Mr. Trent started to argue. " I'd have to clear that with Judge Breese, first---"
"I think I can handle Sidney Breese after all these years, Neil. He'll agree to what I want, or his wife and I will have a little talk about the number of those fishing trips he takes each year."
"You would do this for me?" Ben was amazed.
"Now hold on, you understand, Ben, that you'll spend every one of those 120 hours naked. Any unauthorized clothing and any surly attitude and those days won't count."
Ben swallowed. This was serious. He couldn't just glibly say sure without thinking about it. Naked. 120 hours. Given that he would only be able to work so many hours a week, this could stretch on for months. And anyone coming into the store would be able to see him. And he wouldn't have his junk back either; Elias had said that would be a slow process now. Could he really handle this? Did he have a choice? Yes, he had a choice, but could he do it?
He closed his eyes and made his resolve. When he opened them back up, there was no doubt in them.
"Yes, sir; yes, ma'am. I'll do it. No bad attitude. I promise. I can't promise I'll like it. But I'll like not feeling guilty about those Nanos, and I'll like feeling good about doing something awesome for my little brother. So I'll do it. Thank you."
"All right. I'll call Judge Breese and ask him about the 120 hours, or at least tell him that the Mrs. already made that decision for him. But he already wasn't happy that you failed to mention this theft when he asked this morning if you had anything else to confess. And I'll still need to talk to your mom about it. I'll need her number."
"Oh, I'm pretty sure she'll want to come down here and talk to you in person."
Ben shook both their hands, thanking them profusely (postponing in his subconsciousness the need to deal with the aspect of having to do this all naked he would take up the mental armor to pass that test later). On his way out he passed a display that caught his attention.
"Is this . . . . real maple syrup?"
"Yes, that's right. Very high quality. If you can afford it, it's like heaven on earth, or at least on your pancakes." Mrs. Trent said.
Heaven on earth. And priced about as much as heaven would cost, also.
"You have a sweet tooth, as well, boy?"
"Um . . . no, sir. My . . . my mom. It's her favorite. We just . . . can't afford it." He looked anxiously from the syrup to the bikes and back again.
Mrs. Trent put her hand on his shoulder and gently told him. " After the bikes and the Nanos, I think you'll have enough left over to include some maple syrup for your mom on Christmas Day."
Ben again thanked her, again profusely, and left out feeling much lighter. Unfortunately he also felt very much naked, and Tim wanted to stop by the toy store and look around. It wasn't as though Ben could really say no. And the toy store was even worse than he thought it would be.
"Just want to give away the store while you're at Martha?" Neil asked his wife as she watched the two boys bike away."
"Oh hush, Neil. You know we've been needing some help around the store lately. There's a lot the boy can do; and you have to admit, he's cheap wages."
"Only thing I have to admit is that you're becoming soft in your old age."
"And who was it that jumped to make the first deal with Sidney?" She countered.
Martha Trent smiled. It would be nice to have a young person about the store some. And he was a cute naked boy.
Later that evening, after supper and before the Trents closed up for the night, Charlotte Scruggs came down to see them. She was seething with anger when she was dressing down Ben, an ironic term for it, considering he was already shivering in complete nakedness before her, but profusely apologetic toward the Trents for what her son had done. But when he refused to tell her who else was with him at the time of the theft (she deduced that much from the 'second' Nano), she went off her rocker. He didn't realize how much like his dad he was seeming at that point.
At the end of it all, Ben got banished to his room for the night, which was OK with him, since he was naked, and the Trents got their stockboy, with Charlotte none the wiser that he was actually making money out of this. She just thought it was all for punishment. But in her last angry words, she let out something that haunted Ben's anticipatory fears until very near midnight.
She had told him that maybe it was a good thing they were going to see the judge again in the morning, after all.
Wait . . .
Why would they see the judge again???
He thought about this, worried about this, fretted about this, until finally he fell asleep just before the clock chimed the midnight hour.
Once again, Ben Scruggs was not visited by the Second Spirit.