Wayne wasn’t good with his grades. I was one of the better kids in the class. I tried to help him out with his studies, and even though he tried, he never really seemed to get the hang of it. I guess it wasn’t his fault. He was at school in the day, and out at the gas station or the bakery or on the street delivering papers at other times. Sometimes, I would go over to his place and play with his sister and teach her stuff. She was good with her letters and numbers.
“I’m trying to get her into a foster home. I’m trying to find somebody to take care of her,” he told me once when we were walking back from school.
“Did you find a place?”
“She’s still not an orphan. I’m eighteen now, and legally, her guardian, and I’m not a drunk. I’d have to be dead to get her someplace.”
“What about foster parents? Maybe just somebody who doesn’t have kids of their own?”
He was silent for a while. I guess it wasn’t easy to just hand over your only family in the world to some stranger. I guess it wasn’t easy to have your sister grow up with different parents, and never see you again.
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
I guess it’s not something you would ever want to think of.
“I have to go home early today, Miss Gwen. My sister is sick, and she’s getting out of school now. Could I go home early today, please, Miss Gwen?”
Our teacher looked up at Wayne.
“You don’t have a sister, Wayne… Do you?”
“I do, ma’am! She’s at Brookville High, she started just this year!”
The Boy who Cried Wolf was not unknown even in the staff room. I knew Stacy hadn’t started school yet, but I could guess why Wayne needed to go early.
“He really does, Miss Gwen. Her name’s Stacy, and she’s at Brookville, like he said.”
“Are you sure, Austin?”
“Yes ma’am, Miss Gwen.”
Miss Gwen looked at me, sighed and then looked at Wayne again. She tore off a permission slip from the book. “Just this once, okay, Wayne?”
Wayne looked at me as he went out. I smiled at him, and he smiled back.
We were at the schoolhouse roof. Now we had beer to help us bunk classes.
“Heard your sister is getting married?”
My sister was now twenty-two, and engaged to her classmate from medical school. They were planning their marriage for next month.
“Yeah. Dad’s not too happy about it. He says it’s too early. He’s had quite some rows with Ma about it.”
“I wonder what he’d say if he knew his son was planning to get married before even breaking his twenties?”
I scowled and punched his arm. “That was just to shut you up, okay? Nicky’s the one who wants to get married, not me!”
“Sure, sure, Ozzie boy…. Just be sure to keep a free drink bar when you do get married, okay?”
We both looked at each other and laughed. Life was easy like that, when you were laughing.
We were still just seventeen.