Who Passed the Test
By: Jess Mercer
(© 2011 by the author)
The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's
consent. Comments are appreciated at...
As the students were leaving his class on Monday, Chris Archer passed out the test papers he had graded over the weekend.
The one remaining student looked at him expectantly. "Randy Myhre, sir."
"I know. Got time to see me in my office?"
"Yes, sir. This is my last class today."
When they reached his office, Chris closed the door. "Have a seat, Randy."
Chris picked up the sole test paper from his desk and handed it to the boy. He noticed the look of disappointment that crossed the boy's face, before he looked up.
"I'm sorry, Randy. I had great hopes for you. You were my best student, but in the past month your grades have gone steadily down. And now this. Why?"
"I'm sorry, sir. It's a personal problem."
"Have you talked to anyone? Seen one of the counselors about it?"
Randy shook his head. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Isn't there someone you can talk to?"
"No, sir. I'm alone."
Chris felt sympathy for this young man just a few years younger than himself. "I'll be happy to help you if I can. I know what it's like to be alone."
"Thanks, sir. Maybe later. Can I go now?"
The boy left his office quietly, leaving Chris to ponder what could cause this fine young man such worry.
Three weeks later, Randy approached him after class and held out a form. "I need your signature on this, sir."
Chris looked at the form. "You aren't serious about dropping out of school, are you?"
"Yes, sir. Can I talk to you in your office for a minute?"
"Of course. I'll be right with you."
"What can I do to help, Randy?" He asked when he had closed the door.
"You're an okay guy, sir. At least you offered to help. Ain't none of my other teachers acted like they care."
"I do care about you, Randy. You're an attractive young man and an excellent student when you put your mind to it."
The smile was weak. "Thanks, sir."
"For heaven's sake stop calling me sir. I'm not that much older than you and we're not in class. My name's Chris. What's this all about?"
The boy lifted his right leg and pulled up his jeans leg a little so Chris could see. Attached to the boy's leg was a few inches of plastic, ending in a rubber tip. "This. I guess you never noticed, sir."
Randy lowered the peg-leg back to the floor. When Chris looked at him, he saw the boy's moist eyes. "That's why I gotta quit school. It got to hurting me, so I went to a doctor. He told me the bone in my leg is growing and about to break through. They've got to cut it off again. If they do I can't work, and if I can't work I don't have money for school. I'm scared, sir. I was just a kid when they cut my foot off the first time, so I don't remember much about it."
"Won't your parents be with you?"
"They died in the accident that got my leg, sir. My grandmother raised me. Now she's gone, too."
"God, I'm sorry, Randy. How are your expenses going to be covered?"
"I'm still not eighteen, sir, so welfare and the cripple children's fund will cover it. But they've already told me they won't buy me a new peg, because I'll be eighteen by the time it's over. They'll give me some crutches, but that's all." The boy wiped at his eyes with a fist. "I'll lose my job because I can't move boxes and stuff on crutches, then I won't have nowhere to live. I'm just renting a room and my landlady wants to get rid of me 'cause I'm behind on my rent."
Since the first day of the semester, Chris had consciously avoided looking at Randy in class, fighting the attraction he felt toward the handsome young man. Now to see the short peg that replaced the boy's foot caused him to twist in his chair to ease the strain in his slacks. He wanted to help, but at what cost to his self control.
He looked at his watch. "Randy, it's time for lunch. Come eat with me." If the boy accepted his invitation, he could use the time to sort out his feelings and perhaps find out more about him.
"Thanks, sir, but I only eat twice a day."
"You can't be on a diet."
"No, sir." Randy dropped his head. "No money," he mumbled.
Chris pulled the boy up. "I'm inviting you, Randy. I'll enjoy your company."
"Really? Thanks, sir."
"Call me Chris, Randy. I mean it." He led the way down to his car, looking at the ease with which the boy walked. No wonder I never noticed. You can't tell he's missing a foot.
"You're not eating in the cafeteria?"
"Not today. We both need something better."
Chris drove to a small restaurant where he often ate because of the good food and low prices.
He noticed Randy looking at the selection of sandwiches. What a considerate fellow, he thought. He's afraid to order what he wants because I'm paying.
"Hi, May," he said to the waitress, "got any good steaks?"
"Sure do, lover boy. Boss got in a few special ones this morning."
"Good. You know how I want mine. What about you, Randy?"
"Too much. I'll just have a sandwich."
Chris saw his hungry look. "Nonsense. Tell May how you want it."
"Medium well, but I can't ?"
"You certainly will. Two mediums then, May."
"Sure thing. Rest the same?"
"Thanks, Chris." Randy said after the waitress moved off toward the kitchen.
"My pleasure. And thanks for calling me Chris."
"Oh, man, that was good. I can't remember when I had a steak last." Randy said when they were back in his car.
Chris turned in his seat to look at the boy. "There are only four weeks remaining in the semester. Can your surgery wait that long?"
"If I don't put any strain on my leg like I do working. Why?"
"I want you to finish up the semester so you won't lose credit in all the classes you're taking. Having to retake them would be even more of a financial burden."
Randy shook his head. "I gotta keep working long as I can. Landlady told me this morning my stuff's gonna be on the porch when I get home. I gotta find somewhere else to live. It takes money I haven't got to do that. If working hurts my leg, that's the way it's gotta be."
Chris admired the boy's spirit and determination, but grieved over his situation. Suddenly his thoughts congealed. "Where do you live, Randy?"
"Over on First street. Why?"
"We're going to pick up your stuff so you can move into your new home, that is if you want to."
"But I don't have anywhere to go yet."
"You do now. I'll show you after we get your things."
Two bulging black plastic trash bags lay near the rotting steps of the house Randy had directed Chris to. The boy opened the bags and began to sort through the contents.
An elderly woman appeared in the doorway. "You got that twenty you owe me? If you ain't, you ain't agoin' to take nothin'."
Randy's head dropped. "Let's go Chris. I don't have any money and it's her right to keep my stuff. I've been through this before."
"Like hell!" Chris opened his billfold and held out a twenty to her. "You certain everything that belongs to Randy is here?"
"Damn right. I ain't gonna have him tellin' the cops I took his stuff, cause I didn't. Ain't no use to me nohow. Now get outta here."
Chris picked up one of the bags and walked to his car. He saw Randy pick up the other bag and follow slowly with a heavy limp.
"What's wrong, Randy?" He asked when they were in the car and he could see the pain etched in the boy's face.
"My leg. Started when I picked up my stuff. I gotta get the peg off."
"We'll be home in a few minutes. I'll help you."
Chris stopped at a drug store and bought a pair of wooden crutches. When they arrived at his apartment. He handed them to Randy. "Use these, I'll take your things in."
When Chris opened the door, Randy looked around, then back to him. "No way I can afford a place like this."
"You don't have to, it's my place. I've got an extra bedroom you're using. Any objections?"
His eyes widened. "You asking me to stay with you?"
"I am, if we get along."
"I'll do anything you want, sir. I'll stay in my room and not bother you any. If you'll let me use your kitchen to cook something for me, I'll clean up after so you won't even know I'm here."
"I want you to share everything while you're here, Randy." He saw the boy wince when he set the peg down on the floor and started to rest his weight on it. "Let's get that peg off. Sit down."
He knelt beside the boy, watching him remove the peg. The end of his stump was split, oozing blood. Chris rushed to the bath and returned with a damp cloth and a box of Band-Aids. He wiped the stump gently and stretched the largest Band-Aid over the split skin.
"How have you stood the pain? Walking must be torture."
Randy looked him in the eyes. "You do what you gotta. But you don't have to be good to me. Why're you doing it?"
"I ? " Chris hesitated. Should he tell the boy? Guess this is as good a time as any. "Randy, I'm going to tell you something nobody else knows. If you want to leave after you hear what I'm going to say, I won't try to stop you. But I hope you'll stay. I? I'm attracted to you. I've been able to control my feelings, but when you showed me your peg, it was too much."
Randy pulled himself up on the crutches and faced Chris. "You want me that much, even after you seen my leg?"
Chris closed his eyes in the pain the thought of the boy leaving brought, as he looked ready to do. "I had to tell you to be fair. I swear I'll never touch you, and I'll be with you when you go to the hospital. You can come back here after the operation and I'll take care of you the best way I know how until you can take care of yourself again."
The crutches dropped to the floor as Randy grabbed Chris in a hug. "I've been wanting to do this ever since I saw you in class the first day."