Misjudged – Part Four
Jason pulled out his banjo and said, “After talking to these three kids, I decided to write you a song.” Tommy looked like he had stars in his eyes. “So…” Jason continued, “This is a song about a boy who became king of the park.” Then he leaned in close and whispered, “That’s you, kid.” Tommy giggled and Jason began strumming his banjo.
Jason had a surprisingly good voice. The song described a park that was run by a not so nice older boy; he pushed people off of slides and made the younger kids bring him food. Then, however, a new kid (who Tommy assumed was him) moved in and took over the playground, becoming the new king. He made sure everyone was treated with respect and in return, the kids loved him. The song was quite long and silly, but Tommy loved it nonetheless.
When Jason finished, everyone clapped and Tommy yelled, “That was so good!” He jumped up from the log he was sitting on and hugged Jason.
Tommy then turned back to the three teens. “He made that based off of what you guys told him about me?”
The three of them shrugged sheepishly and Jason said, “Those three think very highly of you. And after what you did for me earlier, I can’t say they’re wrong.”
Tommy gasped and reached into his pocket, pulling out a wrinkly five-dollar bill. “I almost forgot! Greyson and Cash said they give you some money when you play the banjo for them, and I brought some too, just in case you played! Good thing I did.”
Jason stared at the money for a minute and then said, “Thanks son, but I can’t take your money.”
“But I really want you to have it!”
Jason took the money, pretended to think for a minute, and then gave it back to Tommy. “I want to give you this money for being so nice to me, and I want you to use it to buy yourself an ice cream cone after this.”
Tommy hesitantly took it back and thanked Jason. He then looked back over at the three teens. “This is enough for all four of us if we each get a small one!” Cash gave him a thumbs up.
Tommy looked back at Jason and asked, “Why are you homeless?”
Greyson choked on the water he was drinking and Scarlett hissed, “Tommy!”
Tommy, who didn’t really know better, asked “What?”
Jason laughed and told Tommy that it was ok. “Are you up for a story?” Tommy nodded and resumed his seat next to Scarlett, who had her face in her palm.
“Well,” began Jason, “I used to be in the army. I lived alone and was gone a lot. Nobody was able to watch my house because my parents died when I was younger and I wasn’t married. After I retired from the army, I came home to find my house had burned down.
“Now, when I was in the army, I got into some things that I wasn’t proud of. It made me someone I didn’t want to be, but I thought it was helping me cope with the stress. Because I had to keep buying these things, I ran out of money, and couldn’t afford another place to live. My insurance company was shady, and didn’t help me very much. For a while I stayed at a hotel, but I was running out of money.
“With the remaining money, I bought a tent and some other camping supplies. I went out into the woods that we’re in right now, and set up camp. I decided to give up those things that were making me a bad person, and used the remainder of the money to buy food. Canned food is pretty cheap, so that’s what I’ve been living off of ever since.”
Tommy looked thoughtful and then said, “I don’t think those things made you a bad person. Greyson uses cigarettes, but that doesn’t make him a bad person.”
Greyson, who had been trying to figure out how to light a cigarette without anyone noticing stopped and stared at Tommy.
Jason laughed unhumorously. “These things were a lot more dangerous than cigarettes, kid.”
“That still doesn’t make you a bad person. You just made a bad choice.” Greyson decided right then and there that he was going to try harder to quit smoking.
Jason patted Tommy’s back and said, “You’re wiser than you should be for your age.”
“How did you meet Greyson and Cash?” asked Tommy.
Jason glanced over at them and then looked back at Tommy. “I found them doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing near my camp and yelled at them until I got through their fat heads.”
Cash laughed nervously. “He even sang us a song about it.”
Scarlett looked at her phone and said, “It’s going to get dark soon, we should probably get going.”
“Awwwww already?” Tommy pouted.
“Yeah, already, bud. You don’t wanna be out here when it’s dark.” Scarlett pulled out her phone again. “However, we can’t leave without getting a picture of you and Jason. Say cheese.” Little did Tommy know, Scarlett was planning on making a scrapbook for him of all of their adventures. Greyson and Cash always complained about the amount of pictures and selfies she made them all take, but she told them that Tommy would appreciate it when they left for college next year.
After promising Jason that he would visit again, Tommy followed the teens out of the forest.
Scarlett pulled something out of her jacket. “Ok little man, open your hands. Jason may be pretty clean for a homeless dude, but I need to give you some hand sanitizer.”
They idly chatted on their way home, but as they got closer to the end of the woods, they noticed two figures waiting at the end. As they got closer, Tommy realized it was his parents.
next: Misjudged – Part Five
previous: Misjudged – Part Three
more by CASSIE GAMMIE
photograph by Christina Sicoli