Chapter 1: Bottom of the Pyramid

Chapter 1: Bottom of the Pyramid

“That’s what I thought.” Johnson was pacing back and forth as he was yelling at his frail teenage daughter sitting on the porch. She was sitting in an old and rustic wooden swing that had needed a new coat of paint for years. Speaking of that old swing, the porch was old too. Hell, the house was old. Every step you made on the rotting wood made an eerie creaking sound.

Johnson knew where she had been.  He knew what she had been doing.  He knew all of this because he had once been in her shoes. He was a teenager once.  He used to stay out late and break all of the rules his parents had set for him.  He had even been caught drinking. As a matter of fact, it was before he was even old enough to drive.  He was quite the party boy, to be honest, sneaking out late at night, smoking Marlboro cigarettes, and drinking endless cans of Budweiser. He didn’t care that it always made his stomach queasy. It made him feel cool and accepted. But that was a long time ago.  And well, this time, she was the one getting caught, not him.

“Daddy, I didn’t know what time it was.  It got late and we lost track of time. It’s not like we were doing anything bad. We were studying.” He cut her off before she could get any further into her excuses and deeper into the six-foot hole she was digging for herself.  She did have such an innocent look about her.  Even the way she crossed her arms made her seem all that more innocent. Come to think of it, his wife used to cross her arms like that. The older she got the more she looked like her mother.

“Do you actually take me for a fool, Shelby?  I am your father, the elder in the situation here, and I have been pretty lenient on you since your mother died. Have I not?”  Johnson was stark mad and there was practically steam coming from his ears.  This was typical behavior for him.  He was just using this as a scare tactic, Shelby thought. There was no way she was going to get into trouble. All she had to do was be patient until he realized that.

“Why do you always have to bring Mom into this?  She wouldn’t care if I were out past my curfew.  She might not even have given a curfew.  Dad, I am sixteen years old, you know.”  She acted as if she was above the law and that rules didn’t apply to her.  She pranced around like some untouchable celebrity making her way through high school and acting as if there was no such thing as an authority figure. She would have to grow up one day, Johnson thought.

Shelby was dating the quarterback of the football team.  She was also on the cheer squad, but only being a sophomore, was at the bottom of the pyramid.  Steve, the all-state, tall, tan, sexy QB was a senior.  Like you haven’t heard this one before.  He had scholarships from schools all over the country pouring in like a rainy day in Seattle.  On top of his rocket arm, he was cute. All of the girls wanted a chance to be with him. That didn’t help with the football coaches trying to recruit him, but it did help his social life.  It was the talent that he had in his arm that excited the coaches.  Steve had a year-round tan, always wore his letter jacket, and drove the loudest truck with the biggest tires.

“I know where you were, Shelby.  Stop trying to talk your way out of this.  This is the final straw.  I don’t care how your mother would have reacted. I am not going to treat you like she did.  Not this time.”  Johnson just kept talking his way into some grand punishment that he knew he was never going give.  Shelby knew he wasn’t. As hard as he tried to be a tough and demanding father, he always gave in.  She was only a couple minutes late, anyway, and she knew he would never get this upset if he didn’t have something else on his mind.

“Daddy, what do you want me to say?  What can I do? You want me to promise that I will never be late again? Fine. It will never happen again. I promise.”  When she began to use the word Daddy, he knew there was nothing left he could do. He would crack, lessen the punishment, or not even give one at all, and everything would go back to normal. Just the way she liked it.

“Baby, do you know why I am always so hard on you?”  He tried to find a way to explain why he was always so tough on her. He wanted her to learn from situations like this, not to feel as though he was always coming down on her or that he was a mean father. That was never his intention.

“I know, I know.  It’s because you are trying to keep me from having fun.  Because you are trying to punish me for being a typical teenager.”  She knew he would give her the same answer he always did. It was because he loved her and was just trying to protect her from all of the nasty things teenagers all over the world face on a daily basis.  Of course, she did understand a little bit. He had already lost one woman in his life and she knew he couldn’t handle losing another one. She didn’t want to be this way. She just kept reminding herself that she was a teenager and this was the way it was supposed to be.

Here it came. “Baby, I do this because I love you. I do it because I want you to be safe and home at a decent hour.  I want you to get your rest.  For goodness sake, Shelby, I don’t think I am asking too much. And this Friday is the last game of the season. Do you want to be staying out all night and be tired for the big game?”  It really wasn’t the last game of the season. They had a few more regular season games left before the playoffs even got under way. Depending on how the team did they could play four or five more games in the playoffs. The game wasn’t until Friday so even if Shelby had been out late and lost some sleep, she had a couple of days to rest up. But she knew he was just trying to make excuses and somehow justify the punishment that he was never going to give.

“Yes, Daddy, I know we have a big game coming up.  And I am sorry. I tell you what, Daddy. After the game I promise I won’t even go out to celebrate. I will come straight home.  Maybe we can even make some homemade ice cream and sit out on the swing. How does that sound?”  Just then she began to put on that priceless smile that all fathers love. She was smiling from ear to ear just as Johnson looked up at her with those forgiving eyes. Shelby really liked his homemade ice cream. Especially the chocolate chip cookie dough he always made. She wasn’t even sure if he knew how to make any other flavors. Good thing she liked it.

“Well, your grand daddy did always say that no matter how much you have for dinner, or how full you were after your last bite, there is always room left over for ice cream.  So, after the game I want you back here for some homemade ice cream. You got that?”  Johnson began to smile.

“I am giving you two scoops. You think you can handle that?”  He smiled deeper and as he stood up from the porch bench to hug his daughter, he realized that she had won yet again.  He knew that when she pulled in the driveway he wasn’t going to punish her. She had been through so much lately and as tough as he seemed to be on the outside, both he and Shelby knew how soft he was on the inside. He loved her too much to ground her.  She was his baby girl and he wasn’t going to let anything happen to her.