“Ya got the key?” Jeremy grinned in the moonlight.
“I tol’ you I got it.” Bradley wasn’t grinning. His hands trembled as he worked the lock.
“You skeered?” Jeremy gave a snort of laughter.
“Shut up or she’ll hear.”
Bradley pulled open the door and they padded in stocking feet down the hall. He cringed and curled his toes as he set each foot down. Who knew what sharp objects or creepy crawlies lurked in the blackness.
He paused in the office doorway. This was her special place. Jeremy pushed against him and he fell in, the still air slapping him in the face. They shouldn’t be in here. He knew that. He felt even the walls knew that. She had to know. The very house would tell her someone had entered where they should not.
A light burst on. Bradley gasped. Jeremy cackled. “Scardy cat.” He turned the beam toward the middle of the room, the sharp light slicing through the darkness so the desk glowed. Jeremy began pulling open drawers and ruffling through them. Bradley used his own light to glance through the file cabinet in the corner.
“Didn’t you say she keeps her money in here? I don’t see it,” Jeremy grumbled.
Bradley pulled open another drawer, cringing at the loud scraping sound. “Here’s a box.” He brought it to the table and both boys held their breath as he slowly pried it open.
“Letters!” Jeremy crowed. “She has a box of love letters.”
“Aww, don’t worry. If we get caught the worst that can happen is that you go live with your mom.”
Bradley gasped. Mentioning his mother’s jail sentence was off-limits. He swung the flashlight and felt the dull thud as it connected with Jeremy’s head. “Give me the box and get out of here, you jerk.”
Jeremy smacked him hard and Bradley fell toward the door. He caught himself and stumbled into something soft. He looked up.
It was his grandmother.
She reached a hand to the wall and the room flooded with light. For a moment no one spoke. Bradley looked down at the letters that were now scattered all over the floor, yellowed papers with ink scrawled over them in flowing loops. He suddenly felt he had ruined something private, something cherished. His grandparents’ lives lay within those papers, the beginning of a love that had eventually led to his own existence.
He bent then and began gathering them all. His grandma and Jeremy just watched, and with each folded bundle of papers, Bradley’s shame grew. Finally he handed the box to the old woman.
“I’m sorry.” The words were lame.
“I know.” Disappointment lined her face. “I know you are sorry, Bradley. That’s why I’m going to press charges. You still have a good heart in there somewhere, if only you can be stopped from going even farther down the wrong path.”
So that was how he ended up in the courtroom. The room was mostly empty, yet his grandmother managed to fill it all up, somehow.
He finished his mumbled story and the judge shuffled papers around before turning to him. “All right, Mr. Larkin. This is your first offence, so you will not have to serve jail time. You will, however, have some community service. Also,” he leaned forward, “your grandmother and I have decided on a boarding school for you. In the summer your grandmother will have custody of you.”
The judge continued, but Bradley was stuck on one sentence. He turned his head slightly toward the old woman. She didn’t smile exactly, but her face softened. She wants me. Even after what he’d done to her, she still wanted him to live with her.
“Mr. Larkin,” the judge’s voice caught his attention again. “You will also be required to keep in touch weekly with your grandmother by writing a letter by hand.”
Bradley was puzzled, but thought of the love letters they’d found in the office. The letters that connected his grandmother and grandfather. The letters that connected the past to the present. And now... now he and his grandma would have letters that connected family. Letters to prove he had someone to love him, someone to care what he did from day to day.
“Do you understand, Mr. Larkin?”
Bradley glanced again at his grandmother, and this time she did smile. For the first time that day, the boy looked the judge straight in the eye and spoke clearly.
“Yes, your honor, I understand.”
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