As the school bus made its way down Stephens Road, Bobby Lee Curtis eleven and a half years old, stared out the window. Hoping no one would notice him hanging his head low in shame, he watched as the brightly fall colored trees flashed by. Knowing that the Big House coming up on the right was truly where his Mom lived, at least most of time, and that all his friends knew about it too just made him sick to his stomach. He fell silent at the curve in the road right at the VFW and usually it worked. The kids of Woodland were mostly good natured and refrained from bullying each other too much. At least those in the three blocks that Bobby and his friends claimed as their part of town. Just like the Curtis’, most families hid their abuses or alcohol problems. His friends were content with their lot in life, knowing full well what Bobby Lee and his sisters had to live with.
Everyone knew Mrs. Curtis as the Woodland Town Drunk. She was pretty violent too, not a woman to be reckoned with. She knew all the kids and their parents and would not hesitate for a minute to show up inebriated at someone’s house to expose some bad habit or another. This was still an era when parents weren’t really afraid to reach out and slap any child that behaved badly. The public beatings that the Curtis kids endured when they didn’t make it home before the street lights came on put everyone to shame.
Today was Friday and school was out for the weekend. Once the bus turned into the neighborhood off Stephens Road Bobby let out a private sigh of relief, looking around to make sure no one had heard him. As he glanced up daring to become excited because it was the weekend, he saw his little sister, Lorna Sue, watching him with a silent understanding. She sat with her girlfriend Tonya a few rows away.
& n b s p ; & nbsp; Just as it had for generations, the bus stopped with a loud braking screech on the intersection of Second Avenue, the Horse Shoe and Valley Way, the crew of kids on board, already in a wild frenzy. A pretty boy, almost girly with long blond hair, light green eyes speckled with almond and gold, jumped from the bus in one long leap over the sewer cover. Bobby Lee hit the ground running. Making for the corner up Second Avenue he grabbed the fence of the neighbor’s yard for leverage. No one ever knew the people who lived on that corner which was odd because their house was right in the middle of Woodland. The town was quite large for the kids of his size and age. This intersection was the center of their world.
Bobby heard Timmy call out his name and he stopped right then. He looked back across the street and there under the gigantic old maple at the corner of the Horse Shoe, waited his best friends. They looked menacing leaning as they were, against the giant tree which grew up beside the neighbor’s fence, just hanging out. That enormous sentinel had protected the Woodland children from the sun and rain for many a year. It really was the best place for a bus stop. As he made his way across the street, the school bus was just moving around the corner of Third Avenue. Bobby had to wave his hand in his face to clear the still lingering smog from its exhaust. Strangely though, it was a reassuring smell. He didn’t realize it then, but the smell represented so many things: safety, education, continuity and a bright future. Jumping on the curb after crossing the street, he heard the magic words, “the woods.” Plans for a weekend hike into the forest were already taking shape.
“Can I go with you guys?” he asked, unable to contain himself.
Timmy smiled back at his good friend, “Why do you think I called you over Butt Head?”
& n b s p ; & nbsp; All the boys were close in age, fifth and sixth grade level. Timmy, who had been kept behind a year in school now thirteen almost fourteen, was the oldest of the bunch. He, Bobby Lee, and Ralph were all in the sixth grade. Nowadays, kids that hang out seem threatening but these boys then weren’t an imposing bunch even with the long hair, clearly a sign of rebellion circa 1974. A tight friendship made them strong and confident. Even though they looked like rebels with that wild hair, jean jackets and smoking the occasional cigarette, they were really good kids, harmless, if the truth be told. All of them def