Project Dream

Chapter 6 Lenny

“Mrs. Emling, the—”

“Ms. It’s Ms. Emling.”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Emling, our records show Lenny is the fastest and strongest boy at the Thomas detention center. We could use his abilities in our program.”

Mary Alice looked the man up and down. What did he think? That she was stupid?

“Mr. Grant, what is this really about? You have spent the last hour and a half dancing around the subject and the past three weeks testing my son, calling me. I’m tired. I just want to know what this is really about.

“An opportunity, Ma’am, for your son to make good. Turn his life around.”

Mary Alice raised her eyebrows. “Turn himself around?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Officer, my son does not need turned around. Your legal justice department needs turned around.”

“I know how you feel, Ma’am.”

“No, you don’t, officer. Let’s get that straight. My son Lenny found three boys, one of whom was raping a twelve-year-old girl. The other two were waiting their turn, and so he ripped them to shreds. All three of them. You and the Pennsylvania state police sent him to the Thomas Center for rehabilitation.

“He nearly killed one of them, Ma’am.”

She hesitated, knowing full well the silence implied his words affected her. But they didn’t. She let him wallow in his self-win for a moment. Then she let him have it.

“I believe—I’m not completely sure because no one revealed all three names but I believe—one of those boys was—”

She hesitated again.

“Your boss’s son.” Her chin snapped to the side, and she squinted one eye. “Some Barnett boy. And correct me if I’m wrong but this boy—this somebody Barnett—never spent one second in a detention center.”

The officer folded his hands on the conference table and cleared his throat.

“No, Ma’am, but the boy who—the boy accused of raping the girl is in a reformatory—”

“Well, isn’t that nice.” She set one long finger against the side of her mouth. “How fortunate, wouldn’t you say? That this Brandon boy was lucky enough to be second in line?”

She dropped her hand away from her face and straightened.  “What about intent or abetting of a crime. Do I have to find myself an attorney officer?”


He was still talking but she stood and gathered her belongings.

“No. You’re not taking my son anywhere. He’s a good—”

“Mary Alice.” The man stood quickly. She could see the angst building in his expression. “Your son is never going to get out of reformatory school, and my guess is Barnett will make his life a living hell when he turns eighteen, so I think you better sit back down and reconsider.”

Mary Alice slapped her purse down onto the table, heaving two flat palms on its surface and leaning toward the officer. “Then you tell me the truth because I think I know what this is all about.”

“The truth is we have a new program for bigger, faster, physically-fit kids.”

“Uh-huh.” She kept staring. “And that’s it? You’re going to send him to school, to a private middle school and high school, give him free college, ensure him a job, and pay me a stipend all because Lenny grew nine inches the past year and can run like Usain Bolt. What do you want him to do? Run from Barnett?”

The officer sat down and rubbed the back of his neck with his thick fingers. “Nothing, Ma’am. He’s not going to be running from anything or anyone. He’ll be educated. Grow up with normal teenage years. Attend college and then work for the US government.”

“Bullshit.” Mary Alice didn’t often swear but she’d had enough. “Tell me the truth or I walk out this door. What do you want my boy for?”

He glanced back at her and she supposed her eyes spit daggers because he did a double take. Studied her intently. She could almost see the truth dawning on him: she was going to make him tell her.

“They don’t want him for his physical strength, do they?” She leaned closer.

“No, ma’am.”

She pushed off the table with her hands and lifted the purse strap over her shoulder.

“You want him for his mind.”

Again, a coldness in the room enveloped them. The clock on the wall ticket, the other officer standing by the door shifted his weight, making the floor creek beneath him. Outside the door someone shuffled by on high heels, muffled voices rang from other City Hall rooms, but no one in their room spoke. The silence lasted seconds but felt like minutes.

“No, Ma’am.” The officer’s shoulders sagged. He appeared more relieved to tell her than defeated.

“We want him for both.”


Two weeks later, Lenny Emling stood next to the black limousine in the parking lot of the Thomas Detention center, hugging his mother. She was hugging him back like she would never see him again.

“I’m sorry, Lenny,” she whispered. “The attorney said this was our only option. We’d never get you out of here unless you enrolled in the program.”

“It’s ok-k-kay, Ma.” Lenny’s big arms squeezed his mother back. “I don’t really c-c-care about leaving. It’s n-not like I like my school.”

“But you had such a good year in football. You were really finding yourself. Had made some friends.”

“They r-r-really only liked me because I w-w-was big. M-made a good defensive tackle.”

“I’m going to miss you. I know you shot up like a bean stalk this past year.” She pushed him away, her eyes wet. “But you’ll always be my little Lenny.”

“Ma.” He sighed, tried to act annoyed. The one thing he couldn’t bear in life was to see his mother cry. “I’m f-fine.”

She licked her thumb and wiped something off the corner of his mouth.

“Ma,” he said. “I’m twelve years old. You c-can’t k-keep treating me like a b-baby.”

“Oh, Lenny.” She grabbed his forearms with her hands and began crying outright.

“Mrs. Emling,” the driver said. “We have to leave now.”

“It’s Ms.,” she whispered, throwing her arms around Lenny for one last mighty hug. Then she took his face in her hands and kissed his forehead.

“Ma, s-stop.”

“All right, sweetie. You go now. You get the best education and you make something of yourself.”

“Geez, Ma.” He was surprised how easy it was to sound annoyed with her. He picked up his small bag and stepped away from her. “It’s n-not like I’m n-never coming back or anything.”

He didn’t look at her again. He jumped in the car, closed the door, and took a seat in the back, away from the driver. When he wiggled into a comfortable position, he noticed the partition. A Plexiglas shield separated him from the driver. Thankful he wouldn’t spend the two hour trip to the Pittsburgh airport forcing conversation, he placed his bag on the seat next to him, refusing to gaze out the window at his mother.

While the driver rounded the car, got in, and started the engine, Lenny inspected the lunch his mother had packed him. He brought out the brown bag, dipped his hand inside, and pulled out a peanut butter sandwich. As he did, a small sheet of purple stationary fell out and onto the seat. He picked the note up and read it.

“No matter where you go or who you meet, remember, no one will ever love you like your mother. XXXOOO Mom.”

Lenny held the note in his big hands for a minute, staring down at the words. Thinking how she was always saying that—that no one would ever love him more than she did. Big wet drops began falling from his eyes down to the paper and the blue ink of the words blurred into the purple sheet.

The car started moving.

“Ma,” Lenny said, reaching for the door. He realized it then. He was leaving her alone. With no one. He jiggled the door. It was locked. The car began inching its way down the long driveway, and Lenny slapped the hand with the note onto the window as he passed his mother. She was crying. Holding her face in her hands.

“Ma,” he yelled, turning, banging on the window, and helplessly watching her as the limousine rolled away.

“Ma, I love you!”

He shouted I love you over and over until his mother faded from view. Then, for the first time in his sad twelve years of life, Lenny Emling threw his big, awkward body down onto the back seat of that limousine and cried like a baby.