When Paul finished talking to the principal, he left his car in the school’s parking lot and decided to take a stroll around the building. He checked every nook and crevice he thought a student could hide, but he couldn’t find Vernon. He finally went back to his car and drove towards the bridge where he knew all sorts of things took place. Sure enough, he spotted Vernon talking with a guy who looked pretty seedy; he sat in the car watching and then decided to take a picture when he saw them make an exchange. When Paul got out of his car, the guy he didn’t know ran in the other direction. Vernon looked up to see why the guy ran and saw Paul and readied himself for the lecture, he knew was coming.
“Vernon! Hold on a minute! I’ve been looking for you,” Paul told him.
“Yeah, well you found me. What up?”
“I was just at the school making arrangements for an assembly and I wanted to ask you and some other young people to participate. I got a chance to talk to Ronald and Stephanie last night, but you left before I could get to you. So, how about it? Would you be interested in participating?”
“Nah. I ain’t got time for that assembly crap. That’s for the nerds—Ronald and Stephanie would be perfect.”
By now Paul was standing directly in front of him and looked at him closely. Vernon’s eyes were glassy and red. He refused to look directly at Paul and kept fingering something in his pocket.
“Okay, Vernon. Since when did a school assembly classify as “crap” and why do you call Ronald and Stephanie nerds? I thought you all were friends.”
“We was, but you know, things change,” Vernon responded sullenly. “I don’t need no assembly in school trying to tell me anything. Those things are always so lame.”
“Look at me, Vernon. Look at me!” He was close enough to Vernon to reach out and grab him, but he didn’t. “What is going on with you? You’re skipping school, your grades are failing, and you’re standing here high as a helium-filled balloon.”
“Man, I don’t know what you talking about,” Vernon started, but Paul interrupted him.
“Don’t even try to deny it. I know the symptoms and signs. Working at the rehab center with kids for the last nine years has taught me a great deal. I do know how to recognize the signs when someone is using. So, what are you using? And like I said, don’t try to deny it.”
Vernon gave him a dirty look and then shrugged his shoulders. “What’s it to you? I ain’t bothering you none?”
“What…are…you…using?” Paul repeated, firmly stating each word.
“Okay, okay! It’s no big deal. I’m just smoking a little weed, that’s all!” Vernon shouted, angrily. “Man, get off my back, you not my father.”
“No, I’m not your father. I came looking for you because I wanted to talk to you before I talked to your father. And the weed—it is a big deal. I almost lost my life after smoking some weed—my little indiscretion cost my parents a fortune and me a scholarship. So, don’t tell me, ‘a little weed is no big deal’. Any weed at all is a big deal, the sale and use of it is illegal and you are too young to get strung out on it.” He watched him fidgeting with his hand in his pocket. “What’s in your pocket that has you more interested in it than in what I’m saying?”
“Ain’t none of your business what’s in my pocket!” Vernon pulled his hand out of his pocket and was clenching his fist.
“Oh, I’m making it my business. And what’s next…?—I see your balled up fist. You think you can take me on?” Now, Paul did grab Vernon by his collar, pushing him back against the pillar of the bridge.
Vernon was choking and couldn’t breathe and he tried to pry Paul’s hands from around his neck, but couldn’t. Paul relaxed his hold on him, but didn’t completely let him go.
“Now, I’ll ask you again. What’s in your pocket?”
“Come on man. I told you. A little weed,” Vernon wheezed his response.
“Pull it out your pocket!”
Vernon hesitated and Paul tightened his grip.
“Okay, okay, here!” Vernon held up the bag in his hand. What he had was not “a little weed, but enough for him to sell and make some serious money.
Paul let Vernon go and snatched the bag out of his hand. When he opened it, he discovered 15 tiny zip-lock packets of weed. He was still blocking Vernon’s escape so he just looked at him disgustedly.
“Do you know how you’re messing up your life with this garbage? Do you? I should just throw it in the river, but I really wouldn’t want to destroy the fish. Not like you’re destroying your life. And your father—what would he say about this?”
“Man, leave my father out of this. He’s got enough problems of his own.”
“Vernon, I can’t leave your father out of this. He has to be told. Now the question is—who’s going to tell him, me or you?”
“I ain’t telling him nothing and he won’t believe you!”
“He will when I provide him with the evidence. I took a picture of you and the guy that ran off. Just what do you think he’ll make of that?”
Now, Vernon was scared. With his father’s temper and all of that secret stuff going on with him, he knew he was in trouble, but his immaturity and lack of real bravado wouldn’t let him back down.
“Go ahead! Tell him. Show him all the pictures you want to. He’ll listen to me and then blame everything on you. Try him!”