In this section of what now is called BETTING ON THEO, Theo, the new kid in town, is chased through a neighborhood by the school bully and his friends. Passing an old factory, a gate opens and Theo reunites with Dev, his friend who had been missing for a couple days. The scene starts in the middle of the chase.
With Bobby Danforth and his buddies more than a block away, Theo leaned against the iron gate. When he heard Bobby Danforth yell, “Wait up,” he waved and ran a few steps, vaulted a couple tree trunks, jumped through some thickets and emerged back on the main driveway about a fifty feet from the gate. He stopped just long enough for them to spot him. “Wait up, man.” That was Bobby Danforth. Theo liked the frustration in his voice. At the cellar, Theo sprinted up the side path and ran till he got to the wooden fence. He made a couple rights and a left and stopped at the corner that would lead back to Main Street and his house, but took the other turn toward County. Guess I lost them. Ha! He brushed his right hand along the wooden fence, slapping it once in celebration.
Ahead, a section of the fence opened. “In here.”
It was Dev.
“T, what are you doing?” She closed the door and locked it with a thick wooden latch.
“What. Dev? Wait, over here,” and Theo led her to stand behind a wall. “Bobby Danforth and his guys are following me. Shhh.”
He smiled at her while they waited to hear if Bobby and his boys were still on his trail. She was tired, her eyes withdrawn and dark.
More than tired, he thought. Beaten down. Lost.
A fist thumped the fence near the gate. The wall shifted with an outside push. “Come on,” Bobby Danforth said. “If you can hear me, Thee awful lee, this ain’t over.”
Theo and Dev waited in silence. Another thump against a far wall echoed. “Had him running, didn’t we?”
When the street fell silent, Theo asked, “What are you doing here? How long…?”
Dev reached for the bar on the gate. “You can go, T.” They won’t get you now.”
“No, I just got here. It’s been a few days, you know. Been pretty worried about you. How’d you know it was me?”
“Heard you running. Nobody goes by here, so when I hear someone, I peek through the wall, just in case.” She stepped back into the main factory building which was missing windows and half its roof. “It’s an old woolen mill. You’d be surprised how much stuff is still here. This room is warm and isolated.”
Theo glanced around. And dirty and wet and filled with moldy junk and probably rats…
“Why are…?” Theo held his head with both hands to organize his thoughts. “I know about the farm,” he said and saw her shoulders sag before she turned away. “The grocery manager…”
Dev turned back, face locked, eyes hard. “Did the grocery manager also tell you he knocked on the school bus every night demanding that I service him? ‘Oh, my beautiful little chicka, I have something for you. I want to make you sing.’”
“Why didn’t you report him?”
“To who? You were there when I said something about Bobby Danforth playing with himself when I came out of the shower. They were embarrassed for him, not me.” She touched his face. “You’re a sweet boy, T. But just go. I can deal with this for a while and one day soon after the farm pays me I’ll move on.”
He took her hand. “I ain’t going anywhere. I mean I don’t know a lot about all this, but I know what’s it’s like to be alone. What am I trying to say? “I don’t know why you changed your name to Devlin …”
“How do you know I changed it?”
“Jacob told me.”
She pulled back her hand and sat on a dusty chair. “Jacob. That little busybody.”
Theo pulled up a wooden box for a seat. “That little busybody can help. He’s had his own Bobby Danforth trouble.”
“Why don’t you use of own real name?” she asked. “Theophile, right? Du-boi, not Du-boiz?”
His face crumpled. “I told you. My grandfather…”
“I know. A white Frenchman changed his name so he could pass for normal.”
“Stings don’t it? Try being the brown-skinned teenage daughter of a Mexican migrant farmworker. What, you thought I had a tan?” She laughed. “I chose Devlin because it was the whitest Irish name I could think of, and no one noticed I don’t have red hair and green eyes, or talk about the ‘old country’ with mist in my eyes.”
Theo stood and pulled Dev from her chair and held both her hands.
“Why you doing this, Dev? I’m your friend. I don’t care that you … whatever. It’s like you trying to drive me away.”
“Ah, T. Don’t you get it? Nobody cares about people like me. What got me in trouble at school? I stole a carton of milk. They didn’t ask why I needed to steal the milk and the I only reason I got caught is that Mrs. Nelson was out that day. I live in a stupid old school bus. It’s like it doesn’t bother them because you can’t really see it from the street and it’s not in their neighborhood.” She nodded to an opening to another room. “I got a stove and made a bed outta old wool for covers.”
“No, Dev. No.” Theo screwed up his face and close his eyes. “It just hurts to..”
“Don’t do that to yourself, T. Don’t take it on. You gotta learn to be like the others. The school doesn’t want to do all that paperwork because in Mrs. Sternman’s mind, I’ll be gone in six months, like all the others.”
“Farm workers, T. Migrants, immigrants, illegals… hiding in the shadows, here for six months till the crops are harvested, then gone. Why bother?” Her voice broke and she covered her face. “I’m nothing, T. Nothing.”
Theo crossed and hugged her, holding Dev as her rigid body tried to pull out of the embrace. After a moment, Theo released her and said, “Get your stuff. You’re coming with me.”
“We got a spare room.”
“My Mom grew up without a mother. If she knew I left you here, she’s ground me for the rest of my life and then come and get you herself. So, let’s go.”