"Is your dad taking Paul's offer for the Nebraska job?" Adam asked.
"Dad said we'd talk about it, but regardless he wanted me to at least finish this school year here in Sparks," Wilson said. "I'd stay with Grandma and Grandpa, and if I didn't want to move to Nebraska I could stay and graduate from Sparks."
"What would you do?" Brody asked.
"I don't know," Wilson said. "I love it here, but I know that Dad and I are a family. I kind of hope he doesn't take the job regardless of the money."
"How long will your dad be in Nebraska?" Rita asked.
"He said he'd be home Friday in time for my game," Wilson said.
By morning Wilson's problem was put to the back of everyone's mind as Brody's excitement about driving to church grew. Brody was all smiles as he prepared for the drive.
"We'll meet you at church," Adam said as Brody made all the adjustments and double checked everything, much like a pilot.
"Where is the rest of the family?" Haden asked as he pulled up next to Adam's car.
"They're on their way," Adam said. "Brody's driving them in his car."
"Brody got a car?" Kyle asked. "What did he get?"
"That's it there," Adam said as Brody slowly pulled into the church parking lot, like the oldest parishioner, ninety-year-old Mrs. Haven.
"Nice," Haden said.
"Hey, Perry's here and I want him to see my car," Brody stated.
"After church," Darrell commanded.
"Remember, Lois has invited us to Ray's birthday meal at the Reed Center after church," Rita said.
"I didn't know about it, I didn't prepare anything," Haden said.
"Lois said not to bring anything," Rita said. "She said she'd provide everything. Grace is helping her since she wouldn't take no for an answer."
"Well, that's just like Grandma," Haden chuckled.
"Yeah, Perry's already here," Brody said when they entered the church. "Grandma and Grandpa are here too."
"What a nice surprise," Rita said as she sat next to Grace.
"I went by and helped Lois early, but she had a lot of it done," Grace said.
"You're amazing," Rita said as she squeezed Grace's hand.
"Perry, come and look at my car," Brody said as soon as the Eucharist was over.
"I want to see it too," Dustin said.
After admiring Brody's car everyone left to enjoy Ray's birthday lunch. There was a wide selection of food, including, of course, desserts.
"Dad, did you ask him?" Brody asked as soon as he finished eating.
"Him - who?" Darrell asked.
"Steve, about if I can drive on a date," Brody said.
"He's right over there, go ask him yourself," Darrell said.
Soon Brody returned to the table with a disappointed look. "He said only a family member for the first six months," Brody said. "The next six months after that, I can have only one non-family member as a passenger. But I can drive Adam and me to school since he's my brother."
"Amy and I alternated driving each week," Haden said.
"Yeah, we can do that," Adam agreed. "And Dad already said we were to alternate driving like you and Amy did."
"Brody, when are you going to take me for a ride in your car?" Grace asked.
"Right now, if you want," Brody said.
"We have to clean up here first," Grace said.
"Grandma, we can do it," Amy said.
"Alright, just a short ride," Grace agreed.
"Grandpa, do you want to go too?" Brody asked.
"Of course I do," Walter said.
"I want to go," Dustin said.
"No, not now," Lacey said. "It's too much trouble transferring your booster seat. Maybe the next time Brody can take you for a ride."
"Dad, will you get my booster seat?" Dustin asked.
"You heard your mother," Perry firmly responded. "Besides, your Grandma Grace brought strawberry shortcake."
"There's strawberry shortcake?" Brody asked. "Grandma ..."
"I'm in no hurry," Grace said. "I think I'll have some of Lois' chocolate cake."
"Thank you, Grandma," Brody said as he headed for the dessert table.
"Brody, this is a very nice car," Grace said as they drove away.
"It sure is," Walter agreed. "I may want to borrow it when I take Grace to a fancy restaurant."
After a big laugh Grace said, "Don't worry, your grandpa isn't taking me to a fancy restaurant."
"If I want great food I'll eat what you prepare," Walter said.
"Wow! Grandpa you weaseled out of that one," Brody said.
"Oh, he's good at that," Grace said.
"But you're right that Grandma is a good cook," Brody said.
"Thank you, Brody, and thank you for the ride," Grace said as Brody parked it at the Reed Center. "I love your car."
"Thank you," Brody beamed.
As Brody ate breakfast the next morning he said, "I wish I could drive to school today. I'd like for my friends to see my car. Hey, maybe Haden could come over and ride with me since the middle school is right next to the high school."
"Brody, you can wait until next month when you'll be sixteen," Darrell said.
"Dad, I know I'm impatient, but I can't help it," Brody admitted.
Darrell gave Brody a quick pat and said, "Son, I know you are and so were your brothers."
Brody's birthday arrived after what seemed like weeks but in actuality it was just a few days. "Dad, when can I take my driving test?" he asked the morning of his birthday.
"Today," Darrell said to Brody's surprise.
"After school?" Brody asked.
"No, the state has cut the budget of the Department of Public Safety and they close early now; I made your appointment for this morning," Darrell explained.
"I should've been studying," Brody said in a panic.
"Dummy, you already passed the written part when you got your learners permit," Adam said with a laugh.
"Shut up," Brody said as he gave Adam a playful punch. "I'll need a note for being late."
"I already wrote one for you," Rita said. "I also called your school."
"Thanks, Mom," Brody said. "Dad, are you ready?"
"Finish your breakfast, Son," Darrell said. "Your mom will follow us to Department of Public Safety and then you may drive on to school."
"Great, and Adam, I'm driving the rest of the week," Brody said.
"That's fine with me since this is Thursday," Adam said with a grin.
"And since it's already Thursday and you'll already be at school today doesn't count," Brody said with a got you smile. "So this week doesn't count."
"Adam, he did get you," Rita said. "And you'd better get ready for school."
"Alright, and good luck on your driving exam," Adam said as he gave his brother a quick pat. "And I have your school parking hang tag. I picked it up for you."
"You knew about my exam today?" Brody asked.
"Yep, Dad gave me a copy of your proof of insurance and tag number so I could get it for you," Adam said after taking the hang tag from his book bag.
"We'd better go too," Darrell said.
"I'm ready," Brody said.
"No you're not," Rita pointed out. "You'll need your book bag for school."
"Do I need my birth certificate?" Brody asked.
"No, remember we provided that when you got your learner's permit," Rita said.
Brody's smile told Darrell and Rita he had passed his driving test. "I guess I'm ready to go to school," he said.
"Not yet," Darrell said. "You have to go next door to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get your new license."
Brody proudly parked his car in student parking as he made his way to class. "Did you pass?" Hal Campbell asked when Brody arrived 30 minutes late for his Algebra class.
"I aced it," Brody said as he displayed his new license for all to see.
Brody was surprised with a birthday dinner with the family. He knew there would be a party at the Reed Center Saturday, but this was unexpected. Adam gave him a new wallet as he had noticed his was well worn. Haden and Kyle gave him an auto emergency tool that was also a tire gage. Amy and Tony gave him a first aid kit for his car. Perry and Lacey gave him a key-phone finder. And his parents gave him a gift certificate for new athletic shoes.
"Perry, and Lacey, that key finder won't work for him since he can't even keep up with his phone," Adam said.
"It tracks both, one for the phone and other one for the keys," Lacey stated.
"I may have to get those," Rita said.
"This is my best birthday ever, thanks everybody," Brody said.
"It isn't over yet," Haden pointed out.
"Not until after midnight," Brody agreed.
"Not until Saturday when you have your big party at the Reed Center," Haden said.
The party at the Reed Center was more than Brody expected. Rita and Darrell had hired the same DJ as the one for Justin's party. Grace had baked the birthday cake and planned the food. There were also cases of food for the food bank.
On the surface all seemed to be back to normal following Brody's birthday. However under the surface trouble for Haden was brewing. The pastor of the large fundamentalist church in Sparks was planning on running against Steve for his school board seat. His sole purpose was to terminate Haden's teaching contract. His congregation had already donated a large sum of money for his campaign.
The first sign appeared with the words 'Bring integrity back to our schools, vote for Kenneth Applegate.' The sign was removed in a couple of days, and when Rev. Applegate complained it was explained that the sign was on a highway right-of-way.
This didn't stop Rev. Applegate; he was on a Covington TV station complaining. The reporter asked the reverend what he meant by bring integrity back to our schools. His reply was, "We have homosexuals teaching in our classrooms. That's what happens when you take God out of the classroom."
"Were any of these homosexual teachers incompetent?" The reporter asked.
"There have been complaints," Rev. Applegate replied.
"This morning I contacted the Sparks Superintendent and asked if there had been complaints," the reporter said. "He said there was one complaint about a teacher being gay. Does being gay make a teacher incompetent?"
"In my mind it does," Rev. Applegate replied. "When I'm elected we'll terminate all gay teachers and not hire others."
"Are you aware that the courts have ruled against an Indiana school for discriminating against a gay teacher?" the reporter asked. "Can the Sparks Schools afford to defend this?"
"It isn't about cost, but what's right," Rev. Applegate said.
"Thank you for your interview," the reporter said and then continued. "The Sparks superintendent wouldn't release the name of the teacher or student making the complaint. However, members of Rev. Applegate's church reported that he bragged that it was his daughter making the complaint."
"He's a nutcase," Haden said as he and Kyle watched the evening news.
"I don't see how he can win against Dad," Kyle said.
"I don't know, have you seen the size of his church?"
"That's just one large church, but there are several more moderate churches in town. Don't worry."
"Actually I'm not worried. I know if he would win there are other school board members. It just pisses me off that there're people like that."
The following Monday there were several members of the reverend's church across the street from the middle school with vulgar signs. The moderate ones stated "fire the fag." There were actually some with drawings showing men engaged in anal sex.
"I dread going to Mr. Harrington's class," Judy Ann Applegate stated to the other kids at her table during lunch.
"I like him," Luke Green said. "Why do you dread going to his class. I always thought he was nice to all the students."
"That's it," Judy Ann said. "I didn't really want to complain about him but was told to do it. I'm embarrassed that I did."
"Talk to him about it," Penny Murray said.
"Mr. Harrington, could I talk to you about something," Judy Ann said after class.
"Of course you may," Haden said.
"I was told I had to file that complaint about you," Judy Ann said. "I'm very sorry."
"Judy Ann, don't worry about it," Haden said. "Sometimes parents care more about themselves than they do their children. My own mother was like that. As far as I'm concerned it never happened."
"Thank you, Mr. Harrington," Judy Ann said with relief.
The superintendent outsmarted the protestors by having the busses park so they blocked the signs from being seen by students and staff. A few protestors attempted to protest on campus but were quickly arrested by the Sparks police.
The next day the protestors were back but were met by counter-protestors, including Walter and Grace as well as George and Mary. The Covington TV stations were there to cover the protest and counter protest.
Sometime during the night someone had changed Reverend Applegate's signs to read, 'bring integrity back to the church, fire Kenneth Applegate. The signs were changed to the original only to be changed again. Finally the Reverend Applegate gave up and took the signs down. The protests also fizzled out.
The winner of the school board election needed 50% of the votes plus one. Steve won with 76%. Reverend Applegate filed a lawsuit to have Haden removed as unfit to teach children.
During the hearing of the lawsuit Judge Carpenter threw the lawsuit out and stated, "Abuse of the legal system is a serious matter and is not treated lightly. You lost an election by a large margin and have not provided one iota of evidence. I'm on the verge of declaring this a frivolous suit."
Reverend Applegate interrupted the judge to say, "I live by God's rule and not yours. I have to do what God told me to do."
"Sit down and shut up unless I ask you something," Judge Carpenter said in anger. "God isn't the judge here, I am."
Reverend Applegate stood again and began to speak, "I speak for God ..."
"I warned you not to speak," Judge Carpenter said. "That's $100 and five days in the county jail."
"You have no authority to charge a man of the cloth," Applegate yelled.
"That's another $100 and another five days," Judge Carpenter said with a slight smile.
"You can't do that I have church services, I'll not go," Applegate said in despair.
"I believe Deputy Cartwright might have something to say about that," Judge Carpenter said. "And if Deputy Cartwright needs help Deputy Skinner can give him a hand. I'm also adding another $100 and five days. We can do this all day if you insist. Further, I'm dismissing this case with prejudice."
"What does dismiss with prejudice mean?" Haden asked Steve after the hearing.
"It means that it's over and can't be refiled," Steve said.
After serving his sentence Reverend Applegate faded into obscurity. Judy Ann never seemed to let the incident bother her. She became one of Haden's best students.
Adam and Brody had just arrived home from school when Brody said, "A truck just pulled in behind us."
"It looks like the solar panels Dad bought," Adam said after parking his car.
Brandy and Lucky were at the truck doors and not about to allow the men to exit until Brody gave each a pat and said, "It's okay." The dogs seemed to understand and backed away.
After the dogs walked away men felt safe to exit the truck the driver asked, "Is this the Harrington residence?"
"It is," Adam said.
"I'm Harvey Betz and this is Les Holland and Dalton Walker," Harvey said. "We have your solar panels. We'll start installing them if that's okay."
"While you unload them I'll give Dad a call," Adam said as he dialed the number. "Dad, the solar panels are here and they'll start installing them today. Alright I'll tell them. Mr. Betz, Dad's on his way here. He said it's fine to start installing today."
"Adam, we'd better start dinner," Brody said.
"No, Mom has a pork roast in the crock pot for pulled pork sandwiches," Adam said.
"Good, I wanted to watch the installation," Brody said.
"We'd better feed the animals then," Adam pointed out. "Mom's home now and we need to help with dinner."
The boys had finished feeding as Darrell arrived home. The men were in the process of preparing the roof for the solar panel attachments.
Brody watched the process with great interest with dozens of questions. "Where do the batteries go?"
"I'm going to help Mom," Adam said. "Brody, you can stay and watch if you're that interested."
"Your system isn't off grid," Harvey explained. "Once we complete the installation the electric company will connect and they'll pay for the excess electricity that's generated."
"I wasn't sure if these panels would pay for themselves," Darrell said.
"Oh, trust me, you got a great deal on these panels," Harvey said. "I have solar panels and the highest electric bill I've had was around $15."
"When will it be working?" Brody asked.
"We should be able to get it ready for the electric company to connect by tomorrow," Harvey explained.
"Tomorrow is Saturday," Brody said.
"Yeah, we have another job we need to start Monday," Harvey said.
"Cool, I can watch tomorrow," Brody said. "How did you learn to do this?"
"I have a degree in electrical engineering," Harvey said. "Have you considered a career in electrical engineering?"
"Is it hard?" Brody asked.
"It isn't easy, but it helps if you're good in math and science," Harvey said.
"He's really good at both," Adam said.
"You're welcome to spend a few days with us when you're out of school," Harvey said. "You can maybe decide if electrical engineering is for you."
"Dad, could I?" Brody asked.
"If that's what you want, sure," Darrell said.
"Mom said to come in for dinner," Adam came out to announce. "Mr. Betz, she said there's plenty if you guys care to eat with us."
"We wouldn't want to impose," Harvey said.
"It's no imposition," Darrell said. "We always have plenty."
"We're having pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, and baked beans," Adam said.
"That sounds wonderful," Dalton said. "I'm starving."
"That was delicious," Les said as the others agreed.
"Thank you," Rita said. "There's chocolate cake for desert."
"I'll have some," Brody quickly said.
"Imagine that," Rita chuckle and began serving the cake.
The crew returned the next morning to finish the installation. Brody was right there with dozens of questions. "Brody, don't be bothering the men," Darrell reprimanded him.
"Oh, he's no bother," Harvey said. "I'm pleased that he's interested."
"Well, bad news Dad decided on the job offer," Wilson said during the school lunch period. "We decided it would be best that I live with him."
"Oh no, so you're moving to Nebraska?" Adam asked.
"Nope, Dad decided not to take the job and we're staying here," Wilson said with a big smile.
"Wow, that's great," Brody said.
"Yeah, I think Grandma and Grandpa had something to do with his decision," Wilson explained. "Also, Dad trained a woman who was already at the bank there to do the job. Paul was pleased with her. Additionally, he gave Dad a nice increase in salary."