Eli glanced around the basketball court where Derek said he’d be with his friends. He found the Lamb twins playing basketball, but no sign of their third musketeer.
“Hey Kody? Brandt? Have either of you two seen Derek?”
Kody pointed toward the alleyway that went to the next street over. “He said he wasn’t up to playing, Mr. Ryder, so he headed that way.”
“So, he just took off?”
Brandt shrugged. “He said he was going to take a walk. He might be at Stone Cold”
Eli gave a nod. He didn’t understand why his son ditched his friends. That was so not-like Derek. But then again, this wasn’t the first time in the last few weeks Eli’s notice Derek’s weird behavior.
Eli headed over to the alleyway hoping to find Derek. He hated to think Derek started to wonder off alone. That would not be good in this particular neighborhood.
Derek found himself, again, alone outside. Hiding out.
Ever since that night, he had been making excuses to leave the house after he finished homework. And on weekends, like today, he made excuses to just leave the house.
He dug out of his pocket and found the shield. He cried again. He didn’t want anyone to see him cry. He was stronger than that. But now, he cried more.
“He hates me,” Derek whispered over the words. “He hates me.”
“Who hates you?”
Derek jumped at the sound of Dad’s voice. He whipped his head around and watched as Dad sat next to him.
Dad asked again, “Who hates you?”
Derek wiped his stray tear, and went to hide his shield. It was too late, Dad noticed it.
“Is someone making fun of you because you want to be a cop when you grow up?”
Derek said nothing.
“You not talking to me?” Dad tilted his head. “Derek? Are you upset with me?”
Derek turned his head. He wasn’t going to cry. Dad hated him. He did. He said it himself. He hated Derek’s “obsession”, and so that meant he hated him. Derek didn’t have an obsession. He didn’t. The shield was who he was, and no one was going to change that.
He was a cop.
Dad sighed. “Derek, I can’t help if you don’t talk to me.”
Derek stood. “I don’t want to talk to you!” He stormed away. “Leave me alone.”
Eli stared at Derek while he stormed off. It pained Eli to see Derek so heart broken and upset. He pondered for a while. Maybe Derek was still trying to get over the lost relationship he had with Olivia?
No, Derek had said he hates me, not she. It couldn’t have been Kody and Brandt either, because even as Eli stood up to follow, he noticed the three take off.
Damn. What the hell could be hurting Derek so much?
For the last month or so, Derek had been distant with Eli. He no longer wanted to play with him. That hurt. Eli didn’t want to admit that Derek was growing out of that phase where he thought he was too cool to play with his dad. Eli missed Derek’s formative years, so he knew he didn’t have much time with Derek, before he grew up and out of his child-years.
Eli wanted to know who hurt his son. Already they had to deal with some of the bullying Derek was getting at school the last year. Not to mention that Olivia Godfrey and him were, as Derek put it, never ever going to be friends ever again. That was a fun New Years Eve party. He and Marv didn’t even know what to do with the two of them.
Eli followed the boys for a bit, and when he was happy enough that Derek wasn’t going to wonder off alone again, he broke away and headed back to the apartment. At least Derek was getting along with Kody and Brandt, and from what he could hear, laughing with them. When was the last time Eli even heard Derek laugh?
“Did you find him?” Sam asked.
The whole reason he went out was because he noticed the Lamb twins were out and about at the basketball hoops, but Derek was nowhere in sight. Which was against both Eli’s and Sam’s rules. If Derek was going to be playing down the street, they had to be able to see the three from the apartment.
Eli nodded and sighed. “I just don’t understand, Sam. He’s been so hurt this year.”
He sat next to her. “I found him in an alleyway crying about someone hating him. He was clutching to his shield like it was his only lifeline.”
As if a lightbulb hit him, he sat up in shock. “You don’t think Grant said something to Derek that Derek might have taken out of context? Broke his heart?”
Sam shook his head. “I don’t think so. Dad’s not really like that. He loves Derek.”
“Then why’s he so upset?”
“I don’t know.”
Eli huffed. “I hate not knowing what’s going on with my son. He’s changed, Sam, and I don’t like it. I want my sweet little boy back.”
Brandt and Kody walked with Derek for a while, and even went to grab ice cream. They pestered him to think of something to do, but Derek didn’t want to do anything.
Nothing sounded fun anymore, not even battling out with their Void Critters.
He eventually ended up back home. He hated home. Dad was always playing some game with Bailee or Dakota. Like now, he was wrestling with the two and having fun.
“Okay, okay,” Dad laughed. “You win, Bailee. I give up.”
“Yay!” Bailee cheered, and climbed off Dad.
“Again!” Dakota asked.
Dad tossed Dakota in the air, and held her. Dad finally noticed Derek watching them. “Hey, Sport. Just in time for dinner. Hope you’re hungry.”
Derek shrugged. “Not really.” He headed to his room and sat on his bed. He placed the shield under his pillow and then looked over to the photo of him and Grandpa. It was all he could do to not cry.
There was a knock at the door before Dad entered. “Hey, I think you and I need to talk. I’m worried about you, Sport.”
“Can’t you just leave me alone?”
“Nope,” Dad sat next to him. “Tell me what’s bothering you? Who hates you? Is it that stupid bully at school? Olivia? Is it one your friends? You can talk to me.”
Derek wiped his eyes. Why the hell did he have to bring up Olivia? Ugh. He didn’t want to even hear her name anymore! And why was Dad pestering him anyway? He knew exactly who hated Derek, so why was he acting like he didn’t know?
He stood and shouted. “Stop it! Stop acting like you love me!”
Dad jumped, and his eyes went wide. “Derek, why do you think I don’t love you?”
“Because you hate me!”
Dad’s mouth dropped.
“You hate me! You even told Mom. You said you hated me.”
“I have never—”
“Yes you did! You told Mom you hated my obsession and wished I could find something else. I don’t have an obsession!”
Dad laughed. “You do, son. You may not know it, but you do. And I don’t hate it.”
“NO, I don’t!” Derek stomped his feet. “I’m going to be a police officer, and there’s nothing you can say to stop me!”
Dad put his hands up. “Whoa, easy, Derek. Settle down. I am not stopping you from going after your dreams. Far from it.”
He pulled Derek to sit next to him, and Derek relented a bit. “Son, do you realize how proud of you I am every day? You’re going to go after your dream, and when you do, I am going to be right there cheering you on.”
“Then why don’t you want to play with me?”
Dad smiled. “I do. I don’t remember telling you or anyone that I didn’t.”
“You’ll play cops and robbers with me still?”
Dad laughed and nodded. “Yeah, I will. I’ll even promise to always be the robber for as long as you want to be the cop. Deal?”
Derek shook his Dad’s hand. “Deal.”
“Okay, now, let’s go get dinner and after we’ll play before bed. Sound good?”
Derek nodded. That sounded like so much fun.