On Tuesday, Darwin stopped a few feet inside the door of Mrs. Thomas’s office and stared at Luther, who looked more chronically angry in person than he did on TV. Luther’s sprawling six-three frame dwarfed the armless wooden straight-back chair. Mrs. Thomas sat behind her desk, a tenuous smile on her face.
Luther unfolded to stand and loom over Darwin. “You’ve grown, cuz,” he said, pulling Darwin up by the shoulders. He took Darwin in a bear hug and lifted him six inches off the ground. Darwin was so surprised he couldn’t respond.
Luther abruptly let him go and stepped back.
“You play ball?” Luther asked, eyeing Darwin in a brief glance from head to toe.
“Tennis,” Darwin said.
“But you know football?” Darwin nodded yes.
“You’re tall enough for a wide receiver,” Luther said, pausing for a few seconds. “Put on some weight though.”
“Sit down,” Mrs. Thomas said to Darwin but meaning both of them. “He’s got something to ask you,” she then said to Luther as she looked to Darwin.
“I need my allowance,” Darwin said. A tense silence descended.
“Whoa,” Luther said. “What’s this allowance?”
“Aunt gave me an allowance every week.”
“My parents left her in charge of money for me,” Darwin said. “It came from his inheritance,” Mrs. Thomas said. “It was in the wills. The support.”
Luther’s breath intake came quick and loud. “You don’t have to tell me things I already know,” he said. He paused again.
“But you’ll give it to me?” Darwin asked.
“I’m not giving you anything. That’s not the way to bring up children.”
“But it’s mine.”
“You’re my responsibility. You got to earn it. And that includes room and board.”
“The inheritance covers that,” Mrs. Thomas said.
“I got the rights, don’t I?” Luther said curtly. “I’m the guardian, for Christ’s sake. I’ll bring the kid up the way I see it. Make him a man.”
“You’re appointed to manage his parents’ money for him until he is of age,” Mrs. Thomas said. “You can’t make him live in a utility room with a bare light bulb dangling from a twisted electrical wire attached to the ceiling from a single power outlet and only enough room for a cot. We’ve got plenty of unused bedrooms with baths in various parts of the house. We’ve got the empty townhouse unit.”
“I came up from nothing. No one gave me anything,”
“That’s no reason to make him suffer.”
“He’s not suffering,” Luther said without looking at Darwin. “But he’s going to work for his keep.”
In the silence, Darwin felt Mrs. Thomas’s stare. Luther grinned at him.
“What do you want him to do?” Mrs. Thomas said to Luther.
“I don’t know yet,” Luther said. “I’ll keep thinking on it.”
“What about school?” Darwin asked.
“There must be some school close,” Luther said.
“He needs aprivate school. The executors expect it,” Mrs. Thomas said. Darwin looked to her to express gratitude for at least trying to achieve what she believed was impossible. It was the first glint of kindness in Mrs. Thomas, who seemed carved from stone.
“Public school is good enough,” Luther said. “And it’s free.” He thought for a second. “Unless you count taxes.”
“But private school is paid for,” Darwin said loudly. He stood up.
“Get him in the public school, Bonita. Then you can try for a private school when he proves himself.”
“I want to go to a good college,” Darwin said. “I need the best school I can get into for medical school.”
“You keep complaining, I’ll put you to work cleaning out stadium toilets,” Luther said.
“You can’t cheat me of what my parents left me.” “Don’t talk back to me,” Luther said.
“Give me what’s mine!”
Luther leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “Look, kid. Money laying around at your age is not healthy. You got to work. Earning is where you’ll learn about life.” He paused, leaning back with a relaxed, sarcastic smile. Then he turned serious. “But you’re right. We’ll see about a good school. But it will take months for Bonita to try to get you in. This is a snotty place to live. You need kin to die in The Revolution or be blood-related to Thomas Jefferson.”
“And my allowance?” Darwin asked. “That has always been mine.”
“I told you. Only if you earn it,” Luther said. “That’s not what Aunt did.”
“It’s the way I do it.”
“So where do I earn my allowance?”
“You can figure it out. You’re the smart one.”
Darwin breathed deeply. “What is there to do?”
“You deaf? I told you. I’ll think on it.”
“That’s all,” Mrs. Thomas said. Luther’s mood was obviously anti-good judgment. She didn’t want Luther making bad decisions he wouldn’t reverse. She took checks from a drawer for Luther to sign and placed them in front of him next to a felt-tipped pen. Luther didn’t look up as Darwin closed the door.
Outside Darwin knew defeat. He had no allowance, Luther didn’t seem to like him and surely wasn’t to be a benevolent guardian, and public school seemed his only education for a time. He’d probably have no possibility of getting into a good college.