Blake Stange emerged from the house with his luggage to add to the collection his father was arranging in the back of the family's SUV. Blake's sister Lori and her friend Aimee were watching their contributions being loaded into the back of the vehicle.
"I'm surprised your parents are letting you to go on vacation with a criminal in tow," Blake told Aimee.
"You're not going to try to kidnap me too, are you?" Aimee asked with a sardonic grin.
"Don't forget the aggravated assault, trespassing, reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct charges," Blake sighed.
"Most of those were thrown out," Aimee reminded him.
"Except the assault, disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment," Lori volunteered.
"I'm still a criminal," Blake stated as they stood near the end of the driveway. "One year suspended sentence. Five grand in fines and restitution. Three years' Probation. Community Service. Restorative Justice. Suspended from school for a week. Kicked off the sports teams for life."
"Does that mean you're a bad guy?" Aimee wanted to know.
"It just means he screwed up," Lori reasoned.
"Well, everybody deserves a second chance," Aimee decided. "But I'm surprised you're coming."
"As if my parents would leave their convict son home alone?" Blake said, rolling his eyes.
"Well, try to have a good time," Aimee advised. "You've been moping around for months. You still get to have a life, you know, no matter how badly you may have screwed up."
"Come on, Aimee, let's go make sure we didn't forget anything," Lori urged and the two teenagers walked toward the house.
Blake watched them go, secretly grateful for and relieved by Aimee's continued friendship after most of his peers and pals had abandoned him in his post-prank-gone-wrong downfall. He had known Aimee for years, his sister's best friend and their neighbor, a good kid with a welcomed sense of humor.
In recent years, Aimee had blossomed into an attractive young woman at sixteen but Blake was aware that there were boundary issues and rules about developing feelings for a sister's best friend and he never thought to pursue Aimee in that way.
Following his local personal disgrace, Blake hadn't been socializing much anyway, mostly sticking close to home when he wasn't working in his father's warehouse to make money to pay off his fines and restitution.
His high school sports career over, Blake had been shunned by most of his former teammates who didn't want to be associated with a fallen hero and disgraced teammate. The prank seemed innocent and innocuous enough – kidnap the Blue County Technical High School Mascot (Harry the Hawk) the night before the big game (The Battle for Hillsboro since the tech school and Hillsboro High were both in the same town).
The kidnapping wasn't even Blake's idea – Raffy Roosevelt first floated the concept early in the school year and Blake went along as an accomplice accompanied by fellow teammate Tang Turner.
The pranksters sneaked into the tech school (trespassing charge) on the night of the school's big rally and "accosted" the Hawk Mascot (which resulted in the attempted kidnapping, aggravated assault, and reckless endangerment and disorderly conduct charges).
The Plan was to "escort" Harry the Hawk from the assembly, take its picture with a ransom note for social media, and then let HH go in the parking lot. But Sue Henderson (who knew a girl would be playing Harry the Hawk?) panicked when Raffy and Blake attempted to swish the mascot into the stairwell that led to the exit door to the parking lot.
Sue stumbled and fell, hurting her ankle, wrist and ribs. Tang was waiting in the parking lot with the sign and camera and he took off when he heard the commotion (he wasn't charged as Raffy and Blake declined to rat him out).
Raffy also split but Blake didn't want to leave the crying girl (her hawk head had rolled down the few stairs when she fell) hurt and alone so he stayed with her as she screamed and yelled for help and a few minutes later the cops had him in handcuffs as the unfortunate Sue Henderson was taken to the hospital by ambulance, a headless Hawk.
Raffy was ID'ed by Sue and a few other witnesses and he ended up with three months' probation and a $450 fine for his participation in the prank-gone-wrong, although he also got banned from the sports teams too.
Because Blake had been the one who stayed and fessed up to the transgression, he received the brunt of the punishment. Ironic, but he fell on his sword and accepted his sentence as harsh as the results turned out to be. He apologized to Sue Henderson in court and later during the Restorative Justice process and he was paying restitution for some of her medical expenses and other costs but it killed him that he couldn't play sports having violated the school's code of conduct and ethics clauses.
It also hurt that Blake had been chastised and spurned by most of his classmates and peers, seen as toxic and bad news – not only because the prank was considered foolish – but because it had failed and he had been busted.
Blake would be lying if he didn't admit that he was depressed and miserable. As supportive as his parents had been, he knew they were disappointed and embarrassed by the merciless publicity and gossip his case caused. Blake felt like an outsider in his own school and he now faced his senior year without the prospect of playing sports.
The summer was a needed and welcomed break from the soap opera of his tarnished reputation but it was a lonely existence – working ten hours a day at the warehouse moving stock and supplies and then coming home with no active social life.
Blake wasn't all that thrilled with the idea of going on vacation with the family (it would only extend his restitution payments) but he realized that his family was about all he had left.
And now, as he watched Aimee exit the house with his sister, Blake realized that there was something else to look forward to even if he was too dejected, disheartened, defeated and dispirited to do much about lovely Aimee's presence. He just wanted to vegetate in the cottage for a week and forget everything that happened to him.
"Okay?" Blake's father asked as he closed the tailgate to the SUV. "We ready to go? All set? Everything packed? Everybody's gone to the bathroom?"
Blake's mom emerged from the house with a picnic basket, closing and locking the door behind her. "I'm ready to rock and roll!" She laughed.
"Let's go for it!" Lori said with excitement as she climbed into the backseat.
Aimee hesitated for a moment. "I realize I'm expected to hang out with Lori at the lake," she said quietly to Blake. "But I'm glad you're coming too. You really do deserve a second chance, you know."
"Are you going to give me one?" Blake asked.
"I already have," she answered before sliding into the van next to Lori and leaving space for Blake to join them.
"Okay, Son?" His father wanted to know. "You onboard with this?"
Blake felt bad for being a moody asshole to his family during all the drama, too busy feeling sorry for himself to cut his poor weighted parents a break.
"Sure, Dad, let's go to the lake," he said calmly as he climbed into the back and sat next to the grinning Aimee who had the middle seat.