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The next morning Sammy jumped out of bed and touched everything he could; all of his clothes, his hockey stick, and the light bulb that protruded from the old fashioned fixture on the side of his wall. He could feel the tacky tape on the blade of his stick. He felt the softness of his flannel shirts, and the grittiness of his dirty jeans that lie on the floor. He touched the cold glass of the old window and ran every finger he had in a streak down the frosty pane. He could feel the chill of the moisture that had built up overnight. He then grabbed the light bulb, which had been on for few minutes. “Ouch!! That’s hot,” he said under his breath as he withdrew his hand. He ran quickly out of his room to the kitchen and was so intent upon turning on the faucet, that he hadn’t noticed his mother and the two girls sitting at the table getting ready for breakfast. He also hadn’t realized that he was clad only in his underwear, which put a puzzled and disturbed look upon his mother’s face. It made the girls giggle. Sammy stood at the kitchen sink rinsing his hands in the running water oblivious to the ladies of the house. He started throwing water about his face as if he was baptizing himself in some sort of pagan ritual. “It’s cold! It’s cold! Ha ha ha! I can feel it!” he rejoiced as he splashed the water about his face wildly. “Samuel Benjamin Nichols!!! What the hell has gotten into you!!” mother screamed from the table not five feet away. He turned slowly with a dripping wet face towards his mother and sisters. Having realized he was very inappropriately dressed for female company, he folded into a pretzel-like stance to hide his business from the rest of his family. “Oh mother! Hello… um…. Good morning. Hello Deedee. Good morning Kayla.”
“What in the Dickens has gotten into you mister?” mother demanded while rising from her chair. “I don’t know mom. I guess I must have been sleepwalking” Sammy said nervously as the water dripped down his half naked body. “Sleepwalking with the devil I’m sure of it!” mother scolded. He surely felt the cold water now. He felt like his bones were shivering inside of his skin. He slumped further in to his pretzel position and started backing away. The temperature was a mere 8 degrees Fahrenheit outside and mother never let the thermostat go above 62 degrees. That number was part of the 11th Commandment in the Nichols house. Had it actually made it into the Bible it probably would have read something like: Thou shall never adjust thy thermostat above (insert number) unless thou art authorized to do so, for the punishment is death. Every household in Buffalo had a magic number that wasn’t to be crossed when it came to heating the home. There was always one person in charge of said number and that person had absolute authority. It was serious business and kids especially were forbidden to touch or control the heating mechanisms. Winters were long and bitter cold and the natural gas that was predominantly used for heating fuel was more expensive than gold; it was to be used wisely. Sammy loved spending the night at Eddie’s house during the winters that he was alive, because the Fernandez family always kept the house very warm. He asked his mother once why their house wasn’t as warm, since they had the same kind of furnace and she went into such a tirade about “welfare” and “free heat” and “cheating the system” that it kept Sammy from ever asking again. He sensed that she was about to explode into such a tirade now and offered his sincerest apologies as he hurried back to his room to get dressed before the fury could be unleashed.
He waited about five minutes before re-entering the kitchen and this time went quietly to the cupboard for his morning cereal. Mom eyed him cautiously from the other side of the table and he could feel the heat of embarrassment rising up the back of his neck. Despite her incredible beauty, Mrs. Nichols had a way of looking at a child that could cut right through the bone and dig out the marrow. It was hard to hide anything from her. “Son. Are you sure that you were only sleepwalking?” “Yes mom, I was just having a bad dream,” Sam insisted as he filled his bowl with cereal, all the while avoiding direct eye contact. “ Is there anything else you want to tell me?” she asked sternly, watching him now with the eyes of a hawk.
This was the loaded gun. This was THE question of questions. If you ever wanted to find out the truth from anyone in life, this was the best question to ask. It was the question that made murderers confess their crime to the police. It was the same question that could root out an infidel spouse and make them tell all while crumbling to their knees. When asked properly, it implied that the person asking the question already knew what was going on… they were just waiting to see if you would lie about the situation or not, further digging your grave. Sammy thought of telling all that had happened the previous night, but he could not get himself to do it. He hadn’t had enough time to process it for himself and it very well may have been a dream. She would think he was on drugs. That’s probably where the question of questions was leading now anyway. He opted for the easy out. “ No mom, everything is fine. I was just having a weird dream. I am perfectly fine now.” She kept her eyes on him, but her look softened a little. “ Well, you know I’m always here if you need to talk about something and it doesn’t matter what it is. This is an open book household. You can talk to me about anything in confidence. If you have something on your mind don’t be afraid to tell me about it.” “ Thanks mom, but I’m really ok now,” he assured her, finally allowing his eyes to meet hers. She was a fair and just woman and Sammy knew that she loved and cared for him very much. He could never lie to her, for she was the paramount of trustworthiness and he knew he would break her heart if he ever did. It was always best to fess up the crime and pay the time than to be caught in a lie. The crime could be dealt with and corrected. A lie in the Nichols house would be etched in stone and remembered for a lifetime. This wasn’t really a lie, but rather an omission of full facts, so he didn’t feel so guilty about not going into detail. After breakfast Sammy collected his book bag and the rest of his winter gear and bundled up for the walk to the bus stop on the corner. He had a feeling today was going to be an interesting day in school.