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"...Choose only entertainment and media that uplift you. Good entertainment will help you to have good thoughts and make righteous choices...Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable."
For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 5 July 2007 - 11:58pm.

Chapter 11

Tom knocked vigorously and as Jenna's door opened, he nearly shouted, "You'll never guess what I just saw."

"You took the words right out of my mouth, Tom." She looked sullen and handed him a manila envelope before he could question her meaning. Opening it, he pulled out a large photo, still smelling fresh from processing. It was him and Sheila. Tom knew in an instant who took it and when. He also knew intuitively what was going through Jenna's mind and he hastened to reassure her.

"Jenna, this isn't what you must be thinking. I met her today at the police station and she took me to the library to have me meet her aunt."

"Somehow that isn't making me feel any better, Tom."

He could plainly see that it wasn't and felt the blood drain from his face. "Jenna, after all the proof I've given you, do you really think I would so easily throw it all away? Besides, doesn't it seem a little too coincidental that a man jumps out of nowhere and dissolves just as quickly after taking a seemingly incriminating picture—all just days after we make an enemy of Perry Rollins!"

"Why would someone want to take a picture of you, just out of nowhere?"

"Why, indeed! And why bring it straight to you unless they thought it would hurt one of us—or both?"

Jenna knew in her heart that Perry was behind this, but she ached to know that Tom cared for no one but her. "Who is this woman? She looks familiar."

"Sheila Balfour. She was at the party where I first met you, but I never saw her there. You probably did and that's why she looks familiar."

Jenna relaxed a bit more, but asked another question. "And you just happened to meet her where?"

"At the police station. Jenna, if you really think you can't trust me, I understand. I will accept that and I will leave your life forever. It will be the hardest thing I have ever done, but I will do that…if you doubt me in the least." His eyes began to glisten as tears formed, despite him trying to fight them back. Jenna was convinced of his sincerity and relinquished all doubts and anger.

"I love you, Thomas Baird. You're not going to walk out of my life that easily, do you hear?" She pulled him close and held him tight for a moment before leading him into the house. He wiped his eyes and tried to regain his composure.

"So you’ll trust me now?"

"You, yes; but your new friend had better behave or I'll skin her alive, got it?"

Tom laughed in spite of the hurt he had just suffered. "From what I've seen, that may be much harder than you can imagine."

Jenna took a slightly standoffish stance and quickly shot back, "And just what is that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing to worry about. She just comes from a very spirited family, that's all."

"Well...you're mine and I don't like to share." There was pouting in her voice, though not so much on her face.

"Jenna Smith," he now took the stern attitude and pose that she had just used on him, "you're my dream girl—got that?"

She caught the meaning and sheepishly grinned, lowering her gaze and playing with the buttons on his shirt. He found it so charming that he could not stay himself and he pulled her to himself and kissed her long, hard and passionately, nearly taking her breath away. She could honestly say that there was not one shred of doubt left in her mind. This man loved her deeply. His kiss told her all and her heart heard every meaning.

Tom figured correctly that the picture had been taken by someone at the newspaper. After all, was it not fairly common knowledge that Perry had some influence there? No better place to start. Tom had no sooner walked into the front door of the Tribune than he caught sight of the very culprit he wanted to question. The young man also spied him and reacted as if he'd seen a ghost. Tom was certain he'd bolt if given the chance and decided a chase was not on today's menu. Smiling and raising both of his hands as if to say, ‘I surrender,’ he disarmed the man of his flight instincts and was allowed to approach.

"That was quite the joke you pulled on me, my friend. Yes sir, very creative. Lucky for you she didn't buy it or there would be one more obituary listed in your next paper." The man stiffened at this and searched Tom's face for signs of intent.

"Look, I just did it for the money. Hey, it was nothing personal, right?" He was still quite nervous, but made no move to run.

"No, no, of course not. It never is—right? And as long as you don't have to see how you've destroyed a life, you never have to feel the least bit guilty—right?" His gaze penetrated and hit the young fellow squarely where it was meant to strike—his conscience. At least he has one, Tom thought.

"I'm sorry, man. I just didn’t' think. Can I do anything to make it up to you?"
"Yeah, you can answer some questions for me. It was Perry Rollins that paid you, wasn't it?" Rewarded with a very shocked look, Tom knew he had guessed correctly.

"Ummm, yeah. But how did you know?"

"Doesn't matter. What's your name? I'm Tom." He extended his hand and the young man responded in kind.

"Joshua...Freed. Look, I'm sorry. Really."

He was clearly squirming—a good sign. “It's okay, no hard feelings. Just promise me you'll be more careful when choosing your next extra-curricular activity, okay?"

Sheepishly the answer came with no hesitation. "Okay. I knew that something didn't feel right about it. Listen, do you think I need to apologize to your girl?" He still looked distraught and Tom thought it best to cut him some slack before he hung himself.

"No, I've done enough apologizing for both of us." He slapped Joshua on the shoulder, smiled and was rewarded with a brief and nervous laugh.

"You're alright, Tom." He said it sincerely.

"You, too, Joshua."

"Look, if there's ever anything I can do for you, let me know, y'hear?"

"I will. Stay out of trouble." Another handshake and Tom turned to leave. Joshua stood watching him go and returned to work only after Tom was out of sight. A small degree of admiration and respect seemed to germinate. Perhaps Tom had another new friend.

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