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The rest of my first day went on pretty regularly from that point. The Skate Park was pretty fun. The kids were well behaved and me and the student volunteers even gave the course a couple of runs. Terri really wanted to, but for the obvious reasons she didn't. I fell a couple of times and she had a field day messing with me because of it. I didn't care, though. It was all in good nature.
The weekend passed by so fast that it seemed like it only lasted for an hour. Terri invited me over to her and Greg's house for a barbeque on Saturday. It was there that I was reunited with the four childhood friends of mine that also knew where the clubhouse at The Shack was located. They were Brian, Chris, Theo, and Michael.
Both Brian and Chris were twin brothers and we had all known each other longest. Both of them had gone off to college in completely different places and we'd all kept in contact at first, but as time went on contact became less and less. They'd always had pretty good looks and body builds when we were younger. And while Chris used that power to have girls all over him, Brian was more reserved and "only used his powers for good" as he used to say. Those good looks and strong body builds had remained with them. And now they were even more obvious to tell apart because Brian had gotten green contact lenses, while Chris had kept his original light brown ones.
All of us hadn't seen Theo since junior year in high
school. His family had been going through some serious problems and
one day his mother packed up him, his younger brother and sister and split.
We never saw him and we never heard from him. It was by pure luck
that Terri had even found out where he was, thanks to a friend of a friend
of a friend. He was still a little on the short side and he still
had his southern accent. I remember that kids used to think he was
trying to talk with the black accent that Brian, Chris, and I spoke with.
He used to get picked on a lot about it, but we always had his back.
Then there was Michael. He and I were the last two of the crew to go our own ways. He was the cute shy one of our group that had the potential to attract all sorts of girls to him, but was so shy that he never really spoke. I had meant him because he needed a math tutor in order to help him pass the equivalency test. He seemed to come out of his shell once I introduced him to the others, but the shyness never totally left. He still had that shyness to him now, but he seemed a lot more sure of himself and still had his charming looks.
All of us had a good time catching up, mingling with the other guests at the barbeque, and laughing at how strange it was that all of us had found our way back home.
On Sunday, just us guys got together and hung out.
It was good to be in their company again. It was almost like none
of us had ever been apart.
But don't think for a moment that what I saw in the clubhouse that Friday left me alone. Oh no! It came at me in the one place my defenses couldn't stop it at. My dreams. It only happened that Sunday night, and that was enough. It was pretty much just a replay of what I'd seen on Friday, but because it was a dream seeing the three boys bring each other to orgasm had a much more intense effect on me. So intense that it gave me the first wet dream I'd had in years.
Needless to say when I woke up all moist and gooey that Monday morning I was a little disturbed. It put a lot of questions on my mind and a heavy feeling in my stomach. Hadn't life screwed with me enough by taking my mother away from me? Nope! Now it had to go and make me feel like I was turning into some perverted freak. How nice.
The morning started off a lot like Friday.
Terri checked in on me and we went to get our cup of coffee. She
ran the idea of my being a counselor by me and I told her I was definitely
interested. She told me she would give me a couple more days to get
broken in before she started assigning kids to me. I told her that
I pretty much repeated my Friday schedule. I checked out another teen parenting class and went on the little outing with them to a hospital where it was discussed about the importance of getting babies their vaccination shots at certain ages, as well as all kinds of neat tips and tricks to quiet a baby that was just being fussy.
When lunch time hit, Michael surprised me by dropping by, and me him and Terri went out to grab a bite to eat.
After we returned from lunch I headed to the Computer Room to help set up for homework session. As I walked through the old building passed the stage, it was like the damn thing called out to me, wanting me to switch my direction and head toward it. It wanted me to go back into the clubhouse and to gaze through the crack that looked through the vent into the old game room and see what kind of show might be put on. No, it wasn't the stage that was calling me. It was curiosity. And like a lot of other people know, curiosity killed the cat. I shrugged the feeling off and kept going on my way.
Most of the same kids who'd come to Friday's
homework session came in again, along with five new kids. One of
them I recognized as the boy that Eric, Sam, and Aaron had been picking
on. He sat down at one of the tables, pulled out his books and went
I went on about my business and helped a nice young lady in the seventh grade named Melissa with her report for history. It was going to be on Martin Luther King Jr. and while she wouldn't come flat out and say it, I think she only asked for my help because I was the only black staff member present at the time and she felt that I would be the best source of information.
After I got her well and on her way, my attention went out to see if anybody else needed help. The staff and volunteers had let me know that sometimes the kids wouldn't come up and ask for help because they were afraid that it would make them look stupid. The boys of course were especially fond of doing that. That was why it didn't surprise me when I saw the boy I'd saved from the argument staring almost blankly at one of his books. He looked from one page to the other and back and shook his head. An obvious signal that he wasn't getting whatever it was he was looking at.
I told Melissa to come and get me if she needed any more help before I went ahead and made my way over to my next subject. As I came up behind him I realized that it was math that seemed to have him stumped. The problems that needed solving on the page were fractions.
"Confusing, aren't they?" I said, causing the boy to look quickly over his shoulder to see who was speaking to him. He seemed to do it more out of surprise than out of wanting to know who was there.
He sort of looked at me for a moment before turning away and back to his math book. I waited for some kind of response but didn't get one.
"They always used to give me a hard time." I continued. "Thought maybe you could use a hand."
"You figure that out all by yourself?" he responded a little sharply.
Totally unoffended, but surprised nonetheless, I told him,
"Actually, it was the look on your face that told me. So I thought I'd come over and ask."
"Well that's what you get for thinking."
Oh my! I think I was starting to see
why he might've been getting teased by Eric and the others. He had
a rather sharp mouth on him. It was going to have to get a lot sharper
to detour me though.
"Okay, then. So why don't you do one of them and prove me wrong." I suggested, pulling out a chair from the table and sitting almost next to him.
I took a quick glance at the directions to
the problem set and saw that adding the fractions was what he was supposed
to be doing.
He hesitated seemingly not too keen on my suggestion idea. Then, his hand picked up the pencil laying on the page and went over to the scratch piece of paper. He drew out the fraction like it was on the page. It was two over fifteen plus one over fifteen. He paused for a moment, thinking, and wrote down his answer as three over thirty. Another hesitation, before the pencil was sat down and he looked over in my direction a little.
"I know you're gonna say it's the wrong answer." he said.
"And how do you know that's the wrong answer?" I inquired.
He gave me a look like I'd just asked him the
dumbest question in the world.
"`Cause the answers are in back of the book. Duh!"
It got me to hear him say that. I knew
that when I had been in school and the answers were in the back of the
book, all I did was copy them down and pretend like I did the work.
But here it was this kid had easy access to the answers, yet he was actually
trying to do them.
"So what is the answer?" I asked.
"One over five." he answered.
"That's right. Want me to show you how they got it?"
"Well I'm gonna show you anyway, so pay attention."
I saw the look of surprise flash across his
face from my response as I took the scratch piece of paper and pencil and
drew the problem out again. But he realized it was there and immediately
erased it away and pretended to be unaffected.
"They do want you to add, but it's a little more complicated when it comes to fractions. The first thing you always check is the bottom numbers. If both of them are the same then everything is cool."
"But what if the bottom numbers aren't the same?"
"We'll get to that part in a minute. Since the bottom numbers are the same that goes across and becomes the answer for the bottom number. As for the top, we add those like were supposed to. So instead of getting three over thirty, you get three over fifteen."
"But that's still not the answer."
"Exactly. With any kind of fraction they always want you to take it down to the lowest form. That's where multiplication comes in."
I drew a three next to the three and a three
next to the fifteen.
"You always use the top number and multiply it by however many times it takes to get the number before it. What times three equals three?"
"One." he chose to answer without the sharp tone in his voice.
"Right. So you put the times sign and one on the other end. That one becomes the top number of our new answer. What times three equals fifteen?"
"Put the times sign, place the five and viola. Your final answer."
I waited for some smartass comment to come
out of his mouth. When one didn't, I asked, "Did I loose you
"No." the sharpness I was expecting answered. "But I want you to do it again one more time so that I can make sure I got it."
And that's just what I did. I showed
him one more time, and one more time, and one more time, until an hour
had passed by. But by the end of that hour he was able to clearly
understand what it was he was doing and why. I even showed him how
to make the fraction's denominators the same if they already weren't.
Once he had it, I just sat back and watched him do the last of the problems.
"See? I knew you had it in you." I congratulated him.
This got a partially crooked smile out of him.
"Yeah, well." he seemed at a loss for words.
"Was that all you needed to do?"
"For today. I'll have more tomorrow, probably."
"Well then bring it here and we'll do it together if you want. That is what we're here for."
He didn't really respond and began packing
his stuff up to leave. Once he was set, he stood up and proceeded
to leave. He got about four steps away from me when he stopped and
looked back over his shoulder.
"I...I appreciate your help...uh..."
"Jack." I introduced myself. "And you're..."
"It was my pleasure."
He turned back around and I watched as he took his leave from the Computer Room.
"Smart kid. He picked that up pretty fast." I thought to myself, totally disregarding his rudeness, as I got up from the table.
Sara came over to me with a strange expression on
her face just as I was pushing the chair in and asked,
"Okay, what did you do?"
I had no idea what she was talking about.
"With that kid...ummm, uhhhh, Mateo?"
"What do you mean?"
"How did you get him to talk to you? He's been coming here for like months and he's never willingly spoken to anyone. None of the kids and none of the staff or volunteers. All of us were starting to think that maybe something was wrong with him and stuff."
"I, uh, don't know. Maybe it was because I kept these three other kids from teasing him on Friday."
"Well, whatever you did, way to go. None of us have been able to break him. As far as I'm concerned you just walked on water."
I thought maybe Sara was going a bit over the
top by saying that, but I accepted her congratulations and went on helping
until homework session was over. I didn't think too much more about
the situation until I was getting ready to leave and Terri dropped by.
"So I'm looking at the man who walked on water today, huh?"
Sounded like Sara had become a national broadcast
"Or so I've been told." I remarked. "What's up with that kid?"
"That my friend is the million dollar question. You're the first person to ever get passed either a blank or dirty look from him."
I smiled and rolled my eyes.
"Oh, gee. So I guess that makes me "the one"?"
Terri smiled at my humor, but spoke seriously.
"For as long as he's been here I've always said that if somebody could reach him, it would probably be you."
"Why is that?"
"One word. Michael."
That sent both of us into a short round of
"But he's nothing like Michael. Michael was just shy and his self-esteem wasn't all that great. But Mateo. I don't know. I just got this feeling that something else is up with him."
"Well like I said: If somebody could reach him, it would probably be you. You've just got a way about you, Jack, whether you know it or not, and that's why people open up to you like they do."
But I did know it. I knew it very well.
"I know, Terri. That's one of the reasons I think me and you are as close as we are."
"Yeah. You were the first one I called to talk to when I was going through hard times in my life...even if I had a boyfriend at the time. But that's because you did something that a lot of other people don't take the time to do."
"And that is?"
"You listened. And you actually cared. You didn't care just because you thought I expected you to. You cared because you really did. And that meant and still means a lot to me."
Her words went straight to my heart.
She wasn't just blowing smoke up my hole. She meant every single
word that had come out of her mouth. I felt a warm smile take over
"Girl, you better get over here and give me a hug!" I told her, making her burst out laughing.
We hugged each other for the first time since
my mother's funeral.
"That means a lot to me." I said to her.
"It's the truth." she said.
And that made up my mind right then and there. Now that I knew what I knew about Mateo, I was going to attempt to reach out to him and see just exactly what was going on in his world.
* * * * * *
The next four days went by relatively smoothly.
On Wednesday, I got my first four kids assigned to me. Two girls
and two boys. The girls were more open with what was on their mind
as the first session progressed than the boys were. I had to do a
little digging and prying with them. But I expected it. Not
much was really touched upon during that first meeting, but on our Friday
session all of them seemed a lot more relaxed and comfortable with me.
I set up my schedule around my sessions, since they were only going to take place on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I made sure I was present at homework session for the next two days after Wednesday. I had missed Monday and Tuesday and Sara let me know that my absence was noticed by some of the kids.
I kept my eyes out for Mateo but didn't see him except for during homework session. I found out he was a year round student and that his classes were back on track. That was why he wasn't coming in during the morning hours anymore.
That Wednesday was about as fun as shaving my entire
body by plucking out every single solitary hair with a pair of tweezers.
It seemed like whatever I said he had to come back with some sharp ass
quip or remark. He just wouldn't stop! I was able to deal with
it on Wednesday. But when Thursday came around and I saw I was in
for pretty much the same thing. So if he felt like he could talk
to anybody any old way I felt it was time to give him a taste of his own
medicine. That began when I asked him,
"Why are you so rude?"
"What?" his response sounded closer to anger than not hearing what I'd said.
"I said why are you so rude to people?"
"Why are you black?"
Totally unprepared for a comeback like that
I almost lost it. Yes. Me, the one thought nobody could piss
him off no matter what they said almost let the kid in front of him have
it all. I managed to remain composed somehow and answered with,
"Because that's the way I was when I came into this world."
"Well, there you have it."
My eyes locked onto his and his locked onto
mine. He tried to outstare me, but I've been told that my gaze can
be so intense sometimes that it feels like I'm staring beyond the eyes
and penetrating straight into the brain. That gaze must've been in
full effect, because he finally looked away.
"I don't believe that for a minute." I let him know I didn't approve of his answer.
"Ask me if I care!" he shot back.
"Oh, I know you do. You pretend like you don't, but I know you do."
He didn't like that response at all.
His eyes narrowed and an angry grimace shot over his face.
"Shut up!" he ordered me under his breath.
Couldn't. And wasn't going to.
"Why? Because what I'm saying is the truth? I mean you go around here with this big ass chip on your shoulder for whatever reason, but let me tell you something: If you don't recognize real quick little man, somebody is gonna give you a rude awakening."
And that was all he could take from me.
His lips drew up into an angry snarl and I swear he could've frozen the
sun with his look.
"Fuck you, man!" he hissed angrily, shoving his books and things into his backpack. "Fuck you!"
With those final words he snatched up his bag and stormed out of the Computer Room with a serious vengeance. It caught some of the kids' attention, as well as Sara and Tammy's. They looked over at me and I drew my index finger across the center of my neck, the symbol for "off with their head". They didn't say too much about it until homework session was over. I told them I didn't really want to talk about it, so they left it alone.
I expected myself to dream that night. Whenever things were heavy on my mind they always had a habit of showing up in my dreams. I didn't. I don't think I dreamt anything that night. It was the first time in a long time that I had a dreamless night.
I told Terri what happened Thursday morning
when we went to get coffee and was totally surprised that Sara hadn't broadcast
it to everyone already. I told her how disappointed I was in myself.
That maybe I shouldn't have gone out like I had. To this she told
me that I had accomplished more and hung in there longer than anybody else.
I had tried my best. I couldn't do no more than that. Then
she said something I hadn't heard in years. "You can lead a horse to water,
but you can't make it drink."
Amanda, the first person I saw in the morning for session left a message on my voice mail letting me know that she was sick and that she was going to have to miss. Since that freed me up until eleven, I decided to check out the parenting class. It had been awhile and I was actually starting to miss it.
Just as I was opening my door to leave my office, my entire body froze. Mateo was there. And from the look of things, he was just about to knock.
My brain instantly knew it was decision time. Was I going to stand there and attempt to be nice to him and deal with his attitude? Or was I going to continue on with where I was going and leave him standing there without a word spoken? He must've known what mode my brain was in because he cleared his throat and said, "Can I speak to you?"
I hesitated, not too sure if I had anything
I really wanted to say to him...or if I really wanted to hear anything
he had to say. Something inside me told me to give him a chance.
I almost ignored it.
"Yes. Yes, you can. Come in." I answered.
He stepped inside and I walked back on to my
desk. He pushed the door to and came over to where the two chairs
were situated in front of my desk. He didn't take a seat. He
just stood there behind the chair looking at me like he was afraid to open
his mouth all of a sudden.
"What have you got to say?" I asked a little rougher than I wanted to.
"I...I...uh, wanna say..."
He cleared his throat and took a couple of
seconds to gather himself.
"All you did was be nice to me and want to help me, and I was a complete asshole to you."
He gave a glance down at the ground and then
back at me.
"That was messed up, and I just wanna say that I'm sorry."
There was sincerity in his voice. I could
even see it in his face. I could tell that this wasn't easy for him.
There was this fear in his eyes. I don't know how I knew what it
was, but I did. He was totally terrified.
I let dramatics take effect and was silent for a moment. I folded my arms across my chest and leaned back a little in my chair.
"I have no reason to accept your thanks. I should tell you to get the hell out of my office and never show your face to me again."
That crushed him to hear me say that.
And it was exactly what I wanted. I wanted him to feel how powerless
I'd felt when he walked out on me for just a beat before I continued.
"But that's not what I'm going to say because that's not the type of man I am. My hat goes off to anybody who speaks to me like you did and then has the courage to come back and apologize to me...and mean it. I forgive you."
He knew I meant it. My tone of voice
and look on my face backed up every last word. Though it was enough
to un-crush him, I could tell he was still in no better a shape than he
was when he'd stepped inside.
"Uh...thanks. That really means a lot to me." He said, taking a few steps backward and turning toward the door. "I'm...I'm gonna go now."
I stood up.
He did, but he didn't turn back to face me.
His head sort of just looked down at the ground.
"We got off to a bad start. And I believe that everybody deserves a second chance. So, how about you and me start over with a clean slate and go from there?" I tossed the idea out to him, causing him to turn back to me with a shocked look on his face.
Walking from around my desk to where he was
standing, I extended my hand out to him and smiled warmly.
"Hi, I'm Jack."
For the first time since we'd met he smiled.
It was an awesome smile. One of those kind that would make girls
just melt into giggly messes, and make guys upset that it wasn't in their
arsenal for use. It was like the smile had been built specifically
for him and nobody else. And...god it's hard to describe. But in that
one moment, I was like I finally saw the real him and not the cold, sharp
mouthed boy I'd been acquainted with for the passed five days.
"I'm Mateo." he re-introduced himself as he shook my hand.
"It's nice to finally meet you."
"I think you're cool too."
* * * * * *
He told me that he had a math test on Friday and
that he really wanted to be ready for it. So I decided to work with
him exclusively and make sure he had the lessons that were going to be
covered down pact. By the time he left on Thursday both of us were
pretty confident he was going to do well.
That Thursday morning, it was announced that the L.A Lakers and the Washington Wizards were going to play a charity game against each other the next night. They were putting it on to raise money for families in need in New York, and it had actually been announced a week before and had already sold out. Since Greg had an associate in a good position at the arena the game was going to be played at, Terri had been able to arrange for a field trip to the game for the kids and six of the staff members. The spots to go filled up almost the moment it was announced.
Mateo told me the Lakers were his favorite team and
that he really would've liked to go when we met for homework session on
Thursday. That gave me an idea. I decided that if he made good
on his test that I would surprise him by taking him to the game.
I asked him to bring in his test to show me. He asked why, of course,
and I simply told him I wanted to see proof of how well he did. He
told me he would try and we left it at that.
That Friday was helping Nathan troubleshoot one of the computers during homework session when Mateo finally came in. Once he spotted me, he began making his way over to where I was.
"I'll be right back, okay?" I told Nathan.
He sighed heavily and shook his head.
"I think I need a break too. This damn thing is really pissing me off."
"Let's take a fifteen and then give it another crack." I suggested.
He got up to go do whatever he was going to
do for his fifteen minutes and I met up with Mateo over at the table.
"So, what's the verdict?" I asked him.
He didn't answer. He just reached into
his backpack and pulled out a paper and handed it to me. It was a
photocopy of his math test and he got twenty-six out of thirty, which was
about an A minus. I decided to play it cool and just nodded and handed
the paper back to him. The look on his face told me he wasn't expecting
that reaction from me, but he didn't say anything.
"So what're you doing tonight?" I asked.
"Huh?" my question had caught him off guard, but he recovered a second later. "Why?"
"Because I want to know."
"It's Friday, right?"
"Uhhhhh, nothing." he paused. "Why?"
"Because if your mother says it's okay, you're going to accompany us to the Lakers game tonight. But that's only if you'd like to."
The way his face lit up with excitement when
he heard that news was almost beyond words. His eyes went wide and
his mouth fell open.
"Really! No shit?" the excitement was alive in his voice as well.
I chuckled to myself at his use of words.
"None at all."
"Oh man! I...I gotta call my mom!"
"You can use the phone in the office and the game starts at 8:00."
Dropping his backpack off on the table, he headed into the office to use the phone.
I felt eyes on me from somewhere in the room and
turned to see who might be shooting their gaze my way. It was Sara
and Tammy. Both of them were smiling broadly and giving me the thumbs
up. I had told them what I was going to do for Mateo if he passed
his test. Based on their reaction they had seen the entire event.
It dawned on me that maybe I should talk to Mateo's mother in conjunction with him talking to her. That way she'd be able to hear the voice of an adult and have that extra assurance. I went to the office and stepped inside just as he started talking to whoever it was he was talking to. He spoke in Spanish, so I wasn't quite sure who it was or what he was saying.
He had his back to me at first, so I assumed he turned around to look because he could sense that I was standing there.
"Let me talk to your mother." I mouthed the words to him.
He nodded and continued his conversation. That was one of the times I wished I'd taken the opportunity to pay attention in Spanish class during high school. Maybe then I would've had some idea as to what he was saying.
He raised his voice suddenly and sounded as if he
were talking faster. Then he paused and spoke again in his regular
tone of voice. After a few minutes of Spanish encrypted conversation,
he handed the phone to me.
"Her name is Esmerelda." he told me, putting that accented twist on the name that any other nationality would forget.
"Thanks." I said, taking the phone. "Hello. Esmerelda?"
"Yes, this is." responded a lovely, but tired sounding female voice. Her Spanish accent was a bit deeper than her son's.
"Hi, my name is Jack Williams and I'm a staff member here at The Shack. We're doing a little trip for the kids here tonight to the Lakers game, and even though I would trust Mateo's word if he told me you said it was okay for him to go, I just wanted to touch base with you and make sure."
"Yes, Mr. Williams. I tell him it's okay for him to go. But does he need to have the money?"
Actually, it had been a prerequisite that if
the kids wanted any extras like food and souvenirs that they bring their
own money for it. I had decided, though, that I would be nice enough
to hook Mateo up with whatever he wanted, as long as it was within reason.
Esmerelda didn't have to know that, though.
"Um, no, actually. We'll take care of that, a ride there, and a ride home."
"Ah, okay. And what time is the game and when is it over?"
"It's at eight and we want to have the kids back no later than eleven. But we'll be leaving here at seven."
I guess she thought she was asking a lot of
questions, because she laughed a little and said,
"Okay, okay. I just like to make sure so I don't get worried."
"Totally understandable. We'd worry if you didn't ask."
"Thank you, Mr. Williams. Can I speak with Mateo?"
I handed the phone back to him and the conversation
switched back to Spanish mode. That lasted for a few more minutes
before he said goodbye and hung up. He had regained his composure,
but I could still see the excitement lurking just beneath.
"I guess I better go home and get ready."
"Okay. Do you need a ride or anything?" I thought to offer.
"Uh, no. I'll be okay.
"All right. Just make sure you're back here by six thirty."
"Oh, I will be. For sure!"
* * * * * *