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I was sort of expecting the game to be a complete bummer. Since the teams weren't really playing in order to advance on to the next round, I assumed we were just going to be in for a friendly round of ball. Not even close. The game was just as good if not better than any season game. Each player put 102% into their performance and the Lakers probably would've wiped the floor clean with the Wizards, had Mr. Michael Jordan not been back in full effect. The way that team was working was like a complete revamp of their normal selves. They were passing, setting up killer "D" and snatching those rebounds like their lives depended on it.
The Lakers weren't on the sad side either.
Feeling the pressure of facing Jordan, their own defense and offense had
become tighter and it was obvious that they were really trying to keep
any type of scoring for the other team from happening. Kobe Bryant
shined of course, showing that he was indeed growing better with age.
And Shaq surprised us all when he sank four out of the six free throws
he had to shoot. But the Wizards managed to pull off a screaming
interception, move the ball seemingly quicker than the eye could follow
from one another. One took the shot and Jordan sank it with a mid-air
The kids as well as us adults had a marvelous time. Some of the kids got completely into it and had outfitted themselves in their Lakers attire. For some it was just as basic as wearing a hat or a jersey with the number of their favorite player on it. Others looked like they were decked out enough to be on the floor playing with the team.
It was on my mind of how Mateo was going to deal with going to the game. I wondered if he was going to be comfortable and enjoy himself, or if he was he going to shut back down and not be into it at all. That kept me from getting into the first quarter of the game because I was so worried about him. He chased all my worries away by the second quarter though. He was up and cheering, yelling, and having the time of his life just like everybody else. You would've never assumed that he wasn't much of a social person.
Aaron and Sam also attended the game. I expected
them to give me the complete cold shoulder because of the way things had
gone down during our first meeting, but they actually spoke and sat in
the row in front of me. They even went so far as to speak to Mateo
and apologize a second time to him for what they'd done. He accepted
and the three of them wound up talking quite a bit throughout the game.
I was glad to finally see him interacting with other kids...well, hell,
other people for that matter! But I couldn't help wondering if he
would've been the same way if I wasn't there with him. Would he have
been friendly, or would he have given Aaron and Sam them the response I
assumed he'd always given them...none?
At the end of the game we were given one final surprise when Greg's friend came to us and asked us to follow him. He took us into the locker rooms of not just the Lakers, but the Wizards as well. We all got to meet the players and the kids got autographed team posters. It was a good thing Terri and a few of the others brought their cameras. That was a Kodak moment for real.
Once we got back to The Shack and made sure all kids were accounted for before releasing them to their waiting parents, I spotted Mateo attempting to sneak away without a parent. I asked him where he was going and he told me he was going to walk. I let him know that it wasn't going to happen on my watch and that I would give him a ride. He tried to decline, but I told him it wasn't a conversation and that he was going to get one. I expected a fight, but he didn't put up one. So after all at work was settled, we got in my car and I started the drive toward his home.
We talked for a bit about the game's highlights and
the little surprise afterwards. That was followed by a few moments
of me snapping at some dumbass because he hopped in front of me in an attempt
to squeeze his minivan into a spot built for a compact sedan without the
use of a blinker. Once that was out of me and I apologized for my
outburst, Mateo just giggled and told me it was no thing. We rode
on for a little while longer before he looked over at me and said,
"I just wanna say thanks for taking me to the game with you tonight. I thought you might still be holding a grudge about before."
"As I recall we buried the hatchet in "before"." I reminded.
"Yeah, but...I guess I...Well, I know it's dumb...but I just thought you would try and get me back somehow."
"Give a brother a little credit here, man! I can stoop low, but I would never go that far."
"And now I know that."
"Yes, you do. And as for the game, you're welcome. But what I think is that you should thanking yourself. You're the one that put forth the effort on the math instead of letting it beat you. You earned it."
"Thanks to you. If you hadn't have helped me I never would've got it."
"Always glad to lend a hand."
A third round of quiet time passed between
us before he broke it.
"You know, you're different from a lot of people."
Not expecting the question I replied dumbly, "Hmmm?" before restating, "What do you mean?"
"Everybody else would've walked away from me if I would've did them the way I did you. But it's like what I did got to you, but then it didn't get to you. You just kept being cool and trying to help me until I just let you have it. Then, after all that, you gave me another chance when I came to you and apologized."
That reminded me of a question that had been
burning like fire in my mind since our first encounter at homework session.
A stop light was coming up and it was turning red. I brought the
car to a stop and looked over at my young passenger.
"Like I said, everybody deserves a second chance. I don't know if I said it before or not, but I think it takes a big man to do what you did."
I hesitated a little before I continued,
"But do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"Why did you act out like that?"
The look that showed up on his face at that question told me
that he regretted telling me to "shoot". He gave an uncomfortable
glance downward and then over toward the passenger side window.
"Don't worry about it. It's not your problem."
That answer activated a second nature response from me, "Is it something I can help with?"
He was quiet again for a long moment and he
wouldn't look at me.
"No. Let's just drop it, okay? All you need to know is that nobody's tryin' to touch me or beat me. It's nothing like that."
I really didn't want to drop it. I wanted to know what was up. But I was going to respect his wish. His letting me know that he wasn't being abused in any way served to keep my wondering mind from getting too excited and thinking the worst.
He didn't hesitate to change the subject and began asking me about my life. He didn't really pry; he just had the basic questions. How long had I lived in town. Was I married. Did I have any brothers and sisters. How old was I. When he found out I was only 23, he couldn't believe it. He made me confirm it by asking me my date of birth. Because I said it right off the top of my head and didn't have to think about it he took my age as truth.
As for him, he was 15 and had two older brothers named Tomas and Arturo. He wasn't too forthcoming with the details concerning them, but he did let it out that both of them were affiliated with drugs and were constantly in and out of jail. The oldest brother, Arturo, had two children of whom had fallen under the care of Mateo's mother. How this was so he didn't really say.
Since his mother worked two jobs in an attempt to make ends meet in a legal way, he was like the man of the house. He cooked, he cleaned, and he took care of his niece and nephew. Since Friday and Saturday were the only days his mother had off, he was allowed to have some kind of a life on those days. That was why he'd been able to go to the game without a problem.
As we talked he continued to direct me toward his
home. His directions took us into the upper class end of the poor
neighborhood. Things were terribly nice, but they weren't terribly
bad either. As the matter of fact his apartment complex looked even
more well kept than mine with the green nicely cut lawn and non-graffiti
layered walls. Mine didn't have graffiti, but the lawn needed some
"Well thanks again, Jack." Mateo said, extending his hand out to me.
We did one of those altered handshake instead
of a regular one. It seems like you don't really use the formal one
unless it's business or first time meeting related. As I went to
take my hand away his sort of lingered for a short spell. Then, he
drew it away a little sharply, almost like it had remained it on its own
command instead of his.
"You're welcome. I'm glad you had a good time." I accepted his thanks.
And with that he opened the car door, got out, shut the door, and went on his way toward home. I watched him go for a moment until he looked over his shoulder and waved at me. I took that as my que to vamoose, so I went ahead and took my leave. Headed for home.
* * * * * *
The next couple of weeks hustled by at hurricane speed. I wasn't disturbed by anymore of my unnatural dreams, but the concern never really went away. In the back of my mind I knew it had to have a deeper meaning.
Where I used to live, I spied the couple across from me having sex numerous times. They were a young couple and didn't believe in totally shutting their blinds before they got busy. They were male and female and I think the female was sort of unfaithful because she hit on me twice when we ran into each other in the laundry room. And seeing both of them do all kinds of "interesting" things hadn't gotten me nearly as excited or given me dreams like the Eric, Sam, and Aaron episode.
I didn't really give myself a lot of time to dwell on it, though. The two weekends had my friends included in them in some kind of way, so I was always doing something. While most people might have wanted some private time to themselves, I honestly didn't want any. That was too much time alone with my thoughts and I wasn't ready to deal. I knew I would only start thinking about my mother and her being gone. The result would be my turning back into the same zombie-like person I had been during the weeks before I'd started working. And I didn't want to go back to that.
The kids at work had become aware of my presence and had started greeting me by name. I continued to see the kids that had been assigned to me. As the third week progressed (their second one with me), one by one they began to feel like I had answered all their questions and helped them deal with the concerns they had. And why they still wanted to be able to come to me if they needed me again, they decided to terminate visits as a mandatory and scheduled thing.
As week four came around, Terri asked me if I wanted to try out what some of the other counselors did and hook up with a sign in sheet. All I had to do was put it up on my office door with all the times I was available to see people. Whoever wanted to see me would then put their name in that time slot. It was their responsibility to show up during the time they were signed under, and mine to be there when they showed up. I decided to go ahead and give it a try.
Also during that week I started working with a gentleman named Mitchell and two ladies by the names of Elaine and Alice as part of the Programs and Activities Board. That work took up my entire morning and part of my afternoon. But I always made sure I made it to the homework session. That was the only time I got to see Mateo and I had actually started looking forward to it.
Our meetings never went past my helping him with his school work for the first few days after the episode. I don't know if he figured out that if I was going to help him to the best of my ability that he was going to have to let go and trust me. But as the third week went by and the fourth week progressed, his guard came down more and more. And the more his guard came down, the more our relationship began to change. Slowly transforming from the kid and mentor type into more of a friendship.
Sara, Nathan, and the others were still in awe over my progress with him and they kept asking me how I'd done it. I just kept telling them: "I don't know. It just happened that way".
On Tuesday of the fourth week I found out Mateo had another math test that coming Friday. The Shack's trip of choice for that day was going to be to see the play Le Miserables. I used a few inconspicuous questions to see if maybe he would be interested in checking it out, but gathered he really wasn't. But during one of our non-school work related conversations, he told me that he really wanted to see the movie "Iron Monkey." He liked martial arts films and used to have a small collection, until his brother Tomas found them and sold them all. That put the idea on my mind of what I could do for him if he did good on his test. I was a complete movie nut and had wanted to see that one the minute I saw the preview for it.
Unbeknownst to him, this was my opportunity to see
if he would still put forth that same initiative he had on the first test.
I was confident he wasn't expecting to get something in return for doing
well, and I wanted to see if that was going to make a difference or not.
"Okay, break it on out and let me see it." I said to him after he'd found me in homework session that Friday afternoon. I'd gotten so wrapped up with the person I was helping that I'd forgotten to keep my eyes out for him.
"Do you really wanna see it?" he asked. His tone of voice told me that he didn't really want to show me. This got me a little concerned.
"Of course. Only if you want to show it to me."
He thought about it and then pulled his backpack
around from the back to the front. He opened it and went straight
for the paper I wanted to see. He seemed to consider things again
before he went ahead and handed it to me.
His actions weren't sending good signals. I was sure that he hadn't done as well as he had before. But was it because he didn't get it, or was it because of knowing he wasn't going to get anything back in return?
"No." I thought in my head. "He had the lesson down packed."
So that couldn't be the reason for a...
"B?" my tone of voice was shocked.
"Gotcha!" he said, grinning mischievously at my reaction.
I gave him a playful shove, which only made
his grin wider.
"Don't get my blood pressure up like that no more, man! I thought you had a D or something." I added those words a moment later.
"I wish I had a camera, so I could've took a picture to show you the look on your face!"
I rolled my eyes, pretending to be annoyed.
"Oh, we are not amused."
I knew he probably thought I was kidding, but I went ahead and smiled to provide that extra assurance.
"So, what're you doing tonight?"
"Nothing. Got the house all to myself this weekend."
"Sometimes my mother takes my niece and nephew up to my aunt and uncle's house in Fresno. Then, she takes `em to Laredo prison to see Arturo."
"That's cool of her. How come you're not going?"
"I just don't feel like seeing him this time. I'll probably go next time, though."
"Why'd you ask what I was doing?"
So inquisitive was he, just as I knew he would
"Didn't you say something about that one movie...oh, what was it called?"
"I dunno. I said stuff about a lot of movies."
"Iron Monkey. Didn't you say you wanted to see it?"
"Yeah, I did."
"Well it just so happens that I'll be going to the movies tonight to see that. You're welcome to tag along if you wanna."
The look that appeared on his face alone told
me he definitely wanted to.
"Don't play like that." he said, sounding like he believed me, but he just wanted to hear me confirm it again.
"Is you're mom gone already?"
He looked over his shoulder and glanced at
the clock on the wall.
"In a few hours."
"Call and ask."
By the time the word "ask" was out of my mouth, he
was already taking off for the office. I followed after him a short
time later with the same thought on my mind as before. Adult voice
gives that extra reassurance to the parent. This time when I entered,
he was facing half toward me and half away and he was speaking in English.
"...alk to mom." he was saying.
Whomever was on the other line must've been
giving him a hard time because he snapped in a low voice.
"Just let me talk to mom, bitch!"
A flashback to the sharp mouthed boy I'd originally
been introduced to could not be avoided. Only this time I knew somebody
was actually aggravating him in order to make him talk like that.
That assumption proved true to me when he spoke again in that harsh low
"No! Fuck yourself! Now put mom on the damn phone!"
A couple of seconds later the expression on his face went from angry to offended.
"No, mom I didn't start nothing! Tomas wouldn't give the phone to you and...okay. Okay. Hey, Jack asked me if I wanted to go see that movie I was telling you about because he's gonna go and I wanna know if I can go with him?
Another few moments of silence before, "Yeah. Hold on."
He turned to me and handed the phone to me.
I took it.
"Esmerelda?" I greeted.
"Hello, Jack. How are you?" she greeted me.
"It's Friday. What more can I say?"
"I hear that. I just want to tell you that I really wouldn't mind Mateo going with you tonight, except I'm going out of town today. His brother is normally around, but he's going off somewhere else and I don't want Mateo home by hisself. So could you do a whatchacallit, uh...rain check?"
"Oh, sure. Not a problem at all."
Esmerelda paused as if she were thinking about
"Jack, can I say something to you?"
"Um, sure." I encouraged.
"I just want to say thank you for bringing something positive into Mateo's life. He doesn't see nothing but bad coming from his brothers and we don't live in the best side of the town. But you help him so his school work is getting so much better and that his attitude doesn't stink so much anymore. And I really appreciate that."
It honestly felt good to know that I was making
such an impact on his life, but of course it made me feel a little awkward
to take all the credit. I responded,
"Well, I'm glad I can be here for him. That's what all of us here try to represent. That positive side of things."
"Well, I thank them that they let you come and work for them. Anyways, let me go ahead and break the news to Mateo."
"Okay. Take it easy."
I gave the phone back to Mateo.
"So can I? But...but mom! I can stay by myself! I'm not a baby! There is a one before that five you know?"
He was silent as his mother stated her side
of things, before he objected,
"Yeah, I know. But I can handle myself. Mom? Mom!"
And the conversation switched from English
to Spanish on me, leaving me completely out of the loop on what was going
on. During one of the spells when Esmerelda must've been talking,
Mateo took the phone away from his ear and turned to me with a completely
annoyed look on his face.
"I can't believe she's doing this to me. I don't wanna stay at my uncle's house. All they do is drink and smoke weed over there!"
I wanted to laugh, but I kept a straight face
and just shrugged my shoulders. After a few more argumentative sentences,
his mother finally won and the conversation was over.
He was more upset than angry and I could tell that he really wanted to let loose. He didn't, though. He just made the remark that his mother might think he was five but that he knew he wasn't, and that he wasn't going to act like a five year old about the situation. I couldn't help but think to myself: "Gee, if only I would've have that mentality when I was his age it probably would've saved me from a lot of arguments with my own mother." In any case I promised him we would go the following weekend and he seemed satisfied with that and told me bye before he left for home.
* * * * * *
That night Greg had something going on with his computer, so I followed Terri home and helped him figure out the problem. It was a simple error a lot of people make. He had gotten a new hard drive and didn't know that in order for them to co-exist one had to be set as the master and one as the slave. After the computer glitch was un-glitched, I was invited to stay for dinner. Terri wound up going to rent movies, while me and Greg did the cooking, and we made an evening out of it. I didn't make it home until 12:30 in the morning and didn't get to sleep until 1:30.
I had only been asleep for an hour when my
phone jarred me awake. For a moment I considered letting my answering
machine get it. Nobody had any business calling my house at that
time of morning. Then I started to wonder if it was one of my relatives
calling. That concern got me to roll over and pick up the phone on
the fourth ring.
"Hello?" I answered in a groggy, tired voice.
There was silence on the other end. I
could hear background noises that I wasn't able to really make out, but
the person on the phone wasn't speaking. I was about to say hello
again when the person spoke up.
"...Is this Jack?" they asked.
"Mateo?" I recognized his voice, but wasn't sure if I was hearing right.
"What's going on?"
"Uh...I was gonna ask if you could...could come get me?"
"Come get you? From where? Is everything okay?"
Silence answered me once again for a short
spell before he responded with,
"No, it's not. I'm at the jail here in town."
Before I could process what he'd said, the
I got no answer. I pushed the channel button on the phone a couple of times to try and see if the frequency had messed up. When that didn't work I gave the flash button a few pushes. When that didn't give me the result I was hoping for I hung the phone up.
From that moment until almost an hour later I felt like I was detached from my body and watching things take place from a third person point of view. I got up threw on some clothes right after I hung up the phone and almost forgot to put on shoes before I got in the car and started the drive toward City Hall. That was the only place with a jail that was in town. All the while my head was running rampant with possible scenarios that could answer why Mateo was calling me from jail. It was a good thing no cops were patrolling the streets of freeway during the time I passed through. I was speeding like a bat out of hell and I know the cop that would've pulled me over would've had a Colgate smile on his face while writing me a hefty ticket.
The first floor of City Hall was a lobby area. It was a little on the dark side and I thought for a second they were closed and that you needed to have keycards or whatever to get from point A to point B. A young looking officer passed by and asked me where I was going. When I told her I was there to pick up someone they might have detained she told me to follow her.
Our trip took us to the second floor and down a short white walled gray carpeted hallway into another dimly lit waiting room. There were only three people there. One of them looked like he was ten or more years older than me and possibly homeless. The other was a rough looking minor that didn't look like he was a day over twelve. The third person was the one that had called for me to come to get him.
The boy looked like death. Even in the dim
light I could see that his eyes were a blood burgundy shade and had a sort
of glazed over moist look to them. He'd been crying. And his
brown skin looked so pale. I was about to go over to him when a voice
from behind spoke up.
"Excuse me. Can I help you?"
I turned around and saw an older man in a police
"Um, yes. I'm here to pick up this young man right here." I answered him, pointing to Mateo.
He gave me a quick once over and said, "I'm taking
it you're a friend of the family?"
"Oh gee. Whatever gave you that idea?" I wanted to say to him for the unnecessary comment. Instead I told him, "You'd be correct."
"All right. I'll just need you to sign him out."
He continued on past me and into the door to
my right. That made me aware of a small service window that was directly
behind me. I went to it just as he was coming up to it. He
handed me a clipboard that had a grid arrangement on the paper with names
"Just sign next to the name of the person you're coming to get." he instructed.
I did so. He took the clipboard after I was
done and strained to try and understand my signature.
"Jackson Williams." I helped him out.
"Huh? Oh. Oh, okay. Just a moment please. I'll need to verify that he can be released to your custody."
I was getting ready to go over and check on
Mateo when a women's voice called my attention.
She was at the door that the man who'd made me sign in had gone through earlier.
"Yes?" I said.
"Could you come back with me for a second?"
I didn't really reply. I just sort of
followed her into the area beyond the door. It wasn't anything special
really, just a bunch of desks with computers and the usual office equipment.
We went into a small office that I concluded was hers, because of the pictures
on the desk, and had a seat when she told me to.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"I'm not supposed to be saying anything, but I feel you should at least know something. The boy, Mateo. His mother and brother have been arrested on serious drug charges."
That revelation made my mouth fall ajar.
"No way! You're kidding?"
She shook her head once emphatically.
"I really wish I was."
She started to continue that thought, but instead
got up and went to the office door and shut it.
"Mrs. Ruiz wanted him to call you to come and get him so am I safe to assume you're close with the family?"
"Yes." I nodded.
"I'm not supposed to share this information with you, but like I said before, you should at least know a little something. The housing complex that Mateo and his family live in is known for heavy drug trafficking and the manager of the property was faced with a search warrant for the entire place pending an investigation of suspects the department believed were living in one of the apartments in the complex. And though Mateo's family's apartment was not the one the department was there to raid, a healthy stash of drugs was found and it was more than enough to hold his mother and brother them on charges of possession with intent to sell."
Everything was going in, but it wasn't registering
to me. It was like part of me understood what the woman was saying
and the other part thought she was speaking in a foreign language.
She either sensed that I was getting it because of the look that was on
my face, or maybe because she just knew.
"Mr. Williams, Mateo has been through enough tonight. I think the both of you should go home. Leave me your home phone number, I'll give you my card, and I'll give you a call in the morning when I'm usually supposed to be here."
I gave her my phone and cell number, she gave me her card and promised me she would be able to talk more freely when she called. In a quick moment when my mind was actually functioning, I asked her about Arturo's kids and what had become of them. Both of them were fine. Their mothers had already come to get them.
With that done she led me back to the lobby where
Mateo was still in the exact same position as I had left him in.
I was completely beside myself. I didn't know what to do, what to
say, how to feel, or any clue of what the next moment might bring.
It was one of those times when I felt like I wasn't in control of things
and I hated those times with a passion. But I couldn't appear that
way to Mateo. This was probably affecting him a hell of a lot worse
than it was me, which meant I had to be the strong one. I went over
to him and lightly put my hand on his shoulder.
"Ready to get out of here?"
He didn't respond. He just sat there with that completely zoned out look on his face. Finally he stood up and followed right at my side as we left City Hall.
* * * * * *
He didn't say a word during the whole ride to my
house. I caught myself giving sideways glances at him just to make
sure he was still blinking and breathing. I kept wanting to say something
to him. I kept wanting him to say something to me. Even if
he would've yawned it would've made me feel better. But he didn't.
And every time I got ready to say something I would stop myself.
I was torn between wondering if I should say something, or if I should
just let him be and have a time out. It was hard choice but I chose
to go with letting him have a time out.
Once we got to my place I didn't know what to do next. The drive home hadn't provided me with any time to think and I really needed a moment to process the situation alone. I knew the only place I was going to be able to do that without giving Mateo the impression that I didn't want to be around him was in the shower.
He had taken a seat at my wannabe dining room table in the kitchen and I let him know what I was going to do and that I would be out in a few. He didn't respond. I really needed to figure shit out, so I left him there and went into the bathroom. I didn't bother to grab any underwear or anything since I wasn't getting in to clean myself.
I don't know how long I stood under the shower head just letting the warm water flow out and attempt to comfort me. I honestly didn't know if I could handle this. I mean this wasn't like at work where I saw the kids for thirty minutes or so and dealt with their problems kind of from a distance. I was right smack dab in the middle of this one.
I never heard the bathroom door come open, much less the shower door. It was only after I felt like I was no longer alone did my eyes come open and realize my feeling was true. Mateo was in the shower with me and was just as naked as I was.
My reaction probably could've won the award for the
thousand dollars on American's Funniest Home Videos. I was like an
adolescent boy who'd been taking a shower like normal until the door came
open and in popped my mother with a video camera. Shock became surprise.
Surprise became confusion. Confusion became anger.
"Mateo? What're you doing?" I asked sternly.
"Felt like taking a shower. Got a problem with that?" he answered me in that nasty tone of his. The one I hadn't heard since that day.
Trying to remain in control but not mean, I
"No. But you could've waited until I got out."
"What if I didn't want to?" he shot back.
"Well then I...uh..."
His lip pulled up into an angry snarl.
"You'd think I was a freak, huh? Because only a freak would do something like this." he told me, stating it like it was a fact instead of saying it as a question.
A part of my brain screamed out: "Hell yeah!"
in response, but I shook my head a couple of times, at a complete loss
He took a step forward and leered angrily,
almost menacingly at me.
"Go ahead and say it, Jack. You think I'm a god-damned freak for doing this, don't you?"
"It's not exactly normal." the response slipped out before I could stop it.
"So what're you gonna do about it? Huh? Throw me out? Make me leave? Go ahead."
And at that very moment it was like I had been staring at one of those 3-D picture images, trying to figure out what I was supposed to be seeing, and the image suddenly appeared in crystal clear vision. I knew exactly what this was all about. I knew what he was trying to do. He was trying to scare me. No...not trying to scare me. He was trying to get me to dislike him. He was trying to push me away from him.
That single 3-D image zoomed away in my mind to become
one singular tile in a bigger picture. It reminded me of the posters
they used to sell that looked like Darth Vader from afar, but once you
got close enough you could see that each singular tile was actually a scene
right out of the three movies. But the picture that was presented
to me was one of a boy who was guarding something. Something that
he didn't want anyone to know about. And the only way he knew how
to do that was if he kept everybody away from him. That was what
the altercation back at work had been all about the first time I'd tried
to help him. It all made sense now! Except for one thing.
Why? What was so important that he felt he had to go through such
lengths to keep it protected? Looking him straight in his anger laced
eyes I let him know,
"I know what you're trying to do, Mateo."
He didn't expect that. I could tell by
his reaction. Now it was his turn to not know which emotion to feel.
First he looked shocked, then angry, then surprised, then angry again.
"No." he shook his head.
"Yes I do. Please, don't do this. Not again. Please don't push me away."
That same look on his face from our altercation
on the first day tore across his face.
"Shut up, Jack!" he growled at me.
I shook my head defiantly.
"No. I won't let you go out like this. Not this time."
"I said SHUT UP!" his voice exploded.
Before I could react his fist hurled forward
and nailed me straight in the stomach.
"Hhaaaaaah!" I cried out, my arms wrapped tightly around my body and I doubled over a little bit. Damn that boy packed a punch!
The pain was on my face as my head jerked
up and my eyes fell on my assaulter. I expected that nasty snarl
to still be on his face. That was long gone. He was just standing
there with a completely horrified look on his face. His eyes fell
on the hand that had scored the hit on me and his breath came out in a
short uneven gasp.
His eyes went to me, to his fist, and back to me. And finally I saw the emotion I'd been expecting from him since I'd picked him up from City Hall. Fear. I watched it as it flooded into his eyes and took over his face, sickening him with its noxiousness. His breathing became labored. His lip began to tremble. And in a quick spin he turned away from me.
I had forgotten completely about the searing pain in my stomach by now. All I could think about was what he was feeling. I could tell by the sounds coming from him that he was trying to stifle a seriously needed cry. The boy who appeared to be so tough and unbreakable was falling apart like a shattering mirror in slow motion.
"Mateo, please look at me." the pain was still evident in my voice.
"No!" he objected. "A man isn't supposed to cry. You don't see me right now!"
"Yeah? And who's the smart person that lied to you like that?"
He didn't respond.
"It takes a real man to cry. And any man that says different is a heartless bastard who's too stuck on stupid to know the truth!"
I was getting a little too harsh with my voice.
I adjusted it and continued.
"You are very strong, Mateo. Stronger than you know. But you can't keep this inside or it'll tear you apart. Believe me, I know."
That got him to slowly turn around and face
me. He averted his eyes from mine, though, unable to look at me.
"I can only be here for you if you let me. Please. Let me." I pleaded.
And that was the final blow to the invisible
barrier that had situated itself between us. He collapsed right there
where he stood down onto his knees, as if they couldn't support him anymore.
My body responded to what my eyes had seen before my brain even had time
to process anything. I caught him just as he was starting to fall
He leaned against me for a split second before he repelled away from me and studied himself on his own two feet. His eyes looked up into mine and mine looked into his. And finally he let go. His arms wrapped around me in a tight hug, his body fell against mine, and he began to cry.
I held the trembling, crying, naked boy in a gentle hug of my own. One hand rested on his back and the other against the side of his head. And while anyone who would've seen us like that would've thought I was a nasty, unnatural son of a bitch, I didn't feel that way at all. All I felt was the utter joy that came from knowing that he was letting me be the one that was there for him when he needed someone the most
"I...so s-scared, Jack." his crying kept him from effectively forming complete sentences.
"I know. I know." I told him, rubbing his back gently in an attempt to comfort him.
"What...am I gonna do now?"
"Don't you worry about that. You've got me in your corner now. We're gonna make it through this together. You hear me?"
He sniffled harshly and let the breath out
under the shaking control of the cry he was letting out.
I ran the hand that had been holding his head
against my water drenched chest back over his head softly.
"You are very, very welcome."
* * * * * *