A Major Success|
Book 6 of Outside the Foul Lines
by Rick Beck
"So This is Christmas"
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It was a fine way to spend Christmas.
Gene had collected a live tree for the salon that could be planted once Christmas was over and smaller artificial trees he'd decorate for each cabin.
The salon smelled sweet with the scent of pine. The lights and other decorations gave the boat a festive look. With Harold coming aboard, we wanted the boat to ooze with Christmas cheer.
Harold wasn't given to fits of emotion over anything. Christmas was a disappointment to Harold as a boy. When his mother was home, she was usually with a boyfriend who didn't want Harold in the way. Christmas was just another day for him to stay out of the line of fire.
We didn't try to erase those memories. What we knew came in two or three word explanations from him. We listened and developed the picture as time went on. Then there were the official reports that told what case workers knew or assumed by what they saw and heard.
"Harold is withdrawn and of average intelligence. He has little interest in a school environment and is combative with teachers and other students."
It was the state of Indiana's viewpoint.
We provided him with what he needed. When he moved in, the baseball season had just ended, and we were there for him if he needed anything, but Harold was independent to say the least.
Harold hardly talked about life before he came to live with us. There was no special interaction that you could point to as the reason why he took to us. We had our lives. We made a place for him, and we provided a safe environment.
Harold had his own way of doing things. He responded well to a tutor we found in Seymour. When I was home I spent time helping him with his studies. It was obvious he was way more academic than I ever was. I was limited when it came to explaining what I knew to him. Harold wasn't.
It came as a surprise to us, when his tutor said, "I don't know how much good I can do Harold. He's smarter than I am. He lacks some basic skills that I can teach him, but his grasp on new concepts is remarkable."
Harold earned a GED the year the tutor came three times a week and then five times a week when baseball season began. I wouldn't say Harold was happy, but he was happier. His reading had a purpose and he read more than ever.
When he expressed an interest in college, Andy asked, "Are you sure? I'll make it happen if you tell me you're sure."
Harold said, "I'm going to be a doctor. They like you to have a little college."
Harold had been with us for close to two years by that time. Andy began researching schools. We wanted something close enough for him to be able to get home without too much trouble.
Harold didn't need to be home very often, until Andy was sick. That's when Harold began to come out of his shell. He was comfortable with us but still didn't have a lot to say, but once Andy needed our support, Harold got home as often as he could.
Harold spent as much time with us when Andy was taking chemo, than he had when he was living with us full time. Previously Harold had his nose in a book most of the time and the communication was limited. Once he was away at school, he acted glad to get home.
He even went along when we ate out, as long as he could get a hamburger. We planned things we could do together when he came home. When we were just going out to no place in particular, he started going with us.
We were more like a family than we had been. It was up to Harold, because we always asked him to go with us from the beginning, but we didn't insist he go. It was still up to him, but these days he asked to go.
We didn't go far, but if Harold was home and not preparing for a test or a paper, he went. He had made his own assessment about us by that time. We were content letting Harold do it his way. He was no trouble and didn't ask for anything.
Christmas was a day Harold didn't particularly care for. We hung stockings and got him things he needed and marked from Santa on the little tag. We didn't want to exchange presents. Harold didn't even like getting things from Santa. We didn't ask him why. It was up to him.
Harold was easier to be around as he grew to be a young man. It occurs to me that he had been adjusting to having a home to go home to. He'd lived in a dozen places before they put him next door.
The social workers came to visit as soon as they heard Harold was at our house more than he was home. We were friends with his two foster mothers and they approved of us, and allowed Harold free range to come over. He often stayed all day and did nothing but read.
When the social workers saw him with us, they liked him being around men. It was a safe wholesome place for him to be. They didn't ask too many questions about our relationship and their supervisor knew Andy by name from Indianapolis baseball, which didn't hurt when they were deciding whether or not to place Harold with us.
Andy and I didn't know anything about raising kids. We were just past being kids ourselves, when Harold first came over from next door where he was one of many foster kids. He wanted to be at our house and we didn't mind. It was easier for Harold if he didn't need to deal with other kids.
We never told him to go home. One of the girls would come by to collect him and then they began calling to see when he'd be coming home. Once he began staying over night, there was a discussion about letting Harold stay where he was most comfortable, since he'd had such an unsettled life previously.
Andy was determined to break through his shell after a while. His efforts at playing catch and basketball came up short. It was easy to see by Harold's raise eyebrow, he'd humor Andy if he had to, but he didn't want to. That was before we knew how bright he was.
My first clue was when I was in the bookstore, I came across a huge Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. I bought it and took it home and put it on the table beside the couch where Harold kept his books. Almost immediately he was going to the dictionary to find the meanings of words. He didn't want to ask someone for the meaning, but he didn't mind looking up words he didn't know.
It turned out what Harold needed was time and two steady people who were predictable and treated him with respect and didn't try to push him around. I don't think Harold needed us, but he knew the state of Indiana would lock him up if he was caught on the street again.
Harold started off looking after the dog we inherited from next door too, only the dog once lived at our house. Tommy came home and became our dog. Harold came with him and became our ward. We had a family without really trying, but it was a nice family.
Four years later we were meeting Harold to have Christmas on The Do and he was about to official become a pre-med student. He hadn't seen the boat yet. There was a long pregnant pause when Andy told him we had a sailboat and we wanted him to spend Christmas on it with us. He became more interested when we told him we'd meet him in Key West, Florida.
Harold wasn't well traveled once you got beyond middle Indiana. We arranged for a combination of driving and flying to get him into Key West a few days before Christmas. We talked to Gene about decorating The Do before he arrived. We wanted it to reek of Christmas, a favorite time for Andy and me if not Harold.
Harold would raise an eyebrow over the extravagance of a boat and the kind of Christmas we didn't have back home, where it was a tree and stockings hung on the fireplace and clothes and books from Santa.
This Christmas was a special time. We were excited about Andy being on the mend. The sea air and relaxation were good for him. Andy's arm was beginning to gain strength as he used it with more confidence each day.
Harold arrived on schedule and a bit excited by flying in a jumbo jet to Miami and then took a commuter plane the rest of the way to Key West. He carried a gym bag with clothes and a backpack with textbooks and a copy of Lolita. He admitted to being a little tired after twelve hours of travel, which included being frisked and manhandled, "Like I just stole some old ladies purse."
Andy only flew with his team and thus never experienced the pat down in airports. My team didn't fly, favoring all night bus trips, avoiding pat downs. We didn't realize it would make Harold feel like a criminal.
"I thought that was the point of airport security," I said. "Someone might do something somewhere one day, so being ready for everything everywhere was the best policy. God bless America, home of the brave, land of the suspicious."
"Traveling while black is a sure way to arouse suspicion," Harold reminded us. "They also go straight for the grandmother in a wheelchair. 'You'll have to get up out of there ma'am. Got to check that chair for bombs and incendiaries devises.'
"When the grandmother can't get up, she's thrown on the floor and handcuffed for being uncooperative. Another terrorist stopped by alert security personnel. The world is made safe from grandmothers."
"Didn't know you were so up to date on airport security techniques. That in itself is suspicious," Andy said. "You been flying around without telling us, Harold?"
"The dude put his hands where no man should put his hands on a child," Harold said indignantly.
"Harold, you're nineteen and over six feet tall. You hardly qualify as a child."
"Didn't need to tell him that. He knew I was no child when he got his hand half way up my thigh. Didn't need to feel no further than that. He knew I was carrying but it weren't no bomb."
"Harold, they've got to make sure you're safe to fly," Andy argued.
"Dr. Green if you please. Do I look like a gangsta'. I'm a skinny kid. No where to hide no bomb. Shouldn't common sense have a place in Homeland Security?"
"You learned an awful lot from one flight," I said.
"The grandmother part and the Homeland Security deal came from listening to doctors talk about flying. I've got to get material somewhere," Harold confessed.
"You've never been patted down before?" Andy asked.
"I'll take the 5th on that one," Harold said.
"I sense you didn't learn that in the doctor's lounge?" Andy said.
Harold was handsome. He was as tall as Andy, but he was thinner. At nineteen he hadn't begun to fill out yet. He didn't look much like a gangster, but what did a gangster look like?
"They've got a job to do," I added.
"I want to get felt up, I go over to the ladies' lounge."
"Be nice, Harold," Andy said, as we walked to the cab.
"Yes, sir. It's true though. Ladies can't keep their hands off me, you know. It's my charm. They all see it right off."
"You're handsome. You have what they want," I said.
"He says be nice and you talk about what they want," Harold said. "How does a child know what's right?"
"I thought you said you couldn't keep girls," I said.
"Didn't say I couldn't get one. Hanging onto one is where I'm a failure. They don't realize college is a place to do more than make girls giggle. I got to study. Can't get where I want to go chasing the ladies all the time."
"You do have a tough life," Andy said.
"Isn't that the truth. Work, work, work. Why a boat anyway? You looked perfectly comfortable on dry land."
"It's relaxing and allows us to get away. We'll just sail out into the gulf, toss out the anchor, swim, have lunch, and just have the entire place to ourselves. You'll like it," I said.
"I'll read. Do I have a place to sleep or do we just sleep between the sails? How big is it anyway? Where do you park it when you're out riding around in cabs? Can I take my babe out one weekend?"
"You've got a babe?" I asked.
"When I start talking about my boat, I'll have plenty."
"It's docked quite a ways from Indiana. Remember the jet ride? It's docked in northern Florida," Andy said. "We might arrange something one weekend, after baseball next year. We'll go out on the boat."
"You going to play?" he asked Andy. "You look, good A. G. Healthy. Way better than the last time I saw you."
"Thank you, doctor. Not this season. Rehab. Can't imagine playing this season. We'll see, but I'll take it slow and make sure the arm is stronger before I want to test it. After Do's season, he'll want some relaxation. Now we have a place to go to get away. You can offer to fly your lady down for a long weekend."
"Don't remind me. Sardines got nothing on those folks. Even that boats got to be better than a flying. Coming out here on that puddle jumper, I was sure they'd ask us to pedal. We were flying so close to the water I had to hold my feet up to keep them dry."
"They do that for the people who like the water. I suppose they can fly pretty low out over the gulf," I said.
"Not as far to fall that way, huh?" Harold said.
"Drop us at the second dock, driver," Andy said, as the cab slowed and eased to a stop.
I carried Harold's gym bag and he carried the back pack. When we stopped at the back of The Do," no one had to tell him it was our boat. I could see his eyes examining the length and width. Harold had obviously expected something less impressive.
"J. D., that's a bit much, don't you think?" Harold said, looking at the name on the back of The Do.
"Don't stretch your luck, young man. I picked the name and it's a long walk to Indiana," Andy said.
"Yes, sir," Harold said, letting his eyes follow the lines of The Do. "Damn! Does it have a swimming pool?"
"It's in the swimming pool," Andy said.
I laughed as we went across the ramp onto the deck.
I showed Harold to his cabin, after a short stop to look at the decorations in the main salon. He liked his room. He stacked his books on the table beside his bed and dropped his gym bag on the floor. He stared at the Christmas tree that Gene had decorated for his cabin. I think he looked pleased with it. A Christmas tree all his own.
There was garland around the ceiling with icicles dangling from it. Some Christmas lights were strung in each corner. Harold too it all in. It wasn't overwhelming but just enough for a room that size.
"There, all unpacked," he said, patting the stack of books. "It's very nice, Do. Thank you."
"Come on. I'll introduce you to John Paul, the guy who drives the boat, and Gene. He decorated the room and he's quite a cook."
"Hamburgers. French Fries. Cola. An onion ring or two from time to time," Harold ordered.
"I'm afraid you'll have to eat what the rest of the crew eats. I don't think he wants to prepare separate meals. The guys a chef. Food is his business. Give it a try, Harold. One day you'll want to eat like an adult."
"Bigger hamburger and more fries."
I was surprised at how mature Harold acted in front of John Paul and Gene. He was well mannered and listened more than he talked. We didn't spend much time around other people, except when we went to school to see him, and then the people were part of his life and not ours.
It was hard to see Harold as a man, but he was well on his way to becoming a man, but he had been for the entire time he'd been with us. He was always mature, more like an adult than a child, but he talked like a kid.
Harold had talked more in a half hour than he usually said in an entire day. He'd been around doctors and it showed. While he was still somewhat of a kid, he was adjusting to the larger world he'd picked to be his future. Harold was learning by observing.
It had been a long day and he Harold was hungry and tired. His first visit on the boat gave him a burst of energy that carried him for a little bit longer, but it took John Paul to get his attention with an invitation to see the boat.
Harold was going to take to sailing just fine.
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