John Teixeira stared at his son, slowly shaking his head. He said, “Son, I am proud of you. Why haven’t you been doing this kind of work all along?”
“Now,” Neil interjected quickly, “the favor you offered. I’m taking you at your word, and asking one. I am asking you, ‘Don’t spoil the moment.'”
John reached out for his son’s hands and said, “Of course. I am just surprised — and pleased,” he quickly added.
“Do you remember the last conversation we had, about how Oscar wants to be proud to be Chicano. Today he was, and if you were proud of him as a Chicano, I don’t think he’ll ask much more.”
John Teixeira swallowed hard and smiled to cover his feelings. He said, “I am proud of my son as anything he really wants to be, as long as he does his best at it.”
Oscar Teixeira looked eleven years old and eleven feet tall.
# # #
Carmen came to relieve Janice at the wheelchair, and managed to push him across the playground with one hand on the handle and one hand holding his hand. The children were milling around with their parents or wandering off toward the buses. Most of them had already come by to say hello to Neil, but a few more drifted in to welcome him back. There was much hand squeezing and hugging. It made him uncomfortable; it always did. But at the same time, it thrilled him.
Then he saw Lisa Cobb. She was standing with two strangers, waiting by Carmen’s car. As he rolled up, Lisa stepped forward, very proper and terribly embarrassed. She put out her hand for an adult hand shake, and Neil used it as a lever to pull her in for the hug she really needed. She backed away, biting her lip, and simply said, “Thank you.” Then she rushed to the woman and hid her face in her skirts.
The woman enfolded her in the kind of totally safe embrace that Neil could never provide. She said over Lisa’s head, “I’m Mrs. Bowman. The county uses me as a short term foster mother, so I see it all. Lisa told me a lot about what happened. She is one lucky little girl that it was stopped before things went any further. And she is lucky to have people who care for her like you two.”
“We are lucky to have kids like Lisa to care for,” Neil said.
“Coming here today was completely her idea. She didn’t know if she could go through with it. She’s still embarrassed by the whole thing. I told her the sooner she started living a normal life, the better. Then when she saw you, she had to talk to you even though that embarrassed her worse than anything.”
Lisa slipped under Mrs. Bowman’s arm and stared at Neil from its shelter. He said, “How do you feel, Hon?”
“Okay. I’m okay now.”
“How is your mother?”
“She’s getting better. They let me see her yesterday.”
She dropped her head and said, “I’m sorry about your jaw and all.”
Neil said, “Look.” He drew back his lips and showed her the wax covered wires. “I never had braces before.”
She giggled and then slipped around behind Mrs. Bowman, looking very young indeed.
# # #
On the way back to his apartment, Carmen said, “You just added another member to you fan club.”
“You just hurry up and get well, and I’ll show you how jealous.”