Chapter 18: A Painful Way to Meet

Bjorn could hardly contain his excitement. He was bouncing off the walls. Their flight left in the morning for Mexico, but his mom had still insisted that he complete his homework before they left. This seemed absolutely ridiculous to him. He could do the homework in Mexico, or on the plane, or when they returned, but his mom demanded that he have it completed before they left.

The knock on the door was a bit of relief. As Joanna opened it, a smiling Atticus Freeman was standing there, well dressed, and, as always, carrying his cane.

“Oh, Mr. Freeman, I am glad that you are here, but I am afraid this could be more of a challenge than usual,” she confided.

“I imagine the young lad is a tad bit overly excited about his trip?” Atticus inquired.

“Yes, he certainly is,” replied Bjorn’s mom.

“We’ll make sure to wrap this up as quickly as possible,” Atticus assured her, as calmly as if he had expected a challenge before he had even arrived. “He is a good boy, and a vacation like this one is so very exciting for him.”

Atticus headed into the kitchen, where Bjorn was struggling to focus on his homework. Joanna stood outside the entryway to the kitchen, just out of sight. She was amazed at the very nature of Mr. Freeman. He connected with Bjorn and seemed to calm the boy’s spirit by simply walking into the room. It seemed to her that Mr. Freeman had an infinite well of patience on which to draw – which, at times, was very fortunate.

Dylan came down the stairs from his room, chuckling. Joanna looked at him, wondering if she should ask what was so funny, or if she should just leave it be. In many ways, he was a typical teenager, but in many ways, he wasn’t. He was gentle and kind, almost to a fault. He had been born this way. Her mother, even as crusty as she was, would often say that an angel must have given him some additional grace, on his way down from heaven. She couldn’t imagine a better big brother for Bjorn. She disliked the fact that she was often required to work late at the law firm where she was the office manager, but it paid well enough and enabled her to provide for her sons.

Before she could decide if it was a text from a girl that might be amusing Dylan, or something else, he began to speak. “Mom, I think Bjorn might need a little extra help packing. We are both packed, but it looks like he may have decided to bring a few extra things to the beach.”

“Okay, Dylan, I’ll have a look, and give him a hand,” she said.

They both headed back up the stairs. Bjorn’s bag seemed to bulge oddly. Joanna picked it up and laid it on the bed. When she opened it, both she and Dylan laughed. Right on top sat three official dodgeballs.

“Your little brother sure does love playing dodgeball, doesn’t he?” she commented.

“Bjorn is a wicked player and loves the game,” replied Dylan. “It just totally figures that he wouldn’t go for soccer or baseball or some ‘traditional’ sport. It’s just not his style.”

Dylan thought back to how they had discovered Bjorn’s love of the game. They had just moved to Colorado, and neither had made any new friends. They went to a nearby recreation center to shoot some hoops and maybe swim. Dylan left Bjorn in the gym for a few minutes, and when he returned, he was happy to see Bjorn talking with some kids his own age.

Apparently, the boys were on a dodgeball team that had a tournament in the recreation center that day, and one of the players had suddenly become ill. If they couldn’t round up another player quickly, they would have to forfeit. Bjorn was thrilled to be invited to play. The boys on the team were even more thrilled once the games started. Bjorn was deadly with a dodgeball. Halfway through the games, the boys started calling him Beckham, because he could “bend it like Beckham.” It seemed an odd reference since this was not soccer, but Bjorn loved it.

Bjorn continued to play with the team after the tournament and had become quite a crafty little sniper. He would hide in the back, waiting for an opponent to become vulnerable. He would then launch a ball, and if you didn’t know better, you would think he was bending the ball around other players.

Dylan picked up one of the balls, but before he could walk out of the room, his mom snatched it from his hands. “Nice try, but I saw that look on your face, and you’re not going down there to bean him with this,” his mom announced, holding the ball up.

“So close!” Dylan laughed, as he headed out of the room. He turned and looked at the wall. “Guess we should be glad he didn’t try to take that too,”

Bjorn’s bow was still hanging on the wall. Both boys loved archery, after finding an indoor range near the rec center. At first, Joanna wasn’t too excited about the idea of her boys shooting things, but a conversation with Atticus had made her change her mind. There were many worse things in the world than dodgeball and archery. She may have hoped that Bjorn would have been into more traditional sports or activities, but each of us has our own path to follow.

*****

The condo was in a large complex right on the beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, complete with swimming pools, hot tubs, tennis courts, and a basketball court. The beach was in a protected little cove with inflatable bouncing structures floating in the water and sea kayaks and paddle boats for wandering about. The condo itself had more than enough bedrooms, a beautiful modern kitchen, and an ocean-view balcony five stories above the ground. It was peaceful, and all four of them were having a wonderful time.

On the second day of their vacation, Dylan and Bjorn decided it was time to explore a bit outside of the complex. While Joanna was a little apprehensive, Tim was more open to the idea and gave them some clear instructions on where they could go and where to avoid. There was a nearby street with many merchants and stores, a local park, and a few interesting neighborhoods.

The boys set out, both enjoying the warmth of the Mexican sun, especially considering the unusual ice storm that they were missing back home in Colorado. Before long they found the local park. A group of kids was playing a pickup game of soccer, and both Dylan and Bjorn were drawn to watching the game. The skill of some of the younger kids surpassed most of the kids Dylan had played with through the years. He was amazed at the ease of the footwork and how relaxed they were as they played.

Then Dylan noticed her. The whole world suddenly shrunk down to nothing but one girl. He couldn’t even see anything else. He wasn’t even sure that he was breathing. She moved with grace and confidence with the soccer ball like no girl that he had ever seen. As she came closer, his heart may have stopped beating. Her long black hair was tied back in a ponytail, revealing the soft features of her face. He watched her execute classic soccer moves like the Roulette, Cryuff, and the Rivelino like she wasn’t even trying. It was as if she were dancing with the ball.

He was mesmerized by her. The closer she came, the more he felt frozen in place. Even when she planted her left foot solidly and began moving through what would be a powerful strike, he couldn’t move. The ball was sailing low through the air, and he knew it was coming in his direction, but he could not unlock his eyes from hers. She was looking right at him. He felt like she might even be looking directly into his heart, knowing that he couldn’t see anything but her.

The ball struck him full force, right where no male of any species wants to get hit. He felt his legs lift up as his body crumbled to the ground. He heard himself let out a long, low moan as he cupped his hands between his legs. As he lay there, he listened to Bjorn laughing hysterically, along with most of the other kids that had been playing.

Another teenage girl came trotting up, rainbowed the ball into her own hands, and looked down at him on the ground. “Guess you got what you deserve!” she sassily snapped at him in a thick Spanish accent, “Don’t be perving on us, you dumb gringo!” She yelled something in Spanish to the kids, and the laughter grew even louder.

After dropping the ball, she dribbled back towards the giggling group of kids. The girl who had just crunched his manhood stood about twenty-five feet away. Her face alternating between a giggle and something of a compassionate look. He couldn’t really tell, as his eyes were watering a bit. He wasn’t crying, but he sure was close.

She walked over to him and held out her hand. “Sorry about that,” she offered in nearly flawless English. “I really didn’t mean to peg you there.”

Trying to roll up into a sitting position, he painfully managed to say, “That’s okay. I’m Dylan. I think I will sit here a minute.”

She withdrew her hand, smiling. “I’m Adelita.”

For a moment, their eyes locked again. Dylan found himself speechless, as did Adelita. Both of them found smiles forcing their way onto their faces, but neither seemed to be able to find a word to say. The world unhinged itself from the two of them, and they just froze, focused on the look in the other’s eyes.

Bjorn partially regained his composure but was still bright red from laughing so hard. He looked over at the two of them, rolled his eyes, and spouted out without thinking, “Geez, so, you gonna ask her to kiss it better, or what?”

The moment was shattered, and both Dylan and Adelita blushed, as their eyes rapidly widened in embarrassment. Dylan’s head spun towards his brother, and he snapped, “Bjorn! Shut the hell up!”

The girl, who had first spoken to Dylan, yelled out to Adelita in Spanish, calling her back to the game. Adelita looked down at Dylan and spoke softly, “Sorry, I gotta get back. I hope you’re not too hurt, Dylan.” Their eyes met again, and both of them couldn’t help but let small smiles spread across their faces. She turned and jogged back to the game that had started up again.

Bjorn was still having trouble regaining his composure. This was funny, damn funny, and Bjorn knew that he was funny too. He was stuck in one of those moments where just he couldn’t stop laughing. Looking over at his brother, Bjorn forced a goofy compassionate look on his face.

“Do you need me to go get you a shovel to dig your nads back out?” asked Bjorn, and he lost it again, laughing out loud as tears came from his eyes.

“Bjorn,” Dylan stated, as sternly as he could, “I’m going to kick your ass.” He then realized he was still partially slumped over in pain. The whole scene probably had been amusing to watch, but he still wanted to smack Bjorn.

Eventually, Dylan was able to get up, and Bjorn mostly regained control of his giggles. Dylan knew he’d probably be teased by his little brother for quite a while on this one, but it didn’t really matter. He’d come back to this park tomorrow, hoping that Adelita would be there again. Even if he was embarrassed, he really didn’t want to leave the park right at that moment, but it was closing in on dinnertime. Tim offered to take them out to a local restaurant that he claimed had the best tacos el carbon anywhere on Earth.

As he and Bjorn walked away, he looked back. Adelita was looking his way. He brought his hand up about chest high, giving a tentative wave in her direction. She returned the wave, and he could see her smile. Dylan knew he was coming back to this park tomorrow.

“Dude, she’s way out of your league,” Bjorn offered, as he playfully pushed his brother towards the path that led out of the park. “And I’m hungry and pissed off! Let’s go!”

“Bjorn, why are pissed off?” demanded Dylan. “The only thing ‘off’ is how hard you’ve been laughing your ass – off.”

“I’m pissed cause I forgot to have my phone out,” replied Bjorn smartly. “Do you have any idea how many hits I could get on my YouTube channel if I had that scene on video?”

“Shut up, Bjorn!”

• • •

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