Yard Boy

by Backwoods Boy

Chapter 8

Tiago was assigned the riding lawn mower. At sixteen, he could do that and other work previously considered too dangerous. Connor had finished the small areas and corners with the push mower, and Diego was giving him pointers on using the trimmer without scalping the lawn. Tiago smiled. Because of his safety ear muffs and the noise of the mower, he couldn't hear the lecture. But he had it memorized - he'd listened to it many times. No longer, though - he was now as obsessed with perfection as his uncle.

"Hold it steady and level. Yes, like that. Control it, don't let it control you. You don't need to hurry. A good job is more important than a fast one."

Connor had arrived at Diego's that Monday morning on his bicycle, neat and clean in his new uniform. His mother had offered him a ride, but he turned her down. There was no way he'd show up in a Mercedes. The pampering was over. He was going to learn to do real work.

When they gathered by the truck for lunch, Tiago sat down on the grass beside Connor.

"How's he doing, Tio Diego ?"

Sitting on the tailgate beside Ricardo, Diego smiled.

"Very well. You found us a good one, Sobrino Tiago . Chico is not nearly as hopeless as you are."

Tiago laughed at what had become an ongoing joke.

"I'll try not to be a bad influence."

Ricardo looked up from his sandwich and addressed Tiago in Spanish.

"You won't have the chance to do that. You and I will begin the landscaping job tomorrow."

Tiago replied in the same language. "I thought the supplies and plants weren't coming until Wednesday."

The conversation continued in Spanish. "They're not. This is your first lesson in project planning. We have a days' worth of preparation - removing old vegetation and preparing the site."

Tiago frowned. "I didn't think of that."

"No problem. It's part of the learning process."

"Maybe I should plan it out on the computer."

"It's not a big enough job for that, but for something that takes more than a week, it would be a good idea. Juanita has done that for us a couple of times. Get her to show you how."

Connor was trying to understand. Ricardo apologized.

"We should speak English, Chico. I'm sorry."

Connor shook his head. "I wanna learn Spanish. Maybe if the three of you use it like you usually do, I can pick up on it."

Diego looked at him with respect. "If you want to learn Spanish, we'll help you, and that's a good way to start. Let us know if you need a translation. And speak to us in Spanish if you want to try it. Of course, we'll give you work instructions in English."

Connor beamed. "Thanks a lot. That'll be fun."

Ricardo spoke up. "Any particular reason you want to learn Spanish?"

"I wanna be able to talk with Hispanic kids at school. Many of them are struggling to learn English." He laughed. "If I'm struggling to learn Spanish, it will give us something in common."

"Are there any Spanish speaking kids on your soccer team?"

"Yes, one or two. They've been here a long time and speak English perfectly, which is good because our coach doesn't speak Spanish. At soccer, we always speak English, so it's not a good place to learn."

Seated on the bench next to the field, Tiago watched as Connor's soccer coach ran the team through several drills. The team was good, no doubt about it. The coach was good too. But their biggest strength was their goal keeper.

Leaving the team to practice, the coach walked over and sat beside Tiago, offering his hand.

"I'm Jim Olson. I'm sorry we didn't get to talk when you came to the game."

Tiago shook the extended hand. "It was Connor's night for attention."

Jim chuckled. "You may as well use the nickname you gave him. I still refer to him as Connor when speaking to parents and game officials, but other than that he's Chico to both me and his fellow players."

Tiago grinned. "When I met him, it just seemed to fit right. And it's a great name for a goalie."

"Which is what I wanted to discuss with you. According to Chico, you're not a bad soccer player yourself."

"I play offense on my high school soccer team in Ensenada. This year, I'll be the central midfielder."

Jim smiled. "That doesn't surprise me, based on what Chico says. From the one game he played with you, he thinks you walk on water."

Tiago laughed. "I'm not quite that good. Chico is the player with real potential."

"I agree. Which is why I have a request. If you have the opportunity, would you give him some extra training? It's early days, but he could be a professional player in time."

Tiago nodded. "We've already been doing that, and we'll do it some more. And I see what you see too."

Jim stood up to return to his coaching duties. Tiago stood too, and Jim reached out to shake his hand again.

"Thank you. And thanks for dropping by for practice. Friends and parents rarely do that."

"You'll see me around fairly often. Chico has become a good friend, and I wanna see him succeed."

For Tiago, the rest of the week flew by. On the job at seven o'clock, Tiago and Ricardo seldom left before six, temporarily ignoring the labor laws concerning minors. Most of the work was manual labor, but on Thursday, they rented a backhoe to plant some larger trees. The site preparation, the rest of the planting, and the installation of the irrigation system were familiar tasks, but working around heavy equipment was new to Tiago. Ricardo operated the backhoe, and instructed Tiago on safety procedures. Other than that, Tiago directed the project. By Friday night, the job was finished and Tiago was dead tired. Over dinner, he and Ricardo discussed the week.

"You did a good job as supervisor, Tiago. Other than the backhoe operation, I think I only made a couple of suggestions about task sequencing."

"And they were good suggestions too. Thanks very much for your instruction"

"I was glad to do it. Now, you can skip tomorrow if you want to. You're already over your forty hours the Department of Labor allows. Chico won't be working either."

"Screw the Department of Labor. I'm not leaving you and Tio Diego to do the Saturday work alone. I'll be ready to go at eight o'clock."

"No Friday-night partying planned?"

Tiago grinned. "I'll save that for Saturday night."

Another voice spoke. "Your Saturday night is already planned for you."

Tiago looked at Juanita with a mock frown. "I suppose I'm babysitting the twins."

She smiled. "Not quite. We're going to the Thomson's for a barbecue."

"No shit?"

"You and Ricardo have been too busy to bother with weekend details. Tomorrow afternoon we're going to Chico's game, with the barbecue to follow. Not a traditional Mexican barbecue, but one with a Mexican flavor. Carolyn and I have been discussing the menu."

"Miguel and Matias too?"

"Miguel and Matias specifically. The twins were a big hit with both her and Chico."

Tiago reviewed the video he'd spliced together from Connor's soccer files. About fifteen minutes long, it focused on Connor's goal-keeping skills, ending with footage of the birthday party. Connor's social interactions with his team members, the twins, and his compadre were also important for Tiago's objective. That he'd spoken a little Spanish would also help.

Shutting down his computer, Tiago headed out the door and towards Diego's house and the Saturday morning catch-up work. He smiled as he reflected on the email he'd sent to his soccer coach. Once again, he was getting some fun started, long distance this time. Now, he'd sit back and watch it happen.

"I'm glad you were willing to help today, Tiago. Chico is learning quickly, but with only the two of us, we got behind schedule. I'm glad there will be four of us next week. I see his temporary position becoming permanent, especially if we get more landscaping work."

Ricardo took a swig of his Saturday, after-work beer and replied to Diego.

"I'm glad Chico is working out. It's hard to tell how a kid is going to respond to his first job, especially when money isn't the motivation."

Tiago set down his empty beer can, somewhat firmly.

"Chico is self-motivated. When you see him play soccer, you'll understand. He's fast and fearless, and communicates with the rest of the team more like a professional than a kid. I've never seen such a dedicated goalie, and it doesn't surprise me that he's dedicated to his work too."

Diego chuckled. "You sound a little defensive, Sobrino."

Tiago thought for a moment. "Maybe, but I'd say supportive is more accurate."

Diego chuckled. "Either way, it's justified. By the way, during breaks and lunch, I spoke to him in Spanish. I asked him about himself and his family, and we talked about soccer a lot. I kept it simple at first, and he responded in English, but he's got a head for languages. By Wednesday, he was replying and asking me questions in Spanish, and I could see him building his vocabulary every day."

Tiago gave his uncle a high-five with unusual enthusiasm, even for him.

"That's great! Next week he'll have three teachers."

Ricardo smiled thoughtfully. "Is there a reason why you're so excited about this?"

Tiago looked smug. "Of course. I wanna help him with his goal of communicating with more of his peer group."

Ricardo looked at him shrewdly. "Is that your only reason?"

Tiago smiled. "Maybe, maybe not. That reminds me, Ricardo, I need a favor from you concerning an old friend of yours."

The Hernandez family arrived on time for the game, and were greeted warmly by Carolyn, Arthur and the other parents they'd met earlier. The coach was giving his pre-game pep talk. Juanita held the twins in check or they would have interrupted.

"You can't play with Chico until after the game."

The twins were cooperative, the parents amused. Carolyn smiled at the boys.

"The coach gave me something to give to you. His wife made these especially for you."

She handed each of them a foot-long triangular pennant, red with white letters that said Wizards .

Juanita prompted the twins. "Say ' thank you '."

The boys smiled up at Carolyn and said the magic words. She smiled back.

"You can wave them during the game, especially when the team scores."

Enthralled with their new toys, Miguel and Matias waved them with enthusiasm, endangering everyone within reach. Like the others, Tiago stood back a little and smiled. His plan for the twins to become the team mascots was evolving nicely.

As the game began, Ricardo watched with the attention of the experienced player he was. After a few minutes, he turned to Tiago.

"I see what you mean. Chico's very good."

Tiago nodded. "The coach told me no team has scored more than one goal against them this spring or summer. They're in first place in their age group. It's not all because of Chico, but their last line of defense is solid."

This game was tougher than the last. The Wizards won, but the other team scored twice. When the game was over, Connor was unhappy with himself, but the coach encouraged him, and the team mascots quickly cheered him up. It was hard not to be cheerful when Miguel and Matias were around.

"You played a good game today, Chico. The whole team did. You can't stop every goal."

Connor smiled at Ricardo. "Thanks, but I can learn from days like this, and try harder. That's part of what Coach told me."

Ricardo smiled. "He's correct. We're looking forward to attending more of your games, especially Miguel and Matias."

The twins had been unusually quiet, sticking close to their mother in a strange environment. Following her instructions, they'd kept their fingers out of the chips and salsa, and the quesados she'd brought for appetizers. Carolyn noticed.

"Juanita, could I fix snack plates for Miguel and Matias?"

Juanita smiled at her. "Thank you. That would be a good way to keep them from spreading salsa and guacamole everywhere. Boys, sit at the table while you eat."

The chicken and beef strips soon came off the grill, and the tacos, corn salad, and enchiladas were served. The adults sat at one table, the younger generation at the other. Tiago had instructions to maintain order.

Carolyn turned to Ricardo. "Helen and Thomas Lockerbie are very pleased with the landscaping you did. Their observation was that, to the casual observer, the yard has always been exactly like it is now. Which means you did an excellent job, especially with the finishing details."

Ricardo smiled. "Thanks for the compliment. As I think you know, Tiago was in charge, and you'd have a hard time finding anyone more detail-oriented. He wouldn't leave until it was perfect."

"Yes, I've noticed that in his work here too." She paused. "I have another potential landscaping job coming up. Friends of the Lockerbies, who saw what you did and were inspired. I'll be meeting with them this week. This job will be smaller than the last."

"Thanks for the new opportunity. If heavy equipment isn't required, I'll turn this one over to Tiago. We'll need an adult with him, and I've already spoken to your pool maintainer, Kenzo, who has worked with us in the past. He has time to fill in for us on jobs like this."

Carolyn smiled with delight. "If he's as good with landscaping as with the pool, that will be perfect. One warning, though. These clients have a reputation for being, shall we say, difficult to work with. As opposed to the Lockerbies, they'll want to micromanage the job. It will take diplomacy."

Ricardo looked at Tiago, who'd been listening. "I think Tiago has seen difficult clients before. He could charm the skin off a snake, and Kenzo is about as agreeable as anyone I know. What do you think, Tiago?"

Tiago was beaming. "No problem." He paused briefly. "Matias, Chico will get you more lemonade. Don't drink Miguel's... Sorry for the interruption. I'm sure Kenzo and I can deal with it."

Carolyn was laughing. "Tiago, if you can handle four-year-old twins, you're qualified to handle adults who haven't progressed much beyond that."

The twins had finished eating and were walking towards the pool. Tiago was watching.

"Miguel and Matias, stay back from the pool. We'll go swimming later."

They wandered over to the water basketball net, sitting by the pool shed.

"What's this?"

"It's for water basketball - a game you play in the pool."

"Can we play?"

"Not today. You both gotta learn to swim better first."

Connor spoke up. "If we put the net on the side near the shallow end..."

Tiago continued. "... where you and I are about chest-deep..."

"... and carried them on our shoulders..."

"... like we did for the sword fight..."

Connor jumped up. "Come on, we're gonna have fun with this." Then he remembered who was really in charge of the twins. "Is it okay, Juanita?"

She smiled at him. "Perfectly okay, but thanks for checking."

While Connor and Tiago taught the twins how to play water basketball, Ricardo directed the adult conversation to soccer.

"We enjoyed the game today. Chico is an excellent goalie."

Arthur smiled. "The whole team is good. I've known their coach for years - he's a fellow lawyer when he's not coaching soccer - and he's very good with the boys. He's made the same observation. We try to avoid giving Connor a swelled head, but we are including soccer in long-term college planning. It's too early for Connor to choose a career path, but soccer can be an ongoing activity regardless."

Juanita had a question. "What about high school?"

Carolyn answered. "Perhaps the high school team, yes, but we're more inclined to keep him in the youth soccer program. He may not always have Jim as a coach, but it's a very good solid program here."

Ricardo smiled. "You clearly have it under control, but if any of us can help in any way, we'll be glad to. Tiago is a good player for his age, and I played through high school, as did Juanita. The school in Ensenada where I graduated eight years ago, and Tiago now attends, has an excellent program."

Arthur looked at Ricardo. "Have you considered being a coach?"

Ricardo paused. "No, I hadn't thought about it." He looked at his wife. "But Juanita and I will discuss it later."

Connor lay on his back looking at the ceiling in Tiago's room. The gecko was still hanging around, apparently finding enough food to make it worthwhile.

The night with Tiago had been awesome. At Connor's request, Tiago had been more gentle. He still liked it rough, but Kenzo had been right about needing different experiences. He was looking forward to more nights together, and knew he'd be sad when Tiago went back to Mexico.

Lying beside him, Tiago gently stroked his hair.

"You and I make a good team, Chico." He grinned. "Not just in bed. At everything else too."

Connor smiled. "Even taking care of the twins. That was a lot of fun last night."

"You're doing great at work too. Diego is very pleased. He says your Spanish is coming along nicely too."

"When I went with Mom to the carniceria yesterday morning for the beef and chicken, she let me place the order." He smiled reminiscently. "The owner congratulated me. I think Mom was impressed too."

"Keep using it at work. It's better than learning at school because it's real life."

"It will be useful when I go back to school this fall."

Tiago smiled. "Yes, it certainly will." He jumped out of bed and pulled Connor up after him. "Let's get dressed and go for a run before breakfast. Later we can find a place to practice some more."

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Connor had other ideas.

"How about if you make love to me again before we do that?"

Tiago leaned over and kissed him. "We can do that later. Remember, you're hanging out with me all day."

Connor groaned. "You're becoming as much of a slave-driver as Coach Olson."

Tiago paused from tying his running shoes to look up.

"You're a good goalie, Chico. Like your coach, I want you to be even better."

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