Yard Boy

by Backwoods Boy

Chapter 9

Connor's Saturday afternoon games became an institution for the Hernandez family, including the twins' grandparents, and after a few weeks, the seven of them had become acquainted with most of the team members and their parents. As Tiago had predicted, the twins had become the unofficial team mascots, and the glue that bound the Hernandez family to the team.

The post-game dinners at either the Thomson or the Hernandez residence also became an institution. After dinner, while Arthur, Diego, and Ricardo talked about soccer, locally and internationally, Carolyn became educated on the finer points of Mexican cooking. If the event was held at the Thomson residence, the four boys swam and played water basketball. When at the Hernandez residence, they would head for the vacant lot to stir up an impromptu neighborhood soccer game. And Connor would invariably stay for the night.

One Saturday early in August, the Hernandez family arrived at the game with a guest - introduced by Ricardo as his high-school friend, Marco Gonzales, visiting from Mexico. Though Marco's English was impeccable, his Mexican accent was obvious - more so than Ricardo, who'd lived in the United States for ten years. Instead of joining the family in the bleachers, Ricardo and Marco stood on the sideline discussing the players and the game.

Dinner that evening was at the Thomson residence, and Marco had been cordially invited to attend. As dinner began, Arthur asked Marco about his life in Mexico.

"My wife and I live in Baja California. She's an English teacher at the high school where I teach physical education and coach boy's soccer."

Arthur was an experienced host. "I'm sorry your wife couldn't join you for the trip. We would love to meet her."

Marco smiled. "Thank you for your kind thoughts, but this trip was more for business than pleasure. Daniela prefers traveling with me when my mind isn't on soccer."

"So, if I may ask, what business brings you this side of the border?"

Marco paused to organize his thoughts.

"The Ensenada high school team is one of the best in Mexico. For example, our new center midfielder was the top attacking midfielder in the country last year." He paused for effect. "His name, incidentally, is Tiago Hernandez."

It took a few seconds for Arthur to put it together.

"You're Tiago's coach?"

"Yes, and I'm fortunate to be his coach. He's an outstanding player. Unfortunately, I have defensive positions to fill." He paused again. "Have you given thought to the value of international study for your son?"

Carolyn replied. "Yes, we've talked about it. Why do you ask?"

Marco's smile included both of Connor's parents.

"Because I need a goalie. Or more correctly, I need an awesome goalie - one who plays like a professional even though he's only fifteen years old."

Tiago grinned broadly at the surprised look on Connor's face. Arthur put down his fork.

"You're inviting Connor to study in Mexico this year?"

"Yes, I am. Daniela and I sponsor a foreign student each year, typically an English-speaking Spanish language student. We learned last week that our student for this year won't be able to join us. I told Daniela that it's my turn, and she agreed."

"Connor has expressed an interest in learning Spanish, but he'd be arriving with not more than a four-word vocabulary."

Carolyn smiled. "I think you're wrong about that."

Ricardo turned to Connor. "Perhaps you should explain to your dad what you've been doing all summer."

Connor turned to his dad. " Además de aprender a ser un jardinero, he estado aprendiendo español de tres profesores experimentados ."

Politely not laughing, Tiago only smiled at the expression on Arthur's face.

"Would you like a translation?"

"Yes, please."

"Chico explained that besides learning how to be a yard boy, he's been learning Spanish from three experienced teachers."

It was Arthur who laughed.

"Obviously, I haven't been paying attention."

Carolyn patted his hand. "You've been paying attention to his soccer. His three coworkers have taken care of landscaping and foreign language instruction." She turned to Connor. "If that's the correct translation, you should change one word. You are landscapers , not yard boys . Do you know that word?"

Connor shook his head. Tiago stepped in.

"That'll be the word for the day, Chico - paisajista . Now, use it in a sentence."

Connor paused for a moment. " Mi madre es arquitecta paisajista ."

Ricardo laughed. "That she is. Very good, Chico."

Arthur returned to the primary subject.

"So, Connor - I mean Chico, what do you think about studying in Mexico next year?"

Connor suppressed his excitement. "I wanna do it."

His mother smiled. "Your English please, Chico. You want to do it." She turned to Marco. "Perhaps you and Daniela could help Chico with his English along with his Spanish."

Marco winked at Connor. "We'd be happy to do that." He looked back at Connor's parents. "You may need some time to think about it."

Arthur and Carolyn looked at each other. Carolyn spoke for both of them.

"No, we don't need any time. I'm sure there's paperwork. If you'll get it to us, we'll start on it immediately."

Marco smiled at them. "I'm an optimist, so I have that with me."

Connor slowly put two and two together, and it didn't quite add up to four.

"Mr. Gonzales, how did it happen that you came all this way to watch one of my games?"

Marco chuckled. "Well, Chico, first of all, why don't you call me Coach . To answer your question, Ricardo gave me a call suggesting I pay him a visit to check out the best goalie he'd ever seen. When my best friend talks about soccer, I listen, because he's an expert."

Arthur turned to Ricardo. "Which reminds me, what did you decide about being a youth-soccer coach?"

Ricardo took Juanita's hand. "Juanita and I would like to do that together. " He nodded towards the twins. "We'd like to coach a U5 team, for two obvious reasons."

Arthur smiled. "That will be no problem. Thanks to both of you."

Kenzo handed Nick a beer and then sat down in the lawn chair next to his new friend. The late afternoon swim had been refreshing, and now they'd let the warm California sun dry them.

"I talked to Chico today when I cleaned their pool. He's very excited about going to Mexico."

Nick smiled. "That's going to be a great experience for him, and he already knows Tiago so it will be easier to start socially."

"Not to mention how he learned Spanish this summer. The kid has a lot of smarts."

"I've never watched him play, but Tiago seems to think he's the best there is."

"To get recruited by one of the best high school teams in Mexico, he has to be."

Nick looked thoughtful. "I wonder how Marco found out about him."

"From what I hear, Marco and Ricardo are high-school classmates, fellow soccer players, and long-time friends. Ricardo saw Chico in action and got the ball rolling."

Kenzo knew more, but only because he was Tiago's best friend north of the border. Only Tiago, Ricardo, Marco, and himself knew about the video. At Tiago's request, Marco had kept that part confidential.

They were silent for a few moments before Kenzo spoke again.

"How did your talk with your boss turn out?"

"Much better than I'd expected. In fact he seemed relieved that I was developing a close relationship with someone my own age."

"That may well be the case. From the interactions at the Thomson's the night we met, I felt that Carolyn disliked you, and Arthur was uncharacteristically uncomfortable. Given your history with them as a valued babysitter, that didn't make sense. What you told me explains it. As much as he enjoyed your company, it was becoming difficult for him."

Nick laughed. "So, besides being a pool-boy philosopher, are you a psychologist too?"

Kenzo shook his head. "No, just an observer of human nature."

Besides being an observer of human nature, Kenzo was also an observer of unexpected cars in the neighborhood. He'd noted the presence of Carolyn's Mercedes a few times during the summer, and knew what it meant - and what it didn't mean.

Kenzo smiled to himself. When it came to smarts, Tiago was the master of manipulation. It had earned him a summer of landscaping experience and a school year with Connor. And regardless of sexual orientation, a roll in the hay with Carolyn would be a fun diversion. Kenzo had a fair idea Tiago had enjoyed the price he'd paid.

He also had reason to believe that Tiago had completed his term of service as Lady Chatterley's Lover.

The farewell party taxed even the resources of the Thomson residence. The entire soccer team, including Coach Olson and his wife, were present. The Hernandez clan was there in force, and even Connor's eighth-grade science teacher, who'd missed the birthday party, came to this one.

While Arthur, Diego, and Ricardo produced American and Mexican meat products at the grill, the ladies provided a continuous flow of other international delicacies. Pressed into service as lifeguards, Kenzo and Nick watched over a dozen boys who couldn't decide whether playing water basketball or playing with Miguel and Matias was more fun.

Besides Connor and Tiago, the guests of honor included Marco and Daniela Gonzales, who were houseguests of the Thomsons for the night. They would be transporting Connor and Tiago to Mexico in the morning.

The going-away gifts were simple. The soccer team provided an official Mexican Football Federation soccer ball. The relatives and older friends produced an Oxford Spanish Dictionary, the largest book Connor had ever owned. Sure, it was all online, but no language-learning experience is complete without an official reference.

Carolyn gave Connor a hug. "Are you sure you have everything?"

Connor grinned. "I have my soccer ball and dictionary. Those are the important things."

"Your father and I are going to miss you, you know."

Connor would miss them too, but he was being a big boy.

"It's less than a hundred miles. You'll come for some of our games, won't you?"

His dad put a hand on his shoulder. "We'll come to all of your games."

The conversation was interrupted as the Hernandez car pulled into the driveway. The twins leaped out and made a beeline for Connor. He squatted down and gave them both hugs, suddenly with tears in his eyes. His mother laughed.

"We know who Chico's going to miss the most."

Connor wiped away his tears. "I'll miss all of you, but Miguel and Matias are special."

Pulling his suitcases out of the trunk, Tiago turned to reply.

"You'll see them at a few of our games."

While Marco loaded Tiago's luggage, Carolyn gave him a hug.

"Look after Chico for us."

Tiago hugged her back. "It's my top priority."

She dropped her voice. "I'll be looking forward to next summer."

His secret smile disappeared as quickly as it came.

"So will I."

Sitting in the back seat with Connor, Tiago was the tour guide, excitedly pointing out all of the landmarks as they crossed the border, skirted Tijuana to the north, and traveled down the Pacific coast of Baja California. As they drove into Ensenada, Connor sat up and paid more attention. He'd be living there for the next year.

Marco drove past the high school before continuing through the central part of town. Tiago pointed out his parents' modest home as they drove past, only a few blocks from Marco and Daniela's home, the latter part of a fenced family compound on the hillside north of town.

The boys carried Connor's things to his room. Tiago helped him unpack before they returned to the kitchen for a snack. Per custom, the midday meal would be later than Connor was accustomed to, only one of the new things in his life.

As they stood by the car waiting for Marco, Tiago put a hand on Connor's shoulder and pointed out the harbor and the cruise ships.

"We'll go down there and look around tomorrow. The tourist area is a lot different than the rest of the town. You'll wanna see it, but only once. It isn't anything like the Mexico you'll learn about this year. Right now, Marco will take me home. I'll walk back up later and we can make more plans. My parents will wanna meet you, but that can wait. We can't do everything in one day."

Connor watched as the car departed, and then turned back towards his new home, where Daniela waited for him in the doorway with a welcoming smile. He wasn't homesick at all. This would be the adventure of a lifetime, shared with his best friend, and he was going to make the most of it.


The letter, which arrived several weeks later, was addressed to Mrs. Arthur Thomson. The envelope was devoid of markings except for the destination address and the San Diego postmark from the day before. At first glance, Carolyn thought it was junk mail, but it lacked the usual urgent warnings and pretended importance of such missives. Then she realized it looked a lot like something she had once sent her husband.

Except for one photo, the envelope was empty. The photo had been taken with an infrared camera from outside the window of Tiago's summer dwelling, and it showed her on top of him, riding onward to ecstasy. It could have been taken on any one of several nights. But by whom?

As indiscreet as she'd been, there were a number of candidates. The more she thought about it, the longer the list grew. She'd been stupid to use her own car and park it so close to her destination. Someone might have followed her there - perhaps Arthur - or even Nick, though she didn't know why.

Or it could have been anyone in the neighborhood. Diego? Ricardo? Juanita? Kenzo? All of them lacked motive and none had shown any sign of suspicion.

In any event, it was clear that playtime was over. There would be no next summer , at least in that regard. She wasn't particularly concerned about blackmail - as with the one she'd sent Arthur, it was simply a warning from someone.

But she would give anything to know who that someone was.

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