Sea of Tranquility

by Rick Beck

Chapter 9

Vans & Tracks

A couple of days later, a Ford van, especially equipped for the disabled, parked in front of the Brown's house on 2 nd Street.

"Mama, you didn't call these people, did you?" Terry yelped.

"What people," Mrs. Brown asked, drying her hands on her apron, as Terry pointed out the window.

Mrs. Brown bent forward to see under the blinds.

There was a white van with disabled decals all over it, sitting in front of the house.

"Honey, I don't know who they are."

"Get rid of them. There are no cripples here," Terry ordered.

Levi Cordoba walked in front of the van. He was wearing shorts, a tank top and his running shoes. He hadn't told anyone he was coming, because he wasn't sure Terry would agree to go with him. He'd show up and take his chances.

"What do you think you're doing?" Mrs. Brown asked, as Levi was ready to knock. "He's already pitching a fit. He isn't going into that van, if that's what you're thinking, Levi."

"I'm prescribing medicine, without a license, Mrs. Brown. I'm taking Terry with me to track practice. He can't spend his life sitting in that window."

"I hope you know what you're doing. He won't go for this. There are things he just won't do. I can hardly get him to go to the doctors."

"He'll go. I got the idea last night. My coach isn't too keen on me skipping practice to visit Terry. So, I'll take Terry to practice with me."

"You know he isn't going to go for this," she said. "He hardly leaves the house. He doesn't want anyone to see him."

"Exactly. He needs to get out, Mrs. Brown. I see no reason why he can't go with me. I know how to secure him properly. I got a lesson from the guy who usually drives this thing before he left for the day. I'm officially checked out and I'm qualified to drive Terry to practice. Just what the doctor ordered."

"What do you want, white boy," Terry yelled from the other room. "I know you didn't come over here to see my mother."

"No, I didn't," Levi said, having been admitted to the house and he was on his way to picking up Terry.

"We're going to track practice," Levi said happily.

"Yeah and the gimp can spend all afternoon being stared at. Not on your life, white boy. You get out of here," Terry said in no uncertain terms.

Levi scooped Terry up in his arms, heading for the door, with Mrs. Brown rolling the wheelchair behind them.

"You're gaining weight. We need to put you on a diet, if I'm going to keep carrying you around," Levi said.

"Uh huh!" Terry said, relaxing in Levi's arms.

"There's only one question I need answered. Your practice, or my practice?" Levi asked, as he sat Terry on the front seat.

Once the wheelchair was properly secured, Levi took Terry back, putting him in his chair and fastening his seat belt.

"That feels fine. It was a little better when you were holding me," Terry said. "You know, if I could walk, I'd get the hell up and walk back in the house, but this is your gig, I'll go along for the ride. Right now, I see no alternative."

"Which practice? You didn't answer me," Levi said.

"Yours. I can't stand my guys looking at me like their dog just died. Having a bunch of white boys stare at me won't bother me.

"You really ain't all that good looking," Levi said. "A little cute, maybe."

"Are you going to get this thing out from in front of my house? Everyone's going to think I'm a cripple now," Terry grumbled.

"See you Mrs. Brown. I'll have him back by dinner time?" Levi said.

"If he don't make you bring him home before dinner, keep doing whatever it is you have in mind to do. I can warm his dinner up."

Levi put the van in gear and headed back to Northside.

"Where's you get this thing?" Terry asked, facing the back window.

"I got the idea last night. I'm well-known at school and that entitles me to certain perks. I asked to borrow the disabled van, after the driver finished for the day. We only have one kid who has trouble getting around, so he brought the van back early. He showed me how to secure a chair and he went home. He said I had to have it back by seven in the morning. The van was easy. I don't know what my coach's reaction might be."

"I've got to admit, I was getting a bit tired of looking out that window," Terry said.

"I figured as much. Besides, you'll like seeing the track and watching the guys go through their events for the city championships next week."

Terry didn't have much else to say. He hadn't liked the idea, until they were on the way and then, he didn't hate the idea. Going to his school was a non-starter. He couldn't face seeing the faces of his teammates and he didn't want them seeing him in a wheelchair.

Levi pulled the van up beside the gate nearest the football field and the Amalgamated track, behind the school. There was a bevy of activity going on around the track, as his team prepared for the City Championships on Thursday. He unfastened Terry and carried him around to the passenger seat, going back for the wheelchair. Putting Terry in the chair, he pushed him through the open gate.

Neither boy said anything, but Terry watched the activity around the track. It excited him in a way nothing had, since he was shot. He didn't think he ever wanted to see a track again but seeing one gave him a feeling of belonging. He'd spent a lot of time on a track just like this one.

Levi kept to the outside of the back stretch, as runners ran past at a jog. The season would end on Thursday and if they weren't in shape by now, it was too late to get in shape, but they were all preparing for the end of the season. The only thing they needed to do, was go through the motions.

Someone said, "Levi," as an acknowledgment, as distance runners ran by.

Levi replied, "Hey, Marshall."

"Someone just cut the grass. I can smell the balm on those guys. Funny what you forget you know, once you're away from it for a while."

"Your dad says that you might get the feeling back in your legs any day," Levi said, refusing to be negative on such a beautiful day.

"You got yourself a boyfriend, Cord," a runner asked, as he passed Levi, as he pushed the chair along in the far outside lane.

"Jealous, Barnett," Levi said.

The boy laughed as he went around the track.

"Who's Cord?" Terry asked.

"Cordoba. Cord. Some of my friends call me Cord."

"He's your friend?" Terry asked.

"Mike Barnett. He's cool, as jocks go. I've known him since I started coming to Amalgamated.

"Why do they always go for the queer deal," Terry said. "If you think about it. Guys are as skittish about the queer deal, as anything else and yet it's the first place they go, if they see guys who are obviously good friends."

"Boys are masters of contradiction. Everyone checks everyone else out in the showers. I suppose it has something to do with animal instincts. Nothing is as cut and dried as they pretend it is," Levi said.

"You thinking of becoming a shrink, Cord?" Terry asked.

"Which of us hasn't had some ideas in that direction? My best friend in public school told me once, we all think about it. It's natural. Something to do, when you have nothing to do."

"And what did he want to do?" Terry asked.

"Kid stuff. We were too young to do much. He wanted to see what I had. He was cool. Scott Masterson. I knew him forever, until I came to Amalgamated."

"What happened to Scott?" Terry asked.

"What happened to all my old friends. I came here and I guess they're still in public school. We travel in different circles now," Levi said. "I've never had friends like those, since I left. I'm not close to anyone here. Didn't you have friends like that, Terry?"

"You're the guy driving the van. I just came along for the ride," Terry said, passing on the hot potato.

"Said like a man wanting to dodge the subject. Some things are obvious. We all have our secrets and no one is talking."

"You aren't pure of thought, Cordoba?" Terry asked.

"Me, I've got a mind that could use a good dry cleaning, but it'll only get dirty again."

Terry laughed.

"That's funny. A guy thinks about sex every seven seconds," Terry said.

"What does he do with the rest of his time?" Levi asked.

Terry laughed.

"Jacks off. I do anyway. Seems like the thing to do, while I'm doing it."

"Ain't that the truth. You know it's a sin," Levi said.

"All the good stuff is," Terry said. "That's how you know what to try."

"That makes sense. Never thought of it that way," Levi said.

"Thanks, Levi. I'm glad I came. I'm glad you brought me here."

"You're welcome. What a beautiful day," Levi said. "I didn't do it for you."

"Spring is in the air and I'm glad I'm alive," Terry said. "You just wanted to get me into your arms again. I am irresistible."

"You found me out," Levi said. "How do you do it, Terry."

"You need instructions?" Terry asked. "Your seven seconds are up."

"You've lost everything. You're still a regular guy. I'd be a basket case. How do you pull it off?" Levi asked. "You amaze me."

"Sometimes, I amaze myself. It is what it is, Levi. I can't do a damn thing about it. I'm not gone to make my parents miserable. I put on a happy face and pretend it's just another day. Then, when no one is looking, I cry a lot."

Levi pushed the chair toward the third turn, at the bottom of the track.

"My father likes you," Terry said. "You're easy to like, Levi."

"Your father is cool," Levi said. "Your mother is cool. You? I guess you're OK."

"Your father isn't cool?" Terry asked.

"My father's OK. He hasn't lived. Not the way your father has lived."

"We each have a road to go down, Levi. My road and your road aren't all that different. Are roads were identical, until I stepped in front of that bullet. Now, we're going in opposite directions. I'm slowing down and you're on your way to winning championships."

That was the same thing Levi knew and he knew how wrong that was. How he'd love going back to winning the two hundred and Terry would win the one hundred. That was how it should be but it wasn't.

As they reached the third turn, no one had passed them for a while. Then, most of Levi's team came to stand in between the third and fourth turns.

Practice had come to a standstill and Levi couldn't be sure why.

"Hey, Moony," a boy said, coming over to shake Terry's hand. "Sorry, about..."

Boys moved onto the surface of the track.

Levi looked for the coach. When he found him, he was standing at the end of the bleachers, hands on hips, glaring at his runway track team. No one was doing anything they were supposed to be doing.

"You're Moony Brown," one of the sprinters said. "What happened?"

"I tripped," Terry said.

There was laughter but it was an uncomfortable laughter. The kind of laugh you heard when things weren't right and you tried to pretend you hadn't noticed.

The boy who spoke, stopped in front of the chair, putting out his hand.

"I hope you're back soon," he said, as they shook on it.

Terry swallowed hard, looking back at Levi, for help.

Other boys stepped on the track to shake the hand of Moony Brown. You could have knocked Levi over with a feather. He'd been waiting for his coach to come over and give him hell. This was unreal. It was unexpected.

Each boy wanted to shake Terry's hand. They knew who he was. They knew that he was the only one who could beat their sprinting hero.

A big black boy pushed through the throng, as Terry spoke to his admirers. He was caught flatfooted by the attention, coming from Levi's team. It's not what he expected.

He thought he'd be anonymous at Levi's school, but he wasn't anonymous at all. Everyone knew his name and then Amos Morris moved up to the wheelchair, sticking out his huge shot putter's paw.

"Amos," Terry said. "How you been?"

"I'm fine, Moony. I should have been over to see you, but I couldn't. I didn't want to see this. I'm sorry, Moony. I just went to pieces when I heard. I cried for two days. Now, I didn't want to face you. I'm sorry, Moony."

Amos Morris was six foot five inches tall and he weighed three hundred and twenty-five pounds. He was a mountain of muscle and he stood in front of his team with tears streaming down his face.

It takes a real man to be able to cry in front of your teammates.

"Amos, it's cool. You didn't do nothing wrong. I wouldn't want to see you if it happened to you. It happened, that's all," Terry said. "I don't expect anyone to come by and hold my hand. I got to do this on my own."

"If anyone can come back, you can, Moony," Amos sobbed.

That's when the whistle blew. Coach Becker blew it a second time and guys moved out of his way. The coach was coming fast.

"Amos, move. Go pick up your shot. Ain't you boys got something to be doing? All you boys got plenty to do. City Championship. Don't be standing around," he barked.

"Why didn't you tell me this was what you were up to, Cordoba? I have a good mind to toss you off the team. What, you think I'm running a picnic?"

"I didn't think you'd care, one way or another. It's just about over for me coach. You can't teach me much in the time we have left. If I can't find the finish line by now, there's not much hope for me," Levi said.

The coach had moved on, before Levi finished. He held out his hand and Terry looked at the man's face, before accepting the man's handshake.

"Coach," Terry said respectfully.

"Mr. Brown, I can't tell you how sorry I was to hear of your plight. You don't know what an honor it has been to see a master at work. You were something to see, Moony Brown. I've been around for a good while and I can honestly say, you're one of the best hundred men I've ever seen. I wish you well," Coach Becker said. "As for you, Cordoba. Get this damn thing off my track. You don't want to be making me mad."

"No, sir. I don't want to be doing that," Levi said, smiling at his coach.

Coach Becker turned to leave the track, but instead he did an about face.

"Thank you, Coach. I don't know what to say," Terry said.

"You beat the finest sprinter I've had the privilege to coach. You don't need to say a thing. I'm glad I got to see you run, son."

Thank you, Coach," Terry said, swallowing hard.

"Cordoba," Coach Becker said like a drill sergeant, "If you're going to push that damn wheelchair on my track, you do it double-time. I ain't running no picnic out here."

"What are you crying about?" Terry asked.

"I didn't plan that; I really didn't care what my team thought. Then, they go pull a stunt like that. Makes me thing the world might not be so bad. They knew who you were and they felt for you. I'm glad I got to see my guys do that, Terry."

"Stop crying. A man comes to take me on a date and he cries, makes me think I'm not up to his standards. So, quit crying," Terry said.

"Is that what this is, a date?" Levi said.

"When I show a guy my ass five minutes after we meet, the next time he comes over, it's a date," Terry declared.

Levi laughed, wiping his tears away with the palm of his hands.

"Time to get to pushing. Track season will be over before we reach the finish line at this rate," Terry said.

"Yes, sir. I'll gets to pushin'," Levi said in his best black dialect.

"And for your information, I like my men nicely tanned," Terry said.

"Me, too," Levi said.

As they moved up the front stretch, Levi began picking up speed, pushing the wheelchair faster and faster. By the time the crossed the finish line, they were at a breakneck speed. Levi's team cheered them on, and both boys began to laugh as if they'd just won the biggest race they'd ever run.

"That was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic, Levi. I loved it. It was almost like being able to sprint again," Terry said.

"That will take a little longer, Terry, but we'll work on it," Levi said, as boys surrounded them, patting both Terry and Levi on the back.

The sky was a clear baby blue. The temperature was perfect for any boy involved in track and field.

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