Sequel to Tumbling
The boys were practically vibrating with excitement as the truck pulled into a parking space at the gym where they had gone for Eli Joes birthday party the week before. Chris had called the man who ran the gym and made an appointment to come in and observe the individual lessons some other children were having before deciding whether or not to allow Vin to participate. Carl Johnson stepped out of the office and smiled warmly at both men and the boys.
Mr. Larabee, Mr. Wilmington, welcome to Tumble Town. If youll allow, my daughter Holly will take the boys and let them do some stretches and bounce on the trampolines while we take a tour, the man said as he indicated the teenage girl standing at his side. Casting a glance at Vin, Chris saw the hopeful expression and couldnt help but nod. Buck knelt down and whispered something to JD that caused the little boy to nod vigorously before he turned to follow the girl and Vin.
Mr. Johnson, I will tell you that I have heard very good things about your program. Even other gym leaders praised your training and complimented your team, Chris said as he stared frankly at the shorter man.
Its always good to hear that the competition respects you. I appreciate that you took the time to check, too many parents dont. If youll follow me, Ill show you around.
The three men entered the large gym Several children were working in various places around the cavernous room. Buck grinned at the sight of the rings hanging in the center of the rear section, he recognized them from Vins drawings. Both men smiled at the boys as they sat on a mat stretching out with Holly. JD was wiggling his toes inside of his little socks as he stretched toward one leg and then the other. Vin was carefully checking his position and comparing it to the older girl to make sure he was doing it correctly.
We emphasize warm ups and cool downs and allow plenty of time for both. Its very important for these younger kids to learn the proper way to do things. Safety is also a very big part of my program. The boys will need safety equipment, a cup and a mouth guard to begin with, Carl said as he pointed to a case where he sold the needed items. I buy them wholesale and sell them at cost, you wont find them cheaper.
What kind of things do you teach the younger children? Buck asked. He had been curious as to how they would begin to teach JD.
We start with basic tumbling and balance, for both boys. Its important that they learn how to move and control their bodies. We start with simple tumbling and work up to headstands and then handstands and cartwheels. Let me show you what I mean. Anthony, can you please show me your routine?
A boy about JDs age jumped up from where he was stretching on the floor and walked to the end of the mat. He started with a forward roll and then continued with a cartwheel, he did a couple of other things that resembled the forward roll, only with his legs straight. He finished with a backward roll and pushed up to his feet. Carl smiled and nodded at the boy.
Thank you, Anthony, youre doing very well. Finish your warm up and then Belinda will be ready for you.
How old is he? Chris asked when they were out of earshot.
Five, hes one of the youngest on the team. His older brother and sister are on the junior and senior teams. Hes been tumbling since he could walk. They paused to watch Holly working with JD. She was showing him the proper position for him to begin a forward roll. She spotted him through the maneuver, helping him regain his feet at the end. Smiling, she gave him a hug and patted the mat for him to sit down while she did the same thing with Vin.
Shes very good with them, Chris commented.
Thank you, Im proud of her. She took the regional trophy on the balance beam last month, Carl said with a beaming smile.
At the end of the tour, Chris and Buck had decided to let the boys join the gym. They arranged for their first class to be on Sunday afternoon and then on Wednesdays after school, when Mrs. Potter could bring them. They picked up the forms for the doctor to fill out, as well as the emergency information forms. They sat in the observation area while they filled out the papers and the boys finished their lessons. Mr. Johnson raised his eyebrows at seeing where the men worked. He questioned the different last names.
The boys are adopted. I would appreciate it if you didnt mention it unless they say something. Vin is very sensitive about seeming different, Chris said.
Not a problem. In this day and age, it isnt uncommon for brothers and sisters to have different last names. No one will say anything or even give it a second thought. Im really glad you decided to give us a chance to work with your boys, you wont be disappointed.
At the end of their session, Holly took the boys and got them each a sports bottle of water from the cooler. Like eager puppies, both boys looked up to her and followed her across the reception area. Before leaving them, the teenager touched both of their shoulders and admonished them.
Remember what I told you. Dont try any of this at home until you have proper equipment. Not on the beds or near other furniture. You could get seriously hurt, understand? Both boys nodded before she released them. Immediately, they ran to their dads.
Did you see us? We tumbled. Miss Holly is going to show us how to do a whole routine, JD enthusiastically told Buck when he was swept up from the floor.
You did really good in there, Little Bit, Buck agreed.
Did you make up your mind? Can we take classes and join the tumbling team? Can we?
Yes, we did. You start Sunday afternoon.
Chris smiled down at Vin before ruffling his silky, curly locks. Did you have fun?
Yeah, it was great, the older boy said as he smiled shyly at Holly.
+ + + + + + +
The boys were excited that morning as they waited for time to go to their first real class. All of their uncles were gathered at the ranch to accompany them to the gym. Both boys were dressed in the matching outfits their dads had bought for them. They walked a little funny as they tried to get used to the athletic cups. The mouth guards would not go in until they actually got ready to go on the apparatus at the gym. Both boys were also sporting new sweat bands around their foreheads to keep their bangs out of the way. On Vin, it made him look like a pale little Indian, his high cheekbones and delicate features strengthened by the tan hed acquired.
Upon arriving at the gym, the guys' hopes were dashed when they were told that they would have to remain in the observation areas, no adults were allowed into the gym during lessons as they were a distraction to the children. The boys accepted their mouth guards in the cases and went directly into the gym. Holly was waiting for them with another girl she introduced to JD as Belinda. The older girls took charge of the mouth guard cases and led their charges to the mats to warm up and stretch. Buck led the group of anxious uncles up to the observation area on the upper floor that looked down on the gym floor. There was no glass in the way up there to interfere with pictures and videotaping. Ezra had brought along his digital video camera and Buck had swiped a camera from the surveillance van that had a massive telephoto lens.
Vin tried to copy the motions Holly was showing him for stretching his muscles. He could feel the pulling along the back of his legs and eased off the way she had told him. Some of the stretches made his back hurt and he tried to conceal the pain. Standing up, he bent over and touched his toes, again feeling the pull in the backs of his legs. After a few more stretches, he didnt feel the pull anymore.
Across the gym floor, JD was also stretching. Belinda, his teacher, was careful not to let him try too hard. She shortened her own stretches so that he would not strain himself copying her. She could see that he was energetic and eager to please.
Up in the observation loft, the five men were all but hanging over the wall watching the boys. Nathan nodded as he noticed that the girls didnt push the boys too hard with the warm-ups. Ezra watched the whole thing through the view finder of his camera as he zoomed in and out on the boys and their teachers. Josiah watched with a satisfied smile, chuckling at the expression on JDs face as he tried to touch his toes without bending his legs. Chris and Buck had eyes only for their boys. A buxom brunette walked through the loft and commented on the boys and, for the first time any of them could remember, Buck failed to take his eyes off of JD.
Starting on what Holly called the low beam, Vin walked forward and backward on the balance beam that was only six inches off of the mats. Because of his diminutive frame, he was naturally graceful as he moved and didnt fall once. Holly demonstrated a turn on the beam and he copied her, wobbling only slightly the first few times. When she showed him a skip on the beam, he smiled at the challenge. Clamping down on the mouth guard, he gave a little skip and immediately slipped off of the beam and landed on the mat. Not at all daunted by the fall, he got back on the beam and tried again.
On the floor routine mat, JD was learning the names for the moves he would be learning. Belinda spotted him through a front tuck and a cartwheel. Showing him a line across the center of the mat, she asked him to see if he could stay on the line as he did a series of forward tucks. Predictably, JD was soon veering off of the line. Seeing the challenge, he set about trying to stay on the line.
All too soon for the boys, the lesson was over. Back on the starting mat, they did the cool down stretches as the girls showed them. They hurried to pull on their shoes and socks after removing the mouth guards and storing them in their cases. While she was waiting for her next student, Holly mounted the balance beam and began to do a series of front and back walkovers. Vins jaw hung slack as he watched. Not to be outdone, Belinda did a quick tumbling run across the mats, leaving JD amazed and, surprisingly, speechless.
Hey, you guys want to stop for pizza to celebrate your first class? Chris called through the door to get the boys attention. Slowly, they dragged their eyes away from the girls and stumbled across the mats. Buck repositioned JDs headband, which had slipped while he was tumbling.
Did you see her, Dad? Did you see what Holly can do? Vin asked, clearly awed.
JD was not so awed and asked, Did you see me tumbling, Da? It was hard to stay on the line!
At the pizza place, Ezra entertained the boys by showing them what he had caught on the digital camera. When Vin saw himself fall off of the low beam, he chewed on his lip anxiously.
Everyone falls in the beginning, Vin. You neednt hang your head over that small slip. You have already exceeded the abilities of the average citizen, the southerner said softly. When Vins eyes came up, there was pride shining from them.
Really, Uncle Ezra?
Absolutely. You have a natural sense of balance.
It took a few reminders for JD not to try to tumble where there were no mats. Buck was already considering the cost of mats for the rambunctious boy to keep at home. Everyone was generous with their praise for the boys for listening so well. They finished their meal and returned to the ranch. The boys fell asleep on the way, worn out from the excitement as much as the exertion. Chris opened the rear door and unbuckled the booster seatbelt. He gently lifted the little Texan from the seat and draped him against his shoulder. He noticed the uncomfortable squirming when he touched Vins back and figured that the child was sore. Buck lifted JD and the boy flopped like a rag doll. Both boys were settled in their beds to finish their naps while the men had a cold drink on the back deck.
Wonder how much those big mats cost? Buck asked.
They are quite expensive. You might see if the gym has any used ones they would consent to sell to you. Im quite certain that you will have need of them, soon, Ezra said with a smile.
I could probably rig you a balance beam for Vin to use, Josiah offered. Ive got some good quality wood left over from the last remodeling. I can sand it down real smooth and round the edges. I can mount it on some stands.
Lets not go turning this place into a gym until we know if theyre going to stick with it. They might lose interest after a class or two, Chris cautioned.
When the boys awoke, Vin came directly to him and climbed into his lap as he sat in the glider. The blond gently passed his hand over the boys back and heard the relieved sigh. Do you need something for your back, Cowboy? he asked quietly so as not to alert the others and draw attention to the situation. He felt the slight nod. Keep my seat warm, Ill be right back. He slipped Vin the Childrens Tylenol and watched him wash it down with a swallow of soda before gathering him into his arms again. Vin was content to lay in Chriss arms for a while until the medicine took the edge off of his back ache.
In the yard, JD was rolling in the grass with the puppies. Ezra had tossed the Frisbee ring to him and the puppies tackled him for it. Nathan retrieved the spare and tossed it to the southerner. Confused at the second Frisbee, the puppies sprang off of JD and barked furiously as they chased the flying disk. They played keep away with JD and the dogs until the dogs gave up and flopped on the cool concrete of their pen under the deck. Vin joined them a few minutes later and they played for a while before calling it quits.
After their baths, Chris plied Vin with another Tylenol and rubbed his back for a while before he fell asleep. JD twitched in his sleep, snoring softly through his open mouth. The blond tucked the blankets around both boys before leaving the room for the night. Buck had finished cleaning up the bathroom and hanging up the damp towels. The men sat in the relative quiet of the family room for a while before retiring to bed.
For the next few weeks, the boys went on Wednesdays after school with Mrs. Potter to their classes. On Sunday, their dads took them but their uncles didnt go to every class. It was amazing to see the changes from week to week. With two spotters, Vin was doing forward rolls on the beam, landing one foot on the other side and pushing up to a stand. JD was learning to stand on his head. Belinda was a brave soul, because she had to spot him and he often fell over, right on her. He was getting better at it, though. He could stay up for most of a minute once he got up and got balanced. He also got to meet some of the other boys on the junior tumbling squad.
Jack and Lonnie were identical twins and JD was infinitely fascinated with them. They were only a few months younger and small, like he was. Soon, he was receiving invitations for play dates at their house. After meeting with their parents, Buck agreed to allow JD to ride the bus home with them on Monday afternoons and Gloria picked him up before the guys got home.
To Vins considerable embarrassment, the entire balance beam squad was made up of girls. Were it not for Hollys constant encouragement, he would have given up the beam and transferred to tumbling with JD. Mr. Johnson took him aside and explained that in a few months, he would start on some of the other equipment that was considered boys only and his experience on the beam would come in handy.
One of the girls on the squad was a little blonde named Lisa. Her lesson usually came right after Vins and he got to know her better than the other girls. She had been working on the beam for several months and was the one he most compared his new skills against. Lisa didnt have a good sense of balance and struggled to master the simple routine. One day, when Holly was late and Lisa was early, Vin offered to spot her on the low beam. They were allowed to use it without a spotter. Chriss heart swelled with pride as he watched his son walking beside the balance beam, his hand poised to steady the girl as she practiced. When Lisa managed to complete the difficult turn without falling off, she screeched with delight and jumped off of the beam to hug Vin. Even from the level of the observation loft, Chris could see the blush that colored Vins cheeks. Buck nudged him with his elbow and commented that he was rubbing off on the boy and Chris glared at him.
On another mat, JD was learning to do a backbend. Belinda attached a belt to his waist and spotted him as he reached over his head and leaned back slowly. Not surprisingly, he toppled over and the bungee cords caught him. Several times, just for fun, JD leaned back too fast and fell so he could swing on the bungee cords. Belinda firmly corrected him and suggested that he try another maneuver. JD promised to stop and was soon easily managing the backbend.
Now what do I do? he asked as he struggled to see the girl.
Stand back up, she suggested. As expected, the moment he tried, he lifted his hands from the floor and fell flat on his behind on the mat. Buck had to bury his face in the crook of his arm to keep from laughing out loud. As he was looking to see if Chris had seen JD, he noticed the color drain out of the blond mans face.
Shit, Chris hissed as he came to his feet. On the gym floor, Vin had fallen off of the beam and landed hard on his side. Holly was right there, holding him still and encouraging him not to move for a moment. One of the senior instructors was immediately at her side, running knowledgeable hands over the boy. Buck was only a couple of steps behind Chris as they rushed to the main floor. Mr. Johnson met them at the doors and held them off.
Hes alright, Mr. Larabee. Theres no need for you to panic, the man said as he stood in front of the double doors.
I just want to see for myself, if you dont mind, Chris answered angrily.
Give him a chance to get up and shake it off. If he wants to stop, Holly will let him. Its his first real fall, if you rush in there and gather him up, hell be afraid to try again.
Thats my son! You cant stop me!
Im only asking you to wait for a moment. Believe me, it looks worse than it is. Annette is just keeping him still until she can check him out. If you go charging in there, hell move, if he is hurt, that could make it worse. Please Mr. Larabee, just a moment.
Beyond the mans shoulders, Chris could see Vin sitting up and nodding. He could see the older woman checking Vin and asking him to move his arms and legs. Vin kept looking toward the doors, seeing his dad standing there. In another few minutes, the shaken child placed his hands on the beam and mounted it again. The tremor in his arms was the only visible sign of his fear as he repeated the move again. This time, it was perfect. He repeated some easier moves and then sat down to dismount the beam instead of jumping off as he usually did.
You see, he fell and he got back on the beam. He wont be afraid to fall again, he knows hell be alright. We tell the kids to remain still if they fall until a coach or another adult tells them that its okay, that way, if he was really hurt, he wouldnt make it worse by trying to get right up. You may want to give him something for muscle aches when he gets home, Mr. Johnson said before he walked back into his office. There were only a few more minutes of the class and Chris and Buck sat in the chairs that lined the main floor observation window.
When the boys came out, Vins eyes glistened with unshed tears. Chris knelt down and gathered him up, feeling him begin to cry. He hurried out to the truck after seeing Buck nod, knowing that he would give them a few minutes alone. Leaning against the back bumper, Chris stroked over the back of Vins head, waiting for him to calm down. The sobs tapered off and Vin pulled away.
Im sorry I scared you, the boy said solemnly. If you want me to quit, I will.
Oh, Vin I dont want you to quit. I was so worried that you were hurt. I dont want anything to happen to you. Are you alright? Do you want to continue?
Uh-huh, Holly said she broke her arm one time when she fell off. I knew I was falling, so I kept my arms in. I dont want to break my arm!
As long as youre okay with it. You dont have to do anything you dont want to do. If you want to switch to tumbling, thats fine by me.
I like the balance beam. Mr. Johnson says that when Tyrone comes back from college that I can start on some other stuff, Vin explained.
After a Tylenol, a warm bath and a back rub, Vin was feeling fine. Nathan assured Chris that as long as Vin wanted to continue, they should let him. The discipline and confidence the child was gaining would prove to be invaluable as he got older.
+ + + + + + +
A few weeks later, the boys came home from the gym with a flyer announcing that they were having a parents day and that family and friends were invited to see what the kids were learning. It was scheduled on a Friday when the schools were closed for a teacher in-service. Chris told Orin that he and the team were taking the afternoon off. Since it was fairly quiet, there was no problem.
The gym was packed! A large section of the mats had been taken up and folding chairs lined up for the spectators. The Johnsons would provide a videotape for any family wishing to have one. Nathan and Josiah went over early to secure good seats for the others. Gloria brought the boys to the office. She confided that they had been practicing at home all morning. Taking the saved seats, they waited for the performances to begin.
Annette Johnson strode out to the center of the mats with a wireless microphone. After a few moments of mutual shushing, she smiled and began to explain what they would be seeing.
Parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives and friends, the boys and girls have worked very hard these past few months and would like to demonstrate their skills for you. I must ask that you hold your applause until the routine is finished, distracting the children is dangerous to them. We will begin with the senior group on the uneven bars.
The older girls performed the same routine, with varying degrees of proficiency. Each one was applauded, no matter how well they did. One girl actually fell when she missed the upper bar on a change and the audience sat frozen until she was allowed up from the floor. She bravely remounted the apparatus and finished the routine and got a standing ovation. Eventually, the junior groups began to perform. Vin was one of the last ones to show off his skills by virtue of the fact that they went alphabetically. Scanning the crowd, he felt much more calm after making eye contact with his family. He stepped up on the spring board and rested his hands on the beam. His mount was flawless, as was the first portion of his routine. He paused at one end of the beam to gather his courage before he began the next series of moves. Kneeling carefully, he lowered his shoulder to the beam and performed the forward roll, coming up on one foot. Smiling at his success, he was more confident as he pointed his toes and swept the side of the beam.
Glorias hand tightened on her clutch purse until her knuckles paled. She knew what the next part of the routine was and that neither of her employers knew about it. Holding her breath, she watched as Vin again knelt on the beam and lowered his shoulder. Slowly, and shaking with the effort, he piked his legs and then lifted them slowly until he was doing a shoulder stand on the beam. He tucked his head and did another roll, coming to his feet on the end of the beam. Pausing only a moment, he jumped off and landed on the white circle, which was their goal. Raising his hands triumphantly over his head, he turned to face the audience.
For the first few seconds, there was only stunned silence, then the crowd began to clap, led by the very proud group at the end of the second row. Holly slipped away from her seat to hug her star pupil. By the time he reached his seat, Vins little face was aglow with red as he was high-fived by the girls on his squad.
The final group was the junior tumblers. Again, the kids were to perform alphabetically and this time, JD was up first. Coming slowly to his feet, he approached the corner of the mat. Stopping on the circle, he looked at the crowd. His heart was pounding loudly in his chest and he suddenly felt the need to use the bathroom. As his brown eyes filled with tears, he ran from the mat. Murmurs of sympathy for the obvious attack of stage fright rolled over the spectators. Annette motioned the next child out onto the mat.
Buck was trapped farther up the row and couldnt get out without asking several people to move and he didnt want to interrupt the next childs routine. Ezra was on the end of the row with the camera and he passed it to Josiah as he slipped out and made his way around to the restroom where JD had gone. He heard the muffled sniffles and sighed loudly enough to alert the boy to his presence.
Its scary with all those people looking at you, isnt it? The brunet child turned and nodded before climbing into the outstretched arms.
My tummy feels all mixed up, Uncle Ezra. I thought I was gonna throw up, JD whimpered into the southerners shoulder.
It is daunting to have to go first. Why dont you dry your tears and lets go see if Mrs. Johnson will let you go later?
Do you think she will? None of the other kids ran away like I did.
Can I tell you a secret? When I was in grammar school, I had to read a poem in front of the school assembly. I worked on it for weeks and weeks so that I wouldnt make a mistake. When I walked out onto the stage and saw all of those people looking at me, I felt sick just the way you did.
What did you do? JD asked as he stared trustingly into the green eyes.
I read it so softly that they could hardly hear me. My knees shook so hard that I almost sat on the floor. When I finished, I ran off of the stage and into one of the classrooms. My stepfather came and found me and told me that he understood how I felt, and you know what?
It made me feel better. At the end of the program, they let me go out and read it again, even though it was supposed to be the opening reading. My stepfather sat in the front row and watched me the whole time. He said he was proud of me for having the courage to go back out there and face my fears.
At the end of the junior tumbling program, JD stepped up to the mat again. Scanning the crowd, he spotted his Uncles and his Da. Taking a deep breath, he launched into his routine, tumbling and cart wheeling from one side of the mat to the other. When he was finished, the audience clapped for him, just like the other kids but to JD it was thunderous. Instead of returning to his group, he ran to the rows of chairs and climbed over a woman to get to Buck.
Did you see me, Da? Did you see me? I faced my fear! JD exclaimed. Buck smiled gratefully down the row at Ezra.
After the program, cookies and punch were served in the observation area. Vin made his way through the crowd to Chriss side. The blond picked him up and crushed him to his chest.
When you did that shoulder stand on the beam, you amazed me, Cowboy!
Holly showed me how to do it. We practiced and practiced. It was a surprise. Were you surprised, Dad?
I sure was, Vin, I sure was, Chris said as the pride shone from his eyes.