The Football Game

by Silvia

Part 2 of the "Crossed Paths" series.

She was afraid. She was afraid he would be alone. She was afraid that there would be no one to look after him. She was afraid he would never know how much she missed him, longed to be with him. She was no longer able to protect him. She was no longer able to be there for him. She was determined she would never stop watching over him.

One day, one of the uncounted days as time has no meaning where she was, she discovered that she could reach him, perhaps not in her own person but through another. She was careful, particular; she wanted her choice to be perfect for her precious boy. So she waited. . .

+ + + + + + +

"Vin Tanner!" hollered the supervisor once more "I told you hundred times! You've confinement again. Tomorrow is Halloween; don't you want to go with the other kids to the camp?"

"Yes ma'm" said the little boy

"So you behave yourself, or you won't be going to that football game"

"Yes ma'am," he was tired, he hated this place, but he knew he couldn't survive alone. He was too young and the outside world was hard. His mom had told him before she passed away. Mom, he missed her so much. Every night he looked for her out in the darkness, and he thought he'd felt her once. He knew she was out there, he was certain of it, but he couldn't touch her or hear her. That hurt.

So he hunched his narrow shoulders and thought about Halloween and the football players that were coming to teach the kids at the orphanage how to play. He spent the next two hours of confinement alternating his thoughts between his mother, to Halloween to football. The loneliness never left. It was his constant companion.

+ + + + + + +

Young Christopher Larabee was the star of his team. He was the best quarterback the team had had in years. Normally amiable and outgoing tonight he was pissed. He had a date with Lara Calwell for tonight but had to cancel because this silly community thing at the orphanage.

As he tried to come up with reasons to get out of going with the team and instead keep his date with Lara he overheard his father on the phone.

"We're proud of Chris as well. You're right, those kids at the orphanage don't have much in their lives, only hope that someone will care enough to spend some time with them, maybe remember them at special holidays, treat them to the fun things in life that other children get to enjoy, like a little football and some trick or treating. It's wonderful that the football team is sharing in this community spirit and giving of their time during the busy football season."

Chris was stunned as he overheard his father. He didn't know who he was talking to but the words hit him hard in the gut. He was so lucky. He had plenty of clothes, food, he even had a car to drive to pick up his date.

Ashamed at his earlier thoughts, Chris returned to his room, gathered his duffel bag that he'd packed earlier and headed out.

+ + + + + + +

The kids had been looking forward to Halloween. They knew the older kids from town were coming to play football with them and then take them trick or treating. They were looking forward to getting out and playing like 'normal' kids.

Chris was overwhelmed by the excitement of the kids. He realized how much he took for granted as he saw the sheer joy on the little faces. He stood back a bit taking in the scene before him. His big tough teammates seemed to melt as they interacted with the children. He felt a smile grow across his face and then it stopped.

Alone, off to the side just watching was a little boy. No one seemed to pay him any attention. Chris focused on the little boy and as he watched him the little boy's head came up and slowly turned in his direction. There eyes met and Chris immediately started walking over to him.

"I brought a costume for you." Chris couldn't help the words that came from his mouth. How he knew he had brought the costume for this little boy was beyond him.

"Okay" the words were so softly spoken, Chris barely heard them. He knelt down and opened his duffel bag and showed the little boy what was inside.

The little boy squatted down and looked in the bag then his eyes met Chris' straight on. Chris was startled by the brilliance of those blue eyes. He saw a smile appear on the little face and he knew he really had brought this costume for this little boy. He picked up the bag, grabbed the outstretched hand and took him so he could change into his costume.

Several minutes later Chris left the orphanage hand in hand with a little cowboy. They spent the next hour going from house to house, ringing door bells, hollering TRICK or TREAT, laughing and eating candy.

Chris noticed that the little cowboy seemed to eat a lot of candy and he was worried the little boy would get sick. He remembered he did that once when he was little and he got so sick he thought he would never want any candy ever again. The feeling passed, but it still was unpleasant.

"Why don't you leave some of the candies for tomorrow? If you eat them all today, you won't have any tomorrow and you'll have a big belly ache."

"Iffen I leave one, it won't be there for me tomorrow. The bigger kids will steal it."

Chris didn't have anything to say to that. He had never had to worry about anyone stealing his stuff.

"What if a friend made sure your candy was safe? I could keep it safe and bring it back to you so you had some tomorrow. Would that be okay?" Chris couldn't explain it but he really wanted the little boy to agree to let him come back tomorrow with the candy.

"Wudda do that? Wudda bring ma candy back tomorrow?" Then he thought better and asked "Na! You'll eat them all by yerself!"

"No! I mean it! I'll bring them back tomorrow"

"Ok..." agreed the boy reluctantly, he knew he couldn't eat all that candy.

So from then on, Chris put the candy in the bag he had with him. By the end of the street the bag was full. Chris started to go back but Vin wanted to keep going.

"Sorry little pard, we have to go back. I have a game to play, remember?"

"Oh, yes, the game" said Vin, looking down

"What? Don't tell me you don't know how to play" asked Chris, knowing very well the answer, by the look of the little boy's body language

"I can't play. The big kids keep beating me. I've tried to hit them back, and they put me in confinement. They never see them. They only see me when I hit those boys"

"I see... well I can show you some tricks, you run fast?"

"Yes, like the wind!" said the boy with a lighten face.

"OK, so I'll get you on my team. I'll throw you the ball. You catch it and run fast as you can to the end. Can you do that?"

"Of course I can!"

"So that's a deal!" and he extended his hand

But the little boy didn't take the hand, he took his arm instead. Somehow that gesture touched the teenager in the bottom of his heart. And he'd thought this would be a boring day! Somehow the little boy had affected him very deeply.

+ + + + + + +

A little while later everyone was gathered back at the park. Chris was the captain of one team and his best friend, Buck, was captain of the other. They each had their teams selected and everyone trotted out into position. It was going to be just a friendly game of touch football .

"Well guys, lets play!" encouraged Chris, and he approached Vin and whispered to him "Don't forget our plan" at that, the boy nodded.

+ + + + + + +

The game had gone well, each team had their won strategy and they only had a few minutes left. It was 24 to 21 with Buck's team in the lead. Chris knew it was time to make his move with the little boy. As they huddled up he explained the play to all the players. Everyone knew what to do. Chris looked at Vin and said, "Remember, just like I told you, I'll get the ball to you, you run, fast as you can."

Vin nodded excitedly and broke from the huddle to take his place. The rest of the team followed except one boy.

"Hey Chris! Look at that boy. He's just skin and bones and scrawny. I know this is just for fun, but we can win this. If you go ahead with this play, we'll lose for sure, he's just to small."

"Stick to the plan, Ricky. He can do it. You had better do your part or you'll answer to me."

"Okay, okay. I'll do my part."

Sure enough, Chris Larabee made a perfect pitch pass to Vin who caught the ball and ran like the wind. He never even needed the protection of the rest of the team. He outran them all and scored the winning touchdown.

The rest of the team was surrounding Vin in their efforts to congratulate him and Chris stood back watching Vin get enthusiastically slapped on the back in congratulations.

"Chris! Chris! I did it, right?" said the boy, looking for the compliments.

"You did it great Vin" he said as he tried to embrace the boy, but Vin stepped aside and extended his hand. Chris took the kid's arm, and repeated looking Vin into the eyes "You did really great kid"

"Thanks" his expressive blue eyes showed a deeper gratitude than his one word reply.

+ + + + + + +

The game was over. The night was over. It was time to gather their equipment and head out. Chris realized he didn't want it all to end.

"Remember, Vin, tomorrow I'll come back to bring you some more of the candy."

Vin's eyes were bright and hopeful but Chris also saw a glimpse of a wariness in them. His heart tightened at the realization that one so young, who should be trusting of everyone had known such hurt and loss to already distrust kindness.

"Promise?" he asked, extending his hand.

"Promise" he answered, taking the little arm in his hand.

+ + + + + + +

True to his word, Chris returned the next day. When he arrived he discovered that Vin had been taken to the hospital. He had eaten too much candy the night before, and combined with the excitement of the game he had been throwing up all night. He was dehydrated and was being kept in the hospital for a day.

Chris decided to go to the hospital but due to the rules, he wasn't allowed to see Vin. He wrote out a note and gave it to one of the nurses. He hoped someone would read it to him. He did manage to sneak a quick peek into the room as the nurse went in with the note and to check on Vin's IV.

He saw that Vin looked pale and fragile all alone in the hospital room. There weren't any balloons or stuffed animals and there wasn't anybody to sit with him and keep him from feeling alone.

Chris was surprised at how bothered he was by that observation.

+ + + + + + +

A whole week passed before Chris returned to visit Vin. He had been very busy with a huge game against the school's arch rival and between his studies, dating Lara, and practice, the time had slipped by.

He and Buck stepped through the doors and asked for Vin. Chris stood there in shock, his heart missing a few beats as he heard the news that Vin was gone. A foster home had been found for him and he was gone. Child Protective Services rules forbad the giving out of his new address and the foster family's name.

Chris turned to leave and was amazed at the depth of his sorrow that Vin was gone. Did he even know that Chris had kept his promise to come and visit? Did he know that Chris had tried to see him at the hospital? With his head low from dejection he headed out into the late fall day, his best friend, Buck, matching his step all the way.

+ + + + + + +

In that moment, her wait ended. After a long search she knew she had found the twin soul for her son. It was only a matter of time now.

Part 3: The Shelter