Nicky Delgado, Chapter 11

"Looks like they're already home," said Butch as he drove into the Delgados' driveway. Lights could be seen through the living room window.

It might be my sister, Nicky hoped. Then a cold chill swept through his body. It can't be her, he realized. I locked her out. "I'm in big trouble, Butch."

"I'll go inside with you," Butch volunteered.

Glad he didn't have to go in by himself, Nicky stepped up to the front door and turned the knob. It opened.

"Where do you think you've been?" his father lumbered up from his lounge chair. He looked fearsome, snarling like a wolverine.

Nicky stood in terror, forcing some words out. "I left a note."

"Since when do you think you can run off without asking my permission?" Nicky's father came closer. Nicky prepared himself for a blow.

"It's my fault, Mr. Delgado," Butch stepped forward. "I should've let Nicky know I was coming."

"You shut up!" Mark shoved Butch so hard that he had to pull himself out of the coats in the closet.

"Keep your hands off me," shouted Butch, straightening his shirt. He glared at Mark with narrowed eyes.

"Get out of my house," Nicky's father slammed him against the open door. "And stay away from Nicky," he yelled as Butch retreated to his car. He slammed the door and turned on Nicky. "What kind of friends are you making at school? That one's nothing but trouble. I don't want you spending time with him anymore."

They heard Butch squealing his tires as he left the driveway.

"I won't," said Nicky, turning for his room.

"I'm not through with you," his father grabbed him by the collar of the jacket he hadn't had time to take off yet. "You deserve a good thrashing." Nicky received a stinging smack across the side of his head. "Maybe a kick in the rear will remind you to obey my rules as long as you live in my house."

Nicky felt the full force of his father's hard-tipped shoe, learning long ago not to put his hands in the way. He turned, catching a second kick in a kneecap, and collapsed to the floor. He winced at the sight of his father removing his belt and looping it in one hand. Nicky crawled away as the stinging blows rained on him.

"You're grounded for a month, and that means staying in your room," his father shouted after he finally got away and hobbled up the stairs.

Nicky refused to cry as he leaned against his bed, rubbing his knee. Instead, he felt seething hatred for his father. He breathed heavily as if he had just run around the block. He knew he shouldn't hate his father and try to obey him, but all he could think of was how he'd like someone to beat him up.

The door opened and his mother came into the room. "How are you doing, Nicky?"

Nicky pulled himself to a sitting position on top of the bed, saying nothing, and his mother sat next to him.

"Why did you leave the house?" she asked gently, running a hand through his hair.

"I don't know," said Nicky. "I knew Dad would get mad. Why does he get so angry about everything?"

"We have to live with it," she sighed. "We have to do our best to keep him from losing his temper."

"What's the point?" Nicky shrugged. "We can never be good enough."

"We have to try, Nicky. What would we do without your father? He earns all the money to support us, so we have to do what he says."

"Mom, I don't like Dad," Nicky admitted.

She replied. "I don't always like him either, but he brought us with him from Cuba and gave us the chance to become Americans. Someday, Nicky, you can live on your own and have a happier life."

Nicky mulled this over to himself. It was true, he thought. I'll escape living with my father when I grow up; but what about you, mother? Where's your escape?

"I love you, Nicky," she kissed him on the forehead.

"I love you too," he returned a hug.

She bid him good night. Nicky changed into his pajamas and went to bed. He slept until late in the morning. During his trip to the bathroom across the hall, he saw a yellow convertible through the window pulling into the driveway. Marshall Simpson. Nicky had to see what Butch and Eugene's uncle intended. He sneaked down the stairs to eavesdrop. Hiding around a corner, he listened to his father answer Marshall's insistent pounding on the door.

"Who are you?"

"Butch's uncle. My nephew didn't like you pushing him around, and I don't like it either."

Nicky dared to peek around the corner. He saw Marshall holding his father by the front of the shirt.

"Let go of me," Mark demanded. "I'll call the police."

"Please do," Marshall gritted his teeth. "They'd be interested to know how you treat your family."

"What I do with my family is my business."

"And my family is mine," said Marshall, pressing Mark against a wall. "Unless you enjoy the sight of your own blood, I suggest not laying another hand on Butch or Eugene." He released Mark and took an imposing stance in the doorway.

"You tell them to keep away from my son," Mark shouted. "And stay away from my house."

Marshall turned his back to leave. Fearing retribution, Nicky rushed to his room. He huddled on his bed for over ten minutes before his fear subsided. Then he considered how he was going to spend the time confined to his room. A whole month was the longest he had ever been grounded. Thank heavens he could go to school. Getting grounded in summertime was the worst. Still, he had to think of something to alleviate boredom.

He eyed the trash can. Wouldn't it be great if I beat Mr. Much? He fantasized. I'd be famous through the whole school. He visualized the principal presenting him a trophy for the wastepaper basketball championship of the world.

He practiced all types of shots; short ones and long ones. Bank shots included. Off the wall. Off the ceiling. Even bounced off the floor. He attempted shots behind his back, shots between his legs, and shots backward over his head. He shot standing, sitting on his bed, and lying on the floor. He even remembered to try each shot with his other hand, and sometimes closed his eyes.

A knock interrupted him as he aimed for a simple shot, and his mother entered the room. "Good morning, Nicky," she said pleasantly. Her forehead furrowed in puzzlement as she looked the piles of paper wads around the wastebacket.

"I'm shooting baskets," Nicky explained. He threw the piece of crumpled paper in his hand the six feet into the trash can.

"Oh, that's what I heard you doing," the expression on her face disappeared. "We're going to be eating lunch soon. I'd stay for a little bit, except I have to get back to the kitchen to help Emily."

After she left, Nicky scooped up the paper wads around the wastebasket and tossed them all over the room for another round of practice. As he picked up the first wad to shoot, he paused for a thought. Mr. Much can make all these shots, he told himself. Can he kick them?

Twenty minutes later, he was called down to lunch. His father already sat at his end of the table, looking into a newspaper. Nicky took his place at the other end and stared into his empty soup bowl.

He looked up when his sister arrived from the kitchen with a pot of homemade chicken and rice soup. Their gazes caught each other for a few seconds before Emily turned away to serve their father. Then she ladled soup into Nicky's bowl.

Mark folded his paper and set it aside. "I need some crackers," he demanded.

"Here they are, Mark," Linda hurried in with a plate of saltines and set them next to her husband.

"We're having hamburgers for supper, aren't we?"

"Yes, Mark."

He started to eat. She sat in her seat as Emily filled her bowl with soup.

"Thank you, Emily," she said.

Emily put the soup pot on the stove and brought a plate of finger sandwiches. She spent the rest of the meal in the kitchen. Nicky ate his soup slowly, hoping his father would finish first and leave for the living room so he could talk to his sister. He looked in her direction a number of times, but her back was turned as she busied herself at the bread board chopping carrots.

Mark finished his soup and ate several sandwiches. Then he broke the silence by calling Emily for more soup. She came with the pot and emptied it into her father's bowl. Linda, having eaten her fill, accompanied her daughter back to the kitchen.

Nicky finished eating and waited. He wanted to talk to Emily. His father paused from spooning soup into his mouth.

"Are you done?"

Nicky eyed the remaining sandwiches and, seeing only liverwurst ones left, nodded.

"Then get back to your room."

With a sigh, Nicky shuffled to his bedroom. Tired of shooting practice, he decided to study history. He read the last chapter of the book about Delaware and laid back on his bed to think about what to say in Mr. Fulcroft's Continental Congress. He didn't like the idea of getting up to talk in front of his entire class. Maybe Billy Hosin will do the talking, he hoped.

His thoughts were suspended by Emily's arrival in his room. He pulled himself up in bed so his sister could sit on the far end.

"I'm glad you're here," Nicky opened the conversation.

"I came as soon as I could," said Emily. "I wanted to talk to you last night, but you weren't home and Dad was angry so I went to sleep. Where were you?"

"Butch took me to the races."

Emily crossed her legs. "How was that?"

"Very interesting," answered Nicky. "Butch knows the drivers. He took me into the pits and showed me around. How was your date?"

"It wasn't a date," Emily blushed.

"You went with a boy."

"Nicky, his parents went with us."

"I bet you wish they didn't," Nicky teased.

"Not at all," said Emily. "We all had a good time. Harvey has a wonderful relationship with his parents. Besides, Dad wouldn't have let me go without Mr. and Mrs. Sumner."

"Butch and Eugene have a good dad too," Nicky mused.

"Nicky! Nicky!" Emily bounced up and down on the bed. "They're coming over tomorrow."

"Butch and Eugene?" Nicky was confused.

"No. Harvey and his parents."

"Really?" Now Nicky was surprised.

"Dad invited them to Sunday dinner after he found out Mr. Sumner works for one of those large computer companies."

"It will be fun to have company," said Nicky. He looked forward to getting to know Harvey Sumner.

Emily visited Nicky for most of the afternoon. They practiced Spanish and played games. Nicky wanted to play poker, except they couldn't find a deck of cards. He tried to teach her craps, but couldn't remember some of the rules. They finally played Monopoly, since the game hadn't been returned to Robert's room after Eugene's visit.

Eventually Emily returned downstairs to make supper, leaving Nicky alone in his room again. The rest of the day went slowly for him. He tried to work on his butterfly collection but couldn't stay interested in it. He didn't feel like shooting more baskets or doing his algebra problems. He would've liked reading his book about the Berlin Wall, but he had left it at school because he had so many other books to carry. He ended up gazing out the window at leaves as they dropped from trees and fluttered in the breeze on their way to the ground. Nicky longed to take a walk in the gorgeous sunshine

At five he was able to go down for a supper of hamburgers; then back to his room he went. He worked up enough motivation to do his algebra, which kept him busy for a couple of hours. Then his mother stopped by, apologizing that she hadn't been up all day.

"I had to get the house ready for the Sumners tomorrow," she explained.

She stayed for forty minutes, talking in Spanish for about half the time. Afterward Nicky wished Emily would come again, knowing she wouldn't because his mother told him she was busy baking things for the guests. Bored, he went to bed an hour early.

* * * * *

Usually Nicky didn't care for going to church, but this Sunday he considered it to be at least something to do. He sat in mass with his mother in between him and his sister.

The church had a modest pipe organ. Nicky liked to hear it played loud, with throbbing low notes, as was generally done during hymns. During the liturgy, while the organ played solo notes, he studied for an an uncounted time the stained glass windows depicting scenes from the crucifixion of Christ. His mother had explained to him once that the fourteen scenes were known collectively as the Stations of the Cross.

He listened intently to the homily. The priest talked about everyone depending on God and needing to trust Him to provide their needs. Nicky didn't like depending on God. That meant he had to do whatever God told him to do. He had enough of being told what to do. The part about getting all his needs was good at least. He reckoned he had everything he needed, even friends. Yet, he didn't think God provided everyone's needs. He wondered. What about all the starving children? I better stop thinking like this, he warned himself, or God's going to punish me.

Nicky and his mother walked home from church. Emily skipped, obviously excited about the afternoon's company. Nicky wished he could feel happier for her, but he was too downcast. He felt trapped in his situation and had no way of getting out.

His father allowed him to help with the preparations for the guests. He set up more chairs around the table and put the dishes out while his mother and sister got the meal ready.

The Sumners arrived at one. Mark greeted them at the front door and ushered them into the dining room. Harvey sat on one side of the table and his parents on the other. Nicky and his father sat at their opposite ends. Linda and Emily brought the food in the various serving dishes. It looked like Thanksgving dinner; roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, cranberries, carrots, and the like.

"So you're Emily's brother," Harvey spoke to Nicky, shoving his eyeglasses up on his nose.

"One of them," Nicky replied.

"She has more than one?"

"Yeh, sure," Nicky was slightly puzzled. "We have a brother going to college."

"That's strange," said Harvey. "Emily's only told me about one brother. Nicky."

"That's me."

"She thinks you're a cool brother."

Nicky felt good inside and looked at his sister affectionately as she sat on the other side of Harvey. Everyone started passing dishes around the table. Nicky's mother continued making trips between the dining room and kitchen; at first to get coffee, milk, or water for anyone, and later to replentish food as it ran out.

"Linda, aren't you going to join us?" Mrs. Sumner asked.

"Oh, no," Mrs. Delgado waved her hand. "I have to make sure everyone's properly served." She scurried to the kitchen before Harvey's mother could protest.

While the two fathers talked about business, Nicky became more acquainted with the others. Mrs. Sumner asked him a number of questions he politely answered. What grade are you in school? Sophomore. What's your favorite subject? Spanish. What do you like to do? Collect butterflies. Do you like Minnesota? Pretty much, except it's going to get too cold.

"Would you like to join Emily doing something with us sometime?"

"I don't know," Nicky stammered. Of course he actually wanted to badly, but didn't want to be invited somewhere while being grounded.

"You think about it, dear," she patted him on the arm.

These people are too nice, Nicky thought. They make me feel weird.

After apple pie for desert, Nicky's father ordered him up to his room. Mr. Sumner gave Mark a strange look.

"He's grounded for leaving the house without permission," Mark explained. "You know how children have to be disciplined."

"I suppose," Sumner muttered, looking at his wife.

Nicky reluctantly ascended the stairs. He hated the prospect of sitting by himself in his room away from everyone else. Being grounded had never felt worse in his life. Fortunately, the next day promised a reprieve when his father would be gone on an overnight business trip.

He had barely set up his wastebasket for shooting practice when Emily and Harvey appeared. "I didn't expect you to come up here," he smiled.

"Harvey's mom is helping ours with the dishes," said Emily. "She told us to leave."

"Now I can talk with you more, Nicky," said Harvey. "My mother kind of took over the conversation at the table."

Nicky nodded in agreement. "Where are the other kids in the family today?" he asked.

"I'm an only child."

"Oh," Nicky paused. That possibility hadn't entered his mind.

"Let's play a game," Emily suggested.

"We have Monopoly," said Nicky, gestering toward the game on the dresser where he had left it the day before.

Emily shook her head. "No. We can play one of Harvey's games."


"I make up my own games," said Harvey. "Do you have a deck of cards? We can play basketball."

"We don't have any cards," said Emily.

"How do you play basketball with cards?" Nicky was intrigued. He could teach Butch and Eugene a game for a change.

"Each card has a meaning," said Harvey. "Name any card."

"Ace of diamonds."

"That's a basket and takes ten seconds off the clock."

"Wow!" exclaimed Nicky. "Can you teach me this game?"

"I have a chart written at home," said Harvey. "I'll give a copy of it to Emily to give to you."

"Gee, thanks. Do you play real basketball too?" Nicky figured he might because he was so tall.

"Nope. I keep stats for the school team though."

The door opened and Nicky saw his father standing in the hallway.

"Emily. Harvey. Please go downstairs." he requested.

He stood aside as they complied. Then he poked his head into the room.

"You're grounded. You can't have guests." He withdrew, slamming the door.

Nicky leaned against his bed so spellstruck that he couldn't even muster any hatred for his father. Then before any depressed feelings sunk into him, he had an idea. I can make up a game of my own.

He thought for several minutes, but no idea came to him and his mind wandered on to other things. What were Butch and Eugene doing now? Butch could be anywhere. All he had to do was get in his car. Nicky couldn't imagine having such freedom. He questioned himself. I wonder what it will be like being an adult? I'll be able to do whatever I want. Being an adult sounded great, except the thought also frightened him. He didn't know if he'd be able to take care of himself. What if I don't have enough money? He worried. He didn't even have much idea of what he wanted to do for a living. Maybe a zookeeper, the thought came to him. He liked animals. And I'm going to have pets when I live in my own place, he determined. A dog and at least two cats. Yes, he drifted into a nap. A dog and two cats.

Read Chapter 12.

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