Carlos — Finding It: Chapter 2

The following is a chapter from a novel in progress titled Finding It. Please let me know in your comments if you would like me to post further installments.

We’d known each other for all my life. As host, I had little choice but to deal with the spontaneous visits. Initially, I wasn’t sure, though he claimed there always is a choice. All I remembered was around age three or four, about the same time I became aware of the world enough to still have solid memories that lingered even now, Carlos was already a part of my life. But unlike an expected imaginary friend of youth, as I grew older he didn’t go away because, as it turned out, he wasn’t imaginary after all.

For the most part, we got along. But as I matured and gained more independence, we didn’t always see eye-to-eye. Sometimes I tried to ignore his presence. Mostly, I wished he’d go away and leave me alone.

“It wasn’t funny,” I said.

“Hey, I got you a pretty lady’s number out of the deal.”

“Dawn’s too old for me.”

“What? She’s twenty — twenty-two tops. You said it yourself.”

“And I’m seventeen.”

“And your Mom is four years younger than your Dad.”

“That’s different.”

“How is it different?” Carlos asked.

“When the guy is older, it’s different.”

“Different in the same way Bart teased you about that Debbie girl? She was only three years younger than you.”

“That was different, too.”

“All these differences! You’d give me a headache if we didn’t share them already.”

Having ejected the cassette tape that was in my car’s player, I leaned and reached for the cassette tape storage case that rested on the passenger side floorboard, popping the lid open and straining to get the empty cassette case to which the tape in my hand belonged. Failing, I closed my eyes briefly and concentrated. The empty case popped up and flew toward my outstretched hand.

“I see how it is,” Carlos said. “You only want the magic whenever it’s convenient.”

“Is there something wrong with that?”

“You can’t have it both ways, my man. Magic doesn’t appreciate being contained.”

“It isn’t like I have a choice. According to you, it will happen whether I want it or not.”

“You could make your life considerably easier.”

“And that’s what I am doing.” Having stored the tape in its case I sent it on its way, floating back to the open carrying case, and depositing itself gently into the empty slot. At the same time, another tape launched toward me. Snatching it, I removed it from its case and inserted it into my player. Then, I dispatched the empty case to return to where it belonged.

“You do that well for someone who has limited practice and expresses no interest whatsoever in expanding your range.”

Ignoring Carlos for the time being, and because his presence dominated my rearview, I turned to look out the back window as I backed up and turned out of the parking space. Then, shifting to first gear, I headed out of the parking lot, hoping I could still beat the rush. When I stopped at the exit, I was third in line to leave.

“How did you do that, by the way?”

“Do what?”

“That thing with the magic show.”

“I thought you weren’t interested.”

“I said it wasn’t funny.”

“Well, I didn’t do anything, Brent. You forget that I can only do whatever you permit, at least while you’re awake. So, that was all you, baby.”

“All me?” I pulled out onto Selma Road, headed for Springfield and my physical therapist’s office.

“The wolfcat inside? Remember? Undefined magic. That whole thing you got pent up inside of you that’s trying to emerge?”

“But I’m not wearing that amulet thing.”

“Doesn’t matter — not much anyway. That only amplifies what comes naturally, like I told you. It does a couple of other things, like helping to control transformations, but for now, all you need to know is it makes what you have stronger. You already have all the magic you’ll ever need pent up inside of you. It’s trying hard to express itself. It just wants to say hello, so to speak.”

“Great, so now that’s going to be a thing, worrying about my magic trying to be friendly at random times.”

“It would be better if you’d just embrace it. You’ll need to learn control. Everyone does, eventually, but the longer you suppress it, the more likely it is to erupt, like in a time of weakness, like during a full moon. You don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night again with an urge to howl, do you?”

“You said everyone. Are there’s a lot of people like me?”

“That you haven’t realized it doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people with varying degrees of magic inside of them.”

I made a turn and then another turn a few hundred yards down onto the road that would take me toward the hospital, which was close to where my appointment was scheduled.

“So, are you going to call her?”

“Who?”

“The pretty magician’s assistant.”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“She likes you, otherwise she’d have never given you her info.”

“I’m seeing somebody already. Carlos.”

“Renee? Does she really count? I’m not sure going out with someone three times over the summer, mainly to play tennis, and twice since school started qualifies as a serious relationship.”

“It’s more of a relationship than I’ve ever had. Besides, we had dates for my Homecoming and hers.”

“That was the two I counted since school started.”

“At least she’s my age.”

“More or less,” Carlos said.

“Besides, I thought you liked her.”

“She’s cute. Exactly your type, except for no magic.”

“Is that a litmus test?”

“It should be.”

“Why? If I find someone else who has this wolfcat stuff inside what do we do, lob fireballs at one another?”

“As entertaining as that might be, fireballs aren’t a big thing with wolfcats — you know, the fur and all.”

“No, I wouldn’t know.”

“Well, you would know if you would just embrace your nature.”

“I don’t want to be a wolfcat.”

“We’ve been over this. Ultimately, it’s not an option. Suppressing it leads to wilder outbursts — take today for example. That was only self-preservation. The wolf in you is naturally claustrophobic.”

“Don’t wolves live in caves or something?”

“There’s a difference between a cave and a narrow glass tower.”

“I really made the lights go out?”

“And you popped outside, taking the girl with you. That’s how I know you were attracted to her. Or at least the wolfcat in you was.”

“You think she’s a wolfcat?”

“What do you think? You saw her eyes.”

“They were something else.”

“That part is your gifts. You can sense wolfcats…other magical beings too, but for now, we’re only talking about wolfcats. She might be suppressing her attributes or cloaking them. Or she may be aware of them and not fully cognizant of how they can be controlled. My bet is she knew you were the one who did what you did.”

“I don’t know.”

“When you get in touch with her, you can ask.”

“So, what other magical beings are there, other than the witches you already warned me about.”

“Well, faeries for one. There are a whole variety of beings from the hidden realms. You’ll know because eventually, you’ll have to just accept the changes in you. It’s like reaching puberty, but not as potentially embarrassing — provided you embrace the changes, that is.”

“I’ll think about it.” I pulled into an empty parking space as close as possible to the physical therapist’s office, switched off my engine, and stepped outside. “I really hope the knee brace can go away for good.”

“You’ll still have to wear it for wrestling,” Carlos said. “That’s what the doctor told you. And unless you’re willing to embrace your nature, that won’t change.”

“But he said I’m making progress faster than he expected.”

Because wolfcats heal fast. But it could happen much faster if you’d let it.”

“So, you’re saying my knee will heal completely?”

“Probably. You might need another wolfcat’s help since you’re still a nube.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that a long time ago?”

“You’re stubborn and you never asked.”

So, you think Dawn can help me heal faster?”

“Makes a good excuse to call her.”

* * *

Glenn, my therapist, greeted me as I entered. “You’re on time today. What’s the occasion?”

“We got lucky. We had an assembly, so I got to leave on time.”

“Cool. Well, dress out and we’ll get to work on that knee.”

“Glenn’s in a good mood.”

“Last patient of the day. And it’s Friday.”

“Must have a hot date.”

“He’s married.”

“He could have a hot date with his wife.”

“I guess.” I cleared my throat. “Are you going to hang out and give me your commentary all night?”

“Not if you want me to leave.”

“It’s not like you ever actually leave.”

“It’s not like 95% of your existence isn’t boring,” Carlos said sarcastically.

“I’ll work on that just for you.”

“Don’t bother pleasing me. If you’ll please yourself — and I mean really please yourself — it will all be fun to watch.”

Once dressed in gym shorts and a tank top, I trotted out to the equipment room where Glenn was waiting.

“I’d love nothing better than to lose this damned brace.”

“That’s what got you into trouble before,” he said.

“I played tennis without it.”

“Yeah, and the joint was still not strong enough.”

“But I saw the x-rays. The fracture — or whatever — was healed.”

“You had a tibial plateau fracture. It could have been a lot worse. You hyperextended your knee. Besides the stress on your ligaments and tendons from the injury and the period of atrophy, while your knee was immobilized while the bone healed, you were not ready to participate in sports without a knee brace. The instability of the joint nearly caused a dislocation the second time around.”

“Well, it feels fine to me.”

“It felt fine then, too, didn’t it?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Just keep the brace on, except for what we do here and your exercises for the joint at home. When your doctor says it’s time, you can lose the brace. But not before.”

“Is that close to happening? I’m beginning to think he wants to milk this situation.”

Glenn laughed. “Doctor Clements is always busy. I can’t say he wouldn’t miss you. After all this time, it would be a personal thing more so than a professional thing. Same with me. But someone else would fill your slot in the schedule.”

“I just think the brace is going to get in the way when I start wrestling.”

“You wrestle a heavyweight who’s close to a hundred pounds heavier than you and try lifting with that knee as your foundation, it will pop out on you lickety-split. That is always going to be your weakness. I’d recommend you always wear the brace whenever you’re engaged in sports.”

“There’s no other way?”

“They’re doing some amazing things with surgery, but it’s expensive. Professional athletes — that sort of thing. But it might be possible to get it back to where it’s close to normal.”

“I may surprise you. The doctor said my progress was off the charts.”

Glenn monitored my extensions and offered progressive resistance to the joint. “You’re getting stronger. I can tell that. But it’s the lateral motion that’s still your problem. You don’t want to tear your ACL. That’s what I’m worried about.”

“I’m telling you. It’s as good as new.”

Glenn shrugged. “That’s not my call, man. I can only give my report. Before anything changes, the doctor is going to want to see you again, take more x-rays and all that. But be prepared. I don’t foresee him telling you to stop wearing a brace, especially after what happened when you decided to do that on your own. No matter how much you strengthen all the support structure around the joint, it is always going to give you some trouble whenever you put maximum stress on it.”

After completing the leg curls, we started side to side resistance, the last part of the session. Glenn continued chatting throughout, asking me about my plans for the weekend.

“Just the football game tonight and the JV game in the morning. At least they’re both home games this week.”

“So, this statistician thing you’re doing. You get to sit up in the press box?”

“No, it’s on the sideline. I sit on the bench. Pretty much in the same spot as when I was playing.”

“Sad but true,” Carlos added his two cents, which I ignored.

“By now most of the guys who are going to earn their Varsity letter, the starters and the regular substitutes, the special teams and such, they’re already set. There are only a half dozen guys I really need to keep track of. They have a shot of making it.”

“What if they don’t? I mean — let’s say they come up short by one appearance.”

“According to the standards, they don’t get a varsity letter.”

“That’s kind of cold.”

“Well, I think the coach might sign off on allowing them to get a letter, all the same. I mean — he could reward effort and say I might have missed counting an appearance or whatever.”

“Have you missed recording anything?”

I shook my head. “The way these guys keep track of it on their own, especially the ones who are close to making it, they know. They make sure I see them whenever the coach tells them to get in the game.”

Glenn smiled. “Yeah, I remember those days,” he said. “High school’s tough, not the part about hitting the books and all that. That either comes easy for you or it doesn’t. But being in a sport, being part of a team is a big deal, especially a high-profile sport like football.”

“What position did you play?”

“Tight end.”

“I can see that, you’re tall enough.”

“I’ve packed on a few pounds since that.” He patted his belly for emphasis. “I wasn’t a starter until senior year. Kind of a late bloomer. But I lettered when I was a junior — just barely. I really thought everything would change when I got that letter and started wearing a jacket.”

“It’s a status thing.”

“Yeah, it’s all about appearances. And maybe you get a couple of dates because of the novelty. But by the time I earned mine I had already met Jan, who became my wife. She didn’t even attend my school. And since we hung out at her school’s hangout spots in town, I didn’t wear my jacket — I didn’t want to start a turf war. You know?”

I laughed.

“It’s a big thing getting a varsity letter, I’m not discounting it,” Glenn said. “But it isn’t as big as you imagine it will be when you’re on the outside looking in.” Glenn glanced at his watch.

“Yeah, I’m understanding a lot of that. The guys on the team consider my letter a gimme since I was injured in a varsity game but didn’t have enough appearances to earn a letter otherwise. Some of the guys discount it. You know?”

“High school is a shit show all the way around,” he said.

“Yeah. I’m glad it’s almost over. Anyway, am I all set?”

“It’s a little early. But you’ve completed everything for the day.”

“Let’s call it a day then.”

He cupped a hand around one of his ears, “I hear the beer calling me already.”

“I wouldn’t know about that.” I slipped off the bench and down onto the floor.

“Officially anyway.” Glenn winked as he patted my back.

“See you on Monday,” I said.

“When’s your next appointment with The Doc?”

“Tuesday. So, I won’t be here.”

Glenn nodded. “Good luck with that.”

“Thanks.” I trotted toward the dressing room.

“I’m going to head out, Brent,” Glenn called after me. “Gloria will let you out.”

“Have a great weekend!” I pivoted and walked backward.

“You too, my friend.”

* * *

By the time I reached the fieldhouse, Bart had already staged the carts filled with all the necessities we took out to the field with us for home games.

“I’ll start on these,” I told him.

“Great. I’ll go with you.” He grabbed a cart and followed me to the door. I opened it and held it while Bart pushed my cart out to me, then continued holding the door for him to pass through to the outside.

“Did I miss anything?”

“You always ask that. And the answer is always the same.”

“It could be different… some time.”

“Yeah, well, don’t hold your breath. The only time anyone notices what we do is if we screw something up.”

“That’s kinda cynical.”

“No, it’s the way it is, Brent.”

“Then we put on our tights and capes and rescue everyone just like every good superhero.”

Bart shook his head but also chuckled. “My legs look too skinny in tights.”

“Yeah, well the cape gets hung up in the door when it closes on it — safety hazard.”

“That green sparkly thing you were wearing earlier was nice.”

“You mean Dawn’s cape?”

“Yeah, so was she as hot up close? I didn’t get a chance to see her much while we were hauling all that stuff.”

“Was that why you volunteered us?”

“Of course.”

I laughed. “She’s the real deal. She wasn’t wearing all that much makeup.”

“Unlike that girl a couple of years back — what was her name? The one you always called ‘supermodel’.”

“Beverly Jenks.” I parked my cart at the end of the bench, where it belonged for the game.

“That’s her.” Bart deposited his cart at the opposite end and waited for me to join him to walk back to the fieldhouse.

“She did wear a lot of makeup. I remember you said that if she wanted to lose a few pounds all she needed to do was take it off.”

“Naw.” Bart shook his head. “I saw her a couple of times without it after she graduated. She was still pretty. Just she didn’t look as much like a cheap hooker.”

“I think girls get carried away with the whole makeup thing. Maybe they’re confused between what other girls tell ’em and what guys tell ’em. I don’t know. It’s kinda like how they think someone else is hot, but they’re not.”

“All about opinions.” Bart laughed. “Is Renée giving you insights into that?”

“Hell, I barely get to talk to her let alone see her. As bad as my schedule is, hers is worse. Anyway, it isn’t like we’re going steady or anything.”

“I know, I know, you’re just friends. I get it.”

“Well, it’s true.”

Bart held the door open for me as I entered the fieldhouse, then I held it for him to join me. “What you need, old man, is to find a girl who looks like Renée but isn’t busy all the time.” He patted my back before entering the storage room, which he referred to as his office.

“I’m not sure anyone like that exists.”

“Anything is possible where magic is concerned,” Carlos chimed in.

I ignored him. I had stuff to do, and we only had an hour to finish it.

One of my home game responsibilities was hauling out the school’s victory bell to the sideline where the head cheerleader would ring it during a game for each point scored. Beneath a coat of black paint was a surface of highly oxidized cast iron that each summer we treated, removing the old paint, and cleaning it up ready to spray the annual fresh coat.

The bell was stored in the concession stand until around an hour before the game. Mr. Hackman, the school’s Athletic Director, unlocked the concession stand and staged the bell outside so that I could roll it across the cinder track and out to the sideline. Then I’d return to snag the extension pole that I used to turn on the field lights. By the last weekend in October, the lights were necessary to be able to see anything on the field prior to the start of the game.

Of course, at the conclusion of the game, I had to undo everything — returning the victory bell to the back of the concession stand and turning off the field lights. Because that part of my job depended on Mr. Hackman, we knew each other’s routines and had, over the course of the season, made necessary adjustments. For example, before, during, and after the game, I knew he was up in the press box at the top of the home side grandstand. He unlocked the concession stand door on his way there and locked it back after he came back down.

Generally, Friday was my busiest day anyway, but because of football season, everything was worse. The weekly school newspaper went on sale at the first break time in the morning. Of course, getting the paper ready each week meant that every other day was busy for both my co-editor, Fredrica “Fred” Payton, and me. Still, Fridays were especially so. Each of us took shifts along with columnists from the paper, tending to the table where students, faculty, and staff could purchase the newspaper. Whenever the break time was over, the cash box we used for making change was turned in at the office for safekeeping until the following break time.

A portion of my lunch hour I spent with Mrs. Hines, Mrs. Hinder, and Fred for planning the following week’s paper and setting the assignments for the reporters — the underclassmen on the staff who wrote articles. Columnists — the upperclassmen on the staff — were responsible for choosing their own topics. Fred and I provided a pre-approved list, though they were free to choose something of their own provided they cleared the subject matter with the faculty advisors prior to submission.

Otherwise, there were my classes and, after school for the past year or so, ever since my injury in a varsity game during my junior year, I usually had a physical therapy appointment, which was scheduled almost daily.

Having completed my assigned tasks, I went back to the fieldhouse to fetch my notebook from Bart’s “office” and ask him if he needed me for anything else, since technically in the pecking order, whenever a game wasn’t in progress and I wasn’t keeping track of player appearances in a given quarter, I was one of Bart’s assistants.

“I think we’re all set,” Bart said, taking a quick look around and then picking up his clipboard where he kept a checklist to ensure that he didn’t forget anything. “Yep, you’re good to go.”

I returned to the field and sat on the bench in exactly the place I always sat, respecting that the players who dressed for the game but rarely played, many of them underclassmen who might be starters on the JV team, had their favorite spots on the bench as well — just as I had when I was a sophomore.

“Crazy day,” Carlos chimed in.

“You could say that.”

“Just did. Look, from before. I wasn’t trying to tell you what to do, just offering my advice.”

“It amounts to the same thing. Anyway, your advice is always the same, Carlos.”

“The truth never changes.”

“I keep hearing that. But all I need to get out of this rut.”

“Which rut are we talking about? There are so many.”

“You heard them earlier. Brent Who? I’m a joke, Carlos. I try hard. And I fail. I used to be bullied until I stood up to Jeff Thompson and broke his nose.”

“That was good. One quick punch and his nose sprayed blood like a broken hydraulic hose.”

“Interesting analogy.”

“Yeah, I remember when that line broke on your dad’s tractor.”

“That was a long time ago. Do you remember everything?”

“Don’t you?”

I shrugged. “You know, after that fight with Jeff, I thought the taunting would end, but it didn’t. There’s always someone else with something to prove. Just nobody wanted to fight me anymore, but they still laugh at me and make my life miserable.”

“You haven’t failed, Brent. Far from it. You’re a good student. You’ve been accepted at a college already, and not just any college, but Wittenberg.”

“Because my sister’s a Senior there. That makes me a legacy, sort of.”

“I don’t know about that. You have the grades and the scores on the entrance exam.”

“Because they use the ACT instead of the SAT.”

“I told you to retake that stupid, convoluted test.”

Yes, he did. A lot of other people did as well. “I didn’t feel like wasting money and a whole other Saturday morning. Maybe my SATs were low because I was hungover. Maybe it wouldn’t have improved my score much to do it over. But does it really matter in the long run? Maybe college isn’t for me. I want to play music.”

“You want to be famous.”

“I don’t think that’s important, just as long as I can create something other people like. You know?”

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