Jimmy opened his mouth to speak, but stopped at the sound of Lefty’s soft but commanding voice. “How long you been working at my shop?”
Surprise flashed on Double-J’s face, was immediately replaced with a disinterested frown. “Dunno. Three, four years.”
Lefty’s five-three-year-old face stared down at the bare floor in front of his chair. “‘member why I let you start working there?”
Double-J laughed sarcastically. “‘cuz I knew more about cars than – ”
“Your daddy brung you.” Lefty’s voice cracked as his tone raised, his face continuing to look down. “Done tol’ me, Lefty, I got to find a way to keep this boy busy. He ain’t the type to be content sittin’ around watching TV or nothin’. He gets restless, then he goes out and gits himself in trouble. And I does what I can for him, but with me being in the service and his mother working in the city, we can’t watch him all the time.”
Rex stared at Lefty, saw tears on his cheeks. He suddenly realized the older man’s breath no longer smelled of onions, the odors of the dirt and grime of the shop didn’t emanate from him like they had before.
“Yo’ daddy, he asked me if I seen you work on engines, and I says yes, he pretty good. And he says he knew you was underage, but I tells ‘im I could keep you in the back, make sure nobody seen you, and if they did I’d pretend to run you off.
“And yo’ daddy thanked me, and he a good man and all but what I didn’t tell him then, still haven’t, is that I didn’t do it for him. I did it for you.” He raised his head, right index finger jabbing at Double-J, tears now dripping from his chin. “I’d known youse from a kid, know what kind of heart you had, knew that everything they was saying about you being a bad boy, a trouble-maker, they was all wrong about you. And anything I could do – to keep attention away from you –”
Lefty looked down at the floor, rubbed his eyes. Rex shifted in his chair, as Jimmy reached out and placed a hand gently on Lefty’s shoulder. Double-J sat silently. A car door closed on the street below, the sound echoing in the cold.
Lefty looked up again at Double-J. “All you needed was time.” Jimmy drew back his hand. “Time to figger things out for yerself, time away from all the people who thought they was helping you, trying to guide you. That’s why I gave you a job.
“Now I look at you, see what you doing,” Lefty’s voice cracking like ice in a tumbler. “Skipping school, talkin’ back to your coach. Now you got the three of us coming to visit you, try to talk some sense into you. And I knows what gonna happen – you gonna kick us out t’night, tell us to mind our own business, and we’ll leave, but some day soon more people are going to come visit you, and they won’t be like us, won’t be your friends, your – family. And what you’ll do is, you’ll also tell them to go away and mind their own business, but the difference is that for them, what you do is their business, and when you sends ’em away they’ll come back, and one of those times when they come back, they won’t leave until you leave with them.”
Lefty looked directly at Double-J, his eyes and face clear now, voice firm. “Thought I could help your daddy, help keep you out of trouble. But I done failed.”
A gust of wind whipped outside, rattling the windows of Double-J’s apartment. Double-J cleared his throat. “Lefty – this has nothing to do with you. You’ve been great, gave me a good job, so yeah, I guess I owe you for that. But I can’t return to school, go back to the fencing team, just on your account. If I go back, I’d be saying that Jacobs was right in what he did, and I can’t let him get away with that. Don’t worry, I’m not going to let any trouble come to you – if I have to stop working at the shop, I’ll do it. If I have to get a GED, I’ll do it. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure nobody sees you as failure – just so long as it doesn’t require me to accept failure myself.”
“All right, then.” Rex rose suddenly as he spoke, as if his chair were suddenly electrified. “Jimmy, Lefty – we’ve done what we can, it’s time to go.” He turned towards Double-J, who remained sitting, listening intently. “Double-J, just think about something. As abrasive as you can be, especially during practice, we all miss you – me, Annie, Rune and Butch, Kassie. Without you, we’re simply not as good, either as a team or individually, as we are when you’re around. You push us, force everyone to do better, and I’d like to think we’ve made you a better fencer as well.”
Double-J nodded slowly.
“I’m – disappointed you decided not to be on the fencing team any more. Don’t think it’s the best decision, either for yourself, certainly not for the team. I know you’ve got problems with Coach Dan, and Annie, but when haven’t you had problems with them, and when haven’t the three of you been able to work things out. I don’t know why this time it has to be different, but I can tell there’s no turning back for you now. It’s just – the only word for it is sad, I’m sad you’ve decided to turn your back on all of us, sad you don’t care about the fact that we had a great team – have a great team. Just not as great without you.”
Rex turned swiftly towards Jimmy and Lefty. “Let’s go, guys.”
“Hold on.” Double-J stood, the sofa cushion underneath him not fully straightening as his weight lifted. He pointed at Rex — “you got regionals, end of the month, right?”
[“Gray Metal Faces,” March 13G]