Caleb looked down at the stiff cardstock sitting in front of him at parent-teacher conferences. The dean for the freshmen student body tapped her fingers against the desk. Even with his difficulties reading the Ds and Cs stood out to him with perfect clarity. One A stood alone in the faltering grades. “Where is your uncle? Your aunt?” the snooty rat-faced woman asked as she leered at Caleb. The expression drove further frown lines into her face.
“Already said, they’re not coming. They don’t care…” Caleb hated the woman in front of him.
“That has been your excuse since middle school.” She flipped over reports from teachers. All with similar remarks.
“Not an excuse, it's an explanation...tacones.” A pencil snapped, its splinters showering onto the floor.
“You insufferable little…” Caleb without hesitation grabbed his report card and walked out. “WAIT...CALEB! GET BACK HERE.” the woman howled and screeched as Caleb bolted from the administrative meeting room. Students and even parents laughed as the dean attempted to chase after him, though quickly giving up once the boy disappeared into the hall.
Caleb found his spot over by the library, spotting a familiar form standing there. “How’d it go?” asked the young man who stood about a head taller than Caleb.
“Poorly, as always, that bitch is has been following us since middle school.” Caleb took one last look at his report card before stuffing it into his bag.
“No shit, her preppy clone is in our class, you forgot the part?”
“No, I didn’t. I can barely stand her in English. I think Mrs. Taylor can barely stand her as well.”
“How did you end up in the Honors class?”
“Same as you, sherlock. Worked my ass off all summer,” Caleb sat down on the cold concrete floor, “I just don’t know what sucks more, dealing with idiots or dealing with idiots that think they’re smart.”
“You’re sayin’ I’m not smart?”
“Exactly,” The young man punched Caleb playfully on the arm as they sat down enjoying the cooler afternoon. Summer was coming to a close and Fall was slowly creeping into Arizona.
The early afternoon soon faded into the early evening. Conversations long since forgotten are shared between close friends. Hopes, dreams. desires, dislike, interests, and the thoughts of the future linger in the minds of hopeful young men.
The dreams and conversations are cut short by a blaring alarm. Caleb’s eyes open slowly as he mindlessly taps at his phone in an attempt to stop the alarm. As he rises and begins his everyday routine, he finds himself recalling yesterday’s events. “Oh, that’s right.” After brushing his teeth, Caleb returns to bed to sleep for an extra two hours, still managing to rouse himself before his grandfather.
Arlan rose just before noon to the familiar sound of strikes being made against a punching bag as well as the chains rattling. With coffee in hand and fuzzy slippers on, he watched curiously from the kitchen as Caleb worked the heavy bag.
“1...2…” Caleb breathed out as his fists made contact with the bag. His strikes were quick but light, even with all the training he had, his build was far too lean to really allow himself to generate the power with just his jabs, though his crosses were a little more resounding. Caleb continued to work his boxing combos against the bag until he felt confident enough to try some of the kicks he had been practicing.
His round kicks to the base of the bag stung his shin. After a few meager kicks, Caleb had to switch leads, putting his worn-out left leg forward and trying to deliver kicks with his right. Again, the pain and tenderness of his shin caused him to stop only after a few kicks. The pain hindered his power and delivery, but the bag still shook on the chains it hung on. Caleb stepped back from the bag and rubbed his tender shins. “Shit,” he cursed before standing straight once more.
Caleb focused on trying to incorporate kicks more fluidly into his boxing combinations but the round kick was still a difficult prospect for him, though he excelled in implementing a front jab kick. Like a spear Caleb shot it forward, forcing the bag to buckle and swing. Precision was still off at times. Just as before with the belly pad, Caleb found that if he didn’t find his mark, he would go off to the side and cause the bag to spin. “Fuck, how do they make this look so easy?” he cursed at himself as he looked down at his phone, replaying the instructional videos he found on some of the more basic kicks used in kickboxing as well as Muay Thai.
Arlan continued watching his grandson curiously. He had never been the type for all the kicking nonsense a lot of other martial artists implemented but despite Caleb’s inexperience, he could tell that there was potential. “Harder than it looks,” he said to himself as he watched Caleb hunched over his phone. While he couldn’t hear him, the look of frustration was evident on the young man’s face.
The young man continued practicing for another hour or so, with some progress made on his form and footing. While unlikely to give himself credit, his ability to mimic and learn new skills from videos was impressive at the very least. He took things slow, learning to balance on the balls of his feet and trying to shift his weight over to one foot. It was all a conscious effort on Caleb’s part. Sweat dripped from his face as he tried a couple of kicks he
Caleb returned inside to find his grandfather reading something on his phone. “Hey, grandpa what’s up?” he asked as he wiped the sweat from his brow with his towel.
“Not much, lad. Trying to get a hang of using this thing for work but I’ve gotten the basic idea of it,” He held up his calloused and beaten hands, “It's just these aren’t the same as they were back in the day. I can barely trust myself with a cup of coffee anymore.” Arlan scrolled through student emails, answering those he felt were urgent.
“Gotcha, I’ll leave you to it then,” Caleb made his way towards the stairs leading up to his room before Arlan spoke up.
“Good work today, Caleb. Keep it up.”
Caleb paused for a moment, smiling to himself. “Thanks, grandpa...I appreciate it.” With that, Caleb ascended the stairs and washed up, allowing warm water to soak and ease his aching legs. “What I would give for a tub,” he said to himself as he stood under the shower. The muscles in his legs spasmed as if telling him, “Come on, let’s go lie down.”
After his well-earned shower, Caleb returned to his room, and before he realized it, he had fallen asleep. Once more he drifted off to the world of dreams, memories, and nightmares.
Faded memories were on the docket for Caleb’s headspace as he allowed his body to recover from his training. He recalled when his grandfather first began to teach Caleb how to box. The giant of a man leaning over him with striking mitts encouraging the boy to fight.
Fear and self-consciousness is all that coursed through Caleb’s head even as his grandfather spoke to him gently. The laughter and jeers from his peers regarding his attempts at sports drove Caleb to remain sedentary during recess or PE, even when teachers tried ordering him to participate. Detention during P.E. was more of a blessing than a curse for the young man.
But now, here was his grandfather encouraging him to try. Arlan clapped the pads together as he kneeled in front of Caleb. “Come on just try.”
With enough prodding and gentle words, he tried, and he failed. Caleb failed and succeeded over and over with his grandfather as his guide during the summers. Weak strikes cracked knuckles, and a sprained wrist faded with time. While albeit growing only somewhat stronger, it was speed and reach that Caleb developed to make up for his lack of mass and strength. He reached that point through trial and error, through tears and sweats, and most importantly through tenacity.
“Keep up the practice. Keep going. You’re looking good,” Those words of encouragement were gold nuggets to Caleb. His efforts at school may have gone unnoticed both at school and at home, but for him, all that mattered was hearing his grandfather’s praises and his advice for whenever he faltered and failed. At times, even while Arlan was halfway across the world, Caleb could almost hear him say “Now what did we learn?” or “Good job, lad,” whenever he failed or succeeded respectfully.
It had been going well, especially when he had someone else he could rely on and share in his interests with.
But Cain was gone. Once more Caleb was left with just his grandfather, who tried his best to encourage him. Arlan had been the only reason that Caleb hadn’t retreated into his shell. That month spent hiding away in his cabin, soaked in his grief. Arlan didn’t know what to say to him. Grief was a terrible thing but he couldn’t just force Caleb to heal.
Vivid dreams were both a gift and a curse for Caleb. His recollections of his parents and Cain were crystal clear even if the memories he found himself were fragmented and broken, some even being small scenes playing out in the void of his mind.
As Caleb rested upstairs, Arlan lost in his own world of through. He knew now more than ever, that his grandson needed him at least right now. Even in just a week since Dunn had left, Arlan could see how much his support affected his grandson’s attitude.
His only concern is the ancestral home. Arlan looked out the window, hoping everything would be alright, at least for another week. Perhaps he could find someone he could trust to manage the estate until Caleb graduated.
“Who can I trust though?” Arlan asked himself as he looked down at the empty cup of coffee sitting in front of him.