Danny began hearing a new nickname, "Wish." Was it because he kept telling everyone he wished someone would adopt him? After all, he was eight now and getting kind of old to be someone's foster son.
The Children's Aid worker said they were trying hard to find an adopting home. They didn't tell him that after the six-month adoption probation period, foster parents often changed their minds.
One particular home seemed to be the one, and a special incident was firmly embedded in his memory…
"We're going on this hike Wish! So shake it." When Todd, his new foster dad spoke, you'd better listen. That was almost an hour ago. Now his feet were tripping over each other, and his toes were sore. That's what happens when you have two left feet.
"He's only a kid dear. Give him a break," his foster mother said before they left.
"Marilyn, he's got to grow up. It's part of being a man. Come on Wish."
And so Danny went. His backpack came along for the ride. Todd said it was their last chance for a hike together before hunting season began in a few days.
Marilyn helped Danny get on his lined boots and denim jeans. When he became upset he couldn't seem to do a thing right.
Danny wished he could be just like Todd. The brush cut made the man look really tough. That's what Wish wanted, to be real tough.
"Todd! Wait up!" Danny knew Todd would feel good if he was called, "Dad," instead. But Danny had decided in his heart never to call anyone "Dad" anymore until someone decided to adopt him, forever.
"What's up, Wish? Only a little ways more before we take a rest. Come on, look how beautiful it is out here."
"Well, what is it?"
Are you mad at me? he almost asked. He stared at the ground, noticing his new boots were all muddy. And his pants were wet from stomping through puddles on the old road.
"No. It's just..."
"Do you think I'm too tough on you, Wish?"
Danny hoped Todd couldn't read his thoughts. "No. Well, yes."
"What is it?" Broad shoulders stared back at him. As if a ten foot Sasquatch stood there. Danny looked at a large maple and tried to forget his squishy socks. Should he say anything about his feet freezing?
Todd walked ahead too quickly. "Try and catch up if you can," he shouted back. Then like magic he disappeared up the trail.
Danny stood alone with his thoughts. Fists clenched and unclenched. Darn. Darn. Too angry to even yell, Danny leaned against a tree.
He felt like a fallen hazelnut. Maybe a squirrel will find him and adopt him. Then Danny heard the forest whisper, "The boogeyman will get you." Trees did a nervous dance and Wish heard water gurgling somewhere. He shivered.
His eyes grew large as his imagination saw things that weren't really there. His blond head felt sweaty under the tight cap.
He felt like screaming.
With Todd, it was okay. By himself it was terror-time. He had to get going and find out what Todd was up to. Is he playing a game? It's not funny.
"Todd!!" No answer. "Toddd!!" He yelled louder this time. Danny needed to pee. The sound was noisy in the quiet woods. Then the trail ahead turned to the left and he followed slowly, almost stumbling, "Toddd!!" He came to a fork. Now what to do?
There were no tracks, only sloppy water. Something passed this way. Yes, there. Are those Todd's tracks? Maybe some other person came by not too long ago.
He didn't know what to do next. Take the right one? Make up your mind. Come on Danny. He knew Todd was waiting impatiently somewhere.
He turned left.
The trail took him further past the main trail. It just went on and on and only fresh, rested feet could make it to the end. His were tired.
Stomach rumbles said, "Time to eat." His fingers found the bag, opened it and egg sandwiches made him feel much better.
He had been so hungry.
Todd always said a walk in the woods gave you an appetite. Why did he always have to drag Danny out when he needed exercise? Todd said he wanted company. But Danny needed roller-skates to keep up.
So where was Todd now?
"Todd!" It's not funny, anymore. "Toddd!" No answer. Danny 's yelling was lost in the trees. After hiking awhile, he sat down.
A movement caught his eye. Something white, no gray. A bunny. It's a bunny! Losing his balance he fell on his stomach, hands grabbing at the leafy carpet. He studied the quick movements, feeling happy even though he mashed his face on the wet ground.
There right beside him, a bunny rabbit. His heart hammered. A real live wild animal! If only Todd could see him now. He'd give anything to prove he was not a wimp. He knew he might frighten it, so he became very still and just watched.
The rabbit hopped around fallen apples spread around the tree. He sniffed then nibbled. The fluffy ball of fur had a black tinge around his eyes. It looked like a bank robber.
Danny made a wish.
"Don't go away. Be my friend, little rabbit." When it hopped away to new territory, Wish felt cold and alone. Maybe the rabbit didn't want him for a friend, after all. "So, who needs you anyway!" he shouted. "I hate you, rabbit!" his voice thundered. "I won't forget, either. Forever."
Danny shuffled to his feet and wiped away wet leaves. He came to a clearing beside the worn trail and sat on a fallen log. A large willow branch looked inviting.
"I'll carve my initials with my new Swiss knife," he thought. As he picked at the bark with his blade, he sensed a pair of eyes watching from nearby. Danny turned around and stared into the wide face of a deer standing so still beside a fir tree. He saw ears stretched wide and alert, ready to run.
The doe moved gracefully into view, sniffing in his direction. Wish bit his lower lip. His fingers scrunched together. Just a few minutes ago his legs felt nothing but tiredness. Now a burst of energy raced through them.
He tingled all over. A real live deer! What a feeling. Right here, right now. He barely whispered "Oh...oh."
His lips moved with the word, "beautiful." His cheeks were on fire with happy thoughts. He must not move. "Be careful. Don't scare it," his senses said. And the deer just stood there looking at Danny. There was no fear in his searching stare.
Danny watched. Suddenly he saw with horror the orange colors of a hunter. He stood not more than a hundred feet behind the deer. It looked like he was aiming a rifle in his direction.
Was he going to shoot? Oh no. No. Danny barely moved. He was afraid to. If he did, the deer might try and run and maybe get shot. His mind formed a plan. If he stayed still, maybe the deer hunter might not shoot because Danny was in the way.
Was he brave enough to stay still? Would the hunter give up and go away? He had to do something. Danny counted his fears. He was just a kid and Todd might think this was stupid, and dangerous. Just to save a deer? "Yes," Danny said in his heart.
Danny hoped Todd would think he was brave. Maybe he shouldn't tell him. Then it would be his secret. He almost giggled. For some reason the deer couldn't see the danger. Maybe it was because he could trust a little boy to keep him from harm.
And that's exactly what kept the deer alive. As long as Danny remained in the line of fire the hunter would not shoot. Danny saw the anger on the stranger's face as he lowered his rifle. Suddenly another noise interrupted the waiting game going on.
Someone was coming.
"Wish! Wish!" Yelling finally broke the silence as Todd stepped into the clearing. The deer turned and leaped into the forest and safety.
The hunter began hollering and screaming at Danny, "Hey kid what did you do that for? Bloody brat!"
Danny stood quietly. He could feel the confusion on his foster dad's face. Would Danny be able to explain what he had done? Would Todd understand? It wasn't just so he could be brave. It was more than that. The deer needed him. And for the first time it felt good. Someone needed the "wimp."
Todd and the hunter went off to the side, their voices raised quite loudly. "You're nothing but a rat and a poacher," he heard Todd say. "And you scared my boy!"
Danny felt proud, when he heard those words..."My boy." It sounded like Todd was on his side.
"I'm contacting the RCMP and the Game Warden about this!" Todd shouted. After more noisy discussion, the hunter took off through the woods mumbling.
Danny stood still as he watched Todd. He could feel those eyes burning into his. His foster dad had a mean look.
He could guess the questions to come, "Why didn't you let the hunter shoot the deer?" or "How come you did something so dangerous?" and even, "What a stupid thing to do."
Danny felt tears trickle down his cheeks. He was like a balloon ready to burst. He needed someone right now. He wanted Todd to hug him tightly.
He felt alone and helpless.
Todd stood before him shaking his head. Danny tried to read his thoughts. Somehow his face didn't look mean, now.
"Dad," he wanted to say. "I love you so much. Don't you love me?" But he couldn't say the words. Something always held him back, like now.
Todd's eyes stared back at him. Danny imagined what he looked like--- a few tears dribbling down his cheek like a baby and jeans torn on the right knee. He wondered how much it would cost for a new pair.
Danny even had mud caked on his chest and his winter jacket was full of thistles.
Todd just stood there shaking his head. And smiling.
Todd opened up his arms. Magic words made Danny 's heart race wildly. "I love ya, Wish."
Tears rushed down the boy's face, but Danny didn't care. Todd needed him right now.
Adoption plans were delayed. The family only remained together for another six months, as everything seemed to go wrong. Todd and Marilyn separated and Danny had to find another home.
This time he promised, he would never love anyone again.
It hurt too much.
When Danny was nine years old, he remembered the police siren having an irregular beat as it shrilled its way under Danny's covers.
He threw back the blankets, jumped to his feet and rushed to the window. “Cops!” his mind shuddered. Cold feet reminded him how warm the bed was moments ago.
A Police car drove slowly into the driveway, avoiding clumps of broken asphalt. Crazy landlord, he’s got lots of money for booze, nothing to fix up this dump. He could see the policeman clearly, looking puzzled as if he was on the verge of making a difficult decision.
Danny bristled. Were they looking for him again? Others taught him that cops were the enemy to avoid. In foster homes and from the lips of his friends he was reminded again and again. Cops were to be avoided at all costs.
His pals always said, "Better hide whatever you got or the 'Cops' will get you." Danny seemed to have the shadow of a police officer around almost every time he wanted to take a leak. The motto used by his present foster parents as a weapon to subdue him into following family rules was usually, "Do you want us to call the ‘Fuzz’?” Now the Cops were here again.
The soft hum of the warm Police cruiser was masked by early morning mist. It was only 6 AM.
The boy dressed quickly and slid out the back door. No sense in hanging around until they dropped something on you. It wasn't time to whine a, "Not my fault … he did it," kind of conversation.
Danny crouched by the side of the apartment's garbage bin. He peered around the corner at the policeman. Would he get out of the car? Did he have a warrant? Was he really here to check him out? Always questions.
The boy fished in the pocket of his jeans and pulled out half a weed. He stuck it in his mouth, quietly watching. Maybe light up later.
If the man in uniform did get out and check around back he would only spot the flash of his jackrabbit legs taking off. Actually, Danny 's lithe physique made him look more like a little boy. But he could move quite quickly when he wanted to.
And there was none faster when he was on the run, especially if he hooked onto a carton of smokes from Zeller's Department Store. He knew those overweight security tubs could never move fast enough when he was booting it out the Mall door.
Danny looked around once more. The cop sure is stupid, he thought. What's he waiting for sitting in the car? Doesn't he know it's cold out here sitting on my butt? The boy sure hoped the man would leave soon, so he could climb back into bed. Or at least before his crabby foster folks found out he was scampering around outside like a skinny rat.
His new foster parents would not like it at all. "No more trouble," they had said. "Next thing the neighbors will be calling the Children's Aid saying we can't look after you properly."
He couldn't figure them out. First they said they wanted him, then they kept threatening to kick him out. After all, they got money for his keep. If they didn't want him around, then it was time for him to take a hike. Besides, he couldn't stand to take another licking. The last belt marks on his butt were just starting to fade away.
He was happy to see no one else around this time of day. Anyways it was too early for this neighborhood. Most of the families were either on welfare, or Pogey.
Finally, the police car pulled out as if needed somewhere else more important.
Keeping a safe distance, Danny dashed to the street shaking his fist at the retreating car. Then he clambered up the front steps, taking them two at a time. One lousy careless moment earned him a slip and the concrete step scraped skin from his left ankle. Pain climbed furiously up his leg to his clenched fists.
He wanted to scream, to curse this life, to fill the street with all the filthy words he learned in nine young years.
But instead, he sat on the front porch and hugged his knees. One hand pressed firmly on his ankle, partly to keep out the pain, partly to shut out the loneliness of the world.
If only he had a mom … and a dad.
Larry sat with his family in church. He tried to concentrate on the service but as was his habit, he liked to look around. He noticed several pews ahead of him his friend Bill sitting with his family.
He knew the man loved children. He must since there were seven of them between himself and his wife. They kept turning to their parents for direction, as if trying to gain their favor.
A nod here and one child would open his Bible. A finger to their parent's lips and another would stop poking his sister. It was easy to see their mother smiling with contentment. She seemed to be settled in comfortably knowing all was well with her family.
And this is the way it was meant to be.
Being together in this place of worship. And the man and wife making sure there was a proper decorum from their children, paying attention to what was going on around them.
Larry couldn't help but notice the antics of Bill's youngest son, who was around five. He didn't want to sit on his father's lap, and kept stepping on his toes trying to see overtop the lady in front. Larry could sense the boy's discomfort, and inwardly cheered his decision to sit quietly on daddy's knee and enjoy the proceedings.
Larry noticed his friend Bill resting his hand on the boy's neck, then shoulder. The small boy reached up and wrapped tiny fingers around his dad's hand.
Both kneaded each others limbs.
It was heartwarming. The type of touch Larry was jealous of, those hands joined together as father and son.
Larry always wished he could be a part of the toes and fingers of such a boy. Adoption of a child was great and feelings of parenthood natural and strong. Oh, but to have had a hand in the creation of a child. To be part of the soul and spirit of someone who would carry his innermost being into the world.
He wanted to have his own family to nurture and march together with thoughts and hopes into future generations.
Now part of his personal wishes and intimate feelings would finally come to pass. Larry knew he had missed out on the early development of his son. He was out there in the big, wide world. Somewhere.
Imagine meeting his flesh and blood son.
He watched as Bill lifted up his little son and placed him on his knee. The little fellow didn’t seem interested in looking back or around anymore. He simply accepted the fact his dad was there for him.
The boy looked like he belonged in that exact spot, in this precise moment. The features of his head and nose, the thrust of his jaw; all were part of a pattern. Yes, he was unmistakably his father's son.
Larry directed his eyes to leave them alone in their privacy. His gaze returned to the service and the pastor before him.
He glanced around at his own children. Walt was growing up so quickly and eagerly seeking some modicum of independence in decision-making. “Not of his flesh, but of his heart.” The same went for his adopted daughter, Susan helpful, caring, and needing the consistency of love from her parents.
Both children were still precious even though Larry missed out on many adventures watching them mature from early childhood.
Did Danny need the touch of a father's hand, just like that little boy? And having a dad nearby to protect him from falling off his early starts on a bicycle? And Larry wasn't even there for him.
Was Danny too old now to accept a hug or an arm of reassurance across his shoulder from a father he'd never met? To feel the rougher skin on his, molecules blending from weathered age to innocence of life. In fact, was Danny still innocent?
Had the thieving and the lying hardened his heart beyond redemption? Each time a new crime was committed; did it spread a further layer of toughness within his soul? Larry washed these negative images away with a sigh and closed his eyes.
"Oh Danny, where are you?" is a father's cry.