Spring was especially beautiful that year in Texas, and I spent many afternoons outdoors, snapping pictures of the wide blue sky and fragrant flowers beginning to bloom. Neighborhood children loved our large dead-end street, and emerged many afternoons to play pickup games of football, baseball, and soccer. Bikes were scattered everywhere, and I recall mixing lots of lemonade to share. Finn guzzled it down and always thanked me, eyes cast downward.
He loved Caleb and Jacob, that was clear. Perhaps “love” is the wrong word….he felt safe with them. They didn’t tease, but listened and encouraged him. We discovered that Finn was an avid reader and I wasn’t surprised. His vocabulary was as strong as his imagination.
One afternoon I overheard Finn talking with the boys. “Do you fellows have chores?”
They nodded. “Yes, we have lots of stuff we do to help Mom,” said Jacob.
“Like what?” Finn seemed interested.
“Let’s see…walking the dog, emptying the trash, clearing the table, setting the table, cleaning our rooms, making our beds–“
Finn, uncharacteristically, interrupted. “You make your beds?”
“Sure do. Every day.” Caleb answered.
“And then when Mom washes our sheets, we have to make the whole bed from scratch.” Jacob’s brown eyes became round, just thinking of all that extra work he didn’t particularly enjoy.
“Wow.” Finn looked surprised. He glanced my way and I suddenly became very busy fiddling with my camera. His voice grew quiet.
And then: “No one’s ever washed my sheets. And they don’t smell good either.”
He paused, waiting for some reaction. My boys looked at each other, uncertain.
And finally, Caleb: “It’s okay Finn.” He patted his back. “Let’s go play frisbee.”
Towards the end of March, I planned a neighborhood birthday party for Caleb and Jacob, who are slightly less than two years apart in age. I chose a Saturday in April, and the boys distributed the invitations to friends on our street. Several of them told us they would be there, but I only received one official phone RSVP, and that was from Finn’s mother.
“Dalton will be there.” Her voice wasn’t unfriendly. “Thank you for inviting him.”
She was reserved and articulate and somehow distant. I was left wondering how the day would unfold.
Precisely 15 minutes before Caleb’s and Jacob’s birthday party was supposed to begin, our doorbell rang. We had decorated simply, and as my eyes scanned the room, I decided everything looked fresh and clean, festive, yet simple.
So I opened the front door. There stood Finn. My heart caught in my throat and I again suppressed the desire to pull him through the front door and adopt him as one of our own. My goodness, the lengths he had obviously gone to for this party.
“Hello, Ma’am.” All formal, perfectly rehearsed. “I am a bit early.”
Finn’s hair had been parted and combed down with scented hair gel. He wore a clean, new collared shirt, and a new pair of sneakers that I had seen on big-time sale at Walmart earlier in the week.I found my voice.
“Finn, honey, come right on in.”
I closed the door behind him and called upstairs to the boys, who tumbled down the stairs. They welcomed Finn as his gaze wandered around our house. He turned to me and whispered.
“It is so nice and bright here. It smells good too.”
I thought about the drawn blinds about his house, the smoke and soap operas.
“Thank you, Finn.” And then, “Would you like me to take those from you?”
It was only then that I noticed four gift bags in his hands.He smiled.
“I saved my money and actually bought something for all of your children.”
He sounded so grown up and so proud and it was beautiful and sad all mixed up together. Jon walked into the room.
“Finney!” he called out and shook Finn’s hand. Jon has a way with nick-names, and Finn was glowing like a Christmas tree.
His smile was wide. I noticed several large bruises on his arm. Well, then. Not the time to ask about that. By this time the doorbell was ringing again, and several other boys entered our home, two of whom informed me immediately that no, they didn’t like ice cream cake, and by the way, did we have party favors to pass out? Please.
Then I turned back to Finn, who was on one knee telling our little Lauren Olivia and Marcus that he picked out something special just for them, too!
After everyone had arrived, Caleb and Jacob opened their gifts and expressed their thanks. I cannot even remember what Finn gave them, but when Caleb and Jacob high-fived him and repeated their thank you’s I knew that the giver was more blessed than the receivers.
He was careful all party-long to say “please” and “thank you,” and “that was delicious, Miss Kristin.”
I was in my element waiting on him, and making sure he had as much to eat as he wanted. The dark under his eyes was pronounced, and as he sat next to Jacob, I realized that my boy was the picture of health next to this poor little mite.
“O.K. boys,” Jon rubbed his hands together. “Who is ready for the outdoor competition?”
The boys hollered, and for a moment Finn paled. I needn’t have worried. Jon tousled his hair.
“Come on buddy. We’ll have a great time.” Finn’s shoulders relaxed and they all raced out the front door.
“Isn’t this party great?” Jacob smiled and brushed by me out the front door.
Simplicity and the great outdoors. That was the ticket. If there’s one thing I dislike, it’s intricate and expensive birthday parties. My birthday boys were having the time of their lives. I scooped up Lauren Olivia, and we followed the party out into the front yard, where Jon was explaining the contests, all of which involved football.
Finn stood quietly, earnestly listening to the instructions, his small face upturned towards the sunlight. He chewed his lower lip, a habit I had grown accustomed to over the past eight or nine months. In contrast, twin brothers who were also our guests at the party, largely ignored Jon and began arguing over who was going to compete first. Jon glanced at me and I rolled my eyes. He shushed them and finished his explanations.The competitions began and I remember cheering for all of the boys. Finn held his own, but didn’t win anything at first. Caleb and Jacob won a few, as did one of the pesky twins, while the other sulked miserably on the sidewalk. Caleb and Jacob were having a blast, as was Finn.
As best as I can recall, the last competition involved catching a long pass. I couldn’t have written a better script if I’d tried. Everyone had had a turn, and there were many drops. Jon lobbed the ball high and deep, and Finn ran. His small body in those new Walmart shoes seemed to fly. He looked over his shoulder and placed his arms out to catch the ball. And he did. Our family cheered and the boys ran and high-fived their friend. The twins sulked off to the side, claiming something was unfair. Jon chose to ignore them.
“Finny….that was the catch of the day, man!” Jon patted his shoulder and Finn’s smile stretched to his blue eyes. I walked over to him.
“You are something else, Mr. Finn!”
He glanced shyly at me and whispered a thanks. Jon passed out medals, and Finn was awarded the gold, for the catch of the day. We passed out gift bags and the party was over. Late that night, long after our children were asleep, I stood silently at the window, watching as Finn played in the street, gold medal ’round his neck, football in his small hands.