For the next few days, I amused myself by riding my bicycle around the area. In addition to Syler Falls, there was North Syler, East Syler, and South Syler, all of which were about as exciting as Syler Falls. East Syler did have the volunteer fire station. I rode about some in the country, passing a dairy farm and a corn farm.
It was very hot in my garret, especially during the day. Although the house had been rewired about ten years ago so the electricity to power air conditioners was available, a window air conditioner wouldn’t fit my window, and I had to be satisfied with fans. When I tried to sleep at night, I often lay naked and sweating on my bed. Usually, by morning, I had to pull blankets up.
One evening, about a week later, we were sitting at the dining table when Mom asked, “So, Tyler, have you been spending time with Cole?”
“Oh? Why not?”
“He’s mad at me,” I mumbled.
“Why? Did you do something or say something that upset him? You didn’t ask him about his foot, did you?”
“No. He’s cool about his foot. He was the one who brought it up, I guess because he thought I was wondering about it.”
“So, why is he mad at you?” Dad asked.
“I said something that pissed him off.”
“What did you say?” Dad persisted.
“Do I have to tell you?”
Reluctantly I told them what I had said. They were very upset. They said I was being a snob and being ignorant. They ended by telling me I had to go over and apologize. I told them I had tried to, but Cole wouldn’t listen, saying that I meant exactly what I had said.
“Did you?” asked Mom.
“Yeah, but now I know I was wrong.”
“Then go over and tell him so.”
Slowly I got up from the table, crossed the street, and knocked on the Greenes’ front door. Cole’s dad answered the door.
“Could I please speak to Cole?” I asked.
“I’m not sure he wants to talk to you.”
“I know. That’s why I’m here.”
His father went to see if Cole would talk with me. I heard some muffled conversation, and then Cole appeared at the door.
“What do you want?” he asked, bruskly.
“I came to say I was really sorry, and you were absolutely right. When I said that I did mean it, but when I thought about it, I realized how arrogant and ignorant it was. I’m sorry and I hope you can forgive me.”
He looked at me for a minute and then said, “Wait here.” He left and again I heard a muffled conversation. When he returned, he said, “Come back tomorrow at 9:00. Mom and I are going to take you around and educate you about this town. If you do that and apologize when we finish, then I’ll try to forgive you.” He closed the door without waiting for a response.
I trudged back across the street and told my parents what he had said. They both told me I had to do it.
The next morning, at 9:00 sharp, I dragged myself over to Cole’s house. Before I got there, he and his mom came out and he told me to get in the back seat of the car. He got in beside me without saying anything more.
His Mom backed the car out and drove into the town, stopping in front of the church.
As we climbed out, Cole said, “I want you to meet some people. I won’t tell them what you said. I just want you to meet them.”
I nodded, and we went into the parish hall while Cole’s mom waited in the car. We were greeted by a secretary who told us the minister was in and to just knock and walk in. Inside, a man in a gray suit rose and said, “Hello, Cole. To what do I owe the honor of your visit?”
“Mr. Johnson, this is Tyler Prescott. He’s just moved into town and I’m taking him around to meet some people. You’re first on the list.”
Mr. Johnson extended his hand, greeting me warmly as I shook it. “Where are you from, Tyler?” he asked.
I told him, and he smiled. “That’s a beautiful part of the country. You may find that it takes a little longer to get to know people here, but they’re good people, kind-hearted people. One way to get to know them would be to come here on a Sunday.”
I thanked him and asked how long he had been at the church.
“I was born in New Hampshire,” he said, “and I’ve been at this church for 23 years now. I guess I could have looked for a bigger church in a city, but I’ve never had any desire to leave. I hope to see you again soon.
With that we thanked him and went back to the car.
“I’ve never been to church,” I told Cole when we were back in the car. (“Except at Billy’s funeral,” I thought, which I was not about to mention.)
“That’s okay. I can take you sometime just so you can see what it’s like.”
Our next stop was the general store. I told Cole I’d already been in it, but he said he wanted me to meet the owner, so in we went. Behind the meat counter was the man I had seen before.
Cole went through the same routine, introducing me to Mr. MacGregor and his wife, who was standing in the bread aisle. They welcomed me to the town and said they hoped I’d be in the store often. They added that, if there was anything I wanted which they didn’t carry, they would order it for me.
As we got back in the car, I said, “They seem really nice.”
“They are,” said Cole, “and they’ve lived here all their lives. Mr. MacGregor’s father owned the store before him.”
“And,” added Cole’s mom from the front seat, “his father owned the store before that. There’s been at least four generations of them, going back before the Civil War. They have a son who will probably learn the business when he finishes school.”
“It seems to me,” I said, “that where I came from people move in and out all the time. We were in our house for fourteen years, and we were the old-timers on the street.”
“That’s interesting,” she replied. “Most everyone here has been here for years. I suppose that’s why sometimes it takes us time to make newcomers feel welcome.”
“But you’re living in a pretty new house. Where did you come from?”
“Cole’s dad grew up on a farm outside of town. His older brother was working there and will eventually take over the farm. Right now, the brother is away in Michigan taking some agricultural courses in the hopes that he can run the farm more efficiently. Cole’s dad didn’t want to farm, so we moved into town. He works for a law firm in Bardwell.”
We drove on out of town and pulled into the dairy farm I had seen on my bike ride. Cole’s mom said she was going into the house to buy some eggs, so Cole and I went in with her.
A rather plump woman with a cheerful face got up from the kitchen table and Cole introduce her as Grandma Greene. She invited us to sit and have some lemonade. I could tell it was fresh-squeezed like Mrs. Greene’s but it was very tart. “If it’s too tart for you,” Cole’s grandma said, “you can add sugar. I don’t because I like it tart and, of course, once you put the sugar in, you can’t take it out.” She chuckled merrily, and I immediately liked her. I told her I really liked it just the way it was.
When we finished the lemonade, Cole said he wanted to introduce me to his grandfather, so we said goodbye and went into the cow barn, where a man in a plaid shirt and overalls was mucking out the stalls.
“Grandpa, this is Tyler Prescott. He and his parents have just moved into the old Cornwall place.”
Mr. Greene looked up from his work, removed a glove, and shook my hand. “I’m a little hard of hearing, boy. What did Cole say your name was?” I told him. He nodded and asked, “An’ where are you livin’?” I told him. “Oh yeah, I guess old Peter Cornwall died awhile back.”
“That’s right, Grandpa,” said Cole speaking louder. “That house has been empty quite a while.”
“Peter used to do a haunted house on Halloween until he was too old to manage it. It was quite a production,” said Mr. Greene.”
“Now, that’s an idea,” put in Cole. “Maybe you could do something like that.” I nodded because I had been thinking the same thing.
We said goodbye and went back to the car, where Cole’s mom was waiting.
Before we went back to Cole’s house, we stopped at two more places – the corn farm and the gas station.
Leaving the station for the short ride home, I said to Cole, “You were right, of course. These are really nice people. I was so stupid! I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? He nodded, and we shook hands on it.
Back in their driveway, Mrs. Greene invited me in for cookies and milk. Cole and I sat at the kitchen table and chatted, although I must admit that he did more chatting than I did. Before I left, he asked, “Do you have a bathing suit?” I nodded. “Put it on later and come back.”
“Is there like a town pool around here?” I asked.
He laughed and said, “Just do it. You’ll see.”
During lunch, I began to worry. I found I was growing to like Cole, and after Billy had died, I had promised myself I’d never get close to another kid again. The pain was just too great when I lost him. I worried about what I should do, but the lure of the pool was too strong, so after I’d had lunch, I hunted around in my stuff looking for my bathing suit. It was a regular boxer suit, but it was a little snug on me, which I hoped no one would notice.
I crossed the street and rang the bell. Cole opened the door and stood aside for me to enter. He was wearing Speedos which seemed to hold a very nice package. I followed him through the house and out the back door. There in front of me was an attractive patio and beyond that an Olympic-length swimming pool. It was just three lanes wide, but it was clearly the full length. Suddenly, I understood why there was stockade fencing around his back yard.
“Oh my gosh!” I exclaimed. And then I couldn’t help but ask, “Can you swim with that lift on?”
“Oh no.” He sat down and took off the lift sneaker and his other sneaker. Then he took off his T-shirt. I saw his foot and tried not to stare, but then I realized he was smiling, almost laughing at me. “It’s okay,” he said. “If I’m gonna swim, I have to take the lift off. I know my foot’s not beautiful, but it’s mine and I’m stuck with it.
He was right. It certainly wasn’t beautiful. His foot had never really formed so it was a little like a club. You could make out where there were the beginnings of his toes. There were also several scars on his foot.
“After I was born, I had some operations to try to fix the foot, but they never worked,” he said.
I was so distracted that I hadn’t really looked at the rest of him. This was the first time I’d seen him without a loose-fitting shirt on. The whole upper part of his body seemed to be muscle which tapered down to his slim waist. His left leg was also muscular, but I wondered how he could swim with that foot. I didn’t have to wait long to find out.
Without looking back, he said, “C’mon,” and he hopped from his chair to the edge of the pool and dove in. In no time he was swimming with a beautiful crawl stroke toward the other end of the pool, where he turned and swam back. Later it occurred to me that he was showing off a bit, but I was so amazed I just stood there on the edge of the pool.
“Get in,” he invited again, so I dove into the next lane over. Even though I had had swimming lessons back in Missouri, I was no match for him, and I told him so. I struck out toward the other end of the pool, but I was still a clumsy swimmer.
He swam along beside me until we reached the end of the pool, where we hung on for a bit.
“Where did you learn to swim like that?” I asked.
“At the University. I go for lessons three times a week while the other kids are in school, so not many people know I can swim. When it was clear I would always be this way and I’d never be able to run or play the sports that most boys do, my parents decided I had to learn to swim, so they had this pool built when I was two. That’s one of the reasons we moved here, because of the yard. Of course, they could have built one on the farm, but they liked this idea better. At first, they taught me the basic things, like floating and paddling. I loved it because I never had to think about my foot. Now, I’m really happiest when I’m in the pool.”
“But what do you do in the winter?”
“There’s a big frame and a cover that goes over the pool. The air and the water are heated in the winter, so the snow doesn’t accumulate on the cover and break it. “C’mon,” he said, and he started to swim back. I followed along, and I noticed that he didn’t swim any faster than I did. We swam a few more laps before I tired and climbed out.
“Do you mind if I swim a little more before I get out?” he asked. I assured him that I didn’t. I sat and watched him as he did different strokes. He could even do the dolphin kick. Back and forth he raced while I wished I had a stopwatch. Finally, he went to the corner of the pool. He hopped up the steps and hopped back to his chair.
“My coach wants to enter me in some races,” he said, “but I’m just not ready to have everyone staring at my foot. My parents have encouraged me to race, but so far I’ve refused, and they haven’t tried to push me.”
As I had been sitting, watching him swim, it occurred to me that he had said he took lessons when the other kids were in school, so I got up the nerve to ask, “Don’t you go to school?”
“I home school,” he replied. “I went to kindergarten and the kids were fine, but when I went to first grade, some of the boys began to tease me because I couldn’t run. I used to come home crying every day, so my parents pulled me out of school and Mom teaches me.”
“I’m sorry you were teased,” I said, and I meant it.
“But,” he went on, “they’re insisting that I go to high school in the fall. I really don’t want to, but I have to, I guess. What grade will you be in?”
“Great, so will I. That’ll be a blessing because we’ll both know somebody.”
“Do you think the boys who teased you in first grade are still around?”
“Oh yeah. I see them once in a while when we’re driving in town. The worst one was Connor. As I think back on it now, the others were just followers.
“I’m worried, Tyler,” he said quietly, and I saw a little tear form at the corner of his eye. “I don’t know how to deal with bullies. I guess if I hadn’t left school, I’d have it figured out by now, but I did leave, so I’m stuck.”
“You’re not stuck. You have me now. We’ll deal with this together.”
“You’d stick your neck out for me?”
“If that’s what it takes.” I reached over and said, “Shake on it.”
We shook and then went on to talk about the Haunted House on Halloween.