Barely under control, Kyle ran down the mountain, unmindful of trails and caught in the exuberance of his descent. His dad caught his shirt from behind and drew him up a few yards short of an even steeper drop.
Kyle's eyes were alight with an inner laughter. One hand flapped like a wounded bird on the left side of his face. With the other hand, he poked a finger in his ear.
Dad breathed a sigh of relief and guided Kyle to the trail back up to the parking lot -- a fairly long walk for a boy with autism.
Back at the top, the two approached their car. A handful of men who had witnessed Kyle's headlong flight greeted them, but Kyle wouldn't look up.
"He doesn't talk," said Kyle's dad. "He's autistic. Most of the time we don't even know what he's thinking."
"Hi Kyle," said one of the men with a smile.
No response. Kyle looked down and pressed a finger tighter against one ear as a motorcyle ambled by.
"He doesn't do well with noise," his father said. "Hold out your hand and call him again."
The man complied, smiling, holding out his hand and saying "Hey Kyle."
The boy, who may have been anywhere from 10 to 14 years old, slowly walked over, eyes averted. Keeping one hand on his ear, he darted out with the other to touch the offered palm.
The man gently closed his hand over the boy's, saying, "Pleased to meet you Kyle."
The boy smiled, looking up, then quickly away, then slapped the man's palm lightly.
One by one, the other men followed suit, calling Kyle over and extending a hand.
After the third greeting, Kyle trotted to the wall on which the men perched, found a spot, and sat down as if he were one of them.
His dad laughed, saying, "You just give him a little attention and he lights right up."
"Kind of like the rest of us," one of the men added, and everyone laughed.
Kyle's dad told how he and his son came to Mount Morrow State Park regularly. Kyle's favorite part was visiting the nearby lake and throwing rocks into the water, he said.
"The other day, the park ranger told us it was against the rules," he said. "We just waited until he left, then went back to throwing rocks."
He looked at his son with a loving smile but a muscle twitched in his jaw as he added, "I know it's setting a bad example, but if Kyle wants to throw rocks, we're gonna throw rocks."
They started to get into their car -- an old Toyota with a missing side mirror and a hole in the windshield that had been patched with some gauze and athletic tape.
Kyle's dad was probably pretty familiar with cutting corners to pay for one more round of therapy; one more visit to a specialist -- anything for his son.
But the men could tell by his smiling manner that Kyle's dad had long since handed off the ultimate decisions -- to a greater and even more loving Father.
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