“Nicky, what is up with you?” the frustrated principal said as he paced. Stopping in front of him, he knelt down and in a controlled voice said, “This is the third time this week you have not followed the rules and found yourself sitting in this chair. This has got to stop!”
Nicky turned and shrugged like he always did. The nine year old didn’t seem fazed one bit.
Rising to his feet and walking to behind his desk, he sat down and peered through Nicky’s file. He closed the file and said, “Come on!”
Nicky looked up at Mr. Stokes in confusion. “Where we goin’?” he asked.
“To release a little frustration.” As they passed the teacher’s lounge, Mr. Stokes said, “I have to step in here for a moment. I’ll be right back. Don’t move!” He then disappeared behind the door. A couple minutes later, he emerged.
“Okay, let’s get going!” as he walked quickly towards the gym.
Going inside the gym always overwhelmed a person with the scent of sweating bodies. Being a warm day, Nicky already had shorts and a tee on and his sneakers. Mr. Stokes removed his coat and tie, brought out some of his own sneakers, and was ready to go.
Mr. Stokes went to the supply closet and brought out a basketball. Throwing it to Nicky, he said, “Let’s do some one on one on the court. See if you can out shoot this old principal.”
Nicky not understanding why they were playing basketball, when he was supposed to be punished, made him a bit uneasy. He started dribbling the ball a little.
“C’mon! I know you can do better than that. I’m not here to play chess. Let’s get going!”
Nicky started running towards the hoop and shot. He made the basket easily. He turned to see Mr. Stokes’ response.
“Okay, that’s more like it!” Mr. Stokes’ then dribbled to the basket with Nicky trying to block him. He shot from the three-point line and made it. Looking at Nicky, he said, “Well, it looks like we will have quite a game…doesn’t it.”
They played for the next half hour with each of them finding themselves on the court floor at times. The sweat soaked their clothes. Mr. Stokes’ would sometimes make goofy faces at Nicky, which brought a giggle at times. At 2:00 p.m., the gym doors opened, and Mr. Stokes’ secretary said, “Mr. Stokes, it’s time for your 2:00 meeting.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Garver, we’ll be right there!”
We’ll be right there? What did he mean ‘we’ll’? Nicky thought to himself. Oh, oh, this must be it…my foster parents are probably there…maybe the police…ready to take me away and suspend me from school. Looking at Mr. Stokes, Nicky thought, he just pretended to be my friend…just keeping me busy ‘til they all got here…can’t trust anyone.
Mr. Stokes gathered his belongings and said, “Let’s go. We have some business to take care of,” and led the way back to his office. Nicky followed slowly with head down.
Upon entering Mr. Stokes’ office, he saw a large box on his desk. Nicky didn’t see his foster parents or any police around. What was going on?
“Have a seat, Nicky,” he pointed to the chair opposite his. “I just want to say…”
Here it comes, Nicky thought, as he tried to stable himself for the punishment.
“Happy Birthday, Nicky!” Mr. Stokes lifted up the box to reveal a beautiful birthday cake with “Happy 10th Birthday, Nicky” on top of the cake.
Just then, the teachers from the lounge all came in with birthday wishes for Nicky and fun “presents” like pencils, erasers, candy, and the like.
Nicky was stunned. He had never had anyone remember his birthday before. His mother left him when he was small, and he didn’t know his father. He just looked at everyone in silence.
Mr. Stokes handed a knife to Nicky. “Would you like to cut the cake?”
Nicky shook his head and got up. He walked to the cake and whispered in Mr. Stokes’ ear, “I want to keep it forever.”
With that, Mr. Stokes embraced the boy whose life had been so tragically ravaged. He prayed to himself, “Lord, please let Nicky feel Your embrace today.”
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