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A Long-Ago Summer

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Although Blair objected to carrying a gun when Jim suggested it the night Danny Choi was killed, it wasn't because he had a problem with guns.  His comment of being "strictly an observer" was because, truth be told, he was a little intimidated by Captain Banks.  He was afraid Simon might pull his credentials if he stepped out of line.

In reality, he was comfortable enough with handguns and had even handled a rifle twice.  He'd had some basic self-defense training and had survived on his own in the woods.  All that and more was the result of an odd stint at a military school.

*******

It started when Naomi's car broke down as they were traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles.  They'd made it out of suburban St. Louis and into the Missouri countryside when it stopped dead.  The tow driver's name was Fred, one of those salt-of-the-earth types, who took them to a garage and helped her negotiate a fair price.  He then got them set up in a rooming house and Naomi found a job as a bartender, where her knowledge of cocktails and flirtatious style quickly garnered her steady shifts and good tips.

As with most men, Fred fell for Naomi and he even took a shine to Blair.  Within days they had moved from the rooming house to Fred's place.  Fred took Blair on tow jobs with him, sharing his love of cars, especially the classics. He taught Blair how to hit and throw a baseball and took him to AA team games.  Within a week, the car was fixed, but Naomi decided to stay put for a while, using her job to bulk up their finances and enjoying domestic bliss with Fred.

Then word came of a spiritual retreat in Springfield.  It was for twenty-eight days and no children were allowed.  "Don't worry, sweetie," Naomi said.  "The time will fly by.  I'll send you to stay with your uncle."

Fred might have been a simple man, but he wasn't stupid.  He suspected if Blair left, Naomi would never come back.  "Let him stay here, Naomi.  He's no trouble and he's good company."

"Really?  What do you think, Blair?"

Blair wasn't happy about being left behind, but he'd been in worse places.  School would be starting in a month and the town had a decent library.  It would be nice to finish a school year in one place.  "Fred and I will be fine.  Go."  And so she did.

The second time Fred came home from work and found Blair had been harassed by the local toughs, he thought something needed to be done.  He packed Blair up and dropped him off at his military school alma mater.  Technically, it wasn't a military school, but a summer camp run by the school in the Ozarks.  He figured they would teach him self-defense and help Blair bulk up through calisthenics. Fred was just too busy to do it himself, and he had fond memories of companionship and becoming self-reliant during his time there.

Truth be told, Blair didn't actually mind anything about the camp.  He didn't mind getting a crew cut, since long hair in summertime was uncomfortable.  He didn't mind the hikes with back packs, or the boring food or having to go to sleep early.  He even enjoyed learning self-defense.  Despite being small, they taught him how to compensate with technique.  They also taught him how to fight dirty when he was outnumbered.  He learned to shoot arrows and BB guns and air rifles; one of the older guys actually let him handle his pistol.  The boys were all so different from what he was used to.  Sure, there were a couple of jerks, but most of them came from military families, and they were expected to have distinguished military careers.  They were strong and confident and taught Blair about self-reliance and teamwork.

No, Blair was just miffed that Fred decided on a solution without talking to Blair about it.  They'd always been more like companions when Naomi was around.  But then Fred went all super-Dad on him.  It wasn't right.  So, Blair decided to get some revenge.

He figured it would take him two or three days to get back to Fred's.  Todd, one of the oldest boys, had taken a shine to him and Blair was developing quite an admiration for him in return.  Blair laid out his plan. Todd drew him a map and even gave Blair a small compass. They also devised a cover story Todd could use to explain Blair's absence.  Blair squirreled away food and snacks and filled his canteen with fresh water.   He changed into jeans and put his camo outfit in his backpack.

It actually took him less than 24 hours to make it to Fred's.  With short hair and worn jeans, Blair looked like any other country kid searching for something to do to while away the summer hours.  Every farmer traveling in his direction gave him a lift, so he hardly walked at all.  His plan had been to hide out until Naomi came home, then burst in looking bedraggled in the filthy camo outfit.  Naomi would pitch a fit and ream Fred out.  No more than Fred deserved for overstepping his boundaries, Blair thought.

But he changed his mind when he realized Naomi was already home.  He snuck to a window to listen; she was working herself up into quite a state.  "Where is my baby?" she cried. "What have you done with Blair?"

"Now, honey, don't worry.  I sent him to a local summer camp for a few weeks."

"He's never done anything so regimented.  What made you do that?"

"Well, he was getting picked on by the local boys and I was working longer hours than I expected.  I thought he might like to go someplace where he could have some fun and learn a few things. Camp is over in a few days.  I was going to pick him up day after tomorrow so he'd be here when you got back.  You were just early, that's all."

It was then Blair realized that Fred really had good intentions, and his plan for teaching Fred a lesson was scrapped.  He snuck away and hid his backpack behind a tree.  By the time he came back, Fred had made Naomi tea.  Blair walked in the door, trying to look as cheerful as possible.  "Hi, I'm back."

Caught by surprise, both Fred and Naomi cried out at the same time.

"How'd you get back here?"
"What did you do to your hair?"

"Aw, Ma, it's been so hot.  I asked one of the counselors to cut it.  Don't worry, it'll grow back quick," Blair said in his most soothing tone.  He turned to Fred. "One of the boys was leaving early.  His dad gave me a ride here.  Thanks, Fred.  I had a lot of fun at camp."

Blair knew that was about as much as he could do. Naomi would have been suspicious if he'd been any more enthusiastic.  As he watched her digest their situation, he had a feeling he wouldn't complete a school year here.

******

It had been years since Blair had thought about Fred and that long-ago summer.  As he stood up and beaned Eddie with a baseball, he suddenly flashed on the gentle man who had taught him how to hit and throw.  Later that night, he lit a meditation candle, opened his mind and let the memories come flooding back.  Fred's love of cars that influenced Blair's own choices, all the varied and interesting skills he learned at camp, and even Todd, who looked--and acted Blair now realized--like a young Jim.  Todd would only have been a few years younger than Jim, and Blair wondered if he'd ever made it to West Point.  Blair grinned; he'd have to go looking for that compass.

Sending out a cosmic wish that Fred and Todd and all those other campers found as good a life as Blair had, he blew out the candle and got ready for bed.