H5O* H5O* H5O* H5O* H5O
C.J. shook his head from left to right. Every bit seemingly adamant about not wanting to go deeper in the water off the lagoon. Steve saw it in his eyes though: the truth that he really did. He wanted to play with his brother. He was being left behind more and more even as he got more friends. Island kids who were weaned on the waves and genuinely liked this new little boy. They like C.J. quite a bit and had adapted to his needs and style of conversation. They welcomed him with open arms and encouraged him; helped and guided him. But they couldn't help him conquer everything. And they weren't always going to stay their most usual of plans for him. Not all of the time. Like now, when half of the group were riding the waves and Steve wanted nothing more than for his son to join them one hundred percent of the time.
"You can do it," Steve said. "You can."
C.J. was further out in the water this time. Much farther out than he'd ever been. Up to his chest in fact. And when a gentle swell came in, he was lifted clear off the sandy bottom for a hairsbreadth. Steve raised an eyebrow in amusement as that very thing happened and C.J. briefly tread water until his feet found sand again. There was no sign of panic or worry. The boy barely realized what was going on. He needed the confidence to do more though.
"Two steps," Steve said, holding up his fingers to count. "Maybe three." C.J. made a face and shook his head once more. Still, he looked longingly towards where Charlie was playing on his boogie board. Charlie was near Danny but able to go much further out in the water than C.J. dared. He said no but his eyes told an entirely different story as he watched his brother and so Steve pressed him for just a little bit more.
"Come on ... I'm right here, buddy."
In the last few weeks, C.J. had conquered a lot of his fears. He could put his face in the water and even duck under a wave or two. He could float on his back all by himself and doggy paddle from his Da-no to his daddy, giggling the entire time. He knew how to hold his breath and could swim under water from one parent to the other. He shouted out loud in glee when Steve tossed him through the air in Da-no's direction, un-afraid of the brief dunking. More importantly, he was learning to watch the water for when waves were coming. He could almost freestyle stroke, too.
Almost. C.J. was getting better every time he got in the water and Steve couldn't be more proud.
Most recently though and to his Da-no's discomfort, he'd been going out a little bit deeper every day with his father to learn how to tread and keep his head above the water more on his own. Steve's goal was to eventually get him beyond the breakers where it was of course deeper, but easier to tread. He needed to gain confidence and learn how to properly swim for his own safety. At all times, Steve was never more than a hands-span away - Danny was always close too - and yet, C.J. always put the brakes on.
Steve smiled reassuringly at his son, wondering if he should stop. Maybe he had it wrong.
Because of his past and his age, Danny wanted Steve to leave the boy be. Steve wasn't sure that was the smartest thing to do though. He strongly felt these life-skills were a big deal for any number of very valid reasons and not only because he was an avid swimmer. For one, he felt that if they stopped now, C.J. would always be afraid. Secondly, he felt that the sooner C.J. got comfortable in the sea, the better off he would be in any situation. Including at the pool parties they were now getting invited to. Thirdly and most importantly though, C.J. would have more freedom to play with Charlie and the other boys at the beach or at the pool. Something he longed to do. Steve hated to see the little face fall in sorrow whenever Charlie announced he wanted to go swimming. He was bound and determined to fix things.
Not so secretly though, Steve also wanted to kill the boy's birth father for creating the problem in the first place. Thanks to the boy's aunt, they knew the truth now and it had taken all of Danny's cajoling to talk Steve down off a frightening edge. A governor's immunity and means never sounded so good to the ex-SEAL now new father. Steve had sadistic dreams of tying up Billy Travers and drowning him over the side of a Hawaiian waʻa ... slowly ... reviving him, only to do it again.
Because tossing a five year old over the side of a shitty canoe into a deep Ohio lake sure as hell wasn't the right way to teach a terrified deaf child how to swim.
As Steve stared into C.J.'s big brown eyes, Steve knew he was dealing with a deeply ingrained fear where the ocean with its big waves was even more intimidating than a lake. And yet Steve also knew that it was a fear the boy could beat especially with all he'd already accomplished.
"I know you want to boogie board and learn how to surf," Steve signed and said out loud as he pointed to Charlie and the other kids who were so close but still outside of C.J.'s reach. "I know you can, too ... you are so close. You are getting so, so good C.J.!"
Steve made a tiny space between his fingers to show C.J. just how close he was to success. "I can't let you go play with them until you can really swim," he signed and said. "And you are smart enough to know that you have to really learn how to swim, too."
C.J.'s bottom lip trembled just a bit as he watched his father's lips and read his finger signs. He nodded because they had talked about it a lot. He did want to play in the water with Charlie and his new friends. He wanted to have fun like they did and not sit on the beach like a baby. He understood and his own personality was naturally cautious. Da-no and his daddy were incredibly proud of him. They both told him that every day. Nevertheless, he didn't budge an inch.
"Everyone has to learn. Charlie had to learn how to swim before he could boogie board. So did Da-no and so did I," Steve added. "Everyone has to learn and sometimes the water is scary; but that's okay as long as you have a plan. Did you know that Grace didn't try to surf until she was eight years old? And you're only six - you will be learning how to surf in no time!"
He grinned when C.J. frowned because neither of them had thought about that. Steve hadn't mentioned Grace before in the context of swimming or surfing. It certainly got C.J. thinking now though. So just maybe Grace was his ace in the hole since C.J. practically idolized his new big sister.
Steve waited as another swell came in, larger to send a bit of saltwater spray into C.J.'s face. The boy looked startled but then only wiped the droplets from his eyes, treading water for the few seconds that swell lifted him off the bottom without blinking an eye. Steve smiled. He took a step away from the boy, his back to the open water, facing the beach and his son.
He held his hands out. "Come to me and tread water like I showed you," he said. He held up one hand. "Five seconds. Just five seconds ... you can do it. I promise." Steve waited as C.J.'s eyes flicked from Danny's distant figure on the beach to Charlie and then back to him again. C.J. could swim short distances. But he needed more to be safe. Five seconds of treading water would become ten and then twenty.
Once C.J. could calmly tread water at sixty long seconds and gain some more confidence, Steve had promised him he could start swimming with the other kids. At sixty seconds, they'd all go shopping for C.J.'s very own boogie board. Based on his mental clock, Steve estimated that at about a weeks-worth of practicing if C.J. kept trying as hard as he did. By this time next week, they very well could be shopping for that little board.
"Take a deep breath and just relax ...come to me C.J. Hold my hands and let go when you're ready. Gracie learned just like this, too."
Steve waited as C.J.'s lips tightened. His grin became a smile since he knew that look. C.J. was screwing up his courage. There was a tiny moment of doubt in the young face and then the boy half walked and half swam forward the short distance for him to be in water just over his head. Ever calm, Steve held his hands out as C.J. grabbed his wrists for balance. Waiting as the boy kicked frantically to stay vertical, instantly afraid all over again when his feet left the sandy bottom.
"I got you. You don't have to work so hard," Steve soothed him as he scrunched up his own body to slowly pedal his own legs. He spoke slowly, his eyes never leaving C.J.'s face. Ready in case the boy really had enough of that day's lesson. "Trust me. Use the water. Go slow. Easy ... slow it down."
He nodded in approval as C.J. slowed his frenetic pace. They were both treading more now and Steve smiled, wondering again if this was good enough before he gave Danno a heart attack. C.J.'s fingers were white where he gripped his wrists. In the distance, he could see his partner pacing and shading his eyes in their direction. The tide had slightly pulled them farther out and down the beach. Something which Steve was quite well aware of since he was now also freely treading. Also something which was clearly unsettling Danny. Steve almost made that decision to go in, but then C.J. was letting go of his right wrist, his newly freed hand swirling calmly in the water, his eyes fixed on his father's face.
"Good boy!" Steve praised, beaming proudly as C.J. looked over his shoulder towards open waters. Steve knew the boy was making sure that no big waves were coming before he dared let go with his left hand. Little frenetic puffs of air were coming from C.J.'s mouth as he bicycled his legs and finally let go of Steve entirely. That short-lived calm faded quickly again. Water splashed wildly as the boy fought a brief bout of panic and doubt, his hands and legs wind-milling through the water, afraid to trust he could keep his head above the water.
Steve was right there though.
"Not so hard ... easy kicks. Easy ... slow down and think." Steve tapped his own head and then near his eye. "Think and look! You're okay! Use the water. Watch me ... it's not that hard, buddy." Calmly swirling his hands back and forth, Steve showed the boy again how to move his arms, his hands and his legs. Then, without making a big deal out of things, he began to count out loud, holding up a finger for each of the five seconds he'd promised.
"One. Two. Three. Four. Five!" He held his hands out to scoop C.J. up. "Great job!" Steve shouted. But C.J.'s mouth was set now and his eyes were glimmering with a mix of things. Fear. Doubt. But also sheer determination.
'No!' C.J. shook his head, his expression fierce in concentration. He ducked awkwardly away from Steve's hands. Steve grinned and nodded but he didn't drop his hands. He made a show of checking his watch to count the time.
"Okay but ... slower. Think," he encouraged while grinning widely. He stayed close as C.J. relaxed and found a rhythm, testing how hard he had to work to stay afloat. Learning that he could ease up a lot on his kicking and slow down his arms like his father had coached him. C.J.'s chin dipped closer to the water as he tired. But a little kick or adjustment raised him back up.
C.J. smiled with pride. When a swell came in to smack his face with a sheet of water, he wasn't too badly alarmed. Still, he was tired now and grabbed for Steve's wrist.
'I did it!' He signed after he swiped the water away from his eyes with the side of his hand. 'How long, Daddy?" He was breathing hard, almost breathless with exertion and excitement.
Now, he'd had enough and Steve knew not to lose a good thing. 'Five plus twenty more,' Steve signed. 'You're a little fish! Twenty-five seconds, buddy!'
Steve signed the word for fish using one hand which looked a lot like a fish swimming in the water. His smile wouldn't quit as he signed the additional twenty seconds worth of time, thrilled when C.J. started to laugh.
'Tell Da-no!' C.J. signed happily as he clung to Steve's arm now. 'No. Me ...,' C.J. quickly signed before Steve could scoop up into his arms to carry him the few strokes it would take to hit sand and water shallow enough for the boy to stand on his own. He glanced towards the other kids and to Da-no, knowing that he was being watched.
'Me,' C.J. signed again. He tapped his chest.
"Are you sure?" Steve asked as his heart swelled even more. 'Yes?' He signed the question.
The determined nod might have been held a tinge of tired desperation, but it was there. With ever growing pride, Steve watched as C.J. looked over his shoulder, timing a swell. He watched as the boy awkwardly turned in the water, half doggy-paddling to face the beach. He kept easy pace with one hand hovering under the water close to the boy's torso as C.J. dared to use the water to help his still ungainly freestyle stroke, his face sometimes in the water.
C.J. was panting hard when they hit the beach but he was off and running through the shallows as soon as he found his footing. As the boy bounded wildly across the sand, Steve hung back. He watched, smiling from ear to ear, as C.J. aimed himself for his Da-no, his tanned skin sparkling from water, his dark hair matted to his head. Sand flying, he bounded up into Danny's waiting arms, his hands jabbering the entire time in excitement.
By the time Steve reached Danny's side, C.J. was off and running again. Loping through the sand to tell Charlie all about his accomplishments.
"So?" Danny asked as Steve gently bumped into him and stole a quick, chaste kiss to the side of his head.
"So, he's awesome," Steve preened happily. "He's smart ... quick ... but careful."
Steve grinned as they stood side by side watching their boys playing happily together once again. Swimming lessons had morphed into a sand-castle building contest with a few other of their friends joining in.
"He's going to sleep like a log tonight," Danny noted. "He goes until he drops."
"He's got a lot of lost time to catch up on," Steve said. "He's a determined little guy."
"As is his father," Danny whispered. "Twenty-five whole seconds, huh?" The approving smile in his voice only deepened Steve's feelings of warmth and pride as he nodded his head.
"Yup. He did it on his own, too," Steve said. "This time next week, we might have a new boogie board in the house. He'll be careful, Danno," Steve promised him quickly, knowing that Danny would always hold some level of worry every time the kids hit the beach. "He's always careful. It's part of who he is."
"I know," Danny added, already laughing at his own inherent tendencies to worry. "He's almost too careful." It was an interesting admission coming from his partner and Steve nodded at the truth of it. Danny might worry but he'd never inflict his own phobias on the kids. And what he was referring to included C.J.'s history. One which not only made him cautious but not wholly trusting either. He often doubted himself and didn't take any kind of teasing lightly; even that done good-naturedly.
"You're worried though," Steve needlessly voiced.
"Don't kid yourself, you are, too," Danny chuckled softly back. "I can see it in your face. For Charlie ... C.J. ... for all of them."
Which was also true enough because if Danny had an eagle-eye, Steve's was equally as sharp. But Danny's next words were whispered privately between them even if they didn't need to be, making Steve's heart swell even more as Danny's arm snuck comfortably around his waist. "But like Gracie and Charlie ... he's learning from the very best of the best, isn't he? He's going to be a fish like his old man and I'd just better get used to that now, right?"
Steve shrugged, his grin practically loopy though as they stood there together. "Maybe," he said. "Probably ..."
"Definitely!" Danny corrected him with a laugh.
~ End. ~