Lightning in a Jar by Cole Parker

David’s at loose ends this summer and likes it that way, hoping to goof off until school starts in the fall. With his mom pushing, it doesn’t work out that way, however.

Chapter 11

Fox was trashed.  Totally destroyed.  Everything in it was ruined.  Everyone’s possessions as well as everything the camp had provided.  Everything.

The boys made their way through the mess to their own cots and just stood there looking.  The mattresses were off the beds and cut up, the stuffing shredded and thrown to high heaven, the sheets ripped, the pillows and pillow cases treated the same as the mattresses.  The drawers beneath the beds had been taken out, turned over and apparently jumped on because the bottoms were all smashed.  Then the contents had been systematically decimated.  The nightstands and lamps were broken.  Someone had worked hard to cause such a disaster.

Colley had had a stack of painting canvases in his drawer.  Each one had been sliced with a knife.  It looked like they’d then been stepped on and mashed by someone’s foot.  There was nothing left of them.

Zach and Rad had only brought clothes and shoes to camp.  Those things were as wrecked as everything else.  I looked at Sam, and he was just shaking his head.  He, at least, had been spared what could have been the worst.  He always had his laptop with him and had just automatically taken it with him in his backpack last night.  It was safe.

My possessions had been few.  Only a few clothes and books.  The books were destroyed, pages torn out in what looked like fury.  They were damp, too, and when I sniffed them, I realized they’d been pissed on.  But the loss wasn’t much compared to Nick’s.

He’d been hurt the worst.  His violin looked as if it had been stomped on and was just kindling now.  It wasn’t close to being repairable; it was mostly splinters.  For good measure, his bow had been snapped in two as well.  The other boys were all looking and talking.  Not Nick.  He’d sunk to his knees and was sobbing.

I went to him, crouched down, and put my arm around him.  I’m not even sure he felt it.  He was in his own world, one of abject despair.

Sam came over and looked at me.  “Get Evan and Dillon,” I said.  He nodded and left.

A few minutes later, both came in and stopped, looking at the devastation in shock.  I stood up.  Nick seemed totally out of it, lost to us.  “Evan,” I said, “stay with these guys.  Maybe Dillon can do something for Nick.  Get what’s left of his mattress back on his bed and him up sitting on it at least.  Maybe Dillon can help him even more.  Maybe not.  But I need to go see Reggie.”

§   §   §   §

I marched to Reggie’s cabin in something of the same mood I’d worn when I’d gone there the last time.  Well, no, that wasn’t really true.  Then, I’d been furious that Nick had been scared like he was from Luther.  Now, it was a cold anger I felt.  I felt like shouting at Reggie, berating him for what he’d allowed to happen.  I knew that wasn’t fair, though.  He certainly hadn’t approved this.  He’d not expected it to happen any more than I had.  This had obviously been Luther’s response to the ‘beating’ he’d taken, for the humiliation he’d suffered.  How could I be mad at Reggie for something he and I hadn’t anticipated?

I was still mad, however, and he probably felt the sting of it as I let loose, even if he wasn’t the one I was so mad at.  I was mostly letting off steam.  Reggie sat there listening.

“That kid is destroyed.  And just because you let some complete asshole loose last night.  Why didn’t you keep him pinned down?  Locked up if you needed to!  What the hell was wrong with you?”

Reggie spoke calmly, if a little shakily.  I guess your adrenalin gets running when someone’s in your face like I was in his. 

“I told him he was going home in the morning, early, and to pack up.  This was not the place for him, and never would be again.  I told him to sleep with his campers as usual, and I’d be there for him at six in the AM.  I did that.  He’s gone now.  Not only is he gone, but I notified the police about his actions with Nick.  It’ll be noted in an official report.

“If they see reason to, they’ll investigate.  However, the fact is, Lute actually didn’t do anything physically wrong.  What he did was to look at Nick suggestively.  But what would have happened if Nick hadn’t been brave enough to stand up say he was going to scream?  I think it probable that Lute would have become physical with him.  So it was only due to Nick’s courage that nothing happened.

“Lute needs counseling, an evaluation needs to be made, and he needs to be kept away from children.  There needs to be an awareness of his aggressive and sexual nature.  That’s now been taken care of.  Now the police and his parents know what he did here, and it’s in the record.  Life is going to be much different in the future for Lute.”

“Like that helps us now.  You should have locked him up!”

Okay, so maybe that was a little unreasonable, although, looking at what he’d done, it wasn’t unreasonable at all.

Reggie was looking down, his whole posture showing defeat, something I’d never seen in him before.  He was the most easygoing person I’d ever met.  Nothing had ever seemed to bother him much.  Either my yelling at him or something else was now, though.  I stopped yelling.

“What is it, Reggie?  Something’s bothering you.  Something to do with this?  Huh?”

He looked up at me.  “Yeah.  You’re too polite to say it, but even if you’re not asking, you’re thinking why was he here at all?  He’s nothing like the other counselors.  And this is his second year.  I should have known!  Right?  So why did I hire him?  Is that what you’re thinking?”

“Well, yeah.  I’ve wondered that all summer.  I merely thought you did a piss-poor job interviewing him, just like you did me.”

Reggie forced a smile.  “That would only explain the first year, and I did a great job with you.  You have a way with kids this age like no one I’ve ever seen.  You’re perfect.”

“Okay, then, you’re right.  Why two years with Luther?”

“Because he’s my cousin.”  Reggie was shaking his head.  “I didn’t want him here the first year and even less this year.  But I can’t call all the shots.  Family, you know.  Fletcher & Sons.  But it also is Fletcher and mothers and aunts and cousins.  They don’t own the company, not even as part owners, but they sure do throw their weight around with my dad.  Lute’s a mess, and I know it, and probably the rest of them do, too, but they keep insisting I give him a chance here.  It’s just the kind of job they think would be good for him, and they hope that maybe in time he’ll get to be great at.  He sucks.  He’s the worst counselor we have.  Now he’s done this.  I’ll take pictures and show them.  Never again.

“But I had no idea he’d do that to Fox.  He was angry at you and maybe me for getting a little revenge, acting the way I did at your boxing match.  I probably should have made him sleep on the floor in here with me.  I just didn’t think.”

I could see how dejected he was.  Family.  What could one do?  Anyway, this was all beside the point.  Still forcing myself to be calm, not to shout, speaking quite evenly—and proud of myself for doing so—I said, “That’s over and done with.  We have to look at what comes next, what’s important.  What matters is what we’re going to do for Nick.  Fuck Luther!  He can rot in hell.  But Nick.  We have to do something for Nick, and I mean right now.  Not a month from now.  Now!”

I paused for a breath, which gave Reggie another opening.

“I agree, let’s fix it.  What’s your idea?”

I’d drawn a deep breath and was ready to take off again, but then realized what he’d said.  Okay, I told myself, slow down.  S-l-o-w    d-o-w-n!

“You agree?”

“Of course.  He’s at my camp.  My responsibility.  What happens at Camp Tonaka is my responsibility.  Let’s make it right.  I’m asking you—how?”

“We get him a new violin.  A better one!  I’ll go with him.  We’ll go to Ann Arbor.  Today.  We’ll buy him one.”

“Okay.  Sounds right to me.”

I wrinkled my forehead.  “You’re okay with it?  You’ll pay for it?”

“Of course,” he said, repeating himself.

“Do you know what violins cost?” I asked.

“I played one, remember?  I know they cost somewhere between maybe $20 to several million.  I’m assuming he doesn’t want a Strad.”

I smiled.  I’d never thought in a million years, coming in here, I’d soon be smiling.  “No, no Strad.  But maybe a decent fiddle.  The one he had was a piece of crap, but he was so proud of it!  He lives with just his mother, and they have no money.  He got it as a Christmas present three years ago.  It was worth more to him than anything he’s ever owned.  That’s why he’s beside himself right now.  I can’t even get him to talk.  He was just sitting in a daze on the floor when I left, looking like the world has ended.”

“So do it, David.  Go get him.  I’ll get the boat started.  You get Nick.”

I walked back to Fox feeling a whole lot better than when I’d left it and even found myself smiling.  I wasn’t exactly lighthearted but sanguine with the thought that I was going to cheer up a little boy I’d grown to care deeply about.

When I walked into the cabin, he, Evan and Dillon were the only ones there.  The others were off together, as they almost always were now and had been for the past week or so.  They were really busy with something, and I could tell by their body language and conspiratorial glances at each other and stifled smiles that whatever it was, it was something they were really into.  Now, Nick, who had been part of whatever it was they were up to, was a broken figure, now still sitting on his bed, apparently not having moved an inch in the quarter hour I’d been gone.

I walked over and knelt down on the floor, facing him.  “Nick?”

His eyes, his red eyes, scanned me briefly, then regained their vacant look.

“Nick, you probably don’t want to talk, so I’ll do the talking.  Please listen.  When I’m done, if you want a few minutes to digest what I’ve said, I’ll give you that.  I’ll go outside and wait for you.  But then, pretty quickly, I need you to come out.

“OK, here’s the deal.  Luther broke your violin.  He was angry with me and took it out on you guys, knowing that would hurt me more than anything he could do to me.  You know your mom can’t afford to buy you another one, and so the one thing you loved most, making music on your violin, is now gone.  I totally understand how you feel.  You’re grieving, and right now you think nothing will ever be good again.  Well, you’re wrong about that.  Things will be good again, and it’ll begin in a few minutes.”

He was listening.  I could see it in the tension in his shoulders.  He wasn’t all sagged in on himself any longer.

Okay, I’d given him some time to get ready for what I had to tell him.  To lose some of his depression and reenter the world just a bit.  No reason not to go ahead with it.  He was listening.

“I spoke to Reggie.  I told him the camp needs to provide you a replacement violin.  He said okay.  He said to come collect you and we’d go into Ann Arbor today, right now in fact, and buy you one.  So as soon as you figure out how to make your muscles all work again, meet me outside.  I’m coming with you.”

With that, I got up and walked outside.  I was only there a moment before the door burst open and he was there.  He was more than there; he was in my arms, hugging me like there was no tomorrow.

“Reggie’s waiting for us.” I told the top of his head, speaking gently.  “I can hear the boat’s diesels from here.  But why don’t you stop and wash your face, maybe pee if you need to, and then we’ll be off.  No need for Reggie to see the tear streaks on your cheeks or your red eyes.”

Dillon and Evan had come out with him.  I told Evan, “Find someone to look after your Wyandots.  You and Dillon, both you guys, should come with us.”

When we were on the boat and moving into the wind, Reggie stayed on the bridge, but Nick wanted to sit below in the lee of the cabin.  So we all stayed below with him.  He had a lot to say and was bubbling over, getting questions asked and comments made.

“I don’t know how to pick out a violin!  How much do they cost?  Can I buy any one I like?  How do I know which one will be good?  I’ve been playing on a three-quarter violin; should I get a full-sized one or the seven-eighths?  Do they make seven-eighths?  Who can help me with all this?  I want a good one if Reggie can afford it.  Did you have to twist his arm?”

He was going on but I laid my hand on his knee.  “Hold on a sec,” I said, laughing.  “I know someone who knows violin, teaches it even.  I called her and asked her to meet us there.  She has students of all ages and knows more than most people about violins.  She’ll help.”

He opened his mouth to say something, then couldn’t think what to ask and shut it again.  I grinned at him.  “Excited, huh?”

He grinned back.  Nick didn’t grin often, and it changed his appearance when he did.  He was always so sober looking, like he carried the world on his shoulders.  Grinning, he looked his age—or even younger.

We reached the yacht club.  I was an old hand by now.  I had the bumpers out and dropped over the side as we were creeping in, then climbed down to the dock to tie us up.  Reggie drove us into town.  Nick must have thanked him a dozen times during the trip.

We went to Carmichael’s, the music store Mom favored.  They had a knowledgeable staff and a vast assortment of music, supplies, instruments—everything musical the layman or professional could want.  What they didn’t seem to have was my mother. 

I’d been there several times in the past and knew the man to talk to was Mr. Russo.  I spotted him as he was walking toward us.  “David?” he asked, looking at me questioningly.

It had been a couple of years.  I guess I’d changed.  I nodded and shook his hand. 

“Your mother said she’ll be here but was running late.  She said you wanted a good violin for this young man, and I could go ahead.”  He looked at Reggie and introduced himself, then down at Nick, who was standing next to Dillon.

“Which one of you two is getting the violin?” he asked. 

Nick took a half-step forward.  Two months prior, he’d have been standing behind me if I’d have allowed it.  Now, I didn’t need to press him forward.  He stepped out on his own, even though this was an adult and a stranger.  I wondered how much confidence he drew from having Dillon next to him.  Or maybe just a little because I was there, too.  I knew the boy was still shy but was nothing like he had been.  He actually sort of smiled at Mr. Russo.

“That would be me, sir,” he said. 

“Yeah, this is Nick,” I said.  “He’s good, really good for his age, and wants a good violin to replace the one he had.  It needs to be a quality fiddle.”

Mr. Russo was looking at Nick and evaluating him as he did.  He spoke to the boy, his words friendly and comforting.  “When I was told you were coming, I had the impression from that conversation that you might be shy, and I was all ready to deal with that.  But here you are, looking perfectly like you’re ready to choose a violin without any awkwardness at all.  I’m very impressed.  It’s sometimes hard to get a shy person to express their opinion of the instruments we show them; they’re too afraid they’ll offend me.  I don’t think we’ll have that problem with you, not from what I see, Nick.  I think this will all go splendidly.  I want you to get the violin you want, not the one you take because you couldn’t speak up.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?”

Nick opened his mouth, closed it, and then Dillon beat him to the punch.  “Oh, he’ll tell you what he thinks.  He can be shy with people, but not with instruments and music stuff.  And if he does shut down, I’ll kick him a few times; that’ll get him going.”

I was looking at Nick and saw him grin.  That grin made me relax and told me this was going to be fun.

Mr. Russo saw the grin, too, and smiled.  “Okay, this one you’ll need words for.  What size violin were you playing?”  

Nick didn’t have any problem answering.  “Three-quarters,” he said.

“I figured as much.  You’re not that big yet.  That was probably just what you needed when you got it.  But I think you’re big enough for a full-sized violin now.  Do you know how long your arms should be to get one of those?”

Nick started to shake his head, and Mr. Russo, still smiling, wagged a finger at him.  “Come on, Nick, this is easy, and it’ll be practice for saying more later.  Yes or no?”

“No,” said Nick, then looked proud of himself.

“Well, about the minimum for a full-sized instrument is 23 inches.  So, I’ll get my tape and we’ll see.”

Mr. Russo left for a moment, then returned with what looked to me like a tailor’s cloth tape.  He had Nick stretch out his left arm and measured it. 

“Yep, what I thought.  Twenty-three and a half inches.  You, dear sir, need a full-sized fiddle.  Good for you!  Now, are you right-handed?”

Nick looked surprised and didn’t even hesitate.  “Yes.  Why?  Do they make left-handed violins?”

“Sure do.  We even have a couple in stock if you’d like to try one.  It’ll feel really wrong to you!”

“No, that’s OK,” Nick said, then blushed.

“Okay, let’s take a look at what we have.  I’ll show you four violins.  They’re all good.  But you can tell me which one you’re most comfortable with, which you most like the sound of.”

“Are they all . . . do they all cost the same?”  He took a quick glance at Reggie.

Reggie spoke up.  “You don’t have to be concerned about that, Nick.  Just pick the one you like best.  I’ve got insurance at the camp, and what that won’t cover, I’ll get from Luther’s family.  They’re loaded, and it’ll be good if they have to pay the price of allowing Luther to get away with what they have.”

Nick nodded  and seemed to take that in stride.  I hadn’t thought he’d been much concerned about anything but having a new and perhaps better violin, and that did seem to be the case.  He would probably think more about that in later days, but right then he was mostly thinking about what he was about to have.

“That’s good,” Mr. Russo said, nodding at Reggie.  Then to Nick, “You want to find a violin that feels right to you, gives you the sound you want, plays comfortably.  Now, I’d guess, just a guess mind you, that you’d rather play somewhere more private than here in the middle of the store.  Right?”

“Yeah, that would be better,” Nick agreed.  I patted him on the back.  He was doing great, as Mr. Russo’s friendly manner was cosseting him.

We followed Mr. Russo to a small studio set off in a hallway where there were other rooms.  “This is soundproofed.  We have lessons here and use these rooms for that purpose as well as for what we’re doing now.  I already picked out five violins, but one of them is a 7/8 size one, and we can forget about it.  The other four, well, what I’d like you to do, Nick, is pick them all up and play with them a little.  See if you like any of them.  If you don’t, we have more.”

Nick looked up at me.  He was nervous again.  He needed to be paying attention to the violin if he was going to make a good choice.  So I came to his rescue.

“Mr. Russo, could maybe just Nick and his friends and I do this together?”

Mr. Russo smiled.  “Come on,” he said to Reggie, “we’re being kicked out.”

They left.  I grabbed Evan’s arm so he’d stay, too, and Nick took a deep breath and sighed.  “Thanks,” he said.

“No problem,” I told him.  “Go ahead.  Play them all.”

Which is what he did.  He spent enough time with each that he had a good feel for all of them.  When he was done, about 20 minutes later, he sighed again, then looked up at me.  I was half-sitting, half-standing, much of my weight against the counter the violins were displayed on.

“I think I like this one best, but I don’t know.  There isn’t that much difference.  I wish someone could tell me what they think.”

I noticed his worry.  I didn’t like him worrying.  I wanted him to be happy.  “Well,” I said, “I’m sure they’re all good.  The one you’re holding, that’s the one I thought you sounded best on.  It has a warm tone but is bright enough to be heard.  Maybe . . . maybe I could try it?”

He looked at me like I’d grown another head.  “You?  You can play the violin?”

I laughed.  “I used to.  I took lessons for several years.  But I stopped.  Haven’t played in a few years now.  But I worked hard on this one piece, and I remember it.  I had a tough teacher.  She made me do everything her way.  Now, her way was the right way, don’t get me wrong, but when you’re a teenager, you tend to get balky and don’t want people, especially adults, telling you what to do.  So after learning this piece, I quit.  But I do remember it; I sure worked hard on it.” 

I stood up from the counter.  “This piece, it’s hard, and I sweated over it.  I wanted to get it right, to impress my teacher, show her I could do it, and I spent hours and hours with it.  Finally, finally, I got it to where my teacher said it was the best I’d ever played.  That’s when I quit.  Pissed her off, which was my objective.  Teenagers can be really stupid.”

I was smiling, but there was some melancholy in it.  Nick didn’t say a word and was just looking at me with an unreadable expression.

I took the fiddle from him and put some rosin on the bow, checked the tuning, using the tuner that was already attached to the E string to make a final, minute adjustment, then put the instrument under my neck, thought for a moment, and began to play.

It all came back to me.  No surprise, with the hours I’d spent learning the piece.  I played it, all of it.  Three and a half minutes.  Every note.

I was in my own world.  When I stopped, I remembered what I was doing and realized Nick was still there.  His eyes were wide open, staring.

“I . . . I don’t know what to say,” he said.  “That was amazing.  More than amazing!”

“Yes, it was.”

I turned, and my mother, Mr. Russo and Reggie had all come in while I was playing.  I’d never noticed.  Mr. Russo was smiling, Reggie was looking like he’d been hit with a sledgehammer, and my mother was frowning.  She was the one who spoke, and it wasn’t to me; it was to Mr. Russo.

“See, Carl?  See!  That’s why I was so upset back then.  He had that talent, and he threw it away to go play games in the Army!”

“What was that?” asked Nick, forgetting to be shy.  “I’ve never heard anything like that before.”

I opened my mouth, but my mother beat me to it.  “That was the third Bach Partita for violin.  In E major.  And you must be Nick.  I’m Clara Harrington.  David’s mother.  I teach violin at U of M.  And play.  I taught David until he couldn’t take it any longer.  Maybe I was a little too demanding.  I’ve had a couple of years to think about it.  I was part of the reason he quit.  I hope I’ve learned something from that.  Nick, if you’re willing, I’d like you to play something for me.  Will you, please?  Some piece you’ve learned?”

“Play the Franck you’ve been working on all summer,” I suggested to Nick. 

“The Franck?” my mother asked, shaking her head.  “Surely—”

“The Franck,” I said.  “The first movement.  Dillon will play the piano part with him.  Both know it by heart.”

Nick looked at me, and I handed him the violin.  He hesitated, but Dillon gave him a thumbs up and a cocky grin, then settled down on the piano bench.

They played, and no one in the room made a sound.  From the music they made, it seemed like the players were twice, three times the boys’ actual age.  The piece could have been played by professionals.  My mother, Mr. Russo and Reggie looked stunned. 

Finally, after letting the silence play itself out when the movement was finished, my mother said, “My, my.  That was excellent, Nick.  You’re 12?” 

He nodded.  He still wasn’t all that good with adults.

“Well, as you live in Ann Arbor, and I do, too, if you’d like, I could start working with you.  You’re very advanced for your age—very much so—and you’ll continue to improve with good teaching.  For someone who’s not had formal lessons, I’d say you were incredible.  However, that’s not to say I didn’t see several things we can work on to make playing even easier and to improve your facility, which will make harder works more accessible for you.  Would you like to take lessons?”

“Uh . . . ”  He stopped.  I knew the reason. 

“She won’t charge you, Nick.  She has several students that she sees real talent in, and they only pay if their parents are able.  The ones who don’t have affluent parents don’t pay anything.  You’d simply be one of those, and no one would know.”

Now I’d embarrassed him!  I could see it.  So I told Mom that we’d talk about it and let her know.  Then I told Mr. Russo we liked the violin.

“Great!” he said.  “I’ll talk to Reggie—he told me to call him that!—and we’ll work something out.  Nick, I’ll get you the case.  I guess your bow wasn’t damaged?”

“No, it was broken, too,” I said.

“Well, then, do you like the one you just used?  Not too heavy or light?”

“It was good,” Nick said, seeming a little stunned at how fast things were going.

“Okay, put that in the case with the violin.  It was a pleasure meeting you, Nick.  I’ll probably see more of you as the years pass.  Come and see me, ask for me, when you come in.”

Nick blushed again; Mr. Russo chuckled and then walked off with Reggie.  I was left in the studio with Nick and Mom, Evan and Dillon.

Mom looked at Dillon.  “And you, young man, you were as amazing as Nick.  The two of you!  Very, very good.  The Franck is not a student piece.  I’d guess you take lessons?”

“Sure do.  For about forever.”  He named his teacher, and Mom nodded.  She knew him well.  She and Dillon chatted.  Nick kept picking up his new violin, studying it, rubbing it with the chamois that came with it—making sure to remove all traces of rosin from around the bridge—setting it down again.  He was glowing.

It was time for lunch, and Reggie took us to his club.  We were dressed for camp, not for an exclusive dining establishment where business luncheons and dinners were routinely held, but Reggie said they had a room upstairs where we’d be by ourselves.  We went there, and the boys had what they wanted: cheeseburgers, fries and Cokes.  We adults ate better, but the food wasn’t the main event. That was Mom getting to know Evan.  She gave him the third degree in the manner of a knowledgeable, long-time teacher who knew how to work with shy pre-teens, and she brought him out of himself.  He passed with flying colors without breaking a sweat.  I thought he was very impressive, and wished he could always be so open. 

Afterwards, Reggie took everyone back to the island, everyone except for me.  I had other things still to do.  Evan was needed at camp because the Potawatomis didn’t have a counselor any longer and so they, Wyandot and Fox were all adrift at the moment.  Not that that was really a problem.  The boys at camp were really good kids and could survive for a short time without much supervision.  The few counselors who were still there had been asked to look in on those tribes occasionally during our absence.

I spent the day in Ann Arbor, slept at home, and Reggie brought me back to the island the next morning.


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