“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17
“Lookin’ good, kid!” Hondo began. “Yeah, I think we did pretty good.”
Hondo and Darryl stood back admiring their handiwork. The tree was enormous and if it weren’t for its significance in the lives of both Hondo and Darryl its over-sized presence would seem comical.
“I think we did.” Darryl agreed. “Before I came to live here, I never had a Christmas tree.”
“I have a confession.” Hondo handed the young man one last ornament before continuing. “Before you came, I’d never had a tree in this house.”
Darryl looked down at the delicate crystal angel in his hand.
“Are you sure you want me to put this on the tree?”
“Why wouldn’t I; you are family, right?”
Darryl took a second to ponder the question and then shook his head, yes. Family, it felt good to have a place in a family that accepted him out of their heart and not obligation. It was still odd even after almost three years. It also felt better than anything had in his entire life. So, without another moment’s hesitation, Darryl stood on his toes and placed the angel on the top of the tree. Hondo took a step up as Darryl took one step back and the two admired the colorful tree with silent joy.
Leroy watched the pair from across the street. The large picture window framed a scene that ignited his anger toward his lifelong friend. The curtains were open, and the lights inside muted the happy scene painted in shades of gold and orange. He felt cheated and he wondered if Hondo had planned to steal his most prized possession all along. It didn’t matter that he had failed as a father. His son was now in the custody of another who now played the role of father in his life.
Leroy had asked Hondo to show Darryl all the things he could not, and Hondo had done just that. He should have been happy but instead, Leroy was jealous, and he felt left out. The scene across the street forced him to admit that he was a poor example of a role model and parent; he had no excuses, yet he blamed everyone except himself. His son yes, his son had been transformed into a stranger who believed in the possibility of a future; he looked more like a little boy than a man now and that would get him killed on the streets. The joy and bright light in his son’s eyes would put a target on his back.
Hondo gathered the last of the empty ornament boxes and stuffed them in a large trash bag. It was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas; Hondo had never seen Darryl smile so much. Both of them had lost so much of their childhood with absentee fathers and with life’s circumstances forcing them into manhood too soon.
“I’ll be back, I’m going to take this out and when I come back, I’ll make some of my famous hot chocolate.” Promised Hondo.
“Man, I love hot chocolate! Maybe I should make it.”
“Why is that youngster?”
“Because my hot chocolate will put yours to shame.”
“Oh, okay, okay.” Hondo chuckled. “We’ll see, we’ll see!”
Still smiling, Hondo stepped out the front door and headed around to the side gate. One by one he pulled the large trash bins to the end of the driveway for the next day’s collection. Leroy slowly made his way across the street emerging from the darkness, coming face to face with a surprised Hondo.
“Hey Leroy; what are you doing here?”
“You’re looking pretty cozy in there with my son.”
“We’re just putting up the tree.”
“Putting up a tree.” Leroy shook his head mockingly. “Man, you gotta be kiddin’ me. You’re turning my boy into some weak…”
“Leroy, come on; I’m just doing what you asked me to do. Besides, it’s been years since I’ve had a Christmas. We both needed it.”
“It’s not going to change a damn thing, you know that, right?” Warned Leroy. That boy knows where he belongs!”
“Yeah, and where’s that, sharing a cell with you?”
“You’ve forgotten where you came from, Hondo? You’re no better than me, or anybody else in these streets!”
“I know I’m no better, Leroy! I just want to give your son a chance at a better life. I thought you wanted that too.”
“Well, I appreciate you looking out for him, but his father is back, and I want him with me now.”
“You’re living in a halfway house, man! You know he’s better off here, why would you want him to leave?”
Leroy smiled at the desperation in his friend’s voice. His jealousy had no merit; what Hondo had done for Darryl was more than Leroy could ever have done for him behind bars. Still, Leroy was fueled by emotions that were selfish in nature; angry still at the fact that Hondo would not speak up on his behalf.
Darryl looked up and outside; he smiled at the sight of his father. What a surprise, he thought; he wasn’t expecting him. He watched for a few more minutes before deciding to join the two men.
“The truth is, you’re in my way, Hondo.”
“In your way? How?”
“You’ve changed him, and he’s got these crazy ideas in his head about college and making a life for his son and…”
“So, what’s wrong with that? That’s a good thing isn’t it?”
Hondo searched the man’s eyes; even in their worst days as boys he had always been able to reason with his friend, but not tonight. He watched as Leroy pulled his jacket away revealing a gun tucked in his belt. Leroy placed his hand on the gun ready to remove it from its resting place.
“Come on, man; is that why you came?”
“You’re in my way, Hondo!” Leroy’s voice was eerily calm.
The front door opened, and Hondo could hear the footsteps.
“Don’t do this. Show your son that you can do better too.”
“So self-righteous now aren’t you. Remember we used to run these streets together? You and me, we were the same!”
Darryl was closer now; Leroy’s eyes darted back and forth from his son to the man in front of him.
Hondo stepped slightly to the left shielding the gun from Darryl’s view.
“I didn’t know you were coming by.” The joy in Darryl’s voice was undeniable.
“Yeah, I was in the neighborhood and…”
“Your father wanted to surprise you, right Leroy?” Hondo interrupted.
Leroy shot a quick glare at Hondo then smiled back at his son.
“Surprise!” He chuckled nervously. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, no we just finished decorating the tree! You should come in and check it out.”
“Well, it’s getting late, and you know how they are at the house.”
“Ah come on, dad! Besides, I was just about to prove to Hondo that my hot chocolate is better than his.”
His glare morphed into a look of disbelief as he stood shaking his head at the absurdity of what he was hearing.
“You’re welcome to join us Leroy.” Hondo added. “In fact, if you don’t have plans my mom has invited us to dinner on Christmas and you’re welcome to join us for that too.”
“I’ll have to get back to you on that, Hondo but I guess I can come in for some, hot chocolate.”
Darryl smiled and hurried back toward the house with Hondo and Leroy behind him. Just as the two men entered the house, Leroy grabbed Hondo’s arm. The two stood face to face for a few seconds. Then Leroy leaned in close barely hanging on to his fury and whispered to his friend.
“This isn’t over. I meant what I said. You left me hanging, and no hot chocolate or Christmas dinner will fix that!”
“We cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” – Max de Pree