No day on duty was ever boring or monotonous for Officer Danny, 35. Being a cop had always been hard work. Always. He had the option of choosing another career, but everything changed when he enrolled in the police academy. Once he graduated and embarked on the mission to serve the nation, his calling outweighed everything else. Quitting was out of the question.
That job allowed Danny to be able to help humanity, and he loved doing it, even if it meant putting his life on the line. During his service, he’d seen all kinds of people: scary, threatening, crazy, drunk, and those who loved to break the law for fun. But he’d never met anyone like Elio, a rowdy ten-year-old he ran into at the supermarket a week before Christmas.
As raindrops splattered on the windshield, Danny sat comfortably inside his patrol car, staring at the photo of his late wife Gabi. It reminded him of their first date, ruined by the rain.
«The way you were scared of thunder and buried your face in my coat… And the way we kissed while the rain soaked our lips,» Danny reminded her as warm tears rolled softly down his cheeks. That’s when Elio, an arrogant boy, entered the scene.
«Hey, watch it, kid!», Danny politely warned the boy, who brushed the rearview mirror of his car with his umbrella. Elio turned a deaf ear, didn’t bother to apologize, and didn’t even look at who was inside the squad car.
«These kids these days!» complained Danny and then hurried into the supermarket. He scoured the aisles in search of bacon and cheese. Every day after his shift, he would go to the store and buy canned spiced beef or sometimes fresh cuts to make juicy hamburgers for dinner. Sometimes it was steamed rice and gravy. Occasionally, just a pizza. And some days, Danny barely ate dinner because duty called until the wee hours of the morning.
«And this… and this… and…» as Danny dumped things into his cart, a loud sound startled him. He heard a boy shouting in a hallway in front of his and ran to see what was going on, and saw Elio, the boy he had seen moments ago, behaving wildly.
«You always refuse when I ask you. I want this for Christmas, are you going to buy it for me or not?» cried Elio to his mother, Susan, who had no idea how to calm him down. He screamed and immediately burst into tears.
«Shut up! Honey, can you stop? There are people watching,» Susan motioned for him to shut up.
But nothing quieted Elio, and as customers began flocking to see what the noise was all about, Danny approached the scene.
«Hey there, what happened, is everything all right?».
Elio showed no signs of fear after looking at Officer Danny and continued yelling at his mother.
«Mom, are you bringing me this toy or not?».
All right! So this is what you need to calm down, Danny wondered and immediately brought down the toy drone Elio wanted.
«Miss, the bill for this one is on me, okay? Have a merry Christmas, young man.»
At that moment, Elio stopped screaming. The tears that flowed unceasingly from his eyes suddenly stopped. He was happy and calmed down, but he didn’t spend a second thanking the agent.
Danny paid the bills for his things and the toy he had bought for Elio and waited outside to meet the boy’s mother. He knew something wasn’t right with Elio, especially after the tantrum he had thrown at the store.
Moments later, Elio and Susan left the store and, as they were about to leave, Susan approached Danny to thank him.
«I’m Susan. Nice to meet you, Agent. And thank you for everything. It’s just that my son…,» Susan suddenly stopped talking, as tears welled up in her eyes.
«Yeah, I wanted to ask you about him, is everything okay, why was he yelling at you?»
A few minutes into the conversation, Danny learned that Elio had recently lost his father in a hit-and-run. Since then, Elio had been behaving differently.
«I don’t know how to handle it,» Susan explained. «I’m afraid of how it will affect him in the long run. He misses his father very much and is very depressed after losing him. Elio gets angry for no reason and throws things. His friends have stopped talking to him. He was top of the class, but his grades have plummeted.»
«Hmmm… I get it… I get it,» Danny replied, reflecting deeply on Susan’s words.
Elio’s current mood reminded him of the time when he was acting out after losing his father. Danny could relate to what the boy was facing and devised a plan to help him. He knew he would have to do everything he could to get the boy on the right track. He knew it could backfire. But Danny was determined to try.
«Miss Susan, can I have ten minutes of your time? I want to take Elio somewhere.»
Susan was perplexed, but couldn’t refuse Danny’s request, especially after he calmed her son with the toy. Moments later, they arrived at the police station.
«Miss Susan, please wait here. We’ll be right back.»
«Where are you taking me?» asked Elio anxiously to Danny as he led him inside the police station.
«You’ll see for yourself, young man! Keep walking.»
Fear and trepidation seeped into Elio as he marched through the cells with prisoners locked in each cell.
He became Elio’s mentor in every way.
«See them?» commented Danny, pointing to the men in orange jumpsuits.
«This is the future of those who refuse to study and keep their grades. This is life for those who don’t have a goal. I had a goal and I am here as a policeman. If I had deviated, I would be behind bars.»
«You see, life is like a finish line: you only win if you cross it. You’re still a loser, no matter how close you get — the choice of which side of the line you want to be on is yours, young man! But keep in mind that it could change your destiny.»
Elio sighed in shock as he looked around, watching the men staring back at him. It looked menacing, disappointing and not at all like the life his late father had envisioned for him.
«Are you serious, am I going to be locked up in jail if I don’t study or have a goal in my life?».
Ahem! Danny cleared his throat and continued, «Yes! You will become a responsible citizen only if you study, go to college and find a good job. If you don’t, circumstances will lead you to do the wrong things. And those wrong things will bring you here. And you will have to wear an orange jumpsuit, stay locked up all the time and forget about life outside those bars.»
Danny could see the fear building up in Elio’s wide eyes. He knew the boy needed this strong dose of wisdom to get him back on track. Danny knew how to handle the boy — he just did.
Later, he took Elio back to his mother, and she was surprised to see the strange glow on her son’s face. But had his attitude really changed after that brief encounter with the prisoners in the dungeon?
«Miss Susan, I’m taking you home now. You don’t have to worry about Elio again. He’ll be fine, I promise.»
Danny had dinner with Susan and Elio at her house, after she insisted. As time went on, he grew fonder of the boy. As the young boy entered the difficult teenage years, he became Elio’s mentor in every way.
In addition, he and Susan became good friends and gradually began to get to know each other. Although they never planned to take things beyond friendship, they wanted to remain good friends for life.
Years passed and one day Danny, who was now a police captain, could not hold back tears when Elio’s name rang through the microphone as he was called to receive his badge. Time seemed to have finally answered Susan’s prayers.
«My son, you’ve done it… You’ve made me proud,» Danny thought as he stood up to address 25-year-old Elio on the occasion of his graduation from the police academy.
As Danny pinned the prized badge on Elio’s uniform, the boy took the microphone, delivering a speech that moved everyone to tears.
«I felt lost after my father’s death. I thought I had no purpose until you came into my life and took me from darkness to light,» he began.
«You are a great man and I am proud to call you my mentor. You have been my second father, and I am honored to follow in your footsteps. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but today, and as long as I live, this will remain true: you are my greatest inspiration. I love you, Dad — can I call you that?»
Unable to hold back tears, Danny hugged Elio and cried on his shoulder as everyone stood up and applauded. Susan shed tears of joy and looked up, silently telling her late husband how proud she was of her son.
After the graduation party, Danny, Elio and Grace headed to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. Elio walked down the aisle and smiled when he saw the toy airplane he loved so much as a kid. He didn’t need it anymore!