"Jake's just so careless," the woman said with a nervous laugh, "to fall off of the junglegym like that. I swear, I have to pad the kid up like a deep-sea diver whenever he goes out of the house." She twisted the hem of her threadbare sweater between her fingers, toes turned inward in a suggestion of awkwardness. There was a deep, ruddy bruise upon the high arc of the woman's left cheek: perfect striking distance for a balled brace of knuckles. Leslie had heard it all before: women who defended the actions of their drunken husbands out of fear of abandonment; the long sleeves and skirts always served to hide the canvas of other bruises. She pressed her lips to a thin line, declining to comment. The boy's injuries spoke for themselves: you couldn't tell her that the dark impressions of five fingers on Jake's arm were the result of a playground accident.
"Kids are always reckless," she finally said, looking over to the boy with a fond smile. Jake smiled back, pressing his tongue to the gap between his teeth. "But I'd like to make a suggestion, if I could." This was the tricky part. Trying to insinuate action without being too obvious; trying to make it sound like it was the parent's idea. "I think that a kid of Jake's caliber could benefit from one of our after-school programs. There's a great art class that's held after school every weekday. You said that Jake liked to draw."
The mother's eyes lit up. "Oh, he does! You should see some of the things he makes me! I mean, he's a regular Picasso!" She laughed, a bit more genuine. Then her face crumpled. "We don't have the money, though. I mean, I can barely afford to keep him in shoes." Leslie smiled. "We're fortunate enough that a lot of these after-school programs are offered free-of-charge," she said, "and with Jake's talent, I bet he could get away with getting all the supplies he needs without too much of a strain to your pocketbook."
Jake's mother smiled faintly. "He's a good kid," she said, reaching over to ruffle her son's hair, "I really want the best for him." Leslie nodded genially: "Then it's settled. I'll put you in touch with the director of the program. She'll be able to give you the time and place for the class. I think they've worked it out so that one of the schoolbuses will make a stop close to where you live, so you won't have to worry about him wandering the streets after it lets out." She shook the woman's hand, slipped a card for the nearby Woman's Shelter in her pocket, and bade a fond farewell to the blossoming artist.
Days like this made it all worthwhile.