Our story so far: Frank Connell sold his condominium and invested all the money in a new restaurant called the Red Bean. He's living with his mother in Alexandria until the restaurant opens and starts to generate income. To catch up on earlier episodes, go to www.washingtonpost.com/adventures.
It's noon, and Frank Connell is just waking up. He saunters into the kitchen with a wicked case of bed head and makes himself a cup of instant coffee. There's a rattling at the front door, and a child's voice calls out: "Frank, I'm here. I'm ready to go swimming."
Fatima Chavez-Pineda, a kindergartner with a yellow swimsuit and pigtails, walks into the house. Fatima was born in El Salvador, but now she and her family live in Alexandria, two doors down from the Connells. Her dad works a lot, says Frank, and her mother has been busy with a newborn baby.
Fatima has found a surrogate grandmother in Frank's mom, Joan Connell. Fatima "just kind of wandered over here one day and started hanging out with my mother," Frank says. "Now she practically lives here."
"She loves going over there," says Fatima's mother, Olga Pineda-Chavez, who speaks only Spanish. She says that Joan Connell has been instrumental in teaching Fatima English.
Lately Frank has been doing some teaching of his own: He's been giving Fatima swimming lessons at a nearby municipal pool.
Frank has never been married and doesn't have any children. Nor does he want any, he says. But he gets a kick out of spending time with other people's kids. He often baby-sits for friends. "It's more like I just go over and pal around," Frank says. "Kids think I'm hilarious."
As much as he likes children, Frank says that sometimes Fatima wears him out. Every day, it seems, she asks for another swimming lesson. He finds it hard to say no.
Hold on while I get a towel, he tells her today.
Thirty minutes later, Fatima and Frank are splashing each other. He is one of two adults among more than 30 children in the pool. Fatima leaps into the water from the side wall. "One month ago she wouldn't have done that," Frank says proudly.
"Now I can jump very high, like this," Fatima says as she demonstrates the leap Frank taught her. Water used to go up her nose, she says. "It was really scratchy . . . It hurt here." She points to the back of her throat. Later, Frank tells her to lie flat on her belly. He takes her hands and glides her through the water. "Kick, kick, kick," he instructs.
After more than an hour, Frank announces that it's time to leave. Fatima looks dejected, but she climbs from the pool without complaining. They drive back home. Where are you going now? Fatima asks. Frank says he's going to the Red Bean, where his cousin and business partner, Mike Clements, is already hard at work trying to get the restaurant open. "I wanna see the restaurant," she says.
Maybe this weekend, Frank answers, but not today. Playtime is over.
-- Tyler Currie