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Aceinthehole

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About Aceinthehole

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  1. Hi Mark, I appreciate all the comments you've been sharing as you've read through my stories. I've updated the disclaimer at the start of the story to reflect some of your feedback. However, I do not want to spoil Jamie's death in the disclaimer. I've known a few people like Jamie and have seen how easily all the red flags they raise get ignored. To me, this was not only a story that I needed to tell, but a story that I felt needed to be read. I see where you're coming from and fully respect it. I can see why people would turn to reading stories to relieve stress and inspire them. After all, that is exactly why I write, but it's also why my stories can get so dark. Writing allows me to let it all out. Don't worry, my other published and ongoing stories do not have this dark of an ending, but I would not rule it out for future stories I write. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I dont want you to be scared or dissuaded from reading my stories. I really am still surprised when people enjoy my stories and always appreciate readers taking time to share their thoughts on chapters . Yet I have to be upfront about my writing style, there will always be grit and darkness to my stories and although I've only written one tragic ending, the possibility of similar endings is not out of the question for future stories (including ongoing series). For better and for worse, I wear my heart on my sleeve when I write but I wouldn't want to do it any other way. I really do appreciate the feedback and hope this doesn't come across as rude or dismissive in anyway. I look forward to reading through more of the comments you've left, Ace
  2. Chapter 49: Group Therapy I couldn’t help but just sit and think things over as Adam returned to his seat and friendly small talk began. Sadie’s actually going to move to San Francisco? Never in my wildest dreams did I see that happening! I know I’ve always wanted her to, but I never thought she’d actually do it. I guess being alone in our small old town made it stop feeling like home. Afterall, if there’s anything I’ve learned over these past few months, it’s that family and home, they only mean as much as the people you surround yourself with. “Still processing it all?” Lindsay couldn’t help but interrupt their chatter as she saw how quiet I’d grown. I went to say something, but all I could do was shrug my shoulders, inciting some laughter within the small group. “You realize things are really different here, right?” I finally forced out, hoping not to be too off putting about the subject. “I had to really open my mind before I could enjoy this place.” I confessed with a sigh. “I had to open your mind.” Dizzy corrected me with his usual smirk. “I know.” Sadie spoke up, ignoring Dizzy’s words. “But I look around at all the older people back home, and none of them are happy.” She shrugged her shoulders. “So, I could turn into some old prude that lives in the same town her whole life, or I could come here and enjoy life while I’m still young.” As I heard that, I immediately looked over to Adam but realized he was already staring down Lindsay. “Well if you want, I could help you settle in.” Lindsay offered, too close with Adam to turn down his unspoken request. “I can show you all the best shops, salons, food, bars,” Lindsay began to smile at the idea as she warmed up to it. “we can even get wine drunk in the middle of the day if you’d like.” I couldn’t help but begin to laugh as I heard Lindsay’s offer. “What are you laughing at?” Adam challenged as his stare quickly landed on me. “Sadie? Getting wine drunk in the middle of the day?” I asked, not needing to say anything more. Dizzy flashed Adam a quick look, at his smirk, as Adam shook his head. “I remember this really shaky kid who didn’t even have his tie on right, he was scared to even talk to me.” Adam reminded me as I began to nod my head. “and now just a few months later and he’s sneaking out to the park to smoke a joint with his boyfriend.” He challenged as I felt Sadie’s gaze began to fall down hard on me. “It was one time!” I exclaimed, not even daring to look over to Sadie. “I haven’t heard about this.” Lindsay couldn’t help but laugh to herself. Her gaze shifted to Dizzy as they shared a smile. “I just heard about it from Mason this week.” Adam shrugged his shoulders, but as he saw the anger on Sadie’s face, he quickly looked back at me. “You know Sadie’s smoked once too.” A wide smile formed on my face as I felt the moment begin to even out. As I finally found the courage to look over to her, I saw that her anger had been redirected to Adam. “You just love to stir the pot, don’t you?” She asked as her face began to turn red. “Not as much as you all love to smoke it!” Dizzy exclaimed as the two of us burst out into laughter. “It was once when we were teenagers” Sadie grumbled as she continued to shoot Adam daggers. “and I only tried it because Sarah was going to.” Sadie couldn’t help but laugh as she saw the look on my face quickly turn to curiosity. “She ended up wimping out.” Adam nodded his head along with her words as my interest quickly dissipated. “I’m just shocked she agreed to in the first place.” I shrugged my shoulders but quickly began to wonder what she would think of me smoking. “She was trying to get Adam to quit.” Sadie spoke up once more. “Said if Adam’s going to smoke his life away then she will too.” For a second Adam’s stare grew empty as he thought back to the moment. “Do you remember the look on her face when she saw I was smoking out of a soda can?” He asked as his smile returned at the thought of his older sister. “That was the moment I knew she was out.” “But you weren’t?” Dizzy asked Sadie, hoping to keep the attention on their story rather than ours. “Someone had to try to stop him.” She answered in a confident voice, but received only confused looks back. “We thought if he saw what we were like high, he would see how mindless it was making him.” As she spoke the confidence in her voice began to fade. “How’d that go for you?” Lindsay couldn’t help but ask with a slight smile. Sadie looked over to Adam as the smile began to fade from her face. “He just kept laughing at me all night.” She exhaled as he began to lightly giggle to himself. “He still thinks it’s funny.” She groaned. “You were so hungry” His giggle began to turn into a laugh. “and do you remember what you were mad about?” He asked but got no answer. “Come on.” He encouraged but got nothing back. “You were mad,” “Adam.” She interrupted him in a stern voice. “That our, and I quote,” His smile turned to a smirk, and for a moment I saw a look similar to Dizzy’s in his eyes. “town has the ugliest men in the state.” Her face turned a light shade of red as she heard those words. “Then you said you wanted to go somewhere where a hot guy would treat you like more than his housewife.” Adam flashed her a confident look. “You were talking about leaving, even before I was.” I quickly looked over to her, once more surprised by what I was hearing. “You weren’t the only one who wanted to leave.” She looked back to Adam as her stare grew serious. “You were just the only one brave enough to do it.” “It wasn’t bravery,” He denied as he began to match the serious look on her face. “it was desperation.” She nodded at his words as her eyes began to drift towards the floor. “So,” Lindsay spoke up as the mood in the room began to shift. “Now we’ve heard their story, what’s yours?” She asked, looking over to me and Dizzy. I let out a groan as I began to stare at her. “Don’t look at me,” Dizzy shrugged as they turned to him. “it was Artie’s idea.” I felt him give me a friendly nudge, but refused to look back to him. “We were just looking to bend a rule or two.” I finally began as Sadie looked over to me. “There really wasn’t much to it, Dizzy found a joint for us and we just smoked it in the park.” This time it was Dizzy’s turn to groan. “Could you have made that sound any more boring?” Dizzy complained as he prepared to give Sadie a real look at his personality. “I wanted to have a quiet night in, with wine and a movie, but that was too boring for daredevil over here” Dizzy began grabbing the attention of the adults in the room. “Dizzy.” I warned him, finally turning back and locking eyes. “But considering Artie is just a clone of Adam, I knew he would be all on board for a joint instead.” He teased, cutting out the other parts of the story. “So, we went to steal one of Adam’s, but his booby traps almost killed us,” He teased as Adam began to stare him down. “Left this silly mark in my hair.” He pointed to the lightening like design buzzed into the side of his head, drawing a laugh from me. “So, we swung by my place and borrowed a joint from my Mom.” “Then we brought it back to the park and found a nice spot under the tree.” His voice grew serious as he recalled the moment. “and that was that.” He abruptly ended the story but as our eyes connected once more, I could see hundreds of thoughts swirling around his mind. “No, no,” Sadie spoke up before Adam or Lindsay could. “Adam told you guys what I was like on drugs, what were you like?” She asked, trying her hardest to force eye contact. “On drugs?” Adam repeated in a laugh, but I could tell he was wondering the same thing. “There’s really not much to talk about.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders, in an attempt to play dumb. “It just burnt us both out.” “Last week when I found out you said you guys talked about marriage” Adam smirked, once more jumping on the chance to start trouble. “Marriage?” Lindsay repeated in an unamused tone, but I could tell the word was having a very different effect on Sadie. “I was just teasing him.” Dizzy tried to dismiss, but for one of the only times I can remember, I saw him begin to blush. As he tried to stop the shade of pink from spreading through his cheeks, I tried to stop the wide smile from forming on my face. “Mark it down on your calendar.” I finally spoke, recalling his words from that night. A small laugh escaped Dizzy as my smile broke through. “What the hell did you guys talk about under that tree?” Adam teased. I could tell from the sound of his voice that he was enjoying how giddy the topic had made us both. “Honestly?” Dizzy asked, this time in a more genuine voice. “We didn’t really talk that much at all.” His smile seemed to grow as our eyes stayed connected. “A little about God, then about my mom, but for the most part we just,” Dizzy bashfully grinned as he broke eye contact with me. “just didn’t need to talk.” He shrugged but suddenly looked back up at them. “I had a lot going on at home when we did that, and I know Artie did too.” He hesitated for a moment. “But for an hour, we got to forget about all that.” He shook his head realizing how stupid that must sound to them. “It was just me and Artie, we didn’t need to talk.” As I looked back over to them, I could see a variety of looks. Adam wore one similar to mine and when our eyes connected, all I could feel was how proud he was. As always Lindsay took our words with a grain of salt, but even then, I could tell she was moved by them. By the time I looked over to Sadie, I could see her deep within her own thoughts. She’s heard how close Dizzy and I are, but I think this is the first time she’s seen just how deep our love runs. We’ve been to hell and back together, and now that things are finally starting to calm down, it’s created a connection that she had to see to believe. A click sound came from the front door as it was being unlocked. Lindsay quickly looked to Adam and raised her eyebrows. “Adam!” Mason enthusiastically called out as he pushed the door open. “We’ve gotta go to the tavern tonight, some metal bands are in town so they’re doing rock night.” As he looked around the room, I saw his excitement beginning to fade. “And you haven’t been texting me back, so I know you’ve been napping.” Mason’s voice grew quieter as he reached the end of his speech and realized Adam’s day was going very different than he had expected. “Remember when I said a family friend from Texas was coming to visit?” Adam asked with a nervous grin. “Not really.” Mason shook his head, trying to hide the surprise starting on his face. “I don’t suppose you like rock nights at crowded gay bars, do you?” I had to reach back and shove Dizzy as he exploded with laughter. Sadie seemed uncomfortable at first, but as Dizzy continued to laugh, she couldn’t help but smile. “No, I don’t think that’d be for me.” “Mason.” Adam groaned as he grew serious. Lindsay flashed Mason a disapproving look, but I could tell she thought the question was funny. “Sorry.” Mason offered as he looked back over to Sadie. Adam let out a deep breath and went to speak, but froze and took another moment to collect himself. After all we’ve been through, I swear this is the most nervous I’ve seen Adam. “Sadie,” He began in the most confident voice he could manage. “this is my boyfriend Mason.” He made the introduction as Sadie looked to Mason and forced a smile. “Mason, this is Sadie, she was my sister’s best friend and my friend, well, since I can remember.” I could see Adam holding his breath as they took a good look at one another. “Your question about the gay bar was all I needed to hear to know you’re a good match for him.” Sadie teased, but I could tell even saying that was a big step for her. Mason gave her a confused look. “Why’s that?” He asked, as Adam’s nerves began to surge once more. “Because he can get wild sometimes.” Sadie shrugged, but Mason’s confusion quickly spread to her. “Does he not do that anymore?” She asked, now more surprised than confused. “Depends what you mean by wild.” Mason answered, trying to figure out how much to share. “If you mean have a mixed drink or two, leave early to grab food and go home to smoke, then yeah, Adam might as well be a rock star.” “That’s all?” Sadie began to smirk as she looked over to Adam. “The big bad Adam Price leaves parties early now a days?” “We’re older now.” Adam tried to dismiss, but I could tell he was embarrassed by the question. “Still plenty young.” Mason encouraged as his focus switched to Adam. “Who’s this big bad Adam Price I’m hearing about?” “No one you want to meet.” Lindsay spoke up, reminding everyone that the change didn’t come out of nowhere. As Mason looked over to find me and Dizzy unphased by their words, I saw the gears in his mind begin to turn. “I don’t think you ever told me just how wild you were.” Mason instigated as Lindsay scooted down the couch to give him a spot next to Adam. Adam looked over to Sadie, hoping she could offer some kind of help. “He was more immature.” She spoke up, drawing a sigh from Adam. “You were.” Sadie doubled down on her words. “I mean we were teenagers and Adam already had a bit of a reputation around town, so adults were pretty hard on him.” She swayed her head as she tried to find the right words. “He just embraced, that he was the problem child, I’m sure you could draw your own conclusions from there.” “I don’t know if I could,” Mason pressured Adam. “can you spare me a story, problem child?” It was clear how unsettled Adam was growing, and yet Mason was refusing to let up. A few weeks ago, Mason wouldn’t have even asked, but now, he’s way too close to Adam to pass this up. “I vandalized a church.” Adam finally grumbled, getting the worst of his stories out of the way. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” Mason exhaled, disappointed by Adam’s response. “But don’t bullshit me.” “I really did!” Adam exclaimed as he locked eyes with Mason. “I was crossfaded, I broke in when they were closed and I smashed some of the decorations then turned all the crosses upside down.” He insisted but I could tell Mason wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not. “And you spray painted a pentagram or two.” Dizzy tried his hardest to recall the story, but received a dissatisfied stare from Lindsay. “He did.” Dizzy grumbled as he looked over to Mason. Mason’s face grew serious as he looked over to Sadie, who offered only a somber nod. He thought for a moment before turning back to Adam. “Holy shit dude!” Mason burst out into laughter. “That’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever heard!” He yelped as he continued to laugh. “Ha ha.” Adam sarcastically laughed along. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Mason quickly tried to contain his laughter. “but you could’ve at least told me you were going to hell before we started to date.” He teased, once more getting a rise out of Dizzy. As Adam started to get annoyed, I noticed Mason reach over and lightly lay a hand on his arm. “You were a kid.” Mason shrugged as he finally grew serious. “You can feel guilty about it forever, or you could look back and laugh.” He offered Adam a smile as their eyes connected. “I don’t care about the mistakes you made as a kid, I know who you are now and that’s all that matters to me.” Adam nodded to his words as he finally began to relax. “But,” Mason began as he turned towards Sadie. “I would still love to hear some stories about Adam as a kid.” “Of course, you would.” Adam complained, realizing he still wasn’t off the hook. Sadie nodded her head, but I could tell her focus was still on Adam’s story. The room grew quiet for a moment but as Adam glanced over to us, I noticed a look on Adam’s face that I was starting to get used to. “We never really spoke about what happened with the church.” Adam confronted Sadie, but she refused to look up at him. “It wasn’t anything personal against you, or my sister but I know you guys took it that way, so I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” He confidently spoke, sharing something he had clearly reflected on over the past fifteen years. I could tell everyone in the room was impressed by his words, but my focus stayed on how he was carrying myself. I’m not sure when it started, but at some point over the past few weeks Adam has changed. Sure, he still has moments where he’s ashamed of his past, but lately, he’s been trying his hardest to embrace it. To man up and accept his mistakes, instead of running from them. “You shook our town.” Sadie finally spoke as she picked up her head. “No one had any idea what to make of it, most of us knew you were just angry, but some,” She shook her head. “they thought you were possessed.” Adam took in a deep breath, but pushed through the fear that was beginning to take shape within him. “Did they give Sarah a hard time after I left?” He asked as he forced eye contact with Sadie. “Nothing she couldn’t handle.” Sadie answered with confidence. “She was proud to be your sister,” A small smile returned to Sadie’s face. “she used to say your last gift to her was getting the church to leave her alone.” I couldn’t help but pop up as I heard that.” What do you mean?” I joined the conversation. “We went to church every Sunday, if I was off of school or work, she’d even bring me during the week.” Sadie nodded at my words. “But when she was pregnant with you, they’d constantly badger her about adoption.” Sadie began to explain. “At one point she agreed with it just to shut them up, but deep down, she knew she was keeping you.” Her smile began to grow. “So, she did what Adam would.” I felt my mouth grow open as I instantly made a connection the others didn’t. “Her vision from God?” I asked, catching her smile. “All a lie,” Sadie began to laugh. “and after what Adam did, they were just happy she still believed.” “I don’t know what’s going on.” Dizzy grumbled, drawing nods from everyone else in the room. “I was supposed to be placed for adoption,” I started as I tried my hardest to remember the story my Mom had told a hundred times. “but during my delivery my Mom had a vision,” I hesitated for a moment. “well she claimed she had a vision from God telling her to keep me.” I shrugged his shoulders. “She did more than claim it.” Sadie began to laugh. “When the priest doubted her story, she accused him of doubting God’s will,” Sadie’s smile only seemed to grow as she studied me closely. “she shouted at him with such conviction that adoption was never mentioned again.” “My parents believe it?” Adam asked, but Sadie simply shook her head no. “They kicked her out for keeping him.” Sadie answered in a sigh, but hesitated as she saw the look on my face grow serious. “What happened after that?” I pressured, mature enough to finally hear the truth. “She stayed with me and my family for a couple months, until finally the community chipped in and helped her get your trailer.” Sadie smile slowly began to return to her face. “People were scared if they crossed another Price, they wouldn’t have a church to go to.” This time it was Mason’s turn to laugh. “How bad did you guys terrorize this town?” He asked, excited to get his answer. “Well I didn’t realize Sarah did anything.” Adam answered as he began to think. “But I, I caused plenty of trouble.” He admitted in a laugh. “I got suspended from school in fourth grade for telling everyone God is a woman.” Just like with some of his other stories, Adam couldn’t help but giggle at his own antics. “I used to change all of the pronouns in prayers to female ones, they hated me for it.” “Why didn’t they toss you out earlier?” Mason asked, once more unafraid to ask Adam the hard questions. “They liked my dad too much.” He shrugged off, but this time it was Sadie’s turn to sit up. “Because you were the best player on the baseball team.” Sadie explained, giving us the real answer. “Once we reached middle school, so long as Adam Price was pitching two or three nights a week, he was always forgiven.” Sadie looked over to Adam, but could tell he wasn’t thrilled at what she shared. “You and Ezra were the reason our team could compete with the rest of the state, for our small town, that was a big deal.” The second he heard that, Dizzy looked over to Adam. “That only made you hate them more, didn’t it?” Dizzy asked, but he didn’t need an answer to know he was right. “Fuck ‘em.” He offered Adam with a smile. “Fuck ‘em” Adam repeated as he matched Dizzy’s smile. “I don’t get it.” I sighed, unable to make the connection. I mean I know why Adam hates our hometown, but I would’ve thought baseball would help make that better. I mean he was the star pitcher on his team, that’s gotta count for something! “They spent his whole childhood putting him down.” Dizzy tried to clarify. “Then he has something to offer and they want to put him on a pedestal?” He asked, hoping I would understand. “Fuck ‘em.” He reiterated. “They didn’t care about him, they only cared what he could give them.” “Fuck ‘em.” I agreed, but instantly regretted my words as Sadie’s head quickly turned to me. “Arthur.” She warned in a serious voice as she began to shoot me daggers. For a moment I almost apologized, but as I looked around the room, I remembered that I wasn’t the same quiet kid from Texas, Sadie knows. “They’re all dicks.” I shrugged my shoulders. “Fuck ‘em.” Lindsay and Dizzy tried to stifle their laughter as they heard my words. “Don’t push Sadie’s buttons.” Adam warned in a sigh. “She’s had a big day and she’s trying hard to keep an open mind,” He stared at me, but could tell his words weren’t fully sinking in. “at least respect some of those boundaries.” I nodded my head, but noticed Dizzy struggling to hold back laughter. “You sure you want to move here?” Lindsay asked. “Unfortunately.” Sadie reluctantly answered as she watched Dizzy trying to regain control over his laughter. “What’s wrong with him?” “He thought of a joke.” Adam rolled his eyes. “Kid spends most of the day cracking himself up.” “Reminds me of someone I know.” Sadie smiled as she looked back to Adam. Mason looked around the room before finally letting his eyes land on Dizzy. “Alright, let’s hear it.” He instigated, realizing no one else would. “Don’t encourage him.” Adam complained, this time it was Masons turn to receive an icy look. “Hey Adam,” Dizzy began as a smirk filled his face. “I’m surprised you didn’t like your hometown more.” Adam stayed quiet, refusing to take the bait. “Who wouldn’t want to be gay and surrounded by dicks!” Dizzy exclaimed finally able to laugh openly, it didn’t take long until I broke and was laughing along with him. Sadie’s face turned beat red as she looked back to Adam. “You deal with this every day?” She asked, trying her hardest to move past the joke. Adam begrudgingly nodded his head and let out another sigh. “I thought it was pretty funny.” Mason shrugged his shoulders and got a nod from Lindsay. “Not his best joke,” Lindsay spoke up. “but pretty solid.” She nodded. “Would’ve been better if he said it instead of laughing to himself like a maniac.” “I didn’t want to offend him!” Dizzy shouted as his laughter finally began to die down. “Then why’d you say it at all?” Adam challenged as their eyes locked. “And rob Artie of all that laughter?” He asked as the smirk remained on his face. “You always believe your own bullshit?” Lindsay asked, taking her chance to challenge him. “If he doesn’t, Artie certainly does.” Sadie answered for him, getting all the adults in the room to laugh. “Fitting in already.” Mason gave her a nod of approval through his laughter. Sadie nodded her head as she looked us both over. “I think I could get used to this.” She admitted before turning to Lindsay. “And I think I’ll take you up on your offer after I move.” “To see the shops or get wine drunk?” Lindsay asked with a smile. “We’ll see where the day leads us.” Sadie shrugged, finally allowing herself to fully unwind. As she heard that answer, Lindsay looked over to Adam and flashed him a smile. “I think we’re going to get along just fine.” She returned her gaze to Sadie. “Plus, now I finally have someone to vent to, Adam can be a real nightmare at work, he doesn’t accept help from anyone.” “You’re still doing that?” Sadie asked as she glanced over to Adam before returning her gaze to Lindsay. “It used to be so obnoxious when we were young, plus the way he used to micromanage.” Sadie said causing Lindsay to almost jump out of her seat. “You know, you could always vent to one of us.” Dizzy offered Lindsay as he tried to break up their conversation. “Please,” Lindsay sarcastically replied as she rolled her eyes. “you boys worship the ground he walks on.” I looked back to Dizzy but he shrugged, knowing we were both beat. As Mason noticed we were ready to give up, he began to laugh to himself. “Lindsay does too.” He instigated with a grin. “Why do you think she gets so mad at him?” Lindsay’s smile quickly disappeared from her face as she heard Mason’s words. “Can we please stop talking about me like I’m not in the room?” Adam finally spoke up, but it was clear the conversation had snowballed out of his control. “Maybe if you didn’t keep so many secrets we wouldn’t have to.” I shrugged as they all quickly agreed with me. “I’ll stop keeping secrets.” Adam groaned as our eyes connected. “But if it helps, I’ll promise to stop as long as you guys promise to not have another one of these group therapy sessions.” “This is what you think therapy is like?” Dizzy asked in a confused voice. “Not helping.” Adam shut down and looked back to me. “Deal?” He asked. “Sure, I agree to that deal.” I grinned, knowing the others would never follow. “I’ll agree to stop the sessions if I get some stories from when you were little.” Mason bargained, causing Adam to let out another sigh. Adam went to speak, but before he could Sadie started to tell a story from when they were young. Adam can huff and puff all he wants, but if he was really unhappy, he would’ve gone upstairs a long time ago! Besides, I can see how much he’s starting to enjoy this. We’re a busy house, but we never really have nights like this one. Nights where we’re all together arguing and laughing. Nights where we feel like a family.
  3. The hidden ones is my favorite as well! I enjoyed writing those 2 books so much, I’m very excited to start the 3rd one in the very near future.
  4. Thank you for the kind words. I completely understand not wanting to read book one, especially right now. There is enough heartbreak and sadness going on in the world without reading a tragedy. If you are interested, my newest story Golden City is a far cry from where I started, and a hell of a lot lighter! I appreciate your support and I'm always really happy to see someone enjoying these stories. They were my first attempts at writing, so seeing someone enjoy them means a lot!
  5. Aceinthehole

    Thrive

    Thank you for sticking around. I know it's been a long wait, so I really do appreciate your patience. The Hidden Ones: Ascension is the next story on my agenda (Some light spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't read the Hidden Ones) Thanks again for the kind words and your patience! Hope I've made the wait worth it!
  6. Aceinthehole

    Thrive

    Chapter 48: Thrive I held Sadie tighter as I tried my hardest to make sure this was reality and not just another dream. I mean this is Sadie, sometimes I swear she’s scared of her own shadow! My Mom nearly had to drag her into the car if we took any trip bigger than the general store! As Sadie looked down at me, I couldn’t help but see some surprise on her face. “It’s only been a few weeks, but somehow you already look older.” She observed. “He’s grown a lot since that trip.” Adam supported as I finally let her go. As I turned to him, I saw a confident look on his face, as though he’d been waiting for this moment for a couple days now. “You knew?” I finally asked as our eyes connected. “Yup.” He answered as his smile grew wider. “Sadie called and said she wanted to visit as soon as she could.” Adam began to explain. “So, I told her she’s got a spot here whenever she can get a flight.” She nodded her head to his words, but I still struggled to believe them. “So, you drove all the way to the airport, got on a plane alone and then took the busses here?” “I took a cab from the airport,” She corrected with a smile. “but yes Arthur, I’m not so scared that I won’t get on a plane to visit you.” I shook my head, still amazed by the moment, until finally I remembered the group standing in the doorway. “Oh!” I exclaimed as I looked back at them. “These are my friends, that’s Charlotte and Kai,” I introduced as they finally entered the house. “and you remember Dizzy.” “How could I forget?” She asked as the teen flashed her a smile. “This is Sadie,” I turned to them. “she was my moms’ best friend, and she’s helped raise me since I was a day old.” “He was raised by two moms, and now he’s going to be raised my two dads.” Dizzy blurted out with a smirk, causing Kai to give him a hard bump with his elbow. “How long have you been waiting to say that one?” Adam asked, shooting him a look of disappointment. “Since our talk last night.” He answered flashing Adam his smile. “Two dads?” Sadie repeated, looking over to Adam who started to turn red. “You getting married?” “No.” He quickly shut down. “Nothing like that.” He insisted turning to Dizzy and staring him down. “Dude, how have you not been kicked out of here yet?” Kai asked Dizzy with a sigh. “Adam loves me too much.” Dizzy quickly answered. He went to sit next to Adam, but Adam gave him a good shove, forcing him further down the couch. “Charlotte’s actually like my best friend.” I started to change the subject as I took a seat and motioned for them to do the same. “Gee thanks.” Dizzy grumbled as Kai took a seat next to him. “Best friend?” Sadie asked as Charlotte took a seat next to me. “How’d you beat out Dizzy for that title?” “By letting him run his mouth.” She shrugged, drawing a laugh from Sadie. “Dizzy came on so strong Artie almost ran back to Texas.” “So, you guys have been friends since he first got here?” Sadie quickly asked, eager to learn as much as she could. “Yup, Kai was his student guide the first day.” Charlotte answered with a shrug. “The three of us have been friends basically our whole lives and Artie fit right in.” “Friends on your first day?” Sadie asked as she looked back to me. “How about that.” “It was kinda like pulling teeth at first.” Dizzy spoke up before I could reply. “He was scared of almost everything.” “That’s not true!” I quickly exclaimed in a loud voice. “I went to the bridge with you, didn’t I?” I asked as Dizzy nodded his head. “and surfing with Kai, and church with Charlotte.” “Why do I get the boring stuff?” She complained in a groan. “You two go to church together?” Sadie quickly asked with a wide smile. “Almost every Sunday.” Charlotte asked, clearly not as excited at the idea. “He comes along with my family.” “That’s so sweet.” Sadie commented, reaching over and pulling me in for another hug. “It’s no wonder you two are so close.” “If all it takes is church,” Dizzy began, but turned to Adam to see him shaking his head. “You and me aren’t church people Dizzy.” Adam corrected him, drawing a grin from Dizzy. “Don’t tell him that!” Sadie yelled, quickly looking over to Adam. “Everyone’s welcome in church.” “He’d wear out that welcome in his first visit.” Adam laughed to himself as Dizzy nodded along. “Dizzy just can’t sit still and be quiet like that for an hour.” Kai tried to explain. “He can’t even do it in school.” “I haven’t had a detention in two weeks!” Dizzy quickly jumped in, eager to brag about his recent behavior. “In fact, who’s the one who got yelled at in class today?” I saw shock enter Sadie’s eyes as they all turned to me. “I was just the one who got caught.” I excused but felt Adam’s stare fall on me too. “Your nephew threw a pen at me during computer science.” Dizzy explained as he turned towards Adam. “Eh,” Adam let out with a shrug. “he sucks at computer science anyway.” “Adam!” I yelped but knew it was the truth. “He should be paying attention anyway.” Sadie insisted, keeping her eyes on me. “It’s hard to do that, when someone throws a pen at you first.” I argued as I looked over to Dizzy. “Wasn’t sure if you needed one.” Dizzy played along, enjoying that I was the one in trouble for once. “Artie’s usually an angel in school, all our teachers love him.” Charlotte interrupted as she looked back to Sadie. “Dizzy can just suck people into trouble sometimes.” “Hmm, you are the best friend.” Sadie commented, causing Charlottes smile to grow wider. “But Arthur Uriah, I hear you’re messing around in class again and I will work with Adam to make sure you get the challenge you need to stay focused.” “Yes ma’am.” I replied as Dizzy began to smirk again. “Uriah.” Dizzy laughed to himself. “Ryan.” I replied as the smile quickly disappeared from his face, getting Kai to laugh. “Man,” Kai shook his head as he looked over to Dizzy. “you guys must really have hit another level if he can call you that.” “I deserved it that time.” Dizzy grumbled as his eyes began to focus on me. Kai laughed to himself once more as he slowly stood up. “I’d better get going though, got a concert to get ready for.” “We know.” Dizzy complained, finally looking back over to him. “I mentioned it to you before I bought my ticket.” Kai shrugged his shoulders as he gave Dizzy a strong pat on the side before walking over to say goodbye to Charlotte and me. “I know.” Dizzy sighed as he glanced over to Adam. “He’s going to see Messiah.” “And you slept on those tickets?” Adam laughed while shaking his head. “Their tours are only going to get more and more expensive from here on.” “Don’t rub it in.” Dizzy groaned as he threw his head back. “You slept on them too.” “I am too old to be going to the Fillmore and getting caught in mosh pits all night.” Adam corrected Dizzy. “Let me know when they’re playing Oracle and I’ll go.” “Might be next year at this pace.” Kai shrugged once more as he looked over to Adam. “Might be.” Adam agreed with a nod. “Be safe, find a place to get water right after the concert ends, and don’t push into anyone you wouldn’t feel comfortable fighting.” “That’s terrible advice!” Sadie yelped as she watched their conversation unfold. “He shouldn’t be worried about having to fight anyone.” “She reminds me of Artie when he first arrived.” Dizzy teased as he nodded his head to Kai to show they’re still cool. “Bye guys.” Kai finally dismissed as he headed towards the door. “I’d better be headed out too.” Charlotte sighed as she began to stand up. “But its barely even been an hour since you got here.” I complained, sitting forward to block her path out. “It’s a school night,” She shrugged her shoulders. “I’ll come hang out another night when I can actually stay late.” She insisted, patiently waiting for me to move. “Fine.” I groaned as I leaned back. “I bet she’s going to meet Jose.” Dizzy instigated as he looked over to me with trouble in his eyes. “I bet she is.” I agreed, looking to annoy her more than anything else. “I don’t spend every waking minute with my boyfriend, like some people I know.” Charlotte shot back, getting Adam to laugh. “So, she’s definitely going to see Jose, right?” I turned and asked Dizzy as he began to nod. “Good luck with the two of them Sadie.” Charlotte warned as she reached the door. “They can get very annoying very quickly.” “They can.” Adam agreed with her words. “Especially if Dizzy is hungry.” “Try having class with him before lunch.” Charlotte griped as she looked over to Sadie and forced a smile. “I hope you enjoy your visit; San Francisco is a beautiful city when you open your mind to it.” This time it was my turn to nod along with her words. I would’ve missed out on so much this city has to offer if I kept my heart closed. But once I opened it, I realized just how alive this city is. Art, history, food, it just feels like there’s something new at every corner waiting to be explored. “Bye.” Charlotte let out as she opened the door and stepped out before I could try again to stop her. “Definitely going to see Jose.” I turned to Dizzy the second the door shut. “Did you see her blush when you mentioned him?” “Whenever she gets defensive it means she’s lying.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders and leaned back. “Girls got a terrible poker face.” “Because you’re such a good liar.” Adam rolled his eyes and looked to the teen next to him. “I am, because I don’t really lie.” He smiled, not backing down from Adam’s challenge. “I’m upfront with everything and if I get caught, I get caught.” “He’s right.” I agreed as Adam let out a sigh. As Sadie watched our conversation unfold, I could tell she was starting to work something over in her head. “Is it always like this around here?” She finally asked, looking past Dizzy and me and, towards Adam. “Depends on the day.” Adam said as he tried to picture the average day in his head. “It’s always busy, but there’s not always this many people coming and going.” “Yes there is.” Dizzy quickly rejected. “It’s either Kai and Charlotte or Mason and Lindsay.” “Lindsay!” Adam quickly shouted as the name sparked something in his mind. “I told her to come over tonight a few days ago!” “Is that a problem?” Sadie asked as she started to grow concerned. “No.” Adam quickly lied with a forced smile. “Not at all.” “Talk about a bad poker face.” Dizzy whispered to me as we started to slowly scoot our way over to one another. I watched Adam closely as I tried to figure out why he was so concerned, but felt Dizzy place his hand on mine. “So,” Dizzy began, looking to change the subject. “how long is your trip?” “Only a few days,” Sadie sighed as I felt my smile began to fade. “but I’m planning to come back next month,” She explained as our eyes connected. “this was just a dry run to figure out what it’ll be like.” “So, you’re going to start visiting me often?” I couldn’t help but asked, surprised by here answer. Sure, I knew she’d eventually visit, but I was thinking more like once a year than anything else. “Something like that.” She confidently nodded her head. “We’ll just see how things fall into place over the next couple months.” I quickly looked over to Adam as I heard her answer, but he looked just as confused as me. Before we could say anything else, I heard the sound of keys in the door. I noticed Adam look sharply to the door, worried about who it may be. As the door swung open and Lindsay took a step inside, I only saw his concern grow. “Hey Lindsay,” He forced a smile and tried his hardest to hide the look on his face. “how you been?” “How have I been?” She repeated, sounding slightly annoyed by his question. “We spent all day at work together and then you cut out early, you know how I’ve been.” “You told me to start taking breaks.” He teased her, but she quickly let it go as she noticed the new face on the couch. “This is Sadie, she’s a really close family friend and grew up with Adam and my Mom.” I introduced as Adam watched their interaction unfold. “Sadie this is Adam’s best friend Lindsay, they’ve been best friends since he moved here.” Sadie gave her a warm hello, but I could see that Lindsay’s was a bit forced. “You Price boys found friends fast out here.” Sadie smiled towards Adam. “Almost like it’s where you’re meant to be.” Lindsay snickered at the comment and took a seat next to Adam. Dizzy shot me a worried look as tension slowly began to fill the room. “I don’t know about you Lindsay,” Dizzy began in an attempt to diffuse the tension. “but I would love to hear stories about Adam when he was a kid.” “I’ve heard enough of those stories.” She shot down, not even bothering to look over to Sadie. Dizzy made another face to me before glancing over to Adam, who looked like he was bracing for whatever would come next. “Then do you want to share one of the…” Dizzy began but trailed off as Lindsay quickly looked over to him. As I let out a sigh and looked to him, he shrugged his shoulders. “Adam’s experience back home wasn’t always a good one.” Sadie finally spoke up, addressing the elephant in the room. “But they weren’t all bad, were they?” She asked, looking over to Adam. “Most, but not all.” He answered as he kept an eye on Lindsay. “I’ve got plenty of good memories with you and Sarah.” He said, trying to get Lindsay to relax. “Remember when you made that fake Ouija board and convinced Sarah you were talking to demons in the house?” Sadie asked as Adam began to laugh. “She spent a full weekend at my house because of it!” “She was so gullible for a while.” Adam began to reminisce. “Remember the holy water I had to get for her to come back?” Adam asked as Sadie began to nod. “It was just creek water I ran to get before she could tell the church on me.” He laughed as Dizzy began to smirk at his story. “She drank some of that water!” Sadie exclaimed, getting Adam to only laugh harder. “Why would she drink holy water?” I asked as a smile formed on my own face. “Yeah Adam, why would she drink holy water?” Sadie asked as she began to stare at him. “I told her Jesus turns holy water into wine when you drink it!” Adam exclaimed, entering a laughing fit at something he had clearly forgotten. “So,” Lindsay finally began again, looking over to Sadie. “he was always kind of a bastard, wasn’t he?” “He always had some sort of plan going on.” Sadie shook her head as she tried to think of another story. “One day he snuck red food dye onto her tooth brush.” “Why?” Dizzy asked as Adam finally regained his composure. “She woke me up at six on a Saturday and convinced me it was a school day,” He started to shake his head. “got me to walk to school and everything.” His smile grew as he recalled the rest of the story. “So, the next morning, I put red food dye on her tooth brush and convinced her all her teeth were falling out because she lied.” “Adam!” I exclaimed, shocked to find out there were countless stories I had never known about. “For my birthday one year,” Lindsay began in a sigh. “Adam spent the whole day acting like he was baking this big elaborate cake.” His smile grew even wider as he recognized the story. “My Mom wanted to kill him because she could barely even get in the kitchen to cook dinner,” She continued as she looked over to him. “And when we finally go to have his cake, I cut into it, and it turns out to be two or three balloons that popped and sent icing everywhere.” “So, the pranks never stopped?” Sadie asked through her own laughter. “They’ve stopped for a while when I first moved here, but they came back once I settled in.” He answered with a proud smile. “You’ve never pranked me.” I pointed out as I looked over to him. “Right?” I asked, unsure of whatever jokes Adam might have been pulling on me. He thought for a moment before shaking his head no. “You’d just get rattled by them; it wouldn’t be fun.” He explained as he looked past me and towards Dizzy. “Besides, that one has no brakes, I’m not starting prank wars when he’s in the mix.” “Mean but fair.” Dizzy accepted in a nod. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t start one.” As his usual smirk took his face Adam let out a deep sigh. “Go ahead,” He changed course as he laid back. “your mom would be thrilled to see you home more.” Dizzy’s smirk quickly fell from his face as Lindsay looked over to him. “She always asks how you’re doing too, just once don’t you want Adam to say you’re behaving.” “No, why would I want to worry her?” Dizzy asked without missing a beat. I noticed Sadie watch him a little closer as she heard their exchange. “You’re just as annoying as Adam.” Lindsay complained as her eyes shifted to me. “You have the patience of a saint for dating him.” “Lindsay!” Adam shouted in a loud voice, quickly glancing towards Sadie then back. Dizzy lightly grabbed my arm and started to play off a worried look, but I was too confused to do anything other than watch. “Oh my god,” Lindsay gasped as shock started to enter her face. “I didn’t mean actually date,” She began to backtrack as she looked over to Sadie. “they just spend so much time together that I tease them,” “I already knew they’re dating.” Sadie cut off, quickly saving Lindsay the embarrassment. “You fucking jerk!” Lindsay screamed as she looked back towards Adam. “Pranked.” Adam shrugged, as he looked over to Dizzy and gave him a proud smile for following along. “Good job joining in.” “Yeah great job joining in!” Lindsay sarcastically cheered. “Pranking your boss is a real ballsy move.” “Ah crap.” Dizzy groaned as he began to sink into his seat. “One of your bosses.” Adam winked towards him as he quickly nodded. “The one who was going to teach you boys how to bake.” She said as Dizzy and she locked eyes. “All I did was play along!” He excused, but it was clear Lindsay wasn’t buying a word of it. “You weren’t going to teach me to bake anyway.” He conceded as he realized she wasn’t going to let him off the hook. “You don’t have the patience.” “You know for once Dizzy; I agree with you.” She flashed him a smile, as he tried to figure out how to take her comment. “So,” Lindsay began again as she looked over to Sadie. “when’d you find out they’re dating?” “When the three of them came up for the custody battle.” Sadie answered as she took a moment to think about it. “I kind of figured it out before I think Artie was ready to tell me,” She recalled. “But all their little jokes and back and forth, and the way Artie looks at him.” She paused as a small smile formed on her face. “I’ve never seen Artie look at someone that way.” “You’re lucky.” Lindsay suddenly began as she looked over to Adam. “You know how these two act together and you definitely know what your hometown is like.” I noticed Sadie sink a little in her seat as she heard that. “I didn’t think she’d pick up on the subtle things.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “She never did when I was his age.” “Because back then you were never in a relationship the way they are now.” Sadie pointed out, drawing an irritated look from Adam. “You weren’t.” She insisted. “And if I was, you would’ve accepted it?” He asked in a sarcastic voice. “I never said that.” She answered in an honest breath. “But whatever you did with whoever you did it with, they, they didn’t actually care about you.” Dizzy and I couldn’t help but step out of the conversation as we saw how real it was becoming. “And you’re sure of that?” Adam pressured. I could tell by the look on his face, that he was only growing more agitated by the conversation. “You see any of them following you when you got thrown out?” Sadie asked but got a deafening silence back. “Sorry,” She sighed, realizing the brutal honestly of her words. “but you can’t look back and tell yourself those people cared about you back then.” She shook her head. “The only person in that town who loved you was Sarah.” “Yeah?” Adam mockingly asked. “Because I didn’t see her following me either.” Dizzy lightly put his hand on mine as he heard those words. I know Adam didn’t mean that. I know he’s still angry about the way everything happened. I know he still has some moments from his past he has to face. The room grew quiet for a few moments as we all thought it over. “She had her own path in front of her.” Sadie spoke as she looked back up to Adam. “If you have something to say, just say it.” Adam warned her. I noticed Lindsay look over to him, but just like Dizzy and me, stayed out of their conversation. “She was going to.” Sadie finally admitted and for a moment, I swear everything in the room froze. I went to say something, but felt myself stop, as though my body knew this conversation wasn’t for me. “But she was pregnant.” Adam quietly nodded to himself. By the way he said it, I could tell it was something he’d been telling himself for the past sixteen years “I stopped her.” Sadie corrected him. “Not because you were gay,” She quickly explained. “although that was part of it.” She admitted. “And sure, she was pregnant but you, you used to self-destruct more than anyone I’ve ever known.” “Got it.” Adam replied, trying to maintain his anger. “But if I was Ezra, you would’ve packed her bag and let her go.” Dizzy turned to me with a concerned look, but I lightly squeezed his hand and kept watching the two of them. “Maybe.” Sadie answered, trying to be as honest as possible. “I, I don’t know, but be honest with yourself.” Sadie locked eyes with him. “Were you strong enough to take care of her then?” Sadie asked but Adam fell quiet as he started to think things over. A few times I expected him to just stand up and walk out, but I guess that’s not like Adam anymore. I guess he’s changed just as much as I have. “You weren’t.” Lindsay finally answered for him. “And you know how bad the streets of San Francisco can get.” She confronted him. “I mean, I found you in a soup kitchen.” She reminded him. As Sadie heard that, I noticed the look on her face change. “You barely had enough food to keep yourself going, what would’ve happened to your sister’s pregnancy?” She asked but Adam stayed quiet. “I could’ve found a way.” Adam forced out, but I could tell he didn’t believe it. “When she agreed to stay, she didn’t do it for herself, or for me, or for Artie.” Sadie began again as Adam looked back up to her. “She agreed to stay for you.” She confessed as their eyes met. “Because she knew you could make it on your own if she wasn’t there to hold you back.” Sadie insisted in a confident voice. “She knew if you were set free, you would thrive.” I heard Adam sniffle a few times as he looked back down, but once more the room grew quiet for a few minutes. Sadie let out a deep breath as she picked her head up again “Almost every day since Sarah left, I’ve been wondering why I wasn’t the one who got custody.” She confessed. “But when my plane flew near the city, and we started to land, I finally understood.” Once more Adam picked up his head to look over to Sadie. “Our hometown, it’s a prison and they use our faith as the lock.” She shook her head. “She wanted Artie to be free from that. She wanted you to be free from that.” Once more Sadie let out a deep sigh. “Artie was always destined to live out here, it was just a matter of time.” “Why didn’t she just move us out here?” I couldn’t help but finally ask as their conversation drew to an end. “Money was always tight,” Sadie began to answered in a tired voice. “and I guess she was always waiting for a sign that the time was right.” Sadie shook her head. “I don’t want to wait for a sign,” She admitted as she looked over to Adam. “I, I have some apartments I’m looking at tomorrow while Artie’s at school and you’re at work.” She suddenly confessed, throwing us for an even bigger loop. “I was going to keep it a secret until I was sure, but after this conversation, I know I’ll never be more certain. It’s time for me to move on with my life.” I felt a sudden wide smile fill my face as I let go of Dizzy hands, and nearly leaped across the couch as I jumped on her. I heard her lightly laugh before letting out a few sniffles of her own as I held her tightly. When I finally let her go, I noticed her eyes staying on Adam. “I know I’ve already said it, but I really am sorry for everything that’s happened.” Sadie forced out, pushing herself to her absolute limits. “Every time you’d pull a prank on me and Sarah, I’d run home and tell my Mom and she’d always tell me I was lucky.” Sadie lightly laughed. “She’d say that it’s what brothers do, and that if you were playing jokes on both me and Sarah, that it meant you saw me as a sister.” Sadie lightly nodded her head. “So, from that point on, I always saw you as a brother, even after you left.” This time it was Adam’s turn to stand up and walk over, I saw a smile filling Lindsay’s face as Sadie stood up and they began to hug. I know this is something Sadie feels she needs to do, but I wonder if she knows just how much Adam needed this too. The two of us have finally made peace with our past, and now, we can both look forward without wondering what could’ve been. Welcome home Sadie, our family is finally coming together again.
  7. Chapter 47: God’s Plan As I walked back downstairs to find a sleeping Dizzy and Adam, I couldn’t help but smile. So this is what my summer will be like, huh? Waking up at the crack of dawn, working my ass off at the shop and coming home exhausted. To some people that’d sound like a grind, but so long as Adam and Dizzy are with me, well, I think it’ll be kinda fun! After all, I’m no stranger to hard work and while the shop ain’t easy, well, it isn’t exactly farming in the Texas sun! I mean talk about being drained! Farm work will put you down so hard, you wake up just as tired as you were when you fell asleep! But I won’t rub that in, Dizzy deserves to feel good about his day of work. As I grabbed a book off the counter, I couldn’t help but take a seat right next to his head. He let out a slight grumble as I sat down before picking up his head, moving forward and laying it in my lap. A small smile formed on his face as I began to gently pet his hair. I always thought I knew what love was. My Mom, Sadie, Adam, I love them all and I know they love me. But I had no idea there was a different kind of love. I had no idea when I looked at Dizzy, I would feel the love I have for him. The excitement and nervousness that never seems to go away, no matter how many days we spend together. The curiousness, that would have me sitting for hours listening to every word he says. And that weird feeling, the one you actually feel in your heart. The one that I always thought was made up for dramatics. The one that just makes me feel warm inside. Maybe that all sounds cheesy, but I really don’t care. I’m in love with Dizzy Armstrong and no matter what life brings, his fingerprints will leave a permanent spot on my heart. As Adam began to wake up, I kept my nose in my book and kept my arm on Dizzy. Weeks ago, I would’ve been embarrassed letting him see us like this, but I’m not afraid to let my love for Dizzy show anymore. Besides, as much as he hides it, I know it always makes Adam thrilled to see us take the next step in our relationship. “Get a room.” A groggy Adam teased, but like clockwork the front door started to open and Mason stood in the doorway. “Perfect timing.” Adam smiled towards the door but Mason simply shook his head. “You sure about that?” Mason quietly laughed as he saw how disheveled Adam was. “Mhm.” Adam hummed as he stood up and began to stretch. “I was hoping to go on a walk and wake up a little more.” “You want to go on a walk?” I asked Adam while shooting Mason a skeptical look. “He wants to go smoke, the walk is just a convenient way to do it.” Mason corrected, showing he’d been around long enough to know Adam’s code. “That’s not true.” Adam let out in a big yawn. “If I just wanted to smoke, I’d do that here.” He argued but I could tell he’d been caught. “But if you want to smoke on the walk, we can.” Adam said in more of a statement than an offer. “Yup, you caught me.” Mason played along as he looked over to me and shook his head. “I’m the one who wants to smoke.” He smirked looking back to Adam. “It’s been a long day of work for the both of us, we’ve earned it.” Adam encouraged as he walked over to a nearby drawer and pulled out a small white pack. Mason let out a deep sigh but nodded his head. “If we smoke, you’re not falling asleep at nine tonight.” Adam nodded his head causing Mason to let out a deep sigh. “I mean it.” Mason insisted in a laugh. “Ten?” Adam asked with a smile as he joined Mason in the doorway. “You’re obnoxious.” Mason jokingly complained as they slipped out the door. The second the door shut, I heard Dizzy let out a small groan. I tried to hush him, but he turned over and slowly opened his eyes. “They’ll be gone for a while, go back to sleep.” I encouraged in a whisper as I gently pet his hair once more. He stayed quiet as a small smile spread on his face. “You’re cute when you’re tired.” I matched his smile but he stayed quiet. “Might just be because it’s the only time I see you with your mouth closed.” I teased as I felt my heart began to pump faster. As our eyes connected, I placed my book down and felt my hand move from his hair to his side. He let out another short groan as my hand began to gently rub his side, but grew quiet as he felt it lower and slide past the elastic of his shorts. His smile grew as I found his member and slowly began to stroke him. “Artie,” He finally spoke but this time I saw doubt in his eyes. “you haven’t been hooking up with me because you feel you have to, right?” I couldn’t help but laugh at his question as I slowed my hand. “Why do you always ask that?” I giggled as my hand slowly let go. “I really like you and that includes hooking up.” I reminded him, trying not to slip up on the L word. “Especially when I get to be in control.” I pointed out as I began to stroke him again. “Mmm.” He hummed too tired and overwhelmed by the sensation to get his thought out. “Really like?” He suddenly repeated. “Well Artie, I think I lo..” He began but before he could get the words out I covered his mouth with my other hand. Once more I stopped stroking him as our eyes connected. “I know you’re not about to say that just because I’m jacking you off.” “That’s not the only reason.” He blushed as I pulled the hand from his face. “Just give me a little more time.” I lied, trying to buy myself another week or two before he could beat me to saying it. I could tell by the look in his eyes he understood, but saw his head pick up. His hands began to pull at my shorts. “Guess I’ll just show you.” He smiled as he finally managed to get them low enough to see my briefs. “I’m lucky this thing didn’t poke my eye out while I was asleep.” He commented on the pole that sprang up from its confines. “Wait.” I forced out as he finally pulled my briefs down. “Not in the living room.” I warned as I saw his head lowering. “You sure?” He asked, grabbing onto my six inches with his hand. “Maybe if we get caught, Adam will stop harping on us for staying in your room.” “Or he’ll send you home like your Mom was telling him too.” I reminded him as he rolled his eyes. “Can you not mention my mom when your dicks out?” He asked with a growing smile. “Can you not mention my Uncle when my dicks out?” I asked, gently pushing him off of me. “You’re totally ruining the mood.” I teased in a giggle. “Looks like you’re doing just fine to me.” He smirked, looking back down at my crotch. As I stood up and went to raise my pants, I felt him pull them to the floor. “You’re so annoying!” I began to laugh as I started to walk towards the stairs. “Just keeping my eye on the prize.” He smirked as he grabbed my shorts off the floor and quickly started to follow me. I could only laugh harder as I felt him give me a light smack on the ass as we walked up the stairs. I can’t believe how much I’ve changed from when I first arrived. Hell, even a month ago I don’ think I’d be this comfortable having Dizzy chase me upstairs like this. But now, well I think I want him even more than he wants me. The love I feel, it’s even spread into our sex life, and for the first time, I know Dizzy sees that. -- -- As our afternoon fun came to a close, we couldn’t help but just lay back and catch our breath. “We’ve hooked up like four days in a row now.” Dizzy commented with a wide smirk on his face. “And you’ve started most of it.” He turned to me. “Well maybe if you left me more satisfied, I wouldn’t have to.” I teased, seeing his smirk turn to surprise. “What has gotten into you?” He commented in a laugh, but I could tell he wasn’t expecting an answer. “I’m not ashamed anymore.” I answered, shocking us both. He looked over to me, but stayed quiet, waiting to hear what I would say next. “It sounds so stupid, I mean I had you and Adam supporting me, I shouldn’t have felt ashamed.” I began in a sigh. “But a small part of me still did,” I turned over so I could look him in the eyes. “I tried to push through by goofing around with you in public and sometimes it worked.” A small smile began, but quickly faded. “But there was always a part of me that felt like I was doing something wrong.” “What changed?” Dizzy couldn’t help but ask as he thought over my words. I shrugged my shoulders as I tried to rack my brain. “Sadie’s acceptance helped, but something about Ezra,” I hesitated as I tried to pick out my words carefully. “when he got here, I thought he was so strong and wise.” I began to vent as Dizzy stayed quiet. “He reminded me of some of the men I looked up to back in Texas.” I explained as I felt Dizzy began to place his hand in mine. “But the longer he stayed here, the more close minded he became.” I gently shook my head. “He was threatened by everything around here.” There were a few moments of silence as I tried to find the right words. “I don’t want to be like that.” I finally confessed. “I thought men like him were strong, but they’re just scared.” I raised our hands to my face and laid a kiss on his. “He tried to tell me God would disapprove of us, but if that were true, why would God have brought me to you?” I asked, but got no answer back. “My Mom always told me to trust in the plans God had for me, and it took until this weekend for me to realize that you’re part of them.” “Even if I don’t believe?” He asked, trying to contain his smile. “Even if you don’t believe.” I nodded my head before leaning forward and landing a kiss on his lips. “So I don’t doubt us anymore.” I began to smile. “It’s been a long past few months,” I confessed. “but now I know I’m exactly where God wants me to be, I can just feel it.” Dizzy nodded his head as his smile broke free and laid another long kiss on my lips. As he broke away I quickly went back for more, and just like that, another round of well, festivities, kicked off again. “Man,” Dizzy heavily exhaled as I crawled back up to the top of the bed. “was it a part of God’s plan to blow me more? Because you’ve definitely been doing that.” “Are you trying to end this hook up streak at four days?” I asked drawing another smirk from him. “All I’m hearing is day five is on the table.” He began to laugh as I hopped off the bed and grabbed my clothes. “So are six to ten as long as you stop saying stuff like that.” I reminded him as he crawled off the bed and starting to look for his own clothes. I couldn’t help but stop and take a closer look at him. The way his hair was all screwed up, the smile still on his face, those beaming blue eyes and that thin body he tried to keep in at least decent shape. “Need another close look?” He asked as he noticed my stare. Unlike when we first started dating, I kept my stare on him and shrugged my shoulders. “Pencil dick.” I finally remarked as I pulled my shorts up. “Uncalled for!” He shouted through laughter, shocked by my comment. “I didn’t even think you knew that word.” He shook his head as he pulled up his boxers. “Maybe you’ll be the reason the streak ends at four.” “I didn’t say it was a bad thing.” I flashed him a smile, but could still see surprise on his face. “I actually like it.” “Easy for you to say,” He grumbled as we continued to get changed. “you’ve got like a cucumber in there.” He couldn’t help but laugh at the comparison as I walked over to him. “You’re perfect Dizzy.” I insisted as I laid a short kiss on his lips. “Guess I can’t argue with that.” He blushed, finally getting his shirt on and following me towards the door. “But for the record, pencil dick is not a compliment.” He let out a sigh as I began to laugh. “and cucumbers can be intimidating and hard to please properly.” “That’s why I’m letting you practice.” I shrugged my shoulders, continuing to show the conversations were no longer a problem for me. “I don’t want to talk about sex with you anymore.” He began to laugh as I felt his arm go around my side. “You’re so mean.” I went to say something but froze as I heard the TV from downstairs. “You just had to go for round two, didn’t you?” “I didn’t hear any objections.” I sighed as I shrugged free of Dizzy's grasp. “We were just napping.” I warned him as I finally started to descent the stairs. “Man, that was a good nap.” Dizzy loudly announced as I glanced back and shot him a death stare. “Save it.” Adam yelled from the couch. “It really was,” “Save it!” Adam insisted, not even bothering to turn around. “You guys want to go up there when we’re not around, that’s totally fine.” He explained, causing me to look back towards Dizzy with a surprised look. “But I cant spend the night in his bed?” Dizzy asked, not understanding where the line was. “Sixteen is still too young to share a bed every night.” Adam replied as I rolled my eyes. “Besides, you already struggle getting up for school, I get the feeling staying in Artie’s room will only make your bed time later.” Mason began to laugh as he looked over and saw blushes forming on both our faces. “So it’s not about sex?” Dizzy finally asked, drawing loud groans from everyone in the room. “What? We’re all men here.” Dizzy laughed, enjoying how uncomfortable he had made everyone. “It’s about boundaries.” Adam finally answered as we joined them on the couch. “And right now you can respect mine by dropping this conversation.” “Just wanted a clarification on the house rules.” Dizzy excused, now trying to play innocent. “Well this has been fun as always,” Mason remarked as he stood up. “but I really have to get home.” “So early?” Adam asked in a disappointed tone. “I left my laptop behind and I’ve gotta finish some more applications.” Mason complained, but as their eyes connected, he began to smile. “Besides, you’re going to pass out in an hour anyway.” “Fine,” Adam conceded in a sigh. “but you’re staying over tomorrow.” “Deal.” Mason agreed as he leaned in and gave him a kiss. “See you boys tomorrow.” He turned to us and waived as we did the same. The second the front door shut, Dizzy looked over to Adam with a smirk. “Sucks he has to go home.” Dizzy begun as he elbowed me. “Yeah, but he’s been talking about wanting a new job for a couple weeks now.” I shrugged, not understanding what Dizzy was getting at. “I think he’s sick of being a bartender.” “He is.” Adam agreed, beginning to smile as he realized Mason and I were starting to form a pretty solid relationship. “Yeah, but it sucks he has to go home.” Dizzy repeated, being much less cryptic this time. “It’s not too bad.” Adam shrugged his shoulders and looked over at Dizzy. “You should try it sometime.” “Or Mason can try spending more time here.” Dizzy instigated as trouble started to brew in his eyes. “Are you trying to get sent home?” I sighed as I finally realized what Dizzy was trying to play at. “You know Adam doesn’t like to be pushed.” “I think he could use it.” Dizzy insisted as he looked over to Adam. “I’m not asking him to move in after two months.” Adam shot down, not even bothering to look over at us. “Because three months makes such a big difference.” Dizzy continued to push. “Just think about it.” “I did.” Adam admitted, surprising us both. “Even if he said yes, we’d all be crammed into this house.” “Yeah, it’s not like you have empty space.” Dizzy teased, looking past the kitchen and to the small empty area near the sliding glass doors. “Not like you can make a second living room.” Adam shook his head but stayed quiet, knowing Dizzy had a point. “When I moved in, you did say you’d look into making a space for me and my friends there.” “Artie.” Adam sighed in a disappointed groan. “Sorry,” I began before catching myself and looking over to Dizzy. “But space is a bad excuse.” I suddenly began to push. “Dizzy and I could even go hangout at his place if you wanted some time with Mason.” Dizzy smiled as he realized I was on his side. “We don’t want to be the reason that you and Mason move slow.” Adam let out a deep sigh as he finally looked over to us. “If I turn that space into another living room, will you two actually watch TV in there?” “Yeah.” Dizzy quickly answered before I could say anything. “You’re not just going to keep sitting here and bothering me?” He asked, not believing us. I couldn’t help but laugh knowing he had a point. “Sometimes we will.” I had to concede. “But sometimes, Dizzy and I like our space too.” I reminded him as Dizzy began to nod. “And maybe, maybe if it’s not too expensive, the couch could be a pullout bed.” The second Adam heard those words, I noticed something spark in his eyes. “Alright.” Adam nodded his head. “You get a space for your friends, I get more room to myself and Dizzy gets an actual bed.” “Whoa,” Dizzy began as his smile faded. “That’s a lot to ask.” He sheepishly forced out. “I can’t ask you to buy a bed for me.” I noticed his eyes drift to the floor as he started to feel uncomfortable. “Okay, then it’s the perfect guest bed.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “For you or any of Artie’s other friends.” “Charlotte could sleep over!” I exclaimed as Adam began to nod his head. “Thank you Adam.” Dizzy forced out as he began to blush. “You can thank me by using that living room and giving me some breathing space.” Adam laughed to himself. I have to admit, I didn’t expect Adam to get so excited about the idea, but I guess it is something we’ve needed. Don’t get me wrong, the set up we have now is fun but we all do tend to get on one another’s nerves. I think some space will do us good, even if it’s only across the kitchen from one another. “That space isn’t very big though.” Adam warned us both as he stood up and started to walk over to it. “I lived in a trailer.” I reminded him. “I’ll take any space I can get.” As we reached the spot, I realized it was slightly bigger than I first thought. “This is perfect.” I felt my smile grow. “Why’d you even leave it empty?” Dizzy asked as he looked over to Adam. “I didn’t need two living rooms, and a sitting room just sounds stupid to me.” He shrugged his shoulders. “At one point I was going to make it a smoking area, but I’d rather just smoke outside at that point.” As Dizzy took another look around the area, he leaned over to me and gave me a quick kiss. “How did we go from Mason moving in, to me getting a room?” Dizzy asked as he looked over to Adam. “You were here first.” Adam shrugged his shoulders, but I could tell he was just trying to avoid the question. “If you want the space for Mason…” Dizzy began but trailed off as Adam let out a sigh. “Do you want Mason to move in?” I finally asked, realizing we hadn’t really considered how Adam felt about it. Adam grew quiet for a couple moments as he thought it over. “It’d be really nice to have him around more.” He finally answered. “But we have so much going on around here.” “And yet he still comes over all the time.” Dizzy argued as he and Adam’s eyes met. “I mean he already stays over like three or four times a week anyway, what’s three more?” I nodded along with Dizzy’s words. “I don’t think things are going to calm down either.” I confessed, hoping my words wouldn’t scare Adam. “It just feels like something crazy always hits us out of nowhere, but that’s kinda just life, isn’t it?” I asked but Adam stayed quiet. “When I first started dating Dizzy, you told me to embrace the experience, maybe you need to do the same.” We both grew quiet as we gave Adam some space to process it. “We love you Adam.” I finally said, leading Dizzy away from the small room and towards the stairs. “Dizzy’s sleeping on the couch.” Adam finally yelled as we reached the steps. “Damn it.” Dizzy grunted I began to laugh. “But I love you Adam.” He said as Adam rolled his eyes and started walking towards the stairs. “Look,” Adam finally began in a sigh. “you boys have given me a lot to think about and I, I appreciate that.” He said as a small smile formed on his face. “I cant promise anything, but I’m glad to have your blessings.” “It’s your house.” Dizzy couldn’t help but laugh. “You don’t need our blessing.” “You have a house key, don’t you?” Adam asked, as Dizzy nodded. “It’s your and Artie’s house too.” Adam insisted as he pushed past us and started to climb the steps. “Good night boys, I, I love you both too.” He let out, but kept his eyes forward as he left us. “You didn’t let me say that before, and now he beat me to it.” Dizzy teased as I rolled my eyes and started to climb the stairs. “Goodnight Dizzy.” I dismissed, but looked back to catch a wink from him. “Looking forward to making it five days tomorrow.” He kissed the air towards me, causing me to shake my head and smile. -- -- That night I slept better than any night before. It really did feel like everything had finally fallen into place. Like I had found the peace I’d been looking for since my Mother passed. Everything was just, perfect. I have a boyfriend I love, an Uncle who would do anything for me, and maybe even soon, another Uncle who seems to do nothing but encourage me. The next morning felt like I was floating on clouds. Dizzy tried to continue our streak in the morning, but I shot him down, knowing I couldn’t be late to homeroom. After all, I’ve got someone very important to share stories with. Sure enough, the second I stepped into homeroom, I saw that certain someone’s eyes light up. “Artie.” She smiled as I took my seat next to her. “Charlotte.” I repeated, noticing Dizzy walk right past her and towards Kai. “Hello to you too Dizzy.” Charlotte called out to him, but he simply gave her a wave before walking behind Kai and grabbing onto his shoulders. “Stop.” Kai grumbled as he tried to shake free of Dizzy. “Stop!” He insisted, but Dizzy went from grabbing his shoulders to giving him a full bear hug. “Those two.” Charlotte rolled her eyes as she redirected her attention to me. “Anyway, you owe me some stories.” “I know, they were part of your order at the shop.” I teased as she began to laugh. “I hope you knew I was playing around.” She offered with a smile. “I know you wouldn’t actually ignore me,” She said as I began to nod my head. “besides, those donuts were perfect.” “You can thank Adam when you come over later.” I offered as she quickly began to nod her head. “Kai knows too right?” I asked, but turned around to find both he and Dizzy looking at me. The second they saw my stare, they looked away. “He does.” Charlotte answered as I looked back to her. “I’ve got a feeling your boyfriend is filling him in right now.” I let out a sigh as I nodded my head. “I’m sure they’re talking about a lot more.” “Like?” Charlotte asked, hoping I would spill. “Dizzy and I have kinda been more inseparable than usual this weekend.” I answered as I felt a blush forming on my face. “I, I can’t keep my hands off of him.” I saw Charlotte struggling to contain a wide smile as she heard that. “I, I love him Charlotte.” Charlotte nodded her head and had to look down to make sure Dizzy couldn’t see her face. “You tell him that?” She finally asked. “I’m waiting for the right time, his Mom told me to look into the Marin Headlands.” I answered, only seeing her excitement grow. “Because the bridge is your spot?” She asked as I nodded once more. “You two are so perfect.” Her smile continued to grow. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. “So you wanted to hear about what happened with Ezra?” I asked, happy to change the subject before Dizzy could hear us. “Fuck Ezra, I want to hear more about this!” Charlotte insisted in a laugh. “So you can’t keep your hands off of him?” She asked with wide eyes. “Nope.” I proudly shook my head. “We’re like rabbits,” I replied, trying not to gross her out. “but it’s like the best it’s ever been.” “And you’re the one to initiate?” She asked, wanting to know more than I expected. “Like all yesterday and the day before.” I answered with another blush. “Yes Artie!” She shouted, but quickly grew quiet as Dizzy and Kai looked back over. We both couldn’t help but laugh at their confused stares. When homeroom finally started, Charlotte and I couldn’t help but exchange smiles, a trend that followed us throughout the day. Finally, during lunch, I was able to fill her and Kai in on what happened with Ezra. They both insisted that they knew I would do the right thing if I had to, but I could tell Charlotte was surprised. They were both happy to leave it at that, and honestly, so was I. I’m done even thinking about that man, he’s taken up enough of my time. When the last bell rang, we all met at the front steps and started the familiar walk back to my place. “Feels good to be back to normal.” Dizzy announced as he led the way. “Just the four of us going to Arties to drive his Uncle crazy.” “One day, you’re going to push your luck with Adam too far.” Charlotte warned Dizzy with a serious look. “He’s making a second living room with a pullout couch just for me.” Dizzy taunted her with a smug look. “It’s actually for all of us to come hang out.” I corrected him with a roll of my eyes. “If Charlotte or Kai ever want to crash there, you’ll be back to the other couch.” “I’m fine with that.” Dizzy shrugged but kept smirking at Charlotte. “That’s good, because I can’t stay over too late today.” Kai began, trying to distract Dizzy from baiting Charlotte into a fight. “Why not?” Dizzy complained in a loud voice as he quickly looked over to Kai. “Got a date?” Dizzy teased, now moving on to provoking Kai. “No, I mean, with Ryder Sullivan maybe.” Kai began to laugh as his cheeks turned red at the name. “Ryder Sullivan?” Dizzy repeated as the smile quickly faded from his face. “Where are you going tonight?” Dizzy asked as a panicked look started to replace the smug one. “The Fillmore.” Kai replied, nearly stealing the smug look off Dizzy’s face. “Messiah is headlining.” “That’s tonight?!” Dizzy asked, nearly shouting his question. “I asked you a few weeks ago, and you said you weren’t interested.” Kai shrugged his shoulders. “So I went ahead and got myself tickets.” Charlotte rolled her eyes and turned to me. “You understand them?” She asked, but I could tell she assumed I was on the same page as her. “They’re a new band, really popular or something.” I tried my hardest to remember. “Their singers like really good, but crazy or something, Adam likes them.” “Do you think he’d come get tickets with me?” Dizzy quickly demanded as he looked towards me. “Sold out.” Kai replied before I could as we entered the park near my house. “God damnit!” Dizzy exclaimed, now becoming more dramatic just for the fun of it. “You don’t even like hard rock, you just think Ryder is cute.” “Neither do you.” Kai reminded him in a laugh. “But Messiah is different, who doesn’t like them?” “Us?” Charlotte guessed, looking over to me. “Us.” I agreed with her. “My Uncle was playing their music a week ago, and some of it was screaming. It just sounded angry and sad.” I shook my head as we reached the stairs to my house. “Who would even listen to that?” “It’s not anger, it’s passion.” Dizzy argued as he began to pout. “And now I’m going to have to wait a year for them to come around again.” “I’ll make sure to send you videos.” Kai provoked with a smirk, as Dizzy took a half hearted swing at him, only causing Kai to laugh harder. “Can you two stop.” Charlotte complained as they began to wrestle on the staircase. “Kai’s going to throw you down the stairs.” She warned him as I rolled my eyes and finally started to unlock the door. “He won’t do shit.” Dizzy continued but the second I pushed open the door, I froze. All the horseplay behind me turned to silence as I saw a familiar face sitting on the couch, talking to Adam. “Sadie!” I exclaimed as I dropped my back pack and ran up to her. She could barely stand up before I wrapped my arms around her, nearly taking her right back down on couch. “I told you I’d be here when you got home from school.” She began to laugh, but I refused to let go. As if things couldn’t get any better, Sadie actually came all this way just to see me. I have so much to tell her. I have so much to show her! She’ll even get to meet my friends and Mason! I’ve had to do a lot of fighting these past few weeks, but now, it’s about time I start living. Sadie Barnes, welcome to San Francisco.
  8. Chapter 46: The Price is Rite I have to admit, when I heard Colleen wanted to grab lunch with me, I couldn’t help but get nervous. Don’t get me wrong, she’s nothing but nice to me, but I just felt a little, intimidated. And I know, that sounds ridiculous! But she means the world to Dizzy and I know it’s important to him that we like one another. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as I thought it all over. I was that nervous, but I still ended up telling her I love her son. I guess I was just being honest, I can tell that’s something she appreciates. As she heard my laugh, she looked up from her lunch and studied me. “You laugh at your own thoughts just like Dizzy?” She asked, not putting too much thought into it. “Not as often as he does.” I played along, relieved that she wasn’t going to push any further. “Not as hard either.” I teased as she began to smile. “He’s his own favorite comedian.” She smiled but began to push around her food as she thought something over. “How’s he been lately?” She asked, but I could tell she knew the answer. “He seems off?” I asked, trying to delay my answer. “Some days.” She replied, seeing through my game. I nodded my head to her words but had to fight from looking down. “It’s been a tough week.” I finally began to answer. “And I think we both had moments we’re not proud of.” I exhaled, this time I couldn’t help but let my gaze drift. “but we’re better for it.” “You can’t let his opinion on fathers, cloud your own.” She offered, still not up to date on the latest Ezra news. “He was right though.” I confessed, still not looking up. “Ezra just wanted to turn me into another bible thumper from Texas.” She let out a deep sigh, but I could tell the topic wasn’t anything new to her. “What’d you say to him?” She asked, trying to get a good look at my face. “Told him to get the fuck out.” I confessed, finally looking up to see a small smile starting on her face. “Can’t think of a better way to make your place here in San Francisco permanent.” She encouraged, even drawing a smile from me. “When I first met you, I didn’t think you and Dizzy would last.” She suddenly confessed as our eyes connected. “Why?” I asked so quickly I didn’t even have time to think about her words. “Thought you’d turn and run.” She answered, continuing to look right in my eyes. “But you’re a fighter, not a runner, aren’t you?” “I learned to be.” I nodded but could feel my smile growing wider. “You learned well.” She complimented, finally breaking the eye contact. “I don’t have the answers for you and Dizzy’s trouble with your fathers, I can’t even call my own son by his name.” She commented as she began to grow serious. “But I’m so glad you boys have one another.” She grew quiet for a moment as she thought something through. “I haven’t always been the Mom Dizzy deserves,” She confessed. “and he deserves a lot more than he got from his father,” She continued. “But I know he has the boyfriend he deserves.” She began to smile once more. “So it’s been hard not having him home much, but it helps knowing he’s with you.” I grew quiet, stunned by her words. “Sorry, I know that was…” “No, it’s fine.” I interrupted, trying to keep control over my emotions. “I, I think I needed to hear that.” I admitted more to myself than to her. “He’s gotten me through so much already.” I gently shook my head struggling to find the words. “And when you tell him you love him, it’ll have made it all worth it.” She reassured me as she looked into my eyes one more time. “You both deserve one another, I promise.” I nodded my head but grew quiet as her words began to sink in. “Anyway, I think our breaks just about done.” “Oh, yeah.” I let out as we both slowly rose from our seats. “Sorry, next time I won’t pry so much,” She said as she helped me clean up the table. “But you’re the first person to tell me they love my son.” She paused and looked over to me. “It means a lot Artie.” “You weren’t prying.” I offered as she grabbed Dizzy’s lunch from the table and we headed to the door. “I actually kinda like talking about real stuff. “I sheepishly admitted. “Usually Adam just gets uncomfortable or Dizzy derails the conversation.” “Well if you’re open to some advice,” She began as she pushed the door open for me. “Dizzy’s the best at talking after he’s eaten or before he goes to bed.” “He always loves food so much?” I couldn’t help but laugh at her advice. “I hope you like to cook.” She answered as we both entered the shop to find Dizzy ringing up a customer with Adam standing close behind. “Trust me and try microwaving the glazed one for a few seconds.” I heard Dizzy tell the customer as he handed over the box. “Have a good day.” He smiled as the customer repeated the phrase and walked towards the exit. “Good.” Adam nodded as we let the customer by and joined them behind the counter. “I don’t know if the advice is needed, but good.” “I’m just elevating your donuts man.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders. “They order some generic donut like glazed, they’ve gotta spice it up themselves.” “Some people just appreciate a regular donut.” Adam reminded him but I could tell he was thinking it over. “Our donuts come out good in the microwave?” “There’s some others that microwave better.” Dizzy began, not wanting to mention the brand. “But yours taste better to begin with, so they just need to be lightly warmed up.” His smile grew as he looked at the case in front of him. “I can show you.” “No chance.” Adam rejected, finally looking over to the two of us. “How was lunch?” “It was nice.” I smiled, noticing Dizzy watching us both closely. “Yeah?” He asked, unsure how to phrase the thoughts going through his mind. “Would you guys get lunch together again?” “No.” Colleen sarcastically answered as Dizzy began to stare her down. “Don’t you have a job you should be learning?” She asked as a new customer entered the shop. “This?” Dizzy asked, he went to take a step towards the register but Adam waved the customer over to him. “This is easy compared to inventory.” He remarked as he watched Adam greet the customer. “Inventory is a pain.” She agreed as Adam worked through the exchange at his usual quick pace. It really is a crazy skill Adam has mastered to work with a customer so quickly. It’s not even like Adam makes the person feel rushed, he just has the interaction down to a science. “Well,” Adam returned to us as the customer headed towards the door. “Dizzy actually just made the process a lot easier.” He complimented as Dizzy’s smile began to shine. “And he’ll be responsible for getting the new system off the ground once summer starts.” “It’s going to take off like a rocket.” He confidently nodded his head. “Good, then you’ll have more time to help out up front.” Colleen teased, reminding her son that there are plenty more ways he can pitch in around the shop. “Like I said, easy.” Dizzy replied, making sure to flash her his smirk. “Let’s wait and see what you say after the lunch rush.” Adam interjected as the confident look from Dizzy’s face began to fade. “Lunch rush for donuts?” Dizzy asked trying to figure out if he was telling the truth. “I know I’d eat donuts for lunch, but there can’t be that many people who do.” “They’re not actually coming here for lunch.” Adam answered in a sigh. “They must just use their lunch breaks to bring a box back to their office or whatever.” He shook his head. “I don’t know but the point is we get another surge of customers around noon each day, so get ready.” “As bad as this morning?” I asked before Dizzy could fit in another wisecrack. “No,” Adam shook his head as I let out a sigh of relief. “but it can get pretty close depending on the day.” He paused as a few customers walked in. “So go on, let’s see if you’re ready.” He encouraged as we both stepped up the our registers. As Dizzy started helping his customer, I noticed Adam step in and help him with the register, but me, I had managed to get it all down pat during the morning rush. I even started packing the donuts pretty quickly! I’m still nowhere as fast as Adam or Lindsay, but it’s a start! “Ya’ll come back now.” I smiled as I handed over the box and took a step back. “Still saying that?” Adam asked as he watched Dizzy load the last of his order into the box. “Better than telling people to microwave the donuts.” I answered, making sure to lean against the counter to emphasize that I had already helped my customer. “You should try microwaving the glazed ones.” Dizzy smiled to the customer, but I could tell they had no interest in the conversation. “Sorry.” Adam spoke up, forcing Dizzy to quicken his pace. “Both still in training.” “It’s no problem.” The customer finally smiled before taking her box. “Have a good one.” She dismissed quickly turning to head towards the door. “Most people are on their break right now, so you’ve gotta move quick.” Adam reminded Dizzy. “But you did good, just, stop with the microwave.” He exhaled as Colleen began to laugh. “Even if it’s good advice?” Dizzy asked, but I knew the message was received. “Z,” Colleen spoke up as he turned to her. “keep your wisdom to yourself.” “Yeah, yeah.” He finally conceded as Colleen glanced over to me then back to him. “Hey,” Lindsay popped in from the kitchen before Colleen could say anything. “I’m done with my lunch break, you can take yours now.” She said to Adam. “Dizzy’s actually going to take his.” Adam dismissed, not even giving Dizzy the option. “So take it with him?” She suggested, already starting to get frustrated with how dismissive Adam was. “Me, Artie and Colleen will run the front.” She insisted, “Well Colleen’s actually going to go start making orders based off the inventory Dizzy took.” Adam began, as I watched Colleen take a step back to avoid the firefight that was starting to brew. “You, me and Artie will run up here until Dizzy can get back.” “And then you’ll take your lunch break?” Lindsay asked, but I could tell she wasn’t going to believe his answer. “I will.” He smiled, only throwing fuel on Lindsay’s frustration. “I just want to get Artie though the start of the lunch rush.” “Because it’s so busy right now.” Dizzy started, but Colleen shoved his lunch into his chest, nearly knocking him back. “Go in the back and eat.” Colleen instructed before giving him a light push. He rolled his eyes, but followed her directions without a peep. “You know Adam, you can teach them every job here, but if you teach them to skip their breaks, you did a bad job training them.” Lindsay warned, cutting to the heart of her problem. “I’m not teaching them that.” He laughed, now trying to play off his own frustration. “Well what do you think they’re learning when they see you haven’t taken a break all day?” She asked but he rolled his eyes. “You weren’t even supposed to come in today.” “They wanted to come in today,” Adam began but this time I had to take a step forward. “I just wanted to come help, you’re the one who pushed today.” I spoke up as Lindsay pointed over to me. “Artie.” Adam grunted, quickly looking over to me. “He always does this.” Lindsay turned to me. “He comes in on his days off and he refuses to take any breaks, it makes the rest of us feel bad.” Things cooled down as a couple more customers wandered in the store. Lindsay and I started to help them as Adam motioned for Colleen to get to work in the back. Yet the second the customers left I saw Lindsay turn back to Adam. “Just take your damn break.” I finally let out, sick of hearing them bicker. “It’s not fair they feel bad because you’re too hard headed to take twenty minutes to yourself.” “Thank you!” Lindsay shouted as I verbalized her thoughts. “Fine.” He grumbled, not even looking at us. “I’ll take my break at one, when things start to wind down.” “You’d better.” I shook my head, but before I could say anything else more people started to show up. “You can handle your own register?” Adam quickly checked with me, more than happy to change the subject. I nodded my head, and before I knew it, the three of us were more focused on helping customers than getting Adam to take a break. As more and more people flooded into the small shop, I couldn’t help but be glad Adam stuck around. I know he needs to be taking his breaks, but I’m glad he refused to do it during the rush. Don’t get me wrong, Lindsay is just as amazing as he is, but there’s a certain calmness he maintains. It’s almost like the horde of customers doesn’t even phase him. He even finds a way to check on me every few minutes or so. When Dizzy came back from his break, I could tell that the worst of the rush was behind us. Lindsay tried to get Adam to take his break, but he insisted on 1 and there were just too many customers left for Lindsay to argue. “Alright,” Adam finally let out with a smile as the crowd finally turned into the occasional customer or two. “now we can just cruise until close.” “Now we can just cruise until close. “Lindsay corrected as she began to stare at him. “Now you are taking your break.” “Can I just ask something?” Adam began as Lindsay rolled her eyes. “What’s so wrong with me only taking breaks on days I need them?” He asked, but I could see years of the same conversation starting to wear Lindsay down. “We have a couple bakers who got here in the middle of the night and only left a couple hours ago, plus you’ve been doing the early shift for weeks now.” He challenged Lindsay. “We all work our asses off, this is just my way of doing that.” “What’s wrong is everyone follows the example you set!” Lindsay yelled, quickly glancing towards the door to make sure there were no customers. Every now and then someone would peek into the window, but when they say the near empty donut case, kept walking. “You’re buddy buddy with nearly all the employees here.” She said as she locked eyes with him. “When they see you skipping breaks, they immediately feel weird about taking theirs.” She warned him. “And I’ve said that to you a hundred times, but now that you’re hiring teenagers I’m drawing a line.” As I glanced over to Dizzy I noticed him take a step back, so not even he’s willing to get involved? “Start taking breaks, or I’m scheduling Artie and Dizzy on your off days.” She decided, still staring him down. “And that is that.” “1 pm every day.” Adam replied, knowing he wasn’t going to win. “Not a minute earlier.” “Fine, you want to wait until the last hour, be my guest.” She finally exhaled, breaking eye contact and leaning against the counter. “But your break starts now.” “Let me just help this last,” He began as the door opened, but as he looked over and saw a girl around my age stopped. “damn it.” “Charlotte!” I exclaimed, thrilled to finally have an out to the fight Dizzy and I were forced to watch. “Don’t you Charlotte me.” She began as she finally reached the counter. “You’ve left me on read since last night.” She reminded me as I took a small step back from the counter. “I only knew you were here because Dizzy actually replies to his phone.” “Were you on your phone while you were at work?” Adam asked, quickly looking over to him. “During my break.” Dizzy shrugged before looking over to Lindsay. “Speaking of breaks.” “I’m going.” Adam surrendered, but grabbed one of the large boxes off the counter and placed it next to me. “Give it to her on the house.” “To me?” Charlotte asked trying to hide the surprised smile forming on her face. “Your family takes Artie to church almost every Sunday, it’s the least I can do.” Adam replied as he backed up to the door. “Kind of nice having me up front, isn’t it?” “Go!” Lindsay interrupted in a strong voice. “Fucking Adam.” She grumbled to herself as he finally escaped into the kitchen. “Long day?” Charlotte quietly asked as her gaze drifted to the leftover donuts. “Something like that.” I forced a smile as I wandered over to the case. “Does this mean you’ll be too tired to hang out later?” She asked, instantly drawing Dizzy’s attention. “No,” I began as Dizzy let out a loud groan. “well maybe, we might just need a nap.” “It’s alright,” She sighed as she looked over to Dizzy then back to me. “But no more leaving me on read,” she warned. “and I want to hear what happened with Ezra,” She said, this time getting me to glance back towards Dizzy. “and we’re hanging out after school tomorrow.” She continued to demand. “and I want two jelly,” she began to make her order. “two blueberry, a maple bacon and the last oreo.” “The box is for twelve.” I pointed out seeing her smile only grow wider. “Then I also want two fudge brownie, two peanut butter, one fruit loop and a toasted coconut.” She finally finished her order. “Please.” She added in as I started to fill the box. “Welp, if we weren’t out of the good donuts before, we certainly are now.” Dizzy teased as I put the last of her donuts into the box. “She made her choices count.” I shrugged as I handed it over to her. “This trip worked out well for you.” “Sure, I got to yell at you and then I got free donuts.” She smiled, as she took a step to the side. “I would rather be able to grab coffee with you, but I guess we’ll rain check it.” “You just want to hear how my weekend went.” I teased as she nodded her head. “Or at least the parts Dizzy hasn’t told you.” I glanced back to shoot Dizzy one more stare. “He didn’t tell me any of the good stuff.” She explained, saving Dizzy the trouble. “All I know is you slammed a door in Ezra’s face.” Her smile grew as she spoke. “I’m proud of you Artie Price.” I couldn’t help but share her smile as she started to take a few steps back. “But for now, I’ll take my bribe and get out of your hair.” She teased. “Thank you,” She looked over to Lindsay. “and thank Adam for me too.” “Anytime.” Lindsay smiled back. “I think she’s my favorite of your friends.” Lindsay remarked as she watched Charlotte leave the shop. “Standing right here.” Dizzy argued as he looked over to Lindsay. “I know.” She shrugged her shoulders, drawing a laugh from me. “And we get to spend all summer together.” “So I’ll have time to beat Charlotte?” He asked with a hopeful look. “Or time to drop even lower.” Lindsay teased as she walked around the counter and looked at the case. “Oh crap,” She exhaled, seeing how empty it was. “we really need to make half a dozen more of each before lunch.” “You guys are that busy?” I asked, as Ezra’s critiques of Adam’s shop began to replay in my head. He was talking about this place like it’s unsustainable, like it could end at any moment. Lindsay looked past me and towards Dizzy as confusion entered her face. “What?” Dizzy began to laugh. “Have you paid attention at all today?” “I know, it was very busy,” I clarified in a sigh. “but like, it’s getting busier?” I asked, voicing my concerns in a clearer way. Lindsay’s confusion turned to concern as she started to see through my words. “Our customer base has only been growing since we opened.” She answered as our eyes connected. “We actually just had a piece on us in the local news.” She continued. “Place is going to be around for a while, we’re even considering expanding the menu, but that’s a long process.” “You’re worried about this place?” Dizzy asked as he finally caught on. “Are you letting what Ezra said get to you?” “I just wanted to see it for myself.” I finally admitted in a sigh. “Is that why you’re here today?” Lindsay asked, but instead of answering I looked over to Dizzy who just shrugged. “I came for the company, and the donuts.” He answered as he tried to buy me time. “Mainly the donuts.” “We don’t have to tell Adam, do we?” I asked as a customer entered the shop. “No, we don’t.” She smiled and motioned for Dizzy to take over. “But you honestly have nothing to worry about, we do strong and the people of San Francisco are loyal customers.” She explained. “The only issue is running out of donuts.” She groaned as she took a step forward to back up Dizzy. “Not a lot of options left?” Lindsay asked the customer as they stared at the case. “Guess that’s what I get for coming before close.” The customer answered as she tried to be as understanding as possible. “Well if you buy three, we’ll give you three free.” Lindsay encouraged as Dizzy leaned back to grab a box. “And, if you bring this with you next time you visit,” She continued, grabbing a card off the counter and handing it to the customer. “it’s good for 15% off.” “Oh, well, thank you.” The customer replied, caught off guard by Lindsay’s generosity. “Then I’ll have 3 donuts,” She began her order as she looked back to Dizzy. “The people of San Francisco are loyal customers.” Lindsay repeated as she took a step back and joined me. “You treat them well and they’ll keep coming back.” I nodded my head, realizing this was probably the most important lesson I had learned all day. “And as much as I hate to admit it, offers like that were Adam’s idea.” “Really?” I asked as Dizzy wrapped up his transaction. “Yeah.” She reluctantly answered. “He insisted on this place having a small-town approach to our customers.” She swayed her head as she thought it over. “When we can.” “He works really hard, doesn’t he?” I couldn’t help but ask as she nodded her head. “Annoyingly hard.” She complained as she walked around the counter and towards the door. “But you boys are going to be the key to making him take breaks.” “That’s really a problem around here?” I pried as I noticed her switch the open sign to closed and lock the door. “Ever since we opened.” She answered in a sigh. “He feels like he doesn’t bring anything to the table, so he busts his ass to make up for it.” “But that’s ridiculous, he’s kept the front running smoothly all day.” I argued as she nodded her head. “It’s Adam though.” Dizzy reminded me with a shake of his head. “Once he believes something, good luck changing his mind.” “Maybe you are my favorite.” Lindsay smiled as she joined us back behind the desk and leaned down to enter one of the cabinets. “Maybe I am.” Dizzy matched her smile, but before he could say anything else she threw a big sponge at him. “Now do me a favor and start wiping down the counters, I’ll take care of cleaning the case.” She instructed as she threw a sponge in my direction. “The faster we start, the faster we’ll be done.” “I don’t want to be your favorite anymore.” Dizzy groaned as she started to fill a couple buckets with soap and water. “If this is the worst part of your first day, then I’d say you had a pretty good one.” Lindsay warned him. “Unless you’d like to swap out the dirty oil, clean the proof box, or the racks or,” “Alright, Alright.” He exhaled, helping her to move the buckets out of the sink. “But when it comes to learning the new inventory system, I don’t want to hear anything.” “Your mom does inventory more than I do.” Lindsay explained as Dizzy let out a long groan. “Keep talking Dizzy,” I began to laugh. “It’s really working out well for you.” He made a face at me, but things grew quiet as we all got to work. Truth be told, cleaning was probably the worst part of the day! But after just forty minutes, we had the whole front wiped down, mopped and sparkling! When we went to rejoin everyone in the back, we found the kitchen clean but empty with only Colleen sitting at a table wrapping up paper work. “Out back.” Lindsay explained as we heard some voices sounding out from a propped open doorway. As I took a few steps towards the door the stench of skunk filled the air. The closer I got the more I was able to peek out to see a circle of four or five people standing around the alleyway. As I finally found Adam, I was surprised to see him with a wide smile. He actually almost looked the happiest I’d seen him! “He’s really likes this place, huh?” I couldn’t help but ask Lindsay. “He loves this job.” She nodded her head. “I don’t think he ever saw a future like this for himself.” She explained as we all grew serious. “But now that he has it, he’s going to make every second count.” I noticed Colleen looking over to Dizzy as Lindsay spoke. He’ll find his success Colleen, don’t worry, I just know it. As Dizzy went to get closer to the door, I grabbed his arm. “Let’s give him a minute, he’s worked hard.” Dizzy nodded his head, but quickly redirected his attention to his mom. “I’m surprised you didn’t join the smoke circle.” “I had to figure out your new inventory system.” She turned to him with a stern look. “Oh.” His smile quickly turned nervous. “It’s pretty straight forward once you get used to it,” He offered taking a step towards the inventory closet. “I could actually show you right now.” “Save it for another day.” She shook her head. “I can’t look at that fricken screen anymore.” “It’s a good system.” Dizzy insisted, nervous smile still on his face. “Adam sure thinks so.” She nodded to his words, finally calming his nerves. Without warning the back door swung open and the group from the alley headed in. “Alright everyone,” Adam spoke up in a loud voice. “great start to the week, we could probably turn out the donuts a little faster tomorrow, but if that’s our biggest complaint then it’s been a damn good day!” He encouraged the group, before looking over to us. “Oh! This is my nephew Artie and Colleens son Dizzy, they’ll be joining us this summer so get used to seeing them out front.” He introduced as they all looked over to us. “But that’s all I have to say,” He looked over to Lindsay who simply nodded her head. “Alright, enjoy the rest of your day and I’ll see you all back here tomorrow.” He dismissed as the group excitedly went their own directions. A few came over and said hi to Dizzy and me, but most grabbed their stuff and left. “What’d you think?” Adam asked as he finally reached us. “Tired.” Dizzy answered before I could say anything. “Tired.” I agreed with a smile. “Welp, nothing feels better than an afterwork nap, especially since you can finally have your donuts.” Adam smiled to Dizzy who happily nodded his head. “Well, I, I may have had one or two during my break.” Dizzy smirked, bracing for what Adam would say next. “I guess that’s not so bad,” Adam exhaled as he looked over to Colleen. “compared to,” He began as we braced for what he would say. “the other things you do.” He changed his mind, not wanting to snitch on Dizzy. “Me and Artie spoke about those other things during lunch.” Colleen began as she turned towards her son. “You guys spoke about me.” He smirked but as their eyes connected his face quickly turned serious. “If I hear that you give Adam a hard time in his own home, you’ll be spending more time in your bed and less time on their couch.” She warned him. “And you’d better be helping them out around their house.” “I know.” Dizzy accepted as he thought about it. “I’ve been better recently.” He said looking over to Adam, who nodded along. “If any of you want to join us, you’re welcome over.” Adam offered, changing the subject to help out Dizzy. “I’ve got some stuff around the house that needs to be done.” Colleen shook her head. “Maybe later.” Lindsay answered, not putting too much thought into it. “I’ve gotta drop off the donations.” “Well, just stop by if either of you want.” Adam nodded, leading us towards the back door. “See you guys tomorrow.” “Bye.” Dizzy and I both offered as we followed Adam towards the door. “Man,” Dizzy began as we started to walk out. “I thought for sure you were going to tell her about the time me and Artie smoked a joint.” He teased, making sure to say it loud enough for Colleen to hear before he shut the door. “Why do you have to provoke your mom like that?” Adam groaned as we walked towards the bus stop. “Because she loves it.” He shrugged his shoulders with a wide smile. “Besides, it’s not new to her or anything.” He laughed to himself but grew serious as the bus pulled up to the stop. I noticed him working something over in his mind as we jumped onto the bus and took off. “Do you think I’m a bad son for not spending more time at home?” He asked, unable to keep the thought to himself. “No.” I quickly began but I could tell Adam was putting more thought into it. “I think you could spend more time at home.” Adam confessed, looking over to Dizzy. “But I think it’s complicated and that doesn’t make you a bad son.” He quickly clarified. “You start looking into spending a couple more days at your house and I’ll make sure to give you both shifts together at the shop.” “Thanks.” Dizzy accepted as I saw a look of relief enter his face. “Just not like, every shift though.” He began again. “She’s still my mom.” He nervously laughed. Adam laughed to himself before growing quiet. The rest of the bus ride home was silent as I let Adam’s advice for Dizzy to sink in. Adam said it better than I could’ve. Dizzy and Colleen’s situation is complicated. I mean sure, Dizzy’s been staying over our house so often because it’s fun for him, but it didn’t start out that way and deep down, well I think that wound is still healing. When we finally returned to our house it didn’t take long for the two of them to fall asleep. I tried my hardest, but no matter what, I just couldn’t! Eventually I scrolled through my phone long enough to go upstairs and make a call I probably should’ve last night. “Hey Artie!” Sadie greeted in an excited voice. “How have you been? How was school today?” She asked, immediately hitting me with questions. “I’m good, and we had the day off from school, it was some teacher development day,” I tried to remember but the weekend’s felt so long it slipped my mind. “so me and Dizzy ended up helping at Adam’s shop.” “Oh that’s so great.” Sadie replied, but I could tell there was something else on her mind. “Did Ezra visit the shop?” She finally forced out, drawing a sigh from me. “I told Ezra to go back to Dallas.” I answered, not willing to say too much more. “Oh.” She let out as things grew quiet for a few moments. “I’m sorry Artie, I know that must be tough but he’s always been a massive jerk.” “He is a massive jerk.” I couldn’t help but let out a small laugh. “But I, as tough as it was, I feel better now that he’s gone.” I admitted, even getting relief from just saying the words. “It’s just like now I know who he is and I don’t know, as disappointed as I am, it’s given me peace.” “Bless you.” She exhaled as I heard her emotions start to bubble. “I wish I could reach through this phone and give you a hug.” “I’d like that.” I encouraged , happy to change the conversation. “You’re just saying that.” She began to tease. “I’m sure you can’t wait to get off the phone and go hang out with Adam and Dizzy.” “That’s not true.” I quickly tried to shutdown but we both knew she had a point. “I would love nothing more than to come home from school and you be here.” “Then maybe that’s what I’ll do.” She played along as I began to laugh. “Don’t you laugh Arthur Price, I’ll be in San Francisco when you get home from school on Tuesday.” “I’m sure you will.” I said, not believing a word of it. “The women who’s scared of riding in trucks is going to get on a plane on a two days notice?” I teased, no longer able to hold my laugh back. “I’ll have you know I rode in a truck last week.” She replied, pretending to be offended. “So you keep laughing, but I’ll see you on Tuesday.” “Okay, I’ll see you soon.” I finally accepted, still unable to stop from laughing. “I love you Sadie.” “Love you too Artie,” She responded with a laugh of her own. “And you start calling me more than once a week, or I really will come over there.” “Sure you will.” I said in a sarcastic voice. “See you Tuesday.” “See you Tuesday.” She said before hanging up her end of the call. I really mean it, I would love nothing more than to get home and see her waiting for me, but that’s just not who Sadie is. She’ll make her way here one day, it just won’t be in a moments notice! Besides, right now I’ve got other things to focus on. Like how the hell I’m going to get to Marin Headlands! But I don’t care if I have to drag Dizzy there on foot. He deserves a moment as special as he is, and I’m going to make sure I give that to him!
  9. Aceinthehole

    Free

    Chapter 45: Free Sleep came quickly as Dizzy and I finally laid down for the night. It’s strange, so much had happened today, and yet, this is the best I’ve slept in months. Maybe even the best I’ve slept since I lost my Mom. It just felt like my worries were fading, like I could finally be a normal high schooler again. It was like I was finally set free from those old expectations from childhood, from myself. When my phone alarm sounded at five in the morning, it didn’t even bother me. Dizzy on the other hand rolled around and complained, but finally found the motivation to pull himself out of bed. When we both showed up at the bottom of the stairs at 5:45 I could tell Adam was impressed. “How about that?” He asked, more to himself than to us. “We’ve got about ten minutes if you guys want to quickly eat something.” He offered, but Dizzy just blankly stared at him. “It’s too early to eat for me,” I finally replied before looking over to Dizzy. “and I’m pretty sure he’s still turning on.” Adam nodded and looked over to Dizzy. “Not even going to make me uncomfortable with a joke about that?” He baited but Dizzy just shrugged his shoulders. “This might go smoother than I thought.” Adam remarked as he reached back on the couch and grabbed two white and black t-shirts. “I know I already gave Dizzy one, but I actually grabbed these the last time you both visited and forgot to give them to you.” He explained, proudly showing off the work shirts with a Price is Rite logo in the front upper left. “This is basically the whole uniform.” Adam said, handing us each one. “Just wear this with shorts or pants, I don’t care so long as you have socks and shoes on your feet.” I couldn’t help but smile, knowing an old employee had probably given him a reason for mentioning that. “If you guys want the job once summer rolls around, I’ll give you another shirt.” “Only two?” I couldn’t help but tease as me and Dizzy quickly got changed into them. “I’ll tell you what, you make it more than three weeks and I’ll give you guys as many shirts as you need.” Adam shrugged before heading towards the door. As I heard those words, I couldn’t help but look over to Dizzy, worried about what I had both gotten us into. “Let’s do this.” Dizzy finally yawned as Adam pulled the door open. “There he is.” Adam smirked, as we all started the short journey to Adam’ shop. “What happened to our nice little 5am chats?” Adam teased, perfectly mirroring Dizzy’s phrase from last night. “They’re easier when I can go back to sleep after.” Dizzy muttered as Adam nodded his head. “Just need some time to wake up is all, then we can talk all you want.” As Dizzy forced his normal smirk, Adam let out a sigh but I swear I could see him holding back a smile. As loud and vibrant as Dizzy usually is, it is kind of fun seeing him so quiet. It’s a reminder that he’s not that different from Adam or me after all. “Take as long as you need.” Adam encouraged as the bus pulled up to our stop. The commute from there was quiet. Dizzy and I took seats while Adam stood nearby. It’s funny, I can tell Adam’s kind of nervous but yet his excitement far outweighs it. Does he always look forward to work, or is it just because Dizzy and I are there with him? As the commute finally came to an end and Dizzy began to fully awaken, Adam grew serious. “Can we talk?” Adam asked as the shop came into view. “Yeah.” I nodded my head, unsure what to expect. “So obviously these past few months I’ve been kind of like, like a big brother to you guys.” Adam forced out, embarrassed by his own words. “And I don’t mind that at home or when we go out, but this is Lindsay’s and my shop.” He began as the three of us came to a stop. “I can’t have you guys goofing around, talking back or ignoring me.” He warned in a stern voice. “I invited you both because I think you boys are mature enough and ready for your first jobs.” He explained, looking from Dizzy to me. “But if you screw around, Lindsay and I are going to have to take action. That clear?” “Got it.” Dizzy quickly nodded, knowing he was the main person Adam was worried about. “I got it too,” I agreed as I looked over to Adam. “but this isn’t my first job.” I reminded him. “Farming.” He remembered as he finally opened the door to his shop. “Well, at least you’re used to being busy, I just hope you’re as good with people as you are with animals.” The second the door opened, I could hear nothing but commotion and Lindsay’s voice from the kitchen. I couldn’t help but shoot Dizzy a nervous smile as Adam led us through the shop and towards the back. “Lindsay.” He called out as we entered a kitchen already too small for the four people working in it. “Hey,” She glanced over from a tray of raw donuts. “Heard you two would be helping out today.” She forced a smile before getting right back to her work. “We could use the help up front, Colleen might even be able to take inventory today.” “Well actually, I was hoping to have someone else do that.” Adam explained, looking over to the two of us. “Artie will be great at it.” She agreed, but Adam simply shook his head. As I looked around the kitchen, I got my first real look at just what was happening around me. At first, it looked like chaos as a few men and women pushed past one another in an effort to get dough ready or decorate the donuts. Yet, the more I looked, the more I noticed just how focused everyone was. They were like a well-oiled machine, completing their task before passing it onto the next person in line. “Let’s get to it.” Adam instructed us, putting on a pair of plastic gloves before passing some to Dizzy and me. “We’re going to be joining that?” Dizzy asked, looking over to the bakers working in perfect unity. “Not for another year.” Adam laughed to himself. “You guys will be putting the finished trays into the display shelves for now.” He explained, sending relief through both Dizzy and me. “Do you ever help the bakers?” I couldn’t help but ask as Adam brought us to a large stand. “When Lindsay’s not.” He quickly nodded his head. “She’s an actual pastry chef.” He admitted in a sigh. “I just know what I learned from her.” “That’s not true.” She corrected without looking up. “His baking skills took time, but he knows how to make damn good donuts.” She encouraged with a smile. “Besides, if it weren’t for him, the most adventurous donut we’d have is maple bacon.” Adam tried to hide it, but I could tell he was proud of what she had said. “Anyway,” He began, redirecting our attention to the stand full of donuts next to us. “this is the sheet pan rack,” He explained. “finished pans go on here and then we roll it into the front.” He instructed, slowly guiding it back through the door we’d just entered. “You just take the tray of donuts off the rack and put it in the display case.” He looked over to me as he began to show us what he meant. “You just have to make sure it lines up with the sign in the case.” “And what am I doing?” Dizzy asked, looking from the donuts to him. “This for now.” Adam answered as he slid the tray into the case area. “We’ve got thirty minutes to opening, and then I’ll explain what’s next.” “Got it.” Dizzy quickly nodded as his eyes went right back to the donuts in front of him. Adam let out a sigh before grabbing a box off the counter. “After you put all of the donuts in the case, you can grab the six you like the most and put them in here.” Dizzy went to grab the box from Adam, but he pulled it back. “But you’re not having any until you get home.” “What about lunch?” Dizzy complained, looking for any excuse he could find. “There’s a deli next door, and I’ll happily buy you both a real lunch.” Adam shut down finally handing Dizzy the box. “And if you’re hungry now, we keep some of the left-over fruit and snacks for the employees in the back room.” “Alright.” Dizzy grumbled as I grabbed a tray and starting following Adam’s instructions. “We’ve got thirty minutes, let’s see how much you two can get done.” Adam tried to encourage us, before slipping back into the kitchen. “This is cruel.” Dizzy complained as he finally started to help me unload the trays. “He is paying you in both donuts and money.” I reminded Dizzy as we quickly started to find our own rhythm. “Doesn’t make it any easier to pass these up.” He groaned as he slid a tray of Oreo donuts into their slot. “Lindsay kinda embarrassed him though, huh?” Dizzy asked in an attempt to distract himself. “She did.” I couldn’t help but laugh. “I didn’t think she was even listening.” I remarked as I grabbed onto another tray. “He must actually be pretty good at this.” Dizzy couldn’t help but smile. As I placed my tray in, I took a step back and thought about it. “Makes sense though.” I concluded as I watched Dizzy continue to work. “He was mixing avocado and chocolate a couple weeks ago as a test, and it was actually pretty good.” “Doesn’t sound good.” Dizzy shook his head and took a step back so I could take my turn loading a tray. “It made it creamier.” I shrugged my shoulders and returned to work. “Maybe he’s a secret genius or something.” “Remember when he put Doritos in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” Dizzy couldn’t help but laugh. “He’s either a genius or needs a nutritionist.” “Are you two working or flirting?” I heard a familiar voice ask from across the counter. As I looked up and saw Colleen standing in front of us, I noticed Dizzy’s smile instantly widen. “You’re late.” He couldn’t help but tease from behind the counter. “I don’t bake, so I’m right on time.” She corrected him. “Besides, you just put the coffee cake tray where the peanut butter ones should go.” “Shit.” Dizzy groaned as he quickly squatted back down to fix it. “Wait, no I didn’t.” He realized, as he popped back up. “Guess you’re not the only one with jokes.” She shrugged, walking past the two of us and going into the kitchen. “You got pranked.” I teased as I pushed him aside and got back to work. “What about that was a prank?” He asked in a confused voice. “What about that was even a joke?” He let out as he looked over at me. “The part where you bent over for nothing.” I smiled as he rolled his eyes. He smirked and looked back at me. “Bet you were playing lose attention.” “Course I was.” I matched his smile before quickly leaning forward and stealing a kiss. “Alright,” Adam began in a loud voice as he pushed open the door from the kitchen. “no one wants a side of PDA with their donuts.” “Sorry.” I quickly apologized as my face turned red. “It’s fine because you two are about to get separated anyway.” He explained, holding the door open so Colleen could wheel in another rack of donuts. “Colleen why don’t you take this over for a moment while I show the boys inventory.” “I’m going to have to work with my Mom?” Dizzy groaned as Adam led us through the kitchen and to a long back pantry. “Better than taking inventory or whatever.” I pointed out, dreading the appearance of the high shelves and refrigerators. “Well that’s good because Artie will be up front and Dizzy will be back here.” Adam dismissed as he grabbed a binder off a desk which barely fit into the room. “You’re going to take this binder, and make sure these numbers are accurate.” Adam instructed as he handed it to him. “If they’re wrong, you cross them out and write the correct number.” He explained. “Then when you’re done, you can open up the shared doc on this computer and correct it.” “A shared doc?” Dizzy asked as he began to flip through the binder. “You don’t even use a spreadsheet?” “You’re going to lecture me about spreadsheets?” Adam couldn’t help but laugh, but stopped as he realized Dizzy was being serious. “It’d be a lot easier to follow than whatever this is.” Dizzy pointed out as he showed Adam a printed document with writing all over it. “A lot harder to set up though.” Adam replied, but I could tell he wasn’t certain on that. “We find just standard word docs a lot easier to use.” “You’ve never sounded older to me.” Dizzy remarked drawing a surprised look from Adam. “I’ll get this done and transfer it to a spreadsheet and you’ll even be able to organize it by type of food, brand or price.” Dizzy said, this time lecturing Adam. “And then you can even track how much you order over time.” “And you know how to do all that?” Adam asked in a skeptical voice. “I’ve been taking computer classes since kindergarten, we learned excel in like fourth grade.” Dizzy dismissed, acting as though the task would be second nature to him. “It’s a lot easier than you think.” “He is really good with computers.” I pointed out, trying to help quell Adam’s disbelief. Adam nodded his head as he thought it over. “This is one of the most important jobs in the shop.” Adam began to warn. “If we screw this up, we won’t have the proper amount of ingredients to last us the next few days.” I could see Dizzy start to grow nervous as he heard Adam’s words. “So I wanted to have you do it, because I know I can trust you with it.” Dizzy’s eyes quickly began to beam with pride as he heard that. “And if you think you can make the process more foolproof, then I trust you but please, back up anything you do first.” Out of all the time I’ve spent with Dizzy, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him more determined than he looked right now. “Got it.” He nodded as Adam began to guide me out of the pantry. “You can take your lunch break whenever, but Artie’s will be at eleven.” Adam instructed as Dizzy flipped back to the first page of the binder. “If you need any help we’ll just be in the front.” “Mhm.” Dizzy hummed, but I could tell he was already thinking of different ways to approach the work in front of him. “You really trust him with that?” I couldn’t help but ask as we walked through the kitchen. “Honestly?” Adam asked as he turned to me. “I do.” He confidently nodded. “Whenever we play survival games together, he’s always the one talking about organization and making sure we have supplies.” Adam recalled as we entered the front. “I know it’s just video games, but he can be really meticulous when he wants to be, why do you think his art is so well thought out?” I stayed quiet for a moment, stunned by how much thought Adam had put into it. Just like Lindsay, I thought for sure I’d be taking inventory, but I think Adam’s right. When Dizzy’s focused, he can be a work horse, especially when he feels he has something to prove. “But what about me?” I finally asked. “I don’t really have his, well, personality.” I sheepishly admitted, drawing a laugh from Colleen. “He’s got personality.” Adam laughed along with Colleen. “But he’s also, well,” Adam hesitated, remembering his mom was right there. “You let my kid stay at your house almost every day.” Colleen shook her head. “You say whatever you want about him.” “His personality is an acquired taste.” Adam finally spoke, trying to put it as nicely as possible. “He’s great to be around, but he can be a bit, polarizing at times.” “He’s not the kind of person you want to run into if you’re in a rush at 8 AM.” Colleen clarified, putting Adam’s words into a more blunt terminology. “And I am?” I asked, as I got back to work helping Colleen place trays into the display case. “You’re easy going and a friendly face.” Colleen answered, backing up Adam’s decision. “Plus, a little southern hospitality wouldn’t hurt around here.” Adam teased as he gave me a strong pat on the back. “We good to open?” Adam shouted towards the back as his mind quickly changed gears. “Ready to roll!” Lindsay shouted back as Adam walked back around the counter. “It’s just us three up front?” I asked as I noticed a few people already waiting outside the door. “For now,” Colleen answered my question. “Lindsay will join us once the kitchen finishes one more stand.” “Morning” Adam welcomed as he opened the door and began to let customers in. “Just watch Colleen.” He instructed me as the first customer approached the counter. “Welcome to Price is Rite, what can I get for you?” Colleen asked as Adam returned to the counter and took the customer next in line. “Six donuts,” The customer began as Colleen nodded. “Can I have two Oreo, three peanut butter and one devil dog?” The customer asked as Colleen quickly scribbled it down “That’ll come out to be fourteen dollars.” Colleen instructed before grabbing a box and guiding me to the case we had just loaded. Besides the customer talking fast, it honestly didn’t seem too bad. You’re just taking orders, filling boxes and making change! As we returned to the register, Colleen swapped the box with the money. “Have a good day.” She forced a smile before looking down at the register. “For any donut that’s not jelly or glazed, you just hit the artisan button,” She explained, pointing them out to me. “They ordered six artisan donuts, so I just hit it six times.” “Your turn.” She instructed as she took a step back from the register and handed me the small notepad and pen. I noticed Adam give me a nod of encouragement as he tried to focus on his own customer. “Good mornin,” I nervously forced out as a new customer appeared at the register. “what can I get for you?” I asked, feeling my accent grow stronger the more nervous I got. “I’ll take a dozen donuts,” the customer began. “two blueberry, two maple bacon, three fudge brownie, three devil dog and two jelly.” The customer rattled off as I struggled to keep up. “That’d be…” I hesitated as I looked at the register in front of me. “Around twenty five dollars.” Colleen answered for me, as I quickly pulled it together and found the right buttons on the register. Ten specialty and two regular? The second I hit the buttons, I looked over to Colleen for approval but instead she handed me a box. “You did it right.” She finally reassured as I walked over to the case. “Training some new faces for the summer.” Colleen explained to the customer as she took the money. “Little faster.” Adam teased from next to me as I carefully placed each donut into the box. By the time I had put in all twelve, Adam had already come and left with his box. “Ya'll come back now.” I said as I finally returned to the counter and handed the customer their box. Adam struggled to keep from laughing as he heard those words. “Maybe a little less southern hospitality.” He teased as he got to work on filling another box. “It’s charming.” Colleen shushed him as she turned to me. “You did good, and don’t worry, pretty soon you’ll know the prices well enough to give them off the top of your head.” “Sure.” I nervously nodded along, but was relieved when she took the next customer. “I miss anything?” Lindsay asked as she pushed through the kitchen door. “Artie went full Texas on us, but that’s about it.” Adam teased with a smile. “You’ll get more comfortable with it.” Lindsay comforted as I watched Colleen quickly serve another customer. “You just gotta keep at it.” I nodded and before I knew it, I was helping another customer. Lindsay’s advice seemed to ring true and after an hour I was comfortable enough to take my own register. Every now and again I would get stuck, but between Lindsay, Colleen and Adam, there was always someone to help me. Every now and again, I couldn’t help but look over and observe the teamwork between Adam and Lindsay. They had to share a register and yet, they were more efficient than Colleen or me. It was like they just knew exactly where the other was and what they were going to do next. As the morning rush hit and I watched Adam and Lindsay work, I couldn’t help but feel stupid for letting Ezra get in my head about Adam’s shop. Maybe this isn’t the most sustainable business ever. Maybe it won’t last Adam the rest of his life. But I know Adam and Lindsay will figure it out together. Besides, from the look of it, these two haven’t even hit their potential with this business! It’s like an endless horde of people and yet neither of them seemed phased! Colleen tried to offer me a break a few times, but I knew I couldn’t leave them like this. I may not be perfect at this job, but I can’t leave them during the busiest time of the day! When eleven finally rolled around, the rush dwindled into a steady stream of customers. I went to check on Dizzy but could tell I wasn’t taking him away from his work. “I’m not hungry,” Dizzy insisted, barely even looking over to me. “I mean it.” “I know, but it’s almost lunch time.” I reminded him “You should eat something.” “I grabbed a snack from the back an hour ago.” He dismissed as he scribbled something into the binder. “Trust me, I’ll eat when I’m hungry.” “Alright.” I sighed as I slowly walked towards the door. “Then I guess I’ll go take my lunch break, on my own, eating lunch.” I let out in a last ditch effort. As he heard my words Dizzy finally looked up with a small smile. “I really want to get this right.” “Alright, alright,” I exhaled saving him the explanation. “but you’d better make this up to me tonight.” Dizzy’s smile grew wider as he heard that. “Even if we can’t top last night?” “I don’t think we’re topping last night for a while.” I laughed. I couldn’t help but freeze as our eyes connected and we shared a smile. “You’re my favorite person Dizzy Armstrong.” I confessed before slipping out the door and heading back towards the front. “Dizzy’s going to stay and work, so I’ll just go grab lunch.” I explained as I was able to grab Adam’s attention for one of the first times since we opened. “Is he sure?” Adam asked, as a look of concern entered his face. “I’ll go talk to him if, “It’s fine.” I interrupted, knowing Dizzy was mature enough to decide for himself. “Trust me, that boy won’t let himself miss a meal.” Colleen interjected as she overheard our conversation. “Alright, well you pick something up for him too.” Adam instructed as he reached into his pocket and grabbed a twenty. “I’ll grab him something.” Colleen corrected as she wrapped up with a customer and turned back towards us. “If you don’t mind me taking a lunch break with Artie.” “I don’t mind, Lindsay and I can handle it.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “But I dragged Dizzy out here, I could at least buy him lunch.” “You’re already paying him for the day.” Colleen reminded him. “And you feed him almost daily,” “Alright,” Adam conceded, trying to save her the words. “but for the record he’s never imposing on us.” “I’m sure.” She replied in a voice of disbelief. As she led us around the counter and out the door, she couldn’t help but look back at Adam. “Be honest, how often does Dizzy get under his skin?” “Not too often anymore,” I said as I led us to the small deli next door. “Adam just ignores him or threatens to send him home.” “Well if Adam needs to start sending him home, I understand.” She offered, but I could tell she didn’t really understand their relationship. I mean sure, she’s seen how close they’ve grown, but I don’t think she understands that Dizzy’s turned into family. “I don’t think you’ll ever see Adam do that.” I couldn’t help but laugh as I started to look over the menu. “What makes you say that?” She asked, more interested in our conversation than picking out lunch. As I took a moment to think over her question, I could see her starting to worry. “You don’t have to worry about offending me.” She said, scared of what my answer would be. “It’s nothing like that.” I quickly tried to comfort. “Why don’t we sit down and then I’ll explain.” I offered, still trying to work out how much Adam would be okay with me sharing. “Oh, yeah, that’d be smart.” She agreed, growing quiet as we both worked out what we wanted to eat. When we finally ordered and took the food to our seats, I couldn’t help but see her getting lost in her thoughts. “My Uncle can be a hard guy to get to know.” I suddenly began as she looked up at me. “He’s been through a lot, so he’s kinda got a wall built up around him.” As she heard those words, she nodded her head, no doubt having experienced how quickly Adam can shut down. “But I don’t think he was always that way.” I confessed as I began to pick at my food. “I think that when he was my age he was loud and in people’s faces.” I couldn’t help but smile at the idea. “He was a pretty big hell raiser back in my hometown.” “He used to be like Dizzy.” She nodded her head, understanding what I was trying to say. “Mhm.” I hummed as I put more thought into it. “And trust me, we both know how much Dizzy cares about you,” I tried to clarify. “there’s never a day he doesn’t mention you.” Her smile grew as she heard my words. “but no matter how annoying Dizzy gets, Adam will never actually throw him out.” I confidently nodded my head. “But at the end of the day,” Colleen began but hesitated. “is Adam okay with that?” She asked as the concern in her voice began to grow again. “I don’t want Dizzy taking advantage.” “Trust me, Adam’s happy to have him over.” Once more I found myself smiling. “To Adam, it’s just something he needs to do.” I shook my head. “I think Adam benefits from everything just as much as Dizzy.” She nodded her head, but I saw another question beginning to form. “You both really care about Dizzy that much?” “Well I,” I paused I felt my heart begin to race in my chest. “I love Dizzy.” I confessed, as she froze at my words. “I think we make each other better and he, he’s gotten me through a really tough time.” “I think you’ve done the same for him.” She nodded along with my words. “And I know he loves you too.” She paused as she thought my words over once more. “Have you told him you love him?” “Not yet.” I exhaled as my heart continued to race. “I just want it to be somewhere special and,” I hesitated once more. “and even though we’ve been dating for months, I’m still kind of nervous to tell him.” “Well you have nothing to be nervous about.” She began to smile as her body relaxed. “Do you have any place in mind?” “Maybe the bridge.” I shrugged my shoulders. “It’s the first place we went together, but he took me there when he asked me to be his boyfriend, and I,” “Marin Headlands.” She interrupted in a confident voice. “That’s where you want to go.” She nodded her head. “You walk through the park and come to this beautiful opening with a view of the bridge.” She smiled at the idea of it. “Go where you feel is right, but I have a feeling you’d both find it special.” “Marin Headlands.” I repeated with a smile. “I’ll make sure to keep that in mind.” As we shared a smile a new kind of feeling took over. A few months ago I felt like I’d lost everything, and yet, now my life is coming together. It took a lot of help, but now that I’ve made it through, I’ll make them all proud. And for once in my relationship, I’ll be the one taking Dizzy on an adventure!
  10. Chapter 44: Partner in Crime As we all sat around the bleachers eating, I couldn’t help but watch Adam a little closer. I don’t know what I’ve been looking for these past few days. Watching the men around me in North Texas, I’ve always had this image of who my father should be. Strong, reliable, quiet, and the kind who works from sun up to sun down. When I first met Ezra, well I thought he was going to check off every one of those boxes, hell maybe he does. But the reality of who he is was so different from my fantasies. He’s not strong, he’s controlling. He’s not reliable, he just sticks around to see how he can benefit from the situation. The worst part is if he had come back before my mother died, back when I was still living in Texas, well I don’t think I would have the strength to see through him. I don’t think I knew who I was. Maybe I still don’t. But these past few months, someone has shown me the kind of man I want to be. That man is strong, because life had forced him to run away. He’s reliable, because he knows how hard it is to be alone. He’s quiet, because he thinks more than he talks. He wakes up at the crack of dawn to get to work, and while it isn’t farming, he approaches it with the same work ethic. But best of all, he’s forgiving, because he knows love is the one thing you can never compromise on. Not for your friends. Not for your parents. Not even for the pastors at your church. I spent the rest of our barbeque sitting and thinking it all over. A few of the guys noticed and checked in on me, but I told them not to worry. It’s been a long day. We lost our chance at the playoffs, and then I lost my father. And yet, for the first time in days I can think clearly. As everyone started to leave and we all said our goodbyes, Jose made sure to get me the information for summer baseball, and I even saw Adam swap phone numbers with a few of the dads. Hell, I even think I heard them talking about a men’s softball league! “It’s been a long day.” Adam remarked as we started to walk home. “I know I heard a few of your teammates offer, but if you want to talk you know I’m around too.” “I know.” I forced a light smile but quickly felt it fall from my face. “Thank you for coming, I know I didn’t deserve for you…” “Artie,” Adam interrupted in a deep sigh. “don’t keeping putting yourself down.” I grew quiet, unsure how to respond. “I know you’re trying to apologize, but you already did and I forgive you.” He reminded me. “You know what I hated most about my father back in Texas?” He asked, but I stayed quiet. “That he would always make me feel so guilty for making mistakes.” Adam shook his head. “But that’s what kids do, hell, that’s what everyone does.” He looked over at me and locked eyes. “There’s not a mistake in this world I won’t forgive you for.” I took a moment to let his words sink in before reaching out and pulling him into a side hug. “Thank you Adam.” Just like before, I noticed his embrace feeling so much more natural than it did months ago. “So are you going to play softball with the dads?” As soon as he heard that question, he lightly pushed me away. “We’ll see.” He answered, slowly growing embarrassed by my question. “There’s nothing wrong with it.” I quickly tried to encourage. “Besides, I think you’d be really good at softball.” He grew quiet, but I could tell he was thinking it all over. “I’d have to relearn how to bat again,” He complained. “and the pitching is completely different, I’d have to learn that too.” “I can help you remember how to bat,” I quickly offered. “and we can learn softball pitching together, I’m sure there’s videos online or something.” I said, trying my hardest to find any solution I could think of. “Videos online?” Adam asked in what was almost a laugh. “I don’t even know if you watched a video online before you got here.” He started to laugh to himself. “But alright, if you’ll help me learn, maybe I’ll give it a try.” I felt my smile grow and a laugh of my own begin. Practicing with Ezra was grueling. It was a constant grind in an effort to reach improvement. I know Adam works hard, but I have a feeling his approach will be completely different. I have a feeling his approach will be a little more fun. “And maybe,” I began in an unsure voice. “maybe one day soon I can come help out at the shop.” “At the shop?” Adam repeated as my suggestion caught him completely off-guard. “My donut shop?” He repeated, more surprised than I expected. “Well yeah.” I answered as my voice began to grow reluctant. “I figured it’d be cool to come see what it’s like working there.” “Yeah,” Adam suddenly shook his head as a wide smile filled his face. “I’d really like that.” He nodded his head. “I actually thought you weren’t interested in the shop.” He sheepishly admitted. “I mentioned it when you first moved here, but you haven’t said anything since.” “That’s right!” I realized, remembering one of the first nights I spend here. “Maybe, maybe I could join you this summer.” “Maybe you can join me this weekend!” Adam excitedly yelped. “I can’t really hire you until the summer, but maybe tomorrow I can at least show you the ropes.” “Tomorrow?” I repeated, much less excited than before. “Oh, sorry.” Adam exhaled seeing the sudden change on my face. “Today was a long day and you probably need time to collect your thoughts.” He realized as he slowly began to back off from his plan. “No, I don’t think I do.” I forced out, once more shocking him. “We lost today, and it sucked, but sitting home tomorrow feeling bad for myself won’t help.” I forced out in a confident voice. “And Ezra is a dick, but I’m done letting him have any control over how I feel.” I shook my head. “If you want to teach me tomorrow, I’ll be there.” Adam’s wide smile returned to his face as he heard those words. “Tomorrow it is.” He nodded his head, but suddenly I saw him starting to fall back into his own head. “That is okay, right?” I asked, not understanding the sudden change. “Yeah.” He quickly nodded once more. “I just need to figure out roles for the both of you.” “For the both of us?” I repeated, now completely lost in the conversation. “You don’t think Dizzy will want to come?” Adam reminded me in a slight laugh. “I assume we have to get up before six, so no,” I couldn’t help but giggle. “He’ll be happy to tell us what to bring home though.” “Are you wrong about Dizzy for once?” Adam couldn’t help but tease. “No.” I quickly shot down without any doubts. “He can’t even get up for school on a week day, he’s definitely not getting up to work on a Sunday.” “I think you forget how excited he was when I let you guys into the kitchen. “Adam baited with a smirk. “He loved seeing how the donuts were made, and on top of that, we’ll all be there.” Adam tried to convince me. “You, me and even his Mom.” “We will be,” I played along. “at six in the morning!” I couldn’t help but shout. “I bet he either sleeps until we get back with the donuts or goes to stay at his house so I don’t wake him up at five.” “I guess we’ll see then, won’t we?” Adam smirked, still confident that Dizzy would want to tag along on tomorrow’s trip. “Guess so.” I repeated with a smile, but quickly felt it fade as I saw a figure standing at our front door. “Oh my God.” I groaned as I saw Adam’s expression quickly switch to anger. “Let me handle this.” I offered, but could tell Adam’s mind was made up. “Someone needs to tell him to get the fuck out of here.” Adam grunted, more to himself than to me. “I know,” I quickly agreed as we grew closer to the steps. “just leave it to me.” I insisted “I need to be the one to do this, for me.” I explained, finally breaking through to Adam. “Alright,” He finally conceded. “but if he starts giving you a problem, I’m stepping in.” I nodded to his words, but felt a feeling of relief as I saw Mason’s truck parked near the house. If things go absolutely haywire, I know Mason is strong enough to handle it, even if that means things getting physical. As we finally reached the stairs, Ezra turned to face us. Adam stared daggers at him as we walked up the stairs. For as kind and gentle as Adam can be, well, I’ve never seen him look this angry. It was so much more than a weekends worth of anger, and it told me I need to get rid of Ezra quickly! “I told you to forget it.” I began, not even greeting him as Adam unlocked our front door. “I know,” Ezra began. “but I’ve done a lot of thinking and I have some stuff to say.” He offered, making sure to keep an eye on Adam as he lingered in the doorway. “I don’t care what you’ve thought.” I shut down, not even willing to give him thirty seconds. “You really think you’ve got it all figured out after a few hours?” I asked, starting to get just as worked up as Adam. “No,” He quickly backed off. “but I think I owe you an apology.” “You owe me a lot more than that!” I exclaimed, trying my hardest not to start screaming at him. “But you can start by taking your apology and yourself and go back to Dallas!” I shouted as I could hear my heart pumping in my ears. “Arthur, I know you’re angry, but it’s not that…” “I don’t want to hear it,” I shut down as I nearly pushed Adam inside and took his place in the doorway. “you don’t know anything about me.” “Arthur,” Ezra began but I felt my hand grab the door next to me. “Get the fuck out of here!” I interrupted one last time before slamming the door in his face. The anger on Adam’s face quickly changed and for a second I didn’t know what was going to happen, until finally he burst out laughing, not able to contain it any longer. “Adam.” I heard Mason disappointedly sigh from the couch. “I’m not,” Adam tried to force out. “I’m not laughing at you.” He exhaled as he regained his breath. “I just don’t think I’ve ever heard you curse like that.” Mason nodded along with his words. “Where did that even come from?” “Adam said someone needed to say it.” I shrugged my shoulders as I replayed the encounter in my head. “And I was so mad that, well, it’s the only thing I could think of.” I explained as my face started to turn red. “It was nicely said.” Adam encouraged with a proud smile. “It was.” Dizzy encouraged as he popped up from the couch. “That’s only the second time I’ve heard you say fuck.” He said as our eyes connected. “I like it.” He let out with a sly smile. “Dizzy.” Adam disappointedly groaned as he saw the look in his eyes. “I swear I’m going to keep a spray bottle in here.” “What?” Dizzy tried to play innocent as his smile turned to a smirk. “I was just encouraging him.” “Not with that tone you weren’t.” Mason shut down, pointing through his bullshit. “What’s wrong with my tone?” Dizzy asked, continuing to play dumb. “I like it.” He repeated, just like before. “Oh my God.” Adam groaned, as he and Mason quickly started to grow uncomfortable. “It was worse that time!” Mason yelped, looking over to me for help. “Dizzy.” I called out, trying to force a serious face, but the second our eyes connected I couldn’t help but smile. Something about looking in his eyes, somehow, he just always get’s me. “I was just diffusing the tension.” He shrugged his shoulders. I hate to admit it, but he was right too. A moment ago I was fuming but now, well I’m trying to keep from laughing. “You really hung out with this kid while we were gone?” Adam teased Mason as he took a seat next to him. “For half an hour.” Mason explained as he looked over to Dizzy. “He just got back from visiting his Mom.” Dizzy nodded along with his words. “Me and Mason are best buds now.” “Sure.” Mason played along, but I could tell they hadn’t bonded as much as Dizzy was hoping while we were gone. “Well Dizzy, you actually have to settle a bet between me and Artie.” Adam began, instantly drawing Dizzy’s attention as I took the seat next to him. “Alright.” Dizzy nodded along as I felt his arm wrap around my back. “Artie’s coming to help at the shop tomorrow,” Adam began to explain. “you’re welcome to join him, but that means getting up at five and leaving the house before six.” Excitement followed by disappointment filled Dizzy’s eyes as he tried to work through the problem in his head. “Alright,” He reluctantly nodded. “I’ll do it.” “What?” I asked, turning to him in complete shock. “You bet against me!” Dizzy exclaimed, as he quickly realized what side I was on. “He didn’t bet against you.” Adam tried to explain. “He just bet that you’d sleep in.” “I only said yes because I thought that was Artie’s side!” Dizzy complained, but I could tell he liked the idea of helping at the shop. “I figured you liked the donuts enough to come help sell them.” Adam confidently nodded, knowing he was right. “I figured you’d sleep until we got home with donuts.” I shrugged as I felt his hand gently grab my side. “I should’ve thought of that.” Dizzy exhaled as he looked over at Adam. “So, what do you mean by help out?” “Kind of like a job training.” Adam answered, as he thought it over in his head. “It’ll be a real day of work to see if you’d like to try it over the summer.” He explained. “I usually hire some seasonal workers anyway, so it’d be nice to hire the two of you in a few weeks when school lets out.” “I’d have to get up so early every day.” Dizzy groaned, but suddenly felt his grip on me grow stronger. “but you’d be there.” He smirked. “Definitely going to stagger your schedules.” Adam remarked, drawing a quick stare down from Dizzy. “But you guys would probably be working the counters, so you don’t need to get there as early as I do, your start time would be at seven.” “Even tomorrow?” Dizzy asked in a hopeful voice. “No.” Adam quickly shot down. “Tomorrow I want you to see everything but, I’ll even pay you guys for it.” “You don’t have to.” I quickly offered, not even realizing that was part of his plan. “Legally I do.” Adam replied, drawing a laugh from Mason. “Besides, you guys will earn it.” “What did you get us into?” Dizzy asked as we turned back towards one another. “Alright!” Adam exclaimed, seeing how close we were sitting to one another. “I think Artie should go run upstairs and shower, he’s been paying baseball since this afternoon.” Adam pointed out, trying to find any way he could to put some space between us. I couldn’t help but giggle as I saw the disappointment in Dizzy’s eyes. He really is obsessed with me, isn’t he? Then again, I guess I’m obsessed with him too, I just don’t show it as much. “I should shower.” I groaned starting to pull away from Dizzy. “But maybe I’ll just wait until before bed.” “It’s before bed now.” Adam quickly shutdown. “And I need to shower after you.” “Well if you’re finally going to shower.” Dizzy began, drawing a hard laugh from Mason. “Alright fine,” I conceded, fully breaking apart from Dizzy. “But since we have to get up so early tomorrow, well I think it would make our lives easier if Dizzy stayed upstairs tonight.” Adam tried to hide a look of surprise as he heard my words. I know he’s used to Dizzy trying to force his way upstairs, but I don’t think he’s ever seen it from me. “I can get Dizzy up when I come downstairs to make coffee.” Adam quickly shutdown. “I don’t know, he can be pretty hard to wake up.” I forced out, as I noticed even Dizzy looking surprised at my insistence. “Whenever I come downstairs in the morning he wakes up.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “Do not.” Dizzy lied in an effort to support our cause. “I’m a heavy sleeper.” “You pretend to be asleep so people won’t bother you, I invented that trick.” Adam snuffed out his bullshit with a smile. “Besides, most mornings you start talking to me and ruin your whole little trick.” “Our nice little 5 am chats.” Dizzy smiled, showing it was something he had grown to enjoy. “So, every morning you get up at 5 and talk to Adam?” I asked, as I quickly began to realize why Dizzy was so tired every day before school. “Not every morning, but most.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders. “Adam usually hates it.” “I just need ten minutes to have coffee, and then you can say whatever you want.” Adam clarified as their eyes locked. “So, tomorrow morning lets avoid that by letting me stay in Artie’s room.” Dizzy pushed with a grin. “I bet even Mason agrees.” “Mace?” Adam asked, glancing over to him. “Pleading the fifth.” Mason excused, looking away from us and towards the T.V. “Come on Mason, you’ve hung around long enough to have an opinion.” Dizzy taunted, trying to get us support anyway he could. “I’ve certainly been around long enough to see a thing or two.” Mason remarked, growing a worried stare from Adam. “Nothing like that.” He quickly clarified as he saw the look on Adam’s face. “What do you mean?” Dizzy asked, as I shot him a look to be quiet. “What do you mean?” Adam asked in a much stronger voice. “Dizzy can stay on the couch tonight,” I began to backtrack as my heart began to beat faster. Mason let out a deep sigh and nodded his head. “Sorry boys, but I was planning to tell Adam anyway.” Adam’s smile completely fell from his face as Dizzy finally realized the secret Mason was talking about. “Oh no.” Dizzy let out as he looked over to me with a forced smile. “A month or two ago, I noticed a roach in Artie’s room.” Mason finally exhaled as Adam face grew confused. “What kind of roach are we talking here?” He asked, looking over at Dizzy. “The bug, right?” “Sure.” Dizzy quickly nodded along. “We killed it.” “You boys killed that roach alright.” Mason nodded along in a laugh. “You boys smoked a joint!” Adam shouted as a combination of anger and shock entered his voice. “It was a one-time thing.” I offered, hoping it would help settle him down. “You smoked without me?” Adam asked as his anger and shock turned to disappointment. “I don’t think that should be the take away from this.” Mason groaned as he remembered what a stoner Adam was. “It’s not, just a factor in it.” Adam agreed as I couldn’t help but laugh. “Artie, this is serious.” “Yeah, Adam can’t hire someone who smokes weed!” Dizzy said, quickly getting to work diffusing the situation. “What is this, California?” “I’m sorry.” I offered, trying my hardest to grow serious. “I just wanted a day where we broke some rules, and that’s what we happened to settle on.” Dizzy quickly nodded his head. “We smoked out in the park and then came right home.” “Where’d you get it?” Adam asked, trying his hardest to put on his parent voice. “Took it from my Mom’s supply.” Dizzy admitted, but I could see a joke forming in his mind. “We were going to take from you, but I figured that’d be even worse than getting caught with it.” “I’m not amused.” Adam shut down as he looked from Dizzy to me. “And honestly, as someone who started smoking at 15, let me tell you both, it is not the path to go down.” He began to lecture. “If you boys want to smoke at 21, I’ll be happy to smoke with you but absolutely not while you’re in high school.” He warned in a stern voice. “I may be a smoker, but don’t forget it’s still a drug and you both need to treat it like one.” “Understood.” Dizzy answered in a serious voice. “We both liked it,” He began, drawing an even angrier stare from me. “but we said the same thing to one another, we actually, we said the next time we’d smoke is when we’re married.” “When you’re married?” Adam repeated, throwing him for an even bigger loop than the weed. “You guys talked about marriage?” “We were high.” I replied as I looked from Adam to Dizzy. He fought off a small smirk and shrugged his shoulders. “That was the only time we’ve talked about it, but I like the idea.” “I do too.” Dizzy nodded his head. “Go shower,” Adam dismissed me in a groan. “and I expect both of you down here and ready to go before six tomorrow.” “As in coming down here after sleeping upstairs?” Dizzy asked, now unable to contain his smile. “After sleeping upstairs.” Adam repeated, making sure the emphasize was on sleeping. Dizzy and I shared a quickly smile, before I quickly turned towards the stairs. “Thanks Adam!” I called out, making sure to rush upstairs before Adam could change his mind. “If I catch you smoking again, I’m telling Sadie!” He yelled up the stairs to me. “And I’m definitely telling Colleen tomorrow.” I heard Adam warn Dizzy. “You don’t think she noticed a missing joint from her pack?” Dizzy teased, as I began to laugh to myself. As I finally jumped in the shower, I couldn’t help but be swarmed with thoughts of Dizzy. All weekend he’s been quiet and reserved. Sure, we had our fight, but he came out of it more understanding than ever. He had my back the same way Adam did, and he stopped judging my actions, or at least, kept his judgement to himself. And he did all that, even though he feels like there’s still some kind of barrier between us. And honestly, I don’t think I can blame him for feeling that way. Sure, I’ve tried to express how much I like him, but never really in front of others. Never like when I kissed him in front of Ezra or being the one to convince Adam to let him stay upstairs. I think that’s all changed now. I love Dizzy Armstrong and before summer, I’m going to find the right way to tell him that. As I jumped out of the shower and dried off, I made sure to listen for anyone around. I quickly got changed, making sure to put the baseball uniform I grabbed from my room on and booked it into my room. As I texted Dizzy to come to bed, I finally heard Adam shuffling around outside my door. “Good night!” He called out to me as I heard him hanging around. “Good night guys!” I nervously replied before hearing the bathroom door shut. “Night.” Mason replied as I heard the door to Adam’s room shut. I couldn’t help but smile as my door creaked open and I realized we were finally in the clear. “Hey.” Dizzy smiled, but I instantly noticed his eyes go to my uniform. “Weird choice for pajamas.” He couldn’t help but tease. “Didn’t you play in that uniform today?” He asked as he took a seat on my bed “It won’t be on for long.” I replied as I stood up and walk towards Dizzy. “I hope you weren’t kidding about finding this uniform sexy.” “I wasn’t.” He quickly shook his head. “It’s tight on you in all the right places.” He smirked as he grabbed my hips and pulled me in. “Whoa there.” I pushed him away before taking a seat on his lap. “I’ll lead tonight.” For one of the few times since we started dating, Dizzy was speechless. “You really do like this uniform.” I couldn’t help but laugh as I felt something hard starting to poke my bottom. “Oh yeah.” He exhaled as I began to gently move around his lap. “If you really want to lead tonight,” Dizzy began as trouble rose in his eyes. “maybe you should try fucking me.” “Only if you’ll fuck me after.” I replied, as his eyes grew wide. As I leaned forward and our lips connected, everything turned to instinct. Dizzy and I have been hooking up for months now, but after tonight, things will never be the same. This was no longer an experiment to me. It was no longer sneaking around and doing something I felt deep down was trouble. This was connecting with the guy I love and we could both feel the difference. “Oh my god.” Dizzy exhaled as he tried his hardest to catch his breath. “I didn’t know you had that in you.” He continued to breath heavy. “What’s wrong, couldn’t keep up?” I teased, unable to remove the wide smile from my face. “If you’re trying to go for a third time then you’re right, I can’t keep up.” He laughed, turning to me and planting a light kiss on my lips. “You’re so special to me Artie.” He exhaled as he grew serious, he went to say something else but bit back the words. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for you my whole life.” I admitted, shocking us both. “I’m your knight in shining armor?” He asked as he leaned his forehead against mine. “No, you’re my partner in crime.” As the words left my lips, I could see how heavy they hit him. I let out a small laugh and laid a soft kiss on his lips. “Even when we get caught, there’s no one else I’d rather have at my side.” “This was almost better than the sex.” He exhaled, before laying a kiss on my lips. “Almost?” I asked reaching out and giving him a light push on the chest. “Almost.” He repeated, turning to lay on his back and staring at the ceiling. Well just you wait Dizzy Armstrong, I’m going to plan a date so amazing that it completely blows you away! One that’ll have made the stress of the past few weeks all worth it. One that makes you remember the first time I told you I loved you.
  11. Check back later tonight (around 7-8 pm EST) or, at the latest, tomorrow. Sorry about the wait, but I'm glad you stuck around long enough to ask for more!
  12. Aceinthehole

    Control

    I'm glad you enjoyed it! This won't be the final chapter. Still some other loose ends to tie up. The status of temporary hold is automatically applied to stories if they haven't been updated in a while. Hopefully I can start posting chapters a bit more frequently.
  13. Aceinthehole

    Control

    Chapter 43: Control Once again, I spent another night trapped within my own head. Ezra reached out with dinner plans, but I couldn’t do that to Adam. Somehow the emotions of these past couple days keep repeating. I keep hurting Adam worse and worse, and even though I know it’s happening, it feels like there’s nothing I can do to stop it. It feels like I’ve lost control, not over myself, but over everything around me. And I’m just so, so, confused. Ezra cares about Adam. I don’t care what everyone around me says, I know that’s true. Every time Ezra brings up their old playing days, a small but proud smile fills his face. It’s like he gets lost in those stories as he tells them. He wants what’s best for Adam, but he’ll never understand exactly what that means, will he? And would he understand what’s best for me? Just like the nights before, I stayed quiet as Adam and Dizzy watched T.V. or played video games. A few times Adam tried to include me, but I refused and kept pretending to read the book in my hands. All the pain I’ve been causing him this weekend, and he’s still being this caring? Part of me, well, it just wants Adam to lash out. Maybe it would make all of this easier to swallow. Not even my Mom was this forgiving with me! After a while she’d lose her temper and start yelling. I’ve seen Adam do that before, but this time, something’s different and it’s just making me feel so, guilty. I deserve to be screamed at. I deserve for Adam to lose his temper. But even saying that is selfish! I just want him to be angry so I’ll feel better! When did things get this complicated? When did I stop acting like myself? As Adam stood up to go upstairs, he reached out and gave my head a light push. “Stop thinking about tomorrow’s game.” He teased with a forced smile. “You’ve been a ball of nerves all night.” “Yeah.” I nervously laughed. “I’ll do my best to keep it out of my head.” Dizzy looked over to me as he heard those words, I could tell by the look in his eyes that he knew it wasn’t baseball that was bothering me. “Easier said than done, I know.” He nodded his head. “But you’re hurting yourself right now.” He warned. “Thinking in circles, it’s just going to psych you out.” He took a second to think before bracing himself against the couch. “You think too much Artie, just focus on being in the moment, and when tomorrow’s game comes, let all this emotion fuel you.” I nodded my head as Dizzy carefully observed the two of us. “I’m not sure if that made much sense.” Adam laughed to himself as he let go of the couch and walked towards the steps. “You’ve got too much going on in your head, and I’ve got too little.” He remarked, more to himself than to us. “Smoking weed from morning to night will do that.” Dizzy finally spoke up, instantly drawing a tired glare from Adam. “You know it’s true!” He teased as Adam continued to walk up the stairs. That’s what Adam thinks I’m stressed about?! He thinks I’ve been anxiously sitting here thinking about baseball? Does he think I’m that selfish? Or is he just that selfless? “So,” Dizzy began when he was sure Adam was gone. “what are you actually thinking about?” As I looked up at Dizzy our eyes locked. For a moment, I thought about just letting everything out. About letting the dam break, and flooding Dizzy with all my worries. “This weekend has just been a lot.” I lied, but knew Dizzy was seeing right through my words. “Are you upset about hurting Adam again?” Dizzy asked, as though he could read what was on my mind. “Oh my God.” He exhaled in frustration. “You know, you could just not hurt Adam, and then neither of you would feel shitty about it.” “You know it’s not always that simple.” I grumbled as my eyes fell from his. “You’re starting to regret inviting Ezra!” Dizzy excitedly yelped before catching himself. “Am not.” I defensively replied, still not looking at him. “I just wish, wish this was going a little different.” “I thought he was treating you well.” Dizzy baited, to see how I’d respond. “He is, he’s just, intense.” I shook my head. “It’s like, we could be having such a good time together then suddenly he gets super serious.” “I think that’s what it’s like having a Dad.” Dizzy offered, trying to help me feel better even if it meant cutting Ezra some slack. “Yeah.” I nodded along with his words. “It just feels like he was trying to prepare me for the pro’s today, I’m glad he was pushing me to be better, but, but, I don’t know.” I trailed off as I felt Dizzy’s weight begin to lay into me. “But you already push yourself hard enough, and sometimes you just need someone to help you blow off steam.” He smirked as I finally looked up at him. “Why do you think we’re so compatible?” He laughed to himself. As the room grew quiet, his face started to grow serious. “Maybe it’s time to tell him you don’t want to go to the pro’s.” I nodded my head, but kept quiet. “He was the one talking about creating realistic dreams.” Dizzy reminded me. “What stupid thing did he say? Chickens have wings but can’t fly?” Dizzy lured, trying to get me to speak. “Just because a chicken has wings doesn’t mean it can fly.” I corrected, but Dizzy’s point still stood. “I just feel like all we have to talk about is baseball.” I admitted as I looked away from Dizzy. “What if he takes it hard that I don’t love baseball as much as him?” “Then that’s his problem.” Dizzy replied without hesitation. “Haven’t you learned from living with Adam these past few months?” He offered a warm smile. “This is your life Artie. You get to decide where it takes you.” I nodded but still didn’t speak. That kind of thinking is so natural for him. That’s how he’s lived his entire life, but growing up, well, my life wasn’t like that. Growing up was about pleasing your parents. About being a good son to your mother, and making your father proud. I never got the chance to make my father proud, but that’s changed now. And even though I know I’m better off doing what I want, well, that goes against what I’ve been taught for the past 15 years of my life. “Does that make any sense?” Dizzy asked in a defeated breath. As I looked back up, I could see the strong face he was putting on cracking. Even after hearing my doubts about Ezra, he’s still worried about me. “It does.” I finally spoke, but I could tell it didn’t make him feel any better. “I just need some more time.” I tried to comfort him, but this time it was his turn to look away. “What?” I asked as he started to fall into his own head. He went to speak, but stopped himself and carefully thought it over. “I know you need time,” He began before hesitating once more. “but Ezra is here now.” He emphasized, looking back up at me. “If you can’t break all that old school thinking they gave you, then, then,” “I’ll eventually go back with him?” I guessed, but as those words soaked the air, we both got quiet. After a minute or two I looked over at him, but he kept his head down. “That’s not going to happen.” “I know.” Dizzy mumbled, unable to stay quiet. “Feels that way though, doesn’t it?” “Not to me.” I offered. “I know this is my home.” I tried to speak as confidently as I could. “I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.” Dizzy nodded but I could tell he wasn’t convinced. The longer I looked at him, the more I realized there was nothing I could say tonight to make him feel better. When we first started dating, he told me about the girls that would come and go, using him only to shock their family or friends. All Dizzy has ever known is people coming and going. And I know he won’t ever say it, but that all started with his own father. I’m sure watching me reunite with Ezra is hard enough for him, but the idea of me leaving on top of it, that must be killing him. It’s silly though. Adam is my guardian and this is my home. Maybe, maybe after getting to know Ezra better I’d consider visiting him in Dallas, but that won’t change anything. It’d be like visiting Sadie. San Francisco would still be my home and hopefully, Dizzy would still be my boyfriend. Not much more was said that night. We’d both shared what was on our minds, anything else would just have us talking in circles. As we both lay down, I felt like we were further apart than usual. I don’t know who was pulling away, but I know I need the space right now and I guess Dizzy does too. Unlike the nights before, this one wasn’t sleepless. Sure, I still felt guilty over the whole situation with Adam, but the talk with Dizzy just wiped me out. We didn’t talk for long, or even say that much, but it felt like we had let our emotions rise to the surface. We were both speaking from the heart, and although we’re not on the same page right now, well, I know we’ll be okay. -- -- As I drifted into a deeper sleep, I found myself falling into a dream world. One where everything felt, well, perfect. “Arthur.” The voice of my Mother called out as I found myself in the bedroom of my old home. “Arthur, are you going to leave us waiting all night?” “I’m coming.” I shouted back as I quickly moved out of my bedroom and found myself in the living room. I noticed a figure in the kitchen, but before I could make out who it was my Mom grabbed my arm. “Well it’s about time.” She teased with a smile that filled my body with warmth. “Haven’t I ever told you, you should never leave a pretty woman waiting.” “Especially if she’s the prettiest woman in Texas.” I played along as her smile spread to my face. “That’s very kind, but a sweet tongue won’t get you out of everything.” She warned, but I could tell she wasn’t actually angry. “Now sit,” She instructed, moving over to make space on the couch. “how was your day Arthur?” “I got to heard cattle today.” I excitedly answered, but got a concerned look back. “Don’t worry, Mr. Brooks was with us the whole time.” “I still don’t like that.” She complained in a deep sigh. “You stay slow and predictable around them, you hear that?” “I know.” I couldn’t help but laugh at how worried she was. “Mr. Brooks gave us the whole speech.” “I’m not kidding around with you Arthur.” She continued to warn. “And if his cattle ever get too excited, well you turn around and come right back to me.” “Me and scout would be here quicker than double struck lightening.” I promised as our eyes connected. “You’d better.” She forced a brave smile. “Cause I don’t know what I’d do without you.” She exhaled as she reached out and pulled me close. The second we embraced; my dream started to change. Suddenly I could see us both on the couch, like I was watching the dream instead of living it. I looked over to the figure in the kitchen, but they were still a blur. All I could tell was they were too big to be Sadie. The figure, it looked, masculine. “So baby,” My mom began, causing my focus to look back at us. “what do you want to do tonight?” “Watch a movie?” I asked as she let out a sigh and shook her head. “I remember when all you wanted to do was read with me,” She shook her head. “but now you want to put on a movie almost every night.” She sighed, but kept the smile on her face. “I’m starting to think he’s not the best influence on you.” She teased looking over to the man in the kitchen. “Movies tell you stories quicker than books can.” I heard Adams voice reply from the kitchen. “Without all the details,” Mom quickly replied. “books give you more perspective.” She shook her head. “Arthur, movies are nice, but they could never capture stories the way a book can.” “I know,” I nodded my head as our eyes connected. “but I’m not so sure he can read.” “Ha Ha Ha.” Adam mocked as my Mom began to laugh. “Guess you’re not getting any popcorn then.” He teased as he stepped into the room clutching a bowl tightly. “How will I ever survive?” I teased as he rolled his eyes. For a second the dream froze, and all I could see was the three of us together. Smiling and laughing. “He’s got a sharper wit when you’re around.” Mom’s smile grew as she looked over to Adam. “Think he’s starting to act like you too.” I faked disgust as Adam shook his head. “You’d better pray that’s not the case.” Adam replied, as he forced his way onto the small couch. “That wouldn’t be so bad.” She smiled as their eyes connected. Suddenly she grabbed Adam’s forearm and then pulled me too, in for another hug. “My two strong men keeping me safe tonight.” She suddenly began. “How lucky am I?” Once again the dream froze, and I could see just how happy I was. That moment, this moment, it’s exactly what I used to wish for as a child. But instead of a father, instead of Ezra being there, it was Adam but that didn’t bother me one bit. The smile on my face, well it seemed like I was the happiest I’d ever been. As the dream started to play again, things started to change. The trailer around us slowly morphed into Adam’s house here in San Francisco. The small couch we were crammed onto, slowly turned into the huge sectional that sat in Adam’s living room. I was sucked back into my own body, just in time for my Mom’s arm around me to begin fading away, and just like that, it was just Adam and me on the couch together. “You alright?” He offered as he saw the horror in my eyes. “It’s okay.” He reached out and pulled me in. “I miss her too.” He comforted as tears filled his eyes. “But when we’re together, well I know she’s not far.” Before I could say anything, I shook awake to find myself in a cold sweat. I could feel a few tears roll from my eyes as I looked over to the hand drawn picture of my Mother Dizzy had gave me. I spent what felt like an eternity quietly crying to myself, trying my hardest not to wake up Dizzy before suddenly I fell asleep once more. This time as I slept, I didn’t dream. -- -- When I woke up again the next morning, I could already feel the emotions of the dream and weight of the day on my shoulders. Ezra’s last full day here, a win or go home baseball game, the family barbeque, whatever the hell is going on between me and Dizzy, my guilt about Adam, it just felt like it was about to crush me. But as important as those things are, as jarring as my dream was, my top priority needs to be this baseball game. Everything else can wait until later, but this game is going to be now or never. I know I said I don’t want to go to the pro’s, I know I said baseball isn’t my biggest passion, but I’ve given this season everything I have. I refuse to let my team go out without even playing in one playoff game. Once more Dizzy and I were quiet towards one another. Seemingly putting me into another cycle I can’t break out of. We wished one another a good morning, before Dizzy gave me space to get changed. As I came down in my uniform and joined Adam, Dizzy and now Mason for breakfast, I got some odd stares. “Your game isn’t for another hour and a half.” Adam pointed out as he studied me closely. “You didn’t want to eat before getting ready?” “I just like being ready.” I forced out, not even able to look up at him. My dream slowly started to feel more like a memory than an illusion. Part of me knows that’s all I’ve wanted since I moved here. A night spent with just me, my Mom and Adam, but I can’t think about any of that right now. I can’t afford to break down right now. I noticed Adam’s look to Mason, but Mason simply nodded his head. “An hour before my first high school playoff game I sat in my room and stared at the ceiling.” Mason began. “Didn’t even have any music on or anything like that.” He laughed to himself. “The more playoff games you play in, the easier they are to prepare for.” He looked over to me, but my eyes stayed on my plate. “Important thing is you’re getting your first one done with today.” “This isn’t a playoff game.” I muttered, keeping my face down. “It’s still the last regular season game.” “But it’s win or go home, isn’t it?” Mason asked, causing me to nod my head. “Sounds like a playoff game to me.” He shrugged his shoulders. “You really need some high school league to tell you what you already know?” He pressured but I stayed quiet. “These kinds of games are what sports are all about. Officially in or not, you have a playoff game today Artie.” He warned as he tried to get me to look up. “Don’t take that away from yourself.” “Alright.” Adam quietly hushed Mason. “He’s worked up enough already.” Mason nodded his head, understanding that I needed space. Dizzy looked over to me, but this time I raised my head and let our eyes connect. In that moment, it was like we could communicate without speaking. I knew he was there for me. I knew if I wanted to talk, he would listen. But like Adam was saying, I have enough going on in my head. Right now, I just need to spend some time to sort it all out. And that’s exactly what Adam, Mason and Dizzy let me do. We spend the next hour just sitting around the dining room table, as they all talked about whatever came to mind. Every now and then one of them would look over to me as I pushed around the food on my plate, but I could tell they understood. As they went to clean up after breakfast, I offered to help but they shooed me away. I watched them for a few minutes, trying my hardest to block out any more thoughts from entering my head before finally heading up stairs to grab my bag from my room. The second I entered my room; my eyes went to the pictures on my night stand. First to the hand drawn gift from Dizzy, then to one of the pictures Sadie had sent me. I couldn’t help but walk over, sit on my bed and pick up the one of Mom and me from when I was a little kid. Of all the moments since she’s passed, of all the hard times I’ve been though, well I don’t think I’ve ever wanted her back more than right now. Tears started to roll down my face as my dream replayed in my head. I’m not sure how long I was sitting there, but suddenly I heard a gentle knock on my door. I quickly placed the photo down and wiped the tears from my eyes. “You can cry if you need to.” Adam offered as he took a few steps into the room. We both grew quiet for a few moments as my eyes went back to the pictures. “God,” Adam exhaled in a nervous laugh. “if she saw us right now, I think she’d kick both of our asses.” He let out another laugh as he thought it over. “She’d yell at us for feeling all sorry, then walk out and handle all our problems herself.” He exhaled as I felt him sit next to me. “That’s what I miss most about her.” He confessed as he began to look at her picture. “No matter how much trouble I was in, she always found a solution.” Once again he grew quiet and after another few moments passed, I forced myself to look up at him. “I’m sorry.” I offered barely getting the words out before tears started to roll down my face. “It’s alright.” He comforted as he pulled me in close. “Like I told you, I’ll be here for you no matter what happens.” I went to speak but he hushed me. “I know you want to get it off your chest, but we have to leave for your game.” He reminded me. “We can talk tonight, but for now your focus needs to be on baseball.” I could tell it hurt him to shutdown the conversation like that, but he was right. I need to be strong. I need to handle my responsibilities. Afterall, that’s what she would tell me to do, isn’t it? I took another moment to catch my breath before Adam let me go and we both headed downstairs. As we appeared on the stairs, I could tell by the look on Dizzy’s face that it was obvious what had happened. Adam nodded to Mason as he pulled open the door and held it for us. As Mason shut it behind us, I noticed him focus in on me. “You don’t look too ready for your game.” He instigated as I looked over to him. “Guess it still hasn’t hit me yet.” I shrugged, not in the mood for talking. “Then come on,” Mason encouraged as I felt his hand land on my shoulder. “we gotta get you there.” He shook his head. “Team can’t see you like this, you’re one of their best players.” I nodded but stayed quiet, hoping he would just let me go. “I know you’ve got a lot going on.” He began again. “But this is your chance to let it all out.” He encouraged as he lightly shook me. “You’ve been confused, and annoyed and frustrated all weekend. I can see how lost you’ve felt, but this, this game is something you control.” He started to lecture. “This is your field, and your fucking team Artie.” As the intensity raised in his voice, I couldn’t help but look at him. “Step into this game, and run the god damn show.” “You’ve been bottling it up all weekend.” Mason nodded as our eyes met. “It’s time to let it out. It’s time for you to start having fun for once this weekend.” As his words started to connect in my head, I could feel a spark starting to take hold within me. This weekend I’ve had everyone telling me how I feel or what I should do, but this game, it’s mine. I’m going to own it. I swear I will. Adam shot Mason a concerned look, but as he saw the look on my face he backed off. Mason may be getting a bit, intense, but he’s pushing all the right buttons. As his hand let go of me, he took a step back to give me space. Sure, I haven’t known him that long, but just like Adam he’s starting to figure out when to push me, and when to give me space. The closer we got to the field, the more locked in I started to feel. Everything I’ve been feeling, all the confusion, anger and guilt, it all started to run lose in my mind. These past few weeks, I’ve been letting it throw me off, but not today. Like Mason said, I’m going to use it to fuel me. As we grew closer to the field, I could see Ezra standing near the entrance waiting for us. “I was starting to think you wouldn’t show.” He called out with a friendly smile. “How are you feeling?” He asked me as we reached him. “Good.” I forced out, still not in the mood to talk. “Keep in mind what I showed you yesterday.” He began as he forced eye contact. “Don’t smush the bug, don’t lean your head in and keep your back tight.” He began to overload me as I noticed Jose and Charlotte approach our small group. “You’ve got that bad habit of trying to hit the ball with your eyes and not your bat.” He continued to lecture as his words started to rub me the wrong way. “You could be a great player, but you have to get rid of those bad habits, you have to stop compromising your power just to put the ball in play. It will only lead to more grounders,” “I don’t need to hear about all the stuff I do wrong right now!” I lashed out as my temper finally broke. “We better get to the rest of the guys.” I mumbled towards Jose. Charlotte gave Dizzy a look of concern, while Adam nodded his head to Mason, fully understanding why I had snapped. “Wait!” Dizzy called out as we started to walk away. Before I knew it he rushed up and wrapped his arms around me. As he pulled away our eyes connected, I noticed him hesitate as we felt eyes on us, but I stole a kiss from his lips anyway. He didn’t say any words, but his message was clear. Win or lose, he’d be there for me on the other side of this game. Jose looked over at Charlotte, expecting her to do the same as Dizzy, but she simply shook her head. “If you want a kiss, you’d better win.” She teased as a smile crept across his face. “Let’s go.” Jose instructed as he gave me a strong pat on the back. I nodded my head, as the intensity I was feeling began to show on my face again. “You look pissed.” Jose offered, giving me a chance to vent before the game. “I am.” I let out, but he stayed quiet, allowing me the time to talk. “I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.” I confessed as I looked over to the field. “I feel like my Uncle’s one of the only people who understands me, and I’ve been pushing him away just so I can meet my Dad.” I shook my head in disgust as my words began to connect in my own mind. “I feel like I can’t even be myself around my Dad.” I continued to explain. “Why not?” He asked, seeing how much more I’d share. “He’s from Texas.” I muttered as I watched him find a seat in the dugout. “Just a different world down there.” “I thought you were from Texas too?” Jose asked, trying to follow my gaze. “I was,” I nodded my head. “but I’m in California now.” I answered as a smile formed on Jose’s face. “And I’m so fucking sick of being what they want, and not myself.” “What made you realize that?” Jose asked, further thrown off by the sudden change in me. “A dream I had last night.” I answered before walking away from him and towards the guys. “Alright then.” I heard Jose comment to himself. I noticed him keeping an eye on me as we warmed up, but just like my friends, he knew to give me space. As we regrouped and formed a huddle in the dugout, their speeches turned to static in my ears. I didn’t need to be any more pumped up than I already was. Mason was right, I have been bottling everything up this weekend, and I’m ready to let it explode. “You’re up.” My coach called out as the other team took the field. I nodded my head and grabbed my bat as I heard my walk-up song start to play throughout the small field. “Let’s go Artie!” I could hear Charlotte scream out from the bleachers, but tried my best to block them out and enter my own world. As I entered the box, I found it harder than ever to get control over myself. I took my stance, but had trouble gaining control over my breathing, and before I knew it the first pitch came whistling in for a strike. “Stay focused!” I heard one of the guys shout from the dugout as I took a step out of the box and calmed myself down. As the next pitch came in, I could feel the wind as it sailed inside and right past my head. “Hey!” A few of the guys on the bench shouted as I stumbled back. As soon as I recovered my footing, I began to stare down the pitcher and stepped back into the box. Before I knew it, a war between me and the pitcher began to break out. I would foul off anything I could touch, and anything I couldn’t started to come inside and close to my body. As my emotions started to get the better of me, I reached for a ball I couldn’t hit and struck out. “Damn it!” I growled to myself as I stepped out of the box and back towards the dugout. “You took him eight pitches deep.” My couch tried to encourage as he gave me a pat on the back. “Way to set the tone early.” I nodded but stayed quiet as I angrily thought over the at bat. “It really was a good at bat.” Jose tried to encourage, but I stayed locked in and focused on the game. My next at bat couldn’t come fast enough as we started to work our way through the innings. Sure, I was out there to play defense, but that’s the part of baseball that comes naturally to me. Even now, with all my emotions running through me, well my body just seemed to know what to do. Finally, I found myself picking up my bat and staring down the pitcher as I stepped onto the field. As the pitcher nodded to his catcher, I could tell he thought they had me figured out. The first pitch came in close, but unlike before I expected it and jumped back without stumbling. I looked to the ump, but he shook his head, believing the pitcher was only trying to work the ball inside. I regained my focus and locked in, the second the next pitch came in, I focused on the adjustments Ezra had taught me and unloaded on the baseball. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I watched the ball pick up speed and gain just enough height to clear the outfield fence. I couldn’t help but give my bat a little flip as I started to round the bases. I could hear the pitcher beginning to bark at me, but looked up towards the fence as though I was trying to find where the baseball was. As I reached home plate I flashed the pitcher a smirk before heading back towards my dugout. “That’s what I’m talking about!” My coach shouted as he gave me a good smack on the helmet. Yet the second I reached the bottom of the small staircase, I felt my helmet get ripped off my head as hell broke loose around me. I could barely make out what they were yelling, as I was overwhelmed by the excitement of my teammates. “Alright.” Coach called out as he tried to calm us down. “We’re only up one, we’ve got a game to play here!” He shouted as the guys began to break away from me. “Hell yeah.” Jose encouraged as he grabbed me by the shoulders. “You’re a big game player Price.” He shook me. “Didn’t even think you had the strength to fire one out like that.” “I was just waiting for a good moment to let one go.” I couldn’t help but smile as he began to laugh. “You watched it and gave him the bat flip too.” Jose shook his head. “You can be one heartless motherfucker when you’re locked in.” “He’s been running the ball inside on me all game.” I complained as I began to watch the pitcher again. “He did it to himself.” I complained as another pitch ran in close to the batter. “Hey!” Me and Jose shouted in unison as I nearly jumped over the dugout fence. “Keep that shit over the plate!” I shouted at the pitcher. As the pitcher looked over our eyes locked once more. “Learn to pitch the damn ball!” I yelled as Jose pulled me away from the fence. “We don’t need you getting ejected now.” Jose warned me as he pushed me towards the bench. “Leave it to one of the other guys, they’ll get under his skin.” I nodded my head, but would be lying if I said it was easy to let go. This guys pitching dangerously, and pushing me towards the edge, and I can promise this isn’t the weekend to do that! As Jose tried to get me to sit, I looked over towards the crowd and found Adam. The second I found him, I realized he was looking at me too. I can’t lose my cool now, after all I’ve done this weekend, I have to make him proud. The right way. I finally took my seat and stayed quiet as I watched the inning unfold. The game seemed to fly by as I stayed focused on getting back to the plate for my next at bat. I want to make as big an impact as I can this game. And on top of that, well I want to give this pitcher a taste of his own medicine. Finally, my next at bat came, but this time, it was my turn to smile as I entered the box. 1-1 game, and I just need to put the ball in play here. I have to remember that I’m not a power guy, I just need to play my role and make them pay. Just like before the ball came in high on the inside. I looked at the ump, but just like before he didn’t want to hear it. “He’s going to hit me one of these times.” I warned as I waited outside the box. “He’s working inside.” The ump corrected. “Now get in the box and let’s go.” “He’s not trying to hit you bro.” The catcher spoke up, but I ignored his words and got back into the box. The next pitch came in even wider than the first and sailed behind me. I heard the shouts cry out from my dugout as I looked to the ump once more. “He still not trying to hit me, bro?” I mocked the catcher, but the Ump put his arm between us before the Catcher could step forward. “I’ll eject you both right now.” The ump warned, instantly silencing us and stopping the situation from escalating any further. As the next pitch came in, I realized it was headed right for me. At first I thought about jumping out of the way, but braced and took the pitch right on my arm, knowing it was a small price to pay to get on base. I angrily threw the bat down and exhaled hard as the catcher jumped up. Yet instead of talking to the catcher I stared down the ump. “Take your base.” He sighed, realizing the turn this game was about to take. The more my arm began to sting, the angrier I seemed to get. “Learn to pitch!” I shouted at the pitcher as I took a slow trot to first base. “Are you really that soft?” The pitcher yelled back at me. “I’m working the inside! I’m not trying to hit you!” “If you’re not good enough to pitch inside without hitting someone, you don’t get to pitch inside!” I barked back at him. “I’m going to steal second and third now.” I shouted as the ump reached him. “Just thought you should know.” “Price.” Another ump called out as he finally got to me. “You said your piece, now you need to stop.” “He just hit me,” I shook my head as I felt my temper began to flare once more. “and he’s throwing high and inside.” “Both benches are getting a warning.” The ump explained, trying to reason with me. “If he does it again, he’ll be tossed.” “That’s horseshit.” I shook my head as I looked past the ump and to the pitcher. “Now our pitchers can get tossed because this guys throwing like a middle schooler.” “Price you need to stop,” The ref reiterated. “or I’m going to eject you.” I let out another breath before walking away from the ref and towards the nearby bleachers. I could hear some yelling my way from the opposing dug out, but felt my eyes go right back to where I knew Adam was. As our eyes locked, he gave me a nod of approval. I exhaled a deep breath, and finally started to regain control over myself. My arm may hurt, but I’ll be alright. As I returned to my base and the game got back under way, I let the mind games take the place of the arguing. I would take leads, and dart each way pretending to steal or go back towards first base. At first the pitcher tried to zone me out, but as I saw his pitchers starting to go wild, I knew I had the best of him. Finally, as he found himself down in the count, I noticed him turn towards me and attempt to fire the ball to first base. As the ball sailed wide and towards the outfield, I was able to easily take second. I could hear the roar from my dug out as my antics started to slowly pay off. I looked towards the 3rd base coach, only to get a nod of approval, letting me know I could steal if I wanted to. Yet, before I could decide what to do next, I watched the next pitch fly right into the batter. “You’re gone!” I heard the home plate umpire yell to the pitcher as he signaled an ejection. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the pitcher angrily stomp towards his dugout, not even daring to look my way. As their second baseman saw the look on my face, I could tell I was getting under his skin too. “You’re a pussy.” He instigated as our eyes connected. “You guys are too scared to even pitch to me.” I shrugged, unphased by his words. The second the opposing bench saw us talking, they started to shout my way again. “I’ll get to you.” I shouted at them while holding up a single finger in their direction. As the ump took a step towards us, I pointed to home plate before walking away from the second basemen. Before I knew it, my own dugout jumped back to life as my teammates started to scream back at the opposing team. “We going to play baseball?” The ump asked as he approached me. “Or are you going to fight their team?” “I’m good.” I lied as I raised my hands slightly. “Be a lot better if you guys had ejected him before he hit me though.” “Yeah, well we’ve more than made up for it by letting you run your mouth.” He complained as his face grew serious. “So cut the shit before we toss you too.” I stayed quiet but nodded my head and walked back to second base. The second basemen began to stare me down again, but I ignored him as their relief pitcher started to warm up. I couldn’t help but smirk as I looked back to my dugout and saw all the guys along the fence watching me. Just like all the games before, I’m setting the tone. Sure, it may be a bit more, fierce, this time around, but I’ll do what it takes to win this game. When the game finally resumed, I tried my hardest to block out my emotions and stay focused. I stopped with the mind games on the base paths, knowing getting the tiebreaking run was more important than my own ego. Yet I knew when I got my opening, I was going to make the other team pay for firing me up. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to wait all that long. As Jose stepped up to the plate, I watched him zone in on the pitches coming his way. As the fourth pitch sailed in, Jose drove a fastball far into the outfield. Without hesitation, I took off for third. As the third base coach gave me a stop sign, I glanced back to see the ball still on the way to second base. I can beat that, I’m in this team’s head, and they’re trying to catch the runner going to second. I blew past my third base coaches stop sign, and made a b-line for home. Just like in my first gym class when I impressed Jose, I’m relying on my speed to pressure the infield into making a mistake. The play was a lot closer than I thought it was going to be, but as the ball came flying in, I noticed it soar a little too high and miss the catcher completely. I slowed down a little bit before comfortably crossing home plate and shooting the opposing bench one last smile. The ump immediately stood up and created a wall between pitcher and me, hoping to stop any further fighting before it could start. As I circled back to my dug out, I could hear their screams growing louder and louder. Just like when I hit the homerun, my teammates exploded as I stepped into the small bench area. It was like they could feel everything that was running through me. As though they were with me through it all. Once they settled down, and the next batter stepped to the plate I heard my coach call me over. “You’re our spark plug, you know that Price?” He asked as I proudly nodded my head. “But to be our sparkplug, we need you staying in this game, not getting ejected.” He started to lecture as his smile began to fade. “I’m not going to yell at you for defending yourself, I can’t fault you for anything you did out there.” He quickly clarified. “But I need it to end right now.” “Sorry coach.” I apologized, not knowing what else to say. “You’ve got nothing to apologize for.” He forced a smile back on his face. “Just look out there for a moment,” He instructed, pointing towards my teammates on second and first base. Sure enough, my teammate on second was arguing with the second basemen, as Jose stood on first yelling towards their dug out. “Let them handle this for you.” He said as he looked back to me. “They’ve got your back, so trust them.” Once more all I could do was nod my head. “And for Christ’s sake, smile a little.” He teased in a laugh. “You only get to play in games like this so many times, I’m glad you’re competing hard, but have fun out there.” He encouraged before glancing over to the third base coach. “And maybe apologize to coach Ray for blowing his stop sign.” “Yes sir.” I accepted as his advice began to sink in. He gave me a strong pat on the back as I headed towards the guys, and just like that, their excitement started to spike all over again. A few of them asked what I said to the umps and the other team, but I told them I’d wait until the barbecue to tell the story. We’ve got a game to win, and I can’t let my antics become the distraction that loses it for us. As the half inning came to a close we were still up by only a run, but you’d never know from the excitement on my teammates’ faces. “Artie’s showing off his strength today.” Jose began to tease as he jumped into the dugout to grab his glove. “First he homers, then he tries to fight their whole team.” “Don’t worry, I softened them up for you.” I teased back, drawing some laughter from the guys. “Artie will keep you safe Jose.” One of the other guys joined in as he jogged past us and up the stairs. “Yeah, so any time you want to hit the ball as far as I do, we’re waiting.” I piled on getting even more laughter from the guys as we started to take the field again. “Hey Artie,” Jose began as I braced for his comeback. “thanks for taking that pitch for us.” He taunted, giving me a light pat exactly where the ball had hit me. I let out a small yelp, causing even more laughter from around me. Yet, as much as it hurt, I couldn’t help but laugh along. “I’m going to get you for that one.” I warned as I reached short stop and Jose kept moving. “You going to fight our whole team too?” He shouted back with a laugh. Something about that inning changed the way the guys are looking at me. Sure, they’ve always made me feel welcome, but right now, well I just really feel like one of the guys. They’ve told me I’m a leader, and their spark, but now, it’s like they respect me. It’s like they’ve realized I’m just as tough as they are. All the emotions and stress that weighed on me this morning suddenly seemed to vanish as my team rallied around me. It felt like I was finally just playing baseball and having fun. Win or lose, I’m proud to be on this team, and I’m positive the look on my face is showing it. Yet as the game went on, it slowly started to fall out of our favor. It wasn’t long before the other team tied it up. We tried our hardest to keep playing our way and having fun, but before we knew it, we were down by a run. The worst part, whenever I got an at bat the other team wouldn’t throw to me. Instead, they would just throw around the zone in hopes that I would strike out. Yeah, they’d eventually walk me, but even then, their pitchers started to throw fastballs in an effort to prevent me from stealing. It felt as though they’d taken me out of the game, and before long I could tell they’d figured out Jose as well. But even then, with frustration mounting and our backs against the wall, Jose was still trying to crack jokes and keep it light. I tried to stay serious and focus, but his jokes just kept breaking me, and it didn’t take long before we were all joking around again. That may sound like a distraction, but I think it was a good thing. It kept us out of our own heads and gave us a chance to comeback. But at the end of the day, well, things didn’t go as planned. As our last out was spent, our team fell 3-2 and our season was officially over. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt, but something about this game, something about the way we pulled together as a team, it was freeing. I got some dirty looks or smirks from the other team, but it wasn’t all that hard to block them out. I’ve got more important things to worry about than some toes I stepped on during a baseball game. “Alright men,” Our coach began as we huddled up outside our dugout. “I know this isn’t the ending we wanted, but we’ve pushed so far past our own expectations this season.” He reminded us. “We didn’t believe in ourselves to start the year, then a boy from Texas came in and showed us just how good of a team we are!” He shouted, starting to rally us up again. “Artie!” Some of the guys yelled as I felt some shoving starting to come my way. “So let this be a lesson to you men, if you want to succeed, you have to believe in yourself from the start.” He lectured. “You have to push yourself to get to where you want to be, because no one will come do that for you.” He shouted as we all grew serious. “We couldn’t see the potential in ourselves this year, and now our seasons over.” He exhaled as the sting from our loss started to grow. “But you can be damn sure we won’t make the same mistake next season, right men?” He asked as a loud cheer came from the team. “I’m really going to miss you guys, but you know where my office is if you need anything.” He nodded his head. “And next season, we’re going to come at this thing with all we’ve got.” One last deafening cheer came from the team as we all pull together in the huddle. When Jose approached me with an offer to join the team, I tried to shoot him down right away. Back home, I could never do something like this. I was never a jock, I was a nerd, but now, well, I’m one of the guys. I tried to keep a strong face, but as everyone started to go their own way, I felt a tear falling. “Only seniors get to cry.” Jose teased as he wrapped an arm around me. “We’ll be back next year, and we’ll get you in the weight room this summer.” He gave me a friendly smile. “Next year you’ll hit a homer in the first game, not the last one.” “Yeah.” I nodded my head as I regained control over my emotions. “Thanks for talking me into playing this season.” I began, looking up at him then away. “I had a lot of fun this season.” “Don’t get all sentimental on me now.” He continued to tease. “But for the record, we would never have had playoff hopes without you.” I saw a genuine smile grow on his face as he gave me a friendly shove away from him. “Let’s go on a double date sometime soon, you, me, Charlotte and Dizzy.” “You sure you can handle being around Dizzy for a full date?” I teased, trying to find our family and friends in the crowd. “I’d better get used to it.” He complained in a groan. “You’re dating him, and Charlotte loves the kid.” He shook his head as we finally found them. “But if he’s close to you and Charlotte, then he must be a pretty cool guy.” “He is.” I nodded as our eyes connected. Jose flashed me one more supportive smile before we found ourselves surrounded by my family and friends. “You did great,” Adam began, but before he could finish his sentence, Dizzy wrapped his arms around me. “I can’t believe you hit a homerun.” Dizzy let out as he pulled me close. “I can’t believe you almost started a brawl between teams.” He continued, yet as he spoke his voice grew quieter. “Are you really that upset?” He asked, nearly whispering it into my ear. “Not anymore.” I answered, but this time as he pulled away, it was his turn to kiss me. As he let me go, I looked over to see Charlotte hugging Jose. Dizzy flashed me a smile, but quickly hid it as they broke apart. “You were great today Artie.” Charlotte encouraged as she reached out and lightly grabbed my arm. “We’re going to find Jose’s family, we’ll talk later?” She asked as she forced a smile “Yeah.” I nodded as Jose flashed me one last smile of approval, and just like that, they disappeared into the crowd around us. “You really were great.” Adam started again as Ezra and Mason stood around him. Mason looked just as excited as Adam, while Ezra looked like he was deep in thought. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so passionate before.” Adam said but I could tell he was struggling to find the words to describe my actions. “I don’t know.” He shook his head. “You left me speechless today.” He finished as a proud smile crossed his face. “Adam’s not kidding,” Mason filled in the silence for him. “He was a mess that whole game.” Mason teased as Adam grabbed his arm “One minute he was cheering, the other he was in a panic about whether you were okay or not.” Adam shot Mason a glare telling him to be quiet before redirecting his attention to me. “How’s your arm?” He asked, trying to get a good look at the mark under my sleeve. “Still stings, but I’ll be alright.” I answered, pulling back my sleeve to expose a dark bruise which nearly wrapped around my arm. Adam let out a concerned exhale but managed to pull it together. “You sure it only stings?” He asked, trying to hide how worried he actually was. “He’ll be fine.” Ezra finally spoke up as he looked over at the bruise. “Just the price you need to pay sometimes.” I nodded my head, but could tell his words bothered Adam. “What did you think of the game?” I asked Ezra, noticing he had been particularly quiet. “Good.” He forced out as he thought it over. “It was a winnable game, so seeing it slip through your fingers was tough.” He explained in an honest breath. “Feel like a lot of adjustments could’ve been made to stop your team from losing.” He analyzed as he looked over at the field. “Just a very different style from the way Adam and I grew up playing baseball.” “Well sure,” Adam jumped in before I could say anything. “they actually let them have fun here.” “There’s a time for fun, and a time for winning.” Ezra said, drawing a roll of the eyes from Mason. Not even Mason believes that, huh? But the way he speaks, well it sounds like he was a pretty good football player back in his time. Hell, he even said they won their state championship! “And a time to be a high schooler.” Mason finally spoke up, unable to bite his tongue any longer. “A loss today teaches them a lot more than a win does.” “I don’t believe it does.” Ezra replied, but I could tell Mason didn’t care enough to go back and forth with him. “In any case, I was thinking we could go grab some lunch this afternoon.” Ezra offered, looking to shift the conversation away from the game. “And this time, it’ll actually be my treat.” I felt all eyes land on me to answer, but unlike the days before, I hesitated. The second Adam noticed that, I saw a look in his eyes change. “Mason’s actually not feeling all that great this morning.” Adam lied as our eyes connected. “Why don’t you and Dizzy go ahead? We’ll catch up with you later.” “Maybe eating something will make Mason feel better.” I forced out, trying my hardest to stare down Adam without making it obvious. “I don’t think it will.” Mason shook his head, but I could see through their little game. “I’ve got a sensitive stomach, you know.” “Guess so.” I finally accepted, as I saw relief starting to grow in Adam’s eyes. I guess I’m getting what I deserve here. I’ve been asking to hang out with Ezra all weekend, but right now, well, I really don’t want to hear what he has to say. It’s not like I suddenly hate him or anything like that, I’m just, just sick of being lectured. I’m sick of being treated like I’m some damn kid who constantly needs help! As I glanced over to Dizzy, I could tell he was just as annoyed at me, but there was something else he was hiding in his eyes. Almost as though he was happy it would just be us and Ezra. Is there something they know that I don’t?” “Welp, we better get going.” Ezra began, taking a step back to guide us. “We can head to that diner you guys were talking about a couple nights ago.” “Sure.” I accepted as Adam gave me a nod of approval. I stayed quiet as we worked our way through the crowd. Every now and then we’d come across a player from the opposing team, but just like before, it wasn’t hard to block out their dirty looks. We may have lost to them, but I sure as hell gave them a game they won’t be forgetting anytime soon. “So, where do we go from here?” Ezra asked as he finally broke free from the crowd and made it to the street corner. “I’ll lead us.” Dizzy offered, taking a few step forward and forcing me to stand with Ezra. “How do you feel about today’s game?” Ezra asked, attempting to bait me into a conversation. “I’m disappointed,” I confessed as I thought things over. “but I had a lot of fun and I’m proud of the way we played today.” I could tell by the look in Ezra’s eyes, that my answer wasn’t what he wanted to hear. “Your disappointment doesn’t overshadow all of that?” He asked as his voice grew serious. “I can be depressed about losing, or I can keep looking forward.” I shrugged my shoulders and looked away from him. “And I don’t think it’s worth being depressed over.” “I don’t think it has to bring you to that much of an extreme.” Ezra tried to correct. “You can be angry about losing and not be depressed.” “Yeah.” I nodded my head, but was hoping he would just drop it already. “There were times in this game, where it just really looked like you guys had it.” He continued the conversation. “But at the end, you guys let your emotions get the better of you and lost focus.” “I think we just got outplayed.” I corrected, already starting to get frustrated with him before lunch even started. “You did,” Ezra agreed without hesitation. “but only because you lost focus.” As we finally reached the diner, I let out a sigh of relief, hoping it would mark the end of the conversation. “It wasn’t so much a game they won, as it was a game you guys lost.” As Dizzy held the door open for us, I let Ezra step in first. The second we were behind Ezra, Dizzy rolled his eyes and shook his head. So they all knew lunch would go down like this, didn’t they? Is that why Adam was suddenly cool with me and Dizzy being alone with Ezra? “Table for three.” I heard Ezra instruct the hostess, but I could tell his mind was still focused on his conversation with me. “But what about Artie’s game?” Dizzy instigated as we followed the hostess to our table. “What do you think about the way he played?” “In his first two at bats, and in the infield? He played phenomenal.” Ezra looked back at me, trying to drive home his praise. “But after that?” I couldn’t help but ask, waiting to hear what he was holding back. “Well to be honest with you, you were reckless after that.” He shook his head and tried to maintain eye contact as we took our seats at a small table near the window. “Reckless?” I repeated, not too sure of what he meant. “Well sure,” Ezra confidently nodded his head. “You were screaming at people, and whatever you were doing on the base paths, well you were begging to be picked off.” He complained as he attempted to stare me down. “If you were playing in Texas, you would’ve been thrown out or knocked out immediately.” “Well we’re not in Texas.” I grunted as I looked away from him and out the window. “Don’t take it the wrong way.” Ezra tried to comfort. “You’re still young and learning, it’s not your fault no one taught you how to play.” “So I don’t know how to play baseball?” I asked, trying not to sound as angry as I was starting to grow. “You know how for the most part, but let’s be honest here Arthur,” He began as I looked back towards him. “your fundamentals are sloppy and you let your emotions get the better of you.” He lectured. “After just one practice with my adjustments, you hit a home run. Doesn’t that feel good?” I couldn’t help but sigh, knowing he was right. With him in my corner, I was a better baseball player today, there’ just no arguing it. “Yeah.” I finally accepted, knowing I had to at least give him that. “So listen to me when I say you were being too emotional today!” He emphasized as his voice grew louder. “I’m not trying to pin blame on you or anything,” He exhaled as his voice began to lower again. “It’s not your fault, it’s what happens when you don’t have a strong man in your life.” “I’m sorry?” I asked, as my mind struggled to understand what he was saying. “Well a man can teach you how to keep your emotions under control.” He confidently nodded his head. I glanced over to Dizzy, but instead of seeing anger or frustration, all I could see was him struggling to hold back laughter. “Are you saying women can’t control their emotions?” Dizzy asked as he finally got a grip over his laughter. “I’m saying that a man has control over his thoughts and actions.” Ezra corrected, trying to avoid Dizzy’s trap. “I mean look at how you acted today Arthur, your emotions got the better of you and you nearly got ejected.” He shook his head. “Had you had a man in your life this whole time, that wouldn’t have happened.” He exhaled a deep sigh. “I suppose that partly my fault.” “My mom taught me how to control my emotions just fine.” I corrected as the anger started to show on my face. “I’m sure she did her best.” Ezra nodded his head to my words. “But there’s a reason no one got as hot tempered as you did.” He instructed, once more staring deep into my eyes “If you eventually want to go to the pros, you’ll need a strong man in your life.” He shook his head. “I know that may not be cool to say around here, but I’m sorry, it’s true.” “Even if you were right, he has Adam.” Dizzy pointed out, instigating me more than actually talking to Ezra. “Yes, but Adam,” Ezra hesitated as he formed the sentence in his head. “Adam left home when he was still a kid, he didn’t have a father there to guide him the rest of the way.” “You don’t know that.” I warned as I struggled to keep my own voice down. “He had a father in his life here, and even if he didn’t, he’s successful anyway.” “He owns a donut store.” Ezra spoke, looking from me to Dizzy, then back to me. “So?” Dizzy asked, not sure what Ezra was trying to get at. “How sustainable could that really be?” Ezra finally asked. “I’m not trying to disrespect Adam.” Ezra clarified as he saw the look in my eyes. “But real men don’t dream that small.” “So what? It’s professional baseball or being a CEO?” I asked with a roll of my eyes. “It doesn’t have to be just those two things, but to be a man and have a family, you have to be able to provide over the long term.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you how long term a donut shop will be.” “Then I guess it’s a good thing, he’s making more than enough money to fall back on.” Dizzy shot back, now starting to get invested in the conversation. “I think you boys are misunderstanding me.” Ezra tried to back off. “I just want Artie to find a career path he loves, that will make him good money and be a sustainable option.” “And professional baseball player fits that?” Dizzy asked in a confused voice. “How many people make major league baseball in the first place?” “I know that seems like a long shot, but Arthur has the skill and discipline to get him there.” Ezra insisted in a strong voice. “And even if he doesn’t, then at least it can earn him a full scholarship to college and he can get a degree in something meaningful.” “Well good,” I finally spoke up again. “because I’d rather have a degree in teaching than be a professional baseball player.” Dizzy shot me a big smile of approval as I finally came clean to Ezra. “Teaching?” Ezra repeated in an almost laugh. “Come on Arthur, I don’t know who put that in your head, but you can do better than that.” He shook his head. “I don’t even think I had a male teacher until college.” “So men cant teach?” Dizzy couldn’t help but laugh. “They can, but let’s face it, they’re the providers.” He explained, causing Dizzy to laugh even more. “This new movement to pacify young men isn’t funny.” He insisted as Dizzy’s laugher began to get under his skin. “You both need a man in your life.” “Maybe that’s why we’re gay.” I couldn’t’ help but force out, getting Dizzy to laugh even harder. “I really don’t find this funny Arthur.” Ezra reprimanded as his anger began to grow. “I don’t know what you want from me.” I finally started to speak my mind. “I’ve got Mason and Adam in my life,” I shook my head. “I worked under Mr. Brooks at his farm every summer. I have men in my life.” “But not any strong ones.” Ezra insisted, finally pushing me too far past the edge. “When my Mom died and I was left alone with my grandparents, Adam took me in.” I shook my head. “Without knowing anything about me, or even thinking about how it would effect his life, he took me in.” I emphasized as my voice started to grow louder. “Taking responsibility for a child, even when its inconvenient for you is what it means to be a real man.” I stared him down as I stood up. “That’s more than you’ve ever done.” I barked at him as I turned towards Dizzy. “Let’s go.” “Arthur,” Ezra tried to grab for my arm as I walked by him. “I think it’s time for you to go back to Dallas.” I instructed as I began to stare him down once more. “I really did have a good time meeting you at first, but now, forget it.” I shook my head as Dizzy grabbed my arm and lead me towards the door. Some of the people in the diner shot Dizzy and me looks of concern before starting to shoot Ezra some dirty looks. I was doing everything I could to stop it from ending like this, I even entertained that conversation way longer than I should’ve, but I’ve got my limits. I’m not going to let him sit there and tell me Adams not a man. Hell, I’m not going to sit there and let him tell me I needed anyone but my Mom to raise me. She wasn’t perfect, but if it was just her and me vs the world, I know I would’ve turned out just fine. As Dizzy looked over to me, I knew he had something to say, but instead he stayed quiet and lightly grabbed my hand. I guess even he’s learning that sometimes I just need quiet. And trust me, being quiet for Dizzy, well I think that’s the hardest thing I can ask from him. Yet, he’s been doing it for me all day. We may not be in the best place for our relationship right now, but that’s how I know it’ll work out. He’s here for me, no matter what it means. That’s something I would never be able to replace. I went to stop at the bus stop, but Dizzy held my hand a little tighter and kept moving. “The walk will help clear your head.” He gave me a smile before reaching into his pocket and pulling out his headphones. “Music?” He offered, drawing a nod from me. It took him a minute to untangle them, but the second we each had music in our ears, well I got flash backs to my first time riding the bus. Dizzy’s been with me from the very start of the adventure and even though I’m at a low point, well, thank God he’s here for me. When we finally reached the house, Adam shot us a concerned look, knowing it was too early for lunch to be over already, but I stayed quiet and escaped up to my room. I just need time to let this all sink in. To figure out where and how this all went wrong. I’ve heard the kind of words Ezra used before. They weren’t outright hateful the way my grandparents were, no, he was too smart for that. His words, they’re hate hidden by conversation. Saying a man can teach me how to control my emotions better than a woman is just a fancy way of calling women emotional. And I know I should have a man in my life. Hell, that’s all I wanted as a kid. But that doesn’t take away from how my Mom and Sadie raised me. It doesn’t make them any less capable than anyone else. I guess this was the side of Ezra, Adam tried to warn me about. Clever and deceptive. Crafting a story in such a way that he can to hide his hate, and pull others into his plans. It’s like he didn’t see me as a son, but as a baseball project he needed to train. Like he wanted me to live his dreams for him. I couldn’t tell you how long I sat there in thought, but eventually I heard a knocking begin on my door. “Come in.” I reluctantly spoke, knowing I couldn’t shut them out forever. “Hey.” Dizzy forced a weak smile, trying his hardest to hide the concern on his face. “How are you feeling?” “Better.” I forced out in a sigh. “Just a lot to take in, all in one day, you know?” “Yeah.” Dizzy nodded his head. He looked over to me, then away. “I was wrong for doubting you.” He suddenly began. “I was so against Ezra visiting because I was scared of losing you, but I,” He hesitated as he finally looked back over to me. “I should’ve known how strong you are.” He said as our eyes connected. “I should’ve trusted you the way Adam does.” He forced a smile and just let silence fill the air for a moment. “I’m sorry.” He finally spoke. Without saying anything I leaned in and planted a kiss on his lips. “Thank you for being there.” I exhaled as we pulled away from one another. “You disagreed with me, but you had my back the whole time.” I shook my head. “I don’t know if I realize how lucky I am to have you.” “You do.” Dizzy’s smile started to grow. “You kissed me in front of Ezra.” He couldn’t help but laugh to himself. “That told me everything I needed to know.” We shared another smile before the room grew quiet once more. “You know,” Dizzy began, breaking the silence. “you still have that family barbecue in a few hours.” He said before growing quiet. I rolled my eyes and let out a sigh. “Don’t even remind me.” I groaned. “I was just thinking, if you still wanted to go, well,” Dizzy paused, hoping I would get the hint. “I know someone who would go with you.” He finally filled the silence as he realized I wasn’t taking the bait. “I’m not going to make Adam feel like my second choice.” I protested as my eyes fell to the ground. “He doesn’t like baseball anymore anyway.” “I think you’d be surprised.” Dizzy tried to encourage. “Besides, it’s your last time to be together as a team until next year.” He continued to push me. “You’re going to be kicking yourself for weeks if you don’t go.” “I know.” I sighed, before staying quiet and falling back into my own head. Dizzy let out a deep sigh, and I saw him shake his head as he stood up. “Alright.” He forced out as he stood up and headed out the door. There were another few minutes of silence, and for once, I actually thought Dizzy let things be. That is, until I heard more knocking at the door. “Come in.” I replied, expecting another push from Dizzy, but instead it was Adam who appeared in the doorway. “How you holding up?” Adam asked as he stood in the door way. “All things considered?” I asked as he nodded his head. “I’m doing alright.” I said as I looked away from him. “Well, if you want to go get some fresh air, and maybe go to that barbecue,” He trailed off, seeing how I’d react. “Dizzy put you up to this?” I asked, looking over in his direction, but not actually at him. “That’s not important.” He replied with a smile. “I really would be cool with going, and I know you want to.” “It’s not fair to ask you now.” I complained as I looked away from him. “It wasn’t fair that I asked Ezra in the first place.” “I said I hated baseball.” Adam shrugged his shoulders as he walked over and sat on my bed. “Who else were you going to take? Lindsay?” “But still,” I hesitated as I thought things over. “The barbecue isn’t about baseball, it’s about family,” I paused once more. “and you, you’re the only family I have left.” “Is that how you feel?” Adam asked, but I could tell he wasn’t actually looking for an answer. “I know, since your mom passed, since you moved here, well, you probably feel lonely.” He forced out as we both looked down. “And that’s okay, I think we all feel lonely sometimes.” I felt him lightly grab my arm, forcing me to look up at him. “And you can feel lonely, but I promise you, you are not alone.” When those words hit the air, all I could do was hug him. When I first got here, Adam was robotic with any affection I would show, but now, well, hugging him feels just like hugging my Mom. I could feel a couple tears falling from my eyes, but quickly got my emotions back under control. “Now come on,” He instructed as he pulled away from me. “go take a quick shower, we’ve got a barbecue we need to get to.” I felt a smile grow on my face as I nodded my head and quickly grabbed a change of clothes. I knew we’d probably be late, but I moved as quickly as I could and before I knew it, Adam and I were out the door. And the best part? Well Jose had texted me that the barbecue was moved from one of my teammate’s houses to our actual baseball field! Sure, that probably means there won’t actual be a barbecue, but we’ll be back on our own field one more time this season! “So what should I be expecting here?” Adam asked as we walked down the street. “I don’t think I’ve thrown a baseball since I lived in Texas.” “Jose said we usually just have some catches and hit a few balls.” I shrugged my shoulders. “So just shake some rust off, and you should be fine.” “Easy for you to say.” Adam instantly argued back. “You were like a machine out there today!” He exclaimed with a smile. “I couldn’t even tell you the last time I ran.” “And whose fault is that?” I replied as he gave me a friendly push. I couldn’t help but laugh as I stepped back to walk with him. Ezra can come after Adam’s manhood all he wants, but the truth is, Ezra will never be half the father Adam is. As we came into view of the familiar field, I could hear my teammates shouting my name. “Aren’t you popular today?” Adam teased. “Oh shit,” He complained to himself, “I have to talk to Dads about Dad stuff.” He looked over to me in a panic. “What do I talk about?” “How am I supposed to know that?” I shot him a confused look. “Just talk about work or business or something.” He let out a fake groan, but pulled it together as we stepped onto the actual field. “Look who finally made it.” Jose teased with a smile. “Thought you weren’t going to show.” “Just had some stuff I had to take care of.” I shrugged my shoulders. I noticed Jose look over at Adam, and realize it wasn’t the man I said I was going to bring. “This is my Uncle Adam.” I introduced as they shook hands. “Oh cool,” Jose nodded his head. “some of our dads and uncles and cousins are over there,” He nodded towards the opposing dugout. “they’re starting to stretch before we play.” “Before we play?” Adam asked in a hesitant voice. “Since we got the field, we figured we might as well do a light scrimmage against one another.” Jose couldn’t help but laugh at how overwhelmed Adam looked. “Come on,” He tried to encourage. “you look like one of the youngest guys on their team, you’ll be fine.” “I like this friend.” Adam teased with a nod. “Adam was a pitcher in high school too.” I couldn’t help but instigate as Adam started to stare me down. “That’s perfect!” Jose exclaimed as he looked over to the group of older men. “They don’t have one, so we we’re going to get one of the guys to pitch for them.” “I don’t know,” Adam hesitated as he thought it over. “I haven’t pitched in over ten years.” “It’s all good, no one expects you to be Madison Baumgartner.” Jose tried to clarify. “As long as you can throw over the plate, that’s just fine.” I noticed Jose nod to one of the men standing not too far away. “That’s my Dad, he could probably help you feel better about this.” “Great,” Adam groaned as the man gave him a friendly smile. “I’m about to be lit up by a bunch of teenagers.” He continued to complain as he walked towards Jose’s father. I couldn’t help but laugh at his dramatics as Jose gave me a nod of approval. “I’m glad you showed.” Jose said as we started to walk back towards the guys. “Can’t pass up the chance to hit a home run against my Uncle.” I shrugged my shoulders with a smile. “You do that, and you can be captain next year.” Jose laughed with a shake of his head. As we reached the other guys, I got the warmest reception from them yet. An hour ago, I was sitting up in my room, feeling, well, lonely, But now, well Adams right, I’m not alone. I never have been. As the game started to get more organized, the rules were simple. The adult team got 4 outs, while our baseball team gets 2. Each batter gets 3 pitches over the plate, and we won’t actually be counting balls and strikes, after all, this game is just for fun. At least, that’s what they were saying! I couldn’t help but stare as I noticed Adam warming up. He was definitely rusty, but not as bad as I would’ve thought. With every ball he threw, his pitches started to sail further and further. Finally, he was able to comfortably throw from the mound to home plate. “All right guys!” Jose’s father shouted to the large group. “We ready to get going here?” “Young guys hit first!” Jose shouted as our team all shouted around him. “Baseballs more than offense.” Jose’s dad shouted back as they took the field. “Not that my kid would know.” He teased as my team only started to yell louder. “You’re up first.” Jose encouraged me as he pushed me towards home plate. As I saw Adam on the mound I couldn’t help but laugh. I never thought I’d see Adam play baseball. I never thought I’d be staring him down on the mound! But here goes nothing! “I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.” Adam teased as he looked around at the other men. “I’ve already seen Artie try to kill one pitcher today.” As the other men around him started to laugh, I stepped into the box. “Come on.” I instructed as I took my stance. He shook his head before growing serious and winding up. His first pitch or two weren’t great, but they weren’t that bad either. They were slow but managed to find their way over the plate. Finally, as I got used to his timing and he put some real speed on the baseball, well I swung as hard as I could. The ball lined straight through the gap and towards the outfield. On any normal team, it would probably be a trouble, but on a team of older men, well I was able to easily coast into third. I probably could’ve pushed for home if I wanted to, but I have a feeling this game would turn ugly quick if I did. Just like this afternoon, my team shouted in support as I shrugged at Adam. He tried to play it cool, but I could tell he was frustrated with himself. “Fuck.” I noticed him quietly grunt to himself. As the next batter stepped up, Adam finally started to look comfortable. His pitches weren’t perfect, but he slowly started to get into form. The next batter hit a single and brought me home, but the two after both grounded out. The game started to heat up as the adults grew serious, and before we knew it, well, we had a game as intense as this afternoon’s. When it was Adam’s turn to bat, well, it was obvious he was a pitcher who hadn’t swung a bat in a long time! Yet, the more he pitched, the more into a groove he fell. When it was finally my turn to bat again, I found a different Adam waiting for me on the mound. “I’ve never seen you make that face before.” I teased, but he didn’t reply. Before I knew it, a fastball came flying in past me. I nodded my head and let out a small laugh as I realized just how serious Adam was taking it. As another fastball zoomed past me, I knew I had Adam beat. I’ve got one more pitch to go, but he’s really only thrown fast balls. With the adjustments Ezra gave me, well I’m positive I could kill his next pitch. Yet as his next pitch came sailing in, I took a hard swing only to find the ball drop into the plate as it reached me. “Whoa!” One of the pitchers on my team shouted as a few of the adults on Adam’s team started to cheer. “You’re not the only Price who came to play.” Adam shouted to me with a proud smile. “How’d you get your curveball to drop that hard?” One of the pitchers shouted to him. “Can you show me your grip later?” Adam happily nodded his head before getting focused on the next batter. So this is what Ezra was talking about when he said Adam was great at baseball. Even in his early 30s, well, Adam can still bring it when he wants to. Sure, he may not look as good as he would’ve in his teens, but I’ve seen enough to know how good Adam must’ve been in his younger days. The rest of the game seemed to fly by us as we all tried to make the most of it. When the last inning passed, the game sat tied at 6, but instead of pushing anyone any further, we decided it was best to call it a tie. “Your uncles pretty damn good.” Jose observed as Adam showed some of my teammates the grip he was using on his pitches. “Apparently he was one of the best back in his day.” I nodded my head as a proud smile grew on my face. “Guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.” Jose complimented as we watched Adam throw a few demonstration pitches. Being a fatherless boy in my hometown, well, this is all I wanted. A father to play baseball with. A father to impress all of my friends. A father to make me feel less, alone. Well, my father wound up being a major dud, but my Uncle, he refuses to let that be the end of my story. I wonder if my Mom knew how good leaving me with Adam would turn out. I wonder if my Mom knew just how much he would step up to the plate. The more I started to think about it, the more my dream from last night started to think in. There will come a time when the three of us are back together again. A time when I see my Mom again, and Mom, well, the first thing I’ll tell you is how great my Uncle Adam is.
  14. Aceinthehole

    Crestfallen

    Thank you so much! I do have a fourth book in mind, but it may not begin for a while. Right now I'm working on finishing my story Golden City, following that will be the first 10-15 chapters of the 3rd book in the Hidden Ones Series and then a new unnamed stand alone story. The stories from Tales of the Underground were my first attempts at writing, so it really means a lot to hear someone enjoyed all 3. It helps keep me motivated to write the 4th story. I'm also excited to hear you'll check out my other stories. Of all my stories, I think Spotlight was my favorite to write. I look forward to seeing more of your comments and reviews! - Ace
  15. Aceinthehole

    T.B.C.

    I was reading through the first 15-20 chapters this week, and noticed a particularly high amount in this chapter and the ones around it (also a few inconsistencies I'll circle back and straighten out once the story is done!). Thank you for bearing with us! I'm glad you're enjoying the story. I've enjoyed reading your comments over the past few days! Hope you continue to enjoy it! Edit: I almost forgot to add that my editor has been going through old chapters and fixing them up. He's sent me a few that I've been meaning to repost. Tomorrow I'll take a look and get to it!
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