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Aceinthehole

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About Aceinthehole

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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!
  5. Aceinthehole

    Brothers

    Chapter 42: Brothers As the call with Sadie began to repeat in my head, I couldn’t help but analyze everything she said. I’m trying my hardest to listen to what she and Adam have to say, but it just doesn’t line up with the man I’m meeting. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I’m in denial. But I’ve met evil men. Hell, I lived with my grandfather for a few days! He called his own daughter a whore the day of her funeral! I’m sorry, the Ezra I know is nothing like that. Sure, he judged San Francisco harshly, but he was doing it because he’s worried about me. He doesn’t want me to lose my connection to God, how could I blame him for that? These thoughts seemed to follow me into the shower and then back downstairs. I tried to block it out by reading, hell I even gave the movie Adam put on a chance, but I just couldn’t turn my brain off. Finally, I got up and went to the kitchen for a snack. As I took a seat at the kitchen table, I noticed Mason get up and walk over to join me. “Still restless from the game today?” He asked as he took the seat across from me. “Yeah.” I lied as I forced a polite smile. As Mason heard my response I noticed him study me a little closer. “You sure about that?” He pried, causing me to nod my head once more. “You know, when I work the bar, I wind up listening to a lot of people vent.” He began, making sure to look me directly in the eyes. “I don’t mind though, it’s actually pretty fun.” He lightly smiled. “I’ve always liked talking to people, and it’s made me better at reading body language.” He explained as he finally reached his point. “And well, if you weren’t sixteen, I’d say you could use a drink.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at his words as I broke eye contact and stared into the other room. “I think we all could.” I said, pushing the focus off of me. Mason nodded his head and smiled to my words. “Well, if there’s anything you need to get off your chest, don’t forget you’re not alone.” He said as he drew my gaze back towards him. “We’re all here for you.” He reminded me as he stood up. I went to say something, to thank him, but his words left me speechless. I haven’t known him all that long, and sure, he’s spent a lot of nights here recently, but I’m still just his boyfriend’s nephew. He doesn’t have to be this nice to me, he doesn’t have to worry about me. And yet, he does. Does he really care about Adam that much? I couldn’t help but watch him as he took his seat on the couch. Have I not noticed that they’re past the puppy love stage? Are Dizzy and I even past the puppy love stage? Have I been that caught up in myself that I haven’t noticed what’s going on around me? More and more thoughts seemed to haunt me as I sat in the kitchen and let life hit me. And on top of all of this, I still have to tell Adam I invited Ezra to the team family barbeque. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Maybe I should’ve asked Adam first. But he said he’s over baseball. He said he doesn’t even want to play or talk about it anymore, so what else was I supposed to do? I made the right decision, didn’t I? When the movie finally ended and the living room started to clear out, I pulled Adam to the side, but I could tell Dizzy was still listening. “Everything alright?” Adam asked. I could see all the concern he was trying to hide behind his gaze, and all the stress these past few weeks have put on him. “Yeah.” I lied, trying my hardest to force a smile. “I just, I want to, do you remember on the walk home when you said you don’t even like baseball?” Adam let out a sigh and nodded his head. “And you said it’d be a cold day in hell before,” “I remember what I said.” Adam interrupted, putting an end to my stalling. “Just go ahead, what’s bothering you?” “Well there’s an end of season team barbeque Sunday night, and we’re allowed to invite a person.” I finally forced out, no longer able to look him in the eyes. “And I mentioned it to Ezra.” As soon as the words left my lips, I could feel the disappointment radiating off of Adam. “I just figured baseball seemed to be a sensitive subject to you, and we’d be playing it there, and I don’t know,” I continued to ramble. “You’re asking if it’s okay to take Ezra?” Adam asked, once more jumping to the point. As I nodded my head, I finally looked him in the eyes. I was expected disappointment, concern or maybe even anger, but instead, all I saw him trying to hide was hurt. “We’ll see how the rest of the weekend goes, but I think I can be okay with it.” “Are you sure?” I was able to manage out, still distracted by the pain I was seeing in his eyes. “You can say no.” “If you feel like he’s been treating you right, I trust your judgement.” He offered, only making me feel worse. “But if he slips up tomorrow or Sunday, my answers changing.” “I understand.” I accepted, not unable to take my eyes off of his. “I’m going to head up to bed,” He forced a small smiled through the defeated look on his face. “Good night boys.” “Good night Adam.” I let out as I watched him walk past Dizzy and towards the stairs. “Night.” Dizzy offered but instantly looked over to me with an angry glare. As soon as Adam disappeared up the stairs Dizzy stood up. “Ouch.” He remarked as he looked away from me. “You saw how weird he was about baseball on the walk home,” I tried to argue, but even I knew I’d screwed up. “I thought I was doing the right thing.” “You’ve been making that mistake a lot lately.” Dizzy commented, looking back at me once more. “You couldn’t at least give Adam the chance to say no?” He asked, but I had no response. “We all know when it comes to baseball, family barbeque means father-son barbeque.” Dizzy shook his head. “And maybe it’s not my place, but I’d say Adam’s been more of a father to you than Ezra.” As sadness began to fill me, my thoughts started to overwhelm me. My sadness quickly turned to anger as the stress of the past few days got the better of me. “I don’t need to be lectured right now, alright?” I snapped. “I know I screwed up! I don’t need you shoving my face in it!” I barked, trying my hardest to keep my voice down. Dizzy shook his head, but kept his mouth shut as he started to climb the stairs. I took a few minutes to collect my breath, before I finally headed up the stairs myself. As I walked into my bedroom, I found Dizzy already in bed trying to sleep. “Sorry.” I offered as I crawled into bed next to him. “I shouldn’t’ve snapped at you.” “I shouldn’t’ve guilt tripped you.” He muttered back at me. “But you have to be better than this.” He said in a quiet voice. “This isn’t the Artie I know.” “I know.” I agreed as I turned off the lights and laid down. After a few moments, I felt him roll over and wrap his arms around me. I tried to relax into him, but something about tonight, something about everything going on, it has me restless. After a couple minutes I broke free of his cuddle. “I just need some space tonight.” I exhaled in a sigh. “Alright.” Dizzy accepted in a disappointed breath. So I’m even hurting him tonight, huh? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at this point. It feels like I’m caught up in the middle of a storm, and I just can’t find my way out. --- --- That night I couldn’t sleep. My mind raced from thought to thought to thought as I tried my hardest to reflect on everything I’ve been doing these past few days. Eventually I finally passed out, too tired to stay awake any longer. When I woke up, I found that my mood was just as flatlined as when I had gone to bed. “Morning” I tried to offer Dizzy as I noticed him wake up. “Morning.” He reflected back without looking at me. I went to say something, but fell speechless, not knowing what to say. And for the first time since I’d met him, Dizzy was quiet towards me too. I wish I could say the morning changed that, but as I got ready for the day, well it just felt like we were going through the motions. As I went downstairs, I expected the same thing from Adam, but to my surprise, he’d cooked breakfast just like he had the day before. “Morning.” He offered me a smile, but all I could see was that broken look from last night. The look that I had caused. “Come eat boys,” He called us over. “I expect you two to actually finish your plates today.” “I will.” Dizzy forced out as he tried his hardest to act like his normal self. “I finished the leftovers from yesterday like I said I would.” “And you made a mess while doing it.” Adam teased as he sat back in his seat. “I don’t think you had enough yesterday,” Adam warned as he looked over to me. “it’s been a long weekend, but you have to eat well.” “Okay.” I accepted, once more blanking on anything to say. How could he be acting so, so, upbeat this morning? Is he doing this for me? “No Mason this morning?” Dizzy asked, finally having enough of the quiet. “He got called into wait tables.” Adam explained in a sigh. “On a Saturday morning?” Dizzy asked with a shake of his head. “They’re that busy?” “I think someone just called out sick.” Adam shook his head. “I don’t know, maybe this will finally motivate him to apply for the positions he keeps looking at.” “At other bars?” Dizzy questioned as they finally found a rhythm to their conversation. “Nope, he’s got a degree in business, I forget what he used to do before he moved here.” Adam confessed in a small laugh. “I think he just wanted a break before going back into it.” “Mason is a business man?” Dizzy asked, “No way!” in a laugh of his own. “I can’t see that at all.” He teased Adam. As their conversation carried on, I couldn’t help but study Adam. My guilt only began to grow stronger as I realized how forgiving he was being. I’ve been so selfish lately, but he won’t call me on it. He just keeps pushing forward like it’s not a problem, like it’s not bothering him. I know he said he’d be here for me no matter what, but I didn’t expect this! And for some reason, it’s only making me feel worse. Suddenly my phone began to ring snapping me out of my mind. “Ezra?” Dizzy asked, still not looking over to me. “Yeah.” I forced out, glancing up at them. “Go ahead.” Adam instructed as he noticed my hesitance. “Hello?” I answered the phone as I quickly placed it on speaker. “Good morning Arthur,” Ezra replied in an excited tone. “I’ve been trying to think of something we can do today, and it’s so nice out, I was actually thinking we could just spend the afternoon practicing some baseball.” He offered. “Unless you already have practice today?” Once more I hesitated, but Adam nodded his head, showing it was okay with him. “That’d be great.” I forced out. “We have an off day to rest, but I’m sure some light practice can’t hurt.” “Thatta boy.” Ezra encouraged as his voice only grew louder. “What do you say we meet at the field around one?” “I’ll see you there.” I answered, trying to keep the conversation as short as possible. “See you there.” He repeated before hanging up the phone. As I put my phone away, I felt my eyes drop to the plate in front of me. “I’ll go with them.” Dizzy volunteered, breaking up the silence that was starting to form. “I can go.” Adam offered. “You’ve been spending a lot of time here these past few days, I’m sure your Mom wants you home spending time with her.” “She knows it’s a busy weekend.” Dizzy quickly shut down. “Besides, she picked up some extra shifts to balance it out.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Her bosses run a real tight ship.” “I’m sure they do.” Adam laughed at his words. “But still, she won’t be working that late and Mason’s busy all day anyway.” “Then go visit him at the bar and get yourself a drink.” Dizzy replied, not taking no for an answer. “Or smoke a joint and put on a movie.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Just relax, me and Artie can handle this, right?” He asked, looking at me for the first time all morning.” “Right.” I quickly answered. “You’ve earned an afternoon off, you should take it.” “Okay, okay,” Adam laughed as he started to gather some of the empty plates. “man you guys must think I really hate baseball.” “It’ll be a cold day in hell.” Dizzy reminded him with a laugh. Adam shook his head and carried some plates to the sink as I began to fall back into my own world. The next couple hours waiting around the house were hard. I felt like a stranger in my own home, and yet I’m the only person to blame. Dizzy’s so frustrated he’s barely even looked at me, and Adam, well I can’t look at him! It’s a hell of my own making. I just hope this was worth it. -- -- As the hours finally passed and me Dizzy and I left for the field, I couldn’t help but feel relieved to leave the house. As our walk grew quiet, I walked over to Dizzy and sighed. “I’m sorry.” I offered once more, not sure what else to say. “You don’t have to apologize to me again.” He replied, glancing over at me. “Feels that way this morning.” I exhaled, surprised he was looking me in the eyes. “You said you wanted space.” He shrugged his shoulders. I could tell he didn’t mean that in a spiteful way. I could tell he was just as confused and lost by all of this as me. But if that’s the case, why do we fell so distant from one another? Why do we feel so off? I nodded my head and let out a sigh. “I know, but I, I just,” I fell quiet as I drew blank once more. “I can’t even find the words for how I feel.” I confessed as I looked away from him. Dizzy stayed quiet but I felt his hand reach over and wrap his hand around mine. The rest of the walk stayed quiet, but something about him holding my hand, it just made me feel better. It’s crazy how quickly the rug can get pulled out from under you, how suddenly everything can feel so different. But I’m going to figure this out. My eyes are opened more than they were before, and I realize just how much I’m starting to slip. I just hope I can stop everything before this gets any worse. “Nice of you boys to join me.” I heard Ezra call out as we finally reached the gate to the field. “Ready for some baseball?” “I just came to hang out.” Dizzy clarified as he let my hand go. “I’m ready.” I answered as we finally reached him. “Good, because I think some adjustments might do you well.” Ezra commented, drawing an eyeroll from Dizzy. “Adjustments?” I asked, not understanding what he meant. “Well sure, your games a bit, well to put it bluntly, loose.” Ezra explained as our eyes connected as we started to walk to the field. “You just need to tighten up certain aspects.” He nodded his head. “It has a lot more to do with your hitting than your fielding, ‘cause your fielding, it’s damn near perfect.” He praised, but kept the serious look on his face. I nodded along to his words and even had to fend off a smile at his compliment. As we stepped onto the field I reached onto the bag and starting pulling out some baseballs I had collected over the past few weeks. I noticed Dizzy walk past us and lay against the wall right next to the dugout, just like he tries to do in gym class. I set up at home as Ezra grabbed some of the baseballs and headed over to the mound. “Okay, lets just see you warm up first.” He instructed as he began to throw me a few slow pitches over the place. I did as best as I could while also trying my hardest not to hit the ball back at him or foul it over towards Dizzy. Eventually I found my rhythm, and didn’t have to think. “Good.” Ezra encouraged as the last ball lined into the outfield. “You’re a consistent hitter, but you’ve got a few bad habits that need cleaning up.” He instructed as he walked over to me. “You smush the bug in your swing, you ever hear that?” “Yeah,” I slowly nodded my head. “like twist my back foot on my swing.” “Exactly.” Ezra quickly nodded his head. “Now someone probably told you that adds speed and power, but they’re wrong.” He shook his head. “You’re throwing off your balance and missing middle and outside pitches.” He lectured in a stern tone. “Keep your back foot planted, I promise you’ll get more power and bat speed that way.” “Alright.” I accepted as I carefully thought over the correction. “I’ll get the balls and we can try again.” “You boys don’t have a bucket of balls you leave at the field?” Ezra called out to me as I began to jog to the outfield. “We share the field with a few other teams, I’m surprised it’s even free today.” I shrugged my shoulders as I finally reached the first few balls. Ezra disapprovingly shook his head as he heard my words. “If they want you boys to be serious, they have to find you your own field.” I couldn’t help but smile at his words. I agree, but that’s not likely to happen around here anytime soon. Hell, our team is two different high schools pulled together and we still barely have enough guys! My high schools just not a sports focused high school, not that I would admit that to Ezra! As I finally threw enough balls back to Ezra, I hustled back to the batter’s box and found my footing. The adjustment was hard to make at first, but after two rounds of 8 or 9 pitches, I was finally starting to nail it. “Ready for the next adjustment?” Ezra asked, but I got the feeling no wasn’t an answer. “You’re leaning your head in too much before you swing.” He stated, quickly throwing more information at me. “It’s moving your eyes off the ball path, and hurting your balance even more.” He complained. “Keep your head up straight, tighten your back a little bit and hit the ball with your bat, not your eyes.” “Yes sir” I replied before going out and retrieving the balls. I glanced over to Dizzy but notice him locked into his phone. He’s either not that worried about Ezra or so bored he can’t pay attention anymore! I’d put my money on the latter! This time as I returned to the batter’s box, I found the adjustment a lot harder to make. It took three rounds just for me to start to keep my head back more than not. “Come on Arthur.” Ezra called out as he began to grow frustrated. “You’re better than this.” He shook his head. “If you didn’t have a game tomorrow, I’d make you run some laps.” “Yes sir.” I accepted as I gathered the balls once more. As I returned to the batter’s box and another round started I noticed myself having a bit of an easier time with the adjustment. Yet, I could tell Ezra still wasn’t happy with my progress. “You’ve gotta keep your focus son.” He warned as he finally started to walk over to me. “Do you want to get better?” “Yes sir.” I answered as the look in his eyes began to grow more and more intense. As Dizzy noticed what was happening, I saw him look up from his phone and try to listen in. “Then make the adjustments Arthur, you look like you’re swinging a hose out here.” He lectured. “The great players learn and adapt immediately, you don’t want to get stuck in mediocrity, do you?” “No sir.” I quickly answered as my heart began to speed up. “Good, then show it to me, because at this rate, you’re not ready to win tomorrow.” He chewed me out before dismissing me to collect the balls again. As another round came and I finally started to make the adjustments, I noticed him nod his head but not ease up. “Better Arthur, but we need to go through that for a while to make sure it’s sinking in.” He explained as he walked over to me once more. “Bad habits die hard, and you’ve got a few of them.” “Yes sir.” I replied as I tried to catch my breath. This time as he approached me, I noticed Dizzy stay focused on his phone. “They’re not your fault. Maybe you were taught wrong as a boy, or you probably picked them up when you got here.” He clarified as our eyes met. “But they’ve gotta go son.” He reiterated. “It’s a shame, I’d love to get you in a proper training camp this summer.” He began to speak, more to himself than me. “One in Texas where they teach you right.” He said as he confidentially nodded his head. “Get you back to God’s country for a little while.” He teased as he realized he was speaking aloud, but I kept the serious look on my face. “We’ll see how things go.” He remarked before sending me to retrieve the balls. We went through that cycle over and over again as the day quickly began to escape us. I have no idea how many balls I hit, but I can guarantee it’s over 100! “Getting tired?” Ezra asked in a laugh as I struggled to catch my breath. “Come on, when we were young, your uncle and I used to do this all day long.” “Adam used to do this all day?” I asked in a skeptical voice. “More so when he was a kid than a teenager.” Ezra nodded his head. “But there was a while he stayed committed to the sport.” Ezra shrugged his shoulders. “Afterall, his father was our couch.” “Really?” I asked in shock. “How did that go?” “Our team may not have been record setting, but Mr. Price taught us the basics pretty damn well.” Ezra confidently nodded his head. “Your grandfather’s a hell of a man.” I shook my head as I heard those words, unable to believe it. “You don’t agree?” “The man I know is a monster.” I replied, breaking eye contact with Ezra. “He’s strict and old school, but boy, he was the man we all wanted to become back then.” Ezra said, drawing my gaze back to him. “I don’t agree with how he treated your mother, but love makes men do stupid things.” He shook his head. “He cared for your mother, but he couldn’t overcome his upbringing.” Ezra explained. “So he panicked, and made the wrong choices.” “Really made the wrong choices.” I echoed as I started to stare Ezra down. “With Adam too.” I reminded him. “Yeah.” Ezra forced out, but I could tell he didn’t feel as strongly about that. “Like I said love makes men do stupid things, but so does tradition.” Ezra nodded his head. “I know I’m guilty of that too.” He warned. “So maybe that’s why I can’t hold it all against your grandfather.” “Maybe.” I remarked, I went to say something else but stopped myself. I want Ezra to know I don’t agree. I want him to know I hate my grandfather. “You’ve got your Uncle’s spirit.” Ezra smiled as he noticed my stubbornness “But I believe you’ll stick with baseball, instead of letting your talent go to waste.” I noticed Dizzy perk his head up, showing that he had started listening again. I nodded my head, once more unable to give him the truth about what I want for my future. “Why’d Adam quit again?” I asked, remembering how Ezra side stepped the question the first time around. This time I noticed Ezra carefully thinking over the answer. “Hard to say.” Ezra exhaled. “But it happened around when he started to lose himself.” Ezra exhaled. “What do you mean?” I couldn’t help but pressure. Ezra hesitated again as he chose his words carefully. “I don’t know what exactly happened, but there was a day, around when we were maybe thirteen or fourteen, when I stopped recognizing Adam.” He explained, starting to get even more serious than before. “It came out of the blue, like a switch had gone off in his head.” Ezra shook his head. “He stopped doing everything he liked, and just like that, he lost himself.” “Or found himself.” Dizzy commented from the dugout. “I don’t believe so.” Ezra warned, taking a step back so he could see the both of us. “Trust me, Adam was, Adam still feels like a brother to me.” He explained. “I grew up with that man. Even after he lost himself, we still hung out every day.” As he continued to speak, I could see the conversation weighing on him. As if he was truly worried about Adam. “It may not show, but I’m very happy to see he’s doing well for himself.” Ezra clarified to us. “And I’m still praying that he finds or has found the kid he was back then.” Ezra shook his head as he reached the end of his lecture. “Because the Adam you boys know, doesn’t seem as complete as the Adam I knew.” “That tends to happen when your family rejects you.” Dizzy spoke up again, this time shooting daggers at Ezra. Ezra nodded his head but stayed quiet, recognizing that nothing he could say would satisfy Dizzy. I went to change the subject, but before I could I noticed a group of younger kids walking through the gate. “Guess our time is up.” Ezra nodded his head as he saw the middle school team. “I’ll go grab the balls.” I agreed as I started to jog towards the outfield. As I gathered my things, I noticed Dizzy even more agitated than he was last night. Is what Ezra said really bothering him that much? It’s not like he said anything bad about Adam. He was just talking about what he saw happen. “Almost five already?” Ezra asked as he shook his head. “How about I take you boys to go get food?” “I’m actually pretty beat.” I answered, knowing I couldn’t drag Dizzy through any more of this. “I didn’t sleep much last night, so I might go lay down for a while.” “I understand.” Ezra quickly nodded his head. “You worked hard and earned yourself a break.” He said as he studied me closely. “Well you have my number, just reach out if you change your mind.” “Yes sir.” I accepted as I offered him my hand. He shook it before offering his hand to Dizzy. Dizzy hesitated at first, but finally shook, more for me than Ezra. As we went our separate ways, I noticed Dizzy quietly trying to work through his frustrations. “I don’t think he meant anything against Adam.” I offered, causing Dizzy to immediately look over at me. “Well I don’t think he meant anything good for him either.” Dizzy angrily shook his head. “How could you watch your brother go through so much and not sympathize?” Dizzy asked as he stared me down. “How could Ezra call him lost, when he has no idea the hell Adam went through?” “I don’t know.” I answered, caught off-guard by how angry Dizzy was. “I believe he cared about him though.” “If he cared so much, he would’ve done more than just pray.” Dizzy grumbled. “Or at the very least, not have slept with his sister while he’s struggling so much.” As I heard those words, I couldn’t help but freeze in place. “Fuck.” Dizzy groaned, realizing his ranting had gotten him in trouble. “Sorry,” He quickly offered as he looked back at me. “I, I really didn’t mean for it to come out like that, I’m just, pissed.” “I know.” I accepted in a sigh. “Figure I deserve that one too.” “You see my point though, right?” Dizzy asked as I started to walk again. “Somethings not right about this Artie. I know you don’t want to hear it, but I can’t hold that in.” “I’m just glad you’re talking to me.” I shrugged my shoulders, knowing we’re both too emotionally exhausted for another argument. “And I hope you’re listening to me.” Dizzy teased as he gripped my hand. “Except the part you got mad about, you can forget that.” I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head. Dizzy may be ranting, but I guess there’s some truth to those words. If Ezra was that worried about Adam, would he really go ahead and date my Mom? I know it’s probably a lot more complicated than that, but still, it’s a point I can’t ignore. As we made it back to the house, we found Adam fully invested in whatever video game he was playing. “I didn’t realize San Francisco had skunks.” Dizzy couldn’t help but tease as he took a step into the room. Adam paused his game but ignored Dizzy’s comment. “You both alright?” He asked. “You look tired.” He examined as he saw me. “And you look tired too,” He studied Dizzy. “Tired of a certain someone’s bullshit.” As Dizzy broke out into laughter, I couldn’t help but laugh with him. “You look high.” Dizzy turned it on him. “Just doing what you told me to this morning.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll throw on a movie,” Adam motioned for us to join him on the couch. “come lay down.” I nodded my head and followed Dizzy as we took our places. As the movie began to play and I looked over to Adam, I saw just why Dizzy was so angry leaving the baseball field. I don’t think Ezra was being malicious, or trying to bash Adam. But Dizzy was right, Ezra is wrong about Adam. He’s not lost or incomplete. He knows exactly who he is. And maybe, maybe Ezra misunderstanding that says a lot more about Ezra than it does Adam.
  6. Chapter 41: Head in the Clouds As I waited in the hallway, and let Adam and Mason’s words sink in, I couldn’t help but wonder what’s going through Dizzy’s head. There were times during that conversation where he just sounded so unsure of himself, and the future of our relationship. But like I told him a little while ago, I’m not going anywhere. Sure, I may not be taking this as serious as he is. I may be goofing around and having fun with it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t really care about him. I just need to keep making peace with my past. With the person that young Texas kid expected to become, and who he can be. When I finally came downstairs, Adam and Mason held back a bit, allowing Dizzy to have whatever time with me he needed. Yet even then, it wasn’t long until we all had to rush out the door. As we started walking towards the school, I noticed Adam and Mason slow down to fall further behind us. “Am I in trouble?” I teased, seeing just how much space they were giving us. “Maybe,” Dizzy began, yet as he saw how close we were to the school, grew serious. “We all just, we wanted you to remember why you started to play baseball again.” “For fun.” I quickly answered, saving him the lecture. “Don’t worry, me and Jose have already had this conversation.” “That’s one way to look at it.” Dizzy nodded his head, as he carefully thought something over. “What’s another reason?” I led, knowing there was something else he wanted to share. “For yourself.” Dizzy replied, as he grew serious. “Sure, you needed some convincing, but this is your sport, your team.” He shook his head. “You started playing to help you settle into San Francisco, so that maybe, this could feel like home.” “It does feel like home.” I tried to remind him. “I know, it just feels like, like you need to remember that’s why you started playing.” He forced out, unsure how I would take his words. “Because right now, you’ve got people expecting a lot from you.” “Ezra?” I asked, seeing if that’s who he meant. “Ezra, Adam, Mason, Jose, Me,” Dizzy confessed, showing me this really wasn’t about Ezra.” I don’t know,” He shook his head as he began to lose confidence in his words. “It just feels like ever since playoffs have become a possibility, you’ve been carrying this weight on your shoulders.” “Well yeah,” I began as I looked away from him. “I’m one of our best players, if we’re going to win, I have to be the one to set the pace.” “I know.” Dizzy quickly agreed, showing I had his full support. “I guess I’m just saying, don’t let our expectations make that weight heavier.” He shook his head. “Don’t worry about what we want, be selfish today.” He confessed as I looked back at him. “Do what you need to, to have fun with your team.” He forced a smile as he looked into my eyes. “We’ll be here for you regardless of what happens, so tune us out and just go, go, play baseball.” “I can do that.” I nodded as his smile began to spread over to my face. As the school came into view, he grabbed my arm to stop me and stole a kiss from my lips. His lecture may not have been perfect, hell, I’m pretty sure he made it up as he went, but I really do understand his message. He doesn’t want me to feel like I need to prove myself to anyone. He doesn’t want me to feel like I’m letting anyone down. He just wants me to play a game with my teammates. Where I’m from, that’s unheard of. You win, or you keep pushing yourself until you either collapse or get better. Sure, part of me still holds that mentality. But the majority of my thoughts, they really do just want me to have fun and enjoy the last of baseball season. And that’s exactly what I am going to do! “Go kill em today.” Dizzy encouraged with a smirk as I left his side and began walking towards the group of teammates outside the school. “Look who finally made it.” Jose teased as I watched Dizzy turn around and walk back towards a waiting Adam and Mason. They walked all this way just to turn back around and walk towards the field. Are they that worried about how I’m doing lately? Or are they worried about who I might run into? “Just needed a quick nap I guess.” I teased, matching the grin on his face. “Good, otherwise Simmonds’ pitching may have put you to sleep.” Jose continued to joke, drawing a loud “Hey!” from one of our pitchers. “You do work really slow though.” I taunted, encouraging the light atmosphere Jose was trying to create. “Yeah but I keep the balls on the ground,” Simmonds complained as we started to walk towards the field. “and that makes your jobs easier.” “You make Artie’s job easier, everyone else’s gloves got holes in it.” Jose laughed as he looked back towards our teammates. “We’ve got a lot better at it this week.” I shrugged my shoulders as a few guys began to shake their heads no. “Less balls get past us,” One of the guys finally agreed. “we still look cluesless sometimes though.” “Remember two weeks ago when Jones’ throw to first went into the crowd?” Jose began, continuing to take friendly shots at the team. “Remember when Jose lost a ball in the sun and tripped trying to find it?” Jones shot back, but Jose could only laugh at himself, showing the teasing was all in good spirits. Jose’s gaze suddenly landed on me as a smirk began on his face. “Remember when Artie stole second, but got tagged out because he wasn’t standing on the base?” “It’s easy to lose your footing!” I yelped as everyone continued to laugh. “You guys watch, I’m gonna “hidden ball trick” someone today.” “And I’ll hit a grand slam!” Another guy shouted as we all continued to joke around. “Do what you guys want.” Jose shrugged his shoulders. “Just play hard, and have fun today.” He shook his head. “Don’t worry about the next game, just worry about these nine innings.” He looked back at the team as we approaching the field. “Let’s just play some fucken baseball!” As soon as everyone heard those words, a new energy started to take over the team. Guys began to shout and push one another as we remembered what we were here for. To play baseball! Sure, there were still a lot of nerves left, but the teasing had helped to distract us. We all made stupid mistakes this season, and now that it might be ending, well, we’re laughing at them. No one’s holding any grudges, or saying that a teammate should’ve done more. We had one another’s backs when we started to win, and win or lose, that’s how we’ll end it. -- -- As we filled the dugout, and the clock grew closer to game time, I felt my own body beginning to shake with a combination of nerves and excitement. I looked out to the crowd and I found Mason and Adam sitting with Ky, Dizzy and Charlotte. I scanned the crowd a little closer and noticed Mr. and Mrs. Charles sitting with Jamal not too far away from them. Yet as my eyes continued to search, they found one specific man sitting alone staring at the diamond. His look was just as intense as ever as he waiting to see just what his son could do. “You alright?” Jose asked as he followed my distracted gaze. “Just fine.” I lied, but I could see Jose had already started to stare at Ezra. “You know him?” Jose asked as I nodded my head. “That’s my Dad.” I exhaled as Jose nodded his head. “He flew in from Texas to watch these games.” “Then let’s put on a show for him, huh?” Jose encouraged with a grin. “We’re going to go out and play some California baseball, fast and chaotic,” He couldn’t help but laugh. “but victorious!” “You really think so?” I asked as he captured my full attention. “We didn’t come this far to lose now.” Jose shook his head, but I noticed his attention go right back to Ezra. “You bringing him to the barbeque?” “The barbeque?” I repeated in a confused voice. “You know the end of the year barbeque.” Jose led, seeing if it would jog something in my mind. “Do you ever check your school email?” “Should I?” I asked as a guilty smile began to spread on my face. “Yes!” Jose yelped with a shake of his head. “Do you never check it?” He asked as I shrugged my shoulders. “What if a teacher emails you a study guide or reminder?” He asked but once more I had no answers for him. “You know, you could use email to talk to people back in Texas.” He said, finally finding the right words to capture my attention. “I could!” I agreed with a shout as he shook his head. “Yeah, you could.” Jose exhaled with a shake of his head. “Or you could get the team reminders, like the barbeque we do every year.” He explained as his gaze turned serious. “It used to be called the father son barbeque, but there are plenty of people without fathers around here, so you just bring whoever you’re close to.” He finally explained. “We just eat and play some baseball for a little while once the seasons over.” “Oh, I’ll go to that.” I quickly nodded my head as Jose let out a sigh, but nodded along. “We gotta get you better organized.” Jose groaned. “Win or lose, it’s Sunday evening after the game, you just gotta figure out your plus one.” “Probably my Uncle.” I quickly answered, yet for some reason my stare looked back towards Ezra. “Whoever you want.” Jose shrugged his shoulders. “Just bring them with you Sunday.” He nodded his head. “I hate to interrupt,” Simmonds began as he joined us near the bullpen fence. “but we’ve got a game to play.” “We’ve got a game to win.” Jose corrected as he pulled me right back into the moment with him. I couldn’t help but excitedly nod with him as our conversation turned a lot more focused than it had been. Pretty soon we went from talking about emails to starting warm ups and before we knew it, we were taking the field. As I found my spot between second and third, I couldn’t help but look back at the crowd. At first my eyes went to Ezra, yet as my stare shifted over to Dizzy, I could hear his words replaying in my head. To think, they had to talk me into playing baseball. But here I am loving every moment. Because I’ve made friends on this team, because I want to win! Dizzy is right, today, this game, it isn’t about any of them. It’s about my teammates and me. It’s about finishing what we started! The second my mind clicked into gear, I felt my focus locking into the game. My stare no longer drifted to the crowd, instead it focused on the plays unfolding in front of me. I wasn’t too busy at first, just running through the normal motions and covering second when the ball went between second and first, but when we got our three outs and it was my turn to bat, well, I wanted to start the game right. The second I entered the batters box I felt my heart begin to race. I did my best to remember Jose’s breathing advice, but it didn’t seem to calm me down. As the first pitch came in, I watched a strike sail right past me, then a ball, and finally another strike. As I felt my at bat start to get away from me, I took time and looked up towards Dizzy. Suddenly, his words from before started to replay in my head once more, “tune us out and just go play baseball.” I flashed him a small smile before recomposing myself and stepping back into the box. This time, I held my bat back as I watched back to back pitches sail outside the zone and even up my count. My teammates began to shout from the dugout as they saw a new confidence fill me. I fouled off the next pitch as I took my first swing of the game, causing my teammates to grow louder. As my fate began to turn, I noticed the pitcher growing rattled and suddenly his next pitch came right where I wanted to. With a quick swing I lined the ball right back up towards him and found the middle of the field. Sure, It was only a single, but it was exactly the spark I needed to get going. Exactly the spark the team needed to get going. From there out, everything was a lot easier. Plays in the field, at bats, they just seemed to come to m my teammates and me. Before we knew it, we were playing the style of baseball Jose was talking about. Fast, loose and unpredictable. We weren’t playing the set way they did in Texas, following the unwritten rules of baseball. We stole third with two outs and took chances running for home when the ball was close, yet, our gutsy style worked out. We overwhelmed the opposing team and before we knew it, the mental warfare was getting the better of them. When the game ended, the final score was 6-3, with my team coming out on top. I had finished with a stolen base, two singles and a walk and of course, strong defense in the field. It was exactly the game I wanted to play to help fight our way into the playoffs. Exactly the game I wanted Ezra to see. -- -- The feeling in the dugout as we got our stuff together was electric. It was as though you could feel our victory in the air. Everyone had smiles on their face as guys continued to shout and jump on one another. If we carry this energy into Sunday’s game, well, there’s no way we could lose! “Great game today man.” Jose began to encourage as he led me out of the dugout. “I really mean that, your first at bat, it just, set the bar.” He shook his head. “The same way you have all year.” His smile grew as he gave me a shove. “You’re the spark to this team, and you, you could really go far in baseball, you know that?” “It just feels that way because we won.” I shrugged as a blush began to fill my face. “Besides, baseball, it’s just something I do for fun, I don’t think I’d play in college.” “What about for a scholarship?” He teased in a laugh. “Okay, for a scholarship I would.” I happily agreed. “But I want to be a teacher.” “Of course, you want to be a teacher!” Jose yelped, this time it was my turn to give him a shove. “That, it would really suit you.” He encouraged. “You’ll be a great teacher one day Mr. Price.” “Ugh, don’t call me that.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes as we each looked for our families in the crowd. As we finally found them, we shared a quick nod, knowing they would pull us our separate ways. “You did great!” Dizzy encouraged as he wrapped himself around me. “Every game you look so nervous then suddenly, BOOM!” He shouted. “You just turn something on and go off!” “You really did do great.” Adam smiled as our eyes connected. “Every game you find a way to make me prouder and prouder.” I couldn’t help but feel my smile grow as I heard those words. Yet before I could say anything to him, I noticed Ezra work through the crowd. “Arthur,” He called out as he finally reached us. “you were outstanding today.” He shook his head. “I expected you to be good, but I didn’t know you were that good.” He said as our eyes locked. “You are an exceptional baseball player.” He encouraged as my smile continued to grow. “Quick, disciplined, smart and responsible, everything you want in a leadoff hitter.” “Thank you,” I accepted as another blush filled my face. “I just try and help the team however I can.” “You do more than just help the team!” Ezra shouted, but quickly caught himself as he started to get carried away. “I, why don’t we talk about this more at dinner, my treat.” He suggested as he looked over to Adam. “Yeah.” Adam reluctantly accepted. “But like I said last night, I can pay for my kids.” “No one’s questioning that.” Ezra stated as we began to walk away from the crowd. “I just feel like buying dinner is the least I could do.” Adam nodded his head but stayed quiet for a moment. “Ezra,” He called out. “This is Mason.” He finally introduced, more for Mason’s sake than Ezra’s. “Pleasure to meet you.” Ezra offered, but Mason’s gaze seemed more threatening than friendly. Mason can act like a big teddy bear around Adam when he wants, but judging by the way he’s carrying himself right now, well, I’d say he has a much different side I’ve never seen! As their eyes met, Mason let the silence linger for another moment or two. “Yeah.” He finally grunted, putting an end to the uncomfortable moment. I noticed a small smirk creep onto Dizzy’s face, but he quickly forced a serious look before Mason could notice. “So where are we eating?” I spoke up, hoping to pull everyone back on track. Adam looked at Mason before glancing over to me. “With you dressed like that?” Adam teased as he forced a smile. “There’s a pretty good pub up around the corner.” I noticed him look to Ezra as he made the suggestion. “That’s fine with me.” Ezra accepted as he caught Adam’s glance. “If I remember right, I probably owe you a beer or two.” Adam rolled his eyes and led the way as we began to walk. “Why do you owe him a beer?” I couldn’t help but ask as curiosity got the best of me. “Because he destroyed my stash.” Adam answered without even turning back to look at me. “I was thinking more cause of all the games your pitching kept us in, but I guess that’s fair too.” Ezra nodded his head, this time his focus stayed on Adam. He wasn’t mad or anything, but it was clear Adam’s words had rubbed him the wrong way “Stash?” Dizzy pried, shooting me a mischievous grin. “What kind of stash are we talking?” “Just some crappy beers I managed to collect when we were teenagers.” Adam answered. Usually he shied away from talking about his childhood, but considering it’s starting to bother Ezra, well it looks like he’s making an exception. “Was just looking out for you.” Ezra offered with a forced smile. “Would’ve hated to see you get in any trouble over it.” “Yeah, you really hated seeing that.” Adam sarcastically replied. He went on to say something else, but caught himself as he looked back at Dizzy and me. “Guess it’s all just beer under the bridge now.” He shrugged with a smirk. “Guess so.” Ezra agreed, but the tension between the two only seemed to grow as Adam glanced over to him. “That was a really bad joke.” Mason distracted as he grabbed Adam’s attention back. “Like shamefully bad,” Mason started to tease in an effort to help Adam relax. Dizzy shared a concerned look with me as we finally arrived at the pub. We’ve seen Adam angry, even confrontational, but something about this time was different. Sure, he was mad, but it was almost like he was playing with Ezra. “It’s pretty packed.” Mason complained as he pulled open the door. “After five on a Friday night,” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “anywhere we go is going to look like this.” As I finally stepped inside I could see that Mason wasn’t exaggerating. The bar was loaded with people and the tables around it all seemed filled. “Table for five.” I heard Adam tell the hostess. She turned back and looked around the restaurant before quickly looking down at the tablet on her podium. “Our next table for five won’t be open for another forty minutes to an hour.” The hostess replied as she looked at our our group. “But we do have a couple tables in the back we could split you between.” She offered. “We’d push them together, but they’re bolted to the floor.” Adam shot Mason a frustrated look as he heard her words. “The tables are right next to one another if that’s any help.” She said before either of them could speak. “Alright.” Adam reluctantly accepted as the hostess quickly began to gather a stack of menus. “We could just go to that diner,” Mason reminded him. “or even find another place close by.” “Anywhere we go, we’ll be waiting.” Adam complained as we began to follow the waitress. “And I’ve gotta imagine Artie’s starving.” “I can wait.” I lied as we finally reached the tables, but Adam simply shook his head. The hostess placed three menus at one table before placing two at the next. I mean they are right next to one another, but still, I could tell Adam wasn’t thrilled with the arrangement. “If you’re not comfortable with this,” Ezra began as he drew Adam’s stare. “I’m sure we can figure something else out.” “It’s fine.” Adam shrugged as he took a seat at the two-person table. “Probably for the best.” He muttered to himself. Dizzy shot him a concerned look before leaning in and whispering something to him. Adam chuckled to himself before lightly pushing Dizzy towards our table. Dizzy tried to take a step back towards their table, but Adam kept his arm extended, forcing Dizzy away. “They’re close?” Ezra asked me as we took a seat at our table. “Oh yeah.” I nodded my head. “Although most of the time Dizzy likes Adam way more than Adam likes Dizzy.” I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. “But I think Adam sees a lot of himself in Dizzy.” I explained as I looked away from them and towards Ezra. “For better or for worse?” Ezra asked as our eyes connected. I hesitated as I tried to decipher what he meant. “I’m kidding.” He dismissed with a smile as Dizzy finally took his seat at our table. “We should’ve just went to that diner.” Dizzy complained as he looked over to me. “But this is what it’s like living in the city.” He shrugged as he glanced over to Ezra. “I understand.” Ezra spoke up. “Afterall, I’ve lived in Dallas for the past seventeen years.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m pretty sure Dallas has more people, San Francisco is just more, dense.” He explained, but had already lost Dizzy’s interest. “Either way, it’s like ten times the size of our hometown.” “You’re not kidding.” I shook my head. “Sometimes this place still has my head spinning.” Ezra hummed in agreement. “There’s nothing like that quiet Texas town.” He encouraged. “The quiet at any time of day, knowing all your neighbors, even that night sky. What could beat it?” “Having good cell phone service.” Dizzy replied, more to himself than either of us. I giggled at his words, but could tell Ezra wasn’t amused. I looked over to Adam, but noticed him enwrapped in his conversation with Mason. Our tables are right next to one another, but it’s so loud in here we can’t hear the other’s conversations. “So your game today,” Ezra finally began as I started to skim the menu. “You were absolutely electric.” He shook his head. “I’ve never seen a high school shortstop spark his team like that.” “It’s just because I’m the leadoff hitter.” I shrugged my shoulders. “If anyone else was in that spot, I’m sure they would’ve done the same.” “I don’t think so.” He disagreed as he tried to force eye contact. “It takes a special type of player to do what you did.” As our eyes connected, I couldn’t help but smile. “You must’ve been a killer in Texas.” I grew quiet for a moment as I thought over his words. “Actually, I never really played in Texas.” I shamefully admitted. “I couldn’t keep up with the guys back home.” “That’s nonsense.” Ezra quickly dismissed. “You just didn’t have the right people around you.” He shook his head. “You have all the tools to succeed in any state you live in.” He encouraged as our eyes locked. “It was the same way with Adam, when his confidence was low he couldn’t even hit the plate with the ball.” He explained. “But man, when Adam was pitching with confidence, he was lights out.” “You talk about him like he was a star.” I lightly laughed as I peered over to him. “When your Uncle was hot, he was hands down the best baseball player in our town.” Ezra said trying to draw my gaze back. “He really could’ve gone far.” Dizzy made a face as he struggled to accept what Ezra was saying. “Then what happened to him?” He asked, not believing a word of it. “Temptations.” Ezra quietly answered as his face grew serious. The doubt in Dizzy’s face only grew as he heard that answer. “What?” Dizzy exhaled as he looked over to me. “He got distracted and fell out of love with the game.” Ezra finally answered in his normal voice. “Baseball takes your full commitment and dedication.” He lectured as he looked back to me. “Some men just can’t handle that. I pray that you can.” “Maybe.” I nervously laughed. He went to pressure me more, but a waiter stepped up to our table with glasses of water before he could. As the waiter switched to taking our orders, I couldn’t help but look over to Adam. So he was really that good at baseball? Maybe it sounds crazy to Dizzy, but I believe it. When Adam’s focused on something, he gives it everything he has. I mean just look at his shop! Whenever I’ve seen him working there, he’s doing it all! When the waitress finished taking our orders Dizzy leaned his seat back towards Adam and Mason’s table. “So I heard you were a baseball star in high school.” He teased with a grin. Adam reached out and forced all four legs of Dizzy’s chair back onto the ground. “Don’t fill their head with nonsense.” Adam warned Ezra as he glanced over to him. “You were a great pitcher.” Ezra shrugged his shoulders but Adam simply shook his head and returned his attention to Mason. “What about you?” I couldn’t help but ask as Ezra returned his attention to our table. “Were you good?” “I like to think so.” Ezra smiled as he thought over the question. “Like Adam’s said, our middle and high school team wasn’t all that special. But we were well coached and when we were on, well we were on!” He exclaimed as excitement began to jump in his eyes. “It even prepared me well enough to play in college.” “You played in college?” I asked in amazement. I glanced over to Dizzy but could tell he had no interest in the conversation. “All four years.” Ezra nodded his head. “I even got scouted a few different times, I just couldn’t put the right pieces together at the right times.” He shook his head. “I did get an offer from a low-A minor league team though.” “No way!” I almost shouted from excited. “Did you take it?” I asked as I grew fully enveloped in his story. “I had to pass.” He answered in a disappointed tone. “The pros were a long shot, and I had just graduated with a degree in business.” He shook his head. “Sometimes the safe choice is the best one.” “Yeah.” I nodded my head, but had a hard time hiding my disappointment. “I’m sure you could’ve worked your way up through the minor league system though.” “Maybe.” He shrugged his shoulders. “But I wasn’t willing to base my life off a maybe.” “And that doesn’t bother you?” Dizzy asked, showing he’d been listening this whole time after all. “Just because a chicken has wings don’t mean it can fly.” He answered but as he saw the confusion on Dizzy’s face let out a sigh. “No, I was good, but I knew I wasn’t good enough to make it to the pros.” He explained. “Sometimes you gotta know when to call it quits.” “Even if it’s your dream?” Dizzy pressured. At first Ezra let out a small laugh, but straightened up as he realized Dizzy was being serious. “Especially when its your dream.” Ezra answered as their eyes connected. “You can’t live with your head in the clouds forever, at some point you’ve gotta come down to reality.” He warned, but I could tell his words were starting to bother Dizzy. “Besides, I’d say it worked out for me pretty well. I’ve really enjoyed everything I have going on.” “Worked out perfectly.” Dizzy grunted as he glanced over to me then back to Ezra. “I’m not saying I don’t have regrets.” Ezra warned him. “Just that my professional life turned out well.” He looked back over to me as he thought something over. “You’re going to be better than I was though.” He said as confidence grew in his voice. “You have the discipline and passion to go far in baseball, I can just tell.” “Yeah.” I forced out through a smile. Dizzy looked over to me and patiently waited for me to tell the truth. I went to speak, but nothing came out. Why can’t I tell him I don’t want to play baseball for the rest of my life? Why can’t I tell him I don’t even know if I want to play in college? Dizzy let out a sigh and frustratedly shook his head before standing up. “I’m going to run to the bathroom.” “Everything alright?” Ezra asked as Dizzy stepped away from the table. “Yeah.” I forced a smile. “He just gets a little cranky when he’s hungry.” “Don’t we all?” Ezra matched my smile as we sat alone for the first time. “So,” I began unsure what to say. “what did you think of getting to see San Francisco?” Ezra hesitated as he thought over his answer. “It was certainly interesting.” He finally replied. “I think that the Painted Ladies and Golden Gate Park were special.” “But?” I pressured, knowing he was holding words back. “But as a whole, this city, it’s just not for me.” Ezra couldn’t help but laugh. “Maybe it takes some getting used to, but I’m not sure how you do it.” I politely laughed along, but would be lying if I said I understood his point. “What about it is different from Dallas?” I asked, hoping he’d actually give an answer. “The overall lay out.” He shook his head. “It’s like every neighborhood here is its own separate area, while Dallas, it just a cohesive city.” “Oh,” I started to nod. “I kind of like how everything’s different around here. It’s like you never know what to expect.” “You can say that again.” Ezra laughed, but I couldn’t tell if he meant that as a compliment. “I had no idea what I was going to see each time I got off the bus.” “You don’t think that’s exciting?” I asked, interested to hear his thought process. “At certain times.” He nodded his head. “But for the most part its, concerning.” He finally exhaled. “I’m sorry Arthur, I don’t mean to insult you but this city,” He hesitated once more. “There are aspects of it I hope you’re never exposed to.” “What do you mean?” I let out as I started to grow discouraged from his words. “I mean that there’s just, people just, they live and let live too much around here.” He said as his face grew serious. “I understand self-expression is important Arthur, but there’s a limit.” He shook his head. “Just think of all the Godlessness you’ve seen in your time here.” “I don’t think I know what you mean.” I forced out, trying my hardest not to show how disheartened the conversation was turning me. “I think you do.” He pressured, making sure to maintain eye contact. “Think of all your lessons from back home, think of what God wants for His children.” Ezra began to preach. “Then think of what’s going on in this city.” He shook his head. “I was reading earlier today that San Francisco has more drug addicts than kids enrolled in high schools!” “There are bars on every corner, people are allowed to do and say what they please and if you criticize them, you’re the villain!” He began to rant as I grew quiet. “I mean Marijuana is legal here!” As he saw the look in my eyes, he stopped himself and took a breath. “Just think of what all your friends and teachers back home would think of this place.” He suggested as he tried his hardest to help me understand. “Because these people, they’re trying to fill a God shaped hole with alcohol, drugs and sex Arthur.” He shook his head in disgust. “And may God have mercy on them when judgement day comes.” My head started to spin as his words sank in. “Not everyone’s like that here.” I finally forced out. I glanced back to Adam, but he and Mason were too wrapped up in one another to notice. “Of course not, you live here after all.” He encouraged with a forced smile. “But the majority of people, they’ve let the devil take advantage of what they call self-expression.” He warned, his gaze now weighing heavily on me. “They’ve been lured away from God, and I don’t think they’ll find their way home. They’re lost and they’re no longer living in reality Arthur.” As silence filled the air, I couldn’t help but let his words bounce around in my mind. “I know you’re strong enough to withstand this place.” He began again. “I know your connection with God is too strong to fall into their traps of drugs, alcohol or whatever else they’re trying to tempt you to do behind closed doors.” He lectured in a booming voice. “Your Mother raised you to be better than this city, don’t forget that.” “Yes sir.” I forced out as my mind jumped in every which way. Is he right? Is this place as dangerous as he’s saying? I mean I’ve already done things that would make my old self faint! I’ve smoked marijuana. I’ve tried beer. I have sex before marriage, with another guy! I’ve done everything my Mom warned me against, and it’s only been a few months! What happens after a year here? Will I lose touch with who I was? Will I lose my connection with God? Have I already let temptations drag me down? As the insecurities swirled in my mind, so did all the teachings I received as a child. Yet as the two began to overwhelm my brain, Dizzy finally returned from the bathroom. “Long line.” He grunted, still as irritable as when he left. I nodded but let out a deep breath, just relieved to know the lectures were finished. “So Dizzy,” Ezra began, drawing his attention. “Artie has baseball, what is it that keeps you busy?” Dizzy let out a short laugh before catching himself and growing serious. I quickly went from relief to holding my breath, scared of how Dizzy would answer the question. “Art.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders, drawing a relieved nod from me. “Oh.” Ezra exhaled, taken back by his answer. “That’s very nice.” “I’m sure you mean that.” Dizzy replied, just cranky enough to call him out on his reaction. “There’s just a lot of artists in this city it seems.” Ezra explained with a shrug. “At least you have plenty of people to learn from.” “Dizzy’s also really good at computer science.” I encouraged, but as Dizzy turned to me, he shot me an angry stare. “You are.” I shrugged my shoulders. “I prefer my art though.” He insisted, more to push Ezra’s buttons than anything else. “I’m sure you do.” Ezra nodded his head. “It’s great you have a strength to fall back on though.” He tried to encourage. “I’ve seen so many people with degrees in computer science excel, you should consider making that a priority.” “I think I’ll just keep my head in the clouds for now.” Dizzy replied with some bite. Ezra nodded and let it go as our food finally arrived. As our focus turned more to our food than our words, conversation took a much calmer turn. Eventually it circled right back to baseball and Dizzy grew quiet. I know Ezra wasn’t perfect tonight, I know Adam would go ballistic if he heard what was said while Dizzy was in the bathroom, but I really did enjoy getting to eat dinner with him. I mean when we get along, it just seems to go so great! He just sounds so well spoken and smart most of the time, it’s like he really thinks over what he’s going to say before he says it. Growing up, well, this is exactly what I imagined my father to be like. He’s passionate about his interests and stern about his beliefs, can I really blame him for that? As dinner wrapped up and we started to walk back towards the house I couldn’t help but grow quiet. “Alright, but come on,” Dizzy whined as he began to annoy Adam. “you’ve gotta tell us at least one story from when you used to play baseball.” “No.” Adam shutdown in a strong voice. “How am I supposed to believe you were this amazing pitcher when you won’t even talk about it?” Dizzy continued to pry as Adam tried his hardest to ignore him. I looked over to Ezra but he simply shook his head and smiled. “Now I see Adam in Dizzy.” He teased, drawing a laugh from me. “I bet your still good at baseball.” Dizzy started to instigate. “I bet if I put a baseball in your hand right now, you’d be able to throw heat.” “If I was aiming at your mouth maybe.” Adam complained, causing the group to laugh. “So you can still throw is what you’re saying?” Dizzy smirked, finally starting to find an opening. Adam shot him a stern look as he glanced over to him. “One story, that’s all I’m asking for.” “Well you’re not getting it.” Adam warned as Dizzy finally started to strike a nerve. “I only care about baseball when Artie’s playing.” He shook his head. “I never even liked the damn sport!” I saw regret enter Dizzy’s face as Adam’s voice grew louder and louder. “And it’ll be a cold day in hell before I start talking or playing it again!” “Alright, alright.” Dizzy backed off. “Didn’t realize it was such a sensitive subject.” “If you plan on spending the night, you better go run back to your boyfriend.” Mason warned him in a laugh. As Ezra heard those words, I noticed him make a confused face but left it be. Conversation stayed on the quieter side from there, until we finally made it to the house. “So if you take the bus at that stop,” I explained pointing at the bus stop down the street. “it should take you back to your hotel.” “That’s alright,” Ezra forced a smile. “I think I’ll just call a ride back to the hotel, I’ve had enough of the bus for one day.” As he heard those words Adam made a face to Dizzy. “I’m going up.” Adam groaned as he started to climb the stairs. “Me too.” Mason agreed as he followed close behind. “Good night,” Ezra offered with another forced smile. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” “Yep.” Adam replied in an unamused voice. “I’ll see you up there.” Dizzy exhaled as he lightly ran his hand across my back and joined Adam and Mason. “It’s a beautiful house.” Ezra offered as he watched them sneak inside. “Yup,” I nodded my head. “really beats the trailer I grew up in.” As Ezra heard those words, I noticed the smile fall from his face. “You deserved better than that.” “It was a nice trailer.” I shrugged my shoulders. Ezra nodded his head but left it be. “So,” He began again. “Dizzy spends the night here?” “Sometimes.” I answered, but looked away from him. “It’s just a lot easier for Dizzy some nights.” Once more Ezra nodded, but I could tell he didn’t agree with the decision. “I have to ask you something,” I finally began, trying my hardest to change the topic. “was Adam really that good at baseball?” “He wasn’t perfect, but he was pretty damn good.” Ezra confirmed. “Maybe a little bit better than what I saw from you today.” He tried to explain. “But I don’t think any of that matters now, I think he’s had more than enough of it.” “Yeah.” I disappointedly agreed as my eyes slowly lowered to my feet. “But that’s alright.” Ezra tried to comfort. “I’ll always be open to talking baseball with you.” I looked back up and shared a smile as I heard those words. “Maybe one day we can even have a catch and start making up for all that missed time.” My smile grew as I heard those words. “I’d like that.” I let out as his ride pulled up. He reflected my smile and nodded his head. “I’ll see you tomorrow Arthur.” He offered as he extended his hand. “See you tomorrow.” I replied as I shook and watched him head towards the car. “Wait!” I called out as he went to get in. “My team, we’ve got like a baseball barbeque Sunday after the game where we eat and have a catch and all, I ugh, I was wondering if you wanted to go.” “That sounds great to me.” Ezra accepted as we shared a smile once more. “See you tomorrow.” “See you.” I replied as he finally got into the car and it started to pull away. I took a moment to recollect myself before climbing the stairs and heading into the house. I don’t know how I’m going to ask Adam about going to the barbeque with Ezra on Sunday, but he let us sit at a different table during dinner tonight. That’s a start, isn’t it? Besides, he made his stance on baseball pretty damn clear tonight! I guess I’m lucky he even goes to my games! “You look happy.” Mason pointed out as I walked through the door. “At least someone enjoyed tonight.” Dizzy complained, but kept his eyes on the T.V. “You really do live to piss off as many Prices as you can.” Mason warned as he turned towards Dizzy. “It’s a gift.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders, still not looking away from the T.V. “More like a curse.” Adam complained, just as glued to the T.V. as Dizzy. “Adam,” I began, unsure what I was going to ask. “why were you so cool with me and Dizzy sitting with Ezra tonight? I forced out, avoiding the main question on my mind. “I didn’t really have a choice.” He answered in a laugh. “Besides, I trust Dizzy to have your back on this one.” “You do?” Dizzy asked in a goofy voice as he finally looked away from the screen. “And like I’ve been saying, I trust you to make the right choices on this.” As Adam looked over to me, our eyes locked. “I know you’re strong enough to handle his bullshit if he tries.” “Yeah.” I agreed with a forced smile. But the truth is, I don’t know if I am. His lecture tonight, it’s thrown my head for a spin! Because no matter what I believe, well, he was right! This life I’m living out here, well it’s against so much of what my hometown taught me! I thought I was starting to make my peace with that, but now, well I don’t know. “Oh,” Adam began as he turned back towards me. “Sadie wants you to call her. Said she texted you like three times and you still haven’t replied.” “Ooooo.” Dizzy began as he heard those words. “It’s been a busy day!” I defended as Mason began to laugh. “We’ve worked on this Price!” Dizzy called out as I began to climb the stairs. “It doesn’t matter how busy your day is, you have to be better at answering your phone!” I ignored his words and pulled out my phone as I finally reached my room. As I finally began to call Sadie, she picked up almost instantly. “Sorry Sadie,” I began as the line connected. “it’s just been such a crazy day.” “That’s okay,” She replied in an upbeat voice. “I’m just glad you’re okay. How was your game today?” “Good, we won so we’re still in the playoff hunt.” I proudly shared as I laid back in my bed. “That’s great Artie!” She cheered, somehow even happier than when she picked up. “I knew you’d do great.” “So, Adam said you wanted to talk to me?” I finally asked, hoping we could jump right to the point. “Yeah.” She let out a sigh as I heard her excited voice quickly turn serious. “I got a call from your buddy Ezra this morning.” “Oh,” I exhaled as I realized the turn the conversation was taking. “he uhm, he’s actually here in San Francisco this weekend.” “I know.” She answered, but refused to say anything else. “He told you?” I asked in a concerned voice. “No, Adam let me know a few days ago.” She explained as I let out a deep sigh. “He was worried about you, and it sounds like you weren’t being too reasonable.” “Maybe he wasn’t being very reasonable.” I complained in a quiet voice. “As much as it shocks me to say, I think he was being more than reasonable.” Sadie warned as her voice grew stern. “But that’s not what I’m calling about.” She reminded me. “Because my call with Ezra it just has me feeling, uneasy.” “Why’s that?” I asked as concern began to grow in my own voice. “Well he didn’t really say much, he just apologized to me for leaving Sarah and thanked me for helping raise you.” She explained. From the tone in her voice, it sounded like she was still trying to figure out what Ezra wanted. “Well that’s nice of him.” I offered, trying to help her relax. “I guess.” She said, still thinking it over. “It just, it sounded so scripted Artie.” She explained. “I didn’t get the sense he meant any of it, and it just, it has me on edge.” “Because he was friendly?” I asked, not understanding her point. “I’m not sure that’s what I would call friendly.” She warned me. “It felt like he was saying what he felt he had to.” She grew quiet for a moment before exhaling a deep breath. “It was almost like he was telling me that he’s got it from here.” “Maybe you just misunderstood him.” I suggested, trying my hardest to help her piece it together. “I mean at dinner tonight he was telling me to think of everyone back home.” “Why’s that?” Sadie pressured as my words raised her suspicion. “He was just comparing San Francisco to back home, I don’t know, it was stupid.” I complained in a sigh. “But he was still telling me to think of you guys.” “Now you’re starting to worry me too Artie.” She warned. “I don’t know what he was telling you, but do yourself a favor, don’t compare San Francisco to here.” “Why not?” I asked, surprised by her response. “Well as much as I like it here, and as much as I think San Francisco is probably, not for me.” She chose her words carefully. “I think it is the place for you.” I grew quiet, letting her voice exactly what was on her mind. “The Arthur that stayed in my house a few weeks ago, he’s someone I didn’t recognize.” She said. “He’s someone Sarah wouldn’t even recognize.” As I heard those words I felt the same disheartened feeling from before turn. “But damn it Artie, you made both of us so proud.” “You’re twice the man you were than when you lived here.” She started to encourage. “I don’t know if it’s the city, or if it’s Adam, but I know this change is good for you.” She continued to ramble. “You’re happier and more self-assured , you’re, you’re turning into the man Sarah wants to see you become.” “How do you know?” I couldn’t help but ask, as I held back some tears. “I just do.” She reassured in a voice that oozed confidence. “And I know you want to hear Ezra out, I know you’re probably impressed by the way he carries himself, but I’m telling you, something’s not right here.” As her words sank in, I found myself at a loss for words. “Alright.” I finally managed, unsure what else to say. “Why does that sound like the average hard headed Price response?” She groaned more to herself than to me. “I’m listening, I promise.” I swore in an effort to comfort her. “Then let me put this in words I know you’ll understand,” She prepared to lecture again. “in the Bible, Satan isn’t described as some hideous monster, he’s beautiful and charms people into following him.” She warned, almost causing me to roll my eyes. “I’m not saying Ezra is Satan, but be on guard Artie. Evil takes many forms.” “I will be.” I promised as my head began to hurt from everything I had heard today. “Good, I love you and I’ll be praying for you.” She reminded me as our call came to an end. “I love you too,” I forced out. “and I promise to call more.” “I’ve heard that before!” She exclaimed in a laugh. “Now get some rest, you sound exhausted!” She warned before clicking off her end. As crazy as I think she’s being, well I’d be lying if I said her warning didn’t bother me. Sadie doesn’t really get dramatic over this kind of stuff. Her and Adam, well they really don’t like Ezra. And I can see why. Sometimes he can get pretty, intense. But he’s just passionate about what he believes! He’ll come around for me, I really believe he will.
  7. So, Ace, you are a 21yo, and just now considering moving out. That does not shock me. Self security and a steady income are prerequisites for independent living and if those requirements take a few years more for some person, who the shit cares. They are important to him, that is the crux of the matter, and should not cause any storm in the world as a whole. Make sure, Ace, that you are a) happy about gaining some independence, and b) able to support yourself both psychologically and financially, no matter whether you are 21 or 51. Oh, and c) be sure you know how to cook -- endless frozen meals are killers!
    Mr Will

    Easy Recipes for Beginners

  8. Aceinthehole

    Requiem

    I'm happy you enjoyed it! Thank you for sharing that line, unfortunately it really is very fitting to Jamie's character. I hope you enjoy book 2 just as much as book 1!
  9. Aceinthehole

    Chapter 2

    I'm sorry to hear that! But I'm happy you're enjoying the story. Considering it's chapter 2, I want to give one last warning about the dark turns the story takes. Many people have enjoyed it regardless, but I've also gotten a few unhappy messages! Thanks for reading!
  10. Aceinthehole

    The Wall

    Chapter 40: The Wall When I finally made it back to my bed, I found myself more awake than when I had gotten up. I’ve never heard Adam that defeated before. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone I love that defeated before. Would my Mom feel the same way? Is she watching over me, and disappointed in the decisions I’m making? And would she even recognize me? Do I even recognize myself anymore?” Just like a few other nights this week, my thoughts kept me awake until my mind finally shut down. I woke up still tired, but knew I would have to pull it together before my game tonight. I just have to get through testing, then I should have an hour or two break between school and meeting with the team. That’s more than enough time for a good nap, as long as nothing else comes up! “Good morning.” Dizzy forced a small smile as he turned to face me. Yet as my bedroom door creaked open, he immediately pretended to be asleep again. I watched him closely, before quickly piecing together what was going on. “Morning boys.” Adam offered as I quickly sat up. He looked just as tired as me, and as our eyes connected, I could tell he was emotionally drained. “Good morning.” I forced out, unsure how to respond. How do I talk to him like I didn’t overhear his conversation last night? How can I just act like I don’t know what’s going on in his head? But as I saw him glance over to Dizzy, I knew I had to come up with something. “No work today?” I finally managed. “Lindsay let me take today off just in case something came up.” Adam explained as his gaze shifted back to me. “But it’s too early for all of that.” He offered a tired smile. “I just wanted to make sure you two were awake.” “We are,” I nodded my head. “well I am,” I corrected, fixing how I was sitting to cover Dizzy even more. “I’ll wake him up though, don’t worry.” “Make sure you do it soon.” Adam nodded his head. “You guys have to be out the door in an hour, and breakfasts waiting on the table.” “Thank you Adam.” I forced a smile of my own. He reflected it back before walking out of my room and shutting the door behind him. “You still don’t have any clothes on, do you?” I groaned as Dizzy reopened his eyes. “Why don’t you look for yourself?” He teased but I just rolled my eyes and went to get out of bed. The second my foot hit the floor, I felt Dizzy grab my arm. “Let’s talk for a minute.” He suggested as his gaze grew serious. “Alright.” I accepted as I pulled my leg back onto the bed and turned to face him. “I’m not going to apologize for anything I said last night,” He said, getting right down to business. “but I should’ve said it better.” He exhaled as our eyes connected. “I don’t want to fight with you, and I, I definitely never want to yell in your face like I did last night.” He shook his head. “Because what happened last night, didn’t feel like us.” “Hiding you from Adam feels like us.” I agreed as a faint but genuine smile grew on his face. “I’m not taking back anything I said last night either, but I’m sorry too.” I repeated back to him. “This whole situation, I don’t know anymore.” I confessed with a shake of my head. “But it’s happening. Ezra is here in San Francisco and I, I’m going to do this right.” “And I’ll be by your side through it.” He supported. I could tell by the look on his face he had to force those words out. But even with the concern still in his eyes, I could tell the fighting was over. As I leaned in and met his lips with mine, I started to feel him pull me in for more. Yet as his hands lowered to my hips, I broke our kiss. “Are you going to try and hook up with me after every deep conversation we have?” I complained as his hands continued to lower. “Worked last night,” He shrugged as I raised myself so he could pull my shorts down. “besides, make up sex is the best sex.” Excitement sparked in his eyes as I kicked my shorts off, giving him the green light. As Dizzy began to stroke me, I pulled the covers away from him, leaving us both exposed. Yet for some reason, my drive just wasn’t there. I know I’m stressed, but I didn’t have any problems last night! He let out a groan as he saw the look in my eyes and started to slow his roll. “You want me to stop?” He sighed as I nodded my head. “I’m sorry,” I quickly offered as he let me go. “I just, I don’t know.” “It’s alright.” He comforted as he raised his hands and pulled me in. “It was kind of selfish for me to try in the first place.” He forced another smile as he saw all the stress on my face. “Don’t worry about it.” He comforted as he leaned in and gave me a kiss. “How am I going to play baseball tonight?” I exhaled as our eyes connected. “I can’t even perform right now.” “Well I would hope your approach to baseball is very different,” He warned with a smirk. “or we’ll definitely have another fight.” I couldn’t help but let out a small laugh at his words, but even then I could feel the smile quickly leaving my face. “What’s the biggest thing on your mind?” “Just this whole thing with Ezra.” I lied as I looked away from him. “What part?” He asked but I kept my silence. “Keeping it bottled up won’t help anyone.” He pressured as he moved closer to me. The concern in his eyes grew stronger as he realized I was keeping something from him. I want to tell him. I really do. But even as it is, Mason and Adam’s conversation isn’t any of my business. Besides, I know Dizzy really cares about me, but I’ve seen how loyal he is to Adam. He didn’t even know how broken Adam was, and he yelled at me for breaking the rules. It’s just better off I keep what I overheard last night to myself right now. “Alright.” Dizzy groaned as he went to stand up. “I just feel like I’m throwing the world onto Adam’s shoulders.” I finally confessed. I may not tell him about the conversation, but I should at least tell him what’s on my mind. Dizzy’s earned that much from me. “He just seems completely exhausted.” “I know Adam’s goofy, but he’s a strong guy,” Dizzy forced another comforting smile. “like very strong.” He insisted. “With barely any money he moved all the way here for a better life.” Dizzy confidently nodded his head as he thought it over. “And I’d say he did pretty damn good for himself.” “If there’s anyone I’m worried about,” Dizzy began again. “it’s Ezra, because it’s clear he’s underestimating Adam.” I nodded my head, but knew Dizzy could still see how worried I was. "Trust me, if anyone can handle this, it’s Adam.” “Wait until you see him.” I shook my head. “He looks so, dead.” “Last night was a long night and he got up early.” Dizzy tried to reason. “He’ll bend, but he won’t break, I know it.” He convinced as I finally nodded my head. As I saw a smirk replace the confident look on his face, I knew he was preparing to distract me from myself. “Good job locking the door last night.” He finally teased. “It’s still not locked.” I couldn’t help but laugh as I bought into his games. He shrugged his shoulders and looked towards the door. “We’re not doing anything anyway.” “And yet you’ve had a boner the whole time.” I joked, as a blush filled his face. “Look, I can’t help what my body does!” He yelped in a goofy voice, causing me to laugh once more. “Besides, it hasn’t been the whole time, just, when I see yours.” “Yeah, yeah,” I rolled my eyes as I started to put my shorts back on. “just get a hold of yourself.” “If that’s how you want me to handle it.” He griped himself as I rolled my eyes. Yet I made sure to egg him on as I bent over and reached under my bed. I know I’m not in the mood, but he clearly is. “Don’t get too excited.” I warned as I pulled out a condom. “I’m just making sure you don’t make a mess.” I explained as I opened it up and slowly rolled it down his member. “You’re the best.” He smiled as he watched my hand, yet as I started to stroke him, he stopped me. “I’m not trying to force you to do anything.” He nervously spoke. “Hell, I was just joking about jacking off.” “Well too bad,” I shrugged my shoulders. “you had your chance to calm yourself, now we’re doing it my way.” I warned as I began to slowly stroke him once more. Maybe it’s weird to help him out while I’m not in the mood, but I want him to know yesterday hasn’t changed the way I feel about him. Besides, I’ll be dragging him around all weekend, this is the least I could do. Once or twice he went to reach for me, but I shooed his hand away and kept my focus on him. As I began to play with the speed, I saw just how under control I had him. For once, he was submitting to me. “No way,” His smile grew as I started to pull the condom off of him. “No way,” He repeated as my head lowered to his lap. What happened next, well I think that might bet better left unspoken! Let’s just say, I made Dizzy very happy! “I thought you weren’t in the mood?” He exhaled with a wide smile. He went to reach for me one last time but I pushed his hands away. “Guess I got carried away.” I shrugged my shoulders and stood up to get some clothes together. “Carried away?” Dizzy repeated in a laugh. “That was well past carried away!” “I guess.” I said as I flashed him one last smile before heading towards the door. “What just happened!” He yelped as I slipped out of the room and into the bathroom. I know there’s a lot going on right now, but I needed that break with Dizzy. I needed to feel like I was in control for a little bit, and I needed to make him smile for a little bit. Besides, from the look on his face, I knew I must’ve really surprised him! -- -- “Hey Cutie” He teased as I stepped out of the bathroom. I rolled my eyes and pushed past him as I finally headed towards the stairs. “Is hottie better?” He teased, yet as he saw Mason and Adam look over at us, he grew quiet. “Nice of you to join us.” Adam called out. He’s trying his hardest to seem as awake as possible, but it was clear just how exhausted he already is. “Sorry, Dizzy wasn’t waking up.” I excused as Dizzy quickly nodded his head. “It’s alright, breakfast should still be warm.” Adam said, watching us both closely. “But you only have thirty minutes, so no goofing around.” He warned, looking over to Dizzy. Dizzy nodded his head, but hesitated as his eyes connected with Adam’s. For the first time today, Dizzy was seeing what I was talking about. “You cooked?” Dizzy asked before glancing over to me. Yup,” Adam nodded his head. “and you boys have a big day, so I don’t expect to have anything left over.” “I can do that.” Dizzy happily supported, but hesitated as he looked back to Adam. “Why don’t you two go lay down, me and Artie can clean up when we’re done.” “Yeah.” I quickly supported. “It’ll be a long day for you two, too.” “We have all morning to lay down.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “For now, we just want to hang out.” “Lucky.” Dizzy teased, but for some reason, stayed by my side. “So Artie,” Mason began as he leaned back in his seat. “how you feeling about your game tonight?” “Nervous,” I confessed without hesitation. “and tired, very tired.” I commented, hoping to make Adam smile. “Then you need a twenty-minute nap before game time.” Mason lectured in a confident voice. “Twenty minutes, that’s all you need.” “Why twenty minutes?” Adam pressured as he shot Mason a skeptical look. “Long enough to feel rested, short enough not to make you feel slow.” Mason answered, his confidence staying strong. “Where do you get this stuff?” Adam began to tease. “Everyday you have these weird tips with no evidence to support them.” “I totally have evidence!” Mason defended, distracting Adam from his worries the same way Dizzy does with me. “Okay,” Adam played along. “then what is it?” “My own lived experience.” Mason answered as Adam began to shout. “That doesn’t count!” He yelped in a laugh. “You need to test it on other people before you can be confident it works.” “Alright,” Mason shrugged his shoulders. “take a twenty minute nap after they leave, and tell Artie how it makes you feel.” He taunted as Dizzy flashed me a small smile. “I’m napping way longer than twenty minutes.” Adam shot down without hesitation. “Not if I set an alarm.” Mason joked as he continued to push Adam’s buttons. “For science.” Mason insisted as Adam began to stare him down. “You’re driving me crazy today, you know that right?” Adam asked as Mason nodded his head. “It’s part of being a boyfriend.” He confidently answered. “Right Dizzy?” “Oh yeah.” Dizzy quickly answered as he looked back to me. As our eyes connected, I could tell we had the same idea. As I stood up and grabbed my almost empty plate, I noticed him do the same. “Whoa,” Adam called out. “I said I didn’t want any leftovers.” “If we all show up early, we can start testing before school starts.” Dizzy lied as I nodded along with his words. “Just wrap up what ever is left, and I’ll eat it when we get home from school.” Adam went to argue with him but as he looked over to Mason, nodded his head. “Alright,” He accepted. “but there really better not be anything left tonight.” “Trust me, there won’t be.” Dizzy teased as we both brought our plates to the sink. As we finished cleaning up after ourselves, I asked Dizzy to give me a minute. He walked over to the couch and pretended to scroll through his phone, but I could tell he was watching me. “What’s up?” Adam asked as I walked over to him, but instead of answering I forced a hug on him. “You alright?” He asked in a surprised voice. “I’m sorry for putting you through all of this.” I offered, trying my hardest to keep my voice down. “You do so much for me, you don’t deserve all the stress.” “Sometimes taking care of a kid is stressful.” He quickly answered, acting as though it wasn’t a big deal. “You do what you need to, to find peace. I’ve got your back the whole way through.” “I don’t know where I’d be without you.” I reminded him, trying my hardest to hammer home how important he is to me. I can’t tell him I was listening in on him and Mason, but I can try my hardest to dismiss his doubts. He’s not failing me, and he never has failed me. “I love you.” “I love you too.” He offered as I broke away from our hug. As I walked back towards Dizzy, I noticed Adam’s eyes staying on me. I flashed him one last smile before leading Dizzy out of the house and starting our short commute to school. Just like during breakfast, I noticed Dizzy had grown quieter than usual. He stayed close, and held my hand but only spoke if I said something first. “What’s wrong with him?” Charlotte asked as we waited for the homeroom bell to ring. “We just had a long night.” I answered as I realized Dizzy was keeping quiet “Disgusting.” Charlotte rolled her eyes as she looked back to her phone. “Not like that.” I quickly shut down, but as I looked back to Dizzy, noticed a smirk filling his face. “Not like that!” I insisted as I gave him a light push. “That’s not what Dizzy’s face says.” Charlotte observed in an unamused voice as she glanced back up from her phone. “It was only twice between last night and this morning.” Dizzy finally spoke, drawing an annoyed look from me. “Fine.” Charlotte accepted in a sigh as Ky walked in and joined us. “Then why was it a long night?” “Just family drama.” I shrugged my shoulders, accidently piquing her interest even more. “Family drama?” Charlotte repeated as she thought it over. “Between you and Adam?” “I guess you could say that.” I nodded my head as Dizzy watched me closely. “You’re being shady Price.” Charlotte warned as concern entered her eyes. “If you’re hiding something I’ll figure it out.” “Are you hiding something?” Dizzy quietly asked me, but we both knew Charlotte could still hear us. “Because she will find it out.” He supported as he began to stare me down. “Like this evening, at a certain baseball game.” “What’s going on at the baseball game?” She asked as she looked over to Ky. “Do you know what’s going on at the baseball game?” “No idea.” Ky answered as he joined in on Charlotte stare. “I’ll just have more family there than usual.” I cryptically spoke as my eyes dropped to my desk. “More than Mason and Lindsay?” Charlotte questioned, refusing to let up. “Do you consider that family?” Dizzy tried to distract. “I mean I guess Lindsay counts, but Mason is just Adam’s boyfriend.” He started to ramble. “He can become family, but I feel like that’s premature right now.” Charlotte rolled her eyes as she ignored Dizzy’s ranting and looked right back to me. “Spill it Artie.” I looked back to Dizzy but he only offered a shrug of his shoulders. “Ezra will be at the game today.” I finally confessed, causing Charlotte’s eyes to grow wide. “I don’t know what’s going on.” Ky dismissed as he pulled out his phone. “That’s Artie’s biological father,” Dizzy began to explain, capitalizing on the chance to escape me and Charlotte’s conversation. “So Ezra will be at the game.” Charlotte repeated as she nodded her head. As the surprise started to leave her eyes, I couldn’t tell what was replacing it, frustration or sadness. “When did this get planned?” “Not too long ago.” I answered, choosing my words carefully. Yet, as she began to stare me down, I could tell she wanted an answer. “Like, last weekend.” She stayed quiet and nodded her heads to my words. “That’s very nice.” She forced out, but I could tell she didn’t mean it. “Don’t be mad.” I groaned as I saw her work through a number of emotions. “I’m not mad” She shrugged her shoulders and looked away from me. “Charlotte.” I called out as Mrs. Mowry finally entered the room, but Charlotte refused to look back at me. “Char,” I began again. “We’ve got a test to prepare for.” She interrupted as she finally looked back to me. “You kept it to yourself until now, I think you can handle a few more hours.” I let out a sigh but the bell rang before I could say anything else to her. “Alright everyone, clear your desks.” Mrs. Mowry instructed. “This is the last day of testing, so you guys all know the drill.” “I’m sorry Charlotte.” I offered one more time, but she continued to ignore me. That day was easily the worst day of testing yet! The test itself wasn’t bad, but I just couldn’t keep focused! Between Ezra’s visit, what I overheard last night, the baseball game and now this new drama with Charlotte, I can barely keep my head straight! And worst of all, I did it all to myself! Every now and again, I would look over to Charlotte, but she kept her eyes on her test. During breaks she would get up and walk to the bathroom or just give me one word answers. Dizzy and Ky shared a few concerned looks over it, but knew in the end we’d figure it out. -- -- When testing finally ended, we got out an extra thirty minutes early, and yet, that was the longest day of school I’ve ever had! I’d much rather sit through a normal full day, then go through a half day with Charlotte this mad at me! “Charlotte,” I called out as we entered the hallway. This time as she turned to me, she finally looked me in the eyes “I’m sorry,” I offered. “I wasn’t trying to keep it from you, there’s just, so much going on right now.” “So in the past seven days, you couldn’t have brought up that Ezra was visiting?” Charlotte asked, not buying my words. “Not even over text?” “I’m sorry.” I repeated in a sigh. I looked back to Dizzy, but he and Ky had already waited a few steps to give us some privacy. “I just didn’t want to talk about it.” “Seems like you were talking about it with everyone else.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I mean a few weeks ago you tell me you have his business card, then you don’t bring him up again.” Charlotte began to pressure. “And now he’s just here.” “I know it’s sudden, but I did a lot of thinking about it,” I tried to explain. “and me, Adam and Dizzy had some really long conversations.” I shook my head. “I don’t know, I was just so sick of talking about it.” “Clearly.” Charlotte remarked, still partially giving me a cold shoulder. I let out a frustrated groan as my emotions started to turn to anger. “I don’t tell you one thing, and you’re getting this mad at me?” “It’s a pretty big “one thing,” wouldn’t you say?” She asked, matching my tone. “I’m not doing this.” I shook my head once more. “I fought with Adam last week and Dizzy last night.” I began to vent as we left the school. “I’m not fighting with you too. This, this is exactly why I kept it to myself.” “You kept it to yourself because you were worried I would argue with you?” She asked, still hesitant to believe me. “That’s not what I’m saying.” I whined as I let out another sigh. “I just knew it would cause drama, and I’m so sick of drama.” I let out as I felt my emotions start to come undone. “I’m so sick of everyone telling me how to handle it, or why I shouldn’t let Ezra back into my life.” I rambled as my voice grew angry. “I’m so sick of everyone’s stupid advice!” I yelped, but she stayed quiet and let me rant. “They want me to do everything their way, but I’m not them!” I shouted as we approached the park outside my house. “And most of all, I’m so damn sick of talking about it all over and over again.” I forced out. “So I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” I apologized as I finally looked back into her eyes. “I just wanted one friend who felt like normal.” “Sorry,” She offered back, caught off-guard by how quickly I had come undone. “I, I should’ve known you’d have good reason.” She let out, trying her hardest to read my changing emotions. “I just hoped that by now you knew you can just vent to me.” She tried to comfort. “You can tell me to hold my opinions, and I’ll just listen.” “But how’s that fair to you?” I asked as I began to calm down. “It’s not about being fair, it’s about being a good friend.” She explained as she reached out and grabbed my hand. “You’re the closest friend I’ve ever had. Even closer than Dizzy and Ky.” She said, barely able to believe the words herself. “I mean, we tell each other everything, you come to church every Sunday with my family, and I’ve even starting using some of your weird Texas phrases.” She couldn’t help but laugh. “So if you ever need to just get something out without hearing someone’s opinion, you can come to me.” She tried to encourage. “And if everything feels like it’s falling apart, I’ll always be here for you.” She shook her head. “Because coming undone on your walk home from school, isn’t you.” “I know,” I slowly nodded my head. “part of me just wants this weekend to be over.” She nodded her head and carefully thought everything over. “You can give me advice.” I couldn’t help but smile as I saw her holding back words. “I don’t know the whole story, but it sounds like a big part of you wants to give Ezra a chance.” She shrugged her shoulders. “So even if this weekend is long, try to enjoy your time with him, if you can that is.” “We got coffee last night and I enjoyed that.” I nodded my head. “I even came out to him, and he took it in stride.” “Hold up,” She called out with another shocked face. “he accepted it?” “Accepted is a strong word.” I corrected, reflecting back on his reaction. “He kind of more tolerated it.” “That’s at least a good sign.” She tried to encourage. “Plus, you’re being honest with yourself about it.” She pointed out. “I’m not even worried about you.” “Really?” I asked, glancing back at Dizzy who was no doubt venting to Ky about the same thing. “Because it feels like the whole world is.” “Well I’m not.” She supported with a now confident look. As she glanced back to Dizzy I saw a smile form on her face. “And he’s only worried because he likes you more than he knows how to handle.” “Yeah.” I hesitantly nodded my head. “You don’t think he cares about you that much?” She asked in a surprised voice. “I know he cares about me a ton.” I corrected, hoping she wouldn’t get me wrong. “But I think he also really likes my Uncle and the situation we have going on.” I shrugged my shoulders. “I wouldn’t want to date anyone else, and I know he feels the same, I just don’t think we’d like, die for one another.” “That boys been with you since you got here,” Charlotte shook her head. “and since you both got back from Texas, he’s been extra glued to you!” She exclaimed. “Just look at him today, he’s so worried he was actually quiet for once!” She pointed out as she tried to set me straight. “I didn’t even think he’d give us time alone to talk.” “He’s just happy because I sucked his dick this morning.” I grumbled as Charlotte began to burst out laughing. “What?” I began to blush, not understanding her reaction. “We’ve spoken about this before.” I whined as things between us went back to normal. “I know,” She tried to calm herself down. “but it’s always so unexpected!” She continued to laugh. “And I’m sorry, but hearing it come from you is funny!” She dropped my hand and gave me a side hug as she saw my blush growing redder. “I love you Artie,” She shook her head. “and Dizzy does too, even if he’s too scared to say it.” “Oh I,” I stuttered as nerves suddenly jumped me. “I don’t know about that.” “Sorry,” Her smile grew. “I probably shouldn’t have thrown that at you this weekend, but deep down you both know it’s true.” She confidently nodded her head. “One day soon, you’re going to see it, I can tell.” I looked back to Dizzy and felt my smile grow a little as the blush stayed on my face. “What’s that about!” Dizzy exclaimed, acting like himself for the first time since we woke up. I let out a groan as he quickly began to close the gap between us. “Nothing” “You sure about that?” He loudly insisted. “Positive.” She confidently spoke as he and Ky reached us. “What you guys talking about?” Dizzy dug as he watched us both closely. “Just everything with Ezra.” I shrugged, hoping that would dissuade him from asking more questions. “Bullshit tomato face.” He dismissed, looking back to Charlotte. “He tell you about last night or this morning?” “About his dream with a much hotter guy.” Charlotte lied, knowing it would get under his skin. “I’m gonna bet this morning.” Dizzy confidently nodded his head as our eyes connected. “Because you seemed pretty proud when we wrapped up.” “When you wrapped up.” I corrected drawing a loud laugh from Ky. “Bedroom isn’t the place to be selfish.” Ky teased, making sure to jump on Dizzy’s case. “He wouldn’t, I, Artie doesn’t like talking about our sex life.” Dizzy finally said, finding his out to the conversation. “What’s the matter Dizzy?” Charlotte began to giggle. “You started this conversation.” “Yeah, don’t wimp out now.” I challenged, but instantly regretted it as I saw the devious look fill his face. “You sure about that Artie?” He teased as I left Charlotte’s side and began to rush Dizzy. “Because we had some pretty interesting moments last night and this morning.” “I take it back. I take it back.” I couldn’t help but laugh as I found myself face to face with him. “And I mean this morning, just, wow,” He continued as I wrapped my arms around him and began to pull him away. “You made both my heads explode.” He said, low enough so only I could hear him. “Now they’re getting all coupley.” Ky whined as Dizzy and I slowly began to move away from them. “They’re a couple, what did you expect?” Charlotte dismissed, showing it really didn’t bother her. “Arthur,” I suddenly heard a voice call out, freezing me where I stood. “what are the odds running into you here?” Ezra asked as he slowly approached. I quickly let Dizzy go and stood up straight to face him. “My schools right around the block,” I explained as our eyes met. “and me and Adam live right along here.” I said, motioning to the nearby houses. Ezra nodded approvingly and he took a good look around us. “I have to admit, when I saw he ran a donut shop, I was skeptical.” Ezra spoke. “But clearly he must be doing something right.” As Ezra spoke, I glanced back towards Ky and Charlotte. Ky was trying to back away from the introduction, but Charlotte walked forward without hesitation. “He does a few things right.” Dizzy corrected as Charlotte reached us, Ky not too far behind her. “Ezra, these are my friends Ky and Charlotte.” I introduced in a nervous voice. “I go to church every Sunday with Charlotte and her family.” “Really?” Ezra asked as he turned to face Charlotte. “Well thank you for taking my son with you to hear and be saved by the word of God,” He began to preach. “as we know from proverbs, iron sharpens iron. I know he will help you, just as much as you have helped him.” Dizzy shot Ky a disinterested look while Charlotte politely nodded. “He’s been a big help since he got here.” She replied, but I could tell her burst of confidence was quickly fading. “So what brought you around here?” I finally asked as he looked back at me. “I figured I’d spend the time until your game sightseeing.” He explained, as he looked around the neighborhood once more. “I came to see the painted ladies. Little did I know your school and home were right here.” “Crazy how things work out.” Dizzy commented. His words were innocent, but it was clear he was suggesting something different. “It is indeed.” Ezra agreed as he looked over at him. “Got any recommendations of where to look next?” Dizzy carefully thought over his answer, and for a second I saw trouble spark in his eyes. But as he peered over to me, I saw his attitude change. “Golden gate park isn’t too far,” He finally answered. “it’s worth checking out.” “Thank you Dizzy.” Ezra forced a smile, but Dizzy refused to mirror it back to him. “I would invite you guys along with me, but I reckon Adam wouldn’t be too happy with that.” “He wouldn’t be.” I agreed, glad he wasn’t looking to push the line. “I have to rest before my game anyway.” “Just a couple hours away now.” Ezra happily nodded. “I’m excited to finally watch you play.” He reached out his hand, causing me to do the same. “You’re going to do amazing.” He shook before turning back towards my friends. “Hope to see you all there too.” He forced a smile before turning away and continuing his walk. We were all quiet for a few moments as we walked the other way to my house, but a few times I saw Dizzy look to Ky as if to say, “See what I mean!”. “What do you think?” I finally asked Charlotte as we reached the steps to my house. “Seems nice.” Charlotte forced a smile, but I could tell she was holding back words. I looked over to Ky but he simply shook his head. “As far as first impressions go, that one was pretty good.” “Be honest.” Dizzy pressured as their eyes met. “It was pretty good.” Ky insisted. “I mean, it was pretty weird too, but not like, creepy.” “Sure about that?” Dizzy asked as Ky quickly nodded his head. As soon as I looked over to Dizzy, he dropped it. “We’ll give you time to rest.” Charlotte suggested as she took a step forward and pulled me in for a hug. “Take your mind off of this, and just sleep for a little while.” She comforted. “You’re going to do great this evening, I promise.” “I love you.” I hugged her tightly. Ky took a step forward and pulled me in for a half hug. “Relax man,” He instructed. “you’ve got nerves of steel, you can handle your game tonight.” “Thanks Ky.” A small but genuine smile filled my face as I felt all their support. Charlotte flashed me one last wink as me and Dizzy began to climb the stairs. It’s weird, in the park he almost started to act normally again, but as soon as he saw Ezra, well, he shut it all down. “How you feeling?” He asked me as he grabbed onto my hand. “Tired.” I answered, trying to get him to smile. “Maybe if we’re lucky, Adam will let us nap together.” “I don’t really need a nap.” He shrugged his shoulders. “But I mean, if you want me to lay with you, I can do that.” He quickly offered as our eyes connected. “No, it’s alright.” I accepted as I gave him a friendly push. “I forgot you were out like a light last night.” “You have a comfortable bed.” He shrugged his shoulders, yet as we reached the door, he stopped me. He went to say something, but opted to kiss me instead. “I’m sorry you had a rough morning at school.” He suddenly offered. “It seems like you and Charlotte patched it up, but if you didn’t, well, you’ll always have me.” As he spoke, I could tell he was speaking from the heart and not saying anything he had prepared in his mind. “She always tells you she’s your best friend, but she’s wrong.” He spoke, pulling me in closely. “I’m your best friend.” He insisted in a confident voice. “I thought you were my boyfriend?” I asked, seeing what he would say. “I’m lucky enough to be both.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I guess that’s why I’m so crazy for you.” “Guess so.” I happily agreed before leaning in for another kiss. “Ezra definitely saw me hugging you before.” “He knows we’re dating, so what’s it matter?” Dizzy reminded me with a smile. “But that was kind of weird,” He started to tease. “I mean we were in public, and you were all over me.” He said through some laughter. “Get a hold of yourself Price.” “You know me.” I played along as I let him go and began to unlock the door. “I just can’t keep my hands to myself.” “I’ll say.” He giggled one more time until finally the door pushed open. As we stepped inside, I noticed Mason and Adam asleep on the couch, but as soon as the door shut, Adam started to wake up. “Hey boys,” He offered through a yawn. “how was school?” “Last day of testing.” I shrugged my shoulders as I dropped my bag to the floor. “That’s good.” He forced a smile as Mason began to wake up. “Think you boys did good?” “Doubtful.” Dizzy answered as he walked through the living room and towards the kitchen. “Doubtful.” I repeated in an effort to make Adam smile. “You better be kidding.” Adam warned me before looking over to Dizzy. “You better be kidding too.” He repeated, reminding himself just how close he and Dizzy were “He is, I’m not.” Dizzy shrugged as he pulled the left overs from this morning from the fridge. “One for two isn’t so bad.” Mason offered, as he continued to wake up. “Worst case Dizzy can always clean the kitchen at your shop.” “I’m going to be a programmer,” Dizzy warned as he glanced back to Mason. “and last time I checked, there’s no high school state test for that!” “Isn’t there AP testing for that in high school?” Mason teased as Dizzy shook his head. “I won’t be in AP until next year because of class size.” Dizzy replied, showing just how much he had been planning his future. “He’s really good with computers.” I supported as Dizzy flashed me a smile. As the room grew quiet I looked over to Adam and made eye contact. “What’s up?” He asked, bracing for what was on my mind. “We uh,” I nervously started as Dizzy gave me an approving nod. “we ran into Ezra on our way home.” “You ran into Ezra?” Adam asked, trying his hardest to take the news in a calm way. “Me, Dizzy, Charlotte and Ky.” I answered with a nod. “We were goofing around in the park, and he happened to be walking by.” I explained. “We didn’t talk for long, just a quick hello.” “He said he was sightseeing.” Dizzy complained, but made sure to watch his attitude. “Also said he didn’t know you lived around here, but didn’t he send you those papers?” “He sent them to the shop.” Adam corrected in a sigh. “I don’t know, maybe he was just sightseeing.” Adam looked over to me and forced a smile. “Thank you for telling me.” I forced a smile to match his. “I wouldn’t hide that from you.” I said, trying my hardest to show I was still with him. “I, I’m gonna go take a nap now.” “We’ll keep your boyfriend entertained.” Adam groaned as he looked over to Dizzy. “Borderlands?” Dizzy excitedly suggested a video game as he put down his plate. I couldn’t help but smile as I started to climb the steps. Mason let out a sigh as he shook his head. “Go ahead.” He instructed as Adam reached for his controller. “Does it have to be borderlands?” I heard Adam complain as I reached the top of the stairs. “I don’t even like that game all that much.” “But you’ve gotten so good at it.” Dizzy encouraged in a confident voice. “I mean, not as good as me,” His voice faded out as I reached the hallway. Today’s been a bit messy, but between goofing around at the park and right now, well, things actually seemed normal! Sure, Ezra showing up in between threw things off, but he was nice to Charlotte and Dizzy even gave him a place to visit. It’s been a rocky start, but maybe things will fall into place after all. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I passed out. Sure, I’m still stressed about everything going on, but that was no match for how exhausted I was! By the time I woke up, I was well past the twenty minutes Mason recommended. I still felt a little groggy, but nothing I couldn’t shake off before game time. As I checked the clock, I was happy to see I still had another thirty minutes before our meeting time at the school. I gathered all my stuff, got changed and made my way towards the stairs, but just like last night, I heard a conversation that froze me. “I don’t know Mason, he seems pretty impressed with him.” I heard Dizzy complain. “I understand that, but I still think you two are doing a lot of worrying over nothing.” Mason tried to argue. “I understand I don’t know Artie as well as you guys, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders.” Mason warned. “And you two haven’t been giving him enough credit for that.” “I’m trying my hardest to.” Adam argued. “Why do you think I’m letting him make the decisions about this?” “Letting him make one too many decisions.” Dizzy grumbled, unafraid to show he disagreed with how Adam was handling the situation. “Is this about last night?” Adam asked in a serious voice, but Dizzy stayed quiet. “Dizzy, you can’t blame Artie for wanting to see his father.” He softly started to lecture. “Ezra has been one big secret to Artie his whole life, if you had that secret looming over you, wouldn’t you be curious?” “I never really knew my father, and I don’t want to see him anytime soon.” Dizzy pouted in a much quieter voice. “But was he a secret?” Adam continued to pressure. I could tell he was hesitant to push Dizzy, but confident enough in their relationship to try. There was a moment or two of silence as the question sank in. “No.” Dizzy finally answered. “He left when I was little, but my Mom answers questions if I have them.” “Imagine if she didn’t?” Adam asked, trying to help guide Dizzy into seeing my side. “Now in my opinion, neither of you boys owe your birth fathers anything, hell, I hate even calling them the word father!” Adam exclaimed but did his best to keep his voice low. “But I would never blame either of your for being curious about it.” “So what, you think if Artie’s mom was upfront about Ezra, things would be different?” Dizzy challenged as Adam’s lesson began to sink in. “I mean, I’m not trying to put blame on her.” Adam clarified. “But people will always be drawn towards whatever’s forbidden.” He explained in a sigh. “So keeping Ezra from Artie, was really just pushing Artie towards him.” “Why can’t he just take what he has and be happy?” Dizzy began to vent. “It just feels like, like,” Dizzy hesitated. “forget it.” He muttered as he fell into his own head. “Like you’re not enough?” Adam asked, causing my heart to freeze. Dizzy stayed quiet, but I could tell that meant Adam hit the nail on the head. “I felt the same way,” Adam tried to comfort. “but think about how silly that sounds?” Adam asked him. “Artie’s not allowed to meet new people because he has us?” “He’s allowed to meet new people.” Dizzy grumbled. “They just have to be people we both like.” “You don’t mean that.” Adam had to hold back some laughter. “I know.” Dizzy grunted as he finally started to open up. “It’s just scary.” “Well Ezra will be gone soon,” Adam comforted. “just two and half more days, and then we can figure it out from there.” “I don’t think that’s what he meant.” Mason spoke up, unsure how much he should say. “No, that’s what I meant.” Dizzy insisted, but it was obvious he has something else on his mind. “Go ahead, what’s scary?” Adam encouraged in a parental voice. “Me and Mason won’t judge you, we promise.” Once more Dizzy grew quiet. “How much I like him.” He finally confessed in an emotional voice. “I know were young and that’s crazy, but I, the only person who I’ve ever felt this close to was my Mom.” Dizzy confessed in a heavy breath. “I mean, Ky has been my best friend since we could walk and I don’t even feel this close to him.” “Just because you’re young doesn’t mean it’s crazy.” Adam continued to support. “You guys are building something special, Ezra won’t be able to take that away from you.” Adam reminded him. “Artie won’t let him.” There was some quiet, and I could tell I missed something. “You don’t agree?” Adam suddenly asked, suggesting that Dizzy shook his head. “I don’t know,” Dizzy complained in a conflicted voice. “I feel like he doesn’t even understand how much I care about him.” “Ahh.” Adam let out as he began to understand what was going on. “Well how could he?” Adam suddenly asked. “He grew up in a culture where boys didn’t date boys.” He started to explain. “His whole life, he’s been told loving another guy is off limits.” Adam reminded Dizzy. “So whether he knows it or not, he has a wall built up but I promise you, once that wall comes down, you’re not going to know how to process all the love he sends you.” “But if he,” Dizzy began in a nervous voice. “if he has a wall built up, how come he still does,” Dizzy hesitated once more. “some stuff.” Adam groaned as he heard that question, and Mason began to uncomfortably laugh. “Physical love is different than emotional love.” Adam pulled it together enough to speak. “And if you ask me, physical love is easier, you get an instant sensation and its just so, straight forward.” Adam exhaled, trying his hardest not to go into detail. “But emotional love is complicated.” Adam started again. “It’s complicated and ugly, there’s a lot of good, but there’s also a lot of bad.” Adam said but was struggling to put his thoughts into words. “He just, needs to untwist some knots before he can give you the confirmation you’re looking for.” Adam finally decided. “But trust me, he’s crazy about you.” “Mhm.” Mason hummed in agreement. “Nights you’re not here, it’s pretty clear he misses you.” “Yup.” Adam quickly agreed. “He goes to bed earlier, and keeps to himself.” “Well I should talk to him about that.” Dizzy let out in a laugh. “I want him to be happy with or without me.” “That’s more like it.” Adam encouraged as his own confidence began to rise. “Next time you feel this way about anything, you come talk to us, alright?” Adam asked. “Growing up sucks, but you have help. So use it.” “I, I think I lied,” Dizzy suddenly began again as the nerves returned to his voice. “I, I think I might be starting to feel as close to you as I do with Artie and my Mom.” “I feel the same way.” Adam replied without hesitation. “Okay,” Adam exhaled and I could tell Dizzy had forced a hug on him. “no matter what happens going forward, you’re always welcome in this house, alright?” “You’re gonna regret saying that.” Dizzy replied in an attempt to lighten the mood. I really hope Adam sees the impact he’s had on both Dizzy and me. Last night, he was questioning himself, but I hope this moment puts an end to all of that. Ezra may be here, but Adam is the father figure Dizzy and I have been looking for.
  11. Chapter 39: Communication It’s weird, I’ve been nervous about speaking to Ezra since he reached out. Things have just felt awkward and a bit, wrong. But something about this last call, something about hearing him try and coach me through a loss, it felt almost, natural. Then, the excitement in his voice when he realized he was allowed the come visit. It just feels so different than how I imagined him. This whole time I figured he’s been after something, but now, it’s starting to feel like he just wants to meet me. “You seem happy.” Adam observed as he glanced over at me. “Yeah.” I spoke in an uncertain voice as I continued to think over the conversation. “I don’t know, that call just felt more, genuine.” Adam nodded along with my words, but I could tell he didn’t agree. “Why?” I couldn’t help but ask. “What did you think?” “No comment.” He dismissed as he looked back towards the T.V. “Come on,” I began to whine. “you don’t buy it?” “No comment.” He repeated once more. “Because what I’ll say is either going to cause a fight, or upset you.” He complained. “And I really don’t want to do either.” “Alright.” I reluctantly accepted, as my eyes stayed focused on the side of his head. “Just keep your head on straight.” He finally exhaled. “Advice about baseball doesn’t make someone a good father.” He warned as he started to go back on his word. “My dad used to give me baseball advice all the time, and look at the kind of father he is.” “I understand.” I accepted as his words began to sink in. “How about you?” I started to question. “How come you never give me baseball advice?” “Because I was never that good at baseball.” He shrugged his shoulders and kept his stare at the T.V. “Besides, I tried and Mason shot it down.” “That wasn’t trying.” I disagreed as I continued to stare at him. “You gave me that cookie cutter, one game at a time advice.” “That’s the type of player I was.” He dismissed, trying his hardest to work his way out of the conversation. “I took it day by day.” “So you don’t have any advice on how I played today?” I asked one last time, knowing if I pushed the right buttons, he’d open up. “I don’t.” He rejected, but finally looked over to me. “I just want you to enjoy playing baseball.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I know you boys really want to make the playoffs, but just getting to be a part of a team is special.” He began to lecture. “I see how much fun you’ve all had this season and that’s what it should be about.” He shook his head. “When I look back, I think about my teammates a hell of a lot more than any of the games we won.” “So winning isn’t important?” I baited, knowing if I kept him talking, he wouldn’t realize he was giving advice. “I’m not saying that,” He began to back-peddle. “I just don’t think it’s the only thing.” He said as he placed his controller down and moved over to comfortably face me. “Realistically, a lot of your teammates won’t get to play baseball in college.” He said, breaking it down to a harsh reality. “So I’d much rather see them enjoying their last few years, and learning how to be a good teammate.” “You don’t think I could play in college?” I couldn’t help but ask. “I never said that.” He quickly replied as concern entered his eyes. “If you want to play baseball in college, I have no doubt that you’ll find a way to.” He clarified. “But there’s no pressure to either.” He explained. “I want you to chase whatever makes you the happiest.” “I think I understand.” I accepted as a smile grew on my face. “It’s a shame.” I began again as I rose to my feet. “I think you could’ve given some really good baseball advice.” I teased as he started to think over his rant. “It’s not cool when you force me to ramble, you know that right?” Adam groaned as he watched me head towards the stairs. “I know,” I nodded my head. “but that’s when you give the best advice.” As my words hit him, I noticed a small smile form on his face. “Goodnight Adam.” “Night.” He replied, still reflecting on our conversation. He says he wasn’t that great at baseball, but I think that’s a lie. In fact, I bet he was one of the best on his team. Because whether he realized it or not, he’s a leader. I mean, he was practically saying the same thing as Jose after the game! We need to get back to having fun with it. And that’s exactly what we’ll do. -- -- That weekend we all tried our hardest to act as normal as possible. Sure, some moments were a little harder than others, but Dizzy did his best to distract me from the week ahead. I mean, state testing, the last two baseball games and Ezra’s visit, all in one week? That’s enough to drive anyone crazy! But when Monday morning rolled around, we had survived and a tired Dizzy was waiting at my front door. The whole walk to school Dizzy prepared me for what state testing would look like at Wells High School. Honestly, it wasn’t that different from the state testing back home! Everyone stays in homeroom and is forced to take standardized tests subject by subject. The good news? We get out an hour and a half early every day and honestly, our scores don’t affect us that much. So I guess in a way, it should be an easier week than usual! “Okay,” Dizzy began as we reached the front steps of the school. “you don’t have baseball today, right?” “No,” I answered in a cautious voice. “we’re practicing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday so it’s closer to game day.” “That’s still so many days.” Dizzy whined as he quickly reimagined the plan he was trying to form. “Just do me a favor, the second testing ends we’re both going.” He warned as he locked eyes with mine. “Don’t wait around for Ky or Charlotte, just go.” “Okay,” I agreed as I shot him a confused stare. “you realize we’re getting out early, right?” “I know.” He replied, finally starting to lead me to the classroom again. “Then what’s the rush?” I couldn’t help but laugh as he refused to let me in on his plan. “You’ll see.” He shrugged his shoulders. “You just need to listen to me on this.” I thought it over for a moment as I saw his usual smirk form on his face. “Oh, I get it now.” I nodded my head. “Price is Rite doesn’t close until one, so we’ll finally be getting out before Adam.” “By thirty minutes.” Dizzy warned in a serious voice. “So we really have to move it.” “Okay, okay,” I backed off as I finally got on board with the plan. “you just lead the way.” “What are you two whispering about?” Ky asked as we walked into homeroom. “Just afterschool plans.” I shook my head as I took my seat. As Dizzy heard my answer he shot me a serious look. “Shhh.” He hushed before leaning in closely. “We don’t need him trying to join us.” Dizzy whispered. I shot him a confused stare before dismissing it as a bad joke. “Me and Charlotte have our own plans anyway.” Ky shrugged as he noticed how secretive Dizzy was being. “I guess.” Charlotte agreed, not even bother to look up from her phone. “You guess?” Ky complained in a groan. “You promised to come shopping with me.” “And I will.” She forced out as she finally looked up from her phone. “If Jose can come.” Ky let out a long groan as he slid lower in his seat. “I third wheel around them enough, do I really have to third wheel around you two?” He complained as Charlotte began to nod her head. “Whatever.” He grumbled. “All the high schools will be out early,” Dizzy began as he tried to draw Ky’s gaze. “there should be plenty of guys at the mall.” “I bet Jose’s a really good wingman too.” I encouraged as Ky finally looked back towards us. “And best of all, Artie has practice most of this week.” Dizzy nodded his head as their eyes met. “So we’ll have plenty of time to hang out, just you and me.” “Why is that best of all?” I asked as I looked over to him, but his eyes stayed locked with Ky’s. “Alright.” Ky accepted in a sigh. “But if Charlotte and Jose get too coupley today, I’m leaving.” “I’ll try not to take it too personally.” Charlotte dismissed, looking right back down at her phone. Before another conversation could start, Mrs. Mowry walked in with a stack of tests in her hands. She announced we would start in five minutes and try our hardest to get through the testing as quickly as possible. And she wasn’t kidding! The second the testing started, Mrs. Mowry’s approach to our homeroom changed completely! I mean, since she teaches AP English, I had heard she’s really tough, but I didn’t expect her to be so, efficient. She kept the test moving as fast as she could, and shut down Dizzy any time he started acting up. Today’s test was English and Language Arts. It wasn’t anything too difficult, just the typical standardized test nonsense! Read the question, fill in the bubble and try your hardest not to get tricked by the test! Every now and again Dizzy would glance over to me when he got stuck, but for the most part we all stayed as focused as possible. When the test finally ended and we were dismissed, I got to really see how little Dizzy was joking about rushing out. He impatiently waited outside the classroom as I said goodbye to Ky and Charlotte before grabbing my arm and practically pulling me out of the school! “We have more than enough time.” I complained as he quickly led me out of the school and towards the house. “Trust me, we really don’t.” Dizzy complained, keeping his focus forward. “I guess Adam probably does rush home.” I began to think it over. “But even then, he moves kind of slow.” “We need every minute we can get.” Dizzy shook his head. “Worst case, you might have to call him and try to slow him down. “I guess that could work.” I nodded my head as my house appeared in the distance. “You’re usually pretty excited, but this is the most eager I’ve seen you in a little while.” I couldn’t help but blush. “It’s kind of nice.” “Could you blame me?” He asked as his smile grew. “Not at all.” I shook my head as we finally reached my house. I went to take a step towards the stairs, but felt Dizzy pull me the other way. “We’re getting on the bus?” I asked in a confused voice. “Well yeah,” Dizzy shook his head. “how else would we get there?” “So we’re going to your house?” I asked, trying my hardest to figure out his plan. “What?” Dizzy replied, growing even more confused than I was. “What do you think is happening right now?” “I thought we were trying to beat Adam home.” I answered as the bus pulled up to our stop. “And, well, you know.” “Is that all you think about?” Dizzy shook his head as he pulled me onto the bus with him. “I guess I can sneak into your room tonight if you really want.” He shrugged as he walked up and swiped his card. “Yeah, I guess.” I accepted, walking up and swiping my own card before joining him in an empty booth. “But Dizzy,” I paused as he handed me one of his headphones. “where are we going?” “To get donuts before Adam closes his shop.” Dizzy finally explained as our eyes connected. “It would’ve been easy to figure out if you didn’t have such a dirty mind.” “I don’t even want to hear that from you.” I couldn’t help but laugh. “You were really excited too.” Dizzy began to proudly nod. “Remember when you were embarrassed because you fell asleep on my shoulder?” I nodded my head and couldn’t help but feel my face turn red. “And now you’re trying to rush me into your room after a half day to,” “Stop.” I warned as I cut him off. “Or I’ll lock my door tonight.” Dizzy nodded his head, but I could tell he knew I was bluffing. The rest of the bus ride was a bit quieter as we let Dizzy’s music fill our ears. It wasn’t all that hard to get to Adam’s shop. We had to transfer onto another bus, but it was obvious Adam wanted to live close to his job. The second our bus stopped Dizzy grabbed my hand and pulled me off the bus. “Made it with five minutes to spare.” Dizzy exhaled as he pointed towards the shop. “You know, we could’ve just called Adam and asked him to bring home donuts.” I pointed out in a sigh. “He always picks out the crappy ones.” Dizzy dismissed with a wave of his hand. “We also could’ve just asked him to stay open a few minutes later so we could make it without running out of school.” I spoke up as Dizzy rolled his eyes. “You coming up with ideas after we’re already here, doesn’t help.” Dizzy warned as we reached the door of the shop. “Then maybe you should’ve told me your plan this morning.” I argued as our eyes connected. “I thought you knew.” He shrugged as he finally pushed the door open. “But your mind was elsewhere.” He smirked before taking a step inside. As I followed Dizzy inside, I was shocked to see the store was empty. Last time I was here, there was barely any room to stand! I mean people were everywhere! But now it’s like a ghost town, and there are barely any donuts left! “Welcome to Price is Rite,” Adam began in a tired voice as he stepped out from the back. As he looked up towards us, he froze and had to do a double take. “Hey.” He let out in a confused voice. “State testing.” I replied before he could even ask the question. “Oh, yeah,” He nodded his head as a small smile began to form on his face. “how was that?” “Not too bad.” I shrugged my shoulders, but Dizzy stayed quiet as he grew distracted by the left-over donuts. “Where’d they all go?” Dizzy complained as he looked back at Adam. “We’re five minutes to closing.” He answered, looking at the near empty case. “The breakfast and lunch rushes cleared them out.” “Okay, but there must be like, some good one’s left.” Dizzy began to plea as his plan started to crumble. “What you see is what we’ve got.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “Colleen!” He called out towards the back. “There’s a surprise here for you.” “Don’t get her.” Dizzy continued to whine. “I want donuts, not my Mom.” “Z!” She exclaimed as she stepped out from the back. “What are you doing here?” “Just visiting I guess.” He grumbled as Adam began to laugh. “There’s still some crumb cake and blueberry donuts left.” I pointed out as I took my first real look into the case. “Those donuts suck.” Dizzy commented. “Why do you think they’re left over?” He asked as Adam began to stare him down. “Sorry.” Dizzy nervously laughed. “Those two were Lindsay’s idea anyway.” He dismissed as he began to straighten up the counter. “Be respectful.” Colleen warned as her eyes locked with Dizzy’s. “We’re closed, so you’re lucky if you get anything.” “She’s got a point.” Adam laughed as Dizzy let out a sigh. “You should’ve called when school ended, I might’ve been able to put some aside for you.” I made a face at Dizzy but he just rolled his eyes and looked back to Adam. “I guess we’ll do that later this week.” He grumbled. “Are you going to be like this for the rest of the day?” Adam asked as he looked over to Colleen, who shook her head no. “Come on.” He groaned, waiving us both towards the back. “You don’t have to do this,” Colleen warned. “he’s a big boy, he can handle getting whatever’s left for him.” “I know,” Adam agreed as he opened the gate to let us through. “but I need taste testers anyway.” “We tried it before, there’s just too much peanut butter.” Colleen started to argue. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dizzy began to perk up. “but I’m in” As Adam led us into the kitchen, a few left-over bakers looked over to us. “You guys are free to go.” Adam dismissed, but noticed their stares staying on Dizzy and me. “This is my nephew and Colleen’s son.” He explained. “You’ll get to know them better when they come help out over the summer.” “I didn’t sign up for that.” I teased as I looked back up to him. “I did!” Dizzy excitedly replied as he looked back to Adam. “Do I get one of those shirts too?” He asked, looking at the black employee t-shirt with the shops logo in white on the upper left side. “If you wear it to school tomorrow, I’ll give you one right now.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “I would’ve been wearing it all school year if you gave it to me earlier!” He quickly agreed as Adam walked over to a nearby rack and began sorting through a box. The left-over employees said their goodbyes as Adam finally pulled out a couple shirts and gave one to Dizzy and me. “Alright,” Adam began again as he led us into the kitchen area. It was a little cramped, but spotless as different stations were set up all around. The more I looked around, the more I realized it was like every kid’s dream. Boxes and boxes of candies and snacks sat all around us, along with the other ingredients needed for the more basic donuts. “this is the only one left, so you two will have to split it.” Adam warned. “It’s a peanut butter cup donut.” He explained as he pulled what looked like a chocolate covered donut off a rack. “I came up with the idea a while ago, but I just started trying to make it today.” “I’m good,” I backed off as Dizzy quickly moved towards the donut. “I don’t like peanut butter.” “Something is wrong with you.” Dizzy teased, his eyes now locking onto the snack in front of him. “Go ahead.” Adam instructed as he took a step back. Dizzy nodded his head, before quickly picking up the donut and digging in. “That’s amazing!” He exclaimed, barely even done with his first bite. “Don’t talk with food in your mouth!” Colleen yelled as she began to stare down her son. “I’ll take it away.” She warned as he went to respond. Instead he went in for a second bite and nodded his head. “It’s really good Adam.” He praised with a wide smile. “You should sell this one.” “There’s not too much peanut butter?” Adam asked, reminding him of Colleen’s concern. “It’s a peanut butter cup donut! It’s supposed to have a lot of peanut butter!” Dizzy encouraged as their eyes connected. “Don’t listen to her, she is so wrong!” Colleen rolled her eyes and walked back towards the front. “Come on Artie,” She began. “I’ll go get you a donut you want.” “You’re missing out.” Dizzy teased me, but I shook my head and followed his Mom. “What do you want?” She asked as she threw on a glove and opened the case. “The crumb cake sounds good.” I smiled as she placed it on a napkin and handed it to me. “Its really nice you boys decided to come visit.” Colleen encouraged as she grabbed a box, and began to pack away the leftovers. “I think it means a lot to your Uncle.” “I had no idea we were coming.” I shrugged my shoulders before taking my first bite of the donut. “So you two really did just come for donuts?” She asked as I nodded my head. “I guess it counts all the same.” She decided as I leaned against the counter. “It’d be nice if you two visited again this week while you can.” She said as our eyes connected. “Between what I hear from Adam and what I hear from Dizzy, it sounds like this is a big weekend for you guys.” “Yeah.” I forced out, before growing quiet once again. “Sorry, I don’t mean to pry.” She quickly apologized. “I just figured I know a thing or two about Dads who come and go.” I nodded my head as I thought it over. “Do you think I’m crazy?” I finally asked. “For wanting to see him?” Colleen asked as I nodded once more. “No, I don’t think so.” She confessed, keeping here eyes locked on mine. “You’re curious and he reached out to you, I think you’re doing what most people would.” “That’s not how Dizzy sees it.” I complained, more to myself than her. “Dizzy can’t even handle being called Ryan.” She pointed out in a serious voice. “Just because he’s scared of his dad issues, doesn’t mean you need to be too.” “But Adam,” “Is just trying to defend you the way a good parent should.” She cut off as she saw how badly I was second guessing everything. “Because at the end of the day, that’s what he is, a parent.” She continued to lecture. “Adams ready to support you through it, but you have to be the one to see this through.” Things grew quiet as her words began to sink in. “So, what do I do?” “Have confidence in yourself.” She shrugged her shoulders. “The only way your birth father can shake you, is if you let him.” She warned. “Blood can mean a lot,” She taught as she looked towards the kitchen. “but it can also mean nothing.” She looked back to me. “If you don’t like what you see, kick him out and move on with your life.” She flashed me a smile before taking a step forward and pulling me in for a hug. “You’re the one giving him a chance, and you can take it away just as easily, don’t forget that.” “Uh oh.” Dizzy teased as he stepped out from the back. “Did you two just have a moment?” “Adam, if you ever want to trade kids, just let me know.” Colleen joked as she finally let me go. “I’m good for now.” Adam rejected as Dizzy rolled his eyes. “But how about we all go out for lunch, my treat.” He offered with a growing smile. “I’ve gotta run these to the shelter.” Colleen shook her head as she proudly held up the box and a half she had managed to assemble. “That’s like, eight donuts.” Dizzy tried to argue. “It’s barely even going to make a difference over there.” “Where’s that big heart of yours Z?” Colleen asked, surprised by her son’s words. “Even if it only helps one person, it’s worth doing.” Dizzy sighed but nodded his head, knowing his Mom had a point. As Adam watched Dizzy’s reaction, I noticed him think something over. “Alright,” He began again. “then why don’t you come over for dinner tonight at my place?” “I don’t know,” She nervously replied. “I didn’t mean to put you on the spot here.” “It’d be no problem.” Adam insisted as she looked over to him. “We always wind up making too much food anyway.” “Your boss is offering you dinner.” Dizzy pointed out with a devious look. “Can you really turn that down?” “Alright,” She finally accepted in a sigh. “but at least let me bring dessert or something.” “You’re welcome to bring whatever you’d like.” Adam said as Dizzy flashed him a thankful smile. As we walked out of the shop and headed home, the day started to have a different feel to it. It just felt like, like they all had my back. Adam is supporting me, just like he said he would. Colleen made me feel like I’m not insane for wanting to meet Ezra. And Dizzy, I know he’s not happy, but he’s yet to let that show. They all just want what’s best for me, and that’s exactly what I needed this week. -- -- Day by day, things started to become easier. Sure, testing was a pain, but it’s the same old stuff year after year. Besides, I’m pretty sure colleges don’t even see our scores! As for baseball, well it turns out Jose wasn’t kidding when he said he’d bring the fun. All during our practices, he made sure to prank as many of our teammates as he could. Blowing bubbles from bubble gum and sticking them to people’s backs, using the gum as glue to hold paper cups to our teammates caps, even sneaking in water guns and spraying people for sloppy plays! At first, I thought our coaches were going to get mad, but they seemed to understand exactly where Jose was coming from. Besides, he always knew exactly when to stop. The second I started to lead defensive drills, the pranks paused and all focus was on what we were doing. I mean, I’m not exactly the greatest coach ever, but with the help of my actual coaches, well I think what I was trying to teach was sinking in. Everything was going well, hell even Ezra’s phone calls felt a bit more, upbeat! We didn’t talk about anything important, just more tips about baseball or stories about Ezra’s playing days, but things still just felt more, personal. But when Thursday rolled around, things started to change. “Ezra’s calling.” Adam complained as Dizzy, him and I sat around the T.V., just like every night before. Dizzy rolled his eyes and grew quiet as I took the phone from Adam and picked it up. “Hello?” I called out as I placed the black rectangle on the table in front of us. “Arthur!” Ezra exclaimed in an excited voice. “I just touched down in San Francisco a little while ago, and I’m on my way to the hotel now.” “That’s great!” I tried to encourage, much to Dizzy’s disapproval. “How was your flight?” “Wasn’t bad at all.” Ezra replied, much happier than any of the times he’d called before. “I’m actually here an hour earlier than I thought I’d be.” “Well that’s good, maybe you can go walk around the city for a little bit.” I offered, but as Adam glanced over at me, we both knew Ezra was looking for something bigger than that. “I was actually thinking,” Ezra began, forcing the excitement in his voice to grow serious. “maybe you and Adam could come meet me for some coffee tonight.” “No.” Adam immediately shutdown. “We agreed Friday, Saturday and Sunday.” “I know.” Ezra exhaled, but I could tell he was preparing for an argument. “But all I’m asking for is an extra hour.” He tried to plea. “Just sixty minutes Adam.” “Absolutely not.” Adam maintained, but as he saw my stare, I could tell he was second guessing himself. “I’m sorry,” He apologized to me. “this isn’t what we agreed to.” “I know.” I reluctantly spoke, half wishing Adam would just give in. “I’m just looking to get all the awkward introductions out of the way.” Ezra argued, now taking a different angle. “I mean, I don’t even think I’ll get to say hello to Arthur before his game tomorrow,” He reminded us. “So I just want to do that tonight.” Adam let out a deep sigh, but looked over to me. “It’s up to you.” He offered in a near defeated voice. “What?!” Dizzy exclaimed, nearly jumping out of his seat. “I want to, but I don’t want to break your rules.” I replied, trying my hardest to respect Adam’s wishes while still getting as much time with Ezra as possible. “It’s only sixty minutes.” Adam grumbled as Dizzy began to stare him down. “The mill is probably the only coffee shop still open.” He spoke to Ezra. “So I’ll send you the address and we’ll meet you there in twenty.” He dismissed as his gaze drifted over to Dizzy. “And Dizzy is coming with us.” “Arthur’s friend that came to Texas?” Ezra asked in a confused voice. “That a problem?” Adam asked as Dizzy rolled his eyes. “Whatever makes you guys comfortable.” Ezra responded without hesitation. “I’ll see you boys soon.” As Adam hung up the phone without responding, Dizzy nearly flew out of his seat. “What the hell is going on right now?!” He yelped, looking from me to Adam. “You said three days! You’re just letting him break that rule?” “It’s one hour.” Adam mentioned, but I could tell he agreed with Dizzy. “It’s him breaking your rules the second he gets here!” Dizzy argued, finally letting his opinions on the situation out. “I mean, you have to see this too Artie.” “I know, but I also get where he’s coming from.” I spoke up as Dizzy began to shake his head. “I’ll be at school all morning, then the game right after, we’re just making up for the missed time tomorrow.” “This is absolutely ridiculous.” Dizzy complained as he continued to grow more and more aggravated. “I know.” Adam agreed as he looked past me and towards Dizzy. “But you have to trust Artie right now, and I know you can do that.” “Yeah.” Dizzy grumbled as Adam finally had him beat. “But I’m not happy with you right now.” He said as our eyes connected. “For wanting to see my Dad?” I asked as he stood up. “For not having Adam’s back the way he has yours.” He muttered as he walked over to the door and grabbed his jacket. “Now can we get this over with already?” “Yeah.” Adam accepted as we both stood up and started to get ready. The walk to the coffee shop was quiet. Every now and again Dizzy would look over at me, then away. He’s pissed off, like really pissed off. But he won’t yell at me. That’s not who he is. I just hope he lets this out one way or another, because if he bottles it up, well, I’d be scared to see how that ends. As the coffee shop came into view, so did a tall man in a dark suit. As we came into the light, I couldn’t help but feel my hand start to gently shake. Ezra looked just as intimidating as he did at the courthouse. His stare felt heavy as his dark brown eyes began to study us closely. “Arthur,” He called out as his southern accent whistled through his teeth. “it’s good to actually get to see you son.” He forced a smile and offered his hand. It took everything in me to keep my hand steady as I reached out and shook. “It’s good to see you too Adam.” Ezra shifted his attention. “It’s been far too long, but you still look like the Adam I knew.” He reached out his hand, but Adam refused to shake. “I’m not here as your friend.” Adam reminded him. “I’m here for my nephew.” “Alright.” Ezra accepted as his gaze shifted over to Dizzy. “It’s nice to see Arthur has such supportive friends.” Ezra commented, now offering his hand to Dizzy. As Dizzy shook his hand, I saw a combination of anger and frustration cooking in his eyes. Yet, he held it back and stayed civil. “It might sound funny,” Ezra began as we made our way into the café. “but down south Dizzy isn’t all that rare a name.” “I’ve heard.” Dizzy replied, but grew quiet as we got in line. “If it’s okay with you Adam, I’d like to pay.” Ezra suggested with a smile. “I dragged ya’ll out of your home late at night, it’d only be right.” “I can pay for me and my kids.” Adam shut down, making sure to emphasize his words. “Alright.” Ezra accepted, taking a few minutes to think over the situation as we made our orders. When we finally got our drinks and found a table, I noticed a smile crack Ezra’s face. “Thank you for letting us do this.” He said to Adam before looking back to me. “I’ve been thinking about this day, well, for a long time now.” He exhaled. “And I still don’t know what to say.” “Sorry would be a good start.” Dizzy commented as I quickly glanced over to him. “Sorry would be a good start.” Ezra agreed, but his eyes stayed on me. “I’m sorry Arthur, there’s nothing in the world that can make leaving you and your mother okay.” “Then why’d you do it?” I forced out in a shaky voice. He grew quiet and thought it over as his eyes lowered to the table. “Because I was a stupid kid, who thought his parents knew everything.” He shook his head. “The last time I spoke to Sarah, like really spoke to Sarah,” He began, drawing Adam’s full attention. “we had decided to put you up for adoption.” I nodded my head, already knowing it was something my Mom had seriously considered. “Me and her agreed, all our parents agreed, and it just seemed like it was set in stone.” He shook his head. “So to make sure it stayed that way, my Mom took me to Dallas and we stayed there.” “And when she kept Artie?” Adam pressured, reminding me that it wasn’t that simple. “I wanted to come back,” Ezra said as our eyes connected. “but my Mom convinced me that after a few weeks, Sarah would make the right decision.” “Putting me up for adoption was the right decision?” I asked in a concerned voice. “It was that, or growing up out of wedlock to teenage parents in our hometown.” Ezra shook his head. “And to me, at the time, the latter sounded like a death sentence for you.” “So better he grew up with just a Mom?” Adam continued to question. “That’s not what I’m saying.” Ezra answered, starting to get frustrated with all the pressure he was feeling. “When I saw she was keeping him, I started sending letters, even before I had this job I tried sending her money.” He paused for a second as he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out three square envelops. “Here.” He offered them to me. “These are some of the ones your Mother sent back.” I hesitantly took them from his hand as my eyes began to scan them closely. “I was trying my hardest to be there for you any way I could, I promise you I was.” “Well, except in person.” Adam continued to point out, further getting under Ezra’s skin. “I couldn’t just leave my parents in Dallas like that. Adam, you were raised in Texas too.” Ezra pushed back. “You know what parental expectations and pressure feel like. You know I couldn’t disrespect them like that.” “It’d be crazy.” Dizzy nodded his head, seemingly taking Ezra’s side. “I don’t think anyone here has run away from their Texan parents to have a better life.” He spoke, staring down Ezra, the same way Adam had. Ezra exhaled a deep breath as he saw the turn the conversation was taking. “I was never as brave as Adam growing up, and I’m sure he can agree with that.” Ezra said, looking over to Adam. “Whenever things got risky, I was the first to back out and you know it.” “So I’m sorry, I just didn’t have the backbone to leave my family the way you did.” He continued to explain. “But you should know how incredibly difficult that is, and that as a young man, walking out on my parents was never me.” “So you walked out on Sarah and Artie instead.” Adam spoke, showing that no amount of words would make him back off. “I guess I did.” Ezra finally accepted in a sigh. “But I’m here now, and I plan to make that up to you Arthur,” He said as he looked over to me. “I swear to God, I do.” I couldn’t help but nod my head as I heard the overwhelming conviction in his voice. “Any questions you have this weekend, no matter what that question may be, you ask away.” I nodded my head as a million different thoughts began to swarm my mind. Yet, there was one that kept rising to the forefront. One that needed to be thrown out there. One he needed to accept if he was going to be part of my life. “I’m gay.” I suddenly blurted out as my face turned pale. My hand began to shake and for a second, I thought I was going to throw up but as I looked over to Dizzy, I found a moment of calmness. “And me and Dizzy have been dating for the past few months.” I shook my head. “If you’re really going to come into my life, that’s just something you have to accept.” For a second, Ezra’s eyes grew wide but before he could say anything he drew in a deep breath and centered himself. “Well I sure wasn’t expecting that,” He let out as both Adam and Dizzy shot me concerned looks. “but I,” he stuttered. “can work on understanding and accepting it.” He nodded his head. “I think at the very least I owe you that.” Adam glanced over and gave me a proud nod as I felt Dizzy reach under the table and grab my hand. “Good,” I was able to force out. “because its non-negotiable.” As Ezra heard those words, I saw a smile return to his face. “He sounds just like you.” Ezra said as he looked over to Adam. “Because he’s gay?” Adam asked in an unamused voice. “Because he’s confident.” Ezra corrected, looking back over to me. “You’re not as much trouble as Adam, are you?” “Adam’s not really trouble anymore,” I explained as our eyes met. “but no sir, I don’t cause much trouble.” As I spoke, another question popped into my head. “Did you ever try and check on me and my Mom?” “From a distance.” Ezra responded as he began to think over my question. “After a while of sending letters that kept coming back, Sarah made it pretty clear I wasn’t welcomed.” He began to explain. “And just showing up felt, cruel.” “Why’s that?” I probed, as his choice of words sparked even more curiosity. “Well, if I showed up at your front door, but Sarah chased me away, how would that look to you?” He asked, but I stayed quiet. “Sarah had enough on her plate, she didn’t need me turning her into the bad guy.” “You saved that honor for me.” Adam remarked, drawing a smirk from Dizzy. “Well that was always our thing growing up,” Ezra teased as Adam rolled his eyes. “I was good cop, and you were bad cop.” “Wait,” I called out, not wanting their chatter to distract from his original answer. “then what do you mean by from a distance?” “Well I still had some friends in town who could check up on you if I needed.” Ezra said as his focus shifted back to me. “I always made sure you had work to keep you busy in the summers, and a good man as a role model if you needed.” “Hold on,” I let out as his words began to click in my mind. “so Mr. Brook’s farm?” Was all I could manage out before he started to nod his head. “James is a good man.” Ezra happily replied. “He told me you and his son were becoming friends, and offered to train you along with him.” He explained. “I heard you were a pretty big help too.” “It was a fun job.” I replied as memories of riding scout, feeding the animals and even cleaning their pens filled my head. “I think it’s one of the things I miss most about Texas.” “I’m happy to hear that.” He replied, yet as he heard my answer I saw concern enter into his gaze. “I just hope when you graduate high school, you look to become more than a farmer.” He warned, drawing another unamused glare from Adam. Ezra went to say something else, but stopped himself to avoid conflict. “So I have to admit,” He began as he sat back in his seat. “I’ve never been to this part of the country, what’s it like?” At first I looked to Dizzy or Adam to answer the question, but as silence filled the air, remembered neither would be sharing much. “A lot busier than Texas.” I shook my head. “I’m pretty sure the airport itself is busier than all of North Texas.” “You’re telling me.” Ezra agreed in a laugh. “I nearly got swept away by the crowd.” “It’s like a stampede,” I continued as a smile grew on my own face. “I thought herding cattle was bad, but I’d take that any day over trying to handle that crowd!” Ezra nodded his head along with my words. “So what about the city itself, what’s that like?” “Just as busy,” I continued. “but a lot more colorful and every corner there’s something new to see.” I cheered as I thought over my new home. “I’ve been here for months, and I haven’t even seen half the city yet.” I warned. “But my favorite places so far are Chinatown, Castro district and the bridge.” I answered, looking over to Dizzy as I finished my question. He nodded his head, but made his disinterest in the conversation clear. “So then,” Ezra began, looking over to Dizzy anyway. “were you his tour guide?” “Guess so.” He answered as I began to shoot him a disappointed gaze. He mirrored the look on my face, before letting his eyes drop to his drink. “Well even with everyone helping you around, it still must’ve been intimidating.” Ezra offered me, as he realized Dizzy wouldn’t be giving in anytime soon. “Extremely!” I confirmed as we looked back to one another. “Sometimes when there’s big crowds, it still is.” I confessed. “Is Dallas like that?” “I don’t know if it attracts as many people, but it is a busy city.” Ezra replied. “It feels a bit like our hometown, just on a bigger scale.” “Really?” I asked, surprised by his answer. “So do people act the same out there?” “Depends on where you go,” Ezra began to answer. As our eyes locked we couldn’t help but share a smile. I could see Adam’s dissatisfaction in the moment, but he refused to interrupt. Instead, he and Dizzy let Ezra and I swap stories about our cities for the next half hour! Every time I told him about a restaurant or attraction here in San Francisco, he brought up one in Dallas. Pretty soon we were smiling and laughing as though we had met before. He’s just like all those big businessmen in the shows and movies Adam has shown me. He has a million different stories about a million different things, hell, I’m pretty sure I could’ve sat there all night talking with him! Why the hell didn’t he bring any of this up over the phone? When it was finally time to say goodbye, I was the only one to shake his hand. Yet, I could tell none of that bothered Ezra. It was as though he expected it, and honestly, he kinda seemed used to it. -- -- The walked home from the coffee shop was quiet. Dizzy held my hand, but refused to look over to me, while Adam stayed a few steps ahead. I don’t think either of them are angry with me, but I could tell they definitely weren’t happy either. As we approached the house, I noticed Mason’s truck pull up. “Looks like I got here just in time.” He yelled as he lowered the window. “All righty then,” He remarked as he saw all the empty stares looking back at him. “tonight should be fun.” He said to himself as he rolled the window back up. “Oh, it’s been barrels of fun already.” Dizzy commented as began to walk up the stairs to the house. “I enjoyed it.” I shrugged my shoulders, but Dizzy only rolled his eyes. “Maybe if you talked, you would’ve too.” “Don’t even start with me.” Dizzy replied as he began to shoot me an angry look. I snickered and shook my head as I felt my own frustration began to mount. “Really?” Dizzy asked as he saw my reaction. “Okay Artie.” He commented as we began to butt heads. Adam shot us both a concerned look, but stayed quiet as he patiently waited for Mason at the door. “Everyone alright up here?” Mason asked as he finally came inside. “Never been better.” Dizzy sarcastically replied. Mason looked over to Adam, but he simply sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “It’s been an eventful night.” Adam finally spoke. “Mhm.” Dizzy hummed as he looked over to Mason. “You really missed out.” As I looked over to Dizzy we both began to angrily stare one another down. “What?” He finally asked. “Nothing.” I lied with a shake of my head. “Just glad you found your voice again.” “I never really lost it.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders as the situation began to escalate. Once more I noticed Mason glance over to Adam. This time Adam let out a deep sigh and joined us on the couch. “I know that tonight was a lot for all of us, but fighting won’t help anyone.” He began. “If you guys are mad at one another, you need to communicate that.” “He’s not going to listen.” Dizzy mumbled as his eyes lowered to the table in front of us. “He lives in his own world when it comes to Ezra.” “That’s not true.” I immediately replied as I began to stare at him. “Why do you act like I’m so delusional for giving him a chance?” “Because you are!” Dizzy exclaimed, finally looking back at me with wide eyes. “It’s his first night here and he’s already breaking Adam’s rules!” He yelped, barely able to sit still. “And for some reason, you’re just okay with it!” “I already told you he had good reason.” I replied, trying to keep my voice lower than his. “I’m not going to see him again until tomorrow night, the least I could do was meet him today!” “The least you could do?” Dizzy repeated in an almost laugh. “Like you’re not already doing him a huge favor by letting him visit!” “It’s not a favor if I want him to visit!” I responded as my voice began to grow louder. “I want this Dizzy and for some reason you’re so, so, dismissive of it!” “For some reason?” Dizzy asked, repeating me once more. “Adam warned us how many times about Ezra? There’s your reason!” “It’s been sixteen years! People change Dizzy.” I continued to argue. “Remember earlier this week when you were talking about how much I changed in just a few months?” “That’s so different and you know it!” He shouted as I began to shake my head. Mason and Adam shared one last look before Adam stood up and led Mason to the kitchen. I know Adam wanted us to talk this out, but I don’t think he expected it to really blow up! “Maybe we should just stop.” I finally surrendered as I realized how uncomfortable this must’ve been for both of them to watch. “No, I mean if you’re so right, lets do this.” Dizzy egged on. “Because I’m not going through this weekend pissed at you.” “No one’s asking you to.” I shook my head as I let out a deep sigh. “Lets just, go to my room then.” “Fine.” Dizzy accepted as he quickly stood up. “I don’t think that’s such a great idea.” Adam called out from the kitchen. “It might help to have me and Mason around, just to help guide things if we need to.” “Oh please.” Dizzy rolled his eyes. “We don’t need everyone getting involved.” “Yeah Adam,” Mason couldn’t help but tease. “mind your own business.” “Don’t encourage them.” Adam groaned as he looked over to me. “Just please, remember who you guys are talking to.” With great frustration once again Dizzy shook his head as we both stood up. “My boyfriend who is being extremely stupid right now,” He complained. “but still my boyfriend.” He said to satisfy Adam. “If it helps, I think you’re being extremely stupid right now too.” I forced an annoyed smile. He mimicked my look before we both finally started climbing the stairs. “They’re going to kill one another.” Adam groaned as Mason began to nod his head. We both stayed quiet until we finally entered my room and I shut the door behind us. As I noticed the anger in Dizzy’s eyes, I couldn’t help but sit on my bed and grow quiet. Dizzy went to say something, but stopped himself as he saw the look on my face. “Don’t think you can just, flash that puppy dog look and I won’t be angry anymore.” He warned as he sat across from me. “You’re acting like, like a spoiled brat tonight.” “How?” I finally asked as our eyes connected. “I just wanted to have a conversation with my Dad, why is that so hard to understand?” “Because you’re doing it at the expense of everyone else.” He answered, trying his hardest to calm down. “You immediately threw Adam under the bus today and I know, tomorrows a busy day and you want to see Ezra.” He shook his head. “But tonight, it was a choice of meeting your father or having Adam’s back.” He finally explained. “Why can’t I have Adam’s back and meet Ezra for an extra hour?” I asked, still struggling to understand his point. “Why does it have to be one or another?” I questioned. “Because of a rule he set? Well, you’re the king of breaking rules!” I shook my head. “You should understand that more than anyone else.” “I break school rules, and this, this was well past a school rule!” He said as he moved a little closer to me. “I’m not the one making you choose, and Adam isn’t either.” He insisted. “If you’re mad at anyone for making you choose, it should be Ezra!” “How did he make me choose?” I asked as my frustrations began to rise again. “By calling out of the blue and asking to meet on a night he knew he damn well shouldn’t.” Dizzy confidently answered. “Come on Artie,” He pleaded. “you’re so much smarter than this.” “I guess I’m not.” I shrugged my shoulders as I broke eye contact. “Because maybe it wasn’t right for him to ask, but I still don’t blame him for wanting an extra hour with his son.” “He could’ve had hundreds of extra hours with you if he wanted!” Dizzy pointed out as he accidently began to yell once more. “You’re talking like he was kept from you!” “Well maybe that’s how it feels.” I answered, unsure how else to put what I was thinking. “I know he messed up, but he was young and, and by the time he was old enough to realize what he had done, he wasn’t allowed to make it right.” “Maybe there’s good reason for that.” Dizzy argued as I saw him look over to the pictures on my nightstand. “I know, I know I never knew your Mom,” He said, almost nervous to finish his statement. “but I’m willing to bet good money she didn’t let him back for a reason.” “Well it’ll be a long time until I get an answer to that bet.” I forced out as my eyes lowered to the bed. “And I cant wait for a sign to tell me either way,” I shook my head. “I trust myself enough to see for myself, and if, if you don’t,” I hesitated as I looked back up to him. “then I guess we aren’t as close as I thought.” Dizzy grew quiet for a few moments as he let my words sink in. “That’s not fair.” He finally broke the silence. “You know for a fact I trust you, I, all I’ve done these past few months is trust you.” He said, struggling to keep his voice from breaking. “Then you have to trust me on this.” I pressured as our eyes connected. “Because tonight I came out to him so that maybe, maybe you could get to know him too.” I explained as my own voice began to shake. “I needed him to accept it, but I was also hoping coming out meant you could be with me through this.” Dizzy’s eyes lowered as he heard my words. “But when he gave you a chance, you didn’t say anything.” I let out a deep sigh as I thought it over. “Do you know how rare that is?” I asked him. “For a man from my home town to not only take it in stride, that his son is gay, but then try and talk to his boyfriend?” Dizzy began to bite on his lip as he heard my questions. “I know we haven’t been seeing eye to eye tonight, but you have to at least see my side here.” Things stayed quiet until finally, Dizzy moved close enough to pull me in for a hug. “I don’t think I see your side.” He confessed in a defeated voice. “But, you, you’re so freakin hard headed about this,” He let out in an almost laugh. “and, I, I,” He stuttered as he held back some words. “I really really care about you.” He finally said. “So I, I’ll follow your lead.” “I’m so lucky to have you.” I said as I held him tightly. “Even the bad stuff, there’s no one else I’d rather go through this with.” We stayed quiet and held one another for a few minutes, until finally, hugging turned to kissing and well, lets just say kissing let to some other stuff! But that’s exactly what we needed tonight. We were at one another’s throats for the past hour! It’s time to repurpose that energy in a more constructive way! Soon after we wrapped up, Dizzy passed out, leaving me to think everything over. I tossed and turned for a little while, until finally I decided to get up for a drink. Yet, as I worked my way through the hallway, I could hear Adam and Mason talking from downstairs. “Well I took off all weekend,” I heard Mason explain. “so I can go home tomorrow, pack my bag, and prepare to stay here for the next few days.” “I can’t ask you do that.” Adam exhaled. His voice sounded the most exhausted I had ever heard it. “You don’t have to.” Mason replied without hesitation. “I’m not going to leave you alone like this, especially not if everything is just starting.” “But still Mase,” Adam tried to argue. “taking off from work, you were just saying you barely get enough shifts as it is.” “Then I guess I’m lucky you make enough money for the two of us.” Mason teased, drawing a tired laugh from Adam. “Besides, if you ever listened, you’d know I have that interview next week.” “You’re gonna kill it.” Adam encouraged. “I can even help you practice if you need.” “You have enough on your plate.” Mason declined in a supportive voice. “You focus on your family. I’ve got the rest covered.” Things grew quiet and I went to take a step forward, but heard Mason let out a deep sigh. “I didn’t mean it like that.” Mason suddenly began, seemingly reading Adam’s silence. “It’s not fair to you.” Adam finally spoke. “I mean, I, I have a kid now, basically two kids.” Adam corrected himself. “I’m holding you back.” “Would you stop with that!” Mason warned in an almost frustrated voice. “Sure you have Artie and Dizzy, but they take care of themselves!” Mason argued in a confident voice. “Besides, we’re not kids anymore, I don’t want a man who goes out drinking every night.” Mason shut down. “I want a man who puts his family first, I want a man that has his shit together.” Mason explained. “And that’s exactly what you are!” “I don’t have my shit together.” Adam let out in a broken voice. “Artie’s father is a few blocks away and I just, I have this terrible feeling about everything.” He confessed. “Ezra’s here and he’s prepared but I’m stuck on the defensive and I, I have no idea what to do.” I went to turn back and give them privacy, but felt my legs lock as I heard their words. “You do.” Mason tried to encourage. “I don’t.” Adam shot down once more. “I really, really don’t.” Adam insisted. “Already tonight he put me on the spot by asking to meet.” “He tried to make you the bad guy.” Mason agreed in a sigh. “It’s not fair, but Dizzy was right, Artie should’ve seen that and shut it down.” “Artie’s mature, but he’s still just a kid.” Adam rejected. “I can’t blame him for wanting to see his father and after seeing them together tonight,” Adam’s voice continued to shake. “I know that’s all he’s going to want to do.” “He just seemed so happy when they actually started talking.” Adam complained, trying his hardest to stay on top of his emotions. “He’s usually pretty happy, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen him smile and laugh that much.” “I’m sure he’s just being friendly.” Mason tried to argue. “Friendly or not, they clicked.” Adams voice only grew more defeated as he spoke. “I just, I have this nightmare of him walking out that door and going back to Texas.” “You know that can’t happen.” Mason reasoned in an attempt to keep Adam’s feet on the ground. “You just got full custody and you made Ezra sign away any claims.” “Artie’s sixteen,” Adam replied. “I may have custody, but if he fights to move with his father, how could I stop that?” “By saying no.” Mason replied without hesitation. “But that’s not even going to happen.” Mason said as he pulled them back to reality. “Artie’s going to leave everything he has here? You? Dizzy? His baseball team?” “It just, it feels like I’m losing him right now.” Adam let out. “And I just don’t know what to do anymore.” He began to break down. “I’ve been trying my hardest to make my sister proud, I’ve been trying to do everything the way she would have.” He confessed as his voice broke more and more. “but I keep falling short.” “When he moved in,” Adam began to cry. “I thought he’d be more like a roommate than my kid,” He began to ramble. “but now, now I’d do anything to keep him safe and happy.” He exhaled, barely able to speak. “But now Ezra’s here and I’ve failed Sarah and I’m starting to fail him.” As silence filled the air, I could tell Mason had pulled him in close. I quietly walked back to my room as my mind began to drift in hundreds of different directions. What have I done to make him feel like he’s losing me? What have I done to make him think he’s failing me? Is Dizzy right? Have I been that ungrateful lately? I couldn’t help but lay awake as all these ideas ripped into me. I opened a can of worms by letting Ezra visit, and as much as I enjoyed meeting him, I ignored what it was doing to everyone around me, even when they tried to point it out. But Adam trusts me enough to let me handle this, so that’s exactly what I’ll do. Come tomorrow morning, I’ll be ready for whatever comes my way. Because right now, I think that’s the only way to prove Adam hasn’t failed me.
  12. Aceinthehole

    Breathe

    Chapter 38: Breathe As Dizzy and I walked to school, I couldn’t help but look at him a little closer. Everyone’s so quick to write him off as the class clown. No one notices how thoughtful and caring he is. All they see is jokes and stupid antics. Sure, he’s partially at fault for his reputation, but even when he’s trying his hardest, people don’t take him seriously. One day they’ll see that. They’ll see what he achieves and wonder how the goofy kid from high school made it that far, but for now, he’s still Dizzy Armstrong. “What?” He asked with a confused look as he noticed my stare. “Nothing.” I couldn’t help but smile as he worked on his second donut of the morning. Adam insisted that we only have one, but somehow Dizzy made sure to snatch another before we walked out of the house. “Oh, I know what.” He smirked as he flashed me a wink. I shook my head, but had to hold back some laughter. “You have frosting all over your face.” I pointed out as his smirk grew. “Saving it for later.” He teased, before reaching up with the sleeve of his jacket and wiping it off. “Dizzy!” I exclaimed at his childish actions. “That’s disgusting!” “Oh please, it washes out.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Besides, I have two more of these jackets back home.” “Of course you do,” I rolled my eyes. “and I bet they all have frosting stains.” “Oh trust me,” He began, starting to crack up with laughter before he could get his words out. “that’s not frosting!” “That barely even makes sense!” I yelped as I turned away to hide a smile. “What’s the matter with you this morning?” I asked, but had a hard time not laughing at his joke. “I don’t know,” He confessed as he looked back over at me. “you’ve just got me feeling some kind of way these past couple weeks Artie Price.” We’ve been dating for a while now, but I couldn’t help but blush at his words as he grabbed my hand and led me the rest of the way to school. I’d never really been late before. I’ve had a couple close calls, and that one time Charlotte had to help me find my homeroom, but today we’re walking in nearly three hours after the first bell! “What was it today Dizzy?” The secretary asked as we walked into the front office. “Aliens invade the city again?” She asked in an unamused voice, no doubt quoting an excuse he had given at some point this year. “Ripped another tag off a mattress.” He shrugged his shoulders as he handed her our late notes. “Believe it or not police really care about that.” “I’m sure they do.” The secretary groaned as she carefully scanned the note. “Artie and Dizzy?” Mrs. Mowry called out as she walked out of the doorway that connected the front office to the faculty room. “Nice of you two to join us.” “We took a left when we should’ve gone right.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders, drawing a confused stare from me. “These boys in your homeroom?” The secretary asked, offering her our notes before Mrs. Mowry could even answer the question. “Yup.” Mrs. Mowry answered as she took the notes and began to read them over. “So you both have the same note, from the same person?” “I tried to tell Adam it was wasteful.” Dizzy commented, while watched for Mrs. Mowry’s reaction closely. “Yes ma’am.” I said, finally answering her question. “It’s from my Uncle. Dizzy stayed at my house last night.” “We’re dating.” Dizzy explained, continuing to share whatever popped into his mind. “Can you stop?” I asked as I turned back to him. “You’re not helping.” I warned, drawing a small laugh from the secretary. “You boys realize this is kind of suspicious, right?” Mrs. Mowry asked. “You’re three hours late and both notes just say, Artie or Dizzy will be late to school today.” Dizzy couldn’t help but chuckle as he heard her words. “Usually we ask that parents or guardians at least give early notice if they know a student is going to be this late.” “I’m sorry, my Uncle is still a little new to all of this.” I tried to explain, but knew it wasn’t helping. “They had a family issue that carried over to this morning.” Dizzy spoke, finally taking the situation seriously. “Adam should’ve written that we’d be late for personal reasons, but he really likes to keep things private.” He continued to explain. “We’ll tell him to call next time, but he honestly didn’t know.” “You can call him now if you want.” I tried to offer. “He won’t mind.” “It’s alright.” Mrs. Mowry finally accepted as she handed the notes back to the secretary. “But please do make sure he calls next time.” She warned before turning to Dizzy. “And we all know you’re just trying to stall before you have to go to class.” She exhaled. “So please, keep the jokes to yourself today and just go where you’re supposed to be.” “Yes ma’am.” Dizzy answered before I could. “Sorry,” I offered as he began to walk away. “he’s, you know.” “We know.” Mrs. Mowry laughed as she nodded her head. “But he’s also a very bright young man when he wants to be!” She called out to him. Dizzy kept walking, but I knew the compliment meant a lot to him. He hasn’t exactly made a strong case for being more than a class clown this morning. He’s been loud, fidgety and driving the school nuts! But no matter what, I’ll always see him as more than jokes. Besides, who couldn’t use a good laugh every now and then? -- -- The half of the school day we were there for flew by. During lunch, Dizzy and I filled in Ky and Charlotte on why we were late, but made sure to make Adam’s and my argument sound less like a fight and more like a debate. I appreciate all the support their giving me, but they don’t need to see our dirty laundry. Besides, who doesn’t fight with their parents, or I guess, Uncle? When baseball rolled around I started to feel better, that is, until I saw Mason, Adam and Lindsay sitting in the bleachers! Sure, they’ve been to my games before, but right now things just feel a little different. Adam and I patched things up, but I really don’t want to let him down right now. I’m putting him through so much stress as it is, I can’t have him come watch me play baseball for a few hours just to blow it! “Artie,” Jose called out as he noticed me staring off in the dugout. “you ready to go?” “Yeah,” I lied as I shook my head. “just trying to focus.” Jose nodded, but studied me carefully. “It’s not too late to teach you that breathing I was telling you about.” I let out a sigh as I thought it over. “Alright.” I finally accepted. “How do I do it?” “Sweet!” He exclaimed as he slid down the bench to get closer to me. “So the basic idea is that you move your focus to your breathing, not your thoughts.” He began to teach. “Instead of thinking about the play, you’re breathing and just reacting.” “Oh,” I let out as I quickly thought it over. “like I said yesterday, I don’t know if I’m good enough to do that.” “You’re one of the best players on this team, if you’re not good enough to go off your reactions, then neither am I.” He shut down, not even willing to hear any of my insecurities. “Trust me. Your body knows what to do.” “Alright.” I accepted, before growing quiet to let him speak. “So up at the plate, it’s simple,” He began again. “As the ball is leaving the pitchers hand, you just exhale.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Just like, a simple breath.” He tried to explain. “Just a relaxed long sigh.” He repeated before giving me an example. “Your body will be focused on that breath and your mind will be free to react to the pitch.” “That’s it?” I asked, amazed at how simple his advice was. “If breathing was complicated, I don’t think humans would be around this long.” He teased, but I could tell he wasn’t finished yet. “In the field it is kind of different though,” He continued his lesson. “it’s more situational, so whenever you feel distracted, you do it.” He warned. “It’s just an inhale through your nose for three seconds, then hold your breath for two and exhale it through your mouth for five seconds.” I nodded my head before trying it out myself. “Just like that.” He encouraged. “You might not feel a difference right away, but if you keep doing it, it’ll free your mind up.” “Okay.” I accepted, unsure how much I believed him. I know he said it works for him, but it still feels kind of crazy! Where I’m from we just played baseball! No one thought about breathing, you were just good or you weren’t! Then again, back home they also told me I made a better girl than baseball player, so maybe they’re not the best judges! He couldn’t help but laugh as he saw the look on my face. “Come on Price,” He offered a smile. “stop thinking and let’s play some fucking baseball!” I nodded but as I stood up and grabbed my glove, I felt him give me a strong shove. “Let’s fucking go boys!” He began to shout to the team. “This is our chance!” He yelled, grabbing their attention. “No waiting for someone else to step up and get it done, it falls on us today!” He encouraged as everyone began to gather around us. “Three games left, that’s all we’ve fucking got.” He warned, as even the coaches began to look over. “Win or lose, you leave it all on that god damn diamond.” “Today,” He began again, slowly making his way towards the dugout steps. “we start clawing our way into the playoffs.” He smiled one last time as he looked back at us. “Now let’s fucking go!” He shouted again, his adrenaline now too high to come up with anything else. Watching baseball growing up, I always thought about what it’d be like to be a part of a team. To have so many people pushing one another forward. Well now I know what that feels like, and I won’t let them down. Out of our three games left, we only have to win two to make the playoffs. We can do this. I can do this. As we took our spots on the field, the game finally started. I looked over at Dizzy for support, but as I saw Adam I felt all the doubts about Ezra starting to rise in my mind. I tried my hardest to dismiss them, but as I watched a ball fly over me and go foul, I knew I needed to try Jose’s advice. At first it didn’t help that much, I felt calmer but the thoughts were still there. Until finally, I exhaled a deep breath and noticed a ground ball quickly coming my way. The second I scooped it up, and threw it to first, I instantly saw what Jose was talking about. My movements just felt like they were flowing out of me. I didn’t have to think about what I was doing, I just did it! As my confidence began to rise, I could feel my play getting better and better. I’ll never be able to carry my team to a win the way Jose can, but you’d better believe I’m trying. I made every at bat I got count, even if I only got a single, well I made sure to steal second. If a ball came my way in the field, I threw out the runner before he could even look my way. Best of all, I did it with the same emotion Jose was showing. Sure, we drew a few angry glances from the other team and their parents, but who cares? Jose and I are out here having fun and grinding our butts off, you bet we’re going to let that show! Pretty soon that emotion spread through our team, creating one of the most fun games I’ve ever played in. Yet as the game wound down, and we found ourselves down by one run, I couldn’t help but feel my heart beat faster. I watched our last batter carefully, as he tried his hardest to calmly walk himself through the motions. He worked a full count, just like he should’ve, until the pressure started to get to him. As a fastball came in high, he panicked and swung under it, popping it straight up. I had to look away as the ball came down, right into the first basemen’s glove. I let out a deep breath before biting my tongue, and turning around to get my stuff together. “Alright boys,” Our coach called out, trying his hardest to hide his own disappointment. “I know this was a heartbreaker, but there’s a lot of great things we can build on.” He tried to encourage. “Our offense was explosive, you boys did a great job of driving the ball deep and swiping extra bags.” He lectured, finally drawing my attention back. “But our defense was unacceptable. Way too many poor decisions and bad reactions.” “Because of state testing, we don’t have another game until the end of next week.” He explained as his gaze started to drift over to me. “That gives us plenty of time to practice defense, and I expect certain players to step up and help their teammates improve.” As our eyes met, I nodded my head. “I know this one hurts,” Coach exhaled, finally breaking eye contact and starting to look around the dugout. “but we’ve still got our shot at this, win these last two and we’re in.” He explained. “So rest up, get your heads on straight, and let’s get back to work.” Some guys responded with a “Yeah”, others just nodded their heads as we all tried our hardest not to take the loss too personally. Yet with every passing minute, the loss began to sting more and more. “You pissed off?” Jose asked, as we both began to make our way out of the dugout. “Yup.” I forced out, not even looking over at him. “Me too.” He grunted in a defeated voice. “But I remember when I first tried to recruit you.” He shook his head. “We had no playoff hopes, and I told you everything was just for fun.” He couldn’t help but laugh at his own words. “I think I liked baseball more back then.” “Me too.” I exhaled, finally looking up. “Now it just feels like, like we have to prove ourselves.” Jose nodded his head as he thought it over. “I don’t have anyone to prove myself to, do you?” As his question bounced around my head, I couldn’t help but think of Ezra. I went to say yes, but as I saw Adam in the distance, shook my head. “No, I don’t think I do.” “Then let’s have fun again.” He decided, but I could tell by his voice that he was still angry. “When we were having fun, we were winning.” He shrugged his shoulders. “We both played good, but we’re trying too hard, we’re forcing it.” He warned as his eyes locked with mine. “We let our emotions get the better of us.” He confessed. “This week, you work on helping the guys improve the defense and I’ll find ways to bring the fun back to our game.” “Deal.” I accepted as he gave me a strong pat on the back. “Baseball should be our escape,” He began again. “not the thing that makes us feel terrible.” I nodded my head, but nearly jumped as I felt him throw an arm around me and pull me in close. “We’ve got this kid, our team needs us to.” “No!” I heard Dizzy playfully shout from the distance. Jose let me go and looked over to where Dizzy was standing. “Now I see why you keep that kid around.” He said as a small smile cracked his face. “He knows how to make people laugh.” I agreed, but noticed the smile quickly fade from Jose’s face. He’s trying his hardest to be strong, but this loss is bothering him more than anyone else on the team. I can just tell. When we finally made our way to our families, Jose and I went our separate ways. Charlotte said a quick hello to me, and gave me a hug before handing me over to Dizzy and following after Jose. “Hugging other guys Price?” Dizzy teased with gentle smile. “You trying to break my heart?” I shook my head but stayed quiet. “Alright.” He nodded his head, realizing he needed to change his approach. “You played good,” Lindsay encouraged as our eyes connected. “I think that’s the best I’ve seen you play.” “Thank you.” I was able to force out, but it was obvious I didn’t agree. “I know you’re disappointed, but you’ve got another couple games left.” Adam began as we started to walk home. “You just have to put this one behind you, and keep moving.” He looked over to Mason for reassurance but it was clear he disagreed. “What?” Adam asked. “Let the kid feel how he needs to.” Mason shrugged his shoulders. “Loses teach more than wins, so if he needs to keep thinking about it, let him.” He exhaled as his gaze moved over to me. “Just don’t stay in that place for too long,” He warned. “You played your ass off and wore your heart on your sleeve, sometimes that’s all we can do.” Adam shot Lindsay a confused look, but she simply shrugged her shoulders. “What?” Mason asked, noticing the same thing as me. “Since when are you a coach?” Adam questioned as their eyes connected. “I don’t know,” Mason shrugged his shoulders. “I guess it’s just something I picked up after my high school football team won our second state championship.” “You played football?” Dizzy asked in disbelief, as he carefully scanned Mason. Mason may not be the toughest guy I’ve ever met, but it doesn’t exactly surprise me he used to be an athlete. He’s taller than Adam and a bit more built, in fact, he’s still in pretty good shape. “First string tight end and middle linebacker.” He proudly bragged. “I had a letterman jacket and cheerleader girlfriend.” He began to explain. I could still feel some anger from the loss, but would be lying if I said Mason’s story wasn’t distracting me from it. “I’m sure you and her were very happy together.” Adam rolled his eyes, not as entertained by the story as Dizzy and me. “I wouldn’t say that,” Mason objected. “she was pretty pissed that her boyfriend hated kissing her.” He teased, finally drawing a laugh from Adam. “But take it from a winner,” He continued to joke. “sometimes you need to take your loses before you can win.” As I nodded my head, I saw Mason look back to Adam. “Did I mention I won states twice with my high school football team?” “You’re so obnoxious today!” Adam complained drawing a laugh from Lindsay. “Adam’s finally getting what he deserves.” Lindsay said with a smile. “Not so fun when someone’s pushing your buttons, is it?” “Not so fun…” Adam began to mock as we finally saw the house in the distance. Sure, the house was a little crowded that night, but it was exactly what I needed. Adam, Lindsay and Mason all tried to cook together while Dizzy talked me into giving video games another chance. And honestly, I’m not too sure which one went worse! We may not be the most traditional household, but I dare anyone walking by to find a house with more laughter and yelling than ours. -- -- When the night finally wound down, and Lindsay, Mason and Dizzy headed home, I felt the sting from the loss returning to me. For a little while I stayed quiet and thought it all over, while Adam played the game Dizzy was trying to teach me. “Do you think I could,” I started but stopped myself as moments from last night’s argument began to flash in my mind. “can I call Ezra?” I finally asked, but before I could even finish the question, Adam was handing me his phone. “Are you sure?” I double checked as I started to fall into my own head. “Up to you.” He offered as he paused his game and looked over to me. “Like I said this morning, I’ll support you no matter what.” I forced a small smile and nodded as I pulled up Ezra’s contact and hit the call button. “Arthur,” Ezra began as the other end clicked on. “I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you today.” “Why’s that?” I asked, seeing what he’d say. “Felt like I offended you and Adam yesterday.” He answered without hesitation. “And I apologize if I did, I’m just doing what I think is right.” He offered, but just like all the calls before, Adam wasn’t buying it. There were a few moments of silence as I let Ezra’s words sink in. “So you had a game today,” He began again, moving onto the next topic. “how was that?” “Frustrating.” I answered, unsure how to describe it. “We lost by one, and we really can’t afford to drop games like that right now.” I heard him hum for a moment as he thought it over. “You said you had three games left and you have to win two, right?” He asked. “Yeah.” I quickly answered, surprised that he had remembered. This whole time I figured he was just going through the motions and forcing small talk. “Then it sounds like playoffs start early for you boys.” He encouraged as his voice grew louder. “No one knows how to handle must win games, but if you boys can string together two wins, you’ll be a very dangerous team.” He lectured. “Prove you boys can handle the pressure, that way when you make the playoffs, you don’t have to.” “I didn’t think of it like that.” I confessed, eager to hear what else he had to say. “Sometimes it’s all about perspective.” He continued to teach. “If a goal seems impossible, you just have to look at it from a different angle.” He explained before growing quiet to think. “How about you, how did you play today?” He asked. “I was alright, I picked up a few assists in the field and helped turn a couple double plays.” I answered as I began to reflect on my game once more. “Picked up three singles and stole second twice, but I also lined out once and got caught stealing another.” “Alright,” Ezra accepted as he thought over my words. “well going three for four is definitely nothing to be ashamed of.” He tried to encourage. “And if you try and steal three times in one game, you’re definitely going to get caught at least once!” He warned in a laugh. “How didn’t you get caught twice?” “Guess I’m just fast.” I answered, as I couldn’t help but laugh along. “Guess so.” He agreed. “Either way, it sounds like you did your part during the game. You just need to keep building on that.” “Yeah.” I forced out as the same feelings from after the game began to reemerge. “You’re angry, aren’t you?” He asked as he heard the tone in my voice. For a second, I thought about lying to him, about acting like I was too strong for one loss to phase me. But as Adam looked over to me, I knew I needed to tell the truth. “Yeah.” I finally answered. “Good.” Ezra supported without any hesitation. “That’s alright?” I asked in a surprised voice. I know I don’t know Ezra that well, but I thought for sure he’d want his son to be stronger than that. That he’d want his son to keep powering through his feelings. “Sure it is.” He answered once more. “You’re angry because you care Arthur.” He pointed out. “These are the feelings that push us to get better.” He spoke in a confident voice. “Next game, you remember this feeling and you make sure you do everything to prevent it from happening again.” “Yes sir.” I couldn’t help but respond, surprising even myself. I know I basically heard the same speech from Mason, but for some reason I didn’t expect Ezra to be saying it too! I thought for sure Ezra would frown upon any kind of losing! “When you’re not angry after a loss, that’s when you should be concerned.” He lectured, this time drawing a cautious stare from Adam. “Anyway, I have to be up early in the morning, so I should start getting ready for bed soon.” He began to wrap up. “And I don’t want to push my luck too far,” He paused as Adam’s glance only grew more intense. “but I was wondering if you and Adam had a chance to discuss last nights conversation.” “We did.” I forced out, unsure how to respond. I looked over to Adam for help, but he simply nodded, showing me it was okay. “You can visit,” I let out in a shaky voice. “but only for three days.” “That’s great!” He happily cheered as his voice grew louder once more. “When are your next two games?” He suddenly asked. “Or even better, do you know when playoffs start?” “I don’t know when playoffs start,” I hesitated as his excitement began to overwhelm me. “but the next two games are next weekend.” I noticed Adam doing his best the hide the nerves in his eyes, the same way I was. “I have to move some things around,” Ezra began again. “but I think I’ll be able to work that out.” He said in an excited voice. “I’ll call tomorrow to let you know for sure.” “Sounds good.” I accepted, trying my hardest to sound as confident as he did. “Good night.” I forced out. “Good night Arthur.” He echoed before ending the call. I looked over to Adam as I handed him the phone, but only received another nod. I could tell he’s not a fan of the idea, but won’t do anything to stop it. He’s really trusting me here, and I can’t let him down. As I felt my thoughts start to run wild, I took a moment to practice the breathing Jose taught me. I can handle this. This time next week, I’ll be able to sit face to face with my birth father and figure out what he really wants from me. Better yet, he’ll be in the crowd of my baseball games. I’ll be able to show him first hand, the kid he left behind. I’ll show him just how good a job Sarah Price did without him in her life.
  13. Aceinthehole

    Divide

    Chapter 37: Divide That night I could tell Adam was in his own head, just like I had been all day. Every now and again he’d get up and pace around the kitchen, or just sit and scroll through his phone. A few times I tried to make eye contact with him, but I could tell he was avoiding it. “Has he ever done this before?” Dizzy finally whispered to me as we heard Adam beginning to clean any plates or cups left in the kitchen sink. “Clean?” I asked, trying to avoid the conversation. “I don’t think so.” As Dizzy shot me an unamused look, I couldn’t help but sigh. So not even he’s joking around tonight? I know it’s a big deal, but they had to figure he was going to ask to visit sooner or later. Sure, it’s kind of early for it, but it’s not the biggest shock he could’ve dropped on us! “Usually he gets mad when either of us even sneezes during a movie.” Dizzy finally began again. “He’s really freaking out about this.” “Yeah.” I agreed, finally growing serious. “Adam.” I called out as I picked up the controller and paused the movie. “Why don’t you come relax?” “I’ll be there in a minute, just let the movie play.” He instructed, not even bothering to look over at us. “If you need, you can take a smoke break.” Dizzy offered as we stared at Adam’s back. “Neither of us will judge you.” “I don’t need to smoke.” Adam responded without hesitation. “Are you sure?” I challenged in a concerned voice. “It’s not the healthiest way to cope, but it’s better than this.” “I’m not trying to cope with anything, and I don’t need to smoke.” He insisted as his voice began to fill with frustration. “I just need to finish some stuff while I have the energy, so finish the movie or go to bed.” He instructed, finally turning back and staring at Dizzy and me. “Okay.” Dizzy accepted in a reluctant voice. As the movie began to play again and Adam finally returned to his seat, I noticed him become glued to his phone. Every few minutes he would frantically tap away before placing it down, only to pick it back up within seconds. Normally I’d be more worried, but I think he’s texting Mason or Lindsay. I mean venting to people is at least helpful, right? So, this is some progress, I think. When the movie came to an end Adam quickly said goodnight before rushing up the stairs and to his room. Dizzy waited for a moment or two to make sure the coast is clear before finally looking back to me. “Okay,” He began in a confused voice. “what the fuck was that?” “That’s an ugly word.” I warned, avoiding the larger question. Dizzy rolled his eyes but grabbed my arm as I went to stand up. “This is serious Artie.” He pressured as our eyes connected. “I know.” I exhaled as I glanced back towards the stairs. “He’s really freaking out.” “You think?” Dizzy sarcastically asked, relieved I was finally accepting everything that was going on. “I’ll go talk to him.” I forced out as I rose to my feet. For a second I could tell Dizzy thought about following me, but stayed behind, understanding this was something Adam and I had to work out. Yet still, as I started climbing the stairs, I couldn’t help but look back at Dizzy for support. He forced a smile and gave me a nod as my mind raced with things to say. When I finally reached Adam’s room, I had to force myself to knock on his door. “Adam?” I called out, but got no response. “Adam?” I repeated but he stayed quiet. “Adam, I really think we should talk.” I insisted as I finally heard movement in his room. “What?” He groaned as he opened his door and began to stare me down. “I think we should talk.” I repeated. As our eyes locked, I noticed his gaze had only grown more concerned than it had during the movie. “I told you, we’ll talk tomorrow.” He argued, reaching for his door. “I know,” I replied as I put my foot in the doorway. “but I think this is something you need to work out tonight.” “I know you’re worried,” Adam said as he held onto the door tightly. “but believe it or not, I’ve handled much bigger issues.” “I know you can handle it,” I offered, trying my hardest to show I was on his side. “but that doesn’t mean it won’t keep you awake, and it doesn’t mean it’s not going to bother you all tomorrow.” “I’m a big boy, I can handle it.” He argued, now trying to shut the door. “Well I,” I began searching for the right words. “I can’t.” I confessed as his gaze began to soften. “I can’t think about this or worry about you all night.” He went to argue more, but stopped himself and leaned his head back. “Shit.” He exhaled as he realized there was no way out. “Come in.” He surrendered as he took a few steps back and sat on his bed. I’ve lived in this house for a while now, but I’ve still never really been in Adam’s room. It was a bit bigger than mine, but he didn’t have much furniture. Just a bed, a dresser and a T.V. stand with a large flat screen on it. On the dresser I noticed a few pictures of him, Lindsay and the Rites over the years and even one of the old pictures of him and my Mom that Sadie had sent us. “You can sit, you know?” Adam offered as he moved over to give me more room. I nodded my head and took my seat as I tried my hardest to think of ways to start the conversation. “You want Ezra to visit.” Adam finally broke the ice. “I, I don’t know about that yet.” I began as I thought it over. “That’s a really big step to take and I hardly know him, it’s just,” “I could see it in your face when he brought it up.” Adam interrupted in a sigh. “Maybe you don’t know it yet, but deep down, you want him to visit.” I stayed quiet for a few moments as his words began to sink in. “Would that really be the end of the world?” I finally asked. “I know you don’t like him and I know I can’t trust him yet, but what better way to find out what he wants?” “What better way for him to manipulate you?” Adam muttered, more to himself than to me. “Sorry.” He quickly offered as he saw the look on my face change. “But maybe he knows you’re already catching onto his bullshit, and maybe he knows he can wow you a lot easier in person.” “Those are big maybes.” I pointed out as we began to stare one another down once more. “Besides, what he said was right, getting to know one another over the phone isn’t working.” I shook my head. “It just feels really, awkward.” “And you don’t think it’s going to feel awkward in person?” Adam asked, making sure to challenge every point I tried to make. “Can’t be any worse than over the phone.” I mumbled as I finally looked away from Adam. “Look, clearly we’re just going to be at one another’s throats tonight.” Adam warned as he rose to his feet. “So maybe we should just cut our loses, and table the conversation until tomorrow. “ “Sure.” I rolled my eyes as I stood up and began to walk towards the door. “You don’t think so?” Adam asked in an annoyed voice, as my reaction began to rub him the wrong way. “It’s not like we’re suddenly going to agree tomorrow.” I groaned as I turned back to face him. “So if we’re going to argue about it, we might as well argue right now.” “I’m not looking to argue with you.” Adam insisted, but his voice only grew more frustrated. “I just don’t want Ezra visiting right now.” “So then when do you want him visiting?” I asked as I felt my arms fold across one another. “I don’t know,” Adam shook his head. “six months, maybe a year.” “A year?” I repeated, shocked by his answer. “You think I should talk to him over the phone for a year before we actually have a face to face conversation.” “I do.” Adam nodded his head. “Because I think before that even happens, you’ll see through him and drop it all together.” “You don’t think he’s changed?” I asked as Adam shook his head. “You don’t think he’s at least trying to have a relationship with me?” “Honestly, I don’t know what he’s trying to do.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “It’s really that unbelievable that he could want a relationship with his son?” I asked in disbelief. “He’s doing everything you wanted. He’s agreeing with your rules, and he even signed those papers!” “So you’re on his side?” Adam asked with a roll of his eyes. “Why do there have to be sides?” I challenged as my own anger began to rise. “I know he hurt you and my Mom, but it’s been sixteen years! And he, he’s still my Dad!” “I’m sorry, I don’t trust him.” Adam maintained as my words fell on deaf ears. “I know that’s not the answer you want to hear, but it’s the one I have.” “I’m not looking for an answer I want to hear.” I argued as my frustration rose. “I’m just looking for him to have a chance here.” “I’m giving him a chance.” Adam shrugged his shoulders. “You just don’t like how I’m doing it.” I let out an annoyed groan as my mind continued to race. “You said you’d trust me here,” I finally began. “and that you’d support the decisions I wanted to make about Ezra.” “That’s before I knew he wanted to visit.” Adam warned as he saw where I was taking the conversation. “Okay, but you also told Sadie that if he was serious about being my father, he would be there, in person.” I said, finally finding a solid point. “And now he want’s to be here and you’re going to tell him to go away?” “No one’s telling him to go away.” Adam said as his voice began to grow louder. “I just don’t think it’s the right time.” “I thought you trusted me.” I complained as I started to match the level he was talking at. “You told Sadie, I’m not a kid anymore, and that in the end, I’d make the right choices.” “Would you stop throwing what I said in my face!” Adam snapped as he finally reached his limit. “I trust you, and you’re not a child, but you’re still only sixteen!” He shouted in a booming voice. “I know you want a father, but I keep trying to warn you, Ezra is not a good guy!” He continued to yell. “God damn it Artie, why can’t you just trust me on this?” As soon as he saw the look on my face, I could tell Adam regretted his words. “I do trust you,” I forced out in a voice much weaker than just a few moments ago. “I just, I don’t know.” I stuttered as my emotions began to overwhelm me. “I know I have a lot here, and I should just cut my loses.” I shook my head as I spoke without thinking. “But for the first time ever, my Dad wants to be a part of my life.” Adam stayed quiet as concern replaced the anger on his face. “You and Dizzy think it’s so simple,” I continued to ramble. “but your Dads were there at the beginning. You got a chance with them.” I shook my head. “I never got my chance with him, and I’m supposed to just pass on that because it’s scary?” “I love you, and I trust you,” I forced out as our eyes connected. “but I can’t do that.” I rejected as I walked out of his room and turned the corner into my own. I noticed Adam follow me, but as Dizzy appeared in the hallway, Adam took a step back and let him handle the situation. As I laid out on my bed, I felt Dizzy do the same as he tried to grab onto me. “What happened?” He whispered to me, but I stayed quiet. “Come on Artie.” Dizzy tried to encourage, but got nothing back. He looked back over and shot Adam a puzzled look, but as he went to get up, I grabbed his arm and let my head lean against his shoulder. I heard Adam take a few steps forward, but stopped as he reached the edge of my bed. “I love and trust you too.” He offered as I felt his hand rest on my side. “And I’m so sorry I lost my temper,” He apologized, but I could tell he was unsure of what to say. “I just, I need to think this all over.” He explained before looking over to Dizzy who nodded his head. Adam lingered around for another few moments before letting out a deep sigh. “Good night boys.” He offered before turning around and heading back to his room. “Goodnight.” Dizzy replied, but I stayed quiet. Dizzy tried his hardest to get me to talk a few more times that night, but I stayed quiet and just held onto him. I’ve said all I can for one night, right now, I just need to be quiet and think for a while. Dizzy tried his hardest to stay up until I fell asleep, but as the clock hit 1 A.M. he passed out while I was still wide awake. Adam’s and my argument kept replaying in my head, only making me feel worse and worse for pushing him so hard. What I said was true, but Adam just wanted to go to bed. He knew this would happen and tried to avoid it. After all he’s done for me, why couldn’t I just accept that? I’m not sure what time it was, but eventually I passed out. When Dizzy’s and my phone alarms started to ring out, I noticed Adam slowly open my bedroom door. “Go back to sleep.” Adam instructed us as I slowly began to sit up. “We’re gonna be late.” I forced out in a grumble, but Dizzy stayed down. “I know, it’s alright.” Adam accepted, trying to talk as quietly as possible. “Get an extra hour or two of sleep, I already spoke to Colleen, I’ll write you guys late notes.” “Best. Morning. Ever.” Dizzy remarked from next to me, but I couldn’t tell if he was asleep or awake. Adam nodded to me once more, trying his hardest to show me it was okay before quietly shutting the bedroom door and giving us more space. This time, I was way too tired to have trouble sleeping. I passed out instantly, and by the time I woke up it was already nine-thirty. “Good morning.” Dizzy smirked as our eyes connected. “Feeling better this morning?” “I don’t know.” I exhaled as I slowly began to wake up. “Well, I know something that can change that.” He smiled as I felt his hands lightly grab my sides. “You think I’m in the mood for that right now?” I mumbled as I fought through a yawn. “I figured you’ve still got some frustration you need to work out.” His smirk continued to grow. “Think about it, how often does Adam let us sleep in your bed together?” “You say that every time this happens.” I rolled my eyes, but would be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the distraction. “You’re a pig.” I couldn’t help but smile. “No, a pig would’ve sucked your dick until you woke up.” Dizzy couldn’t help but giggle to himself as the words escaped his lips. Hope began to grow in his eyes as he saw me laugh along with him. “What a stand-up guy you are for having self-control.” I teased as he began to win me over. “I try my hardest.” He played along before moving close enough to force his forehead against mine. “Not that it gets rewarded.” He teased once more causing me to laugh. “Don’t blame me, it’s getting kind of late.” I excused, seeing what he’d say. “It’s nine-thirty, that’s still early!” He argued as his smirk grew. “Besides, I only need a minute or two.” “Trust me, I know.” I teased with a joke of my own. “Like you’re much better.” He challenged as he faked offense. “Go ahead, I’ll prove it right now.” I finally agree as Dizzy quickly leaned in for another kiss. Without any more words his head disappeared under the covers and found exactly what he was looking for. I don’t think I would’ve ever expected the morning taking this turn, hell, I thought I was going to be a mess today! But Dizzy started hitting the right buttons early enough in the morning, and I did need to work some stuff out. Besides, I’m sixteen and sharing a bed with my boyfriend! I don’t need to justify this! When we wrapped up and finally managed to pull it together Dizzy looked back to me with his normal smirk. “I think that times in at two minutes for you and five minutes for me.” “That was the quickest five minutes of my life.” I rolled my eyes, knowing he was exaggerating the time. “Time flies fast when you’re having fun.” He teased as I got out of bed and started to get some clothes together. “I was right,” I nodded my head. “you’re a pig.” He nodded his head but stayed quiet as he watched me get dressed. “Pig.” I warned as his smile grew. “I just needed another minute.” He lied as he got out of bed. “Besides, I’ve caught you staring.” He smiled as he slowly walked over to his backpack. “See.” He teased as he noticed my gaze. “I guess,” I played along as I tried to play stupid. “but there’s really not much to see.” Genuine surprise filled his face as he heard my joke. “That was mean Price!” He yelled as I made my way towards the bedroom door. “The truth hurts,” I continued to tease with a smile. “now get changed so I can go shower.” He nodded his head, but hesitated and walked over to me. “Really though,” He began in a serious voice. “it’s good to see you smiling.” “Is this really the time?” I asked in a sigh. “The second the shower goes on, Adam will know we’re up and rush us to school.” He explained as our eyes connected. “He only wants what’s best for you, you know that right?” “I know.” I agreed as I forced a nod. “I’m not mad at him, I think we both just needed to air some stuff out.” “And now it’s out.” Dizzy encourage with a forced smile. “Yeah.” I agreed with another sigh. As he leaned in and stole a kiss, I couldn’t help but smile. “Go put pants on.” I teased as I pulled away from him and headed towards the door. Yet I couldn’t help but look back and smile. He may be crazy, but there’s always a method to his madness. I don’t know if I could’ve made it this far in such a short time without him by my side. -- -- When I did finally shower and we made it downstairs, Adam was ready with a box of donuts on the table. “Artie,” He called out as our eyes connected. “I screwed up last night and I’m sorry.” “No you didn’t.” I tried to reject. “You told me to wait, but I kept pushing.” I said as I aired my guilty conscious. “It wasn’t fair to you, so I’m sorry.” “That’s still no excuse.” Adam insisted. “You started making good points and I lost my temper, just like my Dad used to.” He shook his head. “I don’t want to be that type of man. I’m sorry.” He took a few steps forward and pulled me in for a short hug before letting me go. “Whether Ezra visits or not,” He forced out in a strong voice. “is up to you.” He exhaled. “But I have ground rules I want to work out, and he’s not visiting you for more than three days.” “Really?” I let out in shock as Adam nodded his head. “Mhm.” Adam hummed. I could tell he wasn’t thrilled with it, but he really does trust me. “If you’re really not okay with this, you can say it.” I tried to offer, giving him one last out. “It’s up to you.” He insisted, but I could tell he was having to force the words out. “I’ll support you either way.” I nodded my head, but as I looked over to Dizzy I noticed his focus was on the donuts. “I picked them up while you two slept in.” Adam exhaled as he noticed the same thing as me. “Now grab one and head off to school.” “Best. Morning. Ever.” Dizzy exhaled, just like he had earlier this morning. Adam and I couldn’t help but laugh as he carefully looked through the box. I promise you Adam that you’re making the right decision. If Ezra’s intentions are bad, Ill figure it out and drop him on the spot. I have too much here to let him get in the way. But if he wants to be a part of what I’m building, then I’ll be happy to have him.
  14. Aceinthehole

    Trust

    Chapter 36: Trust Growing up, I thought I knew everything about my Mother. She was my best friend, and nothing will ever change that. But now that she’s gone, well I’m learning all the things she kept from me, and I’m meeting all the people she didn’t want me to. Not because I lost trust in her, but because I need to start trusting myself. She was protecting me, but I’m old enough to protect myself. And if I can’t, well I have Adam here to help. Adam’s head quickly turned from the T.V. to me as I reached for the controller on the coffee table. “Artie!” He shouted as I paused the movie. “You can’t just stop a movie during a fight scene.” “Really?” I asked, trying my hardest to force a shocked face the way Dizzy would. “I mean, the world doesn’t seem like it’s ending, so I think we’re okay.” Adam rolled his eyes and leaned back in his seat. “You spend too much time with Dizzy.” He complained, but fell quiet as he waited for my explanation. I hesitated for a moment or two, before finally forcing out the question stuck on my mind. “Do you think Sadie would know about any letters Ezra sent to my Mom?” “I don’t know.” Adam shrugged before exhaling a deep breath. “Have you been thinking about that for the last hour?” “Maybe.” I mumbled as I looked away from him and towards the paused movie on the screen. “That’s not healthy, you need to learn to turn off your brain and just relax.” He warned, but took out his phone and tossed it to me anyway. “Go ahead.” He waived his hand. “Right now?” I asked, surprised by his willingness. “I haven’t even told her I met Ezra yet.” As soon as he heard those words, I saw the look on Adam’s face change. “She doesn’t know?” He asked, beginning to stare me down. “I thought you told her before you told me.” “Why would I do that?” I asked, but Adam fell quiet as he thought it over. “I don’t know.” He finally replied as he fought off a smile. “But you should probably tell her, don’t you think?” He pressured as I reached for his phone on the cushion next to me. “You’re just happy I told you first.” I complained as I picked up his already unlocked phone and pulled up her contact. “It’s not too late to call?” “If you keep waiting it will be.” He pressured as he watched me work it over in my mind. Finally with a brave hand I pushed the call button and put the phone on speaker as ringing filled the air. “Adam?” Sadie asked as her end clicked on. “Is everything okay?” “It’s me.” I answered as I placed the phone between me and Adam. “Why are you using Adam’s phone?” Sadie asked as confusion grew in her voice. “Because his is upstairs, dead and covered in dust.” Adam complained. As I shot him an unamused look, he made sure to make a face at me. “I take it to school every day.” I corrected as Adam and I began to stare one another down. “Just because I’m not on it all day, doesn’t mean I don’t use it.” “I’m not on my phone all day, besides, I’ve heard Dizzy complain that you leave him on read.” Adam shot back as our stare down only grew stronger. “Is this why you called me?” Sadie asked, already tired of our games. “No ma’am.” I replied, realizing it was too late at night to waste any of her time. “How come she get’s ma’am but you never call me sir?” Adam suddenly asked, taking another chance to push my buttons. “Do you really want me to call you sir?” I asked in a sarcastic voice. “You already get weird whenever I call you Uncle.” “I don’t get weird.” Adam defensively let out. “I’ve just never been called Uncle before, and it takes some getting used to.” “Okay, sir.” I replied, making sure to emphasize the word. “You two are very cute,” Sadie interrupted in a serious voice. “but can you guys focus?” “Sorry.” I offered, realizing Adam and I were getting carried away again. “I just, I have something important I need to tell you,” I nervously began. As Adam finally grew serious, he nodded his head, showing me I had his support. “When, when you were in the bathroom at the courthouse,” I began but hesitate once more. “Ezra Green found me and Dizzy and gave me his business card.” A sigh escaped Sadie’s lips as my words began to sink in. “Ezra Green?” She repeated as she tried her hardest to wrap her mind around my words. “How did he know you were there?” “I ran into Sam Brooks the first day we visited, and Ezra said his dad called him.” I answered, but could tell that the news was only causing Sadie to worry more and more. “It’s alright, I promise, Adam has it all worked out.” “Well you’re lucky he earned my trust last time you were here,” She warned as her voice began to grow annoyed. “or I’d be flying all the way to California to force some sense into that thick Price head of yours.” Adam lightly nodded along with her words. “You’re welcome to come try that anyway.” He encouraged as he leaned back in his seat. “So have you spoken to him at all?” Sadie finally asked as she grew serious. “Twice over the phone.” I answered as I began to prepare for my next hard question. “Artie’s been really giving it to him though.” Adam suddenly began to encourage. “Ezra started bragging about his job today, and Artie shut it down right away.” “Yeah,” I agreed as I realized Adam was trying to help me ask my question. “but then, then he said he tried sending my Mom money,” I forced out. “and he said it was more than child support would’ve been.” This time as Sadie let out a sigh, she stayed quiet for a few moments. “Do you know if he’s telling the truth?” I pressured, hoping to get any answer I could. “I know he sent her a few letters.” Sadie finally began to speak again. “She never showed me them, or told me what they were about, but I know she would open them, read it and send it back.” This time it was my turn to sigh as I realized we had hit another dead end. “She never showed you them?” Adam began to speak as he noticed me grow quiet. “Didn’t she show you everything?” “It was a rocky time for us, for everyone involved.” Sadie tried to explain, but I could tell she was choosing her words carefully. “It was just a very hard decision for her.” “You think she was considering talking to him?” Adam asked, even more surprised than me. “I, I was trying to get her to.” Sadie confessed as Adam and I quickly looked at one another in surprise. “I know, Ezra’s a jerk and he, he really screwed her and Artie over.” She said, still stuck in her own head. “But getting raised by a single Mom, especially in our town, we all know how hard that was for her and Artie.” “Probably easier than having Ezra around.” Adam commented, before catching himself. “Sorry.” He offered me, but I shrugged it off, understanding where he was coming from. “Was it?” Sadie challenged, but I could tell it took everything in her to force that out. “Would having someone who could keep the lights on really be that bad?” Sadie asked. “Even if she only accepted the money and kept him at arm’s length away.” I stayed quiet, but I could tell Adam already knew his answer. “Maybe we should save this conversation for another time.” He offered. “Just say it.” I muttered as I realized how hard this conversation was becoming. “I know you don’t want to keep bashing Ezra in front of me, but if it’s the truth, just say it.” Adam nodded his head but hesitated as he thought over his words. “Sadie,” He finally began. “name one-time Ezra did something selfless without expecting something in return.” Sadie took a few moments to think. “I can’t.” She finally answered. “But this is his kid, it’s different.” She tried to argue. “Shouldn’t he have had a chance to be a father?” “If he wanted his chance, he could’ve knocked on her door.” Adam replied, this time not even having to think. “It’s easy to send letters. It’s hard to be there.” “You’re right.” Sadie surrendered in a sigh. “I just, wish it wasn’t so hard for her.” Sadie complained. Even after these past few months without her, Sadie is still worried about my Mom. “So why are you so okay with letting Ezra talk to Artie?” Sadie suddenly asked, causing the smile forming on my face to instantly fade. “Because this is something Artie feels he needs to do.” Adam began, once more showing no hesitation. “And when it comes down to it, I trust him to make the right choices.” “And if Ezra breaks his heart?” Sadie continued to pressure, speaking as though I wasn’t there. “Then he learns from it.” Adam replied. “He’s not a child anymore,” Adam warned before Sadie could protest. “He’s got some really good friends here who will help him through whatever happens.” “I can’t believe you’re the person I trust with this.” Sadie remarked, but I could tell she really did believe in Adam’s decisions. “You’re still the same annoying kid from Texas, you know that right?” “Ugh, it’s terrible!” I complained, taking the chance to lighten up the conversation. “From what I’ve seen from you lately, you’re not much better.” Sadie warned. “I swear, if Adam continues to rub off on you, we’re going to need to have a serious conversation.” She teased as Adam shook his head. “I’ll try not to,” I replied as I made a face towards Adam. “but that means you have to visit soon.” “As soon as work calms down, I promise you I will.” She agreed as she started to relax. “But until then you have to call me more, okay?” “I will, I promise.” I agreed as Adam shook his head. “You’re better off writing him a letter.” Adam warned as he drew a laugh from her. “I use my phone!” I insisted as Adam began to restart our argument from the start of the call. “Good night boys!” Sadie interrupted, trying her hardest to avoid having to hear us bicker. “I love you Artie.” “Love you too.” I offered back as her end clicked off. “Feel any better?” Adam asked as I handed him his phone back. “Not really.” I grumbled as I began to replay the conversation in my head. “Me neither.” He agreed as he picked up the controller and turned off both the console and T.V. “And we interrupted a perfectly good movie.” He teased as he stood up. “Sorry sir.” I shot back as I rose to my feet. “Good night Artie.” He dismissed, ignoring my teasing and walking towards the stairs. “Good night sir.” I replied as he shook his head and continued to ignore me. When I finally made my way upstairs and got into bed, I found the conversation with Sadie replaying in my head. I still don’t know if Ezra sent money, but he reached out to us. And sure, Adam’s right, if he wanted to be my Dad he should’ve come knocking on our trailer door, but sometimes life isn’t that simple. Don’t get me wrong, something about this still doesn’t sit right with me. But Ezra’s trying right now. He called on back to back days, and was patient even when I started to lose my temper. Everyone deserves a second chance, and Ezra, I really want to believe he’s starting to earn that. -- -- When I woke up the next morning, something about me was off. I was distracted and in my own head, I even put my shirt on inside out! But none of my friends pried. Dizzy made a few jokes, but the truth is it was nothing they hadn’t seen before! I mean, who doesn’t have off days when they have a lot on their mind? I tried my hardest to keep my head down, and just work through it, but when baseball practice rolled around, I knew that wasn’t an option. I did everything I could to not show it, but after a sloppy play or two, even my coaches could tell I was distracted. When practice finally wrapped up and I started walking back towards school, I noticed Jose trying to catch up to me. “Artie,” He called out as I slowed down enough to let him next to me. “you’re walking back to school, right?” He asked, drawing a nod from me. “Cool, I’ve gotta go that way too.” He forced a smile before falling quiet. There were a couple times I noticed him go to speak before catching himself and staying quiet. “Artie,” He finally began again. “I know we don’t really talk outside of baseball,” He said, forcing himself to look over to me. “but you seemed kinda off during practice.” “I know.” I exhaled as my missed plays began to replay in my head. “I’m sorry.” I shook my head, as though that would erase the scenes replaying in my mind. “I’ll be better before our game tomorrow night, I promise.” “Oh, that’s not, I’m not really worried about that right now.” He stuttered as he tried his hardest to find confidence in his words. “I just want to make sure you’re good.” I had to fight off a small smile as I heard those words. “I’m good.” I forced another nod. “I’ve just got some stuff going on and needed a day to think, ya know?” “Yeah.” Jose agreed. I could tell checking on me felt awkward for him, but he was pushing through it anyway. “On days like that, I need practice to help get me out of it.” He said, breaking eye contact and looking forward. “It distracts me from being distracted I guess.” “I think I only get distracted more during baseball.” I confessed as Jose looked back over to me. “It’s just so much time to think, and then suddenly a ground ball is coming in but my heads somewhere else and I just, hesitate.” “I used to do that too.” Jose supported, now starting to find confidence in his words. “But then one of my coaches taught me a breathing exercise to center myself.” He snickered as his own words as he shook his head. “It sounds like bullshit, but it really works.” He encouraged. “It like, puts all my focus on my breathing and lets my mind just react to the play.” “I don’t think I’d be good if I ever just reacted to plays.” I shook my head as I thought his words over. “Sure you would.” He encouraged, this time without hesitation. “You have the best plate discipline on the team, and a lot of that is reaction.” He argued with a shrug of his shoulders. “I wouldn’t force you to do anything,” He began to wrap up as we reached the school. “but if you’re distracted again tomorrow, I can teach you the breathing exercise I use.” I thought it over for a few moments before nodding my head. “Alright.” I accepted with a forced smile. “I guess it couldn’t hurt.” “It couldn’t.” He agreed as his voice grew a bit more excited by the opportunity. “Besides, you can use it to keep calm during anything.” Jose shook his head. “I use it all the time during finals.” He explained, but looked over towards the front door of the school as he noticed Dizzy walking out. “Before dates with Charlotte?” I couldn’t help but tease. “I don’t get nervous around her.” He lied, forcing his voice to grow a little louder. “Me and her stay cool.” “Mhm.” I hummed as my smile grew. “If there’s one thing I know about Charlotte, it’s that she’s an expert at staying cool.” “Worry about your man.” Jose teased as Dizzy finally joined us. He offered Dizzy a fist bump before reaching out and giving me a friendly shove. “I’ll catch you tomorrow Price.” He dismissed as he turned around and began to walk away. “I veto whatever this is.” Dizzy began as we began to walk home. “You what?” I sighed, not fully prepared for his normal craziness. “Whatever is going on with you and Jose, I veto it.” He joked around with a smile. “You’re only allowed to be friends with me, Ky and Charlotte.” “Getting jealous?” I couldn’t help but laugh as he bumped me with his shoulder. “Jealous?” He asked as our eyes connected. “Never.” He shook his head. “I just think all your time should be spent with me and my friends.” He continued with a smirk. “Is that so crazy?” “Your friends?” I asked, beginning to playfully stare him down. “I knew them first!” He childishly defended. “Tough,” I shrugged my shoulders. “because I’m pretty sure I’m stealing them,” I teased, this time it was my turn to bump into him. “and there’s nothing you can do about it.” “Trust me, there’s plenty I can do about it.” He replied as his smirk grew. “I’ll steal Adam.” He warned as my house came into view. “You can have him.” I said, as though I didn’t care. “He’ll just make you watch bad movies until he has enough beer to rant about them and go to bed.” Dizzy couldn’t help but laugh as he heard that. “I’m telling him you said he watches bad movies!” “Don’t you dare!” I yelped as Dizzy began to walk a little faster. “Dizzy!” I shouted as he started to put space between us. I tried to catch up, but the bag on my back with all my baseball gear was weighing me down. When we finally reached the house, he ran up the stairs and started fiddling with his keys. “It’s over.” I warned as I finally climbed the last few steps up to my front door. “I’m gonna tell him.” Dizzy taunted as he finally found the right key. “First thing I’m going to say.” “You won’t.” I shook my head, trying my hardest to call his bluff. “Okay.” Dizzy shrugged his shoulders, knowing it’d get under my skin. As he tried to unlock the door, I grabbed onto him and pulled him in for a kiss, knowing it’d shut him up. As soon as our lips connected, the front door finally opened. “Uck.” Lindsay remarked as she walked away in disgust. “Congratulations Adam.” She sarcastically cheered. “You turned the kid into a mini you.” “Well played.” Dizzy remarked as I pulled away and a blush coated my face. “I told you not to get the door.” Adam dismissed, unfazed by our actions. “Artie said you watch bad movies!” Dizzy yelped. This time Adam immediately looked over at me. “He’s lying!” I forced out as Adam shook his head in disappointment. “They wouldn’t be bad if you actually paid attention.” He began to lecture. “I always give you options and let you pick, but you read through them!” I looked to Lindsay for help, but she shrugged her shoulders. “And last night, you paused it halfway through!” He continued to rant. As his words continued to drone on, I looked over to Dizzy and shook my head. “I’ll remember this.” I warned him as Adam’s rant finally came to an end. “I’ll make it up to you.” He winked before turning his attention back towards the adults in the room. “Lindsay,” Dizzy began as he dropped his bag at the door. “Here we go.” She sighed, knowing Dizzy well enough now to brace for his personality. “My Mom said you’re her favorite boss.” He complimented, once more drawing Adam’s attention. “Keep going,” Adam forced out as he locked eyes with Dizzy. “but one of these times, I’m going to shoot the messenger.” “Then I guess now isn’t the time to tell you how bad you are at video games?” Dizzy asked, as he began to laugh at his own question. “Artie, you smell,” Adam remarked. “go shower.” He dismissed with a waive of his hand. “And Dizzy, you have to go start your homework.” He warned as Dizzy rolled his eyes and picked his bag back up. “At the kitchen table.” He instructed. “By myself?” Dizzy asked in an unamused voice. “What if I need help?” “If you paid attention in class, you shouldn’t need help.” Adam shrugged his shoulders as I began to walk towards the stairs. “Have fun.” I teased, happy with the payback Dizzy was getting. Dizzy turned to me and began to stare me down as he heard my words. “Judas.” He called me as he finally walked towards the kitchen. -- -- By the time I was done with my shower, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel better. Like always, Dizzy distracted me from being distracted. Sometimes I wonder just how much of that is intentional. If he banks on his attitude helping to pick up my mood. When I got back downstairs, Lindsay had already gone home, but Adam promised both her and Mason were coming over for dinner after my game tomorrow. Dizzy tried to volunteer to cook, but Adam shot that down as soon as he could! When things eventually calmed down and all my homework was done, I gathered up enough confidence to ask Adam if I could call Ezra. He let out a sigh, the same way he always does when he hears Ezra’s name, but handed me his phone anyway. “Hello?” Ezra began as he picked up the phone. “Hey,” I forced out as I placed the phone on the table in front of me. “it’s me.” “I had a feeling.” Ezra encouraged, but I could tell he was surprised to get a call. “How was school today?” “Good, no different from yesterday.” I answered. As I looked around the room, I noticed Adam and Dizzy more focused on the game they were playing than the phone call. It’s only our third call, but somehow this is already becoming normal for us. “You have baseball today?” Ezra asked, looking for anything to start a conversation. “Yeah, just fielding drills today though.” I answered as practice replayed in my head. “We’re preparing for one of our last games tomorrow.” “That’s exciting.” He tried to encourage. “You boys any closer to a playoff spot?” “Not really.” I thought it over. “A lot of it depends on what happens tomorrow, but even then, we have two more games after that.” “Well you keep preparing, but I got a feeling you’re ready for it.” He said, leaning on the usual common ground for conversation. “You’re from Texas, when it comes to baseball you’ve got plenty of notches on your gun.” “I know.” I agreed as the call grew quiet for a moment. “How was work for you?” I asked, unsure of what else to talk about. “Boring.” He answered without hesitation. “If I can offer you any advice, it’s to do something exciting with your life.” He lectured. “Pick something that keeps you moving, and makes you a lot of money.” “Money isn’t the most important thing in the world.” Adam spoke up, showing he was listening. “Do what makes you happy. That’s what’s matters.” “Yep.” Ezra agreed, but I could tell he was just saying it to avoid any arguments. “Speaking of money,” He began, as his deep southern voice began to grow louder. “I’m not happy with the way I handled our call yesterday.” “No?” I asked as I noticed Adam roll his eyes. “No.” Ezra repeated in a strong voice. “I should’ve realized how I was coming across and I don’t blame you for not being happy with me.” He continued as his voice stayed confident. “This is a difficult situation we’re in. I don’t really know you, and you don’t really know me.” “Yeah.” I agreed, interested to see where he was taking it. “And having these conversations over the phone is tough.” Ezra exhaled, causing Adam to quickly look over at me. “Call me old fashion, but how do you know you can trust me, when you can’t even see my face?” “Get to the point.” Adam forced out, growing frustrated by what he was starting to hear. Dizzy looked over at us with a concerned gaze, but stayed quiet. “If it’s okay with you, I think one weekend soon I should come to San Francisco.” Ezra suggested drawing a loud laugh from Adam. “I know it’s early, and it sounds ridiculous.” Ezra continued, ignoring Adam’s reaction. “But I know Arthur has some difficult questions for me,” He hesitated as I began to nod my head. “and I know they’re questions best asked in person.” “Well you kind of missed that boat,” Adam replied with some venom on his tongue. “don’t you think?” “I did,” Ezra agreed in a sigh. “but I’m asking your permission to make that right.” He continued to pressure. “Just three days, that’s all I’m asking for.” “Don’t you think you should earn those three days?” Adam challenged, doing his best to stay on top of his temper. “I’m trying to, but I need some sort of base before I can.” Ezra insisted. “I’ve only seen my son in person once, and I know that’s my fault, but if we’re going to get to know each other, I need more than that.” He continued to argue. “Arthur, what do you think?” “It’s up to Adam.” I quickly answered, showing that no matter what, I’d side with Adam. Dizzy nodded his head along with my words, showing I had answered it correctly. “Adam,” Ezra began. “if you’ve made up your mind, you’ve made up your mind.” He exhaled, still not ready to give up just yet. “but can you at least take the next few days to think it over?” He asked. “For Arthur’s sake.” “We’ll discuss it.” Adam agreed, knowing it wasn’t a decision he could make in just one night. “But I would expect a no if I was you.” Adam warned, staring down the phone as though Ezra could see it. “And next time you ask that question, don’t try and put it on Artie.” “Alright, I understand.” He accepted, but didn’t apologize. “It’s a school night, and Artie has a game tomorrow.” Adam began again. “I think it’s time to say goodnight.” He excused, now looking to rush Ezra off the phone. “Yeah.” I agreed in a sigh. “Goodnight Ezra.” I forced out. “Goodnight.” He repeated as the other line disconnected. Dizzy looked over to me with a concerned gaze, but stayed quiet, knowing it wasn’t his place to talk. “Adam,” I forced out. “Later.” Adam shook his head, too frustrated with the conversation to talk about it. “It’s nothing you did, I just, I can’t talk about this right now.” “I understand.” I accepted, trying my hardest to ease the weight that was falling on his shoulders. “You’re doing a great job.” I tried to encourage as Dizzy moved closer to me. “You handled it well.” Dizzy agreed with a forced smile. Adam nodded his head, but picked up his controller and changed the game on the T.V. to a movie. “Yes Adam,” Dizzy teased. “a bad movie is exactly what we need.” “You’re really pushing it today.” Adam warned, trying to relax and play along with Dizzy’s joke. “It’s what I do best.” Dizzy replied, drawing a nod from Adam. As we all fell quiet, I found myself growing even more distracted than this morning. I knew that the phone calls weren’t going as well as they could, but I didn’t expect Ezra to offer to fly here! I know Adam’s worried, but he has to at least see that Ezra is trying. I may not be sure of his intentions just yet, but it seems like he wants to be a part of my life. For the first time in my life, my birth father is trying. And I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can reject that.
  15. I'm happy you're enjoying them! I've had fun reading through your comments, and hope you continue to enjoy the story!
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