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    Aceinthehole
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The Golden City - 41. Head in the Clouds

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.

Copyright © 2018 Aceinthehole; All Rights Reserved.
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While I cannot imagine living in the City, it would be even more difficult for me to imagine living in Texas based on my visit to Austin & Lake Travis in 1990 – and I’ve been told that Austin is the least Texan-ish city in that state.

I was forced to endure a conservative religious upbringing, but their brand of religious insanity is orders of magnitude worse than my minister father’s Protestant church. Ezra’s private conversation with Artie was scarier than anything my father ever came up with. All of this explains why I am an Agnostic.
;–)
 

I am liking Ezra even less than before!
;–)

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There were so emotions expressed in this chapter my head is in a spin.  That speech by Ezra when Dizzy headed to the bathroom turned my stomach.  I don’t like adults brain washing kids.  Sadie has it right, the devil is not the demon depicted in cartoons, he is a smooth speaker like Ezra.  The way Ezra reacted to Dizzy and his art hurt, his reaction to Dizzy staying over night.  All those things are strikes against him.  He is not supporting Artie, he wants to dictate Artie’s life.  His who attitude towards San Francisco shows his narrow point of view.  I agree with Artie, I like the variety one can find in San Francisco.   I have been to both San Francisco and Dallas.  I love the city by the bay.   It will be interesting to see where this story goes.  I really wish Artie had invited Adam to the pic nic.  Then again maybe Ezra will show even more of his real self and Artie will get to see the evil that lurks within.  

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Poor Artie is a little naive and obviously it is due to being hopeful about getting Ezra back in his life. Not coming from a similar situation I can’t really grasp it completely as while I understand Artie wanting Ezra in his life I can’t exactly imagine myself being so... gullible if I were in his shoes. Ezra was clearly surprised by the sudden comment indicating that Dizzy is Artie’s boyfriend and likely isn’t very thrilled at the idea so that doesn’t bode well for their next bonding experience. He’s trying to drill back into Artie’s head all those narrow minded teachings he grew up with including bigotry & homophobia. Causing Artie to reflect on those teachings will only ruin the happiness Artie has found if he allows this poison to take root. I hope he realizes the truth quickly as Ezra’s conniving manipulations could end up causing Artie to have relationship issues with Dizzy, Adam, and Mason.

Edited by NimirRaj
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Will u beleive me if I said,just yesterday I was wondering when u would post a new ch as I was v short on some inspiration,n was wishing so hard u wud post 1 so I could be a bit happier?

N today,dere is 1.A good 1 too.M thinking of leaving reading for a while.If I do,ur stories r one of my fav ones which I will remember. 🍫🖖🍫🖖🍫

Edited by Caramel8
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 Ezra is a pompous, judgmental ass. It bothers me that Ezra's self-righteous narrow-mindedness is interpreted by Artie as if he "sounds so well spoken and smart most of the time."  Instead of repudiating Ezra's warped views, Artie forgives him for having them: "He's passionate about his interests and stern about his beliefs, can I really blame him for that?"  Rather, Artie is trying to make Ezra into a shining example--"exactly what I imagined my father to be like."  Basically, Artie is deluding himself because of his understandable desire to have the father of his dreams. That said, he is still cognizant that Ezra abandoned him and that his mother wanted nothing to do with him.  Further, he is keenly aware that Adam dislikes him and that Sadie is so distrustful of him that she compares him to the devil.  In blunt terms, Sadie reminds Artie how much better off he is in California than he was in Texas (where Ezra's views hold sway).  Sadly, Artie has a lot to lose if he allows his emotions about Ezra (which aren't even based on reality) to trump his logic and common sense.  I'm fearful as to what it might take to make Artie accept the truth about Ezra--to let go of his childhood dream of the perfect father:  I just hope that, when the time comes, the damage to Artie and his loved ones will not be too severe.

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What Ezra says echoes what Artie was taught as he grew up. Ezra’s message resonates with everything Artie heard when he was younger. Artie was programmed to agree with what Ezra told him. It isn’t surprising that Artie would be bewitched by the mesmerizing things Ezra said.

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In contrast, Adam went out of his way to emphasize that he didn’t want to be seen as a parental figure to Artie. He definitely didn’t want to be seen as a pseudo father. He’s even reluctant to be regarded as the uncle that he is. He’d much rather be an older brother or friend to Artie. But he’s become more parental than he was initially.
;–)

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I feel as if Ezra is up to something. I also feel Artie's grandparents are behind it all somehow. I mean think about. Ezra wasn't in Artie's life but suddenly he was at the custody hearing when Artie's grandparents were trying to get him. Now Ezra is putting doubts in Artie's head aboút San Francisco, the way his mother raised him to believe and when Mason mentioned Dizzy staying with Artie's Ezra didn't seem to care for that and the call from Sarah. It's just adding up. We'll see if Artie's get wise to it all I guess. Thanks for posting this chapter, I was beginning to think we would never get to read more o this story. I was beginning to give up on it. Thank God I didn't.

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Congratulations Ace on another great chapter. Based on the comments above, you got us all exactly where you want us. These characters are obviously VERY real to your readers!!

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Who wants to chip in on a hit man for Ezra ?? 

He needs to be gotten rid of, and for Artie to invite him to the BBQ instead of Adam that was a huge mistake...I hope that none of this blows up in Arties face.

At least he has Adam, Dizzy, Mason, Charlotte, Ky and Lindsay to be there for him if it does blow up.

PLEASE don't make us wait to long for the next chapter....I've really missed these guys. 💖💖💖💖💖

Edited by 1brokNangel
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I have been taking Ezra for granted. Maybe that was a mistake. The other characters are suspicious of his motives. The readers mostly seem to be suspicious also. Then Sadie calls and she is suspicious. Too many fingers pointing not to look a little closer. From some of the comments he's made, I wonder if Ezra is here to "rescue" Artie. I can't wait to read more! Thanks. 

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Ok Artie, I love you dearly but, open your f###### eyes! This two-faced snake Douche-canoe slime ball is shit saying things to doubt yourself! And i knew he had a secret agenda I bet he's gonna gaslight him to come stay with him for some reason and send him to conversion therapy or something like that. 

Great now I'm aggressive about fictional characters again!

You're going to be paying for my therapy sessions @Aceintheholeeliminate round table GIF by Disciple

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Excellent chapter! Ezra has begun his campaign, he is definitely working with the grandparents. He’s gathering information and once he has enough then They’ll sue for custody stating that Artie’s living in an unsuitable home with a guardian who is corrupting the morals of a naive child. Once they bring suit back in Texas and win then Artie will be placed in a conversion therapy program to cure the evil. Artie and Adam need to be very careful with Ezra. Dizzy and Mason may be the ones best suited to seeing the plot unfolding. Hopefully Sarah’s phone call will help Artie to see all of the signs warning him. Adam isn’t aware of their conversations. He’s really got to pay very close attention. The emotional depth and complexities of these characters has created a profound bond with your readers. Thank you Ace for an amazing story that I sincerely hope will go on for a very long time. I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter! 🤬❤️

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Ezra  is definitely up to something and it's not going to be good!

I understand Artie's upbringing will resonate with the words Ezra is saying - but -  he needs to get his head out of the Texas sand!

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