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    Aceinthehole
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The Golden City - 43. 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.

Copyright © 2018 Aceinthehole; All Rights Reserved.

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Phenomenal installment! So glad that Artie finally saw through Ezra and realized that Adam was his rock! 

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so glad to find a new chapter with it saying on temporary hold. Anyhow great chapter, so very proud of Artie as well as Adam for standing back and let Artie figure it out for himself. I truly hope this isn't the ending to the story.

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Uncle Adam acts like a father, even though he's groping his way forward.  Ezra has a fossilized brain and acts like a one-trick pony.  I'm glad that Artie finally sees through his biological father and realizes what's truly important in his life. (Whatever his motivation, Ezra has struck out.) If Artie has any half siblings in Texas, I hope he still gets to meet them someday but with no strings attached.

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A great and very satisfying chapter. Thank you Aceinthehole!

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I’m glad to see Artie getting his priorities straight so to speak and finally telling his sperm donor how he feels about the nonsense he spouts.

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Excellent chapter! Artie finally got to see Ezra’s true intentions. After the team lost their final game Ezra just couldn’t prevent his true self from appearing at their lunch after the game. His overwhelming belief in his superiority as well as his condescending attitude about Artie’s lack of a strong father figure being necessary for success in life gave Artie a very powerful look into the nature of their relationship. Good riddance to bad garbage. Adam, Mason and Dizzy remained supportive and caring during the very trying weekend. Lots of hurt feelings, however they came through as the family they knew they were. I’m definitely looking forward to the next chapter! 😃❤️

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Late in making a response. I read this right when it came out, but I wanted to wait and see what others had to say before I put down any words.  I found myself experiencing all kinds of emotions in this chapter.  I was so ticked at Ezra I wanted to yell at him, sure glad Artie finally did.  I was overwhelmed with Artie, wake up kid, see what the fuck Ezra is up to.  When Artie finally got a voice and spoke his mind I shouted out with joy.  A “dad” is not made though sex, it is the man we seek out and respect who is there for us when we need a male’s advice. Adam really is a dad.  It was nice seeing Mason have more of a roll in the story.  He seems like a real keeper.  I remember earlier in the story that Adam was having partner problems.  Looks like he may have found his mate in Mason.  As far as Dizzy, and earlier comment said something about Dizzy.  I just figure he got his nick name for some reason. Great chapter, glad it isn’t the last one.  Keep up the great work Ace.  

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Wonderful chapter! I don't know Ace if you are winding this story up or whether Ezra isn't finished trying to dominate Artie. Either way, it's a wonderful ride.  thx

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I hope you’re okay and staying safe! Can’t wait for the next chapter :)

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