If you stop and think about it a lot can happen in a day, hell a lot can happen between homeroom and lunch. My day started as it did most days, to the sound of the radio alarm to yank me from my dreams. I always remember my good friend the snooze bar at this point in the day. Unfortunately my father was wise to this, and woke me in his favorite way, by pulling on my big toe and hollering good morning. Maybe I should just get up when the alarm goes off.
After showering and finding clothes to wear, I headed down to find breakfast made. Oatmeal with raisins, which at one time had been a novelty. However, since mom died he did a lot of little things, and my breakfast was one of them. I was sick of oatmeal. I poured milk on it and ate anyway, not wanting to hurt his feelings. I then hurried out the door into the cool morning, spring on the cusp of taking over from old man winter, and started down to the bus stop. The block my house was on sat on top of a small hillock, so the block’s worth of walking down to the bus stop was downhill. I idly wondered if this would be one of the days Greg or Mark tried to talk to me again. They made me nervous, although they seemed to have gotten the message that I wasn't talking to anyone as they had slowed their efforts.
I'm pretty quiet around folks I don't know, and these people that rode the same bus I did never made me feel too comfortable, in fact I really hadn't made friends since I had gotten here. So I stood off to one side and listened to the chatter of the other kids. One pack in particular started speaking loud enough for me to hear.
"Betcha he jerks off over you, Greg. Why dontcha go ask him for a blowjob, Kelly isn't giving you any!" This was followed by a round of laughter. I made no outward reaction, just pretended not to hear as I always did.
"Mark, last day of baseball tryouts today, right?" Tom asked his brother.
"Yeah." Ron answered for Mark, " Hey, Jake, you got those big muscles from jackin' off, why don't you try out?" Ron called out to me. I stayed silent, willing the moment to pass but feeling as if it would last forever. Why wouldn't they just leave me alone? Ron broke from the group and stepped in front of me, I looked through him refusing to focus.
"I asked you a question." He said. I remained mute.
"What's your problem, anyway? You don't say anything to anyone, really pisses me off asshole." He responded, edging ever closer.
"Ron, chill man." Greg said.
He continued to lean in and the diesel growl of the bus was heard as it turned the corner.
"I hate not being answered." He growled. Under the voice of the diesel Ron was the only one to hear me reply.
"I guess that's why they call it the blues." I replied and headed for the bus. His hand shot out and grabbed my upper arm.
"What the hell does that mean?" He asked. I plowed ahead and he released my arm. I stepped onto the bus and sat in the first seat, next to the window so I would be protected from Ron and his friends. I hadn't meant to speak, but it had happened and I hated myself for it. My dad and I moved here after my mom my sister and I had been in a bad car accident. In the end it took my mother and sister, but spared me for some unknown reason. As a cosmic joke for months afterward I spoke in only song lyrics or something equally rhythmic or repetitious, not always the whole poem or anything, so sometimes at almost sounded like I was talking. And sometimes while I was under pressure, I still did. And I was powerless to stop it and as a result I rarely spoke. I could still feel the sickening lurch of the car rolling off the embankment, the disorientation as the car went upside down, right side up, upside down until it landed on the roof. The police said my mother fell asleep, and my sister had flattened the front seat out to sleep, so the seat belt was worthless. Only I, strapped in the back seat came through with just a few bruises.
The bus traveled along the main thoroughfare in town, towards the school and another day of social conformity and being the outsider looking in. I felt a jab to my back and tried to ignore it, but it was insistent. I finally turned to face my attacker and was mildly surprised to see Greg looking back at me. Out of the whole group, Greg usually said nothing against me. Nothing for me until this morning, but nothing against me. He was someone who got my attention physically though, a bit short maybe five foot eight or nine, blond hair that was always in some hair style that could be called stylishly disorganized. He was slim, but defined enough that you knew he was strong. Hey, he wears tight tee shirts, okay? His blue eyes, clear skin and generous mouth were something that got noticed often though. He broke into a grin, showing me his perfect white teeth and spoke softly.
"Sorry about them, I know they can be rough, but they're basically good guys. Mind if I sit with you?" He asked. He took my silences for acquiescence and slid in next to me.
"So, dude you've been here for like half a school year and no one knows anything about you. Why are you so quiet? We don't bite or anything." He grinned again.
I regarded him carefully, and then dismissed him. He was one of them, one of a group I could never be a part of, and I wasn't all together sure I would want to be in that group. There was no way he could be interested in my thoughts, his choice of friends showed that much.
"Um, okay, let's try this. You like baseball?" He asked.
I thought for a moment wondering if I was risking anything in this line of questioning. Was I allowing any information that might be dangerous to me later to get out? I decided that the question was a safe one and nodded my head.
"Okay, now we're getting somewhere! Do you play?" He asked, obviously encouraged at my nod.
I sat and regarded him again, looking for the malice, looking for the cruel joke to be given away in his eyes. I find most often that the old adage holds true, the eyes are the windows to the soul, and the betrayal can usually be found there. I didn't see it though.
"C'mon, don't clam up." He said quietly, "Do you play?" He asked again.
I studied him for a moment, and again my mouth galloped, unbidden, with verse.
"It was long ago and it was far away." I said. Embarrassed I looked back towards the street passing by and watched those that lived closer to the school as they walked, bag lunches in hand or backpacks on their backs. Mostly they traveled in two's and three's, but occasionally there was a lost soul like mine, trudging alone. When Greg spoke to me I felt as though I was under a microscope and he was studying some odd bug or something. I willed Greg to leave me alone, but he persisted.
"What position is your favorite?" He asked.
I couldn’t answer, I bit my lower lip to prevent a response and he waited patiently.
He tried and tried to get me to talk, but I was so afraid and I didn't know why. After the accident, I seemed to be afraid of people. I read some of the forms the doctor filled out on me, and all they had was a theory; they didn't even know I saw the pages. He said it was a defensive measure that I was afraid to care, that I was putting up mental walls to keep people out. Maybe so.
"C'mon, if you were taking the field, what position would you play?" He asked.
"What's on second." Flew from my traitorous mouth. I bit down hard on my lower lip and looked back at the street that was slowing down as the bus came to a red light. I could feel the tears welling in my eyes, why couldn't he let me be? I hated the nervousness, the loss of control. I guess in a way it was amazing I had avoided it as long as I had, but why this persistent interest?
"Huh? Who's on second?" He asked.
"Who's on first!" Cackled the bus driver.
"What?" Greg asked the driver.
"You asked him 'what' position would he play. Well, what is on second, who's on first!"
"Is this a joke?" He asked sounding frustrated. The bus slid to a stop at the traffic light and idled while the bus driver looked at Greg through the large mirror above his head for observing the riders on the bus.
"Abbott and Costello made it famous, who's on first was a real comedy trip. See, the names of the players were all so strange, Who was the first baseman, What was the second baseman and so on." Greg nodded in understanding and turned back to me.
"Okay, so you have the ball as you walk on the field, any position you want, where would you go?" He asked slowly, making sure not to use who and what.
I avoided his gaze but could feel it on my back, and I whispered, "Tomorrow."
He sat quietly digesting this. At last the bus pulled into the semi circular driveway of the school and I headed off the bus and towards the library. My homeroom didn't start for about fifteen minutes and I didn't want to deal with anyone. Quite honestly that rattled me, I hadn't spoken to anyone that often besides my dad for months and I really don't know why I spoke to Greg. But I know I looked weird now, I looked even stranger than I had as someone who never spoke.
I sat in the library and opened my book. I may not say much, but I can read like a demon and I do. When someone sees me, nine times out of ten my nose is in a book. I sat quietly and was too distracted by this morning to concentrate on the book. Why was he pressing me? He had paid me little attention all year, just like most folks, and now he wants to bug me, to look into my screwed up little head? I thought slowly and carefully over the past few months of school, about three weeks ago he had really started to try to talk to me, but always in a semi-private setting. Kind of like it was just the two of us, almost like he was afraid a crowd, like a deer,’d spook me.
I sat in contemplation until it was a few minutes till homeroom. The librarian gave me hard looks as the second hand wound around closer and closer to the appointed hour for the school day to begin. She noted the children showing up who had homeroom with her in the library. I walked out and down the hall as the clock showed two minutes to eight, down two flights of stairs to the main floor and then to the wood shop class room. As I approached I noted Greg and Mark who were in my homeroom, but standing outside the door. They were engaged in conversation and I quickly slid past them into the classroom. I took a place at a workbench and again opened my book. I felt another presence and in my peripheral vision I saw Greg taking the seat next to me and Mark sat across the table.
"The Talisman is an awesome book, do you like it?" Greg asked.
I remained silent trying in vain to concentrate on my book, but I found myself distracted and stressed by his presence and his clean, soapy smell. It was most intoxicating. Mercifully Greg fell silent in regards to me. Mark held a conversation with him about the baseball practice after school and the lack of new blood for the season. As returning starters, both Mark and Greg would surely make the team and start this year. I stared at the book but my eyes absorbed nothing, my ears however listened to the baseball talk raging between the two.
"Dude, the Royals have never won a series, I know it. I frigging bet you anything they have never won. Now, St. Louis has a few under their belt, but not KC." Mark said.
"C'mon, I know the Royals won once quit trying to bullshit me."
And so the battle raged between them, and I had a strange feeling that Mark was teasing Greg. The bell rang dismissing us from homeroom to our first period class. We stood to go and Greg looked at me in a curious way. It was like he was trying to see my soul, like he could see something in me I couldn't. Mark stood next to him and spoke.
"C'mon, loser, we'll be late for first period." I felt the sudden need to reach out to Greg. He had tried this morning, and as I really thought about it he had said hello to me many times, but I never replied, as always. I felt the need to let him know that I appreciated the kindness; for I really thought at that moment it was kindness and not pity. My mouth struggled against my brain and Greg seemed to notice my internal tug of war. He waited, almost expectantly and I said... Nothing. I couldn't. I could speak in riddles and verses but not form one sentence in friendship. My eyes watered and I left the room quickly.
I walked with my head half down and my mind running in overdrive to understand what was happening to me. He was nice, but what if he knew all about me? What if he knew I saw a shrink twice a week cause I hadn't spoken a bit of real conversation in more than six months? And what if he knew that for the first time in all that time, I had really wanted to say something to him, and I couldn't. I stopped in the hallway; eyes watering and I heard Greg next to me.
"Jake? Wait up, you ok?" He said. He sounded genuinely concerned. I wiped my eyes and looked at he and Mark, and even Mark seemed to be mildly concerned.
"1985!" I blurted, surprising myself.
"What?" Greg asked, plainly amazed that I had spoken yet again.
"The Royals. 1985." I said before walking away quickly to my class. Very nice, maybe I could try complete sentences next time. What next time I asked myself, he probably thinks you're a basket case, and he's right. At least he'll leave me alone now. On to first period.
First period was English and it was a class I normally enjoyed, however my teacher seemed to make a point of English being uncomfortable. Like a root canal. I took my seat and watched the other kids file in to take their chairs. There was no seating chart, so you just sat when you came in. I always got there quickly so I could sit near the front and not get disturbed. I also didn't have to deal with kids a lot.
"Hi, dickhead." Ron said taking the seat next to me. I felt my heart speed with the realization that he was sitting here to antagonize me. I stared straight ahead. The teacher took her place at the front of the room and seemed to be mildly surprised to find Ron near the front. Her wig was poorly fixated that day, and hung at a drunken angle to the right. It was not hard to see why she commanded little to no respect. She began to orate about Edgar Allen Poe's Telltale Heart. As she spoke and then gradually had others read and I began to apply the story to myself. What was my heart doing? True enough I had thought of Greg before, or his image at least for I knew little of the person. I have found it to be a good rule of thumb to not attempt to reach for the impossible. I had dreamt of doing... Things with him. They weren't clear in my head, these acts, but they were like clouds. Pleasurable, even if tenuous. I returned my attention to the classroom with some difficulty, leaving Greg in my mind.
Mrs. Washington had a strange system of reading aloud; the person that read the first paragraph would finish and call on someone else. Someone called on Ron, which was amusing because we all knew he didn't like to and so normally promised to kick someone's ass for doing do. In fact, a small group went 'ooooh' when he was called upon. He acted as if he read everyday and when he reached the end of his paragraph she told him to call on someone to read.
"I pick Jake." He said, smug smile on his face. The class looked at me, to a one. Mrs. Washington stepped in quickly.
"Not funny Ron. Choose someone else."
"But that's not fair, Jake never has to read out loud. Can't he talk?"
"It's none of your affair. Mickey, please start where Ron finished."
Mickey Terrell started to read but Ron glared malevolently at me. I tried to ignore him, but it was really hard. I lost my place in the story as I felt I could hear my heart racing with fear over what Ron might do to me for escaping his trap. He continued to stare and I shifted uncomfortably on my seat under that awful gaze. This day was getting more difficult as it went on, why was I the focus of so many today?
The story was completed and Mrs. Washington informed us there would be a test tomorrow, so to read it again. I knew I would have to; I hadn't gotten anything out of it at all. The bell rang signaling the end of first period and I was already feeling like this was going to be one of those days. Ron bumped me on my way out the door, and my books fell to the floor. I bent in silence to retrieve them and heard their receding laughter echoing down the hall. I trudged to my locker to exchange my books. I dialed my combination and opened the locker, a very Spartan locker it was too. Beings as it were spring I didn't have a coat in there, just books in the bottom. The shelf at the top had some supplies, a pencil and a few pens along with spare writing tablets. I grabbed my Math book and notebook and swung my locker shut. I started as the closing of the door revealed Greg standing behind it, leaning on the locker next to mine.
"Hey. Thanks for that tip about the Royals today, I just knew Mark had to be bullshitting me cause he knows the Royals are my favorite team." He flashed his toothy grin and I felt a sudden lightness in my chest and a twitch in my stomach. I nodded at him and turned to go to Math.
"So hey," He said falling into step with me, "You know a lot about baseball?" He asked.
What was going on? He was all over me today, talking and really making an effort. I stopped dead, the warm lightness advancing in my chest and I knew I was blushing, and my stomach continued to toss and turn. I turned and headed for the Nurses office. I must be sick I reasoned.I felt a hand on my shoulder and stopped, knowing in my gut that it was Greg, and that when he touched me my heart had joined my stomach, toss for toss and turn for turn. He stood in front of me and looked into my face.
"Jake, I’m not going to hurt you, or make fun of you. I'm just trying to talk to you. You know, get to know you." He said gently. My chest felt lighter than air and my throat began to tickle. "C'mon, we'll be late for class." He said and turned me to face the direction of our Math class. I wanted so badly to speak to him, to thank him for being nice, to explain that I was feeling very odd, that I might be sick. But those words would not come.
As we reached the classroom he stopped me again. His touch made my shoulder muscles jump.
"Look, I don't want to upset you. If you want me to stop just say the word. Um, well, you know what I mean." He said, shyly grinning. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. I coughed once and began to gag on the words I wanted to say. Suddenly I wanted him to talk to me, I wanted to listen all day, but I couldn't tell him! As I turned away in frustration my mouth, my traitorous mouth and tongue blurted out unbidden.
"Sorry seems to be the hardest word." I walked into the room with that realization on my head. I couldn't say I was sorry for being so confusing and difficult to be around. He had really made an effort and I blew it. I took a chair near the front again and proceeded to shriek in my mind. I felt a tap on my shoulder and I ignored it, but as on the bus, it was insistent. I turned at last to find Greg behind me.
"Don't be sorry, it's okay man." And he smiled and sat back in his chair. I turned and faced the front in shock. It was okay? He was acting as if what I said was the way everyone apologizes for being an ass. The instructor brought the class to attention with the ringing of the bell, and I sat at attention. Math is a difficult subject for me and I had to pay attention to get even the most basic functions. The teacher droned and I found myself distracted with thoughts of Greg sitting behind me. Again I asked myself why he was being so insistent today. I had certainly never encouraged him, never spoken to him until today, although god knows he had tried. Needless to mention, Math was a waste on me that day. Come to think of it, the whole day was really long and so far very strange. I wonder how many other classes I have with Greg? I found myself thinking carefully and realized that I had him in at least four classes not including homeroom, since that was just for attendance purposes. Homework was handed out and I copied the assignment into my notebook, sure I would be lost in figures tonight since I had missed the whole lesson. The bell rang and I stood to leave. Greg fell into step with me and began to speak.
"Man, he makes stuff so hard to understand. Like today, it's so much easier if you just look at from a different point of view." I looked at him questioningly.
"Did he lose you too?" He grinned. I found myself giving him a confused smile and nodding.
"Look at this." He said and opened his notebook and proceeded to teach me in one minute what a whole forty had not been communicated from a professional. It wasn't that the man wasn't intelligent; it was that he couldn't convey that intelligence. My face brightened in understanding and he laughed, a musical sound to my ears.
"You should smile more, it looks good on you!" He said, and I was sure that I blushed. "You know, more people should be like you, jeez! You’re a great listener you know that?" He smiled again and I felt at ease, there was nothing to fear from him and I felt some of my facade slipping, my bulwark against the real world was tumbling brick by brick. And I found I wasn't panicking.
We parted at the second floor and I headed to my third period class, History. Well, they call it social studies here, but whatever they chose to call it I was good at it. The teacher gave many notes and that was a boon for me, as I thrived on retention by physically administering the information to the page. We discussed the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the Hapsburg Dynasty; more commonly called the Ottoman Empire that touched off world war one. Strange that the area of the fighting is in the present day Yugoslav territories, and that the unrest in the area continues to this day. The whole scene and times were brought to life behind the description from my teacher, a short barrel-chested fellow that was completely obsessed with the New York Giants football team. A serious case if you asked me, but no one did. I sighed, why would they. I'd probably say something cryptic and so they'd wish that they had never asked.
History was over far too soon, and isn't it funny that it always was the case for me. Others seemed pretty relieved to be back in this century, but I had to admit the past wasn't always a pleasant place to be. I left the classroom and found I was disappointed not to find Greg in the hallway. I made my way to my locker to dump my Math book and my Math and History notebooks. I headed up empty handed to the second floor and the art room. Art I could take it or leave it; it never really captured my attention. I took my place at the first table next to the teacher’s desk, and was surprised that Mark sat next to me.
"Hey Jake, Greg tells me you’re a pitcher huh?" He said casually. I looked at him wondering how he figured that out, well actually, how Greg figured that out. I guess my face is expressive because he laughed and filled me in.
"Greg asked the bus driver this morning if there was a pitcher on Abbott and Costello's team, and he said 'Yeah, tomorrow!" He howled with laughter and I smiled at him. He was a lot like Greg I realized, his laughter was because he thought I was being clever, not an idiot.
"Dude, tryouts are today, why don't you go? Pitchers and catchers today." He looked at me expectantly. I tried to answer, even though I was in shock that he had even asked such a thing. I couldn't possibly, the interaction with people would be overwhelming and I hadn't thrown in quite a while, although I did work out at home so I wasn't exactly out of shape. He continued to look at me and I cast my eyes down.
"That's why I'm here in right field, just watching the dandelions grow." I said.
"I dunno, Jake. Greg would be awful disappointed if he didn't catch you." He said.
I looked up and my eyes widened.
"I mean catch for you, you know, you pitch, he catches. He's a catcher you know?"
"Today." I said.
"Yeah, today after school. Whoa, dude, that was like conversation!" He smiled.
I shook my head and cupped my hands in front of me mimicking a catcher and repeated myself.
"Um, I don't get it... Today... Wait, if Tomorrow is the pitcher, Today is the catcher right?" He said, obviously pleased with himself and his reasoning.
I nodded and smiled at him, a genuine smile. How long had it been since I smiled that much in one day?
The projects were removed from their shelves and we started to work on whatever new masterpiece was currently under construction. Mine was a plaster of Paris traffic light, don't ask me why. I was to the point of adding paint and I tried to stay in a circle, but it just wasn't happening. I ended up with ovular like red, yellow and green spots where there should have been round signals. I shook my head. I was aware of Mark next to me and he looked at the paint job with a critical eye.
"I have never seen a traffic light with oval shaped signal lights. Not that it wouldn't be different, but..." He said shaking his head with a smile. I grinned back and regarded my handiwork again. Yup, it sucked.
Mark offered to help and he took a paint container and set the round bottom on the signal of the next panel, blank so far. He then painted around the base of the container, a nice circle.
"There, that will work." He said. I shook my head. "Why not?" He asked. I pointed at the blue circle where my yellow signal should be.
"Oops." He said.
My next period was lunch, and I stood in line to make my purchase. The food wasn't too bad, despite what you hear or remember from High School. It wasn't gourmet either; I guess edible would cover it. I stepped up to the first station, where you chose your main course, and pointed at the pizza.
"It's called pizza, dummy. That's what they call you when you can't talk, right? Dumb?" Ron said loudly and laughed unkindly. A small group near him tittered nervously as if expected to laugh. I sighed and moved down get French fries. Ron continued to identify every food item that I happened on and finally I was out the door and into the cafeteria proper with my tray. Suddenly my tray was yanked from my hands and I turned to see Ron holding it and taunting me.
"C'mon, dummy. Say please and I'll give it back to you. C'mon dummy!" He cackled. I stood staring at him, mute as always although my nerves were just about shot, the whole day had been one thing after another and now he wasn't going to let me eat?
"Hey Ron, want to try that shit with me?" Greg asked walking closer to us.
"Back off coffee boy, go make a latte or something." Ron said, trying in vain to be flippant and clever.
"At least I have a job. Why don't you try and pick on someone who'll fight back, huh? Why don't you quit being such an ass?" Greg replied calmly.
"Okay," Ron said and began to hand me my tray, "You want your boyfriends tray back? You got it!" Ron said loudly as he covered Greg with my lunch. In the blink of an eye Tom, Mark's brother had hit Ron in the back of the head, and as Ron turned to face this new threat, Tommy laid him out on the cafeteria floor.
"Tommy, you shouldn't have done it man, you'll get suspended." Greg said, sadly eyeing his clothes.
"If I didn't and you had, you'd be off the team. Which is worse?" Tommy said. I on the other hand was in overload and left the cafeteria in the confusion, and headed straight for the guidance counselor's office. We had a contingency plan in place in case I was overwhelmed; I could go there for a moment and calm down. I stepped into the office and I dimly heard my name called down the hallway somewhere, echoing down the empty passages. I stepped into Mr. Rockwell's office and sat heavily in the padded chair in front of his desk, and I noticed I was breathing heavily.
Mr. Rockwell was listening to Enya, which I enjoyed partly because there were few words, and partly because many of the words were in French, I think, so I couldn't repeat them. I sat quietly breathing. I hadn't done this for a while, but thankfully he didn't give me questioning looks or anything so that was good.
Greg burst into the room, covered in my lunch and looked down at me in the chair. I shrank from him as he dropped to his knees and faced me on my level.
"Are you okay?" He asked with ragged breath.
"Hey, you can't just burst in here, he needs some space!" Mr. Rockwell stated as he stood. I was in shock to find Greg here, and I found his presence strangely comforting. I raised my hand to wave off the counselor who looked plainly surprised. He then excused himself to give us some space, and no doubt he was calling my father with news of my progress.
Greg took a seat in the second chair situated in front of the counselor’s desk. He looked at me carefully, and I took in his ruined clothes and felt very small. If only I had held onto my tray! If only I had walked away from Ron and allowed him to just do whatever with the food, it wasn't like I was starving.
"I'm sorry about him, I don't know what his problem is today. Ron can be an ass, but I've never seen him this bad. Are you ok?" Greg asked.
I looked at him in wonder. He said this wasn't my fault, he didn't blame me, he wasn't mad. But look at his clothes!
"Under Pressure." I said.
"Yeah, it has been kinda tough on you today huh?" He nodded, and I did as well.
"So sad, it's a sad, sad situation." I said, pointing at his clothes.
"Aww, well, I guess I can put my gym stuff on kinda early, you know? Just clothes, even if I do like 'em." He grinned.
"You've a certain sartorial eloquence." I said, pointing at the clothes again.
"Yeah, well cafeteria pizza is all the rage in Paris this year, I hear." He said grinning. My stomach started again at the site of his smile. Mr. Rockwell reentered the room and took his seat behind the desk.
"So, Greg, can you tell me what’s going on?" He asked.
"Well, Ron Matthews was hassling Jake pretty bad today, in fact it started this morning. He stole his lunch tray and then threw his lunch on me when I told him to stop. My friend Tommy Peron, he kinda stopped Ron from taking the next step, like fighting with me or Jake here."
"I see. So you and Jake have formed a friendship?" He asked looking back and forth. Greg looked at me with a small grin.
"Well, he's a man of few words, but he usually says the right ones so, yeah, friends it is." I lit up on the inside like a lighthouse shining over a bay. He said we were friends, that he liked what I said! I was beaming and I couldn't hide it, though I wasn't sure why I would want to.
Vice Principal Stephens stepped in to the room and sized us up. He asked Greg again what the story was and Greg repeated the story. VP Stephens was also the baseball coach for the varsity team.
"So, it's your opinion that Tom Peron was trying to stop the situation from escalating with Jake Tull? And that this targeting of him was something that started this morning and has been continual throughout the day?"
Greg said yes and then the counselor and Vice Principal left us alone for a minute to talk in private.
"So, listen, you going to try out for baseball today?" Greg asked me. I looked at him and shook my head no.
"Why not? What can it hurt?" Greg asked, pleading in his eyes.
"It's a little bit funny, this feeling inside." I said, pointing to my stomach, and then my chest, and finally over my heart.
"Its just nerves." Greg said, but his voice broke a bit.
"Oh no, I've said too much, not enough." I said.
"No, no it's okay. You haven't really spent any time with folks, but you could pitch. Or, you could try." He said softly.
"I can't explain, you would not understand, this is not how I am." I said.
"Then show me who you are." He replied. "Can't we try just a little bit harder?" He said.
My eyes widened and shock registered on my face. He had used a song lyric to communicate with me! He smiled and leaned forward in his chair.
"I really want you to try this, Jake. I'll be there for you. C'mon, what do you say?"
"Please tell me, why? Why?" I asked.
"Human nature?" He said laughing, recognizing the lyric. "I like you Jake, you're not like most folks. I think you only speak when you have something to say, I think you’re like a puzzle. What's that saying? A riddle wrapped inside a question tucked inside an enigma? That's you. I think... I just want to know you." He finished; gut there was something unsaid in his last statement, something that was held back. Fear flew in my heart and I began to question motives again. Try as I might to control it, it wouldn't give up that battle enough to completely stomp it out.
The counselor returned to the room and asked to speak to Greg in the next room.
I was left with my thoughts and the terrible flip flopping of my stomach. What was I missing? What had Greg not said? Was this all in my head? Was I just thinking too much?
Momentarily Greg returned with Mr. Rockwell and Vice Principal Stephens.
"Okay, here's what I'd like to do. Jake, you've had a tough day." He said, not unkindly.
"It's been a long day, always." I replied morosely.
"Yeah, but you have made more progress today that you have all year. Even if it is song lyrics, and I know you hate that, I can see you trust Greg and you do talk to him, and I have to say I like that. So here's what I'd like to do." He looked from one of us to the other, Greg tensed and I have a feeling it was because he knew what was to be said, maybe he was worried about my reaction?
"I'd like you to go with Greg. He has to go to his gym locker to get changed, and then you guys can go to the library or out to the diamond, maybe throw the ball. You have to stay on school property, but we'd like to encourage this. Just for today."
I was stunned. I looked at Greg and he had a very hopeful expression on his face. I looked back at the counselor and he had a similar expression, but different. They both wanted different things from this. The counselor wanted progress, and Greg? What did he want? I went back and forth in my mind, Greg or class? Well, I was ahead in class so that one wasn't too hard. And it was true I found, that if I looked into my heart I did trust him a bit, but I had that nagging about what had gone unsaid. In the end, I chose to trust.
I nodded to the counselor and looked at Greg to lead the way. He broke into a large grin and my doubt slipped away like fog under the sun's glare. I followed him to the outer office where we were told to wait a few minutes until the bell rang to signal the start of sixth period. We only had two more to go through and the day would be over.
At last the bell rang and we went walking through the corridors to the opposite side of the school, and descended the stairs to the locker rooms. The school had been built in the 1920's and was red brick with high arching windows that curved into a terminus at the top. The gym had the locker rooms built underneath it, and it smelled like sweat, stale and masculine all at once. We walked over to the middle row back towards the end of the wall and Greg began to dial in his combination. I sat on the bench and waited.
"I think it's so cool that they're doing this, Jake. We get to skip class and get to know each other and it's sanctioned by the school!" He said excitedly as he unbuttoned his shirt to reveal the stained tee beneath it. The grease from cafeteria pizza surely has some lethal application that the Army is studying even now. Greg continued to talk but my attention was focused elsewhere. He crossed his arms and pulled up on the bottom of his tee shirt and extended his arms over his head, pulling the tee over his head so he was momentarily blinded. I stared and was sure my mouth had unhinged. His chest was defined, as I had suspected, but smooth and lightly tanned with medium sized brown circles around the nipples and pecs that stood out just a bit, enough so you knew they were there. His stomach was flat and smooth, either he shaved or hair wasn't allowed to play here, but I knew now what those tenuous thoughts were in my dreams, I had new information for those pleasure filled moments when those unknown acts were associated with Greg.
As the shirt collar began to reveal his face I tore my eyes from their feasting, and felt like a drowning man who just found out the cool oasis he saw was no mirage, but was denied even one drink.
"So Jake, what do you say I get a couple of gloves and we throw the ball? Sound good?" He asked. I nodded in my trance-like state.
"Cool, well why don't you get your gym stuff on too then?" He asked. I nodded dumbly again and stepped across the hall to the other side of the same aisle and worked the combination on my locker. My mind picked up on the sound of a belt being undone and my mind began to wander again. I firmly took control of my mind and refused to let it wander instead focusing in baseball and the pitches that I had once thrown as I unbuttoned my own shirt.
I heard the cloth of the jeans sliding down his legs and turned to face him involuntarily. He was half turned away from me and I saw the inside of his thigh appear, slowly rising to free itself from the jeans and then plant on the floor of the locker room. If the chest was heaven, the legs were surely the pillars that made it all possible. They were well toned and almost devoid of hair. His back now mostly turned to me, the leg flexed while supporting the weight of his body as the other leg extricated itself. The ripple through the muscle was exhilarating, and at the same moment the ripple passed under the cloth of the boxer briefs and the half cheek belonging to that side shivered. So did I. My mind noted something shiny and my eyes once again tore away from the sight before them to not the mirror on his door, and his eyes locking with mine in it.
I turned quickly and braced myself against the locker, embarrassment flaring in a bright sunburst across my face. My stomach began flopping in earnest and my heart felt like a bird fluttering in a cage too small, trapped in my breast. I heard the sound of cloth sliding back up those legs and a shirt being pulled on.
"Hey, come on, hurry and we'll go get gloves." He said quietly. I felt the first tear form in my right eye and trace it's way down my cheek.
"Do I have to undress you myself?" He asked suddenly. "Cause if your embarrassed or you think you're going to ditch me, I'll do it." He said.
"Shame, shame." I said.
"For what?" He asked.
"I can not put my finger on it now." I said.
"Look, I know you are scared, but it's okay. I won't bite!" He said placing a hand on my shoulder and turning me to face him. "Jake, really. It's okay. So you snuck a peek at me, so what? If I sneak a peek at you will it make you feel better?" He asked with a devilish grin. My eyes shot wide open. He laughed.
"C'mon, get changed and I'll go get the gloves, okay?" I nodded, and then spoke suddenly.
"Do I think too much? I know it's wrong, it's a problem I'm feeling if you’re gone." I looked deep into him and I felt my soul listening to his, for an echo of the sentiment. He stepped towards me and gave me a hug! Not a long one, he backed off and apologized.
"Sorry, I guess you just looked like you could use a hug." He said quietly. "Be right back."
"Honesty is such lonely word, everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard, mostly what I need from you." I said looking directly into his eyes. He stopped and looked at me carefully.
"Let's talk on the diamond, okay?" He said, and I nodded in agreement. He left to get the gloves and ball and I continued to change. I finished unbuttoning my shirt and hung it on the hook in the locker, then peeled off my tee shirt and hung it on the same hook. I reached for my belt buckle when I heard clapping from behind me. I whirled to face Greg who had a small smile on his face.
"Not bad, not bad. Now we're even." He grinned a grin I knew that I loved then and there, and he left the room, footsteps echoing on the stairs back up to the gym. I stood shocked and wondering what all of this meant. I reached for my belt and finished getting changed.
After pulling on sweats and a tee shirt I sat on the bench that ran down the middle of each row of lockers. I sat wondering exactly where all this was going, what it all meant. Obviously he liked me, but as what? And why? These questions raged in my head and buzzed like a swarm of bees, and they were just as confusing as trying to interpret a bee. I waited in impatience for him to return, but also in fear of his return and it seemed as though it would last forever, as though this long day would grow interminable. At last but too soon his feet pounded back down the stairs and he had two gloves, one standard glove and one overstuffed one. A catcher’s mitt. He smiled and beckoned me to follow him to the door leading out the back of the school to the fields. We walked to the diamond and sat down on the bench. I reached down to cinch my shoestrings tight and Greg sat still next to me. I sat up and regarded him with a steady eye.
"What?" He said.
I looked at him, saying nothing. We sat like that for a moment or two before he sighed. And looked down at his hands.
"Ok, honesty I know. I know all about your... Accident, and I know about the way you talk. And I don't care." He looked at me. And sighed when he saw that I was still waiting but with my arms held out questioningly as to how he knows all this. He sighed again.
"My dad is Paul Caspian, Owner and President of Caspian Software Systems. I work there during the summer. My dad keeps a picture of me on his desk, like a lot of parents." He looked at me, "Like your dad."
"I saw your picture one day towards the end of summer and I was shocked, you were so... Different. Your eyes were so piercing," He gave a small laugh, "I felt like you could see into me from your picture. So I asked your dad about you. He said you were starting school and then he told me... Everything. He wanted me to try and be your friend, but I didn't count on one thing. I really like you." He said.
I was stunned. I wasn't sure whether to feel angry with my father or upset about the deception or happy that he really liked me. He looked at me carefully gauging my reaction, and then he sighed again.
"Always and Forever." I said wondering what else could be said, what other surprise could be lying in wait.
"When I saw that picture I... I think I started falling in love." He said quietly. To say I was speechless wasn't saying much. He studied my face for a reaction then continued.
"Okay, well you didn't get up and run, so I guess you aren't freaked. That's why I wanted to know you and the more you would say something and stop the more I wanted to see you through. Your dad says you were a great pitcher, he said you were funny and you loved to sing. The more I see you the more I wanted to know you and today." He paused and looked into my eyes, which were having trouble focusing.
"Today I think I fell in love all the way." He said softly.
I stood quickly feeling overwhelmed again, and trying desperately not to bolt, trying to find the words. Someone was in love with me! The freak, the basket case and I couldn't even say something! My nerves were like live wires under my skin and I turned in circles having no solid direction in which to head.
Finally I saw that Greg had not moved, in fact he looked scared.
"Don't be afraid to be weak, don't be too proud to be strong, just look into your heart my friend." I said, more to myself. And I listened and looked into my heart and found peace. I found comfort and the strength to sit again and look him in the eye.
"So?" He said with a desperate edge of hope on his voice.
"My heart can't tell you no." I said finally. His eyes held relief, joy and compassion in one glance and I felt my heart soar. I understood now, I hadn't felt sick earlier, I was falling in love.
The bell rang inside the school and the last period was about to get underway. H returned to me and put his mitt on and said with a grin, "Want to show me what you've got?"
I took the other glove and followed him. We stood about sixty feet apart and began to throw the ball back and forth. My arm started to limber up and Greg was talking a mile a minute about the season coming up, about the team and who was returning and who might make the team. I was content to listen to him chatter away and felt completely relaxed with someone other than my father for the first time in months.
At last he asked me to take the mound and he squatted behind home plate. Being a lefty gave me a curious throwing pattern, one you can't understand as a righty. Know why? Cause only left-handers are in their right mind. Anyway, I decided to start with basics and brought an overhand fastball. It was a little off the plate. He returned the ball and I set again bringing the same pitch. It came closer, but missed to the opposite side. He returned the ball again.
"C'mon Jake, rock 'n fire, rock 'n fire." He said squatting again. Duh, I wasn't rocking, lefty's rock back. I tried the motion and felt my body react as if putting on a glove that fit perfectly. Or maybe like putting on a glass slipper, at least in this case. I leaned back and let the overhand fastball race to the plate and it flew true to the glove.
"Oww! Son of a bitch that hurt!" Greg said hopping to his feet and throwing the ball back. I began to go through my pitches like it was only yesterday, slider, curve and then a screwball. I was really proud of the screwball, my dad and I had worked all summer last year to get it right, and it broke just like it was supposed to. I couldn't remember the last time I felt so good. I kept the rhythm, rock and fire, rock and fire. I felt like a machine, exercising the poisons from my system, flushing out the bad blood and the hurt and worry.
"Son, don't move another muscle!" Came the voice of Vice Principal Stephens. I stopped dead at the crowd of onlookers. The whole team, at least those trying out were in evidence and they were open mouthed at the two of us.
VP Stephens began barking instructions to the players. "Baker, first. Low, second." And so on until the field was filled with a complete defense behind me. Mickey Terrell looked at me in amazement as he took the third base bag and Mark was smiling as he went to short. VP Stephens walked to the mound and spoke to me, Greg was putting on his full catchers gear.
"If you can throw like that you have place on this team, you hear me? I want you on this squad, son. Show me what you can do." He turned and walked back barking to the remaining players to get helmets for batting and form a line behind the backstop.
I was terrified, we had been in such a groove that I had lost track of time and now it was stretching out again, I was in the middle of all these people who thought I was a freak, an Idiot. No, a dummy.
Greg squatted behind the plate and bounced on his toes. The first batter stepped in, and it was Ron. He sneered and dug in, prepared to swing. Greg nodded and I threw, and it went wild slamming into the backstop. Greg picked up the ball and walked out to me.
"Hey, it's okay." He said.
"Under Pressure." I said for the second time that day.
"Calm down, it's just you and me, no different. You pitch and I catch. Okay? Hey, you are going to be great man, cause I love you."
My heart melted under his gaze and I felt my confidence returning from the love reflected in his eyes.
He trotted back to home plate and squatted down again. Then he stood as Ron made a comment to him, and I am sure it wasn't flattering. This fueled a new side to me, long dormant. Anger. I saw Greg remove a small sponge and place it inside his mitt. He then squatted down and bounced on the balls of his feet again.
"C'mon Jake, rock and fire, rock and fire baby!" I heard Mark imitate the sentiment and the infield began a steady patter.
"Rock and fire, rock and fire." They chanted.
I rocked and brought a three quarter fastball. Swung on and missed. The ball returned to me. I rocked back and brought a curve ball to change speeds, and once again he swung out in front. He moved in with frustration, jaw set. He stepped up to the plate and began to crowd it. Greg called for a fastball, I shook him off until he called what I wanted, a slider.
I rocked and fired, the rhythm pulling me into a world where only Greg and I existed. The slider really flew and cut inside hard forcing Ron off the plate. He stepped back a bit and then back into the box a little more carefully, giving the plate some space. Greg called for an outside screwball, and it was exactly what I had in mind. I rocked and fired and the screwball cutting close then swung out to the outside edge of the plate. Ron swung and just didn't have a long enough bat.
"Strike three, batter's out!" Called Stephens.
We stood on my porch in our gym gear, his mom waiting at the curb for him.
"So, you surprised the way you pitched? I thought it was awesome." He said energetically. It was true, I had done well in three innings of work I had struck out eight and walked none. The one that didn't strike out hit a shot to short that Mark smothered in the infield and threw the guy out.
"I am the greatest, that is understood, but even I didn't know I could pitch that good." I said.
My dad poked his head out, and since he wasn't too shocked outwardly I guessed that Stephens had called him already with the news.
"Greg, stay for dinner?" He asked. Greg went to his mom and she drove off. He came back up and stood with me again.
"Yeah, you're a great pitcher all right." He said quietly.
"I am nothing with out my catcher." I said.
"I don't know that song." He said as he saw my retreating back in the doorway, where I stopped and turned to look at him.
"Is that in a song?" He asked with wonder in his voice.
I shook my head no.
All music is copyrighted by their respective authors. Email welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow me on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/dabeagles.doghouse