So I did.
For about a month, everything was normal.
Well, not normal, exactly. I was, after all, dating the sexiest eighteen-year-old alive.
By late May, things began to wind down. Our high school careers were nearly over, baseball season was approaching playoffs, and it seemed as though everybody was gearing up for next year. It was all anybody would talk about.
Bear was no exception, aside from the fact that he was the last remaining senior who had yet to pick a college.
“I mean, I thought I was set on State,” he told me one night after a particularly long game. “But then A&T offered me a full ride, and that’s a hard thing to turn down, you know?”
To be honest, I was bored of this topic. Suddenly, Bear’d gotten all these baseball scholarships to all these different schools and he was playing it out as long as he could. College was his favorite subject; he loved the attention he got when people asked him where he’d be playing next year. I was fairly positive he’d decide on State, but I didn’t really care.
“I dunno, Emma,” he said, bringing my attention back to him. “Maybe I’ll come to school with you. Who knows?”
I might have taken him seriously if his eyes weren’t sparkling and there wasn’t a grin on his face.
I swirled my straw around in my drink. “Hey, Bear, you are going to come to my dad’s barbeque thing, aren’t you?” I tossed out, knowing full well what I was initiating.
I saw Bear grimace. “Eh, I don’t know, Emma Gray. A bunch of old business people isn’t really my thing.” My dad’s annual beginning-of-the-summer barbeque for his employees was coming up that weekend. (I never understood why business people celebrated the start of summer anyways. After all, they still had to work.)
I sighed. “Bear, look. You won’t even have to talk to them. Just come with me. Please.”
He avoided eye contact. “Don’t we have a double header Saturday, anyways? I’m gonna be tired.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure you can manage.”
“I just don’t think Saturday’s gonna work, Em.”
I let the silence creep in for a second. “Come on, Bear. You know what this is about. You have to meet my parents sometime.” Bear had flat out refused to come to any other occasion with my parents (he wouldn’t even say hey at games) and I had never even seen his house, much less been introduced to his parents. It was getting a little ridiculous.
“Yeah, and I just don’t think a company party is the place to do it. Besides, we’ve only been dating, what, not even a month?” he argued.
“A month tomorrow,” I mumbled.
Bear exhaled slowly. “How ‘bout tomorrow I take you somewhere really nice? You can have me from the second I get out of practice ‘til whenever your mom decides curfew is.”
“Okay,” I whispered. “And then, Saturday, you come to my dad’s barbeque! Perfect.”
Bear leaned back in his chair. “Em.”
“I’m starting to get the feeling you don’t want to meet my parents, Bear. Like, ever. I don’t know if you’re a commitment-phobe or what, but it’s starting to piss me off.”
“I don’t know how, Emma!” Bear hunched forward, his eyes suddenly intense. “I’ve never met a girl’s parents before. At least, not a girl I’m dating. Does it make me a pussy if I’m scared? Because I’m fucking terrified I’ll… I’ll say the wrong thing or… or break your mom’s favorite vase or your dad’ll hate me or something. I’m sorry, Emma Gray, I am. I just… I need to take this slow, all right?”
So I let the subject drop.
Bear didn’t come to the barbeque.
I invited Renee in his place, but she said she couldn’t go. So I hung out instead with 20 business men and their wives, Lane, Lawrie and his flavor of the month, Della, who was nice enough.
Another week passed and the baseball team kept winning. Their last regular season game was on a Wednesday and they slaughtered the poor team for an overall season record of 23-2-1. (The two games they lost were endowment games, so they had a perfect conference record.) At that point, I think they could’ve beaten anybody they played. Their confidence was through the roof and they had the talent to back it up.
But before they could go to sectional playoffs, they had to make it through invitationals. The first game was on a Friday and they smashed through that with flying colors. Saturday’s (9:00 in the morning) game was predicted to be a little tougher. Lane was supposed to be at the house by 8:00 (he’d spent one of those rare nights at home), but he texted Lawrie at 7:00 asking for a ride. Lawrie (whose alarm hadn’t gone off, therefore causing him to be 20 minutes behind schedule) subsequently passed the responsibility to me.
“Please, please, please,” my brother begged, sifting through a basket of socks trying to find a matching pair.
I groaned. “Fine. But you better have an omelet or something waiting for me when I get back.”
“You got it,” he lied. “He’s at the hospital. His mom’s room is… 720, I think.” He shuffled through his texts, trying to find a confirmed room number.
“Lawrie! He’s at the hospital?”
“Oh, fuck, be a big girl. I lied. 724.” He disappeared into the bathroom. “Thanks, Em.”
I groaned again. I hated the hospital. I’d only been a few times (thanks, Lawrie, for breaking your ankle three times).
When I’d parked in the hospital lot, I checked my phone for the time. It was 7:42. I scrambled out of the car and hurried in the main entrance. I paused long enough to ask directions, and then headed off to find Lane (cautiously averting my eyes from whatever gross injuries were surrounding me).
Just as I turned down the hallway, Lane came out of a door (which was good, because I really couldn’t remember if it was 742 or 724). I stopped and watched him slide down the wall into a slump. Lane was tall (about 6’3”), and his body looked unnaturally gangly in its crumpled position. His short brown hair was sticking out haphazardly and he buried his face in his hands while I stood, caught off guard by his display of emotion.
He hadn’t seen me yet, so I quietly made my way down the deserted hallway towards him. He was slowly rocking side to side and I could see the tension in his body. I wasn’t sure what to do, but a quick glance at the clock told me it was dangerously close to 8:00.
“Lane?” I whispered finally, still about ten feet away from him.
He jerked violently and looked up at me with bloodshot eyes. “Where’s Lawrie?” he asked, frozen in his seat. His voice was totally normal, holding no traces of what I’d witnessed.
“He was running late so he sent me instead.” I smiled weakly.
Abruptly, Lane stood up and started walking down the hall. He was wearing his baseball uniform underneath a pair of baggy gray sweatpants, and he stuffed his hands in his pockets as he walked. Following his lead, I walked out of the hospital. The car ride home was equally as conversational.
“Laney…” I sighed, turning the ignition off.
But Lane was already halfway to the front door.
Ten minutes later, the family was sleepily packed into Mom’s van on our way to the school.
The game that day probably took the biggest emotional toll on the boys of any game yet that season.
The opponent made three runs in the first inning and the boys were visibly disheartened. They kept making mistake after mistake (four errors in one inning), but somehow, by the bottom of the sixth inning, the score was still 0-3. After Matt Summers finally struck the third guy out, our team went up to bat. The first batter went up and struck out. Next was Kyle Grissom. The first ball thrown was a fastball.
Another fast ball, this one a little too wide.
Then the pitcher threw a great curve ball. Kyle hit it too far right for a foul.
Kyle kicked at the plate and spat. He brought the bat up and rocked it, watching for the pitch. It was another fastball. (The away team’s pitcher had an amazing fastball.) This time, the bat connected with a loud crack and the ball flew out to center field. Kyle took off running as the fielder threw the ball towards first base.
In a chaotic crash, the first baseman caught the ball, his body momentum bringing him to the base. Kyle slid forward. A tangle of legs and an audible snap ensued as the boys collided.
A collective groan went up as the umpire called, “Out!”
“’S alright, Kyle. Good play,” an encouraging voice called out.
But Kyle wasn’t getting up. The first base man stumbled to his feet, his face blanched and screaming for a medic.
Long (gruesome) story short, they carried Kyle (and his very broken leg) off the field.
Lawrie and Andy called the team over and, together with the coaches, gave a “pep” talk that consisted mostly of, “Those sorry asses aren’t gonna beat us,” “Let’s win this for Kyle,” and, “We aren’t done yet, boys,” and other, macho-teenage-boy phrases.
The team returned to the game with new vigor, and soon the bases were loaded. In a surprising turn of events, Ehren Engel smacked off a home run, and just like that, we were up 4-3.
The game ended with Matt Summers striking out three players in a row. But instead of being hyped up and excited over the victory, the boys slouched off the field, an out of place sense of disappointment on their faces. Nobody really said much. The coaches kept their post-game speech unusually short and we all packed up to go home.
The whole game had just been odd. The boys’ confidence had been rocked; they weren’t used to playing catch up. And then there was Kyle’s injury, which I think shook everyone up. On the drive home, it hit me why, even more than those reasons, the game had felt so weird.
Renee and I had barely spoken. I mean, sure, we exchanged a few, “It feels great outside”s and “Was that a ball or a strike”s, but other than that…
After the game, Renee had disappeared as soon as we were done. I thought about it and realized that she had done the same a few games in a row, often leaving before Andy had even come out of the locker room.
I texted her twice that afternoon, asking if she wanted to hang out, but she didn’t reply until way later, and then it was just a quick apology. I missed hearing about Elizabeth Frederick and Rachel Wynn. I missed her jokes and banter. She was my best friend.
Later, after asking Bear to call it a night early, I slipped into Lawrie’s room. Both boys were asleep, but as I snuggled into my comfort zone, I felt Lane give me a quick hand squeeze. I lay there for hours, too many confusing emotions running through my head. It was the continuous rise and fall of Lawrie’s breath that finally knocked me out.