Triptychs – Chapter 27
Weirdly enough, bizarrely enough, life went on.
I mean, it IS bizarre; you know? If it’s ever happened to you, you know what I mean . . . if you’ve ever had a shock, a real, life-altering shock that changes things, that changes your life – you know how it works. Yeah, there’s the shock, the event . . . and then, eventually, you have to go to bed, and then you have to get up the next morning, and then again the morning after that, and, there’s school to go to, or work, there’re things you need to do, just to go on with living . . .
Not that life was the same. Fuck, no; I used Friday and Saturday nights, when my mom was in Stockton, to go out hunting for my dad.
I used any night I could get, when my mom wasn’t home, to go hunting for my dad.
And I did go out hunting; learning more about sleazy bars in Alameda County than I ever wanted to know. CHUD Bars, I called them to myself; as in, Cannibalistic, Humanoid, Underground Dwellers, and for too many of them, for too many of the people inside those bars, the name really fit.
I wasn’t going to quit, this time. I was going to find him.
But in the meantime, life went on. School went on; work-study went on. Hell, if school was going to go on, work-study sure as fuck had to go on, it wasn’t optional, it was the only way to pay for everything.
Yeah; life went on.
And the reality, the reality that I had a crazy father who’d graduated to real-life, actual stalking . . . stayed with me.
And so did the reality, that I’d almost killed him.
And on top of that, mixed in with all that – everyday life. Mundane, unimportant, less-important life.
Like – absurdly enough – the fact that I still hadn’t come up with a Communications term project I really liked, I was blocked, and Noah’s idea of some sort of corporate infomercial, maybe a safety message with a comic spin of some kind, was looking better each day . . .
Except, it wasn’t what I really wanted; I wanted, deep, down, to come up with a really good script, and I wanted to actually FILM it, I wanted to actually DO it, and submit the film for extra credit, show my teachers what I could do, and then, maybe, post the film online . . . I really did.
Me, worrying about my Communications project, and my unrealistic filmmaking ambitions, while my Crazed Stalker Father was still out there, somewhere.
Like I said. Bizarre.
* * *
So, a week went by, then two.
Life went on, and work-study went on, and deadlines loomed closer and closer . . .
And so, one Thursday afternoon, I found myself – bizarrely enough – sitting on some concrete bleachers, at a high-school baseball field in Tracy, California, sixty miles and a couple of cultural light-years away from Berkeley. Me, with my heavier tripod, two cameras, and a bag full of a whole lot of lenses and filters. Wondering, how exactly I’d wound up, here. Wondering if I’d do anybody any good, here.
“I know it’s not very comfortable,” from Noah, by my side. He glanced at me, quick, then he shifted a little, and looked back out to the boys on the field. “When they have games, here, people usually bring cushions to sit on. Or pillows.” He shifted again; all tense as hell.
Yeah; Noah’s old high school. His high school; his old team. One of those kids, one of those distant figures way out on the field, was his brother.
And I was here as the Official Semi-Un-Professional Photographer, the Great White Hope for the team’s website. Well, there was going to be at least one immediate problem, with that.
“Ummm . . . ” I started. Looking around, right, left, behind me.
“Hm?” from Noah; glancing at me, then back out to the field. Acting kind of – twitchy, maybe. Yeah; twitchy. He’d been kind of, off, nervous, or something, since we’d left Hayward State.
Well, I guess I’d been a little twitchy, too; I’d spent the first few miles checking out the rear-view mirror, the way I’d started doing, lately, looking for somebody following us. Ridiculously; like, my dad was the Terminator, all of a sudden, driving down to Hayward to stake out all twenty-or-so CSU-East Bay parking lots, to follow me - ?
“Ummm,” I went, again, then I looked sideways at Noah; grinning a little. “You know, I’m going to need a place to shoot from? Without this, I mean,” and I motioned in front of us with my head, gently.
‘This’ was an enormous, green chain-link fence, completely cutting us off from the field. Well, I guess it made sense; home plate was right there, we were only three or four rows up; any foul balls would be murderous, here.
“Oh . . . Oh, yeah, I’m sorry.” He looked around, quick, for a second, then he got up. “Uhhhh . . . the other photographers usually set up over there, off the first base line . . . ” He glanced at me, a little distracted, and I tried not to wince at ‘other photographers’, and what they did. “Here, I’ll show you.”
“Okay,” I grinned at him, a little weakly, as I hefted up my equipment – and it was weird, he didn’t offer to help carry anything; he was still distracted, still sort of twitchy – “Okay. That’ll work for starters, anyway.”
It was pretty much what I’d been afraid of. The place Noah led me to was way out past first base, off to the side, next to still more green, chain-link fencing; okay for getting some action shots, with a long lens and working in burst mode – and not okay for very much else.
I’d done my homework, before coming out here. I’d surfed a lot of high-school sports sites, baseball sites, I mean, and I’d checked out the photography . . . or what passed as photography, anyway.
Most of what I found was classic sports photography; like I’d feared.
That was . . . unfortunate.
Like I said . . . it’s a specialty, in the world of photography; it has conventions, and they seem kind of rigid. The emphasis is on the action shot, the frozen-action shot, taken with a super-fast shutter speed . . . the pitcher, contorted like a pretzel, his face strained, just releasing the ball . . . the base runner, horizontal, mostly-off-the-ground, sliding arms-first underneath the baseman’s glove . . .
The shots are technically beautiful, just exquisitely beautiful, and I guessed I could take a stab at doing something similar; I mean, theoretically I could, I had at least some of the equipment, and the basic knowledge –
But I so didn’t want to. Even if I could; which was doubtful.
I mean, most of those sports shots – well. Like I said, they’re frozen-action; figures in uniforms, completely unrecognizable, usually twisting, inches-or-feet-off-the-ground . . . The aim seems to be, first, to capture a really tricky move, that only another player could appreciate; and second, to make the high-school-boys as anonymously adult-looking, in their uniforms, as possible.
And it was all about as alien to my own skill set, and my interests, as you could possibly get.
Well, maybe, I thought, as I set up my tripod – maybe I’ll have a chance to roam around, choose my own camera angles and everything, a little later. I mean, it was Noah’s team, and Noah’s brother . . . it wasn’t about me. It was about them. I wasn’t going to push it. You know - ?
Speaking of which – teams, I mean –
“What ARE they doing - ?” I asked him; looking across the field.
“It’s a pitching drill,” he went. Eyes intent on the figures in uniform; they were way across on the other side of the field from us, in right – or is it left? – field; it looked like they were lined up in two lines, facing each other; and first one side would go into the classic pitcher’s wind up, and then a fake-throw, and then the other side would do it. The coach was roaming up and down, talking, obviously critiquing their moves.
“Really - ?” I looked sideways at him. “They can’t all be pitchers, can they - ?”
A glance from him, just a little amused. “Some of them are pitchers; players move around positions a lot, in high school. But they’re all batters. And if you’re a batter, it helps to know how pitchers throw to you.”
“Oh.” I looked out at the distant lines of uniforms, again. “I, uh . . . I don’t really know all that much about baseball . . . ”
And that got me a classic, Noah-patented, sideways – ‘no shit?’ expression, and I just had to start laughing . . .
The pitching drill eventually wound up, and the kids ran back towards the baseball diamond – towards us – in a tide of green and purple uniforms, a little calling around, back-and-forth, between them. Boy-voices; I remembered them, from my own team.
“Let’s go,” called out the coach, in that tone used by coaches all over the world. “Hustle up, let’s go!” His voice clear, even from where we were.
About half the boys picked through the equipment by the big bench at one side of the diamond, found their gloves, and began trotting out in twos and threes to their positions. Two kids hefted up a weird thing, looking like a man-sized piece of chain-link fencing, on a stand; another one picked up an oversized, white-plastic bucket full of baseballs, and they headed out towards a spot just a little short of the pitcher’s mound.
I had my longest-lens camera on the tripod, now; I checked through the viewfinder, and the screen, trying to line up shots, angles.
Fuck-me; from here, I could get some of the batters, maybe; but they’d be pretty crappy shots. I went to working on the aperture and shutter speeds, and fiddling with the lens shade, trying to make the best of it.
“All right, who’s up - ? Sanchez, that’s you,” called out the coach, in a booming voice, and one of the kids trotted up to the plate, with a bat and an oversized batter’s helmet. The coach walked out, slowly, to a place behind the man-sized piece of fence. The fence had a rectangular corner cut out of it; the coach picked a baseball out of the bucket, and with some preliminary warm-up moves, he lobbed the ball at the plate, through the cut-out part of the fencing.
‘Ting!’ came the sound; then, “Ball, ball, ball!” as one of the outfielders ran to catch the fly, stopping to gaze up in the air, and then the ‘thwap!’ of the ball meeting his glove.
And then the guy who caught the ball threw it to one of the boys who’d brought the screen out in front of the mound – he’d stayed there, standing a few feet behind the coach – and the boy dropped the ball on the grass, at his feet.
And the Sanchez-kid stayed at the plate, ready for the next pitch. “Relax,” went the coach, a little less loudly. “Just relax; lean into it . . . ”
‘Ting,’ from the bat, again.
I focused in on the batter, with my camera; but it was tough to capture him, at this angle, this distance, in this lighting . . . February in the Central Valley; cold, a haze of tule fog, dimming the winter sun; fuck, I’d need a better filter, if I wanted to get any kind of color at all –
Out of the corner of my eye, a kind of blur of motion, a brownish blur; I looked up. It was a dog, a big one, running at us, full-tilt –
“Molo?!” from Noah; surprised, I thought, then, “Molo!” again.
The dog just pelted up to us, and at the end he launched himself, up, and into Noah’s arms, almost knocking him over, making him stagger and go down on his knees; licking Noah’s face, over and over, his tail wagging so fast it was a blur. And then Noah was hugging the dog, getting his face licked some more and laughing, and I swear the dog was laughing back, he had a big, open grin and an enormous pink tongue . . .
“Hey, Molo!” from Noah; hugging and petting and scratching at the dog – it was a chocolate Lab, I could see, now, and it was kind of fat – and Molo did the usual dog thing, dancing, twisting around to get his rump scratched, tail still batting like crazy, before he wriggled back around to lick at Noah’s face some more. Noah spluttered a little, before laughing again, and hugging him some more; his face just shining with delight.
“Molo, what are you doing here? What are you doing here, huh - ?” Then Noah looked up at me, blinking, smiling, a little sheepishly. “Molo’s our dog. Our family’s dog, I mean.”
“No . . . fooling,” I went, grinning over at him. Fuck, it was fun, watching this. His face, as he hugged his dog . . . “Can I say hi to him? Hello, Molo,” I went on, leaning over from where I was crouched, holding my hand out –
And Molo, totally happy and over-excited, surged right past my hand and right up to me, licking my face, over and over. “Hey,” I spluttered, laughing, pushing him back and petting him.
“Careful, he’s a real kisser,” from Noah, laughing, too.
“That’s okay, so am I.” I grinned at Noah, and I scratched Molo some more, and got another face-slurp, before he turned his tail-wagging rump to me, and his face back to Noah, a perfect doggy two-for-one.
“What ARE you doing here, huh?” went Noah, hugging him around the neck again, happily; then he looked over at the concrete bleachers, then at me. “Actually, I know what he’s doing here; my little sister much have brought him. She must have just got here; she’s always letting him get away.” He looked over at the bleachers, again. “I really should get him back; dogs aren’t allowed on the field. The coach won’t be real happy with my brother, if he sees him.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Okay.” Grinning, at the two of them.
“I guess I should say hi to the guys, while I’m there – ” He stood up slowly, holding on to Molo’s collar –
That twitchiness, back in this voice, now. His eyes on the players, the kids standing around, waiting for their turn at bat –
There’s something going on here, I thought, as I watched Noah trot back towards the bleachers; Molo romping happily around beside him. There’s some kind of conflict.
What, I don’t know . . .
Back to the ‘Ting!’ of the bats, and watching the boys run after the balls.
I was impressed, actually, with how good they were. I mean, I’m no judge of baseball skills . . . but. You can tell when a group of people, a team, is good at what it does, you just can; and these boys were good. I watched fielder after fielder make difficult catches, then throw the ball, hard, to first or second or third base, trying to cut off some imaginary base runner.
The way the boys threw, from the outfield . . . Well. It was interesting.
They put their whole bodies into the throw; their torsos would go down, and their throwing arms would go up, way, way up, vertical, almost windmilling, as they fired the ball back to the infield, low and fast . . . It was the athleticism that interested me, the precision; kind of like Gareth’s crawl stroke, back on my own swim team. Sometimes, when he was practicing, we’d all stop what we were doing, just to watch . . .
I brought my camera around and got some decent shots of one really good throw, and then another, and that made me grin at myself; hey, yeah, that’s me, Trevor McCarthy, Serious Sports Photographer! ESPN, watch out - !
“Noah!” I thought I heard someone call. I looked back towards home plate.
“Noah!” I heard again, then, “Dude - !”
And there was Noah, walking out slowly towards the clump of boys-waiting-to-bat, – a little hesitantly, I could tell, even from here –
And a second later, he was mobbed, he was being mobbed, in a sea of green and purple uniforms; there was no other word for it. The boys were running up, crowding, trying to hug him . . . as I watched, a big, tall blond kid with wavy hair picked him up around the waist and hoisted him really high and spun him around, and Noah was arching back, and protesting and laughing, I could so tell –
I brought the camera around, fast, and began firing off shot, after shot, after shot; fuck-me, I couldn’t resist. In my side vision, I could see the outfielders running in towards home. “Noah - !” I heard again, close-by, then a couple of “Whoo-hoo’s!” And Noah was still getting mobbed, just a little more gently, now . . .
“Hey,” came a voice. “You must be Trevor.”
I looked up, quick, and then back to my camera, for just a couple more shots . . . then, back to him.
“Yeah,” I went, and I grinned at him, and I stood up and stuck out my hand. “And you must be Isaac.”
Well, duh; it wasn’t much of a reach. I mean, he was wearing one of the green-and-purple uniforms . . .
And, well. He didn’t exactly look like the Mini-Noah I’d sort-of imagined that night, when I’d been looking for parking – and I pushed the specifics of THAT memory away, fast, believe it – but. You could so tell they were brothers; his hair was wavy, instead of curly-wavy, but it was the same black. And his eyes were the same, pale blue. And his face . . . different, but somehow the same. You know?
“Good to meet you,” he went, and our hands kind of slid, palm to palm, and I grinned at him some more.
Noah’s little brother. Wow.
“Thanks for coming out, and doing this,” he went on, looking at the cameras and the tripod. “This is really cool of you; and we all really appreciate it.”
“Oh, sure, no problem; this is fun, actually.” I crouched back down, and set up the camera, and took a few more exposures, quick, I just couldn’t let it all go by . . . the coach was talking to Noah, now, I could hear his voice from here, and all the boys were still kind of crowding around, happy, eager –
I looked back up at Isaac, for just a second. “That’s a h- heck of a reception he’s getting . . . ?” Wincing a little, inside, as I said it. Me, and my mouth. Again.
“Yeah, well, this is the first time he’s been around this year, the doofus. The first time since our last game, last season; he didn’t even come by for summertime practice.” His expression was – I don’t know; a little exasperated, maybe? But I could see the affection, as he watched his brother. “So, of course it’s a big deal, today.”
Another glance up at Isaac. “So . . . I guess he was . . . popular - ?”
That got me a quick, sideways-look from Isaac that was so much like one of Noah’s, capital-L, Looks, that I almost laughed.
“We’re a really tight team,” he went, eventually, turning back to the field. “He’s played with all these guys before, except for a couple of the freshmen. And, you know, four years on the team, playing together . . . you get to be kind of a family.”
“Yeah,” I said. Looking back at home plate.
He paused a second, and then he settled down onto the grass, sitting cross-legged, easy, beside me. “And, he was the team captain, last year, after all.”
“He was - ?!” I turned to stare at him.
“You didn’t know - ?” He looked surprised.
“He doesn’t exactly like to talk about himself,” I went, looking at him sideways, a little. “It’s not easy, getting anything out of him. All I knew was, he played here . . . ”
“The doofus,” Isaac went, affectionately; and he sighed. “Yeah, that’s him. Especially when it comes to anything positive, about himself.” He shook his head. “Yeah, he was the captain – well, the co-captain; we have two of them. But he’s also a really good player, a really solid hitter, and infielder, he always has been. And, he was the MVP for the Division playoffs – ”
“MVP - ?” from me.
A sideways, not-quite-believing look from Isaac. “’Most Valuable Player’. It’s a huge thing; we had a three-game playoff, and he just cleaned up, he had so many great plays, he was just amazing, he’s why we won the division, so he got voted MVP . . . ”
I blinked at it. Noah? My Noah - ?
“ . . . and,” Isaac went on, looking back at the diamond – “and, he’s got the school record for stolen bases, in a single season. He’s a really good base-runner, he’s FAST, and he’s smart. And nobody’s going to be breaking that record, anytime soon.”
Out on the field, some baseball-uniformed-kid was demonstrating – I don’t know; it looked like some kind of batting technique, or something – to Noah, he was making motions like he was swinging a bat, anyway, and the other kids were looking on, intent –
And when I glanced at Isaac, sideways, his face was just full of pride. And love . . . I could tell. It was amazing, how much he looked like Noah, really . . . in the important ways. A fifteen-year-old version of Noah, anyway.
I wished, for a second, that I’d met Noah when we were both fifteen.
“I didn’t know about any of this,” I said. A little helplessly.
“You haven’t been talking to Ron?” His eyes slid sideways, to mine.
“Not much. Not really.” Somehow, it didn’t seem to happen, much, the three of us, together . . .
“Figures,” went Isaac, shaking his head, again; grimacing, a little. “Figures . . . the doofus.” I saw him glance at me, out of the corner of my eye. “If you get a chance, ask Ron about that series; he’s got a DVD his father made, you should really see it.”
“I will!” I grinned, big, at the idea. Noah, in a baseball uniform, like Isaac’s . . . he’d be cute as hell.
“’Course, if Noah finds out, he’ll get all embarrassed – ”
“Why?” I turned my head to look at him. “I mean, I really don’t get it. He’s never told me any of this . . . and I tell him almost everything about me – ”
Oops, I thought, a little late. That might be a little Too Much Information. So, I hurried on.
“ . . . and, and, he’s got to be proud of it, proud of playing, I mean – I know it’s important to him, it’s one of the first things he ever told me. And I know he’s proud of YOU being on the team, he said that too.”
I turned back to look at the field; yeah, they were talking about batting, they had an actual bat out there, now, and they were looking at how some kid was holding it, I guessed.
“But he never told me any details, nothing like this . . . and. Well.” Another quick glance, sideways, at Isaac. “To be honest . . . he’s been acting a little weird, all day. Kind of – funny. Like, he wants to be here, and he doesn’t want to be here. At the same time. You know - ?”
“Yeah,” he said, with feeling. “I know. And it’s because he’s a big doofus.”
“Okay, . . . ” I went –
And at that exact moment, Noah looked up, and looked over to us, out in the outfield, sitting on the grass; and he was really still, for second, and I could just feel our eyes connect, even at this distance, before he went back to talking about whatever-the-hell they were talking about.
“Yeah . . . ” from Isaac. He’d seen his brother looking at us, too. “So. You need to understand . .. Part of it is because, sometimes when someone on the team graduates . . . they have a hard time letting go. Sometimes they come back, and hang around with their friends who are still on the team, a little too much. You know, on the bench, like.”
“Your coach lets them do that - ?”
It’s not something you can do, in swimming; not really.
“Sure.” Isaac shrugged, and it was a lot like Noah’s shrug. “Like I said, we’re a tight team; it really is a family. Most old players come by once in a while, it’s kind of expected.” He leaned back a little, in the grass. “It’s only the ones who hang out all the time, who hang out too much, who are kind of – sad. Kind of pathetic, really.”
I could see where this was going.
“And Noah’s determined not to be one of those?” I guessed.
“Uh-huh. And so of course, he completely overdoes it. He should have come by before now.” I felt him look at me, sideways. “That’s something you should know about him . . . he’s got a lot of pride. In the good way, pride; like, self-respect. And he’s strong, he can be really strong. And, if you ever cheat on him, or dump him, he’ll walk away, and you won’t get him back.”
“Jesus fuck!!” It just came out of me; I rocked back from the camera, my mouth hanging open, and I looked at him. “Jesus!” He was looking back at me, intent, focused. “Did he tell you about us - ?” I went, a little weakly.
“Sure,” he said, with a small shrug. “He tells me everything; we’re brothers. And he’s the best big brother anybody ever had, I don’t care if he’s gay, I don’t care what the Pope says, I don’t care what anybody says; I really love him. And,” he went on, glancing at the field – “I meant what I said, about him walking away. He’s done it before.”
“Yeah?” I looked down at the ground, then out at the field, again. I paused, a second, then two, then three. “Yeah. Well, I’m not going to cheat on him, and I’m not going to treat him bad.” I looked at Isaac directly. “Okay - ?”
Those Noah-eyes looking back a me; measuring me. Speculating. “Good,” he went, finally. Neutrally.
Silence, then, for some long beats; both of us looking back towards home plate, at the gaggle of boys still clustered around, talking, goofing, joking. As we watched, one boy jumped up on the back of another, bigger boy, and the bigger boy, laughing, gave him a piggy-back ride, back and forth, a little.
Noah was still talking with the coach, and a couple of the kids; and I swear I saw him glance back at us again, quick. Mute.
“Do your parents know? About Noah . . . liking guys, I mean.” I asked it quietly; it was weird, how hard it was to say it. To someone besides Cole, anyway.
A sideways glance from Isaac. “No . . . Well, maybe not. Not officially, anyway.” He shrugged, again. “He’s never dated girls, or anything . . . and then, that Steven guy was around.” I watched, as his face scrunched up, in distaste, a little; and he shook his head. “But, there’s the whole priesthood thing; they might think he’s still maybe thinking about that.”
“What - ?!” I turned to stare at him, full-on. Feeling the world lurch under me; again.
“You didn’t know about that either?” The expression on his face was sardonic; which was kind of weird, for a fifteen-year-old, with a version of Noah’s face. “Yeah; growing up, for most of his life, he really wanted to be a priest, he felt he had the calling. He would have been a good one, too; one of the caring ones, the loving ones.” His eyes went back to the field. “It’s amazing how many guys on the team brought their problems to him. And he always helped; it’s why he was a captain, really, it was just natural.”
“Holy f . . . ” I swallowed the word; I was still blinking, still feeling like I’d been punched in the stomach. “But he doesn’t, still . . . want to be a priest - ? Anymore, I mean - ?”
Another quick, amused glance from Isaac. He was enjoying this, some; I could tell. “No; I helped talk him out of it. I told him he deserved a life of his own. I told him, he deserved love.” A sideways, Noah-expression; a charged second. “You’re welcome,” he went, dryly.
“Thank you,” I managed. Blinking. Looking back over to where Noah was doing a slow-motion swing with a bat, the coach talking behind him.
“Well. It wasn’t really just me,” went Isaac, after a couple of beats. “To be honest. No, when he was fourteen, he fell in love with somebody in his class . . . he’s never told me who. And it was totally unrequited, he never let on, to the other boy, or anything. But I knew. And it really changed him.”
“It changes everybody,” I said. And that got me a quick, sharp glance.
“And then, last year, he hooked up with this Steven guy. ‘Steven-with-a-V’, not Steve; that’s what he was always saying. Steven, I mean – ”
“And he’s the guy who went into the Air Force - ?”
Another sharp, sideways-glance from Isaac. “So. He told you that much, anyway.” He shrugged a little, looking back at the field. “Yeah . . . he went into the Air Force. And he dumped Noah, as soon as he signed up. But then he came crawling back, he wanted Noah back again . . . and Noah told him, no. Like I said; he’s got pride, he’s got a lot of self-respect.”
I fit it all together with what little Noah’d told me, that one night . . . about how pure and beautiful his first love had been and I remembered his face, as he’d said it . . . and then, about dating as a high-school senior, dating this, Steven-with-a-V guy, I guessed, and how it’d never been real . . . And now, I knew how he’d gotten dumped . . .
Poor Noah. Poor, inexperienced, sensitive kid, I thought; and my heart just ached for him, all over again.
“Anyway,” Isaac went on. “Somewhere along the way, between the first guy he loved, and Steven-with-a-V, Noah decided he couldn’t be a priest, anymore.” He turned his head to look at me, pretty directly. “And that’s a good thing, I think; he’s got a shot at a real life, now. But it’s a lot for him to lose, it’s an awful lot, and he’s still getting over it.” He glanced, quick, back at the field; then at me, again. “I’m just saying, he doesn’t need another bad experience, right now.” His eyes, really intent on mine, again.
I just blinked at him.
And, fuck-me, what could I say to that? Me, already paranoid of messing Noah up, being bad for him, being toxic for him –
So, I did the usual thing; had the usual reaction, for me. As we sat there, looking at each other, the atmosphere between us all intense . . . I felt the corners of my mouth lifting; and then, a little hiccup of laughter, which I smothered down, and then another, and my smile got bigger, I just couldn’t help it. I looked down, smiling, shaking my head, then I looked back up.
“What?” from Isaac. Flatly; suspiciously.
I just shook my head, for a second, still grinning; then I looked at him. “You,” I went. “You. Have you always taken care of your big brother, like this - ?”
Nothing from Isaac, for a long beat; then, maybe, his expression relaxed, just a little. “Somebody has to,” he said.
The sound of a double hand-clap, out on the field; and then another one, loud. “All right, let’s go, hustle up!” from the coach. His voice, carrying.
We both looked.
On the field, the portable-chain-link-fence thing was being carried away by two of the kids; other players were getting their gloves, and beginning to run out to their positions. Some of the kids were going back to the bench, still joking, jostling each other.
Noah was standing at home plate; his jacket was off, his light-brown, long-sleeve t-shirt hugged his body. The coach, as we watched, handed him a bat, and a ball.
“Oh, no,” from Isaac. “Oh, no. He’s going to make Noah bat . . . ”
“What is it?” from me, this time; I looked sideways at Isaac.
Another double hand-clap. “Let’s go, let’s go!” as a couple of the boys stopped to laugh at something. “We don’t have all day!”
“Listen; I don’t have much time. This is the other thing you need to know, about my brother; baseball’s really important to him, it’s been a huge part of his life . . . he’s been playing league baseball, one way or another, since he was seven. Little League, baseball camp, school . . . he’s been actually suiting up to play baseball each year, since he was nine.”
“All right, all right. Two outs, two men on, first and second,” called out the coach. And Noah gently tossed up the ball, and hit it, with a ‘Ting!’ – a short fly ball, to the outfield. “Ball, ball!” called out one of the kids, running frantically, and catching it; and then, still running, he threw it, hard, to the infield.
“It’s part of who he is, just like wanting to be a priest,” Isaac went on. “It’s a big part of who he is . . . ”
“One out, runner on third!” called out the coach. Noah tossed the ball up again, and chopped it – I could see the difference in his swing – and there was another ‘Ting!’, and the ball skipped along the ground to, to, the shortstop, I guess . . .
“ . . . and now that he’s out of high school, that’s all over,” Isaac went on, fast. “And he really, really misses it. He won’t say so, even to me, but that’s the other reason he hasn’t been around here much . . . ”
“Nobody out, runners on first and third!” from the coach. Another ‘Ting!’, a more solid one, this time, and the ball sailed way into center field. Two boys began calling it, running towards each other –
“ . . . he’s trying to get over it, by staying away. I wish the coach hadn’t done that . . . ”
A pause, as the ball was caught, and hurled into the infield. Then –
“Hey, Martenek!” from the coach, in our direction; the sarcasm penetrating the distance, easy. “Would you care to join us - ?” Then, to the field in general; “Two outs, runner on second!” A beat later, the sound of another ‘Ting!’ from Noah’s bat –
“ . . . I gotta go,” from Isaac. On his feet, now, scooping up his glove –
“Wait,” I said. “Why isn’t he playing any more? Why doesn’t he play for our college team, or something - ?”
“Mister Martenek - ?” from the coach; a little more impatiently, this time.
A quick, backwards look from Isaac. “Because he’s a shrimp,” he said. “We’re both shrimps.” And then, he was pelting off towards center field, at a dead run, cleats kicking up blades of grass.
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