You know, people should sit on their front porches more often. Really! It ain’t just for old folks sitting in rocking chairs, watching the world go by before they bite it. It’s peaceful. I can just sit on the steps of my front porch, ball glove in hand as I oil up the leather to protect it from cracking—especially in this dry heat we’ve been having—and just do my thing, think my thoughts, get in my rhythm. Summer mornings are good for this kind of thing. My mom, well…nine months outta the year, she’s riding my ass about school. Not that something like that is unique to her, but a guy gets sick of even well-intentioned nagging. But she leaves me alone in the summer, turns a complete one-eighty and tells me that life’s short, that you could and should fill up these summer days as full as you could. It’s freedom, she says, making your own choices. Well, I ain’t gonna say no to that. My best buddy’s dad says a man knows what he wants, no matter how stupid that thing might be, and he knows how to get it. Well, I know what I want today, and I know how to get it. So, I guess that makes me a man. Just in time, too—I’m starting high school in the fall, and high school ain’t a place for pussies. Unless you, like, go to the school they go to in that movie Grease, in which case you are a total fucking drag, and man, I can’t believe I wasted two hours of my life watching that. Thanks, Mom. Your shitty taste in movies continues to astound.
I set down my oil rag and punched and flexed my glove for a minute, breaking it back in, then I picked up the ball that had been sitting at my feet. I tossed it up above my head, putting a good spin on it, then caught it in my bare hand. My thumb found itself tracing over the worn red laces, riding the ridges as I turned it over and over in my hand. This one had seen the broad side of a bat a few times, you could tell. It might not be a bad idea to pick up a few new ones here soon, but I kinda attach sentimental value to these things. This one had seen me through my first double play, and I line-drived it straight into Jimmy Funicello’s balls last summer. You just don’t forget things like that, and why would you want to? This ball was clearly good luck for me too, so I tossed it into the air one last time as I stood up, and this time caught it in my gloved hand.
It was time to round up some ballplayers.
Problem was, Dallas was outta town—they had family down in Tulsa or something, and they visited every year, and they’d all come back looking as if they had forgotten that Long Island even existed. Guess that’s what happens when you spend a few weeks with cowboys. Anyways, Dallas is always the best catcher around, but he wasn’t here. We would have to make do, which meant I was gonna have to pay a visit to Georgie, who was just about the worst baseball player in Nassau County. Georgie was a good guy and all—kinda quiet, total dweeb, that sort of thing—and we’d sort of taken him under our wing. He wasn’t that hard to get along with, either, considering he hardly ever said anything. The other guys teased him pretty hard, and I used to, too, but then his dad died, and I guess that was enough to convince me I should stop being such a dick to him. Mom said it was a shame it took me that long. She’s probably right.
“Georgie Parker!” I yelled at his house as I sauntered up the front walk, knowing that twerp was always up early and probably waiting on me to show up to fetch him—we had a routine and all. I knocked extra loud this morning and flashed him my widest grin when he opened up the front door.
“I could hear you, ya know,” he said, trying to pretend like he was mad, but I knew he wasn’t. Georgie was no pretender. “I know you know I can hear you when you pull that crap.”
“I do know.” I shrugged happily. “You ready to go or what?”
Georgie sighed and reached behind the door, bat ready to go with the glove hanging off it, hand-me-downs from me and Dallas. He was just like the Boy Scouts—always prepared. He must have been real smart, maybe even some sort of psychic. He always knew exactly when Dallas and I were gonna darken his doorstep and drag him out to the park, where I was sure the rest of the guys were already waiting, led by the aforementioned Jimmy Funicello and his low sperm count, thanks to yours truly (not like we need any of his offspring running around someday.) We had this routine down pat now, so we were in and out. The sun was shining, birds were singing to beat the band, and on days like this, it just felt good to be alive and walking down a sidewalk with a buddy. You know the days—not too hot yet, with a breeze, and the air smells like the earth and cut grass, and your glove fits just right, and your ballcap is blocking the worst of the sun so it’s not in your eyes…yeah. Those are the days.
“Hey, T?” Georgie was the only person who called me T instead of Tony. It kinda made me laugh; it was like he was trying to be cool, and it was kinda funny, you know? Cuz Georgie’s cool, but he’s not cool, not like a lot of the other guys—his glasses are too big, I think that’s the problem. Anyways, I let him call me that, but I don’t think I’d let anybody else get away with it, because they’d just be teasing. Georgie’s always real sincere about everything, so I can’t get mad at him.
“Why d’you guys keep asking me to play with you? You know I’m not any good, right?”
So self-aware. I sized him up a bit as we walked, trying to tell if he was really in the mood for listening, or just feeling sorry for himself. I hate when people do that—when they go fishing for exactly what they want to hear. They set it up with just the right bait and everything so they can feel all vindicated to get people to compliment them when they really don’t want to give them one, or so they can make themselves out to be some sort of victim when they’re really not. But like I said, Georgie’s just so sincere—he wasn’t playing some pity card.
“Can I be honest with ya, man?” He nodded. “You’re right—you ain’t the best ballplayer out there. And I know a lot of guys give you shit, and Dal and I used to, too, and we’re sorry about it. But you know what?”
I slung my free arm around his shoulder and grinned. “You’re one’a us now, George. Dal and I, we got your back. You’re our buddy, whether we like it or not.”
Georgie gave me some serious side-eye. “And if I don’t like it?”
I stopped cold on the sidewalk and stared at Georgie for a good solid minute, watching his face again. He played it real cool for a bit there, but then his façade started to crack and his lip twitched and my face split into a wide grin. Man oh man—he was becoming a regular chip off the ol’ block. Dallas would sure be proud to see our influence when he got back.
“Man!” I cried. “Shit, you had me goin’. You’re becomin’ a regular smartass. Now shut the fuck up and keep walkin’ before I dropkick your ass. I don’t wanna keep ‘em waitin’.”
Just as I thought, Jimmy and Co. were loitering around the ball diamond at the park, lazing around in the outfield under a wide blue sky. Looks like Georgie and I were the last two to arrive, and here I’d thought I’d gotten myself out the door early. As we approached, the other guys heard us, and lolled their heads in our direction, slowly chewing on their gum and rolling it around in their mouths and blowing bubbles that popped with a loud crack! Better than snuff, I suppose. That shit’ll rot your teeth. A couple of them waved, and a few others nodded their heads. Mostly, though, we were all so used to hanging around each other that greetings weren’t even necessary; it was a given we’d all be there.
“Where’s Dallas?” one of them shouted at me. His absence was glaring. Dallas was easily the best catcher around, no matter what Jimmy and his cronies said—they denied it just because they were jealous, and neither Jimmy nor his buddies even played catcher. He was just better at what he did than they were at what they did, and I guess you can blame his old man for that. My old man, he had never had a catch with me in the yard like Dallas’ old man. He’s responsible for the deep crack in the coffee table, though, and the missing pieces from my mom’s silver service that had been passed down to her, and the long hours she had to work now that he’s gone. Mr. Mathews has always let me come over and play catch with him and Dallas, but it’s not quite the same. Georgie and I get each other on this one in a way Dallas never will. That’s why I think it was easier for me to come around to him in the end.
“The wild, wild West,” I replied. They all hollered their Yee-haw’s! and then Georgie and I fell into the grass with the rest of them, sprawling out and getting up on our elbows so we could get our game plans together.
“Well, we lose Dallas, we get Parker,” one of the first basemen grinned, nudging Georgie’s shoulder.
“Shit, we get Parker ev’ry week, and he don’t even got the decency to get any better,” Jimmy drawled, smirking dangerously at my buddy, and I rolled my eyes.
“And you got the same damn lines every week, Jimmy, but we put up with you anyways,” I shot back in retaliation. “Anyways, are we here to play or to shit on each other? Cuz I don’t know about you guys, but I wanna play.”
We always split up into the same teams, so there was no need for a couple of us to stand up and make a show of picking the guys we wanted like we did when we were in gym class. We used to do that, but we made some pussy-assed newbie a while back cry by picking him last, which was just awkward for everybody, so now we sort of wordlessly divide ourselves up and take turns bringing new guys into the fold. Georgie’s always on my team because none of the dicks on Jimmy’s team—Jimmy especially—want him. Strategically, I get it; the guy goes bug-eyed whenever a ball so much as leisurely rolls his way. What I don’t think a lot of these guys get, though, not even Dallas, is that we ain’t playing for the pennant out here. Hell, we’re teammates, been playing together on the same Little League and school teams forever but put us all out here and suddenly it’s Yankees-Red Sox. Maybe it’s the summer heat, or the complete and total lack of supervision, but we go absolutely buck-wild when it’s just us, fifteen or so guys staring each other down through the grime and sweat and sun in our eyes, hacking up saliva and swears at each other like it was game seven, bottom of the ninth, of the World Series. But at the same time, with so many of us stuck here in this town from day to day, it was everything. Everything.
As I dug my heels into the dust at my hallowed position at shortstop, I looked back at Georgie in the outfield, eyes huge behind those Coke bottle glasses, already looking nervous at the chance a ball might come his way. This wasn’t Georgie’s everything. I knew that. Dallas did. Everybody on this diamond did. Our mothers knew, too, even as they had sat around Mrs. Mathews’ kitchen over cups of coffee and her famous cherry pie, plotting.
A boy like that could use a friend, they insisted.
They had to know a kid like Georgie Parker, with his shirt tucked into his jeans and his hair slicked back the way it was, would get eaten alive out here. Moms are always coming up with crazy schemes, though, and they never make any sense, much less the one our mothers had cooked up.
Invite him to play with you boys, they said. He’ll just be happy for the invitation.
Moms are always finding the one kid that everybody feels sorry for and telling you to be their friend. Well, I can tell ya that Dal and I are real pissed off that it worked.
But that made me wonder, if we were such good friends, why all we ever did was play baseball when it was clear Georgie would rather be anywhere else.
Jimmy was always the first up to bat for his team—he insisted, the jerk, because he thought he was the best, even though everybody knew you should have your best hitter go second or third. He was used to Dallas being right behind him, and almost seemed thrown off by the lack of shit talk hitting him; Jack just didn’t have that in him, just smiled as he warmed up our pitcher. Jimmy was clearly getting impatient as the duo got used to each other because Jack usually played outfield, but could be catcher in a pinch when Dallas was gone. So there was a lull as we waited for the game to start, and I turned to Georgie and pulled that old ball out of my pocket and raised it at him in question—maybe he’d like to toss it back and forth for a minute while we waited? Hell, maybe Georgie’d be a better player if he had a dad to play catch with him. But he didn’t. He didn’t even have Mr. Mathews like I did. So, he had me. Georgie nodded and took a couple steps back. I threw the ball, and he gracelessly caught it.
He tossed it back. Little low. “Yeah, T.”
I made a point of slowing down a bit so Georgie could see my throwing form, start to pick up on it.
“Ya know, I was thinkin’, and I wondering if maybe when Dallas gets back from playing Cowboys and Indians, we could go do somethin’ together, the three of us.”
Georgie narrowed his eyebrows. “Like what?”
He pulled his elbow back and launched the ball, with a little more oomph than usual—so he had been watching. I wondered if some time in the Mathews’ backyard would help him get even a little better. You can get better at just about anything if you just try at it, Mom likes to say, says that you can always get better even if you aren’t the best. She may be a bit of a nag, but she is a pretty smart lady, and she’s usually right, so I took her word on that one.
I caught the old ball and shrugged. “Whatever ya want. I mean, it’s your turn to pick.”
He thought about it for a few consecutive tosses. The guy hardly ever seemed to have an opinion. Whatever Dallas and I wanted to do, that’s what we did, and it took me this long to figure out maybe that wasn’t exactly fair. He still seemed sort of stunned by the question, though.
“…like what?” he repeated.
I caught the ball again, but this time I didn’t throw it back and rolled my eyes at him.
“George.” I was gonna ask him something snarky, like if he’s ever heard of having hobbies, but then I thought better of it, hearing my Mom’s voice in the back of my head. She had probably learned how to astral project in order to keep me from being an asshole. I was just gonna have to help Georgie along here, offer him a bone. It’s okay to have an opinion, Georgie-Boy. “They’re showing Raiders this Saturday at the movie theater. Wanna go with us?”
“Hey, Tony! Quit flirtin’, we’re starting!” Jack yelled from behind the plate.
“Yeah, yeah!” I barked, but when I looked back at him, Georgie grinned. I nodded once back, and I knew I had my answer. Figured that’d be up his alley. Dallas was a nut for those movies, too. His dad could drive us. Simple. A man knows what he wants, after all, and he knows what he needs to do to get it. I turned my attention to home plate and stared Jimmy down.
“All right, boys!” Jack hollered, pulling his mask down. “Let’s play ball!”
Abigail Albin is a junior at Indiana University Bloomington studying English and Creative Writing with minors in Music and Theater. She’s bandying about the idea of getting her MFA. This is the first publication she has appeared in. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, bullet journaling, painting and needlework, hanging out with her cat, and writing to her pen pals.