Days With Him

From the first Tri Short Story Collection Love Isn’t A Mood Swing

Maybe my parents forgot what love was, or failed to understand it. And that was why they had decided to go their separate ways. To grandma’s house my mom and I went, and my dad stayed where for the first six years of my life I had stayed. Prohibition came into my life. To my mom, dad had become like alcohol during the American prohibition period—forbidden. No phone calls. No letters. No visits. I walked out that door with my little hand in my mom’s hand, glued by her anger. He wore a black pants and a black T-shirt. How appropriate. The burial of twelve years of marriage.

Although I have much to say about my complicated relationship with my parents, I am not here to write about them.

We moved out of grandma’s house when my mom got a job. I became a latchkey kid. Mom went to work; she came home tired.

I first saw him in the apartment complex where we lived. I was fifteen. He lived two doors down from us. I stayed home from school and the sound of ‘I don’t want to go’ echoed through the hallway. I opened the door just as he was being dragged to the elevator. He saw me. In his eyes fear was mingled with those angry words. It was morning.

A few minutes later he was back. ‘I’m not gonna,’ caught my ears. ‘Okay,’ was the reply. ‘See you later. I love you.’ He said nothing.

He opened the door and went inside. I came out. Who was he? We lived there for four years and I had never seen him before. I left the apartment and went over to his place. I knocked on the door. He did not answer. I banged on the door. He did.

“Who is it?” he asked. From the outside it sounded as if he moved and came and stood cautiously behind the door.

“Me.”

“Me who?”

“Your neighbor. You saw me earlier.”

“What do you want?”

“I just wanna know if you are okay?”

“Why?”

“Just because.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Yes, it is.”

“I’m not okay, but you can leave me alone.”

“I will just sit—”

“Go away!”

“Okay.”

It was not until lunch time that I returned. Do you ever get a feeling, or something tapping on your nerves, telling you that something is not right? I got that feeling. I guess that was why I tried again.

“It is me.”

“You again?”

“I made some lunch.”

“Who said I was hungry?”

“I just thought—”

“Go away.”

“I will not.” I sat in front of his door, and twenty-three minutes later, he opened it.

“Come in.”

I spent that day with him until his mom came home. He surrounded himself in silence, in a blanket tagged leave me the hell alone. I found myself not being able to do that to him. I talked most during that day. My presence felt like an intrusion. We were both pigheaded. He did want me to go; I decided to stay. The next day he told me his name. He told me why he became a hikikomori.

His mom was surprised when she met me there. Another human being talking with him. And in person. I did not grasp the reason for that, not until I went deeper into his world.

A lit candle slowly began to burn itself out. He opened up to me on day two. Do you think that some people wait for the right person to come along to talk to?

“My name’s Cabot Brandt Cain.” He hesitated after letting me know who he was. “You’re not gonna make fun of my name, huh?”

“Do you want me to?”

“No. Everyone used to tease me about it.”

“That is not true.”

“Yes, it’s true.”

“I do not think you know everyone. You never will.”

“My dad gave me my name. He’s dead. I’ve heard everything from Carrot Cain to Coward Cain. And even people asking me where’s Abel? I’d never heard about Abel until they started mentioning his name. He was killed by his brother you know.”

“I know.”

“Rejected.”

“Is that how you feel?”

“Rejection is an overplayed record.” He got up and walked over to a bookcase in a corner. Picking something up, he stared down at it for a few minutes. “This is a picture of my dad,” he said, avoiding my question. I got up to look.

“You look like him.”

“I get that a lot.”

“How did he—”

“Die? He just died—that’s all. You missed school today again.”

“So did you.”

“I don’t go to school.”

“Why?”

“That’s where everyone is.”

At that moment, I got it. Everyone was not the world. Not the billions and billions of people on planet earth. But them. Yes, them. His schoolmates and teachers. Those whose opinions mattered to him. I was a year younger than he was.

“So this is it for you,” I said, going back to sit down.

“I got tired of the name calling and the bullying.”

“You allowed them to win.”

He scoffed. “I’m not like you.”

“I did not ask you to be like me.”

“I don’t know why I’m even talking with you,” he said, pushing my anger button. “You think you know everything.”

“I do not know everything.”

“That’s right, stare at me.” I was not staring. “Look at this boy who decided to hideaway from the world because he’s tired of being hurt. I’m not gonna get hurt anymore.”

“You are loud.”

“Yeah, I can get louder,” he said, doing just that.

“Gosh, the neighbors know now that you exist.”

“Get out!” I stood up. “I said to get out!”

I wanted to react. I was angry, but I just walked to the door. “And by the way,” I said, turning to face him, “God never rejected Cain.” And I was gone. But I knew that I would go back the next day.

I always looked forward to Saturdays; it was the time my friends and I went to the movies. On Sundays, my mom and I would have what you could call a conversation. She went to work at a later time on that day. On that particular Saturday after my moment with Cabot, she found out about him. We were seated at the kitchen table that morning. I made breakfast.

“Are you much better now?”

“Yeah.”

“School on Monday.”

“I know.”

“So, what are you going to do today?”

“Movie with my friends.”

“No babysitting today?”

“They are out of town.”

“Don’t forget—”

“I know, take the clothes to the dry cleaners. I will do that before the movie.”

“I’ll be home late.”

“I know. I will be by Cabot.”

“Cabot?”

“Neighbor,” I told her, getting up to leave.

“Hold on, who’s Cabot?”

“Neighbor.”

Do you ever get the feeling that a conversation between parent and child can turn into an interrogation, or sometimes feel that way? I told her about him and his mom. And she told me to invite them over for dinner.

Dropped off clothes and later hung out with my friends. I did not tell them about him. I got that feeling that he never wanted me to. I went home.

I walked pass his door. Up, down. Yes, I was still angry. How long does it take to forgive someone? How long should it take? I forgave him, but I was still angry. Was that true forgiveness then?

After I stopped pacing, I was about to knock on the door. But it opened up instead. His mom came out.

“Hello Ms. Cain.”

“Hi. I don’t think he wants to see you.”

“Still angry, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“I am also angry.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing.”

“I’m going on a date.”

“I am going back home.”

“Sorry.”

“You should not apologize. It is not your fault that he is being an idiot.”

“I heard that,” a voice said from the inside of the apartment.

“You should not be eavesdropping.”

“You’re standing—”

“Ms. Cain, you look beautiful. Hope you have a good time.”

“What are you, an adult? You talk so adultish for a teenager. And life’s about surviving.”

It felt to me that he wanted another round; I ignored that temptation. “Goodnight Ms. Cain.”

“Goodnight,” she said, locking the door and then heading for the elevator. I went back home. I had no idea what to do. I was restless and bored. I was sitting on the couch when there was a knock on the door. I asked who it was and called out his name. I was hoping it was him. I wanted it to be him. I called out his name but got no answer. I got up, walked over to the door, put my ear next to it and nothing. And when I opened it, there was a piece of paper that had, ‘I’m sorry, come over.’ Obeying, I went.

“So what are we gonna do tonight?” I asked.

“We’re gonna watch anime.”

“Anime?”

“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of it. You need to get out more.” We laughed. “Let’s order pizza.”

“You are happy tonight.”

“Blame it on the full moon,” he said jokingly. There was no full moon. “Here.”

“What is it?”

“Money for the pizza. I’m gonna get some extra snacks from the kitchen.” I was afraid. Why was I afraid? He was not his broodingly self. For me that was strange.

We sat on the couch while waiting for the pizza. He was talkative. We exchanged emails and phone numbers, home phones; I did not have a cell phone then. He thought that I was strange and out of touch because of that.

“I’ll show you some B-boy clips as well. They’re awesome.”

“B-boy?”

“You’ve been teaching me about life. Tonight I’m gonna teach you about living. This way.” I did not move. “This way,” he said again, pointing to his room. I had never been in there. “Anime. B-boy. Movies. Let’s go.”

I followed him nervously like someone being dragged. I saw his room for the first time on that day, and what a room.. Tech store. Electronic store. Gadget store. That was his room with extra stuff like a bed, desk, set of drawers, and chairs. On his wall was one large poster. ‘Hikikomori, it’s not a state, it’s a place.’ That was his statement in large red letters. On his face was a big smile that he wore like a nicely snugged sweater. His room was an oasis from everyone, and he made me a part of it.

That Sunday, there were four chairs around the table. Three were filled and one was empty. Guess who did not come to dinner?

Ms. Cain and my mom spoke as if they had known each other for a long time. She brought over dessert, a chocolate cake she made herself. Just thinking about it has my mouth watering, my stomach yearning, and memories of me licking my fingers.

She made no excuses for him not being there, just that he could not make it. My mom asked no questions, well not in my presence. Without him there, I felt out of place and asked to go see him. Permission was granted.

“I knew you would come,” he said, letting me in.

“Whatever.”

“Dinner over?”

“Yeah, but the conversation is not. Your mom is a great chocolate cake maker.”

“Yeah. What’s in the bowl?”

“Dinner.”

“For me?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks,” he said, walking into the kitchen. “Had fun last night?” I heard him asked.

“Yeah. Everything was cool.”

He came out of the kitchen with his mouth full. We went into his room. “Want to do it again?” I was excited. “I can see on your face that you have questions.”

“You can read my face now?” I asked.

“You want to know where I got all this stuff. You’re softening up. Since I’ve known you, you just ask questions without hesitating. My dad gave me these things.”

“He helped you hide from the world.”

“I don’t need to be out there. The world comes to me through my TV, internet, games, music, and movies.”

“You will become lonely.”

“I’m not lonely.”

“What are you gonna do, stay in here forever? What about the future, about a job? What are you gonna do to make money?”

“You think too much.”

“And you think too little,” I said, turning off the TV.

“Why’d you do that? You’re such a judgmental starched shirt.”

“I am not.”

“You are.” We were not shouting. Call it arguing, debating, whatever. We did that a lot.

“Life is not just about now.”

“Can you just relax? Like last night, can you just relax and have fun. Stop analyzing.”

I stood up and was about to leave. I did not know where I was going. Into the kitchen? Into the living room? Home? I did not know. I just stood up and was going to leave. But then he called out my name. I turned around and faced him. He slowly moved a few steps toward me and called out my name again. “I love you,” he blurted out.

What do you do when someone tells you that they love you? Do you transform yourself into a love song, maybe wearing a smile?

He told me that he loved me. And what did I do? I ran out of his apartment, back to mine and into my room. I ran not from him but from those words. Scared. No one had ever told me that kind of I love you. No, not that version.

My mom knocked on my door and asked if I was alright. You know when you just want to be alone, or you do not want anyone to know how you are really feeling, and so you answer yes to that question when it is really no.

I sat on my bed. I stood up. I lay on the ground. I sat on the ground. I screamed into my pillow. I did everything except smiled, giggled like a blushing school girl on a cloud nine of amour.

I tried to call him, but my fingers would not dial the numbers. I went back to school. My mom asked once again if I was alright, and I told her that I was fine. I was physically. Emotionally, Cupid’s arrow was pointed at my heart.

I was absent-minded. My friends tried to cheer me up. They tried to find out what was wrong. Questions rattled on in my head. For the first time, I wanted school to last longer. But, no, oh no, the school bell rang at its usual time. I had chores and errands. Did they take up most of my time? No, they did not.

Who said that I had to go see him anyway? My heart. I missed breakfast and skipped lunch. I was hungry but could not eat. I had to go see him.

“You look terrible,” he said.

“Yeah, school would do that to you,” I told him, trying to be funny.

Did he forget what he said yesterday? I thought. I tried to act normal, but the nervous demeanor I wore was not any help.

“So, how was school?”

“Good.”

“My mom’s thinking about getting me a private tutor.” I was convinced he had forgotten.

“Good.”

“Yeah. I told her okay as long as it was you. I was also thinking that I can do an online class or something. Are you okay?”

“What?”

“You don’t look so hot right now. Are you sick again?”

“Cabot . . . I . . . I . . . Cabot.”

“Yeah.”

“Online class or something, great. Cabot.”

“Yeah?”

“Got anything to eat?”

“Want a sandwich or something?”

“Sandwich or something?”

“Are you okay?”

Those words were not mentioned. I took a deep breath, smiled and said, “Fine. Yeah, I will have a sandwich.”

“What kind?”

“Surprise me. I am good at the dreaded math.”

“Not the dreaded math. If you’re still here when she comes, then you can talk with her. She invited you and your mom to dinner on Sunday.”

“So that means that you are going to—”

“I won’t be around for dinner. I’ll be in my room,” he said, leaving the room and then coming back with a sandwich. “Let me get you something to drink. Here,” he said, returning with something to drink. We sat in the chairs by the bookcase. “Do you remember what I said yesterday?” I choked on the drink. Rushing toward me, he lightly tapped my back.

“I think I have homework.”

“You do?”

“No. You can sit down. I am okay.”

“About yesterday.”

“Yeah about that, I—”

“I told you to relax, to have fun.”

“Yeah.”

“I called you—”

“You are not going to apologize, huh?”

“No.”

“Good, neither am I. Can I have another sandwich?”

“Surprise you again?”

“Yeah.”

I ate four surprised sandwiches not to satisfy my hunger. Not once did he mention he loved me.

His mom came home and we talked. I still had to babysit on the weekend. But three days out of the week, I became his math tutor. She smiled at me a lot.

I left earlier than usual. My mom was not home yet. I took a shower and thought sleep would take over. But something was pounding at the door of my heart. I got up and went into the living room to use the computer. I emailed him four words. “I love you, too.” Is telling someone that you love them simple?

After I turned off the computer, I sat there with a big smile on my face. I was about to go back to my room when there was a knock on the door. It was him.

“Don’t open the door,” he said softly. “I just want to say thank you for loving me.” And he was gone. I was blushing. I was in love. We were in love. What next? The next day gave me the answer.

“Three days a week,” my mom said after I told her about tutoring.

“I am still going to babysit.”

“I don’t want you getting too close to him,” she said, moving closer to the sink.

“It is too late,” I told her, getting up quickly and wanting to rush away.

“What do you mean by that?”

“It is not what you think. I have to go or I will be late for school.”

“Be late. What do you mean by it’s too late?”

“I love him.”

“You what? This can’t be happening, you’re only fifteen.”

“I thought I was fifty. It feels like that sometimes.”

“Don’t give me sass.”

“Sorry.”

“When I get home tonight, we have to talk.”

“May I go now?” I asked not waiting for an answer.

Why do some parents cloak their kids with a mistrust that they did nothing to earn? What did she read in it is too late. No, why did she even go there in the first place? Sex? Gosh, I had not been kissed and she jumped to the conclusion that I meant sex.

The day before, I wrote and told him that I loved him. It was time for me to tell him, But after school. That day started off great. I felt light-headed and everything was alright. But then I thought about that conversation I was going to have with my mom.

Maybe it was the big smile that gave away the emotion that enveloped me. My friends, still in the dark about him, saw that I was happy.

I was impatient to see him. Do you feel that way sometimes when you are waiting for something or yearning to see someone? Yes, I wanted to see him.

Hung out with friends after school. Did errands and homework. And then I was standing at his door. All of a sudden, I was scared. I waited with anticipation, but . . .

“Why didn’t you knock?” he asked, opening the door.

“I was going to.”

“Come in.”

“How did you know that I was there?”

“I didn’t. I opened the door to see what was taking you so long.”

Showing him what I brought over, I said, “Math books. You have not changed your mind, huh? You know—”

“No lecture please. I haven’t changed my mind.”

“How are your math skills?”

“I know a little”

“We will go over everything. For an hour it is you, me and math.”

“Okay.”

Do not mind how with ease that conversation sounded. We were nervous. I kept looking away, not capable of looking into his eyes. I caught him looking at me. He would quickly put his head back down and look at what was on the page of the book. After it was over, we were silent. I sat on the couch while he sat in one of the chairs by the bookcase.

“Now what?” I asked, my heart racing.

“Want to watch some TV?”

“No. I forgot to tell you that I love you.” That came out wrong. Has that ever happen to you. You want to say something but say it right? He came over and sat on the couch. He was at one end and I was at the other.

“I know.”

“I wrote it but did not say it.”

“I know. Want anything to eat?”

“No.”

“So.”

“Yeah, so. I should go,” I said, getting up to leave. “Do not forget to read that chapter.”

“Okay teacher.” I was almost out the door but forgot my keys. “Are we gonna be this nervous around each other?”

“Gosh, I hope not. I am using up a lot of energy.”

“Here, your keys.” He was smiling at me. His eyes were happy. I finally looked into them.

“Bye.”

“Bye,” he said, kissing me on my cheek.

When I was out the door, I squeed. Is that a word? He kissed me on the cheek. By the time I reached home, he called and we talked and talked. No nervousness. By the time my mom came home, I had to get out of that blissful, natural high.

What she said to me felt like she wanted to say long before he came along. And about him, she wanted to meet him. The next day, I had to tell him that my mom wanted to meet him.

As I stood inside his apartment listening to him sing, my mind went back to what my mom told me the day before. His dad had left one morning to go to work and had never returned. Killed in a car accident. They were very close. That was two years ago. But the world he had created had started before that.

I stood there looking at him singing, even doing a little dancing. And later on after that lesson, I had to tell him about my mom’s request.

“Wanna dance?”

“Did you read that chapter?”

“I read more than one.”

“Can you turn off the music so we can start?”

“Let it play ‘til the end,” he said, coming up to me and in my face. “You sure you don’t wanna dance?” His eyes were dancing.

“Are you zonked?”

Back up to my face again. “Why? Never mind. You’re okay?”

“I am fine.”

He played an air guitar until the very last chord of that song. “Nice, huh?”

“It was okay.”

“It was more than okay. I love that song.”

“Can we start?”

“Okay.”

“How many chapters did you read?”

“Three.”

“Did you understand them?”

“Some.”

“We will go over the part you understood and wrangle with the part you did not.”

“Wrangle away.” After we completed and I got up to get some water, he went into his room for something. “This is for you,” he said, holding up the something.

“What is it?”

“Take it and find out.”

“Wow, a pack of pens.”

“Yeah, you always say you misplace them. So there you go.”

“Thanks.”

“Oh and . . . this.” Another box, bigger. “It’s been a week since I’ve known you and . . . I just wanted to get you something special. Your friendship’s important to me . . . and your love. I picked it out and my mom got it for me.”

My hands were shaking a little opening that present. I was not expecting what came out of it. A ring. “It is beautiful,” I said, giving him a hug. “Cabot.”

“Yeah.”

“Thank you.”

“I—”

“Cabot.”

“Yeah.”

“My mom wants to meet you.” His hands dropped like he had released something dangerous. “She is coming here tonight to see you. I think she spoke with your mom.”

“I’m not seeing her.”

“Cabot, please.”

“I’m not seeing anyone.” The door to the apartment opened; it was his mom.

“Hi,” she said to the both of us.

“You knew?” he asked.

“Knew what?”

“That I’ll be getting a visit tonight. What, were you gonna wait until she comes to tell me that she wants to see me?”

“No one—”

“I’m not seeing her!”

“Honey, please listen.”

“What did you tell your mom about me?” he asked me. That fear I noticed when I first saw him was back in his eyes.

“I told her that I love you.” He went into his room, slammed the door, and locked it. Both his mom and I tried to get him to open it. I became frustrated. I did not ask him to go outside. I did not ask him to meet just anyone. “I am leaving,” I said after nearly an hour at our attempt to get him out. “Just remember, I am not your savior. I am no Jesus.”

“Go away!”

“Is that what you want?”

“No,” he said, cracking open the door and peeping out. “Will you stay with me when she comes?”

“I cannot. She wants it to be just you and your mom. Give me your hands.”

“What?”

“Give me your hands.” He came out of his room. And taking one of the pens he gave me, I drew in his hands two smiley faces. And underneath I wrote I love you. “If you get nervous, look into your hands.” A knock at the door. She was there. After giving him a hug, I was gone. I was apprehensive about the next day.

I stayed up for most of that night. I heard when my mom came home. I heard when she came and stood in front of my room door. I heard when she went into her room.

I saw the full moon through the slight opening of my blinds. I wanted to go there. I wanted to be far away. I got no sleep. In the morning, I checked my email. There were messages. But none were from him. No phone calls either. I was expecting, no, I hoped for either one of them. Both I would not have mind. But none?

My mom was not up, that was odd. I knocked on her door. No answer. Her door was always unlocked. I opened it and went in. And she was not there. I did not hear when she left. I was worried. After leaving a note, I went to the elevator. And when it opened there she was. My mom, his mom, and . . . him.

They said good morning. He did not. Questions went off in my head one after another like an over zealous reporter on his first assignment. What was going on? Instead of heading into the elevator, I turned around and followed them.

“Where are you going, honey?” my mom asked.

“I want to know what is going on.”

“You’ll be late for school.”

“But—”

“Bye.”

I was not happy. My curious cat instinct was miserable. He never looked at me. He went out. School, why there had to be school at that very moment. I could not be absent; my mom would have found out.

School was miserable. Nothing replaced what I saw that morning. Not my friends, not my favorite teacher, not some guy that yelled, “Hey, watch where you’re going.” Not the chores or errands. Nothing.

No homework. Thank goodness. With one knock at his door, I was already inside the apartment. With a big smile he said, “Hi.”

“Hi.”

“So what’s our lesson for today?”

“I thought we can go over what was taught over the two day period.”

“Okay. Hungry?” he asked as if everything was alright.

“No. Are you going to explain about this morning?”

“What about it?”

Was he kidding me? “You went out.”

“Yeah.”

“What did my mom say to you?”

“I think we better start.”

“Cabot?” Ignoring me, he took his usual seat. The lesson began. I was not happy. But even I knew when not to push him. “You are really good at this. Soon you would not need me to tutor you. Some thing fell on the page. Some liquid. A tear. He was crying. “Please tell me what is going on.”

“Nothing.”

“It is me you are talking to, remember.”

“I love you.”

“I love you. Why were you and our moms out this morning?” He got up and went over to the bookcase. He picked up the picture of his dad. “Cabot?”

“I have to change.”

“What?”

“I have to change to be with you.”

“No, no, you change because you want to. It should be a choice.”

“I chose you.”

“I am not understanding.” He came and sat back down. Looking at me, I wiped his tears.

“For me to be your boyfriend, I have to be normal.”

“Normal? Who defines normal?”

“I—”

“Was that my mom’s suggestion?” He did not answer. “Cabot?”

“My mom agreed with it.”

“Agreed with what? Please do not shut me out.”

“This morning was the beginning of the new me. It’s the right thing for me. We took a walk around the block. It was right for me. It was the right thing for me.” He got up and wiped the tears that began to flow again. “I have to be strong.”

“You are.”

“I’m not.”

“You did not have to speak to me when we first met. You came out of this apartment and came to my door twice. You are going to take online classes. Small steps but huge. Courage can come in small doses,” I said, standing up. “My mom meant well. Your mom meant well.”

“I’ll be coming to dinner on Sunday.”

“You will?”

“Yeah. Tomorrow’s Friday.”

“The last day of school.”

“I’m asking you on a date.”

“Cabot, you do not have to do this,” I told him, fearing that he was trying to do something that he was not ready to do.

“On the roof, early morning.”

“You do not have to.”

“Really early morning.”

“Five o’clock.”

“Four o’clock.”

“Cabot?”

“Now I’m hungry.”

There were two things I looked forward to the next day, my date with him and the questions that I wanted my mom to answer.

There I was, three-thirty in the morning, putting on my jeans and T-shirt for our date. Flip-flops and the ring he gave me completing my attire. Excitement had overtaken me. I tried to be as quiet as possible.

He told me to bring nothing. I went to the elevator, our meeting point. He was there waiting. He placed his finger over his mouth, indicating to me not to speak. When we were in the elevator, he spoke.

“Morning.”

“Morning. What is in the bag?”

“You’ll see when we get on the roof.”

“Yeah about that, the door that leads to the roof, is it not always locked?”

“Not always.”

“I mean like now.”

“Yeah.”

“How do you know if it is open?”

“Because it is,” he said, opening the door.

“How did—”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Look at that moon.”

“Beautiful, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“We’ll sit over there.” There was where two crates had been strategically placed. Taking his backpack off, he said, “Breakfast.” Wrapped sandwiches and two bottles of orange juice fell out of his bag.

“Surprise sandwiches?”

“Yeah. Cold?” he asked, noticing me shivering like a feather being blown by a fan.

He took off his jacket and had handed it to me. He had on a white T-shirt and black jeans.

“Thank you.”

“Do you miss your dad?”

“Um . . . I do not know. You aren’t eating.” He took a bite into his sandwich and chewed as if he did not want to swallow. “I know you miss your dad very much.”

“We used to talk about everything. He was cool.”

“Keep those memories.”

“Sometimes it feel as if they’re not enough.” I did not know what to say, so what I did was to hold out my hand. He took it. “Stand over there.”

“Over where?”

“There.”

“Why?”

“I want to take a picture of you.”

“Okay.”

“Now your time.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“My pictures always come out . . . you know. I mean, I just don’t . . .”

“Let us take one together. Come stand next to me. Do not forget to smile,” I told him, holding up the camera. “Oops, I think we have to take another one.”

“Why?”

“I will go stand over there, you stay here.”

“I know what you’re doing.”

“You do? Smile.”

“No.”

“Difficult.”

“Pestering.”

“Smile.”

“Take the picture already.”

“Alright, alright.” I went and stood next to him. Showing him the picture, I asked why he did not smile.

“Enough pictures.”

“Whatever.”

“This place feels so cold.”

“It is going to warm up.”

“I’m not talking about the temperature.”

“Let us sit back down.” I said not wanting to go down sulky street. “Wanna watch a movie tonight? I will bring over one of my mom’s DVD. Why that look?”

“I have some that we can watch. I want you to listen to a song.”

“The one where you played the very last chord on your imaginary guitar?”

“I’m thinking about getting one.”

“A guitar?”

“You will become a musician, filling the airwaves with—”

“Will you sit back down.”

“But I have not finished my speech.”

“Inkstain.”

“What?”

“That’s the name of the group.”

“May I have your sandwich if you are not going to eat it?”

“Do you know what time it is?”

“Why is school five days a week?”

“To give young people something to do.”

“There are a lot of things that we can do like sleep and not get up—”

“It’s time to go back down.”

“And once again, you have interrupted my speech.” We collected the garbage we created and took one last look at the sky. Soon the sun would be up and all the lights that broke that darkness would be no more. “Thank you for this morning,” I told him as we stepped out of the elevator. “I wish it was longer.”

“Maybe next time.” He walked me to my door and then headed for his.

“Wait.”

“Sh-h-h.”

“Your jacket.”

“See you later,” he said, taking it and then kissing me.

“Later.” I got some sleep, not much. After taking a shower, I met my mom in the kitchen. “Morning.”

“Morning.”

“So, how was your date?”

“You knew about that?”

“Yes.”

“Mom, what did you and Cabot talked about?”

“Eat your breakfast before it gets cold.”

“You will not tell me?”

“I’m going to take a shower.”

“Will he tell me?”

He did not tell me everything—not yet. That night, we watched two comedy movies, and I listened to that song. He finally told me. He told me what he had to do. The rules that he had to follow in order to be with me. I cried sorrowful, angry tears, not only because of those rules but for what I did the next day.

Will you help me find me?

Lost in the mire of this world.

Searching? Yeah, I am.

Guiding light, where are you?

At the end of the tunnel?

Searching? Yeah, I am.

Ch// Lost but willing to be found.

Need a helping hand.

Searching for that hand.

Yeah, I’m searching for that hand.

Those were some words to the song that I listened to. Was he trying to tell me something? I woke up the next morning and my eyes were red from all the crying I did. I stayed in my room. She was the last person I wanted to see, the last person I wanted to hear. I made up my mind that I was not going to let her let me be the cause of his pain. Little pushes I could accept, but she threw him across those lines that he was not ready to cross.

Rule one. He had to show up to dinner on Sunday.

Rule two. He had to go out in public by himself.

Rule three. He had to go to class, a building with other students.

Rule four. If taking me out on a date, it had to be out of the apartment.

Rule five. He had to go out with his mom.

Rule six. He had to see psychiatrist. Others would be added if necessary.

She left for work. I babysat. Skipped the movies with my friends. Stayed home. Made no contact with him. Did not check my email. Did not call. Ignored the phone and the knock on the door.

He was making changes. But they were not for him. It did not seem real. I was the reason for his rules. Love was helping. Love was hurting. It was bleeding.

What to do about the next day? About dinner at their apartment? That was my decision. I had to cut away from him. But why did it not feel right?

Do we have to explain why we are letting go?

I prayed. I cried. I felt like an overfilled glass teeming with confusion. We went to church and there was an anger that was in my heart toward my mom. I was angry but a tinge of guilt crept in. After I spoke with grandma, that guilt overthrew that anger. It had staged its coup and won. Why did that guilt made my anger feel dirty?

I thought I still could not face him. But if I decided not to go to dinner, then what was I doing at their apartment door with my mom?

“You’re early,” Ms. Cain said.

“I came to let you know that I’m going to buy dessert.”

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“I’ll be right back,” she said, leaving me behind like someone being sacrificed.

I sat on the couch. But for the first time, I felt very uncomfortable, almost like being suffocated. Ms. Cain was busy setting the table and moved lightly, as if her world had finally come together, or was close to it.

“Cabot’s in his room. He’s been in a mood since yesterday.”

“I . . .”

“Are you okay?”

“I will go see how he is doing,” I said quickly getting up.

His door was opened, and I went in, as if entering a place I did not want to go. He was lying out on his bed. His back toward me. The hikikomori statement had been torn from the wall. I told myself not to cry, but I did not listen. I did not know what to say. He moved. I walked slowly toward his bed, and he turned around. He was crying, too.

“So yesterday was special?” he asked sarcastically.

“I am never going to do that again; I am never going to abandon you.”

“Promise.”

“Promise.”

“Is your mom out there?”

“She went to buy dessert.”

“I think we’ve cried enough,” he said, getting up and wiping my tears. I wiped his tears away, too. “You be my strength and I’ll be yours.”

“Okay. Can I borrow a pen?”

“Why? Never mind, I know.” I drew a smiley face into his hand; he drew one into mine. “My mom cooked a lot.”

“We better go.”

“Wait.”

“What is it?”

“I have something for you.”

“Not another ring, this one is enough,” I said, looking at the ring he had given me.

“No, this.”

For the first time, he kissed me on my lips. My first real kiss. I still remember it. The sensation that rushed through my body and the happiness of my heart. Even in the midst of the hurt that surrounded us, I experienced something so beautiful, so natural. I am smiling right now. He took my hand and we went out. My mom arrived. We sat together, our hands clasped. There was much talking between our moms. We only spoke when we were asked a question. In the midst of their conversation another rule had to be carried out. The next day, Cabot learned more about rule number six.

“Is he good?” Ms. Cain asked.

“Highly recommended,” my mom replied.

“It’s a private matter.”

“I used discretion.”

“What do you think, honey?” Ms. Cain asked him. “We’ll meet the psychiatrist on Tuesday. At what time?” she asked my mom.

“I made the appointment for the afternoon.”

“Good, I’ll ask for that day off.” She rubbed his hand reassuringly. “It’ll be okay.” That was part of the conversation on Sunday.

‘Where are you? When will you be here? Got a new movie to watch. Don’t forget the anime. Where are you? Are you coming? Why aren’t you coming?’ Those were the seven emails he sent that Saturday. I read them on Sunday. It was Monday.

He squeezed my hand when he heard that he had to see a psychiatrist.

I really wanted to miss school. I spoke to him before I left. He told me that he was okay. I did not believe him. I decided to do something different that afternoon. I invited him over.

“Is this a picture of your dad?” he asked, noticing a picture on the living room wall.

“There are no pictures of my dad in here. Want anything to eat?”

“No.”

“Nervous?”

“No.”

“Good. About tomorrow?”

“Let’s not talk about it.”

“Okay,” I said reluctantly.

“Can I have some water please?”

“You are not comfortable.”

“I feel like your mom’s going to come home any minute.”

“It is way too early for that. We can leave if you want.”

“Want.” She had him on edge. He was relaxed when we went back to his place. “Do you wanna dance? Heard this cool song last night,” he said, heading to his room and returning with a CD. “I downloaded it,” he said, holding it up.

“What is it?”

:Canon in D major by Johann Pachelbel.”

“Classical.”

“May I have this dance?”

“You may,” I said in a terrible aristocratic accent. “Cabot?”

“Sh-h-h, don’t talk. Let the music take over.” I did not realize when the music and dance ended. He lifted my head that I did not know was on his shoulder. He stared at me. I wanted to turn away but could not. I loved the look in his eyes. “I love you,” he said. “You mean so much to me.” I was speechless. He was good at expressing his heart. I was not.

We danced again, but to no music. It felt comfortable being there in his arms. We sat down on the couch and talked. His mom came home and went into her room. I did not want to leave, but my mom would have soon been home. He walked me to my door and kissed me once again on my lips—longer.

“Don’t forget our breakfast date.”

“I won’t.” I was looking forward to that.

I remembered my jacket. My mom knew again. I met Ms. Cain at their apartment door; she was smiling.

“Haven’t done aerobics in ages,” she said as if she could have gone all day doing that.

“They have classes this early?”

“It’s a twenty-four hour gym.”

“But it is very early.”

“I’m a morning person.”

“O-kay. Is he up?”

“He was asleep when I left. But I’m sure he’s up now,” she said finally opening the door. “See, the light’s on in his room. Go ahead, I’m gonna raid the fridge.” She was in a happy mood. Maybe it was the day off or something else.

“I am here for my breakfast date,” I said, opening the door. I wish I did not. “Cabot! Cabot! Ms. Cain!”

“What is it?!”

“Call an ambulance! Cabot! Cabot!”

A world can crash in a few seconds. Happiness can be taken away in a few seconds. Life can change in a few seconds.

He decided to leave life. His note was on his wall. Bright red letters—”I’m not ready!” Within my grief, I was mad. I was mad at the world; mad at his mom; mad at my mom—but most of all, I was very mad at him. Who gave him the right to murder himself? I hate him. But yet I love him. Days with him were schizophrenic. But I loved him.

The day after, I checked my email. ‘Sorry about breakfast. Love Cabot.’ That was the last message sent. I have a copy of it. I carry it around with me to remind me. Remind me of what? About life, love, and choices. But, God, even now I still miss him. I still do not understand.

This story is an original idea written by me.© Thanks for reading.

See you next Tuesday, God willing. 🙂

End of Love Isn’t A Mood Swing collection.

First Story The Farm Team

Second Story We Grew Up

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We Grew Up

From the first Tri Short Story Collection Love Isn’t A Mood Swing

Ms. Thames’ real job was to be a busybody and not the secretary that she was being paid to be. Mouth as wide as the river that her surname carried, she took it upon herself to throw my dad’s fiftieth birthday party. An important milestone because no man in my dad’s family ever lived to see the big 5-0. Maybe they were cursed.

My family sucked. No sucks because they still do. She knew that. She knew that we couldn’t get along. I saw through her offer to have that party, and I wasn’t being paranoid. She probably sat in her big house and thought to herself why not put on a show for the neighborhood. I don’t know why my mom went along with her evil plan, but there we were, the neighborhood’s reality show, waiting to go on display thanks to the longtime family friend.

Mom and dad always said that they were half and half; half of the time they could’ve tolerated each other; the other half, they wished each other away. Their children, me included, inherited that trait, although I would say the fraction of hate and tolerance were different. Four of us had our safe zones away from each other in different parts of the world. Two boys, two girls in their four-walled cocoons.

We all showed up on the day of the party. My mom told us that no phone calls were being accepted, neither were those e-cards that annoyed my dad, or the paper birthday cards he thought were slowly vanishing like the hair on his head, going but not quite gone.

I was the first to come; my time zone was the closest to my parents.

Ms. Thames was there. And with one of the fake smiles I had ever seen that wasn’t a part of a commercial, she smiled and said, “Hello.”

“Hey,” I replied.

“Look at you, all grown up.”

“That’s what you do when you age. I see you’ve grown out.”

“How was your flight?’ my mom asked, sensing the aura of irksome from where I stood.

“Fine. Is dad around?”

“Upstairs.”

“See ya,” I said as I left the two of them behind.

Maybe my mom knew what was going on. Ms. Thames, director, and my mom, producer. I caught the word ‘rude’ from the river’s mouth before I made it upstairs.

The door of my parents’ bedroom was open and my dad was sitting in a chair by the window. He looked so fragile. He had been through a lot—a recovering alcoholic that had lost too many jobs because of what he used to call “the liquid happiness”. He was my favorite parent.

“How long are you going to stand there watching me?”

“Huh?”

“You, are you coming in or what?”

“Hi dad,” I said as I kissed him on his cheek.

“How is my favorite child?”

“Good.”

“Truth.”

“I really don’t want to be here.”

“Neither do I. But I heard I am the guest of honor. The others have not arrive?”

“I’m the first.”

“No, you are the last child.”

We tried to hushed the fact that we were laughing. But wondering why, we laughed as if there were no other people in the house.

“You see what your mother wants me to wear,” he said, pointing to the clothes on the bed.

“Nice.”

“Tell me about it. I do not know if she is hinting at a divorce.”

“Too many times.”

“What time is it?”

“12:38 PM.”

“I was hoping the snail would let go time.”

“How’s the bookstore?”

“No one read books nowadays.”

“We’ll make them.” And again our laughter traveled through the house. “My room isn’t turned into anything, huh?”

“Not yet.”

“I’m gonna lock myself in before the others come. Dad, Happy Birthday,” I said as I hugged him.

“Thank you.”

The party was at four o’clock. I was in my room, which still looked the same. The blanket, pillow case were all the same and washed and kept in good condition. It had been years.

I had my earphones in my ears, music trying to blast out the fearful thoughts that wanted to remain in my mind. I must have drifted off to sleep because I jerked up when I heard a door slammed. Yeah, I was home. My earphones were on my desk. I don’t know how they got there. Up on my closet door was a dress with a note attached to it. “Wear this,” it said. It was from my mom.

I got off the bed and looked around. A poster of Solar Flair was still on the wall and a John 3:16 sticker on the chair. I felt like a teenager again. The door opened.

“Are you awake?”

“Mom?”

“May I come in?”

“Yeah.”

She headed directly for the dress. “Isn’t it lovely?”

“Are you planning on wearing it?”

“No, dear, it’s for you to wear.”

“I’m not—”

“Ms. Thames and I picked it out.”

“So I guess she can wear it.”

“Wear your hair up.”

“You still don’t listen,” I said, becoming angry.

She was going to say something but a noise from the hall never allowed those words to be said. I closed the door after she left and stood behind it. I heard what was going on. Child number one was arguing with child number two.

“How could you use up all the hot water?” child number one asked. It was my older brother.

“I didn’t.”

“You did it on purpose, didn’t you?”

“Come, come, let’s not argue,” my mom said.

“It’s a million degrees, why’d she have to use hot water?”

“Then why are you making all this noise if it’s a million degrees?” my sister asked. She was child number two.

“I don’t know why I came in the first place,” I heard him say as it sounded like he was heading toward my door. I hid, but he knew where to look. “I see you’re still stupid,” he said, bending down and looking under the bed. “Don’t you think you’re too old for this?”

“Hi.”

“Hi yourself.”

“Is everyone here?” I asked as I crawled from underneath the bed.

“Yeah. Don’t you think you should be getting ready?”

“Heard all the hot water’s gone.”

“Don’t tease, it doesn’t suit you.”

“Whatever.”

“You’re gonna wear a dress?”

“No.”

“Get ready.”

“I’m not a kid.”

“Well don’t crawl underneath the bed.”

He was out of the room before I got a chance to respond. I felt like I was five again.

Mom, dad, older brother, older sister, third oldest child, and me, all stood in the living room at 3:15 PM. Me not in a dress. And my dad not in the outfit that was chosen for him. My mom wanted us to get things from out our system. Whatever we had to say to each other, we better get it out before we left. I felt like I was three again when she had us lined up before church and let us “discussed” things. She went first.

“I see you’re not wearing the clothes I chose but some jacked up, hurried together pants and shirt. You’re the guest of honor; you should’ve dress better. Total embarrassment.”

She turned to me and said,”You were born a girl and not a boy. I thought that dress would’ve looked great on you. Now I’ll never know.” She wanted to take me on a guilt trip. I didn’t go.

To my older brother she said, “You’re not a kid to be complaining about hot water; it’s hot enough already.”

To my older sister she said, “Your selfishness has never stopped amazing me. There was no reason to use all the hot water.”

To my other brother she said, “I never thought I gave birth and raised a wandering child. Speak only English here. You’re not in one of your foreign countries. We’ll all be seated at one table, so don’t embarrass me.”

“Why do we have to sit at one table?” my older sister asked.

“Because we’re a family.”

“Since when?”

“Don’t get smart.”

We were all young again. We lived not too far from Ms. Thames’ house. And like school kids on a bus, with our mom as the bus driver, we headed there. She was the only one to have spoken and got things from off her chest. Ours were still glued, welded on tight and lying there like ash from a dormant volcano with small tremors.

Our party hostess was all smiles. Ugh. She led us to center stage to where a table that seated six was waiting.

All eyes were on us like watchers of a very popular soap opera. At four o’clock exactly, the party began. I was so nervous and scared of what might happened. My hands were on my lap and my eyes anywhere other than facing forward.

Ms. Thames stood up and said, “It’s nice to have so many people here. It’s good to see everyone from the neighborhood here to join in the celebration of the fiftieth birthday of such a wonderful man. I’ll not talk much. Everyone, the man of the hour.”

My dad got up and said, “Thank you.” He then sat back down.

My mom nudged him and whispered, “You can say more than that.”

He got up again. “Thank you very much.” He sat back down again.

The third oldest child got up, looked at our mom, and told my dad happy birthday in all the foreign languages he spoke. Instead of silence from the guests, he received applause. The glitter in my mom eyes told me that she was proud, and so was I. I never knew he spoke five different languages.

We were the first to be served. With the food came alcohol. I looked at my dad and then my mom. Their eyes said it all. My older brother walked over to the server, whispered something, and then returned with bottles of apple cider. The wine was removed. My hands weren’t on my lap anymore; the nervousness evaporated.

My oldest sister danced with my dad; that brought back so many memories. They used to do that when she was younger.

There was a camera man there, recording everything. I like watching the video every Saturday. Ms. Thames looking unhappy. The civil conversation between my family and our mingling among the people that were there. Us laughing. Us being happy like when we were kids. And I realized what the problem was, we grew up—and I hated it.

This story is an original idea written by me.© Thanks for reading.

See you next Tuesday, God willing. 🙂

Story one from collection is The Farm Team

The Farm Team

From the first Tri Short Story Collection Love Isn’t A Mood Swing

Andrew stood over his son as he watched him coughing. He had a pillow in his hands and was debating in his mind whether to suffocate him. The four-year-old was dying anyway. He would be free from pain. And he thought so would he be free from watching him suffer and having no money to help him. He was about to put the pillow over his face when his son stirred from his sleep as he lay in the bed. Andrew pulled back and waited. The boy was motionless again, and he tried again. This time the boy called out, “Daddy, daddy.”

Dropping the pillow, he gently whispered, “I’m here.”

“I’m thirsty,” Joshua, his son, said.

“I’ll get you some water,” he said, picking up the pillow and carrying it with him to get the water. He brought a glass of water back and helped him sit up to drink it.

“Thank you.”

“Get some more sleep,” he said as he started to leave the room that they shared.

“I love you.”

He wanted to say that he did too, but his throat felt like it was filling up with water. He rushed out the room and went and took a seat at the small kitchen table. Everything was small. Every room was small. The farm where he lived was small. The farm where he worked was small. Life is small, he said into the darkness. God, are you? He got up and walked over to the window. Looking out, he could see a full moon shining like it was beaming out hope. He sucked his teeth, walked back to the table, and rested his forehead on it. His son coughed again.

Peter was looking at that same moon. To him, it was just something that gave light in the night. He was Andrew’s older brother. He also lived and worked on a farm, and they were small too. Because of his temper, he was always getting fired. But he knew that he had to keep his latest job. He had to make money to help his nephew who had cancer. Money for an operation. But he always felt like people were pushing his buttons, making him angry. He turned away from the moon and went back inside. He and his brother would have to leave for work soon. They did not like the owners, James and John.

They had a small farm and were not rich, just making the best of the money they had. They wanted the best positions in Eden-Styx. They did not have it. “We have to take the pigs to market,” John said.

“It’s hasn’t been a good year,” James said. “We might have to let some workers go from Thunder Farm.”

“Peter can go but keep Andrew; he needs the money.”

“I like Peter. He works like fire is under his feet.”

“His temper’s fire. His brother is quiet.”

“Maybe things will get better and we won’t have to fire anyone,” James said. “Guess who’s back in town.”

“Matthew.”

“How did you know?”

“Black shiny car,” John said, getting up and going outside.

Matthew was still asleep in his old room in his parents’ house. Living in the city made him like a Sleeping Beauty, not getting up for a very long time. It was his mother’s birthday and that was why he was back in town. All that studying and being called a nerd paid off. He was an accountant for a car company. Out of the twelve of them that used to hang out together, he was the only one that got his freedom from a boring farm life. That was how he had framed it when he told his parents that he was leaving home. He only came back for his parents’ birthdays.

The moon was now gone and the sun had taken its place. Andrew left Joshua with his next door neighbor and headed off to work. Peter was already there.

“How is he?” Peter asked.

“Waiting to die,” Andrew said.

“We’ll make the money for the operation.”

“I was going to kill him this morning,” Andrew said, not looking at his brother.

Grabbing his brother’s collar, he asked, “Are you crazy?”

“Let me go. I’m tired of watching him suffer.”

“No, you’re tired of suffering.”

“I said let me go,” Andrew said, pushing his brother away.

John saw everything and walked over to them. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“Nothing,” they both said.

“Don’t bring your problems here,” John said.

“It’s nothing,” Andrew said as he and his brother started to walk away.

“Peter,” John said, “I need to talk to you.” Peter turned around and came back. “The farm isn’t doing too good and maybe we’ll have to let you go.”

“You’re going to fire me?”

“I have no choice.”

“But I’m not working for me, I’m working to try help Joshua.”

“It’s just a maybe for now.”

“I don’t think you ever liked me. Ever since high school when I beat you up, you—”

“Don’t make me change that maybe,” John said, noticing Peter’s hand becoming a fist.

“Hey,”Andrew said, tapping his brother’s shoulder and surprising him, “let’s go. There’s a lot to do.”

Andrew pulled him away as John stared. “We were all such good friends,” Peter said to his brother. “What happened?”

“Life.”

“You’re so pessimistic.”

“Whatever.”

“Who told you to have a child with a woman that wouldn’t stay with you?”

“So now everything’s my fault.”

“Did I say that?” Peter asked, raising his voice.

“That’s what you think,” Andrew said, matching the volume of his brother’s voice.

“Geez, what an idiot,” he said, walking away but not getting very far before his brother grabbed his neck and then pushed him to the ground. Peter got on top of him and started to punch him. John rushed over and pulled him off.

“You’re fired,” he said.

“Whatever.”

James, rushing over, asked, “What’s going on?”

“I have a brother for an idiot, and you have one too,” Peter said, walking away and not looking back.

“Peter!” James yelled.

“Peter!” Andrew yelled.

“Let him go,” John said.

“But this was my fault,” Andrew said.

“What was?” James asked.

“If he apologize, he can come back,” John said.

“Like Judas?” Andrew asked.

“Judas never apologized to us,” John said.

“Gosh, John, you’re so petty,” James said as he walked away. The other two also walked away, but in separate directions.

They were teenage boys out one night looking for some fun. Their searching took them to the water tower where they had decided to mark it up with graffiti. All decided to do it. But Judas backed out and went and reported them. They got in trouble, and they had never forgiven him, not even after he had tried to kill himself. They hated him even more for that. He was now an alcoholic recluse living in his parents’ house.

Peter went to see his nephew. He was sitting by the window looking out. He always did that when his father went to to work, not because he was being mistreated by the neighbor. “Uncle Peter,” he said when he saw him.

“How are you, kiddo?”

“Okay.” Peter knew he was not, not with his eyes looking like they wanted to fall back into his face. “Is daddy coming?”

“He still has work to do. I came to see how you were doing. I have some spare time, want to do something?”

“Let’s go for a walk.”

“Okay. I’ll get permission first,” he said, leaving and then returning. They did not go very far and returned just as Matthew was driving up. “Long time no see, Matthew,” he said after the visitor exited his car.

“Hi, I came to see Andrew.”

“He’s at Thunder Farm. Why?”

“It is about something he wanted me to check up on.”

“What?”

“That is a private matter.”

“Joshua,” his uncle said as he turned to him, “I’m going to put you back inside.”

“Okay.”

“Matthew don’t leave.”

In that few minutes that Peter was gone, Matthew contemplated whether to stay or go. He was afraid of him, so he was there when he returned. “I really should not be telling you anything,” he said when he saw him.

“Did he ask you to borrow money?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

“How to make some?”

“Legally?”

“Of course,” he said, feeling offended.

“Don’t get so prickly.”

“There is an elite baseball team that is having a competition. If anyone can beat them in a game, that team can win one million dollars.”

“Any team?” Peter asked.

“That will be too easy. An amateur team.”

“I remember the twelve of us being good.”

“I have not played since I left. Have you?” Matthew asked.

“Not a lot. When is the game?” Peter asked

“You have to play against another team before playing them.”

“How many teams have signed up?”

“One. The deadline is tomorrow.”

“Sign us up,” Peter told him.

“Who will be on this team?” Matthew asked.

“The twelve of us,” Peter said.

“I do not think so,” Matthew said, walking to his car.

“Why not?”

“Look at me, I am out of shape.”

“You saw him?” Peter asked.

“Who?” Matthew asked.

“Joshua, that’s why you should play.”

“I rather go swimming with sharks,” Matthew said.

“Do you need my help?” Peter asked, moving closer to him.

“I’ll give Andrew some money to help his son.”

“Give him one million dollars.”

“I do not have that kind of money.”

“Then.”

“Okay, at my mother’s birthday party tomorrow we will talk.”

“Sign us up so we won’t miss the deadline,” he told him. “God just sent us help.”

Even though Peter wanted to tell his brother sorry, he did not wait around to do so. Andrew wanted to tell his brother sorry but did not go over to his house, or call, to tell him. James and John living in the same house avoided each other.

That was how it was when they all showed up at the party. Eleven of them, Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew, Bart, Thomas, Philip, Simon, Jameston and his brother all tried to avoid each other. But it was difficult with Matthew’s mother thinking that they were all still good friends. Perhaps it was destiny that had them finally standing close to each other when her son began talking about the baseball competition.

“You did what?” Andrew asked.

“Peter said to do it,” Matthew said, trying to decrease his role.

“You shouldn’t be listening to anything that fool says,” John said.

“I know we don’t like each other,” Philip said, “but shouldn’t we do this to help Joshua.”

“We could use that money to help the farm,” John said.

“You selfish pig,” Peter said.

“Please,” Matthew said, “no fighting here.”

“We can save that boy’s life,” James said.

“I’m not doing it,” John said.

“Step outside so I can beat you up,” Peter said.

“Stop it! My son’s dying and you guys are acting like a pack of—”

“What is going on?” Matthew’s mother asked as she rushed in.

“Nothing,” her son said. “We are going to go out for a bit. We will be right back.”

He led the way, and they all headed to the water tower and stood around for a few minutes. First they looked at each other and then the ground.

“Why are we here?” Andrew asked.

“No holding back. Get everything out of your systems. Kick each other’s butt all you want. But after we are through, we better have a team,” Matthew said as he stood there shaking. He watched as the others looked at him. He was always the soft one and the last person to say what was on his mind. He was about to take back what he said when Peter went after John, James after Andrew and the others after each other. And by the time they were through, black eyes, bloody noses, scrapes and cuts were a part of everyone’s body. They were careful not to break any bones because everyone needed to be fit and in one piece to play.

Eleven bodies lay on the ground as all panted from exhaustion and groaned in pain. “What about Judas?” John asked. “He’s our best pitcher.”

“He’s a drunk,” Peter said.

“We can clean him up,” John said.

“Another selfish you. If we didn’t need, we wouldn’t be going to try clean him up,” Peter said.

“Who’s going over to his parents’ house?” Andrew asked. “I don’t think all of us should go.”

“Matthew, you can go,” Peter said.

“Why me?” he asked.

“You’re the calmest out of all of us,” James said.

“I leave tomorrow,” he said.

“Well you better go now,” Peter said.

They all stood staring at Matthew, and he knew there was no way he could say that he would not go. They could not go back to the party, not with bruised faces and bodies, so they each went home. Andrew knew he would have to tell his son why he had a black eye and bruises. He was thinking about lying but changed his mind. Joshua would know the truth.

Matthew was in no rush to leave his car that was parked in front of the yard to where Judas lived. He thought about lying and saying that he went and that Judas turned him away. Who would know the truth anyway. But Matthew, having a conscience, came out of his car and headed toward the front door. He knocked again. The same thing. He was about to turn around to leave when the door opened. He was expecting the parents, but he got Judas instead, standing there like something out of a horror movie with his red eyes, long shaggy hair, and long talons.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“It is me Matthew.”

“What do you want?”

“Um . . . I . . . We . . . Do you like baseball? ” The door was slammed in his face. “Is that a no?”

“If you’re still there when I open this door again, you’ll be—”

“A friend.”

The door remained closed, so he went back to his car. He did not drive off. He waited. And waited. And waited. And the door opened up again. Getting out the car, he walked back up to the house and went inside. The house was not messy as he expected. Not dirty. Not smelly.

“Why are you here?” Judas asked.

“First I came for a selfish reason, hoping you would be a part of our baseball team to try get some money to help Andrew’s son, but I was wrong. I am sorry I took so long to come see you. I am sorry I took this long to forgive you.”

“You have to be joking.”

“No, I am not.”

“I spend most of my days in my room just staring at nothing.”

“I am sorry.”

“Why should you be? Is what I’ve become your fault?”

“I did not come here to argue. All of us fought tonight.”

“Us?”

“The eleven of us against each other.”

“Why?”

“There were a lot of things we had to let go. I do not think we completely did it, though.”

“Is that why you have a fat lip and black eye?”

“Yes.”

“How sick is Joshua?”

“You know?”

“Yes.”

He had his guest sit down, but he remained standing. They spoke to each other like they were walking over eggshells, but eventually relaxed. By the time their twenty minute conversation was over, Judas, their best pitcher, was at least thinking about helping. He had not touched a drop of alcohol in two years. Meeting the others would test how strong he was, how ready he was to face other people, especially them.

The others were cautiously happy when they found out. Matthew made arrangements to work out of the office. Something other than birthdays made him come back and stay for a long period of time. Twelve of them were now back together again. When the others first saw Judas, they were standing on one side and he was on the other. He was afraid to look at them, and they were still angry to look at him. He cut his nails and hair. His eyes were no longer red.

“This is a big step for him,” Matthew said.

“Don’t hate me,” Judas said.

“The hurt is hating you,” Peter said. “But since you came out of the house to help, I’ll put that aside.” The others agreed. When they tried to decide which positions, except the pitcher, each was going to play, arguments and near fights broke out. Threats of backing out were made. Doing something less touchy was attempted. Trying to give the team a name also set off fireworks, and more threats of backing out were made. Finding somewhere to practice released more fireworks and requests not to be bothered after they did back out.

“This isn’t working,” James said. “We can’t agree on anything.”

“Whose fault is that?” Peter asked, ready to punch anyone who dared suggested that it was him.

“We all live on a farm, right,” John said.

“I do not,” Matthew said.

“Oh shut up, Matthew,” Peter said.

“Don’t tell him to shut up,” Judas said.

“Whatever,” Peter said.

“What a bunch of kids,” Andrew said.

“You’re in farm area,” said John, “so let’s call the team The Farm Team.”

To everyone surprise, they all agreed.

“Let’s play rock, paper, scissors for the positions on the team,” suggested Judas.

“Not a bad idea,” said Peter.

They did that and got their positions, although some were still not happy. The nine players were Andrew – First baseman, Peter – Second baseman, John – Third Baseman, Matthew – Catcher, James – Center field, Thomas – Shortstop, Philip – Right field, Bart – Left field, and Judas – Pitcher. The others would be used if needed.

“Where are we going to practice?” asked Andrew.

“My field,” a voice said behind them. When they turned around, it was Joseph, the son of their old P.E. teacher.

“How did you find out about this?” Peter asked.

“Who in this place doesn’t know. And anyway, Judas left the house. That was big news. I can help with the coaching.”

“Great,” said Matthew. “But we still need equipment.”

Walking over to Andrew, Joseph put his hand on his shoulders. “People here want the best for Joshua. Getting that operation and treatment are important. They’ve donated the equipment.”

“Why is this so easy?” asked Thomas.

“You’re such a doubter,” said Peter.

“Save the fights and arguments for another time,” said Joseph. ” I know you guys still have jobs so this will be hard.”

“I was fired,” said Peter.

“Didn’t I tell you that you could come back,” said John.

“Whatever,” said Peter.

“Yea, whatever,” said Andrew. “When can we start practice?”

“This evening,” said Joseph. “We have enough light. Remember our opponent isn’t the elite team for now. We have to beat the other team first. We play that game in two weeks.”

Tired bodies, but not minds, made their way out to practice every evening and far into the late nights. Andrew told Joshua what was going on, and he was rooting for the The Farm Team with all the energy he had.

Their first game against The Might Swingers was going to be played on neutral ground. Neither team got the big crowd that they were hoping for to watch that game. After nine innings, The Farm Team won five to three.

In another two weeks, they were going to play in the biggest baseball game of their lives, and not on neutral ground. They were going to play against professionals. The Ace Strikers. Champions for the past two years.

They lost their focus. They were scared. More arguments and fights in practice were not helping the situation. Joseph told them to stay away from each other for a whole day, even if they worked and lived together. The next time all of them met, he announced, “We’re moving the practice to the city. Matthew got us a place to practice.”

“What about our farm?” asked John.

“And our jobs,” said Philip.

“I talked with your bosses and they said that it was okay. I think Thunder Farm will survive two weeks without you James and John. Is there someone you can leave in charge?”

“Yes, but—”

“It’s okay,” said James, “there’s someone who can manage in our places.”

“Remember,” said Joseph, “there are more distractions. So don’t get distracted,” he said, looking at Judas. He knew something was bothering Judas. He knew a lot about them. They all felt like he was someone easy to talk to, and they took the opportunity to do so. But Judas never spoke to him about what was bothering him, or what he was thinking about doing. He was thinking about doing something that might disrupt the whole team.

They were all in the city, including Joshua who was resting comfortably in the hospital. They had a high school baseball field to practice on and a small hotel to go back to rest and relax.

Three days before the game there was a news conference. Even though The Ace Strikers were happy about the reason The Farm Team was playing, they still vowed to beat them. Their subtle cockiness made Peter angry.

Two days before the game, they spent the day together before their last practice that night. It was like old times when they were younger. Goofing off. Being silly. Stuffing their faces. They went to visit Joshua. He was asleep and in their hearts they knew that they could not let him down.

At their last dinner together, Peter stood up and said, “Don’t be surprise if I say thank you.”

“We’re surprise,” they all said in unison.

“Whatever,” he said.

“Whatever,” they all said in unison.

“But being serious now, thanks for coming out.”

“Are you crying?” asked John who got up and walked over to him. He hugged him, and Peter did not push him away. “I think he wanted to say what all of us are thinking, thank you for being great.” Peter jokingly pushed him away. “Even though we have our differences, we still came together and worked hard to make this happen. Thanks.”

“Now everyone to bed,” said Joseph as he watched all of their tired bodies got up and left. But he did not go to bed. He stayed down in the foyer and watched as Judas came in, cautiously looked around, and left. He followed him, but he lost him in the crowd.

One day before the game, Joseph was called down to the morgue to identify Judas’ body. Events that led up to his death were him drinking in a bar and becoming very drunk. Disturbing the other patrons, he was kicked out. Feeling guilty for what he had done, he climbed a bridge and jumped off. Onlookers called the police, and they retrieved his body.

When Joseph went back to the hotel, he met the other eleven sitting down having breakfast. They were smiling and joking around.

“Judas must have gone for a walk,” Matthew said. “I did not see him when I woke up.”

“He’s dead,” Joseph said.

Pushing his chair back, Peter stood up and asked, “Who killed him?”

After their coach explained what happened, Peter picked up his cup and threw it against the wall.

“How could he do that?” Matthew asked.

“A betrayer never changes,” Thomas said.

“He was our best pitcher,” James said. “What are we going to do?”

Andrew, who had his head down, got up quietly and tried to leave the room. Peter went after him and touched him, causing his brother to take a swing at him. “No! No! No!,” he screamed as he fell to the ground. “Why! Why God! Why!”

They were starting to make a scene, so Joseph took them all upstairs to his room. “Say what you have to say,” he said. But everyone was so numb, so angry that they could not speak. Joseph got an idea and took them all to see Joshua. He was awake and happy to see them. Their forced smiles made him happier, even though they were not real from them. He did not know that.

I drew this for you,” he said, holding up a picture of twelve guys and a coach in what look like baseball uniforms.

“Thank you,” Joseph said. “May I keep it?”

“Yes.”

They stayed with him for a few minutes before going back to the hotel. Joseph took a photo of that picture, had it blown up, borrowed a photo from Andrew of his son, pasted it onto that photo, and went to sleep.

Game Day the guys came into the locker room and saw that photo. Joseph looked at all of them with their angry eyes, twisted mouths, and tensed bodies. “Angry? Yes, you should be,” he began, “but don’t play this game that way. Disappointed. Be that. But don’t play that way. Throwing in the towel even before the umpire yells, ‘Play Ball!’ isn’t an option. No one is guaranteed victory, no matter who or how good they are.”

“But—”

“Thomas, but nothing.”

You guys have to play this game not only with your bodies but also with your hearts, minds, and souls full with a determination to win. Don’t bleed before you get cut. Don’t throw down your bats before the first pitch. Don’t walk away. Joshua wouldn’t want that. Play ball!” No one answered. “Get up and form a circle.” They obeyed. “Play ball!”

“Play ball!” yelled Andrews.

“Play ball!” yelled Thomas.

“Play ball!” yelled Simon.

“Play ball!” yelled James.

“Play ball!” yelled Matthew.

“Play ball!” yelled Bart.

“Play ball!” yelled John.

“Play ball!” yelled Jameston and his brother.

“Play ball!” yelled Philip.

“Let’s kick butts!” yelled Peter. “Play ball!”

They got ready, got their stuff together and headed out. They were playing in The Ace Strikers Stadium, and it was packed. After the introductions from the announcer for both teams and what they were playing for, the national anthem was sung. After that, the game got started. Peter was now the pitcher and Jameston got his position. Visiting team batted first.

Andrew struck out. John hit a fly ball that was caught. James walked, and trying to steal a base was caught.

Peter pitched. Three Ace Strikers players got home runs. The Farm Team settled their nerves and the game got a bit easier for them. By the eight inning, the score was The Ace Strikers seven, The Farm Team five. Peter was at bat and the catcher behind him began to taunt him. The more he did that, the angrier Peter became and gripped the handle of the bat tighter. He wanted to turn around and hit him. The ball was pitched. “Strike one!” yelled the umpire.

Turning to face the catcher, Peter said, “Joshua wouldn’t want that. The pitch came and when he hit the ball it went floating through the air on a long distance flight. Home run! The crowd, which seemed to be rooting for both teams, stood to their feet and cheered.

Bottom of the ninth and the score was tied seven-seven with The Farm Team at bat. Two outs for them and John was on first base. They walked Peter. Now two players on base. Matthew was at bat and he was super nervous. He was shaking. Joseph went over to him.

“I do not think I can do this,” he said with sweat starting to pile up on his forehead. “Too much pressure.”

“Breathe.”

The crowd started shouting, “Joshua! “Joshua! Joshua!”

“You hear that, Matthew, they’re cheering for you.”

“More pressure.”

“Play ball!” the umpire urged.

Joseph squeezed his shoulders and walked away. God help me, he asid as the ball came straight and fast. He swung and out the stadium it went. End of the game and the score was The Farm Team ten, The Ace Strikers seven. His teammates waited for him at home plate. When he got there, they lifted him up and threw him up in the air a few times.

Celebration went on for a long time that night. And in the morning, they all went to see Joshua, who had a huge smile on his face after learning they won. He asked where Judas was.

“He went away,” Andrew said.

“Where?” he asked.

“To a place he’s not coming back from,” Peter said, walking out the room. Joseph went after him. “I’m sorry.”

“Calm yourself and when you’re ready come back in,” he told him as he went back in.

Taking a deep breath, he went back in. Pulling a baseball out of his pocket, he said. “Hey, kiddo, this is for you. We all signed it.”

“Cool,” said Joshua. “Thanks.”

“Picture time,” said Matthew, motioning for all of them to gather around Joshua. “At the count of three yell Farm Team.”

“Gosh, you’re so cheesy,” said John.

“One, two three, Farm Team,” they all said as large smiles appeared on their faces.

“We should become a professional team,” said Matthew.

“Whatever,” said Peter.

“Yeah, whatever,” said John as he put Peter in a playful choke hold.

This story is an original idea written by me.© Thanks for reading.

See you next Tuesday, God willing. 🙂