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.
“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.”
“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?”
“You’re so pessimistic.”
“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.
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.”
“That is a private matter.”
“Joshua,” his uncle said as he turned to him, “I’m going to put you back inside.”
“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?”
“How to make some?”
“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.
“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.”
“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—”
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.”
“The eleven of us against each other.”
“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?”
“How sick is Joshua?”
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?”
“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?”
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.”
“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.”
The crowd started shouting, “Joshua! “Joshua! Joshua!”
“You hear that, Matthew, they’re cheering for you.”
“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. 🙂