Greg put the game together, so the boys look to him for the call, but he looks at Toby, who is holding the bat that got them in the situation. Horace is running his fingers up and down his mitt, like he’s checking it for holes. His mitt is too small by half, his fingers feel crooked after each game from how hard he crams them into the supposedly outsized fingers.
“It felt pretty good,” Toby eventually says, just to break the silence. He hits the bat on the asphalt a couple times, and the aluminum ‘ding’ echoes down the street like one of those Space Sound slinkies you can buy at the science store in the mall. “I mean, it, like, connected. You know how Coach always says you can’t just kick the ball, you have to kick through the ball if you wanna send it down field?”
“That’s soccer, T,” Donald corrects him. “This is baseball.”
“I know what sport we’re playing, Don. I’m just saying, it felt like I swung through the ball.”
“What’s the call, Greg?” Horace asks. His team is down by four runs, and he’s hoping that this sort of infraction, hitting a ball so hard it breaks The Businessman’s Mercedes’ side window, is worth docking points over.
“I… don’t know.” It’s the end of the season. Summer break is almost over, five of the seven boys have already gone back-to-school shopping, secretly wearing the brand new school shoes their mothers bought for them (that promise more spring to their step) and then taking a toothbrush to them when they get home. The teams have been neck and neck for the two month sesason, sometimes getting two games in a day. It’s going to come down to either this game or maybe Sunday’s, if Lyle’s parents let him come out after church. It’s a lot of pressure to make a call like this. Greg hates making anyone sad. It’s his call, though, as all-time pitcher, and de facto referee.
And honestly, Greg’s tired. His sister stayed on the phone with her boyfriend until 3 or 4 in the morning, crying and begging him not to leave her, and he stayed up listening to the one side of the conversation, hoping whatever the boy was saying would make his sister stop crying. The ball breaking the window woke him up; it was surprisingly less violent than something like that ought to be. Bits of glass still fall as the seven boys gather around the car and look at the ball in the passenger seat.
“Is it just me, or does it seem like the ball is waiting to be buckled up and taken somewhere?” Tom says. No one answers. “Just me, then.”
The beginning of Summer found them all in Greg’s parents’ basement rec room, the only place that was cool enough to spend a decent amount of time, and even then, it was only eight or nine degrees cooler than outside. The Summer was going to be board games and scratchy albums from Greg’s dad’s collection until Tom’s parents bought an air conditioner. Then, the world of outside play opened up, with the promise of 70 degree recirculated air and fresh lemonade courtesy of Tom’s mom to look forward to.
The Businessman owns the Mercedes, and it was the nicest car on the street by far. It would have been recognized as poetic justice that it was this car that got hit, if any of the boys studied poetic justice yet. Instead, they just stand there, mouths open, while Greg kicks around the aquamarine shards of glass.
“If you want to know what I think-”
“No one cares what you think, Lyle.”
“I mean, it shouldn’t be a run, since-”
“Shut up, Horace.”
“And if you’re being fair-”
“Nothing’s fair, Don.”
“Well, I’m just saying.”
The teams’ voices blend into one question mark. Greg sighs. The cars mark the boundaries, but the Businessman’s house is the homerun line, and since the car is parked at that boundary… he reaches in the car to grab the ball.
“Ah, goddamnit.” A voice deeper than anyone else’s silences the debate. Greg looks up and sees the Businessman come out of his house. The two teams of boys suddenly make like statues, which is odd, considering the choice to run was equally viable. Greg picks the ball out of the car and walks up to the man.
“Sorry, Sir, we hit this ball into your car.”
“You all did?”
“I did, actually.” Toby says, half-proudly.
“That’s a good hit, son. Where’s home plate?” Greg points to the white jersey, folded into the approximate pentagon shape. “Well, a broken window is covered by insurance, so you boys won’t have to pay for it. But how have you gotten all Summer without breaking a window? Dinging a car?”
The boys look at their feet until Greg takes the Businessman on a tour of the dings and scratches they’ve caused, explaining how they happened and how some of them were covered up with detail paint from Phillip’s Dad’s auto body shop.
“I can’t believe they still won’t let anyone in that park while that stupid court case is going on,” The Businessman says to himself. Lyle almost takes credit for it – it’s his parent’s case after all, and it’s his sister who got a concussion on the monkey bars, but he thinks better of it.
“Well, I’m glad it was my car, since I can afford it, but maybe you guys should stop playing in this neighborhood. Whoever’s got the high score now wins.” The Businessman gets into his car to drive it to the dealership.
Horace’s team groans, but Greg smiles. He didn’t have to decide. He picks up a piece of the broken glass and puts it in his pocket.
“We’re just going to let that guy decide?” Horace asks. The boys take off their gloves, wipe sweat from their brows, and head over to Tom’s house. “Guys?”
this is beautiful!!
I like to think the character “Tom” was inspired by me, Tom. I think it’s safe to say I am officially a muse.