I’m tired of having to get used to new stuff; new town, new school, new kids and mostly a new dad, Clayton thinks to himself. Sitting on the bleachers, watching kids he doesn’t know, playing a spirited game of baseball. The baseball field – any baseball field, it’s a place he always feels at home and closer to his dad. Every weekend, and many days afterschool, they’d spend hours together; hitting, fielding balls and practicing World Series winning double plays. Then dad got sick, and everything changed. Clayton takes one more minute to watch these kids he doesn’t know, in a town that’s not his, playing the game he loves. One more subtle peek at the girl playing 2nd base, with her long blonde ponytail swinging wildly through the back of her baseball cap as she makes an amazing throw to first base, beating out that kid by a mile. “Throws like a girl…ha, most guys wish they threw as good as that girl.” Clayton grabs his backpack and heads home.
“Dinner will be ready in about a half hour…” Clayton’s mom calls out from the kitchen, as he slams the front door. “Your Dad will be home soon, go start your homework!”
“He’s not my Dad.” Clayton mutters to himself, as he trudges off to his room. He thinks back to the conversation his mom had with him, when she asked him if he would call Steve, Dad. She said he would never take the place of his dad, nobody could, but it would be nice for the family and Steve loves you. Clayton said he’d try, with no intention of ever trying.
Clayton lays down on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, remembering when he was happy; when things were different…
With his hands behind his back, Clayton’s dad says, “Hey Buddy, I’ve got something for you!”
Jumping up and down excitedly, lurching greedily at his dad’s hidden hands, “What!? For me? Gimme! What is it? Can I have it…. PLEASE?”
Laughing, “Whoa! Dial it down a notch, buddy!” And from behind his back he brought it out… a brand new Official baseball glove!
Clayton’s mouth dropped open and he slowly put his hand out. His dad slid the glove onto his small hand. Clayton looked at his brand new glove in awe. “D-d-dad, I love it!” He stammered. He brought the glove to his face and sniffed the new leather deeply.
That earthy leather smell will always remind him of his dad. Clayton felt a tear slide down his face and he bitterly brushed it away.
The next day, walking to an empty lunch table in the corner, Clayton sees, a moment too late, a foot dart out and he stumbles to the floor. The two boys at the table burst out laughing, as Clayton hurriedly picks up his scattered lunch. He barely notices the long haired blonde girl jump up from a nearby table, slap one of the boys on the side of the head, snapping ferociously, “Don’t be such an ass, Tommy!” Clayton throws what’s left of his lunch away and leaves.
Without even stopping at the baseball field, like he’s done every day afterschool for weeks, Clayton slowly walks home.
“Hi honey, how was your day?” His mom says happily, as he walks in the door. “Your Dad’s home early, we thought we’d get hamburgers and see a movie? Sound good, sweetheart?”
An anger that’s been boiling below the surface for so long, bubbles to the top, like lava exploding out of a volcano. Clayton, red faced and breathing hard yells, “HE’S NOT MY DAD! MY DAD IS DEAD! HE DIED OF CANCER… AND I HATE YOU…. AND I HATE STEVE…WHO IS NOT MY DAD! I HATE THIS TOWN, I NEVER WANTED TO MOVE HERE! I HATE THESE KIDS! I HATE EVERYTHING! PLEASE…. JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!” Clayton runs to his room, panting and slams the door.
With tears streaming down his face and shaking hands, clayton types into his computer, to no one, “I wish I was with my dad.”
Wet face buried in his pillow, he restlessly falls asleep. He awakens, what must be hours later, as it’s dark outside. He can hear his mom and Steve softly talking in another room. He knows he should apologize, but he doesn’t feel sorry. He sits down at his computer. The sound of a bat hitting a ball alerts him he has a message.
“Hey kid, you won’t always feel so alone.”
Clayton reads the message over and over again. “That’s weird.” He hits DELETE.
::New Message:: “I know this seems weird, but everyone needs someone to talk to sometimes. Sort of pens pals… minus the pens.”
“What’s a pen?” Clayton smartly responds back.
“Ha! Good one, kid. Quite a display you put on down there, you know you should apologize, right?”
“Yeah, I know…I just really hate it here. I never wanted to move to a new town. I miss my friends. I mostly miss my dad.
“Life isn’t always easy, kid, and we don’t always get what we want.”
“I want my Dad.”
“This, right now, is the toughest thing you’ll ever have to get through, but you will.”
“I don’t feel like I’ll ever ‘get through’ it.”
“But, you will, kid. The pain will lessen and you’ll have good memories to hold on to. Trust me on this one.”
“Trust you? I don’t even know you! Who are you? Some kind of creep or somethin’?
“Nah, not a creep… just a pen pal. I guess you could say, I’ve been where you’re at. Now go say you’re sorry, you’ll feel better.”
“Ok…I’ll say sorry. I don’t hate my mom… or Steve. G’night.”
“G’Night, kid.” The young man shuts his computer, deep in thought.
Much later, Clayton crawls into bed exhausted. He apologized to his mom and Steve, they ate sandwiches in the kitchen and talked. Clayton falls asleep quickly. He really was sorry.
The next day at school passes uneventfully and he’s back at the baseball field watching the same kids who play daily. He realizes with embarrassment, the girl at 2nd base with the long blonde hair, is the same girl who stuck up for him against the boy who tripped him. He mutters, “That’s not embarrassing…” and heads home.
Clayton goes straight to his room, curious if his ‘pen pal’ has written to him. Sure enough, as soon as he sits down at his computer a message pops up.
“Hey kid, did ya have a better day at school today?”
“Yeah, I guess. Nobody tripped me. No pretty girl had to fight my battles…”
“Pretty girl, huh?”
“Not pretty… I meant, just some girl. All the kids here are dopey-looking jerks.”
“All of ’em huh? Then you must fit in pretty well!”
Clayton laughs a little as he types back, “So funny, I forgot to laugh!”
“Clayton, dinner’s ready!” His mom yells from the other room.
“Gotta go…Dinner’s ready. Probably worms with crap sauce, Steve’s favorite.”
“You’re funny, kid. Worms with crap sauce. It’s one of my personal favorites!”
He quickly types back, “You’re weird!”
“I know you are, but what am I? Bye for now, kid.”
Chuckling Clayton shuts off his computer. “Weird.”
“I’m coming!” Clayton shouts, as he heads to the dining room.
Sitting on the bleachers the next day, watching the kids gearing up for their game, when suddenly the catcher pulls off his mask and yells over to him, “Hey kid, can you play 1st base?”
Looking around, Clayton realizes the catcher’s talking to him, “Uh, yeah sure, but I don’t have my glove!”
“There’s an extra one in the dugout, come on!”
As he slides on the soft glove, all the old comforting feelings wash over him. His senses are in overdrive; the dirt, the smell of fresh mowed grass, without thinking he brings the leather glove to his face and inhales deeply, before quickly realizing, “Glove Sniffer” would be a tough nickname to shake. He feels a goofy smile spread on his face, but he can’t help it. He feels happy, it’s been a long time since he felt happy.
As she runs to 2nd base, the girl with the long blonde ponytail laughingly shouts over her shoulder, “You better know how to catch!”
“You’re pretty good, y’know, that double play we turned was a World Series winner for sure. I’m Brittany…Britt. Brittany is so girly. Blech!”
“Ohhh, named after Clayton Kershaw? Best pitcher in the history of ever?!”
“Well, actually, I’m named after my uncle Clayton, he can burp the alphabet. Uhhh, but, Kershaw IS the best pitcher in the history of ever!”
“Hahahahaha, you’re weird, Kersh, but in a good way. See ya tomorrow!”
“See ya, Britt!”
Clayton walks home with the same goofy grin he’s been wearing all afternoon.
“Ugh, more math homework…” Clayton grumbles as he flips on his computer. “Professional baseball player’s don’t need math!”
A new message pops up almost immediately, “She’s cute, kid! See, you fit right in with those dopey looking jerks!”
“Yeah, they’re ok, I guess…”
“Nice double play! I could practically hear Vin Scully calling that one, as the crowd goes wild!”
“I KNOW RIGHT?! Did you see Britt’s arm? I’ve never seen a girl throw like that!”
“You weren’t so bad yourself, kid! Grabbed that ball out of the air so fast and that sweeping tag woooeeee…you and Britt are quite a team!”
“Yep, World Series winner, for sure! Well, gotta go… Steve’s bringing home pizza, probably covered with those little slimy fish!”
“Don’t be such a punk, kid. Enjoy your slimy fish pizza.”
“Shocker! no slimy fish. Steve and I both like extra jalepenos on our pizza.”
“Doesn’t everybody? Good night, kid. Talk to you tomorrow.”
“G’night… hey! Seriously, who are you anyway? You don’t seem like a creep.”
“Nah, not a creep… just a pen pal. G’night kid.”
“Hey Clayton! Come sit with us!” It’s Brian, the catcher, sitting at the lunch table with the rest of the Baseball kids. They slide over and open a spot up for him at the table. They excitedly talk about baseball and the big game planned for this weekend against some kids from a nearby school. Clayton feels that goofy grin creeping up on him again.
Tearing into the house afterschool Clayton shouts, “Hey, Mom! What’s for dinner? I’m starv-… hey, where are you going?”
Kerry’s Baby Shower, remember I told you about it? Steve will be home soon. There’s leftovers in the fridge for your dinner.”
“Leftovers… that sounds really good mom, I’ll just eat food that is left over because nobody else wants to eat it!” Clayton snarks.
Laughing & ruffling his hair, “Don’t be such a brat. Ok honey, go start on your homework, Steve will be home in a few minutes. You fellas can watch a movie together after dinner. Sound fun?”
“Nothing has ever sounded more fun.” He says, sarcastically.
“Brat… homework, now. I love you.”
Booting up his computer, muttering to himself about the “fun” movie Steve will pick out.
“Probably some girl movie he’s always watching with mom. All kinds of crying and foreign accents.”
“Hey kid, Steve loves your mom and wants to make her happy, even if it means watching ‘girl movies’ sometimes.
“Yeah, I guess. Just kinda boring y’know.”
“Looks like your making friends at school. Brian sure is a clown! He’s the kind of guy you’ll be friends with for life!”
“Did you see milk shoot out of his nose when he laughed?! Makes me laugh everytime I think about it!”
“Yep, ol’ Brian. You can count on him, kid.”
“Steve’s home. Time for leftovers and girl movies. Talk to you later…”
“Surprises await… later, kid.”
“Wow! Steve brought home a pizza, covered in jalapenos and we watched this old movie, “Enter The Dragon”! This guy, Bruce Lee, he does Kung Fu and he beats up all these bad guys – AT THE SAME TIME! It’s so cool!”
“That doesn’t sound like a ‘girl movie’ to me.”
“No way! Steve said I could take a Kung Fu class at the rec center and we could make a guy’s day of it!”
“I told you Steve was a good guy. Just give him a chance, I bet you two will become great pals!”
“Yeah, he’s pretty ok. Oh hey, Britt just sent me a message, I’m gonna chat with her a bit….ok?”
“Looks like you’re back in the rotation, kid, I don’t think you’ll be needing a pen pal anymore. You’ve got this! One last bit of advice, after the game on Saturday, why don’t you ask Britt if you can walk her home?”
Blushing, Clayton writes back, “Really? Ya think? Well, ok! I’m gonna do it. I guess I should go now … but hey, thanks ok…. for everything.”
“It’s all good. You’re going to be just fine! Be happy, kid.”
The young man hits SEND with finality. I’m done here, he thinks.
“Hey babe, Spring Training starts in a week, being picked first in the draft by the Dodgers, they’re going to expect alot out of me! Let’s go to the happiest place on earth!”
His beautiful girlfriend jumps off the couch laughing, as they shout in unison, “Batting cages!”
As they head to the car, hand in hand, she says, “Oh, hang on, I forgot something…” She runs back inside, grabs her phone off the table and quickly types, “Say YES!” Smiling brightly she hits SEND. As she heads out the door, she grabs her threadbare baseball cap and pulls her long blonde hair through the back into a ponytail. “Wait for me, Kersh!” She shouts as she runs out the door.