Shane competes in a prestigious college baseball league but the death of his former coach haunts his summer in paradise.
Young Adult Sports / Coming-of-Age
#1 in Young Adult
||Massachusetts, United States
||4 publishers interested
This River Is Wild centers on nineteen-year-old Shane Monoghan, a college baseball player who travels to the seaside community of Nailer’s Cove to compete in a prestigious summer league. Shane’s arrival is marked by the death of his high school baseball coach, Mike Calloway, a man who damaged Shane with years of psychological warfare and physical abuse.
As the season progresses, Shane attempts to escape Calloway’s lingering ghost by emerging as a leader for his team, and by becoming a role model for Noah; a precocious boy enrolled in the Cove League’s youth workshops who’s coping with a crumbling family unit. But when an old friend resurfaces with a desperate plea to confess about Calloway’s monstrous nature, Shane is forced to risk his place in the Cove League and his future as a professional athlete by telling the truth about his former coach.
This coming-of-age tale culminates in an exhilarating and heartrending finale as Shane chooses between keeping secrets that could consume him or reconciling a past he can no longer outrun.
For my last semester of college, I interned at two film production companies and I experienced harassment at both workplaces. A few months later I moved back to my hometown on the Cape and received a message from a New York law firm. They were building a case against one of the production companies I had worked for based on the grounds that they had exploited their interns. Although I declined to be involved in the case, the offer to come forward made me ask myself why I was still reluctant to share about my experience.
Shane’s story of past abuse haunting his summer in paradise became a way for me to explore how the toxic masculinity of our culture shames young men into being quiet about the bullying they encounter. My novel aims to make readers question why boys struggle with transparency about their scars and why they fear the consequences of honesty.
Chapter 1 Lost Boys
Shane arrives in Nailer's Cove and witnesses a red fog overtake the ballpark during infielders tryouts for his summer league team the Burnsdale Brigs. A few days later he meets with Coach Hale, the leader of his new crew. Hale breaks the news that Shane's old high school mentor Coach Calloway is dead. Shane goes to process the information at a secluded pond. It's here where he discovers a young teen named Noah Kinton sleeping by the water. The kid pulls a knife on Shane, then runs off, leaving a monogrammed crucifix necklace behind.
Chapter 2 Down Along the Creek
Shane informs Coach Hale he wants to pursue counseling for the summer. Before a home game at Hinton Fields, Shane shares with his new teammate Quinn that he is having trouble sleeping. During an at-bat, Shane gets a hit, but watches as the star of the Brigs, Max DeMello, plays shortstop and earns the home crowd's hearts. Shane and Max argue on the bus the next day. Max tells Shane that whatever bad energy Shane brought out to Nailer's Cove with him is the only thing standing in his way. When a tire on the bus goes flat, Shane runs off the vehicle since he feels a panic attack coming on. As he walks along the canal, he worries Max is right and that he brought Coach Calloway's ghost out with him to Nailer's Cove in some strange way. Quinn comes along to bring Shane back to the bus and offers him some muscle relaxants to help him sleep at night.
Chapter 3 Death Wish
Shane has dinner with his host parents, Fred & Marie Henson, and their daughter Lexi who is a reporter covering the Brigs. Marie tells Shane about a new space she's designing for Burnsdale called a Peace Garden. Shane gets upset when the subject of the military comes up and he returns to his room but the Henson don't understand why their guest made such a sudden exit. Lucas Dayton, the left-fielder for the Brigs, comes over to the Henson's house and forces Shane to hang out. He drives Shane around Burnsdale and has him steal green plastic figures that hold out SLOW flags out of several driveways. Shane takes Lucas to the pond where he found Noah to stash the little green dudes. He gets sick after admitting to Lucas that he used to wish for Coach Calloway to die. Lucas takes Shane back to the Brigs' locker room to get him cleaned up where they find a rival team trashing the joint.
Chapter 4 Q & A
Lucas and Shane clean up the locker room and decide to keep the invasion their secret, worrying the knowledge could affect the morale of the Brigs. In the middle of cleaning up Lucas discovers all of Quinn's pills and Shane says how he offered him some muscle relaxants to help him sleep. Lucas admonishes Shane and tells him to stay away from Quinn. The next day at Youth Workshops, Noah Kinton shows up and Shane is able to return the boy's necklace which belonged to his late mother. During a counseling session, Shane reveals that he has a brother named Troy in the military but that he never tells people about him. At a night game, Shane is caught off guard by Lexi questioning him about the death of Coach Calloway and what their dynamic was like.
Chapter 5 The Understudy
Shane is given a chance at shortstop but he commits an error that leads his team to defeat. He drinks afterwards and in his drunken state he meets the other Henson sister, Grace, who has just returned for the summer. She fights off Shane's flirtations and sends him on his way.
Chapter 6 Telemachus
Noah proves to be a handful as Shane is forced to stop a fight between him and another boy in the Youth Workshops. Shane and Noah become friends, bonding over short tempers and space cadet qualities. Grace stops by a Brigs game to drop off shoes for Lexi and Shane naturally thinks she is there to see him. After the game the team is surprised to see their possessions being searched through by the coaching staff. One of the players reported the illegal sale of prescription drugs. Shane worries the pills he took from Quinn will be found, but he gets lucky when Quinn's stash gets discovered instead.
Chapter 7 All We Know Is War
The Brigs now call him Snitchin' Shane after the locker room raid that got Quinn sent packing. Noah shows up to cheer for him at the Brigs' Family Weekend game. Afterwards, Shane receives troubling news from his mother. His brother Troy has decided to reenlist in the army and will be deploying to the Middle East again soon. Shane is by the Peace Garden when he hears the news and ends up destroying his host mother's landscape design project with a baseball bat.
Chapter 8 Apple McPie
Grace and Shane go on a morning run together. They have chemistry but he knows after wrecking her mother's garden, his chances of having a relationship with Grace are slim. Lucas confesses he was the one to report Quinn for selling drugs. He worried Shane would get hooked on pills. At therapy, Shane is confronted about his past with Coach Calloway and he ends up quitting counseling all together after being pushed too hard.
Chapter 9 4th of July
Shane shows up at Marie's garden as she rebuilds, but is too scared to tell her what he has done. He makes his first appearance at a Brigs party and ends up connecting with the guys, but having too much to drink. He makes a scene as he realizes he has lost his brother's dog tags. Grace pulls Shane aside and asks him why he got so drunk. He says how he is afraid Noah is being abused by his father and he feels helpless to stop it from happening. She encourages him to not give up and to keep looking out for the boy.
Chapter 10 Calloway's House
Shane recalls memories about Coach Calloway. He is invited to dinner at Calloway's house and ends up getting drunk with his instructor. Shane wakes up to find himself in a bad situation and ends up being physically attacked by Calloway.
Chapter 11 Into the Fog
A hangover awaits Shane after the revelry of the Fourth. He shows up at Hinton Fields late and is shocked to see he will play shortstop. He ends up having a mixed outing and beats himself up for it. Coach Hale reminds him to not overlook the things he did right in the game. When Shane gets home he talks with Grace and she explains that she just wants to be friends with him. He accepts and is happy to still have her in his life, but when his brother calls he is reminded of how he has yet to come forward about his crime.
Chapter 12 Tybalt
Shane worries why Noah has disappeared from workshops. Meanwhile, Hale advises Shane that change is on the horizon. The coach questions if his player is ready. Shane only disappoints Hale later when he is ejected from a game for his wild temper. When he returns to the Henson house that night he has a talk with Marie. She discovered Troy's dog tags in the Peace Garden and wonders why he stayed quiet about his brother being in the military. Shane tells her that he was the one that destroyed her workspace and afterwards he is told he's no longer welcome to stay with the Hensons.
Chapter 13 Stag's Pond
Staying between the beach and the Rec Center, Shane braves being homeless instead of coming forward to the Cove League about his destruction of the Peace Garden. In the middle of the night he receives a call from Kev, an old friend from high school. Kev admits that he was also abused by Calloway and believes the man's death was a suicide made to look like an accident. Kev had wanted to come forward about Calloway's predatory nature and still does even if the man is dead. Shane isn't sure if he wants to be alongside Kev as he tells the truth. The next day when Shane sees Grace she is about to tell him something important when his phone rings; the Burnsdale Police notify Shane they have Noah Kinton in their custody.
Chapter 14 Safe
Shane recovers Noah from the police station. The boy was hurt by his father who took off after the incident. Shane keeps Noah busy around town until his grandmother can pick him up. Back at the ballpark, Shane finds Max sitting in the rain even though the Brigs game has been cancelled. Max tells Shane that he has been picked up by a major league team and will be leaving Nailer's Cove in the morning. It will now be up to Shane to lead the team to the championship.
Chapter 15 New Deals
At the town fair Shane sees the revitalized Peace Garden. Lexi finds him there and informs him Grace has left town to work as a camp counselor in Maine. She also says a way to make up for destroying Marie's garden would be to let her do a personal profile on him. During the Youth Workshops the next day Shane is approached by Noah's grandmother Beatrice. Hearing of Shane's homelessness, she offers him a place to stay if he helps look after Noah.
Chapter 16 Later Than You Think
Shane takes another call from his friend Kev but tells him he won't be coming forward about how Calloway abused him. Instead, Shane spends more time with Noah and begins to grow into his role of captain for the Brigs; running different drills, studying upcoming opponents,getting the kids involved in making decorations, orchestrating soundtracks for the games. At the end of a long day he goes to the Henson house to make things right with Marie. An unannounced guest arrives at the same time; Shane's brother Troy.
Chapter 17 Brother of Mine
Shane, Troy, and Lexi go out for a drink. Shane makes good on his deal with Lexi and delivers an interview of the Monoghan brothers at a local dive bar. After being hassled by a group of drunkards, a fight breaks out and the trio must make a run for it. They hide out at a chapel in Devil's Foot and Shane begins to make peace with his brother's decision to return to war.
Chapter 18 Dearborn
It's a quiet night at the Kinton house with Noah playing piano and Beatrice showing Shane old family photos. As she keeps going through the same stack repeatedly, Shane realizes that Beatrice has signs of Alzheimer's disease. Then Noah's father Harris makes an unexpected and jarring arrival to the house. He is belligerent and demands to see Noah. When the man eventually calms down Shane goes outside to drive him home. Harris attacks Shane but breaks down when he sees he's wearing Lyla's old necklace. With the man who hurt Noah on his knees, Shane must make a decision if he will listen to his violent impulses.
Chapter 19 The Towers
Shane is gearing up for the playoffs when Noah comes back to Beatrice's place screaming. The boy broke a bone in his hand and cut it badly after trying to climb a fence. Beatrice is gone for the day and Shane makes the choice to take Noah to the hospital, therefore abandoning his teammates without a captain. When he finally shows up in the late innings of the game, his friends and coach tell him to leave.
Chapter 20 Sidelined
Coach hale informs Shane that he has lost his place on the Brigs after discovering the truth about the Peace Garden and Shane's subsequent lies. Shane ignores Hale's orders to book a flight home and shows up at the next game anyway. The Brigs crew fight for Shane to be given a second chance.
Chapter 21 Walk in Darkness
A warning comes from a dream; when fire comes to the diamond Shane's old coach will return. A power outage occurs during a critical juncture of a playoff match, giving Shane time to rally his troops for a comeback. The next morning in church, he gets blindsided by Lucas having the whole congregation pray for Troy's safety overseas. Shane leaves the church, feeling exposed and upset with his friend for betraying his confidence. Lucas pushes Shane on why he is so afraid to be open about his brother. Shane takes off to the graveyard where he receives terrible news from his mom. Back in Oregon, his friend from high school Kev that wanted to come forward about Calloway got drunk, wandered off into the road, and was killed by a passing car.
Chapter 22 Withdraw
In shock from Kev's death, Shane returns to the Kinton house and argues with Beatrice about the state of her mental health and if she is fit to look after Noah. Shane goes to the pond to be alone, but Lucas finds him. Shane explains how he feels responsible for Kev's death by not agreeing to come forward about Calloway. Lucas tries to talk Shane out of quitting baseball in order to stay behind and look after Noah.
Chapter 23 'Til the Ninth
The Brigs make it to their championship game but things go awry with a fire in the press box. With a chance to win it all, Shane makes a hit as the field is covered in red fog from the aftermath of the fire. Shane hallucinates, thinking he sees Calloway on the diamond, and ends up getting a concussion as he runs into the rival team's first baseman. In a different plane, Shane confronts Coach Calloway.
Chapter 24 Departures
Shane must say goodbye to Noah. He gives a speech at the Brigs Farewell Dinner and goes off script. With his whole team before him, he comes clean about his abusive past and Coach Calloway's true nature.
Chapter 25 The Inferno
Summer is over and Shane is back in Oregon for his sophomore year of college when word of a wildfire spreads throughout campus. Evacuation procedures begin but Shane gets nervous from the mass hysteria and sneaks off into the woods where he encounters a beast amid the flames.
The target demographic for the story is 12 - 17 year old boys that are interested in sports. These boys aren't excited about reading unless there's a new Rick Riordan book, or if they find a story that reflects their experience of belonging to a more athletic world. I'm grounding this insight based on three years of tutoring boys.
Teenage boys might be the main group I think the book will register with, but YA is a huge market that appeals to all ages. An article from The Balance stated "by some market estimates, nearly 70% of all YA titles are purchased by adults between the ages of 18 and 64." (Peterson)
Since YA is so expansive, I think This River Is Wild has the potential to attract college-aged men and women, as well as readers in their 30s that still check out YA titles.
I work as a writing tutor in my home of Cape Cod. Most of my students are middle grade boys who struggle with critical thinking and analytical writing. Being a tutor gives me an insight into what kids are dealing with these days, which both informs and inspires my stories.
In 2015 I contributed an article to a small, online publication called Cape Cod Pulse. http://www.capecodpulse.com/co... In college I had a music review featured in a now defunct magazine, the BU Buzz. I also recently collaborated with photographer Ben Allsup on a photo essay about my experience of learning how to fish on his site BenShotMe. http://benshotme.com/selected-...
Eight years ago I won the second place prize for the Lt. James Pafford Essay Contest about “Why I Loved the United States of America.” This landed me a check for 5,000$ at the age of seventeen. I proceeded to spend the money on junk food and concert tickets. Even though my spending habits haven’t changed much, I’m still hopeful that won’t be the last time I make money off my craft.
I went on the road with a rock band called Milk this spring so I know the importance of taking your act to the people. We got signed to Midnight Werewolf Records and a big part of what made the band's tour successful was that we were all willing to get on the phone and reach out to people to get gigs.
Now that I have the skill-set, I want to tour this book. Ideally I'd make stops at the children's rooms of libraries, independent bookstores, and schools that were willing to host me.
I did a reading with my writer's group in Woods Hole last month and the event was a huge success. Since I have fans on the Cape, I'd want to do more readings here. With my college network spread out across the country now, I think events in Boston, New York, and LA could have good turnouts.
Music plays a prominent role in the book. One idea I've had for promotion is to promote the playlist of all the songs featured in the story. Since I play music as well I wanted to have one event on the publicity tour where I would perform different songs featured in the book.
I have ideas about a making a podcast for the novel instead of having a traditional audiobook. This would include bringing in different voice actors on to play the roles of different characters. I'd want to compose original music for it. Some people don't enjoy the process of reading a book so having the story available in podcast format would be an exciting new way to get them engaged in the story. I'd need more resources to make the podcast a success though.
Press also plays a crucial role. I would reach out to different publications that review new YA titles. I would use my local contacts to try to get on WCAI and speak about the book and try to get reviews featured in newspapers on Cape Cod. I already got some press going for my Publishizer campaign and was featured on the cover of the Falmouth Bulletin last week.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Little, Brown and Company. 2011. A college baseball player struggles to regain his skill after injuring a friend on the diamond. My book differs from this bestseller mainly because of demographic. Fielding was more adult fiction, but proof that baseball books could still make waves. This River is Wild has a more condensed timelock of one summer where Art of Fielding covered several years of the characters' lives. TRIW sticks with Shane's perspective for the most part, while AOF had four point-of-view characters it switched between. My book is written in a simpler style and has quicker pacing from the beginning that will keep teens hooked.
The Extra Yard by Mike Lupica. Simon & Schuster. 2016. A middle grade athlete takes on the challenges of being quarterback for his football team and his estranged father coming back into his life. This book is more middle grade than YA but is still worth mentioning as competition. Lupica is a big sports author for kids right now, but doesn't delve into issues as much as he could. I think my book really tackles things like abuse and toxic masculinity that older teens are ready to take on in literature.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. HMH Books for Young Readers. 2014. Two brothers are followed on and off the court in this coming-of-age tale centered around the sport of basketball. Alexander has also done Booked, a soccer story, and I'm not sure if a baseball one will be next. His books are written in verse, where my book offers traditional prose for kids that might not be ready to grapple with Alexander's rhythmical style.
Boy 21 by Matthew Quick. Little, Brown and Company. 2012. The book features the stories of Finley and Rus. They both grow up in a sad town with basketball as their only escape. The first-person narrative that is popular in YA is one of the main differences between Boy 21 and This River Is Wild. The reader still stays close with Shane even with the third-person style.
The Last Best League by James C. Collins. Da Capo Press. 2004. A nonfiction account of the players competing in the Cape Cod Baseball League. The CCBL served as the inspiration for the "Cove League" featured in my story. This title is similar because it has the same timelock of following players for one summer in a college league, but since This River Is Wild is fiction its narrative is more exciting and will keep younger readers engaged.
Growing up out West he witnessed a handful of forest fires but never one that emitted such a menacing glow. He examined the night sky and saw a massive amount of red smoke hovering above the trees across the street. The mist had an electrical tint of crimson to it like some kind of Northern Lights gone wrong. He expected the monstrous cloud to descend and overtake the ballpark, before consuming the rest of the coastal town. But the fog remained in place, floating and stagnant.
“Shane! What’s taking you so long?” Coach Hale called from the diamond.
He turned back and saw his fellow infielders all staring; puzzled at his paralysis. “Do you guys see…” he trailed off as he became embarrassed to ask if they saw the same horizon he did.
If it was a sign of inferno then there would have been sirens and his new teammates would have tossed their gloves down in panic. So Shane searched around the bases of the floodlights in left field, until he located the rogue ball that slipped past him when the sight of the hellish smoke claimed his focus.
He moved back to the diamond and tried to force the devil sky out of his mind. Max DeMello, his rival for shortstop, stood a few feet away, looking nonchalant as Shane returned. Max was handsome, black, and somehow already knew everyone’s names on the first night.
Did he make flashcards on the plane ride here? I should've done that.
Shane waited for the coach’s whistle that would signal the continuation of the alternating grounders he and Max would take rapid-fire. No projectiles came towards him. Instead, the players on the diamond began to stare at him with concern. “What’s the hold up?” Shane wondered.
“Your face, bro.” Max pointed at his nose.
He thought it was perspiration above his upper lip, but when he touched his face he saw blood covering his fingers. “Aw, shit.”
“Does he have a nosebleed?” the catcher shouted from the mound.
“Yeah. Anybody have a cloth?” Max asked.
Shane held his head back and tried to clamp down on the bridge of his nose. He could feel his hands getting drenched so he took off his shirt and held it up to his face. A breeze came up against his exposed skin and in the corner of his eye he spotted the red fog creeping into sight. He shut his eyes and stood still.
“Don’t hold your head too far back,” Max advised. “The blood’ll go down your throat.”
“I get these sometimes,” Shane explained. “I just need some ice on the back of my neck and it’ll slow everything down.”
“Let’s call it a night, gents,” Coach Hale shouted. “We’ve got a first aid kit in the locker room.”
“So much for tryouts,” Shane said.
“You did fine,” Max patted him on the shoulder and began to guide him towards the Burnsdale Recreation Center.
Shane couldn’t tell if his new teammate was being magnanimous or condescending, but either way Shane was getting pissed. “Hey, don’t think you have shortstop in the bag just ‘cause I’m leaving the field half-naked and bleeding.”
He heard Max chuckle at his words and the plastic clang of baseballs falling into a milk crate as the rest of the boys cleaned up the field. He opened his eyes again once they arrived at the locker room doors.
“You coming?” Max asked.
“One second,” Shane said, lingering on the dirt track that surrounded the field.
He caught a last look at the skyline. With his new vantage point it was clear there were metal towers in the distance with red lights attached to their beams. The fog had cloaked the towers before and created the illusion that tricked Shane.
The red fog made him feel the need to run. It felt like it was some kind of primitive force that had caused his head to hemorrhage. As he moved toward the safety of the locker room, he had to be sure the red fog wouldn’t follow him inside, that it wasn’t about to swallow the man-made island of Nailer’s Cove whole on this apocalyptic evening of early June.
* * *
Shane tried to find a position where the brown folding chair he sat on would feel comfortable, but it was a futile mission. Without an activity his fingers felt like foreign entities. He interlocked them and placed his joined hands in his lap, waiting for his coach to speak first.
Hale’s office was cramped; more like a janitor’s closet with a desk shoved inside. It was located in a far corner of the Rec Center’s second floor, next to Hinton Fields, where the Burnsdale Brigs played home games. The fluorescent bulbs produced a harsh light over the manila folders that contained player stats, medical records, and recommendations.
“I have some tissues here in case your nose acts up,” Hale said.
“Thanks Coach. I don’t think that’ll happen again. I wanted to talk –“
“Let me find your file before we get going,” Coach said and dialed back the volume on his radio. The mix of country music and static was comforting white noise as Hale sorted through the mess. His name was embroidered on the left breast of his maroon polo, which was a little snug on him and pronounced the girth of his belly. “Here we go!” he said and held the folder up with pride. “Okay then. What did you want to talk about?”
“I’m a little concerned...” Shane said. “I came out here thinking I was gonna be at shortstop and so far you’ve only put Max in.”
“You’ve been great at center field.” Hale leaned back further in his chair.
“Couldn’t we alternate? Maybe create a rotation that would give both me and Max some playing time?”
“But you’ve had playing time.”
“Not at shortstop.”
“It’s only been four games.”
“Two of them were losses.”
“Don’t get smart now,” Hale grimaced. “You’re versatile, kid. Not every guy can move around the field the way you can and still perform well.”
“So I’m getting shafted to the outfield because I have a good arm?”
“How would you feel about getting shafted all the way to the bench?”
“Coach, I wasn’t trying to be rude. If you put me in for a couple games at short you’ll –“
“It’s not your decision, Shane. So if you’re finished, I’d like to tell you my concerns about you,” Hale said.
Shane’s ears turned red. When he was younger this physical response to his anxiety made him an easy target for classroom ridicule.
“They stick out like Dopey’s.”
“Yeah, but isn’t Grumpy the one who turns red?”
“Bashful’s cheeks, not his ears.”
Shane watched Coach Hale speak, but absorbed none of the man’s words.
Is he looking at my ears?
They popped out from underneath Shane’s hat like two sanguine antlers. He had to remember the tips the counselors taught him at St. Francis to prevent him from freezing everything out.
It's a fight-or-flight response. Don't pay it any mind. No one notices but you.
“Do you agree with that?” Hale asked.
Shane nodded in affirmation.
What did I just agree with?
“I’ve noticed that you’ve had a hard time acclimating here,” Hale said. “So I called your coach from Goslyn State. He said you were real quiet when you first came out there, too. So I called your high school.”
Shane felt his stomach sink. “Who’d you talk to at St. Francis?” he asked.
Don't let it be Calloway.
“I talked to some assistant coach out there. He said that baseball is why God put you on this green earth, but that you’d isolate yourself and alienate your teammates. Guys from both schools said they had urged you to seek out some counseling… Did you ever pursue that?”
“Any reason why you didn’t want to?”
“Your well-being is our priority over anything else. We want you to have a good summer here and your mental health plays a part in that. I think you should see if there’s someone around here you’d want to talk to.”
Shane stared at the floor until the tiles blurred; “I don’t know if that’s something I want to do.”
“Can I give you these names at least?” Hale extended his arm across the desk with a folded piece of computer paper in his hand.
“You got a straightjacket for me back there too?” Shane said. He took the paper and shoved it in the pocket of his jeans. “Hold up… Is this why you didn’t let me play short? Cause you’re worried I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown?”
“Did you talk to Coach Calloway? What did he say about me?” Shane asked, his fingers perspiring and gripping the bottom of the chair.
“I couldn’t talk to Calloway again… You haven’t heard?”
“Haven’t heard what?”
“I was sure someone from your high school would’ve called you.”
“Called me about what?”
“Coach Calloway... Well, no one from home called?”
“Called me about what?” Shane asked again, aggravated.
Hale perused Shane’s file as if inside there would be a guide on the best way to break bad news. On top of the papers was Shane’s grinning player photo from his college team. Hale kept his eyes on the picture as he spoke: “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Coach Calloway is dead.”
“Wait…What?” His pulse was all he could notice, beating in his chest and fingers and ears.
Hale searched through Shane’s file. He made it half way through before he closed the folder. “Sorry. I thought I could find my notes from when I talked to him in January.”
“How did he die?” Shane asked.
“In a car wreck... I think it was pretty late at night. That assistant coach I talked to said he crashed into a tree... No one’s called you?”
“No one called.” Shane took off his hat and rubbed his temple with his right hand. He tuned into the country rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” playing on Hale’s radio.
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I built my life around you
“I’ve never heard this cover before,” Shane said.
“Me and my wife like this one more than the original,” Hale put the volume up a notch.
“Who sings it?”
“It’s the Dixie Chicks… Do you like the Dixie Chicks?”
“I’m not sure… When did you say Calloway died?”
“Last week. June 2nd or 3rd. I didn’t think it would be news to you. I figured that’s why you were so withdrawn.”
“Can I go?” Shane leapt from the chair towards the door.
“Of course. Get some air. Then come to the cookout.”
Shane stopped in the doorway. “Cookout?” he seemed to ache as he said the words.
“It’s at J.J. and Matt’s host family’s place. They live around the Heights. It’ll do you some good to be around people tonight. You need a ride?” Hale asked.
“I’ll figure it out,” Shane said, itching to escape.
“And keep me posted on the other thing.”
“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather work it out on the field.”
* * *
Shane craned his neck to study the night sky, but the floodlights hindered any chance of stargazing. His eyes drifted back to the vacant baseball diamond and the grassy terrain of Hinton Fields.
He wondered why his Mom didn’t tell him about Coach Calloway’s death, but in fairness he missed a few calls from her over the last week. It didn’t help his voicemail box had been full for months and it wasn’t the kind of news to receive via text.
Footsteps approached and Shane worried they might belong to Hale, trying to drag him to the team barbeque and force a cheeseburger down his throat. It turned out to be a group of adolescent boys about to play a nighttime game of basketball, so the clanking of metal rang out as Shane hopped down the bleachers to avoid them. He walked across the field and crawled through the broken corner in the chain‑link fence where kids snuck into the games even though there was no admission fee.
The pavement of Clarke Avenue was all that stood between Hinton Fields and a pond he had wanted to check out since his first day in the Cove League. He pulled the brim of his hat downwards as a pair of headlights came around the bend. He dashed across the street before he could be illuminated by the vehicle, hopped over the wooden guardrail, and made a clean landing in the brush.
The trails around the pond were overgrown. The closer he moved toward the water the muddier the ground became. The chirps of crickets became clearer as sirens faded in the distance. He hunched down and clawed at the grass with his fingers.
“What happened to Calloway?” he asked the pond. “Was he drunk? Was he texting? Did he go flying? Was it quick?”
No answer came from the body of water before him about his old coach’s fate, but when he peered upward he saw a bright red dot in the sky belonging to the same towers that tricked him at infielders tryouts.
“What am I even doing here?”
“Don’t make me go back there!” a voice responded. It was half-shout, half-mumble.
Shane jumped up in fear then waited for the voice to continue.
Who was that?
He held his breath and listened to steady snoring. Whoever spoke must have been talking in their sleep. Shane began to sneak his way around the edge of the pond to find the source of the noise.
The volume of his steps seemed thunderous as he moved through the thick vines and fallen branches. He tried to keep quiet as he inched closer to the soft breathing. Then, before his sneaker could fall to the grass he felt resistance against his foot; beneath him was a small person. Shane stepped back and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
In front of him was a sleeping boy, maybe twelve years of age, whose fragmented snoring seemed much less threatening. His freckled face rested against the ground. Shane could only gather a vague impression of the kid’s features, but he was able to see a swelling bruise under the left eye.
Then a necklace on top of a nearby rock caught Shane’s attention. “That a cross?” he asked himself. He reached over the boy and took the necklace in his hand, studying the crucifix pendant attached to it. With the chain in his palm, he realized the safety of this boy had become his responsibility. Some creep might show up here later and discover the child, so Shane decided to wake him.
“Hey. Get up,” Shane said, hovering over the kid and shaking his shoulder.
The boy woke up quick. He scrambled and lunged to grab an object Shane couldn’t make out.
“It’s okay! I’m not gonna hurt you!” Shane said.
The boy clawed a pocketknife out of the dirt and clutched the weapon in his right hand; not realizing the blade was still folded close in its case. He brushed his black hair out of his face to get a better look at the stranger before him.
“Easy….” Shane said and placed his hands up in surrender. “My name’s Shane. I play for the Brigs, right across the street. What are you doing out here?”
“I… I think I fell asleep,” the boy said. He dropped his shoulders and put the knife in his back pocket. “Careful,” the boy warned. “You’re about to step in that poison ivy.”
“Huh?” Shane looked down at the ground and saw a patch of the glossy plant. “Thanks.”
“I gotta go,” the kid said and darted towards the road.
“Hey! How are you gonna get home?” Shane asked.
“My bike’s at the Rec,” he answered as he ducked under the guardrail and crossed Clarke Avenue.
Shane still had the wooden cross in his hand. “You forgot this!” he said, but the boy was gone. He felt initials etched into the pendant. “L.N.K,” he read aloud. “Who are you?”
Shane looked up to the sky then placed the necklace in his pocket.
“Down Along the Creek”
He felt safe in the shade beneath the bleachers of Hinton Fields. His eyes wanted to close but exhaustion was setting in at the wrong time. In ninety minutes he would be batting seventh and playing centerfield.
His fellow Brigs warmed up on the diamond in their home game outfits. The jerseys were comprised of a white base, black shirtsleeves, red pinstripes, and a mahogany accent down the center. Shane liked them more than the orange creamsicle color scheme of his college team.
Behind him he heard the side doors of the Rec open. Out came Hale wearing his red tracksuit, some kind of summertime Santa aesthetic. The swish-swish sound of his coach’s stride came into earshot and Shane watched Hale take a seat on the bleachers without realizing a player was underneath him.
Shane climbed up onto the metal seating and sat beside Hale. “You have a minute, Coach?” he waved to catch Hale’s eye.
“Holy Jesus!” Hale yelled. “Shane! Where’d the hell you pop up from?”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Well, you did! I thought you were a gremlin. You ready for the game?”
“Do I look ready?”
“You look winded. Are you sleeping?”
Shane peered down at the ground and saw some raisins in the dirt. Hale was sorting through his trail mix and mostly eating the M&M’s. “Not really,” Shane answered.
“Have you thought about –”
“Yeah, I think I’m gonna… Talk to somebody. I haven’t called anyone from that paper you gave me. I’m going to though.”
“I’m glad to hear it. But you know… I don’t want you to be doing it because you think it means I’ll put you in at shortstop.”
“That’s not why I’m doing it.” Shane said, lifting his head to look Hale in the eyes.
“Good. Now get out there.” Hale spat out a raisin towards the field. “And try to make some friends, damn it!”
* * *
The sky was still its usual shade of baby blue at six o’clock when Shane and Lucas stretched their legs on the grass. On the far side of the field the Waterford Breakers geared up for the oncoming match.
Lucas Dayton was the towering leftfielder for the Brigs. His long hair was the same color as a hardwood oak floor and his Southern accent reminded Shane of the Westerns he used to watch as a kid. Lucas grinned when a short eleven-year-old jogged past with two wooden bats under each of his arms.
“Gus!” Lucas called and held up a closed fist.
The boy slowed his pace and tapped Lucas’ fist with his own. Afterwards they both extended their fingers and used their hands to gesture like big waves coursing through the sea.
“Still got it,” Lucas laughed while Gus resumed his trek to the dugout. “We came up with that secret handshake in workshops last summer.” He stood up and swatted the grass clippings off his pinstriped pants.
“I didn’t know this was your second summer here,” Shane said. Then he got distracted as he watched Lexi Henson saunter past. She was the Brigs’ field reporter and one of Shane’s host family’s twin daughters. She found Max stretching by the infield, knelt down towards him, and pushed his knee closer to his torso as he reclined back. “If there weren’t so many people around, they’d probably just fuck right there,” Shane said.
“Are you jealous of Mighty Max?” Lucas asked.
“That he’s at shortstop? Yes. That he’s already hitting the best of all of us? Yes. That he’s with Lexi? No.”
“Yeah, it’d probably be weird if you fell for your host family’s daughter. But the good thing is there are plenty of other girls around here in the summer.”
“Yeah, you know any good beaches to hit? I was thinking about going Sunday morning before the game.”
“That sounds fun but I have to go to church.”
Shane laughed. “Good one.”
“I wasn’t kidding. Is something wrong with going to ch – ”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I thought it was a joke.“ Shane stayed quiet as the warmth of embarrassment overtook him. He hopped up from the ground and left without saying another word to Lucas.
He had to pee and the far corner of Hinton Fields seemed like the most secluded area. There was a small alcove behind the sidewall of the Rec and as he stepped in to relieve himself he heard a group of guys approaching.
“This seems like a chill spot,” one of them said. Shane could discern at least three of his teammates voices; Quinn, J.J., and Matt.
“I can’t play without these now,” one unfamiliar voice said.
Shane peered around the corner to see a handoff of a tin can in Quinn’s hand and cash in another guy’s. He was dressed in the all white uniform of the opposing Waterford Breakers.
“Addie’ll do that to you,” Quinn said, shoving the cash in his back pocket. Quinn was catcher for the Brigs. He kept his hair buzzed short and his hat cocked to the side. His eyes looked gray and to Shane his mood was unreadable.
“Did you guys hear someone on our team last year banged his host mom?” Matt said. Matt was the scraggly-bearded second baseman. He was heavy-set, but in a muscular way; like he gained his freshman fifteen while simultaneously hitting the weight room back in South Carolina.
“That’s gotta be myth,” J.J. chuckled. Jose Junior was an outfielder with stylized jet-black hair that never seemed to get ruined during games even with all the switching between helmets and hats.
“Hold up. How hot was this mom?” Quinn asked.
“Hey guys,” Shane said as he came out of the alcove. The Waterford kid popped a few pills out of the empty Copenhagen can and downed them with a Red Bull. Matt prepared a wad of dip for himself and J.J. remained glued to his cell phone.
Quinn grilled Shane. “So you got access to some secret tunnels you’re not telling us about?”
“I used that as a pee corner there. They make you take off your cleats if you try to go inside the Rec.”
“Shane, why didn’t you come to the cookout the other night? Do you not want to hang out with us?” J.J. wondered without looking up from his device.
“It’s not that –“
“I’m just giving you shit. It’s cool.”
The guy from the Waterford team let out an extended belch.
“You two haven’t met,” Quinn said. “Shane, this is Andy. He’s a pitcher for the Breakers this summer. We play together back in Texas.”
“Thundercats… Woah!” Andy shouted. “Quinn always takes good care of me,” he pinched his friend’s white cheeks.
“Shane, you ever mess with… supplements?” Quinn asked.
“How do we know he’s not a narc?” Matt said.
“Shut it,” Quinn barked at the interruption. “You ever try Adderall?”
“No, I don’t mess with that stuff. If I were gonna take anything it’d be something to knock me out. I haven’t been sleeping well.”
“I might be able to hook you up.”
Shane heard swish-swish noises closing in. “It’s Hale,” he warned.
Coach came around the corner. “The hell are y’all doing?”
“Hey, Coach,” Matt said and spit out his wad. “Just a little dip.”
“There are kids around. Come on,” Hale went back to the diamond and the group followed behind him.
Families trickled into the park and filled in the last vacant spots on Spectator’s Hill. A copy of the night’s program tumbled by on the dirt. Shane bent down to snatch the paper. The backside featured adverts for the local businesses that sponsored the Breakers and the Brigs. The rosters for both teams along with each player’s various stats were listed on the front. He read a blurb about how the Cove League was the premiere collegiate summer baseball association where the best athletes from across the country competed against the picturesque backdrop of sunny Nailer’s Cove in this pipeline to the Majors.
It better be the time of your life. No pressure!
He handed the program over to a confused camera operator for the local TV station. Discarded peanut shells and pieces of goose shit gathered under Shane’s sneakers on his way towards the dugout. A gang of kids in line by the concessions shack grew quiet as he passed by and tipped his cap to them. Seasoned Brigs fans huddled close-by, discussing which players from last summer’s batch got picked in the draft. The radio announcers tested their microphones at a long table while the field interns, all rocking chocolate-colored Polos, set up tents to provide shade.
Shane was starting to feel the charge. He always liked the previews better than the movie, and sometimes the minutes building up to a game could be filled with more promise than the following nine innings could ever deliver.
* * *
It was dusk by the time inning five rolled around. There was still no score, but the Brigs were up to bat with Max on first. Two outs came from J.J. and Matt both striking out so the home team fans looked to Shane to keep the momentum going.
The Waterford pitcher’s full name was Andy Bergan, and whether it was the Adderall or his athleticism, he was feeling comfortable on the mound. Shane felt claustrophobic during the first at‑bat with Andy’s cannonballs coming closer each time, causing him to fly out. But the chance at redemption presented itself in the fifth inning as Max took a broad lead away from the first base plate and Coach Hale watched eagerly from the dugout.
“Up next for the Burnsdale Brigs, all the way from Goslyn State in Oregon, give a hand for Shane Monoghan,” the announcer said.
Shane walked towards the plate with the distorted bass and thick drums of “Crawl” by Kings of Leon blasting over the speakers. The song faded out before the first verse began. In the quiet that followed, Shane found his grip and locked on as the pitcher and catcher settled on their first move. Andy elevated his left leg, bent it at the knee, and drew his glove close to his chest.
The crack of the wooden bat was still new to him; sharper and more severe than the familiar clunk of the metal he was used to back in Oregon. Once he finished processing the foreign sound, Shane bolted and let his bat drop to the dirt.
On his sprint to first he saw Max go for second. The Breakers outfielders raced for the rolling ball but both runners were safe before outs could be made.
Gunner Mathis stepped up to the plate next. He was the brawny third baseman for the Brigs. His host parents were an elderly couple, Rob and Ruthie Miller. The Millers attended each game, littering the field with butterscotch wrappers and burning their hands from the decaf coffee in their unreliable travel mugs. Gunner often passed on socializing with his teammates in order to stay up late drinking tea in his host family’s kitchen, listening to vinyl records and war stories from the couple’s sixty years together. Before he brought the bat towards his shoulders, he located his surrogate grandparents in the crowd for strength.
The charge was palpable. The molecules in the air changed like a dizzying contagion spreading among them: Max, Shane, Gunner, the boys in the dugout, Coach Hale, Gus, each of them could sense it. After a ball and a strike, Gunner knocked one into left field and all three Brigs ran. Max, who had already taken his usual healthy lead off the base, was getting waved past third to try for the run.
Shane had one foot on second but the third base coach signaled him to stay put. The Breakers’ left fielder had recovered the ball and was sending it in. A moment later Max made it home and with the run the Brigs took the lead, one to nothing.
Shane watched from the diamond as Max was received with accolades of fist pounds and butt pats. He sensed the inning would end before he could bask in a similar homecoming.
* * *
The next night Shane sat towards the front of the stationary school bus.
Out the window he watched Waterford High’s field flicker into darkness as the floodlights shut off one-by-one. The Brigs lost against the Breakers, 5 to 3. Shane warmed the bench for the entirety of the away game. After a pause between songs on his iPod a choir of robotic angels filled his ears, but behind the music he could hear steady breathing nearby.
“Who are you listening to?” Max asked, suddenly sharing his seat.
“Bon Iver,” Shane replied and peered out the window.
“Can I listen?”
“This one’s called ‘Creek.’ It’s kinda strange,” Shane gave the disclaimer
and handed the headphones over.
Max seemed into it. “He does songs with Kanye sometimes, right?”
“I think so.”
“This shit’s cool. It’s heavy,” Max said as he returned the headphones. He waited for Shane to comment on the music but he said nothing. “So…. What’s up with Lucas? Why did he want you to hold the bus for him?”
“I don’t know. Ask him.” Shane tried to put his headphones back over his ears but Max yanked them off before he could.
“Hey! I’m trying to talk to you,” Max said.
“Sorry if it’s hard for me to be all buddy-buddy with you.”
“What’s your problem?”
“I want shortstop... And you’re in the way.”
“That’s a dumb reason not to be friends with somebody.”
“It’s how I operate. I didn’t come out hear to ride the bench all summer.”
“Look man, whatever bad voodoo you’re carrying around with you, that’s what’s standing in your way. Not me.” Max left the seat just as Lucas arrived on board.
“Lucas! How long does it take you to take a shit?” Gunner shouted.
“Thanks, Lucas. Now we can’t stop for ice cream!” Quinn sneered.
Lucas rushed down the aisle with an object hidden under his windbreaker.
“Thanks for helping,” he said to Shane as he dropped himself in the open seat, unable to disguise his contraband any longer. Under his jacket was a carved wooden eagle, painted a gaudy shade of gold. The wingspan of the crafted bird was at least three feet long.
“What the f-“
“I’ll explain later,” Lucas said.
The bus began its journey back. Shane tried to sleep but the seats were too rigid and no matter where he placed his head he felt strong vibrations. Eventually the bus came up on three metal towers located along the highway. Shane realized they were the same ones that created the red fog that marked his arrival in Burnsdale.
Holy shit. That was the same night Calloway died.
A piercing noise came from the bus as it passed the towers. Then there was a sudden decline on the right side of the vehicle as the driver pulled over. Shane spiraled in his mind as the news of the flat tire spread down the rows. The guys moaned while Hale organized plans for another bus to retrieve them. The volume kept rising and Shane started scratching at his neck and breathing rapidly. He stepped over Lucas, tripped into the aisle, and rushed toward the front. “Open the door!” he told the driver and ran off the bus.
The red fog the night he died. My nose bleeding just like that time at his house. The tire popping right at these same towers. It can't all be coincidence.
Rushing cars and horn honks flew past him so he moved away from traffic and onto the grass. A cold breeze came off the canal alongside the highway and helped him slow his breathing.
“I brought him out here with me,” Shane said to himself.
He heard footsteps and turned back to see Quinn coming down the breakdown lane with his Brigs flat-billed cap crooked on his head. “Hale told me to come get you,” Quinn said. “You okay?”
“I needed some air.”
“I don’t like being cooped up either… Can I ask you something?”
“Are you even having any fun out here?”
Shane stared down at a container ship moving through the canal and forgot to answer the question.
“Hey, I have something for you,” Quinn pulled a crinkled up package of Big League Chew out of his pocket and placed it in Shane’s palm.
“Candy?” Shane unfolded the packaging and saw three, square-shaped pills mixed among the remnants of the pink bubblegum shreds.
“Flexaril,” Quinn explained. “They’re for muscle spasms. They’ll knock you out cold. Yesterday you said you needed something to make you sleep.”
“I wasn’t being serious. And I don’t have any money,” Shane offered them back.
“Free sample. Just see if they help,” Quinn turned around and started walking. “You gonna be okay on your own?” he asked and looked back.
Shane nodded then stared down at the pills in his hands.
Shane stared at the reflection of his naked body in the mirror of the Henson’s bathroom. His brown bangs sat disheveled on his forehead and he noticed they were beginning to curl from the humidity. He looked at his pointed nose, then his hazel eyes, and realized the whites around his irises were no longer bloodshot. The pill he took the night before gave him ten hours of quality sleep but left him dazed and aloof the whole day.
A rattling noise knocked him out of his trance. He looked to the ancient door handle. Before he could cover up, Lexi walked into the bathroom and then instantly jumped back into the hall. “I’m sorry,” she said and closed the door.
“It’s alright. I’m finished anyway.” He forgot his towel back in his room so he threw on the clean pair of briefs he remembered to bring with him and braved the hallway with his hands in fists to cover his crotch.
“I’m sorry,” Lexi repeated.
“My bad. The lock is all finicky,” Shane said.
“It’s not a big deal. I’ve seen worse.”
Shane gazed down at his groin.
“No! Sorry I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant –”
“I gotcha.” Shane caught a whiff of her mango conditioner when he passed. The scent redeemed having to clean her black hairs out of the shower drain in the mornings. “Well… I’m gonna put some pants on now,” he said.
“You do that!” Lexi closed the bathroom door.
The Hensons lived in Devil’s Foot, a village in the south of Burnsdale. It used to be a hub for commercial fishing but had become a pit stop for tourists on their way to the popular vacation spot of Eleanor’s Island.
Shane slept in a spare room on the second floor of the Henson house. From one window he could see Fred’s Shop of Horrors. Bicycle tires, car parts, and toolboxes were scattered on top of workbenches and out-of‑commission automobiles. Shane was unsure if Mr. Henson enjoyed bringing his work as an engineer home with him or if he was trying to build some kind of DeLorean-like time travel device.
Shane’s second window gave view to Marie’s garden. He often spotted her watering lace-cap hydrangeas or cutting back the English Ivy that crawled up the stone wall behind the house. She worked the fairer nine months of the year as a landscape designer.
Shane ran his belt through the last loop of his jeans and heard a knock on his door. “Come in,” he said and peered upward to be greeted by Fred.
“I understand Lexi barged in on you in the bathroom,” Fred said. “In her mind she’s the only person living in this house, or well, on this planet for that matter.”
“It’s no big deal. I just wish it hadn’t been a cold shower.”
“Well while you were in there you got a call from a woman named Robin Calloway.”
“What did she say?” A lump formed in his throat halfway through putting his Mariners t-shirt over his head. He was glad he had the cover to cloak his baffled face.
“She just left her number and asked you to call her back.”
“Thanks for telling me.”
“Mysterious phone calls from a woman with a very attractive telephone voice… Flashing my daughter in the bathroom. What kind of scoundrel did the Cove League send me?”
“Might not be too late to exchange me for a different kid.”
“Dinner will be ready in a few,” Fred patted him on the shoulder with a rust-covered hand and left the room.
“Need me to set the table?” Shane asked.
“I’ve got it. Besides, you set it for lefties.”
“I am a lefty!” Shane shouted.
* * *
His first helpings of tuna steak, salad, and rice pilaf were almost gone.
"Don't inhale your food," Mom would say. Take a breath. Count your chews.
He placed his silverware on his plate and stared at the Hensons.
They're all so lanky. Is there some competitive family basketball league they can join?
“Shane will you pass the dressing?” Marie asked.
He saw Lexi got her dark hair from her half-Japanese father and her freckles and fair-skinned complexion from her white mother.
“What? Oh! Sorry,” Shane said and passed her the rice bowl. Marie accepted it with confusion. From across the table Lexi chuckled and handed her mother the vinaigrette.
“Did you ask for the dressing? Man, I’m sorry I’m so out of it.”
“You okay, Shane?” Fred asked.
“I’m a real space cadet sometimes.”
“If you’re rolling up doobies we expect you to share.”
“Fred, I would never – “
Is it that obvious I took that pill?
“I’m teasing you. Hey, there’s another space cadet I know that’s coming home soon. She called me today.”
“Hooray,” Lexi mumbled.
“Let’s play nice,” Marie advised. “Lexi’s twin sister Grace is coming home,” she noted to Shane.
“It’s just been great to have my own space,” Lexi said.
“There’s still your old room upstairs,” Marie said.
“You mean the office?” She paused from cutting her fish to point a vengeful fork at her father.
“She still hasn’t forgiven me for that one,” Fred said.
“You didn’t change Grace’s room,” Lexi said.
“Yes we did. We put Shane in it,” Fred laughed. “Shane, did you get to play your usual position this week?”
“Nah. Still centerfield.”
“Is that what they call the bench now?” Lexi asked.
“Hey! No shots below the belt,” Fred said.
“Lexi, I know it’s grim dinner talk but I figured this might be on your radar… Did you see a reporter got killed in Afghanistan today?” Marie asked.
“I’m glad you’re sticking with sports journalism,” Fred said.
“For now,” Lexi answered. “Mom, when’s the event for breaking the soil on that new garden?”
“Tomorrow. At the Town Green.”
“You have a big project going on?” Shane asked.
“Marie was selected by the Burnsdale Garden Club to design a space for the county fair this summer,” Fred said. “She’s calling it a peace garden and we’re very proud.”
“Oh, so now that the town has acknowledged my work you’re proud of me?” Marie joked.
“It’s a big deal because the town always picks these real kitschy, seashell kinda designers,” Lexi explained to Shane. “And this year they picked Mom, so I’ve been encouraging her to make it more of a political statement.”
“I don’t want to bore him with all this,” Marie said.
The talk of peace and politics shook him out of his stupor. “I’m not bored, tell me about it,” Shane said, a little defensive.
“What do you want to know?”
“By calling it a peace garden is it supposed to be against the war?”
“Which one?” Fred joked.
“Iraq. Afghanistan. Formally known as the War on Terror,” Shane clarified.
“Well, I don’t support the war we’re in,” Marie answered. “Countries get crippled, and on our side too, all these soldiers and their families will never really recover from the trauma they face, and that’s a shame. But my garden is more about creating a space where people can feel safe. I just feel like we’re running out of those places that give you that sense of security... or give you warmth, I should say.”
Shane made the floor squeak as he pushed his chair out. “Thanks for dinner, Mrs. Henson. It was great,” he got up from the table, washed his plate, and placed it in the dishwasher.
“You can call me Marie,” she watched Shane go upstairs, unable to gauge what she said to cause such a sudden exit.
* * *
Back at his desk he saw one message sat unread in his inbox from his mother.
I’m sorry about Coach Calloway. He saw so much potential in you. But he could be so harsh on you too. I remember your sophomore year when you would come home crying. I wanted to get him fired. I sent emails to your school I never told you about. I don’t know how to process his passing, so I can only imagine what you’re going through.
Mrs. Calloway was looking for you. I know you don’t like me giving out your cell number so I told her to contact the Brigs office to get your host family’s info.
Things in Astors are the same as always. I’ve been busy with work, but it’s harder to be on my feet all day, starting to feel older. Give your brother a call. The job at the post office didn’t work out. Will you check in with him? You have to be the first to reach out with Troy. You’re both so stubborn. I hope you know how proud I am of you, even if I don’t say it as much as I should. Your Coach would be proud too.
The note from Jenny spurred him to search for new articles about Calloway and he found an expansive report from an Astors paper that was just published the day before. He skimmed the piece; well-attended funeral, quote from saddened family members, uncertainties about what caused the crash, phone records indicating Calloway was not using a device at time of accident, success with the St. Francis baseball program and active participation in local adult hockey league, loved ones left behind.
In between two of the paragraphs was a picture of Shane and Calloway at last year’s State Champs, each of them with an arm slung around the other’s back and forced grins on their faces. Calloway looked like his usual square-jawed, goliath self, but Shane was shocked by how scrawny he was in the picture compared to his muscular coach. A sense of dissonance arose the longer he looked at the screen so he closed the browser.
The game tomorrow against Northam. Research the pitcher.
Hale told him yesterday that he would be going up against a kid named Palemento from the Midwest. Shane found a few game clips on YouTube of the mean curveball and noticed how Palemento saved it for his out pitch. Just as Shane’s eyes began to ache, Lucas knocked on his door while peeking his head in the room.
“Can I help you?” Shane asked.
“Sorry. Were you jacking off?” he said and swung the door open.
“Checking out Palemento,” Shane said.
“I don’t know her videos,” Lucas took a gander at the room.
“He’s the Turns pitcher,” Shane said, still not amused. “I’m trying to prep for tomorrow.”
“Gotcha. So you’re not too busy to hang out then?”
“I don’t know.”
“Come on. I already drove over here.”
Shane groaned and shut his laptop. “I don’t remember asking you to.”
“Jeesh. Who spat in your oatmeal?”
“That’s not an expression,” Shane got off the chair and grabbed his Brigs hat. When he picked up the cap he revealed the crucifix necklace underneath.
Lucas stared at the wooden cross in disbelief. “Where’d you get that?” Lucas snatched the necklace from the desk.
“It’s some kid’s. I didn’t get his name,” Shane said. “He left it at the pond by Hinton –”
“What kid? When did you see him?”
“It was the night of the cookout. I went to the pond to get some air and he was there asleep. I woke him up and then –”
“Did it look like he was in middle school? Lots of freckles?” Lucas asked pointing to his cheeks.
“That sounds right,” Shane said. “What are you so worked up for? You know him?”
“It had to be Noah,” Lucas pointed to the initials carved into the wood that Shane had yet to make sense of: L.N.K.
“Who is he?”
“Noah Kinton. He was in the youth workshops last summer. I remember that necklace because we swapped for a day, just as a random joke. He made a big deal abut how his was monogrammed and how mine wasn’t,” Lucas paused to pull his own gold crucifix necklace out from underneath his shirt. “Then halfway through the summer he vanished. Never came to workshops again.” He gave the crucifix back. “I didn’t mean to freak you out. I just was not expecting you to have that kid’s necklace. I’m glad he’s okay.”
Shane thought back to the boy’s blackening eye. “I’m not so sure he is.”
* * *
They rode around Burnsdale in the ‘94 Corolla Lucas drove up the East Coast all the way from Louisiana. The CD player was temperamental, the windshield was covered in condensation no matter the weather, and the flooring was littered with brown paper bags from fast food joints.
Shane fiddled with the radio, scanning the channels for anything besides commercials, static, or soft rock. He took a good look at Lucas, absorbed in his task of helming the steering wheel. His dirty blonde hair almost touched his shoulders.
“You gonna grow those locks out all summer?” Shane asked.
“We’ll see how the local ladies take to ‘em,” Lucas tucked his hair behind his ears then turned the car onto a winding set of back roads. They hunted for little green dudes: small, plastic figures that held out SLOW flags. Lucas used to collect little green dudes with buddies back in his hometown and with Shane’s help he had already lifted two from different driveways tonight.
“Those workshops that start tomorrow, do you know if we have to give talks or speeches to the kids?” Shane asked.
“No, man. They just want you to play games with them and do drills. It’s pretty fun.”
“I never did that kinda thing in high school, helping out with the younger kids. I feel like I’m not gonna be any good at it.”
“They’re gonna love you.”
“Do you think Noah will be there?”
“There’s a chance. He might show up looking for that cross… Do you ever go to church?” Lucas asked.
“No,” Shane grunted.
“When’s the last time you went to a service?”
“I’m sorry about what I said last week. I shouldn’t have –“
“I’m only asking because it’s something that helps me. That’s all. My host family goes to St. Patrick’s, but I’ve been meaning to check out some of the other congregations.”
“You talk about them like they’re ice cream shops.”
“I like to know what my options are. Will you come with me sometime?” “I don’t know, Luke. Ask me next Sunday,” Shane said after an elongated
Lucas maintained the Corolla’s fast speed around a sudden curve and a clamor came from the back. “Shit! Are the kids okay?”
Shane saw the green dudes were flipped upside down.“’Fraid not.”
“Sorry ‘bout that turn, boys,” Lucas shouted to the backseat. “Now, where did y’all say all the hot girls hang out ‘round here?”
* * *
They arranged the little green dudes in a clearing between the trees by the pond. Lucas found a sign posted from one of the local research facilities that put the water quality at a ‘Fair’ level with a score of 37.
“Only two points away from being ‘Poor,’” Lucas noted.
“Look out for the poison ivy,” Shane said as he approached the edge of the water and knelt before it.
Lucas stood behind him, adjusting the green dudes so they were symmetrical. “This swamp is giving me the spooks,” he said. “I don’t get why you came here instead of going to the cookout that night.”
“I was in a bad headspace.”
“You gonna tell me about it?”
“I don’t want to throw a bunch of negative shit at you.”
“Throw me yours, I’ll throw you some of mine.” Lucas sat cross-legged on the dirt. “That rumor flying around about somebody sleeping with their host mom last summer…”
Shane turned back with widened eyes. “That was you?”
“Guilty. It was my friend’s host mom though.”
“Why’d you do it?”
“I was trying to get laid. She was trying to get back at her husband.”
“Surprised you haven’t ‘fessed up to the team yet. I’m sure the rest of the guys would think the world of you for it.”
“Bet they would. Wonder what her kid would think though… He might be at the workshops tomorrow.”
“Guess it’s my turn,” Shane kept his back to Lucas and addressed the
pond: “My coach from high school. He died in a car accident. Right around the same time the season started out here. It’s been messing with me. I haven’t been sleeping well.”
“Shit. Were you two close?”
“I don’t know the word for what we were.”
Shane rose and began to pace. “His wife called my host family’s house. How long ‘til someone else asks? All this shit is gonna come out.”
“I don’t understand. Did you talk to the wife?”
“I can’t…. You don’t get it. Coach Calloway... that was his name… I hated him.”
“I don’t even know what I’m doing here, man. I just didn’t want to be home this summer,” Shane grew frantic. “Could you imagine? Bumping into him at the grocery store?”
“What happened with you two?”
“Senior year... I... I wanted him to die,” his voice was shaking. “I used to
wish for it. Then, right when I get here that first night…”
He heard rumblings from his stomach. His sternum felt like it was going
to crack as a poison inside coursed through his torso. Shane dropped to his knees and puked by the pond.
Lucas came over and patted Shane’s shoulder. “Well buddy, I think you just knocked this watering hole down from Fair to Poor.”
* * *
They plodded through Hinton Fields in the dark. Shane’s steps were uneven and his stance was frail. He leaned into Lucas for support while rabbits scurried past on the grass.
“Are you sure it’ll be open?” Shane asked, the taste of stomach acid still strong in his mouth.
“Yeah, man. The janitor never locks this entrance. Least he didn’t last summer.”
“Hey, you still haven’t told me about that eagle you stole.”
“I’ve got him stashed in my locker,” Lucas clutched the handle to the back door of the Rec and smiled in relief when it opened. “I’ll tell you once we get you cleaned up.”
Shane heard a clamor as they moved down the hall. “What’s that noise?”
“I don’t know.” Lucas rushed ahead and around the corner. “Frank? Is that you?”
Shane’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He stopped in his tracks to see who was calling. It was the number of the counselor he called earlier, Lucia Riordan.
“It’s kinda late for a shrink to call, dontcha think?” he asked, but Lucas gave no response.
Shane came around the bend and saw Lucas standing still before six guys from the Waterford Breakers. The locker room floor was littered with Brigs jerseys and equipment. Black spraypaint covered the walls, fresh fumes still in the air. The rival team paused their efforts of destruction to acknowledge the arrival of Shane and Lucas.
“Oh, hey,” Shane said as the Breakers charged towards him.