My dad, who has fifteen years of pitching Little League BP under his belt, can throw strikes without a target. I slide-step and usually default to a four-seam grip, and it takes about a dozen pitches to get the release point right. Everything I throw cuts down, except the stuff that sails up and in. That's unintentional, of course.
I don't have the wind to play outfield, really, or at least not when it's just me out there in rightfield with the sun behind the trees and my little brother lanky and tall and swinging left-handed. I played for ten years, but I was a catcher for most of that. I was the first kid in the league to make the throw to second, a fact of which I'm still inordinately proud.
The lighter bat, my bat, has got a crack in it, there's no pop, so I use my brother's, the tape on the handle unraveled six inches up. All I am is mechanics, because skinny and short works all right at indie shows, but not so much on the field. It's hips, hands, wrists, and follow-through. Not much of a step, all you have to do is shift your weight. I can make contact with just about everything.
We've got fifty-one baseballs in a black boxy bag, and the high school field is beautiful, brand-new and manicured within an inch of its life. We have to hop the fence and pull the 'FIELD CLOSED' sign off home plate. I climbed up on top of the backstop to get a ball that was stuck up there, hands in the chainlink, sneakers that survived the ocean off the coast of Wales bending like soft rubber. From up there, you can see the football field and the tennis courts and everything else.
My dad took his ups before we played the double-play game, and I pitched to him, saying without thinking when he roped the first good hit, "attaboy," and that's kind of a strange thing to say to my father.
For the wheel. Not sure what it is about the wheel that shouts Mulder/Crosby at me, but, well, what're you gonna do.
A Thousand Times Over
By Candle Beck
So you come home past when you should, and you roll up over the curb and scratch your rims, which will piss you off tomorrow, once you sober up.
But will you sober up?
You’re too drunk, you’re bits and pieces and bad static and that’s all. You get halfway up the driveway and fall down, cracking your head into the bumper of Richie’s car. The chrome sheen stretches numbly through you, and will it leave a mark? Bet your life.
Full moon, or maybe you’ve got a concussion. Maybe that’s just a baseball, close to your face, and you’re confused. You’re unconscious? You must be.
And Huston Street puts his hands all over you. He’s just a new guy, nothing that special, teeth and face and body notwithstanding. The cross around his neck falls out of his shirt collar as he leans over you, whispering your name, “bobby hey bobby.” The cross ticks like a metronome and you swipe at it. Your fingers hook in the chain and you pull until it breaks.
You’re a terrible person. Look what you’ve done.
Street levers you onto his back and he used to play football, he’s from Texas, he can carry you like this up the slope of the driveway with your feet scraping the asphalt, though he is smaller than you and always will be. You rub your face against his hair and he smells like cheap generic shampoo, cheap college-boy beer, sweat and fiberglass.
Street calls for Harden, and his voice hurts your ears. You start to cry. The world is tipped onto its side, out of focus and you think that it must be raining, though it was clear, you were clear.
Harden is in the doorway, saying, “fuck, man,” and his eyes are blueblueblue. He takes you off of Street’s back and puts you on his own, and he is cooler than Street, his body temperature measured in centigrade, because that’s how it is in Canada.
Fahrenheit minus thirty-two, times five-ninths, you remember suddenly, and you try to tell Harden that, because you’re smart, you can remember stuff. You open your mouth and all that happens is that Harden’s shirt gets in somehow, the taste of laundry detergent burning your tongue.
Street’s cross is still closed up in your hand, cutting into your palm and maybe it’ll draw blood. It’ll never again see the light of day. So there.
Harden drops you on your bed and you must have moved so fast. He must be so strong. Your eyes hurt, and your face is wet. Street bobs around uncertainly behind Harden’s shoulders, which are broad and felt nice under your arms. Or can you tell?
Harden is unbuttoning your shirt, and asking you softly, “where were you, what’d you do?”
You were in St. Louis, but probably not. You wipe your eyes with the back of your wrist. You drank and drank and drank and eventually nothing made sense anymore, and wonderful, beautiful, did you see the moon?
Street sits down on the bed beside you and looks up at Harden, asking, “is he okay?”
You’re right fucking here. You try to hit him, and you just paw ineffectually at his face, prettier than Barry Zito could ever hope to be, and if you could disfigure him and get away with it, you would.
Pronoun trouble. Your intentions are far from trustworthy. Harden slides his hands under you and flips you onto your stomach, wrenching your arms back to get your shirt off. You call him a cocksucker, but it’s lost in the pillow.
“This kid has never been okay.” Was that Harden? You can’t beat him up, he’s a hockey player. You shiver. Harden’s hands are pulling your T-shirt out of your belt, and he’s turning you back over.
You open your eyes and Street is touching your forehead, gnawing on his lower lip. You dream of biting him, of blue eyes and tough wood-stick hands, of a city a thousand miles away from the ocean and a man you looked up to. Literally.
You laugh like a cackle and Street looks surprised, glancing at Harden, who’s cursing steadily at the double-knots on your shoes. Harden’s downturned eyes are a color that you would love to forget, and so you kick at him, your shoe clipping his face and he jerks backwards, falling off the bed. He has disappeared—that’s one down.
“Bobby!” Street says, scandalized. You grin at him, blood seeping out of your hand. He’s so fucking pretty. So far above you.
Street crawls to the edge of the bed, his knees holding your legs down, and you gaze up at the ceiling, a flicker and a stare and are you still crying? Were you ever?
You miss everybody you’ve ever met. Street is asking Harden if he’s all right, and Harden is saying hoarsely, “I’m gonna kill him. Hold him down for me, will you?”
Oh god, please yes. You arch your back and stretch your hands over your head, searching for the headboard, but there’s no headboard on this bed. Pity.
“You can’t kill him, man.” Huston Street, saving your life. Harden rises in the bottom of your vision with a sneer twisting his mouth and a brushstroke of dirt on his cheek. Mulder had soot on his face once, and you weren’t sure why. You’re still not.
You dig your teeth into the inside of your lip. Harden is calling you a motherfucker and telling Street, “He’s always been such a fuck-up. He’d be dead a thousand times over if it weren’t for us.”
Harden acts like he knows you so well, you and your tendency to get broken at the worst possible times, but two and a half years in the same house doesn’t mean anything except that you know what he looks like asleep. Street is picking at your shoelaces, calming Harden down, saying, “Look, he’s just drunk. This kind of stuff, all you can do is forgive him in the morning.”
The morning, and the sun, the sky like spilled water, and the yellow light that exists only to show the absence next to you.
Mulder used to let you pass out fully-clothed.
Harden’s face appears over you, spitting and sneering. “Hey, asshole.”
You smile weakly at him. You would say, buy me a plane ticket, get me out of here. But nothing in you works anymore. You’re rich, aren’t you? You can afford to run away.
“You think this is cute? Poor little mental case, everybody gets a turn taking care of you?”
“Richie, don’t,” Street says quietly, his hands cradling your ankle.
Your arms are coated in lead and your eyes are glittering so brightly even you can see it. Harden’s got a knee pressed into your side, and you flash, either back or forwards, Mulder straddling you with his hands pinning your shoulders down, your collarbones hard in the cups of his palms, and you knew he would be there forever.
Heat crawls up your neck onto your face. You turn your head to the side and blink wetly at Street, who’s watching you sadly, as if he hasn’t learned anything.
None of this is your fault.
You try to say Street’s name, but it comes out as a hiss, and Harden’s hand flattens on the side of your face, pulls your eyes back up. You can’t make out his features, just the line of his jaw, the shape of his cheekbones.
“Get over it, man,” he tells you. “Tired of bringing you home.”
You close your eyes, because once you found everything you need to make a life complete, and once Mark Mulder was here and he’d wait until your mind was clean before waking you up, pulling off your shoes, popping the buttons on your shirt. His fingers curled around your hips, calluses scuffing up your skin and you were a two-seam, you were a slider, you were a change-up that was never properly timed. His hands together were the breadth of your chest, and you kissed him so hard your teeth would clack against his, and he’d smile when you’d drawn blood on his lips. Mulder’s mouth on your ribs and his hand pushing into your shorts, and you could say, again, again, with your breath choking you, but that’s all.
Harden is perfect in his own way, and you never did want to be a pitcher. You just want to go to sleep. There are things that you can dream about that will make getting up in the morning worth the memory. And if you don’t get up in the morning, well, okay. Okay.
Harden fists his hands in your T-shirt and starts to drag you up, but Street catches him by the wrists and says, “Quit it.”
You open your eyes and Harden is glaring at Street, but that won’t last. He makes a disgusted noise and lets you fall back. You hit the bed like you’d hit stone. Harden gets up and stands, wire-tense, as Street finishes taking your shoes off, hikes your legs up onto the bed. You curl into a ball, Street’s broken cross still clutched in your hand tight enough to feel like a tiny little knife.
Street runs his hand down the side of your face, murmuring something impenetrable. You press your chin into your knees and your mind stammers over the time difference, your throat aches for Mulder.
“He’ll sleep it off,” you hear Street saying, and you open your eyes. Street is standing close to Harden, carefully slipping his arm around Harden’s shoulders, which give slightly under the weight. “He’ll be fine.”
Street leads him out of the room, and the last you see of them is Harden’s arm winding around Street’s waist, Harden’s hand hooking in Street’s jeans.
And you cover your face with your hands, gold and blood mixed up in your eyes, surrounded by perfection and it was only a year ago that you fit in.