The nine friends lived mostly in the same area. Their different housing sections bordered the common field, and this was where they gathered every Saturday morning for a pickup game on the field. The field sat across from the commissary where the military families purchased their groceries, about two blocks from Stephen’s unit.
Shouting encouragement and slapping his mitt, Stephen readied himself for the pitch. Keep low, take your time, and fire, he repeated to himself. He rarely played second base. However, the regular second baseman had moved last week, and Stephen had volunteered to take his place. As often as kids moved, everyone had to be flexible about which position they played. Normally a catcher, he’d do his best to fill in as an infielder. You can do this, he told himself to bolster his confidence. Just like Dad showed you.
Rick was the second batter this inning. He stared at Stan as if daring him to put a fastball down the middle. The first two pitches missed the strike zone. “C’mon, put one where I can hit it,” Rick taunted.
“Blast it past him.” Stephen could feel his heart rate ramp up every time Stan went into his windup.
Rick picked up his foot as Stan reared back to throw his fastball and stepped straight toward Stephen at second base. He leveled his swing and connected, driving the ball hard. It skipped past Stan toward Stephen.
Oh, crap. Stephen stepped back. Move forward, his mind screamed. He took one halting step forward and stumbled to one knee. The ball ricocheted from his thigh. He snatched it from the ground and twisted to fire, nailing Rick on the side of his knee as he crossed the bag at first base. Stephen winced at the impact.
Rick hopped and limped as he tried to shake off the pain. “Son of a—shit.” He spun on his good leg, slammed his hat to the ground, and kicked it. “I’ll kick your butt,” he snarled. Forgetting his pain, he charged at Stephen.
Don’t fight him. Dad just made Captain. Stephen’s eyes grew wide as he watched Rick charge in his direction. “Rick, be cool.” Don’t screw it up. “I wasn’t—”
He slammed into Stephen with both arms extended, and Stephen tumbled in the dirt.
“Stay down! You get up again,” Rick panted, “and I’ll clobber you.”
“Rick, I didn’t mean to hit you.” Stephen picked himself up and slapped at the dust that clung to his clothes. As Rick took a step forward Stephen said, “I didn’t—”
Rick jabbed both palms into Stephen’s chest and drove him from his feet again as the players ran forward, encircling the combatants. Don’t fight. Don’t engage. Stephen sucked in a breath. Word of every wrong move he made would get back to his father and his father’s command.
His eyes narrowed as he noticed an unfamiliar scar on Rick’s neck. The white gash showed up clearly against the flushed skin of his neck as he hollered. Where had he gotten that? He looked around the circle of boys as Rick kept yelling. “What the heck, Rick?”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish