Jason and Christine were sitting upon a small stand of wooden bleachers watching her nephew’s little league baseball game. Christine’s sister, brother in law, brother, brother’s girlfriend, niece and nephew were sitting by them along with other families and groups of friends. Others were lounging on folding lawn chairs on either side of the cyclone fenced backstop that surrounded the home plate corner of the baseball diamond. Ten and eleven year old children dotted the the gravelly dirt infield and the patchy, uneven green grass that covered the outfield. The high summer sun shone above from a cloudless sky. Past the field heat waves shimmered up from the blacktop and blurred the images of the drab, rectangular school buildings in the far ground.
Christine’s nephew, Tommy, crossed the white chalk foul outline at the side of the diamond and advanced to the batter’s box with bat in hand. “All right, Tommy, let’s go!” Christine and her family shouted. Tommy planted his cleats into the dirt rut beside the five sided white plate, gripped the bat with both hands, held it up behind him ready to swing, and focused on the pitcher. The pitcher stood still on the mound and looked straight ahead to the catcher. He nodded yes, then wound up, leaned back on one foot, launched forward and hurled the ball to the catcher. Tommy stepped toward the pitch and began to swing but held back as the ball smacked into the catcher’s mitt.
“Ball,” the umpire called from behind the catcher.
“Good eye, Tommy! Make him pitch to you,” the family yelled out supportively.
“He’s showing more patience now,” Christine’s sister Carla, said. “Remember how he used to swing at everything?”
“Looks like he listened to what you told him,” Carla’s husband Bill, said to Jason.
“He’s a natural,” Jason said.
“You were pretty good in your day,” Christine said to Jason. “You should see his trophies,” she bragged to Carla.
“They give those to everybody,” Jason downplayed.
“C’mon, you were good, you know it,” Christine insisted.
“I heard you were an all-star one year,” Christine’s brother Pete said.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Christine agreed. “Don’t be so modest.”
“Yeah, I guess I was pretty good,” Jason admitted.
“Hey, Chris,” Carla said, “we’re having a barbecue after the game, want to come by?”
“Sure, we’ll be there,” Christine said. “I’ve been dying to see what you’ve done with the backyard.”
Jason was caught off guard by Christine’s reply, and his attention shifted away from the game.
“You should see the new roses!” Carla raved. “We also have a new brick walkway, and the back deck is finally repaired.”
“Did you and Bill do that yourself?” Christine asked.
“Are you kidding,” Carla laughed. “We hired this guy who uses college students to work for him, he’s a friend of a friend of Bill’s. I think they were all hungover half the time, but they did a good job, and a lot faster than we ever could have done it.”
Jason waited for a chance to speak and grew increasingly irritated as their conversation continued.
“Hey, is that Tina over there?” Christine asked.
“Yeah, her kid brother is on the other team,” Carla said.
The frustration built up in Jason until there was a break in Christine and Carla’s conversation. He leaned toward Christine. “We’re supposed to be having dinner at my place tonight,” he reminded her angrily. “My sister’s coming home today!”
“Oh, that’s right,” Christine said apologetically.
“Don’t you remember me telling you?”
“I’m sorry, I forgot. We can skip the barbecue.”
“No, we can go, but you should ask me before inviting us places,” Jason insisted.
“Carla asked me,” Christine said defensively. “And we don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”
“It’s okay, we’ll go,” Jason said irritably.
“Why are you being so touchy all of a sudden?”
“Let’s just watch the game.”
They continued to watch the game, occasionally cheered the events on the field but mostly remained silent until the game was over. The two teams then went to their side of the diamond, formed into a line and walked toward each other. They slapped each other’s outstretched hands while saying ‘good game’ as they passed each other then wound back to their side of the field. The coaches gathered the players together, said one last thing to them before letting them go, and then they dispersed to their separate families.
“Did you see that RBI double I hit?” Tommy said excitedly as he ran up to Carla, Bill, and the rest of the family.
“How about that catch back in the second inning?” Bill said. Everyone stood around Tommy and congratulated him and bragged about his team’s performance as they headed to their vehicles.
The celebratory mood continued as the families walked over to a row of parked cars with their folding chairs and coolers while chatting with each other. They slowly loaded everything in while still conversing, then got into their cars. Carla rolled down her window. “So I’ll see you at my place?” she asked Christine.
Jason thought he could feel Christine’s eyes on him. “What do you say, hon?” she asked him.
“Sure,” Jason nodded.
“Yeah, we’ll stop by,” Christine replied.
“All right, see you there,” Christine said then she and bill drove away.
Jason and Christine walked over to his car. “It was an honest mistake, really,” she said to him. “I know, I should have remembered about your sister, it’s just that I haven’t seen Kathy in a while so I guess I forgot,” she said as they were walking.
“You don’t have to sweat it,” Jason said as they arrived at his car.
“Besides, we go to Carla and Bill’s all the time, I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Just me overreacting.”
“No, I should’ve asked you first,” Christine said as they got into his car. “I don’t know why it slipped my mind about your sister.”
“Probably because she’s been away last couple of years.” Jason started his car.
“We don’t have to stay long anyhow. Carla just wants to show off her new deck, you know how she is.”
Jason backed up into the street and silently drove off.
“Really, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Jason drove along with the exiting traffic. “Yeah, I know.”
“I’ve invited us to places before, we both have. I didn’t think it’d be a big deal.”
“Usually a couple of days in advance,” Jason reminded, “not all of a sudden.”
“Okay, from now on I promise not to be so absent minded. It’s just that once Carla gets going she kinda takes charge of things, she’s always been that way.”
“So let’s just go and look at her deck and get this over with.”
Christine looked over at Jason. “Is there something else? Because if it’s about my family please tell me.”
They came to a red light and stopped. “I don’t know how it happened,” Jason began as he struggled to find the right words, “but now it feels like that I always have to be somewhere. Nothing feels spontaneous anymore, you know?” he expressed and felt some relief.
“Yeah, I understand,” Christine said, “but going to Carla’s right now sure came out of the blue.”
“I mean just the two of us,” Jason emphasized, “like when we used to go places on the spur of the moment, just for fun.” He thought longingly. “Remember how much more often we used to go to the beach? Or to concerts? Or how about that time we went down and camped at Mount Madonna? Stuff like that,” he reminisced.
“And then it started raining and we ended up having to sleep in the car,” Christine said humorously. “Not a lot of room in that old Honda.”
“Still, it was an adventure, and just the two of us.” The light turned green and he turned onto the main avenue.
“I’d love for us to get away too, but sometimes you have to make the time for family and life’s other obligations. Maybe we can’t do everything we want anymore, but life is still good.”
They drove ahead. “You know I don’t like to complain,” Jason said. “And I’m not trying to be bossy, I just want to have a say in things.”
“And I don’t want you to feel left out,” Christine agreed. “And you’re right about us needing to get away from it all, just the two of us,” she said. “I think about doing that too, our own personal vacation, like that trip to Hawaii.”
“Yeah, but first we need to be able to afford it,” Jason reminded. “I don’t need much anyways, even a trip up to the city would be all right.” They drove along with the busy traffic then came to another red light.
“So how are things at work?” Christine asked.
“Work’s fine,” Jason said. “That isn’t a problem.”
“Didn’t you say they laid off some people?”
“They were just temps.”
“I thought your company was growing,” Christine remarked.
“Temps are expendable, everyone knows that.”
“Is that why they have you working more hours?”
“The extra money will get me out of debt quicker,” Jason said.
“Yes, but it’s also going to cut into you going to school.”
“See, this is what I’m talking about,” Jason said angrily. “I’m tired of worrying about this, that, and every other damn thing. I just want things to be simple.”
“So do I, but what can we do?” Christine said sympathetically. “Maybe this is just how life gets, less play and more responsibilities.”
“Just like our parents always warned us about,” Jason recalled ironically. The light turned green and they drove ahead.
“It’s been getting busier at my job too, ever since that new client.”
“Work is cutting into both of our lives,” Jason said glumly. He found himself yearning for more free time, and feared that it was disappearing permanently.
“You should hear some of the talk at my job,” Christine said. “Mergers, acquisitions, lawsuits, one company swallowing up another, and they don’t even think about how all that affects other people’s lives.”
“I doubt they’re paid to think about others, and I bet a lot of it is just big talk to impress each other. Guys like to bullshit that way.”
“These aren’t ordinary guys, what they do and say behind closed doors has a lot of influence.”
“Probably no need to get paranoid,” Jason said. “And don’t they have you take notes at those meetings?”
“Not all of them,” Christine informed. “Sometimes they have me file, answer calls, or they send us low level employees out for coffee or lunch when certain clients arrive.”
Jason kept up with the swift weekend traffic. “I’ll bet it’s nothing, and if it was something you would’ve heard about it by now.”
“Well, there is this buzz going around.”
“More gossip about a new client?”
“Feels like something bigger,” Christine said.
“Just a guess, but I think it has to do with all the changes happening in the world right now, like they’re getting ready to make a move.”
“That’s happening at a lot of companies right now, including where I work.”
“And you trust them?”
“I don’t have my head in the sand,” Jason assured. “If anything was going to happen to my job I would know about it.”
“Well they should at least pay you what you deserve,” Christine insisted.
“It’ll do for now,” Jason said. “I should just pick up the extra pay while I can. Besides, it’s such a pain in the ass to look for a job.” He slowed down and turned right into a residential neighborhood.
“Stay the course if it’s working for you.”
“They do tell me I’m a good worker,” Jason said while trying to sound upbeat, “and if there are any changes, that can mean growth, which means I can rise with the company.”
“Just make sure they don’t leave you behind when that happens.”
“I think everything is going to be fine,” Jason determined as he navigated through the maze of suburban tract houses. “Things are adjusting, that’s all. We’re heading into a new era,” he went on. “When big changes happen, there are going to be some growing pains.”
“Hope those pains don’t become something worse.”
“You know what, I’m not going to worry about it,” Jason said with finality. “Whatever happens, happens. Bad enough I can’t hang out with Randy anymore.”
“Jason, you know I don’t want to keep you away from your friends, but Randy is getting difficult to be around,” Christine implored, “especially when he’s drunk. Remember how belligerent he was at Todd’s party?”
“Yeah, he was of out of control, but so was everyone else at that party. We even had a bit too much to drink ourselves.”
“But we didn’t get into a loud fight that disrupted the party. ”
“Their spat was the only disruption of an otherwise fun night.”
“Gina kept calling me and Amanda and Raquel and Liz and everyone else everyday for about the past two weeks crying over Randy.”
“Well, maybe she’s better off without him.”
“See?” Christine said. “He’s getting more difficult.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Jason countered. He tried to contain himself and gather his thoughts. “Sure, Randy has been kind of wild lately, but maybe he’s just blowing off steam,” he said. “Troubles with Gina, bouncing from job to job, conflicts with his mom. That’s what causing it all.”
“But how long will that behavior go on? I hate to think where it’s going to end up.”
Jason struggled to find an answer. “You know what,” he finally said, “we all make mistakes. Hell, all of us got into trouble with teachers or the principal or parents or someone in charge. That’s just part of growing up.”
“Yeah, but once you grow up you’re supposed to mature and leave that kind of recklessness behind.” Christine replied.
“But it’s not like he robbed a 7-Eleven or crashed a car into a school bus. He’s spirited, and he likes to stir things up.”
“He really hurt Gina.”
“And I feel bad for Gina, she doesn’t deserve that,” Jason said. “But they’ve been heading for a crash for a while now.”
“She was the one that left in tears while Randy just payed quarters with you guys.”
“Game was over by then. We were all too drunk to play anyhow.” Jason awaited a response and was caught off guard by the sudden silence. He glanced over and saw Christine looking at him plaintively. “Randy may not be the most responsible guy around,” he said, “but he doesn’t intentionally try to hurt anybody. Sometimes when he’s having fun he just loses control.” He thought some more. “Randy is what he is, that’s why everybody likes him. He’s a lot of fun, he makes people feel good and festive wherever he goes. He’s like a traveling party.”
They continued driving along through the neighborhood.
“Yes, he can be a lot of fun, and he’s a joy to be around when he’s that way,” Christine said. “I wish he could be that way all the time, without going too far.”
“Sometimes with people you have to take the good with the bad.”
“I know he’s one of your best friends and he means a lot to you, but his behavior seems to be getting worse. I just don’t want see him to get into any serious trouble.”
“Randy’s a survivor,” Jason said. “He’s been through a lot, and I’m sure he’ll get through this.”
“But maybe he’s at the point where he needs outside help,” Christine suggested.
“Like what, AA?”
“If that’s what it takes.”
Jason pondered Christine’s worries and thought about what to do next. “I know you’re just trying to help,” he said, “but I really don’t think that Randy is at that point yet.”
“I just don’t want to see him get to a point where it’s too late,” Christine warned.
“But is worrying really going to help? What can I do about it anyway?”
“You can talk to him.”
Jason chuckled. “Yeah, that’ll work.”
“All you have to do is tell him that you’re concerned,” Christine pleaded. “He’ll listen to you. Just tell him that you don’t want to see him or someone else get hurt.”
Jason turned onto another residential side street. “Randy may blow it sometimes, but if I go to him with some Nancy Reagan lecture about how he’s got to straighten up and fly right, he’s just going to think I’m getting on his ass like everyone else in his life, and that’ll just upset him more.”
Jason let out a breath. “If he gets any worse, I’ll talk to him.”
“I’m just concerned, that’s all,” Christine reiterated. “He might be struggling with a lot inside of him that he needs to let out.”
“Well I don’t know about that. Randy isn’t the type to hold back,” Jason said as a new thought occurred to him. “Maybe that’s the problem.” He turned onto another street. “So how’s Gina doing?”
“I think she’s starting to recover,” Christine said. “That poor girl always has bad luck with guys.”
“All I meant is that they’re not right for each other,” Christine explained.
“Not his first relationship to go wrong anyhow.”
Christine turned toward Jason. “I do care about Randy. Deep down he’s got a good heart, and he’s loyal to his friends. Sometimes he can be a real sweet guy. I just wish he could be his better self more often.”
“Same here, but sometimes you just have to accept people for what they are,” Jason said. “People are what they are, and I’m not sure we change all that much.”
Christine settled back into her seat. “I know he didn’t have an easy time of it growing up. Maybe if things were different.”
“If only,” Jason echoed. He thought back to when he and Randy were younger. “Randy always had a hard time settling down, always wanting to do something or go somewhere. We used to think it was because he was more adventurous than the rest of us, but I guess he just lacked stability.” He reflected some more on old memories and felt he was seeing them for the first time. “Funny how much stuff you don’t notice when you’re younger.”
“Do you know how his sister is doing these days?”
“Living with some guy she met at The Saddle Rack last I heard.”
“Do she and Randy stay in touch?”
“Yeah, they talk once in a while.”
“It’s really too bad Randy’s dad wasn’t around,” Christine empathized. “I can’t imagine what his war experiences were like.”
They pulled up to Carla’s house and parked on the street.
“Must have messed him up.” Jason said as he turned off the engine. “You know, the only reason why he got sent to Vietnam was because he got into trouble with the law. The judge told him he could either join the army or go to jail.”
“Not much of a choice.”
“They probably would have drafted him anyway.”
“So what’s he doing now?” Christine asked.
Jason tried to remember the last time he heard anything about Randy’s father. “No idea,” he finally said. “Randy hasn’t seen him in a few years. Last I heard he fell in with a bad crowd.” Jason thought some more of Randy and his father and wondered if they were on the same path.
They got out of the car and walked to Carla’s house. “We don’t have to stay long,” Christine promised, “just long enough to admire their new deck,” she added. “I’m really looking forward to seeing Kathy. I want to hear some of her college stories.”
“Yeah, same here,” Jason said. “Did you know she’s going to be a junior when she goes back to school in the fall? She’s halfway to graduating.”
“Already? Time sure does fly.”
And where does it all go, Jason wondered to himself. They entered through the open front door and were enveloped into the hum of socializing after everyone said their hellos. People were in the kitchen and backyard cooking and barbecuing, and chatting and laughing while a ballgame was on television in the background.
©2106 Robert Kirkendall