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.
“You should see the new roses,” Carla said, “we also have a new brick walkway, and the deck is finally fixed.”
“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, a lot faster than we ever could have done it.”
Jason became 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 continued to build 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 sharply. “My sister’s coming home today. Don’t you remember me telling you earlier?”
“Oh, that’s right,” Christine said apologetically. “I’m sorry, I forgot. We can skip the barbecue.”
“No, we can go, but you should ask me before inviting us places,” Jason asserted.
“Carla asked me,” Christine pointed out. “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?”
“Let’s just watch the game.”
When the game was over, the two teams 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.
“See you there,” Christine said to Carla. She and Jason then walked over to his car as Carla and Bill drove away. “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. “We go to Carla and Bill’s all the time, I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jason said as they arrived at his car. “Just me overreacting,” he said sullenly.
“No, you’re right. I should’ve asked you first,” Christine replied helpfully as they got into 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 started his car, backed up into the street, and drove off without saying anything.
“Really, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Jason drove along with the exiting traffic. “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.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not your fault.”
“Then what’s bothering you?” Christine asked.
They came to a red light. “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 felt somewhat unburdened. The light turned green and he turned onto the main avenue.
“We weren’t planning on going to Carla’s right now,” Christine said as she tried to sound helpful.
“I mean just the two of us,” Jason continued, “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 Big Sur? Stuff like that,” he said nostalgically. “Just the two of us.”
“I’d love for us to get away too, but sometimes you have to make the time for family. Maybe we can’t do everything we want, but we still have fun.”
They drove ahead. “You know I don’t like to whine,” Jason said. “I’m not trying to be a dictator, but I still like to have a say in things.
“Of course,” Christine agreed supportively, “I don’t want you to feel ignored. And you’re right about us needing to get away somewhere. Take a break from everything, like when we took the 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 see,” Christine remarked. The light turned green and they drove ahead. “Maybe that’s why they have you working more hours.”
“The extra money will get me out of debt quicker,” Jason reminded.
“But it’s 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.”
“Me too,” Christine agreed. “But what can we do? Maybe this is just how life gets, less play and more responsibilities.”
“Just like our parents always warned us about,” Jason recalled ironically.
“It’s been getting busier at my job too, ever since that new client.”
“Work is cutting into both of our lives.” Jason thought yearningly of disappearing free time, and feared that it may never return.
“You should hear some of the talk at my job,” Christine related. “Mergers, acquisitions, lawsuits, one company swallowing up another, and they don’t even think about how all that affects other people’s lives.”
“I’ll bet a lot of that is big talk just to impress each other. Guys like to bullshit, especially lawyers.”
“Maybe so, but I don’t know what they’re saying behind closed doors. That’s what gets me wondering,” Christine said ominously.
“No need to get paranoid,” Jason allayed. “And don’t they have you take notes at those meetings?”
“Not all of them. Sometimes they send me out for coffee.”
“Well, no point in worrying about things you can’t see.”
“But who knows what they’re planning. There’s a buzz going around.”
“What happens in those closed door meetings runs everything,” Christine stated, “and they’re all secretive.”
“And you think where I work is the same way?”
“Aren’t they all?”
“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.”
“They should at least pay you what you deserve,” Christine insisted.
“It’ll do for now,” Jason said. “Besides, it’s such a pain in the ass to look for a job. I should just pick up the extra pay while I can.” He slowed down and turned right into a residential neighborhood.
“I’m not trying to be a harpy. It’s just that it feels like it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen next,” Christine said with concern. “For all I know the lawyers I work for are planning something with the people you work for.”
“Well if they are, maybe it’ll end up working out for us,” Jason said while trying to sound upbeat. “They tell me that I’m a good worker,” he said as he navigated through the maze of suburban tract houses, “and if there are any changes, that can mean growth, and I can rise with the company.”
“I just don’t want you to be left behind when everything settles.”
“Enough worrying, everything will be fine,” Jason said with forced assurance. “Things are adjusting, that’s all. We’re heading into a new era,” he went on. “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, especially if he’s been drinking. 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’ve all been that way before.”
“Gina kept calling me and Cheryl and Rachel and Liz and everyone else everyday for about the past two weeks crying over Randy.”
“Maybe she’s better off without him.”
“So you agree Randy is getting difficult,” Christine replied.
“That’s not what I meant!” Jason said irritably. He sensed Christine looking at him. He tried to maintain himself and gather his thoughts. “Sure, Randy has been kind of wild lately, but maybe he’s just blowing off steam. 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? Where’s he going to end up?”
Jason felt pressured to come up with an answer. “You know what, 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.”
“I don’t know if I’d call Randy reckless,” Jason countered. “It’s not like he crashed a car into a school bus. He’s spirited, he likes to stir things up.”
“He really hurt Gina.”
“And I’m sorry for that, but it takes two to ruin a relationship,” Jason pointed out.
“Gina was the one that left in tears while Randy just payed quarters with you guys.”
“Game was over by then,” Jason said defensively. “We were all too drunk to play anyhow.” He still felt Christine looking at him. “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.” Jason thought some more. “He may not be the most responsible guy around, but he doesn’t intentionally try to hurt anybody. Sometimes when he’s having fun he just loses control.”
“Yes, he can be a lot of fun,” Christine agreed, “and he’s a joy to be around when he’s that way. I wish he could be that way all the time, without going over the edge.” They continued driving along. “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.”
Jason felt her words penetrate.
“Maybe he needs outside help,” Christine suggested.
“Like what, AA?”
“If that’s what it takes.”
“I know you’re just trying to help,” Jason 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 what can I do?”
“You can talk to him.”
Jason chuckled. “Yeah, that’ll work.”
“All you have to do is tell him that you’re concerned,” Christine argued. “He’ll listen to you. Just tell him that you don’t want to see him or someone else get hurt.”
“Randy may blow it sometimes, but he would never hurt anyone intentionally. He’s a result of his upbringing. He can still grow out of it.”
“He’s an adult now. Shouldn’t he have grown out of it already?”
“Ah, why stress so much!” Jason felt exasperated. “Randy will be fine, he’s a survivor.” He turned onto another residential side street. “If I go to Randy 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.”
“If he gets any worse, I’ll talk to him,” Jason relented. “Okay?”
“I’m just concerned, that’s all,” Christine reiterated. “He might have a lot inside of him that he needs to let out.”
“Well I don’t know about that,” Jason replied. “Randy isn’t the type to hold back,” he 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’m saying is that they’re not right for each other,” Christine said pointedly. “That’s all I meant.” Jason felt Christine looking at him again as she moved in closer. “I care about Randy, too. Deep down he’s got a good heart. Sometimes he can be a real sweet guy. I just wish he could be his better self more often.”
“Sometimes you just have to accept people for what they are,” Jason deemed. “People are what they are, and they don’t change all that much.”
Christine relaxed 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 agreed. 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 at home.” He looked upon his old memories with new perspective. “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 sympathized. “His war experiences must have seriously messed him up.” They pulled up to Carla’s house and parked out front. Jason cut the engine.
“You know, the only reason why he got sent to Vietnam was because he got into trouble with the law,” Jason revealed. “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 anyways.”
“So what’s he doing now?” Christine asked.
Jason tried to remember the last time he heard anything about Randy’s father. “I have no idea. Randy hasn’t seen him in years. Last I heard he fell in with a bad crowd.” Jason thought some more of Randy and his father and their similarities. “Just a couple of victims of circumstance.”
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 humorously. “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 once everyone said their hellos. People were in the kitchen and backyard cooking and barbecuing, chatting and laughing while a ballgame was on television in the background.
©2106 Robert Kirkendall