The Game

Kat, Nick, and Robbie face tough fights — and try to find the best way to win.

By Trish Knox

 

The bottle left on the kitchen counter is never a good sign.

Nick slams the fridge shut, rolling his eyes at me, and nods in the direction of the stairs. Mom and Dad’s voices trail down from behind the door of their bedroom above us. Nick reaches around to the counter and turns the radio up, but their voices raise with the volume.

“Old radio” © Mor https://www.flickr.com

I shrug at him. Same old song, another day. A K-Tel commercial tells us not to miss summer hits of ’74, coming soon. Nick cranks the radio even louder as ‘Burning Love’ by that Elvis guy Mom loves so much kicks on.

I don’t know why our parents think we can’t hear them. The walls of these houses are as thin as those model kits my brothers play with. So thin we can hear the Mulligan family next door when their dad knocks them around. We all pretend we don’t see the bruises on Lenny the next day.

“Don’t we have anything other than bologna?” Robbie’s in this eight-year-old whiny stage, and it drives Nick crazy.

“No, we don’t have anything else.” Nick yanks open the fridge and tosses a bottle of mustard over to Robbie. “Eat it or starve.” The bottle plops in Robbie’s lap, the cap pops off, and a streak of yellow squirts onto his shirt.

“Why’d you do that?” Robbie starts to cry.

“Don’t be such a baby.” Nick snatches the bottle back.

“It’s okay, Robbie, it will come out,” I tell him. I jump up, nudging Nick as I lean over the sink to grab the dish cloth. “Leave him alone,” I mutter to my older brother. He towers over me, rail thin in scruffy jeans and a white t-shirt. The other kids teased him when he shot up last year, calling him Bean Pole. Which meant he had to win a few fights before they finally stopped.

The air conditioner propped in the window rattles on, but even that can’t drown Mom and Dad out. It can’t mask the humidity seeping in from outside, either, dampening the stale smell of breakfast mixed with whiskey and burnt toast.

“When is it going to change, Tommy?” Mom wails.

How come she can’t figure out things are never going to change? Even I know that.

“Jesus, there’s no milk,” Nick mutters. His feet slap through the water collecting on the cracked linoleum beneath the leaking fridge. He sits down across from us, his sandwich piled high on a plate.

Dad’s voice is slurred. “Whaddya want from me, Lizzie? You’re never happy. Always sssomeone, sssomewhere’s doin’ better than us.”

“Better than us!”

There’s a crash. My eyes meet Nick’s. Dad’s throwing things again.

“You’re damn right they’re doing better than us. Do you know what it’s like to go to the bank to get money for groceries? AND THE TELLER SAYS THERE’S NO MONEY IN THE ACCOUNT!”

I’m pretty sure the entire street heard that last screeching line. I should’ve known finding that bottle at ten a.m. meant there’d be one helluva fight by lunch time.

“I know you’ve been talkin’ to . . . to . . .”

“To who, Tommy? I don’t talk to anyone.”

“To that guy at . . .” His voice trails off.

“Oh, for god sakes Tommy. Who the hell has time to talk to anyone?” Mom’s half laughing, half crying.

“I know you, Lizzie. I know everything about you. Even when we do it, I know just the way you want it.”

“That’s it. I’m outta here.” Nick pushes off his chair.

There’s another crash from upstairs.

“You guys comin?”

Robbie starts to cry again. “We can’t leave Mom.”

“Don’t be such a chickenshit, Robbie. She’s fine. Besides, he’s too far gone to hurt her, he’ll be crashing soon.”

Robbie turns panicked eyes to me. “Kat, we can’t leave her!” He crosses his arms, the tears rolling down his chubby cheeks.

“He’s never done anything to her before,” Nick tells him. “With any luck, by the time we get back he’ll be passed out. Let’s go.” He heads toward the door.

I gather our plates and dump them in the sink.

“C’mon Robbie.” I take him by the hand. When Nick stops in the front hall to grab a bat and ball and his baseball glove, we grab ours too.

Outside, the Toronto humidity has hit record highs. Heat shimmers off the pavement at the same time it presses down on us, so thick you could swear you can see the wavy lines of it.

“I’m going to see if the guys wanna play. Tell Lenny, and I’ll meet you at the park.” Nick swings the bat over his shoulder and heads for the overgrown field across from us, Robbie trailing behind him.

I watch them go. Robbie looks so small. He rubs the tears from his eyes as he follows Nick. I cross our front yard to Lenny’s house. Through the screen door I can see him sitting in his kitchen.

He jumps up, poking his head out the door. “Yo ‘sup?”

“There’s a game on. Nick’s already on his way, meet us there.”

He bends down to grab his glove. Within seconds, the screen door slams shut behind him and he’s off after my brothers.

Nick and Lenny look out for one another. Like when Nick told Lenny that Robbie was being bullied at school by the oldest Maricano kid. They followed that Maricano kid home one day. Lenny caught up to him on the Queens Drive overpass and pushed him against the railing, his arm in his back, pressing his head down toward the rush of the creek below. Then he dangled him over the railing and told him he better stay away from Robbie. After that, Robbie didn’t have any more trouble from anybody at school.

I walk down the line of houses and round the corner. I can smell Mrs. Santini’s tomato sauce wafting out to the street. It makes my mouth water, and my eyes too—just thinking of the Sunday dinners we used to have at Nana’s and Grandpa’s. After Nana died, that’s when things got worse in our house. It was like Mom came apart, little by little, kind of the way the tile keeps peeling away by the fridge.

Two doors down, Mr. Pesatano is washing his brand new Eldorado. Dad says he must be getting mob money to be able to afford a car like that.

At the end of the street I run up the stairs of the last house on our block. Adana’s family are gathered in their kitchen. Her abuela and abuelo live with them.

Abuela greets me at the door. “Estás justo a tiempo para los huevos.”

I think I dream about Abuela’s huevos. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing like them in the entire country. She does this thing with salsa and sausage. The best ones are served up when they take me camping on summer weekends. Maybe it’s just that all food tastes better cooked over an open fire. Adana’s family cook like they’re expecting a small country to join them at their campsites.

“We were just sitting down. C’mon.” Adana knocks her sister’s arm to make room for me at the table.

They chatter on, all of them talking at once. Adana has three little sisters. I take the salsa passed to me and smother my eggs in it. I love eating at their house.

Their voices are raised. Adana gives me a grin. “Papa says if only I could get extra marks at school for having a smart mouth.”

I smile at her dad. His eyes have wrinkles around them, the kind that make it look like he’s always ready to break out in laughter.

“huevos” © jeffreyw https://www.flickr.com

He gestures to the platter of eggs. “Más. Comer,” he tells me. He rattles off something else in Spanish.

“He said to tell you you’re too skinny, you need to eat more.” Adana laughs.

We help clear the table. Everyone’s still talking as Adana heads for the door. She shoves her feet into her earth shoes. I want a pair just like them but Mom says they cost too much money. Adana grabs her glove from the bench. “Let’s go. Game’s on, right?”

“Nick’s trying to line everyone up. But we need to stop by my place first. I forgot my cap.” I give her the excuse and head toward my house, making her wait outside on the front step because I want to go back in and see if the fight has finally fought its way out.

Dad’s slamming around upstairs, but there’s no sound from Mom. Lately, I’ve become more outspoken, not caring if I end up on Dad’s wrong side too. “Why are you letting him talk to you like that?” I asked Mom last week when he flew into a rage, sending the dinner table and everything on it crashing to the floor.

I stand in the front hall, listening, but all I hear is him, raging. I’m happy to see Mom’s purse and shoes at the front door, she’ll probably head out for groceries to let Dad cool off,
assuming there’s still some money for food.

“C’mon Kat,” Adana calls.

I slip out the front door. We head across the field, down the hill into the ravine. We’ve slayed dragons by this creek. We’re not the kind of girls made for skipping ropes and dresses. I like the way the world grows black with shadows when we’re caught in the rain down here, that half spooked feeling I get until we finally break through the trails and can see the backyards of our neighbors.

We reach the creek. The water level is so low in mid-summer that we skip along the rocks scattered across the water bed and climb the embankment on the other side. As we crest the hill I can see Nick’s had success getting everyone out on the baseball diamond.

“Took you long enough,” he says as we join them. His arms look scrawny. I feel a sliver of guilt at the lunch I just feasted on at Adana’s.

 


 

We all gather round while Nick and Lenny pick teams.

“I’m taking Adana,” Nick says right away. Adana gives him a small smile. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that Nick and Adana seem to have a crush on each other.

Lenny picks Tony and Sal. They live around the corner near Adana, and they’re only a year younger than Nick and Lenny. Like us, they’re semi-detached neighbors.

Nick picks me, which is how we like it because I pitch and Adana will catch for me. We go as a pair, and everyone knows that. I don’t even remember how we slid into this best friends-baseball-dynamic-duo-like-we-were-born-at-the hip-thing, but we’ve been friends since Miss Carmichael sat us beside one another when Adana’s family moved in around the corner and she showed up to class one month into seventh grade.

I poke Nick. “Don’t leave Robbie until the end,” I mutter to him.

He scowls at me. “Don’t tell me how to build my team.”

I can’t help but smile at how Robbie’s face lights up when Nick calls him next.

The sand kicks up, the smell of it mixing with summer and sweat as our game gets going.

I’m on deck, our game barely underway, when I feel the stillness around me. Even the heat has slowed. When I look around I find we’re pretty much surrounded. A group of kids I recognize from the projects on Trethewey are standing at the fence along the third base line, watching us. They’re laughing.

And then, as if a whistle goes off, they wander onto the field, all together, in one graceful line. While everyone in our subdivision backing onto Black Creek is from somewhere else— families from Italy, Ireland, Portugal, South America—the projects are mainly filled with families from Jamaica. One time I asked Mom why that was but all she said was, “It’s just the way it is.” I didn’t know how to tell her that doesn’t seem like a very good reason.

We go to the Catholic school up the road, but we’ve landed in their public school ball diamond to play. Lenny, Tony and Sal run in from the field while Nick comes off our bench. The guys line up across from one another, staring each other down. I hang back. I can tell Nick and the guys are primed for a fight.

“Kat?” Robbie whispers and slides behind me.

“Hey,” Lenny says to the tallest one, who wears a purple knit hat. “What’re you laughing at?”

“Yeah, what’s so funny?” Sal demands.

“Who says we’re laughing at you?” the one in the purple hat asks.

Robbie’s stage whisper isn’t really a whisper. “Dad says we’re not supposed to play with . . .” I bump him with my hip to quiet him.

It’s true. Mom and Dad have warned us away from the projects kids, notorious for their gangs, but I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. Nick and Lenny have been in enough close calls with the cops. There was that brawl just last week where two guys landed in the hospital.

One of the girls with braids wound tight to her head, brightly colored beads woven through each strand, leans right into Robbie. “Hey, baby boy. You playin’ too?” she asks.

Robbie rears back away from her.

“You all here to play ball?” Nick asks them.

Purple hat crosses his arms, looks Nick up and down. “Yah man. We’re ready.”

Lenny smirks. “You guys really think you can beat us?”

“Baseball Glove” © Snapmann http://www.flickr.com

Sal snorts beside him. “Most of them don’t even have gloves.” He smacks Lenny’s arm. “This is gonna be easy.”

Purple hat has a permanent scowl on his face. They call him Mika. He turns to his buddies and they huddle together. Mika does all the talking. Lenny and Sal edge closer to them, looking for trouble, and just as I’m sure a brawl is about to break out, Mika and his friends turn almost as one again, and head out to the field, taking up their positions.

But in the first inning, even our sluggers can’t hit the balls Mika pitches at us. We’ve all been playing together since we could walk, and they’re already wiping the field with us.

“Look at that guy, catching that fly ball with his bare hands.” Nick can’t hide the admiration in his voice. “Running like a gazelle.”

The girl with the braids, they call Taniyah, catches the ball at second base and tags Lenny out before he can get back.

We find ourselves taking to the field with no runs scored. It doesn’t look so easy now, I want to tell Sal.

 


 

When they come up to bat, they jump on my first two pitches and before I know it, they’ve got two men on base.

Mika steps to the plate. He glares at me. He’s got a scar running down his right cheek. It matches the one across Nick’s right eyebrow.

His eyes drill into me.

I concentrate on the plate and wind up.

At the crack of the bat I have just enough time to raise my arm—half in cover, half in attempt to catch the ball in a line drive for my head. I hear the slap as it lands in my glove.

I look up in time to see Sal and Lenny charge the plate.

“Hey, easy.” Mika raises his hands and backs off. “You put your chick out there, she better be tough enough to take it.”

His teammates come off their bench. Nick wanders over and pins Sal and Lenny with a glare. “We don’t fight during the game. You guys wanna fight—we’ll take it over there.” He points to the ravine. “After.”

Taniyah laughs beside me. All of us girls have gathered at the pitcher’s mound to watch. “The boss told them.

Adana smirks. “Don’t let Nick hear you call him that or we’ll never hear the end of it.”

Taniyah glances over to the street where a cop car slows down, stops, then continues on.

“Hey, Mika,” she calls. When he looks up she nods toward the cops.

“Followin’ us everywhere,” she mutters. “Can’t hang at home, can’t hang here.”

“Why are they following you?” I ask. I’m a little worried. It will be tough to explain to Mom and Dad if we’re pulled over by the cops and questioned about god knows what.

“Girl, they don’t need any reason. They just always think we’re up to no good.”

Between innings we pass them our gloves. As Lenny says, if we’re going to win this thing we want to do it fair and square.

Now we’re really playing, there’s no our streets-their streets; no blacks versus whites. No cops pulling anyone over just ’cause. Here is our game. Our own rules made up on our own field.

The game goes into extra innings until we pull it out in the tenth. When Nick slides into home plate to win it, Robbie runs from our bench, tackling him at the plate.

We line up to shake hands. “Game two tomorrow. Ten a.m.?” Nick says to Mika.

Mika nods. “Later.”

 


 

“Did you see the way they caught the ball?” I ask Nick and Lenny. We jog down the slope, Robbie jumping across the creek bed ahead of us. He slips, teeters, and then his foot slides off a rock into the water, soaking his shoe.

“You’re such a spaz,” Nick yells at him. He turns to me, “Yeah, you and Adana will need to step up your batting game. They got power hitting, even their girls are hard core.”

“Even their girls,” Adana and I mimic him, rolling our eyes behind his back. Taniyah and the other girl on their team, Devan, have some serious batting skills, but Adana’s just as good. I’m not known for my hitting but I’ve seen Adana knock it out of the park on more than one occasion.

The rest of the way, the talk is about getting a street game of team tag going in the creek on the weekend.

At home, we pile into the front hall, dumping our gear. The kitchen is exactly as we left it at lunch time.

“Mom?” Robbie calls.

No answer.

Nick shrugs at me and kicks off his shoes, heading into the living room. He turns on the new color television Dad brought home only a couple of weeks ago. We all know he was able to get it because he won at the track. None of our friends have a color T.V. yet.

I’m turning to head upstairs to check on Mom, when an announcer’s voices stops me. “We interrupt this program for a special news bulletin. A short while ago, U.S. President Nixon resigned. After months of speculation . . .” He carries on talking about Watergate and impeachment.

Only last week Dad said Nixon’s a crook and a liar and he deserves whatever he gets.

 


 

Upstairs, I stop outside Mom and Dad’s room. The door is slightly open and I peek in. I can only make out Dad snoring away in bed.

Robbie looks up from his spot on the couch when I wander back into the living room. “Where’s Mom?”

“I don’t know.” I hate that my voice sounds as babyish as his. She should have been back by now. I head to the kitchen to get dinner started, clanging the pots, loud, on purpose, hoping I wake Dad up, because why is he still sleeping like the dead and where’s Mom?

After dinner, Nick slams out of the house. I watch him through the window as he crosses our yard to Lenny’s place.

I disappear to my room.

“Kat?” I look up from reading to find Robbie in my doorway. His voice cracks, “Do you know where Mom is?”

“No, Robbie, I don’t know.” I try to keep the worry from my voice.

“Did you ask Dad?”

I sigh. “Well, he’s still sleeping. Just like Nick said, he’s probably been passed out for hours.”

His mouth trembles.

“It’s ok, Robbie, she’ll be back.”

He breaks into quiet sobs.

“Hey, kiddo.” I pull him into my arms.

“I ttthink…he kkkilled her.”

“No, Robbie. Don’t be silly!”

“I saw blood,” he wails.

My heart drops and I swallow. “Where did you see blood?”

“In the bathroom. He did something to her.”

He’s freaking me out now. “Show me,” I tell him.

He takes me by the hand and leads me down the hall. He stands outside the door, quiet sobs shaking his shoulders.

Dad’s razor blade and some bloody tissue lie on the counter.

I let out a breath.

“Dad just cut himself shaving, Robbie.” In his state, it’s a wonder he didn’t slice his cheek open. “Honest, everything’s ok. C’mon, let’s go outside—I bet you still can’t beat me at jacks.”

I wonder where Mom went. A little tremor of worry skitters through me.

 


 

Robbie climbs into bed with me in the middle of the night. Dad hasn’t come to; the only thing telling us he’s still alive are the gargantuan snores coming from their room. I think back to Mom’s purse and shoes at the door. She’s left before, but she always took us with her.

I switch on my transistor radio stuffed underneath my pillow. I pull Robbie close and fall asleep curled around him, my heart beating in time with his.

In the morning, Mom’s still not back. We barely speak to one another, silence allowing us to pretend nothing’s terribly wrong in our house.

Just before ten a.m., I follow Nick and Lenny into the ravine. Adana’s behind us teasing Robbie about his new mullet haircut. He wants so badly to be one of the big boys. I’m not really paying much attention, I’m worried that we haven’t seen Mom since yesterday afternoon.

I squint ahead of me, distracted by a glint of sunshine bouncing off something Nick passes to Lenny. I peer closer as I jog up to them and nod at the knife Lenny’s slipping into his pocket. “What’s that?”

“Nothing,” Lenny says.

“It’s not nothing. Why do you need a knife to play a baseball game?”

“They’re gonna have more guys today. I heard them complaining after they lost,” Nick tells me. “We need to be ready.”

“I’m not playing if you guys are going to turn this into a knife fight.”

“Mellow out, Kat. It’s just to be ready, that’s all. I’m not gonna start anything.”

I don’t like the look on Nick’s face or the glance he exchanges with Lenny. They’re all psyched up, and I don’t know if it’s for the game or the promise of a fight.

 


 

Nick and Lenny are right. Mika and Taniyah’s team is full of new players; they outnumber us two to one.

“If something starts going down, you and Adana take Robbie and book it,” Nick tells me.

He turns to Lenny. “We need Saunders and Keys tomorrow.” Jimmy Saunders and Ricky Keys are older than Nick and working for the summer, but they’re our heaviest hitters and scrappiest scrappers. Keys has already done time in juvie.

Mika stares at Nick as we huddle at home plate for the coin toss. In Mika’s eyes there’s a mixture of mistrust, the always on-guardedness that says he needs to be ready for a fight.

In the end, there’s no need for a fight to break out, we battle it out on the field. Leon, the one who catches with his bare hands, is another of their sluggers. We hold them off until Mika wipes up in the 8th with a grand slam. I know as soon as the ball leaves my hand it`s over.

Their guys do a happy dance, carrying on at home plate. Taniyah wanders over to our bench to return the ball from the outfield and rolls her eyes at me. “They act like this is the World Series.”

I shrug. I figure they should be hoisting Taniyah; she’s the one who loaded the bases so Mika could win it.

She reaches out with a playful tip of Robbie’s cap, “Slugger in the making, aren’t you?”

We agree to meet for the tie breaker tomorrow, which is a good thing because it’s Saturday, and Saunders and Keys can make it.

We’re silent on the way home, at least no one says that I lost the game for us.

 


 

“Look who’s here.” Nick nudges me as we cross the field and our house comes into sight. Aunt Marisa’s car is in our driveway. Her voice carries out to us as we climb the steps, and we stop on the porch to listen. I peer around Nick to find Dad slumped at the kitchen table.

“You need to leave the house, Tommy. Today.” Aunt Marisa stands over him. “Lizzie will keep the kids.”

“Mom’s with Aunt Marisa!” Robbie whispers, a smile breaking across his face.

I let out a breath.

Aunt Marisa’s wearing Jackie O sunglasses and a jumpsuit, looking like she’s ready to go to the disco. I always think that beside Aunt Marisa our mom looks faded.

Dad snorts. “How’s she gonna do that? She got a magic money tree she hasn’t told me about in the backyard?”

“She has a job.”

He laughs this time. “What? Stripping?”

“You’re such an ass, Tommy. We both know she can do a lot better than that. She’s finally getting away from you; I’m taking the kids to her. Now.”

Nick swears and yanks open the screen door. “I’m not going.” They both turn to stare at him standing with his hands on his hips in the doorway. “I can’t miss my paper route, I need the bread.”

I swing around at a small mewling noise from Robbie, one that sounds like Lenny’s cat when it got trapped in the tree in our yard. His voice is barely a whisper. “You . . . you have to come with us, Nick,” he squeaks out.

Nick shakes his head.

I wait. I will him to say yes. We stick together, the three of us. That’s what I want him to think.

Nick looks at Robbie. Then at me.

He swears softly under his breath. “Fine.”

He stalks across the room. Dad rears back as Nick shoves his face right up into his and pokes him in the chest. “You’re crazy. And you need to get the hell out of here so we can come home.”

We’re halfway across town in Aunt Marisa’s brand new Camaro when Nick punches the door. “We’re going to miss the game. There’s no way we’ll win without your pitching and my hitting.”

I wait a heartbeat for one of his put downs, but none comes. He just said we can’t win without my pitching. I let his words slide around in my head and settle in my heart. I don’t let on how much they mean to me.

 


 

Mom runs down the steps as soon as we pull into the driveway. She doesn’t look like she’s slept at all. Her black hair is tied up in a floral kerchief around her head. She hoists Robbie into her arms. He buries his head in her shoulder as Mom tells him, “I missed you.” Her eyes meet mine and then Nick’s. “I really missed you.” She ruffles my hair as we follow Aunt Marisa into the house. “You look after your brother, Kat?”

I swallow down all my questions starting with why she left without us and nod up at her.

There’s air conditioning in every room at Aunt Marisa’s and Uncle Mark’s. And new carpet. They always have new something. Dad hates going to their house.

Robbie doesn’t leave Mom’s side all night. Later, after my brothers are in bed, I crawl out to the landing on the second floor. Mom and Aunt Marisa sit on the front porch, smoking, a pitcher of wine between them. The crickets are as loud as thunder in the late evening heat. Mom’s voice carries up to me crouched on the landing.

“That lawyer told me to go home to my husband and come back when I had a job and some money.” Her voice cracks on her words. “He said he’s seen women like me and I’ll end up on the streets with my kids. Go back home, he told me, flashing his gold cuff links at me.”

“You’re not going to end up on the streets, Lizzie,” Aunt Marisa tells her. “And that guy’s a horse’s arse. We’ll get you a better lawyer.”

 


 

In the morning, I slip out of the house before anyone wakes up. I have a plan, but I’ll need to work fast.

A little later, when I burst in, Nick and Robbie are still in their room. “I got us bus tickets and the map,” I announce, dumping my purchase onto their bed. I used up almost all my savings. “We can get to the game in time if we leave in a half hour.”

Nick examines the map while Robbie jumps on the bed. “We’re going to the game!”

Nick’s eyes meet mine. “You’re pretty decent, Kat.”

That’s two compliments in less than twenty-four hours from my big brother.

 


 

I lean my head back against the bus seat, sandwiched between Nick and Robbie. I’ve estimated it should take us forty minutes to get home. We left a note for Mom telling her we’d be back this afternoon.

“End of the line,” the driver calls a short time later. Too short. I look at my watch. It’s only been fifteen minutes. I frown and peer out the window. Nothing looks familiar.

“What are we doing here?” Nick asks. “I thought you said you bought tickets to get us home.”

“I did,” I tell them, but the bus is emptying and when we make our way down the aisle to the driver to ask him, he grunts at us. “You were supposed to get on the express bus. Take bus thirty-two from here.”

We file off the bus and stand on the street in the middle of nowhere, no money, no plan, because the one I thought I’d so cleverly calculated has just driven away leaving behind the stink of exhaust.

“Hang on,” Nick says. He dumps his backpack onto the sidewalk. “How much do we need?”

“Thirty cents.” I chew on my glove.

He looks up with a grin. “Got it!”

The bus takes forever to come. Robbie keeps asking what time it is, hopping around from foot to foot, until Nick finally tells him to shut up.

“They won’t wait and we’ll forfeit,” Nick mutters.

It’s nine forty-five when the bus finally pulls up.

It stops at every red light. Robbie asks what time it is every five minutes.

We stand up as it drives past the plaza with our pizza hangout.

As we get off, Robbie trips on the bottom step and lands on his knees. Nick bends down and one-arms him to his feet. “C’mon, Robbie. Don’t you start,” he warns as Robbie’s eyes fill with tears.

It’s five past ten. We’ve got two blocks to go before we get to the park.

Nick slings Robbie onto his back and starts to jog. I run along beside them. We round the side of the school to the playground. They’re all standing out on the field at home plate. I can make out Lenny and Sal, their arms crossed. I pray they haven’t forfeited yet.

Sweat streams down my neck.

We keep running. Blood trickles down Robbie’s leg from his fall off the bus.

Adana looks up and screams. She breaks out in a sprint toward us.

Robbie bounces on Nick’s back, thumping him. “We made it! We made it!”

The guys turn as one to peer at us. They high five one another and follow after Adana to meet us.

Lenny hoists Robbie onto his shoulders and we all jog back to the field, running like champions, like we’ve already won the game.

I look up to find Mika, Taniyah and their teammates charging toward us. Nick stiffens beside me.

“Baseball field” © fideru https://www.flickr.com

They pull up short in front of us. Mika’s smiling. They’re all smiling, like they’re as happy to see us as our own friends. Taniyah gives a whoop and high fives Robbie. The beads in her braids click together like a song. She turns to me. “You’re here.”

“Well, I couldn’t let you girls be so badly outnumbered.”

Adana hugs me. “I didn’t know what happened to you. I stood at your door for ten minutes this morning, but no one came.”

“I thought yo mama didn’t let you out to play today,” Mika says on a laugh as he offers his hand to Nick.

There won’t be any need for the knives after all. No matter who wins, there’ll be no fights. Game on.

 


By day, Trish’s head is full of marketing jargon and keeping up with the event company she owns. But the evenings are for stories and poetry. She’s had a short story published in “Commuter Lit,” an online literary journal. You can find her on Twitter @TrishWrites1 and her blog where she joins poetry challenges at trishwrites1.wordpress.com
She lives in Toronto with her husband and three grown children.

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