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SUMMARY: Two boys growing up together in an idyllic beachfront community share a passion for baseball. One excels at the game and plays it with reckless abandon; the other, less talented, studies the game and those who play it, hoping someday to share what he learns with others. Best friends since childhood, the two have seen how baseball can bring them closer together. Now, having just graduated from high school, it’s about to show them a crueler side of the game. Baseball is about to separate them even though neither wants that to happen. You can find a longer synopsis of the entire story here. Please note that italics are typically used to indicate what a character is thinking or saying to himself.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Unless otherwise indicated by context, all of the characters, leagues, stadiums, teams and clubs portrayed or mentioned in this story are fictional, not depictions of real people, leagues, stadiums, teams and clubs. Please note that the story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you do not like or approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting that you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
NOTICE: This story is my property and protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. It may not be reproduced in any form without my written permission. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author. However, you may not use this work for commercial purposes or to profit from it in any way. You may not use any of the characters, leagues, stadiums, teams, clubs, or other fictional locations described in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon the story in any way. If you share this story with others, you must make clear the terms under which it is licensed to them. The best way to do that is by linking to this web page.
NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there is something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so. September 2:. I got back a little earlier than planned so I’m posting this myself tonight. I’m renewed, recharged, refreshed, and ready for more. Hopefully you are as well. In any event, have fun reading and be sure to let me know what you think.
The next day I sought out D.W. and asked him about his plans for the off season.
“Are you heading back home to Asheville?”
“No,” he responded, grimacing.
I could tell he was trying to decide whether to say more because he hesitated momentarily. Then everything came pouring out.
“There’s nothing there for me anymore, Ethan; nothing at all. I called my brother from the motel the last time we were down there, but he never answered his phone. Later I went over to the house and hung around outside for a couple of hours. Eventually he came out and I tried to talk to him, but he said he didn’t have anything to say to me; that I was sinner and his heart was closed to me until I repented and accepted Jesus.”
“It hurt, Ethan. It hurt something fierce.”
“I’m sorry,” I responded softly.
And I was; I was genuinely sorry because you could tell just by looking at him that D.W. was in pain. I regretted ever mentioning the place.
“It made me cry, Ethan,” he continued. “I cried the whole way walking back to the motel. That boy has so much potential. He could be anything he wanted to be, but all he wants to be is a minister like that wacko father of ours who spends his life spewing bigotry and hate.”
“Why would God let my father poison someone’s mind and heart like that, Ethan? I don’t understand how that can be part of God’s plan for things. Do you?”
By now he was struggling to hold back the tears.
“I don’t know what to tell you, D.W.” I responded. “I’m not real religious myself, but maybe God has different plans for you and your brother right now. Maybe He wants you to be somewhere else helping others like Brady and me; and maybe His plan is to bring you and your brother back together again at some later time for a purpose we don’t understand at the moment.”
“And then, when that happens, maybe being reconciled with your brother will be all the sweeter. No one can really know God’s plan for us, D.W. All we can do is to try to stay positive and hope for the best.”
Deep down inside I didn’t believe any of that, but it was the only thing I could think of that might comfort D.W. somehow; and I think it did comfort him.
“Thanks, Ethan,” he said. “You always say just the right thing. I never make a mistake listening to you. I’ll try to stay positive.”
“And as for your question, the truth is I don’t really have any big plans. Last year I stayed around here for a month or so and then headed down to Florida because that’s where everyone else seemed to be going. I never did get picked up by any of the teams down there so I’m thinking of just getting a job around here and spending the off season in Shoreham making some money.”
That gave me the opening I was looking for.
“Well, look, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to come down to Rehoboth Beach and spend some time with me,” I said; “maybe not the whole winter if you don’t want to do that although you’re more than welcome to. If not, maybe just some time to recharge the batteries. You know what I mean?”
“You could stay at our house so that would save you some money; and you would save even more on food that way as well because my Mom’s a terrific cook. You might even be able to get a job part-time and save up some money too.”
“Plus it would be cool having you around. Maybe we could even work out together at the high school or one of the local gyms.”
“Oh, give me a break, Ethan,” he responded, grinning. “Me? Working out? I’m old school that way. All those weights and machines just make you muscle bound. They don’t help with your game at all.”
“I think they’re helping me some,” I responded. “I’ve put on five pounds since I’ve been here in Shoreham and I’m feeling stronger too.”
“Do I seem more muscular?” I asked, flexing my arms for him.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said, touching one of his fingers to my head and laughing. “You’ve gotten a lot more muscular up here.”
I remember being embarrassed I had raised the whole thing.
“But I’ll think about it,” D.W. added. “I liked that little town of yours when we were down there that last time. It was a lot of fun.”
“Well, don’t get the wrong idea,” I said. “I mean, you were there at the height of the season. It closes down pretty tight in the fall and winter and there isn’t that much to do. That’s the only reason I mentioned working out together. You could soak in my beauty and watch my growing biceps with the admiration they’re due.”
“You love deluding yourself like that, don’t you?” he replied, grinning.
We were on still another road trip now, one would take us 367 miles south to Greensboro, North Carolina, to play the Greensboro Fliers; then north 320 miles to make up that earlier game that had been washed out against the Hagerstown Raptors and to play a couple of others; and finally 228 miles east where we would finish up with three games against the Toms River, New Jersey, Pelicans. From there it would be a mere 187 miles south back to Shoreham.
Unlike some others, this road trip was going to be a piece of cake; just nine games over ten days and a little over 1100 miles. And yet no one was looking forward to it and it wasn’t hard to understand why. By this time whatever magic we had developed during our mid-season winning streak was long gone. We were back to our losing ways and we were losing in ways that were hard to believe at times.
Not that it was affecting my play at all. At some point, my body and mind had adjusted to playing day after day and, for whatever reason, I was playing better. Maybe I was learning how to adjust to all the travel and being away from home for the first time in my life. Maybe it was working out with Mark at the stadium during the day or in bed at night.
Whatever the reason, my game seemed to be improving, especially at the plate where it needed to get better if I was ever to have any serious hope of making it to the major leagues. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I had always been a good hitter. But the pitching I was facing these days was better and it had taken some time to adjust to that.
It was after the Saturday night game in Greensboro that Grady pulled me aside.
“Let’s go over to the McDonald’s across the street and get some coffee,” he suggested.
He seemed kind of serious and I wondered if I had done something wrong. I couldn’t think of anything, but it was obvious he wasn’t just looking for company, that something was going on.
As McDonald’s go, this one was pretty good. Grady ordered his coffee while I just asked for a cup to get some free water. The two of us sat there talking about that evening’s game. Like many of the games we had played, we should have won. But somehow we had managed to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Ordinarily, that would have been enough to keep Grady talking for a long time that evening. He liked to talk through the losses with me now so he could understand them better and make the adjustments he decided were needed to give us a better chance of winning the next day. In the process, I was learning things I never would have thought about before.
That evening he didn’t spend very much time examining our loss, however; and the longer we sat there talking, the more I sensed Grady had something he wanted to share. But he was always the kind of guy who got to things when he thought the time was just right. When he finally coughed and looked over at me, I figured that time had arrived.
“I got a call from the boys up in Baltimore just before we left on this trip, Ethan,” he began. “I’ve been keeping them informed of your progress and they’ve been pretty impressed with how you’ve done these last couple of months. In fact, they’ve decided to send you out to Arizona in October to participate in the Invitational.”
That came as a surprise. I had kind of heard of the Arizona Invitational, but had never really given it any thought.
“Um, well, I’ve been planning to go back to Rehoboth Beach after the season ends and get a job for the winter,” I said. “I need to make some money. I’m not sure I want to go to Arizona, Coach.”
Grady just stared at me for a moment and then shook his head.
“This isn’t really your choice, Ethan,” he responded. “You’re under contract. They make the decisions where you go and what you do. Once they’ve decided, it’s time to play ball; and you’ll get paid, of course.”
“The thing is, this isn’t some little half-ass decision either. This is a big fucking deal, son.”
“A BIG fucking deal,” he added, to emphasize the point.
“Every year each of the teams in the PBLA sends six of their top prospects out to Arizona in the fall. Just six, Ethan; think about that. It’s a pretty exclusive club. Usually all six are from their AAA or AA teams, but each club can opt to send one Class A player as well if they choose. Hardly any do.”
“Who gets sent partly depends on the position draft the teams hold. This year shortstop was one of the positions the Blues got selected to fill. I figured they would send Nestor Santiago from Portsmouth because he’s almost ready for the big dance, but apparently he tweaked his knee and is going home to Venezuela. He’ll play some winter league ball down there when his knee is better. In the meantime, the Blues need to fill his spot on the roster and they’ve decided to send you in his place.”
Grady was staring at me closely now, but I guess what he was saying still hadn’t registered because I couldn’t think of anything to say in response.
“The point is, if things go well in Arizona, anything is possible. You could end up playing next year with Rockville or Columbia.”
“I mean, that’s the whole point of the Invitational, to help accelerate a player’s development and hopefully get him up to the big dance faster. Mark my word, Ethan; when word gets out about this, you’ll see. Guys will start treating you differently. They’ll figure you’re on your way to the big dance and they’ll be right, assuming you do a good job, of course.”
“How many games?” I asked. “How much travel?”
“They play a little over thirty games in October and November so you’ll actually get some time off before you have to leave; and then again you’ll have some time off after you finish up before spring training begins. There isn’t a lot of travel involved other than getting to Arizona. The team will pay for that, of course, and for your hotel. You’ll get a better per diem for food as well.”
“The stadiums the teams play in are first class facilities and the beauty of it is they’re close to one another. No thousand mile bus trips to play a game. Like I said, primo facilities; everything is geared toward success. If things go well, you might even get a non-roster invitation to join the Blues at spring training in February. But now I’m looking ahead too far.”
“For the time being, you need to get your head around this and get into it. This is a hell of a big chance for you, son.”
“Did you ever play there, Coach?” I asked.
“The Invitational wasn’t around when I played minor league ball,” Grady replied. “But I did manage out there for a couple of years. That’s another reason for the Invitational, to help managers, coaches and umpires develop, not just players. I didn’t like it that much though.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s super competitive, Ethan,” Grady responded. “I mean, you’re going up against the best of the best and everyone knows how important it is. Guys are looking to succeed and they’ll do just about anything they can to make a case for themselves. Truth be told, they don’t want to just look good themselves. They want you to look bad. I mean, it’s ruthless as hell so there isn’t much joy to the thing.”
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty old now, Ethan,” Grady continued. “I still love the game as much as I ever did and I love teaching it to young ball players like you who are receptive to learning. I had the fire one time. I wanted to play at the major league level and I did and I enjoyed my time in the majors.”
“That’s been out of my system for a long time now, but those young bucks out there? Most of them can taste the big dance in that Arizona dust. They know it brings the big money and that’s what they want. Not too many guys play for the sheer fun of it anymore like my friends and I used to do.”
“But that’s neither here nor there. We’ll talk again before you head out there, but the main thing to remember is that every one of those guys would cut your throat to get to the big dance. You won’t make any friends out in Arizona, Ethan.”
“But the coaches are good. Assuming you can get one to pay attention to you, of course; they’re spread pretty thin. But if you can and you listen to them and work really hard, you can improve your game a lot in a short time. For a Class A player like you, that’s especially true because you’ll be going up against much tougher competition than you’ve faced this year; a lot tougher.”
“It’s going to be a challenge, no doubt about it; a big one. It would be for anyone who’s only played Class A ball. That’s why most of the teams don’t send anyone from that level. For all I know, you might be the only Class A player participating this year.”
It was finally beginning to sink in. If Grady thought this was a big deal, who was I to argue?
“Um, well, is this something I can talk about with Mark and D.W. or share with my Mom?”
“Sure,” Grady responded. “Everyone will know tomorrow first thing. I’m going to put up a notice about it on the bulletin board in the morning along with the starting lineup for the game tomorrow night. So it won’t be a secret. But I wanted you to hear about it from me first.”
“You can go back to the hotel now if you want. I’m going to have another cup of coffee. I need to think about tonight’s game some more. We should have won that game, Ethan. You know that, don’t you?”
“I do, Coach,” I responded. “We’re going to win tomorrow night. You watch. We’re going to win.”
Grady smiled at me and nodded his head.
“That’s what I like about you, Ethan,” he said. “Still young enough to have a positive attitude; the cynicism will come later. But who knows? I doubt it, but maybe we will win after all.”
“In any event, try to get some sleep and have a good game tomorrow night so those dudes up in Baltimore won’t think I’m an idiot for suggesting you for this. Make me proud, Ethan. You have the talent, skills and abilities to go all the way. The only thing I worry about with you is whether you have the fire in the belly.”
“You have to want it real bad, son. It has to be the most important thing in your life, the only thing in your life really; and right now it isn’t, partly because you still harbor too many self-doubts to believe you can do it. You don’t understand how good you are and how much better you’re going to become with hard work.”
“In any event, like I said, try to get a good night’s sleep. From now on a lot more people than me are going to be keeping an eye on you.”
“Thanks, Coach,” I responded.
We stood up and he offered me his hand.
Then I turned and headed back across the street to the hotel. I wasn’t sure what to think about what had just happened, but I knew my life was about to change again and change really soon.
I told Mark when I got back to the hotel that evening and he spent the next hour telling me everything he knew about the Invitational. It turned out he knew a lot and I tried to pick his brain to figure out how I should approach the whole thing. But it wasn’t the kind of thing you could prepare for. It was about doing, not thinking.
D.W. was the first to come by and congratulate me the next morning. He was smiling.
“Oh, jeez, I don’t even know if I’m allowed in your presence anymore, sahib,” he said, bowing down as if I was some kind of royal prince. “Let alone talk to someone like you. I mean, I’ve never heard of anyone from Class A being invited to Arizona, let alone my very best buddy.”
“You still are my buddy, aren’t you, Ethan? I mean, I know it’s asking a lot, but could I get your autograph, sir,” he added, shoving a program and a pen into my hand.
By then he was smirking so I decided to play along.
“You want my autograph, peon,” I replied. “I’ll give you my autograph. I’m going to autograph that ass of yours,” I said, rushing toward him and trying to wrestle him down to the ground.
D.W. started laughing and soon enough we were rolling around on the floor while some of the guests stared at the two of us as they passed by. I was trying to find the pen with one hand and to pull down his pants with my other one and by now D.W. was hysterical as I started to scribble my name on his hip.
The next thing I knew Brady was standing above the two of us, staring down at D.W. and me. He was smiling.
“Are you putting a move on D.W., Ethan?” he asked. “I can understand why, but D.W.’s mine and I’m not sharing his ass with you.”
There was just something about the way he said it that was funny and both D.W. and me began laughing at the same time.
I abandoned my effort to scribble my name on him and the two of us stood up.
“Seriously,” D.W. said. “I mean, I’m impressed, Ethan. I mean, I’ve known you were good from the beginning, but the Invitational? Wow! That’s impressive.”
“Don’t you think that’s impressive, Brady?” he added, reaching over and tousling Brady’s hair.
“It is,” Brady replied, letting D.W. mess with his hair. “My Dad says Ethan is going to make it to the big dance one day. I hope he’ll still be my friend when he does.”
“Of course I’ll be your friend, Brady,” I replied. “I mean, like I’ve told you a million times, it’s you, me and D.W. We’re the three musketeers; all for one, one for all.”
“En garde,” I said, pretending to whip out my sword, pointing it at him, and doing my little dance.
“You look so gay when you do that, Ethan,” he replied.
I remember blushing the moment he said it and then D.W. was pointing at me and laughing. He followed that up by high-fiving Brady and the two of them mimicked my gesture, just making it a little swishier.
“Um, well, I usually appreciate your honesty, Brady, but this time I could have used a little less,” I finally replied.
“Oh, I didn’t say it to be nasty,” he replied. “I would like you no matter what. Not as much as D.W., of course. D.W. is my main man around here. But you’re pretty close, Ethan. It’s just that my Dad keeps telling me not to get too attached to you because you won’t be around very long.”
I looked at D.W. and then back at Brady. Being totally honest and transparent, the kid had a way of saying things others were thinking but left unsaid.
“You know what, Brady,” I responded. “I don’t even want to go to Arizona. I want to stay here with you guys forever. I love you.”
Neither Brady nor D.W. said anything in response. I mean, what could they say? But I was glad I had been honest with them. They knew what I knew, that I didn’t really have any say in the matter; that someone further up in the organization had made a decision and there wasn’t anything any of us could do about it.
More importantly, they also knew how much I cared about them. They may have been a little embarrassed by the way I said it straight out like that, but I was sure they felt pretty much the same way as me.
By now we were down to the final few games of the season. True to the form we had displayed most of the year, we were streaking. The only problem was we were streaking in the wrong direction, deeper and deeper into last place.
We were on a long losing streak now and it was depressing. Day after day we seemed to find new ways of losing and it was driving Grady crazy. There were games where we would build up an early lead that seemed insurmountable, only to watch in horror as our opponent came storming back to win, sometimes on their very last at bat.
Every day it seemed to be something different. One of the outfielders would lose the ball in the sun or the shadows. A pitcher’s arm, lively for most of the game, would suddenly die, allowing the opposing batters to feast on fast balls that had lost their heat, curve balls that never broke, and change ups that just hung in the air asking to be slammed out of the park.
Like I said, it was driving Grady crazy and that made me worry. Grady was in pretty good shape for his age, but the man was old and I worried that his emotional outbursts, the constant fighting with umpires, the chairs he kicked against the wall in the locker room, would eventually take a toll on his heart, if they hadn’t already done so.
The guy had the biggest heart in the world and I felt ashamed more than once he was stuck down here in the minors coaching a bunch of losers like us. He deserved better. But as long as he knew we were trying, he loved us, at least most of us, no matter how badly we played.
On the positive side, Grady always believed the world began anew every day. Each night was going to be the one we broke that losing streak we were in. I found myself pressing, trying really hard to win games single-handedly. But it’s a team sport after all and it just never came together for us. Our very last game that season was against the Hickory Pilots in Hickory, North Carolina.
We managed to keep it close most of the game. It was tied 2 to 2 in the bottom of the ninth and it looked like we were headed for extra innings. But then Marshall Hennings’ arm died. The first pitch he tossed in the bottom of the ninth ended up as a walk off home run for the Pilots. Watching it sail over the wall stuck in my craw, but there was nothing I could do about it. The season was over.
The bus ride from Hickory to Shoreham is 463 miles. It would have been a long bus ride in any event, but losing like that made it even tougher. Just looking around the bus you could see guys were glad the season was over. No one likes losing. No one likes playing for the team that finishes in last place; and somewhere deep in the recesses of their minds, every one of those guys was plotting their escape from the Heat next season.
Like most of the rest of their dreams, it would never pan out. They would keep playing the game at the minor league level because they loved it so much and dreams never die easily; and then one day it would all come to an end.
Facing up to the truth, a few of them would abandon the dream voluntarily; others, less realistic, would be called in to see the manager and be given their release, some of them crying, some of them kicking and screaming and protesting they could still play the game. But that was still somewhere far off in the future for most of the guys on the Heat.
For now fall was approaching and fall would be followed by winter, enough time to get over the hurt. Anything seems possible in the off season. In the off season, everyone can dream of winning the championship, of making it to the big dance, of finding someone special to love and living happily ever after. Even for last place teams like the Heat, hope eventually returns.
Finally we pulled into the parking lot at Lloyd H. Fisher stadium. It wasn’t the best possible venue for it, but it was the only chance we would have for saying our good-byes. I took some time to talk with most of the guys on the team, to wish them the best of luck and thank them for everything they had done to help me become a better player.
As I approached Anthony Carridi, he turned away to hide the tears streaming down his face.
“Hey, why are you crying?” I asked.
“I guess you haven’t heard, have you?” he responded. “Grady pulled me aside just before we got on the bus down in Hickory. They’ve decided to release me and Dylan. What am I going to do, Ethan? Baseball has been my whole life for so long. What do I do now?”
“I’m so sorry, Anthony,” I replied, shocked by the news. “I know it doesn’t make it any better, but what happened to you is going to happen to all of us one day. And we’ll do the same thing you’re going to do; we’ll go back home, pick up the pieces, and find some way to stay connected to the game, maybe playing semi-pro ball or coaching or whatever.”
“You’re a terrific player, Anthony, better than almost everyone who plays the game. But you’re an even better person and you’re going to make a difference in a lot of lives. You already have for me. You’ve never given up before, Anthony. Don’t give up now. You’re my friend and you have too much to offer to give up.”
We talked for a little while longer and promised to stay in touch. Maybe we would; maybe not. But both of us wanted to at that moment and it helped knowing we wanted to.
Eventually I said my good-byes to Grady, promising to stay in touch once I got out to Arizona. Then, walking over, I gave Brady a hug.
“Be sure to hold down the fort until I get back here next spring,” I said.
“Sure,” he responded. “If you do; part of me doubts you will, but the selfish part of me hopes so. We’re the three musketeers after all, you, me and D.W.”
Then he smiled, pretended to pull out a sword, and did a little dance for me. He was better at it than me and his little dance made me smile. I gave him one final hug. Then Mark and I drove back to his place.
Zachary and I had said our good-byes before the road trip. He took it hard, but I had promised to drive down to Shoreham sometime before the end of the year to see him. That seemed to help, at least some.
D.W. was planning to come by early the next morning to pick me up. He had decided to join me in Rehoboth Beach, at least until I headed out to Arizona. I wasn’t bringing very much home with me. Mark had rented a storage bin for the winter and had let me put most of my stuff in there for free.
I don’t know when it had happened exactly, but we hadn’t been having sex very much lately and that night was no exception. Both of us were tired from playing, from the bus trip, from the weight of a losing season. We hugged momentarily, retired to our respective beds and fell asleep quickly.
True to his word, D.W. came by around 8 a.m. the next morning. That final departure turned out to be more difficult than I had expected. I wanted to do more than just give Mark a final handshake. I wanted to hug him and thank him for everything he had done for me over the past couple of months. I wanted to make one final effort at kissing him, to tell him I loved him because I did love him in a way; just not the way I loved Hunter.
Later I would understand better how much I needed someone like Mark in my life that summer. I would recognize I had been clinging to him because he offered the hope there could be someone special in my life. But I had waited too long that morning and now D.W. was standing there. I could tell from Mark’s body language that he didn’t want anything that might suggest we were anything more than just teammates, at least not in front of D.W.
So I just gave him a little punch to his shoulder like guys sometimes do.
“Thanks for everything, Mark,” I said. “It’s been awesome. I’ll see you next spring.”
“It was fun, Ethan,” he responded. “But you need to tear up the Arizona Invitational so we don’t see one another next year, at least not here in Shoreham.”
It was tough hearing him say that and I remember biting my lip. I piled the few things I was bringing home into D.W.’s car, climbed into the front passenger seat, and then we were off.
As we started to descend the hill that led to the road I spotted Zachary peeking out from behind a tree. He was alone and gave me a little wave. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, but somehow I managed to hold things together and gave him a thumbs up; then we were on the road headed east and I was thankful for that. I wouldn’t have been able to hold things together much longer.
I tried to tell myself it wasn’t really over between Mark and me; that I would be back the following season and we would pick up where things had left off and things would get better between us.
It was a lie and I knew it was a lie even then, but it was one of those lies you tell yourself that make it easier to go on when you’re not really sure you want to.
It wasn’t just Mark I was mourning for in any event. I was mourning for Grady and Brady, for Zachary and Anthony and all of the rest of the guys I had gotten to know and love that season.
I couldn’t be certain, of course, but something was telling me I might not be back the following spring. Knowing that, I remember feeling the same way I had felt in June when my Mom had driven me down to Shoreham the very first time.
Neither D.W. nor I said very much on the drive east that morning and it seemed to pass rather quickly. As we drove the final leg north through Dewey, I could feel my heart beginning to beat just a little faster, the sadness beginning to lift.
You’re wrong, Ethan. Nothing is going to change, nothing at all. You’re going to be back in Shoreham next spring and get to see all of your friends again. Count on it, dude.
Nothing was going to change.
I was sure of it.
But for now I was home, home after what seemed like an endless summer, home with the people I loved the most close by.
Home at last.