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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.
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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.
SUMMER BOYS, SUMMER DREAMS
Normally it would have been my father driving me back to campus the following Sunday, but this time I had asked my mother to do so instead. It was the last thing in the world I wanted to do given the relationship between us, but I needed her help with the place I had rented.
It wouldn’t be good enough for her, of course. I knew that. Too little room for too much money in too old a building, and almost certainly located in the wrong neighborhood. The truth is, wherever I rented would have been the wrong place for my mother. Still, even knowing I would have to listen to all of that, I had invited her to drive me back because I figured she would know how to make the place a little more welcoming, a little less sparse.
Having lived at home or in dormitories all my life, I was totally clueless when it came to things like that; how to furnish a place and make it feel like a real home. It had never been that big a deal when I was living in the dorms because space was tight. But now I had my very own place and what I was bringing from home wouldn’t begin to make it livable.
Mostly it was the usual stuff that would help fill my bedroom; some posters to cover the walls, my favorite pillow, a beanbag chair where I could sit and read and listen to music, and one of those lamps with multiple light fixtures you could position in different ways depending on where you wanted the light to shine.
I was also bringing my laptop, some of the rest of my electronics, and a bunch of pictures of me and Ethan, mostly from when we were younger. But there was also a more recent one of him in his old Delmarva Heat uniform that was my personal favorite. To me he looked perfect in that picture; even now, years later, I still thought it was the best picture of him ever taken.
I had asked him to autograph it for me, but he was embarrassed about that and resisted the idea for a long time. He thought autographing things implied a relationship that wasn’t the way things were between the two of us.
“Oh, come on, Hunter,” he said at the time. “You’re not just some fan who watches one of my games. You’re a lot more important to me than that and you certainly deserve a lot more than some stupid autograph. You deserve all of me, not just some handwriting.”
“Yeah, but right now I don’t have any of you,” I replied. “You’re playing over in Shoreham and I’m stuck back here in Rehoboth Beach getting ready to head off to college. It would be nice to have something to remember you by before you become a big star and forget about people like me.”
“I’ll never forget you, Hunter. Never! It hurts knowing you think I would.”
I was sorry I had said it, but that didn’t stop me from bugging him. In the end, he finally autographed it to escape all the pestering he was getting from me.
Over the years I had looked at that inscription a lot. There was something about it that held my attention whenever I did; and realizing the impossible challenge I had set for Ethan, it seemed to me he had hit the ball out of the park with those words, at least as far as I was concerned.
But that’s neither here nor there, I suppose. The point is, I was just bringing along enough stuff to fill my bedroom. There wasn’t really anything at all for the rest of the place; and knowing that, I was definitely open to suggestions for making it more livable, even from my mother.
There was nothing she loved more than shopping and she probably would have made an excellent interior decorator if she had ever wanted a career. But she didn’t. She liked being a stay at home wife.
My mind was somewhere else when she suddenly spoke up.
“Well, Hunter, I have to say you surprised me,” she volunteered, breaking the silence that had engulfed us as we drove north toward Newark.
“Honestly, I never thought you would make it to your senior year, but I was wrong about that. Here I am driving you back to school; hopefully you’ll work hard this year, get your degree, and find a job. You don’t know what a relief that will be for your father and me.”
It was annoying hearing her say that; annoying but hardly surprising. My father had never shown the least interest in me. Between working, playing golf, and socializing with his friends on the weekends, he was too busy to be interested. As for my mother, well, she had never had any confidence in me so it didn’t surprise me she thought I would flunk out. There had been times when I thought the same thing.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, mother,” I responded, not trying to suppress my irritation. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to know how proud you are of me; how much I’ve exceeded your expectations.”
“Oh, now, you don’t have to be like that, Hunter,” she replied; “all sarcastic and huffy. You should be happy knowing how proud your father and I are you made it this far. You’ll have to admit you didn’t exactly set any records for scholarship in high school. We had every reason to be worried when we sent you off to college. But even knowing how expensive it is, we did.”
“The least you could do is be grateful for all the financial help we’ve provided; and perhaps try a little harder as well. I mean it would be nice if your grades were better, but I suppose just getting the degree will be an accomplishment.”
“If I keep my grades up this year, I should graduate magna cum laude,” I responded. “Not everyone does, mother.”
“Your sister graduated summa cum laude,” she replied.
“That’s because she slept with half her professors,” I said, only partially joking.
“Hunter! How dare you say something like that about your sister,” she responded, visibly annoyed.
You know it’s true, mother. You just don’t want to admit it.
“I was kidding mother,” I said. “It was a joke. The point is she went to a private college that specializes in turning out socially adept women, the kind that make perfect wives for lawyers, doctors and other young professionals. It’s not like she was up against the most difficult academic challenge in the world. She spent most of her time looking for a husband.”
“And she’s dating a very nice young man, Hunter,” my mother responded, “a young doctor who’s going to go far in his profession. You, on the other hand, are starting your senior year in college and as far as I can tell you’ve never dated any young lady seriously.”
“I hope that’s going to change this year, Hunter,” she continued. “Your father and I are counting on that. You need to start looking for that special young lady you’ll be spending the rest of your life with.”
There it was again, lurking in the background, the only reason they even bothered to father me; so I could produce someone to carry on the family name. It was annoying and I tried to push back.
“Well, you never know, mother,” I said. “I’m not going to marry someone just because you and father want a grandson. Love is going to have to be part of the deal, at least for me.”
“You’re so difficult, Hunter,” she responded. “You’ve always been difficult, even as a child. Other mothers have sons who are respectful, who go out of their way to please their parents. What did your father and I ever do to deserve this kind of disrespect?”
As always, she was trying to turn the tables, trying to put the blame on me.
Respect is a two way street, mother, I thought to myself. If you had ever shown the least respect for me as a son, even the least little interest in me for that matter, maybe you would have earned some respect from me; some love. But no; you were always disappointed with me.
“Well, I’m sorry I’ve been such a disappointment, mother,” I responded. “But that’s been the story of my life, hasn’t it? I’ve never been the son you wanted, have I?”
“Let’s not talk about this anymore, Hunter,” she said. “You always twist everything I say into some kind of accusation. I don’t know what I’ve ever done to deserve that.”
You know perfectly well, mother, I said to myself. That’s why you don’t want to talk about it anymore.
“Whatever you want, mother,” I replied. “I’m about to start my senior year in college and would like to enjoy the experience if I can; not spend my time revisiting how much of a disappointment I’ve been to you and father.”
“Fine,” she said. “We don’t have to talk. Just keep in mind you were the one who asked me to drive you back to Newark to help you furnish that apartment you rented. Try to be a little more civil at least.”
That ended the conversation between us, at least for the moment; and having tuned her out, I allowed my mind to drift back in time to the summer before I began college.
After Ethan left Rehoboth Beach for Shoreham, I had thrown myself into my summer jobs. I knew I was going to need money for school so I had lined up several of them.
Weekday mornings I put in four hours as a lifeguard at one of big apartment complexes in town. It wasn’t the hardest job in the world. Most of the parents kept a pretty close eye on the littler kids so that helped; and most of the older kids who used that kind of pool in the morning already knew how to swim or were working on their tans.
Still, you could never let your mind drift off like I was doing right now. You had to force yourself to be alert all the time and the money wasn’t the greatest either. But I enjoyed it. You got to be out in the sun before the heat became overpowering and being out in the sun like that never got old, at least not for me.
In the afternoon I worked the counter at Subway. It wasn’t exactly the most challenging job in the world. Sometimes the pace was too fast, sometimes too slow, but most of the time it was just too boring. The whole thing was pretty straight-forward, but it only paid minimum wage.
Weekend mornings and afternoons were spent working at Candy Kitchen and Funland. Being on your feet for hours and hours at Funland could be tiring, especially with the constant noise the place produced. It wore you down after a while.
Candy Kitchen was no better; being around all that candy used to nauseate me. Truth be told, I don’t think I ever went back to Candy Kitchen again after that summer. Ethan was right. How people could digest that stuff was beyond me.
As usual, I had pretty much left the evenings open that summer. That had been kind of an unspoken rule between Ethan and me ever since we got old enough to have jobs. We would work because we needed the money, but we would keep the evenings open. The evenings were the time we would share together having fun and it had worked out that way over the years.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided not to apply for an evening job that summer. I mean, I knew Ethan was going to be drafted and would have to leave at some point, but I must have thought it would be later or something and that I should keep the evenings open for him like always if that was the case.
It hadn’t worked out that way. There had been a couple of weeks in June after he was drafted while he was waiting for Baltimore to make an offer; and another week or two after that while his adviser and the Blues haggled over the contract.
And then, boom, just like that, he was gone and I was still back in Rehoboth Beach with a lot of time on my hands in the evenings.
The first week or so I would wander down to Ethan’s favorite spot on the boardwalk, sit on the railing and stare out at the ocean. I remember trying to figure out why that spot was so special for him, but I was never able to do that.
Within a week or so the whole thing had become boring and that made me wonder whether I should try to find an evening job as well.
I was thinking about that one afternoon at Subway when Mary Ellen Meehan came wandering in. I hadn’t seen her in a long time, but there she was standing on the other side of the counter smiling at me and she looked good, very good.
She was tanned from spending time on the beach and the bikini she was wearing didn’t conceal very much. I remember thinking she had rounded out nicely. Just from looking at her, you knew she wouldn’t have any trouble attracting the boys.
“Well, well; what a surprise,” she said. “Look who’s working at Subway. I haven’t seen you in ages, Hunter. What have you been up to?”
“Nothing much,” I responded, smiling at her; “just trying to make some money before I head off to college, Mary Ellen.”
“And here you are waiting on me,” she continued. “I like that. When was the last time you serviced me, Hunter?”
I almost blew my lunch when she said it. She had said it with a straight face, but she knew exactly what she was saying and it made me blush, which only encouraged her.
“Oh my; you look so cute when you blush, Hunter, just like Jim-Bob. You were always a cute boy. Maybe you could help me out. I’m having a problem figuring out what I want this afternoon.”
“Sure, Mary Ellen,” I responded. “How can I help?”
“Here’s my problem,” she said. “I’m pretty hungry so I think six inches would definitely be too small to satisfy me; on the other hand, even for me a foot long would be an awful lot. What would you suggest I do, Hunter? Do you have something that would satisfy my craving this afternoon?”
I remember rolling my eyes at her, then giggling. She was toying with me, just like she used to do.
“Um, well, I don’t know, Mary Ellen,” I replied, trying to pick up on her banter. “For you, maybe I could make it a little longer than six inches.”
“Really?” she said. “You would do that for me, Hunter? That’s so sweet of you. You always were such a sweet boy; but what about delivery? I was thinking maybe I should go home and wait a bit before I eat anything. Do you think you could deliver something to me later if I did that; something for me to eat, I mean?”
By now it was hard to tell whether she was kidding or being serious and that made me nervous. I remember thinking I had made a mistake to engage with her and desperately trying to find a way out.
“Um, well, I would Mary Ellen, but I don’t get off work until a lot later in the day. By then your folks would be home from work and it would probably be time for dinner anyways, not whatever I could deliver.”
“But I’m not living at home anymore, Hunter,” she countered. “I’m waitressing at Hot Pink, that new restaurant that attracts the gay crowd; and I even have my own place now.”
“I’ll tell you what, Hunter,” she continued, rubbing her thigh just a little, then sticking her hand into her crotch. “Why don’t you get me a six inch Spicy Italian for now and then you can deliver something a little bigger after you get off work. It could be a surprise; you know, whatever you think I would enjoy most.”
By now it was pretty clear what Mary Ellen really wanted and there was no way I was interested in going there given how nervous I was.
“Um, well, I would, Mary Ellen, but I have another job I have to go to right after this,” I lied. “Maybe some other time though.”
“Maybe,” she responded, smiling at me. “But I kind of doubt it, Hunter. I always wondered about you, but you can still get me that six inch for now.”
Later, when I delivered it to where she was sitting, she stood up, kissed me on the cheek and then hugged me.
“You should come by Hot Pink some time, Hunter,” she said. “I know some boys I could introduce you to. You would like them.”
“Ah, well, I don’t think so, Mary Ellen,” I replied. “I wouldn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea about me.”
“Really?” she said. “You’re worried about that; about people getting the wrong idea?”
“Um, well, sure,” I replied.
“What a shame,” she said; “I mean, living your life like that. I never worry about what other people think and you shouldn’t either.”
“I don’t know,” I responded. “Maybe you’re right, but it’s just the way I am I guess.”
Hearing that, Mary Ellen sighed.
“Are you still best friends with Ethan, Hunter?” she asked out of the blue.
“I am,” I said, “but Ethan’s playing ball over in Shoreham so we don’t get to see each other anymore.”
“That’s so sad,” she responded, staring at me. “I bet you miss him a lot, don’t you?”
“Some,” I said, wondering why she had mentioned Ethan like that.
That was the end of our conversation that afternoon, but I remember thinking I had way too much time on my hands and needed to find some kind of evening job to take my mind off of things.
I was sitting at home one night not too long after that when my mother told me Coach Lodge was on the phone and wanted to speak to me.
“Evening, Coach,” I said. “What’s up?”
“I was wondering if you have a night job, Hunter?” he asked. “Someone told me you didn’t.”
“I don’t,” I said. “But I’ve been thinking about looking for one. Now that Ethan’s playing for the Delmarva Heat and isn’t around anymore, I seem to have a lot of spare time on my hands in the evening.”
“Well, I might have a job for you if you’re interested,” he replied. “It doesn’t pay very much, but it’s challenging and it’ll keep you on your toes all the time; that’s for sure. Do you want me to tell you about it?”
“Sure,” I responded. “You know how it is, Coach. None of the jobs in this town pay kids like me very much; and there isn’t much challenge in making the same 12 inch sub over and over again all day in any event. Anything you’ve got to relieve the boredom would come as a welcome change.”
“Yeah, I know a thing or two about boredom,” he replied. “I guess that’s why I keep coaching after all these years. There’s nothing like working with a bunch of young boys to keep you on your toes. It’s guaranteed to relieve boredom, that’s for sure. “
“In any event, Bill Lewis, my assistant coach, just resigned,” he continued. “I guess he and the wife are moving to Florida; and since that’s the case, I’m going to need an assistant coach this summer and I figured I should look for someone younger who can relate to the boys better than me.”
“Like I said, someone told me you weren’t working in the evenings and that got me recalling how you and Ethan used to play on our team in the Peninsula Baseball League a couple of years ago. Like I told you, the job doesn’t pay very much and it only goes until the end of the summer. But I was wondering whether you would be interested in helping me out as my Assistant Coach?”
I was surprised by the offer. The Peninsula Baseball League was a summer league that had been organized by the Parks and Recreation Commissions of the different beachfront communities spread along the Delmarva Peninsula, starting with Lewes up north and running south all the way down to Ocean City, Maryland.
It was open to boys who had graduated from the eighth grade all the way up to those who hadn’t graduated from high school, mostly 14 to 18 year old boys although certain exceptions were permitted. But it mostly attracted fourteen and fifteen year old boys; by the time they got to be sixteen, most of them were usually looking for a summer job. That had been the case for Ethan and me.
They had deliberately named it the Peninsula Baseball League (PBL) to appeal to the imagination of boys who dreamed of someday playing in the Professional Baseball League of America (PBLA). I suppose that sounds stupid, but I can still recall telling people I played for the PBL. They put that on the caps they gave us for free and it was a big part of the attraction for me when I was fourteen.
“I don’t know, Coach,” I said. “I’m definitely interested, but I don’t really know a lot about coaching. I’m sure you could find someone better than me. Heck, I wasn’t ever that great a ball player, not like Ethan; that’s for sure. I was just average.”
“You were better than you think, Hunter,” he responded. “And I’ll let you in on a little secret, son. I don’t know a lot about coaching either, but somehow I’ve fooled people into thinking I do because they keep asking me to do it every summer and I’ve been doing it for more than thirty years now. If you take the job, maybe we could learn something about coaching together.”
I could tell from the tone of his voice he wasn’t being facetious, but it was far from the truth. Hank Lodge was a living legend on the Delmarva Peninsula. He had played minor league ball many years ago when he was young. When his career was over, he had come back to Rehoboth Beach and taken a job with the Parks and Recreation Commission.
At some point they had persuaded him to take on the job of coaching our community’s entry in the PBL. He had led our team to the championship on numerous occasions over the years even though Ocean City, the largest of the participating communities, had the advantage of having a lot more boys to choose from.
Indeed, as boys had become attracted to sports other than baseball in recent years and some of the communities struggled to field a team, there had even been talk of abandoning the league.
Almost single-handedly Coach Lodge had held the thing together, often spending hours talking with kids up and down the peninsula about how playing baseball was fun, how it turned followers into leaders and boys into men; and then, to seal the deal, he would tell them how all the young girls in town would be there cheering them on and that usually did the trick because he made sure the young girls were there like he promised.
So I knew he was just flattering me when he said he didn’t know a lot about coaching. It wasn’t true. He knew more than anyone else on the Peninsula. I don’t know why he had thought of me exactly, but it was flattering to know he had; and after we had talked a bit more about it, I had decided to sign up for the rest of the summer.
It was a decision I never regretted. I don’t know how exactly, but coaching filled some hole that was missing that summer. Coach Lodge had been right. Working with those boys was challenging, but it was also fulfilling to see how their games improved over the course of a summer just from the time you spent working with them one on one.
It also gave me lots of time to share stories with them about how Ethan and I had played on the very same team they were playing for when we were younger.
“And look at where Ethan is now,” I would tell them, feeding their dreams of a baseball career.
Telling those stories and being associated with baseball like that made me feel closer to Ethan that summer and each of the summers that followed. It didn’t make everything better, but when we talked from time to time he would always want to know how our team was doing and tell me how proud he was of me for coaching the kids.
Even with the coaching, I did have some evenings off and usually I spent them swimming down near Ethan’s favorite spot on the boardwalk. It was less crowded down there, quieter; and sometimes late in the evening when I looked in from the ocean, I could almost see him sitting there on the railing waving at me.
One time I even found myself crying when that happened; and knowing how embarrassing it would be to do something like that in front of Ethan, I remember getting mad at myself for letting the salt water get into my eyes like that.
Occasionally I would hear loud voices coming from Poodle Beach as well and sometimes I wondered what went on down there late in the evening. But even though there were times when I was curious, I never visited the place, at least during the summer. I didn’t know who might be there if I did; and not wanting anyone to get the wrong idea if they spotted me there, I stayed away.
I did try to follow Ethan’s games whenever I could. His Mom and I had talked about maybe driving over to Shoreham to take in a game some weekend; but Ethan discouraged the whole thing and I could understand why. He wasn’t playing at first and it wasn’t like I had any great interest in the Heat except for him; and I seemed to be working all the time in any event.
He did get one day off that summer and he and some of his friends drove up to Rehoboth Beach for a visit. I called in sick that day and it turned out to be a lot of fun spending time with him and his new friends. I mean, just seeing him again was great; and yet, while I wasn’t really jealous or anything, I remember thinking it was all going down pretty much as I had thought it would when he left town.
He was making new friends; and though he spent most of the day glued to my side, I thought it wouldn’t be very long before the two of us drifted apart.
In the end, I had been right about that. Somehow we had drifted apart.
And now, thinking about that, I recall wondering whether that little voice a week ago had been right.
Maybe I needed to begin making some new friends even if none of them could ever take Ethan’s place.
Looking up, I realized we were close to Newark and that made me wonder again what my final year of college would be like. I was hoping it would be better than the previous three years. Something had always been missing from my college experience. It had never been as much fun as I wanted it to be.
Freshman year was the hardest. Like most freshman, I had a vision of college that was completely unrealistic. I mean, this wasn’t high school anymore. It was big and it was impersonal and there were times when I felt like I was just a number. I mean, hell, there were more kids in my psychology class that first semester than in my graduating high school class.
The whole thing was confusing as well. I mean, they passed along tons of information, but no one ever told you which of those pieces of information were the ones you needed to remember and which could be conveniently ignored. So it was information overload and a lot of us ended up tuning most of it out.
Being clueless like that is never much fun, of course; and just when you thought you were getting the hang of the thing, of being a collegian, they would toss something new into the mix to humiliate you, to prove just how little you knew.
Unlike a lot of the guys in our freshman class, I didn’t get into partying that much; and while I tried a bunch of different student activities, none of them ended up interesting me very much. To top it off, my roommate wasn’t exactly the most sociable person in the world; and a lot of the people I did get to know ended up flunking out somewhere along the way.
But mostly being a freshman was terrifying. The courses were hard, a lot harder than I was used to; and without Ethan around to help me study, I had a difficult time. Truth be told, I worried a lot about flunking out that year. My mother was expecting it and there were times when I was sure I would.
In the end, strangely enough, I guess it was Ethan that helped me get through my freshman year even though he wasn’t there with me.
What will Ethan think if you flunk out, Hunter?
He’ll be ashamed of you, embarrassed to even admit you’re his best friend.
Get off your ass, dude. Show Ethan you can be as good a student as he is a baseball player.
So I got through my freshman year, but it wasn’t much fun. Knowing Ethan wasn’t there to share the experience with me, how much fun could it be after all? We had talked about going to college together and being roommates for what seemed like forever. Not having him there had been hard. I had never been so disappointed in my life.
In some ways, sophomore year was like starting all over again. I mean, it was better because at least you knew the rules of the road by then. But you had to make new friends and that never came easy for me. Ethan was the gold standard when it came to friendship and no one ever measured up, at least for me.
Plus sophomore year seemed to go on forever without ever giving you the feeling you were accomplishing very much. I found a new roommate, but it was like lurching from one extreme to another. He was sociable enough. Truth be told, he was probably the friendliest dude on campus and our room became a mecca for everyone on campus as well. That was okay at first, but there were times when I needed some peace and quiet.
Going down to the library to study wasn’t that big a deal, but it seemed like people never cleared out of our room before dawn. I was in a coma from lack of sleep most of the year and that didn’t help with all the morning classes I had. That was the year I ended up spending a lot of time borrowing notes from my classmates. I guess it worked because I managed to get through it somehow.
I thought my junior year would be different. You were into your major by then and you could see graduation looming not all that far in the distance. You were probably even going to start focusing on a career choice, at least a little. But you knew you still had a lot of time to think about things like that. There wasn’t the same kind of pressure you knew would be there once you became a senior.
Unlike being a freshman or sophomore, moreover, you were totally familiar with the school and the town. You knew what interested you. You knew where everything was. You knew what it took to do the work that would get you the grades you needed to get through.
Knowing all of that, I had thought I would be able to just sit back and enjoy the whole college experience in a way I had never been able to do up to that point. I had thought being a junior would be the best of all. But it never worked out that way. I don’t know why exactly.
Something seemed to be missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. In the end, not having any better excuse, I chalked it up to still living in a dormitory on campus. I guess that’s when I decided to get a place of my own for my senior year.
And now here I was, on my way back to Newark, and even now, years later, the most disappointing thing was I was driving there with my mother, not Ethan. I still missed him even now. Everything would have been better if Ethan had been there all along to share it with me.
“You’re going to have to give me directions to this place you rented,” my mother said, interrupting my little walk down memory lane. “The exit for Newark is coming up.”
“Um, sure,” I responded. “Sorry; my mind was somewhere else.”
“Why am I not surprised?” she replied.