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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
It was Friday afternoon and I was on my way over to the Municipal Building back home. I had been trying my best to avoid Rehoboth Beach after coming out to my parents. That made things easier for everyone I thought. But I had finally arranged a time to interview with the Search Committee for the coaching position I was interested in. That was why I was home and I remember being nervous as the building came into sight.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I had done a few interviews by then for different teaching positions in the fall. But this was different and I wasn’t exactly sure what the Search Committee would be asking. I had even enlisted Cameron to help put together some questions the Committee might raise and then spent a lot of time trying to come up with my answers.
I don’t know why, but I really wanted that job for some reason even though it didn’t pay very much or last all that long, just the summer. Maybe it was because it made me feel a little closer to Ethan knowing we were doing the same thing, kind of, just in different capacities; or maybe it was because another long year at college had again reminded me how much I missed baseball with each summer’s passing.
It had been a long time since I played the game, but there was something about it that appealed to me, a certain artistry I could never quite put my finger on. Unlike football or even hockey and basketball to some degree, at least at the professional level, it didn’t depend on brutality and violence for its appeal; and while some people found it too slow and boring, I liked the patience it demanded of those who played it.
But in the end, when all was said and done, I think it was mostly about the boys themselves. There was something incredibly satisfying when you saw how much someone could improve in such a short period of time just by showing some interest in them; just by showing them you cared.
When I finally arrived at the building that housed the Parks and Recreation Commission, I was directed to one of the conference rooms where the interview was to be held. I was surprised when I opened the door and entered the room. There were five men seated at a long wooden table on a raised podium. Below and in front of the podium was a much smaller table, one with a single chair to which I was directed.
The whole thing struck me as being incredibly formal, especially considering this was an interview for a low paying job as head coach of a summer youth baseball league team that was having trouble keeping itself afloat.
You’re dead meat, Hunter, I recall thinking. These guys are serious about this, much too serious.
Seating myself at the little table, I looked up at the men above me. I knew all of them, at least in the kind of way you know most people in a small community; by face mostly, with some background occasionally tossed in from reading about one or two in the local paper. They were all active in local affairs and had been for many years.
The only one I knew really well was Coach Lodge. He was a living legend and I had worked as his assistant coach for the last four years. He was also the one who asked the first question.
“Thanks for coming by, Mr. Allen. We’ve received your application and résumé. All of us want to thank you for your interest in the position. You understand how little pay there is attached to the job?”
“Yes, sir, I do,” I responded.
“Could you tell us why you applied for it?”
I had been expecting that one.
“The main reason is the opportunity it would give me to work one on one with each of the boys on the team,” I replied. “I’ve always loved doing that. I’ve been an assistant coach of the team for the last four summers and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity it’s given me to work with boys and help them improve their skills.”
“I’ve always loved baseball, ever since I was a small boy and played it with a friend of mine. He was my best friend growing up and we used to play together on various teams, including in the Peninsula Baseball League for a couple of years. I wasn’t nearly as good a player as him, but I think I loved the game just as much.”
“When I realized I wasn’t good enough to keep playing it at a competitive level, I wanted to stay engaged with baseball in some way. That’s why I was happy to be an assistant on the team; and I would jump at the chance to get engaged with the game again this summer.”
“What would you say is your biggest strength and biggest weakness as a candidate?” another member of the Committee asked.
I had been expecting that as well.
“Well, as for a weakness, I don’t have that much experience coaching, at least as a head coach,” I said. “Enthusiasm, yes; experience as a head coach, no. But I’ve learned a lot just from watching Coach Lodge. He’s been a terrific role model for me and he’ll be missed, no doubt about it.”
“Biggest strength is a little harder,” I continued. “But I think maybe my biggest strength would be that I’m patient. I’m never going to be the kind of coach that yells at his players or gets down on them after losing. It seems to me you have to be patient. Every boy has strengths, but sometimes it takes some work to figure out exactly how they can best contribute to a team.”
“Well, yes, I think patience can be a virtue at times, son,” still a third member of the Committee interjected, looking down from the podium and cutting me off. “But I know with my own kids that yelling can sometimes have a real positive effect. These boys may not be the best players in the world and they could test that patience of yours. I wouldn’t rule out yelling if I were you, son.”
“Well, you know, I’m not a saint,” I replied; “so who knows what’ll happen when push comes to crunch? But I would like to think I wouldn’t yell at the boys if they do something that upsets me. As Coach Lodge can tell you, I haven’t done that once the last four summers as his assistant and I’m proud of that.”
“There are different reasons for that. For one thing, yelling and screaming violates the handbook that governs the league, at least I think it does. I’ve seen some of the coaches for the other teams doing it, but that doesn’t make it right. More importantly, I don’t think it’s very effective as a coaching technique.”
“I still remember all the different coaches I had over the years. The ones that yelled and screamed bothered me a lot. They made me more hesitant as a player. I would always stop and think about what it was exactly the coach wanted me to do in a particular situation; and that’s not good when you’re playing a game like baseball.”
“In baseball you have to go with your instincts. They may not always be right, but I think you have a better chance if you do follow your instincts then if you stop and try to think everything through.”
“So we’ll see. Like I said, I bring certain ideas to coaching, but I would like to think I can change as well.”
“I was a little surprised you didn’t mention your friendship with Ethan Williams as an asset, son,” another one of the members said. “Ethan’s a hell of a ball player and a lot of people in this town admire him greatly. He has a future in town politics when his playing career is over; and apart from all of that, I would think you learned a lot about the game just from watching him play it.”
“That’s true; I did,” I responded. “Going with your instincts, not overthinking things, is one of the most important things I learned from him, for example. He was the friend I was talking about, but I didn’t want anyone to think that knowing Ethan gave me any special insight into coaching. I learned a lot from Ethan, but Ethan isn’t going to be there coaching with me.”
“I mean, I think I’m probably shameless enough to use my friendship with him to try to influence the boys. Everyone knows Ethan is the best player this community ever produced, at least in recent years; the best player the Delmarva Peninsula ever produced for that matter. So hopefully the word will get around we were best friends and maybe some of the boys will take that into account and listen up just a little more when I have something to say.”
“I don’t think he gets any time off these days; but, yeah, if Ethan got back here at all during the summer, I might ask him to come by and speak to the boys. I can be shameless like that,” I added, grinning.
“But at the end of the day I’m going to be judged by the boys and others on how good I am as a coach; and while I learned a lot about the game from Ethan, my approach to coaching is really based more on studying the different men who coached me over the years, including Coach Lodge.”
“If you got the job, what’s the one most important thing you would like to accomplish by the end of the summer?” Coach Lodge asked.
“I think the biggest challenge is taking a group of young boys, each of whom has his own personality and unique way of doing things, and fashioning them into a team,” I replied. “It’s not easy and there isn’t a science to it. But if we could take a bunch of individuals and turn them into a team by the end of the summer, I would consider that a major success. And if on top of that I could help each of the boys become better players individually, I would consider that a success as well.”
“What about winning, Mr. Allen?” Logan Thompson, the head of the Search Committee, asked. “Shouldn’t that be the highest priority for you as a coach?”
“I’m not putting down winning,” I responded. “It definitely helps. Boys are competitive by nature; and because they are, they prefer winning to losing. But I don’t think winning is the ultimate test of success. If I can get 100% out of each of the boys, help them become better players, better teammates, better human beings, I would consider that a successful season.”
“These boys will be representing our community, son,” Mr. Thompson continued. “We’ve had a long, proud, tradition of winning under Coach Lodge, at least until the last couple of years. It concerns me you don’t seem to put winning at the top of your agenda.”
Looking at the impassive faces staring back at me, it seemed pretty obvious they were unhappy with my response. I wasn’t sure what to say at that point. I really wanted the job a lot. I felt like it would give me the chance to start testing some of the things I thought about coaching. There would probably be other chances down the road, of course. It wasn’t as if it would be the end of the world if I didn’t get it. But I wanted the job nonetheless.
“Perhaps you would like a chance to elaborate on your answer, Mr. Allen,” Coach Lodge spoke up.
He was throwing me a lifeline if I wanted to seize it, giving me a chance to tell them what they wanted to hear. I realized it was crunch time.
“Thank you, Coach Lodge,” I said. “There are probably a few things I would add. As you know from looking at my résumé, I’m a senior in college now. So I’ve had to spend a lot of time this year thinking more seriously about what I want to do with my life. It’s, uh, well . . . it’s kind of hard when you’re just 21. You’re no longer a teenager so you’ve begun to realize that perhaps you don’t really know it all like you used to think you did.”
Looking up, I could see a couple of the faces staring at me begin to smile just a little.
“On the other hand, the temptation is still there. I’ll confess I still don’t know for sure what I want to do in life. But I’ve decided to try teaching for a year or two and to me coaching is kind of like teaching. When I decided I wanted to teach, I told myself I would do it my way because I didn’t want to wake up in two years to discover I was doing it some other way; some way other people wanted me to do it.”
“I like to think I’m humble enough to realize that my way may not be the right way. I would like to think I’ll keep learning by doing. But you have to start out with a core set of beliefs and give yourself a fair chance to test them out so you can see whether they work. And I think that’s what I’m going to stick with for now.”
“So no; if winning a championship is the single most important thing to you as the Search Committee, you should look elsewhere for a coach. Winning is important because it helps motivate the boys, but it wouldn’t be my top priority.”
It seemed to me the faces that had been softening turned hard again when I said that, but I was glad I hadn’t just told them what they wanted to hear.
There were more questions after that, a lot more, and then one final one from the chair of the Search Committee.
“The last question we ask all the candidates is whether there’s anything else they need to tell us, anything personal that might affect our decision one way or the other. The parents in this community entrust their sons to our care for a part of the day; in turn, we want to be able to count on whoever we select to do the right thing at all times. If there’s anything we need to know, now is the time to speak up.”
It had been in the back of my mind that this might come up. As part of the interview process, every candidate had to undergo a criminal background check; to review the handbook with the rules, regulations and expectations that went along with the job; and to sign a statement indicating they had read the handbook and would abide by it at all times.
Among other things, the handbook stated explicitly that no one involved with the Peninsula Baseball League in any capacity would ever engage in any kind of exploitation or abuse of the boys under any circumstances. That included physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse.
I was in agreement with that. It wasn’t a problem for me. But I was gay and knew there were youth organizations in America like the Boy Scouts that did not permit people like me to serve in a position of trust. Nothing I had read at any point indicated that was the case with the Peninsula Baseball League, but now I wondered exactly how I should respond to the question that had just been posed.
It seemed to me the other candidates for the position had probably not indicated they were straight in response to the question and there was a part of me that believed my sexuality was irrelevant. But if I was selected, which already seemed unlikely because of how I had answered the question about winning, I would be working with young boys.
I had been doing that for many summers now, but in a different capacity and under the supervision of Coach Lodge.
I remember thinking that maybe how I answered this question would be the final blow to my candidacy, the thing that would kill my chances if they weren’t already dead as a doornail.
What would Cameron do? I asked myself.
And just by asking that question I knew what the answer should be.
“I don’t believe it’s relevant to be honest, but I think you should probably be aware that I’m gay,” I responded. “It’s not something I go around advertising nor is it why I’ve applied for the job, of course. But it’s not something I’m ashamed of either.”
“Like other candidates, I’ve read the handbook and signed the statement indicating I understand and will respect and abide by the rules, regulations and expectations of the PBL. In particular, I understand and agree with the parts of the handbook dealing with abuse of any kind, including sexual abuse.”
“But I’m not trying to fool anyone either so I suppose my being gay is something you should be aware of.”
There was silence and no one followed up on the matter. The faces of the Search Committee were impassive and I wasn’t sure what their reaction had been.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Allen,” the Chairman said. “Thanks for coming in for the interview. We’ll be in touch with you. When are you going back to Newark?”
“Tomorrow evening, sir,” I responded.
“Fine; you were our last interview and we should be able to let you know by then. Since you worked so closely with Coach Lodge, I’ll have him convey our decision to you.”
After I left the Municipal Building, I decided to go for a walk by myself on the boardwalk.
You blew that big time, I recall thinking.
Yeah, maybe I did, I sighed. But I’m glad I stuck with what I believe in about winning. I may not be right. But if I’m ever going to be a good coach, I need to do it my way, not the way others want me to do it; and if my way isn’t the right way, well, maybe I’ll learn something and change my way or decide coaching isn’t the right thing for me after all.
And I’m glad I was upfront about being gay. I shouldn’t have had to tell them that, but at least they know I’m not trying to hide anything.
It was late afternoon the following day when I got the call from Coach Lodge.
“I’m over at the Municipal Building, Hunter,” he said. “We just finished up making our decision. Do you want to come by and talk to me?”
“Sure,” I responded.
He hadn’t said anything one way or the other about the job and to me that said just about everything I needed to know. But I wanted to hear it from him in person; maybe I wasn’t going to get the job, but I was hoping he still considered me a friend, that being gay wasn’t a problem for him.
Coach Lodge was waiting for me outside when I finally got to the Municipal Building.
“Let’s go for a walk, Hunter,” he said, and that’s what the two of us did.
We walked for a few minutes without a word being exchanged, but eventually he finally spoke up.
“Do you know how long I’ve been coaching, Hunter?” he asked.
“Not really, Coach Lodge; I know it’s been a long time and I was surprised when I heard you wouldn’t be coaching the team this year. I mean, you’re a legend in your own lifetime, Coach. Everyone knows that. I almost didn’t apply for the job for that reason. No one is ever going to ever be able to fill your shoes; and I think any new coach is going to come in for a lot of carping and crap you’ve probably never had to put up with.”
“You’re right about that, son,” he said. “About the carping business, I mean. And you’re probably right about being a living legend, too. I am. But that can get trying after a while. It’s better being a living legend than a dead one, but it creates expectations, mostly bad ones; about winning, for example.”
“I’ve been coaching for 35 years now one way or another,” he continued. “And the thing is, I don’t think I ever learned what you already know about coaching until the last couple of years. I was impressed with your interview, Hunter; quite impressed.”
“Thank you, coach,” I said. “That means a lot coming from you.”
“Unfortunately, some of the other members of the committee weren’t so impressed. To be honest, the only thing a couple of them care about is winning and frankly they’re not sticklers about how we win either. After you left, I nominated you to be the head coach. They voted you down, 4 to 1, pretty much as I expected they would.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, disappointed but not surprised. “I did want the job a lot and there was a point there in the interview where I felt like I could have done myself a favor if I had responded to the question about winning differently. But I wanted to be honest so that’s why I said what I did; and I suppose that other announcement didn’t help my case either.”
“But even though I’m disappointed with the outcome, I don’t regret what I said,” I added. “I would do everything the same again if need be.”
“And that’s what I told the other members of the committee,” Coach Lodge said. “After they voted you down they began debating the other candidates. I didn’t say anything and they couldn’t come to any agreement. They were evenly split between two others and it didn’t have much to do with which of them would be the best coach.”
“As usual, it was all about local town politics; and with me casting the deciding vote, they ended up voting both of them down just like I thought they would. So that’s when I finally spoke up again.”
“I told them the other candidates for the job had all tailored their stories to what the different members wanted to hear, not what they really believed. I told them you were the only one of the candidates who gave them an honest answer and stuck with it. And then I told them you were right to answer the way you did; that you were already a better coach than I ever was even though we had won a lot of championships over the years.”
“But the boys? I don’t think I did right by a lot of the boys I coached when I think back on it now. I think I put too much emphasis on winning for too many years, at least until the last couple. And you know it was those last couple of years when we weren’t winning that some of the advisory committee members encouraged me to retire. They want to win real badly. But those were also the years I enjoyed coaching the most even though we weren’t winning as much.”
“The truth is things have changed, baseball has changed. We don’t get as many boys to come out every summer like we used to; and the boys we do get, well, let’s just say they’re not as talented as they boys that used to come out. They’re good boys. I’ve had a good time coaching them; and like you said in that interview, I’m really proud I’ve helped them become better players and better human beings. They may not be the same kind of winners we used to have. But they’re going to be winners in life.”
“So I told the committee they had made a mistake in voting you down. I pointed out just how much you had done as my assistant these last four years and how little we had paid you for that; that they were being ingrates and should be ashamed of themselves for considering others who had never shown any interest in the team until there was a coaching vacancy. And then mostly because they thought being coach would help them become better known around town and be useful politically.”
“The last thing I told them was that I was tired of hearing what a living legend I was, especially since they didn’t really mean it; because if they did they would understand I knew a lot more about baseball and coaching than they did. I told them to stop playing local politics with the position and just do what was right for the boys.”
“And finally I told them I intended to let everyone in town know what had happened because there were a lot of people in our community who really did consider me a living legend and would be mightily upset when they heard what the Search Committee had done.”
“I guess what I said was enough to persuade two of them to change their mind. We took another vote and we selected you, 3 to 2, so you’re the new coach. I’m real happy about that, Hunter; congratulations. It’s nice to know being a living legend can be used for a positive purpose for a change.”
“You’re exactly the kind of coach these boys need and I don’t want you to ever doubt yourself or do it the way someone else suggests. You’re going to make some mistakes along the way and you’ll learn from those. You already know that and that’s probably the biggest part of the job, knowing you’re not a perfect coach and can get better.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing how you do, but I’m pretty certain I already know. If you ever feel like you could use some advice, I’m here for you. But it’s like Ethan told you about the game itself, Hunter. Trust your instincts and you’ll do just fine because you have good instincts.”
By now we had made a very long loop and the two of us were back at the building.
“I don’t know what to say, Coach,” I responded. “I’ve gone from being depressed when we started this walk to being elated back here at the building. You’re way too hard on yourself, sir. You’ve done a great job coaching over the years and I’ll never be anywhere near the coach you’ve been. But I’ll work hard and try to do right by the boys.”
“Thanks, Hunter,” he said. “I appreciate that; and I want to add I was very proud you had the courage to mention you were gay. As it turns out, one of the Search Committee members said he had heard some rumor to that effect from his son up at college so it’s probably just as well you did even though it wasn’t relevant. You signed the pledge after all and I know you well enough to vouch for your character and integrity.”
“I’m old, Hunter, and life seems so much more complicated these days. There are times when I wonder whether I’ve been clueless all my life or just suddenly became clueless in my dotage. Being gay doesn’t matter to me. I know what kind of person you are, but it might matter with others, including some of the parents. I’ll stand by you if it does, but you need to be careful around the boys.”
“The best policy is to avoid ever being alone with one of them in private. That way no one can ever falsely accuse you. It isn’t fair, but lots of stuff in life isn’t fair and sometimes we just have to bite the bullet and do things a certain way no matter how unfair it is. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” I responded. “I understand. I’m not ashamed of being gay and if someone asks, including someone on the team, I’m going to be honest about it. But, like I said, I’m not advertising it and I’ll never do anything to make you or anyone else at the Commission feel like they made a mistake naming me coach. I’m sure they’ll be plenty to criticize about the way I coach, but you don’t have to worry about that.”
“Enough said,” he replied. “And good luck. As I said earlier, baseball isn’t as big as it used to be with boys and trying to manage a bunch of teenagers isn’t the easiest thing in the world either. You’ll have your hands full.”
When I got back to Newark that evening, I told Cameron everything that had happened.
“You handled it perfectly, Hunter,” he said, “and I’m really proud of you because I don’t know whether I would have been as honest as you. But I’ll say this. That old saying is definitely right. Honesty is the best policy. If you’re honest, honest with yourself, honest with everyone else, you never have to worry about keeping track of different stories.”
He was mostly right, of course; right about honesty being the right policy, but wrong about what he would have done if he had been in the same situation. Unlike me, Cameron had always been honest with himself and others, at least as far as I could see.
It was funny actually. He was almost three years younger than me, but I felt like he was so much more mature than I was. He had taught me a lot; a lot about myself, a lot about life. There was no one I respected more than Cameron; and even though we were never going to be more than just friends, I wasn’t about to make the same mistake I had made with Ethan.
I wasn’t just going to walk away after graduation and never see him again. I wasn’t going to take him for granted like I had with Ethan. No matter what happened, he was going to remain part of my life, someone I remained connected to forever. Knowing that, I resumed my full court press to get him to spend the summer in Rehoboth Beach.
“That’s really sweet of you to say stuff like that, Cameron,” I responded. “But you can forget about it. I’m not letting you off the hook. I need an assistant coach; more importantly still, I need someone to keep me from going crazy in Rehoboth Beach this summer. So, like I said, forget about it. You’re definitely spending the summer down there with me.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” he said, “and actually it’s not a bad idea. The biggest concern I have is where I’ll live. I need someplace cheap. And, no, you can forget about it, Hunter. I’m not a slut and I’m not going to sleep in your bed all summer just because the rent’s cheap. I think your mother would get suspicious if I did that; and I don’t ever want to get on her bad side.”
”I’ve got the whole thing covered for you, dude,” I responded. “While I was down there this weekend, I talked with Ethan’s Mom to see whether she could rent you a room cheaply at their house this summer. She’s everything my mom never was. She’s even willing to put you up for free for the summer. She said the room was going to be there whether someone used it or not and she would enjoy helping out.”
”I think it would be nice if you could pay for some of the groceries, however. You would have to pay for your food no matter what and she’s a terrific cook, just like you. You’ll probably put on some pounds eating there this summer, but the competition between the two of you to see who cooks the best may help burn some of those calories off.”
“Great,” he responded. “Just what I need; a summer of home cooking that’ll send me back here next year obese and totally unattractive to anyone.”
“It’s all part of the plan, dude,” I said. “Once you’ve porked up, no one will want you and you’ll have to have sex with me.”
“Keep deluding yourself, child,” he responded, sticking his tongue out at me.
“Why not?” I responded. “It’s delusions about that tight little ass of yours that have kept me going ever since that night last fall I came out. Your ass is right up there with Ethan’s. Sometimes I even take turns with both of you every night in my dreams.”
“I feel … I feel, um … oh, god, I feel so honored to have my ass placed in the same pantheon as Ethan’s,” he replied, grinning at me.
“You should because Ethan has one terrific ass,” I replied.
“Look, you’ll have to spend a few days at my house when we get to Rehoboth Beach,” I added. “Mrs. Williams has some friends staying over. That shouldn’t be a problem because my mother loves you. You can stay in my sister’s room; just don’t go trying on any of her old dresses and wearing them around the house. My parents are clueless, but not that clueless.”
“The other thing is you won’t have as much privacy as you might like. You’ll have your own room, but Mrs. Williams will be there; and there’s some boy living with her as well. I’ve never met him and I don’t know the whole story, but she adopted him a few years ago.”
“I didn’t tell Mrs. Williams you were gay. It won’t matter to her, but I figured that should be your decision to make, not mine. Whatever you do, living with her will put a bit of a crimp in your social life. Can you live with that?”
“Of course,” he responded. “I’ve lived with you all year, haven’t I?”
I remember thinking I was already in shape for baseball when the pillow I tossed hit him straight in the groin.
“Lucky shot,” he said, doubling over and pretending to be hurt.
Then he chased me around the place with the pillow until the two of us fell asleep exhausted on his bed.