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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.
Leaving the ballpark that afternoon while the rest of my teammates continued their workout was hard. It made me wonder whether I would ever be back and what would come next if this was the last time I ever saw the inside of a locker room, a place I had called home for so many years. And I couldn’t help wondering how my teammates would react to the news when Mr. Girardi told them about me at the end of the day.
When I got back to my place, I called Avery and filled him in on what had happened. We talked about how to go forward once the story was published; and he told me he planned to call Girardi and let him know he was making a mistake, which I appreciated. Then I started packing some things for the hotel.
Lee had already rented the room under an anonymous name and given me the key. All I needed to do was to find it and make myself comfortable. It didn’t take very long to get the stuff I needed together. Before leaving, I decided to call Gina to fill her in on what was about to happen. She was shocked by what the team had done.
“Do these people live in the twenty-first century?” she asked. “No one cares about this anymore.”
“The press cares about it,” I responded. “It sells newspapers; and the bottom line is there are going to be tons of reporters hanging out at my place the day after tomorrow, all of them looking for a comment from me or anyone else who knows me.”
“I don’t think they have your name or Marie’s, but I figured I should fill you in just in case. If Riley calls after the story is published, the only advice I can give him is to lay low and keep his mouth shut.”
“Does that reporter have Riley’s name?” she asked. “Is it going to be in the story?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” I replied. “In the draft I saw, the reporter simply refers to him as, quote, a young male companion with whom Williams shares the townhouse he owns, unquote. He’s going to have to change that I think because he’s going to be told Riley and I aren’t living together or even seeing each other anymore.”
“On the other hand, I’m told he has pictures of Riley and me leaving Buzz so I suppose it’s possible the Post might use one of those.”
“Oh, god; I hope not,” she said. “You’ve got people helping you deal with this, Ethan. Riley hasn’t got anyone; if his picture appears in the paper, they’ll probably track him down and make his life miserable and I don’t have any way of letting him know in advance. Of course, like you said, he may call once the story breaks. Is there any other message you want passed along if he does, Ethan?”
I thought about that for a moment.
“Um, well, just tell him to be careful,” I said. “I don’t have a clue how much this reporter knows or how willing he’s going to be to drag other people into his shitty story. But they’ll be looking for anyone who has any kind of connection to me.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll pass that along if he calls.”
“And one other thing, Gina,” I added.
“What?” she asked.
“Tell him, uh . . . tell him I hope things are going well for him; that I appreciate everything he did for me and I’m fine with how things worked out.”
“Are you really, Ethan?”
“I am, Gina,” I replied; “at least I think so. Sometimes distance provides perspective and I think that’s the case here. I still want Riley and me to be friends if and when he comes back, but I understand what he was trying to tell me.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him that, Ethan,” she said. “And keep the faith. This isn’t going to change anything for some of us. We’re still going to be your friends.”
“I appreciate that, Gina.”
Later, thinking back on it, I should have known something like this was bound to happen. Washington was a town that couldn’t keep secrets and it thrived on contrived scandals like this. How I could have done things differently and still had the chance to experience friendship the same as anyone else was hard to say. But I knew there would be some who would delight in my troubles. There always was.
With that I left my townhouse and drove over to the Hilton on Capitol Hill. Since I already had the key, I just took the elevator up to the fourth floor and let myself in.
Sitting down on the bed, I remember thinking it was like being back in the minors on a road trip except the hotel was better. In truth, however, it was even worse than being in the minors. At least in the minors there were other people around on the trip you knew and could talk with. Here I was stuck in a hotel by myself with nothing to do.
Room service provided dinner that evening. It wasn’t great. Later I took a walk that exposed me to some of the sights in the neighborhood: the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and Union Station, among others. The buildings were beautiful although I wasn’t enamored of a lot of the people who filled them.
Collectively, they seemed more interested in themselves than what was best for the country and they had turned the area into a mini-police state, with ugly barriers that seemed to be guarded by storm troopers.
When I finally got back to the hotel, I checked my phone to see whether anyone had called. To my astonishment, I was greeted by a ton of text messages from my teammates, all of them supportive and a lot of them critical of management for not standing up for me. I spent the next hour or so responding and letting them know I would be rooting for them the following evening.
Eventually I turned on the television and switched to the channel that was broadcasting the game that night between San Francisco and Atlanta. It wasn’t on yet and I listened to the pre-game commentary from the announcers listlessly, at least until my name suddenly popped up out of the blue.
“I’m picking up rumors that Washington’s rookie shortstop, Ethan Williams, may not play tomorrow night, Vin,” the color guy said. “He may not be in uniform either if what I’ve been told is true. The Warriors weren’t commenting when I asked so the whole thing is kind of vague at this point. You have to wonder whether he’s suffered some kind of injury, but I haven’t heard that specifically.”
“There may be nothing to do it, but it’ll hurt the Warriors’ chances if Williams doesn’t play. He’s been a big asset to their team since coming over from Baltimore’s farm system. They brought him in to shore up their defense and he’s definitely done that, but he’s really shined offensively as well; and his speed on the bases has really picked up their running game too.”
“Folks were beginning to sit up and take notice of the job he’s been doing so I’ll be sure to let our listeners know if I hear anything else, Vin. But he’s going to be missed if the rumors are true.”
I hope you’re right about being missed, I remember telling myself. Because I know you’re right about the other part of it.
Folks are going to be sitting up and taking notice real soon.
As the hours passed, I kept thinking I should call my Mom like Jack had told me to do, but I didn’t know how to explain the whole thing to her exactly so I never did. After the game I climbed into bed and tried to fall asleep. But I had trouble doing so, a lot of trouble.
When I woke up the following morning, I just stayed in bed and tried thinking everything through again. The big remaining issue was what to say to my mother when I called her. The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like the idea of telling her over the phone. I still felt like I should tell her in person.
It was going to be a disappointment for her either way and being there would be harder for me personally, that was for sure. But she was my Mom. She was the person who had raised me, who had cared for me, who still cared for me and would never stop caring. It seemed like the right thing to do was to tell her in person.
Why not just drive up there and tell her? I said to myself. I can come back later tonight so she won’t have to deal with reporters hanging around her place looking for me, at least not as much as if I was there.
Having made up my mind, I picked up the phone and called Lee.
“Lee, this is Ethan Williams,” I said when he answered.
“I’ve been thinking about things and I’ve decided I’m going to drive up to my home in Rehoboth Beach today so I can talk to my mother about this in person. I wanted to let you know so you can tell Jack.”
“That’s not a good idea, Ethan,” he replied. “You heard what Jack said. He wants you in that hotel, not out and about wandering around. He’ll be annoyed if I tell him you’ve gone to Rehoboth Beach so you need to stay put. You can tell your mother over the phone just as well.”
“No, I can’t do that, Lee,” I said. “I need to tell her in person and Jack is just going to have to accept that. I’m planning to come back to the hotel tonight, however.”
Lee wasn’t happy about what he was hearing and our conversation grew increasingly heated as we argued about it for the next couple of minutes. Lee kept insisting I had to stay put and I finally exploded.
“You know what, Lee? I honestly don’t give a shit what you want or what Jack wants for that matter. The only thing I care about right now is my mother hearing it from me directly and that’s what I’m going to do so you can just tell Jack to go to hell.”
With that I hung up the phone and quickly dialed my Mother’s telephone number at home. I knew she would be at work by then, but would check her messages at home around lunchtime. For the moment, I just wanted to leave a message, not speak to her.
“Mom, this is me, Ethan. I have a surprise. I’m driving up to Rehoboth today to see you and Zachary. I’ll be leaving pretty soon and I’m going to turn my phone off while I’m driving. But I hope to get there sometime early this afternoon and I’ll be there for sure by the time you finish up at work.”
“Don’t plan on making dinner. I’m going to take the two of you out for dinner tonight; my treat. See you later, Mom. I love you; and, by the way, if you happen to run into Hunter, tell him I want to see him as well.”
I remember thinking there were a couple of things I needed to pick up over at my place to bring back to Rehoboth with me. I tossed a few things into my duffel bag and was preparing to head out when the phone rang. It was Lee again.
“Look, Ethan, I just spoke to Jack and he’s pretty darn mad. He wants you to do what you’re told and stay at the hotel. The reporters know where you live so they’re sure to be looking for you up there as well if they can’t find you around here. The bottom line is you need to stay put; if you don’t, Jack will be apoplectic.”
“That’s too bad, Lee,” I responded, “but I don’t really care and you can tell Jack that the next time you talk to him. In the meantime, I’m turning my phone off so don’t bother calling again. I’ll let you know when I start back to Washington tonight. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll get back. It’s a lot of driving for one day. But I’ll stay in touch and leave a message for you when I have a better sense of when I’ll be back.”
With that I hung up the phone, retrieved my car from the garage, and drove over to my place across town. I grabbed what I needed, anxious to get on the road as quickly as possible.
The drive down to Rehoboth Beach was long but not especially taxing. The Bay Bridge was clear of traffic and I was leaving early enough that Saturday morning to escape the worst of the traffic jam. I debated whether I should follow Route 50 all the way to Ocean City and then turn north from there. That would take me by Shoreham and the thought of seeing D.W. and Brady again was enticing.
But then I realized they would want to know why I was there when the Warriors were playing that evening and I would have to tell them; and though they would be sympathetic and supportive once I did, it would cast a long shadow over something I wanted to be positive. In any event, I wouldn’t be able to see them for long before having to leave.
So I took the more direct route and pulled into Rehoboth Beach a little after 2 p.m. in the afternoon. Checking my phone, I saw there were messages from both Lee and my Mom. I deleted the one from Lee and called my Mom at work. She picked up the phone immediately.
“Hi, Mom,” I said. “Traffic wasn’t too bad and I’m at the house. How are you?”
“I’m fine,” she responded, “but confused. What brings my baby boy home this afternoon? The Warriors are playing tonight. Why aren’t you up there? Are you injured or something? I hope nothing’s wrong.”
“Um, well, no, Mom,” I responded. “I’m not injured, but something’s come up and I need to talk to you about it in person. I’m going to take a nap and we can talk about it when you get home from work.”
“It’s not some kind of bad news, is it?” Mom asked.
How do mothers sense when something is wrong, I remember wondering?
Why is it they know things long before anyone else has a clue?
“Um, well, let’s not go there, Mom,” I replied. “I need to talk to you about this in person, not over the phone. But, no, it’s not like I’m dying or something so you don’t have to worry about that.”
“That still leaves a lot of possibilities, Ethan,” she responded. “But if you insist on putting more grey hairs in my head, I guess there’s nothing a mother can do.”
“Mom! We’re talking two or three hours here before you get home. Don’t make me feel guiltier than I already do.”
“Well, you just go and have a nice little nap then,” she continued, completely oblivious to my plea. “I’m glad someone will be resting well the next couple of hours. See you in a little while, Ethan; and, oh, by the way, Zachary won’t be home this afternoon.”
“He and Hunter are visiting a friend of theirs up at college in Newark this weekend. It’s the same boy who lived with me this summer, Cameron. I think you already know Zachary wants to go to the University of Delaware next year.”
“I do,” I responded. “I just don’t know why when I can afford to send him anywhere he wants to go now. He’s smart, Mom. He could go anywhere he wants. Why does he want to go to Delaware?”
“Why don’t you ask him that, Ethan,” she replied; “why he wants to go to the University? He has a very good reason.”
“What?” I asked.
“Well, since you’re not willing to share any of your little secrets, I guess I’m entitled to have a few of my own as well; besides, it would be much better coming from him.”
And with that she hung up the phone.
I remember smiling. She had made her point without ragging on me too bad. She wasn’t really trying to hang a guilt trip on me for not telling her right away. But she would be home soon and I would have to tell her and I still didn’t have a clue how I was going to do that.
It wasn’t something I was looking forward to either.
And what’s the big mystery with Zachary?
Not wanting to think about any of this anymore, I walked up the stairs to my bedroom. It still looked pretty much the way it did when I had left years ago. Yeah, sure, I had been back for visits between then and now. But this was different somehow and I remember waxing a little nostalgic about my old room.
Looking around, I could see Mr. Bare Ass looking a bit forlorn, but he seemed to perk up when I picked him up off the bed and gave him a hug.
I remember thinking about all the reasons I had decided to leave him at home when I made that first trip years ago to join the Heat. I was an insecure kid back then and would never have been able to handle all of the taunting if guys knew I still had a teddy bear. They wouldn’t understand how important Mr. Bare Ass had been to me over the years.
But I understood and I remember thinking Mr. Bare Ass was definitely coming back to Washington with me that evening. The two of us had been apart much too long.
Lying down on the bed, I tried to stay focused on the task that had brought me home.
How are you going to tell her, Ethan?
How are you going to tell someone you love so much that her only son is gay; that there aren’t going to be any grandkids, at least not by blood, and maybe none at all?
I still didn’t know how to do it so I closed my eyes and permitted myself to nod off.
I felt her hand nudging my shoulder gently. Looking up, I could see my mother smiling at me.
“Welcome home, Ethan,” she said quietly. “It must be something serious because you have Mr. Bare Ass in a death grip there.”
I looked down and she was right. I was squeezing Mr. Bare Ass more tightly than I had in years. But he hadn’t complained. I think he liked being the center of attention again. I set him down gently, stood up, and hugged my Mom tightly.
“Mr. Burris,” I corrected.
“Forget it, Ethan,” she said. “I’ve known the name of that teddy bear of yours for years. Do you really think you can put something like that over on a Mom?”
“Um, well, apparently not,” I said, surprised she had known all along.
“I’m so glad to see you, Mom. I love you so much.”
“Okay, I’m home now, Ethan,” she replied; “out with it.”
“Let’s go downstairs,” I responded.
I led her down the stairs and into the kitchen. We took chairs on the opposite side of the table we had shared most of our lives.
She didn’t say anything. She just sat there looking at me, waiting for me to get it out. And I still didn’t know how to tell her so I just started talking.
“Um, well, I’m sorry there isn’t a better way to tell you this, Mom, but I’m gay and, um, well, there’s going to be a story about that in the Washington Post tomorrow and, well . . . I don’t know. I guess the main thing you need to know is I’m gay and I’m sorry I never told you that sooner. I just didn’t want to disappoint you.”
“You’ve never disappointed me in your life, Ethan,” my Mom said, reaching her hand across the table and taking mine into hers.
“I’m just sorry you never felt comfortable enough to tell me about this sooner. It doesn’t come as a surprise, Ethan. I’ve suspected you were gay for many years, but I always felt I should let you tell me when you were ready. Perhaps that was a mistake on my part. I’m sorry I didn’t make it easier for you to tell me.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Mom,” I said. “At first I wasn’t certain I was; and then I didn’t want to be for a while and thought that maybe I could cure myself somehow. And then, I don’t know, there just never seemed to be a good opportunity to tell you; and finally I was off to play baseball and, well, I guess it was just easier not to raise it at all after that. Who wants to disappoint their mother after all?”
“Listen to me, Ethan,” she said, and I could hear a note of anger in her voice.
“I told you before. You’ve never disappointed me and you never will. You’ve been the best son a mother could have and I’m proud of you and I always will be. I love you, Ethan. Nothing has changed. Nothing is going to change. You’re still my little boy, you’re still the pride and joy of my life, and I’m sorry this is coming out in a newspaper and making problems for you. But no matter what happens, I’ll always be here for you. I’ll always love you.”
It was like a ton of bricks had been removed from my back. I felt an overpowering need to hug her and that’s what I did. We just stood there embracing for a long time without a word passing between us. I had never felt my mother would reject me for being gay. I had thought she would be a little disappointed but supportive nonetheless, but until you actually experience that kind of love you don’t really understand and appreciate how powerful it can be.
Maybe the Warriors would release me or trade me. Maybe my baseball career was about to be over. Maybe most of the people I knew would abandon me once the story came out. But knowing your mother still loves you is the one thing that can make everything better.
“Um, well, I can’t even begin to express how wonderful it feels knowing you’re there for me Mom. You always have been, even when I didn’t deserve it. But hearing what you just said? Whatever else happens, it makes all the difference, Mom. I love you. I love you so much.”
We embraced for a while longer and then finally I sat her down at the table again.
“As much as I would like not to talk about this anymore, Mom, there are a couple of things you should know. First, there may be a whole bunch of reporters that will begin pestering you, either here at the house, by phone or at work. They’ll be looking for your reaction to the news and they can be pretty relentless. They don’t really give a damn what you say. The only thing they care about is getting that reaction quote for their story.”
“If you want, I can help put together a little statement and perhaps you could release it through where you work. I know Mr. Hill likes you a lot and I’m sure he would be willing to help out if you asked him.”
“The other thing is you may want to move out of here for a few days until this story blows over. I’m going back to Washington later tonight because being here will just draw all the press attention here and I don’t want that for you.”
“They’ll still be some reporters who come down here even if I’m not around and I was thinking maybe you could stay with one of your friends for a few days to avoid being pestered to death by them. I guess it helps some that Zachary isn’t here although I should call him and let him know all about this.”
She surprised me with her reaction.
“Now you listen up here, Ethan,” Mom replied. “We’re the Williams family. We don’t run and we don’t hide and we don’t act like we’re ashamed when we haven’t done anything wrong. I’ll put together my own statement and show it to you; and I think releasing it through Mr. Hill is a good idea. But I’m not going to let the press drive me out of my house.”
“And you’re not going back to Washington tonight either, that’s for sure. You’re staying right here where you’re loved and where you belong.”
“And as for those reporters, Chief Miller is an old friend of mine. You can be darn certain he won’t let those reporters trespass on my property once I tell him the story. He’ll have half of his officers outside just waiting to ticket those vultures and tow their vehicles away.”
“So that’s what I have to say about that and I don’t want to hear another word about it. That’s the way it’s going to be, Ethan. Understood?”
“Um, well . . . uh,” and then my voice just trailed off.
I considered protesting momentarily. I knew my Mom could put together her own statement without my help, but I was worried about being at the house and all the problems that would cause. But I also knew it would be a mistake to protest. Mothers have a certain tone of voice they project when they’re not about to brook any dissent and it was clear to me my mother had made up her mind and wasn’t about to listen to anything I had to say.
“Okay,” I replied. “I understand, Mom. I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to be here because I’ll be like honey drawing all the bees. But I know better than to argue with you. I’ll have to let Jack Girardi know, though; he’s the General Manager of the Warriors. He thinks I’m going back to the hotel room they’ve rented for me on Capitol Hill.”
“That’s fine,” my mother responded. “You do that, Ethan. And you tell him he’s pretty damn lucky to have an outstanding young man like you as the team’s shortstop and they would be fools to do something stupid like releasing or trading you.”
“Um, okay, Mom,” I responded; “whatever you say.”
I felt like a little boy again, meekly heeding his mother; and then I remember liking it. Mom always had a way of making everything better. I wasn’t sure she could spin her magic on a mess like this, but I was happy to let her try.
The two of us spent the next hour or so taking care of business. I called Lee and filled him in on my revised plans for the evening while my mother drafted a statement and then spoke to Mr. Hill and Chief Miller. Lee wasn’t a happy camper, insisting I needed to come back to Washington immediately. When he saw his efforts were going nowhere, he hung up the phone abruptly.
We were finally getting ready to leave the house for dinner when my phone rang. I had put it down on the kitchen table and to my surprise my mother picked it up.
Later she told me what Jack had said when she answered.
“God damn it, Ethan, you need to get that fucking ass of yours back to Washington tonight,” he had shouted into his phone. “The last thing I need is you wandering around. Jesus H. Christ! Can’t you do anything right, you fucking moron!”
“And you need to have your mouth washed out by your mother, sir,” I heard Mom respond. “What kind of decent man uses foul language like that? I’m going to find out where your Mother lives, sir, and tell her what you just said. We’ll see what she has to say about that.”
“And what kind of man doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to some reporter and tell him that my son being gay isn’t any of his business? You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Mr. Girardi, for not standing up for my son. What has he ever done for you and the Washington Warriors except be the best shortstop you’ve ever had?”
“You’re going to have to pay him a lot of money down the road, Mr. Girardi, when you try to get him to resign with you. You can get bet your boots on that. And you’re going to have to pay extra for how you’ve handled this whole thing.”
“You’re the only moron I know and if you were here right now I would slap your face for calling my son a name like that.”
I could only hear one side of the conversation, of course, but I sensed Jack Girardi had never run into someone quite like my Mom before; and apparently he did everything he could to mollify her because she finally agreed she wouldn’t call his mother after all.
I remember being amused by the whole thing. It put a smile on my face for the first time in two days.
What the hell do you need an agent for, Ethan? I said to myself. You ought to let her do the negotiating with Jack the next time your contract comes up for renewal; maybe ask Avery to put her on the payroll.
Later, after she had finished that conversation, I took her out to dinner as promised. A lot of people stopped by our table to say hello or to offer congratulations and tell me how proud they were of me. Some asked why I wasn’t playing that evening and I just made up some excuse about being under the weather.
A couple of boys came by to ask for my autograph and I was happy to sign for them. I didn’t think very many boys would be asking for my autograph after tomorrow and I remember wondering how many of the adults would feel the same way about me the next day.
People can be funny like that. When you’re on top of the world, everyone is your friend. But when you’re down and out and could use a friend, not that many will offer a helping hand. At least that’s what I thought that evening as we made our way back home after dinner.
We would find out soon enough once the morning arrived.
Until then, my mother and I settled down in front of the television and watched our first playoff game that evening. It wasn’t a happy experience. The team struggled all night and didn’t play well, especially defensively. Everyone seemed out of sync and we ended up losing, 3 to 1.
I felt bad about that. I was sure I could have made a difference. But like everything else, it was out of my hands. In the end, I ended up texting Ryan and Elian and some of the rest of the guys on the team, encouraging them to forget the whole thing because I knew they would win the following evening.
I didn’t know that, of course, at least not for sure. In baseball you never know what’s going to happen, just like I wasn’t sure what would happen once the story broke in the papers the next day. But I believed in my teammates and figured they would find a way to turn things around.
And if they could do it, why couldn’t I?
I mean, what was the big deal after all? There was nothing wrong with being gay. I didn’t need to be ashamed of myself. I just needed to be who I was and tomorrow everyone would know who I was; at least part of who I was.
But it was a part I was proud of; and if others didn’t agree it was their problem, not mine.