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What Else Is There?

by Al Norris

Chapter 2

Conditioning Week was an eye-opener. Unlike the schools in San Bernardino, after the baseball season here, almost none of the regular players kept up with their physical exercises. When it came to running, they couldn't touch me. Running patterns like the 5-10-5 or the L-sprint was easy for me. Squats and push-ups? No sweat.

Carl and his hangers-on made sure that the coaches were busy with other people or looking elsewhere whenever he thought he could get away with bad-mouthing me. I let it all slide… mostly. A couple of times, when he was pushing a little harder than usual, I only had to remind him that he couldn't take me in a fair fight.

Tom and a couple of other guys I had thought might be my friends stayed non-committal. This kinda hurt, because it told me that they thought I might be gay and wanted to keep their distance. Lunch times were still spent at the Nerd Table. They didn't seem to care one way or another.

As the week went on, some of the other guys, who like me, were athletes and smart, started hanging at the Nerd Table too.

The highlight of my week was Thursday. At lunch, Tom joined our table. I looked at him. To say I was full of questions was an understatement. I just had to ask…

"Tom, I had hoped that we were gonna be friends. Then that crap with Carl, about my going to that one Diversity Club meeting came up. After I called the jerk out and beat him, fair and square, you and some of the other guys I thought were gonna be friends, just ignored me.

"Carl kept on calling me queer. …And you guys… You just backed off. It was like you couldn't decide for yourselves. You just stood by, no matter what Carl said. I mean, Carl didn't know me any more than you did. So just what the hell are you doing here?" By this time all conversation at our table had stopped. Everyone was looking at us, wondering what would happen next.

Tom hung his head a bit before he answered, "Pete, we… I was wrong to go along with Carl. Nobody really knew you, so we just followed what the others were saying, or just tried to stay out of the way. This last week at tryouts, you have made it pretty damn clear that you are as good or even better than many of the guys trying for the team. What I'm trying to say is that I was wrong, and I'm sorry." At this, almost everyone went back to eating. However, a few of the players were listening to what Tom and I were saying.

"I thought I showed that when I put Carl down," I said with a lot of sarcasm. "And as far as the team goes, that's because I don't stop training in between sports. You simply can't stop your training for six or eight months and expect to stay fit."

"Back at my old school, I ran five to seven miles, every day. It wasn't long before there were always about ten of us running together. Right now there are seven of us that run here, every morning before school."

"Yeah. But we can't be serious about this stuff all the time. Gotta have time for fun, ya know?"

"I'm guessing our priorities are different then, Tom." I shook my head. "I like baseball and football. I want to be good enough to be on the teams. For me, that means I do training every day. It only takes an hour, that leaves plenty of time to goof off."

"Yeah but, after school, I have ta do chores and then get my homework done. Ain't a lot of time ta goof around after that." Tom argued.

"Do you have chores before school?"


"Well then, do what I do. I get up an hour early and run a few miles. I do some light exercises before my run to stretch, then the same thing after the run to cool down." I had finished eating so I made sure I had everything on my tray. "Look, Tom, after school, I do my homework then I get dinner ready for when my uncle gets home from work. We eat, I clean up the kitchen, and then I have free time until I need to get to bed."

"You cook?"

"Sure. It's part of my chores. On weekends we both pick up the house and do any yardwork that needs doing. That only takes a couple of hours, but I still get up early to get my run in. It's just not that hard, once you get into the habit." Looking at the cafeteria clock, I saw we had about five minutes left. So I got up to deposit my trash and tray. A couple of the other guys at our table had already left.

Tom sat with us on Friday and that's when he learned that I was taking several AP classes. I think that surprised him. A couple of the geeks at our table kinda snickered at his stunned reaction. They already knew I wasn't a hardcore jock.

Monday rolled around and 7th-period gym, which was the start of our first day of tryouts. It was supposed to be for that hour and an hour after school. The only thing bad about the day was that Carl was also going to try out for the team.

Monday and Tuesday, we did stretches, and a few drills, and then the coaches split us up and we played some short games with the two sides. Everyone got to try the positions they wanted, along with being put in other spots. I just assumed that the coaches wanted to see if their players were any good in other positions than the ones they wanted.

The only position that I didn't play was pitching. I really sucked at that. Not that I couldn't get the ball to the catcher, I just didn't have the control to consistently get the ball into the strike zone. Hey! A guy can't be good at everything!

By the end of the practice on Wednesday, the coach was alternating me between both shortstop and second base with another guy. Mitch was a junior, a bit taller and heavier than me. I guess that was expected, since he was at least two years older than me, and I also guess those were the positions he liked best, just like me.

Mitch has the locker next to mine and we had begun to talk while dressing before and after practice. Talking with him was easy. Mitch and I didn't have the same lunch period. The only class, besides Gym, that we had together was 2nd period AP Physics.

As we were leaving the locker room that Wednesday afternoon, Mitch asked if I could come over to his house. "Let me call my uncle and let him know. Where do you live?" I asked while pulling my phone out of my backpack.

"A short half mile west of the school. Where do ya live, Peter?"

"About a mile south. I use the 9th street footbridge to get across the river."

"Do ya ride a bike?"

"Nah. I walk. It's good exercise." I said.

"Hmm, depending on how long ya stay, I might get mom to give ya a ride home. Ya play any games? I have a Playstation 2 and an Xbox."

"That's cool, Mitch. I have an Xbox at home. Don't use it much, except on weekends."

"Ya know Peter, I've been kinda watchin' ya." He held up a hand, "Um… Don't mean I'm stalkin' ya any… I just kinda noticed ya don't seem to have any real friends at school. I, uh… I would like to change that, Peter."

I stopped walking and looked hard at him. "Mitch?" He hadn't noticed right off that I had stopped. When I called his name, he stopped and turned to face me. "I gotta ask… Why would you want to be my friend? You know I'm 2 or 3 years younger than you, doncha?" This was kinda strange. I couldn't figure out what his angle was. Juniors just don't mix with sophomores, especially sophomores who are as young as I am.

Mitch looked around before he said, "Peter, I live just up the street. Can I answer ya after we get there?" I nodded and we began walking again. It took us less than a minute before he turned onto a walk leading to a nice-looking house.

Mitch unlocked the door and led the way inside. He dropped his bag and took off his shoes. Taking the hint, I did the same. Mitch then walked towards what looked like the kitchen. "Ya wanta snack or sumpin' ta drink?"

"Sure, you got a Dew?" Mitch nodded and motioned for me to sit at the breakfast bar, while he went to the fridge and grabbed a couple of cans. A Dew for me and a Pepsi for himself.

Mitch sat next to me, opened his soda, took a drink, and then looked at me again. His eyes got this sorta pleading look to them as he spoke. "I've heard the rumors Carl has been spreading around…"

"Hell, everyone at school has heard his big mouth. Most everyone has also heard how I decked him the first time he called me a queer." I interrupted him. "I like you, Mitch. I've liked you since I first met you. Since tryouts have begun, you've impressed me. We seem to work well together on the field." I sighed and continued, "But you have to know that if you start hanging with me, the idiots are gonna call you a fag too, just by association." I took a quick sip of my Dew and continued with a hint of a smile, "And I should probably mention that it is safer to wear a red shirt in a bull ring than it is to mention that jerk's name when I'm around."

"Well, I certainly don't want to start a fight!" Mitch said with a short laugh, then continued with that odd soft look in his eyes. "Peter, I've been watching ya from the sidelines. Ya talk to most everyone. I hear ya sit with the nerds because the team has sorta been pulled into what Carl has been saying. The thing is, ya don't confirm what he's been saying, but ya don't outright deny it either.

"Add ta that, that ya have said ya had some gay friends at your other school before ya came here. Soooo…" There was that pleading look in his eyes again, "I'm gay, Peter. Before now, only my parents have known.

"I'm willin' ta bet no one else has actually asked ya… Peter? Are ya gay too?"

I thought about the question for a few seconds and then held out my hand. "Mitch, I'm gay. My friends call me Pete." Mitch shook my hand and I could see his eyes begin to water. "Oh hell!" I said, as I leaned in and grabbed him in a hug.

After a minute, we pulled back and just looked at each other for a moment. "Maybe I should have said I'm pretty sure I'm Gay. I don't feel that way about everybody, and I've never done anything with anyone. You ever done anything with anybody, Mitch?"

He laughed, "Around here? Ya gotta be shittin' me."

I couldn't help but notice he was tenting just like me. "So you're a virgin like me then?" He nodded. "Ca… Can I kiss you?"

He leaned forward and brushed his lips against mine. Oh crap! I wanted more than that, so I leaned into him and began to really kiss him. His tongue brushed my lips and they seemed to open of their own accord for him.

I figured we had only been swapping spit for a minute or so, but my body was telling me to stop now. I pulled back and smiled at him. "Gotta stop Mitch, or I will be walking home with wet underwear!"

"Um… yup. Only I have extras here… For me!" He laughed with me. "Let's go play a game or two."

I noticed that it was about 5 o'clock when his mom got home and I told him I should be going. Mitch was right, his mom drove me home. I thanked her when she dropped me off and said goodbye to Mitch.

Thursday and Friday tryouts went pretty well. Coach Anderson was paying more attention to our third and first base players while the assistant coach, Jonas, was working the pitchers. Mitch and I would trade off on our own without any direction from the coaches.

I did notice that when Carl went to pitch, he wasn't consistent with his speed or his ability to hit the strike zone. Oh, he was much better than I was, but I didn't think he was good enough to play varsity.

I guess we would find out Saturday when Coach Anderson was supposed to have his lineup posted.

As we were getting our street clothes on, after the workout, Mitch asked, "So Peter, do you think you'll make varsity this year?"

"I know we still have tomorrow left for tryouts, but the way coach was running both of us the last two days? Yeah, I think we both made the team. I like both positions, so as long as I get one or the other, I'm fine with it.

"Betcha that tomorrow he works more with the pitchers. So what position do you want, Mitch?"

"Honestly? I'd like shortstop. We work together pretty good in either spot, so let's just keep doing that and let the chips fall where the coach wants them."

"Sounds like a plan to me," I said as I held out my hand to Mitch. At that moment, Carl walked by and shoved me hard into the lockers.

"Faggots don't play on our team!" Carl said loud enough for those around Mitch and me to hear, as he started to walk away.

The lockers in our gym are double stacked and about 10 inches wide and open to the right, as you face them. Mine was an upper locker and was still open since I hadn't put on my shirt or grabbed my backpack. I was facing Mitch, which put my right side towards the open locker. My right shoulder was shoved into the inside edge of the door, hitting it hard enough to cause the door to pivot closed… However, my head was in the way, so the door didn't actually close!

I came off the locker, hopped up on the bench, and flung myself at Carl. My flying leap caught him around his neck and brought him down. As we were both falling, I rolled into a ball, pivoted, and came up on my haunches, ready to knock some sense into him or knock the shit out of him. Whichever came first.

Carl had stopped himself from a serious face-planting by coming down on his hands. He started to get up, pushing off with his arms when I simply put my right fist into his jaw. Carl collapsed onto the concrete floor.

At about that time, I began to hear what was going on around me. From the moment Carl shoved me until I hit him, I really didn't hear anything. Now there was shouting, a lot of shouting, which made my head hurt… Wait… My head hurt? Then I felt a sting on my right shoulder and felt wetness running down that arm. Remembering the locker door, I used my left hand to feel the back of my head. It was wet and kinda sticky. I looked at my hand and it was all bloody. Then I looked at my shoulder and could see what looked like a three-inch gash that was also bleeding. A lot, it seemed.

Now I was pissed. Carl was trying to get up on his knees. "Stay down you sonofabitch!" I shouted at him. I cocked my right hand again, ready for him to get up and try anything. That was when I felt, rather than saw, something dripping off my right elbow. A couple of senior guys grabbed Carl and held him down.

Someone else grabbed at my left shoulder and I attempted to spin around, intending to coldcock whoever was behind me, when I heard, "Easy son." It was Coach Anderson. He not only grabbed my shoulder, but he now had my right fist in his hand, blocking my swing. "Sitdown Williams. We need to look at your injuries." The Coach backed me up a step and forced me to sit down on the bench.

Coach Jonas was also there, asking what the hell happened. Mitch and two seniors were telling him how Carl had slammed me into the lockers, calling me a faggot. "...It all happened so fast," Mitch was saying. "The next thing I knew, Carl was face down on the floor and Pete coldcocked him. That's when Coach Anderson got here."

Coach Anderson now had a towel that he pressed into my shoulder, which was beginning to throb. "Get the First Aid Kit!" He ordered to no one in particular. "And clean up the blood on the floor there, before someone slips in it!" He pointed.

The bench was getting bloody before anyone thought to wipe the crap off of my arm. Now, I could also feel something wet running down my neck and back. I hadn't put on my T-shirt, just my jeans. The coach was wrapping the towel tightly around my shoulder and armpit and then took some duct tape around it to keep it in place.

Someone else was looking at the back of my head and had wiped up the blood that had spread to my neck and down my back.

Coach Jonas was telling everyone that if they didn't see what happened to get dressed and be back tomorrow.

All during this, Carl was shouting obscenities about faggots and cocksuckers playing on the team, while desperately struggling, in an attempt to escape the hold the seniors had on him.

Then, in my skewed sense of time, there were EMTs and police all over the place in the locker room. Carl was handcuffed and led out of the building. Everything seemed a little hazy. I guess I was sorta in shock with everything that had just happened. I was laid down on my belly while the EMTs looked at my head and then my shoulder. A bandage was wrapped and applied to my head. The EMTs took off the coach's impromptu bandaid and replaced it with some kind of compress that was fitted to my arm, just below my shoulder. Then they put me on a gurney and rolled it out to the awaiting ambulance. It wasn't until then that I noticed that the EMTs were dressed as firemen and realized that it was a Fire Dept Emergency Ambulance and not a hospital-dispatched job.

"Whoa, guys! Where are you taking me?" I asked as the EMTs rolled me out.

"Northeastern Regional."

"Do I really need an ER visit? Can't Medallus Urgent Care look at this and stitch it up?" This was where Uncle George had told me handled most of our medical issues.

"Any of the urgent care facilities could take care of these lacerations. However, it's a school insurance thing that requires us to take you to the ER. Sorry, we don't have a choice in this."

"Jeez… What a waste of money. Hey, before we take off, can we make sure my Uncle has been called? He's my guardian." Even as I said it, I wondered if it was such a good idea. I could be grounded for life for fighting in school.

I guess the coach had been following me because he was the next voice I heard. "Yes, Williams. He's been called and said he would meet you there. I'll get someone to get your backpack and stuff"

"Thanks, Coach. Hey, Mitch knows where I live, coach. Um… Is this gonna mess up my chances of getting on the team?"

"Which sport? If you mean Barroom Brawling, the school doesn't have a squad, but I think you might be elected Captain." I felt a hot flash as I blushed at that. I couldn't see his face, and I desperately hoped he was smiling. "If you mean baseball, only if you stay out of practice longer than a week. I had pretty much made up my mind that you were gonna be our second baseman on varsity, Williams. I'm going to use Thomas as our shortstop since he has more experience there. The two of you working together make a good pair. Don't think I haven't noticed.

"You get that arm stitched and after the stitches come out, you'll be back to practice and maybe even start in our first game in three weeks. You up for that?"

"You betcha coach. See ya tomorrow." Tomorrow, Saturday, the roster would come out. I know the coach said I had made the team, but I had to see it to be sure of my spot.

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