D.G. was in the middle of a stirring pep talk, warming to his subject with practised vigor. “Maybe we had to pull out all the stops to clinch the pennant, boys, but you’ve seen the kind of competition the Mets will be giving us...and I know that we’ve got this sewn up right out of the bag, who’s with me?” A rousing cheer swept the room, which was not surprising--Dennis G. being a better speaker than he knew.
It didn’t hurt that Bud Tripplehorne was sitting in the front row, for all intents and purposes completely whole.
That didn’t hurt at all.
“We’re clicking like never before, we’ve managed to really start working like a team, and tonight is the beginning of legend, folks, the beginning of a World Series victory for the National League Certified Since 1903 Boston Braves, how about that?!?”
The cheer doubled, and redoubled, and as D.G. began walking the length of the room, shaking each player’s hand in turn, the sheer excitement running around threatened to overwhelm them all.
Finally he got back to the front, held up his hands for quiet. “Now, I’ve kept a sharp eye on this team, and I know that you turkeys have your positions down. We’re clicking, we’re tight, and there’s nothing I need do now but sit back and watch the magic happen. So get out of here,” he waved at them all, “Go be kind to your wives, kiss your girlfriends, wash the dog or do something constructive with your Monday morning--but be here nice and sharp at 4 o’clock, understand?
“Anybody late has to play naked. Don’t think I’m kidding,” the manager of the Braves called over the laughter and chair scraping as his boys began exiting the room.
Standing back as the place emptied, D.G. watched carefully--and he saw a group of men that were ready. God bless Stiller for making it all possible, he thought irreverently...but not without a little bit of pride.
Four games, straight out of the bag--Dennis G. had no doubts about that.
It was going to be a quick week.
Jason caught up to Bud in the outside corridor. “I heard what Mr. Muldowney said--” the whole room had heard, but Bud was nice enough not to rib The Kid, “--and I’ll say that was some good news, huh?”
Bud grunted, figuring he could maybe poke a little fun. “You should see it from my side.”
At least Jason could laugh at himself. “Yeah, sure. But I just wanted to ask for myself--are you okay?”
Thinking about it, Tripplehorne realized just how tired he was of that question. Without saying anything at first, he just flexed his arm a couple of times, stopping in mid-stride to throw several imaginary pitches. “That answer your question?”
Jason looked embarrassed. “Actually, Bud, I didn’t mean your arm--I was asking in general if you were okay.”
He looked into the kid’s eyes...and then Bud understood. And was touched, that alone out of all the Braves, manager included, Jason Stiller was concerned with Francis Tripplehorne the person, not Frances Tripplehorne the star pitcher. “Good, Kid. Really good. Any day you get out of a hospital under your own power is a good day.”
It looked like Jason was about to leave, but Bud put out a hand and stopped him. “Listen, Kid, I really appreciate your concern.” It was difficult to say, but darned if he wasn’t going to say it. “And don’t think I ain’t happy that you saved my life.
“I don’t know where that monster came from--come to think of it, I don’t know where he went, either--but you showed up in the nick of time, Kid, and I’m mighty glad of it.”
Jason looked freshly embarrassed. But they shook on it and he nodded...and then strode off down the hall, his head up proudly.
Bud hid a chuckle behind his hand. That boy was all right.
And it was going to be fun to watch him whoop up on the Mets, that was for sure.
* * *
Jason’s happy stride was knocked for a loop as he swung cleanly through the door exiting the stadium...and saw Raven Germane standing by the ticket kiosk, waiting for him.
She was nice enough not to say anything about how he almost ran into the wall.
After he had recovered his balance and his courage he walked to where she was. “Morning.”
Whether it was on purpose or not, she was wearing the same overalls and ponytail that he remembered from that day so long before, the day of the kiss...why did she have to be so beautiful, anyway? Why couldn’t he just give his heart a swift kick in the butt and move on?
“I guess Bud is okay?”
“That’s what he says. Seems glad to be out of the hospital.”
“Are you excited about the Series?”
“Sure, I guess. It’s just another set of games, though, in the end.”
She looked uncomfortable, and Jason felt like an idiot. This was the same woman that he had told his deepest fears to, the woman who had listened to all of his stories and his dreams...why could he no longer speak to her? “Are you okay? When you ran out of that hospital room, the other day, I wanted to run after you.”
* * *
She wished he had, and also wished that they could figure out what the barrier was between them and knock it the heck down. “I’m okay. I still don’t understand all of this, I don’t get how this game you all play is more important than the people that care about you, more important than your own health, even.” She kept going before he could interrupt. “But it’s probably not something I’m made to understand. And that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It doesn’t mean any of you are wrong.”
...The next thing she said was not planned, coming as it did from the depths of her heart. “Are you aware that I’m still in love with you?”
Oh...she hadn’t meant to say that. How it could keep from making things worse she did not know.
But the next step was up to him, wasn’t it?
* * *
The breath in his throat refused to move either forward or back, until with an effort he made his heart accept it, let the information in, despite all the sudden fears and desires that sprang up along the way.
When she looked at him, when he met those beautiful eyes with his own once more, he knew that he was also still in love, and slowly--letting her pull back if she wished, desiring not to frighten or anger her--he stepped forward once, and again, and then she was in his arms.
It was as if the flimsiest, silkiest magical spell had been woven around their embrace. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything, to do anything more, for fear that it would all evaporate if he so much as blinked.
For more than a moment Jason Stiller concentrated on the feel and smell of her, aware that this moment was virtually stolen and that he might never be so fortunate again in his life.
For once--for once--he would not take his good fortune for granted, and if this was somehow the end, he wanted to remember it forever. To remember her...forever.
* * *
She hadn’t expected her confession--hadn’t even known that it was true until the words had appeared...and then when he stepped foward, she knew the smartest thing would be to stop him, to move away or say no...
But it just seemed so right. When his arms were tight around her, when she could just lay her head up under his chin, feel his breath on her cheek, it felt like all was right with the world and nothing could get in to harm her again.
Except that it wasn’t true. And she knew that. She couldn’t trust in her feelings, and as nice as this was, it wouldn’t take care of the problems in life, it wouldn’t make her father’s anger go away.
Plus there was another thing. Another important thing that had to be resolved...or even being held by him was wrong. “Jason?”
* * *
He was almost shaking, at once overwhelmed with his love and yearning for the beautiful woman in his arms...and scared, scared badly that he was about to wake up and she would be gone. “Yes?”
“There’s something I have to ask you.”
She didn’t sound especially excited over what she had to say, but she wasn’t pushing back from him either... “What is that?”
Then she did push back, just a little, stepping slightly away--far enough to look him straight in the eye. “I need you to tell me the truth, Jason, even if you don’t think I’ll like it.”
Now the fears were doubled, and he didn’t think he wanted this to continue--but in the end he loved her, truly loved her, and knew that whatever the question was, it was important.
“You have my word.”
* * *
She looked into those brown eyes and knew she could accept that. “Before I forget, I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to you last week. The argument we had...it was at least partly my fault if not mostly. You wanted to talk about us, and I wouldn’t listen.” At first it looked like Jason had something to say, but by the time she was finished he was still again.
So she continued. “I thought about us, Jason, just as much in the last week as in the last month.” Had it been that long, since things had gone sour? “And if it were up to me alone, if I could make all my decisions just based on what I want, what I think is best for me...then I would want to let you hold me, would want to just go away with you, wherever you went in this world.”
She couldn’t believe the things she was saying, was it something in the air? But her conscience told her it was all true, and maybe it was necessary, maybe if she laid it all out he would finally deal with it all. “I’m old enough and I think wise enough to say it--if it were up to me I would marry you, Jason Stiller, if...if you’d have me.” Her voice faltered for a moment, and there was only silence.
Either he realized that she wasn’t finished or he didn’t have anything to say, because he didn’t break the silence.
“But it’s not up to me, Jason. What I was trying to tell you the other day, what you didn’t want to listen to, was true--and very, very important to me.” Raven did not have any idea how he would take it, what his response would be. She had to trust the One who had said He would make everything okay. A lightning-quick prayer, basically an anxious Jesus, please help, and she went on. “I’ve given my heart, my life, over to Jesus Christ. I love Him, and the man I would marry has to understand that I’m always going to love Jesus more than I will him.
“There’s more--the man I would marry has to be able to say the same thing. He has to be on the same team, Jason, and in agreement with me that he will always love Jesus more than me.
“I’ve seen what marriage is like, even the strong ones don’t have things easy. And there’s just no other way.” For no special reason she suddenly felt embarrassed but didn’t stop. “What I’m saying, and I hope it’s making some sort of sense, is that unless you also serve Jesus, unless you have a relationship with Him as well, I just can’t give you my heart, Jason.
“As much as I love you, as much as I enjoy being around you...as scared as I get sometimes, thinking about it, worried that I’ll never find anybody as wonderful as you...Gertie showed me where the Bible talks about marriage. And God doesn’t appreciate people that love him marrying people that don’t.”
It was all the marriage discussion that was making her embarrassed. The Kid probably didn’t have any plans that serious, probably just wanted to take her out and kiss her and have a good time.
Now she was running him off...
Out of words, out of pleas, Raven stopped talking and just watched him.
* * *
He had almost gotten stuck on hearing that she was willing and seemed like she actually wanted to marry him.
It was something Jason had thought of more than a few times, had daydreamed about, wondering if it were possible that a girl--especially a woman such as Raven Germane--would ever desire to commit her whole life to him.
He almost got stuck on that part. But he heard it all, and because he knew how sincere she was being, knew that whether or not he liked it, whether or not it got him what he wanted, he could not lie to her. “I respect and love you, Raven. And part of me wishes desperately that I had good things to tell you.
“I know who Jesus is supposed to be, Raven, I know all the stories...I spent many hours, a long time ago, sitting in Sunday morning church. I know how the tale goes.”
* * *
She could read it in his eyes, but needed to hear it said.
He said it. “But I don’t have anything to do with God, not since my mother died. You don’t know my father, you don’t know how cold and uncaring he is...God is the same way.
“And I can’t trust that.”
Strangely she didn’t feel like crying. The sadness inside wasn’t despair, wasn’t the utter heartbreak it might have once been.
It was just sadness, for his being lost in the world, and for all the love she had for him that apparently was still not going to be enough. “Then you’d better stop touching me.” He did, and she stepped away completely, turning her back. “It’s not that I don’t want it, Jason, but...”
“I know.” He sounded sad too.
In the end, her Lord still loved her, and that was what really mattered...yet her heart felt awful as she walked away, not letting herself look back.
Hoping somehow to trust Him through it all.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding...” she quoted to herself. Without asking her permission her heart yelled suddenly, made her turn around and look back, to where he was...
But he wasn’t there anymore, and she was alone.
* * *
Jason Stiller hadn’t been telling everybody the truth.
It wasn’t just a bunch of games. It was the World Series.
But he couldn’t act out the excitement he truly felt...because it might bring bad luck, it might make him look foolish, and it certainly wouldn’t help him relax and just do his best.
His head knew the Mets were not much of a challenge, nothing like the Reds had been. His head knew that this surely would be a cakewalk, and the thousands of people watching and tens of thousands more listening over radiowaves would get to hear about his heroic deeds, about more homeruns and high scores and maybe the magic .400...
His head knew it. But for some reason the rest of him had not gotten the message, and as Jason walked towards home plate for his first at-bat, his hands were shaking.
Everything fell into place, though, as soon as he was in the right spot. Just to the left of and slightly behind the plate, bat resting easily on his shoulder, as he looked Shady Jeffries, pitching for the New York Mets, right in the eye.
The first pitch came down the alley, and with his usual grace and ease, Jason swatted it completely out of the park.
* * *
D.G. had been watching closely, having heard Jason talk about how easy things would be...and at the same time, knowing The Kid pretty well, seeing the shaky hands, seeing less than the usual bounce to his friends’ step.
Dennis G. knew perfectly well that it wasn’t just another game, despite what anybody bravely said.
The sound of that first home run...he did indeed believe, once again, that everything was going to turn out all right.
If it wasn’t his own dream, and never would be...at least he was close enough to hear the applause, feel the glory being handed down, and that was better than a poke in the eye with a rusty nail, wasn’t it?
* * *
Bud Tripplehorne grinned from where he was watching in the dugout. If that boy’s batting wasn’t the prettiest sight he had almost ever seen...and the fact that the ball never hit the ground, well that didn’t hurt anything.
After a few practice throws, and despite a week of working hard at wringing every ounce of strength and speed out of his so-recently-injured arm, Bud knew the truth...the truth that he had not and would not share with anybody, not if he could help it.
The long feared injury had happened, and his career, his status as a Boston Brave now depended entirely on Jason Stiller.
Because as long as The Kid was working miracles, nobody would notice a washed-up pitcher without an arm. Or so he hoped.
Bud sat in the dugout thinking about the end of his dreams, wondering why he hadn’t done a better job of holding on to the goodness that had been. There had been many years of applause, of winning, of all the goodies that went with being people’s hero. Where had it gone? Why had it never been enough?
He sat and thought about it, and for no particular reason his perspective changed. Then again, there was something to be said for actually letting it go, being thankful for his wife, his family, the success of the past, and saying goodbye to the greatest sport on earth, truly being free to be who he was...
Bud sat in the dugout wondering if such a thing was humanly possible even as his friend and teammate began to trot around the baseline.
* * *
Robert P. Germane had been doing a lot of thinking. He hadn’t seen much of Raven the past month or so...and he sat in the stadium box and wondered about that, while keeping a close eye on the man she had claimed to love.
He knew about love. He knew how dangerous love was, how painful. He knew what was best, that security and something to hold onto was worth a lot more than feelings, however nice they might be.
That was why money meant so much to him. You could hold onto money. It had weight, it had a feel to it--and if that feeling was cold, uncaring, at least it was real.
At least it was real.
In the end Robert Germane had figured out a way to get more of what he wanted most, and after talking with the owner of the New York Mets, a deal had been struck that would let him rake in a whole pile of the cold, uncaring safety blanket that meant so much to him.
And in the end, when everything was said and done, Raven would be matched up with a man he could trust.
One of his choosing, or one under his control. Either way, she would be safe.
Robert P. Germane kept a close eye on Jason Stiller, cooked his plans, and reveled in the peace that he felt deep inside.
* * *
Raven was not sitting in a nice box with her father--that wasn’t where she wanted to be.
Neither was she sitting in or near the dugout, as much as Jason and Deeg might have enjoyed it...she had been invited by both separately.
She didn’t really belong there, either.
Raven Germane didn’t know where she fit in, or what to cling to, except for the small voice in her spirit, that kept calling her back, away from the easy outs and shortcuts the world kept offering: depression, anger, the solace of alcohol--or money, her father’s comfort--or even another relationship, finding another handsome man to hold her and tell her he loved her. The small voice wouldn’t let her get away with that anymore, and while she appreciated His help, in the end she still had to consciously decide to trust.
But everytime she did, the voice congratulated her on making a good choice, reminded her to keep trusting, and promised again that everything would be okay.
Not that trusting was easy. Not when it seemed impossible that the man she loved would ever let his heart be unfrozen, be melted by the love of her Lord. Not when she had to push her heart away from him over and over.
Not when her father had begun to earnestly seek out a suitable husband for his only daughter. Raven knew what was going on, though Robert P. hadn’t bothered to tell her. She knew him, and was good at piecing things together.
He was going to marry her off, just as soon as he found a worthy--respectable and very rich--man to sell her to.
Raven was no wallflower, she had a mind and a will of her own, but how could she get away from it? Simply refuse? Run? Her father had more control over her life than she was really willing to admit...and to top it all off, every time she turned to her Lord for help, He just told her to trust Him and not worry.
Sometimes the young lady felt like screaming, or throwing plates, but she had learned that she could be better than such things...and she wanted that.
So she watched the game progress from her quiet, anonymous seat, crying a little and doing her best not to worry as she watched the man she loved win the day.
* * *
The National League Certified Since 1903 Boston Braves won the first game of the World Series, and the next day they won the second, and the next day they won the third.
Despite winning their own division the Mets looked terrible--people who didn’t really know what they were talking about said that New York had a fair amount of skill, but that it was pretty much luck that had gotten them the pennant. They didn’t have what it took to win a Series.
Not that anybody imagined that things would be the same if not for The Kid. He had signed autographs before, but now it was necessary to travel in groups with his teammates, just so the guys could help him keep moving, if nothing else simply carry his bags so he could sign pennants on the go. Everybody that came around wanted to shake his hand, to congratulate him on the runs, on the scores, on his record-setting average.
It was embarrassing, and the Braves who helped The Kid out during that showstopping week remembered later that Jason had always thanked them, usually blushing as he did so, for helping out.
That humility, and the fact that the Braves knew Jason really was hitting for them all, kept more than one player from walking out in frustration.
But the team stuck together, and were more than fired up for their fourth day, for what all but the most diehard Mets fans were sure would be the final game of that unforgettable World Series.
The most diehard Mets fans...and Robert P. Germane.
There was an emergency meeting in his office directly after game three, in which Bob decided he’d like to speak with D.G. Muldowney, Bud Tripplehorne, and Jason Stiller.