The Kid

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Chapter Three

BRAVES’ SURPRISE TAKES CENTER STAGE

BRAVES VETO SENATORS

WATCH OUT FOR THE KID

* * *

The opening game for the Braves that season had them facing the Washington Senators, and that day the baseball-loving American public were favored with the sweet surprise the Boston Braves had successfully kept under wraps. That day America got wind of Jason Stiller.

He didn’t break any records, or any more bats...but when the game was over he was rightfully credited with three home runs and three RBIs and a first-game rookie batting average of .327, which was among the highest ever. It didn’t break the record, but it did get a lot of people talking.

The Boston Globe came up with the headline that said WATCH OUT FOR THE KID, and the name stuck. By the end of that first glorious day his manager, his owner, his fellow players and the quickly enamored public were calling Jason Stiller, their new star, “The Kid.”

Bud Tripplehorne was not available for comment.

Jason did make several new friends, however. After Dutch Cattan pulled in the pop fly that called an end to the season opener and capped the Braves’ win over the Senators, Jason was trotting with the rest of the players towards the dugout when a fairly strange sight caught his attention.

There were plenty of new fans waving at him, trying to be noticed, but one immense, middle-aged man down by the front rail was dressed...like nothing Jason had ever seen. The man had on what looked like an ice-cream vendor’s uniform, topped off by an overlarge rainbow beanie, complete with propeller, that was clapped atop his balding head.

For no reason that he could really explain, perhaps the man’s quiet grin, Jason decided that he could afford to say hello. The man was waving at him, and seemed quite pleased to bend over and shake the star rookie’s hand.

His large new friend might have topped 300 pounds and looked quite tall, especially from Jason’s position a few feet below the rail; but the voice that came out of the big man was surprisingly quiet and slow. “It’s really nice of you to say hello to me, Mr. Stiller. I really liked watching you play out there today.”

Jason smiled without thinking about it, as if the big man’s grin had pulled one out of him unnoticed. “Thank you. Call me Jason.”

“I’m Earl,” the patch on his uniform read Garve but Jason didn’t really think he needed to have it explained, “But most folks just say ‘Hi, Beanie.’”

“Beanie?”

“Yes.” The big man flicked at the propeller on his head and beamed happily. “It was really nice watching you play today.”

“You come to a lot of games, Beanie?”

“Every one. It’s the one thing I do when I’m not working.”

“Well I’ll keep my eye out for you. I’ll say hello whenever I see you.”

Then the big man grinned like to split his face wide open, and the smile on Jason’s face was an even match. “Thank you very much. Be sure and take care of your fish, all right?”

Again, Jason figured explanations weren’t really important. “I certainly will.”

Beanie turned and began to make his ponderous way up the steps.

Jason watched him walk away and found himself still smiling. A voice called over his left shoulder, “Beanie seems to like you--you were pretty nice to him.”

“Well, he seemed like an okay sort of guy.” Jason turned to see another smile, on a level with his this time, that belonged to a young man--someone close to Jason’s own age, quite probably. “Good to meet you.”

The affable stranger shook his hand. “You don’t know for certain that it is good to meet me, though, Mr. Stiller.”

“Like I said to Beanie, my name’s Jason...and I’ll take my chances.”

“I’m Kip Gumbo.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Yes and no.” In an unconscious action that Jason would get familiar with, Kip ran a hand through his shock of red hair, trying to get an unruly cowlick to stay put. “It isn’t the name I got at birth, but it’s the one I write under.”

The stadium had begun to empty. Jason was hot and thirsty from the just-finished game, and he moved towards the cooler dugout, pulling Kip along with conversation. “I think I can understand that. What do you write--or should I say, who do you write for?”

Taking a seat next to the newest rookie star, Kip explained, “I guess both questions apply. I have a bit of the sports page in the Tribune. Just a few lines, but it’s a start.”

Jason had realized why he liked this guy already. “You’re new to your job just like I am to mine, aren’t you?”

“Pretty much--and I’ve got no former experience in this sort of thing...”

“Also like me.”

“Of course, it doesn’t look like writing comes as naturally to me as hitting a baseball does to you.” When Jason waved this off, Kip persisted, “Do you plan on hitting like that the rest of this season?”

“Yeah, and many seasons to come.”

“Can I ask a favor?”

The question surprised Jason, but he shrugged his ok.

“It’s just this--I’m trying to become a star where the Trib is concerned, and I have a lot of catching up to do compared to these older, experienced sportswriters.

“Tell the truth, Jason,” Kip shifted in his seat, “I really can’t believe my luck in talking to you first. You haven’t been approached by any reporters?”

“Not really. Several hung out during spring training, but nobody told ’em about me.”

“Sheer luck. Sheer, amazing, seat-of-my-corduroy-pants luck. You may not be aware of this, Jason, but a lot of times big players, important people in baseball, have writers that they keep around.”

“What, like a pet?”

Kip laughed. “Well, sort of--if you want to look at it like that, they feed their pet sportswriters the inside dope. Personal interviews, breaking news items--sometimes letting them join the team on the road, bringing them into the clubhouse, just because one of the players has taken a liking to them.

“Anybody can report how many home runs you made, how high your batting average is, everyman stuff like that. I want to get the real scoop on Jason Stiller.”

“Wow.” Jason was suitably impressed. He thought about it for a minute, and he was still impressed. “Listen, I like the idea and if the powers-that-be will let me, I certainly would prefer somebody I can relate to more than just any schmoe--but I’ve already caught a little guff from my manager because of how Robert Germane is treating me like royalty. So I’ll have to get back to you.”

Kip stood. “I can handle that. Just getting to you first is the best luck I’ve had in my entire life. If you decide something before the next game, you can reach me through the Trib, or else I’ll see you by the dugout railing, deal?”

Jason laughed and stood also. “Deal. I call the paper and ask for Kip Gumbo?”

“That’s the way to get ahold of me.”

“If I can say that with a straight face.”

“Hey, make all the fun you want. I can take it.” Kip turned to climb the dugout steps, but before he did something stopped him. “What’d you mean--being able to relate to me?”

“Hey, it looks like neither you nor me really deserves the luck we’ve had. But we’ll show ’em all, we’ll show ’em together, that we belong here and they can’t put us down, huh?”

Kip grinned about three-quarters of the way around his head. “Absolutely. Me and you. Seeya.”

“You bet.” Jason knew right away that he would give up any of his other privileges if he could keep Kip around, and decided immediately to look into how and when reporters were allowed to be a part of a baseball team.

“You finished?”

Turning, Jason saw his manager standing in the doorway that divided the dugout from the locker room. “Yeah. How long were you standing there?”

*

Ignoring the question, D.G. continued, “Bob wants to take you out to supper, congratulate you on your first game and everything.”

“Right, okay.” Jason nodded but didn’t move.

D.G. waited, then asked, just a little impatiently, “Well, are you coming or not? What’s going on, kid?”

The response was quiet. “How did I do, today? All right?”

“Huh?” D.G. was honestly surprised. “You were responsible for six runs of our ten-to-seven win today, and tomorrow the whole baseball-playing world is going to be talking about you, there are fans waiting out by the gates just hoping to see you walk by, and you want me to tell you how well you did?”

Jason chewed his lip for a moment. “I don’t care what they think. I mean, I care, but I want to know you thought I did okay too.”

The sudden lack of confidence...or whatever it was, puzzled Dennis G. Muldowney, but he was hungry and decided he would figure things out another time. “I’m glad to have you on my team, Stiller. You are an asset to the Boston Braves, and a great help today.

“That suit you?”

“Very much, Mr. Muldowney. Thanks.”

The manager shook his head and laughed. “Call me D.G. or Deeg, kid, and come on already. We’re keeping the Germanes waiting.”

If he noticed how Jason Stiller’s eyebrows shot up at the word Germanes, D.G. didn’t say anything.

* * *

Sure enough, his manager had been right. Jason found several fans waiting for him when he came out of the stadium’s side door, and he signed the first autographs of his life.

D.G. watched, and had to smile at the surprise on the kid’s face. “Enjoying yourself?”

“Well,” he said, after the last young boy had run off waving his newly inscribed Braves pennant, “I guess I am. That was kind of fun.”

“You’ll be sick of it by July, I promise.” Clapping his youngest player on the back, D.G. led him towards the gleaming black limousine, beside which waited Robert and Raven Germane.

Both of the Germanes greeted Dennis with a polite friendliness, but the way father and daughter paid their respects to Jason Stiller were as different as could be.

Bob’s face lit up, and he pumped his new star’s hand in an uncharacteristic display of enthusiasm and joy, talking animatedly about Jason’s great start and what an asset he was to the team and how well the Braves were going to do that season.

Then Bob turned to his daughter, and introduced boy to girl. Jason couldn’t help but stare into those eyes of deepest green, and she coldly let him, not moving or speaking, until he said “It’s very nice to meet you.”

“Is it.” The response was enough to dry up anything further Jason might have wanted to say, but he wasn’t giving up that easily, and he didn’t look away from her eyes.

As the two were thusly locked together, Jason finally saw the faintest softening...as if something long suppressed and shunted aside was finally getting a quick chance to peek out into the world, in reward for him not giving up so quickly as most. For the briefest of moments he saw a chink in the icy wall.

“Are we going to stand here all night, children?” Bob was waiting by the door of the limousine, D.G. already seated inside.

The moment was gone, and Raven turned away from him to step into the car, and he noticed in passing that she was wearing the same solemn, boring gray dress as the first time he had seen her, and though he tried all the way to the restaurant, she wouldn’t meet his eyes again.

* * *

Respectfully trying to keep his distance from her, Jason found himself next to his manager as the foursome left the limousine with the chauffeur and walked several pleasant sunset-lit blocks to the restaurant. “Hey, Mr. Muldowney? Can I ask you something?”

“You can if you’ll call me Deeg.”

The kid ignored this. “It’s just something I thought I saw at the beginning of the game.”

D.G. glanced idly through a shop window and then wondered what he was looking for. “What was that?”

“You with your fingers in your ears.”

The resulting bark of laughter from the manager of the Braves made the Germanes, a few steps ahead, stop and look back. Jason looked at D.G. and not her, though he wanted to. “You noticed that, did you?” Apparently deciding that everything was okay, Raven and her father turned back...and had Jason been watching her, he would have seen her eyes shift to him. For just a moment.

D.G. clipped Jason on the shoulder. “I suppose you didn’t expect the high and mighty manager of the Boston Braves to stick his fingers in his ears during the National Anthem, did you?”

“No, I don’t imagine that I did.”

“Well don’t put me down as unpatriotic, kid, I’m as fond of the U.S. of A. as much as the next joe...but that song, I dunno, it sets my teeth on edge. You have to be some sort of virtuoso just to hit all of the notes, you follow?”

“Pretty much.”

“So before a game once, years and years ago, I put my fingers in my ears just as a joke. It wouldn’t have meant much of anything, except that we were favored to lose that game by about a dozen runs...and instead we won, fourteen to three.”

“Really.”

“As real as I’m standing here.” He was actually walking, but Jason let it go. “So from then on, every time that stupid song comes up I do my best not to hear it.”

“And you win every time, huh?” Jason knew that wasn’t true.

“No, we win a little over half the time, smart guy, but the way I figure, if all that looking foolish brought you out of the wheatfields to the Braves, it was worth the effort, no?”

Jason chewed this over. Then, “They were cornfields, and you’re plumb crazy.”

“Ah, now I never did say I wasn’t, did I?” The manager of the Boston Braves looked at his star hitter and crossed his eyes while Jason held open the restaurant door for him.

They were miles away from the stadium and an hour away from the game, and still several people recognized Jason and wanted his attention...before he could get to the table he had greeted several fans and signed several autographs as well.

As they sat down, D.G. laughed, apparently at the evident embarrassment on his star hitter’s face. “Might as well get used to it. Hey, did you see the headline of the Globe as we went by the newsstand? Said “Watch Out for the Kid.” I think you’ve been given a nickname, Mr. Stiller.”

Jason wrinkled his nose in an attempt to get at least a smile out of Raven. He failed. “That’s the silliest nickname I’ve ever heard of. What kind of tough baseball player walks around with people calling him a kid?”

“The least deserving and wettest behind the ears, that’s who.” Deeg raised his eyebrows and smiled, letting Jason know he wasn’t really serious. “But at least you’re The Kid and not just a kid, so that’s something.”

“Right.” A few minutes passed while the restaurateurs busied themselves with menus and their orders, and when those had been taken Jason asked D.G. about some of his past experiences with the Braves, and how he had gotten involved with baseball. D.G. started in on some of the stories he had from years past as a manager, though he said nothing about before that as a player...the two slipped into a deep baseball discussion, ate their food, and left the Germanes to their own devices.

* * *

Since he had opportunity to speak with his daughter more-or-less alone, Robert turned to her, and if he noticed her poker face or the dark look in her bright eyes, he paid no attention. “Dear, we’ve talked about your attitude when you’re out in public, and how I would appreciate it if you would at least attempt to look happy with life. I’m not asking for cartwheels, but less frowning might be nice.”

He spoke seriously, believing himself to be in the right. “And another thing, I’ve been meaning to speak to you about all these attitudes we’ve seen from you lately.

“You know that the success of my team and my family are much the same--the public expects good things from both, and without the acceptance of the public, life becomes difficult quickly--it takes fans to put food on the table, Raven.

“Baseball is a luxury, not a necessity, and I don’t want to give the people that care about the Braves--the Toms, Dicks and Harrys that put their hard-earned insurance-selling dollars down on tickets and hotdogs and ballcaps--I don’t want to give them any reason to change their minds, do you understand? They watch me and they watch you, too, sweetheart, and if they find reason to be uncomfortable, if it looks like we’re not a happy family, they might go spend their money elsewhere.”

Raven said nothing.

“I know you love your old dad, and you don’t want him to have money troubles. I know you’re smart enough to see that somebody has to pay for the nice things, for your clothes, for your continuing education--”

Now she broke in, still looking away from the table and not at her father, and her voice was somehow both soft and brittle. “I’m not going back to school.”

“Excuse me?” Robert Germane blinked.

“I’m not going back to school. I didn’t take a leave of absence, I quit.” An afterthought, “The nice things that you’ve paid for are being sent along and should arrive by the end of the week.”

Now her father was becoming irritated. “I thought we discussed this, that you--”

* * *

"We haven’t discussed anything in the past seven years, Father.” She almost choked on the word. “You’ve said and I’ve done and that was that. No more.

“You can order the chauffeur around, order the maid around, order your precious money-making baseball team around, but I have had it with your plans for my life.” Her voice was getting louder but she had stopped caring about propriety.

“Young lady, you and I both have an image to uphold--”

Then she looked straight at him, turning all the fury and pain of nine years on her father like burning green coals, trying somehow to get his attention for once, raising her voice--in fact yelling, slamming her hand down on the table hard enough to make the place settings rattle, making one more desperate effort to finally get the man to notice her. “I suppose I can’t get away from being your daughter, but I’m not so young anymore, and I’m through with obedience! I’m through with your orders! Hire somebody else’s child to make you look like a good father!” Finished, she sat back in her seat, red and panting and disheveled, waiting for his reply.

Her father laid a firm hand on his daughter’s arm and spoke quietly. “This is not the time or place for such a discussion. Dear, what would your mother think if she heard you talk to me this way?”

* * *

When Raven had begun talking loudly about quitting school, Jason had noticed and begun paying attention. Not that the whole room hadn’t noticed when Raven she started shouting, but he wasn’t watching to see whether or not her father was getting angry, whether or not the tantrum was having any effect.

He was watching her. He saw the gates come down while she let whoever was hurt inside rail against her father, and when she finished and waited for her father’s answer, he saw the little girl...he saw the little girl who just wanted to be loved...

Jason was watching her, not her father, when Robert Germane started talking about Raven’s mother. And he saw the little girl go very pale, and get yanked back inside where it was safe. The walls went back up, the stony face came crashing back down.

The little girl was gone.

Then he realized that the little girl’s father had just asked him a question.

“What--I’m sorry?”

“Do you have a problem, Mr. Stiller?”

“A problem?”

* * *

Now that the crisis was averted, Robert Germane looked much calmer. Everything could be kept under control. “Is there a reason why you’re staring at my daughter?”

Jason was caught off guard, and looked down at the table, blushing a little. “Not really, sir.”

For some reason Bob didn’t let it go. “I don’t know, Mr. Stiller, you were staring pretty hard, and it didn’t look like just a normal reaction to a pretty girl. I ask again, do you have a problem?”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Jason denied, “I guess I was thinking of something or other, but I’m sure the lady here doesn’t really want me to share my two cents.” He looked at Raven for some help. Robert also looked at his daughter, wondering what she would say.

“No, please, tell us.”

* * *

Now both of the Germanes and D.G. were staring at him, and Jason’s mouth was as dry as it had ever been...but he suddenly thought of the little frightened child he had just caught a glimpse of, and a fresh surge of reckless courage and anger flooded him. “Well. Nothing much, really.

“I was just sort of listening to you talking with your daughter, and I got the impression--” he faltered, knowing about a dozen lines were about to be crossed, “--uh, just myself but I thought maybe your words indicated that your love for your daughter depends on what she can provide for you.” He coughed and took a sip of water, wondering when the next train left town.

Robert took it in stride. “I don’t recall being answerable to you, Stiller, and for the record I love my daughter very much. Just like you she has responsibilities. I only expect her to do her part.”

* * *

D.G. was trying to catch Jason’s eye or kick him under the table but the Kid was too far away.

But when Bob didn’t rage against Jason calling him a bad father, the manager of the Braves eased back in his seat a little, thinking they might all survive the encounter.

Then when Raven’s father came back at Jason with the tripe about her having responsibilities, D.G. saw the Kid’s eyes tighten while his mouth formed a thin line.

“Here we go,” the manager of the Braves said under his breath.

Jason looked like he didn’t care any longer whether he had a spot on Robert Germane’s baseball team the next sunrise or not. Twisting a napkin in his fingers, he looked right back across the table at his boss. “Yeah, that’s the whole ‘conditional love’ bit I was noticing. It just brought an old saying to mind, that’s all.”

Robert Germane looked very impassive, though D.G. had seen that look before and felt like hiding under the table. “What saying would that be, pray tell?”

Jason didn’t back down one inch. “I don’t imagine you’ve heard it before, sir. Confucius said, ‘The superior man knows what is right...while the inferior man knows what will sell.’”

D.G. had his eyes shut, wondering if the coming explosion would demolish the entire restaurant or just their table.

But Bob’s response, whatever it would have been, was forever silenced when Raven began to laugh.

* * *

It wasn’t any sort of pleasant sound, the girl was cackling over the description of her father as an inferior person...but just the emotion involved, actually hearing the child laugh for the first time in ages took whatever her father had planned to say out of his mind. He looked at his daughter wiping the tears from her eyes, and wondered for the hundredth time when he had lost control of her--then he looked at his star player, his dream-come-true, and decided to let the comment pass. “Call me what you will, Mr. Stiller, but since I not only pay your salary but also for you to have the privilege of people asking for your autographs, perhaps a little respect is in order.”

The rookie looked contrite. “Yessir.”

That was enough for Bob. He felt magnanimous and in control again. “Eat your steak, kid. Don’t forget who paid for it.”

* * *

An awkward silence reigned over the group for several minutes. Jason was wondering if there was anything he could possibly say that wouldn’t be wrong--when his manager started telling a joke.

“I don’t know why this comes to mind, exactly, but it seems like the sort of thing to tell. Bob, if you feel like flaying me too, I suppose I’ll live.”

Apparently Robert Germane was still feeling peaceful about things, because he let the comment go. Jason turned to hear his manager out, relieved that somebody else had the spotlight.

“Sure, and once upon a time and all that, there was this salesman who was very worried.

“He had to get a certain number of sales every month to keep his job, and it hadn’t been the best month--maybe he was trying to sell snow shovels in the middle of July, I dunno, but he wasn’t making it. So this guy goes to bed one night really worried about his sales, right? Worried that he’s going to lose his job.”

By now it was obviously a bad joke, and nobody at the table really cared how it was going to come out, but there was nothing better to hear so they listened.

“He tosses and turns all night, has terrible dreams. Finally he gets to sleep only to be awakened at 6 in the morning by this horrific knocking on his front door. The salesman tries to turn over and get back to sleep, but the knocking goes on and on, and he just has to get up and see what the matter is.

“He rushes down the hall and flings open the front door shouting, ‘WHAT?’ Then he sees God standing there, at his front door. ‘Harold,’ God says, because the guy’s name was Harold, you know, ‘Harold, I just thought I’d come by and tell you that yesterday I made a list of everybody I thought I’d let into heaven. And everybody made it except you. So I’ve sent them all on to heaven and I’m leaving to join them. You’re the last person alive on the face of the earth. Turn the lights off when you’re done, will you?’

“Well Harold gets this shocked look on his face, all his blood drains down to his ankles, and he shouts, ‘Oh NO!’ And God’s about to go back to heaven but he waits a moment to see what Harold is so hepped about. ‘Oh no,’ Harold shouts again, ‘How am I gonna make my quota?’”

Jason was only going to allow a smile in response to the joke, but when Mr. Germane said, in all seriousness, “That wasn’t the least bit funny, Dennis,” he let himself laugh after all.

* * *

D.G. chuckled with his star hitter and looked across the table at Raven, and it looked like she wanted to laugh too, if she could just remember how.

Then and there Dennis G. Muldowney felt terrible for the young lady that he hadn’t paid enough attention to in years, perhaps not since what had happened to her mother...and he vowed that he would make an effort to befriend Raven, to talk to her and make time for her however he could.

But while D.G. was at heart a kind man, Raven Germane didn’t have any direct correlation to the Boston Braves, and he had made such mental promises before.

* * *

Jason Stiller would not have described himself as stubborn, but he would always admit that when something got into his head, he went after it.

Raven Germane was in his head. It really wasn’t the soft brunette cascade that swept past her shoulders, even the one cutest lock that kept slipping free to tickle her cheek, nor even the adorable way she pushed the lock back into place time and again unconsciously.

It wasn’t the indescribably beautiful pair of eyes that were attractive even when angry, even hard and piercing...and the young man could easily imagine looking into those eyes when they were open, and inviting, and deeper than deep...

It wasn’t her face, or her voice, or her hands, and it wasn’t all of those put together, either.

Jason didn’t know what it was.

But he knew that if he didn’t find a way somehow to break into that fortress and rescue the little girl inside, his life would never be complete.

* * *

She let his stare go for a few minutes, but finally when her father and Dennis were deep in conversation, as always talking about the blasted and bedeviled Boston Braves, Raven could stand it no longer. She spoke harshly, but quietly enough that she didn’t attract the attention of the older men. “What is it that you want?”

“Just to talk to you.”

She hissed. “About what?"

His quiet look didn’t waver. “Anything.”

Her eyes bored into his, and Raven was surprised when he let her harsh, piercing look delve right into him, into soft brown eyes that were open--that more than matched her fortress of uncaring anger by their very vulnerability. She was allowed, if she wished, to see his heart. His fears. His self.

No. Raven had to look away. She couldn’t trust in that. She couldn’t trust him anymore than she could trust anyone, including herself. “Just leave me alone, Mr. Stiller.”

“Call me Jason.”

“I don’t want to call you anything.”

“Why are you so standoffish? You already have enough friends?”

She looked away, wishing to be somewhere else, like she always did no matter where she was.

He continued. “Lord knows I don’t. And of the friends I do have, not a one has eyes as pretty as yours.”

Vaguely, Raven wondered how many times she had heard that, or something just like it, and suddenly felt tired, and lonely, and just...angry, angry at the world and at herself and at everything and especially at this annoying little baseball player.

Jason missed her signals. “Look, Raven, there’s got to be things we have in common, ways we can relate to--”

“Stop it!” She hissed, but as she spoke her voice grew louder, “You want to befriend me? You’re sure we have so many things in common?”

Raven gathered up all of the malice and frustration in her aching soul and blasted away at Jason with both barrels. “I’m sure you’re the life of the party in Nowheresville but I don’t care about you! I don’t want to talk to you!

“You want to relate to my life? Fine! Did your mother die when you were a little kid? Was she murdered? Was it...” and she almost broke down but would not, would not let herself be so weak and helpless as to cry in public, “Was it your fault?” Raven Germane glared at Jason Stiller, wishing she could burn him with the flame of her eyes even as she desperately longed for someone to wrap his arms about her and tell her that everything would be okay... “Relate to that, if you can.”

Blinking away the idiotic tears that would not stop springing into her eyes, Raven realized that her father and Dennis were staring, as were people at surrounding tables.

She looked back and found that Jason had ridden out the storm and was still there, still looking at her with caring, unguarded, beautiful brown eyes. “I’m sorry, Raven.”

Her anger shifted to bitterness. “Everybody usually is.”

The room was stifling her and the frank stares of everyone within earshot weren’t helping. Raven pushed back from the table and stood up, apologizing softly because if she raised her voice she knew she would sob aloud. Angry at herself, angry at Jason Stiller, angry at anything and everything she stormed out of the restaurant wishing that she could just die and wondering what the joke was that she had to go on living.

* * *

Bob hadn’t been paying attention to what his daughter was saying but he noticed when she got up and left; still trying to understand what was going on, he watched Jason get up to go after her with no more than an “Excuse me,” and then he was gone as well.

He thought about it, but Raven had always been a levelheaded girl. She probably just needed to walk off whatever was bothering her. He decided to leave her alone. “So, Dennis, what were you saying?”

* * *

The brief rain had stopped but the streets still glistened, and she walked for several blocks not seeing the reflections bouncing off the sidewalks.

Raven’s emotions were split down the middle, half of her wishing very much to be alone and half of her wishing that someone would come after her.

Her wishes came half true, and she heard his step behind her. She was standing next to a broken, unlit streetlamp, looking up at the dark sky, letting the tears stream down her face even as she cursed them.

Whoever had come to find her stood back, as if afraid to touch her, afraid she might break. She knew who he was.

Her voice was just a whisper in the cold night. “Why do you keep following me?”

“Why do you keep running?”

She turned and looked at him, met those brown eyes again, daring him to take pity on her, daring him to treat her like a child, prepared to lash out at him if he did.

“Raven,” he began, and then stopped, “I’m not chasing your beauty. I’m not chasing your pretty eyes. I’m not here because there’s anything for me to gain.

“That look in your eyes. I know that look. You won’t believe me, I’m sure, but to a certain measure--I know how you feel. How it hurts. If you’re happy with who you are, with where your life is at, tell me I’m just a boring square and I’ll leave you alone, I promise.”

She didn’t move.

“But if you’ve never been able to deal with what happened, if you’ve never been able to talk about how you feel, it would be the happiest burden of my life just to listen.”

Her mind was whirling, the usual maelstrom of dark thoughts and bad memories now shot through with soft brown eyes, and his gentle words...and she didn’t know what to say.

“How old were you?”

She didn’t have to ask for clarification. There was only one thing he could mean. “Thirteen.”

“I was eleven.”

Raven looked at Jason and wondered. “I’m sorry.”

“Everybody usually is.”

She heard her own words and now, able to recognize the look on his face even as he had read the look on hers...wondered who in his life had died, and how he had actually gotten past it, and who this baseball player really was.

But it wasn’t time to ask. He seemed to understand, not pushing for a reply or a confession, just letting her think about being accepted, about somebody listening who understood.

Then the black limousine pulled abreast of them both, and Robert Germane opened the door. “Kids, it’s getting late. Can you talk another time?”

Jason turned to her father, and his tears had gone away. “Sure thing, Mr. Germane.” He looked back at her, and shrugged. “Think about it?”

His tears had gone away, but...she knew that they existed. With a nod, Raven stepped to the open door and climbed in with D.G. and her father.

* * *

Robert Germane turned to look out the window again at his star hitter. “You coming, kid?”

Jason thought about it and shook his head. “It’s a nice evening. I think I’d like to walk awhile. I’ll get a cab back to the Muldowneys.”

“Fine with me, son, it’s not like I haven’t paid you enough for cabfare. But no getting into trouble, eh?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, sir.”

“Uh-huh.” Robert sat back in his seat and tapped the glass so that Mickey would know to get underway.

For a mile or so the occupants of the Germane limousine entertained their own thoughts; finally, however, Robert turned with a concerned sound to his daughter. “Raven?

“Dear, I know that you are concerned about propriety and doing the right thing.

“We haven’t had to talk about this in a long time, but I just wanted to reiterate to you that I do not approve of your having close relationships with members of the baseball team.”

She wouldn’t look at him, but of course she always listened. He knew that. “It’s not that they’re bad fellows, and I must admit that I like Mr. Stiller quite a bit. But it’s not a good element for you, my dear, to be mixing with the hired hands. They have their place and we have ours. I’m sure you’ll scoff at me for saying it, but what would the fans think? How would the papers report a romance between my daughter and one of the Braves?”

Then she turned to face him, and if there was emotion on her face, her father couldn’t tell what it was. “We were just talking. More to the point, he let me talk and actually listened.”

Robert smiled. “Which is wonderful for you, I’m sure--as I said, darling, I know you were raised correctly and will make the right decision. Just think of what would be best for the family, for our futures, and I’m sure that will guide you. Okay?”

She turned back to the window without speaking.

“Ah, you don’t have to reply. ‘He who is silent is understood to consent.’ I’m glad you and I can communicate so well.” With a satisfied sigh, Robert Germane looked out his own window, and thought his own thoughts.

* * *

D.G. Muldowney sat across from the Germanes, a silent and unnoticed witness to the conversation, and found himself wondering at the look he had seen in Raven’s eyes when she got into the car.

He hadn’t thought about it much--to his shame--but in the seven years that had passed since Eleanor Germane had been killed, her only child had pulled farther and farther away from the world, until it was rare to even see her behind her emotionless mask.

All the time she had spent in boarding schools and on fancy overseas vacations had made them fairly distant friends...but when he tried, D.G. could remember the cute gap-toothed girl who had hung out by the dugout all the time, asking him questions on top of questions about baseball and life and everything else...

D.G. remembered his Little Coon, and then glanced at the beautiful and yet so distant woman sitting across from him, and found himself wondering at the look that had been in her eyes when she had entered the car.

The look in her eyes that had disappeared when her father began talking about not dating baseball players.

Thinking yet again that he should make a renewed effort to be a part of Raven’s life, D.G. also turned a few thoughts towards the man his boss had become in the previous seven years, wondering where a fairly good man had gone away to.

It was not the first time he had such thoughts, and it would not be the last.

* * *

Jason walked for a long time.

He thought about asking for help, but if he didn’t bother God, God didn’t bother him--so he walked, and thought of a million plans that wouldn’t work to get her to like him, and walked, and tried not to think of how nice she smelled, and then he walked some more...

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