Our Turn at Bat
Aaron Hotchner kept a special list hidden in his tatty sneaker. He wrote down what he learned about Haley Brooks, special details and idiosyncrasies that made her unique. He wanted to keep track of her likes and dislikes and interests so that he could get to know her better and avoid hurting her sensitivities. She was the one person in his life he couldn’t bear to alienate through misunderstanding.
Haley’s Likes: soda, the Rolling Stones, acting and dancing, musicals. And that dork David Cassidy, who doesn’t know how to cut his hair.
Haley’s Dislikes: Current fashion trends (thank goodness), slow cars, reptiles and amphibians, the Beatles (sorry, must disagree here). And dead things. And gore. Big time.
He felt responsible for shielding her from the things she hated, especially the things that would make her feel unwell.
In the meantime, she seemed to be looking out for his needs and interests as well. She clearly recognized his lack of friends and began introducing him to hers. Half her friends were members of drama club, and the rest were either dancers, baseball players, or nerds. Aaron hit it off with some of the ball players, and, at Haley’s urging, signed up for baseball tryouts. A couple freshmen would continue searching for weeks for the ball that Aaron hit far out of the field on his first swing. The pitcher, a rough, loud-spoken redhead named Jimmy, quickly told him about the importance of controlling his strength.
It felt amazing to be accepted into the group. Aaron had never felt more welcome. Peter, a chubby younger kid who ran the bases faster than anyone, looked up to Aaron in a curious but brotherly way. Jimmy offered to explain the rules of the game to him every recess. And Haley always watched supportively from the bleachers.
Aaron started getting very excited about going to school each day. With an evening job and now baseball practices packing his schedule, he managed to stay away from home for most of the daylight hours. His day only looked down when he crept into his home after seven and placed his hard-earned six dollars on the stained kitchen table.
At school today, Aaron sat on one of the metal picnic tables in the courtyard, surrounded by teammates and Haley. While the boys talked baseball strategy, Haley read her script for an upcoming ballet. The conversation drifted frequently from schoolwork to sports to TV specials. One boy wanted to pass a joint around, but he was mostly ignored. Another boy was ready to start throwing a ball around, but Jimmy said it was bound to hit a member of the math study group at the next table.
“Maybe that was my intent, ever think of that?” the boy joked.
“Hey, did you hear about that guy on the news?” another boy interjected. “Broke out of county jail and might have been sighted downtown.”
“What’s he done?” asked Aaron.
“He was doing time for some kind of burglary charge. I’ll bet he’s dangerous.”
“Well, I hope he’s found,” said Haley.
“What does he look like?” Aaron asked, curious now.
“Gee, I dunno. Check your TV. He’s probably got a black mask on.”
“Not if he wants to blend into society.”
“Who cares, man? I’m just interested because it makes my ma skittish. It’s all I hear about at home.”
Clearly ready to move on, Haley checked her watch. “You ready to go?”
She normally drove Aaron to Mr. Brooks’ store after school. Aaron looked forward to the fast and carefree drive everyday. “Yeah, in a sec.”
“Go where?” A new voice broke into the group.
Aaron turned to see Vinny standing unsteadily with a metal crowbar a few yards away. His eyes looked bloodshot, and he couldn’t focus on anybody. His clothing reeked of cheap beer.
“Vinny?” Aaron slid off the table to his feet. “You don’t look too well.”
“Oh, don’t I? I feel fine, just fine!” Vinny’s voice pitched unreasonably loud. All the conversations in the courtyard died down.
Aaron knew that Vinny was hiding his own story of abuse and wondered if he needed to get some help. He took a step closer. “What’s the matter?”
“You! You and my girl!” Vinny pointed with the crowbar. “You have no business taking her away.”
Aaron glanced back at Haley, who looked a little stunned.
“What are you talking about?” asked Haley.
“You’re mine, Brooks. Get over here.”
“Calm down,” said Aaron. “You’re not feeling well.”
“Shut up! I want her back.”
“She was never yours. You can’t just take her like that. Now back off, Vinny. You need to get some help.”
Vinny swung back and struck him in the stomach with the crowbar. Aaron doubled over and dropped to his hands and knees. The courtyard spun, and he spat up bile. Frantically, he searched for steady ground and tried to get back up. Only then did he see that half the boys on the baseball team had run to his aid.
Peter knelt beside Aaron and steadied his shoulders. Jimmy raised the baseball bat to engage Vinny in a pseudo-sword fight. Everybody else joined in the fight, grabbing Vinny’s limbs and hitting his trunk. Aaron was actually shocked that anybody had come to his defense. This had to be a first.
But Vinny was extra strong in his drunken rage. He broke free from the boys and began hacking at tables and chairs and shrubbery with his crowbar. Students backed away in every direction. Vinny was utterly out of control.
“Idiots!” he bellowed. “You’re all monsters! I’ll kill you all!”
Haley came to Aaron’s side as he stood. Jimmy ran to fetch security.
When the guards finally arrived and pinned Vinny down, the courtyard resembled a bombed plaza. Aaron continued listening to Vinny’s hollered threats to kill everybody as the boy was taken away. Then the buzz began. Students passed morsels of gossip from one to another and shook their heads in dismay. Aaron overheard someone saying that Vinny’s dad recently died in a hunting accident. He wondered if that meant Vinny’s abuse had ended. Clearly his troubles had not.
Aaron headed back to the ball players, who stood dusting themselves off and congratulating each other. “Thanks,” he said, humbled.
“Hey, you’re on the team now,” said Jimmy. “We expect you to fight our battles too.”
What an honor, thought Aaron. After years of taking so many assaults on his own, he marveled at being backed up by a team. Of course, he would stand up for them too. And in this case, they all stood up for Haley.
As Aaron climbed into Mr. Brooks’ pickup, he asked his chauffeur, “Did you ever date Vinny?”
Haley made a face. “Date him? Gosh no. We... hung out a few times in drama club, but we were never together.”
“Well, I hope he gets the help he needs.” Aaron privately thought that Vinny had the makings of some kind of killer.
“Uh huh.” Haley cranked up the radio. Soon Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” filled the cab with its victorious rhythm.
As they drove, it occurred to Aaron that he hadn’t taken Haley on a proper date yet. Soon, he promised. She deserved a little kindness back.