As the cool weather descended on central Illinois, the trees began their annual change. In September, the poplars created a blanket of yellow. In early October, the maples mixed in smatterings of red. By mid-October, the oaks were turning brown so the mixture became less yellow- more red and brown. As Ken jogged in the early morning, he wished he could be with Peggy, so they could share the beauty together.
Ken liked his new job. Working with Charlotte Adams is both tough and enjoyable. She allows me do things my own way. It feels good to work with a boss who allows me to think. It’s sure a lot different than the Army!
Peggy and I have been doing exactly what she requested; having fun together. I look forward to our ‘every Saturday night’ date all week long.
I miss the little league activity with the boys. However, there’s no way I can coach football. I simply don’t know enough about the sport.
The faculty/staff dance is coming up in October. Damn, I can’t ask Peggy because I’m still under cover. Oh Oh, I wonder if that’s the dance Sue Ann’s talking about?
The fall school term marked a sharp change in the life of young Ned Waldren. Ever since he father passed away, Ned had kept well clear of the popular group of boys. He kept to the back of the classroom. During recess he read a lot. He really only had one friend, Neal Patterson. Neal, like Ned, was also small for his age. Neal wore thick glasses which led to his rather disparaging nickname, Four Eyes. Often the two little guys found themselves together at the school lunch table.
After Ned’s success in baseball he found himself thrust into the popular crowd. Billy Riley and Shorty went out of their way to include Ned in all their games and plans.
Ned was flattered by this, but he still managed to remain loyal to his friend Neal. It was a good thing he did. One day at outdoor recess, Glenn Gleener and little Neal had an argument. No one knew what started it, but without warning, Glenn shoved Neal onto the ground with such force the little guy cried out in pain.
Ned flew to the rescue of his friend. “What do you think you’re doing Gleener,” shouted Ned as he ran up, glaring at the second baseman.
“Anything I damn well please, Coach’s Pet,” snarled Glenn.
“You leave Neal alone. He’s half your size.”
“So what, you little punk. You gonna make me?”
Before anyone could make a move, Glenn charged at Ned!
Ned knew a wrestling match with the bigger Glenn would be impossible for him. He sidestepped. Glenn flew past so fast his momentum caused him to fall down, skinning his knees. He got up rose quickly, fury all over his face.
Ned assumed his boxing stance. Glenn rose to the challenge. He put up his fists, moved close and swung a roundhouse right. Ned parried the blow then snapped off a quick left. It caught Glenn right on the nose. Blood spurted everywhere.
“Ouch!” Glenn screamed, putting his hands up to his bleeding nose. Ned threw a hard right into Glenn’s undefended stomach. The mean kid doubled up, falling to the ground.
“You had enough?” Ned asked.
Glenn refused to answer. He just lay there huddled in a heap.
Everyone walked away, the fight over. Glenn did not return to class after recess.
Ken’s cell rang that night, just as he was sitting down to dinner. He hoped it was Peggy as he pushed the connect button.
“Ken, I’m sorry to bother you but I have a situation and I need help badly.”
“Who is this?”
“Gloria Gleener. It’s Glenn. He’s been in a fight. Now he won’t do anything but sit in his room and sulk. I thought maybe he needs to talk to a man and since I have no man, I thought maybe you could help.”
“I’ll be right over, Gloria. What’s your address?”
A few seconds after Ken entered Gloria’s home, he was ushered into Glenn’s upstairs bedroom. Glenn was seated on the edge of his bed with an ice pack pressed to his face.
“Coach, what are you doing here?” was the mournful inquiry.
“Your mom called me. Said you might want to talk to me about something…. I gather you’ve been in a fight. Was it at school?”
“How bad does the other guy look?”
“That’s the heck of it, Coach. I never got a hand on him.”
“All of a sudden he hits me on the nose then he whaps me in the stomach so bad I fell over.”
“Can you tell me who it was?”
There was a long silence. Ken just waited. “Buzz Waldren, the little snot.”
“So this was a fight between teammates. We need to fix this, Glenn. We can’t have two of our best players fighting. Tell you what, I need to make a phone call. I’ll go outside to do it so your mom won’t hear. I want you to come down into the living room. When I come back I’ll tell you my plan.”
Ken walked by an astonished Gloria who was seated in the living room. “Be right back, I need to make one phone call, and then I’ll tell you my idea.”
Ken walked into the Gleener’s front yard calling Peggy on her cell. When she answered he asked. “Did Ned tell you about the fight?”
“Fight, what fight?”
“He hasn’t told you yet. Tell you what, put him on the phone, then come back on the line and I’ll fill you in on my plan.”
“Hi Coach. You wanted to talk to me?”
“Yes, I’m over at Glenn Gleener’s house. He told me you hit him out of the blue. Can you tell me your side of the story?”
In a few sentences, Ned told his Coach the entire story of the fight including the pushing of Neal Patterson.
“Put your mother back on the phone.”
When Peggy came on the line she said, “I heard the story from this end. I can’t imagine why he didn’t tell me.”
“That’s important Peggy, but right now it’s not as important as our trying to save Glenn. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to get the chip off his shoulder. I feel right now is the time to take advantage of our chance. To do this, I need your help badly.”
“What do you need, Ken?”
“I want you to pick up Billy Riley, Shorty and Neal Patterson, plus Ned of course. Bring them over to Gleener’s house about 8:00. That should give me enough time at this end. Here’s the important part, Peggy. I want you to get Ned in the mood to apologize and Billy and Shorty to help Glenn feel part of the group. Get them to make Glenn feel cared about and liked.”
“That’s a very tall order, Mister.”
“Yeah it is, but we have a nice kid on the edge of becoming a bully. I think with everyone’s help we might be able to prevent that from happening. Do the best you can with the boys, please.”
“I make no promises, but I’ll try.”
Ken went back into the house. Glenn had moved into the living room sitting in a straight chair, still covering his nose with the ice pack.
Coach announced. “Ok, Glenn. Let’s see how bad you look.”
Slowly, Glenn removed the ice pack. His face was a mess. Ken doubted the nose was broken, but obviously a vein had broken. An enormous bruise was spreading all across the center of Glenn’s face. It was yellow, blue and an ugly shade of green in places.
“Wow that’s a dandy, Glenn.” Then coach outlined his plan. “As I see it, there are two ways to play this. Number one, you can sulk and remain out of sight for about a week ’till the bruising goes away. Or, and this is the best way, we can make a joke out of it.”
Gloria interjected, “A joke out of it? Are you crazy? I need to sue that Peggy Walden and her smart ass son.”
Coach glared at her. “You called and asked for my help. Do you want it or not?”
Gloria sat back in her chair, a glum look on her face. Ken continued. “Get Glenn a mirror and let him see how funny he looks.”
As Gloria produced the mirror, Coach said, “Glenn when you look in the mirror, pretend you are looking at Billy Riley or Shorty. If you do that, I think you’ll see the humor in this situation.
Glenn looked. A small smile tweaked at the corner of his lips. That was all Ken needed.
“Gloria, I want you to get a picture of that face. I guarantee that two years from now, you will both have a great laugh as you remember this. After you take the photo, I want you to go to Walmart and buy one of those rubber red noses that clowns wear. If we put that on Glenn we’ll have his classmates rolling in the aisles. You’ll go from loser to hero in seconds.”
As Gloria got ready to leave, Ken announced. “The second you return, I want you to put on hot chocolate for eight people. Some popcorn would also be good. In the meantime I plan to have a chat with Glenn.”
“Eight people? What are you talking about?”
“Some of the team are coming over at 8:00. I want to try out my theory and see it they laugh when they see Glenn with his red rubber nose. Better to try it with some friends than with the entire class.”
As soon as his mother left, Ken looked carefully at his second baseman. “OK, Glenn. Now tell me what really happened. And I want the truth this time, not just some of the truth.”
It took a few minutes but Ken finally dragged the truth out of Glenn. “Why did you push Neal, Glenn?”
“I don’t know. I just felt like it.”
“Remember our little talk last summer? I warned you about making enemies. Frankly I’m glad you got plastered, Glenn. You needed to learn that there are consequences to your actions. If you’re mean and nasty, someone out there is always going to bust your chops.
“I know your life is tough right now. I know your dad walked out. Did you know my dad walked out too?”
“Yeah, I have no recollection of him. I was in the crib when he left.”
“Well now you understand why I want to push people around.”
“I understand but I don’t agree. It’s just like this busted nose. We can sulk or we can laugh about it. Watch what happens when the guys arrive. The joy of life is making others happy.
“Tomorrow when you walk into class, instead of embarrassment, you will feel joy because you will be making your classmates laugh.
“If you can do that, your heart will be full of love and kindness. Trust me, feeling sorry for yourself is the lowest form of indoor sport.”
After a long moment of consideration, Glenn muttered, “Ok, Coach I’ll try.”
“Great. Oh, I think Neal Patterson is coming over too. Are you ready to apologize to him?
“If I have to.”
“Yes, Glenn you do.”
Coach continued. Now have you a closet where we can hide you when the kids get here? I want to make a big production of introducing you.”
Glenn began to get into the spirit of what Ken was attempting to do. “I can hide in that front hall closet. Just don’t open it to put anyone’s coat in there.”
Gloria returned, handed the red nose to Glenn and began heating the milk and chocolate. She started the popcorn in the micro wave. As Ken helped her get ready she whispered, “I hope you know what you’re doing?”
“That makes two of us.”
Promptly at 8:00 the doorbell rang. Glenn put on his red nose then rushed to hide in the front hall closet. Gloria opened the door. She was sort of expecting to see Billy and Shorty. She was stunned to see Ned and Neal. Neal isn’t on the team, what’s he doing here? Then she saw Peggy Waldren. Gloria’s face made a huge grimace.
As soon as everyone was seated, coach stood up. “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to introduce to you our new second baseman, Bozo the Clown!”
Glenn opened the closet door and stepped out hands above his head.
The boys roared with laughter. Ken took a deep breath. Then Glenn removed the red ball from his nose. The noise in the room went from laughter to amazement and sadness.
Ned jumped up approaching Glenn. “I’m so sorry, Glenn. I really hurt you didn’t I? Sorry Dude. Ken could tell by his tone, Ned was truly sorry.
Glenn shrugged. “It’s Ok. I guess I had it coming. I’ll get over it.” Then Glenn turned to Neal. “Sorry I shoved you Neal.
Neal shook Glenn’s hand. “It’s ok.”
Ken asked Shorty and Glenn to come with him to the kitchen. The three held a quick conference. Ken returned to the group announcing, “We have one more thing to test. Be ready for a short play. The scene is in the school hallway. Pretend Shorty has not seen Glenn since his accident.”
Shorty came into the living room walking to the far end. As he turned around, Glenn entered the room. Shorty exclaimed, “Glenn, what happened to you?”
Glenn replied, “I was talkin’ and I shoulda’ been listenin’.”
Everyone laughed, even Gloria and Peggy.
Ken said, “Glenn, making this a joke is going to work. Instead of embarrassment, you’re going to have fun making others happy!”
Ken continued, “Billy, can you or Shorty make the introduction before class tomorrow sort of like I did just now?”
Soon the gang was planning tomorrow as they trooped into the kitchen for hot chocolate and popcorn.
Ken motioned to Gloria and Peggy to remain in the living room. Ken said, Gloria, this is none of my business but I need to say I think some of Glenn’s hostile behavior is your fault.”
“My fault? How can you possibly make a statement like that?”
Ken replied, “If you were ten years old and your mother kept saying poor little Gloria doesn’t have a father, over and over, how would you feel?
“I never say poor little Glenn, Gloria denied.
“Don’t you?” Ken questioned.
A chastened Gloria turned to Peggy for support. “You don’t think I do that do you Peggy?
“I’m sorry Gloria, but I think Ken has it exactly right. When Peter died, I resolved to be an up person. I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me. Frankly, looking back, it was the best decision I ever made. I think you should consider what Ken is saying very carefully.
She continued, “My father had a saying he used to pound at me. It goes like this:
Happiness is like a butterfly
If you pursue it, it will elude you
But if you turn your thoughts to other things,
It comes quietly and lands upon your shoulder.
Gloria looked thoughtful as she remarked. “That is very profound, Peggy. You two have given me a lot to consider. Thank you so much.
After the chocolate and popcorn were devoured, there was genuine feeling of comradery within the group.
As everyone began to get into their cars Peggy turned to Ken whispering, “You owe me big time, Coach. I had to do some major convincing with the boys in my car.”
“I bet you did. I knew you could do it. And Peggy, I’m very willing to pay.”
“What happens if your idea of payment and mine do not coincide?”
“I guess we’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”