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A Boy Named Gabe

They said his name was Gabe. As in Gabriel. Like the angel, I said laughing and they laughed with me. They always did. They had too- I was they're captain. It was the second summer during World War II and we lived in the suburbs, the housing addition that belonged to the families employed at the factory a few blocks away.
They were nine of us. We stuck together. We played together. Hung together. And bullied together. With all the adults working from daylight to dusk at the factory we were on our own. Gabe had just arrived some three days earlier and became the target of our cruel jokes. Hey kid, I yelled from across the street when I saw him emerge from the shack he now called home, wanna come over and join us? Okay, he said and he came. As soon as he got within ten feet of us we screamed and ran shrieking away. Get away! Get away! we cackled. Gabe stopped and walked back across the street into his house and disappeared. The last we saw of him was the back of his worn-out-two-sizes-too-big gray tee-shirt for four days.
We passed our time playing baseball in one of the vacant lots down the street with an old ball and bat some kid had left a couple months back. The bases were caps that were sacrificed by a few of the guys and the pitchers mound was a pile of dirt we had scooped up with our own hands. Since there were nine off us one guy had to give up his part on the team and play refree. Of course, nobody ever listened to him and if we did the game ended in a brawl on the dusty ground. We were playing again, the first batter taking his place when Gabe came outside. Lesley who was the batter at that moment turn and lost his concentration. The ball came then, knocking him in the head. He fell and then ran at the boy responisble who in turn punched him in the stomach. Lesley ran home. That was one player down. Gabe had made it across the street by then. And he walked up to me. Can I play? he asked like he really thought the answer would be yes. I opened my mouth to say no when Tal shouted from the pitchers mound. Sure kid, show us what ya got. We all laughed but Gabe didn't. He took the bat and made his stance. Tal threw a fast one with no warning. It made an ear splitting crack as ball met bat and sailed over our heads a dirty blur against the cloudless blue sky. Gabe took off. He ran and ran and ran, passed all the bases and stopped, panting at the home base. We stood in silent shock until somebody spoke up, Wow! and then, You lost our best ball! (Our only ball.) I wiped me hand on my jeans and stuck it out. Hi, I said, I'm Nick.
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