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Love, hope, faith, what do they mean? A better question is what don’t they mean? An even better question is that what does trust mean? Trust? That small word makes and breaks even the most dangerous of people. When asked what you want from somebody, that powerful word, TRUST, wiggles its way into the corridors of your mind. What’s the point of loving somebody if you don’t trust them? What if you gave away all your trust? You gave away all your trust long ago and it never actually returned. All you want is somebody to give you that trust back, without tearing a different piece of you off.
If you saw me from a distance you’d say, “She’s an athlete.” If you knew me you’d say, “She was the athlete.” They sound the same, huh? That’s because that is what I am. I’m an athlete, or at least I was. I’m the chic who won three hockey championships in the same year, being one of the two girls in the whole league. I was the ace pitcher of a baseball team, when I was only nine. My body is, well, athletic. Arm muscles, check, leg muscles, check, blisters from tough practices, double check. My whole appearance screams that I’m a sporty girl. But, I haven’t played an organized sport since I was ten. Life is just too difficult any more. Every time I stepped on the ice or field the fact that I’m a girl became a deadly sin instead of a cute show. Gender became the murderer of my athletic career. I guess now, I’m just a washed out could-of-been…Unfortunately, outsiders can’t see the walls I’ve built, brick by brick, around my actual thoughts. I’m scarred too deep to let sexism cut away at me too. Sometimes you have to walk away from the line of fire.
The bright sun glistens freely on the razor blue, green ocean. Low tide washes onto the shore with waves of pure white. It’s only early morning, but sweat beads on my forehead. The solid wood of the boardwalk is sizzling hot and burns the soles of my feet. Red and white “closed” signs hang in the windows of ocean side stores. The large carnival rides are silent, taking a rest from the long night of running. Only dedicated joggers and shell seeking tourists roam the tan sand. When the wind blows, even the slightest, my hair whips around my face in a tangled mess. The smell of the salty ocean water is addictive. Sea gulls sweep over the ocean and sand, cooing to tourists. I take a hesitant step toward the sand, and flinch when it torches my skin. The burning sensation does not match the powdery, pleasant look of the sand. I notice the guys looking at my feet and then my face. I’m used to the random stranger checking me out. I get it all the time in the city. Haven’t they ever seen an Italian athlete?
Jaz is my name, sorta. My real name is Jazeline Larsen. I live in New York City, the Big Apple, but during the summer I make my home San Diego County. I come to south Cali every single summer to stay with my amazing cousin Ted. Ted is around twenty-seven years old, six foot tall, thin, and very energetic. Right out of college he started in the sports equipment industry and he now helps manage an exclusive and secretive company. Ted is trying to help me accomplish my goals. When I graduate I want to go into a scientific sport field to analyze equipment gone wrong. I believe that given the technology and time I can change the way players in every sport are protected. Ted supplies me with the equipment and passes needed to get me inside and in on the action every summer. My sudden interest in this field sparked after my uncle, Don Larsen, told me about the miscues in baseball equipment. Yeah, Don Larsen, the World Series no-hitter guy. Have you ever heard of him? So, every summer I make my way down to the west coast and observe different sports teams, while getting some sun on beautiful Imperial Beach. Unfortunately, this summer a distraction gets me a little off track.
My feet stick in the sand, slowing my pace. The ocean’s appealing scent draws me in. I find myself unconsciously going closer and closer. The softness of the sand begins to firm and it oozes through my toes. The surf rolls in and water wraps around my legs. The sudden rush of semi-cold water makes my body stiff. When it retreats it sucks at me, trying to pull me in one last time. Out in the distance, dolphins call to each other softly in sing song sounds. I take a long, deep breath, breathing everything in. My eyes close and my limbs go numb.
“So, you’re a New Yorker?” A tall, tan guy flashes his perfectly white teeth at me in a heart-breaking smile. He wears black silk basketball shorts, running shoes, and a white cut off shirt which shows his hard-earned muscles. His white/green baseball cap is half faded from this everyday California heat. He looks like a male model.
“How do you know?” I stare at his light brown eyes in pure wonder.
“Well, the I love NYC shirt is first, second is the Yankees necklace, and then your light tan skin, which isn’t from the sun but from genetics.” He smiles and laughs smoothly. I look down at my white t-shirt, necklace, and skin. He’s right I look like a total New Yorker. My mom is Greek and my dad’s Italian, I’m tan year round.
“Oh, yeah, I’m from New York, why?”
“We don’t get too many New Yorkers around much. The Big Apple usually keeps them pretty busy.” He waits politely for a response but only receives my gazing eyes. “My name is Cameren, but my friends call me Cam. I live down the road. How are you?” Cameren puts his hand out in front of him and I wrap mine around his for a brief twenty seconds.
“Hey, my name is Jaz, sorry Jazeline. I’m staying with my cousin Ted for the summer. He lives just down the road, too.” Cameren breaks out an even wider grin.
“Good, I’d love to get to know you better.”
“Me too, you seem sweet.” Cam continues to smile uncontrollably, and sits down on the hot sand.
“Let’s start now. Come on, sit down.” He taps the spot beside him. The sun makes his eyes gain sparkles.
“Are you sure I’m not interrupting anything?” Before I can even finish my question, he shakes his head. Cam takes my hand and guides me politely to the ground.
“I’ve been doing my boardwalk run every morning since I was twelve. I think I can miss one.” Behind his smiles there seems to be a bitter edge to his voice. Something is kept hidden deep inside his light heartedness. As quickly as the anger arose, it vanishes twice as fast. “So, tell me ‘bout yourself.”
“Well, I live in an apartment building in New York City with my dad. I’m an only child, thank God. I’m a senior this September and want to go to college for sports technology. That’s basically it besides the fact I’m a die-hard Yankees fan. Now it’s your turn.” For the first time, I return the warm smile.
“Okay, I live in the suburbs of San Diego in a small beach house. I have a younger brother, Carter. I’m also going to be a senior, but we start in August. My future i---“
“Wait, it’s a Thursday, shouldn’t you be in school?” A laugh filled with lightness spills into the air.
“About that, I’m not exactly your perfect cookie cutter kid. I like to enjoy life a little more than others.” Cameren’s booming laugh flows in the air.
“Yeah, I’m an athlete, and athletes are golden down here. You’re talkin’ to San Diego County’s Sportsman of the Year, quarterback for the south Cali State Champs, and the starting pitcher in two different championship All-Star teams’ rotations. To these people I’m God. That’s why I’m looking for a future as a major leaguer.” Cameren’s eyes don’t meet mine, but instead drift off in the ocean like an abandoned lost sailboat.
“Wow, that’s amazing! That’s like every kid’s dream!”
“It is, but it’s all very…complicated. See, my last name is Berra. Yogi Berra is my uncle and everyone expects me to be so frikkin’ awesome at baseball. Unfortunately, I happen to play the game better than most kids my age.” I sit on the sand with a blank stare stretched across my face.
“My uncle was Don Larsen! Isn’t that so cool?” Cam looks at me, but not exactly at me? He stares into my eyes as if looking deep into my soul, trying to find a reason for our meeting.
“Whoa, no way! That’s so epic. Maybe it’s a sign?” Cameren still looks into my eyes, starring way past the walls I’ve tried to build up. His enthusiasm has washed out, but the childhood feel to his voice remains. I don’t respond with words but just smile.
The tide rushes in like it was shot out of cannon. Before the water can soak me, I’m whisked off the ground. The blue sea hugs Cameren’s legs, embracing him in water. I look at his face, which is the slightest shade of pink. His arms wrap around my body keeping me close to his chest. I can hear the soft thudding of his heart through his shirt. When the tide goes back to its home, he sets me back on my feet.
“I’m so sorry. I just didn’t want you to get wet.” Cameren tries to smile but embarrassment takes over.
“It’s fine. You’re really sweet.”
“Thanks, but I have to get to school though. I have a game tonight. Come by the field around five, I’d love to talk more. See you later.” With a flick of the wrist he waves goodbye and rushes off. His feet have no problem getting through the sand.
The field is jam packed with friends and family cheering on their favorite team. The smell of dirt covers up the ocean’s scent. My flip flops smack off the pavement with each step. Three ball games are going on, and the screams from one game carry on to the next. The small gray building, used for a concession stand, is surrounded by hungry fans. Urgently the baseball moms pass out nachos, hot dogs, candy, and soda to their customers. I move around the large complex like a lost puppy. The other fans form into groups of two or three with the people they’ve known for most of their life. I scan the fields for any sign of Cameren.
Cameren stands on the mound of the nearest field. He leans forward, staring intently at his catcher. Cameren’s sweet, soft smile is a deep concentrated scowl. It’s early in the inning but sweat drips off his face slowly. His eye black, once perfect triangles are now smeared. As he stands, he pulls the mitt up to his face, breathes in, and brings it close to his chest. Like a fearless warrior he charges into his wind up, sending pure heat toward the plate. A loud pop sounds as the ball plows into the catcher’s glove at an unstoppable speed. The batter is stunned, completely astonished that a seventeen year old can throw with such fire and accuracy. The opponent is intimidated by Cameren, but I don’t blame them. On the mound he’s not the sweet boy I met on the beach this morning, but a courageous leader with a passion to win.
Cameren wears a white button-up baseball jersey with the words ‘All-Star’ stitched across the chest in dark green and the number ‘27’ on the back. The jersey is tucked neatly into the gray baseball pants. With each pitch the jersey is loosened from the pants. His spikes are black with the Under Armour logo in green on each side. Cameren’s ball cap he wore this morning is pulled over his eyes, adding to his intense image.
I pull the small digital camera out of my pocket and turn it on. When Cameren goes into his next wind-up, I snap multiple shots of his movements. Each swift motion of his body works together and creates a perfect balance to perform at the highest. I also get pictures of the batter’s flailing swings at Cam’s flawless pitching. Although I’m leaned up against the chain link fence, Cameren doesn’t notice me. He focused solely on the game and his team.
In between innings I examine my surroundings. The beautiful, tall palm trees sway ever so slightly in the summer breeze. The brilliantly bright sun beams in the western sky, giving light to our small part of the world. Off to the side, young children, only about five years old, play catch with tiny balls and gloves. They are content as they throw back and forth their lollipop bloopers. Once in a while a ball gets past the intended target and they have to chase the ball through the grass, but they don’t get mad, they enjoy the freedom. They tell each other their future fantasies of becoming super star major leaguers. Parents of the players sit anxiously on the bench, twiddling their thumbs. To the parents with older children dreams of college scholarships and big time chances for their child to be great, dance in their heads. For the parents with younger children each tiny accomplishment makes them so proud because it means they are capable to learn. To these people baseball is more than just a game, its life.
Cameren steps up to bat with a gleam in his eyes. His batting helmet, just like his hat, is pulled down covering his upper part of his face. His eye black is no longer triangular, but huge miss happened squares. His jet black hair is soaked, giving his tiny curls a greased look. Cameren must be tired, but he doesn’t blow his composure. He stands in the box as if it’s his first at bat and not his fifth. His stance, back leg straight and his front cocked, has the appearance of a tiger getting ready to pounce.
The opposing pitcher is worn out like a used rag. He has absolutely nothing left in him, but he remains on the mound. As he leans forward to receive the catcher’s sign, Cameren, still filled with energy, gives him a wink. The wink lets the pitcher think Cam knows something he does not. Quickly the pitcher’s mind goes insane with curiosity. He rears back, his thoughts miles away and his mechanics forgotten. The ball flies toward home plate at an awkward pace and meets with the helmet of Cameren. Cam stutters two steps back and hits the dirt, removing the helmet on the way down. He rubs the victimized area, feeling for blood, luckily finding none. Before his coach can run to his aid, he stands back up and slaps the helmet on. He retrieves first base without revealing any sight of pain.
I wait for Cameren after the game, leaning against the concrete dugout. The crowd has vanished, parents taking their player and friends saying congrats. Only I and a young boy remain. The small boy sits on the bleachers as though he’s done it a billion times before. His skin is dark and he’s tall and skinny. He looks a lot like Cameren, with his athletic structure and his face soft. The boy leans on his knees and stares out onto the empty field. He almost looks depressed. He seems to work with the shadows, moving every time the sun shines in his direction.
“Hey, thanks for comin’.” I feel a hard hand on my shoulder and nearly jump out of my skin. “Oh sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you.” I take a second to catch my breath.
“It’s okay, I was zoned out. It’s easy to scare me when I’m not paying attention. You had a great game!” I smile warmly.
“So, get any nice shots?” he nudges my shoulder lightly, laughing.
“You saw me?” I can feel my blood rush to my face and turn my cheeks bright red.
“Yeah, I saw you. It’s kind of hard to miss someone leaning over the fence with a camera.” I press my hands to my face feeling the hot flesh. “Yo, Carter, come here!” Immediately, the young boy jogs over to us. “Take this back to my place and tell Dad where I’m at.” Cameren hands Carter the bat bag. “Do you mind?” He looks to me and points at his dark green belt.
“Nah.” Cam undoes the belt and slides the dirty gray pants off his body. Quickly, he throws black basketball shorts over his boxers. Next he unbuttons his jersey, removing it, and revealing a white short sleeved Under Armour. After Cam’s clothes are tucked roughly in a bag, Carter walks away sluggishly.
The wind blows the ocean smell into my face, so I am almost able to taste the salted water. The tall palm trees sway gently back and forth like a pendulum. For some odd reason, the streets are empty, completely lost of all human life. Off in the distance you can hear San Diego, just a slight hum in the background. Cameren radiates heat as he walks beside me.
“Do you remember when you were little and everything was just a huge game? Every single simple thing was such an accomplishment. The shortest of hills looked like major mountains and it seemed like it took hours to climb it when it only took minutes. The calmest of streams looked like raging rivers ready to steal you away forever like a silent monster. A small pothole looked like the Grand Canyon and when you’d jump in it, you’d hold your breath. When I was younger I was afraid to surf because I thought the three foot waves were tsunamis.” Cameren seems at ease as he walks by my side, talking of the days of ole’.
“I used to run around Central Park pretending I was an airplane. I’d spin and spin ‘til I got dizzy and I’d fall to the safe escape of the grass. Nothing could replace the feeling of warm air hitting my face as I drifted off into my imagination. And every time it rained I’d dig my little red rubber boots out of the closet and my matching jacket out of my room. I’d slip them on and splash in all the puddles outside my apartment building. I’d go back in soaked from head to toe in muddy rain water.” We talk about our childhood memories, each more precious than the last.
“I remember having contests on the playground for who could jump farthest off the swing. You’d wait for the swing to get just the right height, close your eyes, and jump. If you won, you didn’t get a prize, you got pride. For those few minutes in time, you were invincible to your friends.” I look through my long hair at Cameren. He speaks from his heart with every word. There’s a silence, giving us both time to take in our conversation. The words soak in, reminding us of the time when life was easily dealt with. Cam kicks the sand with his bare foot and sends thousands, maybe millions, of tiny grains into the air.
“Was that boy you gave your stuff to your brother?” His face is still, unable to express the right emotion.
“Well, sort of.”
“What do you mean ‘Sort of’? He’s either your brother or not.” Cameren closes his eyes. His hands ball into fists as he bites down on his lower lip. His hands gradually begin to shake.
“It’s all really complicated. Here follow me.” Cam takes my hand and we run across the street to the boardwalk like children. He pulls me to an old, paint-chipped bench facing the beautiful beach. We sit Indian style on the bench laughing at our immaturity. “Okay, so my dad isn’t very innocent.” Immediately the laughing stops and a tone of seriousness emerge. “When I was five, he and mom had a fight. I remember sitting outside of the kitchen listening to them yell at each other non-stop for hours. My dad stormed through the door into the room I was sitting in. He had this crazy look in his eyes like he’s finally cracked. I ran to him and asked what was wrong and why mommy was sad. He pushed me back and said, ‘This was all a big mistake.’ I laid on the floor crying until my mom came in and put me in my bed. She stayed with me the whole night, whispering that daddy didn’t mean anything he said and that he’s just upset. As my mom was taking care of me, my dad was at the bar hitting it up with the bar tender.” Cameren’s childlike demeanor is gone. The hate he has bottled up with smiles and laughter has bubbled to the surface. “For three days he ran around with that woman like he was some crazed bachelor. My mom was afraid to leave me out of her sight because she thought my dad would find me and take me away forever. Every morning she’d dress me in beach clothes, wrap me in a towel, and take me down to the beach instead of school. She’d lay me on the sand to let me sleep while she’d surf away her problems, but it wasn’t that easy. Eventually my dad came back. He confessed everything to my mom about his where about the last few days. It was as if nothing happened at all. About five months or so went by and my mom answered an anonymous phone call. It was the bar tender. She was pregnant with a boy and it was my dad’s.” Cameren looks up from his shaking hands for a split second. His eyes are filled with pain. After all these years he’s still feeling the hurt. Cam puts his head back down, but the tear falling from his cheek is easily noticeable. It runs down his face like a rain drop on a speeding car’s window. “What made everything worse is that he wanted nothing to do with the kid. He gave Sianna full custody and pretended everything was still okay. He ruined our perfect family, and couldn’t even own up to his mistake.” Cameren’s whole body shakes, just like his hands. The tears start coming in groups instead of one at a time. “Everyday Mom and I have to look at Carter and try to keep things together. I’m just waiting for my mom to explode. Sometimes I think it would be better if my dad never came back.” I wrap my hands around his, keeping the shaking to a minimum. Cameren takes in slow deep breathes, calming his body.
“It’s okay. My parents never even got married. I was six and my mom told me to go to my room and not come out until dad got home. She wouldn’t answer my questions; she just left and never came back. We still don’t know where she is. She vanished off the face of the earth. Sometimes, my mind drifts off, making me wonder why she ever left. Was there somebody else? Were a child and family too much for her to handle? Did she not want me? My questions will never be answered. My dad raised me like a boy, so basically rebellious. He figured that I’d be tougher that way. He was also a huge baseball fan. When I was three he taught me how to swing a bat and catch a ball. I started tee ball when I was five. I was the only girl on my team, but I didn’t care. I loved playing with the boys. My dad taught me to pitch when I was seven. I could throw really well, better than most of the guys. Sometimes the other girls would make fun of me for being a Tom boy, but that was easy to stop. I’d land a right hook in their face and walk away.” I laugh, remembering my once aggressive behavior. I was so small but so fierce.
“I find that kinda hard to believe.” Cam smiles trying to imagine a little girl punching other kids.
“No, really, if I didn’t like what somebody said to me I’d beat them up. I was stubborn and filled with anger. I stayed in baseball until I was ten, when they said baseball was for boys and I wasn’t allowed to play anymore. They tried to get me to play softball. They said, ‘Oh, softball is just like baseball but it’s a bigger ball! It’ll be just as fun.’ I quickly refused because to me it wasn’t the same. I was a baseball player, not a softball player. From that day on I vowed to never pick up a baseball. To this day I’ve never played baseball in any way.” In my mind I go back to that day.
The sun was bright, the air was warm, and it was a perfect day for a ball game. I stood on the mound calm and content. My pony tail was curled up in my hat, my too big jersey tucked into my pants, and my spikes tied tight. I looked just like my male teammates. My skin was really hot, almost unbearable. The eye black my dad had put on my face was running down my cheeks. I breathed slowly in and out before I threw each pitch. I was throwing an unbelievable game and we were winning by a landslide. That’s when the batter hit a line drive to the right of the mound. I dove and caught the ball, but my hat fell off in the process. My long hair was revealed and nobody thought it was a problem except for the opponent’s coach. He knew of a rule that we did not. No girls are allowed to play boys baseball past the age of nine. I was immediately removed from the game, and my dad tried to explain why but I didn’t understand. Why did it matter that I was a girl? When it was my turn to bat I grabbed my green Easton and ran to the batter’s box. My dad ran after me and pulled me away, saying that I wasn’t allowed to bat because of the rule. I was crushed. I threw the bat down and ran off the field. All I wanted to do was play baseball. I dreamed of becoming the first female major leaguer, but that fantasy was gone.
“Why did you quit playing ball though? Softball is the same as baseball.” Cameren’s tears have faded and the only evidence that’s left is the glistening trail on his face.
“If I played softball I’d be giving into them. I’d be just like every other girl, playing softball just because softball is a girl’s sport and baseball is a boy’s sport. I didn’t want to be like every other girl.” I laugh softly, thinking of all my other crazy antics to try to not be like every other girl. I’d spend hours playing in the dirt and mud, ruining the pink skirts and dresses. My dad’s one attempt to bring out the girlie side of me failed. He entered me in a pageant, Little Miss New York Yankees. I won the pageant being the Tom boy I am. I wore a baseball dress for outfit of choice and sang Take Me Out to the Ball Game for talent. I was honored at the Yankees game and got to play catch with Jorge Posada. It didn’t help my dad any on making me more girlie. I continued to be like the boys, it even grew stronger.
“Sounds like a good reason. I bet you were just so fun to be around when you were little.” The sun sets over the ocean, and the sky turns a mix of light purple and pink. The boardwalk lights turn on giving the wooden path a glimmer. We remain seated on the bench watching the world drift into night. The sun slowly moves over the glistening sea, turning the sky over to the moon and stars. It’s now their time to give earth a sparkle of what the humans call, ‘hope’.
Cameren pulls my hand close to his heart, not touching, holding it there for a few seconds. The shakes have retreated and the warmth has returned. My tiny hand gets lost in his as he presses it against his chest.
“I’ve known you for not even a day yet you stole my heart. Can you feel my heart beat? That’s for you.” Deep down I know it’s just another silly pick up line, but I fall head over heels any way. I feel his heart beat slowly inside his body like a steady drum line. I realize that my own heart pounds the same way each time I look at him.
I am lost for words. I stare into his eyes, his big beautiful brown eyes, with the look of a small child. He tugs at my hand, pulling my whole body close to his. We sit inches apart, so close you can hear each soft breath. Cam wraps his arms around my waist in a hug, and I’m quick to return the embrace.
“I’ll walk you home if you’d like?” Cameren removes his hands and now he stares into my eyes. Something in his expression seems wrong. In the light glow of the moon his facial features are dazed, almost blurry. His eyes are unstable, drifting from me to the other surroundings.
“Yeah, but are you sure you’re okay? You look a little off.” I put my hand on his forehead, but there is no fever.
“I think I’m fine. I have a headache but that’s it.” I remember the hit he took today in the game and wince.
“Maybe you have a concussion? Are you dizzy?”
“Yeah a bit, but I’m fine. I have a hard head. Let’s get you home.” He gets off the bench, holding my hand to help me up. Together, hand in hand, we walk away from the bright lights of the boardwalk and into the darkness.
“So, Jaz, where have you been all day?” Ted stands by the stairs like an angry father.
“With my friend, Cameren.” I kick my shoes off on the floorer and head up the steps.
“Oh, okay, is she a nice girl?” I can’t hold back my laughter. I have to sit on the stair and hold my breath until I can calm myself.
“Cameren is a boy, Ted!” I laugh even harder at Ted’s worried expression. The idea that I was with a boy all day stuns him. “Goodnight Ted.” I pass Ted on the stairs and open the door to my guest room.
Plink, plink, plink. The sound carries me out of my sleep. Plink, plink, plink. The small noises come one at a time every few seconds. It sounds like stones hitting glass. Plink, plink, plink. I throw my cover off and climb out of bed. I slowly walk toward the large window doors that contain a small balcony. Plink, plink, plink. As I pull back the curtains I can see three tiny rocks ricochet off the window. I open the doors with wary and step onto the balcony. Down below stands a boy with a handful of rocks.
“Cameren? What are you doing here?” He throws the stones onto the ground, relieved he finally got my attention.
“Come with me!” He cups his hands over his mouth so I am able to hear. He reminds me of Romeo, trying desperately to convince Juliet to run away with him. I’m gonna admit that I love Rome and Juliet and that this moment completes my life.
“Come with you where? It’s like two in the morning!”
“To the boardwalk for some late night fun! Come on!” He has to be going delusional.
“I don’t know about that. Don’t you have school this morning?”
“Come with me and I’ll explain everything! Promise, cross my heart and hope to die, poke a thousand needles in my eye if I lie!” Cam crosses his heart like a kid.
“Okay let me get dressed and I’ll be right down!”
“There’s no time, grab your shoes and I’ll catch you!” I race into my room and dig a new pair of flip flops out of my suitcase. I hold them in my hand as I run back to the balcony.
“Alright I got them!”
“Come on jump then! I’ll catch you!” I steady my hand on the railing and take a deep breath. I bring one foot up and then the second. The coldness of the metal sends chills up my spine. I close my eyes and begin to let go of the only thing keeping me grounded. My fingers slip off the painted metal and I fall. I have to force my mouth shut so I don’t scream on the way down. The feeling of falling is deep in the pit of my stomach. It churns and makes my stomach do flips. I start to feel like I’m about to lose my dinner. Then, I land in the safety of Cameren’s sturdy arms. “See, I told I’d catch you. That’s what I do.”
“Okay Hot Shot, where are we going?” I remain in his arms, looking up at him for his answer.
“Well, I figured you’d love a night on the town, but since my t-bird is in the shop I thought a night on the boardwalk would be just as fun.” He carries me across the front yard, moving in the dark with elegance and grace. He holds me like a precious package, careful not to break the valuables.
“You know I can walk right?” Cam winks, just as he did during the game, but this time it’s more playful than intimidating.
“I know but I wanted to sweep you off your feet.” He laughs so hard he shakes my body. Another corny pick up line from Mr. Sweet Lips. Cameren glides in the night, not bothered by the extra weight in his arms. His pace doesn’t slow at all. He carries me the whole way to the four way intersection leading to the boardwalk. He sets me down gently on the sidewalk, making sure I am stable on my feet. “So, are you ready?”
“Hon, I was born ready.” I give him a wink and we run across the street without looking.
The lights shine brightly, the music blares loudly, and whole speed of earth seems to go faster. Clubs that were closed earlier today are packed with tourists looking for a good time. Neon signs glow in the windows and party beats ring in the air. Carnival style rides are up and running and the screams of the riders drift into the sky. The night life is buzzing with excitement. Along the boardwalk, the arcades shine, bringing tourists toward their addictive games. Cameren drags me to the last arcade booth, which flashes the red, orange, and yellow circus colors. Five antique ski ball machines are lined up along the wall. Black and white checkered flags hang above the machines with framed pictures of old hot rods. In each picture a shiny car, from the late forties and fifties era, is shown off by either a man in a leather jacket and greased hair or a woman wearing a poodle skirt. Rock n’ Roll music soars out of an old styled juke box in the corner. Beside the booth is a malt shop with the 1950’s look. The smell of greasy hamburgers and French fries and the sound of a malt mixer float onto the boardwalk taking all passing byers on a road trip to the past. Cam slips a nickel into the machine, and the balls are released.
“Are you any good?” He picks up one of the balls and smiles in my direction.
“I wouldn’t know. I never played this before.” I look at the weird targets, the awkward slope, and the cage surrounding it. It looks so complicated.
“It’s really easy. Here, I’ll show you.” He sets the ball in my hand and moves my body in front of his. He lays my hand in his. “You just pull back,” Cameren guides my hand backwards, “and take it forward. Then you release.” The ball hits the slope, glides up, and comes back.
“You know I’m left handed right?” I laugh as Cameren puts the ball in my left hand.
“Okay lefty let’s try this again.” He takes me through the motions once more and this time the ball sails up the slope and finds its way into the 100 points hole. “See, there we go! I’m a lefty too so that works out well.” Cam laughs as he grabs the second of six balls. “This time let’s go for five hundred.” He positions our hands a little to the right and we let go of the ball. It hits the 500 hole without a problem. “Now we got it! Do you want to try it yourself?”
“Yeah, I’ll try it.” I grab a ball and do the motions by myself. Oddly enough the ball once again plops in the 500 hole.
“Wow, you’re a natural! That’s pretty good for your first time.”
“Oh yeah, that’s what I do. There’s nothing to it.” I blow on my fingers and pretend to dust my shoulder off.
“You act so ghetto. What does New York City do to little girls?” I laugh lightly and wrap my arms around his neck. I whisper into his ear gently.
“It makes little girls tough. You wanna know why?” I curl my fingers in his long hair and get really close to his face. “Because we need to know when to say no to sweet California boys.” I look into his eyes breathing in the sweet scent of his short breaths.
“Well, southern California teaches young boys to have a lot of determination and not take no for an answer.” I lean in even closer, until I’m right at his ear.
“Hon, I have tons of determination. More than you think.” I then let go of his hair and undo my arms.
“Then, let’s go. I have to explain something to you.” We leave the arcade booth and he takes me toward the beach. He holds my hand gently, swinging it back and forth. A small pier stands in the shadows like a thief in the night. That’s where Cameren leads me.
The warm water trickles on my feet when the tide comes forth. I lean on Cam’s shoulder watching a navy ship invade the deep sea. A small bogey tilts right and left each time the wind blows. Above us a tiny lantern hangs on a curved pole, giving us a dim light to see.
“So, why did you bring me out here?” I kick the water and it splashes my legs. My head fits perfectly on Cameren’s shoulder.
“I don’t know if you realized yet, but I kinda, sorta like you. You know, a lot.” For the first time, Cameren doesn’t look me in the eyes, but stares off into the ocean. “With you I’m not the athlete, I’m just Cameren Berra. You don’t look at me and think about the all-star games, championships, or stats. At least I think you don’t. I get to be myself with you.” Cam picks my head up and touches my face gingerly. “I can’t believe this, but I think I love you.” The way Cameren says those three words is like lightning trying to be contained in a bottle.
“You say that like your choking on poison.” I feel Cam heave a sigh and settle back down.
“I’ve been cheated on a few times. Girls liked me just because I’m an athlete. They see a bright future where I’m making lots of money which I can spend on them. They would ask me out and I’d say yes, not wanting to hurt their feelings. Two or three weeks later they’d be with one of my friends swapping spit. But I’ve never told any of the girls I loved them. Love is a strong word.”
“You seem to of used it rather loosely with me. I mean, you’ve only known me for a day.” Cameren wraps his arm around me and laughs. He lays his head on top of mine and breathes in.
“You’re different. You don’t care what people do or say, as long as you are happy. It’s like you live in a bubble, filled with lollipops and rainbows.”
“If that’s the case, you’re in my bubble.” I laugh quietly and my eyes begin to feel heavy.
“I want to be in your bubble.” The laughing stops, making the moment a little more personal. “Hand me a lollipop and I’ll chill under a rainbow, as long as I’m with you. I’d go anywhere if you came with me.” I feel his lips touch my hair and his hot breath on my face.
“I want to go to Vegas and get married.” I hear Cam’s breath stop short.
“You said you’d go anywhere with me. I want to go to Vegas and I want to get married. Will you say I do?” His hand touches my hair and his breathes are almost dicey.
“Vegas, Jaz? I figured you’d be spontaneous, but Vegas? I don’t know that may be a little too edgy for me.”
“I thought you were a bad boy, my bad boy?”
“That’s just a li—“ Cameren realized that I called him mine and stops. “Your bad boy, huh?”
“You got it right. I don’t know how, but I feel the same way you do. When I’m with you I always have to catch my breath, I never know what’s going to happen next. You make me feel like that little girl who didn’t want to be like everybody else. I can express myself in the ways I can’t back home. I love you Cameren.” I hold Cam’s face in my hands, looking into the eyes that captured my soul early this morning. I move my hands from his face to his hair. I wrap my fingers in his curls, my eyes glued to his. His lips touch mine, creating a spark like no other. The first kiss is short but as he pulls away, I pull him back to get another. The feel of his soft lips on mine is pure electric and my heart begins to race. I’m so close to Cameren, I’m practically sitting on his lap. His hands cradle my face, holding it still so I can’t turn away. My fingers remain in his hair keeping him near and I steal one last kiss. All it took was one day to for a California dream boat to take my breath away. Wow, he works fast.
“Now can you explain why you brought me out here at two in the morning?” The smile that I began to love spreads across Cameren’s face.
“You were right; my dad thinks I may have concussion. I’m going to the doctors later on this morning, so I don’t have to go to school.”
Light shines through my window, leaving streaks of yellow across my floor. Outside you can hear the birds chirping happily. The black clock on my night stand says its noon already. Whoa that’s the longest I slept in months. I throw the covers back and crawl out of bed. How long did I stay out last night? How did I get back home? I rattle my brain for the answers but come back with none. My feet rub against the shaggy carpet as I drag myself downstairs. Half dead, I take each step as carefully as I can. Unfortunately, I’m not careful enough and fall down the last five steps. A deep cackle comes from the kitchen and I hear somebody set down a newspaper.
“Don’t you have to walk up like five sets of stairs back home in the apartment? You’d think you would be a pro at steps by now.” Ted puts his hand out to help me, but I remain on the floor laughing into tears.
“This is why I usually take the elevator,” I wipe the tears from my eyes and take his hand, “I’m too much of a klutz to walk down five flights of steps.”
“I figured you’d use an elevator. Come in and get some breakfast. Or should I say lunch?”
I walk into the warm kitchen and fetch myself a bowl of cereal and milk. I stir the small loops around the bowl with my spoon, my appetite not quite here.
“May I go down to the boardwalk? I’d rather get some French fries or something. Please and thank you.” Ted nods his head yes, and I go to get changed. My closet is filled with tube tops, t-shirts, and shorts; prepared for the hot weather. Back home I wear hoodies, jeans, and boots half the time.
The sun makes the ocean water shimmer like diamonds. The boardwalk is much more crowded today than yesterday. Flocks of tourists wander around the sand and shops looking for some summer fun. The rides are once again open and the lunch rush piles in through the pizza places and fry joints. I walk toward my favorite food place in town, Charlie’s French Fryin’. I order a cup of his legendary fries and sit at an empty wooden picnic table.
A little boy stands by the ocean, his sister behind him urging him forward. The boy leans back, pressing against his older sister’s legs. Clearly he is afraid of the raging waters he is being pushed toward. She puts her hands on his back and nudges him a step closer. He holds onto her legs, clinging to the ground. When the water washes in, the boy squeals, and backs up into his sister. She continues to persuade him nearer to the sea. I can see the older sister laugh and pick him up. His face seems relieved as he watches over her shoulder the danger he just surpassed.
“Mind if I have one?” Cameren plops down on the bench beside me and points to my fries.
“No go ahead.” He takes a fry and shoves it into his mouth.
“So, I went to the doc today and its official, there’s something wrong with my head.” He chews the fry as he talks. “Doctor said that I have a minor concussion, no baseball for one, two, maybe even three weeks. It kinda blows.” Cam grabs another French fry and eats it slowly.
“Awe, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Everyone always thought I had something wrong with my head. Besides, it gives me a reason to chill with you this summer.” He chews on the fry as he looks at me intently. I want to scream to the heavens at this point. Oh God, thank you! But I keep silent and just smile. “So, are you ready for the most epic summer of your life?”
“I thought I told you, I was born ready for anything. Hit me with your best shot.” Cameren takes my hand and drags me away. My half eaten French fries are left on the table for the sea gulls to snack upon.
I can’t believe I’m doing this. I must be completely insane. I want down. I want down now. The man straps the harness tightly around my waist. My feet are close to the edge, my toes curling to the side. I look down at the terrifying water, wanting to turn back so bad. There’s a pounding in the back of my head, my heart beat. It thumps hard in my ears, blocking out the cars behind me.
“Come on Jaz! Don’t be a chicken!” Cam stands beside me, pressing me closer to the end. Oh, please let me live through this. I take a deep gulp of air and jump…
I fall off the bridge toward the flowing river. I go down further and further, coming so close to the sharp rocks that I could touch them. Right before I hit the water, the cord pulls and I am sprung back up.
“There ya go Jaz! See it’s not that scary!” As the man undoes the harness, I take a breather and thank god to be on the ground.
“Yeah, I almost died of fear! Jumping off a bridge is not scary at all!” I take Cameren’s hand and we grab our bikes, which are leaned up against the side of the bridge railing.
“Don’t worry, I have plenty more ideas.”
I hear a rumble outside the house and peak out the window. An old 1950’s T-Bird convertible sits in my drive way. It shines candy apple red with a white stripe down the side. It looks absolutely amazing. I run outside and stare at the car up close.
“Wow that looks…that looks…”
“Freakin’ awesome?” Cameren closes the driver side door and throws his shades on his head.
“Would you like a ride?” He gestures toward the car like a car salesmen.
“Is Mickey Mantle the greatest Yankee legend ever?”
“Well that can be debated, but I’ll take it as a yes.” Cam runs, slides across the hood of the car, and jumps into the driver’s seat Duke style. He calmly taps the seat next to him. “Come on; let’s take a blast to the past.” I hop into the beautiful car and Cameren cranks up some 50’s rock n’ roll music.
The hot July sun just begins to set. Piles of cars are packed into the tiny patch of grass to watch the movie. This is one of the last few drive-ins in the United States. Silly cartoon clips play before the movie starts. Clowns beat each other with fish, throw pies in their faces, and slip on banana peels. The smell of popcorn is everywhere from the happy movie goers. I lay on Cameren’s shoulder, not watching the movie but his eyes. The eyes that memorized me from the beginning. The movie Grease starts playing on the white canvas and we once again turn back time.
At intermission Cameren shakes me awake. I have unnoticeably fallen asleep on his shoulder once more. His smile is so heart-breaking it could make any girl faint. Cam’s expression is serious as he pulls a velvet box out of his pants pocket.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, put that away! Let’s not take it too far.” I stop him before he even opens it.
“No, it’s not what you think!” Cameren opens the tiny green box and inside is a championship ring. Engraved on the ring are California State Champs 2010 and Cameren Berra. The green emblem on the ring sparkles ever so lightly. “See, it’s not a diamond. There’s this thing boys do down here. If you like a girl, like really like her, you give her your championship ring to wear. It shows them you trust them with something that important. It’s kinda our baseball team’s tradition. Will you take the ring?” He fingers the box nervously and looks me in the eyes.
“Keep the ring; I would lose it before I even made it home. But don’t worry; I feel the same way you do.” I close the lid for him and try to smile.
“I almost forgot, you’re not like every other girl,” Cameren shoves the box back in his left pocket. “I like it.”
I lay in bed completely restless. The last three weeks have been so exciting that I haven’t slept a wink. Cameren has taken me on all kind of adventures that I wouldn’t have experienced if he hadn’t found me that morning on the beach. We’ve zip lined across San Diego, went go-carting in the dessert, roller skated in Palm Spring, surfing on Venis Beach, and ice skating in Anaheim. I count the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling, waiting for sleep to come. To think that I’ve been coming to southern California every summer since I was thirteen and never even saw Cameren. Too bad he’s cleared to play baseball again next week. Our journey will be done, and our time together will just be another summer fling.
Unable to sleep, I walk downstairs to get a drink. I feel along the walls for the light switch, flicking it on when I find it. With the light on I move swiftly to the kitchen refrigerator. I pour myself a glass of orange juice and sit down at the kitchen table. My cell phone starts to vibrate and I touch the screen to open it. It’s a message from Cameren: I’m on my way over, grab extra clothes. I got my best idea yet.
Over the last few weeks I’ve become accustomed to the late night text messages and sneaking out. I leave my juice on the table and race upstairs. I quickly pack an extra t-shirt, pair of shorts, and hoodie in my duffel bag. I don’t think twice as I throw my New York Yankees hoodie over my head and rush back downstairs and out the door. There’s one thing I learned and that is never question Cameren’s ‘bright’ ideas. I sit on the cement porch on a wicker chair, waiting for the t-Bird to appear.
I hear the hum of the engine as it pulls down my street and into my drive way. The top is up so I have to open the door before climbing in. Cameren sits in the driver’s seat wearing a hoodie and silk shorts. His baseball hat is tilted and his sun glasses rest on the brim. Once I click the seat belt he hits the gas pedal and we’re off.
“So, where are we going tonight?” Cameren keeps one hand on the wheel and his eyes on the road.
“Vegas.” I’m stunned, period. My mind goes completely nuts! I swear I heard wrong.
“Do you mean Las Vegas? As in Las Vegas, Nevada?!” He must be joking. No seventeen year old guy has enough guts to drag a girl to Las Vegas! Okay, any normal guy wouldn’t have the guts.
“Yeah, you said you wanted to go to Vegas. I figured now that I got the Bird back and am clear from headaches; I can take a long car trip. Your welcome.” I slam my hand on the dash and look at him.
“You got to be kidding me! Vegas? You’re frikkin’ crazy!” I fold my fingers around the plastic handle and take a slow, deep breath. My New York style accent comes through my calm film I laid when I got here.
“Well, you said that Ted is in San Francisco for a business meeting this weekend and he wouldn’t be back until Monday. It’s only Thursday, I can have us there and back by Sunday night. He won’t even know you were gone! Come on Jaz! It’ll be fun!” Cameren should really be a lawyer because he made a very good case. He’d have an innocent man in jail in the first twenty minutes of the trial.
“Okay, I guess so. But Sunday night at the latest just in case he gets home early.” A smile spreads across his face and he hits the gas a little harder. We shoot forward down the dark highway into a future only God knows. The dampened streets blur as the car pushes sixty and then seventy. A light rain hits the windshield and I eagerly watch the rain drops race down the glass. The drops fall in sync with the pounding beat of Cam’s old rock n’ roll music. I look out into the dark sky and notice that there are no stars.
“There are no stars here either, I see.” I don’t know why but I love the stars. My dad took me out to the country once and when I looked up I was so amazed by the twinkling lights. You can say I became a little obsessed.
“No, too many lights and pollution in San Diego for stars. Sometimes you can see them faintly, but that’s a rarity. Why?” His eyes remain on the twisting and turning road.
“Nothing really, back home in New York City you can’t see stars either. I always thought of stars as a sign of hopes and dreams. It’s a shame you can’t see them in half of the world.”
“When I was younger I used to think the same thing. My mom told me that you can’t see the stars in big cities because they are already filled with them and they cancel out.” Cameren tries to keep a straight face, but ends up cracking another one of his amazing smiles.
“What do you mean by they’re already filled with them?”
“Hollywood has movie stars, New York City has sports stars, and San Diego has surfing stars. Cities all over the world are filled with people we call ‘stars’ and they shine so bright that they outdo the real stars. I was pretty gullible as a child.” He grips the steering wheel so tight his knuckles turn white.
“Yeah, some of them people have huge egos.” I lay my head on the cold window, wondering why stars flock to the big cities. If they lived in small towns they wouldn’t be hovered around 24/7 by paparazzi. Little by little my mind slips into the unconsciousness of sleep. My dreams are gentle and move at a snail’s pace…
“Hey Jazz, I’d look up if I were you.” I feel a soft hand on my cheek and look up. Cameren had put the top down and now you can see the beautiful sky.
“Wow, Las Vegas.” I stare up at the brightly lit buildings that reach into the sky. The blinking signs of casinos and hotels are everywhere! Random show girls roam the streets to lure tourists into their work places. You can hear the different genres of music from each building and they clash to make the sound of exhilaration. Deep inside the casinos gamblers waste away their money and some even hit it big. The world seems to be moving at a standstill but also at twice the pace it usually does. The cars and clothes makes you feel like you’re in the 1950’s but the technology of the lights and skyscrapers bring you back to the present. Can you imagine the history of this town? In my mind I can imagine the huge mafias towering the blocks. Their hats covering their eyes, their trench coats tied tight around their waists, and a gun hid secretively in the depth of their pocket. Al Capone, Frank Sinatra, and Frank Costello; the most famous Las Vegas mobsters all come to my mind when I think of Vegas. The thought kinda chills me.
“Do you know what made Frank Sinatra famous?” Cameren says as if reading my mind.
“His singing ability?” Cam shakes his head no.
“That’s what made him famous to the rest of the world, but to Vegas he was a fearless mafia counterpart.” As it does in old crime movies, I immediately imagine the scene in black and white. “Frank Sinatra always said that he was in showbiz and gangsters were impossible to avoid, but it seemed he made more of a deal to be with them than to stay away from them. He was caught going to an underworld bash for Lucky Luciano, the deported mobster. One day when they found Luciano’s house in Italy empty they saw a golden cigar case with the inscription, ‘To my dear pal Lucky, from his friend, Frank Sinatra’. Of course that made the police suspicious of Sinatra. Vegas hotels needed the singer to play at their establishments because when Frankie sang there was never an open seat in the house. If he was part of the mafia their business would go down. He seemed to be linked with the Kefauver mafia and when they went under investigation, so did he. Police questioned Frank but came up with next to nothing. Nobody realized whether Frank was more obsessed with the gangsters or them with him, but his secrets of the mafia went to the grave with him.”
“You sure do know a lot of stuff about mafias.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of my thing. It always interested me because these men had to be pure geniuses to run the huge underground incorporations.” Cameren moves his right hand from the wheel and takes my left hand. “Those men fought for justice in a cruel way that made people listen. They may have killed men but they got their point across clearly. For once the world listened when truth was being defied.” In my mind I’m thinking, Wow, my boyfriend is a complete psycho! But I smile and nod not letting my brain do the talking. This is our weekend, our weekend in Vegas.
Cameren pulls up to one of the huge sparkling buildings and stops the car. A teenage boy takes the keys from Cam and another helps with our luggage. Curiously I look at the second blue suitcase beside my duffel bag. Cameren opens my door and leads me out of the car by my right hand.
“Another clinic Cameren?” A man in a greenish black suit walks happily by Cam and me.
“Yeah, a clinic and a few meetings for my father’s company.” When I look at him confused he leans in and whispers in my ear. “Just go with it, I’ll tell you later.”
“Oh, that’s right, that banquet for your uncle is tomorrow night. I almost forgot! Who is your friend?” The blood rushes to my face and I can feel my cheeks turn red and warm.
“This is Jazeline Larsen, the niece of Don Larsen. She is my guest for the banquet.” He traces the lines on my palm.
“Well, she is a lovely lady and I hope you have a swell time. Have a nice visit.” The man tips his hat and walks the other direction. We don’t stop at the check-in desk, but go straight to the elevator. Cam continues to hold my hand as we step into the deserted hallway.
“What banquet were you talking about?”
“There’s a banquet for my uncle Yogi Berra tomorrow night and my parents were invited, of course, but they can’t make it. That’s why I brought you because you are also a big part of this crazy world of legendary ball players. Did you really think my parents would let me go to Las Vegas randomly?” I have to think to myself before I answer. I didn’t really think at all about his parents, to tell you the truth.
“I guess not. I never thought about it.” He hugs my shoulders and leads me down the long beige hallway. “Wait a second; don’t we need a room key?” Cameren pulls a shiny silver card out of his back pocket and smiles.
“I got it right here.” I don’t ask questions, I just laugh and let him pull me to the last door. He opens the wooden door slowly to reveal a large suite. Two beds sit in the middle of the floor along with a small couch. To the right is kitchen area with a stove, fridge, microwave, and counters. It looks more like an apartment than a hotel room. “Home sweet home, huh?” Our bags sit on the beds, which are neatly tucked and trim.
“This is really nice.” I’ve never stayed at a hotel before. Since I live in New York City we’ve never had to travel anywhere, everything is right there.
“It is, isn’t it?” Cam comes up behind me and hugs my waist. He rests his head on mine and kisses my hair. “Are you tired? I sure am.” The clock on the stand says it already 7a.m., but my eyes still feel heavy. Sleep sounds extremely good right now.
“Yeah, I could use some sleep.” Out of nowhere, Cameren picks me up lays me on the first silk bed. He pulls the covers back and tucks me. Softly he kisses my lips.
“Good night, sleep tight.” My eyes close and I drift into the magic of dreams…
Love, it’s such a strong word. What does it even mean? The definition is a strong passion of affection. Affection, what is that? Affection is love. Love is affection. It makes me feel like a kindergartener again. But in kindergarten every question had a simple answer. What is 2+2? It only had one answer, 4. What color are clouds? The answer was either blue or white or whatever color crayon you had. But love, love has so many answers. It has so many solutions, but so many problems. Love is that feeling you get when you see that guy that makes your tummy feel like somebody let a zillion butterflies loose in you. Or maybe it’s the feeling of fireworks going off when you touch, not kiss, just touch. Maybe…okay, I’m getting a little off track. Love is the way I feel when Cameren smiles in my direction…Yeah, that’s love.
When I open my eyes, I see Cameren looking down at me. He smiles warmly and touches my face. He doesn’t say a word; he just traces the creases in my skin ever so gently.
“Dr. Seuss once said that you know you’re in love when you can’t sleep because reality is finally better than your dreams. Let’s just say I couldn’t sleep very well.” He winks and lifts my hand off the silk sheets.
“It’s funny how Dr. Seuss taught us so much.” Cam pulls my hand until I am sitting straight up.
“What do you mean he taught us so much? He just wrote a bunch of silly stories to help kids learn to read.”
“Didn’t you ever look into the books? They all have a meaning somewhere! You just have to dig deep in your mind to find them. I wrote a paper on it last year for English.” I smile at Cameren who is staring at me in confusion. “Do you remember The Cat in the Hat?”
“The stupid book with the cat that wears a hat and keeps two things in a box? Yes I remember that.” Cameren rolls his eyes.
“That stupid book taught us that everything is possible. How many rainy days have you waited by the window, hoping to see that cat in the hat walking with his umbrella up your sidewalk?” Even though I’m serious, I can’t help but laugh at the immaturity.
“Actually, there were quite a few days when I was little that I did.” I can see the sparkle in his eyes as I connect with something deep inside him.
“Then, what about Horton Hears a WHO? Do you remember that one?”
“Yes, the elephant who tries to save the little world on a flower.” He smiles, trying to remember all his childhood books.
“Then you remember the quote, ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small.’ Horton taught us that no matter what people think of you, if you stick up for what you believe in great things will happen.” Cam’s eyes brighten and I can sense that he remembered something important.
“My favorite was Oh, the Places You’ll Go. What did that teach me?” My smile spreads from ear to ear as Cameren leans in closer to me.
“It taught you that you’ll go to many different places and see many types of different people. It taught you that being unique isn’t a sin.” I close my eyes and put my head down. I silently remember back home when you can see so much by just turning a corner. In New York City, it seemed like nobody spoke the same language. You’d walk down the street and hear people speaking Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, and so much more. Back home, I took a subway to school. Down in the dark tunnels you could see all walks of life; the homeless man begging for change, the creative street artist painting the concrete walls, and the hard-working musicians just trying to make something out of their talent. I could sit and watch the subway acts for hours at a time. My apartment sat two short blocks away from China town. I used to go eat at the multiple restaurants at least three or four times a week. They always had the best food. My friend Todd and I would walk through all the shops in China Town and look at all the awing traditional trinkets. Todd is my best friend; he’s been my best friend since I could remember. We hang out all the time but I haven’t talked to him since I left for California. It makes me feel kind of homesick.
“What’s wrong? You look upset?” Cameren tilts my head back up and strokes my cheek.
“Just a little homesick. I miss New York City.” I miss the roar of the crowded streets, the rush of people on the sidewalk, the rumble of the subway, and the noise of the hustle of the city all together. My stomach does flips at the thought.
“It’s going to be okay. You’ll be going back home in another month and you’ll get to be reacquainted with your city.” Cameren leans in and kisses me delicately on the lips.
“But, I don’t want to go home. I want to stay here with you.” He smiles so warmly I swear my heart melts.
“That’s nonsense; you know you want to go home. You can’t stay here forever, what will your dad think?” Basically that was the end of that conversation. Cam was right; I had to go home eventually.
The day was ours. Cameren lead me through the city of Las Vegas. We cruised the Vegas strip in his t-bird like we owned the place. What did we do? Well, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…
I lay on the neatly made silk bed. The coolness of the silk feels good on my sunburnt skin. I wait for Cameren to come back. He said he had a surprise for me. I bury my face in the pillow, letting the cold fabric ice my sweltering burns. I’m definitely not used to the intense heat of the dessert.
“Here we go a nice little gift for being my guest tonight.” Cameren comes through the door and I lift my face off of the pillow. He carries a gown bag with both hands like a baby.
“You got me a dress?” Cam lays the bag on the second bed.
“No, I got you a gown.” He unzips the protective bag and pulls out one of the most magnificent gowns I have ever seen. Its strapless and New York Yankees blue. It flows at the waist and drops to the floor in a blue elegant mess. It’s so simple but graceful. “What do you think?” I jump off the bed and hug Cameren.
“I love it! It’s so beautiful!” I gingerly touch the dress and lose my breath.
“So, there is a little bit of girl in you. I knew I could bring it out somehow.” He lays the gown down on the bed, and picks me up. I hang on his neck like a young child and look into his eyes.
“I guess gowns do that to girls.” In my mind I can’t wait to put that dress on. I never went to prom so I never had the excuse to buy a long flowing gown like that.
“Well, shall we get ready for the banquet now?” He sets me back on the floor and smiles lovingly at me.
“Yes we shall.” Cam hands me the gown along with the bag and I walk into the deluxe bathroom.
The dress fits me perfectly. It hangs off my body like a loose glove. I touch the sequence at the top and sigh. Who would’ve thought they’d see me in a dress, let alone a ball gown? My hair is in tight curls and droops lightly on my shoulders. I breathe as I touch the brass knob of the door. Here goes nothing.
Cameren wears a dark black suit with a navy blue undershirt. His uncontrollable curls are as tamed as I ever saw them and the smile on his face is wonderful as I walk into the room. A blue flower is pinned neatly to the breast of his blazer. He takes my hand and slides a corsage onto my wrist.
“Awe, this is so nice of you. It’s just a banquet.” Cam ignores my comment and retrieves a white and black bag from under his bed. The name Tiffany’s is clearly printed across the center in fancy cursive writing. Oh great, jewelry. Cam takes out a black velvet box the size of a box of crayons and opens it slowly. Inside is the most outstanding tennis bracelet I ever imagined. The diamonds sparkle with a radiance that you only see in movies and the silver glistens ever so slightly behind their power. To my surprise a tiny Yankee pennant dangles off as a charm. Cameren clasps the bracelet around my opposite wrist and straightens it so the sunlight hit it perfectly. I admire the bracelet, giving it my full attention. I don’t even realize when he pulls out a second jewelry box. I feel a pressure on my neck and see a stunning diamond necklace hanging. It’s just as amazing as the bracelet and I have to force myself not to scream with joy at the sight. I touch it and feel the hard stones on my fingers.
“I…I don’t know what to say.” I stammer on, trying to find the right words for the beauty that my wrist and neck daunt.
“You don’t have to say anything yet. I still got one more.” This time he pulls out a tiny velvet box. With one swift motion he unveils a shiny diamond ring. It shines in the safety of its box and I can’t help but lose my breath. “Will you wear it tonight? Please.” I shake my head yes and he slides the ring on the fourth finger of my left hand. “With this ring, I promise I’ll never give up on you. Even when you leave, I’ll still be yours.” Cam wiggles his left hand around in the air showing me his matching band. “Oh, and I also have a pair of flats for you to wear. I didn’t think you’d want to wear heels all night.”
The ball room is decorated in New York Yankees colors and pictures of the great Yogi Berra are scattered along the wall, along with some other well-known greats. Ladies are dressed in elegant gowns, men in tuxes, and children in Sunday’s best. The atmosphere of the banquet is light and wholehearted. There’s a sense of love and adoration as the family and friends of a legend gather to celebrate a life time of achievements. I follow Cam, holding his hand like a little kid. Some of the people smile and wave, but others look confused at our passing. He takes me to a long table at the front of the room. In the center sits an old man with the smile of a young boy. The wrinkles in his face seem to disappear as you imagine his glory days. His hat is straight forward and pushed down, a sign of respect and dignity. His eyes hypnotize you back to a time when the world was pure. Sitting in front of me is none other than Yogi Berra…
“Jazeline I would like you to meet my uncle, Lawrence Berra.” Yogi sticks his shaking hand out to greet me, but I’m too stunned at first. I snap myself out of the trance and take his hand to shake.
“Hello, Mr. Berra, my name is Jazeline Larsen. I’m happy to meet you.” At the sound of my last name, Berra’s eyes pop wide open. That name brings back memories of a time of the impossible actually occurring.
“Larsen? I haven’t gone a day in the last fifty years without hearing that name.” He smiles, the same smile Cam uses, and let’s go of my hand. “There wouldn’t be a chance you’re related to my pal Don Larsen?”
“Yes, Sir, I’m related to Don. He’s my uncle.” You can see the hurt of a long lost bud in the face of Lawrence Berra. He sits on the chair thinking about every moment he spent behind the plate with that man.
“Holy man, I can see the resemblance young lady. You have Don’s eyes. I can never forget those eyes. Many a times they stared down my mitt from the hill. They seemed to pierce your soul. Oh God all mighty, I can never forget those eyes.” I can’t control my urge to smile. My dad always told me that I could kill with one look. “Jazeline, sit down, I have a story to tell you.” Cam rolls his eyes, but pulls a chair out for me.
“It was October 8, 1956, a nice beautiful autumn Monday. Don Larsen stood on the mound and I took my place behind home plate. He told me to squat in the dirt because that’s the only thing I was good for. Looking back, he told me that a lot. He also said to work the pitches with the umpire. Make him call strikes. Don never had an unbelievable season, he was a journey man. He went from team to team, throwing where ever he called home that season. He had winning seasons, of course, but never that one season that made people say, ‘Wow, did you see him pitch this game or that game?’ It was game five of the world series, we were tied two games apiece, and their big pitch for the game was Sal Maglie. The Dodgers thought that they could take advantage of Larsen, but what they were about to witness was magic. The fans sitting, and standing, in Yankee Stadium had no clue that they were about to watch history be made.” Deep down you can see that Lawrence wishes he was back behind the dusty plate in that long ago game. “Don himself didn’t even realize that he was going for a no-hitter. “ Suddenly I can imagine the scene. The crowd is roaring with a buzz that only the word impossible can make. The wind blows softly through Yankee stadium in Bronx, New York. Autumn is creeping in closer and closer like a runaway prisoner. The Yankees are in the World Series, as usual, but there’s this feeling that it’s much more than the routine appearance. I can see uncle Don, young and lively, standing on that mound; feeling like this may be his last chance. It was rapidly do or die time and he couldn’t back out. It was the World Series! When he stepped on the field to take his place, memories of childhood dreams float to the surface. Like every boy, he once threw rocks in his backyard pretending he was pitching in the World Series. Now it was for real, and the batters made their own destiny. A strike wouldn’t come as easy.
“I remember when he threw that last pitch and I ran to him. I squeezed the ball tight in my glove, not letting it go and ran. His face was priceless as I jumped into him. I just told him, ‘Donny, you just completed a World Series no-hitter.’ Don may have never had that perfect season, but he is a huge part of history.” The flicker of energy in Berra’s face is so care free you would think that it just happened yesterday and not decades ago.
“That was a great story Mr. Berra. It sounds a lot better coming from someone who was there. It’s unbelievable, Sir.” I smile so big that my cheeks begin to hurt.
“It’s Yogi, and any time young lady. I love to tell that story; getting someone eager to listen is the heart breaking part.” The way he says this makes you believe that the tall tales are true about baseball becoming a dead sport.
“Well, I could listen to baseball stories all day. I grew up with those stories.” I remember my past; the many nights I laid in bed half asleep listening to my dad tell me the tales of the baseball greats.
“Uncle Berra, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to steal Jazeline away from you for a minute. I have something she may want to see.” Cameren stands up from his chair and pulls mine out. He lays his palm out for me to take and immediately I drop my childhood fantasies.
“I will see you later. Congratulations on a fantastic career.” Cameren and I start to walk away from the old man, but something tugs me back. I let go of his hand and race back to the long table. “I just wanted to let you know that when I was younger I looked up to you. You were an amazing player, and even though I never got to see you play in person, I still loved the way you cared about the game. It was a pleasure to meet you.” I take his wrinkled hand and shake it smoothly. The most chilling smile spreads across his face and he nods his head. Without a word from Yogi, I run back to Cameren, wrapping my arms around his.
“That was really nice of you. Usually, fans don’t say that personally to him. You made him very happy.” Cam whispers into my ear, saying the words in an eerie voice.
“I felt I had to say that. I had to tell him something. So, what do want to show me?” I look up to Cam with puppy dog eyes and stare.
“It’s something they set up in the back. I think you’ll enjoy it.” He walks me down a dark, classy hallway. The walls are cream colored with gold ivy painted across them. The olive green border is covered with dinky purple grapes. A dusty picture frame lies upon the wall with grace. The picture is of an eighteenth century little girl wearing a white petal dress. We seem to be lurking down into the depths of the hotel. With each step my gown rustles and my heels click on the floor. A wooden door sits to the right of the hallway. Carved into the beautiful oak are Italian leaves. Cameren touches the brass knob and opens the door with a squeak.
“What is this place?” I look at the black and white photos hanging on the walls of the room. Each picture is more memorizing than the last. I can’t control my urge to get a closer look. I break away from Cameren’s grasp and find the look I wanted. My fingers sensitively brush the glossy cover of the picture.
“They’ve been working on this exhibit for a while now. They are opening it tonight. You are the first outsider to see it.” Cam stands behind me; his voice raises pitches with each word, almost as if he’s singing. His voice calms down the opaque room and makes it barely comfortable.
My fingertips slide down the photo, a small shock carrying through my veins. The black and white image sends a chill down my spine, but it shouldn’t. It’s a photograph I’ve seen since I was little. I never felt this way before when I saw it. Goosebumps cover my arms as I become engrossed in the magnificence of the framed paper.
“Can we…can we leave?” The murkiness of the room becomes intolerable, I have to get out. I try to hide the insufferable emotions inside my head, but my grip on Cameren is so constricted my cover has been blown. My throat starts to close from my viscous breathing and I find myself struggling to get even the slimmest of breaths. My heart beat stops, its beating at a standstill. I find myself slipping away for no reason. I grab onto Cameren and attempt to hold myself up. My dainty high heel shoe starts to glide on the polished floor. I close my eyes, not wanting to see the alarmed countenance on Cameren’s face as I stumble into unconsciousness
“Hey, hey Jaz, can you hear me? Come on, can you hear me?” I could recognize that angel like tone anywhere. Inside my head, I want to scream to that beautiful intonation to save me from the nightfall of my mind. My mouth doesn’t seem to want to move. All I want is for that wonderful voice to become more than just an impersonal sound. It coos to me, telling me everything will be alright. I want nothing more than to believe the anonymous savior, but the darkness of my thoughts tells me otherwise. The shady voices in my conscious, tell me that my days are done. I will never return to the light of earth. A flicker of light sends the doldrums voice back to its enclosed cave.
“Her eyes…her eyes are opening! Oh, Jaz, thank God!” I feel the tenderness of Cameren’s lips as they press against mine. My body feels stiff, my joints ache. There’s a hammering in my head like a wicked hangover, but I haven’t had any alcohol.
“Where am I?” My voice shakes, but there’s no hesitation or slurring. I’m sitting on a red velvet chair, the texture soft beneath my hand.
“We’re in the lobby. You kind of passed out on me back there.” Cameren’s eyes pierce mine, and I can see the hurt hidden deep inside him. There’s a glistening trail running down his cheeks and I know he has been crying. To know that I’ve caused him pain, it makes my gut twist in the most wretched way.
“Really?” I search my brain for any memory of that minute, but I only a blank dark.
“Yeah, I showed you the picture of Don Larsen and Yogi after the perfect game and you fell. You had me worried.” The way Cameren speaks is like a mother cooing to her new born baby. He talks softly and his pitch rises and falls with each syllable. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know, I guess I just got dizzy. I really don’t have an answer. I’m sorry.” Cam laughs smoothly and touches my cheek softly.
“It’s fine, Jaz. You don’t have to answer questions that don’t have solutions.” He helps me up from the fluffy velvet chair and smoothed the bottom of my dress. He grips my hand and leads me away from the group, acting as if nothing happened. The large banquet room is dimmed and a slow, steady love song gently flows from the dj’s speakers. “Do I get a dance?” Cameren takes my hand and leads me onto the dance floor. He wraps his arms around my waist, and I around his neck. I lean my face into his shoulder and breathe in his wonderful scent. We sway back and forth, and I hear him hum along to the music. I never want this moment to end. I feel so safe in his arms, like the world can no longer hurt me. I haven’t felt so safe since…since my mom left. It hurts to think of her during a moment like this. My heart burns…why did she leave us? I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes just waiting to spill over. My mother’s exhausted face swarms my thoughts, she looked so unhappy. Were we really that bad? For the first time, homesickness overwhelms me. I want my dad, I want my friends, and I want my warm cozy bed with my huge fluffy pillows. I miss Annie, I miss Lindsey, I miss Jason, I miss Nina, I miss Collin, I miss Emma and Emmett, and I miss David the doorman. I miss the loud city streets, the annoying honking of horns, the screams of irritated drivers, I miss it so much! I want to sit on our balcony during a thunder storm and watch the lightning race across the sky in beautiful bolts of gold. I want to feel the cool humid air and see the dense fog of the morning. But, I never want this moment, as I sway in Cameren’s arms, to end…
“The song’s over, babe.” Cameren touches my hair and I lift my head. I sniffle and release my arms. “Are you crying?” He laughs and wipes the tear from my eye.
“Yeah, I was thinking about…about…never mind.”
“No, no, tell me. I want to know.” Cam sweeps me off my feet and carries me back out to the lobby. He sets me on a couch and sits beside me, acting out listening intently.
“Cameren, I’m homesick. I miss all my friends and my dad. My dad needs me. He’s probably been living off the Chinese place downtown the last two months. I usually go home by now. Collin is probably going crazy; I promised we’d go camping in Staten Island. Nina and I were supposed to go to Darien Lake to take on the Viper. Emma and I were going to pick out our prom dresses early to beat the rush. Emmett was going to hel— “ I can’t finish, my lips have found something else to do. Cameren, eager to get me to shut up, kisses me. His lips are soft on mine, pressing against me delicately.
“Still homesick?” That smile is irresistible, but the need for New York City is still there. I lean in for another kiss.
“Yes, I am. You don’t understand, Cam, I need the city. I need New York.” I grip at his arms showing how much I yearn for home.
“Will you give me a week?” Cameren’s eyes are dark, the joy sucked out like a black hole. I nod my head, considering that’s a reasonable offer. “Thank you for coming with me to Vegas.” That’s my favorite part about Cameren; he knows when to change the subject.
“You’re very welcome. Let’s go have fun.”
The sun is as bright as ever as Cam and I trudge down the road toward the field. Already, the stands are packed with fans. Not just fans, but college scouts. They sit on the metal bleachers with a notebook in their hand and a pen on their ear. They are eager to see the new talent for them to pick through. Sometimes they mingle with each other about which player they are here to see; mostly they nod in approval like they’re all here for the same player. There’s a thrill in the air, almost everyone in the complex is filled with animation as they prepare for the game.
Cameren is shaking from his nerves. His hand trembles in mine as we slowly walk down the road. I know he’s nervous, even if he won’t admit it. This is his first game back after his concussion, and something tells me that all the scouts are here for him. There’s been a buzz the last week about him returning to the field. I’ve been coming down to the field with him every day to watch him pitch. He hasn’t lost any of his fire or momentum the last month. It was exhilarating to watch him throw with such passion when it was just practice. You can tell by his expression that he needs baseball; it’s a part of him.
“Cam, we’re at the dugout, you have to let go of my hand.” Cameren looks scared, frightened almost. He wraps his arms around my waist and I around his neck, so I can whisper in his ear. “Go out there and show them that you didn’t lose anything. Pitch like it’s your last game ever. I love you and I’ll be right here the whole time. I promise.”
“Cross your heart?”
“Cross my heart and hope to die, poke a thousand needles in my eye if I lie.” Cameren smiles brightly and kisses me quickly.
“Love you.” He trots to the green dugout and blows me another kiss before entering the cave of baseball players. I sit on the bottom bleacher, directly behind home plate, in front of all the scouts. I can hear most of their conversations, and my assumptions were correct. They’re here for Cameren.
“Do you think that kid still got it? It’s been a month, that’s pretty long to be away from the game at his age.” A scruffy looking man with a reporter style cap whispers to another reporter who’s wearing a Bullpen Baseball Academy polo shirt.
“His speed might be a little iffy, but I’m sure his accuracy is still there. His batting is what’s going to be the problem. Did you see that hit he took? He’s lucky his brain didn’t fall out of his skull!” I wince at the memory and shake it back to the depths of my mind.
“No, no, no, it doesn’t matter if he can hit that good, he’s a south paw! Any team in the world can use a good, hard throwing south paw!” The two scouts bicker back and forth, picking apart each good and bad aspect of Cameren’s play.
“Well, at least he has a sweet girlfriend. I heard she was down here every day watching and helping him get back into his rhythm.” I can feel their eyes burning into the back of my head as they stare down at me. Don’t look back, don’t look back, don’t look back.
Eager to remove myself from this pack of hungry wolves, I look for anybody, anything, to give me a reason to leave. I see Cameren’s little brother standing off to the side. He’s wearing a black and gold uniform, with a Pittsburgh Pirate’s logo on the chest. Boy kid. He looks upset. His sparkling blue eyes are drawn out and you can see the tears building up. I run to him and right before he turns around I grab his arm.
“Hey, Carter, what’s wrong? Didn’t you guys win?” He turns his face from me, just like Cam does when he’s upset.
“What’s it to you?” His words cut like daggers, and I almost want pick him up and coo to him like a baby.
“I don’t want you to be sad. I love your pretty eyes when you’re happy and smiling. It makes you look like a stud.” I get a hint of his smile, the same smile Cameren always gives me. “Will you tell me what’s taking that beautiful smile away?”
“We won. We won districts.” A tear runs its course down Carter’s cheek.
“That’s awesome! Why are you upset that you won districts?” Another tear follows the other in a game of follow the leader.
“Do you see that over there?” He points his finger towards the growing crowd getting ready to watch Cameren start pitching. “Nobody cares about me! The only thing they care about is Cameren!” He spits his name out like its poison. “I was the homerun leader this year! Did anybody care? No, they were too busy worrying about when Cameren would start pitching again. He wasn’t even playing and he was still getting all the attention! He could’ve showed up at one of my games and at least tried to show he cared. No, he was with you running all over the west coast.” I look over at the field, a channel 6 news van slides into the parking lot followed by channel 5. Mr. and Mrs. Berra sit on the bleachers with a proud glare in their eyes. They are thrilled for their son.
“Come over and sit with me.” Immediately he shakes his head no.
“No, I’m waiting for my mom to come pick me up. Besides I don’t want to be here when they get a chance to bid for Cameren. That’s when hell breaks loose.” I wonder what he meant by bidding for Cameren?
“How long have you been waiting for your mom?” Something tells me he was standing here longer than five minutes.
“An hour.” He mumbles and looks at the ground.
“Let me take you home.” I take Cameren’s keys out of my pocket and jingle them.
“He doesn’t let anybody drive his t-bird. Plus, you’d lose your seat.” I can’t help but smile.
“I’m sure he’d make an exception. By the way, I don’t care if I lose my seat.” I can see this glint of happiness in his eyes. For the first time in his life somebody is choosing him over his brother. “Let’s go tell Cameren not to call the cops on us.” We walk over to the dugout, Carter stands outside but I go in. I grab Cam’s hand and pull him close. I ignore the whistles and talk to Cameren and only him.
“I’m taking your car to drive Carter home.” There’s a shock in his eyes.
“Why can’t the dweeb watch my game? His mother should be here any minute.”
“No she’s not. He’s been waiting for an hour already. He doesn’t want to watch your game because you didn’t have the heart to even congratulate him for winning districts let alone watch him play.” I leave Cameren in a state of surprise. There’s a chorus of ooooh’s as I leave the dugout with his keys still in my hand. “Come on Carter, get in the car.” He smiles and skips to the car, glad that somebody has the nerve to tell his brother off. Carter slides into the passenger side and buckles his seat belt.
“You know, I never was in this car.” He rubs his hand down the leather interior, the smile on his face growing at the touch. “I say we trash it.” I raise my eyebrow at him and shake my head.
“No, we’re not trashing it. I’m dropping you off and coming straight back.” I put my sunglasses on my face and step on the gas. The tires squeal as we zip out of the parking lot. With each sharp turn I grind my teeth with anxiety. I haven’t actually driven a car since I left New York. I don’t usually drive anyway since there’s a metro.
“That’s my house over there.” Carter grips the handle bar of the door, ready for any necessary jumping. He never lets go of his next breath, but holds it until I stop at his shady blue condo. “This is it.” He hops out and slings his bag over his shoulder. “Thank you. Thank you for caring and for the ride.”
“No problem, are you sure you don’t want to watch the game?” Carter’s frown makes the answer a positive no. “Okay, I’ll see you later then.” I start to pull out of the drive, but I see Carter turn around in the mirror.
“WAIT!” I stop the car and he runs to the window. “I want to watch him pitch. Maybe, if I’m lucky, he’ll suck and nobody will want anything to do with him.” I can tell that’s just an excuse, he wants to see Cam succeed and I know it. I smile and unlock the door for him to get in.
We drive down the road at a sluggish pace. I even take the long way back to the field. Carter leans against the window, his face pressed up along the glass. Every once in a while his eyes close and he begins to nod off, but he quickly forces them open. He acts like I can’t be trusted…smart boy.
“You look up to him don’t you?” Carter’s ocean blue eyes stare me down. He waits for the answer to come to mind. I can see that this is a question he doesn’t want to hear.
“Doesn’t everybody?” I put my hand on his shoulder and shake him to life.
“You’re his little brother, it’s okay to look up to your older brother. Carter, you don’t have to act like you hate him. He doesn’t hate you.” Carter throws me a confused glance and stares out the window.
“Have you seen the way he looks at me? He treats me like I’m the worse thing to ever happen to him!” I try to move past the fact that that’s exactly what Cameren thinks he is. “I can’t help what happened that long ago! It’s not like I asked for this all to occur! Every time he looks at me I swear he wishes he could kill me, just to get rid of me! I’m the only frikkin’ bad part of his perfect life!” Carter doesn’t scream at me, but to the window. Almost as if he wants the rest of the world to hear his outburst.
“His life isn’t perfect. It may seem perfect, but it’s far from it. You’re just like everyone else; you only see the show he puts on.” My hands grip the steering wheel so tight, my knuckles turn pale white.
“No offense, but if it’s all a show, he deserves an Oscar. Best actor of the year if you can pull off a façade like that. Admit it, he’s perfect.” I pull the T-Bird into the full parking lot and hide it near a bundle of trees so no one scratches it. I unbuckle my seat belt and stare at him.
“You both don’t understand each other. Maybe if you listened to him when he talked you’d know that he cares about you. Deep down you’re the best thing god could’ve gave him.”
“And what’s that? A personal punching bag?”
“No, somebody to look up to him for who he is and not for who he appears to be.” I step out of the car, slamming the door behind me. Carter runs to catch up to me.
“Are you serious?” He follows me like a lost puppy.
“No, I’m lying to you. Of course I’m serious. Like I told you, just listen to him. Then, maybe he’ll give you another chance.” Carter is silent as he continues to follow me to the field. The bleachers are completely packed so I sit Indian style behind the home plate fencing.
Cameren stands on the mound, throwing his warm-up pitches. His motions are completely in sync with each other, a very good sign. His fastball even looks faster. The catcher places his glove all over the imaginary strike zone, and Cameren hits each with great accuracy. With each new pitch the recruiters go nuts. I can hear them rave over his control and fire. I nudge Carter, and point toward the mound.
“So, looks like your plan is out.” I finally break his nail-hard shell and he smiles.
“He looks awesome.” I hug Carter around the shoulders.
“That’s my boy.” Cameren’s first batter of the game is Enrico Lacuna, a leadoff homerun hitter. He can place the ball anywhere on the field with just a tiny adjustment of his foot. We practiced getting a guy like this out. You work the corners on him for the first two strikes and jam him for the third. I lean into the fence, my nails cutting through my skin.
STRIKE ONE! STRIKE TWO! STRIKE THREE! Three fastballs whiz past the batter and into the catcher’s mitt, just like we practiced. The velocities of the pitches were outrageous! The scoreboard shows that his last pitched clocked in at 103 mph! The recruiters are on their feet, wondering if the board has a glitch. A high school student throwing 103? That’s impossible! But, if you know Cameren, you’d know that he’s the dictionary definition of impossible. I jump to my feet, and scream.
“Waydago Cameren! Woo! That’s my baby!” My cheeks turn scarlet red as I sink back down to the soft grass.
“Way to keep it cool dear.” Carter nudges me with his elbow and smiles. I just roll my eyes. He doesn’t know how much hard work and dedication was put into his career in just the last week. He wasn’t here the grueling hours trying to regain his faultless accuracy. I literally watched him rise from the ashes. The first day I could tell he just wanted to break down and give up. His accuracy was gone, his speed down, and his motions a mess. Nothing was working out for him. I helped him as best I could by going through film and analyzing his steps, but he needed something more. What that something was, was encouragement, and not fake encouragement. I provided that for him….
As Cameren comes to bat, it hits me like a sack of bricks. Oh my god, we never practiced his batting. When he walks to the plate, that fearless edge is gone. He almost looks scared. Cam awkwardly stands in the box, his stance completely screwed up. He no longer looks like a prowling beast but a frightened field mouse. The pitcher can clearly see that fear in his eyes so he takes a risk. He throws the ball inside and high, a pitch that normally Cam would send into the far right parking lot. Hastily Cam back steps out of the batter’s box. Strike one is called just nipping the corner of the zone. Come on Cam, you can do it. I know you got it in you. The pitcher seems to have found the almighty Cameren Berra’s weakness. He takes a second chance, receiving the same tasteless result.
“Come on Cam! Nothing’s changed, you’re still Cameren Berra! Get back in that box and hit the ball! Please, for me!” I stand astoundingly close to the fence grasping the links. Cameren looks back at me and with that seamless smile gives me a wink. The confidence has replenished his eyes and gives him the textbook look of the warrior he was born to be. With a new gusto, Cam takes his place back inside the pitcher’s office. His stance is once again picture-perfect, matching the fire in his walk. He knows what pitch he’s looking for, you can’t fool him twice. Inside and high comes the pitch and the bat cracks. Away the ball flies into the outfield, inches away from clearing the yellow fencing. Cameren runs the bases quick as a hiccup. The ball tings off the fence and the outfielders sprint to retrieve it. Playing a game of jeopardy, Cameren doesn’t stop at third, he continues to dash toward home plate. With an effortless slide, it’s an inside of the park homerun. The beast is back…
“Cameren! Cameren! You did it!” I force myself through the crowd surrounding Cam and fling myself into his arms. “I told you, you could do it!” I lean my head on his shoulder, still hanging onto him. Through the corner of my eye I can see the flash of a camera go off. Oh lovely, let’s get a picture of me hanging all over him on the front page of the newspaper.
“Yeah, I did it.” He pulls me tighter against his body, holding me against his firm chest. “Jaz, I promise that no matter what happens, I’m not going to change.” I feel him press his face into my hair. Something’s wrong with him…I can tell that there’s something wrong.
“Excuse me, but I would like to speak with Cameren for a minute.” With a blush I unwrap my legs from Cam’s waist and slide back to the ground.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Once separated from Cameren, the man ignores the fact that I’m standing right here.
“Cameren, my name is David Jones and I have a deal for you. It’s sweeter than ice-cream and better than what these other men will offer you.” He leans into Cam’s ear and whispers his special offer. Cameren’s eyes are huge, taking in the reality of it. “Will you think about it?”
“Yeah, I will definitely think about it.”
“Good. It was nice talking to you Cameren. You remember that you always have a place in our organization.” The man tips his cap and winks before giving me a gentle smile and heading off. The other recruiters swarm the mound, pushing to get through to Cam. Apparently they know something I do not…
The rain starts soft, slow, and melodic. It drips casually down from the sky like angels are watering delicate flowers. The drops create tiny dimples on the black road. I stay close by Cameren’s side, leaning into his warm body. Thunder rolls with a loud BOOM! A streak of lightning traces its way across the sky. I jump back, hugging Cam’s arm.
“It’s okay, boo, I’m right here.” Cam laughs and holds me tight like a frightened child. Ever since the game he has had a small, confident smile scratched across his face. He never told me what the man offered him though.
“Who was that man you were talking to at the field?” Cam sighs and pulls me closer, moving under a tree for cover.
“A recruiter…for the San Diego Padres. They want me to sign Jaz! They don’t even want me to go to college, just to sign right after high school and start! Isn’t that great?” Something tugs in my chest…he’s pulling the strings of my heart. I fantasized of us going to college together and rooming in the same house. We would study together and have fun. If he signed, I’d never see him… “Isn’t that great Jaz?”
“Yeah it’s amazing. Just what you wanted.” I can feel the bittersweet tears forming at the edge of my eye, getting ready to free fall down my face.
“What’s wrong?” Cam wraps his arms around me, swaying back and forth in a rocking motion.
“Nothing. That’s great.” He can tell there’s tension in my words. Cam won’t settle for a fake emotionless smile, he’ll dig.
“If it’s so great, why are you at the verge of tears?” The rain continues to fall, but we are safe underneath the draping tree. The steady drops on the leaves are soothing to my heart. It almost reminds me of home.
“I’m not. You’re just seeing things.” I wipe away the forming tears and flash a really bad fake smile.
“Come on, tell me what’s wrong?” Cameren swings me around, urging me to tell.
“It’s nothing really.” I feel his arms drop and I turn around quickly, surprised he would do that.
“Fine.” He turns and begins to walk away, the rain creating dark spots on his green jersey. He never looks back. I feel hurt with each step he takes.
“Why are you leaving?” I call to him, praying he’ll turn back around and embrace me. I need him.
“If you don’t wanna talk then I’m not needed.” His sweet accent draws me to him and I take that one single step towards him.
“I do need you, and I wanna talk. I’ll talk all night if you’ll just stay with me.” The last part was supposed to remain in my head, but my mouth decided it has a mind of its own.
The corner of Cameren’s mouth turns up and the amusement in his eyes is clear as day. The fact that I totally embarrassed myself entertains him. When he lifts his eyebrows up in fascination, I can tell he’s waiting for more.
“I’d do anything if you were by my side. Cameren I love you. I l-love you. I want nothing more than to stay in your arms forever. I’d give my life just to keep you all to myself. When we kiss, sparks fly. Do you know how many nights I lie awake thinking about you? You’re all I want, but I’m losing you.” Tears sting my eyes and my legs shake. I want him to come running and pick me up in his arms, but he keeps his distance. “Babe, come back.”
“Jaz, I love you too. You’re not losing me. We’ll keep in touch. I promise.” Finally Cam walks back and wraps his arms around me snug.
“Cam, you don’t understand. You said that man wants you to join the majors right after high school. If you go, I’ll never see you.” I can feel my voice wobble trying to keep its composure. I can’t even find the strength to look at him.
“Of course I’ll see you. I would search this whole world to find you. I’m not going anywhere unless you’re with me.” Cameren caresses my face and when his hand moves to my arm I can feel electricity flow through my veins.
“You’re so corny.” I laugh into his hoodie and let the tears fade away.
“You do that to me.” The way Cameren laughs, his whole body trembling, lets me know that somehow this all will work out. He kisses me subtly and the feel of his lips on mine reminds me that someday I’ll never have to let this go.
listen to the soft beating of Cameren’s heart, holding each thump like it’s his last. The hum of the TV is just background music to my personal moment with this boy who stole my heart. This house, Cam’s home, is warm. Within these walls, nothing can go wrong. In the doorway of the living room, small dashes line the frame. The tiny engravings represent how tall Cameren Berra has grown over the years. The highest mark says 6’3; his current height. The smallest reads 3’7 at age five. It helps remind me that indeed a house can be a home and family does exist.
The screen door opens with a low creak and in walks Mr. Berra along with Carter. Carter’s head is down and Mr. Berra looks exhausted. When Carter finally looks up, his face is tainted with tears and his nose is red. He stares at Cameren and I can feel his mood worsen. As Mr. Berra moves along the house, Carter remains near the door. Mr. Berra grabs Cam’s arm and I remove myself from his chest. He pulls Cam aside and whispers in his ear.
“His mother left him. I found him at the fields crying. Be nice to him, Cameren. He’s in a rough spot.” I can hear Mr. Berra’s voice crack and Cameren tense. He knows the feeling of being left behind.
“No problem dad. Where did she go?”
“She went to Alabama with her boyfriend. She didn’t tell him so don’t say anything.” I look over to Carter; he has his body pushed up against the screen door. I can tell he wants out. He wants to leave and never come back.
As Cam and his father continue talking, I creep over to the depressed Carter. Up close, I can see the glistening tears sliding down his pretty face. His soft sniffles and the way he tries to hold back the hurt tugs at my heart. I can relate with him. My mom left me too.
“Hey, wanna talk?”
“No.” Carter doesn’t even look in my direction. He just continues to stare out into freedom.
“I know where you’re coming from Carter. Talking about it helps.” I lay a hand on his shoulder affectionately but he shrugs me off with an irritated glare.
“My mom left. She left me for…for her boyfriend. I know that’s it. Who does that?” He glares at the window, his left hand at his side in a snug fist. His fingers begin to turn purple and I grab his hand.
“Carter, you need to calm down.” I lay my hand on top of his fist and attempt to unclench his fingers. “Carter, please relax your hand. You’re cutting off your circulation.” He opens his hand and I begin to pinch his skin.
“Ouch! What the hell are you doing?” Carter tries to smack me away my grip firms and I continue to squeeze his flesh. I count the seconds of each nip and tug before rubbing it gently with the tip of my finger. In no time, the purple color of his hand is replaced with his usual light brown shade. Carter stares in amazement at his hand, flipping over to examine the miracle I performed.
“Neat, huh?” Still investigating his hand, Carter only nods in agreement. “That’s a little trick my taught me when I was little. I used to have a lot of anger issues when I was younger. You kinda remind me of myself.”
“Really?” I smile, knowing I broke through to him.
“Yeah really. Come on I’ll tell you a little about myself.” We walk out onto the back patio and sick on the gravel. “Back home, you know New York City, I played hockey. Oh man, I loved hockey.”
“Then why did you stop?” Carter stares at me confused. “I mean, if you loved it, why would you stop playing?” I shush him and continue on with my tale.
“I loved hockey, everything about it. Just slipping my skates on made my toes tingle with anticipation. When I stepped on the ice, I felt at home. Before every game I would skate around the rink alone, with one hand touching the boards at all times. I loved the feel of glided on that smooth surface. I felt free, like nothing could ever go wrong. The cold chill never bothered me. I got used to it after a while. My face no longer froze and my teeth wouldn’t chatter. But you know what I loved most?”
“Uh, knowing that when you stepped out of the arena that it would be the same temperature?” Carter laughs and I push him jokingly.
“No, I loved the game itself. I loved holding that stick in my hand and following the puck with my eyes. I never had to think about what to do next, it just happened. I loved hearing a nice clean check, the thud of a player hitting the glass. I especially loved looking up into the stands during a time out and seeing my dad. He always sat in the same spot every game. I’d look up and he’d smile and wave. He would always be there no matter what. Nobody ever sat by him, he was always isolated…”
“Why didn’t your mom sit with him?”
“She used to. Before she left, she’d sit with him and watch. She’d always tell me how proud she was…but one day she left. Just like your mom left you. She was sitting in the kitchen all morning and I was in the living room. She was talking to herself in low mumbles and I was afraid to ask what she was doing. Finally she came to me and told me to go to my room and not come out until dad got home. I did as she said but when I heard the door slam shut, I cried. It was the first time I cried. I wasn’t one to cry over something so small, but I knew that she wouldn’t come back.” I close my eyes, taking deep breathes to calm my nerves. I miss my mom and I wonder everyday why she left me.
“Your mom just left. Where did she go?” Carter lays his hand on top of mine, and I know I got him where I want him.
“Yeah, she just left. I don’t know where she went or why. When I was little, it hurt a lot to think about her, but now it doesn’t hurt as much. The pain goes away Carter, but I trusted her. I trusted her not to leave me and she did. I have problems trusting people still but I’m getting better. You’ll get better too. I promise.” I hug Carter and he hugs back. All he ever wanted in life was to matter to somebody and, in the end, that’s what everybody wants…to matter.
Cam opens the screen door with a soft creak and steps onto the porch. He pulls Carter into his arms and hugs him tight. I listen as Cameren whispers into Carter’s ear that everything will be okay. Carter doesn’t make a sound as Cam continues to hug him and tell him that they’ll make this work. I can’t help but wish I had an older brother to rock me and tell me that he’d take care of me when my mother walked out…