03 March 2014

"What do you want?"

It was the summer of 1997, and we stood at the edge of a local baseball field as the game finished up. I had refused to choose sides; I was lousy at baseball anyway, always ducking when someone pitched to me. He'd decided to help me my one time at bat by getting behind me, putting his hands over mine, and swinging for me. We got a hit, but it had been caught by the center fielder. Now he was finishing a smoke as the sun set fire to the horizon and the depths of space began to show overhead.

"What do you mean, what do I want?" He was squinting at me, and I could see him trying to work it out. I was proud of him for questioning the question; most people never do.

"If you could have one wish," I said. "And no other wishes." I was only supposed to ask the question, but he'd been nice to me when others hadn't.

He thought about it. Really thought about it as he finished his cigarette. Then he said, "Well, I don't want to offend you or nothin', but I don't think you're it."

"I know I'm not," I assured him. I was meant for another.

"You like a fairy godmother or somethin'?"

The Greeks have a word for it, I thought but didn't say. Just smiled and shrugged.

The remains of the cigarette hit the ground and he finished it with his foot. Texas heat, dry grass, couldn't leave things to smolder.

"Too young for that kind of work, ain't you?" He was joking, or trying to, but I could tell his brain was moving fast. When I still didn't answer, he said, "I'm not there yet. Give me about ten years."

"And then?" I asked.

He glanced at the the field; the game was over. I was pretty sure his team had won, but it didn't matter. Everyone was milling, and soon they'd be running over to us, too, and for the first time I realized how much work it was for him. He did honestly enjoy . . . But he tended to extend himself too far, and it wore on him. He never had time to regroup. He was always expected to be the life of the party.

Even as we both looked, we could see a couple others had spotted us. I saw him square his shoulders against it.

"I can do this bit on my own," he said, and I knew he meant the work. He had the drive and the talent and wouldn't need any favors from me.

He had girls, too, of course, but not the right kind. He wasn't ready for that yet, either. But in ten years?

"Love it is, then," I said, half to myself, and he turned sharply to me.

"What?"

But the others had caught us up, and I needed to find my ride. I watched him put on the easy smile as someone began chattering at him; the slowness was an affect to give his brain time to race ahead. I turned, thinking to slip away as the crowd around us thickened. But he gave my ponytail one last tug as I left.

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