Welcome to the thirteenth installment of Fiction Fridays, where I post a new short story each week. Today marks the second edition of our series within a series.
If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry; you can still enjoy these pieces just like any other Friday story. However, readers familiar with the novel will get more out these interactions. While they didn’t make the final cut, they remain essential moments in the characters’ lives, which still resonate in the background of the published book.
So let’s continue…
Semi-spoiler alert: Today’s scene chronicles how Ed meets Brian for the first time, which is alluded to in chapter three. For those of you not familiar, Ed (our narrator) has been friends with Alex Evergreen since high school, so they’ve developed quite a bond. Also, it’s important to point out that Alex no longer has a family. That’s how Brian blows into their lives with such force that his introduction — and soon the introduction of his future wife Ashley — changes Alex’s life forever.
I hope you enjoy.
Stats: 1136 words. Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 40 seconds.
College intramural baseball was unlike our old coach’s rules. I’d been late to our high school team’s tryouts and had spent the next five minutes telling Coach McNabb that yes, sir, I had heard of Lombardi time and yes, sir, I would have been there fifteen minutes early had my last teacher not continued past the bell and no, sir, it would never happen again. It didn’t. Twenty laps helped cement that lesson.
Today was more relaxed. It was just a bunch of guys, talking and stretching, who probably had similar coaches that hadn’t broken their love of the game.
“All right, guys,” an upperclassman yelled. I assumed he was the captain. Captains who enjoyed their positions often wore their ball caps backwards. “Pair off and warm up.”
I watched the team dwindle two by two as I laced my cleats. Most shook hands with their partners, having met them for the first time, before they squared off ten yards apart to toss the ball. After I threw my shoes in my bag and wrestled my hand into my glove, I noticed I was the odd man out.
Then I saw Alex trotting over.
“Didn’t think you were going to make it,” he said. “Warm up with us.”
I followed Alex to the outfield, wondering what he’d meant by “us.” He tapped the shoulder of one of the guys.
“Ed, this is Brian.”
The guy was a mountain of confidence. He was tall, about six feet, with perfectly gelled black hair and the smile of a politician. He complemented the smile with a firm handshake, and I felt some weight strangely evaporate. Even in the first minute of meeting him, he had a charming effect that could probably disarm even the bitterest rivals.
“Brian and I are in the same ethics seminar,” Alex said. “Here. Go out.”
Brian and I trotted out together so we could both throw to Alex.
“So where are you from?” I asked.
“Seattle,” he said. “Edmonds, actually. It’s a little north of downtown.”
We threw the ball to Alex a couple times as Brian and I backpedaled to our position near center field.
“How do you like LA?”
“I like it so far. It’s no Seattle, though. Everything is better there.”
“I don’t know. LA summer nights are pretty hard to beat.”
“The people are the nicest around,” Brian continued, as though he hadn’t heard my comment. “We have apples, of course. Not like the poor excuses they serve at EVK.”
“I wouldn’t use cafeteria fruit as a yardstick.”
“And everything is green. After all, Washington is the Evergreen State.” He yelled to Alex, “See. You belong there, Evergreen.”
Alex beamed at the compliment. He relayed the ball to Brian twice in a row, leaving me waiting with an open glove. With a look of surprise, he realized his mistake and threw to me this time. It sailed in a straight line right into my glove. The impact stung my palm through the leather.
I said, “So it’s like that, huh?”
I threw the ball back along the same line, harder.
Alex’s glove crossed his chest and a translucent plume of dust exploded from its web. Without pausing he completed his turn, ripped the ball from his glove, and threw it back with a smirk.
The Captain saw us speeding up the exchange.
“Just warm it up, guys. This isn’t the World Series.”
The three of us learned about each other, tossing answers around the triangle we’d spread into. Understandably, Alex didn’t say much about his family, but Brian was very talkative about his. Both of his parents were teachers. His mom taught American history at the local college and his dad owned an educational camp for students who came from throughout the Pacific Northwest for a week at a time. Brian even taught team building and cooperation workshops when he was home.
He told a story about the leadership team that worked under his dad, how he granted the core group freedom in their various departments. He treated them like a family, and they’d always have a home at the camp so long as they were loyal to that family.
“So. When he discovered one of his employees had been entertaining an offer at a rival camp, my dad pulled this guy into his office, shut the door, and looked right into this guy’s eyes. He raised this finger and said,” and Brian, without breaking eye contact, raised his finger as if to ask for a minute, and after a pregnant pause, tapped that finger on the air as he said, “‘Loyalty.’”
“What’s the most important word?” Brian asked.
“Loyalty,” Alex said.
“With that one word, my dad’s employee broke down crying, I swear. That’s how important loyalty is to him, and that’s how important it is to me.”
Alex looked pleased to hear the story’s conclusion again. It was only the second week of classes, so I couldn’t imagine how much time Alex and Brian could have spent together. Already, the acted as though they were old friends. I didn’t know how to weigh in on the merriment. I just focused on the warm-up.
“So, Ed,” Brain said. “You got a girl?”
I remembered the other day, how she watched me cook breakfast, as though the moment would evaporate if she looked away.
“Shannon,” I said.
“How long you been together?”
“Three years total.”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to share as much as Brian did about his life, but he exuded a calming effect. I figured it wouldn’t hurt.
“We broke up for a brief while, but everything’s fine now.”
“That’s great,” Brian said.
“How long have you and Meghan been together?” Alex asked.
“Almost two-and-a-half years. Man, time has just flown. We’re going to get married.”
I fumbled the catch. “You’re already engaged?” It was only the first year of college; I couldn’t imagine getting married yet.
My reaction amused Brian. He must have seen it before since he gave a knowing grin. “No. But we know we’re right for each other.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
He smiled with pride. “We just know.”
“High school sweethearts,” Alex said. “That doesn’t happen often anymore.”
“I’m very lucky. But she kept me waiting when I first asked her out. She called Ashley first and told her all about it before calling me back.”
“Who’s Ashley?” Alex asked.
“Meghan’s best friend. She’s such a ham. You’d like her.” At that moment, a brilliant idea occurred to Brian, and he could hardly contain his excitement. “You should come up, Evergreen. You’d love Seattle.”
Alex didn’t object, and they laughed to each other as if they were in their own little world.
I happily reminded them: “Don’t a lot of serial killers come from there?”