Thwack! Devin heard the glove smack him on the side of the head before he felt it.
“Let’s go,” David commanded.
Devin looked up at his older brother, enormous muscles bulging out of his fifteen-year-old shoulders, his baggy Billabong t-shirt tight around the biceps. David was ferocious. He was bound and determined to go pro in baseball, and Devin was his training partner, like it or not.
Devin knew arguing with David was pointless, so he put on his battle face and walked out the door, vaguely noticing his sister Lorelle’s wide eyes staring at him as he walked out the back door with dignity and stature beyond his twelve years.
The game, as always, was wiffle ball.
Like other baseball-obsessed families, there were complex rules in place specifically for the arrangement of their back yard. What would normally be foul, for instance, would be a double if you hit the bushes, but a home run if you got it over the bushes. What seems like fair play might be out automatically or it might be a single. Only David and Devin knew the rules, and even they couldn’t agree on them.
Rock-paper-scissors, that sacred contract more binding, to a kid, than any legal document, decided that Devin would bat first.
The game started with an explosion. The tiny bat pinged right and left as wiffle balls flew all over the back yard. “Triple! 2 runs scored. I’m at 8!” shouted Devin triumphantly.
“No, out. That’s 3–I’m up,” stated David, matter-of-factly, as he walked confidently over to the plate, reaching out his hand for the bat that Devin still held.
“When you hit it there yesterday, it was a triple!” Devin shouted, his head coming up no higher than David’s armpit, though his voice was strong and unwavering.
“That was when I hit it over the hot tub. You hit it to the side of the hot tub. Shut up and go get the ball!” David shouted back, exasperated.
Devin, hands still tight on the bat, looked David square in the eye. Not today, he thought. “You cheat like this every day! You’re a liar and you’re not fair!” Devin said, hurling his bat at David, who was now no more than a yard away from Devin.
David had quick reflexes, but he couldn’t avoid the bat completely. It hit him with a thud, and he winced.
David grabbed the closest thing to him, a patio chair, and hurled it back at Devin. The much smaller boy ducked, and the chair crashed over his back. It hurt, but that didn’t stop Devin.
David was bigger, older, and extremely talented at everything. Why does he always do this to me? Why can’t he just leave me alone? He sprang from his crouch and was instantly at David’s side, slamming his fist into David’s arm.
School was rough today; nobody understands dedication. They call him obsessed, they laugh at his single-minded passion for the one thing that makes him happy: baseball. If only he had a game today, things would be better. But, alas, he was currently between travel-ball seasons. Another would start up soon, but he needed to play today.
He walked into the living room, and there was his little brother, watching cartoons like a child. Tiny, but solid muscle, that little brat was. Playing against him, after all the training David had invested in him, was nearly as good as playing with his own teammates. In fact, Devin was already better than a few of them. Why couldn’t that little dork see that the two of them could make it, could go pro, could maybe play on the Dodgers together?
He slapped Devin with his glove, noticing Lorelle shaking her head at him from the kitchen table where she was reading again. Always reading, that girl was. She’s good enough to maybe play softball in college or something. Too bad there’s no pro baseball for girls. But she doesn’t care. She just wants to read.
“Let’s go,” he said, not waiting for Devin. He knew Devin would follow. If he didn’t, David could taunt him about being a chicken. That went both ways; David couldn’t turn down challenges from Devin, either.
The game began like any other. Devin started at bat and quickly dominated, racking up runs. It wasn’t going to be easy today. It never was–David only won maybe 60% of the daily wiffle ball games.
With every point Devin seemingly effortlessly smacked over David’s head, David’s frustration grew. Though he was excellent at baseball, he had to work so damn hard for it. Here’s this little punk kid who doesn’t even like the sport all that much, and he’s naturally amazing. He doesn’t know how lucky he is, David thought for the millionth time, anger slowly brewing.
David finally got that third out, but Devin was having none of it. Come on, little bro, he thought. You whiny little turd, just let it go! “That was when I hit it over the hot tub. You hit it to the side of the hot tub. Shut up and go get the ball!”
Devin threw the bat, David threw the chair, and suddenly Devin’s fist collided with David’s arm.
It hurt. Devin had never actually hurt David with a punch before.
David looked down at Devin, red-faced, mouth contorted into the scream of the oppressed, finally revolting against his tormentor. The punch wasn’t actually enough to make David lose the fight, but it was enough to make him think twice about picking a fight next time.
“Sit down, take out your bluebooks and put your phones away!” the professor announced as she walked into the classroom. It was day 2 of fall quarter’s finals week.
“What, really?” Lorelle shouted into her phone.
“Phones away!” the professor shouted.
Lorelle looked at the teacher, eyes pleading, holding up a finger and mouthing “One second, please!”
“What round? Third! No way!” she jumped up and down in a circle, squaling. “Okay, I have to go take my final now. I’ll come over as soon as I finish!” she said, hanging up. “Sorry, Dr. Lynch, my little brother just got drafted to play baseball for the Cincinnati Reds!”
The professor looked taken aback. She’d obviously never heard that excuse for a phone call in class before. “Okay, um… just sit down. We need to get started.”
Lorelle could barely concentrate on the essay she had to write. Yeah, I probably failed that class, she thought as she sprinted out of the classroom. She just had to get to her Dad’s house, where the whole family had gathered, along with Devin’s agent, waiting in agony during the draft, now celebrating the success.
When she finally got there, it was David who answered the door, pitching arm in a sling, beaming from ear to ear. Lorelle hugged him carefully, trying to do as little damage to the career-ending injury as possible.
Devin was sitting at the table with the older generation of the family. His agent had already left, and the party was over, but the family stayed around, waiting for Lorelle. Devin turned, a completely foreign expression on his face. He was smiling, yes, but not really. Everybody else seemed as excited as Lorelle had been earlier, but she suddenly felt cold.
“It’s time!” their Dad said, pulling a bottle of champagne out of the freezer. The rest of the family talked all at once, while Devin sat, bouncing his massively muscled leg fast enough to vibrate the whole house.
“Remember that day we played wiffle ball and you threw a chair at me?” Devin suddenly asked David, silencing the rest of the conversation in the room.
The whole family groaned. “You thew a bat at me first!” David replied, defensively.
“Not this argument again!” Lorelle said, accepting a flute of champagne from her mom.
“No,” said Devin. “I just mean that David never went easy on me, and that’s why I’m so good at baseball. This was his dream, but I’ve got it. If David had been my little brother, he’d probably be the one here right now.”
“Do you think you’ll teach again next year?” Devin said into his cell phone, looking around the office to make sure his boss didn’t catch him making a personal phone call.
“Devin, teaching destroyed me. Tore me apart from the inside until I couldn’t even recognize myself in the scraps of humanity I had left. I’m still trying to put myself back together. I’ll never teach again,” came Lorelle’s voice into Devin’s ear.
Devin sat down at his desk that was slightly too small for him. “Kind of like me and baseball,” he said quietly. “Did you know that David was actually relieved that he got hurt? That he didn’t have to sacrifice every other part of his life to the false god that baseball had become?”
“Yeah,” said Lorelle. “He told me that. He seems to be doing really well at his new job. Going pro would eventually have destroyed him, too.”
“It was all I knew. Since I was 10, I never got to do anything else. Now I’m an adult with my first real job. I never even wanted it. I liked basketball!” Devin picked up a pen and twirled it between his fingers.
“That’s how we were raised. Work hard, be the best. Dad wanted us all to be champions.”
“But champions only ever get to do one thing. I want to do lots of things,” Devin stabbed the pen into his stack of blue post-its. “At least you got to travel the world.”
“At least you have a job.”
Devin grunted, looking at the indentation his pen had made in the post-its.