- 1. Running for Home
- 2. Everything is so Unfair
- 3. Diamonds in the Rough
- 4. The Ultimate Ollie
1. Running for Home
A refreshing cool breeze was coming over the mountain into the quaint little neighborhood of Johnsonville on the most perfect of summer days. The neighborhood was lively as ever with kids running around as if they’d just been let out for recess. The whole town was outside tending to their yards. The smell of fresh cut grass lingered in the air and sweet tea lingered in their bellies as the sun came overhead.
“Hey batter, batter, batter, batter, SWING!”
“You missed again!” Shouted Jack.
“Ugh.” Frowned Daniel as he kicked the dirt. “Okay” he readjusted the Velcro around one wrist, lined up his posture, and gripped the bat. Looked down, tapped the scratch on the makeshift plate. “I’m ready. Give me your best throw!”
Jack wound up and threw the ball. A perfect flick of his wrist, the spin, anticipating the third strike.
“Run, run, run!” Shouted the boys next up. “Go for the double!” The ball soared through the air.
Daniel ran around the bases. A proud moment as he realized he’d hit a home run.
The outfield players started to huddle toward the farthest end of yard. One of the boys put his hands on his hips and shouted back toward the infield “I think we lost it!” He turned his head back and pointed his finger and arm in an arch, signaling that the ball went over the fence.
The rest of the boys came over and gathered in close. “I’m not going over there to get it. You know know what happened last time.” Said Jack, shaking his head.
“Aw, are you afraid of the wittle, itty bitty, fluffy white monster?” Teased one of the boys.
“No. I just would like to live to see my next birthday.” Jack objected as he pursed his lips and shook his head again. “You know everything in that backyard never comes out alive. Nerf ball from that time we were playing pirates, gone. Daniel’s sister’s Glow Worm we tried launching into space, gone. The army man brigade we delivered with the Erector set to fight Serpentor, gone. Even Old Man Willy, gone. Besides, I bet that dumb little dog has rabies. Plus, I’m grounded. The only reason I get to play is because my parents are spending their anniversary on some island somewhere and my grandma barely heard the house rules. If I get caught climbing any fences again, I’m toast.”
They all looked over at the neighbor’s backyard. Tall, thick, unkept grass. A half chewed army parachute clinging to the inside of Mrs. Smith’s chain link fence. “I don’t even know if we could find it.” Said Daniel. “My dad asked if he could mow the lawn for her, but she said ‘No.’ Said she’d get around to it someday.”
“It’s been almost a year” said one of the boys. “Almost a whole grade ago. That someday is turning into FOREVER. It’s kinda creepy… She never leaves her house.”
“Well my mom says she’s doing something like mourning.” Daniel explained. “Something about when you lose somebody and you feel so sad, in your heart and in your head, and then sometimes you need more time before you can come out. She said it was like when Mittens ran away and my sister cried and wouldn’t come out of her room.” He plucked at his Johnsonville Tigers Junior League Division jersey, feeling a bit of gloom overshadow his recent over-the-fence victory.
“That was a pretty good hit man.” Congratulated Jack as he put his palm on Daniel’s shoulder and gave it a pat. “It’s a shame we can’t get our ball back.”
“Yeah, and I mowed a whole street of front yards for it too!” Daniel looked down. “Wanted to save up for some plates, but… ya know, Rawlings, the official ball of the World Series.” He gestured his head toward the neighbor’s fence looking bummed. “I was hoping to get it signed by Nolan Ryan someday. Hey, that was a pretty good pitch by the way.”
“Agghhh, dude, the Astros are lame, laaaammm-o.” Red Socks all the way. Besides, Roger Clemens is the best!” Boasted Jack as he looked up toward the sky with a grin, reliving his own moment of sailing glory.
CREEEEEK! Mrs. Smith’s screened back door eased open. A small white flash came out.
“Bowowowow, bowowow!!!” Barked the dog. “Bowowow… bowowow” as it charged toward them, pacing around unsettled from the other side of the fence.
“Oh no, there she is, letting that dumb dog out, RUUUUNNN!” The boys ran back toward the house. “Rabies!!!”
Just then Daniel’s mother opened the back door of the house where the boys had been playing ball in the backyard. “Boys, time for lunch!” She peered out further. Shifting her eyes back and forth at each base. “Hey, are those my Tupperware lids?”
“Ohhh, boy are you in troooou—ble. You’re gonna be grounded…” Declared Jack as they ran into the house. “Join the club, man. No ball and no dessert for you, Dude.”
Daniel sighed. “My mother hears and sees EVERYTHING.”
2. Everything is so Unfair
The following day was just as bright. Muffled voices engaging in conversation and laughter was heard from inside the window. Flickering motorcycle sounds going up and down the street as plastic spoons hit spokes of tires that the neighborhood kids secured to the back stay of their bikes. And here was Daniel. Stuck in his room, ‘thinking’ and doing what every boy does when they’re confined to their room. He heard footsteps and put the Nintendo Power magazine he had been reading under his pillow.
“Knock, knock.” Said Daniel’s mother as she knuckled the door.
“Come in.” Daniel said begrudgingly.
“I have a list of chores for you.”
Daniel sighed. “What? That’s not fair. I’ve been in my room ALL day and now I’m being punished with, CHORES?!”
“What’s not fair Daniel is you using my Tupperware lids for your baseball games. I have a Tupperware party next weekend. Now what am I going to show the ladies? They need to know how durable the Tupperware sets are if I’m ever going to sell any.”
“They’re not even cracked though, Mom, barely a scratch.” He paused and turned toward the window. He heard the coasting road noise of a skateboard. SHLEEP. PLUNK. His friends must have built a ramp. PLUNK. Definitely a ramp. He loved skateboarding just as much as baseball. Daniel started again, “Besides even dad says we have too many lids in this house and that none of them match the bowls.”
“That’s not the point Daniel.” She pressed her lips together. “It’s not even noon yet. What I’d like for you to do is go next door, to Mrs. Smith’s house, and deliver her a slice of apple pie.”
“Now you’re giving away my dessert?!” Daniel protested. “So unfair!”
“No, you can have a slice later after dinner. I save you some, but I do think it’d be good if you learned to care about others before yourself.”
“Then can I go outside and play?” Daniel bargained.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Okay.” Daniel said somewhat relieved, yet somewhat sour.
They both walked down the hall toward the kitchen when the phone rang. “Go ahead and answer it” said Daniel’s mother.
“Hello, Baker’s residence.” Declared Daniel.
“Dude! We built this awesome ramp, you gotta come out! I’m at my house getting some water right now, but I almost did a full 180 kickflip!” Jack said enthusiastically. “Hey man, are you grounded?”
“Yeah. But my mom says if I deliver some pie to Mrs. Smith, I MIGHT get to hang out.”
“Too bad. I hope you don’t end up like that family trapped in their car just like in that movie Cujo. Yell for help if that rat terrier rabid dog starts to come after you.” Coached Jack.
“Okay will do… Hey, I think I figured out a way to beat Bowser. I read some pro tips in Nintendo Power magazine on how to get to the end on one life.” Daniel’s mother appeared in the doorway and shook her head. “I have to go now. Bye.” Daniel hung up the phone.
3. Diamonds in the Rough
Daniel carefully carried a pie-shaped Tupperware up the steps of Mrs. Smith’s house. He rang the doorbell and heard faint barking.
Daniel rang again. “No one’s home. I guess I should go.” Daniel mumbled in relief. As he turned away he saw the front window curtain pull, then heard shuffling toward the door. He sighed, then smiled politely as the front door opened slightly and Mrs. Smith appeared wearing a navy and ivory polka dot A-Line dress with an ivory Peter Pan collar. “Why do old people dress so weird?” He thought as he looked down at his black, white-toed Converse high top sneakers.
“Well hello, Daniel.” Her voice was soft and shaky. She was holding the little white dog back with her feet. “Don’t mind Pepper, he’s just excited. He won’t do you any harm” Pepper howled and bore his teeth.
Hesitant and unconvinced, Daniel quickly handed over the Tupperware. “Hi, Mrs. Smith, my mom wants me to give you some pie.” He took a step back.
“Oh how very kind of you to bring me some. It’s thoughtful of you to think of me. I haven’t had pie since… Wilfred passed away.” Her eyes became glossy. “Apple was his favorite. Apple pie ala mode. Ala mode and with a slice of cheddar.” She smiled at the memory. She also smiled at the Tupperware as she held it up. “Well, I’ll be, what kind of a neat little gadget is this?”
“Well, you’re in luck, it is apple pie. Annnnnd, my mom sells Tupperware.” Daniel trailed. “She’s having a party next weekend. I’m sure you could come. I mean, if you want to goo-goo and ga-ga over things like that. There are snacks though. And sometimes Hamburger Helper. Depends on what she draws from the Deal-A-Meal. I’ve never heard of cheese on pie though.” Daniel slightly cinched his face and didn’t know what else to say. He heard faint clicking skateboard wheels from down the road. “Well, enjoy the pie, Mrs. Smith, I have to go now.” He turned and looked down at the steps before him. Scraggly grass extending each edge and surrounding every corner. He glanced around the jungle. Daniel turned back around. “Uhhmm, Mrs. Smith… if you’d like, I… I could mow your grass for you. I mean, if you need help or something.”
“Dear, that would be so nice! I just can’t do it on my own. Wilfred had such a knack for cutting the grass. Since he passed, I’m afraid I’ve let it go.”
“Well I can go get my dad’s mower and probably have your front yard done by this afternoon.” Daniel said gleefully. “I can do stripes, I can do checkers, a diamond, a sunbeam, even a circle! I tell you what, Mrs. Smith, you won’t even have to pay me.”
“That would be lovely, Daniel! I do have a mower, it’s in the back shed. I’m afraid I haven’t been to the back shed since my husband passed. But he kept all the tools in tiptop shape, so I’m sure it will run just fine. I’ll open the side gate and you can go back.” She went around to the side of the house and propped open the gate the led to the backyard.
Daniel’s stomach sank at the thought of the shed as he peered around the corner behind her. Old Man Willy’s heart gave out in that shed. He had been a serious man. With a very stern voice. Daniel and his friends had seen Old Man Willy go in that day but never saw him come out. As grumpy as he was sometimes, spending hours sawing wood in the shed, he’d always make time to make a fuss at the boys for something. Being too loud or too rowdy. Yelling at the boys for breaking a window one time. Okay, twice. Or the time a water balloon grenade went over the fence and landed just a little too close, making a big splash near his feet and smashing one of his garden flowers. It was unusual that day when he didn’t come out at least once before dinner. The wire caged light in the shed was still on late into the night. They’d heard Mrs. Smith calling him for dinner, then screaming and whaling. Daniel’s parents ran over to help. Then the ambulance came around and rescuers had to bring him out on a stretcher. It wasn’t until the next day when Daniel’s parents told him what had happened. Daniel shuddered. The backyard seemed cursed. Nothing was good or happy about it. He thought of the scary little dog. Then glanced over the tall, wispy grass that hid every treasured toy that he owned.
“I’ll also grab Pepper some cheese. You can give it to him so that way he will be okay with you in his territory. It’s all about building trust. He’s my little companion of a watch dog and he’ll be your best friend too. I’ll bring him out shortly. You’ll see!” She said reassuringly as she went back into her house.
His stomach sank further at the thought of the little rabid dog, remembering what Jack told him. Cujo. I’ll shout for Jack if I need help.
“And please dear, choose whatever lawn cutting pattern you think is best.”
Daniel’s face lit up. “Really?”
Daniel ran home excitedly. Grabbed a gasoline container of fuel, passing his mother near the garage. She gave him a curious look. “Mom, Mrs. Smith is going to let me mow her yard and I get to choose any pattern I want! Not even dad lets me do that!” He ran back. Caught his breath and approached the shed carefully after walking through the gate. He forgot to prop it open with the rock. It slammed.
“Bowowowow… bowowowow.” Pepper barked from within the house.
“I’ll shout for Jack if I need help. I’ll shout for Jack if I need help.” Daniel repeated to himself.
He slowly paced toward the shed door. The cursed shed in the cursed backyard. I’ll shout for Jack if I need help. The toys of no return. I’ll shout for Jack if I need help. He reached for the rusty know and gave it a turn. It was stuck. Ugh. He turned a little harder. No give. He turned with all his might and finally felt some ease while hearing a loud click. As he pushed open the door, he heard tools falling and clinking from behind. Aw, man, now what? He knelt down and fished out the tools that were keeping the door from opening fully. A trowel. A spade. Then a square object he had to turn several ways to get out. It looked like a picture frame. He flipped it over and under the cracked grass was a photo. A wedding photo. The couple looked like Mr. and Mrs. Smith. He recognized her warm, unforgettable smile. Even Old Man Willy looked so happy in the photo.
“He was a handsome fella.” Mrs. Smith said softly, though the break in silence was jarring to Daniel. “We were married nearly 50 years.”
“I don’t know if I had ever really seen him smile.” Daniel said bit puzzled.
“Yes, that was before he lost his best friend in the war. He was never quite the same when he came back. He sure thought a lot of you boys though. Your friendship and all. He just had a hard time showing it. It reminded him of when he was a young man, carefree and having fun. Yet he couldn’t help himself but to be rough around the edges and gruff with you boys. I think he guarded himself, not knowing which memories he wanted to keep and which memories to lose. When you lose your best friend it changes you… Say, how about I grab that piece of cheese and Pepper so I can properly introduce you two?”
Mrs. Smith came back out of the house and gave Daniel a piece of cheese to share with Pepper. She was cradling Pepper who was hesitant at first, but then become more comfortable. Once he gobbled up the cheese, he began to lick Daniel’s hand, then his face. “I think he’s really taken to you! In fact, I think he’s made another best friend!” Daniel giggled.
He spent all afternoon manicuring the front and back yard of Mrs. Smith’s house. Amongst the grass as he raked, he found his old, now deflated football he’d lost two months ago. Then found a chewed up tennis ball and raggedy Nerf darts. He worked the rest of the grass, then mowed, paying close attention to the edges and lining up each row for that perfect baseball field diamond shape. He still couldn’t find his baseball. Must have landed somewhere else. “Forever lost, I guess” thought Daniel disappointingly.
“Well, Mrs. Smith, whaddya think?” Asked Daniel once he was all done, gazing proudly over the neatly trimmed, pattern of grass.
“Looks marvelous! What a wonderful job you have done!” Exclaimed, Mrs. Smith, happily pleased as she put her hands to her cheeks. “You worked so hard today young man, I shall have to pay you!”
“No way! You really want to pay me?” Daniel was both shocked and delighted. He felt happy to help and hadn’t expected anything in return. “I mean, only if you really want to…”
“Of course I do! I want to give you something.”
Daniel put away the mower and the yard tools, then made his way around the house toward the front, closing the side gate behind him which made a loud click. “Bowowow… bowowowow.”
“Oh dear, Pepper, did you already forget? It’s just Daniel. Remember Daniel?” Mrs. Smith was now at the front door, holding an envelop and soothing her dog.
Daniel took the envelop and thanked Mrs. Smith. She mentioned having him cut the grass regularly to which he was obliged. “Thank you once again Mrs. Smith, I’ll be back to mow next weekend!” He ran toward the corner of the yard, the sun was about to set.
4. The Ultimate Ollie
“Dude, the grass looks so cool!” Jack shouted as he skated over to Daniel who was making his way onto the sidewalk. Daniel took a little time to brush away the flakes of grass from his jeans. “How was it, was it creeeeeepy? You gotta tell me! Did the dog try to attack you?”
“Actually…” Daniel began.
Suddenly Mrs. Smith’s front door swung open and Pepper came darting out.
“Run for your lives!” Jack yelled.
“It’s okay.” Daniel said calmly putting his hands forward as Pepper ran toward them. Pepper was holding something in his mouth. “He’s actually becoming a good friend. Mrs. Smith says even my best friend.”
“Whatever you say, Dude.” Jack scoffed as he slighted away. “I don’t even know if it’s possible to have two best friends.” Jack touted some more.
“No really, look.” Pepper dropped a ball at their feet. Daniel bent down and picked it up. Together he and Jack looked at each other and shouted, “Our baseball!”
Daniel tossed the ball to himself cheerfully as they started up Daniel’s driveway.
“You gotta watch what I can do.” Jack gloated. He ran back a few paces, put the board down, then skated forward. He picking up speed, crouched, then popped up the board, landing perfectly back in place.
“Rad! Was that a 360 ollie kickflip?! No way, Dude, that’s crazy rad!” Daniel lit with surprise.
“I know, I know… Pretty cool, huh? I got a gnarly little scratch from earlier though when I was practicing.” Jack pulled up his jean cuff, revealing a gnash that was freshly crusted over.
“So totally worth it though, you gotta teach me that one tomorrow!”
“Yeah, has to be tomorrow, my parents are coming back this weekend. They called and my grandma told them EVERYTHING. They said, when they get home, “We’re gonna have a talk.” Jack rolled his eyes. “They’re really going to have a cow when they find out I used my dad’s business plywood to build the ramp.” He smirked while he shook his head. “Later, homeboy!”
That evening, Daniel’s family was enjoying a spirited dinner together. Daniel gave his family a play-by-play of his day. From how Mrs. Smith described cheese on pie (which he wanted to try tonight), to all the toys he found in the backyard, his now perfected skill at mowing in diamond pattern, how he got along with Pepper who ended up bringing him his prized possession baseball. How Mrs. Smith said Pepper was his new best friend and she even paid him even though he didn’t ask.
“I can’t wait to buy some real, official bases for the field! Also, did I tell you, Jack is on his way to becoming pro? He’s gonna to teach me how to do a 360 ollie kickflip!” Daniel thought some more. “Mom… Is it possible to have more than one favorite sport? How about more than one best friend?
“How about a favorite child?” Daniel’s sister piped up, making a smirk at Daniel from across the table.
“Wannabe!” Daniel said in a high-pitched, mocking voice.
“You both, knock it off.” Daniel’s father said disapprovingly.
Daniel’s mother confirmed in a sweet voice and asked, “Do pirates collect more than one jewel in a treasure chest?”