Yep. That might be a broken hand.
But who cares when you’re bathing in all this noise.
It’s making the ring vibrate. I can feel it, lying on my back and clutching my arm. I glance over to the side, and there’s Jiles. Right where I left him.
Balomba’s masked face pops into view, eclipsing the lights in the rafters. He’s asking if I’m alright.
Yeah, I’m alright. I’m a lot more than alright. Doesn’t this grin give it away?
Just let me bathe in it a little longer.
Welcome to the Broken Egg Club.
“He broke your hand?”
Gregory Hanlon retrieved two beers from the concession stand, handing one to his youngest son before signing away on an iPad screen.
“Hairline fracture,” Hayes corrected as his father met him in stride, the pair leaving the concession area and heading into the park. Tacoma, Washington was a good three-hour jaunt from West Linn, but that time in the car was never an issue. It was part of the ritual, really. When mom was having a bad week, when Paul was working on his computer, and when Olivia showed complete disinterest in anything and everything, Hayes and his father would escape north to see the Pacific Northwest’s favorite Triple A ball team; the Tacoma Rainiers.
“I thought this stuff was fake. Or at least scripted,” the patron Hanlon grumbled, the two descending concrete steps between zones of blue seats. It was a blazing ninety degrees in Tacoma, even in the early evening, though the sun’s low angle cast some much needed shade over Cheney Stadium.
“Some companies are. Not PRIME. What you see is the real deal,” Hayes explained, lifting his bandaged hand as proof.
“And you wonder why this shit drives your mother crazy.”
Hayes replied with a weak smile. Finding their row, father and son side-stepped their way to their seats, sitting and adjusting to find some comfort among the decidedly UNcomfortable fiberglass.
“I think we both know it’s not the wrestling…” Hayes muttered, spinning his ball cap backwards. He went to twist the cap off the aluminum bottle, but handed it over to his father after a few clumsy attempts. “Hey uh, a little help?”
Gregory took the bottle, responding to his son’s comment with a frustrated sigh while twisting it open. “I wish your brother and sister hadn’t opened their mouths.”
“I’m glad they did,” said Hayes, taking his beverage back. “At least it’s given me a little clarity.”
Gregory had nothing to offer. Instead they took a sip in unison. Hayes watched the field intently, studying the warm-up routine of the Seattle Mariners’ farm team.
“Well, I’m glad we decided to make the trip up,” said the elder Hanlon, smoothing his black beard. “It feels like it’s been almost ten years since we caught a Rainiers game.”
“That’s because it has. The last time was the summer before I went to school.”
Gregory nodded. Hayes kept eyeing the diamond.
Another synchronized sip. Fans and patrons continued to spill in and take their seats. It was a good showing for the series against the El Paso Chihuahuas, but Cheney Stadium was never sold out. Hayes and his father could move around to different sections during games to get different views, or try for autographs. The son eye-balled a few seats behind the third-base dugout, while the father fiddled with his beer.
“I’m sorry she wasn’t ready,” he said, breaking the silence. “After everything…I figured if you took another trip home she might be willing to…”
Gregory was interrupted by rising cheers. Rhubarb the Reindeer, Tacoma’s fuzzy, cartoonish mascot, sprinted along the warning track, lifting his arms to surge the stadium’s patrons. Hayes stood from his seat, and his father followed suit.
“It’s okay, Dad,” he said, speaking loudly over the din. “Let’s just watch the game.”
“AAAND NOW!! PUT YOUR HAAAANDS TOGETHER FOR YOUR TACOMA RAAIIINIIERSSS!!!”
I won’t lie, this one caught me a little off-guard, Bobby. Going from one eGG Bandit to the next. I’m sure it surprised you, too.
But hey, everyone should know it by now. I’m down for whatever.
Man, they really love you, don’t they? Despite the pranks and the eggings. Despite your connection with Jiles. They just can’t get enough of you. It kind of makes you untouchable, doesn’t it? Bobby Dean can do no wrong.
Kinda makes me jealous.
I wonder how you felt after I flattened Cancer at ReVival 11. In the middle of “his” ring, under “his” bright lights. Does that give you a little fuel, going into ReVival 13? A little vengeance for the Bandits against the Event Horizon?
Or does it matter to you at all?
Look, I know how it’s gonna look when we step through the ropes. Our “Tale of the Tape” isn’t exactly balanced.
And that’s exactly why I never take the tape for face value.
“C’mon…c’mon…don’t make me bat…”
Mateo Garza bounced his knees in the dugout of West Linn High’s baseball diamond. The portly fifteen-year-old was sweating bullets, wiping his forehead periodically with the back of his ball cap. He glanced at the scoreboard sitting over right field for the 10th or 11th time; bottom of the ninth. One out.
West Linn Lions – 1
Visitors – 2
He tried to steady his breathing, watching through the dugout’s wire mesh as a tall, dark-haired boy stepped back into the batter’s box. With a tap of his bat on home plate and a wave of the stick over his shoulder, the pitcher set up, took a big step, sent one high and outside toward home, and the batter took a mighty swing.
Mateo pinched his eyes shut.
“STTTRIIIIKEE THREE!!! OUUTT!!”
“Oohhhh maaaaan…,” Mateo groaned.
“Hayes isn’t happy with that one,” said Zach, the sandy-haired short-stop sitting to his left. Hayes slammed his bat into the ground on his way back to the bench, glowering as he smashed his bat into the rack before tossing his helmet across the dirt floor.
“Good swing, Hayes…” Zach offered.
“It was a shitty swing,” Hayes spat, sitting next to his friends in a heap. Zach put his hands up. The three, notably, sat by themselves on the far end of the bench while the rest of the team stood, leaning against the wire in their West Linn green and white.
“It happens,” Zach continued. “You’re still ‘Home Run Hayes.’”
The young Hanlon remained silent.
“Mateo! On deck!” hollered their coach, shells of sunflower seeds spraying from thin lips.
“Shit shit shit…”
“Just get up there, Mateo…” Hayes grumbled, dragging a ball cap over his hair.
“Man, I hope Nick hits a homer. Or pops out…” said Mateo, delaying efforts to retrieve his helmet as Nick Sanders stepped up to the plate, taking a strike low and inside.
“C’mon Mateo, at least try!” begged Zach.
“I suck, Zach! I’m gonna whiff and lose us the game!!”
The dugout burst to life as Nick poked a line drive toward center-left. The Lions roared for their center fielder as he rounded first, throwing dust into the air with a head-first dive into second, beating the throw from the outfield and rousing spectators in the bleachers.
Mateo tilted his head back in distress.
For me, when I look in the frying pan, there’s one egg that stands out above the others. I won’t make the joke about Doozer, and buddy, it isn’t Jiles either.
It’s Beautiful Bobby Dean.
I say that, because I know there’s a different version of you that we all deserve to see. And I know this, because you’ve said it yourself; you were a physical marvel once. An adonis. A champion….
…and then you joined the Bandits.
I guess I get it. Times change. People change. And it must be easy to sit back and be the loveable goof. You get to stand in the sun with Jiles when things are going well, and when they don’t? Everything’s juuust fine. You still get to collect your paycheck, hit the Strip. Come back next show.
You still get to be loved.
But I gotta ask, man…
…is this really Bobby Dean? Or are you just laying it on thick?
The ball striking leather behind the plate, and the lack of swing to chase it, brought on ball four as the Rainiers walked another run in, much to Cheney Stadium’s chagrin. Hayes shook his head, and his father took the opportunity to lean over.
“Are you sure you’re good in your old apartment? I’m sure your mother would stay out of your hair if you wanted to take the spare room…”
“I’m good in Portland,” Hayes replied, waving his father off. “I had a few things delivered a while back.”
Gregory accepted with a nod, his own dark eyes following his son’s gaze to the field. He couldn’t help but notice how transfixed he was, even as the Rainiers trailed by four runs.
“Why’d you quit?” he asked.
Hayes replied with a confused, furled brow.
“The game. Baseball,” he clarified. “You were so damn good, son. Nobody had a glove at first base like you did.”
The young Hanlon lifted his eyebrows, sitting back in his seat.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I loved it. But I was really into theater at the same time. I guess I felt like everyone was making me feel like I had to choose one or the other. My coaches. Mom. You.”
He turned back to his father.
“So I chose the other.”
Gregory nodded, following with a sip.
“I’m sorry we made you feel that way,” he offered before gesturing toward the field with his beer. “But I would have loved to see you out there again.”
“I miss it…” Hayes smiled.
“…there were some pretty cool moments out there.”
“GARZA! GET OUT THERE!”
“C’mon, man!” barked Hayes, shoving his friend toward the dugout exit. Mateo shuffled his round body across the dirt, taking a bat from the rack while fighting the urge to pass out. His team did very little to hide their disdain as he walked by.
“Fat-ass is gonna whiff for sure,” one of them griped. Mateo looked to his coach. No support to be had.
“We’re screwed,” Hayes declared under his breath.
“C’mon, Mateo…” whispered Zach.
Mateo finally reached the plate, adjusting his helmet to ward off the beads of sweat. His full lips trembled as he took his stance. The first pitch came in hot and inside. He flinched, but didn’t swing.
A low groan from West Linn. Mateo heard it clearly, fixing his ill-fitting pants before stepping back in. The pitcher unleashed another heater, right down the middle, snapping hard against the catcher’s mitt.
“STRIKE! O and two!”
More grumbles and murmurs. The young Garza’s heart was pounding, on the verge of tears. He looked back to the dugout. Most of the team was already collecting their gloves and water bottles. Hayes sat with elbows on his knees, expressionless.
Zach, however, shot him a thumbs up, then pinched his eyes while swinging an imaginary bat. Mateo replied with a shaky nod before stepping to the plate once more, making the sign of the cross over his heart before wrapping his hands over the leather grip.
The pitcher cocked back and let loose. Another fast one down the middle.
Mateo pinched his brown eyes shut, and swung hard.
Deafening quiet. All eyes lifted to the sky. Mateo stood frozen in the batter’s box.
A beautiful swing, and an impossible ball. The left fielder chased it down, but wasn’t even close. The ball cleared the fence by thirty feet.
Peers and parents leapt from the bleachers in an uproar. Mateo, a hefty ball of pure shock, dropped his bat and looked back to the bench, his team jumping up and down in an absolute frenzy. Hayes had both hands on top of his head, completely bewildered. Zach pounded his fist against the wire with a smile ear-to-to ear.
Mateo Garza started a slow trot through the infield, one hand against his chest to steady his racing heart. He beamed, a tear rolling over his cheek as he rounded third, while the West Linn Junior Varsity Baseball Team spilled from the dugout to meet their hero at home.
“I’ll be right back, going to hit the bathroom before we head home.”
Gregory tapped the roof of the white Audi before trotting back toward the stadium. It was late, and the mood was tired after the Rainiers took a loss four to nine,, but father and son were set on making the long trip back to Oregon. Hayes opened the front door and took a seat, retrieving his phone and clumsily unlocking it with his good hand.
Two missed calls and a voicemail.
All from Mom.
A reluctant press of the play button. He turned on the speaker and let his head fall against the headrest.
Hayes? It’s mom. I’ve…been trying to call.
“I’m…I’m sorry I wasn’t quite ready to see you. These are just…difficult topics. I know you understand.
“I hope you understand.
“I know Sofia and Paul told you some things, but Hayes, it’s so complicated, and…it’s going to take me a while. But I think I’m ready to start.
“Please, call me back.”
A snort through his mustache.
Oh, NOW she’s ready.
He shook his head with a sigh, deep brown eyes darting through the windshield, glancing at passers by as they left Cheney Stadium.
Back to his phone and swiping to queue up the call. How ominous a three letter word like “Mom” can read on a screen.
Let’s see just how ready she is.
Green button clicked.
He curled his lips in, feeling a rise in his heart rate. The dial tones kept coming.
“Hello, this is Sofia Hanlon, please leave your name and phone number and I’ll be sure to return your call.”
“Hey mom, it’s Hayes. Got your message. It’s pretty late, and we’re gonna be on the road for a few hours. I’ll try you again tomorrow morning…”
He paused, lowering the phone.
On second thought…
He lifted the speaker back to his mouth.
“Actually, scratch that,” he said, fixing his posture. “I can say what I need to say right here.”
He glanced out the window. No sign of Dad. Good.
“I’m glad you’re finally having a change of heart, but I’ll be honest, your timing is pretty shitty. I know that ‘Liv and Paul letting the cat out of the bag wasn’t exactly your plan, and I know it doesn’t answer everything…”
A few short breaths through the nose.
“But at least it gave me something.”
A few more.
“I’m sorry for what you went through. I wish you could have shared it with me sooner.”
And a few more. Sharper. The words pushed through his teeth.
“But Mom…it doesn’t explain why you had to take it out on me. It doesn’t excuse that. I didn’t DESERVE that, and I STILL DON’T!”
A moment to settle himself with a quiet breath into his lungs.
“Listen, things are going pretty damn good for me in Vegas right now. I have a place there, and it’s feeling like I’m closer to the top of the mountain every day. I thought coming home again might be a good idea, that we could finally talk like adults. That maybe you’d even want to be a part of it…”
Hayes spotted his father exiting the stadium, making strides back toward the car.
“…but you know what? Maybe I’M not ready. I’m NOT ready. So you’re gonna need to be okay with that.”
Gregory walked past the front of the car and rounded toward the passenger’s side. Hayes brought the phone to his mouth one more time before his father could open the door.
“Maybe I’ll see you at Christmas.”
But hey, maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe Hayes “Bambi” Hanlon is a little too naive to get it.
It doesn’t matter right now, anyway. Because Bobby? I’m taking this thing to the god damn MOON.
And unfortunately, they decided to put you in my way.
I understand why you’re loved, and I know there’s a real champion somewhere in there. I’d like to see that version some day. I’d love to see that return to glory.
But that’s the problem with the Broken Egg Club; you can’t crack one and put the carton back on the shelf.
Eventually, you need to crack them all.
And I’m sorry the next one has to be you.