parking lot behind the pool room was desolate, like the lot
surrounding a stadium the morning after a big game. Papers, carried
by the wind, skittered around aimlessly. Bottles and cans lay
everywhere, some lying flat, others set upright as though offering a
swig to someone who might come along, later.
usual, Jack O'Brien's car was backed up to the rear entrance, he
being the owner. The white van backed up against the fence, though,
was not a common sight, nor was the way it was bouncing up and down,
up and down, like someone was standing on the bumper testing its
suspension. While no one was visible, logic would tell you it wasn't
moving on it's own. Someone inside was expending a lot of energy.
some days, there would've been another vehicle parked in the lot,
Sam's blue and chrome F150. He often stopped off during his lunch
break for a few minutes practice. But, today, he was parked at a
distance, two vacant lots away, on a little used side street, his
binoculars focused on the bouncing white van.
had texted him, saying “Chuck thinks it's time for another lesson.”
Obviously, she was learning a lot today, or vice-versa.
was Friday, so she was probably expecting him to pick up some fried
chicken, mashed potatoes and biscuits from KFC for dinner and to be
home waiting like a faithful puppy whenever she came wandering home.
Not today, sweetheart!
adjusted his binoculars bringing Chuck's van into sharper focus. The
way it was bouncing around you might've thought it was speeding down
a line of railroad ties. But, it wasn't. It was just sitting there,
stressing the van's suspension system, was Melissa, his soon to be
ex-girlfriend, and Chuck Reynolds, his soon to be ex-pool team
course, being honest, he had to admit this was partly his fault. She
usually toured the local bars when he was out playing in the league,
but, for some reason, one night, she didn't feel like doing that and
begged Sam to taker her along to the poolroom.
only she had introduced herself, as he often did, as the woman who
was living with him along with her son, to which she liked to remark
that he liked the boy better than her, which was true, though not in
the sick way she liked to put it.
back, he figured it most likely had something to do with the many
beautiful women of all ages they encountered as they snaked their way
through the raucous crowd on their way to the bar, more than a few of
whom greeted Sam with a hug or a kiss or both, one pinching his
cheeks and declaring, “I love your face,” that prompted her to
step up and declare, “Hi, I'm his girlfriend, Melissa.” If only
she hadn't done that, Chuck, at this minute, would have been banging
with total abandon the woman who lives with Sam, and not his
they had returned from the pool room that first night, Melissa had
slipped into his room, probably intending to knock all thoughts of
those hot poolroom chicks out of his mind, wearing a sheer blue
nightie and purring demurely. He probably should have chased her out,
but she would have exploded into one of her rages and he didn't think
he could handle that at one in the morning. When he left for work,
next morning, she was still asleep in his bed.
her undying devotion didn't last long. Three days later Sam came home
early and bumped into one of her “old friends” flying out the
front door toward his car, his shirt half-on – the off half
flapping behind him like laundry on a clothesline – one hand
carrying his phone and the other holding up his pants which were
unbuttoned, unbuckled and only zipped half-way up. Everything was
back to normal.
initial eagerness to join him on league night, Sam now realized, had
nothing to do with watching him play and was more about sitting on
the rail next to Chuck listening to his long line of shit. When
Chuck, as part of his sleazy scheme, had suggested that Melissa join
the team saying they could always use someone of her skill level, Sam
had stupidly agreed.
chided himself as tears streamed down his face, not because she had
betrayed him – that was nothing new – but for the plain fact that
by playing Humpty Dumpty with the captain of his pool team she had
made it necessary for him to quit. She just as well could have cut
out his nuts and wore them around her neck.
sniffling, not brokenhearted but extremely downhearted and angry,
fired off a text telling Melissa he was going to pick up Liam after
school and take him to the park He added a smiley face, for effect.
She wouldn't be rushing home, now, and that would give him plenty of
time to pick up new locks and pack up her stuff. It went without
saying that the boy would be staying with him.
night heralded in a new era, meaning he would be playing on a new
team, in a new league, in a different county. He was not about to let
that despicable, conniving ho rob him of his favorite pastime. He had
messaged Glenn Johnston, a facebook acquaintance and league operator
for Pequot County, who had replied within minutes that his team could
really use a 7 since their best shooter had recently moved back to
Indiana. Sam, impressed by the speed with which Glenn had accessed
his APA stats, replied with his usual admonishment, “Just because
I'm a 7 up here, doesn't mean I'll be a 7 down there.” Glenn
replied, “You're close enough,” followed by a super-sized thumbs
gave himself plenty of time to travel the twenty miles down Highway
19 to Stroker's. With a hundred traffic lights and the usual number
of confused and overly cautious old drivers, he figured it was the
worst twenty mile drive in the country. When he had lived in Montana,
on the outskirts of Kalispell, he'd been able to drive the twenty
miles into town in about ten minutes. This drive to Palm Bay had once
taken him two hours. So, to avoid being late, he gave himself plenty
of time. First, he had to drop Liam off at his sister's house. Annie
liked Liam and he got along well with her ten year old, Cole. Despite
his ill-feelings toward Melissa, he was determined not to let
anything disturb his relationship with the boy. For most of his
life, Melissa had dragged the poor kid along on her sordid adventures
in bars, motels, seedy apartments, alleys and abandoned cars. Sam
shuddered to think of what the boy must have witnessed first hand.
course, you couldn't survive a life like that without scars. When he
first moved in with Sam, Liam hardly spoke. He would retreat to his
room with his cherished possessions – three old Marvel Comic books
and two battered action figures – and amuse himself for hours with
fantasy battles, enhanced by a host of sputtering sound effects. If
Sam looked in on him, he would stop abruptly and curl up into a ball.
One day, after picking him up at school, Sam, instead of going
straight home, took Liam to the mall. At the comic shop, they added
to Liam's arsenal three new action figures and to his library with a
handful of new comic books. After that, the boy allowed him to
participate in his games and they read together almost every night.
Thus, he gained the boy's trust. The closeness that developed wasn't
something he had expected, but he treasured it, now, and refused to
give it up. The way Sam saw it, the boy needed him and he needed the
boy. No way was he was going to let Melissa open those old wounds by
dragging him through the brambles of her unstable world. He told her
Liam could stay with him until she got settled and she raised no
when it became apparent that staying with Chuck and his wife, Rita,
was not an option, Melissa, by necessity, grew extremely remorseful.
Her fling with Chuck had been “a big mistake,” she claimed, with
a tearful emoji, begging Sam to please, please, please take her back.
“Sorry,” he texted her, “not now, not ever.”
had been a while since he'd visited the Palm Bay poolroom and, when
he walked through the door, it took him a while to get his bearings.
Glenn must have been watching for him because he began frantically
waving both hands over his head and motioning for Sam to come over.
He navigated across the room to a table Glenn and a couple of his new
teammates had staked out for their free pre-league practice. After a
sincerely warm greeting, he directed Sam to a table in the bar area
that looked down on the pool table and told him to take a seat there.
Because he was driving, Sam declined Glenn's offer of a beer, got
himself a water with lemon from the bar, and settled in.
quickly recognized his new teammates as free-time gluttons. A common
breed – he'd witnessed this annoying defect in many players over
the years. Whenever a table opened up, they'd pounce on it so they
could gobble up that free practice time. Not surprisingly, never once
during the forty-five minutes he sat there did they ask if he wanted
to play a warm up game. Nice way to welcome a new teammate,
especially one who wasn't used to the tables.
won the flip and immediately put up Ernie, one of the gluttons. Ernie
played bad. He made a couple shots but inevitably took the balls in
the wrong order and didn't put up much of a fight. He lost his match
without winning a single game. The opposing captain, apparently set
on going up two-zip, then put himself up. He must have been the best
on his team because Glenn enthusiastically countered with Sam, the
won the lag and the first game with a break and run. Normally, when
he had been playing with Chuck, the team would've come together for
high-fives and fist bumps and a little jubilation, even if they
hadn't been paying attention, but there was no celebrating with these
guys. He sensed from their scowls that they weren't too happy he
played well, like they might have to sit out more now that he was on
the team. Nits.
won four more games against the guy, Roger, including two break and
runs and one 8 on the break. If only he'd had a chance to warm up. He
watched the beginning of the next match, a race to three, but when
the first game seemed to go on forever, he grabbed his case and
whispered to Glenn, “I gotta boogie.” Glenn thanked him for
coming, adding a “see ya next week.” Sam made it a point not to
respond – he would not be coming back.
home, he thought it might be time to give up pool leagues altogether.
When he had moved down south ten years ago, he had discovered his
father was a fixture in the local bar pool scene, attending local bar
tournaments and playing in their leagues. The old man had never been
a very good player or even fair, but ,when he had moved to Florida,
he had discovered that he could hold his own with the local barroom
players. And, pool gave him something to do besides sitting at home
listening to talk radio day after day and getting drunk.
north, Sam had played a lot of pool as a boy, but mostly for money.
Pool as an excuse for socializing was new to him. But, he had
promised his mother before her death that he would keep his eye on
the old dog. So, reluctantly, he began touring the bars with him.
he cruised north, he couldn't help shaking his head as he recalled
his mother's patented lament, “He's a good provider, Sammy.” That
was partly true, but he was also a drunk, and a mean drunk at that,
who thought nothing of beating the crap out of his wife and throwing
her down the cellar stairs and terrorizing the helpless kids he was
providing for. By the time he joined his father in Florida, the old
man had mellowed and was far less inclined to express himself with
his fists, though he did wack a guy in the head with his cue one
night for bumping him while he was over the table trying to shoot.
promise was a promise, so, for his mother, he had faithfully
accompanied his father on the barroom circuit for a few years until
the smoking and drinking finally caught up to him. Even after he
died, Sam kept going 'round to the bars, keeping in touch with his
new found friends, partly for the old man's sake and partly for his
own. Though the old man hadn't given him much during his lifetime, he
was grateful for these friends – they were good people.
time, though, bar pool with it's ridiculous rules became more and
more of a drag. One rule, the no safety rule, was particularly
annoying. A safety is a defensive shot designed to leave your
opponent with no chance of making a ball. Even though he had grown up
playing straight pool, a game that required safety play, he had
tolerated this rule because everyone else seemed to respect it. But,
over the years, more and more players relocating from up north,
looking for some easy prey, had slithered into the bar scene. They
played safe without shame. Oh, they'd twist their faces into looks of
sincere apology as if locking you up had been simply an unfortunate
accident, but they weren't fooling anybody. When he realized the
cheaters had managed to squeeze every last drop of pleasure out of
the game, he quit playing bar pool once and for all.
he still played pool, mind you. On most days, he'd visit the poolroom
on his lunch break and bang them around for a half hour or so. And,
on Tuesday nights, if he had nothing to do he'd play in the weekly
8-ball tournament. On one Tuesday night, he trounced a guy named
Chuck, who immediately asked him to join his team. “A bunch of good
guys and gals,” Chuck had said of his teammates. So, like that, he
was a member of the APA , a league, he was soon to discover, whose
players were obsessed with qualifying for a trip to Vegas where the
national championships were held every year.
first, Sam was the fair-haired boy beating everyone he played for the
first ten weeks. Then, one week, Chuck told him it might be a good
idea if he lost a match, here and there. Well, Sam wasn't built that
way, so he continued to play all out destroying everyone in his path
for another ten weeks. He wondered, now, if Chuck's lusty shagging
of Melissa was his idea of payback.
worries he might have had that his life would be empty, now, without
pool, dissipated within a few weeks and he was soon to discover that
he didn't miss it at all.
stopped at Annie's, carried the sleeping lad out to the car, strapped
him in and drove home.
Liam in bed, he plopped himself on the sofa and turned on the TV.
Some nights, he'd tune in to YouTube and watch some classic pool
matches, but tonight that held no appeal. Instead, he settled on an
old Bill Murray movie with Melissa McCarthy. He lasted a quarter of
an hour, then fell asleep.
Dad...” He'd been submerged in a dream, not bad or good, in which
he and a couple friends whose identities he forgot immediately upon
waking, had been searching for a place to plug in a pinball machine.
Details of that quest dissolved and were overcome by the sensation
of someone jostling him by the shoulder, trying to wake him.
Gradually, as he emerged from the fog, he detected a familiar voice.
It was Liam's. Sam opened his eyes, stretched and yawned and took a
moment to clear his head. “Huh?”
said the boy more emphatically.
thinking, he said, “You realize, don't you Liam, (yawn) that I'm
not your dad and probably never will be.” He thought it best to be
straight with the kid but when Liam's face took on the look of one
whose most precious dream had been stomped on by The Hulk, and tears
began to streak his face, he realized that he had been a little too
quick. Sitting up, he put his arm around the boy and pulled him
close. “That's not to say that I don't wish I was your dad. I would
be the luckiest guy on earth if I was. Believe me. So, if you want to
call me that, that's good. I like it. Just, let's not tell your mom.
She's probably out there shopping for a new dad even as we speak.
he said. “Dad?”
I have some lunch money?”
jumped off of the sofa and started growling and walking like one of
those stiff-legged monsters that peopled Liam's fantasy battles. The
boy screeched and tried to get away.
MY SUPER POWER?”
don't know,” squealed Liam as he ducked behind the brown recliner.
He took off again as Sam approached, flexing his fingers.
DEATH GRIP! (Growl)”
scrutinizing Liam from across the table, Sam asked, “That's a
different shirt you have on?”
one of Cole's. Aunt Annie gave it to me last night after my bath. She
said it wouldn't do to put on the same dirty clothes when I was all
said I should call her that.”
Maybe, I'll call her that, too,” he chuckled. “Now, finish your
pancakes. Don't want to be late.”
guessed Annie had realized Melissa was long gone right from the
start. No calls, no texts for two weeks.
suddenly knew the huge commitment it was to have kids – they leaked
into every aspect of your life. In short order, not only had he given
up pool but he had stopped making those occasional after work stops
at the pub, too – there just wasn't time. Besides, though she was
perfectly willing to watch the lad, he wanted to save his sister for
school, he took Liam to a quiet section of the park. One trip to the
batting cages had proven that the lad needed some work on the
fundamentals. He had been going on and on about the start of the
little league season, so Sam had taken for granted that he had some
skills. But, he didn't. He couldn't hit a beach ball with a paddle,
and, though he had a decent arm, his fielding was pretty feeble, too.
If he had been teaching him how to play pool, he would've started
with the basics, so, he decided the same approach would work for
he had suggested they work with a tee, Liam had balked claiming the
kids would make fun of him and call him a baby. What shits kids could
be. Anyway, in this corner of the park, no one would see them.
a half hour, Liam had stopped squinting and flinching and swinging
blindly. Sam thought that was good progress and he told him so.
Dad,” he replied.
been called worse.
played catch for a while, then he got a text from his sister inviting
them over for a backyard barbecue.
having a barbecue. Wanna go?”
face lit up. “Yes,” he said.
pass up the boxed mac and cheese?”
chuckled. “Then, let's go.”
almost decapitating Annie with an errant Frisbee throw, Liam started
sulking and refused to play anymore.
'ere,” said Sam. “Lemme show you.”
a few minutes of flinging backhand, finishing with his index finger
pointing at his target, the boy started to get the hang of it.
to go, buddy. You got it.” They high-fived.
on the lawn chair, sitting beside Annie, sipping a diet sprite, he
watched the kids play.
good with him,” said Annie.
scoffed. “He's a good kid.”
you heard from her?”
about her family?” she asked.
hate him, want nothing to do with him.”
sighs. “That sucks.”
unleashed the Frisbee and it flew over Cole's head.
Dad,” he shouted excitedly. “Did you see that?”
shrugged. “I don't know.”
do you want?”
he doing here?” Mr. Pritchard scowled, his eyes on Sam's truck and
with me. I just wanted to tell you that – Melissa took off again
and Liam's with me.”
don't care. Understand? I don't give a shit.”
I thought I should tell you since you're his only family.”
little bastard's no kin of mine. You hear? No kin of mine. Don't you
ever bring him here again. Don't even drive by. Do you understand me?
Stay a-way.” With that, he slammed the door.
afternoon, Sam and the boy drove down to Holiday to a barber Annie
had found. She said she didn't trust the locals to cut Liam's hair.
When he had suggested he cut it all off, she had threatened to cut
off his balls. So, at 3:30 they pulled into a spot in front of Luby's
Barber Shop. A sign in the window said “Haircuts $7” so he gave
Liam a ten and instructed him to tell the barber to keep the change.
do you want me to cut it?” the barber asked.
shrugged. “You'll have to discuss that with him.”
wanting to join in the barbershop conversation, he went outside, lit
up a cigarette and waited.
finished product was called a faded mohawk, short on the sides, long
on top, and Liam thought it was “cool.” So, who was Sam to argue.
stopped at the park on the way home and tossed the Frisbee around.
Liam was getting quite good at flinging it and, more importantly, at
catching it. Sam would deliberately send it far and wide forcing Liam
to run it down like an outfielder would run down a fly ball and he
liked the way the kid was moving.
supper, they shared a medium pizza, then headed over to Annie's to
show her the haircut.
a handsome young man you are, Liam,” she declared.
mean Aunt Annie.” She hugged him hard, gave him a blubbering kiss
on the cheek, then they were on their way home.
he got back to the apartment, Sam found two vehicles parked in the
spaces reserved for him, one with its top lights flashing, belonged
to a county mounty, the other was all black with its high beams
illuminating his apartment's door.
going on, Dad?”
know. But, I guess we'll find out,” he answered, but the feeling in
his gut said it wasn't good.
grabbed his backpack out of the backseat, and the two walked side by
side, circling to the far side of the black car, toward the
apartment's door. As he fiddled with his keys, a woman climbed out of
the black car.
Renaldi,” she blared.
this time, the deputy had exited his car and joined her. He didn't
have his hand on his gun, but it was suspended a few inches from the
can I help you.”
like to speak with you, if I may.”
pushed open the door and ushered Liam inside.
you like to come in?”
woman turned to the deputy and stated in a formal tone, “Please
note that Mr. Renaldi has invited me into the apartment at 12017
deputy nodded and the woman mounted the three steps to the front door
and entered. As Sam was closing the door the deputy said, “Could
you leave that open, sir?”
fine, officer, I think you can leave, now. We're okay. Right, Mr.
Renaldi? We're okay?”
smiled, then closed the door herself.
was worried. “What's the matter, dad?”
kiddo. Nothing to worry about. Why don't you go upstairs, take your
bath and get ready for bed. Okay?”
Liam asked, obviously near tears. “I think something's wrong?”
'ere, slugger.” He opened his arms and Liam rushed to him and they
embraced. “Nothing's wrong, you hear me?”
now get ready for bed and let me talk to the nice lady. Go go go.”
mounted the stairs, somewhat reluctantly, his eyes fixed on their
alone, the woman spoke. “You should never lie to a child. You know
nodded. “I try not to.”
you told him I'm a nice lady. That may not be the case.”
can hope, can't I?”
thought about it and sighed. “I suppose you can.”
woman took a file out of her satchel, set it on her lap, and sighed.
“Mr. Renaldi, a complaint has been made concerning your custodial
rights regarding Liam.”
his face twisted with confusion, turned away from the woman, trying
to make sense of her words. Looking up, he saw Liam at the bottom of
the stairs, crying.
he walked toward the boy, “Hey, Buddy, what's the matter?”
“I'm afraid, Dad. She's going to take me away.”
knelt on the floor grabbed the boy by his shoulders and drew him to
his chest. “No, no, no. That's not gonna happen. Okay?”
believe me, don't you?”
nodded as he continued sniffling with his face buried against Sam's
I ever lie to you?”
time I beat you running and you said it was because you had a sore
time! You gonna hold that against me for the rest of my life?”
him in the eye, the boy nodded, a tearful smile on his face.
rose, lifting the boy, “Up you go.” He started to mount the
steps, then stopped. “Sorry, Miss...”
Althea Hunter, CPS.”
give me a minute, Miss Hunter. I'll be right back.” He drew the
bath while Liam gathered his night clothes. “Now, wash good. Okay?”
The boy nodded. “I have to talk to the nice lady. I'll be up to
tuck you in when we're done.”
on the opposite end of the sofa from Miss Hunter, he resumed their
conversation. “So, someone made a complaint.”
you tell me who?”
I can.” She lifted her glasses that had been hanging from a cord
looped around her neck, set them into place and read off one her
papers. “Mr. Andrew Jackson Pritchard.”
just shook his head. “What a piece of work.”
was concerned about his grandson.”
think so, Miss Hunter? Do you really think he was concerned about
I don't.” He looked Althea Hunter in the eye. “He hates Liam.”
couple weeks ago, because he and his wife are Liam's only relatives
besides Melissa, I figured it was only right that I should go over
and explain to him that his daughter had taken off for parts unknown
and that I was looking after his grandson. Know what he said to me?
Do you want to know what that poor excuse for a human being said to
looked at him somberly.
I'll let you hear for yourself.”
took out his phone and opened up the recorder app. “I went to the
his door and left Liam in the car.” He played the recording.
do you want?”
he doing here?”
with me. I just wanted to tell you that – Melissa took off again
and Liam's with me.”
don't care. Understand? I don't give a shit.”
I thought I should tell you since you're his only family.”
little bastard's no kin of mine. You hear? No kin of mine. Don't you
ever bring him here again. Don't even drive by. Do you understand me?
recording ended. The two sat in silence, then Sam excused himself
while he went upstairs to check on Liam. With the boy tucked in bed,
he returned to the living room and joined Miss Hunter on the sofa.
you tell me why you thought it necessary to record your conversation
with Mr. Pritchard,” she asked.
let's face it, Liam's not my son,” he started, never expecting that
those few words would cause his eyes to tear up. He sniffled. “But,
I wish he was. He's a super kid. (more sniffles)
I just wanted to do what's right.”
Hunter hesitated before speaking again. “Well, during our
conversation, Mr. and Mrs. Pritchard expressed no desire to become
the boy's custodians citing their health as the reason.”
scoffed to himself.
is his mother, Mr. Renaldi? Where is Melissa Pritchard?”
shrugged and shook his head slowly. “I don't know.”
woman was taking notes.
hasn't called or answered my texts. I'm still paying for it but I
don't even know if she still has her phone.”
was the last time you heard from her?”
brought up the texts on his phone and showed Ms. Hunter Melissa's
last text. Watch Liam for me. I'll let you know when I get
settled. It was accompanied by a
picture of a green road sign whose white letters stated “You are
now leaving Florida.”
watched as Althea Hunter took more notes. When she was finished, she
turned toward him and sighed . He looked into her eyes.
you gonna take him away?” he asked, somberly.
large chest heaved as she took a deep breath and seemed to be
searching for words. “Let me be honest with you, Mr. Renaldi. If I
didn't think you were providing a safe and nurturing environment for
Liam, I'd be taking him with me right now. But, based on what I've
seen and heard and what you've told me, I don't think that would be
in the best interest of the child. To take him away would most likely
be traumatic for him.”
sighed with relief. “Oh, thank you, ma'am. Thank you, thank you,
have to understand, Mr. Renaldi, this is only temporary.”
Renaldi, I am a caseworker, not a judge. At some point, you are going
to have to appear before a judge in family court.”
you'll tell him that Liam should stay with me, right?”
give him my assessment but that's only part of the process.”
I need a lawyer?”
her words carefully, she answered, “That depends.”
do you mean?”
do you think Miss Pritchard would agree to terminate her parental
no, she would never do that. I mean, Melissa isn't the greatest
mother, she probably isn't even a good mother, but when she's not
running around doing who knows what, she actually cares about Liam.
Besides, that would probably screw up welfare when she applied. No,
she wouldn't ever agree to something like that.”
there's another option. It's called consent guardianship. The parent,
Melissa in this case, would not lose her parental rights but you
would gain custody and the right to make decisions for Liam. However,
Miss Pritchard would have to either appear in court or, at least,
sign papers to that effect that you could present to the judge.”
said Sam. “I think that would work. She trusts me. She knows I have
Liam's best interests at heart.”
then,” said Ms. Hunter, rising and extending her hand toward Sam.
They shook hands. “I'll be in touch.”
thanks. In the mean time?”
the meantime, keep doing what you've been doing. I have a large
caseload, Mr. Renaldi, and sometimes things don't progress as fast as
I would like. Here's my card. Any problems or questions, just give me
you, Miss Hunter. Thank you very much.”
checked on Liam and found him sound asleep, his baseball glove
pressed against his cheek.
wanted to call Annie and tell her all about his encounter with Ms.
Hunter but decided it was too late. They both needed their sleep.
Hunter kept her word and stayed in touch over the next couple months,
still Sam wasn't expecting to see her in the stands for Liam's first
ball game. And she wasn't alone. Sitting with her was her daughter,
Tasha, a very nice looking young woman who Ms. Hunter boasted was a
school teacher. “Do you have a boy playing?” he asked. “No, she
said. “We're here to watch Liam.”
Mr. Renaldi, sit here with us.” Not sure if this was an official
request, he decided to comply, just in case. He spotted Annie and
Cole at the foot of the stands and whistled to get their attention.
He made introductions all around as they joined the group and the
women exchanged small talk till the game began.
Liam playing right field, the opponent's lead off hitter blooped a
hit over the first baseman which Liam charged with boy-like urgency
and trapped in his glove. Sam stood up and shouted, “Throw to
second, Liam. Throw to second.” Whether or not Liam heard, he
couldn't be sure, but the boy threw a dart to second and prevented
the batter from taking an extra base. He was surprised to hear Tasha
shouting, “Way to go, Liam. Whoop whoop!” When Sam looked at her
in wonder, she smiled and said, “ That's what we're here for, isn't
should have warned you,” said Ms. Hunter. “She's a big baseball
his only time at bat, Liam lined a ball into the left field gap –
an easy double. His little cheering section, led by Sam and Tasha who
was whistling like a construction worker, erupted.
Althea Hunter learned that Liam was out of the game, she left but
Tasha, saying she was having too much fun, decided to stick around.
She and Annie were getting on like sorority sisters so he invited her
to join them for pizza when the game ended. “With pepperoni?, she
asked. “We can arrange that,” laughed Sam. “Okay,” she
smiled, “I''m in.”
the evening progressed, Sam fought off the idea that Tasha was there
on her mother's behalf. She was just too nice. You would have thought
that she and Annie were lifelong friends and her connection with the
children was like magic. Everyone enjoyed themselves and, for a
change, no worries or tension seeped into their experience.
they gathered themselves to leave, she asked Sam when the next game
was. He said he didn't know but he had a schedule at home. She
grabbed his phone and entered her number. “Text me,” she said
with a smile and a wink.
came for every game after that and was, as far as everyone was
concerned, a welcome addition. Then, for one game, Annie couldn't
make it which left Sam and Tasha alone in the cheering section. When
Liam cracked a triple over the center fielder's head in the second
inning that scored two runs, the stands erupted. Tasha leaned toward
Sam and laid her head against his shoulder. “I really enjoy this,
you know,” she said.
too,” said Sam.
from the top row called down to them, “Is that your boy,” he
he is,” came Sam's quick reply. He looked at Tasha and smiled.
should do that more often,” she said.
asked Tasha, her big brown eyes filled with hope.
I've been thinking,” he began.
expression was playful and mocking. “Thinking?”
I've been thinking that instead eating the pizza at the pizza place
we could bring it over my place and eat it there.”
eyed him, her lips forming a contemplative pout. “Inviting me over
to see your etchings, eh slugger?”
he started, “I don't have no etchings.”
well, I guess it'll be okay then,” she said as she kissed him
quickly on the lips.
pulled into his regular spot in front of his apartment's door and
froze. His headlights illuminated the stoop. Sitting there in a
disheveled heap was Melissa.
mom,” said Liam, fear of what was brewing leaking into his voice.
it is,” said Sam. He sighed as he opened his door. “Let's see
what she wants.”
pulled in alongside Sam's car and climbed out carrying the pizza. “I
got caught at the light...” When she saw Melissa, she froze.
this?” asked Melissa with a sneer.
girlfriend,” added Tasha.
shook her head, an unpleasant sneer on her lips. “Girlfriend.”
She laughed. “Isn't this rich – a nigger mama for my nigger
need to get ugly, Melissa. What do you want?”
want my boy, that's what I want. Get your stuff Liam. You're coming
with your mama.”
boy squeezed close to Sam and pleaded, “I don't want to go. Don't
stood and made a grab for Liam's arm, but he ducked behind Sam. Tasha
stepped up alongside Sam further shielding the boy.
over here, you little shit. You're coming with me.”
not going to happen,” said Tasha.
got nothing to do with you, bitch.” Melissa lunged at Tasha, pushed
her backwards onto her butt and jumped on top of her.
hauled her off and threw her to the side. Helping Tasha to her feet,
he asked, “You okay?”
fine,” she said.
I'm not,” said Melissa as she struggled to get to her feet.
handed Tasha his keys. “Take Liam inside, please.”
you hear me?” shouted Melissa. “He's coming with me.”
He's. Not.” said Tasha, emphatically. “Aren't you going to tell
me what, bitch?”
Miss Pritchard, while you were away, after you abandoned your son, a
judge in family court awarded custody of Liam to Sam. So, you aren't
taking Liam anywhere!”
shit! You can't do that.”
we can. And we did,” snapped Tasha.
old Chevy started up across the parking lot and sounded it's horn
getting Melissa's attention. “Just a minute,” she shouted.
horn blared again and the driver pulled up to the walkway and lowered
the passenger-side window. “Let's get out of here before someone
calls the freakin' cops.”
won't give me Liam,” she said.
it go. He isn't worth it.” He raced the engine.
can't do this,” she shouted as she got into the car. “You can't
friggin' do this.”
she was gone.
tracked Melissa's departure until the taillights faded into the
night. Inside, he could hear Tasha upstairs drawing Liam's bath.
Walking back to the kitchen, he found the pizza on the table. He
opened the box and touching the crust found it only lukewarm, so he
turned on the oven. He glanced over his shoulder. There was Tasha.
better heat it,” he said, almost apologetically.
remained silent, her expression brooding. Going to her, Sam took her
in his arms. She rested her head against his chest. Sniffling, she
managed, “I hate her.”
sorry you had to see that... to hear that,” he said.
not,” she said. “Because I'm more determined, now, to make sure
she never gets her hands on that boy again.”
she looked up into his eyes, tears streaming down her face, he
couldn't help himself and began kissing her tears away. She pressed
her lips to his and soon they were lost in each other, their hands
exploring their bodies, their hearts beating as one. Then, sensing he
might have gone too far, he pulled back. “I'm sorry.”
glad you did.” She gave him one more kiss, this one filled with the
promise of things to come, and then stepped away. “Do you have a
pizza and a rousing game of Pictionary during which Sam swore Tasha
and Liam were conspiring against him, they put Liam to bed, leaving
the door open just a crack the way he liked it.
asked Sam, thinking he'd like nothing better than Tasha beside him on
she said, “I had something else in mind.” She took him by the
hand and led him into the bedroom.
like a plan,” he said.
and Tasha's lives melded together like two trickles of water that
merge to form a stream. She moved in with him, with Mrs. Tucker's
approval, of course, but ever mindful that Melissa might show up
unannounced, he decided to put some of the money his father had left
him to good use and bought a cozy three bedroom house with a pool
and, at Tasha's insistence, plenty of room for a pool table if he
should want one. The house was in the same school district – he'd
been careful about that – so Liam wouldn't be uprooted yet again.
His life was filled with love, now, and he couldn't help but wonder
what his old man would've thought. He had been a different man at the
end – sad and full of regrets. Sam liked to think that he would've
been happy for him.
was late September when word came by way of Tasha's mom that Melissa
had died of an overdose out in Oakland, California. The Pritchards
had told her that, since there would be no funeral or memorial
service, there was “no need for the boy to come around.” She
asked if they would be willing to relinquish any rights they had to
the boys custody and they were quick to agree and sign the papers.
celebrated his good fortune every day. He and Tasha shared a love
that grew deeper with every breathe and every touch and was even more
special with the inclusion of Liam. No longer haunted by nightmares
and dread, the boy was now part of a loving family. Wherever he went,
whatever he did, he was comforted by warm thoughts of home and the
tender attention of Tasha and Sam. And no longer dependent on
fantasies, he ditched his bedroom games in favor of sports, real
sports, with his primary focus, currently, on soccer. Go figure.