Something Borrowed

It was rare for my dad to trust me with any of his things, but then again it was even rarer for the Goldeyes to be just one win away from making the playoffs.

Dad and I were baseball fans, as were his friends and my friends, our family, and pretty well everybody else in our city, especially around playoffs. Sadly for us, the team that we loved had a habit of losing. The Goldeyes hadn’t made the playoffs in years and had never in league history made it past the first round. In my entire fourteen years I had only seen them make it once, and although I was very young, I can still remember my disappointment at their failure to win a single game. The Goldeyes were bottom-feeders, but for us it was the game and not the results that mattered. Our passion was for the excitement of cheering on the home team, and for the bond that only evenings spent huddled together shouting encouragement at the TV could provide.

This passion for our Goldeyes was the reason my dad met me in our kitchen the afternoon of the big game and reluctantly placed his precious binoculars into my eager outstretched palms. “Win or lose, this is going to be a big game,” he said. “Just be sure to be responsible, keep your head, and don’t let anybody use those other than yourself.”

“Thanks dad! Love you, and don’t worry!” I replied with a grin as I hustled out the door. Looking back I am confident that had he known my real plans for the evening, neither his binoculars nor myself would have ever made it off our yard.

Sneaking into the stadium was Johnny’s idea, as were most of our plans, but for once I was following as a somewhat willing accomplice. Sure I was terrified, as I knew being caught trying to break into Goldeye stadium would forever taint me in my father’s eyes, but the chance to be with Rachel when the greatest Goldeyes’ squad in decades won its way into history was too good to pass up. Johnny was my best friend, he had been for years, and Rachel was his older sister, the girl of my dreams. People always told us that Johnny and I were joined at the hip, and it was easy to see why as we had so much in common. Johnny and I were runts, or at least agonizingly late bloomers, though we did our best to make up for it with our athleticism, intelligence, and large video game collections. We were both always small, but Johnny was always just a little bit bigger. We both had brown hair and skinny bodies, but while I had bushy eyebrows and a bulbous nose, Johnny had piercing blue eyes and a naturally forming six pack. Johnny’s slight superiorities had determined him to be the leader of our duo, but I was happy to tag along, and never more so than on the day of the big game.

I left my house just after lunch, with my dad’s binoculars hanging off my neck by their strap, and with my trusty leather baseball mitt tucked under my arm. The warm late summer sun was a comforting presence on my back as I took the familiar shortcut to Johnny’s house through our old elementary school playground. I imagined myself leaping from the stands to snag a Bo Biddlerson grand slam as I made my way through Mrs. Peterson’s garden, and had fully expelled any doubts of our ability to actually find a way into the stadium by the time I reached Johnny’s gate.

“Hey there Luke!” Johnny called from the porch. “You doing a little bird-watching today?” He was sprawled out in his hammock with his yellow Goldeye hat half covering his eyes, sipping a lemonade with one hand and tossing a ball up into the air with the other.

“Hilarious,” I responded. “I wonder who’ll be laughing when we get to the game and I’m the only one who can actually see the field.”

“Probably the fans in the stands around us.” Johnny said. “We’ll all be pointing and laughing at the little nerd.”

I chose to end the exchange there, as though I considered myself to be superior to Johnny in wit, he certainly had me trumped in stubbornness and persistence.

“Does that mean you aren’t going to share your binoculars with me Luke?” an angelic voice called down from the upstairs window. “I was hoping we would get along really well today.”

My face instantly flushed red and I shot my gaze downwards to make sure I was twiddling my thumbs with proper form. Rachel often had this effect on me; it didn’t matter how many times we had spoken before. “Well I promised my dad that I wouldn’t Rachel, but I suppose you can use them if you promise to be careful.” I called up, trying my best to paint confidence into my shaky voice.

Rachel giggled. She seemed to do that in response to almost anything I said, and most times I wasn’t even trying to be funny, but her laugh was so light and carefree that I would accept any excuse to hear it. “I’ll be right down boys; I’m just trying to find the perfect outfit for adventure!”

“I bet it’s what you had on when you came out of the shower.” I mumbled loud enough that only I could hear, but caught Johnny’s glaring gaze as I brought my head back out of the sky.

Johnny hated that I liked his sister, and he hated even more our suspicion that she might inexplicably also like me. We had an unspoken agreement that if I so much as mentioned her name outside of her company I would receive a purposefully delivered punch to the kidneys. Comments about my sister had always been fair game, probably because she was much older and as Johnny and I both agreed ‘gross’, but for some reason Rachel’s being only two years older had placed her off limits.

“Think the boys can do it this year?” I asked, hoping to draw Johnny’s attention away from my midriff.

“Of course!” Johnny said. “Home-field advantage and we’re playing the Brushdogs; I bet we glide through this game like we’re going to glide to the last round of the playoffs!”

“I hope you’re right.” I said. “I don’t want to risk banishment from my house for a loss.”

“Who cares who wins!” said Rachel, now changed and standing beside her brother on the porch. “The real excitement is going to be us getting into this game!” She had put on a slim sleeveless summer dress covered in vibrant yellow flowers and ending in billows well above her knees. Her hair was tied back in a loose pony tail, showing off the flowing curls of her marbled brown hair, and giving the world full view of her breathtaking face. She had the same eyes as her brother, which was slightly disturbing, but her beaming smile and tender looking lips added an overwhelming feminine flair.

“I see you’re wearing Goldeye colours.” I said, suppressing a stammer.

“I’m glad you like it Luke.” she replied, looking deep into my eyes. “Now get off your lazy rump, Johnny, and let’s get to this game!”

The city we lived in was simple and small, but the walk to the stadium was still over an hour. We had left Johnny’s house with plenty of time to spare and so strolled along comfortably, following the tunnel-like roads overshadowed by oak trees.

“I thought Marcus was coming too, what happened to that guy?” I eventually asked after finally noticing his absence.

“He’s locked up in his room.” said Johnny. “I doubt we’ll see him for the rest of the summer.”

“Poor Marcus.” said Rachel.

“What happened to him?” I asked, feeling as though I had somehow missed a great tragedy.

“Kinch.” said Johnny. “That giant scrambled his brains!”

“He beat him up?” I gasped.

“Mugged him,” stated Johnny. “Scarred the poor kid for the rest of his life.”

“Can you quit the dramatics and just tell me the story!” I pleaded, now very intrigued.

“I suppose,” said Johnny, “but I wasn’t there and this is just how I heard it happened from Kurt.”

“Fine, good enough.”

“Well,” Johnny began, “apparently it happened when Marcus was walking home at lunch from summer school last Tuesday. He was stumbling his way along like a dope, because he forgot to wear his contacts and never carries his glasses, and was probably actually lost even though he lives just two blocks from the school. Then he heard someone yell: “Hey punk! Get your hands up!” So Marcus shot his arms in the air like a startled cat, and just stood there trembling, blind as a bat. “Keep your skinny arms in the air you little shrimp, and don’t you dare move!” this voice yelled at him again. Now Marcus started really trembling, and when he turned around to try and make out who was yelling, he saw a guy holding a gun, and it was pointed directly at his little blubbering mouth!”

“A gun!” I exclaimed.

“Not a real gun dummy, it was just Kinch holding his hand in the shape of a gun, but silly blind Marcus couldn’t tell the difference. So the brute Kinch gets right in his face, and now Marcus can see that the gun is a fake, but for some reason the wuss is convinced this mugger must have a knife in his pocket! So Marcus hands Kinch everything. His wallet, his backpack, the lint from his pockets, and he just starts sobbing and begging for mercy.”

“Kinch robbed him?” I gasped.

“Course not.” laughed Johnny. “He threw the stuff all back at Marcus, laughing about how much of a wimp you have to be to get robbed by a finger gun. Kinch was in stitches and Marcus was standing there weeping, and of course Kinch went and told everybody and now Marcus is too ashamed to leave his house.”

“I can’t stand Kinch!” I said. “I don’t know how you survive class with him, Rachel.”

“He’s harmless around kids his own age,” she said, “and he’ll probably be held back a grade soon enough.”

“You only hate him because he terrorizes you too Luke.” said Johnny.

“Never that bad thankfully,” I said, “but I sure hope this Marcus episode hasn’t raised his standards.”

“I’ll tell him to go easy on you guys.” said Rachel. “I’m pretty sure he likes me.”

“I’d say definitely.” said Johnny. “But I doubt anything can stop him.”

We walked the next few blocks in silence as Johnny hurled rocks at birds, Rachel admired the wonders of nature, and I anticipated the tortures of my next meeting with Kinch. The sun was just beginning to set as we continued along our long loop to the stadium. Despite the fading daylight it was still a warm and muggy evening, and I could feel an uncomfortable dampness running down my spine. Johnny and I were walking along opposite sides of the street, entertaining ourselves with our baseball mitts by throwing small rocks back and forth. I was distracted by trying to appear fully consumed by our game, attempting to mask my lack of conversation for Rachel, and so wasn’t prepared when we ran into trouble.

“Evening boys! Hello Rachel,” a familiar voice boomed out from the shadows of a path.

“Hi there Kinch.” Rachel replied with a tiny cringe in her eyes.

“I said evening Luke! I’ve barely seen you around at all this summer.” Kinch was slowly strutting up to us with his hands resting on his massive hips and an overconfident smile stretched across his troll-like face. Even half hidden by shadows I could still make out his hideous features. He was sporting his usual shorts and t-shirt combo, with a hint of his belly poking out at their gap. When he stood his knees melded tightly together, but his feet somehow managed to remain inches apart. Scanning up from the pubey neck beard he always wore with such pride, I could see his tiny little face resting comfortably on a pillow of chins. He had a squished-in hook nose and beady little eyes, and thick rubbery lips that became overly animated when he talked. “You boys aren’t planning on going to the ball game now are ya? I hear it’s sold out.”

“Well we’ve got a way in.” Johnny thankfully piped up.

“I thought your buddy Marcus liked baseball, where might he be tonight?”

“I wonder.” I said, but regret ever doing so.

“There’s your voice Luke! I knew you could talk! Hey, those are some really fancy binoculars you have there, mind if I take a look?”

I hesitated, but let them slip from my trembling fingers into Kinch’s chubby grasp when he took a step forward. He stood there chuckling deeply to himself as he pretended to gaze through them at faraway wonders, and then squeezed their strap over his thick neck when he was through with his act.

“Please Kinch, they’re my dad’s!” I begged, not even thinking to hide my panic.

“Well they were your dad’s, but who knows who they belong to now.”

“Kinch come on, give them back.” Rachel demanded, causing Kinch to falter. The indecision was clear on his stupefied face as he apparently considered whether to maintain his bully image, or attempt to please his crush. This contemplation took him quite a while as he was not very bright.

“Well I’m not just going to give you my binoculars Luke, but I will trade you for your glove.” This terrifying proposition was a blow to my soul. My baseball mitt meant the world to me, but losing my dad’s binoculars would mean the end to that world. I thought about punching him, finally exacting my revenge, but I knew even my greatest blow wouldn’t manage to make a dent. I also thought about running, but knew Kinch would catch up to me someday, and probably torture Johnny until he did.

“Fine Kinch.” I whimpered as I slowly held out my glove.

“Thank you!” Kinch giggled as he ripped the glove from my grasp, and celebrated now owning both halves to the deal.

“Kinch!” Rachel started, but I quickly cut her off. I couldn’t handle the embarrassment of having her protect me from this brute.

“Let’s just go please.” I pleaded, turning with hunched shoulders to continue on our way. “This is hopeless, and I don’t want to miss the game.”

“Have a good night guys! I’ll be watching!” Kinch teased, holding my dad’s binoculars to his face and waving my beloved glove high in the air.

A chill seemed to have replaced the humidity as we ambled our way nearer to the stadium. I was distraught by the recent abduction of my possessions, but had decided that I might as well still try to enjoy what would probably be my last time ever out of the house. Rachel was beside me gingerly rubbing my back, and Johnny was informing me that I should just be glad that Kinch hadn’t done anything worse. Both had assured me that Kinch would soon give everything back and had tried to reinforce my belief in our stadium entry plan. I was still filled with doubts and I think they were both feeling guilty, but all our troubles were forgotten when we at last reached our destination.

Goldeye stadium was a giant. It loomed over the surrounding streets like a tank on the freeway, and the lights and sounds escaping its open roof created electricity in the air. I froze in my tracks as I examined the massive stone wall surrounding it, and decided only a fool would ever hope to sneak in. Thankfully Rachel was always eager for a challenge, and she grabbed Johnny and I both by the wrists and dragged us around back. She hauled our bewildered bodies along the edge of the outer wall, until we eventually came to a small opening where the stadium took out its trash.

“Now be quiet and wait here.” Rachel told us, as she alone slipped closer to the door.

We were waiting for Aaron, a kid from Rachel’s class, but also an errand boy who worked at the stadium. Rachel and he had an agreement that they would meet here just before game-time, and she had lured him to it with her skills in flirtation. Johnny and I had the role of sneaking inside while she had him distracted, and then opening the door for her after Aaron was gone. We must have arrived almost precisely on time, because the moment we were settled an eager-faced Aaron came bursting out of the building. Rachel went quickly to work, twirling her fingers through her hair, squeezing Aaron’s biceps, giggling at his every word and most importantly turning his back to the door. I did my best to ignore my boiling jealousy as Johnny and I crept like cats along the ground and then leapt in silence through the doorway without Aaron’s knowing. We quickly concealed ourselves behind some empty garbage bins that were stored just to our right, and couldn’t help grinning our faces off while we waited for Aaron to come back inside. It wasn’t long before he did, with a stupid love-struck smirk on his face, but Johnny and I stayed hidden until he had fluttered all the way back down the hall. I made sure to be the one who re-opened the door, and received a massive hug from a very pleased-with-herself Rachel when I did. Now all three of us were laughing and Rachel’s pride was well deserved, because the plan had been perfect, and just like that, we were in.

Once inside we hurried along the long grey hallway that appeared to contain rooms for the staff, being very careful not to be noticed, and followed it up a gradual slope until we finally arrived at the public concession and washrooms. We joined in with the flowing yellow crowd, and took the nearest access out into the stands.

“Don’t look up, just keep moving.” Rachel muttered to us under her breath.

“Why, what’s wrong?” I asked while foolishly glancing around.

“I think that guard over there saw us coming out of the tunnel. Let’s just find a place to sit as soon as we can.”

We did our best to blend in with the rest of the fans as we hastily made our way up to the top of the stands. Once there we dropped ourselves into three empty seats in the very back row, and scanned around with relief to find that nobody was on our tail.

“It’s beautiful!” Rachel said, and she was certainly right. From our seats we could see the entire stadium. The brightly lit field appeared miles away, and between us and it was a swarming sea of yellow-clad spectators. There were more fans in the stadium than I thought to be people in our city, and every one of them seemed to be supporting the Goldeyes. The night sky loomed above, and thousands of cameras flashed every second down below, and finally the roar of the crowd told me the game had begun.

– – –

It was now five innings in and the Goldeyes were ahead. Johnny and I were perched on the edges of our seats squealing like schoolgirls because Bo Biddlerson had just stepped up to the plate. Bo was the greatest player the Goldeyes had ever seen, and his specialty was crushing monster home-runs. He waggled his bat in his familiar pre-swing routine, and pointed deep into the stands seemingly right where we were sitting. The crowd cheered at his confidence but was drowned out by the thunderous crack of his bat. Bo had connected with the very first pitch, and his blast was sailing through the heavens destined right for my hands. I cupped my palms together, creating a cradle for the ball, and tried to ignore my fears of the pain the catch would cause. As the ball reappeared out of the darkness I stretched out of my seat, but at the very last moment a gloved hand reached in front of me to snatch away my dreams. The crowd erupted in celebration while I screamed in despair.

“If I had my glove that would be mine! That monster Kinch needs to pay!” I slumped back into my seat noticing that nobody around me seemed to care.

“Luke! Johnny! We’re up on the big-screen!” Rachel cried out.

I shifted my pouting eyes upwards and saw that she was right; the three of us were up there for the entire stadium to see. Rachel and Johnny were jumping with excitement along with the gloved villain who took my ball, neither one of them seeming to remember that we had been trying to hide ourselves before. I was just about to suggest that they should maybe sit down, when a firm hand found my shoulder and roughly spun me around.

“You three! Let’s go! You’re coming with me!”

It was the same guard from earlier and he had finally sniffed us out. He looked very pleased with himself too, although also out of breath, and I took his moment of recuperation as my chance to escape. I squirmed out of his clutches and began bounding back down the stands; knocking over popcorns and spilling beers but not pausing to turn back. I was all the way down to the exit before I heard Johnny yelp, and turned around in terror to see the guard reel him in. Then, with the same swiftness as I had escaped, Rachel appeared to deliver a firm right foot into the unsuspecting guard’s groin. His knees buckled and his eyes crossed, but he was able to regain his senses long enough to secure a firm hold of both of my friends. I watched hopelessly from a hidden corner of the exit while this chubby guard laboured against his lack of fitness and injured privates to drag Johnny and Rachel back out of the bleachers. I followed from a distance and was just able to see him take them down the staff tunnel before they disappeared from sight. Now I was panicking. I didn’t know how I would explain losing my glove, friends and binoculars to my dad, so I came to the terrifying conclusion that my only hope was to help them break free.

The weakness in my knees was the only thing that kept me from fleeing as I began my careful journey to find where the guard had my friends hidden, but deep inside I think I knew this was my chance to be the hero. I inched my way down the tunnel, peering into the window of each room as I went, and eventually discovered them in a small security office near the end. The guard had my friends seated at a desk, but their backs were to the door and he was prowling the room, so I couldn’t take the risk of grabbing their attention. I fought the urge to give up and looked around for options, and discovered one in the tiny power room adjacent to the one containing my friends.

I creaked open its door and slipped inside, breathing a sigh of relief when I realized it was empty. This room was very small, about the size of an average closet, and it was so dimly lit I could only make out a few of its details. The walls to my right and center were filled with a series of complex looking switches, and on the left there was only a small desk with a single chair. Strangely, though, I could hear murmurs coming from the room containing my friends, and when I glanced up I noticed a narrow vent in the upper left corner. I locked the door to the room to prevent unwanted visitors, and then quietly climbed on the desk to peer through the opening.

I could see Rachel and Johnny, and the guard was still with them. Johnny’s head was hung to his lap but I thought I could see tears, and Rachel was trembling in terror but doing her best to stay strong. The guard was pacing back and forth, demanding to know their names as well as that of their accomplice, but it was apparent by his frustration that they hadn’t given him anything.

“I’m not letting you go until you talk you little punks, so it’s your decision whether or not you get out of here tonight!”

Neither responded, buying me more precious time, but I knew the guard’s building anger meant that I had to act fast. I realized I had to get the guard out of their room so that my friends could escape, and decided the best way to do so was by using myself as bait. Acting entirely on instinct, and completely out of character, I formed a massive loogey in my mouth and popped open the vent. The guard turned his head in reaction to the sound, but I launched my projectile before he had a chance to prepare. His mouth was agape as he was still surprised by my presence, and my masterfully aimed spittle found its way deep down his throat. He gagged and hunched over, seemingly stunned by my strike, but then let out a roar of pure anger and charged out of the room. I could hear a set of keys being filtered through the lock to my door, and worried that my decoy might have been a horrible mistake.

“Johnny! Rachel!” I called through the gap, “Get out of there and run before this guy gets any back-up!”

“We can’t! The door’s locked!” they both cried out with alarm, and just as they did I heard my own door unlock.

I scrambled frantically to find safety, and crouched behind the back side of the door. The guard burst in with a huff, but faltered when he couldn’t find me, and I took this brief window to slither out from behind him. Once in the light of the hallway I noticed the guard’s keys still dangling from the doorway, and I locked him inside with a slam before he had a chance to react. The guard’s muffled radio crackled to life the instant he realized what had happened, and I hurried to free my friends before any assistance could arrive.

“My hero!” cried Rachel, giving me a big hug and wet kiss.

“Let’s just go!” growled Johnny, juggling his gratitude and resentment.

We escaped down the hallway the same way we came in, and were giggling while almost sobbing when we stumbled into Kinch in the street. Kinch was roaming around along the wall of the stadium, and it appeared as though he was trying to figure out how to get in. My dad’s binoculars were still dangling by their strap around his neck, and my glove had been disrespectfully stuffed in his pocket. When he heard our commotion he turned around smirking, and waddled into the street to block our escape.

“Well, well, well, and just what have you guys been up to tonight?”

“Watching the game Kinch, too bad you missed out.” I said, suddenly finding the confidence.

“I don’t think it’s over yet guys, how come you’re leaving so early?”

“We got nervous after sneaking in; don’t want our parents to find out.” I lied, trying to beat Kinch to his punch line.

“If you snuck in how’d you do it? This wall goes all the way around.”

“Helps to have the keys.” I said while removing the guard’s set from my pocket. “But I’m always willing to trade.”

“Your glove for those keys? That sounds like a deal.”

“My glove and my binoculars, and this time you hand over my stuff first.”

“Too dark for binoculars anyways, and your stupid glove doesn’t fit.” Kinch said as he returned me my treasures, only afterwards removing the guard’s keys from my palm.

“Enjoy the game Kinch! Goodnight!” the three of us called out to his back.

“Enjoy being wimps who run home!” Kinch replied as he unlocked the stadium door, and disappeared inside to where an embarrassed but bitter guard would greet him.

Johnny, Rachel, and I sauntered off slowly into the night, reliving the ups and downs of our day, and appreciating just how lucky we had been. The eruption of cheers from the stadium told us that the Goldeyes had won, and we looked forward to watching them in the playoffs, but preferably from the safety of our homes. As we ambled silently onwards I felt Rachel’s cool hand fill my palm, and I remember experiencing a moment of complete happiness before a fist rocketed into my gut.

– – –

Something Borrowed was awarded the Orca Book Publishers Creative Writing Award – Children’s Fiction