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It begins with the biggest pickle anyone has ever been in.

Or maybe it begins with a famous baseball.

Or with a less famous busted up baseball.

Or with a glove and a hat and an invitation.

Really, it begins with a wave and a nod and half a smile.

-

Scott is eleven, and grounded for two weeks for stealing one of the most valuable baseballs in the world. At least the second most valuable one in town.

Benny knocks on his bedroom window the first afternoon, climbs in without preamble as soon as Scott opens it, and Scott stares, open-mouthed as Benny plops down on the floor, leans back against Scott’s bed as if it’s nothing.

Benny grins at him and pulls a baseball out of his pocket, tosses it to Scott.

“Thought you could use some company,” Benny shrugs.

Benny stays for three hours, talking about baseball, about baseball history, about the Dodgers, before announcing that he needs to get home for dinner and climbing back out the way he came. He comes again the next day along with a stack of trading cards and Scott learns all about stats and numbers, figures collected on each player and how to compare them to others. Scott marvels at the use of math, statistics, formulas used in combination with the game.

“It’s almost scientific,” he says to Benny with a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth almost unconsciously.

Benny shakes his head a little, laughs lightly. “Man, only an egghead like you would get excited at the idea of baseball being scientific,” but the word egghead sounds so full of affection and pride that for once it doesn’t sound like an insult.

So Scott smiles back at him and shrugs, explains that it’s actually pretty cool that something like baseball can have this, like, mixture of science and math and facts and intuition and feeling and just plain guts. Benny smiles as Scott talks, and Scott looks back at him and thinks, kind of like us, but doesn’t say it.

The next day when Benny comes over he tries to teach Scott how to keep score. It doesn’t go well; Scott can’t quite understand it all without having a game playing in front of him to follow along with, and he’s not allowed to watch television while he’s grounded, so they can’t even watch the Dodgers playing the Cubs today, which Benny says should be a great game.

Benny huffs a sigh and folds his arms across his chest, leans back against the side of Scott’s bed. Scott wonders if he’s going to bolt now - he thinks of Jimmy Thompson, one of his best friends from back home, who would stomp off in a huff whenever he and Scott would build up their Erector Sets together and bicker about which direction to build.

“What’s that?” Benny says instead, nodding towards the model volcano Scott made last year for the science fair, sitting perched atop Scott’s dresser.

“A model volcano,” Scott shrugs. His eyes catch on a design flaw, a strip of discolored rock running around the base of the hill. He shakes his head, wonders how he ever managed to win second place with that thing.

“A volcano?” Benny says, sounding intrigued as he jumps to his feet to go check it out.

“A model one,” Scott repeats, unsure why it’s caught Benny’s attention. It’s not very good. “Yeah.”

“Cool!” Benny says as he leans down to put the mouth of the volcano at eye level. “Does it actually spew lava?”

Scott shrugs and gets to his feet, shoving his hands in his pockets. “It needs some stuff to make it happen - water and baking soda and vinegar and some food coloring - if you want it to look like lava, I mean.”

Benny touches the side of the volcano and then looks at Scott with a crooked half-smile. “That’s it?”

Scott shrugs again and nods, not really sure what the big deal is.

“I’ll be back in five,” Benny announces then, and scrambles out the window before Scott can even furrow his brow. He returns as promised exactly five minutes later, tossing a box of baking soda and bottle of water in before him, then climbing in himself, another bottle and box of food coloring in his hands.

Scott doesn’t know what to make of Benny’s enthusiasm, but finds himself smiling and mixing ingredients - “Green?” he asks Benny with raised eyebrows when he sees that it’s the only color in the box of food coloring.

Benny shrugs with one shoulder. “My mom made cookies last week, used up all of the other colors. This was the only one left.”

So they erupt the world’s first green lava-spewing volcano and Scott hopes, fleetingly, that his parents don’t hear them. Mostly he doesn’t even think about getting in trouble, for pretty much the first time in his life; there’s something infectious about Benny, and when Benny smiles and says, “That‘s really cool that you made that,” Scott can’t help but smile back and say, “Yeah, I guess it is.”

It helps that Scott’s mom comes in a while later with two sandwiches, not batting an eyelash at Benny’s presence even though it should be against the rules, or Scott‘s green hands, or the volcano still bubbling over with green lava on top of the dresser.

Scott gapes up at her, kind of, and she says in answer to his unasked question, “Well, I did tell you to get into trouble.” Scott laughs lightly at that, though it’s mostly in relief, and she gives him a small wink. “Just don’t tell your dad,” she adds and then smiles at Benny before sweeping back out of the room.

“Your mom is cool,” Benny informs him around a mouthful of sandwich, and Scott can’t help but agree.

There are more conversations about baseball over the remaining days of Scott’s punishment. More lessons and history and more examinations on the physics of the game, a few more science experiments when Benny can rustle up the supplies. Benny ends up coming by every afternoon that Scott is stuck inside and in the end it doesn’t feel like a punishment at all.

-

Scott is eleven, and Becky Alderson is poking him in the back.

The first letter Scott ever gets from Benny isn’t actually a letter, but a crumpled up note passed to him in the middle of fourth period. The sloppy, hurried scrawl reads,

Mertle’s after school today?

Years later, Benny will find the note in a box on a shelf in the closet. The box will be stuffed full of letters, notes, scraps of papers with lovely, sappy, stupid, inane things written on them in Benny’s own handwriting. He’ll laugh and tease Scott lightly for his sentimentality, ask why a note from, what, the sixth grade? is mixed in here with letters written from Puerto Rico, Albuquerque, Fort Myers, the D.R. Scott will yank the faded, crumpled note out of Benny’s hand with an insincere glare of the put upon, and tell him that it was the first love letter Benny ever wrote him. Even if it wasn’t a love letter.

Back in the fall of 1962, Scott stares down at the note in his suddenly sweaty hands for several moments, unsure what to do. No one’s ever passed him a note in the middle of class before. His friends back home - his old home - never did things like that, things that might get them into trouble; what if the teacher saw?

And of course, Mrs. Anderson picks that moment to come stand in front of his desk.

“Scott?” she says an a calm, even tone that really shouldn’t spook him as much as he does.

He startles at her sudden appearance, feels his whole body go tense, and he shoves the note in between the pages of his text book and looks up at her feeling guilty, sure that she’s going to chew him out.

She doesn’t. Maybe he really does have a trustworthy face. Ham is always telling him that when he wants Scott to do something that Scott knows he probably shouldn’t be doing.

“Page one-twenty-four?” Mrs. Anderson says looking from Scott to his text book and back again. “I asked you to read the first three paragraphs?”

Scott takes a blank moment to realize that he hasn’t heard anything she’s said since Becky poked him in the back a few minutes ago and shoved the folded up slip of paper into his hand. He looks down at his text book, still back on page one hundred twenty-two, then looks up at Mrs. Anderson and plasters a fake grin on his face, which seems to charm her immediately.

“Oh, s-sorry,” he stutters out, rubbing his sweaty palms against his trousers. He’s never been in trouble at school, not once in five whole grades (plus kindergarten), and he’s not about to start now, regardless of the secret thrill that he gets as he fingers the edges of the note passed to him from Benny.

So he licks his dry lips quickly and flips to the correct page in his book, starts reading at the top of the page, stops to clear his throat and starts over again.

He’s not really sure what the procedure for passing notes in class is. Does he try to pass one back to Benny? Should he turn and try to catch Benny’s eye? Maybe he should just wait until the period ends. He considers all options as he slowly, carefully reads out the details of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

At the end of his reading Mrs. Anderson moves on to someone else to read, and Scott waits until she meanders over to the other side of the classroom. Once her line of sight has shifted away from him, Scott turns to glance back at where Benny is seated - one column over and three rows back - and gives him a small nod. Benny grins at him, shakes his head a little like maybe he’s laughing at Scott, maybe he’s laughing with him, and Scott finds himself grinning back without meaning to.

-

They play ball at The Sandlot almost every day. Benny would play every day, if they other guys had the same tenacity for the game as him. Scott considers it a small sacrifice to come out with Benny on Thursday afternoons and throw a ball back and forth, when everyone else is at home or stuck back at school in detention or off doing something else, but it doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice when Benny grins at him and throws him a fast one, praises him when Scott catches it handedly.

-

Scott is eleven, and he watches Benny roll his eyes as Phillips tries to taunt him during gym class. Which, frankly, to Scott’s mind, seems pretty stupid. Everyone knows that Benny could wipe the floor with any one of them. Benny could probably take on the whole Boston Red Sox and beat them by ten points (runs, he reminds himself). Single-handed.

But they’re in gym and Benny and Phillips are captains and got to pick teams, and of course Benny picked all of his friends, and of course Phillips picked all of the other Little League guys, and it’s like a rematch of their game from the summer. So Phillips and the other guys are trying to sike Benny out as he stands at the plate, but Benny, being Benny, just rolls his shoulders, as if shrugging them all off, and hits one out of the field. The other guys shut up quick after that as Scott grins at Benny, triumphant is if the ball had flown off of his own bat.

Later, when they’re walking home from school and it’s just the two of them, everyone else complaining of too tired and already played today and got stuff to do (which is Squints’ favorite phrase for going to stalk Wendy Peffercorn at the high school), Scott asks why Benny doesn’t play Little League.

“I mean, yeah,” Scott reasons as they walk. “Phillips is… well, he’s kind of a…”

“Asshole?” Benny supplies for him, laughter light in his voice.

“Well… yeah. Yes. An asshole,” Scott says. His vocabulary of swear words is growing all the time hanging around Benny and the others. He continues, “But, they’ve got real uniforms and - and coaches and stuff. And you’re ten times the player any of the rest of ‘um are.”

Benny smiles gratefully at that, as if he doesn’t know his own talent, but then shakes his head. They reach the Sandlot and Benny drops his books to the ground, crouching to sit on top of them as he roots around in his backpack to find a ball.

“I was gonna play for the Little League team,” Benny tells him without looking up. He finally finds the ball and pulls it from within the depths of his bag, but remains seated, staring down at the ball and rubbing a thumb over the seam as he speaks. “Me and Ham and Squints and Kenny. The other guys didn’t want to, called it ‘loser league.’ Phillips and them, they’ve been jerks forever, didn’t stop even when we were all playing together.”

Benny pauses to get to his feet, tosses the ball up in the air a few times, then shakes his head.

“All I heard, every practice, all they talked about, was how could Squints catch a ball with his big ‘ol glasses, how Ham is too fat to play with them and Kenny - well, you know.”

Scott doesn’t. He blinks and asks, “What?” as he pulls his glove out of his backpack.

Benny rolls his eyes, looking so put upon for having to explain the ways of the world to Scott, but Scott suspects he doesn’t actually mind as much as he says he does.

“You know, ‘cause he’s black,” Benny says, and the words make Scott cock his head back as if they were a slap to his face.

“Why would that matter?” And yeah, Scott’s not blind; he knows that a lot of people have a lot of problems with a lot of things like skin color, but California’s supposed to be enlightened, isn’t it? Or something. It’s the ‘60s now, like his mom always says, and they’re supposed to be getting past this kind of thinking.

“I dunno,” Benny agrees. “But it does matter to them. Probably ‘cause they know Kenny’s a better pitcher than any of ‘em. See, Marcus - that’s Phillips’s best friend - he really wanted to pitch. Thought he was the next Cy Young or something.”

Scott has only a vague recollection of the name Cy Young, but he doesn’t stop Benny for clarification, instead filing it away in his head to look up later.

“But Kenny’s way better and the coach and everyone knew it and Phillips and Marcus and them, they were just cry babies about the whole thing, acted like Kenny couldn’t really play or something - or like he shouldn’t play, just ‘cause he’s black.”

Benny tosses Scott the ball and then takes a few steps back to put some distance between them. Scott throws the ball back to him, and they continue like that back and forth while Benny talks, the whap of cowhide against leather breaking up his sentences now and then.

“Man, I’ve been playing with Kenny and Squints and those guys since we were six!” Benny says, sounding angry at the memory. “And now suddenly they’re not good enough just ‘cause Phillips and them all got sticks up their asses?” Benny shakes his head, then throws a particularly hard strike to Scott’s glove. “And if they’re sayin’ stuff like that about Kenny behind his back, what’re they saying about me, you know? Especially me being Mexican, they’re probably all talking shit about me behind my back.”

“So you quit?” Scott says, though it’s not really a question. He throws the ball back to Benny, watches the little wrist move Benny makes when he catches it.

“Yeah. Didn’t wanna play with those guys if that’s how they were gonna be about their own teammates.” He shakes his head again and adds, “Those guys’re pansies. I wouldn’t trade any one of our guys for any one of ‘em.”

And Scott is reminded as he watches Benny wind up his pitch, of that day back at the beginning of summer, when Benny pulled him out of the hole Scott had wanted to crawl inside and hide in, brought him back to the field, bluntly put in place any of the other guys who tried to make fun of him.

He likes Benny so fiercely sometimes.

“Their uniforms are pretty stupid anyway,” Scott says mildly, and it takes a minute for Benny to break out of his angry funk, but then he breaks into a grin.

“Y'know Samlls, when you're right, you're right.” He throws the ball again.

-

There are more notes, lots – stuffed into Scott’s locker, left wedged between the pages of his textbooks, passed illicitly in class – all throughout the school year. Scott gets used to seeing Benny’s familiar scrawl each time he unfolds one.

Want to study history at my house later? My mom’s making lasagna for dinner tonight.

Raining out and the guys are total wusses about playing in the rain, like they’re going to catch the flu or something from a few drops of water. Want to go to Mr. Mertle’s instead today?

Sometimes they’re less questions or requests than commands. Maybe not commands – it’s not like Scott would want to disobey, or like Benny would ever order him to do something. More like assumptions, maybe. Because Benny knows that Scott will probably show up to wherever, do whatever with them.

Ray’s Pizza after school before ball. Yeah Yeah says he’s been jonesing for a slice. Meet by the bike rack.

My brother says they’re playing the ’51 Giants-Dodgers Pennant game on TV on Saturday. The Shot Heard Round The World, we gotta watch it. We can make Jiffy Pop

Scott has no idea what The Shot Heard Round The World even means, but he likes the sound of Benny and baseball and Jiffy Pop, and that Saturday he learns a valuable lesson as he watches Benny bound out of his seat on the couch and bounce around the room screaming, “The Giants win the Pennant! The Giants win the Pennant!” along with the announcer on TV: baseball, especially baseball for Benny, isn’t just about favorite teams or who you want to win; it’s about the game and the surprise and the magic and the amazing things that can happen, even when your team loses.

“The Giants win the Pennant! The Giants win the Pennant! The Giants win the Pennant!” sticks in Scott’s head long after he leaves Benny that night to go home, in his head still even as he lays in bed drifting off into sleep. In his dream that night, it’s his own voice screaming with happiness, echoing throughout The Sandlot The Jet wins! as Benny rounds the bases.

-

Scott is twelve today, and has the best birthday ever. Dad gives him a copy of the ’51 Giants-Dodgers game on 45, so he can listen to it over and over again – “You just can’t stop talking about that game,” he smiles when Scott gapes at the gift, no idea that it was possible to listen to an old game on a record – and takes him and Benny and Ham to the first Dodgers game of the season.

“You’re lucky,” Ham tells him, giving him a slap on the back as they hand over their tickets and walk through the turnstile. “Your birthday’s on, like, the best day of the whole year!”

“It is?” Scott asks, taking his eyes away from the swarms of people filing through the turnstiles around them decked out in all manner of Dodgers gear, to furrow his brow at Ham.

“Sure!” Benny agrees as coming up next to them, the package he’s refused to let Scott see all morning still tucked underneath one arm. “Opening Day! Best day of the whole year.”

They walk through a tunnel and then out into the sunlight and Scott is struck dumb – the bright green of the grass, the organ music piping through the speakers all around them, the figures running about down on the field clad in crisp new uniforms, the rows upon rows, isles upon isles of people – Scott thinks he can almost smell the grass, and he’s never seen anything like it all.

“Yeah, right?” Benny comes up next to him, nudges Scott with his shoulder and smiles at him like he knows exactly what Scott is feeling.

They find their seats, and Dad laments their distance from the field – “Someday we’ll sit down there in box seats,” he promises, but Scott doesn’t care, and neither to Benny or Ham – and Ham twists in his seat, searching for a hot dog vendor when Benny shoves the package into Scott’s lap unceremoniously.

“Happy birthday,” he says, and Scott blinks at him. “It’s from all of us, me and Ham and Kenny and Squints and everyone. We were gonna give it to you this weekend all together, but figured you should have it, you know, for your first game.” Benny’s words rush out and he slides to the edge of his seat, like he’s nervous about how Scott is going to react or something.

And really, Scott has no idea what to say, so he just nods a bit shakily and tears into the brown paper. He spots his name before anything else, then pulls the paper away fully to reveal a folded Dodgers jersey.

On the back is SMALLS in big block letters, and a number 3. Benny doesn’t say it, but 3 is Babe Ruth’s number – Scott practically has Ruth’s section in the Baseball Almanac memorized by now – and Scott is sure that’s why he’s gotten it.

On his own jersey. Now he really doesn’t know what to say.

“I…” he starts and then peters out, still staring down at the polyester blue and white in his hands. “Thank - thank you, I… this is great, guys.”

He looks up at Dad first, unable, for some reason, to look right at Benny at the moment. He’s unsure what he’s feeling, but it almost feels like too much.

Dad grins at him and nods approvingly, “That looks pretty sharp son. You gonna try it on?”

Scott nods and forces a breathy laugh, realizing he’s still just sitting here when he should really being putting the jersey on, so he does. It’s a little big, hangs off his shoulders like a robe, but he feels kind of like a million bucks all of a sudden.

Ham whistles appreciatively. “Looking good Smalls!”

Benny nods too, and Scott grins at him when Benny claps him on the shoulder. It’s pretty much the best day ever, even before Scott eats three hot dogs and a bag of peanuts and Dad buys him a Dodgers pennant for his bedroom and the Dodgers win on a walk off homerun.

-

With spring comes warmer, longer days, providing more opportunities to lose themselves for hours at The Sandlot. They play and run and throw and slide, get dirty, tease each other, spit, laugh. Scott laughs more than he ever did in his previous eleven years. Maybe combined.

He finds himself lost, sometimes, in the rhythm of it all; in watching the other guys, the way they move and the way they throw, how they position themselves at the plate. How Kenny twists the ball in his hands before he tries pitching a curveball. How Timmy crouches to field a grounder, moving his body to follow each unpredictable bounce of the ball. How Yeah Yeah traps a pop fly in his glove with both hands.

How Benny knocks dirt off his sneakers with the bat. How Benny’s strides become longer the closer he gets to a base. How Benny rocks his weight back just before he throws a ball.

How the game seems to inhabit Benny sometimes.

-

Scott is twelve, and Benny is tapping the page in front of him. Scott looks up to catch Benny’s curious eye.

“Whatcha readin?”

Scott lifts the book from his lap to show Benny the cover.

Baseball: The Early Years

Benny laughs and shakes his head, plops down on the bench next to Scott. “Geez, Smalls, I think you read about baseball more than you actually play.”

Scott elbows him and returns the book to his lap. “Lou Gehrig,” he tells Benny by way of explanation, and Benny nods solemnly.

He’d never expected to become so fascinated by the whole game, including the history of it, but once he’d started reading about Babe Ruth – at first just to understand what everyone was talking about all the time, to understand the full gravity of what he’d done in losing Dad’s ball – he’d found himself hooked, and over the last few months he spends about an equal amount of time reading about baseball as biology or algebra.

“Can you imagine that team?” Benny says, his voice full of reverence. “Ruth and Gehrig and Meusel and Lazzeri and Hoyt. Must’ve been something. Did you know they won a hundred and ten games that year?”

“Wow,” Scott says, although he’s quite sure how good that is. It sounds like a lot of games, and Benny says it like it’s a really big deal, but baseball season has a lot of games each year so… He’ll have to look that up later.

He turns to Benny, a thought suddenly stuck in his head. “You think you’ll be a baseball player when you grow up?”

Benny grins with all the knowledge of a very old adolescent and squares his shoulders. “‘Course I will,” he says like it’s the absolute truth, and Scott is pretty sure that it is. Benny turns away and ducks his head a bit. “Think you’ll be there with me?”

Sometimes Scott doesn’t really understand why Benny’s friends with him. What could a guy like Benny get from a dope like Scott? Why does Benny like hanging around with him? Why would he want to keep hanging around with him years from now?

Benny’s thumb rubs over the seam of a baseball he’s suddenly plucked from his bag and looks like he really means it, though, and something burns brightly in Scott’s stomach.

“Yeah,” he says, even though he’s nowhere near the player that Benny is and knows that he never will be. He’s not even sure he’d really want to play baseball for the rest of his life. But, “I think so.”

“Good,” Benny smiles, tossing Scott a glance before he gets to his feet. “C’mon, you can read later. We’re wasting daylight and the rest of the guys are probably already at The Sandlot.” He tugs Scott by the elbow up after him, and they walk from school to the field chatting about Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth

-

Summer is great. This one’s not as amazing as last year, but it’s remarkable in its own way.

Scott gets a new baby brother. Johnny (Dad swears it’s not after John McNally, but Scott’s been reading up on football history lately to go along with his growing wealth of baseball knowledge, and Dad’s a huge Packers fan). He’s tiny and pretty amazing, even though he starts crying at a few weeks old and never seems to stop. Scott makes him a mobile with cardboard cutouts drawn to look like baseballs, which Benny helps him color in.

Mr. Mertle brings a folding chair outside and sits to listen to them play. Scott isn’t sure at first how much the man can really take in without being able to see, but Mr. Mertle seems to enjoy himself, so Scott tries closing his eyes one day while the other guys keep on going.

The chattering of the other guys, Hercules’ occasional bark, the sounds of dust and sneakers and bat against ball all blur together at first, sound like clattered chaos, and Scott almost abandons the experiment and opens his eyes.

He quickly adjusts, though, and starts to pick out the crunch of dirt under sneakers. The smack of the ball into a glove. Yeah Yeah’s stuttering. Tommy laughing. Benny calling out directions. Someone shouting Scott’s name.

Someone shouting Scott’s name. Scott opens his eyes just in time to take a couple steps backward and grab the ball flying his way before it smacks him in the face. Mr. Mertle laughs like he knows exactly what happened, and Scott gets it, kind of. There’s so much to baseball that he’s still coming to understand.

-

Scott is twelve, and he’s lost in a stare.

He keeps getting lost in these stares while they’re playing, lost in thoughts as he processes everything about what’s going on around him. Sometimes there are no thoughts at all, though, not really. Like now.

Benny’s at the plate. Kenny’s getting ready to pitch. Benny’s fouled off three balls already. They’ve been playing for three hours. They’re all tired enough that Squints can’t stop whining after every pitch and Ham has mostly stopped talking.

Benny, though. Benny’s still clutching the bat, tensing his muscles with every swing as if it’s his first of the day. His jersey’s hanging open and loose on his shoulders, and even from all the way out in left field Scott can see the trail of a bead of sweat down Benny’s collarbone. Or he thinks he can. He’s not really sure.

Time has slowed down; it must be the heat of the afternoon, the long game they’ve played today. Something. It’s like last summer, when Benny outran The Beast, and there was a moment where the whole world seemed to crawl to a standstill as Benny stared Hercules down. Now, Benny narrows his eyes and inches his hands up the bat just a fraction, squeezing as he waits for the pitch.

Scott breathes out slowly.

Benny’s swing is in slow motion. The crack of the bat comes a moment after the ball leaves his bat, sails out over all of their heads. Scott can see every muscle in Benny’s arms.

The ball flies over the fence, into Mr. Mertle’s yard, and time picks up again as Benny rounds the bases and Hercules appears at the opening of the fence with the ball in his mouth.

“Smalls! Sma-alls! Squints yells at him, voice pitched to a whine. “Hel-lo!”

Scott shakes his head, pulls himself out of wherever he’s been stuck. He trots over to retrieve the ball from the dog’s mouth.

Scott’s not sure what it all means, except that his stomach twists in that way that it does sometimes when he looks at Benny.

-

Want to go to Mertle’s today?

It’s passed to him in History.

He passes back, No ball today?

The bell rings, and Benny waits until they’re filing out of class to reply, “Ham’s got a doctor appointment. Timmy’s at home sick. Tommy’s got detention.” Benny ticks their friends off on his fingers one by one. “Kenny says he’s having pizza with that girl Cheryl, the one who just moved to town? Bertram and Yeah Yeah are going to do homework at Sara’s house. Squints, well. You know.” Stalking Wendy Peffercorn.

Seems like everyone has gone girl crazy lately; it’s all they talk about anymore, even while they play – at bats are interrupted with small talk about long hair, boobs that don’t actually exist yet, lots of “did you see her legs?”

Scott doesn’t really get it. He doesn’t much notice it at first – they talk about all kinds of things, all the time, and Wendy Peffercorn really is the prettiest girl in the whole town, so he can’t really blame Squints for being totally obsessed with her.

Scott, though. He’s just not. It doesn’t occur to him that it might be something different than his friends, but he doesn’t really care much when Ham elbows him to point out Olivia Bunsen flipping her hair over her shoulder or when Kenny stops talking in the middle of a sentence to watch Cheryl walk by their lunch table.

Benny doesn’t seem to care much either. Maybe nothing will ever compare to baseball for him.

“We could play catch for a while maybe,” Benny suggests as he and Scott walk to English. “Then go to Mertle’s.”

That sounds way more appealing than spending an hour talking about girls with the other guys while they play. “Maybe Mr. Mertle could come sit outside and we could chat while we play catch, Scott suggests, and Benny smiles, looking relieved, though Scott isn’t sure at what.

-

Scott is thirteen, and he’s not listening to a word Benny is saying.

He’s sitting on the floor of Benny’s bedroom, leaning back against Benny’s bed, and staring at the way Benny’s mouth moves as he reads a paragraph on the Civil War.

“Smalls?” Benny says when he catches Scott staring, and Scott’s eyes dart up to meet Benny’s. “Homework? History? Are you even paying attention?”

“I…” Scott starts, not sure where to go with that. He wasn’t even really thinking about anything else, it’s not like his mind was wondering. He was just… staring. For no real reason. “No,” he says after a moment. “Not really.”

Benny laughs, then, all breathy happiness and not at all like he’s annoyed. He closes his book and drops it with a thud onto the floor beside him. “Thank god, I need a break from this.”

Scott feels his face go red and he looks down at his own book on his lap as he lets the brief embarrassment pass. “Yeah – yeah, me too.”

Benny leans back against the wall and stretches his legs out in front of him, his feet coming to rest next to Scott across from him. “I wish I was more interested in this stuff.”

“You’re not?” Scott asks him, stretching his own legs out next to Benny.

“You are?”

Scott shrugs at that. “Yeah. I mean, not for like, hours on end. But yeah, I like History. I like reading about the things that lead us, lead the country and all the people to where we are now.”

Benny cocks his head to the side and his fingers seem to find a ball lying next to him without any conscious thought. He starts rolling the ball back and forth across the floor as he says, “I mean, I like baseball history. I love it, really. It’s always still so…”

“Relevant?” Scott supplies, and Benny nods.

“Yeah, relevant, yeah.” Benny’s fingers dance over the ball. “Like, Babe Ruth set the record for most homeruns in a season in 1927.” Here Benny’s face becomes a mask of serious passion, enunciating the year nine-teen-twen-ty-sev-en as if it’s a tangible thing of royalty. “Three decades that record stood, and then Maris breaks it – Roger Maris, of all guys, who woulda thought that? Everyone thought Mickey Mantle was gonna do it, man what a great season that was.”

And he’s kind of off on a tangent and he’s got a faint hint of a smile tugging at his lips, growing wider and showing more teeth with each word and that thing uncurls in Scott’s stomach and before Scott realizes what’s happening, he’s leaned forward and up on his knees and across the short span of floor between them to press his mouth against Benny’s.

It might last only a second, although it might be a whole year. Scott’s mouth is closed and Benny’s mouth is closed and kind of still and warm and little dry and Scott’s mind pretty much shuts down after that.

He pulls back after an eternity and is suddenly just utterly destroyed with fear.

He can’t look at Benny. He wants to escape, just run out of the room and all the way home or even all the way out of the state or right off of the planet but he can’t make his legs work or even make his body move at all and he might be having a heart attack.

That was his first kiss. His very first kiss, and it was his best friend. And he didn’t even mean to. He’d never even thought about it before. Why the hell did he just do that??

When he finally does look up at Benny, expecting disgust or shouting or anger, he’s kind of shaking, but he forces himself to look Benny in the eye.

Benny’s staring at him. His mouth is kind of hanging open, like he doesn’t know what to say either, but he doesn’t look mad, and that makes Scott feel a little better. Kind of. Not that much, because it feels like ages passing and Benny’s not saying anything.

Finally, just when Scott’s working up the nerve to maybe say sorry or make up some kind of explanation that he doesn’t really have, Benny breathes something that sounds like a laugh.

“Y’know Smalls,” Benny says, shaking his head. “I think you’re the bravest person I know.” And it sounds kind of like he’s happy, and he touches his mouth gently with the tips of his fingers, and then he looks at Scott like he’s happy, his face breaking into a grin, and suddenly Scott can breathe again.

“Really?” Scott says, his voice barely there. Brave doesn’t sound like him at all. He’s never really been brave.

“‘Course you are,” Benny replies, and touches Scott’s leg hesitantly. The thing in Scott’s stomach spreads all over him.

-

Scott is thirteen, and Benny is tapping the page in front of him. Scott nearly jumps out of his skin when Benny does, and covers the book up with his hand before he realizes who it is crouched in front of him.

“What’re you doing?” Benny asks as Scott leans back into the shelf of books behind him. “Been looking everywhere for you.”

“I… I was just looking up, um…” Scott trails off, suddenly unsure of himself. They kissed a few more times last night after that first surprising one, and Scott got all the way home and all the way through dinner and his homework and into bed before he really started to think about it and what it meant and how he’d kissed a boy, and is that even normal? Do people really do that? He doesn’t even know who he would ask. So…

“You’re looking up stuff about boys kissing boys in the library?” Benny asks, totally amused, as he pulls the book out of Scott’s hands to flip through it himself. “Smalls, only you would look up gay stuff in the library.”

“No, no, it’s – it’s really interesting,” Scott breathes out in a rush. He takes the book back to flip to a page he’d just been reading. “See, this guy, Dr. Kinsey? He says that everyone - ”

Benny takes the book out of his hands again and puts it on the shelf behind him. Scott frowns at him.

“Daylight Savings, Smalls,” Benny says, as if that means anything. He takes Scott’s arm to give it shake, then lets his hand remain there and rubs his thumb over Scott’s shoulder. They both look at Benny’s hand for an epic moment before Benny continues. “We lost a whole hour of light. Gonna start getting dark early soon. You really wanna waste it sitting in here reading about this stuff in books?”

And somehow, it’s that simple. Scott leaves the books behind and lets his fingers tangle with Benny’s as Benny pulls him to his feet, and he follows Benny off to the Sandlot.

-

The notes stuffed in his locker, passed to him in class, slipped into his fingers as they walk side-by-side to class take on a different edge.

Want to hang out at my house after school?

We don’t have to play all day tomorrow at The Sandlot.

Meet me under the bleachers during lunch.

That’s where they trade bunches of short, pecking kisses, closed mouths pressed against each other, against cheeks and eyebrows and temples, and where Scott touches Benny’s ears and Benny runs his fingertips over Scott’s shoulders and they smile and press their mouths together again. That’s where Scott learns that there are other things that Benny likes almost as much as baseball.

-

Things don’t change too much. None of the guys seems to notice anything different between them, even though Scott constantly feels like the whole world has shifted a little bit and everyone should realize it. Really, it doesn’t much matter. They play ball at The Sandlot most days. When Benny says “Not today, guys,” no one questions it, too wrapped up in their own little pieces of shifting world, Scott supposes, with girls – and hey, maybe guys – and the beginnings of dating, or what they all call dating.

When Benny says, “Not today, guys,” Scott gets a thrill up his spine and feels his face flush and he’s sure that everyone around can see him practically beaming and can spot the looks he sends Benny’s way without being able to stop himself. And the looks Benny sends back to him.

But if they do, no one says anything, and that’s how Scott is sure that no one notices. Those guys would probably never shut up about it if they knew something was up. And that makes Scott wonder sometimes, even when he and Benny are in the same room alone together and Scott can barely think about anything else but how warm Benny’s cheek is when Scott touches it. He wonders what the guys would say if they knew that he and Benny go back to Benny’s bedroom when they’re not playing ball after school and lock the door and sit on the floor and kiss and laugh at nothing and take breaks from kissing to talk about the Dodgers’ starting lineup this season and then start kissing again without warning. He wonders if the guys would be mad or if they’d ditch the both of them. It worries him a little, sometimes.

Benny catches him in those moments; pulls back and gives Scott a serious look and rubs his thumb over Scott’s cheekbone like he’s smoothing dirt off a ball. Scott’s heartbeat speeds up, even though he feels calmed then, and he thinks, nah. Those guys stuck by him when he lost a ball signed by Babe Ruth to The Beast. They wouldn’t bail on either one of them for something as small as this (even though it’s really monumental).

He doesn’t think about telling anyone, though, even his parents. It doesn’t feel like he’s keeping something from them, so much as protecting something that’s just for him and Benny.

-

Scott is fourteen, and trying out for the high school baseball team even though he’s not sure how much he really cares. He loves baseball like an epic, romantic, sweeping whirlwind kind of love, but he’s not sure he loves it enough to go through tryouts just to play.

Benny does, though, and even though he hated the idea of institutionalized, structured ball with guys other than his friends back in elementary school, well. They’re in high school now, and Benny’s starting to think seriously about the future.

“If I wanna play in the pros I’ve gotta play in college,” he’d explained to Scott as they lay side by side on an grassy hill in the edge of an empty park. “And if I wanna play for a good college I gotta play varsity in high school.”

There’s no question in Benny’s mind that he’ll make varsity freshman year, and there’s none in Scott’s either. A couple of the other guys try out – Ham and Kenny and Timmy, but Squints is only half-interested – Scott suspects in part because they’re now in the same school as Wendy Peffercorn, if only for one year while she’s a senior and they freshmen, and Squints isn’t going to waste it – and Yeah Yeah’s attention shifts to a scale model club even though he insists that he’ll still play on the weekends at the Sandlot with them.

The guys making the team means that there’ll be less time to play at The Sandlot, and more of Benny’s time will be focused on the school team, and that’s the biggest reason that Scott shows up for tryouts with everyone else. He doesn’t want to lose Benny, even to baseball.

Benny makes varsity, to no one’s surprise, and Kenny does too, and Scott is on JV with Ham and Timmy and Squints, and it turns out to be more fun than he’d anticipated. They don’t practice with Benny and Kenny, don’t play in the same games, but they do ride together to away games, and it gives Scott a chance to sit next to Benny on the bus, their shoulders and thighs pressed together as they chat about homework and what do to over the weekend and the Dodgers-Giants game on TV tonight and on and on, trading smiles here and there as if they have a secret.

-

Freshman year goes by in a flash, and suddenly Scott is turning fifteen and their touches are growing bolder, their kisses growing deeper. He sighs against Benny’s mouth when Benny pushes him into a bathroom stall at Dodger Stadium, a trip that has fast become an annual tradition for Scott’s birthday.

He touches Benny’s knuckles when they stand in a crowded room in some teammate’s house amidst a party to celebrate the varsity team’s championship victory. Benny’s eyes darken and Scott nods towards the back door, feeling bold. Benny presses against him as soon as they stumble out into the driveway.

He runs his tongue across Benny’s lip, split from a ball to the mouth that Tommy threw when Benny wasn’t ready for it, and delights when Benny squirms against him in response.

He never did finish reading that book by Dr. Kinsey. He’s not sure if any of it matters anymore.

-

Scott is fifteen, and the world is ending.

“It’s not the end of the world, Scotty,” Bill says, except that it is. The world is ending.

Scott’s answering glare is dark enough for Bill - and it’s always “Bill” instead of “Dad” when Scott is mad at him - to sigh and put a hand on Scott’s shoulder, which Scott promptly shakes off.

“Look, I know this won’t be easy on you, or any of us,” Bill confesses. “I know the timing’s bad; I wish I could put this off until you were out of high school, but the company wants me out there by next month. I don’t know how long this contract’ll last, but it’ll be at least a year, and I’m not going to leave you and your mom and your brother out here all by yourselves for a whole year.”

Scott still doesn’t have any words, and lends all of his feelings, all of his anger to his folded arms and squared shoulders and deep glare.

“C’mon, Scotty,” Bill tries to appeal. “You’ll love Chicago! And a brand new school, that’ll be neat, right?”

Bill’s barely trying, and Scott wonders if he even really believes what he’s preaching; if he even wants to move at all. Bill sighs again, looking kind of tired, and Scott really doesn’t care if Bill feels bad. Scott doesn’t know what to do with himself, with this affront.

He has to leave his school, his friends all over again, has to leave behind The Sandlot and Hercules and Mr. Mertle. Has to leave Benny behind, and just the thought feels a little like death must. He’s angry and hurt and wonders if this is heartbreak.

His anger turns quickly to sadness, then to desperation.

“What if I stayed here?” he throws out, the last act of a desperate man. It’s not surprising when Bill shakes his head. Scott plows forward anyway. “But - but I could - what if I stayed with one of my friends? I mean - I’m sure I could, with Benny maybe, or - ”

“Scotty, c’mon,” Bill says, deeply sensible. “We’re a family. I’m not gonna leave you behind here.”

But Benny is his family too, or at least it feels like it, and how can Scott leave him here?

They’re at an impasse here, standing silent in the driveway. The glove Benny gave Scott years ago is still on his hand, ready for the game he’d been off to go play at The Sandlot when Bill had stopped him to break the news. There’s a ball in his other hand, and Scott clenches his fingers around it tightly, searching for the calming force that Benny always seems to find when he’s looking unsettled about something and plays nervously with a ball in his hands.

“I know this is hard, to move again like this,” Bill says gently, his hand again on Scott’s shoulder, and Scott is too angry again now even to shrug him off. He lets Bill talk and feels tears pricking at his eyes. “I’m real sorry we have to go. But that’s just how things work sometimes; you gotta do things you don’t want to sometimes because. Well, because you have to. It’s part of growing up, being a man, Scotty.”

Scott doesn’t give a crap about being a man right now.

“It seems bad right now,” Bill goes one, sounding like every annoying grown up Scott has ever known. “Someday you’ll realize this isn’t such a big deal. Things always feel much bigger, much worse when you’re a kid. This really isn’t the end of the world.”

But it’s the end of Scott’s. Bill leaves him with that, goes into the house, and Scott doesn’t watch him go. His sight narrows to barely nothing, mostly angry red raging across his eyes, and without thinking he hurls the ball in his hands at Bill’s car, throwing a perfect strike through the driver’s side window. He watches the glass shatter and break apart with no sense of relief or satisfaction, and he’s panting, feels breathless with his anger and hurt.

He runs all the way to Benny’s house - it's not really much of a run, only a few doors down, but it feels long and he feels crazy when he knocks on the door with a shaking hand.

Benny appears instantly, as if he’d been waiting poised by the door for Scott to come.

“Hey!” Benny greats him with a bright, happy smile. “Lemme just grab my glove and - ” he stops short when he notices Scott’s drawn down frown, and cocks his head back, looking Scott up and down. “Geez, Smalls, who died?”

Scott wants to laugh, but he can’t, shakes his head instead.

“Smalls,” Benny says quietly, getting it that it’s something bad. His hand reaches out to touch Scott’s shoulder softly, and Scott takes a step forward unconsciously, ingrained in his head to protect their relationship from outside prying eyes.

“What’s up?” Benny asks again, gently and serious this time as he draws Scott inside. His hand stays resting on Scott’s arm. It’s comforting, somehow. Grounding.

“We’re moving,” Scott breaks the news without preamble. “I’m - I’m moving. To Chicago.”

Benny’s mouth opens and then closes, then hangs open again like he wants to say something but can’t decide what.

“When?” is what finally comes out.

“Dunno exactly,” Scott shrugs and walks past Benny, towards his bedroom. He listens to Benny shut the front door and then his footsteps following softly down the hall behind him.

Scott flops down on Benny’s bed, stretches out to rest his forearms above his head and stares at the ceiling above him. He’s spent enough time in this room over the last few years that it almost feels like his own as well as Benny’s.

He feels the dip in the mattress before he hears Benny’s loud exhale, but doesn’t look away from the ceiling, doesn’t turn to look at Benny on the bed next to him. They’re both quiet for a long time, the air around them feeling heavy and full of something intense.

“Soon?” Benny asks after a while, and Scott feels Benny’s fingertips suddenly at his waist, pressing into him lightly through his t-shirt.

“Think so, yeah,” Scott mumbles, and then heaves a sigh. Benny sighs in reply and then shoves at Scott with his hips to budge him over.

He lays down on his stomach next to Scott, and they’re both half-way off the edges of the narrow bed but their bodies are also overlapping in the middle, and Benny’s familiar weight is comforting enough that Scott has to clench his teeth to keep tears away. It’s stupid to cry and he doesn’t want to, but it still hurts everywhere, even where Benny is touching him.

Benny rests one elbow on Scott’s chest and Scott means only to run his fingers quickly over Benny’s head, but suddenly he wants to touch Benny everywhere and he can’t stop himself from gliding both hands over Benny’s head to his cheeks to his neck to his shoulders and kissing him hard.

There’s a moment there, when Scott is rucking his hands up under Benny’s t-shit and Benny is making little noises of surprise and pushing his hips up against Scott’s that Scott thinks maybe this is it. They’ve never really talked about it, about, well. Going all the way. Or whatever. He’s not even entirely sure how that goes when it’s two guys, and he’s been tempted to go back to that section in the library, the section with the sex books, and look it up. But they’ve never talked about it and it’s never come up, even as they’ve grown more accustomed to one another, both of them grown bigger and more solid and more sensitive. Scott has known for a while that it would only be a matter of time and it half frightens him, half excites him, this thing, a next big step always hovering around them like a word on the tip of his tongue. He’s always just assumed that they would talk about it eventually, that eventually they might naturally progress to… something. He’s not even sure what he’d been expecting anymore, but somehow this feels like they’re forcing the issue, and much as Scott wants to touch Benny all over, everywhere, something feels off about this.

He forces himself up but not away, not far, and his hands continue to roam against his will. Benny’s eyes are heavy lidded, not quite focused as he stares back at Scott with his mouth damp and hanging open a bit. Scott's hands come to a rest, one on Benny’s arm and one on Benny’s jaw, and Benny has one leg slung over Scott’s thigh and his hands clutching Scott’s waist and they stay frozen like that, breathing heavily and staring at each other for a long time.

Scott doesn’t say what he’s feeling, unable to find the words for something he can’t really even define, but Benny seems to know. Benny always seems to know. He strokes a thumb over the skin exposed between Scott’s jeans and his shirt, then reaches up to smooth over Scott’s eyebrow, and Scott eases back down to the bed to lay on his side. Benny does the same, mirroring him, and they lay pressed up against one another on the way too small bed with their noses touching.

“It’ll be okay,” Benny says after a while, so quietly that Scott almost misses it. He wonders if Benny really means it, or if he’s just saying it to reassure Scott; to reassure them both. “It’ll be okay,” Benny repeats. “It’s not forever.”

“Yeah,” Scott sighs, even though it feels like forever.

“High school’ll be over in a few years,” Benny continues. Their faces are so close together that Benny’s face starts to morph into a blurry mass of tan skin and dark eyes. “We’ll be in college. We could go to the same place, or… or live in the same city. It’ll be all up to us, y’know?”

“Yeah,” Scott says again, and tries to make himself believe it.

-

Scott is fifteen, and moving to a brand new city, to a brand new school with brand new kids all over again.

Chicago’s okay; kind of cold compared to Southern California even when they get there in the middle of summer, and already Scott misses the oppressive heat of July on The Sandlot. He tries not to think about what else he misses.

He starts school and is furious all over again when he finds out that they don’t play much sports at his new high school, and there’s no baseball team at all.

Dad laughs lightly when he mentions it and says, “Remember back when we first moved to town and you didn’t even like baseball?” He says it not with any mocking or teasing, mostly like he’s feeling nostalgic or something, but it annoys Scott all the same. What does that have to do with anything?

Johnny cries a lot, as if he’s annoyed about being out here too, even though he’s only three and probably doesn’t even realize the difference. Scott grumbles his way through dinners, doesn’t talk to his parents much, and tries out for the soccer team even though he doesn’t really like soccer that much.

-

Notes passed in class become letters mailed halfway across the country. Scott almost leaps for joy when he gets the first one from Benny.

 

Hey Smalls,

How’s it going in Chi-town? Have you been to a Cubs game yet? They’ve got a great stadium. You have to check it out. Maybe I can come visit sometime and we can go to a game out there together. I’ve always wanted to see Wrigley Field in person.

The guys miss you. They don’t really say it like that, but they do. Ham won’t quit whining about only having eight players, but won’t let anyone bring anyone new either.

Squints is louder than usual, feels like. Tommy hit a homer clear over Mertle’s fence the other day. Hercules wouldn’t bring it back though. Kenny’s getting really good at his curveball. Think he could go pro too?

Things are mostly the same here, I guess. Feels different. There’s a huge hole at left field.

Wish you were here.

-Benny

 

Scott can almost hear the words coming from Benny’s mouth, stilted and a little clumsy as Benny searches for the right things to say. Benny’s always been good with words - he’s good with pretty much everything - but sometimes he gets them twisted up with his thoughts and can’t quite get things out the way he wants. Scott kind of loves it.

 

Dear Benny,

Chicago’s okay. It’s a cool city, actually. I like it more than Los Angeles. But I’m not sure I’d really choose to live here over back home. If I could choose. Our house is nice, but kind of small. Johnny’s room is way too close to mine, and I can’t decide what to put up on my walls. For some reason I don’t really feel like decorating at all.

I haven’t been to any games yet, but my dad’s talking about going to see the White Sox next week. I know he still feels bad about dragging us all out here for his job and wants to make it up to me especially. Going to a game would be fun, and if I were a really dishonest person maybe I’d try to milk him for more stuff.

I’m still mad at him. I think I’m mad, at least. It’s hard to tell sometimes. You know what I mean? It’s weird, not being able to tell your own feelings. Anyway, I think I’m still mad at him, but it’s not his fault, really, and I don’t want him to feel guilty for it.

He told me that sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, to be a man. Which makes me think, I’m not really sure I want to be a man if that’s the case. Why do things have to get harder as you get older?

Anyway, I miss you too, and everyone. Say hi for me.

Sincerely,
Scott Smalls

 

Hi Smalls,

Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s all like a rollercoaster sometimes, right? You’re up, you’re down, you’re mad, you’re sad, you’re happy. I was really happy to get your letter, but then it just made me miss you even more, I think. How stupid is that?

Mrs. Krantz says she misses you too. Only you, Smalls, only you would have a teacher saying she misses you.

Mr. Mertle says you should check out the Yankees-Braves ‘57 World Series Game 7 recording if you can find it. He says it’s pretty good, you’ll really like the broadcast.

Maybe things get harder when you get older. I’m not sure. Moving here must’ve been hard for you right? Coming to The Sandlot that first time. And we’re way scarier than any of those jokers in Chicago. Seriously, Smalls, it’s not so bad compared to meeting all of us the first time, right?

Wish you were here.

-Benny

 

Dear Benny,

That’s one good thing about Chicago, I guess, there’s lots of old sports stores around. Dad got me a couple Cubs games from the ‘50s, which are pretty cool. Tell Mr. Mertle I’ll look for the one he suggested.

I don’t miss Mrs. Krantz’s pop quizzes. My new school seems kind of easy so far.

BUT!!!

They don’t even have a baseball team!!

My life is over!

Dying of boredom,
Scott Smalls

 

Hey Smalls,

Remember when you didn’t even know what baseball was? Remember when you thought Babe Ruth was an old lady?

Don’t die before the World Series. Dodgers vs. Orioles, it’s going to be great. Wish we could watch it together.

Wish you were here.

-Benny

 

Dear Benny,

Why does everyone need to keep reminding me about that? I was totally uneducated before, I know, I know. I’m much better now. I probably know more about baseball than you do now!

Sincerely,
Scott Smalls

 

Smalls -

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!

-Benny

Scott sends him back a quiz full of history questions - how many times did Ty Cobb steal home plate? - and Benny sends him one back full of questions on strategy - There’s a runner on second and two outs, batter hits a single to you in right field. What do you do? They’re going to spend so much money on postage.

-

Scott joins the school newspaper and gets a job bussing tables a restaurant around the corner from his house and fills up his free time as much as possible. He makes a few friends here and there, but can’t help always comparing the kids at school with his friends back home and maybe it keeps him from being as good of a friend with anyone here as he could be, but he doesn’t really care, especially whenever he gets a letter from Benny.

When springtime rolls around he starts going to games as much as his pocket money will allow. Sometimes he goes with Dad, sometimes with Mom and Dad and Johnny, but lots of times he goes alone, and it’s okay. It’s pretty great, actually. He keeps score and chats hesitantly with the old guys in the seats behind him and watches for different pitches, tries to anticipate what moves the managers will make, which direction players will dive or run or throw. He gets pretty good at it.

He plays catch in the front yard with Dad every Sunday afternoon, and that’s pretty great too. It’s not like playing catch with Benny, but he’s not really angry with Dad anymore, and revels in the opportunity to chat about baseball, about football, about whatever else. They talk about “guy stuff,” or at least that’s what Dad calls talking about shaving and getting his driver’s license and thinking about where he wants to got to college and girls. Scott never brings up the fact that he’s not really interested in girls, but it doesn’t really bother him to listen to his dad talk about dating and getting married like it’s actually something that’ll happen to him someday. Mostly he just likes hanging out with his dad and a baseball and a couple of gloves.

-

Even without Benny around, and not really being interested in anyone he meets at school here, Scott sometimes feels like he’s horny all the damn time, and it’s kind of embarrassing, even though no one notices. He’ll read a letter from Benny and imagine Benny’s huge, beaming smile as he writes to Scott, and Scott grows hard at just the thought of it.

When he touches himself, under the hard spray of the shower or late at night when no one could possibly catch him, he thinks of Benny.

-

Scott is sixteen, and he’s been granted a pardon. Or some such metaphor.

They’re moving back to California. Scott can hardly believe it when Dad tells him. Mom laughs when Scott jumps out of his seat and runs to throw his arms around Dad’s neck. The project he was working on is finished early, or something. Scott really doesn’t care.

He wants to call Benny immediately, right then and there, but something stops him as he reaches for the phone, and he goes instead to start packing up the room he never really moved fully into.

It’s on the ride back across the country, somewhere in Nebraska, when Scott starts to worry. He’s not even sure what brings it on - there’s just suddenly this voice in his head saying, What if it’s weird? What if they don’t really care that you’re coming back? What if Benny doesn’t like you as much anymore?

Which is ridiculous - Benny’s never once mentioned being into anyone back at home, and he always finishes his letters with Wish you were here which has got to be the truth, right? That he really wishes Scott were there, that he misses Scott, that he must miss Scott as much as Scott misses him.

But what if he doesn’t? Scott is certain that if there was ever someone else, Benny would have told him.

But what if…? It nags him all the way through Colorado, through Utah, swayed not even by the bright lights in Las Vegas and Johnny wailing in the seat next to him from the noise.

Scott’s worked himself into an excellent worry by the time they’re pulling back into their old neighborhood, enough so that instead of feeling like he’s coming home, the whole place feels strange and foreign and Scott feels out of place like he did back when he was eleven and they drove down that block for the first time.

Benny’s good looking. He’s really good looking. Scott salivates just thinking of how Benny’s hand gripping the end of a bat, the way his muscles flex and shift under a shirt. There must be tons of girls, and some guys, lining up for Benny, and Scott’s been gone a whole year, and that’s a really long time.

He slinks out of the car when they stop in front of their new house, three doors down and across the street from their old one, by some great luck. It’s a few houses closer to Benny’s, and Scott kind of wants to go hide in his room, almost as much as he wants to go running to The Sandlot in search of his friends.

Dad is starting to unload boxes from the truck onto the front lawn and Mom is cooing with Johnny at the garden next to the driveway and Scott is feeling lost and weird and achy when someone calls his name.

He turns to see Benny, and it’s pretty brilliant. Benny’s got a bat and glove and ball and hat all piled in his arms, but only for a moment, because he’s dropped everything in a split second and he’s smiling bigger than Scott’s ever seen him smile, and then he’s sprinting to Scott like his butt’s on fire.

He doesn’t really stop when he reaches Scott; rather, he throws his arms around Scott and tackles him to the ground, and Scott finds his fear melting away and laughter bubbling up unbidden. They lay there and laugh like that for a few minutes, uncaring for how Scott’s parents might be staring at them.

Finally, Benny pulls back and punches Scott in the arm. “Why the hell didn’t you tell me you were moving back?!” He’s still smiling crazily, and he looks beautiful.

“I… surprise?” Scott replies haltingly, shrugging awkwardly against the ground.

“Helluva surprise,” Benny laughs as he stands, pulling Scott up after him. “C’mon,” he says, nodding towards his house.

Scott looks back to Mom, silently asking permission, and she nods with a smile.

“Just be back in an hour or so, both of you!” she calls after them as they take off across the street. “We’ll need help with these boxes!”

“Let’s go for a drive or something,” Benny chatters, sounding wound up and like he’s about to bounce right out of his skin. He nods to a pickup truck in the driveway, says proudly, “Remember the car I said I was savin’ for?”

Scott’s still a feeling a little whiplash of emotions, so he just nods along and climbs into the passenger seat with a glance to the pile of baseball equipment left on the front lawn.

“You’re not… weren’t you going somewhere?” he asks.

Benny shrugs as he starts the truck up. “They can wait. They’ll play fine without us for a while,” and just like that Scott is incorporated back into his circle of friends. It feels good, but he’s still a little on edge, right up until Benny pulls off the road to stop at a shady, grassy area close to the woods with no one around in sight.

They both jump out of the truck at the same time and Scott is thinking up all manner of different ways he could bring up the fears he’s stuck on, when Benny grabs him by the wrist and pulls him in to press them together, pushing Scott up against the side of the car for a moment as they kiss and clutch at one another. Scott’s taken by surprise, but it’s been a whole year since he’s touched Benny, and his body goes after it full force without any real thought at all.

They tumble to the ground and keep on frantically, Scott sucking at Benny’s lower lip and Benny bucking up against Scott and now. This is it now, Scott is sure.

It’s fumbling and messy, trying to move their clothes out of the way, not at all romantic and slow and staring deeply into each other’s eyes and confessing their love and all the other silly things that Scott will never admit to imagining this to be like. Benny tugs almost angrily at the fly on Scott’s shorts and Scott doesn’t help at all by sliding his leg up in between Benny’s and pressing his groin against Benny’s hand and thigh where the friction feels best.

They moan and kiss sloppily and roll around a bit. Scott can feel grass and dirt collecting in his hair and it all feels just amazing - touching Benny, running his hands freely over Benny’s bare skin, pulling Benny’s jersey off and then his t-shirt, being able to stare at Benny’s bare chest all he wants and then leaning in to kiss down Benny’s abs, which look a little more defined than they did a year ago.

And later, maybe, he’ll take stock of all the ways in which Benny has changed over their months apart, but not now. Now it’s only just enough to move against each other, to shove jeans and shorts and boxers out of the way and touch each other until they both sound wounded, like they’re sobbing, and they’re spilling against each other.

It’s perfect.

They pant into each other’s mouths for endlessly long moments. Scott stares long enough that his vision grows blurry again, like that time they lay so close together on Benny’s bed. Benny’s still touching him, and it’s simple things, just Benny’s fingertips against Scott's shoulder blades, but it’s the most incredible thing Scott’s ever felt. They didn’t even really do anything that big, maybe; he’s pretty sure there’s a lot more to sex than just rubbing against each other. But it feels closer, more intimate than anything else ever, the way they’re laying right now with barely an inch of space between them and Scott’s leg between Benny’s, Benny’s leg twisted up and around Scott’s thigh, their arms tangled around so that Scott can’t quite tell where one of them ends and the other begins.

He sighs, content, against Benny’s lips, and he can feel Benny’s answering smile.

“I was - I was kind of afraid,” Scott confesses softly. He doesn’t lift his eyes up to meet Benny’s. “I mean… there’s not - you’re not, like, dating anyone else. Are you?” He doesn’t allow Benny to answer before rushing out, “Because it’s okay, you can tell me if - ”

Benny stops him. “Why would I want anyone else?” He sounds so honest that Scott looks up at him and finds himself lost. And so secure in the knowledge now that, yup. Benny still likes him best.

-

Scott is sixteen and so happy, and it’s time to tell his parents about him and Benny, he decides. Benny agrees that they should both tell their parents, and asks Scott if it would be easier for them to do it together. Scott tells him that he’ll be there with Benny for his parents if he wants, but for Scott’s mom and dad, he wants to do it alone.

Or at least, he wants to tell his mom alone. He’s not so sure about what he’ll say to Dad.

For Mom, he prepares himself for days, practicing in his head over and over what he’s going to say. She seems to notice how quiet he’s gotten over the past few days, but questions it only with long, concerned gazes until he’s ready to confront her.

He prepares himself for crying, for yelling, for her to be mad at him, and he’s kind of terrified, the way he was to come back home and confront whether Benny had actually moved on from him, the way he was the very first time he followed the guys to The Sandlot and tried to join in. A million scenarios run through his head, most of them bad. But he’s happy, really, really happy with Benny and he’s ready for it not to be a secret anymore.

“Mom, I - ” he starts when he sits her down one afternoon while Dad is out at the park with Johnny. He stops and tries to think best how to continue, then decides to just go for it. “Mom, I have to talk to you about something and I - I’m not sure if you’re going to like it, but… but it’s my life, Mom, and it’s what I want, it’s who I am and I’m not going to be sorry for it, I’m not sorry for it,” and he doesn’t realize that he’s rambling until his mother holds up a hand to stop him mid-sentence.

“Scotty,” she says in her most sensible Mom-tone. “What exactly are you talking about?”

He takes a deep breath, the deepest he can, and steels himself. “Mom,” he says, just like he’s practiced in his head. “I think I’m - no, no, I know I’m… Mom, I’m gay. And I - well, Benny and I - we… well. Yeah. So, uh, if you’re mad, I’m sorry, except I’m not sorry about being gay and I think I love Benny and I’m not sorry for that and I know you probably won’t be happy about it, but I am who I am and… well, yeah.” He trails off, feeling a bit sheepish even after he’d been so confident as he’d said the words out loud. It’s the first time he’s ever actually said, “I’m gay” out loud, and it feels pretty good to let the words go.

Mom looks at him seriously for a moment that feels like forever, and Scott starts to sweat.

“Scotty Smalls,” she says to him, and he hates when she calls him that. He rolls his eyes out of habit. “How long have you known me?”

He blinks at that, and shrugs awkwardly. “Um. Sixteen years, I guess.”

She nods. “And in those sixteen years, have I ever given you any indication that I might love you any less for any reason?”

He wants to lower his head, hide his gaze from her’s, but she’s his mom, and he’s never hidden from her. “No,” he replies honestly.

She covers his hands with her own, squeezes his fingers in between hers and clasps them together.

“I can’t say I was expecting this, exactly,” she says slowly and rubs his fingers like she did when he was a little kid and had played out in the cold for too long. “But there’s nothing you could ever tell me that would make me stop loving you, ever, ever, ever. This is… well, we’ll figure it out. But you’re still my son, right?” she asks, and he knows that it’s rhetorical.

He smiles a little, feeling a bit like the weight has been lifted. “Yeah.”

“And I’m still your mom, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re still my mom.”

“Alright then.” She releases his hands with a last pat. “You should invite Benny over for dinner sometime this week, I think. Since he’s your… your boyfriend and all.”

And Scott’s never really thought about Benny in those terms, but he supposes that Benny is his boyfriend. And he’s Benny’s. And that’s kind of cool.

Dad is a little more and a little less awkward of a confrontation, in that there’s no real confrontation at all. Mom must’ve told him, or at least given him a hint about it, because conversation is kind of stilted Sunday morning over breakfast, and later Dad lingers in Scott’s doorway, as if he’s unsure whether he should come in or not.

“So,” Dad says, stuffing his hands in his pockets and swallowing hard. He rocks back onto his heels and Scott kind of wants to laugh.

“So,” Scott replies, and Dad rubs the back of his neck, looking nervous.

“You, uh, you still wanna go play catch?” Dad asks, as if Scott being gay means that he’s suddenly lost all interest in sports. Scott’s not sure whether to be amused or annoyed, but he lets it pass by.

“Sure,” he says, and Dad breathes out a sigh, something like relief.

“Great, great, I’ll, uh, I’ll go get my glove.”

And just like that, Scott is out of the closet.

Benny has a harder time with it.

They’re at Benny’s house for dinner and Scott is spearing peas with his fork when Benny spills the news. The table grows deadly silent.

“You’re - you’re a - ” Benny’s brother Sam starts, and Benny interrupts before he can finish.

“I’m gay, yeah, like I just said.” Scott’s whole body is a tense wire, his shoulders aching from holding them so stiffly, but Benny keeps eating his chicken like it’s no big deal.

His mother looks like she’s going to cry. “But - but, Benny, are you sure? How can you be sure? Maybe you just haven’t met the right girl.”

“I’m sure, Mom,” Benny replies seriously. His fingers are tapping on the table, the only indication that he’s uncomfortable. “I’ve met the right guy. I’m sure.”

Benny’s dad doesn’t say anything, and Scott steals a glance at him. It’s impossible to tell what he’s thinking, his face a mask of neutrality. Scott knows Benny’s family almost like an extension of his own; he’s never seen them all like this.

Sam is the only one who seems really angry by the news, as if it’s a personal affront to him. It’s probably a mixture of a lot of things like fear for Benny and not really understanding what it means (or really, that it doesn’t mean much of anything at all except that Benny doesn’t want to date girls).

He points his fork at Benny as he speaks, saying, “C’mon man, seriously? You’re into baseball and you don’t know anything about, like, fashion or…”

Benny snorts a laugh and his fingers stop drumming. He seems to relax a little in the face of Sam’s ignorance. “So I’m into baseball,” Benny says. “I still like guys.”

Sam’s not buying it, though. “How’re you gonna play in the majors if you’re…”

Benny shrugs. “I just will. One thing doesn’t have anything to do with the other.” He keeps eating his dinner.

“Babe Ruth wasn’t a faggot,” Sam says sharply, and Benny’s mom gasps. Scott drops his fork clattering to his plate. Benny calmly scoops peas onto his fork, but his fingers start drumming the table again. Scott reaches for his leg, and Benny lowers his free hand to grasp Scott’s under the table.

He shrugs and replies easily, “I’m not Babe Ruth.” And that’s the end of the conversation.

Sam shoves one more bite of chicken into his mouth and then leaves the table with an angry stomp of heels against the carpet, and their mom doesn’t call after him. She stares at Benny and then at Scott and then at Benny again, but doesn’t saying anything more to try and dissuade Benny from his feelings. Benny’s dad still says nothing.

Later, they walk slowly to The Sandlot and bring a ball with them but they don’t throw it around. Instead they lay back in the dust with their shoulders touching and stare up at the sky. Benny rolls his head so that it’s resting against Scott’s shoulder and Scott listens to him take long, deep breaths, waits for him to speak.

“You remember much about your dad?” Benny asks after a while. “Your real dad, I mean.”

“Not much,” Scott answers honestly. “I was really little when he died. I remember him reading to me before bed. Not really what he read, or what he sounded like, just that he read to me. And he didn’t like sports much, I think. He liked science and building more. He gave me my Erector set.”

Benny just nods along, doesn’t reply, and Scott doesn’t ask him why he’s asking.

Several more minutes pass before Benny says, “I’m kind of afraid my dad’s never gonna talk to me again.”

“Why do you think that?” Scott rubs his thumb over Benny’s knuckles and feels Benny’s shrug against his shoulders.

“He didn’t say anything when I told him.” Benny’s voice is quiet in way that Scott has never heard from him before. “What if he doesn’t ever say anything?"

“It’s probably a big surprise,” Scott tries to be reasonable. “They just need some time to get used to it.”

There’s another long silence, and Scott finds himself lost in the stars above them, naming the constellations in his head when Benny speaks again.

“I wasn’t lying, you know. When I said way back then that - that you’re the bravest person I know.”

Scott starts a bit at that, because really? No way. He says as much to Benny, but Benny shakes his head.

“That first day you showed up at the Sandlot? Man, I thought you were totally nuts.” Benny laughs lightly and Scott feels a little uncomfortable just thinking back to that day, how embarrassing it was. “I mean, who does that? Goes out to play with guys they don’t know, play a game they don’t know. You did.”

“I was a total idiot,” Scott agrees, but that earns him a nudge from Benny.

“No you weren’t,” Benny tells him in a scolding kind of voice. “That took guts, Smalls. Serious, hardcore, crazy, action movie hero guts.”

Scott snorts and shakes his head, and Benny persists.

“It did. That was - I never seen anyone do something like that.”

“I was terrified,” Scott confesses, as if that’ll suddenly change Benny’s whole view of him.

“Still brave even if you’re scared,” Benny tells him. He’s quiet, pensive another moment, and then, “I wanted to be around you like, all the time after that, after that second day, when you caught the ball I hit to you. Remember?” Scott does. Benny continues, “I didn’t even know why, just - just admired you, I guess.”

Scott really doesn’t know what to say. He’s always seen Benny as the brave one - the one who wrestled The Beast, who outran a legend, who became a legend himself. All Scott did was show up at The Sandlot one day.

“I was really scared to tell my dad,” Benny confesses. “But you were so sure that you had to tell your parents, y’know? You made me want to do it too.”

Scott turns his head so that he can look at Benny, and Benny stares back at him, and he’s still unsure what to say, so he leans forward to kiss Benny gently, searching his mouth slowly.

“I think I love you,” Benny whispers when they pull away.

Scott’s grin is uncontrollable, unstoppable. He replies, “I definitely love you.”

Benny laughs, and huffs a sigh and says, “Always gotta one up me?”

“Yup,” Scott says defiantly, and kisses him again.

A few weeks, it turns out, is what Benny’s parents need to get used to it. Sam leaves the room every time Benny walks in, he tells Scott, but his mom quits looking sad after a day or so and instead faces whatever she's afraid of in Benny being gay head on with an “Okay, if this is who you are,” which sounds so much like Benny that it makes Scott smile when she holds onto both of their hands, like she's giving them her blessing to run off and get married or something.

Benny’s dad takes longer, though. He’s quiet and drawn every time Scott sees him, and Benny confesses in quiet whispers as they walk to The Sandlot from school that his dad hasn’t said two words to anyone since that dinner. Benny’s nervous and unsure what to do, Scott knows, and it doesn’t help that the other guys have no idea what’s going on and Yeah Yeah falls into step next to them babbling about a rocket ship he’s building while Scott can’t really think about anything but Benny’s dad.

He comes around, though Scott has no idea how or why or what changes. He takes Benny out for a long drive and when they get back Benny won’t tell Scott what they talked about, but just says that it’s okay, it’s settled now. And Benny’s dad smiles at Scott when he walks in the house again, like he used to before, though tinged with something now that Scott can’t quite place. Maybe he’s not as okay with them as Benny would like to believe but it’s okay, at least. That’s something.

-

Scott is seventeen and in love. Hopelessly, over the moon, in love.

It’s pretty great.

He doesn’t go back to the baseball team, instead joining the newspaper and working his way towards sports editor. No one at his school in Chicago would dare question his baseball knowledge, and no one here will either. Benny looks stricken when Scott tells him that he’s not playing ball this year, but he’ll still be there at all the games, Scott tells him, and now he’ll have an excuse to stare at Benny the whole game.

Benny laughs at him and shakes his head, rolls his eyes and knocks Scott’s shoulder lightly with his own and then kisses him.

It’s really great.

-

Scott is eighteen and his acceptance letter comes in a large envelope overflowing with information. His future. It’s all there at UCLA, and he sprints over to Benny’s house to tell him about it.

He’s confronted with Benny’s face pale and drawn, looking decidedly unhappy.

“Who died?” Scott asks, laughing shakily.

“I just got this,” Benny says, and hands Scott a crisp, official looking letter. Scott hasn’t even had a chance to tell Benny his own news yet, but he reads quickly over Benny’s news, and breaks into a grin.

“The Dodgers? They’re - you’re gonna play for the Dodgers?” He feels like he might burst.

“The minors,” Benny points out. “And it’s only an invite to tryouts, it’s not - they haven’t drafted me or something.” He sighs and sits down on the steps of his porch.

“Still!” Scott exclaims, too keyed up to sit down with him. “Benny, that’s - it’s amazing!”

“Yeah.”

“So why do you look like it’s the worst news?” Scott asks, still disbelieving, still reeling.

“I have to go to Albuquerque,” Benny tells him, and that’s when Scott deflates a little. He doesn’t know why it didn’t occur to him - the Dodgers play in L.A. Their minor league teams play all over the country.

He sinks down to the step next to Benny, nudges their shoulders together. “Oh.”

“Yeah, oh.” Benny looks crushed and hurt, even though this is what he wants, and it hurts Scott to see.

He holds up his acceptance letter. “UCLA. I got in.”

Benny lifts his head and breaks into a smile as he takes the letter from Scott. “‘Course you did, Smalls.” He looks like he wants to hug Scott, but his smile slips quickly away when he looks back at his own letter, still resting in Scott’s hands.

“So,” Scott says slowly. “Albuquerque’s not that far away from L.A.”

Benny shrugs. “A few states in between. Fifteen hours drive maybe?”

“Yeah.” It doesn’t sound terribly appealing, even though Scott wants to put a good spin on it. It’s amazing, and they should be excited - a professional team wants Benny to try out, and of course they do, but spending years talking about it is so different from seeing it really happen, and he wants to be happy with Benny, and wants Benny to be happy with him about UCLA.

“The season doesn’t start until the spring, though, right?” Scott asks hopefully. And that’s one part they haven’t talked about - where Benny will be when he’s not playing ball.

“They have a few winter ball camps down there,” Benny says, sounding far too sullen for someone who’s on the path to his dream. “Talked to the coach last week, he said I should think about heading out there in October.”

Scott sucks in a breath. It’s April. They could be apart in six months. He’s not sure what to do with himself for a moment. His stomach hurts.

And then he shakes his head, refusing to drown in the bad, and jumps to his feet, grabbing Benny’s hand to pull him up as well.

“We’re going to celebrate,” he tells Benny.

“Celebrate?” Benny looks dubious. Scott’s not going to let it last.

“Yes,” he says firmly. “I got into my top school. You’re going to play for the Albuquerque Dodgers - that has a terrible ring to it.”

Benny laughs at that, looking a little lighter.

“And we’re going to be together years from now - decades, even,” Scott declares with a wave of his hand, fully aware how lame he sounds. “So what’s a few months apart? We’ve done it before and, yeah, it stunk, but - but it was okay. We did it. We’ll do it again.”

Benny looks at him for a long moment, like he can’t decide whether to kiss Scott or argue with him.

“And I want to go tell everyone that you’re going to play for the Dodgers,” Scott says with a serious nod.

“Minors,” Benny reminds him. “Double A. I’m not playing Dodger Stadium just yet.”

“Details,” Scott shrugs, and Benny laughs at him and hugs him then.

“I’m really excited for you,” he tells Scott, and Scott grins.

-

Scott is eighteen, and getting a ring. Benny tries to be subtle, tries not to make a big deal out of it, tosses the little black box to Scott one afternoon late into the summer and late into the day, when Ham and Squints and Kenny have gone home.

“What’s this?” Scott asks, genuinely without a clue.

“Well geez, Smalls, I don’t know,” Benny rolls his eyes exaggeratedly. “Maybe you could open it and find out?”

So Scott does, and he’s struck dumb.

Inside are two silver bands, side by side, like wedding rings. He looks up at Benny and then back down at the rings, no idea what to say.

Benny comes over to him, ball clenched in one hand. Scott watches him thumb the seam.

“I - I mean, I know this is probably dumb or something, but I want to…” Benny searches for his words again, and Scott can’t help but smile, even in his confusion.

“They look like wedding rings,” he points out the obvious, and Benny nods, takes to box from him.

“Look,” starts, like he’s been practicing this. “I know this seems really big, maybe, or really lame, probably, but. We’re gonna leave soon. You’re gonna go off to school pretty soon and then I’ve only got a coupla months before I head to New Mexico, and. I don’t know, I just got to thinking.”

He stops and looks down at the box in his hands. Scott touches his shoulder.

“You got to thinking what?”

Benny shrugs and looks back up at him. “I wish we could do it legally, y’know? With a big party and a priest and all that. But I still want people to know - I want to know that all that stuff you said a few months ago is true - decades, we’re going to be together decades and you’re mine and I’m yours and all that sappy stuff. I want people to know even if it’s not official.”

He finishes with a little huff, catching his breath, and Scott can’t stop grinning stupidly.

“Yeah,” he says, unable to say anything more, and he takes his ring in the middle of the dusty Sandlot as the sun is setting over the hills around them.

-

There are enough letters to fill up months and months spent apart, spanning years and states and countries.

Smalls -

I miss your goofy face and your goofy laugh and just you.

The Dominican Republic is freaking hot, but I really like it here. I’m perfecting my Spanish - most of my teammates make fun of it and I can’t really string more than a few sentences together, but I’m pretty sure I know enough that I could call a game on the radio in Spanish at this point.

My folks are coming out next month. You could come with them - actually, wait, strike that. We probably don’t want to risk my parents walking in on us or something when you come to visit. They say hi, by the way, and want you to come for dinner next time you’re at home.

I like the people here a lot. Our neighbors are really cool, keep cooking for us, and my roommate too, he seems pretty nice. He’s from Michigan and doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish, so it’s nice to be able to teach him at least a few things.

I wish I could tell him about you - more than just the vague “I’ve got someone back at home” crap that I give them all. No one seems too bothered by whatever I do or don’t tell them about my personal life, but that sexual revolution you’re always talking about hasn’t quite reached pro sports yet, and I have no idea how it would go down if I really told anyone.

How’d your Lit final go, the one you were worrying about?

There’s a really great fruit stand down the street, I’m going to go hit it up for a snack before I head to the field.

Wish you were here.

-Benny

 

Dear Benny,

What state are you in now? Utah? Iowa? Maine? Someplace like that? Somewhere in between? It’s hard to keep track of you these days, and sometimes I have no idea if these are reaching you. If not, hello to whoever is reading this, and I hope you enjoy the chocolate I’m sending along.

The paper is sending me to cover a minor league hockey game tonight, which I’m going to stay as positive about as possible (but seriously? Minor league hockey? That’s where they believe my talents lie?). It’s all just a stepping stone, I know, I know, you say it all the time. Seems like we’re both kind of stuck floating around the minors right now, though you’ll be up in L.A. soon (don’t argue with me, you know you will and the Dodgers are desperate for a shortstop who has some actual, you know RANGE the way a shortstop should. You’ll be in Dodgers Stadium before the end of the season, mark my words).

So I’m off to pay my dues and hope that something opens up covering a sport I actually like sometime soon. I guess minor league hockey could be fun, and it’s the last game of the season, so… yeah, I’ve got nothing. Tell me it won’t last, please. And call me when you get somewhere for more than a few days. I’m expecting (re: hoping) to see you soon.

Love,
Scott

Scott saves every one that Benny sends him. He occasionally finds, when doing Benny’s laundry on the rare moment that they cross paths for more than a few weeks, a stack of his own letters that Benny has saved at the bottom of his duffel bag, and it sends a familiar shock of happiness through him.

-

Scott is thirty, and writing press releases for the Dodgers organization. Sometimes he has to force himself to tear his gaze away from Benny trotting around the bases. He can’t just stare at Benny the whole game anymore, when he has an actual job to do.

And anyway, they’ll go home later and tumble into bed and Scott can stare all he wants at his boyfriend or husband or whatever it is that they’ve never really put a name to that they are to one another. And Benny will stare happily right back at him.

-

Scott is thirty-six, and they’re still stupidly in love. Scott’s not sure why sometimes, with the distance they've gone through years of and the ever present need to hide, to protect themselves. It should be stressful, it should be angry-making.

But Benny is worth it, and he seems to think that Scott is worth it, and it’s still really great.

He’s doing on-field interviews for Channel Four regularly now. It’s hard sometimes not to grin dumbly when he’s told by his boss to catch The Jet after a three-stolen-bases game or game-winning hit, but everyone he works with knows that he and Benny grew up together, so now one ever questions his excitement at Benny's success.

No one pays much attention to Benny off the field or how he evades questions about dating and why he isn’t married. It shouldn’t work, to drive home to their shared house in separate cars and waiting to touch until they’re inside. But it does.

-

Scott is forty, and begs Benny - not for the first time - to shave his terrible, awful, cheesy mustache. Benny refuses with a laugh and roll of his eyes.

-

Scott is forty-two, and Benny is struggling. He’s lasted longer than any ballplayer has the right to, playing professionally for twenty-four years, twenty of those in the majors. Forty is a death sentence for most baseball players - most pro athletes in general - and Benny has seen forty come and go.

He never makes any promises about when he’ll retire, but Scott knows that it’s coming soon. And there’ll be life after baseball for them both - maybe they’ll come out quietly to L.A. and the world. Maybe they’ll have kids. Maybe they’ll travel or each write a book or coach Little League or a combination of all of those things. Maybe Scott will keep announcing and Benny will get into coaching. Who knows.

Halfway through the season Benny crushes his knee against a catcher’s shin guards, and he’s out for a month.

He struggles. Scott lets him, knows that to suggest bowing out now would be a defeat for Benny, and unacceptable. He’s won a World Series, he’s won Gold Gloves and batting titles and came close to an MVP award. This might be his final season - probably will be his final season - but he won’t slink away.

His busted knee and final game on his own terms are his Beast, and he’ll face it like he did Hercules years and years ago.

Decades ago.

“They say The Jet’s lost a step or two,” Scott says into his microphone in when Benny is brought in as a pinch runner in the 9th. “But I think we’re going to see some magic here today.”

It’s not hyperbole.

And he’s not lying, it turns out. Benny flies down the base path like he’s twelve again, and Scott’s joy won’t be contained.

When the game is over Benny looks up to find him up in the booth, and Scott touches his ring and thinks back to that first time they saw each other, when Scott waved timidly and Benny nodded to him, and wonders if that was it right then; the moment his life changed, or the moment it started down onto this path that’s brought them both here.

Maybe this is the last game for Benny. Maybe it’s not. Either way, they’ll go home tonight and they’ll get up together tomorrow and start again, make something new together, between Scott‘s bravery and Benny‘s fearlessness.

-

There is no ending.