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Common Ground

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Carole gives Finn a big hug and a kiss on the forehead. “Go hit a home run!” Carole says, straightening the Buckeye Insurance jersey and putting Finn’s hat on him.

“Mooooooom, stop,” Finn says, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. “Not in front of the guys!”

“Their moms are hugging them too, Finn,” Carole says, shaking her head as she waves Finn towards the dugout. She climbs on the stands and looks across the field at the other team, wearing blue jerseys with the name of one of the local tire and lube places. She says hello to a few of the other moms, getting ready to watch the game.

The first thirty minutes or so of the game go normally, with the players rotating to different positions when they’re fielding, and at the next at-bat, Finn is covering first base. Carole claps when one boy gets out at first, and the next batter is a shorter little boy who is frowning as he walks up to home plate. He hits the second pitch thrown, though, and takes off running faster than most of the players, straight towards first base and Finn.

The little boy doesn’t stop when he gets close to first base, or swerve, even though Finn is right there, and Carole realizes just before it happens that the two boys are going to collide. Finn goes down onto his back, the other boy on top of him, and the umpire yells “Out!” a few seconds later.

“You made me get out!” the little boy yells, loudly enough that Carole can hear it from the bleachers, and then he punches towards Finn’s face. Finn manages to get back on his feet before the punch connects, though, so the boy ends up hitting him in the chest instead. Finn looks distressed and confused, but when the little boy looks like he’s going to hit Finn again, Finn throws a punch first, knocking the boy in the side of the head and knocking his batting helmet off completely.

That makes the boy yell again, shaking his head as he raises his hand, and Carole starts to stand up. “No, let ’em wrestle it out,” one of the dads says to her, and Carole sighs and sits down again when a few others nod their agreement.

Before the curly-headed boy can throw another punch, Finn tackles him around the middle, both of them falling over into the dirt. They both roll around in the dirt without really trying to hit each other again, the little boy from the other team attempting to scrub Finn’s face into the ground.

“Puckerman!” the coach from the Tires & Lube team yells, followed a moment later by “Hudson!” from Finn’s coach. The two men exchange a glance and then pull the boys apart. Carole can immediately see that Finn’s nose is bleeding as he spits out dirt, and now she stands up and heads towards the field. The other little boy has a lump on one side of his head and a scrape on his cheek, and by the time Carole reaches them, Finn is crying quietly and the other boy is back to scowling.

“Finn Hudson!” Carole says when she reaches him, putting her hand on his chin and turning his face up towards her. “Goodness!”

“That boy hit me, Mom!” Finn says, wiping his face with his hand, which is just as grimy as his face. “He hit me, Mom!”

“He started it! He was blocking the base!” the other boy says before also spitting out some dirt.

“I’m s’posed to block the base!” Finn insists.

“Nuh-uh, you’re supposed to catch the ball and tag the base!”

“You’re a jerkface,” Finn say, turning away from the other little boy. “I don’t wanna play baseball.”

“Well, you’re a butthole!” the little boy retorts, sticking out his tongue. “Crybaby!”

Carole looks around for the other little boy’s parent or parents to help shepherd the boys off the field so the game can continue, then frowns when she realizes no one else is there or walking towards them. She looks at the coach in blue questioningly. “Are his parents not here?”

The coach shakes his head. “No, they usually drop him off.”

Carole tsks and shakes her head, putting one hand on Finn’s shoulder and the other on the other little boy’s shoulder, guiding them off the field. “Let’s let everyone else finish playing, boys.”

“I’m not a crybaby,” Finn says.

“My dad says boys aren’t supposed to cry, so you must be a crybaby!” the little boy says, sitting down in the grass as soon as they’re past the bleachers.

“Well, my mom says you’re not s’posed to hit people, so you must be a jerk,” Finn retorts, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring at the boy. “Mom, can we go home?”

“Not yet, Finn,” Carole says, feeling sorry for the curly-headed little boy. His parents don’t come to his games, and his dad seems to be rude to him, which makes Carole assume that’s why he acts out. “What’s your name, sweetie?”

The little boy frowns at her suspiciously. “Noah,” he says finally.

“Hi, Noah. This is Finn,” Carole says, gesturing towards Finn. Finn scowls at Noah from Carole’s other side.

“I’ve seen you before,” Noah says to Finn.

“So what?” Finn says.

“You go to my school.”

“It’s not your school,” Finn says. “It’s everybody’s school.”

“Told you you go to my school.”

“Mom, can we go now?” Finn asks. “I don’t wanna play anymore. I just wanna go home.”

Carole looks up and sees that the game must have hit the time limit, anyway, since everyone is standing up. “We were going to go get ice cream,” she reminds Finn. “Maybe Noah should come with us, since his parents aren’t here.”

“I have change for the pay phone to call them,” Noah says.

“Mom,” Finn says quietly. “I don’t want him to come with us. He’s mean.”

“I’m not meaner than you!”

“I didn’t do anything!” Finn says.

“You tackled me!”

“Boys!” Carole says, shaking her head at both of them. “Stand up. We’re going to get ice cream now. Noah, do I need to call your parents? I can let them know that I can drive you home.”

Noah shrugs. “My mom won’t mind. My dad’s at work. Do I really get to get ice cream?”

“Yes, you really do.” Carole frowns a little. “Wait here.” She goes over to Noah’s coach, talking to him briefly, but he seems to agree that Noah’s parents won’t mind. When Carole goes back to Finn and Noah, they are still glaring at each other, and Carole shakes her head. “Come on, boys.”

Neither of them says anything on the short ride to the ice cream shop, and when Carole looks behind her, they’re sitting almost identically on opposite sides of the back seat, arms crossed as they frown. They only talk to tell her what flavors they want, but once they’re sitting down, Carole looks at Noah. “I’m sure the two of you have something in common. What’s your favorite television show, Noah?”

Batman,” Noah says after a minute.

Spider-Man is better,” Finn says.

“I want to be rich like Batman,” Noah says, licking at his ice cream cone and then sticking his tongue out at Finn. “And have all those cool bat-weapons!”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t have any powers,” Finn says. “If he loses his money, he’s not even a superhero anymore.”

“Losing his money would suck anyway.”

“Yeah, and then he’d just be a regular man,” Finn says, sounding triumphant enough that Carole knows Finn is sure he won on that particular point.

“He’d still have Alfred. Alfred’s like… his best friend.”

“Uh-uh. He’s a butler. That’s just a job,” Finn says. “Alfred would go be Superman’s butler instead.”

“Alfred likes Batman! And Spider-Man doesn’t have a butler.”

“So? He can walk up walls and make webs and he works for the newspaper.”

“Nobody knows who he is. Batman can talk to Alfred,” Noah says.

“Spider-Man has lots of friends. He doesn’t have to be friends with his butler,” Finn says.

“I think they’re both lonely.” Noah takes a big bite of his ice cream and makes a face at Finn.

“At least Spider-Man has his Aunt May. She’s like his mom.”

“So?”

“So Batman doesn’t have anybody from his family, so he’s sad,” Finn says.

Noah shrugs. “That doesn’t make any sense.” He starts to take a bite, then stops and looks at Finn. “Do you like Pokemon?”

“Yeah,” Finn says, looking a little more interested. “I like the video games.”

“Me too!” Noah says. “What other video games do you like?”

“I like Super Smash Bros. and the Tony Hawk game.”

“My favorite’s Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island,” Noah says. “I want a new Mario game to come out.”

“Me, too. Mario’s awesome!” Finn says. “I like Mario Kart best.”

“I don’t have that one yet.”

“It’s soooooo cool. You should come over and play it with me. You can be Wario if you want to.”

“Cool!” Noah says.

Carole starts to smile, hiding it behind her own ice cream cone. Clearly, they’ve forgotten they were supposed to be fighting. She can take Noah home with them for a few hours, after she asks for his phone number. It doesn’t sound like his parents will mind if she feeds him dinner and lets the boys play. She gets the number from Noah in between Mario-talk, and when she calls the Puckerman household, Noah’s mom says that it’s fine. Carole shakes her head a little as she ends the call.

“Boys? Are you ready to go? Noah, would you like to come over for a few hours?”

Noah nods and looks at Finn. “Yeah!”

“Cool. We’ll do Mario Kart and I can show you my drum I got! It’s a snare drum,” Finn says.

Noah smiles for the first time all day, at least that Carole’s seen. “So cool!”