The Off Season - A Short Story

             He was in the back of an ambulance when he regained consciousness. It was bright and loud, the lights above blinding him instantaneously as the whining sirens deafened him. He was confused and scared. He couldn’t remember why he was in the back of an ambulance, securely strapped to a stretcher with three faces staring down at him.  He tried to make sense of the faces that were in his line of sight, huddled close together, but everything was blurred. He felt nothing; his body was numb and he couldn’t lift his arms or legs.

             “Oliver,” a voice said, but he barely registered the voice as his eyes fluttered closed, darkness engulfing all five of his senses immediately.

*****

               Oliver felt as if his body was lying on a bed of pins and needles when he woke up again. His body was sore and aching. The sharp, agonizing pain that shot up Oliver’s right leg felt like a thousand knives stabbing him at the same time. It was fire and ice on his leg, all at once. It was a throbbing mixture of agony and then numbness. Oliver let out a groan as he watched a nurse inject him with what had to be morphine. He barely felt the prick of the needle as the pain in his leg was far worse than anything he could have imagined. He wanted answers; to know why he was in the hospital, or why it felt as if somebody took a baseball bat and battered his leg with it. But the only thing he could think about was how white the room looked. He was swimming within his thoughts, nothing forming correctly in his brain. He suddenly wanted to sleep but he was still in pain. Even with the morphine he was injected with, Oliver still felt the pain from his leg and that almost kept him from falling asleep. Almost. Within seconds, he was knocked out.

*****

             There was only a slight burn in his leg, when Oliver woke up some time later. He was aware of his surroundings for once: uncomfortable hospital bed, scratchy hospital gown, blank white walls, machines by the head of his bed and tubes traveling down his arm. Oliver whimpered, his body heavy with sleep as he tried to sit up. Something kept him from doing so as he was pushed down immediately.

             “Don’t move,” a familiar voice said, “you’ll take the stitches right out.” Oliver blinked three times before his vision cleared and he finally saw his mother standing over him, an indent between her eyebrows and frown lines visible. She wasn’t worried, though, and he could tell because her bright green eyes, the same as his own, held no such emotion of worry or concern.

             “Mother?” Oliver’s voice was strained, sore and dry from not speaking in a while. Yet, the formality of his word was nothing short of familiarity. He squinted up at his her, the lights from the hospital room still too bright for his eyes to adjust accordingly.

             “Do you remember what happened?” his mother, Danielle, asked, smoothing down his curly hair. Oliver whined out loud, feeling a slight throb in his leg but it left just as quickly as it came. He wanted to lift his leg, but that was when he noticed that it was bound in plaster and hanging from a sling connected to the ceiling, elevating his leg. He only nodded his head when memories of his baseball game flashed in his mind.

             It was the last inning of the last game of the season and his team, the Panthers, were up by one. Panthers versus Tigers. High school rivals in every sport that was offered at each school. The Tigers were up to bat with a runner on first and second. Oliver was at shortstop, already on his toes, anticipating where the baseball would go. He remembered it clearly because it was one out and all he needed was to get a double play and they’d be home free. The stands were packed with friends, family, fans of both teams, yet none of them included his mother. He shoved that thought to the back of his mind because it was nothing new of what he expected.

             The California sun was blazing down on his already tanned skin while the sweat slowly trickled down his face and neck and into his brown jersey. It happened instantaneously, like everything usually does when it came to baseball. He would get so into the game that, before he knew it, it was over and he would be walking out of the dugout, dazed and overly energetic. This moment was no different. The batter, number 24, stood at home plate, positioning himself accordingly with the pitcher’s throw. The batter swung his torso forward along with the bat. With a clink and an expert hand at a bunt, the ball took a couple of bounces before laying still on the grass before the pitcher.

              Oliver got into position and ran to second base as the pitcher and first baseman ran towards the ball. Using his feet, he straddled the base and lifted his glove clad hand into the air, waiting for either the pitcher or first baseman to throw the ball to him. Oliver’s heart was pumping, the adrenaline getting to him, knowing that it was ultimately up to him to get the runner out at second and throw the ball to first. He paid no mind to anything but the ball; he wasn’t even watching for the runner. Oliver just knew that he had to step on second to get the runner out before throwing it to first. He could feel the sweat and the grime; he could hear the screams coming from the stands and the yells from his teammates. He didn’t realize, though, that the screams and yells weren’t words of encouragement and before he had the chance to put two and two together, Oliver felt his leg give out. The runner had slid into second base, lifting his cleat and kicking Oliver in shin. The sharp spikes of the runner’s cleat buried themselves into his skin, and he swore he could hear a few bones cracking. It was that moment, when he was on the ground withering in pain, that Oliver knew everything in his life would be ruined.

             Oliver shuddered and looked away from his mom to stare at a blank wall, but at that moment, a doctor flounced into the room with a boy following closely behind her. The doctor seemed too happy, especially to Oliver, as he now felt that everything was falling apart. He did not want to hear what she had to say because anything she would say would be bad news to him.

             “Hi, Oliver. I’m Doctor Mendez. How are you feeling?” she greeted as she walked towards the end of the bed to look at his charts. She had a young, happy face and her black hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, showing off her sharp cheekbones.

             Oliver merely shrugged, his gaze moving to the boy who stood by the doorway. He was pale, just as he remembered, and his blonde hair was styled up in a messy quiff, the roots of it a dark brown. His bright blue eyes darted around the room as if he didn’t want to stare at Oliver for too long. Oliver was mesmerized by the boy because it wasn’t that long ago that they shared not only a class but so much more. He averted his eyes from the boy and turned his head to look at Dr. Mendez who had started talking to him. He felt warm, embarrassed that he could have been caught not paying attention to her, when what she was saying could have been important.

             Dr. Mendez gave him a knowing look before tilting her head towards the wall opposite of Oliver. There was a gleam, making the x-ray pictures visible to the naked eye. What he saw made him cringe and he could feel his stomach drop.

             “As you can see,” Dr. Mendez said, walking towards the x-rays, “this was a severe compound fracture to the tibia and your fibula suffered from a comminuted fracture.” Oliver tuned her out after that because he did not understand anything of what she was saying but he merely had to see the x-rays to know how bad it truly was. His tibia had broken skin and, even though he couldn’t remember what it looked like when it first happened, he knew that the bone sticking out of his skin was nowhere near being a good sign. His fibula was a different story, though. Instead of it being a semi-clean break, part of the bone was shattered and that deflated any hope within Oliver instantly. He suddenly felt embarrassed that the boy was in his room because he didn’t want his pity.

             “It’s going to take almost a year before you can play again.”

             This brought Oliver back down to Earth and his eyes widened in shock. “But, my scholarship...,” he trailed off, knowing there was no possible way he could go to Florida State on a full ride for baseball anymore. He’d lose his scholarship and he wouldn’t know what he’d do.

             “It’s just a setback, Oliver. You can work through this.” Danielle grabbed his hand and squeezed it reassuringly but he knew it was anything but that.  Oliver tried to smile but it was futile. He recognized his fake mother’s optimism and knew she was already jumping for joy on the inside. She was supportive enough towards him when baseball was just a hobby, but when it came to long term decisions, Danielle wanted Oliver to continue in her footsteps and attend Harvard Law and take over the law firm. She drew the line at sending him off to school for baseball so it was a blessing when he received the scholarship to FSU. But now it was all for nothing and his dream went down the drain. He’d be out of practice for a year because of his stupid leg. After he made a full recovery, if he did, he’d have to go through physical therapy to make his leg stronger and then he’d have to work on his arm. He could not see the silver lining at the end of this. He’d lose his scholarship and his one way ticket out of California and from his mother. Oliver felt utterly useless.

             “Every patient here gets a student volunteer. It’s something the hospital just implemented and it might also save you from boredom.” Dr. Mendez gestured towards the boy. “This is James, whom I believe goes to your school.” James nodded his head, a slight smile coiling around his lips as he gave Oliver a gentle wave. Oliver tried to smile back but there was a rolling in his stomach; his heart felt like it was trying to escape the confines of his chest. Instead, he nodded in acknowledgment and averted his eyes to look at his mother who was busy fussing with his pillow. She, too, was not looking directly at him and it definitely had something to do with trying to conceal her glee of him possibly not attending FSU anymore.

             “I’ll call Chloe for you, you must want her here,” Danielle said, kissing Oliver on the forehead and rushing out the room to follow Dr. Mendez. Oliver groaned when his mother left, knowing that if she did call Chloe, it would just be one awkward and short phone call. It had been three months since they had broken up and he still hadn’t mentioned it to his mom.

             It was silent except for the noisy machines and the doctors and nurses rushing past the door. Oliver hated the silence but he didn’t know what he could say to James. It had been awhile since he last spoke to him – a month and a half to be exact; not like he was counting or anything –  and he knew that anything he said right now would be useless. But he hated the silence.

             “What are you doing here?” Oliver asked, finally getting the courage to break the awkward silence. He could feel the tension; it felt as if all the oxygen in the room was quickly dissipating, leaving him to gasp for the non-existent air. But that feeling disappeared when James replied.

             “Volunteering.”

             Oliver didn’t say anything, wanting to hear more of what James was doing. He sighed when Oliver didn’t say anything after a long beat. “I needed something to put on my college resume. Not everyone can get a full ride to their dream school.” His voice was clipped, not at all condescending but rather in a matter of fact tone. A simple statement.

             Oliver rolled his eyes, knowing that it didn’t apply to him anymore. “Yeah, because I can play with a broken leg.” He sighed as a dull pain started forming in his temples which he tried to soothe away with his fingers. “My future is gone, my dream went down the drain.” It was the realization of everything spiraling down that made his head hurt. It was hard for him to admit that. Even harder to admit it to James since he was the one person that Oliver wanted to steer clear of, feelings and all.

             James shook his head, a determined look on his face. “So you just take a year off. If you called the university –”

             “It’s going to take longer than a year to recover,” Oliver snapped, interrupting James in the middle of his sentence. He knew what he was going to say and he didn’t want to hear it, any of it. “It’s over and done with.” He felt defeated; he was defeated and, in that moment, wanted to disappear. He pushed himself down on the bed, trying to sink in between the lumpy pillows and scratchy blankets.

             James wasn’t listening. He never listened to him. It was this personality trait Oliver noticed he had, sure of everything, positive that everything would work out in the end. It was also one of the things that bugged him about James.

             “We can get you another chance, Ollie.” It was the nickname. A name he hadn’t heard in a while.

             “Who’s we?”

             “You, your mom,” James paused, eyes cast down to the floor. “Me.” He whispered the last part but Oliver heard it as if it was yelled to him.

             He was shocked beyond belief to find out that James felt that way, that he wanted to be a we with him. But he wouldn’t stand for it. In a way, it was too embarrassing for Oliver to even think them together.

             “There is no we, James.” His voice hoarse but he tried to muster up enough force to not sound weak. He couldn’t sound weak in front of him, he just couldn’t. It could have been a masculinity thing for all he knew.

             “But, what about that time…” James trailed off and the adamant and optimistic boy suddenly seemed defeated.

             “It was only one time,” Oliver whispered, looking away from the blonde haired boy. His voice was low and he just wanted to get away from where this conversation was headed towards.

             “One time, my ass.”

             “Well, it wasn’t my ass, that’s for sure,” Oliver snarled back, his head snapping towards James. He wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings but he could vaguely hear the heart monitor that was connected to him start to beep a little louder and faster. It was a distant beep to his mind, all of his attention focused on the boy in front of him.

             There was a beat, the silence between them seemed to echo in the room. James walked closer towards the bed as a slight smile started to make its way to his lips. Oliver glared at him, hating the fact that he was enjoying their banter. James slowly sat on the bed, his hand inching its way to Oliver’s

             “I -” He didn’t expect James to sit by him and his eyes were glued to the boy’s hand closing in on his own. He couldn’t form a coherent sentence, let alone a single thought. It wasn’t until their hands made contact, brushing ever so lightly that Oliver snapped.

             “Just get away from me, faggot.” James flinched, snatching his hand back so fast like Oliver does before throwing a ball. It came out so abruptly that even Oliver was surprised at his words. Never had he degraded someone for being who they were, but, at that moment, he was so tired and stressed with everything that it was like his mind was on autopilot. James stood up quickly, backing away from him, while stumbling to get to the door. The look on his face was a mixture of hurt and disgust, and Oliver immediately felt his heart constrict with regret, wanting to take it back, to take their whole conversation back and start over.

             Without another word, James turned and fled the room, leaving Oliver feeling heartbroken, a feeling he hadn’t felt in a long while. With a sigh, he threw the blanket over his head, wanting nothing more than to disappear. He was disappointed in himself, angry as well, and he felt he didn’t deserve to live. The derogatory term felt like it was still resting on his lips, burning him and then trying to suffocate him, but that could have been the blanket he was under. His mind felt frazzled and, quite frankly, dead. He tried to let his mind drift off, but the sound of footsteps caught his attention. He stayed under the blanket as they got closer but the blanket was suddenly ripped away from him, exposing his body clad in a raggedy hospital gown. He felt his heart skip a beat as he saw a head of blonde hair, but it wasn’t James.

            “You still haven’t told your mom we broke up?” the blonde said, an undertone of irritation laced within her shrill voice.

             Oliver gulped as his eyes connected with a pair of brown ones and not blue, like he was hoping. “Chloe,” he gasped. “You’re here.” He tried reaching for the blanket that was now in Chloe’s hands, but she pulled it away from him.

             “Of course I’m here,” Chloe said, pulling a chair that was in the corner and bringing it towards the bed. She placed her bag on the floor and sat down. “Now, why haven’t you told your mom?”

             Oliver sighed and shrugged. “It never come up, I guess,” he mumbled, picking at his gown.

             Chloe rolled her eyes. “You really do have to tell her soon,” she sighed before handing the blanket back to him. “And you also should tell her that you-”

             “Shut up, Chloe,” he interrupted, snatching the blanket from her grasp and trying, but failing, to cover his whole body with it. He did not want to talk to his ex-girlfriend about his problem.

             She shrugged her shoulders and leaned back against the chair. “So, what happened? You look a little green.” Oliver wanted to roll his eyes, finding that statement humorous. Just barely. “Your leg looks like it could plaster all the holes in my kitchen’s wall.”

             “Isn’t your kitchen being remodeled?”

             “Exactly.”

             Oliver scoffed before dragging himself up a little higher into an almost sitting position. “Baseball,” was all he said and Chloe nodded in understanding as if she actually knew how much it hurt him to discuss any more. And it did.

             “Everything will work out in the end,” Chloe said, her voice growing softer, soothing him. He didn’t know if she was talking about his broken leg or the predicament with James. Only Chloe understood what happened between them and she never judged him, even when he told her the reason for their breakup. “Listen, I have to get going. I left my mom alone and my dad’s away on business, so I’m pretty sure the liquor cabinet will be empty by the time I get home.”

             Oliver nodded as he watched Chloe stand. She grabbed her bag from the floor and placed her hand on his, squeezing it reassuringly. She gave him a small smile before walking towards the door. Oliver watched her go, expecting her to just leave, but she turned back around once she stood under the doorway. “Please tell your mom.” That was all she said before finally walking away.

*****

             A week passed before James stepped foot in Oliver’s room. In that time, doctors and nurses kept rushing in and out of his room with charts in their hands, updating him on his progress, though it had only been a week. What could possibly change in his leg in seven days? His mother would come in sporadically to try and come off as a concerned mother but most of the time she was working, doing overtime in hopes that she did not have to come and see him. Today, she was at the hospital but he hadn’t seen her in about an hour.

             Oliver didn’t expect James to come back so he was surprised when he saw him, clad in a white volunteer overcoat.

             “James,” he breathed out, trying to lift himself up but ultimately failing. James didn’t move from his spot by the door. His skinny legs were crossed over one another and his hands were behind his back. He looked serious, as if he didn’t want to be there. That hurt Oliver but he had to remember that he hurt James way worse. “Look, James, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. I was angry and upset, but not at you,” he tried to explain but all James did was shake his head.

             “It’s fine. It’s over and done with. I couldn’t ignore you for that long. Dr. Mendez would have noticed,” he said nonchalantly as he walked further into the room. Oliver noticed him walking around the lifeless area, trying to prolong their minutes of silence before finally stopping at the foot of his bed.

             Oliver didn’t know what else to say, but at the same time, he had everything to say. And he relaxed his mind and body before he said his next words. “It’s just really hard, okay.” James didn’t say anything, but instead tilted his head to the side looking more curious than he’d ever been. Oliver sighed, his heart hammering in his chest, before continuing. “I’m the star of the baseball team, I’m put on a pedestal, I don’t know what my mom would say if she found out that-” He paused, feeling his words spewing out of him and took a deep breath but didn’t say anything else.

             James rolled his eyes, resting his arms on the footboard. His blonde hair was lying flat on his head hanging just above his forehead as he looked down at the open chart on the bed. Oliver was struggling to put the words together, never realizing how hard it would be. His heart was still pounding and it felt like he was going to throw up. “If she found out that I liked boys.” There. He had said it. It looked as if James had stopped breathing, not expecting Oliver to ever admit that he was gay. “I’m sorry that I ignored you at school after we first got together, and then ignoring you again after the second time. I’m sorry for making you think I didn’t like you because I do, James. I do like you and now, well, now I’m not so afraid to admit it.” Oliver was out of breath by the end of his this, still not believing he had admitted anything but this time he felt good. He felt free and alive and finally, like himself. But he was getting nervous with every ticking second that James didn’t say a word. His green eyes roamed up James’ torso, noticing the flannel underneath his coat and finally making his way to his face. It was then Oliver noticed a smile making its way on his lips and he suddenly felt relieved. “James?”

             He looked up, finally, his blue eyes shining brightly and a smile taking over his face. “It’s about time, you idiot.” James let out a boisterous laugh before taking a few strides towards Oliver. He sat at the edge of his bed, not being hesitant this time and placing a hand on the crippled boy’s cheek. “I’m proud of you, you know that?” Oliver merely shrugged, feeling warm all over.

             “I’ll tell my mom, I swear,” Oliver said.

             “I’m just glad you said it to yourself, we can work on how to tell your mom, together.”

             Oliver nodded, feeling his smile grow. Together didn’t sound so bad. They would just have to figure out the future some other time.

             “I’m going to kiss you now,” James whispered and Oliver nodded, scared, happy and still confused. Kissing James wasn’t a new thing to him but to finally kiss him as himself said so much.

             Oliver felt James’ breath on his lips and his stomach flipped as he finally had him this close. Their lips brushed lightly, Oliver’s chapped lips against James’ soft ones and it felt normal to Oliver. But nothing could ever end happily for him. At that moment, he thought of his mother, and what she might say. He pulled away. “James, wait.”

             “What’s wrong?”
             “I can’t tell her. It’ll be like telling her that grandpa cut her off.”

             James rolled his eyes. “You make her seem like a teenager.”

             “She thinks she’s entitled to have a say in everything, including my life. She wanted this perfect family and she freaked when dad left. She’ll freak when she learns about us.” Oliver felt defeated but James’ hand on his cheek gave him a sense of relief.

             “You’ll have me by your side when you do tell her.” Their noses brushed and James leaned in to capture his lips again, using both hands to cradle Oliver’s face. Oliver was happy, finally happy, but it evaporated when a shrill scream erupted within the room.

             “Oliver Edward Stangard!”

             The two boys sprang apart; James jumping away from Oliver as Oliver cringed away from the blonde. They turned to look at the door, eyes wide with shock when they saw his mother, Danielle, standing with a bag of food in her hands and two drinks spilled endlessly by her feet. Oliver looked at his mother like a deer caught in the headlights as her mouth hung open.

             Fury and astonishment were etched on her face making Oliver gulp. He didn’t know what he would say but the sudden warmth and pressure he felt on his hand told him it would be okay in the end. Hopefully.