Hold on to what is good,
Even if it's a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe,
Even if it's a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
Even if it's a long way from here.
Hold on to your life,
Even if it's easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
Even if someday
I'll be gone away from you.
As Sammy walked into the school the next morning, he felt something was amiss. He couldn't quite put a finger on it, until he saw a crowd had gathered down the hallway in front of the science lab. When he closed on the crowd, he noticed Joey had his phone out and appeared to be taking pictures or a video of whatever was happening.
He pushed his way through the crowd and found Tony standing behind Andy and Roger while they faced off with a couple of juniors. About then, JT stepped in the middle of everyone and poked the biggest of the two juniors football players in the chest with his finger and said, "Back off Chad, you mess with my family, you mess with me."
Chad laughed. "They ain't your family, JT. Why do you want to hang with a punch of queers, anyway?"
"I don't know who they sleep with. How do you know? Besides, it doesn't matter to me either way. They are family now, Chad. In fact, they've been more of a family to me than anyone, except for my Ma." JT said and defiantly crossed his arm across his chest. "So, unless you want real trouble, more trouble than either of you two dumbasses can handle, not to mention kicked off the team next year; you best be heading on your way. You feel me?" JT said with an ominous stare.
Sammy moved up and stood beside JT. He wasn't about to let Andy get into a fight, being sick and all. Most importantly, while Andy was standing up for another kid not doing so well either – Tony.
JT nodded to Sammy and wrapped an arm around Sammy's shoulders.
"Ah shit, JT. We were just having some fun." Chad shrugged his shoulders and cocked his head to the right realising the odds had turned against him.
"Listen Chad," JT began, his voice taking on the tone of a patient parent. "Listening to jerks like Brent isn't very smart. Especially, if they're in the wrong."
The crowd saw there wasn't going to be a fight with all the talk and slowly broke up, leaving Andy's crew and the two football players alone in the hallway.
Rounding the corner from an adjacent hallway, the Vice-Principal saw the boys. "You guys need to be heading to class, the tardy bell will ring soon."
Chad hit his partner in crime on the arm and motioned with his head, "Let's go, Rod. JT has a point." Rod nodded, and the two went their way.
Roger smiled, looked around at the guys still there, as he placed an arm around both Andy's and Tony's shoulders. "Looks like the musketeers keep growing."
Joey laughed. "Good job, JT. You know, you're smarter than Roger says you are."
JT turned to look at Roger.
Roger smiled and said, "Time to head to class guys," as he turned and walked down the hall towards his homeroom.
Everyone busted out laughing; and then took off for homeroom, before they were late.
As Sammy and Tony headed to homeroom together, Sammy asked, "What was all that about?"
Tony glanced up at his friend and rubbed the back of his neck. "I did what you told me last night, when you called." He ran his hands through his hair. "I kept a fucking eye out for guys I thought would give me a hard time, but after I got my shit out of my locker I turned around to head to homeroom and fuck, there they were." Tony finished with a heavy sigh.
It was clear to Sammy, Tony was frustrated by the words he was using and by how he was acting. In fact, it was the first time Sammy ever heard him swear. "Tony," Sammy began, as he wrapped an arm around his shoulder. "We can't let the jerks get to us. You saw for yourself we have friends that will stand with us. We'll watch each others back. Just make sure you're with one of us all the time. At least until this, all blows over."
"That's just it Sam, as long as my brother is still out there running around and causing problems, it's not going to blow away." His face scrunched up as he said it.
"I promise Tony; I'll walk this path with you. And we won't have to do it alone." Sammy squeezed his shoulder.
By the time they reached their homeroom. Tony had calmed some, but he still wasn't happy about being attacked, again. "I have no idea what will happen next; and it scares me." He appeared to gain some strength from Sammy's words and stood a little taller. "But thanks Sammy. You and Andy, with the others showed me I wasn't alone. You're the best friend anyone could have." He said, as a single tear escaped his eye.
Sammy could see the gratitude in those same eyes, but also something new - determination. "You too, Tony." Sammy nodded and they headed to their respective seats.
Andy met Sammy and Tony as they entered the lunchroom and invited them to sit with them. Andy pointed out the table where Joey, Roger, Debbie, Gary, and a couple of girls were sitting before he headed to the table himself. Once Sammy and Tony had their lunch they walked over to the table where everyone was.
Sammy didn't know Gary or any of the girls, but Tony seemed to, as Katrina was the first to speak. "Hi Tony. I haven't seen you or your brother in a while."
Tony sat down and while still looking at his plate said, "I haven't seen my brother for a while either."
"Oh, that's right. I forgot. I'm sorry." Katrina said with a smirk. "Is it true what they're saying?"
"I don't think that's called for, Katrina." Andy said. "First it's none of your business and secondly, I think you should find another table if you're going to be a jerk to our friend."
"Friend?" She said in a huff. "I thought Gary was your friend and we're practically boyfriend and girlfriend. Isn't that right, Gary?" Katrina said as she looked at Gary and placed her hand on his laying on the table.
Gary quickly moved his hand. "We've been to the movies once, Katrina. What's makes you say we're a couple?"
"Oh, my God. Are you queer, too?" She said with indignation. "I just asked him if it was true. And it appears all of you are either queer or queer lovers. I don't get it."
"Katrina, that's enough," Debbie said to her fellow cheerleader.
Katrina stood and flipped her hair back. She looked down her nose and everyone sitting at the table. "Knowing now how you all are, I believe I would be more comfortable sitting elsewhere." And with that, she walked away.
"I'm sorry, Andy. I didn't know she was like that." Gary said, his face red with embarrassment.
"It's Tony we should be apologizing to." Debbie softly said. "I'm sorry, Tony. She had no right to be like that. It's like she didn't know or didn't care your brother hurt you like he did." Everyone at the table nodded their agreement, including Jennifer, another cheerleader. "I agree with Debbie. I'm sorry, too." Jennifer said.
"You okay?" Sammy asked.
Tony looked around the table. "Thanks, guys. I'm fine." Then he smiled. "But I'm hungry." He said, just before taking a bite of his pizza. Drawing laughter from everyone.
"You ready for the games this afternoon?" Andy asked.
Tony quickly nodded. "Yup."
"How about you Joey?" Sammy asked.
"I am." Joey motioned at Andy. "But I don't think Andy slept at all last night worrying how I'll feel about playing again."
"Did something happened?" Tony asked.
"It's a long story, but I'll tell ya some other time." Joey nudged Andy. "I think Andy is playing through me, to tell the truth. This is the first year he hasn't played since he was in diapers."
"I remember that year." Roger said and then pointed at Andy. "That's the year he won the diaper derby!" Everyone laughed; and lunch went on without any more problems, with Sammy and Tony fully in the Musketeers.
In the first game against the Floyd County Raiders, the Cougars managed a walk, a hit, with two stolen bases by Sammy and Joey, but couldn't score in the top half of the first inning. Sammy and Joey had been left stranded at second and third.
Sammy headed out to shortstop feeling good. He was walked in his first at-bat of the day. It wasn't a hit, but he had stolen second on a double steal with Joey, who had singled and moved to second on Sammy's walk, then they pulled off the double steal. He knew he had good players on the left and right of him in Joey and Tony. If Brent got himself into trouble, Sammy figured between himself, Joey, and Tony, they could get out of it with a double play---
Brent opened the bottom half of the first inning walking the lead-off hitter. Brian Taylor, the catcher, called time and ran out to the mound to calm Brent down. It looked to Sammy like Brent was still thinking about striking out to end the top half of the inning. Sammy always tried to leave the last play in the past and focus on the here and now, so he had trouble understanding how people couldn't do the same.
Brent pitched from the stretch and eyed the runner on first. The first pitch to the next batter was high and inside for a ball. Sammy, always watchful for the game-within-the-game of baseball, noticed Brian give Brent the pick-off sign.
Sammy watched the runner on first dance back and forth, like he was going to attempt a steal. However, as the runner leaned a little too far towards second, Brent whipped around and fired to first. Unfortunately, the ball sailed a foot over the first baseman's glove. The ball rolled to the Raiders' dugout wall and bounced back towards James. He picked it up and turned back towards the infield.
Sammy ran to cover second base; in case a play was made there to tag the runner, but a throw never came. James just ran the ball back into the infield and called time, after recovering the ball.
The next batter hit a shallow fly ball to right on the next pitch. Christopher, playing right field instead of his normal third base position, swiftly covered the ground necessary to make a shoestring catch. The runner had tagged and moved to third on the catch.
Their catcher batted third, usually, a team's best hitter, stood six foot, four inches and looked like a linebacker from the football team. He took a Brent curve ball that went wide outside, for ball one. From his vantage point, it appeared to Sammy the big fellow was sitting on a fastball and got one on the inside corner of the plate. He rocketed a ground huger in between Sammy and Joey. Sammy, with catlike reflexes, moved to cut the ball off before it went into the outfield. His only hope was to get to the ball fast enough to try to hold the runner to third, as it didn't look to him like he had a chance to throw the batter out at first, from that deep in the hole.
To Sammy's surprise, Joey cut in front of him, snared the ball, took a couple of steps to plant his feet and pumped the ball once in his glove while he looked the runner back to third. Then he fired a perfect throw across the diamond to first. The ball beat the runner by a step and Joey had held the runner to third, as well.
An excited Sammy rushed to Joey and slapped gloves. "Sweet play, Joey. You're da man."
"Thanks, Sammy," Joey said with a bashful smiled.
Brent had been lucky. A run should have scored, if not for Joey's incredible defensive play. When Sammy thought about it, he probably wouldn't have been able to do anything with the ball if he had gotten to it but watch the runner score and the hitter make it safely to first.
The next batter was even bigger than the last. He looked like he could play defensive tackle. Brent still wasn't on his game and the batter took his fourth pitch downtown for a two-run homer that cleared the left field fence with plenty room to spare. The next batter hit a weak grounder to Tony, and he easily threw him out for the third out. The first inning ended with the Raiders up two to nothing.
Christopher was the only Cougar to have a hit in the top half of the second inning, a seeing eye single to center field. It was like it had eyes to see where to go to keep the shortstop or second baseman from getting to it. Brent held the Raiders to a right field single; which was immediately erased by a 6-4-3 double play: shortstop to the second baseman to the first baseman double play.
The Cougars had the lead-off hitter, Taylor Eagleton, up first to start off the top of the third inning. He led off with a single up the middle, followed by Joey perfectly executing a hit and run single where the base runner takes off on the pitch and the right-handed batter tries to hit the ball to right, as the second baseman has to move and cover second base. When properly performed, the runner on first usually ends up on third, as in this case.
The Raiders' pitcher didn't throw as hard as Hazard's Tommy Sutton, but he was fast enough. When Sammy timed his pitches, he felt like the guy threw in the low eighty miles per hour range. In other words, someone he could easily get the bat around on, if he waited for his pitch. The last time around, Sammy had walked on four straight off-speed pitches. He decided to wait for the fastball.
The first pitch the right hander threw was a curve that came right at Sammy's head. As he moved his upper body away from the plate to keep from being hit, it broke at the last second, but not enough - ball one. As the pitcher started his second pitch, Joey took off for second. It was a fastball low and outside, but Sammy swung anyway to distract the catcher. Joey safely beat the throw from the catcher to second and had another stolen base.
That left the situation with Tommy on third, Joey on second, nobody out, and a one ball, one strike count. Sammy stepped back into the batter's box and dug in and waited for nothing but a fastball. He focused intensely on the pitcher's every move, looking for a give-away or sign on what the pitch was going to be, but he couldn't tell as the pitcher released the ball. The third pitch to Sammy was another curve. This pitch was in the dirt. A great stop by the Raiders' catcher prevented it from going to the backstop.
The next pitch was a fastball, but it was wide of the plate for ball three. The count now, three balls and one strike. This is known as a hitter's count, because a pitcher doesn't want to walk the bases loaded. In that situation, unless it's the Majors, anyone who understood the game of baseball, knew a fastball was coming. And if a hitter knows what's coming, he has the advantage. In high school and college baseball, it's the coach, by way of the catcher, who is calling the pitches; and no coach likes a bases loaded scenario. And that meant Sammy knew he was getting the heater.
Sure enough, that's what he got. It came right down the middle without any movement at all, and Sammy smoked it. As he was running to first, he saw the line drive hit the fence two thirds of the way up. It hit so hard, the sound it made on the metal fence echoed around the ballpark.
Tommy and Joey both scored on the hit; and Sammy stood on second by the time the center fielder had thrown the ball back to the Raiders' shortstop. The opposing shortstop turned and put a friendly tag on Sammy's butt as he stood next to Sammy. "Nice hit, man."
"Thanks." Sammy nodded with a grin. Sammy felt like a million dollars. The feel of the ball making contact on a hit like that, is unforgettable.
Brent walked this time at bat, but James hit into a grounder to third. The third baseman cleanly fielded the ball, threw quickly to second; the second baseman then turned and threw to first for a Raiders double play, as Sammy moved on over to third. Christopher walked, but the next batter struck-out ending the Cougars turn at bat, leaving the score Cougars 2 Raiders 2.
In the bottom half of the third inning, the Raiders' catcher connected again for another homer off Brent, this one a solo homer to center field. It was their only score of the inning, in fact their last run of the day. Brent pitched a complete game and finally settled down. He started pitching the ball down in the strike zone enticing the Raiders to hit a ton of grounders the Cougars' infielders ate up. Consequently, the Cougars shut down the Raiders the rest of the game.
On the other hand, the Cougars' offense exploded for ten more runs. The final score was the Cougars 12 Raiders 3. With the score the way it was, in the sixth inning, the coach was able to play a few of the bench players and allow them to gain some experience.
He pulled Sammy and Tony and allowed Christopher to move to third and Joey to shortstop, putting Robby back in right field where he had started the last game against Hazard. The coach made a couple of other moves moving players around to different positions.
Sammy had his arm around Tony as they stood at the dugout fence and watched the game. "You know, you made some good plays at second. A couple of my throws to you weren't exactly on target." Sammy ruffled Tony's hair. "You made me and Joey look good. Thanks."
"Ha! That one double play you started with the grab up the middle was wicked awesome. How did you even know where the bag was? I know you weren't looking at me and you just flipped the ball back to me right from your glove."
Sammy laughed. "Lucky, I guess. Naw, I trusted you would make the play or at least keep me from looking bad."
Tony smiled. "I'll go with luck." Sammy gave him a friendly shove, as the first game ended.
The second game of the doubleheader begun like the last one finished. The Cougars score four in the first. Sammy hit a bases clearing triple and Brent followed with a single that knocked in Sammy for the fourth run. Jack Greene, a junior, pitched the second game and did he ever. He threw a shutout with one walk and nine strikeouts. The final score was the Cougars 7 Raiders 0.
Everyone was sky high after winning both games. Especially with the pitching gem by Jack Greene, a totally rock solid defensive effort, and a twin bill offensive explosion.
Between Sammy and Joey, they had turned five double plays with Tony. Sammy had six hits in eight at bats, with two walks in the two games. He had a two run homer, a bases clearing triple, one double and three singles. He also stole two bases. Joey wasn't far behind him with four hits himself, all singles. Plus, he had four stolen bases.
Tony was all excited as they walked towards the bus following the traditional after-the-game team handshakes and the Cougar infield celebration. "Oh my God, did you see that stop Sammy made going up the middle? He just fielded it in mid-stride and flipped it to me from his glove. Maaaan, that was sweet!"
Tony continued his animated conversation with anyone who would listen, so no one paid much attention to the hooded dude who pushed his way through the players.
"And Jack, was he throwing the heat today or…" Tony never finished the sentence. "Ugh." Tony bent over and then fell to the ground, as everyone froze in a state of shock when they realized Tony's brother had stabbed him.
Sammy's attention at the time had been on James. Mike's brother had been telling him something about Mike when Sammy heard Tony. So he was the first to react being only a step behind Tony. He quickly hit Evan with a left, and follow with a right which knocked Evan away from Tony, but not before Even stabbed Tony a second time in the shoulder as Tony laid on the ground.
Sammy dove on top of Evan and wrestled with him for the knife. By then James enters the fray and with Coach Parker's help, they subdued him. Once Evan had been taken care of, Sammy rushed to where Tony lay on the dirt parking lot.
Joey had his hands pressed against the more serious stomach wound and Christopher attended to the shoulder wound. Sammy took Tony's hand in his. "Hang on my friend. Don't let go. Okay?"
Tony looked at Sammy. "I'm so cold. I don't wanna die, Sammy."
"Fight Tony. Fight the darkness." Sammy said with tears streaming down his face.
"I called 911 and they're on their way, both ambulance and police," Andy said loud enough for everyone to hear, as he knelt down beside Joey.
"Move over guys, let me in here." Said a man no one knew. "I'm a doctor."
The doctor had Joey move his hands so he could look at the worse of the two wounds. There was a lot of bleeding, enough to soak Joey's hands. In the distance, the sirens could be heard, as the doctor examined Tony.
Sammy continued to talk to Tony to keep him focused. "Tony, you're my best friend, too. So, hold on. Hold on to what's good. Hold on to your life." Sammy choked back a sob. "Hold on, even if it's easier to let go. Hold on to my hand." Sammy smiled. "Even if someday I must go away." Sammy gripped Tony's hand tighter and Tony squeezed back. "We'll always be friends, no matter what." Sammy felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Let us in here, kid." One of the paramedics said.
"I'm not letting go of his hand," Sammy said. The paramedic saw the defiant look in the boy's eyes and knelt down where Joey and Andy had been.
The doctor began giving orders to the paramedic. He told them he thought the spleen had been punctured, because of the location. In no time, they had Tony on the cot and moving him towards the ambulance as Sammy jogged beside the cot. He still held Tony's hand. Sammy had already decided there was no way anyone was going to prevent him from staying right with his friend. Not as long as Tony was breathing.
Evan stood between four police officers when they passed by. Evan stared at Sammy, but Sammy was focused on Evan's brother. Sammy climbed into the ambulance with Tony, one of the paramedics, and the doctor.
As the paramedic hooked Tony to the medical equipment, without slowing down with what he was doing, he told Sammy in terms that left no room for argument, "If we have a problem with your friend, I'll need to move away quickly, so we can do all we can to save his life." He paused and looked Sammy in the eyes. "Understand?"
Sammy nodded he understood. "Yes, sir. Please do all you can. He's a good kid." The paramedic smiled and nodded.
Tony held his hand tightly, letting Sammy know he was still with him and holding on; but as they began to move from the ballpark, Sammy noticed that his friend's grip was loosening and his face looked paler. Over the siren blare, the paramedic suddenly called, "Doctor, blood pressure is forty over twenty, and the heart rate is weak. We'll going to lose him if we don't get the bleeding stopped."
"Kid," the paramedic addressed Sammy. "We need you to move now." Sammy let go of his friend's hand and fell back against the small bench at the head of the cot. He watched the doctor frantically work on Tony, as the paramedic assisted him. He reached over and place his hand on Tony's head and ran his hand through the hair. As he did this, he said a prayer to the Great Father in the Sky asking Him to watch over his friend either in this world or the next.
"He's flatlining, Doctor." Sammy heard a voice say from somewhere in the distance. Then another voice called, "He's going into shock. We got to get his lower body elevated."