Short Stories

Throwing Away a Career

            Baseball’s Freedom Field back home was where it all began for Charlie. The fifteen year old had the best arm in the league with a good head on his shoulders. Parents across Fresno County labeled him the “perfect” child as the teenager did nothing wrong, received straight A’s, and was hands down the most talented athlete to ever go through the tiny town of Kingston. Didn’t hurt he was the definition of tall, dark, and handsome as well. In essence, he was a role model that the entire ninth grade looked up to. Girls wanted to date him. Boys wanted to be him. The golden boy could do no wrong with his gold cross, black collared shirts, khaki shorts, white socks, and black Converse sneakers. Hell, the kid was color coordinated every day of grade school. Talking was not his strong suit, mostly keeping to himself unless Blake, the school bully was on the prowl. Blake was the type of child who was a product of his own home environment. Coming to school with fresh shiners underneath his right eye, but Charlie had a problem when he attempted to inflict verbal or physical pain on other students.

            High school is a tough time for students as everyone is attempting to find their niche. Fat jokes stunk up the hallways as the bathrooms were reserved more for crying. It was a rough time for almost everyone, except Charlie. Nothing could faze the kid. His 6 foot, 3 inch frame as a freshman attending Freedom High School intimated most students, especially the seniors. His number one enemy happened to be the senior captain on the baseball team, Blake Doyle. As a junior, Blake had a .595 batting average with 17 home runs en route to the first state finals appearance in school history. Coach Harrison admitted that Doyle had the makings of a Division I ballplayer, except for his large ego. He was a cancer in the locker room, cursing at his teammates for not making plays in the field.

“He bitches in the locker room. Completely yells at his father in the stands during a game. He throws his bat against the cage when he strikes out. I’ve seen five year olds throw the same temper tantrums,” Coach Harrison said to a handful of parents on the team at the last team meeting in June.

Coach Harrison fielded several complaints about Blake, but could never do anything about it. His father was on the school board, his son was the best player in the past decade, and brought in a significant amount of revenue to the school. His hands were tied. Mr. Doyle was in charge of the schoolboard. He only showed up to the mandatory meetings, yet the issues always revolved around his son. The lack of returning players this upcoming season was directly his fault, but what could be done? Freedom High School was receiving major media coverage from local news outlets and ESPN. 

            By the second week of school, Charlie was sick of the pain that Blake was inflicting on the freshman class. Girls, guys, it didn’t make a difference to him. Charlie decided enough was enough and did something about it after school let out.

.           “Hey Blake, cut it out. These guys did nothing to you. Leave them alone.”

            “What you going to do about it golden boy? Go cry to a teacher,” said Blake.

So, Charlie acted as if he was walking away. Five seconds went by and bam! Charlie quickly turned around and gave him a right hook that landed square in his face. Blake fell like a sack of potatoes on the cement. Nose was clearly busted, causing blood to run over his Nike Dry-fit t-shirt. The big bully got up, attempting to make a run at Charlie. He dodged the left jab thrown and delivered another hook to his face. Blake was down for the count. From that point on, Charlie earned the respect of students, teachers, and even Blake. That didn’t mean Blake stopped being a jerk to everyone in school. He thought he was going play professional baseball, giving him the right to do whatever he wanted.

Charlie came to the rescue of hundreds of innocent victims who fell under the wrath of Blake or other bullies. Fists did fly on a few occasions, yet his big frame would overwhelm his opponents. He fought for all the right reasons, earning the respect of his peers. Bullying would not be tolerated on his watch. These acts of kindness earned Charlie the nickname of “Captain America” and class president of ninth grade. The funny part was that his name was not even on the ballot. Students wrote in his name at the bottom of the tiny pieces of paper, whispering to one another that he would be the best candidate. Rumors spread like wildfire at school. Instagram was even using the hashtag #VoteForCharlie.  Before you know it, Charlie was receiving more votes than the three candidates, Emily Blatter, Alex Smith, and Dan Dotter combined. All three individuals were not even disappointed in the decision as they knew he would do a great job. The final tally was 195 votes for Charlie, 72 for Alex, 64 for Emily, and 48 for Dan.

Emily said in the school newspaper that “Charlie has proven to us that he’s willing to go the extra mile to make everyone feel safe and secure in our school environment.”

            He was old fashioned with manners that made him more mature for his age. Charlie asked Ms. Johnson if he was allowed to speak to his peers during the assembly Thursday afternoon. She was hesitant at first, but shook her head with a wink in agreement after a minute. Ms. Johnson was straight out of college, immediately gaining the attention of all the boys in school. She was trying to secure a job at the school by being in charge of several clubs including student council. So, Charlie spoke at the back-to-school assembly.

“Thank you to all my classmates who nominated me, but I will have to respectfully decline the position. I do not have the time to completely dedicate myself to the class.”

There was a standing ovation, even though Alex took over after the resignation. Ten seconds later, students rushed out of the auditorium, including Charlie for a four day weekend of fun without homework, teachers, or any obligations. Once the bell rang, Charlie disappeared into the distance. He typically walked home, cutting through the local baseball field and playground. Communicating with him via text or social media was nearly impossible on weekends, since his Facebook account was basically nonexistent. He didn’t have a Twitter, but used Instagram on occasion. Text messages on his iPhone 6 were marked as read, without a response. This was unusual for most people in this day and age, but Charlie was so cool that people ignored it.

            Trevor, the school reporter felt compelled to find out the truth on the situation. His life revolved around reruns of Channel 6 News’ clips via YouTube and gathered tips on how to become a better investigative reporter. Beside him was a brown leather briefcase that he brought to every class. His role models growing up were Woodward and Bernstein.

“I’m always busy on the weekends with sports, family, and other obligations” Charlie told Trevor for years.

Trevor never took no for an answer. That day, Trevor secretly followed him all the way home for an inside scoop. He lied to his mom and said he went to the playground across the street with friends. It was only a half mile bike ride from his house, making it easy to travel back and forth. After Friday night, he became obsessed. Sleeping over Dan’s house next door was a mission to just find out any more details on him. Dan was a staff writer on the newspaper who repeatedly told him that there was no weird activity was going on, but nobody was nearly as dedicated as Trevor.

“Wouldn’t you rather play video games with us? Can’t you just drop it?” Dan remarked.

Trevor was enraged by his comment, furious that Dan would give up on a front page news story.

“I’m going to get to the bottom of this story if you like it or not Dan!”

Dan’s parents got whiff of Trevor’s intentions and only allowed him to stay the one night. While Dan played Madden on his Xbox, Trevor took notes on his iPad about the house. Nobody ever entered or left the property. The two bedroom blue house on the corner of Bay Avenue sat on top of a hill. Finally on day three, something happened that changed everything. Trevor’s mom called and told him to come home. There was some resistance on his part, but he eventually caved in. His favorite meal of steak and mac n cheese was too good to resist. Trevor hopped on his bike and peddled his way home before the clock struck 7. The only child was spoiled. Living with a single mom was difficult, but they made it work by giving him everything he ever wanted.

When the sun went down, it was time to investigate. His bedroom window was low enough to the ground that he was able to sneak in and out without being detected. His mother worked the night shift as a nurse at the local hospital in town, allowing him adequate amount of time to go down the street before she got home. Not everybody had it easy. Trevor was invisible when he walked through the halls. He wanted to be remembered. This story could be his big break. The minute he heard the 2004 Hyundai Accent pullout of the driveway, it was show time.

            Trevor grabbed his mountain bike and dashed his way to the playground. However there was something else that grabbed his attention. Freedom field’s scoreboard was lit up for some reason. The lights were dimmed but it was obvious somebody was in the press box. This could be an opportunity for another story. Flashes of front page headlines ran through his mind. Out of pure curiosity, he made his way toward the field. The scoreboard suddenly turned off. If you turned your head for a minute, you would have missed it. Trevor plopped his bike next to the snack bar that still had that hotdog aroma from the games played earlier. Alongside the snack bar were the records for the most home runs, strikeouts, and wins in the league’s history. It was like a shrine as they all had Charlie DeStefano 2014 in each slot. This made Trevor laugh, but he caught himself with his hand, covering his mouth. Somebody walked around the corner into the dugout. This has potential! Let’s sneak behind the bleachers for a better view. It was clear that two individuals went in, but only one person left. Trevor had a slight smirk on his face as he reached into his briefcase for his iPad. He waited for anybody to come out as the darkness allowed him to slowly make his way to the dugout. Hands were shaking, without knowing what was in store for him.

            From behind, Trevor heard footsteps quickly approaching him. He quickly stashed the iPad into the briefcase and ran to his bike. His glasses fell to the ground, leaving him blind as a bat. Scared, blind, and out of breathe was Trevor. On top of it all, he was now in a foot race with a stranger that was faster than him. As he turned the corner, a fist connected with his face. I’m going to die. I’m going to die ran, through Trevor’s mind. Immediately he dropped to the ground without recollection of where he was. When Trevor woke up, everything was a blur. A pounding headache combined with a scrape down his left elbow put him in excruciating pain. Trevor reached for his iPhone in his pocket, which was smashed when he fell. Screaming for help at the top of his lungs was the first solution. The throbbing pain from his head stopped that idea after three shouts of help. Calling 911 was out of the question, since the phone broke and he was not supposed to be out after dark to begin with. Alone and confused, it was time to go home.

            Ten feet away was Trevor’s bike with a hole cut into the back wheel. The briefcase containing the iPad was gone. Only piece of evidence left at the scene was a pair of fifty dollar bills beside the front wheel of the bike. So he picked them up and slowly walked back to his house in the middle of the night, vomiting on the neighbor’s lawn before crawling back into his room. Finding out who was the culprit became the number one priority on his list. After a restless night of sleep, it was time to pop in some Advil, pullout the first aid kit, and go to work. First thing on the to-do list was to check his email. Luckily, there was an update on his iCloud account showing a video that transpired last night. A ha! This is the moment I have been waiting for. He hopped onto his laptop and dissected the pitch dark video with a fine-toothed comb.

            Images of a gold cross flashed across the screen. There was only one person that had that type of jewelry… It had to be Charlie. Maybe “Captain America” was not so innocent after all! Charlie’s face was covered up with a Giants hat, but that HAD to be him. There was a woman in the picture too. She looked oddly familiar with blonde hair, brown eyes, and a black dress. It took 15 minutes to realize it, but there was a Freedom badge hanging from her neck. The bright orange stood out, representing the Flyers.

            “Oh my god! It was Ms. Johnson. She was with Charlie last night. This could be my big break, the scandal of the year!”

Trevor connected the dots. The money must have belonged to Ms. Johnson, who was up to something. What was so important that it had to occur in the middle of the night at a baseball field without any witnesses? Then the big assumption came. Charlie and Ms. Johnson were having a secret relationship. This was plausible as Charlie never seemed to be home or in contact on weekends. His parents never attended any meetings, sporting events, or even the graduation ceremony from middle school. Headlines began running through his mind. The golden boy has secret relationship with teacher.Student was hot for teacher. Teacher seduces high school freshman. These were big assumptions. It was time to investigate the hottest teacher in school and the most famous child to every walk the streets of Fresno County. Video wasn’t enough. Trevor needed more proof.

When Trevor’s mom woke up in the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, it was made clear that he was not attending school the next day. It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out that her son snuck out of the house. His missing glasses, a welt underneath his eye, and a clear cut on his elbow gave the impression that he was robbed. The most horrific feeling was seeing her son injured and not being able to come to her for help.

“Ma, I fell off my bike after you left for work. I wanted to hang with my friends. Relax. I’m fine.”

“NO you are NOT fine. You are grounded until further notice. Now go sit on the couch.”

As a nurse, she knew the protocols for a concussion. Trevor sat on the couch as she conducted several basic tests. Results indicated that he had demonstrated signs of nausea, fatigue, and a massive headache. Due to his condition, school was out of the question. So, Trevor emailed Dan to ask Charlie a few basic questions to see if he would mention anything.

Dan responded to the email with two letters, “N.O.”

Trevor was on his own if he wanted to find out the truth.  He was anxious to pester him with questions about this weekend. When Monday morning rolled around, Charlie was willing to answer his phone. Nothing was new as he failed to directly answer the questions, but did it in such a polite tone you would have thought he was running for office. Trevor was absent for a week, but finally returned to school with a new found confidence that Charlie was guilty. His locker was easy to spot, being the last one next to the fire hydrant at the end of the hallway. The combination of 8-24-2 was inserted and there stood the iPad! Somebody broke into his locker to deliver the briefcase with a sticky note attached.

It read, “Leave him alone. I am watching you.”

This gave Trevor the chills as he felt somebody was now gunning for him. Whoever it was, they knew their stuff about technology. They hacked their way into the iCloud account and erased the entire hard drive. Obviously, they waited for the perfect moment because they knew Trevor was at home all week watching the film. Everyone will now think Trevor was making stuff up. Weeks went by, but not a shred of evidence came to light. The video was useless, Charlie was perfect, Ms. Johnson was an actual teacher, and now back to square one.

Weeks turned into months and before long, nothing materialized out of the story. The end of March was the most important time of year for Freedom. It was baseball season. Tryouts brought national attention, which meant this could be his big shot. Headlining the team were the freshman phenom Charlie DeStefano and pro prospect Blake Doyle. This was hands down the best duo in the sunshine state, producing numbers that were unheard of. Blake was the cleanup hitter, smashing balls over the leftfield fence nearly every game. Charlie used his cannon of an arm for five complete game shutouts. Nobody had ever seen an arm like this. The southpaw threw in the upper 90s, while also having a cutter, changeup, curve, and slider in his arsenal. By midseason, the team was undefeated with a 13-0 record.

ESPN interviewed Charlie after the most recent victory over their rival Riverdale.

“It feels great to be out here on a major stage and producing. We have some great fans that have supported us the entire year. We are looking forward to the playoffs.”

Trevor wrote the games up for the newspaper, but paid extra attention to Ms. Johnson who cheered on the Flyers at every baseball game. The odd part was that she went to the away games too. Maybe she was just a big fan, but who knows… The farther the team went, the more media attention followed. There were scouts from every university and professional team lined up along the batting cages to see Blake and Charlie play. From Boston College University to the Texas Rangers, everybody wanted to catch a glimpse of their talent. This 1-2 punch landed them on the cover of Sports Illustrated, adding more exposure to the high school.

A perfect record was on the line as the Flyers made it to the state championship game for the second consecutive season. Coach Harrison was ecstatic, mentioning how far the team chemistry has gone.

Coach, Ryan Gillan of CBS sports, “What’s the difference for your team this season?”

Harrison says, Charlie DeStefano with a giant smile on his face.

“Charlie has become the glue for this team. He plays like a proven senior. Just look at the stats. 12-0 record, 100 innings pitched, 0.85 ERA, and a 167 strikeouts. He’s a leader on and off the field. The team is having fun. That’s the biggest difference from last season.”

The championship game is scheduled to be played on Sunday, at Freedom field, allowing a week of preparation for both teams. Standing in their way of a state title was rival Riverdale. This was the game of the century. Friends, family, alumni, among others were flying in from all over the country to see if the Flyers could go undefeated. The ticker at the bottom of ESPN read,

“Freedom High School takes on Riverdale in the state final. DeStefano (12-0) vs. Marlow (10-4). First pitch is set for Sunday at 1 p.m.”

Everyone on the team felt like celebrities, constantly being interviewed by journalists. Several teachers did not mind being on the local news, discussing the student-athletes. All of the special attention made Ms. Johnson queasy, avoiding reporters at all cost. She hid in her classroom, waiting for the press to go home. Thursday was an awful day as something triggered waterworks. Coach Harrison saw the young teacher crying as she dashed to her 2009 black mustang, which was parked directly next to the exit. It was an escape route.

The last day of school before the big game had severe complications. Nobody was to be late for class or get into trouble. Coach Harrison sent an email preparing the team for Sunday.

“Get a goodnight sleep. Eat healthy. Don’t let the press get in your head. Focus on the game. Be ready come game day.” –Coach Harrison

Not once did it say anything about grades or being a student-athlete. The exposure seemed to be getting to Blake, as his head was in the clouds during practice. Friday’s closed practice to the media was by far his worst performance of the season. Trevor normally stuck around, trying to get a quote for the school paper. Blake signaled over to Trevor,

“Meet me at 8 on the field if you want an interview. It’ll be worth it.”

It seemed like a trick, but it was worth the risk. The sun went down. Trevor arrived 15 minutes early, since his ma said he wasn’t allowed to stay out past 8:30. His grandmother came to stay after the last fiasco. To his surprise, Blake sat on the dugout with a paper bag in his right hand.

“Blake, what’s so important?

“Well, Trevor here you go. Sorry about everything.”

He handed him the paper bag and walked away. Trevor took a peek inside. It contained a black flash drive. What the heck could be on the drive? He’s probably making fun of me again. Trevor didn’t think much about it.  He stuffed it into his jean pocket, listening to his iPod on the walk home. He walked into his room and stuck the drive into his computer. There were three documents available to view.

The first was the erased video! Blake must have been the one who took my bag. After watching it again, it was very dark to see the two people in the picture. However, the second document was the smoking gun! There were months of documented emails between Blake’s father and Ms. Johnson. Ms. Johnson was having a secret relationship with Mr. Doyle. In return, she supplied the answers to all the Math exams for a small fee. He thought that Blake couldn’t do it on his own. All my evidence was here. Location, time, and people involved.

Charlie was innocent. The flashes of the gold cross belonged to Mr. Doyle. Anyway, document three displayed a picture of a written letter Mr. Doyle wrote to the young teacher. It was short, but stated:

“You were fun while it lasted. You served a purpose. If you want to keep your job, keep your mouth shut.”

Trevor’s jaw dropped. It was time to write the story. Timing meant everything though. Attaching Blake’s name brought credibility to the story. ESPN would have thought the story was a fake, until Ms. Johnson called his cell phone. It was easy to obtain, since it is the first option on the internet when you google his name. His Facebook account had all his contact information, in addition to email. Blake must have told her that he was tired of being abused. It was time to make a statement. Baseball was only a sport. It was time to make a stand against his father.

The story broke Saturday night. All the major networks had their own headline for the story. Reporters knocked on Ms. Johnson’s door, wanting to hear whether the news was true.

            “That son of a bitch Doyle is going down. He beats his own son. Manipulates people to get what he wants. I was trapped. Admitting it now before the big game takes away all his hard work. This was the ultimate slap in the face.”

            Emails and video evidence was enough to arrest Mr. Doyle. Blake never returned home that night as he knew a fist was awaiting him. Instead he went to Charlie’s house. Three knocks on the door the next morning placed Blake’s father into police custody. Reporters flocked to the tiny apartment as the phrase “no comment” was being shouted as he was taken into the vehicle.

            Charlie spoke in front of the entire team before practice in private. The clubhouse door was unlocked, allowing them to discuss what occurred. Coaches listened in.

            “Yes, the reports are true about Blake’s father. Blake will not be playing tomorrow. We must understand that this moment is larger than some baseball game.”

            The players stood united, willing to fight for their teammate who was going through a tough time. His entire life revolved around what his father wanted. He never had a say. This led to the biggest scandal in Fresno County. From the news to trending hashtags, Freedom High School was in the media for all the wrong reasons. Ms. Johnson’s involvement regarding academics forced the Flyers’ to forfeit the title game. Blake’s math grades were under investigation, in addition to the rest of the teams. The school became under scrutiny over the summer. Pending investigation, the rest of the team was cleared besides Blake. He had to retake the Calculus course over the summer, even though he was selected in the second round of the Major League Draft. Charlie stood by his side when he received the phone call by the Pittsburgh Pirates. That was the first time Blake smiled since the incident. Both went out to the local Lids store to pick up a Pirates cap.

            “Blake I’ll always have your back. We are family. Just remember me when you get to the show,” Charlie said with a smirk.

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