Hey everyone. It's RichardAdams. At the request of a reader, I'm dedicating this chapter to Eliz as a special birthday present to her. Happy belated birthday, Eliz. Hope you had a special day.

On a more personal note, I came out to my parents over the weekend with my bisexuality and they both accept and love me and want to read my story, which they never knew about before I told them. I'm over the moon about this and I'm incredibly happy knowing my parents still love me. They both offered me words of advice with my future and to be careful, which I'm very grateful for.

But I also have a bit of bad news as well. I received my answer on the publication of 'Am I...?' and I was turned down, but they didn't say my story was bad, just that it didn't fit what they needed at the moment. I'm not mad at the publisher and I love many of the books they publish, but I'm a little bummed out because of it.

However, I'm not giving up with trying to get 'Am I...?' published. There are numerous other gay romance publishers out there and I'm going to try and send them my story soon. I'll keep you all posted on the future progress of 'Am I...?' Suggestions for publishers are accepted and appreciated, but not Dreamspinner Press. I was rejected by them. Please do not send them hate mail because of this. I have no ill feelings toward them.

Thank you all again for your support. Here's Chapter 12 of 'Could I Be...?'

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Chapter 12

Thoughts of Zane's parents have been knocking on my mind for the last few days and I can't help but feel conflicted. I love Zane more than anything and want to protect him from anything that may make him upset or cause him harm, but I feel bad for Mr. and Mrs. Mercer, despite everything that they've done to him.

They want him back so badly. Zane may have heard what they said, but he didn't see how much hurt was in their faces whenever Zane's name came up. Maybe if he saw what was going on when they were talking about what they'd done after Zane left, he'd have a different opinion of them and might want to at least let them know he's okay.

It's finally Monday and the first baseball practice of the season has arrived. I may have made the team already, but I'm still nervous about one thing: how the other team members will react when they find that a gay guy is changing with them in the locker room. Looks like I'll have to find out the hard way.

With my practice uniform in my bag, I make my way over to Klein Field, where the Stanford Cardinal baseball team has their home games and practices. Finding my way into the locker room, I see that there are already a little over two dozen guys in here, much of the baseball team. Ty and Shane aren't here yet, so I'm doing this all alone.

I suck in a deep breath and walk over to my designated locker. The second I take a step in, everyone stops what they're doing and looks over at me. Seeing everyone else stop makes me stop too. I try to register their faces, but all I can see are blank stares. It's like they're all waiting for me to do something, like I'm some wild animal.

Exhaling audibly, I continue waling over to my locker and finally turn and face it. What I see makes me feel cold to the core. Keyed into my locker are three simple letters: 'FAG.' I was already expecting something like this, but expecting it and having it happen are two completely different things.

Through my peripheral, I see everyone still staring at me as I watch the letters, slightly hoping they'll disappear. But the more I stare at them, the more they're burned into my mind. I turn back to my so called teammates and see the same expression on their faces: blank stares. It both relieves me that they're not getting some kind of pleasure in this, but it also pisses me off because I know one of them did this.

But I'm not going to let this get to me. I reach into my pocket and pull out my room key. Placing the tip of it to the metal locker, I write my own response to the word. The locker room fills with a high pitched screech, making me and the other guys wince. After a few minutes of keying, I'm finished and I swipe the keyed paint on the locker and the flakes that remain on my key.

I take a step back and admire my work. Underneath the word is my own simple six word response. 'AND I'M PROUD TO BE ONE.' I put my key back in my pocket and open my locker, showing the front of it to the other guys so they can see that this won't change me. Glancing back at them, they've all gone back to changing into their uniforms.

Still not knowing who keyed my locker, I begin to undress. A few of the other guys have started their own conversations, but I choose to tune them out. There's a pair of footsteps that stop right behind me and I turn and see Ty. "Hey, Ty," I say.

He turns away from his locker and his smile returns. "What's up, Eric?" he says.

"Mostly...this."

I show Ty my locker and his smile deflates when he sees what's permanently engraved into the metal. "Do you know who did that?" he asks.

"Not a clue. I'm pretty sure it was one of these guys in here. They were all watching me when I first walked in here, like they were waiting for a reaction from me. They didn't get one, but this is the first time something like this has happened to me."

Ty reaches up and gives me a pat on the shoulder. "Just prove to them that you're ready to play and you deserve to be here. You know you're an awesome pitcher."

His smile gets to me again and I feel my mouth curl up and my teeth flash. "Thanks, Ty."

Shane shows up a minute later and has a similar reaction to the word on my locker. The three of us are the only freshmen on the team, but unfortunately for us, there are other guys who want their spots on the field. Seniority is always a priority, so I could be the best pitcher on the team, but I might not get on the field because there may be a senior who wants to get on the mound as well.

Once we're all changed into our red and white uniforms, I slip my cap on and walk out to the field with my stuff and Ty and Shane by my sides. Stepping out from the locker room and into the dugout, I get the smell I've longed for since the last time I went home. Fresh dirt and grass cover the baseball field and fill my stomach with a warm feeling.

Ty, Shane, and I step onto the dirt with the rest of the team. We're barely on it for a second before an ear-splitting whistle causes all of us to wince a little. I look over and see a man with a very large upper body with a face obscured by a cap and sunglasses, and shorts that are just a little too short and a lot too tight.

The man walks over to us and what I see of his face looks stern and hard. "So you're the new group of maggots I'm here to help coach this year!" he barks, his voice raspy from what sounds like years of smoking.

We all nod, but I notice the man's face turn a little red. "That's Coach Donald to you!" he yells.

"Yes, Coach Donald!" we all reply.

He steps a little closer to us and the smell of cigarettes gets stronger with every step he takes. "Now, which one of you is that little fag boy?" he yells.

Fag boy? I feel about sixty eyes on me from my fellow players, so I take a step forward. "That would be me, Coach Donald," I say.

I notice his jaw set and his fists clench firmly shut. "Great," he says. "Next thing they'll want to do is get married across the country..."

Anger flushes through my body at the bigot in front of me, but I manage to stay completely calm. "I'm just here to play baseball, sir."

He snorts at my remark. "Hope you like that little message I left you in the locker room," he says. "I wrote it just for you..."

He fucking wrote that?! He's supposed to be my coach, and he keyed 'FAG' into my locker? As much as I want to lash out at him, I stay calm for the second time. "And I wrote a response to it as well, sir," I say. "Yes, I'm gay, and I'm out and proud."

Coach Donald looks twice as pissed of as before and takes his whistle and blows it right in my face. "Thanks to little pansy ass here, you all get an extra five laps to your warm up! Fifteen laps around the field! Move it!"

No one groans and we all take off down the foul line and start to circle the field. "Well, that went well," I say to Shane and Ty as we run.

"You handled it like a badass," says Shane. "I was about five seconds from punching that asshole myself."

"No kidding," says Ty. "I'm from South Carolina and we didn't even have bigots that were bigger dicks that him."

"Don't let him get to you. He's always had a stick up his ass and feels like he's on a pedestal."

We look over and ass a guy who's about Shane's height with lightly tanned skin and a toned body and slightly longish dark blonde hair sticking out of his cap. "It seems like he's directing his dick attitude at me rather than the team as a whole," I say.

"Coach Donald's been an ass to everyone ever since he started his assistant coaching job for the team two years ago. He only acts like it when the head coach isn't here. I'm Jack Christian, by the way. I'm the captain this year and the starting catcher."

"Eric Swanson," I say. "Pitcher."

"Ty Desantos, first baseman."

"Shane Coro, third baseman."

"Welcome to the Stanford Cardinal baseball team," Jack says. "Sorry for what happened in the locker room. We should've said something when we saw you see that word on your locker."

"I actually thought one of you did it," I say. "It's kind of a relief to know it wasn't. But it sucks to know that Coach Donald doesn't like me because I'm gay."

"He's a prick." I see a guy in front of me looking back at me. "He tries to find even the smallest thing one of us is doing wrong and calls us out on it. I'm Alejandro Martinez, shortstop."

"Pick it up, pansy ass!"

I glance over and see Coach Donald standing on the side of the field, his covered eyes focused on me. I sigh to myself and get back to running. The rest of the guys on the team introduce themselves to me, Ty and Shane. They all hate Coach Donald equally, but when I ask them why he isn't fired because of what he's like, they say he always hides the way he really acts when the head coach is here.

We all complete out fifteen laps and get back to Coach Donald, all of us out of breath. "That was twelve laps, you little cocksucker," Coach Donald says to me.

Bullshit. I did the fifteen laps like everyone else. "I did fifteen, Coach Donald," I say with a bit of spite in my voice.

His jaw firmly sets again. "Oh, my mistake, it was seven. Get to it, faggot. Oh, and run around the whole field for mouthing off to me."

My fingernails dig into my palms and my muscles tense in fury. Turning on my heel, I go back to running around the field, my lungs still burning from the original fifteen laps, which is now twenty-three. My cleats dig into the dirt and grass as I circle the field again and again. Despite it only being about 55 degrees outside, I'm sweating buckets.

I finish my remaining eight laps and get back to where Coach Donald and everyone else is still standing. The original fifteen laps were a little over half a mile in distance. With the additional distance running around the whole field, outfield included, I ran almost three miles in a little over ten minutes.

By the time I get back to everyone, my cap is soaked in sweat and my legs feel like they're on the verge of collapse. I stop near everyone and press my hands to my shaky knees. "Coach Donald, he doesn't look too good," says Jack, looking down at me in concern.

"I knew the faggot couldn't handle it," Coach Donald smugly says. "Gays like him shouldn't be allowed to play in a man's sport."

Feeling a second wind, I push off my knees and stand up straight and tall, still breathing a little hard. Coach Donald's teeth grind together and he turns away, fuming. He comes back a few seconds later with a bucket full of baseballs and a bat. "Alright, maggots!" he barks. "We're working on infield grounders!"

Finally, he's turned his attention away from me for a minute. "Who here's a first baseman?" Coach Donald asks.

Four guys, including Ty, raise their hands. "You," he says, pointing at Ty. "Get on base and be ready to catch some throws."

Ty takes his mit and runs over to first base. "The rest of you men, and the one pansy ass, you know this drill! When I hit the ball between second and third base, you sidestep to catch it and throw it to first base, where the maggot over there will catch it. Got it?"

"Yes, Coach Donald!" we all reply.

He glares at me for a second through his sunglasses before walking over to home plate with the bucket and bat. We all grab our mits and walk over to third base. "Where's the rest of the coaching staff?" I ask Jack.

"They all start here tomorrow," he replies. "Coach Donald is normally the only one here on the first day and he causes a few guys to quit the team every year. None of the other coaches know he's really like this."

"So why don't any of you complain?"

"Coach Donald said that if he's approached by the head coach, he'll make our lives a living hell when he's coaching alone," says Alejandro.

"That's complete bullshit," I say. "So we're all stuck like this and I have to put up with his homophobic comments?"

"If you want to stay on the team," says Cameron Knolls, a left fielder.

I sigh to myself, feeling incredibly dejected. "Get ready, maggots!" Coach Donald yells.

We all snap to attention and most of us wait our turn. Coach Donald hits ball after ball to the exact same place between second and third bases. Everyone does well with the drill, throwing it directly to Ty every time. When it's my turn, I punch my mit and get ready for the ball.

Coach Donald stares at me for a second and tosses the ball up. I start to move and hear the clang of the aluminum bat. I see the ball coming in my direction, but it's not dropping to ground and it's moving a lot faster. It's coming straight for my face. I react in time and hold my glove in front of my face.

The ball slams into my glove with enough force to knock me off balance for a second, but I stabilize myself, take the ball and throw it to Ty, who has his glove up and ready, and it flies directly into it. I look back at Coach Donald and see him resting the bat on his shoulder. That fucker did that on purpose.

I walk back over to the rest of my teammates and see they're looking as pissed off as I feel. "He's really pushing it today," says Jack.

"I've never seen him do something like that to someone," says Peter Safi, a second baseman.

"You okay there, Eric?" asks Shane

"Yeah, I'm fine," I say. "Just getting really pissed off."

"We all are," says Jack. "If he keeps doing that to one of our teammates, he'll have to answer to all of us."

For the first time since practice started, I smile at my team. "Thanks, guys," I say.

"C'mon, maggots!" Coach Donald yells again. "Get your sorry asses moving!"

We all turn and ready ourselves for the next ball that comes our way.

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We go through drill after drill, working on our basics from infield defense, to outfield defense, sprinting to base, bunting, and a few more. Coach Donald still hasn't let up on me, taking every chance he gets to try and either humiliate me or hurt me. He throws balls at me when he thinks I'm not paying attention, tells me I'm doing something wrong when I keep doing them right, and yes, the constant screaming of 'pansy ass' and 'faggot.'

The sun's set and we're finishing up with some sliding drills when Coach Donald blows his whistle. "Drill's over!" he yells. "We're going to work on hitting next! Who wants to be pitcher?"

Taking the opportunity to prove myself, I raise my hand. "I'll do it, Coach Donald," I say.

He growls at me and looks around the team. "Anyone else want to pitch?" he asks. I glance around and see every hand is down, which only seems to make Coach Donald even angrier. "Get on the mound, faggot."

I take my mit and the bucket of balls and walk over to the pitcher's mound. Once I step on the patch of raised dirt with a white rectangular pitcher's plate in the center, I feel right at home. "What's your repertoire?"

Jack is standing next to me, dressed in full catcher's outfit. "Oh, um...fastball, curveball, forkball, changeup, sinker, slider, screwball and knuckleball. Can you catch all that?"

He grins heavily at my list. "A pitcher with a huge amount of pitches. I like that. If you can throw them, I can catch them."

"Hey, can someone record my pitch speed? I think it's gone up since the last time I was recorded."

"No problem." He turns to the rest of the team. "Someone get the radar gun ready!"

Charlie Earner, a center fielder, goes into the dugout and comes back a second later with a radar gun. "Perfect," I say. "I need to vent some anger..."

Jack slips the mask over his head and walks over to home plate. He crouches down and slips his catcher's mit onto his hand and holds it open for me. "Fastball?" I call to him.

"Go for it!" he yells back.

I grab a ball from the bucket and balance my right foot on the pitcher's mound. Getting the right grip on the ball, I hide it in my mit and stare Jack down. He hasn't moved an inch and I can hear his glove calling out to me. 'Throw a fast one right in here. Throw it as hard and fast as you can. Show everyone why you deserve to be on this team.'

Taking a few deep breaths, I tune everything out and focus on Jack's gloved hand. I start to pick up my left foot and bring my knee above my waist. With a swift stomp, I turn my body to Jack and whip my arm forward. Feeling every muscle in my shoulder, arm, wrist and hand strain, I let the ball go.

Within a second of letting go, there's a loud THUMP and I see the white of the ball contrast against the brown of Jack's glove. There's complete silence for a second before Jack rips his helmet off and pulls his glove off his hand. "Holy fuck!"

I can see his palm is a little red and he's shaking his hand to try and get feeling back into it. I look over at the team and see a lot of blank faces. "How fast was that?" I call to Charlie.

He comes back to Earth and looks down at the radar gun. I see a smile slowly spread on his face. "102!" he shouts.

I grin to myself and see that Coach Donald looks incredibly pissed off. I can tell he wants to do something to me, be it yell or throw another ball, but I'm too happy to care right now. I just beat my record for my fastest pitch. "Who's ready to hit?" I call to everyone.

Shane instantly grabs a bat and a helmet and walks over in front of Jack and readies himself. "Ready!" he calls out.

Taking another ball from the bucket, I get ready for another pitch. I know Shane's expecting a fastball, but he's not getting one. I place my middle and index fingers on the right side of the ball and my thumb on the left. Picking up my leg, I whip my arm forward and watch the ball fly toward the plate.

Within a second, I see the ball start to dip downward. Shane tries to connect with the ball, but he swings a little too high and the ball lands right in Jack's mit. "Fuck!" Shane yells with a smile on his face.

"Next one!" I call to him.

Ready for another fastball, I place my middle and index fingers on a seam and my thumb cradles the ball underneath. Setting my eyes on Jack's mit, I pick up my leg and bring it back down hard, feeling my body whip forward. My arm follows suit and at just the right time, I release the ball and watch it scream to the plate.

Shane tries to swing for it, but the ball lands in Jack's mit before he can even get the bat over the plate, connecting with nothing but air. "99!" I hear Charlie yells.

Shane readies himself for his final pitch and I grab a ball from the bucket. Wanting to throw him off a bit, I place the tips of my middle, ring and index finger on the top of the ball, while my pinky finger and thumb hold it on the sides, a perfect knuckleball grip. Shane grips the bat firmly in his hands and Jack holds his mit open for me, ready for anything.

Picking up my leg for the third time, I bring it back down and feel my shoulder circle around, but much slower this time. I release the ball at just the right time and watch it as it sails to the plate. While it may be a lot slower than other pitches, the knuckleball his one of the greatest breaks a ball can have.

The ball moves in an erratic fashion, swaying left, right, up, and down. I see in Shane's face pure confusion and even Jack is having a lot of trouble trying to follow it. Shane swings wildly and misses the ball, which flies by him and Jack barely manages to catch it. "You're out!" I yell at Shane.

I hear him groan in frustration and he rests his bat on his shoulder. "How the hell did you get that ball to break so much?" he calls to me. "I didn't know where it was going!"

"It just happens!" I call back to him. I look to the rest of the team. "Who's up next?"

Wide grins fill every face on the team and I watch as they all scramble to grab an available bat.

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For the next forty-five minutes, I throw pitch after pitch at my teammates. I decide to give everyone, including myself, a break from my high-speed fastballs and bring them down to a reasonable speed. They hit ball after ball, sending them all over the field, even managing to hit a few over the fence.

Coach Donald looks like he's finally shut up with all the faggot comments. He's just been standing on the side of the field, watching me throw and the team hit. "Hey, pansy ass!"

And I spoke too soon. "What's up, Coach Donald?" I call back to him.

"Grab a bat and a helmet! You're hitting!"

I shrug to myself and jog over to the dugout and grab my wooden bat and a helmet, slipping the helmet over my cap and getting my batting gloves and putting them on as I walk over to home plate. Coach Donald is on the mound with a mit in his hand. I also see that every position on the field has a player in it. "Why's everyone in position?" I ask Jack.

"Coach Donald told a few players to be ready to catch any shitty ball you hit. He doesn't think you can hit because you're gay."

Rolling my eyes, I step into the batter box and take the bat in both of my hands. Squaring myself up, I stare Coach Donald down. "Ready!" I call to him.

Coach Donald grabs a ball from the bucket and hides it behind his mit. He picks up his left leg and I see his arm start to move forward. I focus on his hand as much and I can see his grip is for a curveball. Lowering my body just a little bit, I grip the bat handle and watch as Coach Donald releases the ball.

The ball flies at the plate and starts to dip right on cue. Slamming my left foot down, I swing the bat forward and hear the wood of the bat resonate with an ear-splitting crack. I watch as the ball flies toward the outfield, going further and further into the twilight sky. It finally comes back down to Earth, well beyond the fence.

I hear Jack move behind me and I see him taking off his mask and staring at me wide-eyed. "Are you sure that's not a corked bat?" he asks.

"This bat is actually heavier than a bat someone else my size would use," I say. "It actually makes it harder for me to swing it."

He grins and slips his mask back on and crouches back down. I look back at Coach Donald and see he's grabbing another ball from the bucket. But I also notice he looks...even angrier than before. I dismiss the thought and reassume my position, my bat firmly locked in both of my hands.

Coach Donald hides the ball again in his mit and readies himself for a throw. The ball comes into sight and I see the grip is a four seam fastball. Holding the bat tighter, I anticipate the throw as Coach Donald releases it. When I expect it to fly right over the plate, the ball isn't even going in that directions. It's coming straight for my head.

My reflexes take over and I fall back as fast as I can, the ball missing me by barely six inches. The ball flies into the fence behind me and Jack and I fall into the dirt. That fucker did that on purpose, just like in the grounder drill. I get back up to my feet and glare at Coach Donald, but he doesn't look to be reacting.

I glance back at Jack and see through the caged mask grinding teeth and a furious look in his eyes. "You okay, Jack?" I ask.

He glances up at me and goes back to glaring at Coach Donald. "He's taking this way too far," he growls.

"Jack, calm down." He looks up at me in surprise. "Getting angry will only make things worse. I'm pissed off too, but I know that if I get angry, it'll only please Coach Donald. So let's just both calm down and get through this hell."

Jack sighs to himself and looks back at Coach Donald and holds his glove open. Coach Donald grabs another ball from the bucket and gets into his pitching position. Before I can even get ready, he throws at the plate. Managing to get a grip on the bat, I swing and feel the bat connect with the ball.

Just like the first ball, this one flies into the sky, getting further and further from sight with each passing second. It lands even further beyond the fence than the first ball. I smile when I hear the ball land on the soft grass on the other side of the fence. Coach Donald whirls back to me and I see his teeth grinding.

I look back at him. "C'mon, Coach Donald! Do you still think a faggot can't hit?"

His face turns a deep red and he thrusts his hand to the bucket of baseballs. Anticipating what he'll do next, I take the bat firmly in my hands and ready myself. Coach Donald throws blindly in his rage and for the third time tonight, the ball comes roaring at me. But this time, I'm ready for it.

I take a quick jump back and swing the bat as hard as I can. The sweet sound of the ball cracking against the wood is music to my ears, and the sight of the ball flying back for the third time to the fence makes it all the better. As soon as that ball flies past the fence, and keeps going, I toss my bat into the foul zone and take my lap around the bases.

As I circle the bases, I feel my teammates patting me on the back, whispering compliments into my ear. First goes by, second is next, then third, and the sweet sight of home plate comes into view. But in my peripheral, I see a small white dot getting bigger by the second, coming for my head.

Using my reflexes, I hold up left hand in front of my face and feel a ball smash into my palm, sending stinging pain up my arm. Dismissing the pain for a second, I see Coach Donald's furious face staring me down. I'm so fucking done with this bullshit. This bigoted asshole is going down, whether or not it costs me a spot on the team.

I throw the ball to the dirt and start storming toward Coach Donald, and it looks like I'm not alone. Jack, Ty, Shane, and all my other teammates are having the same thought as me. Clenching my fists as I get closer to Coach Donald, a voice rings out. "ERIC! STOP!!"

My body freezes at the familiar voice. I look at the stands and the only person there is standing in a black V-neck shirt, dark blue jeans, his leather jacket and his new dark grey hair with streaks of black in it. Zane comes down the steps in the stands and makes it to the field and walks over to everyone.

I see how much he's changed from the person I first met. The original Zane was always nervous, had a angered face, and he could never look anyone in the eye. This Zane has an air of confidence around him, looks like he's ten feet tall and his face is rigid and firm, screaming 'you can't hurt me.' He looks...amazing.

Zane walks up to the crowd of baseball players, who part to let him in. "Zane, what're you doing here?" I ask.

"I finished my assignments a little early and decided to see how your first practice was going," he says, walking to my side. "I've been in the stands for the last few hours. And it looks like it isn't going so well with this bigoted fuck wad."

Coach Donald takes an intimidating step toward Zane, but I step in between them. "If you so much as lay a finger on my boyfriend, I'll rip your balls off and stuff them down your fat, fucking throat," I growl.

He glances behind me and looks down at Zane. "So this little faggot is your boyfriend? I bet you two just love it when your have the other's guy's dick up your ass."

"Bend over and I'll show you how it feels, asshole," Zane snarls.

Did that just honestly come out of Zane's mouth? I've never heard him this sure of himself before. It makes me so proud of him to see how far he's come. "Now listen here you little cocksucker..." Coach Donald snarls at Zane.

"No, you listen, dipshit," Zane interrupts. "Eric here is one of the greatest baseball players you will ever meet. His pitching is perfect, he can hit like nobody's business, and his reflexes are so fucking sharp, they'll cut someone if they're even near him. He could take you down in any part of baseball. Hell, even I could strike your sorry ass out."

The guys all 'ooh' at the challenge Zane has set up, but Coach Donald slips his sunglasses off and I see his rage filled eyes. "Want to bet on the, faggot?" he asks Zane.

"Gladly. What're the stakes?"

"If I win and get even a single hit, you and your little faggot boyfriend will get some fresh cigarette burns, ten each, courtesy of me."

I feel myself cringe at the thought of a hot cigarette permanently burning my skin. "And if I win," Zane says, "you're going to get on your knees and kiss Eric's shoes and the dirt he's standing on, screaming 'I'm sorry, your greatness' one hundred times."

Coach Donald holds out his hand and spits into it. "Deal," he says. "I'll let you warm up a bit before I whoop your faggot ass."

Zane spits into his own hand and takes Coach Donald's giving it a firm shake. Coach Donald goes and grabs a bat and stretches off to the side of the field. "What the hell are you doing, Zane?" I ask. "You can damage your hands. You need them to draw."

"And you need yours to pitch," he says. "Don't worry, Eric. I've got a plan that'll take that bigot down." He turns and looks up at Jack. "Can you help me warm up? I'm not too good at pitching..."

"Uh...sure," Jack replies.

Zane glances at me and winks, and I know his plan instantly. It makes me smile knowing how devious he can be. Zane shrugs out of his jacket and hangs it on a coat hanger in the dugout and grabs the smallest mit there is. He walks out to the mound and stretches out his arms and legs, taking his time with it.

He finally finishes and he takes a ball from the bucket and looks at Jack, who nods once. Zane picks up his leg and throws the ball at Jack, but it's miserably slow. I think a little league pitcher could throw a faster ball. Jack actually has to reach forward to catch the ball. "I hope the cigarette burns don't hurt too much, Eric," Ty whispers.

"I clocked that at 58 miles an hour..." Charlie solemnly says.

I roll my eyes and focus on Zane, whose plan is going perfectly. He finishes his warm up pitches and Coach Donald walks into the batter's box, grinning evilly at Zane. "I'll aim the ball right at your face, you little cocksucker!" he screams.

Zane keeps his cool and I can almost see the words bounce off of him. Zane gives a quick nod to Jack, who opens up his mit. I can tell he thinks this is going to be over quickly, and so do I. But I already know what the outcome is going to be. Zane grabs a ball from the bucket and hides it behind his glove.

He aims carefully at the mit and lets loose. He picks his left foot up and slams it back down, turning the right side of his body forward. His form is perfect the whole way through. His arm whips forward and the grip on the baseball is something I didn't even know Zane could do: a two seam fastball.

The ball practically rockets out of Zane's hand and before I can even blink, there's a loud THUMP and dirt flies out of Jack's mit. The air is completely silent before I see Zane grin. "Strike one!" he shouts.

Coach Donald growls and tightens the grip on his bat. "What the fuck?" Charlie says.

"What's up?" Alejandro asks.

"The radar gun says that was...96 miles an hour..."

The guys look at Zane in awe while I look in admiration at him. Zane grabs another ball from the bucket and stares Coach Donald down. "Ready for the next one, fuck face?" he yells.

"Fuck off, faggot!" Coach Donald yells back.

Zane has him in the palm of his hand. Using Coach Donald's anger against him, Zane's intentionally getting Coach Donald agitated and that will make him lose his focus. Zane takes the second ball and winds up and using his forward momentum, flings the ball forward in the direction of the plate.

The ball looks to have a mind of it's own as it goes from left to right. Coach Donald swings blindly and the thump of the ball flying into Jack's mit is heavenly. Zane just threw a perfect screwball. "Strike two!" Zane yells. "One ball left! Better get those cancer-filled lips ready, ass hat!"

Coach Donald spins around the slams the head of the bat into the dirt, kicking up a cloud of dust in the process. "Fuck!" he yells. "Fuck, fuck, fuck! I can't lose to a fucking faggot!"

Zane's completely broken him. He reaches for his third ball and takes a deep breath to collect himself. "You got this, Zane!" I shout. "Take him down!"

Within a second, my teammates are cheering Zane on too. He smiles a sheepish smile, his face illuminated by a bright blush. He looks down at his glove, where he's hiding the ball, and stares intently at it. He looks back up and stares at Jack and the mit he's holding, aiming for the dark, dead center.

Zane picks up his leg and I see he's going for another fastball. But what I also see is that Coach Donald anticipated it. He's already starting his swinging motion as Zane's whips his arm forward. Oh no...he's going to hit it...

I see the ball fly out of Zane's hand and Coach Donald swings the bat forward. I await the sickening crack of the bat, but I don't hear it. In fact, I haven't even heard the ball land in Jack's mit. I try to find the ball, and I do find it, barely halfway to home plate. The ball continues its casual course and finally lands in Jack's mit and there's nothing but silence.

Zane slowly smiles and throws his mit into the dirt. "Strike three! You're out, fucker!"

The guys behind me cheer and I sprint toward Zane before I even know I'm moving. I crash into him and hug him tightly as I spin him around. "A fucking Eephus pitch!" I yell. "You took that big of a risk!"

"Because I knew it would work!" Zane happily replies.

I stop spinning him and plant a firm kiss on his lips, oblivious to the world around us. Body after body surrounds Zane and me and I see the caps of my teammates everywhere, the faces of the heads that fill the caps screaming. "Hell yeah!"

"That was awesome!"

"Can you join the team?"

Zane grins. "Sorry, art is my thing. Plus if I joined the team, I'd take the starting pitcher's spot away from Eric."

The guys all break out laughing and I punch Zane lightly in the shoulder before kissing him softly. "FAGGOTS!!"

We all turn and see Coach Donald grabbing an aluminum bat from the dugout, his face seething. He quickly storms out of the dugout, bat in hand, and toward Zane and me. "I'll be damned if I let a faggot join this team!"

The guys all quickly scatter out of the path of this deranged man while I step in front of Zane, ready to protect him. Coach Donald is barely five feet away, raising the bat in his hand above his head, when the second voice of the night rings out. "DONALD!! DROP THE FUCKING BAT BEFORE I SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS!!"

Everything seems to freeze and I turn and see my sixty-something head of Florence Moore Hall, walking toward the three of us standing in the middle of the field. Charles walks over next to Coach Donald and glares up at him. "So is this what you do when I'm not here coaching?" he asks.

Wait, Charles is...the head coach?! Why do I always feel like the world's biggest idiot? "C-Charles, I can explain..." Coach Donald whimpers.

"Fuck that," Charles says. "I've been watching everything that's been going on here since practice started. I knew that there were complaints of you being a complete bigot and the worst possible asshole there could be. If your father were here right now, he'd be so fucking ashamed of you."

Coach Donald looks down at the ground in front of him, unable to look at the man in front of him. "To think I gave you this job so you could learn what it was like to be in a position of higher authority and to help you," Charles continues. "Instead, you turn into a dictator that rules with an iron fist. I should have you fired for this..."

Coach Donald's head snaps up and he sinks to his knees in front of Charles. "No please!" he pleads. "I need this job! I have a wife and kid at home and I need to feed them! Please don't fire me! I-I'll change! I promise you I'll change! I'll get anger management lessons! I'll stop using 'faggot' and 'cocksucker' as insults! I won't try to hurt any of the players anymore! I'll treat everyone here with respect! Please!"

He goes down even further and wraps his hands around Charles' ankles. I've never seen a man sink so low before. It's really...sad. "Get up, soldier," Charles demands. Coach Donald snaps up to his feet and I can see his eyes are shiny. "How old is your kid at home?"

"S-She's just about to turn 3, sir," Coach Donald replies. "My wife works long shifts at the local hospital and I have to leave my daughter with my parents while I work my first job and she's finishing up one of her night shifts."

Charles narrows his eyes at Coach Donald for a second. "You'll get help with your anger?"

"Y-Yes, sir!"

"You'll get therapy for your bigotry?"

"Yes, sir!"

"And you're going to start treating everyone here equally, won't try to intentionally hurt anyone, and will stop being a drill sergeant?"

"Yes, sir!"

Charles stares at Coach Donald for a few more seconds. "You're going to be on equipment duty until further notice," he says. "If you so much as step foot on a baseball field, your ass is history. Understood?"

"YES, SIR!! Thank you so much, sir!"

"Now I believe there was a bet in place?" Charles looks at me and grins. He pushes Coach Donald in front of me and forces him to his knees. "If I remember, it was one hundred kisses in the dirt while screaming 'I'm sorry, your greatness' after every kiss?"

"Y-Yes, sir..." Coach Donald croaks.

He stares at the dirt for a second before pressing his lips to it and coming back up a second later. "I'M SORRY, YOUR GREATNESS!!"

For the next ten minutes, Coach Donald kisses and screams. It's both incredibly gratifying and a little saddening to know how broken a man can become. After the hundredth kiss, Coach Donald rises back to his feet, his face covered in dirt. "You're dismissed until tomorrow," Charles says. "Get home to your wife and kid. I'll tell you your duties tomorrow. And for God's sake, quit smoking. You'll never see your daughter grow up if you keep smoking a pack a day."

"Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!"

He turns around and walks off the field. "Practice is over, gentlemen," Charles says to everyone. "Be here tomorrow at 4:00 in the afternoon. You run a lap for every minute you're late. Understood?"

"Yes, Coach Higgins!" everyone screams.

"Get on out of here." The team starts to disperse. "Eric, Zane. Stay behind for a second." Zane and I turn and walk back to Charles. "I'm ashamed to have let this go on for so long. I'm sorry I didn't see this sooner and prevented it from continuing."

"Don't worry about it, Charles," I say. "None of that was your fault."

"Do you and Coach Donald go back?" asks Zane.

"To me, he's Luke," says Charles. "Luke Donald. His father, Mike Donald, and I are long time friends. He's working on a military base in Southern California and he asks me to give him updates on his son. It's going to be sad to hear how Mike takes this. But I need to tell him."

"Did you give Coach Donald this job?" I ask

"Until he gets his coaching job back, call him Luke. Luke was laid off at his last job and with a newborn baby he needed work immediately. He found one job quickly, but it wasn't enough. So I had the school hire him as an assistant coach. I trusted him when I wasn't here, and that was a bad mistake. I only wish I could have seen this happening before."

The air gets heavy for a second. "So...what're you going to do with him now?" Zane asks.

"Like I said, he's going to be on equipment duty. He'll do nothing but cleaning up and storing equipment, and that includes the laundry. I kind of can't wait until he finds his first jockstrap in the laundry. It's always priceless."

Zane and I can't help but smile. "You've worked hard today, Eric," Charles continues. "Looks like we've got a new starting pitcher for the Cardinal." I grin down at Charles, who turns his attention to Zane. "You've got a good arm on you, Zane. If you ever want to come by to help with practice, stop in whenever you want."

"Thanks Charles," Zane and I both say.

"That's Coach Higgins to you." Zane and I both chuckle. "But what you experienced today may not be the last time you'll see it. There are a lot of bigots in the world, you two. Just be prepared for what's going to come."

Zane and I both nod heavily. "Go and hit the showers, Eric," Charles says. "You smell like something I stepped in."

I roll my eyes and Zane and I start to walk to the locker room. "I'll meet you outside?" Zane asks, grabbing his jacket from the dugout as we step in.

"Sounds good," I say. "I shouldn't be too long."

Zane gives me a quick kiss and walks out of the dugout. I step into the locker room and walk in front of my locker, the keyed 'FAG' still there. What Charles said comes back into my mind. Luke was just a single person. How will stands full of people react when they find out the starting pitcher for the Stanford Cardinal is gay? Thinking about it sends the coldest shiver I've ever felt down my spine.

 

RichardAdams

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