I want to thank Cody the Pikachu for reviewing the last chapter and giving me some ideas for this chapter. You're going to see a lot more details on the operations of the law, as well as Milo gaining more confidence in the sports field and the school halls. Milo is finally taking the Smashers' advice and taking ownership of the issue, which will lead to him taking on the bullies in a much more head-on manner.
Nintendo owns Super Smash Bros. I own Milo Sullivan, his parents, his friends, and all other OC's in this story.
"How was Spring Break with the Smashers, Milo?" Scott asked as the group settled into their corner of the cafeteria once more. It was the first day back from Spring Break, and Milo was returning with anticipation but also a bit of dread. While Milo was more certain of himself after his experience with the Smashers, he was concerned for his friends. Haley had seen a lawyer during Spring Break, and Mark was still threatening violence against anyone who dared to bully them. Would things derail even before Milo could get his plan started?
Shaking his head a few times, Milo brought himself back to the present. There would be no more defeatism talk, and even if he would be derailed, Milo believed he could get everything back under control. "It was great, Scott," he responded to his friend's question, "I get to hang out with my cousin, meet a lot of the new Smashers, and even got some baseball practice in."
The mention of baseball was enough to make Mark roll his eyes, an act that did not go unnoticed by Milo. "While you guys are all about having fun, Haley here had to suffer through that nastiness," the oldest orphan pointed out, "Even then, she's coming back here still nervous about what will happen. You realize the gossiping is still around even though it's been a week?"
Milo took a deep breath. He hoped to put himself in a positive spot, meaning dwelling on the negatives should be minimized. "I know what happened was stressful and Haley was really upset, but we can't focus too much on that," he replied diplomatically, "Besides, I'm sure Haley has everything under control." Turning to the lone female of the group, Milo asked, "Did you and your parents get advice from a lawyer on what to do?"
Haley nodded. While her features were still stoic and tense, there was a sense of calmness about her. Milo figured that Haley came to terms with what happened and was now taking active measures to fix the problem. "The lawyer said I should gather all the evidence of cyberbullying that went on between them and me," she explained, methodically going through all the details, "The lawyer also said that if anyone else got cyberbullied by these guys, then I can start a class action lawsuit where several people are suing the cyberbullies together."
Milo took a minute to digest all this information. Given hazing affected junior varsity athletes of all teams, it was possible to apply this situation to him as well. While he pondered this possibility, Mark asked Haley, "Do you know anyone else who has been targeted that are willing to speak up? What if they don't want to go against the so-called big people on campus?"
Haley nodded. "I know a few that were targeted, and I do plan on asking them if they can give me information. Remember that I'm part of the social justice club, so helping these people is my job. Even if I wasn't targeted, I'll still be doing this," she stated with determination, "And before you ask, the social justice club is behind this all the way. I told you that none of them were involved in cyberbullying me, even though some of them have connections with those who did. They think what happened is wrong and they're willing to help me put an end to this. It's just unfortunate that the only way they'll take action is when it happened to someone already."
"Glad you and the social justice club came to an understanding. The last thing you want is to be on anyone's bad side," Scott remarked with a goofy grin on his face. Milo figured that Scott would not be trying to charm any more jocks, but was still remaining as upbeat as possible. At least Milo knew that Scott was likely to work constructively with him to fix the school's toxic culture, rather than threaten to snap anyone's neck. "What did the school say about this? We did visit Cassandra before Spring Break to report the incident. Any updates on that?"
As if right on cue, Sean hustled over to their table. Before Spring Break, Haley requested Sean to keep an eye on things in the student body president's office, letting them know how the school's investigation into the cyberbullying was progressing. "I don't think you'll like this, but Cassandra found out that the school was putting the investigation on hold," Sean reported, much to the shock of the group, "She didn't say why, but the principal said the investigation will be put on hiatus until things settle down a bit. Did something happen between you guys?"
All eyes turned to Haley, who creased her eyebrows and cupped her chin. "I think my parents might have called the school," Haley recalled, "They wanted to school to know that they're not standing for this, and they want something done. I'm guessing they made a threat to the principal about a potential lawsuit, which probably scared the school or something."
"But that doesn't make any sense though. If the school knows that Haley's parents are considering legal action, then shouldn't they act even quicker to stop the cyberbullying?" Milo countered, tapping his chin with a fingerless-gloved hand, "It doesn't seem right that the school stops investigating all because of a lawsuit that won't even proceed if something gets done."
Sean shrugged. "I guess the school got spooked by the lawsuit or something, and they have to look at their legal options before doing anything further?" the ball boy guessed, "I mean, it's not often you see a student sue their own school for not preventing cyberbullying, right?"
"Actually, my lawyer said that's not true. There were a couple of cases Texas and Georgia where the victims sued cyberbullies for defamation, which is what I'm doing if they don't take down what they wrote and apologize to me," Haley countered. She then described those cases, where the victims could not get school officials to do anything, which led to the lawsuits against the cyberbullies for defamation. "Right now I'm focused on the cyberbullies, not the school. I can't sue the school unless I can prove that the school was in a position where they can stop the cyberbullies," Haley added, "If they stop the cyberbullying right now, I tell my lawyer to back off on the school. What's so hard to understand about that?"
"Unless it has nothing to do with the school being sued, but with the school protecting those who are about to be sued," Mark spat. Four sets of eyes turned to Mark, who bore his eyes forward while his frown deepened by the second. It was like the next person to tick Mark off was about to have their heads shot off. "The school isn't delaying because they're weighing their legal options. They're delaying because they're afraid that if Haley sues the varsity guys, the school's reputation will take a hit. The league will suspend players, colleges will withdraw their scholarship offers, and nobody will give our athletics department the time of the day. Think of how disastrous it'll be for the school's reputation if Haley does sue!"
The entire table went silent, each individual mulling over that possibility. It was already hard to stomach the fact that Haley had to resort to legal action to stop the cyberbullying, but now the entire school was against them? The point hit Milo especially hard, given Milo was worried that his parents' reactions would turn everyone against them. But now Haley made the legal threat real, and the varsity teams would suffer the consequences. Milo originally chose not to act because he wanted the varsity people to solve the problem on their own, only to have them abuse his generosity and continued the harassment. Milo only changed his mind because Yoshi claimed Milo's strategy smacked of indecisiveness and failure to take ownership of the issue.
But now Haley was forcing the student body's hand, to the point where the bullies had no choice but to repent. Yet instead of reconciling with Haley, the school might be defending these groups. How much more climbing must the orphans do before they could dig out of this hole? "I don't think I'm hungry anymore," Milo murmured, packing his unfinished lunch and stuffing it into his bag. This latest development just confirmed the group's suspicions that the school was part of the toxic culture, and Milo did not like this finding one bit.
It was another rare start on the baseball diamond for Milo, whose team was playing as the visitor against another left-handed pitcher. Despite the poor performance from the last game, the coaches were going with percentages, meaning Milo got another start in the outfield while a left-handed batter took a day off. Given he would bat at the bottom of the order, Milo spent the first inning thinking about his defence, hoping to utilize all the skills that Yoshi taught him. "I hope this works well enough to earn me a few more starts," he murmured to himself.
Milo stared into the stands from centre field, spotting Yoshi, his friends, and his parents all in the crowd. Despite not having the home field, Brendan and Ashley insisted on showing up at this game because of Milo starting. They offered to give a ride to Mark, Scott, and Haley, all of whom were in the bleachers. Milo did not get ribbing from them or the other Smashers despite his disastrous debut, but the last thing he wanted was to be humiliated in front of them again.
Milo's team soon got tested early when two runners occupied first and second base with only one out. While no balls were hit Milo's way, Milo still observed his corner outfielders, trying to pick up what skills they had that he still had to work on. One outfielder already made a throw to the infield after one hit, and Milo was able to track the footwork and throwing motion. While they threw smoother than he did, Milo knew that he could replicate that with his throws.
A loud crack of the bat snapped Milo back to attention. Milo was about to be tested for the first time when a fly ball came whistling through the air in his direction. Remember all the skills Yoshi taught him, Milo hustled into position and set his feet with his left slightly in front of his right. The ball sailed into right-centre, meaning the runner at second could tag and take third base. For his team's sake, Milo had to make sure this did not happen under his watch.
The instant the ball hit his glove, Milo pulled his left arm down and dug his right hand into the glove. Milo pried for the baseball while shuffling his feet, placing his right foot up to his left before ripping the ball out. Stepping hard onto the ground with his left foot, Milo threw a dart straight for the infield. He could see the runner skirting away from second base, and Milo could only hope that his throw could prevent the base advancement.
Much to Milo's surprise, the runner halted a few steps from second and scurried back, diving headfirst into the bag as the second baseman, who served as the cut-off man that caught Milo's cannon, flipped the ball to the shortstop, who was covering the base. The runner was safe by a whisker, but it seemed like the entire infield was shocked at Milo's throw. Not only was it hard, it was more accurate than any of them had anticipated. With his friends and family now standing up and applauding, Milo couldn't help but let a small smile creep across his face.
The rest of the first inning ended with the home team scoring none of their runners. The second inning was even more uneventful for Milo, given his team did not get a hit, meaning Milo never had his turn at the plate. Milo also made no defensive plays at the bottom of the second, but he felt the nervousness return when he was listed to lead off the third. Milo realized that despite all of the Smashers' coaching, there had not been a situation where he had to apply the skills in a real game. Given this was his first chance, Milo could feel the anxiety to his bones.
Things got no better when Milo stepped to the plate, memories of the first game swirling in his mind. As he faced the pitcher, Milo felt his nerves go jittery and his muscles go weak. He tried hard to sweep those thoughts out of the way, focusing only on the hitting skills he learned at the Smash Mansion. He recalled Fox getting his front foot down quickly, using the pendulum movement from his upper body to drive the bat quickly through the strike zone. He also recalled comments about timing the swing properly, making sure every part of his body moved in a way that worked to the hitter's advantage. Taking a few more deep breaths, Milo got into his batting stance and faced the pitcher, prepared to face whatever pitch would come his way.
The first pitch was out of the strike zone, but not by much. Milo took the chance to calm down even more, putting into use his observations of pitcher movements. The pitcher's style did not resemble Pit at all, mainly due to the fact that he did not levitate. Nonetheless, Milo realized that the pitcher was, like Pit, a power pitcher, opting to use pitch speeds to his advantage. Given the first pitch was out of the strike zone, Milo figured that it was better to remain patient, waiting for a better pitch before swinging. With pitch speed the only thing going against him, Milo felt it was the perfect test for him to work on his swing timing.
When the next pitch came his way, Milo made sure he didn't miss. Timing his swing the way he was taught, Milo sent the barrel of the bat through the strike zone. The subsequent clack indicated that he made contact, and the ball managed to stay in fair territory. However, it could not get out of the infield, as the shortstop got his glove on it and threw it to first. Milo's first attempt to get a hit using the new baseball techniques could only end with a groundout.
Despite this, Milo felt a lot more positive, given he actually managed to put the ball in play. The mechanics he used also felt more natural, which gave him confidence for his next at-bats. His friends obviously felt the same way when he trotted back to his dugout, with Yoshi and everyone else cheering and praising him. Even the coaches noticed the changes in Milo's swing, as they commented on the tweaks and offered some tips on how to keep improving. It made Milo feel a lot better, knowing there was some way of saving his disastrous season.
The rest of the game went without much fanfare, where Milo did not make any defensive plays that were out of the ordinary. By the late innings, Milo was at the plate again, still hoping to get his first hit. His team was behind by a couple of runs, and there were two runners on base ahead of Milo. Right now, all he wanted was to put them in scoring position so they could at least tie. Staring at the relief pitcher, who replaced the one Milo faced before, Milo racked his brain for a solution. There had to be a way to get some production, right?
Just then, Yoshi called in from the stands. Calling time to the umpire, Milo trotted over to the bleachers. "Remember what I told you about your speed? You can try catching the defence napping by bunting. See if you can bunt for a hit," Yoshi suggested.
Milo tilted his eyebrows in scepticism, but didn't get much of a chance to think about it when the umpire approached him. Urging him to return to the plate, Milo stepped back into the batter's box and scanned the field. The infielders were not playing particularly close to home plate, so it wasn't out of the question that Milo could drop a bunt on them. Besides, Yoshi also mentioned Milo should use his speed more often. If Milo could get a bunt in the right spot, maybe he could get on base. Even if he didn't, the runners could still advance.
Milo finally got his chance to act on his decision when the pitcher sent a rocket in his direction. Squaring up, Milo tilted the bat horizontally and pushed the barrel into the ball. Milo barely got a chance to react when the ball bounced off his bat and rolled fair, causing the former orphan to shoot out of the batter's box and straight for first. He could see the pitcher dash off the mound to field the ball, scooping it up and hurling it at first base. Even though Milo tried to slide into the bag, the first base umpire ruled he was out by just a step.
But when Milo got up, all he heard were cheers and praises. The runners advanced a base each, and it brought up the top of their team's batting order. With the more dangerous batters now up, Milo was sure his team now had a better chance to win, with a single into the opposite field adequate for bringing the runners home. As he trotted back to the dugout, he got more cheers from his teammates, with his coaches praising his unpredictable but effective move. "We weren't sure if we wanted you to bunt, since you've never bunted before," the head coach pointed out, "But it worked out for us, so let's see if we can win this. Good work, Milo."
Milo managed a weak smile after that. It was the first time someone praised him for an offensive output rather than his defensive play. While it was a bit disconcerting to hear his coach claim he wasn't sure if Milo should bunt, it was great to see Milo prove his worth that way. With the next batter now up, Milo could only hope that this would work out. He made a mental note to thank the Smashers later on, but right now Milo was just happy things were turning around.
"You looked really poised at the batter's box yesterday," Mark commented as the group strolled down the hallway during a locker break. Milo went hitless again, but did show better skills on both sides of the ball. "I bet you're happy the coaches noticed all those improvements."
Milo nodded. "Yeah, it's good they feel confident about me, but unless there are more left-handed pitchers, I think I'm staying on the bench for the rest of the season," Milo observed. Despite his progress, Milo doubted the coaches were too willing to mess with the lineup, opting to play the percentages in hopes of getting into a higher ranking. "The playoffs are coming up, and things may go down to the wire. I don't think we want to mess this up."
"Hey, where's Haley today? Did anyone see her?" Scott asked, closing his locker and taking a gander around. Oddly enough, the lone female of the group was not with them. The group, but especially Mark, was still concerned with the school actively protecting the culprits of the cyberbullying. Did Haley get upset and tried to take things into her own hands? "Should we try to call or text her, just to check if she's okay?"
Just then, the varsity baseball team's ball boy hustled up to them with a fearful expression on his face. "Guys, I suggest you stay away from the varsity guys right now. Not just Mick, but any and all varsity captains," he warned the former orphans, "They weren't too happy that Haley was going around gathering info on cyberbullying and now they're kind of on the warpath."
Before they could even react, Mick and Ralph marched right up to the group. Shoving Sean out of the way, the baseball and soccer captains grabbed Milo and pinned him to the line of lockers. "What are you trying to pull, Sullivan?" Mick demanded, his tone low and murderous, "You think you can send that slutty whore of yours to ruin our reputations?"
Milo's heart pounded his ribcage so hard that he thought it was about to pop straight out of his chest. Milo wasn't the biggest kid in the school, but one didn't have to be short like him to be scared of the school's varsity athletes. Other than bringing back all the glory of sports wins, they were also big people to contend with. Who could beat one of these guys in a fistfight?
Milo got the answer to his question in the form of Mark. "What's the matter with you guys? Milo didn't do anything to you, so step away from him!" Mark yelled, grabbing Ralph and yanking him off. It only enraged the soccer captain, who shoved Mark right into Scott. "What's wrong with you guys?" Mark snapped, struggling to disentangle himself from his brother.
Mark and Scott got an answer from the varsity football quarterback and the varsity basketball captain, who pinned the brothers against the lockers as well. While that happened, Ralph barged back into Milo's vision again. "Your slutty friend was asking people if they've received messages from us, and that crossed the line," the auburn-haired athlete growled, "No one threatens us with lawsuits, you hear? Learn your place, and maybe we'll let you off easy."
"Oh, really?" Mark interjected, managing to partially free himself from the basketball captain's grip, "Don't tell me about crossing the line when you and your cheerleaders did the same thing. Since when is slandering someone online acceptable? If Haley is talking to victims of your cyberbullying, then I think you're getting your just desserts. Why don't you guys stop the slanders and actually do something constructive for the student body?"
Mark received a forearm to the face in return for his remarks, the lockers clanging as a result of his head slamming back. "Hey, leave my brother alone!" Scott shouted, trying to push the varsity quarterback away from his body, "I tried to be nice to you guys, but you are a bunch of horrible people! You deserve to be sued by Haley if this continues!"
"Zip it, maggot! It's not your place to speak!" Mick retorted, sending a death glare at Scott. Turning back to Milo, he continued, "Is this about the initiation thing? You don't want to be part of the traditions, so you sent Sewer Rat after us? If you don't do the initiation, then you can forget about showing your face here. We'll make it so no one at this school welcomes you."
"Is there a problem here?" a female voice called. Every set of eyes turned to the end of the hallway, where Haley stood with Sean to her side. "Sean came stumbling out of the halls and literally ran into me. He told me you guys were picking a fight with my friends." Haley marched over and positioned herself before Mick and Ralph, who still had Milo pinned. Crossing her arms, Haley narrowed her eyes. "You want me to add battery and assault on top of defamation?"
Sean immediately scurried to the combatants, pleading with them to stop the fight. There was already a crowd gathering, most of whom looked on either in curiosity or anticipation. Milo didn't have to be a psychic to know that they were probably wishing that the jocks pounded them into the ground. Turning back to Haley, Milo could see that she was unfazed and defiant, which Milo gave her much props for. "I'm already onto you guys, and at least a few of your junior varsity soccer guys gave me info already," she warned the jocks, "If you don't back down, I guarantee there will be a class action lawsuit against all of you."
Haley tilted her head back, where Ralph caught a glimpse of Richie and Willis. The Chinese boy and his spikey-haired friend stared back with uncompromising glares. Those two freshmen were already against hazing, but to side with Haley? Releasing Milo's arm, Ralph shot towards the two junior varsity players in fury, ready to teach them the lesson of a lifetime.
Yet the varsity soccer captain barely got three steps before Haley blocked him off. "You want to get to them, you have to get through me first," the brunette growled, pursing her lips and narrowing her eyes. Even though she was shorter than Ralph, Haley would not cede an inch to him. "You want to go toe-to-toe with me, pretty boy?" Haley challenged.
Haley and Ralph stared each other down for several seconds, but it seemed more like hours to Milo and everyone else involved. Amidst the whispering and accusing fingers from the students, Ralph finally backed down. "You idiots aren't worth my time," he muttered, waving at the rest of the varsity captains. As each varsity jock released their captors, Ralph warned the orphans one last time, "No more stepping out of line, or you'll be sorry."
Haley stared back, fists on her hips and eyes boring straight at the retreating jocks. From his position, Milo slowly peeled himself off the lockers and slowly loosened his body. Luckily, he suffered no cuts or bruises, but the trauma that recurred was not about to leave his mind soon. Milo had to give Haley much credit for standing her ground and not letting those jerks intimidate her. Ever since Haley vowed to take a more mature approach to solving the problem, there was a great change in the way she carried herself about. Now, with Milo promising to be more decisive and take ownership of his problems, Milo hoped to display the same courage Haley did today.
"I think these guys just bought one-way tickets on the Titanic," Yoshi commented to Milo. It was after the former orphan's baseball practice, and he got a chance to meet up with Yoshi afterwards. What surprised Milo was that there were several Smashers practicing baseball in an adjacent field, of which Yoshi was one. Milo took the opportunity to update Yoshi on what happened at school today, and the dinosaur was not impressed. "You have got to be the dumbest person in the world to continue picking fights when you are about to be sued."
Milo shrugged. It was not a comfortable feeling to have four varsity captains pin him and the Kerry brothers to the lockers. The only thing he felt relieved about was Sean reporting this incident to Cassandra, while Richie and Willis sided with Haley and supplied her with cases of cyberbullying. "Richie and Willis said they're definitely in with Haley," Milo continued, fixing his eyes on the next Smasher batter, "Sean also said he's keeping an eye on the varsity baseball team. It'll be awkward at their games, with Sean still serving as their ball boy."
"Haley is very brave, I'll give you that," Yoshi responded. The twosome was behind the right-handed batter's box, where the mysterious swordsman Marth was batting in. Milo knew Marth had been a Smasher since the second gathering, but little else. Yoshi and others indicated that Marth kept to himself a lot, occasionally communicating with other members of his world, such as a former Smasher named Roy and a current Smasher named Ike. "Is everything else going okay? Nobody on your team gave you trouble, right?"
Milo nodded. The junior varsity baseball team was aware of the confrontation between the varsity captains and Haley, but did not make a big deal out of it. "The coaches liked what they saw from my bunting, and told me to keep working on it," he replied, watching Marth take another swing. Milo was shocked to see that the pitcher was Zelda instead of Peach or Pit, who pitched to Milo when he was at the Smash Mansion. "Where did Pit go?" Milo asked Yoshi.
"Pit's still at the mansion. He's over the moon right now after hearing that Palutena is one of the new Smashers joining us," Yoshi informed Milo, "Samus is also staying back after Captain Falcon was confirmed to return. They're from different worlds but became friends after meeting during our first iteration. And from what I heard, Marth and Ike might soon be having a few more friends from their world join us. Their names are Lucina and Robin, I believe?"
Marth took one more swing before stepping back from the plate. "That's right," he answered Yoshi, "Lucina and I have similar fighting styles, except she's a girl and I'm a guy. It'll be interesting to see her challenge me, because we practically know each other's moves."
"She even looks a lot like you, doesn't she?" the swordsman identified as Ike pointed out. As the two members of the Fire Emblem world stood beside each other, Milo could see how they were similar. Both men had dark blue hair, but Ike had a green headband around his forehead. Both had a long cape on, with Marth's being dark blue while Ike's was red-brown. Marth had visible chest and shoulder armour, while Ike's armour only covered his left shoulder. Finally, Ike had a much heavier sword than Marth, which Milo figured would take two hands to wield.
"Can we take a break for now? I want to stretch my knees a bit," Link called from behind the plate. The Smashers all stepped off the field and wandered about to keep loose. With Link, Marth, and Ike all present, and the fact that Zelda was also proficient with a rapier, Milo felt this was more a battle of swords rather than pitchers and hitters.
Approaching Marth, Milo decided to ask the mysterious man a bit about his history. "I'm best known as Yoshi's cousin, although I'm sure you know a bit about how that came to be," Milo began, not sure how to approach this supposedly aloof man, "So what do you do?"
Marth turned to Milo, his emotionless eyes and face reminding the former orphan of his friend Mark. "I'm from a kingdom called Altea, where I was the crown prince," he explained in a neutral, almost disinterested tone, "I was exiled for a while before fighting back and regaining my kingdom. Now I'm about to be crowned emperor and marry the love of my life Shiida."
"Geez, Marth! You make it sound like the kid's pulling your teeth. He just wants to know a bit more about you because he never met up with us last time," Ike snorted, much to Marth's chagrin. Turning to Milo, Ike took a dig at his fellow swordsman. "Did you know that when he was a kid, Marth was naïve to the point of no return? He asked the most childish questions and followed Shiida like a lovesick puppy dog. It was pretty hilarious, if you ask me!"
"Hey, knock it off!" Marth snapped, taking a playful shove at Ike, "I'm not like that anymore. At least I know I have to fight for my ideals and keeping my cool. It's too bad most of you guys think I'm the serious, no-fun guy in the Smash Mansion!"
"I never said it was a bad thing. Besides, you told stories of your childhood to not just me, but other Smashers too. What's wrong with telling them to a Smasher's cousin?" Ike teased, nudging Marth with his elbow, "I was once a naïve kid too, taking things at face value and not thinking things through. But at least I make sure I don't treat anyone with prejudice, staying humble and not asking for extravagant rewards, and protecting those I love. I think people can change when they grow up, and I feel confident about what I've become with my growth."
Milo watched the two swordsmen bicker jokingly while finding resonance with Ike's comments. He grew a lot throughout the last few years, and his loved ones really helped his growth. From being adopted by Yoshi's family to adapting to the new school, Milo had his share of adversity, and even today he was finding new ways to deal with them. It was unfortunate that Haley had to resort to legal action to stop the bullying, but Milo admired her and the Kerry brothers for taking a stand. Now Milo was determined to do the same and not let anyone down.
After a few minutes, the Smashers started their batting practice again. This time, Ike decided to catch for Zelda. The Hylian ruler did a few warmup tosses while the next batter prepared to step up. "I never knew you throw sidearm as well, Zelda," Milo observed.
Zelda glanced over at Milo with a smile before slinging the baseball at Ike. "Peach and I have similar throwing styles," she responded, "I don't know who copied whom, but I know I feel the most comfortable pitching this way. If it can work out, then I don't care how weird it looks. I'm not going to let something as trivial as throwing style stop me from succeeding."
Milo nodded. Like Zelda's pitching style, Milo's life was anything but orthodox, having lived on the streets and in an orphanage before being adopted by two non-humans. But with this eclectic cast supporting him, Milo would not trade this life for anything in the world. No matter what the varsity jocks felt about his group's actions, Milo was not about to let that stop them. Turning back to home plate, he saw Link step into the left-handed batter's box wearing extra-large gauntlets and carrying a strange contraption. "What's that all about?" he asked.
Link glanced at Milo with a tilted grin. "I thought I'd bring some of my weirder weapons here, just to see how well and how far I can hit the ball," Link replied. He then prepared his contraption, a ball-and-chain that was the largest weapon Milo had ever seen. The spiked metal ball at the end of the chain was easily half Link's height. "None of these have been approved for this tournament, so I can't use them on the Smashers," Link added, starting to twirl the chain.
Before Milo could react, Zelda got into position and sent the baseball towards Link. The Hylian hero sent the spiked ball through the strike zone like it was made by foam. The loud clang from contact with the baseball sent the pitch flying off so fast that Milo could not keep track of where it flew off to. Link just stood at home plate, letting the spiked ball land beside him. "I'd be surprised if that thing landed anything less than a thousand feet," he commented before finally catching everyone's frustrated stares, "I supposed you want me to fetch that ball back, right?" Link asked, rubbing the back of his head and grinning sheepishly.
"I can't believe they're pitching a perfect game against us," Milo muttered, staring at the field in disgust. Milo barely had time to digest the Smashers' words regarding the confrontation with the varsity captains, given he had a game the very next day. It also did not help that they were playing the best team in the league, with a very talented starting pitcher on the mound against them. "At this rate, we're never getting a hit," he grumbled.
Milo stared back at the mound, watching the red-haired pitcher throwing heat at the hitters and making his team look stupid. From what Milo heard, the pitcher was the younger cousin of Ralph, the varsity soccer captain. While Milo was not surprised at the resemblance in both physical appearance and athletic abilities, he was more concerned with Ralph's reactions to this. Would Ralph use this loss as another method to rag on the junior varsity baseball team, and particularly to Milo and the orphans, so the varsity captains could conduct their hazing rituals?
Milo's attention was snapped back to the field when the third batter of the inning struck out against the indomitable pitcher. With his team now back on defence, Milo could only glance at the scorecard that the coaches placed on their bench. It was the end of the sixth inning, and time was running out. Not only must Milo's team hold the other team to no runs, but they had to generate some offence. With no base runners getting on, there was no way they would get a run.
Things went precariously for Milo's team, with their pitcher walking the first two batters. A sacrifice bunt put them on second and third with one out, and a single by the next batter would double the current lead. Milo's hands rubbed his cheeks nervously, his stomach churning harder and harder as their pitcher faced off against the next batter. It was the heart of the order coming up for the other team, and Milo wasn't sure if his pitcher could get those dangerous hitters out.
Much to Milo's relief, the hitter grounded out to first base, with the ball close enough in the infield to not allow the runner on third to score. Despite this, Milo's heart still pounded non-stop when the best slugger from their team stepped up to the plate. The hitter resembled a bodybuilder more than a baseball player with that strapping body and musclebound arms. Milo chewed his lower lip nervously, hoping the player didn't hit one out of the park.
A pitch low and away gave the hitter a favourable count, putting one ball and no strikes on the record. The hitter stretched his arms and legs again, nonchalantly stepping in and out of the batter's box while eyeing the diamond. It was like the hitter was daring Milo's to give his best shot. Milo could only cover the lower half of his face, his digits flirting with his eyelids. His pitcher did the windup, and the pitch was on its way.
The bat sailed through the strike zone so fast that all Milo heard was a loud crack. The runners on second and third immediately took off, heading straight for home while the baseball whistled through the air and into the outfield. Milo could see the centre fielder edging closer and closer to the wall, fearful that he might run out of room. Milo slowly lifted himself off his seat, squinting his eyes and focusing in on the outfielder. "He has to make that catch," Milo whispered to himself, "He just has to, or we'll lose the game."
Luckily, the ball fell into the glove of the outfielder, getting that much-needed third out. None of the runs counted, and the score remained the same. However, relief became concern when the outfielder had difficulty standing up. It was a jumping catch at the wall, and his back slammed hard against it. The coaches immediately hustled onto the field to check on the player, and Milo's worries were only heightened after that. With one of their most athletic players and accomplished hitters being pulled from the game, could they muster the offence to win?
Milo's eyes never left the injured player as the assistant coach escorted that player to the trainers in the back. Milo did not even notice the head coach tap him on the shoulder. "Sullivan, grab a bat. You're going in as the injury replacement," he instructed Milo. The former orphan glanced back in surprise, blinking a few times and pointing at himself confusedly. "Yes, I'm talking to you. Get warmed up, let's go!" the coach added, clapping his hands to hurry him.
Milo stumbled away from his current position and pulled a bat from the rack. Quickly glancing at the batting lineup, Milo realized he was now the leadoff batter, being the first up in the bottom of the seventh inning. Milo had a lot in common with the injured player, given both had speed that could do a lot of damage on the base paths. The only difference was that the player could get on, while Milo still could not. As Milo loosened his arms and took a couple of practice swings, he wondered if he could do what no one could do and solved this pitcher.
"Hey look, Milo is batting!" Milo turned to the bleachers and saw his parents cheering. Yoshi and the orphans were also there, surprised that he got an at-bat but also pleased to see him get a chance to perform. He gave them a quick wave before going into the batter's box, getting into his stance and staring back at the pitcher. The pitcher had that same arrogance that Ralph exhibited at school and on the soccer field, which didn't make Milo feel any better.
Unlike his previous at-bats, Milo did not swing at the first pitch. Instead, he chose to observe the pitcher's pitching style, trying to think where he had seen similar styles. The ball sizzled into the catcher's mitt, getting the first strike against Milo. The pitcher's speed reminded Milo of Pit, whose pitches had more velocity but took longer to reach the plate due to the angel's strange delivery. With these factors cancelling out, Milo felt the best way to go was to time those pitches in the exact way Milo did with Pit's pitches.
Milo put a charge into the next swing, hearing a loud pop off the bat. Unfortunately, the ball rolled foul, meaning he now had two strikes against him. Two more pitches went Milo's way but neither resulting in a hit, the earlier one being a ball while the next one was also fouled off. Milo took a gander at the infielders, all of whom concentrated at Milo but were in relatively relaxed poses. It was like they were expected Milo to hit the ball to them. Milo recalled Yoshi telling him that he could use his speed in a bunt situation, and wondered if he could attempt that here. Could he catch the infielders off guard and get himself on that way?
Milo took a glance back at the pitcher, recalling a peculiar trait about him. Because of the strength he put into every pitch, the pitcher tilted towards the first base side of the mound after the release. That opened the left side of the infield, giving Milo the time and space to drop down a bunt. With a whole new possibility now in play, Milo figured he had to take the chance.
Stepping into the batter's box once more, Milo racked his brain for the techniques in bunting. All he had to do was push the ball down the third base line, and the rest was on his speed. He did attempt a bunt in his last game, even though it wasn't a hit. All he had to do was position it better, and things would work out. Just when the pitcher began his routine, Milo squared up his body and placed the bat on a horizontal plane.
The ball bounced off Milo's bat and dropped into the left side of the infield, just like he expected. Milo did not take any time to admire his bunt, dropping the bat and racing down towards first base. From the corner of his eye, Milo could see the third baseman field the ball with his bare hand. He was about to release a dart to first base, meaning Milo was in for a very close play. Taking a huge gamble, Milo stretched out his arms and dove for first base.
Milo glanced up to see the first base umpire signal safe, but also noticed that the ball was never caught. Instead of making an accurate throw, the third baseman rushed it and sent it into shallow right field instead. Seeing the opportunity to help his team, Milo scrambled to his feet and charged towards second base. He slid in just before the throw from the right fielder got in, breaking up the perfect game with a bunt single and getting to second base on an error.
Milo clapped his hands and shouted in excitement, ecstatic that he could now give his team new life. He saw the opposing team's pitcher and fielders give him dark looks, but Milo dismissed that as their frustration at the error. Including this inning, Milo's team had nine outs to score two runs in order to tie, and three to win. With no outs and Milo standing on second base, there was a very good chance to do some damage. "Come on, you guys! Bring me home!" he yelled to the next hitter now standing at home plate.
"Is your shoulder doing okay today, Milo?" Mark asked, fetching his lunch from his bag before closing his locker. Milo had what was his best offensive game to date by getting on base twice. The first was courtesy of his gutsy bunt single, which the opposing team did not take well. That led to his second at-bat, which allowed Milo to get on courtesy of a bean ball to his left shoulder. "We all know they threw at you on purpose, so don't even defend them."
"I'm not defending them, Mark. And yes, my shoulder is feeling better," Milo replied, rotating his left arm for emphasis. Milo heard that the other team took issue with Milo breaking up a perfect game by bunting, so the pitcher hit Milo in retaliation. "If those guys are dumb enough to give me first base for free, then I'm more than happy to take it. Besides, I stole a base after getting on and scored the winning run. It can't get better than that, now can it?"
"I'm just surprised Mick, Ralph, and the other varsity guys didn't get on your case," Scott commented, following his brother and Milo into the cafeteria, "Ralph might get you for bunting on his relative, while Mick will probably have his two cents as well. I just have a bad feeling about what they'll do, so let's be careful when we see them."
Milo shrugged. While he was concerned about the varsity captains, he felt no need to be worried. As far as Milo was aware, the only thing that mattered was winning that game so his junior varsity team could take a step closer to making the playoffs. Moreover, with the previous confrontation where Haley threatened a lawsuit against them, Milo doubted the varsity people's ability to carry out any threats. "Let's just enjoy our lunch in peace, okay?" he suggested.
The three boys approached their table, where Sean and Haley were waiting for them. Haley seemed to be doing much better, despite what happened in the hallway yesterday. With her usual swagger and poise accentuating her every word and step, Haley was unaffected by the jocks' words. "You played well yesterday, Milo," Haley complimented the boy with the reverse ball cap, "Things are getting better for you, and soon those jerks will leave you alone."
"If I were you, I'd still not do anything to insult them, but at least you showed that they can't tease you anymore, so you can tell them to back off if they do," Sean added, taking a bite from his sandwich. That got every set of eyes staring at the resident klutz, given he usually defended this group at the expense of the orphans. Now he mentioned wanting to tell the jocks to stand down? That was a huge change of scenery for them.
"Anyway, let's forget about that for now. Why don't we focus on the orphanage event? It's coming up in about a month, and we still don't have everything prepared," Scott suggested. That got the group back to the planning stages, where they still had to hash out all the details. It did not help that their event coincided with Athletics Appreciation Night, meaning the group still could not find anybody at the school to help them. "I've approached the band again, and they're all rejecting me. At least we have the Smashers on our side," Scott pointed out.
The group of friends glanced at Milo, who offered some updates of his own. "I think we can have us perform with the Smashers on several songs, and then anyone from the school who wants to perform can do so as well. But I think we should do a song at the end where it's just the four of us," Milo suggested, gesturing at the four former orphans at the table, "I have a few songs in mind that are pretty symbolic for our situation. Do you want to see what they are?"
Milo pulled out several song sheets with lyrics on them, letting Mark, Scott, and Haley take their picks of which final song to perform. Even though he was not part of the final song, Sean got his say as well, making suggestions here and there. Before long, the group was totally absorbed into this discussion, devouring their lunch and bouncing ideas off of each other. Even without the school's help, the five were confident that this show would be a great success. A lot of orphans were about to have their day brightened by their act of charity.
Yet before any of them could say another word or toss out another idea, a series of shadows loomed over them. The group glanced up and any traces of smiles disappeared from their faces. "Hey guys, what's up?" Sean greeted with a weak voice.
Standing before the group was the varsity captains, all of whom were fuming in anger. "Shut it, ball boy. My beef is with Sullivan over there," Mick growled, dismissing Sean like he was an annoying fly. Turning to the smallest orphan, he leaned his mean face closer to Milo. "What were you playing at yesterday? You want to prove that you're the biggest cheap shot artist in the entire school? What were you thinking by bunting for a hit?"
Milo's heart rate and breathing fluttered, but he took several deep breaths to keep them under control. "Is there a problem with that?" Milo responded, neither flustered nor defiant, "I was trying to win the game for my team. I got the job done, didn't I?"
"It was a cheap shot," Greg, the alternate captain, snapped back, "You just broke one of baseball's most important unwritten rules. You don't break up a no-hitter with a bunt. That's just a chicken play and it goes to show how spineless you are. If you want a hit, then you take your hacks like a man. You just lost whatever little respect anyone in this school has for you."
"And you just lost whatever sanity you have left in your head!" Haley retorted, shooting out of her chair, "We were at the game, and we saw what happened. It was a two-run lead for the other guys, so our team was still in it. What do you expect Milo to do at that time, surrender and wave the white flag? Or are you mad that Ralphie-boy's cousin didn't get the perfect game?" she sneered, pointing a long finger at the soccer captain.
"What did I tell you the other day? Know your place in the school!" Ralph roared back, jabbing a finger in Haley's direction, "We're the big people on campus because we earned it. You're a bunch of maggots because you haven't. And until you do, we get to do what we want."
"And does doing whatever you want include getting sued?" Mark countered. The oldest orphan now stood up, slowly getting to his full height and glaring back at the captains with a murderous look, "You say you got respect because you earned it, but then you tell Milo to give your cousin an easy out. I hardly call that earning anything. I say you're only doing this because you want everyone to do things your way. Well, I have news for you: we won't be terrorized any longer. You leave peacefully and there won't be a confrontation. You don't back down and I guarantee you won't be going home intact. What do you choose?"
By now, every student at the tables near them turned their attention to Mark and Ralph. The oldest orphan and the soccer captain were now inches from each other, fists clenched and bodies tense. Even Scott and Sean were aware of what was about to transpire, getting into place to hold back Mark in case the fists flew. Milo took another glance around and realized he was literally in the middle of the confrontation. Glancing up at the to-be combatants, he eked out, "Uh, guys? Can we just tone it down? We don't have to start a fight, do we?"
More Korra references in this chapter, along with a wide range of inspirations. So here we go:
1.) Cody the Pikachu and Kelev deserve a lot of praise for giving me the idea that the school is part of the toxic culture. These two, but Kelev especially, mentioned that it's totally possible for a school to defend the athletes in order to preserve their reputation, meaning any bullying by the varsity captains will likely go unpunished. That's why Haley has to get a lawyer involved, so that she can get a remedy for her issues.
2.) This leads to the lawsuit Haley is starting against the cyberbullies. The cases she mentioned from Texas and Georgia are true (search for "the Esquivels" in Texas and "Alex Boston" in Georgia). Theoretically speaking, cyberbullying is a type of defamation if the cyberbullies made false statements about Haley in a malicious manner that damaged Haley's reputation. Since we all saw the lead-up to the event from previous chapters, Haley does have a cause of action.
3.) The new weapons Link used in this chapter at the baseball diamond are all from "Hyrule Warriors" where Link can now access a whole bunch of weapons other than his sword and bow. The large ball-and-chain is probably the weirdest but most powerful weapon I saw him use in the demos, so I had to include that in this story somehow.
4.) Scott's comment about the varsity team being horrible people is from Bolin's line to Hiroshi Sato about him being a horrible father to Asami, while Haley's confrontation pose and words with the soccer captain is identical to Korra's when she first confronted Tahno. Those scenes in Korra just work so well for this story, so I had to include them as well.
5.) One of the most controversial unwritten rules of baseball is that one cannot bunt against a pitcher pitching a perfect game. The idea is that the hitters should "earn" the hit by swinging away rather than using gimmicks like bunts. However, this rule is often challenged in close game situations, where only a few runs can turn the game in the other team's favour. I personally don't see a problem with bunting that way, but this topic is fiercely debated. What happened here is just an application of that debate into an already tense situation with Milo and the bullies.
Okay, we're left with Mark ready to drop the gloves against Ralph. The captain who is behind all the hazing is now taking on the oldest and most volcanic of the orphans. What do you think will happen next? If you don't want to miss it, make sure you come by for the next chapter!