A/N - My email alert-review-pm thing is working! How great is that?
Well, this is it folks. The last chapter. I can't tell you how much fun this has been and I thank you all for reading and reviewing. After finishing my first fanfic, I'm officially hooked, a true review junkie. I've got a fever and the only cure is cowbell, baby... Wait, no... That's not right.
Well, anyways, let's finish the story.
Suddenly I turned around and she was standin' there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm..."
Shelter from the Storm, Bob Dylan
There's a scene near the end of the movie, Field of Dreams, where Kevin Cosner is talking with the ghost of his father. They're standing on the baseball diamond that Kevin destroyed his corn crop for and his dad asks them if they're in heaven. Kevin responds, 'no, it's Iowa.' His dad says he thought it was heaven because that's where dreams come true. And there in that baseball field in Iowa, his dream came true. They turn around and see Kevin's movie wife and daughter playing on the porch swing and Kevin thinks that yeah, maybe this is heaven after all.
Paraiso, California wasn't Iowa but Don was certain it was as close to heaven as he had ever been. From his spot on second base, Don could see Emily and his Dad watching him along with Ben, who stood at the chain link fence, waved his hand and shouted, "Bring it home, Dad!" He focused his attention back on the game. The Paraiso Pirates were up to bat and with a teammate on third, he couldn't quite steal another base.
Several months after Ben was born, Don had put out some feelers and found an old sports center for sale in a small town in the San Gabriel Mountains. It wasn't far from Los Angeles and maybe an half an hour's drive from Pasadena. It wasn't much to look at, lots of repairs had to be done: the in-door basketball court had to be refinished, the batting cages weren't really 'cages' anymore and the baseball field was wore out and the stadium lights were mostly burnt out.
It was a labor of love putting humpty dumpty back together again.
Alan worked on designs and Charlie took the summer off from teaching to pitch in. Don and Emily spent the better part of two months commuting between Venice and Paraiso until they found a cedar-shingled house on the side of a hill. It wasn't as large as the Craftsman, but bigger than the cabin or their house by the canal. There was a fireplace and built-in bookcases, four bedrooms and two baths spread generously over two floors. Emily liked the wrap-around front porch while Don favored the oak flooring, but the balcony over-looking a river behind the house was what caught their regard.
Don painted Ben's room blue and put up several long forgotten Dodgers posters of his youth, Steve Sax, Kirk Gibson and Don Drysdale. Emily snuck in later and hung a photo of her Don in full swing along with his Rangers card right next to the crib. He blushed and turned his head when they tucked Ben in later that night, but before he could escape, Emily gave him a soft smile, "I want you to know that I am so proud of all of what you've done... And I want Ben to know how cool you are."
"You're just saying that 'cause you're my wife."
Her index finger slid over the frame and then moved to his chest, down his sternum, her breath hot against his neck, "Maybe so, but doesn't that make me uniquely qualified to judge all your qualities and attributes?"
A easy grin worked its way across his face, "I don't think we should be talking about attributes in front of the baby here..."
"Then let us repair to the master suite."
Don followed as Emily pulled him along, "Repair? I didn't think anything was broken..."
It's a practiced art keeping close enough to the base to stay safe, yet still be able to keep a lead to steal the next base in line. Don's left foot kept a close edge to second, the right ready to go for third when he had the chance. John Kinsella was up to bat and he had a wicked arm. Don readied himself to be cleared all the way home. There was the expected crack and the adrenaline surge as the ball flew over the outfielders. He hustled past third as the line coach waved him home.
He jogged through the dugout, exchanging high fives and 'way-to-go's' with his teammates. Don chewed at a piece of Wrigley's as he glanced up at the scoreboard. Today has been a very good day...
Before he could reach in the cooler for a water bottle, a small fist tugged at his pants, "Here, Daddy..." The three year old struggled with her burden. Don took the nalgene and smiled at the long mess of reddish-brown curls, "Thanks, Dinah." He picked her up and she giggled as he slid her up and around his shoulders. "Let's go find your momma..."
They stepped out of the dug-out as Emily raced over, "Dinah, what did I say about going in there while Daddy's game's on?"
There was a smug little grin on the girl's face as she looked down at her mother, "Daddy liked it..."
Emily ran her fingers through her hair, "And you've got Daddy wrapped around your little finger." She rolled her eyes and mock glared at her husband, "Look what you've started... It's a wonder they even listen to me."
Don kept one hand on Dinah's leg and the other he draped around Emily's shoulders as they walked towards the bleachers, "If it makes you feel any better, I listen to you..." She snorted and Don protested, "I do... Hey where are the boys any ways?"
"Leopold and Loeb? They hoodwinked dear old Uncle Charlie to take them and Maggie for ice cream when I wasn't looking." Emily slid an arm around Don's waist, "And Ben and your Dad headed back for the house."
"You know, they just might turn criminal if you keep calling them that..."
She ran her fingers along his side, "Not with you to keep them on the straight and narrow."
Don waved at his brother, motioned at his niece's frozen treat, "I hear you're out to ruin dinner."
It had taken a long time for Charlie and Amita to have Maggie. Don remembered all their doctor's appointments and the uncomfortable times at the Craftsman when Emily was pregnant with Jacob and Noah. There was one evening in particular that stood out in his memory. Emily was five months along at the time and Amita came home from CalSci, took one look at her and locked herself away in the bedroom upstairs. Emily and Ben left with Alan for the store, leaving Don to try to talk with Charlie, working furiously in the garage.
It hadn't ended well.
Don stood by the dryer and watched as his brother broke down in front of him. The mathematician sank on the couch, curls wild, eyes red and cutting words, "You're better at something than me, Don. You can give your wife children. Heck, you don't even have to try and she's pregnant..."
The tension in the air sizzled and cracked, "Charlie... please don't do this..."
"Do what Don?" The mathematician's tone was bitter and sarcastic, hardly sounded like him. "That shouldn't be a problem because apparently I can't."
Don protested, said he was wrong. Charlie asked him to leave, to take his pregnant wife and two year old and just leave. Don quietly nodded and left, leaving Charlie to his chalkboards and grief. It was several weeks later before there was a shaky truce, and life even broached a sense of normalcy by the twins arrival. Though there was a sense of melancholy that was apparent yet was left unacknowledged.
It was a year and a half before Amita's pregnancy test finally read positive.
Don shrugged off the unpleasant memories as Charlie looked sheepish and Maggie dragged her tongue through the vanilla soft serve, "Hey, if you're game hadn't gone into extra innings..."
Don chuckled, "You mean since Amita's pregnant and off her feet at the house, this one..." He motioned to the five year old, "can get away with whatever she likes..."
He was almost certain that Charlie mumbled 'something like that...'
"Oh, look at you two..." Emily groaned, "Charlie, you just had to let them get chocolate." She knelt on the ground, facing the two seven year olds, dug through her large handbag for some wet wipes.
They weren't identical. Noah was the taller of the two with deep set green eyes and thick black hair. Jacob was a tad shorter, slightly more husky with brown eyes and sandy coloured curls. Though they did have matching chocolate stains on their mouths and matching paths dribbled down the front of their shirts. "What am I going to do with you both?" The boys exchanged glances and Emily looked at them, then Charlie and then at Don. "Yuppers, double the trouble..."
There was a tinge of amusement in Don's voice as he smiled, eyes crinkled in a most flirtacious way, "And double your fun..."
She snorted, "Is that what they call it now?" Shoving the last of the wet ones into Don's pocket, Emily grabbed the two boys by the hand and marched them toward their SUV, "I think we better get home before poor Amita gets all lonely by herself..." Holding the door open as the boys clamored into the vehicle she sighed, "And before I go crazy..."
Don studied the outline of the house in the steadily fading August light, Juliet's firey-footed steeds nearing Phoebus' lodging. There was some split wood around the side of the shed. He hauled a couple of bundles to the fire pit around the back of the house. Fireflies skated softly through the night air, Maggie and Dinah chased after them, failing to catch any yet laughing just the same. Amita lounged in a reclining beach chair, looking like some fairy queen from Arabian Nights, Charlie happily waiting on her, hand and foot.
There was a whoop that broke the stillness as Ben raced with his dog, Ranger, followed closely by his two younger brothers. Out of all his children, Ben most closely resembled him. There was the strong nose, blackish curls and large brown eyes. At ten, he was a handful, at best he lived up to his name. Son of my right hand... Benjamin was serious in regard to his responsibilities toward his younger siblings. Don, ever cautious, ever watching, keeping him from growing up too quickly, drawing on his own experience, letting Ben be himself, wanting him to shine.
All three of his sons went out for baseball. Benjamin, Jacob and Noah. Don was proud and told Emily that he only needed six more boys and they'd have a team. Or, with him, a minyan... Emily laughed at that and told him she was only joking all those years ago when she said they'd have a dozen.
He dropped the wood in a pile on the ground, carefully adding a couple of sticks to the already glowing flames. Through the shimmer of heat, Don watched as his father offered a hand to Emily as she stepped off the screened in porch, arms full of Hershey bars and marshmallows, "Who want's s'mores?"
Ben nearly collided with her, stopping just before he did. Don detected a glimmer of something in his young doppledanger's eyes, "But how can we have smore when we haven't had any yet?"
Laughter rippled through the yard, "You're father's completely corrupted you, son..." Emily tossed him a bag of the jumbo marshmallows and Ben held it up high like he was Rafiki on Pride Rock. The boys tore it open and Alan helped them slide them on their sticks without an emergency room worthy visit. Jacob and Noah burned theirs almost immediately, like they always did. Alan was ready for them with some that weren't.
Emily dropped the chocolate bars on the picnic table and sat down next to Don. Dinah flew by and unexpectedly landed on his lap, "Here's my girls..." They settled against an old log that Don had yet to gather the heart to burn. His attention wandered to his younger brother helping Maggie turn her marshmallow in the fire, Amita looking fondly on the both of them.
Dinah giggled at the sparks tossed through the air as Noah and Jacob battled each other with their marshmallow sticks, the ends radiating a red glow from sitting in the fire for too long. Ben finished his smore and disappeared to the house, only to come back a few minutes later, toting baseball gloves and a ball.
Don's mind wandered back to Field of Dreams. The Voice had told Kevin Cosner to build it and he will come. At that moment, Don realized that in his life, the "he" wasn't Shoeless Joe or some other great passed on ball player. It was himself... There was a part of him, all his life, that was seeking out who he was, who he was suppose to be. Ball player? FBI agent? Joel Cohen? Don Eppes? Don supposed now that maybe all that really didn't matter, because now he found what truly did. If you build it, he will come...
Ben threw Don his glove, "Hey Dad, wanna have a catch?"
Will the real Don Eppes please step down? Maybe it took a couple of near death experiences to wake him up to what really mattered. Maybe it took a stripping away of all his hiding places. And in that purging, finding himself, finding love and all that truly mattered. Don found that in the end, it didn't matter if he wore kevlar or wielded a baseball bat to find his identity. It didn't matter if his brother was a genius or that his Dad nagged him for over a decade to have the grandchildren he always wanted. All that counted was that he had found his place, made his indelible mark on the world.
Emily pulled Dinah off his lap, nudged him forward. Don pulled the glove on and followed his son down the hill.
"Yeah, Ben... I'd like that."
It was there, in a small mountain valley, that Don Eppes finally found his legacy...