Chapter 1

Clonk! Bang! Scratch!

A baseball went sailing over the field, the bat hitting the moist, green grass, and the batter went running like the wind towards first base. Bits of grass flew up into the air as the batter hit first base with his foot.

The batting team cheered wildly as the referee called a save. It was amazing to see such speed and agility at the JV level of softball.

Richard Tyler could see the whole scene from his spot at third base- one of the most important spots in the game, or, at least that was what Coach had said. The bases were nearly loaded and there was one player left to go before a possible point could be made. If his team stopped this next player before the end of the ninth inning, they would be ahead by one point, and they would have a chance to win. Richard kept clenching his eyes, keeping them deeply on the other players. I got this, I got this, he thought intently.

The shiny, metal bat glinted off the bright, spring sun as the next player came up to the base. The pitcher tossed the ball, and it suddenly went flying as the batter took off.

Instinctively, Richard opened his glove, keeping his eyes on the ball. This was it, the time when he would catch the ball and get the player out. The team was waiting, and there was only one out left until the end of the last inning! I got this, I got this, he continued to think deeply.

Just like he hoped, the ball flew towards his open hand. Narrowing his eyes, Richard lunged for the ball, his foot planted on the base. With one swift movement, he caught the ball, and threw himself upright on the base.

"Out!" the referee called, his whistle still ringing.

The team cheered wildly seconds before the referee called the end of the inning. The game was over!

Like always, the two teams lined up, and they shook hands with each other. Some of the opposing players seemed reluctant, but Richard's team skipped through the high-fiving with such excitement that they were off the field before the other team could lift another foot.

The coach gathered them in a circle.

"Good playing, boys!" he said. "A little rusty on the catching for the first few innings, but still, excellent batting. Keep this up, and we'll be up there for sure at state. Great catch on the last round, Rich!"

"Yeah, way to go, Rich!" another player said. The other players followed suit by high-fiving him and slapping him on the back in congratulations.

"Stop it, guys," Richard said modestly. "I'm not that good."

"You stop it," the coach retorted. "What do I always say- the more you diss yourself, the more you risk? Now hit the showers, all of you. Great work!"

With that last command, the team was dismissed, and they grabbed their equipment from the grass. They all dashed towards the parking lot, where their rides were waiting. Some, like Richard, already had their cars, so they could go home right away.

"I still can't believe that!" one player said to Richard as they walked to the lot. "Five years of softball, and you're as good as the rest of the professionals. I repeat- I don't believe it! I've been playing all my life, and I've never gotten that good that fast."

"Maybe once you put your body and heart into it, Travis, you'll do that," Richard offered.

"I'm not taking that from someone who wouldn't go near a softball game if he tried six years ago!" Travis retorted. "You brought in all that stupid stuff and told us all that stupid crap about broken bones and brain tumors and all that."

"Hey, that was six years ago!" Richard said, slapping his hand to his forehead. "I've gotten over that."

"Dude, you sound like you've just broken up with a pretty girl," Travis said. "And I don't buy it. I'm not thinking for one minute that you're gonna forget those days. Seriously, we thought you were an alien from another planet with all that crap you told us."

"Cut that out, would ya!" Richard said, swinging his bat exasperatedly. "It was not crap. It was useless over-the-top information that I just thought would be helpful. Please, just gimme a break. I was only a silly ten-year-old."

Travis snorted. "Silly ten-year-old, right. Well, just glad you came to your senses in time for high school. You would have been committed social suicide with that."

Richard turned his head away, and looked straight ahead, deep in thought. He remembered just as well as those who had been on the town Little League team when he was ten years old. In an attempt to make him do something risky and fun, his dad had signed him up for the team. And anytime he found it convenient, he would inform the team about some crazy statistics about baseball, and the dangers that come from being hit with a ball or swinging a bat too hard. The extremes had gone too far when he brought in medical evidence, and the team was so shocked by what they saw that they no longer wanted to play. The consequences- getting kicked off the team and another failed attempt at making Richard take a risk and have some relaxed fun once in a while.

Richard also remembered how crazy he was about being safe. He had kits upon kits for earthquake preparations, life preservers on his shelves, and signs marking dangerous risks around his room. He even drove his parents crazy with statistics on a daily basis! And as a result, he had no friends, and no one to play with because of his crazy safety statistics and precautions he would always talk about. If you heard him, you would think that he was some kind of know-it-all who only wanted to live forever and never get a scratch. That just wasn't humanly likely to be normal- and the kids knew that for sure!

And finally, one day, Richard vaguely remembered stumbling into an old library when there was a storm. And then, he had fallen asleep somewhere, and had come out with the dangerous urge to ride onto a cinder block ramp with the daredevils called his classmates in those days. And since then, Richard had been playing Little League, into his current sophomore year, making friends, and finally becoming what his classmates and parents called "normal". And Richard enjoyed it.

"And look at what happened to you!" Travis said, snapping Richard from his thoughts. "It's like you switched personalities with a normal kid and locked him away to rot in a closet."

Richard chuckled at the thought.

At last, Richard came to his car, and waved goodbye to his remaining teammates. With a slam of the door and a turn, he started the car, and drove back home. It was a short drive, and he enjoyed the freedom it gave him. Besides, the scenery was splendid this time of year, and not to mention that the team had scored another victory! All thanks to the one and only him. Not that Richard was a conceited jock- he just enjoyed helping his team whenever he could. His crazy ideas and safety issues were gone, but his helpfulness was always there.

The car pulled into the driveway, and Richard jumped out, his bag slung over his shoulder. As he dashed inside, he caught a glimpse of the old tree house in the backyard. The wood was lighter with the years of sun bleach, and the wood chipped in some spots. It was old indeed, but it had lived a good life so far. That tree house had been another way to help Richard take a risk or have some fun once in a while, but, like all other ideas, it hadn't worked. In those days, there had always been something about heights that Richard didn't like, because it always presented another danger, but since the day he stumbled into the library, that tree house had held many friendly memories. Now, it was just something that took up space in the backyard.

Richard walked inside the house, and found his parents working in the kitchen.

"Hey, buddy!" his dad greeted. "How was the game?"

"Won again!" Richard exclaimed, dropping his bag in the mud room by the garage door.

"Well great, honey!" his mom exclaimed, giving her son a hug. "That team has certainly benefitted from you."

"Well, I guess since I finally woke up and decided to do something fun."

"We're proud of you, Rich," Richard's dad said. "In six years, you've done so much- straight A's, baseball, friends. It just seems too good to be true."

"I think you can forget that now," Richard murmured, hoping not to start another conversation about his childhood.

Richard's mom started towards the fridge. "Anything special we can make you?" she asked. "Anywhere you want to go? It's your special night!"

That was a tough question. Where to go on a special night, and it was all up to him? Richard could only think of one place.

"How about here?" he suggested.

"What's the matter with going out?" his dad asked. "Too many carbs will make you sick? Sixty percent of all fast food places will make you sick in a week?"

"Stop it, dad," Richard said, running a hand through his tousled blonde hair. His dad sighed frustrated. He always made an effort to make his son laugh- but obviously, going back to the paranoia days was never an option.

Richard took off his cap and got himself a drink. Right now, life couldn't be more perfect. He was normal, with friends, brains, and a good baseball team who always had his back no matter what.

I could get used to this, he thought. Being sixteen has its advantages. Wonder if they could get any bigger…