I hope these aren't becoming laborious and wasteful, since the last one has 0 comments and recs. I just assume that maybe people are waiting for the conclusion, like one commentor said.
Anyway, this is the conclusion of "Curveballs"
There were too many thoughts going through Coach Hardwick’s head to keep them all straight. However, under the navy colored birds on a bat hat he always wore outside of class and the graying hair, one thought stood out from the rest. He had to get out of there. He looked through the office one more time before closing and locking the door.
Sitting outside the door was a box of random items he had collected just now. The picture of his ex-wife and kids he had kept in his office despite that his ex-wife had divorced him and left town nearly ten years earlier. A “Coach of the Year” plaque for the work he had done with the basketball team when he took them all the way to sectionals a few years before. The pictures of the baseball and basketball teams he had been a part of, including the current year, with Coach Cooper, Nick, Adam Murphy, and himself, all standing in the back row and smiling for the camera. In only a few months time, so much had happened. At the time of the picture, the team was simply one of the better teams they were able to put together around there, a favorite to win most of their games and the regional championship. Nick Cooper was just the arrogant son of the coach. Neither Coach Cooper nor himself had any ideas that Nick and Adam, two of the star players were potheads. Perhaps they weren’t at that time. But now, so much had changed, and he knew he couldn’t be a part of it anymore.
Coach Hardwick picked up his box of belongings with one hand, holding his letter of resignation from his position as teacher and coach in his other hand. He would turn in the letter and his office and school key and walk out, quietly. Maybe he would be able to find another position teaching somewhere not too far from there, but he wasn’t sure he had it in him to start over at a new school. He knocked on Principal Auburn’s closed door, and upon hearing “Come in,” opened the door and began to enter when he saw the principal and Coach Cooper sitting there, talking about the weekend’s events.
“Coach Hardwick, what do you need?” Principal Auburn asked.
“Steve, what’s with the box?” Johnny then chirped in as well.
Hardwick didn’t really want to face Johnny again. He merely wanted to hand in his letter of resignation and slip out before having to deal with him. Nevertheless, he knew he had to do what he went there to do.
“I just can’t deal with this anymore. I’m resigning.”
“What the hell is this all about?” Johnny blurted out before the principal even had a chance to speak.
“I just don’t feel like this is the right place for me anymore.” Hardwick responded.
“Is this about what happened this weekend?” Auburn said.
“Yes and no. I simply don’t think I can be here anymore. Please let me leave it at that.” Hardwick continued on.
Auburn opened his mouth to speak, when Johnny turned away from the principal towards Hardwick and said, “Steve. We’re going to need you to help lead the way for the team.” Johnny’s expression turned resentful as he continued, “You wouldn’t want to give the impression to the team that when you have some adversity, it’s okay to just give up, do you?”
“Johnny, I think you know it’s more complicated than that.”
“Is it?” Johnny began to raise his voice, “So that’s it. You’re just gonna run out on me and the team. Just gonna pack up and call it a day?”
“Johnny.” Hardwick began, when Johnny cut in again, getting up close into Hardwick’s face.
“You’ll regret walking out on us.”
Hardwick brushed past Johnny, and handing Auburn the letter, said, “It’s been a pleasure working for you, I hope you’ll understand.”
Johnny’s eyes locked in on the envelope, and he was certain that the letter confessed finding Nick and the other boys just days before smoking pot. He turned toward Hardwick, grabbing his arm, and causing Hardwick to drop the box, spilling its contents on the floor.
“You sold me out, you asshole.”
Hardwick flatly replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about Johnny,” as he stared harshly into Johnny’s eyes, trying to appeal to him that he hadn’t and wouldn’t say anything.
“You son of a bitch. Isn’t it bad enough what happened already?”
Auburn started towards Johnny and Hardwick to separate them. Johnny turned back towards Auburn to speak and bumped him, catching him off guard and sending him back into a file cabinet. Auburn’s expression quickly changed from shock to anger, and as Johnny released his grip seeing what he had done, Auburn looked directly at Johnny and said, “I don’t know what you two are talking about, but I want you to get the hell out of my school. You’re both suspended until I can figure out what is going on.”
Johnny looked over at Principal Auburn with a weary look in his eyes, and almost said something, but finally just turned and walked out of the office. Hardwick took a moment to take stock of himself, pressing down his shirt from how Johnny stretched it in the altercation. He then bent over to pick up the box and turned, when he heard Principal Auburn address him, “Hardwick, you wait just a moment. I’m not going to accept this resignation until you sit down and talk to me for a moment.”
As much as he wanted to just slip out the door, Hardwick knew it was impossible now, and simply said, “Yes, sir,” and took a seat.
Johnny sat down in his office still unsure how everything had spun so out of control. He looked at the only picture on his desk, a professional portrait of himself, his wife and Nick. Nick was only thirteen years old in the picture. It was before he had a ninety mile-per-hour fastball. It was before he had found out his son was using drugs. It was before a little girl had died because he didn’t put a stop to his son’s addiction.
Johnny got up from his chair, putting the picture down on his desk. As he left his office and walked down the hallway towards the back door towards the fields, he thought about the games scheduled the next weekend. They were the top seed in the regional tournament. He walked out to the field and in his mind, he could see the game being played out. Nick pitching; Murphy behind the plate. The team in the same groove it hit in mid season when they started the win streak that hadn’t been broken until just the weekend before when they lost to Cypress.
Johnny thought about USC and how Nick might still be able to go as long as no charges were brought up against him. Tragically, they hadn’t had the chance to get the scholarship papers and letter of intent signed yet. USC might still take him with a drug charge, but anything more and who knows what would happen.
Johnny walked off the field and to his car. There would be no state championship this year. No parade. Not even a regional championship. Not for Coach Johnny Cooper.
Coach Hardwick looked out the back door of the school and watched as the rain blanketed the pavement of the parking lot behind the building. He was torn between wanting to get the season over and wanting to have more time to work with what was left of the team. Having agreed to stay on at least until the end of the season and school year, Hardwick was handed the reins to a team without its star pitcher and catcher. They were the top seed coming into the regional tournament, which gave them the opportunity to host the event, but without those two players, they would need amazing performances from more than just a few of their other players to hold off the teams in the rear-view mirror, all seeing the drug charges against Nick and Adam to be an opportunity for them to advance.
Hardwick watched the rain come down and wondered how all this could have happened the way it did. He felt like the little girl’s blood was on his hands as well, but Principal Auburn had told him that he knew he was just trying to do what was right at the time. Coach Hardwick couldn’t bring himself to tell Principal Auburn that he knew it was pot they were smoking and that he believed he could have prevented it all from happening. The word “smoking” was used without “marijuana.” Not much of a distinction, yet it was the difference between Hardwick being the head coach and being in the same situation as Johnny, unemployed with a tarnished image that would prevent him from getting work at any school ever again.
Hardwick watched as the rain came down on the field just across the parking lot, allowing him the time to work with his team, with Kenny Johnson, who despite his blown save opportunity and sub par pitching arm was the best arm they had in reserve in case of a situation like this. He walked back to his office, which was still mostly stripped of the personal belongings that sat in the box next to his desk, and prepared a game plan for how to try to win the regional tournament with a heavy heart and an undermanned team.
Johnny Cooper hung the phone up after calling in one of his favors from a former player’s father. He got up from his couch and walked down to Nick’s room. Opening the door, he saw Nick sitting in the alcove created by the protruding window in his bedroom, watching the rain wash down the windows. He sat there, with his arms locked, holding his knees up in front of his face. He had done this almost every time it rained since they first moved to this house, when Nick was only nine years old. Nick looked over at his father with a blank expression before turning his head back to watch the rain.
“I’m going to work over in Cypress at the Ford lot.” Johnny said, trying to put an optimistic smile on his face. “Always wanted to try my hand at sales.”
Nick didn’t even look over, but lowered his head between his knees as Johnny could see him begin to sob. Johnny wanted to go over beside him and tell him everything would be alright, but he was fully aware that neither of them would believe the words coming out of his mouth, so backing out of the room quietly, Johnny slowly closed the door, turning the knob as he closed it to make as little noise as possible, as though the quiet would make it all seem less real.