This is about the pitfalls of a superstar athlete who is trying to remain true to himself.
| Two weeks later A.J. and his mom flew back home. Chappy was unable to meet them at the airport so they took a cab home. When they got to the house A.J. asked his mom for permission to go to the Y. Of course, just be home early your dad says he has something important to tell us when he gets home from work.
And with that A.J. darted out the door and headed for the rec center. He was dumbfounded at the anticipation he felt in going back to his home away from home - his sanctuary if you are so inclined. His first day back in 3 weeks was nerve racking. He was afraid that Kevin and Matty would have found new companionship and forgotten all about him. He walked slowly in an attempt to discover a way to face those fears.
But when he arrived it was like he had never been gone. Matty was waiting on the top of the steps when he saw A.J. strolling down 3rd avenue. Come on ya slowpoke is that as fast as you can go now? You haven’t lost all that speed have you?
A.J. ‘ s face lit up as if it were Christmas morning. He darted up the stairs and the boys embraced in a brief manly hug. Matty had obviously missed his young companion as much as the protégé had missed his mentor. Matty took a step back and said something seems different. You look taller. Do you have on elevator shoes?
No I just hit a growth spurt while I was gone.
The boys went inside and headed straight for Mr. Jackson’s office where Kevin was sitting behind his desk. How’s your grandmother felling?
She’d doing great! Mom says she is better than ever.
Glad to hear it son. Your grandma is a blessed woman.
You know you have become like a second son to me. We both had your family in our daily prayers and I guess it worked. Okay you guys get out of here and let me get back to work.
A.J. changed quickly and flew through the halls and out into the afternoon sun. He let out a yell and burst alive like a flower blooming for the first time. He stood stretching towards the sky for a good 15 - 20 seconds and then proceeded down to the track.
Matty was talking to some friends and when he saw his “little brother “descend the concrete steps and step onto the track. Later guys, I got some runnin’ to do and with that they were back to the old routine. They did shorten their session slightly but they just raised the speed in which they ran during the races.
Just prior to the main event Matty looked over at A.J. and smiled. What’s up stretch? Those couple of extra inches sure is paying off. Your stride has improved greatly.
A.J. laughed and said just because I couldn’t race you in person didn’t mean I wasn’t still training. While out of town I was conducting imaginary races with you in my mind. I would sprint down the sidewalk and imagine you were right beside me trying to keep up. I even let you pull ahead from time to time so I could work on my acceleration speed.
Well you may think you can beat me in your mind but this is reality my young apprentice. And as your teacher it is time to teach you a lesson - you ready for the worst beating of your short life. While they were talking they had walked to their starting point for the 100 yard dash and didn’t even realize it. They took their mark waited a brief moment and then kicked up a cloud of dust that would rival a hotrod car laying drag! Not really but try convincing them of that. Matty ran harder and faster than he could ever remember and to his surprise A.J. was right beside him. Matty tried to stretch a lead but his opponent was having nothing of it on this day - his day! The boys made eye contact and as if that was a sign A.J. was off to the races! He dug deep into his soul and found a storage cell of energy that exploded in a burst of speed that made Matty open his mouth in awe. A.J. beat him by 3 yards but the distance seemed greater.
As they stood catching their breath A.J. said that was fun. I might not beat you tomorrow but I did today.
You sure did cowboy - you sure did! And with that they both headed for the showers.
A.J. didn’t stop by the baseball field on that monumental afternoon. He wanted to badly though. But today he was more interested in getting home and sharing his victory with his mom and dad.
He had never been more proud of himself as he was on that cool August day. He showed himself that he could do anything he wanted to as long as he set his mind to it. He was not the type of person to brag about himself, that’s not how his parents raised him, but today of all days he wanted to let everyone know that he was on top of the world and no one would knock him down!
A.J. got home and his dad was waiting in the living room with his mom. A.J. walked into the room hesitantly and asked, what’s the big surprise dad?
I got a promotion at work today! I am going to be the district manager starting in January. And the company is providing us with a house free of charge!
But we already have a house!
Son we’re moving.
Pennsylvania. A city named Reading. That’s where the company’s headquarters is located.
I don’t want to move I like it here.
I understand your resistance but I promise you
will learn to love it there just like you do here. Now let’s go celebrate.
A look of utter amazement swept over A.J.‘ s face and he looked to his mother for confirmation. When she smiled at him he knew this wasn’t a dream so he ran to his room and changed into his best pair of jeans and a polo shirt.
It wasn’t that the Smiths couldn’t afford to go out to eat they just didn’t. Mr. Smith’s philosophy was you should only go out for dinner on Sundays and special occasions. Some people looked at this way of thinking as old fashioned or that Mr. Smith was cheap but it wasn’t the case. He simply believed that a family should eat at home whenever possible. Plus with his schedule anything other than a home cooked meal late in the evening was just not rational.
The Smiths went to Red Lobster on this important day and A.J. was allowed to order anything he wanted and he could even order from the adult menu. And that’s just what he did. You would think the news of leaving your boyhood home would kill your appetite but not today. Today nothing could bring A.J. off of cloud 9. He ordered a steak and lobster meal that came with a side of French fries. But when the plate was placed in front of him his mouth dropped to the floor. He swore up and down from that day forward that the lobster was larger than his entire head!
As hard as he tried A.J. could not finish his meal and it was wrapped up for him to take home. His parents ordered coffee and he had a slice of key lime pie for dessert, although he didn’t have a clue where in his stomach it would fit?
Throughout dinner Chappy told his family how hard it was on him while they were gone. He explained that he wanted more time for the family but the only way that could happen is if he moved up in management. He then explained that the day they went to Connecticut he asked his boss about a promotion. He wasn’t thrilled at first but when he saw how serious I was he agreed to put in a word to the upper brass. They called me a week later for an interview and then sent down the official word yesterday.
During dessert A.J. got to relive the extraordinary race he had with Matty earlier that afternoon. This lifted his disposition a little but he was still sad inside. How would he tell Matty? Who would he run with all the way up there? Do they even have the YMCA in Pennsylvania?
On the drive home, A.J. sat in the back of the car as his dad navigated the streets and guided the car to their home port. Even though he was upset he walked to ask his dad something.
Dad how much do you know about baseball?
Not much son. I mostly know the basics of the rules and I might know a few names. Why are you interested in something other than running?
Well I have seen some guys playing at the Y and I was just wondering more about it.
Why don’t you ask Mr. Jackson or do some research at the library tomorrow.
That’s a good idea thanks dad.
That last sentence was the last straw. A.J. leaned back in the seat, loosened his belt and envisioned all the food he had consumed. There was the cheese bread, a side salad, the steak and of course the piece de resistance - the lobster! That unbelievably mouth wateringly delectable crustacean! He needed help at first to crack the shell but once that crevice was expanded the utopia was unleashed. He dipped the plump white meat into a saucer of steaming hot melted butter and gently placed each piece into his mouth. He didn’t devour the meat like it was a bologna sandwich. Heavens no - this nourishment was so juicy and flavorful that he savored the explosion on each taste bud. He memorizing the subtle difference in each bite like it would be his last.
Just thinking about the extraordinary foods that passed his lips made his stomach gurgle in a fit of rage. When they finally made it home A.J. trudged up the walkway and into the house. He thanked his parents, went upstairs, removed his clothes, crawled into bed without even saying his prayers and waited for the exhaustion to overtake his consciousness.
It was only a matter of minutes before A.J. was sawing logs and his body was reenergizing from the days activities. His sleep wasn’t without it turmoil though. A.J. woke up twice that night. Once around 11:30 pm when he had a nightmare of a giant lobster chasing him and when he was caught having his toes dipped in melted butter. The second was at 2:30 am when he had to spring to his feet and dart to the bathroom to avoid vomiting all over the hall. His mom woke at the sound of her son tossing his cookies and she went to his side. She stopped at the linen closet to grab a washcloth. She entered the bathroom, saw her baby with his head buried in the toilet and started rubbing his back. As she warmed the washcloth, she pulled a bottle of Milk of Magnesia from the medicine chest and had A.J. take a hearty swig. She helped him back to his room where she tucked him in bed and placed the wet rag on his forehead. She sat on the side of the bed and stroked A.J.’s hair as he dozed back off to sleep. Maybe next time you won’t try to eat the entire menu? A.J. grinned and thought don’t bet on it - that was the best meal I ever had!