The sound of the alarm shattered Derrick’s alcohol-induced sleep. He moaned as he fumbled around his headboard until he found the alarm clock and turned it off. He rolled over and tried to focus on the ceiling. The late springtime California sun penetrated the window shade, making it harder for him to keep his eyes open. That, and the hangover he had.
On Saturday, Derrick Anderson had been selected second in the second round of the major league draft by the Denver Eagles. His best friend, Marc Johnson, had been selected first in the fourth round by the Portland Falcons. Marc’s family had given the young men a party after the draft, and that was pretty much all Derrick could remember with any clarity. With several of his friends sneaking bottles of booze in, it hadn’t taken him long to get buzzed. He vaguely remembered another party that his friends had last night, but not much else.
When things seemed to take on a more realistic appearance, Derrick slowly got out of bed and dragged himself to the bathroom. He splashed cold water on his face to wake up, then put his entire head under the running water to bring himself back to life. He looked at himself in the mirror as water dripped from his face. Why do I do this to myself? he thought miserably. After towel drying his face and hair, he tried to put on a reasonably responsible look as he went downstairs into the kitchen where the rest of the family were already eating breakfast.
"What time did you get in last night, Derrick?" Mom asked.
Not even a good morning? "I think midnight," he answered, sitting down to the table.
"It was 1:30," Derrick's younger sister, Tanya, said.
Derrick gave his sister a dirty look. Although he was two years older, Derrick often felt that he was the younger sibling by the way most of his family treated him. Sometimes he deserved it, but today he didn’t need it.
"Derrick," Dad said. He put down the paper he had been reading and took off his glasses. "I want you to start coming home earlier from now on."
"Come on, Dad! I'm going to be playing professional baseball in three weeks. I don't need a curfew."
"If you don't start coming home at a reasonable time and taking care of yourself, professional ballplayer or not, we will impose a curfew of eleven."
"You've got to be kidding me."
He silently cursed his father. Just what I need first thing in the morning, he thought. Derrick finished his breakfast sullenly before going back upstairs to change. He pulled on his jeans then rifled through his dresser drawers before pulling out a blue-gray retro-look shirt. After putting on his shirt and shoes, he ran a comb through his short brown hair, spiking it up on top just a bit with some gel. He looked around his room for his sunglasses, grabbed them off the top of his stereo, and put them on top of his head.
“Come on, Derrick!” Tanya yelled from downstairs.
"I'm coming!" he shouted. He ran down the stairs two at a time and grabbed his books on the way out. Tanya followed him out to his blue Toyota Corolla parked on the street and let herself in as Derrick threw his books into the backseat and got in. Derrick turned the key and pumped the gas pedal a couple of times, and the engine started.
"Dad was pretty upset with you," Tanya said, as she pulled her auburn hair back into a twist and secured it with a clip.
"Yeah, thanks to you," Derrick told her, putting his sunglasses on. He checked his mirrors and pulled away from the curb. "You know, you don't always have to tell them when I get home. I’m going to be eighteen in a week."
"At least I didn't tell them you threw up for half an hour afterwards."
"Thanks a lot," he said sarcastically.
They were silent for the rest of the short drive to school. The high school in Lakewood was within walking distance from the house, but Derrick wasn’t about to be stranded at school by walking when he had a car. Derrick pulled into the high school parking lot and found a place to park.
“See ya later,” Tanya said, jerking the handle of the door as she waved to her friends across the lot. She got out with a wave to Derrick as she shut the door and quickly went over to her friends.
When his sister was gone, Derrick reached under his seat and pulled out a flask with rum and coke in it. He thought about what his father had said at breakfast. What does he think I am, a child? he thought, and took a long drink of the liquor inside, grimacing at the flat taste of the coke. He took one more quick sip before putting the cap back on and putting the flask back under his seat. He grabbed his books from the backseat and went onto campus where he found Marc and Marc’s girlfriend, Heather Davies.
Derrick had formed a bond with Marc when Marc moved in down the street from him four years earlier. Marc was a good-looking, athletic kid from Montana. With his blond hair, blue eyes, and tanned skin from his years of playing baseball, he fit right in with the California type. He was always on Derrick’s side, which sometimes got him into trouble along with Derrick. He also watched out for Derrick when he went on his binges.
"Do you have any gum?" Derrick asked.
"Sure," Marc said. He gave Derrick a couple of sticks without asking why.
The bell rang before they could say anything more. Marc and Derrick walked Heather to her class, then went quickly to their math class. They slid into their seats as the tardy bell rang.
“First of all,” Mr. Denzel started. “I want to congratulate two students this morning on their recent career advancement. Looks like while most of you are getting ready for college and working at summer jobs, Derrick and Marc will be playing professional baseball.”
The cheers of congratulations were almost deafening, and Derrick grinned. In all the excitement of the weekend, he hadn’t even thought about that—no more summer jobs working at something he didn’t like. Several students shook hands with Derrick and Marc or gave them a high five. Some asked them where they would be playing and all were interested in how much money they would be earning, especially the signing bonus each were getting. Derrick answered that question with great enthusiasm. $750,000 just for signing to play ball? It sounded like a good thing to him!
When Mr. Denzel regained control of his classroom, he asked, "Okay, who's got their homework done?" Most of the class raised their hands. "Great. Now we'll see who's got the right answers."
Mr. Denzel started to go over the answers to the problems. He got to question number fourteen and asked, "Did anyone attempt this one?"
Derrick, Marc, and two other students raised their hand. Mr. Denzel asked Marc to explain how it should be done. Marc told him how he worked out the problem, but Mr. Denzel shook his head.
"Sorry, Marc, that's incorrect," Mr. Denzel told him. "Derrick, want to take a stab at it?"
"Sure," Derrick said. He told Mr. Denzel how he worked it out, and tapped his pencil on his desk as he waited for a response. He knew for sure that his answer was wrong, because Marc was better at math than he was, and he’d had the wrong answer.
"That's correct, Derrick," Mr. Denzel declared. "And worked out properly, too. Very well done," he said, and he went on to the next problem.
Derrick smiled to himself, pleased that he had gotten the correct answer. He was a good student, but when it came to numbers, he was lost, except for his statistics in baseball.
Marc leaned over and whispered, "How did you do it?"
"Beats me," Derrick replied. "I just worked it out before I realized what number it was."
After math class, Derrick went to his English literature class. Derrick’s mind wasn’t up to studying that particular morning, especially in light of recent events, and was happy when Mrs. Cox told the class the books they would be reading hadn’t come in yet, and they could either study quietly or go to the library. Derrick went to the library to talk with his friends.
"Hey, Derrick!" Greg greeted, as Derrick sat at the table where Greg and Alex were already using the computer. "How ya doin'?"
"Besides having a pounding headache, I'm okay." He pressed the palms of his hands into his aching eyes and wished he’d taken some aspirin after breakfast.
"I'm surprised you made it to school at all," Alex said, closing down the screen he’d been using at the computer.
"I had to, or my dad would ground me for sure. I guess when I got home I spewed for half an hour, so Tanya tells me."
"You don't remember?" Greg asked.
Derrick shook his head. After only four hours of sleep, his mind was still in a fog, and Greg gave Derrick all the sordid details of the party. First, of Derrick being in the bedroom with Gina Long, then trying to talk Kari McReynolds into the bedroom a little later. Kari had turned him down, and Derrick had told her in no uncertain terms how disappointed he was, and had come very close to backhanding her across the face.
Derrick sat there in stunned silence and started to remember everything. Marc and Greg had tried to pull him away from Kari, but he’d been persistent, using language he shouldn’t have used toward a girl. He was embarrassed and felt like a total jerk for acting that way, especially to a friend.
"I gotta apologize to her. I don't know how it happened."
"I can tell you how it happened," Alex said. "You just got stoned and drank too much."
"Thank you for that insight, Alex. I must have drank more than too much this time."
The bell rang for their mid-morning break. The three friends met Marc in the hallway, and went out to talk with Kari. As Derrick and his friends walked up, several of the girls pointed behind Kari. She stopped talking and turned around to see Derrick standing there.
"Leave me alone, Derrick," Kari said before Derrick had a chance to speak.
He started to apologize to her, but Kari cut him off.
"You know what? After what you did last night, I don’t even want to be around you."
"I'm not like that. I was stoned and drunk and was just being obnoxious. I want us to stay friends, Kari. I'm sorry."
"You said some pretty awful things to me last night, and it really hurt. I'll have to think about it."
"Okay. Thanks, Kari," he said, and he and his friends walked away.
"I wouldn't blame her if she didn't forgive me," Derrick said.
"You've got to control yourself, Derrick," Marc said.
"I can't help it if I've got overactive hormones," Derrick shrugged.
"That's not what I mean. I mean your drinking. It's been getting worse lately and it worries me a little."
Derrick knew he had been drinking more at the parties recently. He used to just drink to have a good time, just one or two beers, but as he thought about it, his father had been on his back more than usual the past month or so. Derrick knew it was because of the draft. His father wanted him to do well and make it, because when his father was a senior in high school, he had gotten injured and all his dreams of playing ball were left in the operating room. Derrick felt pressured by his father to do better in baseball, and instead of having two beers at the parties, he had three or four, on top of getting high with his friends. He knew he needed to stop.
“If it'll make you happy, I won't go out tonight," he told his friend.
Derrick and Marc's last class of the day was physical education, where they played baseball. Their coach was Mike Teague, a former minor league ballplayer. Derrick and Marc had been on the team since their sophomore year, and Derrick had worked his way up to captain of the Horton High Panthers and Marc was the co-captain. This was the class that Derrick lived for, although Coach Teague seemed to ride him a little more than the other players to do well. The players dressed and went out to the field for instructions.
The coach told the team they were all going to work on defense for their last game coming up on Friday. Derrick and the rest of the players groaned, but Coach Teague paid no attention as he got them started on the stretches and running laps.
Derrick and Marc started their run together. Derrick hated running, and had learned to get it over with quickly by running fast. Marc had a hard time keeping pace with Derrick, and only made it halfway around the field with Derrick before slowing down to more of a jog. Derrick finished his laps and waited for Marc, and shouted jokingly that his grandma could run faster than he could. Marc laughed when he caught up to Derrick and pushed him playfully in the chest.
Derrick and the four other outfielders went to center field where Jay, the assistant coach, was waiting for them.
“I want all of you over there,” Jay said, pointing to the field about 75 feet away. “Derrick and Jimmy in the middle.”
Derrick ran out to the designated position with his teammates. Jay picked up a bat and a bucket of balls and started to hit fly balls to each of the players. Derrick had trouble going back on the balls hit to him, and he couldn’t figure out why. He knew he was fast enough to get to the ball.
“Come on, Derrick, jump on it!” Jay shouted. Derrick ran back, but missed the ball by just a few inches. He quickly picked up the ball and threw it back in to Jay.
“Derrick, keep your eye on the ball, from the second it leaves the pitcher’s hand until it’s in your glove. I know you can judge where the ball is going, but I want you moving when the batter hits the ball, even if it’s not coming your way. Don’t hesitate. Don’t think about it, just react.”
Derrick got a good jump on the ball that time and caught it easily. Yes! he thought, and threw the ball in. Jay hit another one, and Derrick again caught it. He smiled as Jay shouted his approval to him, and called him in to run some drills.
Coach Teague came around to everyone to check on the progress and by the end of practice, the team was looking good for the game on Friday, and the coach sent them to the showers.
"What are you doing later?" Marc asked Derrick as they walked up to the locker room.
"Want to go to the mall with Heather and me?"
"Sure. Give me a call when you're ready to go."
Derrick showered and dressed, then gathered his things together and started out to his car. In the parking lot he heard a girl’s voice shout behind him and he turned to see Gina walking up behind him. Even in her sweat pants and T-shirt, and her dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, she still looked sexy as hell.
"Hey, Gina." He stopped to wait for her.
"Are you going home without saying goodbye to me?" she asked when she caught up with him.
"I didn’t know you were still here."
Derrick waved to his sister, who was waiting by his car.
"I was wondering if you were going to that party at Tim’s tonight," Gina said.
"No, I have some homework I gotta do, and I’m way partied out as it is."
"Too bad. I was hoping for a little more time with you." She kissed his lips, slipping her tongue in between, and moved to his neck. “I’ve got a new red lace teddy that I’m dying to show you,” she whispered in his ear.
He smiled lustfully, and wondered why the teachers gave so much homework on Mondays. "God, that’s tempting, but I really have to get this stuff done." Damn!
He walked her to her car. “Maybe tomorrow or something, okay?”
“Okay, if that’s the way you’re gonna be,” she said, her full lips in a playful pout. “I’ll see you later.”
Derrick watched her get into her car and drive away, then went to unlock the car for Tanya.
"Who was that?" Tanya asked, her gray eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"That was Gina Long, one of the Varsity cheerleaders."
"What did she want, your tonsils?"
“Just don’t even go there, okay? And if you tell Mom and Dad, I’ll tell them about you and Shaun making out on the field last Friday.”
Tanya looked surprised.
“Yeah, I know about that. I saw you, so don’t deny it.”
The rest of the drive was silent. Derrick drove up at home a few minutes later. As he and Tanya walked up the steps, Derrick smelled garlic from the meal his mother had made. He loved that smell; it reminded him of all the pizza parties he’d gone to after his Little League games. Those were some of the best times he’d had, times that he hadn’t argued with his father over everything, times that seemed so far away now. He and Tanya went inside to the kitchen where their mother was setting the table for dinner.
His mother looked young for her age, the only giveaway to her age was her short salt-and-pepper hair that she refused to color. “I’ve earned those gray hairs,” she’d tell her children when they suggested that she get rid of them.
"Go wash up for dinner, you two," she told Tanya and Derrick now.
Tanya went in to wash while Derrick put his books in the bedroom he shared with his younger brother, Michael. He stopped to wash before going down to dinner.
"I'm starved!" Derrick said, as he reached for the salad.
"Hold on, Derrick," Mom said. "Wait for the blessing."
Derrick waited impatiently while Tanya said the blessing, then he grabbed the salad.
"How was school?" Dad asked, spooning lasagna onto his plate.
"Good," Tanya answered quickly. "I got an 'A' on my English test. I was surprised because I can never keep the verbs straight."
"Good job, Tanya. Derrick, how did you do today?"
"I did okay." He casually told his parents about the question that he answered correctly in his math class. He disliked talking about school with his father, since his father always found some way to turn it into a struggle over what he should be doing in school. Even with only three weeks of school left, his father was still on his back over behaving in class. This time, his mother took the initiative to reply, although her response was no less irritating. At least he knew she wouldn’t press the issue.
"Great! I knew if you applied yourself you could do it," Mom said.
"I'm not a bad student academically. I've gotten A's and B's all semester."
Derrick looked at Tanya, to make sure his threat had been enough to keep her quiet. She didn’t say anything about the incident after school and he relaxed. He knew his father was so conservative that he would give him a lecture for even kissing Gina that way, and if he would get lectured, he knew she would, too, another reason for her to keep quiet.
Derrick finished his dinner quickly, so he could get started on his homework and be done by the time Marc called over. He wasn’t eager about going shopping, but that going would get him out of the house and away from his father for a while. He went upstairs and took off his shirt, shoes and socks to be more comfortable, then turned the stereo on low and started his homework.
Half an hour later, he heard his mother call up to him. Derrick finished the sentence he was working on, then went downstairs and saw Kari waiting for him. He was surprised to see her there, after what had happened the night before and at school that day. He invited her up to his room.
"Derrick," Mom warned.
Derrick sighed. "Okay, let's go out back on the swing." He looked at his mother, but Mom didn't say anything as Derrick took Kari out the back door and to the double swing in the backyard.
“I didn’t know you had a tattoo,” she said, looking at his arm. He had a tattoo of a panther, the school mascot, on his left arm, a remnant of a drinking binge he had taken the previous year with Marc. The binge didn’t last very long, as Marc finally wised up and decked Derrick when he wanted to ditch school to get drunk.
“That’s because you’ve never seen me undressed,” he told her with a naughty grin. “What’s up?”
"I just wanted to tell you that I forgive you and I accept your apology."
Derrick smiled broadly, the dimple in his right cheek deepening. “Thanks, Kari. I really am sorry. I didn’t mean all those things I said to you."
"I thought about it, and you sounded sincere, and I know you wouldn't threaten to hit me unless you were out of your mind."
"I would never hit a girl if I could help it."
"I know. Why didn’t you want to talk inside?"
"Because my parents would listen to every word we said, and I really don't want them to know how out of control I was. They're watching us, though."
"Why are they watching us?" She looked nervously toward the house.
"My parents don't trust me. When I was in junior high, some girl’s parents called my dad because they caught us lying on her bed together. That's why my mom didn't want us to go upstairs to my room. She couldn't watch us or hear us."
"That’s a bummer."
Derrick stretched his muscular body, running his hands over his washboard stomach. "I'll do what I want even if they are watching," and he took the back of her head into his hands and kissed Kari firmly on the lips.
"Derrick! I don't want them mad at me, too."
"They won't say a word to you." He flicked his tongue against Kari's lips, then kissed her again, this time more gently. Derrick moved down to Kari's jasmine-scented neck, stroking her thigh, knowing he would get a lecture from his father.
"Derrick!" Dad shouted from the house.
Derrick swore to himself, annoyed but not surprised. He hadn’t planned on going any farther with Kari than he did, and knew that Kari wouldn’t have let him anyway. His father yelled for him again, sounding more aggravated.
"I'll see you later." She got up and left through the backyard gate.
Derrick sighed as he watched her leave, and went inside to see what rhetoric his parents would have to say to him this time.
"Derrick, what the hell were you doing out there?" Dad asked, as Derrick came in the door.
"I knew you were watching like you always do, so I wanted to see how far you'd let me go," Derrick confessed. "I wasn't going any farther than that."
His parents conveyed their concerns to Derrick. They wanted to make sure he didn’t get into any situations that he couldn’t get out of. He understood their concerns but he thought they were unfounded. He told them that he was careful when he was with a girl.
“‘With a girl’? You mean, intercourse?” Dad asked.
Derrick nodded. He didn’t realize what he had said until he said it. He knew he was in for it now.
“How can you be so irresponsible? Do you know what’ll happen if one of those girls becomes pregnant? So much for your career!”
Derrick hadn’t thought about his career being in jeopardy if he got someone pregnant. “I told you I’m careful,” trying to convince himself as well as his parents.
“You can just stay home for the night.”
Derrick tried to argue the point but his father wouldn’t listen, telling Derrick that while he was in that house, he would live by their rules. Derrick couldn’t wait until he could get out on his own and told his father so. Why couldn’t his father realize that he wasn’t a child anymore?
“End of discussion.”
Derrick moaned and kicked the table.
"I don't believe this!" he shouted. “You know, this is really…”
“Don’t say it,” Dad cut off. “Or you’ll be staying in tomorrow, too.”
Derrick ran back upstairs and slammed his door shut. Damn his father for doing this to him. He sat on his bed for a few minutes before going back to his homework, though he could barely concentrate on it now. He heard the phone ring downstairs and knew it would be Marc. A few moments later Tanya called to Derrick and he went downstairs to pick up the phone.
"Hey, Derrick," Marc said. "Are you ready to go?"
“I can't go.”
"I have to stay in for the night," he told him, mocking his father’s voice.
"You're kidding. What did you do between the time school was over and now?"
"My parents and I had a difference of opinion. I'm almost eighteen, Marc. This really bites."
"Well, it might be good for you."
"Yeah, right. I guess I'll live."
Derrick hung up the phone and went back up to his room, annoyed that he couldn’t go to the mall with his friends. How could his parents think that anything would happen while he was out with Marc and Heather, at the mall? He knew he sometimes did things impulsively with Marc, like that tattoo and getting his ear pierced, but those were harmless. Heather would keep them in line at the mall.
He finished his homework and went downstairs to watch television with Michael. Watching a good post-season game of hockey would help get his frustrations out, and he walked in just as a fight broke out between the players. He sat down to watch, and he and Michael playfully argued about who was getting the best shots in. Although he was only seven, Michael had learned a lot about sports from Derrick, especially baseball, and tried to do things to win Derrick’s approval. Derrick grabbed his brother in a headlock and gave the sandy-blond head a couple of soft punches as they watched the referees finally break up the fight.
“You’d fit right in with those hockey players, with your missing front teeth,” Derrick joked, and Michael smiled, showing the gap where teeth would soon appear.
Dad walked in and chided Derrick for rough-housing in the den.
“I hope you’re happy that you’ve made me miserable,” Derrick said to him, ignoring the reprimand. “Why can’t I go out? Afraid I’ll get laid at the mall?”
"Derrick, that's enough. I'm tired of your foul mouth."
"And I'm tired of being treated like a kid! How do you think it feels? Pretty fucking humiliating if you ask me." The profanity slipped out, and he immediately wanted to withdraw that sentence, but couldn’t.
"And you’re going to watch that profanity, too."
Not in this lifetime, he thought, but said nothing. Dad left and Derrick finished watching the game. Michael had become bored with the game, since no one had scored or started another fight, and went to play with his Hot Wheels cars. Derrick told his family goodnight, though it only nine o’clock, and went to bed to get the rest he had missed out on the previous night.