It was a cold evening, and it was the time of year when it starts to get dark around six. My brother had gone inside — we could hardly see the ball we were tossing around since they moved the street light.
It gets colder than most people think in North Florida. When we moved to Crestview for my dad's Air Force job, I was picturing palm trees, hitting the beach after school let out, my fastball getting noticed by one of the big Florida schools. But, instead, it was a cold night. My hoodie barely kept out the chills. I was sitting on the floor of my garage, looking up at the door opener.
There was something off about it. The longer I stared, the less I felt like it should exist. This was the third night in a row I'd spent looking at it. I'm sure Mom would think I was crazy, if she was ever home. Long shifts. If I got that baseball scholarship, she wouldn't have to worry, for once.
But it wasn't going anywhere. My ERA was…bad. I wasn't able to keep my slider high. Not a single scout at my starts. CHS wasn't a powerhouse, but we had a pretty good history. I wasn't holding up my end of the bargain, and I didn't know what else to do. My grades weren't special. I guess I was just headed for junior college and whatever work I could find.
I guess. Until then, I could keep staring at this garage door opener. Something about the way it caught the light. It wasn't how it should be.
Holy shit, I felt like I could run a thousand miles, I was so amped. Complete game shutout. Someone from Clemson was there, too.
As my teammates mobbed me, I checked the stands for Wei. I don't know why. At my highest moments, I still look for the things I don't have. I wouldn't go to sleep tonight thinking about the win. I'd be thinking about her.
That's why I went to Jordan's place after the game. His dad was out on business, so we had cheap liquor in plastic bottles, shitty music playing from someone's iPod dock, and a lot of distractions.
Maybe I'd had four or five drinks. We made Regionals, hell, we made it off me throwing a complete game. Can you blame me?
When an 18-year-old ends up smashing his car into a tree because he was driving drunk off his ass, blame really doesn't matter. Not in those blurry moments of half-consciousness in the hospital. Folks in scrubs putting tubes into me, sticking me with needles. I could barely stay focused, but I hadn't lost enough blood to notice I was handcuffed to the bed.
Wrong night to keep my pot in the glove-box. Wrong night for all of this. I wished Wei was in the hospital with me. She'd tell me it would all be okay.
When I next came to, I was standing in front of my garage. I was in my home uniform. I had a glove on. The whole world looked as wrong as the door opener had.
The garage door started to raise, mechanisms clacking and grinding. A tired-looking man in a suit was waiting behind, revealed from the shoes up.
“It's not going to be okay. Not the way things are.” He said it dully, matter-of-factly.
I thought it best to say nothing.
The man continued. “I have something to notify you of, then. Your dreams have never been at a lower place. Or, at least they should be. But we've had… an investor.”
Not saying anything wasn't helping me. “What the hell are you talking about?”
The tired man leaned back on the balls of his feet and let out a sigh. “Right. You know how there's a stock exchange for buying stock in business? If the business does well, the investor gets a payoff?”
He seemed to be waiting for an answer. I nodded curtly. Why wasn't I in the hospital?
“Well, you can invest in people. And things. Ideas. There's no idea quite like a lifelong dream. My client saw your vision, standing on the mound at Turner Field, staring down the batter. He was counting on you.”
“He's got a lot of money riding on you. And that's when people hire Actioners like me. So, here's the deal. You can go back to that hospital bed, wake up from this dream and end up in handcuffs, or you could make me a trade.”
He knew about the crash. How? How was any of this possible? I said I was listening.
“I can take you all the way to the majors. Imagine that.“
“What do you get?”
“Well, my people get what we need. See, you humans live in the waking world, hoping to achieve the things you see in your dreams. Missing the things you lost, dreaming of them. We're from dreams. We need your waking hours. When you're not pitching, we can walk around on the real Earth, on solid ground, in your place.”
I thought about what he said. Dreaming of what you lost. I was a burden to my mom, trying her hardest. Wei wouldn't even speak to me any more. And now baseball, the last thing I had, was over. Unless.
“I'll take it.”
The next moment I remember, I was walking out of the bullpen. A few hundred folks in the crowd cheered; this was a minor league park. The tired man's voice echoed over the PA.
“Making his first appearance for the Blue Wahoos, right-handed pitcher, Ellis Canastota!”
I didn't question how I got there. I just stared down the batter and let loose.