36. Out to Pasture

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Jake entered Coach Taylor's office ... ready for a fight!

His office was a twenty-by-twenty square with an oak desk, two birch office chairs, and one tall walnut bookcase. Without those furnishings, the room looked like a boxing ring which only seemed fitting. Coach Taylor was a two-time heavyweight boxing champion at the Naval Academy.

Jake settled into the guest chair, crossed his legs, and folded his arms.

Coach looked him in the eyes. "Why are you giving the new boy such a hard time?"

Jake rolled his eyes. "Hey, I was trying to make a play, and that Negro got in my way. It's not my fault he got knocked down."

Coach Taylor studied Jake for a moment. "That's not what happened, and you know it. You knocked him clear over on purpose." Coach remained quiet, letting Jake stew over those words.

"That nigger deserved it!" Jake rose and raked fingers through his hair. He walked over to the window and shoved his hands into his jean pockets. His eyes swept from the mill to the ballpark. God, how he loved the game.

Jake turned to Coach Taylor, his expression a mix of anger and sadness. "It ain't right. You're giving him the shortstop position."

"What are you talking about?" Coach said. "I haven't given Henry any position yet."

"Everybody knows," Jake said. "You tried that black sonofabitch at shortstop more than any other position today."

A muscle pulsed in Coach Taylor's neck; he looked ready to explode. "How I run my practices is my business! You need to stop trying to play fortune teller and just play ball. I'll decide where I put Henry, you, and everyone else when I'm good and ready."

Jake blew out a frustrated breath. "You can't just give the shortstop position to a Negro."

"Giving?" Coach said, eyes widening. "I'm not giving anything to a Negro, or to a white for that matter. Every spot is earned. I'll give shortstop to whoever deserves it the most."

"It's not right," Jake said. "Blacks are taking over everything in Hester. If you give a colored a spot on the team, ten more will show up on your doorstep tomorrow."

Coach pushed out a breath. "It's just a matter of time before blacks and whites play on the same ball club."

Jake said, "You turn over a position to that black scum, and you'll be a traitor to your own race!"

Coach's eyes narrowed; he lifted his chin. "That spot is going to the best man. Whether that player is black or white, I couldn't care less. I'll do what's best for the team."

Jake shook his head. "I'm done here." He spun on his heel and headed for the door, bitterness and resentment gnawing at his insides. He hated the idea of playing on the same team with a colored. More than that, he hated being treated as if they were comparable players. As if they were equals!

Jake gave the knob a twist and opened the door. He turned back to Coach Taylor.

"At the end of last season, you said shortstop would be mine."

Coach gave a sad look. He didn't say a word as Jake left.

Outside, Jake snatched his duffel bag from the low stack of wooden rail ties. He started to march across the work yard, located behind the mill, back towards the ballpark. Across the yard, Rusty, Garrett, and Marshall were waiting for him, chatting it up, but he was in no mood to talk right now.

Jake's thoughts fled back to his youth. He thought about his father's old work horses on their ranch in Montana. They had been such strong and noble creatures. There were two horses: Clay, a large sandy-colored stallion with white socks; and Mary, a mare with a dark brown coat that shimmered in the sun. Jake remembered the day they had been pulling the plow when Clay came across a piece of loose ground. The horse lost his footing, slipped, and broke his leg.

Jake's father told him a horse couldn't recover from a broken leg. He explained to Jake that the horse would have to be put to rest. Then Jake's father took his shotgun down off the wall and gone out into the field to take care of the deed.

Jake shut himself in his bedroom and curled into a ball, holding his hands over his ears. But he couldn't block out the bang of the shots that were fired. Three shots. Jake had always wondered about that. Why it had taken three shots to put down that horse.

After that, Mary was forced to pull the plows alone. The horse became slow and withdrawn. She no longer raised her head in search of apples. She no longer whinnied or trotted. She only plodded steadily along, her head hung low on her neck. The front of her nose pointing to the ground. The poor creature's coat seemed to be a reflection of her new-found loneliness. Her once-shimmering dark coat had become dull and patchy. It wasn't long before the horse could no longer pull the plow and she had to be put out to pasture.

Jake had watched that worn-out old horse, who had once looked so strong and vibrant, wither away to nothing, hobbling from one patch of dry grass to the next.

With this black now on the team, Jake wondered to himself ...

Was he being put out to pasture?


Author's Note

Sometimes I finish a chapter (like this one) and I wonder, "Does it read well?" or "Is there enough detail?"

For example what do you think about Jake's flashback and his memory of the two horses, Clay and Mary? Does it make sense that I named them?

Until only a few days ago, I had Coach Taylor ordering Jake to run laps as well. While that would have fueled the conflict between Henry and Jake, both running laps, I changed my mind because I wanted to show that, right or wrong, Jake has reasons for his way of thinking. And so the "Jake vs. Coach" scene was born.

Also, we get a little more insight into Coach Taylor's past as a two-time heavyweight boxing champion at the Naval Academy. I could have elaborated more on this, but this chapter was really about Jake. And apparently, Coach promised Jake the shortstop position at the end of last season. Not so cool, but it just goes to show that Coach Taylor is only human, and fallible and imperfect ... as we all are.

Well, that's all I got for now. This tired horse is going to take a rest.

Thanks,

Tom

P.S. In the next chapter, Henry's back, mobbed by reporters. And in the chapter after that, Sarah's back. Will Henry and Sarah every meet again?!   ;)

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