41. Unexpected Encounter

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Henry was strolling home along Grandview Boulevard, the scene a far cry from the chaos on the day of the riot. A wide street with well-kept pavements, electric street lights every fifty feet, and tall spruces on trimmed lawns gave the area the feel of a park with a spacious promenade.

Normally, Henry passed a few horse-drawn carriages, several motorized cars, and waves of pedestrians. Most white folk knew Henry was a Pioneer. And most white folk left him alone. But there was always a heckler or two.

"You ain't no Pioneer, you stinkin' bag of shit!" a drunk had shouted yesterday. Henry just minded his business and kept on walking.

On this evening, the boulevard was surprisingly empty, and that was okay. The quiet gave Henry a chance to think.

Almost a week of practice under his belt, and Henry wondered if he'd made a big mistake joining the Pioneers.

The players seemed constantly on edge. Henry was sure it was because of him. Then again, Coach Taylor's grueling practices had a way of making everyone anxious. Whatever it was, the Pioneers seemed more like a motley bunch of street players ... without a street.

One thing for sure. Jake and his buddies liked to take out their frustrations on Henry, especially in the locker room when Coach wasn't around. Thank God it had been harmless pranks like the day Henry found his street clothes in the garbage can. Or the next day when Jake drenched everything in his locker with a bucket of water. Henry had exchanged angry words with Jake but that didn't much matter. Jake had ten men to back him up to Henry's one with Dale.

Still, these pranks were enough for Henry to grab his duffel after practice was over and leave in his sweat-soaked uniform. It was probably better that way, because even if he wanted to shower, he'd have to wait until all the white players were done, and then all that'd be left was cold water.

The pranks, name-calling, and sly shoves and punches had continued throughout the week. But today was an exception, and Henry didn't know why. In the locker room after practice, Jake didn't do or say anything to him. But Henry noticed Jake holding private talks with all the other white players. Everyone except Dale.

Henry had been deep in thought when he felt the tap on his shoulder. It came from behind, and he whirled around, half expecting it to be Jake and his posse.

"Henry!" Sarah said, her face beaming as bright as her yellow dress.

Instantly, Henry felt the tension drain from his shoulders as his eyes widened. Then his heart sank, suddenly aware of the ripe smell of sweat, dirt, and grass rising from his stained Pioneers uniform.

"Sarah? What are you doing here?"

She gave a faint smile, almost like she'd been planning this encounter all along.

"I'm going to your first home game," Sarah said, excited. "Can you believe it?"

Henry was out of breath, his heart beating like a hummingbird's wings. "That's great," he said finally, feeling a warm blush filling his cheeks. "Wait! You came all the way over here to tell me you're going to my first home game?"

"Well, sort of," Sarah said.

Henry cocked his head. The butterflies fluttered in his stomach.

Sarah's lips curled into a bashful smile, and she lowered her gaze to the sidewalk. "I guess I wanted to see you." She gulped as if that had slipped out. "I meant, I wanted to see how your head was doing."

Henry touched his forehead, the memory of being hit still fresh. "Well, my head, it's fine now."

"Oh," Sarah said, a nervous smile playing on her face. "That's great."

Neither of them said a word for a while until the quiet felt silly awkward, and they shared a soft laugh together.

Henry's laughter settled, and he leveled a warm gaze at Sarah. "Hey, would you like to go out to dinner sometime?"

Sarah smiled and pressed her lips at the same time. "Well, I'd love to, but there's just one problem."

Henry's heart twisted. "Let me guess. It's your uncle."

"Uncle Albert? Oh, no. It's not him."

Henry gave her a curious look.

Sarah blinked a few times. "It's you."

That left Henry speechless.

Sarah shook her head, the smile now replaced by a look of disappointment.

Henry couldn't believe it. "Wait! Why's it me?"

Sarah didn't say a word, her expression filled with heartache. Henry wanted to lift that sadness from her and throw it far away.

"Please, Sarah. Why's it me?"

Sarah gazed into Henry's eyes. "Because you haven't really asked me out yet."

Henry was about to say he did just ask her out, but he never got that chance.

It all happened in an instant with ...

a flash of light.

Like a fantastic scene from one of those flickers, Sarah disappeared. Everything disappeared.

And Henry was falling backwards ... falling through the blackness ... the way it felt when he got hit by the baseball Jake threw.

Henry wanted to scream but couldn't.

His gut clenched as if all the air had been sucked out of it.

Still plummeting, he managed to flip himself over.

Far, far below, a speck of white light appeared.

Growing bigger.

Turning green.

A baseball field.

Still falling.

Pioneers field.

CRASH!

Henry jolted straight up in his bed. Heart racing, he looked around wildly.

He was in his apartment.

Because you haven't really asked me out yet.

It had all been a dream.


Author's Note

This is a kind of a first draft. At most, a v1.5.

Structurally, it contains the main elements of the scene.

That said, as Henry starts to fall, I kept the sentences to short one-liners, one stacked under the other. Hoping to give the reader (you lol) a sense of falling. Did it work? Or were those one-liners too choppy and lacking description?

Thanks for your feedback. And double-thanks for sticking around!

Best,

Tom

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YOU READERS ARE GREAT!!!

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