61. Divided We Blame

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Henry waited for the rest of the team to return to the locker room any minute now.

He'd gone for a walk like Coach Taylor suggested. He strolled around the ballpark. Three times. But it didn't put him in a better frame of mind. So he took a shower. The first time before the white players. He chuckled at that thought, but that amusement was short lived. Even if the white players didn't want him around, he hated not being out there ... on the field.

After putting on street clothes, Henry just sat there in the locker room and listened. He listened for the celebrations; there weren't many. And for the rumble of hard soles stomping against wooden floorboards; few and far between. But what really struck him was that steady drone of boos that echoed like ghosts out of the locker room walls. Punctuated by cries of outrage that increased in frequency.

Then the sounds of the game started to wind down. The thunder of eight thousand soles tramping away.

Finally, the rest of the Pioneers started filtering into the locker room. Gazes lowered. Shoulders drawn down. Henry could see the result of the game written across their expressions.

Jake burst into the locker room. A scowl on his red, sweat-soaked face, the Cowboy pushed through the other players. His glare cutting into Henry like a razor.

Henry stood up. In time to see Dale turn slipping out of the locker room. Where was he going?

Jake thrust an index finger at Henry's face. "This is all your fault. We lost because of you!"

The other players gathered behind Jake. A wall of bodies.

Anger swelling in his chest, Henry jumped to his feet. "Because of me? You got to be kidding! You saw what happened. That umpire was calling strikes on foul balls!"

Jake shook his head. "You got in his face. You disrespected him in front of everyone. And he took it out on us the rest of the game."

"He disrespected me first!"

"No! You got angry, and you took it too far throwing your bat."

Rusty and Garrett nodded at that.

Jake stepped into Henry's space. "The ump only acted that way, because he saw a black man on a white man's team. He didn't know what to make of it. It spooked him. Who can blame him? Right boys?"

The angry mob shouted in agreement.

Henry took a step forward. Jake's fingertip was hardly half an inch away from his nose.

"That's a pitiful excuse," Henry said, wanting to swat Jake's hand away.

"And you're a pitiful excuse of a teammate," Jake said.

Henry's jaw went slack as if he'd just been slapped in the face. No one had ever called him a bad teammate. And yet there was something in Jake's blue eyes that told Henry the Cowboy really believed those words.

"Hey!" The shout came from Coach Taylor. The crowd parted and Coach stepped through. He placed a large, sweaty hand on each of their shoulders and pushed them apart.

Dale came around and gave Henry a quick wink before standing beside him.

"What's going on?" Coach demanded.

"Coach, it's his fault we lost!" Jake said, pointing at Henry. "We're never going to win with him around!"

Coach Taylor furrowed his brow. "Well, they didn't get nine runs from your stellar pitching, did they?"

Jake frowned as if he knew Coach was right.

Coach Taylor swung his gaze to Henry. "And you didn't do us any good by throwing that bat. Am I right?"

Henry was about to argue the point but thought better. "Yes, sir."

Then Coach turned to the rest of the players. "We didn't lose today because of one new player. We lost because every one of you let yourselves get rattled. Playing like you had no right to be out there. Today, you all let your teammates down. Every last one of you!"

Coach Taylor returned his glare to Jake and Henry, his voice low and stern. "This bickering's got to stop. Am I clear?"

Jake screwed his mouth and gave a slight nod.

"Clear, Coach," Henry said.

Then Coach's voice shot up to a roar. "Now back to your corners!" He turned again to the other players. "And I don't want to hear another peep from any of you."

Coach Taylor stormed out of the locker room.

Jake shot Henry a mean look before heading over to his locker on the opposite side of the room. The other players dispersed, some mumbling to each other.

Henry grimaced at the snippets of conversations.

"Never lost like that before."

"Course the umpire wouldn't call it fair."

"That boy should just quit."

"He got no right to be here."

Henry sighed and sat back down on the bench. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Larry Fletcher, the right fielder, sitting on the other end of the bench. Without even looking over, Fletcher stood up and walked away.

Henry's stomach twisted into a knot. He stared at a crack in the concrete floor, wishing he was a bug ... small enough to crawl into that dark space and disappear.

What could go wrong next?


Author's Note

The countdown to Chapter 75 begins!

Only thirteen more chapters, and then Chapter 75 will feature Sarah facing off with Edward Benedict in her greatest challenge to date.

Talk to you soon.

Best Regards,

Tom

P.S. I wanted to share Henry's beautiful mood board created by @AnjaliDedha5. It was part my prize for winning third place overall in the Iris Awards 2018. This mood board truly represents the color of Henry's heart.

 This mood board truly represents the color of Henry's heart

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