86. Coming After You

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Henry's spirits were running high.

The Pioneers had reached the half-way mark of the season. For the first time in team history, the Pioneers were holding on to a winning record. And while the season was going far better than he'd ever hoped, Henry couldn't help but feel that his struggles weren't over yet.

    Carrying their mailbags, Henry and Dale trekked along their usual path in the woods. Under the canopy of tall trees, the evening air felt cool to the skin. Rays of waning sunlight stretched horizontally between the trees, casting a soft golden glow over the knotted green terrain.

Henry had continued helping Dale with the mail run over the past few weeks, and they had fallen into an easy routine. The residents of both bunkhouse sections were now used to the pair, and the two of them now walked along together, delivering mail to both the black and the white sides.

    Henry and Dale emerged from the woods and entered the black bunkhouse section. The soles of their shoes crunched and popped against the gravel road as a faint breeze whistled past.

The sun was coming down low on the horizon, streaking the sky with layered shades of orange. The hints of stars were just beginning to peak through the darkening blue of the sky.

    "Yesterday's game was something else," Dale said. "I can't believe we've won eleven straight."

    "It's a start," Henry said in agreement. "The season's still young though. We got a good group, and we're only going to get better. But teams are starting to take us seriously. Something tells me it's not going to get any easier."

    Dale cocked an eyebrow. In a mock-serious tone, he said. "You sure do know how to ruin a fella's imaginations."

    The two men shared a long, slow laugh.

In the background, a frog croaked, and crickets chirped away.

    Henry nodded at a black mill worker passing by before they wandered up the walkway to house number two. Henry pulled three envelopes from his bag and dropped them into the mail slot. Then they began to stroll towards the next house.

    "How are things going with you and your girl, Sarah?" Dale asked. "You've been seeing her quite a bit lately."

    "That's right," Henry said. "I like Sarah a lot. Actually, I more than like her. I think she might be the one."

    Dale flashed a weak smile. "That's swell." He hesitated for a moment, and his expression seemed to falter. "But are you sure? You haven't been courting her all that long."

    "True," Henry said. "I haven't known Sarah for very long. But the first time I laid eyes on her, in that mechanic's uniform, it felt pretty special. Every time we see each other, it feels so comfortable like I've known her all my life. We talk for hours ... about the future. I can see spending the rest of our lives together. Truth is, I can't imagine a future without her. If that's not love, then I don't know what love is."

    Dale nodded, looking solemn. "You know, I'm only asking, because you're my friend."

Henry extended his hand, and the two men bumped fists. "And now that we've established we're friends, what's wrong?"

Dale sighed. "Remember, I said I used to go on family vacations with my family to Vermont?"

"Yeah, to Lake Eden. It sounded like a fun time."

"Well, it wasn't fun at all. My parents only knew each other a few months before they got married.  I suppose things were fine in the beginning, but they really grew to hate each other. I can't remember many times when they weren't fighting." Dale paused and let out an exasperated sigh.

Henry felt a jolt of sadness. He had thought he knew Dale pretty well, but this new bit of information came as a complete surprise. They walked in silence for several seconds before Dale continued.

"My father wasn't a good man. Drinking all the time. Coming home in the wee hours of the morning. He was always screaming at me about something." Dale imitated an old man's voice. "You can't do nothing right! You ain't never going to amount to anything!"

Henry's surprise turned to anger, bubbling in his veins.

Dale resumed his story. "But the summer I turned sixteen, I grew six inches, and most of that was muscle. After a night of boozing, my father came home and wanted my mother to make him a ham and cheese sandwich. When she refused, he called her a 'sorry excuse for a wife' among other things. That's when the shouting started. It turned physical when he tackled her to the floor and started choking her. I pulled him off. And when he turned around, fist cocked, I unloaded a punch with everything I had. Knocked him unconscious. When he came to, he packed his bags and left. I never saw the man again. I don't know ... I guess the situation between my parents is the reason why I never married."

    Henry stopped walking and met his friend's eyes. "Sorry, Dale. That couldn't have been easy, growing up under those conditions."

    "No," Dale said. "It sure wasn't."

    "It's not going to be like that with me and Sarah though."

    Dale opened his mouth to respond. But before he replied, he tilted his head upwards, studying something over Henry's shoulder. "Looks like someone wrote you a message."

Henry turned to see what Dale was talking about, and his stomach clenched.

    On the front of the black bunkhouse, there was another racial slur scrawled in white paint over the weathered wood. Only this time, it was directed specifically at Henry.

    HENRY LOUIS! WE'RE COMING AFTER YOU!!    V

Henry just stared at those words. He felt like a piece of him had just left his body and was hovering over them, watching the scene unfold.

The Vigilantes of the White are coming after me?!

The thought sent a chill up his spine. A one-to-one to fight? That he could handle. But a one-to-ten fight, and probably more? That was too much to ask.

Dale broke the silence. "Come on, Henry. Let's finish up and get out of here." 

They started walking again, but Henry peered back at the graffiti one last time.

He just didn't understand the reason behind their hatred. Because he was playing baseball? The game he loved? On a white team?

It just didn't make any sense.


Author's Note

Yep, the role of the Vigilantes of the White is about to pick up. The VOW will becoming after Henry. How he responds will determine his future ... and the future of practically everyone in Hester and beyond.

Once again, I'm so excited you took the time to drop by. Thank you!

All the best!

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All the best!

Tom

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