“Dad, Dad,” Billy shouted as he rounded second and dug for third.
The center fielder caught up with the baseball that had rolled to the chain-link fence.
Billy’s father’s head was turned, chatting up a brunette, thirty-something in the grand stands.
“Dad…” Billy tripped over third base. His chin hit the ground. His teeth gnashed, and a front tooth chipped.
The ball was relayed to the third baseman, and Billy was tagged out.
The coach, father of another boy, grabbed his head. His baseball cap fell to the ground. “Billy, you were the tying run. We lost because of you. You jackass.”
Billy’s father said, “You have nothing to say?”
University started in a week. Billy and his father were driving through rolling, green countryside, headed upstate on the New York Thruway. Billy’s mind roiled like a thunderstorm. His tongue ran over the chipped tooth. The pain of the little league baseball memory squeezed out of his mouth. “They called me Jackass after that.”
His father said, “Huh?”
“Since a parent called me jackass, the other kids felt free to ride me. I wore the nickname like ringworm.”
“What’s that got to do with what I just told you?”
“Billy turned his head to his father. “That’s the day you met her?”
His father blinked his eyes. “Yes.”
“And you’ve been with this woman ten years?”
“While you lived with mom?”
“We’ve slept in separate bedrooms since you were born.”
“That justifies it?”
“You know we fight a lot.”
“I used to think your arguments were my fault.”
Billy’s father looked at him. “They weren’t.”
Billy stared out the side window. “Did mom know you were seeing this woman?”
“I don’t think so.”
“So all those late evenings. The overnight business trips. You were with her?”
Billy’s father puffed out a breath.
Billy said, “Have you told mom you want a divorce?”
“I wanted to have this conversation first.”
“Why divorce? You’ve been seeing this woman ten years. Why marry her now?”
“I want us to be a family.”
Billy’s head snapped toward his father. “Do I have brothers and sisters?”
“Hey, I’m still your father.”
Billy rubbed his forehead. The silence continued for a few miles.
Billy said, “Mom will be devastated.”
“I won’t mention Marilyn. Maybe you shouldn’t either.”
“Oh, right. When mom asks me if you’re seeing another woman, what am I supposed to say?”
“She doesn’t need to know it’s been going on ten years.”
“What about the baby? How do you think she’ll feel about that?”
“That’s months away.”
“I had to listen to all your lectures and precautions about getting a girl pregnant. How the hell did you let a baby happen?”
“Marilyn wanted a child before she was too old.”
Billy straightened in his seat. “That’s not it.” His voice raised an octave. “She forced your hand. She got tired of waiting for you to divorce mom, so she used the oldest trick in the book. Get pregnant, and he’ll marry me. You got played.”
His father’s face turned scarlet. He raised the back of his hand but held it.
“Sure, lose your temper. Hit me. At least that pain will go away.”
Billy’s father put his hand on the wheel. They rode in silence for a while.
Billy said, “What’s mom to do about money?”
“She’s talked about going back to work since you started college. I’m planning to leave her the house. We don’t have much saved, but what’s there is hers.”
“You think that makes you a hero?”
Billy’s father looked at him. “And I’ll help with tuition.”
“I don’t want your money. I’ll go to work. I’m not leaving my mother to be a pauper.”
“Don’t overreact. People get divorced all the time. You have plenty of friends whose parents have split.”
They’d almost arrived at the University exit on the Thruway.
Billy said, “I could’ve scored that day. I would’ve gotten slaps on the back from the kids and an ‘atta boy’ from the coach.” Billy looked at his father. “It turns out, you’re the jackass.”
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