Raz didn’t reply.
“It doesn’t matter to me if you don’t start,” Susan answered anyway. “Does it matter to you?”
“Not at all. I’m stoked. I can’t wait to sit on the bench with my dick in my hands.”
“Raz, really?” Susan didn’t like that language. “If starting pitcher is what you want, maybe you can get the position back.”
“How would I do that?”
Susan was about to answer, then stopped. Neil was the answer. Neil had taught Raz to pitch. Neil would’ve taken Raz in the backyard, and the two of them would have drilled forever. “Okay, well, I’m sure there’s a way. Maybe there’s someone I can hire, like a tutor. A coach. A pitching coach.”
“I don’t want to work with a pitching coach. You’re not gonna hire me a pitching coach. It’s stupid.”
“No it’s not. There’s nothing wrong with helping yourself. If you were nearsighted, you’d wear glasses.”
“I knew you would say that. You always say that.”
Susan spared him the lecture on goal-directed behavior. She wasn’t certain of it herself lately. Her goals had scaled down to: Last the entire day without blubbering like a baby. Save the kids. Keep the wheels on your life.
“Mom. I don’t want a pitching coach. How many times do I have to say it? No pitching coach!”
“Okay, fine.” Susan felt her temper flare, but reminded herself again to stay patient. Raz wanted only one pitching coach, his dad.
“What if I don’t play? What if I don’t even get in?”
“You’ll get in. They need more than one pitcher a game.” Susan was pretty sure that was true. “In any event, I’m going to the game.”
“Whatever,” Raz answered, leaving Susan to her thoughts. She had to face the fact that the kids had been closer to Neil than her. She didn’t know if she could ever bridge that gap. Worse, she couldn’t shake the sensation that they thought the wrong parent had died. She even agreed.
Suddenly her phone rang. They both looked over, and the screen read Ryan calling.
“Thank God.” Susan grabbed the phone and swiped to answer. “Ryan, are you okay? Where are you?”
“I’m at the police station in Rocky Springs. Can you come?”
The morning sun shone through the classroom windows, and Chris stood as the students went to their seats, dug in their backpacks, and opened spiral notebooks. Evan slipped his phone away, but Jordan was already writing in his notebook. Raz was late, and Chris hoped he showed up. He had to make the final choice between Jordan and Raz today. There was too much to do before Tuesday. He wanted to pull the trigger after class, and he had one more trick up his sleeve.
“Good morning, everyone!” Chris began. “We’re going to start with an exercise about the Bill of Rights.”
Suddenly Raz hurried into the classroom and sat down heavily in his seat, dropping his backpack loudly on the floor. “Sorry I’m late,” he mumbled, but Chris kept his attention on the class.
“Okay, gang, your homework was to write an essay about which Amendment is the most important. But our forefathers didn’t write the Bill of Rights by submitting a paper. They hammered it out together. So that’s what we’re going to do today, have a real debate.” Chris returned his attention to Raz, slumped in his chair. “Raz, which Amendment did you decide was the most important?”
“Um, the Second?”
“Okay, come on up here.” Chris gestured to the front of the classroom, and Raz rose uncertainly. Chris looked back at the class. “Now, let’s get an adversary.” Chris turned to Jordan, apparently spontaneously. “Jordan, which Amendment did you think was the most important?”
“Then come on up.”
“Okay.” Jordan rose and lumbered to the front of the room, barely glancing over at Raz.
Chris stood between the two boys like a boxing referee. “Raz and Jordan, you will each state your case. If anybody has a question, they can ask and you have to answer, then keep going. The class will decide who wins, and that will be the end of the first round. We’ll keep going until we see which Amendment is left.”
Raz raked back his hair, and up close, he looked unusually pale, even drawn. “Well, uh, I said the Second Amendment was the most important because everybody should have a right to protect themselves, like, against whatever. Like bad guys. You’re not safe if you can’t protect yourself and that should be your right as a citizen—”
“Raz, what’s the Second Amendment?” one of the boys shouted. “It’s called a definition. We learned it in middle school.”
The class laughed, and Raz looked shaken. “The Second Amendment is the right to bear arms. It says that a citizen has a right to bear arms and the government can’t take that away from them.”
Sarah raised her hand. “My dad says the militia is allowed to have the arms, not the people. It says it right there, ‘a militia,’ doesn’t it?”
“My mom says that’s from lobbying—” shouted another boy, but Chris shot him a warning glance, not wanting a gun-control debate. He knew more about guns than these kids ever would, and that wasn’t the point of the exercise.
“Raz,” Chris interjected, “what do you think is the reason the Second Amendment is the most important?”
“Well, um, see,” Raz fumbled. “Because you gotta live. You can talk about the pursuit of happiness, or free speech, but none of it makes any difference if you’re dead. Once you’re dead, you’re dead and gone … and it doesn’t matter what your rights were or whatever happiness you were pursuing because, let’s face it, you’re … like, dead.”
The class burst into laughter.
Sarah’s hand rose. “Raz, is your argument that if you’re dead, you don’t have any rights? Is that really the best argument you can come up with? That dead people don’t have rights?”
“It’s not that.” Raz licked his dry lips, his dark eyes filming. “You have to be able to protect yourself! You have to be able to live! Do you want to die? Do you really want to die?”
“What?” Sarah and the class laughed, but Chris waved them into silence, realizing that Raz was probably talking about his late father.