Chapter 26: Landfall
The following morning. Early before school, Cory's fingers roll over and grip a baseball in his backyard. Trying to replicate a skill that had seemed perfect yesterday, he winds up and fires the ball, aiming for a knothole in the fence. His movements are jerky, off balance and off sequence, and the ball flies far off target, plowing into the grass. He finishes with his eye facing down at the ground, and laughs once.
So all that has to come back again?
Knowing what I do now, it'll take me no time to get into that shape again!
Cory leaves the ball and finishes getting ready for school, grabbing a snack bar on his way through the house and out the other side. He polishes it off at the bottom of the driveway, flips the wrapper into the garbage can at the curb, just in time to join up with Erika and Natalie as they pass by his house.
"Clockwork," he mumbles to himself with a grin of wonder.
"Hey Cory," Erika yawns. "Forgot yesterday, uh-"
"-Yeah, I know that was weird, sorry."
"Oh. Yeah, whatever. We have a couple of tickets to the Rays game tonight, wanna come?"
"The Rays game," Cory repeats, a statement to himself. He gives his head a quick shake.
The usher leads Cory to the doors of the clubhouse, where he tells him to wait outside – no visitors allowed inside, no exceptions. Cory holds in his hand the home run ball, snatched off of a bounce in the bleachers before Erika could find herself with it again.
The doors to the clubhouse are open, and he catches himself peeking inside. He'd seen it before, on a tour of the stadium with a school group – and he'd lived in one of lesser quality for a while back with Skytown – but he was left staring with a new glint of wonder and determination. That perhaps, reporting for work through the doors one day wasn't as much of a wild, fruitless fantasy as it once was.
As he thanks the player for the exchange – again, a new bat for the ball - Cory struggles not to leave with a brazen boast, a guarantee of being a future teammate. It was there, ready to come out, but he smirks it away.
I'm a nothing right now. Bragging and getting full of myself doesn't do any good.
Fresh bat in his hand, he dashes back away through the stadium's inner concourses. Standing in line for a bucket of popcorn at the stand nearest his seat in left field, he watches as the television screens overhead relaying the game inside switch over to a weather forecast. Hurricane Bailey was forming down in the gulf, with a track that might bring landfall near the Tampa Bay region.
"Nothing changes," Cory groans under his breath.
It was looking like he'd made a seamless transition back. Everything that had occurred the first time through seemed to be playing out the same way. A perfect little loop; at least, until he'd break it and continue forward in a few days.
"There's a hurricane coming," he comments to Erika as he sidles back into his seat, bat and bucket cradles in his arms.
She rolls her eyes. "Already trying to scare us. Every year they say the same thing, all these storms, ooh, busy year down in the tropics. Pssh. Bet it fizzles."
"I dunno. You might be wrong."
Days later, the hurricane is striking, a whirling storm of fierce winds and horizontal torrents of rain. Loud, deafening from inside of the second-floor bedroom. Power already out, Cory and Patrick sit on the floor, playing cards by candlelight. It's impossible to tell what time of day it might be.
Some kind of flying debris bounces off the window screen. Cory hops up to look out the window, but it's a futile effort.
"Can't see anything. Hope it wasn't our trees."
"Stay away from the window, man. Exciting, right?"
"Yeah, until my house falls on us! Crap. I should have checked when I-" he begins, thinking back –or ahead- fifteen months. He quickly changes the subject. "Think we get off school the whole week?"
"Maybe if the power's out everywhere." As he speaks the words, the lights in the room flicker back on for a moment. "No!" Patrick shouts. "How's that even possible? Go out! Go out!"
The bulbs go out and stay out. "That was pretty impressive."
"I know, right?" his friend whistles, blowing the tip of his finger like a smoking gun barrel. "Yet another of my hidden talents."
"Full of em. Master of the harmonica too."
Post-storm. Cory slides the back door open and takes a look outside. The sky is still a dangerous-looking swirl of grays and patchy sun. Loose leaves and branches are scattered everywhere, but there isn't much physical damage otherwise.
Cory and Patrick line for a picture in the yard, insisted upon by Mrs. Danby. "There's our survivors!" she says, snapping a quick shot of the scene, peace through the chaos.
As Patrick waves and leaves to make a break for home before the outer bands roll through, Cory catches a glimpse of his brother watching through the kitchen window inside. The face disappears, and reemerges a minute later, slinking out the back door to help Cory pick up the loose sticks and branches the storm has strewn around the property.
I guess it's symbolic. Or ironic.
"Hey…Kev," Cory says quietly as his brother joins him out in the wind, "Uh…the whole, uh…"
"What?" Kevin asks, detecting Cory's shift to an unfamiliar tone.
Cory spits it out. "I know you didn't do it. The thing, with the bank," he says, backtracking.
He'd always suspected that there might be more to the story than his brother had let on, even through all of the legal nightmares and proceedings. But he'd never come and flat-out told his brother that he believed in his innocence. Even Kevin – who he knew was coerced – seemed to give up and give in before long, accepting the words and blame of everyone around him who had written him off as wandering down the wrong path.
Since then, it was rarely discussed. His brother looks up at him, but doesn't respond, shaking his head once indifferently.