Chapter 10: Brother
Cory is dreaming.
An enormous, silent plain of blue water, as far as the eye can see every direction without interruption, met by a pitch blue sky that blends into a blue at every horizon.
The water is only a foot or two deep. Cory is standing in the sea, wearing what he wore when he first crossed over, legs spread apart, staring into the distance.
Several objects settle into the water. Blurry and far ahead of him is the now leveled house in Aprigo, standing upright and whole again. A young girl with sharp, short brown hair is sitting on the front porch; he has never seen her before, doesn't recognize her. Far behind the house, and grossly out of proportion, a stone fountain. Something else he isn't familiar with, and it isn't the fountain in the park that Aubna ventured to.
He slowly turns around. Behind him, now in his line of sight, is a yellow diamond street sign sticking up with two pegs from the water. He can't make out the words on the sign, only the familiar, neon-yellow color. A white, wooden rowboat is tied to the sign, ebbing slowly up and down in its own tidal system.
The girl waves goodbye to him, and the house begins to disappear. He trudges towards the sign. After a dozen paces, he stops and looks down. The water has risen to his waist, and has begun to sink the sign. His eyes widen, and he begins to hurry towards the sign, sloshing and pushing through the water. It continues to rise, up to his chest, higher, to his neck, then to his head, and over his hair. He takes a breath, and goes under, ducking under the rowboat
Underwater, swimming in the bright sea towards the sign. It reads "PARK ENTRANCE" with two gold screens for flashing lights between the words. Cory looks confused. He glances up towards the rowboat, now high over his head. The light begins to fade to black.
The black becomes the insides of his eyelids. Cory blinks and awakens, back in bed on Primehook Island.
I hope someone explains to me what that was all about.
It's a day of rest, mandated by Aubna, but Cory isn't interested in sitting around and counting clouds, not yet. Not when he's not living on his own terms of time. He doesn't have to sulk and pass time today.
The house has a bicycle, leaning up against the back porch by the hammock. He hops aboard and rides away from the beach, back down the long road inland, towards something that had caught his eye on their original trek.
Secluded in a small community park, a baseball diamond with all the fixings. Fences, benches, a scoreboard, maintained dirt, and a batting cage with pitching machine. Finally, something truly familiar.
He fills the pitching machine with loose balls that were scattered around the fences, grabs a leftover bat leaning against the cage, and steps up to the plate, ready to take some hacks. But it doesn't take long for the machine to humble him back to the reality of his poor skills, missing or tipping each pitch with awkward swings.
Come on. You're Cory Danby, you can do this. It runs in the family. You were born to.
One more big cut with glancing contact, and the machine stops. He flips the bat down and wanders around the cage, fishing out the baseballs to restock it once more.
I could never hit in a batting cage. Just can't do it. Something about not having a face and an arm to stare at. Last time I played, when I was a lot younger, we had tryouts at a big complex, and they made us hit from a machine. Since I couldn't do that, they didn't want me to play. Not strong enough, not tall enough, and can't hit.
He drops a few balls into the machine's bucket, and walks back to the plate to swing away with more futility.
It frustrated him that a task he'd seen others make look so simple and effortless was such a pain. His older brother, Kevin, could crack them out of the park with ease, with his eyes closed. It seemed to come natural – but the coaching didn't hurt. Hard coaching, years of coaching.
Kevin Danby was the family's baseball prodigy. The captain of every team he'd ever played on, he had only continued to grow and master the game in high school, batting over .400, clobbering home runs, and leading the varsity team deep into the state playoffs each year he'd played. Everything you could want to see in a young athlete; natural leader, passion for the game, love of practice. Everything that you would want to see from a kid that would pursue a career as a player.
Sure enough, the scouts came to watch, and soon there was talk of college scholarships to the baseball powerhouse schools in the southeast, and talk of perhaps skipping college and going straight into the professional draft, signing a contract after high school. If his senior year had gone off according to plan, he would have a bright future in the world of baseball, the toast of the family, the school, and the community, one of their own on the road to making it big. And Cory didn't mind watching from the sidelines as attention diverted away from him. There was pride.
Until the older brother was arrested and expelled after attempting a bank robbery, a brazen act of stupidity and arrogance.
There were happier times still imprinted in his mind. Sweating in the sun, he pictures one of the last times he remembers his family as a cohesive and happy unit, a short time before Kevin's downward spiral began.
Several years ago, a trip to England, to his great-grandfather's 100th birthday celebration at his home in Sheffield. It had stuck in his mind as one of the strangest weeks of his life, flying overseas, visiting family he'd never known or seen before. He had met his great-grandfather Albert several times, most recently when his father fruitlessly attempted to convince him to retire to Florida, and knew that he had kept the older members of the family up to date on how the grandchildren and great-grandchildren were doing in life.
He was British through and through, the last member of the family tree to stay behind in the old country.
"The Yanks are here! Hide me!" he said, seated in a chair under a banner celebrating his centennial, as the boys approached him in the garden.
"Congratulations," Kevin says, shaking his hand. The image was fresh, permanently sealed as such in Cory's head. The image was fresh, and his family was fresh. No shadows, no wear. His older brother, clean-cut, bright, young, full of life and promise. A completely different person that no longer existed.
Old Albert Danby may have been a hundred years old, and as such not in terrific physical condition, but he still had his mind and wits.
He makes a swinging motion with his wrists at Kevin. "You still…hitting those, eh-"
"Home runs," Kevin chuckles, and nods.
"I don't know it," Albert admits. "I'll tell you – I'll come see it next year."
"Well, we'll see about that," Cory's father says, edging into the scene.
"What d'you mean, course I can!" Albert bellows, waving at his grandson.
He speaks clear and concise. "Did you get your letter from the queen yet?" he asks Albert.
"Coming, it's coming." He points at Cory and Kevin with two weak fingers, voice beginning to strain. "You two. I wish I knew you more. All the things I've done, all the places and people. It – poof – it goes away. Make sure you talk to your father, make him tell you stories.
His father smiles politely. "Don't worry about that, Al."
Cory knew that old Albert had a poignant point in his head that he was trying to make, but at the time, Cory didn't grasp the scope of what he may have meant. It made a little more sense now.
"Your father thinks I'm a looney old man."
Cory knew that he wasn't talking of some grand, secret adventure, romping across worlds, but today, it almost seemed like he could have been. If he was in it, then anyone could.
Some folks live through wars, hardships, and adventures. Good times and bad, smaller moments that fade away and larger ones, larger than life stories that didn't deserve to be bottled up inside.
He wondered how this one would end. If it ever would.
Back at the baseball field, he flings a ball at the chain link fence in frustration. At his brother. Cory still loved baseball, watched it on television every night of the summer, but seeing it in person and playing it hadn't been the same since Kevin's dramatic failure played out, a slow speed burn that torched the family and left it charred and smoldering.
Things had been changing, he'd seen it. His brother drinking a little more, staying out later, hanging with a different crowd. All things that seemed fairly normal. The stereotypical telltale signs of a rebellious streak – and after his father's constant coaching, Cory didn't blame him – but he didn't expect how large of a leap he next step would be. It wasn't a petty crime, it was an outrageous act of stupidity.
Kevin claimed that a man outside of the bank, only a mile away in town, had confronted him at gunpoint, given him a bag containing a bomb, and was told that if he set it down, the device would explode. He was then told to enter the bank, withdraw $100,000 dollars, and exchange it in a nearby parking lot.
Surely, there was an easier way out of the situation – throwing the bag at the man would have solved two problems at once – but Cory didn't believe that a man even had existed. Neither did the police, who confronted Kevin inside the bank once his demands were made. Security tapes were reviewed of the nearby streets and parking lots, and no sign of anyone matching Kevin's description of his captor was found.
The bomb was a fake, a dud, a mishmash of wires, batteries, and clay, enough to look like a legitimate bomb at a quick glance, to the untrained eye. Kevin claimed ignorance, but all of the materials inside the bag were found to have been stolen from the high school after hours, when the baseball team was training indoors. The bag? Lifted from the locker room itself. A kid, above the law, who decided to have some fun.
And so it was done. The evidence was in, and Kevin appeared guilty. He never admitted guilt, but didn't appear to fight the charges with much effort once the evidence came in against him. It was the end of Kevin Danby, star centerfielder, and the end of the happy, close-knit Danby family. Kevin was thrown out of school, briefly into jail, and into a long period of probation and community service that spit him out a broken and indifferent young man, glum but resigned to his fate as a nothing in the world.
That's what convinced Cory that his brother was guilty. Lack of a fight back, and a different personality lurking under the surface, just waiting to come out and take over the body of his brother.
Cory lost interest in playing sports, and lost interest in giving a damn what his brother made of his life. All it might take was one mistake, one horrible idea to ruin his own, and he didn't trust himself to rise up high enough so that such a thought might ever enter his mind to feed that greed. Over time, he stopped caring what his brother did, and what the expectations of his family were. Nobody gave a damn anymore.
And after the dust settled, very little was expected out of Cory, a fact he was willing to acknowledge. Not much ever was. Living in the shadow of his older brother's glory, and later crimes, he grew up a forgotten child, but learned to appreciate his place, living his own life, coming into his own without his dad's meddling and molding.
Imagine if they knew where I was right now. What I'd done.