The grass is freshly cut, he would worry about staining his white New Balance shoes, but they turned green long ago. He keeps three things on him, mostly out of habit: his whistle, his clipboard, and a small package of tissues. His allergies are terrible this time of year.
And yet he’s up before the sun, out before his cat stretches the laziness from her limbs, and at the field just as Mr. Tagen boards his ride on lawnmower. He spends the first waking moments of the day stretching. Jogging, then sprinting. Sprinting, then breathing. Grape vines, side slides, pushups, sit ups, staircases and grass drills.
Between, he takes breaks for water and of course to address his allergies. He smiles and waves to Mr. Tagen; Tagen almost never notices, but that doesn’t stop Jim from waving just the same. His regiment stops around the time the first cars enter the Teacher’s parking lot.
Eyes itching, nose running, breath wheezing, he makes for the showers in the locker room, feeling like hell, but also pretty damn fine.
* * * * *
“Great work, Braeden.” Jim says, leaning down and raising an open palm. Braeden slaps his hand hard, Jim wags in his arm theatrically.
Braeden smiles, “Thanks, Jimbo.”
The students are heading out to the busses, Jim grabs his whistle, clipboard and tissues and heads back for his office. When he gets back inside, his phone is vibrating on the desk, he lets it go to voicemail so he can wash his face, and blow his nose.
When he gets back, he checks the missed call. Or rather, missed calls. 17. 14 voice mails. All from the same number.
He calls the number back immediately without having to check and to his surprise, the other line answers.
“Blake, hey—hey, hey, listen … no don’t do that. Listen, I’m almost done here, will you tell me where you are? Look, you chose me, so don’t get upset when I call you back. You know how this works … yeah … yeah … OK, OK, stop. Where are you? Let’s talk face to face … Which park? OK, I’m on my way.”
* * * * *
Blake is on the bench, Jim spots him from the parking lot, he sticks out like a sore thumb. Where the rest of the people in the park casually walk, casually sit, or casually eat, there is nothing casual about Blake. He’s sitting on the edge of the bench, as if waiting for the sound of a starting pistol. Big hoodie pulled up over his head, hands shoved in pockets. Legs bouncing up and down. He sucks at his teeth and can’t seem to make up his mind where he wants to look.
Jim knows that look. It’s one that used to greet him every morning.
“Blake,” Jim says walking up, dabbing his nose with a tissue. “Thanks for calling, buddy, let’s walk.”
“Took you long enough,” Blake snaps, but Jim knows that’s not Blake talking. “’nother five minutes and I was gonna split.”
“I know,” Jim says. “I’m sorry, I was still finishing up at school. I called as soon I saw my phone.”
Blake sniffs loudly and looks away. “Yeah, well…” He says. Jim knows that’s the closest thing to an apology he’s going to get.
Jim looks down at the crumpled tissues in his hand, “Hey you know where I can find a garbage can around here?”
“Yeah,” Blake says, then grins when he looks back to Jim. “God, you really are a mess in the spring, aren’t you?”
* * * * *
The seats are already in a circle when Blake and Jim arrive, so they help by brewing the coffee and setting out the napkins instead. It’s the 3rd meeting of the month, so Karen’s brought doughnuts. She calls it their guiltless pleasure, and everyone thinks that’s just fine.
It fills up quickly, mostly men, but women as well. Most enter alone but that changes quickly once they find a friendly face. They exchange greetings like old friends and new acquaintances.
“Gordon, how are you, buddy!” and “Hey, my name is Greg, this your first meeting?” and “Derrick, you sonovabitch, I can’t believe those Oakland bastards took that game.” and “Trevor, how are the kids?” and “Barbara, when are you going to bring in that award winning casserole again?” and “Debra, long time no see, how’s the business?” And “Jimbo, big game this weekend, your kiddos ready?”
For a time, they mingle in mutual understanding of one another. Exchanging handshakes, running for more coffee when the containers run dry, offering doughnuts to one another. When Karen gets up with the mic, they all find a seat. A dull murmur in the crowd, then it’s silent.
She greets them in their way. They say hello and she continues. Jim is the first to raise his hand tonight, he’s seated next to Blake, who still fidgets but at least he’s stopped biting his nails.
“Hi,” Jim says when he gets the microphone, “My name is Jimbo, and I’m an addict.”
The group says hello in unison, and then listens to what Jim has to say.
* * * * *
It’s early. He’s thankful for the season, the sun greets him even at this hour in the morning. The drive is a little longer today, he has to make a stop along the way. He honks the horn when he pulls up to the house and moves his things off the passenger seat. Blake swings the door open without a word, eyes still heavy with sleep, and they drive off for the field.
Mr. Tagen is out mowing the lawn already, fresh grass shooting out from the mower like a spray of confetti. The morning air is crisp and clean, it has a cleansing quality to it. Grass shines from morning dew and soaks their shoes the second they start walking out into the field. Not a cloud in the sky.
Jim reaches into his pocket and pulls out his package of tissues, starting his morning ritual. When he’s done, he offers one to his friend, who waves him off.
“Well,” Jim says, sucking in the fresh air through his hopelessly stuffed nose, “I usually start by stretching.”