“You want spaghetti?” Matt called out to me as I watched the Twins get trounced by the hated Yankees. I didn’t answer because the Twins were mounting a mini-rally in the bottom of the fifth inning to pull within five. Matt Garza had better shape up in a hurry, or I was going to demand they ship him out. Hey, I knew he was only a rookie, but so what? This was the bigs, baby, so you better bring your big-league game. Too bad Liriano had to go on the disabled list.
“Twink, you want spaghetti?” Like an apparition, Matt appeared in front of my face—standing between me and the plasma television. Greater men have been hurt for lesser reasons, and I growled my displeasure as I jerked my head once in agreement. Thankfully, Matt disappeared before I had to do him bodily harm, and I was able to watch my beloved Twins again. They were nearing the third time hitting Mussina, and it seemed as if they’d figured him out. I settled back to enjoy the show. During the commercial, I actually deigned to talk to Matt, my longtime roommate.
“What do you think the chances of the Twins making the World Series this year?” I asked eagerly, turning to look at Matt, although all I could see was his ass because he was bending over to get a pan. As it was a nice ass, I didn’t mind watching it. “They have Santana, Radke, Silva, and Nathan. They got Hunter in centerfield and a solid defense. They got the M boys to boot. All they need is one more starter and a power hitter. I can’t believe they let Ortiz go, and look what he did for the BoSox. What do you think?”
“I think you need to get laid,” Matt said, his head appearing again. Though his fore wasn’t quite as fetching as his aft, it was still rather good-looking with his sandy curls, clear blue eyes, and engaging grin. He had been a starting pitcher for the Gophers when we were at the U, and he still kept his body in tiptop shape. “Any time you start obsessing about whichever sport you’re watching, it means you’re sublimating.” Matt had been a psych major when we were in college with a focused interest in art, and he liked to bone up on his skills by psychoanalyzing me whenever he got the chance. “Twink, I’m telling you, it’s not normal for a woman to obsess about sports the way you do.”
“That’s sexist,” I said crossly, my eyes still glued to the not-so-small screen. “And my name’s not Twink.” He knew it bugged me when he called me that, which was probably why he did it. He also called me Viqueen when the Vikes were playing and Timberwolfie when the T-wolves were playing. He didn’t have a cute nickname for me while I watched the Lynx, probably because they were a female team. He enjoyed sports almost as much as I did, but it still amused him that I, a mere female, knew more about the games than he did.
“What should I call you? Scarlett?” Matt’s tone was snide as he deftly pushed my buttons.
“No, Matthias,” I seethed, clenching my hands into fists. “You know I only answer to Scar.” When my parents came here from Taiwan to study, Gone with the Wind was the first American movie they had seen. They’d been swept away with it, and it became ‘their’ movie. Never mind the blatant racism and sexism, that bothered them not a whit. They named their kids—born in rapid succession, less than a year apart—Scarlett, Rhett, Ashley, and Melanie. Thank God my parents stopped with four because the next one would have been named Suellen. Suellen! Can you imagine a Taiwanese person named Suellen Hsu? Then again, Scarlett Hsu didn’t exactly roll off the tongue either. That’s why I went by Scar which was tons better than Scarlett. Rhett called himself Bret; Ashley went by Ash, and Melanie was off the hook with her normal name. She preferred Mel, though, so that’s what we called her. I was the only one still in Minnesota, but I got to see my sibs once or twice a year.
“I don’t understand why you insist going by Scar when Scarlett is such a pretty name. I think it suits you.” Matt was baiting me, but I couldn’t help biting.
“Scarlett is a Southern belle, not a Midwest alternative Chink,” I said heatedly, my face flushing. “Miss O’Hara wouldn’t have been caught dead with tats and piercings, nor wearing a mini-skirt.”
“You are too easy to rile,” Matt said, shaking his head. Once he had everything cooking, he sat next to me and watched as the Twins finished their comeback. By the time we were eating, it was the eighth inning and the Twins were ahead by one. I had a good feeling as we would bring in Nathan in the ninth to close the deal. That was as close to automatic as you could get.
“Good spaghetti,” I said, leaning on Matt’s shoulder. My hair spilled over his shoulder and tickled his nose. He moved a strand of it so it was out of his face before putting his arm around me and hugging me. More than one of my female friends had sighed over Matt and wondered why we weren’t dating. We had tried that a few times during our ten year friendship, but we found out that we made better friends than lovers. While the sex between us has always been fabulous, we were too alike in temperament to survive as a couple. That didn’t stop us from sleeping together now and then, but we always backed off when either of us had a serious partner. “Next time, though, I want something different.” We traded off cooking duties every other day, and he tended to skate by on his days while I went all out. I adored cooking and would love to be a caterer, but I didn’t have the money nor the discipline.
“I found out something shitty this afternoon,” Matt said, absentmindedly rubbing my shoulder with his free hand. He was a juvenile probation officer for Hennepin County, and he’s seen more shitty things than I wanted to think about. He tried not to bring it home, but he couldn’t always compartmentalize. Once in a while, a case would haunt him, and the only way he could decompress was to talk about it with someone outside of work. That would be me.
“What happened?” I turned slightly so I could look at Matt, but still keep an eye on the Twins. The case must have been serious for him to receive a call on a Saturday, which meant it was really bad news.
“I have this one kid, Shawn—an African American boy. He’s a dope fiend, but he’s been kicking the habit.” Matt stopped and rubbed his forehead. Even though he was thirty like me, his eyes were those of a man ten years older. Yes, there was confidentiality with the cases, but everybody who worked in the helping professions told loved ones about cases—I did when I worked with at-risk youth. You just had to be careful not to give identifying information. “He was doing so well, but then he fell back in with his old friends. They convinced him to do it, just like old times. What they didn’t tell him was that the weed was laced with PCP. Shawn thought he was an angel and jumped off the Stone Arch Bridge.” Matt stopped, his eyes far away. I slipped my arm around him and hugged. “He’s in a coma, and the doctors don’t think he’s going to make it. His friends were arrested, of course, but what the fuck good does that do?”
“I’m sorry, Matt,” I said softly, not wanting to intrude on his grief. Matt projected a veneer of toughness, but he bled for his kids, he really did.
“I went there to see him and, I don’t know, Scar. I just couldn’t hack it.” Matt slumped over, his plate threatening to fall off his lap. I took the plate from him and put it on the coffee table so he wouldn’t break it. I set mine next to his.
“Turn around,” I ordered Matt, forgetting about the Twins in my eagerness to help my friend. Matt obediently turned so his back was to me, and I began to massage him. His back was a mass of knots which slowly dissolved under the pressure of my fingers. I felt the tension seep out of Matt as I continued plying his back with my hands. I managed to sneak a glance at the television every now and then, reassured that the Twins were still ahead.
“I’m thinking of quitting,” Matt said, his voice muffled. “I don’t know if I can’t deal with this shit any longer. I mean, what the fuck good am I doing? More than ninety percent of the kids I see end up back in jail again, or worse. I might as well spit in the wind and be done with it.”
“Hey, you do a lot of good,” I said, not stopping the massage. “Remember Little Juan?” Little Juan had been one of Matt’s first cases. Little Juan was a behemoth of a Latino boy, eleven or twelve years old. He was called Little Juan because he was named after his father, but also because of his size. He had been arrested trying to steal a car, never mind that he couldn’t drive. It turned out that his father had been beating him, and he’d been trying to run away. Matt got him removed and placed with a foster family who eventually adopted him. Now, Little Juan was a sophomore in high school pulling down ‘B’s and ‘A’s while playing defensive tackle for the football team. His adopted parents were so proud of him, and I knew Matt was, too.
“That’s one person,” Matt protested softly. “He wasn’t all that bad, anyway. He just needed someone to help him out a bit. He’s the exception to the rule, Scar, and you know it.”
“Tina Ramon, Monique Jackson, Tony Freeman. Don’t any of those kids mean anything to you?” I reeled off three more of his biggest successes—Tony was in his first year in college studying Poly Sci. He was going to be the first black president of the United States—I just knew it—whereas Tina and Monique wanted to be a lawyer and a doctor respectively. Before they met Matt, neither would have dreamed of anything so daunting.
“Why won’t you let me feel sorry for myself?” Matt demanded, turning back to me. I grabbed his face in my hands before answering.
“Because you do damn good work, and I will not have you minimizing your accomplishments.” I had taken a few psych classes myself, and I wasn’t above using it to my advantage. I slapped him lightly on the cheek before turning back to the television. It was the top of the ninth with no outs, Jeter walking to the plate, the Yanks still down by one. “Three-strike strikeout,” I said automatically. “Jeter won’t offer at any pitch, so he strikes out looking.”
Matt made a face, but we watched the at-bat. Jeter stared out at Nathan, confident in his ability. Jeter waggled his bat and adjusted his feet while Nathan patiently waited. Once Jeter was done with his tics, Nathan reared back and fired. There wasn’t too much subtlety to his pitching—he came with pure heat. Jeter didn’t even move as the ball seared past him for a strike. Jeter went through his machinations one more time while Nathan fiddled with the ball. Nathan liked to pitch, get the ball back and fire before his opponent had time to blink. He threw even harder than the first time around, and another strike was called against Jeter who again didn’t lift the bat from his shoulder.
“Damn, you’d think he’d do something more than imitate a statue with the amount of money the Yankees are paying him,” Matt said, his voice tinged with admiration. We both gazed intently at the screen as Nathan blew the third pitch past Jeter who still appeared rooted to the spot. “Do it again!” Matt demanded, high-fiving me as Jeter walked back to the dugout.
“You know it doesn’t work that way,” I said, shaking my head.
I had this little gift I guess you could call it, though it was more of a nuisance than anything else. It’s a spot of ESP, though nothing useful. One of my favorite mystery series starred a psychic named Elizabeth Chase who helped the cops solve cases. Now, that was practical. My stuff was meaningless next to that. I could tell who was calling me before looking at my Caller ID or picking up the phone. I can often tell what someone was going to say before she opened her mouth. I knew facts about people before I even talked to them—including birthdates, favorite colors, parents’ names, and I was right about eighty percent of the time. Some would say it was just guessing, but nobody could ‘guess’ that high a percentage. I rarely told someone when I knew something about him before he told me because it usually made said person wary of being friendly with me.
My biggest tricks, though, were knowing the gender of someone’s baby before it was born and calling plays during a game. Now, the former didn’t sound so impressive until you took into account that my sister, though barely twenty-seven, had four children while my brothers had two apiece. I also knew my best friend was pregnant with a girl even before she called me from New York to tell me she was pregnant at all. Add the six more pregnancies I had correctly predicted, and I was up to fifteen—a hundred percent. As for the latter trick, my friends tried to get me to bet on games, but that would only work if I knew what was going to happen before the game. Once in a while that occurred, such as when I predicted the final score in 1997, the year the Packers won the Super Bowl over the Patriots. More often than not, however, I didn’t know something was going to happen until right before the play. While it made for a nice party trick, it was virtually useless in practical application. Even though Matt had seen me do it time and time again, he still didn’t get quite the hang of exactly what I was doing. He still halfway believed that I caused the play to happen the way I called it, which I most emphatically did not.