He skidded to a palm-skinning stop in a cloud of dust.
There was a beat of dead silence as the dust settled and a brilliant smile lit up his smudged face.
"SAFE!!" came the bark above him.
"Yes!" shouted Johnny as he sprang to his feet, brushing at the dirt on the front of his uniform.
The crowd exploded and his teammates descended on him, raising him onto their shoulders and parading him around home plate.
He reveled in the glory, scanned the crowd, like he always did - for the mother who promised she'd 'try and get there this time.' His brilliant smile faltered only briefly when he saw again, she'd not made it. Then his eyes met Becky's and he brushed aside any further thoughts of his parents.
"You should have seen it Dad! The winning home run. Eric Kovic just..." babbled Johnny excitedly wanting to impress his father.
"That's enough, Johnny. Your Dad's tired." warned his mother.
"But mom I'm..." he pushed, missing the nervous edge in her voice.
"John! Don't lip your mother." snapped his father dropping his fork to his plate and turning on the young man.
"Yes sir." mumbled Johnny staring down at his plate.
"Go to your room." added his father, a dismissive tone in his voice.
"My room? Dad I'm sevente..." teenage indignation kicked into gear before his brain did.
"You heard me!"
"Dad! . . ." he began.
The hollow crack of the slap echoed in the silent kitchen.
Johnny grabbed his baseball cap and stomped out of the kitchen and down the hall.
"...slam the door!" he heard his mother's reedy plea through the closed door.
'eat shit and die!' he thought as he threw his cap across the room and collapsed onto his bed with teenage histrionics.
He sprang to his feet as he heard angry footsteps echoing down the hall. Stared wide eyed as his father burst into his room, rage flushing his face.
"Who the hell do you think you are!? Did your mother and I teach you manners like that?! Did we? DID WE??!!" his father roared as he swung at him, catching him squarely on the chin, knocking him to the floor.
In dazed disbelief Johnny dragged himself to his feet and looked into his father's horrified face.
"Son . . . I'm, sorry. . ." he gasped startled by his own eruption.
"I hate you!" squawked the traumatized teen as startled, angry tears welled up in his eyes.
"John . . ." started Mr. McKay, reaching for his son with a shaking hand.
Johnny jerked back from his father's touch, grabbed for his jacket, and ran.
He huddled inside his school jacket feeling the first bite of autumn's chill. Sat staring out over the dark, now quiet baseball diamond. There was no way he was going home. He'd go back in the morning, grab his shit and leave. Stay at Eric's tonight or something.
He'd show them. He didn't need them. Didn't need anybody. He shivered again as the icy wind found its way down his collar.
'shit!' he thought, as he rose from the bleachers and headed off across the empty field.
Lost in thought, his steps led him to Becky Scott's door.
Strangely for this late hour, the ground floor rooms were ablaze with light. He rang the bell. Stood blowing into his chilled hands waiting for someone to answer.
Becky's twin brother Brian pulled open the door, wide-eyed and pale.
"Hi, Bri . ." started Johnny but stopped as he glanced over the younger boy's head into the den. An unexplained fear gripped him.
"What's going on Brian?" he asked but pushed past him without waiting for an answer.
"Johnny." crying, Becky unfolded from an easy chair and crossed to him wrapping her arms around his neck.
"Mr. Scott, Mrs. Scott." mumbled Johnny, staring in confusion at the sombre adults sitting on the sofa, hands locked together. He wrapped his arms protectively around his crying girlfriend waiting for some one to say something to him. To say anything.
"What's, wrong?" he finally asked stroking Becky's silky hair.
Brian, jamming awkward hands into his back pockets, came to stand beside him.
"We got word today. It's Gary. He was killed. In action." said Brian, fighting hard to not start crying again.
"What?!" Johnny stared at him in disbelief.
"Oh, God. Oh, God. My son. . . My son is dead." mumbled the distraught Mrs. Scott as she pressed a damp tissue to her red nose with a trembling hand.
"You better go home, Johnny. Your parents have been looking for you. They called." said a red-eyed Mr. Scott looking into the handsome teenage face above him.
"Yes, sir." obeyed the confused young McKay.
He eased Becky into a chair as he looked at Mrs. Scott.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Scott. . . I'm sorry." It was all he could think to say. All he could manage before he hurried out of the house.
'Gary's dead? Killed in Vietnam. Only two years older than me.' thought Johnny, 'he was 19...'
The kitchen light was on when he let himself in the front door.
"Johnny?!" came the whispered call.
He watched his mother gather her robe around her as she stepped into the kitchen doorway.
"Yeah, mom. It's . . ."
"Thank God!. . . Your father's gone to bed. Come sit with me."
"Mom, I was at Becky's. Gary's . . ."
"I knew you'd go there." she smiled sadly looking into the questioning eyes of her son.
"Mom, Gary's . . ."
She lay a hand on his arm.
"We found out this morning, we were with Stan and Rachel all day."
"How was he kil . . ."
"That's not important now. They're bringing the body home tomorrow."
They were quiet for a long moment. He sat watching his mother struggling with this. Felt he should wait. Nothing he said would help.
"You'll be 18 in 4 months."
"Yeah . . ."
"I'm worried. Your father . . ."
"They're not going to call me mom. I'm going to play in the majors, remember?"
His mother gave him a tired smile.
"Your dad's sorry. He was upset. He's worried too. . . Johnny . . ." her grip on his arm tightened, "promise me you'll be careful if they send you over there."
"Promise me you won't take any crazy chances son. Promise me."
"Mom, I . . ." she was starting to scare him.
"I want you to come back alive, Johnny. Not in a steel box draped in a God Damned flag.....Promise me."