I go out to Forsythe to hit some volleys on the three-wall racquetball court, only no one plays racquetball anymore. I'm there just hitting some when this geek of the classic modes comes up. He's wearing, get this, this: running shoes, with brown socks. Flowered knee length shorts that should embarrass even the eight year olds that wear them. A white dress shirt, long-sleeved, and a brown suit-type vest. It's only eighty-five degrees out.
He starts talking. "You come out here a lot?"
"You practicing to be a tennis pro?"
I'm already hating the situation. "No--just hitting."
"How long do you usually stay when you hit?"
"About an hour." Here, he looks at his watch and then at my car. It's the only one parked in the lot.
"I was hoping I could catch a ride, it's not too far away. Might be right on your way. I'm not in a hurry."
"I don't really know which way I'm going after this, really."
"Yeah, I can understand that. No problem."
But he doesn't leave. There's only the sound of the racket and the ball.
"How come you like tennis." My face is getting red--something is getting out of hand. There are unspoken rules being broken everywhere. My volleys are getting loose because my forearm is beginning to shake a little. Like when you're a kid on the playground and you know there's going to be some fighting, probably with you in it. It feels strange to remember that.
"Couldn't say. Just come out here to get things together."
"You feel like you need to put things together?"
"My game I mean--tennis." A pause. He's standing, lingering along the cinderblock wall, looking into the court. Then comes all this information, like I was actually asking him for it. He's twenty-seven and goes to the Mountain of Faith Church south of town, he was saved last year. He asks if I'm saved.
There's nobody else around for miles and I'm wishing I wouldn't answer him, but I do. "No."
"Do you want to be?"
"Fair enough. What do you do?"
"I go to college."
"Yeah, I'm thinking about going to college. If I can get the money That's the big problem right there." He waits, getting no comment from me, then he goes on--he's from a little town in Arkansas, has a sister there, et cetera. This goes on and I keep on hitting, missing mostly because I'm trying to keep him in view to the side.
Finally he looks at his watch and says "I'll be back" and leaves around the court off toward the restrooms where I can't see him. Other than the clothes, he's hard to describe, I'm thinking, just in case the need arises--they say for witnesses to get some key ID features, but in the light I can't even tell if his hair is black or sandy.
That's where my mistake occurred, not leaving then. I couldn't begin to say why. Maybe I thought it would look suspicious in case he was somewhere just watching. He comes back in about two minutes. "Hey," he waves.
"Hey." He's not talking so much this time, more like he's just waiting. He stands at the same spot, occasionally wandering into my range to kick a sprout of grass in the concrete or chase a ball down for me. One time he's a little close going to pick up a candy wrapper and one of my returns hits him square on the left hip.
"Ah," I'm thinking, here it is at last, an eight-inch blade from under the vest. But all he does is jump back, a little nervous like I meant to hit him at first, then smiles and says "Whoa!" and cheerily tosses the ball back to me.
He's mostly quiet now, occasionally popping off some primitive opinion on world hunger or nuclear stockpiling. How he got those subjects I have no earthly idea.
He looks at his watch. "How long did you say you usually hit?"
"About an hour."
"It's been an hour and ten minutes already."
Now I get goosebumps. I try to hit, hoping my face isn't so hot it shows red. He's not talking at all now and he's standing in direct line between me and the car. He wants a ride, or something worse.
I hit and wait.
Appears then an act of great natural benevolence: the wind blowing something, a piece of note paper, over the grass in the direction of the rest rooms. He wanders over toward it, walking with both hands under opposite arm pits. I remember him walking that way.
I begin to run to the car, carrying only my racket, leaving the balls and canister there. Inside the car I can't tell if the engine's started or not because of the blood beating on my eardrums, so I put it in reverse and the car moves. I look back once.
He watches, his mouth all but gaping, as if it were the scene of some horrendous betrayal, and then I don't see him anymore, avoiding the rearview mirror all the way to the dorm.
Another place I can't go back to.