Chapter no 3 – THE FALSE IDOL‌


Greg Matthews pulled the Dodge Caravan into the black tar driveway, slowing it to a halt beside a massive maple tree. He looked over to the passenger seat at his son, Kip. Greg reached behind him and lifted a red clay-colored baseball glove forward. He smacked it into Kip’s belly.

The mitt looked pristine and shined, like a piece of equipment you might see in the Little League World Series.

“She’s already oiled up for you,” Greg said, “but it’s up to you to break her in. You can start today.”

There was a look on Kip’s face like if he could’ve used his mouth to make a motorboat noise, he would’ve. Instead, he thanked his dad with little enthusiasm.

Greg was reading his body language loud and clear.

“What the hell is it with you?” Greg asked his son. “Not only am I getting you top-of-the-line equipment, but I spend all my free-time training you, and that’s all you have to say?”

“What? I said thank you.”

“You said it like I took a shit in your cereal.”

Kip tried to suppress a giggle. He’d never heard his dad use that one before. Greg smacked his hand against the dashboard. The loud slam caught Kip off guard. His arms immediately rattled.

“I’m not fuckin’ around, Kip! I’d have figured by now you’d realize this is serious business! Do you wanna go pro, or dilly-dally around here fightin’ for peanuts the rest of your life?”

“I wanna go pro.”

Kip spoke the words like he was reciting a religious verse that had been beaten into his brain. He was conditioned to conform, to win.

“Well, why don’t you fuckin’ act like it then?” Greg asked, lifting the brown bottle of Budweiser up from the cup holder.

He took a huge swig, polished the contents off, and threw the empty bottle to the backseat with the others. The hollow container clanged as glass struck glass—he’d blown through several over the course of their drive.

“You know,” Greg said, “when I was your age, I’d have given my left nut to have a father that gave a shit about what I was doing. When I finished high school, I had offers available from some of the top farm teams in the country, and scholarship offers for college football and basketball. I was a goddamn prodigy! A fuckin’ three-sport athlete!”

Kip hated how his father screamed when he had too much to drink. It was uncomfortable and frightening all at the same time.

Greg went on. “You think that cocksucker ever said boo to me? You think he ever gave me any pointers along the way? If you did, you’d be wrong. And if it wasn’t for my knee going out at Boston College, it wouldn’t have mattered. He wouldn’t have had a choice. My face would’ve been all over the TV.”

The passionate speech was one Kip’s father had gotten a lot of practice at. He recited it like a normal person might the lyrics of their favorite song. It was an obsession. Kip had never met his grandpa—he’d died before he was born—but the way his dad talked, Kip imagined him to be a real son-of-a-bitch.

“So, you should be grateful I’m on the sidelines for you,’ Greg said. “I could be out with my buddies, having a beer. I could be doing so many things that I actually enjoy. But instead, I’m grinding it out with you. Teaching you the traits that are gonna make you a millionaire one day. But you won’t leave your dad out in the dark once you make it, will ya, kid?”

Greg slapped Kip on the shoulder, trying to liven the boy up a little. “Course not, Dad.”

“That-a-boy. The proof is in the pudding. Just look at your brother, CJ. You listen to me, and you’ll be just like him in no time.”

Kip didn’t respond but looked into his dad’s glazed-over eyes and smiled with a nod. The grin was so theatrical it could’ve reeled in an Oscar.

“Alright, kid, let’s get to it then.”

Greg hopped out of the van and slid the back door open, reaching inside, and retrieving the black and green, metal Easton baseball bat. It had its share of scuffs, compliments of the two muddied baseballs he lifted with it.

What sounded like a knife grinding against a stone wheel suddenly invaded Greg’s ear. The beer flowing through his system made him slow to react, but just as Kip exited the car, he looked to the street curb.

Greg’s oldest son, Bobby, entered his line of vision. A massive, Chinese-style dragon was imprinted atop his yellow skateboard. He was sliding sideways in a 50/50 grind position. The momentum he’d gathered prior to his ollie was enough that it impressively brought him down the remainder of the street curb.

Bobby hopped his heavy frame off his board as he reached the driveway and kicked down hard against the back of the skateboard. The wood jumped up to him and he grabbed hold of the front axle like it was second nature.

Greg didn’t seem to find Bobby’s feat impressive. The snotty, unimpressed look on his face crinkled into a glare that was more angry than anything.

Bobby had seen the look before. It seemed these days it was the only look he saw from his old man anymore. Bobby wasn’t usually so soft and welcoming with others, but for his father, he’d do whatever he could to stay on his good side.

“Good morning, Dad,” Bobby said.

He forced himself to smile but nervousness warped his grin. Greg narrowed his eyes at him. “Is it?”

“It’s, uh, pretty nice out, I guess.”

“Good day for baseball. I don’t know about that shit though,” Greg said, bobbing his head toward the board in his son’s hand.


Greg stepped beside Kip, who quietly watched on.

“You see, Kip,” Greg said, “if you get fixated on something like this X-Games horseshit your brother’s always babbling about, you’ll end up broke.”

“They’re making it into a sport next year, Dad. Like, a legit competition


“I don’t give a damn what you say. Ain’t no bicycle, skateboard, or—or

roller skates, no matter where you use ‘em, that’ll ever pay the bills. That’s

a fact. Ain’t no one that’s gonna tell me otherwise. If you got something to say about it, just don’t. You know how Nike says just do it? Well, for you it’s just don’t, ’cause I don’t wanna hear it. Understood?”

Bobby’s face turned a deeper shade of red, traveling outside of the normal range that, as a bigger kid, manifested when he was skateboarding.

“Are you fat and fuckin’ stupid?” Greg asked his eldest son. “I said,


Bobby nodded his flaming face. In his eyes laid the personal pain of being a disappointment.

“Well,” his father said, “you’ll have to excuse us. Your brother and I have real stuff to work on now.”

Greg approached the gate leading to the backyard. Kip remained in place, looking at his big brother, and mouthed the words ‘don’t listen to him.’ As the gate came open, Greg pressed his fingers to his bottom lip. His loud, obnoxious whistle ripped the air.

“Let’s go!” Greg ordered.

In the eye contact exchanged between Kip and Bobby, there wasn’t an ounce of bad blood. They were each at the mercy of the same grouchy guardian. Kip didn’t know why his dad was the way he was, and neither did Bobby. They had both just been dealt a shit hand.

But they weren’t the only ones.


Tanya set the paper down on the countertop and pushed it towards her mother, her eyes like those of a puppy dog that had just gotten into the trash. She hadn’t done anything wrong, but she was anxious. Tanya had been dreading the conversation they were on the cusp of having for days.

The document in front of her didn’t just hold ink on the page, it held her heart too.

“Sixty dollars? Are you crazy?” Lacey asked, a snarl of repugnance plastered across her face. “Do you think we’re rich or something?”

“It was the only one I could find,” Tanya begged. “I checked the phonebook and all of the papers. I—I even wrote them and told them about our situation. The price is normally one hundred, but they said for us—”

“A hundred dollars?!”

Lacey’s pretty, blonde head quickly tensed up as if it might launch like a rocket right off her shoulders at any moment.

The agony engraved on Tanya’s face was out of a horror movie. Her mother’s heated reaction was the equivalent of pulling her tiny heart out and stabbing it on the table a thousand times over.

Tanya’s thin bottom lip crumpled inward like a three-leaf clover. Four leaves wouldn’t have been suitable for a child of such an unfortunate ilk.

“But I love swimming, Mom. I know I can make you and even Dad proud. I just need a chance. Please.”

Lacey chewed on the idea. “I know when the pool at the YMCA closed, it broke your heart, but maybe it’ll open back up again, eventually. The membership at the Y was affordable. But this kind of advanced class it’s— it’s just too much. Do you have any idea how much Hamburger Helper that would buy?”

Tanya begged her with her eyes this time, the sadness and frustration creating a dark window.

“Please, Mom,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry, but I just don’t think it’s worth it.”

A big tear fell over Tanya’s eyelashes and down her face.

“C’mon,” Lacey said. “Don’t cry, honey. I didn’t get to do everything I wanted at your age either. You know that, right?”

Tanya looked down at the table.

Lacey pushed the paper back to her daughter. “Listen, in a few years, you’ll forget about all this anyway. You’ll be busy thinking about boys and finding yourself a looker like I did with your daddy. Maybe once a couple more years pass, we can afford a cheerleading outfit for you. If not, you can always use my old ones.”

“I hate cheerleading!” Tanya cried. “But you’ve never tried it.”

“I know what it is. I wanna swim!” Tanya folded her arms.

“Now don’t get snippy with me,” her mother said.

“I’m sorry. I just—I just really, really, really, really, want to do this.

When have I ever asked you or Dad for anything?”

Tanya wanted to ask why Kip and CJ got to do what they wanted while she couldn’t but knew that wouldn’t be fair. The driving force behind the

extreme baseball fandom in this house wasn’t her brothers. That was all Dad.

“Cheer is a lot more common for girls than swim,” Lacey said. “Mom.”

Tanya’s growl wasn’t going to be enough to convince her mother. She wiped the tear from her cheek and did what she did best: analyzed the situation.

As a straight-A student, she was sharp enough to realize her approach was off-kilter. Grown beyond her years, Tanya forced herself to turn off the emotional aspects of all she strove to attain. She took a deep breath and reassessed the scenario, then readied her refined tactics.

It was obvious—she was asking the wrong person.

“Okay,” Tanya said. “I respect your opinion, but will you please ask Dad too? I just want him to know how much it means to me, even if we can’t afford it.”

Tanya knew her dad’s personality all too well. She knew he’d see swim as a competitive sport and cheerleading as nothing more than a sideline attraction. While there were cheerleading competitions, it still most definitely was not a sport. As far as Tanya was concerned, it was just a way for pretty girls to showboat.

Since winning was practically embedded in her father’s DNA, Tanya figured her last shot at getting to swim lived and died with his opinion.

Lacey looked at her daughter and couldn’t help but smile. While she didn’t enjoy how Tanya continued to push back, she was impressed with how eloquently she phrased her question. Tanya displayed a methodical grace and kind-hearted intelligence that had failed to find either of her parents. It was like all the decent genetics had skipped a generation on both sides.

“Okay, honey,” Lacey said. “I’ll bring it up to your father. Just don’t get your hopes up though.”

“Thank you. Oh, and I was going to surprise you, but I may as well give it to you now.”

Tanya reached under the table and pulled a small box from her pocket and set the square, zebra-pattern box on the table in front of Lacey. The hot-pink lettering on the box read: Fantasia Accessories.

“What’s this?” Lacey asked.

“It was supposed to be a thank-you gift for letting me join the swim team.”

Lacey pulled the box toward her and grabbed the top.

“But even if I don’t get to join the team, I still want you to have it,” Tanya explained.

Tanya figured things might not work out in her favor. She got the gift in advance to butter her mom up as best she could.

When the top came off the box, Lacey’s eyes widened. “Oh my God, I love it!”

While Lacey was genuinely enthralled, some confusion arrived seconds after her initial declaration.

“What is it exactly?”

The round bracelet with the zebra pattern overlapped inside itself a few times over. Lacey plucked the gift out of the box and raised it in front of her face.

“It’s a slap bracelet!” Tanya said. “C’mon, Mom, they’re everywhere.” She snatched the bracelet out of her mother’s hand and straightened it out the bracelet. “You flatten them out like this before you use them.”

“Wait a second, slap bracelet? Aren’t those the things that got recalled for cutting people?”

Tanya drove the bracelet down over her mother’s wrist and watched it wrap around it. The zebra and hot-pink design fit her like a glove.

“You’re fine, aren’t you?” Tanya asked. Lacey’s eyes widened again. “Are you crazy?!”

“Mom, it’s fine. That story is just an urban legend. Don’t you think if they actually hurt someone they wouldn’t be for sale anymore?”

It wasn’t the first time Lacey felt out of her league exchanging dialogue with her daughter. What she said made sense. Plus, the sound and feel of the snapping bracelet circling her wrist like a gentle snake were so satisfying she couldn’t help but remove the bracelet and straighten it out again.

But as she did so, Lacey also got a look at her watch. “Shoot! We need to get going! Otherwise, we’re gonna be late!”


Lacey swiftly banged the bracelet against her wrist again and let it curl around her. “I need you to go upstairs and get your brothers. Tell them to come down right away.”

“Okay, but you promise, right?”

“Promise what now?”

“You promise you’ll ask Dad about swim class?”

Lacey grinned and looked back at her fancy, new accessory. “I think that’s the least I can do for you.”


CJ’s excited glare fell upon the colorful, inky pages of his comic book with absolute adoration. The Savage Dragon’s chest and face were sliced up pretty good after his fight with the rat man, but CJ saw it as a thing of beauty.

Most of the Marvel and DC comics with their pretty art and childish superheroes didn’t do it for him. CJ preferred Image Comics. They never skimped on the blood and broke all the boundaries. Although he was just short of being twelve years old, he’d already acquired a taste for adult content. Thankfully, his parents saw comics as a childish distraction. If they actually took the time to crack one open and saw the bloody chainsaws, boobs, and guts, they might be compelled to change their opinions.

The hefty stack of comics that sat on his bedside included many issues of The Savage DragonSpawnThe Maxx, a variety of old EC Comics reprints, and Kevin Eastman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The comics were his window to elsewhere. They let him escape from the pressures that confronted him daily and without fail. He saw a future within them, a place and time of peace. His favorite activity was listening to his Walkman and losing himself in the illustrations and dark stories. The only problem was, CJ wasn’t the one who decided how he utilized his time.

The play button popped up, momentarily interrupting The Savage Dragon’s carnage. He extracted the cassette—Cypress Hill’s Black Sunday

—and flipped it to the other side. But before he could hit the play button and re-immerse himself into the bloodshed and stoner lyrics, his father’s voice bled in from the open window.

“If you’re gonna reach your potential, then you’ve gotta practice more than just a couple hours! That’s two errors already! Now hustle back out there and don’t give me any lip!”

CJ quietly slipped his headphones off and positioned himself at the window. He crept forward and peered around the corner. In the backyard,

his little brother, Kip, was huffing and puffing.

“But how come CJ and Bobby don’t gotta be out here?” Kip whined to their father. “It’s not fair.”

“Yeah, well, I got news for you, kid: life ain’t fair.” Greg windmilled the bat, stretching his wrist. “Bobby ain’t out here ’cause he’s a dud. A shit athlete. No matter what he says, that stupid fuckin’ skateboard is pointless. That’s a hobby. That ain’t no sport. And CJ gets three hours to himself on weekends. Maybe you will too someday—if you can learn how to field a simple ground ball, for Christ’s sake. If you wanna get what he gets, then you’ll play as good as he does. It’s that simple.”

Kip slapped his new baseball mitt against his leg in frustration and backed toward the fence. His father tapped the ball toward him at a decent pace, and Kip scooped up the one-hopper.

“Or, can just be a dud too, like Bobby, right?” Kip asked. He tossed the ball back in his father’s direction.

CJ smiled momentarily, but his grin quickly faded. His kid brother was smart, but CJ understood the miserable truth behind the question. He knew that whether or not Kip was as good at playing baseball as he was, Dad was still going to ride him hard either way. Kip wasn’t going to be hanging out with friends, reading comics, or thinking about girls. He would be confined to their modest backyard, fetching balls like a dog. And it wouldn’t be because he wanted to, but because he had to, so Dad could feel a little closer to achieving the on-field success he’d never found for himself.

“Nice try, but I’m the one who has the eye for talent,” Greg told Kip.

He knocked Kip’s gentle pitch back with far more power than the last and drilled the ball at his son to make a statement. Constantly asserting his dominance kept the boys under his thumb.

“You’re only a dud if I say so,” Greg continued.

The line drive went right at Kip’s face. He was just able to get his glove up and avoid getting beaned, but when the ball smacked into the palm of his mitt, a sharp, stinging sensation ran up his arm.

“Ouch!” Kip cried.

A sour cringe found Greg. “C’mon, don’t be a sissy. Did I tell you to take a break yet? Send it back!”

The visuals unfolding before CJ’s eyes were all too familiar.

“The pros don’t feel pain,” Greg said. “Now shake it off and send it back.”

Three short knocks pulled CJ’s attention away from the sad display. “CJ?” Tanya asked from behind the door.


“Can I come in for a second?”

CJ walked over to the door and pulled it open.

His sister stood in front of him, smiling excitedly. They usually didn’t get much time together because of his full-time focus on baseball, a truth that saddened CJ.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“You almost ready? Mom says that we’ve gotta get going now if we’re gonna make it to that playground on time.”

“Oh crap! I completely forgot about that!” CJ grinned.

He’d been so lost in the tranquility of his music and comics that it had slipped his mind. Relief fell over him. He wouldn’t have to drag himself out back for another one of Dad’s famous late afternoon practices. Instead, he might actually have some fun. He imagined the activities at the playground would be far more exciting than the endless, repetitious drills he’d otherwise be forced into.

“Dang,” his sister said, “I don’t know how you could forget after seeing those pictures, but today’s the day. And remember, you promised we’d seesaw!”

“Oh, we’ll seesaw alright. I’ll send you right to the moon and back,” CJ said.

A laugh escaped him. He recalled the last few times they went. He’d vaulted her so high into the air that her butt flew several inches off the seat before smacking back down.

“No! None of the launch me in the air five feet stuff! You’re gonna give me a heart attack!”

Tanya punched him in the arm softly, still maintaining her cheesy grin. CJ knew Tanya liked acting as if she hated it when he messed with her,

but that wasn’t the case. He wouldn’t have done it to her if it truly bothered her. It was just one of those things she screamed and acted upset about but secretly loved.

“Okay, I won’t,” he said, winking.

“Seriously though, I’m looking forward to hanging out today. I’m so glad we get to do this!”

“Me too.”

“But I really hope they have a seesaw. I’ve never heard of an ultramodern playground, have you? What’s that even mean?”

“I don’t know, but they’ve gotta have one. What’s a playground without


Suddenly their mother yelled from the bottom of the stairs. “Tanya! I

told you to get CJ and come downstairs! We need to go, now! We’re not supposed to be late! And tell Bobby to move his ass too!”

Tanya crinkled her face in annoyance and silently mimicked her mother’s mini-rant.

A grin came over CJ’s face. For the first time in a while, he just knew it was going to be a good day. With all the fun they had lined up in front of them, how could it not be?

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