Chapter One – What Are Friends For?
Joe Astore picked up the small round hardball, gripped it in his right hand. He wrapped the handball gloved fingers around the ball making the ball momentarily disappear. He wiped the sweat away from his eyes with his left forearm. He stood in the right server’s box and took a glance over his left shoulder at Tony DelPetri and said, “Game point.”
Joe bounced the ball twice, took a deep breath, then dropped the ball and simultaneously twisted his body, brought his extended right arm up and back. His eyes never left the ball. To Joe, the ball traveled in slow motion. His body torqued, his hips began to shift forward and his arm followed. His knees began bending lower and his hips were almost parallel with the front wall when his sweeping right arm and gloved hand made contact with the ball six inches off the handball court floor. The small ball flew off his hand toward the front court wall ricochetting deep into the right corner of the court.
Tony, who positioned himself in the left-hand side of the backcourt to return Joe’s serve, followed the speeding ball. He move his feet and shifted his body to his left to position himself to catch the ball coming off the back wall return it to the front wall. Tony watched the ball careen off the back wall and quickly ricochet off the side wall sending it out of his reach.
Joe didn’t look back. He knew he made an ace when he hit the serve. He said, “Game.”
Joe peeled off his glove, walked to retrieve the ball, and then turned to see Tony staring at him. “What?” said Joe.
“I almost had you this time. I pushed you to game point. Either I’m really improving or you have something bothering you. My guess is something is eating at you. Want to stop for a beer and talk about it?” said Tony.
Joe picked up his towel, wiped the sweat off his face and neck, ran his hand through his wavy black hair, and said, “I don’t think you have enough time.”
Tony stared at his friend. The usually optimistic, kick ass attitude that was normally Joe’s persona, was gone. Tony said, “I’ll call Paula and tell her you and I are going out for pizza and a beer. She’ll understand. We can go to DiMarco’s grab a booth, order a pizza and a couple of beers. Don’t say a word. I won’t take no for an answer. We’re friends. What are friends for if they’re not there when needed.”
Joe turned toward Tony, “I appreciate it, Tony. You can’t help me this time. I’m working though some stuff only I can work through.”
Tony said, “Humor me. Go to dinner with me. If you don’t want to talk, you don’t have to talk. Fair enough?”
Joe gave his friend a half smile and said, “Okay. Let’s hit the shower and sauna.”
The two friends left the handball court and walked silently to the men’s locker room.
They sat in the sauna, their towels wrapped around their waists. Joe’s eyes were closed. Tony watched him, saw the beads of sweat running off Joe’s face and dripping off his chin. Joe never gave Tony an opportunity to start talking.
When Joe opened his eyes, he said, “Let’s shower. The sauna always relaxes me. I’ll be ready for pizza and a beer. It might be good for me to air it out.”
Thirty minutes later, Joe and Tony were in a booth at DiMarco’s. Sliced hot Italian bread and a small dish with olive oil and spices sat on the table. Joe swirled a piece of bread in the olive oil, smiled at the oil’s golden hue on his bread and then took a bite.
Tony took a pull on his beer and watched his friend. When Joe swallowed his food, Tony said, “Well?”
Joe was moving the remainder of his piece of bread in the olive oil. He swirled it through the oil and into the spices. He pulled it out and placed it in his mouth. He chewed it, swallowed, then pick up his bottle and took a drink. He looked at his friend Joe and said,
“I’ll keep it short and sweet. Last night Marie and I broke up.”
Tony said, “What? You guys are engaged to get married. You were, are the perfect couple. What happened?”
Joe held up his hand, traffic cop style, “That’s not all. I quit my job. I’m done as of five o’clock today.”
Tony jumped in with both feet. He said, “This better be good. Are you dying? Tell me you’re not dying? You’re not going off on some missionary work and living a celibate lifestyle? You’re making six figures in your job. You’re on the fast track to great things.
Why are you throwing your life away?”
“You sound like Marie,” said Joe. He took another pull on his beer, set it down to the side of the table to make room for the pizza that was on it’s way. “You really want to know why all this happened?”
Tony said, “Yes.”