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Authors: Carl Deuker

Painting the Black

BOOK: Painting the Black
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Copyright © 1997 by Carl Deuker


All rights reserved.
Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Houghton Mifflin, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1997.


For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to
[email protected]
or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.


The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Deuker, Carl.
Painting the black / by Carl Deuker.
p. cm.

Summary: When star athlete Josh Daniels moves in across
the street, Ryan Ward doesn't realize how much his life will
change during his senior year at Seattle's Crown Hill High.

[1. Self-perception—Fiction. 2. Baseball—Fiction.
3. High schools—Fiction. 4. Schools—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.D493No 1997
[Fic]—dc20 96-23763 CIP AC


ISBN 978-0-395-82848-9 hardcover

ISBN 978-0-544-54115-3 paperback


eISBN 978-0-547-77119-9

For Anne, Marian, and Hammy

The author would like to thank Ann Rider,
the editor of this book,
for all the help she has given him.

Part One

Lots of guys can stand on the pitcher's mound and throw a baseball hard. But they aren't pitchers. A pitcher does more than throw: he knows what he's doing out there. He changes speeds; he works the corners, inside and outside, tying batters up or making them reach out awkwardly. And once he owns the corners, once the umpire is calling all those pitches strikes, then he really goes to work. He moves his pitches out or in another inch, so that instead of going over the plate, the ball passes over the edge of the plate. Painting the black, they call it, putting the ball right there on the borderline. Josh Daniels could do that. He lived on that borderline. I know because I was his catcher.

A year ago I would have sworn that I could never play baseball again, that it was absolutely impossible for me to make the school team. But I was right there with Josh when he reached out for that championship ring. My hand was right next to his. Even now I'm not sure who wanted it more.

It all started one night last June. I'd been listening to the Mariners' game. It was one of those three-hour slug-fests that went back and forth. We were down two in the last of the ninth when Ken Griffey Jr. came up with the bases loaded. Griffey took the first pitch low, then he got one in his wheelhouse and blasted it. I was only listening, but I swear I could see that drive, see the ball climbing higher and higher and then landing in the second deck. The radio exploded, and my heart just about came out of my chest.

After a game like that, you can't just turn off the radio and knock off. I listened to the post-game show and the manager's show, but I was still too pumped up to sleep.

I switched to one of those stations that play old rock. I had the sound down low because my mom and dad had been in bed for hours. That's why I picked up the rumble of the engine the moment the truck turned and headed up our block. And when the truck stopped, engine idling, in front of the big empty house across the street, I went over to the window to look out.

The sky was cloudless, with a big full moon overhead. The passenger door opened and a kid who looked to be about my age, seventeen or eighteen, hopped out. I could see him clearly in the moonlight. A big kid with dark, shoulder-length hair and a long, angular face.

The driver, a man I figured was his father, stuck his head out the window. His voice carried in the night air. “I'm going to pull this thing right up to the steps. You guide me, Josh.”

The kid climbed onto the porch. He put both hands up and motioned for the truck to back toward him. “Keep coming. Keep coming.” His rich, deep voice filled the night air. “A little more . . . easy now . . . stop!” The brake lights went on, and for an instant his face turned an eerie red, making him look like a rock star in some MTV video.

The driver's door opened and the man, who was short and stocky, stepped out. “Give me the house keys,” he said, looking back into the truck.

A woman's voice answered from inside. “I don't have them. You've got them.”

“I do
have them.” The man's voice was sharp.

A search took place, the keys were found, and the front door to the house opened. The porch light went on, the rolling back door of the truck was raised, and the unloading began.

If it had been daytime, I would never have stood at that open window and watched, and not just because they could have seen me. Time passes differently late at night. You can stand and look out a window without worrying that you should be doing something else. Those late hours are all stolen hours.

They didn't unload all that much. Mattresses, box springs, some lamps, a table—just the basics. There was probably some other stuff too, but I didn't pay much attention. Mainly I watched the kid, the way he took the stairs three at a time, his broad shoulders, his rail-straight back.

When I was in sixth grade, I broke my ankle and had to spend a couple of weeks in the hospital. Day after day I'd lie in bed and watch “Leave It to Beaver” reruns on the hospital television. All the time I watched, something seemed strange about the program, but I could never quite put my finger on it. Just before I got out of the hospital, I figured out what it was: Every time Beaver stepped outside, someone his age was there waiting to do something with him. Kids lived in every house up and down Beaver's block.

I don't know about the rest of this country. Maybe it's still that way in some places. But in the Crown Hill neighborhood of Seattle where I live, there are old people, young couples with no kids, and single people. I've lived in this same house my whole life. In all that time, there had been only one year when anybody my age lived on this block—and that year ended in disaster. So seeing somebody my age was something different.

They worked for about an hour. Then the front door closed and the porch light went off. I found myself yawning, so I went back to my bed. I listened to a couple more songs on the radio. The last one I remember was “Hey Jude.” Somewhere in one of those
Na Na Na Na
's at the end, I fell asleep.


It was nine when I woke up the next morning. I heard my mom grinding coffee downstairs in the kitchen. The lawn mower was going in the front yard. Early to bed and early to rise—that's my parents.

I was about to roll over and go back to sleep when I remembered the truck and the face in the moonlight. I went to my window and looked out, half-expecting the old green house across the street to be empty and quiet.

But it wasn't. A Ryder truck was parked in the driveway. Boxes were piled up on the front porch. The screen door was propped open and music was coming from an upstairs window.

I had a sudden urge to rush downstairs and across the street. Then I shook my head and laughed at myself. I was acting as if this guy was going to be my best friend for life, when I didn't know the first thing about him. I'd only seen him in the night. He could have been twenty-five years old for all I knew. Or fourteen. Or a complete jerk.

So I did everything the way I normally did: I dressed, I listened to the radio. Boeing had sold some 777's to China. Griffey led the All-Star balloting. It was going to be seventy-one degrees.

I walked to the bathroom, splashed some water on my face, and gave my teeth a quick brushing and my hair a quick combing before heading downstairs. My mother, who sells real estate, was drinking coffee at the kitchen table, the
Seattle Times
spread out in front of her. She was immaculate, as usual. Not a hair out of place, not a wrinkle in her clothes.

“You want bacon and eggs, Ryan?” she asked, looking up. “I'll make some for you.”

That was like her too. She hates bacon, hates the grease that splatters on the stovetop, hates the smell of it in the house. She'd never cook it for herself or for my dad, but she'd cook it for me.

I shook my head. “No, I'll just have some cereal and toast.”

I filled a bowl with Cheerios. Then I stuck a couple of slices of rye bread in the toaster and pulled down the knob.

Everything the way I usually did it.

“We've got new neighbors,” my mother said as I started on my cereal.

“I know,” I answered, feeling a little surge of excitement in spite of myself. “I heard them moving in.”

My mother frowned. “I don't doubt it. All of Seattle heard them move in.”

I smiled to myself. For the four months the old green house had stood empty, she'd worried that our new neighbors would be noisy.

“How can you be quiet moving in?” I said, teasing her.

“Oh, you can be quieter than they were. And why did they have to move in at midnight? That's what I'd like to know. Criminals move in at midnight.”

I shoveled in a mouthful of Cheerios. “Criminals move
at midnight.”

She snorted, then went back to her coffee and newspaper.

The back door opened and my dad came in. He's going bald, and I could see glistening drops of sweat on the top of his head.

“I need a drink of water,” he said, wiping his brow.

If I get hot and sweaty outside, I just take a slug of water straight from the hose. Not my dad. He's a banker, and he likes everything just so. He got a glass down from the cabinet and filled it from a pitcher of cold water he keeps in the refrigerator from May to October. His first name is Charles, and I've never heard anyone—not even my mom—call him

When he finished drinking, he put the glass in the sink and turned to me. “Both lawns are mowed, Ryan. I'd like you to edge them.”

“I will,” I said. “This afternoon.”

“Why not get it done now? It's only going to get hotter.”

I finished my toast, then wiped my mouth and stood. “I want to go over and meet our new neighbors.”

My mother put down her newspaper. “Why so friendly?”

I shrugged. “I thought I saw a kid about my age last night. I'm going to meet him sometime. It might as well be now.”

She straightened in her chair. “I'm not sure that's wise, Ryan. We know nothing about these people. I don't want—”

I felt my teeth clench tight. “Mother,” I snapped, “I'm just going to say hello. I'm not going to go into his room and shoot heroin.”

“Don't be smart with me, young man. I'm just trying to—”

“Caroline,” my father cut her off this time, his voice softer than mine. “Ryan is just going to say hello. That's all.”

She looked at him and then at me. “I'm sorry,” she said. “I'm being silly. Go and introduce yourself.” She reached over and patted my hand. “It's hard for me to realize how grown up you are.”

I was angry, and her little pat made me even angrier. I was about to lash out, but I caught my father's eye, and I bit back the words.

I went upstairs to my room, and as I yanked my shoes on and started lacing them up, my anger slipped away. In its place came guilt.

I don't know why I always end up feeling guilty when we have one of those arguments. It's not like I'm responsible for the way I was born. If anyone should feel guilty, it's my dad. The camping trip was his idea.

BOOK: Painting the Black
2.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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