Team Meeting - the Novelette

Team Meeting
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio

Some things are just more important than football...

 

Among Friends

Josh sat on the rock wall in front of the school entrance, notebook in hand. As team captain, he'd taken it upon himself to go over some plays with his offensive unit. Some of the guys were out of town, so the group was smaller. They sat cross legged on the grass in front of the wall.

"Can you go over that one more time," Tommy said. "I'm not sure this is going to work," he pointed to the play on the page. "We've tried that one a few times, and it seems the defense is always ready for it."

"No reason why it won't work if we mix in a few other simple plays," Andy said. He and his brother Pete were really locked in on what Josh had in mind. It was hardly a secret that Pete was a little slow, but he followed directions completely and quickly most of the time. It helped that his girlfriend Mara sat with the group and took notes for him and went over the plays during study hall.

"While we're at it, guys, we've got to get along better. Our line has to work together ...Matty...you and Simpson here have to figure out how to get in synch. Nate....come over here, please?" Josh said, but he wasn't upset. Nate was pointing toward the field house down the narrow path, giving directions to a girl who looked lost.

"Tommy, I know you don't agree, but you've got to have more confidence in the team as a whole. It doesn't help that you keep arguing every time we get together. I know you mean well, but you'll do yourself a favor if you just lighten up and get on board, okay?" Josh diffused what could have been an embarrassing situation by smiling and shrugging.

It was amazing, even after nearly a whole season that they were doing so well. The whole conference seemed to be out to get them, and they felt almost like they had targets on their backs. What really brought it all together was that the coach, Dom Sovrano, had entrusted his son to be captain.

Under most circumstances, there would have been resentment, since he was the coach's son. But Josh had proved time and time again that his dad's choice was the right one. He was a classic pocket quarterback, and the plays were spread out between both running backs and an occasional pass here and there. Josh could have been the entire offense; both running and passing; he was that good, but he was smart enough to defer to the great talent on his team.

"Hey, Judd, can you at least try to act like you care?" Andy said. Judd turned and glared at Andy but his look turned to a smile.

"Sure," he said as he edged closer and looked at the notebook.

As Josh reached over to his backpack to grab a pen, a girl came running down the sidewalk toward the group. She tripped and fell right in the middle of where they sat, landing with a hard crack as her elbow hit the wall next to Pete and Mara. She was dressed in a halter top and her short skirt had ridden up her legs, revealing her panties. She had been crying, as evidenced by the streaks of mascara that ran down her cheeks. A moment later, the reason for her tears appeared.

"Hey, faggot...you...I'm talking to you." A very large and imposing figure stood, almost towering over the group, as they were sitting down.

"Yeah, you fucking queer," his toady friend said, all the while standing behind the behemoth he called his friend.

Josh stood up and walked over to the two guys.

"What's going on here?" He asked calmly and carefully, his words coming almost like the cadence at the line.

"This queer has no fucking business bein' here." The bigger one said, smirking with an almost glee. The toady just nodded and said,

"Yeah, no fucking business."

"What has she done...help me understand here, guys."

"I'll tell you what...jackass, mind your own fucking business and there won't be any trouble." His voice was almost a roar as he pointed his finger in Josh's face, but Josh remained unphased.

"So what if the dude's a fag? He's not hurtin' you, is he?" Pete was at least as big as the guy, and he went to stand up. Mara grabbed his arm and pulled him back down.

"Let Josh handle this, okay?" Pete had a temper, and he had gotten into trouble more than once for it. Mara had a calming influence on him, and she was able to get him to stay focused and on task.

"I''ve got a bad feeling about this...this can't be good," Tommy said to Matty, who just nodded and looked away.

"I said, you fucking faggot...get the fuck outta here." The girl was cowering next to Andy, who held her hand.

Josh just stood there, the brute's finger still in his face, unaffected and almost stoic.

"What is wrong...help us understand...what did she do that you're so angry."

"I caught her hanging around my girlfriend...my fucking girlfriend, and they were kissing ...How fucking queer is that?" He flinched his shoulders as if to threaten the girl, who was weeping in fright.

"Leon Lucas, isn't it?" Josh said calmly. He smiled warmly at Leon and his buddy, as if to welcome them.

"Yeah, what of it, jackass?" Leon leaned closer to Josh and smiled back, but it was anything but welcoming.

"Didn't I see you with a girl yesterday in the hallway...you seemed to be enjoying her company." Josh said this as an observation, with almost no emotion in his voice.

"So," Leon said. His toady nodded and echoed his reply,

"Yeah, so?"

"Well then, it seems to me you've got no reason to talk, Leon, since you're doing exactly what you are upset with her about," Josh said as he used his hand in a broad gesture to point to the girl on the ground."

By now a crowd had formed around the group, and a girl standing on the rise above the wall said,

"Yeah, Leon...I saw you too! You were all over that girl. And she was havin' a good time! Besides, everybody knows your girlfriend and this queer have been screwing around." She said it with a smirk, but Josh's look back disarmed her smugness and she shrugged her shoulders as if to apologize.

The crowd of kids stared at Leon, waiting for him to reply. Seeing how he really had nowhere to go with his arguement, he looked at the girl on the ground and said,

"Fuck you..you little faggot..." His voice had no authority and sounded more like sour grapes. He and his toady walked off without another word. Seeing that "the show was over," the crowd broke up and dispersed quickly, leaving Josh and his teammates alone except for the girl. Mara had helped her up and had given her a hankie to wipe the smears off her face.

"What happened?" Josh said quietly, not to be instrusive but to allow her to tell her side of the story.

The girl looked up at him, tears still streaming down her cheeks. One knee of her pantyhose had bagged and her other knee was exposed by a huge tear, revealing a very sore bruise. Her hair was disheveled, and upon closer examination appeared to be a wig. Josh leaned closer to her and placed his hand gently on her shoulder.

"It's okay...you can tell me...you're among friends here," he said, while helping the girl by adjusting her wig.

"I....I.....she...." The words came slowly and haltingly.

"What about her?" His look was welcoming, giving the girl the strength to continue.

"I...I've been seeing her...I knew she was going out with him, but...." She was going to make an excuse, but Josh's warm smile convinced her otherwise.

"I shouldn't have...I'mm so soorrryyy."

"I know you," Josh said in a whisper, soft enough for no one else to hear.

"You're Danny Compagno's little brother Sammy, aren't you." Danny was a friend of Josh; he
and Danny went way back.

"Yessss." Sammy said and began to cry.

"It's okay, kid.' Josh whispered again. "Why don't you just go home and get cleaned up, okay?" Josh smiled once again and patted the boy on the shoulder.

"You're not going to tell my brother about this are you?" Sammy used his eyes to scan himself, as if to indicate his dress.

"He already knows, Sammi, and I bet if you talk to him you'll find out he understands and accepts you. Your brother loves you...you need to know that, okay?" Josh said as he patted the boy on the shoulder once again.

"Just try to stay out of trouble, okay? Maybe you need to focus on yourself for a while, yes?" Josh smiled once again. Sammy blinked back tears and went to say something, but couldn't speak from the unheard sobs still stuck in his throat. He turned and went to hand Mara back her hankie. She shook her head no and said,

"That's okay, girl...I've got plenty more at home...I cry all the time." Mara stepped in close and hugged and kissed Sammy before she walked away. She smiled at Josh who nodded and smiled back.

"Hey Josh, we'll walk her home, just in case," Mara said as she grabbed Sammy's hand. Pete walked around and stood next to Sammy and smiled and said,

"Don't worry kid...everything's going to be okay...Like Josh said...you've got friends."

"Okay, guys, now where were we?" Josh said as he turned his attention once again to the notebook, where he began sketching out a new play.

based on the text John 8:1-11


An Unlikely Friend

"I don't understand, Sammi...why can't we see each other?" Rita's expression was equally angry and sad.

"I've got a lot of thinking to do...I have been thinking." Sammi looked down, not wanting to face Rita. She knew how upset and hurt Rita was, but it couldn't be helped. After a long talk with her brother Dan, she realized it was entirely unfair to have started the relationship in the first place. It wasn't like she didn't care for Rita. She did...it was that she cared that made her break it off.

"We shoulda never started, honey..." Tears streamed down both their faces as Sammi continued.

"I was more interested in screwin' you, Rita...and that's wrong. I never thought about you other than someone to make out with, and that's wrong." Sammi looked into Rita's eyes, and while Rita was angry, she began to understand, or so Sammi thought.

"Let me get this straight. You love me so you don't want to be with me? What the fuck are you tryin' to pull here? You come here dressed like a fuckin' tart. You fuckin' queer." Rita might have been much kinder if she hadn't been so upset, but she did say some words she would come to regret later.

'Rita...no, it's not like that. I'm sorry, but..." Rita cut her off.

"Fuck you, you bastard...get out...just get the fuck out." Rita didn't even wait for Sammi to leave. She ran upstairs, crying. Sammi heard Rita's bedroom door slam. Her own tears
cascaded like a waterfall down her face and onto the carpet in the foyer. She turned and
opened the front door. Standing there for a moment, she tried to think of something that might make Rita understand, but nothing came to her, so she walked out and down the steps of the house, and right into a fist.

"I knew if I waited long enough, you fuckin' queer, I'd get my chance." Leon Lucas stood over Sammi's prostrate body.

"Yeah, you queer," Leon's toady, a one Marty Calabrese, stood behind Leon, almost afraid...actually he was afraid to do anything without Leon's approval.

Leon reached down and picked Sammi up by her belt. He thrust Sammi into Marty's arms, saying..."Hold him...tight."

Marty gripped Sammi by her arms, and Leon proceeded to punch Sammi repeatedly... stomach... arms...face.

"Okay, Marty...let him go." Leon said with a smirk. Sammi fell to the ground, cracking her head on the slate sidewalk.

"Fuck you, you fuckin' faggot," Leon said, and spat on Sammi as they walked away.

"Yeah, fuck you, you faggot." Marty spat, but his spittle hit a gust of wind and ended up on his new throwback Sixer's jersey.

"Aw fuck..." Marty looked down as Leon laughed. They took one more look at Sammi and nodded. Picking her up, they carried her around to the alley in back of Rita's house and dumped her in the pile of trash leaning up against the storm fence.

"Keep away from her, or this isn't over, you fuckin' queer!" Leon said as they walked away.


Rita's brother Julio walked down the alley toward his house. He saw Sammi lying in the pile of refuse. He walked up and looked down.

"Well, you fucker...finally got what's comin' to you...you queer." Julio kicked Sammi in the side, eliciting a low groan. "Stay away from my sister, you faggot." He spat on Sammi and walked up to his house, laughing. Sammi rolled over and tried to get up, but her two cracked ribs and the bruises on her arms kept her from getting up.

She crawled out to the street behind Rita's house, but made it no further than to the corner of the block fifty feet away before collapsing once again.

Louie Perrone, co-captain of the football team at school, was the defensive counterpart to Chris on offense. Unlike Chris, however, Louie made many of his decisions regarding the defense on the field, not on what was in the best interests of the team, but what would make him look good. That he was a superb athlete helped, but he made it difficult for his teammates to improve by making it all about him. It might come back and haunt him later on when the schedule got tougher, but he really didn't think about it.

Sammi had risen to a sitting position. Her face sported a few bruises as well as a knot over her right eye. Leon had been so out of control that his aim was bad enough to miss shattering Sammi's eye socket. She was crying, both from the humiliation and the pain, and the frustration of not being able to get up.

"Well, if it isn't Sammi Compagno. What's wrong sissy boy...your girlfriend beat you up?" Louie snickered.

"H...help me...please." Sammi raised a hand, painfully from the bruises and her cracked ribs."

"Why the fuck should I care about you...you fuckin' faggot. As far as I'm concerned, you got what you deserved. Pick yourself up." Louie laughed as he turned around the corner and disappeared. Sammi slumped back to the sidewalk and began to cry.

* * * * *

Jimmy Samartino was the captain of the cross-town sister school of the Lions. The Panthers were in a battle with the Lions for the last playoff spot for the state sectionals, and he was determined that nothing would keep them from the crown. He was delivering pizza in the neighborhood, and as he walked away from the house he noticed a figure lying on the ground across the street. He walked over quickly and noticed it was a girl. On closer inspection he realized it was a boy in girls’ clothing, and he was a mess. His dress was torn, and his face was bruised and bleeding. Jimmy felt uncomfortable, not knowing what to do. This was the first time he had ever seen one of "them" up close and it bothered him. It wasn't right, he thought, but he noticed the boy was crying, hard.

Reluctantly, Jimmy leaned over and asked the obvious but unnecessary question,

"Are you okay?" He looked at Sammi, who tried to rise up on one elbow, but finally gave into the pain and passed out.

Jimmy really didn't want to get involved; he really didn't even want to know what happened, but something inside him took over; you know...the good that sometimes pushes the stupidity and ignorance out of the way. He reached down and helped Sammi to his feet. Then he walked him over to the car and put him in the passenger seat and strapped him in.

"Fuck...this fucking sucks," he said to himself. "If I lose my job over this..." He turned to face Sammi and noticed that he had passed out once again.

"Oh shit...alright...what to do...?" He thought for a moment and then called the Pizzeria.

"Yeah...I just finished delivering over on Clancy Street...I found this kid passed out...looks like he was beaten up pretty bad...I'm takin' him over to St. Clare's to the ER...what....no...I'll get back when I'm finished...what.....you know, Carmine... you're... what? No...I'll see you later...I don't know when...Look I don't care if your dad owns the place...Yeah? You too, asshole!" Jimmy pulled away from the curb and sped off to the hospital.

* * * * *

The loud chime rang overhead as Jimmy sat in the waiting room to the ER. Sammi was in and out of it all the way to the hospital and Jimmy found out his name and his brother's cell, so he was waiting for someone from the family to show up. The hospital had asked for some guarantee, so Jimmy told them to put it on his medical card, and that his dad would try and settle it later. After signing some papers he sat down in one of those stiff plastic chairs that make you wish you'd never come there. He was bored and anxious. The TV was turned to the cooking channel and some white haired lady was going on about how good the biscuits would taste with butter.

The door to the waiting room opened and several figures walked in, all looking anxious and concerned. Dan Compagno, Sammi's brother, walked to the front desk and identified himself. They told him where to enter and he went through a door and was gone.

"What the fuck is he doing here," Pete Stone said. Mara Felice, Pete's girlfriend, punched him hard in the arm.

"Pete...Watch the language, huh?' She smiled to take away the sting of the rebuke, and Pete looked at her and apologized

"Hey Jim," a voice from behind him called. Chris Sovrano, captain of the Lions, stood behind Pete and Mara with Pete's brother Andy. Both walked up to Jim, who was puzzled by the tone of Chris' voice. He had expected some teasing and banter, like when rivals size each other up...some trash talk.

"Thanks for helping Sammi." Chris said, as he put his hand on Jimmy's shoulder.

"What the...” Pete would have finished the invective but for the fist punching his rib cage ...hard. He turned and frowned at Mara who looked up at him and smiled.

"Sorry..." Pete shrugged his shoulder and turned his attention back to the trio by the seats. Andrew had turned around and put both of his hands out, palms down, as if to tell his older brother to calm down.

"H...hey Chris. How...how's it goin'?" Chris and Jimmy knew each other from middle school, before the township built a second high school. Once teammates, they were now rivals and Jimmy didn't know what to do with that. Chris did.

"Thanks for bringing Sammi to the hospital. Her parents are out of town, and Dan was worried sick all the way over here. Not too many people would have thought to call. Thanks for waiting."

"Her...Chris...that kid is a guy...what the....he's a faggot." Jimmy didn't look upset or angry, just confused.

"Sammi is Dan's sister...it's hard to explain, but she's not a "faggot, Jim. Even if she was gay, should that matter? She's a human being who needed help, and obviously it didn't matter enough to leave her where you found her."

"I know...I'm sorry...it just...I don't understand it all, but he....ah...she was hurt. All I could think of was that she might die if I didn't do something. She said two other people just walked on by...Who can do something like that?"

Jimmy shook his head, more out of concern and wonder about the teen lying in a bed in the ER than his confusion. Their talk was interrupted by the reappearance of Dan.

"Good news...no broken bones in her face...came close to shattering her eye socket. Other than bruises and a couple of cracked ribs. They're going to keep her in overnight for observation but she's going to be okay...She's going to be okay!" Dan had tears in his eyes as he turned to Jimmy. He leaned close and enveloped Jimmy in a bear hug.

"Thank you...this was....thank you." Dan wiped his tears with his sleeve. "I sorted out the insurance with admitting, so our insurance is on the bill." Dan paused before continuing. He smiled back at Andrew and Chris.

"Sammi wanted you to know she really thanks you. She wanted to give you this, so I hope you don't mind." Dan leaned close once again and hugged Jimmy, kissing him on the cheek, which caused him to turn red.

"O...okay..." Jimmy pulled back, more out of surprise than the still evident embarrassment.

"I guess you'll be getting back to your job now, huh?" Andrew said.

"Not really. When I called up to tell them I was still at the hospital they said I was fired. I gotta stop by tomorrow to give them their sign and pick up my last check." Jim looked down, embarrassed at the revelation.

"Jim....I know it's not much...especially after what you did for my sister." Dan looked him in the eye, sorta the old "man-to-man" expression.

"My dad owns a hardware store in town, right near the divide (the divide being the demarcation between the two high schools). He's looking for some help in the store, and we could use someone so....conscientious. The job is yours if you want it." Dan smiled at Jimmy, whose face began to redden again; this time more out of embarrassment and shame. He had just called this guy's little brother a faggot, and now he's being offered a job?

"My sister said she understands....it's okay." Dan said, and Jimmy knew exactly what Dan was referring to.

"I...I gotta get home...we play the Titans this weekend and coach wants us rested up." Jimmy just wanted to leave...he was filled with shame and confusion and more than a few regrets.

"Hey Jim,” Chris said as Jimmy turned to leave. Walking up to him, Chris offered him a hand. Pulling him into himself, Chris clasped Jimmy's hand while bumping shoulders. "Have a great game!"

"Thhhthanks. Chris...you too." Jimmy smiled sheepishly and turned to leave. He had just reached the exit when he stopped and turned.

"Hey Dan?" He called out. Everyone turned and looked.

"Tell your bro...Tell your sister I hope she gets better real quick." He tried to hide it, but as he turned back and walked through the exit, they noticed the tears streaming down his face.

based on the passage, Luke 10:29-37


Un Breve Parentesi
(A Short Interlude)

A knock came at the door, and Vito Compagna rose from the sofa. He walked over and opened the door. Rita Clemente stood on the porch. She was dressed only in a 'Nova sweatshirt and jeans despite the frost on the ground.

"Mr. C...is...Sammi at home?" She looked away and bit her lip, fighting back the tears. She had cried almost the entire walk from her house two blocks down. She and her brother Julio had an argument, leaving her to storm out of the house without her coat.

"Rita...hi...come on in...Sammi's over at the store with Dan today. Honey, you must be terribly cold, sweetheart."

Vito pulled the girl into a warm embrace, which was entirely appropriate in his grandfatherly way and entirely awkward for Rita. She would have welcomed a hug from Sammi's dad at any other time, but her feelings of guilt caused her to tense up.

"What's wrong, Rita," Vito said, immediately picking up Rita's uncomfortable vibe.

"Mr. C. I....can I ask you a question?" She used her overlong sleeve to wipe her face, including the drip from her nose.

"Of course...anything." Vito had a way of disarming any awkward situation. He and Carmella had gotten married late in life, and after raising both children to adolescence, he was more like a kindly old grandfather to the neighborhood kids.

"Is it okay to be scared sometimes?" She looked down at her sneakers, wanting so much for an answer that would take away the bad feelings she had inside.

"What do you mean, honey? Like scared of being hurt? Scared of a big test?" Vito knew exactly where this was leading. Rita and Sammi had been close as kids, and apart from a brief drifting apart this year, he knew she still had feelings for Sammi, no matter what had happened last week.

"I'm scared of....I'm scared of me, Mr. C....Scared of what I've become....Scared of how I treated Sammi." She started to cry again and buried her face in his soft cardigan.

"Vito, is that Rita I hear?" Carmella came into the living room. She had a tray on her lap, and had just maneuvered her wheel chair into the room. The tray had a pot of tea and some cookies on a plate. "Oh, sweetie, I'm so glad to see you. Come give Momma Carmella a hug, okay."

Rita walked gingerly over to Carmella and leaned over and hugged her. The waterworks started back up immediately and Rita fell to her feet and sobbed into Carmella's sleeve.

"I'm so sorry...you must hate me...I've been such a fuck up." Rita realized what she had just said, and began sobbing all over again. Carmella just stroked her hair and said softly,

"Mi figlia, lo vi amo, sara bene (my daughter, I love you, it's okay)."

Unlike Vito, who had grown up in Staten Island, Carmella had come to the US from Palermo after she buried her first husband at twenty-seven. She and Vito met at the hospital where he volunteered after she was brought in after a truck had lost control and rammed the side of her car. In the months that followed, he assisted the physical therapy staff help her recover and cope with her injuries. A short courtship and engagement followed, and they were married the following year. With much help and prayer, their two miracles, Dan and Sammi were born, and they counted their blessings every day.

"I hurt Sammi so much." Rita said between sobs. First I told her I hated her....then I got together with that bastard Lucas." At the word bastard, she blushed again. Then I get back with Sammi and....I love her, Momma C….Oh....I'm so sorry." She began to weep. Vito walked over and kissed Rita on the top of her head. He turned his attention to Carmella and said,

"I think maybe I'll go down to the store for a little while and leave you two girls alone, okay?" He kissed Carmella on the bridge of her nose and then softly on the lips.

"Love you, my sweet wife...mi dolce amore della mia vita. (love of my life)." he said as he walked out the door.

"Now, mi bella figlia (my beautiful daughter), let us have some tea, Si?"

* * * * *

That evening, the Compagna's sat down to dinner. Mrs. C. had cooked a nice pork tenderloin with garlic and escarole and potatoes, and everyone was quiet for a few minutes; first after the blessing and then as they savored the fine meal. After a few minutes Carmella spoke.

"You know Rita was by today, Sammi?" She smiled at her son. Sammi had stopped dressing after the attack by Lucas and Marty.

"You do know she is sorry for what she said, Don't you?" Carmella knew that Sammi knew, but wanted him to acknowledge that.

"Yes, Momma, I know." Sammi's eyes began to mist.

"I don't want to talk about her, is that okay?" Sammi said this politely, as a request.

"You don't have to say a word, mi bello, but I will talk, Si?" She smiled at Vito, who nodded in agreement. Dan just looked away, trying not to laugh. When Momma said listen, they listened. Not out of fear or compulsion, but Carmella always had something wise and helpful to say when she said, “You don't have to say a word."

"She wanted us to know how sorry she was for what she said. She was hurt and angry, and didn't understand."

"But," Sammi tried to interrupt, but Carmella said.

"Sammi...listen, Si?"

"Yes, momma." At sixteen, Sammi had lived long enough to understand what Dan had learned so much earlier. There's a time to listen.

"She thought you were rejecting her...she misunderstood...your intentions." She frowned at Sammi before continuing.

"It is good that you found out what Poppa and I have been telling you....love first...then marriage...then the bed, Si?"

"Yes, Momma." Sammi put his head down on the table and began to cry out of embarrassment. Carmella reached over and stroked his hair.

"We will talk no more of this...you know how we feel, Si? And you already have told Rita you are sorry, Si?" She smiled at him as she cupped his chin in her hand, raising his head to face her.

“Give her a kiss from Momma when you see her again, okay? And you kiss her for Poppa, Si?” Carmella smiled once again and added. “You can kiss her for you, but nothing else, Si?”

“Yes, Momma.” Sammi looked into his mother’s eyes and saw nothing but love.

"Sammi...we love you...all of you..." Vito said quietly. We have loved you since before you were born. And we love you now, yes?" Vito tried to keep up with his Italian, but even after all these years, he lapsed into "New Yawk."

"You don't hafta change for us, do you understand?" Vito looked up and down at Sammi, as if he were indicating something.

"Momma and I talked about it." He smiled at his son. "We think maybe you should see a doctor...like soon."

Sammi looked at his father and feared the worst. He had seen the school guidance counselor after the incident in front of the school weeks ago. She had called the parents, more out of concern for Sammi's well-being than just physical safety.

"Does that mean you want me to go to the doctor that Mrs. Cortese told you about?" Sammi figured this was it...a shrink to help him forget all about his other "side."

"Si, mi bello." Carmella patted Sammi lightly on the cheek. "She's a good doctor....works with boys like you...helps them get things...Vito...what am I trying to say?" Carmella struggled occasionally with English the way Vito wrestled with Italian.

"Sorted out, my dear." Vito patted Sammi on the arm. "Dr. Kelly is a doctor who works with boys who...." Now Vito was at a loss for words.

"They mean that the doctor you are gonna go to helps boys who maybe want to be girls." Dan interjected as he laughed.

"She helps them figure out what's going on and what they want to do about it."

"What they want?" Sammi couldn't believe his ears.

"Yes, mi bambina, what you want." Carmella said. Sammi wasn't too keen on Italian, but he picked up on the word his mother just used.

"Bambina?" He thought to himself. "She called me bambina, not bambino." A subtle change in a vowel that immediately meant the world to the boy who had moments before been crying in despair.

"Sammi," Vito said, "Your Momma and I talked it over, and we know how hard this has been for you." Vito's eyes started to mist up. Even Dan couldn't help the tears he was shedding now for his baby brother.

"You go see the doctor on Monday after school. Mrs. Cortese says she knows her stuff, and she'll help you figure this out, okay?" Vito smiled and reached under his chair.

"Momma and I talked it over, and we decided to give you this today...an early birthday present” Vito smiled, as Sammi looked in wonder at his parents. It wasn't his birthday for another four months.

"Go ahead, open it, mi figlia." Carmella said, tears streaming down her cheeks. Sammi looked at her and couldn't believe his ears.

"Mi figlia? My daughter?" he thought. He tore off the paper and looked at the package. It was a cosmetics case...Bobbi Brown Basic Collection. He couldn't believe his eyes

"Momma, uh...you said figlia...daughter." Sammi looked at his mother, hoping he remembered the little Italian he knew.

"Si, mi bambina, mi bella figlia." Carmella wheeled herself over to Sammi and kissed her on the cheek, weeping even as she kissed her new daughter again and again."

"Scuse," Dan said with a smile. "I have one important question before we go any further," he said as he got up, looking for all the world very serious and concerned...

"What?" Sammi said, almost in a panic, fearing the worst from her brother."

"Just this...Who wants cake and coffee?" Dan broke into a smile and walked past Sammi on the way to the kitchen. He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek and said with as much care and thoughtfulness as any brother could ever have,

"Lo vi amo, mia cara sorella (I love you, my dear sister.)"

based in part on the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5:8, Matthew 7:7-10


An Unlikely Hero

The state sectional game was coming up fast that weekend; the Panthers, the Lion's crosstown rivals, were coming into the Lion's den, the sportswriters were saying. The team was meeting one last time Thursday afternoon

Coach Sovrano had his back to the group of young men, drawing a play on the black board. While he finished sketching out his play, his two assistants stood off to the side, discussing something quietly.

"This is the play that killed us in the sectionals last year," Coach said as every eye except for four looked intently at the diagram on the board.

"And what we need to remember is that we came within a field goal of winning it despite the fact that we were getting kicked all over the field on offense and defense." He raised his voice at the last word, which got the attention of Louie Perrone, who'd been joking with Alex Paretsky. "If it pleases you, Mr. Perrone, may I continue?" Louie missed the sarcasm in Coach's voice and said.

"Sure, Coach, don't mind me." Peter Stone turned around in his chair and glared at Louie, but his brother Andrew grabbed him by the shoulder and physically turned him around.

"Pete...let it go, okay?" Andrew whispered.

"We've got to do a better job of blocking on field goals and extra points." Coach Seraphino said. In ten games so far, we've had three blocked field goals and only six extra points. Jimmy has to have more time to get off the kick."

At the mention of Jimmy's name, Alex muttered loud enough for the back row to hear,

"Faggot."

"Excuse me, Mr. Paretsky, can you please be quiet while I'm talking." Coach Seraphino heard a remark, but not the insulting word. The back row to a man all laughed at the remark except Matty and Chris. They heard the insult, but kept quiet. Chris might take Alex aside and talk to him, but for the time being, he turned his attention up front.

It was no secret that Jimmy Callahan and his brother John were different. They had come over from Ireland only last year when their family re-located due to Mr. Calahan's business. Jimmy had assumed the role of place kicker for the team, while Johnny was the punter and holder for Jimmy. What made things very different for Jimmy was that off the field and out of school, he was a decidedly different person.

"What a fucking asshole," Alex said as Coach Seraphino turned his back and pointed to the diagram on the board. The whole row snickered except for Chris and Tommy, who just shook their heads. Chris was about to get up when Coach Sovrano said,

"Louie. You've got to do a better job of blocking. As the blocking back on extra points, you've got to make sure that you pick up any outside rush. I know you've capable of doing a better job." Coach smiled at Louie to diffuse the mild rebuke.

Louie resented having to go in on offense, being the defensive co-captain. And he didn't like having to block for Jimmy, being that he was convinced that he knew a secret about Jimmy, which he promptly shared with Alex...Jimmy was gay. He had seen Jimmy come out of the Compagno hardware store and get into a car. Jimmy had leaned over and kissed the driver. And the driver wasn't a girl. He was sure of that, but a package on the back deck had obscured his view, and he couldn't tell just who Jimmy was kissing. He made plans to remedy that.

After the meeting, Pete walked up to Alex and stood in his face.

"What the fuck do you want, Stone?' Alex said and turned to his buddies for approval. Pete looked at him and shook his head.

"Forget it." Pete said as he waved to Chris and Tommy. Andrew walked up to Alex and said,

"You know I can't help you if you insist on making the same mistake." Andrew said quietly with a smile.

"And what would that be, asshole?" Once again, Alex looked around; seeking the approval of his teammates, but most of them had already left the field house.

"Just this, Alex. I can't be everywhere. And Peter will likely kill you if I'm not around to talk him out of it. Just something to think about."

Just then a loud voice interrupted the exchange.

"Hey Paretsky, you fucker...we gotta go...I got plans for tonight." Louie called from the double door leading to the locker room. "Let's get the fuck outta here."

As they started to leave, Louie noticed Tommy Colhane go up to Jimmy and grab his arm. They were too far away to hear the conversation, but Louie made an assumption that he would come to regret later. Tommy must have been the driver.

* * * * *

Friday night under the lights. The Lions clung to a one point lead with only a minute-seventeen to play. Fourth down and less than half a yard; Chris was over on the sidelines trying to convince his father, Coach Sovrano, that they needed to go for it...

“Come on, Dad, we’ve only got a couple of feet to go for a first down…And we’re only ahead by one.” Chris looked straight into his father’s eyes, but he saw that he was getting nowhere with the argument.

“Let Jimmy put some points up for us, son.” He said it almost like a coach, rather that Chris’ father, but the intent was more to show confidence in Jimmy at that point. Two missed field goals had left the team with the slimmest of margins. And Jimmy was standing next to Coach Sovrano with his helmet on, ready to try again. “Get in there and show them how it’s done, Jim.”

Three ran on the field; Jimmy, his brother Johnny to hold, and Louie went in as the blocking back. After the exchange, the team set, but the Panthers called time out to try to ice Jimmy…maybe he’d panic and miss once again. Both teams mulled for a few moments and Jimmy called his brother over. He called the rest of the team. Louie was getting back to the huddle late, and missed the call, but before he could ask, the team was already headed back to the line

“Set one, sixty-three…..hike” The ball was snapped back to Johnny, who stood up and lofted a soft pass to the corner of the end zone. A fake field goal caught the Panther defense napping. As Johnny released the ball, Louie made a half-hearted effort to block his man.

The safety came rushing past and nailed Jimmy just as he turned up field, knocking him down with a hard thud. His head hit the turf before he was able to react, and he missed the connection between his brother and his best friend Tommy, who stood all alone in the end zone. Touchdown!

Johnny turned back to see his brother’s prostrate body nearly in a pile on the field.

“Jimmy….Jimmy lad…” He shouted. He turned to see Louie and Alex laughing.

“Ya tink dat’s funny, ya fookin’ bastard….” He ran at Louie, but Pete and Matty grabbed him.

“I’m telling you, Louie…” Andrew was seething, his usual calm demeanor lost in outrage as he walked up to the pair.

“You’re gonna pull this crap once too often, and you’re the one who’s going to get hurt.” Pete put his hand on Andrew’s shoulder and led him away. Surprisingly, it was Pete who was keeping a level head, but he had taken one step toward Alex and Louie and he felt Mara’s stare in the back of his head, or so it seemed. He looked over at the side line where she was talking with the coaches. She smiled at him, as he and Andrew walked quickly over to Jimmy, where the paramedics were helping him up.

“We’ll get him to the hospital for X-rays. Likely a bad headache, but maybe a concussion. Don’t worry, boys, we’ll take care of him.” The woman said as she and her partner helped Jimmy off the field to cheers.

As Louie ran to the sideline, Coach Seraphino called him over.

“You won’t be starting in the finals if we finish this…you’ve pulled that crap for the last time.”

“That’ll fuck up my scholarship if I don’t play…you can’t do this.” Louie argued as Alex had to hold him back.

“You should have thought of that three games ago. Consider yourself lucky that you’re still on the team. Now just walk away quietly and leave me alone. Do I make myself clear?”

“He hears you,” Alex implored. “Right, Louie?” Alex led Louie away, and Louie pulled his arm away from his friend.

“This isn’t over…that little fag just cost me, and I’m going to see he fucking pays for it!”

After a few minutes, the team came back on the field. Johnny tried the PAT while Chris held.

Wide right. That left the team only ahead by seven with more than enough time for the Panthers to mount their own comeback. True to form, Jimmy Sammartino, the quarterback for the Panthers, led his team down the field systematically, using up the clock and putting his team to win the game with a touchdown and a two-point conversion. With six seconds left to go, he found his wideout in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. If they got the conversion they won.

“72…14, hut one, hut two...hike.” Sammartino pulled off the center, and arched a soft pass to the left corner, where his tight end jumped high; higher than the cornerback. The ball hit his fingertips but fell on the ground incomplete. The Lions offense ran on the field, where Chris took a knee as the gun sounded. The Lions had defeated the Panthers by one point and were going to the state finals.

All of the team surrounded Coach Sovrano as Pete and Judd dumped Gatorade on him. All except for two players who stood off to the side.

* * * * *

On the other side of town, a celebration of a different sort was going on. Leon Lucas was thrilled that his dreams were about to come true. He was convinced that his former girlfriend, Rita Clemente, would come running if only he could find a way to make her see that her boyfriend, Sammi Compagno, was less than adequate for her "needs."

“Marty…you can’t believe it…” Leon stood in his bedroom after pulling a shoebox off the shelf in his closet. “You won’t fucking believe this. Get a load of this!” He opened the box, and pulled out the 38. “My dad forgot to lock his gun safe….what a fucking asshole.” Marty’s eyes widened and he said.

“You’re not gonna do somethin’ stupid, are you Leon?” As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted having said them, and moments later the crack of the gun on top of his head let him know he was right.

“You ever fuckin’ say somthin’ like that again, you’ll get more than just a fuckin’ hit on your fuckin’ head, asshole!” Leon’s eyes blazed in anger, but somehow Marty didn’t think
that Leon was that upset over a stupid remark.

“I’m gonna fuckin’ scare the shit outta that little fag..You fuckin’ watch. And then Rita will see what a little fuckin’ cunt that fag really is. She’ll come back…I fuckin’ tell you he’s gonna fuckin’ pee in his pants.”

* * * * *

A few days later, four girls sat in the front row of the theater, laughing and giggling like girls sometimes do. Jamie and Tammy sat holding hands. They had just started dating after being introduced by Tammy’s brother. And the two other girls had been an item for some time. Both wore promise rings on their left hands, and matching necklaces as well, indicating they had decided to wait…as some might say…before they resumed their physical relationship.

“I’m just glad you’re okay, babe.” Tammy looked into Jamie’s eye with relief and more than just a little love. “I was so worried for you, sweetie.” She leaned over and kissed her girlfriend on the lips softly, Jamie’s face turned almost as red as her hair, and she blinked back tears.

“Tammy, darlin’, would you mind doin’ dat again?” Jamie said softly with just a hint of brogue, revealing her heritage.

“See…they still kiss…why can’t we?” Rita said as she stared with mock anger at her girlfriend Sammi.”

“You know how my Mom and Dad feel about that,” Sammi said as she blushed even redder than her friend Jamie.

“I know…we got it all wrong the first time…I’m sorry, but I just love you so much.” Rita said, blinking back tears of her own.

“That’s why we have to wait, babe.” Tammy said. “You and me…we’re a lot alike. We both love our girls so much…but they want to do the right thing by us. And they’re special, so we have to go slow…you know.” Tammy looked back at Jamie, who was holding her head.

“Still hurt, honey?” Tammy asked.

“Like fookin’ hell…oh sorry…It does, darlin’, it does.” Jamie said as the theater started to darken/

“Just rest your head on my shoulder.” Tammy said as she kissed Jamie’s forehead.

* * * * *

The movie was over and the crowd was walking out of the theater.

“Can you fuckin’ believe we paid money to see that crap?” Louie threw his soda cup toward the trash, but it hit the wall, and the soda splashed on a little girl who was walking out with her parents.

“Excuse me…hey kid…you just splashed soda on my little girl.” The mother said.

“Fuck you bitch,” Louie said as he laughed. Not wanting to be left out, Alex turned around and said,

“Yeah, fuck you.” He felt absolutely foolish when he saw the look on the little girls’ face.

* * * * *

“Yeah…fuck, Marty, get your ass over here.” Leon Lucas stood in front of the theater; hand in his pocket fingering the pistol. “What do you mean, you’re not coming?” Leon shouted into his cell phone.

“What…well fuck you, you fuckin’ jackoff.” Leon closed his phone, and turned around once again to stare at the theater entrance.

* * * * *

Jamie and Sammi walked out of the theater, arm in arm, like girl pals do.

“Give me the keys, I’ll go get the car,” Sammi said, as Jamie turned back to wait for Rita and Tammy to exit.

“Well, look who the fuck we have here?” Louie said to himself as he noted the girl standing in front by the ticket booth. The crowd had mostly moved inside for the last showing and there were only a few people in front of the theater.

“Well, look who the fuck we have here?” Leon thought to himself as he saw Sammi walking back.

“You know…let’s get some pizza to go, okay,” Sammi said as she walked up to Jamie. Their girlfriends had stopped at the ladies room on the way out.

Alex walked past the two girls who were looking at a poster in the front lobby. As he walked through the door, he saw a tall figure walking quickly toward the theater. The figure raised his hand.

“Look out, he’s got a gun.” Someone shouted.

Leon had only meant to scare Sammi, but when he saw that Sammi wasn’t angry or scared, he lost it. He didn’t even realize he had fired the 38 until someone grabbed it from him while another man wrestled him to the ground. Only two shots....

“Oh no…That girl’s been shot…oh God no.” The woman with the little girl covered the child’s eyes as the father ran to help the girl lying on the ground.

“Sammi….oh God…Sammi," Rita cried as she ran out of the lobby toward her girlfriend. The man had pulled off his sweatshirt and was holding it against Sammi’s shoulder.

“It’s going to be okay, honey," the man said as he looked back at Rita. The color had drained from her face, and a woman caught her before she collapsed in a faint.

Louie looked at the figure on the ground just as he let go of the kid in front of him, a girl who had just left the theater and was waiting for her parents to pick her up.

Alex lay on the ground, blood covering his chest, He heard screaming and he realized the screams were his. After only a few moments he tried to sit up, but his legs were pinned. Looking down, he saw a girl covering his knees with her motionless body.

“Oh fuck, no…no.” Alex picked the girl up in his arms and he recognized her as soon as she turned over.

“Hey…Alex….are you okay,” the girl said, blood spilling from her mouth.

“OH fuck…fuck…no...oh God no.” He looked in the girls face…Jimmy Callahan’s face…blood streamed from Jimmy...Jamie's chest.

“OH no...Jimmy…why fuck….why? Alex began to cry as he cradled Jimmy’s head in his arms.

“Any ting for a team mate, …anyting” The soft brogue grew quiet, drowned out by the sobs of his teammate.

“Oh…NOOOOOOO. Jamie…no nonnnoooo.” Tammy screamed. Louie stood motionless, staring at the girl standing next to him…Tammy Colhane….Tommy Colhane’s sister...his twin sister. His eyes darted back and forth between Jimmy and Alex, who just sat on the ground rocking the dead girl in his arms, weeping.

* * * * *

The Squad Car pulled away. Leon sat in the back seat, staring into space, in shock.

The ambulances pulled away; one quickly with the siren blaring and the light flashing. Rita lay on a stretcher, still in shock but coming out of it while the paramedic said,

“It’s okay, honey, she’s gonna make it.” Sammi lay quietly across from her as the paramedic checked her vitals.

In the other ambulance, Jamie lay on a stretcher, her lifeless body covered with a sheet.
A third ambulance remained parked in front of the theater. Tammy lay on a stretcher, her face etched with pain and grief. Tears streamed down her face. She tried to sit up, but just fell back on the stretcher. She was crying so hard that no sound left her lips. Her brother Tommy and the third ambulance arrived at the same time and he climbed in back of the ambulance, weeping but saying softly,

“I’m here sis, I’m here”

* * * * *

“I saw what you did, you bastard. You fuckin’ grabbed that girl.” A man said. “What a fucking coward. You fucking bastard.”

Louie tried to ignore the man, but his face started to turn red with shame. Alex held an icepack against the back of his head where he had hit the pavement. He stood and stared down the street, trying to follow the path of the ambulance as it sped away.

“Hey…let’s get the fuck outta here….” Louie grabbed Alex’s arm but Alex pulled it away.

“Fuck, Perrone…don’t you fucking care? Jimmy Callahan just saved my life.” Alex began to sob and he looked at Louie, almost begging the boy to join him.

"Louie...he fucking died saving my life," Alex sobbed.

Alex had never cried in front of Louie. Truth be told, he had never cried ever…even when his stepfather beat him. When his dog got hit by a car…when his sister died when he was twelve. But Alex wept that day…And for the first time in his life, he cared about somebody beside himself.

“I gotta go tell Johnny…Oh fuck…how am I gonna ever face him…His baby brother just got killed savin’ my fuckin’ life.”

“Fuck, Paretsky, why the fuck do you care anyway…he was just a fag.”

“Shut the fuck up, Perrone.”

“What?” Louie was shocked…The girl dying, the other girl shot…that didn’t matter, but Alex talking back...that was a shock.

“You fucking can’t talk to me that way…Fuck…he was a faggot! As far as I’m concerned…”
Louie never got the change to finish his sentence. Alex hit him so hard he fell back into the display window of the florist next to the theater. Alex collapsed onto the sidewalk and sat there and wept until the theater manager led him into his office a half hour later.

* * * * *

The minister stood at the gravesite behind the casket, finishing her words with one brief passage.

“There is no greater love than this…that someone...Jamie Diane Callahan...” She choked back her own tears and continued...”would lay down her life for a friend.”

Johnny Callahan stood next to his mother and father, who sat across from the casket, weeping. They were joined by Tammy and Tommy Colhane. The family was surrounded by Jamie’s teammates save for one, Louie Perrone, who was in the hospital nursing a broken jaw. Alex Paretsky stood next to the casket, his big frame supported by Chris and Andrew as he wept. Johnny walked over and hugged Alex and kissed him on the cheek.

“It’s okay, Alex lad…it’s okay.” He hugged Alex again and they wept together. It might have been expected, like Hollywood, that the team went on to win the Championship. No…things don’t often work out that way in real life. The funeral was on the same day as the State Championship. Coach Sovrano called the league and asked if the sectional title could be vacated and awarded to the Panthers. The league agreed reluctantly and Jimmy Sammartino led his team to a 23-20 victory in double overtime.

He dedicated the victory to Jamie Callahan.

You see, some things are just more important than football.

based on John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends."


Letting Go!

Sammi lay in the hospital bed...uncomfortably on one side with tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Honey, it wasn't your fault," Rita said as she stroked his hair.

"If it weren't for me, Jamie would still be alive," he sobbed. Sammi rolled over, or at least attempted to. The heavy bandages were a visible reminder of pain deeper than any wound to his shoulder.

It was almost too much too bear, but the pain was almost an easier burden to endure than the misplaced guilt he felt.

"Your Mom and Poppa C. went to the cafeteria for something to eat," Rita said, her face turned away as if looking for something in her purse. She had been crying almost the entire night into the morning, since Sammi had come out of recovery, his second surgery in three days. She wanted to put a brave face on, but she was failing miserably.

A knock came at the door. Tommy Colhane stood at the doorway. His face was red and his eyes were puffy.

"Hey, Sammi, how are you feeling?" Tommy had just come from Jamie's funeral.

"Not too bad," Sammi said, but Tommy could see that Sammi couldn't convince himself of what he had just said, much less anyone else.

Rita pulled Tommy into a tentative hug.

"How's Tammy doing?" Rita asked. "Is she home? I'll stop by there on my way home later."

"The doctor had to give her something...she hasn't slept since…" Tommy bit his lip. He and Jamie had hit it off when they first met, and the whole family felt the loss as if Jamie had been one of their own.

"Oh, Tommy...I'm so sorry. This is all my fault," Rita said, remembering how her breakup with Leon Lucas had started this whole mess. Truth be told, he had brought much more than death and injury upon these families. There was enough misplaced guilt to go around.

Rita turned away to the window as Tommy tried to hug her. He grabbed her, gently but firmly, and turned her around again. Tears streamed down his cheek, but he smiled warmly.

"It's not your fault," he said, choking back a sob. "And it's not yours either," he said as he turned his face to Sammi, who was now weeping into his pillow.

"You did nothing wrong." He put his hand to his face, trying hard without any success to keep from sobbing. After a few moments, he looked up at Rita.

"Jamie saved Alex. If it weren't for him pushing Sammi aside as well, who knows? And Alex is alive." Tommy bit his tongue so he could continue.

"And if he died to save you and Alex? Let's hear no more talk about what you did to cause this...You didn't, and you have nothing to be ashamed of...you did nothing wrong. Jamie did right!" Tommy broke down and Rita held him as he sobbed over what he had just said.
Just then, Vito and Carmella came into the room. Carmella rolled her wheel chair up to Tommy and pulled him in for a motherly hug. Tommy gave way to the safety of her arms and wept unashamedly. Vito walked over to Rita and grabbed her by both hands.

"It's going to be okay, honey." He turned towards his child, who lay in the bed, unable to staunch the tears that flowed even freer at the sight of his parents. "And you, too, mi figlia...my daughter."

"Daddy...no, don't say that...no..." Sammi sobbed and buried his head further into the
pillow. "Noooo...noooo." Sammi was convinced that his choices had brought so much sorrow upon so many.

"Mi dolce figilia," Mrs. C said as she looked over Tommy's shoulder at Sammi. "My sweet daughter."

Vito walked over to the bed and kissed Sammi on the cheek and said. "It's okay, honey ...It's going to be okay, bambina."

* * * * *

The following Monday, another intense scene played out, this time in court.

“Your honor…I must protest.” The District Attorney stood up and objected.

“I see no reason to get excited, Counselor,” the judge said glibly. “I’ve made my ruling. Bail is set at five hundred thousand dollars, cash or bond. This court is in recess.”

Leon’s lawyer smiled smugly over at the DA as he closed his briefcase. He had argued successfully before the judge in the past, and today was no different. The judge emended the charges immediately to reduce them to murder two right off the bat, even though there had been evidence that Leon had planned this attack for several days; an outrage that would never be addressed in this lifetime. But in arguing for bail, he had done right by his client legally, but morally he had done Leon a disservice. Years of entitlement had brought Leon to court on that day, and it would ultimately be his undoing.

“This isn’t fair.” A voice came from the back of the courtroom, almost a scream. Tammy stood as her brother tried to calm her down.

“Jamie’s dead and he gets out?” She yelled loud enough for the whole room to stop.

“Young lady…sit down and be quiet!” The judge banged his gavel over the murmurs of the crowd.

“Be quiet? He killed Jamie…he killed my girlfriend! Be quiet.” Tammy was practically sobbing at that point.

“Your honor?” Leon’s lawyer raised his voice to protest.

“Bailiff, remove the young lady from this court.” The judge said as he banged his gavel.

“Order!”

The bailiff took one step toward Tammy, who struggled against her brother’s arms. She fainted and he picked her up and began to carry her out. The bailiff looked back at the judge who just shook his head from side to side.

Two figures remained seated as the courtroom emptied.

“What does this mean?” The man said with a soft brogue. Mr. Callahan turned and looked as Leon walked from the court room, casting a cruel sideways glance at Johnny and his dad.

“He gets to stay out on bail, Dad,” Johnny grabbed his father’s arm. His mother was too distraught to attend the arraignment.

“Now dis isn’t faer, lad.” Charlie Callahan said. Johnny had been worried about his dad getting worked up over the ruling of the judge, but he was surprised to hear his father say,

“But it is what it is, yes? We best be gettin’ home.”

“Yeah, Dad.” Johnny’s emotions were on the surface and he began to weep, right then and there.

“It’s gonna be okay, lad,” his dad said as he kissed his son on the neck as Johnny fell into his father’s loving arms.’

“I miss her too, son…I do.” Charlie Callahan said as he wept.

* * * * *

A few days later, Leon was sitting in his basement with his best friend Marty.

“Can you believe that fucker? He got me bail!” Leon smiled smugly.

“Yeah, but you still have the trial, right?” Marty winced at the expected slap in the head that never came.

“Yeah, but the way I figure it, but the time my lawyer gets this shit taken care of, they’ll be givin’ me a medal for killin’ that fucking queer. Shit…If I’d been a better shot, I’d be a fuckin’ hero!”

“I don’t think that’s a good way to look at it...that won't go over too good, Leon.” Marty replied. He was surprised twice in seconds. First, he was surprised that he actually disagreed; not once, but twice with Leon. Second, he was completely surprised when the unanticipated punch in the shoulder came; knocking him off his chair and into the wall.

“You talk against me again…” Leon kicked Marty hard in the side. He never finished his threat, but Marty knew that whatever it was Leon was thinking; it would be really bad.”

* * * * *

“Sammi…baby open the door…Rita’s here. Come out, okay?” Mrs. C. turned and looked at Rita and smiled. Rita grabbed the door handle and saw it was unlocked. Opening the door, she peeked inside. Lying on the floor next to Sammi’s bathroom door was a pile of hair…Sammi’s hair. She stepped over the pile, shaking her head and biting her lip apprehensively.

“Sammi…honey, are you okay…Sammi?” She called as she turned the corner past the bathroom. Sammi was sitting on his bed. His head displayed his recent handiwork; he had used the clippers to cut all of his hair down to a crude crewcut. His face was puffy and his eyes were red with tears that still streamed down his cheeks. He wore a tee shirt and a pair of sweats.

“Oh, God, Sammi, what did you do? “ Rita’s cry was more of a lament than a question. She noticed an un-open bottle of pills on his nightstand…his mother’s pain meds.

“No, Sammi…no.” She cried. He looked at her and sniffled and said.

“You don’t have to worry…I didn’t take any…I’m not going to kill myself.” He began to sob.

“It doesn’t make any difference….I’m already dead.”

He threw himself back on the bed and sobbed into his pillow. Carmella rolled her wheelchair over to Sammi’s bed and placed her hand on his back. She began to weep and pray…

“Mi Dio….please help my baby…” She placed her head beside his on the bed and kissed him as their tears mingled. Rita stood to one side. Her eyes darted between the two and the pile of hair on the floor.

“Mi dios cuidar de ella. My God…take care of her.” Rita said softly as her hand did nothing to prevent her tears from dropping to the carpet below.

* * * * *

Sammi stayed in his room and refused to come out; Carmella spent most of the time either at his door praying or singing soft sweet songs as she moved through the house, hoping for a breakthrough.

She was sitting by the front window when she noticed a familiar figure standing at the front door. She wheeled her chair to greet Johnny Callahan.

“Hello, Johnny, come in, please. “ Carmella said as she backed up. She motioned for him to come closer and he fell into her arms for a big hug.

“I’m so sorry, honey…how are you doing?” She asked as he stood up. His eyes had begun to mist. Even when they hadn’t intended to, folks usually found themselves feeling safe enough to cry In her arms.

“I’m doin’ okay, I guess. Mom and Dad keep me grounded…we cry a lot and we pray.” Johnny stifled a sob as she rubbed the back of his hand.

“It’s not fair, I suppose, but Dad keeps reminding me that there isn’t any fair or unfair, it just is what it is.” Johnny’s accent tended to come back when he spoke of his parents.

“We miss her so, but we have each other and God and friends like you, Mrs. C.” Johnny smiled through his tears and continued.

“Is Sammi at home?” Johnny asked as he looked around.

“He won’t come out of his room.” Carmella’s eyes were also teary as she continued.

“He won’t eat, he doesn’t talk. He just cries all the time. I’m worried, Johnny. His brother tried to get him up to go out for just a walk and he got up long enough to lock his door. Rita comes by every day, and he won’t even talk to her. I’m at my wit’s end.”

“I might have something that will help. I’d like to talk to him and I’d like you to be there, okay?” Johnny smiled. Even having a loving mother like his own, Johnny was among the many kids that found Mrs. C to be like a second mom.

“Let’s go try, okay?” She grabbed Johnny’s hand and squeezed tight. He wheeled her over to Sammi’s door.

“Sammi, honey…there’s someone here to see you, okay?” She said as she knocked on his door.

“Go away,” Sammi said from his room.

“It’s Johnny Callahan.” She said.

After a few moments of silence, they heard the sound of the door being unlocked. It opened seconds later. Sammi stood at the doorway in his pajamas. His face was puffy and his eyes were red. He looked thinner and tired.

“Hey, Sammi, how’s it goin’?” Johnny said as he wheeled Mrs. C. into the bedroom.

“Okay, I guess,” Sammi said, his appearance belying his statement.

“I wanted to talk to you for just a few, if you don’t mind?” Johnny said as he sat on Sammi’s bed.

“Okay…” Sammi said with little emotion.

“I need to ask your forgiveness, yes?” Johnny said, his face a picture of sadness and hope mixed together.

“F..ff..or..giveness? What do you have to be sorry for?” Sammi looked at Johnny.

“SSSorrrry?”

Sammi tried to stem the tears that started to flow. Apart from the slight difference in height and age, Johnny was almost the twin of his brother Jimmy…or his sister Jamie, depending upon what day and where they were. Jamie had been Sammi’s best friend and companion apart from Rita. And now, with Jamie gone and the appearance of his near twin; the guilt was overwhelming.

“I…I should be asking you for forgiveness…it was my fault….” Sammi began, but Johnny cut him off.

“No…let me finish…there’s enuff guilt to go around for us all, and that has to stop!” Johnny was firm, but his voice was tender and caring.

“I have been tinkin’ ever since Jamie died. I was so angry at you, and I am so sorry for that.” Johnny said, choking back a sob.

“I tought…if it weren’t for the fact that you and she and the girls were out at that stupid movie…she’d be alive right now…we’d be havin’ a laugh or two and none of us would be upset. And it was all your fault.” Sammi eyes widened in horror at the words until Johnny continued.

“But you see, it wasn’t your fault. Jamie and you and Rita and Tammy were out havin’ some fun and that bastard Leon came and….” He paused and looked at Carmella apologetically.

“I’m sorry for the profanity, Mrs. C. It was no one’s fault.“ Johnny’s anger had subsided, replaced once again with a sad and hopeful expression.

“Alex and you would be dead and maybe...maybe not…but maybe Jamie might be alive? Who can say? If the fookin’ gun hadn’t jammed, maybe Jamie might have some company.” Carmella smiled at Johnny to give him leave for the understandable language.

“And then I tink…you and she asked me to come to the movies that evening…If I’d been there…” Johnny wiped the tears from his eyes; looking at that moment more angry than sad.

“It’s just this. Jamie died to save you and Alex and maybe others…We cannot stain her sacrifice with regrets or false guilt. I didn’t do anything wrong. I was angry even at Tommy for introducing Jamie to his sister, since that was part of it…But what the fook did Tammy do except love my baby sister like her own…” Johnny began to weep.

“What did you do but love my sister like she was your own when so many at school made fun of her dress and her choices?” Johnny looked at Carmella. By now, all three were crying. The tears of forgiveness were flowing freely as Johnny finished.

“I’m so sorry for hatin’ you. You were Jamie’s best friend and I forgot that. Please forgive me for my hatred. Mrs. C. Can you forgive me?” Johnny broke down and wept freely. Carmella wheeled her chair closer and grabbed Johnny’s hand. She reached out and grabbed Sammi’s hand. Placing Sammi’s hand in Johnny’s, she pulled Sammi close and kissed him.

“Non piá¹ senso di colpa, mia figlia. Solo l'amore e perdono , si?” (No more guilt my daughter, only love and forgiveness, yes?) She said as she wept along with the two; cleansing tears that would reach out to others as well.

* * * * *

The trial took only eight days. Leon took the stand and had been fairly effective at making his lawyer’s case. But Leon being Leon, he took it too far, and his arrogance cost him.

“I’m sorry I killed him, your honor,” he said, turning back to the Judge to plea.

“Address your remarks to counsel, young man.” The judge was not the judge who had heard the arraignment; a broken leg while skiing, coupled with Leon’s lawyer’s ill-advised insistence on a speedy trial, brought a less sympathetic judge to hear the trial. And as much as he tried, the judge could not mask his disdain for the smug attitude that Leon displayed.

* * * * *

The Jury took forty-five minutes to deliberate, bringing back a guilty verdict for the sole count of murder in the second degree. After a weekend recess, the court met once again for the purpose of sentencing. The Judge spoke to the court.

“Before I pronounce sentence, I have been requested to hear testimony by two individuals that wish to address the court regarding this matter. Would the first witness step forward?”

Johnny Callahan stood nervously at the podium set up for testimony.

“If it may please the court, I would like to address both your honor and the defendant.”

“Go ahead, young man. Before you begin, may I extend my deepest condolences to you and your parents at the loss (and here he made a point to pause for effect) of your sister.” At the mention of the word, “sister,” both Leon and his lawyer winced.

“Leon…I’m sorry for you. Truly I am and my parents with me. You’re stuck on stupid, lad, and look what it’s gotten you. Jamie did nothing to you…she never hurt anyone, and you took her life because you’re so filled with hatred and ignorance that…” Leon’s lawyer raised his hand to protest but the judge just glared at him, causing him to sit back and remain silent.

“That you hurt not only my sister and me and my family, but Sammi and her family and Tammy and Rita and their families as well. But the one you hurt the most is yourself. Mum and Dad…and me? We’ll be livin’ our lives out here while you sit in a cell, not only wastin’ your own life, but hurtin’ your own Mum and Dad as well. I feel sorry for them and you.” Johnny paused. He looked at the glass of water in front of him. The judge noticed and nodded. Taking a sip of water, he continued.

“My Mum and Dad forgive you. We can’t speak for anyone else, of course. And I’m not ready…not ready by a long shot. You took away the most precious ting God ever did for my family… I’d like to be the type of man who will be able to some day, but not while there’s no grass growin’ over her grave.” Johnny looked back at his parents, who sat quietly sobbing.

“But for Jamie’s sake and my Mum and Dad, I hope you take this to heart. You’ve got a second chance …more than you gave Jamie. Take this and use it so what when you get out, you’ll be a better person for it, yes?” He paused and looked at the judge, who nodded for him to continue.

“Your honor, I would like to ask for mercy for Leon here?” Leon’s expression changed from smugness to confusion as Johnny continued.

“I know you can only do so much, but if you could ? Not for Leon here…as far as I’m concerned he could f….., er…stay in jail…But knowing Jamie, she’d want to…you know…the same girl who saved Sammi and Alex? To be seekin’ revenge after her sacrifice? It wouldn’t do,
Your honor. So could you? It would help both me and my family in putting this behind us, yes? Thank you for hearing me.” Johnny looked back at his mother and father, both with tears in their eyes, their grief mixed with pride.

The court was filled and the crowd began to murmur at the unprecedented and entirely unexpected request. The judge banged the gavel only twice and the courtroom grew silent. The judge nodded and the next witness came to the podium. A young lady, about sixteen, pretty albeit with very short hair stood before the court. She wore a simple knee-length light blue corduroy dress with a navy cardigan. And she was nervous. Her voice trembled a little, but she spoke with clarity.

“Your honor?” She looked at the judge as if to say, “Was that okay?” The judge smiled and nodded and said quietly, “Go on, young lady.” Leon’s lawyer winced once again.

“I would like to agree with my friend Johnny. I would also like to say that because of my best friend’s sacrifice…because Jamie died to save me and Alex Paretsky… I have a second chance as well. May I quote?” She smiled once and the Judge nodded again.

“It says…He who is forgiven much loves much. I have been forgiven much. I was silly and foolish and didn’t care for anyone but myself. Jamie taught me through her sacrifice that it’s important to care about others and love others.” She smiled nervously, as if she had said something wrong. The judge shook his head no…as if to say,” No …you’re entirely right.” Taking his cue, she turned to face Leon and his lawyer.

“I want to tell you that because of my best friend’s example, I can say to you, Leon I love you” The court murmured but grew quiet quickly, and she turned back to the judge.

“I would also like to ask for mercy, your honor, if that’s okay?” She looked again to the judge who nodded in approval.

“Since I have been given a second chance with my life, your honor, I would ask the court to do the same for Leon, if that’s alright? I know we don’t deserve mercy…that’s what makes is so special…My Mom and Dad taught me that. Thank you.” She turned back and saw her parents and her brother smiling with pride. Rita sat next to Mrs. C. and smiled back, evoking a big tearful grin from Samantha Compagna.

“I have never in all my days seen such an example of mercy extended to a defendant. I must take this under advisement before I render my ruling. The court is in recess for one hour.” The judge arose and retreated to chambers. He went to pick a law volume from his shelf, but thought better of it. Walking to his desk, he sat down, put his head in his hands and began to pray silently.

* * * * *

The Judge sat at the bench and banged his gavel softly. The court came to attention and he looked at Leon and his lawyer once again. He smiled as if he had a secret in the back of his mind, and said,

“Before I render my decision, is there anything that you would like to say to the court, Mr. Lucas?” The judge closed his eyes briefly, hoping desperately that he was wrong. Sadly, he was mistaken, as Leon stood up, buoyed with arrogance once again, mistaking forgiveness for license.

“Your honor. I want to apologize again for my actions. I thought I was doing the right thing, and I guess I was wrong. I had a bad childhood and it was hard growing up. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I hope you’ll give me a second chance.” Leon’s lawyer winced one final time before covering his face with his hand as the judge interrupted.

“Hold it right there. I smell manipulation with a capital ‘M’.” The judge said, cutting Leon off.

“Would you like to know what a tough childhood is, Mr. Lucas?” Leon started to answer, but the judge put up his hand.

“That was rhetorical, Mr. Lucas. You see, I know a little bit about tough. When I was six, I was in a car going to the store with my Dad. Some drunk driver hit our car. My father was killed and I lost my leg.” The judge paused and waited for the court to grow silent. He took his gavel and hit his left leg, which echoed with a loud metallic sound.

“I felt sorry for myself…Kids would make fun of me…and my leg.” He hit the leg with the gavel once again.

“I kept getting into fights…every day, and I got knocked on my ass more than I can remember. My mother told me that I could keep getting into fights or I could show them what I could do. So I studied hard and got into college eventually and then law school.” He paused and glared at Leon’s lawyer, who just covered his face once again.

“Until you spoke, I was going to give you the benefit of the doubt.” He shook his head. He gained no pleasure from what he was about to say.

“Since you obviously display no remorse, you give me little choice. I had been prepared to give you the minimum sentence for your crime, but you are not sorry for what you did; you’re only sorry that you got caught. Five families, including your own, have sustained a great deal of sadness and grief because of your selfish and arrogant behavior. It is the ruling of this court that you be taken to the state penitentiary to to serve a sentence of not less than fifteen years and no more than twenty-five, subject to federal guidelines. In addition, the sentence will be amended to reflect the use of a firearm; five years to run consecutively. I will be in touch with the parole board, and if you demonstrate no remorse, you can be sure I will give them my recommendation that your sentence continue, do I make myself clear?”

“You can’t do this…this isn’t fair!” Leon said angrily, pulling his arm away from his lawyer.

“Think about that poor girl you killed and then tell me what’s fair, Mr. Lucas.” He banged the gavel, this time with enough force to break it.

“Court dismissed.”

“I’m so proud of you,” Vito said as he pulled Sammi in for a hug. Carmella held her hand as Vito continued. “It’s not easy, Sammi, but we get by…with help, Si?” Vito looked up toward the ceiling but Sammi knew where her father’s help came from. Rita came over and stood facing the trio, tears in her eyes and face cast downward.

“None of that, mi figila...come give Momma C. a hug, mil dolce bambina.” Carmella held out her arms and welcomed Rita in a warm embrace. And then, to Rita’s surprise, Carmella took Rita’s hand and placed it in Sammi’s

“Let’s go home, Si?” Dan said to his sister as he patted both girls on the back softly,

“Let’s go home."

* * * * *

A few days later, Johnny meandered down the hall way, almost lost. He looked up and found he was by the gym. Basketball practice had started; started without Johnny. He heard a familiar voice.

“How are things, Johnny…I mean, how are you… are you getting along?” Matty stood at the doorway to the gym. Chris and Coach Sovrano were conducting passing drills and Andrew called,

“Hey, Matty…throw the ball.”

Matty bounced the basketball on one hop to Andrew, who turned and passed to Judd, who flipped the ball over his head for a hook shot that went off the backboard and in.

“Gotta practice that ‘talkin on the sideline pass’ for the game on Tuesday,” Matty joked. He turned back and saw that Johnny was gazing at the team across the court.

“You know, you can come by any time…there’s a spot waiting for you, you know?” Matty looked at Johnny. Teenage boys hate to cry, leastways in front of other teen boys. Johnny’s eyes were filled with tears.

“I feel so fookin’ selfish, Matty. “ He wiped his face with his sweater. “I mean, Jamie only been in the…the ground for a few weeks and here I’m standing have a grand old time with me friends.”

“You feel guilty about not feeling bad, right?” Matty smiled a welcoming smile and put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder.

“Jamie died to save her best friend…she died to save Alex even though Alex hated her…do you think for one minute she died so for you to ignore life, Johnny?” Matty used his hand in a broad gesture to point to the team.

“She died for what…so I could play fookin’ basketball?”

“She gave her life for her friend and she would want you to live yours, don’t you think?

“I don’t know? This is too much to take in…” Johnny would have continued except Matty unashamedly pulled his teammate into himself and kissed his cheek.

“It’s okay, Johnny, I know…don’t worry. We’ll be waiting for you.” Matty said.

“I’ll be waiting.”

Derived from the The Message Gospel of Luke, Chapter 7

Impressive, isn't it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.



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