Anderson is at the plate. Thompson on deck. Two men on base, the O.S.I. is up by 2. This could be the third out. Jackson checks the plates, then throws a fastball toward home. Anderson swings, the ball connects. The ball flies straight at the short stop, who didn't stand a chance. Jaw and ball meet, the ball wins this round. The short stop is down for the count.
The dream ends. An odd sensation replaces the instant reply. Drifting, floating, lighter than air. 'Is this a dream?' he thought. Felt heavier now, no longer floating. 'Am I falling?' Not really. A light shone ahead of him. He moved toward the light. A voice. 'Who's there?' he thought. The voice was getting louder, the light brighter.
"Steve." The name echoed.
His eyelids flickered open, trying to focus. The two men stood, both staring down at him, smiling. Slowly, the memories flooded back. A baseball game, O.S.I. versus N.S.A. Someone's bright idea of creating camaraderie amongst the organizations, whose, he couldn't remember. They weren't allowed to talk shop, just to get to know each other as friends. Steve tried to speak, but could not.
"Welcome back," Rudy said. "Don't try to talk. We had to wire your jaw shut."
"Hey pal, next time catch the ball with your mitt, not your mouth," Oscar teased.
Steve sighed, suddenly remembering the details. Even with bionic speed Steve couldn't avoid the ball, which hit him squarely in the jaw.
"We've kept you out for the past week, knowing how impatient you can be," Rudy explained. "I wanted your jaw to start healing before I cut you loose from the lab."
Steve felt a little groggy, but it was slowly dissipating. He tried to sit up, but fell back on the pillow.
"Take it easy, pal. You're on medical leave for the next few weeks, at the least, so there's no reason to rush," Oscar said. "You do realize that if you wanted a vacation, it would have been easier to just ask for one." He chuckled to himself, while Rudy tried to suppress a smile.
Steve glared at him.
"Oscar, I think you better leave," Rudy laughed. "Since he can't say what he wants, he may very well try to show you his intentions."
Throwing his hands in the air, "Okay, okay. I can take a hint. Keep in touch, Steve… somehow." Oscar was still chuckling as he left the room.
'Oscar… you'll get yours,' Steve thought.
"Rest for another hour or so and I'll think about letting you loose. We'll first go over your nutritional needs for the next few weeks." As Rudy left the room, he called back to Steve, "I hope you have a blender…"
Steve closed his eyes to rest; glancing at the clock he noticed it was only 6:00 A.M.
He awoke with a start. Not being able to open his jaw was proving to be a challenge. Steve had dreamed of being trapped in a cage, unable to speak or communicate by any means. He pushed the call button.
Moments later, Rudy strode into the room. "You didn't sleep long," he commented.
Steve shook his head. He remembered the last time his jaw was wired, his accident. "You can talk, but do it slowly and carefully…" Remembering the advice, he gave it a shot.
"Dr.. Dreams…" he managed.
Rudy smiled. "I didn't think you'd remember, considering your condition at the time. Dreams, eh? Before you leave I'll prescribe a mild sedative for nighttime use, liquid form of course." Steve tried to get up again. This time Rudy helped, "Take it easy. You've been horizontal for a while. Just sit on the edge of the bed." Checking Steve's pulse, he was satisfied with his patient's recovery from the sedative.
"We have a problem," Rudy started. Steve's eyebrow shot up in a quizzical look. "There is no reason for you to stay in the hospital, but going home might be an issue since you're unable to communicate with the outside world."
'I'll call and bang the receiver on the counter, then you'll know it's me,' Steve chuckled inwardly.
"So I'd like you to consider staying with someone, or having someone stay with you," he finished.
"O… O…," Steve stopped, frustrated. He motioned for pen and paper, which Rudy provided. Steve scribbled "Ojai."
"You want to go to Ojai?"
Rudy considered it for a moment, and then rejected it. "I'd prefer if you'd stick around Washington for a couple of days. Once I know you're eating and doing fine otherwise, I won't object to your leaving," he replied.
Steve glared at Rudy for a moment, then wrote "FINE. Call my Mom. See if she or my Dad can come out for a visit. Tell her what happened, and to leave the jokes at home." When finished, he handed the paper to Rudy.
"I can do that," Rudy said. "Let's get you on your feet." Rudy helped Steve stand. He was a little unsteady at first, lightheaded, but adjusted quickly. "How do you feel?"
Steve gave the thumbs up sign, and indicated he needed to use the bathroom.
"OK, why don't you go ahead and get cleaned up, then meet me in my office," Rudy suggested.
Rudy left Steve and headed for his office. Steve padded into the bathroom, planning on a long, hot shower to ease the stiffness in his back.
Rudy looked up as the door opened, motioning Steve inside. He was busy checking his messages. Steve took a seat on the couch and waited. A moment later, Rudy replaced the receiver.
"W… we… well?" Steve asked.
"Do you know what time it is in California?" Rudy asked. Steve started to answer, but Rudy cut him off. "It's almost 5 AM there. The good news is that Helen is still alive after panicking at the sound of my voice."
"Anyway, once I calmed her down, I explained what happened and asked if one of them could come out for a while to stay with you," Rudy continued.
"They will be here in a few hours; I hope your house is in order, since both parents are coming for a visit."
Steve eyes opened wide. He shook his head.
"Come on, I'll give you a ride home. You should be fine by yourself for a couple of hours. Just don't overdo it during the cleaning frenzy," Rudy said, while putting on his coat. Moments later, both men headed for Steve's house.
Steve stood just inside the house, surveying the rooms visible from his vantage point. The house wasn't really as bad as he thought, but he did have a habit of letting clothes stay wherever he dropped them. He wandered around the house first, laundry basket under arm, carefully bending to pick up the clothes. Once finished, he deposited the basket on the washer.
Wandering back into the living room, he straightened the magazines on the table, and put away a few books. Satisfied, he moved on to the family room. He checked the answering machine for messages, and found 10 of them, a mixture of O.S.I. agents and N.S.A. agents razzing him for the blunder. Only one, Ross, was nice enough to tell him the score… O.S.I. 4, N.S.A. 7. "Better luck next year," Ross commented.
'This cowboy isn't playing next year,' Steve thought. He erased the messages, not wanting his parents to hear them.
He finished straightening up the family room, and then moved on to the rest of the house. Nothing surprised him until he got to his bedroom. He picked up a pile of magazines from the corner, what you would expect from a bachelors pad, Aviation Weekly, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, Woman's Day.
'Woman's Day?' he thought. He tossed it into the trashcan, not having a clue how it got there. The rest he placed on the bottom shelf of his closet. Something caught his eye. He picked up a pair of high cut blue panties. Scratching his head he thought, 'When did I last have a friend over?' He dropped the panties into the trashcan, and then took the trash out.
In the kitchen, he placed the dishes in the dishwasher and turned it on. After putting away a few other items, tossing the milk, which had gone sour, he declared the cleaning a success. He had no sooner seated himself at the kitchen table to go through the mail the doorbell rang.
'Where did the time go?' he thought.
He answered the door to a concerned mother.
"Steve, how are you?" she asked, giving him a hug. Steve held her tightly for a moment, and then let her go.
"Hey Steve, want to go to a ballgame?" Jim chuckled, shaking Steve's hand.
Steve ushered them into the house, closing the door behind him. Jim carried the luggage down the hall to the guest room.
Helen guided him to the family room, seating him on the couch. "Now son, don't worry about a thing while we're here."
Steve tried to stand, but Helen prevented it. 'I knew this would happen,' Steve thought.
The doorbell rang again. "I'll get it," Jim called from the hallway. Jim directed Rudy to the family room.
"Helen, nice to see you," Rudy said, giving Helen a peck on the cheek. Turning to Steve, "I've brought you the prescription and a dietary guide." Rudy handed the information to Helen. "In addition to the list, anything soft can be added to the menu or whatever can go into the blender."
Helen grinned, "Well, he used to like pudding until the unfortunate incident in the school cafeteria…"
"Oh?" Rudy questioned.
Steve smacked himself in the forehead in disbelief.
Helen led Rudy from the room, filling him in on the story. Laughter erupted from the kitchen a moment later.
'This is going to be a long recovery,' Steve thought.
Helen returned from the supermarket in record time, heading for the kitchen.
Steve sat watching TV, catching up on national news. Despite the fact he hated being waited on, it was obvious from the humming in the kitchen that his mother was enjoying herself. Something smelled good, so he abandoned the TV and wandered into the kitchen.
Startled, Helen looked up from the chopping board. "Steve? Why aren't you resting?"
Steve shook his head, grabbed paper and pen and wrote, "Mom, I'm fine, it's just my jaw that's broken. Otherwise, I'm fine, really."
Helen smiled. "I know. I just worry about you."
Steve rolled his eyes, pulled a pad of paper and pen out of the junk drawer, and went in search of his Jim. He needed to get out of the house, so he hoped to talk his Dad into going out after lunch. Where, he didn't care. Just out.
Jim had just finished unpacking the suitcase when he heard a knock on the doorframe. He turned to see Steve and smiled. "I can't remember the last time you've been so quiet."
Steve walked to the bed, sat and started to write. When he finished, he handed the pad to Jim.
Jim read the message and chuckled. "Yes, you probably will go stir crazy, not being able to make yourself heard. And yes, after lunch we'll go out. Any place in particular?"
Steve shook his head.
"A walk, maybe?" Jim suggested.
Steve nodded. "Yesss," he managed.
"Okay, sounds good to me. I'll fill you in on the town gossip. "
"Steve! Jim! Lunch is ready!"
"Let's move. You know how cranky she gets when we don't answer," Jim teased.
The duo retreated to the kitchen. Steve was dismayed to see a hamburger for his Dad, a salad for his Mom, and one of Rudy's delicious chocolate protein milkshakes. Steve finished the milkshake quickly; the only way to tolerate it then placed the glass in the sink. He gave him Mom a kiss on the forehead and wink, and then motioned to Jim that he'd be waiting in the family room.
"Alright, son, I'll be ready in a few minutes," Jim said.
As Steve exited the room, Helen asked, "Ready for what?"
"Steve wants to get out for a little while, so we're going to take a walk. I figured I'd fill him in on the town gossip," Jim replied. "I promise to keep him away from baseball games."
Helen chucked while clearing the table. "It really isn't funny, but to think that my son can survive his dangerous missions without a scratch, yet get hit by a baseball during a friendly game and break his jaw."
Jim and Steve strolled down the street, absorbing the surroundings. Jim started laughing. Assuming it was about him, Steve poked Jim in the arm and gave him a quizzical look.
"Sorry, son, it's just that what your Mother said is true. You go out on dangerous missions and come back without a scratch, yet you play one game of baseball and you break your jaw. " He continued to chuckle all the way home.
Once home, Steve found the pad and pencil, then wrote "Tired. Naptime. Wake me in an hour, please."
"Will do, Son." Jim said.
Steve napped soundly until the dream started. Thankfully, the doorbell woke him. He glanced at the clock, and sighed. As usual, his parents let him sleep longer than he wanted. He glanced outside and noticed it was getting dark.
Minutes later he walked into the family room to find Oscar and Rudy showing his parents pictures of the ball game.
"Hey pal, you need to see these, they came out great," Oscar said. He had attended the game, but didn't play. Oscar and Arthur, Director of the N.S.A. stayed on the sidelines, taking pictures. He had them developed the next day had already passed them around the office. Everyone who played had at least one embarrassing moment. Unfortunately, Steve had several.
Rudy chuckled. The picture in hand showed Ross, Steve and Johnson colliding, each trying to get the ball. Oscar was fast on the shutter, since the next picture showed the three men staring at the ball on the ground. Rudy handed the pictures to Helen and Jim, both of whom burst out laughing.
"I think I'll have it blown up and framed," Oscar said.
Steve took the pictures from Oscar, looking them over. He remembered the pop fly heading in his direction. The other two both called for the ball, but he didn't think they were close enough. Before he knew it, they ran into each other, with the ball falling down the middle of them. A classic Three Stooges maneuver.
The pictures continued to be passed around for the next few minutes, much to Steve's dismay.
"So, are you going to play again next year?" Rudy asked.
Steve shook his head no, making a no-way gesture that looked awfully like a "safe" call by an umpire.
"Oh? You want to play umpire? It's not much safer…" Oscar chuckled.
The doorbell rang.
Steve strode down the hallway and opened the door. Ross stood there, grinning from ear to ear. In his arms, he carried a basket filled with goodies. It was wrapped in pink cellophane with a blue ribbon on top.
"A gift basket from your team mates," Ross said, handing the basket to Steve. He walked down to the family room as Steve closed the door.
Steve entered a moment later, carrying the goodies.
"Cute basket. Boy or girl?" Rudy questioned.
Ignoring the comment, Steve put the basket on the coffee table, and then sat between his parents. He pulled off the ribbon, and ripped open the cellophane. The first item he pulled out was "Official Rules of Little League Baseball." He noticed a bookmark sticking out. Opening it to the page, he found instructions on how to catch a ball. Someone had scribbled a note "Notice the use of the glove. Nowhere does it say anything about using your mouth. Hope to 'hear' from you soon!"
Jim saw the note, "They'll never let you live this down."
"You're damn right we won't," Oscar agreed.
Steve next pulled out a package of straws and martini mix. 'Well, this I can use,' he thought.
"Sorry Steve, no alcohol while on medication," Rudy chuckled. He reached over to take the package. Steve pulled it back with a distinctive "MINE" look.
He pulled a few other joke items out including the baseball that hit him. He looked it over, an inscription read "To Glass Jaw Austin, from…" and then the rest of the ball contained the signatures of all the teammates. He handed it to Jim.
"Glass Jaw Austin. It has a nice ring to it," Jim commented.
"Glass Jaw…" Oscar said. "Hey, I think we have a new code name for you. What do you think, Rudy?"
"Sounds good to me," Rudy replied. "He's complained about the seven dwarfs references."
All the while Steve is shaking his head adamantly.
Rudy glanced at his watch. "Well, I've got to go. I've got too much to do in the morning, and then meetings all afternoon so I better get some sleep while I can." He stood to leave. "Take the sedative, Steve. It should give you some dreamless sleep."
"Come on Ross, we should be going too," Oscar said. The trio headed for the door, Steve following them. Oscar turned to Steve, "You take care of yourself pal, don't be a stranger around the office. The guys could use some comic relief during their day." Oscar dodged out the front door before Steve could swat him.
He closed the door and returned to the family room to find his Mom looking over the ball, smiling.
Steve stomped his foot to get their attention, then motioned to his bedroom.
"Going to bed?" Jim asked.
"Don't forget the medicine," Helen said as Steve wandered down the hall.
Steve stood staring into the bathroom mirror. 'Glass Jaw Austin, indeed.' He suspected Oscar to be the one who came up with the name." Steve took the sedative and headed for bed. Despite Rudy's assurance of a dreamless sleep, as Steve drifted off, the dream started again, with a slight change.
"Anderson is at the plate. Thompson on deck. Two men on base, O.S.I. is up by 2," the sports commentator announced. He continued, "This could be the third out of the inning. Jackson checks the plates, then launches a fastball toward home. Anderson swings, the ball connects. The ball flies straight at Glass Jaw Austin, and… oooo… that had to hurt folks. Looks like he's lived up to his name once again…"