by Marianna Boncek

Sixteen year old Gus Woodard is about to live the best summer of his life. Then something goes wrong. Something goes terribly wrong.

Ajar is a coming of age story about sixteen year old Gus Woodard and his schizophrenic brother. Set during the 1970s in a small town in upstate New York, Gus must suffer the undeserved consequences when his delusional brother kills the local sweetheart and the high school's popular football coach. Gus blunders his way through life as the town turns against his family. He is forced to experience betrayal from those closest to him. Gus's only hope is Lindy a fifteen year old girl suffering from anorexia nervosa. The two become inseparable but the love and acceptance Gus feels with Lindy is soon shattered.


Chapter One


The summer of 1975 had the potential to be the best summer of my life. It was the first day of summer vacation and I had just arrived at the first day of the summer baseball league. School was out until September. I had taken, and passed, my driving permit test. I showed the thin, temporary, stamped and dated, piece of paper to all the guys at practice. Some of them drove already, but I was born in May. There were still a few guys born later in the year who did not drive yet. While I was tying on my spikes, Coach Ross grabbed my shoulder and said, “Hey, Woodard, I’d like try you pitching this year.”

“Yes, sir,” was all I said.

I tried to sound cool, casual, like it was no big deal. But it was a big deal. I had practiced all year. All I ever wanted was to be was the starting pitcher, but Evan Raymond had always had a stronger and faster arm. But now, Coach Ross had asked me. Me. I was going to show him exactly what I was made of.

I’d also just gotten a job at the A&P out on Jackson Heights Road. It was only a cart boy and bagger but it was money, something I seriously lacked. But the absolutely best thing was that I had asked Stacey Hollinder, the most beautiful girl in my grade, if she wanted to see Jaws with me and she had said yes. Four days till Friday. Oh yes, this was going to be a great summer.

Of course, I had heard the sirens. Everyone heard the sirens. Buddy Mertz stood up, looked towards the direction of town and said with his usually dopiness, “What’s all that?” All the guys had turned around, like you could see what was going on but you couldn’t. The park was a block off Broadway and lined with tall trees.

“Sounds like the whole goddamn town is burning down,” Coach Ross commented, then turned and spat on the ground.

But the whole goddamn town was not burning down. Nothing was actually burning down—except my life. I just didn’t know it then.

We were well into practice when a patrol car wound its way down the narrow drive from the parking lot to the field. I was on the mound, concentrating, putting each pitch right into the glove of Howie Leffert. I was good. I could feel it not just in my arm but in my whole body. Everything felt right. I could see Coach Ross screw up his mouth every once in a while and nod.

I saw the patrol car in my peripheral vision. I didn’t really pay too much attention to it, but it was a police car. Something had to be up. No one was actually supposed to drive on that road that wound from the parking lot to just behind the dugout, except the maintenance guys and they always drove around in golf carts. But you know how cops are. They can go wherever they like. They don’t need permission. Their uniforms give them permission. The car stopped and the passenger side window rolled down smoothly. Coach Ross approached the car. He leaned down and spoke through the window to the two cops. We really didn’t pay attention. We just kept on practicing.

Finally, Coach Ross called, “Woodard. Hey, Woodard. Come here.”

Everyone looked at me raising their eyebrows. I lifted my head and looked around like it must be some sort of mistake. I was that kid who never got in trouble. But the coach was waving in my direction. I left the mound and Raymond moved in fast. I swallowed hard, tried to keep that cool look I had been working on. I jogged over to the car the way I’d seen the pros on TV jog off the field between innings.

“Yes, Coach?” I said when I reached the car. I did not look at the policemen inside the car. They couldn’t possibly be here for me. I hadn’t done anything wrong.

“You Agustin Woodard?” the cop on the passenger side asked, looking up. His eyebrows were knit together, like he was mad, like I was about to get into trouble. Big trouble.

“Yes, sir,” I said nodding politely.

I must be in trouble, I thought. No one calls me Agustin except for my mother. Everyone else calls me Gus. The cop got out of the car slowly, looking directly at me the whole time, like he thought I might run.

“You have to come with us,” he said.

“Why?” I asked. I looked from Coach Ross back to the officer. The cop had opened the back door and held it open like some chauffeur.

“Just come with us,” the cop said.

“It’s OK,” Coach Ross clapped me on the back but could not look me in the eyes.

“I need to change my—”

“Just get in the car, son,” the cop was trying to sound nice but it wasn’t really working. He was becoming impatient.

Coach Ross was nodding. I gave one last look around and then slid into the back of the car. There was a cage in front of me. Even in the daylight, the back of the car seemed dark. It smelled of urine. I suddenly felt a pressure behind my eyes, my head was going to blow up. I did not know why.

"Ajar" by Marianna Boncek


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