FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
“Who wants to go first?” Cole asked.
All of us stared at the empty tackle box on my family’s kitchen table. Griffin had brought it over, and I’d taken out all the trays so it could serve a different function.
Since we were kids, my three best friends—Cole Mitchell, Griffin Dempsey, and Enzo Moretti—and I had planned on burying a time capsule the summer after we graduated from high school. We’d heard about time capsules years ago, in fifth grade social studies class, and all four of us agreed then and there that we were going to do it.
After some discussion, we’d agreed that it made the most sense to bury it somewhere on my family’s farm. We figured anyone else’s family might move someday, but Weaver Ranch had been in my family for over a hundred years and it would be in my family for generations to come.
I was going to make sure of it.
My plan was to major in finance, get an MBA, and secure one of those Wall Street jobs where you could make millions if you had the brains, the guts, and the work ethic.
I had all three, and I’d use them to help my family.
“I’ll go,” said Griffin, placing his beat-up backpack on the table and reaching inside it. He pulled out his graduation tassels, a photograph of him standing between his dad and grandfather in front of the open hood of an old truck they were restoring, and a folded sheet of paper.
“What’s that?” Moretti asked, pointing at the paper.
“It’s a copy of the letter from the Marine Corps telling me when and where to report to boot camp.”
We nodded and watched Griffin put those three items in the box. He was heading out in three weeks for Parris Island, the first of us to leave Bellamy Creek and our tight foursome. In August I was leaving for Harvard, where I had a full academic scholarship, and Cole was headed to a local college, where he planned to study law enforcement. Moretti was already working full-time for his family’s construction business, as he had since he was fourteen.
The last thing Griffin pulled from the backpack was a dirty, scuffed-up baseball. “From the day I hit the game-winning home run against Mason City High to clinch the title,” he said reverently. “I signed it, in case you guys put a baseball in too. That way we’ll know whose is whose.”
We all nodded. Baseball was sacred to us—the only thing more sacred was our friendship.
Griffin placed the ball in the box as if it were made of glass.
“Okay, who’s next?” I asked.
“I’ll go.” Moretti placed a brown paper bag on the table. From it, he pulled out a newspaper clipping from the Bellamy Creek Gazette about his record streak of stolen bases and a takeout menu from DiFiore’s, his favorite restaurant, which was owned by his cousins. Then he took out one of his senior portraits and added it to the box. Not a small one, either—a five-by-seven.
“Really, Moretti?” Griffin gestured to the photo. “A big picture of yourself?”
“Hey, I happen to think I look good in this shot. What if I go bald or something? I’ll want to look back and remember when I had amazing hair. And cheekbones.” He placed the picture in the box.
Laughing, I shook my head. It was typical Moretti. He was vain and egotistical, but you couldn’t ask for a more loyal friend. I’d miss him. I’d miss them all.
“And I also have a picture of us, so piss off.” He took out a snapshot of the four of us after one of our last games, four cocky eighteen-year-olds in ball caps and dirty uniforms, grinning at the camera. He added it to the box and looked across the table. “Cole? Want to go next?”
“Okay.” Cole opened up a large Ziplock bag and took out a folded sheet of paper. “Our baseball team roster and season record,” he said, placing it in the box. “And I have the ball from the no-hitter I pitched this year. I signed and dated it.”
“Such a good fucking game,” Griffin said, clapping Cole’s back. “That’s the best I’ve ever seen you pitch. Man, I’m gonna miss those games.”
“Me too,” I said, hating the hollowed-out feeling in my gut. “Think we’ll ever play together again?”
“Hell yes.” Moretti guffawed. “We’ll be like those old dudes who come out on Thursday nights every summer with their beer bellies and rickety old knees.”
We all laughed too, unable to imagine ourselves with paunchy guts and stiff joints.
The last thing Cole placed in the box was a photo of all of us with our dates the night of our senior prom. Cole had taken his girlfriend, Trisha; Griffin had taken a girl he’d been dating on and off since Christmas; Moretti had taken his flavor of the month; and I’d taken a friend, since the girl I wish I could have asked—Maddie Blake—was off limits.
“Your turn, Weaver.” Cole looked at me. “Let’s see what you got.”
From a plastic grocery sack, I pulled out a copy of my acceptance letter from Harvard, my treasured Mickey Cochrane baseball card, and two photographs. The first was of the four of us taken in our caps and gowns right after the graduation ceremony, and the second was a shot of Maddie and me taken a minute later. I had an arm around her shoulders, and she had an arm around my waist, her cheek nearly resting on my chest.
I’d hardly been able to breathe.
“What’s that second picture?” Cole asked, because I’d tried to hide the photo of Maddie and me behind the first one.
“It’s nothing.” I picked up the box top and tried to put it on, but Moretti—whose reflexes were quick—reached into the box and grabbed the photos, shuffling them so the pic of Maddie and me was on top.
He grinned. “Aha. Now I get it.”
“Fuck off.” I grabbed the pictures from his hands and put them face down in the box.
“Whose picture was it?” Cole asked.
“The girl of his dreams,” Moretti said. “But Weaver, you do realize that actually telling her you like her would be a better idea than putting her picture in a tackle box you’re going to bury in the dirt?”
My jaw clenched. “I can’t do that, okay?”
“You could,” he insisted. “You just won’t.”
It was easy for Moretti to say. He was never tongue-tied around girls and could charm anyone he met. Even teachers and moms adored him. They liked me too, for different reasons—I was polite, quiet, and responsible. But I had to think before I spoke to a girl, and sometimes I thought so long, I missed the chance to say what I wanted to.
Especially to Maddie.
Cole closed the box and secured the latch. “Should we bury it?”
“Yeah. Let’s do it,” Griffin said. “I gotta be home for dinner at six.”
We went out the kitchen’s wooden screen door, which squeaked open and slapped shut like it always did, a familiar sound I never thought I’d miss later in life, or even think about once I was gone.
I was wrong about that.
I was wrong about a lot of things.
We trooped into the yard and looked around at the big red barn, the paddocks, the chicken coop, the vegetable garden, the pastures beyond. It was my favorite time of day on the ranch—the sun was just starting to set, dusting everything with gold. Somewhere out in the fields my dad was still working, and I felt a little guilty that I’d knocked off early today.
“What’s a good spot?” asked Moretti.
“What about over there near the tree?” I suggested, gesturing toward an old maple between the horse paddock and barn. From its thick, sturdy branches hung a swing my sisters and I had played on as kids, but that wasn’t my favorite memory of it. Not anymore.
“Sure,” Cole said. “It just has to be somewhere that won’t get too dug up.”
“The tree roots might be an issue.” Griffin lifted his cap off and replaced it.
“We’ll go halfway between the tree and the barn. Let me go get a shovel.” Leaving them there, I went into the shed and grabbed the shovel.
A few minutes later, I’d dug a big enough hole and Griffin knelt down to place the tackle box inside it. We all shoved dirt back into the hole and I patted it down with the shovel.
“Think we should mark the spot?” Cole asked.
“Nah, we’ll remember where it is,” said Moretti.
“When are we gonna dig it up?” Griffin wondered. “Like, twenty years from now?”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
We all stared at the fresh dirt, trying to imagine life twenty years in the future. It wasn’t easy.
“What do you think we’ll be like then?” Cole asked.
Moretti laughed. “You’ll be a cop. Married with two kids, a picket fence, and a dog. Maybe a receding hairline.”
Cole laughed and gave him a shove. “Fuck off.”
“I’ll probably look exactly like my dad.” Moretti didn’t sound too happy about it. “Complete with all the gray hair my wife and eight kids are gonna give me.”
“You’re going to have eight kids?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “I’m a Moretti. We don’t do anything small.”
“I wonder if I’ll still be in the Marines,” Griffin said, looking into the distance, “or back here working with my dad at the garage.”
“I bet you come back,” Moretti said. “I’ll still be here, hopefully running Moretti & Sons. If I’m not the boss by the time I’m thirty-eight, someone punch me in the face.”
Cole looked at me. “What about you, Beckett? Think you’ll come back here after college?”
“Nah, Beck’s not coming back here,” Moretti scoffed. “He’ll be too busy making his millions on Wall Street.”
Laughing, I shrugged. “I don’t know yet.”
We were all silent for a moment, the weight of separation and an unknown future suddenly pressing heavily on us. We’d been best friends—brothers, really—for so many years, it had never truly hit us that the day would come when things would change, and we’d go our separate ways . . . maybe forever.
“Let’s make a pact.” Moretti sounded serious, more serious than I’d ever heard him. “That no matter where we end up in life, twenty summers from now we come back to this spot and dig up our time capsule together.”
“Deal.” Cole put his fist out, like we did before games.
“Deal.” Griffin touched his knuckles to Cole’s.
“Deal.” Moretti added his fist.
“Deal.” I added mine.
A couple minutes later, we walked back toward the house, and I stopped off in the shed to put the shovel away. Closing the door, I hurried to catch up with them, throwing one final glance over my shoulder toward the maple tree.
I wondered if when I stood there twenty years later and we unearthed the box, I’d still be thinking about the same girl, or if she’d be a distant memory. Maybe I’d laugh at how big my crush had felt at eighteen. Maybe I’d have already had sex with like five girls or something—right now I was the only virgin left among us. But that didn’t bother me.
I wondered if I’d be happy. If I’d be rich. If I’d have a good job. For a second, I even wondered if the four of us would still be best friends.
Then I caught myself—of course we would.
They say friends are the family you choose, and the four of us had chosen each other a long time ago.
Some things never change.
TIE ME DOWN will be here May 24th, 2021!