Timothy was quiet and reserved. He preferred playing his violin to playing sports. He had excellent grades English and history but squeaked by in math and science. He was tiny and almost frail looking.

He was the exact opposite of the new boy on the baseball team his father coached. Eric was tall for his age and a consummate athlete. He was bold, even while he was well mannered. He didn’t seem to care if what he said was wrong or might offend someone. He stated his opinions respectfully and without fear of reproach. He did well in all his classes at school.

“Tim, go collect the balls,” his father said. The other boys continued batting practice while Timothy headed out into the field. He could hear the resigned tone in the man’s voice. He’d disappointed him, as usual.

“Good job, Eric,” rang out over the field. This time his father’s tone was different. He was proud. It was a tone that Timothy knew he would never hear from the man directed at him.

“I hate him,” Timothy said softly as he began collecting the balls that the other players had hit out into the field.

He took his time. There was no point in hurrying. He couldn’t hit. He couldn’t catch. No matter how much he practiced or how hard he tried, he would never be any good at baseball.

There would always be more balls to collect. The other boys would see to that. They could hit. Some even hit the ball over the back fence. Timothy sighed as he moved far enough away that he could hardly be seen. He settled on the grass and watched the practice. He couldn’t hear his father now, nor the other boys. It was as if he was alone.

He closed his eyes and began practice the fingering to Pachelbel’s Canon. The piece was fun to play and pretty. He could hear the song in his head as he fingered his glove like it was his violin. His stance was a little awkward, of course, but he didn’t care. He looked up after some time had passed and realized that his father had gathered the boys over to the mound to give his end-of-practice talk.

Sighing, Timothy finished collecting the ball and headed back toward the in field. He returned to the mound at the end of practice. Other parents had arrived to collect their sons. Eric was helping put away the bats and gloves.

A burly man shouted over, “Eric, get a wiggle on. We have to go pick up your sisters from ballet.”

“Coming, Dad,” the boy called back.

Timothy sighed. It would figure the boy would have sisters too. He was lucky to have siblings. He was lucky to have such skill at sports. He was lucky to be so smart that all the classes in school came easy to him. Timothy was never lucky – ever.

“Tim, what kept you?” his father said, waving him over. “I told you to collect the balls, not lolly-gag out in the field for the entirety of practice. You didn’t get your turn at bat.”

“It’s okay,” Timothy said softly. He followed his father to the car.

“Your uncle is being deployed so your cousin will be staying with us for a while,” his dad said softly.

Timothy looked up, grinning suddenly. “Felix? He’s gonna stay with us?”

“You’ll have to share your room, so when we get home, clear off that upper bunk of your bed,” the older man said as he started the car.

“Alright,” Timothy agreed. Felix staying with him was almost like having a brother. They had a lot in common. Felix loved listening to him play the violin. It was the one reason that even though his father didn’t care he continued to practice.

Felix wasn’t perfect. He liked to have his way in things and cheated at every board game but that didn’t matter. Timothy always looked forward to seeing Felix.

Later that night he was chatting with his cousin about what had been happening at school and on the baseball team. “Eric is so perfect,” he said. “Dad loves him. He’s always so proud. He’s never proud of me. All he does is yell at me.”

“He wants you to do better,” Felix said softly. “He knows you can do better if you try.” He leaned back on the bed and rolled his eyes. “Tim, don’t glare at me. I’m not picking sides. It’s something my dad always tells me. ‘I’m not angry. I’m disappointed because you can do better. I want you to live up to your full potential.’ I think all dads are like that… well good dads anyway.”

Timothy sighed and nodded. “I hate baseball. I’m no good at it and it’s… no fun for me.”

“Maybe because you think you’re no good at it,” Felix pointed out. “When I first started learning how to play guitar I was excited because then I’d be able to make music, just like you do with your violin. I pictured being able to play duets and… all kinds of stuff. Then, when I couldn’t do it right away, I told my dad I wanted to quit lessons. I hated guitar. But he made me stay at it and… after a while I learned to play better and better. I’m not up to the point where you are with your violin. But I like playing guitar now because I know I can do it.”

Timothy chuckled. He could well imagine his cousin railing at his uncle about how unfair it was that he had to keep going to guitar lessons even though he was no good at it. “I suppose I shouldn’t hate Eric then. It isn’t his fault he’s perfect.”

“He’s not perfect, Tim. He has to have some faults. Everyone does,” Felix said. “Maybe he’s got OCD or something and everything has to be just so. You might not be able to see it, but he’s got a flaw.”

“Mine are just so much more obvious,” Timothy murmured. He lay back on the bed beside his cousin staring up at the poster he’d gotten from the planetarium.

“That’s because you dwell on them. You gotta play to your strengths more and focus less on what you can’t do.” Felix stood up and grabbed Timothy’s journal off his desk. “Look at this thing. You can write and draw and you play violin so well and you can sing. You can remember all those dates that the teachers want us to know for school, but more than that, you know what’s important about those things globally. Those are pretty good skills.”

“I guess,” Timothy said softly.

“I know,” Felix said, tossing him the journal. “FAWM just finished, show me your songs.”

Chuckling softly, Timothy opened his journal and turned it toward the beginning of February. The next hour and a half, until dinner, was spent in music.

“Eric, what do you call this?” the older man shouted through the house.

Eric tensed and peered out of his room. “Dad?” he said softly. He padded down the hallway toward the living room when his name was repeated.

His father was looking over the photographs on the wall. They showed a perfect family. His sisters at dance recitals. Him on various sports teams. His father with a hand on each of the oldest children’s shoulders while little Bella stood between them. Happy grins plastered on their faces. His father wasn’t talking about the pictures though.

“I though you said you did you chores today,” he growled. “Why is there a layer of dust on the edge of all these frames?”

“I… didn’t get a chance to dust them before… before it was time for baseball practice and then… then I had to get to work on my school assignments. I’m sorry. I’ll do it now.” Eric spun toward the kitchen. In moments he’d caught up a Swiffer cloth and headed back to the living room. Then he saw stars as his father backhanded him into the wall.

“No more lying, Eric. When I ask you if you’ve finished all your chores I want an honest answer,” his father snapped.

“Yes, sir,” Eric said. He stood and began dusting the frames with a murmured, “Sorry, sir.”

“I expect all the furnishings in the house to be dusted before bedtime tonight,” his father added before he stalked off to his study.

Eric sighed and continued dusting all the pictures on the walls. Then he moved on to the knick-knacks that decorated the shelves and tables. Lastly he dusted the shelves and table themselves. By the time he was finished it was nearly ten o’clock and he still hadn’t finished his homework.

Heaving a sigh, he returned to his room and sat at his desk. Nothing he did was ever good enough for his father. He needed to be absolutely perfect. His thoughts returned to baseball practice. Timothy was the coach’s son but instead of making the boy play a game that he obviously didn’t care for, the coach had let him wander out in the field picking up balls.

Timothy wasn’t very good at math or science, he sometimes received grades that would get Eric a beating and just shrugged them off. He excelled in history and writing; in art and music. But, strangely to Eric, his father didn’t seem to mind that these were the only areas he excelled in. Timothy wasn’t always happy to be shown lacking in these areas but when his father picked him up from school on report card days he’d point out all the good grades and praise them. He’d point out the lower grades and say things like, “You can do better than that. I know you can.”

The tone wasn’t one of anger. He seemed genuinely proud and appeared to want his son to do better. Eric was jealous if he let himself admit it. His father wouldn’t tolerate anyone on a team he coached wandering around collecting balls for the entire practice. He wouldn’t tolerate how poorly Timothy played ball either though. If their positions were reverse such things would get Eric locked in the basement until he learned focus. Eric sighed, wondering if the smaller boy had any idea how lucky he was.