No Runs, No Hits, No Errors

By Jane Greensmith
www.janegs.com

Copyright © 2004.
 All rights reserved.

Chapter 3

 

Seven-thirty Monday morning found Kathleen at the vacant lot behind the K-B-K offices, ready for practice. With Colleen's glove in hand, clean, white sneakers laced and snug, she was surprised to find herself the first one there. Perhaps her colleagues weren't as keen on winning as she had been led to believe.

Bob Martin, a scrappy little man whose face was scarred by acne and a hot temper, was the next to show up. He grunted a greeting to Kathleen and then went about unloading the equipment he'd brought. She made a few attempts at small talk with Bob and managed to glean from him that he played short stop, was usually second in the lineup, and was a programmer not an electrical engineer. Kathleen got the distinct feeling that Bob felt second-class about being a programmer but had no idea why.

Perhaps playing ball compensates for being short and for being a programmer, Kathleen thought hazily, trying to remember something from the psychology classes she had taken.

Harry and Jack Kinsley showed up next, and by eight o'clock most of the team had surfaced.

Everyone agreed that the high point of the morning was watching Kathleen throw. Using the technique Harry had taught her the afternoon before, she was really quite good at her point-step-throw routine and imbued it with an amazing amount of grace.  She held the ball gingerly in her right hand, with three fingers tentatively clutching the grapefruit-sized ball.  Turning sideways, she stretched out her left arm in the direction she wanted to throw, moved into second position--she was pleased that her ballet training was being put to use here--and lobbed the ball with as much force as she could muster. While Kathleen conceded that she didn't get a lot of distance, her teammates had to admit that she was dead-on accurate with each throw. A mite slow perhaps, but accurate. "And graceful too, even with her catcher's mask," Harry invariably would add with a chuckle.

Being on a team was a good way to get to know one's colleagues, Kathleen learned. In addition to Lettie Bridges and the Kinsley brothers, whom she had known all her life, there was centerfielder and home-run hitter Rob Haskins. Rob was a big, burly teddy-bear of a man. Kathleen learned that looks can be deceiving as Rob could be sweet and soft-hearted one minute and hungry for blood the next. Just a year out of school, he was one of K-B-K 's newest and largest employees. Kathleen hadn't figured out why yet, but Rob's devotion to Harry was tantamount to idolatry.

Jack Kinsley played left field and in right was Gail Hawkins. Kathleen knew Gail slightly, since she was forced to attend most K-B-K events when she was in town, but had never paid much attention to her although Gail had been with K-B-K for over five years. She hadn't played the year before, she told Kathleen in a whisper, because she had been going through a divorce. Lindy had warned her that Gail liked to organize events and then would ask K-B-K to pick up the tab. She told Kathleen that "Harry hates it when she does that, so keep a sharp eye on what she asks you to do and make sure that Harry, Lettie, or Jack know what she's up to."

Elliot Marsh was the pitcher and had been with K-B-K for three years. Kathleen instinctively liked his preppy good looks. With never a hair out of place, Elliot was a button-down, Brooks Brothers sort of man who knew how to give a woman a compliment without making it sound like a come-on. He spent a fair amount of time showing Kathleen how to hold a bat properly and smiled approvingly when she knocked non-existent mud off her shoes, tapped the middle of home plate with her bat, and executed a letter-perfect waggle. He, for one, didn't seem to notice the minor detail that Kathleen was never able to actually make contact with the ball during any of her at-bats, but unflaggingly found a silver lining in every one of her attempts to hit the ball. Kathleen noticed that Harry seemed highly amused by her batting lesson, and she freely admitted to herself that had she not sworn off men forever, given that her hormones were seriously out of whack, she would have been in very great danger of pursuing Elliot with zeal and vigor.

The biggest surprise of the morning, however, was Maggie Obermann. Kathleen had known Maggie in high school but they had moved in very different circles--they had been in a few classes together but had never socialized. Kathleen wasn't even sure Maggie went to the prom, although she was pretty sure she had attended graduation.  Now, five years later, Maggie was awesome.

Now that's a ringer, Kathleen thought, watching the young woman move with power, grace, and skill. She was the most natural athlete Kathleen had ever seen, and even she knew that Maggie was easily the best ball player on the team. She was strong without being muscular, competitive without being offensive, intense without being ridiculous.

What's more, Maggie didn't work for K-B-K. She was Harry Kinsley's personal trainer at Goddard's Gym. And to top it all, she was nice. She gave Kathleen an enthusiastic hug when they were re-introduced, reminisced about high school for roughly twenty seconds, and then offered her a piece of gum. Kathleen declined, but Maggie insisted that she take it because her mouth would get dry during practice and she would need it to keep her saliva flowing. Kathleen seriously doubted that that would be the case but took the gum anyway.

To Maggie and Rob fell the task of helping Kathleen into her catcher's "costume," as she called it, and then teaching her how to catch. Actually, they taught her how to stay out of the way of the bat, avoid fouled balls, and retrieve missed balls in the dirt and get them back to the pitcher.

When Kathleen commented that "At least we have no plays at home," Maggie gave her a blank stare and then answered, "Well, one thing at a time." Kathleen caught Harry watching them out of the corner of his eye while he hit grounders for the rest of the team to field. He seemed to find the catching lesson almost as amusing as Elliot's batting instructions.

 #

"Harry," Kathleen asked, poking her head into his office on her way out Monday evening. "I thought we were supposed to have ten on a team, five men and five women. But we have only me, Maggie, Lettie, and Gail. Do you need Colleen to play?"

Harry didn't look up. "Colleen can't play."

"Sure she can. She played last year. I can buy my own glove. I shouldn't be borrowing hers anyway..."

"She can't play--not because you have stolen her glove, you silly girl, but because..." At that point Bob Martin walked by and Harry called out a question about the network that he needed answered before Bob left for the day. Kathleen sat down in the chair by Harry's desk and patiently waited until she once more had his attention. When she did, he told her why Colleen couldn't play. Ten minutes later Kathleen was still chewing out her brother-in-law for telling Harry that her sister was pregnant before she, Kathleen, had been informed of the happy situation.

#

Tuesday afternoon Harry asked Kathleen if she would give him a lift to the gym. His car was getting tuned up and he didn't want to miss his workout. Kathleen almost asked why he didn't just ride his bike like he normally did, but let it go.

"Come on in," he said when she pulled up in front of the door to the gym.

"I don't go into gyms."

"Now Kathleen...Maggie has something for you."

"I don't want anything that's spent any time in a gym."

"Don't be silly. Now just park the car, and come on in."

"Don't keep on calling me silly. I don't call you muscle-bound, do I? No, I don't. It's just common courtesy."

"But I'm not muscle-bound."

"If you were any more muscle-bound you'd be prancing about in briefs with your body oiled, striking poses...

"You've thought about this then?"

"Don't flatter yourself. And I'm not silly."

"Park the car, please."

#

Wednesday found Gail Hawkins admiring the hand weights that Maggie had loaned Kathleen at the gym the afternoon before. Harry and Maggie were very keen on Kathleen using any free moments she might find while executing her various office manager duties to develop some upper body strength. They thought that she should do curls--that is, they wanted her to hold her arms perpendicular to her sides, scarecrow-style, and then holding the weights, alternately bring her hands to her shoulders. Kathleen thought not.

Gail demonstrated, several times in fact, the exercise that Harry and Maggie wanted Kathleen to do. Bob and Rob agreed that Gail was stronger than she looked. Elliot commented that strength of character was the mark of a beautiful woman, which prompted Lettie to tell a somewhat rambling story the moral of which seemed to be that Lycra was really much stronger than Spandex, although she personally couldn't vouch for either and was only relating what Joanna Bridges had told her, which reminded her to tell Harry that "Joanna thinks she lost an earring at your place last night."

Kathleen's head whipped around so fast it almost hurt. Harry didn't even have the grace to look embarrassed, confused, or abashed. He merely said, "Hmm, I'll look for it. Well gang, that reminds me, I gotta run. Scrimmage tomorrow. That means you too, Kathleen. So go to bed early--no Letterman tonight."

Kathleen sputtered that she never watched David Letterman, but Harry was bounding out the door and down the steps by the time she formulated the retort.

#

Mid-day Thursday found the K-B-K crew sitting on the front porch taking a lunch break. Harry, in his usual boisterous way, bounded out of the building on his way to a client meeting. He handed Bob Martin a piece of paper as he passed him--"Here's the lineup, Bob. You field the complaints and take all the bribes you can to make everybody happy. I'll be out at Forsythe Equipment all afternoon." He hopped into his car and then hopped out again to yell over to his employees--"And get back to work, you scum. We don't pay you to loll around, soaking up rays."

The friendly epithets that were hurled in return were all that Harry could have asked for, and Rob and Gail began plotting to sabotage his office when Bob silently handed the lineup sheet to Rob. Rob's face fell. He handed the sheet to Elliot who showed it to Gail.

"Well, I'm not playing rover. I hate being rover. I'm a pitcher and he's got me roving." Elliot was clearly not happy with the lineup.

"So who's pitching," Kathleen asked.

Gail handed her the sheet of paper on which she read the following:

3 -Maggie
Sh - Bob
2 - Lettie
C - Rob
R - Gail
1 - HK
P - Joanna
L - Jack
Ctchr - Kath
Rov - Elliot

For some reason, Kathleen's eyes smarted. She swallowed hard, trying to suppress the angry feeling that Harry had somehow betrayed her. She was working for him, helping him out, playing along with the whole stupid softball thing, and trying her best to be a good sport about it all. He knew how much she disliked being around Joanna Bridges, and yet he went out of his way to put Joanna in her path. She couldn't help feeling set up, as if she was simply a pawn in a chess game, as if Harry wanted to make her look completely foolish once and for all, and then he and Joanna could lord it over her and everyone else. She could barely believe that even Harry would be that mean to her.

 #

Thursday, six p.m. Kathleen nervously donned her catcher's equipment and then feebly waved at Dorie Eastman and Colleen Kinsley in the stands. The K-B-K team had won the coin toss and Jack had chosen to be the home team. The umpire, a high-school kid on the Park-n-Rec roster for the summer, handed Kathleen the ball and told her to have fun and stay back.

Harry made the rounds, giving everyone high fives and attaboys, pepping them up for the scrimmage.

"Ready slugger?" he said to Kathleen, putting his hand on the wire cage that protected her face and peering inside. She was his last stop on his way to first base.

"Don't talk to me, you traitor."

His smile faded. She couldn't believe he actually looked hurt. He, who had ruthlessly set about to ruin her summer, had the audacity to blink rapidly, as if it were she who had wounded him.

"Keep your head in the game, Kathleen," he said hoarsely, and then jogged to first base.

She turned away from him and set her mouth in a grim, hard line. Point-step-throw. She stood a little straighter, seeing that the ball not only reached Joanna on the pitcher's mound, but reached her with force.

"Play ball!" the umpire shouted, and the game was underway.

The first batter was a tall, well-built man who returned Kathleen's tentative "hi" with a grin and told her to relax and have fun. Was 'have fun' a mantra with these people? Kathleen wasn't exactly having fun, and she certainly wasn't relaxed. She felt edgy, almost cocky--she couldn't remember ever feeling that way before. The batter took the first two pitches Joanna threw and then smacked the third one soundly. Kathleen stood up and watched the ball arc higher and higher, until she lost it in the sun. She heard her teammates send up a cheer and realized that Rob Haskins had caught the fly ball. He rifled it in to Joanna. One out.

The next batter was Marsha Dixon. Marsha and Kathleen had grown up together and had been on the same freshman wing at Western State . Like Kathleen, Marsha had just graduated and was home for the summer, working in her father's law office until she started law school in August.

"I see the witch is back" was Marsha's opening salvo.

"You don't mean me, Marsh," Kathleen asked incredulously.

Marsha had gotten into position, but she stepped back and looked hard at Joanna for a few seconds. Joanna returned Marsha's stare in kind.

"Heavens no!" Marsha finally replied. "I don't know when the good people of Juniper Hills are going to run that woman out of town for good, but you can bet I'm going to be leading the pack."

Kathleen smiled sweetly. "Get a hit, Marsh. Please."

Marsha was about to continue the conversation when Mike Eastman yelled from the visitor's on-deck circle for the girls to chat some other time and to play ball "Now!"

Kathleen and Marsha agreed that they didn't like being called girls. The umpire promised to call them women if they would proceed with the game. Kathleen and Marsha agreed that he was cute.

Marsha turned her attention back to staring down Joanna and won. She walked to first on four straight balls.

Yes!

Kathleen instinctively jabbed the air with a right hook and then looked around to see whether anyone had noticed that she was rooting for the wrong team.

The third batter was Mike Eastman. Mike complimented Kathleen on her outfit, her throwing--pretty impressive for a raw rookie--and sarcastically thanked her for the extra warm-up time she had given him while chatting with Marsha. Without further ado, he nailed a line drive over Maggie's head, caught Elliot napping on the wrong side of the field, and forced Jack to scramble to field it on the first bounce. Marsha barely beat Jack's throw to Lettie, but she was safe on second. Runners at first and second. Still only one out.

Kathleen knew the fourth batter through Mike and Dorie but refrained from chatting with her. After a couple of strikes, she hit the ball almost directly to Harry, who scooped it up and loped over to first base to get the second out of the inning.

Kathleen found herself getting in the groove. She was starting to feel a rhythm to the game that she had never felt watching it...not that she had ever paid very close attention anyway. The rhythm of the pitcher, coming set, watching the batter, focusing on controlling exactly when and how the ball left her hand. The rhythm of the batters, poised, ready to unleash power that was spring-loaded in their arms and shoulders and chest and legs. The curve of the ball as it arced through the air toward homeplate and then…smack. All that power suddenly travelling through the body and through the bat and into the ball and into the sky. And when the ball wasn't hit--when it was fouled away or whiffed or even taken--Kathleen could almost feel the pitcher's energy seeping out of the leather when she picked it up and threw it back to the mound.

And if there was one thing she wanted to do that game, it was to make it back to the mound with every throw. She, Kathleen, vowed she would not suffer the humiliation of having Joanna retrieve a ball that had fallen short. It was still only top of the first and Kathleen could already feel her right shoulder beginning to ache.

Kathleen was so into the groove and the rhythm of the game that she barely noticed the fifth batter. She simply admired the way he moved his body into position, and pivoted slightly back, fully cocked and ready. He took the first pitch. Kathleen scrambled in the dirt and heaved it back to Joanna. He fouled off the second. He took the third. And then he nailed the fourth. Over Lettie's head, over Elliot's head, the ball sailed until it fell just inside the fence as Rob raced to retrieve it.

Kathleen was jumping up and down as Marsha headed for home, and then groaned as Lettie missed Rob's throw. Mike was rounding third now, with the batter hot on his heels, going for an inside-the-park homerun. And then she saw Joanna scoop up the ball and in one fluid motion whip it to her.  The ball hit her full force and she crumpled backwards, with no breath left in her lungs.

#

Kathleen opened her eyes and found the world was no longer black. She gasped and suddenly she could breathe again. But it hurt. A sea of faces above her swirled until two startlingly blue eyes swam into focus. They were male eyes and they were beautiful. Kathleen struggled to think what they were as blue as...summer sky? She tried to smile but it hurt.

"Don't move," the eyes said.

She could feel hands connected to the eyes touch her neck and her back and her pulse. She didn't move.

"Cornflowers," she whispered. They're as blue as cornflowers.

"If you like," said the man with the smooth, angular jaw whose face housed the cornflower-blue eyes and whose hands were ensuring that her body wasn't broken.

"Who are you?"

He smiled and Kathleen almost lost her breath again.

"Phil Van Demeer."

"A name I know almost as well as my own." She paused, ignoring the sea of faces that grew larger above her. "Do you know that Dorie Eastman has been trying to set us up for years?"

"You must be Kathleen."

"I must be." And then her chest hurt so badly that she had to fight to keep the bile down. And then she knew, as sure as she had ever known anything, that her hormones weren't out of whack...this must be love.

Another pair of eyes came into focus. Brown flecked with gold. And then she was herself again, and Harry was helping her to her feet. And Joanna was insisting that she take a sip of water. They walked her away from Phil Van Demeer and sat her down in the home team dugout and Maggie helped her out of her catcher's gear.  Colleen and Dorie came down and sat with her while she watched Elliot take her place behind home plate. And she laid her head on Dorie's shoulder and whispered, "He's lovely."

 

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