No Runs, No Hits, No Errors

By Jane Greensmith
www.janegs.com

Copyright © 2004.
 All rights reserved.

Chapter 4

 

The K-B-K Trojans lost the scrimmage to the Legal Eagles, nine to seven. Three of the Eagles' seven runs were scored in the first inning, with Phil Van Demeer crossing the plate just as Joanna Bridges's throw hit Kathleen squarely in the chest. Phil was safe; Kathleen was out. Out cold, that is.

By the third inning, Harry had talked Kathleen into taking Gail Hawkins's place in right field so that Gail could play rover and Elliot could stay behind home plate. Elliot assured her that even in the unlikely event that anyone would send a ball into right field, she need only get the ball to Rob in centerfield, who would handle the rest of the play. Kathleen agreed, and rejoined the game accompanied by standing ovations from both teams. She liked the way the applause felt, and instinctively doffed her baseball cap as she jogged to the hinterlands of right field. She felt like a trooper, like there was more to Kathleen Kavenaugh than peaches and cream. And when Harry turned around from first base to give her a thumbs-up, she realized that she was no longer angry with him. She simply grinned and hunkered down, glove in front, ready to play ball.

Mercifully, Kathleen got to watch the grass grow in right field for most of the game, though she did keep her wits about her enough to field a ball that bounced past Harry at first. She got it to him just in time to get the batter out. And with that first play, Kathleen felt the sheer elation of a Hot Damn--I did good surging from her brain and warming up all her nerve endings. So this is why people play sports, she thought, eagerly accepting Harry's and Bob's high fives. They play to feel like this. It also didn't hurt that Phil Van Demeer was the batter she helped to get out, and he mockingly shook his fist at Kathleen and teased something about payback time. A tiny little tingle that started with the tease confirmed Kathleen's earlier diagnosis that her hormones were back on the job. Yes! This might be fun.

Batting was another story altogether. Harry's master plan had been to con the Eagles into thinking that Kathleen was a ringer, which would motivate them to scooch out of the infield, giving Kathleen a chance to make it safely to first after dribbling the ball to third, at least for her first at-bat. That had been the plan. Of course, it had been half-baked from the get-go because Mike Eastman wasn't about to let his teammates believe for an instant that Kathleen Kavenaugh was capable of hitting the ball, much less hitting it out of the infield.

Plan B was to walk. Slow pitch, non-competitive softball is a melting pot of talent, most of which does not extend to pitching. Hence, in any given game, roughly half the players can get a base-on-balls if they simply take every pitch. When Jack Kinsley was explaining this interesting scientific fact to Kathleen before the game, his wife Colleen added that most male players, being male, simply could not help showing off and would flail away at any ball that wasn't in the dirt or above their heads. She went on to add that most women, being women, had the patience to wait for balls and so would end up on base. Colleen was about to connect this to the Venus-Mars theory that had pretty much governed most of her arguments for the past few months, when Jack cut her off at the pass, forcing her to save the argument for another day.

Kathleen decided to play the percentages and agreed not to swing at anything. She had three plate appearances, walked twice and struck out once. Jack told her she was an ace. Elliot promised more batting lessons. Maggie suggested that it might be worthwhile to spend some time in a batting cage at Goddard's Gym. Joanna hit two singles, a double, and a triple. Kathleen told Maggie she'd stop by the gym for some time in the cage. Harry looked like a cat who had gotten away with a gallon of cream.

#

Friday opened a new chapter at K-B-K Engineering. After the previous evening's game was dissected and actual work commenced, Kathleen noticed that Gail seemed short with her. When she asked whether the new PCs had been tracked down yet, her tone was clipped. When she inquired about a set of graphs Kathleen was working on, she seemed irritated. She was certainly condescending. Kathleen was puzzled. Except for replacing Gail in right field, she had barely interacted with the woman, and now Gail was treating her like a no-brain, incompetent.

Everyone else in the office continued to treat her as they did before. Bob Martin was given to ranting at her when the network went down--not because it was in any way her fault, but because she was convenient and didn't yell back. Rob Haskins explained what seemed to Kathleen must be every last detail about the system he was designing when she merely asked him how his project was going. And Elliot went out of his way to tell her at the coffee station that he liked his coffee Kathleen-style, blond and sweet, Kathleen blushed prettily and murmured something about coffee being best when hot, and then blushed even more when she realized that her reply might be taken the wrong way. He winked at her and they shared coffee innuendo for the rest of the day. And as the day went on, Gail became increasingly snippy. Nothing Kathleen did for Gail was right. She hadn't made enough copies of Gail's project report. She hadn't done Gail's graphs in the colors Gail preferred. And for crying out loud, could she please book Gail's hotel in San Jose nearer to the airport?

This last came just as Kathleen was dreamily lifting her nose out of the red roses that the nice young man from Juniper Hills Gifts and Floral had placed on her desk not five minutes earlier. Gail had given Kathleen a full five minutes to sweetly exclaim over the roses, blush furiously at the teasing to which she was rightly subjected, and then blush even more when she read the card. Everyone, of course, wanted to know who sent them.  But Kathleen, smart girl that she was, knew better than to tell them that Phil Van Demeer had not only sent her roses but had included an invitation to dinner as well.

Kathleen promised Gail that she would rebook the hotel. Gail looked at her oddly and then said, "Office romances never work out, you know."

And then the light bulb went on.

"I know that, Gail,”  Kathleen whispered.  “That's why I'm glad these aren't from anyone in the office,"

Gail sniffed. She shrugged. If she could have sashayed, she would have. Instead, she stalked back to her office, leaving Kathleen to enjoy her roses and rebook Gail's hotel.

#

Kathleen was headed for her car, roses back in their box for the trip home, when Harry called to her from his office.

"Got plans tonight?" he asked.

Kathleen replied that all she had on her agenda for the evening was a hot bath, the latest from her book club, and dinner with her father.

"Is he still trying to cook with kelp?"

"No, and I'm hoping we're through the gruel phase as well."

"Can I make you a better offer?"

"You can try." Kathleen was used to Harry's bantering, so she sat down, laying her box of roses on top of the drawings he was red-lining, and waited, batting her eyelashes knowingly.

"You're pretty good at art, aren't you?"

Kathleen was surprised.  She had been expecting him to try to get her to go with him to a Colorado Rockies game.  For the past three summers, ever since he and Jack had bought season tickets, he had insisted that she would benefit from experiencing at least one major league game.  She looked at him warily as she replied, "I'm pretty good at art history, if that's what you mean."

"No, not the history part. I mean arts and crafts. Birdcages out of sticks, flowers out of toilet paper. You know, crafts."

Kathleen wrinkled her nose, unsure whether he was setting her up or truly being friendly.

"Go home, put on jeans and a tee-shirt, and I'll pick you up in an hour." He laughed at her puzzled look. "Don't look so worried.  You'll have fun. I just need an extra body, really."

"Excuse me!"

He winked at her, then leered, "Now run along, my pretty, and don't forget your flowers."

At this Kathleen smiled smugly and murmured, "Well, at least some men know how to treat a woman right." Before she could add a flounce for good measure Harry quietly laid his hand on hers as she was picking up her box.  The warmth of his skin would have been unnerving had she not known him so well. Kathleen bit her lip awkwardly and was acutely aware of the flush that spread across her face as he waited for her to look at him. Once she did, he held her gaze steadily and said in a low voice, "Now watch yourself with Phil Van Demeer. I hear he's had an awful lot of girlfriends."

Kathleen pulled her hand away, then clutched her box of roses to her chest defensively. "Dorie Eastman seems to think he's a nice guy..."

"Dorie and I have never seen eye-to-eye on..."

"...On what's good for me." Kathleen finished petulantly. "You've never approved of anybody I've ever dated..."

"I liked Gabe."

"Well, he's gone..." In the nick of time, she prevented herself from closing her eyes in pain. She had no intention of letting Harry know that she regretted Gabe's departure.

"Be careful, Kathleen."

Some people, when in their backup mode, get nasty. Some take flight. Some turn sullen. Kathleen melted into pure sugary syrup.

"Harry, dear, I think you're a wonderful man," she said leaning over and giving him the full benefit of her lustrous blue eyes starred with deep honey lashes that were fluttering as if she had a case of full-blown Southern Belle. "And you'll meet someone someday and have children and you'll be a wonderful father. But, I already have a father so you needn't try to take his place!"

This time Kathleen did flounce as she turned on her heel and said over her shoulder, "I'll be ready in an hour, but I'm going to call Phil first and make a date for tomorrow night."

#

Harry drove Kathleen south out of the bedroom community of Juniper Hills and through farmland and suburbs until they reached Riverdale, a strip mall Denver suburb of fast food chains and discount outlets that had grown up like a weed around a recently-opened convention center.

During the drive, Harry refused to answer Kathleen's questions about where they were going or what they were going to be doing once they got there. Apparently, he had decided to lay off her love life as well, and they chatted pleasantly about work. He told her about Forsythe Equipment and the contract he had won with them for K-B-K. It was their biggest project ever, he said.  They were going to automate the entire factory floor.

"Won't that put people out of jobs?" Kathleen asked.

"Actually, automating the factory will create more jobs and better paying ones. The trick is retraining the people doing the old jobs so that they can do the new jobs as the company expands."

"Will Forsythe Equipment really retrain their workforce?"

"Good question, Kath. I made it part of the contract. We're going to do the retraining. At least, we're going to manage it. We'll farm it out, but it's part of the package we're delivering."

"Cool!"

"But scary. We're running thin. Jack's going to manage the whole project, but he's finishing up the Heidelberg project, and if it gets delayed, we're hosed."

Kathleen asked some more questions, and Harry answered them all, and somehow as they were driving in the early evening sun Kathleen felt for the first time what it meant to be an adult. It was almost an out-of-body experience, as if little girl Kathleen was watching grownup Kathleen have a mature conversation with a person who was making decisions that affected lots of people's lives and that person cared about what she thought and said. She suddenly realized that work for Harry wasn't a game--he may talk like it was, he may act like it was, but losing at work meant losing for real.

For so long, Harry had been Kathleen's surrogate older brother--playing with her when she was little, forever teasing her, cajoling her, criticizing her. But this conversation was different. He was still telling her, but he was listening to her and letting her talk as well. She liked it, even though little girl Kathleen kept winking at her as if expecting grownup Kathleen to flub her lines and look stupid.

But then another sensation struck Kathleen.  Maybe it was the serious talk, maybe it was the way the sun glinted off his tanned, clean-shaven jaw, but Harry  didn't seem so much like the sweaty, overbearing, sportsaholic boor she knew him to be. She remembered overhearing Joanna Bridges sigh during one of the times Harry came up to bat during the scrimmage.  Now, looking at him, listening to the quiet energy in his voice as he talked about the project with Forsythe Equipment, Kathleen considered the idea that perhaps he was...she groped for a description.

Attractive?

Joanna seemed to think so.  Come to think of it, Dorie did too.  And Colleen. 

Fit?

Kathleen blushed, but Harry did have a body that was...well...all that time at the gym was certainly not wasted.

Sexy?

Kathleen barely dared to admit the thought, but...inventory time.

She knew she liked his hands because she had already noticed that she always seemed to watch them when she thought he wasn't looking.  They were strong and large, and his nails well-groomed yet he never seemed fussy about them.  She guiltily admitted that she liked his perpetual tan.  She herself liberally applied SPF45 every day and knew that he should to, yet she liked the starkness of his hairline, white against his tanned skin and the shock of thick, wiry black hair that tended to stand up on end and begged to be smoothed down.  And his eyes—they did waver between brown and hazel, depending on the light and his mood, but their golden streaks had an unnerving tendency to glitter when he was teasing her.  Excellent chin…but definite stubborn tendencies that were trying at best.  To-die-for jaw line, especially when clean shaven, but probably highly strokable when fuzzy with five-o'clock-shadow.

"Kathleen?"

"Hmmm. Yes. It's very important that we retrain Forsythe workers," she murmured stupidly, unwilling to leave the sleepy haze into which she had lulled herself.

"Don't be cute. You weren't listening anyway."

"Yes. Yes, I was," she insisted, her eyes shooting wide as she guiltily tried to push her dangerous thoughts of Harry back down into her subconscious.

"Anyway, we're here."

"Where?"

"Riverdale Boys and Girls Club. Ready to teach arts and crafts to prepubescents?"

Oh my God! What have I gotten myself into? I hate Harry! I can't do this. He tricked me again.

"Sure."

"You're an ace."

 

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