Authors: Barbara L. Clanton
Tags: #! Yes
“I predict we’re going to kick some East Valley Panther butt next time we play them.”
“Oh, yeah? How are we going to do that? We play them on their field next time. And their field looks like Yankee Stadium.”
“More like Citifield, if you don’t mind.” Marlee looked offended, but Lisa knew she was kidding.
“Oh, that’s right. You’re a Mets fan, aren’t you?” Lisa took her mitt off and reached for her chest protector from her softball bag.
“Yeah, and you’re Yankees, right?”
Lisa nodded and playfully narrowed her eyes. “I think we have to tell Coach Spears that this, uh, pitching and catching thing isn’t going to work out for us anymore.”
Marlee laughed. “Oh, man, can you imagine? Hey, Coach Spears, Lisa and I have to break up because Mets and Yankees fans can’t see eye to eye on anything.”
Lisa almost choked when Marlee said, “break up.” Lisa felt her cheeks getting hot, so she turned away. She put the chest protector over her head.
“Let me help you with your shinnies.” Marlee kneeled down to strap on the right shin guard while Lisa adjusted the chest protector. Lisa tried to act calm and cool while Marlee reached behind her leg to fasten the straps, but she couldn’t get her knees to stop shaking. She prayed Marlee didn’t notice.
“I’ll—” Lisa choked on the word, cleared her throat, and tried again. “I’ll do the other one. Thanks. Oh, hey,” Lisa tried to find more neutral ground, “Julie, Johnna, Kerry, and I went to see Ellen Page’s movie last night.”
“How was it?” Marlee pulled a softball out of the bag.
“It was really good, but you have to see it for yourself. I’d definitely go again.”
Way to be obvious, dorkhead.
Lisa cringed, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
Marlee tossed Lisa the ball. “Yeah, my mom wants to see it, too.”
Wrong answer, Marlee, totally wrong answer
. Lisa sighed. “That’s cool.”
But not really.
“Yeah, maybe Jeri’ll want to go, too.”
“Sounds like fun,” Lisa said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.
They threw the ball back and forth overhand for a few minutes to warm up their arms.
“Let me know when you’re ready to pitch,” Lisa said.
“I’m ready. I’ll keep the bag of balls by me because I’m sure I’ll throw most of them over your head.”
Lisa laughed and moved behind the home plate that Marlee had put in on the side lawn near the garage. Coach Spears had given Marlee an old home plate and pitching rubber the year before, so they could practice at Marlee’s house any time. Lisa remained standing while Marlee stood about twenty feet away and flicked the ball to her with her wrist only. After a few minutes of wrist work, Marlee backed up to the pitching rubber forty feet away.
“Okay, Marlee. Let’s loosen up with meatball fastballs right down the middle of the plate.”
Lisa squatted down and flashed the sign for fastball by closing the fist on her right hand and then flicking her index finger toward the ground. Lisa felt self-conscious having Marlee stare right at her crotch for the signs, but this was softball and that’s the way it was.
Marlee’s first pitch landed in the dirt. Lisa blocked the ball with her shin guards. “Geez, Marlee, don’t take me out on the first pitch.”
“Sorry.” Marlee grinned.
Marlee’s next few pitches were nice and fat in the strike zone. Once Lisa felt Marlee was warmed up enough, she said, “Okay, let’s work the ladder.”
Lisa flashed the fastball sign and positioned her mitt low and inside nearest a right-handed batter. The ladder had three ‘rungs’ to it—knee height, waist height, and chest height. After working Marlee through a few knee-height pitches, Lisa worked up the rungs of the invisible ladder by positioning her mitt at waist height for a few pitches and then finally at chest height. She then shifted to the outside of the plate and worked Marlee back through the three rungs, but in reverse order.
Smack! Marlee’s pitch popped into Lisa’s mitt at the desired spot.
“Nice.” Lisa stood up. “Where was all of this on Tuesday?” She walked toward Marlee, so she could stretch her legs a bit.
“I know. I can’t believe Susie hit a grand slam off of me.”
She knows her name. This isn’t good. Lisa’s gaydar went on high alert. “Do you know her?”
“Oh, no. No,” Marlee stumbled and ran her fingers through her short hair.
Lisa’s gaydar had gone off big time on Tuesday when the cute East Valley left fielder got up to bat, so maybe, just maybe, Marlee was crossing over to the lavender ladies club. Lisa decided to push it.
“Did you see that blonde second baseman of theirs? Wasn’t she pretty?”
“Yeah, she was.” The relief on Marlee’s face at the change of subject was obvious, and Lisa began to worry that this Susie person might be her competition.
“That second baseman doesn’t really look like a softball player, you know? She looks more like a cheerleader or something.” Lisa’s stomach had done a flip-flop when the pretty blonde spoke to her during their last game.
“Yeah, she does look like a cheerleader.”
“Hey, no law says you can’t be both, right? A cheerleader and a softball player?”
“Yeah, really.” Marlee smiled and then rolled her eyes. “Man, that whole East Valley team is good. Christy Loveland’s an awesome pitcher.”
“Do you have rise ball envy?”
Marlee burst out laughing. “I don’t know. I just might.”
Lisa headed back to her catcher’s spot, “Hey, you and I both know that great pitching will beat good pitching, so let’s work on that rise ball of yours and make you great.”
“No pressure there, Lisa.” Marlee set up on her pitching rubber. “Okay, let’s do this.”
“Supersonic back spin, Marlee. Make this thing defy gravity. Let the spin do the work.” Lisa squatted down. “Oh, and remember what Coach said about your stride length? Long and aggressive to keep your weight back. Okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. I got it.”
Lisa flashed the sign for rise ball and positioned her mitt in the middle of the strike zone. Marlee’s pitched sailed right over Lisa’s head and smashed into the garage. “Marlee, you used your shoulder to muscle that ball to me. Coach Spears said the spin is the key to the rise. C’mon, try again. Keep your weight back.”
Marlee and Lisa worked on Marlee’s rise ball until all the balls from the bag had successfully hit the garage.
“Lisa, I’m worn out. Let’s call it a day, okay? We’ll work on this at practice tomorrow”
“Okay. We made a lot of progress, though.”
“No, really. We did.” They walked side-by-side to the garage and picked up the balls. Lisa was disappointed that their session was over, but knew it had to end sometime. “We need to work on that screwball of yours, too.”
“Oh, yeah. We’ll have to do that during practice, too, I guess.” Marlee put the last ball in the bag. “Hey, let me ask my mom if I can drive you home.”
Lisa’s heart did a flip. Would they finally be alone?
“I could use the practice driving.”
Lisa’s heart sank. Oh, yeah. Marlee only had her permit, and Marlee’s mom would be in the car as the licensed driver.
“Thanks,” Lisa said. “That’d be great.”
Lisa took off her gear while Marlee ran into the house to ask her mother.
Geez, Marlee, how can I tell you I want to be alone with you? That I want to run my fingers through your hair like you do when you’re nervous? How can I tell you these things if we’re never alone? But what the hell would I do if I ever got you alone?
That was the kagillion dollar question.
Bring It On
LISA SAT IN the backseat of Jeri D’Amico’s brand new Mustang, ecstatic that Marlee invited her to go with them to East Valley to see a softball game. Apparently Jeri and Marlee had been hanging out with the East Valley team recently.
In one short week, several amazing things had happened for Lisa. For one thing, Marlee finally broke up with her boyfriend. He broke up with her, actually, but the result was the same. The next great thing was that their softball team beat Northwood on Tuesday and then beat Racquette that afternoon, giving them a winning record. Well, to be fair, beating both Northwood and Racquette wasn’t that amazing because they weren’t very good. Marlee’s pitching overwhelmed most of the batters on both teams, but the third and most awesome thing was that Marlee asked her to go with them to East Valley. She and Marlee, oh, and Jeri, too, were going to watch a game and then go to an East Valley player’s house afterward to hang out.
Lisa tried to stretch her long legs in the cramped backseat, but couldn’t quite do it. Oh, well, she’d have to suck it up for the forty-five minute trip. She was with Marlee, after all, so it was okay.
Marlee sat in the front seat and confided in Jeri and Lisa about her now ex-boyfriend Bobby. “Did you know that I could never get him to understand the infield fly rule? I mean he’s a jock, so how can he not understand a simple rule like that?”
Lisa didn’t dare say anything, but the infield fly rule was far from simple. There had to be less than two outs, a force play at third or at home, and the ball had to be catchable. Bobby didn’t even play baseball, just football, so he might not know the rule.
“And how come all he wanted to do was go to Lake Birch?” Marlee said.
“Lake Birch?” Lisa wondered out loud.
“Sometimes guys can be in an awful hurry,” Jeri said. “You know what I mean?”
“Oh.” Lisa hadn’t ever let herself think about Marlee and Bobby that way. It didn’t matter, though. They had broken up.
Of course, neither Jeri nor Marlee knew that Tara had broken up with Lisa just the week before. Her heart still hurt, but she had pretty much known the break up was inevitable. Tara lived downstate, four-hundred miles away, and the only connection they had after camp was through phone calls, emails, cards, and letters. Apparently that wasn’t quite enough for Tara anymore because Tara hadn’t returned any of Lisa’s calls for almost a month. Maybe the relationship was doomed from the beginning, anyway. Lisa sighed and tried to push Tara out of her mind.
“We’re gonna move on and be just fine,” Jeri said to Marlee.
“Yeah, me, too,” Lisa blurted before she could stop herself.
Jeri glanced over her shoulder at Lisa in the back seat, her long black curls swaying as she did. “Move on from whom, girl? Who’ve you gone out with?”
“Oh, uh…Nobody. I guess I just got caught up in the moment.” Lisa sighed but was sure neither Jeri nor Marlee heard it over the roar of the Mustang’s engine.
“You’re weird, Lisa,” Jeri teased.
“So they say.”
The conversation went back to Marlee’s breakup, but Lisa was relieved when they finally reached Sandstoner Fields, the East Valley Panthers’ home field. Jeri dropped them off on the East Valley side of the field and drove off to park at the far end of the lot. Lisa zipped up her ski jacket to keep out the late-April cold. She pulled her braid free and jammed her hands in her pockets as they walked toward the East Valley bleachers.
As soon as they reached the fence, Lisa could tell that Marlee was distracted. They stood near the East Valley dugout and out of the corner of her eye, she watched Marlee search the field for someone.
The East Valley second baseman popped out of the dugout and yelled to Marlee, “Hey, Pitcher.” The uber cute blonde stepped closer and said again, “Hey, Pitcher.”
“Hey, Second Base,” Marlee said. “What’s up? This is Lisa. She’s my catcher.”
“Hey, Catcher. Nice to meet you officially.” The girl stuck two fingers through the fence. Lisa grasped the pretty blonde’s fingers firmly in handshake. She didn’t mean to, but she got caught in the girl’s intense blue-gray eyes and held on to her fingers longer than she should have. She pulled her hand away and felt her cheeks flush. The cute second baseman must not have noticed because she said, “Heard you guys beat Northwood on Tuesday. Think we stand a chance?”
Since Marlee looked preoccupied, Lisa answered the question. “Of course you’re going to win. And you know it, too.” The girl didn’t seem to mind that Marlee was off in space, so Lisa teased, “Geez, you have Loveland pitching, so gimme a break.”
“Well, yeah, there’s that.” The second baseman smiled, and Lisa became mesmerized by her beautifully smooth skin, her perfectly applied eye liner, and silky blond hair. Lisa’s gaydar pinged ever so slightly. She tried to make her mouth move, so she could ask the girl her name, but couldn’t get it to cooperate.
“Sam, c’mon!” the East Valley shortstop yelled over. “Coach wants us on the field.”
Her name is Sam
, Lisa thought.
Sam looked apologetic. “Oops, infield warmup.” Sam waved to Lisa and trotted out to her position at second base.
Lisa thought it strange that Sam waved only to her and not to Marlee, but then again, Lisa’s stomach had done that flippy thing when Sam walked over, so maybe it was okay. She felt a little guilty about being attracted to Sam, a virtual stranger, with Marlee standing right there.
Lisa watched Sam field a grounder at second base. The immaculately groomed infield and outfield really did remind her of Yankee Stadium. East Valley would probably end up going to States again like they did practically every year. The Clarksonville Cougars had come in second place the year before, and Lisa remembered Coach Spears wondering out loud if her Cougars would ever be able to push the East Valley Panthers off their lofty mountain.
Sam fielded her grounders cleanly and was quick turning the double play. Their whole infield was good, but their pitcher, Christy Loveland, was phenomenal. She was probably the best pitcher in the entire New York State North Country. Marlee would disagree, of course, but Lisa knew better. Christy threw a lot of different pitches, and she threw all of them well. Even though Marlee was getting better all the time, she still hadn’t gotten a handle on her rise ball and hadn’t even begun to master the screwball. After the game they were going to hang out at Christy’s house. Lisa thought it was weird to even consider hanging out with the team that always beat them, but she didn’t care. Marlee was there. And with a small smile, she remembered that Sam might be there, too.