Bases Loaded

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Alyssa attempts to come out of her shell by joining the high school girls' softball team. Parental apathy, teammates' jealousy, and school politics stand in her way.

Submitted: January 30, 2012

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Submitted: January 30, 2012

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Combined with the chill wind, the sun in her face gave Alyssa the sensation of being burned and frozen all at once.  Funny how the sun always seemed to be in her eyes on her walks to and from the bus stop.  One day it dawned on her that her house was west of the paved road.  That’s why it seemed like the sun was always in her face.  It was always in her face.  She headed toward the rising sun in the morning and the setting sun in the afternoon.  It took her 20 minutes, less if she was determined, to walk the distance from the paved road to her house.  The school busses had stopped driving on dirt roads two years ago.  The school board said it was to save money.  They said the dirt roads tore up the busses too much.

Her “house…”  That’s what she’d called it, but it wasn’t actually a house.  It was a trailer.  More precisely, a “mobile-home” she’d been told. It had a sliding glass door that they used as the main entrance.  There was a living room with a pull-out couch where she slept, a kitchen / dining room, and a hallway with a bathroom and bedroom at the end.That’s where her mom lived, quite literally it too-often seemed.  Her mom didn’t come out of the bedroom much. 

Alyssa plopped her backpack on the couch and headed to the kitchen, opening the fridge.  The crusted-over, uncovered leftovers weren’t very appealing: a little bit of soup still in the pot; hard, shriveled fish sticks from two days ago, and a half-eaten sandwich that her mom had apparently lost interest in. Popping the fish sticks in the microwave, she decided that slapped on some bread and slathered with enough ketchup they’d make an ok sandwich.  Flyer in hand, she hit the “cook” button and headed down the hallway.  “Mama,” she called.  The microwave beeped.  She raised her voice, “Maw-Muh!”

“Waddayou want?” her mom snapped.

“Mama, there’s softball try-outs tomorrow,” Alyssa responded. 

“We ain’t got no money for softball,” her mom scolded.  “And I ain’t driving you to no practices.” 

“Mama, I want to try-out!” Alyssa pleaded through the door.  “Mama?  Eventually she left the silence to itself and returned to her sandwich.

***

Noel Hatfield had been running on autopilot for years now, more years than he’d like to admit.  His classes didn’t mean much.  The kids came to class, filled in the blanks on their ditto, and took a quiz on Friday.  Jessica, his student-aide, graded the quizzes and entered the scores into the grade book.  She even averaged the quiz scores at the end of the quarter to determine each kid’s grade.  As long as a kid stayed in his or her seat Noel didn’t really care if that kid worked on the assignment or not, did work from other classes, or just slept.

Coaching still mattered, at least more than the history class.  As the kids worked he looked up from his newspaper at the trophy case.  Among the other awards he smugly noted three division championship trophies.  A nagging observation interrupted his moment of self-satisfaction: the dates on the trophies.  The most recent one’s permanent teeth would be coming in had it been a child.  The bell interrupted his musings as the students began milling out.

***

Alyssa got home a little after dark.  If her mom noticed her tardiness, her closed bedroom door didn’t betray anything.  Replaying the events of try-outs in her mind, she set about her evening ritual of scrounging up an excuse for dinner.  She hadn’t really known the names of the plays Coach had talked about, and some of the other girls giggled when she had been obviously lost; but when Coach had told her to run to first base as fast as she could, he’d seemed impressed.  Although she had to use the school’s worn-out mitt that didn’t quite fit, she’d caught the balls Coach had hit to her.  Likewise, she’d hit the ball farther than most of the girls when she’d had a chance at batting. 

Coach Hatfield said that there would be a list of those who’d made the team posted on his door tomorrow.  Alyssa lay awake a good portion of the night in a mostly vain attempt to convince herself that she didn’t care if her name was on that list or not.

***

The season had gotten off to a good start.  The Lady Vikings won their first three games. Patterson, as Hatfield called her, was a big factor in that success.  She had immense raw talent and was a quick study.  Not only could she hit and steal bases, but with some coaching in mechanics she had become their strongest pitcher.  Daydreaming of shut-outs and a new division championship, Hatfield turned left out of the school parking lot onto the single-lane rural road typical of the area.  Turning right at the “T” intersection he noticed a lone pedestrian ahead in the growing darkness.  Recognizing Alyssa, he slowed and lowered the passenger side window.  “Patterson,” he called.  “Whatcha doin out here alone.  It’s getting dark.”

“I dunno,” Alyssa responded.

Hatfield frowned.  “You don’t know?” he asked incredulously.

“Um, I guess I’m walkin home,” she admitted.

“Well, get in,” he scolded.  “You shouldn’t be out here by yourself.”

Alyssa hesitated, but eventually stepped up on the running board opening the door with her right hand while tossing her backpack to the middle of the bench seat with her left.  Shutting the door, she wondered what was taking Coach so long to get moving again.

“Seatbelt,” Hatfield chided. 

“Oh, right,” Alyssa muttered, face reddening. 

“So where do you live?” Hatfield asked.

“You know where Centerfield Road is?” she asked back.

“Sure,” he said.

“Just turn right on Centerfield and go until you see a blue house with a fake cow in the yard.”

“Ok,” Hatfield said.  His lips compressed.  “That’s a long way, Patterson.  Why didn’t anyone pick you up today?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean why are you walking home?” he clarified.

“I… uh, I always walk home,” she finally supplied.

“What?” he snapped, immediately regretting his emotional outburst as Alyssa seemed to recoil.  He couldn’t believe that he’d been so self-absorbed that he’d never asked how Alyssa got home, or bothered to notice her walking before. “I mean,” he stumbled, “I, uh… forget it.”  Collecting his thoughts, he continued, “Listen, maybe you can stick around for a couple minutes after practice while I get my things together.  Then I could give you a lift home.”

“No, that’s ok,” she said.  “I don’t mind walkin.”

“Look, it’s not safe for you to be walking home in the dark,” he repeated.

“Um, ok I guess,” she relented.

The brakes squealed in protest as the truck stopped in front of the blue house.  “You live in that house?” Hatfield asked, motioning with his index finger as his hand rested on the steering wheel. 

“No, my house is down that dirt road,” Alyssa answered, indicating the road with a nod of her head.  She was out of the truck and crossing the road before he had a chance to argue about taking her the rest of the way. 

“You’re welcome,” he grunted as the truck rattled in response to the wheels entering, leaving, and reentering the pavement through the course of the U-turn. 

***

Most of the students on their way out after the bell gave Mrs. Jenkins a little space as she entered the room.  Noel looked up from his magazine.  “Liz,” he said neutrally, acknowledging her with a microscopic nod.  “What brings you to this neck of the woods?”

“I was hoping we could talk about the softball team,” she responded evenly, her heels making that double-clicking sound as she closed the distance to Noel’s desk.  Crossing her right leg over her left, she smoothed her skirt and rested her hands on her right knee as she took Jessica’s chair.

Dropping his magazine to his desk, Noel perked up at the unexpected topic.  Maybe Liz was taking an interest in the team’s success.  Finally, he would have a chance to talk to her about something that he actually cared about.  Maybe he could even get some more money for the team.  Pushing the onslaught of speculations aside he responded, “Oh?  Has our little win-streak come to your attention?”

“Yes, good job with the team, Noel,” she answered, the corners of her lips moving up a little in a half-smile.  Her deep but feminine voice, sparkling eyes, and ingratiating body language made people feel like she was always on their side.  “I suppose I did come to talk to you about the team’s success, particularly Alyssa Patterson’s meteoric rise to prominence.”  She paused, waiting for any telltale reaction from Hatfield.

“She’s amazing,” Hatfield finally commented.  “We’ve won every game she’s pitched and she’s one of the best hitters on the team.”

“So I hear,” Jenkins responded.  The half-smile was gone and her tone hand gone serious.  “Look, Noel, some people are suspicious of your interest in Alyssa.”

“Interest? What are you talking about?” Noel asked exasperatedly, his face a mixture of shock and disbelief.

“Do you give her rides home after practice?” Jenkins asked.

“Yes, she lives way out off of Centerfield Road and either her mom doesn’t have a car or won’t pick her up; I don’t know, but I can’t just let her walk all that way by herself.  It’s not safe.”  Hatfield countered.

“Did you buy her a mitt?” Jenkins continued, half-accusingly.

“Well, yes, but I don’t see what the problem is with that.”  Hatfield argued.  “She couldn’t afford one, and the school’s mitt didn’t fit her.  I got Jimmy at ProLine to give me a 50% discount after I told him about Alyssa.”

“Did you pay for her uniform?” Jenkins inquired, her right eyebrow lifting in a way that always reminded Hatfield of Mr. Spock from the old Star Trek episodes.

“Well no, not really,” Hatfield reasoned.  “I used that gift card from the Teacher’s Benefit Association that was for classroom supplies.  It’s not like I need to buy glue sticks or construction paper for a high school history class.  What’s all this about, anyway?  I thought teachers were supposed to help kids.  You know, ‘Go the extra mile’ and all that.”

“Amanda Clarkson,” Jenkins sighed, and puzzle pieces fell into place in Hatfield’s mind.  Clarkson’s name hit him like a slap across the face, shattering the bliss he’d been enjoying this season.  Her daughter, Michelle, had been the Lady Viking’s main starting pitcher last year.  She was decent, but had never given much effort to improve her mechanics and her pitching tended to be erratic in clutch situations.  Obviously, at least in hindsight, she’d been put out by Alyssa’s success and her own increased bench time.  Hatfield silently cursed himself for failing to notice Michelle’s jealousy; more evidence of his self-absorption. 

“Mrs. Clarkson isn’t happy that her daughter is spending the season warming the bench, and blames you and Alyssa Patterson,” Jenkins explained. 

“Alyssa’s a better pitcher, plain and simple,” Hatfield responded.  “There’s no favoritism; no conspiracy.  I’m not going to start Michelle just because her family owns the supermarket and her aunt’s on the school board.  I thought public school was supposed to be about equal opportunity, success for all, and all that jive.  Isn’t that what you say your beginning-of-the-year pep talks?”

“Look, Noel, let me level with you,” Jenkins warned.  She leaned fractionally closer and whatever warmth had been in her tone had gone ice cold.  “Mrs. Clarkson wants her daughter to pitch in tomorrow’s game and she wants Alyssa benched: for the entire game.”

“But our record is tied with Sandy Valley,” Hatfield objected.  “Whoever wins tomorrow’s game goes to the division championship game.  Michelle is ok, but she chokes under pressure.  We need Alyssa to pitch tomorrow.”

“And if her daughter doesn’t start tomorrow,” Jenkins continued, ignoring Hatfield’s objection, “then Michelle and two other girls on them will be coming forward with an accusation of sexual misconduct against you.  Specifically, that you’ve been granting Alyssa playing time, gifts, and rides home in exchange for sex.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Hatfield spat, rising to his feet.  “I’ve never so much as touched Alyssa or any other girl on the team for that matter!”

“Lower your voice!” Jenkins hissed as she hurried to close the door.  “Sit down,” she ordered as she returned to Jessica’s seat. “Noel, you’re what, six years from retirement?” she asked, some of the warmth and compassion seeming to return to her voice.  Hatfield nodded in acknowledgement.  “You’ve been coasting for a long time now, but you’ve got friends in the union and at the district.  All you need to do is keep your head down and you and the wife will be sipping mimosa on Waikiki Beach in a few years.”  Jenkins paused as if collecting her thoughts.  Finally she continued, “Let me be blunt: Dr. Hickam is retiring at the end of the school year and you know I’ve been gunning to replace him as superintendent.  The last thing either of us need is a sexual-misconduct investigation.”

“But I haven’t done anything!” Hatfield repeated.  “They can investigate all they want; they won’t find anything.”

“You know that’s not how it works,” Jenkins scolded.  “You’re basically guilty-until-proven-innocent in the public’s eyes, and by the time you’re exonerated the damage has been done.  For years to come all people will think when they hear our school’s name is ‘Isn’t that the school where the teacher had sex with a student?’  And when they hear your name they’ll say, ‘Isn’t that the teacher who was having sex with a student?’  Facts don’t matter in sexual allegations against teachers,” she finished, almost believably sympathetically. 

“Your apparent concern and willingness to go out of your way to help this girl are commendable,” Jenkins added straightening up in Jessica’s chair.  “But ask yourself this: ‘Is she worth tainting your career and possibly losing your retirement over?’”

Hatfield didn’t respond, but lowered his head as Jenkins rose and exited the room, shutting the door behind her. 

***

It was the bottom of the seventh inning.  Alyssa didn’t know why Michelle had started in this game instead of her.  Not that she had a big head, she just knew that if they won this game the Lady Vikings would be going to the division championships, and she was pretty sure that she was a better pitcher than Michelle.  And now Michelle was getting tired.  With the game knotted up at three runs apiece, Alyssa had fully expected Coach to have her start warming up to replace her.  He hadn’t.  In fact, he hadn’t so much as looked at her during the game.  Glancing in his direction again, wondering what was going on, her hopes were dashed as he looked in the other direction, apparently too busy to notice her.

The first girl up for Sandy Valley flied one into right field.  Dropping before it could be caught, the ball landed in right field and the runner was held at first.  The next batter took a strike on the first pitch.  She didn’t swing at a low ball, or the next pitch that was outside.  Fouling one into the home dugout and resisting the subsequent low pitch, she brought the count to full.  It was painfully apparent that Michelle was cracking under the physical and emotional strain of the upcoming pitch. 

Wiping the sweat off her forehead with her right sleeve, she got into her stance.  Her weight transferred from her right leg forward to her left as her right arm swung in a backwards arc.  Passing vertical, her arm started to come down behind her as her weight began to shift back to the right.  The ball left her hand as her right arm passed through vertical again and her weight was fully on her right foot again.  Crossing the distance from the mound to home plate in a couple of heartbeats, the ball slapped into the catcher’s glove.  “Ball four!” the umpire called.  There were no outs, runners on first and second, and the score was tied.  Alyssa’s eyes pleaded with Coach, willing him to acknowledge her, but again he seemed too busy or distracted to notice. 

Sandy Valley’s next batter showed bunt.  The infielders readied themselves.  They’d practiced this play repeatedly and were confident.  Michelle would up, released the ball, and watched it bounce off the bat to the ground and roll towards her.  As she reached down to scoop up the ball her right foot caught her left heel and by the time she realized what was happening she was face down in dirt.  Scrambling to get the ball, the catcher prevented Sandy Valley from scoring but now the bases were loaded with no outs, and the season was on the line.

Hatfield pretended not to notice Alyssa’s stare.  Finally he locked eyes with her for a pair of heartbeats that seemed like an eternity.  Tearing his gaze away from Alyssa, he called “Johnson, go warm up.”  Looking a little stunned, Shelly Johnson jogged off to the sidelines and began throwing.  She’d pitched a couple of innings this year, but never in a situation that mattered.

Shelly replaced Michelle on the mound and walked her first opponent.  By the time the excruciating inning was over the Lady Vikings were down by four runs.  They never recovered.  When the game was mercifully finally over the score was 8 to 3 in Sandy Valley’s favor. 

Alyssa policed up the equipment after the game and waited by Coach’s truck.  Eventually she saw him approaching.  He looked at her and tried to speak, but the words refused to come out.  She thought he looked really tired.  After what seemed like a long time he looked down.  “I won’t be giving you a ride home,” He said.  His words seemed almost sad. “I’m sorry.”

Her eyes widened a little and a half-asked question died on her lips. “Oh,” she eventually said.  “Ok.”

***

Sliding noisily in its dirty track, the glass door announced Alyssa’s arrival home several hours after dark.  If her mom was upset at the late hour, or had even noticed her come in she had no way of knowing.  There wasn’t much she could tell from a closed door.  Braving the refrigerator she found a piece-and-a-half of pizza and some macaroni and cheese uncovered in a pot.  She never let out so much as a whimper, but hot tears fell off her cheeks as the microwave beeped and her food started to get cold.

 

End

 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 EricDrake. All rights reserved.

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