Marshal tossed the ball back as the umpire spat tobacco from under his mask onto the dirt behind him. Leering into Marshal’s crotch for the sign, he dropped two fingers then padded low in his right thigh; slider, low and in.
The wind-up. The pitch. “Striiiike two!” Called strike two. Marshal tossed the ball back, I massaged it with my index finger and thumb, getting ready for the inevitable changeup call. Sure enough, Marshal dropped the sign, I took it. The wind-up. The pitch. The ball glided off my fingertips towards home plate at fastball speed but at the last seconds, dropped mileage.
The batter swung early, flipping the bat from one hand to the other. Inning over. Striking out is no fun but having the Golden Sombrero- striking out four times- is an entirely different feeling, one Todd has experienced in the beginning years of his high school career.
My teammates greeted me with celebratory claps on the back and rear end en-route to the dugout. This was no doubt the best game of the season for me, and it came in the cusp of the post season run; one more victory meant we would not only be in first place but would clinch a playoff berth.
Seven strikeouts in six innings while allowing three hits, which all came in the first, is not a bad leg to make the run for a title on.
“You’re on fire, bro.” Todd said as we slapped palms.
“Thanks for the home run in the second. Got me fired up.”
Blushing, Todd said “to be honest I didn’t think I got all of it. Like, the weight off the bat felt like it would be a fly out.”
“Looked good from here.” I said while pointing to the edge of the dugout.
“I need to hit the batting cages. My swing feels sluggish.”
That surprised me. He’s broken his home run total of 21 from last year- the jack today had been his 28th- and is on the verge of breaking the school single season record of 32. Todd was not one for theatrics so breaking the record meant nothing to him. knowing how much the game itself meant to him, I knew he was gunning for it whether he admitted it aloud or to himself.
Todd and I try going about our business like usual despite my being hounded by classmates and press alike but I can tell it isn’t easy for him to be around me; being associated with me could put scholarship chances in jeopardy. Can’t say that I blame him but I do need my friend and not having him around is making things worse.
Marshal took a seat next to me. “Your fastball’s electric today, and the slider has really been complimenting it. We haven’t used the curve ball that much; what’s say we give them something new to look at. Change the pace of the game.”
I nodded. We locked eyes. Marshal still places blame on himself for what happened in his house in the Hamptons no matter how many times I tell him he had no way of knowing. “I still feel like a shitty host and friend for allowing such a thing to…I’m sorry, man.”
Our half of the inning was over. I took the mound and just as quickly was off it. “Davenport, a word.” Coach Tilden motioned for me to join him at the end of the dugout. “Looking good out there, son.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m good for another few innings if you need me. The ‘pen could use the rest.” Novak pitched yesterday and had to be taken out after two and a third innings for hitting two batters while giving up four runs.
“We’ll see how the boys do this inning. Gotta keep you rested for the playoffs.” We’re up by three at home which meant if I was being pulled it’d happen now. But nobody was warming up so that told me the game was mine to complete.
“How you been holding up? You know, with the fiasco that’s been circulating the halls.”
“My game hasn’t been affected.” A truth and lie.
Coach Tilden put a hand on my shoulder. “How about in the game of life, son? Haven’t seen that pretty girlfriend of yours in the stands of late. I must admit I kinda miss her cheering the team on. Even if it is for just you.”
I blushed. “She’s doing well. We’re doing well, rather.”
Coach Tilden looked at me as if he hoped I would confide in him. No offense but it’s not happening and I hope this smile is enough to convince you.
Coach Tilden did leave me in for all nine innings which ended without incident. Another two strikeouts added to my total for the year along with a walk. In the locker room, Novak and his cronies leered at me while other players acted as though nothing were going on. Out on the street, a man in a black suit stood next to the BMW and opened the back passenger door. I climbed in. Due to the events my parents thought it would be best I were chauffeured around. New York press were vultures, dad kept saying.
The driver moved the car off the curb into oncoming traffic which he then took the Queensboro Bridge eventually parking in front of Charity’s building. After two rings she buzzed me up, meeting me at the door wearing a loose fitting Run DMC shirt over black leggings and colorful socks.
We kissed, she squeezed me in a hug, led me in. The baby was showing more every day which meant Charity’s anxiety climbed along with it. “How was the game, bubbie?” Charity labored in breath as I helped her inch her way onto the living room couch.
“Got the W. Team needs one more to make the playoffs.”
Charity smiled as she leaned her head back. “Wish I could have been there. Miss watching you kick butt.”
“Coach Tilden mentioned that. Says he misses seeing you cheer even if it’s just for me.”
“I think he’s sweet on me.”
“He did say you’re pretty.”
“If he only saw me now.”
“You’re still beautiful.”
“You have to say that cause you’re my boyfriend and I’m having your baby.”
“I would say that if I weren’t but had a crush on you.”
Charity laughed. “You’re so weird.”
Charity picked up the remote and unmuted the TV while channel surfing. “Did he seriously say that, though?” She asked after a minute.
“Yup. Some of the guys ask about you, too. You were a fixture in the stands for a while. Bunch of people think we’ve broken up. And with all that’s transpiring…”
Charity took my hand. Our eyes locked. She smiled. Putting an arm around her, I kissed her forehead as she snuggled into my chest. “Have you talked to the lawyer yet?”
“My dad set up a follow-up meeting for Friday after school. Already told the coach I won’t be in for practice.”
“Your father working la-”
Charity stopped channel surfing and sprung out of my arm, glaring at the TV. “…believe everything you hear. He’s not a bad guy. He and my best friend have been dating a long time. He would never do this.”
“And who is your best friend?”
The camera panned from Belinda to a photo in her hand. The photo was of Charity and I on the night of the gala in a lover’s embrace.
The camera then focused out enough where Belinda and the female reporter were both in the shot. “After all he’s been through; no way he touched that girl. It’s just not in his character.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“He went through some rough stuff in his foster home. They did a number on him. And the other boy he was with…poor guy. So, you see, he could not have touched that girl. She’s lying and the truth is bound to surface.”
My pocket began vibrating. An Usher song began playing from somewhere deep in the apartment. I took the phone from my pocket as Charity waddled out of the seat to the back of the apartment.
“We’re going to have to move the appointment to tomorrow morning.” Dad said. I gathered my things and rushed out of the building and back into the rear passenger seat of the BMW