|Prologue||Chapter 1||Chapter 2||chapter 3|
|chapter 4||chapter 5||Chapter 6||Chapter 7|
|Chapter 8||Chapter 9||Chapter 10||Chapter 11|
|Chapter 12||Chapter 13||Chapter 14||Take me home!|
The last three road games were unmemorable; except when the bus broke down on the interstate in Ohio. Al, the acid tongued driver, was uncharacteristically quiet. When we returned to our park in the middle of the night, he picked up the microphone and gave a little speech. He said he thought of us as his children and he was proud of the way we had grown up. He thanked us for tolerating a miserable bastard like him all year. After he released us Larry said that was the fourth year that he had given that speech.
After Monday's game Suzy and Robbie announced that they would be hosting a party at the place beside Ziggy's for the team and their families. "And you may bring all of your family, Annie; all sixteen brothers and ten sisters and your Daddy, too." Robbie elbowed me in the ribs.
I looked him straight in the eye. "You know how many brothers and sisters I have." I stuck my nose in the air and sniffed. "Just for that the only person I'm inviting is my darling Mommy."
Garry, who was standing behind Suzy, started screaming in horror. "NO! NO! NO! Invite a shark, a blood sucking leach, anything, anybody, but not your Mommy!"
I laughed at their comments because I knew they were joking. Whenever I was pissed off at anyone I told them I would get my Mommy after them. Before long it became a locker room joke, and all the guys used my Mom as a mock threat. Turning it into a joke was how the guys eased the intense shame and embarrassment I felt over her locker room escapade. It was how they let me know the supported me. That's a man's way of showing Empathy: turn it into a joke. Men's empathy has been known to drive women insane.
"I'll ask three brothers. Kenny, Mark and Jake the snake. I won't invite the whole brood."
"Oh good," she seemed relieved. "I was hoping you would only invite a few." She put an arm around my shoulder and squeezed. That's girl talk for you're a good friend.
Kyle, who was almost out the door, stopped suddenly and ran back. He grabbed both my arms and held them firmly. I had never seen such an intense look on his face. He was panting. "Jake! Jake! Jake!"
"Yes, I have a brother named Jake, very good."
Kyle continued. "His wife! His wife! His wife!"
"He has one wife, not three, her name is Ellen, you've met her." I decided the poor fellow was suffering from some form of temporary insanity and this was a desperate cry for help.
He released go of my arms and howled at the ceiling. I looked up but didn't see a full moon, only grungy grey tiles. "She's the babe with the tits out to here!" He held his hands three feet in front of his chest. "Will she be coming?"
Unfortunate choice of words, I thought. "I will inform her that you desire her and her presence."
He howled again. "Count me in Mr. and Mrs. Robbins. I"m coming for sure!" He bounded out the door making strange animal noises.
"Not if my brother has anything to say, you'll be there but you won't be coming."
That broke everyone up. Garry scooted us out of the locker room because he wanted to get home early. When I was in the parking lot Suzy asked me if I would like to join her and Robbie for dinner. She was having a few others over and thought I might like to join in because I didn't often do things with the married people on the team. She was right. I usually went to the bar with the other bachelors or I spent my evenings alone. I thought this might be an interesting change. I had one condition on accepting the invitation.
"You're not going to force me to sit beside somebody's dorky cousin, are you?"
She smiled mysteriously. "I would never do that. Come on, it will be fun, you'll see!"
Now, I've always considered it will be fun you'll see to be right up there with the cheque is in the mail and amicable divorce and other such modern myths. Still, I had no reason not to go, and I already agreed, so I hopped in their car and drove back to the apartment with them. The others had arrived. Larry was there with his wife, Sandra, Blake was there with Rachel, and Jamie was there with Maria. I was the token single person.
"Oh good! Everyone is here," said Suzy. "Did our other guest let you in?"
"Yes," said Larry. "He quite surprised us. But not as surprised as Annie's going to be."
"Wait a minute," I cut in. "You promised you wouldn't fix me up with a dorky blind date!"
Suzy pouted. "Call him out and tell him to leave." Everyone was laughing and smirking and I had no idea why.
"I'll get our rejected suitor." Robbie stood at partially opened bedroom door and called in. "Did you hear that?"
A very familiar voice answered. "Yes I did and I'm crushed." Paul stepped out from Suzy and Robbie's bedroom.
I squealed Paul's name and ran to him. I was so happy to see him I almost cried. Also, after the previous night with Dean, I felt more than a little guilty. Paul held me tight against his chest until I calmed down. We sat on the edge of the bed to talk for a moment.
"If I knew this would upset you so much I would have stayed in Toronto."
"I'm not upset, I'm surprised. What are you doing here?"
"Our flight to Boston was cancelled. New England is covered in fog. I couldn't stand the thought of spending the night in an airport hotel, so I rented a car and here I am. The flight is rescheduled for tomorrow at eleven-thirty."
"What are you doing here at Suzy and Robbie's?"
"I was going up to your apartment when Suzy saw me and invited me to wait in here. She said she wanted to surprise you." He gave me a hug and a kiss. "I've missed you."
"I've missed you, too." We hugged once more and returned to the dinner party. Suzy set out a large pitcher of daiquiris. Paul poured one for himself and one for me. We sat back and sipped them.
"So, where are you off to next?" asked Larry.
Paul set his drink down and picked up a cracker covered in a strange confetti coloured mixture. "I'm catching the team jet tomorrow morning to play the Boston Sad-Sox in the evening. It's almost painful to play against them this year, they're so bad."
Larry threw his head back, laughing. "Catch the team jet?! Oh man! Must be nice!"
"A jet is nothing but a bus in the sky," Paul sighed. He looked tired.
Suzy called us into the dining room. The table was set with real china and crystal. There were three candles on the table, each surrounded by fresh tropical flowers. Robbie lit the candles and dimmed the lights. The room looked like a photograph in a magazine. Mother would have died of envy. Suzy sat at one end of the table, Robbie at the other, and the rest of us sat around the sides in perfect balance. I felt as if I had stepped right into the photograph, but this was real, and these people were my friends.
The meal was delicious. Suzy, Sandra, Rachel, and Maria had taken a course in Chinese cooking over the summer, and they served us the results of their lessons. First, we had something called hot and sour soup. Wow, did it ever smolder in the stomach! Next came three main entrées. The first dish consisted of chicken, red peppers and pineapple. The chicken melted in my mouth, it was so tender. Second was a dish made with slices of steak served in a volcano-hot mushroom sauce. The third dish was crab claws, scallops, and shrimp in a mixture of strange and exotic vegetables, some of which I had never seen before. Everything was served with plenty of hot rice and cold champagne. We finished with a blueberry trifle for dessert. I felt absolutely stuffed.
After supper the women started cleaning up the dishes while the guys headed to the living room to watch football. Being female, I decided to join the others of my sexual persuasion.
"No way, Annie." Suzy led me out of the kitchen. "Any girl with her own jockstrap stays with the guys."
Robbie went to the kitchen and returned with some beers. We sat and talked shop until Suzy and the others rejoined us, then we talked about other non-baseball things. After a while Paul gave my hand a couple squeezes and he winked. I remembered that as his `let's make a graceful exit' gestures. We thanked Suzy and Robbie and said our good-byes. We went up the two flights of stairs to my place.
We went in and sat wrapped in each other's arms for a while. He spoke. "I had to come to see you, tonight. I'm playing in South America this winter."
"Because I missed so much of the season, because I'm still out of shape, I can't get hits in key situations, and my defence is shabby." He shrugged. "There are many reasons but it all boils down to the same thing: I have to."
"Some team-mates are trying to talk me into South America."
"Are you going to go?"
"No. I don't think it would be safe for a single girl on her own in a foreign country." It was my turn to shrug. "I'll go back to my old job until February."
He started to open my sofa bed. "You look so tired."
I laid down as he brought out my pillows and blankets. "I'm so very tired," I said. "I've never been so tired in my life. I sleep ten hours and it's still not enough. The day after I pitch I wake up and my arm is like jello, a dead weight, all rubbery. I've learned to eat breakfast with my left hand because my right hand is useless on the end of a rubber arm."
He laid down beside me and removed my clothes, piece by piece. He took off my shoes and rubbed my feet. "Does that feel nice?" he asked.
"Oh yes," I purred as he pulled off my shirt. He rubbed and kissed my stomach. His stubbly beard tickled and I giggled. I caressed his face and hair and touched his lips. He opened his mouth and sucked on my fingers. It felt yummy. He took off my pants and let his mouth wander downwards. That felt yummier. He undressed himself and lay on top of me.
"Now we're both naked," he whispered in my ear. "Can you feel me? Can you feel how hot I am?"
His eyes were staring deep into mine. I couldn't look away, even if I wanted. He locked me in the embrace of his eyes, the embrace of his arms. "I feel you," I whispered back. "I feel all of you. I love the feel of your body next to mine. I love your eyes."
"Do you love me?" He held my face in his hands, his lips touching mine. He didn't let me answer, his mouth filled mine with a kiss. His hands touched me everywhere, they were warm, and they made me warm where they touched.
"Love me, Paul," I cried when I could wait no longer. "Please love me."
"I do love you," he moaned. "I love you."
We had breakfast at a restaurant on the beach in St. Catherines. Behind us was the St. Catherines Skyway bridge. In front of us, across the lake, Toronto shimmered in the haze like an impossible jewel. Paul was squinting out over the lake. "I can see the C.N. Tower from here. And the Skydome."
"Skydome, Burlington Skyway, St. Catherines Skyway; do you notice a common theme to all these? Could it be we Canadians have our collective heads in the sky?"
He smiled. "That would make all of you air heads."
"Speak for yourself." I finished my food, yet I was still hungry. When the waitress returned to refill our coffees I ordered more to eat.
"I'll never get used to the amount of food you eat," Paul said around his third helping of bacon.
"You're the second person to say that to me." I responded. "Larry said that a few days ago. When are you leaving to catch your jet?"
He glanced at his watch. It was gold with tiny diamonds where the numbers should have been. "I have to be at the airport in an hour so I should leave soon. I'll try to call before the end of the season, but I can't make any promises." He took my hand and squeezed it. "I meant what I said last night. I love you."
"I'm sure you do, and I would like to respond in kind, but you're the first man I've ever been with. I don't know what love is. I love baseball, but the only people I've ever loved are my Dad and my brother Jake."
He smiled sweetly. "I know what you mean, Annie. You need time, don't you?"
"I feel like I've awakened from a dream; like nothing in my life was real before Jake and Ellen dropped me off at the Park in May. Do you understand?"
"I think so. You didn't have a happy childhood." It wasn't a question, it was a statement.
"No, I guess not. I feel like I'm alive now, that I'm truly happy."
"Can I be part of that happiness?"
"You already are," I said quietly. "You are part of my happiness. I wouldn't feel like this if you weren't part of my life. You're right, Paul; I need time. I need time to learn what life and love are on my own."
He nodded while staring at the table. "Will you be okay over the winter? I won't be able to see you until January."
"I'm not afraid of my mother anymore. I'll be fine."
"I'm happy to hear that. You can have all the time you need." We finished our breakfast in silence, in the soft breeze of the last week of summer.
The sales clerks looked serious. They looked at me. They looked at each other. They turned their attention back to me. They spoke quietly between themselves. One scurried off to the farthest reaches of the store. The other cleared her throat and spoke to me.
Well," she said while exhaling. "I think we should try something in a clean, contemporary line. Something with ruffles and flounces would never do on someone so--so--athletic like you."
In other words, something masculine, I thought. After Paul left I thought I would ease my depression in a feminine way: I went shopping. After my advertisement appeared in almost every sports‑related magazine in North America, I received a cheque for a hefty sum of money. Suzy gave it to me before Paul and I left. I wanted to buy some new things for the party on Saturday, and for the visit to Toronto.
The salesclerk in the pink angora sweater and grey skirt returned with her arms full of clothes. The one in the serious haircut and sensible shoes led me to a change room where I tried things on. They made me try everything in the store. I finally decided on a white ruffled shirt that reminded me of a pirate shirt; a pair of wide, baggy satin pants; a purple and gold skirt with matching vest; and a long slinky black dress. The salesclerk thought my selections were very nice on someone so athletic, as she put it. They made athleticism sound like a disease.
I also bought some glittery, dangly jewellery, and some shoes. I wanted things that looked Toronto-ish. I didn't want to look like some backwoods farm kid. I was nervous about my trip to the Skydome. We were doing everything with the Jays, and while my team-mates were used to a girl in the locker room; I had no idea how the men in Toronto would react.
I assumed they would be professional about it. Would they be warned in advance about me or would I take them by surprise? Pete said they usually made small talk with the minor leaguers, patted our heads, and then ignored us. That would be for the best, as far as I was concerned.
Larry said the men would be more concerned with their own standings than with any visitors. I was more concerned about not making a complete idiot of myself. Loaded down with my purchases, I returned to the ballpark. I tossed my bags into my locker. Larry came in with a box of doughnuts, and offered me a couple in return for a peek at what I bought. He touched the shirt and the skirt.
"Oooohhh--that's real silk, isn't it." He looked up and smiled. "You're becoming more sophisticated, aren't you?"
"I'm getting nervous about next weekend."
"Don't worry." He squeezed my shoulder. "You'll be fine. I'll be there for you if you need me."
"Good. I'll stay close to you until I have a better idea what's going on." I munched a chocolate doughnut.
He nodded and picked up a huge, sugar dusted thing. "I can understand why you're so nervous. You'll be the first woman to play in the dome, or any big league park for that matter."
"Think they know about me, or will I be a surprise?"
"They know." He looked straight at me, his eyes twinkling.
"How can you be so sure?"
He smiled. "I told them."
I almost dropped my doughnut. "You what?" I exclaimed.
"Let me qualify that; I told Bugsy, you know, the part time movie star?"
Of course I knew who he was talking about. Richard "Bugsy" O'Hare, was baseball's biggest superstar. He had fifty saves in fifty opportunities, and an ERA that perpetually hovered around zero. He had been to the all star game six times. His perfectly flawless face advertised almost everything, and he had appeared in three movies. He appeared in the summer’s biggest movie and played the bad guy. He always played the bad guy. When I forced my jaw shut I asked, "How do you know him?"
"We went to school together in Oakland. He was like a big brother to me. We still get together all the time. He's my best friend."
"Cool! I'm impressed. So what does he think about me?"
"Like you kids say, cool. He's looking forward to meeting you." He closed up the box of doughnuts and put them on the top shelf of his locker, behind a pile of socks. "He's told everybody about you." He gave my head a rub. "So, are you going to be around next year, driving poor Garry to his early grave?"
I laughed. "I'll be signing on for another two years in September."
"Well, you'll be part of spring training next year."
"I guess I will." I couldn't pry the smile off my face. "This is a real commitment, isn't it? This is great. I guess I am a real ball player, aren't I?"
He laughed and rubbed my head again. "I guess you are. I guess you have been for almost four months!"
"Yeah, I guess I have." I giggled a bit. "This is what I've wanted since I was a kid. I went to a game in the Dome with Dad and his friend. I loved it and I told them that I was going to play in there."
"Do you remember who was playing?"
"I think it was the Tigers and the Jays. I remember Tom Henke was pitching. He threw fireballs. I'd like to throw like that."
Larry looked startled. "But you do throw like that. You do throw fire balls."
"Yeah, but he threw them right down the pipe for strikes. I pray they stay somewhere between first and third and don't sail into the seats."
"That takes time," he said. "Give yourself a few more years and you'll do it."
"I hope so," I said as we walked out to the field. I went to the bullpen to work with George, and Larry went to the outfield to shag fly balls.
On Friday I called my family to confirm who was attending the party and who wasn't. Dad couldn't make it, he was going with Sid to a fishing lodge in Muskoka. I called Jake next.
"Hello, Jake the snake."
"Hi Annie! Is the party still on? Ellen's been climbing the walls."
"Tell her to get those hormones under control. Yes, the party is still on, I want to find out how many game passes I'm going to need."
"Good! I'm eagerly anticipating the festivities."
"Sorry. Ellen has me looking up all the words highlighted in red in the thesaurus. Do you know how many words mean the same as big? Over seventy once you cross reference them. And I never knew there were so many ways to say sorry."
"Flowers are always good."
He was silent. "NO‑‑ YOU -oh -that was joke, right?"
"Yes Jake. I'm having fun with you. How many words are there for fun?"
"I don't know and I don't care. I think I'm going to buy Ellen a computer with a thesaurus in it. Then she can do this herself. What time is the game tomorrow?"
"One-thirty start. So will I see you then?"
"Sure! And I won't have my thesaurus."
We said bye and then I called my twin brother, Kenny. He was twenty minutes older than me. We didn't have a psychic link, or any crap like that, but we were quite close. He was lived in residence at the University and I went through half a dozen people before they found him.
"Hey, Annie baby! How's life in beautiful downtown Burlington? Can you see the steel mills across the harbour from your place? How's life in the Big Leagues?"
I laughed. "Go ask someone in the big leagues. Did you play Summer League this Year?"
"Yes I did. Mommy yelled at me. You're gone so she' picks on me. But she doesn't like me because I yell back."
"Don't worry. When I'm home I'm going to start yelling too. I'm not afraid of her anymore."
"I learned the true meaning of fear."
"Fear is when the score is one to nothing for your team and the opposition has the bases loaded, there's nobody out and the batter has a full count, and you're called up to pitch cause the guy on the mound got hit by a foul."
“WOW! Did that happen to you?"
"Yup. And I got the save. I'm not afraid of anything after that."
"Wow," he said. He sounded truly impressed. "So, are there gonna be any babes at the party tomorrow?"
"Babes?! You've been in university too long. Besides, if there are any groupies there they'll be after the guys on the team."
"What? When there's someone like me around? What do those guys have that I don't?"
"Looks, brains, personality, take your pick." I heard laughing in the background. "Is someone listening in?"
"Yeah, just all the guys on the floor. You're on the speaker phone in the lounge. They all wanted to hear my sister the star. But since Ellen is busy you'll have to do." I heard more laughing.
"Speaking of bad jokes, how did you do in summer league?"
More laughing. "I posted a respectable .245 batting average. So there!"
"Oh yeah! The party is at a fancy place so dress nice. I have post-game passes for you, so you can come to the locker room."
"Okay! I guess I should let you go! See you tomorrow."
We said our good-byes and I called Mark. He was the third oldest brother. Mom wanted him to go to university and become an accountant. He went to university and became an accountant. He was Mom's favourite. I asked him to the party because I hadn't seen him since April. He was one of those disgusting people who had a busy social life, knew thousands of people and was friends with all of them. We caught up on small talk. He told me all the details of a serious audit he was involved in and I told him about some of the parks I played in over the summer. "Are you able to come to the party tomorrow?" I asked when I got bored of accounting anecdotes.
"Oh yes,” he answered. "Will I see you in the game?"
"Probably. I'm scheduled to start tomorrow. I've pitched more in the past four months than in the previous four years. Did you know I had a boyfriend? His name is Paul Morrison."
"That's good. Does he live in Burlington?" Mark wasn't much of a baseball fan.
"No, he played for the Hamilton Tabby Cats until he moved on. It's late and I like to get a good night's sleep before my starts. Are coming in your Jaguar?"
"No, everybody is coming with Jake in his jeep. That way I can get blitzed and not worry about driving home."
"Good idea." I don't remember Mark ever getting blitzed, as he called it, but there was a first time for everything. And first times should be special, as Paul said. We said our see-you-laters and I drifted off into a deep and dreamless sleep.
|Prologue||Chapter 1||Chapter 2||chapter 3|
|chapter 4||chapter 5||Chapter 6||Chapter 7|
|Chapter 8||Chapter 9||Chapter 10||Chapter 11|
|Chapter 12||Chapter 13||Chapter 14||Take me home!|