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chapter two

     Trevor and his father arrived at the softball diamond just as the warm-ups were ending. Trevor was hoping they would get to the bleachers without Katie Mason noticing them.
     No such luck. They had barely left the parking area when Katie spotted them and began jogging toward them. After a few steps she reached up and took off her baseball cap.
     As she approached, Trevor couldn't help but marvel once again at her beauty: she had big blue eyes that looked like two giant sapphires, a complexion as fair and smooth and flawless as a porcelain doll, lyre lips, perfect teeth, and shoulder length hair that was black and shimmering. Trevor had actually underplayed his opinion of her in his earlier conversation with his father. The fact was that he considered Katie the most beautiful human being he had ever seen, bar none. There wasn't even any serious competition.
     Maybe I AM nuts for not giving her a chance, thought Trevor - not for the first time; but deep down he knew better.
     "Hi, Mr. Pendall! Hi, Trevor!" said Katie cheerfully as she reached them. She fixed her gaze on Trevor, and gave him a smile that was almost seductive. It required a force of will on Trevor's part to resist this blatant appeal to his hormones. "I'm so glad you came!" Katie continued. "I've missed having you cheer for me this year. And I really wanted you to see us play for the championship, since the only other game you came to this year was the one game we lost."
     "Well, any team can have a bad game once in a while," said Trevor, and immediately thought, What a dumb thing to say!
     "Yeah, but two of our best players were on vacation that week," replied Katie. "Our starting shortstop and our regular pitcher. We especially missed Cindy. She's the best slow-pitch pitcher I've ever seen. The two girls that pitched in her place got shelled."
     Trevor tried to think of a continuation for the conversation, but as usually happened when he was talking to Katie, nothing intelligent came to mind. Fortunately, he was saved from further embarrassment.
     "Katie! Let's go!" her manager shouted from the bench area.
     "Oops! Gotta run!" said Katie over her shoulder as she began to move away.
     "Good luck, Katie!" Trevor called after her.
     She looked back and smiled. "Thanks!" she said, obviously meaning it.
     "I feel stupid again," Trevor muttered to his father. "I couldn't think of anything smart to say at all."
     There were three adjacent sections of bleachers at this particular softball diamond, each fifteen feet wide and seven rows high. The center section was directly behind home plate, with an additional section extending up each baseline. The last few feet of each side section were less than two yards behind the first few feet of one of the players' benches.
     Trevor and his father climbed to the top row of the center section of bleachers, where Katie's parents were already seated directly behind home plate. After exchanging greetings with Mr. and Mrs. Mason, they sat down next to them, on the first base side.
     "Trevor," said his father, "this isn't in any way intended to push you toward Katie, so please don't take it that way; but it occurs to me that maybe your inability to intelligently converse with Katie isn't unique to her. Maybe you'd react the same way to any girl you felt physically attracted to. I mean, that's a natural reaction for many boys who haven't yet had a relationship with a member of the fairer gender."
     "There may actually be something to that," Trevor admitted. "There have been several other girls over the last year or so that I've felt at least somewhat attracted to. The only one I actually tried to talk to was Lauren Hooper, at the Spring Dance this year. It didn't go very well, to say the least. I ended up not even asking her to dance, and the chance to be with her was the only reason I let Tim talk me into going in the first place.
     "But it's different with Katie. I mean, with Lauren, I hardly know her at all, so there was a reason besides just nervousness not to know what to say. With Katie, I know her well enough that I should be able to know what to say without even thinking about it. But I usually just go blank anyway. I'm sure part of it is knowing how she feels about me, and seeing how she acts toward me these days. It definitely makes me uncomfortable."
     "And that's why you've been avoiding her," said his father.
     "Uh-huh," agreed Trevor. "I wish she would just get over me. I'd really like to be just friends with her again. Maybe then we could have normal conversations again, like we used to when we were younger. I'd really like that."
     "If she does get over you, she may not want to be friends like that again," observed his father.
     "I hope that's not true," replied Trevor, "but you're right, it's very possible."
     Katie's team had lost the coin toss and was going to bat first. Katie herself was the team's leadoff hitter.
     Though she was one of the smaller girls on her 9th grade team (which was one of the reasons she was a good gymnast), Trevor knew that Katie was the team's best natural athlete, and that she had worked hard at becoming a good player. She was not only a fast runner, she also had excellent reflexes and was able to get an exceptional jump on balls hit to her area in the outfield. This gave her a large amount of defensive range, so much that her manager deviated from the four infielder-four outfielder system that was normally used in that league: he used five infielders and three outfielders, with Katie in center field. Trevor knew from previous seasons that few balls made it into the gaps between Katie and the other two outfielders, but numerous grounders that would get through a four infielder alignment became routine outs because of the extra infielder.
     Katie wasn't a particularly powerful hitter, but as leadoff batter her primary job was just to get on base, and she was unusually adept at hitting the ball between opposing infielders.
     She didn't quite get the ball between the infielders on her first at-bat, but the shortstop was only able to knock the ball down backhanded, with no chance for a throw. Katie was safe at first, and the team went on to score two runs in the inning.
     Trevor and his father applauded as Katie's team took the field. "All right, let's hold 'em now!" yelled Mr. Pendall.
     "Now we can see this ace pitcher Katie was talking about," said Trevor.
     "I've been to couple of their other games this year," replied his father. "I've seen her pitch. She really is good."
     "Oh yeah, that's right," said Trevor. "I guess your word's good enough for me - but I still want to see for myself too!"
     Trevor looked out toward the mound. The pitcher for Katie's team was scraping the ground just in front of the pitching rubber with her right shoe. Then she stood on the rubber, positioned her right foot carefully and wiggled it back and forth. She nodded in apparent satisfaction. Then she looked in to her catcher, took the ball out of her glove, set herself, and delivered her first warm-up pitch. It had a beautiful, high arc, and came down precisely over the edge of the first base side of the plate, landing just behind it.
     Wow! thought Trevor. I don't think I could hit that one very well. I wouldn't even try unless it would be a strikeout if I didn't. He continued to watch her warm up, becoming more impressed with each pitch she threw.
     What did Katie say her name was? he asked himself. Oh, yeah - Cindy. He watched her throw two more excellent looking pitches, then suddenly turned his attention to Cindy herself.
     She wasn't beautiful like Katie - even from a distance that much was obvious. Her eyes seemed a bit too small, and she appeared to have a slight overbite. She certainly wasn't ugly, but her combination of facial features just didn't quite add up to beauty. She was a bit taller than Katie, but still shorter than the majority of the other players. She didn't look particularly athletic; but as his eyes followed her last warm-up pitch, Trevor realized that that perception could be deceptive: she was definitely quite good at lobbing a softball exactly the way she wanted to.
     The first opposing batter stepped in. As soon as the batter was ready, Cindy delivered a pitch identical to her first warm-up. The batter started to swing, then checked. Called strike one.
     As soon as she had gotten the ball back and her catcher was ready, Cindy pitched again. This one had the same arc, but came in just a little outside. The batter hesitated, then swung, quickly and a bit awkwardly. She hit an easy pop-up to the third baseperson.
     The next batter came up. Cindy again started her off with a pitch on the outside corner. The bat never moved. Called strike one. Immediately Cindy came back with another pitch to the same place. Called strike two. The batter looked at the umpire as if she wanted to say something. Then she moved closer to the plate.
     Inside corner, thought Trevor. Sure enough, Cindy threw the next pitch right over the inside edge of the plate, with less arc and more speed than her previous pitches, so the batter would have less time to adjust. Called strike three.
     "Aw, come on!" the batter said to the umpire. "It almost hit me!"
     "You moved up on the plate after the first two," the umpire explained. "It was a beautiful pitch."
     The batter walked off in evident disgust. The next hitter who came up, unlike the first two, was tall and powerfully built. Obviously a girl who could hit the ball a long way. Trevor wondered how Cindy would pitch to her.
     The first pitch came in over the outside corner, but slightly out of the strike zone high. The batter, obviously looking for an outside pitch, swung at it as hard as she could. Because it was high, however, she got under it and lifted a lazy fly ball to right center. Katie had plenty of time to get under it, and the inning was over.
     "Somebody better check that pitcher's DNA," Trevor said to his father. "I don't think she's human. I've never seen a MAN pitch that accurately and smartly. Wow!"
     "She's exceptionally on so far today, even for her," his father replied, "but she never gets many of them out over the plate, and with that arc even her bad pitches aren't THAT bad. It's a big advantage for Katie's team."
     Coincidentally, Cindy was due up to lead off the second inning. She took the first pitch outside for a ball, then on the second pitch hit a looping line drive over the third baseperson's head. It dropped in close to the base line.
     Watching Cindy run for the first time, Trevor observed that whatever athletic ability she might have didn't include unusual speed; but she hustled hard, and as she approached first base Trevor saw the coach there signaling her to go to second. She took a big turn, then suddenly slammed on the brakes as she saw the left fielder about to throw. As she retreated to first base, the ball popped into the glove of the player covering second. Had Cindy obeyed her coach, she would have been out easily.
     "Man, she's good at hitting and base running, too," Trevor said to his father. "And apparently she's smarter than that coach."
     "You sound like you're interested in her or something, Trev," his father said. "Do you think she's cute, too?"
     "NO!" Trevor replied, and immediately realized that his response had been too quick and loud. He tried to recover. "I mean, I'm just impressed by how good a ballplayer she is, that's all." He smiled. "After all, she's no Katie, right?"
     "There may be hope for you yet," his father chuckled.
     But Trevor was troubled. Why had he responded so strongly to what had obviously been a joking question? WAS he feeling something more than respect for Cindy's skill at softball, without even being fully aware of it? Had he reacted that way because his Dad seemed to have invaded his innermost thoughts?
     Trevor looked out at Cindy as she stood on first base and tried to imagine himself talking with her. He was surprised to find himself feeling nervous at the prospect. He quickly realized that even though Cindy wasn't classically beautiful like Katie, there was something strangely appealing about her. It was something Trevor couldn't as yet quite define or explain, but its existence was undeniable.
     I think I want to meet her, he suddenly said to himself, and was immediately surprised at his own thought; but the surprise didn't alter his desire. He decided that after the game he would congratulate her on her performance, win or lose, and try to use that to get a longer conversation going. He still didn't understand exactly why he was feeling driven to do this, and the prospect of doing it was still making him distinctly nervous; but there was no question in his mind that he was going to follow through on his plan.
     Thanks in part to Cindy's efforts and a second base hit for Katie, their team scored two more runs to take a 4-0 lead.
     Cindy continued to pitch superbly, hitting the corners and consistently getting the batters to swing at pitches they obviously didn't like. Sometimes it seemed to Trevor that she was actually reading the hitters' minds. She allowed one hit in the second inning, but the runner was stranded on first. She retired the side in order in the third, finishing with her second strikeout.
     In the fourth inning, the second batter reached base on a grounder that took a bad hop on the shortstop and bounced off of her glove into short left field. The next batter hit a dribbler up the first base line. There was no chance for a force at second, but Cindy herself made a nice play on the ball to get the out at first.
     Then the following batter finally seemed to get the better of Cindy, hitting a hard line-fly to left center that appeared certain to go over the heads of the outfielders for extra bases, and a possible homerun; but Katie got a great jump on the ball, and while running at an angle backwards she was able to leap into the air, reach up backhanded and make the catch. It was as good a play as Trevor had ever seen any outfielder make, male or female. He made a mental note to congratulate her for it after the game.
     As the first batter of the fifth inning was stepping in, Trevor excused himself to get a drink from the water fountain, which was located about twenty feet behind the bleachers. After he had quenched his thirst, he casually glanced toward Katie and Cindy's bench. He took a quick intake of breath: Cindy was approaching the water fountain.
     A familiar feeling of mild nausea came into his stomach, one that Trevor immediately recognized: it was the feeling he always got when he was trying to have a conversation with Katie.
     He stepped away from the fountain so Cindy could use it, and tried to think what to do. Cindy seemed not to notice him as she bent over to get a drink. For just a moment, Trevor was seized by a powerful impulse to get away from there as fast as he could. Then Cindy finished her drink and raised her head, and saw him standing there. As their eyes met, Trevor suddenly decided that if he didn't go for it he would hate himself for not making a good first impression. He smiled.
     "Hi, Cindy," he said, in a voice that he immediately realized had sounded nervous and excited. Not at all what he'd been trying for.
     "Hi," Cindy answered, with a facial expression that combined a frown with traces of a smile. When he thought about it later, Trevor realized that Cindy was simply trying to figure out how he knew her name, but at that moment her reaction only made him even more nervous.
     Hold it together, Trev! he thought.
     "I gotta tell you," he continued, trying to force calmness into his voice (an effort that was only partially successful), "you're awesome out there! How do you control your pitches so good?"
     Cindy shrugged. "Just practice, experience and good mechanics," she answered, in a tone of voice that clearly indicated she wasn't yet sure what to think about the situation.
     Now Trevor went completely on instinct: when in doubt, make a joke. He twisted his face into a frown.
     "Mechanics?" he said in mock confusion. "What do car repairmen have to do with it?"
     For a moment Cindy didn't react, just long enough for Trevor to fear that going for the joke had been a mistake.
     Then her face broke into a big smile, and she giggled loudly.
     It was the first time Trevor had seen her smile, and he was stunned by the difference it made in her appearance. It was a smile that encompassed her whole face, and turned it from mildly attractive into practically radiant. It was such a surprise that it was impossible for Trevor to even attempt to analyze the change. All he could do was react, and he did so without consideration or hesitation. Before he was aware that he was doing it, he spoke his instinctive thought out loud.
     "You're pretty!" he said softly. At first he was shocked that his thought had spontaneously popped out of his mouth. Then shock turned to horror as he saw Cindy's smile fade, and her cheeks turn red.
     Suddenly something came to him. He knew he didn't have time to determine whether it was likely to help or make matters worse. He had to go with it, and hope for the best. He forced himself to smile weakly.
     "Y'know, there IS a plus side to this," he said, in as steady a voice as he could manage. "We're both getting the most embarrassing moment of our lives out of the way."
     At first, Cindy didn't react at all. Then the corners of her mouth began to slowly go up, and the redness began to fade from her cheeks. Within a few seconds her full smile had returned, and she giggled again.
     "You're funny!" she said, giggling slightly on the second word.
     Trevor was first relieved, then delighted by this reaction. He knew he couldn't quit now, he had to keep charging ahead. He changed his expression to one of uncertainty.
     "You mean that in a GOOD way, I hope."
     This time Cindy's reaction was more than a giggle. It was a full-fledged laugh. Trevor marveled at the fact that she actually liked his jokes. This was a girl he could really get along with! He was finding her more attractive by the moment.
     "Yes," she said after a few seconds, as her laugh diminished to a chuckle. "A VERY good way!"
     HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES! thought Trevor excitedly, and he felt his face break into a big smile.
     They continued to smile at each other, and though they weren't speaking, it seemed to Trevor that thoughts and emotions were passing between them, that they were communicating at a level beyond what words could say. Their souls seemed to be bonding, with time having somehow stopped, and the rest of the world having fallen away. It was as if they were alone in the universe, needing nothing except each other.
     Then the spell was abruptly broken by the voice of Cindy's manager.
     "Cindy!" he called from the bench. "Come on, let's go!"
     "Oh," Cindy said, her smile fading. She started to slowly walk backwards toward the bench. "Ah...see you after the game, right?"
     "What game?" answered Trevor in feigned confusion. Then he gave his head a quick little shake and glanced toward the field. "Oh, the game!" he exclaimed. Cindy giggled again, and he looked back at her. "Absolutely!" he declared.
     Cindy turned and started trotting toward the bench, then suddenly slowed and looked back over her shoulder.
     "Thank you!" she called. It took Trevor a moment to realize she was belatedly thanking him for saying that she was pretty - apparently that hadn't been a mistake after all. He continued to watch as she ran to the bench and retrieved her glove, then ran out onto the field, where the bleachers finally obstructed his view of her.

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