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chapter eight

     "Well, like I said," Trevor began, picking up the story of his baseball history, "I'm not a great natural athlete. I've got pretty good balance and agility, and my running speed isn't too bad, but my reflexes aren't unusually quick, my throwing arm is only average, and I'm not a natural hitter, in either power or average. That was more true when I was younger, 'cause I was small for my age. In fact, when I started eighth grade almost two years ago, I was still only 5' 1". When I started ninth grade last year, though, I was up to 5' 6", and now I'm at 5' 9". I'm still hoping to make it to 6' before I'm done, although my parents say that's a long shot now."
     "You're lucky," said Cindy. "I stayed short."
     "C'mon, you're not SHORT," replied Trevor. "You gotta be, what, 5' 5"?"
     "I wish!" said Cindy. "5' 4". With shoes on."
     "Well, that's still not 'short'. At worst, it's 'less tall'. Not that being short is BAD or anything. I mean-"
     "Why don't you just get back to the baseball story," Cindy interrupted, "before you get in any deeper."
     "Probably a good idea," chuckled Trevor. "So, anyway, I did OK at tee-ball, in spite of my limitations; but when I started playing baseball in fourth grade, I ended up as a substitute. The coach used me in the outfield in practice at first, but I wasn't comfortable there, and it showed, so he moved me to the infield. That was where I usually played in tee-ball. In the games I played some second base and some shortstop, and even third base once when we were way ahead.
     "My Dad worked with me when I wanted to, but as the season went on I wanted to less. It was the only time I ever didn't want to work hard at baseball. Finally Dad talked to me about it. I told him there just didn't seem to be much point to putting in the extra work when I was just a second-stringer. He told me that there were two good reasons for doing it. One, if I worked hard enough maybe someday I could start, even if it took a year or two. And second, that substitutes can still contribute to the team effort. He reminded me of a few Major Leaguers who were substitutes but made big contributions, like Francisco Cabrera of the 1992 Braves, who got a hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the National League Championship Series that drove in the tying and winning runs, and sent the Braves to the World Series.
     "It all made sense to me, especially the part about being ready to contribute when the chance came, so I wouldn't let the team down. So I asked him what I needed to do. He said I should work on the things that would make me more valuable. First, compensate for my weaknesses. Like I couldn't make my arm better, but I could learn to USE it better by developing a quicker release on my throws. And since I didn't have natural power as a hitter, I should learn to hit to all fields, so I could take advantage of the way any defense was playing for me, and hit behind runners and eventually do hit-and-runs too.
     "And he also said that as long as I was a second stringer I should work on being versatile on defense. I should learn the fine points of playing second, short and third, so the manager wouldn't be afraid to use me at any of those positions if there was a need.
     "So I worked on all of that stuff. I practiced all of the different kinds of throws each infielder has to make - with my decent balance and agility that actually became a strong point for me - and getting rid of the ball as fast as I could on every throw without rushing it. Dad could work with me on that stuff, no problem. Hitting was a little harder, 'cause two people can't work on that very efficiently, but we got help sometimes and did that, too. And Dad would quiz me all the time about what each fielder should do in different situations.
     "Well, I learned more and more and got better, but the next season I was still second-string. But Dad kept encouraging me, and I kept working, and the next season - I was still second string. But the starting third baseman broke his arm the day before the second game, and I got to start at third. The manager batted me last, and I grounded out the first time up. The second time up the guy before me had doubled to start the inning. We were down by one run at the time, so my main job was to get the runner to third. My work on hitting paid off, 'cause I was able to hit a grounder to the second baseman. I was out, but the runner went to third, and then scored on a sacrifice fly.
      "Then in the last inning their leadoff man tried to get a bunt single. He bunted it nice down the third base line, but again my work paid off, 'cause I made a barehand pickup and threw him out by a step. Two of the next three hitters got on before we got out of the inning, so my play was really important to keep the game tied.
     "Then in the bottom of the inning I came up with a runner on first and two out. It wasn't a crucial situation, of course, because if I made an out we would just have gone to extra innings, with the top of our order hitting in our half. So I took a little chance. The right fielder was playing me pretty short, so I tried to hit one as hard as I could right down the first base line, and by the grace of God I actually did it. The right fielder couldn't cut it off, and the runner came all the way around to score, and we won."
     "That's great!" exclaimed Cindy as she scraped out her last spoonful of sundae. "You had to wait longer for your big chance, but you made the best of it, just like I did."
     "Yeah, it was pretty cool," agreed Trevor. "I started at third the rest of the season. Unfortunately, we still had a losing record that year, and we went out of the playoffs in the first game. And I didn't have any more heroic moments like that in that season, and it wasn't until the last two games that I finally started hitting with some consistency. I got two hits in each of those games, including one triple. Up until then I hadn't gotten on base more than once in a game. But ever since that season, I've always started somewhere in the infield, both on the school teams and in the summer league."
     "I played on the school team in middle school," said Cindy, "but I got here too late to try out here. I barely got signed up for the summer league. But I don't think I could have made the school team anyway."
     "Because it's fast pitch?" asked Trevor.
     "Right," Cindy answered. "I don't have the reflexes for hitting that kind of pitching. And even if I did, it's been so long since I've played any position except pitcher that I'd be no good on defense. 'Cause I know I couldn't throw hard enough to pitch fast pitch."
     "Maybe you couldn't pitch," replied Trevor, "but I bet you could learn to hit OK, and you could play second base again. You at least have some idea what to do there already. You should go out for the team next year."
     "I don't know," said Cindy with evident uncertainty. "I'd like to, but..."
     "Tell you what," said Trevor. "I'll work with you next spring. I'll turn you into a decent hitter and fielder, just like my Dad did for me."
     "You're so sweet," said Cindy with a smile. Then the smile faded. "But what if we're not together anymore by next spring?"
     Trevor shrugged. "You never know for sure, I guess," he said, with a touch of embarrassment. "But...ah...well, considering how good I feel right now just from being with you, I can't imagine I'll be tired of you already by then."
     "Ohhhhh!" said Cindy. It was the same sound she had made earlier on the way to the mall, when Trevor had told her she should ride in front of him. It was a combination of a sigh and the sound of a rusty hinge, starting high in pitch and then quickly sliding down and back up again. Under other circumstances, Trevor might have found it annoying. Coming from Cindy, however, it sounded wonderful: it was obviously her way of showing that something had really touched her heart, had made her feel special and loved. Trevor suddenly wanted to provoke that sound on a regular basis, because he wanted her to feel that way as much as possible.
     "Hey," said Trevor, "I'm just being honest again."
     "You say such nice things to me!" said Cindy with feeling. "I can't believe how sweet you are!" She dropped her voice a bit. "And I can't believe..."
     "Can't believe what?" asked Trevor after a few seconds.
     "I can't believe you feel it too," she answered in little above a whisper.
     Trevor's eyes widened slightly, then he smiled in amazement.
     "You mean, you've never felt nearly so good before either as you do now?"
     Cindy smiled shyly and nodded. "It's been building ever since we smiled at each other at the drinking fountain," she said.
     "Me, too," agreed Trevor. He crinkled his forehead. "Have you ever had a boyfriend before?" he asked.
     "No," Cindy replied, shaking her head. "I told you, no boy's ever even looked at me like he thought I was pretty. Am I your first?"
     "Uh-huh," Trevor answered with a nod. "I wonder...I mean, do you think it's normal for two people who hit it off to feel THIS good?"
     "I don't know," Cindy responded.
     "Me either," said Trevor. "But it seems to me that if feeling THIS good was common, people would hardly ever talk about anything else."
     Cindy smiled. "Always analyzing, aren't you?" she said. "Well, as far as I'm concerned, I don't want to analyze it right now. I just want to enjoy it."
     "Good idea!" declared Trevor. "Me, too! Now then, since we've both finished our ice cream, would you like to enjoy it here or somewhere else?"
     "I think I'd rather walk around, if it's OK with you," replied Cindy.
     "Sounds great," said Trevor. "Well, schweetheart," he continued in an exaggerated Humphrey Bogart imitation, "whaddaya shay we blow disch joint?"
     Cindy hesitated, and Trevor could tell that she had thought of a joke but wasn't sure it was funny enough to say.
     Then she suddenly assumed a frustrated expression.
     "We can't," she said in feigned annoyance. "I forgot the dynamite."
     Trevor laughed out loud. "Excellent!" he said. "You're amazing!"
     Cindy blushed slightly, then said, "I guess you're right. I should say the jokes I think of. At least to you."
     "Please do!" replied Trevor. "It's a pleasure to be your straight man." He got up, walked to her side of the table and extended his right hand to her as she began to stand. "May I take your hand, my lady?" he asked with a little bow.
     "Certainly," answered Cindy, extending her left. "Just make sure you have it back by Tuesday."
     Trevor had taken Cindy's hand while she was speaking, and suddenly he found himself clinging to it for dear life as he bent over in laughter. When he had finally regained some of his composure, he looked at Cindy, then looked out into the rest of the dining area.
     "I think I've created a monster!" he commented to no one in particular. Then he looked back and Cindy and added, "Well, at least you're the world's PRETTIEST monster!"
     "And you're the world's sweetest mad doctor!" Cindy replied.

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