This week's Indie Ink Writing Challenge comes from FlamingNyx, who may be a Nyx, but, as far as I can tell, is not, at this moment, on fire, and who challenged me with the following sentence: "There is such thing as black and white; people are shades of grey." (My challenge, which I am very interested to see the outcome of, will wind up here.)
This story is called "E5".
I sat on the bench glumly, looking into the creases between the cement and the steel of the fence that protected us from errant balls. There were scraps of napkin, and bits of wrapping from packages of athletic tape and a colorful little corner of what looked like it might be a Hostess Fruit Pie. My stomach growled when I thought about it. They always told us to eat something before a game, but I never could. I needed to feel anxious, slightly angry, to play well, to be aggressive out there.
I looked down at the tips of my cleats. They were originally white, but looked tan from weeks of mud and dirt. I liked the fact that they were unclean. It felt funny to see my teammates ready to begin a game, and not be out there. I had started since midway through sophomore year, and I had only missed a couple of games when I was sick ever since. I felt restless, sitting next to the coach and the other bench players. You had to sit when we were batting, of course, but you knew something was coming- either you were going to hit, or the inning would end and we would have to go out and play defense again.
I was mad, but I was more angry at myself than mad at the coach. She told us every season, first thing, that she would talk to our teachers regularly, and if our grades slipped at all, we wouldn't start. If they didn't improve, we wouldn't play at all. I knew this going in, and, looking at it logically, I knew she was being fair. I knew this, but it still burned. As I watched Alexa warming up for the first inning, I yearned to be out there, scuffing the dirt around third base, getting loose, revving up for action.
My replacement, a scared looking sophomore named Julia, didn't look right out there. When we hit the ball to her at practice, she stayed back too long, waiting for the ball to come to her instead of attacking it. I tried to show her how to do it better, and so did the coaches, but she fell back into her old habits almost right away- waiting, falling victim to bad hops and then rushing, throwing wildly. I hoped, for Alexa's sake, she struck out a lot of hitters today.
So what happened? My history grade had started to slip, and then fall, and then plunge out of sight. What was it? Well, I didn't care about it, and I didn't like the teacher too much, but I had dealt with both of those problems before without too much trouble. What was it really? Jacob. Honestly, it was. Not so much him as the time he seemed to suck out of my schedule.
I like boys, certainly, but until I met Jacob, they were always faintly ridiculous distractions. Being a close friend with a boy has been way more trouble than it is worth- they either wanted the one thing men want, making them desperate and sad, or they were just dumb as posts, not caring about anything that mattered. They took time away from the things I really cared about, so I just shut them into a box, ignoring them despite the probing questions from mothers and aunts. Sports and math and science were straightforward and simple- you got the answer right or you didn't, the runner was safe or she wasn't- unlike the world of boys and relationships, with their double and triple meanings, misunderstandings and rumors and pressure and silly disputes. It did make me nearly the only single upperclassman on the team, and I knew what they whispered about me. But I didn't care- I was beyond caring what they thought.
Jacob called me three thrilling weeks ago, asking if he could borrow my Trig book, since he had forgotten his and the assignment for the weekend was in there. I told him I could just scan it and email him, and we wound up talking for more than an hour. He was so smart, and funny, and able to just relate to you in a easy way. We talked more and more often, and started meeting for lunch on Saturdays when we could squeeze an hour between club meetings, fundraisers, and all the other pre graduation chaos. I didn't call him a boyfriend, and I certainly didn't talk about him with anyone, but he just organically became part of my life, and it was always a thrill to talk to him. I commented a few times that I really needed to pull my grade back up, and he always offered to back away. But I didn't want him to. He made me feel intelligent, and whole- like I was a real person, not just a category. He was the first boy I had ever felt close to, and talking to him became my narcotic- impossible to resist, and hard to go without.
The first batter came up, and, in keeping with the team spirit thing, I clapped and yelled along with the others. Alexa battled to a 2-2 count, and then finally the girl chopped one down towards third, a nasty little dribbler, one of the toughest plays you had to make at third. I leaned forward, trying to will Julia into action. She moved in, seeming to study the ball as it hopped and spun, finally snatching at it. The ball skittered away, off of the tip of her glove. Julia panicked, snatching at it with her bare hand.
I knew what was going to happen, and quickly, it did. She had waited too long- you had to charge these type of balls, especially from a leadoff batter, who was probably fast. You attacked it, making a quick play and a strong throw without setting yourself. The more important thing was to know the play you couldn't make- if you weren't going to get her at first, just take a bite out of it and let them have the base. The worst thing to do was to throw the ball away- now not only was she safe, but she was safe on second.
Julia did what I feared. She grabbed the ball with her bare hand, too late to get the girl at first, and airmailed a throw, giving the girl second base. I flushed with shame and anger, looking down at the clots of dirt on the cement under my feet. Once the ball had been tracked down and the enemy runner was dusting herself off on second, our bench clapped weakly, trying to buck Julia up. "It's OK," the backup catcher said from the bench next to me, "Tough play, Jules." Alexa said a word to her, trying to be supportive, I was sure, then looked directly at me for a second, before going back to the mound. I looked down again.
I knew what she was thinking. I should have been out there. I would have made that play, or at least, I wouldn't have thrown it away. Alexa already had the out recorded in her head, and how she had to go back and get that out again. She was right, I should have been out there. I would have made the play. I wanted to tell her I was sorry, I didn't mean it, that it's my fault, that the run was on me for being dumb enough to get benched.
But that was the thing about sports- it wasn't. That runner was Alexa's problem now, and she couldn't get mad at Julia, or even mad at me. Fair or not, the scorebook told the story. No do over, no arguing your case, no appeal to another authority. The runner was there, and if she scored, the run would count, and if we couldn't score any runs, we would lose.
I was furious at myself, and, what was worse, I knew I was right.