Excerpt for Cricket by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Cricket

by

Barbara Dennis





Copyright @ Wicked Publishing 2016

All characters within this story are fictional and bear no resemblance to anyone living or dead and are purely coincidental.

A Barbara Dennis story. This book or any parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or otherwise without the prior written permission of the author, or Wicked Publishing. Piracy is a crime.

Wicked Publishing stories are downloadable on reputable sites. If for any reason you are reading this for free from a non-reputable site, then you are viewing an illegal download. Please refrain from doing so.

Contact information: www.wickedpublishing.net

Email: wickedpublishingllc@gmail.com

Twitter: @WickedPublishing


AUTHORS NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Editing services courtesy of Ashen White.

Book cover illustration: Shiralyn J. Lee



Dedication:

This book is dedicated to my wife Tania. Thank you, Love, for all that you do. You are my heart.


I would like to thank everyone who had a hand in creating this book.


Thank you, Sharlie Mello, for the first edit, but most especially for your encouragement and support. I consider you my very first fan.


Thank you, Wicked Publishing, for the opportunity to make my dream a reality.


Thank you to my proofreaders, you know who you are.


Thank you to my editor, Ashen White, you provided the polish to make it shine.




Synopsis:


Now in her mid-forties, Cricket has found herself existing with the unexpected loss of her long-time lover Gerry. With the support of her circle of friends and the love of her Bernese dog, Monkey, she continues to live, breathe, and hope for the emptiness to fade. Resigned to believing the hurt will stay, an unforeseen possibility of a new love interest breezes into her life through meeting new friends. Can Cricket lower her guard and allow another person into her heart, or will she push them away and forever struggle with the constant heartbreak? A touching story that portrays every day struggles with unpredictable scenarios.



1


I love mornings; so peaceful, the coming day, bursting with unimaginable possibilities. A hot mug is warming my hands as I close my eyes and inhale the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the lingering bouquet of breakfast. Oh, if there is a Heaven, I hope it smells like hot coffee and cinnamon rolls.


Sometimes, I like to just sit in the quiet of my solitude and let my mind wander where it will. Often it will drift back to times past, when life was much simpler, before bills and taking cholesterol pills, and not being able to stand up once Ive squatted down. I find it ironic that, as a young person you spend way too much time trying to get somewhere. You cant wait to pass another grade in school, and then its driving, and having your first legal beer. College, relationships, apartment, job, new car, and a house… its never ending. We seem to spend so much time trying to get to the next milestone, we actually forget to pay attention to the journey. Once you reach a certain point, you suddenly realize half your life is already behind you. Its like playing one of those new video games – always trying to reach the next level and rarely thinking of where youve already been. Once you get older, there arent so many milestones to reach for, and you have more time to think and reflect on a life that has gone by so very fast.












** 30 years earlier **

“Hey, Cricket, come on, let’s go; you’re holding everyone up,” Mar yelled from across the yard.

“Okay, okay. Hold your horses, will ya? I’ll be right out.”

Maryann – Mar – was my best friend, and jock extraordinaire. She did everything well. She was the captain of every team she played on, and everyone’s friend. Most beautiful, most friendly, most amazingly wonderful person you would ever want to meet. Why she’d picked me to pal around with, I’ll never know. I was shy for a high school kid. I mean, really shy. Almost three-hundred kids in our graduating class, and probably only about ten actually knew my real name. I was just Cricket, Mar’s friend and permanent shadow. I’d been born Delores May Taylor, the younger of two daughters. Mom was big on nicknames, and when she saw me in my bassinet, rubbing my legs together and making little chirping noises, my new moniker became fixed.

Don’t get me wrong, I kind of liked being called Cricket. It’s a lot easier to say, and imminently more suitable for a tomboy than Delores May. I used to cringe on the first day of each new school year, when the teacher took attendance. Fortunately, the school policy wasn’t strict about formal names, so the rest of the year, I answered to Cricket. Thank God! I hated the name Delores. It so wasn’t me.

“Hi, Mar, so what position is the coach putting you in today?” I asked as I jumped into the Green Machine. Mar’s Jeep was the bomb; not only did it mean a huge leap in freedom, it was just really cool.

“He said I had to pitch today, ‘cause Julie was going to her Grandma’s for the week.”

“That’s great,” I replied. Not that it really mattered; she was amazing in any position. I, on the other hand, pretty much just rode the bench on any team I joined. I’d become a master at keeping score, and giving the heads up about our opponents. At least it made me feel as if I was actually doing something besides getting splinters. Every once in a while, the coach would take pity on me and put me in for a few innings, I just never knew when.

We grabbed our gear and headed over to the bench to meet up with the rest of the team.

“Hey, Cricket, you’re playing right field today,” Coach Randall yelled.

My stomach instantly turned over and my sweat glands opened up, making me regret forgetting to use my deodorant. “Um, okay, Coach,” I mumbled as my face began to burn. I dropped my head and quickly sat in the grass. The rest of the girls looked at me with knowing grins. It wasn’t as if I was a bad player; I just wasn’t very aggressive. Our center fielder, Jessie, was extremely aggressive. More often than not, all I needed to do was just stand out there in the field and watch her snag ball after ball as it headed our way. I hadn’t actually made a play during a game all season, and it was already more than half over.

Mar dropped down in the grass next to me with all of her impressive six-foot of solid muscled magnificence. She leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Want me to tie her shoes together?”

I gave a little laugh and shook my head. She sat up with a big grin on her face, knowing how to cheer me up.

When we took the field I noticed Coach in a huddle with Jessie, pointing my way, imparting his wisdom. I figured it was another bit of strategy they were going over, until I heard Jessie yelling, “That little runt isn’t worth a shit out there!”

“Just do it!” Coach yelled back.

As we all took our positions, I looked over at Jessie, who curved her lips into a false smile and said, “Stay out of my way, Runt, or I’ll run you over.”

Man, I thought, who pissed in her cereal today? Just because I’m only 5’3” and 105lbs., and she’s a freight train at 6’1” and 180lbs. doesn’t give her the right to call me Runt.

“Knock it off, Jessie!” I heard Mar yell from the mound. “There aren’t any scouts here today, so just cool it.”

“Protecting your little dyke girlfriend, Mar? Aw, isn’t that just too sweet,” Jessie hit back with a sneer.

“Shut up and play,” Mar said, her face turning red.

“You wanna make me, asshole? You and your little girlfriend gonna try and beat me up?” Jessie taunted, making kissing noises. Then she just laughed and shot a glare in my direction. A couple of the other players snickered, finding Jessie’s taunts amusing.

Mar stiffened with tension. It was bad enough the bitch was picking on me, but then she had the audacity to imply that Mar and I were more than just friends. I was getting a bit steamed myself, and as the game progressed, Jessie would throw kisses at me and laugh, and it was really pissing me off. It wasn’t like I could do anything about it, the woman was huge!

It was the bottom of the last inning, and our team was in the field. For some ungodly reason, Coach had kept me in the entire game. We were up by three, and only needed to hold the other team from scoring and it would be another win. Jessie was still taunting me and making those kissing noises; I couldn’t take it anymore, and my cork popped.

“What’s the matter, Jessie, are you jealous?” I asked, also implying that she liked girls. She heard me and turned; I swear she looked like some demented, insane person in one of those slice ‘em dice ‘em movies. God, she was scary. A chill ran up my spine as she glared at me. My insides started feeling like pudding, and my legs got weak. Jessie then had the nerve to laugh as she turned away, knowing I was petrified.

I was finally able to catch my breath when I heard the crack of a bat. I looked up and saw the ball coming right at me. I put my glove up and signaled that it was my ball, at the same time yelling, “mine.” Just as I was about to glove the ball, I felt this incredible searing pain in my leg and side, and then, “Bam!” Darkness!



**

“What the hell do you mean, this is all my fault?" I heard my mom yell.

“You’re the one who encouraged her to play softball,” my dad argued back. “You said ‘it will be good for her, teach her camaraderie and team spirit,’” he said mockingly. “Now look at her, she’ll be lucky if she ever walks again without a limp.” The disgust in his voice was venomous as he paced around the room.

“That’s enough!” I heard another voice fill the room with a harsh whisper. “Please take your…discussion outside!”

My parents paused their ‘discussion,’ and I heard Mom sigh as their footsteps receded. Then the argument started up again as the door clicked shut.

It took another second for my body to catch up with my mind. I felt as if I was clawing my way out of a fog, my body sluggish to respond to the commands I was silently making. I must have let out a moan, because I felt the touch of a gentle hand against my brow. “I thought you might be coming around about now,” a soft voice said.

I tried to open my eyes, but they didn’t want to cooperate. Lifting my hand caused shooting pains to race up my arm and into my shoulder. I dropped it quickly, groaning from the pain.

“Yep, right on time,” I heard the voice say as I began to drift away. A small part of my mind wondered what was going on before everything went black. The next time I awoke, I was more alert, though I was feeling as if my body was made of lead. I tried to lick my lips, but my tongue felt all sticky and thick.

“Oh good,” the voice said. “You’re awake.” I managed to pry my eyelids open this time, finally seeing the face that went with the voice. She was a young nurse, really pretty in an unconscious sort of way. She smiled, and it turned her from pretty to strikingly beautiful. I sucked in a breath, surprised at my thoughts, and looked down, a little embarrassed. “Hi, I’m Jade. I’ll be your nurse this evening. Here… drink a little water, you're probably pretty dry.” I took a sip from the cup she offered, and felt my lips and tongue start to move around.

“Wh-what happened?” I croaked.

“It seems you had a bit of a collision on the ball field,” she replied.

“God, I feel like I got hit by a bus!” Trying to sit up a little, it felt as if a knife had stabbed into my knee. A knife that had been in a fire, and was glowing red, no less.

“Try not to move around too much, your knee was messed up pretty badly,” the nurse said.

I snorted as the remark registered. Biting back a sarcastic comment, I mumbled in agreement.

“Hang on a second and I’ll help you sit up. I just gave you another dose of pain meds, so it should be easing up in a bit.” I watched her place the used syringe on a tray, and then she came over to me. She cranked up the bed so I was sitting up, and then reached behind me, adjusting my pillows. As she leaned close I noticed her perfume, and I took in a deep breath of gardenia as a wisp of her long, dark hair tickled my face. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t realize my hair had come loose.” She brushed her stray strands behind her ear and gave me a little smile. “Push the call button if you need anything,” she said as she passed me the controller.” I’ll be back to check on you in a little while.” I nodded my head, trying to get a handle on my attraction to the pretty nurse.

After she left, I released the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. “Wow!” was all I could say. Refocusing my attention, I took an inventory of my body, and found my right leg in a cast, a splint on my right arm, an IV in my left arm, and some swelling on the right side of my face. “Hmmm, must have been a good one,” I mumbled.

“Good one what? “Mar said as she strolled through the door.

“A good hit,” I replied as I smiled up at my best friend.

“Well damn, Cricket, don’t you look like death warmed over,” she said as she plopped herself down in the chair next to my bed.

“Thanks a lot. Did you come over just to cheer me up?” I asked.

“Um, yep,” she said with a big toothy grin. “Did you see that nurse? Wow,” she said under her breath. I smiled at Mar, and felt a twinge of something I couldn't quite place.

I sobered a bit and asked, “So what happened? I was calling for a ball, and then, bam, the lights went out.”

Mar’s eyes flashed with anger and she told me how Jessie had plowed into me full force, not even trying to avoid a collision. “It looked pretty intentional on tape,” she said.

“On tape?” I asked.

“Yep, Carol’s dad got it all on video. Man, she did a number on you. The expression on her face looked like she was out for blood; she spiked you in the knee, and stomped down on you as you fell.” She paused. “It looks like she slammed her elbow into your face, too. Surprisingly enough, she even caught the ball. She never looked back, just ran off the field after winning the game. I overheard your folks talking about a civil suit, so this might end up in court.”

I groaned at the comment, wishing that this would all just go away.

“Anyway, I brought you something,” Mar said, and she reached over, placing a roll of hard candy in my good hand.

“Mmmm, I love the cherry ones.” I smiled my thanks at her.

“You’re such a sucker for sweets,” she said as she laughed and sat back down.





2



** Present day. **

The stillness was broken by my large black dog leaping to her feet as she swept the end table clean of its contents. The happy dance that ensued could only mean one thing – Mar was here.

Monkey started to whine just as Mar’s dog, Bug, came flying through the front door, followed closely by my best friend. The small brown patch of color streaked through the room, quickly followed by a much larger blur of black.

“And they’re off!” I commented, as I attempted to rise from my chair.

“Ah, stay there, you ‘ol coot,” Mar said, as she went to the kitchen. I could hear the water run and the clank of the cupboard, then the back screen door slam.

“Make enough for me,” I called, knowing Mar made the best coffee in the county. I don’t know what she did different, but it always tasted better than my own.

“I put a smaller bowl of water out for Bug,” she said, easing her tired bones down on the sofa. “When was the last time you scrubbed out that that monstrosity of a water tub you use for Monkey?”

“This morning, oh, Goddess of Cleanliness. What’s it to you anyway, your little runt isn’t big enough to reach it?” I snickered.

“Hey!” she snapped, a knowing grin on her face. “Just because she hardly reaches your knee is no cause to belittle my dog.”

I started to snicker again, and she looked at me curiously. “Belittle?” I snorted out as I continued to chuckle. “Good one.”

“Ha! Ha!” she harrumphed, putting her feet up on the coffee table, a huge grin lighting her face. “At least she doesn’t’t fill the doorway like your moose. You could put a saddle on her.”

“Not a saddle, a backpack. She likes having a job, so she hauls our water bottles and food when we go for our nature walks. Hell, she could haul your little peanut too.” I laughed at the indignant expression she gave me.

“At least I don’t have a five-gallon bucket full of poop to toss out every week!” She busted up laughing at the look of disgust on my face.

“Well, that is true,” I conceded. “So, what brings you out today?” I asked her. “The little wife have the uglies again?”

Mar shot me a glare and said, “Menopause sucks! I thought she was gonna rip my head off today.”

I tried to give her my best ‘I feel for you’ look, but I think it came out as more amused than sympathetic. Mar got up, rolling her eyes at me with that ‘you’re such an ass’ attitude, as she went to fill the coffee mugs.

I gave a contented sigh, thinking how much I truly loved my best friend.

“So, Cricket, what’s on the agenda today?” Mar asked, handing me my coffee.

“Thanks,” I said as I waved my cup at her. “Not much; I was thinking of taking the girl up to the dog park and giving her a good run. That’s subject to change, though. You have something in mind?”

“Connie and I have been invited to Betty and Carol’s for the weekend, and they asked if we would bring you and the dogs.” She didn’t look at me as she said this, knowing that I probably wouldn’t’t go. “Come on, it's doggie weekend at the farm, and you haven’t been in ages.”

Two years and three months, to be exact. That’s how long it had been since my wife had passed. God, I still miss her so much! The pain in my eyes must have been enough for Mar to realize what I was thinking.

“You know Gerry wouldn’t’t want you to do this, cut yourself off from the people who love you. Come on,” she continued to plead her case, “everyone really misses you.”

I thought about it and looked into Mar’s eyes, seeing the care and concern there. Thinking about the crowd that would be there, I decided I might need a place for some alone time.

“All right,” I said, “but I’m taking my camper. I’ve driven with you in that new sports car before.”

Mar laughed, knowing all too well how I felt about her driving, and understanding that I might need a space of my own in case I wanted some solitude.

“Wonderful! We’re supposed to be there at two.” With that she rose, put her mug in the sink, and called Bug in from the backyard. Monkey, her usual exuberant self, came barreling in right behind her.

“You want to leave Bug so they can play a while? I can bring her out to Carol and Betty’s tomorrow.”

“Sure, why not?” my best friend said. “At least this way, I’ll know you won’t back out.”

After Mar left, I put the pups back out, laughing at their antics as they romped about in the fenced yard. It still amazed me how gentle Monk could be with such a tiny little dog. She would let the little Cairn Terrier leap up and attack her, grabbing a mouth full of scruff, then my big girl would lie down and roll over, allowing the little dog to maul her. The look of pure bliss shining in her eyes was priceless.

I packed up ‘The Beast,’ as my wife used to call it, and loaded up the critters. It was just over an hour and a half to the farm, five minutes in the city, and then the rest all open roads. Nice drive, as I relaxed and went back to my musings of the past. Gerry and I had traveled all over the country and then some, exploring this beautiful world. Most of the trips had included full hook up campsites, and a bit of ground to tie out the dog. We’d spent much of our time on nature walks, taking pictures, and enjoying being alive. We’d met a lot of great people, and even joined an RV club or two as we traveled. Some of our friends were still around, and I would meet up with them now and then. Gerry and I had had a good life. We were together for twenty-four years before she was taken from me. We’d had twenty-four years of loving and arguing and laughing, and being together. We could sit in the same room not talking or touching, or even acknowledging each other in any way, and yet be so totally filled with each other’s presence. I felt it then, the tears as they trailed down my cheeks. I’ve got to pull myself together, I thought as I managed to compose myself. Don’t want to be a kill joy when I get to the farm.

As I pulled into the drive, I saw Carol waving me over to a concrete pad next to the pond, and she had me park there. Sweet, I thought as I set my stabilizers. Once I had the camper level the way I liked it, I opened the door, and the pups bounded out, practically running over Carol in their hurry to reach the other dogs. Laughing, I stepped out, and was immediately engulfed in a bear hug. Well, as big of a bear hug as a 4’8” woman could manage! Carol was a little pixie of a thing, and couldn’t have weighed 90lbs. soaking wet.

“It’s about time you got your ass back out here,” she said as she turned me around and pointed out the hookups that were installed. Blinking in surprise, I said, “Wow, when did you put those in?” She gave me a big grin and told me how Betty’s sister and family had got a camper the year before last, and visited often. “It’s a great way to enjoy family without getting on each other’s nerves. You know how well I get along with my brother-in-law,” she said sarcastically. “This seems to work out the best, and cuts down on the arguments. We put the hookups in about a year ago. It made sense to set it up, and it didn’t cost much, since we could tie into the septic system.”

“Nice,” I replied.

“Come on,” she said, grabbing me by the hand and pulling me in the direction of the back yard. “Hey everybody, look who’s here,” she called out as we rounded the corner.

I stopped dead in my tracks. There must have been fifty people there. I was totally dumbfounded when they all called out, “Cricket!” and started hooting and hollering at the same time. Carol reached over and grabbed my chin, shutting my mouth for me. I must have turned three shades of red from all the fuss everyone was making. Before I knew what was happening, I was seated with a plate full of food and a beer in my hand.

Everyone made a point of coming by and saying hello. It truly felt wonderful to be with my friends again. These people were more ‘family’ to me than most of my biological family could ever be.

Mar slid into the seat next to me and put her arm around my shoulder. “Guess who’s here?” she whispered in my ear.

“Who?” I asked.

“I said guess, not let me tell you,” she snickered. Hearing me release a big sigh, she relented. “Oh, all right, you big baby; you’re no fun. It’s Diane.”

My eyes must have bugged out of my head, because Mar just about spit out the mouthful of beer she had just taken. She started to choke as she swallowed.

“It serves you right, springing that on me like that,” I said, giving her shoulder a whack. “What’s she doing here?” I said, sounding a little more desperate than I’d intended.

Mar started laughing merrily, with me trying to shush her. “Stop it or she’ll find me,” I hissed. “That psycho bitch was stalking me for months after Gerry died. She couldn’t catch a clue if it smacked her in the face, which, by the way, I almost did when she tried to put the moves on me one too many times. My God, she had the nerve to offer herself up to ‘service my needs’ since Gerry wasn’t there to help out any more.”

“Come on, Cricket, she’s not a psycho bitch; she’s just not the sharpest pencil in the box. Underneath all that troweled on makeup and gallons of perfume, she’s a really nice gal.”

“Pffft… ya right, okay. So maybe I’m a bit harsh, but come on, really? She kept calling me ‘Snookums’ and ‘Pookie Bear’ in that little childish, squeaky voice. God, I cringe just thinking about it.” At this point Mar had rolled off the bench and onto the grass, holding her sides, with tears filling her eyes.

“Stop it,” I growled as I tried to subtly kick her to shut her up.

Mar continued to cry, and whimpered, “Quit it, you’re going to make me pee.”

“You’re such an asshole!” I said, and started laughing with her.

Mar squeaked out in a mocking tone, “Oh, Pookie Bear, I’d love to make you growl.”

At that point, I fell off the bench while trying to smack her. We were both rolling around on the grass, laughing in hysterics, when a pair of stiletto heels appeared in my line of vision.

“Who the hell is wearing stilettos to a barbecue?” I whispered. Rolling over, I immediately sobered when I realized I was looking into the face of the psycho bitch herself.

“What’s so funny?” she asked in her little munchkin voice. I lost it and fell over Mar, laughing until my sides ached. Oh, it felt good to do that. Diane walked off, as confused as ever, and I breathed a sigh of relief. We managed to compose ourselves and get back up on the bench. Taking gulping breaths of air to get under control, every time we looked at each other, we would burst out laughing again. Mar finally staggered to her feet, mumbling something like, “Gotta pee,” and wandered off in the direction of the house.

I got up to check on the dogs, and spied them racing as a pack through the pasture. Monica’s lab, Darby, was in the lead, sporting a well chewed Frisbee in her mouth, the rest of the pack in hot pursuit. Even little Bug was managing to keep up fairly well.

I let out a piercing whistle, and watched Monkey head my way, being followed closely by Bug. I led them over to the water and smiled indulgently as they drank their fill. I knelt on one knee to give them some love, and then released them to go back with the pack. I don’t know whose idea it had been to do a doggie weekend, but the pups sure were loving it. I gotta say, so was I.

I assigned myself the task of refilling the water containers for the dogs. While putting my hands to work, I felt a presence nearby. Looking over my shoulder, I noticed Maggie, leaning on the porch rail.

“Hey, kid,” I yelled, “give me a hand, will ya?”

Maggie came trotting over in her coltish, teenage fashion. “Aunt Cricket,” she squealed as she ran to hug me.

“How ya doing, Brat?” I asked.

She snickered at the old nickname I’d used, and began to fill me in on her life since I’d last seen her. When we’d finished with our task, we sat on the porch steps. “Pitcher, huh? You must be pretty good, Brookside has a killer team.” She beamed a smile at me, then asked if I would attend one of her games.

“Come on, Aunt Cricket, the season is almost over,” she pleaded, giving me that pouty face she knew would get to me.

“All right, all right; just email me your schedule and I’ll promise to make a game.” Maggie jumped up to give me a hug, mission accomplished, and then headed off in search of another victim.

Someone chuckled behind me, and I turned to see Betty perched on a bench in the shade of the porch. “So, my darling daughter had her way with you again, did she?”

I blushed a little, knowing I’d been caught once again indulging her precocious child. “You know how it is, Betty, that kid has me wrapped around her little finger.”

Betty gave a little snort and laughed, saying, “She isn’t the only one. That little pony of yours that masquerades as a dog has you wrapped around her little dew claw, too!” I grinned and shrugged, knowing it all to be true.

“What can I say? I’m just a big softie when it comes to beautiful girls.”

**

It was starting to get dark, and I noticed some people heading home while others began setting up tents. I knew that doggie weekends could mean an overnight stay, and it hadn’t dawned on me until then that, as a large group had gotten together, most of them wouldn’t’t fit inside the farmhouse. Good thing they’d had a small pool house put in beside the pond, or bathroom usage would have been assigned to the bushes.

I invited Mar and Connie to share the camper, and even gave them the big bed, since the dinette sleeper really only slept one small adult. Sleeps two my ass; no way two normal size grownups would fit that little bed.

The pups curled up together by the door, and we all settled down for the night. Hearing all the tired sighs released as we bedded down, it came to me how lonely I had been. Mar had been right, again; I needed this. I needed to be surrounded by my family. As I snuggled into my pillow, I closed my eyes and said, “Thanks, Mar.” I could almost hear the smile that I knew would grace her face, knowing that she understood exactly what I meant.

“You’re welcome,” she replied.

I love my best friend.

**

I woke up wearing a rather large, warm, wet tongue covering half my face. Apparently, Monkey’s usual attempt at waking me by placing her big hoof on the bed hadn’t worked this time. Pushing her away, I grumbled, “All right, I’m up, I’m up.” I teetered my way past the four legged, wagging, fur bags to the door and let them out, then stumbled to the bathroom.

The next step was coffee, and breakfast for Monkey and Bug. Clanking around in the tiny little kitchen wasn’t really creating an atmosphere conducive to sleep, so both Mar and Connie made their good morning grumbles and took turns using the bathroom. They each received a steaming mug, kissing me on the cheek as they squeezed past.

While they were doing their morning routine, I set the dinette table back into place, fed the dogs, and sat down to nurse my coffee. Feeling a tad hungover, I grabbed a couple of pain relievers from the nearby bottle and swallowed them with a healthy mouthful of coffee. Shaking the bottle, I offered them to my happy camper friends, and received a moan of acceptance from one, so I shook out a few more caplets for my best buddy. Mar grumbled a “thanks,” and swallowed them quickly. “Blech, I hate taking pills,” she complained.

Connie laughed at her wife’s antics, and said, “Maybe you shouldn’t’t drink like a fish at these shindigs then, huh?” Leaning over, she gave her lover a soft kiss on the head. “I love you, Baby,” she whispered as she passed by and walked out the door.

“Where’s she going?” I asked?

“She volunteered to help cook breakfast for the Horde,” Mar replied.

We sat together in silence, quietly trying to get our minds to function and just relax. Mar noticed me wince when I shifted and asked, “Knee hurt today?”

“Yep, this getting old shit really sucks.” My old softball injury had begun to bother me over the last couple of years, to the point where sometimes, when I forgot I was as old as I was, and did a bit more than I should, I needed a cane.

Mar grunted her agreement, and asked, “Do you ever think about it?” nodding in the direction of my knee.

“Sometimes I do,” I replied. “It sure seems like a lifetime ago.”



** 30 years earlier **

After the injury, when I was released from the hospital, I couldn’t walk. I wasn’t allowed to put any weight on my leg, and I couldn’t use crutches, since my arm was in a sling. So that left either being carried around by someone able to lift my 105 plus pounds, hopping around and hoping I didn’t’t lose my balance, or being pushed around in a wheelchair. Dad could lift me, which was how I got home, and Mar could lift me, which was how I got to school, but getting around was going to be an issue. Mar thought it was great, telling me she always did like pushing me around, but I knew it was just her way of trying to cheer me up. She also got a kick out of being late to class without getting into trouble, since she was assisting the wounded.

My parents decided not to sue Jessie and her parents; they didn’t’t have two nickels to rub together anyway, but they did press charges. Since it was a school function on school grounds, Jessie got a suspended for a week, and the court gave her community service. I became her community service. I couldn’t believe the Judge was stupid enough to think that having Jessie help me was a good idea. He said, “You caused this situation, now I make it your responsibility to be her personal attendant during school hours for as long as Miss Taylor remains incapacitated. Work out a schedule with the principal. And Miss Davis, don’t let me hear there was a problem, you won’t like the consequences.”

Mar and I weren’t’t thrilled about her having to give up her job, but the court decision overruled our protests. She rolled me into the principal’s office to collect my new attendant. Mar leaned down to whisper in my ear, “Don’t let her intimidate you. She was the one who hurt you, not the other way around. She has to pay for her actions. If she gives you any shit you can’t handle, you let me know, okay?”

“Okay,” I whispered meekly, fear causing my voice to tremble. God, the woman was colossal. She stood there, all bad ass attitude, acting as if it was just another day. I had seen the video of our collision, and it scared the hell out of me. Pulling on Mar’s sleeve to get her attention, I whispered, “I still think that Judge was nuts to do this. This could go bad really fast. What if she tries to push me down the stairs?”

“Try not to think about what could go wrong and instead think about what could go right. Here’s your chance to try and get through that thick skull of hers. Maybe you can make a difference in her life. Think of her as your own community service, and that you’re helping out the less fortunate. Who knows, she might surprise us. I gotta go, I’ll see you at lunch.” Mar left, hurrying to class now that she didn’t’t have an excuse to be late.

I tried to swallow past the huge lump of fear in my throat. Mrs. Geiger, the principal, approached the pair of us and went over our schedule. What a nightmare!

Jessie took the handles of my wheelchair and attempted to guide me through the office door. I felt like the ball in a pinball game as she banged first one side, then the other a few times as we passed through. I heard Mrs. Geiger clear her throat, and Jessie stopped and looked back. “Careful, Jessie; remember what the judge said.”

We had made it about twenty feet down the hall when Jessie leaned down and whispered, “Careful my ass! You’re in for it now, Runt.” We continued on a bit further, with me shaking in my boots, praying that I wouldn’t be making another trip to the hospital in the near future. Jessie stopped us outside the maintenance closet and tried the door. Finding it unlocked, she opened it and started to push me inside.

“Why? Why are you doing this? What did I ever do to you to deserve what you’ve done to me?” I asked, tears slowly making a silent trail down my face.

Jessie paused in thought, then grunted and reversed direction, making our way to class. I wasn't sure why she’d changed her mind, but I was thankful all the same.

Our days together continued in complete silence between us. Well, except for the occasional request for the bathroom. Talk about an ordeal; I shudder just thinking about it. Trying to get around with one arm and one leg gave me an entirely new perspective on what people with disabilities have to go through every day. What amazing fortitude they must have.

Lunch was the best part of the day, since Jessie left me with Mar in the cafeteria. She took over getting my food and seeing to my needs. Mar was so sweet, asking me how things were going and offering to help in any way she could, including kicking Jessie’s ass. I love my best friend.

**

A couple of weeks went by, my arm was out of the sling, and my cast was replaced with a brace. God, did it feel good to wash my leg when they took off that cast! The smell was awful, and my leg was so hairy, yuck! A few more weeks and I would be free of my attendant. At least getting around would be a lot easier. I still needed the chair to get between classes, but now I was permitted to use my leg for short trips. Jessie stopped being so abrupt and nasty as she watched me struggle through my day.

Feeling brave one morning, I decided to try and talk with my adversary. “So… um, Jessie, I bet you will be happy to get rid of me when I finally get to walk on my own again.”

She was quiet for so long that I figured she wasn’t going to respond, and then she surprised me by saying, “No.”

I swear my eyebrows met my hairline; I was so dumbfounded by the response. “No?” I asked.

Hearing a big sigh behind me, Jessie rolled me over to a bench and sat down. She actually was looking at me as if we might have a reasonable conversation. She glanced at me, then looked away, then looked back at me, and it seemed like she wanted to say something, but it just wouldn’t come out. I reached out to touch her arm and said, “What is it? You can tell me.” I watched her shoulders slump, and she seemed to deflate right before my eyes. She dropped her head, and in a voice I could barely hear she said, “I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?” I asked.

Gathering her courage, she straightened up and looked me in the eye. “I’m sorry I hurt you and called you and Mar names.”

“Why did you do it?”

“I don’t know. I was angry and confused,” she said, getting a little agitated.

Hearing some people coming down the hall, she stood up abruptly and reached for my chair. “We’d better go before we’re late.” That signaled the end of the conversation.

Weeks of having someone attending to you all the time causes you to relax around them, almost forget they are there. My friends came and talked to me, and I was my usual happy, friendly self. I think I surprised Jessie the first time she’d taken me to my bi-weekly volunteer day at the school library. I had joined a children’s storytelling session instead of a study hall, and she seemed to really enjoy the kids. That day I began to talk to Jessie more. She didn’t usually respond, and carrying on a one-sided conversation had its moments, but I kept at it. I started telling her stories about my life, my family, and my friendship with Mar. I told her how shy I was, and about my efforts to overcome my shyness. I talked about how difficult it was dealing with parents that seemed to be fighting all the time, and about my sister, Megan, away at college and how I couldn’t wait to go myself. That little tidbit actually got a response.

“I’m going to college,” she said.

“What are you going to study?”

“Sports medicine,” she answered.

“Good for you, Jessie. I’m sure you will do well,” I said.

She didn’t reply, but I swear I could detect a small smile.

** Present day. **

Breakfast for the Doggie Weekend was a big affair. It seemed as if everyone pitched in one way or another. We had cooks and servers and those that cleaned up; it was, in a word, wonderful. Everything imaginable to eat as a breakfast food, it was truly an amazing effort.

That afternoon I decided to head home. Monkey was exhausted, tongue hanging to the floor. She is such a good dog. I was feeling my muse knocking, so I decided it was time to get some writing in. I had managed to get a couple of lesbian fiction stories published, and was working on a few others. It’s funny how life can turn out sometimes.

I did the ‘go to college’ thing, and I actually graduated. I worked in an advertising office, writing copy. That’s where I met Geraldine Caudle, artist extraordinaire. I think it was love at first sight. She was a freelance artist, and did some of the artwork for the firm. That helped her pay the bills, and she painted for pleasure, selling pieces in shops and galleries. Many of our friends had original Gerry’s hanging in their home or office, gifts given for a special day. She really was very talented. We had a close circle of friends and family visiting as often as time allowed. We never went the children route, neither of us really willing to give up our freedom. Besides, I have to say, I love kids, as long as I can give them back.

We had a great life; it was a shock to come home one day and find her on the floor. The doctor said it had been a brain aneurism and she probably hadn’t even known what hit her. My friends were all there, sometimes more than I wanted. I knew they meant well, but I’m the kind of person who needs time to process quietly, and I hadn’t really had the chance for months. I sometimes believe they thought I might give up and follow Gerry. If I am being honest, I did think about it when the pain of missing her was almost too much to bear. I’d always believed we would grow old together. I’d loved her with everything I had, and then suddenly she was gone. The void was vast, my heart broken. I’d finally gone to a grief counselor, and I’d learnt how to cope with my guilt, and the agony over her loss; the pain slowly lessening with time and understanding. I know she wouldn’t have wanted me to pine away for her; she would have laughed in my face and told me to get a life already. That was my Gerry, full of love and life, and feisty with a capital F. I still miss her a lot, but the constant pain is now gone, replaced with an ache of longing that I feel will never be filled. I had been making some progress lately, getting out more these last couple of months, my friends always encouraging me to join them in their activities. I was starting to feel normal again, well, as normal as I could ever be, anyway. I’d truly enjoyed the weekend at the farm; I guess it was time to stop wallowing in my shit and get on with life.

Well, enough dallying, I have a story to write. I flipped on my laptop and first checked my email. I found a message from Maggie, giving me her softball schedule. Looked like I’d be able to make her game next Friday, if work didn’t get too hectic. That should be fun. I did enjoy my softball days; I’d even managed to heal up well enough to play my senior year. Well, stand out in the field once in a while, and ride the bench more often than not. It was a fun time, though, mostly just hanging out with the team.



** 29 years earlier **

I was sitting on the bench, preparing my score book for the game when a shadow was cast over me. Looking up, I saw Jessie standing in front of me with an odd expression on her face. We hadn’t seen each other for a while, not since she’d graduated the previous year, and things felt a bit awkward. We had managed to get on an amicable footing, but there really wasn’t a friendship there. She was rather stoic, and I, still being shy, hadn’t really made communicating very easy. Not to mention I was still very much intimidated by her. “Oh, um, hi, Jessie, how have you been?” I asked.

“Okay,” was all she said. She continued to look at me, and kind of moved nervously side to side, so I gave it another try. “So…did you get into college?”

“Yep.”

Hmm, wow, she really is an articulate conversationalist, I thought sarcastically.

Just then, a couple of her rowdy friends came up and started teasing her about talking to the ‘dyke’. I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched Jessie’s face transform. While talking to me, she’d seemed somewhat relaxed, then a bit nervous, until her friends came up, then her eyes turned cold and her mouth turned into a sneer. “Later, Runt,” she said as she stalked off.

Mar came over and asked me, “What was that all about?”

“I’m not sure,” I replied. “One minute, Jessie looked like she wanted to say something, and the next, she looked like she wanted to rip me in two.”

“Maybe she likes you,” Mar said with a huge toothy grin.

At that point I snorted my soda out of my nose and started to cough. “That’s not funny, Mar. You know she’s a homophobe,” I choked out.

“I hear those in denial are the worst ones,” she teased.

My eyes must have bugged out of my head at that comment, because Mar began to snicker, covering her laughter with her hand.

“You can be such an ass sometimes.”

“I know,” she said, giving me one of her lopsided grins, and jogged out onto the field.

Shortly after that the game started, and I was left alone on the bench to keep score.

Honestly, I don’t get it, I thought, and where do they get the idea I’m into girls anyway. I’d never had any romantic interest in anyone, boys or girls, for that matter. Sure, Mar had had her pick of dates, but I was still waiting for someone to catch my eye. Well, maybe that nurse at the hospital, but that didn’t mean anything really. So far, it just hadn’t happened. I wondered if maybe I was one of those A-sexual people we’d learned about in health class. Hey, it would be great if I did meet someone, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath. I heard the umpire yell, “Play ball,” and focused my attention on the game.

A few days later, I heard about some big disturbance at Jessie’s house, and was told that the cops had been called. Shortly after that, she and her mom had moved away. Nobody was really sure what had happened, but the police report in the paper was about Jessie’s father for disturbing the peace and domestic abuse. Apparently, her father and older brother had gotten into a big fight. Her brother had left, and her father had got probation, with anger management classes, mandatory AA meetings, and community service. Weeks later, the rumor mill said the judge had strongly suggested to her brother that he join the service. To my relief, that was the last I heard of Jessie.



** Present day. **

Friday arrived, and after work I grabbed a bite, took a quick shower, and Monkey and I made it to Maggie’s ball game. We staked out a spot on the home team side, just past the bleachers. I unfolded my lawn chair and plopped down, happy to be out. I took a deep breath, inhaling all the memories of softball. Hmmm, been a long time since I enjoyed these particular scents. It was a combination of newly mown grass, leather, lime dust, fresh air, dirt, sweat and sunshine. Ah, what a blend; there’s nothing else like it.

I caught Maggie’s eye as she made her way on to the field. Looking up, I noticed her coach, and my breath hitched. “No it couldn’t be, could it? She looks like… no, it's not…wait…yes, it is.” It was Jessie! Oh, my God! Jessie Davis! I couldn’t believe it. She looked about the same, just a bit older and stockier. She was still a freight train, only more intimidating. I had forgotten how big she really was. Looking at her as an adult, I noticed she was really rather striking. She had dark hair, blue eyes, light skin, kind of attractive, really, in that androgynous jock kind of way. Huh, who knew? In my mind, she was always the troll that had hurt and intimidated the hell out of me in my junior year.

Maggie had made not one, but two, count ‘em, two double plays. Brookside won 7-4. Maggie dropped off her bag next to me and made her way to the team meeting. After the meeting broke up, I saw the coach pull Maggie aside for a confidential conversation. Maggie started crying when the coach put her hand on her shoulder, leaning in closer to speak more privately. Fearing the worst, I hurried to Maggie’s side, twisting my knee in the process. Reaching for Maggie, I pulled her to me, and I snarled at Jessie, “Get your hands off her.” Maggie fell into my arms, and I glared at the coach over the crying teen's shoulder. Jessie looked to see who had spoken, and when she saw me, I watched as all the color drained from her face. I think saying she was shocked would be an understatement. I turned Maggie in my arms and limped back to my chair. Monkey was still in her stay position, since I hadn’t released her. “Okay, girl, let's go,” I said, and she jumped up, eager to see Maggie. We grabbed our things and made our way to the car. I looked back and saw Jessie still standing in the same spot looking out across the field.

“Are you all right?” I softly asked. “She didn’t do anything to hurt you, did she?”

Maggie looked at me, a puzzled expression on her face. “No,” she paused, “why would Coach hurt me?”

“I saw her put her hand on your shoulder and you started to cry. I just thought…” I swallowed my words.

“No, Aunt Cricket, Coach was just telling me my friend Brenda had just passed away. We knew it would be soon, she had bone cancer.”

Feeling like a total schmuck, I offered my condolences to Maggie, and groaned as I realized the mistake I made. “Looks like I owe your coach an apology,” I said.

Maggie looked at me quizzically, then shrugged and let it go.

“Are you still up for dinner, or would you rather I take you home?” I asked.

“Home, if you don’t mind. I don’t feel very hungry right now.”

After dropping Maggie off, I decided to head home. Betty had asked me to stay, but I could see she was still frazzled from the hectic day she’d had, so I opted out. Feeling hungry, I stopped at a drive-thru, and got a burger, and Monkey got a grilled chicken patty. I swear that dog eats better than I do.

On the drive home I thought about the incident at the ball field, and tried to figure out what I should do about it. I was surprised at myself for jumping to conclusions, and thinking the worst of Maggie’s coach. I hadn’t seen her in almost thirty years, yet I’d expected her to be the same monster she had been in high school. I knew I was no longer the same young girl I’d been back then, so why couldn’t Jessie have changed as well? I should have given her the benefit of the doubt instead of being such a jerk, a jerk who needed to get her head out of her ass and figure out what to do.

I called Maggie after I got home to see how she was. She asked me if I would like to watch her play in a tournament next week, since it was only a couple of miles from my house. I told her I had some work to do but, if I could get away, I would.

Saturday afternoon was a beautiful day. I had finished my work, and Monkey was letting me know in no uncertain terms that she wanted to do something. Looking into those big soulful eyes, I smiled and gave her some love. I swear that dog travels to the planet of ecstasy when I rub her ears, tongue lolling out of her mouth, eyes rolling back, the big goof.

“All right, girl, let's go get your backpack ready and go see Maggie play.” Monkey was already in the closet digging out the backpack the instant the word left my mouth. She danced around in excitement, then settled down while I went to the kitchen to load up the supplies. Collapsing bowls, water bottles, snacks for both, a chew bone, and her extend-a-leash all made their way into her pack. My knee was really hurting that day, so I decided to take my cane. Walking on pavement wasn’t a big deal, but the uneven terrain of the ballpark’s grass made walking precarious at best.

I let Monkey run in the dog park next to the ball diamonds, and managed to tire her out a bit before the game started. Maggie was out in the field, practicing, and Monk and I found a nice place under a giant Maple tree to set up my chair. Walking from the dog park had been quite a distance, and my knee was really aching. It was a good thing my four-legged friend liked to carry our stuff. I would have been hard pressed to carry more than my chair today. Brookside had already played one game and had lost 5-3. If they lost this one, they’d be out of the tournament. Maggie seemed a little subdued, and I wondered if she was feeling the loss of her friend. I had overheard a couple of the other girls talking about Brenda, and it sounded like she had been a well-liked and special young woman.

They won the second game, so they had to play another in three hours. That put them in the semi-finals, two games away from a large trophy. Maggie came over, saying that the coach had let them go to get something to eat and relax; she had to be back in two hours to warm up. Maggie put Monkey’s backpack and my chair over by their gear, so I wouldn’t have to carry anything back and forth. She talked me into taking her to the Ice-Cream Shop; they not only had ice-cream, but totally awesome sandwiches. Monkey, of course, had her own meat patty, with a couple of dog biscuits thrown in for dessert.


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-29 show above.)