The Kid

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Chapter Eight

Gertrude Muldowney was not very happy when she learned what her husband was doing. “Nothing good can come of this, Dennis G., you mark my words!”

Dennis G. was doing everything he could to ignore those words but he couldn’t exactly tell his wife that.

After the owner of the Boston Braves had laid down the law with his daughter--and the next day also with D.G. and Jason, showing no less emotion than he had before, although he did somehow manage to make the whole thing sound like Raven’s fault and not his--the manager of those same Braves had thought about it all. About how happy Raven had seemed when summer began, and how well things had been going between her and Jason before Daddy got involved.

So he decided to help the two of them along if he could. That Saturday in mid-July he had just picked up Raven at the Germane home, bringing her back ostensibly to “Work on repainting Hattie’s old room.” The facts that Hattie’s room was now Jason’s and he would be there too, didn’t come up when D.G. talked to Bob about it.

Nor had Bob asked, apparently thinking he could trust his manager to look out for his goddaughter.

Gertrude did not agree with the deception. She did not agree rather forcefully. “You’ve been around for a long time, Dennis, and I know your mama taught you something about lying.”

“You don’t think this is a worthy cause?” He knew this would get his wife because she liked seeing Raven and Jason together too. He could tell.

Didn’t stop her. “It doesn’t make the wrong thing the right thing, I don’t care how you look at it. Lying to that awful man--” Gertie didn’t think much of Bob, D.G. remembered “--will likely blow up in your face, and maybe you’ll be thrown out of the Braves alongside the star hitter.

“God said His plans are good and we have to trust that, not resort to our own measures.”

He hated it when she brought God into an argument. How was a man supposed to fight something like that? “Well, you’ll just have to pray for us all, then, Gertie.”

Then he was sorry. By the look in her eyes, she had just been hurt. She usually was hurt when he rebuffed her so-recently-found faith. “I do, Denny. I do.”

Dennis couldn’t look his wife in the eyes and wasn’t willing to admit it. So he found the nearest door, the one leading from the kitchen to the garage, and slammed it as he went through.

* * *

Jason heard a door slamming somewhere but he didn’t care enough to find out what it meant. He was in love.

She was kneeling on the other side of the room, finishing up the baseboards. Ponytailed, again, and he loved it...not to mention the gingham shirt and overalls. Not that Raven all decked out for an evening wasn’t a magical picture, but Raven dressed for work was just the cutest thing he had ever seen.

The most beautiful girl he could ever have imagined.

* * *

She felt him staring, and turned, and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you have work to do over there?”

He laughed. “Sure, I guess. Let me see.” And with that he turned back to his own paint can and brush, and it was Raven’s turn to just watch for awhile.

Jason wasn’t very tall or very muscular--something that his sometime friend Kip, the louse, had remarked on in one of his stories. It was surprising that her man could hit a baseball so very far, because he didn’t look the part.

Yet he had some muscles in his arms that she didn’t mind looking at for more than a moment...and more than that, just the line of his back beneath the white-paint stained work shirt, the shape of his neck, of his ears...

Raven wanted very much to gently touch his ears, his neck, with her fingers or maybe her lips. She felt warm, wondering at such things, warm in places that unmarried women weren’t supposed to think about or even acknowledge.

She very much wanted him to turn again and look at her...and then he did.

* * *

He saw the look in her eyes but didn’t want to believe it, was suddenly afraid that he was seeing things that weren’t there.

“Hey,” he said softly because he couldn’t think of anything else.

“Hey yourself,” she returned just as softly and smiled.

He wasn’t supposed to be worried about things like this. Girlfriends had come and gone back in Iowa and Boston was not so very different.

But Raven was.

Raven was extremely different from anyone he had known before, and the confident, self-assured Kid had learned to his surprise that there were places deep within him that weren’t so confident, that needed to be held and touched and he was still afraid, under the regard of those deep green eyes, that he was alone in his desire for her.

Yet it was not Jason’s way to be patient, or to let things happen by themselves. Not if he could help it. “You know, I probably could have done this painting by myself.”

“I know.” She put her paintbrush on top of the can, sat back on her heels, and waited.

“Having you come over here was pretty much just a ruse so Daddy wouldn’t worry about you.”

“I know.”

Despite himself he grinned at how she was going to make him work for it. Man, did he ever love her. Well, if she was going to ask for it... “So I was thinking that since you’re finished and I’m pretty close, maybe you could sit next to me on the bed and let me kiss you.”

* * *

The words left her dizzy, her heart fluttering like a pinwheel somewhere inside, and Raven wondered at the irony of it--how she had hoped he would say such things to her, and how actually hearing such things made her feel.

Loved, yes; accepted, surely...and yet the fluttering within was wild, untamed, and she felt so deeply for him that it hurt. Raven wanted him to kiss her. Wanted it so much that she could feel her emotions straining for it even though he was still across the room. She had dreamed and dreamed and dreamed of his kissing her, of his sweet breath, of his soft lips...

But she did not know what to say. Suddenly it all seemed so fast, and what she wanted most was being presented to her but maybe it wouldn’t work, maybe it wasn’t right, maybe maybe maybe...

* * *

Jason knew enough to know when he had pushed her, but did not know if he had pushed too hard.

So he took another step, if only to help her make a decision. The room had been quiet for almost a minute and he didn’t know what that meant, but he had come this far.

Quietly he cleaned the paintbrush and put it away, and stepped out of the room only so far as the upstairs washroom to clean his hands.

When he opened the door she was standing just outside, but she wouldn’t look at him, just moved past as he exited. He heard the sounds that indicated she was also washing up.

* * *

Raven looked at herself in the mirror, tried washing off the small white mark of paint that marred her right cheek, but it refused to disappear. She finally gave up and thought about her hair...there wasn’t anything she could do to dress better--why hadn’t she bothered looking nicer? Had she really thought they were just meeting to paint? What if he thought she looked stupid, the sheltered city baby trying to be like the country girls he knew?

There wasn’t anything she could do to dress better, but she could and did pull off the cheap rubber band that was holding back her hair.

She knew he liked her hair, and her eyes...he had told her as much more than once.

Yet Raven Germane looked deep into those eyes, framed by gentle features and soft, darkly brown hair, and wondered why he loved her, why he wanted to kiss her, why her heart wouldn’t just settle down and let her be glad for what was happening, what was about to happen, without trembling so.

When she stepped into the room again her man was sitting patiently on one side of the small bed, near the window. Raven walked to where he was but didn’t sit right down...still a little nervous, still trying to cool her desires into something she could control, Raven picked up a framed photo that sat in a box with the rest of Jason’s things, piled away from where they were painting. She finally sat next to him and looked at it, while he respectfully kept silent. Waiting for her.

The woman was very beautiful and yet Raven easily saw the resemblance to the man she was sitting by, the same eyebrows, the same nose. “You look a lot like her.”

“Thank you.”

Then Raven put the picture back in the box and buried her face in her hands.

* * *

He listened, and she wasn’t crying. She was still there, still next to him, and he put a hand on her shoulder. When she didn’t stiffen or pull away he slid the same hand behind her neck until his arm encircled her shoulders, pulling her gently closer to him. Her voice was muffled but clear enough. “That feels good.”

Jason knew when not to say anything. After a few minutes passed she spoke again. “Jason, I’m scared.”

“Of what?”

“Of this. Of what happens next.”

“It’s just a kiss, Raven.”

* * *

“Just one?” Could she handle even that?

“Well, maybe two, maybe three. Not four, though, that would put me over quota.”

She knew he was trying to joke. Maybe she was taking it all too seriously. Just a kiss...and not her first, either, it was no place she hadn’t been before.

Except that it was...kissing little Ricky in fifth grade during a game of Post Office, kissing Jack when she was seventeen when her father had found out and thrown him off the Braves, nothing she had known before could compare with this. Those were just touches, just contact, where with this man, with Jason Stiller beside her every touch seemed magical and a little scary, his arm around her shoulders was just that, a little hug, nothing like an actual kiss and yet she was trembling, awash with hope and love and romantic desire...

“Even one just might kill me.”

* * *

“I promise you that it won’t.”

She didn’t say anything, but she lifted her head, keeping her eyes closed.

Just being near her, touching her like this was making it difficult for Jason to breathe. He loved her so much. Would she let him show her that?

It seemed like the next step was up to him. Gently...gently he reached out with his right hand to touch her cheek, and she very quietly gasped when he did, and he felt how flushed her face was as he turned it towards him.

* * *

She couldn’t open her eyes, that was how you made dreams disappear, by opening your eyes...and then she heard him laugh softly. “What?”

* * *

“You have a paint mark on your cheek.”

“It wouldn’t come off.”

A crazy idea struck him and Jason wet his right thumb in his mouth and then he laid his hand along the line of her jaw, making her gasp again, and carefully he stroked her cheek, wiping a few times at where the mark was.

* * *

Nobody had ever touched her with such gentleness, such patience.

He laughed again, but she absolutely would not open her eyes now. “Something wrong?”

“You’re right, it won’t come off.”

Raven could only whisper. “Don’t stop trying.” She could feel her heart pounding as if it would fly apart...and then she knew what came next.

Without looking, just listening and feeling she sensed him leaning in to her, his right hand slipping back to gently cradle her head, and he was very close, his breath warm against her neck and the deep places of herself were crying for attention and even in the end he gave her the choice.

“Raven,” and she felt as well as heard his words, so close he was, “do you love me?”

The answer was not at all difficult or restrained. “Yes, Jason. I love you.”

She felt his smile. “Then may I give my love a kiss?”

Her throat was tight with the emotion of it all, emotion that threatened to drown her so that she almost couldn’t get the word out. “Yes.”

He sighed when she said this, and she felt that sigh travel up her neck, across her cheek, and then Jason Stiller kissed Raven Germane.

So soft were his lips, so gentle his touch that she just wanted the pleasure of his kiss to go on and on forever.

And yet...everything suddenly wasn’t okay, wasn’t all taken care of and pacified even by such a wondrous kiss...this was the point where all the songs said that life began, where the world turned rosy and all the rain clouds went away, but those were lies, just lies...deep inside, the curtains of fear and anxiety that had been shadowing around her heart refused to go away, did not vanish in the fire of their love but grew, welled up inside Raven until she was overcome.

* * *

Jason knew no such fears, knew only the elation and wonder of this amazing girl, but he could feel Raven tensing, he could tell she was afraid, and then she pulled away, and the spell was broken.

“What? What’s wrong?” He could see in her eyes that something terrible had happened but he did not know what.

* * *

Raven couldn’t have told him if she wanted to...and she did want to, desperately, seeing the hurt in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I don’t...I don’t know.”

“Tell me. Was it me? What did I do wrong?”

“It wasn’t you...I’m sorry.”

* * *

And just like that she was gone. Jason listened to her steps descending the stair, heard muffled downstairs voices and then a car driving away.

He figured out who had given his love a ride home when D.G. Muldowney knocked on the door, stepping into the quiet room.

Jason didn’t say anything, and for a little while neither did his manager and friend.

Finally, “You two did a nice job in here. Paint looks good.”

“Thank you.”

Still admiring his star hitter’s handiwork, D.G. continued, “She looked like a deer caught in somebody’s headlights.”

“I saw.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

D.G. could tell when someone, especially one of his own players, was lying to him, but looking into Jason’s eyes...he wasn’t telling fibs. “Huh. Well, I’m sure it’ll be all right.”

“Are you?” The question was in earnest.

“Yes.” But saying that, Dennis had to turn away.

* * *

“I wish I could explain how I do it, really. It’s not like I have some kind of sixth sense that tells me exactly where the ball is going to be, Phil, at least I don’t know that I have any.” Jason sat back on the dugout bench, relaxing on the outside while his eyes still caught every nuance, every movement of the game taking place out in the hot sun. “It sounds trivial or maybe stupid, but I just put the bat where the ball is when it comes down the alley.

“I look at the pitch, I see where it’s going and I make it go ’way.”

“Gee whiz.” Phil picked at a loose stitch on his mitt. “So you can’t let me in on the secret, huh?”

Jason grinned at him. Brice had asked how in the world he could keep on hitting and hitting and hitting despite everyone’s beliefs that getting a home run in baseball was about the hardest thing to do when it came to sports. The Kid had grown to like his fellow rookie and wished he could tell Brice how to do it as well, but it was magic even to Jason and how to you teach somebody magic? “Sure, that’s easy. You get born with a natural ability and make something out of it.”

“Thanks a lot,” Phil returned wryly, rubbing his twisted right ankle for a moment. The injury had kept him out of the day’s game.

“It’s all I have.”

Then the currently up-to-bat Indian hit a line drive past Bud Tripplehorne’s ear that had the outfield scrambling, and for a minute or two both young men were engrossed in the game which--at that moment--they were losing 10 to 7.

The pennant race was heating up even as the summer itself reached record temperatures, threatening to melt pitcher and batter alike right into the ground. It was a hard time for pitchers especially, thanks to a hard fact of life called playing “in the barrel.”

When the race for victory in early fall started getting hammered out in July and August, and a team faced off against an unimportant opponent, someone they could easily beat or even lose to without it being a huge problem, baseball managers tended to save on pitchers. Usually whoever went out in the beginning was there most of the game--thus was a pitcher “in the barrel,” forced to sweat for hours in the hot sun, watching batter after batter hit the pitches he couldn’t put strength behind by three in the afternoon. It wasn’t fun and it threw a pitcher’s coveted Earned Run Average to the four winds...but it was a part of baseball, and those pitchers who weren’t on the mound were very thankful for the one who was.

Jason was watching Bud, noticing how much effort he was still putting into his pitches, into his strategy, even though the game was a throwaway. The Kid himself hadn’t hit a single ball that afternoon in four at-bats. It was mighty hot out in the Cleveland sun, and he had become a little lazy.

Watching Tripplehorne work as hard as he could despite not needing to win the game, despite the damage it might do to his health, Jason wondered if the man was very noble or especially stupid.

The Kid reflected that at least nobody had tied his shoes together for awhile. He could be thankful for that.

Phil had apparently lost interest in the game long enough to think of another question, which was great in Jason’s opinion--when he had time to think whatever he wanted, his thoughts always returned to chestnut hair and green eyes. Whatever had happened, it was still too painful for contemplation. He wished sometimes that he could talk to somebody about it, but he and Phil weren’t that kind of close...and Jason wasn’t about to speak to that rat Gumbo any time soon.

“So if you can’t tell me how to do it--howzabout you just try and tell me what it’s like?”

Jason wasn’t paying close attention. “Hitting a homer? C’mon, you know how that goes.”

“No, I don’t.”

The Kid spared a moment from thinking about himself to look at his friend. Come to think of it, Phil hadn’t done a lot of hitting--hadn’t had a lot of at-bats to even try. Jason was a little ashamed of his pat answer. “Uh, well.

“It’s like a dream come true, Phil. It’s like...I mean it feels just great, the ball comes at you as fast as anything but once you’ve connected, once it’s going the other way, everything slows down. First base is calling and you know you’ve got a bit of trotting to do before you can rest on your laurels, but the important thing, that round white ball, just keeps getting smaller and smaller until it disappears.

“You feel like you could do anything.”

“Like a million bucks?”

Jason grinned at his friend. “At least. You’re the king of the world for a second or two.”

“I’ll bet it’s a far cry from the garage league, being out here where it counts.”

“Hmm. Maybe,” and he leaned back to think about it, “Maybe it is, but in some ways it’s not, either.”

“Was that english? I couldn’t tell.”

“Don’t bug me, it’s hot out. What I mean to say is that...well, here. Let me try this. You know the baseball fantasy that I think every boy has when he’s growing up, whether he becomes a doctor or a lawyer or a short-order cook or whatever?”

“I think I do, yeah.”

“Pretend I don’t and tell me.”

Brice smiled--it was almost a sad smile, the sort of expression that someone wears when he remembers a dream that never came true. “Bottom of the ninth, seventh game of the World Series, losing by one run, one guy on base, two outs, and I’m up to bat.”

“Are you now?”

“Oh, yeah.” Phil leaned back and closed his eyes, the better to see it. “It’s a packed house, and every eye is on the pitcher, who’s warming up his nicest fastball. I tap twice on home plate, then swing the stick onto my shoulder and face him down.

“And in slow motion he rears back, then around, and down the alley that white ball zips, but so slow it seems that I can see the red stitching, I can almost read the maker’s name on the side...and just at the right time I shift, and swing, and the bat meets the ball as solid as anything. Everybody in the park hears that Crack--” and Brice’s eyebrows lifted, hearing that sound in his sunburned ears, “--that rings around the world, and I trot quietly from home to first, to second, to third, and then home again home again, jiggity jog.” Suddenly Phil yawned and opened his eyes, stamping both feet on the ground. “And the whole team carries me off on their shoulders, the most beautiful girl there gives me a big kiss and says she’ll marry me, and nobody ever finds the ball.

“That sound about right?”

Jason looked Phil in the eye, and they understood one another more than ever before. “Yes, that sounds about right.

“Except that I always made it even harder, that it wasn’t just two outs but also two strikes, three balls.”

“The last possible pitch.”

“Yeah, like I played dumb on the first two and let them whip by, then that last one, even though the pitcher’s mad at me now and ready to give me the best, hardest pitch he’s ever thrown in his life, I still swing around just at the right time...”

And both young men heard a CRACK in their imaginations that rivalled anything they had ever heard in real life.

“Every time I go up to home plate that same fantasy is in the back of my mind. Every time I do manage to catch a piece of the ball, especially when I can make it disappear, it’s like that for just a little bit.”

“Well, you’ll probably get your chance. The Series isn’t that far off.”

“Anything’s possible.”

It was too hot to keep talking, and while the game went on and Jason occasionally dragged himself out to home plate, the conversation with Phil replayed in his mind many times.

He knew exactly how that fantasy went, and realized that before the major leagues, even before the garage league when he was playing in somebody’s vacant lot with a electrical-taped bat and a twelve cent baseball, the imagined glory, that amazing home run sound had been exactly the same.

Up to and including the most beautiful girl in the stadium waiting at home plate with a kiss for no-one but him.

Even if all the rest came true, which it very well might the way the season was going...would it be worth anything without that final happy ending?

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