Dirty Faces

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Chapter 11: Ground Ball

It couldn't have been a hotter, more humid day for a ball game, Ginny was sure as she wiped the sweat from her brow. And the fact that it hadn't been an easy game wasn't helping matters; Cricket's gang was turning out to be a more formidable opponent than they had expected. She looked down the line at all the others and could tell they were just as worn out as she was.

She looked out to the field and appraised their handy-work from the previous day. Miss Fulchum had let them have the bases for the day after all so the stolen flour had just been used for lines, which were admittedly crooked but still managed to make the field appear less pathetic. Tommy's effort in sweeping up the coal dust had been in vain, though, because when they'd arrived that morning the field was once more covered, just like every other outdoor surface in town.

Now in the ninth inning they were ahead by two runs with two outs and no runners on base, and Freddy, who was certainly not among their strongest hitters, was up to bat. Cricket struck him out effortlessly. Ginny mentally groaned as she picked up her glove to head back out to the field and shook her head as she looked down at the beat-up right-handed glove. She could never understand Tommy's insistence that she play first. True, it was an ideal position for a lefty, but not one who threw right because she only had her brother's hand-me-down right-handed glove.

The first batter, a big boy who Ginny believed was one of the Tates, hit the ball clear past the stakes Tommy had driven in the ground to mark the outfield fence boundary. Tommy's jaw tightened as the big boy trotted leisurely across home plate. The next to bat, a small boy with buck teeth, managed a single. Ginny had to turn her head to keep from laughing when he looked up at her and grinned with those big teeth. He was a nervous little thing, shifting his weight from foot to foot then jumping with each pitch. The next boy, however, was unable to advance him to second; Tommy struck him out.

Two strikes in on the next batter, the buck-toothed boy foolishly attempted to steal second. Tommy ducked out of the way just in time as Kody fired the ball to Andy who tagged the little guy out. As the defeated runner slumped off the field, Andy took his hand out of his glove and shook it, all the while shooting a disapproving glare at Kody.

The next guy hit a single and the next a double. Tommy looked to be sweating more than the rest of them and Ginny prayed he would strike Sam Green out when he stepped up to the plate. Sam was known more for his status as school-yard bully than for any particular athletic prowess so she felt confident the game was pretty much over. He swung wildly at the first pitch;strike. Tommy popped his neck and loosened his shoulders before the next pitch.

Another wild, angry swing;another strike.

Tommy took a deep breath and pitched what would certainly be the last pitch of the game. A split second after he released the ball, the bat cracked.

Sam knocked a grounder between the mound and first, nearer to first. Ginny was taken by surprise and lunged for it, but moved too slow. Her glove grazed the ground just as the ball passed it and continued rolling into the outfield. Fortunately, Jack quickly retrieved it but not before the runner on third crossed home. He was close enough in to propel it home, but the next runner was fast. The ball landed in Kody's mitt a fraction of a second after he tagged home.

Ginny looked over at Tommy in the middle of the field, both hands atop his head. She knew the loss would be a hit to his ego- what ego he possessed- and she felt her cheeks flush with shame. She should have moved faster, should have got that last out, shouldn't have assumed anything. She had let her best friend down. Maybe that's what he got for letting girls play a boy's game.

Cricket's gang was cheering on the sidelines as they dragged themselves off the field. Cricket jogged out to shake Tommy's hand for the well-played game and Tommy politely congratulated him. When they were all off the field, Jack complimented Tommy on his pitching. Tommy mumbled a half-hearted thank you.

"No, really. You pitched a good game. They were just really strong. Stronger than I expected, anyway."

Tommy nodded.

"So...same place tomorrow morning?"

"Nah. I think we could all use a break, if that's OK with y'all," Tommy mumbled some more.

They all let on like it was a good enough idea. J.D. and Becky went back out onto the field to gather up the bases to get them back to Miss Fulchum and Andy and Freddy started talking about going fishing for the rest of the afternoon, which seemed to sound like a pretty swell idea to Jack and Kody, too. Ginny had about as much to say as Danny. She moped about until Kody reminded her, "Hey, be home sorta early this evening. Mama's supposed to call. You missed her last week."

"Yeah, OK."

"Alright then, see you at the house."


He wondered off to join Andy, Freddy, and Jack, leaving her with just Danny and Tommy. Tommy was standing with his arms crossed, obviously sulking, with Danny right beside him, awaiting the plan for the rest of the day. She bit her lip, not sure what, if anything, she ought to say, but the silence wasn't ending so she spoke what she felt.

"I'm sorry."

Tommy's face wrinkled up, confused. "What?"

"I'm sorry I missed that ball and lost the game."

"You didn't lose the game."

"Yes...I did."

"No. It coulda happened to any of us. You played hard. Everybody played hard and good today. Like Jack said, they were just really strong. There'll be other chances."

"You think they'll wanna play us again?"

"I don't think they'd pass up the chance to beat us again."

But she still wasn't convinced that he wasn't upset with her. How could he not be? Baseball was his only pleasure in life and his only opportunity to be good at anything. "I think I'm just gonna go home for the day," she practically whispered.

"Ya sure? I'm sure we could find something to do."

"Yeah. It's awful hot and I'm pretty tired."

"Alrighty. See ya tomorrow."

"See y'all."

When Ginny had said she was tired, she had been telling the truth. As soon as she got home, she went straight to the back porch, fetched a bucket, and filled it with water. She didn't even bother to heat it. The cold water from deep in the earth felt good on her sunbaked skin as she washed away the dirt, sweat, stink, and shame. When she was finished, she dumped out the now murky water and came back inside.

She walked in Mama's room and looked over at the big, inviting bed. Mama would be shocked to know she had willingly washed off and was contemplating a nap in the middle of a summer day. She looked at herself in the vanity mirror and decided that a nap was definitely going to happen; she looked like she needed one.

Then her eyes wondered to that photograph sticking in the frame of the mirror, of that girl. She removed it from its home and brought it closer to her eyes for a better look. Aunt Addie looked a lot like Mama, with her fair hair and skin, but those eyes set her apart from anyone Ginny had ever seen. She turned it over and found on the back, "Mary Adele, age 12" in Mama's familiar, pretty cursive. So Addie had been about Ginny's age when this picture was taken. She turned it back over and studied the girl's eyes again. There was just something about them.

The picture had been taken from some distance and she couldn't quite make out what color those eyes had been, but they were big and loving and trusting - like nothing could ever make Addie doubt the goodness of people. Like no one had ever lied to her or hurt her or let her down. And like you could look in them and see a heart probably too big for such a little girl. Ginny wasn't sure if she pitied the girl in the picture or envied her.

She didn't dwell on it for long, though, because, as usual, her mind started to wander. It wandered back to that old gray house in town, to that front bedroom with the name carved in the nightstand. The two were now inexplicably linked in her mind - the photograph and the house; Aunt Addie and some little girl that slept in that bedroom whose window Tommy had busted out.

She didn't know why she was so drawn to it, just that she was. And she knew she was too curious for her own good, but she needed to know what had happened in that house. She was going to have to go back in there. But not today. Today, Mama's bed was calling her.

She slid the picture back in the frame of the vanity mirror and walked over to the bed. Then, she sank into it's fluffy, cloud-like matress and cool, white sheets and the smell of Mama's perfume on her pillow, and the abandoned house and Aunt Addie's eyes and the missed ground ball ceased to matter.

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