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The Softball Girl
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I was working at a little twice-a-week, covering the big airport and also hair-salon openings, when one day the sports editor asked if I wanted to play softball. I had little else to do on Wednesday nights, and so I said yes. I saw right away that we weren't any good but I found that my arm had held up pretty well and so they had me hit leadoff and play left, where all the fly balls went. Every Wednesday night that summer, we played on a rundown field behind an ancient mental hospital. I chased down flies and knocked out my share of base hits. I've never been what you'd call a fast runner, but on that team, I had wheels, as my brothers would say. I was twenty-five.

The centerfielder was the facilities guy. The pitcher ran the circulation department. Our shortstop was the city editor. And the catcher was a girl. She was willowy, pretty, silly, and she had no business being on that diamond. She was unable to catch a softball. The advertising guys teased her, sometimes brutally, but I think she mostly liked the attention. She wore black Chuck Taylor sneakers and had trouble making the bat hit the ball. She was nineteen and chewed bubble gum and smiled a lot. Her name was Brandy.

I had a lot of free time that summer. Things had recently ended with a difficult, stubborn girl who didn't eat meat. I was drinking a lot of homemade beer in the back yard of a house I shared with a guy fifteen years older than me. We shot things with his pellet rifle. We ate the little yellow tomatoes from the vines and the rats ate the ones that fell to the ground. The summer went on. I looked forward to Wednesdays. We'd win one and then lose two. I'd stay afterwards and, straddling the bench, drink exactly two Coors Lights before taking the highway home.

Then, at the start of August, I was accepted into a graduate program. I resigned from the newspaper but stayed on for a few weeks. Softball kept going. We made it to the playoffs, which was a small miracle, but lost the first game, which was predictable. After that last game, I shook hands with the newsroom guys, the circulation guys, even advertising, and, later, as I walked across the diamond, toward my car and toward some other life of books in a southern city I did not know, there was a tap—not soft—on my shoulder. I turned, and there was Brandy, the girl who couldn't catch, standing very close to me, smiling.

"Hey," she said.

"Brandy, hey," I said.

"I just wanted to say that I'll miss you," she said. She popped her chewing gum.

"I'll miss you, too," I said, because I knew I was supposed to, but I also had a spark somewhere inside me that said I really would miss her.

She held out her hand. I took it in mine. Inside was a small piece of paper. She'd written her phone number on it. Her handwriting was big and loopy. I remembered, then, a moment from the game we'd just played. I'd hit a hard double to left-center. Then our first baseman poked a single to right. As I coasted into home, feeling strong and light, I looked up and there stood Brandy, behind the backstop, fingers curled around the links in the fence, watching me.

"So you should call," she said.

This wasn't a brand-new situation for me, but it had been a while. "I feel like I should tell you that I'm leaving town in a few days," I said. "For good."

"All the more reason to call," she said.

She hugged me, and her body against mine, just our sweaty T-shirts in between, felt good, felt like hugging a woman should, for she was suddenly, certainly, a woman. We let go of each other and then she ran back to the bench, all elbows and Chuck Taylors, and just like that she...

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