I went to the batting cages yesterday. The fastpitch softball station serves the ball at sixty-five miles per hour. I donned the blue helmet provided, strapped on my black leather batting gloves (the only time I ever wear leather, since they don't make 'em in any other material), and chose the bat from the bat rack that I thought was the least disturbingly shaped. They have some weird bats at this place, most of which look and feel at least fifteen years old - heavy, dense, slow, with sweet spots that twang the batter's hands just like the rest of the barrel. There must have been a time when batters could feel when they'd hit the sweet spot on these bats, because it hurt just a tiny bit less. I slid the latch up on the door to the black iron cage, pushed it open, and deposited a token into the machine. I gripped the bat's handle tightly and dug my shoes into the felt carpet of the batter's box as I watched the light on the automatic pitcher turn yellow, then red. The machine made clanging, backfiring noises. Then I saw the yellow ball appear in the machine's mouth. Zut! It spit the ball at me with all its might. I brought my hands around quickly, but the bat did not follow quickly enough, and I hit the ball into the net to the right of the plate, where it fell pitifully to the gutter beneath.
A click followed by a series of bangs in the machine's pipes told me the next ball was coming. The light turned red. I rubbed my hands on the handle and tried repositioning them to stop the bone cells from bumping into each other beneath my gloves. I lifted one foot, then the other, testing the ankle weights I had purchased the day before to add more leg strength to my swing. Then I snapped back into my batting stance. Zut! I swung eagerly, and this time was rewarded. I ripped the ball over the tarp, where it hit the iron wall down at the other end of the cage.
My hands still vibrated unpleasantly as I quickly returned to my stance. My eyebrows lowered as the light turned red once more - I wouldn't have to wait as long for this pitch. It appeared at the machine's mouth almost immediately. The machine spat out its big yellow bullet, and I swung... backwards. I turned my body inwards, and the ball punched my right in the thigh.
Two silent screams erupted through my body - one from the gratefully tensing point of impact, the other from my hands, which had clenched tightly around the handle of the bat. The red light appeared again. Sixteen pitches left.
I should explain that sixty-five miles per hour is about the fastest a softball pitch can get. It's the speed they pitch in the Olympics and the World Series. But since the pitcher's mound is also twenty (and a half) feet closer to home plate than in baseball, I actually had less reaction time to get from one position (my batting stance) to the other. The ball comes faster in the noble sport of softball, and despite the sport's name, leaves bigger bruises.
The next day my parents and my brother went out. I had no appointments, both of my summer college classes had just ended, I'd finished my loathed high school summer reading ages ago, and none of my acquaintances were home when I called them. I suppose I could have gone to the batting cage again, but I wanted to give myself time to heal - blue-and-yellow bruises hardly appeal to anyone, especially not to Thomas. I didn't want him to ask me where the bruises came from. I didn't want to drive the wedge of self-discovery deeper in between us than it already was. I didn't want him to know that he was there with me in the batting cage, wearing his long charcoal coat, watching me with his arms crossed... Step. Swing!
Snap. Out of it, I told myself, squeezing the wooden arms of the chair where I sat before the computer. Within a few seconds, an instant message appeared on the screen.
"Hey," he said.
"greetings," I replied.
"How are you?" he asked.
Erm... I bit my lip. "Anticipatory."
"What are you anticipating?"
"What is this wonderful thing of which you are anticipatory?" he typed. I braced myself. Then he sent the message, "Oh."
"I guess I should have said "hormonal" instead," I admitted.
"You crazy girl," he replied. I smiled and sighed contentedly. He can always say the perfect thing when he wants to.
"Sorry," I responded. I tried to push my knees away from each other.
"I'm worried about my dog," he typed. He had just gotten a new dog - for his little sister, because he'd be going back to college soon - and had bonded exceptionally quickly with it. "I think he is sick. He's not eating anything. He might be depressed."
"I remember the year when my dog had canine depression," I responded. "She wouldn't eat anything but McDonald's Quarter Pounders with cheese."
"How did you know it was McDonalds?" he asked.
"Trial and error."
"I don't want to feed my dog McDonalds," he typed, adding a frowning smilie.
"Your dog isn't depressed," I told him. "Canine depression is really rare."
"They told me at the shelter he might be, coming from his old family."
"Well he must have eaten at the shelter, right? Ask them what they fed him."
"He was only there for four days," he typed. "And wouldn't your dog have starved before you trial-and-errored to something she'd eat?"
Before I could answer, he sent another message: "His nose is running I think, and he is making a noise that I think might be how a dog sneezes. Does a cold nose mean he's healthy?"
"Well, sort of. If the nose is hot, he's not healthy, but if the nose is cold, he could still be sick. Just call a vet and ask him what to do."
"We did. The appointment's for Friday." He paused. "Maybe he just needs to be neutered."
"HE HASN'T BEEN NEUTERED YET???"
"We only got him yesterday," he wrote, adding a smilie with its tongue poking out.
"Well," I wrote, "try mixing different things into his food. Not fruits and vegetables of course, but things like cheese, tuna juice, and peanut butter."
"Okay, okay," he responded. "He has eaten a little of the meat we gave him."
.... There is more of this story ...