Authors: Pfeiffer Jayst
"Hello, Dad," I say as I saunter over to my father and Beau having a private conversation.
"Quinn," dad says as he steps in front of Beau, blocking him from my vision as if that's enough for me to not notice him. Beau peaks out from my father's side, gives me a thumbs up and a wide smile and scampers off as quickly as he can.
"How's the party so far?" I ask, attempting to make small talk and trying to pretend my father isn't preoccupied with where Beau has run off to. There's little I can do to keep his attention but I continue to force a conversation in order to give Beau enough time to get free. I hope he runs for the door and never looks back. If he doesn't, my father will find him again and there will he nothing I can do to save him.
"I have to go and...um, find someone," my father says without even looking my way.
"I think I saw him go downstairs," I tell him and he doesn't even question why I think I know who he is after. Dad nods and takes off towards the stairs, disappearing downwards, buying Beau even more time. It's too bad he was too dumb to use it, when I look around the room for Becca, I see Beau standing there with some people, urgently waving me over. Reluctantly I go to see what he wants.
"Oh hey, Mary-Ann, this is who I was telling you about. Quinn, this is Mary-Ann, the chair of the performing arts school."
I've been ambushed. The woman turns to me and offers her frail hand with a lukewarm smile.
"Mr. Tillman here says you're quite the performer," she says and I shoot daggers towards Beau.
"She says if someone comes highly recommended, they just might be able to arrange for an audition. You know, to get into that program instead of something like, oh, I don't know, accounting." Beau is pleased with himself but I want to kill him. Out of the corner of my eye I see my father lumbering up the stairs.
"It was very nice to meet you," I tell Mary-Ann and excuse myself. I can hear Beau apologizing as I walk away to find Becca.
"Let's get out of here," I tell Becca, holding on to her arm to help her understand I really need her.
"But...but...," she protests but follows me outside.
Father surprises me early in the morning, his call rousing me out of bed without apology.
"We have a conference call to get on with an old scout. He's gonna be able to tell us what we need to do."
The call with the scout takes forever and I'm staring at the clock the whole time, wondering how the hell I'm going to explain to Coach and the team why I've missed half the practice. Father hangs up after the scout does, not even sticking around for my opinion. If he had asked, I would've told him that that was a complete waste of time, nothing in that conversation was new or enlightening. I race to the field as fast as I can, pulling my practice clothes into place as I drive.
"You're late," Coach says as I almost blow right past him. "Again."
I stand in place in front of him, giving him the respect that he deserves and that I truly do have for him.
"I'm sorry," I plead, unsure of how to explain that it isn't my fault. "It won't happen again."
Coach lets a long, terse breath out via his nostrils while staring down at me. "You do realize you've said all of this before, right?"
"Coach I -" I start to speak but he cuts me off.
"Between this team and my daughter, I can't keep everyone in line. All you have to do is show up on time and do your job and my life will be much simpler."
When an opportunity to save your own hide presents itself, you have to take it, no matter the collateral damage.
"Your daughter?" I ask innocently, not showing my cards but instead appealing to a very stressed out man.
"She's not keeping up with her studies like she promised, I just know," he tells me as though the words fall out, away from his control. He needs to vent to someone.
"Coach," I say with the voice of a concerned friend, not of someone with clear ulterior motives. "Have you talked to her about this? I mean, just the two of you, not while you're both surrounded by people."
He ponders my question for a moment. "When? Between you guys running me around, the team dinners..."
A lightbulb goes off over my head. "What are you doing tonight?" I ask and watch as he shrugs his shoulders. "Then why don't you have dinner with your daughter? Just the two of you."
Coach appears to be relieved at the answer being presented to him. He fishes for his cell and focuses on that.
"Alright," he says while typing on his phone, "Have a good practice. I'll see you out there in a bit."
Completely exonerated, I walk out to the field to join my team, feeling zero guilt at so casually and willingly to throw Quinn under the bus for my own benefit.
Sitting in my hardest class, I feel at least a little better upon hearing the anxious grumbling from my classmates. Nobody is having an easy time in the class, we're all struggling. In an effort to make conversation, I try anything to get the people around me to talk to me and make me feel better. When I ask the girl next to me, Josie I believe, how her weekend was, she just smiles patronizingly. Mitchell, the guy behind me does the same.
"You guys don't go out or anything?" I ask and am met with incredulous stares.
"When?!" Josie demands I explain.
"Seriously, go out? Undeclared students with no future go out, the rest of us need to find jobs," Michell informs me matter-of-factly.
"Maybe I'll have a nice dinner once I secure an internship," Josie chimes in with dreams in her eyes. I choose this moment to inform them of the opportunity I pissed away.
"Actually met someone last night, guy from Loubin? Said I could talk to him about an internship. Actually can't remember his name though..."
While I know it was stupid to be so careless, Josie and Mitchell look as though I had done something way worse, like I had personally offended them.
"Loubin and Loubin would be a dream," Mitchell tries to calmly explain. "Most people would kill to get a foot in the door."
Josie just shakes her head.
"You think I should just call him?" I ask even though I don't even remember the guy's name.
"Yes! Skip this class even!"
My phone vibrates in my pocket and when I check, it's Dad asking me to go to dinner with him which makes me uneasy.
"Well it'll have to wait until I go to dinner with my father," I explain and their heads almost explode. "He is the head baseball coach after all."
"But can he get you a job?" Mitchell asks before turning away, done with me. While my father probably couldn't get me in at a good company, maybe he wants to have dinner to explain how much he loves me and how proud he is of me. I kick myself for not securing the internship and having something to announce to my father over this impromptu dinner. If only I had got that internship and not been so focused on Beau, well then I could've made him really proud.
I just need more time to be the daughter he wants me to be.
Father is in the back of the train-car diner and by the friendly conversation he's having with two of the waitresses at his table, I can tell he's a regular or a really big flirt.
"Hi," I say, my body language apologizing for interrupting their conversation as I slide into the booth.
"Didn't know you had such a hot date, Coach," the older of the two waitresses smirks at me.
"Hottest girl in town," he proudly announces before correcting himself upon seeing my reaction. "I didn't mean, you know what I meant. She's my daughter for crying out loud!"
The waitresses laugh at his embarrassment and leave us be. The two waitresses seem completely comfortable with their place of employment, I couldn't imagine a place like this without two women like them. People like them is why you come to diners like this. This is part of their life, part of what they do everyday and the two are relaxed and at ease with it. I have no idea if this took years of searching to find but I wonder if I can be the same way poured over spreadsheets in some cubicle.
With my father still covering up his poor choice of words, I lay my suspicions on the table.
"So what's the occasion?" I ask, knowing I'll need to draw him out.
"Occasion? Can't I have dinner with my daughter once in awhile?"
If I didn't know him so well, I'd feel bad I accused him of being up to something.
"Ok, fine. I just wanted to check in on you and see how school was going. See if you're set to get your degree, that's all."
I assure him I'm doing ok enough to graduate so he doesn't need to worry.
"But what about after school is done? Where will you work? You know, you should really be doing an internship with the free time you have..."
He'll keep going if I don't stop him.
"How's the team? Championship is it?" I ask and know I'm lighting a fuse. He shifts uncomfortably in his seat, thrown off course. The speeches he has prepared for me are replaced in his mind by the other big stress in his life.
"We're doing ok," he struggles to spit out.
I lean in for added effect. "But Dad, it's the championship. Can your guys win it all?"
My heart feels weak when I see the pain I'm putting him in but the tables have turned; if it wasn't him, I would be the one sweating while assuring that everything is fine.
"They all need to come together, that's all. They need to act as one big unit, a team. If they can do that, then we can win."
"Isn't it the Coach's job to make that happen?" I ask, sprinkling gasoline on the flickering flame. What follows is my father's in-depth analysis of his team and how and where they look best. He's talking to me like a fellow coach and I take it all in, all the way through our meals. I've actually understood only a little of it but enough to make a point.
"Well it sounds like you just need to keep a tighter leash on that Beau guy," I insist, tying the cocky pitcher up so I can have him off of my mind for once. Dad just nods, taking in what I told him. He causally leaves money on the table to pay for our meals before telling me that I'm exactly right.
"Tight leash," I remind him after we hug in the parking lot and I head towards my car. He's so wrapped up thinking about Beau, he forgets all about the leash he's supposed to have on me and lets me off into the night without another word.
Game one of the College World Series so of course I'm the one trusted to pitch for my team. The crowd is on their feet watching my every move and I'm throwing fire. Still though, all I can do is think about her. Up there on the mound I'm all alone, admired and feared. Respected. But my mind is elsewhere. The way she felt up against me, the way I could feel that she wanted it as badly as I did. The way I promised her I'd win this game for her.
“Win the games and maybe...”
I remember her purring into my ear.
Enzo and the rest of the team stay off my back during the game. No unnecessary mound visits, no senseless chatter. Coach Steele even gives me free reign, even going so far as to let me come out to pitch the 9th. My performance so far, twelve strikeouts and two hits, gives him enough reason to believe I can finish things off right. I'm in full control, dominating with an added incentive powering me through. With only one out away until the game is over, Enzo finally breaks and I see him peel his face mask back and start to jog towards me.
"What?" I ask with annoyance before he even reaches the mound.
"Just wanted to say what's up," he says with a smile, readjusting his chest protector and checking out the crowd. "Make sure you're ready to put this one in the books. One out and you've won game one for us."
"Did you have any doubt I'd be able to?"
"Yeah, cool. Strike this joker out so we can get to celebrating," he says while the whole crowd thinks we're having a much more serious conversation.
"Easy, I can't pitch again until at least game four. Don't get cocky, you guys still have some games to win without me," I remind him, not used to being the voice of reason.
"Whatever, game two is like a million days away right now. If you can end this like I know you can, big party tonight. You better be there."
"Gentlemen?" a voice comes from behind Enzo and I see the impatient ump waiting behind him. We both nod and Enzo hustles back to his place behind the plate. Enzo's index finger extends down between his legs, he's calling for the fastball. Though my arm is incredibly tired, I nod to indicate I agree with his call. Mustering whatever strength I can find, I get into position and set, my arm sore when I tense but I'm willing to push past that to do what I have to. My fastball has been straight fire today, I should be able to keep it up for one more batter. When the ball leaves my hand it's like time slows and I feel the burn from the ball and watch it travel towards Enzo's mitt in the exact place where I pointed it. The batter, huge guy named Dave who swings a big bat, makes a quick break on it and surprises everyone by making contact. Still in slow motion, the ball travels right at me. My glove goes up towards my face without me even thinking about it and I'm brought back to reality by the sound of the crowd going wild. There in my glove is the hard hit ball and I'm surprised to find that it's not smoking. Enzo is lifting me up before I can even register all that has just happened and the rest of the team joins us on the mound. Against my wishes they pick me up and carry me off the field to thunderous applause. I am the victor, their king.
Though we still have a long road ahead of us, the locker room erupts in celebration fit for a team that just won it all. People are standing on the benches and hooting and hollering. Many hands pat me on the back and thank me for such a dominating performance, it's hard not to get swept up in the frenzy. My thoughts are elsewhere though, there's only one spoil of victory I'm looking forward to. Coach Steele appears in the room and we all quiet and give him the attention he deserves.
"Gentlemen, hell of a game. Beau, what can I say?" he looks my way and I instantly feel bad that I'm even considering abandoning him. There's even a little guilt about sneaking around with his daughter. Just a little.
"Now I know we have a couple of days before the next game but that doesn't mean you should go partying tonight," he says and is met with a chorus of 'boo's' and then laughter to which he concedes. "Ok, a little partying..." The team goes wild with applause. "But I expect each of you at practice in the morning. That includes you too Beau, even if you won't be pitching for a couple of days."
"Anything for the team, Coach," I respond.
Coach Steele leaves the locker room soon after and the rest of the rest of us are still giddy, trying to finalize plans for the night. I put on my best button down as quickly as I can so I can escape unnoticed. "Be right back," I yell behind me once someone notices me leaving the locker room prematurely. Nobody calls out to stop me but I know they all witness me make my escape.