Authors: James Bennett
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Plunking Reggie Jackson
James W. Bennett
That was the spring Coley Burke fell in love with Bree Madison. The timing was right because he was between girlfriends, but he had no way of knowing how mystifying the relationship would eventually become. Eventually he would discover that there was always more to Bree than met the eye. When there wasn't less, that is.
He saw her that day in the library, just before he got the blue slip that summoned him to the guidance office. Her hair was red, sort of. Not that grim, carrot-colored frizzy stuff though. It was more of an auburn, which reflected a coppery tint when she stood in the light. Right away, he liked it.
He'd seen her before, but this was the first time he'd ever paid much attention. One of the guys from the team, Kershaw, had been dating her a couple months ago, and still was, for all Coley knew. Coley was sitting at a table by himself, reading a
article about a new spring training baseball park under construction in Jupiter, Florida.
Bree was rummaging in the reference book shelves just a few feet away.
When she asked him if she could set her things on his table, he said, “Sure.” She plopped down her purse and notebook on the other side. The geometry text and the biology book confirmed what Coley thought: She was a sophomore. He was pretty sure she was new in school this year, but he had no idea where she might have transferred in from.
“Thanks a lot.” She smiled at him before she turned back to the reference shelves.
Like the table belongs to me
? he thought. Her wraparound plaid skirt was short. It was secured by one of those oversize brass safety pins. Each time she stretched high to take down a book, he couldn't help staring at her shapely white thighs.
The blue slip, when it came, was delivered by Ruthie Roth, one of the office runners. Like Coley, she was a senior. The blue slip was a small form, about the size of an index card. It said he was expected to report to Mrs. Alvarez's office immediately. “What's up with this?” Coley asked.
“How would I know?” Ruthie answered smugly. “My job is to deliver, not interpret.”
Ruthie Roth was large and loud. She wasn't exactly fat, but she was big boned and somewhat overweight. Her straight hair was cut shorter than usual, with a sort of grape-colored dye job.
“What happened to your hair?”
“I thought it would be silver gray, but it came out this purple color.”
“Why the hell would you want gray hair?” Coley asked. As a member of the theater and art crowd, Ruthie already came in for plenty of teasing, mostly by the jocks; it didn't seem to make sense to ask for more.
“I need gray hair for the spring play. I thought I could grow my own. I guess I'll just have to wear a wig. That's why I cut it short.”
“What's the play?”
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
? I got the lead. Or one of the leads anyway.”
“I never heard of it.”
“Gee, that's a shock,” said Ruthie scornfully. “I get to play Martha. I get to be overbearing and obnoxious.”
Since he had known Ruthie for years, ever since grade school, Coley didn't engage in the teasing as a rule. But he couldn't resist saying, “Well, that ought to be easy enough.”
“Funny. You mean I'm typecast.”
“Let's just say you won't have to do much acting.”
“Funny once, not funny twice. I didn't come here to schmooze with you anyway. There's the summons, you probably better get going.”
“So what if I don't go to see Alvarez?” he asked her.
Ruthie shrugged. “You'll probably get suspended or tied to the whipping post or something, how do I know?”
“Let's say you looked for me but couldn't find me. Let's say you went to study hall but I wasn't there because I have this library pass. In other words, you couldn't find me.”
“Let's say I've given you the note from the office, so I have to leave now.” She turned abruptly and left, walking on bouncing steps toward the hallway.
Mrs. Alvarez was a counselor in the guidance office. She came right to the point, politely but firmly. “Mrs. Grissom has turned in a progress report on you.”
“Do I need to remind you where you are, Coley? This is the guidance office, not the locker room.”
“Okay, I'm sorry. What's in the progress report?”
“As of last week you're not passing English.”
“That's before she collected last week's journals,” said Coley quickly. “The journal will pull me back up.”
“Back up to what? A D?”
“Maybe a D, maybe a C,” replied Coley, more aggressively than he intended. He didn't like the challenge in Mrs. Alvarez's tone of voice. He looked her in the eye across the desk. She was young, maybe in her late twenties, thirty at the most. She was attractive. A pink scrunchie secured her black ponytail.
“What's in your journal?” she asked him.
“I wrote up two book reports. One was on a book called
I can't remember the name of the other one.”
Mrs. Alvarez persisted: “Your English grades were good up until your sophomore year. Your ACT scores aren't the best in the world, but you scored high on the verbal part. I can't think of any reason for you to be flunking English.”
Why is she boring in on me like this
? “Things happen,” Coley said.
He wished he hadn't said it. “It's a long story. I'd have to go all the way back to ninth grade. It would be a bore for both of us.”
“Do you think you know what bores me?”
“Never mind. I already told you I'm not flunking. Not after Grissom records the book reports in my journal.”
“I think you mean
Alvarez is like barbed wire these days
, Coley thought. People said it was because of her husband's death; she just wasn't the same person.
“I assume you want to be eligible for baseball,” said the counselor tersely. “When does practice start?”
“It already did. We've got three doubleheaders next week. The team gets to go to Florida over spring break.”
“Florida? The baseball team gets to spend the first week of March in Florida?”
“Yeah.” Coley couldn't help smiling, just thinking about the trip.
“Who's paying for this? Where does the money come from?”
“It's comin' from the Boosters. The Booster Club is takin' care of all the costs.” He could have added that his own father was footing most of the bill himself, including the cost of the airline tickets for the entire team and the coaches as well.
Mrs. Alvarez was shaking her head. “If you aren't passing four subjects, you won't be eligible.”
“I know the rules, Mrs. Alvarez.” Coley looked at the poster taped to her desk that read,
WHICH PART OF THE WORD NO DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?
The surface of her desk was clean and neat. There was a box of Kleenex with designer clouds and a Beanie Baby with green hair that served as a paperweight. In the corner was a five-by-seven framed photograph of her husband in military uniform. He'd been killed last fall in California in a helicopter accident while he was out on a routine surveillance.
That would be a freak for sure
, Coley reflected.
You'd have a better chance of getting run over in traffic. You'd have to be snakebit for that to happen
“If you cared half as much about academics as you do about sports, you'd get A's and B's in English. All your subjects.” As she made this observation Mrs. Alvarez wasn't looking directly at him. She was more or less staring into space, like she was distracted.
He couldn't get pissed at her, not with that photo of her dead husband. He could only feel sorry for her loss. He waited a few moments before he said quietly, “I've heard it all before.”
“I'll bet you never hear it about baseball, though, do you?”
Coley folded his arms across his chest and stretched his legs. “You'd lose your bet, Mrs. Alvarez. You haven't met my old man.”
“If you're talking about your
, Coley, you're mistaken. I've not only met him, I've had a couple of conversations with him. If not for him, I don't think I ever would have gotten a handle on ACT requirements and the sliding grade scale for college athletic scholarships.”
Coley nodded his head before he said, “Yeah, he would know. He would know it all.”
“I guess you're fortunate then. Your father takes an active interest in your future.”
Coley sat up straight. “You could put it that way. Are we done now?”
“I guess so. I just hope you're right about the English grade.”
“I'm good with that, believe me. I can't believe she turned in a progress report on me before she read those last journals.”
“Like I said, we'll hope you're right.”
Then he left. When he got back to the library table, he found that Bree was sitting in the chair across from his sports magazine. It was still open at the same page. She looked up from her encyclopedia and note cards. “I saved your seat,” she declared with a smile.
Coley had to wonder why you'd save someone's seat in the school library; maybe she was making a joke. She had beautiful teeth when she smiled. Her complexion was clear, with high color in her cheeks. But her blue green eye shadow was overdone, especially at the corners, the way it often was by some of his mother's friends at the country club to hide an advancing case of crow's-feet.
Still smiling, she extended her hand across the table. “My name's Bree,” she said. “Bree Madison.”