tagNovels and NovellasA Stitch in Time Pt. 06

A Stitch in Time Pt. 06


Chapter 20

By Monday morning, I was the king of the school. Mr. Peterson went on about my no-hitter for three minutes during the morning's announcements over the loudspeaker, and even Mr. Smithson gave me a nod. Mr. Kennedy spent nearly a third of the class asking me about it, and telling me how sorry he was that he had stayed home to watch his beloved Red Sox play. Mr. Anson congratulated me during History class.

None of those was a real surprise, though. The surprise was having Mrs. Palmer ask me about it, and then wink at me when I finished telling her. The surprise was having Mr. Carruthers not only mention it but use my fastball, or his scientific description of it, to illustrate one of the principles of physics that he wanted us to apply to our research. Carruthers was a very good teacher, but he hadn't really struck me as one of the guys who like sports. He struck me as more like, well, me, from back in the ninth grade. But before his lecture, he asked me for a brief summary. With Cammie sitting next to me, I did my best to deflect some credit to Rabbit. She gave me a big smile.

As surprising as those two were, the stunner was Mrs. Jenkins. Mrs. Jenkins had actually been at the game. She didn't manage to tie it in to the book of Isaiah, but I got to bask for a little while in Tanya's company. Fortunately, Tanya's fears about the class discussion were quickly assuaged by Mrs. Jenkins. One of the cutouts in the back of the class raised her hand as soon as Mrs. Jenkins started and launched into a discussion of Jesus.

"What's the name of this course, Miss Phillips?" Mrs. Jenkins asked sweetly.

"The People of the Book?" Clarissa said hesitantly.

"Which book are we reading?"

"The book of Isaiah?"

"Was Jesus in the book of Isaiah?" Mrs. Jenkins's voice was taking on a little bit of an edge.

"Well, no, but —"

"Then he's not one of the people we care about, is he?" she said bluntly. "He's not one of the people you're going to be tested about, is he?"

"No," Clarissa answered sullenly.

"Then perhaps we should confine our discussions to relevant matters," Mrs. Jenkins concluded.

"What about Trick?" piped up Tim Tolliver.

"Are you comparing Trick with Jesus, Tim?"

"Um, no, of course not."

"Good," she said. "Mr. Sterling spent a minute this morning updating us on his accomplishments over the weekend, and I think we've devoted at least that much time to Jesus. So unless anyone wants me to take note of their unwillingness to participate in the discussion of this particular book of the Bible..."

I looked over to see Tanya trying to hide a smile. So I stopped trying to hide mine. I was perfectly happy to see a nice wide separation between church and state. Particularly with Tanya belonging to another church altogether. After all, if I wanted to learn more about Jesus, all I had to do was go back to Sunday School. With Mrs. Jenkins.

Tuesday also started out well. After spending my homeroom period with Pete in the office, a chat that seemed to please him even more than it pleased me, I got my "Obsession" paper back in English. Unlike all the other classes in which she had returned our work, Mrs. Palmer waited until the very end of class to pass out the papers. Her practice had always been to pass out the papers, and then pass out one copy of one student's paper for us to discuss. This time, she just went around the room handing out papers until the bell rang. Handing out papers, that is, to everyone but me. In the rush of leaving, I'm not sure that anyone else had noticed that, nor did they pay much attention to her very casual, "Oh, Mr. Sterling, can you stay after class for a minute?"

In my confusion, I could only nod. The class left, and I remained in my front-row desk facing Mrs. Palmer as she leaned back against her own desk. With a frown on her face, she reached behind her and held up a paper.

"Oh, thank God," I smiled. "I thought maybe you'd lost it or something, and then I'd..."

I trailed off as her frown deepened.

"You goddamn son of a bitch," she said. "Didn't I tell you I didn't want to know why you were taking my class? Didn't we have that conversation when you showed up at my door begging to be let in?"

"Well, yeah," I admitted.

She glared at me.

"I mean, yes, ma'am."

"And then you turn in this," she threw the paper toward me. It fluttered to the ground well short of my desk, and I wasn't about to stand up and get it. That would just bring me closer to Mrs. Palmer.

"I'm sorry if the paper wasn't what you wanted, ma'am," I finally said. "It was the first obsession that came to mind."

Well, actually the second. I could just imagine what her reaction would have been to a paper about my relationship with Tanya Szerchenko.

"The paper was excellent, Mr. Sterling," she said, her face relaxing. "Pick it up. I won't bite you."

I retrieved it from the floor. An A-plus. Actually, what it said was, "A+ Jerk."

"Do you know how hard it's going to be for me to grade your papers now, knowing that I might be the one who keeps you out of the University of Virginia by giving you a bad grade? Or even worse, a not outstanding grade?"

I smiled at her.

"Ma'am, I wouldn't worry about it. We both know you're going to be fair. We both know that if my next paper deserves a B, you'll give it a B, UVA or not."

She studied me for a long time before she finally sighed and smiled.

"I just wanted to make sure you knew that," she said. "Let me write you a note for your next class."

After religion, before we got to lunch, Tanya pulled me aside in the hallway.

"Did you get invited to a pool party on Saturday?"

"Sorry, no. Guess they want your hot body and not mine, huh?"

"I'm serious. They told me I was welcome to bring you. But why would Debbie Wadsworth invite me to a pool party. Wasn't she a friend of that girl, Stephie?"

"Yeah, I think so. Isn't it a little cold for a pool party?"

"It's an indoor. Will you please just focus?"

"All right. I dunno. Maybe she wants to get to know you better."

She stood there and stared.

"Maybe she wants a better yearbook picture," I suggested.

Again with the stare.

I grinned.

"Maybe you got invited 'cause you're friends with the best athlete in the school, who just threw a no-hitter and is gonna get his picture in Sports Illustrated next week."

"Are you serious?"

"Yeah, Mr. Peterson told me this morning. I'm getting my picture taken after lunch. It's just that little "Faces in the Crowd" section. A picture and ten words of type."

"For the no-hitter?" she smiled.

"Sort of. They aren't really that rare in high school. But I also threw one last year. Also on April 14th."

"Ooh, that's so weird," Tanya widened her eyes in mock horror. "How about the year before that?"

"I don't even remember the one last year," I reminded her. "So are we going?"

"I don't know. It might be fun. It wouldn't weird you out, just a little?"

"Not unless Stephie shows up. But I guess it would be a chance to see how the other half lives. We only have an indoor pool when Jill stuffs up the bathtub drain so she can fill it up to the very top."

Tanya raised an eyebrow.

"She let it run over once," I explained. "It flooded the kitchen."

She smiled and we continued on to lunch. Once there, I couldn't help but notice, with the intense filial connection that we had rediscovered, that Jeanne seemed a little nervous.

"Jeanne, are you okay?"

I was surprised to find that the words hadn't come out of my mouth, but out of Tommy's.

"Yeah," Jeanne said. "Why?"

"'Cause you're bouncing up and down like a yo-yo," Tommy said. "The whole table's shaking."

"Sorry," Jeanne said. "I'm sorry. Mr. Collins said he was going to post the cast list this afternoon, and I'm just nervous."

"About what?" I asked. "I thought you said he already told you that you were going to be, um..."

"No," she said quickly. "He just told me that we were going to do Sound of Music and asked me what I thought. He never promised I'd be Maria. It's just tradition."

"Oh, you'll get it," I flipped my hand at her.

The rest of the table agreed. And that made all of us wrong.

The team bus left ninth period for the half-hour trip to Fort Hill High School. It wasn't until we were on the bus that we learned that Cary's grandfather had died yesterday and he was out of town for the week. I couldn't possibly pitch on two days rest, so that left us with Donnie Spencer or Steve Manzilla. Donnie had been the starter last time Cary and I couldn't pitch, so this time it was Steve's turn. We didn't fare any better this time, and Coach summoned Donnie during the bottom of the third to try to hold their lead down to five runs. Matt booted another one in the fourth to load the bases after two walks, though, and Bobby badly misjudged a long fly in left. By the time Hal got to the ball, three more runs had already crossed the plate. Only Mo's three RBI's kept us from being mercy-ruled out of town.

Once again, the bus trip home was surprisingly upbeat. Donnie, Steve, and Matt were all playing hearts in the back of the bus. Four other guys were watching, the whole group of them laughing like we hadn't just had our butts handed to us. I saw Coach give them a look and shake his head, and then he looked over at me. But this wasn't like Mattie not taking enough grounders. What was I supposed to do, tell them to stop laughing?

Rabbit and I walked out of the locker room together after the bus returned, and found Cammie sitting in the hall.

"Hey," Rabbit smiled at her.

"See you guys," I said.

"Wait a minute," Cammie said. "I need to talk to you, Trick. Can you give us a minute?"

The last question was directed at Rabbit, and he just nodded and went back into the locker room.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Can you just tell your dad that Jeanne's going to be at my house?"

"Sure," I said, more than a little puzzled. "What's going on?"

"We're just gonna spend some time together."

"Cammie," I said. "Oh my God, she didn't get the part. Did Ann get it?"

"No," Cammie said slowly. "Ann's the Mother Abbess. Jeanne's Liesl."

"The daughter? But that doesn't make any — oh, God, don't tell me..."

Cammie was already nodding.

"Jill? But why? Was her tryout really that good?"

"Oh, grow up, Trick Sterling. Jeanne is a much better singer."


Cammie rolled her eyes at me, and then cupped her hands in front of her chest.

"Are you serious?"

"Just tell your dad, okay?"

"Yeah, sure. Thanks, Cammie."

By the time I got home, though, well after dinner was over, Jeanne had already called to tell Dad she would be spending the night. I did knock on Jill's door, though, and was greeted with a big smile. Jill had another take on the story, of course. She insisted that she had had an excellent audition, and that Mr. Collins assured her, this afternoon in fact, that her selection was based entirely on merit.

"But you've been singing for what, two weeks?" I asked.

"Natural talent," she giggled. "Just like you, golden arm."

"I guess," I shrugged. "But I do practice."

"And so will I, big brother," Jill smiled.

"Don't you think it's going to be a little weird, with Jeanne as your stepdaughter?"

"Who told you? Cammie? I'll bet she thinks I got picked 'cause Mr. Collins likes my boobs, huh? You know, girls can be such jealous little cows."

I shrugged again. Maybe she was right. Maybe Cammie was just taking Jeanne's side.

I did see Jeanne at lunch the next day, of course, when she asked me how Dave was.

"He's fine," I said. "So when are you coming home?"

"I can't face it right now," she said. "It's going to be hard enough when rehearsals start next week."

"Just give her some time, Trick," Cammie said.

That afternoon, I picked up my first loss of the season. It was an away game at Black Lake High School, and they had a very good pitcher as well. We got to him for six hits, but scattered them throughout the game. Black Lake's defense was flawless, and their pitcher didn't walk anyone. I struck out more of his guys than he did mine, 12-9, but my team committed more errors, 3-0, and we ended up losing a 1-0 shutout. Even though Coach had warned me that there would be days like this, I was seriously bummed. Then we had the party bus again on the way home, and I decided fuck them. I pulled my iPod out of my jacket pocket and ignored the assholes all the way home. If they wanted to celebrate after losing the game for me, let 'em. I still had my 0.00 E.R.A.

Without Jeanne around to jolly me out of my bad mood, I was pretty surly Friday morning when Debbie Wadsworth stopped me in the hall.

"Jesse said you pitched well yesterday."

"Not well enough," I said.

"Two hits? That's pretty damn good, Trick. So I'll see you at my party tomorrow, right?"

"Yeah, um, thanks for asking us. Is there anything I can bring?"

"A swimsuit," she smiled. "At least for the beginning. I sent Tawny an e-mail with the directions."

I smiled back, my mind reeling with the thought of the high school's elite at a party where you needed a swimsuit only at the beginning. I forgot to tell Tanya that on the walk to lunch, and her family obligations prevented us from getting together, or even talking, that night.

I spent Saturday afternoon helping Jill clean up the house. With Jeanne still over at Cammie's, Jill and I had simply decided between ourselves to do her share of the household chores. We finished in time to watch the game of course, a late-afternoon contest between the Yankees and the Red Sox. But in the seventh inning, I finally had to leave. Jill blew me a kiss as I left, and on the drive over to Tanya's, I found myself wondering if my relationship with my two sisters was going to survive the next month unchanged.

I pulled into the Szerchenkos' driveway, and before I could get out of the car, Tanya came out the front door. She looked nervous although, in a pair of khaki shorts on top of a white one-piece bathing suit, she looked beautiful as well. Of course, so did everyone else at the party, which took place at the Wadsworth estate on the west side of town. We had apparently been allowed a glimpse into the world of the beautiful people, or at least the people as beautiful as their wealth could make them.

Despite her attractiveness, Tanya clearly felt out of place. Part of it was the money, of course. We arrived at the same time as Paul Scholl, the tennis team captain and formerly part of Stephie's retinue, and I parked my Civic next to his BMW convertible. He gave it a scornful glance as he got out of his car, and then gave Tanya a full appraisal as she got out of mine. The house, which occupied the same space as two or three of the houses that I was used to, was surrounded by immaculately maintained grounds. We were actually lucky that Paul was there. Otherwise we could have spent hours just trying to find the indoor pool room. Once we got there, we just stared at the size of the pool and the amount of glass and metal that was needed to protect it from the elements.

But that sort of discomfort applied equally to both of us. Tanya had her own issues. It didn't help, for example, that I knew a lot more of the kids than Tanya did. Part of that was simply that I'd been here longer. I recognized all of Stephie's friends, for example. I also knew Jesse Trasker and Hal Stonerider from the team. Even without tenth and eleventh grades, I just knew most of these kids.

It also didn't help that most of them knew who I was, and had absolutely no idea who Tanya was. They were polite enough to her when they wandered over to congratulate me on the no-hitter. The guys in particular were always glad to be introduced another nice-looking girl. Most of the girls, though, barely glanced at her.

Finally, it didn't help that she was the only girl there wearing a one-piece bathing suit. At one point, we found seats on two chairs beside the pool, and watched for a while as the other guests circulated in and out of the house, none of them actually swimming, all of them carrying cups of beer or something stronger.

"I feel like a frump," Tanya whispered.

"You're beautiful," I smiled.

"She could have told me. I do own a bikini. A very nice one, too."

"I'll bet you do," I did my best Groucho impersonation.

"I'm just saying it would have been nice to fit in, not to — oh, shit."

I followed her gaze to one corner of the dimly lit room that contained the Wadsworths' indoor pool. And then I quickly looked back.

"Well, you're not the only one in a one-piece any more," I joked.

"That's not funny. Look, there's another one. Did you know this was going to be a topless party?"

"As far as I remember," I said very carefully, "I've never been to one of these parties."

"I know, I'm sorry. It's just..."

"You're not comfortable here," I nodded.

"Are you?"

"I'm a guy. There are topless girls. Of course I'm —"

"Oh, fuck you, Patrick. Next you're gonna tell me that you're all genetically programmed to appreciate attractive women. That's just a pitiful excuse to let you look."

I smiled. I didn't know all that much about evolutionary biology. It sounded right, though. Why else would every single pair of tits be so fascinating? It wasn't that we couldn't be domesticated. It was just that, like dogs, you always run the risk of backsliding.

"We can go whenever you like," I said cheerfully.

"No, we've only been here half an hour. I can stick it out until at least seven."

"And it's not like everyone is doing it," I pointed out.

"Will you please stop looking?"

"I'm gonna look a little odd staring off into the far corner of the pool room for the next hour. Besides, that couple over there is gonna start, uh, okay, how 'bout I just stare at you?"

"Let's get something to drink," she said after a horrified glance at the girl fellating the guy in the corner.

We wound our way into the kitchen and spent some time talking to Missy Josephs, who was in my English class and Tanya's history class. And who was at least wearing both the top and bottom of her bikini. But then Debbie, our hostess, breezed in without her top to get some more beers and eagerly offered me one.

"Thanks anyway," I raised my glass. "I'll stick with Pepsi."

Eventually, we settled into the den with a bunch of other mostly clothed, mostly normal people. I was even trusted to venture forth by myself at one point to get us a couple of burgers from the grill that Debbie had set up. My eyes were assaulted with naked female flesh on all sides, but I survived and returned in triumph with my prize of two plates of rare meat.

We lasted until seven-thirty, when a fresh wave of half-dressed revelers convinced Tanya that it was time to go home.

"So you want to, um..." I began as we neared her house.

"You know, I think I'd like to just go home, watch a movie, and forget the whole day," Tanya blurted out. "Do you mind?"

"Not at all," I said.

The ease with which I justified my decision to return to the party, without Tanya knowing, surprised even me. Rather than turning around in her driveway, I continued on down the street in the direction of my house. Only when I got to Main Street did I reverse my tracks and head west.

There was a twinge of guilt. But it's not like she was my girlfriend or anything. And this was the girl who had explicitly told me that she would always be available for me whenever I wanted, and who had decided to spend the evening by herself. And there were all those girls at Debbie's. I was just going to look.

I wandered back into the kitchen and this time got myself one of those beers that everybody else was drinking. It was my first, as far as I knew, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how quickly it went down. Grabbing another, I made my way back to the pool room. It was dark by then, and the dim lights that surrounded the pool had only encouraged my schoolmates. There were couples all over the room. I found myself in a conversation with Jesse and Hal, and their two topless girlfriends, about the pitiful fielding on the team. But they wandered off after a while, and I grabbed a seat on one of the lounge chairs to admire the scenery.

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