She pushed up her visor, brushed her hair impatiently from her eyes, and swung her new Epic bat fiercely. It created a wide circle around her body, and she brought it back to position, swinging it a second time. This was Jessica’s first game of the season, and she was determined to make her first at-bat count.
As she pulled the bat back around for a third practice swing, she caught movement in the bleachers to her right. The bat slid from her hands as she turned sharply to peer at the short, portly man who had come up to the fence to yell encouragement to the current batter. Jessica’s eyes were wide, as if trying to take in as much of the picture as possible, but she narrowed them quickly. Berating herself internally for her intense reaction, she stooped to pick up her bat, trying to focus again on the game and her swing.
The damage had been done, though. Jessica was now thinking of the man she thought she had seen, the person who crept unwillingly into her mind at inconvenient times, the jerk who had single-handedly destroyed her bright and happy world. At thirteen years old, Jessica had moments when she felt and behaved much older. In those moments, there was darkness, a heaviness, as if she were drowning in a dark pool. Her mother never recognized these times for what they were, but her father was a little more acute, and he saw what others disregarded. Only he noticed the fear, anger, and hate that swam in her big brown eyes. Only he realized how much she still hurt.
“Jess, you’re up!” yelled the third-base coach.
Jessica quickly shook her head, realizing Brittany must have made it to first base, grabbed the pink bat her teammate had cast aside and threw it back towards the dugout. She could faintly hear the cheers from parents, siblings, and players alike through the subtle roaring that rushed in her ears. Get ahold of yourself. Focus on the ball and the field, that’s all that matters right now.
She stepped up to the plate, dug the ball of her left foot into the dirt, and faced the pitcher. Georgia had been her friend since first grade, when they first played ball together. They had been on every basketball, softball, and soccer team together since then, and this was the first year they ever had to play against one another. Georgia had been there for Jessica’s first slumber party, her first camp-out in the backyard, her first “boyfriend,” and she was by her side when Jessica first admitted what her uncle did to her. It seemed as though they would always be friends; nothing could part them. Eighth grade started this way, but things soon began to change. Georgia was developing at a much faster rate than Jessica, so she, of course, became the most popular girl of their class, surrounded by the cutest boys and the silliest girls.
As Jessica glared at Georgia standing on the mound, she recalled lunch last Wednesday. Jessica was sitting with a couple of her friends, discussing the new art teacher and the wild blue earrings he wore that morning, when Hank, Jessica’s boyfriend, strode over to thrust a folded piece of paper quickly into her hands, then practically ran to get away from her. When she opened it, she read five little words that stabbed her in the chest like five tiny knives. Hank was breaking up with her, on Valentine’s Day, in a note.
Jessica felt her pain and anger rise as she heard a peal of laughter from two tables over. Looking up, Jessica saw Georgia, surrounded by her usual group of giggling girls, pointing her way with one hand and holding Hank’s in her other.
Focus. FOCUS! Jessica barely pulled herself from her reverie to watch the ball fall gracefully into the catcher’s mitt. “Strike!” She dug her foot into the red clay again, focusing all of her hatred and humiliation into the hands gripping her bat. When the next pitch came, she slammed it, red crowding into her vision, the force of the impact so much that she almost stumbled. She slowly remembered that she was supposed to be running, and by the time she became fully aware, she heard screams of pain and shock. Halfway to first base, she turned toward the noise that had become a howl. Georgia was crouched on the ground, clutching her face, her teammates and coaches circling her.
“Ohnoohnoohno,” Jessica muttered to herself. Without looking around, she ran as hard as she could – losing her helmet and bat – towards the opponent’s empty dugout, through the gate, around the concession stand, and into the bathroom, only stopping once she had locked herself into the handicapped stall. She would be in so much trouble now. She knew from past experiences that things like this were always her fault. No matter who Jessica thought was really responsible, or if things were simply an accident, her mother yelled at her. Her mother had yelled when Jessica failed a spelling test, when Scratchy the cat ran away, if the water bill was too high, if there wasn’t any popcorn, and when Jessica told her dad what always happened when Uncle Steven came to visit.
Yes, her mother blamed Jessica for her brother’s imprisonment. Steven was her favorite older brother, the one who always looked out for her when she was younger. She called Jessica a liar, a bitch, a slut, every nasty thing she could think of, until Jessica’s dad finally told her to lay off, or he would divorce her. But Jessica still knew how her mother felt. Jessica knew who her mother would blame. Jessica knew she would be punished for Georgia’s injury.
As she reflected on this, Hank’s and Georgia’s betrayals, and Uncle Steven’s roaming hands, she sank to the floor, her head between her knees, sobbing so arduously that there were no actual tears.