No Runs, No Hits, No Errors
Kathleen was repacking her trunk for the second time when Harry called. She should have known something was up when he spent more time than usual on pleasantries. Yes, she told him, she was actually graduating summa cum laude...in art history. Yes, she was still coming home for the summer before heading down to the University of New Mexico where she was going to pursue a master's ... in art history. No, she didn't have a job lined up for the summer ... yet.
Kathleen Kavenaugh was not about to admit to Harry Kinsley that she wasn't actually planning on working that summer. A nice relaxing ten weeks by the pool at the Juniper Hills Country Club, soaking up Colorado sunshine under several layers of sunscreen was to be her reward for sticking to her guns and getting her bachelor's degree in just four years.
And then, wham, he snookered her without warning. She should have been on her guard, she scolded herself later, but she had been distracted when she realized that Harry's phone call meant that she would probably have to repack her trunk yet again. Kathleen never could think straight when Harry Kinsley was giving her the third degree.
"So, you can fill in for Lindy as office manager at K-B-K this summer while she's off on maternity leave?"
"Lindy's seven months pregnant, Kath. I thought by now you might have picked up on the symptoms."
"I'm a hundred miles away from Juniper Hills, Harry, in case you haven't noticed."
"You're home every two weeks to get your hair cut."
"What can I say? Dirk's the best."
"You notice when your hair is a millimeter too long, but you haven't noticed that Lindy, who is practically part of the family, is about to have her first child?"
Kathleen sighed and gazed at the ceiling of her dorm room, bracing herself for the lecture she knew would follow, the one Harry was so adept at giving, the one that involved her thinking more about others than herself.
"So, it's a deal, then. You'll fill in for Lindy at K-B-K instead of lolling about all summer. Thanks, Kath. You're a peach."
While Kathleen was still sputtering, trying to decide how to correct Harry's manifest misunderstanding of how her summer was going to unfold, he closed with a cheery, "We'll all be over for your graduation. Your dad's asked me to rent a Suburban so that the whole family can drive together and still fit your gear in the back."
Kathleen feebly said goodbye, hung up the phone, and sadly started taking her carefully folded sweaters back out of the steamer trunk that her mother had given her when she was in high school. Repacking was inevitable. As inevitable as Harry Kinsley once more managing to ruin her life.
Kathleen Kavenaugh, prettier than should be allowed and clever to boot, discovered early in life that a smile is a girl's best friend. Although an indulgent father, a comfortable home, and a nearby mall with no less than ten shoe stores couldn't make up for the loss of her mother to breast cancer when Kathleen was sixteen, Kathleen was the first to admit that the only thing in her life that really vexed or distressed her was Harry Kinsley. And, true to form, the odious man was at the root of the distressing situation in which she now found herself. Not less than an hour after Harry had hung up, her father, Byron, had phoned to congratulate her on being such a trooper and helping out at K-B-K for summer. Loath to appear small or selfish in her father's eyes, Kathleen didn't even try to find a way to get out of the jam into which Harry had tricked her. She bit her tongue and didn't suggest that K-B-K might be better off with someone who actually wanted to learn office management. No, it would be better to just put up with Harry and K B K for the summer and then escape them all in the pursuit of a master's degree. But, she admitted to herself, she was going to miss mornings at the pool followed by nice relaxing lunches on the veranda. Being scrupulously honest, she acknowledged that she had been looking forward to long afternoons spent reading and chatting with friends, followed by dinner with boyfriends, some new and some old, but all of them smart, good looking, and completely in love with her. But no, Harry Kinsley could never let well enough alone.
Kathleen shuddered when she let herself think about all that a summer at K B K would involve. The work didn't scare her--a bit of typing, a bit of filing, payroll, Internet searches, library runs--she could do it blindfolded. No, it wasn't the work...it was everything else.
It was bad enough that her only sister Colleen was married to Jack Kinsley--the second K in K B K as he often pointed out. Colleen insisted on treating the firm as if it was part of the Kavenaugh extended family, arranging barbecues, birthday parties, and company celebrations with alarming frequency. It was bad enough that her father routinely visited the office to talk shop with the offspring of his late partners and solicit their input on all things Kathleen. It was bad enough that Harry Kinsley had long ago decided to be the older brother Kathleen had never wanted and harangued her endlessly about her choice of study ("Summa cum laude in art history doesn't count"), her choice of clothes ("Didn't Capri slacks go out with Laura Petry?"), and her choice of friends ("Two blondes don't make a right").
But the worst of it was that they were all sports freaks. Every last one of them in that blasted office was nuts about all things sporting--whether on television or in the flesh, whether on the playing field or in the board room, sports was the unifying theme. Even Lettie Bridges, the firm's senior partner, played second base for the K B K Trojans and lustily cheered on her teammates as they battled the other teams in the Juniper Hills Park-n-Rec slow pitch league. K B K 's trophies graced their lobby, eclipsing the framed degrees and engineering credentials that, in Kathleen's opinion, should have been the hallmark of the firm. Kathleen sighed as she finished unpacking yet another box and tidied her meticulous room. It was going to be a long summer.
Now Kathleen was good at many things. She could pick a fine wine with ease and assurance. She could sweet-talk her way into getting the last room in a sold-out hotel or the last seat on an overbooked flight. She could cook a gourmet meal, sing a solo, recite a soliloquy, plan a trip, and throw a dinner party for twelve. But she could not play sports. She ran like a girl, according to Harry. She couldn't kick a soccer ball, shoot a basket, hit a pitched ball, or catch anything tossed in her general direction. She was pretty good at skating, swimming, ballet, and dance aerobics, but that didn't count, according to Harry. It wasn't that she disliked athletics or was particularly awkward. On the contrary, she moved with grace and agility. But she just didn't get the whole team thing, the whole competitive thing, the whole 'I win, you lose' thing. Friends were for chatting with. Why have friends if your goal was to humiliate them in the name of sports? It was going to be a long summer.
On her first day of work, Kathleen arrived at the Victorian mansion that housed K B K Engineering casually beautiful in a peach shorts set, blond ponytail demurely tied back with a matching scarf. She was particularly pleased with her nails--it hadn't been easy finding a polish exactly three shades lighter than her outfit. The office was absolutely dead quiet. Eight-thirty Monday morning, and no one in sight. Computers on, lights on, coffee on. No one in sight.
She sat down in the foyer outside of Harry's office. She flipped through a magazine. She fixed herself a cup of coffee. Eight forty-five--still no one. She called Colleen. Got the answering machine. Colleen was probably already on her way to the pool with the kids. Kathleen groaned again--it was going to be a long summer.
Nine o'clock. The back door burst open and the office filled with grimy, sweaty bodies, laughing and thumping each other on the back, teasing and jostling. Kathleen closed her eyes in agony. Harry halloed at her over the hubbub. "Hey look everybody. Colleen's kid sister starts today. Say 'hi' to our newest rookie while you queue up for the shower."
Harry shook Kathleen's hand and grinned as she wrinkled her nose at the touch of his sweaty palm. He explained that they had softball practice Monday mornings. Had he forgot to mention that? Anyway, Mondays were always crazy around there. He showed her to her desk and told her to stay put while he got cleaned up. Then he remembered that he'd forgotten to call Lindy to ask her to come in to show Kathleen the ropes. Would she mind making the call herself? Kathleen minded a great deal but held her tongue and glared at Harry as she flipped through the Rolodex on Lindy's desk and picked up the phone. Maybe Lindy would have some advice for her on how to survive a summer with a bunch of sports lunatics, but then she remembered that Lindy always won at horseshoes during company picnics and was forever organizing bowling outings. Surely, Harry wouldn't expect her to pick up such tasks. He couldn't! The mere thought of bowling shoes made her queasy.
As it turned out, Lindy was willing to come in and help Kathleen get organized, though she didn't really feel it was necessary. She had left a game plan on her desk. Wasn't it there? Kathleen replied that she didn't know what a game plan was but would appreciate some detailed instructions.
Lindy laughed good-naturedly and welcomed her to the team and thanked her for pinch-hitting for her while she was benched. Then she walked her through life at K-B-K. Her last piece of advice was to not mind Harry too much--"he gets a charge out of throwing a curve ball once in awhile. Just show him that you can hit a standup double, and he'll let you swing for the fences." Kathleen's head was starting to hurt.
Kathleen's head was still hurting at the end of the week. She had been told not to "drop the ball" on the Fordyce contract. She was encouraged to "play hardball" with the computer vendor when the new PCs Lindy had ordered were found to be still on backorder. She was high-fived and congratulated on her awesome "slam dunk" when she finally figured out the payroll software and was able to communicate effectively with the bank and ensure that everyone got paid. By Friday, Kathleen was so thoroughly disgusted with sports talk that she felt that she had been drop kicked, punted, and hit out of the park. She didn't even feel like a victory lap when she was able to get the copier working again, and merely scowled when told to "go deep for a long pass" on a project that simply required her to type up a report and do a couple of Powerpoint slides.
Brother-in-law Jack didn't help her mood when Colleen dropped by to chat with the gang. Of course, she had to let it slip that Kathleen had three dates lined up for the weekend. Jack Kinsley quipped "Hat-trick!" and at that moment Kathleen truly did wish that Harry would choke on his Power Bar as he guffawed.
And then the worst happened. She
was minutes away from the five o'clock dash to her car. She had her purse slung
over her shoulders, and was being slapped on the back by the K B K engineers
and thanked for her hard work when Harry leaned back in his chair, propped his
feet up on a desk, flipped the cap from a Dos Equis into the trashcan and said,
"See you at the backlot seven-thirty sharp, Monday morning."
Kathleen's jaw dropped as she gaped at him, speechless, his audacity almost incomprehensible.
He took advantage of her silence to continue. "And make sure you bring your glove. You do have a glove, don't you?"
At this Colleen chirped that Kathleen could use hers. Kathleen replied that she would do no such thing as she had no intention of playing softball, baseball, foosball or any kind of ball. The rank and file loudly informed her that she had to because she was filling in for Lindy and Lindy was their catcher and their first game was in two weeks and they had a scrimmage with the Legal Eagles next week. Rob Haskins, one of the junior engineers, told her that he was picking up Lindy's catcher's equipment over the weekend and would have it and a jersey for her Monday morning. Kathleen told him that he would need to recruit another catcher.
"Joanna can play," Lettie Bridges volunteered. "She's back this weekend and is staying all summer, you know. The poor girl is simply exhausted from her shooting schedule. Carnival on St. Thomas just sapped her energy something awful. She needs a rest and so I told Mother that Joanna just had to come home for the summer. 'Mother,' I said, 'no one in this world can take care of our Joanna like you can.' I promised Joanna that we would do nothing but let her play all summer long. And she just loves to play ball with the boys. Always has, you know."
That's not all she likes to play with the boys! Kathleen thought maliciously. But before she could relinquish the catcher's position to Lettie's swimsuit-model niece, Joanna Bridges, Harry Kinsley went and ruined everything once again. He just couldn't let it pass. No, he had to go and say "There now, Kathleen, Joanna will play with us and you can be the number one cheerleader instead."
Without thinking, Kathleen's reflexes got the better of her and she was appalled to find herself agreeing to play on the team. "Oh, all right, I won't let the side down if you really want me. But I warn you, I can't hit, throw, run, or catch."
"You're right," he admitted with a grin. "But Lindy couldn't either. All we need is a warm body. We never have a play at home plate anyway." And with a wink he tossed Kathleen one of the dozen or so nerf footballs that littered the office. Kathleen, of course, fumbled the ball and finally escaped to her car and her weekend, leaving the echoes of loud applause and cheering in her wake.
Jack Kinsley picked up the ball that Kathleen had fumbled and slowly walked over to his brother. "I hope you know what you're doing," he said quietly, handing the ball to Harry. "The last time Kathleen Kavenaugh and Joanna Bridges were in the same room together, you ended up in the hospital."
"The emergency room," Harry corrected him. Then he added, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, "It's going to be an interesting summer, Jack."
"I repeat--I hope you know what you're doing."
"So you're K B K 's ringer this year?"
Kathleen looked up blankly at Mike Eastman as he handed her a glass of wine and one to her date, Gabe Garcia. Kathleen and Gabe were having dinner Saturday night with the newlywed Eastmans, Mike and Dorie. Dorie Taylor Eastman had been Kathleen's dance teacher in high school and they had stayed close even after Kathleen had gone to college and Dorie had opened her own dance studio. Mike was a five-year veteran of the Dixon, Dabney, and Colfax law firm, K B K Engineering's chief rival in the Juniper Hills Park-n-Rec slow pitch league. The other teams varied from year to year--sometimes the car dealers would put together a team, sometimes the medics, sometimes the teachers--but the Dixon, Dabney, and Colfax Legal Eagles and the K B K Trojans were perennial foes.
Since Kathleen was clearly clueless regarding his remark, Mike continued, "Every year Harry Kinsley's roster conveniently comes up short by one or two women. Each team has to field at least five men and five women--we play ten on a side, including a rover. And every year, Harry gets permission to recruit outside of K B K. Says he doesn't have enough female employees for the team. I don't know how he does it, but he always finds these Amazonian females who can hit the ball out of the park and ought to be in a league of their own."
Gabe laughed and then went on to relate a rather long story about his sister's fast pitch team. Kathleen's head started to ache again. She had been so looking forward to a sports-free evening with her best friends and her new heartthrob Gabe. Gabe, that is, Gabriel Garcia, was an archeologist she had met at the museum where she had interned during her senior year. His field was native southwestern culture and her thesis had been on tracing prehistoric archetypes in Acoma pottery. With a little finagling on her part, she was able to land Gabe as her advisor and they had actually dated a little during the last semester, tentatively and quietly violating the student-teacher relationship taboo. So, when Gabe called from out of the blue to ask her out while he was passing through Juniper Hills on his way to Mesa Verde for a summer gig, Kathleen proudly brought him to dinner at the Eastman's.
Until now, the date had been going swimmingly. Dorie clearly approved of Gabe's courtly manners and Spanish accent as well as the broad shoulders that swelled beneath his khaki shirt, and she had surreptitiously given Kathleen a thumb's up before secluding herself in the kitchen to perform last-minute magic on dinner. No, the evening hadn't been bad at all until Gabe and Mike found that damnable common ground, sports.
"I think Kathleen has made a study out of avoiding anything related to sports" Gabe teased, as he finally wrapped up his story.
Mike agreed enthusiastically and was about to tell his favorite Kathleen story, which involved her meeting the Denver Broncos quarterback at a fund-raiser and embarrassing herself when she had no idea who he was.
Dorie came to her friend's rescue, raising her voice from the kitchen. "You guys stop hassling Kathleen. And Mike," she said, standing in the kitchen doorway with her hands on her hips, her eyes alight with amusement, "Kathleen is many things, but she's clearly not an Amazon. And she actually works for K-B-K so she's not a ringer. You and Harry Kinsley are just so gung-ho about this silly softball rivalry. You're going to have Gabe thinking that everyone in Juniper Hills is crazy. Harry asked Kathleen to play and she's never even played before, so it's clear that he's just putting together a friendly little team."
Mike pretended to remain unconvinced and good-naturedly argued with his wife about the wily ways of K-B-K and Harry Kinsley in particular.
Gabe draped an arm around Kathleen's slender shoulders and smiled indulgently at her. "You really have never played ball before? You mean, not ever? Not even in gym class?"
Kathleen sighed. She wished she didn't have to explain this to every interesting man she encountered. "I never had to take gym in school. You see I have a hole in my heart, or I did when I was born, and so the doctors warned my parents not to let me overexert myself."
"But what about all that dancing you've told me about?"
Dorie came into the living room and set down a tray of hors d'oeuvres--cracked green olives, roasted red peppers, goat cheese, and French bread--and gave her friend a protective smile.
"What Dorie would like to say, but is too polite," said Kathleen, "is that I was never really a contender. I took ballet and jazz for fun but not to be a prima anything. I just wanted to have fun and stay in shape..." Her voice drifted off, and Dorie masterfully steered the conversation away from sports and Harry Kinsley and competition and all the subjects she knew Kathleen found upsetting.
Later, in the kitchen while they were making coffee and putting dessert together, Dorie gave Kathleen a quick hug. "He's nice, sweetie," she said breathily. "You make a cute couple. He's a rugged guy and you're a china doll. And you both like art and all that stuff. You think he might be it?"
"I don't know, Dorie. I'm about ready to give up. I honestly am. Maybe my hormones are messed up or something. I read an article once that said if your hormones are out of balance you never feel the zing. I've never felt the zing, and I've gone out with lots of guys. Gabe is great--he's the best--but it's like it always is ... no flutter in my stomach, no sweaty palpitations, no accelerated heartbeat. I mean, shouldn't I be feeling sick or crazy or something."
Dorie nodded. "The night you introduced me to Mike, I thought I was going to throw up. I knew then and there that he was the right man for me."
"Exactly. But I always feel so in control. There must be something wrong with me."
"Oh, don't worry, honey. Maybe Gabe will make you feel nauseous in time."
At this, both women started giggling and then they spilled the coffee on the tray and had to start over.
"Guess..." Dorie began as she rinsed and wiped the tray, "who picked up Joanna Bridges at the airport today?"
"Dixon, Dabney, and Colfax?" Kathleen replied without missing a beat.
Dorie raised an eyebrow, "What have you heard," she whispered.
Kathleen hadn't heard anything but was there something to hear, she wanted to know. Dorie put her off by answering her original question. "Harry Kinsley picked up Joanna," she declared triumphantly.
Kathleen instinctively clutched the kitchen counter as her stomach lurched slightly. Her jaw suddenly tight with tension, she disdainfully replied that Harry was simply keeping Lettie Bridges and her Miata off the interstate.
"The woman drives like a bat out of hell. Why else do you think Harry drives her everywhere? I thought it was only men who bought sports cars when they turned forty."
Dorie giggled and told Kathleen to shush. And then she whispered. "I think Harry has been in love with Joanna for years, but he's never gotten up the nerve to tell her how he feels about her. She's just such a ... she's just so ... so..."
"Oh, for crying out loud, Dorie. Are you pregnant, girl? Is that why your brain is so addled? Harry Kinsley without nerve! The man is total nerve, all nerve, and he gets on my nerves. There isn't an ounce of self-doubt in his entire body. Besides he's so much older than she is. He'd be robbing the cradle and he knows it. And why would he want a trophy wife when he's already got so many freaking baseball trophies? No honey, you're wrong on this one." Kathleen tossed her head and gave her final argument, "She's not his type anyway."
"So what is his type, Miss I-know-everything-about-Harry-Kinsley?"
"Oh, I don't know. I never think about Harry if I can help it. But he doesn't ogle, I'll give him that much. And there's not much point to Joanna Bridges beyond ogling, is there?"
Dorie pursed her lips. "You sound very much like you don't want Harry to be interested in Joanna."
"Dorie, my dear, I don't give a rip who he's interested in, but I do know that you're wrong. And," Kathleen smiled sweetly, "I also know that there's a lovely man in your living room who went out of his way to stop in little ole Juniper Hills just to see me, and I don't want to keep him waiting one more minute."
But to Kathleen's dismay, when she returned to the living room she found that Gabe and Mike had used the time she and Dorie had been in the kitchen to forge deep and lasting bonds of friendship. Not only did they discover a shared antipathy for the Chicago Cubs, but they had also visited Cooperstown during the same month the previous summer. Kathleen slumped down next to Gabe, who barely acknowledged her presence before returning to the heavy, philosophical discussion he was having with Mike on how to rid the game once and for all of astroturf, aluminum bats, Pete Rose, and the designated hitter.
Half an hour later, the men were still deep in the conversation. Kathleen looked Dorie straight in the eye and mouthed "Goodbye zing!" before sinking back into the couch. Dorie would have laughed if she hadn't seen the disappointment in Kathleen's eyes.
Later, when Gabe pulled up to the house Kathleen shared with her father and walked her to the door and waited for her to ask him in, Kathleen simply kissed his cheek and wished him a good summer and went inside.
Kathleen let the curtain fall as Gabe's car turned the corner and out of sight. She wiped away a tear, and then picked up the phone and called the man who was on the docket as the weekend's date number three. Spending Sunday sailing with a stockbroker and listening to him talk didn't seem like fun anymore. Maybe she'd just hang around the house and face the fact that she just wasn't the type of person who could ever really fall in love.
Sunday dawned gray and wet. Kathleen got up early and swam laps at the pool. She went home and read. She wrote email letters to friends. She killed time. She didn't regret canceling her sailing date. To have it be cold and miserable as well as dull and disappointing would have been too much to bear. She didn't even regret knowing that she would probably never hear from Gabe Garcia again. So what if she would never get to meet his mother and try what Gabe had promised was the world's best carne adovada. So what if she would never get to watch his sister's Mexican dance troupe perform. So what if she would never wander Santa Fe's art galleries with a man who could tell kachinas from kitsch. Lovely as he was, she and Gabe weren't on the same wavelength after all.
After lunch she wandered down to her father's laboratory and sat on a stool and watched him work. Since he had retired five years earlier, after Kathleen's mother had succumbed to breast cancer, he had indulged in his passion--plastic prosthetics. He wrote a monthly column for Prevention magazine on the topic, advising his readers on replacement parts for eyes, limbs, teeth, and various appendages. He had several patents pending and was on multiple boards of directors. Harry Kinsley may whisper in Kathleen's ear that the Kavenaugh money was ill-gotten at the hands of her robber-baron ancestors, but she and her father knew that the Kavenaugh name was revered around the world as the first name in artificial biomechanics.
"Are you going to Colleen and Jack's for dinner?" Byron asked his daughter after they had sat in comfortable silence for awhile. He had been working out the kinks in a ball-and-socket joint for a new hip he was designing and had reached a roadblock.
"Only if you are. Although I do want to see Gramma Bridges and ask her how the new eye is working out."
"Will the Bridges be there?" Kathleen wasn't sure she was up to chit-chatting with Lettie given her post-Gabe mood, and encountering the fabulous Joanna was not high on her list either. The last time she and Joanna Bridges were in the same room...well, anyway, it just wasn't a good idea for them to socialize.
"Bound to be. With Joanna flying in last night, Colleen's going to feel that if she doesn't have them all over they'll be insulted.
"What will we have for dinner if we don't go?"
"Boiled eggs and gruel." Kathleen's father was hot on a new vegetarian diet that Kathleen found slightly excessive.
"Let's go, then."
"How's your hand?"
Kathleen would have known that purr anywhere. She looked up from her perch on one of Colleen's bar stools to see Joanna Bridges sidling up to Harry as he stood behind the bar, mixing a pitcher of margaritas.
Harry smiled warmly at the tall, shapely goddess in the white sundress who had just decided that this was the best of all possible times to give him a neck massage. He sighed with pleasure as she slipped her slender thumbs under the collar of his crisp tee-shirt.
She's going to send him to the emergency room again if she keeps that up while he slices lime wedges, was what Kathleen thought. Followed closely by, I think I'm going to be sick. What she said, however, was, "It wasn't even broken. Just sprained."
Joanna slowly turned her almond eyes on Kathleen and smiled slightly, pearly whites glistening under her luscious lips. "Oh, hello there, Kathleen. Didn't see you come in."
She slowly withdrew a hand from Harry's neck and reached out to shake Kathleen's hand, while still resting the other hand proprietarily on Harry's back. "How've you been? Still in school?"
Her words were languid and, Kathleen was forced to admit, extremely sexy. If she had been a man, she would probably be in love with Joanna along with the rest of them. If she wouldn't feel like an idiot, she would probably try to talk like that as well.
"Sprains take longer to heal than breaks, Kathleen," Harry said firmly, placing a salt-rimmed glass in front of Kathleen and handing another to Joanna. Kathleen noticed that he slid from beneath Joanna's embrace with the fluidity of a cat.
"So you've been telling me since Christmas, Harry. Although I didn't see you favoring the wrist just now." Kathleen cocked an eyebrow at her favorite adversary and waited.
"Months it took. Months of weight training to get my full strength back."
"You would have gone to the gym anyway."
"That's not the point."
Kathleen closed her eyes in mock pain. "So what is the point?"
Of course, she knew the point. She had been hearing the point since the ill-fated Christmas Eve party when she had finally had enough of Joanna Bridges and had resolved not to let her ruin Colleen's party by rearranging the furniture just to show off her legs while she played the piano. Unfortunately, Harry Kinsley and his wrist had gotten in the way and it had been twisted at ungodly angles as Kathleen, Joanna, and Colleen's prize baby grand wrestled with the wall. It had not been a pretty scene. Kathleen had not been proud of her lack of poise. But she had silently crowed that she had actually bested Joanna Bridges for the first time in her life. Joanna did not play Christmas carols that night in the burlesque fashion that seemed to characterize her every move, and Kathleen took all the credit for it.
"I don't know why you couldn't have left the piano where Joanna moved it. You have no upper body strength."
"On that point, we are all in violent agreement. But, may I remind you, you should have helped me as I asked you instead of..."
Jack Kinsley, with unerring good timing, appeared to announce that everyone was needed outside for volleyball. Joanna dutifully linked her arm with his and declared that she hadn't played since the Vogue tournament on Maui but would do her best.
Harry came up behind Kathleen as she headed for the door, trailing Joanna's shadow. He laid a hand on her arm. She stopped.
"You okay?" he asked.
She looked at him quizzically.
"I thought you were going sailing today?" he continued.
"Didn't feel up to it." She smiled weakly. "Harry, I am sorry about your wrist. Really I am. It's just that she's so..."
"I consider it your finest moment."
She looked into his eyes. For
the first time in years, maybe for the first time since she was a little girl,
she saw the pure friendship that glowed from the deep brown pools flecked with
"I didn't think I had any fine moments in your eyes."
"Let's ditch the volleyball game."
"Okay." Kathleen was jubilant. She wouldn't be harassed about not joining in with Harry as her ally. Her jubilation was short-lived.
"Want to play catch?"
"Can't we just watch the volleyball game?"
"You need to learn to throw and catch." He put his arm around her and squeezed her shoulder, coach style. "It's fun."
"You'll laugh at me." She looked into his eyes again. She bit her lip.
"I promise I won't," he said softly. "Now go and get Colleen's glove."
"Aye cap'n," she said, saluting him with a saucy look.
Seven-thirty Monday morning found Kathleen at the vacant lot behind the K B K offices, ready for practice. With Colleen's glove in hand, clean, white sneakers laced and snug, she was surprised to find herself the first one there. Perhaps her colleagues weren't as keen on winning as she had been led to believe.
Bob Martin, a scrappy little man whose face was scarred by acne and a hot temper, was the next to show up. He grunted a greeting to Kathleen and then went about unloading the equipment he'd brought. She made a few attempts at small talk with Bob and managed to glean from him that he played shortstop, was usually second in the lineup, and was a programmer not an electrical engineer. Kathleen got the distinct feeling that Bob felt second-class about being a programmer but had no idea why.
Perhaps playing ball compensates for being short and for being a programmer, Kathleen thought hazily, trying to remember something from the psychology classes she had taken.
Harry and Jack Kinsley showed up next, and by eight o'clock most of the team had surfaced.
Everyone agreed that the high point of the morning was watching Kathleen throw. Using the technique Harry had taught her the afternoon before; she was really quite good at her point-step-throw routine and imbued it with an amazing amount of grace. She held the ball gingerly in her right hand, with three fingers tentatively clutching the grapefruit-sized ball. Turning sideways, she stretched out her left arm in the direction she wanted to throw, moved into second position--she was pleased that her ballet training was being put to use here--and lobbed the ball with as much force as she could muster. While Kathleen conceded that she didn't get a lot of distance, her teammates had to admit that she was dead-on accurate with each throw. A mite slow perhaps, but accurate. "And graceful too, even with her catcher's mask," Harry invariably would add with a chuckle.
Being on a team was a good way to get to know one's colleagues, Kathleen learned. In addition to Lettie Bridges and the Kinsley brothers, whom she had known all her life, there was centerfielder and home-run hitter Rob Haskins. Rob was a big, burly teddy-bear of a man. Kathleen learned that looks can be deceiving as Rob could be sweet and soft-hearted one minute and hungry for blood the next. Just a year out of school, he was one of K-B-K 's newest and largest employees. Kathleen hadn't figured out why yet, but Rob's devotion to Harry was tantamount to idolatry.
Jack Kinsley played left field and in right was Gail Hawkins. Kathleen knew Gail slightly, since she was forced to attend most K-B-K events when she was in town, but had never paid much attention to her although Gail had been with K B K for over five years. She hadn't played the year before, she told Kathleen in a whisper, because she had been going through a divorce. Lindy had warned her that Gail liked to organize events and then would ask K-B-K to pick up the tab. She told Kathleen that "Harry hates it when she does that, so keep a sharp eye on what she asks you to do and make sure that Harry, Lettie, or Jack know what she's up to."
Elliot Marsh was the pitcher and had been with K B K for three years. Kathleen instinctively liked his preppy good looks. With never a hair out of place, Elliot was a button-down, Brooks Brothers sort of man who knew how to give a woman a compliment without making it sound like a come-on. He spent a fair amount of time showing Kathleen how to hold a bat properly and smiled approvingly when she knocked non-existent mud off her shoes, tapped the middle of home plate with her bat, and executed a letter-perfect waggle. He, for one, didn't seem to notice the minor detail that Kathleen was never able to actually make contact with the ball during any of her at-bats, but unflaggingly found a silver lining in every one of her attempts to hit the ball. Kathleen noticed that Harry seemed highly amused by her batting lesson, and she freely admitted to herself that had she not sworn off men forever, given that her hormones were seriously out of whack, she would have been in very great danger of pursuing Elliot with zeal and vigor.
The biggest surprise of the morning, however, was Maggie Obermann. Kathleen had known Maggie in high school but they had moved in very different circles--they had been in a few classes together but had never socialized. Kathleen wasn't even sure Maggie went to the prom, although she was pretty sure she had attended graduation. Now, five years later, Maggie was awesome.
Now that's a ringer, Kathleen thought, watching the young woman move with power, grace, and skill. She was the most natural athlete Kathleen had ever seen, and even she knew that Maggie was easily the best ball player on the team. She was strong without being muscular, competitive without being offensive, intense without being ridiculous.
What's more, Maggie didn't work for K-B-K. She was Harry Kinsley's personal trainer at Goddard's Gym. And to top it all, she was nice. She gave Kathleen an enthusiastic hug when they were re-introduced, reminisced about high school for roughly twenty seconds, and then offered her a piece of gum. Kathleen declined, but Maggie insisted that she take it because her mouth would get dry during practice and she would need it to keep her saliva flowing. Kathleen seriously doubted that that would be the case but took the gum anyway.
To Maggie and Rob fell the task of helping Kathleen into her catcher's "costume," as she called it, and then teaching her how to catch. Actually, they taught her how to stay out of the way of the bat, avoid fouled balls, and retrieve missed balls in the dirt and get them back to the pitcher.
When Kathleen commented that "At least we have no plays at home," Maggie gave her a blank stare and then answered, "Well, one thing at a time." Kathleen caught Harry watching them out of the corner of his eye while he hit grounders for the rest of the team to field. He seemed to find the catching lesson almost as amusing as Elliot's batting instructions.
"Harry," Kathleen asked, poking her head into his office on her way out Monday evening. "I thought we were supposed to have ten on a team, five men and five women. But we have only me, Maggie, Lettie, and Gail. Do you need Colleen to play?"
Harry didn't look up. "Colleen can't play."
"Sure she can. She played last year. I can buy my own glove. I shouldn't be borrowing hers anyway..."
"She can't play--not because you have stolen her glove, you silly girl, but because..." At that point Bob Martin walked by and Harry called out a question about the network that he needed answered before Bob left for the day. Kathleen sat down in the chair by Harry's desk and patiently waited until she once more had his attention. When she did, he told her why Colleen couldn't play. Ten minutes later Kathleen was still chewing out her brother-in-law for telling Harry that her sister was pregnant before she, Kathleen, had been informed of the happy situation.
Tuesday afternoon Harry asked Kathleen if she would give him a lift to the gym. His car was getting tuned up and he didn't want to miss his workout. Kathleen almost asked why he didn't just ride his bike like he normally did, but let it go.
"Come on in," he said when she pulled up in front of the door to the gym.
"I don't go into gyms."
"Now Kathleen ... Maggie has something for you."
"I don't want anything that's spent any time in a gym."
"Don't be silly. Now just park the car, and come on in."
"Don't keep on calling me silly. I don't call you muscle-bound, do I? No, I don't. It's just common courtesy."
"But I'm not muscle-bound."
"If you were any more muscle-bound you'd be prancing about in briefs with your body oiled, striking poses...
"You've thought about this then?"
"Don't flatter yourself. And I'm not silly."
"Park the car, please."
Wednesday found Gail Hawkins admiring the hand weights that Maggie had loaned Kathleen at the gym the afternoon before. Harry and Maggie were very keen on Kathleen using any free moments she might find while executing her various office manager duties to develop some upper body strength. They thought that she should do curls--that is, they wanted her to hold her arms perpendicular to her sides, scarecrow-style, and then holding the weights, alternately bring her hands to her shoulders. Kathleen thought not.
Gail demonstrated, several times in fact, the exercise that Harry and Maggie wanted Kathleen to do. Bob and Rob agreed that Gail was stronger than she looked. Elliot commented that strength of character was the mark of a beautiful woman, which prompted Lettie to tell a somewhat rambling story the moral of which seemed to be that Lycra was really much stronger than Spandex, although she personally couldn't vouch for either and was only relating what Joanna Bridges had told her, which reminded her to tell Harry that "Joanna thinks she lost an earring at your place last night."
Kathleen's head whipped around so fast it almost hurt. Harry didn't even have the grace to look embarrassed, confused, or abashed. He merely said, "Hmm, I'll look for it. Well gang, that reminds me, I gotta run. Scrimmage tomorrow. That means you too, Kathleen. So go to bed early--no Letterman tonight."
Kathleen sputtered that she never watched David Letterman, but Harry was bounding out the door and down the steps by the time she formulated the retort.
Mid-day Thursday found the K-B-K crew sitting on the front porch taking a lunch break. Harry, in his usual boisterous way, bounded out of the building on his way to a client meeting. He handed Bob Martin a piece of paper as he passed him--"Here's the lineup, Bob. You field the complaints and take all the bribes you can to make everybody happy. I'll be out at Forsythe Equipment all afternoon." He hopped into his car and then hopped out again to yell over to his employees--"And get back to work, you scum. We don't pay you to loll around, soaking up rays."
The friendly epithets that were hurled in return were all that Harry could have asked for, and Rob and Gail began plotting to sabotage his office when Bob silently handed the lineup sheet to Rob. Rob's face fell. He handed the sheet to Elliot who showed it to Gail.
"Well, I'm not playing rover. I hate being rover. I'm a pitcher and he's got me roving." Elliot was clearly not happy with the lineup.
"So who's pitching," Kathleen asked.
Gail handed her the sheet of paper on which she read the following:
Sh - Bob
2 - Lettie
C - Rob
R - Gail
1 - HK
P - Joanna
L - Jack
Ctchr - Kath
Rov - Elliot
For some reason, Kathleen's eyes smarted. She swallowed hard, trying to suppress the angry feeling that Harry had somehow betrayed her. She was working for him, helping him out, playing along with the whole stupid softball thing, and trying her best to be a good sport about it all. He knew how much she disliked being around Joanna Bridges, and yet he went out of his way to put Joanna in her path. She couldn't help feeling set up, as if she was simply a pawn in a chess game, as if Harry wanted to make her look completely foolish once and for all, and then he and Joanna could lord it over her and everyone else. She could barely believe that even Harry would be that mean to her.
Thursday, six p.m. Kathleen nervously donned her catcher's equipment and then feebly waved at Dorie Eastman and Colleen Kinsley in the stands. The K B K team had won the coin toss and Jack had chosen to be the home team. The umpire, a high-school kid on the Park-n-Rec roster for the summer, handed Kathleen the ball and told her to have fun and stay back.
Harry made the rounds, giving everyone high fives and attaboys, pepping them up for the scrimmage.
"Ready slugger?" he said to Kathleen, putting his hand on the wire cage that protected her face and peering inside. She was his last stop on his way to first base.
"Don't talk to me, you traitor."
His smile faded. She couldn't believe he actually looked hurt. He, who had ruthlessly set about to ruin her summer, had the audacity to blink rapidly, as if it were she who had wounded him.
"Keep your head in the game, Kathleen," he said hoarsely, and then jogged to first base.
She turned away from him and set her mouth in a grim, hard line. Point-step-throw. She stood a little straighter, seeing that the ball not only reached Joanna on the pitcher's mound, but reached her with force.
"Play ball!" the umpire shouted, and the game was underway.
The first batter was a tall, well-built man who returned Kathleen's tentative "hi" with a grin and told her to relax and have fun. Was 'have fun' a mantra with these people? Kathleen wasn't exactly having fun, and she certainly wasn't relaxed. She felt edgy, almost cocky--she couldn't remember ever feeling that way before. The batter took the first two pitches Joanna threw and then smacked the third one soundly. Kathleen stood up and watched the ball arc higher and higher, until she lost it in the sun. She heard her teammates send up a cheer and realized that Rob Haskins had caught the fly ball. He rifled it in to Joanna. One out.
The next batter was Marsha Dixon. Marsha and Kathleen had grown up together and had been on the same freshman wing at Western State. Like Kathleen, Marsha had just graduated and was home for the summer, working in her father's law office until she started law school in August.
"I see the witch is back" was Marsha's opening salvo.
"You don't mean me, Marsh?" Kathleen asked incredulously.
Marsha had gotten into position, but she stepped back and looked hard at Joanna for a few seconds. Joanna returned Marsha's stare in kind.
"Heavens no!" Marsha finally replied. "I don't know when the good people of Juniper Hills are going to run that woman out of town for good, but you can bet I'm going to be leading the pack."
Kathleen smiled sweetly. "Get a hit, Marsh. Please."
Marsha was about to continue the conversation when Mike Eastman yelled from the visitor's on-deck circle for the girls to chat some other time and to play ball "Now!"
Kathleen and Marsha agreed that they didn't like being called girls. The umpire promised to call them women if they would proceed with the game. Kathleen and Marsha agreed that he was cute.
Marsha turned her attention back to staring down Joanna and won. She walked to first on four straight balls.
Kathleen instinctively jabbed the air with a right hook and then looked around to see whether anyone had noticed that she was rooting for the wrong team.
The third batter was Mike Eastman. Mike complimented Kathleen on her outfit, her throwing--pretty impressive for a raw rookie--and sarcastically thanked her for the extra warm-up time she had given him while chatting with Marsha. Without further ado, he nailed a line drive over Maggie's head, caught Elliot napping on the wrong side of the field, and forced Jack to scramble to field it on the first bounce. Marsha barely beat Jack's throw to Lettie, but she was safe on second. Runners at first and second. Still only one out.
Kathleen knew the fourth batter through Mike and Dorie but refrained from chatting with her. After a couple of strikes, she hit the ball almost directly to Harry, who scooped it up and loped over to first base to get the second out of the inning.
Kathleen found herself getting in the groove. She was starting to feel a rhythm to the game that she had never felt watching it ... not that she had ever paid very close attention anyway. The rhythm of the pitcher, coming set, watching the batter, focusing on controlling exactly when and how the ball left her hand. The rhythm of the batters, poised, ready to unleash power that was spring-loaded in their arms and shoulders and chest and legs. The curve of the ball as it arced through the air toward homeplate and then ... smack. All that power suddenly travelling through the body and through the bat and into the ball and into the sky. And when the ball wasn't hit--when it was fouled away or whiffed or even taken--Kathleen could almost feel the pitcher's energy seeping out of the leather when she picked it up and threw it back to the mound.
And if there was one thing she wanted to do that game, it was to make it back to the mound with every throw. She, Kathleen, vowed she would not suffer the humiliation of having Joanna retrieve a ball that had fallen short. It was still only top of the first and Kathleen could already feel her right shoulder beginning to ache.
Kathleen was so into the groove and the rhythm of the game that she barely noticed the fifth batter. She simply admired the way he moved his body into position, and pivoted slightly back, fully cocked and ready. He took the first pitch. Kathleen scrambled in the dirt and heaved it back to Joanna. He fouled off the second. He took the third. And then he nailed the fourth. Over Lettie's head, over Elliot's head, the ball sailed until it fell just inside the fence as Rob raced to retrieve it.
Kathleen was jumping up and down as Marsha headed for home, and then groaned as Lettie missed Rob's throw. Mike was rounding third now, with the batter hot on his heels, going for an inside-the-park homerun. And then she saw Joanna scoop up the ball and in one fluid motion whip it to her. The ball hit her full force and she crumpled backwards, with no breath left in her lungs.
Kathleen opened her eyes and found the world was no longer black. She gasped and suddenly she could breathe again. But it hurt. A sea of faces above her swirled until two startlingly blue eyes swam into focus. They were male eyes and they were beautiful. Kathleen struggled to think what they were as blue as ... summer sky? She tried to smile but it hurt.
"Don't move," the eyes said.
She could feel hands connected to the eyes touch her neck and her back and her pulse. She didn't move.
"Cornflowers," she whispered. They're as blue as cornflowers.
"If you like," said the man with the smooth, angular jaw whose face housed the cornflower-blue eyes and whose hands were ensuring that her body wasn't broken.
"Who are you?"
He smiled and Kathleen almost lost her breath again.
"Phil Van Demeer."
"A name I know almost as well as my own." She paused, ignoring the sea of faces that grew larger above her. "Do you know that Dorie Eastman has been trying to set us up for years?"
"You must be Kathleen."
"I must be." And then her chest hurt so badly that she had to fight to keep the bile down. And then she knew, as sure as she had ever known anything, that her hormones weren't out of whack...this must be love.
Another pair of eyes came into focus. Brown flecked with gold. And then she was herself again, and Harry was helping her to her feet. And Joanna was insisting that she take a sip of water. They walked her away from Phil Van Demeer and sat her down in the home team dugout and Maggie helped her out of her catcher's gear. Colleen and Dorie came down and sat with her while she watched Elliot take her place behind home plate. And she laid her head on Dorie's shoulder and whispered, "He's lovely."
The K-B-K Trojans lost the scrimmage to the Legal Eagles, nine to seven. Three of the Eagles' seven runs were scored in the first inning, with Phil Van Demeer crossing the plate just as Joanna Bridges's throw hit Kathleen squarely in the chest. Phil was safe; Kathleen was out. Out cold, that is.
By the third inning, Harry had talked Kathleen into taking Gail Hawkins's place in right field so that Gail could play rover and Elliot could stay behind home plate. Elliot assured her that even in the unlikely event that anyone would send a ball into right field, she need only get the ball to Rob in centerfield, who would handle the rest of the play. Kathleen agreed, and rejoined the game accompanied by standing ovations from both teams. She liked the way the applause felt, and instinctively doffed her baseball cap as she jogged to the hinterlands of right field. She felt like a trooper, like there was more to Kathleen Kavenaugh than peaches and cream. And when Harry turned around from first base to give her a thumbs-up, she realized that she was no longer angry with him. She simply grinned and hunkered down, glove in front, ready to play ball.
Mercifully, Kathleen got to watch the grass grow in right field for most of the game, though she did keep her wits about her enough to field a ball that bounced past Harry at first. She got it to him just in time to get the batter out. And with that first play, Kathleen felt the sheer elation of a Hot Dog--I did good surging from her brain and warming up all her nerve endings. So this is why people play sports, she thought, eagerly accepting Harry's and Bob's high fives. They play to feel like this. It also didn't hurt that Phil Van Demeer was the batter she helped to get out, and he mockingly shook his fist at Kathleen and teased something about payback time. A tiny little tingle that started with the tease confirmed Kathleen's earlier diagnosis that her hormones were back on the job. Yes! This might be fun.
Batting was another story altogether. Harry's master plan had been to con the Eagles into thinking that Kathleen was a ringer, which would motivate them to scooch out of the infield, giving Kathleen a chance to make it safely to first after dribbling the ball to third, at least for her first at-bat. That had been the plan. Of course, it had been half-baked from the get-go because Mike Eastman wasn't about to let his teammates believe for an instant that Kathleen Kavenaugh was capable of hitting the ball, much less hitting it out of the infield.
Plan B was to walk. Slow pitch, non-competitive softball is a melting pot of talent, most of which does not extend to pitching. Hence, in any given game, roughly half the players can get a base-on-balls if they simply take every pitch. When Jack Kinsley was explaining this interesting scientific fact to Kathleen before the game, his wife Colleen added that most male players, being male, simply could not help showing off and would flail away at any ball that wasn't in the dirt or above their heads. She went on to add that most women, being women, had the patience to wait for balls and so would end up on base. Colleen was about to connect this to the Venus-Mars theory that had pretty much governed most of her arguments for the past few months, when Jack cut her off at the pass, forcing her to save the argument for another day.
Kathleen decided to play the percentages and agreed not to swing at anything. She had three plate appearances, walked twice and struck out once. Jack told her she was an ace. Elliot promised more batting lessons. Maggie suggested that it might be worthwhile to spend some time in a batting cage at Goddard's Gym. Joanna hit two singles, a double, and a triple. Kathleen told Maggie she'd stop by the gym for some time in the cage. Harry looked like a cat who had gotten away with a gallon of cream.
Friday opened a new chapter at K-B-K Engineering. After the previous evening's game was dissected and actual work commenced, Kathleen noticed that Gail seemed short with her. When she asked whether the new PCs had been tracked down yet, her tone was clipped. When she inquired about a set of graphs Kathleen was working on, she seemed irritated. She was certainly condescending. Kathleen was puzzled. Except for replacing Gail in right field, she had barely interacted with the woman, and now Gail was treating her like a no-brain, incompetent.
Everyone else in the office continued to treat her as they did before. Bob Martin was given to ranting at her when the network went down--not because it was in any way her fault, but because she was convenient and didn't yell back. Rob Haskins explained what seemed to Kathleen must be every last detail about the system he was designing when she merely asked him how his project was going. And Elliot went out of his way to tell her at the coffee station that he liked his coffee Kathleen-style, blond and sweet, Kathleen blushed prettily and murmured something about coffee being best when hot, and then blushed even more when she realized that her reply might be taken the wrong way. He winked at her and they shared coffee innuendo for the rest of the day. And as the day went on, Gail became increasingly snippy. Nothing Kathleen did for Gail was right. She hadn't made enough copies of Gail's project report. She hadn't done Gail's graphs in the colors Gail preferred. And for crying out loud, could she please book Gail's hotel in San Jose nearer to the airport?
This last came just as Kathleen was dreamily lifting her nose out of the red roses that the nice young man from Juniper Hills Gifts and Floral had placed on her desk not five minutes earlier. Gail had given Kathleen a full five minutes to sweetly exclaim over the roses, blush furiously at the teasing to which she was rightly subjected, and then blush even more when she read the card. Everyone, of course, wanted to know who sent them. But Kathleen, smart girl that she was, knew better than to tell them that Phil Van Demeer had not only sent her roses but had included an invitation to dinner as well.
Kathleen promised Gail that she would rebook the hotel. Gail looked at her oddly and then said, "Office romances never work out, you know."
And then the light bulb went on.
"I know that, Gail," Kathleen whispered. "That's why I'm glad these aren't from anyone in the office,"
Gail sniffed. She shrugged. If she could have sashayed, she would have. Instead, she stalked back to her office, leaving Kathleen to enjoy her roses and rebook Gail's hotel.
Kathleen was headed for her car, roses back in their box for the trip home, when Harry called to her from his office.
"Got plans tonight?" he asked.
Kathleen replied that all she had on her agenda for the evening was a hot bath, the latest from her book club, and dinner with her father.
"Is he still trying to cook with kelp?"
"No, and I'm hoping we're through the gruel phase as well."
"Can I make you a better offer?"
"You can try." Kathleen was used to Harry's bantering, so she sat down, laying her box of roses on top of the drawings he was red-lining, and waited, batting her eyelashes knowingly.
"You're pretty good at art, aren't you?"
Kathleen was surprised. She had been expecting him to try to get her to go with him to a Colorado Rockies game. For the past three summers, ever since he and Jack had bought season tickets, he had insisted that she would benefit from experiencing at least one major league game. She looked at him warily as she replied, "I'm pretty good at art history, if that's what you mean."
"No, not the history part. I mean arts and crafts. Birdcages out of sticks, flowers out of toilet paper. You know, crafts."
Kathleen wrinkled her nose, unsure whether he was setting her up or truly being friendly.
"Go home, put on jeans and a tee-shirt, and I'll pick you up in an hour." He laughed at her puzzled look. "Don't look so worried. You'll have fun. I just need an extra body, really."
He winked at her, then leered, "Now run along, my pretty, and don't forget your flowers."
At this Kathleen smiled smugly and murmured, "Well, at least some men know how to treat a woman right." Before she could add a flounce for good measure Harry quietly laid his hand on hers as she was picking up her box. The warmth of his skin would have been unnerving had she not known him so well. Kathleen bit her lip awkwardly and was acutely aware of the flush that spread across her face as he waited for her to look at him. Once she did, he held her gaze steadily and said in a low voice, "Now watch yourself with Phil Van Demeer. I hear he's had an awful lot of girlfriends."
Kathleen pulled her hand away, then clutched her box of roses to her chest defensively. "Dorie Eastman seems to think he's a nice guy..."
"Dorie and I have never seen eye-to-eye on..."
"...On what's good for me." Kathleen finished petulantly. "You've never approved of anybody I've ever dated..."
"I liked Gabe."
"Well, he's gone..." In the nick of time, she prevented herself from closing her eyes in pain. She had no intention of letting Harry know that she regretted Gabe's departure.
"Be careful, Kathleen."
Some people, when in their backup mode, get nasty. Some take flight. Some turn sullen. Kathleen melted into pure sugary syrup.
"Harry, dear, I think you're a wonderful man," she said leaning over and giving him the full benefit of her lustrous blue eyes starred with deep honey lashes that were fluttering as if she had a case of full-blown Southern Belle. "And you'll meet someone someday and have children and you'll be a wonderful father. But, I already have a father so you needn't try to take his place!"
This time Kathleen did flounce as she turned on her heel and said over her shoulder, "I'll be ready in an hour, but I'm going to call Phil first and make a date for tomorrow night."
Harry drove Kathleen south out of the bedroom community of Juniper Hills and through farmland and suburbs until they reached Riverdale, a strip mall Denver suburb of fast food chains and discount outlets that had grown up like a weed around a recently-opened convention center.
During the drive, Harry refused to answer Kathleen's questions about where they were going or what they were going to be doing once they got there. Apparently, he had decided to lay off her love life as well, and they chatted pleasantly about work. He told her about Forsythe Equipment and the contract he had won with them for K-B-K. It was their biggest project ever, he said. They were going to automate the entire factory floor.
"Won't that put people out of jobs?" Kathleen asked.
"Actually, automating the factory will create more jobs and better paying ones. The trick is retraining the people doing the old jobs so that they can do the new jobs as the company expands."
"Will Forsythe Equipment really retrain their workforce?"
"Good question, Kath. I made it part of the contract. We're going to do the retraining. At least, we're going to manage it. We'll farm it out, but it's part of the package we're delivering."
"But scary. We're running thin. Jack's going to manage the whole project, but he's finishing up the Heidelberg project, and if it gets delayed, we're hosed."
Kathleen asked some more questions, and Harry answered them all, and somehow as they were driving in the early evening sun Kathleen felt for the first time what it meant to be an adult. It was almost an out-of-body experience, as if little girl Kathleen was watching grownup Kathleen have a mature conversation with a person who was making decisions that affected lots of people's lives and that person cared about what she thought and said. She suddenly realized that work for Harry wasn't a game--he may talk like it was, he may act like it was, but losing at work meant losing for real.
For so long, Harry had been Kathleen's surrogate older brother--playing with her when she was little, forever teasing her, cajoling her, criticizing her. But this conversation was different. He was still telling her, but he was listening to her and letting her talk as well. She liked it, even though little girl Kathleen kept winking at her as if expecting grownup Kathleen to flub her lines and look stupid.
But then another sensation struck Kathleen. Maybe it was the serious talk, maybe it was the way the sun glinted off his tanned, clean-shaven jaw, but Harry didn't seem so much like the sweaty, overbearing, sportsaholic boor she knew him to be. She remembered overhearing Joanna Bridges sigh during one of the times Harry came up to bat during the scrimmage. Now, looking at him, listening to the quiet energy in his voice as he talked about the project with Forsythe Equipment, Kathleen considered the idea that perhaps he was...she groped for a description.
Joanna seemed to think so. Come to think of it, Dorie did too. And Colleen.
Kathleen blushed, but Harry did have a body that was...well...all that time at the gym was certainly not wasted.
Kathleen barely dared to admit the thought, but...inventory time.
She knew she liked his hands because she had already noticed that she always seemed to watch them when she thought he wasn't looking. They were strong and large, and his nails well-groomed yet he never seemed fussy about them. She guiltily admitted that she liked his perpetual tan. She herself liberally applied SPF45 every day and knew that he should to, yet she liked the starkness of his hairline, white against his tanned skin and the shock of thick, wiry black hair that tended to stand up on end and begged to be smoothed down. And his eyes---they did waver between brown and hazel, depending on the light and his mood, but their golden streaks had an unnerving tendency to glitter when he was teasing her. Excellent chin ... but definite stubborn tendencies that were trying at best. To-die-for jaw line, especially when clean shaven, but probably highly strokable when fuzzy with five-o'clock-shadow.
"Hmmm. Yes. It's very important that we retrain Forsythe workers," she murmured stupidly, unwilling to leave the sleepy haze into which she had lulled herself.
"Don't be cute. You weren't listening anyway."
"Yes. Yes, I was," she insisted, her eyes shooting wide as she guiltily tried to push her dangerous thoughts of Harry back down into her subconscious.
"Anyway, we're here."
"Riverdale Boys and Girls Club. Ready to teach arts and crafts to prepubescents?"
Oh my God! What have I gotten myself into? I hate Harry! I can't do this. He tricked me again.
"You're an ace."
The Riverdale Boys and Girls Club was easily the ugliest building Kathleen had ever seen. It was a concrete bunker, only larger. Tall, narrow slits cut in the pre-cast concrete served as windows. Kathleen half expected to see men in tights aiming arrows at them through the slits as if the bunker were a medieval fortress and Harry's SUV was a battering ram.
Harry patted Kathleen's arm, acknowledging the look of horror on her face.
"Do kids really come here to play?" she asked him incredulously.
"It's all they've got. Come inside, and I'll show you around."
Inside was better. Juvenile artwork decorated the corridors, and juvenile noises bounced off the concrete walls. Kathleen's nostrils flared as her senses encountered the unique combination of sweat, acrylic paint, peanut butter, and plastic that characterized closed spaces occupied by children.
"Hey, Coach, think fast." Kathleen ducked to avoid the football that whizzed past her head on its way to Harry. He leaped up and caught it, then backhanded it the boy who had greeted him.
"Hey Luis. What's happening, man? You got the equipment out yet?"
Luis replied that he did, so Harry tossed the boy the keys to his car. "Go get Manuel and unload the boxes of jerseys out of the back of my car."
"Jerseys! Awesome!" And with that Luis ran down the hall yelling for Manuel, while Harry led Kathleen over to the reception desk.
"Hey Connie! How's tonight's turnout?"
Connie, a fifty-something woman with a bright smile and a brighter blouse, threw up her hands. "We're busting at the seams, Coach. You got all the kids to come here, but I've got no teachers. I've got no supplies. You're full of ideas, but I'm no magician. You've gotta do something!"
"I'm working on it, Connie. I'm working on it. Now get over here and meet my good friend, Kathleen Kavenaugh." Connie came around from behind the reception desk to shake Kathleen's hand while Harry continued, "Kathleen's going to take Rosa's class tonight. Kathleen, meet Consuela Inez Martinez, but she'll hit you if you call her anything but Connie."
Connie put her hands on her hips and scowled lovingly at Harry. Then she took Kathleen's hands in hers and patted them protectively. "It's nice to meet you, Kathleen. And welcome. I really mean it."
Looking into Connie's black eyes that were fairly sparking with energy, Kathleen instinctively knew that Connie was a straight shooter and a force to be reckoned with.
Connie gave Harry a sidelong glance. "This big lug here has got a mouth on him that just won't quit."
Kathleen agreed with Connie so heartily that the older woman threw back her head and laughed. "We're going to get along just fine, honey." Then she nodded to Harry, "Now get your rear outside and play ball with those boys before they tear down the building. I'll show your girlfriend around and get her set up."
Kathleen's protest that she wasn't Harry's girlfriend was undermined when Harry gave her a peck on the cheek, told her she was in good hands, and then jogged down one of the corridors.
I'm going to strangle the man with my bare hands!
"He gets your goat, doesn't he," Connie smirked. "It's the aggravating ones you have to watch yourself with, honey. They can steal your heart without you even noticing."
Kathleen didn't trust herself to say anything. She just shook her crimson face and ground her teeth.
Mercifully, Connie didn't need Kathleen to keep up her end of the conversation. As they toured the complex, Connie told Kathleen the history of the Riverdale Boys and Girls Club.
Connie had met Harry two years ago at a multicultural workshop hosted by the state's governor.
"Bless his heart, he had 'liberal white boy with a guilt complex' written all over him. This is the gym--we've got a karate class going on. Oh, do you know Maggie Obermann," she asked as Maggie recognized Kathleen and bowed to her when they peeked in one of the rooms. "She's another of Harry's friends--she's so good with the kids, makes them bow to her, really teaches them respect. Now Kathleen, I don't mind exploiting people who want to be exploited, and your friend Harry wanted to be exploited in the worst way."
Connie took a break from her tour and history lesson to referee a dispute over whose turn it was at one of the computers in the Club's library.
Kathleen had never, in the twenty-two years she had known Harry Kinsley, thought of him as someone who wanted to be exploited. A tiny thought began to form in the back of her brain that perhaps she didn't know him as well as she thought she did. She certainly had no idea how he spent his time away from K-B-K. She had no idea that he had been coaching the Club's baseball and softball teams. And she definitely had no idea that he was in league with a woman with a Dolly Parton figure and a penchant for pink lipstick.
Connie went back to the history lesson. She explained that when she met Harry she had been working for the state. Her department was responsible for handing out tax relief to businesses that funneled two percent of their profits into community-based initiatives. "I made sure that I sat next to Harry at lunch and I talked to him non-stop about how Riverdale needed a place where the kids of the people who work the weekend conventions could go and be safe. Riverdale has lots of day care, but nothing for kids to do when their parents are working Friday and Saturday nights. I told him that the only way to keep these dirt-poor kids out of gangs was to give them something to do other than hang out in game rooms and parking lots."
Kathleen learned that Harry had spearheaded the entire effort. He had talked the major hotel chains into co-funding the bulk of the expense to start up the Club since two percent of K-B-K 's profits didn't go nearly far enough. Then he set up a non-profit corporation and recruited a board of directors to oversee the Club. Connie quit her job with the state and ran the operation, while Harry kept their allies happy and the corporation afloat.
By the time Connie had finished her narrative, she had shown Kathleen the whole complex, ending with the arts and crafts room. There she thanked Kathleen again for helping out and asked her what she was going to teach.
"What would you like me to teach?"
"Honey, you're the teacher."
"Actually, I'm not. Until we got to the parking lot, Harry didn't even tell me where we were going tonight."
"Either you trust him a lot more than you should, or you let him push you around more than is healthy. Either way, you seem like a bright girl. I'm sure you can teach five little girls something worthwhile."
Kathleen fought back the wave of panic that was threatening to paralyze her. "What was Rosa going to teach tonight," she managed to mutter.
Before Connie could answer, they heard a shout from the library and the noise of scuffling. Connie took off to sort things out, leaving Kathleen standing in the doorway feeling almost as foolish as she looked. Fortunately the five girls playing a clapping game on the floor didn't bother to look up, so Kathleen had time to compose herself and take in the lay of the land. Arts and crafts room! More like paper and glue hell, Kathleen thought. The urge to maim Harry returned in full force--I'll deal with him later!
Kathleen closed the door and took a quick inventory. Judging by the supplies and finished artwork it seemed to Kathleen that Rosa, the regular teacher, basically didn't do much beyond having the kids draw with markers. Kathleen was pretty sure that she could do better than that. Of course, origami.
Kathleen's roommate during her sophomore year at Western State was an exchange student from Japan. Kathleen taught Reiko English, and Reiko taught Kathleen origami. In the beginning was the square. Kathleen fervently hoped that she could remember how to make some of the models.
Deep breath. "Hi girls."
No response. Okay, try again.
"Hi. I'm Kathleen. I'm substituting for..."
"We know," said a girl of about nine. She picked up the long, glossy braid that stretched down her back and twirled it insolently. "You're another one of Coach's chicks who he conned into substituting for Rosa because she's hung over again. Right?"
Another one of...? Kathleen choked down a hot retort, remembering that she was there as a role model. And then a wicked thought found expression. "Actually, I'm his bodyguard. I'm a black belt in martial arts with names you can't even pronounce and my job is to keep the chicks at bay."
At this all the girls except the one with the braid giggled.
"But, you see, being a bodyguard is mostly boring--not totally, because the body must actually be guarded--but mostly boring. So...do you want to know what I do when I'm not keeping Harry, er Coach, chick-free?"
Four of the five girls nodded. The fifth yawned.
"I drive his car--which is sort of like the Batmobile, only faster. And..." Kathleen paused, looked around suspiciously, tiptoed to the door, opened it and peered down the hallway, closed the door, then said in a whisper, "I fold. I experience paper in a very Zen way." She held up her hands, rotating them. "These hands are licensed. I use them to create magical animals that Harry, er Coach, and I use to ward off evil groupie babes." Named Joanna.
Kathleen picked up a piece of pink paper. "Do you know how to make a square?"
Their nods indicated they did, but Kathleen showed them how to make a perfect square anyway, an origami square, by using diagonals.
"Now, I want you guys to follow along, so get a sheet of paper and create a square."
Incredibly, they did what Kathleen told them to do. Now for the hard part. I haven't actually folded in years.
"Now fold your square in half four different ways--long ways and diagonally. Think of the world as rectangles and triangles. Good, that's right. Now fold along all four creases at once, and then hold like so..." She held her two thumbs on either side of the point. "And press together. Voila. That's an old Japanese term, meaning Eureka."
The girls, all five this time, laughed again. Kathleen seized the opportunity to ask them their names.
"You're funny," said Maria, a sweet-lipped tiny girl who seemed to Kathleen to be as fragile as a morning glory.
"You ain't seen nothing yet, kid," was Kathleen's blithe reply. Truth was, she really couldn't remember how to make the model she had started. But, in for a nickel, in for a dime. What was it Harry had told her on her first day of work at K-B-K? What you don't know, fake. Nine times out of ten, you'll hit it close enough to count.
"Let's see, you fold two edges in, to form a kite-shape. I dunno if this is right--looks more like an ice cream cone to me. Oops, I think it's supposed to open on bottom, or is it on top?"
"What are you making," asked Carly, the girl with the braid. Her curiosity was rapidly overpowering her earlier hostility, and she was peering down on the table where Kathleen was unfolding what she had done and was starting over with mock seriousness.
"A crane. Actually, I thought we might make a thousand cranes, but I'm beginning to think that I'll settle for just one."
"Why would we want to make a thousand?" a girl named Shondra asked.
"Well, Connie was telling me that you kids don't have any grass to play on here and that there's no money to turn that field by the parking lot into a playground. Lots of people believe that cranes bring good luck and folding cranes brings luck as well. There are even some people who will fold a thousand paper cranes for a wedding, to bring the bride and groom happiness and lots of kids. Sometimes they fold a thousand cranes to help them focus on doing something hard or something good."
"And you think we ought to fold cranes so that we can get a playground with grass?" Carly looked skeptical, and out of habit picked up her braid and twirled it. "My mama would say you're loco."
"Maybe so. But while we're folding cranes we'll have plenty of time to think up ways to help get a playground, right."
Maria frowned and said softly, "I don't think Rosa will let us fold cranes. She'll just give us stupid coloring books and then sneak outside to smoke."
"Will you come back next week?" Shondra's eyes were eager tinged with a wariness that spoke of disappointed hopes. Kathleen was surprised to realize that she hadn't minded spending a Friday night folding cranes with five little girls whose mothers were working for minimum wage and who didn't have any grass to play on. Maybe Connie would label her a liberal white girl who carried a load of guilt, but Kathleen didn't particularly care. Little girls should have something to do other than color, and kids should play on grass.
"If Connie and Harry want me to come back every Friday and help you guys fold cranes and do other artsy craftsy stuff, I will." Then she added, "If you want me to come back, I will."
"We want to learn to dance." Mandy declared. The other girls clamored their agreement.
Kathleen's eyes twinkled mischievously. "I practically invented salsa."
"Oh, teach us, teach us, teach us" was the chorus that answered both her teasing boast and her query regarding her future presence at the Club. They agreed, she'd be back.
The arts and crafts class was about to commence folding their third set of cranes, which would have brought the grand total to eighteen for the night and only nine hundred and eighty-two to go, when the door was flung open and Luis yelled, "Dodge ball in the gym. Boys against girls."
Kathleen found herself abandoned as pigtails went flying out the door after Luis. Carly stuck her head back in the door, "Come on Kathleen, with you and Maggie on our side we'll clobber the boys."
The ride back to Juniper Hills had been tense. By the time Harry pulled up to Kathleen's house, they still hadn't made peace. Kathleen was being uncharacteristically stubborn, and Harry was running out of patience. He parked the car and followed her up the steps. She turned to sweetly thank him for driving her home, but he would have none of it. They were going to finish their discussion, and Kathleen wasn't going to bed until they did. She smiled serenely.
The continuation of the discussion was delayed slightly because Kathleen and Harry had to greet her father, chat with his Friday-night poker mates, namely Lettie and Gramma Bridges and Sam Goddard, proprietor and specimen extraordinaire of the body-building magic possible at Goddard's Gym. Then, they had to sample the tofu ice-cream Byron Kavenaugh had whipped up for the evening's festivities.
"Almost good," Kathleen complimented her father after she swallowed her first spoonful of iced bean curd flavored with peach bits. He glowed. His last batch had been totally inedible. Progress!
After the pleasantries were beginning to wan and the poker players were exhibiting an eagerness to commence another round, Harry caught Kathleen's eye and nodded his head and jerked his thumb, indicating that Kathleen's presence was required on the back deck. Apparently the tofu ice cream hadn't softened his resolve to continue to try to give her a piece of his mind.
Once they were settled in lounge chairs on the deck and Harry had popped off the lid of a Corona and Kathleen had flicked off the lights so that she could enjoy the moon rays bouncing off her flower-pot garden, Harry picked up where he had laid off in the car. "One time. You come to the Club one time, and you turn it upside down. I don't know why Connie agreed to let you do this."
"Oh, be a sport, Harry. We're just going to rotate for one week. My little girls want to learn to salsa dance..."
"And you're going to teach them," Harry drawled, his raised eyebrows reflecting the smugness in his voice.
"I practically invented salsa."
"So I've heard."
Kathleen practiced her Princess Grace smile again, eliciting a groan from the depths of Harry's soul.
"I've created a monster," he said. "If you want Maggie's room for a dance lesson why don't you just have Maggie teach her karate kids arts and crafts for one week and leave the ball team out of it?"
"Because we want the team and its fearless leader, as well as Maggie and her kids to help fold cranes, and next week is a good time for you all to learn. I'll teach you and you'll teach the others. Believe me, it's going to take more than five little girls to fold a thousand cranes..."
"It's going to take more than a thousand cranes to get a grassy playground." Harry said in his best professorial tone. "Kathleen, I fear you've raised hopes and expectations that cannot be met. There's no money in this year's budget for such a project. I applaud your enthusiasm. I never expected you to really cotton to the Club so completely. But, Kath, I've never pictured you as the Lady Bountiful type."
"You don't fool me, Harry Kinsley, so you can get off your high horse. I think you're just scared to do anything non-sports related."
"This has nothing to do with sports..."
"My point exactly."
"Kathleen..." He tried for a parting shot, but she had aced him. He knew with all the certainty in the world that he was going to be folding cranes next Friday night. His manhood depended on it.
"I'm just ‘leveling the playing field,' as you like to say."
While Harry rolled his eyes at her, Kathleen felt a tiny pang of guilt that victory should taste so sweet.
"Okay, okay. And you can wipe that silly smirk off your face, Kathleen Kavenaugh, or I'll force-feed you frozen peach gunk. Now, tell me about your date tomorrow night."
"We're not going there, Harry." Kathleen shook her head to dissuade him, but Harry, having lost one battle, was not about to be dissuaded.
"Where's 'God's gift to women' taking you?"
"I presume by that crack you mean Phil Van Demeer. We're going to the Flagstaff House."
Harry whistled. "You made a good impression on Phil, I'd say. And then...?"
"'And then what?"
"My point exactly. Dinner takes no more than two hours, even at the Flagstaff House. What else are you doing?" Kathleen looked perplexed by the question, so he took the advantage. "You have been on a date before, Kathleen?"
"I'm not going to answer that question."
"Call me if you need to."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"Call me." He paused. "If you need to..." He paused again. "What are you wearing?"
At this stage of the third-degree, Kathleen smiled seductively. "My little black dress."
"Not the one you wore to Jack and Colleen's anniversary party? Good God girl, there was an appalling lack of material consumed in the making of that dress."
"My point exactly."
"Kathleen, the cranes are depending on you," he whispered into the darkness.
© 2004 Copyright held by the author.