To my football buddies in Grade 8.
Thanks for all the good times. Big shout out to Vanitia, Meghan, Chelsea, Eric and Cole.
“It’s the bottom of the ninth. Two out and the bases are loaded! Last up to bat is the Bronx Bombers very own Felicity O’Connor and the crowd is going wild,” blared the announcer above the roar of the crowd.
“This rookie has really been a spark plug this season, Bill.”
“She sure has, Reggie. O’Connor has been with the Bombers for only a year now and has managed to turn this team around! Now they’ve come to win it all today at the World Series.”
“A winning run would complete the list of incredible accomplishments this young woman has achieved this season.”
“No doubt, she’s the first woman ever to play in the major leagues. Looks like the manager took a risk and it paid off.”
“That’s right, Reggie. He got his gold at the end of the rainbow. Couldn’t we all use a little bit of the luck he’s been getting lately?”
An anxious hush falls over the crowd. This last batter could end the season. “O’Connor’s outside the batter’s box staring down Contreras.”
“And here she comes, stepping up to the plate to break the five-five tie. Warming up the ball, ready to pitch is none other than Juan Contreras. The Sox paid handsomely for Contreras. They call him the King of Diamonds, Bill. And he’s being paid like a king, signing a three-year deal for $64,000,000.”
“I can see why. He has a wicked fastball topping 101 mph that has put many teams away for the season.”
The field is nothing but a sea of green as I step up to the plate with my lucky bat. The dirt shifts beneath my feet as the sun beats down against my skin. I tune out the “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” music and the crowd’s chatter. I can smell the hot dogs and popcorn wafting from the vendors above. This is it, my moment to shine. I feel the weight of every female baseball player in the world settle on my shoulders. I position myself in the batter’s box, eager to hit the ball, eager to prove myself. I scan the outfield with a batter’s eye spotting Sweeny, Smith and Anderson in the outfield with Terrero positioned at shortstop.
I remember my first home game on this field. My first at-bat in major league baseball was a pop fly. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, I smacked myself in the face with the bat and had a black eye for weeks. It seems like so long ago. No one laughs at me anymore, especially when I tomahawk the ball.
Konerko on first base could be an issue. I have to make sure the ball doesn’t get anywhere near him. I wasn’t about to make that mistake twice. Richard on second base has never dropped a ball under pressure. Slip one by him and I’m home free. Ozuna is a tricky one on third base. He’s unpredictable. I let out a deep breath. I haven’t been this nervous since I began practicing with the Bombers. My hands tighten their hold on the bat as I reposition myself and adjust my helmet. Sweat trickles down my back. Soon, all they will see is the back of my jersey, number 21 etched in their minds forever.
“Here comes the pitch.”
The crowd is silent. All eyes are on Contreras as he winds up and delivers a textbook slider.
“Tough break for O’Connor, Bill. What a whiff, she’s going all out in this cracker box.”
“Could the pressure finally be getting to her, Reggie? Contreras has been a thorn in her side since the Sox picked him up. Seems like bad blood between the two.”
“O’Connor shakes it off and settles back into her unorthodox slouch. Juan has the ball in his mitt, his cannon of an arm at the ready, searching out home plate to throw the red and white leather.”
The crowd is on the edge of their seats. Time seems to come to a standstill.
“And here comes the pitch. And it’s…”
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
Reluctantly, I woke up and rolled over with a groan, grabbed the alarm clock and threw it against the wall where it smashed into smithereens. “Damn,” I thought. “That’s the second one this week.”I rolled over and buried myself deeper into the feather comforter and drifted back into Neverland.
I felt someone prod me awake. Unfortunately, I am not the nicest person in the morning. “Hey, sport! Time to get up, it’s seven o’clock,” Dad spouted cheerfully, his blue eyes twinkling and his ink black hair perfectly combed.
“Dad, has it ever occurred to you that not everyone takes an hour to get ready, unlike the freaks in the next room?” I growled.
“Aw, Felicity, don’t be such a grump. Your sisters are harmless.” He poked me in the shoulder, keeping his distance in case I attacked him. I noticed he was already dressed in his lawyer suit. “Come on kiddo, you have to get up!” He walked over and pulled back an avalanche of blankets. Dad “tsk-tsked” when he saw the clock, “So, another one bites the dust?”
“No, a little green leprechaun flew in and saved me the trouble,” I said sarcastically.
He let out a long sigh. “Don’t make me come back with a bucket of ice water.”
I ignored the threat and reburied myself into my cocoon of blankets. “Dad, there has got to be more to life than going to school, coming home, doing homework, watching T.V. and then going to bed. You want to know what the greatest part of it is? You get to do it all over again the next day. Then, after school’s done, it’s replaced with work and then you die, Dad. YOU DIE! What a waste of a life. Don’t you get sick of the same routine? There has to be more to life than this.”
Dad sat down on the edge of my bed and listened to my rumblings. “I know, but that’s life, Squirt. It can’t be all fairy tales and dragons. You’ve mentioned this numerous times but, without an education, you will get nowhere. Honestly, Felicity. Without work, how do you expect to amount to anything in life? You have to grow up sometime and take responsibility.”
“Taking parenting lessons from Mom, I see,” I said bitterly, more of a statement than a question. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be lectured before noon. This was not one of my favourite subjects.
He chuckled, “Life will be what it will be but, at the moment, let’s just concentrate on getting those grades up in school, eh? You will find that life will be a routine and that is something that cannot be helped, but it is only boring if you make it boring.”
I muttered something unintelligible and agreed to get up as Dad closed the door on me. Passing the full-length mirror wearing nothing but my black and grey camouflage boxer shorts and a Habs hockey jersey, I headed into my en-suite bathroom. I loaded up on the toothpaste and began to brush my teeth with intensity. The problem with me was once I was awake I could never get back to sleep. People wonder why I’m so acidic in the morning.
My eyes strayed to my recently renovated bedroom, a place that still felt foreign to me. It had a bit too much pizzazz for my liking but once the interior decorator found out I liked fantasy, let’s just say she went a little overboard. I spit out the toothpaste and washed my face with disgust. All this had happened a week ago and now I had a mythically enchanted forest in my bedroom. It no longer felt like it was mine.
I eyed the big mural covering the whole wall across from my bed, filled with unicorns galloping across a field as a red dragon soared in the sky above with two unicorns clutched in each claw and winged horses attacking the dragon with their hooves. Vines spiraled up the posts of my canopy bed. My window was festooned with crystal sun catchers sending a kaleidoscope of rainbows bouncing off the other walls in the morning. Adjacent to that, a full-size hammock was in the corner surrounded by silk trees, fake flowers and vines hanging from the ceiling. Fairies and dragons popped up at random and a mini-waterfall sat in the corner with a few goldfish swimming in the bottom. At the flick of a switch, my ceiling became a starry sky. Not to mention the huge dolphin-shaped faucets spouting water into my bathtub, with the dolphin’s mouth being the spout and the tail ends the handles. My computer and computer desk sat in one corner not far from the bathroom door where two big bookcases were filled with novels that I had collected over the years, along with knickknacks littering the shelves. I mused over the lack of décor in that area. Heaven forbid that I neglected my studies.
It was neat and creative, I had to admit, but it was going to take a little getting used to. The word overkill comes to mind when I looked at my room. I was thankful for the change, I suppose, but my parents didn’t even ask me if I wanted this change. No, they did not and you want to know why? Because they are incredibly immature, that’s why!
This wasn’t about me and my so-called “pigpen” needing an upgrade. This was about my parent’s personal vendetta against our neighbours, the Darnels. How did this little war begin? I have no clue. Maybe it started the first day the Darnels moved to Lakewood or the fact that the annual neighbourhood Valley Grove subdivision cookout was held in the Darnel’s backyard. The neighborhood cookout for the past 12years had been held at the O’Connor’s. You do not break a 12-year tradition and expect to get away with it! It doesn’t help that their home won “Best House of the Year” three years running and got on the cover of Lakewood magazine, something my Mom has made a lifelong ambition to do.
Both families try to make quite an impression during holiday seasons with each year more outlandish and competitive than the previous one. Even at Easter, it looks like a piñata exploded all over our front yard with spring colours. The lengths my parents and the Darnels go to are borderline crazy. Which brings me back to why my room has just been remodeled; the Darnels have a daughter, Alex, and she just had her room redone by a professional designer. Alex is an only child and goes to the best private Ivy League school. She asked Santa for a pony and woke up to one in her backyard. My sisters asked for a pony the same year and got a stuffed one. They both cried as they watched Alex ride her pony around the front yard. My sisters still harboured vengeful feelings. I don’t think they will ever forgive her. In a nutshell, everything they do, we must do better. It’s all one big competition, hence the new bedroom update.
Sometimes, it seems like my parents think the most important things in life are poise, elegance, vanity and their reputations. The sparks that fly between the Darnels and them only heighten their arrogance when victory is achieved and noticed by the community. My family’s status has put me in a position where I am portrayed as someone I am not. Not to say I haven’t gotten into my fair share of action where the Darnels are concerned. The feud can get contagious sometimes.
“Felicity!” Mom screamed at the bottom of the stairs.
“Coming!” I yelled, snapping back to the present. I still wasn’t dressed.
I yanked on a pair of hip hugger jeans, getting my feet stuck in the holes hanging about my knees (most of my jeans were filled with holes on account of my loathsome attitude towards shopping).
“Stupid jeans,” I muttered, looking about the room. I found a black top and picked it up off the floor. I smelled it and figured it could handle one more day of use and threw it over my head. I ran to my mirror and thanked God for straight hair. I flattened my blonde hair with my hands, threw on my Bronx Bombers ball cap and snatched my black leather jacket off the chair. I grabbed my backpack and sighed regretfully as I took one last look at my bedroom before racing down the carpeted stairs to the kitchen.
I was hit full force by the sweet aroma of maple syrup and pancakes. I wasn’t even down the stairs yet and my mouth was watering. I guess those are the perks of having a five-star cook in the family.
I stepped into the light blue kitchen. The window above the sink showed a pink sky as the family greeted me with the usual sleepy good mornings. My Mom, April, was busy in her immaculate kitchen. She was of medium height on the plump side with long curly black hair, big brown eyes with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder running through her blood. I didn’t know how I was ever going to measure up to her. I can’t even bake cookies without burning them.
I plopped down on the opposite side of the table while I watched the freaks eat their pancakes. My sister, Faith, was talking about how Ernie Johnson was strapped to a pole and left beside the railway tracks for initiation. It was the eighth time this year. The cops found him at the end of the day screaming for help after school. “I never thought grade nine would be this exciting; it’s flying by. Hard to believe it’s already May,” interrupted my other sister, Anna Bell, much to my irritation as she spoke with a mouthful of food.
“Thank God,” I mumbled. “I was beginning to think time had stopped moving. One more leech-sucking month…”
Faith rolled her eyes. “Did you ever get strapped to a pole when you went to school, Dad?”
I looked over at the end of the table where Dad was drinking his coffee and reading the newspaper. He peered over the paper and winked at us in a mysterious way, then went back to being engrossed in the cartoon section of the newspaper.
“What kind of things did they do to you, Dad?” Faith squealed, always looking for gossip. “Were you strapped to a pole? Did you get chased down and paddled? Were you forced to push pennies with your nose? Tell me, tell me!”
I felt my right eye twitch at Faith’s high-pitched voice this early in the morning. My sisters were the spitting image of my Mom in her younger years. Long black hair, brown eyes, skinny, amazing cooks and they already had their lives planned out to a “T” with their future as interior designers. What they called creations I called abominations. Most days, I liked to pretend I was adopted.
Dad looked up at the girls. “Eat your pancakes,” he grinned and went back to reading. I gratefully accepted my pancakes slathered in golden maple syrup and strawberries and a glass of orange juice from Mom. I wasted no time digging in.
Mom’s pancakes were a major treat. Dad had been cooking our meals for the past few days because she’d had to work late. I shuddered at the memory: spaghetti, hot dogs, grilled cheese and soup. Not a single spice was added for flavour and there were no side dishes either. Also included in that lovely list would be microwave dinners. If my Dad had an ounce of creativity, he sure didn’t show it in his cooking skills!
“Oh, Felicity. I almost think you missed me, the way you’re wolfing down your breakfast. Do you think you were raised in a barn?” She chuckled as she began to meticulously rearrange everything on the table within reaching distance to her liking before she took a single bite of her pancakes. My mouth was too full of pancakes to respond.
Meanwhile, the twins prattled on with aimless chatter, filling the room with noise as Mom tried to silence them. As usual, the twins were engrossed in their own lives. I saw Mom pick up a wooden spoon – always within reaching distance – with a slight grin spreading across her face as she recognized my dread. I had been spanked numerous times by that death stick. I noticed the room had suddenly gone quiet as Mom sat with her arms crossed, spoon at the ready. Italians should never be ignored. “That’s more like it. After school, you three are to come straight home.”
My eyebrows scrunched together as I tried to recall what plans we had tonight. “Oh no, that’s tonight!” I burst out. “I don’t want to be stuck chained to a chair!”
“You don’t have much of a choice.” Dad spoke in a no-nonsense tone as he could see Mom beginning to fidget, which was a good sign that a fight was about to break out. “Used & Abused Animals are a very gratifying charity to support. Plus, there’s going to be lots of food,” he said, trying to bribe us.
“We’ve been to five charity functions already this year! Not including, might I add, helping you with your Habitat for Humanity. I think I’ve been quite gratifiedenough for the year!”
“Watch that sass, missy,” Dad warned.
“Felicity, I’ll do your make-up and even pick out your clothes for you to wear tonight. That way you won’t have to do any work,” Anna Bell suggested, trying to help.
I glared at Anna Bell and said, “Don’t encourage the ancients.”
“I am not going through this again, Felicity. We clothe you, support you, feed you and keep a roof over your head. Your father and I don’t ask for much.” She began gathering the dirty dishes. “You’re coming and that’s final. No use arguing, because it won’t change my mind.”
I glared down at the table trying to contemplate who was making the biggest fool of themself in this argument. When I looked up, I noticed everyone except my Mom had left the kitchen and were busily putting on their shoes and coats. This was a regular occurrence. My mother and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on most subjects. Not wanting to be left alone with the instigator, I took off without a word as Mom ignored me and began cleaning every inch of the counters with her disinfectant spray. I shut the door behind me without saying goodbye.
“Way to start off the morning,” Anna Bell goaded. “Will you ever learn to keep your mouth shut?”
“All I know is you better be home right after school. You know how anal she is when it comes to punctuality. Guaranteed, she’ll be by the front door with the death stick and timer in her hand just to irritate you. You better keep your lips zipped when that time comes. She’ll just be waiting to get a rise out of you,” Faith warned as we watched Dad drive away in his shiny, black Ford F-150 pickup truck.
“I’m not the only one who needs a lesson on keeping their lips zipped.” I looked pointedly at her.
Anna Bell laughed as Faith fluffed me off promptly. They began an intense conversation over the difference between Gucci and Prada purses, as I tried to mask my irritation and followed behind.
As we passed our neighbour’s house, we waved at Mr. Darnel. He was picking up the daily newspaper in his blue silk suit while carrying a cup of piping hot coffee in his hand and didn’t return the greeting. With the Darnels, it’s always a strained niceness. His brown hair was combed back and his black, beady eyes stared at us. He wore an expression of smugness. I hated seeing that look on his face.
“Why do you think he’s looking at us like that?” I said to no one in particular, as he glanced at us once more. Looking at my confused face, he gave me a slight grin. This was not normal Darnel protocol.
“He smiled. Look, I saw it! He’s such a lunatic,” I said.
“He’s just a big old fuss pot. You probably saw a grimace. He has never smiled,” Anna Bell spouted, not believing a word I said.
“Oh yeah. How about the time he smiled when he saw someone run over a puppy or when the Davis’ house caught on fire?” I replied saucily.
“Oh, come on, Felicity! Be realistic, he’s not immune to feelings,” Faith said with that serious tone she always used when it came to anything but gossip.
Sensing an argument was brewing, Anna Bell jumped in, changing the subject as usual to try and settle our quarrels. “Can you guys believe it? In just a few days, sexy Jesse is returning home from boarding school. He is so drool-worthy. Especially when he cuts the lawn in just his swim shorts.” A muffled sigh escaped Anna Bell’s mouth. “Heavenly.”
“I heard he’s staying for good. Remember, last summer he took quite a shine to you, Anna Bell,” Faith said loyally.
“You really think so? Oh, and he’s a senior, too!” Anna Bell squealed excitedly.
“Guys, something’s different in the Darnel’s backyard,” I said distractedly, ignoring their twin bonding moment.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Anna Bell said coming out of her daydreams and tossing her black hair behind her shoulder. “Alex just had her room redone. They shouldn’t do anything major for at least three months. Anyway, who cares about the Darnels? Let’s talk more about Jesse.”
“Bell, look. Felicity’s right. I can see it, too,” Faith said uneasily, for once agreeing with me.
“Let’s check it out,” I said, never one to leave a mystery unsolved.
“Felicity,” Faith hissed. “That’s trespassing.”
I turned around. “Faith, don’t you ever get tired of telling people what to do all the time? Come on, don’t be such a wimp, let’s go.” I saw Faith bite the bottom of her lip fighting back a smart remark. I snuck my way through the neighbours hideous puke green bushes and around to their big backyard.
A few seconds later, I heard two sets of footsteps following close behind me. “If we get caught, I’m blaming it all on you, Felicity,” whispered Faith, venomously.
I ignored her threat and slowly peeked over the fence. All of a sudden, I knew why Mr. Darnel was so smug. Right smack dab in the middle of their backyard was an Olympic-sized swimming pool, complete with a three-tiered fountain bubbling in the centre of the pool and surrounded by the Garden of Eden. I daydreamed about all the midnight swims I was going to have when the family was asleep.
Faith and Anna Bell shoved each other, jockeying for position to get a better look. “Blimey, would you look at the size of that thing! Of course they get the biggest pool out there,” Anna Bell said sarcastically.
“Must have been when we were gone last week to visit Grandpa Verney. Jeez, Mr. Darnel must have paid them double and worked them day and night to install this before we got home,” Faith commented.
I whistled in admiration. “What a slave driver! He must be tickled pink by putting one over us.”
“Run! Darnel’s coming and he doesn’t look happy to see us.” Bell’s eyes popped out in alarm. I wasn’t afraid of Mr. Darnel, but the freaks were. We booted it out of the yard as fast as we could move our little legs and didn’t stop until we were halfway to school.
“That was a close one,” Bell said.
“Yeah, a little too close,” Faith exclaimed, as she filled her lungs up with air.
“You gotta admit, it was kind of fun, Faith,” I said triumphantly. If I could get Anna Bell to do it, Faith usually followed, but with a sour look on her face.
She looked me up and down. “Felicity O’Connor, all you need is a slingshot and I’ll be calling you Dennis the Menace.”
“I do believe that was almost a compliment.” I grinned as we ran the rest of the way to school.