Contest #136 shortlist ⭐️

How to Play Shortstop

Submitted into Contest #136 in response to: Set your story on a baseball field.... view prompt

6 comments

Coming of Age Teens & Young Adult Sad

This story contains sensitive content

CW: teen pregnancy and allusions to abortion

She told him she would meet him at the field after the game so they could talk about the baby. The baby they just found out they were going to have. While he waits in the dugout, he does the math and figures the baby will arrive in March. If things went normally, that is. In the spring, when it would be time to prune the rose bushes. Right before the beginning of another season.

Evan is playing shortstop on the varsity baseball team. To play this position, he has to be vigilant. And fast. The area he has to cover is pretty large. To stop the ball, he sidles in the dirt like a crab between third and second base. He is near perfect, hardly ever fumbling a play, gathering the ball and launching it straight at his target.

Kristen is also seventeen. She changes her appearance frequently; gets piercings, removes them, dyes her hair biweekly, changes her complexion with powder and cream. She used to play softball in junior high until she hurt her knee. After that, she didn’t play anymore. Not because of the injury but because she was afraid of getting hurt. Which is okay, her therapist told her. Self-preservation is okay.

The sky is turning navy blue as the sun dips behind the scoreboard in the outfield. Evan’s teammates have gone home. His only company is his equipment, resting like a skeleton on the bench next to him. It was a good game. He is satisfied with how he played. Despite everything, he made it around the bases once, caught two popups, and threw out at least three opponents. He is already eager to play the next one. If only she was here to see how good he was tonight.

Back before they found out about the baby, they found out they liked some of the same music. They made playlists, mostly alternative. He had never made a playlist with anyone before. It made him feel extremely vulnerable; to share the music he liked with someone else. He also hadn’t kissed someone like that before. Not like that

But now, those times have almost escaped memory. She sent him a picture of the test a week and a half ago and he lost most of his functionality. He has headaches that will not go away. Mundane things are disproportionately frustrating. During practice, the ball rolls right underneath his glove, he can’t seem to stop it, he can’t get his glove down in time. His mind is full of images of a little face still materializing, intrusive thoughts that flicker across his mind’s eye like moths on a lampshade. His coach tells him to concentrate. Concentrate, Evan, watch the ball, pay attention, stop sleeping out there, Evan–

Kristen told him there was a place. It was one hundred fifty miles away. She would need a signature from a guardian because she is underage. She told Evan plainly that she had an aunt who might “help.”

He is ambivalent about it. He isn’t religious, that isn’t it. But, though he isn’t carrying the baby, there is something growing in him as well, something he can’t describe. And the thought of parting with it is uncomfortable at the least.

Disrupting his thoughts, she peeks around the entrance of the dugout like a curious animal.

“Hey.”

In the twilight, her skin is a faint purplish but not in a beautiful way, more like an alien as if she has come down from the sky itself. She sits next to him. He does not put his arm around her like he used to, because he isn’t even sure if she is his girlfriend anymore.

“Hi, Evan.” She averts her eyes, fixes them on the cleat marks in the hard dirt. Thinking about the other boys, the boys who ran up the line that evening, one after the other. She used to compliment Evan, talk incessantly about how good he looked in his uniform, how much she loved to come watch him play from the bleachers. But she has stopped coming to games altogether. Now, she sits at home and throws up and streams movies. She doesn’t text to ask how the game went, but he tells her anyway to maintain some kind of relationship.

He lets a hand crawl toward hers. Like a tarantula, it creeps closer and closer, and she is repulsed by the very sight of it. Touching her makes him queasy, but he will risk it. He will risk everything to make this work. When they make contact, she flinches like a small bird who has just been caught in a cat’s paw. He pulls away and hangs his head. There is a stretch of silence as wide as the horizon. He feels the swelling breeze on his face, smells his own sweat. His bones are trembling down to the marrow. 

“Look, Kristen. I think I’m ready.”

She furrows her brow, almost like she’s offended. Evan can see this but will convince her, he will convince her. He’s been thinking a lot.

“I’ve been thinking and… I don’t think we have to make that decision. I think we can handle it.” Her lips are tight. This is disheartening, but he continues, “I didn’t know before, but… I’ll try, I’ll really try–”

“It’s okay, Evan. I think it’s over.”

“What do you mean?” A cool wave goes over him. His fervor is doused. “Us? Kristen–”

“No, not us. I think I had a miscarriage.”

There is silence as deep as the darkening sky, as far reaching as the cosmos. Evan feels himself slipping away, floating toward the sky like an out of body experience. But he catches himself before he can get too far, just as a shortstop catches the ball as it whizzes toward him. He merges body and soul, comes to, asks her, 

“How do you know?”

“I was lying in bed on my phone when I started to feel this stabbing pain.” She grabs her stomach and winces as if she can still feel it. “And then I was bleeding. I read about it online, I’m almost one hundred percent sure that’s what happened,” she states matter-of-factly. It’s as if she’s telling him about a friend. Or something she saw in one of her movies.

Evan bows his head. It feels like a barbell is resting on the back of his neck, all the weight of his guilt and disappointment. Guilt because he caused it. And disappointment because he was hoping to change her mind today. A pulsating pain beats in his skull, like a heart, like his heart is in there. He is so drained. Not from playing baseball for two hours, not from playing baseball for two hours damn, but from thinking about being a dad for two weeks only to have those fantasies dashed. 

“When did it happen?”

“Last night.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want you to…be excited about it. It would have made it worse. To know you were happy while I went through that.” She brushes stray tendrils out of her face with exasperation as if she has been trying to explain this to him for a long time. “I knew you would be so relieved to know it was over.”

Admittedly, he goes through phases, flits through phases like a film at twenty-four frames per second. What is a feeling? “Are you alright?”

“Yes.” Kristen is alright.

“Did you see a doctor?”

“Why would I?” Evan thinks about this; why would she? “I think I feel better now too, actually,” she says when he takes too long to respond. She crosses her ankles. “We don’t have to worry anymore.” There’s nothing in there anymore.

But there is still something in him. It wilts, it survives, it thirsts. He leans back against the cool cinder blocks. The summer breeze blows up his nostrils and he exhales his spirit. He lets it drift away over the field like the ghost of his adolescence.

She rises and dusts the back of her shorts off. He twiddles his thumbs. “Anyway… Maybe I’ll see you again tomorrow night.” He nods. They will never see each other again.

“Do you–”

“No, I can walk, it’s fine.” That’s not what he was going to ask, but he accepts her reply nonetheless. 

“Okay. See you.” Evan watches Kristen slink out of the dugout. And he knows what heartbreak feels like without ever really knowing love.

Sitting alone now, he looks pensively out toward the bases. He thinks he can see the faint impressions of players lurching around the field, leaping into the air, like an elaborate, choreographed dance. Why? he wonders. Why do they do that? 

Evan feels like he has nothing to look forward to now. Baseball suddenly feels insufficient. He doesn’t know what his future will be. He looks at the stars that are just appearing overhead and he knows there are things he cannot control. So, right there under them, he makes a plan he can stick to. In the spring, he will help his mom prune the rose bushes. And they will grow stronger because of it.

March 11, 2022 21:19

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6 comments

16:09 Mar 20, 2022

Congrats on the well-deserved shortlist -- woo hoo! Are you interested in reading this story for posterity? Maybe check out: https://bluemarblestorytellers.com/podcast-2/ We also have a little podcast for writers who'd like to discuss their reading and writing journeys. Let us know if you'd like to chat https://www.readlotswritelots.com/previous/

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Amanda Lieser
04:25 Mar 28, 2022

Hi Sarah! Oh my gosh! You did something so incredible with this piece. You absolutely deserved to be shortlisted! I love how you wove the past with the present of this piece. I also love how I walked away knowing that this relationship would impact your MCs for the rest of their lives. Thank you so much for writing this piece. I really admired the way you created tension in this piece and would love if you added a comment to my latest story, “Summer Loving,” because I think it has similar themes. Thank you in advance!

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J.C. Lovero
01:15 Mar 22, 2022

Hi Sarah, Congrats on the shortlist. I really enjoy reading coming-of-age stories revolving around complex topics like this. The characters were so relatable. A pleasure to read.

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Bruce Friedman
19:07 Mar 18, 2022

Wonderful story, Sarah. Rich language and depth about a very sad theme. Keep up the good work.

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Shea West
04:29 Mar 16, 2022

Sarah, this was just sooooo good! I appreciate when teenagers are written with so much depth. They're often underestimated, that they can't possibly be deep thinkers or big feelers and we know that's just not true. I especially liked that you made this more from the boys perspective... Beautifully written and so feely in the best way

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Zack Powell
15:54 Mar 15, 2022

Extremely well-written. This is a perfect example of how to write a story with only two characters. Both had motivations, both had wants, both were realistic. Love to see it. I almost was going to suggest closing the story with the antepenultimate paragraph ("heartbreak without ever really knowing love" is an amazing statement about life, and "love" being the last word would really drive that home), but you won me over with your final three sentences. Beginning and ending with the rose bushes was a great choice. So kudos. Honestly, this stor...

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