The dirt around the dugout was dark and pocked with holes. Tiny puddles of water filled the majority of them, and the sound of scratching cleats in the grain echoed off the back wall. The air was cool and dank, not refreshing as it should have been. The way I would have preferred it during practice. I was sweating and sticky, my hands with fingers curled around the wet metal of the fencing separating us from the field. It was raining. I liked the way the rain smelled in the late winter. It was almost as if you could smell the new growth on the trees and brush around the perimeter. I don’t think you could, but the scent reminded me that the full greenery and floral aromas of the primavera were only weeks away. I loved the anticipation of new life, the warm breeze, and the inevitability of time spent outside the house in the open fields or around a charcoal grill with my family, or riding my bike to the plaza to rent a movie with friends.
This year was different. I was in a new city, a new state, and a new school. I was outgoing and had made enough friends that I really hadn’t missed my hometown. At least not yet. Everything was fresh and new and exciting. Then there were the boys. When I was younger I was a pale blonde. I think I was attractive. Not beautiful or anything extraordinary, but I was proud of how I looked and who I was. My hair was long and thick, and I knew how to get attention with my sky blue eyes. And I was getting enough of it. I was happy. I knew what boys wanted and I was smart about it. It was high school. Most weren’t able to express anything more than that. I had a friend, a guy, who I liked to be around. He and I had spoken earlier in the day.
“Hey!” One of the coaches called to me. “Can you get out there and fill in at catcher?”
Obviously. “Sure,” I replied and then scuffled to the bleacher to retrieve the heavy gear and suit up.
“Hurry up,” he shouted back. “Less than half hour left.”
I know. “Right, of course.”
The rain was cold. It dripped through the helmet and down around my eyes, to my chin as I jogged to the plate and turned to face the coach, tall and in his baggy black poncho. I nodded and turned to the coach behind the plate. He motioned toward the mound and choked out something unintelligible. I heard, “Ready,” squatted, and looked across home.
Thud. I caught the first pitch. There was no one at bat. Just a warmup pitch, and then four more. I really had to reach for the fourth. Across my body, left of the plate. It hit the edge of the glove with a Thwock.
The rain was cold.
By the time I’d gotten through three batters, I was in my own world. The fielders with their red uniforms against the green grass of the ballpark looked pleasant and hypnotic to me. I’d been doing this since I was a little girl. Nothing interesting. I was good at it and I didn’t need to think. Just catch.
“Hey, who’s that behind the fence?” The fourth batter asked me, smiling. I glanced behind, quickly.
“I don’t know,” I lied.
“He’s watching you.”
“Yeah, I told him he could meet me after practice if he wanted.” It was the friend I mentioned earlier.
“He’s fine.” My heart fluttered, but I ignored it.
She laughed. “It’s pouring rain.”
“Yeah.” The next three batters came and went. I only had to catch once.
Practice had ended, and I had gone down into the dugout to pick up my things and take a drink of water. It was colder than the rain, but I was hot under my uniform. I didn’t hate it. I was smiling but don’t think I knew it. The other girls made a few comments and I brushed them off.
“You looked really good,” the boy at the fence said when I came up from under the shelter. I turned and stepped toward him.
“What are you doing?”
“I wanted to come say hi.” He smiled.
“It’s raining!” I was incredulous.
“I live across the street.”
“Yeah, but it’s freezing.”
“You’re out here,” he said through his smile. I looked down at my feet and back up.
“Yeah,” I said, “I guess.” I walked to the fence to see him.
He laughed. “It is really cold.” I shook my head and then our eyes met. His held a sparkle and life that gave the same feeling as the smell of the rain.
“Yeah… It is.”