Joey sat on the rusted swing set in his back yard, looking down over the town of Monotoning, to the long line of low, blue-green hills in the distance, and watched the early evening darkness come sweeping toward him like an ominous wave.  It was the last week in April.  The earth, which only a week before, had been soft and mushy as a swamp, now seemed firm and unyeilding as an iron sheet beneath his sneakered feet.  Joey felt bored and restless.  He yearned for excitement and adventure.  For just a moment, he seriously considered taking a walk downtown.  But with his luck, he was afraid he might run into Butch or Wayne, or one of their friends.  The last thing he wanted was another confrontation with them.

     He saw a figure detach itself from the gathering shadows and come marching straight toward him.  Joey recoiled in shock and horror, until he realized that the figure was a girl, and then he relaxed.  The girl was small and skinny as a stick, all bruised elbows and scraped knees.  Her chestnut hair was pulled taut into short, little pony tails on either side of her oval face.  And she had breasts.  Joey couldn't remember if he'd ever noticed such things on a girl before, but he noticed them now.  They produced a wonderful swelling beneath her white-and-blue checkered blouse, which she'd tied in a knot, exposing her flat, brown midriff.  In her right hand, she clutched a baton.

     The girl snapped to attention.  Her brown eyes lit up and her lips stretched wide in a dazzling smile.  She transferred her baton from her right hand to her left hand.  With the palm of her right hand, she described a wide circle in the darkening air, in front of her face.

     "Hi," she breathed in a soft, sweet voice.  "My name's Lacy Calhoun.  I live over there."

     Joey's eyes followed where Lacy pointed with her finger, to a small stand of tall trees on his right, at the corner of his neighbor's property.  Behind those trees, the land fell away into a deep hollow.  Inside that hollow, stood a ranch-style house built of mud-brown brick.

     Lacy came to visit him every evening, after supper.  Sometimes, they played baseball.  Joey and Lacy and Lacy's two younger sisters, Darlene and Tara, comprised one team.  The Gaddis twins, Duke and Vinnie, and several other other neighborhood boys, made up the opposition.  Lacy always refused to play, unless she could be on Joey's team.  They used chunks of wood from Frank Duduka's woodpile for bases.  Any ball hit over Ellen Duduka's wash line, at the far end of the yard, was considered an automatic homerun.

     They played until it was dark and the ball was a fuzzy, white blur.  Soon, they heard Lacy's mother call, "Girls, it's geting late.  It's time to come in, now."

     They reluctantly dropped their bats and gloves, gathered up the chunks of wood and tossed them back on the log pile.  Joey waited until the others had gone and he was alone with Lacy.

     Together, they strolled down the sloping back yard to the line of scraggly pine seedlings, which divided the Duduka's property from that of their neighbors, the Singletons.  There they stopped and turned to face each other.  Lacy looked at him with soft, questioning eyes.

     Joey hesitated for just one second...

     "Lacy!" her mother's sharp voice pierced the cool, night air.  "I said it's time for you to come in.  Right now!"

     "Yes, mother!" an exasperated Lacy called back.

     Lacy disappeared between a pair of pine seedlings.  A second later, Joey saw her standing at the edge of the Singleton's property like a diver poised on the edge of a cliff.  She plunged down the steep embankment and into her own back yard.  Lacy leapt like a gazelle into a lopsided trapazoid of soft, golden light, which poured from a pair of sliding glass doors at the back of he parents' house.  The sliding glass door slid open and Lacy jumped up and slipped behind a curtain, into her mother's kitchen.  Joey heard the sound of the glass door rolling back on its metal track and the soft, snicking sounds it made, as she closed and locked the door from inside the kitchen.  Lacy was gone.

     Lacy suddenly stopped coming to see him.  Joey waited a week and when she still hadn't knocked on his back door, he finally summoned up enough courage to go down to her house and knock on her back door.

     He found her seated at the kitchen table.  She wore a blue dress, which shocked Joey; he'd never seen her in a dress before.  He thought she looked beautiful.  A bulky, red leather purse hung by a broad strap from the back of her chair.  In her left hand, she held a small compact close to her face, while with the pinky of her right hand, she applied a light layer of blue mascara to her eye lid.

     She snapped shut the compact with a jarring finality and deposited it inside her purse.  Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Joey standing behind her.  She smiled.

     "Why, hi there!  What are you doing here?"

     "Oh, nothing much," he replied, trying to sound cool and casual.  "I was hoping we might play a little baseball tonight."

     "Oh, Joey, I'm so sorry.  But I can't tonight.  I've got a date."

     "A date?"

     "Uh-huh.  You see, there's a dance at the junior high, tonight, and I've been invited."

     "Oh, yeah?  Who ya going with?"

     "Butch Kilabreski."

     Joey froze.  His eyes bulged in their sockets and his jaw dropped, as he stared at Lacy in shock and disbelief.  "Oh," he finally managed to sputter.

     A car horn blared outside.

      "That must be Butch now," she said.  "His father's driving us to the dance.  I'm sorry, Joey.  I really am.  Maybe we can play baseball next weekend."

     Lacy shouldered her purse and jumped to her feet.  She dashed like a crazy person from the kitchen to the living room.  The front door opened and slammed shut.

     Joey had a terrible feeling that baseball season, for him, was over forever.  He wanted to cry.  And die. 


The End

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