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Fortunately for Tora, Clair’s support and a bit of an investigation discovered that he had in fact been framed. Two seven-pitch players from his team had decided to lie about that night’s activities, when they themselves had been responsible. Apparently, it had been easy for them to find people willing to lie to the police when an investigation occurred. The officer who arrested Tora was suspended and the two girls who had caused the fuss were kicked off of the team, although no further discipline was taken.
Coach Wendelstedt, who had held the coaching position at that high school seemingly since the beginning of time, simply wasn’t going to allow that sort of nonsense on her club. She wasn’t the biggest fan of Tora’s presence herself. But she was a good friend of Clair and Tora was their best pitcher. Not that it meant much. Their pitching was awful.
While Tora’s suspension was in fact overturned, he still missed two days of school and he lost his hall monitor position when it was discovered that he hadn’t turned in Odessa’s name on his report. He protested that it was just a mistake and that he had done his job in escorting her to class. But rules were rules and he found himself miserable in directed study. Despite being wholly innocent of any real wrongdoing, the study monitor made sure to make his period miserable by assigning him busywork with the threat of detention if he didn’t do it.
To make matters worse, when he went to leave school that first afternoon, Odessa was waiting just outside his study period classroom. Her silver eyes were narrowed and red from crying. Her skin looked pale. She was dressed in a bright red knit sweater with long sleeves and padded black slacks. She looked cute, but exhausted and upset.
“You know I waited for you,” Odessa said.
“Oddy, I told you I was going to see Jinx,” Tora said as politely as he could.
“I know. But I got dressed and waited anyway. Just to see if you’d change your mind.”
“Oddy, why are you so upset?”
“Why do you think?”
“I didn’t stand you up!”
“Yes, but if you’d come none of this would have happened.”
“All I lost was my monitor job. That’s not your fault.”
“Yes, it is. I’m clearly a burden on you.”
Odessa began to walk away.
“Oddy, please,” Tora held out his hand.
“Stop calling me that. It was cute before. But it’s too close to Oddly.”
He watched as Odessa left through the back exit that they always used. He gathered up some courage then he burst out the back exit, caught up to her and hugged her tightly.
“Jinx was horrible,” Tora admitted with a sniffle. “She was so upset about something but she wouldn’t tell me.”
Odessa’s bloodshot eyes stared into Tora’s. “Just forget about her, Tora. You know she has someone.”
“Wait, what?” This was news to Tora.
“You didn’t hear about her and that Private Brody out West?”
“Brody?” Tora recognized the name. “You mean Brody from the Mudflats? The cute bobtail that lived with the Himalayans down the street?”
“Yeah, that’s her,” Oddy nodded. She let a grin come onto her face.
“What are you grinning about?”
“Well, they went out West after basic training.”
“They got married, Tora,” Odessa chuckled.
“That’s not funny.”
“No, but you know what that means. Jinx only ever liked you as a friend.”
“Are you telling me that… that’s why her and her parents don’t talk anymore?”
“Actually, no, but they weren’t happy about it from what I heard,” Odessa kept chuckling.
“You seem really happy about this. My best friend just married a fellow princess.”
“Jinx hasn’t been your best friend for a long time,” Odessa countered, her expression morphing into a frown. “I’ve been the one who’s been here for you.”
“And you know I appreciate it, Oddy… Odessa, I’m sorry.”
“I know you like me,” she said with a sigh. “I expect too much of you. You’re not a romantic.”
“Well, um,” Tora scratched his head.
“You’re the cutest boy in school,” she admitted. “A lot of girls like you. They’re just too afraid to admit it. Especially Chandra,” Odessa started chuckling again.
“Chandra? Chandra Skyfire?”
“Yes, your teammate who stood up for you.”
Tora snapped his fingers realizing how dumb he’d been. Chandra had always been nice to him, ever since his first varsity days. “Should’ve guessed.”
“I always thought you liked her more than me,” Odessa said blankly.
“Chandra, she’s… cool. But she’s not you, Oddy.”
“Please stop calling me that, Tora. I really prefer Odessa.”
“I’d rather just call you Journey.”
Odessa looked oddly at him. “You’re a strange boy, Tora. Not only do you play a game where you hurl a ball toward someone with a wooden stick and run all over a diamond, but you don’t seem to get that you’re actually quite attractive to your girl friends.”
Tora was dumbfounded by this sudden revelation.
“I love you, Tora. I always have. Do you love me?”
Tora felt cornered. “You have been my best friend since Jinx left. But I was always taught not to use the word love lightly.”
Odessa looked at the ground, “I appreciate your honesty. Come on, I’m sure the ladies back home have cooked up something yummy. Tuna surprise?”
Tora’s mouth watered a bit. “Yeah, sure.”
Odessa took his hand. “You really should ask Chandra out. It will probably blow her mind.”
Tora shook his head, “Chandra’s cool,” he said. “But you have tuna surprise.”
They both laughed and the two good friends went to Odessa’s for a late afternoon snack.
While Tora’s seven-pitch teammates mostly only tolerated his presence, their center fielder Chandra Skyfire was actually quite kind to him. Tora didn’t even bother coming into the locker room until all the other girls had left. Despite being a boy, being a seven-pitch player meant he had to use the girl’s locker room. It was an interesting rule to him.
But after Chandra had seen him naked, he figured what was the use. She would always wait for him. She was always the last to leave anyway, being the team captain. She was a tough cookie, the last (some feared) in a long line of Skyfires, a legendary family to be sure. Her parents had both been killed in the Service on a dangerous mission. Tora never bothered to learn the details. But she was the last Skyfire and there was a lot of pressure on her, but she took it gracefully.
Chandra wasn’t the prettiest girl around, Tora figured, but she was alright. She wore her bright red hair (a family trait) in a long mohawk that trailed down her back. She had the blood red eyes of her family, too, and the big ears, as well. She also had a very long tail with a crimson plume at its end.
But one thing she did have was a voice. Whether it was loud or soft, it had a strange tone to it. It was unique and Tora liked that. It wasn’t very feminine, but it was pleasant to him all the same.
“Tora, Tora,” she said, paws on her big, powerful hips. “About time you showed up, kid. Good game out there.”
“I gave up five runs,” he countered.
“Yeah, but we scored six,” Chandra said with a smile. “That means we win, you know.”
“I’m familiar with how the score works, Chandra,” Tora said, getting changed.
“How’s Odessa?” she asked.
That question caught him off guard. “Why do you ask?”
“You go out of your way for her. Like a gentleman should,” Chandra quipped.
“You’re funny, Chandra,” Tora said, shaking his head.
“You’re the funny one, Tora,” Chandra giggled, “That’s why I like you so much.”
“I like you, too,” he said awkwardly.
“Ha, is that so?” Chandra grinned at him, smoothing back her mohawk, which had grown a bit tall and unruly, just how she liked it.
“Well, I didn’t know you and Odessa talked,” he said.
“You know,” Chandra said, putting a paw on Tora’s bare shoulder. “I talk to everyone. For some reason, having the name Skyfire gets me places.”
“You should know,” Tora shook his head, looking away.
“Are you okay, Tora?” she asked.
“Jinx,” was all he could say before he was too choked up to say anything else.
Chandra said a few choice curses that I wouldn’t dare repeat in print before continuing. “I stood up for you because those girls were out of line. You don’t quit on a teammate like that. Jinx quit on you a long time ago. What kind of friend is that?”
Tora looked at Chandra, but couldn’t speak. She tousled his wild black hair. “You’re a gorgeous tom,” she said. “And you deserve someone like Odessa who treats you right.”
She gave him a quick hug, then waved goodbye. “Got somewhere to be, kid. You take care of yourself.”
As she left she motioned for someone to come in. Tora felt a bit embarrassed as he was only half dressed. But he felt a lot better when it was only Odessa.
“Oh, it’s only you,” Tora chuckled, finally able to compose himself a bit.
What was coming next he didn’t expect. She got down on one knee and pulled something out of her pocket. It was only then he realized she was wearing that same powder blue blouse and skirt she’d wore when they’d met, except she had a bright blue vest over it and wore black sleeves and leggings to help against the cold.
Tora was handed a little box. He couldn’t believe what was happening, and as he opened it, he was blinded by the brilliance of the gift he’d been given.
“I have chosen you,” she said from one knee. “Will you accept this token of our bond?”
Tora fell to his knees, flabbergasted.
She’d just proposed to marry him.
And he couldn’t say no.