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A RAY OF HOPE FOR SHATTERED DREAMS
After the draft fiasco, my own life took a turn for the better, as I was hired straight out of secondary school as an intern at the Veri City Gazette. I also got into a very good certificate program at a local community school. Apparently, people loved my connection with the Ocelots and Clair Sureclaw.
Tora was not so lucky. He wasn’t expelled. But he was suspended long enough that he had to go for another semester to finish school. And of course, he was kicked off of the seven-pitch team.
Interestingly enough, though, that didn’t stop him from playing. With Chandra Skyfire off playing for the Ragdolls, straight on the varsity team, Veri City didn’t have any great amateurs left, except for Tora. All the best talent had all been drafted and was slaving away across the globe, except for Tora. So the local independent team in the neighboring town hired Tora for a measly salary right on the spot.
Tora didn’t care about the money, which barely paid his bus fare to the local pitch field – the team obviously covered meal money and road trips. He just wanted to play. And it wasn’t surprising that he was the best hurler on the team.
Actually, his new team was actually very good – on offense. They couldn’t play defense to save their life, that is, until my second mum took over the team. Tora was thrilled to have Anna George managing the team, until she cut him.
Let’s just say neither I nor he took that well. He trashed the locker room on the way out. It was the first in a long string of major disappointments.
They demanded he pay for the damages. Cain covered him completely, but made him promise to pay him back. Tora actually tried very hard to get a job, but with his juvenile criminal record, no one would hire him until that slate was wiped clean at seventeen.
Now in a nether world between a clean slate and being a persona non grata, Tora was very lost. The only things he still had were me and Odessa. Even Cain stopped talking to him for a while, as Tora would just keep asking him for more money – for food and a roof over his head.
Clair, being the bachelorette she was then, took him in. That is, until she started dating Rocky, who didn’t want Tora around at all. My dad didn’t really want him staying with us, but I at least saw he was fed and had a sleeping bag out in the garage. I just couldn’t see him suffer.
On his seventeenth birthday, Oddy and I decided the perfect birthday present for Tora would be to convince Anna George to take him back. The team needed a pitcher badly and they were on the cusp of their league playoffs. Anna shook her head and reluctantly accepted him back, between my insistence and Odessa’s constant wailing…
Cain wasn’t thrilled with us getting him back on the team and was particularly cross with me. We didn’t talk for quite a while, as he thought that my influence over Anna was the only reason she’d changed her mind. Actually, no, her team just desperately needed him that much. Cain didn’t buy it.
The good news is, Tora was able to get some odd delivery jobs while he was playing and earned enough to pay my dad a measly little rent to stay in our garage, which we only used for the car anyway. So it was awesome to have my little buddy around all the time.
What wasn’t so awesome was Daubee coming around after her stint in jail. She was immediately back on the Ocelots, to the great disdain of the league and the Seven Pitch Commission – which was to forever be minus Evaine Sheridan – whose search had already been declared a lost cause.
And, of course, my dad really liked her for some reason, so she got a chance to visit Tora whenever she was on a home stand with the Ocelots, who were, doing VERY badly. Her, not so much. She’d played seven-pitch in prison, and her swing was better than ever. The league tried to suspend her for off-field conduct. But the Ocelots were so terrible that she and Clair were the only draws at that point, so they just let her play for the sake of revenues I’m sure.
Fortunately, Daubee was only a positive influence on Tora. Having his sister around while being so estranged from his father really helped.
Tora also loved the stories Daubee was telling him about his old friend Chandra. She was burning up the league, setting records left and right in her first full season. Daubee and Skyfire were both all-stars. Being from the West, though, it was quite the occasion when those two were on the same field together.
But Clair had been right about Chandra. She wasn’t as nice to other people as she was to Tora. Even her own teammates on the hapless Ragdolls were not spared her rather rude and obnoxious attitude.
Fortunately, Clair was still Tora’s idol. And while her pitches had slowed, she was still effective and still the best pitcher on the Ocelots. But Tekki couldn’t hit for beans and Clair would throw to no one else. So, of course, her win-loss record suffered.
Eventually, the fourth manager of the Ocelots in five years benched Tekki for a rookie catcher. In the first game without Tekki, Clair was lit up for five runs without ever recording a single retired batter. That experiment ended then and there, and Clair’s next appearance was a 12-scratch out shutout and the Ocelots won 1-0 in 11 frames. She pitched all 11.
After that, Clair was shut down for the season, not for health reasons, but because the team was so far out of the playoffs that it no longer mattered.
And that’s the day that Clair came to tell Tora the thing he needed to hear.
“You have a shot, Tora,” Clair told him with me and Daubee standing there. “The draft is coming around again. While you don’t still have eligibility, thanks to, um, some strings I pulled, you have a chance at the workouts.”
Tora leaped into Clair’s arms, and she hugged him tightly. Daubee hugged them both.
That night, we celebrated the news with Tekki and Rocky. While Rocky didn’t seem to like Tora much, he was at least friendly.
“Clair speaks quite highly of you,” Rocky said to Tora with a smile, a very practiced one at that.
I have always had quite a bit of respect for him as an announcer and apparently he was extremely good to Clair. But while he was very popular with the gals up front, once they got to know him, he was – apparently difficult. With Clair, though, they seemed to get along quite famously.
“Thanks, Rocky,” Tora said politely. Rocky didn’t seem thrilled that they were suddenly on a first name basis.
“Well, Mr. Sheridan, it seems you’ve come a long way in a year. Working hard Clair tells me.”
“I’m glad Clair speaks so highly of me,” Tora tried to say as politely as he could, but there was a brash undertone to his voice, and he shot a glance at Clair who was lovely as usual. She wasn’t really even that dressed up for the venue, very casually, but no one was going to tell Clair otherwise.
The rest of dinner was rather awkward, basically Rocky going on to explain how the Ocelots were really struggling and that the team was highly considering trading off either Clair or Daubee to free up payroll. Clair was untouchable far as the media was concerned, but Rocky, as usual, knew more than the media was allowed to hear.
Clair seemed unconcerned, but Tora was upset by this news. He loved his sister more than anything and couldn’t bear the thought of her moving away to another team, especially a far off team that didn’t visit Veri City often.
Just then, there were two very unexpected visitor. "Ah, we've been expecting you!" Rocky declared.
I gasped when I saw who they were. One of them was Dixie Brody, who was the owner of the Servals. And I'd almost forgot who her partner was.
"JINX!" Tora screamed. He couldn't help himself and pounced on her. Brody smiled and Ginnifer Brody didn't seem upset at all for Tora pinning her to the floor.
"Jinx, huh?" Brody laughed. "Really, Ginny you should never have let people stop calling you that!"
"Oh, hi, Dixie," Tora said. "That's your name right?"
"Um, Dixie, what are you doing here?" Clair asked.
"Yeah, I didn't know you guys were in ton!" the usual quiet Tekki blurted out.
"Oh I asked them here," Rocky said. "I figured that I'd spare Anna the embarrassment of taking him back."
Tora had tears well up in his eyes. Jinx patted him on the cheek. "Oh, you silly, you don't know the good part!"
Tora helped her up. "What's that?"
"Well, Rocky told us that Clair was going to get you a tryout," Brody said. "We say forget it. Ginny knows how good you are. Clair won't shut up about you. So we're signing you."
Tora stood dumbfounded. "The Servals?"
"Well, sort of," Brody said with a shrug. "We'd be sending you to our development team down in Brune."
"But that's far."
"It is, but it beats staying here." I offered. "Besides, I don't mind seeing if I can join you down there. The Servals are looking for a beat writer."
"i don't want you to give up your job, Sam," Tora said.
"It's OK," Jinx said. "Besides, I'll be there. I sort of play for the Servals this year. I decided that I may as well take the field again."
That was the best news Tora could have ever heard. "You're the best!"
"It'll be rough," Brody said. You'll be on your own a lot of the time. But trust me, we're not going to be like the dummies up here in Veri. We're a bit more tolerant in the South."
"Well, it's not the Ocelots..." Tora said.
"And the money's not great," Brody admitted. "I'm not going to lie. But Rocky, Clair, and I came up with terms that should be fair for you. You and Sam can look them over."
After we had finished dinner, we went back to Rocky's and went over the contract. That's when Daubee stormed in.
"You can't do this!" Daubee declared. "You're not going down South, Tora!"
"I can," Tora said. "It's terrible money. But I don't care. What do you think, Sam?"
I thought back to what Clair had said all those years ago to me about trusting your instincts. I could see in Clair's eyes that she was about to tell Tora the same thing.
"Trust your gut," I said.
Tora signed the dotted line and that was that. Daubee left as fast as she'd come and everyone applauded his decision... except for me.
I knew the road that Tora was going to have to take, and it wasn't going to be a pretty one.
"Welcome to Pro Seven-Pitch, Tora!" Brody announced.
If only that were as good as it sounded...