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There’s nothing wrong with a little hero worship. Especially for a six-year Felona boy, it’s okay to have a favorite athlete that you model your play after. Lucky for him, the little Sheridan boy went to a private school. Had he gone to public school, he would’ve been roasted alive.
Not only did he want to grow up to be a hurler like Clair, he wanted to be Clair. His parents let him grow his hair long, which wasn’t really that strange for boys his age, but he even styled it like Clair. He wore clothes that looked like Clair’s, complete with the ruffled cuffs and bright orange socks. He wasn’t just an Ocelots fan. He was a fan of the prettiest Ocelot seven-pitcher alive. And he went to no end to let people know that.
“You really need to be a little more discreet,” I told him one afternoon after he told me the kids at school were starting to tease him.
“What’s discreet mean?”
I decided to rephrase myself, forgetting I was talking to a first-grader, “You need to be more yourself.”
“But I like the Clair Collection!” he protested.
I felt like I was talking to a little girl. “Just because you love Clair doesn’t mean you have to dress like her!”
“What are you talking about? I like these clothes. And Momma says I can wear whatever I want cause I’m handsome!”
Actually, I knew his mom well enough to know that she’d just given up. It’s not like he was wearing anything THAT girly. Seven-pitch uniforms were fashion statements all their own, and the little embellishments on Clair’s clothing line for kids still didn’t keep them from being “unisex.”
That being said, he would’ve come home beat up in public school for wearing “pretty” clothes. Heck, I used to wear “boy’s” clothes all the time and took a lot of heat for it. I even had a teacher who said my attire was “unbecoming of a Princess.” Like that meant anything to me.
He did look adorable, though, I had to admit. It was the hair and the eye-shadow that put it over the top. I wanted to know who was doing it all for him. No way a six year old could’ve done it himself.
I was right. He had help. And I couldn’t believe who it was.
On the way home one day, I stopped when I saw Paola Daubee approaching us. Tora ran up to meet her.
“By Luna’s Grace, you look gorgeous!” Paola said to him as she hugged him.
“What… in the Hells…” I muttered to myself.
“Oh, hi, Sam,” Paola said. “I must apologize. I was supposed to meet Tora at school, but I had a surprise call from the coach.”
“What did he say?” Tora asked excitedly.
“The Ocelots are gonna sign me.”
“Wait, but,” I stammered, “That’s impossible. You haven’t even graduated yet.”
“Well, I suck at school anyway,” Paola chuckled, “Besides, I’ll get my equilateral test. I’ll be all good.”
“Don’t you mean equivalency?” I corrected her.
“Yeah, whatever, Sam,” she scoffed. She turned back to her little buddy, “So, yeah, pretty soon, you’ll see Auntie Pauley up on the TV.”
“I thought you hated being called Pauley,” I offered.
“Shut it,” Paola said.
“Yeah, shut it, Sam,” Tora said innocently with a big smile.
“Tora, you never told me you and Paola were friends.”
“Does he have to tell you everything, Sam? He is a big boy now, you know.”
“Pauley loves me!” Tora said.
“She loves herself,” I said crossing my arms.
“You’re not wrong,” she said with a grin. It was a mimic of one of Clair’s grins and it made me sick. “I shouldn’t be mean, though. It is all because of you I got this chance. All those nice things you said about me. They made me smile.”
“You’re a great ball-player,” I admitted. “But you have some growing-up to do.”
“You should talk, Sam. You’re three years younger than me.”
“Paola’s my big sister now!” Tora said happily. “Sorry, Sam, but me and Paola are gonna go celebrate. You can come if you want.”
“I’m good, Tora. I’ll see you later.” And I just walked away. As I quickened my pace, the tears began to flow even more quickly. My little buddy had been stolen away.
It would be a long time before we ever talked again. I would call his house and his mom would hang up on me, like it was entirely my fault that his babysitter had been taking advantage of his love of Clair to amuse her massive ego. Her dad was the one that finally told me that Tora and Paola might as well have been married, but that they trusted her with him.
I most certainly didn’t. But they had a point. She was extremely good to him. He got his homework done. He had friends at school. But I correctly figured that it was just because he knew a soon-to-be All-Star player for my favorite team. And every game I watched that summer made me die a little inside. It was a good thing that the Ocelots were a very mediocre team for the rest of the year. I didn’t watch a single game of pro seven-pitch for the whole summer and fall.
The next spring, I would watch my little best buddy Tora become the laughing-stock of the whole town. And he was totally clueless of it.
Of course, even his private school team, which didn’t even have enough interested in playing seven-pitch to organize a full team, wouldn’t let Tora on. His father reluctantly brought around his son to different tryouts for youth seven-pitch camps. They all laughed him away, asking where his mother was almost every time. At this point, Evaine was too ashamed of her son to even be seen with him.
As so often happens, rumors spread like wildfire about the son of Evaine Sheridan, one of the best seven-pitch coaches of all time, dressing up like Evaine’s greatest student and becoming an utter embarrassment by becoming the mascot and dress-up doll for the hottest new sensation in town, Paola Daubee.
Fortunately for Tora, Paola’s best friend Henli had an aunt who was a coach for a struggling youth league out downtown. They were short a player for their roster in order to be eligible for competition that spring. When Paola Daubee, the Rookie of the Year in Seven-Pitch that previous season, appeared on the tryout field, the girls went wild.
Appearance-wise, Paola no longer looked like the punk kid she had in high school. She no longer had the crazy faux hawk, opting for a deeper pink color and a more traditional shoulder-length hairstyle. But her attitude was exactly the same.
“You’ll have your shot at me,” she giggled as the kids swarmed her. “Come down to the ballpark later this week and you can have my autograph.”
Tora seemed impressed that she seemed so dedicated to him. Of course, he had no idea he was being used as a publicity stunt.
Paola had in fact been Rookie of the Year. But she’d only gotten on base 24 percent of the time, despite hitting 42 home runs. It was her defense at first bag, and playing chaser in the outfield corners that really earned her the honors. The stat nerds had her being a player worth three wins above average for her power and defensive prowess alone.
There were of course skeptics in the media about her true ability. She needed all of the positive PR she could get. And why not take the eager young Tora, the son of a prominent name in seven-pitch, and get him to be the first boy on a youth seven-pitch team in a major seven-pitch town in a long time.