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TORA AND THE PRACTICE FIELD
Boys had played seven-pitch before, of course. Actually, many had down on the playground fields in their youth. But once they reached nine or ten, they’d moved onto other sports. It was understood that seven-pitch was a no-boys-allowed exclusive club.
Up until twenty years before that time, in fact, the World Seven-Pitch Alliance had decreed that boys were banned from playing professional seven-pitch. But that rule was taken out of the books actually rather quietly. A panel of lobbyists had brought it to the queen’s attention and she decreed that it be quietly and immediately removed.
Therefore, legally, there was no reason that Tora couldn’t have his dream come true. Daubee kept filling his head with this notion. While she certainly wasn’t lying, it wasn’t realistic. Even I at times wanted to dissuade him from trying. He’d always looked up to me. But now his heroes were larger than life and I had become something less than nothing to him. I’d try and visit him and he’d refuse to see me, always making an excuse.
But that fateful day, the day I heard that Daubee was making a scene with Tora, I just had to be there, not just for the story, but to prove just how selfish Daubee was.
I got the story, but my other wish would not come true. I wished so badly at that point I’d never praised Daubee’s talents. But Clair’s words still echoed in my head then as they do now. “I live by the truth” she had said. My integrity remained and still remained today.
But, oh, did I want to slander her.
When I arrived at the Southern Practice Fields in downtown, the crowd was already amassed. Of course, they were there for Daubee. Tora was just a curiosity, her sidekick and mascot. He felt blessed, when truly he was cursed by his own love for the seven-pitchers. His hero worship was making him into a spectacle that had already shamed his mother. It also left me as a powerless spectator simply journaling his journey to become the first ever pro seven-pitcher.
Who am I kidding? I surely as Hell wanted him to fail, just to make Daubee look bad. My hatred for her had nearly destroyed my love for the game.
I sincerely hoped that Clair would show up and end this nonsense. But alas, she was nowhere near. She was far away on vacation. From what I was hearing, she may not come back. I knew better, of course, but Clair’s presence would’ve made me feel a lot better.
I finally forced my way through the crowd where Daubee was standing there with Tora eagerly grinning, decked out in his Ocelots garb and bright orange cap. At least he wasn’t wearing any of those silly get-ups that Clair allowed her name to be tagged onto. At least he looked respectable. His long hair had been neatly brushed out and tied back in a ponytail and his eyes had that smokey innocent look that they always did.
Tora looked incredibly cute, and the coach, Henli’s aunt Amani, simply could not turn him away.
“I don’t see why he can’t practice with us,” Amani said softly. “But I’m sorry I can’t see him making the team. He’s too small.”
“I am not!” he protested. “I’m a big boy now! I’m seven!”
“He’s seven?” Amani asked, truly in disbelief.
“Yes, of course, he is,” Daubee groaned. “You don’t believe me?”
“Well, if a parent or guardian were here I could…”
Daubee cut her off rudely, “I am his guardian. And I’m telling you he’s seven.” She was correct, in fact. But looking at Tora, you’d never believe her. He still looked barely past a kitten. Being dressed up that cute didn’t help prove that fact.
The amassed crowd of parents and hopeful seven-pitch players oohed and aah-ed at Daubee’s very presence. Daubee glowed with pride and confidence from all of the attention being given her.
“You’re not going to deny my little buddy, are you?”
Finally, I burst through the crowd. “What do you think you’re doing, Daubee?”
“Oh, hey, it’s Sam Spence,” Daubee said, throwing her arm around me. “How you doing, good buddy?”
“I’m not your buddy!” I protested.
“Don’t mess this up for me,” she whispered into my ear. “Tora will never forgive you.”
There he was, Tora staring at me like I was the Demon Queen herself. “Not cool, Sam.”
“Coach Amani,” I said, “Daubee means well, but Tora really isn’t ready for this.”
“Shut up, Sam!” he screamed at me.
“I’ve known the Sheridans for a very long time. My mother and hers go back a long way.”
“I know Evaine,” Amani nodded. “If she felt it alright to let Daubee bring her son here, then I can’t see why I can’t let him at least practice with us.”
Daubee stared with daggers in her eyes at me, but I continued, “His mother is not all right with this. Daubee is his babysitter, not his guardian. This is all just a publicity stunt.”
The crowd nearby all began to chatter.
“But,” I continued, “I think practicing is fine. He deserves a chance. He loves this game, and as do I.” I then turned to Daubee, “Dreams are precious and sacred. They're not to be toyed with for your own gain and amusement.”
“Excuse me?” Daubee growled. Funny enough, Daubee and I were the same height. But she was a lot stronger than me. Still, a cat-fight was not in the cards, and I knew this. She couldn’t risk getting hurt, not in the middle of the season, and have her contract voided for reckless behavior. I had that on my side. Otherwise, I am one-hundred percent certain she would’ve pummeled me so hard that I would not be writing these words today.
“So that means I can play?”
Coach Amani smiled, “I don’t see why not. The girls here are very friendly. They shouldn’t go too rough on you.”
“Bring ‘em on!” Tora yelled and ran off towards the practice fields. The crowd began to disperse, but not due to lack of interest. They had to spread the word of what they had seen.
I hoped some of my words would not be lost on them, but I knew better than that even then. The words certainly weren’t lost on Daubee. As Amani thanked Daubee for her time and walked off, she just stood there staring at me.
“We both want what’s best for Tora,” I told her.
“You didn’t have to be an effing ass about it,” she hissed.
I let a sly smile sneak across my face. I wasn’t going to hide the amusement I saw from her being embarrassed. I could see her getting pale. “Tora is a great kid with a powerful dream. I will never take that away from him, but I won’t push him towards inevitable heartbreak and defeat like you will.”
“I don’t have the slightest clue what you mean.” Daubee rubbed her fists together.
“You don’t intimidate me, Pauley,” I grinned. I took a calculated risk that calling her Pauley wouldn’t land me in the hospital. I gambled and won.
“Only Tora can call me that, Sam.”
“And why’s that?”
“Because unlike you, I’m cool. So he can call me whatever the flying fluff-ball he wants.”
“I will give you this,” I said, “Your hair looks a lot nicer. It’s too bad you are still the same punk kid that tried to embarrass Clair.”
Suddenly, Paola’s anger evaporated, “Clair is awesome. Why would I try to embarrass her?”
“You asked her if she’d stop sucking.”
“Of course I did. I was just joking. I love Clair. She’s my idol.”
“No, really.” Daubee looked down, then suddenly embraced me. She started crying.
“Paola, what’s wrong?”
She sniffled, “Tora and I have something in common. I was a scrawny little nothing kid once, too. My parents beat me. I was abused every night I came home. I was worthless. I’d never amount to anything. At school all I had was my attitude. It was all that kept me from being picked on myself.”
“It doesn’t make you being a bully right.”
“Yeah, but Amani knows me. I owe her a lot. Henli took me under her wing and helped my dream come true. I want Tora to have the same chance.”
“You mean,” I was stunned.
“Yeah, I’m actually just trying to give back. Like Clair has. I thought you believed in me.”
I hugged her back. “I guess I was right to, then.”
I then heard her chuckle and she ripped herself away from me. The tears were gone. “You better watch yourself, Sam Spence.”
As Paola walked away chuckled, I realized to myself that while she may have been toying with me, there was goodness in her heart.
It’s just too bad she never figured that out.