It could not be worse for ninth grader Becky Michigan on her first day at a new school, sitting in beet juice and staining her white jeans in a classroom about to fill up with students. In the nick of time, a gorgeous blonde boy named Danny comes in and offers his oversized baseball jersey so she can cover up, get to the office, and change. By the time she pulls the shirt over her head however, he has mysteriously disappeared.
Becky scours the school in search of her dream-athlete and wonders why after contact with him she has magically gained the ability to throw a fastball ninety miles per hour! Instead of finding the answer, however, Becky’s new skill pits her against the school bully and the entire varsity baseball team. That night, after her exciting showdown in front of the entire school, Danny shows up at her bedroom window. If she will agree to meet him behind the school at midnight on the ball field at the edge of the woods, he promises to reveal a secret meant to alter the past and change her life forever.
Something was wrong. Something was wet.
She’d sat in something.
“No,” she moaned, standing, arching back, straining her glance, rubbing with both hands and bringing them up before her all greasy and red.
It was beet juice, she could smell it…those awful disgusting beets she had seen at lunch in the steamtable pan second to the end, floating in a greasy puddle of scarlet broth. Clearly, someone had snuck some out in an eyedropper or a monkey dish and doused the chair, ha ha, and to make matters worse she wearing white pants!
What was she going to do? The clock on the wall read 1:15 p.m., and in less than a minute the halls would be packed with students, jostling, joking, pushing, and laughing. Could she make it to the office before the bell? Doubtful. And she wasn’t sure of the way. She didn’t even know if the trailers were connected to the second or third floor, and she couldn’t remember whether it was the auditorium or the shop that you had to detour around and on which side either one sat. Oh, this was a mess!
Becky looked for something to wipe her hands on, and of course, there was nothing. She was holding her hands away from her body now, looking all around, seeing everything all at once and registering little, trying not to scream.
There was a clicking noise. Shoes. Out in the hall and closing.
Becky froze. She would move the chair to the back corner and sit! Yes! She would park herself right back in that puddle of beet juice all through health class. She wouldn’t budge until everyone had gone to their busses. If the teacher told her to get up she’d refuse, stay ‘til midnight if she had to, outlast everyone.
She didn’t sit back down, however. Somehow, she just couldn’t move.
The clicking had made its way right up to the doorway now, and in a scattered kind of a way, Becky tried to determine what type of person walked that way. Someone in heels, someone haughty. One of the popular girls. One of the older popular girls. Or maybe an administrator. She hoped it was the third choice, but didn’t look forward to any of the encounters.
He came around the corner, a kid wearing a back-turned cap, gray baseball pants, and a long, untucked yellow t-shirt, green lettering going across in a cursive slant spelling out ‘Newtown Edgemont’ then fading off after the letters ‘Bic..’ Whatever that meant. The sound had been his cleats, and he had probably gotten out of his last class to help set up for the first fall ball practices or something.
Becky stood there stunned, for he was the most beautiful boy she had ever seen in her life. Dirty-blonde hair, drawn cheeks, and eyebrows that arched in a way most girls would kill for. And his crystal blue, almond-shaped eyes had a softness to them, a kindness, a familiarity like the tree in your back yard and the tire swing hanging from it.
“Are you all right?” he said. He was looking at her hands. She shook her head slightly. No, you’re warm, keep guessing. He put his knuckles up, pointed down a finger, and twirled it slowly, like ‘turn around.’ She did it and then turned back. If he was laughing, she would simply shrivel up and curl like a cinder.
“Gosh,” he said evenly. “They got you with a diaper rash something good.” He took the towel that had been slung around his neck and tossed it to her. “Go ahead. Pat it and blot it out best you can.” He looked at the clock. “And I think you’d better hurry.”
Becky widened her eyes and tilted her head expectantly. Now her hand was up, knuckles high and index finger twirling so he’d turn and give her a second. She couldn’t believe that she’d suddenly gained the confidence to be cutsie, especially with the hour glass nearly depleted so to speak, but she had and he politely looked off behind him.
She blotted. Wiped her hands off. Threw the towel in the trash.
“What now?” she said. He looked back, and if there was even the hint of a smile in his eyes, Becky knew that this weird, delicate moment would shatter.
He certainly didn’t smile.
He took off his shirt and gave it to her.
“I get them extra big and long whenever we win a tournament,” he said. “Go ahead, put it on. It’ll get you to the nurse at least, and if you soaked up the extra back there real good it shouldn’t cauliflower through.”
Becky Michigan didn’t waste any more time wondering if this boy was going to smirk at her. She slipped her head through the collar, thinking about the way the inside of his shirt smelled faintly of Old Spice, same as her Dad used, and she was thinking about the way the fragrance brought up images of porch swings and prayers and sunsets and goodness, all of it welling up inside her like some sweet longing that made worries like pants-stains drift to the edges like corner shadows. She pushed through her elbows and pulled through her chin, eyes closed, daring herself to next let her gaze drift down from his glance a bit so she could really take a look at that muscular little ‘V’ he had going on.
“Well, how do I…?”
Her voice died on the air, and her mouth closed. Slowly, she straightened and smoothed down her new tournament shirt, then gathered her hair, pulled it through, and let it fall down across her shoulders.
Her problems were solved. Now she could go to the nurse without anyone bothering to glance at her.
Her real issues had only just begun. Gone were the images of sunsets and porches. And the boy of her dreams had vanished.