OUT ON THE SOUNDBy R. E. Bradshaw
Copyright © 2009 by R. E. Bradshaw
All R.E. Bradshaw books available in the Kindle book store, @ Amazon.com
Love isn’t something you decide to do, …the heart wants what it wants.
First, there was the touch, not much of a touch, just a simple brush of skin on skin. Decky locked eyes with her, surely seeing the same surprise she felt from the jolt of the touch. She played the afternoon over and over in her mind, but it always came down to that one touch.
It began like all the other tournaments, when the Merle’s Furniture women’s softball team played in the Memorial Day Invitational. They pulled up and piled out of cars, trucks, SUVs and even a few minivans, one belonging to the oldest member of the team, complete with 3 little blondes dressed as bat-girls.
Mother Margie, as she was known, was supervising the girls unloading the van, when Decky walked up. “Don’t forget that new bat in the back girls. I think there’s a hit or two in that one.”
“Good morning, Mother,” Decky said, cracking a smile.
“Well, good mornin’ darlin’.” Margie stopped giving directions long enough to give Decky a quick hug and a peck on the cheek, before she was back on duty.
“And don’t forget my ukulele this time. Last time ya’ll had to run back and get it. I didn’t get it till the fourth inning.”
The girls looked at each other and then caught Decky looking at them. Decky mouthed the words, “Good Job,” to the girls. They giggled and went back to gathering the equipment. Mother Margie was old school. She still wore the same high top black leather cleats she had always worn. Of course, the steal cleats had been replaced with rubber, but still, she had them repaired every year. She also carried that old holey ukulele everywhere. No one had the heart to tell her how irritating the sound could be sometimes, but you had to admit it drove the other teams crazy.
Mother Margie was the heart of the team. She was on the very first roster and had been responsible for keeping a very competitive team together year after year. She raised her own kids and half the county’s young women on these fields. In fact, Mother brought a fourteen-year-old Decky into the competitive world of softball. That was twenty-three years ago.
Decky could still hold her own, although no longer the athlete of her younger days. It took a lot more training to stay in shape, but it was worth it. The thought of retiring from softball was way down the road, but changing to the old lady league crept into her mind on an occasional Sunday morning.
Today she felt young and alive. Who wouldn’t? The sun was coming up on a beautiful Carolina blue sky, which held only a few wispy clouds wafting in from the coast. Decky took in the combining aromas of freshly mown grass and leather. Cleats clicked on pavement all around as the girls of summer began to take the field. I love this, she thought to herself.
Finding a warm-up partner, Decky joined the dozens of women tossing balls back and forth. Decky could hear the snap of the glove as the player behind her caught the ball from her partner. That snap meant the partner was throwing pretty hard. Decky perked up. Having been hit before, she took a quick peek at the pair.
Closest to her was a short, blond, athletically built woman, who at the time was standing with her gloved hand on her hip, obviously about to make a point. The woman’s partner was a teenage girl, who looked like she had just left the farm, all arms, legs and freckles.
“Hey,” the woman called out. “The purpose of this activity is to warm up and stretch the muscles. It is not about showing everybody how hard you can throw.” She tossed the ball back to the teenager with a little zip on it. “Besides, you’ll thank me when you are my age.” She laughed at the girl, “Now go find someone else to pound on. I’m done.”
Decky laughed too, as she watched the woman walk over to a cooler and grab a bottle of water. She didn’t realize she was still watching the woman drink from the water bottle, until a ball came dangerously close to her head. Suddenly aware that she had been staring, she quickly threw the ball to her partner, who was now looking at Decky with that “What are you doing?” look on her face.
Because so many teams wear similar uniforms, it wasn’t until the bottom of the first inning that Decky noticed the blond woman playing centerfield for the other team. This time Decky could see her from the front. Although the distance made it hard to see her features, Decky could tell this was an athlete. From what she had said to the teenage farm girl earlier, she must be closer to my age, Decky thought. Decky had always admired the athletic body in all shapes, sizes, and colors, but she particularly liked to see woman her age with a toned body. Mainly, because she knew how hard it was to stay that way.
The other things she was feeling, that part of her that was attracted to women, she had never explored. She chalked it up to natural urges, but nothing more. She liked men, always had and always would as far as she knew. The two things she loved in life, other than family, were theatre and softball. How could she do either of those things and not be around gay people?
Decky remembered her mother freaking out when she was fourteen. “You lie down with dogs, you get fleas,” her mother had stated emphatically. “You keep playing ball with those dykes and you’ll end up like them.”
“Mom, I play with them because they are the best players, not because of who they choose to sleep with. Everybody that plays softball is not gay.”
“I hear things. I know what goes on, on those trips,” her mother quipped.
“You only know what other people make up.”
“I don’t want a gay daughter!”
“I don’t want to be your gay daughter!”
“Decky, quit day dreaming and grab a bat,” Margie’s voice broke the memory and just in time thought Decky, “You’re on deck.”
Where did that un-enjoyable memory come from? Fortunately, the batter before Decky lined out and the sides changed, so she didn’t have to bat while she felt so distracted. She tried to shake it off and succeeded until the third inning, when Decky let the blond centerfielder back into her mind. Actually she appeared, after turning a line drive to right field into a double, standing sixty feet away from where Decky waited at third base.
“All right Charlie, come see me down here,” the third base coach called out to the woman on second.
Decky could now see clearly that this was a very attractive woman around her own age. She was sneaking a look between each pitch, and when the woman caught her looking, Decky even managed to smile back at her.
Decky, who prided herself in being the most competitive person she knew, could not believe how this woman was invading her mind, but she was.
What in the hell is wrong with me? Concentrate, before you end up wearing a line drive.
The ball came off the bat with a crack. More from instinct than ability, Decky fell to her right and stopped a sure base hit. Hopping up, she looked back the woman on second and let the ball fly to first where the runner was called out. The look back had not worked well, in fact not at all. The blonde left second as soon as Decky let the ball go. The first baseman threw to the shortstop now covering third, but the little blonde was fast, very fast. She slid under the tag with ease.
Cute, athletic, my age, and fast. My kinda girl.
Decky couldn’t believe she had just thought that. Wait, did she say it out loud? The blonde, who was dusting herself off, smiled at Decky.
“Nice slide,” was all Decky could manage as she bent down to recover the woman’s hat.
“I think I have a half acre down my shirt,” the blonde said with a touch of country twang, brushing the front of her shirt off.
Decky handed her the hat and as she did, they brushed fingers ever so slightly. They locked eyes for a second.
“We’re gonna score now, Charlie. Let’s go,” the third base coach saved Decky from saying anything else.
Decky tried to act normal. The next batter grounded out to the pitcher, giving Decky time to recover her wits and somehow manage to make it through the rest of the game without losing her mind. Her team won by a run and proceeded through the winner’s bracket, making it to the Sunday games. Decky did not see the blonde again, Charlie, that was her name, but she thought of her often.
Mother Margie was holding court at the minivan. “We have to play that bunch from the first game at 10 a.m. tomorrow. Let’s get here by 8:30, okay. Darlene, you make sure Brandi gets here on time. I’m holding you responsible, ‘cause lord knows she ain’t.”
Decky was only half listening. As soon as Mother pointed out that they would be playing Charlie’s team again, her heart began to palpitate uncontrollably. She knew her name was Charlie and that was all. What was happening to her? Why was she so excited at the prospect of seeing Charlie and fearing it just the same?
“Hey Deck, you wanna grab a beer?” It was Brandi, a big ol’ gal with a good heart and not much brain, but God, could she hit a softball.
“No, thanks, I think I’ll head home and put this old body to bed.”
“God, I hope I never get old enough to turn down beer,” Decky heard Brandi say to Darlene as they walked away.
“I remember thinking like that too,” Decky said, as she hauled her tired body into the Expedition and turned the key. She caught herself in the rear view mirror and paused there, remembering that second when the electricity shot up her arm straight to her heart.
“What in the hell was that?” she sighed and put the car in gear.
There were good things and bad things about living around the people you grew up with. You could count on folks being there when you needed them and when you didn’t. This was one of those times.
As Decky rolled down the wooded driveway towards sanctuary, her home, she almost relaxed, but then she saw the glint of brake lights through the trees.
“Oh, God! Not tonight.”
The backup lights flashed on briefly, as the still moving car was slammed into park.
The sound left Decky’s mouth in a sigh. She slowly pulled into the garage, lowered the overhead door and stepped out the side entrance to see Elizabeth Anne Bradshaw, Miss Lizzie to county folk and Lizzie to a precious few, waiting impatiently by her front door.
Thank goodness, she had remembered to lock the door or she would have walked in on her mother cleaning her house, which was never, in her mother’s opinion, clean enough.
“Where have you been? Your daddy has tried to call you. I tried to call you. Your son called and did not even know where you were.”
“Is something wrong?” Decky asked only because that’s what she knew came next.
“Well, no, nothing’s wrong. It could have been and we wouldn’t have known how to get up with you. Where’s your cell phone? I haven’t heard from you in two days.”
“Momma, I called and talked to Daddy yesterday.” Decky stepped past her mother and opened the door. They went into the kitchen, where they were greeted with much ado by Decky’s golden retriever, Dixie.
“That dog ought not to be shut up in the house all day,” Lizzie said as she took off her jacket and plopped down on a stool at the kitchen island.
“She wasn’t shut up all day. The twins come over and let her out twice a day when I’m not here. I’ve told you that.” Decky opened the door to the deck, which Dixie took as her chance to escape. “Coward,” Decky said to the dog, who smiled back over her shoulder, then headed for the steps to the beach.
“I can’t believe you gave those little heathens a key to your house… Rebecca Elizabeth, do you still have on your cleats? Lord, you ruined my floors, now you’ll ruin yours.”
“It’s slate. That’s why I put in slate. Normally, I would have come in from downstairs and taken them off in the mud room, but since you were waiting at my front door, I thought it would be rude.”
Decky sat down opposite her mother with a thud. Deliberately placing her dirty shoe on the stool seat beside her mother, she started taking off her cleats.
“I tried to raise a dainty girl, but no, that wasn’t Decky Bradshaw. Look at you. You are 37 years old and you are still out playing softball.”
Decky dropped her cleat to the floor and said softly, “Your mother played until she was fifty two.”
“I do not want to argue about this again, Decky. Your son called and said if I saw you to tell you to call him. So I am delivering the message.”
Lizzie was in one of the down loops of her bi-polar disorder that she of course denied she had. Therefore, Decky chose not to start a fight, by reminding her mother of the invention of the voice message, and tried to smooth things over.
“I appreciate you going out of your way. Do you want a drink of water or a coke?” Decky moved toward the refrigerator, but Lizzie was already on the go.
“No, your daddy is waiting for me and I’ve been gone awhile. I stopped at Bobbie’s to talk about the Motel before I came over here. Call that sweet boy. I still can’t believe you let a seventeen year old go off to Alaska like that.”
Decky bristled, but did not take the bait. “He’ll be fine, Mom. He’s becoming a man now and he needs his space.”
Lizzie, had by now put her jacket back on and was almost out the door, but she had to say it, “If he would have had a daddy that was worth a damn, he wouldn’t need to go to Alaska to become a man.”
Dixie looked in through the deck curtains and saw the look on Decky’s face. She quickly stepped back into the shadows and tiptoed away.
Decky, contemplating what kind of response would be appropriate, reached up and pulled her ball cap off. Holding the hat in one hand and rubbing the back of her head with the other, she looked down, flashing for just the tiniest second on her moment with Charlie. Looking up at her mother, Decky forgot what Lizzie had said.
“Well, thanks for stopping by. I love you. Give dad a hug,” and with that Decky had skillfully maneuvered her mother out the door.
Lizzie looked back through the door at her daughter with a puzzled look. She waved and walked down the steps, shaking her head from side to side. Decky knew her mother was talking to herself as she watched her get in her car and leave. When she could no longer see the taillights, Decky placed her back against the door and slid to the floor. Dixie came padding over and licked Decky in the face.
“It’s okay, baby girl. The coast is clear.” Decky hugged the big dog to her and whispered in her ear, “Momma had the strangest thing happen today. Let’s start up the hot tub, grab some wine, call your brother and then we’ll talk about it.”
Decky left a message for Zack on his voice mail, then after soaking the soreness out in the hot tub and two glasses of wine, Decky set the alarm and crawled into bed. She had thought long and hard about the woman named Charlie and the effect she was having on her. It made no sense.
She had been around gay women all her life and never felt like this. Of course she had the occasional adolescent crush, but wasn’t that normal? Also, she was jumping to conclusions about Charlie, just like everyone had always jumped to conclusions about Decky herself.
Whatever it was would have to wait until morning. It was after midnight and she had to get up in time to do a good stretching warm up. Maybe she would hit the hot tub again in the morning, if she were still aching. Dixie climbed up on her side of the bed and put her head on the pillow opposite Decky.
“Good night sweet girl. Sweet dreams.”
Decky had just closed her eyes when she thought she heard the doorbell.
“Good Lord, who in the world is that,” Decky said to Dixie, who for some reason, and totally out of character, did not appear to care that someone was ringing the doorbell.
Decky stumbled down the spiral staircase to the foyer. Blinking her eyes several times adjusting to the lights she had sworn were turned off, Decky froze in her tracks. There on the other side of the door was Charlie.
Charlie smiled at Decky and then pantomimed unlocking the door. Decky, still frozen, realized she had been gaping at the woman on the other side of the door for some time, when she snapped out of it and opened the door.
“I’m sorry. Come in. It took me a minute to recognize you.” Decky stepped back allowing Charlie to pass.
“I know it’s late, but I wanted to know if you would be at the game tomorrow. Oh, I’m sorry. You must think I’m crazy. My name is …”
“Charlie. Your name is Charlie. I heard your coach call you that.” Decky was still in a state of shock, recognizing a familiar longing beginning to well up inside.
“Yes, well, I wanted to make sure you would be there, that’s all.” Charlie looked around, “You have a nice house. Can I see it?” She headed for the spiral staircase, “What’s up here?”
Decky thought to herself what an odd time to visit, but if Charlie wanted to see the house, she would show it to her. She wasn’t sure of much, but she knew she didn’t want Charlie to leave.
“It’s the master suite,” she heard herself say, but Charlie was already halfway up the stairs.
By the time Decky reached the top of the stairs, Charlie was already standing between the French doors that led out onto the balcony. She must have opened them Decky noted.
Charlie turned to Decky. She was framed in the moonlight with the white curtains blowing around her. Decky thought she looked like an angel.
“My God, Decky, this is beautiful,” Charlie turned again to look out at the water.
Without knowing, without caring, Decky stepped up behind Charlie and placed her arms around her waist.
“You are beautiful,” Decky whispered in Charlie’s ear.
Slowly, Charlie turned in Decky’s arms until their lips were so close, they could feel each other’s quickening breath.
Decky woke with a start. Dixie was inches from her, breathing right into her face, and the alarm was blaring. She pushed Dixie away, cut off the alarm and swung her legs out of the bed. Sitting on the side of the bed, she nuzzled Dixie.
“Girlfriend, I have never had a dream like that. I do believe I am going over to the dark side.” Laughing, she and Dixie headed down the stairs to start the day.