1

             After she left, I felt Heidi’s presence in every classroom, on the streetcar, and in the library. Throughout High School, I dated deadbeats, girls that clung, and girls that didn’t know a book from a brick. Heidi’s ghost shadowed me like a remnant of her soul.

            After high school, and then college, several years of independent league baseball followed. Heidi’s ghost diminished, her features eroded, and the echo of her voice faded to silence. She was old news, or so I thought.

            On a Thursday, after my third day of practice with the Class A, Graytown Tigers in Graytown, Virginia, I sat at the bar with Jackson, the only player I had befriended since I arrived. This was my first, and most likely last, chance within a major league organization. The familiar drag down feeling of a transient life weighed on me. I accepted Jackson’s invitation to eat at the Tiger Café only to please him; I expected little pleasure from the experience.

            We sat at the bar, and before long, Jackson took to the dance floor while I nursed my third beer. I noticed myself thinking of Heidi. Out of boredom, I traced the thought back in my mind, wondering what brought it on. There had been a rush of movement across the bar, a waitress who caught my attention. She had brushed her hair back from her face with an unusual wrist flick, the same way Heidi did it.

            As if she sensed my interest, she looked across the room at me—stared at me, to be exact. I looked away. Large, brown eyes—another similarity.

 

2

            At practice, onlookers splattered about the stands: old-timers, small town onlookers, and girlfriends or young wives of my teammates. I buried my self-consciousness in the reaction to the batted ball, the smoothness of running down a sure hit, and in the coordination engaged in making a catch, until suddenly I tensed. I dropped an easy fly and threw the ball to the wrong base. After practice, I sat in the dugout, removing my spikes.

            Coach Russell approached from the third base line. “You looked confused out there today, Tyler. Something botherin you?” He spoke down to me, perched above the dugout, his hands gripping the railing.

            My cheeks flushed and my nose ran. I wiped it with the back of my sleeve. “No sir. Sorry, I’ll do better tomorrow.”

            He bit at his cuticles. “I hope we didn’t make a mistake, bringing you in from Florida. The scouts said you were ready.”

            His voice hit me like a punch in the stomach. “No mistake, sir. Give me a chance to prove it.”

            His face was a stone. Turning away, he said, “Quit callin me sir. Coach is fine. Just do better tomorrow.”

            All my teammates had gone but I knew I’d find them at the Tiger Café, if I wanted to. I wasn’t in the mood. Besides, I hadn’t gotten to know anyone except Jackson. This team seemed different from any other I had played on. Camaraderie mixed with the taste of distrustfulness, like a sour paste stuck on the roof of my mouth. Players worried that the new guy coming up would ruin their chances.

            I threw my spikes into my bag, flipped it over my shoulder and headed for home, an old house converted for ballplayers, where the newbies stayed.

 

3

            A spunky-looking, gum-chewing girl sat alone in the stands. “Hey,” she called. I recognized her as the waitress from the café.

            I nodded, but kept walking.

            She jumped up, and jogged towards me, her dark hair, flapping about her shoulders. “You looked pretty good out there, she said.” Her brown-sparkle eyes gleamed.

            “You might be the only one who thinks so.” I kept moving. It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about.

            She cut me off, forcing me to stop, sticking her hands into the back pockets of her denim bell bottoms, stretching the fabric of her shirt tightly across her ample chest.          

            “Oh. Coach Russell. Don’t worry about him. He tries to scare all the new boys. He’ll stop barking at you. And he doesn’t bite.” She blew a bubble that broke. She casually scrapped it off her face, and then plunked it back into her mouth.

            Slowly licking her lips, she trifled with me, measuring my reaction. It had been a long time since I’d been with a girl. I tugged at my collar, dropped my gaze and gawked at her breasts.

            “What do you know about it?”

            She took my chin in both hands and lifted my face back to her wide eyes. “I know all about this team. My old boyfriend played here for three years, but he moved on to AA, so I’m checking out the new players. You’re first on my list.”

            Apparently, she thought I should be flattered.

            “You’re rather bold, aren’t you?” I thought she was putting me on, that there would be a punch line, or some friends of hers would come out from behind the fence and start laughing. She was too old for that kind of nonsense, but her manner reminded me of a high school cheerleader. I felt old in her presence, although we had to be close to the same age.

            “No use beating around the bush. You could take me…if you want.” She bobbed up and down on her toes as if she were wearing coils in her shoes, “take me to the café for something to eat.”

            After the mugging I got from Coach Russell, I felt open to any brand of kindness. I reached out to touch her face, but stopped.

            “You’re on,” I said.

            “Great. My name’s Nashla Lamont,” she said, extending her hand.

            She gripped firmly, caressing my knuckles.

            “I’m Vance.”

            “I know,” she said. “Vance Tyler, I looked it up.” She laughed at my surprise and blew another bubble.

            “Nashla, that’s different.”

            “I hate my real name. I call myself Nashla, after my grandmother. Nash is her maiden name.”

            “It’ unique, like you.”

            She smiled and tilted her gaze downward, but I could see I’d touched her.

 

4

            Loud music blasted through the open door.

            “Oh! I like this song,” Nashla said. She started dancing at the doorway, mouthing the words…”we were gettin our share.”

            Everybody knew her—a couple of young woman in a booth, a guy with a reddish beard sitting at the bar, and Hernandez, one of the ballplayers, who had been with the team since last year. Nashla beamed, clearly in her glory.

            I should have gone home, to nurse my anxiety over Coach Russell’s criticism. Instead, I said, “You know a lot of people.”

            “It’s a small town. Everybody knows everybody. Isn’t it great?”

            “Sure,” I said, but my voice fell flat.    

            “I saw you last night. You seem different and you’re cute. That’s why I scouted you out.”

            Different from whom, I wondered. “Scout me out? It sounds like you work for the team.”

            “That’s a joke, silly. I’ve lived too long in a baseball town. There’s a table, back there,” Nashla indicated with a tip of her head.

            She led me to a small table set for two, tucked in a niche, away from the hub drub. “This is nice,” I said.

            “Nashla, who’s your friend?” The voice sailed over my shoulder from behind. A waitress came into view, wearing a Tiger team shirt, faded bells, and a Tiger cap.

            “Hey Marsha, this is Vance.”

            She was taller than Nashla, blonde, with blue eyes.

            The girls chatted while I eyed the menu, getting hungrier by the minute. I didn’t catch the drift of conversation, except the last of it, “The divorce should go through in a couple of weeks,” Nashla was saying, with a scowl.

            At the risk of sounding rude, I butted in, “How many wings do you get in an order?”

            Nashla looked at me in surprise, as if she had forgotten me.

            “Oh, sorry,” Marsha said. “Hungry boy you got here, Nashla.”

            The beer and wings came out. Nashla took out her gum and saved it on her plate, laughing. “I might want that later, she said.

            I shrugged and took a sip of beer.

            Licking sauce off her fingers, she ignored my silence and asked, “So, Vance, where are you from?”

            My shoulders loosened. “I grew up in Pittsburgh, went to college in Florida.”

            Nashla’s face lit up. “I went to Daytona on spring break my senior year in High School. It was wild. Connie’s family had a Condo there. Her parents were cool. They let four of us girls stay there alone. We met up with some guys and partied the whole week.” She covered her mouth with her hand. “Uh, do you have a girlfriend back in Pittsburgh, or somewhere?”

            “No. What about you. You said your boyfriend moved up to AA?”

            “Oh, you mean Derrick. Did I tell you about him? He thinks he’s going to be a big star, but it took him three years to get to AA. He wanted me to go with him, but all my friends are here.”

            “How’d he take it?”

            Her face grayed over. “Hey, what’s your favorite song?”

            Guess she didn’t want to talk about past history. I took the last bite of my burger and poured half a glass, emptying the pitcher. Nashla had drunk most of the beer.

            I stared at my plate, preparing an excuse to go. But just then, she looked at me with her baby-face eyes that reminded me of Heidi. Just like that, I changed my mind. It didn’t matter that she was like a child at play. Marsha came by and cleared the plates. A fresh pitcher of beer and the opportunity to have Nashla lay on the table. She eyed me, as if expecting something, but I just sat there.

 

5

            She asked me to dance. The air reeked of perspiration and the floor was sticky with beer. We danced to near exhaustion. Her bangs stuck to her forehead and sweat marks swelled under her arms.

             I got us a couple more beers. She came back from the ladies room looking more put together. She swapped a knowing look with Marsha.

            A slow song came on and I held Nashla close. We were wet with sweat, but I welcomed the heat of her body, and she pressed herself tightly to me. She whispered something in my ear but I couldn’t hear what she said, so she took my hand and led me outside. “Walk me home? She asked.

            She lived three blocks from the café in the upstairs of a two bedroom duplex. The walk was a tango of anticipative foreplay. She wrapped her arm around my waist and I hugged her shoulder. Like love-tied teens, we made awkward progress, more concerned with our touching than our mobility. I rubbed her head, messing her hair, and reached around to her face, pulling the hair away from her cheek, and touching her lips with the tip of my finger. She bit me, lightly, and licked my fingertip.

            When we reached her door, she kissed me. Soft lips overlaid mine, her tongue on a quest. I grabbed her hair, pulling her away to kiss her neck. She moaned and then pushed me back and smiled.

            She flicked her hair. “Come on in.”

            But then Heidi came to mind. “No. I don’t think so.”

            Nashla’s eyebrows squished together. “You don’t want to?”

            I shifted my feet. “I’ve got practice tomorrow.”

            Her face turned red. “I see.” She slipped inside and closed the door with exacting gentleness.

            “No, I didn’t mean…”      

            The lock clicked.

            It was a long five blocks back to my house. I realized that I actually liked her. It wasn’t her fault that a few of her incidental qualities brought back memories. Heidi heartache, after all these years—I was a basket case.

Instructor Response

1

             After she left, I felt Heidi’s presence in every classroom, on the streetcar, and in the library. Throughout High School, I dated deadbeats, girls that clung, and girls that didn’t know a book from a brick. Heidi’s ghost shadowed me like a remnant of her soul.

            After high school, and then college, several years of independent league baseball followed. Heidi’s ghost diminished, her features eroded, and the echo of her voice faded to silence. She was old news, or so I thought.

            On a Thursday, after my third day of practice with the Class A, Graytown Tigers in Graytown, Virginia, I sat at the bar with Jackson, the only player I had befriended since I arrived. This was my first, and most likely last, chance within a major league organization. The familiar drag down feeling of a transient life weighed on me. I accepted Jackson’s invitation to eat at the Tiger Café only to please him; I expected little pleasure from the experience.

            We sat at the bar, and before long, Jackson took to the dance floor while I nursed my third beer. I noticed myself thinking of Heidi. Out of boredom, I traced the thought back in my mind, wondering what brought it on. There had been a rush of movement across the bar, a waitress who caught my attention. She had brushed her hair back from her face with an unusual wrist flick, the same way Heidi did it.

            As if she sensed my interest, she looked across the room at me—stared at me, to be exact. I looked away. Large, brown eyes—another similarity.

 

2

            At practice, onlookers splattered about the stands: old-timers, small town onlookers, and girlfriends or young wives of my teammates. I buried my self-consciousness in the reaction to the batted ball, the smoothness of running down a sure hit, and in the coordination engaged in making a catch, until suddenly I tensed. I dropped an easy fly and threw the ball to the wrong base. After practice, I sat in the dugout, removing my spikes.

            Coach Russell approached from the third base line. “You looked confused out there today, Tyler. Something botherin you?” He spoke down to me, perched above the dugout, his hands gripping the railing.  Nice image.

            My cheeks flushed and my nose ran. I wiped it with the back of my sleeve. “No sir. Sorry, I’ll do better tomorrow.”

            He bit at his cuticles. “I hope we didn’t make a mistake, bringing you in from Florida. The scouts said you were ready.”

            His voice hit me like a punch in the stomach. “No mistake, sir. Give me a chance to prove it.”

            His face was a stone. Turning away, he said, “Quit callin me sir. Coach is fine. Just do better tomorrow.”  Yes.  Nice conflict producing lots of characterization well seeded in dialogue response.

            All my teammates had gone but I knew I’d find them at the Tiger Café, if I wanted to. I wasn’t in the mood. Besides, I hadn’t gotten to know anyone except Jackson. This team seemed different from any other I had played on. Camaraderie mixed with the taste of distrustfulness, like a sour paste stuck on the roof of my mouth. Players worried that the new guy coming up would ruin their chances.

            I threw my spikes into my bag, flipped it over my shoulder and headed for home, an old house converted for ballplayers, where the newbies stayed.

 

3

            A spunky-looking, gum-chewing girl sat alone in the stands. “Hey,” she called. I recognized her as the waitress from the café.

            I nodded, but kept walking.

            She jumped up, and jogged towards me, her dark hair, flapping about her shoulders. “You looked pretty good out there, she said.” Her brown-sparkle eyes gleamed.

            “You might be the only one who thinks so.” I kept moving. It wasn’t something I wanted to talk about.

            She cut me off, forcing me to stop, sticking her hands into the back pockets of her denim bell bottoms, stretching the fabric of her shirt tightly across her ample chest.    Good.      

            “Oh. Coach Russell. Don’t worry about him. He tries to scare all the new boys. He’ll stop barking at you. And he doesn’t bite.” She blew a bubble that broke. She casually scrapped it off her face, and then plunked it back into her mouth.

            Slowly licking her lips, she trifled with me, measuring my reaction. It had been a long time since I’d been with a girl. I tugged at my collar, dropped my gaze and gawked at her breasts.

            “What do you know about it?” I asked.  [Needs attribution for clarity about who’s taling.]

            She took my chin in both hands and lifted my face back to her wide eyes. “I know all about this team. My old boyfriend played here for three years, but he moved on to AA, so I’m checking out the new players. You’re first on my list.”

            Apparently, she thought I should be flattered.

            “You’re rather bold, aren’t you?” I thought she was putting me on, that there would be a punch line, or some friends of hers would come out from behind the fence and start laughing. She was too old for that kind of nonsense, but her manner reminded me of a high school cheerleader. I felt old in her presence, although we had to be close to the same age.

            “No use beating around the bush. You could take me…if you want.” She bobbed up and down on her toes as if she were wearing coils in her shoes, “take me to the café for something to eat.”

            After the mugging I got from Coach Russell, I felt open to any brand of kindness. I reached out to touch her face, but stopped.

            “You’re on,” I said.

            “Great. My name’s Nashla Lamont,” she said, extending her hand.

            She gripped firmly, caressing my knuckles.

            “I’m Vance.”

            “I know,” she said. “Vance Tyler, I looked it up.” She laughed at my surprise and blew another bubble.  Nicely done exposition (in 1st person too).

            “Nashla, that’s different.”

            “I hate my real name. I call myself Nashla, after my grandmother. Nash is her maiden name.”

            “It’ unique, like you.”

            She smiled and tilted her gaze downward, but I could see I’d touched her.

 

4

            Loud music blasted through the open door.

            “Oh! I like this song,” Nashla said. She started dancing at the doorway, mouthing the words…”we were gettin our share.”

            Everybody knew her—a couple of young woman in a booth, a guy with a reddish beard sitting at the bar, and Hernandez, one of the ballplayers, who had been with the team since last year. Nashla beamed, clearly in her glory.

            I should have gone home, to nurse my anxiety over Coach Russell’s criticism. Instead, I said, “You know a lot of people.”

            “It’s a small town. Everybody knows everybody. Isn’t it great?”

            “Sure,” I said, but my voice fell flat.    

            “I saw you last night. You seem different and you’re cute. That’s why I scouted you out.”

            Different from whom, I wondered. “Scout me out? It sounds like you work for the team.”

            “That’s a joke, silly. I’ve lived too long in a baseball town. There’s a table, back there,” Nashla indicated with a tip of her head.

            She led me to a small table set for two, tucked in a niche, away from the hub drub. “This is nice,” I said.  This is very well paced.

            “Nashla, who’s your friend?” The voice sailed over my shoulder from behind. A waitress came into view, wearing a Tiger team shirt, faded bells, and a Tiger cap.

            “Hey Marsha, this is Vance.”

            She was taller than Nashla, blonde, with blue eyes.

            The girls chatted while I eyed the menu, getting hungrier by the minute. I didn’t catch the drift of conversation, except the last of it, “The divorce should go through in a couple of weeks,” Nashla was saying, with a scowl.

            At the risk of sounding rude, I butted in, “How many wings do you get in an order?”

            Nashla looked at me in surprise, as if she had forgotten me.

            “Oh, sorry,” Marsha said. “Hungry boy you got here, Nashla.”

            The beer and wings came out. Nashla took out her gum and saved it on her plate, laughing. “I might want that later, she said.  Nice.

            I shrugged and took a sip of beer.

            Licking sauce off her fingers, she ignored my silence and asked, “So, Vance, where are you from?”

            My shoulders loosened. “I grew up in Pittsburgh, went to college in Florida.”  Good.  Exposition embedded in story in dialogue that calls no attention to itself.  This skill helps make this as good as it is.

            Nashla’s face lit up. “I went to Daytona on spring break my senior year in High School. It was wild. Connie’s This is, I think, a new character which raises expectations of more to come or some purpose.  Maybe “I had this friend whose” family had a Condo there. Her parents were cool. They let four of us girls stay there alone. We met up with some guys and partied the whole week.” She covered her mouth with her hand. “Uh, do you have a girlfriend back in Pittsburgh, or somewhere?”

            “No. What about you. You said your boyfriend moved up to AA?”

            “Oh, you mean Derrick. Did I tell you about him? He thinks he’s going to be a big star, but it took him three years to get to AA. He wanted me to go with him, but all my friends are here.”  Great.

            “How’d he take it?”

            Her face grayed over. “Hey, what’s your favorite song?”

            Guess she didn’t want to talk about past history. I took the last bite of my burger and poured half a glass, emptying the pitcher. Nashla had drunk most of the beer.

            I stared at my plate, preparing an excuse to go. But just then, she looked at me with her baby-face eyes that reminded me of Heidi. Just like that, I changed my mind. It didn’t matter that she was like a child at play. Marsha came by and cleared the plates. A fresh pitcher of beer and the opportunity to have Nashla lay on the table????. She eyed me, as if expecting something, but I just sat there.

 

5

            She asked me to dance. The air reeked of perspiration and the floor was sticky with beer. We danced to near exhaustion. Her bangs stuck to her forehead and sweat marks swelled under her arms.

             I got us a couple more beers. She came back from the ladies room looking more put together. She swapped a knowing look with Marsha.

            A slow song came on and I held Nashla close. We were wet with sweat, but I welcomed the heat of her body, and she pressed herself tightly to me. She whispered something in my ear but I couldn’t hear what she said, so she took my hand and led me outside. “Walk me home? She asked.

            She lived three blocks from the café in the upstairs of a two bedroom duplex. The walk was a tango of anticipative foreplay. She wrapped her arm around my waist and I hugged her shoulder. Like love-tied teens, we made awkward progress, more concerned with our touching than our mobility. I rubbed her head, messing her hair, and reached around to her face, pulling the hair away from her cheek, and touching her lips with the tip of my finger. She bit me, lightly, and licked my fingertip.

            When we reached her door, she kissed me. Soft lips overlaid mine, her tongue on a quest. I grabbed her hair, pulling her away to kiss her neck. She moaned and then pushed me back and smiled.

            She flicked her hair. “Come on in.”

            But then Heidi came to mind. “No. I don’t think so.”

            Nashla’s eyebrows squished together. “You don’t want to?”

            I shifted my feet. “I’ve got practice tomorrow.”

            Her face turned red. “I see.” She slipped inside and closed the door with exacting gentleness.

            “No, I didn’t mean…”      

            The lock clicked.

            It was a long five blocks back to my house. I realized that I actually liked her. It wasn’t her fault that a few of her incidental qualities brought back memories. Heidi heartache, after all these years—I was a basket case.

 

Very well done.  You’ve accomplished everything the assignment asked and then some.  Let me dwell on the story for a moment.  The time period is a couple of days with a couple of quick flashbacks, all well done with excellent pacing.  But the ending may not please most readers.  It’s a shock and it doesn’t seem logical that it happens so fast.  (I know you were limited on words, but the comment isn’t totally related to that restriction.)  Couple of thoughts.   Why doesn’t Nashla fight back a little?  Passive acceptance doesn’t fit the characterization that comes before.  She’s uniquely fiesty and determined.  And why does the protagonist reject her?  He hasn’t thought about Heidi for many paragraphs; in fact, he’s only been thinking about Nashla and his growing need for her to replace what he lost with Heidi’s loss.  If he’s going to reject Nashla, I would suggest he be in conflict the entire time Nashla is doing her seductive stuff.  Rather than just enjoying the seduction (and forgetting Heidi) could their be conflict in him?  Pleasure/guilt.  You could do it in dialogue or internalization effectively, I think.  So if you had Nashla fighting against his rejection of her, and him with this great, unsolved question of whether he is willing to cheat on his memory of Heidi, the rejection makes sense, reader feels sympathy for Nashla, and shares protagonist’s decision.  Having said that, I’d also consider a different ending–his going into the apartment with Nashla based on resolution of his conflict with the Heidi of the past and make it a resolution that is sort of an epiphany for him . . . he realizes life has to go on, and there’s this girl who’s offering him love, and he actually grows as a living human from his grief-oriented reclusive, unhappy existence to accept and return that love.  [Consider how this changes him rather than keeping his emotional and psychological state unchanged.]  Then, if he’s changed by Nashla to again be able to feel in a guiltless way, what if the ending included in the story his success in baseball, at least pleasing the coach a little.  A revelation to the reader that his holding onto the grief was the cause for his failure on the athletic field.  It could be a revelation that had some universality to it, something a reader could think about—emotions can restrict humans in negative ways and humans grow by making the right choices about how they handle their emotions.  Of course, this may not be what you’re about and ignore it for your story if that’s true.  But still, see the possible advantages of working through the characterization and emotional states you created so well and consider the movement of those emotions and the story-logical resolution of the conflicts the emotions represent.  Protagonist: grief and guilt–> to love and acceptance of criticism and doing something about it.  Nashla: loneliness, unfulfilled need, basic lack of self worth–>to self pride in attracting her man and catching him, advancement of self worth.

Great work.  Thanks for doing the assignment!

Bill Coles

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