#WorkshopWeekend – the non Google+ version

It’s the first Google+ #WorkshopWeekend where we post pieces (<1,000 words) on Saturday for people to critique. Bruce had asked if there was a way people not yet on G+ could join in, so I’m also posting mine here for people to comment. If you’d like me to return the favor, just leave a link to your #WorkshopWeekend piece in comments. I have to work this afternoon and evening, so depending on volume, I might not get to commenting on some until late tonight or tomorrow morning.

My #WW piece is the first 1,000 words of a longer short story in the Exeter series. It’s set about 10 years before Fate’s Arrow.

Thrown Out

The day’s heat lay thick over the field, even as orange dust responded to the slightest movement in the basepaths. The sun was low in the sky, but still cast plenty of light. Chris adjusted his sunglasses and stood outside the chain-link fence by the entrance. He could see Dan shagging ground balls at third base, his faded, battered Red Sox cap dark with sweat around the edges.

Chris took a deep breath and forced himself to step through the gate, walk across the patchy grass behind the dugout. They were on the first-base side, their backs to the elementary school. The small metal bleachers had a handful of people, mostly familiar faces. He scanned again, hoping to see Colleen or another one of the Reillys, but no luck. Chris hesitated before making his way over. The back row was most crowded, if you could call three people a crowd. It wasn’t exactly safe anyway — no place to run. Instead, he sat on the corner of the bleachers closest to right field, where he could see everybody else and still watch the game. He stretched out his long legs, heels of his battered leather sandals scuffing up dust between the patches of grass. The field itself wasn’t bad, but the town had skimped on watering everywhere else.

He settled in, watching the team finish up batting practice and move to the sidelines to toss the ball around. Dan glugged down half a bottle of water, then tossed it to Evan, who polished it off and dropped it in the trash. Chris was beginning to understand why Dan had filled the cooler with a dozen bottles before heading out. The August day wasn’t unusually hot, but steamy enough to discourage movement, much less a game. He watched Dan and Evan tossing the ball around, the left fielder bouncing ground balls to Dan, which he returned as pop-ups.

Something broke Dan’s concentration, and he looked back toward the diamond, Chris tracking the movement with his eyes. He couldn’t hear what the first baseman on the other team had said to Dan, but even under the sunglasses and hat, he could see Dan was ticked off.

“Ignore him.”

Chris looked over to see a blonde woman, her curls springing loose under her ball cap, making a face as she set a baby carrier down on the seat between them. He recognized the face, but couldn’t place it, which meant she was a townie, probably somebody who had gone to school with Dan and Evan.

“Liz Czarnecki, Evan’s wife.” She didn’t offer a hand, didn’t have one free as she juggled a bag of baby supplies and a purse while trying to keep the little girl from spitting out a pacifier.

“Chris Kimmet. But you knew that.” He was never sure how, but after a year, he’d come to expect it.

“I’ve been bugging Dan about bringing you along sometime.” She spread a blanket on the warm metal and sat down, lifting the baby to her lap. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

“Don’t blame Dan.” Chris hesitated. Without thinking, his thumb traced the long scar on his forearm. But he couldn’t explain, not when Dan didn’t even know. “He’s been asking. I just…” Chris looked away, wondering if this had been a good idea. He nodded in the direction of the field. “What’s the story there?”

“Joe O’Leary. He’s a few years older than us, was a senior our freshman year.” Liz kept her voice low. “He and Dan… This isn’t the first time they’ve tangled. Won’t be the last either.”

Before she could explain, the teams came in from the field, filling the dugouts. Their team took the field as Joe’s team came up to bat. Chris scanned the field. “So, this is basically the same rules as baseball, right? I mean, if I can follow a Sox game, I can follow this.”

Liz laughed, bouncing the little girl. “Pretty much.” She looked at him. “Not a big sports guy?”

“I was a band geek, not a jock.” Chris grinned. “Four years of high school football games and I still don’t understand the darn game. I just cheer when Dan cheers.”

“You don’t understand football and you watch with him anyway?” Liz lifted an eyebrow. “Good. Dan’s needed somebody serious.”

Chris felt the tips of his ears burn. “He comes out to jazz clubs with me, even when he’d rather be home watching the Sox. Least I can do is watch football with him, even if I don’t get the point of pre-season games.” He stopped as the batter lined a ball between short and third, Dan reaching out to snag it. Their side erupted into cheers as the batter headed back to the dugout.

But Joe was up next, and he placed a ball in the gap between Evan and the center fielder, easily making it to first.

Chris settled back to watch the game and talk with Liz, who seemed to know everybody there. Two little kids came running over, crossing behind the backstop.

“Mrs. C!” The red-headed boy was covered in freckles. “The school says you’re going to be my teacher this year!” The smaller girl, her head framed in brown curls, hid behind her brother. “Kara, you know Mrs. C.”

She peeked out, but clung to the boy’s T-shirt.

“Hi, Kara.” Liz smiled, but the baby spit out the pacifier into the dirt and started to cry.

“Ew.” The boy made a face. “It’s all dirty.”

Liz tried to hold the baby while fumbling in the bag for a clean pacifier, and Chris held his arms out. “Here, let me take her. Colleen’s always passing one of the twins over to me.”

Liz just handed him the baby, and Chris let her gnaw on his knuckle. A commotion on the field had him look up, and he saw Joe was standing on third, and Dan looked like his rare temper was about to erupt.

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