Carly, playing off second base.

Carly, playing off second base.

Jameson and Carly were in the den when I staggered out of bed, their usual habit. Last night we agreed that we would get breakfast and get over to the playground and ball field early. I told them we had to beat the heat, and that they were going home mid-day since I was going to my writing group’s weekly meeting.

“Y’all go get your clothes on and I’ll make breakfast. And pack your bags, too.”

I threw some bacon in a pan and pre-heated the oven. Jameson has become a connoiseur of gravy. His preference is bacon gravy, although I understand he also eats sausage gravy at  home. When I reached for the frozen biscuits, I realized I was a couple short. I knew where I could get some more.

Mom is never out of bed before 7:30. I hit the passageway between our house and their apartment and tiptoed through her bedroom to the kitchen. Her biscuit bag was almost full, so I took two out and snuck back home. She was still snoring.

Jameson wore long black shorts and a black shirt with no sleeves. He showed me his assortment of baseball socks and his new cleats. “And Carly is wearing my black baseball socks,” he said. Her black, purple, and green workout ensemble didn’t look bad with the black knee socks, even with the shiny hot pink shoes.

“I don’t want a biscuit,” she said. Now, Carly always wants a biscuit, and some bacon, and some of Grandmama’s blackberry jelly.

“You’re kidding, right?” I asked.

Jameson stepped in. “Grammy, she’s always grumpy just after she wakes up. She’ll be okay.”

“I am not!” she said.

“What do you want for breakfast?” I asked.

“What do you have? I don’t know what I want until I see what you have.”

I stirred the flour into the pan and added milk. “I have cereal, sandwich thins, English muffins….”

“What kind of English muffin?”

The gravy progressed nicely.

“Plain. They’re in the freezer downstairs.”

“Oh.”

“How about an apple with peanut butter?” I asked.

“No peanut butter, just an apple.”

I dug through a drawer for the apple slicer.

Carly announced last year that she only likes peanut butter on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I thought perhaps she had changed her mind. No.

“I have some boiled eggs,” I said, and she nodded her head.

She emptied out the round yoke and gobbled the white.

“So I suppose you don’t like the yellow part?” I asked.

“Right.” Then she whispered, “I don’t want to go the playground.”

“I suppose you could stay with Grandmama,” I said, “because we promised Jameson last night we’d go to the baseball field today. You agreed, remember?”

“I still don’t want to go.”

“She’s just grumpy,” Jameson said.

After a little PT session with Murphy and Carly’s change of heart, we packed our snack bag with chips, M&M’s, and drinks, then headed across the street and through a neighbor’s back yard to the elementary school grounds. Hard little oval balls caused me to stumble.

“Pears,” Jameson said.

“Are they? Where’s the tree?” I asked.

“Grammy, it’s right there.” He pointed just to the right and up. “Look, some are rotten.” He scuffed the grass with his cleats and then led the way to the dugout of the first baseball field. “I know, I know,” he said, “I’m watching out for their roses.” The neighbor’s boundary with the school property is lined with light pink floribundas.

He set his bag down, unzipped it, and started hauling out gloves and balls.

“I don’t want to play baseball. I want to go to the secret playground,” Carly said, referring to a fenced soft-track area tucked between kindergarten and first grade portables.

“How about if we play at the secret playground for a while, and then work out on the bases?” I offered.

“How long?” Jameson asked.

“Maybe fifteen minutes. You know, we have to budget our time. I told your mom I’d have you home right after lunch.”

“Where are we going to lunch?” Carly asked. “Can we go to Taco Bell?”

I waited for a competing suggestion from her brother. Nothing.

He shrugged and gave in–to all. “Okay, let’s go over to the secret playground. I guess we can call that our warm-up.” He gathered his equipment and zipped his bag.

Most of the portables had a car in front. The teachers were there, getting ready for the first day of school, Wednesday, August 6. A smiling young woman in a white sundress with a clipboard and a map emerged between buildings. She was the new principal, I could tell. She smiled.

“You’re getting ready, aren’t you?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said, “and I have to figure out who’s in which portable.” She scribbled on the map.

Carly is almost too big for the secret playground. She grabbed some twisting round bars and swung herself from one to the other until she reached the other side. The last time we were at the playground, she could not make it from one bar to the next and I had to hold her up. Jameson ran for a while on the rolling log, then went to his bag. He tossed a baseball in the air and caught it.

“You want me to throw with you?” I asked. I wore one of the three or four gloves he brought and we tossed the ball back and forth. I’m sure he was surprised at how good I am with a baseball glove–so much better than I am with a football.

When I announced that the warm-up period had ended, Carly begrudgingly left the slide and took my hand as we trekked to the baseball field. All three of us met in the dugout. Jameson handed Carly a glove. She’d already picked up the bat.

“Carly, take this glove and get on first base. We’ll work out on the bases.”

“No, I’m going to bat first.”

“We said you would go through all the bases. Don’t you want to practice?”

“Jameson, you cannot tell me what to do.”

“Don’t you think they’re going to tell you what to do when you play on the softball team?”

“I’m going to bat, I said.”

“You get that glove and get yourself to first base,” he told her, with great command.

She hit the ground with the bat. “No. You’re not going to tell me what to do. I’m going to bat.”

Carly went to the batter’s box and Jameson pitched. He cheered her on. “You almost hit that one!”

“I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” she announced. “Can’t help it. I’ve got to go.”

Jameson tried to convince her to hide herself in some bushes but it didn’t work. He finally walked her back across the field and across the street to the house and back while I stayed with the equipment. I called after them, “Be sure to watch for cars.” I stood and watched them all the way to the street and kept my eyes in their direction.”

I saw their two little heads as they’d just crossed the street on their return. In the yard with the pears, Jameson stomped the ground repeatedly while Carly watched. Then they eased past the roses and broke into a run on the school grounds.

“Why were you stomping out there?” I asked.

He looked puzzled.

“Stomping the ground,” I said. I showed him what I was talking about.

“Oh, I was stomping on rotten pears.”

“We saw Grandpapa,” Carly said. “He was in the garden.”

“And I got some Oreos,” Jameson said.

“I got some Sour Cream & Onion Ruffles,” Carly added.

“Okay, finish your snacks and let’s get with it.”

I set my water on Carly’s bag of chips to keep the breeze from blowing them in the dirt. I told her to watch them because she might lose them to the wind. The third time she lifted the bag, I forgot to anchor it and, poof, it was on the concrete floor.

“Carly, it finally happened.”

The Ruffles were under the bench, most of them on the ground–or floor–and she gave them a hard look. Jameson tipped his soft drink to finish.

“Grammy, could I just reach under there and get them? I don’t think they’re that dirty.”

I looked at the chips. I looked at her. “I don’t care.”

When she pinched the first one, I said, “Blow on it.”

Really, I don’t think they were that dirty.

Somehow the two managed to switch positions on the field, except that, instead of pitching, Carly manned the outfield. Jameson tossed the ball in the air and hit it straight down whatever base line Carly worked on. Somewhere around the shortstop area, the ball hit her ankle. For a brief moment, I thought she’d shake it off, but then drama took hold and she wailed. In the dugout, I pulled her sock down to get a view. The skin was slightly burned, and although I didn’t see a bruise, I thought one might develop. She had stopped crying for a long time but the wailing and catterwauling continued. Jameson ran to the dugout and tried to hug her. She flailed her arms and yelled some more. Pretty soon, she was alternating between fake crying and stifled laughter. Jameson mimicked her. She changed pitches and tones, volume and pattern. He couldn’t keep up. After all, Carly is an entertainer.

We made one more trip to the secret playground, Carly and I. Jameson said he might be there in a few, but just wanted to sit in the dugout for a while. I figured he would follow as soon as Carly and I started down the small hill past the portables.

“He’s not coming,” Carly said, looking over her shoulder.

“That’s okay. Let’s get to the playground. We only have a few minutes before we have to leave and get lunch.”

“But what if somebody steals him?”

“What?”

“What if somebody steals Jay-Jay?” she asked.

“Nobody’s going to steal him. I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“How?”

“How, what?”

“How are you going to keep an eye on him?”

“I’m going to run back and forth between right here,” I patted my foot, “and over there.” I pointed to the gate to the small play area.

On my second run from the playground to my baseball field watching position, the pretty lady in the white sundress stuck her head out from behind one of the portables. “He’ll be okay over there,” she said. “I’ll keep an eye out for him.”

I couldn’t help myself. It was the first time the two had been in separate places when they were in my care. I ran back and forth between the two spots. On my last trip back to the playground (six, I think), Carly ran through the gate.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” she said. “Can’t help it.”

“Carly, it hasn’t been that long….”

“No, this is the other kind.”

“Okay, well, let’s collect Jameson and get going.”

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“We’re going to Taco Bell, and then you’re going home,” I said. “I have to go to writing group.”

“Why? Are you writing another one?”

“Well….” I paused. “Yes, I’m writing another book.”

She gripped my hand. “He’s not there!”

“Oh, he’s there somewhere,” I said. A big knot developed somewhere in my midsection, not because I thought someone had stolen Jameson, but because my brain entertained a plot involving a boy missing from his grandmother’s care, a principal who had thought she was keeping her promise to watch him, and the grammy who was out of breath from running twenty yard sprints for almost fifteen minutes. Just the thought of putting that story on paper was enough to make me hyperventilate.

When we crested a little rise behind the first portable (or last, depending on which direction you might be walking), I saw a spot of black on the top of the fence on the far side of the fields. I waved. “See, there he is.”

“No, I don’t see him. Where is he?”

“He’s sitting on the fence way-y-y-y over there.” I pointed.

“What is he doing there?”

I stopped. “I don’t know,” I said. “Jam-e-son! Come on!” I waved again and the spot dropped to the ground and landed on its feet.

He got to the dugout at the same time that we did.

“Let’s get going,” I said.

“Grammy, it’s not time yet. Can we just work on another base?”

“Carly has to go to the bathroom.”

“Again?” He shook his head. “Where are we having lunch? Oh yeah, Taco Bell. Carly wants to go to Taco Bell. And you’re going to your writing group tonight.”

“Right.”

He finished loading the bag and picked it up. “Grammy, did your book ever get published yet?”

“No, Jameson, not yet. I’m hoping it will, though.”

“Me, too, Grammy. Me, too.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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