“ONEHUNDRED AND SEVENTYFIVE POUNDS.” The nurse added the information to a medical chart labeled Casey O’Neil.
Casey ignored her daughter and slid the ten pound weight backwards on the scale, hoping to shed a few pounds in the process. The balance beam swung up and hit the top bar. “This can’t be right, Dr. Hansen. I weighed myself at home yesterday. The number indicator on my scale read one hundred and sixty-eight.” She tapped the smaller one pound weight further to the right in an effort to even out the beam. It refused to budge. “Maybe it’s out of tune.”
“We’ve been over this before, Mrs. O’Neil. Scales bought from department stores can be off by as much as ten pounds if they’re not calibrated correctly.”
“I know, but I couldn’t have gained more weight. I still fit into my clothes. Except for my new jeans. I think I accidently shrank them in the dryer.”
“O-M-G.” Stephanie grabbed a cell phone out of her duffle bag. “Are you seriously going to make me sit through this embarrassing freak show?”
Casey lowered her voice, “You’re here because I don’t want you hanging out with boys.”
“Those boys were Tiffany’s brother Steve and his friend, and we were like… only going to the Plaza to buy a stupid jacket.”
“High school students have no business hanging out with middle school girls, Steph.”
“Really? In the middle of the day? In a crowded mall? Seriously, mom. I’m fourteen. I can take care of myself.”
Casey bit down on her lip while her daughter read an incoming text. She had felt the same when she was a pretty girl like her teenwith light green eyes and a scattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. “Beautiful girls need to be extra careful. They attract a lot of attention and some of it can lead to”
“Ewww. Gross. We were talking about shopping. Why do you always try to turn everything into a lecture?” Stephanie jumped off the plastic chair and tapped in a text while exiting the room.
The doctor cleared his throat. “Mrs. O’Neil?”
“Sorry.” Casey faced forward and moved the ten pound weight up a notch. The beam leveled out at 175. “When was the last time you had your scale checked?”
“An adjustment isn’t the issue here.” Dr. Hansen rubbed his forehead.
The nurse set the medical chart on the counter. “I weigh one hundred and twenty-eight. Why don’t I try it?”
Casey changed places with her.
The nurse tweaked the beam until the bar straightened out at 128.
The room fell silent.
The doctor picked up the chart. “Your blood work shows your LDL at three hundred and twenty. We need to bring that number down. Your HDL is forty two.”
Casey smiled. “Finally a low number.”
“Unfortunately, that’s not good either. We need to bring that up.” The doctor removed a pamphlet on cholesterol from his clipboard and held it out.
Casey stuffed it into her shoulder bag. “I’ll read it later. The main reason I came in today is because I always feel tired.”
“How many hours do you sleep at night?” Dr. Hansen raised his pen.
“Seven to eight.”
“Perfect. Do you exercise?”
“No. I’m too bummed out about my weight.”
The doctor lowered the pen and reached for another pamphlet. “Endorphins released through sustainable and rigorous physical activity enhance a sense of renewed energy and well-being.”
“Most of the moms in Malibu take anti-depressants to keep their spirits up. It must work because they’re jogging all over the place.”
The doctor frowned. “Mrs. O’Neil, we’re talking about serious medication for anxiety disorders.”
“You saw how crazy my daughter makes me,” she added in a hopeful tone.
“These pills come with a list of potential side effects.”
“Maybe I could try them for a month and see what happens.”
The doctor shook his head. “If I thought you needed them, I would fill out a prescription, but you don’t have a chemical imbalance.” He sighed and then continued in a gentle but firm tone, “What you need is a healthy diet and daily exercise plan. I want you to start by walking. My nurse will give you a chart to help you keep track of the days and time. I also want her to set up an appointment for you with our nutritionist.”
Casey’s stomach growled. She took the paperwork and backed out of the roomeager to grab a slice of pepperoni pizza before her son’s baseball game.
* * *
Casey pulled her Honda Civic into the Little League parking lot and drove past a row of Mercedes, BMWs and Land Rovers. She found an empty space next to a dumpster, switched off the ignition, and hauled herself out of the driver’s seat. She hurried across the asphalt, avoiding puddles left over from the rain, and waved to her eleven-year-old son as he tossed a baseball back and forth with another boy in the outfield.
The image of gooey cheese melted on top of crispy dough led Casey to the snack shack where two blonde women stood inside gossiping about someone named Lisa. She took in their slim figures decked out in colorful Juicy Couture sweat pants and snug cotton t-shirts and suppressed a sigh. She knew their names, but Malibu moms were clannish by nature and usually ignored anyone outside their neighborhood. “Can I get a slice of pepperoni pizza?”
The taller blonde grabbed a stack of paper plates off a utility shelf. “We ran out yesterday.”
Casey pointed to a spinning rack of hot dogs. “I’ll take a footlong and a soda.”
“The coaches don’t want the kids eating junk food before games.” The plates were set on the counter. “If your son is a Yankee, you’ve got Coach Scott which means only water or Gatorade.”
“Cody is a Diamondback.” Casey inhaled the buttery scent of chocolate chip cookies cooling in a display case. “Besides, the order’s for me. I haven’t eaten lunch yet and I’m starving.”
“We have Chinese chicken salad for the adults. It’s not on the menu since the type of salad changes every day.” The shorter blonde appraised her plump figure. “You look familiar. Does your son go to Grant elementary?”
“No,” Casey said. “He goes to Western.”
“We get a few of those kids every season,” the taller blonde explained to her friend. “They come from the outskirts of Malibu. The extended border allows those boys into our baseball district but not the school district.”
Casey’s cheeks burned. Even though there were pricey homes and several view units in the more luxurious condominiums in her neighborhood, the majority of properties would be considered average living accommodations to these women. Her condo in particular would seem like a closet compared to the mansions they lived in.
“Wasn’t your son on our White Socks team last year.” The tall blonde reached for a box of plastic cutlery. “Cathy, right?”
“It’s Casey. And yes, Cody was on the same team as Brandon.”
“I thought so. My name’s Jill and that’s Eileen.”
They stared at her as if she was a stalker. This time she let the sigh out. “I’ll take a scoop of the chicken salad.”
Jill packaged her request and set it on the counter. “Would you like a Gatorade for your son?”
“No, thanks. I brought him water from home.”
Both women’s expressions melted into pity.
Casey grabbed the plastic container and made a beeline for the bleachers.
Cody appeared on the other side of the chain link fence. “Hey, mom.”
“Are you excited about today?” She folded her sweatshirt into a square and used it as a cushion on the metal bench.
“Heck, yeah. It’s my first big game in Majors.”
Casey returned his smile. Cody lived for baseball. From the time her son was a toddler, he watched Dodger games on TV with his father and asked endless questions about batting averages and sacrifice plays. Instead of using his allotted time on the family computer playing video games like his friends, he researched the best way to steal bases and throw curve balls. His room was decorated with posters of Sandy Koufax and Cy Young. And yet, he had spent the last fours years in Little League trying out and being denied the one position he desperately wanted to play. “Am I going to see you pitch today?”
“No. Coach Garret said he’d let me pitch at the next practice if I caught for a few innings.”
Casey opened the container and speared a piece of chicken with the fork. “Do you want to catch?”
“No, but neither does anyone else. That’s why he made the deal with me.”
A blond boy wearing a black jacket with gold All Stars lettering stitched on the back walked past.
The boy waved at her son.
“Sam made the All Star team last year as a pitcher,” Cody said.
Casey set the salad down on the bleacher. Even though Cody was always one of the best players in Little League, he had been had been passed over for All Stars the last several years in Minors because the coaches and assistant coaches always chose their sons to fill the three spots available on each team. Last year, four spots opened up, giving her son an opportunity to wear the shiny black jacket, but Cody was denied because of a technicalityhis birthday passed the cutoff age to play in Minors by three days. It still rattled her that no one mentioned that at the beginning of the season when she could have easily signed him up for Majors.
“All right, men.” The umpire raised his hand. “Let’s play ball. Home team won the coin toss.”
“We’re up.” Cody ran to the dugout and sat at the end of the batting order.
Last in line. Making deals so he could pitch at practices instead of games. Catching because no one else would. Casey counted eleven fathers standing next to the bases, hovering by the foul lines and pacing in the dugout. One dad for every boy except Cody because his father couldn't take time off work to fight for him. It was up to her to make sure this season would not be a repeat of the last few with Cody’s abilities and effort overlooked. The idea of confronting anyone had her dumping the salad into the trashcan and returning to the snack shack. She waited behind a line of boisterous kids and then ordered a hot dog, two Milky Way bars and a large soda. When she returned to her seat, Cody stood at home plate, fastening knee guards and a chest protector into place.
Casey glanced at the woman sitting next to her. “I can’t believe catchers need all that gear at this age.”
The woman jotted down names on a large score pad on her lap and then looked at her. “Those hard balls can come in at forty miles an hour. Last year one boy wore a protector that was too small and got nailed in the chest. It broke two of his ribs.”
Casey gasped and gripped the bleacher to stop herself from yanking her son off the field.
Cody played hard for six innings, diving on the ground and jumping in the air for wild throws. By the bottom of the seventh, the other team was down by two runs with a player on third. A home run would tie the game and add an extra inning instead of ending the game.
Crossing her fingers for a fast out, Casey watched the other team’s number three player hit the ball deep into left field.
“C’mon, Cody,” she yelled. “Get ready for…”
A stocky boy on third base took off and barreled down the line, deliberately slamming into Codywho hit the ground with a thud and dropped the ball. Paralyzed with fear, Casey stared while her son sat dazed in a cloud of dust.
The hitter ran past third base and headed down the line.
Parents, players and the coach yelled, “Get up, O’Neil. Don’t let him score.”
Cody scrambled to his feet, scooped the ball into his mitt and twisted around to land on home plate a second before the boy ran across it.
Diamondback parents cheered.
Players ran onto the field to give each other high fives.
No one noticed Cody wipe blood from his nose with the sleeve of his shirt. Except for her.
Ten minutes later, her son walked up dragging his equipment bag. “We won, mom. Twelve to eleven.”
“That’s great, honey, but are you okay?”
“Yeah. The coach told me I’ve got natural instincts for catching. He wants me to do it every game.”
“I thought you wanted to pitch.”
“Why not? You’re the only one getting trampled out there.”
“Because catchers always make the All Star team.”
If they survive, she thought.
Casey swung around.
The Diamondback Coach approached and stopped in front of her.
She put her arm protectively around Cody. “Yes.”
“You have a great player here,” Garret said. “As of today, he’s my star catcher. That means he’ll have to use his own gear. Cal Sports in Agora gives a five percent discount if you mention my name.”
“I don’t understand. Why can’t he wear what he had on today?”
“That belongs to the team. I’m going to need it for a back-up catcher.”
“See you at practice, young man.” The Coach tweaked Cody’s baseball cap and walked away.
“Did you hear what he said?”
Casey nodded while staring at the dried blood ringing the inside of his nostril.
“I’m the star catcher.”
“You sure are.” She led Cody toward the car, debating if should tell her husband he was paying for equipment they couldn’t afford so their son could play a position that made him bleed.
<Prologue <Chapter 1 <Chapter 2 <Chapter 3
© 2014 Lori Jones. All Right Reserved