A Ragged Bunch and A Motley Crew, Chapter Seven
by Echo Lewis, illustrated by Elaine Blier
A serialized story for the summer of 2003
Winter edged away and a hint of new life emerged with an early April thaw. The wind of a warm front melted most of the remaining patches of snow.
That Saturday was one of those rare, beautiful, almost hot days that arrives brings a preview of real summer, still another month or so away.
To celebrate this early touch of spring, Aunt Amelia suggested the first family picnic of the year at the lake.
Except for Laura and Jennifer, everyone immediately and enthusiastically agreed. They all suggested ideas at full voice about what to take for lunch.
Laura, though more confident around the twins, still felt too uncertain and nervous with the rest of the family to join the free-for-all planning session.
Jennifer, resigned to the picnic, said, "Well, at least I have a good book. I won't have to sit around feeling sorry for myself while the rest of you miserable wretches enjoy the great outdoors."
"You could learn to like fresh air," Davey taunted her, "though I realize it would involve a rather dramatic conversion on your part."
Jennifer tossed her brother a bored, condescending look. She didn't bother throwing anything else at him, as she had always done as they were growing up. The two had been friendly antagonists since Jennifer threw her rattle (accidentally, she still insisted) at Davey when she was one and he, her big brother, was two. Now they were eighteen and nineteen, in university and home on spring break.
Davey, like most of the family, loved everything about the outdoors. Jennifer thought of outside as uncomfortable spaces that she had to travel to get from one building to another. But, thanks to a basically even and cheerful temperament, she managed to stay cheerful on family outings.
When they arrived at the lake, the whole crew tumbled out of the station wagon.
"Wow, there's nobody here!" Andy yelped, "We have the whole ball diamond to ourselves."
During the past weeks, he and Tony had helped Laura learn softball, so she was ready for an introduction into the family's favorite sport. She wasn't very good, but as long as the twins were there, she figured she might be okay. They didn't seem to mind when she dropped the ball or missed a hit.
If she did make a mistake, would Uncle Don get mad and yell at her? Her stomach knotted with the tension of wondering how he and the others would react to her mistakes.
Tony once admitted to Laura that he didn't really like softball. But it was fun, he said, playing with the whole family.
Even Jennifer joined in for softball, in her unique way. She laid a beach towel just outside the third base area and watched. Whenever a runner got on second, she became the official third base coach, shouting to the runner when to dash for third and when to stay put.
"Go for it, Christine!" she would yell. Or, "Stay put, Daddy!"
It startled Laura whenever she heard her cousins call their father Daddy. Her own father had never liked her using the name. It was too much like baby talk, he told her and she was no longer a baby.
Jennifer certainly wasn't a baby either; she was very grown-up. Yet Uncle Don didn't seem to mind at all.
Many things about this family startled her, Laura thought. Why had she never known she had these relatives? Why did Uncle Don bring her here to live with them?
These questions and a hundred others, all of them unanswered, crowded into Laura's mind.
"Hey, it's your turn no more day-dreaming!"
Laura jumped guiltily to her feet at the sound of Andy's voice. She was sitting under a tree behind home plate and sure enough, she had been daydreaming, working her way through all those questions in her mind.
Walking toward the plate, she tried to appear cool and calm in her turn at facing the pitcher.
"Here, use this bat," Andy instructed, "it's the one you're used to."
Biting her lip, as she always did when nervous, Laura shakily accepted the bat and stepped up to the plate.
"Hey, batter, hey, batter, you can do it go to it!" Christine called from behind her.
Tony, the pitcher, winked at her, then wound up for the first throw. It came in high and wide and Laura didn't swing. The twins had taught her well.
"We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher!" Christine cheerfully called out to Tony. She kept everyone entertained and the game lively with her 'infield chatter.'
"Throw a whooper -
Throw a blooper -
She won't mind -
'Cause you can't dupe her!"
The next pitch came in at the perfect level. Laura swung.
The wonderful sound and feel of the bat hitting the ball greeted her hands and ears simultaneously. She dropped the bat and ran like a rabbit for first base.
The ball flew in a slow, high arc toward Aunt Amelia, who was covering second base. She almost caught it, but it bounced out of her glove and Laura landed safe on first.
Laura clapped her hands in exhilaration and grinned at Tony. Her entrance into the family ball games had not begun with a failure. She still felt shaky but this time with excitement and relief.
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