Where Passion Meets

Denise Heinze

Mickey slapped her dusty mitt against her thigh then tossed it on the roof of her yellow Volkswagen. She hoisted her foot on the bumper to tie her cleats, still muddy from the last game. She played softball nearly every chance she got, all week long and on weekends, too. Tonight was her co-rec league. She was a star on the mixed team, playing third base so well, the opposing male players did not aim their hits at her like they did weaker women players. They knew she could catch. And why not, she wondered. She was all state in high school.

"Better hurry, Mick. You're gonna be late." Jeff, the pitcher, called to her as he jogged from the parking lot towards the field.

"Don't worry about me. I'll be there. We don't have much competition tonight anyway, do we?"

"Naw. Worst team in the league. Bunch of wusses. But we still gotta put a team on the field, so come on."

Mickey hated playing poor teams because it usually meant a blowout. "Oh, well, she thought. Better than sitting home by myself." She tied off her other cleat, stuffed her glove under her arm and slipped a cap on her short curly hair. As she hustled to the dugout, she imagined herself snagging line shots, diving for ground balls and driving one up the middle. She must have closed her eyes for a second because she hit something hard.

"Hey, watch where you're. . ." the tall man stopped when he saw Mickey.

"Oh, sorry, sorry. I was thinking about something else." Mickey flushed. She tried to see up into his face, but she was looking right in the setting sun. She did notice he was wearing the blue and white uniform of the other team. "Oh, we play you tonight."

"Yeah, I'm one of the wusses your friend was just talking about." His voice was low and full with just a hint of an accent.

"You heard that? He's a jerk." She shielded her eyes and strained to see him. He smelled like, what was it? Fresh herbs and spices. Yeah, she thought, like the aroma in a health food store.

"Well, good luck, though I don't think you'll need it." He turned and walked away, stately and fluid.

"Same to you," she called but he did not turn around. She noticed how his dark hair curled from underneath his cap. A pleasant shock streaked sideways from the base of her stomach up to her heart. She knew she better cut that nonsense out or she wouldn't be able to concentrate.

Not that she would need it. Jeff was right. Their opponents were terrible. They could not catch or throw or hit with any consistency. By the third inning, Mickey's team was up by fifteen and had it not been for the man she bumped into, Mickey would have been bored out of her mind. As it was, she watched him throughout the game. He was at shortstop and, though his instincts were good, it was obvious he was new to the game. He fumbled ground balls and overthrew first base more often than not. When he got up to bat, he could hit it hard, but did not have a clue how to place it. She would have felt sorry for him except that he did not seem the least bit embarrassed. Just determined.

The game dragged on. The lead stretched to twenty runs, a slaughter, but the game had to go at least five innings before a mercy could be declared. Mickey sat on the hard bench in the dugout as her team swatted hit after hit. She joked with her teammates, and made small talk but she felt lonely. The girls were friendly enough, but once the game was over, they all went their separate ways. She liked the guys on her team, but they were more like brothers. And since she spent all of her free time with them, she didn't have a chance to meet other men. Without softball and work at the bank, Mickey knew she had no life.

"Hey, Mickey. You're up. Snap out of it!" Rick the captain yelled from the coach's box on the third base line. She grabbed her bat leaning against the fence and sprinted to the batter's box.

On the first pitch, she drove it deep between the left and left-center fielder. She raced to first sure she could stretch out a double. She took the big turn and headed for second. She could see the throw coming in from the outfield and knew she would have to slide. She dropped her right leg, stuck out her left and glided. The shortstop, in a clumsy effort to catch the in-coming throw across the bag, tripped and fell on top of her.

This time, Mickey could see him clearly. His face, inches from hers, was covered with dirt and frustration, but it was beautiful.

"Not you again." He scowled and rolled off of her. Before she could apologize again, his teammates hoisted him to his feet.

"You alright, Jack?" one woman asked, dusting the chalk off his shoulders. Mickey wanted to slug her.

"Yeah, fine. Let's get on with this." He ran back to shortstop and did not look at Mickey again.

Two innings later, the game was over. Mickey slipped into line for the obligatory post-game handshakes. She could see Jack at the other end. As he got closer, her heart raced.

"I didn't mean to. . ." she started.

"Don't, please." He chuckled. "It will only make things worse. You were only playing the game. And really well, I might add." He held out his hand. It was huge and soft. "I was wondering." He paused, looked off over her head, then pulled on the bill of his cap. She waited, not wanting to let go of his hand. "Will you have dinner with me? Tomorrow at La Chateau?" He pronounced it in perfect French.

"Sure." She tried not to stutter. "That'd be great."

"OK, then." For the second time that evening, he turned and left her standing. She was glad. If he had stayed, she would not have been able to hide the shock in her face. As it was, she could not believe he had asked her out. A lot of men were put off by her superior athleticism and stayed away from her. And she had just taken Jack out at second base in front of his teammates. She stood for a few moments shaking her head, then breathed deeply in the night air.

La Chateau was as chic and elegant as she had imagined. She was glad she wore the red dress and pearl earrings. Her short hair, usually a mop of curls, was gelled straight, giving her a sophisticated look. When she gave her name to the tuxedoed maitre d', he didn't even bother checking his reservation list.

"Aw! Right this way, mademoiselle." He seated her at a window table, covered in white satin and adorned with fresh tiger lilies. Candles lit the room everywhere and a pianist played soft jazz. "Mr. Renard will be late. But he has already taken the liberty of ordering for you. He says you are not to wait if your meal comes. He will join you as soon as he can." The maitre d' nodded and left. Mickey felt a surge of disappointment. Where was he and why would he be late? She grew angry for a second, then calmed herself down. Give him the benefit of the doubt, she thought.

And she did. Through the excellent Chablis, the foie gras, the delicate crepes filled with crabmeat and bathed in cream sauce, the Camembert and the chocolate mousse. She had never been treated to such a delicious meal, never tasted world class cuisine. But by the time the espresso arrived, it didn't matter. He had still not come. She had stopped looking for him, instead trying not to peer too longingly at the couples holding hands, kissing across the intimate candlelight. She wondered if this was some cruel joke, if he was getting back at her for making him look so bad. She took a sip of her coffee. It tasted like hot vinegar. She felt the emotion welling in her, the tears that would give her away. She pushed away from the table, and bent down for her purse.

"And how was your meal mademoiselle?"

She looked up and saw white--the white of the tablecloth, and the white coat and plumed hat of the chef.

"Jack?" She gasped. "You. . "

"Actually it's Jaques. I changed it to Jack when my family moved here from France ten years ago."

Mickey laughed so loudly she startled the old man and woman next to her. "You never said a word." She stood to face him.

"I wanted to surprise you. How was it?"

"Wonderful. The best meal I've ever had. I can't even boil a hotdog. Mom wouldn't let me near the kitchen."

"Good. I have a proposition for you then." He smiled broadly. "In France no one plays softball. I have always wanted to learn. If you could teach me to play as well as you do, I will teach you to cook like a pro."

"Well, that could take years, you know," Mickey grinned.

"That," he said as he reached for her hand, "is precisely what I had in mind."

© Denise Heinze

Denise Heinze is a writer who lives her Durham, North Carolina. Her short stories have recently appeared in "Short Story Bimonthly" and "Short Stuff."

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