A Charmed Life
Chapter 5: The Odd Couple

Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider

26 April 1985 - Hardwick Road, Enfield, Massachusetts

The bus carrying the Thompkins School baseball team pulled back into the school gym’s parking lot following their away game at Springfield Central Catholic; the game ended in a disappointing four-to-three loss. Central Catholic scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, the final inning in high school baseball games.

The late April weather compounded the misery of their loss. The snow melted away a week ago but there’d been no wind to help dry the fields at Central Catholic. The outfield became a sodden mess and the day’s low temperature and light drizzle did nothing to improve that.

Jeff played because their regular center fielder was out sick. Jeff’s spectacular diving catch on a line drive to left-center in the bottom of the sixth gave Thompkins a chance to win the game. He’d broken into a sprint when the ball left the bat and he timed his leap just when the ball was about to pass over his left shoulder. Stretching out, he caught the ball in mid-leap; he splashed down into the muddy, swampy outfield. His catch ended the sixth inning but it went to waste an inning later.

A miserable thirty-minute ride back to Thompkins followed the game. Their driver turned the bus’s air conditioner on to keep the windshield clear of all the moisture carried onto the bus by the players in their soaked uniforms. Jeff felt the epitome of cold, wet and tired; his soaked uniform and wet underwear riding up didn’t help. He kept his sneakers dry by riding in his socks. Jeff stepped off the bus, grabbed his bag and one of the team’s equipment bags from under the bus, and limped towards the school. He saw Pauline standing along the path halfway to the field house.

“Hey...” he said in a weary voice. “Thanks for coming out to the game. We don’t get many people at away games.”

“Of course,” she replied. “You look like you need a long shower.”

“Are you offering to help?” he asked before his brain caught up with his mouth. “Sorry, that was pretty crude of me.”

“It was? I was going to take you up on the offer,” she joked. He looked stunned. “Jeff, it was fine. I don’t get offended that quickly, so don’t worry about answering off-the-cuff like that.” She kissed him. “Go shower and change. I’m hungry.”

“I think I’m starting to warm up,” Jeff commented; they sat in a booth at the pizza parlor near her house an hour later. “I can feel my fingers again.”

“Should I give you something interesting to test them on?” she asked while she batted her eyebrows, causing Jeff to blush.

“I should have realized this place would be busy on a Friday night,” Jeff said in apology as he looked around, seeing how hard the staff was working behind the counter.

“This was my idea, remember?” Pauline reminded him. “Contrary to popular opinion, the woman in the relationship is not always right.”

“Until the man suggests that she’s not, then she is.”

“See? You’re learning!” she laughed. “Jeff, I wanted to spend time with you tonight and, while we’re waiting, that’s what we’re doing.”

“Okay, okay,” he relented.

“You’re sure about this sausage and black olive stuff?”

“It’s my favorite pizza, but there’s a reason we asked them to put olives on half of the pizza. In case I’m wrong.”

The couple focused on each other while they waited for their pizza, oblivious to the unhappy eyes watching them from another, darker booth.

Jeff drummed his fingers on his thigh, trying to calm himself down while his parents drove him to Pauline’s house two weeks later. Tonight was the Junior-Senior Prom; Jeff knew all four parents would take an insane number of photos before he and Pauline would be allowed to leave for the dance. Jeff still couldn’t believe he was escorting Pauline.

Reserving the tux wasn’t an issue, even as late as Jeff thought he was calling. The tuxedo shop owner laughed when Jeff asked over the phone if there was still time to reserve one.

“Son,” the man said, “it’s not uncommon for some fool to waltz in here the day before their prom and expect to rent one. During Prom season. Three week’s notice? I’ve got plenty of inventory that’s not spoken for, so you’ve still got your pick of just about anything.”

He’d decided to go with basic black as the color choice of the tuxedo and bow tie in the end. He also chose a traditional cut to the coat when the owner told him it would “go with anything.” When he told Pauline of his choice, she simply nodded and said nothing more on the subject.

They arrived at Pauline’s house. Jeff got out of the car and put his jacket back on, making sure it sat well across his shoulders. He picked up the box with Pauline’s corsage and led his parents to her front door. Chris answered the door bell.

“Hey, Jeff,” Chris greeted.

“Hi, Chris. You remember my folks, right?”

“Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Knox. It’s nice to see you again,” Chris said, shaking their hands. “Please, come on in.” Chris showed them all to the living room where his parents were waiting. They stood around chatting for a few minutes. Pauline, who must have been waiting for Jeff to arrive, made her appearance a few minutes later.

“Good evening, Jeff,” she said, causing all eyes to turn to her.

She wore a diaphanous blue gown that complemented her trim body and the blue in her eyes. Jeff gulped loudly enough to be heard across the room. He approached to pin on her corsage. He did manage to pin the orchid to her dress without sticking her, or sticking himself to bleed on her dress. It took a few attempts and he lightly pricked his thumb only once. The parents snapped their five rolls of film before Pauline and Jeff were allowed to leave.

Jeff held Pauline’s car door while she slid into the driver’s seat. He raced around to get in on the passenger’s side. They rode silently to the hotel where the Prom was held. Jeff was still in shock that this was happening at all.

“Why do the Cosgroves hate you so much?” Pauline asked Jeff as they drove away from the Prom.

“I wish I knew,” Jeff said, touching the gauze-bandaged wound on his cheek. “It’s getting dangerous being your boyfriend. Good thing our folks took the pictures before this happened, huh?” Pauline just shook her head at the big goof.

Jeremy Cosgrove punched Jeff without warning while he and Pauline were on the dance floor. Jeff, blind-sided by the attack, didn’t hesitate to put the senior bully down. He knocked the older Cosgrove to the dance floor, flattening Jeremy’s nose with a hard punch. The entire incident was over in seconds.

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