The ball left my hand and zigzagged on its way to home plate, missing Tyler Langley’s glove. I kicked the dirt in frustration as he yelled something back at me—what, I couldn’t say. The buzzing in my ears masked all sound around me. I usually got this imaginary bee in my head when I was upset or angry with myself or even when I was nervous. I didn’t know why it happened. My psychiatrist said it was a way for my body to protect me. It sounded like a bunch of crap, but what did I know about my brain?
Tyler came running out to the mound, waving his catcher’s mitt at me. His mouth was moving, but the little bee zipping around in my head was still loud. When he reached the pitcher’s mound, he tipped up my chin with his gloved hand.
Embarrassed at my performance, I looked away. I hated myself right now.
“Look at me.”
I shook my head.
“It’s okay, Lacey. You’re just tired. You have both your fast pitch and curveball ready. The slider isn’t that important for tryouts. It’s only high school baseball.”
My head snapped up, and I met his soft blue eyes that had helped to lessen the constant noise in my head. “Easy for you to say. This is important to me.” I pushed him away.
What was I doing? I didn’t mean to be such a bitch. He’d been patient with me over these past few weeks, helping me practice. He’d given up some of his summer fun in between his football practice, and here I was giving him attitude.
“I know it is, but you have two excellent pitches, and the coach is only requiring two for tryouts.” He enfolded my hand with his callused one.
A small twinge of jealousy hit me. Things came easy for Tyler, it seemed. Whenever he’d thrown a few pitches to me to show me how the curveball looked, my mouth would always fall open at how perfectly he pitched. He’d played on the baseball team his first year in high school, but gave it up when the football coach asked him to concentrate on football. He’d agreed because he loved the game more than baseball, and it gave him better scholarship opportunities.
“I’m sorry. You’re right. I’m just tired.” I pushed the envy aside. It was stupid of me to feel it in the first place. My performance had nothing to do with Tyler’s talents. I was just extremely hard on myself. I strove for perfection. I had to make the team. Everything I’d wanted was riding on this year, my senior year, and my last chance to show the scouts at Arizona State University that I was worthy of a scholarship. They’d seen me play at my old school, Crestview High in California, and were so impressed that they sat down with me to discuss a potential offer to play for their school.
They gave me two stipulations. One, I had to continue to improve my pitching skills, and two, keep up my grades. If I met these requirements I had a shot at not only a scholarship, but at being the first female to grace an all boys’ college baseball team—or at least ASU’s.
“It’s getting late. Why don’t we call it quits? You need to rest your arm.” Tyler tapped my ball cap.
I nodded. I did need my arm loose if I was going to continue to practice hard up until tryouts next week. I prayed I could regain my skills. I’d gone a whole year without picking up a baseball. My hands started to shake as I thought about Mom and my sister Julie.
“Are you okay?” He wiped a tear off my cheek.
“Yeah.” Not really.
Almost a year after Mom and Julie’s deaths, I wasn’t sure I had the confidence to face a new life in a new school and a new home. Did Dad and I make the right decision to move clear across the country? My psychiatrist, Dr. Meyers, had recommended it. The memories and the pain had been too much for my dad, my brother Rob, and me. We weren’t healing. We weren’t even living. I’d abandoned my friends. My dad moped around, hiding in his home office. My brother Rob turned down his dream of playing for the LA Dodgers.
Tyler flicked his head toward home plate. “Come on. Pack up.”
We walked over to the dugout in silence. Once inside, I packed my bag, removed my cleats, and slipped my feet into a pair of flip-flops.
As Tyler changed into his tennis shoes, he said, “I’ll get the lights and meet you at your car. We can go get a shake and fries before you head home. I know you like dunking your fries into your shake.” He grinned. It was the same cocky grin that made the girls I’d seen watching us occasionally swoon over him, especially with his blond locks that had a way of curling around his ball cap, and, of course, his ocean-blue eyes.
He was sweet, trying to cheer me up. We’d met when I’d barged into Coach Dean’s office right after I moved here in July. I wanted to talk to him about tryouts and the schedule. I didn’t think the coach would be busy. After all, it was summertime, and baseball didn’t ramp up until tryouts in the fall. Boy, how wrong I’d been. I’d walked into Coach’s office without knocking, and interrupted a meeting between Tyler, Coach Dean, the football coach, and a scout for a large university. Immediately, Coach jumped out of his desk chair, yelling at me for my lack of manners, and to get out. As I slumped my shoulders, cowering like a turtle retreating into her shell, someone in the room had snorted. As I scurried out, I caught a glimpse of Tyler with a grin on his face. Since that day we’d become friends, mostly hanging out on the ball field for practices.
I wasn’t sure if Coach Dean put him up to it or if Tyler just felt sorry for me because Coach humiliated me. In either case, it didn’t matter. I’d made one friend, and to me an important one. He knew the game of baseball well. Maybe the fresh start was panning out.
“Okay” was all I said as Tyler grabbed his bag and ducked into the tunnel.
Then I lifted my Van Halen T-shirt and tied it into a knot to let the night air cool my sweating skin. The style wasn’t the best-looking fashion statement, but I didn’t care. It was approaching nine p.m. Who would see me at this time of night? Then I remembered Tyler wanted to grab a bite to eat. I shrugged. I’d make myself presentable before we got to the restaurant.
I threw my bag over my shoulder as I walked off the baseball field of Kensington High in Ashford, Massachusetts. Dad and I had chosen this school because it had a better academic program, and a better coach than the other schools we researched. I hoped for the umpteenth time that we had made the right decision.
Once at my car, I fished my keys out of my purse. I drove a beat-up Mustang, compliments of my dad. He was trying to restore it. But time was non-existent for him. He had recently opened a new nightclub in the heart of Cambridge, a city known for college kids and a vibrant music scene. He also owned a nightclub in LA managed by Rob, my twenty-two-year-old brother. He had offered to stay in LA and run the business for Dad. In addition to his nightclubs on both coasts now, Dad also owned and managed Eko Records, a well-known label that had signed many top-ten bands and pop singers. The flexibility of the business afforded him the opportunity to work from anywhere.
I took off my ball cap, running my hand over my long brown ponytail. I threw my bag in the backseat and slid into the driver’s side. Dad had said to let it idle a few minutes to get the oil circulating before taking off. I inserted the key into the ignition and turned. The click, click, click sound wasn’t good. I tried again. Nothing.
Shit! I banged my hands against the steering wheel. Damn car. Dad and I needed to have a talk about better transportation.
Heaving a sigh, I got out of the Mustang, looking around. The sports complex stood slightly to my right with the ball field on its left. Aside from Tyler’s SUV, the only other vehicle was a black truck, which sat under a tree in the far corner of the parking lot. I glanced out at the field, but didn’t see anyone. What was taking Tyler so long? The lights to the stadium were still on, which meant he must’ve gotten tied up with something.
Ducking half my body back into the Mustang, I lifted my purse off the seat when a loud thump on the back of my car startled me. My heart rate kicked into overdrive.
I jerked my head up. Some guy I didn’t know stood behind my car. Panic set in. Since the police hadn’t found the creeps who had invaded our home and murdered my mom and sister, I’d been extremely paranoid.
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