She wore a jagged scar, stretching beneath her left eye to the right corner of her mouth. It wiggled across her face like a red worm – fat and crinkled. As big as it appeared, it paled in size to the wound she bore in her heart.
Despite her feelings, Franny bent at the waist and laced her cleats. Everyone said this is what she needed to do – playing would erase the pain – make her forget about the tragedy – give her a distraction for her thoughts. But Franny wasn’t so sure.
She straightened and stood. Franny knew that her teammates would keep their distance. That’s why they stood at the opposite end of the dugout, pretending not to glance with judgement. She grabbed her glove and meandered outside the dugout.
Coach Cross said in his gruff voice, “Better get warmed up.” But Franny had no throwing partner, no teammate to run beside for a warmup lap, nor a friend to share a story with for those pregame jitters. It was just Franny, standing alone with the sun highlighting her disfigurement.
“Let’s go, Franny,” a voice said with a kind hand upon her back, “I’ll be your partner.”
Franny stood motionless, stunned. She considered the offer a prank. Marissa, of all people, had every reason to avoid her.
Marissa looked over a shoulder with a smile and said, “What are you waiting for – let’s get this lap.”
Franny followed behind with her head drooped to the ground. Once the pair reached the outfield grass, Marissa slowed shoulder-to-shoulder with Franny. “Why are you here?”
Franny shrugged her shoulders and avoided Marissa’s eyes.
“Nobody wants you here. You understand that, right?”
Marissa couldn’t see the tears welling in Franny’s eyes. Had she seen them – she wouldn’t have cared.
Marissa bumped against Franny as they jogged, knocking Franny off stride. “You need to leave. This isn’t the place for you. You should be locked up somewhere."
Franny stopped running in dead-center, while Marissa finished the lap.
Coach Cross addressed Marissa as she circled back to the dugout. “What did you say to her?” Cross pointed toward Franny, who now knelt in the centerfield grass with her hands covering her face.
“Nothing. I swear. She was saying something about not wanting to be here and I told her we all wanted her on the team. That’s it.” Marissa brushed past Coach Cross and picked up a ball from the dugout.
As Coach Cross loped out to meet Franny, Marissa received high-fives from teammates.
Franny stood and wiped her tears as Coach Cross reached her.
“Hey, kid. What’s going on?” Cross asked.
“I’m fine,” she said.
“Did Marissa say something to you?”
“No, sir,” Franny lied.
Cross flattened his expression and folded his arms across his chest. “You can’t blame yourself. It’s time to put it behind you and move on, Franny. I’ve forgiven you, and you should forgive yourself.”
Franny suppressed a rising ball of emotion, leaving it stuck in her throat.
Cross glanced at his team and then back to Franny. “Listen, I’m going to start you tonight instead of Marissa at third base.”
The ball of emotion leapt from her throat and exploded in a frantic plea. “You can’t do that. Please don’t do that. You’ll only make things worse.”
Coach Cross reasoned, “You were our starter before the accident, so I see no reason why you don’t start now that you’re back.”
Franny shook her head, but Coach Cross ignored it by clapping his hands and instructing, “Now, go get warmed up for the game.”
A few minutes before the game started, Coach Cross posted the lineup in the dugout. It didn’t take long before the team began to grumble about it. Marissa burst into tears and darted from the dugout.
Marissa’s mother caught wind of the decision and stomped forward. She placed a pointed finger near the coach’s face.
“How dare you, Don. How could you!”
“Listen, Mary – ”
“Don’t you tell me what to do. Don’t even start,” Marissa’s mother shouted.
Coach Cross stepped back with tried to insert some calm with pleading hands and a soft tone.
“Franny’s part of this team again, and she’s the starter.”
“Have you forgotten ab