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Excerpt from Beckyâ€™s Kiss. Becky is called down to the Principalâ€™s office because she threw an orange across the cafeteria at a bully named Cody Hatcher, and knocked him out cold with it.
â€œIâ€™m Dr. Edward McGovern, the Principal here,â€ he said. He glanced at a couple of things in the file, closed it and leaned back, hands webbed behind the head, elbows out, face no less serious. â€œTwenty minutes ago there was an incident in the cafeteria. Can you explain it?â€
Becky was pinching at the skin of her forearm and she made herself stop. Her voice sounded small.
â€œIâ€¦I was sitting with Joey.â€
â€œYes, Joey Chen,â€ Horseshoe-head interrupted. â€œAn excellent student, advanced in the sciencesâ€¦â€ His voice trailed off because Principal McGovern and Rent-a-Cop were staring at him. â€œSorry,â€ he muttered, getting out a pair of bifocals and a pocket-sized spiral notebook to study. Becky gave a little cough and went on.
â€œCody Hatcher was bullying us. Iâ€™ve got witnesses, but nobody likes meâ€¦well, not until todayâ€¦but I mean before, like when Cody hit Joey with an eraser and put his dirty foot on my chair, andâ€¦â€ Now she faded off. She was making no sense whatsoever, and she closed her eyes to concentrate.
â€œMiss Michigan,â€ Principal McGovern said. She opened her eyes and saw that everyone at the table was looking at each other rather uncomfortably. â€œI donâ€™t think you really realize why youâ€™re here, and that in itself is a surprise to us. Iâ€™m probably going to get a call from Cody Hatcherâ€™s father tonight and an email from his lawyer. I am going to have to set up a meeting with a member of the board, a union representative for each teacher patrolling the lunch room, a disinterested third party, and a stenographer. Do you know why I am going to have to go to those extremes?â€
â€œBecause I threw the orange?â€ Becky whispered. This was a nightmare, a cold nightmare. How was her mother going to handle this? Her father would never speak to her again. She would wind up going to one of those special juvi schools, where sections were overcrowded with kids that had police records, and the classes were monitored by uniformed security guards with weapons.
â€œThrew an orange,â€ Horseshoe-head said reflectively. He was smiling slightly, and again, Principal McGovern and Rent-a-Cop looked over at him. He went back to his notes and starting writing stuff furiously. Principal McGovern breathed hard through his nose, sat forward, folded his hands, and spoke at them.
â€œGerry, run the clip.â€
Mr. Ladd went over to a control panel over by the bookcase and hit a few buttons. A Sony flatscreen mounted in the corner flashed on, and twenty or so small squares came visible. Video monitors. Becky recognized the image by the front entrance and another outside the gym where there was the water fountain and the stairwell, though the angles were overhead from their ceiling mounts and slightly tilted.
â€œHit number twelve,â€ Principal McGovern said. The image flickered, and one camera shot filled the screen. It was a black and white film of the cafeteria, just above where Becky and Joey had been sitting, the Frederick Douglass poster there, his cheek ripped a bit from the Tic-Tac. The room was vacant.
â€œRewind,â€ Principal McGovern said. Ladd clicked away, and on the screen, the room filled with kids walking backwards, coming to rest in their seats, then Becky being seemingly escorted back in and half-circling down into a seat without looking.
Good hair day, she thought crazily.
Then her new friends threaded off one at a time in backward mimics of their timid approaches, and the grainy black and white image of herself was suddenly displaced into the aisle, bent over in the follow-through position, and then across and down to the right the orange exploded back into itself and shot in return to her hand. There was the â€˜wind-upâ€™ that looked all herky-jerky backward and sped up, and then she popped back over to the chair across from Joey Chen.
â€œStop,â€ McGovern said. â€œAnd play it in live time.â€
The soundless tape played out, Becky sitting across from Joey Chen, her face hidden by the positioning of the camera above and behind her. To the right, Cody Hatcher was punching his friend in the arm, eating grapes, and spitting one or two across the table at his other friend, a burly boy in a dark tee-shirt who seemed to be threatening that he was going to knock Hatcherâ€™s tray off the table if he didnâ€™t cut it out. Then, Hatcher seemed to spy Becky across the room, next tapping and elbowing, like â€˜Look here, guys.â€™ He picked off a grape, pushed up to a half-squat, and whipped it. Across the space, it was evident that it hit Becky, because her hair moved. Hatcher sat back down hard, and looked around, all innocent, as his friends bent in fits of laughter. He picked off a couple more grapes and hurled them in a similar manner.
â€œHeâ€™s quite a shot himself,â€ Horseshoe head muttered.
â€œWait for it,â€ Principal McGovern said.
Suddenly the screen seemed to explode into motion, and some of it was so quick that it blurred. One moment Becky was sitting there, shoulders slightly slumped, familiar in that odd displaced way that video tended to portray people, and then she was a snap of motion. She grabbed the orange and leapt into the throwing lane. Then there was the wind up and the pitch, and suddenly Becky didnâ€™t look like herself. She seemed to grow taller, and everything about her motion and mechanics lookedâ€¦professional, for lack of a better word. And she didnâ€™t â€œthrow like a girl.â€ She didnâ€™t even throw like the typical boy. The exchange was a rhythmic flurry of knees and elbows and hips and backbone, fierce and balletic, vicious and beautiful, and the orange shot out of her hand like a dark messenger on a rope. There was a moment that it disappeared behind the concrete pillar obstructing the view, and then it resurfaced on the far side, a streak shooting and exploding in Cody Hatcherâ€™s face. The Rent-a-Cop shifted in his seat and spoke for the first time, voice soft.
â€œChills you right to the marrow, doesnâ€™t it?â€
Horseshoe head was still scratching away in his note book, and Principal McGovern addressed him.
â€œPaul, how far is Hatcher sitting away from her?â€
â€œSixty-one feet, give or take six inches or so.â€ He smiled wide enough to show his fillings. â€œMy students would get a kick out of this. You simply approximateâ€¦â€
Principal McGovern interrupted him by putting up his hand.
â€œMike, whatâ€™s the distance between home plate and the pitching rubber on a standard baseball field, high school or pro?â€
Rent-a-Cop didnâ€™t miss a beat.
â€œAnd whatâ€™s the weight of a big league hard ball?
â€œFive and an eighth ounces.â€
Principal McGovern turned to Horseshoe head.
â€œHow much does a Florida Sunkist weigh?â€
â€œWell, first you have to considerâ€¦â€
â€œTo the point.â€
Horseshoe adjusted his position, ankle up on the knee. â€œRight,â€ he said. â€œThe average orange would be around seven ounces.â€ He nodded his head then, all smiles and squinting eyes. â€œI know, I know. Yes, even with the differential, you have a basic match. The common orange is slightly bigger than a baseball in terms of circumference, and this one, by appearance is of the smaller varietyâ€¦â€
â€œOh, itâ€™s a match all right,â€ Rent-a-Cop said. â€œLock, stock, and barrel.â€
Beckyâ€™s heart sank and she looked down. Why couldnâ€™t there be â€˜differential,â€™ or whatever, just this once? Gosh. Daddy was going to kill her!
â€œMiss Michigan.â€ Becky raised her head and felt her bottom lip trembling. Principal McGovern still had his hands folded, his eyes hard and his expression entirely flat.
â€œHave you ever done something like this before?â€
â€œNo!â€ Becky pleaded. â€œI swear! I never picked up a baseball, let alone an orange in my entire life! Well, Iâ€™m sorry, Iâ€™m sure Iâ€™ve eaten an orange or two, but I donâ€™t even like them reallyâ€”â€œ
Principal McGovern had his â€˜shushâ€™ hand up again. He gently closed his eyes.
â€œJust how fast did she throw that thing, please?â€
Horseshoe said, â€œYes, considering the approximate weight of the projectile and the distance, compared with the visual I would estimateâ€¦mmmâ€¦eighty miles per hour or so.â€
Rent-a-cop was stroking his goatee.
â€œIâ€™m not really a betting man, but Iâ€™d wager Paul is being too conservative here. Iâ€™ve seen plenty in this life, but Iâ€™d swear she hit eighty-seven, eighty-eight, even.â€
Principal McGovern shook his head in wonder or disgust, it was difficult to tell.
â€œEighty-eight miles per hour. In my lunch room, right under our noses.â€ He looked around the table and said, to no one really, â€œAnd where do they pretty much set the bar for major league pitching, please?â€
â€œNinety,â€ Becky said, unable to stop herself from talking â€˜MLBâ€™ with the rest of them. â€œBut thereâ€™s no way I could have hit eighty-eight. Itâ€™s impossible.â€
Principal McGovern sat back and folded his hands at his gut.
â€œWhat kind of pitch did you throw back there? Tell the truth, now.â€
â€œA four seam fastball.â€
â€œWhat did you aim for?â€
â€œYou hit his forehead.â€
â€œIâ€™m in sneakers and the floor is polished. I slipped an inch or two on the follow-through, and there was no mound slope to let me come downhill.â€
Her hand flew up to her mouth. It was all true, she knew, but how could she be so sure of this stuff when sheâ€™d never been on an actual mound in the first place?
â€œHow many pitches do you have, Miss Michigan?â€
None! Beckyâ€™s mind screamed. I have none, and this is a weird fluke, and I never meant to break any laws!
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œEight,â€ she admitted, looking down and shrugging. â€œBut I donâ€™t know where they came from, I swear. I mean, the police canâ€™t arrest me for what I dream, can they?â€
â€œThe police?â€ Principal McGovern said. Becky tilted up her chin and nodded over toward Rent-a-Cop. Dr. McGovern gave a short laugh.
â€œMr. Rivers isnâ€™t a policeman, Miss Michigan. He teaches shop and wears a radio so he can call in injuries faster. Liabilities and such.â€
â€œSo heâ€™s not a cop?â€ Becky repeated back stupidly.
â€œNo. He works here and coaches my varsity baseball team. You interested?â€