So this guy inherits a mostly female celebrity softball team, their stated purpose to fundraise for charity. The problem being no one is willing to sponsor them. They all possess a zero softball skillset and blame their morning show leader, Randi Navarro, for dumping them all on “Coach Cowboy”, a stranger who means to find out what makes them tick so he can turn a bunch of temperamental A-list females into a women’s crisis centers fundraising machine. A stranger whose saving grace is he’s okay to look at and fun to be around, has a Golden Globe and a check-stand gossip-newspaper-worthy lawsuit under his belt.
Thursday. Day four of Jackson’s brief lunch meetings with his core female softball team members. He was curious how all the Seven in the Morning broadcast girls found the unhealthiest looking shit-hole places to eat “healthy” food. He’d eaten more saffron, rosemary, balsamic, ginger, thyme, curry, teriyaki, or combo/other infused steamed or wok veggies in the last four days than he’d eaten in a year. Two or three years. Ever, maybe. All of it from questionable looking remodeled and brightly painted old gas stations or little square cinder block huts in strip center parking lots.
In another strip center parking lot outside Psylla’s Garden Delites he looked across another welded-pipe-chained-to-a-light-pole-picnic-table-with-an-umbrella at today’s lunch date, Cicily Warren, Seven in the Morning’s Weather Seven girl. Unlike her pedal-to-the-metal cohorts, Cicily was quiet, almost shy. And pretty, in a classic, wholesome, Miss Iowa Asparagus Queen way. She was also a degreed meteorologist, not another talking head. What she did have in common with the rest of the morning crew was her presentation to him of a little fear, a touch of pissed off, and a whole lot of distrust. They sat, surrounded by traffic noise for a few minutes until she said “perfect” about a crunchy chunk of broccoli dripping with lemon coconut butter. Jackson took it as an opener.
“That wasn’t meant for me, so I guess I’m gonna have to start. The other ladies you work with jumped right in.”
“I can hear it. Who the hell are you? What do you want? They can be like that.”
“And you’re a wait and see?”
“I learned when I was a teenager that there are more important things in the world than my opinion and now it’s hard for me to validate them, even to myself, much less share them with other people. Except for guessing what the weather’s going to do.” She laughed a small, insecure laugh. “They pay me for that.” She dunked more broccoli and gave him a momentary eye lock. “Particularly share them with someone I hardly know who practically demanded a lunch date to discuss topic or topics undisclosed.”
“Point taken. Here it is. My feeling was that you were seriously bummed about the game on Saturday, took you most of dinner to lighten up. That’s why we’re here. I need to know why.”
“It won’t do any good.”
“Maybe not. Try me.” He held up three fingers. “I got a merit badge for listening. Only had to do it once to prove I could. Twice won’t kill me.”
She snarked on some veg. “Randi said you were a natural ice breaker.” She pulled a paper napkin from under his tray, “It won’t do any good because I’m not any good, that’s why.”
“I know this woman, she’s a VP at a big land development company back where I come from. She says ‘Holy Shit’ all the time. So Holy Shit, Cicily. You’re a meteorologist. A for-real scientist. All the city polls rate you number one for accuracy. That looks ‘good’ from over here.”
“Those polls are all Randi and the others and nothing to do with the weather or softball.”
He took a big bite of water chestnut with something limp and green clinging to it to buy time. He’d done this same meeting on Monday, different veggie stand, with Randi Navarro. She’d said their success was all down to Cicily’s perfectly desirable apple pie looks and accuracy because she knew what she was doing, not just smiling and being perky and saying dumb shit about the news.
“Last I looked Randi doesn’t call the weather.”
“No, but she’s why we’re so popular. All big smile and straight hair and that perky cheerleader shake-the-pom-poms-about-everything way she has. I could say sunshine every day it rains and those polls —”
“Sorry, but that song won’t chart. The polls for you are about you, Cicily. Not Navarro. Did you ask the other ladies what we talked about?”
“I asked. They said you wanted us to wait until we’d all done this meeting to talk to each other about them, so we’re being good girls.”
“Cool. I’m gonna tell you something I didn’t tell them. You all say it’s down to somebody else. Every one of you. That’s modest and polite but the truth is it’s all of you, and I can tell by the way you talk about the show and each other that you’re all proud of the job you’ve done. But you’re all missing it. You’re successful and number one in the morning because you’re a team, not because one of you is a standout. So…” he hesitated, stabbed, decided against a lump of orange-ish something in his bucket.
“So?” She checked her watch.
“So, if Cicily Warren can play on a team with the big girls, in the big league, what is there about a goofy little softball team that pushes some button of yours so hard even I can see it hurts?”
She waited. Didn’t eat, didn’t look away. Looked at him like he was a fresh fish being held up in a market. “I’m sure you’ve heard this all week long but I’ll reiterate. We’re terrible. The two guys always say it’s our fault, that we’re beyond pitiful. That we play like girls. We used to say they could help more and stop yelling at us, but they won’t and don’t. And I’m absolutely the worst of all of us, because…Well, because my mom didn’t have the time and we had some problems. No dad, no brothers, and my sister and I never played on a team or learned how to do any of the sports things.”
She’d had her fingers on something in the paperboard bucket she was holding up with her other hand, needed to commit or quit on it. He could see her deciding how much Miss Manners to put into a picnic table lunch with a questionable, just met him softball coach.
He held out another napkin for her, saying “Eat it, whatever it is. You’re killing me and a good story.”
She dropped whatever it was in her mouth, not a messy drop of weird butter to be seen, and took the napkin. “I had a boyfriend in college. He made me play basketball with him for a while. That was almost fun.”
He raised his eyebrows and popped what might have been yellow cauliflower soaked in coconut butter in his mouth, tried not to make a face, waited for her.
“Well, I got okay with throwing it through the hoop but all that ball bouncing and butt bumping and being competitive? I didn’t care for that. We broke up, I went back to the weather and gave up on team sports. Then, last year, Randi said ‘Softball.’ It sounded like fun because it was supposed to be for a good cause and there’s not all that bumping and jumping, but I don’t know anything else about it. Other than I stand out there and wait for the ball and screw up when it comes. And forget swinging that bat thing. I close my eyes.”
“So do a lot of people.” Straight back to third grade. When the pitchers had picked up velocity but not accuracy. To stay in box he’d closed his eyes, swung so hard he broke a bat the first time he’d connected.
They sat in the noise from the One and the sidewalk Muzak for a few, Jackson impressed with how she ate most of the plastic bowl full of coconut buttery veg with her fingers, didn’t make a mess and only needed the napkins for the fingers she used. He stopped stirring his congealing bucket of veg, dropped his spork and a balled-up napkin in it.
“Look, Cis,” he waited for her to drop her spork in her own bucket. “I asked you to do this lunch because the last thing I need is to inherit a fundraising softball team that everyone dreads playing on. And I can tell a couple of you are already looking to book. Truth? I, we really need you to stay. The guys’ll have new manners by Saturday, that’s a promise. And I have a plan to make you and everyone else feel more comfortable playing. I can’t promise sunshine on every cloudy day, but the rainy day blues are over as far as softball and you are concerned. Can we be square on that?”
“We all told Randi you were her problem if you started to stink.” She stirred her thickening goo absently, pushed it away. “We’re okay. For now.”
“Good.” Based on what he’d learned from the other lunches, ‘For God’s sake don’t ask Cis anything real about the weather or you’ll be there all day’, he put on his best curious face. “So, Ms. Weather Seven, do you know how the clouds and the sky get all those colors in the morning? The pinks and weird yellows and grays and blues?”
“What’s in the atmosphere acts like color frequency filters.” She eyed him to see if he was paying attention, lit up like he’d flipped a switch. “It all depends on where you’re standing, you know, and what’s between you and…Since you asked, and this might take a minute,” she handed him her empty veg bucket stuffed with napkins. “May I have another, please? Coach? I’m starving.”
He wanted to ask why they all ate funked-up veg instead of real food, wanted to take her to Trini’s in Long Beach, feed her a burrito the size of his forearm. But he walked to the window, leaned on the worn wooden sill under the walkup window, and waited for the elderly Asian woman to look up from a thick, coverless paperback. She nodded at her book, turned down the page set it on the stool when she stood.
“I need one more of whatever she ordered before I got here.”
She tilted her head to look past him. “Her?” The woman produced a laminated sheet with fluorescent color thumbnails of all the culinary marvels available at Psylla’s, each with Han characters and brief English descriptions, dropped her index finger on one called ‘Weather Lady’. “She eat here all time. Nobody bother her. She the best. She say ‘rain’, I save money, stay home.” She flipped the laminated menu. Taped to the back was Cicily’s Channel Seven headshot, autographed to Sue. “She sign special. For me.”
“Shoulda known.” He turned the menu over, studied it looking for something he might want to eat, the fluorescent globs on tiny plates not registering as edible, regardless of what they were called.
“I tell her,” she wagged her finger in his face for emphasis. ‘Yeww no truss young man eats healthy food’. I truss yeww, yeww not type for here so no waste time.” She yanked the colorful menu out from under his hand, made it disappear. “For yeww I have fried egg row. Chicken, beef, vegable…”
“Chicken. You have anything back there besides soy sauce? Tabasco, hot saw –”
“Green Dragon,” she deposited a squeeze bottle full of green liquid on the sill. “Carefow, boyfren. Set ass on fire.”
Jackson delivered Cicily’s bucket, set his wrapped up eggrolls, and the bottle of sauce on the metal tabletop before he dropped on the iron bench. Cicily lifted the bottle of green sauce, studied it.
“You do know what this is?”
“Green Dragon’s what she said. You wanna slide it back this way? Please?”
She watched him smother an eggroll with the sauce, stab it with one spork and rip off a bite with another. Her expression started with mild curiosity and morphed into borderline horror when he stuck the chunk in his mouth. “Oh. My. God.”
“Not too bad,” he said through a mouthful. “There’s a habanero sauce at this Mexican dive in Santa Monica, La Reyna. The owner, Trey, makes up small batches of it in the back. You gotta ask for it. Ever been there?”
“Santa Monica, yes. The Reyna place, no.”
“We’ll go sometime after a game. The whole team.” He sporked off another bite. “So. You were telling me all about the clouds and the colors?” He caught her staring at her bucket of gooey veg. “Relax, Cis. You can talk and eat. Nobody here’s gonna call our moms or narc you out to the public decorum police at Channel Seven.”
By the time she was done with her veg bucket, frequency filtering, and smog and chemistry and physics, he was damn glad they’d met at Psylla’s Garden Delites in their own rides and she had a meeting later in the afternoon because the girl could talk some science. Forever. Big, capital S Science. Big Science being his big ouch. He acted interested, smiled, nodded, hoped he said “wow” and “cool” in the right places. He didn’t even understand what the hell the H and L meant on the weather map, all he knew was that a smart, pretty girl on TV who was on his softball team did know, and cared enough to tell him and a couple million other people if they needed a jacket or an umbrella before he left his apartment.
Happy to have relaxed, unloaded science and educated a curious, polite, seasoned listener Cicily smiled and waved before she climbed in her car. He waved back, his other hand lingering on the Impala’s door handle while he watched her roll away. It was gonna be okay. He’d listen to Cicily’s big love for science and nutrition, and to all the rest of them and their big ideas, big hurts, big anger if they’d just hang in a little longer.
He unlocked his car, fired it up, sat back, cut a Carefow, boyfren sonic boom fart before he checked the big wall calendar from Peaches Garage sitting in his passenger seat. Tomorrow. Zane Rialta, the hard-ass syndicated gossip show host with the sun-shade boob job. Her husband was a professional jock, so maybe she ate real food. Please. Any more buttery broccoli or Green Dragon sauce and he was going to fart himself right past the weekend.