“Is it true?” I pleaded into the phone.
I watched as my icy breath drifted away in the winter breeze. Flurries of snow threaded through my hair, and I managed to capture a few in my mouth when I inhaled. The snowflakes landed on my tongue and instantly dissolved into nothing.
A muffling noise sounded through my phone, but I was unable to decipher it. With my free hand, I clenched my open ear, attempting to shut out all the commotion around me. Taxis zoomed by with horns blaring. People passed, chatting and giggling, sporting fresh faces from the start of the New Year. Their eyes explored the surroundings, but their glances never reached me. All my effort to drown out the clamor of the crowd was prevented by the roar of the planes flying overhead.
“Shelby... don’t know...killed...nobody...suicide...” My ears strained to distinguish every word, but I had heard enough.
The cold air froze my feet in place, refusing to release me. A numbness filled my nose and pervaded the rest of my body; it started as a miniscule feeling, small enough to burrow into my pores and take up excruciating residence, but it spread like wildfire. Goosebumps traveled up my arm and resonated deep inside me but not from the bitter chill of the air rather the bitter chill of reality.
“What?” I asked to no one in particular, dumbfounded. The voice continued to talk through the phone, but I ignored it.
My thoughts drifted, however, to someone else: Shelby. One softball practice, I was working on perfecting my screwball-- a pitch that curves into a right-handed batter from a right-handed pitcher. It was going on the third hour of practice, and everyone else was heading out but me. I stood on the mound under the glaring lights of the field, facing home plate. Staring at the glove of my catcher, which was placed on the inside corner of the plate, I willed myself not to hit the bucket that I had strategically placed in the right batter’s box. During games, I had not been able to use my screwball because I was hitting right-handed batters, and I needed to fix that. Exhaling sharply, I started my pitching motion. I didn’t need to see where the pitch went because I heard the loud clatter of the ball hitting the bucket. Try after try, I continued to hit the bucket.
Shelby approached the mound, her cleats crunching the dirt underneath her, “Chloe, you know the lights are going to shut off soon,” she said, rhetorically.
“I know-- I just...I just need to get it at least once,” I stammered, staring at my feet as I shuffled the gravel with my shoes.
I looked back up as I heard her walk away. She strode to the batter’s box, kicking over the bucket in the process. I gawked at her and asked, “You don’t expect me to pitch with you there, do you?”
“Don’t you want to be able to throw this pitch in the game?” she asked, “Just pitch the ball, and I’ll move if it looks like it’s going to hit me.”
Judging by the look on her face, I decided not to argue. Not wanting to hurt my teammate, though, I resolved to throw a fastball instead. I pitched the ball. The ball crossed the right corner of the plate; it was a perfect inside fastball.
“Chloe, I’m not stupid,” she stated, glaring at me, “Do it again.”
“But--,” I tried to get out before she cut me off.
“Screwball!” she called out.
Going into the pitching motion, I stared at nothing but the glove. I watched from afar, unable to do anything as the ball curved in and smacked right into her thigh with the sound echoing throughout the fields. I sucked in air through my teeth, “Oh my god! Shelby! Are you okay? I told you I shouldn’t do it!” I exclaimed as she attempted to walk it off.
She was bent over slightly, rubbing her left thigh sporadically. “It’s all right, I’m fine,” she said standing up straight, “That’s going to bruise tomorrow...okay, let’s try something else.”
She walked back to the batter’s box and