Stealing Parker (Hundred Oaks Series #2)

Stealing Parker (Hundred Oaks Series #2)

by Miranda Kenneally
Stealing Parker (Hundred Oaks Series #2)

Stealing Parker (Hundred Oaks Series #2)

by Miranda Kenneally


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"A hero who will melt your heart."—Jennifer Echols, national award-winning author of Such a Rush

Parker Shelton pretty much has the perfect life. She's on her way to becoming valedictorian at Hundred Oaks High, she's made the all-star softball team, and she has plenty of friends. Then her mother's scandal rocks their small town and suddenly no one will talk to her.

Now Parker wants a new life.

So she quits softball. Drops twenty pounds. And she figures why kiss one guy when she can kiss three. Or four. Why limit herself to high school boys when the majorly cute new baseball coach seems especially flirty?

But how far is too far before she loses herself completely?

Praise for Catching Jordan:

"A must-read for teens! I couldn't put it down!"—Simon Elkeles, New York Times bestselling author of the Perfect Chemistry series

"With a clever, authentic voice, Kenneally proves once and for all that when it comes to making life's toughest calls-on and off the field-girls rule!"—Sara Ockler, bestselling author of Fixing Delilah

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402271885
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 10/01/2012
Series: Hundred Oaks Series , #2
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 625,426
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 13 - 17 Years

About the Author

Growing up in Tennessee, MIRANDA KENNEALLY dreamed of becoming an Atlanta Brave, a country singer (cliché!), or a UN interpreter. Instead she writes and works for the State Department in Washington, D.C., where George W. Bush once used her shoulder as an armrest. Miranda loves Twitter, Star Trek and her husband. Visit

Read an Excerpt

the day i met brian hoffman

52 days until i turn 18

Bubblegum Pink is the nail polish of the day.

Matt Higgins will definitely like it—he's into all things girly-girl, so I add another coat before blowing on my nails. Tonight we're meeting at this field party, and I fully expect we'll make out behind a hay bale or something.

Drew is lounging on my bed, reading Cosmo. "So I signed you up to be manager for my baseball team."

"What?!" Careful not to mess up my polish, I mute the TV and sit up to face him. "Why?"

"I can't stand the idea of you holed up in your room while I'm playing ball this spring. You should come to practice tomorrow morning." He smells a perfume ad, cringes and sticks his tongue out.

My heart pounds faster than light speed. I hate baseball. I know, I know. That means I'm not a true American. It probably means I'm not human. But I gave up foam fingers, peanuts, and the Atlanta Braves when my mom announced she's a lesbian and ran off with her friend who was more than just a friend. A year ago January, she divorced my dad, and I divorced her dreams of me playing softball for Hundred Oaks.

"No way," I say, examining my nails.

"Come on, Parker!" He thumbs through the magazine. "Please?" he whines.

"What's involved?" I try to act nonchalant, but Drew looks up with a knowing smile. He's lived down the street from me my whole life—I'll do anything for him.

"Taking stats and helping with equipment."

Taking stats is way easy. I could do it in my sleep.

"It'll be a cinch," Drew says, reading my mind. He shows me a cartoon couple using a dining room table for Kama Sutra maximum effect. "Jesus Christ," he says. "Is that move physically possible?"

"Try it out with Amy and let me know."

He glances at me sideways, then turns the magazine vertical and studies it closely. "I'm flexible, but not that flexible."

"Can you imagine needing a hip replacement at seventeen? You could get a cane with flames painted on it."

"Or maybe one with skulls."

"Pirate ships!"

"Don't change the subject...So there'll be plenty of guys for you on the team." He snorggles. That's our special word for snorting and giggling. It'll be in Webster's any day now.

I have to admit I love the way cute guys look in baseball uniforms. Plus, I'd get to spend more time with Drew. Lately, his idea of fun has been going to Jiffy Burger with Corndog and Sam Henry and acting like they're the characters from Seinfeld, talking about nothing. Drew invites me along sometimes when they need an Elaine, because I'm really good at punching Corndog (George Costanza) and yelling "Get out!" and Drew says I dance worse than the real Elaine. But it's been getting kinda old. How many times can those guys debate who has better fries: Sonic or Jiffy Burger?

And what else do I have to do this semester? It's February, I've got a 4.0, and classes don't matter at this point—the only way Vanderbilt could revoke my early admission would be if I went on the news and advocated for Tennessee to secede from the union.

On the other hand, this could be a lot of work. I'd probably end up doing hard stuff like lugging water coolers around and washing dirty jockstraps or something.

On the other hand, I don't want to be lonely.

Jockstraps it is.


When I was five, Mom discovered a recipe for homemade edible Play-Doh. We loved cooking together, especially fancy stuff like foie gras grilled cheese. We sat at the kitchen table, which was covered by the previous week's comics, and mixed flour and sugar and peanut butter together and rolled it into shapes. I had dinosaur cookie cutters, so I made a Play-Doh T-Rex. Mom made a triceratops. I bit its head off, and she joked, "My little praying mantis." We giggled and giggled and gorged ourselves on that Play-Doh. The next day we went to church and Mom and I kneeled at the altar. As I prayed, I didn't ask you for anything. I only thanked you for giving me Mom.

Written on February 12 before the party at Morton's field. Burned using a candle.


On Saturday morning, Drew and I arrive at the baseball field behind Hundred Oaks High—aka the only place I dread more than Chuck E. Cheese (I worked there last summer and almost died because I had to wear a Crusty the Cat costume).

We step out of his red VW bug into the sun, and the crisp wind bites my face. I pull my arms up inside my fleece and begin the trek across the parking lot to meet the players, who are warming up by doing throwing exercises and sprints. I stare at the most popular guys at our school.

Popular-schmopular—any cute guy will do. Last Sunday after church? I hung out with this guy Aaron on the swings at the playground, listening to him talk about how much his school sucks (he goes to Woodbury High) and how Nirvana really is the best band ever. I disagree—I'm into modern stuff like Paramore and the All-American Rejects, but I couldn't get a word in because he kept talking and talking and talking. Before he drove home with his parents, I let him kiss me beside the turtle sandbox thing, so people will know I like boys.

"Over here!" Coach Burns calls, beckoning us.

"Oh, dear me," I croon to Drew. "Your coach is older than baseball itself."

"I think he coached my grandpa."

"And his grandpa."

"Everyone's been saying he'll retire after this year. Would you rather retire or work your whole life?"

"I'd retire tomorrow if I could, and I haven't even started working yet," I reply. "When you retire, would you rather spend time playing golf or bingo?"

"Golf. I love the outfits. Golf or polo?" he asks.

"Do you mean water polo or horse polo?"


"Gross. I like animals much more than speedos."

Drew introduces me to the coach, who starts explaining my responsibilities. How I'll be the official statistician because I make straight As in calc. (Coach did his homework.) How I should always have the coolers filled with ice water before practices start, and how I should make sure the buckets by the pitching machines are loaded with balls. Drew snorggles at the mention of balls. Perv. I elbow him.

"You should always be thirty minutes early for practice." The coach clears his throat, and his lined face goes a bit pink. He glances at Drew, then back to me. "And if you decide to date or mess around with anyone on the team, you can't be a manager anymore, okay?"

What? Kissing players is reason numero uno I'm willing to sit around watching these guys belch and adjust their crotches and spit in the dugout.

"Why?" I ask, scrunching my eyebrows.

"The girl who managed the team last year, uh, well, we had some incidents on the bus and in the locker room." He coughs. "I'm sure that won't happen with you."

Does he think I'm incapable of getting guys? I kissed Matt Higgins behind a barn last night. Trust me, I'm capable of getting a guy.

I smooth my curve-enhancing blue fleece. I'm wearing leather boots over skinny jeans. It's not sporty attire, but I once read this book called The Rules that said guys like girls who always look ready to go on a date, so I even wear lip gloss when jogging. The only thing I never bother fixing is my tangled waist-length brown hair. It may sound gross, but my hair looks good tangly—guys love it.

"No worries, Coach," I say.

Coach tells Drew to warm up, so he runs off, his cleats clacking on the asphalt. "You should meet my new assistant coach and our new captain. Don't take orders from any guys except the captain, understand?"

I nod, and Coach Burns calls out, "Hoffman! Whitfield! Get over here!"

Corndog, aka Will Whitfield, swings at a pitch, drops his bat, then jogs over. He must truly love baseball to smile in 40-degree February weather. He tosses away his batting helmet and runs his fingers through the brown waves of his hair before pulling his cap from the back pocket of his baseball pants.

"Hey," he says, giving me a bright grin, showing off the dimple in his right cheek.

Yeah, yeah. I know you're hot, Corndog. I fight the urge to roll my eyes. Thanks to all the years he's spent baling hay on his dad's farm, Corndog has gone from not to hot, from scrawny to sinewy, from geek to god, and now has to beat girls off with a stick. Not that he ever dates. Not that I'd ever hook up with him. He nearly became valedictorian instead of me.

"So..." he whispers, putting his hat on. "You and Higgins, eh?"

I pull my knit cap down over my ears and tell myself to ignore the queasiness. I didn't enjoy kissing Matt Higgins very much. He kept trying to go up my shirt. "It was a one-night thing."

Corndog removes a batting glove. "Isn't it always, for you?" He laughs, but it's not a nice laugh, and gives me a hard stare. "You keep screwing with my friends."

I rub my neck. What he's saying isn't a lie. I do kiss guys a lot.

And I'd be lying if I said I'm not interested in snuggling or talking on the phone late at night, falling asleep talking to a boy I'm in love with. I do want a boyfriend. But I haven't met any guys worth the risk of being ditched.

"Just do me a favor," Corndog whispers. "Don't mess with Bates."

I raise my eyebrows. I've never had that kind of spark with Drew. We had our diapers changed together. Besides, he's been dating this sweet girl, Amy Countryman, for like half his life. She enjoys knitting and cooks him breakfast for dinner. But truth be told, I'm not entirely sure Drew likes only girls.

"You don't have to worry about Drew," I whisper.

"Thanks." Corndog nods.

"Would you two like to join us sometime today?" Coach Burns says, motioning toward the field. "I want Parker to meet the new coach."

That's when a baseball rolls up to my boots.

"Sorry! Foul ball," Sam calls from home plate, clutching his bat.

I scoop up the ball, wind my arm, and hurl it from the parking lot and over the fence to shortstop.

"Wow," a voice says. "She's got a hell of an arm."

I turn slowly, and that's when I first see him.

His tan face is thin with stubble and a strong jaw. He's a couple inches taller than my 5'7". He's wearing gray baseball pants, an oversized black sweatshirt cut off at the elbows, and a frayed beige ball cap. Dark curls sneak out from under the brim. His big brown eyes meet mine and my breath sputters.

"Hi," Beautiful Boy says, stretching out a hand. "I'm Brian Hoffman, the new assistant coach."

"Parker Shelton."

Somehow I shake his hand and squeak out my name. Names, names. Brian & Parker sounds like a law firm. Parker & Brian sounds like a pharmaceutical company. His calloused palm feels rough against mine. I picture him touching my hair.

"Do you play softball?" Coach Hoffman asks me, smiling. He raises an eyebrow.


"You should try out."

I'm still shaking his hand. Longest Handshake of All Time. Maybe we can shake hands until practice is over and then I'll ask if he wants to hang out.

Wait. This guy's a coach. How old is he? Twenty-one? Twenty-two?

I release his hand and wipe my tingling palm on my jeans. Corndog's shaking his head at me. Coach Hoffman beckons for us to follow him onto the field. My pulse races as I cross the fresh chalk of the first base line. This is the first time I've stepped foot on a diamond in a year.

We meet the team at home plate, where Coach Hoffman tells them I'm the new manager. The guys crowd around me, saying stupid things like "Parker Shelton, woooo!" and "I love you, Parker!" and "Parker Shelton, I want to have all your babies!" and I shove my hands in the pockets of my fleece, glancing between the guys and the ground. Normally I'd be grinning, but I don't want Bri—I mean, Coach Hoffman seeing me act desperate.

Coach Burns takes this moment to tell the guys to keep their hands off me or risk getting suspended for two games. Then he leads the pitchers to the outfield for long toss.

"Coach Burns must really be pissed about last year," Paul Briggs says under his breath to Sam, but loud enough for me to hear. Paul plays catcher, and his weight rivals that of an orca whale. He gestures at me. "Sucks we won't be getting hot managerial play. Everyone knows she puts out."

"Shut up, man," Sam says, slapping Paul with a glove.

Corndog glares at Paul. "Apologize now."

Paul shrugs. "Sorry."

"Don't be an ass," Coach Hoffman tells Paul, grabbing him by a sleeve. "Five laps."

Paul throws him a look of hatred but takes off ambling around the field. Paul's not even capable of jogging.

I toe the ground, wishing someone would squash me into the red clay.

Coach Hoffman steps closer, his face turning rosy. Freckles dot his nose. His lips are chapped. Does he bite them?

He whispers, "I'm sorry about that."

"No big deal," I say, folding my arms across my chest. I want to tell him that I don't technically put out. I'm still a virgin. Honestly, I still have problems using tampons. They just don't work for me. I even studied this diagram in Seventeen that gave tips on how to get them in, but I can't figure out the logistics. And sometimes trying to figure it out makes blood rush to my head and I feel like I might pass out and I can only imagine Dad finding me in the bathroom, unconscious next to the toilet, pants-less with a tampon in my hand.

As if I'd ever ask my mother for tampon tips.

Coach Hoffman directs the JV guys to the batting cages and sends the varsity onto the field, to scrimmage. He adjusts his beige cap, looking at me. "Let's go over how to take stats, okay?"

"Okay, sounds great." Not that I need help with stats. I'm so good, I bet the Braves would hire me. But he doesn't have to know that.

Coach Hoffman goes on, "I'll need you to take stats at practices too. I'm in charge of the lineup, so accurate stats are crucial to my decision-making process."

His decision-making process? Crazy mature.

"Okay, Coach."

"Coach?" He lets out a ripple of laughter. "I don't think I'll ever get used to kids calling me coach or mister."

He thinks of us as kids? "How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?" My voice shakes.

He pauses. "I'm twenty-three. Just finished up my master's in phys ed at Georgia Tech."

He's a complete adult. He's six—one, two, three, four, five, six—years older than me. "What class are you teaching?"

"Gym, but I'm not sure what my schedule is yet." He pulls his cap off and puts it back on. He chomps on his gum. "They hired me to take over the baseball team for Coach Burns when he retires next year."

"So it's true?"

Coach Hoffman nods. "I'm in training this season."

As far as coaching goes, working at Hundred Oaks in Franklin is an impressive job to have. Our Raiders usually make it to the district tournament, if not further.

"You must know your baseball," I say.

He gives me a long serious look. I see his Adam's apple shift as he swallows. "Something like that."

"Did you play?" I ask.

"Something like that." His face goes hard.

"They must call you Cryptic Coach Hoffman." We haven't taken one step away from home plate.

"I'm never gonna get used to being called coach. Seriously."

I laugh lightly. "How about a nickname?"

"Such as?" He raises his eyebrows.

I stuff my frozen hands in my armpits. "The Hoff?"

"Isn't that David Hasselhoff's nickname?"


"So you're equating me with that movie star guy who gets trashed and videotapes himself drunk and eating cheeseburgers?"


"Back in high school they called me Shooter."

"Why? Are you a deer hunter or something?"

"Uhhh, you don't want to know what it means." The side of his mouth quirks up.

I rock back and forth on my heels. "I like the Hoff way better."

He smiles at me. "If you're gonna call me the Hoff, I'm gonna give you a nickname too."

"Such as...?"

"Trouble. I'll call you Trouble."



We start laughing.

"God, this is the silliest conversation I've had in ages," he says with a smile.

Yeah, probably because you're an adult and I'm a child, and how could an adult possibly have a normal mature conversation with a girl? I gaze down at the red clay beneath my boots, then look up into his brown eyes and sneak a glimpse at the loose curls peeking out from under his hat. Are they soft?

I say, "Fine, you can call me Trouble. And I'm still gonna call you the Hoff."

His face contorts into this blend of pain and amusement. "Call me Brian," he says quietly. "I'm not ready to be called coach or mister. I'm not ancient."

"Brian." I like the way it sounds coming off my tongue. Full and deep. His mouth slides into a smile, and I catch him quickly scanning my body.

He leads me over to the dugout, picking up a stick along the way. We sit down. He hands me a pencil and the stats book, which looks like a large, floppy sketchpad. Boxes of tiny field grids fill the inside pages. I bring the stats book to my nose and inhale the smoky gray paper.

Brian laughs softly and uses the stick to clean clay out of his cleats. "You must really like baseball. Smelling the stats book and all."

"Smelling books is a habit Dad got me started on."

"There are worse habits." Brian shows me his fingernails. He's bitten them down to the quick. How personal. It's not like I openly show people my super-long second toes.

"You ever taken stats before?" he asks. I like his voice. Low, Southern, manly.

"Sort of," I say, tracing my palm. "Dad is a big Braves fan." Was a big Braves fan.

"Me too." He goes back to picking wet clay and grass out of his cleat. "What's your team?"

"Braves, I guess." I want to keep talking to him. I can do this. I can talk about baseball again. When my family was still together, we loved heading down to Atlanta on weekends to catch games, especially when they played the Phillies and the Mets.

Mom played softball in high school, and then went on to play shortstop for the University of Tennessee. Before she ditched us, I played softball too. I loved it. But last January, when she left and moved to Knoxville with Theresa, our family was embarrassed to the nth degree. Everyone at church gave us funny looks on Sundays during Coffee Time in the Fellowship Hall, which is a fancy way of saying we eat stale donuts in the church basement. I don't even know why we kept going to church.

"But why would we want to hang out with those jerks who judge us because of something Mom did?" I had cried to Dad.

"It's just a phase. They'll forget about it."


"We are not negotiating this," he replied, studying the newspaper.

"Are we going to atone for Mom's sins?" my older brother asked.

"Becoming a lesbian is a sin?" I replied.

"I'm not sure. People at church think so." Ryan sucked on his bottom lip.

"Does it actually say that in the Bible? Thou shalt not become a lesbian?"

"No," Dad said with a sigh, his eyes closed.

"Then why are we going to church?" I blurted. Phase or not, how the congregation turned on us didn't seem forgivable.

"We trust in prayer," Dad replied. His father believes in prayer. So did his grandfather.

Church means dressing up on Sunday mornings and forgoing French toast at the kitchen table for stale powdered donuts. It means listening to Brother John saying "Your body is a temple" and "True love waits," and then we all would say we'll wait until we get married to have sex. Or at least until college.

Some people at church thought I might turn out like my mom. A lesbian. A sinner. I overheard the youth pastor whispering that to the choir director. Brother John told Mrs. James that they would always love me, but he and his wife had to protect their daughter, Laura (my former best friend), from making similarly bad choices. I went home and hid all my pictures of Mom and cried and cried.

But that made me feel worse, because I knew Mom adored me, and no matter how hard she had tried to hide it, we could tell she was depressed. Before she left Dad, sometimes I came home from school and found she'd been crying.

I used to love church, but I turned away from it like they turned on me. I shouldn't have been surprised. After Tate Gillam's dad got caught doing his secretary, my own dad told me not to hang around Tate and his sister Rachel anymore.

When I confronted Laura about what her dad had said, that I might turn out like my mom—a lesbian, a sinner—we got into a huge fight because I said her father wasn't being a good Christian toward me. Laura asked, "What do you know about being a Christian? You knew I liked Jack Hulsey. When you turned him down to the Winter Wonderland formal, you could've put in a good word for me. But you only care about yourself and proving you're better than me."

So untrue.

Our frustrations had been building up for a long time anyhow, so she didn't take it well when I called her a jealous bitch. The words popped out and I wanted to take them back, but I couldn't.

Then Laura spread a rumor around school, saying I'm just like my mom. A butch softball player who probably likes girls.

Apparently "love thy neighbor" changes to "judge thy neighbor" if your family doesn't follow the church playbook.

Where did you go, God?

That night after Laura spread the rumors, I started dieting. I went from 140 pounds of muscle down to 110 pounds of skin and bone and hotness. I look good. I don't look butch. All the guys know I look good. They know I want them and that I love kissing and sometimes rounding a couple bases (I never go further than second). But that's as close as they're getting. Emotionally or otherwise.

"Hello? Earth to Parker." Brian snaps his fingers in my face.

"Oh. Sorry."

"What're you thinking about?"

I hear a crack: the ball connecting with a bat. Foul ball. Drew stands at second base, pounding a fist into his glove. Corndog mans third, hunched over on his knees, focused on the batter. Brian smacks bubblegum that smells like heaven.

After Mom left, we stopped watching the Braves.

"I'm thinking about baseball," I whisper.

"Oh yeah?" A grin sneaks on his face. "I love this game."


Lee Miller pops up to center field. Sam catches the fly, then lobs the ball to shortstop.

Brian asks, "Why'd you want to be our manager?"

"Drew wanted me to." I gesture toward second base, where I can see him standing on tiptoes, trying to see what I'm up to. "He's my best friend."

"That's cool," he says. "Are you a senior?"


"Where do you want to go to college?"

"Vanderbilt?" I don't tell him I've already been accepted early decision.

He whistles. "Good school."

"My brother Ryan goes there. He still lives at home with us, though." Vanderbilt's only about 20 minutes away.

"You're close with your family?" Brian asks.

"Sorta close with my dad and Ryan." I peek over at him. "How about you? Do you have any brothers or sisters?"

Brian watches a cloud passing overhead. "A little sister. Anna...What about your mom?"

I blush. "Um, she doesn't live here anymore."

He finds my eyes, but doesn't press further. "Anna doesn't live here anymore either. She moved to Florida."

"Do you miss her?" Because I miss Mom and the way things were before the divorce so much...all I want is for everyone in my family to be whole again. For us to be whole together.

Brian chews his gum. "It's a scary thing to wake up and realize the people you need most aren't nearby anymore...But you keep moving."

He elbows me, and yeah, he's much older, but I don't feel so alone right now. I like that he understands the importance of family. I like that sitting here beside him is so easy.

He tutors me in taking baseball stats, showing me how to draw a thick line from home plate to first base to denote a single. He scratches out the little "1B" next to the thick line. He says that if the ball hits a runner, I have to write BHR across the little field. A double means drawing two dark lines, and if a pitcher hits a batter, I'm supposed to write HBP real big. If a batter hits a homer, I draw four dark lines from base to base to base to home plate, then I denote how many runs get batted in by writing the number of runs and circling it. A bunt is BT.

"I thought BT meant bacon and tomato," I say, and Brian chuckles softly at my stupid joke. Generous of him. I lean so close to watch as he fills out the scorecard, I can feel his breath, warm against my cheek. This is the first time in a long while that an adult has paid a lot of attention to me. Paid attention, and treated me like an equal.

"So, any questions?" Brian asks, snapping the stats book shut. He grabs a glove from a cubby under the bench.

"Yeah, when are practices?"

"Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, except for when we have games, which are usually on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays."

"Darn," I mumble.

"How come? Are you on yearbook staff or in the play or something?"

"I have WNYG on Wednesdays and I was hoping I could get out of it."


"Wednesday Night Youth Group at church. Brother John thinks calling it WNYG makes it sound sexy."

Brian snorts. He puts the glove on his left hand and starts breaking it in with his other fist.

I keep blabbering, "Dad makes me go to church, but I can't stand it anymore." Why am I being so honest with this guy?

"Where do you go?"

"Forrest Sanctuary."

He bites at a hangnail. "Huh. That's where my parents go."

"Every Sunday?"

"Every Sunday."

I've never seen him there. And over five hundred people are in the congregation, so I have no idea who his parents are. "But you don't go?"

He stops biting his nail and goes back to pounding his glove. "It's not really my thing either."

"What, you mean you don't love eating stale powdered donuts during Coffee Time in the Fellowship Hall?"

He chuckles.

"Hoffman!" Coach Burns calls from over by third base. "You teaching her the history of baseball or something?"

"We better go," Brian says, standing and adjusting his beige cap. He gives me a nervous smile. I hope he'll put out a hand, to help me stand up, but he doesn't.

Disappointment should be my middle name.


"Disappointment" can't begin to describe how it felt losing Laura and Allie. Sure, you may have shown me that Laura's not the best friend I've ever had, which is probably better in the long run, but I still feel the loss. No more Saturday nights at the drive-in. No more impromptu fashion shows in Allie's mom's walk-in closet. No more roasting marshmallows over a stove burner.

Written after practice on February 13. Burned.


I sit Indian style up against the fence beside the third base line, taking stats. I have to admit I'm enjoying it.

Corndog steps up to the plate and taps his bat on the ground three times before getting into his stance. He watches the first pitch smack into the catcher's mitt.

"Strike one," Coach Burns says.

"That was high, Coach!" Corndog yells.

"High my ass!" Sam yells from center field. "I'm a billion feet away and I could tell that was a strike."

"Shut your face, Henry!" Corndog calls.

"I wonder if they'll let me retire tomorrow," Coach Burns replies.

On the next pitch, Corndog sends the ball over the right field wall. He whoops as he rounds the bases. "Yo, Parker! You wrote that down, right?" he calls out as he rounds third. He points at me before crossing home plate, shoving his fists toward the sky, doing the Rocky pose.

Does he have to be so perfect at everything? Everyone's been saying he applied to big-time schools like Harvard. I mark his homer, filling in the diamond with pencil.

"Parker Shelton? Is that you?"

I glance up to find a clearly pregnant Coach Lynn standing before me.

"It's me," I reply, deadpan, turning my focus to stats. Drew is the next batter up; I write down his name.

"What are you doing here?" she asks.

"She's our new manager."

I jerk my head up. Brian's hovering beside my former softball coach.

"Manager?" Coach Lynn exclaims. "You told me you'd rather burn in hell than have anything to do with softball ever again. You're willing to manage, but you won't play for me?" She touches her swollen stomach, looking upset. She must be six months along by now.

Brian furrows his eyebrows at me. He tucks his hands in the pockets of his sweatshirt and chomps his gum.

I twirl my pencil.

"Well?" Coach Lynn presses.

I shrug. I've got nothing to say to her.

"You threw away your chance to play in college, Parker. You're about to graduate. I know you love softball."

"She played for you?" Brian asks.

"She was on my varsity squad her freshman and sophomore years. Could've been the best third baseman Hundred Oaks has ever seen."

"Varsity? As a freshman?" Brian blurts.

I lick my lips and glance at his face, then clear my throat. "If you'll excuse me, I need to pay attention to practice." I watch as Drew scoops at a low pitch and misses it. "Stats are very important to Coach Hoffman's decision-making process."

"Decision-making process," Coach Lynn repeats.

"That's right," Brian says. The look on his face shocks me. His dark eyes are questioning, pissed. Wary. He crosses his arms and heads out to center field, to talk to Sam.

"I'd love to have you on the team," Coach Lynn says, rubbing her belly. "Just say the word. You don't have to manage the boys' team if you want to be around the game again."

I shake my head. "That's not it."

I've never told Coach Lynn why I quit after the first practice last season. Softball was something Mom and I shared, and simply slipping a glove on my hand reminded me of how she left. It hurt like hell, but I thought I could handle playing again. But after everything went down with Laura, it sent me over the edge, and I quit. Coach Lynn's tried, unsuccessfully, to get me back. But she doesn't know how it felt, how my own team made fun of me. What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.

"Our practice starts right after the boys are done," Coach Lynn says. "I'd love to see you there." She waddles off toward the left field equipment shed, where I see my former teammates gathering. That's when Laura and Allie James pass by the fence. Laura has broad shoulders and blonde hair and is much shorter than me or Allie, who's a tall, bony first baseman.

"I can't believe they let her be manager," Laura says loudly. "It can't be good for the team's image."

"I wish I got to spend time with all those boys," Allie replies quietly, sounding wistful. They sashay toward the equipment shed.

Laura was the worst after Mom left, after I screamed that her dad was being a jerk and not a very good Christian. She was captain junior year and said, "Don't stare at the other girls in the locker room. I won't stand for it." Why would I want to follow a leader like that?

Some other girls on the team taunted me too, asking questions like, "How do lesbians have sex anyway?" and "You're not gay, right? 'Cause that would just be weird."

Allie took a step back and bit her lip. She looked sympathetic, but ultimately kept hanging out with Laura because her mom worried I'd be a bad influence on her daughter. I never bothered to reach out to Allie after that. I mean, why? So my heart could be broken again?

Still, watching my team pull bats and catching equipment and helmets out of the shed nearly brings me to tears. I don't need them, I tell myself. I've got Drew. The person who didn't judge me.

Brian comes back over, squats beside me, and studies my scorekeeping. "Did you already know how to take stats?"

"Yeah," I mumble, fumbling with my pencil.

His brow wrinkles. "I don't appreciate it when people waste my time."

Then he's gone.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Miranda Kenneally, I LOVE YOU!!" - The Story Siren

"This breezy read may speak to sports fans, reluctant readers, and girls who like forbidden love mixed with happy endings." - Booklist

"Kenneally (Catching Jordan) writes with heart, earnestly tackling such challenges as being a teen with a gay parent and being unsure of one's faith. Parker's insecurities, her desire to be loved, and her uncertainty about how far to take her steamy but illegal relationship are realistic. Not only will readers want to see Parker find true love, they'll also hope she learns to love herself." - Publishers Weekly

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