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Friday, 19 July 2013 18:46

How to Make a Girl Smile by Robert P. Hiatt

I’m not crazy about Sundays to begin with, and this particular Sunday, with me being awkwardly in love didn’t help. Every Sunday, all day long, I keep thinking about having to go back to school on Monday, and how I’ll have to wait until baseball practice on Wednesday to see Betsie Newton again. So there I was, lost in my same old Monday-is-tomorrow, Sunday evening funk-mood, walking home from my friend Alex’s house, when I heard someone calling me in a sing-song voice: “Rob–ert…” 

I barely heard it.

“Rob–ert…” I looked behind me and I saw someone riding a bicycle toward me. She was pedaling slowly. Soon I could make out that it was her: Betsie Newton. “Well, now I don’t have to wait until Wednesday after all,” I thought.

And I smiled.

How to Make a Girl Smile by Robert P. HiattBetsie is my little league coach’s daughter. She started coming to games and practices with her father and brother a couple of weeks ago, and things have gotten progressively more complicated for me ever since. I should have known that it was her, since she’s just about the only person that ever calls me “Robert.”  Most everyone else calls me Bob. My mood improved significantly, and I tucked my shirt in.

I turned and waited for Betsie as she eventually, finally peddled to where I stood.

“Hey, how’s it goin’?” she said. She smelled like strawberries.

“Okay, I guess. I’m just hoofin’ it home for dinner.” I looked vaguely in the direction of my house. Alex’s dad had invited me to stay for dinner, but I didn’t even bother to call my mom and ask her if I could stay; I knew she would probably say yes and then torment me later with subtle, soft psychological torture designed to induce maximum guilt, so I declined. You see, Alex’s mom pissed-off my mom for an undisclosed reason, and even though Alex’s mom didn’t even live there anymore, I guess it became a kind of ‘guilt-by-association’ kind of thing.

 

“Oh yeah, dinner…” she said and looked distractedly toward the direction I was looking, almost as if she forgot that people eat dinner in the evening.

“What’s up with you?” I asked.

“I’m just riding around until Jerkoff George leaves my house. He’s hanging out with my brother.” She took off her baseball cap, flipped her hair back and replaced the cap so that it looked exactly the same as before.

George was our team’s first baseman, and a first-rate ass. The “Jerkoff” nickname fits him well, but no one except Betsie calls him that. He’s the kind of guy that gets a big kick out of sneaking up on one of his own teammates during a game and pulling the guy’s pants down. And he likes to shove chewed-up gum into people’s mitts. He also let it be known that he had ‘dibs’ on Betsie, and none of us should even talk to her if we knew what was good for us. I was willing to take that risk.

“So how will you know that he’s gone?” I asked, “I mean…you know, when do you know when to go home?”

“I’ll just go when it feels right,” she said.

I let that sink in and I just stood there and I didn’t know what to say, so I said: “Want to go to my house?” 

But the words came out fast and all together so it sounded like “wannagotomyhouse?” 

I then caught myself as I had started to step nervously from one foot to the other, like I was doing some kind of hopping dance.

“Sure, why not?” she said. So we started walking to my house as slowly as I could manage it.

 

*

 

 The first time I saw Betsie, Coach had pulled up near the field to unload the equipment just as he always does, but this time a girl got out of the car. When I noticed this new development, I forgot what I was doing. I barely noticed the ball fly by my left ear because I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.

“Yo. Dingus! Get the ball. Yo! Spaceman!” Albert, the outfielder, was yelling at me. Albert and I were warming up, having a catch when I had zoned out. I was watching her when I noticed that she was struggling to pull the bulky duffle bag full of bats out of the trunk, so I ignored Albert and ran over to help her. This was a bold move, because Coach very much loved his “nice, new Buick Riviera,” and he didn’t want our “grubby, sticky, dirty hands” anywhere near it. She smiled at me when I took the bag from her.

 

*

 

When we turned the corner at my street, I told Betsie I wasn’t sure what kind of scene we might be walking into at my house.

“Sometimes my mom can be…well, kind of high-strung, if you know what I mean,” I said.

“You mean bitchy?” she said.

I thought for a second. “Yeah, but it’s different than just being bitchy. She might be in a great mood, having fun, you know, and then a just little while later she’ll look real sad and sometimes even start crying.”  Betsie looked worried. “Not all the time,” I said. “But I just wanted to warn you.”

The green grass seemed to glow in the light from the setting sun; there were no lights on in my house. Our dog, a ridiculous fluffy thing named Lola, no bigger than a cat, was sitting on the porch, wagging her tail at us as we walked up.

“What are you doing out here?” I said to her. “You belong out back.”

We went into the house, and there was no answer to my “Hi I’m home,” so we went into the kitchen and I looked for a note. There was one on the refrigerator:

“Had to go help at the shelter. I’ll be home later. After dinner. Feed the dog. Is your homework done?  Love, M.”

My mom volunteers at a place that takes care of women who have to get away from “bad situations,” as she put it.

“Mom’s out,” I said. I pondered our food options. “How about a sandwich?  Or I can heat up some leftover chili…” I watched Betsie as she sat down at the kitchen table. She smiled when she saw the framed Gary Larson “Far Side” comic with the kid pushing the ‘pull’ door at the school for gifted students.

“Whatever you want is fine with me,” she said, “but what I really could use is a glass of water.”

“Oh, yeah. Do you want some juice?  Milk?  Soda?” I was talking fast again.

“Just water, please.”

I put some chili in a pan and put it on a low heat. We sat and talked about all kinds of stuff, especially about food, like how she never uses ketchup. She actually likes to eat French fries with mayonnaise. I was defending my method of eating cereal dry and chasing it with milk when I heard my mom coming in the front door.

She was talking to someone, but at first I thought she was talking to me.

“Mom? I can’t hear you.”

When my mom walked into the kitchen, another lady was with her. The lady looked at me and smiled, then she looked at Betsie and her eyes got real big and her mouth fell open.

“Mom!” said Betsie as she jumped up, leaping right from her chair to hug her mom.

 My mom looked almost as surprised as Betsie’s mom did, and we just stood there and looked at each other. Eventually, Betsie and her mom sat down, and my mom asked me to go out to the car and bring in the suitcase that was in the back seat. “Mrs. Newton is going to stay with us for a little while,” she said.

It wasn’t until I was outside that I realized that Betsie’s mom must have been at the shelter. At our last game, I overheard her brother Peter, our pitcher, tell someone I didn’t recognize that their mother had moved out of their house. I knew Coach liked to drink beer, a lot of beer, and I knew that he could get mean, and I knew that people who get mean and drink too much beer can get extra mean. I congratulated myself for deciding to keep my mouth shut about what I thought happened, and went back inside.

 

*

 

Mrs. Newton moved in with us, and we had to keep it a secret; even her brother didn’t know. Betsie wanted to move in too, but she didn’t. I got to know Betsie and her mom pretty well during that time, and it was hard to keep it all a secret, but I did. Coach hardly ever smiled anymore and he showed up drunk a couple of times for practices and games. He even got sent home from a game once by the umpire for cursing.

A few weeks later, the team had a party at Coach’s house to celebrate the end of baseball season. It was a pretty good season, but we didn’t make the playoffs or anything, so I was surprised that there was a big cake on a table outside with our team name—Saints -- and our team colors, which are purple and yellow, on top. Coach was grilling hot dogs, and most of the team was hanging around in the yard, not looking particularly happy to be there. I looked for Betsie right away, but she wasn’t there. I got a soda out of a cooler and found myself near Albert, the outfielder and Dalton, the catcher. We were about to go ask Coach if we could go get some gloves and a ball to toss around, when George came out of the backdoor of Coach’s house. His face was all red, and he went over to the cooler full of sodas and stood there a long time like he couldn’t decide which one he wanted. A few minutes later, Betsie came out from the house, and looked around the yard. When she saw me, she motioned for me to come over to her. She clutched my elbow and took me around the side of her house to the front yard where we were alone.

“Well, I’ve had it!” she said. She stomped her feet and spit hard at the ground. I expected to hear that her dad said or did something mean again.

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“I was coming out of the bathroom and George was standing right there. He grabbed me, pulled me into him, and kissed me!  I was pushing back at him and saying ‘No!’ and he just held me hard against the wall and kissed me!  I slapped him and he finally let me go. I had to brush my teeth for like twenty minutes, and I used about half a bottle of mouth wash.”How to Make a Girl Smile by Robert P. Hiatt

After she calmed down I convinced her to go with me to the back yard. They hadn’t cut the cake yet and George was standing at the table looking impatient. I went over and admired the cake with him. Then I bent over and sniffed a couple of times at the cake. I stood up, looked at George and said, “This cake stinks.”

“What?” said George.

“I said it stinks. See for yourself.” I gestured toward the innocent looking cake, sitting there on the table. George looked at me and then reluctantly leaned down to take a sniff. I grabbed the back of his head and pushed his face into the cake and rubbed it around in it. I looked over at Betsie, and she was smiling.

Additional Info

Robert P. Hiatt actually married Betsie Newton; the story, however, is indeed fiction. He lives on an island in the Gulf of Mexico with his aforementioned bewitching wife Betsie, his young daughter Marza, and a passel of annoying critters, all of whom he loves deeply and expects nothing in return. His work has appeared in The Alarmist, Mangrove Review, and Belletrist Coterie, among others, as well as various newspapers and magazines, predominately in Southwest Florida. You can write to him at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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