Despite my red lips and white skirt,
you think I only bat for the other team,
tease me about the Braves throwing peaches
’cause I wear the colors and
come from tomahawk country.
But I’m a Florida girl at heart: batshit beach-bum
with wind-hurt hair and a salty tongue.
Would invite you over to feed my baby gator,
but Li’l Tator gets jealous of company,
and when you toss that baseball
straight up and down like a snipped yo-yo,
it’s too easy to mistake for an ibis.
Hanging your student gov. button-up
on an office hook in Campus Life,
stripped down to a beige wife-beater,
you ask, “What happened to your girl Brittany?”
“Still breathing,” I promise. “She’s pom-poming for the blue-caps
right now.” I don’t ask why you’re not with the boys already,
’cause I know you saw me come back in for a spritz of perfume.
“She’s plannin’ to ‘accidentally’ kick a girl at the bottom
of the pyramid since she stole her shoes one night.
Tip-toed home to me, barefoot.”
You say, “Guess a sidewalk’s better than a bus.
But you two room? Where were you?”
Roaming the pretty campus carpets,
tying bows for other cheerleaders,
clinking pink lemonades with
blerds and school counselors,
but I can’t say that. So,
I excuse, “Practice.”
“Softball?” you bait, but
badminton’s tickly birdies
and musty black racket bags
don’t seem much less lezbo.
“Would you rather I slug like you?”
I pivot like hitting an invisible homer,
wishing I could slide under the bleachers
with you, tell “my girl” to leg it back to Atlanta.
“Slug me?” You laugh. “Naw, not into it.
Like a tough grrl, though.
A tomboy would look good
tugging at my sleeve.”
You saw me in yearbooks,
brandishing Wiffle ball bats,
striking out with gum-chewing,
pinstriped bubble butts on the team.
Because I liked their braids so much,
and they respected my “lifestyle” so little,
you even helped me Nair a few of their helmets.
But now I’m more passable, presentable, and you never
ran game on me then, all hippie-jeaned and jaded.
“It’s your loss,” I say, headed outside to spectate.
I can barely recall the name of our college team,
but know their batting average ain’t anything to brag about.
No, I’m here to slurp Powerade,
shit-talk study buddies,
and admire physiques.
Polyester makes even Pillsbury Boys pettable.
Brittany eyes me on the sidelines,
busy enough that I don’t have to feign interested,
as I scan the roster for my favorite player.
Said you’re on the team but I’d never caught an inning.
So now, I just spend nine of ’em day-dreaming:
Your caramel fingers plopping a Cracker Jack
sticker on my face, deeming me your prize.
Us cutting class and daisies beside the outfield,
asking the petals if we’ll still pass intro to chemistry.
Us loading squirt guns with lime-green Gatorade
to nail the blue-shirt ballers even though that’s more
of a pigskin tradition. But what constitutes more
“un-sportsman-like conduct” or goes against superstition
is our impersonation of the coach’s bravado. Our coupling
in general, the knotting of our limbs in the sand lot until—
Referee whistles sound and stands disperse.
Another non-win but players pat each other anyway.
Presumably, Brittany’s enemy is bruise-eyed by now,
and I guess you never found your uniform,
or maybe were reduced to water boy.
Hard to tell in the swishing throng.
I stick around the side-entrance fence,
appearing coy as I play on my phone,
content to scour for fallen souvenirs
once the crowd empties out.
Dark now, I collect felt flags,
unopened energy drinks,
and, purest of all,
a plush mascot:
Roary the Panther.
Pressing it into my pit as I bend down
for a few fallen bills left by an attendee,
I flinch when my name is called.
My head swivels.
Hardly anyone is within earshot,
seemingly no one watching me,
the male voice muffled to begin with.
Squinting, I sneak the cash into my high-tops,
pretending to tie my shoe.
Louder comes my name near the dugout.
Cautiously approaching, I suppose
a classmate recognizes me,
wants to swap homework
for something a little better
than what I found in the seats.
At the rail, I wave,
looking for a reciprocator.
I find the best one, still shouting me out.
The big man himself, Roary in all his furry glory!
Perking up at the silly sight of the mascot,
thinking he wants his baby back,
the cub clinging to my chest,
I wind my way down the steps.
I get to the batters’ basement,
my stuffed buddy for a high-five.
But the big cat shimmies to the left,
removing his bulbous head like a hat.
I gasp, not because I think panthers
talk and walk in navy shorts, but because it’s
your flattened pompadour and cranberry cheeks
that emerge, mask off.
“Don’t tell anybody,”
you say way too seriously
for me not to bust a gut,
laughing at the whiskered head
at your normally chino-clad hip.
I kid, “What’s it worth to you?”
Catching your breath, you joke,
“Hose me down. Literally.
I’m the merch mogul,
the sultan of swag.”
You cough, paws to knee,
then toss me a silver chain.
“Least that’s what Coach said.”
Backpacking my smartphone,
I inspect the branded jewelry.
It’s actually a charm bracelet
with a couple pieces dangling:
a circle with the uni’s insignia
and a cartoony Roary with claws drawn,
brows cinched in combat mode,
but face oh-so cuddly.
“Aw, you rock. This would cost the arm it goes on
if priced at the bookstore. Thanks a bunch.”
I slip it on and scamper over to the watercooler
to dump paper cones over your pre-soaked face.
I nod toward your severed head, say, “I thought
they put fans in those things like at Disney.”
“Cross-campus shuttles aren’t free.
You think the state’s springing for mascot A/C?”
“Poor baby,” I commiserate. On tiptoe,
I unplaster Cuban curls from your forehead,
bending them back into your black mane.
“Thanks,” you whisper
without any sarcasm,
staring too intently
at the runoff that drips
down my arm and onto
my cropped jersey.
“Shiny, isn’t it?”
I give you an out,
jingling the bracelet
that glints off the
“Am I keeping you from Brit
or are you free?” you ignore.
I roll my eyes, bite my tongue
to suppress a smile. “You know,
I don’t only like girls,
and roommates least of all.”
“Ha,” you say with no sincerity.
My smirk ushers in more authenticity.
maybe we can
avoid her together?
I can be your alibi.”
Forgetting the ballgame
and foul curveballs
of our arms-length past,
I let “Take Me Out” lyrics
light up my mind.
“Sure. But, uh, are you
gonna stay in your fursona?”
I pinch your cheek
but you’re already cheesing,
heading for the showers.
I wait outside the locker room,
texting Brit not to wait up,
more focused on your gleaming gift
than her dull replies.
You return in your average attire,
looking like a tropical political portrait.
I watch your beautiful shoes slink over the tile,
tan leather cap-toes pointing me out like a line-up.
Your face & hair refreshed, tea-tree & mint wafting off.
“Where’s the suit?” I tease,
making my animal pal dance
for reference, emphasis.
You pat li’l Roary’s head, say, “Classified,”
as though I don’t presume students take turns
with the costume to spread out the sweaty job,
and Roary gets caged to a communal space
like a proper beast. A South Florida stalker.
You take another surprise from your pocket.
A neon baseball. “Up for a game of catch?”
Not what I had in mind,
but the moon and sky
look as gold and blue
as they should over this
spirited field—Plus, it’s
and you look too hot,
starlit, to tell no to.
We lob the ball back-and-forth, no scores,
speaking of electives and conspiracy theories,
legislative ambitions and awkward breakups,
gradually shortening our gap over the green.
You comment that my scarlet fishnets match
the stitching on the cowhide we toss to and fro.
Before I can deflect or return any compliment,
the sprinklers sprout like mini moles.
We shriek and giggle,
dog-waggle, but don’t
make any real move
to escape the
Too much fun in bob-and-weaving
the streams, twisting to make passes.
No ground balls allowed,
the diamond made lava.
Slipping in the clay,
you’re re-dirtied but accepting.
Cuter grass-speckled than costumed.
We play until the sprinklers hibernate,
our hair made long and heavy, breath
flitting between lilting and labored.
Some of the flood lights shut off,
leaving a few glittering dewdrops
to spy as we decide what to do.
You offer your letterman so I can kneel
next to you as you score our resting period
with Foo Fighters from your keychain speaker
’cause Wasting Light’s our American pastime.
Almost midnight when we’re laid out on our sides,
contemplating futures, sharing home plate like a pillow.
It’s half-hard like a newsie cap or bike cushion.
The cantaloupe smell of fresh-cut grass surrounds us
as clouds smatter the stratosphere, roused by wind.
Your eyes caress the red
netting of my legs again,
my mouth if I seem turned
away enough not to call you out.
I bury my ear into the pentagon “pillow,”
making myself small
so you can rise for the kill,
easy like the golden apex predator
you parodied on the pitcher’s mound,
showing its softer side with jigs and gifts.
You lean over, fidgety but brave,
fingering the bauble on my wrist,
whispering “beautiful” regardless
of its rust or temporary debris.
Half- joking, the way we started,
you murmur, “Don’t tell anybody,”
then taste the craving, the waiting,
on my lips since our game began.
Paige Johnson is EIC of Outcast Press and author of Percocet Summer: Poetry for Distancing Dates and Doses, which cover everything from FL sweat to GA peach sweetness, gas station syringes and cotton candy softness. The next installment in the seasonal series will be Citrus Springs, coming out soon. Find her on twitter @OutcastPress1