CHAPTER FOUR

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It's finally here. Opening day. The guys are doing a bang up job against the Houston Astros. Silas Korba, our starting pitcher for this game, is doing great. His hundred mile an hour fastball getting them every time. The score is 4-1. One of their players managed to hit a home run, earning them a single point, a fact that made Silas mad. He prides himself on the opposing team not being able to hit his pitches.

Nathan, Brandon, Victor, and Kota scored all of our runs. It's Marc's second turn at bat. He's standing at home plate, bat at the ready, slightly waving it over his shoulder. The pitcher releases the ball, it flies the sixty feet, six inches in a matter of a second. Marc swings, and misses and the ball lands squarely into the outstretched mitt of the catcher.

"Strike one!" The home plate umpire calls. Marc backs away from the plate and knocks the dirt out from between his cleats by tapping the sides with his bat. He takes a couple of practice swings, adjusts his batting gloves, then advances again to take his place.

Once again in place, he readies his bat. The pitcher releases the ball, and Marc swings again, clipping the ball, but it flies up and over his head. The catcher runs to catch it, but it hits the netting behind them, rendering the hit a foul, for which the umpire calls a ball. It's clear that Marc is getting frustrated, so I give him a couple of hand signals to tell him to calm down and everything is okay.

The pitcher is supplied with a new ball, and Marc readies himself again. He takes a deep breath and waits for the pitch. He watches the ball intently as it hurtles toward him, swinging his bat and connecting. It flies deep into center field, where their player loses it in the sun and it sails over the top of his head. The player is scrambling to get the ball off the ground as Marc flies around the bases. He makes it to third before Axel, the third base coach, makes a 'whoa' signal to get him to stop there. Marc stops seconds before the ball lands in the third baseman's mitt, safe on the base.

Axel walks over to Marc and they have a quiet discussion as the short clip of The Imperial March plays, signaling it's North's turn at bat. He approaches the plate, adjusting his batting gloves on the way. I swear to everything that he actually glowers at the pitcher. The pitcher gets a determined look on his face as he prepares.

He shakes his head a couple of times as the catcher throws signals, figuring out what kind of pitch he's going to throw. He finally nods his head once. he winds his arm back and releases the ball. It flies directly toward North. North jumps back, narrowly avoiding getting hit in the leg with the ball. The throw was clearly intentional, and I come running out of the dugout, toward home plate.

"That was intentional!" I yell at the umpire, my voice cracking at the high volume. I clear my throat as I storm toward him, pointing toward the pitcher's mound. I glance over and the pitcher has a smirk on his face. "I want him thrown from the game!" The umpire throws off his face shield.

"I saw nothing of the sort! It was just a pitch that got away from him!" He yells back at me, his face turning red. I don't care. I get right in his face and take the last few weeks worth of stress out on him.

"Do we need to find an optometrist in the stands? Because you clearly need glasses if you couldn't see how he did that on purpose!" I poke a finger into his chest, wishing it was Volto's eyes I was poking out.

I feel a hand on my arm and I glare angrily over my shoulder. North is trying to get my attention, worry marring his face, but my attention is back on the umpire with his next words.

"Touch me again, and it'll be YOU I throw from the game. It's about that time that Axel and Sean run up, shocked expressions on both their faces. Sean slings an arm around my shoulders and turns me around so I'm no longer facing the angry umpire, and Axel has a hand on my arm as they lead me back to the dugout.

"No need getting booted at the first game of the season." Sean murmurs next to my ear, and it sends a little shiver down my spine. "We all saw it was intentional, but let this one go. Why don't you go into the locker room and cool down for a minute. Come back out when you have a calmer head." He suggests as we descend the steps leading to the dugout. I merely nod my head as he makes his way back to the first base coach position, and Axel goes back to third base.

I make my way into the locker room, passing Luke in the hallway. He holds up a hand for a high-five, and I oblige him silently, only giving him a single nod of my head. I go into my office and lock the door behind me. I stand in the middle of the room, my hands clenched into fists.

"FUUUUUUCK!" I yell into the tiny room. I don't normally curse, but that felt good. "Fuckity fuck fuck fuck!" I string out a few more for good measure.

"I'm so proud of you, Tiny One." I jump and turn to see Raven, my bodyguard, leaning against the door frame, the familiar Desert Eagle poking out from his shoulder harness. A hand slams to my chest, trying to keep my hammering heart inside my chest.

"You scared the crap out of me, Raven!" I storm over to him, and slap a hand to his chest.

"You have been very bouncy the last few weeks." He admonishes. I think about his words, and a little light bulb goes off.

"The word is jumpy, not bouncy." I correct him.

"Same. You've been jumpy. I've certainly noticed, and I'm sure the team has noticed. Want to tell me why?"

I think about everything that has been going on the last few weeks. Volto has been amping up our little encounters. I find that stupid white mask everywhere, and apparently nobody else notices them, because nobody has remarked on them. I get random phone calls in the middle of the night, with nothing but heavy breathing. And just this morning, there was a note on my car.

You'll find out soon enough.

That's all that was written on the tiny note card, but it was enough to send anxious chills through my body. Of course I looked around, but I didn't see anyone looking suspicious. I shake my head out of my thoughts.

"Not right now. I'll tell you, and only you, but not until after the game and press conference." I promise him. I don't really want to, but it would be nice having another person know. Another set of eyes to help me watch out. He nods in understanding, then we make our way back out to the dugout.

I'm nervous about telling him. I've dealt with this on my own for so long, never telling another soul what was happening. I don't know how he'll take it, but he's my bodyguard for a reason. He should know about any threat to me. I sigh and resign myself to a difficult conversation in a couple of hours. Right now, I need to get my head back in the game. Literally. there's two and a half innings left, and I'm the head coach. I steel myself, and get to work.

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