The Perfectly Imperfect Match (Suttonville Sentinels)

By: Kendra C. Highley
For Ron Querry

For teaching me how to tell a story

Chapter One


Dylan Dennings wiped sweat from his forehead, listening to the chain link fence at the back of the ball field bang in a stiff westerly wind. Dust kicked up from the infield as he considered his opponent. He’d need to compensate for the wind, just a little. Calculate where he wanted the ball to go.

“Dude, for God’s sake, throw it already!” Tristan Murrell called, waving his bat in annoyance. “I want to wrap this up before I’m too old to kiss my girl!”

His girl. Alyssa was Tristan’s, no denying that. Dylan was happy for them, but it still stung to be riding the bench when it came to a girl he’d had a major crush on. On the other hand, he probably dodged a bullet. If he wanted to make it to the minors in twelve months, he couldn’t waste energy on anything else.

He had to stick to The Plan.

Dylan eyed Tristan. His hitting had improved a ton, thanks to his girlfriend’s coaching, and he’d become nearly impossible to strike out. Worse, since they’d been playing together for years, Tristan knew all of Dylan’s pitches.

Except one.

He’d been working on splitters with his coach, and he wanted to try it on someone. Tristan would do. Dylan wound up, letting the ball settle in his left hand, then with one fluid motion, flung the ball hard with the tiniest downward flick. Hopefully the ball would drop, just a bit, right as it crossed the plate.

And drop it did. Tristan swung with all his might, and why not? He thought he was seeing a nice, fat fastball. But Tristan’s bat whooshed over the ball, sending him stumbling off-balance. Awesome.

“When the hell did you learn to throw a splitter?” Tristan flashed him an astonished smile. “That’s big league crap.”

“I spent a few weeks with Coach Myers.” Dylan shrugged. “The more I can do, the better I look to scouts.”

“You’re the only guy I know who’d spend the first month of summer vacation, after winning the state championship, working out a new pitch.” Tristan shook his head. “You ever think you might be a little too intense for your own good? Seriously, you need some time off.”

No such thing as too intense, not when your future was on the line. “I’ll take time off once the Rangers or the ‘Stros take a good hard look at me for their farm system. I want to be triple-A by the time I’m twenty. If I can do that, I should be called up before I’m twenty-three.”

Tristan walked out to the mound, carrying his bat with him. “I get it, and making it as a pitcher is even harder, but you’re missing out on the fun stuff. Come to the lake with Alyssa and me tonight.”

Dylan’s heart sank, just a bit. Yeah, because being a third wheel is so great. Not. “Camp starts day after tomorrow.” He waved a hand at the Suttonville High baseball field. “I told Coach I’d make sure everything was set.”

Tristan sighed. “It is set. We’ve been working on this for days. It’s two weeks with a bunch of fourth and fifth graders…there’s not much else to do here. Come with us. Live a little.”

“I’d be a third wheel, and you know it.” Dylan gave his friend a tight smile. “Besides, my mom wants us to go out to dinner tonight ‘as a family’ so I can’t bail.”

“Doesn’t that sound like fun?” Tristan turned to go, but stopped. “I really wish you’d come with.”

“I’m fine, seriously. Go on.” Dylan waved him off. “I’ll see you at eight tomorrow. Don’t forget.”

“Yes, boss.”

Tristan disappeared through the locker room door, and Dylan let himself relax. Going out with Tristan and Alyssa wasn’t bad, but Alyssa always wanted to fix him up with someone, maybe as a consolation.

“With that blond hair and blue eyes, you look like a surf board commercial,” she would say. “There are two dozen girls who’d hit that. Let me introduce you. Please. There’s this one girl who was in Algebra II with me last year who—”

And Dylan would always tell her no. He’d felt so out of control during the playoffs, and he couldn’t afford that again. No distractions, no drama, no girls. Nothing but focus, avoiding blisters, and hard, hard work. That was what his senior year would have to look like: clean living and discipline.

Also By Kendra C. Highley

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