[FFML] [PEANUTS] It's good to be the Queen, Charlie Brown

John Biles john at biles.us
Tue Dec 22 00:34:26 PST 2009


WARNING:  THERE IS A LOT OF BASEBALL IN THIS FIC.

A WHOLE LOT.

It's Good to be the Queen, Charlie Brown

A PEANUTS fanfic

By John Biles

(With thanks to David Tai for his baseball wisdom)

********************

    The greatest frustration of Charlie Brown's life at the current time was
that he hadn't made the High School baseball team, which had been his dream
for many years. Or at least, once a day when he was stuck in ordinary
Physical Education with people who didn't WANT to be athletes as desperately
as he did, it was his greatest frustration.  He lived a life with so many
competitors for 'greatest frustration' that the holder of that coveted
position tended to change daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes minute to
minute.

    The fact that all the other kids he usually played baseball with in the
city's 'Junior League' were stuck in phsyical education with him was little
comfort.  They'd been playing together since they were old enough to pick up
a bat and every year, they went down in flames.  This year, they'd won one
game by forfeit thanks to too many members of the opposing team getting sick
and being unable to play, had three cancelled due to rain and lost ten.
This was one of their best years ever.

    Today, Coach Anderson had decreed everyone was going to play baseball.
Not that he was going to have anything to do with it; as usual in their
physical education class, he told them to go play some sport, then he
vanished into his office.  No one was sure what he did during their class
time; speculation ranged from him sleeping with the sports department
secretary to online investing to him covertly practicing the saxophone (no
one but Schroeder believed that theory, mind you) to him going over tapes
from the baseball and volleyball teams.

    Let it be noted that Charlie Brown's sister Sally had made the
volleyball team this year; she was a freshman (and he was a junior).  He was
half proud of her for this and half frustrated because he had tried out for
the baseball team THREE TIMES and been shot down every time.

    But right now, he was focused on the baseball game to come.  The coach
had pretty much appointed two captains and given them the gear and wandered
off; Charlie Brown, to his surprise and pleasure, had been appointed one of
the captains.  This enabled him to forget the last two weeks in which he'd
always been the last to be picked for either team in whatever matchup the
coach posed for them that day.

    He'd quickly assembled his usual team, plus several other kids; the
class had 28 people, so they ended up with two teams of fourteen.  This
posed a bit of a conundrum for past games; the class really didn't line up
well for any given sport.  The solution was to just let the extra players
bat but not to put them in the field.  Charlie Brown filled the positions
with his usual people, except for the position of shortstop, which he
assigned to Pig-Pen, since Snoopy couldn't fill his usual position at
school.

    This was the first time his usual team had all played together in
physical education; you tended to end up with different teams every time
depending on who was captain.

    "Alright, let's play a good game," Charlie Brown said to his team.

    Lucy began to laugh in the way she had which was especially good at
setting Charlie Brown's hairs on edge.  The ones on the rest of his body,
not his head; his crew cut light blonde hair was always on edge.

    Bruno was up first; he was a big kid who had beaten Charlie up many
times in the past, though it had tapered off in High School, as he seemed to
be too busy shaking down Freshmen to mess with anyone his own age any more.
Charlie knew Bruno was going to be a real challenge; he probably could have
been on the Football team if he could manage to avoid getting in trouble for
an entire season.  However, Charlie would have saved him for a little later
in the lineup, if he'd been in charge.  Probably the other team captain,
Angela Jones, had just shoved her best athletes to the front of the lineup.
Angela was a curly haired blonde (and a sworn enemy of Frieda, who insisted
Angela's hair was fake) and a leading member of the 'popular' clique in the
school.  Or more precisely, one of the popular cliques as the other one was
headed by Violet and Patty (not to be confused with Peppermint Patty, unless
you wanted Patty to hit you, or more likely these days, arrange for you to
be snubbed.  Then Peppermint Patty would hit you.).

    Low fastball. WHIFF.  "Strike one!" Lucy shouted.

    There was no official referee, but also not many people in this class
who dared to contradict Lucy.  So Lucy tended to act as referee and play at
the same time.  Who was going to stop her?  She was usually fair, so long as
you didn't let her call her own actions, anyway.

    Class baseball didn't quite play by the rules, anyway.  For one thing,
you basically kept playing until class was over.  Which meant the second
team to bat might or might not actually get up to bat or you might well play
only half the second inning.  It made winning the coin flip to go first a
valued commodity.

    Curveball.  WHIFF.  "Strike two!" Lucy shouted.

    Charlie Brown felt himself sweat.  Only one more strike and he'd strike
out Bruno.  Of course, Bruno might come around and kick his ass if he did
that.  That was how Bruno rolled.

    No, I can't think of that, he thought.  I might as well just give up as
think that way.

    For all Charlie Brown's flaws (Lucy has a list if you want it), giving
up was not one of them.  Low fastball.

    WHACK!  The ball flew high into the outfield.

    "I completely broke this nail, unfortunately," Frieda said to Lucy.
"And this one too."  She showed them off, holding her glove with her other
hand.  "Then I had to dangle from a vine for half an hour until Charlie came
and cut me down.  Luckily, I was in jeans, so I had my cellphone in my
pocket.  But I got a nice rabbit stew out of it all so it wasn't a total
loss."  Her last hunting trip had not gone according to plan.  As far as
Lucy could tell, they never did.

    "Pay attention, you idiots!" Patty said crankily.  If she had to waste
an hour of her day, she didn't want to lose because those two weren't paying
attention again.

    "The ball will never..." Frieda said and then the ball hit her in the
head.  She staggered and it dropped into the glove she was holding in her
right hand.

    "OUT!" Lucy shouted as Bruno rounded first and headed for second.

    "Dammit!  Catching it with your head doesn't count!" Bruno said
angrily.

    "She caught it!  YOU LOSE.  Next batter!" Lucy shouted.

    They stared at each other and Bruno turned, grumbling.  Charlie Brown
said, "Nice catch, Frieda."

    Frieda snapped back alive.  "Thanks, Charlie Brown."  She snapped the
ball to him.  "Anyway, I had the leftovers for lunch.  Charlie and I both
did."  Frieda didn't normally make him lunch, but she was the sort of person
to reward help with food.  Especially when help had enabled her to obtain
that food.

    "I noticed," Lucy said a little jealously.  Why doesn't Schroeder ever
make ME lunch?

    While Lucy pondered this eternal question, Charlie Brown now faced off
with Tom Blake, who was number five in the junior class, a tall skinny black
kid with glasses.  He played on another one of the junior league teams but
was too focused on his academics to have time to try out for the high school
team.  He was going to be hard to strike out.

    Charlie Brown went for a high fastball.  Tom, unfortunately, was tall
enough that this actually just went right down the middle.  CRACK!

    The ball shot past Charlie Brown, who dove to one side to avoid losing
his shoulder, and right at Pig-Pen.  Who caught it, though it knocked him
off his feet; he landed on his back, but he still had the ball in his glove.

    "OUT!" Lucy shouted.

    "Oh man," Tom said, and trudged off.

    To Charlie's surprise, Angela stepped up next.

    Sinker.  WHIFF.  "Strike One!" Lucy shouted.

    High fastball.  WHIFF.  "Strike Two!" Lucy shouted.

    I just have to get this one strike and I will have pitched my first
shutout inning ever!, Charlie Brown thought, imagining it.  Oh yes, that
would be wonderful.  She should be easy to strike out, oh yes, and then I'll
be the hero.  By the time we finish batting, class will be over.  We'll win
the game!  Yeah!

    Fantasizing Too Much Ball.  CRACK!  The ball knocked Charlie Brown off
his feet, though thankfully it didn't strip him naked as balls had been
known to do in times past, and came right past Linus, who had turned around
to tell Frieda to stop talking and pay attention; the air suction knocked
Linus off his feet.  The ball came, as Angela had planned, right at Frieda,
who was now demonstrating how you swing vine to vine with imaginary vines.
As a result, the ball nailed her and she fell down, howling.

    Angela ran to first, made it to second, but now Frieda recovered,
yelling angrily about how her hair had dirt in it, and threw the ball to
Pig-Pen, who cut off Angela's advance.

    "You did that deliberately because you are jealous of my naturally curly
hair!" Frieda yelled at Angela.

    "Your fake curly hair, you mean," Angela said, hands on her hips.

    "That's enough!" Lucy shouted.  "No one gets to bitch around here but
me!  Play ball!"

    Frieda and Angela were still yelling at each other as the game went on.

    Get it together, Charlie Brown told himself.  I can still strike out the
next person and have time for us to bat.

    Next up was Agnes Moore, a short girl with short black hair and
sunglasses.  And many freckles.  Which she hated, but not as much as the
acne.

    High fastball.  NOTHING.  "BALL ONE!" Lucy shouted.

    He'd overcompensated for throwing his high fastball not high enough
earlier.  Charlie Brown rubbed his forehead.

    Sinker.  WHIFF.  "STRIKE ONE!"

    High Fastball.  WHIFF.  "STRIKE TWO!"

    Agnes pushed her sunglasses up her nose.  "I hear your girlfriend is
more into girls than she is into you," she shouted at Charlie Brown.

    Sloppy Throw.  CRACK!  The ball went flying towards Violet at third.
And fell short, forcing her to run forwards and get it.  This enabled Agnes
to get up on first base, laughing all the way.

    Angela could have tried for third, but why run when you could be telling
Frieda exactly how bloated a cow she is?  (Where 'bloated' = 'has a more
impressive figure and some actual muscles', mind you.  Angela was on the
skinny side, though she had wonderful hair and a lovely face.)  She didn't
even notice Agnes was on base.

    To return to the question of Charlie Brown and his girlfriend--Whether
Charlie Brown has a girlfriend or not depended on who you asked.  Most of
the kids in the school believed Peppermint Patty was Charlie Brown's
girlfriend.  It was not entirely clear to Charlie whether she thought that
herself or not; sometimes she acted like it and sometimes she seemed to be
trying to woo him and sometimes she acted like he was a rival to be CRUSHED
FLAT.  Certainly she didn't seem to think romance incompatible with
destroying your lover/would-be lover in sports.

    Charlie Brown didn't dislike (in fact, he rather did like) Peppermint
Patty, but he had the biggest crush in the universe on Heather Hines, the
red-haired girl who always seemed to elude his grasp one way or another.  In
high school, he'd finally mustered the courage to ask her out, only to have
her announce pre-emptively that she had the hugest crush on Linus and could
never find the strength to tell him.

    They had become friends, which is to say, Charlie usually got nails
driven into his emotions several times a day because he could neither stay
away from her nor confess.

    She was the one he wanted to date, but she, like everyone else, assumed
he was dating Peppermint Patty, and so he had less than no chance.  Which he
was, unfortunately, used to.  This was how his life worked.

    Peppermint Patty was not, to Charlie Brown's knowledge, into girls, but
she seemed a frequent target of such rumors because she was a tomboy and
didn't bother trying to feign femininity.  The same rumors tended to float
around her right hand woman, Marcie, who was reasonably feminine, if not to
the same degree as, say, Violet or (not Peppermint) Patty.  But Marcie
basically followed Peppermint Patty around like a dog following her master,
so people assumed.

    Peppermint Patty was on the Softball Team, though she played regular
baseball in the Junior League, which was mixed-gender baseball.  It had once
been boys only above the lowest level, until a night involving its governing
board and Lucy of which no one would speak afterwards.   Charlie Brown had
been present, but couldn't remember anything, except sometimes he would wake
up at night screaming about rhino beetles.

    Now it was mixed gender all the way up to the top level, which was
actually set up for various adult clubs to play each other for fun.

    Marcie was an 'assistant' for the Softball Team, which basically meant
she hauled gear for them and kept score.

    Peppermint Patty always laughed off such accusations, but Charlie Brown
was not the sort of person to tolerate people trying to insult his friends.


    "She is not into girls!" Charlie Brown shouted at Agnes.  "Not that it
matters!"  Charlie Brown pretty much accepted everyone in the universe as
they were.  He might complain at times, but he basically was rarely critical
of people once any temporary anger wore off.

    Which unfortunately often got him stepped on due to his failure to push
back against those who like to walk on people.

    "PLAY BALL!" Lucy shouted.

    Charlie turned and now faced Big George.  Big George was actually the
shortest boy in the school, with wavy brown hair and a cheerful smile.  He
was also one of the biggest thugs, as he was much tougher than he looked.
"Give me a walk or I'll kick your ass later, Brown," he said cheerfully.

    "Strike him out or you die!," Lucy shouted.

    "Kill him!" Violet shouted.

    "Don't wuss out on us this time, Charlie Brown!" Patty shouted.

    "Dammit, don't make us lose this time too!" Shermy shouted.

    "The reason those jeans are tight on you is that your butt is bigger
than your head, not because you look good in them, Angela," Frieda said to
Angela.

    "Kick his ass, Big George!" Agnes shouted to Big George.

    Schroeder said nothing and signalled for a slider.

    "You can do it, Charlie Brown," Linus said.  "Just stay calm."

    Calm.  Charlie Brown was sweating a river.  His body was shaking.  He
was going to get a beating tonight, one way or another, it was clear.

    Ugh.

    Utterly unpredictably wobbly ball that defies the laws of physics.
WHIFF.  "STRIKE ONE!" Lucy shouted.

    Bounces off the ground and is way off ball.  NOTHING.  "BALL ONE!" Lucy
shouted.

    "I can hurt you more than they can!" Big George shouted.

    Whether this was true depended on if you measure 'physical' or
'emotional' pain.

    Nearly hits Big George in the face ball.  NOTHING.  "BALL TWO!  DO YOU
WISH TO DIE?" Lucy shouted.

    "Coward!  Trying to hit me in the face with a ball and pretend it's an
accident!" Big George shouted.

    "I wasn't!" Charlie Brown protested.

    "PLAY BALL!" Lucy shouted.

    Trying too hard not to hit Big George in the Face so it ends up at knee
level ball.  NOTHING.  "BALL THREE!" Lucy shouted angrily.

    "Charlie Brown, you will DIE if you do not strike this idiot out!"
Violet shouted.  "I won't invite you to any more parties!"

    He never got invited to any of her parties anyway and while this once
would have made him cry, he'd gained some maturity over the years.  At least
on this issue.

    "C'mon, Charlie Brown, strike him out.  You can do it," Pig-Pen said.

    "Just imagine his name is Sisera and the ball is a tent peg, Charlie
Brown!  You can do it!" Linus shouted.

    Charlie Brown had no idea what that meant; Linus was prone to spout the
Bible, but it wasn't always clear what he meant.  Charlie Brown went to
church with his parents every week, but they never seemed to discuss any of
the things Linus found in the Bible.

    Big George looked suspiciously at Linus.

    Charlie Brown fired his best fastball, hoping to catch Big George off
guard.

    WHACK!  The ball went high and wide into right field, where Lucy
shouted, "I've got it!" and began trying to position herself to catch it.
Unfortunately, Lucy's grasp of spatial relationships was not up to par with
her highest talents or even her middling ones.   Further, the sun proceeded
to IMMEDIATELY BLIND HER when she looked up.

    The ball landed two feet behind her as she stumbled around with everyone
shouting at her.  She grabbed it and threw it at the loudest source of
noise.  This happened to be Pig-Pen, who fired it off to Violet.
Unfortunately, Angela had touched third base a few moments earlier and now
the other team had the bases loaded.

    Charlie Brown could feel the weight of his team's gaze upon him.  This
was the last chance.  If the other team scored at all, they probably
wouldn't have time to catch up.  They might not even get an at-bat.  Thanks
to the screwy rules of PE Baseball.

    Some people flourish under stress.  Charlie Brown, unfortunately, tended
to disintegrate.

    Especially with most of his team threatening his horrible death if he
screwed it up.  He was up against a switch-hitter, a southpaw named Joan
Fredrickson.  That last name got her a lot of jokes over the years and some
people called her "Freddie".  If they wanted her to hate them.  She was a
stout redhead and fairly strong, though her aspiration was to be a singer
and her voice was excellent.

    Schroeder signalled.  Sinker.  Charlie wasn't sure if that was a good
idea; Joan was average for a woman, which is to say short compared to a guy.

    He did it anyway.  WHIFF.  "STRIKE ONE!"

    Fastball.  WHIFF.  "STRIKE TWO!"

    Charlie Brown tried to still the voices of terror in his head.  Hero or
goat moment.  But it was always the goat.  Always.  He was so sick of it.

    "IN THIS LIFETIME!" Lucy shouted.

    Ball thrown while planning what to yell at Lucy.  WHACK!  Charlie Brown
yelled, "I was on it!" even as the ball zoomed past him right to Pig-Pen,
who caught it with his chest, sending up a cloud of dust.  Agnes ran into
the dust and got confused, then Pig-Pen scooped the ball off the ground
where it had fallen, and tagged her out.  Pig-Pen then instinctively threw
to Schroeder, who tagged Angela out as she almost reached home.

    "You didn't have to touch her!" Lucy shouted at Schroeder.  "We already
had three outs and she couldn't score!  You never touch me!"

    Schroeder ambled over to Lucy as the team began to come in and lightly
touched her forehead with the ball.  "There you go."

    "..."

    We actually get to bat.  Charlie Brown was stunned.

    "Oh my God, we get to bat!" Patty said.

    "Nice job, Charlie Brown," Linus said to him as they came in to bat.

    "Pig-Pen gets the credit," Charlie Brown said, sighing.  "I wasn't much
use."

    "Yes, but you should be used to that by now," Lucy said to him.  "I've
come to accept you will fail, why can't you?"

    He didn't WANT to have to accept that.

    Big George was pitcher for the other team.  Charlie chose his lineup and
the bottom of the inning began.

    Linus was up first.  One ball, one strike, drive to center field, which
the centerfielder missed and he made it to second base.

    Pig-Pen was next.  One strike, two balls, solid blow short of third base
and he made it to first.

    Patty got struck out, much to her frustration.

    Frieda now stepped up.  First ball, she knocked it into right field.
The right fielder scooped it off the ground and threw to the short stop but
not fast enough.  Now the bases were loaded.

    Charlie Brown was up.  The class was close to over.  He was determined
to do his part for the team.  He levelled his bat and got ready to swing.

    WHAM, RIGHT IN THE FOREHEAD.

    He woke up later in the school nurse's office.  Lucy was sitting on a
chair by him, busy working on a lab report for Chemistry.  They were lab
partners.  "I'm almost done.  Can you feign unconsciousness for three more
minutes?  Then I can give you this and you can type it up at home tonight,"
she whispered.

    He did so; he could hear the nurse busy typing herself.  Once Lucy
nudged him, he sat up and said, "What happened?"

    "Bean Ball.  I took you to the office; in our absence, Shermy stood in
for you and took the free walk.  This brought Linus home, so we won the
game.  Then Violet knocked it over the fence and into someone's window, so
that drove everyone home, but now Violet has to pay for a new window for
some idiot redneck and his trailer," Lucy said.

    "You kept playing after I won?" Charlie Brown said groggily.

    "Shut up and let me finish!" Lucy said angrily, then more calmly said,
"PE rules. You keep playing until the bell rings, you know.  So we had to
keep going.  Anyway, Leslie got on first, but then we ran out of class
time.  Anyway, you snoozed your way through World History, but if we hurry,
we can make it to English class so we know what the homework is."

    "I have World History with Linus first period."  It was Lucy who had it
fifth period.

    "Then you snoozed your way through some other class I don't know or care
about," Lucy said.

    Spanish.  Charlie Brown had Spanish...WITH HEATHER.  I slept through the
one class I have with Heather!  NO!!!!!

    "Oh come on, stop acting like a baby," Lucy said, dragging him to his
feet.  "Your head is bandaged and Chemistry is defeated, so let's go to
English."

    "I think I need to lie down a while longer," Charlie Brown said.  He
needed time to pout.

    "Don't be a baby," she said.  "Come on."

    English class was all a blur to Charlie Brown.  His head hurt a little,
but mostly it was a mixture of gloom over missing his precious class with
Heather and anticipation of the beatings to come from Big George and Bruno
and probably people he'd managed to blank out earlier.  Heather would have
cheerleader practice after school, so he couldn't see her then.

    There was some sort of poem assignment or something, but he didn't
notice as he was busy drawing a cartoon of a meteor falling on Bruno.

    If only I was on the baseball team, he thought.  Then she could cheer
for me.  And there would be people to keep Bruno and Big George away from
me.  But he didn't have that kind of luck.  There was no one covering his
back.

****************

    Big George leaned against the pole, waiting for Brown to come out.  He'd
gotten chewed out by the coach for hitting the little crybaby in the head.
Even though Brown had clearly been trying to knock him out with those wild
pitches!

    He was going to relieve his stress the old fashioned way; kicking
Charlie Brown's miserable ass.

    He was busy fantasizing about Charlie Brown crying again when someone
picked him up and stuffed him in a garbage can.  Peppermint Patty said, "Say
hello to your relatives in there, Big George."  She then knocked the can
over and sent it rolling with him inside, periodically kicking it like a
soccer ball to keep it going while he tried not to vomit.  "Be glad Marcie
convinced me not to show you how hitting someone in the forehead with a
baseball gets done!"

    Marcie stood on the 'loading dock', where kids normally waited for the
bus to go home, once school was over.  It was now starting to fill up with
people.  "You can't afford any more demerits, sir!", she shouted, checking
Peppermint Patty's records one more time with her laptop, just to be sure.

    She gave the can one more kick to send it rolling down the slope towards
the thick forest behind the school, then strode back.  "And that's one
down.  Now to find Bruno."

    "That's been delegated, sir."

***************

    "But I'll get lost if I walk home through the woods," Bruno said a
second time.

    "You can walk home through the woods, or you can try walking home
through us," Franklin said to Bruno, flanked by Pig-Pen and Roy.  "And we'll
see what happens."

    Bruno hadn't gone out for the football team because he firmly believed
pain was something that happens to other people.  Franklin was on the
football team AND the baseball team and his friends weren't much smaller
than he was.

     Bruno choose the woods.

*****************

    Charlie Brown looked dubiously at the bandanna.

    "I tell you, it is CLEAN," Frieda said, looking offended.

    "It's not that," he said.  "It's that Lucy wants to blindfold me."  That
rarely lead to anything good.

    Lucy rolled up the bandana and cracked it over his head like a whip.
"Put it on!"

    He hastily did so, then stumbled out of the school and into the parking
lot.  He could tell they got into Frieda's car from the sound of the
engine.  Charlie's dad liked to tinker with cars and Charlie knew more about
how to fix up cars than any of his friends.  In fact, he'd helped Frieda
negotiate to get this car, finding the problems with it and arguing the
price down to where she could afford it as a result.  And ended up fixing
the problems too, which had gotten him a kiss on the forehead and some
cake.

    Then he'd managed to get himself depressed about how he'd never really
been kissed, but that was another story.

    Charlie Brown let himself be lead out of the car eventually and across a
lawn and into a house; he wasn't even sure whose house it was, though the
sound of the sprinkler made him suspect it was the Van Pelt house; it always
got stuck partway through and made a sickly noise.

    Something smelled nice; he opened his eyes and saw his whole team
lounging around the Van Pelt living room; in the middle of the room was a
table and on it was a lemon cake covered in white frosting with the hasty
message 'WE WON' scrawled on it in orange frosting that smelled really
strongly of oranges.

    Violet was quickly and efficiently cutting the cake into squares and
handing them out to everyone, while Shermy served drinks.  Mind you, this
meant 'handing everyone a plastic cup with ice in it and an unopened can of
coke'.

    "We won," Charlie Brown mumbled.

    "You won the game by taking one for the team," Linus said.  "Anyway,
this is our first outright win in two years, so we thought we'd celebrate."

    Charlie Brown began laughing for joy.  WE WON WE WON WE WON!  I won the
game for us!

    He was still floating around, eating cake and drinking coke while
everyone hung out and played music too loud, when Peppermint Patty and
Marcie arrived.  Marcie carefully removed her clip-on sunglasses from her
glasses and deposited them in her blouse pocket.  Peppermint Patty shoved
her own sunglasses in her jeans pocket and strode over to Charlie Brown,
giving him a friendly clap in the shoulder.  Since he'd gotten his growth
spurt, this rarely knocked him down any more.  "Good job taking one for the
team, Chuck."

    "It's the manager's job," Charlie Brown said very seriously and
Peppermint Patty nodded approvingly.

    Marcie quietly got herself and Peppermint Patty a drink and a piece of
cake each.  "Here you go, sir."  She turned to Charlie Brown, studying the
bandage on his head.  "Are you okay, Charles?"

    "I'm fine, Marcie," he said, smiling at her.  "Thank you for asking."

    She turned a little red and mumbled something, then ate some of her
cake.  "This is really good.  Did Violet bake it?"

    "I just paid for it," Violet said.

    "And I put the message on it," Linus said.

    "Well, you guys might give us a real challenge this year.  Don't forget,
you're up against us on Thursday!" Peppermint Patty said cheerfully,
munching on cake.

    Marcie set her laptop down and opened it, calling up files as she ate
cake.

    Charlie Brown felt his high begin to deflate; Peppermint Patty clearly
didn't think 'love' = 'go easy on your lover'.  Not that he thought of
himself that way but he was pretty sure she liked him like that and everyone
else clearly thought so and he had no clue what to do about it but it surely
didn't mean she would EVER go easy on him.

    "We are going to WHIP YOUR ASS," Lucy said flatly, then grimaced when
Peppermint Patty began laughing.

    Then Peppermint Patty managed to choke on her cake.  Charlie Brown
quickly grabbed her and applied the Heimlich manuever to make her cough it
back up while everyone else panicked.

    "Can't keep your hands off me, eh, Chuck?" Peppermint Patty said a
little weakly afterwards, but she was smiling.

    Charlie Brown was still trying to find the words to say something, his
arms still wrapped around her, when Heather arrived.

    "Hi, Charlie!" she said brightly, striding over.  "I heard there was a
party for you, so I had to come once practice was over."

    "Hey, Heather," Linus said.

    "Yo," Shermy said.  "Coke?" he asked, holding the can upside down to
her.

    "Yes, it is..oh, yes, thank you," she said, taking it and righting it,
then snagging the cup of ice.  "May I have some cake?"

    "Of course," Violet said.

    "You two are so affectionate.  It's so cute," Heather said to Peppermint
Patty and Charlie Brown.

    Incoherent noises came out of him as she got some cake, and Peppermint
Patty just grinned.  "Chuck just can't hold himself back."

    Charlie Brown tried to say something, to explain the whole situation,
but instead, he just managed to trip himself and fall down on the ground
with Peppermint Patty, who made happy noises while Violet snorted and rolled
her eyes.

    "This kind of thing is why I can't invite you to my parties, Charlie
Brown," Violet said.

    "To be fair, Violet, you've done worse," Patty said.

    "But I'm sober.  Imagine him drunk," Violet said.

    "HEY!" Charlie Brown said.  He never drank enough to get drunk.  He had
enough trouble doing anything right without adding alcohol to the mix.

    "Gonna try and steal a kiss from me now, Chuck?" Peppermint Patty asked.

    Marcie's laptop made a weird noise as her fingers slipped.

    Shermy blinked.  "You okay there, Marcie?"

    "I'm fine," she mumbled.

    Charlie Brown turned to dust and blew away in the wind, figuratively.

    "Everyone turn around," Heather said.  "Give them some privacy."  She
now went over to hit on Linus.

    Everyone turned around, leaving Charlie Brown kneeling over Peppermint
Patty with no room to flee.  He had three choices.

    One, he could drop dead.  This was seeming a likely response.

    Two, he could try to explain his true feelings.  This was basically
impossible normally and two thousand times more impossible under the
circumstances.

    Three, kiss her.  But that wouldn't be honest and he would die of
embarrassment.

    She closed her eyes and puckered her lips.  She waited long seconds and
then the kiss came.  But if felt very strange as if somehow Charlie Brown's
lips were upside down.  She opened just one eye to peak.

    Snoopy had arrived and stuck his head inbetween them and kissed her.

    Peppermint Patty's howl could be heard in heaven.

    Linus and Lucy's Mom arrived home just in time to take a dog to the face
and go down, throwing groceries everywhere, after which the killing began.

    Lucy takes after her mother, but is somewhat calmer and less violent,
you see.

*************

    Heather sighed.  "I didn't even get to say hello to Linus before Mrs.
Van Pelt threw us all out and told us to never come back," she said.  "In
fact, I think every time I've been to Lucy's house, she ends up throwing us
all out and telling us never to return."

    "She always says that but doesn't mean it," Charlie Brown said.  "You
get used to it.  And it generally only happens when we have a big group."

    He was walking her home; Peppermint Patty had split off outside the
house as she had a bunch of undone homework to do.

    She nodded.  "I meant...I had this big plan and I just couldn't do it."
She sighed.  "I want so much to show Linus how I feel about him but I can
never say it."

    Charlie Brown was caught between the part of him which was dying by
inches from being reminded of her crush on Linus and the part of him which
wanted her to be happy.  So he mumbled incoherently, but finally said, "I
know.  I can never express how I feel."

    "Well, I'm sure Peppermint Patty knows how you feel.  You show it pretty
well just with your body, but I can't even get that far."  She sighed.  "I
just get there and the stress starts and I can't think and I just come
unglued."

    "I know exactly how you feel," Charlie Brown said mournfully.
EXACTLY.

    Like, say, RIGHT NOW.

**************

    The next afternoon, they had practice.  Wednesday, too.  They had to be
ready for the big game on Thursday against Peppermint Patty's team.

    Charlie Brown adjusted his cap.  Just stay cool, he told himself.
Pig-pen was going to bat so they could all practice their defense, which was
their big weakness.

    "Sock it to him, Charlie Brown," Violet said.

    "You can do it!  Kill him!" Patty shouted.

    "Give it to him, Charlie Brown!" Linus shouted.

    Pig-Pen grinned confidently at the plate, though it was hard to tell
with all the dust around him.  Schroeder tried to signal Charlie Brown, but
Charlie Brown couldn't quite see the signal.

    Lucy pecked away with her right hand at her cell phone cradled in her
left hand.  Big history quiz tomorrow and she was busy trying to take the
practice quiz online.  Balls never got hit to her, anyway.

    Until now, as Pig-Pen sent the ball flying high to Right Field and right
into Lucy's glove; the impact hit many buttons at once on her phone and
proceeded to answer the rest of the quiz for her.  With the wrong answers.

    BIG FAT F.

    However, she had caught the ball for once.

    "Nice catch, Lucy," Charlie Brown said.

    Lucy pretended she had planned that.  She was good at making the
unexpected look like she'd wanted it that way.  She flung the ball nimbly
back to Charlie Brown.  It flew past him to one side and Schroeder nailed
it, then tossed it to Charlie Brown.  As mentioned before, Lucy was not so
good at spatial relationships.  Fortunately, most of her career plans
focused around her strengths--intimidation, shouting, and punching.

    This made hockey her ideal sport, but you couldn't play that this time
of year.

***************

    Pig-Pen was an excellent batter, which is why they sometimes used him as
a designated hitter, especially since Charlie Brown was not exactly the
world's greatest batter. Any day he could be honest enough to admit that,
Pig-Pen went in as designated batter.  Any day he wasn't, he would insist on
batting himself.

    He also usually did the batting for them to practice defense off.  Which
meant he'd gotten quite good at putting the ball wherever in the field he
wanted to put it; during these practices he would generally find whoever was
paying least attention and target them.  It usually got everyone to pay more
attention as things went along.

    Some people, this wasn't a problem.  Violet and Patty both hated to lose
and usually stayed very focused; hit the ball to them and they'd either
catch it or quickly recover and fire it to the appropriate person to get an
out.  Frieda and Lucy, on the other hand, had a bad tendency to start
gossiping.

    "So, I was telling Snoopy to get up off his lazy butt and come help me
do some hunting, and he just stuck out his tongue at me and razzed me,"
Frieda complained to Lucy.

    Snoopy, overhearing, turned and razzed Frieda again, even as Pig-Pen
nailed the ball towards Frieda.

    "RABBIT FROM ABOVE, FRIEDA!" Linus yelled.

    "Brother, you've gone crazy again," Lucy said.

    Frieda instinctively turned and held her glove up and caught the ball.
"This isn't a rabbit!  Linus!"

    Charlie Brown buried his face in his glove.

    "Hey, what works, works, Charlie Brown," Shermy said to him.

    My team is insane, Charlie Brown thought.

******************

    Charlie Brown leaned on the wall.  "I just don't know what to do.  I
don't want to break our winning streak, but Peppermint Patty's team always
kills us and we're still the same team we always are.  We have some good
batters, but we're still not on her level."

    Heather, leaning on the wall to the left of him, said, "Don't give up,
Charlie.  You're not the quitting kind.  Isn't it better to give it your all
and lose than to give up?"

    That's true, Charlie Brown thought.  "I just seem to lose so often.  My
life sucks hard."

    "There's a lot of people in our school who envy you," Heather said.  She
kicked a rock up into her hands and began fiddling with it.

    "You have GOT to be kidding me," he said incredulously.

    "You've got a really cool girlfriend, your own very loyal baseball team,
a bunch of friends, your family lives pretty well, and you've got the best
dog in the world," she said.  "And your parents love you very much."

    Charlie Brown wondered whose life she was actually talking about.
"Everyone hates me."

    "Because they're envious of you," Heather said.  "I'm a little envious."

    Charlie Brown stared at her in total confusion.  "What?"

    "My family moves around a lot, so I've always had a hard time making
friends; every time I do, it seems like we move again.  In and out of this
town and around it.  Whereas your family set down roots and stayed.  There's
a lot of people who care about you, Charlie Brown.  And they'll stick with
you whether you win or lose," she said.

    "They have a funny way of showing it," Charlie Brown said.

    She just smiled and stared off across the fields.  They were on the
fringe of town; beyond here were fields where cattle grazed.

    "I, look, Heather," Charlie Brown said, trying to work up the courage to
finally confess.

    "Hey, Charlie Brown, what's up?" Linus said, coming up and leaning on
the wall to the right of Charlie Brown.  "We had a good practice today, I
think."

    Heather made a 'I told you so' look at Charlie Brown, then said shyly to
Linus, "Hey, Linus, how are you?"

    "Hi, Heather," he said, smiling warmly at her.  She blushed a little and
turned to look off across the field, lips moving without words.

    Charlie Brown sighed.

    Linus continued, "I had a great day.  Man, Ms. Kruger was on fire
today."  Ms. Kruger taught World History.  Linus was pretty blatantly hot
for teacher once again, though he never explicitly said it.  But Charlie
Brown had known Linus for a long time and could easily read between the
lines.

    Heather frowned, but said, "She was very excited about the Hittites."

    Linus blathered on and Charlie Brown contemplated ways to set himself on
fire.

*************

    "Fuck off and die, Brown," Big George said to Charlie Brown as he ran
into the school the next morning.  Charlie Brown's mother usually dropped
him off before heading to work, but she'd been behind schedule because she'd
had to chew out Sally for her latest big F.  Sally had procrastinated too
long on her latest Biology lab writeup and it had only been half finished
and the teacher had actually called the Brown father at work to complain.

    However, in the Brown household, chewings out were usually handled by
Mrs. Brown, while he doled out the words of encouragement.  So it had fallen
to the mother to kick Sally's ass.

    "Fuck you and your dyke," Big George shouted at Charlie Brown as Charlie
ignored him and ran down the hallway.

    Big George shouted something else as Charlie Brown ran into class, but
Charlie Brown wasn't paying attention.

    Two seconds later, the bell rang.  VICTORY!

    Charlie Brown relished every tiny victory he could get.

*************

    "Don't you ever eat something besides a baloney sandwich?" Lucy
complained to Charlie Brown.  Lucy and Linus both had leftovers from last
night's dinner, which meant they both had beef stroganoff.  Charlie Brown
envied them that.

    "I like baloney," he said stubbornly.  He had to make his own lunch,
whereas their mother usually made them a lunch.  Which half the time was
leftover dinner, mind you.

    "I'll trade with you," Linus offered Charlie Brown.

    Charlie Brown smiled a little.  "It's okay, Linus.  Your mother made
that for you."  His mother had used to make him lunch, but once he was ten,
she told him he was old enough to make his own.

    Schroeder was busy eating today's cafeteria offering; he preferred to
just eat whatever it offered than rush around making a lunch in the morning;
today this meant pork and beans, which he liked.  "You should just get the
free lunch, Charlie Brown.  Much more variety."  He liked variety in food.

    "Nasty variety," Lucy said.  "That stuff is always NASTY."

    "That would suit your style," Linus said to her and she whacked the back
of his head, but he laughed anyway.

    "Beethoven wouldn't have eaten pork and beans," Lucy grumbled.

    "Beethoven knew that a musician plays on his stomach," Schroeder said.

    "That was Napoleon," Linus pointed out.  "And it was an army, marching
on its stomach."

    "That sounds kind of painful," Heather said, looking up from her lunch
of leftover spaghetti.  Her mother, like the Van Pelt mother, often passed
off the leftovers as lunches for her kids.

    "There you are, Brown.  Time for you to die," Big George said.

    "Peppermint Patty will kick your ass again," Linus observed.

    "She's on B lunch," Big George said.  The school had three lunch
shifts.  Some kids had lunch at 11, some had lunch at 12 and some had it at
1.  A, B, C.  This was A lunch.  Other kids were having their fourth period
right now.  Like Peppermint Patty and Marcie and most of her gang.

    "C'mon, Big George, you HIT ME," Charlie Brown protested as he was
lifted into the air.  "This is ridiculous!"

    "You tried to hit me!  Your aim just sucked too much!" Big George said.
He began spinning around.

    Charlie Brown felt his sense of direction and balance go haywire and
fought not to throw up.  "Come on, we're not little kids!  Violence is not
the answer!"

    "Don't just hang there, you idiot!  Do something!" Lucy shouted at
Charlie Brown.

    "Please put him down," Heather begged.

    Linus sighed, started to get up and Lucy pulled him down.  "But..." he
protested.

    "This is his fight," Lucy said.

    "You call this a fight???" Linus said, watching Charlie Brown make
strange noises as he spun around.

    WHAM!  Charlie Brown crashed into the ground as Big George slammed him
down.

    "No, please stop!" Heather said, waving her arms wildly and looking
mortified.

    "Get up!  Stop malingering!  Do something, dammit!" Lucy yelled at
Charlie Brown.

    Linus started to stand up, but Lucy tugged him down.  Schroeder started
to circle the table and Lucy sighed.  "He won't ever learn anything if we
always save his ass."

    "That's mean," Heather said to Lucy.  "You could stop this."

    "I don't see YOU doing anything," Lucy snapped at her.

    Charlie Brown managed to shield his face, but he was getting pounded
pretty hard as he protested, trying to convince Big George to stop.  A crowd
was starting to gather.

    Heather was, by nature, even less violent a person than Charlie Brown.
She'd never won a fight in her life and hardly ever even had one.  She could
go run for one of the vice-principals, but Charlie would be paste by that
point.  And all the people watching seemed inclined to just watch.  Except
for the ones actively cheering for Charlie Brown to get his ass kicked,
which was quite a few.

    Desperately, Heather grabbed her lunch and hit Big George in the face
with it.  He froze, staring at her mindlessly for a few seconds, his face
full of sauce; her lunch now fell off his face onto Charlie Brown, staining
his yellow and black shirt.

    "You hit me," Big George said slowly.

    "Umm...please stop hitting Charlie Brown?" she said weakly.

    This was the day she found out what being punched in the face feels
like, namely, it HURTS.  She stumbled backwards and fell down, though
Schroeder caught her before she hit the floor.  A trickle of blood ran down
her face.

    Big George now turned his attention back to Charlie Brown.
Unfortunately for him, Charlie Brown had, in the interval, stood up, coming
up under Big George's crotch and lifting him up high and then pitching him
down onto the floor, head and shoulders first, giving a cry like a wounded
animal.

    "That's more like it," Lucy said approvingly.

    Charlie Brown picked him up again and held him against the table with
one hand and whaled away with the other.  Frieda approached the table and
stared in shock, her lunch in her hands.

    "Hit him in the kidney!" Lucy shouted.

    Heather stared in shock as Charlie Brown unloaded on the hapless Big
George.  Then she stumbled forward.  "It's okay, Charlie.  That's enough."

    Charlie Brown shuddered and let go the moment she touched him.  "What he
did to you..."

    "It's okay.  He isn't worth getting in trouble," Heather said.

    "Too late," Schroeder said tightly and pointed.

    The crowd of students parted like the Red Sea for Moses.

    The vice-principal cometh.

*********************

    Charlie Brown sat in the foyer of the Vice Principal's office and
groaned.  After-school detention for a week!  The Vice Principal thought he
was taking revenge for Big George hitting him in the head with that ball and
wouldn't believe his protests to the contrary.  And a bunch of kids watching
the fight had backed Big George up.  Why would they lie like that?

    "Hey, Chuck," Peppermint Patty said, patting his shoulder.  "You okay?"

    "I won't be playing in our game Thursday; I'll be here in after-school
detention," he said miserably.

    "WHAT?" she said, outraged.

    "What's going on?" Marcie asked.

    "I fought back against Big George, the Vice-Principal thinks I started
it and now I have a week of after-school detention, right when our game is."

    "That's bullshit," Peppermint Patty said angrily.  "I should go in there
and chew his face off."

    "He's talking to Lucy," Charlie Brown said.  "I don't know why; she
didn't do anything."  A thought hit him.  "Aren't you two in class right
now?"

    "We're on lunch break," Peppermint Patty said.  "I'll just stay here and
chew the bastard out for what he's doing to you."

    "You should get lunch; you can't play well if you're hungry," Charlie
Brown said.

    "Sir, if you get in trouble again, you won't be able to play softball
the rest of this six week period," Marcie pointed out.

    Peppermint Patty grimaced.  "Dammit."

    "It's okay," Charlie Brown said.

    "It is NOT okay," Peppermint Patty said.  "You've still got a nestegg on
your forehead from where he hit you with the damn ball on Monday!  I should
kick his damn ass and the Vice-Principal's!"

    "Don't get thrown off your team for my sake," Charlie Brown said
urgently to Peppermint Patty.  "My team will probably play better without me
anyway."

    Peppermint Patty moved over and gently touched his head with her own,
leaning down to him as he sat in the chair.  "Dammit, Chuck, stop trying to
martyr yourself."

    "Linus can pitch, Pig-Pen can take over second base.  He's a pretty good
second baseman," Charlie Brown said, then reached up and patted Peppermint
Patty's shoulder.  "I'm just being realistic."

    "Fuck realism," Peppermint Patty said hotly.  "I want to play against
you, Chuck, not go out there and play your team knowing you're in damn
detention just because you didn't let yourself get beat up again!"

    Marcie frowned, sat down, got out her laptop, and began typing.

    "I have detention.  But it's my duty as a manager to make the best
arrangement I can for my team if I can't be there," Charlie Brown said.  "I
can't change being in detention, but I can minimize the damage.  You have to
play the cards you're dealt."

    "That's when you have to kick over the table and try a different game,"
Peppermint Patty said angrily.

    Type, type, type.

    "I wonder if Lucy is trying to beat him up," Charlie Brown said
nervously.  "They've been in there a long time."

    Lucy now came out and stared curiously at the two kids touching heads.
She said, "You're off the hook, Charlie Brown.  I'll be doing two weeks
after-school detention in your stead."

    He started to speak.

    "Not one word," Lucy said sharply.  "And next time, GO FOR THE KIDNEYS.
Rabbit punch.  Pretend you're Frieda."

    Charlie Brown's mouth opened.

    "Not one word," Lucy said one more time.  "Pig-Pen can take my slot for
the game.  Which means you'll have to bat, but so be it.  I'm sure
Peppermint Patty is looking forwards to seeing how well you can hit her
pitches, anyway."

    "Hell yeah," Peppermint Patty said.  "Thanks, Lucy."

    "Also, while you're hacking the Vice-Principal's email, Marcie, see if
you can send a message to the Principal.  Someone's going to need to untie
the Vice-Principal once we're at a safe distance," Lucy continued.

    A single drop of sweat rolled down Charlie Brown's forehead.

    A matching drop marched down Peppermint Patty's face.

    "Where's Heather?" Lucy asked.

    "Linus took her to the Nurse's office," Charlie Brown finally said.

    "Okay, she's good.  Let's get to class."

*************

    Heather woke up to the soothing sound of Linus' voice.

     'The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit
of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He
led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor
of the valley, bones that were very dry.  He asked me, "Son of man, can
these bones live?" '

     'I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." '

     'Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry
bones, hear the word of the LORD!  This is what the Sovereign LORD says to
these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I
will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with
skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will
know that I am the LORD.' " '

    "Hi, Linus, thanks for staying with me," Heather said, trying to force
herself awake.

     Linus was reading from his Swindle (a popular e-book reader), 'So I
prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise,
a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.  I looked, and
tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no
breath in them.'

     'Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and
say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds,
O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.' "  So I
prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life
and stood up on their feet—a vast army.'

     'Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of
Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut
off.'  Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD
says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from
them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.   Then you, my people,
will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from
them.  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you
in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have
done it, declares the LORD.' "

    Linus touched the screen and put it away.  "Ezekiel 37: 1-14.  I always
like to read that prophecy before our ball games."

    "Thanks for staying with me," Heather said.  She'd ended up fainting
from stress while waiting in the vice-principal's office to talk to him.

    "It's okay," Linus said.  "Mr. Smith is a lousy English teacher,
anyway."  Mr. Smith taught Linus' fourth period Sophmore English class,
which bored him to tears, even though Linus was literary by nature.  Mr.
Smith was prone to get mad at his students and throw erasers at them.

    Heather looked down at herself and tried to muster the courage to tell
Linus what she thought of him.  He's so kind and gentle and smart and he
stayed with me when he didn't have to.  He's so wonderful.

    "He can't hold a candle to Ms. Kruger.  She was totally bringing it this
morning.  I like history anyway, but she really brings it to life," Linus
said animatedly.  "And I totally aced the history quiz today.  I think
Charlie Brown wasn't ready for it, though."  He sighed.  "But at least he
was on time."

    "He's very reliable," Heather said.  How can I compete with a teacher as
good as she is?  Why do I always fall in love with people who like someone
else?  WHY?

    The universe did not answer.

***************

    "Ready for your beating?" Peppermint Patty asked Charlie Brown as they
sat on a bench at the park, waiting for the two teams to show up.  Roy and
Jose Peterson were busy firing balls back and forth at each other, while
Linus was, for some reason, jogging around a tree.  Frieda was helping
Schroder suit up in his catcher's gear.

    "Hah!  We actually won our last game!" Charlie Brown bragged, then
laughed.  "We won't die easy."

    "That's just the way I want it, Chuck," Peppermint Patty said.  "And
hey, you did beat us four years ago."

    "You and Franklin were both sick with the flu and couldn't play,"
Charlie Brown said.

    "A pity Lucy can't come."

    Charlie Brown sighed.  I'm sorry, Lucy.  You shouldn't have had to throw
yourself on the bomb for my sake.

***************

    Lucy typed away at her phone, sending a message to Leslie.  'My god,
everyone in Detention dresses like they want to star in a Grease revival but
me'.

    The Vice-Principal loomed over her and reached for her phone.

    Lucy began to cry.  And cry.  And cry.  And wail and howl about how she
was being robbed and the end of the world was coming and what if her mother
needs to contact her and her father is sick and...

    The Vice-Principal backed off and moved on.

    'I am SO BORED.'

************

    With Lucy out of action, Charlie Brown had to bat.  Bottom of the fourth
inning, his team was down six to three.  Not half as bad as usual.  Violet
was on second and Patty was on first.  He probably couldn't bring them in,
but he could, hopefully, enable them to advance.  They only had one out.
And Violet and Patty were pretty quick runners.

    Peppermint Patty unleashed her fastball.

    Charlie Brown bunted.  She stared at him for a moment in confusion, then
she ran to get the ball at the same time Roy, her catcher, scampered
forward.

    Violet made it to third and Patty to second, but Charlie Brown got
thrown out at first by Franklin when Peppermint Patty fired it to him.

    "Sorry, Charlie Brown," Franklin said, grinning.

    "It's okay," Charlie Brown said.  "It was a fair play."  And for once,
it worked like he'd expected.

    Shermy was up next.  Line drive to Right Field.  Violet and Patty both
made it home but Shermy got thrown out at third.

    Score was now six to five.

    "C'mon, Chuck, BUNTING MY FIRST PITCH?" Peppermint Patty complained to
Charlie Brown as they swapped places.

    "It got us two runs," Charlie Brown said.  "Not a bad sacrifice."

    "Next time, you'd better give it all you've got," Peppermint Patty
warned him.

    By inning seven, after-school activities were over and a fair sized
crowd had shown up.  Charlie Brown could see Heather in the stands, cheering
for him, and as he came to bat again, that made him feel better.  They were
down at the top of the seventh, eleven to eight.  They weren't winning, but
this was more than they'd scored all game last time against Peppermint
Patty's team.

    Violet was on third, Patty on second, and Shermy on first.  They had no
outs yet, so he could afford to go down himself if he could drive some of
them in.  But if he screwed up, they might get a bunch of outs at once.

    "You can do it, big brother!"  Sally shouted from the stands.

    Linus' phone rang.  "Lucy says 'don't screw this up, you blockhead'," he
said, imitating her voice.

    Peppermint Patty grinned confidently.  "Here comes doom, Chuck," she
said, then fired her blazing fastball.

    He gave it his best swing.  STRIKE.

    Two more chances, he thought.  I can still do this.

    The curveball followup tricked him and he whiffed again.  STRIKE.

    Now Charlie Brown was sweating.  Dammit, here's my big chance to show
off.  Be the hero.  I could knock it out of the park.   His bat shook in his
hands.

    "Lucy says to stop shaking," Linus told him.

    "You can do it, Charlie Brown," Frieda urged him.  She was next up to
bat.

    "Do it, Charlie Brown!  We believe in you!" Heather shouted.

    "I am going to KILL YOU if you get me out!" Violet shouted.

    Peppermint Patty's grin seemed so wide that it could swallow the
universe.  She seemed to move in slow motion as she leaned back and wound up
to pitch.

    Linus said, "Lucy says 'dammit, they're taking my phone!  He called in
backup!'"

    Peppermint Patty started laughing right as she pitched and the ball went
wild of her control.  Charlie Brown was laughing too and the bat fumbled in
his hands and the chance collision sent the ball arcing high into the stands
(cheap bleachers donated by a local grocery store) where it hit Big George
in the face.  He toppled, holding it and howling angrily, then he tried to
throw it at Charlie Brown. The throw went wild and it flew over the third
baseman's head and off into the open field beyond.  Jose Peterson yelled,
then ran off to find it.

    To his utter shock, Charlie Brown rounded the bases and came home to
home, with his whole team jumping up and down while Peppermint Patty cursed
everything in the universe.  Violet, Shermy, and Patty picked Charlie Brown
up and paraded him around, laughing.  "We're in the lead! Twelve to eleven!
WE ARE IN THE LEAD!" Violet shouted.

    Charlie Brown was the happiest man on the Earth.

    They managed to score one more run when Linus knocked a good solid blow
to center field, enabling Pig-Pen to make a run for home, then it was time
to switch again.

    "Good job, Chuck, that's how you do it," Peppermint Patty said to
Charlie Brown as the teams switched.  "We're gonna get the lead again,
though."

    "Come and get it," he said confidently and they both smiled at each
other as he headed for the mound.

***************

    By the bottom of the eighth, Charlie Brown's team was up to fifteen and
Patty's team was at seventeen runs.  Heather and Sally were doing a
cheerleader routine for them on the sidelines, which made him smile.

    He drifted off into a fantasy about her running out and giving him a big
kiss when he struck Franklin out.  A fantasy so potent he proceeded to walk
Franklin, giving Patty's team someone on first and third (Tomas Peterson,
younger brother of Jose) with two outs.

    Jose Peterson was up to bat; he was still pretty short but a good
player.  He also had little respect for Charlie Brown.  But he was smart
enough to keep his mouth shut and let Charlie Brown keep fantasizing.

    He had three balls when Violet finally shouted at Charlie Brown, "EARTH
TO CHARLIE BROWN, YOU BLOCKHEAD!"

    Charlie Brown snapped out of his reverie.  Wait, when had Jose Peterson
come to bat?

    Dammit, Jose thought.  "You going to throw the ball or what, you
loser?"  He'd once played for Charlie Brown's team, but not for long before
he realized how much they sucked.  He couldn't believe they'd actually taken
the lead earlier.

    "Don't call Chuck a loser even if he is losing right now," Peppermint
Patty shouted to Jose.

    "You can do it, Charles!" Marcie shouted.

    "No cheering for the other team, Marcie," Peppermint Patty said firmly
to Marcie.

    "Yes, sir." Type, type.

    Fastball, Schroeder signalled to Charlie Brown.

    Charlie Brown fired it in.  WHIFF.  "Strike One!" the umpire shouted.

    Slider signal.  The ball came in and suddenly broke away from Jose.
WHIFF.  "Strike two!" the umpire shouted.

    Jose Peterson frowned.  "Your Dad's a lousy barber!" he shouted at
Charlie Brown, trying to rattle him.

    Peppermint Patty winced instinctively.

    Curveball signal.  Charlie Brown threw his very best fastball and
Schroeder grimaced.  Jose Peterson gave it his best shot and sent it arcing
high and back towards Frieda.

    "Okay, so I was thinking about getting that blue ribbon, but the red
ribbon was nicer, but you know, it doesn't offset my naturally curly hair
like I like," Frieda said to Patty, who tried to ignore Frieda in hopes
maybe she would shut up and pay attention.

    This was futile.  Frieda was blissfully oblivious to the incoming ball.


    Pig-Pen ran in and caught the ball, but no one could tell if he caught
it or not, thanks to his usual cloud of dust.  Not trusting the umpire to
tell, he fired it off to Schroeder, who tagged Thibault out as he made a bid
for the home plate.

    "DAMMIT," Thibault proclaimed.

    "Your Dad's a fine barber," Peppermint Patty said quickly to Charlie
Brown as they switched places.  She touched her own hair; she always got her
hair cut by Charlie Brown's dad.

    "I know," he said proudly, touching his own hair.  Then they smiled at
each other and she headed for the Pitcher's mound.

**************

    Frieda was up to bat next.  She was weak on defense but strong on
offense.  She immediately knocked the ball into left field and hit a triple.

    Snoopy now stepped up and hit himself a double, and Frieda successfully
ran home, knocking the score to sixteen to seventeen.

    Schroeder struck out, then Violet hit a single and Snoopy made it to
third base.

    Patty slammed it into center field and Violet and Snoopy both made it
home, with Patty now on third base.  This put them ahead, eighteen to
seventeen.

    Shermy grinned as he nailed a single but Peppermint Patty's team's
defense was good enough that Patty decided against a bid for home, which was
wise, as the ball got fired to Roy to cut her off.

    Charlie Brown nailed the ball on his first swing, because since his team
was ahead, his stress level dropped enough for him to bat well without
needing luck.  He got picked off at first, but Patty now successfully made
it to home and Shermy to second.  NINETEEN to seventeen.

    Peppermint Patty hated trying to pitch against Pig-Pen.  Trying to find
the zone where you were supposed to pitch was just about impossible.  Plus,
he was a power-hitter.  If you did manage to actually get it into the zone,
he would send it to the moon.

    Linus was a solid batter, but she'd rather try to strike him out.  She
just needed one out to shut them down.

    So while it ground her gears, she walked Pig-Pen, hoping she wouldn't
regret it.

    Now Linus came up.  Strike one!  Strike two!  WHAMMO.  The ball fired
off at high speed, bounced off Jose Peterson's shoulder at short stop and
rolled around.  Shermy broke past Jose Peterson to third and headed for
home.  Peterson flung it to second base, but Joan, the second baseman,
fumbled the ball and now Shermy headed for home.

    He nailed home right as Joan tossed the ball to third base and the third
baseman blindly collided with Pig-Pen in his cloud, tagging him out.

    Twenty to seventeen!  They were in the lead!

    "Nice offense, Chuck, but here's where we go for the win," Peppermint
Patty said to him as they swapped.

    Charlie Brown was feeling pretty confident.  "This time, we win!"

    "Wanna bet?" Peppermint Patty said, grinning.

    "Sure," he said with a burst of overconfidence.

    "Loser owes the winner one favor," Peppermint Patty said.

    "Done!"  They shook on it.

    This time, WE WILL WIN, Charlie Brown thought.

    Roy hit a solid shot to left field that Patty misjudged and he got to
second.

    Charlie Brown managed to strike out one of Patty's outfielders, a girl
named Joan; two balls, three strikes.  But Franklin nailed the first ball
Charlie Brown threw and drove Roy home and made it to third himself.  Twenty
to eighteen.

    Jose Peterson managed to get on first, but Franklin was unable to
advance further.  Harry, one of the outfielders, managed to drive Franklin
in home but got out himself.  Twenty to nineteen, one out, Jose Peterson on
second.

    Richard now stepped up and nailed a single.  Jose Peterson managed to
make it to third.

    Peppermint Patty now stepped up to the bat, grinning at Charlie Brown.
"I'm going to hit a grand slam and win the game, Chuck."

    "You can't hit a grand slam when there's no one on second, sir," Marcie
pointed out.

    "You know what I mean!" Peppermint Patty proclaimed, but was a little
embarrassed.

    Charlie Brown tossed the ball up and down.  "I'm going to strike you
out, Peppermint Patty."

    Up in the stands, Heather was very nervous.  She said to Sally, "What a
tragedy, having to face off against his own girlfriend and try to strike her
out."

    "That's how they both roll, Heather," Sally said.  "You ought to know
that by now.  Peppermint Patty never holds back with big brother and if he
held back, she'd be angry with him."

    "But...they're in love," Heather said.  "I couldn't do that against
Linus."

    "STAY AWAY FROM MY SWEET BABBOO!" Sally shouted from the stands.

    Charlie Brown's first pitch went wild.  "BALL!" the Umpire shouted.

    Peppermint Patty slapped her forehead, then adjusted her cap and got
ready.  "Focus, Chuck.  Or are you hoping I'll ask you to kiss me if I win
the bet, hmm?  I bet you are."

    Another wild pitch.  "BALL TWO!"

    "Dammit, Charlie Brown, she may be your girlfriend, but you've got to
STRIKE HER OUT!" Violet shouted.  "Or I'll never kiss you again!"

    Heather paused in running away from Sally.  "What?"

    "You KISSED CHARLIE BROWN?" Patty asked in utter shock.

    A tide of 'WHAT' rolled across the stands.

    "I was eight!  He was hurt!  That's what kids do!" Violet protested.

    Heather face-faulted and Sally tripped over her.

    Charlie Brown buried his face in his glove.

    "Patty kissed him when he was nine," Frieda said.

    Violet stared at her.

    "Shut up, Frieda!  Pay attention to the game!" Patty shouted.

    "You kissed Charlie Brown!  You said you'd only ever kissed me!" Shermy
protested.

    "I can assure you all that I have never kissed Charlie Brown," Linus
said.

    Snoopy now ran over and offered his lips to Patty, who turned red and
ran.  "I do not wish to kiss a dog!" she shouted.

    The umpire stared, mouth wide open.

    Peppermint Patty tried to speak, but no words would come out of her
mouth.

    Schroeder's phone rang, so he answered it.  It was Lucy.  "You haven't
kissed Charlie Brown, have you?" Lucy asked suspiciously.

    "OF COURSE NOT," he shouted into the phone.

    Distantly, her hair rustled in the wind as a result.

    "You're holding out for my sweet lips, right?" she asked Schroeder.

    "Can't talk, game," he said, then hung up and shouted, "PLAY BALL!"

    Frieda wrestled Snoopy down.  "You won't hunt rabbits because you're
hunting for kisses?  Is that it?" she said sternly to him.

    "He does get more valentines than Charlie Brown," Violet pointed out.

    Peppermint Patty vibrated like she was trying to pass through a wall.

    "Everyone back to their positions!" Charlie Brown shouted.  "It is time
to PLAY BALL!"

    Once order was sort of restored, Charlie Brown fired off a slider.
"STRIKE ONE!"

    Peppermint Patty still grinned.  "Not bad, Chuck."

    Curveball.  "STRIKE TWO!"

    Peppermint Patty was still confident.

    Schroeder considered the situation.  Sinker, he signalled.  That would
ideally minimize Patty's ability to sock it into the next century if she did
hit it.

    Charlie Brown was sweating bullets.  Just one more strike.  Just one
more strike.  Why was Sally chasing Heather around the stands?  No, focus!
Focus!  No wild balls, no thinking about kissing Heather or Violet or
Peppermint Patty or DAMN MY BRAIN.

    As his brain churned, he threw a wild and unpredictable ball that
suddenly hopped up an inch before Peppermint Patty could hit it.  "STRIKE
THREE!"

    She stared, eyes wide.

    Charlie Brown stared back at her, mouth wide open.

    "Holy moley, you struck me out!" Peppermint Patty said, dropping her
bat.

    "I'm sorry!" he said instinctively.

    "DO NOT APOLOGIZE!" Peppermint Patty shouted, but then she grinned.
"Looks like all those hours of us working on your pitching paid off.  How
the hell did you throw that?"

    "I don't know," Charlie Brown mumbled.

    Peppermint Patty headed for the bench.  "You're up, Thibault."

    Thibault was short and hated one thing above all other things, Charlie
Brown, who he despised because he thought Charlie Brown looked down on
them.  "I'm knocking it to the moon, Brown," he said.

    Fastball.  "STRIKE ONE."

    Fastball.  "STRIKE TWO!"

    Schroeder kept up the pace.  If he let Charlie Brown think, he would
choke.  He called for a curveball.

    Curveball.  WHAMMO!  The ball hit the left field corner, just barely
remaining in play.  Patty scrambled like crazy.  Jose Peterson hit home.
Twenty to Twenty now.

    Richard rounded second and headed for third.  Thibault rounded first.
Patty fired it to Snoopy, who tagged Richard out with the ball in his
mouth.

    "Ugh, dog germs," Richard grimaced.

    "Holy cow, overtime!" Sally said.  "They have to fight with their bats
now, right?"

    Heather rubbed her forehead.  "I think they just play more innings."

    "That's disappointing," Sally said.  "No sudden death?"

    "Even in sports with sudden death, there's no actual killing in it,"
Heather said.

    "Well, I wouldn't want to see my sweet baboo get hurt, anyway," Sally
said.

    "He is NOT your sweet baboo!"

    It seemed likely to be sudden death in the stands, anyway.

****************

    Grinding her teeth, Peppermint Patty walked Frieda.  She feared Frieda
might score a run.

    Unfortunately, Snoopy and Schroeder each managed to get on base, giving
her foes all three bases as Violet stepped up.  Violet nailed it to center
field and Frieda and Snoopy both managed to score, with Schroeder on third
and Violet on second.

    Peppermint Patty struck out Patty with three strikes and took down
Shermy with two balls and three strikes.  Charlie Brown popped it to right
field, got to first, Schroeder got home, and now Violet was on third.

    Two outs, Twenty-three to twenty, Charlie Brown on first and Violet on
third.  Pig-Pen at the bat.  Peppermint Patty ground her teeth again and
walked Pig-Pen, risky as it was.

    Linus licked his lips nervously.  He could hear Sally and Heather
cheering for him.  If he got even one run out of this, it would be fairly
hard for Patty's team to make a comeback.

    Strike One.  Ball One.  WHAMMO!  He shot the ball right over Peppermint
Patty's head and...

    She jumped, tipped it, fell down, and caught it in her glove.  OUT
THREE.

    "Great catch, sir!" Marcie shouted.

    "Wow, nice job," Charlie Brown said as he went out to pitch.

    "Thanks, Chuck. You've got the lead, but we're NOT DEAD YET."

    Roy hit a triple.  Joan hit a infield single; Roy was unable to advance,
thanks to Charlie Brown anticipating him likely making a break for it and
prioritizing stopping him.  Tomas nailed it right to Pig-Pen, who scooped it
off the ground and fired it off to Schroeder too late to stop Roy from
getting to home, but Schroeder fired it to Violet, who tagged Joan out.
Tomas made it to second, however.

    Twenty-three to twenty-one, one out.  Tomas Peterson on second base.

    Franklin sent it to Patty, Patty fired it off to Violet too late to stop
Tomas reaching third, but he couldn't advance.  Franklin moved like greased
lighting and was now on second.

    Jose hit one into the gap. Frieda ran the ball down, and threw it to
second, nailing Jose as he tried to stretch his single into a double.
Tomas, however, easily made it to home plate and scored a run.

    Franklin on third, Twenty-three to twenty-two, two outs.

    Harry knocked it to left field, Franklin reached home while Patty was
getting it, she threw it to Linus, forcing Harry to turn back to first.
Harry was on first, score twenty-three to twenty-three with two outs.

    Charlie Brown felt pretty confident he could strike out Richard.
Richard had no great weaknesses or strengths, unless you count his addiction
to chewing gum.  He blew a big bubble while he waited for Charlie Brown to
pitch.

    He got a single on the first fastball.  Which put Peppermint Patty on
deck with Harry on second and Richard on first.

    "We meet again," Peppermint Patty said, grinning confidently.

    Charlie Brown tipped his cap, took a deep breath and fired off a
curveball.  WHIFF.  "Strike one!"

    Focus, he told himself.  Don't think about anything else.

    "YOU CAN DO IT, CHARLIE BROWN!" Heather shouted.

    Maybe if I strike out Patty...no, focus.  Don't think about anything
else, Charlie Brown told himself.

    Another curveball.  NEARLY NOT A WHIFF IS STILL A WHIFF.  "Strike two!"

    He looked at Peppermint Patty.  Everything's riding on this, he
thought.  Hero or goat, hero or goat...

    Slider.  WHAMMO!

    "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!" Charlie Brown screamed as the ball arced to come
down between Patty and Frieda, who ran for it and collided with each other,
the ball rolling under them.

    "NOOOOO!!!!!!" Violet shouted to the heavens.

    Linus seized it and hurled it to home.  Schroeder caught it and Harry,
who was halfway to home turned back, forcing Richard to turn back.  They
both got back in time; now the bases were loaded with Thibault on deck.

    Thibault sneered at Charlie Brown. He tapped his bat against the ground.

    "Don't you dare choke, Charlie Brown!" Violet shouted.

    "KILL HIM," Patty shouted.

    "You can do it, Charles!" Marcie shouted.

    Peppermint Patty slapped her forehead.  "MARCIE!"

    Slider.  "Strike one!"

    Charlie Brown licked his lips nervously.  Don't crack up now.  Don't
crack up now!

    Wild throw.  "Ball one!"

    "BRRRRROOOOWWWWNNN!!!!" Violet screamed to the heavens.

    Linus' phone rang; he ignored it.

    Curveball.  "STRIKE TWO!"

    Fastball.  WHAMM!!!!  Charlie Brown tumbled in the air, losing
everything but his boxer shorts and his glove.  Everyone took off running.

    "Ha!"

    Everyone paused in mid-run to stare at Charlie Brown.

    "Ha ha!"

    They started running and he stood up, down to his boxer shorts, holding
up his glove.

    "HAHAHAHAHA!!!!"  His glove held the ball, which never touched the
ground.

    Linus had to drag a still laughing Charlie Brown off the field while
Frieda and Peppermint Patty collected his clothing.

    Five innings later, the score was thirty eight to thirty eight and
everyone looked like the living dead.

    "Maybe we should call this one a tie," Roy said.

    Snoopy was rapping his supper dish, in his mouth, against Charlie
Brown's leg and looked pleading.

    "So hungry," Frieda moaned.

    "One more inning," Charlie Brown said to his hat, mistaking it for
Linus.

    "Where's manna in the desert when you really need it," Linus mumbled,
his stomach grumbling.

    Peppermint Patty got up to pitch.  "One more inning," she said grimly.

    Shermy stepped up to the plate.  "Ready."

    Shermy got walked because none of the balls actually reached Shermy.

    Peppermint Patty groaned.  "No, no, no."

    "Patty, you are out of it.  If you can't pitch, we can't play."

    "Marcie, you're going to have to pitch," Peppermint Patty moaned.

    Marcie adjusted her glasses.  "What?"

    "My arm is dead.  I can see the herds of buffalo roaming the plains.
They're coming for me, Marcie."   She stumbled towards her team's bench.

    Charlie Brown rushed out and caught her as she started to fall down.  He
dragged her over to her bench.

    Marcie stood up nervously, taking the ball clutched in Peppermint
Patty's hands.  "I will substitute for you, sir."

    "Kill them all, Marcie," Peppermint Patty said.  "Win one for Samuel
Gompers."

    "The Gipper, sir," Marcie said and strode up to the mound.  "I won't go
easy on you, Charles," she said firmly.

    Normally, Charlie Brown would have been able to hit Marcie's pitching
into next week, possibly next month.  He was, however, utterly exhausted
from pitching fifteen innings in a row.  The result:  three balls, three
strikes, he's out.

    Pig-Pen stepped up and nailed it into center field; he wasn't very tired
at all and he made it to second and Shermy now got to third.

    Linus fouled out to his frustration, but Frieda now knocked it into
right field and Shermy made it home, leaving Pig-Pen on third and Frieda on
first.  Thirty-Nine to Thirty-Eight.

    While Marcie was getting ready, Frieda stole second, then took a moment
to pose triumphantly.  "Ta da!"  She could never have done this to
Peppermint Patty, but Marcie was a poor athlete with poor vision.  Whereas,
Frieda was quite fast.

    Snoopy should have gotten a hit, normally would have.  But he kept being
distracted by his hungry stomach and with two balls, three strikes, he
struck out.

    "Good job, Marcie," Peppermint Patty said to her.  "They only got one
run.  Come here, everyone."

    Her team gathered around her.  "Please, finish this.  We just need two
runs.  I don't care if we get twelve outs, just get us two runs."

    "You can't get twelve outs, sir," Marcie said.

    "Who's on first?" Peppermint Patty asked.

    "What's on second," Marcie said.  "Sir."

    "Not now," Peppermint Patty groaned.  "Who..."

    "I am," Tomas said.

    "Everyone bunt until the bases are loaded.  We have...to make Chuck
collapse."

    Marcie frowned.  "Sir."

    "Last hope...he'll have to substitute Lucy, who can't play worth a
damn," Peppermint Patty managed to say.

    Lucy had returned from detention and was sitting on the sidelines.

    Tomas bunted; Charlie Brown was too tired to hustle and he got to
first.  Franklin and Jose Peterson did the same.  Now the bases were loaded
and Harry was up.

    Charlie Brown could tell what they were doing and what they wanted.  But
he was too stubborn to give in.  He wasn't going to let them manuever him.
Not now.  Not when all he had to do was to strike out three people and WIN
THE GAME.

    He managed to strike out Harry.  It was hard to breathe, to think, to do
anything, but he also struck out Richard.

    Marcie stepped up to the plate nervously. She was no athlete and only
the exhaustion of her foes had enabled her to strike people out.  Even then,
they'd scored a run.

    And Charles, he'd hurt so much if he lost and she didn't like that.  But
Peppermint Patty would know if she didn't do her best.  She couldn't stand
to hurt her either.

    And so she stood, rigid and immobile, caught between imperatives.

    Charlie Brown made a feeble pitch; Marcie swung wildly and the ball
ambled off towards third base.  Marcie stumbled towards first base and Tomas
ran like a maniac.  Charlie Brown stumbled over, caught the ball and threw
to Schroeder.  Tomas slid and...

    RUN.

    The score was tied.  Peppermint Patty gave a cheer like a death rattle.

    Thibault now stepped up to the plate.  He grinned.

    "Sub me in!" Lucy shouted.  "You couldn't even stop that grounder,
Charlie Brown!"

    "Give Lucy a chance!" Violet shouted.

    "Let me pitch!  She can have second base!" Linus shouted.

    "I...can do it..." Charlie Brown said.  "Joe Shlabotnik wouldn't give
up."

    "Joe Shlabotnik is a feeble old has-been!  Like you, except you never
were anything to begin with!" Thibault shouted.  "You just delude yourself
because you think you're better than us!"

    There was an unholy light in Charlie Brown's eyes and he stood up
straight.

    Lucy instinctively tried to back up on the bench and fell off it.

    Peppermint Patty made a noise like unto the death of all things holy.

    "I WILL SHOW YOU WHO IS A HAS-BEEN," Charlie Brown proclaimed.  "Joe
Shlabotnik was, is, and ever will be a great player!  The greatest!"

    Super-Fastball.  "STRIKE ONE!"

    SUPER-CURVEBALL.  "STRIKE TWO!"

    SUPER-SLIDER.  SUPER-WHAMMO.  The ball arced high into the sky, over a
nearby house, and right down onto the head of Mrs. Van Pelt, come to check
on her children since they weren't home yet or answering their phones.

    There was a great and terrible silence, broken only by the sound of
Marcie running for second.

    Linus said, "And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice
of the fourth beast say, Come and see.   And I looked, and behold a pale
horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.
And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill
with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the
earth."

    "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!"  Lucy shouted.

    Almost everyone ran off the field in abject terror.  Franklin ran from
third to home base, winning the game, forty to thirty-nine, then ran off
into the sunset.  Jose Peterson hit third, kept going in a straight line,
and wouldn't be seen for two days.  Charlie Brown stumbled towards
Peppermint Patty, who could do nothing but lie on the bench, too wiped out
to move.  And Marcie ran the bases one by one, finally coming in and tagging
home plate, though it didn't matter since they'd won when Franklin scored.
But she did it anyway, as she was the sort to finish what she started.

    Charlie Brown fell down next to Peppermint Patty, her hand dangling down
onto his forehead.

    "I always kind of hoped we'd die together, Chuck," she mumbled.

    "Well, looks like you get your wish," he said.  "I'll lie here and we'll
die together.  I lost the bet, so I owe you that."

    Marcie stood up over them, positioning herself like a cat trying to stop
an oncoming train.  "We won, sir.  I'm sorry, Charles."

    "Attagirl, Marcie," Peppermint Patty mumbled.  "You're touching my hand
with your forehead, Chuck."

    "I guess so," he mumbled back.

    Mrs. Van Pelt roared past them, in pursuit of the guilty parties.  She'd
long ago learned the easy way to tell which child was guilty was to yell and
see who runs.  Since Marcie, Charlie Brown, and Peppermint Patty weren't
moving, they clearly were not guilty.  She had a LOT of guilty people to
punish.

    "Nice job, Marcie," Peppermint Patty mumbled.  "Call Dad to come get
us."

    "He's probably still at work, sir."

    "Call my Dad," Charlie Brown mumbled.

    "Will do, Charles," she said.

    Heather and Sally now came forward and picked up Charlie Brown and put
him down on the bench, top of his head to Peppermint Patty's.  "There you
go, right next to Patty, Charlie Brown," Heather said, smiling.

    "Thanks, Heather," Peppermint Patty said.

    "Thanks, Heather," Charlie Brown said.

    "Your father is coming, Charles," Marcie said to him.

    "I'll hitch a ride too," Sally said.

    "I'd better go make sure Linus is okay," Heather said, then ruffled his
little tuft of hair in front.  "You should be proud, you played really well,
Charlie Brown."

    "I lost," he mumbled and sighed.  "You scored a walk-off win."

    "Yeah, it was more like a run-off win, but you fought hella hard and
only the unstoppable power of Marcie brought you down since she held down
your runs to just one, so Franklin could win the game for us.  Marcie would
have scored another run if Jose had actually made it to home and so would
he." Peppermint Patty managed to croak out.  "Marcie, I'm giving you the
favor that Chuck owes me."

    "I couldn't take it," Marcie said modestly.  "You earned it, sir."

    "I'm not going to live long enough to collect it," Peppermint Patty
said.  "This is the end.  I will surely die before the morning."

    "You'll be fine once you have some coffee, sir," Marcie said.

    "I'll do each of you a favor, okay?" Charlie Brown said.

    "No trying to please everyone, Chuck," Peppermint Patty said.  "Marcie
is going to take this favor and she's going to like it."

    "Yes, sir," Marcie said.  She would have to think about this.

********************

    Peppermint Patty sat back on the nice, soft couch, sipping coffee and
eating linguini out of a bowl on a TV tray in front of her.  Charlie Brown
and Marcie also sat on the couch, doing likewise.  A pro game was playing on
the TV, where the Orioles were being annihilated by the Mariners.

    "This is the life," Peppermint Patty said.  "Die, Orioles, Die!"

    "Thanks for letting us eat here, Charles," Marcie said to him.

    "That's fine," he said.  "Mom always makes too much food, anyway, and
Dad likes you two."

    "Man has good taste and so does this food," Peppermint Patty said.
"Figured out what you're going to do with that favor, Marcie?"

    "Since you owe me one from me helping you get a B on your last English
test, I think I know exactly what I want," Marcie said with a wicked grin.

    Peppermint Patty's jaw dropped.  "You don't mean..."

    "Surely not..." Charlie Brown said.

    Oh yes, she did.

*****************

    Marcie sat in the deck chair in a green one-piece, sipping lemonade and
reading the Guns of Avalon on her Swindle.  While she lounged out in the
nice warm sun, Peppermint Patty (in green bikini) and Charlie Brown (in blue
bathing shorts) washed the deck and the pool and the concrete verge around
it.

    Marcie hadn't had to clean this pool in eight years thanks to Peppermint
Patty owing her favors.  That it was both of them at work just added to her
enjoyment of the good things in life.

    Mmm, yes, the good things in life.

    "Having fun?" Charlie Brown asked her, looking up from plucking leaves
from the pool with a net.

    "It's good to be the Queen, Charlie Brown," Marcie said.

The End.
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