Kristy was entirely different. As a girl, she had almost been an apparition.

She had seen everything, yet never asked questions, never cried, or even been scared. She did not like Ray, or James, or anyone else, but to James' parents she was a sweet, faithful servant, lighting Daddy's cigarette, holding the spoon full of batter for Mom to lick. Around nine, she found sports and loved them, dominating every league and every sport she competed in, before settling on softball, James suspected, because it required less work than soccer or basketball. Like James, she was a bit thick, but powerful, and unlike Audrey, Kristy's hits were rockets beyond the fence, shooting upward even as they reached the home run mark.

Kristy was feared and she knew it, and though she carried herself silently, James saw that she had made it clear somehow that her teammates were to steer clear of her preparations to do just about anything. She wasn't close to any of them, it seemed; her teammates' parents were more interested in chatting than the girls themselves.

Other families envied James' parents; they had wished for a docile giant who launched homers to admire. A year later Kristy played with girls two grades ahead of her and still dominated; now at fourteen, she played with girls who were James' classmates, and she was still among the best. Coveted for her bat, Kristy was suspect with the glove, James had gathered from his parent's conversations, and thus was placed at first base for now. Kristy talked of a fitness regimen that would shed some of her bulk, and prepare her for more positions in the field.

Both of James' parents embraced Kristy's athletic career as a second, equally important life. And for Kristy, softball consumed all her life, and she had no intention of ever committing herself to anything else. She would go to college to study sociology, because that was the preferred major of most of the players on her favorite college team. She would then play professionally or try out for the Olympic team. If she weren't good enough to do that, she'd coach. James envied how his sister, at fourteen, had already mapped out an easy, profitable career that somehow relieved her of responsibilities around the house. Already she had a promise for a car James had to earn, although James wondered if she'd enjoy it much; Kristy had such a stern face for much of life's episodes, she seemed to blot out joy. It was hard to conceive her coaching anyone. She was a lecturer at fourteen, and gathering, from James' way of thinking, more and more of a narrow-minded view each week.

But, then, she lived a narrow life. Especially in summers, when she spent most of school vacation at weekend tournaments and two-a-day practices during the week. She was a blip on the Lumley household's radar, to bed early and out of it early, headed off to batting practice, rarely home for lunch, and only occasionally for dinner, before she rumbled downstairs to work out, then shower, then sleep. Kristy had once been fond of science museums; she gave it up, along with a few of her friends, to play a hundred summer games at first base and, occasionally, at pitcher. There were boys around, often James' age, whom she flirted with; it was, for a short time, the only reservation James' parents had about Kristy's sporting life. Eventually, in her dead serious tone, she explained those boys, who played on all-star baseball and football teams, were among the few who understood her, being fellow athletes, and they had common goals, dreams and future paths. It made sense, Kristy said. James parents' were convinced, while James was floored by Kristy's pragmatism. She was all grown up, it seemed, comfortable in a world that everyone was comfortable to leave her in. Athletes, James noticed, were counted upon to be poorly rounded.

So it wasn't surprising that as Fourth of July weekend approached in his seventeenth year, James was expected to sit in a car while his father drove four hundred miles to the Firecracker Invitational, Kristy's most important summer tournament.

"You get seen here or you don't," Kristy said, before reciting her statistical goals. "This is where you either go D one or D two," the former far better than the latter. James sensed this was a ploy of mock worry on Kristy's part - she'd never expressed any concern about her play - but as everything else Kristy, James' parents immediately decided it would be a family trip, which was how they pitched to James.

"Where's this spirit when I need some fan support at the Country Kitchen?" James said.

James' parents stared, while Kristy went grim.

"James -" his mother said.

"No, Mom," Kristy said sharply. "He means to ruin it. He can't commit to anything so he wants to ruin my commitment. Well James - " she took a step toward him and jabbed a finger into the air, "- you can't. You can either come or not come - you'll be doing it for mom and dad, not for me - but you won't ruin anything for me. I've come too far and I've built up way too positive a thought process for you to come within a mile of screwing this up, so you might as well keep your comments to yourself."

James gaped. Fourteen. But, being seventeen, he still had within him the ability to stage a comeback. There was, in fact, very few slights he could use, but he had one, one that he at least believed in, and one that might have been accurate in some circle of thinking.

"Kristy," James said, mocking his sister's jabby finger, "you think you're hot shit, but you play softball, which is nothing but a trike rider's version of baseball -"

James had more. Choicer phrases. And had his father not negotiated the counter and sunk his left fist into James' stomach, James had no doubt he could have sent Kristy crying, or sulking, for the first and maybe last time.

But James' father bore another punch into James' gut, and James hit the tile floor and lost the words, replacing them with an image of Kristy, who stood above them, face grim but eyes strangely afire while she said lowly, "Get him Daddy. Get him." Under his mother's screams and his father's curses James heard Kristy, and their eyes met, and James, at that moment, looked into Kristy's eyes and knew something, something Kristy did not know, and Kristy looked away, held for a second, then began to cry, then scream, "Daddy stop! Stop!"