“How’s that selfish? It’s my dog.”
“It was your dog. Then you decided on a career that put you on the road. You can’t play baseball and have a relationship with your dog.”
“A relationship?” he coughed, shaking his head as he finished off his water. “It’s not a relationship.”
“It should be,” I pointed out. “The strongest bond on Earth … man and his dog…” I waved away his skepticism, plowing forward. “You can’t take the dog away from everything he knows and bring him to New York. It’s wrong.”
“He doesn’t exactly have Wednesday coffee dates with his friends,” he said. “He plays in the yard with a Frisbee. He can do that in New York. I’ll get a yard. Besides, he’s mine.” He reached out and stole a Starburst.
“Your mom wants what’s right for him. She’s the one who’s taken care of him for the last four years. I agree with her.” I shrugged. “Here he’s going to sit at your house, all alone, and be miserable.”
“You can come over and play with him,” he offered.
“Seriously. I’ll hire you. You can be his new best friend.”
“No. And his owner is supposed to be his best friend.”
“You can teach me.”
“I don’t know anything about dogs.”
“Ha!” he said loudly, and I gripped his arm in warning. Swoon. So strong, I felt the tendons move when he turned toward me, my fingers instinctively tightening, wanting to feel every pulse, every seam of his body. He glanced at my hand, and I let go.
“Shh,” I hissed, and his eyes lifted to mine. Our seats suddenly felt too close, the side of my knee against his.
“You just said you don’t know anything about dogs,” he whispered.
“So stop telling me what I should do with mine.”
“He belongs at your mom’s house,” I whispered back, our eyes still connected, our arms now touching as we hunched together, over the center console.
“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” he said, the words husky, his hand moving forward to cup—
I leaned back, needing air. Possibly a soda. Maybe I was dehydrated. Something was wrong; I was too flushed, too hot in this space, my skin jumping against itself, the twist and pull of right versus wrong, kissing him versus not … we couldn’t do this again.
“Were you about to kiss me?” I accused, my whisper forgotten, my voice too loud, and he looked around in warning.
“Watch it,” he snapped.
“I don’t know.” He sat back in his chair. “What if I was?”
“You can’t kiss me again.”
“I just…” My eyes darted front, my dad in shouting distance. “Don’t.”
“You know, most girls, if their dad tells them to stay away from someone, they do the opposite.”
“And most guys avoid jailbait.”
“I’m avoiding you.”
“Doesn’t seem like it.”
He watched me closely, his direct eye contact something that twisted my stomach into knots. “We’re friends.”
Friends. I didn’t have a lot of experience with friendship, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t it. “You kiss all your friends?”
The corner of his mouth turned up. “When they have a mouth like yours.”
I snorted. “Please.” Did he mean it? Had he been as affected as I was by our kiss?
He kept his eyes on me. “You think you know me, Little League?”
I considered the question. “I know enough.”
His mouth twisted in a mocking smile.
“I do,” I pressed. “Honestly. It’s embarrassing my level of Chase Stern trivia.” I waved him on. “Go ahead. Quiz me.”
“You know what’s been written about me. That’s not me.”
“You love to do interviews. That tells me something.” Dad never did press, despite every attempt by the Yankees to push him into the spotlight. Nineteen years in the Majors, and I’d never once seen him sit down with a reporter. Chase had them trailing him like groupies. Dad once said that a man who sat down and spilled his soul to strangers didn’t have much of a soul to protect.
“I have a brand. I feed it.” He tossed up the ball and caught it. “Try again.”
I jabbed harder. “I know you make some stupid decisions.”
He scowled. “Life is a series of stupid decisions interrupted by luck.”
“Poetic, but completely wrong.”
He spun the ball on the center console, the red stitches blurring, the ball wandering toward the edge. “You can’t always recognize stupidity, Ty. Most of the time it takes years to see your own mistakes.”
I caught the ball when it fell off the edge, squeezing it hard, my fingers at home in their grip. I looked up from it and into his face. “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
I expected him to say the Davis affair. Or the DUI he got rookie year. Or the two years he wasted at Stanford. I was wrong.
His answer took everything I thought I knew about Chase Stern and scattered it to the wind.
A girl. A small part of me, the one that still drew hearts and flowers around the words Ty Stern in my notebook, wept. His biggest mistake was a girl. I swallowed hard. “Was she your first love?”
“My only.” A new look crossed his face—somber. It haunted his eyes and closed off his features—his jaw tight, mouth hard. “You ever think you could love someone too much?”
I hadn’t. But in a way, a seven-year-old girl’s way, I had. There was a reason I never thought about my mother. A reason I avoided women, their perfumes and hugs, their kind words and motherly gestures. Some things were too painful to mourn. My love for her had been too great for my little heart to handle. “Yeah,” I said softly.
“Emily was ten.” He reached over, pulling the ball gently from my hands. “She was my little sister.”
I said nothing. I couldn’t ask, couldn’t bring myself to voice a question he wouldn’t want to answer.
When he finally spoke, his voice was wood, no life in its syllables, no movement in his eyes. “I forgot to pick her up from gymnastics. I had practice; it ran late. She walked home. Didn’t make it.” His mouth tightened, voice growing thin. “It was getting dark. She didn’t look, ran across the road toward our house. A truck…” he stopped.