I reached over, covering the ball with my hand, his fingers moving, reaching for mine, our hands looping together around the ball. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered, leaning into his chest, his other arm wrapping around my shoulders, pulling me tight.
We stayed like that for a long moment, the tension leaving his body slowly, one muscle at a time, his fingers still tight through mine. When the jet started its descent, the sun peeking over the New York coastline, I got up slowly, carefully crawling over his legs, my fingers gentle in their pull from his grip, his body still curled around the space where I had been.
I felt off balance, settling back into my seat. So many of my impressions of him changing, his skill on the field fading in my mind, the details of Chase Stern emerging as everything I felt about his blurred. I had thought, with all of my fandom, all of my research, all of his stats and interviews and press, that I knew him. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe there was more than talent and ego stretching those veins.
Knives clinked against china. Gold-press wallpaper and black velvet curtains held in the loud conversation—twenty hungry bodies pulled close to the table. I chewed on a piece of filet and half-heartedly listened to Dad’s discussion with Fernandez about immigration reform. Across the table, a few bodies down, was Chase. Our eyes had met once. I had given a small smile, then hadn’t looked back. I could feel him watching me. It was uncomfortable, but I craved it, the scratch to the itch that wouldn’t stop crawling across my skin.
To my left, Mr. Grant wished me a happy birthday. Asked about school. Told me Tobey was coming to the Cincinnati series next week. I nodded politely and remembered our kiss, grabbed in those shadows of their mansion, right before the news of Chase broke.
“You should hang out with him,” Dad said, his bony elbow poking me in the ribs.
“Sure.” I smiled politely. “Maybe we can grab a matinee.”
“You don’t have to work the game,” Dad offered. “Take the night off. Celebrate your birthday.”
“We already did.” And we had, in high-style. Road trip up to Maine. Two days stuffing our faces with lobster and crab, our shirts stained with butter, smiles big. Dad sang karaoke in a dive bar in South Portland, and I won twenty bucks against bikers in Portland. I hadn’t needed friends, and watching a chick flick with Tobey a week after my birthday wouldn’t come close.
“I know Tobey would love to see you,” Mr. Grant pushed.
I coughed out an uncomfortable laugh, pinned between the two of them. “I appreciate it, Dad, but I’ll work the game. I’ve never—”
“—missed a game. I know. Just know the offer is there.”
I met his eyes and narrowed my own. It was no mystery that my father loved Tobey. Five or six years ago, when Tobey wanted to be a pitcher and Dad had spent the better part of a winter coaching him—they’d bonded over Revolutionary War history and the Steelers. Since then, Dad and Mr. Grant had been scheming, trying to put us together. But he should know better than to think I’d give up a game to prance around the mall.
I pushed on the edge of the table and stood, flashing a regretful smile at the two matchmakers. “Excuse me, I need to use the ladies’ room.”
I sidestepped down the table, my eyes sliding forward, past the row of men hunched over their food, each engaged in conversation or busy eating. All except for Chase, who sat back, one arm draped over the back of a chair, his expression impossible to read, his stare dark and penetrating and locked on me. I tried to look away, but couldn’t, holding the contact until I reached the end of the table and was free, all but tripping in my heels in my haste to exit.
I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, trying to find a reason he’d stared. Spinach in my teeth? Nope. Giant zit on my face? None. I flipped the handle, was washing my hands under hot water, when my cell buzzed. I grabbed for a paper towel and reached for my phone, a moment of confusion at the text.
Grant’s son? Didn’t realize your Yankee loyalty went that far. Oh. And Happy Birthday.
I leaned against the counter and sent back my best attempt at coyness. Who’s this?
I didn’t need a guess. I hesitated, then had a moment of evil inspiration. Holding back a smile, I replied. Please stop. We were a one-time thing. Get over it. It wasn’t even that great.
I sent the red herring into cyberspace and waited, smiling. Let my new ‘friend’ stew over that. I watched dots of activity appear, and then stop.
I waited an appropriate length of time, leaving him hanging, then set the hook. Who’s this?
Oh. Nevermind. I thought you were someone else.
I didn’t wait for a response, my high note hit. I stuffed the phone in my purse and tried to compose myself, to hide my smile, before I stepped back out. The man needed to be taught a lesson, needed to learn to mind his own business. It’d do him some good to stew over my mythical team boyfriend.
What the…? Chase looked down at his phone, rereading the lines of text, the conversation taking an entirely different direction than he had anticipated. When he’d gotten Ty’s number from one of the ball boys, he’d planned to have it for emergency purposes only. Then … after overhearing that attempt to push her toward Grant’s silver spoon of a son, he couldn’t help himself. He had planned to rib her a little, poke out a little fire. He hadn’t expected to uncover this bomb. He texted back, his fingers fighting against common sense, the words out and sent before he could bring them back.
Who did you think it was?
There was a flash of blonde, and he locked the phone, sliding it into his pocket, watching her as she reentered the private room, her dress navy and short—too short for a place like this, one filled with men—her smile the only feminine thing in the room. She was a blur of tan legs and tight material, her long hair swinging as she settled back into her chair, her smile easy as she responded to something her dad said, her phone elsewhere, along with her concern. His text would be unread, would sit out there, insecure and abandoned, for who knew how long.
He shouldn’t have sent it. It was pathetic. He shouldn’t have messaged her at all.
He picked up his knife, his cut into the steak rough and hard, his irritation mounting as he stabbed the piece with his fork. Chewing, he glanced down the long table and wondered who, of the men present there, she had mistaken him for.