Maybe it was because I’d skipped lunch. Or maybe it was because Forte had left his gold chain at the hotel and I had to get a driver to take me there, then back, missing batting practice, all so he could put that nasty thing around his neck and still error. It hadn’t been ‘right on the dresser’ like he’d said. It’d been in the shower, coiled up next to a used bar of soap with various old man hairs stuck in it.
Whether it was due to hunger, or Forte’s errand, I was grouchy. We were also down by two, which made me jittery, my palms sweating as I hung off the dugout and watched Fernandez whiff.
His voice was low, but I heard it, pushing off the fence and turning to Chase. He sat on the metal bench, his hat pushed back on his head, one hand rubbing at his mouth.
I said nothing, just raised an eyebrow.
He lifted his chin, nodding his head back. “A few rows up, the brunette in the tight red shirt.”
I fought to keep my expression level. “Yeah?”
“Get her number.”
I glanced back, Fernandez still at bat. An oh-and-two count, two outs on the board. I could tell you, without even seeing the pitcher’s curl, what was about to happen.
There was the smack of a ball against leather, and Chase leaned forward, coming to a stand, his hand working into his glove. “You got a problem with that, Little League?”
It wasn’t the first time I’d been asked to scout girls from the stands. It was practically part of the job description. A player saw a girl they wanted, they sent one of us over. It had never bothered me before. But now, after his kiss, after our talks, it burned. It burned hot and red and made me want to launch myself at him, fists swinging. I shouldn’t have sent that text. I’d thought it was cute. Witty. I’d thought it would make him more interested. Instead, he’d just moved on.
“She’s a Reds fan.” I spat out the response that I should have kept to myself.
“So?” he shrugged. “I like the forbidden.” He grinned at me, and I looked away, the dugout suddenly crowded, traffic moving both ways as we took the field.
“Brunette. Red shirt,” he reminded me, his smile wide, grabbing a ball from the stack and tossing it my way, my catch of it automatic.
“He bothering you, Ty?” The hand that clapped on my shoulder was big and strong, and I turned to meet our catcher’s eyes, ones filled with protective concern.
“No,” I managed. “I’m fine.”
“You sure?” He climbed the steps and paused, one foot on the field.
“I’m sure,” I said, more conviction in my words. “Now go and shut this shit down.”
He laughed, bright white teeth shining out from his dark skin. “You know it, baby.” I watched him jog off, the crowd on their feet, stomping and cheering.
Swallowing a groan, I moved to my bag and grabbed a pen and pad of paper.
I like the forbidden.
A Reds fan. Talk about terrible taste. I took whatever warm and fuzzy feelings I had about Chase Stern and let them flutter out, caught by the wind, into the night sky.
“Really? Chase Stern?” Any chance the mystery girl wouldn’t be interested drowned in her giant stadium cup that I’d bet twenty bucks was spiked with liquor. She bounced up and down in excitement, letting out an unladylike squeal.
I tried to smile. “He’d like your number,” I repeated, this time a little slower, but she was too busy freaking out to listen.
“Your number.” Her friend poked her, stopping the mess of brown curls from bouncing any higher. “Give the girl your number.”
“Can I get a picture with him really quick?” the girl whined, holding out her phone as if I might inspect it. “Just right now, super fast?”
“They’re in the outfield,” I said dryly. “So, no.”
“I can wait. Just right down there, by the rail thingy.”
I smiled again and contemplated knocking the drink out of her hand. “If you could just give me your number, you can take all the pictures you want with him after the game.” Chase was an idiot. Meeting fans during the middle of a series. He should spend tonight focused on the next game, not doing God-knows-what with this giant-breasted Barbie doll.
When I walked back down the steps, her phone number tight in my hand, I looked out to the field, my eyes finding Chase. He lifted a chin, I lifted her number, and our gaze held for a minute.
Then there was the crack of the bat, and our eye contact broke. I jumped the dugout railing and contemplated throwing the number in the trash. I didn’t. Instead, I was a good little ball girl, putting it in Chase’s helmet, right where he wouldn’t miss it, a location that eliminated any need for follow-up conversation.
Maybe I was getting too old for this job.
Maybe I should call Tobey.
Our traveling secretary liked to put the team all together on one floor. And whenever possible, she put me in a room adjacent to Dad, a proximity that allowed him to sleep better at night. I didn’t used to have my own room, that change coming the summer I turned fourteen. I’d gotten my period for the first time, Dad suddenly got uncomfortable, and when we’d landed in Seattle, I’d unexpectedly had my own room key. That first night, I stayed up until four in the morning watching reality TV. The next night, two. Three years later, I was a boring old woman typically in bed by midnight.
Typically. But tonight I was squashed against my door, a book in hand, waiting for Chase to come home. We’d passed him in the hall earlier, Dad and I coming back from Moe’s, takeout containers in hand. Chase had stepped aside to let us pass, he and Dad exchanging a curt greeting. I’d looked away, but I’d noticed everything.
The smell of him. Different than before—cologne.
He’d been dressed up, a stiff button-down tucked into slacks.
His phone stuffed into one pocket as he’d moved past, toward the elevators.
He had been going to see her—a possibility I’d stewed over since we’d left the field. It’d been an afternoon game, putting us out early—early enough to allow for a date, should one asshole of a player feel up to it.
Dad and I had eaten our dinner in his room, watching the Devil Rays play, little said until the fifth inning, when he’d turned his chair toward me.
“Stern ever hit on you?”