The Kid

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Chapter Seven

In early July, during the Independence Day game at home against the Washington Senators, Jason Stiller went 5 for 5 and three of those hits were home runs. There was a lot of cheering--hometown fans just for the Braves, of course, but when The Kid came up to bat even the folks rooting for Washington to win still cheered him on. There was something magical about the way he could hit a baseball, everyone agreed on that...and they all wanted to see it.

Directly after the game Kip told Jason that his average had just topped .375...and there was more than one fan, sportswriters included, who were hoping to see the fabled number .400, the brass ring of batting averages, snagged by the end of the season. Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox might have the most home runs, but Jason “The Kid” Stiller was taking the Braves like an arrow straight to the pennant...and the Series beyond.

Justifiably, Jason “The Kid” Stiller felt fairly good about himself that afternoon, as he hung around the bleacher railing near first base talking with a few fans who had stayed behind in case any of the players came by.

The staunchest Braves fan, who because he was a friend Jason called Beanie, always stayed behind, and for no particular reason Jason always tried to make time to speak with the man.

The propellor cap and ice-cream vendor’s uniform never changed, and neither did the enormous smile. “That was quite a show you gave us today, Mr. Stiller.”

Jason understood what kept D.G. Muldowney gruffing at him--he had told Beanie a hundred times to call him Jason, and finally given up. “I’m glad you were here to see it, Beanie. Are you well today?”

The huge man answered as slowly and carefully as always. “As well as could be expected, I’m sure. Hello, Mr. Gumbo.”

“Hiya, Beanie.”

Jason turned to see that his sportswriting friend had popped up from nowhere. “Where’d you come from?”

“Mommy always says I came from heaven. Beanie,” he continued, leaving a startled ballplayer laughing behind him, “Do you feel the way I do about the Braves’ chances for a run at the pennant this year?”

As impossible as Jason would have made it, Beanie’s grin widened. “It does not seem to be completely out of the question, Mr. Gumbo.”

“Not completely, not completely.”

Kip was about to ask something else, but he was interrupted by a jeer from behind them all as Bud Tripplehorne walked past flanked by Dutch and Pickens. “Well gee whiz, fellas, looks like the weirdo squad meeting is running a little late today.”

Kip didn’t turn, but looked out of the corner of his eye at The Kid. Jason did turn, to glare at Tripplehorne for the comment, daring the man’s buddies to say anything...but both Dutch and Pickens looked embarrassed, like they realized how childish the whole situation was. The three walked away but neither was looking at Bud, who swaggered with his nose held pridefully high.

“I do not think I like that man very much.” Beanie’s comment cut through Jason’s dark thoughts.

The young man turned and when he saw that his fan’s huge smile wasn’t any dimmer despite what had just happened, Jason let himself be wise for once and let it go, choosing to allow for Beanie’s acceptance instead of Bud’s rejection.

“I don’t like him much either, Beanie. No matter. Will you make sure to catch the Pennsylvania game on the radio?”

“Without doubt, Mr. Stiller. I would not miss it.” With that, the huge man tipped his propellor cap at them both and turned, ascending the bleachers with the same lumbering steps.

“Tripplehorne trouble?”

“Nothing that needs to go in the papers, Kip.”

His friend looked a little insulted but considered and nodded. “I understand. You should know, though, that I’m your friend, not just a reporter. I’m not about to sell out your personal life just to grab readers.”

“Thanks for that,” Jason said, and meant it. “I don’t know about Bud, I’ve been trying to stay out of his way since...well, since spring training, since my first day, really. Especially after the incident on the train.”

“I remember.” Kip had been tossed aside along with Phil Brice when the big, angry man had come barging into the train berth.

“So whatever’s going on, I’m just letting his insults go. Nothing to worry about. If it gets too bad, I could always talk to Mr. Muldowney about it.” Except that he wouldn’t, which Jason didn’t tell his friend. But Jason knew that he was not about to admit weakness in front of anybody.

Wasn’t his style. He took care of his own problems.

“Hey, speaking of personal lives, there’s a rumor I’ve heard more than once around this baseball team that you and Raven Germane have been spending more than the usual amount of time together?”

Jason coughed. “What’s usual,” he stalled.

“Level with me, Kid, it’s Kip you’re talking to.”

Wondering if the fire in his friend’s eyes was due to personal interest or professional fervor, Jason was still fond of the truth. He looked around first, though, to make sure there weren’t any older Germanes about. “She and I are getting close, yes. Not courting...that was too much of a jump for right now. But there are definitely possibilities.”

He expected Kip would be happy for him, and was surprised.

“You trust me, right?”

“Sure.”

Kip shook his head, frowning. “Buddy, she’s bad news.”

Jason didn’t believe his ears. “Come again?”

“I’m serious. You want a girlfriend, I can think of a hundred gals who would jump at the chance to hang on a ballplayer’s arm...and a thousand who would jump even further if they knew that you, Mister Three-Five-Seven Batting Average, were the ballplayer in question.

“I’ve had a distant eye on that girl longer than you’ve been in Boston and I’m telling you, you’d be best off walking away now. She’ll just tear you in two.”

“Knock it off.”

“Soon as she gets the chance.”

“I’m serious, Kip. Goodbye.” Jason turned his back on his friend, stalking towards the dugout and hoping that the sportswriter knew enough not to follow him.

He did. Jason made it to the locker room alone, and he found it was not difficult at all to remember her laugh, her smile, and let the discouraging words from his friend wash down the post-game shower drain.

* * *

She knew that sooner or later her beau would come down the main hallway on his way out of the stadium, and after Raven had watched him hit all those home runs that afternoon, she wanted nothing more than to see him and congratulate him and look into his eyes again. Maybe feel his arms around her, for a little while, if she was lucky. She had worn a pretty dress, letting her hair hang long just for the occasion, and had noticed more than a few approving glances while she sat in the stadium seat...though in the end she had eyes for her man alone.

A stray thought reminded Raven of how little she had thought of baseball these past years...she was quickly becoming a very big fan.

The way Jason Stiller could hit ’em out of the park, how could she not?

Then she saw the familiar, confident stride she had been looking for, and her heart leaped within her.

The Kid saw his lady fair, and smiled. “Hi.”

“Hi yourself.” He stopped close to her, and for a long moment they just looked into each other’s eyes. Then she closed hers as he reached out a gentle hand, tracing the line of her cheek with his fingers. Raven heard herself quietly sigh...but then her mind caught up with her heart, and they were both standing in a very public hallway which anybody, including and especially her father, might walk down at any moment.

Needing to escape a bit, needing to get her safety net back, Raven dropped out of character for a moment, laughing and punching Jason lightly in the stomach--he stepped back in surprise, as she had intended, and there was the space she needed.

A little safer.

He continued to look surprised and she thought it might be good to move on. “Saw your game.”

“Yeah?”

Raven watched his eyes light up and knew she had picked the right topic. “You’re the bee’s knees, Mr. Stiller.”

She loved it when she got him to blush.

“I guess you won’t be catching the next game in Philly, huh?” Jason looked as disappointed as he sounded.

“No, the warden doesn’t want me running around on trains, especially ones filled with nasty, dirty baseball players.” She wrinkled her nose at the mere thought.

“Can’t argue with that.” He was looking at her in that special way again, as her heart and her mind argued with one another, but it was so unsafe...

And then her mind was proven right as her father suddenly turned the corner at the end of the hall and walked towards them both.

Apparently Jason saw the sudden look of horror in her eyes. “What?”

There was no time to explain it, but maybe a quick deception would cover things. Raven put all the frosty tones she had into her voice. “I’m sure you did a wonderful job today, Mr. Stiller, but I really don’t have that much of a desire to watch baseball games.”

He looked surprised, and hurt, but she couldn’t make it better just then.

“Hello, father.”

“Raven. Jason.” He didn’t look angry, but neither did he look especially pleased...and Raven realized that he should have, considering how well the Braves had done that day. How much money he must have collected. “As always, my boy, you made a fine showing of yourself. An excellent performance.”

She gave Jason the quickest of looks, and it seemed that he had tumbled onto the situation. His words confirmed this. “Yes, sir, I do my best. I was just trying to convince your daughter that it might be worthwhile to catch one of the games sometime.”

Her father had the audacity to laugh at her in front of them both. “I doubt you can convince her of anything in this world once she’s made up her mind, Jason. Perhaps it would be best to get some rest in before you have to climb onto tomorrow’s train, eh?”

“Definitely, sir.”

With one last look in her direction, a look that between father and daughter conveyed caution and great disapproval, Robert Germane kept walking and was soon gone. Once he was quite safely out of earshot Raven muttered, “No mention of how I’m supposed to stay away from ballplayers, Father?” He must have thought that she was pushing Jason away, like she was supposed to, and yet her father had let her seem the foolish one for it.

She despised him so...

Jason didn’t look very happy.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t have a choice.”

He didn’t look any happier.

“Look, I know this is awkward and I’m sure we all love the truth but I can’t let my father catch us together, okay? Everything would be over if that happened. The reason I lie is because I don’t want it to be over.” Raven hoped her father really was gone as she stepped close to him again, taking his hand in hers. “He’d ship me back to Michigan faster than you can hit a home run.” She hoped the baseball reference would lighten the mood, make him let it go.

It didn’t. “You’re how old, again?”

She understood what he was saying. “It’s not that simple, Jason. I’m not my own person, I can’t make my own decisions. Whether I like it or not, and I don’t, I have to depend on my father for a lot of things and I can’t risk upsetting him.

“But I need you, too.”

He studied her again, as she wondered how far she might fall into those deep brown circles. “Okay.” Then he touched her cheek again, and this time leaned towards her, and though he was offering her a kiss she wanted more than anything...

...they were still in a crowded hallway. They were still out in the open. She felt a sudden rush of fear.

So Raven played the same gag again, a punch to the stomach--harder this time. He got the hint and stepped back.

Had she hurt him?

“I need to go.”

He just moved past her without saying anything more, and Raven was suddenly afraid...she hadn’t meant to hurt him, but--“Jason?”

He stopped without turning.

She swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. “See you when you get back?”

As hard as she tried, Raven couldn’t read his eyes when he turned to look at her, and the smile he offered was short and not very sweet and then he had disappeared around the corner.

Raven closed her eyes and felt very alone.

Why hadn’t she let him kiss her?

What was wrong with her?

* * *

The young lady might possibly have been surprised to know that, at that moment, Jason Stiller was asking the same questions of himself.

* * *

The Kid still had fathers on his mind the next day, when he found himself sitting next to Dennis G. Muldowney during the long train ride west.

D.G. had been amusing himself playing a complicated Solitaire, but he gave the game up when his star hitter sat down at the table. “Was about to lose anyway.” Without asking he shuffled and dealt out two hands of gin rummy. Once the two had gotten a look at their cards and a few turns had passed, the manager of the Braves looked up, having noticed how far away his player was. “What’s burnin’ your lips, boy?”

Jason looked at D.G., his attention recaptured. “Say what?”

His manager grinned. “Just trying out some new phrases I’ve come up with, things that would sound more like a manager. Whaddya think?”

“Um, you don’t want to know.”

“Fine. See if I ever share anything with you again. So I’ll be more general about it, rookie, what’s on your mind?” D.G. still kept a smile on his face, so Jason knew he wasn’t really mad.

“Just things, I guess.”

“Things, huh? I’ve been around long enough to have heard that before.” He took a guess. “Women problems?”

Jason made a face.

D.G. laughed. “I thought as much. Here I was figuring I was right when I said you and Raven might work well together--the other night at my house you looked like you were getting along pretty okay, if I do say so. You didn’t go and do something stupid, now, did you?”

“I’m not sure what happened, Mr. Muldowney, but it wasn’t my fault, I’m sure of that.”

D.G. laughed yet again. “Kid, I haven’t learned much in the past fifty-five years, but one thing I do know: it’s always our fault.”

The rookie waved a hand, watched the countryside drift past for a moment. “It has to do with fathers more than sons, I think.”

* * *

“Uh-huh.” D.G. knew Raven’s father well, a lot better than the Kid, although Jason was apparently learning. “That’s a tough one, I can’t argue with you, Kid.”

“You could have warned me, maybe.”

“If I remember correctly,” D.G. tossed down a card, “I did.”

“You warned me away from the girl, not her father.”

“Same thing.”

“Is it?”

Having his quick answer called, D.G. was forced to think about his hasty words. “Well...” He frowned, and followed Jason’s gaze out the window, not because there was anything interesting to see but because he could think better. “The Germanes are pretty closely tied together, and what you do to one affects the other. I suppose when I said Raven wasn’t to be played around with, I was thinking about Robert as well, even if I didn’t say it.”

* * *

Jason was confused and a little disturbed. “They’re that close? She hates him.”

“Never said she didn’t, and the way he’s been treating her since Ellie died, it’s no wonder. But despite being old enough to strike out on her own, she hasn’t--she’s still depending on him.”

“That’s what she said.” And it bothered him very much.

“Don’t know what to tell ya, Jason.”

A few minutes of silence.

Jason broke this. “Ellie?”

“Eh?”

“Raven’s mother...Eleanor?”

“That was her name.”

“I don’t know anything about her, even Raven won’t ever talk about her.” Jason didn’t know why he wanted to hear about her. Maybe to understand the woman’s daughter more.

“She was the sweetest woman. I first met Ellie when Bob came up from Texas to try and buy the Red Sox, got turned down and looked into the Braves instead. He was always fairly--”

“Pigheaded?”

D.G. immediately looked around, concerned. “Gee whiz, kid, he’s the guy signing your paychecks and he’s somewhere on this train, you wanna think about your career a little?”

“Sorry.”

“Anyway, I was going to say focused--maybe stubborn, but the worst I was going to get was still a lot nicer than you. He was always stubborn at worst, and when he wanted a ballclub he wanted a ballclub, and so the Braves were snapped up instead.”

Jason hadn’t heard any of this. It had been about twenty years before, but still... “Both the Braves and the Sox were for sale?”

“No, but when Robert P. Germane wants something, well--he found a way to make the Braves be for sale. I suppose I could go so far as ruthless if I were looking for adjectives. He can be pretty ruthless in business.”

The look that passed between them agreed that he could be pretty ruthless pretty much anywhere, but neither said it aloud.

“That was why it was such a shock to meet Ellie. The woman was the sweetest, nicest, most caring person I had ever met outside of my Gertie, and I’m not ashamed to say I was a bit jealous of Bob at times.”

* * *

“Not,” before The Kid could butt in with some comment about the sanctity of marriage, “that my wife isn’t all I ever wanted and more than I deserve, but just because Eleanor was definitely more than Robert P. deserved, by a very long shot. I don’t know how they fell in love, I’ve never asked, but it was always a strange match to me.”

“Which one is Raven like?”

D.G. didn’t smile outwardly, except with his eyes. These young kids always got back to what was important, didn’t they? “I knew her more than you in the first twenty years, but you’ve gotten to know her a lot better than me in the past two months. What do you think?”

His answer was quick and that surprised the older man. “I think she’s like her father, and frankly it scares me something awful.”

“Why?”

Jason looked around and lowered his voice carefully. “Because the man is pigheaded and stubborn and ruthless and a lot of other things and all he loves is money and he’d sell his own daughter for more. I hate him too, if not as much as she does, and we’re both afraid, I think, that she’ll end up just like him.”

The game was at a momentary standstill while manager and slugger regarded one another.

Finally Mr. Muldowney stacked his cards into a neat rectangle and laid them on the table. “I think you’re partly right, but not as much as you think you are.

“Now that I consider things, Raven is like Bob in several ways, but I think the pieces of her that match his aren’t born into her, they’re something she took on after Ellie died.”

“What do you mean?” The Kid was looking out the window again, like he didn’t want to meet the frankness in his manager’s eyes.

“You’re thinking of the stubbornness, of the hardness in her, of how she acts sometimes like she has to fight the whole world.

“You didn’t know the girl before the tragedy, and while she’s changed...I think the change was made for defense, so that she could survive what happened as best she knew how, and also because only her father was left to look up to. Raven was only twelve, still changing from a girl into a young lady, and her role model was stripped away. She watched how her father handled the crisis...by focusing on something he already knew and loved, money, and forgetting everything else so it wouldn’t hurt him.

“She didn’t want to be like him even as she became like him. Raven has been searching for something to latch onto, something to trust in, since her mother is gone and her father won’t let her be close.

“Or something like that. I’m not a doctor, Kid.” Dennis G. leaned back in his seat, wondering where all that had come from and also if he was right about it.

* * *

Jason was wondering what he had gotten into, and whether or not he could handle it, when something contradicted in his mind. As far as he had known Robert Germane, there was not an ounce of love in him for anyone or anything. “He had to forget his wife’s death so it wouldn’t hurt him...does that mean he actually loved her?”

Now it was D.G. who answered without hesitation. “Yes he did. So much that it scared him.” Taking this newest thought further, “So much that he couldn’t let go when he had to, couldn’t handle life when he lost her.”

In Jason’s mind, that question begged another. “So does he also love Raven?” He expected that this answer would also be quick, and when it wasn’t, he looked at his manager, wondering.

* * *

Finally D.G. felt he knew the answer. “Yes, he does. Or rather, he wants to, but is afraid to.”

“You keep talking about him being afraid. I can’t imagine Bob Germane being afraid of anything.”

“I’ve known him a lot longer, Jason, and he gets afraid. You can see it in his eyes, and--” suddenly Dennis knew why Jason and Raven had to be so careful that their love remained a secret, “you’ll see it for sure if he ever tumbles to the fact that she loves you.”

“Because?”

“Because that’s why he holds onto her so tightly, that’s why he doesn’t want her to get away. He wants to love her, doesn’t know how--and at one and the same time he’s afraid to love her and afraid to let her go. Because it’ll hurt. He’s got his life set up perfectly, everything balanced and nothing out of place.

“If he actually lets himself love his daughter she might not love him and that would hurt, and if she leaves that’ll be rejection which would also hurt.” Now D.G. was shaking his head, glad to finally figure the man out but worried all the more. “You’ve got one heck of an uphill battle to fight, kid.”

“So what does all this have to do with her being scared? I still haven’t figured out what I did wrong.”

D.G. let himself laugh, not that anything was very funny but because he needed it. “Kid, that gets into the territory of understanding women, and neither of us are going to ever be any good at it, I promise.”

* * *

To Jason this sounded like a copout, like his manager was through answering hard questions and he was on his own.

The Kid rubbed his eyes and wished everything made as much sense as baseball. See that big slice of sky over there? Hit a white ball into it, run around a couple of bases, accept applause.

So cut and dried.

Maybe D.G. wasn’t answering any more hard questions, but he was still, apparently, up to asking them. “Funny you should mention fathers, Jason.”

The young man’s guard came up immediately. “I didn’t mention mine, Mr. Muldowney.” He looked the other man square in the eyes, daring him to push it.

The dare was not called. “Fair enough, Kid. I apologize.”

It was no longer an amiable conversation and the manager of the Braves shuffled the playing cards, laying out his game of Solitaire again while his star hitter left the table and wandered away.

Jason roamed the corridors of the train car, staring out all of the windows without seeing what he wanted...wishing he could talk to her even though he would not know what to say.

* * *

The Kid felt better come game time. Baseball always made him feel better.

The Phillies were tough that year, not quite up to the level of the Illinois Reds, who the Braves would probably be head-to-head against in the pennant race, but no garage league team, either. Jason was excited by the competition, by the chance to go out onto the ballfield and prove that he was worth something, and by the seventh inning stretch, he had smacked three homers and was feeling much better about himself.

He stood on the field and leaned back against the dugout railing, soon to be up at bat, though his mind drifted away from the game.

He didn’t know what to think about Raven. She was worth his time and effort, he thought...was pretty sure that he loved her, and even D.G. had admitted that maybe she loved him in return. Why did it have to be so difficult? Wasn’t she old enough to make her own decisions?

Jason vaguely watched the game progressing before his eyes, but his mind was filled like it often was with chestnut brown hair and green eyes. With the sound of her voice, her laugh. With...

Suddenly, cutting into his reverie was the voice of his manager. “Kid! You’re on deck!” No more daydreams. He would talk to Raven when the team returned to Boston, and everything would work out somehow. Right now it was time to get ready to teach another baseball how to fly, and with confidence Jason “The Kid” Stiller walked towards his proper station.

Well, he tried to. The first step Jason took was cut short as his left foot began to be pulled along by his right, and halfway to the ground he realized that someone had done an excellent job of tying his shoelaces together.

The trip had been so surprising that Jason was not able even to put out a hand to catch himself. He rolled over with the realization that his face hurt something awful, but he worked hard at ignoring this as he sat right there on the ground, untying and then retying his shoes properly with as much dignity as he could muster.

There were understandable hoots and catcalls coming from the inside of the dugout. Jason didn’t hear Phil’s voice among them, and was grateful for having one true friend at least. D.G. had apparently not witnessed Jason’s teammate, whoever he had been--Jason knew immediately--leaning through the railing to pull the shoe-tying prank, and looked as surprised as his star hitter felt. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Jason your, uh, nose is bleeding.”

“I’m fine.”

He wasn’t about to show weakness, he wasn’t about to let it get to him. He wasn’t about to admit that there was anything he couldn’t handle.

So Jason stood up, ignoring the bloody nose, ignoring the grass stains on his pants, ignoring the crowd which he was sure was all laughing at him...when the time came he took his place in the batter’s box and stared the pitcher down.

Behind him the Phillies catcher made a disgusted sound, referring to the blood that was now running down Jason’s shirt from the nose that still hurt and which The Kid was still ignoring. “That’s really sick, rookie. You wanna take care of that before you come up here next time?”

Jason ignored even him, concentrating all of his anger and hurt into that white horsehide sphere.

And he struck out, one, two, three, swinging so hard that his shoulders ached...and then he turned and walked back to the dugout.

Nobody was laughing among the Braves anymore as he walked down the steps and into the clubhouse, past his teammates lining the concrete benches.

If Bud Tripplehorne felt any shame for his little prank, Jason couldn’t find any in his cold eyes.

* * *

“I cannot believe what I am standing here looking at, Raven Eleanor Germane, I honestly cannot!”

The day’s ballclub meeting was over, and Jason had been walking through the stadium hallways towards his car--the car he had borrowed from D.G. Muldowney for the summer, anyway--when he heard one very angry voice slamming through the closed door, past the sign that read Robert P. Germane, Owner, National League Certified since 1903 Boston Braves. The young man was just thinking that he might do well to slip past the door and quietly be on his way, when he realized who Bob was yelling at...and thought he might want to listen closer.

The hallway was quiet. The guys had pretty much left, and it looked like he could eavesdrop in safety.

The voice coming through the door was easily heard without his putting his ear to the wood.

“You can sit there and tell me all the lies you want to about having nothing to do with my ballplayers, but I swear I’ll believe the newspaper before you any day this week. I don’t know what’s truth and what’s lies anymore with you, Raven.”

Jason knew what his boss was referring to, and although the hot anger had passed, a fresh surge of irritation and annoyance with Kip Gumbo shot through him.

The sports section article from his supposed friend had talked about the one game lost and two won against the Phillies, which was fine, but then Kip had ended with a paragraph outlining the rumor--which the sportswriter made certain sounded pretty real--that Jason Stiller and Raven Germane were pretty close to one another.

Having been busy just being angry with the kid reporter, Jason had forgotten to be afraid of Bob Germane. Now he remembered, and felt for the girl he loved, inside under the gun.

* * *

The girl in question had never had so many walls up around her heart before in her life. There was no way that Robert P. Germane was going to hurt her, not that night.

At the same time, in a quiet place inside that Jason had touched, a place she had never let her father even get close to, Raven despaired, and wondered how in the world Jason could have let his stupid little pet reporter friend tell the whole world that they were in love.

And for that matter, were they? She hadn’t been able to talk to Jason since he had gotten back, and now the paper...maybe he was running already. Maybe she was losing him even as she sat and suffered through the yelling.

Raven’s walls were up and her eyes were cold, while inside her heart shivered.

* * *

Robert knew that his daughter wasn’t listening so he kept raising the volume, hoping to get through to her somehow, angry at Jason, angry at that reporter, angry at his daughter, and angry at himself for not having control of things. “Have we not had this conversation before? You have a responsibility to this family--”

“Family? You call this a family?”

“Quiet!” The thunder worked, and silence alone reigned in the small room.

He took several deep breaths and found a slightly calmer place to work from. “I am all the family you have, Miss Germane, and you might do well to remember that. Do you want to be tossed out on your own, survive however you can?

“It would be very easy,” and Robert began pacing back and forth but he could only get about three steps in before he had to turn, which made him angry again, “to just cut you off, little girl, to cut you off from my money and my house and my time and just let you take care of yourself. Do you want that?”

* * *

Yes. She desperately wanted that, even as she didn’t for the life of her know how to go about getting such freedom, or what she would do with such freedom if it existed. “No, sir.”

More pacing. “You think that we’re not a family. You probably think that I don’t care about you. I’ll bet you even think that I’d sell you into white slavery if I thought I could turn a profit on it.”

She did think all of those things...and had wondered more than once how long it would be before some rich, old friend of her father offered a huge dowry for her hand in marriage. Not exactly white slavery, but still not much of a deal for the exchanged property.

“It might surprise you to learn it but I loved your mother very much. And I love you as well.” Though even as he said these things he wouldn’t meet her eyes. Raven realized that she hadn’t looked into her father’s eyes in years. Maybe not since the day of her mother’s...not in years.

“When we lost Ellie it almost killed me but I’ve been striving as hard as I can to keep this family together. To keep us together. I don’t want you to just run off with this guy or that--maybe this whole thing is my fault for getting Jason to come out here, but I was thinking of baseball, Raven, not of romance. He’s still a ballplayer and you deserve so much better than that.”

It almost felt like the real man, the man somewhere deep inside, the man Raven hadn’t seen in ages was peeking out for a moment. She felt almost like she could really talk to her father. “You don’t understand.”

“I’ve seen these ballplayers. I’ve spent years around them--they’ll chase any pretty face they can find.”

There was a compliment in there somewhere and Raven was heartened just a little bit more. “Jason’s different.”

“Raven, pretend for just a moment that I’m older than you are and know what’s best for you. I’ve been around, I know how guys think, and what they’re thinking about. You having a summer fling with one of the boys, especially--” he tossed the paper down on the table and she realized he was still angry, “--when it gets out like this, in this manner, well it hurts the team and it hurts the family and it hurts me, Raven.

“This little crush is very selfish of you.”

“It’s not a little crush.” She spoke quietly, testing the waters, thinking maybe she could talk to him just this once like they were both real people.

He was also quiet, which was out of character. “Raven, please. It’s been a long day.”

She heard the quiet plea, and saw the bowed head, and thought maybe things would be okay between them for once. Maybe she could take the chance.

With a deep breath, she did.

“Daddy, I love him.”

* * *

Outside the boss’s office Jason heard her admission and his heart skipped a beat out of sheer joy...and then he wondered what in the world her father would say.

* * *

Unfortunately for young love, Raven had been mistaken about her father’s sudden openness. It really had been a long day for him and he was tired, but not more approving, not more happy about who he was, not more prepared to deal with real life.

He didn’t hear the desperate hope in her words, nor did he hear the softness in the name she called him by.

He only heard his control slipping away, and reacted accordingly.

* * *

Raven jumped when her father’s fist slammed down on his own desk, right in the middle of the paper, hard enough to send a mug full of pens flying. “YOU WILL STAY AWAY FROM JASON STILLER, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”

She almost didn’t, it took an extra moment just to make sense of his words, they had been shouted so close to her face. The hesitation did not help matters.

Slam. “DO YOU??”

She couldn’t...couldn’t speak, couldn’t look at him, had no way to respond except to nod vigorously, keep her eyes closed, and hope that he would just go away.

He did. Loud, stomping footsteps left the office, stalked down the hallway that led out of the stadium, and as she sat listening Raven heard the front doors bang at her father’s exit...and finally the sound of the limousine driving away.

As she sat in her father’s chair and shook because she was both frightened and very angry, Raven still understood Robert Germane’s final message...she could think about making it on her own during the ride home, which she would have to figure out all by herself. Whether or not she had any money, whether or not there was anyone she could call for a lift, whether or not it was a moonless midnight and she had to somehow walk home alone.

The quiet knock at the still open door surprised her, and she opened her eyes.

* * *

Jason had managed to hide quickly when he realized that the boss was about to storm right past him; when the coast was clear, he thought it safe to come out. And when she opened her red, tear-brimming eyes, he could see how much she had been hurt and wondered whether or not she would want to see him.

* * *

She did. “Oh, Jason!”

As a sob burst out of her Raven stood up out of the chair and ran to him, hoping that he would let go of their quarrel, of the angry father and just grab her up and hold her as tightly as he could.

And he did.

It felt so wonderful. He was strong and warm and comforting, and he loved her too, enough to hold her and want to hold her and be with her always. Weeping into his shoulder with the hurt and the anger and the shame of it all, accepting the strength and warmth of his arms holding her tightly, feeling the heart beating in his chest, Raven let herself get lost in the only comforting place she knew of anymore.

* * *

Jason held her so tightly it hurt, though the real hurts for both were deep inside. He had no idea what would come tomorrow, or what they would do about their problem, or even if she really loved him or was just accepting his embrace because it was the only one offered.

He just held her and held her and wished with all his might that it would never end...and a stray thought or two swept past the idea of talking to God, making an appeal to a higher power that might just want to help...

But he had never known how to do that. He and God had an understanding, after all. They left one another alone.

Jason Stiller held the young woman that he loved, that his heart was aching for, and with great fear and trembling contemplated dealing with the future they were trying to find...alone.

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