“Does Wilder make you put on gloves before handling his balls?”
Rod pulls into the parking lot at the community center, which is a mile from work. We’ll play our games at another field across town, but Finn wanted to meet somewhere the other teams don’t use. He had also instructed us to bring a glove so we could toss a few balls, which Rod then spewed anecdotes concerning Finn’s testicles.
“If so, what kind? Your softball glove would chafe the sensitive skin down below, and he wouldn’t feel your fingers. Rubber gloves would be like using a condom, which I hear Wilder hates.” Rod snorts, and I ignore him. “What about those winter gloves that feel like a kitten’s fur? Because, you know, you’d pet his junk with your soft pussy gloves.”
I look out my window, shaking my head. “Can you stop now?”
On a roll, he says, “When you wash Wilder’s balls, watch the soap since it could turn them colors. No coach wants rainbow balls. You may as well sprinkle them with glitter.”
I smack his arm and reach for the door. “Shut up, Rod!” I grouse, teetering on the border of laughing until I cry or crying before I break something. Like Greg Rodwell’s face.
“I was talking about the softballs this time!” he lies with a laugh while stroking his arm where I hit him. “Lighten up, Hadders! You’re depressing my Garfield air freshener! Jesus!”
I cried myself into a restless sleep last night. This morning, I stayed in bed until ten minutes before Rod picked me up. I’m not winning any beauty pageants with the bags under my eyes, a half-assed ponytail, and nonexistent makeup, not that I had a snowball’s chance of accidentally stumbling into last place.
After practice, I need to pick up Finn’s ring. Rod is more excited than me.
I jump out of his truck as he walks to my side, his face sour. I impatiently pull at the tips of my brand-new, black softball glove. “What?”
He tucks his brown glove underneath his arm. “I can’t believe you didn’t sex it up. A T-shirt and sweats? You expect me to cop a feel with you wearing that shit?”
Tired from a lack of sleep, I wearily reply, “You will not cop anything, Rod.”
He scoffs, “Well, damn. You should’ve worn a shirt that says, Property of Finn Wilder. Hands Off!”
“Birthday gift,” I lamely singsong as a joke but plays like a sad plea.
“I guess I’ll return the car I bought you,” he flatly retorts as we walk. “Well, you could have worn makeup instead of opting for the Michael Myers look.”
“Fuck you, Rodwell.”
He wheezes in surprise and stops walking as I continue past him to Morgan, standing a short distance from the field. She smiles, and I pause when she looks past me to Rod. “Where’s our coach? I thought he would’ve driven you here.”
I resume walking, and she falls into step next to me with Rod trailing. “You know I haven’t seen him since Monday.”
“Maybe you gave in and stayed with him last night.”
I shake my head. “He wanted me to, but I didn’t.”
“So, you talked to him?”
“Yeah, finally. He was a little plastered, so not in the greatest mood.”
Without looking at her, I still hear the frown in her voice as I toy with my glove. “Does he drink every weekend he’s not with you?”
Val, Gloria Charleton, Gloria’s paralegal, Betsy Litman, Shasta, Sylvie, Grant, and some guy I’ve never seen before, come into view. “It seems like it,” I grumble, staring out at the field instead of the people gawking at us.
“Ivan and I want to invite you and Finn to dinner. Maybe next weekend?”
“We’ll see.” I can’t promise anything. I don’t even know what today will bring.
Val jumps up from the bench and bounds to us in excitement. “Hey, guys! Won’t this be fun? I’m thrilled to spend time away from work with some of my favorite people!”
Rod somewhat pouts, “Too bad Morgan ruins it, Val.”
She laughs and pats Rod on the arm. “Rod, be nice.”
He stands beside Morgan and nods his head to the group past Val. “Who’s that guy?”
Knowing whom Rod is referring to, she answers, “That is Crick. Let me introduce you.”
He steps back and puts a hand on his hip. “Oh, Lord. I can’t even look at him with a name like that.”
She frowns. “Gregory. You’ll work with him. Get over there and introduce yourself.”
He looks down and mutters, “Shit.” Val pulls on his arm, while Morgan and I follow them to the slim, dark-haired, clean-shaven man, who looks more like a teenager, standing with Sylvie, Grant, and Betsy.
Val shoves a reluctant Rod forward, and he sullenly says, “Hey. You must be the newbie.”
“Yes, hi. I’m Crick Scanlon,” he says, his voice a little nasally, which worries me. Rod will be all over that. Crick immediately offers his hand for Rod to shake. However, Rod stares at him, unsure of what to do next. Val slaps Rod on the back, compelling him to speak again.
“Greg Rodwell.” He takes his hand out of his jeans pocket and tentatively shakes Crick’s hand.
Morgan rolls her eyes and shoves Rod’s arm, for which he gives her a dirty look. “Nobody calls him that. Around here, he’s Rod.”
Rod objects, “Not by choice.”
“Or call him Dick Rod, Nimrod or Ass Rod. Take your pick.”
Crick releases Rod’s hand and hastily utters, “I’ll call you Greg if you want.”
Rod dubiously eyes Crick. “Why would you do that?”
He shrugs and amends, “Whatever you want me to call you.”
“Look, you can call me Hot Lips, Sweet Cheeks, Frenchie, Mama, Doll Face, Nancy Drew, or God’s Gift to Women for all I care—though I prefer the last one. Just know that this woman,” he jerks his thumb to Morgan, “is evil, and the public should shun her.”
Morgan counters, “Sweet Cheeks, someone should hand me a razor now to slit my throat.”
Rod petulantly replies, “Cut out the middleman. I’ll do it for you.”
Val steps between them. “Okay, kids.” She apologetically smiles at Crick. “They really are friends.” Both grimace and look away from each.
I step forward, put out my hand, and warmly greet, “Hi. I’m Hadley Beckett.” I hope he doesn’t think we’re all nuts.
Val smiles at me and then turns to Crick. “Hadley’s boyfriend is—”
“Not here.” I glance at Val and give her a slight headshake.
Perplexed, she asks, “Is he not coming?”
Rod can’t resist. “He hasn’t all week!”
Morgan smacks the back of Rod’s head. He pivots and glares down at her, rubbing into his hair.
“When’s the last time you did, Rod?” Morgan taunts him. He opens his mouth, and she smacks his stomach, and I hear the solid reverb of stomach muscles that Rod claims don’t exist. “Don’t answer that!”
Val puts her hands on her cheeks, while Crick stares at them like he’s witnessing aliens square dancing on thin ice.
Pulling me to the side, Val repeats her unanswered question, “Is Finn not coming?”
Shaking my head, I say, “It’s not that. I brought him to an office party three years ago, but he didn’t stay long, and it was crowded at the restaurant. Since then, no one has mentioned him. Only you, Morgan, Rhonda, and Rod know he’s my boyfriend.”
“Why don’t you want them knowing, babe? He’s so madly in love with you, he got a tattoo of your name, during his Sports show! Why would you want to hide your relationship?”
“I just don’t want to flaunt it, I guess. If anyone remembers or finds out, that’s fine. But I don’t want anyone thinking I get special treatment.” Besides me being the only one he fucks. I hope that doesn’t change.
“Don’t be silly.”
I look at the patch of grass beneath our feet. “I don’t know, Val.”
She puts her hand on my shoulder. “Is there something else? Why isn’t he here with you? Don’t you spend weekends with him?”
I inhale. “We’re taking a small break.”
Her face falls. “Oh, no. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I need a couple of weeks before I move in with him. We’re not breaking up. I’ve reiterated that to Finn, but he’s taking it hard. We’ll be okay. I want a breather before the next step.”
Rod strides over with a smirk, apparently recovering his good humor. “Hadders, your wild thing is here.”
I scowl. “Wipe the drool from your chin.”
He runs his hand around his chin and frowns. “Jerk. He’s grabbing shit out of a black truck with Ricky and some chick.” Of course, he’d bring Ricky. Best friends forever. He should’ve gotten a tattoo of his name.
“Must be Ricky’s wife, Shay.”
“I don’t know.”
Curious and antsy, I ask, “How’s he look?”
Looking skyward, Rod recounts, “He’s tall, muscular, handsome, Hispanic, looks like a cop…”
“I meant Finn!” I glower at him, not in the mood for jokes.
He squints at me in feign bewilderment. “Shouldn’t you know what Wilder looks like, even with clothes?”
I snap my teeth shut. “Gregory.”
He grins. “What?”
I smack his arm for the second time in fifteen minutes. “I meant, does he look happy, pissed off, apathetic, or sad?”
“You mean Wilder this time, right?” I impatiently widen my eyes at him, and he rolls his. “He’s a dashing son of a bitch.” I hide my face in the hand of my glove, loudly growling into it. “Pathetic? That’s nice of you to say about the love of your life.”
My growling turns into whining. “Apathetic, Rod.”
“I heard you the first time. I wouldn’t call him a pathetic guy. He’s doing all right for himself.” He laughs, and I’m closer to smothering him with my glove.
Giving up on Rod, I glance at Ricky, followed by a blonde woman, who is not Shay, walking relatively close to Finn. Who is she? I crane my neck to see if that helps, but I don’t recognize her. Studying Finn, I notice his worn jeans, white Shinedown T-shirt, dark sunglasses, and a lopsided smile. He carries a white mesh bag full of softballs, slung over his shoulder, with a clipboard in his other hand.
Ricky has a bag of bats. He’s wearing dark blue jeans, a dark blue Richmond PD T-shirt, a matching ball cap, and his charming smile. The blonde woman has on a white peasant top and jeans. She’s laughing and touching Finn’s arm. My arm to touch.
I hate her.
I turn away and bite my lip. Rod leans down and whispers, “What’s wrong?” I shake my head and move behind everyone. Morgan and Rod flank me, but I step back and push them closer together to hide. However, they repel like forcing the same magnet poles to meet.
Just arriving, Brandon walks to the three, and offers his hand. Finn sets down his bag against the chain-link fence of the field and returns to shake his hand. Brandon then introduces himself to the other two.
Peering between Rod and Morgan, I see Finn raise his sunglasses as he talks to Brandon. Finn’s hair is blond-tinged in the afternoon sun, and sticking up from behind the glasses on his head, skyrocketing the hotness factor. I want to beg him to take us to my apartment.
I’ve got to get a fucking grip. Rod needs to rein me in better.
From here, I can tell he’s hungover, despite his smiles. His movements are stilted, and he has circles under his eyes. Regardless, he’s still the sexiest man alive.
Brandon leads them to our group, and I unexpectedly feel nauseous. Nothing has changed. Has it?
Shasta and Betsy stand in front of Rod and Morgan, so I’m well-hidden amongst the taller people.
I hear Shasta whisper to Betsy, “Is that our coach? He is H-O-T!”
Betsy whispers back, “He does Sports on one of the news channels. He is cute.”
“I don’t watch the news. Is he single?”
“I doubt it. But he’s not wearing a wedding ring.” He’d sooner wear a noose than one of those. “Maybe he’s with the blonde.”
I want to tell them he’s mine, but I say nothing. I can’t believe the people in my office are unaware of who I’ve been dating. I don’t hang out with most, but damn.
Maybe I’m more like Finn than I thought.
My stomach drops. I’ve complained that he keeps me a secret, but I’ve been doing the same thing, albeit inadvertently. He must hate me.
Brandon announces, “Everyone, this is our coach, Finn Wilder.”
Finn claps his hands together while his eyes scour our small crowd, his gaze sliding back and forth, widening slightly. From between Shasta’s and Betsy’s arms, I notice his smile fading. His eyes land on Rod and Morgan, but they don’t answer his unasked question.
His deep voice is undecided. “Hello, everyone. My friend Greg Rodwell asked me to coach your team. I’m a Sports anchor, and I have a segment Fridays at six, The Wild Side. I played first base in high school. I love most sports, which makes it easy to love my job.” He licks his bottom lip as he puts a hand on a hip, while mindlessly tapping the clipboard against his other, his eyes still perusing us. “I love riding my dirt bike, I eat my steaks medium, I attended the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, I love the Yankees, both American and European soccer, and I’ve BASE jumped off the New River Gorge Bridge over twenty times during the Bridge Day festivals.” What the fuck? How many? “I’m excited to be a part of a team again, and I’m eager to meet all of you.”
Finn continues to skim his gaze over our faces as Ricky lazily grins. “I’m Ricky Tesco. I’m a police officer for the Richmond Police Department and am a huge Phillies fan. I also love to ride my dirt bike with my cohort.” He nods at Finn, but my boyfriend is staring into space. “I’m a Capricorn, and my blood type is AB neg. I enjoy rifle hunting. I love ketchup and pickles but can’t stand tomatoes and cucumbers. Football and voting machines confound me, and I hate the smell of vanilla. And despite what Eddie Rabbitt says, I hate a rainy night, especially when I’m working.” He shakes his head and mutters, “That sucks.”
Rod shouts, “Damn, that’s true!” We all stare at him in confusion. Apparently, he prowls the streets after dark.
Cautiously chuckling, Ricky regards Rod with his keen law enforcement observation, as if Rod is a criminal or a freak of nature. Ricky offhandedly adds, “I can’t wait to play ball.”
Cara, who is whispering to my boyfriend, recognizes it’s her turn. “I’m Cara Downey. I’m an intern and work with Finn. I hope to be a news anchor after I graduate. For now, I work in a clothes store at the mall. I played third base in high school softball. I look forward to meeting you all.” Sure.
I can’t stop staring at her from between Rod and Morgan. Cara is firm and… perky. She’s the woman who knocked on Finn’s door the other night. Did she make a move on him? She’s so pretty and young. I glance at Finn, who looks as if he’s solving an algebra equation without a calculator.
After Cara finishes, Finn snaps his attention from his visual fixation. “Brandon told you all about me filming practices and games for my show and that you’ve all agreed. I didn’t bring the crew today, since I wanted to meet all of you, and get a feel for what positions everyone will play. At some point, I want to interview everyone on camera, have you introduce yourselves to the viewers. We’ll have fun with it.” He’d interview me? How will that play out? “Okay, let’s start over here. Tell me your name and something about yourself.”
Oh, no. What’s he doing?
Amos gruffly tells us about his motorcycle restoration hobby, his love for big-game fishing, his collection of license plates, tattoos, and pocket knives while also confessing to an addiction to eBay and chocolate. No mention of Juan? Rod agrees, scoffing in disbelief.
Our oldest partner by a century, Gloria, divulges her fear of dogs and butterflies. Her love for horses, Twinkies, her homemade Afghan blankets, and her ten grandchildren. I’m not sure if that’s in any order.
Rhonda, twenty-nine, is our nervous receptionist. Her favorite book is Little Women, favorite movie is Hope Floats, she’s deathly afraid of spiders, and she’d love to meet Sandra Bullock. She doesn’t mention her crush on Rod. Go figure.
Val loves country music but prefers older music, not pop-country. She loves the outdoors, spending time with her family and friends, likes to read trashy novels, and shop for antique furniture with her husband, Paul.
Betsy, in her fifties, reveals she’s a bookworm, allergic to paprika, a hardcore classic rock fan, loves to garden, make candles, hates folding clothes, and people who sneak too many items through the express lane. She also enjoys walking her three schnauzers, Jimmy, Peter, and Stevie Ray.
Sylvie loves baking, exercising, football, but hates cleaning up her messes, yoga, and golf. She married her best friend, Johnny, three months ago, after dating for a year.
From my hiding place, I angle my head to see Finn. His sunglasses shroud his eyes above a small, polite smile again. I can’t discern if he’s looking at Sylvie or searching for me.
Grant discloses his mom is deaf, but she volunteers for charities and mentors hearing-impaired kids. His dad is a retired police officer, which makes Ricky grin as he leans against the chain link with his arms crossed. Grant claims to have seen all of Al Pachino’s movies a hundred times each and loves to read Stephen King books.
All eyes fall to Crick, and he turns red. He anxiously informs he’s new to Virginia, moving here from Tennessee. He’s into sci-fi and competed on Jeopardy during a College Week, lasting four days. To relax, he enjoys crossword puzzles, brainteasers, and Sudoku. He probably likes to balance his checkbook or do his taxes for kicks.
Somewhat antsy, Finn waits for the next person. Shasta straightens in front of me and confesses she loves gymnastics and teaches a class for young girls twice a week. Is she serious? Finn crooks a slight smile, and Shasta bounces in front of me. Does she think he’s encouraging her? She claims to love all sports and gushes how she’s a fan of his. Huh? She just asked Betsy who he was! I want to scream I’m his biggest Finnatic. Regardless, how can I compete with her and Cara? I feel doomed.
“I’m Morgan Yates, soon-to-be-Kammer. I’m getting married June eighteenth, and I’m pregnant, so I won’t be playing, but I will supply water, Gatorade, cyanide, and keep score like a bitch on wheels. I love singing, shopping, walking on the beach, eating peanut-butter-and-vanilla ice cream out of the carton. I love carnations, and I met my best friend and my arch-nemesis at the firm.”
Finn stoically listens to Morgan as if she’s reciting stock options for a failing company. When she’s finished, he looks down at his clipboard, checking off names on his roster. Did he notice Morgan’s last comment? Maybe he doesn’t like her BFF anymore.
In front of me, Rod complains, “Jesus, Morbid. I thought you’d never shut the hell up.” Betsy and Shasta laugh while Morgan frowns and flips off Rod, which he returns with his own middle finger, causing Val to clear her throat. Crossing his arms, Rod petulantly announces, “I’m Greg, but Cara and Ricky, you can call me Rod. I love all kinds of music and have over two thousand songs. I like people-watching, dancing in clubs, making those I care about laugh, and spending time with my closest friends, even if it’s shopping. Also, I love the feel of crisp bedsheets.” I shake my head when he glances over his shoulder at me with a dippy grin.
Everyone looks from Rod to Finn, who stands straighter and consults his clipboard as if he doesn’t know who’s left. What about Brandon? Doesn’t Finn want to hear how Brandon enjoys sleeping with his decades-younger paralegal?
Ricky swiftly dodges his head, searching the group, and like I have a prayer of avoiding this situation, I duck. Morgan and Rod say nothing, and I’m grateful.
“That leaves Ms. Beckett,” Finn broadcasts to his clipboard, striving for indifference, but his voice subtly cracks on my last name. I flinch since Shane refers to me as Ms. Beckett. Is Finn not calling me Becks? Hadley? Shit. Maybe that’s not a good thing for him to do.
My coworkers mumble and look around as Finn slides his head from left to right, scanning us. Betsy laughs. “She’s right here! I think she’s hiding.” She pulls me through Rod and Morgan to stand in front of her, and I’m a small child dragged from a toy store. I first peer at Ricky, his dimples prominently showcasing his warm smile and panty-dropping stare. I’m not blind. He shifts his weight and glances at Finn, but I don’t look his way. I fleetingly look to Cara, who doesn’t realize who I am, and doesn’t seem the type to care. She’s only here for one reason: Finn Wilder. She has to know he has a girlfriend from his tattoo dare. Did Finn even tell her he’s coaching his girlfriend’s team? I suppose I didn’t mention my boyfriend is our coach, but…
I hesitantly look to Finn. His lips slide against each other, and he anxiously flicks his fingers of his free hand. What is he thinking? Does he want me to leave? Does he want to leave? Does he want us to leave together?
Rod sighs, putting his hands on my shoulders. “I’ll do it! This chick loves to paint her nails dark colors to express herself without drawing much attention. She wears her hair in a ponytail because she wrongly claims she looks gross with it down. She eats strawberry yogurt every day at lunch, her favorite color is royal blue, favorite food is pepperoni and cheese pizza, and she loves to get her freak on, dancing. A key necklace and her bluish ring here,” He lifts my hand and drops it. “are the only jewelry she wears. And she’s only been in love once.” I can’t believe I’m an open book. Damn, Rod.
Nervously playing with my ring, I tentatively study Finn, who hides behind his sunglasses but his Adam’s apple bobs, and his mouth is agape. Is he mad?
Leaving a hand on my shoulder, Rod shifts to my side. “Yep. She’s totally in love with me and will carry my baby when she lets me kiss her.” I jerk away from him as he giggles. Looking to Finn, I see his jaw surging underneath his light beard. I hope he doesn’t think I told anyone about what we did last weekend. Finn will be the first to know if I’m pregnant, but the last one to celebrate it.
Betsy gasps, pointing to Rod and me. “Wait. Are you a couple? I didn’t know that!”
Rod roughly pulls me to him. “We don’t look great together? We’re like two balls in a sack.” While Betsy replies to Rod’s ridiculousness, from the corner of my eye, Finn’s attention is on us, evidently waiting for a confirmation that I’m dating Rod.
Evading Rod, I wriggle out of his hold again. “Rod,” I warn with a glare.
“I’m kidding!” Rod laughs, as do most of our coworkers. “We don’t have to kiss first!”
I cross my arms and stare at the ground, not knowing what to do. I miss him so much.
Before I forfeit, Finn clears his throat, switching his focus. “Okay. I’ll pass out softballs. Since there is an even number playing, I want you to pair off and throw a ball to each other. Ricky, Cara, and I will determine what position may fit you best. After that, I’ll try your skills at bat. We only have three weeks until our first game, so we’ll need to practice on Saturdays and Sundays. Got it?” Heads bob in agreement, and he drags the bag closer.
As we gather, Rod bumps my arm. “I guess we’re partners. Let’s grab one of Wilder’s balls.” He titters, and I pivot, shoving my hand against his chest.
“I told you not to egg him on!”
He throws his hands out. “Shit! I know! I’m sorry! You didn’t say anything, so I did. Maybe too much—”
I cut him off with a shake of my head and glance back to the small crowd. “I need to talk to him.”
As I turn, Rod reaches for my arm and stops me. Lowering his voice, he says, “No, Hadders. You’ll only make it worse.”
“I want to say hi to him.”
“You know it won’t stop there. You’ll want to hug him and then a kiss. You won’t reprioritize because you’ll fall right into bed with him. After the great sex, you’ll be mad you didn’t stay away, so you’ll need more time. You can’t keep doing that to Wilder, Hadley. You’ll jerk him around while he drinks to drown his sorrows.”
“I need to talk to Finn. I won’t go home with him. So, I need you to help me. Okay?”
He eyes me dubiously before sighing with a loud groan. “Fine! Let’s throw the ball before you go over there. He is busy coaching at the moment.”
Rod grabs my elbow and leads me to the field while Finn talks to Ricky by home plate. Although I can’t see Finn’s face, I see Ricky’s, and I don’t think their conversation pertains to softball. Cara approaches them, and Finn’s body stiffens, and he and Ricky step back from their discussion.
“Fucking pay attention, Hadders! I’ll hit you in the face because you’re too busy, eyeballing!”
I switch my gaze back to Rod, and we successfully throw the ball without maiming each other. That’s a decent start. I peek again and notice Finn and Ricky watching all of us with their arms crossed and lips moving. Cara is off to the side, watching my boyfriend instead of us.
“Hadley! Pay attention!” Rod yells, jarring me from my staring again.
“Sorry!” I yell back. Rod tosses the ball into his glove and paces over to me. Finn and Ricky walk, checking out everyone.
Rod bumps into the side of my arm, glaring down at me. “Get it together.”
I readily nod, and he runs his gloveless hand through his hair, making it stand up in bedraggled clumps. “We can grab some beers and dinner after. Invite Wilder. I’ll be the third wheel, but your chaperone, and maybe Wilder will pay for my food.”
“You just want to date him,” I tease.
Before he can tell me to fuck off, we’re interrupted. “I don’t see a ball in the air,” Ricky chides as he walks over. “Everything okay?”
Rod takes a step back and replies, “We were just talking strategy.”
“Strategy? Okay. I guess I’ll buy that.” Ricky grins, yet his eyes drift around my face as if he’s trying to tell me something or figure me out.
I peer around Ricky, and from across the field, I see Finn looking away from me. I shift my gaze to Ricky. “How’s he doing?”
Putting his hands in his pockets, he shrugs. “You know how he is. He’s working himself up over nothing. Right?” His dark brown eyes implore me to convince him I’m not breaking his best friend’s heart.
I clasp my hands together in front of my stomach and nod. “I’m not breaking up with him. I keep telling him that, but he’s doesn’t listen!” My voice rises, and I take a deep breath to calm myself. “I just need some time to myself before I move in with him.”
“Why? That’s what we both don’t get. You two are sickeningly in love. I mean, your groping and whispering ruined my Easter pancakes. Why do you need to be away from him, especially with his parents doing their thing?”
“He knows why.”
Ricky contemplatively stares at me. “Is it because he doesn’t want to get married? I thought you told him you didn’t want to anymore?”
I sigh and cautiously look for Finn and see him talking to Val. His glasses are on top of his head, and they laugh as Val adoringly pats his arm. I love that woman.
Rod crosses his arms as he watches softballs flying. I know better. He’s keeping an eye on me. It’s nearly impossible not to love him, too.
However, my boyfriend will disagree with that.
I return my attention to Ricky. “That’s my problem. I want to, but I can’t want to. I need time to let it go… for him. I don’t want to lose Finn because of a stupid fantasy. He told me not to give up hope, but I have to. He’s too important to me, and who I can’t live without. All the rest is ancillary. I just have to comprehend that better.”
“Shit. You’d do all of that for him?” His eyes widen.
I nod and then wince. “He’s drinking, Ricky. I talked to him last night, and he was drunk. I’m worried about him.”
He adjusts his ball cap, his untamed black hair escaping its confines. “I’ll keep a closer eye on him.”
I can’t sound casual when I whisper, “Has he said he misses me?”
His lips yank into a perplexed frown as he rolls his eyes. “That’s a dumb question. He doesn’t have to say it anyway. Finn’s lost without you. I can’t even tease him because he’s wrapped up in you.”
I bite my lip, so I don’t stupidly cry in front of Ricky and Rod. Taking a deep breath, I exhale. “I’ll talk to him.”
Ricky nods and regards Rod with renewed suspicion, before he walks back to Finn, now standing next to Cara. When Ricky reaches them, he says something to Finn and then yells for us to come in. As we walk over, Ricky explains he’ll pitch while everyone takes a turn at bat. He tells Cara to chase after the balls, which I think is on purpose.
As Rod and I stand off to the side of everyone else, Finn grabs a bat, volunteering to give us a refresher. Standing next to home plate, he pulls his sunglasses back down and crouches, cockily swinging the bat in the air above the plate. Ricky pitches and Finn slams the ball into centerfield, forcing Cara to run after it, which I enjoy. He tries more, each hit better than the previous. His body twists and his clothes cling to him with each swing. I thought he looked hot before. Damn, I was so wrong.
Having shown off enough, but not enough for my liking, Finn hands his bat to Val, who giggles and warns everyone she’ll be terrible. I smile at her daftness.
I watch Finn walk away from the excited chattering, over to a bench on the other side of the fence. He props his foot up, bolstering his arms on his leg, and watches the field.
I slowly walk over to him, deciding not to give a fuck if anyone thinks I’m flirting with our coach. If they only knew what I do to him when we’re alone. And even though his sunglasses are concealing them, I feel his eyes on me. His arms stiffen, his jaw tightens, and his body shifts, becoming more guarded than the Hope Diamond.
When I reach the bench, I take a deep breath, drawing in his cologne drifting along with the wispy breeze. “Hi.”
“Hi,” he quietly repeats. My reflection in his sunglasses unnerves me, and he doesn’t lift them. I twist the material at the bottom of my shirt, feeling utterly awkward.
“I saw you talking to Val. She’s my boss. She’s nice.”
He marginally nods. “I know. You talk about her a lot. I remember her. How are you feeling?” What?
Perplexed by his question, I abruptly stop maiming my shirt. “Why are you asking me that?” Taking a step closer to him, I see into his sunglasses. His eyes drop to my stomach.
“I’m fine, but I should ask you that.”
He sharply inhales and looks away from me with a faint nod. “Right. I’m sorry about last night. I didn’t think you were calling me back.”
I notice Shasta watching us, and I want to rip out her hair. Returning to Finn, I calmly reply, “I waited for you to call me back. So, you’re not apologizing for drinking, just that I caught you drunk?”
At the ground, he mutters, “I don’t need permission to drink, do I?”
“No, but I don’t like you drinking when you’re upset.”
He darkly chuckles. “Next time, I’ll call a drinking buddy. It’s not like you can join me.” He tilts his head to me and again looks at my stomach. I cross my wrists in front of me, attempting to hide somehow.
I sigh and pivot, moving closer to lean on his arm, and he instantly tenses, forcing my heart to sink further. “Finn, I’m worried about you.”
Observing Brandon at bat, he shrugs and restlessly rubs his jaw. “Why? I’m good.”
“No, you’re not.”
Brusquely, Finn drops his foot to the ground, turning his back to the field as he crosses his arms. As I look over my shoulder, he takes a deep breath, and with the wooded area in front of him, I watch him mumble, “What do you want me to say? It’s hard to be here when you don’t want me to be.”
“I want you here.” I turn to face the woods with him and look up at his unsmiling face.
“You could’ve fooled me, hiding behind Rodwell and Morgan. I almost left because I thought…” He bites his lip and doesn’t continue.
“I didn’t think you’d care if I was here or not.”
Finn shoots me an irritable glare from behind his mirrored sunglasses. “You’re the only reason I’m here.”
I softly smile. “I miss you so much, Sparks.” He loudly exhales, and his shoulders slump. “What?”
He shakes his head. “Nothing.” He then looks at my face, and his brown eyes plead with me through his sunglasses. We stare at each other, needing to say things, but not knowing how. His tongue flicks over his lips, and his eyes continue to search mine.
“Hadrosaur, you’re up!” I jerk my head to see Rod striding over to me with a batting helmet. Finn moves away from me to stand at the chain-link running the field perimeter.
Rod slaps the helmet on me, making me yelp. Finn’s back is to me. Sighing, I approach the batter’s box, and Morgan hands me a silver-and-black bat. Taking a few practice swings, I step up to the plate and crouch into a batting stance, the softball memories with Bethany rushing back in a wave. I was decent, I guess.
Ricky pitches the ball, and I violently swing, the jarring metallic sound striking the ball makes me jump back as I watch it soar above Cara’s head. That’s right, bitch! Chase after that instead of my boyfriend!
Thinking I’d be rustier, I’m shocked as my teammates cheer at my endeavor.
“Hell, yeah, Hadders! Already team MVP!”
My attention jumps to our coach, his arm draped over the fence while he sports a proud grin. I love that smile.
At least I did something right.