Since I was the last person to bat, Finn announces we’re done for the day, but not before warning us of his camera crew for tomorrow’s practice. Great. How do I avoid it? Wear a ski mask? Pretend I’m sick? Leave him a note saying I’m flying a kite? Whatever works.
Taking off my helmet, I finger-comb my hair to salvage the wreckage, but it’s a total loss.
“Quit primping and preening, Hadders. You can’t renovate that fiasco.” He laughs, and I grimace. “Let’s go. We have a stop to make.”
Narrowing my eyes at him, I shake my head with the frown plastered on my face. “I can’t go anywhere like this. Seriously, Rod.”
He rolls his eyes and shrugs. “We’ll stop at your place, and you can freshen up. I promise not to see you naked… too much.” His wicked smile breaks through my crankiness, and I laugh.
“What?” Finn snaps from behind us. We whirl to see him lift up his sunglasses, his heated eyes flying over us. Is he jealous of Rod again? Oh, Finn.
Resuming the smile on my face, I say, “He was joking. I have an errand but need a shower first.” Finn glowers at me, and his gaze travels my face.
Rod walks over to the bench and sits down, watching me like a cracked-out hawk. Finn’s gaze follows Rod, but when he notices me staring, he clears his throat and asks, “Where do you need to go? I’ll take you.”
“No. Rod said he’d go with me.”
His jaw twitches. “How long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know. Why?” I’m not staying with Finn. He’d better not because I’ll cave. Damn it.
His brown eyes are apprehensive. “Do you want to go to 5:30 Mass with me? Have dinner afterward?” He wants to sit next to me in a church after my Easter meltdown and then eat dinner in public?
“Really?” He slowly nods at my question while a look of confusion skims his face. I want to smile, but I manage not to as I innocently ask, “Coach, are you asking a player on a date?”
A crooked grin pulls at his lips, and his weary eyes glint. “Yeah. I guess I am.”
I easily smile, but then bite my lip to stop myself. I can’t go out with Finn. Rod is right. It won’t stop there, not when I can’t get my mind off his hard body swinging that bat. “Finn, I can’t.”
He quickly amends, “Just Mass. I’ll take you home afterward.” His expression is guardedly anticipative, and it’s breaking me.
“Taking me home isn’t a good idea, either.”
His brown eyes implore me. “Becks, give me something. I need to spend some kind of time with you.” He nods his head back to the field. “This isn’t cutting it.”
“We’re spending time apart, Finn.”
“That wasn’t my decision.”
My resolve crashes, and I concede, “I’ll go to Mass with you. I’ll meet you there.”
He carefully smiles, yet his dark eyes brighten. “Okay. Call me, and I’ll give you the address.”
I nod. “Just church. Maybe tomorrow we can have dinner after practice.”
“I work tomorrow night, but we can work out something.” Finn takes a step towards me, but then curtly stops with a sigh. “I’ll see you later then.” He gives me a lingering look before he slides down his sunglasses and heads back to Ricky and Cara, where the slut eyes him. If she thinks she’s getting into his pants, she’d better find a pillow because she’s dreaming. I’d love to put one over her face.
Spinning, I walk to the bench and notice Rod glaring at me. “What are you doing, Hadley? I thought you just wanted to say hi?”
I tighten my ponytail. “It’s just an hour in church, Rod.”
He stands, towering over me. Who doesn’t? “I’ll take and drop you off. It’s safer.”
I drop my hands and frown up at him. “He’s not an ax murderer.”
“I don’t care if he’s jolly old Saint Nick holding hands and skipping with Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo, singing a Spice Girls’ song!” I scrunch my face as I try to decipher that correlation. He rolls his eyes. “At least in church, Jesus is your chaperone.”
“You don’t have to wait around for me. I can handle it.”
He shrugs, but I know he’s anything but blasé. “No worries. Maybe I’ll check out a synagogue nearby. Pick up some chicks or something.”
Smiling at his concern, a lightly smack his arm. “You slutty Jewish boys. Just make sure there’s room in your truck for me.”
Shooting an eyebrow up, he leers. “You can sit on my lap.”
I unwillingly laugh. “Up yours, freak.” He laughs with me, and as I look up, I see Shasta.
“Nice batting, Hadley. Never expected that from you. I can’t hit worth a damn.” I’m not the only one who doubts me.
I force a smile. “Thanks. I played softball as a kid. I have some surprises up my sleeve.” One that will disappoint you.
Feigning interest, she asks, “Oh yeah? Which position?”
She skeptically looks from me to Rod, her reddish-brown hair brushing over her shoulder. “Huh.” She turns back to me, her expression doubtful. “So, I see you’ve become friends with our coach.” Ah. The reason she’s talking to me.
Rod interjects, “He’s a friend of mine. I introduced them. They’re both mind-numbingly boring, so I thought they’d have something in common. Their conversation about the traffic lights on East Broad had me begging for painful euthanasia.”
I elbow Rod as Shasta swings her head in Finn’s direction on the other side of the field, where he’s talking to Brandon. She then shifts her attention back to Rod and me. “I doubt he’s boring. Do you know if he’s single?”
I instantly answer, “He has a girlfriend.”
Her heavily made-up face contorts in consideration. She wears more makeup than I own. “That’s not a huge roadblock. Are they serious?”
“Very.” So, don’t even think about it, you man-eating clown.
“Well, shit. He’s red hot. That ass of his…” She once again ogles my boyfriend. That is my ass to check out, and I’ve seen it naked!
Nodding, Rod confirms, “Yep. He is a sexy bastard.” Shasta cringes in disbelief, but I’m accustomed to Rod’s idiosyncrasies and uncensored mouth. But I agree that Finn Wilder is one sexy bastard, but he’s mine.
Rod’s gaze moves from Finn-gawking back to us. “What?”
I walk with Rod and Morgan back to Rod’s truck until he’s stopped by Amos. Morgan pulls me forward to the truck. From a short distance away, I watch Finn leaning against Ricky’s truck, talking to Cara, noticing her touching his arm as she talks. She doesn’t touch Ricky like that.
Before I can march over and shove her off him, Morgan puts her arm around my shoulders. “That bitch will get her ass kicked if she keeps groping him.”
I look at Morgan and scoff, “Like I could take her on.”
She rolls her eyes and hugs me to her. “I meant I’d do it.”
I laugh. “You’d do that for me?”
“Without a second thought. I’d enjoy it, too. Nobody messes with my best friend or her man.”
Looking back to Finn, I mutter, “I want to go over there.”
“Don’t reel her in just yet.”
Whisking my head to her again, I probe, “What?”
She bends her head closer to me as if she’s communicating a clandestine mission. “Let her think she’ll snag him. Then, when she makes a move, go in for the kill. You kiss him right in front of her and make a big scene out of doing it. French kiss him. Grab his dick, even.”
I pull away from her as my mouth falls hard to the ground. “In front of everyone?”
“Whatever you have to do to hold on to your man, Hadley.” I see Ricky standing next to both of them with his arms crossed, courteously smiling. Does Ricky suspect Cara is moving in on my boyfriend, too? Would he encourage Finn to have a fling with Cara, or turn his head if he cheated on me?
Rod comes up behind Morgan and me. “Why does Hadders have to worry about holding onto Wilder? He’s not going anywhere.”
Glaring at the three of them, Morgan growls, “That bitch could get her hooks into him.” I want to tell Morgan about the depth of Finn’s and my problems, yet I don’t want her to know I lied about taking the Pill, and I might be pregnant. It’ll hurt her that I didn’t tell the truth.
“Mortuary, he would never leave Hadders. He’s in way too deep to do something stupid like leave her for that Cara hoochie.”
Morgan looks from Rod to Ricky’s truck. “Maybe, but there’s something about her I don’t like. I think she’s after him, regardless if he has a tattoo of his woman’s name.”
I smack both of their arms. “I’m right here, you two. I hope she’s not after him, and I pray that he’ll never leave me.” I sigh and twist my pitiful ponytail. “Rod, we have to get going so I can get a shower, pick up the ring, and then meet Finn.”
Morgan pulls on my arm. “Meet Finn?”
“I’m going to Mass with him. Nothing more. Rod will even take me home, so I’m not tempted to leave with Finn.”
Still watching behind me, she asks, “You said you’re picking up his ring? You’re accepting his refusal to get married, but you bought him a ring.”
I roll my eyes and then briefly close them in exasperation before asking, “I am contradicting myself. I don’t know. I feel like I’m taking a break to become even more confused. What should I do?”
“Still do like I suggested. Take this time, though. You still need to decide if you can accept that he might not ever marry you. If you can’t, then after my wedding reception, take him somewhere. Plan a moonlight walk on the beach or even propose to him in bed. I endorse that one, especially if you do it right before having sex since he’s most likely to say yes then. If he turns you down, you’ll know what to do from there.”
Rod laughs. “Or, you can just give him a few weeks in dry dock and then show up at his door in a trench coat, naked, and fuck his brains out. That’d be fun, too.”
We pull into the church’s parking lot, and I see Finn’s red Mustang with the two white racing stripes. When Rod stops behind it, I reach for the door handle.
“I’ll pick you up at 6:30. Be here.”
“I will, Dad.”
“Hey, I’m trying to help you. That’s what friends do.”
I genuinely smile at him. “And I’m grateful you’re my friend, Rod.”
“Well, you remember that and say a nice prayer for me, because you’re driving me absolutely cuckoo.”
Climbing out of the truck and walking to the rear, I straighten my pale yellow skirt, and ocean-blue top as Rod pulls away. Finn shuts his door and gives me a peculiar once-over. Did I dress wrong for a Saturday Mass?
He parked his car in the shade, so his freshly washed wild hair is light brown, but as he walks, it morphs into the glowing gold that complements his cagey brown eyes, as do his black-and-blue plaid shirt and dark blue pants. His key necklace displays from the top two buttons of his shirt undone. He also shaved but left the sideburns and a goatee. I love it. Forget about Rod’s drooling. I need to stop slobbering over Finn Wilder.
I anxiously twirl my hair around my index finger as he meets me at the end of his car. Why am I so nervous? “You’re here,” he states with a twinge of surprise, but a smile on his lips.
Smiling in return, I reply, “I said I would be. Rod will pick me up later.”
His face belies his irritation to that news. “Oh. Well, I’m glad you’re here.” His eyes slowly drift over my body and then up to my face again.
Do I look that bad? “What?”
“You’re so beautiful. I love your hair down.”
I shyly smile. “A step up from earlier, at least.”
He slowly shakes his head. “You were a knock-out then, too. I don’t care what you say, and I don’t need new glasses or contacts, either. You’re always stunning, Becks.”
I bite the inside of my cheek as I feel embarrassment creeping across my face. “Thank you.”
Knowing I don’t believe him, he adds, “I’m not just telling you that. When I saw you before we first met, you captivated me, as you do now.” His words lift my head, his eyes promptly take hold of mine, and before I argue, he firmly interjects, “Don’t, Becks.”
Shutting my mouth, I smile at how well he knows me. However, do I know Finn Wilder?
I finally say, “You look handsome, Sparks. I especially love this.” Unthinkingly, I stroke his prickly chin. The feel of his skin zaps through me like a bolt of lightning. Finn’s mouth slightly opens, and he rapidly blinks. I drop my hand and glance uncomfortably at his car. Why did I do that? I’m dumber than Rod’s Mr. Rogers remark.
He clears his throat. “We’d better go in.” I nod and smile. Putting his hand upon the middle of my back, he guides me across the parking lot of the cinnamon brown, brick building to the front entrance. As we walk, I notice the gorgeous stained-glass windows. There are more here than his childhood church.
Dropping his hand from my back, he cautiously touches my hand with his fingertips, and I slide my fingers between his, instantly feeling like I’m home. He tightens his fingers, yet I feel the tension melt from him. Lifting our clasped hands, he kisses mine, bringing a smile to my face as I look up at him. I feel his responding smile against my skin, sparking tingles throughout my body and soul.
We walk through the heavy double doors into the entry area, followed by the large main room with the pews and altar. The floor is a fantastic brick patchwork of earth tones. The sunlight shining through the windows casts a kaleidoscope of colors over the room, strewing confetti of light onto the pews. It’s breathtaking.
Finn abruptly stops at a back pew, releases my hand and kneels down, his right knee touching the floor, crossing himself before he stands back up. He again grabs ahold of my hand and slides us into the bench aisle. I’m dazed. For one, he didn’t do that at the Vigil. Second, the sight of him on bended knee is almost too much for me to handle.
Rod’s right again. I’ve got to get it together.
Kneeling down next to Finn, I reflect and pray, as is the protocol, while I look to the people around us for cues. I also note that many are dressed casually in jeans, shorts, and T-shirts with logos. I like that Finn dressed up for this.
I notice Finn staring at the altar with his hands clasped, hanging over the pew in front of us. What does Finn Wilder pray for? Safe dares? To jump off that bridge again? For me to make prettier pancakes or to get better acquainted with lipstick? Maybe for a nationwide ban on kite festivals?
I pray that Finn gets everything he wants out of life—with or without me. I don’t want to tether him. However, I pray he wants me no matter what.
I pray for my dad. Despite his recent lecture about getting married, he’s still the best father in the crappiest of circumstances. He could’ve left, too, but he didn’t. I pray for my grandparents.
I pray for Bethany. She’s the sister I never had. I don’t know what I’d do without her.
I pray for Morgan. I’m thankful for her friendship, and I pray for a healthy baby and a happy marriage for her and Ivan.
I pray for Val. I’m thankful I have a wonderful boss and friend like her. She’s a precious jewel to me. I love her like the mom I don’t have.
I pray for Rod and Eden, adding the postscript that Greg Rodwell finds happiness with a woman who can tolerate his insolence. God bless whoever that dear soul is.
I pray for Jared. For so many reasons. My misguided brother, who’s finding his own way. I love him.
Shifting, Finn sits back on the pew, and I swiftly move to join him. He resituates himself closer to me, pulling my hand onto his lap, and weaving our fingers together. I cross my legs, and he angles his against mine, similar to last week, but leaves no space between us. He inclines his head to me but doesn’t say anything. I feel his hot breath creeping down my collar. Curious, and inappropriately becoming turned on, I angle my head to look at him. His dark eyes snag mine, and we stare at each other. His thumb brushes my leg as a crooked smile lifts the edge of his mouth. Finn’s smiles will be the death of me.
The Mass is shorter than Easter’s. When it’s time to shake hands, Finn pulls me into his arms, holding me tightly to him while moving his head to my ear. “Baby, I love you to the stars.” I smile, remembering how we stargazed with his cute trivia in his mom’s backyard.
“I love you beyond them, Sparks.” I clutch him harder, needing him to feel my love. I fill my lungs with his memorable scent. We hug, not caring to share our private world.
With less anxiety than last time, I watch Finn take communion. As he does, I study the beautiful windows. It’s almost like the church is made out of stained glass. I’d love to marry Finn here.
Nope. I’m daydreaming when I promised myself I wouldn’t. I don’t know if the time I’m taking away from him is even helping. His engagement ring doesn’t help my quandary, either.
When Finn returns, he leaves no space between us as we kneel, wrapping his arm around me. He unexpectedly dips his head down, his goatee scraping against my skin as he kisses the side of my forehead. Goosebumps cover my arms, and I lean into him more.
After the service, as everyone exits the church, Finn holds me back from leaving. People file past us, and Finn sits, tugging at my hand to sit down with him.
As he strokes my fingers, I look into the dark, soulful eyes that I love. “What is it?”
“I just want to sit here with you before you go.” I suppose it’s safe since we’re in a church, and as Rod said, Jesus is watching us.
I shift to face him, and his hand drops from the back of the bench to my bare knee, his fingers grazing my skin. “Thank you for coming. This meant a lot to me.” We smile at each other, and my heart skips a beat. “I felt whole with you next to me.” Letting go of my hand, he lightly grasps my brown hair and tucks strands behind my ear as I stare at his face. Mindlessly, my left hand drifts to his upper arm, and even though he’s wearing long sleeves, the surge I feel touching him is ever-present.
I quietly say, “I love that you can share this with me.” I notice he still has a gentle hold of my hair as I turn my head. “This church is astounding.”
Hearing the smile in his voice, he says, “I’m glad you like it. I want you to be here with me every week.”
Turning back to Finn, I nod as my heart continues to accelerate. “I’d love that.”
Finn’s beautiful smile suddenly fails, and his gaze darts away from me, as if he’s unsure of what to say. Letting go of my hair, and finally looking to me, he slackens the grip he has on my hand and clears his throat. “Would it be okay if I make a reservation for a cabin? I’m not sure how far out the waiting list is. If you don’t want to still go…”
I squeeze his hand and smile. “I want to go away with you.”
“I want to do this so much, Becks. We need time to ourselves with no interruptions, no bombshells dropped, and no younger sister pestering us. We can have time to talk, laugh, take walks, to…” His eyes drift to the altar, and he bites his lip, “fly kites.”
I giggle and move my free hand to stroke his now-smooth jaw. “Yes, we need time together. It’ll be nice.”
His eyes are somber. “I can’t wait, baby. I miss you.”
“I miss you, too, Sparks.” My thumb skates over his skin, and his throat bobs as we stare at each other in peaceful silence.
Finn swallows hard. “Becks, whatever I can do to fix us, I’ll do it.” It’s not all his fault.
“It’s me I’m trying to fix. I’m trying to reconcile myself to that. I don’t want to be a never-ending burden for you.”
He sighs and glances around us, his fingers still on my knee lightly dig into my skin. “You’re not.” His gaze once more returns to mine. “Ricky told me what you said. I don’t want you giving up on anything. It breaks my heart that I’m breaking yours.”
“You’ve made it clear what you want or don’t want. It’s me that needs to come to an understanding about it.”
Shaking his head, he looks down at the bench seat. “It’s not only about that. Our last argument…”
“We’ll talk about it.” I do not want to get into that discussion in a Catholic church. “So, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow at practice, coach?”
He raises his head and offers a ghost of a smile. “I’ll be there. Maybe we can have dinner after my six spot? I have to be on location, but I should wrap up after 6:30.”
He moves his hand from my knee and strokes my cheek as he slowly leans in to kiss the other, whispering against my skin, “I love you, Becks.” When Finn sits back, I gently clasp his face and kiss him on the lips, remembering to keep it G-rated.
As I pull away, he sighs. “I’ve missed that.”
“I did, too.” Knowing I’m dangerously close to going home with him, yet also not wanting to fight with Greg Rodwell, I force myself to rise and offer Finn my hand.
As we walk down the aisle, I say, “Shasta thinks you’re cute.”
Looking up to his face for his reaction, he rolls his eyes. “Cute. Here we go again.”
“I think she wants to ask you out.” Please be grossed out. Please be grossed out.
He replies with a chuckle, “Really?” Is that a gratified response?
“Don’t you think she’s pretty?”
He casually shrugs as we approach the doors. “She’s okay. Not my cup of tea, though.”
“She isn’t? What is?”
Finn’s smile is abrupt. “Oh, I like this woman I coach in softball. She’s cute.” His teasing grin displays his gleaming teeth from the late-day sunlight pouring in through the windows, and from the overhead lighting.
I wince. “I hope it’s not that one who doesn’t own a hairbrush or decent makeup.”
Still grinning, he eagerly nods. “That’s her. I’ve got a massive crush on her. I’d even give her my class ring and jacket if I could.”
I giggle as Finn pushes open a heavy wooden door, allowing me through. Outside, Rod leans against the metal railing alongside the steps, with his arms crossed and his eyes dissecting me for any signs of harm. Not deterred by Finn’s obvious scowling, he says, “There you are. I thought maybe you joined the church, you took so long. I thought you’d hand out pamphlets or dress like a holy referee.”
I laugh. “We were talking.”
Rod’s eyebrows yank together as he pushes himself off the railing. “About joining?” I roll my eyes. “We need to go since we still have your errand to run.” Rod has the courtesy to walk a few steps in front of Finn and me, instead of tossing me into a burlap sack and throwing me into his truck bed. I suppose both of our expectations were a tad skewed.
As we walk, Finn asks, “You didn’t run your errand earlier?”
Though walking ahead, from over his shoulder, Rod answers, “No. Your woman takes the longest showers in history. I wanted to check on her, but well, you know…” He drifts off with a cackle. Finn’s hand tightens in mine, and I squeeze back.
“I know. I’m sorry. I got lost.”
Rod snorts. “In a shower? Maybe you need one of those medical alert necklace things to wear with your key or a mini GPS charm.”
We reach Rod’s truck, and Finn opens my door. I thank him, and he smiles. As Rod climbs into the driver’s seat, Finn holds onto the open doorframe, leaning in to whisper, “You did a great job at bat earlier. I’m impressed.”
I whisper back, “Same here. I liked watching you swing.” Because your body lights me up faster than a spark to gasoline.
Finn bites the end of his tongue and eyes me darkly. He takes a deep breath before replying, “Ditto. That was my favorite part.” He kisses me, leaving me wanting more. He whispers over my lips, “Bye, Becks.”
I practically stutter, “Bye, Sparks.” Finn shuts my door, and Rod promptly shakes his head.
“It’s a good thing I was here, or you definitely would’ve gone home with Wilder.”
I slouch in my seat. “I hate it when you’re right.”