Just as the pre-game festivities end, I take a seat on the bench, waiting for the ceremonial first pitch to take place. Caden elbows me. “You might want to watch this one, Mills.”
He walks out on the field, presumably to be the catcher of the first pitch. Curious, I stand up and walk to the railing. Then my jaw drops when I see Aspen and Danny walking out onto the field. Aspen is talking into Danny’s ear. They walk to about the half-way point between home plate and the pitcher’s mound and then she hands him a ball, pointing to Caden as she gives him a few words of encouragement.
I stand here, stunned, wondering how this even came about. I’ve been trying to get Danny to a game for years, and now, not only does Aspen get him to one within weeks of meeting him, she’s arranged for him to throw the first pitch.
He throws the pitch. Caden catches it. The crowd cheers.
Danny jumps up and down, clapping. Aspen finally looks over at me and smiles.
I smile back. I can’t help it. She looks so beautiful out on that field wearing my jersey. And she got him to a game.
Caden comes back into the dugout and looks at me. “Are you pissed? Aspen thought you might be pissed.”
“Pissed? No. Not even close. But how? And, uh … how much do you know?”
“As far as the how – maybe you should ask Aspen. And all I know is that Danny is someone special to her, and, I guess, you.”
I nod my head. “Yeah. Yeah he is.”
Caden puts a supportive hand on my shoulder. “Whenever you want to talk, brother. I’m here.”
I nod my head again, then I walk away to find a piece of paper.
I write a note for Aspen, asking her to bring Danny to meet me outside the clubhouse in between games. I have to know how she made it happen. I give the note to the security guard standing near the dugout and ask him to deliver it to her.
When I walk out to bat, I can’t get the picture of them out of my head. Aspen and Danny, both wearing my #55 jersey, walking out onto the field. They are the two most important people in my life.
Then it hits me like a hundred-mile-an-hour fast ball. I fucking love her.
I almost said it to her weeks ago. I’ve said it to her in my dreams. I know she already knows it. But now I know it. I know it for sure.
I touch my tattoo before I stand at the plate. He loved her, too.
I stare at the pitcher, wondering what he’s going to throw me. Baseball. That’s what I love. That’s what I can control. Nobody gets hurt in baseball. And when I take a swing and hear the crack of wooden bat on ball, I run my ass off. I run around to second, thinking of Danny the entire time. And when the ball gets thrown back to the pitcher, I take off for third. I run for him, for Danny. I run because he will never be able to.
Having caught the pitcher off guard, he’s late on the throw, and I just beat it, sliding feet first into third base, touching the bag with the side of my cleat before the glove with the ball in it tags me.
I stand up, brush myself off, and look up to where I presume Danny is sitting. I point to him and say, “Eighty-eight.”
God, I love baseball.
~ ~ ~
Still in uniform since we have another game, I exit the clubhouse and look around. When I see Aspen standing with Lucy and Danny over by the wall, I wave them over and tell security to let them through the barrier.
Caden and Brady come out right behind me, just as Aspen and the others walk up.
“Danny, I’d like you to meet some of my teammates, Caden Kessler and Brady Taylor. Caden and Brady, Danny is a very special friend of mine. And this is his mother, Lucy.”
In typical Danny fashion, he hugs Caden and Brady and then they sign his program.
I grab Aspen’s elbow. “How did you do this?”
“She pretty much knows everyone in the Hawks organization,” Lucy says.
I shake my head, confused. I introduced her to Rick and Jason and some of the coaches, but that was just the one time. And it was months ago.
“Remember when I told you I do a lot of volunteering?” Aspen says. “Well, the Nighthawks is one of the places I do it.”
“You do?” I ask, surprised. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I didn’t want you to think I was doing it for you.”
I study her, and then I motion to Lucy. “And how did you get her to agree to this? I’ve been trying for a while to get Lucy to bring him to a game.”
“Your, uh, girlfriend is very persuasive,” Lucy says.
Something about the way she says it makes me wonder if she knows about Aspen and me.
“Aspen and I have become close in the past few weeks,” she says. “Daniel has really taken to her.”
I raise my eyebrows at Aspen. “You’ve been out to see them?”
“A few times, yes.”
I pull her to the side. “Why?” I ask. “You don’t think this will change things, do you?”
She shakes her head sadly and looks at the ground. “Everything is not about you, Sawyer Mills.”
I feel like a douchebag. “Sorry. I guess I just thought—”
“You thought everything was about you,” she says.
“Shit. I’m … I’m sorry. I’m glad you and Danny have become friends. He needs more of those.”
“I can see why you like him so much,” she says. “He’s absolutely delightful.”
“Did you see me throw the ball?” Danny asks excitedly, coming up beside me. “I’m a baseball player like you, Sawyer.”
“You sure are, buddy. You were great.”
I look at Aspen, her face glowing when she sees how happy he is. She’s responsible for that. She made his dream come true. All Danny ever wanted was to play ball. And she made it happen. She changes people’s lives. She changes people’s dreams.
But she can’t change the past. She can’t re-write history. Oh, but how I wish she could. I’d give anything – do anything – to make that happen.
I bring Danny into the clubhouse and give him a tour, introducing him to all the guys along the way. They treat him like he’s a celebrity. I’ve never seen him happier. By the time we re-join the ladies out in the tunnel, Danny looks exhausted.
“I’m going to see them off now,” Aspen says. “Then I have to go get ready for the wedding. I told Bass I’d get there early.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” I tell her. “But it will be pretty close.”
“No extra innings,” she says, as they walk away.
I laugh. “As if I can control that, Andrews.”
“You’re the great Sawyer Mills,” she says. “I thought nothing was beyond your control.”
I wave at all of them as they leave, wondering if she was even talking about baseball at all.
I walk into the groom’s room in the back of the church only to see Bass’s head between his knees.
“He’s a bit nervous, dear,” his mom tells me. “Maybe you can calm him down. You’ve always been good with him.”
“I’m not sure what I can do,” I say. “But I’ll try.”
He wasn’t nervous at all earlier when we were hanging out at his apartment. Brooke wasn’t there. She stayed at her parents’ house last night so they wouldn’t see each other this morning. Bass and I spent the afternoon talking about his new job as a firefighter. And music. He played a new song for me. He’s a true virtuoso on the guitar. He seemed fine. Relaxed even.
Bass’s mom brings me in for a hug. “If only you were the one walking down the aisle,” she whispers in my ear before walking out of the room, leaving me alone with him.
I stare at the empty hallway, not quite believing she just said that. I get that it was a short engagement, and it came as a surprise to everyone, but she needs to accept Brooke as her daughter-in-law or they will get off to a very bad start.
I walk over to Bass, wondering why he’s so nervous. He doesn’t get nervous. Not when he plays guitar in front of a thousand people. Not when he rescues people from burning buildings. Not even when he meets famous baseball players. So – why now?
“Bass,” I say, reaching out to rub his shoulders. “Is everything okay?”
He nods his head. Then he reaches over to grab a glass off the table, downing a large swig of light-brown liquid. I raise my eyebrows at it.
“Crown and Coke,” he says. “Just a little liquid courage.”
“If you need courage to do this, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.”
He laughs. “As my best man, I’d think you’d be more supportive than that, Penny.”
“Sorry. In that case, where can I get one?”
He holds his drink out for me. “I’ll share it with you.”
I take a drink, feeling the burn as I swallow. “Ick!”
“You always were more of a beer and wine girl,” he says.
I take another sip, careful to control my facial expression this time. “A girl can change,” I say.
He eyes me speculatively. “Yeah, I guess she can.”
“Sebastian, are you ready for this?”
“Have you seen the decorations in the church?” he asks. “And holy shit, Penny. Her parents’ house – we were there yesterday, you wouldn’t believe what they’ve done. There’s a huge tent out back with dozens of tables. And there’s a stage for a band.” He shakes his head. “They hired a fucking band. In less than three weeks. They’ve probably dropped more than fifty grand on this. There will be two hundred people here. Who the hell are they? I know about twenty people and that includes the guys from the firehouse. I know her parents can afford it. But I guess I never thought it would turn into such a big deal.”
“Their only daughter is getting married,” I say. “Can you really blame them?”
He shakes his head. “I guess not.”
“Think of the pictures,” I say. “They’ll be wonderful. And everything will be top-notch.”