His name is announced over the loudspeaker, and I lean forward trying to peer through the cyclone fence for a look at him.
“If his team is in the field, why is he batting?” I ask the older gentleman next to me.
“This is their first nighttime scrimmage under the lights. They’re announcing names to audition a new announcer.”
“Oh. I gotcha.” I nod along. I suppose it makes sense that this would be the time for on-the-job interviews to happen.
The sound of the ball cracking against the bat has everyone standing up, including me. The right fielder has turned around, watching the ball over his shoulder. He leaps, trying to catch it, but it sails over his glove and into the mitt of a little kid who seems ecstatic. The announcer yells “home run,” and on instinct, I place two fingers in my mouth and whistle.
“Sweetie, if you’re going to whistle like that during these games, don’t sit by me, okay? My hearing aids can’t take it.” He laughs as he sits back down and starts jawing at his friend about how Bailey is going to be a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year.
When the guys switch, Cooper runs out to center field and throws the ball back and forth with the right fielder. From what I can see, he’s laughing. He should be. He’s doing what he’s always dreamed of, according to his bio.
The game continues for about an hour until everyone disappears into the dugout. Everyone packs up, chatting about the first spring training game in a few days, while I continue to lean up against the fence. I’m in no rush to go home, and the solitude is nice. There’s a peaceful feeling in the park that somehow seems to make everything okay in my life, even when I know it’s not.
By the time I get to the well-lit parking lot, there are a handful of cars left, and mine is the farthest away. As I pass by a few of them, the guys call out, but I ignore them and walk faster.
The sound of shoes slapping against the pavement behind me has me walking faster. I can’t believe I’d be so stupid to park this far away from the entrance.
“Ainsley, wait up.”
I freeze at the sound of Cooper’s voice and stop, turning around quickly, only to have him run smack-dab into me. We both let out an oomph as he catches me, keeping me from falling to the ground.
“Are you okay?” he asks, leaving his hands around my waist.
“You scared me.”
He looks over his shoulder at the guys behind us, who are making comments, and shakes his head. “Ignore them.”
“I plan on it.”
Cooper steps back, putting some distance between us. “What are you doing here?”
I look at the ground, wondering if I can just be honest with him and—if so—at what cost? “I need to apologize for earlier,” I start off with. “I was a bitch to you, and you didn’t deserve that. I’m going through some health stuff with my mom, and your story about your mother really hit home.”
“And the fact that you don’t want to date me.”
I laugh because the look on his face is priceless. He’s mocking himself at my expense.
“There is that little factoid.”
“But you’re here?”
“I am. I thought I’d go for a walk earlier this evening and heard a baseball game, so I drove over to check you guys out.”
“What’d you think?”
“It was fun. You hit a home run.”
His face lights up, and that alone makes this conversation worth it. There’s pride in his features, and the fact that I saw his accomplishment clearly means something to him. “Can we go somewhere and talk?”
My mother’s words echo in my mind. She wants me to be happy. I’m not saying Cooper is the one that will do that, but maybe he is. There is only one way to find out. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
He walks me to my car, keeping his hand on the small of my back the whole time. He gives me his address and asks me to meet him there, and I agree to, knowing that once I do, there is no going back.