“Do you know where she is?” I ask, knowing that her friend will help me out. She pulls out a notepad and scribbles something down.
“Her mom is sick and in the hospital, but I figured she told you. Anyway, this is where you’ll find her.”
I take the piece of paper and thank her, rushing to my car. Instant guilt washes over me for thinking Ainsley did something malicious. Once the address is in my GPS, I’m speeding toward the location. She’s going through something and likely needs my support, and here I am being a dick.
It’s funny that I can’t remember much about my mom except when she was in the hospital. Those days are crystal clear and come rushing back as soon as I step past the sliding glass doors and into the antiseptic-smelling halls.
With one last look at the note to verify I’m at the right door, I take a deep breath and knock before pushing it open.
Ainsley’s eyes meet mine. If I was expecting happiness, I’m sorely mistaken. To say she’s shocked that I’m here would be an understatement. She looks downright angry.
“What are you doing here?” she seethes, as she pushes me out of the room and into the hallway.
“I needed to talk to you.”
“So you tracked me down? Why didn’t you call?”
“I did, you sent me to voice mail.” I reach for her hand, but she recoils. “Ainsley?”
She shakes her head and looks away. “You shouldn’t be here, Cooper.”
“Look, if you’re trying to protect me—”
“Protect you? My mother is dying and you think this is about you?”
I step back and put some space between us. “I just thought…” My words fall flat as she shakes her head. Tears fall, and as much as I want to comfort her, I’m not a stupid man. I know when I’m not needed…or wanted, for that matter.
“You need to go,” she says coldly.
I let her words sink in, refusing to believe they mean anything other than what she’s saying, despite her demeanor. My whole reason for needing to see her today has changed, and I don’t like it. Seeing her today was supposed to remind me that she’s worth the fight. That what we have can grow into something deeper for the both of us.
“Ainsley? What’s going on?”
“I don’t have time for you right now, Cooper. I need to focus my attention elsewhere.”
She says all of this without making eye contact with me. I look around to find people staring, even though they’re trying to look busy. A few of them have their phones out, and I can only imagine what they’re saying to their friends or posting online. Whatever, I don’t give a shit right now.
I step forward and place my lips to her forehead. She sighs but makes no other move to touch me.
“I’m sorry, Ainsley,” I say, before turning to walk away. I fight every urge I have to turn around and go back to her, to go back and demand she fight for us, but for what reason? Realistically, things wouldn’t have worked once spring training was over. I’d be in Boston, and she’d still be here, taking care of her mother. I’d see her when the Renegades came to town, and that’s it. Long-distance relationships rarely work out, and it’s not like I can just fly down on the weekends. It was two weeks of fun, and now it’s over. We both got what we needed from each other.
Watching Cooper walk away was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but it’s for the best. I don’t want his pity where my mother is concerned and I don’t want him to relive everything he went through when his own mother died. I know he has very few memories left, but death is something you’ll never forget.
People linger around me; a few whisper and maybe even point fingers, but I don’t care. It had to be done. I can’t deal with the text messages telling me that he’s missing me or that he wants to see me. This will mean no more voice mails and no more nights in his arms. It’s for the best. He can move on and forget I ever existed.
I wipe away the tears angrily, pissed at myself for letting karma win. My mom told me to stay away from athletes, and if I had listened, maybe she wouldn’t be withering away to nothing in a hospital bed.
Going back into her room, I find the static sound of beeps oddly comforting. This is my life now, watching my mom give what little fight she has left in her until she flat-out gives up. I don’t want her to, but it’d be one hell of a miracle if she were able to pull through this.
The morning shift nurse comes in to check my mother’s vitals. She smiles softly at me, but I can see the judgment in her eyes. I’m not stupid. Cooper is famous around here. His face is known. To these die-hard baseball fans, I just did the unthinkable.
Once she closes the door behind her, I break down and muffle my cries with a pillow. I let the tears flow as I scream out my anger and frustrations. I knew the end for Cooper and me was close, but I thought I’d be able to hang on for a few more weeks.
“Ainsley,” my mother’s weak voice calls out and has me rushing to her bedside.