Stealing Home: Chapter 29

IT DOESN’T SURPRISE ME THAT BLACK KEYS ENTERTAINMENT forces us to have a meeting on the same day as a double-header. It’s like they’re trying to claim dominance. Or my mom really wants to get rid of her shares that badly.

Dad needs to take a stand right away, proving that we’re not going to back down easily. The Beavers aren’t going anywhere.

I borrow Mia’s black dress again, and Ms. Vivi lends me a double strand of pearls. It’s ridiculous wear for a game day, but I want to look my best even though I’m only going to be running errands and getting the reports the lawyers need. When Mom breezes through the door and sees me all fancy, her mouth drops open in a surprised O.

“Mom.” I accept her hug, although I haven’t forgiven her. Everything could go wrong. Mr. Jamison could say that this meeting is a mere formality, that plans are already in place to relocate the team. “Mr. Jamison, it’s a pleasure to see you again.”

He accepts my handshake, though he seems a little amused I offered it. They introduce me to the various legal teams, but I don’t really care who they are. I only want to make sure I know which ones are on my side.

“If y’all will please follow me, we’re meeting in the conference room today.”

There was no time to repaint the hallway between the office and the room where we’d set up, no time to patch the scratches or replace the carpet, but some of the staff helped shift the boxes that lined the hall into stadium storage, so it looks a little less awful. Mia dusted the conference room table so that its former glory shines through the scratches and dents. The worktable against the back wall is covered in a stiff white tablecloth and a nice selection of cheese and meats from one of the local caterers.

Dad has been pacing the room for the last half hour, knowing that there’s a chance it might be his last day as acting general manager. Black Keys can’t take away his title, but they can undermine his authority. He puts on his salesman’s smile when the group enters, and shakes Mr. Jamison’s hand. I head for the door to let myself out.

“Ryan?” Dad is holding his hand out, signaling to the chair across from Mr. Jamison. “You’re staying, aren’t you?”

I stop, hand on the doorknob, and check Mom’s expression. She gives me a half nod.

“Since you’re a part owner, you really should be here.” Her voice is soft, apologetic, but her words are like pouring lemon juice on a paper cut.

“I’m not an owner. I’m a part owner’s daughter.”

Mr. Jamison clears his throat. “Well, technically you’re not an owner. Yet.” He pushes a slim folder toward me. “Your mother drives a hard bargain, and none of us was sure if the Faulkners were going to agree to her stipulations.”

Nothing he says makes any sense. Not an owner yet? Does that mean Dad put it in his will and made it official? I’m not exactly looking forward to him dying so I can own part of the team.

Mom’s bottom lip is trembling, but Dad is barely restraining a grin. “Open the folder, Ry.”

I walk back to the table, eyeing the lawyers—who seem bored—and my parents for a clue. I flip back the heavy cover and see one sheet of paper with a thick, ornate border around curlicue text, which reads:

“This certifies that Ryan Marie Russell is the registered holder of two shares of the Buckley Beavers Baseball Organization.” My voice quivers on the last word. I think I know what this means, but my brain can’t process the facts. “Does this … is this—”

“Your mom only sold forty-nine of her shares to Black Keys,” Dad explains, a smile finally taking over his face. “The other share is a gift from me.”

A tear rolls down Mom’s cheek, but she pats it away quickly. “Your dad will control the shares in your name until you turn eighteen.” Her eyes dart to Mr. Jamison and then back to me. “At that point you can decide if you’d like to sell or keep them. You just have to sign.”

My heart is hammering like the crowd’s feet against the bleachers during a ninth-inning rally, pounding so hard that I can feel it in my fingertips. My name is there in big bold letters, and below it in smaller print is the word Owner. One of the lawyers offers me a pen, one of those fancy ones that looks old-fashioned, and I sign the document slowly and legibly.

I breathe out, releasing the burning in my lungs. I own a baseball team. I. Own. A. Baseball. Team. Iownabaseballteam!

When I look up, Mom makes this weird sound that’s a cross between a sigh and a laugh. “I want you to be happy,” she says, sending an almost tender look in my dad’s direction. “I don’t understand your passion for this team, but I’m not going to keep you from your dreams.”

“As of today, those shares are worth about fifty thousand dollars. Make sure you thank your mom later.” Dad clicks on my PowerPoint presentation, edited to leave out all the information that slams Black Keys. “Ryan had some interesting ideas of how we might fund the stadium renovation, which will also increase revenue in the off-season and beyond.”

Mr. Jamison’s head is tilted like he’s surprised, but not opposed to listening to our ideas. He pulls out a black Moleskine notebook and writes something. Dad lays out the naming-rights contract—still not signed by Mr. Chestnut—the verbal agreement for a smaller sponsorship from Advanced Machining, and Sawyer’s plan to help get the project rolling.

With every word Dad says, I see Mr. Jamison’s body language change. He sits straighter. He takes more frantic notes and then asks for a copy of the slides.

“This is definitely not what I expected,” Mr. Jamison says when Dad finishes up the presentation. “It looks like this organization is further ahead than I imagined. These are very promising concepts.”

“Of course.” Dad nods, shooting a wink in my direction. “Now if you’ll excuse us, Ryan and I have a game to run.”

THE GAME IS GOING SMOOTHLY. WE’VE GOT A DECENT CROWD FOR A double-header. I know that despite our meeting with Black Keys, giving Mr. Jamison a good impression of how we run the games is still important.

Mia bounces up to me after the third inning, a little earlier than usual. She takes the compressed air canister out of my hand and expertly loads it into the T-shirt cannon. “Come with me. I have a surprise for you.”

“A good surprise?”

“Is there another kind?”

“Ugh. Yeah.”

She pats my hand, something she’s been doing way too often lately. “This is the good kind.” She guides me to the tunnel that attaches her ticket office box to the stadium. Two people are sitting on the bench next to the employee lockers, where fans are never allowed.

“They were trying to buy general admission tickets, but I knew you’d want to seat them somewhere special.”

The woman stands first. She’s tall, even taller than Mia, with a narrow waist and wide hips. Her mass of dark brown hair is pulled back into a bushy ponytail. And then she smiles. Giant dimples, sparkly blue eyes, full lips.

“Brenda Campbell?” My voice squeaks.

“Ryan!” She throws her arms around me, enveloping me in the warmest, friendliest, most welcome hug I’ve ever received. “I’m so happy to finally meet you face-to-face! We’re sorry to pop in on you like this, but we wanted to surprise Sawyer, so we didn’t ask him to put us on the friends and family list. And we were happy to buy tickets, but your friend said your dad would be upset if we did.”

“She’s right.” I extract myself from Brenda’s arms, laughing as she says more in one breath than some people do in an entire conversation. She’s exactly the same in person as she is on the phone. “I’m so glad Mia came to get me.”

The boy behind her stands. He’s close to my height, maybe an inch or two taller. Other than that, the resemblance is unmistakeable. “Sterling? You saved my computer files!”

He laughs and gives me a hug too, like we’re family. “Sawyer told me about that. I’m glad he learned something useful.”

“Where do you want to sit? If you want to surprise Sawyer, you can sit in the owner’s booth. You can’t see into it from the field, and it’s empty right now. Or we can get you seats anywhere else in the stands.”

They look at each other, and Sterling shrugs like he doesn’t care.

“Or …” I pause, an idea unfurling in my mind. “Either of you want to ride an adult-size trike?”

AFTER THE FIFTH INNING, OUR MASCOT TRICYCLE-RACES A VOLUNTEER from first base to home plate. Anyone who beats Bucky is entered to win a motorcycle from our local dealership at the end of the season. I always look for someone super tall, obviously drunk, or annoyingly loud. It makes for better entertainment when the contestant gets really into the race or makes a fool of themselves. I can’t tell you how many people have fallen off the trike. No one to this point has gotten hurt, besides their ego.

I’m a little afraid Dad will be mad that I’ve switched things up, but when I radio Sterling’s name to Meredith in the announcer’s booth, I know I’ve done the right thing.

Usually the players don’t even pay attention to the promotions, too focused taking their pre-inning infield practice while the pitcher warms up.

“This isn’t going to screw him up, right?” I ask Sterling as Mia, Mason in the Bucky costume, and I wheel the trikes to the gate beside the home team’s dugout.

Sterling snorts. “Have you met my brother? Nothing screws him up.” He holds the gate open for me so that I can wheel the trike through.

Campbell gets stranded on third when our batter strikes out looking, and he has to jog halfway across the field to where our third baseman delivers his mitt to him. He’s slipping it on when he hears the announcement. He catches the first infield toss, but his head comes up and looks toward the dugout.

I read his lips from across the field. “That’s my brother.”

His mouth is open, face all twisted up in baffled happiness. My heart clutches at the sight.

Sterling does an impressive bow before climbing onto the trike, and the crowd applauds and laughs. As the soundtrack of revving engines blares over the speakers, Bucky and Sterling take off, peddling toward home plate as fast as they can.

The beaver’s giant butt hangs over the back of the trike, and his belly is wedged between his knees and the handlebars. Sterling wins, but only barely, and the audience cheers.

But so does Campbell. He pumps his fist overhead like his brother scored the winning run in the World Series. Sterling points at Campbell as he jogs off the field. I’m not sure what that means in brother language, but the fans love it.

I wish there’s a way we could give them a quick reunion, but it is really disruptive to the game, and I’ve broken enough rules.

For now.

The Campbells move to the owner’s booth between games. They greet Dad, and some of the suite-holders, who think Brenda and Sterling are famous simply because they share DNA with Sawyer.

I have the entertainment to handle, so I don’t get more than a hello and a mouthful of sandwich before I jog down to the tunnels to start prepping for the second game. Mia’s gone back to the ticket office, so I’m deflating the sumo costumes alone when I hear footsteps and the swing of the promotion closet’s door.

“Hey.” Campbell peeks his head into the room.

The sound of his voice makes my heart lurch into a frantic rhythm. “Hey.” I step off the sumo costume’s belly and wave Campbell further into the closet. He’s dressed for the second game in the gray-on-gray uniform with navy numbers and matching hat. “Don’t you have to be on the field in ten minutes?” I’ve always heard that women love a man in uniform, but until he’s standing so close that my toes are between his feet, I don’t realize how true that statement is.

“Yeah.” Half of his mouth is ticked up, and he takes both of my hands. “But I have to know something.”

I look down at his cleats, trying to complete one of the half-formed apologies in my head. Maybe it’s better if I let him talk first. “Okay?”

“How many strings did you have to pull to get my brother on the field?”

“It wasn’t a big deal.” The bottom of the half-inflated sumo suit is pressing against my back, so I can’t scoot away without tripping on something. Not that I want to move.

“But it was.” His arms wrap around my waist, and he pulls me into a tight hug. “Thank you,” he says into my hair.

It was such a simple thing to do, but I knew it would mean a lot to him. I close my eyes, soaking in this feeling, letting myself memorize the press of his chest against mine. Measuring where my head fits beneath his chin. My hands slip under his arms and make their way up his back, snagging on the number stitched onto his jersey before finding a perfect resting place just below his shoulder blades.

“I was wrong about what I said the other night.” I say the words against his chest, holding him so close that a whisper couldn’t fit between our bodies. “I don’t know what this is, but … I want it to be something.”

The air between us changes, and this turns from a gratitude hug into something else entirely.

He pulls back to look at me, his mouth open like he’s not quite sure what to do. “What about your rules? What about the fraternization policy?”

“Some things are more important than the rules.”

Sawyer hesitates, and then he decides. His fingers press me even closer, palm against my spine. His mouth is over mine, hovering, giving me the chance to back away.

I don’t.

My lips brush against his, the briefest contact. Something that could be taken back. Something forgiven and forgotten, shaken off with an embarrassed laugh.

But I’ve made my choice. I want this. If people can’t see me as a professional, as an owner of a minor league baseball team, then that’s their problem.

I kiss him again, certain this time. His mouth captures mine, my bottom lip trapped between his. All the self-control we’ve managed in the past few weeks is lost in the rasp of my breath, the taste of summer on his tongue, the sensation of his hands against my ribs.

We’re kissing like it’s a necessity, like we couldn’t wait one more instant, like we’ve been fighting a losing battle and have finally given up. But nothing about this feels like defeat. It feels like facing the inevitable and realizing it’s a gift instead of a curse.

And then my radio chirps. It’s not a call for me, but it’s enough to shock us back to reality. His heart thunders under my fingertips; my breathing sounds ragged.

“I’m sorry,” he says, straightening his hat that’s somehow gotten pushed back on his head. “Actually, I’m not.”

“Me neither.” The words are true. “But you still should go so that you don’t get benched.”

Campbell steals one more peck before he slinks out of the closet. He looks far too suspicious, and I realize that if anyone guesses, it’s going to be okay.


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