I’d spent the last four months falling in love with New York City. I hadn’t heard from Jack at all since the night I left, which not only surprised me, but broke my heart all over again. No matter how many times Dean tried to assure me that Jack was still in love with me and to give him time, his silence proved otherwise to my doubtful heart.
I wasn’t sure what I’d hoped for, exactly. I guess a part of me wanted some sort of grand gesture. I wanted to walk outside one morning and find him waiting there for me, like he’d done that one time when I got out of class. And when I told him to “prove it” the night I left, I honestly thought he would. I just wanted something from Jack. Anything but silence. And when nothing came, I tried my best to move on.
I shuffled out of the jam-packed subway car and moved along with the crowd up the stairs and into the chilled air outdoors. I was still awestruck daily by the sights and the sounds of New York and constantly forced myself to keep walking, when I was dying to drop to my knee to shoot the scenes around me.
The building I worked in was thirty stories tall with rectangular windows spaced three feet apart in all directions. I opened the oversized gold door before shaking off the chill.
“Morning, Craig.” I squeezed the shoulder of our salt-and-pepper-haired security guard.
“Morning, Miss Andrews,” he said with a nod, before pressing the elevator button for me and holding the door open once it arrived.
“Thank you.” I smiled, repeating the same routine we acted out each morning.
I hopped in, pressing the button for the twenty-seventh floor before I heard, “Wait! Hold the doors!”
I threw my arm between the closing doors, forcing them to stop abruptly and stutter back apart. Joey, an adorable brown-haired, blue-eyed copy editor from Boston, hopped inside, his arms full of papers.
“Thanks! Oh…morning, Cassie.” He glanced over his shoulder at me, and I looked away, embarrassed. He’d asked me out a few times since I moved here, but the truth was, I wasn’t ready to date. After everything I’d been through with Jack, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be ready again.
“Morning, Joey. Can I help?” I asked, reaching for the papers that threatened to fall.
“Thank you.” Half his mouth twisted upward into a smirk. “So, what you’d do last night?” he asked with his cute Boston accent.
“Uh, I worked until a little after eight. Then I grabbed some amazing Italian food on the way home from this tiny café, and that’s about it.”
“Where do you live again?” He asks me this every time we talk. I haven’t figured out why, but he does.
“Lower East Side, not far from here.”
“Clinton,” I responded as the elevator announced our arrival.
The doors opened and the sounds of rushed voices filled the air. The floor was packed with wall-to-wall cubicles spilling over with the previous day’s work. Privacy was not something one could find in this office. I secretly loved the chaos and the constant rushing around.
“So, do you like it?” he asked, watching my eyes. “Living in the lower east?”
“Oh, I do. Most of my neighbors are young and super artsy so it’s kind of inspiring and annoying all at the same time.” I laughed as I followed him to his cubicle.
“We should grab dinner sometime.” I started to turn him down as he held up a hand in the air to stop me. “It doesn’t have to be a date. Just friends sharing a meal together. I don’t think you get out of your Clinton Street apartment enough.”
He smiled and I shook my head. “I don’t know.”
“Think it over. Just friends, no pressure.” He leaned in close and I could smell his cologne as he grabbed the papers from my arms. “Thanks.”
“I’ll see you later, Joey,” I answered, feeling a little flustered as I rushed across the hardwood floor.
“Think it over!” he shouted, although no one else seemed to notice in all the chaos.
I quickened my pace, my cheeks burning as I scurried past the wall-mounted antique mirror. I slid into my cubicle, pushing the button on my computer as the screen flickered to life. I scrolled past the spam that always seem to get through the e-mail filters and landed on Melissa’s name. She’d gotten into the habit of sending e-mails to my work address so that I would have something to read from her first thing in the morning. And in return, I had to write back, no matter what, so that she’d have something from me when she woke up.
Do you think your IT guy reads my e-mails? Because if I was an IT guy, I would totally read my e-mails. Maybe he would if he knew how hot I was. I should probably attach a picture. LOL
So, tell me more about this Joey kid. Is he hot? Where’s he from? What’s his deal? Are you gonna go out with him, or what? What is it with you and making guys beg? You’re really sort of a bitch, Cassie Andrews. JK, LOL, smiley face (say it super fast like this.) JKLOLSMILEYFACE
Ooooh, I think Dean has a crush on this really cute freshman, so make sure you give him shit the next time you talk to him, K? K. I’m not going to ask about “him” this time, so don’t freak out. But hey, if he does call or text or anything, I’d better be the first person to hear about it! Just sayin’! 🙂
I’d better go. I know this was like the most boring e-mail ever, but what can I say? Life is sorta boring without you. I miss you.
I hit the Reply button and watched as her message scrolled to the bottom half of the page.
I’m pretty sure our IT guy (Hi Shawn!!!!!) is far too busy to sift through my e-mails and read them. But if you want to attach some super-hot photo of yourself, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be opposed. LOL
You’re crazy, just so you know. Joey is really cute, with an accent that kills me every time he talks. He’s from Boston and is “wicked” smart, as he would say. LOL He seems like he totally has his shit together, which is kind of intimidating, to be honest. He asked me out today, just as friends. I don’t know, I don’t want to lead him on…
Tell me about this girl Dean likes. Is she nice? She’s not in a sorority, is she? Make sure she isn’t a bitch, Meli. Dean’s too nice.
I’m pretty sure “he’s” done with me. Although to be honest, I have no idea why. If I ever hear from him again, which I highly doubt, you’ll be my first call.
I love you and miss you so much. Move in with me after you graduate. Just kidding. Not really. When are you coming to visit?
Even talking about Jack in an e-mail forced my stomach to spin. I tortured myself constantly, thinking up scenarios as to why he stopped liking me. I’d pushed him too far this last time. I’m never happy. His words never mean enough. I’m always asking him to jump through hoops for me.
Ugh. I hated this feeling of self-blame and discontent.
The next two months flew by in a blur. The snow finally melted and spring filled the air with its warmer temperatures, its colors, and its smells as flowers bloomed and trees budded. The dull, colorless winter that was so often gray and dreary quickly gave way to full green trees, white flowers, and bright blue skies. In a word, New York in the spring is amazing.
“Hey, girl,” I answered after seeing Melissa’s name flash across my screen.
“How’s New York today?” she asked happily on the other end.
“So beautiful! Seriously, when are you coming to visit me?” I was so dying to show her the sights of the city.
“Soon, I think! Maybe over break, is the weather nice then?”
“I don’t know. Probably not, to be honest. I think that’s when everyone goes to Florida.”
“Wait, what? They go to Florida willingly?”
“Melissa!” I giggled. “It’s a quick flight and the weather is way better! It’s no different than everyone in So Cal heading to Hawaii.”
“Uh, yes it is. It’s H a w a i i and really, who goes to Florida on purpose?” Her voice sounded so exasperated, it made me smile. “So, have you heard from Jack?”
I should have known that was why she called. The Diamondbacks were coming into town, and she and Dean wouldn’t stop blowing up my phone.
“Really?” she said, her voice laced with disappointment.
“Really. We have to stop talking about him, Melis. I mean, when will we stop talking about him?” I hated that we had to go over this again; it really didn’t help.
“You’re right. You’re totally right. I’m sorry, Cassie, I really just don’t get it.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.” I sighed. The sadness still got to me sometimes.
“So tell me, how’s Joey from Bahhston?”
“He’s good.” I laughed at her attempt at his accent.
“Still making him beg?”
My lack of an answer was all the answer she needed. “Cassie, you can’t stay closed off forever. You need to open up your heart again.”
“I know, it’s just…I’m scarred.”
“We’re all scarred. That’s how we know we’ve lived a life worth fighting for. Love is a battlefield! Thank you, Pat Benatar.” She belted out an off-key rendition of the chorus that made me giggle before continuing. “Our scars don’t point us in the direction we’re headed, Cass, they simply remind us of where we’ve been.”
I remained silent, taking in the very truth of her words. “Cass?”
“I think it’s time to let him go,” she suggested, her voice tinged with pain.
My breath whooshed in and out of the phone before she spoke again. “I’m just saying that sometimes letting go is the only way to find out who you’re meant to hold on to.”
“Oh, I like that. Did you make it up?”
“I think I read it online somewhere before.” She laughed. “But let’s pretend it came from this gorgeous head of mine.”
I rested my camera on top of my messy desk and watched as Joey waltzed into the building, his business attire looking more than good on him. He flashed a smile in my direction before walking into the kitchen. I followed him, pretending I needed to fill my already half-filled coffee mug.
“Are you ever going to go out with me?” he asked, his confidence reminding me of Jack.
“Are you ever going to stop asking?”
“Not until you agree.” He stirred his coffee before taking a sip.
“Fine. This is me…agreeing,” I responded, an eerie, all-too-familiar feeling creeping over me.
“It only took me six months. I think that’s a new record.” He leaned in and planted a peck on my cheek. “We’ll leave at six. No overtime for you tonight.”
“Tonight?” I repeated, horrified.
“Tonight. No backing out.”
“I’ll make it work.” I pressed my lips together to stop them from smiling.
“So where are you taking me?” I leaned my head back in the passenger seat of Joey’s car and watched as the city whizzed by us in a blur.
“It’s a surprise.” Joey glanced over at me and smiled.
I really hated surprises. But this guy didn’t know that. He didn’t know anything about me.
He turned onto Grand Central Parkway and I almost started hyperventilating. “Where are we going? Are we going to the game?” I choked out, noticing the stadium on the horizon.
“I overheard you one day talking about baseball and how you went to college with one of the guys on the Diamondbacks. So I got us tickets. Maybe you can see your friend.”
“Oh God. Joey, that’s really sweet and thoughtful and romantic, but I…can’t go to this game with you.”
“Of course you can. Don’t be silly. We don’t have to stay for the whole thing. Have you even seen a game yet? Or been to either stadium?”
I shook my head, unable to come up with a reasonable explanation to stop this train wreck from happening.
“It will be fun. New Yorkers are pretty cool fans. I mean, as long as they aren’t playing the Sox. But you have to experience it.” Joey sounded so excited as he tried to sell me on it while he parked the car.
I’ve already experienced pretty cool fans. Back in college. You have no idea, buddy.
“Promise me that if I want to leave, we will. No questions asked. Okay?”
He stared at me as if I’d asked something completely foreign of him. “Joey, you have to promise me or I’m not stepping one foot out of this car.”
“Fine, I promise.”
“Promise what?” I tested.
“I promise that if you want to leave, we will. Even though you won’t want to leave at all because these seats are choice. You can probably high-five your friend if you want to.”
My legs shook as Joey took my hand, leading me toward the blue and orange gate. Security checked my bag before ushering me through in a slightly less friendly way than I was used to. New Yorkers are a little more brash.
We walked down the stairs toward the field. I could tell by Joey’s pace that we weren’t stopping anytime soon. My stomach knotted up while my heart struggled to remain consistently beating. I refused to look around for Jack, terrified at how my body would react.
When he stopped at the very front row, he turned around and threw out his arms. “Well? What do you think? Pretty great, right?” he asked, clearly proud of his seat-purchasing ability.
“Uh-huh. They’re really close to the field,” I said between laboring breaths, my gaze desperately pinned to his face.
“Are you okay?” He put his hand on my shoulder and I winced.
“I need to get a drink.”
“I’ll get it for you,” he offered, his face creased with worry.
“No, that’s okay. I need to use the restroom too. I’ll be right back.” I tried to force a smile, but my lips felt broken as I rushed back up the stairs and out of view.
I sprinted to the closest bathroom, locking the stall door behind me as my upper body crumpled. With my head between my knees, I began rocking back and forth.
Stop it. You’re acting like an idiot. Jack won’t see you. He never looks up in the stands. He doesn’t even like you anymore, so stop freaking out. It’s time you moved on with your life and got over Jack Carter once and for all. You have got to stop thinking about him because he is clearly not thinking about you.
I nodded as my own thoughts struck a chord within me. I could do this. I could be strong. I could watch Jack play baseball and not want to die from it.
A few more calming breaths and I unlocked the latch, walking out to face my reflection in the mirror. I wiped at the smears of mascara under my eyes and washed my hands under the running cold water.
I stopped at a concession stand to buy a bottle of water before heading back down to our dugout level seats. Joey smiled as he caught sight of me, his bright white teeth a welcome sign to anyone.
“You okay?” He stood up and took my elbow in concern before sitting down again as I plopped into my seat.
“Much better, thanks,” I answered, taking a drink of water.
“So which one’s your friend from school? Can you tell?”
If seeing Jack didn’t kill me tonight, this guy’s questions were sure going to. I couldn’t really get mad at Joey, he didn’t know any better. It’s not like I’d told him Jack was my ex-boyfriend whom I’d given my entire heart to and he’d given it back to me in pieces. Want a sliver?
I squinted my eyes and pretended to look around the field for Jack. “I can’t tell, sorry. They all look alike in their uniforms.” I bit my bottom lip.
“Do you know if he starts? Or what position he plays?”
“I have no idea, honestly.”
“Well, what did he play in college?” He kept pushing questions at me and I wanted to scream.
“He was a pitcher,” I replied, forcing back the burning in my chest with another gulp of water.
“Ahhhh, I see.” Joey nodded. “Then he might not even play tonight. I’m sorry if he doesn’t.”
“That’s okay. I wasn’t planning on watching him anyway. You forced me here, remember?” I attempted to smile and he tossed an arm around my shoulder.
“You haven’t even told me your friend’s name. What is it?”
Jesus. This guy was relentless.
“Jack Carter.” I almost stumbled on his name. I hadn’t said it out loud to anyone in almost six months, not counting Dean or Melissa.
“You know Jack Carter?” His jaw dropped before he continued. “He’s an incredible player! And he’s starting tonight.”
“Really? He’s starting?” I braced myself.
“Yeah! Pretty cool, huh?” He leaned his head back before tossing some peanuts in his mouth.
By the time the game started, my body was filled with so much anxiety that I kept shifting in my seat. I grinned as Jack walked onto the field, pleased to see that he still sported the number twenty-three on the back of his jersey.
“That’s your boy, right?” Joey said, pointing at Jack as he made his way to the mound for pre-game warm-ups.
“That’s him.” My eyes followed the lines of Jack’s new uniform, noting the muscle he’d gained in his legs and chest. He took my breath away.
Jack stood on the mound, every motion and move he made careening through me with familiarity. The fluid movements of his body—the way it bent, curved, kicked, and then released the ball—destroyed me emotionally.
Tears started to burn my eyes. “I can’t be here. I have to go.” I bolted from my seat, shooting up the cement stairs.
“Cassie! Cassie, wait!” Horrified at the volume at which Joey shouted my name, I stopped dead in my tracks and turned slowly to face him. Then I made the mistake of glancing at the field.
Jack’s eyes were focused on me, the look on his face unlike any expression I’d ever seen on him before. My hand flew to my mouth as Joey reached me, placing his arm protectively around me. I noticed Jack’s jaw working as he dropped his head and refocused his attention toward the batter’s box.
“What’s going on, Cassie?” Joey asked, his arm still circled around my waist.
“Jack and I used to date.” I pursed my lips together and squeezed my eyes shut.
“Was it serious?” His voice sounded confused but curious.
“It was.” I took a quick breath and opened my eyes, and looked squarely into his. “But it didn’t end well. I’m sorry, Joey, I should have told you.”
“You’re not obligated to tell me anything you’re not comfortable with. You basically told me earlier that you didn’t want to come, but I didn’t listen.”
“I don’t know what to say.” I tilted my head to one side and he rubbed my neck.
“Look, Cassie, I like you. I’d still like to take you out. But I promise, no more baseball games.” He threw up his hands in a surrender pose.
I snickered. “That sounds nice. But right now I really want to go home. Would you mind dropping me off?”
“Of course not. Come on.” Joey reached for my hand, interlocking his fingers with mine as he guided me away from the stadium and Jack. I climbed the stairs behind him grimly, the look I’d seen on Jack’s face running circles in my already fragile mind.
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