Getting Wound Up

By: Jennifer Bernard

“You do?”

“One hundred percent, without a doubt. Now let’s go, before your head explodes.”

His reluctant laugh was balm to her soul. At least she could still make him laugh. At least she could still be his friend. Calm him down. Be there for him during such a key moment in his life. Maybe that one brush with nakedness hadn’t ruined everything.

She drove him to the nearby campus of the Kansas City Community College. The parking lot by the athletic field was already filled with cars. Young men in baseball uniforms of every variety were making their way toward the field, armed with gym bags and baseball gloves. She whistled at the sight.

“How many people come to these tryouts?”

“Doesn’t matter,” said Eli tensely, staring out the window. “It’s not a competition.”

“It’s not?”

“Nope. It’s not like they’re going to pick the top ten or something. They only pick the guys they think have the potential to help the team. Some tryouts, no one gets a call. Most, actually.”

“Really? All these people and no one’s good enough for them?” Caitlyn pulled into a spot. “Can I watch?”

He shrugged. “It might get kind of boring. Usually the pitchers go last. Until I get to go, you’ll be watching a bunch of guys run the sixty-yard dash.”

“Doesn’t sound too bad to me.” Caitlyn gave him a cheeky wink as she hopped out of the Focus. “They’ll be wearing baseball pants, right?”

He glared at her. Ooh, had she made Eli just the tiniest bit jealous? Or was it just a general glare based on nerves and tension? She grinned to herself as he slammed her car door and slung his gym bag over his shoulder. He definitely looked even crabbier than he had before.

“I think the sign-up is that-away.” She pointed to a long folding table where a few men in warmup jackets were handing out index cards to the shifting line of baseball wannabes. “I’ll find a seat on the bleachers. I’ll be watching, so knock ’em dead.”

She gave him a wave as she headed across the parking lot.

“That’s it?” he called after her. “That’s all I get?”

Turning back, she saw him striding toward her, an intent focus in his gaze.

“The least you could do is give me a kiss for good luck.” He swept her into his arms and planted a kiss full on her mouth.

She tasted coffee and five-alarm heat. The shock of it vibrated all the way to her toes. She didn’t even get a chance to really kiss him back before he plopped her back down on the pavement.

His blue eyes gleaming, he spun around and headed for the sign-up line.

She pressed her lips together, still tasting the warm force of his mouth. Why had he done that? Just to mess with her? Keep her from ogling hot outfielders?

As soon as she’d caught her breath and found a seat in the bleachers, she extracted her cell phone and fired off a text.

Seriously? You call that a kiss? Your moves need work, big shot.

She saw the exact moment when he got the text. He clutched his chest as if she’d shot him, and pretended to nearly fall to his knees. Then he texted back.

Challenge accepted.

* * *

Thank God for Caitlyn. Her light teasing relaxed Eli enough so he could focus on the tryout. He couldn’t think about why he’d decided to kiss her, or how her lips had felt in that brief, scorching moment. He definitely couldn’t dwell on her critique of his “moves.” This was one of the biggest moments in his life. So he shoved all thoughts of her out of his mind and concentrated on the drills taking place on the field.

After he signed in and got his card—he was officially number 52 until the end of the tryout—he stood around with the other pitching candidates along the sidelines. It was a hot, sultry day, with an achingly blue sky and no breeze whatsoever. But you’d never know it from the way the players ran and jumped and dove for grounders. Some of them were so young and energetic; it made him want to cry. But a few were his age or even older.

The first drill was a sixty-yard dash. Everyone ran two sprints, and anyone who took longer than seven seconds was sent home.

Eli watched the first cut leave with deep sympathy. Imagine coming all that way and not making it past the first test. Good thing he was a pitcher, because he hadn’t been practicing his sprints at all. Even so, he was almost tempted to see if he’d make the cut, if just to show off in front of Caitlyn.

Don’t go there, idiot. Stay focused.

After the sprinting, the outfielders got their turn. They each fielded five balls—a mix of fly balls and grounders—and then threw to home base. Many of them fired off some real rockets, others fell short. Eli spotted a radar gun trained on the harder-throwing guys. Excitement clenched his gut. That same radar gun would be timing his speed when his turn came.

When the outfielders were done, it was time for the infielders and a rapid-fire sequence of grounders down the line of prospects. It was fun to watch, though the skill level was all over the place. Eli realized he had no need to worry about making a fool of himself. He could out-field some of these guys with his arm in a cast.

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