“You can try.”
I purse my lips. “Game on, Mark Compton. Game on.”
We’re both laughing as we reach Dana and Kara. Kara stands up, offering me her chair as she moves to the bleachers.
“What’s so funny?” Dana asks, smiling as she glances at us, and I’m happy to see pink color in her cheeks.
“Your son’s bad jokes,” I say, casting him a taunting look.
He laughs again and Dana lights up. “Oh, do tell,” she says. “I love a good naughty joke.”
Mark claims the other seat next to his mother and covers her hand. “I’m your son. I don’t want to hear that from you.”
“I guess we both have to accept that we’re adults, now, don’t we?” she asks. It’s clear that she’s referencing his club activities, but it’s framed as acceptance, not disdain. “And,” she adds, “if you won’t tell me the joke, Crystal will.” She looks at me. “Right?”
“Right,” I say, moving my chair so that it’s angled toward them both. “Here it goes.”
“Crystal,” Mark says, his eyes steely.
I grin, loving how I have him in suspense. “It is a very bad joke, Dana.”
She waves it off. “Please. Tell me already.”
“If you’re sure, then,” I say, “here goes. So . . . there’s a mama tomato, a papa tomato, and all their baby tomatoes. They all go out for a walk, and when the youngest tomato falls behind, the mother yells ‘catch up!’ ”
Mark shakes his head. “I did not tell that joke.”
Dana laughs and kisses his cheek, whispering something in his ear. His lashes lower and a smile lingers on his lips. “Yes,” he says, and he leans in and whispers something to her.
As I watch them nestled together, their closeness, their love, really get to me. Any question of why I’ve fallen for this man has faded. He’s sexier than ever, and I’m more emotionally invested than I thought possible. And I want to know what happened ten years ago that made him incapable of showing his love to Rebecca, while he gives and receives it freely from his family.
“That’s Joey Macom,” Dana says, settling back in her seat and pointing toward a player who’s about to pitch. “He’s your dad’s new recruit. He says he’s wild but powerful. I say anyone who’s wild should have worked that out before reaching this level.”
I turn my attention to Joey and watch him throw a few crazy pitches. “He slouches,” I say. “I’ve never seen a pitcher do that, and I’ve been to my share of Yankees games, thanks to my family’s baseball obsession.”
“One of his legs is stiff,” Mark says without looking at me. “It’s affecting his posture and his results, and I can’t believe my father can’t see that. He would have been all over me for that.”
“He’s distracted because of me,” Dana says. “I want him to go out on top. You have to shake him back into focus, son.”
Mark squeezes his mother’s hand, but he’s watching the pitcher. He shakes his head as Joey throws another crazy pitch. His leg starts bouncing, a sign of nervous energy and a fight for willpower. Mark’s dying to get up and tell his father what’s wrong, already completely absorbed in this world though he hasn’t been here in ten years. Now that he is, he can’t suppress what’s in his blood.
“Mark!” his father calls out, motioning him over.
I hold my breath, waiting for his reaction.
Mark stands up, but I don’t let out my breath until I see him walk toward his father.
Dana relaxes, too, apparently on eggshells like me. “Thank goodness. I was afraid he’d refuse.”
That’s a strong word. What the heck happened ten years ago?
Mark is halfway to his father when he stops, then he starts walking toward the door. “Oh no,” Dana murmurs. “I was afraid of this.”
I stand, intending to go after him, but he’s headed toward Jacob. They meet midway across the gym and exchange a few words before Mark heads back in our direction, a fast-food drink in his hand. “What is he up to?” Dana murmurs.
I have a feeling I know, but I wait, watching his long, graceful stride, the way he owns the space around him. The way I bet he owned the mound when he pitched.
He stops in front of us, his eyes meeting mine in a warm flicker of a moment before he crouches in front of his mother. “A milk shake,” he announces, handing her the drink. “I’m here, and we both know that’s what tonight was about. Now you drink the milk shake.” He pushes to his feet and shrugs out of his jacket, which he hands to me.
I accept it, our fingers brushing beneath it, his eyes telling me the touch is intentional. And at the moment, I don’t care that he’s winning our little game. I want him to win.
He turns away and jogs toward his father. Dana and I watch as he talks with the coaches, and I can’t help checking out his nice, tight backside, imagining him in baseball pants.
“Drink,” I order without looking at Dana.
“Yes, Ms. Smith,” she says, laughing.
I cut her a look. “Was that a Mark joke?”
“Of course not,” she replies glibly. Then smiles, elbowing me. “Of course it was.”
We laugh and I’m reminded of how much I love this woman. “It’s good to see you energetic again.”