“You did.” She leaned forward and kissed me. “And I love you for it, but all I need is you. And I’m worried you need baseball to be happy.”

“I don’t,” I said hoarsely. “I just need to know that you won’t leave me.” I couldn’t do life without her. Baseball, yes. But not her.

She moved into my lap and curled against my chest, wrapping her arms around my bicep and hugging it tightly. “I will never leave you,” she promised fiercely. “Never.”

My tension broke at her words, given without hesitation. I pressed a kiss against her head and fought back my own tears, my emotions warring with the deep sadness her concerns brought.

Because she was right. She couldn’t give me baseball—and I didn’t know who I was without it.

5

4 years later – present

ELLE

There are things they don’t tell you about marriage. LOTS of things.

I watched my parents sail into a thirty-year anniversary without a single fight. Occasionally there would be tension. Some painfully quiet dinners. An irritated huff from my father when my mother would turn off the television in the middle of his game. But no fights, certainly none like this.

The egg salad, which I had wasted forty minutes on and looked nothing like Rachel Ray’s, sailed through the kitchen and splattered against our pale green cabinets, completely missing their target. I grunted, turned back to the fridge and grabbed the first thing my hand came in contact with—the tub of sour cream. Whirling on one foot, I ripped off the lid and flung the container in the direction of my husband, the tub landing face first square in the middle of his crisp blue dress shirt.

Silence fell.

He dropped his chin and watched as the tub sagged, slowly easing down the neat line of buttons, a sticky white mess of cream in its wake. It fell to the floor with a loud splat. He growled and lunged toward me, tripping over our Great Dane, who skittered left then right, torn between getting out of the way and defending my honor. I grabbed the carton of eggs from the fridge door and ran.

“ONE CARD!” I screamed as I made it to the dining room and turned, heaving the carton toward him. He reached out, catching the foam container one-handed. If he’d had such quick reflexes four years ago, maybe he wouldn’t have caught that line drive with his temple. “ONE CARD!”

I made it to the slider door and flipped the latch, tugging at the handle and trying to get the stubborn door down its track. God, I hated this house. Why had I bought into his stupid ideas of charm and character? We could be in a fucking McMansion for the price we’d paid. I could have hot water every evening, an air conditioner that didn’t rattle like a steam kettle, and real closets, the sort with roll-out drawers and lighting and electrical outlets that didn’t spark when you plugged into them.

In four giant steps, he was at my side, his hand hard against the door jam, keeping it in place. “I’m sorry about the card. I didn’t realize what a big deal it was to you.”

“It’s not a big deal,” I said hotly, avoiding his eye contact as I pinned my lips together. “It’s just that I told you this last year, and you should have remembered. I shouldn’t HAVE to tell you. If I tell you to get me a card, then it loses the ENTIRE FUCKING POINT OF THE CARD!”

I was screaming again. Why was I screaming? I shouldn’t be this emotional. If my mother was here, she’d have her shrink glasses on, her prescription tablet out, judgment all over that botox-enhanced face. The depth of your emotion mimics the depth of your feelings, Ellen. Release your emotions to release those feelings. THAT was a line of fresh pig shit. I’d released lots of emotions in the last fifteen minutes and I was still mad as hell over the slight.

“Elle, I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

I watched him warily, knowing my husband too well to be fooled by this passive response.

“I am so so sorry that I didn’t get you a card for Mother’s Day.” He looked sincere, but I could see the exasperation in those baby blues. “But babe—”

“Don’t you fucking say it,” I warned.

“He’s—”

“Don’t you say it!”

“He’s a fucking dog.” He gestured to the hundred-and-forty-pound beast behind him. “And he’s not a very good one.”

This wasn’t about Wayland. How did he not understand that? I ducked under his arm and made for the hall, my right hip colliding sharply with the corner of the table. I swore and swung out, my forward progress thwarted by the iron grip he clamped on the back of my shirt.

“Hey!” I twisted, clawing behind me. “You’re messing up my shirt!”

“Fuck the shirt,” he growled, yanking at the thin fabric until I was in his reach, his arms wrapping around my torso, his body pinning me against my mother’s hand-painted dining dresser. “Look at me.”

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