This story is by Michelle Glassley and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It all started with the crack of the bat, such a lovely sound, which drew every eye in the stadium. I lost the ball against the overcast sky, just for a second. Then it was coming down, and somehow my gut knew that home run ball was coming to me. Unfortunately, I had a bag of peanuts in one hand and a full cup of root beer in the other.
Instinct took over. My hands flew up to shield my face, still clutching the snacks, and I closed my eyes. The impact didn’t come, though. Instead, I heard a sharp thwack, and something brushed my fingertips. I opened my eyes to a brown leather baseball mitt moving away from my face.
I turned to its owner, my heart pounding and adrenaline surging. When we first found our seats, my sister Anna had elbowed me, nodded in his direction, then not-so-subtly traded seats with me so I would be next to him. Embarrassed, I had given him a quick nod, then pointedly ignored him. Now, whatever words had been forming in my mind were swept away by his enthusiasm. He leaped to his feet, almost bouncing, mitt held high in one hand, ball in the other. He turned to me. I had never seen such an expression of pure joy. I was smitten, and the crowd was cheering.
Then he seemed to realize what he had done and presented the ball to me with a bow. “This is yours.”
At that moment, despite my shock at the near miss, all I wanted was to see that look of joy again. “I couldn’t catch it.” I held up my bag of peanuts by way of explanation. “It’s yours.”
He rewarded me with that look again, then sat down. While I still had his attention, I said, “Want some?”
He grinned, then stowed the mitt and ball under his seat. “Thanks.” We cracked open peanut shells in happy silence for a few minutes, then said at the same time, “My name is—” we both stopped. He gave me the you go ahead gesture.
“Belle,” he repeated. “Beautiful name.” He grinned, looking a bit sheepish when I rolled my eyes at the worn-out play on words, but I was more than willing to forgive it. “Charlie.” He opened his mouth to say something else when his cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the screen, then at me. “It’s my sister-in-law.” He looked puzzled. “She never calls me.”
I gave him the well, go ahead look.
“Hey Jules, what’s up?” He listened. “I know, he was supposed to meet me here.” His face grew serious. “Slow down, I can’t–” His grip on the phone tightened. “I know. I know you can’t.” Another long pause. “Harborview. Right. On my way.” When he shoved the phone back in his pocket, his hand was trembling. He turned to me, but didn’t seem to really see me at all. “My brother. Car wreck.”
And just like that, he was gone. I sighed.
Anna elbowed me. I felt a stab of shame, having completely forgotten that she was there, but she didn’t seem fussed about that. “He left his mitt.”
She pointed. “What are you waiting for? Hospital. Emergency room. Go get him.”
I stared at her. She stared right back. “You’re serious.” I had never chased after a man in my life and wasn’t about to start now. “No. Absolutely not.”
“Suit yourself.” She picked up her soda and turned back to the game.
I tried to pay attention, really I did. The other team was up. One out, two foul balls. A strike. Then my gaze slid down to the ball and mitt tucked under the seat. “Fine.” I scooped them up and stood.
Anna looked up at me and sipped serenely at her soda.
The Lyft ride to the hospital was short, but long enough for me to second guess what I was doing. I stood in front of the sliding glass Emergency Room doors for a full minute, then turned around and took two steps. Stopped. Turned around again. Looked at the ball and mitt clutched in my hands, nodded once, then hurried inside before I could change my mind.
The waiting room was crowded. I scanned the faces; some bored, some anxious, some in pain, none happy. Then I saw Charlie, sitting with his head down, wringing his baseball hat in his hands. He probably didn’t want to see me. He probably didn’t even realize yet that he’d left his mitt. But he would be happy to get it back. It might cheer him up. That might lead to something. I took a few steps toward him.
He looked up, but not at me. A doctor approached Charlie, and he stood. The doctor’s face was somber, and I feared for the safety of Charlie’s hat as he twisted it. The doctor turned away and Charlie sat down again, rested his elbows on his knees, and stared at the floor.
I stepped behind a column, out of Charlie’s line of vision, should he look up. I hugged the mitt to my chest and closed my eyes. I breathed in the scent of the leather, soft from long use, so clearly well-loved. Could a person be utterly selfless, yet selfish at the same time? Was I using one to justify the other? What kind of person did I want to be?
I made my decision and headed for the front desk. The woman behind it was harried, but looked up expectantly. I held out the mitt, with the ball nestled inside. “My friend Charlie left this behind at the game. I really don’t want to intrude on his private moment, though. Could you see that he gets it?” I pointed him out. “When you have a minute, of course.”
She smiled and held out her hand. “Certainly.”
The sun peeked out from behind the clouds as I stood on the sidewalk, and I tilted my head back to bask in its warmth. I felt tears welling up, but were they for Charlie? For myself? Or maybe just the bright sunlight? Maybe all three. I sighed and started walking. I could probably make it back to the stadium before the game ended.
“Belle!” I stopped, almost afraid to turn around. “Belle, wait!”
He remembered my name. With all he had going on, he remembered my name. I grinned, then wiped it away, replacing it with what I hoped was an expression appropriate to a car wreck. I turned around when I heard him stop behind me. “Charlie. I…” I what? What was I supposed to say?
“Thank you.” He snapped his hat back into shape, put it on, tugged at the bill. “My brother gave me this mitt when I made the varsity team in high school. Even though he couldn’t afford it.” His voice hitched on that last word, and he cleared his throat. “The doctor says he’s hurt bad, but they think he’s going to live.” He cradled the mitt in his hands, looking down at it. “There’s nothing for me to do now but wait. It’s going to be hours.” He glanced at me, then back down. “Do you want to get coffee with me, or maybe a drink?” He said it fast, like he was trying to get it out before he could snatch the words back.
“Yes,” I said, trying not to sound too eager. “Let’s get a drink.” As we headed off in search of a bar, he took my hand, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
Five years ago to the day, I thought, as Charlie and I walked hand in hand, him with his mitt, me with my peanuts, on our way to that same bar after the game. Happily ever after? I say yes.