But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up my dream to live in New York. That’s always been my passion. I can pinpoint the moment it happened. My girlfriends and I had a sleepover and Tami made us watch a marathon of Sex and the City reruns. That was it. That was all it took for me to fall in love. From that moment, I researched New York City. By the time I moved here, I could tell you which train goes where and how long it would take to get there.
New York City was the opposite of Okoboji, Iowa in every way. No county curfews. No miles of cornfields. No endless dirt roads. New York was the city that never slept. And I knew from the minute I saw that TV show, it was where I needed to be. Modeling just seemed the obvious way for me to make it here. I mean, it’s expensive. A good cup of coffee here can cost as much as a meal at The Pit Stop back home.
My phone pings with a text.
#8: You ready?
I look in the mirror and pull my hair forward on the left side of my face until it hides the stitches by my ear. I’m not quite healed enough to use makeup to cover my scars, but I realize it doesn’t really matter. There’s nobody to impress. Not Tony, not my agent, not the other girls I used to be in competition with.
#8: Bring a jacket. It might get chilly. I’m waiting on the sidewalk in front of your building.
He never did tell me where we were going. We didn’t even talk all week long. I knew everything was from him, but since he didn’t put his name on anything, I figured he didn’t care to be thanked. I knew I’d do it tonight anyway.
Me: Okay. See you in a sec.
I grab a hoodie and tie it around my waist. Since he didn’t tell me where we are going, he’s going to have to live with the fact that I’m wearing jeans and an old concert t-shirt. If he takes me to dinner at a nice place, he’ll think twice the next time he wants to surprise someone.
I walk out into the living room, past Kirsten and Tori, who are doing each other’s makeup.
“Where are you going?” Tori asks, as if I’m not allowed to have a life outside of my roommates.
“Out,” I say.
“With who?” Kirsten says, straightening her back with alarm.
I find it comical that she suspects I might be going out with Tony. That maybe he could be cheating on her with me. How ironic. And why would she even care? According to Jamie, he’s sleeping with everyone anyway. But out of spite, I decide to milk it for all it’s worth.
“Um …” I try to look as guilty as I possibly can. “You don’t know him … I mean her. You don’t know her. Uh, I have to go.”
I walk out the door and muffle my laughter as I dance down the hall.
~ ~ ~
“Uh … what are we doing here?” I ask, looking around at our desolate surroundings.
The cab dropped us off in front of Hawks Stadium and we are literally the only people in the massive parking lot. I give Caden an accusing look.
“We are definitely not here to play baseball,” he says with a laugh, grabbing my arm to pull me towards the dark entrance.
“Then why are we here?”
“For your first lesson, of course.”
“Are you serious? I thought you were joking about getting me to like baseball.”
He stops our progress and looks me right in the eyes. “I never joke about baseball, Murphy.”
I take a step back and hold up my hands in surrender. “Duly noted.”
We start walking again when I see a man come out of the shadows near the entrance.
“Harold,” Caden says, walking over to shake his hand. “I really appreciate this.”
“It’s my pleasure, Mr. Kessler,” Harold says. “Everything is set up like you asked.”
“Thank you. Harold, I’d like you to meet the lovely Murphy Cavenaugh.”
Harold extends his hand to me as a large smile creeps up his face like he has a secret. “It’s a great pleasure to meet you, Ms. Cavenaugh.”
“It’s just Murphy,” I tell him, shaking his old and weathered hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Harold.”
Harold opens the gate for us and Caden escorts me into a dark tunnel. Normally, I’d be scared. This Midwestern girl knows better than to walk into dark places in New York City. Hell, my mother even made me take self-defense classes before moving here. But with Caden at my side, I feel safe. Still, I think Caden senses my hesitation.
“Come on, Murph,” he says, grabbing my hand and leading me out of the tunnel and onto what I’m fairly sure is the baseball field. But the sun is down now, and I can just barely see where we are going.
Caden keeps a grip on me so I don’t trip and fall on my still-healing face. When we stop walking, he yells, “Now, Harold!”
I hear a series of pops and electrical noises and then, slowly, lights above and all around us illuminate the massive stadium. It takes almost a full minute for the lights to turn on and shine brightly, but when they do, baseball lover or not, anyone would be in awe of what I’m seeing.
I turn around, looking at the empty stands that must hold tens of thousands of fans. I look at the grass, that appears freshly mowed. I look at Caden, who looks like a kid in a candy store.
“Wow, this is … this is spectacular,” I say.
He nods, turning around and taking it all in as if he doesn’t do it every day.
“How did you … I mean, this is crazy.”
He shrugs. “Harold likes me. He’s got eight grandkids who love baseball. I showed up at one of their birthday parties and played in a sandlot game with them. It pays to know people in high places.”
I cock my head at him. Harold looked like he might be the groundskeeper, not the owner of the stadium. “High places, huh?”
“Or maybe just the guy with the key who owes me a favor.”
I laugh, and something to my right catches my eye. “What’s that?” I ask, motioning to a picnic basket in the middle of the field.
He rolls his eyes at me as if it’s obvious and then he talks to me like I’m a two-year-old. “That is the pitcher’s mound, Murph. It’s where a guy called a pitcher throws a little white ball with red stitching to another guy called a batter who tries to hit the ball out there.” He turns around and points to the center field stands.
I playfully hit him on the arm. I shake my head and chuckle at his dramatics. “Not that,” I say, walking over to the picnic basket. “This.”
He gives me crazy eyes. “Did the surgery mess with your brain or something? That is a picnic basket.”
“Oh, my God, would you quit it?” I squeal at him.
He bends over laughing. “Oh, but it’s so much fun.” He opens the lid of the basket to show me a variety of breads and cheeses and wine. “It’s dinner.”
Caden pulls out a blanket and spreads it next to the pitcher’s mound. Then he spends the entirety of our dinner trying to explain to me how exciting baseball is. It’s kind of hard not to get caught up in it. He talks about it with such enthusiasm. It’s obvious baseball is his life.
I still don’t quite understand all of it, but he’s made me curious enough to come back and watch another game. Behind a glass wall, that is.
He pours the last of the wine into our glasses. “So, what do you miss most about Iowa?”
“Besides my mom?”
“I’d like to say my friends, but they’re pretty much all gone. So, I guess I’d have to say I miss the stars.” I look up at the bright lights of the stadium.
“You know we have those here, too, right?”
“Obviously. But you can’t ever see them, not like you can in Iowa. There’s too much light pollution. Back in Iowa, if you looked hard enough, you could see a falling star just about every night.”
“Falling stars, huh?”
“Ever seen one?” I ask.
“I don’t believe I have.”
“You’re missing out then.”
He pulls out his phone and taps on the screen with a devious smile. I give him a sideways look. “What are you doing now?”
“Looking for falling stars,” he says, right before all the lights go out and the stadium falls into complete darkness.
She reaches out and grabs my arm. The lights going out must have scared her. “Oh, my gosh,” she says, lying back on the grass and looking up at the sky. “This is fabulous.”
The stadium is on the outskirts of the city and the walls go up high enough to block out the light from any nearby buildings. There is still some ambient light, but not enough to spoil our view of the stars. And as our eyes adjust to the darkness, we attempt to pick out constellations. I’m not much of a star-gazer, so I can pretty much only identify the Big Dipper.
“See? Just like Iowa,” I say, patting her hand.
“Thank you,” she says, shifting her gaze from the stars to me.
“It was Harold. I didn’t do anything.”
“No, I mean it. Thank you.” She sits up and looks down on me. “You’ve done so much for me these last two weeks. I know you feel like you have to, but you don’t. If you had anything to make up for, you’ve done it in spades, Caden. Thanks to you, I start my new job soon. I’m going to be fine. I appreciate everything you’ve done, but you can stop the meals on wheels and everything.”
I laugh. “Meals on wheels?”
“You know what I mean.”
“What did your roommates think about all of it?” I ask cautiously.
She lies back down and sighs. “Um … I didn’t exactly tell my roommates who sent them.”
I look at her, surprised. “Really?”
“Well, there were no cards, no evidence of who had done all those things for me, so I figured you didn’t want them to know it was you.”
I smile. She’s right, I didn’t. But I guessed she’d tell them anyway. “Who do they think sent everything?”