Title: Take Me Out To the Ball Game
Author: Sarah :)
Pairing/Characters: Logan/Veronica, Cliff, Keith, Dick
Spoilers: Through 2x22, Not Pictured, just to be safe, but nothing specific. This is futurefic!
Word Count: 5,600
Summary: Logan is the coach of his daughter's T-ball team. Wackiness ensues.
Disclaimer: Not mine. Duh.
Thanks: herowlness is the BETA OF CHAMPIONS. For real! Thanks for working on my INCREDIBLY limited timetable. :) Also, see the request below, but Roz asked for the inclusion of an OC of Lizzy's, and Lizzy agreed. Matt is all hers, and this is obviously AU from her fic (since, you know, Logan and Veronica are not his parents), but he's here as Mandy's pal. She has approved all Matt!ness in this fic, so it's authentic, I promise. ;)
Final notes: This is for the very generous afrocurl, who bought me for the Sweet Charity auction (I AM HER HO, YO. AND I RHYME.). We talked, and decided that I'd write two fics for her. This, obviously, is the first (and the one that'll be in before the deadline ;)). She wanted a fic set in the Mandyverse (and this'll make way more sense if you've read the rest), where Mandy plays T-ball. So…you know. That's what I wrote. I am WICKED rusty on the VM front, but I hope you enjoy it, Roz! :) Also, since it was bothering me, I looked it up (See the RESEARCH?)—T-ballthe generic name for the sport, while Tee Ballregistered trademark. In case you were wondering. :)
"You're out!" Cliff's voice echoed behind the plate. The batter's eyes widened incredulously before the tirade began.
"Are you kidding me? Are you blind? There's no way that was a swing. I was just practicing!"
Low murmurs circulated through the gathered crowd. "You tell him, honey," one proud voice offered the young hitter.
"Don't. Encourage. Her." Cliff bit out, glaring in the stands at one Keith Mars. "Look, I'm the umpire, and I make the calls. You're out, kid. Better luck next time."
"But, but … " The batter began tremulously, "that's not fair."
Tears. Cliff could sense tears.
"Coach!" He called out. "Wanna collect your player so we can get this show on the road?"
"Uh, yeah, sure." Logan rushed out to home plate and put a comforting arm around the disappointed child. "That was only your first at bat. Maybe next time – "
"CLIFF IS A BIG MEANIE HEAD!" Mandy Echolls glared at the aforementioned meanie head and then looked up at her coach. "Daddy, I wanna get on base."
"I know you do, Mandy," Logan placated the girl as he gathered her up in his arms and carried her back to the dugout. "But remember, this wasn't your only chance. You'll still have a lot more at-bats, okay?"
"Okay," the little blonde sniffled, burying her face into her father's shoulder. "Cliff is still a meanie head, though."
"I know, sweetheart. I know."
"Wow." Veronica stared on from the bleachers as she witnessed one child on the opposing team whiff at the ball so hard that he fell over backwards. "There are some real … athletes … here."
"Don't be so hard on them, Veronica." Keith interjected. "I've watched a lot of ballgames in my day, and I've gotta say — these kids aren't so bad. Especially Mandy's team. Logan's done wonders with that pitcher of his. It kind of reminds me of the good ol' days with the Sharks, and Woody's way with pitchers."
"Dad?" Veronica nudged him in the side. "Logan's way with pitchers? Involves him adjusting the height on that thing at home plate. Are we forgetting that the only pitcher here is a big hunk of rubber that the kids hit the ball off of? It's kind of implied in the name tee-ball."
"Yes, Veronica, I'm aware of that." He smiled. "Actually, I take it back. This doesn't remind me of Woody's teams at all. The rubber stand is actually striking people out."
Veronica lowered her head into her hands and groaned. "You just get better with age, Dad. Really."
Keith winked at his daughter. "I try, honey. I try."
Mandy's next at-bat went much more smoothly than the first, and she grinned as she stepped on first base, dancing around excitedly and proclaiming her victory to the world. "I had a hit! I had a hit!" Searching out her family in the crowd, she waved as she saw her mother, grandfather, and baby brother cheering her on. (Sammy was totally cheering—she could tell.)
Hopping from one foot to the other, she anxiously awaited her teammate's action. "Come on, Matt!" Mandy yelled. "I wanna go to second base!" Hearing a snicker next to her, Mandy turned and narrowed her eyes at Cliff. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing, nothing." Cliff shook his head. "Just never thought I'd hear an Echolls getting so excited about getting to second base." His gaze shifted to look at her parents before he added, "uh, actually, forget I said anything, Mandy."
"But you've told me lots and lots of things. Do I have to forget all of them now?" Mandy blinked adorably. "Anyway, second base is pretty stupid. Getting home is the bestest."
"Right, because you score a run." Cliff pointed to the whistle around his neck. "I am the ump today — I may not be a baseball expert, but I knew that one."
"Nooooo," Mandy admonished with a roll of her eyes. "Not 'cause of that. Daddy told Mommy that there's nothing better ever than hitting a home run with his wife, and Mommy said she knew that, and even though they were only on first base, she'd let Daddy hit a home run anyway, 'cause she likes him." She scrunched her face in thought. "How would Daddy hit a home run with Mommy? Wouldn't that hurt? He should use a bat instead." Mandy's eyes widened. "Would he use a tee, like us," she motioned to the batter's box and the stand set up there, "or would he just hit the ball like real baseball players? And why is a home run with Mommy the bestest? I like story time with Mommy the bestest. Doesn't Daddy? It's really fun, and she does all the voices, and Sammy doesn't even cry lots when she reads to us, and that's good." Exhaling after her speech, Mandy looked up at Cliff expectantly.
"Hey, what do you know, the next batter's ready to go." Cliff backed away from the girl slowly. "You should really, uh, ask your parents about that one, okay?"
"Fine," Mandy huffed, getting ready to run again. "You probably just don't know. Daddy said you wouldn't know a good woman if one bit you on the—"
"Strike one!" Cliff called loudly, running back behind home plate as quickly as he could. Sparing a glance over at Logan in the dugout, he shook his head and shuddered. "I do not get paid enough for this," he mumbled. "Hell, I'm a volunteer. Damn it."
Cliff's moment of introspection was interrupted when Mandy's teammate, Matt, hit a ball sharply between second and third base. As he rocketed towards first, Mandy had no choice but to rush to second. She grit her teeth and leaned back, performing the slide she and her father had practiced the weekend before with ease.
"Out!" Cliff called, pumping his fist as the second baseman, juggling the ball on the catch, tagged Mandy with the ball.
"What?" Mandy asked pitifully from her spot on the ground, her small fingers still gripping the base.
"What?" Logan questioned as he stepped onto the diamond.
"Huh?" Logan's assistant coach asked, confused as to what all the commotion was about. Logan leveled him with a glare, and Dick smiled brightly. "I mean, what? I was totally paying attention. She was totally safe!"
As everyone turned to Cliff expectantly, a thundering from the stands drew their attention.
"WHAT KIND OF CALL WAS THAT?" Veronica fumed, rushing to the railing in front of the bleachers. "Seriously, Cliff, have you ever even watched a baseball game?"
"Actually, I have, Veronica, and-– "
"The kid bobbled the ball! The tag was late! She was in there with time to spare. If you're trying to tell me that you think some snot-nosed little brat beat her to that bag, then—" Her tirade was muffled as Keith came up behind her and clamped a hand over her mouth.
"I think that we need to remember that there are children present, and we're supposed to be setting an example, honey," he reminded his daughter.
"Oh, I'll show them an example," she bit out, pushing past her father and swinging a leg over the railing. "I'll show Cliff a whole list of examples." Ducking Keith's grasp, Veronica jumped over the barrier and stormed her way onto the diamond, immediately heading for the unfortunate umpire.
"Dude," Dick whispered from behind Logan. "Your wife's totally going to kill Cliff over a T-ball game. Awesome. So, like, would you represent her in court, or do you think she'd defend herself?"
"Not helping, man," Logan shot back, torn between consoling his sobbing daughter and making sure his wife didn't commit homicide. "Could you maybe do something?" he asked Dick, motioning towards Veronica with his head. "I've kind of got my hands full." He pointed to the crying mass of little girl that was stumbling towards him.
"Sure, Logan. Not a problem. I am the assistant coach, after all." Moving behind Veronica and lightly tapping her on one shoulder, Dick spun out of the way so when she turned, she saw no one. Before she could advance on Cliff again, Dick wrapped his arms around her waist and slung the still-shouting Veronica over his shoulder.
"I SWEAR TO GOD, Dick Casablancas, if you don't PUT ME DOWN RIGHT NOW, you're going to be sorry!" She screamed.
Shifting Veronica's weight on his arm, Dick shrugged the best he could without releasing his hold. "Sorry, Vee, Logan's orders. He didn't want you to go to jail for killing anyone or something. I don't know." His face fell. "Actually, I kind of wanted to see how it was going to end. For what it's worth, my money was on you."
To his credit, Dick didn't even yell when one of Veronica's errant fists clocked him in the jaw.
"Mommy!" Mandy shouted tearfully, scrambling out of Logan's lap. "I was safe, wasn't I?"
The rage in Veronica's eyes was immediately replaced with tenderness as her daughter ran up to her and linked their hands together. She smacked Dick on the back. "Will you put me down, you caveman? I won't strangle Cliff, I promise."
Dick gulped audibly. "That's nice for Cliff. Could you maybe promise not to strangle anyone before I put you down?"
Veronica rolled her eyes. "Don't worry, Dick, you're safe."
"Phew." Lowering Veronica on the ground, Dick shot Logan a withering glare before making a hasty retreat to the restrooms.
"Mommy," Mandy's eyes gleamed as Veronica picked her up. "That was awesome."
"Yeah?" Veronica asked, embarrassment coloring her features as the realization of what just happened set in.
"Yeah," Mandy breathed in awe. "You're the coolest."
"I'm glad someone thinks so," Logan intoned dryly, approaching his wife and daughter. "Um, Veronica? I thought we talked about this?"
"About…what, exactly?" She feigned innocence.
"Crazy sports parents? And how we weren't going to be those people?" Logan stretched a hand out to his wife's and shook it. "Congratulations. You're officially that person."
"Veronica!" An out-of-breath Keith shouted, running up to the couple. "What was that? There were people in the way, so I couldn't see much other than Dick pulling you off the diamond. Is Cliff still alive?"
Mandy giggled, and Sammy, who was safely nestled in Keith's arms, began to do the same.
"Well, isn't that cute. I'm glad that some people find this so funny." A very harried Cliff called out, keeping a safe distance from Veronica. "I'm here to tell you that you're officially banned from the game, Mrs. Echolls. Clear out of here now, so we can finish some time within the next week." Wiping sweat from his brow, he closed his eyes and looked heavenward. "Never. Again."
"You're kicking me out? You can't kick me out!" Veronica looked appalled. "On what grounds?"
"Don't get cute with me, Veronica. I can think of at least three separate charges right off the top of my head—not to mention what I'd come up with if I went digging. Let's start with the fact that you tried to tear my arms out of my sockets and beat me over the head with them over one lousy call."
"Aha! So you admit it was a lousy call!"
"Veronica. Focus on the part about beating me with my own limbs."
Logan, Keith, and Cliff all stared at her.
"Fine," she huffed. "I'll leave, if that'll help you sleep better at night. But you'd better remember, I'm watching you." She stared directly at Cliff until he, visibly uncomfortable, had to avert his eyes.
"Mommy, are you leaving?" Mandy asked, eyes wide.
"I have to, sweetie. It seems that Uncle Cliff doesn't understand the words friendly competition."
Cliff snorted, and Mandy broke out into a grin.
"I'm the only person whose mommy got kicked out of a game, ever. That's the bestest! Everyone on the team is gonna be so jealous!"
Logan raised an eyebrow, and not even Keith could hide a smile.
"Your mother always has been one of a kind."
"It's okay, Mandy," Tina Casablancas said, patting her friend on the arm reassuringly as they watched the next player on their team take an at-bat. "You still had a hit and did really good! It was awesome!"
"Really?" Mandy sniffled, rubbing at her eyes. "But I got out. I wanted to get home."
"Really. What's the big deal, anyway? It's just a stupid game. Wouldn't you rather be playing Barbies or something?"
The look of horror that crossed Mandy's face indicated that, no, that would not be an enjoyable alternative.
"Okay, fine." Tina tried again. "But you did a good job, Mandy. You don't have to score a run every time. That's why there's a whole team."
"I know," Mandy admitted. "I just—"
"What?" Tina pressed.
"I wanted my mommy and daddy to be proud of me. And I got out, and now they aren't, and they won't love me anymore." Her lower lip trembled as tears gathered at the corners of her eyes.
Tina shook her head. "That's stupid, Mandy. Your parents already love you lots."
Mandy regarded her friend suspiciously. "How do you know?"
Tina smiled. "Mandy, your mom just got kicked out of the game 'cause she was so excited about your playing. And your dad coaches the team! He must really love you to get up early in the morning on Saturdays and miss all of his cartoons to do that."
"But my daddy doesn't watch cartoons." Mandy frowned.
"Oh." Tina shrugged. "That's what my dad told me when I asked him about it. But it's pretty much the same, minus the cartoons. He wouldn't do all of the work to coach a whole team if you didn't love playing so much, and he didn't love you."
"Hmm." Mandy considered Tina's suggestion and brightened considerably. "I guess you're right. How'd you get to be so smart?"
Tina grinned and dramatically threw an arm around Mandy's shoulders. "I just am. It's hard being this fabulous, but I'm used to it."
Mandy giggled, and the two girls sat in the dugout whispering and laughing for a few minutes until Tina nudged Mandy's arm.
"Hey, Mandy. Matt's totally looking at you."
"What?" The little girl's head shot up, and she caught the boy in question's eye just as he lowered his head. "Why?"
"I don't know. Maybe he liiiiiikes you," Tina sing-songed.
"Ewwww! Tina! Matt's a boy. That's gross," Mandy spluttered.
"Well, you'd better tell him that, 'cause here he comes." Hopping off the bench, Tina grinned at her friend. "Have fun. Try not to get cooties."
"TINA," Mandy hissed. "GET BACK HERE."
Waving a goodbye, Tina moved over to where her father was standing and watching the game.
Eyes wide with fear, Mandy stiffened as Matt plopped down on the seat next to her.
"Hey, Mandy. What's up?"
"You should learn how to hit better," Mandy blurted out. "If you had a real hit, I would have scored right now," she nodded to where one of their teammates had just hit a double. "It would have been really great. But you messed it up by stinking so bad."
"So? At least my mom isn't crazy," he countered. "Everyone saw her yelling at the ump and getting 'jected."
"You're MEAN," Mandy declared, crossing her arms over her chest and trying not to cry.
A few moments passed in silence, Mandy keeping up her brave front, until Matt finally spoke.
"Why are you number two?"
"What?" Mandy avoided looking at him.
"Your uniform. Your dad's the coach, so you could have had any number. Why that one?"
"Because Tommy Lasorda is a living legend, and … " she thought for a moment, "he 'compasses everything that is baseball. Plus, he was a really good manager and stuff."
"Tommy who?" The boy asked, confused.
Mandy's jaw dropped.
"You don't know who Tommy is? Don't your parents teach you anything?"
"Yeah," his voice was defensive. "They teach me about lots of things. Just not that."
"Oh." Mandy paused. "Well, my parents didn't teach me that, either. My grandpa did. We watch baseball together all of the time, and he tells me lots of cool stuff about all of the teams. We go to games together sometimes, and have lots and lots of fun. That's why I wanted to play T-ball, 'cause Daddy says I'm too little to play baseball yet."
"And you're a girl."
Mandy stuck her tongue out. "So? I can play baseball better than you, and you're a boy," she informed him, her last word coated in disdain.
"I guess you're okay … " Matt left off the unspoken for a girl. "And I didn't — I mean, I didn't make up the rules and stuff. I think you should be able to play whatever you want. Even if you're a girl."
"'Kay," Mandy said, smiling a little. "Then it's okay that you're a boy. Even if … " she trailed off and looked worried.
"Even if what?"
"Nothing!" She assured him, scooting away from him slightly.
"Hold out your arm."
"Um, that's okay." She immediately sat on both of her hands.
"No, I mean, hold out your arm, and I'll give you a cootie shot. Then you don't have to worry about getting me sick. Even though I already got one before I came over here, just in case."
"Just in case?" Mandy's voice was incredulous. "Everyone knows that girls don't have cooties! Boys do. I don't want to get cooties from you!"
"Boys don't have cooties!"
"DO TOO, DO TOO, DO TOO! Ask anyone!" Mandy yelled, narrowing her eyes at the boy next to her.
"Okay, fine. Since you don't have cooties, and I don't have cooties, I'll just give you one so you won't ever get them."
Mandy nodded tentatively. "Will it hurt?"
"I'll be careful, I promise."
"Are you sure you know how to do this? Shouldn't I have to go to a doctor or something?"
Matt shook his head. "Just trust me, okay? I'm really good at this. Hold out your arm."
Closing her eyes tightly, Mandy did as requested.
Grasping her arm tightly and using his index finger to trace the shapes on her arm, Matt very seriously administered the vaccination. "Circle, circle, dot, dot, now you've got your cootie shot." Releasing Mandy, he waited a moment to gauge her reaction.
"All done! How do you feel?"
Mandy flexed her arm a little. "It tingles a little. I think it's working."
Matt smiled. "Good. So now we can be friends and stuff, and we won't die."
"That'd be lame," Mandy added.
"Yeah," he nodded in agreement.
"Why do you wanna be friends with me?" Mandy asked. "Shouldn't you be friends with all of the older kids? You're in second grade," she breathed, obviously impressed.
"I don't know," he shrugged. "I just think you're cool. Do you not want to be friends?"
"No," Mandy answered quickly. "I mean, you can't be my bestest friend, 'cause I already have one of those, and you can't be my best friend, but you can be my friend-friend."
"Cool." Twisting his fingers in the bottom of his jersey nervously, he looked over at Mandy. "So…Tina's your bestest friend, right?"
"Nope," she responded, making sure to pop her 'p.' "She's my best friend, and she's awesome, but I love Sammy lots more."
Matt frowned. "Sammy? Who's Sammy? Is he in your class?"
Mandy giggled. "No, silly. Sammy's a baby. He can't go to school. Unless Mommy or Daddy brings him when they pick me up. Then he can come, 'cause they can't leave him alone or bad stuff could happen, since he's so little."
Relief crossed his features. "So he's not, like, your boyfriend or anything."
"Um, EWWW!" Mandy exclaimed. "Boyfriends are gross, and I never wanna have one, ever, even if I do have a cootie shot. Sammy's my little brother, and he's the coolest baby ever, and I know he doesn't have cooties, 'cause I spend lots of time with him. I would love him even if I didn't have to."
"I have a little sister." Matt's face twisted. "But whenever I try to do cool stuff with her, she always spits up all over me. Or she wants to play with dolls, which are stupid."
"Wow." Mandy tentatively reached out and patted him on the arm. "That's sad. You should make her not be so mean to you."
"Yeah?" He grinned. "I tried to make her walk the plank once, but my parents got mad. But before she was born, my dad told me that if she was a girly-girl, I could make her walk the plank."
"Why do you hate girls so much?" She thrust her arm at him. "I got a shot and everything. You should be nicer. My mommy says that men who are afraid of women are really just overco—overcompen," she stumbled over the word, "insecure about themselves."
"I am NOT," Matt defended himself, even if he did look a little confused as to what Mandy was talking about. "It's just that all the girls I know are stupid. Except you. And maybe Katie, sometimes. Like when she's asleep."
"But she's still really little. When she grows up, you can make her play with whatever you want her to play with, 'cause you're her big brother. Sammy already likes playing fairy princess, 'cause I told him he had to."
"Really?" Matt asked. "That works?"
"Yep." She smiled gleefully. "It's 'cause babies are 'pressionable. My daddy told me."
"Awesome," Matt whispered, rubbing his hands together a little.
"And if you ever need any help," she offered. "My mommy says I'm really sneaky. I could think up something that works to get her to play with cooler stuff. 'Cause she should be nice to you – even if she is still really tiny." Shock registered in her eyes. "Sammy's nice to me 'cause I'd never, ever be mean to him. Even when he drools all over my stuff and cries and cries and cries, and smells really bad, he's still my baby, and I hafta take care of him. Maybe he should talk to Katie for you and tell her she's doing it wrong." She thought about this for a moment. "When he can actually say more than five words."
Matt smiled at Mandy. "You're a good sister. Do you play with Sammy a lot?"
Mandy snorted. "All the time! He's too little to do it right, so I have to play extra, and he just watches, but my daddy says that soon, he'll be able to do more than try to eat my toys. I hope so, 'cause that's really yucky. And slimy."
Noticing that the inning had come to an end, Matt stood up and looked down at Mandy. "Since we're friends and stuff, we should play together sometime. My mom said you could come to my house … if you wanted to. I have lots of cool toys. Do you like G.I. Joe?"
"I love G.I. Joe!" Mandy shrieked. "That sounds like lots of fun."
"My mom can call your mom," Matt concluded. "Now let's go before your dad starts yelling." He looked around nervously. "He can be kind of scary."
"Daddy? He just pretends to be scary. He couldn't really be scary, even if he wanted to." Mandy hopped off the bench and grabbed her glove.
"See you out there." Matt motioned to the field. "Bye, Mandy." Stepping backwards, he moved to leave, then thought better of it and planted a small kiss on Mandy's cheek before running off.
"Ewww!" Mandy squealed, wiping at her face. Logan ran up to her quickly, wrapping his arm around her. "Are you okay, sweetie? What was that?"
Mandy crinkled her nose. "I'm okay, Daddy. I think he kissed me. 'cept it's not how you and Mommy do it, 'cause he missed. Which is good, 'cause I don't even think a cootie shot would stop that." She looked at her father curiously. "Did Mommy get one? Or does she have cooties?" Her voice rose in fear.
"Relax, Mandy. I'm cootie free, and so is your mother. I just -- what did that boy do?"
"Nothing, Daddy," Mandy reassured him as she skipped into the field. "We're friends now, and I'm going to go to his house to play G.I. Joes, and he won't try to eat them."
Logan growled as his eyes moved to the boy standing in left field.
"You're telling me that you didn't see that … that … hoodlum putting the moves on my daughter? On my little girl? She's seven years old, Dick! What the hell could he have been thinking?"
"Actually, I don't think he's old enough to put the moves on anyone yet. Like, physically and stuff. Doesn't he have to hit puberty or something first?"
Logan groaned. "Work with me here, Dick."
"Right, sorry. You're the boss. It's awful. And … that kid is totally out of line?"
"Damn right he is. I mean, how'd you feel if some kid did that to Tina?"
"It would never happen, dude." Dick proclaimed. "And even if it did, it wouldn't matter. Tina's going to be a nun, so she'll be dude-free forever."
"A nun, huh?" Logan looked thoughtful. "You know, Dick, for once, that's not a bad idea."
"We won! Daddy, we won!" Mandy's shouts were joyous, and Logan managed to pull himself out of his "how-do-I-keep-my-daughter-in-a-bubble-without-making-my-wife-suspicious" funk long enough to congratulate her and leave her in the care of her grandfather before seeking out his fugitive wife in the parking lot.
"I take it a team celebration is in order?" Veronica asked, nodding over at the field where, through the fence, the two could see children and parents alike gathering.
"But of course. We're all going out for pizza. Apparently, the coach even offered to foot the bill."
"Mmm, really?" She pulled him closer to her by the lapels of his windbreaker and began peppering small kisses along his jaw line. "That's. Incredibly. Generous," she told him, punctuating each word with another kiss. Logan grinned and backed his wife up against the car.
"You know, I told Dick to take Mandy and Tina and go ahead, and that we'd meet them there."
"Really? She didn't want to go with us?"
"Apparently, she's at an age where it's, and I quote, 'pretty freakin' embarrassing to show up with the parentals.' "
"Mandy said that?" Veronica eyed Logan warily.
"Well, no. Dick actually said it. But she nodded!"
"Wow." Veronica shook her head. "Are we really the embarrassing parents already? I thought we had a few more years. Does this mean she's growing up faster than she should be? I recall being at least eight before being seen with my father in public mortified me."
"If it makes you feel any better," he offered, "Tina really wanted to come with us." Off Veronica's chuckle, he shook his head. "Anyway, it appears that we have some time to ourselves now."
Faux-shock colored Veronica's face as she wrapped her arms around Logan. "Interesting. What about Dad and Sammy?"
Logan shrugged, eyes twinkling. "I guess they're going to have to carpool with Dick."
Veronica broke out into laughter, before licking her lips and tilting her head, appraising the man in front of her. "Why, if I didn't know better, Coach Echolls, I'd almost say you planned this little rendezvous."
"Well…" He reached for the back door of the car with one hand while the other twisted into Veronica's shirt. "Let's just say that I didn't anticipate the expulsion from the game, but I've compensated. I'm flexible like that."
"So I've heard." Veronica began nudging him into the spacious backseat. "Care to give me a little demonstration?"
"I don't know," Logan gasped as Veronica's hands closed over his belt buckle. "You did get thrown out, after all. Who am I to reward that kind of behavior?"
Veronica bit her lip. "Can't you just throw me in the penalty box for a few minutes and call us even?" She made a point of scrutinizing her surroundings. "Huh. It just so happens that backseat seems to fill the box specifications. Ready to punish me, then?"
"Wrong sport, sweetie. There are no penalty boxes in baseball."
Leaning over him, shucking her shirt as her lips ghosted over his, she grinned. "I wasn't talking about sports on that last one, honey. Keep up."
"Wait, with the—oh." Logan's eyes widened. "Oh. Punishment." Doing what he could in the cramped confines of the vehicle, he shifted so he was pressing Veronica against the window. "Why didn't you just say so? That kind of punishment, I think I can handle."
"Daddy's the bestest coach ever," Mandy proclaimed, arm linked with Tina's. "We did really good today!"
"Hey!" Dick sounded offended. "What am, I chopped liver? Your dad did have help."
Mandy nodded very seriously. "He did. You're the bestest helper ever."
"Better. You got anything else, kid?"
"Umm," she thought for a second. "You helped Daddy hold his bat when he was busy doing other stuff. And you're really good at blowing his whistle. And—"
"Okay, okay," Dick looked around cautiously before clapping a hand over Mandy's mouth. "I rock, I get it. Just don't go around telling other people anything about me holding your dad's bat, or, uh, blowing anything at all of his. Okay?"
Mandy looked confused. "What's wrong with blowing stuff for Daddy? Mommy told him that—"
"Looks like I'm with you guys," Keith said, walking up to the assembled group. Dick glared at him for a moment, annoyed at the interruption, but couldn't stay mad for long when the two little girls started tickling the baby Keith held.
"Sorry, little dude," Dick said, running a hand over Sammy's head. "Women. Someday, you'll be glad to have them pawing all over you, I promise."
Keith broke out laughing, and Tina rolled her eyes at her father. "Hey, look who's coming over here," she pointed to the baseball diamond, where Cliff was steadily making his way to where they stood.
"Good game," Keith said, slapping Cliff on the back. "So, what do you think? Are you cut out for the fast-paced and exciting world of T-ball?"
"Ha, ha," Cliff mumbled, eyeing the people around him warily. "Just, the next time you try to convince me that something like this would be good for me? Remind me of this moment, please."
"Aww, come on, Cliff." Dick thumped him on the back as well. "It wasn't that bad."
"Right. Except that I'm still not sure that Veronica isn't laying in wait somewhere, ready to take me out."
Keith shrugged. "That one's out of my hands."
"She's your daughter!"
"And? That excuse stopped working when she was four. She kind of has a mind of her own."
"Go figure." Cliff's voice was dry, and he sighed heavily.
"It sounds like you had a rough day," Dick said, leading the group to the parking lot.
"You have no idea."
"Look, why don't you come with us to the party and just relax a little? Logan's off talking Veronica down right now—you'll be fine."
"No." Horror crossed Cliff's face. "No, thanks."
"First pitcher is on me," Dick wheedled.
"Really?" Cliff took the bait. "I could use a few stiff ones."
Dick began laughing heartily as Keith did his best to hide his face in his hand.
"What?" Cliff asked, bewildered. "I think I'm entitled."
"Yeah, but, dude." Dick ushered the children into the backseat of his van, then took Sammy from Keith while the other man fished a car seat out of the trunk. "Entitled to a few stiff whats? Sodas? Because the first pitcher of soda's on me." On Cliff's wince, he continued. "These are mini-people, man. We're going to Pizza Hut, not Hooter's or anything. Although … " He trailed off. "That could work, too. Maybe. Thoughts?"
Cliff closed his eyes and began to massage his temples. "I fear you, Dick Casablancas."
Dick fished his keys out of his pocket and pumped his fist in the air. "Awesome."
"Are you sure that no one can see us?" Logan whispered against Veronica's ear as he positioned himself above her.
"I'm sure. There's a reason I parked at the farthest edge of the lot next to all of the trees. Give me some credit, here."
"Works for me." Reaching up to take the whistle that still hung around his neck off, Veronica grabbed his hand to stop him.
"Time out, coach." She smiled wickedly as she wrapped her thighs around Logan. "Leave it on."
Dick listened to the affirmative chorus of voices before he pulled out of his parking space. A harried mother loading about five duffle bags and twice as many kids into a minivan was blocking the main exit, so he was forced to round the entire lot before leaving. As the car made its way onto the road, Mandy leaned toward the window, pressing her face against the glass.
"Grandpa, why is Mommy's car moving by itself? Where are Mommy and Daddy?"
Before Dick could even open his mouth, Keith shot him a withering glance.
"I think that was someone else's car, sweetheart."
"But it looked just like—"
"Hey, who's ready for some pizza?"
As the girls cheered excitedly, Keith sent up a silent prayer for children who were graced with short attention spans.