Charlie never could understand my natural aversion to sports. After all, I was the daughter of a die-hard Mariner's fan and the wife of a minor league shortstop. I should have developed at least some degree of respect for people who could run across an outfield without breaking a bone. He never really understood that I respected anyone with coordination on some level, but that after years of hearing his sports lectures, the words 'pop fly' made me twitch.
Edward was more helpful. The last two times Emmett had invited me to go throw the ball around, my loving husband had invented an urgent errand for me to run. Renesmee had instead taken a turn chucking the ball at Uncle Emmett while he barely flicked it at her. According to Edward, there were few things more amusing than a guy who could rip a bear's head off trying to go easy on an one-year-old. I was sorry that I'd missed the show, but was grateful that I hadn't had to test out my sports skills on my brother-in-law.
Tonight, though, I should have been paying closer attention to the weather. The usual thunderheads had been racing towards Forks like something out of The Perfect Storm, but it was supposed to swing Southwest after paying a cursory visit to town.
The first sign that something was amiss came not from Alice as it usually did, but from the sound of a Dodge Stratus pulling off the highway at unsafe speeds. I heard quite a few of those each day, but this one had a barely-perceptible click in the fuel pump that was unique to only one car in my experience.
For whatever reason, Tanya and the coven had decided to visit.
"Tanya," Esme greeted them as soon as they stepped out of the car. "This is a pleasant surprise."
"It shouldn't have been a surprise," Kate countered. "I had it on good authority…"
It was times like this that I wished my human hearing had been left intact. Emmett was normally loud and at this moment, he came close to rupturing my eardrums.
Garrett grinned broadly. "We still on for tonight?"
"Damn right we are," Emmett laughed. "Do you know how long it's been since we had a decent center-fielder?"
"I thought you had Rosalie," Garrett rejoined. "Alice says she's pretty good."
"Yeah, but she throws like a girl," Emmett confided; then, his face twisted in a momentary instant of panic. "But you didn't hear that from me."
"Deal," Garrett assured him.
"As I was saying," Kate interrupted, narrowing her eyes, "I had it on good authority that Emmett was going to do the recruiting."
"All in good time, Katie," Emmett called over his shoulder as he headed for the house. "I want to talk strategy first."
Esme, ever the gracious hostess, stepped aside and gestured towards the front porch. "Let's take this inside," she suggested.
"Don't mind if we do," Tanya said from near the trunk before shutting the door and slinging a duffel bag over her shoulder.
"You're staying a few days, then?" Esme asked.
"Hardly," Tanya replied with a smile, "but you don't expect us to play Cullen baseball in good clothes, do you?"
She had a point. From what Edward had described, it was best to steal a base on Jasper's watch in very dispensable clothing.
"Hello, Bella," Tanya greeted as an afterthought.
"Hi," I replied. "Where are Carmen and Eleazar?"
"On a 'second honeymoon,'" she said, "or ninety-eighth. They hadn't been to Macchu Pichu in decades and decided they would like to sample the wildlife on the Inca Trail."
That was neither romantic-sounding nor appealing to me. I could think of things more disgusting than wild llama meat, but they weren't something I could mention in polite company.
"We were headed this way for hunting anyway and you haven't visited in months," Tanya admonished the both of us as we headed into the house. "When Emmett called to say that Alice was forecasting a great thunderstorm tonight, Garrett insisted we take advantage."
"Well, it's wonderful to see you again," Esme commented now that she had overcome the mild shock of unanticipated guests. "Did Alice say what time the game would be starting?"
"8:37," Alice supplied, skipping down the stairs. "Bella, you'd probably better call Jake. I'm not letting him be my catcher unless he takes a shower first."
That wasn't foresight. She knew that if he didn't come along, I'd insist on taking care of Renesmee while the game was going on. I had already planned on it, but apparently, Alice wanted her niece's favorite werewolf on hand so I couldn't escape that easily.
"Fine," I muttered.
Edward caught up to me on the stairs with a grin. "Don't worry," he murmured. "If you could arm-wrestle Emmett, I'm sure you can outrun Tanya."
"I'm not a newborn anymore," I reminded him. "Physically, I'm just as superhuman as the rest of you."
Edward's grin turned into a smirk. "You want to put money on that?" he challenged.
It was tempting, since it might make the game a little more interesting. "Not money," I corrected, "but whoever scores first gets to pick the destination for our family vacation."
Edward had been pushing for us to take Renesmee to South America for a few weeks this summer to spend time with the other half-vampires of the world. I, on the other hand, had been pushing for us to accept Maggie's invitation to Ireland.
"You're on," he said. "I'll get our equipment. You call Jacob."
An hour later, we were all assembled in the living room and sprawled across various pieces of furniture while the captains their starting lineup. Instead of picking teams, it sounded more like a business negotiation.
"I'll take Bella, Jacob, Rosalie, Jasper, and Kate," was Edward's initial offer.
"Oh, no," Alice said stubbornly. "If you get the newborn, I get the werewolves."
"Both of them?" he scoffed. "I'll let you have Seth–he'll be a good runner–but Jacob stays with me."
"I was planning on sitting back and laughing at the rest of you," Jacob informed us. "Someone has to look after the midget."
Renesmee should have objected to that, but with Jacob, it was a term of endearment. She was perched on his lap, squeezing her child baseball glove.
"Esme can take care of that," Edward informed him. "And Bella's well over a year old. I don't think she gives me any more advantage than Carlisle would."
"Then you take Seth," she challenged. "I get Jacob, Tanya, Carlisle, Emmett and Garrett."
Edward looked less than pleased about the arrangement, but it was obviously the best he was going to get. "Done."
We piled into various cars for the ride up. Kate and Garrett had gone ahead to get some 'low-calorie snacks' such as rabbits and foxes to hold them over until after the game, when they were planning on hunting properly. Once we had parked the cars, Jake flung Renesmee over his shoulder in a fireman's carry and sprinted ahead while her laughter pealed behind them. I followed at a reluctant jog.
"Don't worry," Edward teased. "I'll put you in right field. No one on their team ever hits the ball in that area."
We finally reached the meadow to find Alice warming up with Jacob behind the 'plate.' Kate had peeled off her windbreaker and was wearing a Red Sox bikini top and cut-off jeans underneath. It was typical Kate–she liked to see how effectively she could distract men and from the look on Garrett's face, he was plenty distracted. Rosalie looked both contemptuous and envious, but took her place opposite Edward.
"Batting order," Edward announced once we were assembled. "Rose, Kate and I will load up the bases and then I want Jasper and Seth to bring in a few RBI's. Bella, you're going to play cleanup. We don't know what your game's going to be like yet. We can change it up later if we have to. Agreed?"
There was a chorus of agreement and we headed to the cluster of rocks that was the unofficial Team Edward dugout. Rosalie strutted out to home plate, swinging the bat experimentally to loosen up her shoulders.
"HeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyBLONDIEBLONDIEBLONDIEBLONDIE!" Jacob taunted.
She swung at the the first pitch–a wild changeup–and accidentally smacked the catcher in his facemask.
"Whoops," she deadpanned.
"Yeah, I bet," Jake growled.
"Strike," Esme commented.
The next two were foul balls, but on the fourth pitch, the fastball cracked off the barrel of her bat and spun along the ground into Garrett's mitt. He pivoted and fired it off to Carlisle at first half a second before Rosalie even touched the bag. First out.
The first base hit came from Kate, of course, not because she hit down the middle between right and center field, but because she knew how to play an entirely different kind of game. She made a great show of wiggling her denim-clad rear end at the plate, smoothing her silky hair and giving the entire infield come-hither eyes. Her line-drive smacked a very distracted Garrett between the eyes at second base. By the time he got around to throwing to first, while the rest of his team jeered and howled in annoyance at him, Kate had strolled safely to the base and struck an alluring pose.
Edward smacked one that hit the tree we were using as the forest equivalent of the Green Monster and he and Kate took the corner bases. Alice accidentally hit Emmett and loaded the bases. Seth, overeager to make an impression in his first supernatural baseball game, popped out to Tanya in center field.
Two outs and I was at bat. No pressure whatsoever.
"Okay, people, bring it in," Emmett taunted. "Ten says she can't get it past the pitcher's mound."
Okay, that did it. I squared my shoulders and smirked at him.
"From the looks Rosalie's giving you, I'll be the only one scoring much of anything tonight," I informed him.
"Oooh," he groaned, clutching his chest. "She cooks, she cleans and she even talks trash! Ed, where'd you find this goddess?"
I was going to foul one off his big Neanderthal forehead.
"Strike one," Esme called.
Apparently, I'd been paying so much attention to the brat in left field that I'd forgotten to swing. The next one was too low for me to swing gracefully at, but I tried anyway…
"Are you going to play ball or just sulk?" Emmett bellowed. "COME ON!"
The ball smacked solidly off of the inside edge of my swing and went sailing. Carlisle bolted southeast, glove outstretched, but even I could hear his "Darn!" as I rounded second. I picked up speed as I hit third and crossed home with plenty of time to spare. Rosalie gave me a grudging high-five on her way to the plate, but Edward welcomed me with a congratulatory kiss that prompted two wolf-whistles and a very perturbed "GET A ROOM!" from Emmett.
"The score stands 4-0 with two outs in the top of the first," Esme said with a broad "attagirl" smile.
Emmett, in spite of the threats that he'd be hunting on his own for a week, caught Rosalie's fly ball and it went to the bottom of the inning.
Alice got on base with her usual grace and Carlisle hit a line drive to Jasper's glove at second base. Jacob came up third and swung hard at the first pitch. I immediately cringed as it veered into the "spectators'" section and Esme immediately leaned over to deflect it before it could hit Renesmee, but she darted out and caught it in her tiny glove. Esme laughed and threw it back to Seth for her.
The next one was a strike and my little angel very pointedly yelled "GET YOUR EYES CHECKED, UMP!"
"RENESMEE CARLIE CULLEN!" I said sharply.
"Uncle Emmett said he'd buy me a cake if I said it," she protested. "Right, Em?"
"Uncle Emmett" was laughing too hard to respond. I was going to take a page from Kate's book and give that lovable vamp a concussion the next time I was up at bat.
"You don't disrespect Grandma," I said as gently as I could without unclenching my teeth. "No matter what Uncle Emmett says. All right?"
She gave Esme an apologetic hug that was probably completely unnecessary–Esme had stifled her own laughter. Jake hit a sacrifice bunt to get Alice home and Garrett hit a homer before Kate struck out Emmett.
All went well for a few more innings–we were 10-5 in the bottom of the 6th before anyone had real cause to argue again. Alice and Jacob had gotten on first and second before Alice stole third by a hair. When Garrett hit a line drive to right field, Jacob bolted for second, but Jasper thrust out his elbow as Jacob headed inbound and there was a crunch.
"YOU FREAKING LEECH!"
I blanched, either at the sight of Jacob's bloody, broken nose or the fact that his goodwill towards Jasper seemed to have immediately expired. Ignoring his nose, he shoved Jasper hard.
"You gonna tell me that was accidental?" he challenged.
Jasper shrugged, his jaw hard. "Not my fault you were in my way."
"In…" Jake shuddered and went purple. "Who's in whose way, blood-sucker?"
"Boys," Carlisle called, "boys, this is not the way I intended it!"
"Oh, come off it," Garrett snapped from first. "You invented baseball the way Al Gore invented the internet."
"And whether or not you did," Jasper interrupted, "I didn't do anything wrong."
"You broke my nose!" Jacob shot back.
"You'll be fine," Jasper said dismissively. "Ump, is he out or not?"
I had completely forgotten about Esme until she replied in a maternally stern voice. "We're calling him safe because of foul play on the second baseman's part. Any more and he'll be ejected from the game."
Jacob swiped at his nose and pointedly smeared it down the front of Jasper's Yankees jersey, then took his place on second.
"Nice playing with you, too," Jasper muttered.
There was a "coaching visit to the mound" before the bottom of the 6th and Renesmee got to mournfully fuss over Uncle Jacob to her heart's content. Of course, his nose had healed by the time his argument with Jasper was over, but he still let her kiss it better and that seemed to console her.
Watching this, I felt a sense of dread of my own. "Hey, Jazz," I murmured.
"Yeah, Bells?" he asked.
"You do know that he's now morally obligated to cream us, right?"
He muttered something about "showing off for the rugrat," but nodded. "I'd like to see him try."
Try he did and by the bottom of the 9th, we were tied 11-11 with two outs. Jake got two strikes and three fouls that his groupie caught with far too much delight, but on the sixth pitch, he smacked it so hard that I heard a boulder two miles away shatter under the impact. It was well beyond our home run marker.
He whooped and scooped Renesmee up, putting her on his shoulders for a victory lap around the bases that included smacking Jasper suicidally upside the head.
"Game to Team Jacob," Esme said with a quiet chuckle.
There were the obligatory comments about fair play and screwed-up calls, but we sucked it up and shook hands with the victors all the same.
"I have to admit this was fun," I confessed as we were strolling back to the car.
"Yeah," Jacob agreed. "Hey, Rosalie!"
She turned a glower on him–she was a sore loser and losing to a teenage puppy didn't make things any easier. "Yeah?" she challenged.
"You smell even worse when you sweat."
"I do not sweat," she hissed back.
He just smirked back and she quickened her pace to catch up with Emmett.
"You know," I suggested, "next time we should really invite Charlie. The ALCS can't possibly be as exciting as this."
"I'll suggest that," he agreed. "You up for a rematch this weekend?"
It was something I'd never confess to him, but it was the most fun I'd had in weeks. Over my dead body would Charlie ever find out.
"Any time you're ready."