Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight.
Here is a snapshot into Masen's mind for Not Without You. This was written for Capricorn75, who very graciously bid and donated $50 for an outtake offered in the Fandom Gives Back auction.
This story has made it to 2000 reviews, and for some reason that makes me happy, so thank you very much, readers, for getting me there. :)
Not Without You
I turned another stiff page and ran a finger over the glare of the protective sleeve. Photos were set at angles, cut with fancy scissors that left them with jagged or wavy edges. Typed out phrases, and sometimes paragraphs worth, of memories went along with each picture. I was in every photo - cheeks puffed out, blowing out five candles, most probably getting more spit than air on the cake; sitting on the sofa with a limp, slouching, snoozing, newborn Marie on my lap; positioning myself to bat at age eight - I recognized the corrections I would later make to my stance.
Still, the pictures that stood out the most were the candids my parents were captured in. If they were close enough, they were touching in some way, and when they were farther away from each other, they were, more times than not, shot looking at each other. Had my mom even noticed this as she was putting my past together? Or was she used to it? Was it as natural as having her hair on her head? "Look, there's my hair!" isn't typically something someone says when looking at her own picture. And I imagined that was the case with my mom and my dad. It was such a normal thing for them to touch or stare at each other that it must have been unnoticeable to the two of them unless pointed out.
I hated to blame my parents for my own relationship-malfunction, but I knew it was their fault. Not that they'd done it on purpose. It's the love they have that crosses and beats everything. It's like they were put on Earth for each other. They met, fell in love, the only real relationship either of them have ever had. Me? I'd had six different girlfriends in the span of six months, and I'd never been in love. Nobody cut it. Nobody treated me or looked at me the way my mom did my dad. I don't know what happened to me along the way, but I just wasn't like them, my parents.
They tried to have the sex talk with me a few years ago, and suggested in the way parents do, I guess, that I should abstain altogether. I understood why. It didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened with them. All it took was reaching an age old enough to understand basic addition and subtraction, and catching comments from other adults about how young my parents were, to recognize they'd had me when they were both eighteen, and that, in all rationale, I hadn't been a planned addition to their teenage-hood.
Still, that knowledge did nothing to make me abstain. I was a teenage guy in the twenty-first century, and there were girls in every classroom more than willing go to bed with the right - or wrong - guy. Some girls seemed to want it more than the guys. There were rumors of two girls who had lists they kept, a race or a competition over which of the two could have more sex with more people. I can state with certainty and great gratification that my name was not on one of their lists.
I hadn't given up, though, looking for the girl. If I'd given up on that, I would have settled with Allison last month or Hayleigh the month before that. Maybe in college, maybe at Washington State. If nothing else, I was sure that through baseball I'd meet someone. Someone for whom - like my dad had done for my mom - I'd fumble through the kitchen to bake a birthday cake, disregarding the fact that I had no actual sense of the art of baking.
My dad had pulled me along for the ride, as he so often did.
"Mase!" he'd said, nudging my leg, too early on a Saturday. "Get up. Your mom just left with Rosalie and we have to get this cake done before lunch." He shook me again and I groaned. If I'd been younger, I'd have shot up and ran to the kitchen, excited by the magic that happened in there. Most days I'd walk in and it'd be empty and then an hour or two of my mother turning and swirling around with magic in her fingertips, or maybe she even had a wand, dinner would be all over the place. Steak, potatoes, gravy, salad, cornbread, dishes, silverware, glasses, all set up at the table as if there was a table button; you pressed it, and poof, there it all was. But at eleven years old there wasn't a huge desire to cook in the kitchen when I knew I was actually the cook and not a magician. Especially not in preference to sleep at eight o'clock in the morning.
"Get up," he said, this time in his firmest father voice, and he left the room. There'd be no more arguing and no five more minutes. I knew that voice too well. It was time to get up. I yawned and stretched and tossed my covers off.
In the kitchen, there did seem to be a little magic left as my dad revealed ingredients we needed from their habitats in the cupboards and refrigerator. All of them just right there when we needed them, presenting themselves to us, and all starting with a box. Dad handed the box to me.
"Read the back. What do we need?"
I read him off the four things: "Eggs, milk, butter, and a bowl." It actually stated "bowl" on the box, like without that bit of information, you'd fail to know what to use. But on a closer look, it didn't just state "bowl," it stated "6-qt bowl."
"What's a 6 quart bowl?" I asked. I didn't see bowls in terms of measurement, I saw them like normal people did: small and big, or even soup bowls and serving bowls.
"I don't know," my dad said, reaching into the refrigerator for the milk. "Check the bottom of the steel bowls in the lower cabinet. See if there's a 6 on one or something.
There were no numbers or letters, or anything, on the bottom of the steel bowls. I chose the one in the middle, because the large one looked way too huge. It could have probably fit a basketball ringed with baseballs in it.
"This one?" I asked.
"That'll do," my dad said.
"What can I do, boys?" Marie asked, sounding not much different than Minnie Mouse, and just as Minnie Mouse or some other cartoon character might have done, Marie drew out the word boys.
"Hey, doll," Dad said, and bent way down to give her a kiss. "Morning."
"You stay out of our way," I said.
"Nah," said Dad. "You can help stir." He patted her head and Marie closed her eyes with a grin, about ready to purr.
She pulled our mom's apron out of a drawer and draped it over her four-year-old naked body. I watched it swallow her whole. She was only wearing her underwear after just getting out of bed, but it seemed she worried about messing up her skin.
"Tie it, Mase," she said, lifting her hair off her neck, even though the tie went around the waist. To keep her from tripping over the ends of it, I gave the apron a few folds at her stomach and tied it up, wrapping the too-long strings around her three times.
"Make the bow in front," she said dropping her hair and turning toward me.
Once it was tied, she tiptoed around the kitchen with her arms outstretched, wrists flexed, and her head to the side, eyelashes flitting. The apron had become a gown to her and in her world, she was some sort of maiden or princess.
"Masen put a pea under me last night, Daddy." She stopped and spun in a circle, still on her toes, and wobbling.
It wasn't a rare thing for little Marie to live in a world of fairytale stories.
"Is that so?" Dad said. "Didn't you sleep well? Sounds an awful lot like that story we read last night."
Marie brought a finger to her lips.
"I heard you snoring," I said.
"Um…" she said, not yet equipped with the reasoning skills to surmise I may have made that up, just as she'd made up the pea. I helped her out.
"But you were also tossing and turning a lot. I heard it all the way in my room and it kept me up half the night."
"I knew it," she said, narrowing her eyes at me, angry about the imaginary pea. She opened another drawer to pull out a spoon.
"You have to wash your hands, first. Doesn't she, Dad?"
"That's right," he said, eyeing the back of the cake mix box, double or triple checking that we had the correct four ingredients.
I lifted Marie up so she could reach the sink and she whined that my arms were hurting her tummy.
"Just wash quick," I said, "before I drop you, dolly." I liked to tease her about that, and the fact that she didn't like it encouraged me to do it more. I felt her try to elbow me, but because of the way I was holding her, she could barely move.
"Daddy is nicer than you," she said, squirming away from me.
"Okay," Dad said, poking a finger toward the bowl. "Mix first, then eggs." He ripped the box open, and the nerves or anxiety this cake baking business was causing him confused me. He often helped my mom with dinner - helped, I realized then, being the operative word. She told him what to do most of the time.
"This can't be any harder than Stanford, Dad."
He laughed. "Buddy, the kitchen and I don't get along, especially under pressure. Go ahead, crack an egg over the bowl."
"I wanna crack an egg!" Marie said.
"You're too small," I said.
"Just let your sister crack one."
"She'll get eggshell in the mix."
That had him pausing, the threat of ruining the cake. "All right, all right." He pulled a soup bowl out, or maybe it was technically a half quart bowl, or a one pint bowl, or a sixteen ounce bowl - who even knows? - and set it in front of Marie. He brought a chair from the kitchen table over for her to stand on. "Here," he said, "I'll help you crack some eggs and we'll scramble them up for breakfast. Mase, you're okay stirring the batter?"
"Uh, yeah, I think I can manage. But Dad, it says to beat it. Do you think just stirring it is okay?"
"Shit," he said, then his eyes widened. "I mean, shoot, shoot. No, if it says beat, we should beat."
He opened cupboards in search of the beater, or the mixer, as he'd soon call it.
"What about my eggs, Daddy?"
"Give me a minute, doll. I need to find the mixer first. You just hang on, and don't fall off that chair."
"Be patient," I told Marie, and placed a hand on her back in case she did decide to fall off the chair.
Between the three of us, or more like despite the three of us, we'd been able to juggle the cake and breakfast without burning either. Marie had watched through the lit-up oven door, jumping with high fists of victory, as the mix in the pan had slowly but magically risen into a cake.
On my bed, my back against the wall, and still wearing my cap and gown, I turned another page of my memories. I don't know why, two hours after graduation, I hadn't changed. I guess I felt lucky to even be wearing that ugly red crap. I didn't want to take it off yet.
Marie let herself into my room without knocking, and I was ready to give her grief about it. My mouth was open: Try that again with a knock first, I would have said, before I saw her face.
Instead of the bright animation in her eyes that would typically be planted in some form of smug self-assuredness right on me, like she knew some secret I couldn't possibly know because she'd created it in her mind, she avoided eye contact with me and was examining my room as if seeing it for the first time, or as if she was searching for something. After she'd scanned the room two or three times, she scooted herself next to me on the bed, eyes remaining cast away from me. She smoothed her dress over her legs. It was the same dress she'd worn to her sixth grade dance a week earlier, and she was so proud of it, it didn't even matter that today was a special occasion. She'd been wearing the dress for at least a few hours each day anyway. Our mom had to force her out of it last night, so it could be washed for today.
"It's going to be weird not having you here," she said, leaving her dress alone and focusing in on some spot on the opposite wall.
I closed the scrapbook. "I'm not leaving until August."
"Still, you'll be gone. It'll be weird coming in here… even if your stuff's here, it'll be empty."
"Think of it this way. You won't have to knock anymore."
She turned toward me, but wasn't smiling. I'd made her mad.
"What? It was a joke."
"How can you do it? Leave us? Leave and be excited about it." Tears filled her eyes.
I didn't feel like explaining to her that because of my grades, my baseball ambitions, and my field of study, my California college choices had been limited. I was lucky with what I was offered in Washington, and I knew it. I also believed, but would never admit to anyone, that my high school ball-playing status was the only reason I was able to avoid community college.
"You've got it wrong, dolly." I was trying anything to get a smile out of her, but I kept making it worse. Her face fell further.
"Don't call me that." She shrugged my hand from her shoulder.
"So… you just plan on being mad at me for the rest of your life? Sounds like fun."
She didn't answer. She went over to my shelf and pulled the encased baseball down. Her hair was longer than it had ever been and when she tilted her head back to reach up, the ends touched the small of her back. She watched my face as she removed the ball from its case. I'd never let her do that before, but this time, I didn't stop her.
She turned the ball over in circles checking out the autographs. "You'll play baseball there, I guess."
"That's the plan."
"Will you steal bases?" She rubbed the ball in her hands without thought it seemed. I cringed.
"I'll try my best."
"Who's going to wash your uniform?"
I frowned at such a strange question - one I hadn't even thought about. The question made sense though, since with each stolen base attempt, my uniform ended up covered in dirt. "Guess I'll have to do it."
"Maybe we can all come and see you play."
"You hate coming to my games. You do nothing but complain about it."
She tossed the ball up and caught it. She was really testing me. I sat up straight, almost ordering her to put it away before she spoke.
"I like watching you play. When you steal bases, or bat, or pitch. It's all the other players that are boring. Can I have this?" She tossed it a second time, and for the sake of her own safety, she caught it again.
"Marie, you can have anything you want… except that. The ball's coming with me."
"What if I take it and hide it?" She moved it behind her back. "If the ball stays, do you stay?"
Those tears were back. She no longer appeared eleven - she seemed more like five or six. Although, even back then she giggled and did her scissor-walk everywhere more than cried.
Her chin tightened, and dimpled, and shook. I stepped toward her, reached around her and took the ball. She let it go easily. I secured it in its case and replaced it on the shelf. Then I hugged her because I figured she needed it. Her head didn't even come up to my chest.
It took her a while to put her arms around me, and when she did, she was out and out crying. Good thing I didn't care if she got tears and snot on the red gown.
"I'm not going to miss you one bit," she said.
"I'm not going to miss you, either."
I tugged at the ends of her hair and she pulled away from me, swiping tears from her face. She was back to not looking at me.
Mom called for us to come downstairs; it was time to go to dinner. My parents had rented out a conference room at the back of an Italian restaurant for our friends and family. All of our grandparents from both sides of the family had been downstairs since the afternoon, directly after the graduation ceremony.
When Marie opened my door we could clearly hear Grandpa Charlie's guttural laugh.
Marie stood on the very tips of her toes and raised her hands in an oval over her head before she left. "I bet you I'll be en pointe before you steal your first base in college," she said without so much as a tremble in her stance or her voice. I knew that en pointe meant she'd be able to wear the certain toe shoes with ribbons that wrapped around her ankles and dancing on the point of her toes, because she'd been talking about it for years. I also knew that her teacher kept telling her she'd have to wait until she was thirteen to wear pointe shoes.
"You're on," I told her.
She gave me the first smile since she'd entered my room.
"Tell them I'll meet them outside," I said. I still had to change out of my cap and gown. "I'll drive Grandma and Grandpa Cullen, and you can ride with us." I tossed my keys to her. Unlike with the baseball, she dropped the keys.
On my way out, the house was quiet and empty. I passed by the piano, pressed a few keys, but then couldn't stop myself from playing a quick song. I stumbled over a few of the notes because the sheet music was buried in the bench I was sitting on. Marie used the piano the most, even more than our dad, and neither one of them needed sheet music.
Our dad had introduced Marie to the piano at a young age, just as he had with me, but she didn't start really going at it until she was eight or nine. Then her fingers flew like birds over the keys. Unable - and frustrated with trying - to read notes, she memorized all her songs.
She was very musically-inclined, which, I supposed, led to her dancing. She'd often record herself playing a song - last Christmas it was The Nutcracker Suite - and made up a dance to go along with it. Often times while she danced for us, Dad would close his eyes and tilt his head, very obviously just listening to the music she'd played.
Dad bought her a trophy last year for "Song Memorization." It was right after my baseball ceremony where I'd received the big MVP trophy that hung out on the mantle in the living room. Marie had whined about not having a trophy, and next thing you knew, the doll had one sitting right next to mine.
"Masen?" My dad's voice startled me. I stopped and turned. "You didn't want to play earlier for your grandparents, but now you play?"
I shrugged. "Couldn't help it."
He wasn't mad; he smiled and raised his eyebrows, causing waves along his forehead. "I'm familiar with the feeling. Come on, though. You'll be late to your own party."
Grandma and Grandpa Cullen let Marie sit in front. When I turned over my shoulder to back the car out of the driveway, I saw them holding hands in the backseat.
They talked about how impressed they were with my driving, how I came to gradual, complete stops at stop signs, and then took off without gunning it - never jerking the car.
"Feel that?" Grandpa said. "Smooth."
It's amazing how little you have to do to impress grandparents as opposed to parents. Although, in all honesty, and from the grandparents' perspective - all six of them - managing to get through high school avoiding a pregnancy scare with a girlfriend would be pretty impressive in my family.
I'd shamefully used that on my dad to get myself out of trouble once. My grades were at their lowest and I'd been caught coming home drunk from a party.
"Where have you been?" my dad had asked.
"You're sixteen. You still need permission to go out. And you've been drinking!"
"At least I haven't gotten anyone pregnant," I'd said.
"That's looking at the bright side," my dad had said, rubbing his forehead, the look that had come over his face far worse than any punishment he might have come up with. "That's taking the focus off you, isn't it? Even if, in the process, you're disrespecting your mother and me."
I was too ashamed to even apologize, but I never said anything like that again - never wanted to see that look on my dad's face for the rest of my life.
"Look at him check his mirrors," Grandpa Carlisle said. "Your dad never drove like this at your age," he said, projecting his voice, maybe thinking I couldn't hear all he'd said before that.
Growing up, I was always told my hair was more like Grandpa Carlisle's than anyone else's in our family. I only saw the resemblance in pictures, because in all my memories, his hair was gray.
Marie and I spent many summer days in Forks with them. We'd stay with Grandma and Grandpa Cullen, but could visit Grandma and Grandpa Swan whenever we wanted.
I slept in my dad's old room, and that was one thing I always wished I could bring home with me: his room, view and all. Out every giant window were fir trees, branches almost touching the house, fascinating me with their symmetry. It was as if they weren't natural - the way the trees grew - but were shaped with purpose. What an enormous job that would be, to prune all those trees to grow to perfection. Out my one standard-sized window at home, the tree reached out like a deformed hand with too many thick and gnarled fingers. Those trees were better for climbing, of course, but for looking at, there was nothing better than the magnificence of a fir tree.
Trees marked our boundary lines at Grandma and Grandpa Cullen's.
"You may play outside," Grandma Esme would say, a finger sweeping her hair over her shoulder, "but you're not to go any farther than eight trees out on all sides of the house."
That wasn't an easy rule to follow when playing tag with someone seven years younger than you, who never bothered to count the trees.
"Marie," I had to yell. "That's the tenth tree!"
She laughed and kept running, but as I got closer she screamed, knowing I was faster and that she could never get away.
At Grandma and Grandpa Swan's our boundary lines were easier to determine. Stay on one side of the street, and don't leave our block. There wasn't as much to do there, so we played in the house most of the time. Marie liked to hang out in the room upstairs that once belonged to our mom before it belonged to Aunt Leah. She'd sit in the middle of the bed, sinking into the thick purple comforter, reading her books, or demanding that I read them to her.
"Do you have to have a special mattress too, like your mom?" Grandpa Charlie asked her when she was seven.
"What mattress?" she asked, pushing The Gigantic Turnip off her lap.
"Your mom," he told us, "wasn't into the typical girl things like dolls or dresses, you know? But one thing she had to have was a soft pillow-like mattress. She was like a princess in that way."
If Marie's ears weren't already perked up like a dog's on a hunt, they most definitely were at the word princess. She got it in her head that she, too, needed a pillow-mattress, as she called it, and announced this news when we got home.
She got one. Mom said she completely understood and took Marie to pick out her own.
Mom had me help position the new addition on Marie's bed.
"Try it, Mase," Marie said, pulling me down with her. We both sank in low.
"It's too soft. You'll drown in this thing."
"You know, Marie," Mom said, joining us on the bed, "you'll have to take good care of this. Doesn't it feel good?"
"Well, it wants to look good too." She winked at me, and I didn't know right away what that gesture meant. That was, until Marie started making her own bed every morning. She'd smooth each layer with her little hands until it was just right, moving back and forth around the bed to pull the sheets and blanket snug. A tight fit was how Mom explained the mattress liked it best. Even now, the first thing Marie did when she woke up in the morning was make her bed. She made fun of me for being a slob and never making mine.
Although the morning of graduation, she'd made my bed for me as I was getting ready. "Family's coming," she said. "You never know if they might come up here."
So far, since they'd all arrived, no one had come up.
I followed my dad's car into the restaurant's back parking lot. As we climbed out of the cars, it was hot. Too hot for jackets, so none of us but Dad and Grandpa Carlisle in their suits wore one.
On our way out, it would be cooler with the sun down and the chilling bay wind. Marie would wear Dad's jacket and it would come all the way down to her calves.
We walked through a short cobble-stoned alleyway to get to the front of the restaurant, disturbing flies with our feet. I swatted them aside. They stayed behind with the stench of the dumpsters, not bothering to follow us to the big open courtyard at the restaurant's entrance. A Beatles cover band was playing out there, a white-haired, white-bearded man in a Hawaiian shirt on vocals, the perfect imitation of Paul McCartney.
Marie, whose mood had significantly changed, reached for the copper fountain at the right of the band, dipping her hand in the water streaming down from it and splashed at Mom and Dad. Her grin was devious. Instead of getting angry, even with Dad in his suit and tie, and Mom in her dress, they shoved their hands through the water and splashed her back. I stood behind with the old folks, shaking my head at the children, right along with them.
"I love this town," I heard my mom say as she looked around at the small crowd on benches, or their own collapsible chairs, and the two or three ladies who were swaying or bouncing, more than dancing, to the music.
We paraded down the thin aisle of tables following a girl in a short black skirt to the back of the restaurant. People coming our way had to stop and wait for Grandma Renee, at our tail end before they crossed.
I might have been the only one who had my eyes on the hostess' round rear end as she moved in front of us. Who knows what her face looked like. I'm sure she was pretty. Most girls in Palo Alto were pretty.
Three long chrome-topped tables were set up in a big squared "u" shape in the back room behind a curtain. I had to sit in the middle, as if I was giving some sort of presentation.
Alice, Jasper, and Sylvie arrived just after us, and Sylvie sat on the other side of me.
That was fine with me. She may have been Marie's age, but there was something about her; she was serene and she brought it with her wherever she went. I liked hanging out with her. Last year, she was visiting with her parents and I'd sliced my finger cutting up cheese squares for my mom. Sylvie just about panicked, but in the most calm way.
"Masen!" she had said. "You need a bandage." She'd ordered Marie to go after one while she took my hand and dragged me to the sink. She ran cool water over it. "That cut is deep. It must hurt."
"I'm all right," I said. "I'll live." I tried to pull my hand away, but she held tighter.
"Do you want an infection? Keep rinsing it." She also bandaged my finger for me as if I was the ten year old and she was my mother. "There." She kissed it. "All better."
I shook my head and laughed. "You're something else."
She'd wrinkled up her nose. "That's what my dad says."
Now, Sylvie sat beside me at the table asking me what I would order.
"Me too," she said, when my answer was lasagna.
"She always does that," Alice said, leaning over her daughter. "She'll ask everyone we're with what they're having and then choose from one of their choices. She never makes the decision all on her own. You should decide for yourself," she addressed Sylvie.
Sylvie gave a one-shouldered shrug. "There's too much to choose from. What are you getting, Dad?" she asked.
He answered with some vegetable pasta plate, and Sylvie shook her head; she wasn't having that. That, I thought was a decision all her own. But parents were like that, I'd learned. They figured something out about their kids and then they'd announce it like that was the one way the kid was and always would be. "He's such a picky eater," some say, or, "She's such a shy girl." Or even, "He's amazing at the piano. You should hear him. But he rarely wants to play."
They didn't mean anything by it, nothing negative. They were just announcing their own observations, but it still made me want to say: "Maybe you're wrong. Maybe it's a phase. Or maybe the kid is behaving that way because it's become what you expect. Give him room."
"Mimi," two baby voices screamed at the same time, one in Rosalie's arms, the other in Emmett's. They squirmed and kicked until they were let down, and ran over to Marie, hugging her and pulling at her hair. Then they noticed Sylvie and did the same thing.
Rosalie let out a deep sigh. They'd called to say they were running behind, but it hadn't been necessary; lateness was expected of them. They were always the last to arrive to anything.
Natalie and Christopher were both two, ten months apart in age, but they weren't biologically related. I'd heard over the years, in hushed whispers, of how sad it was that Rosalie couldn't get pregnant. They'd given up trying and opted for adoption. Hardly a blink after a baby girl was assigned to them, Rosalie got pregnant.
"Suddenly," I'd heard her whisper to my mom, her stomach pushing at her dress, "everyone knows someone who knows someone who's been through this same thing. They try and try, and as soon as they adopt, this happens." She'd gestured at her stomach, and blew up out of her lips, her breath lifting her hair. "Oh," she'd said, her voice shaking, "don't get me wrong. I'm happy, Bella. I'm really happy." She nodded through her words and a long time after as if she was explaining how happy she was to herself as well.
Rosalie and Emmett relaxed heavily into their chairs like they hadn't sat down for months, although they'd just come from their car. Everyone else around the table was pleased to take their babies off their hands for the next few hours.
"Grandpa Phil," I said. "Three Washington State players were picked for the draft this year."
"I know. I've started keeping up with it as soon as you decided where you were going." The server placed his plate in front of him, warning him it was hot. He ignored her warning and adjusted his plate on the table. "That's very promising for you," he said to me. "Just don't ruin it with drugs or anything."
That was Grandpa Phil, always thinking of any possible scenario to ruin a person's chance. He was the glass-is-half-empty kind of guy.
In the middle of dinner, and free of both of his children, Emmett leaned toward me from across the table and three seats down, to ask me about my interest in video game development. As I answered him, I was either actually teaching him something, or he allowed me to believe I was. He nodded and asked questions and I explained, hearing my own voice rising and my words quickening. Though I was deep into the explanation of my partnered idea of an online, interactive baseball game, I was still aware of the silence spanning all three tables, with the exception of Natalie and Christopher. Everyone's attention was on me.
"What would make your game different from what's already available?" Emmett asked.
I told him how people would make up their own team with their own players, each with strength and weaknesses. "There would be limitations to keep competition fair. But here's the real difference," I said, lowering my voice. "Every team begins with a base dollar amount, but you're able to earn money based on players' performances and team wins. Then, if you can afford it, you can make player trades with other gamers from around the world. You could end up with players created by many other people. You could also make or break your team that way."
Emmett smiled. "That sounds great, it really does. But is there a high demand for baseball video games?"
I frowned at him, genuinely confused by the question. I couldn't imagine why anyone would think there wouldn't be. My face burned, and frustration grew, until I remembered exactly who I was talking to. He was trying to wrestle me on my own video game creation. He'd never win. I shook my head at him, returning his smirk.
"I'd play it," Jasper said.
"So would I," said Emmett.
"Yeah right," Rosalie said. "When would you have time?"
"There's all that time I spend sleeping."
"When do you sleep?"
"Good point," he said, and pulled her in for a kiss.
I went back to eating.
When we left the restaurant it was dark out, and something about the night had all the couples pulling their arms around each other, even the grandparents, Grandpa Charlie and Grandma Sue in the lead. My dad draped his jacket over Marie's shoulders and she danced as she walked, up on her toes and then twirling around, watching her shadow cast below her by the streetlamps.
The music was still going on, the gathering crowd bigger now, and it was no longer The Beatles they were playing.
"James Taylor," Grandpa Charlie said. "He sounds exactly like him."
We all decided to go into the Baskin Robbins on the left side of the courtyard, and then eat our ice cream outside while listening to the music. All the benches were taken, so we stood. Marie was the only one who danced. She held the sides of Dad's jacket out as if it was some kind of cape.
"I heard you in there," Grandpa Charlie said to me, "talking about your game concept. I'm impressed. You have a mind like your father's."
I shook my head and gave him a look that said, Who are you kidding?
"I'm being honest. You both think outside the box when it comes to possibilities. Your thoughts and your father's thoughts may go in different directions, but that doesn't make them dissimilar in process." He nodded at me and I stopped shaking my head. I wanted to believe him. "Edward never seemed to doubt that he and Bella could take care of their family, no matter how young they were. Just like you don't doubt that you will really be something."
"Maybe you're right, Grandpa."
We were interrupted by Marie, who was pulling on Grandma Renee's arms. "Come on," she was saying, attempting to get the least likely of our group - aside from Mom - to dance with her.
"Oh no, no." Grandma Renee was wiggling a skinny arm free from Marie's grasp.
"Just one spin," Marie said, lifting the one arm of Grandma's she still had a hold of, and turned beneath it. "Now your turn." Marie stood on her toes with both of their arms raised, and nudged Grandma's opposite shoulder, successfully getting her to spin.
Grandma's smile was big when she spun under her small granddaughter's lead. They both laughed and continued to take turns.
"She never stops dancing," I said to my mom and dad.
"Don't look at us," Mom said. "We gave up on trying to figure life's ideas out a long time ago."
Back when Marie was two, back when she could count to seven, but after seven came eleven, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, and then it was repeated: "leven, telve, furteen, sisteen," and repeated again. And each repetition was louder than the last until she was shouting it. Back then, she'd called me her Masen.
"Where's my Masen?" she'd ask. "I want show my Masen my pet." Her pet was whichever stuffed animal she was holding at the time.
"I want my Masen hand," she'd said, and I gave it to her.
She'd started to hum and sing a song without real words, but what sounded like words, and she raised her leg up, forward and back, brushing her toes against the carpet.
"Are you singing?" I'd asked.
"No, I danceen." She'd stood on tiptoes. "Like a bal-ina."
"In my skirt," she had added even though she wore pants. "See?" She lifted her imaginary skirt as she danced. "I danceen in my skirt."
I was her Masen back then, and no matter what happened between then and now, how much I wanted to bug her for being so spoiled, or just get under her skin for no good reason at all, I knew in some area of my mind that in the end, I would do anything she asked, just like our parents did.
And because of that, I also must have known from the second she asked me that she'd end up with my baseball.
That night, as Marie slept in her room, and before I went to bed, I took the ball from my shelf. I stared at it for several minutes, remembering how I'd stood in the front of a crowd of kids on the hottest April day ever, not even having to shout at the players for an autograph because my grandpa knew many of them. I remembered how each player had talked to me as he signed my ball, asking me how I was, how I liked the game, or if my ole grandpa was taking good care of me.
I'd told Giants pitcher Cameron Stein that I wanted to be him.
He looked down at me, his hair under his ball cap wet with sweat. "Aim for your career like you're throwing a curve ball," he'd said. "Surprise life, kid, don't let life surprise you."
I'd gazed back at him with wide eyes and a dropped jaw, in complete awe and complete confusion over his advice. It had flown over my head as fast as one of his ninty-mile-per-hour pitches, but his voice would be heard all over again each time I saw his signature on my ball. And then, when I was sixteen and Grandpa Phil had unknowingly crushed me with, not only the idea that I might not make it as a professional ballplayer, but also with his assumption that I wouldn't, suggesting I decide on a backup career, I finally found meaning in Mr. Stein's words. If life didn't allow me a career in baseball, I'd fight back, come up with something just as great, just as challenging. I'd invent my own baseball game - throw my own ball, let it curve.
Cameron Stein had taken the most time signing the ball, adding "Best of luck," before his signature. As I turned the ball over now to find his autograph, I felt I owed him my thanks.
The memory and the advice, the encouragement from my favorite player, would always be mine, but the ball wasn't mine anymore. I took it, case and all, brought it to Marie's room and laid it on her pillow. When she woke up, she'd find it there, and know that it was hers.
Thank you for reading.
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