Epilogue – It's a Beautiful Day For a Ballgame

This afternoon, the gates of Safeco will open for another season.

The question is, what will the diehard Mariner fan find - a fresh team, ready to go fight for the hard earned win, or a group of guys beleaguered by past losses and injuries?

It's easy to try and break baseball down to its mechanics, to the pieces and parts that make up the game. Batting averages and on base percentages tell the story through the rearview mirror, but it does little to set our hopes or project into the future.

On opening day, we can't look at stats to know how a player will or won't perform. That is in the past, and this is a new season, where there is only one direction to go.

Forward.

Maybe that's why I love opening day so much. Sure, there's history to recall and stats to review, but on the whole, all the players are equal, working toward the same thing, the same ideal. We as fans have the same aspirations. We'll go to the park – today, next week, next month, and we'll cheer for our team. We'll take our family, our friends, our loved ones, and we'll eat hot dogs and peanuts and cracker jacks; we'll cheer, and we'll sing during the seventh inning stretch. Sure, today is a game just like any other, but it's also so much more than that.

Opening day represents are our idealism, our hope of what we want to be, wrapped up in one neat package. It's a date with the homecoming queen, an acceptance letter to college, or a first kiss – that single magic moment when everything is bright and shiny, and we are all focused on what can be, and not once was.

To quote Walt Whitman, "I see great things in baseball. It's our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us."

That's what I'll be thinking about today when I take my seat in the press box. Not what Ichiro did in the off season or who the Yankees signed. Everything is new today, and I want to live in that. Who cares what tomorrow may bring? It's opening day, and I'm ready to go to a ball game.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game by Emmett McCarty, The Seattle Times

-0-0-0-

"Take your wiener, Hale."

Rosalie looked up at Garrett, who was looming over her, three hot dogs tucked in the crook of his arm and an overflowing cup of beer in each hand. Someone chortled behind her and she rolled her eyes, grabbing the hot dogs.

"I'm glad you find yourself so hilarious, Adams. At least one person on this earth does."

Garrett settled into the metal seat next to her, his legs spread out expansively like they didn't have three square inches of space between them. "Hey, Katie laughs at my jokes." He paused as he took a huge gulp of beer. "Sometimes."

"It's a pity laugh," she replied, dropping his hot dogs in his lap.

Garrett unwrapped one and shrugged, unconcerned, before jamming half of it in his mouth. "True love is appreciating your boyfriend's humor, even if it's juvenile," he muttered around his mouthful of food. Rosalie wrinkled her nose. "Actually, true love is scoring two free tickets to opening day. If you weren't already sleeping with McCarty, I'd consider it for these seats."

Rosalie reached out to punch his arm and he shrank away with a laugh, his eyes shaded by the bill of his Mariners hat.

It was the bottom of the fifth inning and a gorgeous day at Safeco Field; the sky above them was cloudless and almost obscenely blue. The air was crisp and calm with a hint of promising warmth. There was a buzz of excitement in the air and Rosalie smiled to herself, thinking about Emmett's column. He'd captured it all perfectly – that feeling of a fresh start and the hope and possibility that came along with it. No dream was too big. The world was wide open.

She'd read the column that morning at the kitchen table, a bowl of oatmeal in front of her and a piece of dark chocolate beside it. Balthazar had been underfoot, napping after playing outside in the sunshine. It had reminded her so much of the first time she'd read Emmett's column, only this time he'd been beside her, crunching on Frosted Mini Wheats with his hand on her knee. She knew that feeling he'd described; she'd been living it for the past six months. They both had.

After she'd finished reading, Rosalie had drawn on Emmett's picture as she'd done that first time and many times since. He'd requested the devil horns this time and she'd blacked out a tooth, too, making him look like a slightly demented and evil but still ridiculously handsome hillbilly.

When they were done with breakfast and Emmett was in the shower, Rosalie had gone to her nightstand and folded up his column carefully, placing it with all the others she'd saved over the months. Though he wrote about sports, she always read the subtext in his words, and could always somehow bring it back to the life they were building together. She savored these columns as much as she'd savored Mac's – Emmett's – messages to her during the month and a half they'd exchanged them. She'd been surprised to find that, after everything had been revealed and the messages between Lily and Mac had stopped, she didn't feel an absence or a hole. Now they could share themselves in that way face-to-face. Their two lives – Mac and Lily, Rosalie and Emmett - had converged to make something that was fully tangible.

Something that, like Emmett had said in the kitchen after his meltdown, was amazing. It wasn't perfect, but the two weren't mutually exclusive by any means. Their relationship had deepened and with that came reality; they each had quirks and habits that drove the other crazy and when they clashed, it was fiery. But it was real and theirs and she couldn't imagine anything else. Emmett had folded himself into the empty spot in her heart that no one else could have. He was an integral part of her life in every way. Everyone that loved her loved him, too – Garrett and Kate, her parents (who had met him over Thanksgiving) – and she felt like everything had finally fallen into place.

She knew it was the same for him, too. He'd said as much after Alice and Esme had come to Seattle for a long weekend in February. She'd been insanely nervous, but, as it turned out, without reason. Emmett's sisters were just as amazing as he was.

"God, you are such a girl."

Rosalie startled out of her reverie and looked over at Garrett. He was watching her with a smirk, eyebrows raised. "What?" she asked defensively.

He gestured to her. "You're sitting there mooning over Emmett."

"I'm not mooning, I'm thinking." Garrett let out a dubious hum and Rosalie rolled her eyes. "Hey, now you know what it was like to be around you and Kate in the beginning of your relationship. And that was when I was single and bitter."

"You weren't bitter, just hurting," Garrett said, and his voice was firm.

She twisted in her seat, looking over her shoulder and up to the press box where Emmett was. She knew he'd be concentrating on the game, but also thinking about his granda, wrapped up in nostalgia as always when he watched or listened to a game.

"Hey." Garrett's knee knocked against hers and she turned to him. He reached over, ruffling her hair and she smacked it away with a laugh. "As kick-ass as our other halves are, it's nice to hang out with you alone."

"It is," Rosalie replied, feeling a rush of affection for her brother in bond if not in blood. No one was happier for her and Emmett than he was. He saw, just as she had with him and Kate, that this was it for her. "You definitely made it worth it with the hot dogs and beer."

Garrett pointed his as-yet-uneaten second hot dog at her. "Yeah, and this shit is expensive, so you know I care."

"I know you care anyway, Adams."

"Are we about to have a Hallmark moment here?" he grimaced theatrically, his eyes sparkling.

Rosalie laughed and tapped the bill of his hat, a little harder than necessary. "Let's skip that part."

He took a bite of his hot dog and chewed thoughtfully for a moment, watching Chone Figgins hit a line drive straight down the middle. Cheers erupted as he ran to first and Garrett turned to her with a grin. "I've been holding my tongue for the past six months, but I think it's now safe to say I told you so."

She considered his statement and then shrugged. He was the reason that she and Emmett met in the first place, at least in person. "Okay, you can have that."

"Thank you."

"Thank you, Gar," she said, looking sideways at him. He mimicked her, his lips pursed in confusion. "For being there for me after everything happened with Edward, you know? I'm sure I wasn't exactly fun to be around."

"Aw, Rosie, you were a peach." He pinched her cheek and gave her a wink that spoke the words he didn't say. "But if you really want to show your appreciation for me –" Rosalie groaned, but he continued on, undeterred, "You can go get me some Twizzlers."

She stared at him as he crammed the rest of the hot dog into his mouth, washing it down with a gulp of beer. "Are you going to just eat the entire time? You had popcorn before the game started and then the hot dogs and now you want candy?"

"Half the fun of going to ball games is the food," he replied. "Besides, I'm a growing boy and I need a well-rounded meal. The Twizzlers are dessert."

Rosalie shook her head, but stood up and picked her way down the aisle, taking the steps two at a time. She paused at the top of the stairs; there was a concession stand just to the left of her, but she veered right instead, slowing as she passed by the press box. She wished she had some sort of cloak of invisibility, some way to sneak in there so she could see Emmett in his element without disturbing him. She loved to watch him when he was immersed in his work. She often kept him company when he set up camp at their Starbucks and she'd sneak looks at him from behind her book or magazine, watch his fingers moving fast over the keyboard, his mouth puckered and slightly open, brows drawn together. He looked so stern and serious, so different from the expression he normally wore. Sometimes she'd nudge him with her foot just to see the way his face opened up when he looked at her, how his mouth melted into the smile she knew and loved and saw most mornings now.

It would be a few more hours until she saw him again, but she could wait. There was a particular moment she was waiting for anyway, when the sun dipped down low in the sky and bathed her backyard in soft light. She hoped that he would make it back in time. They had an entire season if what she had planned didn't work tonight, but she wanted to start the season out right. She wanted it to begin with the kind of magic Emmett's granda had created for him when he was a little boy.

Rosalie smiled, almost to herself but also for him, though he couldn't see her, and then walked quickly away.

-0-0-0-

The sun was starting to make its descent into the horizon when Emmett stepped out into Rosalie's backyard. She had pulled two chairs to the edge of the patio, facing the maple trees that grew tall and strong. The sunlight filtered in between the budding leaves, throwing patterns onto the grass and Balthazar sprawled out at her feet.

She heard the crunch of grass under Emmett's feet but didn't turn. She could almost hear his smile and then felt it when he bent over and pressed his mouth against her neck.

"Hi," he said, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. It was probably an awkward position for him, but he seemed content enough, placing soft kisses along her neck and up to her jaw line. She closed her eyes and let out a low hum. Garrett and Kate's laughter filtered out from the kitchen where they were making dinner, but otherwise the evening was quiet, calm.

"Hi." She ran her hand over his before he released her and swung around to the empty seat next to her, lowering his body into it with a sigh. Their hands drifted together intuitively, fingers intertwining, and Rosalie leaned her head against the back of her chair. He his eyes moved over her face and they soaked in the silence, smiling goofily at one another.

"Did you guys have fun?" he asked finally, reaching down to pet Balthazar with his free hand. It wasn't much of a stretch; he was practically trying to climb into Emmett's lap, now wide awake.

Rosalie nodded. "I'm pretty sure Garrett ate all of the food at the ballpark. He's been complaining about a stomachache since we got home."

Emmett laughed and shook his head. "Did he even watch the game?"

"Oh yeah. He yelled in my ear for the last two innings." Rosalie ran her thumb along his skin. "How does it feel to be attending the Church of Baseball again?"

He smiled at the Bull Durham reference, his gaze going down to his granda's watch almost without thought. Rosalie smiled to herself, her eyes flicking up to sky. "It feels mighty good. I think this is going to be our year, Ms. Hale."

"The M's or you and me?" she asked with a wide grin, purposely misinterpreting his statement.

"Well, that depends," he drawled and leaned in closer, raising his eyebrows. "How many years are you planning on giving me?"

"How many do you want?"

Emmett's hand moved to her neck, his thumb stroking the skin just below her jaw. "All of them."

Her heart beat heavily against her chest, not fast, but strong. She loved this about him, that he spoke freely of what he wanted from her, for them, and that he wasn't afraid to talk about forever with her. She would never get tired of hearing it. "That definitely deserves a kiss," she murmured, her lips already brushing against his.

"Oh, it deserves more than that, but it's probably not backyard appropriate."

"Shut up and kiss me," she commanded with a laugh.

"Yes, ma'am."

He was still smiling when he kissed her, soft at first. She felt it slip away as her mouth opened against his. They were nearly always laughing just before they kissed like this, with reacquainting lips and tongues. She loved this part of it especially, when the upturn of his mouth drifted away and he went intense, his hand going to the back of her head like it was now, holding her there. She loved the sounds and taste of him, but mostly she loved that he felt like the first man she'd kissed, but would most definitely be the last.

She forced her heavy eyelids to open when his kisses grew lighter, more playful. "Hey, Em?"

He pulled away, but just enough so that they could look at one another without going cross-eyed. "Hmm?"

She grinned. "Let's play."

His expression turned hopeful. "Play?"

"Baseball," she clarified, tapping the face of Emmett's watch. He looked down at it and then back up at her and the smile that blossomed on his face was so boyish that she almost felt like she'd traveled back in time to see a younger him. She could imagine him so clearly in his grandparents' backyard, running around with the same big grin he wore now.

The sun was turning everything golden and Rosalie positioned herself at the far end of the backyard, waiting impatiently as Emmett unbuttoned his shirt cuff and rolled it up his forearm.

"You ready for this, Hale?" he called out, looking up at the sky and positioning his granda's watch so that it caught the fading rays of light.

"Throw the heat, meat." She wiggled her ass like she'd done the day he took her to Safeco to run the bases, then wiggled her eyebrows for good measure and he laughed, shaking his head.

"You've got to come up with a new line, rookie," he said, flashing the reflection off the watch face at the ground. Balthazar cocked his head, staring down at it in confusion. "Hit it like you mean it, now. No faking."

"Baby, I never fake it."

"Damn right you don't," he replied, his eyes watching the motion of her hips as they swayed back and forth in anticipation.

Emmett threw her pitch after pitch, laughing and heckling her. She accused him of dirty play more than once (which he assured her he was saving for later) and more often than not he caught her as she rounded the invisible bases. Balthazar ran after her every time, automatically along for the ride. She was breathless by the time Kate broke up their fun, her cheeks stinging from smiling so widely and from the chill that was settling into the air as night descended.

Emmett was play wrestling with Balthazar now, faking left and then right, running around in circles while the dog bounded after him, looking like he was about to die from happiness. She knew exactly how he felt.

"Dinner's ready when you are," Kate called through the open kitchen window.

"We'll be there in a sec," Rosalie called back. She caught Kate's teasing smile as she disappeared. They probably looked a little ridiculous out here, running up and down the length of the backyard, teasing and flirting and making all kinds of noise. But her heart was full and she was happy and she could tell by the wide grin on Emmett's face that he was, too. Not much else mattered. "All right, one more. Make it good, sweetheart."

Emmett scrutinized her, rubbing at his nose thoughtfully. He couldn't catch the sun's reflection with his watch at this point, so he wound up and then extended his arm expertly, releasing the imaginary ball from his grip. She was so distracted by how ridiculously sexy he looked doing it that she almost forgot to swing. Luckily, the ball didn't exist, which meant she couldn't miss. She swung for the fences, shading her eyes as she pretended to watch it soar far into the sky.

"That's so gone." She hooted, starting her victory lap around the perimeter of the yard with Balthazar at her heels. She watched Emmett stroll further down the grass, his arms crossed and an amused smile on his face. She gained speed as she got closer to him and leapt into his arms, her home base. He caught her easily, barely affected by the weight she'd thrown at him, and wrapped his arms securely around her waist. "Home run," she declared lowly, letting her gaze wander from his eyes down to his mouth. His dimples were deep and impish.

"Not yet."

"I beg to differ," she said, kissing his bottom lip. She didn't mean their game anymore and she could tell by the way Emmett's arm tightened around her, by the way he caught her lips with his own and deepened the kiss, that he knew it, too.

"I love you, Rosalie Hale," he murmured when they broke apart.

She sighed as he kissed each corner of her mouth, a habit that was still able to send as much electricity through her as it had the first time. "I love you, too, Emmett McCarty."

As she took Emmett's hand and let him lead her back into the house, she marveled at how far they'd come. She thought of the Whitman quote, the same one Emmett had used in his column: It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.

Love had done that for both of them, had filled the fissures from where they'd both been broken before. They'd found something in one another that was deep and true, that was real and gave them the strength to deal with anything thrown their way, as long as they did it side by side.

The sun dipped below the horizon behind them, the close of another day. They didn't look back. Just as in baseball, whether it was the beginning of the season or the World Series, they'd both learned that there was only one place to look when it came to life, and especially to love.

Forward.


This story was written for Lookingforhoofprints. Because of her generosity during Fandom Gives Back, I was able to write this last collaboration with my dear friend, hmonster4. Thank you for that, Lily. :) Endless thanks and so much love to the amazing LightStarDusting, the fastest beta on the east (and west). And of course, thanks so much to everyone who read, alert, favorited and reviewed. Your support, as always, means so much.

I've got some fun things lined up, so you'll be seeing me again soon. Until next time, friends. :)