Acknowledgement: HollettLA, who is awesome and brilliant and not at all fazed by flying spiders. I'm telling you, she's like a superhero.
A/N: I just want to thank all of you who are still with me for your lovely reviews and amazing feedback. I don't reply, but I read and treasure them all. For reading, and for taking the time to respond, I truly can't thank you enough. xo
"Don't go," he murmurs into the back of her neck, warm breath dancing down her spine and lifting goose bumps on her skin as it goes.
"I don't want to," she admits, eyes closed, basking in the feel of naked skin pressed to naked skin and the buzz of post-orgasm endorphins still humming through her blood. His room is the closest to dark it gets, light noise from the city slipping in through the makeshift curtains, and she can see the skeleton of the fire escape beyond his windowpanes. It reminds her of the trees outside her bedroom at home, and the way she would watch the branches dance, silhouetted by moonlight. If there is something she misses about Forks besides her father, it's the silver-white light of moonlight.
"I'll make it worth your while," he hums, pressing lingering kisses to the curve of her shoulder, and she sighs.
"I have no doubt about that," she replies, stilling his hand as it begins creeping up her stomach toward her bare breasts. "But I really do have to go." She turns her face slightly, inhaling the scent of him on his plaid pillowcase. As much as she enjoyed the luxury of high thread-count sheets and down bedding at his father's cabin, there's something familiar, something so very Tyler about his mismatched sheets that she finds she actually prefers.
He sighs, wriggling his hand free and opting instead to head south, fingertips dancing over the xylophone of her rib cage, the swell of her hip, the tiny dip of her belly button. "Stay," he pleads again, and she traps his wandering fingers.
"If I flunk out of college after my freshman year, my summer in Forks will turn into the rest of my life in Forks and probable enrollment in the nearby community college."
Suddenly, she can see Tyler's profile rising over her shoulder, and when she turns her head to meet his gaze, his brows are furrowed. The wandering hands, she's slightly disappointed to note, are still. "You're not staying in the city for the summer?"
Matching his frown, she shakes her head. "I have to go home for the summer."
"I don't know. I just…that's what college students do. They go home for the summer."
"But you don't have to."
"Kelsey and I have to be out of the dorms when our exams are over."
He shrugs. "Stay with me."
"You're here practically all the time, anyway. Why not? Aidan won't care."
Bella tries to imagine telling Charlie that she's shacking up with her boyfriend for the summer; she finds it easier to imagine telling him that her previous boyfriend was a vampire. "My dad would never let me stay all summer," she says, feeling suddenly young and immature. "Besides…I think he misses me."
"I'll miss you if you go," he replies, shifting his body so that he's looming over her, his lower half pressing her into the mattress.
"I'll miss you, too," she says, feeling the heavy weight of the words settle on her chest as if he's lowered the rest of his body atop hers. "But I'll be back mid-August. And you can always come to Forks."
He cocks an eyebrow and tilts his head, one clump of hair falling slightly over his forehead. "I don't have the best track record with cop fathers," he muses, but dips his head to press a soft kiss to her cheekbone. "But I'm willing to give it a whirl." He pulls back, mouth hinting at a soft smile. "I meant it when I said I wanted to meet him."
"You can meet my friend Jake, too."
Suddenly, both eyebrows disappear up his forehead. "Jake?"
She lets a teasing smile cross her face. "Have I not mentioned Jake?"
"You most certainly have not," he grouses, pressing his hips into hers.
"Jake's my best friend in Forks. We were friends as kids, and our dads are best friends."
Another hip-press. "And this Jake character," Tyler says, the way he faintly sneers the name reminding her, ever so briefly, of Edward. "He's only ever been a friend?"
All traces of teasing vanish from her face, and her eyes grow serious. "He's always been a friend. Jake was the one who saved me when my heart broke."
Tyler's movements halt, and he peers down at her, regret and capitulation in his eyes. "Sounds like a good friend," he says in lieu of apology.
"He is. You'd like him." She doesn't know if this is entirely accurate, and she doesn't know if Jake would like Tyler either, but she does know that he'll at least be less overtly hostile toward Tyler than he was to her former boyfriend.
"I'll meet him, too," he murmurs, resuming the gentle rocking of his hips. "But for now, how about we stop talking about the other men in your life?"
Bella laughs, and as she tips her head back, she feels Tyler's warm lips at the hollow of her throat. "I really have to go," she says in halfhearted protest. "I have finals to study for, and I have three papers to write."
"Did you know that physical exertion actually leads to enhanced brain function?" he murmurs into her skin, sliding his knees apart and taking her thighs with them.
"I did not," she says, wrapping her arms around his neck.
"Allow me to demonstrate," he whispers, and she laughs again in surrender.
"Ready for your exams?"
Bella nods as she gazes to where her bare feet are propped on her desk, purple-painted toenails stark against her pale skin. "I think so," she replies aloud. "I have one more paper to write, but I think I'm ready."
"Good," Charlie says through the earpiece of her cell phone. "That's real good." She hears him clear his throat. "I'm real proud of you, Bella."
Warmth suffuses her at the uncharacteristic praise, and she picks up a pen from her desk and twirls it between her fingers. "Thanks, Dad."
"You book your flight home yet?"
"Um, no," she says, dropping the pen and cursing below her breath as she attempts to bend and pick it up without lowering her feet from the desk. "Not yet."
"Don't wanna wait too long," he says. "Better deals if you book it early."
"Yeah. I was just…I was trying to figure out when I'm flying back."
"Finals are done next week, right?"
"Right. But I, um…I was hoping to maybe stay a little bit longer after they're over. Just to…hang out in the city a bit before I come home."
"Mm-hmm. This have anything to do with that boy?"
Her first instinct is to lie, but she learned at a young age that having a cop for a father makes intentional deceit a bad – not to mention futile – idea. "Maybe. But also just to…relax. Dad, I've been working really hard in my classes, I swear. And I'd just like to hang out with my friends a little bit, since I'm not going to see them all summer."
"Mm-hmm." There's a pause before he speaks again. "Don't you have to be out of there by the end of next week?"
"And you'll be staying where, when you leave your building?" She doesn't say anything, and she can hear the sudden gust of air as he blows out a breath on the other side of the country. "Bells, I know you're not technically living under my roof anymore. But I'm still your dad."
There's a long silence, the only sound the faint buzz of the line, and she's about to cave when she hears him sigh. "I realize you've been living on your own for nine months now, and I haven't been in on anything you're doing, but I'm not sure I like the idea of you living with some kid I don't know."
"Dad, he's not just some kid you don't know." She doesn't elaborate, but hopes that he's able to hear what she doesn't say in the spaces between her words.
"What's his full name?"
"Full. Name. I want to run a background check on this kid."
"Um. Okay. It's Tyler Hawkins. But, Dad? He, uh…he has an arrest record. It was a misunderstanding outside a bar before I even knew him, and the arresting officer was his ex-girlfriend's father. But he's a good person."
"Arrest record or conviction record?"
"If he was arrested but released, it wouldn't have shown up in my search."
"Oh." Damn it. "There weren't any charges filed."
"Please, Dad? This is important. And Mom's coming to visit this weekend and she'll get to meet him, so you can even ask her."
"Bells, I think we both know that your mother's judgment isn't exactly the most reassuring." Another heaving sigh, and she bites back a smile. "All right. But I wasn't kidding about the background check. And I want his address, phone number, social security number, and the names of both of his parents. And maybe his blood type. And medical records."
This time, she laughs out loud. "Thanks, Dad." She spins the pen between her knuckles. "I love you."
"I love you too, Bells."
When she hangs up, she feels a heady dose of exhilaration and pride sweep through her. Charlie has always treated her as independent, as self-sufficient, but having him treat her like an actual adult makes her feel independent and self-sufficient in a whole new way. Added to which, his unspoken approval of her relationship with Tyler makes her feel stable and comfortable in a way she never did with Edward.
The following days are a whirlwind of last-minute cramming, all-night studying, and writing, re-writing, and proofreading. Food breaks are as brief as possible, and the only prolonged breaks Bella takes from studying are to actually sit for final exams. By Thursday, she feels as though she's a zombie, sleepwalking through her days while her brain overflows and spins with facts and theories and all manner of academic material. Having turned in her final paper and with only one exam left to take, she tries to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. When a knock comes at her door at 10:30 on Thursday night, she peels herself away from her textbook and pads across her floor, the flannel of her worn pajama pants dragging across the patterned area rug. She opens it to find Tyler on the other side, clutching a small blue Anthora cup in one hand and an enormous Starbucks one in the other.
"Caffeine," he says, holding up the first cup, "or sugar? I wasn't sure, so I brought both."
She tilts her head to one side, resting her temple against the doorjamb. "What kind of sugar?"
"White chocolate mocha."
"Ooh," she breathes, plucking the larger cup from his hand. "Thanks." She makes a move to shut the door on him, and his sneakered foot appears in the doorjamb.
"What?" she asks, lifting the cup to her lips to take a small sip, eyebrow arched behind the white plastic lid.
"This isn't just a delivery," he says in mock indignation. "This is an interruption."
"Hmm. I don't know if I can afford an interruption at this particular point in time."
"Too bad," he says, pushing the door open with his now-free hand. "I'm interrupting."
She knows her smile is contradicting her verbal protests, but she soldiers on anyway. "And if I was studying?"
"Stop studying. You've been studying forever. You know this stuff." He steps into her personal space and slides the hand not holding the coffee around her waist. "I've missed you."
"I've missed you too," she replies, letting her head fall forward and pressing her forehead to the warm skin of his sternum. His plain gray t-shirt smells faintly musty, the telltale aroma of old books. "Did you just get off work?"
"Yeah," he replies, his voice rumbling against her head.
"Want to stay?"
"Really? Where's Kelsey?"
"Out. She'll be back, but I honestly don't have the energy to do anything besides sleep, so if you're looking for action, you're in the wrong room."
He laughs, pressing a kiss to the crown of her head. "I'm just looking for you."
"You found me," she says, pulling back to take a small sip of her drink. When she looks up at him, he's gazing at her with soft eyes.
"I did. And thank God for that."
"Besides, this is probably the last night visit for a few days. My mother's coming tomorrow."
Bella nods, crossing the room to flop down on her unmade bed, and Tyler follows, kicking off his shoes and lowering himself beside her, his back pressed against her white wall. "Phil's moving up to Triple-A, and he'll be playing for the Columbus…something-or-others."
He laughs. "The Clippers. Not the something-or-others."
She yawns through a shrug. "Okay. Clippers." Just as she's lifting her cup again, she frowns. "How did you know that?"
"It's the minor league affiliate for the Yankees," he replies, opening the small tab on his coffee cup and taking a sip.
"You like the Yankees?"
He shrugs. "Yeah. My father instilled his own loyalties in me at a young age, and they're hard to shake."
"Who do you like?"
She wrinkles her nose. "I don't really like baseball. I mean, I guess Charlie likes the Mariners, but I'm not much of a sports person."
He tips his head back against the wall, and she takes an odd sense of pleasure out of watching his Adam's apple bob as he swallows and talks. "That's because you haven't been to Yankee Stadium."
"You have?" She doesn't know why she's surprised, really; he's lived in New York his whole life, and having met Charles Hawkins, she suspects that, as children, his kids wanted for nothing. A day at the ballpark seems like pretty small potatoes in that world.
"My father has season tickets," he replies, confirming her suspicion. "Not that he ever uses them for any other reason than to impress people."
"So…your mom's coming."
"Yep. Tomorrow, after my final. She and Phil are going house-hunting, and in Renee's world, Greenwich Village is en route from Florida to Ohio."
"Do I get to meet her?"
She tries to keep her surprise from showing on her face. "You want to meet her?"
He fiddles with the lid of his cup. "Your father carries a firearm and is capable of accessing every single detail of my life, and your mother is apparently a hippie who spent your formative years road-tripping with you around the country. If you were in my shoes, which of these two would intimidate you more?"
Bella laughs. "Okay. But my father has absolutely no interest in my romantic life, and the first questions out of my mother's mouth the minute she hears about you are going to be, 'Are you sleeping with him? How is he in bed?' So you tell me."
Tyler's blue-green eyes are wide. "You're kidding."
"Nope." She can't deny that she's enjoying his obvious disbelief. "When most kids get the safe-sex lecture, I was getting the good-sex lecture."
"The 'good-sex' lecture?" he echoes in disbelief.
"Yep. My mother told me never to stay with a guy who doesn't know how to please me sexually, because it's something you just can't teach. Condoms were sort of a sidebar to the importance of, and I quote, 'finding a truly giving lover.'"
"That's…okay, that's sort of horrifying."
She snorts, lifting her cup to her mouth once again. "Try hearing it for the first time when you're twelve."
"Jesus." After a moment, though, the familiar spark of mischief that she adores appears in his eyes, and he licks his lips before taking a sip of his coffee. "And?"
"Have you taken your mother's advice to heart? Have you found a…'truly giving lover'?" His eyebrows waggle, and she rolls her eyes.
"Yeah, but I dumped him to date you instead."
He laughs, setting his coffee on the edge of her desk and pulling her feet into his lap. "Well, I can't tell you how thrilled I am to hear it."
As he begins to rub the arches of her feet through her socks, she moans, her head tipping back against the wall and eyes falling closed. "God, that feels good."
His hands still only momentarily before resuming their movement, a snort passing through his lips. "Careful. I have every intention of being a gentleman, given your bone-deep exhaustion, but if you keep making those sounds, I can't be held responsible for my actions." But he doesn't touch her with anything more than affection despite her inability to contain her verbal responses to his touch, and when she finally turns out the light and feels him curl his body around hers on her tiny twin mattress, the love she feels for him burns nearly as hot as the solid weight of him against her back.
"Gucci, Prada, Coach." Bella sighs as someone hits her with a behemoth shopping bag, and she snags her small purse from her hip and pulls it in front of her body, rearranging the strap so that it's across her torso diagonally instead of hanging from her shoulder.
"I really thought that three pairs would last you until at least Christmas," she says, leaning over her mother's shoulder as Renee considers a rack of shades and pulls a pair with fake rhinestones from the display.
"I spend a lot of time outside watching baseball," she replies. "Things get misplaced."
"Or sat on?" Bella guesses, and Renee huffs.
"Phil hit a homer with two men on in the season opener. I jumped up to cheer, and when I sat back down, I forgot I'd put them on the bleacher seat beside me. That's just being a supportive wife."
Bella laughs despite herself as she feels someone press against her back to get a better look at the table of replica watches set up in front of the sunglasses. She shuffles forward as much as she can without face-planting into the knockoff accessories.
"What do you think?" Renee asks, half-turning to show Bella the frames.
"Very…glitzy," she offers, squinting slightly as the bright spring sunshine catches on the gemstones glued along the arms of the glasses. "I don't know that they scream ballpark, but they do suit you." Renee nods in satisfaction, grabbing the sunglasses and plucking two more pairs from the rack. "I'd grab a few more," Bella offers. "Given that the three I bought you at Christmas didn't even make it to May."
"Good point," her mother replies, entirely unfazed by the teasing barb. Once she's paid the vendor and they've managed to extricate themselves from the crush of bodies, Bella glances up and down Canal Street.
"Did you want to get anything else? Bags? Belts? Jewelry?"
"I don't think so," her mother replies. "I promised Phil we'd meet him for lunch, so we should probably head back to the hotel."
"Okay," Bella replies. "This way." She leads her mother toward the subway station, weaving effortlessly between bodies, and they catch a train to go a few blocks uptown. They retrieve Phil from the hotel and hit Bella's favorite pizza place, both Renee and Phil gushing over the wonder that is New York-style pizza. Bella is just taking a sip of her soda and debating whether she wants to subject herself to the food coma that will result from eating a third slice when her phone vibrates in her pocket. She slides it out and grins at the display before flipping it open.
"Hey, I'm sorry to bother you when you're with your mom."
"It's okay. How are you?"
"Good. How'd your test go?"
"Okay, I think. It wasn't as bad as I was expecting, actually."
"Good," he replies, and Bella feels her mother tugging at her sleeve.
"Is that Tyler?" she barely-whispers, pointing at the phone. Bella rolls her eyes but nods, and Renee's excitement grows. "We want to meet him!"
"What are you guys doing?" Tyler asks, and she returns her focus to the phone, gently extricating her sleeve from her mother's fingers.
"Just finished having lunch. What are you doing? I thought you were working today."
"I was. I actually traded with someone. I, uh…okay, if you have plans, you can absolutely say no. But I thought since your stepdad was a baseball player…if you guys want to go to the game tonight, we can."
"The Yankee game," he says, as if no other game exists. "They're playing the Sox, so it'll be the usual bloodthirsty atmosphere. My dad's not using his tickets."
"The Red Sox or the White Sox?"
There's a pause, and she thinks she hears him laugh. "You really don't know baseball, do you?"
"The Red Sox."
"Hang on." She tilts the mouthpiece of her phone away and focuses on her mother and Phil. "Do you guys want to go to the Yankee game tonight?"
Phil's eyes widen. "But they're playing the Sox tonight!"
"Right," Bella replies, nodding. "The Red Sox."
"Hell yeah! But…wait. How are you getting last-minute tickets to a Yankee-Red Sox game?"
"Tyler's dad has season tickets." She turns her focus to her mother, whose eyes are wide. "Want to go?"
"Will Tyler be there?"
She laughs. "Yeah, Tyler will be there."
"We're in," Bella says into the mouthpiece. "I'm pretty sure you just made their year."
"Charming your mother is my own personal final exam," he says, and flattery washes over her like a tide. "Want me to meet you guys at your dorm and we can walk to the subway?"
"Sure," she says. "Give us, like, half an hour?"
"Perfect. Oh, and don't wear anything red."
She laughs. "Why? Would I suffer grievous bodily harm?"
"Possibly, though it's far more likely someone would just throw beer on you."
"Thanks for the warning."
"See you in a bit. Love you."
"Love you, too," she says, flipping the phone shut, and when she returns her gaze to her mother and Phil, they're both staring at her, wide-eyed. "What?"
"The Yankees?" Phil breathes at the same time her mother almost screeches "Love you?!"
"Yes. And yes." She picks her napkin up from her lap and balls it up before dropping it on the table. "Ready to go?"
By the time they've stopped by Renee and Phil's hotel room and made it back to Bella's dorm room, where she changes out of her pinkish-red top and replaces it with a navy blue t-shirt, Renee is very nearly vibrating with excitement. Bella feels as though she should plead with her mother not to embarrass her, but she doesn't have the energy to expend on a losing battle. When Tyler's two short raps sound on the wood of her door, Renee bounces up from the desk chair like an overexcited puppy. Bella crosses the small room and pulls it open, grinning when she spies Tyler in his trademark t-shirt and jeans, a worn and faded Yankee cap pulled low over his eyes, his hair sticking out from beneath it. "Ready?" he asks, grinning, and she nods.
"Ready." Glancing over her shoulder, she realizes Renee is almost leaning over it. "Um. Okay. Mom, this is Tyler Hawkins. Tyler, this is my mother, Renee Dwyer."
Tyler sticks out a hand. "Mrs. Dwyer, it's nice to meet you."
"And that's my stepfather, Phil," Bella adds, pointing over Renee's shoulder.
Tyler leans to one side, holding up the hand that Renee's not still holding. "Hey, Mr. Dwyer. Congratulations on the Clippers. They've got a good club this year."
"Thanks, man," Phil replies as Bella gently reaches out and pries her mother's fingers from around Tyler's hand.
They make their way to the station, and once on the train, the subway car is peppered with people in pinstriped jerseys and blue t-shirts with surnames that Bella doesn't recognize screen-printed in white ink. O'Neill. Posada. Mussina. Rivera. The only name she recognizes is Jeter, and that's only because she's been in New York too long not to. And because Charlie spends a good amount of time grumbling about how the guy would turn things around for the Mariners, if only Seattle had the cash to lure him away from New York. As the train snakes its way farther north, the number of fans headed for the ballpark grows until the car is crammed with people wearing Yankee hats and shirts; by the time the doors slide open at the 161st Street station, it feels like commuter rush hour.
They exit the train with the crush of people, and Bella glances over her shoulder to see Renee gripping Phil's hand tightly, her eyes wide as she watches the sea of bodies surge in the same direction. Bella slows slightly and leans back, half-yelling over her shoulder.
"Remember how you told me to ride the current when I was trying to body surf?"
"Same principle applies," she says. Renee smiles slightly, and when she turns forward again, she sees Tyler smiling down at her. "What?"
He squeezes her hand in the space between them. "Nothing. It's just kind of fascinating, watching your transformation."
"Tell you later."
She feels like she knows what he's going to say – after all, she's spent hours ruminating over the changes in herself over the course of the past year – but she's curious to hear it from his perspective. The crowd thins slightly as the walkway widens, and by the time they're spit out onto the street, it feels like a typical city crowd instead of the sardine can it had moments earlier. They weave their way around the outside of the stadium, Phil and Renee and Bella laughing and pointing at all of the snarky t-shirt slogans dangling from vendors' stands. Jesus hates the Red Sox. Fack Bawston. Red Sux. When she spies one she doesn't understand, she points and tugs on Tyler's hand. "What's that one about?"
He follows her gaze to a shirt that reads Boston: Babe-less Since 1919 and chuckles. "The Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, and haven't won a World Series since. They call it 'The Curse of the Bambino.' Probably the worst trade in Major League history."
"But wasn't he pretty good?" She hears Phil crack up behind her, and Tyler follows suit. "Shut up, both of you. I'm trying to learn!"
Tyler lifts their joined hands and presses a kiss to the back of hers. "Yeah, he was pretty good."
"So why'd they trade him?"
Tyler shrugs. "Nobody really knows; it was all sort of mysterious. Some people said it was to pay a debt, or because the Babe wanted a pay raise they couldn't or wouldn't afford. Some say the owner did it to finance a Broadway play."
"Well, that seems stupid."
He grins. "See? You're learning already." A few minutes later, he veers to one side, approaching a vendor standing at a kiosk with navy blue t-shirts featuring a host of player names and numbers and a ladder of blue ball caps with the familiar interlocking "NY" logo. He points to a hat. "One of those, please." Glancing over his shoulder, he raises an eyebrow at Bella. "Come on. Find your size."
"She's probably a 6 3/4," Phil offers, and Tyler nods as the vendor reaches over and plucks one from the display. Without waiting for approval, Tyler slides it onto her head and grins. "Perfect fit." He nods in Phil's direction. "Good call."
Her stepfather shrugs. "Occupational hazard."
Tyler laughs. "I'll bet." He waves between them. "What do you guys want? Can't come to the ballpark and leave without something."
After protesting that the gesture is kind but unnecessary and ultimately surrendering to Tyler's insistence, Phil selects a Jeter t-shirt and Renee a pink hat like Bella's navy blue one. Once Tyler has settled with the vendor and the girls are wearing their hats, they make their way once more through the crowd, approaching the stadium. "Damn," she hears Phil breathe, and she looks over her shoulder.
He shakes his head. "Bells, this is the holy grail for a ballplayer. Only thing better than watching a game at Yankee Stadium is playing in one."
She gives him a smile. "Well, you're one step closer," she reminds him, and he shakes his head, eyes traversing the façade of the stadium, the letters spelling its name standing out against the blue sky. When he doesn't respond, she glances up at Tyler. "Thanks for doing this," she says softly, and he smiles down at her, glancing over his shoulder before leaning down toward her and speaking directly into her ear.
"You have no idea what the sight of you in that cap is doing to me right now."
She flushes with pleasure, shivering slightly at the combination of words and rumbling voice against the shell of her ear. Craning her neck to speak into his ear, she murmurs, "Maybe I'll wear just it and nothing else later," and steps back to watch the effect of her suggestion. His eyes darken, his cheeks flush, and when he swallows, a surge of power runs through her. It might be the boldest thing she's ever said in her life, and his obvious reaction makes it more than worth it.
"Okay, you do realize that baseball games can last, like, three hours, right? That thought is going to torture me for the next 200 minutes."
She giggles as they reach the end of a line of people at one of the gates. "Anticipation," she says teasingly, and he groans but squeezes her fingers once.
"You're not staying in your mom's hotel tonight, are you?"
"I was hoping to stay with you."
They reach the ticket-taker, who scans their tickets and waves them into the stadium. Once inside, Phil's awe only grows, and as Bella watches Renee watching her husband, something warm and understanding settles in her chest. Tyler is pointing out things as they make their way through the inside of the arena, and Phil is nodding like a bobblehead doll while Renee and Bella look on, amused. There are more vendors, souvenir stores, food stands, program sellers, and a sea of fans of all ages in replica jerseys and Yankee shirts. By the time they find their way to the quartet of seats along the first base line, Phil is still wide-eyed and wondrous, and Renee's focus has shifted from the stadium and her husband's reaction to Bella's boyfriend.
"Did you want to check out Monument Park?" Tyler asks Phil, glancing at his watch. "We still have some time before the game starts."
"You bet," Phil replies, and Tyler nods, glancing at Bella and Renee.
"We can grab food and drinks on the way back; do you guys want anything?"
Bella shrugs. "What do they have?"
Tyler grins. "Ballpark food. Burgers, dogs, popcorn, peanuts, fries. Absolutely nothing even remotely healthy."
"I'll take some fries and a Coke," she replies, then glances at Renee, who requests a beer and some popcorn.
The boys vanish, and the moment they are out of earshot, Renee turns to face Bella. "He's adorable! Bella, you didn't tell me he was so handsome! God, they did not make them like that when I was eighteen."
"Mom," Bella warns, feeling her cheeks burn even though no one – least of all Tyler, thank God – is around to hear her.
"Are you guys…" Renee trails off, waggling her eyebrows.
"Mom," Bella says again, shifting slightly in her seat.
"That's a yes," Renee says immediately, very nearly bouncing on the edge of her blue metal seat.
"What?! How can you tell that's a yes?"
"I just can. And you just confirmed it." Bella groans, and Renee beams as she continues. "And you're a smart girl, so I don't even need to ask if you're being safe, right?"
"Right," Bella mumbles, watching some guys in the now-familiar pinstripe uniforms throw balls back and forth in the outfield.
"Good girl. And…"
"And what?" she asks, still not looking at her mother and yet knowing all too well what's coming.
"And…how is it?"
"God, Mom, really?"
"It'sreallygood, okay? Can we talk about something else, please?"
"Really good? Like…he knows what he's doing?"
"Sweetie, I just want to make sure. Because he's cute and nice, but you know…other things are important, too."
"He knows what he's doing. He's great. We're great. It's phenomenal. Can we move on now?"
"Oh, sweetie," Renee says, her eyes filling with glee. Bella imagines this must be what normal mothers look like when their daughters share that they're in love, or engaged, or pregnant – not when their eighteen-year-old daughters acknowledge that their boyfriends are really good in bed. A part of her is almost jealous, but an even bigger part of her just really, really loves her mom. And, for a brief, fleeting moment, she allows herself to be thankful that she was never given the option to choose a life that would have taken her relationship with her mother away.
"Yeah, yeah. Okay. Moving on."
Mercifully, Renee allows Bella to drag her focus away from Tyler's bedroom skills and toward a conversation about house hunting in the Midwest, and by the time the boys return, the sun has crept closer and closer toward the horizon, casting the sky in pastel hues above the white concrete facade. Bella leads toward Tyler. "What's with the white fence?"
Tyler smiles as his eyes scan the upper deck. "It's called the frieze," he replies. "There used to be a metal one around the upper deck, but when they renovated the stadium in the seventies, they took it out, so they replaced it with a replica one to keep the iconic feel of the stadium intact."
Bella grins at his profile, and when she says nothing, he turns to face her. Off her stare, his eyes widen. "What?"
"You could write pamphlets or something."
He blushes slightly, leaning forward to lift his cup from the ground and take a sip of soda from the straw. "Yeah, well. I asked my dad that same question a long time ago."
It isn't until he returns his drink to the concrete between his feet that Bella realizes he didn't get a beer. "What's with the soda?" she asks, and Tyler glances past her to her mother, who is engaged in conversation with Phil.
"Good impression," he murmurs into her ear, and she grins.
"Don't worry," she whispers back. "I'm pretty sure I solidified your good impression while you were gone."
"Oh, really? And how did you achieve that?"
"Remember the question I told you would be forthcoming the moment she met you?"
Blue-green eyes widen. "She didn't."
"Oh, she most certainly did."
"Let's just say I thoroughly impressed her with my assurance that you know what you're doing in that department."
She can't tell if the look that crosses his face is more mortified or more preening, but she finds it endearing all the same. "Fantastic," he says finally, leaning back in his seat and watching as the players line up along the first and third base lines. On the announcer's cue, the people in the stands rise to their feet, and the opening bars of the national anthem begin to blare through the loudspeakers. Bella gazes around, taking in the sunset-hued sky, the white stadium "fence," the flags waving gently in the soft breeze, the army of men in white with blue ball caps over their hearts. Half the crowd seems to be singing while the other half simply stands in respectful silence, and as the final bars of the song fade out, she feels a sense of anticipation she's never felt before run through her. She doesn't care about sports, and she doesn't particularly care about the Yankees, so she wonders where, exactly, this unusual thrill is coming from.
"It's something, isn't it?" Tyler asks, plunking his hat back on his head as they retake their seats.
"The atmosphere. Even if you don't like the game, it's tough not to get caught up."
"Yeah," she agrees readily, eyes once again scanning the crowd. As the first batter approaches the plate, his headshot and stats appear on a screen above the outfield, and the announcer's voice comes over the loudspeaker once again. She can hear a chant of some description coming from the bleachers in the outfield. When she can't quite pick it out, she leans toward Tyler. "What are they yelling?"
"They're doing roll call," he replies, shelling a peanut.
"They do roll call after the first pitch of the first inning," he replies. "They call each player's name until the player gives them a wave, then they move on to the next one."
Bella frowns. "Don't they find that annoying?"
Tyler chews slowly, as if considering it, before swallowing and retrieving his cup from the ground. "You know, I never really thought about it, but I don't think so. I think it's just part of the honor of getting to play at Yankee Stadium." She grins, and when he straightens from putting his cup back down, he frowns. "What?"
"Seriously. You might not want to tell your dad you still like them, but you're totally into this."
He mirrors her grin. "I know. I guess it's in the blood."
They settle to watch the game, the Yankees falling behind 1-0 in the top of the third inning, but rallying to score a run apiece in the fourth and fifth innings – the one in the fourth what Tyler calls a "solo homer" off of Bernie Williams' bat – to take a 2-1 lead. When the fifth inning ends, Bella rises and grabs her empty cup to head for the restrooms, but Tyler restrains her with a gentle hand on her wrist. "Hang on a second."
She glances down at him, a small frown creasing her forehead. "I'm just going to pee."
"I know. Just…hang on a second." Just as she's opening her mouth to ask why, a familiar refrain begins to play through the stadium's sound system, and she glances toward the field as the Village People begin belting out their beloved classic. She watches as a small group of men in white shirts begin dragging what appear to be boards behind them by strings, making their way toward second base from third. Their steps are in time with each other, and they're each slightly offset, making their line a diagonal. She lowers herself back into her seat.
"What are they doing?"
"Raking the infield," he replies. "Keep watching."
She does, and just as the song reaches its chorus and the grounds crew reaches first base, the men drop their strings and begin mimicking the familiar moves in time with the song.
"Y-M-C-A!" they mime as the crowd joins in, and Bella laughs aloud, caught completely by surprise. They resume marching, pumping their free fists in time with the beat, until the second chorus comes and they drop their rakes to do it all over again. By the time they're back at third base and are dragging their tools off the field and past the side of the visitors' dugout, Bella is grinning from ear-to-ear. Mirroring her expression, Tyler nudges her with an elbow. "Told you. Okay. Come on, I'll take you to pee."
"I can go alone," she protests, and he rolls his eyes.
"What section are we in?"
She frowns. "Oh."
"Oh," he echoes with a short chuckle, and Bella turns to tell her mom where they're going before they pick their way along the row and up the concrete stairs. She follows him around the concourse, her hand entwined with his, cataloguing the food choices as well as the souvenir stores. When he catches her looking through the window at one of the larger memorabilia shops, he squeezes her fingers. "Want something?" he asks, and she shakes her head.
"Just window shopping." She reaches her free hand up and flicks the bill of her new cap. "Besides, I'm all set."
His eyes flicker up to her hat before focusing on her face. "I do believe I've already mentioned the effect that particular accessory is having on me."
"You have," she agrees. "Though I have to say, this game doesn't seem like it's going to last three hours."
"Nope, it's a quick one," he replies. "For which I'm very grateful. Remind me to send Joe Torre a thank-you note."
"Who's Joe Torre?" she asks as they reach the nearest women's restroom, and he makes a pained sound as he releases her hand.
"Oh, God. I have so much to teach you."
"I'd say you've already done a pretty good job in that department," she says, rising to her toes and pressing a soft kiss to the hinge of his jaw.
"Jesus. Okay, go to the bathroom. I know this stadium well enough to know that there isn't a supply closet I can drag you into, so I'm going to need you to stop torturing me until we can ditch your mom and I can get you back to my apartment."
She laughs. "Noted."
A few hours later, once they have in fact deposited Phil and Renee at their hotel and Renee has thoroughly embarrassed both Bella and Tyler through suggestive eyebrow-waggles and gushing adoration, respectively, they're wandering through the darkened streets toward his building, hands swinging between them. "Thanks for doing that," Bella says once more. "I'm pretty sure that was one of the best nights of Phil's life."
"I like them," he replies simply. "Your mom is a trip."
Bella laughs at the understatement. "That she is."
"Some things remind me of you, though."
She feels her eyebrows hitch slightly; she's so accustomed to being compared to her father – her reliability, sense of responsibility, her coloring – that to be likened to her mother is a surprise. "Really?"
He shrugs. "Your laugh. You kind of have the same laugh. And smile. And you both play with your hands when your minds are wandering."
"Really. Also, you both picked seriously cool guys to date."
At this, Bella laughs. "Actually, in my mother's case, Phil's the first seriously cool guy she dated after she left my dad about seventeen years ago. Good thing she kept him around; she married one really good guy when she was eighteen, and it took her another eighteen years to find another one."
"Maybe that's another thing you have in common," he says softly as they come to a halt on a street corner, waiting for the red "Don't Walk" sign to give way to its white counterpart.
"Maybe you both found the guys you were supposed to keep around when you were eighteen."
Her brown eyes are wide when they turn on him, her mouth hanging slightly open, and he raises a nervous hand to run it through his hair before realizing he's still wearing his cap and settling for lifting the bill slightly before jamming it back down. "What?" she asks, and suddenly she's being yanked forward, Tyler's eyes focused on the pedestrian traffic sign on the opposite corner as they span the black-and-white-striped crosswalk.
"That…I didn't mean it like that," he mumbles, suddenly taking longer strides than she's comfortable keeping time with. "Like…marriage. That was stupid. I didn't mean to freak you out about that."
"You didn't," she only half-lies, trying to keep pace with him as she tries to pretend the concrete sidewalk isn't shifting beneath her feet.
"I just meant…" he trails off and blows out a frustrated breath. "I just want you to know I'm in this. That's all."
"Hey," she gasps, already slightly winded from the double-time pace he's setting. "Wait. I need to slow down."
He comes to a dead stop in the middle of the sidewalk, wide eyes the color of an ocean staring down at her. "Seriously? I freaked you out so badly that you want to slow things down? I didn't mean it like that, I swear—"
She raises a small hand and presses it gently to his mouth. "I meant the walking," she says, trying desperately not to laugh at his almost-crazed expression and uncharacteristic rambling. "I was having a hard time keeping up with you."
"Oh," he says, dropping his gaze and cupping the back of his neck. "Sorry."
"It's okay." Stepping closer, she slides a hand around his body, beneath his thin jacket and his blue replica t-shirt, and the cotton is slightly damp from the sweat gathering at the small of his back. "I'm in this, too," she says softly, tilting her head to one side in an attempt to drag his eyes back to her face. He complies, and she smiles. "I'm all in."
His shoulders drop slightly and he releases the breath he'd been holding. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." She grins. "Besides, given that I told my mother you're a rock star in bed, how stupid of me would it be to kick you to the curb now?"
He chuckles lowly and leans in, pressing his forehead to hers. "A rock star, huh?"
"We're talking Hall of Fame caliber, I think. Not that I have anything to compare it to."
She feels him shake his head slightly against hers. "I kind of like it that you don't," he admits. "Does that make me a Neanderthal?"
"Maybe a little."
He chuckles. "I'm really going to miss you when you go back home."
"I'm going to miss you, too," she says, then realizes she hasn't shared with him the conversation she had with Charlie. "But you get to keep me until June."
He pulls back, all traces of uncertainty vanished from his eyes and replaced with something that looks like mischief and glee. "Oh, really?"
"Really," she confirms with a nod, and he grins.
"Guess I'd better make good on that rock star thing, then, so you don't forget me before I manage to get out to the West Coast."
Bella raises a teasing brow. "Do you really have intentions of sneaking into my childhood bedroom with my cop father down the hall?"
He tilts his head, as if considering. "Does he keep his gun loaded at home?"
"No. But that doesn't mean he doesn't know where the bullets are."
"True. But I figure I have at least fifteen seconds to make it to the front door if he does, in fact, catch us."
Bella laughs. "My bed creaks."
He shakes his head. "I don't want to know how you know that."
She forces her mind not to travel back in time to memories of a boy as heavy as marble. "I was a restless sleeper," she says softly, and he snakes his hand around his back to twist his fingers with hers.
"Not anymore," he says, peering down at her as if for confirmation, and she shakes her head.
"No. Not anymore."