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I definitely do not miss JTM commericals.
The two of them were the most attractive couple in the bar, as had often been the case in the past. She had obviously gone to the same lengths as he had for appearances. They greeted each other, made small talk, and picked the labels off their beers.
“What is it you want?” Casey finally asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Why did you ask me here?”
“I just wanted to talk to you, to see how you were doing?”
“What about Michael?”
“What about him?”
“What does he think about you meeting me?”
“I didn’t tell him.”
“Really, Anne, something seems to be on your mind. What is it?”
She stared hard at her beer like she was trying to squeeze herself into the bottle to escape. She had changed, he could see that. She had always been bold, defiant of tense situations, a kind of diffuser. Next to him sat an unassured, nervous wreck of a woman, a broken woman too afraid to say what she was desperately trying to spit out. What had happened to her?
“Look,” he said. “I know about you and Michael – A.J. told me about it, told me about how while I was off fighting a war for a country that doesn’t deserve it, you were fucking him – and you did it after I had given you a ring, after you had pledged to spend your life with me.”
“You wrecked my life, Anne, you know that? You broke me, broke my heart, and then you think you can just march into my life again like nothing had happened. What is it you want, Anne?”
He caught a glimpse of her eyes as she tried to look at him before they sank back into the bottle. Green eyes, a green different than diamond green. Anne green. Heartbreak green.
“He asked me to marry him.”
“Damn it!” Casey screamed as he slammed his fist onto the bar, knocking over an empty glass at the spot next to his. “You asked me here to tell me that, to torture me, to reopen wounds that still have scabs over them? All of this time, I thought the problem with our relationship was me, was what I had become as a result of the war, but I was wrong. It was you who was the problem! You emotionally abused me, made me feel guilty about leaving you to go to war, all the while your cheating ass was in another man’s bed! How the hell did I not see this?”
“I’m still not over you, goddamnit! I still hurt, still dream about you, still fantasize about you. I haven’t had a relationship since you – I haven’t even had sex more than a handful of times, and you bring me here to pour your wretched salt!”
“Casey! I said no.”
“Damn it, Anne, if you said no, why did you even bring it up?”
“Casey, it’s over between us, Michael and me.”
“So what does that have to do with me?”
“I need someone to talk to, someone I can trust. I need you, Case, I do.”
“For what, sex? You want to use me?”
“No, Case, no. You are such a good listener, someone who doesn’t try to give unwanted advice. Oh, I’ve missed you.”
“You have some nerve.” He called the waiter for his check. “You know, until I found out that you had cheated, I desperately wished that we could get back together somehow. Sometimes the hope, no matter how irrational it was, kept me going. And to think, when I was suffering in the wretched desert heat, where humanity was as scarce as water, thoughts of spending my life with you buoyed me in the sea of my misery. I’d lie awake thinking only of you, staring up at the infinity in the sparkling sky and remembered your eyes and your smile and every curve and crevice of your body, and you kept me alive over there. Did you know when you left me I didn’t get out of bed for two weeks? Did you know I had to beg to keep my job, that I took those two weeks off without pay, that I had to beg the landlord not to kick me out of our – my – apartment? Did you know…”
“Casey, please stop!” She began to cry.
“Did you ever love me?”
“Yes, I loved you! I’ve never stopped loving you. But you had become unbearable. I couldn’t take anymore.”
“Couldn’t take anymore? I was gone for the better part of two years! How could you get sick of me if I wasn’t around?”
“It was when you were around, and then the fact that you weren’t around, and then that distance in your voice when you called, and the coldness when I was near you – all of it. It was like your soul had died.
“My soul did die! It was shattered into a billion pieces like the mutilated bodies I had to see!”
The anger was fading from him. He did not know if it was her tears, memories of the war, or a simple desire to change the subject, but he was not going to continue the argument.
“Look, I didn’t invite you here to argue. Won’t you stay and watch the game with me?”
As always, his heart ruled his mind, and he conceded to her wishes. They locked up the past, at least the bad parts, and watched the Minnesota Twins lose yet another playoff game. He was aware that she kept moving closer to him throughout the night, and he responded by putting his hand on her thigh. And then he took her home.
They spent the night and half of the next day trying to make up the last two years. Casey managed to put thoughts of Michael out of his mind and pretend she was his Anne, the Anne he was supposed to spend the rest of his life with. It was like riding a bicycle, one he got off when she left in the late afternoon. He called Marin soon after the door closed and asked her to dinner – he did not want to have time to think about Anne and if anything further would happen between them. The chemistry with Marin put Anne out of his mind completely when they were together, so he spent as much time as he could with her. Was it a rebound if it was two years after the fact?
The Reds defeated the hated Dodgers to win the Division Series and head to the National League Championship Series, where they would meet the even more hated, the most hated Cardinals, the Wild Card team. The Deadbirds.
Anne called him, but he told her he did not want to be disturbed until the end of the World Series, and to excuse him, but he needed more time to sort things out. Meanwhile, he saw Marin nearly every day.
Game 1 of the National League Championship Series with the Cincinnati Reds, what magic those words had, words that fans had waited a dozen long, losing years to hear. That they had to play the hated Deadbirds added fuel to the desire for victory. It was a team he hated even more than the evil pinstripes, especially since the evil Deadbirds fans had berated him on the Viva El Birdbrains blog, as he liked to call it. All he had said in a comment earlier in the year was to give the Reds some respect, and he was subjected to “We’re World Series Champs, you don’t deserve respect.” We’d show them.
He did not feel the need to bring the magic peanuts to the NLCS on account of his winnings, a stack that was growing faster than he took from it. He even put down money in the team store for a Division Champion shirt. Such luxuries had been unavailable to him on his indentured servant budget. It felt nice to spend a little money.
The kinetic atmosphere rippled through the stadium like a seismic occurrence had disturbed a dozen years of dormancy. The whole ballpark shook as Casey had never witnessed it. Oh yes,
Casey and Sidney took their seats in the box with the intention of standing most of the game, at least if things would go the right way for the Reds, and Casey had a good feeling they would rip the Deadbirds to shreds, knocking Chris Carpenter out in the second inning. When he mentioned it to
Crisp autumn air mingled with the electricity emitted by the crowd while objects burned with the radiance of individual suns under the glow of the stadium lights. A perfect chill clung to sweaters and caps and gloves, a welcome chill warmed by the thrill of excitement, a culmination of spring’s rebirth, summer’s lethargy, and the machination of September’s playoff drive. The sight was art, more beautiful and more valuable than anything created by Michelangelo or Monet.
The game was a stunning display of raw power in which sluggers sent baseballs sailing through the glowing blackness, igniting explosions of multifarious light from the smoke stacks and sounding off decibel levels that rivaled anything Boeing could produce. During the last few innings, not a soul sat down. With arms raised, legs jumping, and hearts soaring, fans watched the beloved baseball team in the white and red uniforms capture victory from their bitter enemies. Casey earned three months salary in one night.
The next night was just as thrilling, just as profitable, and just as victorious. Casey toyed with the idea of traveling to the hated town of
The Deadbirds took Games 3 and 5 and Casey found himself in the regular box for Game 6, the taste and sounds and sights of victory sending his pulse racing. Sidney, who had seemed unconcerned by the results of regular season games, was jumping up and down like a kid on every pitch.
The team was down 3-2 in the seventh inning, but the whole stadium could feel a comeback. They just knew. Even
Billy Bray, who had come into his own and had been a lights out closer in September and October, throws pure adrenaline to the plate, striking out the first two batters.
The Cardinals season ended on a highlight reel stab by a guy who usually makes blooper reels. Every negative feeling, every problem of 45,000+ evaporated into the volcanic joy that erupted as Adam picked himself up off the ground and held up his glove for the umpires to see. The Cincinnati Reds were going to the World Series.
Suck it, network television.
The stadium poured into the streets and set out for the town, ignoring the fact that it was a Tuesday night. Police looked the other way as bars stayed open as late as people were willing to celebrate. Employers ignored the arrival times or absences of their employees the next day. Managers and executives, too, were part of that crowd. Affairs of the city would be put on hold for the next week or so. Nothing but joy flowed through the whole small market area; Casey had no care in the world aside from Reds baseball. He watched the Oakland A’s defeat the Blue Jays while at the Inn Between – it would be a rematch of the 1990 World Series, the last time either team had been to the Fall Classic, a battle of small markets and another nightmare for the Fox Corporation. Casey geared up for a seven game series and was grateful that the feelings were not giving away the ending for once. This was what made life worth living.