I’d been so consumed by Cole, this was the first time I’d looked at Logan since arriving.
“Go, Logan!” Dad hollered beside me. “Hit a homer, son!”
I was usually the most vocal one in the stands when Logan was at bat, but now my vocal chords wouldn’t work. Dad shot me an odd look as he continued to cheer with the rest of the spectators.
Logan was something of a hometown hero when it came to baseball. Well, when it came to just about anything, but especially when it came to baseball. He was good. Always had been, too. I remember Logan dragging an old wooden bat around when most boys his age were playing video games. He was so good I was certain he could have received some athletic scholarships if he applied to some schools, but he didn’t.
Logan’s dad was the town’s pastor, but he also ran a good-sized cattle ranch Logan had been planning on taking over since the day he knew what taking over the family business entailed. It was eery how similar Logan and I were at times, although I knew his reason for staying behind and working the family business had very little to do with the duty and obligation I felt for mine.
He was staying because he wanted to. Playing minor league baseball was the cherry on top of his dream of running the cattle ranch and coming home to me and our little homestead every night.
Why did I feel like I was suffocating again?
“Who’s Logan?” Cole asked, his eyes narrowing at Logan’s back.
And there was the question. The one I’d been hoping to avoid by either A. explaining to Cole about Logan before we got to this point, or B. continuing to ignore Cole so I never had to explain who exactly Logan was, or C. waking up from this messed up dream.
“Logan?” I began, having no idea what I was going to say. “Logan’s my . . .” I stopped and took a breath. Why was getting the last part out so hard? Logan was my boyfriend. Soon, if he had his way, to be my husband. When I glanced at Cole, who was studying me again, I knew why it was so hard. I knew when I told Cole I had a boyfriend, I’d never see him again.
I wanted to see him again.
Just then, a sharp crack sounded from the diamond. I looked just in time to see the end of Logan’s swing as the baseball sailed high and long. The center fielder made a valiant run for it, but that ball landed a good ten yards past the fence. The stands erupted, chanting Logan’s name. My dad was the loudest one of them all.
Cole caught that, studying my dad with the same intensity. Finally, as Logan rounded third base, Cole nodded. “Logan’s your brother,” he said with confidence.
I shifted in my seat. So he’d figured there was a closeness shared between him and my dad and me, but of course, he’d guessed wrong.
“Not exactly,” I mumbled as Logan jogged over home plate.
The cheering went up a notch.
After high-fiving a few of his teammates, Logan turned around and jogged down the fence line until he was in front of me. He was grinning that boyish grin that had made me fall for him in the first place. Pointing his index finger at me, he winked. “That one was for you, baby!” he shouted for everyone to hear.
The crowd cheered even louder somehow. They loved their golden boy and his couldn’t-care-less attitude towards showing his feelings for me.
I felt my shoulders hunching forward as I shot him a wave and a half-hearted smile. I wanted to fall in between the cracks of these old, rickety bleachers and die right now.
Not because everyone in the stands was looking at me, giving me knowing smiles before turning back to the game, but because one person was looking at me with an intensity I was sure would set me on fire if he didn’t blink soon.
“Baby?” he nearly spit the word. “Baby?” he repeated with as much disdain as one word could hold. “So I guess Logan isn’t your brother.”
I gave one shake of my head, checking the crowd to make sure no one was paying Cole and me much attention. After a quick pat on the back, the neighbor sitting on Dad’s other side had gotten his attention and they were singing Logan’s praises.
“Logan’s your boyfriend,” he said, the muscles of his jaw tightening. “I heard that the town sweetheart, Elle Montgomery, was with the hometown hero. I heard it . . . I just couldn’t believe the Elle Montgomery I knew was a two-timer. I guess the rumor mill was more fact than false this time. You really do have a boyfriend.” It wasn’t a question, so it didn’t require an answer, but I felt it needed clarification. If this was coming out, I might as well get everything out.
Lifting my left hand, I flashed it in front of his face.
Cole nearly choked. “He’s your fiancee?” He paled three shades before going red three seconds later.
“Not yet,” I said, avoiding his eyes. “It’s just a promise ring.”
“Just?” Cole repeated, sounding disgusted. “Just a promise ring?”
I bit my lip and nodded.
Cole stared with disbelief and waited. This was the part where I explained myself. Explained my actions and what I’d been thinking.
I don’t think I could have explained it if someone held a gun up to my head and demanded one. I’d been careless, reckless, impulsive, thoughtless, and never been so sure of anything when I’d been with Cole.
How did you explain something that felt just as right as it felt wrong?
Others might have been able to, but I couldn’t.
“This explains a whole hell of a lot,” Cole said loudly.
My eyes drifted to my dad. He was cheering for the next guy up to bat, none the wiser.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Cole said, his voice sarcastic. “Is that why we’ve been whispering? Why you’ve been all but shielding me with your body? You don’t want your friends and family”—Cole’s hand waved with agitation at the field—“your damn promise ring boyfriend to find out about your dirty little secret?” His face changed then. A small crack in his anger formed and what I saw in that crack broke my heart.
“Cole . . .” I started, not knowing what I was going to say, but just needing to say something.
“Sorry, Elle. I’m out,” he said, refusing to look my way. “I’m not going to be anyone’s dirty little secret.” He turned around, his shoulders tense, and walked away.
I leaped down the side of the bleachers before he’d made it to the parking lot. I knew dad would probably notice this not-so-covert-op, I knew Logan might too, but I didn’t care right now.
Cole turning his back on me and walking away was what finally put me into action. I didn’t check to see if anyone was watching, I just jogged after him.
“Cole!” I shouted, ignoring the way his body tensed even more when he heard me. He didn’t stop.
“Cole, wait!” Knowing stopping wasn’t his plan, I picked up my pace. I got to him just before he rounded his Land Cruiser. “Cole,” I said, grabbing his arm.
I could have just slapped him for the way he flinched away from me. “What do you want, Elle?” he said, glaring at me in a way I’d never been glared at before. It was . . . staggering.
“I’m sorry,” I said, forcing myself to keep staring at him.
“You’re sorry? You are sorry.” Each word came out slowly, but each one was scalding with anger. “I suppose that makes everything all right now, right? Elle says she’s sorry, so now we’re good. Right?”
Shoot. He was really angry. So much so, his body was quivering. I couldn’t recall a time I’d seen someone so angry.
“Cole . . .”
“Just . . .” He glared at me again before a flash of pain swept over him. “Just enough, okay? I’m done with whatever bullshit of a thing we had,” he said, hopping into his Land Cruiser.
I stepped back when the engine roared to life. Cole rolled down the window and took one last look at me before sliding a pair of sunglasses on. If there was a contest for contempt, Cole would have just snagged the first place trophy.
“I guess you really had me fooled, too, Elle Montgomery,” he said, gripping the steering wheel so hard it looked like he was about to rip it off.
I had so much to say. So much to apologize for and try to explain, but that would never happen because before I could get one word out, Cole peeled out of the parking lot like he couldn’t get away from me fast enough.
I stood there for a few minutes, shedding a few tears for a boy I’d known a week. For a boy I was as wrong for as he was wrong for me.
Cole and I could never be. There was positively no future for us. I knew that, but my heart ached, and some part of me refused to accept that.
No one had noticed the event in the parking lot that had successfully ripped my guts out. Not one person had witnessed what had surely been one of the most excruciating moments of my life. It strangely reminded me of the saying about if no one’s around to hear a tree fall in the forest, does it make a sound. If no one was around to witness what just went down between Cole and me, could I pretend it hadn’t happened? Could I tell myself I hadn’t just watched his face crumble into a hundred emotions? Could I imagine I’d have more missed calls from Cole Carson to look forward to?
Even I wasn’t that naive.
After staring for a few minutes at the spot Cole’s car had disappeared from my view, I wandered back to the game. My dad assumed I’d been in the bathroom taking care of more girly business he wanted no part of, and Logan didn’t even look my way again until he went up to bat a couple innings later.
I knew this might be a case of the grass being greener on the other side, but right now, I think I would have preferred being caught chasing after some guy than being totally ignored.
It might have been a stretch, but it made me feel very insignificant.
Other than Logan’s mom asking me if I’d given any thought to what colors I’d like for Logan’s and my wedding—I’d choked on the piece of popcorn I’d been munching on and told her I’d have to get back with her later on that . . . much later—no one even spoke to me. Well, other than Dad, although I’m not sure if questions that required a one word reply constituted as conversation.
At the end of the ninth inning, my butt was numb, I was hot and sweaty from baking in the sun, and my mood was all over the place. Wasn’t the best time for Logan to sneak attack me.
“Hey, baby.” Logan’s arms wound around me and he placed a chaste kiss on my cheek as I headed toward my Jeep. “Weren’t you planning on waiting for me?” He sounded a little hurt, and when I turned in his arms, his expression revealed the same. Whatever I was going through, Logan didn’t deserve to be dragged into it. He wasn’t perfect, and lord knows I was having a tough time with his old fashioned ways as of late, but he was a good guy. A really good guy. The kind of guy girls wait years to find, if they ever find that certain someone at all.
“Sorry, I just needed to grab something from the Jeep real quick. I wasn’t leaving.” The lies were becoming easier. “That was a great game. Two home-runs and one double in a single game? You better watch out or you’re going to have colleges lining up to sign you to their teams.”