It was a perfect day for baseball as we pulled into the ballpark’s parking lot. Although it had been overcast with scattered rain for the past couple of days with more rain in the forecast, the sun was out, the skies were clear and there was a little breeze.
We got to the ballpark a little early, but the parking lot was already starting to fill up.
I did have a little bottle of sunscreen that I kept in the truck and applied it to my arms and neck as soon as we got out.
“Hang on a sec-” I caution Talia. For the occasion, the wolf-girl was wearing the Sea Wolves jersey I gave her and a pair of shorts. Without giving her any warning, I daubed a little sunblock on the tip of her nose as she scowled at me.
“Don’t look at me like that….” I chuckle. “Unless you want to put it on all by yourself and get it all smeared into your fur.”
I apply a little more to her cheeks and forehead before rubbing it in. Talia’s chortling now.
“What? Does that tickle?”
“Oh that’s not it.” Talia says innocently. “Here I am out in public with you insisting on putting a sticky white cream all over my face in front of everyone, you pervert.”
“And I thought MY mind was in the gutter.” I say as I move around to take care of the back of her neck. Her hair is just long enough that she needs to hold it up when I’m applying the last of the sunscreen.
“Are your ears going to be all right?” I ask her.
She nods. Now that I think about it, her ears seem to be doing just fine without any additional protection from the elements.
Although the parking lot is full, not everybody has headed inside right away since we have a good half hour or so before first pitch.
We take our time heading into the gates. On the way in, Talia’s nose picked up a particularly savory barbecue and before I knew it, she had taken my hand and we were in front of a middle aged couple by an RV tending to a charcoal grill. The wolf girl’s tail is wagging and she’s practically drooling as she takes in the sight of ribs and chicken wings sizzling away on the grill.
The couple looks at us warily.
“What can I say?” I chuckle nervously as I try guiding Talia away from there by the elbow. “I guess the nose knows, huh?”
The husband gets up to tend to the meat and addresses the two of us.
“She’s got good taste then.” he says as he meticulously rotates the chicken and ribs with a pair of tongs.
He introduces himself- I already forgot his name- but he tells us that he’s been retired for a few years from his old job and has been making homemade barbecue sauce as a hobby since he retired. Must be nice making some money doing what you love.
“And that’s my IT department.” he chuckles as he points to his wife.
“Don’t forget Human Resources.” she says to hubby as she waves to the two of us before lighting up a cigarette.
The man then hands me a business card and apologizes for not having any samples on him, but assures me that I can order some through his website if we like what we smelled.
Talia’s hardly taken her eyes off of the grill the whole time before we finally excuse ourselves and make our way to the park’s entrance.
Our tickets are scanned by a little laser gun that reads the barcode- which I gotta admit is pretty high tech for this podunk little minor league ballpark. Still- it seems like half the town is here this afternoon.
Before we make our way to our seats, I offer to get Talia a bite to eat at the concession stand. She decides on a hot dog while I get a beer and some nachos.
We get to our seats in time to catch the Komets still taking batting practice while the Ospreys’ starter is warming up in a bullpen down the third base line.
“So those guys are basically doing what you and I are doing when we go out that that old field?” she asks.
“Yup- they just have more people and better equipment on the field than the two of us.”
Before long, the players cleared the field and a mic stand was brought out with a nervous looking teenager was standing before it. The ballpark announcer introduced her as a member of the local high school’s choir here to sing the national anthem.
Along with every other man in the ballpark, I removed my cap and placed my hand over my heart. I could see that Talia was looking around, unsure of what to do since she had no cap of her own. The kid singing the anthem was pretty good and thankfully didn’t try adding some ‘unique’ flourish to the Star Spangled Banner that so many people attempt (and fall short). By the time we got to "....and the hoooome of the braaaaaaaaave…..", I saw that Talia had followed everyone else’s lead and put her hand-paw over her heart while the crowd begins to applaud the nervous singer who’s finally hitting her stride.
After announcing ‘Play ball!’, the first three innings seemed to fly by. The game had all the makings of a good old-fashioned pitcher’s duel, with hits for both sides hard to come by.
The Ospreys’ don’t allow a baserunner until the bottom of the third when the pitcher walks the leadoff batter.
Unfortunately for Kingstown, their next batter was a sluggish outfielder who was barely hitting .200 in Single-A ball this season. However, the Komets were prepared.
“Bet they’re gonna sacrifice here.” I mutter.
Talia looks at me confused before returning her attention to the at-bat.
With the runner getting a good lead off of first base, the batter laid down an almost perfect bunt that dribbles up along the grass on the third base side. The pitcher seems flat footed for a moment before he scrambles off the mound and scoops up the motionless ball with his bare hand.
Turning to look at the runner almost at second base, the pitcher realizes his only play is going to be the runner at first. The throw barely gets there ahead of the batter, but the Komets have a runner in scoring position with one out.
The crowd gives the light-hitting outfielder a smattering of applause as he makes his way back to the dugout. This confuses Talia, though.
"Why are they applauding him?" she asks. "He was out."
"Right- it's a sacrifice bunt." I explain to her. "It was more important to the manager that the runner already on base advance to second than the batter reaches first base safely."
"Because now they've got a baserunner in scoring position. He could come home on a base hit now."
"I think I get it....the number of outs isn't as important as where the runner ends up."
"You got it- as long as there’s less than two outs. It's what some people would call a sacrifice or productive out- anything that moves the runner up or gets him across home plate without ending the inning could be considered a productive out."
Almost as soon as I say that, we both turn our attention back to the ballgame in time to see the Evansfield pitcher try and get the next Komets batter out. Instead, he uncorks a wild pitch that bounced well to the right of the catcher.
The Komets baserunner on second took off for third as the catcher was trying to corral the ball somewhere around the backstop. He slides into third, even though there was no throw from the Ospreys catcher.
Although they seemed more interested in the goofy antics of the Komets mascot, the crowd seems to realize what's going on for the first time and starts coming to life, giving the runner on third a round of applause for getting himself 90 feet from home plate.
Talia looks around before turning to me.
"Was that a productive out?"
"Even better." I explain. "There's still only one out and just about anything could bring the runner home from third now."
"So.....if you're the thrower...."
"Pitcher." I corrected.
"If you're him, what can you hope to do in this situation?"
I wait for the next pitch. The batter swings and misses to bring the count to one ball and one strike.
"Well....for the Ospreys, you'd want him to strike this batter out and get the next guy out however you can. Then you'd have stranded the runner at third and without giving up a run."
"I get it- but what if there's another one of those wild throws?"
I probably have a big goofy grin on my face right now and don't even bother correcting her. Outwardly, Talia doesn't seem to be as enthusiastic about baseball as I am. However, the questions she's been peppering me with show me that she's paying attention and seems to want to learn more.
"Depending on how far the pitch goes, the runner on third can just about saunter on home from there."
Before she can ask me anything else, there is a sharp, resounding *crack* as ball meets timber. The Komets batter dropped the bat and took off around the bases as the stitched orb soared high and into left field. It didn't have enough power to leave the park, but it was only through the surprising speed of the Ospreys left-fielder that it didn't get down for a base hit as he dove and snagged the ball out of midair from about knee high. As he tumbled onto the grassy turf in left field and sprang back up, the Komets baserunner tagged up and sprinted home for the first run of the game.
The crowd is much more lively now, cheering the runner as he walks back to the dugout, catching his breath and getting high fives from his teammates. I'm not sure if they were applauding the first run scoring or admiring the hustle of the Ospreys' left fielder- I'd like to think an opposing player who makes a tremendous effort is still capable of getting applause from an otherwise hostile crowd.
There's a tug on my sleeve. It's Talia, looking up at me.
"Was that a productive out?" she asks.
"You got it…..sac fly!"
Kind of like when she went out on her own and got a part time job without any prompting from me, I'm strangely proud of her for some reason.
It was still a 1-0 game for the Komets in the top of the 5th, but the Kingstown pitcher seemed to be struggling after getting the leadoff batter to fly out to shallow right. The second Ospreys batter of the inning effortlessly chugged to second base after hitting a towering line drive that missed being a home run by less than a foot and bounced off the outfield wall. It easily could’ve been a triple had the Komets center fielder not cleanly played the live ball on a bounce off of the wall.
That booming hit seemed to shake the pitcher’s confidence right away. With a runner in scoring position, he walked the next Ospreys batter on six pitches.
“He’s losing ‘em. That wasn’t intentional.” I mutter.
“Intentional?” Talia asks me.
“Yeah- sometimes pitchers will intentionally walk a batter that’s been hitting them well to get to the next batter and take their chances with them.”
“I see. That kind of makes sense….”
“Yeah….but usually they have a few words with their catcher or the manager comes out of the dugout before they do that. That didn’t happen just now.”
Talia nodded. She was paying enough attention to understand that wasn’t what was going on in this inning.
Even worse for the Komets, the next batter was hitting a rather impressive .371 this season.
“OK…” I explain to Talia a little apprehensively. “This guy’s been hitting real good this season- on average, he’s gotten on base almost four times for every ten at-bats.”
“Is that good?”
“I’m rounding up, but yes. A .300 batting average in considered good in any level of baseball.”
No sooner have I said that than the air in the ballpark is filled with a sharp wooden ‘’CRACK!’’. In the blink of an eye, the shortstop is on the ground- I didn’t even see him take the play, the ball was just hit that hard to him. Instead of getting up, the sprawled shortstop deftly tosses the ball to the second baseman who’s remaining next to the bag like a sentry. The baserunner from first tries sliding into second with the sole intention of sending the Komets second baseman tumbling to the ground before he can throw the ball to first base. However, the second baseman hurls it towards first- a little high, but the first baseman is able to jump up and snag it in time to tag out the batter.
The increasingly shaky Komets starter was saved by his defense and got out of a jam thanks to an inning-ending double play.
Our little celebration of the double-play was cut short as an translucent amber liquid suddenly poured down on us from behind.
Beer- and the lion's share of it landed all over Talia.
Behind us, a couple of heavyset and drunken buffoons were celebrating, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they just dumped their beer all over us. The two of them stop fist-bumping and high-fiving long enough to see me scowling at the two of them.
"Hey- watch it." I say loud enough to be heard over the din of the crowd.
"Oh- I'm sorry, bro." the larger one says halfheartedly as he looks at his mostly-empty beer cup and starts putting two and two together.
Well....it's not like he can un-spill that beer. I look at Talia and am about to say something when the guy behind me turns to address his compatriot.
"Dude- I didn't know it was Take Your Dog To the Ballpark day." he said, jerking his thumb towards Talia. "Doesn't this place have leash laws?"
His companion guffaws
A profoundly hurt expression clouds Talia's face as I can see her clench her jaw slightly- something I haven't seen since she was begging for scraps along the off-ramp. She looks like she's about to say something when I speak up.
"Excuse me." I snap at the two of them. "What did you just say?"
Even though I didn't yell, my voice cut through the ambient crowd noise clear enough since people were now sitting back down.
"I was just joking." palooka number one says. "Lighten up, bro."
"I am NOT your "bro"...." I snarl. To emphasize this point, I reach out and smack the plastic cup with the remaining beer out of his hand before he can dump any more on Talia.
If I was thinking rationally, I may not have been quite as eager to physically challenge two guys who had been drinking, each with about 50 lbs on me (and likely had at least some muscle under their girth) and were sitting above me at the time. But they were talking shit about the wolf-girl who had been so good to me while she’s standing right there.
Talia looks like she's about ready to say something when I hold up my forearm. I'm too busy staring down the more talkative palooka to see her facial expression. The crowd around us is starting to murmur and stare and I might've heard someone mention 'security' a few times.
Looking at it objectively, I'm either going to get my ass kicked or get me and Talia booted out from the park. Maybe both. I don’t want Talia jumping in either, since that would kind of defeat the whole purpose of me standing up for her. Or at least trying to.
However, my salvation comes from an unlikely source.
"What's going on here?" an unknown woman's voice calls out. I don't recognize it, but the head palooka certainly does as his facial expression drops.
"N-nothing, babe...." he says, his demeanor timid all of a sudden.
Turning, I see a dark haired woman making her way up the row behind us to him. Honestly, the only thing that prevents her from making the 'Hot Chicks with Douchebags' list isn't the 10 or 15 extra pounds of baby fat on her, but rather the tapestry of incomplete and poorly done tattoos on her left arm.
She's human. And she's moving cautiously up her row, since in each of her hands is a little thing of soft-serve ice cream served in an upside down little miniature Komets batting helmet.
The woman sees Talia's wet jersey and her guy without a beer in his hand and starts figuring it out.
"Where's your beer?" she asked in an accusatory tone. "I told you that you had to make that last 'til the 7th inning stretch."
"I....I kinda spilled it." he says sheepishly.
"Yeah. I can see that." she says, looking at Talia and then at her man.
I'm not sure what she's going to do next. The buxom human woman then turns to Talia and leans in close from the row above.
"I apologize for my husband's clumsiness. I know how much he loves his beer...." she shot him an accusatory glare. "....more than me sometimes....and I can promise you that it was an accident. He wouldn't waste a drop. And Ronnie?" she admonishes palooka number two. "I can't even leave you alone with your brother for five minutes to get some ice cream, can I?"
It's not lost on me that the human woman's massive jugs are barely being held in place by her bra and tank top and are now just inches away from Talia's nose as she's leaning in. On the one hand it's kind of hot, but on the other hand I'm worried this might send the wolf-girl's inferiority complex into overdrive.
"Aww....he got it all over your jersey, too." the dark haired human pouts a little as she stands up. "Tell you what..." she hands Talia a the little helmet full of ice cream. "Would you like some?"
"S-sure...." Talia says a little nervously as she takes it. Her cheeks are still crimson after getting a faceful of the dark-haired human woman's tits as they were ready to break free of her tank top.
With one of her hands free, the dark haired woman grabs at the fabric of Talia's jersey.
"Aww....such a cute jersey. It looks great on you."
"Thanks." Talia said. She's uncharacteristically quiet, but I can see her tail start to wag as she tentatively licks at the soft serve ice cream. She seems to have forgotten that she had been handed a spoon, too.
"Babe- why you givin' my ice cream away?" the head palooka pouts like an oversized child.
The buxom brunette shoots him a murderous gaze that seems to say "You know what you did" before turning her attention back to Talia.
"Sea Wolves? Are they Federal League?" she asks.
"Eastern league." I speak up for the first time in seemingly forever.
"Oh? Are you from Erie? My family still lives in Ashtabula..." the buxom human asks, her question directed at either Talia and me.
"Actually..." Talia speaks up, nodding towards me. "It was a gift from him."
"Well then, your boyfriend has a good eye."
Instead of immediately denying that I was her boyfriend, Talia's face lights up and the tempo of her wagging tail starts to increase.
"You think so?" the petite werewolf beams.
"Oh sure....I mean, for you that works on a couple of levels."
"Thanks- this is actually my first time at the ballpark."
"Well, you two picked a pretty good day for it."
“Good thing they’re getting this game in when they did, tho’.” Palooka number one speaks up as he’s now looking at his smartphone. “90% Chance of showers starting at 3:30 this afternoon.”
Now that he mentioned it. I could see what looks like storm clouds way off on the horizon.
“What happens if it starts raining?” Talia asks me.
“They’ll roll a tarp out on the field and wait out the storm.” I explain to her. “If they get through five innings, that makes it an official game.”
“We’re in the fifth inning now….” she says as she looks at the scoreboard.
“That’s right- if the Komets can get three more outs without giving up the run and it starts raining hard enough where they call the game, they’ll win.” Talia’s new busty friend chimed in.
And just like that, Talia had made a new friend as she sat back down, but was turned at an angle where she could still face the buxom human brunette. That left me and her palooka husband and (presumably) brother-in-law to make small talk while the two women were chatting away and making inroads into their ice cream. I can’t help but arch an eyebrow as Talia and the talkative, gregarious human woman poses for a selfie with her and the wolf-girl.
Despite some struggles in the fifth inning, the Komets were able to get two more solid innings from the starter, nursing their one run lead into the seventh inning stretch. Although she didn’t know the words, Talia sang along as the lyrics to ‘’Take Me Out to the Ballgame’’ flashed on the scoreboard.
The petite wolf-girl looked like she was having fun, even with all that had happened earlier. And for some reason, that makes me happy too.
Before she says a word, her right claw-finger streaks dangerously close to my face as she's pointing to something.
"Hey, Joseph!" She calls out excitedly in a tone that indicates she forgot I'm standing next to her. "We're on the scoreboard!"
I take a look at the big video screen on the scoreboard. Unremarkable average-looking guy with an attractive, petite girl with wolf's ears and a wolf's tail.
Yup. That's us.
My breath hitches when I realize what's going on, though. There's country music playing in the background and instead of a normal image, she and I are surrounded by red and pink hearts superimposed on the screen.
I don't listen to much country music, but I recognize the song as Lady Antebellum's Just a Kiss. Time stands still as it all sinks in.
We're on the ballpark's kiss-cam.
I don't know how long we've been on camera, but is seems as though the crowd is already growing impatient with the lack of any public displays of affection on our part.
"Hey man! Kiss her already!" someone in our section calls out.
This is followed by a few more scattered cries of "Do it!" or "Go on!", seemingly from all around the ballpark.
"Why am I doing this?" I ponder, taking off my cap. "Oh right- so thousands of people I've never met before and will never see again won't call me a homo for NOT kissing the pretty wolf-girl standing next to me." It then takes me all of two seconds to cave in to peer pressure from a few thousand total strangers. Who am I kidding? This is something I wanted for awhile now.
Guess I should be glad the ballpark didn't have a Rape-Cam I quietly muse as I cautiously lean in towards Talia, who's looking back at me in anticipation. She's smiling shyly. I can see her bushy copper-tipped tail swishing back and forth while her left ear is twitching.
I feel like a nervous teenager as I lean in to kiss Talia with seemingly every set of eyes in the ballpark upon us. Talia, however, has run out of patience and is now on her tiptoes, her hand resting where the base of my neck and my shoulder meet and pulling me closer towards her. This catches me a little off guard as our foreheads bump against each other.
The two of us recover quickly from the awkward little bump and after so much anticipation on my part, my lips are on hers.
Even though the moment seems frozen in time, my lips quickly found hers as my eyes close and scattered applause began rippling through the crowd. It doesn't matter that her breath smells like hot dog and mustard, and she doesn't seem to mind the beer lingering on my breath.
My God, her lips are so warm and soft. I could just stay like this for days
Inside my head, that mantra repeats itself a thousand times in just one nanosecond before I feel her pull away.
I open my eyes in time to see her looking up at me with a sly and satisfied grin. But instead of turning away, she gets up on her tippy-toes and gives me another quick kiss on the lips and throws me a coy little wink.
For some reason, that kiss was the catalyst that shook the last cobwebs of denial from my mind.
I'm smitten. That can be the only explanation for it.
The smart-ass little werewolf leans back and says something to her new human friend that I can’t quite catch. All I know is that my ears are burning as the human woman chuckled and gives her a playful punch on the shoulder.
I’m 99% sure I’m being talked about, and I sure would like to know the context. But Talia and her new friend seem content to leave me in the dark as the game goes on.
The bottom half of the seventh inning starts off with the chunky, slow, light hitting Komets outfielder batting leadoff and belting a solo home run well over the wall at center field on the third pitch of the at-bat. The crowd roars its approval as the home team gets a little bit of insurance.
For some reason, a number of fans started making their way to the exits after that home run. They seemed confident this 2-0 lead was going to stand up with two more innings to go, even though a two run lead is hardly safe at any level of baseball.
The second Komets batter manages to get a walk on three straight pitches as there’s signs of frantic activity in the Ospreys’ bullpen. However, the third Komets batter of the inning grounds into a double play to help the pitcher out. With two away, the light-hitting catcher manages to hit a flare that falls between the Ospreys’ second baseman and center-fielder in the shallow grass of the outfield. This brought up a Colombian kid named Renteria who was playing 3rd base for the Komets. The consensus was that out of all the players in the ballpark today, this Renteria kid was most likely going to be the one to make it to the major leagues the fastest.
Full count. The Osprey's 3rd baseman was making the Kingston reliever really work for this out.
Another foul ball.
The crowd was getting a little antsy by the time the 12th pitch of the at-bat rolled around. For some reason, I began paying closer attention to the approaching cloud formation than the at-bat.
I was dimly aware of the crack of the bat on the little horsehide orb. Fortunately for me, Talia was paying closer attention.
The werewolf's claws pulling me back a few inches was the only thing that was preventing me from wearing the thirteenth pitch of the at bat as I heard the foul ball whistle right past my left ear. My head was still facing the wrong direction to see the foul ball actually hit anything, but I could hear it impact something solid behind us- most likely an empty seat or the stairs. It took a prodigious bounce as the people the next row over reached up in an attempt to catch it, even though it was several feet too high.
Talia, however, was off like a shot. She sprinted down the aisle and towards the front row in pursuit of the foul ball. As she made her way up the very first row, it looked as though the wolf girl was on a collision course with a gaggle of little kids expectantly holding their arms out in the hopes of catching the errant baseball. However, instead of slowing down, she simply got up on the ledge separating the seats from the field and continued running.....
......on all fours.
My first thought was that she was going to get onto the field and get us both kicked out, but her movement along the top of the partition was fluid and graceful.
After dashing past the knot of kids gathered along the wall, she deftly sprang back to the aisle and almost seamlessly resumed running on two legs, although she slowed her pace to turn around and track the errant ball that was still bouncing around.
The baseball had lost so much momentum by the time it had reached Talia that she easily picked it out of mid-air on one of it's dying bounces.
There’s a smattering of applause from the remaining crowd as Talia triumphantly raises her arms and shows off her new souvenir clenched in her claws before loping back to our seats.
“Nice moves!” I say as I raise my hand to high-five Talia.
She isn’t sure what I’m doing right away and hands me the ball before reaching up and fist-bumping my open palm.
I’m smiling as I hand the ball back to her. She inspects it for a moment before turning to me and asking “Should I return it?”
I can’t help but chuckle at her question. “No- they have enough extra balls that you can hang on to this one.”
The last part of my sentence is drowned out by a crack of the bat and the crowd almost immediately roaring as this Renteria kid hits a booming shot down the right field line that stays fair. In the blink of an eye, the Komets are now on top 4-0.
"Not if the Ospreys' pitchers keep doing that." she nods towards the field as Renteria trots around the basepath.
I can't help but laugh and give her a heart smack on the back after hearing her little zinger at the expense of the Ospreys' pitcher.
The Komets bullpen did a good job of keeping the shutout going in the 8th inning as the storm clouds began rolling in. For the 9th inning, the Komets’ animated closer came on and got all three Osprey batters he faced out in order as the remaining fans roared some fireworks were shot off from the scoreboard in center field.
Talia says goodbye to her new human friend and her palooka boyfriend and his brother who have seemed to mellow out in her presence. Like us, the three of them stayed for the duration of the game.
On our way out, we stop by the team store and I get Talia a Komets sun visor- something she can put on her head without getting in the way of her wolf’s ears. Before the concession stand completely shuts down, I buy a soda and ice cream sandwich for each of us.
As the breeze seems to intensify ahead of the approaching storm, we find a picnic table by the park’s entrance and watch the crowd filter out. I smile as I turn my attention from the families and little league teams leaving and see Talia licking the sides of her ice-cream sandwich instead of biting right into it.
She notices me watching her and turns away bashfully.
“I don’t do well with eating really cold stuff.” she explains.
Of course, the problem with that is the longer she’s taking to eat the ice cream bar, the more it’s melting and getting stuck along the fingers in her paw-hands. Naturally, we have to find a women’s room on the way out so Talia can clean up.
On the way out to the increasingly empty parking lot, I look up. The storm clouds are directly over us now.
"Joseph?" Talia asks nervously after we get in the truck.
"Do....do you think I'm pretty?"
Oh come on....not this shit again. To some extent, I was used to human woman feigning insecurity in an attempt to fish for compliments, but Talia did seem genuinely prone to bouts of self-consciousness and self-doubt.
"Talia....c'mon..." I sigh. "You shouldn't even have to ask..."
"You're not answering the question though...."
"Talia?" I ask as I lean in a little closer.
"Yes?" she asks nervously.
I don't say a thing. Instead, I just cup her chin and softly kiss her on the lips. She seems caught off guard and moves to either smack me or push away from me with her right hand, but she loses interest before her hand can make even contact. Instead, it's now resting on my chest.
Just like during the ballgame, it doesn't last very long before I pull away from her.
"No more silly questions, all right?" I playfully scold her as I start up the truck. The first drops of rain start to make themselves known as they hit the windshield- a few at a time at first, but enough for me to start turning on the windshield wipers before we even get out of the parking lot.
Dinner was pretty light, since we had our fill of refreshments at the ballpark. I still had a few more hours of lazing about before calling it a day and waking and looking down the barrel of yet another work week. Not feeling particularly ambitious, I just plunked myself down on the sofa and started watching the local news.
By the time they got around to the sports segment, I was glad I tuned in.
".....and in local sports, check out this play from today's head to head matchup between Evansfield and Kingston."
My ears perk up.
".....bottom of the 7th, runner at first and two out. Let's hear the call from the Komets radio affiliate."
"Talia! Check it out....." I call out to her. Within a few seconds she comes in from the kitchen, drying a dish with her dishtowel.
"What is it?" she asks.
I simply point to the TV.
"......Renteria's been batting just under .250 against lefties this season and.....oh! Look out..... " the grandfatherly voice of the Komets radio broadcast cautions. The video shows the foul ball that nearly impacted with my head. ".....that went into the stands and-"
"That's us!" Talia says excitedly. "We're on TV!"
The video now shows the ball bouncing around wildly as Talia comes into view. The cameraman catches her deftly avoiding the knot of unsupervised kids, getting up along the wall, running on all fours and corralling the foul ball before triumphantly showing it off to the crowd and heading back to our seats.
".......well how about that!? A lovely young mamono in the crowd tonight ran down that ball and made a pretty good catch of Renteria's foul ball!"
The petite wolf-girl is positively beaming at me. Talia is exceptionally pleased watching the video of herself. At least until the audio of the Komets announcer continues.
"I can't tell from here, but it might be some sort of Corgi or Shiba Inu kobold...."
Her jaw drops as soon as she hears the announcer's words. I can't help but chortle as I see the look on her face, although she doesn't pay me any mind right away.
"I'M NOT A FUCKING KOBOLD!!!!" she snarls at the TV, even though the offending announcer has no way of hearing her.
On the TV, they're still showing footage of her as she makes her way back to our seats and hands me the ball.
"Hey listen- I'm sure it was an honest mistake. The announcer's in his 70s and probably didn't have the best view from the broadcast booth." I say to Talia as the highlight reel continues.
"......and isn't that nice of her? She's giving her souvenir to her father."
Forgetting that the broadcast ended several hours ago, I suddenly leap to my feet and snarl.
"Her WHAT!? You motherfucking hack! I'm barely thirty...."Father"? What the fuck!?"
It's Talia's turn to chortle as I'm on my feet pointing at the TV like a dumbass.
"Say....listen.....I was wondering if I could get an advance on my allowance this week...dad...." she teases.
"Oh shut up, kobold...."
"Hey! You can't call me that." she snaps defensively.
"No sassing your father, or else you're grounded." I deadpan.
"And you're annoying...." I call out as she heads back to the kitchen.
Before I go to bed, I figured I’d stop by Talia’s room and say good night.
As I stick my head in, I can see she's looking out at the window, murmuring quietly.
"Waxing Gibbous two or three.....this.....this isn't good. It's almost time. I should say something, but...but I don't know if I CAN."
"Talia?" I ask. Despite my quiet inquiry, the startled wolf-girl nearly jumps out of her skin.
"Jo-Joseph?" she asks nervously. "What are you doing here?"
"I was gonna grab some shuteye, but I wanted to thank you...." I tell her.
"Thank me? F-for what?" Talia seems a little incredulous.
"I had fun today- first time in awhile I can honestly say that."
The wolf-girl practically flew across her small bedroom and wrapped both arms around me as she pressed her face into my chest. Honestly, I was not expecting this reaction from her.
"It was a little crazy for awhile, but I had a good time too...." she said softly.
"We should do it again sometime, what do you think?"
She looked away momentarily as though I had said something to hurt or frighten her.
"Y-yeah....we should. I'd like that." she says quietly, still looking away from me.
I had no reason to doubt her. However, she seemed a little agitated and distracted when she told me that.
"Is everything OK?" I ask her as I'm absently stroking her hair.
"Oh...it's just that I need to...." she starts to say, pointing at the window she was looking out of. However, she trails off as though she thought better of telling me what was on her mind. "I'll tell you about it later." she says absently.
"I promise." she gives me a gentle little squeeze before letting me go. “But I should be getting some rest too”
I watch with admiration as her copper-tipped tail swishes to and fro as she sashays back to the window. For some reason, all I can think of is the sensation of her lips on mine as she kisses me on the ballpark's kiss-cam. Or again in the truck.
Another Monday came and went. Seems like I was complaining about the lack of work not too long ago.
Still, the best part about this Monday was that it was over. Earlier in the day, I had packed a bat and some batting gloves in the truck thinking maybe I could get some time in at one of the indoor batting cages, but thought better of it when quitting time had rolled around. It had been a long day, after all. I wasn’t sure what Talia had in mind for dinner, but I was pretty sure I was going to like it.
Except I come home to an empty house again.
Heading into the kitchen, I see a slip of paper that’s been left out on the counter.
"Hmm...at least she left a note this time" I mumble. As I get closer, I can see there's something on top of the note on the counter.
A little crushed velvet box.
No way......no fucking way.
It was Adriana's engagement ring. There's a little scrawl at the bottom of the note that says "P.S. I found this for you the other day, but I wanted it to be a surprise."
It's all starting to add up. This was why she was gone the other day and didn't get back until very late. And she didn’t say anything because she wanted it to be a surprise.
That sweet, enchanting little smart-ass wolf. I decided that she was going to get the bear hug to end all bear hugs as soon as she got back- no ifs, ands or buts about it. At the very least, this called for another trip to Kejourou Kuts or the Cupid's Quiver.
No- something even more extravagant than that, but I'm not sure what she'd like. I should probably ask her when she comes back.
However, as I started reading the note it was apparent that she wasn't coming back.
My heart feels like it's stopped.
I re-read her note, hoping it was all some sort of mistake, only to realize there was no mistake on her part. It was pretty unambiguous.
Not even halfway through the note, tears start forming in my eyes and it feels like I’ve been gut-punched.
There is no easy way for me to say this, but I must be leaving. You have been very good to me in my time of need, and I cannot thank you enough for your kindness, your generosity and the times we spent had together- both good and bad.
Unfortunately with the full moon, I fear I may no longer be able to keep my mamono instincts in check and could end up hurting you again. I couldn't live with myself if I did that to the man who took me in when everybody else gave up on me
Also, I can't keep running away from you every time there's a full moon so I won't be coming back. Please understand that I wanted to say goodbye to you in person, but I was scared that you would persuade me to stay only for me to end up doing something to you that I would regret.
I really and truly do love you, even if you aren't ready to love anyone else. I'm telling you this as a woman and mamono with her eyes wide open, not as some simple-minded beast who had merely found themselves a provider or is acting on instinct. Even if it was meant to never be, I wanted you to know that, Joseph.
I'm sorry I took the coward's way out. You mean so much to me and deserve better than a note after all you've done. I can only hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me someday.
Love you always