Getting Wound Up

By: Jennifer Bernard

Jennifer Bernard & Erin Nicholas

A Sapphire Falls/Love Between the Bases Novel




PART ONE





“Bottom of the ninth, two out, here comes the fastball…”

Eli Anderson snagged the spinning object inches from his face.

“And it’s in for a strike! Nice play, boss!” called the stock boy from the plumbing aisle.

Eli looked down at the roll of plumber’s tape in his hand. Riiiiight. He wasn’t on the mound at Royals Stadium, the University of Nebraska campus, the Sapphire Falls community park or even his backyard. He was behind the counter at Anderson’s Hardware. Where he spent about eighty percent of his waking hours.

He flipped the tape back to Jimmy. It hit the stock boy square in the chest, dropping into his grasp with a sweet little dip.

Jimmy whistled. “That knuckleball ought to be knocking ’em dead in Royals Stadium.”

“Yeah right. Come on, we have to get that box unpacked by the time Dad gets here. You don’t want the Glare of Doom, do you?”

“Rather get a fastball to the head,” Jimmy groaned.

“I’ll distract him with my sloppy purchase orders.” Eli winked at the kid. Truth was, his father, Chip Anderson, didn’t do much at the store these days. The massive stroke he’d suffered six years ago had taken away much of his mobility and his independence. It had taken three years of hard work before he could even speak. Eli had left college after the stroke and had been running the store since then. Eli knew how tough it was for Chip to rely on him, so he made sure to find ways his dad could feel useful. Like correcting purchase orders. Eli could do the P.O.s in his sleep, but instead he’d let his father grump his way through them.

Right on time, his father’s wheelchair whispered down the ramp that led from the back entrance. He shot a look at Jimmy, whose unpacking immediately became ten times more industrious, then wheeled to Eli’s side. Eli pushed the pile of orders toward him and crossed his arms over his chest, letting him look them over at his leisure.

Eli used the time to mentally retrace the “pitch” he’d thrown to Jimmy. Imagine throwing that during the World Series. Perfect pitch, right in the corner, but what the heck did Anderson just throw across the plate? Is that…plumper’s tape? Another first for Sapphire Falls’ finest, Eli Anderson, who is flat-out revolutionizing the game of baseball, one bizarro pitch at a time.

Eli started at the jab of his father’s elbow in his side. “Yeah, Dad?”

His father was scowling at the paperwork. “You left out a decimal point.”

“Oops. Thanks for catching that.” Eli fixed the error that he’d put there on purpose, then met his father’s eyes.

Damn. Busted. Judging from the way he rolled his eyes, his father knew exactly what he’d just done.

“You don’t fool me, Eli.”

“Sorry, Dad,” Eli muttered. The chime at the door rang, and he looked up eagerly, anxious for a rescue.

Rescue had never looked prettier than it did in the form of Caitlyn Murray. Jimmy must have thought so too, because he dropped a roll of tape on his toe, then hopped up and down with a grimace. Poor slob. Eli gave a moment of thanks that he’d grown up with Caitlyn, that she was the little sister of his good friend Bryan and therefore he was automatically immune to her. Being a red-blooded American male, he could appreciate every bit of her petite, bright-eyed, blond-haired form. But he, unlike Jimmy, could enjoy the sight of her without any pesky inappropriate thoughts.

“Hi Eli, Mr. Anderson,” Caitlyn called as she waltzed through the door. She wore a short denim skirt and a white blouse tied in a knot at her tiny waist. She always complained about the size of her butt, but try as he might, Eli couldn’t find a single problem with it. “Hey Jimmy.”

Jimmy, still hopping on one foot, toppled backwards and stumbled against the shelving that held the plastic elbow pipes.

Eli cringed. Get a grip, he mouthed to Jimmy, who turned bright scarlet. Way to represent the male gender.

As usual, Caitlyn didn’t seem to notice the effect she had. Eli admired that about her. She was a down-to-earth sweetheart of a girl. A good friend…the best. She proved it once again by bending down to kiss Eli’s father on the cheek.

“I have a special surprise for you,” she told him. “Should be ready by tomorrow.”

His eyes lit up. Caitlyn worked at Scott’s Sweets, Sapphire Falls’ candy shop, and her specialty was one-of-a-kind concoctions customized for the lucky recipient. Chip had a hard time chewing, so she made him special peanut butter truffles that melted in his mouth with no effort on his part.

Eli smiled at her, his heart lifting. When Caitlyn was around, the burden of Anderson’s Hardware, his father, his family, and his entire responsibility-filled life felt lighter.

She was such a good friend.

“So what are you up to, Candy-girl?” He shuffled the purchase orders back into their file. “Did the temp gauge go out on the oven again?”

She kept a hand on Chip’s shoulder. “Can’t I come visit my favorite guys without a hardware emergency?”

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