Getting Wound Up

By: Jennifer Bernard



He laughed some more. Caitlyn was such a darling. It was really shocking no one had snatched her up yet, permanently. Of course, it would have to be someone worthy. Would anyone be worthy of Caitlyn? He wasn’t at all sure about that. Hopefully she’d allow him to scope the guy out the way he was doing with this car they were about to see.

Speaking of which…looking around, he realized they were on the highway heading out of town. “Where the hell is this place?”

“Oh, it’s just outside of Kingston.”

He eyed her closely. Her lower lip was caught between her teeth, and her color was still high. A memory flashed into his mind of the time they’d “borrowed” Bazooka bubble gum from the convenience store, intending to come back with a dime. But Caitlyn hadn’t even made it to the corner before she burst into tears and went running back with her half-opened loot.

“You’re hiding something,” he accused. “You’re the worst liar in Sapphire Falls. What’s going on?”

“Nothing! It’s just a little farther…” Now she was looking just the way she had at the age of seven, tears gathering in her big hazel eyes.

“Caitlyn…”

“Okay, okay. There is no car.” She whooshed out a breath, clearly relieved to not be lying anymore. “This is a…well, this is a kidnapping.”

“What?”

She turned to look at him with an exasperated expression. “Have you forgotten what tomorrow is?”

It was a Saturday. In July. Nothing special. Not his birthday, not her birthday, not Bryan’s birthday. He shrugged, at a complete loss.

“The tryout,” she said gently. “The San Diego Friars’ open tryout camp. The one the scout said you should go to after you got your fastball up to speed.”

Eli’s gut clenched as if someone had just rammed a fist into it. “Turn the car around.”

“No.”

“I’m not going to any fucking tryout, Cait.”

She set her chin the way he and Bryan had seen a million times when they tried to boss her around. “Why not?”

“Because I’m a hardware store owner, not a ballplayer.”

“That’s crap. People are all sorts of things before they become ballplayers. How do you know if you don’t give it a shot?”

“I can’t, Caitlyn. You know why I can’t.” He couldn’t believe she was making him spell it out.

“Because of your father? Well, guess what, he’s onboard with this plan. He knows exactly where you are right now. He even paid for the hotel room.”

“What?”

That was impossible. His father needed him at home and at the store. Anderson’s Hardware provided the entire family with its income, and Chip simply couldn’t handle it anymore. Eli no longer had time for childish baseball fantasies. Okay, so he’d kept working out. Kept honing his pitches. Added leg strength to help his fastball. But that was just for fun, because he loved the fucking game. His mind had let go of the dream of a baseball career, even though maybe his heart hadn’t.

Because right now it was beating so hard it might flop out of his chest.

“Yes, Eli. Your dad wants you to do this. So don’t use him as an excuse.”

“Excuse?” How could a stroke be considered an excuse? “I don’t have any of my gear.”

“It’s in the trunk. Ty and Bryan packed it up.”

Feeling a wave of dizziness, Eli gripped the handle on the passenger door. Ty and Bryan were in on this? Eli had always trailed after Bryan and Ty, the big star athletes, trying like hell to keep up. Ty was an Olympic triathlete, and Bryan was right up there with him—or had been before the accident that put him in a wheelchair part-time. Bryan had just moved back to Sapphire Falls from Denver about a year ago and had bought the Come Again, the only bar in town. He’d had the place remodeled so that he could manage it and bartend with his crutches, sitting on a stool or even in the wheelchair when necessary. Eli was still getting used to seeing one of his friends in a wheelchair. First his dad, and now Bryan. Sometimes life just wasn’t fucking fair.

“Actually, Bryan was going to take you, but now he’s got the bar and, of course, with the chair—” Caitlyn’s voice caught slightly. “It’s harder for him to just up and go now like he used to. And Ty’s got his training and Hailey. So I offered. And if you don’t go along with it, they’re going to murder me. So I would really appreciate it if you would just…you know…cooperate.”

“Like a good little kidnapping victim?”

“Exactly,” she answered cheerfully. “In other words, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. The hard way, I get Bryan on the phone. Then we go back and tell your father that you chickened out.”

Caitlyn was boxing him into a corner, but he just couldn’t be mad about it. She was too adorable. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Ty and Bryan had sent her. “What’s the easy way?”

“Here.” She handed him her iPhone and pressed a play button. A video popped up. Bryan in his workout gear in the new gym—i.e, Ty’s dining room outfitted with a new weight machine, recumbent bike and treadmill—Ty standing behind him.

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