“Now, remember how we practiced. Watch the pitcher, watch the ball, and swing.”
“Got it.” She nods as I put the oversized batter’s helmet on her tiny head.
I look over to see Cyrus, leaning against the fence where the rest of my team sits watching and clapping in encouragement.
The other team takes the field as I step back, set down my mitt and ball, and cross my arms as I stand next to this man who seems to be stripping me with his eyes.
I remind myself he’s not my type. Not in the least bit.
We stand in silence as the pitcher winds up and throws a full force fast pitch that passes just inches from Brittany’s face. She lunges forward, spinning herself around with the force of her swing and landing on her rear end in the dirt.
“Hey!” Cyrus’s voice booms next to me as I turn to see his bottomless dark eyes flame with anger. “Watch your pitch or I’ll come out there and we can have a man to man about sportsmanship. She’s a little kid…asshole.” He lowers his voice on the last word as my pulse speeds.
This man is a complete stranger, but suddenly I feel like he really is on my team. That we are in this together somehow, and I throw my hands up and look over at Doug.
“Really?” I shout as he shrugs, spitting on the sand near his feet where he stands along the first base line.
Brittany gets herself back up, looks my way, her helmet crooked now but there’s a stubborn set to her jaw as she twists her hands on the bat and kicks at the dirt, getting her feet into place.
“Just do your best,” I tell her, clapping as she steps forward and takes her stance in the batter’s box, ready for the next pitch.
I glare at the pitcher, silently telling him he better take it easy, but as soon as I see his wind up, I know that’s not what’s going to happen. Little Brittany leans in, the pitch is fast, faster than the last and her helmet bobs down over her eyes.
She releases one hand from the bat, reaching to push the helmet back, and loses her balance for a second. One shift of her feet, one wobble and her tiny head is right in the line of fire.
I barrel forward but Cyrus is already ahead of me when the gut-wrenching crack sends up a scream from Brittany and our entire team comes running.
Cyrus slides on his knees down next to Brittany's crumpled form in the dirt.
“Oh my God.” My hands are shaking as I brush her hair back and see the gash above her left eye, a purple lump rising as her eyes roll back white and she goes stiff.
“I’m going to fucking kill you!” Cyrus’s hand cradles her tiny head, his entire body shaking.
There’s a flurry of activity all around as I lean down and whisper soothing words to the little girl. Cyrus stays next to me, holding her like a broken doll.
“She needs the hospital.” He swivels his head around, locking on to the pitcher who is now standing at the sideline surrounded by his teammates. “You are so fucking lucky I’m more interested in taking care of her than killing you.”
Brittany’s eyes flutter and she looks up at me, then Cyrus.
“Did I hit a home run?”
“You sure did,” Cyrus answers before I can. “You won the game.”
She smiles as he gently moves his hands, picking her up as he stands.
“Let’s go get her checked out. I’ll drive.”
This monster of a man showing this much attention to a little girl he doesn’t even know only makes me want him more. The butterflies in my stomach flutter to life again as Brittany starts to chatter to Cyrus like she’s known him her whole life.
He’s making her feel safe. I can see it and I understand. He’s making me feel the same way.
Yet, at the same time, I don’t understand these feelings at all. He’s nothing like what I want or need. He’s part of my family’s world. Gamblers and thugs and criminals, albeit all very well dressed. The world I swore I would someday leave behind when I decided to start my own family.
But, here I am. Following him instead of dismissing him. Letting him lead the way because he has this calm dominance that makes me want to follow.
And I never want to follow.
But with him, I want to do that.
And so much more.
“That was intense,” I say, pressing my fingers into my eye sockets on an exhale.
“Life can be like that.” Cyrus palms the wheel of his huge black SUV as we pull out of the parking garage at the hospital.
He made sure Brittany had about a hundred x-rays, an MRI and these little electrodes on her head to measure her brain activity. The doctor tried to take charge and protest, but Cyrus backed him up against the wall with a glare that told him there was no room for negotiation. He also made sure they understood if anything were to happen to Brittany due to their lack of attention or quality of care, he would come looking for them and nothing would be able to save them.