Not wanting to wake up Jack, I grabbed my things for work as quietly as possible and headed out our front door. Once outside the apartment building, I rushed toward the subway station, noting the time. If I missed my train, I’d have to grab a cab. And grabbing a cab would take forever at this time of the morning.
I passed by a local newsstand as a headline caught my eye: “WELCOME TO THE BIG APPLE, JACK CARTER! GRAB A SEAT AND STAY AWHILE!” Jack had a love-hate relationship with the press. He told me once that the press only likes you when you’re winning. But the second you lose, you’re the first one they blame. It didn’t serve any purpose for him to read the things written about him by strangers, so he never did. He always said that he knew what he needed to improve upon, and he didn’t need it shoved down his throat by some reporter who had no idea what it was like to stand on that mound.
Plus, the bad articles really pissed him off, and he almost punched out a reporter once. One long-winded talk in the manager’s office with the media director present, and Jack vowed to never read any more press about the team again.
Even still, seeing this paper caused my heart to swell in size. His first win for the Mets was printed in black ink, and I wanted to cherish the memory, even if he didn’t. I figured since the article was positive, maybe Jack wouldn’t mind. So, I purchased one copy to read and another to keep.
I ran down the dank subway stairs, my papers clutched firmly in my hand as my train pulled in. The brakes squealed as it came to a complete stop before the doors opened. I hustled through the crowd and into the packed subway car. Not wanting to stand the whole way, I silently thanked God for the empty seat I spotted. Once sitting, I flipped open the paper to the sports section, immediately scanning the article on Jack. After skimming the highlights, I mistakenly decided to flip to the Entertainment & Arts section.
My pride-filled heart suddenly exploded inside my chest, and I almost choked on the air around me when I caught glimpse of a familiar photo. I stared at the larger-than-life picture of me pointing my finger at Jack, my face clearly twisted in anger. I looked furious as Jack simply stood there, dejection written all over his face. My eyes fell to the photo caption where my first name was posted as clear as day. “Mets new golden boy gets reamed by girlfriend Cassie off the field.”
Shit. How’d they already figure out who I am?
I snapped the paper closed and looked at the people sitting around me. I prayed they hadn’t seen the picture or noticed I was the one in it.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
That stupid picture showed up online last night and now it was printed in the newspaper for everyone to see. I reminded myself that no one actually read printed papers anymore before I realized that the online version would probably include the same articles. Shaking the embarrassment off, I fidgeted in my seat until my stop.
Walking into the office, I tossed my things down on top of my cluttered desk before heading into the small corporate kitchen. The magazine’s senior editor, Nora, flipped through the pages of a newspaper before glancing up at me.
“Morning, Cassie. I see you had quite the night last night.” Her gray eyes softened as she held the paper up for me to see.
I released a tense breath. “Yeah. It’s not what it looks like.” I attempted to defend myself, dunking a bag of chai tea into my cup of hot water.
She smiled, her short brown hair perfectly curled. “It never is.” Her voice soothed my fraying nerves.
“It looks bad though, right? Like I’m crazy angry?”
She glanced back down at the photo. “You look pretty pissed off.” Her gaze returned to me as I winced. “Don’t worry about it. It’s just one photo and no one will think anything of it.” She waved a hand in the air, and I wanted to believe her.
“Thanks, Nora.” I smiled, appreciative for her kind words. I turned to walk out when she called my name.
“Sit with me for a minute.” She pointed at the chair across from her.
My legs started to tremble as anxiety consumed me. That picture could be bad for the magazine, and I doubted they wanted to be associated with any negative publicity. What if she fired me over this?
“Stop looking at me like I stole your cab and sit down. You’re not in trouble.” I relaxed into the cold chair, still clutching the hot teacup in my hand. “I just wanted to hear about your first Mets game as a player’s girlfriend.”
A small breath escaped from my lips as I relaxed even further. Nora had been kind to me since the day I started in the office. She complimented my work, encouraged me to learn, and challenged me to grow on a daily basis. I respected her, and I wanted to earn her respect in return.
“So, how was it?” She cocked her head to the side, her eyes locked on to mine.
“It was,” I hesitated, “different than I expected.”
“Different how?” she asked, before sipping her coffee.
I glanced up at the white ceiling tiles, attempting to formulate my words into cohesive thoughts before answering. “It was amazing watching Jack play again. Nothing in the world compares to how that feels.” My heart squeezed inside my chest. “But the wives on the team are really mean. Like, none of them would even speak to me, mean.”
She let out a loud guffaw, her head tilting back. “You’re joking.”
I shook my head. “I wish I were.”
“So they wouldn’t talk to you?”
“No. They just stared at me at first and then they refused to acknowledge me at all. It’s like I wasn’t even there.” I rolled my eyes, annoyed at the fact that I’d be seeing these women again later.
“That’s awful. And so unnecessary. Why do we women treat one another with such disrespect?” she asked as my coworkers milled in and out of the small kitchen, casting curious glances in our direction.
“I don’t know.” I suddenly remembered the one bright spot in the evening. “Oh, yeah! One woman did talk to me. She was really nice. Her name was Trina. She’s a model. Freaking gorgeous.” I bit at my bottom lip.
“Trina Delacoy? Beautiful brown hair, bright hazel eyes?”
“Yeah. How do you know her?” I asked in surprise.
“She’s worked with us before, very nice girl. Who is she dating on the team?” she asked, bringing the ceramic mug back to her lips.
“The second baseman, Kyle Peters.”
“Make sure you tell her I said hello.” The lines around her eyes deepened with her grin.
“So, Cassie, now that your gorgeous super jock is back in your life, you’re not going to quit the magazine, are you?” She smirked at me knowingly as I pinched my eyebrows together.
“No. Why on earth would I quit?” The last thing I wanted to do was leave this job. While the very idea of Jack being back in my life caused my soul to beam with love, I still had career goals I wanted to achieve. I moved across the country to work for this magazine, and Jack didn’t affect my feelings about that.
“I was just making sure. I’d hate to lose you and all that beautiful potential you have.”
“As long as you’ll have me, I’m yours,” I said with a nervous grin.
“Good. I assume you’ll be traveling with the team some, won’t you?”
My breathing hitched as the question echoed in my ears. “I don’t know. I hadn’t even thought about it, to be honest. Work is my priority, so I guess I’ll go to some of the away games on the weekends if I’m not busy.”
Jack’s schedule hadn’t even entered my mind. I’d been so overjoyed at simply having him back in my life, it never occurred to me. I had no idea how long he’d be in town before he turned around and left again. I made a mental note to talk about his travel schedule that night, after the game.
“Maybe we can schedule some magazine work in with your boy’s away games. Kill two birds with one stone?” she offered with a wink.
I fought back against the burn of tears forming in my eyes. I would not cry, no matter how kind and amazing this woman was to me. “If that would work out and it makes sense for the magazine, it would be amazing. But you don’t have to do that.”
“I know I don’t. And I’m not making any promises. Just bring me a copy of Jack’s schedule, and I’ll have my assistant look into it.” Her eyes wandered, glazing over as she tapped a finger against her lips. “Maybe we can work in an online feature where we travel with you, highlighting some local human-interest stories from wherever you are. Or we can highlight the team and the charities they visit when they travel?” She hummed lightly. “So many possibilities. Although I’m not sure how they will work since the teams are usually in and out of towns rather quickly. But something to consider nonetheless.”
I listened to the thoughts and ideas that spilled from my boss’s mind, quietly waiting for her to dismiss me as my own excitement grew. The idea of being able to possibly work and travel with Jack at the same time thrilled me, but I refused to get my hopes up for something that might not be feasible.
“Go.” She waved me away. “We’ll talk about this later.”
I scurried out of the kitchen before flipping on my computer and scanning last night’s e-mails. I smiled when I saw Melissa’s name in my inbox.
Just remember one thing… when life gives you lemons, cut ’em open and squeeze the juice in life’s face!!!!! That’ll teach life to mess with you! HA!
Hang in there. The photo will blow over. You can always call Mom and talk to her if the shit hits the fan. In the meantime, I’ll monitor all the websites you guys show up on and see if I can run interference. You know, post things anonymously to try to help. I’ve already favorited the local NY gossip sites so I’ve got you covered, GF!
Love you. Miss you.
Melissa’s mom owned a successful boutique publicity firm in Los Angeles. She maintained an exclusive group of big-name clientele, but always made sure to keep that small business feel. Inadvertently I’d learned a lot from her over the years just by overhearing her business meetings and phone calls. This sort of thing was right up her alley, and I knew she’d be more than happy to help me if it got to that point.
Please, dear God, don’t let it get to that point.
I hit the Reply button and quickly typed out a response before handling my daily duties.
That picture was in the paper this morning. The actual PRINTED version! And they printed my name, but just my first name, thank God. I’m so freaking embarrassed, but what can I do, right?! Ugh. I will definitely call Mom if things get out of control, but I’m going to work on being more aware of my surroundings from now on. Hopefully they won’t have anything to print of me going forward, unless it’s my face wearing a big-ass, shit-eating grin. :) Call you soon.
My cell phone vibrated as I searched online for upcoming events our readers might be interested in seeing. The magazine printed human-interest stories, with the inclusion of local politics, news, and happenings around the five boroughs. When I started, I mostly handled the research for future issues, but once a week I was assigned a general event to cover and photograph. My bosses never promised me that my photographs would be used, but since I started working here six months ago, they always have.
I glanced at my phone, noting one new text message from Jack on the screen. My body trembled at simply seeing his name. I pressed the button, displaying the message:
Matteo will pick you up at 6. You need to go to the sales office and pick up your ID card. See you after the game. Love you.
Without responding, I set my phone aside. As I completed my work assignments, my thoughts kept drifting to my conversation with Nora from earlier, hope filling my mind.
Matteo pulled up outside the Will Call booth again, and I averted my eyes from the hint of a tattoo that crept up from underneath his white dress shirt. I wondered what it was, but I was too embarrassed to ask. I caught sight of his blue eyes watching me in the rearview mirror and smiled. He turned to exit the car when I stopped him.
“You don’t have to open the door for me. I got it. Thank you, though. I’ll see you later.” I scooted out of the backseat, shutting the car door behind me. Matteo waved before driving off.
I approached the booth window. “Hi. I’m Cassie Andrews, Jack Carter’s girlfriend. He said I needed to pick up an ID card?”
The young girl smiled. “See that building over there?” She pointed to my right, and I nodded. “Just go inside and they’ll take your picture and print your card for you.”
“Thanks.” Confused and unsure, I asked, “Do I still need a ticket to get in?”
“Yes, you do. The ID card is so you can get down to the locker rooms at away stadiums.” She handed me an envelope with one ticket inside.
“Ah. That makes sense. Thanks so much.” I turned to leave, walking toward the other building.
My freshly printed ID card in hand, I made my way to my assigned seat. It wasn’t the same seat from last night’s game, but it was still in the same section. Tension galloped through my body like a racehorse as I neared the seats filled with the mean girls.
“Try not to yell at your boyfriend tonight, Cassie!” A manly voice mocked me from behind and I stopped midstep.
“Bitch,” another voice mumbled within earshot.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Resisting the urge to look over my shoulder and confront the hecklers, I straightened my shoulders and continued toward my appointed row, my heart pounding out beats in double time against my flesh.
“If poor Jack gets cussed out when he wins, imagine what she does to him when he loses!” another voice bellowed, barely louder than the pounding that echoed in my ears.
Suddenly feeling vulnerable, I quickened my pace down the concrete steps. I shuffled into my seat, recognizing the meanest wife, Kymber, right away as she watched the situation unfolding. She laughed and whispered something into the ear of the wife sitting next to her. Both women glanced at me before directing their attention elsewhere.
So, it’s really going to be like this. Awesome.
My phone vibrated, and I pulled it from my pocket. Thankful to see Melissa’s name on the screen, I clicked the text message button.
Put that shit-eating grin on, babe!
That was all she wrote, followed by a picture of me walking in the stadium, an uncomfortable look plastered all over my face.
I shoved my phone into my purse, feeling nervous and extremely exposed. It was one thing to be in a stadium filled with people when no one knew who you were, but it was quite another when you were recognized. I’d become completely identifiable to the thousands of people around me, all of whom knew—thanks to the pictures popping up online and in the press—I was Jack Carter’s girlfriend.
These fans had already formed their own opinions about the picture printed in the newspaper this morning. They assumed they knew me, or knew the kind of person I was. They made judgment calls about my character based on nothing but a simple photo taken completely out of context, which, as a photographer, really pissed me off. I strived to maintain my integrity when I was shooting, making sure that my photographs and edits always captured what was truly going on in the scene. I never attempted to create a false illusion with my pictures. Apparently it was too much to ask others to do the same.
If people wanted to take pictures of me without my knowledge, they absolutely could… and they would. If they wanted to approach me, there was nothing to stop them. I lacked any sort of self-protection, and it worried me. If the other wives weren’t such raging bitches, I would have asked them how they got through it. It amazed me that none of them offered to help, or asked if I was OK. I looked around for Trina, but she was nowhere to be found. And since Jack pitched last night, he wouldn’t be pitching at all tonight.
I toyed with the idea of calling Matteo and going back home, but the potential fallout cemented my ass right to my seat. I imagined pictures of me leaving the game early followed by distasteful and untrue headlines.
Nope. I wasn’t moving. My pride refused to let me.
My phone vibrated again and I considered not grabbing it. One reminder pulse later, I reached into my purse, pulling it out. Another text from Melissa. Did I want to see this? Resigned to whatever fate was throwing at me tonight, I clicked the Read button.
Remember: LEMONS! In. Their. Faces.
A smile crept over my face as I stifled a laugh, hearing her voice in my head. Meli was right. I inhaled a sharp breath, suddenly filled with the determination to rise above this madness. I would not let them beat me. Not the mean-spirited fans. Not the horrible wives. Not the newspapers or online sites.
I watched this game for one reason and one reason only.
Jack. Fucking. Carter.
No one in this stadium had any idea the kind of hell Jack and I had endured in the past, and I’d be damned if anyone was going to ruin this for me after all we’d been through. I crossed my legs and leaned my back against the cold, hard seat, silently wishing Trina would show up soon.
Yes, I wanted to prove everyone wrong. I wanted to show them that they wouldn’t tear me down and wreck this experience. But it sure would be nice to have a friend by my side while I stayed strong in the face of such intentional ugliness.
You’ll be fine, Cass. You can do this.
And I did.
For nine long innings, without Trina by my side, I endured. I left my seat before the game officially ended in order to separate myself from the rowdy crowd as it exited. As I walked up the staircase, the sound of someone snorting and coughing briefly caught my attention. I continued up the stairs, but the sound of wetness hitting the pavement forced my attention downward. My gaze stopped on the blob of spit mere centimeters from my front foot.
“Stupid bitch,” a clearly drunken voice slurred.
Without thinking, my middle finger shot up from my right hand and flashed the crowd as I exited the aisle and into the tunnels.
Shit. I probably shouldn’t have done that.
The next morning infamous photos of Cassie flipping the bird photos were all over the Internet. Captions read: “Jack’s Sweetheart is Anything But!” and “Sassy Cassie Has Quite the Temper!” They were childish and annoying, but they affected me nonetheless. Embarrassment crept over me as I found myself thankful that Jack avoided the Internet. I quickly typed out a text to Melissa.
Make sure Dean doesn’t show that shit to Jack. I don’t need him worrying about me or yelling at me or being upset with me over this. Please make sure you talk to him.
If anyone could curb Dean’s actions, it was Melissa. I worried about him sending Jack the same type of text messages with pictures that she had been sending me. I knew better than to let the jerks know they affected me, and now I’d have to pay for my stupid actions with the online postings, comments, and whatever else came along. The last thing I wanted was for Jack to be worried about me, or think I couldn’t handle myself in the face of some stupid drunk hecklers, so I was determined to keep my behavior a secret from him.
My phone chirped.
You got it. Dean won’t tell Jack anything about his crazy middle-finger-flipping girlfriend. LOL But hey, you gotta keep it together or these fans will eat you alive. You’re better than that.
I sighed inwardly and typed.
You’re right. I know. I lost my cool. It won’t happen again.
I worked the rest of the day uninterrupted and only started to get nervous about the game when Matteo dropped me off at the stadium. If he knew about the pictures, he wasn’t saying anything.
“Have a good night, Cassie. I’ll see you later.” His smile reached all the way to his eyes, and I shoved my nervous energy aside before smiling back.
“See you later Matteo. Thanks for the ride.” I slammed the door shut, hoping no one would notice me. If the comments started already, I’d probably turn around and chase Matteo’s car all the way back to Manhattan.
Attending Jack’s games solo all the time might start to get old. I really needed to make some friends who liked watching baseball. I guess I wouldn’t want new friends so badly if the wives had been kinder. And as much as I liked Trina, it was obvious that her modeling jobs kept her from coming to most games; that sucked for me because without her there, I felt completely alone.
A few nasty comments burrowed into my eardrums as I walked out of the tunnel and into the night air. One deep, steadying breath later and my nerves started to settle. I repeated a chant in my head as I walked toward my assigned seat: Don’t give them anything to talk about. Don’t give them anything to talk about.
I avoided looking directly into anyone’s gaze for fear that they might see through my façade. I played tough on the outside, but it wouldn’t take much to break me down at this point.
The game ended and I started walking toward the exit, the sound of drunk men stumbling in line behind me. A quick shove forced me to slam into the guy in front of me, my hand grabbing his shoulder for balance. “I’m sorry,” I quickly offered as he shook me off. Another rough shove and I started to wonder if they were accidental.
Reaching the end of the aisle, I turned to eye the person responsible for the shoving, when moisture splashed against the back of my shirt and bare neck. The smell of beer filled my nostrils as I winced, rolling my shoulders forward away from my damp and sticky shirt.
“Oops,” an oversized man said with a sarcastic gruff before heading away, laughter ripping from his lungs. I watched as his friend patted him on the back in congratulations.
I stopped moving, the crowd filing out around me as my eyes met Kymber’s. She looked at my soaking back and continued walking, her eyes saying it all. She didn’t care what happened to me out here. She wasn’t on my side and she damn sure wasn’t going to do or say anything to help me. The other wives followed behind, all of them glancing in my direction, but none of them stopping to help.
I hurried toward a concession stand, my eyes scanning for a jersey with Jack’s name and number on it. I breathed out in relief when I saw it displayed against the silver fencing.
“Can I get a Carter jersey in medium please?” I asked.
After paying for my purchase, I rushed into the nearest bathroom. Tearing off my beer drenched top, I reached for the faucet. I placed my black top into the basin and allowed the warm water to drench it. I wrung my shirt out before filling it with more fresh water, repeating the cycle numerous times until I was satisfied that the beer smell had dissipated. Soaking the shirt with water one last time, I scrubbed my body with it the best I could. I tried to get the stickiness and stench off of my back, but it was hard to reach.
“Do you want me to help you?” a lady around my mom’s age asked from behind me. Her brown eyes looked sorrowful as I viewed her in the mirror.
I turned on my heels to face her, thankful for the kindness. “Please?” I refused to let myself cry from the frustration, embarrassment, and sadness. “Thank you,” I said, turning back toward my reflection.
I watched as she scrubbed at my exposed skin, taking extra care to not get me too wet. Once finished, she grabbed some paper towels and patted my back dry.
“There you go.”
“Thank you so much,” I smiled before pulling my new shirt out and slipping it over my head. I shoved my wet shirt into the bag and pulled the drawstrings tight. Glancing into the mirror, I ran my fingers through my damp hair and knew Jack would smell the beer on me if I didn’t wash it out.
I twisted my head down toward the sink, allowing the warm water to penetrate the beer soaked ends of my hair. Walking over to the hand dryer, I pressed the start button. It roared to life and I placed my wet hair under the heat. Once dry, I quickly sniffed at my hair, satisfied that no one would smell the beer unless you were searching for it. I pulled out a small bottle of scented vanilla lotion and rubbed it on my arms and my neck to help mask any lingering smells.
Shoving the bag that contained my damp shirt into my purse, I headed out of the bathroom and in the direction of the locker room. I prayed Jack wouldn’t be able to tell that anything happened and that I’d be able to hold it all in. I knew keeping this from him was probably wrong, but I convinced myself that it was in Jack’s best interest. He needed to keep his mind on the field and his head in the game at all times. He wouldn’t be able to do that if he knew this kind of shit occurred. And I’d never be able to forgive myself if anything happened to his career because of me.