Posted on: 2014-07-28
I thought that the summer of 2010 was going to be just another boring summer. I'd read. I'd relax. I might go to the beach. I'd hang out with my friends. I'd do all of the things that I couldn't do during the school year. But I was wrong. Man alive, was I ever wrong.
My cousin, Lacey Musgrove, was twenty-two that summer. She had just graduated from college with a degree in art history. I had no clue what she wanted to do with this degree, and neither did she. But she had managed to find a boyfriend, something that she was more than willing to tell anyone and everyone about. By early June, all that I knew was that the boyfriend was a professional baseball player.
I had never cared much for sports at all, and I couldn't tell you much about professional baseball players. Living in metro Detroit, I knew that our local team was the Detroit Tigers, but I didn't really know much else about them or the sport.
I could only tell you the name of one of the Tigers. And that player happened to be my high school boyfriend, Eric Wentworth. Eric was drafted into the major leagues the summer after we graduated from high school. We had broken up when he was drafted, and the breakup had been anything but amicable. All I knew about him was that he played for the Tigers.
To be entirely honest, I tried to avoid any thought of him if at all possible, but I couldn't completely ignore him, not when I lived in the same town as his parents and siblings and we still had a few friends in common. I knew that our mutual best friend and my roommate, Eliza Bennett, knew more about what Eric was doing with his life. She kept in contact with him, but she always tried to be careful to avoid mentioning him around me. She knew that I wanted nothing to do with him anymore. I suspect that he felt similarly about me.
Lacey started dating her baseball player in early May, right after she moved home from college. She met the guy who she insisted on calling Freddy at a bar or a club; it was hard to tell from her telling of the story. I quickly figured out that the man she called "Freddy" was the man that everyone else I knew called Eric (which is actually short for Frederick) Wentworth, one of the Tigers' five starting pitchers and arguably their most attractive starter. In other words, my cousin was dating my high school boyfriend, the same high school boyfriend who had once asked me to marry him and the same high school boyfriend whose marriage proposal I had rejected because I didn't think that we were ready to be married.
At our grandfather's birthday party in early June, she told me, "Freddy wants me to come to one of his games. But I don't really want to go. I don't like baseball. I'm just dating Freddy because he's, well, he's hot. He could be a mechanic, and I wouldn't care just as long as he was hot. But anyways, he wants me to go to one of his games."
"Why tell me about it? I don't care about sports. I don't really know anything about baseball."
"Daddy says that when you were in high school you went to all of OLC's baseball games."
I shrugged. "I was dating the pitcher. I only paid attention to the game because it was a way to spend time with my boyfriend."
"Daddy said that you know how to keep score and you know how baseball works." Her father, my uncle Michael, didn't care about baseball. He liked hockey, football, and basketball, but he thought baseball was slow-paced and boring.
"That was only because I was dating the pitcher. Plus, that was seven years ago. I don't know how much I even remember anymore."
"But I can't go to the baseball game alone, Annie!" she protested. "I'll be bored. It would be closer to fun if you came."
"Closer to fun? What does that mean?"
"Oh, it's not about you," Lacey said quickly. "It's just that it's baseball. It will never be fun. But it would be more interesting if you were there."
I sighed. I couldn't say no to her. I knew that I didn't need to go with her; she could get her sister to go with her. And I shouldn't go to my ex-boyfriend's baseball game as a guest of his current girlfriend. But I'm terrible at saying no to people. My best friend, Eliza, says that I'm far too nice for my own good. So I agreed to go to the game. And I was pretty darn sure that I was going to regret that decision.
But I went to the game. We went to a Sunday game against the Seattle Mariners. I barely paid attention to the game. I couldn't pay attention. I was in the same place, the same baseball stadium, as Eric Wentworth for the first time that I had been knowingly near him since we broke up when we were eighteen. I was nervous. My whole body was on edge; it was like I could sense Eric's presence even though he probably had no earthly clue that I was there. (He didn't. He had no clue that I was there until we got to the restaurant after the game, and he had no tingly psychic indicators that I might be there. Lucky man...)
Even though I knew there was probably no way around it, I was hoping that I wouldn't have to see Eric that day...or perhaps ever. But unfortunately, after the game I found myself essentially forced to go out to dinner with Lacey, Eric, and Eric's younger brother, Jake.
Dinner was awkward to say the least. Eric acknowledged having known me in high school. When Jake said, "Well, yeah, I mean you two were practically married by senior year," I quickly said, "Yeah, because we had every single class together. Scheduling or something, I guess." And then I kicked Jake in the shin as if to tell him to shut up.
He seemed to get the message, and he mercifully managed to avoid saying anything else that gave away how much time I had spent around the Wentworth family when I was in high school. (He had gotten smarter over the past seven years, which was a great relief to someone who had known him when he was fifteen.) He did, however, demand my cell phone number from me while Lacey was in the bathroom and his brother was getting their car. "I'm not letting you out of my life again, big sister," he told me with his wide smile.
"I don't think Eric will like that one very much," I replied. I did have to smile at his use of my old nickname.
Jake shrugged. "I don't know about that."
I glared at him. "Edward Jacob Wentworth, he is your older brother. You know how he took it when we broke up. And he's dating my cousin now."
"I wouldn't worry about that."
I raised my eyebrows at him. "They're dating, Jake. You do know what dating is, don't you? I don't think your brother is going to want you hanging out with his ex-girlfriend who also happens to be his current girlfriend's cousin."
"Annie, I'm going to tell you something. My brother is not serious about Lacey."
"He let us use his tickets for the game," I challenged.
"My brother is a nice guy, but he's not seriously interested in Lacey."
Before I could proceed with our argument, the person who might or might not have been interested in my cousin reappeared with his car. Less than a minute later, my cousin also appeared.
"We'll talk more later, Annie," Jake said before getting into his brother's car. "I'll see you around, Annie."
Eric just waved vaguely at me after giving my cousin a very fond farewell.
"Isn't Freddy just the best?" Lacey asked me while I was driving her home.
"He's very nice," I replied simply. I wanted to tell her to stop calling him Freddy because he hates that name, but I figured that at this point in his life, that was his job, not mine.
"And isn't he gorgeous? I didn't know you knew him from high school. Was he that hot in high school?"
"He looked younger then," I said flatly. "But he hasn't changed very much."
"He says that you've changed a lot since high school. I asked him when you were in the bathroom. He said that you were a lot different now."
I shrugged. "I have a different haircut and different fashion sense."
"And you've gained about thirty pounds since high school," Lacey added flatly.
I glared at her. "Thanks for the reminder."
"You still look good. You're just curvier and softer than you used to be. I mean, heck, I'd kill to have your chest."
"Lacey, I know that I'm not as thin as I was in high school, but I don't need to be reminded of it so bluntly."
Lacey shrugged. "I'm just saying that you've changed since high school."
"I've only gained twenty-five pounds, Lacey," was my closing line.
Lacey and Eric broke up less than two weeks later. Jake sent me a text message to let me know. And when I didn't reply, he sent me another message. "Let's make a bet, Annie. You'll be dating my brother by Christmas."
"How much are you in for?" I replied.
"One hundred big ones," was his answer.
"You're on." I figured that would be the easiest hundred bucks I ever earned.
Two weeks later, on a Thursday in mid-July, Eric called me out of the blue. "Annie, I know this is random and out of left field, but would you be willing to meet me for coffee on Monday?" he explained after we exchanged pleasantries. "I'd like to talk to you."
"About what?" I asked, thoroughly startled.
"A few different things," he replied. "I'd rather just discuss it in person."
"I'm free after about three."
"How does three-thirty at Death before Decaf sound?"
I assented. "Sounds great to me."
"Great," he replied eagerly. "I'm looking forward to it."
I was nervous about our meeting. I didn't know why he wanted to meet with me. We met once at that game. Yes, I'd seen Jake a few times since that baseball game. And I regularly ran into his parents after Mass on Sundays. But none of that really meant anything with regards to Eric himself; those things just meant that I had occasional contact with his family. I had no clue why he wanted to get coffee together.
And after having heard that he thought I was "a lot different" from what I'd looked like in high school, I was nervous. Lacey may have been willing to kill for my chest, but my chest was but one piece of evidence of the weight I'd gained over the seven years since breaking up with Eric. When it came to Eric, I was self-conscious about my rounder figure.
Eric was already at the cafˇ when I arrived. He seemed nervous; he was fidgeting with his phone as I walked in. But as soon as I came in, he bounced to his feet and greeted me with a smile. "Annie, it's great to see you!"
I smiled shyly. "It's good to see you too. How are you?"
"I'm well," he replied. "How are you?"
"Well as well," I said. "Shall we order?"
"Yeah, of course, you first, Annie; I'm paying."
Once we had our drinks, we settled ourselves at the table where Eric had been waiting when I arrived. Due to my nerves, I had no topics of small talk to offer him, so I just bluntly dove right in. "So, what did you want to talk about?"
Eric smiled. "Man alive, Annabelle, you haven't changed much in seven years. I have a couple of things to discuss with you, but I want to start with an apology."
"An apology? For what?"
"What I said to you when I ended our relationship," he replied. "I was unbelievably rude to you that day. You were honest with me, and you had some really good, really mature ideas then. And I was horrible to you."
"I hurt you. I understand."
He shook his head. "Annie, I called you names. I told you that I hoped you rotted in hell. I was terrible."
"Well, it wasn't your best day ever," I replied. "I'll agree to that."
He smiled. "And I want to apologize to you. You wanted to be friends, and I kicked you out of my life without a backward glance. And I've regretted that for seven years." He reached out for my hand, and I gave it to him out of reflex rather than a conscious decision. "I'm sorry, Annie. I apologize for what I said. I was wrong, and you were right."
I squeezed his hand. "I forgive you, Eric. I understand, like I said. I hurt you, and I know that. I'm sorry for what I said and did that day too."
He shook his head. "You don't need to apologize. You were right."
"I spent so much time going over that day in my head during the weeks that followed," I confessed weakly. "I kept trying to think of a way that it could have gone better."
"I could have been more mature."
"I didn't have to dump you," I said.
Eric shrugged. "You didn't dump me. You wanted to take a step back in our relationship. I destroyed our relationship instead."
I could feel myself blushing. "You're making me out to be a saint."
"You were and you are a pretty remarkable lady, Annie. I've missed you."
I smiled. "I've missed you too."
"Can we be friends again, Annie?"
"Of course," I replied calmly.
"And can you consider dating me?"
I looked up into his solemn brown eyes. "I need to get to know who you are now, but yes, I will consider it."
He smiled. "That's good enough for me."
"Great," I replied. "Now, I have a question for you."
Curiously compelled me to ask my question. "What did you mean when you told Lacey that I was a lot different than I was in high school?"
He looked down at his coffee, obviously uncomfortable. "I don't know. I was surprised to see you and to find out that you were her cousin. And I had no clue she would tell you what I said."
"So it didn't mean anything?" I asked nervously.
"No," he replied firmly.
My insecurities spilled out of my mouth. "I thought maybe you didn't like my hair now that it's longer and curlier or maybe you didn't like the way that I was dressed. And I thought maybe you thought I was fat."
He interrupted me firmly. "Fat? Why would I think that?"
"Seriously?" I asked.
"You're not fat," he replied firmly.
I shook my head. "Either you're blind or you're really trying to get back into my good graces."
"Or I just don't think you're fat. Why would I think that?"
I sighed. "I've gained at least twenty-five pounds since we broke up seven years ago."
He shrugged. "I think you look great. If you really have gained weight, it definitely hasn't hurt you."
"Well, nobody is ever going to hire me to be a model."
Eric shrugged again. "I don't care about that."
"Well, Lacey was kind enough to tell me how much weight she thought I'd gained."
"Yeah, well, Lacey isn't exactly the best example of tact or dignity."
I smiled. "I like that description of her."
"She's something else."
He snorted. "That's one way of putting it."
"Eric, she's my cousin, and you did date her."
"And please don't ask me why I did that."
I sighed. "But I wanted to ask you just that."
"I don't know why I did it. I think I was just flattered by the attention. I'm not used to that kind of attention"
This wasn't something I wanted to argue with, especially not when this was the first time we'd spoken in seven years. And at some level, it wasn't any of my business.
"To change the topic," Eric said. "What have you been doing with your life for the past seven years?"
"Hasn't Eliza kept you informed?" I asked before taking a sip of coffee.
He smiled. "I've heard the Eliza version. I want the Anne version. I want to know more than you went to Grand Valley and now you teach English at St. Ben's. What do you do for fun? Where have you gone on vacation? How is your family?"
"You don't want to know about my family," I said flatly.
"Why ever not?" he replied.
"You've never liked my parents or my sisters."
He smiled. "Well, they didn't like me either."
I shrugged. In actuality, my parents had hated him because he wasn't from the social circles that they ran in. "True, but I don't know if you really want to hear about them."
"Nope, I want to know about your life, and they're a part of your life. So..."
I laughed. "Okay, so, let's see. Isabella works for Dad at the paper company. The paper company is struggling financially, but don't tell Dad."
"Jack Eliot is still as classy and sophisticated as ever?" Eric queried.
"Oh yeah," I replied with a slight shake of my head. "He hasn't changed a bit."
"How's your mom?"
"I don't know. My parents split up right after Maya graduated from high school, and the last that I heard Adelaide was living in Seattle with her boyfriend who is Isabella's age. But that was about two or three years ago."
"Jack and Adelaide split up?"
I nodded. "Five years ago, I was studying abroad for the summer when I got an email from them informing me of the divorce and of Adelaide's decision to move to Seattle."
"Wow," he breathed softly. "I'm sorry."
I shrugged noncommittally. "I like to think that we're all better off without Adelaide."
"It still sucks."
"I suppose. Isabella took it pretty hard at the time, but she seems to have recovered. Maya said she wasn't a bit surprised."
"What's Maya up to?"
"Working for Dad, living with her boyfriend, and trying to raise her son," I replied.
"She has a kid but isn't married?" he asked. "Jack must hate that."
"He does. He's offered to pay for her to marry Charlie at least ten times, but she says that she doesn't believe in marriage."
"How do you feel about that?"
I shrugged. "After the way that things ended between Mom and Dad, I get it. I really get it; their marriage was unusual, but their divorce was just terrible. But I believe in marriage. And under the right circumstances, I'd absolutely get married."
Eric smiled. "I was right. You haven't changed in essentials."
"Why do you say that?"
"You're still bound and determined to be an optimist no matter what happens around you."
I shrugged. "It's a lost art."
"Optimism?" he asked.
"Hope," I replied. "I choose to believe the best of people until I have no other option."
Eric smiled. "I missed you, Annie."
One coffee date didn't change everything. Eric and I didn't get married then and there. But things changed between us. We managed to move past the weaknesses of our adolescent relationship and build a strong, adult relationship. Eliza, our mutual best friend and my roommate, did her best to help us along.
We declared ourselves to be officially dating in early August after some insistent prodding from Eliza Bennett and Will Darcy, and he asked me to marry him in February of 2011 just before he left for spring training. I married him in November and fifteen months later, the first of our three children was born.
Our story wasn't some grand storybook romance. Yes, we were separated for seven years but somehow found our way back to one another. But from there, our story is just a
simple story of family and love.