Kim arrives in Tampa, settles in at Dave and Lauren’s home, and accompanies Lauren to the Suns match that evening.
Her path crosses with FCU’s baseball team’s All-American shortstop, CJ Spencer.
This unedited scene may or may not appear in the final manuscript.
Kim spent the afternoon organizing the box of clothes she’d packed to use until she moved into the dorm. She set her favorite skinny jeans on the bed and chose a long-sleeved T-Shirt. Hope this keeps me warm in the arena—without overheating beforehand.
She glanced at her phone. Updated and charged. No excuse not to call Mom. She lay back on the bed. So comfy.
“Kimberly? Finally!” Her mother answered on the first ring.
“How’d you know it’s me?”
“You have the same area code as Dave and Lauren.” Wow, smugness in mom’s voice? “Your flight smooth? Any problems changing planes?”
“None. Dave didn’t tell me he had upgraded me to first class until I stepped on the plane in Seattle. I am completely spoiled.” She chuckled. “I am unpacking and getting organized. Dave has a game tonight so I’m getting ready for that.” Kim gazed out the french door that led to the huge screened porch. Perfect for soaking up a little sun.
“I won’t keep you long. Why didn't you tell Finn you were leaving today? He came by to see you.”
“I told him, Mom. He ignored me. No surprise.”
“He wondered where you were.”
“You didn’t tell him, did you?” Kim fought the surge of anxiety. “We broke up. None of his business.”
“What could I say, Kimberly? He didn’t know you had decided to go to Tampa for grad school.”
Kim sighed. “Mom, I don’t want to speak with him.”
“He said he’s left several voice messages and that he has some information you need. You should give him a quick call.”
“Finn’s using you to manipulate me. He won’t accept the fact that we’re no longer together.”
“Isn’t that harsh, Kimberly? You dated for a long time.”
Kim didn’t reply.
After a moment, her mom asked, “Can you still access your old number?”
“It is pre-paid until the end of the month.” Kim sat on the edge of the bed and ran her hand through her hair. Shower. Maybe a quick nap? She realized that her mother had asked a different question. Am I sure about the breakup?
“Mom, please listen, and believe me—Finn and I are done. I don’t want to see him, talk with him, or listen to his messages. Trust me on this.”
“It’s just so sudden. I didn’t know you two had problems.”
“It’s complicated, Mom, and I need a clean break. He’ll figure out that I meant what I said.” Kim kicked off her sandals. “No more Finn… I’m in Tampa, ready to start an exciting program in grad school. Let’s concentrate on that, okay?”
When the call ended, Kim grabbed a decorative pillow and choked the urge to scream into it. Instead, she flung it across the room in frustration. She caught movement from the corner of her eye and smiled as she sat.
“Everything all right?” Lauren stood in the doorway with a sympathetic expression.
“It’s fine. My mom can frustrate me at times. She still treats me like a teenager.”
“Kim, I feel your pain… My sister Amanda, who raised me, does the same thing. I think it’s very difficult for mothers to accept that their children—daughters, in particular—do grow up.” Lauren’s smile conveyed her sympathy. “My niece, Cassie, can exchange stories with you.”
“She lives nearby, right?”
“Just around the corner—you may meet her at the game tonight. Unless you’re hoping for a quiet evening,” Lauren said.
“Miss my brother’s game? Never—I haven’t watched him play in person in so long. I had a conflict the last couple of times the Suns played Vancouver.” Conflict? Finn didn’t want me to go… like an idiot, I let him talk me into missing games. Kim refocused on Lauren. “I’ll re-energize before we leave.”
Lauren smiled, then paused before she turned to leave. “Kim, you can talk to me anytime—just between us.”
“Nothing serious, Lauren—my mom’s upset I broke up with a guy. Can you believe that? She’s more invested in my ‘love life’ than I am.”
“Most times it’s the opposite, and parents don’t like the guy.” Lauren bit back a smile.
Kim snorted a laugh. “Lucky me. Mine love the guy. Sometimes, more than me.”
“You know that’s not true. Living thousands of miles away may solve that ex-boyfriend problem.”
Fingers crossed, Kim held up her hand. “I hope.”
Looking down at the ice from the Suns’ private suite for family members, Kimberly couldn’t believe that she hadn’t attended a game in Tampa during the past two seasons. She remembered many of the wives she’d met and relaxed when they recognized her with a warm greeting. Dave had played with Andrew Chadwick when they both played for the Blues, and Kim had met his then-girlfriend, Caryn, when the Martin family visited St. Louis.
So long ago—I was an awkward teen, but Caryn treated me like an equal. Now look at her—married and the mother of adorable four-year-old twins. Lauren knew Caryn from the university, and not only were they best friends, but they co-owned a business. Andrew and Caryn had introduced Dave and Lauren, but they didn’t date seriously until both ended up in Tampa. Remember Dave’s face when I told him fate brought them together?
Kim spied Dave when he skated out for warm-ups. She flashed back to when he played Major Juniors, and she took pleasure in annoying—embarrassing?—him by banging on the glass during warm-ups before games. Kim chuckled to herself as the idea formed and touched Lauren’s shoulder to get her attention.
“Sorry to interrupt—I thought I’d watch warm-ups closer to the ice.”
“Sure, I can go with you.”
“I know the way. Do I need my pass to return here?”
Lauren smiled. “That works. Text if you need me.”
Stepping off the elevator on the lower level, Kim found the aisle leading to center ice. She purchased a large bucket of popcorn before descending the stairs to the ice-level seats.
Dave either didn’t see or acknowledge her. Kim remained in the aisle beside the bench and watched the warmups, munching on popcorn as she had years ago. Ten years? A gawky twelve-year-old watching the big brother I idolized behind the glass. Dave always ensured she had a few dollars for popcorn and hot chocolate. Whenever she slapped the glass, he laughed and skated over to spray ice toward the glass. It was our thing. No one else got it. Dad said that I embarrassed him, but I know Dave enjoyed it.
Dave had called Kim “Half-Pint” back then—because she hadn’t experienced her growth spurt and he towered over her—and she obsessively read the Little House on the Prairie books. She didn’t care, she loved the attention. She enjoyed sports and played hockey—not a girly girl. Both her older brothers helped her learn to skate, then play hockey. Her brother Jake taught her how to throw a baseball—definitely not like a girl!—hit a pitch and play shortstop. They tolerated her playing in pickup games until she declared she wanted to join both baseball and hockey leagues.
Kim played softball and volleyball at a varsity level in high school. She considered trying out for a team in college, but the time commitment interfered with her schedule. When she discovered intramural sports and the flexible schedules, Kim found her sports home. Many girls joined sororities; Kim chose sports.
She almost dropped her popcorn when skates scraped against the ice near the boards and winced as a deluge of ice sprayed against the glass before her. She saw the smirk on her brother’s face when he stopped in front of her.
Setting her popcorn beside her, Kim suppressed a giggle as she smacked the glass in Dave’s face. “For old time’s sake!”
Dave laughed, then pointed at his jersey, then at Kim. “After the game,” he mouthed. With a wink, he raised his hand before skating away.
Kim stayed for a while longer to watch the team warm up. Not that long ago, I’d pretend that the Martin name and number on the jersey were mine—not that anyone believed me. I loved the jerseys—one from his Major Junior team and his first pro jersey from St Louis. I wore them proudly, even at the university… until Finn said I looked like a groupie—a puck bunny—and I shamed him. Stupid me. I stopped wearing the jerseys.
Kim sprinted up the stairs and looked back at the team. She didn’t realize the momentum carried her further until she tripped on the top stair, her popcorn flying into the air as Kim fought to keep her balance.
Kim braced for the fall, but firm hands gripped her shoulders before she did. She clutched the stranger’s biceps to regain her stability, hoping that neither Dave nor the guests in the suite witnessed the near-faceplant. “Excuse me… I’m sorry!”
Popcorn fell from her hair, littered the floor, and fell like rain when she brushed the hair away from her face.
“Thanks so much,” she gasped as she looked at the person who helped her. She’d assumed an usher but saw a guy—fellow student?—wearing a Florida Coastal University T-Shirt. Twinkling cobalt blue eyes framed by a cap of thick unruly brown hair and a smile with the hint of a smirk met her eyes. An unexpected jolt seized her chest. OMGorgeous—the hottest guy I’ve ever seen. Say something, Martin. Don’t be an idiot. With an effort, she tore her glance from his mesmerizing eyes. “Th.. thank you. I’m so sorry… I didn’t realize…”
“Not a problem. I’m glad you’re okay.” His crooked grin nearly put her into a trance, and Kim felt her face flush.
“I… I’m such a klutz… I hope popcorn doesn’t stain your shirt.”
The guy shrugged. “No big deal.” He reached to brush a few kernels from Kim’s hair. “You can market a new perfume…”
“Eau de Popcorn?” Kim forced a laugh.
Maintenance personnel arrived, breaking the spell. Brooms in hand, they placed warning placards around the spill.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to create work for you.”
“No problem, ma’am. Just be careful.”
Kim allowed the handsome stranger to guide her away from the throngs of fans making their way to their seats.
“Can I get you a refill?” He asked and laughed when she shook her head. “Last thing you want?”
“Uh… yep.” Kim looked at her sticky hands and started to wipe them on her jeans, then paused. “I need to clean up before my sister-in-law sends a search party.” She offered her hand to shake his, then dropped it with a shy smile. “I can’t thank you enough… Do you go to the university?”
He brushed off the thanks. “I do. You?”
“New student this semester.” Kim jumped a little when the pre-game lights and music began. “Guess I should get back.”
“See you on campus. By the way, I’m Spence.”
“Kim. Thanks again.” She chanced another glance at him and hoped her smile looked sincere. Again, the eyes captivated her. After an awkward moment or two, she turned and stepped away.
She looked over her shoulder when she heard his voice. He pointed in the opposite direction she had moved. She hadn’t noticed the sign showing the women’s bathroom. She laughed as she turned. “Like I said, total klutz.”
(To be continued…)
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© 2023 Robyn M. Ryan, All Rights Reserved
Robyn M. Ryan • P.O. Box 466834 • Lawrenceville, GA 30042