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love like fools

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Oscar,
When do you need me to sit down for the interview? Who do you have doing it?
Let me know,
Mike

Mike sighs as he puts his phone down on the water stained bar. The bar is eerily quiet, but Mike considers it a blessing in disguise. It makes sense--the Sox have an off day, which combined with the fact that it’s a weeknight, means he’s the only patron left in the bar.

“Miguel, is that Peyton with Jose in that photo?” Mike asks Jose’s dad as he puts the last slice of pizza down.

Mike watches as Miguel nods. “Yeah, her and Jose’s class went to a field trip at Wrigley.”

He likes Jose’s dad. They had met during the holidays when he took Peyton back to Chicago for winter break and promptly froze his ass off while Miguel laughed at him for complaining about 39 degree weather.

“They have field trips to Wrigley? For what class?”

Miguel nods as he plucks the photo of the wall and hands the photo to Mike. The dust and oil splatter from the kitchen window have caked on the inner parts of the frame.

“For their math class. Back when they sucked, the Cubs would give tickets to middle school kids during day games to fill seats. I used to chaperon a lot since the bar’s not open in the morning.”

“So they were teaching them about how to measure how much the Cubs sucked?” Mike says as he hands the photo back.

“Pretty much. Took them to a game against the Padres once at Wrigley.”

Mike settles his eyes on the label of the beer he’s drinking. He tries not to think about the spring road trips to Chicago--how those field trips are how Peyton probably met him in person for the first time and he didn’t even realize it.

“I’m heading downstairs to take stock. Peyton and Jose should be in soon. He just texted to say they’re on the Red Line.”

Mike nods as he looks at the photos that line the walls of the hallway leading up to the bathroom. Some are of Jose throughout the years and his cousins, but most are of childhood zoo trips, birthdays, and holidays. It shouldn’t make Mike as upset as he feels right now.

“Dad?”

“Hey,” Mike says as he watches as Peyton frown at Jose.

“Hey,” Peyton says as she hoists her backpack over her shoulder. Jose gives her a quick nod and a small wave as he ducks into the kitchen.

“I got on an early flight. How was your night?,” Mike asks.

“I’m fine,” Peyton says as she settles onto the barstool. It takes a couple of tries for any sound to make it past her throat.

“Pizza?” Mike asks as he motions to the half eaten pan. “Jose’s dad told me your class used to go on fieldtrips to Wrigley.”

'Peyton gives a small nod. She remembers going to the Crosstown Classic and seeing Jim Thome. He played horribly that day--it was a nice night at the ballpark--but there was definitely something off-putting about witnessing Thome going through a rough patch. She remembers there was a pit in her stomach, like the things she had come to count on were leaving her and there wasn’t much she could do about it. No one likes to be introduced to or reminded of fallibility, especially when it comes to a sport that’s more like an escape.

“Look, I wanted to make sure you were okay with, well... everything,” Mike says as he rumples his napkin into his fist. He feels like an idiot--of course his kid isn’t okay.

“I’m fine,” Peyton says as she picks at her nail. The 17 year old was giving him a blank look, but Mike knew better. He'd pretended to be emotionless too many times as a child to not recognize the blank face sitting across from him.

“I shouldn’t have questioned you like that. You were right,” Mike says as he leans forward against the bar. He almost says it almost too methodically. If Peyton picks up on it, she doesn’t say anything.

“Rachel admitted to it. Movers are coming tomorrow,” he says as Peyton tucks her hands underneath her thighs. He knows this isn’t easy for Peyton, but maybe it isn’t as hard as he thinks. She’s gotten used to people moving in and out of her life.

“Are you and Jose still going to the game tomorrow? Al gave us access to one of the suites if you want to go,” Mike asks. He knows Ginny is starting tomorrow and as much as Peyotn hates Wrigley Field, she’ll go for a Ginny Baker start.

“Yes!” Jose shouts from the kitchen.

 

//

 

Peyton bolts out of the hotel room the next morning faster than he’s ever seen her get up for school. He barely hears the door click shut, but she is semi-responsible when she leaves a note that says she’s hanging out with friends from high school but will meet him near Wrigley. He had stayed up at night debating if they should even go to Wrigley, but Peyton wants to see Ginny, Jose wants to heckle the Cubs, and Mike knows he needs anything to distract him--and her--from the news they received this week.

When Mike turns up at Wrigley the next morning, there aren’t too many fans as the security guard waves him through the player’s entrance. He walks up the concourse slowly as he takes in the sights.
As he looks behind the left-field bleachers to the corner of Waveland and Kenmore Avenues, a familiar sight remains: the Ballhawks scattered around the intersection with gloves and lawn chairs, eyes cast toward the top of the wall in hopes that they’ll be the first to spot a freshly smacked home-run ball sailing over.

“Water--three bucks for Padres fans! 1 dollar for Cubs fans!” Mike hears the Ballhawks shout from the corner of Waveland. He’s seen them for the past 16 seasons of his career, it’s a sight as comforting as the ivy.

“Mike?” Ginny says as he rounds the corner. She’s got her Nike bag in her left hand, a Starbucks cup in the right.

“Baker,” Mike nods as he shoves his hands in his pockets. That’s not nearly comforting.

“How are you?”

Mike scrubs a hand across his face. “Sorry, I promised Oscar I’d sit down with PR this morning.”

“Oh,” Ginny says as she looks down at the floor. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. They just asked me to do an interview for Father’s Day, it’s nothing to do with Rachel.”

Ginny frowns. “They asked you to do that too?”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it. I’ll handle it,” Mike says as he feels his blood pressure spike at the confused look on Ginny’s face. “They’re waiting on me, so.”

“Mike--”

“Sorry, I have to run. I’ll see you later.”

 

//

 

“Mike,” Oscar says, barely looking up from his laptop as the office door clicks behind him. “How are you?”

“Why the hell did you ask Ginny to do that interview?”

Oscar clicks his pen against the desk. “She pitched a shutout. Why wouldn’t she talk to reporters?”

Mike crosses his arms as he frowns. “No, you thought it was appropriate to ask your star pitcher to do an interview about her late father for a fluff piece for Father’s Day?”

“I spoke to Jen. She okayed it. She said she thought it would be fine given the amount of time’s that passed.”

Mike scoffs. “I didn’t realize seeing your dad die in front of you had an expiration date.”

He thinks back to what Peyton’s therapist had told him. Grief doesn't go away; it becomes a part of you, step for step, breath for breath.

“I can do it instead if Jen needs a quote,” Mike offers.

Oscar frowns as he puts his pen down. “You’ve never sat down for one of these. We’ve asked since you were a rookie and you’ve always said no.”

“I showed up to all the charity events you’ve asked me to go to every season, Oscar. I’d like to think you can cut me some slack on this.”

Oscar sighs as he leans back in his chair. “Mike, we can have Sonny and Blip take the lead on this. If you decide to do the interview, take a breath before you sit down with Jen. You’ve been through a lot
this week. We don’t need the piece up now--it can wait until you get back to San Diego.”

Mike nods as he crosses his arms. He looks over at the field. The Nuveen Investments sign overlooking the bleachers is new.

“Al notified me that you and Rachel broke up. I’ll notify Jen, if you’re comfortable.”

“Just wanted to get it out there so you aren’t blindsighted,” Mike says. “Again.”

 

//

 

After the Cubs score four runs in 6th, Mike calls it a night. Traffic will be brutal on the drive if they wait until the end, he figures. Hunger wins out because when they hightail it out of there, Mike makes a stop for takeout all before the 7th Inning Stretch.

“You okay?” Mike asks as he looks at Peyton who is staring out the car window.

“Why would someone put macaroni in a grilled cheese sandwich?” Peyton asks, completely dodging the question. Al has Cheesie’s ranked in the top 5 of comfort food places after a loss, but Mike thinks
that’s only because the owner is from San Francisco like Al. There’s a bit of bias there.

“Because Cheesie’s is a block away from Depaul University. Half those kids were hungover when we went to grab our order,” Mike says as he wipes the grease off his fingers. “You okay?”

Peyton wipes the cheese off the side of her mouth with her sleeve. “Yeah, why?”

Something isn’t right; he can feel it in his stomach. And in his knee, but that’s more from the impending rain.

“You filibustered a solid five minutes on different types of grilled cheeses for the last mile of Lakeshore Drive, Peyton. What’s on your mind?”

“Are you mad at me?”

Mike frowns. “What? You know what happened with Rachel wasn’t your fault.”

“No...about the Cubs trade,” Peyton mumbles. While she knows the trade to the Cubs falling through was not her fault, she can’t help but feel like it was. If she hadn’t been there, maybe her dad would
have never okayed the trade and would have escaped being the disappointment.

Mike frowns. “That trade falling through was on Oscar and the Cubs’ ownership. It didn’t have anything to do with you.”

Peyton sighs. “I know that, I just…”

Today was the first game they’ve watched together--Mike skipped the Padres’ home opener for a doctor’s appointment and she had an exam. Today, she could barely focus on the game with her dad
sitting next to her. She didn’t think it was possible for her to feel more nervous during a game that he wasn’t playing in, but seeing how defeated her dad looked in the stands was brutal.

“Look, Peyton. I just...I don’t want you to feel guilty about this,” he says with a frustrated sigh. He knows it’s not enough to say. In his 37 years, he hasn’t been this bad with words since he was the new kid in 6th grade back in Poway. He picked the worst time to be tongue-tied.