Tamara Rowland knows only the rookies hang out by the exit. Done-up divorcées, new-to-Scottsdale cocktail waitresses, ladies in from single-A affiliate sorts of towns—places so small they don’t know any better. Tami could find half a dozen of them squeezed into the line of four-footers, grubby-fingered little boys with dirt under their nails and summer freckles just starting to blush. Nearby, but probably not attentive enough, the kids’ bored-looking fathers hang back in the shade, thumbing at smartphones and tugging on their belts. Tami knows not to be distracted by these men: doesn’t matter if they’re handsome in that midlist-Hollywood kind of way, or if they’ve got a whiff of Silicon Valley about them. Even if their kids were oblivious to her advances (and they usually were), these guys were still half in California, booking dot-com deals or toothpaste commercials, thinking about something, someone, far away. After all, this weekend, the boys-only trip to Arizona, is as much a gift to the women back home (a quiet house for three straight days, a weekend for brunch with girlfriends, a free afternoon to call their mothers) as it is a self-administered dose of father-son bonding. These men are loyal to their wives or mistresses, whoever is waiting back home.
Also queued up by the door where the players leave the stadium: the too-pushy teen and preteen boys, mostly pudgy middle schoolers and undersized underclassmen. Zitty, awkward guys who’ll never make it, definitely not with girls, and unlikely even into the ranks of the JV squad. Equipment manager, maybe? Without better options, they throw their hormone-heavy hearts into this, baseball fandom, and the signatures they might catch as athletes exit after springtime practice games. Tami feels for these boys, remembers how touch-and-go it was with her youngest, Connor, before he’d shot up and thinned out and learned that no woman likes a guy who makes fart noises for fun.
The only group that can overcome the bad vibes of loitering at the players’ entrance are the sorority girls from ASU. A couple of times a season she’ll spot a little pack of them, watch them giggle and wiggle their way up to the front of the crowd. If the air could go out of a sky the way it goes out of a room when a beautiful bombshell walks in the door, that’d be happening in this Arizona parking lot, the aforementioned teen boys going twitchy and gasping at their lucky (luckless?) proximity to young, nubile sex. These girls, tan in their tiny denim shorts and bleach-white spaghetti-strap tanks, pay the fanboys no mind. They know what they’re dealing: quicker than a ninety-eight-mile-per-hour fastball coming toward the heart of the plate, a blonde coed will get any ballplayer’s attention. There’s no hope for anyone else the days they come to the stadium. These girls could be standing behind the outfield Port-o-Lets, covered in sod and chew juice, and the players would still stop and notice. Not that she likes it, but Tami understands it’s the natural order of things.
Now Tami won’t deny that she’s waited for a player to emerge from the locker room; of course she has. She learned this game the same way anyone does: by misjudging balls, by swinging and missing. But the woman who just waits there, right along the rope, thinking that her doe eyes will make him notice: that’s a rookie mistake. Everyone else has learned better.
People from up north think that all desert is the same, but Arizona mornings are different than those in Texas, and Tami loves the way the sun creeps over the McDowells with its little fingers of white-gold light. She’s a half mile from where the foothills’ climb goes steep, but the elevation at Sandia Hills is already high enough that it cools off every night until early April—that’s another difference she is thankful for. So on this late February morning, it’s still chilly when she gets up at seven, pulling her kimono tighter across her chest as she pads downstairs. Hers is a nice kitchen: granite-topped island, triple-bay stainless sink (though she can never figure what to use the third tub for), pendant lighting, and an intricate backsplash. Ronnie had big plans for this place, and he’d spared no expense. In the fridge—a broad, stainless-steel number—she grabs a grapefruit out of a big mesh bag.
Tami might have preferred it peeled, to eat the juicy sections one by one, but she’s liable to screw up her new nails (a cheery pink called “Bachelorette Bash” that she got yesterday at the place out toward Tempe), so she retrieves a knife from the drawer and starts into the fruit, rocking down on the blade with the heel of her palm. Halves, quarters, eighths. The inside is always brighter than she expects.
The phone rings. This time of day it can only be her girlfriend Joanne—a troublingly early riser (she’s been known to call on the dark side of six thirty if she’s got some big idea brewing)—or someone calling for a sub at the gift shop. Or, Tami thinks, Texas could be calling, if something bad had happened to one of the boys, or one of their boys, or that little girl, Adelaide, or one of their wives, or either of her exes. But she’s not on the top of any of their speed dials and hasn’t been for a while.
She’s a little sticky on the index fingers and thumbs so does her best to answer the phone with two pinkies, cradling the receiver in the crook of her neck.
“What are you up to today?” Bingo—Joanne. She’s got this low, husky voice that the old guys—coaches and veteran pitchers and the like—go crazy for. There’s some dull commotion in the background, a clank that sounds like she’s cooking, which means an egg-white omelet. Same every day. She says it’s her metabolism, that she can’t look at a carb without putting on two pounds. It’s not easy for Tami, but Joanne reminds her it could be worse. Nobody’s prediabetic.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Tami responds. They don’t work too much, Joanne and Tami. Neither particularly wanted careers down here—who moves to Arizona for a job?—so they lean on their alimonies and try to keep their overhead low. Tami’s car’s fifteen years old—a Chevy convertible that doesn’t convert anymore, so at first sight of a rain or dust storm, she has to go skittering for a garage. Neither woman has health insurance, either, and probably won’t until Obama makes them buy it or somebody finds a sunspot that finally gets them worried enough to call a doctor.
For a while before meeting Ronnie, Tami had a half-time gig working the gift shop over at Taliesin West. She mostly handled the register, but she’d lead tours, too, when the fancy docents couldn’t manage to make it in. They were volunteers, the docents, and always acted like they were holier-than-thou, swaddled in their linens and silks. That’s no problem, ma’am, someone will cover for you, she’d say when they called to cancel twenty minutes before their shifts. And, Of course, dear, we’ll see you in May. Have a lovely time in Paris, when their month-long vacations got in the way of their biweekly shifts. Talk about Snots-dale, Tami thinks, remembering those haughty women. She knows as much about Frank Lloyd Wright as any of those wrinkled old bags. The difference between her and them? She has to work for her money.
“You working?” she says into the phone, licking a sticky finger.
“At two,” Joanne says. When things got tight for Joanne’s ex, which meant they got tight for Joanne, she landed three days a week over at the Whole Foods on Pima. Thirty percent off, everything but the meat, which is great for Joanne and all her life-preserving supplements. Tami’s told Joanne that she can do better for herself, that no one will miss a little something more, but Joanne got all blustery and said she’s too good for that kind of funny business. Tami knew she meant too scared but didn’t push the point. Joanne keeps Tami in discount grapefruit.
She spreads the wedges in a circle around the plate and walks over to a set of French doors that open onto a patio. “I was thinking I’d go see the Lions’ game. Check out the new stadium.” This season, the Los Angeles Lions are moving from Scottsdale Municipal—one of the dumpier places a major league team could spend the month of March—into a brand-new spring training complex, just down the road from Tami. Salt River Fields, they’re calling it. Tami’s seen the plans; she nagged Ronnie until he showed her the renderings one night. Nice grandstand, pleasant-looking general-admission lawn past the outfield (not that she’d ever sit in the grass), McDowell Mountains poking up past that. Good sight lines from the seats on either side of the stadium. The architect used a bunch of exposed steel beams and put in a minimalist canopy curving around home, details that made it feel modern and maybe even a little slick.
“Really?” Joanne says.
Tami knows that tone. When Joanne’s done with a guy on a squad, she’s onto another team, no matter what. Doesn’t want to get a “reputation” anywhere, she says, and with fifteen Cactus League teams, she figures there’s squads enough to keep her busy until retirement. She dated a scarred-up Giants catcher for a spring, then went to Peoria and the Mariners’ spring compound, where she found an old pitcher who still had his slider. That’s where the two women met, loitering around the Mariners’ lot after a game, both of them trying to look like they were too good to be there. The year after that, Joanne went over to Mesa and found a DH who could put just about anything in play, never mind that he could barely shuffle up the base path. Last year, Maryvalle and the Brewers. Tami’s not sure what her friend sees in these codgers, near as old as them and back to making the major league minimum. And the drives! It is thirty-five minutes to Peoria without traffic; Salt River Fields is seven minutes, door to turnstile.
“Do you think that’s such a good idea?”
Tami also knows from her strained voice that Joanne’s eyebrows are trying to make their way up her forehead. Back when she was Mrs. Thomson, she’d had a good deal of work done, from her forehead all the way down to her tush. It looks nice, except for when she’s trying to move something. Tami’s lucky that way—nothing’s gotten too draggy or droopy. Knock on wood, she thinks, and stick with the citrus.
“It’ll be fine,” she says. She reminds Joanne that last week she went to watch the pitchers and catchers work out, and it was fine. “Besides, Ronnie’s not on the team. He just financed the stadium. He doesn’t count toward your silly one-a-team rule.”
“What about Hal Moyers?” Joanne has a point there—a few seasons ago, Tami had a fling with the veteran curve baller, at least until his wife got wind and stormed in from Los Angeles. He was on a short leash after that.
“That was ages ago.” Tami is surprised, and not surprised, that Joanne even remembers Hal. “Water under the bridge.”
“That’s what you think. But ballplayers—mother fucker.” Tami hears a clatter of kitchenware, and then Joanne is muttering somewhere far from the phone. Mostly her klutziness is endearing—a few busted taillights, a registry’s worth of stemware—but without medical insurance, accidents are also a real threat. “Gotta go,” she says.
Tami sets down the phone and steps into the backyard. Ronnie never got around to landscaping back here, but he poured the cement for a pool and paved a not-too-small patio with pretty ceramic tiles. Tami bought a few pieces of outdoor furniture at an estate sale, a little café table and a couple of chairs that make her think of Paris, so it looks half-nice, if her eyes don’t wander over to the mucky bottom of the empty pool or the pile of red-orange dirt where the grass is supposed to start. No, it’s not bad, she thinks to herself as she settles into her breakfast. It’s the last week of February, there’s a game on this afternoon, and as the sun reaches over the McDowell Mountains, the tiles begin to warm under her bare feet.
Tami’s not racist, but she knows better than to go for the Hispanic players. Not that she doesn’t like them, but they won’t like her. Those guys will pick a younger woman, sometimes even young enough to get them into trouble. She got Anaheim’s Latin American scout real drunk one time a few seasons back, and all he wanted to talk about was how his top prospects kept getting themselves into teen pussy, and team counsel was on his ass to stop making so much work for him. But this poor scout, he didn’t know what to do. Apparently the age of consent is twelve in Panama, fourteen in Paraguay. And they’re babies themselves; the DR drafts signing the day they turn sixteen if they’re any sort of prospect. Shit, she’d made a boatload of bad decisions at sixteen. In any case, Tami knows that as a skinny white woman on the downslope of forty-five, there’s no point in trying. They look right through her.
And she doesn’t mean to stereotype, but the black guys, those still playing professional baseball (the numbers have dwindled markedly since the Rickey Henderson years), aren’t usually interested in women like her. They’ll go to clubs downtown—Phoenix is no Atlanta, but they’ve got a few “urban” clubs in the rehabbed warehouse blocks north of the train station—to find young beauties, edgy sorority sisters, and dancers for the Suns. There are exceptions, of course. She had a nice time a few seasons ago with a San Diego center fielder originally from Arkansas; he had a thing for chicken-bone blondes with lots of hair. She hadn’t worn her hair big since the Danny years, but teasing it up, came back like riding a bike.
No, as a single woman in her midforties, Tami’s best shot is with the white guys. Not Joanne’s masters of the clubhouse—too old for her—or the deer-in-the-headlights rookies, young enough to be a son, but guys a few years in, going through a hard patch, who look a little lost in the wide green sea of it. Maybe they’re struggling on the field or coming back from an injury. Wading through a divorce or adjusting to a trade. Mourning a dead parent or worrying over a sick kid back home. Vulnerable, somehow or other. Those are the ones to try for; they’re the ones who need it. Sometimes they remind Tami of her Danny, how after a game there was nothing he wanted more than to lay his head in her lap, her hands running through his thick hair. It’s nice to be needed like that.
Tami knows an old wino, Troy, who worked the left field gate at Scottsdale Municipal; with a smile and a little shoulder shimmy, maybe throwing in an I’m-glad-to-see-you-too hug, he always let her in, no problem. They’ve got him working at Salt River now, and when she steps up to the gate, he acts like it’s the world’s biggest coincidence they found each other here. No harm in acting like she’s bowled over, too.
She picks a section by the right field line, close to the unnecessary rain tarp—there’s not a cloud in the sky—and sits down with her morning latte and the spring season program. Jason Goodyear and Trey Townsend, the team’s two Gold Glove outfielders, are smiling back at her, with a text banner about them being “the golden boys” of the L.A. Lions. Clever, she thinks. Jason Goodyear, with his Hollywood smile and shoulders that suggest he could be the bottom of a cheer pyramid all by himself, would be her kind of guy, except for his being one of the most famous men in America. He was dating movie stars, A-listers, right up until he married that second grade teacher. Local girl, if she remembers the headlines right. And she’s tried with Trey—they were at the same cocktail bar one night in 2008, him sitting with some partial owner—but she wasn’t as interesting as the itch on his ankle.
Flipping through the program, there are plenty of names she recognizes. Some from springs past, others from that improbable postseason run the Lions had a few years back. She’d watched from the edge of her seat, the time with Hal still feeling recent enough that she was invested in his performance, the team’s success. In the pages, there’s lots of new faces, too. She’ll have them memorized by the end of the day; she always has been good at learning a lineup.
There’s still an hour thirty to first pitch, but Tami doesn’t care. The field’s a.m. watering is sparkling the emerald sod in a pretty way. She loves being surrounded by the thwack of hard leather on soft, the wooden ping of a practice bat making contact. Baseball sounds, carrying across the field—not for a rapt audience, not because the game is on the line, but just because these motions are imperative, essential. Throwing and catching are like sleeping and eating for these men: natural, necessary. Now, of course she likes a nail-biter as much as anyone, but this warm-up is something else. Elemental.
She glances from the outfield over to the boxes on the other side of home, but it’s too far to see anything distinct, much less if Ronnie’s there. She settles back into her chair, the plastic still smelling new, and does another pass through the roster.
Down on the grass, Greg Carver is throwing easy balls with the Lions’ catcher Jimmy Cardozo. Carver’s an interesting prospect. Last week, one of those retirees—a guy who just about lives for the spring season—told her about him while they both stood by the fence during pitchers’ practice. A left-hander, twenty-seven and lanky, a hand above six feet. Just coming back from Tommy John. Tami and this retiree watched as the pitchers worked through the line. There was a bucket of balls next to the mound, and each man had eight chances to show his best. At home plate, the stand-in batter never took his bat off his shoulder, just praying he wouldn’t get beaned. The queue went back past second, and they cycled through, like so many kids at a spelling bee. The pitching coach—Stu Walsh, a lefty Tami remembers playing back when she was a little girl, so definitely too old for her—stood behind the catcher with a radar gun, his face stony under his ball cap, whispering numbers to a guy with a clipboard.
The retiree said Carver had been a high prospect in the 2005 draft, that he’d left a good college program—Notre Dame, he thought it was—after his junior year to go pro, was doing what he should to climb the ladder when his elbow went kaput. The Lions hoped to make him a starter if he healed right—sometimes these surgeries make you even better than before, the new ligament a little tighter or stronger or whatever it was that kicked a fastball from ninety-four to ninety-six—but in the meantime, Victor Caspien, a prospect from the DR, had come up quicker than anyone expected. Now, the man explained, the team had a fight on their hands for the last spot in the rotation. He seemed to relish the conflict, Tami thought, the possibility of someone’s dreams being quashed.
As they watched, Carver threw seven strikes in a row, a few of them looking ninety-five or so. Walsh seemed unimpressed, right up until the last throw went sailing wild from the start, so fast and high that there was no way Cardozo could catch it, and it sent Walsh scrambling onto all fours. At that, he cursed the kid and sent him to the back of the line.
Now, watching Carver swing his arms in wide windmills, Tami wonders if camp’s giving him that necessary confidence, if Walsh’s scrutiny and the swarm of would-be major leaguers are helping or hurting this young man. A cloud passes over his face and he rockets another to Cardozo, a perfect strike. That thing was going ninety-something, and the catcher breaks into a gap-toothed grin.
“Tami. How are you?” She just about jumps out of her skin at his voice, the baritone popping up behind her like a surprise foul ball.
She turns to face him. “Hi, Ronnie.”
The first time Tami saw Ronald Duncan, she thought he was a scout. It was over at Scottsdale Municipal, and he was sitting next to team co-owner Stephen Smith and a couple other front-office guys she recognized from the program. Tan, with an open-neck team polo and a head of handsome gray, leaning into the game with a notebook on his lap—he presented as a part of the team. She’d already done her spring with a twenty-eight year old from Seattle (he’d left camp early with a hamstring injury), and she figured, with only a few days left in the Cactus League season, why not spread her wings and try something new? Her friend Deidre, sitting next to her in the stands that day, had said to go for it; she and Joanne both had transitioned into older guys and were trying their darnedest to get their friend to make the switch.
They’d had Troy pass him a note in the seventh inning, and when Ronnie came up to her that night at Bloom, he didn’t correct her assumption about being a baseball guy. By the time Tami figured out he wasn’t a part of the Lions organization—that notebook was full of property values, nothing at all on pitch velocity—they were halfway through dinner and getting along well enough.
Ronnie is a few years older than her, a California guy that’s been baking in Arizona since the early nineties. He’s a developer—or was, given how construction in Scottsdale all but went splat after the crash—and he built a bunch of stuff out on the north and east sides of town. Scottsdale has always had its rich (twenty-five million dollar compounds in the hills, golf courses that cost three hundred a round), but during the boom, there were a lot of folks in the middle who were looking up, stars and dollar signs in their eyes, and Ronnie made a fortune on those kind: people ready to move into sprawling new developments, eager for better schools and fancier zip codes and more expensive groceries. No matter if every house looked the same, so long as it was flashy on the front and immense inside. Nobody seemed to care if the houses were shoddy in their bones: the plumbing unreliable, the windows leaky, closets framed off plane. Tami had a dripping skylight, and only two of her six kitchen burners worked right. But what’d you expect from a house put up overnight?
Ronnie had a hand in the new stadium and casino complex, too. It was run by the tribe, of course; that’s how gambling got the green light, how there was any movement at all during the recession, how they came up with the name Talking Stick for the casino and golf course. But Ronnie expedited paperwork, smoothed out construction contracts, “liaised” with the municipal side. Probably greased some hands down at City Hall, too, but Tami’s not one to ask questions about that sort of thing. The casino’s an eyesore—another instance of big and flashy—but from these seats it’s hidden behind the outfield scoreboard. They did a good job with the stadium; she’ll give him that.
After the season wrapped, Ronnie and Tami sweated through the summer together, hopping from one air-conditioned movie matinee to the next, toggling between action flicks and rom-coms often enough to keep both parties contented. Tami wasn’t working anymore, and Ronnie wasn’t going to bother with finishing those last properties in his portfolio—save for Salt River, of course, which he visited every Tuesday, hard-hat tours from when it was a rat maze of inlaid irrigation pipes and foundation holes to a horseshoe of concrete slabs to a steely skeleton to this (not once inviting Tami to join, either)—until he knew the worst was past. Or until the construction guys got so desperate for work they undercut themselves by half again. Waiting game, he was fond of saying, tapping his temple and flashing a white-toothed grin. Ronnie’d weaseled his way out of most of his bad situations before the shit really hit the oscillating fan. He was one of the few local developers who could claim that, who didn’t eat his hat in 2009 and 2010, and he was proud of it. Tami found the ego a real turnoff, disliked how he’d strut around town like a high-stepping horse, but when it was just the two of them, he knew to turn it down.
Tami thought the autumn in Arizona was great, crisp mornings and postseason baseball at night, but by Thanksgiving, she knew she’d have to end things. Ronnie liked football. Three-games-a-Sunday liked. She was certain that her hair could be on fire, and he wouldn’t get up until the Cardinals’ commercial break, and then, only if there wasn’t anything interesting happening in the picture-in-picture game. Love was really never on the table with Ronnie—companionship was, sex was, and some sort of attraction, sure. In retrospect, Tami can see they were both lonely, that more than anything else.
No one likes being alone for the holidays, so she limped through Christmas (a nice tennis bracelet) and the New Year (champagne tasting menu at the Biltmore), and broke it off with him two weeks before pitchers and catchers reported to camp. She hasn’t seen him since.
“That coffee?” He raises his left eyebrow like he guesses it’s not. It was a thing they did sometimes, to stave off the boredom of the slow-moving summer: slipped whiskey into coffee cups and walked around the fancy outdoor mall. Camouflaged rum cocktails in soda cans and visited those cowboy art galleries downtown. Drank vodka/fruit “smoothies” and giggled through rounds on some ritzy golf course. He was a member at three of the better ones in town—a developer’s perk, from what Tami gathered—and she wasn’t a bad shot. Ronnie always said he appreciated her athleticism.
“Yes, Ronnie.” It comes out sharper than she means it to.
“Fine.” He makes himself comfortable in the seat next to hers. “How’s the house?”
“You made me quit, remember?” she says, thinking of Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter compound. Tami can trace her love affair with Frank back to the early 1990s, when she found herself at a holiday party at the Gillin House in Dallas. The home belonged to some long-lost friend of Terrance’s who’d done well—so well he’d bought a Wright original, one of the last buildings to be completed during the architect’s lifetime. Everyone else at the party was impressed by the champagne, but she was gobsmacked by the dimensions and details, the harmonious aura of the place. The scale, the materials—even the diving board matched with the doorframes. While other people chatted over cheeseballs, she gave herself a tour. She felt the building pushing and pulling her in and out of rooms like there were magnets in the doorways, right up until she found herself standing in the living room, directly below a big copper dome—and oh, how that had made her heart sing. Tami didn’t have any training in design, unless she counted the pattern-making unit in home ec, but she knew she loved the way Wright used stone and steel, glass and light, like he was reinventing the world. After that, she read what she could find, borrowed books from the library and read chapters while standing in the Borders. She even drove to Amarillo to see another of his Texas houses. Independent study, she’d tell the docents when they seemed suspicious of how she got to knowing so much.
It’s not like she moved to Phoenix for Frank Lloyd Wright—she moved here because, after so many decades with ball-playing husbands, the place occupied a big, mythical spot in her mind. But knowing Wright’s winter retreat was in Scottsdale made the decision about which suburb to call home easy enough. Taliesin West, with all its geometric red frames and peek-a-boo vistas, well, it just about knocked her flat. And lucky for Tami, they were hiring.
Hers was not a good hourly wage, but the job offered plenty of fringe benefits, not the least of which was learning every of the compound’s nooks and crannies, the details of what Frank had done to each building—and why—all the way down to the built-in sofas in the Garden Room. But then Ronnie didn’t like it when she wasn’t available, sneered at the word retail like it was something stinking on the bottom of his shoe—and sniffed at nonprofit like it didn’t smell much better. When they split up, Tami called the HR gal at the house and told her she was available to come back. No spots open, the woman said, so Tami asked if she could sub. I’ll make a note of it, she said, her tone bristly enough that Tami wondered if she knew about the missing scarves, the solid-silver cufflinks.
“Not that house. Mine.”
By March 2010, Ronnie had already gotten rid of most of the lots in Sandia Hills, the hundred-eighty-home development that had been lately tanking. With the sale, the half-built homes became another man’s headache, the empty foundations that scalloped up the hillside somebody else’s problem. But the development’s model home (five bedrooms and four baths, fancy appliances and marble and all the rest, the development’s only home that had been move-in ready) was still on his rolls. She had been living in a real crap hole of a one-bedroom in South Scottsdale, one of those places with low, popcorn ceilings and a stained wall-to-wall carpet, where the shared washers and dryers were outside, just a bank of machines shoved in the corner of the courtyard. The kind of place where loud and drunk undergrads were a good problem, mostly harmless; it was the dodgy-looking adults sitting in their cars that you had to worry about. The only perk of it had been that it was around the corner from the best tacos in the Phoenix metro, a little hole-in-the-wall called La Morenita.
After a few weeks of dating, Ronnie decided to make a charity case out of her. Tami was a proud woman, is a proud woman, but she can also spot a gift horse from half a mile, and happily moved into the model home. Since they parted ways, he hasn’t told her that she needed to leave, and she keeps hoping he won’t. Her bank account’s seen better days, and really, it’s comfortable there, with its still-staged furniture and room for a family of six. When it comes down to it, she’s doing him a favor, making sure no one breaks in and trashes the place, steals the appliances and strips the pipes for copper. There’s been a lot of craziness going around.
“Right. It’s fine.” A bunch of players jog up the warning track, slow and easy.
Ronnie follows her gaze to the field. “Scouting another player?”
“How’s the project over on Paradise going?” she says. Paradise East is his latest, or his last, and it might actually lose him a big chunk of money, a prospect that makes her a little bit happy. “Make any more sales?”
The men on the field are jogging backward now, toward home in a bumbling cluster. They tell fielders not to run backward—you’ll get your feet tangled up—but they also say to never take your eye off the ball. One of those things is more important than the other.
“How are Jeremy and Connor?” he asks. His eyes are also on the players.
“The same. Fine.” Tami hardly speaks with her sons anymore. Holidays she hears from them, birthdays if she’s lucky. They made it pretty clear they were done with her as soon as they had a choice in the matter.
“What do your boys think about you going for guys their age?” Two players collide and land on their duffs, cleats in the air.
“You don’t know anything about my boys.” Tami wishes she’d never told him about it, her want for ballplayers. It was a stupid mistake, wined-up pillow talk. He had wanted to know what turned her on—probably was waiting to hear her say tan sugar daddies, just like him—but she’d told him the truth: power, potential, and a well-developed upper back. He’d pulled it out of her before she even realized what she was saying—the stuff about the possibility and drive of these men—before she understood that something so honest could hurt. They laughed about it at the time, but she knows he’s held it against her since. They were never particularly nice to one another (that slyness was part of their chemistry), but after that night he stepped up his little jabs and mean-spirited asides. And when she suggested they split, he didn’t seem particularly broken-up about it, just said, “Figures.”
Ronnie stands, says, “I hope you have a good season, Tami.”
She doesn’t watch him as he goes; she’s looking for the guy who caused the pileup. It’s William Goslin, the baby-faced kid they signed right out of high school. The boy rises slowly and brushes himself off, his cheeks flushed red. She wonders if he’s some relation to Goose.
She finishes her coffee and watches the team ease through the rest of their pregame stretches and rounds of toss. They act so casual, all loping limbs and toothy grins. As the crowd fills in around her, the players’ actions focus into sharpened points: the infield, in position now, does whip-fast throws around the horn, the outfield tosses sail higher and higher. Before she knows it, everyone is standing for the national anthem, and then the first batter steps up to the plate.
When did she start loving baseball? Well, her daddy’d take her and her brothers to the minor league stadium in Lubbock a few times a season, spoil them sick with soda and peanuts. Little Tami had a gift for names, and could memorize a lineup before the second time through the order. She learned how to keep score by the time she was seven, and by eight she could spot a strong arm the way an architect senses a perfect site, the way a divorcée tastes want on her tongue. Was it intuition? A sixth sense? She’s not sure. It was just a feeling she had; she knew from the get-go she was good at it.
Tami found Danny back in high school. Rocketballer, one of the best prospects in the state. She was cheering then, team captain, and even though the school didn’t generally send the squad to baseball games, Tami insisted they go, and that meant they went, stomped around on top of the dugout, waving their pompoms and flashing their panties at every player coming off the field. Danny got to be the top pitcher in the district that season and was drafted into a Div-I program. Tami was so proud, she married the guy the summer after his graduation. She didn’t finish at Lubbock High—she was a year behind him in school—but that hardly seemed to matter then. They just wanted to be married, make a home in a little apartment on the edge of campus. Tami’s mom had to sign her marriage certificate because she was underage, and the woman groused about it plenty. According to Tami, that signature was the last nice thing Rhonda Rowland ever did for her daughter.
Danny’s gold arm and Tami’s good feelings about it didn’t mean jack shit once he blew out his elbow halfway through his second season of college ball. He was gunning for all-American that year. They’d had Jeremy, with Connor on the way, and the young family was counting on a pro contract, something with some heft, once he’d turned twenty-one. When Danny finally did come back, or tried to, he had to switch to relief. He topped out at double-A, the Midland Rockdogs.
When Danny and Tami decided to call it quits—he had an unpredictable temper and the sex drive of a salted slug—the boys chose to stay with their father. Tami got it: she wasn’t one of those affectionate moms (she’d learned from her own icy mother, a distant woman who seemed to prefer the company of Johnny Carson and Jim Beam to Tami and her brothers), and Danny let the boys walk all over him. Plus, Danny’s momma and sister lived nearby and spoiled those boys rotten. So Tami got a job and an apartment across town, did what she could to see them as much as she could. Meanwhile, she started spending time with a big right-hander named Terrance Flanagan, and they eventually married.
Terrance was on his way back down from a few good-ish years in the majors, and he spent two seasons with the Rockdogs before hanging up his cleats. He became a development coach, which was fine by Tami—any excuse to stay close to the game—but when, after eight years of holy matrimony, he started messing around with her best friend, well, that was less fine. Road affairs are one thing, a way to blow off some steam between starts, but Terrance’s infidelity hit too close to home. Plus, they wanted to get married, which put Tami in a real spot. Her boys were older then, Jeremy finishing at A&M, Connor working in Corpus, so she didn’t feel the need to stick around for them.
Tami hired a bulldog of a lawyer, and Terry didn’t put up any sort of fight—everything got sorted in a conference room over the course of an afternoon. The settlement got her to Arizona, a place she’d circled on her map back when Danny first told her about the Cactus League. For all those years she’d spent married to ballplayers, all those springs they’d packed up and left town for Arizona, not once had anyone invited her along.
Carver starts the game. He goes a good six, a few walks, and a half-dozen strikeouts. When he starts losing it in the seventh, his arm slips quickly—two doubles in three at bats. The guy looks startled when the catcher pops up and comes to the mound, but shakes him off with a gesture so overdone that Tami can see it from the right field seats. Then he walks another batter, and Walsh calls in a righty from the pen. Carver quits the mound with his head down and walks slowly back to the dugout.
It’s a nice afternoon, and she doesn’t have anywhere to be, so after the game, she hangs around the players’ lot. She’s not pushed up against the half-height fence with the rest of the fans but is over by the handicap spots, where there’s a bench in the shade. She doesn’t try to talk to anyone, just wants to see who’s driving what this season. It says a lot about a player, whether he’s got a rental for the season or if he owns something nondescript, if he opts for tastefully expensive or ostentatious with vanity plates. And she wants to know if there’re any wives or girlfriends coming to pick up their men. Players won’t rat on other players—what happens in Arizona stays in Arizona, the sanctity of that crude-sounding “road beef” still honored among teammates—but the baseball wives are another story; Tami intends to keep clear of them.
She’s been known to peer into back seats, discreet behind her sunglasses. Is it a mess of stats sheets and spare gloves? That’s normal, a guy working hard at his job, trying to make the team or stay there. Dry cleaning bag, holding tonight’s blazer? He’s having a little fun. Last night’s blazer crumpled up on the seat? He’s having a lot of fun. Now here’s a big red flag: a kid’s seat. The kind of dad who brings his whole family to Arizona for the six weeks of training. Danny never brought them anywhere, just left her at home with the boys driving her up the wall. At least Terrance would take her to San Antonio when the Rockdogs were playing there, so she could go to the Alamo and eat lunch by herself on the River Walk at one of those pretty patio tables by the water, a canvas umbrella keeping her in shade.
Tami sees a few plain-looking players come out first, relief pitchers and guys who probably only have another week or two until they’re cut. Jason Goodyear signs a few balls and then goes for a dusty old Jeep with a faded black-and-gold Lions bumper sticker—strange, she thinks, that he’s still driving that after all these years and bazillions of dollars. The other outfielders, Townsend and that new right fielder, Corey Matthews, leave together, climbing into a slick blue Audi. The fireplug catcher, Jimmy Cardozo, walks out with Carver, the latter’s arm still wrapped in ice. They drive off in a rented red Mustang, Cardozo at the wheel. Ronnie strides across the parking lot, heading for his Bentley, and Tami’s head goes down. Suddenly there is something very, very important in the bottom of her purse.
Her eyes snap open. The house is still, eerily so. She turns to her clock alarm and sees nothing, black on black. The button on the bedside light doesn’t respond, though she does manage to chip a nail in the effort. She feels her way to the window, trying her best to avoid the linen chest at the foot of the bed.
The vacant, half-built houses around her are always dark, but the streetlights across the way are humming bright. What happened? And then it hits her, hard as a beaner: Ronnie cut the power. The little shit sat down in his fancy first-row box, watched the baseball game, drove to his office in that small-prick car of his, and called the electricity company. Shut her off. He could have said something, asked her to transfer the bill. Given her some warning that this was coming.
She weighs her options, watching the silent burn of the streetlamp. Put the balance on a card and hope it clears? Try to hawk something? The last piece she sold—a glazed tile stamped with Frank’s seal that had been festering on a back shelf of the conservation lab so long she doubted anyone would miss it—got her through three months. But she doesn’t have any inventory now, not really, just a couple silver doodads. With a tightness in her chest, she knows there’s nothing to do about it until the morning—and a Saturday, who knows if anyone at the utility will even be working—so she edges her way back into bed and tries to get some rest.
At seven thirty she calls the power company and gives them her address. She has a balance of $380.34, nothing paid since the December statement. She says something about her partner and her—different last names because they’re progressive—being out of the country a lot over the last few months. “The travel,” she says, like vacation’s a burden, using her best Snotsdale voice. “A bill or two must’ve slipped by, but Paris was a dream. And Rio!” The customer service agent knows she’s lying, but he takes her credit card number all the same. The minimum payment to reestablish service is $150, but with some sweetness she talks him down to $85. He tells her the power will be back on by five.
She takes a cold shower in the dimness of the bathroom’s leaky skylight, the place feeling more like the moon than her house in its strange blue cast. As she dries herself, naked and dripping, she watches her shadowy self in the mirror. She’s still pretty, trim. But she misses those days of stepping into the bathroom to take a piss in the middle of the night and being startled by how beautiful that woman in the mirror was. Half asleep and hair back in a scrunchie, one of Danny’s baggy T-shirts hanging halfway to her knees, it didn’t matter: she was gorgeous, and not even trying.
That beauty was something she had for so long that she forgot about it. Then poof. Divorced (the second time) at forty-one, moving across the desert with some vague idea of what she was looking for. She twists one towel around her hair, wraps another across her chest. But she knows this much: there’s no more surprise-yourself beauty in her anymore. Before it was, Eat whatever you want, and, Let your hair air-dry. She could do no wrong, at least not on that front. Now it’s a regimen, trying hard every single day.
Moisturizer, cover-up under the eyes, foundation, and powder. Eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara, and blush, then lipstick or this expensive lip gloss that made her mouth tingle. That’s the routine. In the dark, she feels her way through mascara and powdering her nose, skipping the rest, then gets dressed in a pink Juicy sweat suit Joanne got her for her birthday. She should have grapefruit, but opening the fridge will hurry up the spoiling inside, so she tells herself it’s better to go to the diner on Camelback, wet hair and all.
She sits at the counter, and once she’s there, she can’t help it: she orders bacon, eggs, home fries, an English muffin—the kind of greasy-spoon breakfast she used to be able to eat without thinking twice, and Lord, does it taste good. The woman on the other side of the counter, managing the breakfast crowd all on her own, reminds Tami of herself, how she used to feel running around looking after those boys and worrying about Danny and money and the car. Young, but old. Worn out. She finishes her coffee and wants more, but knows better than to rush that poor woman. She’ll come back around soon enough.
After breakfast, still jonesing for her morning citrus, she buys two grapefruit-flavored wine coolers at the gas station, puts them in her oversized purse, and heads for the stadium, hoping the breezy convertible will dry her hair into something fashionably windswept. If she’d been thinking, she’d have brought the hair dryer along, fixed her hair in the grimy gas station bathroom. Oh, well. It’s another clear Arizona morning. Just last month, these kind of blue skies drove her bonkers at their sameness, but today, it’s a beautiful day for baseball.
In a lot of ways, baseball players are men like everyone else. Some of them are dummies, some of them are mad, some of them are suspicious, shallow, or arrogant. Some are so driven they’ll just about forget she’s in the room, even if she’s dressed up sexy or screaming, even if she’s the mother of their children. But the difference separating ballplayers from everyone else is that they care about something tremendously, and have since they were little boys. It’s thrilling, and she feeds off it. Most people will never touch that kind of drive, that stamina and confidence. Most people, whether they’re living in small towns or big cities or sprawl, spend their lives dealing with screaming babies and stupid jobs, whatever life throws at them. Baseball players, they do the throwing.
After everything bad with Danny and Terrance, after trying to grow up with these men and having things just go plain wrong, Tami doesn’t want to give anyone too much. She can’t stake everything, not again. But these six weeks of spring can shape the rest of a man’s life in baseball—get him a spot on the team or send him packing—and she can do that. She can give that much. No, she doesn’t regret telling Ronnie God’s honest truth about it: this is her favorite part, the moment in a player’s career when everything is still possible. It’s a rare man who can keep his head down and plow through the uncertainty of spring training, the man whose confidence never wavers. That’s where she comes in. She is ready when they need reassurances; she has a calm, steady smile and a warm hand to rest on their thigh. All these years later, that still feels just about right.
“Who you watching?” An older man—a dapper, golf-club sort—slides into the seat next to hers. Most of the stands are still empty before the 1:05 start.
“Number twenty-four, over there. Carver.” Carver is on the grass, his legs spread in a wide V. Early-to-mid career, coming back from a tough injury, lots of upward potential—he’s meeting all her criteria.
“He pitched yesterday. Caspien’s up today.” The man points an arthritic finger to the warm-up mound and a young man throwing there. “Dominican kid. I think he’s gonna be good.”
“Mm-hmm.” Tami is not interested.
“Five bucks says Moyers doesn’t make it through the year. That kid’s his replacement.”
Tami thinks Hal will last longer than the veteran lefty José Oliveira—and not just because she’s seen Hal naked—but she’s not looking for conversation, much less an argument. “That’s interesting.”
The man starts flipping through a program, and she takes the opportunity to empty her second wine cooler into a stadium cup with a quick slosh, the transfer easy enough to conceal in the big maw of her handbag. They watch the pitcher warm up for a few minutes, and she starts to feel the booze at her temples, pulsing with each thwack of the ball hitting the catcher’s mitt. The organist must’ve shown up—fanfare plays over and over, each time moving higher up the keys. Dun-nuh-nuh-na, duh-na!
“What do you think of that Goose kid?” The golfer flashes a page in the program—he’s talking about the new first baseman, William Goslin. He’s Goose’s great-grand-nephew, the man says. Tami shrugs; she’d read the same article yesterday. He’s too young, straight out of high school, and he reminds Tami of her boys, what they were like the last time she saw them with any frequency, natural athletes who took after their daddy. Besides, from the looks of the first game, Goslin has a steep uphill. Yesterday, nerves got him in the field—he bungled two catches—and he was underwhelming at the plate. The kid falls into the category of a player who’s too far gone for her kind of help. They should really just send him down to the minor league camp, Tami thinks, and put him out of his misery.
“He’ll find his stride,” she says.
“I bet he’ll find the exit quicker.” The man is happy with himself for that, and Tami lets him laugh.
Another day, another game, and after it’s done Tami hustles over to Don & Charlie’s, a steakhouse just off the drag in downtown Scottsdale. The place is chock-full of memorabilia, stuff that looks like it should be in Cooperstown, not getting sticky with beer in suburban Phoenix. Yet, it’s here: signed Mickey Mantle balls, pennants dating back to the teens, baseball cards displayed like dead butterflies, pinned behind Plexiglas. Stepping inside always makes Tami’s skin go hot, but she’s never lifted anything. Too many people around. Including, today, her friend Deidre, who is waiting for her at the bar. When she spots Tami she does a quick, high whistle and waves an arm above her head.
There’s a white-tablecloth dining room in the back, but up in the lounge, things are more casual. Red-nosed regulars have snagged all the stools, which leaves the rest of the crowd standing around, jostling one another. As per usual for a Sunday in spring, there’re stag parties from the West Coast throwing back one last round before their nine p.m. flights, golf-tripping corporate types reliving their best holes, and retirees taking a nip before their early bedtimes.
When a player comes in—and there are a dozen, scattered through the building—heads turn and voices dim. Unless they’re wearing diamond-studded everything or have an entourage of Playboy Bunnies in tow (both of these things have happened in spring seasons past), the room absorbs them quickly enough, and everyone goes back to saying what they were saying and drinking what they were drinking.
There aren’t many women around, which is also usual for Don & Charlie’s. It’s part of why Tami and Deidre like it here. They also like it because, between long-weekend vacationers and the revolving door of ballplayers, only the stiff-lipped bartenders and a couple of world-weary sportswriters know what they’re up to. Tami’s not worried about the writers—she knows plenty of their tricks, too—and as for the bartenders...the women make sure they’re well taken care of by whomever is taking care of them.
“How was the tournament?” Tami asks. Deidre’s spent the day at Troon North, one of Scottsdale’s four-diamond golf courses, watching her boyfriend play a round in some charity tournament.
“Boring.” Deidre twirls the little red straw in her drink and casts her eyes around the room. Her story is about the same as Tami’s: showed up in Phoenix five years ago, recently divorced. Went on the market, did okay for herself.
“Larry’s treating you well?” Tami never got into basketball, but Deidre spent her twenties as a cheerleader for the Sacramento Kings and says she feels about sweatbands the way Tami does about stirrups. Last fall, Deidre nabbed herself a Suns assistant coach. His night-game schedule has turned her all but nocturnal, so happy hours like this are Tami’s best shot at seeing her friend, at least until the NBA playoffs.
Deidre nods, and a broad smile spreads across her face. “He’s getting me a car.”
“That’s great, Dee.” Deidre regularly insists she didn’t set out to be a gold digger, but she’s doing pretty well at pulling up nuggets. Tami’s opinion is that the guy needs to have money enough for nice dinners, and maybe some jewelry, but she’s not hunting for a new convertible, so long as her shitty little Cav keeps running to the stadium and back. She wasn’t hunting for a house, either, until Ronnie dropped one in her lap.
It takes a moment to recognize Jason Goodyear in his street clothes, a fashionably faded T-shirt and slim blue jeans, a blank red ball cap pulled down low over his brow. But, one drinker at a time, the room does recognize him, and momentarily, the air goes out of the place. He’s flanked by the Lions’ other outfielders, Trey Townsend and Corey Matthews, the two looking like brothers in matching dark blazers and khaki pants. The pair are noticeably better dressed than their left-fielding colleague.
The men cluster together not far from the entrance to discuss something, and the room returns to equilibrium. Except for Tami, who feels her heart trilling with the new arrivals. This always happens when she sees players out in the world. “Omigod, Dee.”
“What?” Deidre turns around. “Hmm, he’s handsome in real life, too.” She scrunches up her nose. “I heard he just got divorced, poor baby.”
“What?” Tami doesn’t mean to sound shrill, but the question comes out like a little squeak.
“Don’t you read?” Deidre takes a pull of her drink, deep enough to produce a slurp. A nearby sportswriter glances over his shoulder at the women.
“You ladies doin’ okay?” he says.
“We’re fine, thanks,” Tami says. She turns back to Deidre and puts a hand on the woman’s bare shoulder. Tan, freckles. Smooth. “You’re sure?”
Deidre nods. “There was some big controversy, but no one’s gotten the scoop yet. God, do you live under a rock?”
Tami’s pink nails press into her friend’s shoulder. A little leathery, a little soft. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Dee. A star like him, newly single—vulnerable. In his moment of need. Can you imagine—” Tami nods so enthusiastically her vision briefly blurs.
“I know, I know.” Deidre rolls her eyes.
“Know what?” Tami’s head snaps up. The outfielders are walking toward the bar, toward them.
“You want a Tamara Special.”
Tami hates that she calls it this, that they’ve done this so many times it has a name at all. But her friend is right, and she nods yes again, slowly now. Yes, a Tamara Special.
Deidre sighs and sets down her empty tumbler before straightening the straps of her dress and giving Tami her “I’m ready” look. The men are getting closer, so close Tami can feel the zaps of their electricity on her bare arms. She opens her mouth, saying a few mumbles of nonsense, and Deidre breaks out into near-hysterical laughter. “Oh my GAWD, Tami! That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all week.” Just as he’s passing by, she grabs Jason Goodyear by the arm and pulls him to her. He stiffens, showing a hint of the shyness that the gossip magazines love to speculate about, then loosens when he realizes it’s just another done-up divorcée, too much makeup and too much booze.
“This woman,” she says, pointing at Tami, “she’s a riot. Tell it again, Tami.”
Tami demurs, eyes on the floor. On his shoes, actually, which she notices are a pair of scuffed-up sneakers that the maître d’ would have given him trouble for if he was anyone other than Jason Goodyear. Why the old shoes? Shouldn’t a guy like him have footwear for days? Maybe it’s a comfort thing. She shakes her head. “It wasn’t that good, Dee. Leave the guy alone.”
Jason starts to turn away, but Deidre tugs at his elbow again. “Well, at least stick around for a drink, huh? Maybe we can get her a little loosened up, and she’ll let us hear it. Woo. Haven’t laughed that hard in years.” Jason looks over Tami’s shoulder to his teammates. She can see the question in his face: Two old broads? Tami wonders if Trey Townsend will recognize her, probably not. Her efforts that night had been a blip, a nothing moment on his carousel of springs.
She can’t see their response, but they must’ve signaled for him to go for it, because in the next moment, his face softens and his green-gray eyes light up. “Why not?” His voice is deeper than she expected, just a few steps higher than a rumble, and something pings in her belly. Introvert or not, there’s a bit of swagger there.
“Great.” Deidre gives his arm a little squeeze. “Oh,” she says, feigning surprise. “You a body builder or something?”
“A baseball player.” Half his mouth curls up, something like a smirk. Prideful or embarrassed? Tami’s not sure which. On the field he’s all steely-eyed determination; most of his ads (for an energy drink, for underwear and cereal and some airline, who knows what else) employ that same serious-competitor persona. The thin line of his mouth and the square, set jaw, the narrowed eyes of supreme focus. What does this man look like at rest? What does he look like happy? Would she know if he was?
“Whoa! I thought it was time for basketball!” Deidre’s looking right at Tami when she says this, but Jason doesn’t notice. He’s trying to make eye contact with the bartender, who’s busy pouring the last rounds of happy hour.
He glances back to Deidre. “Yeah, well. It’s preseason. We are in town for spring training.” He says it slowly, like he’s talking to a kindergartener or someone very old. Or very drunk. “I’m with the Lions. From Los Angeles?”
“Fabulous!” she all but screeches. “You hear that, Tami? A baseball player!”
“What are you having?” Tami cuts in, offering a bit of rescue, which he welcomes by stepping back, letting her slip ahead of him. In the switch his hand brushes along her hip and she very nearly shudders with the thrill. Jason Goodyear has the reputation of being as clean as a choirboy, quiet as a mouse. But what was that—an accident?
“Gin and tonic,” he says. Then he adds, a little bashfully, “Diet, if they have it.”
Tami leans over to get the bartender’s attention. He knows what the women are up to, but also knows one round will turn into three, four, maybe even dinner, fat tips each step of the way. For that reason, they comp the women these first shared rounds as often as not.
“What’ll it be?” he asks.
“Gin and diets, two. And...Dee?”
But she’s already turned around, trying to flirt with the young right fielder, who looks nervous at the attention. Tami shrugs and smiles to Jason. He smiles back, and this time, she doesn’t doubt it.
When she tells him she was married to a pitcher in Texas, rather than calling into question Deidre’s golly-gee line, she can see the information putting him at ease—his shoulders relax, his jaw loosens. She’s one of them. Like flipping a switch, his vocabulary nosedives into baseball jargon, the kind of stuff she loves. He talks at length about his batting practice routine, about watching tape obsessively through the winter. He’s not bragging, but there’s still a swagger in his assuredness, and it makes the skin on her chest flush. As they talk, the bar clears out—Deidre and the other outfielders are long gone—and Tami, so hungry her stomach feels like a woozy walnut in a sea of gin, suggests they eat in the dining room, just down the hall. She’s only been a few times, always when someone else is buying, but, miracle of miracles, he agrees.
It’s a big room, and there’re tens of thousands of dollars of memorabilia on the walls—the best stuff in the whole building—but it’s all matted and hung in the kinds of big gold frames that won’t go anywhere inconspicuously. Tami keeps her purse latched and tucked underneath her chair, reminding herself that even empty-handed, she’s surely ahead for the night.
Waiters in starched tuxedos weave in and out of the room with steaming plates and gleaming knives. Their server seems snippy that Jason won’t remove his hat, but he’s also too polite to tell him to do so. After Tami feels out if he’s a germophobe—says, “I don’t mind sharing, if you don’t,” and he shrugs why not—they order steak for two.
The caesars come and Tami asks about college—at the bar, he mentioned he’d had some. She’d didn’t realize he’d been at the University of Iowa during the school’s one championship season; they talk about Omaha and the College World Series. (Danny went to the tournament once, the one time she was invited to come along—“come along” meaning not a ride on the team bus, but following in their little VW Rabbit, the whole ten hours up Interstate 35, baby Jeremy hollering in the back.) Jason says he plans to finish his degree after playing is done, which is more than her husbands could say for themselves. Terrance didn’t even pretend to play college ball, just went straight into the draft and mucked around in D-league until he finally fixed his delivery and grew into his frame. And after Danny blew out his elbow, he never went to another class. At least Tami got her GED, took a half-dozen courses at the community college in her thirties, when she was between husbands.
The waiter clears their salad plates. “What did you study?” As soon as it comes out she realizes the question was a mistake, her sounding like some doting aunt asking after her sweet nephew. She can feel herself wincing, and when she tells herself to smile through it, she knows the result is some sort of grimace. She reaches for her wine.
But then he says, “Statistics,” without any hesitation, and she’s released, all that fussiness and worry gone in a puff of smoke. Thank the wine and his quiet charisma for that.
“Oh?” He keeps doing this thing with his eyes—maybe it’s more eyelashes, or eyebrows, she can’t figure it yet—but it’s one of the most suggestive, sexy looks she’s ever experienced. Now it makes sense, that sultry version of Jason Goodyear on the billboards, shirtless and slouching in his Tommy Hilfiger jeans. When she first saw the campaign, it’d seemed a mismatch with his all-American persona, the cornfields and clean hands, but now she gets it: he doesn’t get dirty, but he could.
“Probability and that kind of thing. My cousin was, is, a professional poker player, out in Vegas. He turned me on to it, back when I was a kid. Turns out, playing cards is half math.”
“You mean to say you come from a family of card counters?” Ronnie had told her some good stories out of the casino, about “problematic patrons” and all the ways people try to cheat.
He looks stricken, all of a sudden. “I’d never cheat.”
“Of course not.” Her stomach drops, and she gets a rush of sick feeling. “I didn’t mean to imply that you would. I just—”
They’re both quiet, and she stares at him until he meets her eyes. “Listen, I’m sorry, okay?”
He seems to chew on the apology for an achingly long time. Finally, he swallows. “Going in, I already knew enough to get easy As, but if I was doing it all again—when I do it all again, I mean—I’d go for engineering. Structural.”
“Really?” Her eyebrows go up.
“I thought engineering was all biochem for ag companies,” he says, “or else mechanical for farm equipment. But I’m interested in buildings, infrastructure.”
“The mechanics of how things fit together.”
“Yeah, all that.”
“That’s fascinating,” she says. The steak arrives, bloody and glistening and almost the size of a second baseman’s glove.
“I figure, after baseball, with that kind of degree, I could start designing baseball stadiums. Like with Jack Nicklaus and his golf courses. There’s tons of money in stadium rehab, replacing all those old fields—not just majors, but triple-A, spring training, the works—and God knows there’s room for improvement in left field design.” As he talks, he butchers their meat, pushing the smaller half onto her plate before stabbing the rest onto his.
“What a plan.” Her mind is racing, thinking of all she learned from Frank, his cantilevers and natural materials. From Ronnie, his zoning cheats and ways to trim construction costs. Those men were not quite engineers, but related. Worth a shot. “You like architecture, then? I mean, not just the math part?”
“Yeah, for sure.” Between bites he tries to explain what he admires in it, the rationality and grace, the beauty of its forms. Now she only feels the buzz and prick of want, which spreads from a thick spot in her throat, up, down, everywhere.
He appreciates classic architecture, he continues, like the old Yankee Stadium and the Saint Louis Arch, but he’s interested in new technology, too. He visited the WTC Memorial, which is still under construction (the access of celebrity, he’s the first to admit), and he goes to performances in the Gehry-designed concert hall in downtown L.A. whenever his schedule allows. She’s never been to Los Angeles, much less the symphony, and when he starts talking about the building’s parabolic arcs, she feels him slipping away, ahead.
So Tami cuts in, grabs him, steers him back to her. “You’ve been to Taliesin West, then? I mean, Gehry’s great, but the other Frank—Frank Lloyd Wright—he is the guy who started it all. The master of modern architecture.” Will it work? She watches his face as she says the master.
He shakes his head. “I keep meaning to, but every season, I just get too busy, games and practice and strength training and then Lian—” He stops himself before he says her name. Tami didn’t know it, but of course, that’s her. Leanne? Liana? What happens to his face just then is like the outfield grass when a thick cloud passes overhead, blocking the sun. A brief darkness, his eye jumping from jade to rifle. Then it’s gone. He takes another bite, swallows. She’s gone. “By the time I’m done at the stadium, it’s always closed for the day.”
“And how long have you been with the team?” She gives him a playful glare, praying that his gloom won’t return.
“I know. Too long to keep using that excuse. I don’t know where the days go.”
“You sound very occupied. I mean, focused. Your training.” He fills their wine glasses again as her foot slips out of her shoe and a toe finds his calf, that ball of muscle. A bit of wine jumps out of his cup, making a purplish stain on the white linen. She does her best pitcher eyes, her serious, sixty-foot stare. “I like that.”
Over the rest of the meal he asks about her, awkward but well-intentioned questions. She worries it’s a buzz kill, that he’s trying to separate himself back to some safe distance with generic getting-to-know-you questions, but as he persists, she senses it’s something else, some Midwestern earnestness that’s been bred into his kind. If you like a woman, you ask her about her hometown, her mother’s people. If her mother’s people are wicked, back up and try again; ask about her father. It’s different than Ronnie, that’s for sure. She hardly got a word in edgewise their first date; the only time he asked about her history was so he could hold it against her, her trail of exes. So she tells Jason about growing up in Lubbock, going to games with her daddy. Glosses over Midland, Danny, and Terrance and the boys as best she can. A number of times she tries to turn the conversation back to him, to growing up in Iowa, his first impressions of California. What about Hollywood? The big games and advertising campaigns and movie premieres? But he’s insistent they talk about her; that sexy man she saw earlier pushed aside by an earnest, kindhearted one.
She reaches recent history, her time in Arizona. “I work”—her decision to use the present tense not even deliberate, it just comes out that way—“up at Taliesin, actually. Gift shop, mostly, but I’ll fill in guiding tours if they need me. Know all that stuff, just in case.” She taps her head with one of those Bachelorette Bash fingernails, hoping he doesn’t notice the chip.
While they’re waiting for the check, he says some nice stuff about how good a listener she is—which seems silly because she’s the one who talked through most of their bottle of wine—and that he likes her dress. She finds his knee under the tablecloth and says thank you, says that he’s a good listener, too. That she’s excited for him, for the possibility of starting fresh.
“What do you mean by that?” he bristles. Only once in their three hours of conversation has his wife, or ex-wife, come up—and then it was his doing, a darting near miss. The only other woman he’s mentioned this whole evening is his momma.
“I—I—I,” Tami stutters, sure she has ruined everything. The cloud is back, his eyes a dark forest. “I just think the spring is great for new beginnings. A new season, a fresh leaf. Anything is possible in spring.” She keeps stammering about the opportunities of the coming year, how much potential the season has, trying to hurry backward from whatever dangerous line she just about crossed. It feels like running in heels.
Something she said—she’s not sure what—works, however, and when she looks up at him again, she can see he’s relaxed, moved away from that angry knot of emotion. The waiter finally delivers the check, and Tami makes a cursory reach for it. Jason pulls the leather folder from her hand. “Please, let me.” She can’t help but notice he pays with hundred dollar bills.
She’s probably too drunk to get behind the wheel, but she offers to drive, and he agrees—he’d ridden to the restaurant with his teammates. She’s embarrassed to have such an important, such a famous, such a handsome man in her crappy old car, but then she remembers his dusty Jeep parked in the stadium lot.
As he slides into the passenger seat, he grins at the duct tape on the Chevrolet’s interior panels. “Your car has seen better days.”
She smirks at him. “So have I.”
He harrumphs at that, and lets his body sink back against the seat. With the alcohol, he’s loosened up and reminds her of nothing so much as a giant puppy, all big paws and waggling tail. She loves it. “Put on your seatbelt,” she tells him as she slips on her gloves.
This sets them both snickering, and Tami reaches over the gearshift to check his lap. Her fingers grip the seatbelt holster, but also brush down his thigh, the solid slab of muscle. She thinks of that jeans billboard again, the sinew of his body. “Very good.”
“What are those?” he says, looking at her hands.
“These?” she holds up her palms, showing him the gloves’ dimpled surface and smooth seams. “Driving gloves.” They’re golf gloves, really, but she uses them in the convertible on cool desert nights. “You like?”
The road’s practically empty this late on a Sunday, and they rush past ritzy lodges with triple height columns, and giant, red-tiled haciendas with spotlit facades and sprawling crabgrass lawns. He finds some classic rock station and starts singing along. He’s awful, which gets them both giggling again.
The song ends, and she turns the announcer down to a low hum. “I know there’re a lot of women in this town trying to take advantage of athletes.” He’s watching the palm trees flick by in a fronded colonnade. The resorts on both sides are getting bigger and bigger, but each steps farther back from the edge of the road, so it looks like everything is the same, like they’re not moving at all, some flipbook version of affluence. “I’m not.”
“What are you doing then?” He turns to look at her. His face isn’t happy or determined, it’s something else entirely, a look she doesn’t recognize. Bewilderment? Dismissal? She wants him to smile again, so she does, so wide she feels her teeth clench.
Another ten minutes north, and the roadside development drops down to a trickle. He surveys the new emptiness, the scrubby land that starts just past the shoulder. The cacti are tall here, taller than a man, and the trees don’t grow in rows. “Are we still in Scottsdale?”
“Technically, North Scottsdale,” she says. “It’s not much farther.”
They curve up to the compound entrance, the sandstone-and-red sign lit from below. Above, Frank Lloyd Wright’s low-slung buildings are shadowy boxes against a craggy backdrop of mountains. Tami knows a service road, five hundred feet past the main entrance, with a cracked camera and a gate they rarely lock.
They take the long way around the compound, rutted roads carved into the mountainside. The night’s light paints everything strange greens and browns, purples in places you wouldn’t expect. Once, this whole landscape was filled with handmade tents and lean-tos, Frank’s disciples camping in the desert, hoping to gain, by proximity, some expertise from the great master. Hundreds came during the Depression, paying for the opportunity to quarry stones and put them in place, the already-old man directing them with the tip of his cane. The steady flow continued for decades, long after Wright’s passing, first his widow and then his apprentices directing studies. But as the rest of architecture came to believe in technology, to prefer homes outfitted not with canvas louvers but with windows and doors that shut—to employ the kind of engineering Jason wants to study, parabolic equations and computer-driven design—the stream of students slowed, slowed, to a trickle. Now, only a handful come each year. Tami’s heard there are a few stalwarts still camped out there, far up the hill, away from any roads or disruptions, socked into those last places where you can’t see the power lines and the perpetual glow of the city. She knows those holdouts won’t bother them tonight.
She parks the car next to a stand of acacias at the darkest edge of the service lot. Jason comes around and opens her door, bowing wobbly, and she thanks him.
The pavilion, the cluster of cabins, the theater and studio and Frank’s residence are dark shapes blocking the sparkle of Scottsdale and Phoenix beyond. “On our left is Wright’s studio,” she starts, waving at the building with her best Vanna White. “Construction began in 1937. He designed the Guggenheim in there.” Jason walks up to the casement windows and cups his hands around his eyes, peering into the room lit by a lone desk lamp. He’s quiet, almost reverent. “Notice how that whole wall up there, the ceiling, is just treated canvas. Makes for great diffuse natural light when the morning sun hits it. Less great in the rain. Water...resistant.” They start toward the next building, another angular shadow coming up like the crag of a mountain. Idiosyncratic modern, that’s what the tour ladies call it.
Halfway there, her finger points to a low, thick rock jutting up like a balustrade. “Notice the red tile. That’s his signature.” Jason squats to see it better: a big F, two L’s, a W that melts into something diagonal. She thinks he must still be drunk—the corners of Tami’s vision are swimming with wine and gin—but in his admiration, he’s turned a reverent that seems halfway to sober. She knows this tile is a replica, the difference between it and the original discernable only to connoisseurs, but she doesn’t mention it.
“And over here we have the cabaret theater. Built later, in 1949, it has seating for fifty.” She tries the door but it’s locked. She never had the key to this one. “Well, if we could go in, you’d have had to stoop through the entryway. That was a big principle for him, compression and release. Also, he was short.”
The wavering of the reflecting pond sends out blue light from around the corner. Jason surges ahead, eager to see it. “And the main house,” she says, anticipating the moment it will fill his field of vision. The Prow—that’s what Wright called the grand entrance to the main living space, its angular pool and regal stairs. She can see Jason’s whole body lift at the sight. “The elevated first floor, just past that pool, was the Garden Room, where Wright received guests. His private library and bedroom were upstairs.”
That’s the last building; past it is a long, low wall separating the house from the terraced slope of hill. She steps toward the ledge, imagining the weeks, months of labor it took to build just this detail, to quarry and cut the stones, to transport and arrange them just so. He follows. “When Frank Lloyd Wright built this compound, he planned the sightlines so that he couldn’t see anything but the open valley. No lights, no power lines, no development save for the one road coming up to the house. Originally, he didn’t even want electricity up here.”
“So much for that,” Jason says and he snorts, the tinge of alcohol coming back into his voice. They settle down atop the wall, their legs swinging over the edge. Jason surveys the city blinking below them. Tami does, too. Somewhere, not too far from the base of the hill, is Ronnie’s latest development, Paradise East. She tries to spot it, knowing construction lights give off a particular orange tint different from the white of streetlights, the yellow of cars, the blue of computers and TVs. Jason’s hand, its calloused fingers, finds the small of her back and she forgets all about Ronnie.
“Yes,” she says. “Everything grows and changes. Even the best architect couldn’t stop that.”
Jason is watching her; she can feel his eyes on her face. Is he going to kiss her? But instead he says, “Do you like it here?”
“Taliesin? Of course,” she answers quickly. “My favorite place in the state. The planet, maybe.”
“No, Scottsdale. Arizona, I mean.”
She shrugs, trying to swallow her pounding heart. Suddenly, she feels about an inch from bursting into tears, from telling him how hard it is to be poor in a place like this, the fancy houses and flashy cars, the rich bitches and men like Ronnie, guys ready to cut you down in half a second. But he’s not asking that; that’s not why they’re here. She tamps down the feeling, cursing herself for nearly letting it surface. This is about him, about her getting close, about her helping. “I like the springs here. The weather, the blooming cactus. Spring training. The season gives me hope.”
He’s looking out at the twinkling horizon. “You got enough to share? I’m feeling pretty low.”
“You?” She shakes her head. “No hope about it.” She remembers the banner across the spring program—“the golden boy”—and can hardly believe that same man is now sitting next to her in the dark, so close she can feel his body shifting against the stone. “Whatever’s going on, you’re going to be fine.”
“If you say so.” The two are quiet for a minute, more.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Tami asks.
He shakes his head. “It feels like I always want something more, better. Good isn’t good enough. I want the whole damn pot.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being competitive.”
“Sometimes there is. ‘Thrill-seeking behavior’ the doctor called it, but it’s not like having a name for it makes it go away.”
Thrill-seeking behavior: she tries to imagine what he means. Women? Fast cars? Pushing his body to its limits? Is she some kind of thrill, some incalculable risk? “Is that why you’re getting divorced?”
He nods. “Liana—my ex—she finally called me on it. I guess I figured no one would, because, well—”
“Yeah.” His hand drifts from her back. Tami waits to feel his fingers again. She closes her eyes, anticipating the touch. Nothing. She opens her eyes: he’s cupping his shoulder in his palm, frowns like it’s bothering him.
“You sore?” she asks.
He keeps rubbing. “Just a little stiff.”
“Maybe you need to loosen it up.” Danny always had to throw a few on his days off, just to keep things feeling right. She slides off the wall and picks up a stone the size of an apricot. “Try this.”
He throws it farther than she thought possible, the stone sailing for what feels like forever, disappearing into the dark. They finally hear the soft thud of it smacking some cactus.
“Impressive.” She feeds him another. This one he frowns at, winds up, and—crack. The streetlight on the switchback below them goes out with a spark.
“Oh, it’s okay. It’ll give the biddies something to worry about tomorrow.” But the busted light sends her mind racing, tearing after a long fly ball. “Can you hit that one?” she asks, pointing a gloved finger at the next lamp down the road. In her rush to follow Jason, she’s not taken off her driving gloves.
He tosses another, but it bounces off the top of the lamppost. He shakes his head, disappointed in himself. “I can make that.” It would sound boastful, but she knows the man can throw a strike from the left field warning track to home plate, and usually does. She feeds him a stone and he hits it square; the light goes dark. His whole posture changes, his chest rising like he’s the tallest man on earth. And Tami, too: that shaky feeling she had when he asked her about Scottsdale is gone, her worry for his “thrill-seeking behavior” vanished. Now there’s a giddiness under her breastbone, a feeling of What next?
“Can you hit that?” She points a finger at the red glow of a camera at the entrance to the gift shop. She’s made a point of avoiding its scope on their tour.
“Piece of cake.”
It sounds like a gun going off, the way the camera snaps off its mooring.
“Wow, okay,” she says. That’s the only camera monitoring the store. Her heartbeat picks up, remembering the keys to the place she has still, buried somewhere deep in her bag. “Hang on a sec. I have to—” But he’s already launching another stone at a nearby overhead light. No matter how much Frank would’ve hated it, they had to add flood lighting in the 1980s. Disability compliance or safety regulations or something. This willful destruction probably would’ve tickled the old guy. Back to the land, to nature’s intention.
Jason sidearms a low stone and takes out a knee-height walkway light. “Not those,” she says, shaking her head. “Those are originals. Or from the fifties, at least.”
“Oh, okay.” He nods like he understands, like he’s not glassy-eyed drunk and swaying. He’s rooting for another rock when she touches his shoulder, the pulsing muscle there. “I’ll be right back.”
She lets herself into the shop. They haven’t changed the code on the register, and while it only has $200 in twenties and fives and tens, she finds the jewelry case key is still under the cash drawer. She clears out the shelf of bracelets, takes a handful of cufflinks and Wright-inspired watches. A few scarves, the silver letter openers. She hears another crack, but it sounds different than the quick snap of plastic and metal and thin glass, the extinguishing of filaments. It sounds like a long, wet shatter.
She hurries everything into her big bag and retraces her steps—closing the register, locking the door, stepping out over the fractured camera and onto the landing—and rushes across the terrace.
He’s in the reflecting pool, jeans wet up to his knees, gathering shards of glass in his palm.
“What are you doing?” she cries.
Jason looks like a little kid who’s been playing too rough with the family dog, roughhousing until something went snap. “I broke a window.”
“I can see that.” A long, wide pane of the Garden Room’s glass is missing. “Here.”
She drops her purse and kicks off her heels and wades in to the pool, careful where she steps. But they’re both kicking up ripples and it’s hard to see past the surface. She holds out her still-gloved palm. “Give me those.” Better her than him. He drops the broken glass into her hand, and she sees red slits on his fingertips, bright lines across his palm where the glass has cut. “You idiot,” she mutters. Then, louder: “Go wait in the car.”
“I’m sorry.” His shoulders hunch and he looks about half as big as he did a minute ago.
He shuffles off, mopey, too drunk to realize what those cuts will mean in the morning. They looked deep enough for stitches. Will he miss one game? Two? She’s so mad she feels like steam’s coming out of her ears. How fucking stupid.
She bends down to pick up another shard. The turquoise light around her ankles makes her legs look a frightening gray. She finds one piece of glass but cuts her toe on another. The red plume starts small but then pulls out, a magician’s silk scarf spreading across the blue. “Shit.”
She hears another crack coming from somewhere behind her, back toward Wright’s studio and the parked car. This one feels louder, a boom thick enough to echo up the hills. Then everything goes dark: the balustrade lights, the remaining overhead floods, the eerie blue bulbs in the pool. Even the little lamp glowing in Wright’s studio—the one the tour guides insist they keep on all night, like some sort of beacon—stutters off.
“Jason?” she calls into the dark. “Are you all right?” She hears nothing, sees nothing. Then she catches a movement in the remaining, unbroken windowpane. She starts, but realizes it is only her own reflection, a dark shadow against the creeping glow of the city.