‘It’s going to take a while for her to get back to normal.’
The park was filled with kids in the afternoon, running around playing games. Ruby was in the middle of a baseball game, swinging the bat.
The kid pitching, wound up and pegged it down the middle.
The ball went sailing back in the direction it had come, heading up high into the sky. “Run!” screamed the kids on her team.
Dropping the bat, she sprinted for the first base.
The ball smacked into the grass.
Ruby touched the first base with her toe and turned and raced for the second base.
The ball was snatched and sent hurtling. “Sending it to third.” It went that way.
Ruby was close now, half-way between bases, her eyes focused on his in set determination.
Hikaru lifted his gloved hand to catch the ball. ‘Come on, come on, hurry up.’ Sure, he was falling for this woman, but he didn’t want to lose the ball game.
The ball struck his palm.
Ruby’s toe touched the base.
“Out!” He yelled.
“No. I touched the base.” She challenged.
“After I got the ball.”
“It was before your foot touched the base,” she countered.
Looking down, he felt embarrassed. ‘Shit. I should’ve been standing on the base instead of beside it.’
The kids on his team grumbled.
Cursing under his breath, he threw the ball back to the pitcher.
“That was close,” she gasped for air. “Half a second and I would’ve been out.”
“Yeah,” he rolled his shoulders. “Next time.”
She cocked her eye brow at him. “Next time? Do you honestly think you can beat me?”
“Yes.” He said confidently.
“Well, challenge accepted.” Twinkling eyes, she reached out and playfully punched him in the stomach.
He reacted, grabbing her about the waist and dragging her close. Laughing, he wriggled the fingers of his bare hand against her side, causing her to throw her head back and giggle.
“Get a room!”
“Are we going to play?”
Ruby twisted in his hold, her back pressed against his chest. “We’re playing. Throw the ball.” She leaned back for a moment and rested against him.
‘This is nice.’
‘This is too hot.’
Ruby straightened up, realising the same thing. “Summer is killing me.” She repositioned the hat on her head.
“You’re Australian. Isn’t it hot all of the time?”
“No. We have seasons that are cold. It even snows in some parts.”
The new batter swung and missed the ball.
Ruby winced. “It’s okay, you’re going to hit this time. That was a warm up.”
The ball sailed by again.
Ruby yelled more encouragement.
Another strike and the kid was sent back to the bench. “Good try. Next time you’ll get it.”
“That’s nice of you.”
Ruby shrugged. “Not really. It’s just what you do when playing a team sport. You encourage each other. Celebrate together when you win and suffer together when you lose.”
“You better get ready to lose then,” he shot back.
“I don’t think so. We’re going to win and it’s going to be a landslide.”
It was a draw in the end.
Ruby and Hikaru were arguing as the others came in to the home plate. “No way. This doesn’t prove anything.” Hikaru shook his head. “Based on skill, not depending on anyone else, you would lose to me.”
“Care to turn that into a bet?”
He nodded his head. “Yes. I would bet that I can beat you in a game of…” a quick look around the park and he saw the play equipment. “Tag.”
She frowned. “Tag?”
“So I’d only have to catch you and the game would be over?”
“Yes.” The more he said yes, the more stupid he felt. ‘This is the worst possible idea ever. What am I doing?’
Ruby turned to the tallest kid in the group watching them like their conversation was a big production. “Can you be the time keeper?”
The kid bobbed his head.
“Five minutes should be good. What’s the bet for?”
Hikaru knew exactly what he wanted. “Winner gets the bed, loser has to sleep on the futon in the living room.”
Ruby’s lips curled wickedly. “Excellent.”
They started. Hikaru dashed for the play equipment. ‘If I can place something between us, I don’t have to keep on running for five minutes straight.’
Ruby was close behind.
His feet hit the wood chip, making it fly up in his wake.
The kids yelled and chased after them.
Hikaru ducked under the slide and looked round just in time to see the hand reaching out. He leapt back, stumbling. ‘Shit, that was close.’
Ruby’s hand smacked the slide.
‘Keep that slide in between.’
She came round, not giving him a chance to catch his breath. Her face was pinched, like all of her concentration was solely on him.
He led her through the equipment, racing under the monkey bars, around the steps up to the slide, and broke out of the wood chip and over to the swing set.
‘Not long, the kid will scream out soon, he has to.’ Turning to see the tall kid watching his phone, Hikaru again was lucky to see Ruby about to strike. ‘Shit. How is she so fast?’
His skin tingled as her hand sailed close. It swung, missed, her arm coming to wrap around her shoulder with the force she was using. She was so close he could hear her gasping for air. Sweat drops formed and trickled down her temple. ‘How did I let her get so close?’
Jumping to the right, his feet tangled together.
Hikaru smashed into the ground. Ruby’s foot caught on his shoulder. She came tumbling after him.