Introducing the first new short story since the release of Dirty Laundry! Jamie’s sabbatical has just ended, and he’ll be heading back to work after twelve weeks away. The story takes place (in real time) over last weekend, 9/23 and 9/24.
The next book in the Jamie series, Published to Death, begins on Jamie’s first day back at work – in other words, immediately after this story – but it won’t be released until November. Because reasons. Anyway. Without further ado, allow me to present It’s A Whole New Ball Game. Enjoy.
Saturday, September 23, 2017
Home Sweet Home
Pete maneuvered the CR-V into the parking spot behind our townhouse and cut the engine. In the back seat our yellow Lab, Ammo, scrambled to his feet and tugged on his car harness, panting happily, his tail whacking the back of my headrest.
We were home.
We’d spent eight weeks in the UK and four in New Mexico. My sabbatical was over. The second draft of the book I’d written was with my editor, and I was due back at work on Monday.
We didn’t have much time to regroup. Pete’s 18-year-old niece, Samantha Fernandez, would arrive tomorrow evening with her parents, Christine and Andy, to move into student housing at UCLA. Pete was already four weeks into his new career as an adjunct instructor in Arizona State’s online psychology program, and his students’ initial papers were coming due. I had three months’ worth of email to plow through, and classes commenced on Thursday.
The coming week promised to be a whirlwind.
We unloaded the car and walked the dog. Back in the house, Ammo undertook an olfactory survey of each room, seeking scents that didn’t belong. Pete and I stood in the center of the living room and looked at each other. Now what?
I said, “Do you want to get groceries?”
“No. I don’t want to get back in the car until tomorrow. Do you want to unpack?”
“No. I’m not up for laundry tonight. Do you want to go through the mail?”
“No. I’m too tired to read it. Do you want to get something to eat?”
I wasn’t terribly hungry, but… “I guess. But not Indian food.” We’d eaten our fill of curry while in the UK.“Agreed. Seafood?”
“Sure.” We’d been without seafood for four weeks. There wasn’t much to be had in Alamogordo.
We headed west on Wilshire toward the seafood market. Pete surveyed the businesses on either side of the street. “It’s like we never left.”
“It’s only been three months.”
“I know.” He kicked at a pebble and sent it skittering into the street. “Monday’s gonna be weird.”
I glanced at him. “Weird how?”
“Staying home. It’s the first day that you’ll go off to work and I won’t.”
“Are you having second thoughts?” Pete’s decision to leave his faculty position at Santa Monica College had been made under somewhat hasty conditions.
“Not at all. It’s just…” He shrugged. “Standing at the door, waving as you walk to the bus, saying, ‘Bye, dear, have a nice day…’ It all feels awfully housewifely.”
“Heteronormative, in other words?”
“Yeah. Except the roles that I anticipated before I knew better are entirely flipped now. You’re the breadwinner, marching to the office every day, and I’m the stay-at-home.” He frowned. “I never considered that it might feel like this.”
After five years of living with Pete, I knew better than to attempt an application of logic to his feelings. “Okay, what can we do to make it feel different to you? I’m not really the breadwinner; you will be working, after all. Earning your own money. How can we emphasize that?”
We stopped to wait at a crosswalk, and he gave me a sideways grin. “You are such a man of action.”
I laughed. “Yeah, right. I’m serious.”
“And it’s an excellent idea. I guess I could fiddle with the arrangement for my workspace. Maybe I can make it seem less like I’m at home.”
“There you go. And no slumming in your skivvies on the sofa. You have to get dressed and work in the office.”
The Walk signal appeared, and we crossed the street. Pete said, “I should draw up a schedule. Decide when I’m going to start and stop working every day.”
“Yes. I bet we could find a time clock app for you, if that would help.”
“It might. And I want to pay for my COBRA out of my own account.”
“Sure.” We maintained a joint bank account for joint expenses, and individual accounts for what we officially referred to as “other stuff.” I wasn’t able to add Pete to my own insurance until January.
We reached the restaurant, and Pete opened the door for me. “After you, sir.”
I grinned. Maybe holding the door for me would help Pete’s emotional state as well. “As you wish.”
Sunday, September 24
In A Whole Different League
After a lengthy trip to the grocery store, I spent the rest of Sunday morning unpacking and doing laundry. Pete switched his office chair to the opposite side of our desk, so he’d sit facing his bookshelves rather than the oh-so-comfy sofa bed. I located and downloaded an app to his phone that would allow him to clock in and out.
I was folding t-shirts when Pete came downstairs. “I’m not sure I care for the new desk arrangement. Maybe it’s the ex-cop in me, but sitting with my back to the room feels uncomfortable.”
“You can always switch it back.”
“True.” He took a bottle of water from the fridge and cracked it open. “I had another idea. Whichever of us packs your lunch for the coming day should pack one for me, too.”
“Ah, that’s smart. Eating out of plastic containers will make you feel as if you’re not at home.”
“Yeah. Now I just have to discipline myself to stay out of the garden while I’m supposed to be working.”
I smiled at that. “Hey, if your work is done? Clock out and go home. So to speak.”
“Thank you for working this out with me.”
“You’re welcome.” I hefted a tall stack of shirts and underwear. “You can repay me by carrying those to the bedroom.”
He grinned and accepted the armful of clothing. “I hope you don’t expect me to do laundry, since I’m gonna be home all day.”
“Ha! You’d better not. The laundry is mine.”
Having been out of the country all summer, Pete and I had missed a lot of baseball – and the season was coming to a close. My brother Kevin had tickets to the Dodgers-Padres game this afternoon, and Dad and my nephew Gabe were driving up from Oceanside tojoin us.
Pete and I met the others at Dodger Stadium and hit the concession stands. We loaded up with Dodger Dogs and beer – soda for Gabe, of course – and climbed to our seats.
Dad went in first, followed by me, Pete, Gabe, Kristen and Kevin. The seats on the other side of Dad were occupied by four middle-aged ladies, all wearing Dodgers gear of various sorts. The one closest to Dad had a program open to the scorekeeping page and a pen in her hand.
As we sorted our food and drink, the woman on the other side of the scorekeeper raised her beer to us, spotting Dad’s Padres cap. “Hi there! Don’t tell me you’re Padres fans.”
Dad grinned. “Only half of us.”
The woman on the far side of the one who’d spoken said flirtatiously, “Which half?”
Dad laughed and pointed to Kevin. “Half of him,” – he pointed to me – “half of him, and all of my grandson and me.”
The woman with the scorecard said to me, “How do you get to be half of a Padres fan?”
I said, “We grew up in San Diego but have lived here for years.”
“Ah. Exactly the opposite of me.” She smiled. “I grew up here but have lived in San Diego for years.”
Dad asked, “And you’re not half a Padres fan?”
She chuckled. “I’ll root for the Padres when it won’t hurt the Dodgers.” She held out her hand. “I’m Claudia.”
Dad shook her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Claudia. I’m Dave.”
I took a closer look at Claudia. She was wearing a Dodgers cap over a blunt haircut – straight strands of strawberry blond hair, probably dyed, fell about an inch below the bottom of the cap. She had blue eyes with laugh lines in the corners, and just enough tan to look healthy. She was wearing a tank top and Bermuda shorts, and her arms and legs were toned. I stole a quick glance at her feet: socks and sneakers. Practical and comfortable.
Gabe was chattering to Kristen about school; Pete was busy eating. I pretended to concentrate on my hot dog but continued to eavesdrop on Dad’s conversation with Claudia. He asked her, “What part of San Diego?”
“Carlsbad. What part of LA?”
“Oh, I live in Oceanside. My sons live here, in Westwood and Santa Monica.”
Claudia peered around Dad at me, just as I stuffed a bite of hot dog into my face. She grinned. “I certainly see the resemblance. Are you the dad of yonder grandson?”
I shook my head and tried to chew faster. Dad said, “No, yonder grandson’s dad is my oldest son. He didn’t come with us. Jamie’s my youngest, and Kevin, down on the end, is my middle boy.”
I snuck a surreptitious glance at Claudia’s ring finger. Empty. Claudia asked me, “How did you end up in LA?”
“I came to UCLA for library school and decided to stay. How did you end up in Carlsbad?”
“I spent the second half of my career in San Diego and decided to stay. What do you do?”
“I’m a librarian at UCLA.” I thought, I’ll ask the questions so Dad won’t have to. “Are you retired, then?”
“Yes, for two years. I was a pharmacist first, but when my husband died I needed more income. So I became a pharmaceutical rep, and San Diego was my assigned territory.” She held up her hands in mock surrender. “Don’t judge me.”
Widowed, not divorced. That was a plus. Dad said, “Hey, you do what you have to, right? My niece is a pharmacist.” My cousin Carly.Claudia said, “Oh, nearby?”
“No, she’s in Wilmington, North Carolina.”
I asked, “How do you like retirement?”
“I love it.”
The first batter walked to home plate and the crowd began to cheer. Dad nodded at Claudia’s scorecard. “Do you keep score?”
“Yeah.” Claudia grinned at Dad. “I guess I’d better pay attention.”
Dad grinned back. “I guess you’d better.”
Pete had finished his first hot dog. He leaned over to me and whispered, “What’s going on over there?”
For the next couple of hours I kept one ear on the ball game and one on Dad and Claudia. They mostly stuck to the topic of baseball. Claudia was very knowledgeable. Her parents had begun taking her to Dodgers games before she was born, and she was an encyclopedia of Dodgers history.
They didn’t talk exclusively about baseball, however. They exchanged last names – Claudia’s was Stratton. The women with her – Nancy, Kathy and Deb – had been her best friends since high school.
Claudia had two standard poodles. She lived in the southern half of Carlsbad. She had a vegetable garden, enjoyed travel and, after retiring, had taken up windsurfing.
During the fifth inning Pete leaned over and whispered, “How’s it going over there?”
“So far so good.”
After the sixth inning Dad excused himself and went to the men’s room. Claudia looked across his seat at me and smiled. “Your name is Jamie?”
“Yes, ma’am. It’s Jeremy, actually, but my oldest brother couldn’t pronounce that as a toddler, and his version stuck.”
She chuckled. “Are you married?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I steeled myself – this might wreck Dad’s chances – and pointed at Pete. “To this guy.”
I needn’t have worried. Claudia was delighted. “Oh, that’s wonderful. Congratulations.”
“Thank you.” I nudged Pete. “Pete, this is Claudia.”
Pete reached across me to shake hands. “Pete Ferguson. I’m glad to meet you.”
“Claudia Stratton. My pleasure.” She nodded at Kevin. “Is your brother down there married?”
I said, “No, ma’am. That’s his girlfriend, Kristen. May I ask – are you Dr. Stratton?”
She nodded. “I have a Pharm.D. Gone are the days when you can work as a pharmacist with only a master’s degree.”
“What kind of pharmaceuticals did you represent?”
“Anesthetics and IV pain meds. My customers were hospitals and outpatient clinics.”
“Glad to hear you weren’t pushing the overuse of antibiotics.”
She grimaced. “No way. Do you have a healthcare background?”
“No, no. I dated a paramedic years ago. And my oldest brother – Gabe’s dad – is a veterinarian.”
“Yes, ma’am. He’s the large animal vet at Miracosta Animal Hospital.”
Dad came back with popcorn and another soda for Gabe. “Did I miss anything?”
Claudia showed him the scorecard. “A walk and a strikeout so far.”
“Good.” Dad settled into his seat, giving me a sideways grin as he did.
By the end of the game Dad and Claudia had exchanged phone numbers and arranged to meet for lunch on Wednesday. Claudia was the designated driver for her group; Nancy, Kathy and Deb were milling around the aisle somewhat drunkenly. Claudia shook her head, laughing. “I’d better corral these three before they cause an incident. Jamie, Pete, it was great to meet you. Dave – I’m looking forward to Wednesday.”
Dad and Claudia shook hands, and she hustled her friends up the steps toward the exit. Dad watched them go; at the top of the steps, Claudia turned and waved. Dad waved back.
I said, “That went well.”
“It did, didn’t it?” Dad grinned. “We’ll see what happens Wednesday.”
Kevin said, “What’s happening Wednesday?”
I said, “Dad has a lunch date with the woman he was sitting beside.”
Kristen said, “I thought there was some getting-to-know-you going on down there.”
Kevin was astounded. “What? Who is this woman?”
I said, “Claudia Stratton, widow, retired pharmacist, lives in Carlsbad, windsurfs, knows how to keep score. I like her.”
Kevin shook his head like a dog shaking water from its fur. “What?”
Pete said, “Claudia from Carlsbad. Try to keep up.”
Dad just laughed.
A couple of hours after we got home Dad texted me. Home safe, talk to you soon.
About an hour after that, Jeff texted me. Busy?
My phone rang. I said, “Hi there.”
Jeff said, “So, Gabe is reporting that Dad has a new girlfriend.”
“Ha! Hardly.” I explained. “They never stopped talking through the entire game, and they’re having lunch on Wednesday. Signs are favorable, but it was only one afternoon.”
“How does she compare to Barb?” Dad’s last girlfriend, with whom he’d broken up a year and a half ago.
I didn’t even have to think about that. “She doesn’t. Claudia is in a whole different league, and she has dogs. But it’s way too early to speculate.”
Jeff sounded skeptical. “Hm. Okay.”
I laughed. “Relax. It’s probably won’t go anywhere.”
Jeff said, “Uh huh.”
When I hung up Pete said, “You don’t believe what you said.”
“I don’t believe what?”
“That Dave and Claudia won’t go anywhere.”
I crossed my arms. “You don’t believe in gut feelings, do you?”
“No.” Pete grinned. “But in this case, I’d say the evidence so far supports your gut.”
The buzzer sounded on the dryer, saving me from having to examine my guts any further. I said, “We’ll see.”