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Having met at a basketball game Stephanie must have figured that I’d enjoy watching the Tampa Bay Rays battle it out with the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. After our race she’d let me sleep for over two hours before lying down next to my still nude form and running her finger up and down my torso. “Wake up, sleepy Gene,” she’d whispered in my ear, “I have tickets for the four o’clock Rays’ game,” she’d added, sucking on my earlobe for punctuation.

“Huh?” I managed to say, not sure whether I should draw her close and try for an encore of our earlier coupling or push her away and try to get more sleep.

“Tickets,” she repeated. “For the Rays. Season opener. We have just enough time for a late lunch and then we need to head down to the field.”

“Really? Today?” I asked, pulling the sheet back over my pudgy, soft body.

“Yep. We need to make the most of our long weekend so I got us seats. Section 139, row AA, right up the third base line. You’ve got ten minutes to get dressed and then it’s time to go,” this answer was punctuated with a lingering, close mouthed kiss which made me reach for her. “Ah, ah, ah! No time for that. We’ve got to go.”

The bed had two wet spots down by my knees. This confused me at first but then I realized the plastic bags Steph had filled with ice must have leaked where she knotted them. Apparently sometime while I’d slept she’d reached in and removed the dripping bags without disturbing me. The dried fluids I’d wiped off of me with the top sheet remained but I had no one to blame but myself for that. I sat up, winced when my feet hit the ground and after gingerly limping to the bathroom, washed my face and brushed my teeth as I should have done while Stephanie had taken her post sex shower. Feeling and looking somewhat human I exited the bathroom and put on fresh clothes. “Four o’clock huh? So it should still be light out when the game ends. Is that what you’re wearing? Should I be okay in shorts and a polo?” I asked, climbing into the clothes as I spoke. The ‘that’ that she was wearing was a pair of electric pink capris topped by a black on white horizontally stripped, low cut, sleeveless top that was either a very short skirt or a long shirt; either way it looked good on her and seemed like a good choice for the day’s moderate temperatures but I was wondering if it might prove a bit cool once the sun went down.

Stephanie looked at me with her head tilted to the side before her eyes looked to the heavens and a smile appeared on her lips. “Oh! Got it! The stadium is covered and air conditioned so the temperature should be the same all through the game. It might cool off if we stay out late tonight but we definitely won’t be sitting under the stars at the stadium no matter how many innings they play. What you’re wearing should work fine. Ready?”

“Yeah, I guess. You know where we’re going or do I need to Google map it?”

“No, I’ve got it. You drive, I’ll navigate.”

We picked up our car from the valet in front of the hotel and I opened the rental’s passenger door and held it for Stephanie, earning me a big smile. After grabbing a quick lunch at Panera we threaded our way through the highways until we exited and neared the stadium. Catching a red light she said, “The fields only like five blocks from here. If you want we can park here and walk the rest of the way; can’t be more than a quarter mile. That’ll save us twenty dollars in parking.”

“Here? Doesn’t it say parking by permit only?” I asked, glancing at the plentiful parking spots.

“Monday through Friday. We can park here on Sundays. I’ve done it before. Oh! Unless you don’t want to walk. How are your legs?”

I hadn’t asked about the parking spaces because of my knees but there was no denying that they were sore after our five kilometer race earlier that day. Still, twenty bucks is twenty bucks and I’d rather spend it on beer or peanuts than for parking but now that she’d brought them up I had to wonder how my knees would react to the moderately short walk, sitting for hours in cramped quarters and then having to walk back to the car. “Shouldn’t be a problem,” I answered, hoping that my words would act like a magic spell and make my dream come true. “You’re not planning on a night of dancing till dawn when we’re done here, are you?”

“Nope. Not planning on a night of dancing, just some dinner. Maybe if you play your cards right we could be dancing in the sheets before we go to sleep though,” she sang the part about dancing in the sheets as she reached over and tickled my exposed thigh.

“’Dancing in the sheets’? As in Kenny Loggins from Footloose? Were you even born when that movie came out?”

“Yeah. And thanks for the compliment. That was the first movie I went to with a boy. Just started high school. Double dated with Paula and Charlie and, uh, yeah. And him. First time I made out.”

“Hussy. Brazen, aren’t you? Did you make out with Charlie or old what’s his name?”
“You have no idea, Mr. Reese, but if you’re lucky you may find out. And it was with Charlie. Pretty good kisser, too,” she answered, arching her eyebrows. I parked the car along the road and unlocked the doors. I like to open doors for women but the chance of me getting out of the car and opening it before she did was nearly zero. I’d just have to settle for opening the door to let her in and let her get out of the car on her own.

Security was cursory and unlike some sports venues women were able to bring purses into the stadium. Stephanie had our tickets on her phone, something I’m just starting to get used to. “We’re over in section six,” she said, glancing at her phone. “Row 139 AA, seats one and two.”

The stadium was only about half full and AA was 27 rows back from the outfield fence. Our seats had a good line of sight but the likelihood of a homerun ball landing in our laps that far out was pretty slight. I was pleased that our seats were close enough to allow us to watch the game directly rather than via the Jumbotron screen, yet far enough back that I didn’t have to protect Stephanie or myself from line drive balls. My goal was to focus on the game and the gorgeous woman who was with me, not self-protection. “Why don’t you let me get in first?” she asked. “That way you can stretch your legs out in the aisle.” Gorgeous and generous, I self-corrected.

We started with pints of nine dollar Bud Light in aluminum “bottles” that we refreshed after Toronto scored. By the bottom of the third a trio of spectators made their way into our section and took seats one through three in row R. One of the men had a shiny, freshly shaven head and was sporting a white jersey with Donaldson printed across his back. He was accompanied by another fortyish year old man and a boy of perhaps four or five. “Somebody stole our seats so we’ll just take these,” the man in the Donaldson jersey declared to the youngster before starting to loudly root for the Blue Jays while deriding the Rays. When the Jays scored run number two ‘Donaldson’s’ enthusiasm turned profane, using words, tone and volume that had many of the surrounding spectators cringing.

A Rays fan in a Longoria jersey from row L turned and called back to cue ball head, “Yeah, yeah. Just wait. We’re gonna’ kick your asses. Game hasn’t even barely started yet!”

“Snappy comeback,” baldy answered. “About as good as your team’s.”

The war of words that erupted visibly upset the white haired woman with the three children directly in front of us. After a few minutes of unpleasant and caustic banter between the warring fans she leaned over and whispered in the ear of the teenage girl sitting next to her. I couldn’t hear what the older woman- Their grandmother? -had said but the girl responded, “Grandy, don’t!”

“I’m going,” Grandy said. “Just sit tight, you’ll be fine.”

The teenage girl leaned over to her brother and said, “Grandy’s going to get security. I hope we’ll be alright.”

Stephanie looked at me and arched her eyebrows which I took as a signal that I needed to reassure the children in front of us. I leaned in and said, “You guys will be fine. Me and spitfire Stephie here have got your backs. My name’s Gene. You feel like something bad’s going to happen here just turn for help; okay?”

The older girl and boy looked at one another and nodded. “Thanks,” the boy said.

“No worries,” I responded, putting my arm around Stephanie’s shoulder. “We’ll all be fine.”

Cue ball’s companion had leaned in and whispered something in his bellicose friend’s ear and cue ball had given him a ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ look. “For Mikey,” the companion said, nodding his head at the four year old boy who sat between them.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Fine,” he added after a few second pause. “Hey! Longoria! Sorry if I went too far. No hard feelings,” he demanded as he stood and thrust his hand to the belittled and bemused Tampa fan.

The Tampa fan looked at the belligerent, bad mannered Canadian for a full three count before taking the offered hand in his own. ‘Longoria’s’ pinched face was far more illustrative of how he felt about ‘Donaldson’ as a human being than his verbal reply of, “Yeah. No hard feelings.” I wondered if ‘Donaldson’ noticed that ‘Longoria’ rubbed his hand down his right pant leg before retaking his seat.

True to his word ‘Donaldson’s’ cheering became less caustic and held fewer catcalls after the two men shook hands but it was still easy to see that every time ‘Donaldson’ roared ‘Longoria’ cringed. It wasn’t long before ‘Longoria’ got up from his seat and headed down to either the concession stands, the bathrooms or both.

Within minutes after ’Longoria’ leaving Grandy retook her seat and whispered to her granddaughter, “See, you were fine. Security’s on the way.”

When security arrived I almost laughed aloud. The concave chested man was a dead ringer for Don Knotts’ character Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show. Not Don Knotts as he appeared in the 1960’s but as he would look at ninety two years of age. The security guard looked as though he could use a walker. Grandy nodded at row R and Barney Fife asked the men if he could see their tickets. “Yeah, yeah. We’ll move,” ‘Donaldson’ said to the security guard. As they walked down the stairs que ball said to companion, “That son of a bitch went to security. Can you believe that pussy?!”

I looked over at Stephanie and said, “Maybe I’ll tell ‘Longoria’ what happened in case he runs in to ‘Donaldson.’ Guy’s pretty pissed over something ‘Longoria’ had nothing to do with.”

I kept my eyes open but nobody ever reclaimed ‘Longoria’s’ seat. The Jays kept their early lead though Tampa did rally enough to keep the game interesting. We had the seventh inning stretch and at the bottom of the inning Stephanie nudged me and pointed to the far side of our section a few rows down. I had noticed a large contingent of tween boys wearing Yard Dawgs red baseball shirts and now they acted as though a hornet’s nest had been thrown in amongst them.

‘Longoria’ sat on the far side of the row and ‘Donaldson’ stood above him pummeling the ambushed man. A young man wearing a gold polo shirt emblazoned with TB Rays was pulling him off and other gold shirts were motioning to one another and scrambling over. The red shirted children swarmed away from the fighting men while a gold shirted woman standing next to me hollered, “Don’t climb over the seats! Safety first! Come on! Safety first!” Another gold shirt arrived with three uniformed police officers and the two men were separated. ‘Donaldson’ was led away by two cops but he continued to holler obscenities as he obliged the cops in their efforts to lead him away from ‘Longoria’ who was flipping the Jays fan the bird.

‘Longoria’ was instructed to stand by the police officer but because of the amount of beer he had drunk he had a hard time doing so. After a few tries ‘Longoria’ got to his feet and was led away by the police officer. “Wow. Tough crowd around here, eh?” I asked of Stephanie.

“Yeah. Maybe next time we’ll go to a Lightning game. If this is how fans act at baseball games hockey could be a real kick in the teeth. Literally!”

We stayed until the top of the ninth. The Jays kept their lead and we filed out with a lot of disappointed Rays’ fans. “Well that was a case of that poor schmuck being in the wrong place at the wrong time, huh?” Stephanie asked.

“Yeah. No good deed goes unpunished. Grandy was trying to look out for her grandkids and look what happens. Sometimes it really hits the fan, doesn’t it?”

“Yep. Let’s grab a bite to eat and then we can head back to the hotel. A little moonlit stroll along the beach could be just the ticket for desert. That is if your knees are up to it?”

“My knees are fine,” I answered, grimacing a bit as I walked down the stairs from the stadium. “And I can’t imagine a nicer end to the day than a moonlit stroll with you.”

“Really?” she asked, arching her eyebrows and slipping her arm in mine. “I can. But a starlit walk on the beach is a good start to a beautiful finish.”