They sat in the car outside Anne’s apartment, watching her chat with someone. Ollie had never seen this guy before, which was odd, because he used to practically live at Anne’s place. He watched her laugh at something he said and she slapped his knee. An avalanche of bittersweetness let go inside of him. He felt sick inside at the thought that she only needed a few hours to move on from him, but Ollie also knew it had been a long time since she’d laughed like that at something he had done. He’d forgotten what it sounded like; it was music.Ollie felt foolish, which dragged him mercilessly back to the softball field. He rubbed behind his ear. It was still tender. “Why didn't you tell me the catcher was going to hit me?”“I'm not the one knocking people over at home plate,” Sparks said. “Why aren't you going to admit you're the reason it happened; that it’s not anyone else’s fault?”Ollie glared out the window, resenting everything in the world. Am I really asking for so much? Why can’t I just be happy? He blinked his eyes and groaned. It was masochistic, watching Anne laugh as her hand rested on this guy’s knee, but Ollie needed to punish himself for allowing their relationship to decay. It was like attending the viewing at a close friend’s funeral. “I ended up leaving the game looking like a fool.”“Is that why you think I’m here?” Sparks asked.“Isn’t it obvious? Everything’s your fault.” Ollie knew it was a desperate lie as soon as he said it, and he had a feeling Sparks would see through him.“Can’t you just say it wasn't my fault that the catcher hit you?”“Fine. I shouldn't have done it. I shouldn't have knocked that guy down.”“Actually, you should’ve stopped at third base.”“Come on! Are you really going to make me admit every tiny thing I did wrong today?”“Okay, fair enough. I knew he was gonna punch you. I didn't tell you because I didn't want to.”“Just like that. Because you didn't want to.” Ollie kept staring at Anne and the boy. “That's it?”“It's more complicated than that, but yeah. I didn't want to.”“So why were you ‘helping me out’ in the first place?” Ollie looked at Sparks and made air quotes at him.Sparks grinned at him and said nothing.Ollie looked back across the street to where Anne was sitting. “You know what I think?”“Of course. I think you do a lot of thinking without really thinking.”“So now you're going to insult me. That explains everything.”“It does?”“Yeah, it does. You enjoy watching me squirm, you enjoyed the little awkward dance you made me do in the outfield, and you enjoyed seeing me get hit by the catcher, too. I bet any second now you're going to start pouring some lemon juice into the wound that Anne left for me earlier today. You are, aren't you? You chose to come to me because I'm a miserable person and you’re a miserability magnet.”“Is that even a real word?”Ollie raised his hands in exasperation. “See?” He looked Sparks in the eyes. “You’re a parasite looking to feed on my misery.”“You got part of it right.”“What’s that supposed to mean?”“You're right that I chose you because I think you're miserable.”Ollie shook his head and looked back toward Anne: the object of all his affections, the One Thing he couldn’t have. Every second he stared kept the bubbles of pain boiling inside him, but every moment also brought him closer to letting go.Sparks reached out and touched his shoulder. “Hey,” he said. “I know it’s tough to understand it. It’s just a little more complicated than we have time for right now.”Ollie rolled his eyes.“I promise I’ll give you all the details you can stand tonight,” Sparks said. “I just don’t think you want to know right now. At least not until you’re done staring at… at somebody else’s girl.”
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