Better late than never, right?

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Chapter 11

Lan pulled the Land Cruiser into the half full parking lot of the sports complex and looked around for burgundy and blue softball jerseys.

"Do you know which field it is?" Tina asked as she swung the passenger door open.

"Well, I'm sure I did at one point. All I remember was burgundy and blue uniforms." Lan helpfully supplied as she looked out onto the 10 fields or so. I never knew this place was so big.

"We can ask around." Tina said as she ushered the kids onto the sidewalk. Lan nodded, joining them on the sidewalk.

Lan had thought herself very clever when she asked Jill if Pete would be playing too. When she said he would be, she then checked with Jill to make sure it was okay to invite Tina and the kids.

"I see Pete!" Exclaimed John, taking off towards one of the fields to the left of the parking lot. The rest of the group just chuckled and followed, realizing their short search was over and headed in the direction the excited young boy was heading.

"Pete!" John yelled about ten feet from the man. Pete swung around from his bat bag and greeted the boy with a huge smile.

"Hey! What's going on?" He shouted, surprised yet delighted to see the boy. After giving him a light hair ruffle, he looked over John's head to see the rest of the group in tow.

"Hey, Pete." Lan smiled as she gave him a quick hug. "Hope you don't mind having a small cheering section." Seeing that Pete was still a bit confused, Lan began to explain how she'd heard about the game and how she thought Tina and the kids would enjoy watching as well. Just then Jill had spotted them and came over to join the group and finally meet the family Lan talked so highly of.

"Glad you could make it. You must be John." Jill said smiling down at the young boy who stood next to Pete. She stuck out her hand and John politely shook it.

"Are you a police officer too?" John asked with big curious eyes.

"I am." Jill supplied jovially. "This must be your family." She continued, smiling and shaking hands with Katy and Tina as John introduced them. He sounded like such a young man. It made Lan smile.

"It is great to finally meet you guys. I've heard lots about you." She said looking warmly between the three with her eyes finally resting on Lan's.

"Likewise. We've heard lots about you too." Tina said looking to Lan as well. The statement caught Jill by surprise and she raised an eyebrow at Lan.

"Don't worry, Jill, it was all good." Lan replied lightly, trying to hide her mild embarrassment.

"Yeah, she's right," Tina said. Waiting a beat, she added, "We'll mostly."

"Oh, she's a funny one." Jill intoned around a big smile. They all laughed easily and Lan was inordinately pleased that Tina and Jill had seemed to hit it off instantly.

As the group began making their way to the stands, Pete fell in step with Tina. "Came to watch us put the hurt on the vice unit?" Pete joked, figuring Lan had filled her in on who they were playing as well.

"You bet." Tina replied, looking up into his eyes. They stopped at the bottom of the stands and Pete shifted from foot to foot awkwardly.

"Well, I guess I better go get warmed up." He paused for another second. "I'm glad Lan invited you guys." He finished shyly.

"Me too. Good luck." Tina replied, touching his forearm briefly. Pete grinned and nodded and made his way back down to the dugout, mentally pumping his fist in the air.

Jill, being the ever-observant person that she was, noticed the little conversation between Pete and Tina. She knew they'd met when Lan took him over for the barbeque, but she sensed something else. Interesting.

Jill pulled her baseball hat lower down over her forehead to combat the afternoon sun. She was glad for the fact that her good-natured yet chauvinistic colleagues remembered she turned two double plays during last year's game and awarded her second base again.

Even though she moaned and groaned about playing each year, she did enjoy a chance at showing the boys up. She loved playing the infield and relished the challenge of fielding a nicely paced ground ball and throwing them out at first or catching a line drive and hearing the groans from the opposing team. It was her own little way of getting even in a male dominated field.

Snapping her gum like a seasoned professional, she bent her knees, held her glove out in front of her and faced the batter, ready for action. Up to bat was a guy named Gleason whom Jill had heard about. He was a newly promoted detective who barely looked old enough to vote.

Jill settled into her stance and just as promptly fell out of it as she saw the young detective point and wink at her. What the hell?

The sharp, hollow clank of the ball hitting aluminum reverberated through the park and Jill sensed rather than saw the ball rocketing toward her. On self-preservation instinct alone, she threw up her gloved hand in front of her face and was shocked as she heard and felt the impact of the ball smacking into her glove. She squeezed making sure it didn't fall out and then raised it above her head in a triumphant smile. Winking back at the now sheepish looking detective, she rifled the ball to first base and held up her pinky and index fingers indicating two outs, all the while blowing a huge pink bubble. The third out came quickly when the next batter popped it up into center field.

It was patrol's turn to hit and as Jill made her way to the on deck circle, she noticed that Gleason was catching. "Oh, great," she muttered to herself.

When it was her turn to bat, she stepped up to the plate. "Nice catch, by the way." She heard the smirk in his voice from behind the plate. "But you're going to be the third out." He said with confidence.

"You think so?" she asked around an equally confident grin. They both settled into their positions to wait for the first pitch. It was a high, loping pitch and Jill jumped on it, sending it over the shortstop's head. She smiled as she dropped the bat and hustled to first base, safe by a mile.

Taking off her batting gloves, she looked over to the catcher just in time to see him wink at her again. What is it with this guy? She gave him a smirk of her own.

"You're barkin' up the wrong tree, detective." Gleason heard as he squatted down behind the plate. He looked up to the slightly overweight older man who had just stepped into the batter's box.

"Oh?" Ventured Gleason as he caught the first pitch for a ball. He winged it back to the pitcher.

"She's a dyke." The man said bluntly as he settled back into his stance.

"Damn." The catcher said plaintively. "She's really hot."

"Well, it makes my stomach turn." Said the older man right before he lunged at a low pitch popping it up. It was easily caught and he cursed as he went back to the dugout.

"Wow, what an asshole." Murmured Gleason. He was bummed he wouldn't get a chance to ask the redhead out, but he didn't begrudge her for her preference of the fairer sex.

The older man's pop up was the third out so Jill began jogging back to the dugout. "Nice pop up, Russell." Jill said teasingly as she patted him on the shoulder.

Coupled with his foul mood at being the third out, his envy for Jill's playing ability and an overall dislike of what she was, he spat out, "Well not all of us are big fucking dyke softball superstars like you."

Jill pulled up, shocked at not only the words but the vehemence of his tone. She had no idea the older sergeant felt that way about her. She stared at him in disbelief.

Pete had heard the exchange and was quicker to act. He got up in Russell's face ready to knock the bigot right out of him. It angered Russell further. "It's unnatural what she is. Fucking sick," he sneered.

On the other side of the fenced dugout, Lan and Tina heard the exchange as well. Both women sat with their mouths open slightly, not believing the ugly turn of events.

The patrol team began shuffling around, torn between picking up their gloves or watching what was going to happen next. It was enough time for Jill to regain her wits and her voice and she stepped in between her fuming friend and the indignant older man. "Hey, no brawling, boys." Jill said, trying to diffuse the situation. They stepped back but still looked at each other with anger.

To Pete, she said, "Thanks for sticking up for me, but he just isn't worth it." Then she turned to Russell and said calmly, "I don't give a shit what you think about me. I'm not ashamed of who or what I am." She stared at him for another second and then added. "If you think you've accomplished anything here by outing me, all you've done is shown what a homophobic bigot you are."

After another still moment in which Russell just looked at her vacantly, Jill turned away from him. She took a calming breath and looked out the dugout fence, shaken at having been outed so vehemently. She didn't hide the fact she was gay to co-workers, but she didn't advertise. She preferred to come out privately to people she trusted.

She looked out at the stands and saw Lan and Tina looking at her. She saw a bit of shock on Tina's face, but it was not accompanied by disgust as far as she could tell. She then looked at Lan. Lan had a proud smile. Jill returned the smile with a small one of her own. It grew wider as she watched Lan mouth, ‘well done'.

"You okay?" Asked Pete as he came up behind her.

"Yeah." She said with growing confidence. Fuck ‘em if they can't accept who I am, she thought. Then she noticed that no one had left the dugout yet, except for Russell. They all had small, benevolent smiles on their faces. Smiles that to Jill said, I accept you. This changes nothing. Russell is the exception, not the rule.

"We gonna play or what?" Called the young detective from the other team. The patrol team looked to Jill.

"Yeah, we're coming!" She called and grabbed her glove and headed out to take her spot at second base.

The rest of the game continued on uneventfully, well if you could call Jill's two doubles and Pete's grand slam uneventful. True to Pete's prophetic words, patrol did put the hurt on vice. They ended up winning 10-2.

To celebrate both teams piled into Stockard's Pizza, a frequent hangout for local softball leagues. Pete took the initiative this time and invited Tina, Lan and the kids to go with them. Both John and Katy eagerly accepted the invitation for all of them.

"Could you teach me to hit like that?" John asked Pete as he squirmed onto the already crowded bench seat next to him.

"You bet." Pete said around a smile as his eyes met Tina's across the boy's dark head. She smiled back; daring to hope that Pete really meant it.

Just watching him interact with her son gave her great pause. John was getting to the age where he really needed a positive male role model in his life. But she didn't want to impose on the officer.

"Tell you what, how about we ask your mom if we could go out next weekend to the batting cages? I was planning on going anyway. I could give you some pointers."

Before John could begin his pleading, Tina nodded as she swallowed a bite of her pizza. "That would be fine. Pete, that's very sweet of you." She said, her eyes shining a bit. She felt as if the man read her earlier thoughts. Pete's thoughtful, happy smile made her think that perhaps he did.

The moment was feverishly interrupted as John threw his arms around his mom's neck and thanked her and then promptly asked for some quarters for the video games that occupied a whole wall of the pizza place.

The two were sitting side by side again, laughing at the whirlwind that was her son.

"Pete, that's a really nice thing you did. Since his step-father…" Tina faltered. She wasn't ready to tell her dark secrets to a man she was quickly coming to admire and like a great deal. She knew sometime in the future she'd be telling all to this man, but not today.

Sensing her discomfort, he wanted to put her at ease. "I wanted to Tina. He's a pretty cool kid." He said simply.

He knew there was a story behind why their dad, and apparently, stepfather too, weren't in the picture. He also knew Tina wasn't ready to tell it. He hoped to be around long enough to where she'd trust him with it, and then even longer still. He smiled to himself as he realized just how quickly and completely this family had taken hold of his heart.

Pete had always been one to fall easily, but this time, he sensed, was different. He knew though he'd have to take things pretty slow for both the kids and Tina's sake. It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize the family had already been through a lot.

"Listen, I do have the whole next weekend off. I was wondering if maybe you'd like to go out? Dinner or movie or something?" Pete ventured, hoping he wasn't being too forward."Oh. Um, sure, I'd like that." Tina said in slight surprise. She'd hoped down the line perhaps they could maybe start seeing each other. But now was good too. She really liked the officer.

"Cool." He said with a crooked grin.

"So, softball stud." Lan said in way of greeting as she sat down across from Jill who was eating a well-drenched salad with gusto. Her baseball hat was now on backwards holding in place her loosely pulled back hair.

"Yeah, that's me." Jill said around a mouthful of lettuce and Italian dressing, her eyes smiling for her.

Lan regarded her for a moment, using the brief seconds the sergeant spent looking down at her salad, trying to spear a cherry tomato.

She had the classic features of a redhead, light skin and a healthy smattering of freckles, most of them falling between her small nose and cheeks. It gave her the appearance of being much younger than her 35 years. Her cobalt eyes seemed to add to the myth too, shining with mirth when she was happy or being silly. They would turn just a shade darker when she turned serious or upset. Like today at the softball field.

Lan's heart had gone out to her friend. She knew Jill was strong and indeed she'd dealt with the situation with what seemed to be to Lan, her regular aplomb, but still it had to hurt for a colleague to say those things in front of her peers.

"What? I have something on my face?" Jill asked as she began wiping at her chin.

"No." Lan said absently, just becoming aware she was staring. "You okay? I mean from today and all?" Lan asked as Jill slowly lowered her napkin and regarded her.

"Yeah. Just caught me by surprise is all. I know there are plenty of guys on the force with that attitude. I'm usually lucky enough that they keep it to themselves, though."

"Well, you handled it brilliantly." Lan said, a little shyly.

"You think so?" Jill said, genuinely thrilled that Lan thought that. She'd been so embarrassed by the whole thing. She realized most of that embarrassment stemmed from the fact that Lan had heard it all.

"I do think so." Lan said, deepening her voice as she gave Jill a very warm smile.

On the way to take Tina and the kids home, Lan broached the subject for the first time since overhearing Pete and Tina's conversation at the pizza place.

"So you have a date, then." Lan stated as she looked over at Tina. She said it low enough that the kids in the back playing ‘slug bug' couldn't hear.

"It is. I guess." A sideways look from Lan prompted Tina to put her hands in surrender. "Yes, it's a date." She said in a loud whisper.

A smile spread across Lan's face as she slipped on her blinker to turn right. "I'm glad. I knew you two hit it off immediately." Lan said, extremely pleased with herself.

A deep sigh from Tina gave her thoughts away. Lan wanted to respond but knew she couldn't do the conversation justice with the kids in the car. She settled for an understanding smile at Tina and a squeeze of her forearm.

"So, you wanna babysit?" Tina asked a little more loudly.

"Lan, you gonna babysit us?" John piped up. "When?" He asked as he leaned up as far as his seatbelt would let him.

"We'll talk about it when we get home, honey." Tina said as she twisted around to look at her kids. She noted that Katy had a rather troubled look on her face.

They pulled up to the house and Katy was out of the car and up the drive in a flash.

"What's wrong with Katy?" John asked as he slid out of the seat towards the open door.

"Not sure." Tina said a bit worriedly. She turned and looked at Lan through the passenger window as she shut the door to the Land Cruiser firmly. She gave Lan a plaintive look.

"I'm sure she'll be okay." Lan said reassuringly. She didn't really know what was going on in the young teenager's mind, but she knew Katy to be a reasonable, mature young woman. Whatever was bothering her, her and her mom would be able to sort it out.

Tina gave her small smile. "I guess I better go see what's bugging her." Tina said with attempted casualness.

"Call if you need." Lan said and meant it.

"I will." Tina said as she turned to go into the house.

It had turned out that Katy had some misgivings about her mom dating again. Being the bright, observant girl she was, she had picked up on what Lan and her mom were talking about. It had just taken her by surprise. She liked Pete. She just didn't want her mom to be hurt again.

After a long talk with her kids, Tina explained that she would take things one day at a time with Pete and that no major decision would be made without their input from now on. Katy seemed satisfied with that and John was just plain overjoyed at the prospect of seeing Pete more often now.



"Lieutenant, you wanted to see me?" Asked Jill as she knocked on the doorframe to Lt. Vick's office.

"Come on in, Cooper." He said with his usual gruff friendliness. She came in and took the seat in front of his desk.

"I heard what Russell said to you during the softball game." He said without preamble.

Jill sighed. She was only slightly surprised it got around to him. Then she turned a little angry. If he'd gotten wind of it, it was all over the precinct. Great.

"Yeah, well, it's all sorted." She said, not really wishing to bring it up again.

"So, he apologized?" Lt. Vick asked pointedly, leaning towards her putting his elbows on his desk.

"It was no big deal, Lieutenant. I'll stay out of his way, I'm sure he'll stay out of mine."

"Not acceptable, Cooper. His actions need to be dealt with." The lieutenant said seriously. Jill could see this going nowhere good. As far as she was concerned the matter was over.

"Sir, please, it could make matters worse. I'd rather not pursue this. Besides, he was the one who left the field with egg on his face, not me."

"Yeah?" Vick said, surprised at his sergeant's candor. He'd heard that along with what Russell had said that pretty much all the players there had Cooper's back. Perhaps it would be best to let it blow over.

"Yeah." Jill said, chuckling to herself a bit as she saw an almost imperceptible smile cross the lieutenant's face.

"Alright, Cooper. However, he so much as looks at you funny, or if anyone tries to take this further, you come to me. That's an order, got it?" He said seriously as he rose from his desk.

"I got it sir. Thanks." Jill said and turned to go, a small smile on her face. She had no doubt that the lieutenant would have raked Russell over the coals if Jill had asked and it made her feel good to be not only respected, but cared for by the man she'd grown to see as a mentor as well as superior.

part 12

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