Author's Note: My submission for the Popping That Question contest at the Ridiculously Happy Awards.
Word Count: Approx. 4,890
Date Submitted: 30 June 2010
Disclaimers: I do not own and will not profit from Psych or Desperate Housewives, and the line "If life gives you a spoon, exchange it for a fork and stab something" does not come from my own mind or Maggie's grandmother; it's from the PTQ guidelines and was created by Rebekah/Ravina.
Bases loaded, no outs.
Maggie felt sick as she watched her boyfriend stand on the mound, wiping sweat from his forehead. He held the baseball in his hand, tossing it lightly, rolling it around, trying to have a conversation with his catcher at a sixty foot distance. He removed his cap and wiped his forehead, and Maggie's stomach churned.
This couldn't be good.
The catcher (Carl, actually, and one of her boyfriend Neil's best friends) turned to the umpire to get permission before running out to the mound. They held their mitts to their mouths as they talked about signs or whatever they had to speak about.
Maggie kept her eyes trained on Neil. Look at me, look at me, look at me…
When Neil's eyes looked up into the stands, off to the first baseline, Maggie straightened up and forced out a smile for him. She wanted to be confident for him, to give him hope and prove that she had faith in him. The stakes were high in this game for… whatever reason.
It was all he'd been talking about the past few days. If he did well in this game, big things could happen. Neil never went into the details about what those big things actually were, but Maggie assumed they had to do with recruitment and Major League Baseball.
She knew that Neil was sick of working two jobs in addition to baseball. He wanted baseball to be his job, not a hobby that he maybe got a little scrap money for. Maggie knew that Neil was also really sick of her working two jobs (even though Maggie insisted that it didn't bother her) in order to keep their income up. He hated that she worked so hard, and he wanted to provide for her.
And, actually, there were times when Maggie wanted him to provide for her, too.
When Neil finally threw his first pitch to the new batter, the kid swung hard and popped up. The second baseman caught it, and Maggie felt the tightness in her chest ease a little. One out. Bases were still loaded, but all he needed was a double play or something else.
This seemed to make everything infinitely easier.
If Neil could get out of the inning, Maggie was sure that he would be able to consider the game a success. And hopefully whatever scouts were there would think of it as a success as well. She tried not to get too excited when she thought about the Major Leagues, because she knew the complexities of it. There would be minor league games, which would be just as hectic as these amateur league games, and maybe moreso, but at least Neil would get paid for his work there.
The next batter hit a hard line drive and Neil's shortstop (David, bless his soul) jumped up and caught it. Maggie finally felt like she could breathe, and after the next batter grounded out to first, she was able to laugh and wonder what she had been stressed about in the first place.
The guys walked back to the dugout and Maggie took a moment to search around, see if she could find people in suits or something that would make them stand out. Maybe New York Yankees insignia. A Phillies jacket. Whatever.
But in a crowd of one thousand, a lot of the people in t-shirts and jeans but still some in suits, likely fresh from the office, she couldn't make out anyone who looked special. That was okay. It was still going to be a big night, and she was excited for Neil and whatever prospects the night would bring.
She was considering getting up to buy some nachos or ice cream from the concession stand when everyone around her started to whisper. She looked up from her purse and stopped counting her bills as Neil stood in front of her.
Maggie glanced around before leaning toward him, her voice hushed.
"What are you doing here?"
Neil grinned. "It's time for the Kiss Cam. I figured that we should try to make it on there today."
Maggie stared at him, eyes wide. She gestured to the dugout. "Okay, your teammates and coaches are going to be wondering where you are and what you're doing. Should you be up here?"
"Nah, they won't miss me," Neil shrugged, and sat down in the empty seat beside her. He threw an arm over the back of her chair, waiting for the stadium crew to start the Kiss Cam on the Jumbrotron.
"Stop it! I don't want to be on the Kiss Cam," she whispered. She could feel her face burning, and when Neil just winked at her, she wondered whether her face was red from embarrassment or irritation.
"It'll be fun," he told her, and Maggie stayed silent. "Mags." No response. "Maggie, c'mon, Baby, live a little." He put his face close to hers. "No one will get in trouble for this."
Maggie fidgeted a bit in her seat, trying to determine if she was about to have fun or leave the stadium in tears.
When the music for the Kiss Cam started up, Maggie groaned. "How do you even know that they're going to show us?"
"I'm sure someone saw me climb into the stands. How could they resist?"
Maggie rolled her eyes, but stared at the Jumbotron, laughing when it showed various people. There was a couple of teenagers, an old couple, two people who appeared to be strangers, two members of the grounds crew, and then just as they were ready to flash to a new couple, Neil suddenly stood.
"You know what? I'm not sure I want to kiss you anymore."
Maggie was silent for a moment before managing a, "What?" She slowly turned her head to look at him, but the "the fuck?" look on her face disappeared when she saw Neil on one knee before her, holding a black velvet box. Maggie's eyes widened and she felt frozen to her spot. She wasn't even sure that she could breathe.
She opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again. She tried to speak, but nothing came out, and then she just decided to wait and see what Neil could possibly have to say in the situation.
"Look at the screen," Neil nearly whispered, and Maggie managed to turn her head. The Jumbotron was focused in on them, and Maggie could see Neil's hands shaking, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down. She could see her own face, a little shocked, a little horrified. Next to their picture were words, letters lit up by the LED lights.
Maggie, marry me?
She slowly turned back to Neil, her eyes wide, and she still couldn't speak. She couldn't cry. She couldn't shout. She couldn't even process this.
"Margaret Mallory, I love you. And I can't imagine my life without you. In… in health and in sickness and… rich and, uh, poor. So, please, Maggie, will you… Will you be my wife?"
The words themselves sounded nice and she was sure that Neil would have wanted them to sound suave and debonair, but his hands were shaking so badly that she could barely get a solid look at the ring he held. She could see sweat rolling down his face, and Maggie knew that this time, it wasn't because of the humidity or the pressures of the game.
She opened her mouth, but then realized that she had no idea what to say. She ripped her eyes from Neil's form and stared at the Jumbotron, still focused on them. Her eyes were wide and she could see her own hands shaking, even as she held them at her sides. Maggie glanced around the stadium and saw that every single pair of eyes, from the crowd to the concessions to both teams in their dugouts, were staring at them.
Her stomach started to roll. She was going to be sick, maybe for real this time.
She jumped up from her seat, and Neil's eyes widened. He backed up a little bit, but when Maggie slowly started to move backwards, he stood as well.
"Mags," he croaked, but she just shook her head, turned around, and ran up the concrete steps and through a tunnel.
"So you said no and just ran out?"
Maggie shook her head and swallowed a spoonful of chocolate ice cream. "I never said no," she replied. "Can you pass me the Oreos?"
Penny stared at Maggie for a moment before nodding, and passing the package of Oreos. She also passed the milk, sure that Maggie would request that next.
"So you just ran out then?" Penny waited for an answer, but Maggie only shook the whip cream can and squirted some on the top of her sundae. "Maggie, he proposed and you ran out. You didn't say anything. Don't you think he's going to take that as a no?"
Maggie shrugged. "It's not supposed to be a no."
"So it's supposed to be a yes?"
"I don't know!" Maggie cried, tossing an Oreo onto the coffee table. "I don't know."
Penny nodded and just stayed silent. Maggie looked at her bowl of ice cream and sighed into it. She took another spoonful despite her better judgment.
"Do you need to stay here?" Penny finally asked, and Maggie felt like crying with relief. This was why Maggie loved her best friend. Anytime she needed something, Penny was there. Penny might have been there for Maggie more than Maggie had been there for Penny.
Penny laughed. "You don't even need to ask. Of course you can."
Maggie nodded and felt some weight lift off of her chest. This was the challenging aspect of living with someone. Maggie couldn't go back to her and Neil's apartment. She couldn't. Neil would be there and he would want to talk or break up or walk out on her and Maggie just couldn't handle it at that moment. She needed sleep, she needed silence, she needed…
"Do you have any chips?" She asked Penny and went into the kitchen in search of a bag. "What about dip?" Maggie called from the kitchen.
"I don't know," Penny called back. "But Neil just texted me and to ask if I know where you are."
Maggie froze. "Shit. Oh."
"'Shit? Oh'?" Penny cried, joining Maggie in the kitchen. "That's what you have to say?"
"I don't know what to say!" Maggie bit her lip and looked at the text.
U seen maggie?
It made Maggie's stomach twist up. He was worried. She was hurting him. Hurting him on top of walking out on his proposal, although Maggie stood by the fact that it was unintentional. She ran to the bathroom to hurl (into the first one she saw, which, unfortunately, happened to be the men's) and after she was finished she felt weak and… stupid. She couldn't go back to her seat.
She didn't even know what happened. Did Neil stay there and watch her? Did he run after her? Did he go back to the dugout? Was he still pitching?
Maggie had looked around the stadium and decided to make a quick leave and head out to her car. She tried to avoid the stares of the concessions workers, but she knew that they knew what happened. More reason that she just couldn't go back there.
So she went to Penny's instead.
"Mags, have you talked to him?"
Maggie stayed silent.
"Margaret! You need to at least text him and say that you'll talk to him later! Or that you need time to think or something. You've got to get in touch with him in some way."
"I haven't had time!" Maggie objected. "He was playing and then I came over here and we drowned ourselves in junk food and I just got so into that story on Oprah and then How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days was so good and then I was telling you what happened--"
"Good. Now," Penny said, grabbing Maggie's cell phone from the kitchen table. "You need to text him. And let him know that you're okay. He's worried about you, Mags."
"Why would he be worried?"
"Because you just disappeared?" Penny rolled her eyes. "Just say that you're sorry and that you'll talk later."
Maggie opened her phone and paused. "I don't…"
"God, I'll do it," Penny huffed. She grabbed the phone and typed the message, sending it before Maggie could really object about it. "You have eleven missed calls from him?" Penny looked up at Maggie, whose face crumpled. "Oh, Mags, come here."
"I just don't know what to say to him," Maggie whispered, hugging her friend. "He hates me. And I don't blame him. I just can't deal with him yelling or… leaving me right now."
"Hey," Penny softly objected. "Neil doesn't hate you. He could never hate you."
"He's going to ask me why I walked away."
"I don't know what to tell him."
"Maybe just the truth."
The next morning, Maggie squeezed out all the time she could until Penny kicked her out.
"Okay, Maggie, seriously, those pancakes were delicious, and thank you for doing my dishes. Oh, the magazines under my coffee table? They look really nice. Thank you. But it's time to go."
Maggie shook her head. "Okay, no, you can't kick me out! We're going to watch season one of Psych, remember? You've been trying to get me to watch it for a year and I'm finally agreeing--"
"We are not watching Psych. But do you want me to use my psychic powers? I'm pretty sure that you don't want to go home because you don't want to talk to Neil."
Maggie gasped. "What are you talking about?"
Penny rolled her eyes. "Seriously, Maggie, nothing about that takes psychic powers. I know you. And I know that you need to get your ass over to your apartment and work out this issue."
"He's going to leave me," Maggie whispered.
"I don't think that he's going to leave you," Penny told her, pulling her in for a hug. "But he's going to want to talk. Which I think you need to get over with as soon as possible."
Maggie just nodded. Penny, as usual, was right. Sometimes her best friend was the best person in the world, like when she let Maggie stay the night to avoid her boyfriend. Other times her best friend was the worst person in the world, like when she was right and wouldn't back down.
Penny gave Maggie one last squeeze and then moved her toward the door. Maggie left without saying another word, already dreading the conversation that awaited her at her apartment.
When Maggie arrived home, it was silent. She took that as a good sign. If Neil wasn't listening to angry music or cussing her out, it had to be a good thing.
She slowly moved into the apartment, dropping her keys on the counter and moving to the bedroom. No sign of Neil. She walked through the living room and into the kitchen, eventually seeing him on the couch in the living room. He was asleep and looked exhausted, and Maggie felt her heart drop.
As she turned around to go back into the bedroom, she heard rustling behind her and then a soft, "Hey."
She turned to face him. "Hey," she replied, and she couldn't help but smile at the way and ran his hands through his hair and rubbed his eyes. He looked scruffy and sleepy and so adorable that Maggie felt herself melt.
"I'm glad you're home," he told her, voice heavy with sleep.
They were silent for a moment before Neil stood and pulled her against him, hugging Maggie tightly. He kissed the top of her head and pulled away. "Want breakfast?"
Maggie nodded. She didn't have the heart to tell him that she chowed on some pancakes to try and avoid him for longer. She didn't want to break his heart.
They moved into the kitchen and he pulled out some eggs, starting on some omelets. There was some tension there, but for the most part, Maggie felt like Neil was treating the morning normally.
"Won last night," he told her with a grin, now more awake with a steaming cup of coffee in his hand. "Nearly pitched a full game. My arm started tweaking towards the end, so O'Donnell pulled me out, but I didn't mind. Better safe than sorry, you know?"
Maggie smiled so wide that her cheeks started to hurt. "Neil, that's amazing."
"Yeah, it was a pretty good game."
He placed her eggs in front of her and they moved to the couch. He flipped on the TV to some random channel and they let it play, mostly, Maggie realized, as background noise.
She figured she had to start the conversation. He was waiting to see if she would bring it up first. And that was fair. She was the one who walked out, after all, and he really didn't have to be so sweet about it.
But it made her stomach hurt just to think of it.
So she figured she could beat around the bush and make Neil bring it up. It was like a secret weapon. Kind of like that thing her grandmother used to say. "If life hands you a spoon, exchange it for a fork and stab something." Or whatever. Maybe she was using more of a spork in this instance.
"Did any scouts talk to you yesterday?" Maggie asked, breaking the silence. If there was any reason that she was sorry she ran out (other than the fact that she ran out on a proposal), it was because she couldn't be there to help him sort through the scouts.
Maggie knew that she wouldn't have been present when Neil spoke with them, but he would have told her the conversations, word for word, and she had some experience in differentiating between guarantees and fake promises and knowing what a player could realistically expect.
"…no," Neil said, after a pause. He gave Maggie a look. "Why would you ask that?"
Now Maggie felt confused. "What do you mean?"
"Were there scouts at the game yesterday or something? Have you been hearing things about recruitment?"
Maggie shook her head. "No… I just thought that there would be scouts there. You said…" she trailed off and Neil raised his eyebrows.
Suddenly, Maggie wasn't sure whether she wanted to keep talking. She swallowed. "You said that last night was going to be a big night."
Neil nodded. "Yeah."
"And so I thought that… that there would be scouts…"
Neil shook his head and smiled a little. He let out a quiet laugh. "Last night was going to be a big night. I knew that I was going to propose."
He wouldn't look at her and Maggie's heart plummeted. She tried to swallow over the lump in her throat and actually say something this time.
"Oh," she managed, and winced.
"But, uh," Neil rubbed the back of his neck and let out a quick laugh that wasn't really a laugh at all. "You left, so… that was that."
"About that," Maggie started, but Neil cut in.
"I just need to know," he said in a rush. "You… was that a no? You just walked out. What am I supposed to think, here?"
"I -- it wasn't a no."
Neil stared at her. "Well, it was a pretty suck-ass yes, then."
Maggie shook her head. "It wasn't a yes, either."
Neil was silent.
"Have you ever thought about what it would be like to live in a perfect neighborhood with perfect neighbors?" Maggie suddenly said, her voice louder than she intended. She took a deep breath and sat up. "Have you ever wondered what it would be like if we got married and moved into a nice community and everyone seemed perfect? And then what if we really didn't like each other? And we fell in love with our neighbors? And then what if we got a hot teenage gardener and I had an affair with him? The next thing you know, we'd be hitting people with cars and I'd be killing someone's garden after they hook up with the hot gardener!"
She was panting after she finished and Neil stared at her.
"Maggie, sit down." He waited until she did as he said before continuing. "First of all, we would never hire a gardener. Too much money. We can garden ourselves." He cracked a smile and winked at her. "Second of all, we're not living in Desperate Housewives. It's a fictional show. I'm pretty sure Wisteria Lane doesn't really exist." He paused and Maggie couldn't stop a smile. "Third of all… if you don't want to get married, you could just tell me."
"I--" Maggie began, but cut herself off. What the hell did she want?
"But you know I need an actual answer here, Mag."
She gave a short nod but couldn't answer. The words wouldn't leave her mouth.
"I don't-- I don't know."
Neil tilted his head back on the couch. "Oh, okay. You don't know. Well, I guess that's an answer."
"I don't know what you want me to say!"
"I want you to say yes, Maggie! I tried to propose and you didn't have an answer for me--"
"I couldn't think with one thousand pairs of eyes staring at me, Neil!"
"Well, there's only one pair of eyes lookin' at you now!" He sighed and stood, running his hands roughly over his head. "God, Maggie, I'm trying to say that I want us to spend the rest of… forever together. And you don't have an answer! Want to know what this does to a guy?"
Maggie wasn't really sure if she was supposed to answer.
"It fucking hurts!" Neil started to pace. "And it kind of pisses me off. Maggie, I love you. You're mine and I don't want you to be anyone else's. I want to own a home and have kids together. You and me, Maggie. You and me forever. And you don't have a response to what I'm saying." He sighed and paused.
Maggie couldn't think of anything to say.
"And now I'm spilling my heart to you, and you don't care. You usually eat shit like this up, but now you don't say anything."
Maggie ran her hands over her face and didn't respond. She looked up when she heard Neil walk away. He reentered the room several minutes later, a duffle bag in hand.
She suddenly found her voice. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going over to Carl's. We're going to workout or something."
"You mean play videogames?"
Neil cracked a smile. "However you want to put it." He moved to the door and Maggie followed, her mind racing. At the door he faced her and smiled at her wide eyes. "Maggie," he whispered, and waited for her to look at him. When she did, he captured her lips in a kiss. "I love you. I'm coming back," he said softly into her ear.
Then he opened the door and left.
She made a mistake.
Maggie knew it as soon as he left. The twisted feeling in her stomach wouldn't go away, and Neil's words continually played in her head. You're mine. You and me forever. You and me for the rest of forever.
God, how could she be so stupid?
She packed a bag for herself and went back over to Penny's. She couldn't stay alone in the apartment, not after Neil walked out, even amid a promise that he would return (and Maggie had no doubts that he would come back, but the fact that he needed space at all hurt).
Maggie threw herself into Penny's arms, spilling out the story, even letting herself cry a little. Penny, like the best friend she was, let Maggie cry and eat some more Oreos, and Penny even cried with her a little. And then they watched Titanic.
"I need to fix this," Maggie said as the credits rolled. She dried her eyes and let Celine Dion's voice calm her.
"We can do that."
Maggie took a deep breath and turned on a light. She grabbed a notebook and a pen and got ready to work.
An hour and a half later, they had a plan.
Maggie felt silly as she stood outside of the stadium, simply staring up at it.
"Well, go," Penny said, pushing her.
Maggie bit her lip. "Are you sure you don't want to come with me?"
Penny put her hands on her hips and glared. "Maggie."
"Fine, fine," Maggie grumbled, walking into the stadium. She was probably just being paranoid, feeling like people were staring at her. Because, really, how many of the same people could be there from the day she ran out? And how many people could actually remember who she was? Different people came to these games every day. And no one talked about amateur baseball. It wasn't like the story could have spread.
She managed to make it through four innings before her stomach started to cramp. No, she wasn't being paranoid. The lady to her right was definitely there that same day. And so was the guy behind her to her left. And what about that guy wearing the suit?
Did everyone own season tickets?
She didn't start feeling really sick until the sixth inning. She took deep breaths in through her nose, trying to calm her stomach.
She hadn't told Neil that she would be there. As far as she knew, he hadn't seen her, either. It wasn't his turn to pitch and Maggie hadn't seen him walk out of the dugout at all.
She jiggled her leg. This would turn out really wonderfully or really terribly.
She was hoping for wonderfully.
After the third out of the top of the sixth, Maggie was sure she was going to be sick. When the tell-tale music of the Kiss Cam started up, she wasn't sure that she could go through with it. But then different couples flashed up on the screen and she realized that she didn't have a choice.
And she knew that she was making the right decision this time.
The camera focused in on a few random couples before zeroing in on Neil in the dugout. Maggie saw one of his teammates nudge him and point toward the Jumbotron. Neil looked up, eyebrows raised in surprise. He had a grin on his face and turned to one of his teammates, arms stretched wide, going in for a kiss, but the guy just shook his head and pointed to the Jumbotron again. Neil looked up, but this time, Maggie couldn't see his reaction. The screen had changed.
The screen flashed back to his face and showed Neil looking around, confused. He slowly waved to the camera, and then his face was gone, replaced with LED letters.
The camera again focused in on him and he still looked confused. Maggie saw Carl lean toward Neil and say something that Maggie couldn't discern. Then Neil moved toward the dugout entrance, climbed out, and looked into the stands.
Maggie stood up and smiled at him. A grin spread across Neil's face and he jumped out of the dugout, ran to the stands, and climbed into the seats.
He stood in front of her, their bodies touching. Neil looked down and touched his forehead to hers, still grinning. "Yes?" he asked.
Maggie rolled her eyes, but figured that she should humor him, considering what she put him through. She quickly pressed her lips to his before pulling back and smiling into his eyes.
"Yes, Neil Monroe. I will marry you." Neil laughed. He picked her up and twirled her around, holding her closely when he set her down. Maggie pulled away and put her hand on the side of his face. She smiled up at him, tears in her eyes. "I love you. I want to be with you for the rest of forever."
As Neil pulled her in for another kiss, and Maggie heard applause echoing throughout the stadium, she grinned against his lips and stifled a giggle. This time, she made the right choice.