"We want more than proof of concept, gentlemen. I don’t get up at five in the morning to see a bunch of Neanderthals bearing a theoretical resemblance to a winning infield. I don’t care about the variability of a bad hop. The game is played with rules and within lines. I follow a process, and you will too. There is no art in baseball."

Reminder #1: Always Remain in Character.

This reminder is mostly for Santa, because of The Suit, and doesn’t often apply to you directly, since you are not dressed as an elf. As it turns out, working at Santa’s Playland requires you to wear all black. You show up everyday for your 13-hour shift wearing black slacks, a black T-shirt, a black Gap cardigan, and brown boots. But then black boots because your footwear mattered enough to get you in trouble and you were asked to visit a shoe store on your 30-minute lunch break.

The rope does not move. It lies at my feet, as inanimate as a skipping rope should be, like a snake skin shed of life. I am eight. I concentrate. I will the rope to move. I am in the school’s sports equipment storage room, a nook beside the stairs to the third floor.

“I love you.”

Oh shit, thinks Natalie.

James stands on the mauve and white carpet of the motel with a helpless grin on his face. Natalie tries to smile, sheepishly she hopes, and pulls him in for a hug. Not a “condescending pat-on-the-shoulder” kind of hug, but a “oh, hun, it’s cute that you think so” sort of hug. Definitely not the “I love you, now we’re face-sucking” hug James goes for.