The baseball wives know you don’t want to be the first to show up in Scottsdale, but surely you don’t want to be the last to arrive at the party. And it is a party: luncheons and spa days, cocktail parties and color consultations, mornings at the furrier’s and afternoons with the jeweler. There is a great deal of time between games, between the rare, preseason moments when they have their husbands’ attention, between the wives’ calls to duty. Those moments: cheer him from the family section of the ballpark, loud enough that he might just look over to the stands and spot you. Get him a steak on Sunday nights, rub his feet on Wednesdays, dangle a blowjob at the end of the week as reward for all his hard work.
It’s a sensitive time for the ballplayers, working out the kinks of their winters, proving themselves into pitching rotations or fighting to keep themselves in starting lineups, competing against younger knees, quicker bats, unmarried men. They need their support network, the rooting of their numero uno cheerleader. The baseball wives know to stay out from underfoot, to not ask about where their husbands go until four on Thursdays or complain when they aren’t taken out to brunch even once in the month of March. It’s a sacrifice, what the wives do, uprooting their lives, shipping half of everything priority mail from the Southern California desert to the central Arizona one, leaving the kids with their mothers-in-law or the well-vetted help for a few days, a few weeks, a month or two. And in this sacrifice they need each other, their own support network of domestic partners to these improbable, impressive men; men who plucked them out of crowded bars or chose them through professional sports matchmaking services, men who picked them up on the beach in Puerto Rico or selected them out of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Laker Girls lineup. Men who said, Now, here, this is your new life.
Those who don’t come at all—not even for ten days; not just for a few long weekends, maybe a three-day stint in February and another in March; those who can’t possibly manage to get over from LA—those wives are highly suspect. Jane Rogers, for instance, the Lions’ ace’s wife, was absent last year, and her appearance at this year’s Cactus League is looking doubtful. The baseball wives can’t imagine it, how a woman could manage the season without the preseason legwork. It’s like going to the beach without tanning beforehand. A bed, spray-on, that bronzing cream. Something. Make some sort of effort. If you don’t, you’ll stick out on the sand like a sore thumb—and you’ll get burned, red as a lobster. The wives are already striking her from their Memorial Day barbeque list, uninviting her 15-year-old daughter from the yet-to-be-planned pool party for the teenaged children. Melissa Moyers, who has been doing this the longest—her husband Hal has pitched in the majors for nineteen years, nine of those with the Lions, if not the best on the squad then at least the oldest—once put it well: play nice or we’ll throw you out of the park.
The baseball wives know it’s best if you call ahead, tell the people that take care of things you are coming, give them a week to make things spick-and-span. They have services for this, not just for the baseball wives but for all the wealthy part-time residents of Scottsdale. Advance crews with Windex and Lysol and rubber gloves and an endless supply of garbage bags. Doesn’t matter how clean the wives left their homes when they were there last, they will be dirty, the autumn sandstorms, those funny-sounding haboobs getting grit everywhere, even under the lips of the rubber-sealed, triple-paned windows. So over the phone the baseball wives explain where their hide-a-keys are (of course they have one, for the pool guy, for the maid, for the nanny, hidden very discreetly, no one would ever guess to look under the potted old-lady cactus to the right of the door), tell them to let themselves in and c-l-e-a-n. No reason the year’s first impression of Scottsdale and spring training should be a dead desert mouse on the kitchen floor. No reason their husbands should criticize them if their white-shirted elbows get gunked up from resting on the kitchen counter, covered in dust nearly the exact same color as the stone tile. How was I supposed to see that? is not a good excuse. There is no acceptable excuse, in fact, but there’s an easy solution to all of it. The cleaners throw away the shriveled cacti the wives forgot to put on the back patio for the once-a-month yard men to tend; after months and months without water, none at all, the plants look like a line of sad-old-man penises, spikes sunk in on themselves. The best cleaning services will replace the cacti, returning them to bright green sheaths, erect and pointing and so similar-looking to the originals that no one—not the wives, not their oblivious husbands—knows a thing has happened.
Other move-in tasks: the baseball wives forward the mail (unless someone in LA is checking it for them, sending once-a-week packages of important notices via overnight courrier), clean the pool, restart the cable (necessary only if the luxury of $200 a month of premium channels streaming into a dark house had seemed a waste last April). They update their weekly flower, wine, and pharmacy deliveries to the new address. Someone will need to run the water, flush the toilets, start the cars. There will be hiccups in these systems, coughing pipes, murky tanks, engines sputtering as they try to pull juice from a hibernating battery. Ideally, the advance crew can handle these jobs, too. Last year, feeling independent, Eliza Summers tried to jump her car herself and got second-degree burns on both palms. Better her than her husband, Melissa Moyers pointed out, and the baseball wives agreed. He’s the best the Lions have got in middle relief.
The baseball wives, even gullible Lisa Putney, know not to let their husbands manage real-estate acquisition; the house a ballplayer would pick has two bedrooms, half a kitchen, and an entertainment room the size of an elementary school auditorium. That would be the first place they’d furnish, too, chock full of leather recliners, arranged in a semicircle around a TV screen the size of a California King bedsheet, while the rest of the house sat empty. Men, it seems, are happy to eat off paper plates standing at the kitchen counter (if not in front of the TV), don’t see the point of headboards, think they’re doing well if their clothes are stacked up in folded (rather than unfolded) piles on the floor.
That’s what happened to Jane Rogers two springs ago. Let Stan pick out a place when he was traded at the end of the offseason from Pittsburgh. I have my hands full with LA, she’d rationalized when Melissa Moyers called to introduce herself and offer any help with the transition. Jane said she was overwhelmed by finding a year-round home, getting her kids, then 6 and 13, into the right schools during the awkward, midyear move. It’d be easier if I could just give someone a big envelope of unmarked bills, she’d said, her Memphis accent turning some words short, stretching others long. Eas-yer, on-vel-ope, bee-yalls. How peculiar, Melissa had thought but did not say. She had also thought: You can. Her kids had done fine, switching into the top prep school the week after Hal was traded. Donation, that’s what they call the grease on the wheels. Charitable contribution.
It’s not like they’d had roots in Pennsylvania, Jane had continued; they hated the place, nearly everything except for those neat Carnegie museums. If it were up to her, they’d be back in Tennessee somewhere, but the closest major league team was Saint Louis, and who wanted to live there? They’d been sweethearts in college, she’d gone on, Vanderbilt. Melissa agreed that all sounded very nice but wondered inside how much longer this woman would ramble. Jane was lonely, Melissa impatient, and the difference in the two women’s frequencies set the phone line humming and popping in their ears.
Later that first spring, Jane visited Arizona long enough to order the kids’ beds and a dining room set, long enough to have a strained lunch with the baseball wives and to watch her husband pitch one preseason game, clapping politely after every single strike. Melissa treated her to the meal and cheered when Stan Rogers made his outs, even as she resented each one. The team only has room for one ace, and the Lions’ had been Hal. Melissa knew the team would still play well for her husband, but there’s a special oomph, an extra effort the team makes for their number one guy. Because every team wants that guy with twenty wins and an ERA under three. Jane was oblivious, all the way through the air kisses at the airport, and she flew back to LA. Not even a thank-you note. Save for a couple of home-game starts, Melissa has hardly seen her since.
The rest of the baseball wives, those who took more care with their real-estate acquisitions, they love their Arizona houses. Melissa Moyers has twenty thousand custom-designed square feet. Lisa Putney sprang for the Italian marble countertops, in the kitchen but also in each of five bathrooms. For some of them, Scottsdale is their first-choice residence. They prefer the desert sky to the crowds and grit of Los Angeles, where they have to compete with two teams worth of basketball wives and seemingly hundreds of 20-year-old celebrities, bevies of Hollywood execs and Japanese tourists, just to make a reservation for dinner. These women come visit for a week or two in October, maybe the month of November, just for the change of pace. If there’s no kids or if the kids are away (in Melissa’s case, one’s already in college, a fact she doesn’t like to admit because it makes her feel o-l-d; the other two are so programmed in their extracurriculars she’s lucky to get two meals with them all week), the trip’s an easy jet or a leisurely drive through the desert. Sure, Phoenix is sprawling, but the term is relative; compared to LA, Scottsdale is a dense nugget of goodness. The wives are perched close to the edge of civilization—well, ten minutes to the border of the Indian reservation, five minutes from the nature preserve—but downtown Scottsdale, everything from the dry cleaner to the gym to Terrazzo, the poolside dance club that is good enough for their purposes, especially now that they are married, is seven minutes by the livery service all the baseball wives use. No reason to look for parking, to risk driving drunk (Melissa got caught once, in 2005, eighteen months probation, and the baseball wives let that be a lesson to them all), when their discreet drivers are a phone call away. They can even pick their preference from the service’s garage: Lincoln Town Cars, black; Cadillac Escalades, champagne and black; stretch Hummers, platinum and cherry red. Their usual Friday-night driver, Anton, a chatty transplant from Venezuela, once explained that the service had had a traditional limousine, but they’d put it out to pasture—sold it to a funeral home in Mesa—because no one ever asked for it.
For other women, Scottsdale is their only residence, the second home they got in the Divorce. Here is a tricky thing for baseball wives to negotiate: ex–baseball wives. They are still baseball wives, having endured the grueling seasons of minor league ball and the onerous off-seasons with husbands loafing underfoot like overgrown teenage boys, every day a lazy Sunday. The exes are still friends to the current baseball wives, having listened to their gripes for seasons, having griped themselves. Together, these women had bought vibrators (to keep them company when their husbands were on the road) and sexy lingerie (to entice their husbands when they came back). These women know too much to not be friends. And the baseball wives—as much as they’d like to deny it—have some niggling, have just a little hint of fear, that at any point, they, too, could become ex–baseball wives. Melissa almost lost Hal once, during their last season in Boston, to a kinesthesiology intern from Harvard. More than one of the current baseball wives have broken up perfectly healthy marriages, severing a ballplayer’s ties to his high school sweetheart or the patient woman who helped him through the slow slog of minor league towns. That bitch, the baseball wives mutter when a cleat chaser usurps a friend’s position in the ring. But, It’s the circle of life, the baseball wives explain when a woman they like more replaces one they like less. This uncertainty, the either-way of it—the baseball wives know that it also means, It could happen to me.
Liana Goodyear, the short-term wife of Jason Goodyear, the Lions’ diamond-studded second baseman, is the perfect example of this treacherous territory—not of the cheating and stealing, but of the problem of the Divorce. Jason, handsome enough to vie with Ryan Gosling for the media’s heart, had five Gold Gloves and nary a smear on his good-guy log sheet. He plucked this kindergarten teacher seemingly out of thin air (Pasadena), took her through a whirlwind courtship, and, just like that, one of the country’s most eligible bachelors was off the market. They were married for a scant two seasons before the amicable divorce, mutual consent and not a word more to the media, but in baseball circles it was well known that she took him to the cleaners. He and his lawyers gladly consented to be scrubbed, soaped, and tumble-dried, conceding much more than Liana and Jason’s prenup had outlined. Was he having an affair? Trouble in bed? As much as the media pushed hypotheses, the parting couple stayed mum. Over fresh-fruit-juice cocktails, the baseball wives weighed all the theories and even had a few of their own—that he was gay, that she was gay, that they realized they were cousins—before settling on the catch-all of emotional unavailability on the man’s part. And probably, below that pretty smile and washboard abs (he did a Levi’s campaign without his shirt), he had a little dick.
So this year, Liana—she kept Goodyear, of course, because what baseball wife wouldn’t keep her husband’s name?—looks forward to the baseball wives’ imminent arrival. She will, she resolves, try doubly hard to reconnect, to persevere and preserve all those meaningful friendships. She throws the baseball wives a welcome-back cocktail party in her spacious home, inviting a midlevel celebrity chef to make the finger foods. The baseball wives come, the Lions’ but some other teams’ too, even a few other exes, a pair of retirees (skinnier than ever, their faces stiff with Botox), and somehow, coincidentally, two women who both claim to be Jimmy Cardozo’s ex-girlfriend. Hillary Oliveria worries there will be a cat fight, but Melissa sizes the two women up, watching how they watch each other, and shakes her head. Nah, they’ll be fine.
It is a swinging party, everyone excited to catch up. The wives dote on Liana, her divorce four months fresh. How are you doing? She is fine, she says with the tone of an aggrieved and regal widow. She is getting by. What she is getting is a humongous check each month, which means she doesn’t have to return to teaching, doesn’t have to deal with staff meetings and the politics of the PTA, not with 5-year-olds and their fluids. If anything, Melissa notices, she is more beautiful than when she first showed up in the family section of the Lions’ stadium, her blond ponytail pulled through the back of one of those adjustable orange ball caps; more beautiful than when she and Jason were married in a families-only ceremony in Hawaii. (Melissa secretly bought Star that week, examined the clandestine wedding photos in all their grainy glory. The bride wore white but it was short.) Are you dating again? Liana shrugs goofily, bare shoulders as wide and polished as a wooden coat rack. Oh, you know. Melissa Moyers does not know, but she clutches her drink tighter, letting it slosh a little around the rim. She will never admit it, not to anyone (the Star, at least, she and Hillary shared), but Liana’s little laugh, her shrug: it scares her. Melissa drains her Cosmo and goes in search of another.
The next day, the baseball wives are at Pilates, inverted and scheming a lingerie party for the following week. Should we invite Liana? Hillary asks, her head between her knees, her ass wrapped in hot-pink spandex. Melissa has developed a formula, a computation for how often the still-pretty exes should be invited to things with the other, active, baseball wives. Melissa does the math in her head, reaches for her toes. Mmm, let’s not.
The current wives all sit together at the spring training games, behind the Lions’ dugout. Between pitches they watch the men in the on-deck circle, swinging stiffly with three bats. They observe how much weight the other husbands have gained in the off-season, make silent wagers about how much time it will take to lose. They remark on the bachelors, the untaken ones, and guess at who will be the next to go. And with the impartiality of a few rows, the span of the dugout, and a couple of feet of grass, they can also examine how their own husbands look, if they still look Adonis-like in those stirruped white polyester pants. Of course, everyone changes. Of course.
Surreptitiously, the wives also watch the other wives, to see who has puffed up or slimmed down, who has had surgery or dye jobs or got prominent new jewelry. Hillary Oliviera’s boobs keep getting bigger, and Maggie Monterrey is wearing new diamond earrings, each the size of a baby’s fist. Melissa Moyers’s forehead is stiff, the telltale sign of a recent injection.
A new girl, they think they’ve heard it is the young Dominican pitcher’s wife, sits in the row behind them. She has dark brown skin, the smooth face of a teenager, and beautiful eyes, giant like a kewpie’s. Caspien, that’s his name. Victor Caspien. A small child sits on her lap—presumably the pitcher’s son—its skin that caramel color that makes their mouths water and coo. They all love babies, the fat little limbs, gurgling lips, peach-fuzz hair and plum-dust skin. But Melissa Moyers does not coo; she is not the cooing type. Instead her eyes go back to the woman—the girl; she looks younger than Melissa’s oldest, and may well be. Her face is nearly as smooth as her son’s, her body somehow tight and curvy all at once, but generally, wholly small—makes it hard to imagine this butterball emerging from her belly just a few months ago. The only point Melissa sees to the contrary: the girl’s milk-swollen breasts are huge, bigger than Hillary’s, bigger than Melissa’s and Lisa’s combined. Her chest is seemingly big enough to topple her were she to forget her continued effort at uprightness, her determination to keep her shoulders up and back. Melissa gives her a tight-lipped smile.
When the baseball wives are not looking, and sometimes, even when they are, the squirming baby reaches down for the bright baubles around the women’s necks, for strings of their shiny hair, for their smooth shoulders. Hija, no. Its mother pulls her child’s hand back. No toques. The fatness of the baby, versus the slightness, the wide-eyed naïveté of the girl in her pre-distressed jeans and bright sneakers and her Lions orange T-shirt: the two seem evenly matched, like the baby might even win, might reach down and come up with a victorious fistful of platinum blonde.
Who brings their children out? the baseball wives wonder, whisper among themselves when the girl excuses herself to go feed the fussy child. The baby’s mewling is a distraction, unnecessary. The baseball wives miss their children, sure, but they know—have learned—better than bringing them here. They think of the girl in the dingy stadium restroom, swaying with her child at her breast. How hard it would be to attend to their husband’s needs—never mind going out with the other wives—if they had a child on their hip. Doesn’t she know about nannies? Mothers-in-law?
Caspien, the team’s young prospect, is starting the game. He has thrown four innings with two hits, two walks, and seven strikeouts. Another batter swings through three. The young woman, back from wherever she went, claps the baby’s hands within her own, and the baby squeals. Mira, tu padre, she says into the child’s ear.
Really, Melissa thinks. She has had three kids, had them each weaned by nine months and in a nanny’s arms at nine months and a day. With the oldest away at college, the younger two, a boy and a girl, each have a driver to get them to and from their many activities. Baseball for the boy, of course; Japanese lessons, too, in case he’s not good enough to make it in the majors (it was the boy’s idea to be so pragmatic). Soccer and violin for the girl, a quiet child who doesn’t seem to like Melissa very much. We’re too old for nannies, they’d complained when they started middle school, and she’d agreed, at least enough to hire male nannies who didn’t mind wearing a driver’s coat and hat. The boy is old enough to drive now but says he prefers their current arrangement.
The wives are gathered on the patio of the place they eat lunch on Tuesdays, a nouveau Italian joint in Old Town, when one of the wives, Eliza Summers—wife of Nick, middle relief—encourages them to do something. We do plenty, the baseball wives say, swirling their white wines. Their calendars are full, they say, thumbing through their annotated phones as proof. Charity luncheons. Museum fundraisers. The PTA (even if they miss a few meetings). They join their husbands at charity events, go in their husbands’ stead to others, have charitable causes of their own. Not in Arizona, mind, this is vacation for them too, five weeks, a whole state free of benefit committees and donation envelopes.
But Eliza, a former campaign staffer for Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign, who met her husband at a fundraising event (charity mini golf)—has brochures, has mailing lists, has buttons with the tiny, laminated face of Candice “Candy” Hill, the new congressional candidate from Arizona’s ninth district. Eliza fans literature out over the white tablecloth, plunks down a button by each woman’s spoon. “I want Candy!” the buttons proclaim. The wives frown, the wives scrunch up their noses.
“Really?” Melissa arches her eyebrows up—the Botox has loosened, she can start to move her face.
“She’s for women,” Eliza explains.
“But we don’t even vote here,” Maggie points out. “We don’t live here, remember?”
Eliza doesn’t care. “California is as blue as the Dodgers. They don’t need our help. Arizona does. Candy does.” She says each woman can still contribute up to $2,600.
“Twenty-six!” Maggie squawks, sloshing her sauvignon. “That’s a fur coat.” The women look forward to visiting Evans Furs & Leathers all year. Better stock than anywhere in LA, more cuts, more colors, lower prices.
Melissa fumes. It is an unwritten rule: this place is free of all that, off-limits to the shilling they are so accustomed to in the rest of their lives, the wives swapping thousand-dollar-a-head dinner tickets like so many trading cards. She spends what feels like sixty weeks a year doing charity work in Los Angeles: underprivileged boys, at-risk girls, architectural preservation and landscape conservation. She can’t, she won’t break the seal on this, an untainted place, a place where money is still hers to spend frivolously, lazily. She stabs her lettuce. She will not get involved.
“It’s eighty degrees,” Eliza says. “We don’t need fur. We need rights, as women. The right to choose, to decent child care, to reproductive health, to—”
“It gets cold at night,” Melissa counters, thinking about how Eliza’s husband pitches middle relief, how he’s not even that good. “You have to be prepared.”
“Just take the brochure, OK?”
The baseball wives slip the brochures into their handbags and finish their meal in strained silence. At the end of the lunch, everyone takes one lustful bite of the shared tiramisu and then they drive, all in a row, toward the stadium. Their husbands are playing at 1:30; they’ll be fashionably late.
It’s part of the life: baseball wives get traded away, to seasons in Baltimore or Chicago, springs in the Grapefruit League, Sarasota or Clearwater or Vero Beach. These women are like friends from summer camp to the Lions’ baseball wives, girls who were briefly the most important people in the world but are now remembered in dull colors, vague around the edges. With some cajoling, two of the departed come to visit—one wife now with the Phillies, one ex–Devil Ray. They fly together, hitching a ride from Tampa in an agent’s private jet. The baseball wives, three of the longstanding (Melissa, Hillary, Maggie) and Liana (included out of sympathy) go to pick them up at Sky Harbor. The reunion: squealing on the sidewalk, the excited tap-tap of stiletto sandals, and whoosh of billowy fabrics going in for bear hugs. The visitors will stay with Melissa, of course, her house is the biggest of the bunch by a long shot, and she is dying to try out her new hot tub with good company. She’s can’t get Hal into the tub; during the season he is superstitious about the heat, made nervous by any activities that might loosen up his arm, make it slack.
The visitors have little interest in the Wednesday-night interleague matchup, so the baseball wives skip their husbands’ game and go to Old Town. A nice sushi dinner, five bottles of sake between them, and then they sway over to Bloom, the city’s most popular club. The place is swaddled in velvet rope, as if to prove the point, and offers table service to a ring of elevated booths (a $500 per table minimum). The wives stay out until three, flirting with the handsome strangers who slide in and out of the booth like so many batting practice pitches. The ladies, in their ad hoc batting order, swing in turn. The results: one’s a complete whiff, another hits into an easy grounder, a third’s a line drive, sharp but quickly out. Liana gives her number to a heart surgeon, Melissa lectures a recent grad on his career prospects in the field of physical therapy (she is an expert, as her husband underwent shoulder surgery two winters ago and has made a complete recovery), Hillary puts her hand on a stranger’s thigh. When they are done, the bill for the champagne is approximately $3,500. Feeling generous after a washroom encounter with a retired point guard from the Phoenix Suns, the visiting ex-wife of the Rays third baseman picks up the check, leaving, with gratuity, $4,200.
Elsewhere, bundled against the desert’s evening chill, Cecilia Caspien watches her husband throw a four-hit shutout against the San Diego Padres. Her baby, swaddled in blankets and more blankets, sleeps soundly in its carrier, occupying a seat in the row just below her. The entire row, seats usually reserved for the more senior baseball wives, a line of skinny white women with too much makeup and fake-looking hair, is empty.
“C’mon Jimmy!” Another girl moves down from somewhere higher in the stadium to occupy one of these empty seats. She seems to be clapping for the catcher, who, with no one on base, is lazily returning the ball to the mound with a tall, arcing lob. “Cute kid,” the girl says and glances at Cecilia. “Is it yours?”
Even though the lingerie party was Melissa’s idea, Maggie will host it because Melissa is still recovering from the wild week with the Floridians and besides, Maggie is eager to show off her new twelve-person sectional. They pick a weekend the team is down in Tucson for a couple of games. Don’t bother coming, the wives know the ballplayers would say. Long drive for nothing much. The wives also know that: an even more deserted desert, a town where you’re lucky to find a Starbucks, much less fine dining.
Melissa and Maggie talk to the buyer from Neiman’s intimates department and arrange for an array of teddies and push-up bras and panties in bright silks and Lycras. A trunk show, of sorts. “Sizes?” the buyer asks.
Maggie and Melissa consider the question. “On the top, we’ve got everything from As to double Ds.” They are thinking about Hillary. What comes next . . . F? G?
“What about teddies?”
“Small, definitely,” says Melissa. Like a cheerleader at the start of her season—gain five pounds or lose five pounds, you’re on probation—she has stayed one hundred and seven since 1998, when her last child was born. “Some medium.” Then she remembers Brenda George, the third baseman’s wife, who must’ve gained twenty pounds since they saw her last season, not that she was skinny then. “A few larges, too.”
A subset of the wives get their hair done the afternoon of the party. Not that it’s necessary—they’ll be pulling tops on and off all night, not exactly an ideal activity for keeping a coif in place—but it’s fun. One of Jimmy’s exes is there, getting her hair reddened to the color the stylist calls cinnamon, and she squeals, foil wrappers shaking, when the group of women come in. They vaguely remember meeting her at Liana’s party, but only vaguely, while the girl, Cynthia, has their names down pat, like she’d memorized the roster of the entire team. The way the hellos go, the hugs and leading questions and wide, expectant smiles: Melissa has no choice but to invite her over. Cleat chaser, Melissa thinks, even as she says, “See you later, Cynth.”
The house has an open kitchen, a marble island that opens into the cathedral-ceilinged dining and living room. That chef Liana used for her party was not available, so Maggie offered the cute cheese guy at Whole Foods $500 (plus expenses, of course) to buy and plate and serve the store’s fanciest snacks. He’s done well: a cheese tower, cascading with grapes, a platter covered with an elaborate pattern of sushi, crudités cut into the shape of stars.
Turns out Chad, that’s his name, is in design school. “Graduate degree in textiles, ma’am.” Maggie does not like being called ma’am under any circumstance, and a grimace floats over her face before passing back to a smile.
Chad has brought a friend, Eric—“painter, good at mixing things”—to man the bar. Another five hundred, plus expenses, to serve the women cocktails. During planning, when Chad had asked what kinds of drinks the women prefer, Maggie paused. Vodka, I guess. But anything’s fine. No beer. And we’re more of a white crowd, than red.
The bar is set with magnums of moscato, prosecco, and sauvignon, and there are three oversized Grey Goose bottles lined up like so many members of the cavalry. When Maggie comes into the kitchen in her dress and heels, he is ready, and raises a martini glass in salute. “Miss Maggie”—slightly better than ma’am—“try this.”
He’s holding a caramel-colored cocktail, something that she can smell from four feet. “What is it?”
“I call it Desert Sun.”
Maggie accepts the glass and draws it to her lips, eyebrows going up at the sound of the doorbell. “Mmm. Thank you, Eric,” she says before clacking away. She swings through the living room on the way to the front, waving at Chantelle, Neiman’s underwear girl, who is laying silk robes in jewel colors, emerald and sapphire and cabernet, across the oversize ottoman. “We good here?”
The woman smiles and nods, “Oh, yes.”
“Love that purple one,” Maggie says, pointing at the latest deposit on the footstool. “And try one of his deserted cocktails—” she raises the stem of the martini glass “—it’s delicious.” The doorbell peals again.
“I let myself in,” Melissa says from the foyer, just as Maggie reaches the front hall. Melissa is taking advantage of the night’s chill to wear a half-length mink jacket; below it flashes the sequins and beads of a short, tight dress.
“Oh, you look fabulous,” Maggie says. “Let me take your coat.” Melissa is loath to part with it, only an audience of one having appreciated the fine piece, but she reluctantly does. “It’ll be right over here,” Maggie assures. “Who did that?” Maggie asks, finger wagging up and down her friend’s dress. She disappears into a room-size closet and misses her friend’s sashay.
“Cavalli. You like?” Melissa runs her hands over her beaded thighs. “You’re looking sexy as well. You send a selfie to Jose?” Part of being a baseball wife: just enough distraction.
“Not yet.” Maggie pops out of the closet just as a knock comes at the door. “Can you get that, Mel? I’ve got to check on something.”
Cynthia and Cecilia smile widely on the front stoop. “Hi!” Cynthia says loudly and steps in first. Her new red is garish, as is her dress, a low and short tube of sparkly fabric. She hugs Melissa, which the older woman gingerly returns. “Melissa, it was so nice to see you this afternoon. Thank you so much for inviting me.”
Like I had a choice, says the voice in Melissa’s head.
“Do you know Cecilia? She’s Victor Caspien’s wife. We met last week, that night he threw a complete-game shutout. He’s a-maze-ing.”
“I must’ve missed it,” Melissa says, flipping through the games, trying to remember any that Hal did not start. She cannot. She turns to Cecilia, still small and pretty and impossibly young to be a colleague. “We haven’t been formally introduced.” Melissa reaches out to shake the girl’s hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Hello.” In order to shake, Cecilia shifts her load from her right to her left hand, and only then does Melissa see: she has brought the child. Melissa cannot hide her surprise at the bundle in the carrier.
“He asleep, no problem,” Cecilia says in a thick accent. “If he get up I’ll—” she nods to her swollen breast knowingly.
“Sure. Well. Come in, come in.”
Melissa shows them through the foyer, eyes scanning desperately for Maggie. Who brings a baby to a lingerie party? The child is herself too young to understand, of course; perhaps something has been lost in cultural translation. But still.
They step into the living room. “Maybe over there, in that corner?”
“Perfect.” The baby is beautiful, Melissa has to admit, perfect round face, lips pushed together like he’s about to give a Bronx cheer. Were her children ever so flawless? They must’ve been, right? Something about the skin, nut-brown and silky, seems impossible here in Maggie’s cheese-tower house, even more exotic than the leopard-print thongs Chantelle unpacks and refolds, readying for her presentation.
“Now,” Maggie says, clapping her hands together. “Who wants drinks?”
The clapping stirs the baby, not into a cry but a wet gurgle. “Oh my,” Maggie says, cooing with a long, acrylic nail toward the baby’s face. “Who do we have here?”
The women are on their second or third cocktails, already having moved from robes to rompers and now into teddies. The baby has only interrupted them once, and only because he’d spit out his pacifier; he was more surprised than upset and Cecilia calmed him easily. But Cecilia and little Pedro are not the night’s only unexpected guests: half an hour ago Liana arrived, with another ex, a tall blond from the Angels organization (“Acting school dropout. Former Cinderella,” someone whispers). While Liana has largely kept a low profile since her divorce, word is that this other woman, Tonya, has tried to reenter the koi pond–sized dating pool of Major League Baseball, and not just with single men. It’s common knowledge she and Lions pitcher Tim Carver had a fling at the start of the spring season, a few weeks before his tragic accident. No problem there, he was newly single, a piece of work by general consensus. But when Carver backed off, acting like nothing had ever happened, rumor has it she’d set her eyes on Ray Putney. “Bitch better stay away from my guy,” Lisa now says under her breath, holding her wine glass so tight her knuckles go white. Across the room, Tonya chats politely with Hillary, the two exchanging notes on their favorite burgers in LA.
“Ladies, look at what we have here.” Chantelle, like a matador, waves an elaborate red corset through the air. “Wouldn’t this do wonders in the bedroom?” The baseball wives snap back to attention and ask about other colors.
“Or maybe this?” Chantelle reveals another one-piece, leopard print this time, ass-less save for the string of a thong. The wives tingle at the thought of wearing that when their husbands come home from a road series. “Great support, push-up bra built right in.” Chantelle demonstrates the effect by cupping her own small but perky breasts and lifting them up. “He won’t be able to resist.”
A throaty mewl startles the wives, the wet gurgle giving voice to how more than a few of them feel. “Oh!” Cecilia says and bounces up from the couch. “Lo siento. I mean, sorry.” She hurries to retrieve the child.
Quieting the boy, Cecilia settles in an armchair in the far corner of the room to nurse. Chantelle continues with the corsets, showing three other colors, demonstrating snaps and clips and reversible ribbons.
“Oh my god!” Cynthia cries. She is not watching Chantelle’s rainbow of silks but staring at Cecilia in the corner, the girl’s shirtdress unbuttoned, her milk-swollen breast uncovered. Cynthia’s eyes are like dinner plates, her mouth a wide-open grin. “They’re huge!”
The whole room turns to look at little Cecilia, her baby cradled in her arms. Her exposed breast is giant, taut with milk, a latte color with rose-pink areolas. Instantly, the wives know that nothing in Chantelle’s trunk will improve Cecilia, that she is, at the moment, perfect. The baseball wives feel awe at this, but also, and mostly, regret: for having zoomed by this moment, for having avoided it completely, for having surgically replicated it in a way that will never feel quite right.
“What—” Melissa hisses. Her words, dulled by three Desert Suns, are less crisp, less clipped than their usual delivery. “You’ve never seen a women breastfeed before?” She had, and had forgotten it, the urgency and beauty of the act buried under everything else that had come her way. She turns to Chantelle. “Chantelle, please continue.”
As Chantelle is pulling out the thongs and draping a rainbow of colors across her forearm, the doorbell rings. “Another friend,” Melissa says, raising her eyebrows at Maggie. “Wonderful.”
Maggie shuffles into the front hall, returning with Eliza Summers and another woman. While the baseball wives are all wearing dresses sleeveless if not strapless, ruffles and ribbons and every other coy thing they could think of, this woman is in a plain pink suit coat and matching skirt. Melissa thinks she looks familiar, but cannot place her.
“This is my friend,” Eliza says. “Candy.”
They sit down with the others. More thongs have appeared on Chantelle’s arm, the row now stretching nearly up to her shoulder. “Candy, what do you do?” Maggie asks.
Melissa watches her carefully, hunting for a clue. Where is this woman from?
“I work in Washington.”
And with that, the pieces click into place: I want Candy!
Melissa tells Chantelle to order her two of the thongs in cranberry and then asks Eliza to help her get some wine for their guest. In the far corner of the kitchen, sink running to cover their whispers, the inquiry begins: “You brought her here?”
“Why not? She wants to see the offerings.”
“She wants to hit us up for money. Arizona is off-limits.” The whiskey makes her tongue thick.
“This is not a campaign stop. I swear.” Eliza raises her right hand like the Girl Scout she was. The scar from last year’s car-battery burn is a pink shadow across her palm. “She wants to buy something for her girlfriend.”
“What! She’s gay? Oh, you’re despicable.”
“Marriage equality is important. It’s a big part of her platform.”
“She can marry a duck as far as I am concerned. But we’re talking about intimates here. It’s like inviting a rooster into the hen house, allowing the volleyball towel boy into the girls’ locker room, letting a little boy make cupcakes.”
“That doesn’t even make any sense.”
“Of course there will be trouble.”
“Lesbians wear teddies too, Melissa. Lighten up.”
Instead, Melissa slams off the water and turns on heel to the bar. “Eric, I’ll have another—” But Eric has left his post—Maggie made him and Chad vacate once the lingerie came out, for the girls’ modesty—so Melissa pours herself the best approximation of a Desert Sun she can manage: whiskey over a rock, a splash of lemon juice, sugar cube plunking across the ice and to the bottom of her tumbler.
Eliza returns with two wines to the circle of women as Melissa steps with her cocktail out onto the back patio. The night is chilly, and she wishes she had her beautiful coat. The patio is quiet, save for the gurgle of the hot tub, which Maggie had turned on, optimistically, before the party. Now steam spills off it in thin, gauzy sheets.
Through the windows, Melissa can see the women admiring a slinky bra. Eliza is cajoling Candy to take off her coat; below she is wearing a cream-colored camisole. Chantelle holds the bra up to the woman’s chest, and the baseball wives smile.
In another window, Cecilia sits in an armchair, her child on her lap, the chair’s reading light casting her in a warm, golden glow. She looks like a Madonna, a child herself, a doll. She is her own nesting doll, getting smaller and smaller. Was Melissa ever that young? That certain of herself, that sure of her way in the world, that unafraid? She wants to be Cecilia, to start again with a young husband, a new baby. How much she’d do differently. But would it be enough?
Across the patio, the blue light of a giant television spills into the yard, the two-headed silhouette of Eric and Chad against a six-foot-tall TV. They are watching basketball, the Suns vs. the Bulls. The Suns are ahead; she can see it from here.
Melissa drinks the rest of her glass in a gulp. Now she does not need her jacket; the whiskey warms her from the inside.
“Hal wants to get a divorce,” she says to the potted aloe. There, she’s finally said it. But nothing happens, not a rustle in the pointy leaves of the plant, not a lightning strike, not anything. Just the steady gurgle of the hot tub, the hum and tick of the desert night. “He’s going to leave me.”
She’s not a crier, but she feels her eyes get hot and heavy with liquid.
Candy says something funny enough that the baseball wives all burst into laughter, a laugh so loud it carries through the triple-pane glass, ripples out onto the well-swept patio. The woman has charisma, Melissa will give her that, maybe enough to make it. Inside, Candy holds up another bra, shimmies her shoulders. Another wave of laughter.
They can all stay, Melissa decides in that moment. The beautiful baby and the cleat chaser and the randy politician, all those women she thought were her friends. Instead, she will go. She will slink back through the yard and up the mountain. She will go into the night and no one, but no one, will notice she is gone.