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I look away.

I’ve got thirty minutes and then I’m gonna bolt. I didn’t tell Jason, but I snagged an earlier flight. When the clock ticks closer to six, I’m up and out of here. I head over to Jason, offer him a hand. “Congratulations again, man. I need to go.”

His smile vanishes. “I thought your flight wasn’t till later.”

I point to my shoulder. “Gotta see the trainer before tomorrow’s game. So I snagged an earlier flight to Seattle.”

The logic doesn’t entirely add up, but Jason just smiles and nods. “I get it,” he says, and I’m glad he doesn’t call me on it.

He knows last night’s dare went belly-up. He found me on the deck this morning and offered a sympathetic smile and a cup of coffee.

That’s true friendship.

I say goodbye to Beck, but that’s all I can handle. I can’t say see ya later to every single one of my buddies.

So I do a dine and dash, slinking out of there and into the inn where I grab my bag from the front desk where I stashed it.

I’m heading to the parking lot when the sound of shoes crunching on gravel hits my ears.

“Tanner.”

I hate that my heart skips a beat.

I barely turn around, responding to Luke with a grunted, “What’s up?”

I hope it translates to get away from me.

He catches up to me at the silver Audi. “You’re leaving?”

“What gave it away?” I ask, but it comes out full of battery acid rather than sarcasm.

Luke takes it on the chin with a couple of nods. Then he sticks out a hand. “Thanks,” he says.

I stare at his hand like he’s offered me a, well, a towel after I gave him my heart.

“For what?” I don’t take his hand.

He swallows uncomfortably. “For, um, the ride.”

“No problem,” I say tonelessly.

He shuffles his feet. “We’re still…friends?”

That’s what he rushed out here for? To make sure we were still friends? Maybe someday I’ll appreciate the gesture, maybe even someday soon, but not today.

Still, I slap on my best talking-to-reporters smile, then say, “Why wouldn’t we be?”

And I click on the key fob, get in the car, and go.

At least I had the last word.

Too bad it doesn’t make me feel any better.

27

UNLUCKY STREAK

Tanner

But baseball does make me feel better.

At least, it gives. The sport gives me something to do, someplace to be, and somewhere to channel my energy.

The next day in Seattle, I head to the ballpark early and find our athletic trainer, who’s also early. She works out the kinks in my shoulder and neck. By the time I’m off her table, I feel like a new man.

Too bad I can’t ask for a new heart.

When the game begins against the Storm Chasers, I’m ready. The first two Comets batters get on base. In my at-bat, when the first pitch drops in for a strike, I put some wood on it, sending a bruising double down the right-field wall and also sending a runner home.

There.

Everything will be better.

Yesterday is behind me. Baseball is in front of me.

But that night, when I crash onto the hotel bed, a text from Luke blinks up at me.

I grit my teeth. What does he want? I stab it open.

Luke: Hey man! Good game tonight. Nice double! Can I say I told you so?

I grip the phone so goddamn hard as I cock my arm, ready to chuck it at the wall.

Instead, I close my eyes and sigh in frustration, clutching my phone as I fight like hell to let go of this knot of anger in my chest. How the hell can I be mad at him for breaking my heart when he’s clearly trying so damn hard to return to the friend zone?

He’s doing exactly what we said we’d do from the start.

Stay friends.

He’s trying not to ruin the friendship.

I’m stewing, like a little jerk. Get over it, man.

I type back.

Tanner: Thanks. And sure, in this case I don’t mind saying you were right.

Luke: Football’s still better though.

I let him have the last word. I power down my phone and go to sleep.

I still feel empty when I wake. And I feel worse, too, than I did after Finn and I broke up.

Because I can’t even be righteously angry this time around.

We sweep the Storm Chasers. My seven RBIs in the series help. To say I went on a tear is an understatement. Maybe getting my heart yanked around is a good thing for my game. Might have to recommend it to the rookies next time a kiddo asks me for baseball advice.

When I board the team plane in Seattle, my teammates hoot and holler.

“Who’s the man?” one of the guys calls out as I stroll past the galley.

“Let’s do that again,” someone else shouts.

I hold up my hands in mock humility. “Save your applause, please.” Then I glance behind me at Cohen, who hurled fire from the mound today. “Maybe the pitchers had something to do with it.”

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