She has ties back there? What ties? Friends? A boyfriend? I can’t possibly ask her, but damn it if I don’t want to know. I berate myself for being so fucking stupid and obtuse.
“Talented and smart,” I say. “Good call. It’s a great organization. You’ll probably work here until you retire.”
“That’s the plan,” she says. “But only if they bring me back to New York one day.”
“I’m sure they will if you’re as good as you told me you are yesterday.”
She cocks her head. “I never told you I was good. I mean, yes, I’m good at what I do, but I don’t recall bragging about it like some people I know tend to do whenever they are interviewed.”
“Hey, I am good. Why not flaunt it?” I look down at my arm. “Or at least I was.”
She puts a supportive hand on my shoulder. “You will be again. You have to trust in that. I am. And I wasn’t bragging, Brady, I was being reassuring.”
“To-may-toe, to-mah-toe,” I say.
“You’re impossible,” she tells me.
“That’s what all the women say,” I tease.
“I don’t doubt it.” She unhooks me from the TENS. “Now, do you want manual, uh … massage, er … a shoulder rub?”
She stumbles over the words as she blushes. Yeah, she’s thinking about giving me manual therapy all right. I’ve been thinking of nothing else for the past twenty-four hours.
I laugh. “You bet I do. Why else do you think I come to this popsicle stand?”
“Class, please welcome our new student, Natalie Maddux,” Mr. Sears says. “Natalie’s family just moved here from Indiana. Let’s be sure to make her feel welcome.”
I look up from my mindless doodles to see who has the same last name as my favorite baseball player. I see what must be the sweetest-looking sixteen-year-old girl I’ve ever laid eyes on. She looks around the room, confident yet nervous at the same time. I will her eyes to catch mine. Look at me.
She does – only for a second – but I’m sure it’s a second longer than she held anyone else’s gaze.
And I know for a fact that Algebra II just got a lot more interesting.
Natalie takes an empty seat in the front of the room. I sit in the back. I always sit in the back. And it gives me forty-five whole minutes to stare at her and think of how I’m going to play this.
When the bell rings, I quickly gather my things so I can catch her on the way out. Surely she needs to be shown where her next class is. But before I reach her, Lisa Matheny corners her just outside the door.
I stand back and lean against a row of lockers, watching her as she talks to Lisa. She notices me staring and her cheeks pink up. Her eyes dance between Lisa and me, and when Lisa says something that makes her laugh, the soft melodic harmony of the giggle makes my dick twitch.
I take in her innocent, girl-next-door appearance. She has dirty-blonde hair that can’t decide if it wants to be straight or curly. She tucks a strand of it nervously behind her ear at my perusal. Her skin is creamy and pale, outing her as a brand-new SoCal girl. I’m not close enough to see the color of her eyes yet. But I’m sure whatever shade they are will be my new favorite color.
Indiana must be heaven, because I could swear she’s an angel.
Finally, Lisa leaves and I don’t miss a beat before walking up to Natalie.
“Hi,” I say, holding out my hand. “I’m Brady Taylor, future MLB star and a huge fan of Indiana. And anyone with the name Maddux is destined to be a friend of mine.”
She makes that glorious giggling sound again as she shakes my hand, not pulling it away after the requisite two-seconds. We both look down at our hands, then up at each other. And we just know. Before she even speaks a word to me – we know.
“I’m Natalie Taylor,” she says, starting to float up into the air. “And I am an angel, Brady, don’t you know that? I’m your guardian angel.”
I awake with a start, cursing myself when I roll onto my left side and pain reminds me of my new reality.
I roll back over and grab the pillow next to me, pulling it tight, wishing it were Nat. Wishing Keeton was going to bound through the door at any second and work his way between us, begging us to turn on the TV so we can all watch SpongeBob SquarePants.
The day we met was one of the best days of my life. Natalie and I became inseparable after that. And when I got offered a scholarship to the University of Nebraska, she applied as well. It was going to be us against the world. No matter what.
My phone rings, giving me a welcome distraction.
I reach over and pluck it off the nightstand to see another beautiful face.
“Hi, Murphy,” I say, still groggy from sleep.
“Oh, shoot. Did I wake you? Wait, it’s almost ten o’clock.”
“No, it’s fine. I was just getting up anyway. And there’s nothing better to do here. Might as well catch up on my sleep.”
“You’ve been there for almost two weeks now, haven’t you found a routine yet?” she asks, knowing most ball players are creatures of habit.
“I have. It consists of sleeping, PT, and sometimes the beach. I have to say, I’m rocking quite the tan. But it’s boring as hell.”
“Caden told me you aren’t going out much. Why not? That doesn’t sound like you. Are you depressed? It’s okay if you are – understandable even, but keeping yourself holed up in your hotel room most of the day isn’t going to make things better. You need to get out and have some fun.”
“I’m not depressed.”
“Okay, so maybe I am a little bit. But it’s no big deal, Murphy. I just miss the game. I’m fine.”
“Promise me you’ll try to go have a little fun. I can’t stand the thought of you down there by yourself doing nothing.”
“I’m not doing nothing. I’m almost caught up on Game of Thrones.”
She laughs. Then I hear her sigh. “Brady, please.”
I roll my eyes. “Fine. I’ll go out. Are you happy? How many women do you want me to go out with?”
She huffs into the phone. “I’m not asking you to bed every woman in Tampa. Just find a friend. Another guy in rehab maybe. Someone from the A-team. Anyone.”
When I think of her request, why is it that Rylee’s face is the first to pop into my head? We’ve become friends, haven’t we? I mean, I’ve talked to her for more than an hour a day for the last two weeks. And it’s amazing how much stuff there is to talk about while still not getting too personal.
She’s hot, yeah. And she makes my dick jump sometimes when I get a massage, but that’s nothing I have any control over.
She’s always talking about fun things to do in the city. The aquarium, the trolley, the pier. Things the guys and I haven’t done before because they just seem too juvenile for a bunch of grown men to do. Maybe if I promise to keep my hands off her, she’ll show me some of them. I know what she thinks of me. She made it clear on that first day. And Rylee Kennedy is not anyone’s Friday night gal – I could see that from the moment I met her. But just maybe she would agree to be my Friday night friend.
“Brady, are you still there?”
“How’s the PT going?”
“Okay, I think. I still can’t feel some of my fingers for shit though. But we’re going to start working on my elbow rehab today.”
“That’s good. Any idea how long you’ll have to stay?”
“I’m not sure, but at least another six weeks or so.”
“You know the team will be down in a few weeks, right?”
“Can’t come fast enough if you ask me.”
“At least you’ll have a few days with them.” She pauses. “Will it bother you to see them? Are you going to go to the games? I’m sure it must be hard to watch them play.”
I nod even though she can’t see me. “I’m not gonna lie. It totally blows watching other guys play ball. But, yeah, I think I’ll go hang out in the dugout when they are here. It certainly can’t make things worse. Plus, who knows how many more opportunities I’ll have to sit in there with them.”
“Oh, Brady,” she says in that sympathetic motherly tone.
“It’s fine. Anyway, enough about me. Tell me what’s going on with you.”
I can tell she has news and I feel like a dick not asking about her sooner.
“What is it, Murphy?”
“I’m going to try my hand at modeling again.”
“No shit? That’s fantastic. Tell me more.”
“Well, Mason, Griffin and Gavin have been working with some local designers to brand a clothing line for the gym and they’ve asked me to be the model.”
The guys she speaks of are the owners of the gym she helps manage. Caden got her a job there when they first met because he’s friends with Mason, who plays for the Giants. I’m really pleased to know she wants to try modeling again. It was her passion when she moved to New York. One that got crushed by a baseball – just like mine did.
“Knowing Mason, he doesn’t do anything small and you’ll be on the cover of every fitness magazine in the world.”
She laughs. “I don’t know about that, but I think it will be fun. Especially since Griffin will do all the photo shoots.”
“Well, congratulations, girl. I’m so happy for you.”
“There’s more,” she says.
“Yeah. And I know you are going to have a knee-jerk reaction to this, but just hear me out. The season will be over soon, so it’s perfect timing. And you’ll still be rehabbing when you come back. It’ll give you something to do, maybe even something to feel good about, and the bonus is, you’ll get to hang out with me.”
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