Authors: Caitie Quinn
You would have thought by the time the father and son headed back to their table they'd been doing Connor a favor.
I watched him over the candle flickering on our table, trying to add one more piece to the Connor puzzle.
"You're really good at that."
"At the pictures? My agent made me take a class."
Oooookay, but no.
"I actually meant the whole thing. The kid. The dad. Keeping them on track and comfortable and then sending them on their way. You let Jeremy teach you about how to be a catcher as if you were going to try it out in your next game."
"Well, no matter what they tell you, baseball is about the fans. We make a ridiculous amount of money to get to do something we love. A team keeps you if you're really good or if you're good enough but their fans love you. You don't see a lot of guys get traded if they're hometown favorites."
That didn't sound like your typical jock reasoning.
"Then why were you traded?"
Oh. Wait. That didn’t come out right.
“Sorry. I meant…well, after seeing you in action, I’m surprised you were traded.”
"Yeah.” He shook out his napkin, his gaze sliding away. “I was."
I felt horrible. I’m not sure where I went wrong. He’s supposed to be one of the top players in the league, but… “I thought you were really good."
"I was young and stupid when I joined my last team. I burnt a lot of bridges. When I got hurt last season and the doctors reported I could be 100-percent or I could stay at half-power, management wasn’t willing to risk it."
“How’d you get hurt?” I really didn’t want him to tell me he was doing something else reputation-damaging. But, any way you looked at it, hurt was hurt. And hurt was a career killer for him.
“I went to cover second during a play that pulled our guy into a weird spot. When the runner slid into the base, I moved to jump out of the way, but got caught on his cleats. The tangle wasn’t bad, but I landed wrong. The momentum with the runner dragged me just enough to do some tearing.”
"But you got back to one-hundred percent?"
"Yup. And I learned a lot of lessons. One of the captains, a guy I completely disrespected when I'd first gotten there, pulled me aside before I left. Gave me this lecture. Told me he'd seen me smarten up, but not enough. Hoped I'd learned a lesson getting hurt. No one knows everything. Listen to the coaches and the vets. Go with the flow of whatever team I ended up on. Work harder than anyone else. Stay out of trouble, keep my mouth shut, respect the fans."
"That's a lot of advice." Where were the author advice guys? I could use some of them.
Of course, Becca was so good at clothing advice. I bet she’d be willing to do that too.
"I needed it. He said a lot of guys start out young and stupid, the measure is if they get less stupid as they get less young. Then he looked me in the eye and said, 'Dude, you're thirty. This is a young man's game.'"
I'd been told the same thing about writing Young Adult books, but the longer I was in
, the more I saw it wasn't true. Tamora Pierce had been writing when I
was a kid and still kicked butt. It wasn't about being young. It was about understanding what was important to your readers.
And thank goodness for that, or I'd be worried about my career ending soon too.
I watched Connor pay for the meal and wondered what that was like. What could it possibly be like to know your career had a shelf life shorter than what it took most people to become competent in their fields? And how strong was the fear? Was it constant?
Did it mean that you did everything a guy would want to do knowing that it was all going to come to a sudden halt one fall, maybe sooner if you got hurt?
Talk about pressure.
He rose and held out my coat for me to slip on.
I managed not to jump this time as he placed his hand on my lower back and steered me toward the front door. The air outside had started to change, to catch the damp crispness of late fall.
It was my favorite time of the year. When I'd typically be out and about trying to squeeze in all those last minute enjoyments before the snow came. It was my reset time. I think it was part of the internal clock of my YA brain. When others considered New Years their time to hit the mental, emotional, and spiritual reset buttons and others looked at spring as a rebirth, for me it was always fall.
I'd been known to go back to school shopping...even though I didn't go back to school.
How was I expected to deny myself the pleasure of new pens and notebooks? And those colored binder clips I'd gotten this year? Please, those were a no-brainer.
"Do you want me to flag down a cab?" Connor asked, glancing down the street toward the busier intersection.
"It might be easier to catch one here than in front of my house."
All heads turned when Connor laughed. It wasn't just that it was Connor Ryan. It was the infectiousness of the sound, like it wasn't being held back and was inviting everyone to come join it.
He leaned in, his arm draped around my shoulders again as his nose brushed one of my curls. "I think you forgot where I'm sleeping tonight."
Oh. Yeah. I had.
"Well, I hope you didn't forget what that couch looks like. I think it's a good three inches shorter than you are. Hope you don't mind waking up with a crick in your neck."
I don't think the crick was what he was talking about.
It was early when we headed to my place. Too early to toss some sheets his way when we got back and head to my room. I considered using work as an excuse, but I didn't want him wandering around my place—no matter how
it was—without me. I ran through the options of what we could do once we got back. And, with only four blocks to go, I was running out of time to make a plan.
"Board games or movie?" I mean, what else was I going to do with him?
He caught my eye, glancing down at me, I realized how incredibly stupid almost every woman in America—and probably a good number outside—would consider that thought.
"When you say movie, I hear
"Oh good! I was hoping you'd pick
." I watched his eyes widen in horror. It was kind of cute.
"So, one of your favorites, huh?" He stared straight ahead, just up and over my head, a very neutral look on his face. The creases around his eyes tightened and I wondered just how far those good manners would carry him.
"Absolutely.” I lied. “I'm really excited to see it now. We should stop and get ice cream to really enjoy it. Or are you a popcorn-movie-combo person?"
"Nope. I'm good with ice cream. But it better be chocolate or we're not sharing."
A man after my own heart. We ran into a store and then headed back to my place, my smaller hand wrapped in his free one.
I was starting to get used to the touching. After watching him at the restaurant I realized it wasn't just part of the act—it was Connor. He reached out to people around him, not only with his words, but physically as well. With women, it was almost “instinctual.” There was a female standing next to him so he should touch her.
All the way back to the apartment I babbled about the movie. How romantic it was. How sweet it was. How hot Ryan Gosling was.
Okay, so that last one was right on, but other than that I was kind of
about the whole thing. Connor just nodded along, probably tuning me out.
I realized, as I worked to carry on my false movie love, that Connor was
He was more laid back than I’d expected, dinner had been interesting and low stress once we’d decided to be friends, and he was really easy to be around. I wasn’t even worried about hanging out watching a movie. It would just be chill.
At the front door, we ran into Mike from 12B. You'd think he'd never seen a pro athlete before. The stuttering was almost cute.
Especially since at a block party that summer he'd gotten drunk and told me he wouldn't date me because I just didn't hit his level, but if I’d get my act together and get a real job, maybe I’d find a boyfriend.
This would have been odd—not to mention embarrassing enough—but I hadn't asked him out. Or even been interested in asking him out. I'd been sitting on a lawn chair chatting with a group of people when he just blurted it out.
For the next week I kept expecting him to sober up and come apologize.
Not only did that not happen, but whenever I ran into him,
the evil eye. I'd finally gone to his roommate to ask if I'd accidentally said something or if I remembered the situation wrong. Or maybe the guy just didn’t like writers.
So, when he saw Connor Ryan holding my hand and his jaw almost dislocated itself, I had a tinge of ha-ha-ha. Okay, more than a tinge.
"Hey, Hailey. Hi."
"Hey, Mike.” I was kind of surprised to have to stop since this was the first time he’d talked to me since then. “How’s it going?”
I'd like to say I hid my smug smile well, but the dislocated-jaw-staring at Connor thing was still going on.
Connor went to drop my hand so he could offer it to 12B Mike to shake, but I held tight.
"Connor, this is 12B Mike. That guy I was telling you about the other night."
It was finally my turn to get something out of this. I'd just become an evil genius and there was no slowing me down. This might be even better than the new wardrobe. Not by much, but it was a close call.
"You remember?” I went on, hoping Connor would pick up the thread quickly. “The one who randomly announced out of the blue at a party that he'd never date me and that maybe I should get myself a real job that would pay me instead of letting the state pay my rent."
Connor had been trying to pull free of my grip, but as soon as the words registered, he stopped and gave my hand a squeeze.
"Oh, yeah." He gave Mike a look like he was trying to figure out what was so great about him and then kind of shook his head. "His loss is my gain, right? Well, nice meeting you, man."
He gave me a little tug and pulled me through the door 12B Mike still held open and hurried us toward the stairs.
As soon as I heard the front door fall shut, I almost hugged him.
"That was the best thing ever. Ever-ever."
"What a—well, words I’m too polite to say in front of you."
"No, go ahead. You can say them.” I bounced on my toes, too pumped up from finally getting something fun out of this. “But only in regards to 12B Mike."
"I think you underestimate the crass level of a dugout."
This was probably true. But, it was nice to know that 12B Mike rated Dugout Level Bad Words.
Once we got to my place, I stowed the ice cream and then turned, trying to figure out how we were going to occasionally co-exist in my small space. It wasn't just that it was Connor—which, don't get me wrong, was a huge part of it—but my space wasn’t that big. I mean, my office was in a closet.
He'd joked about cozy, but even with my last boyfriend it had felt a bit crowded. And I'd actually wanted
"I'm going to put on something more comfortable. And when I say that, I mean those yoga pants you love so much."
Connor just shook his head at me and grinned as I headed to my room.
I changed as quickly as possible, trying to get back to the living room before he started doing things like going through my DVDs and books or checking out pictures of my friends.
But, when I opened the door Connor was nowhere to be found.
Behind me, the bathroom door opened and he came out, his little bag in hand, in a pair of long mesh shorts and a Just Do It t-shirt on. I guess I wasn't the only one getting more comfortable.
It was a little sad how
trying to impress each other we both were. My gaze skittered across the t-shirt stretched tight across his shoulders and the shorts caught on his hipbones. If this was his “not impressive” no wonder women basically threw themselves at him.
"I thought I'd change now too." He purposefully walked to my bedroom and dropped the bag on the floor just inside the door.
I watched him come out, a little smirk playing around his lips. No matter how great it was to use him as a weapon for good against 12B Mike, he still wasn't sleeping with me in my bed.
"You know, there's nothing in the world that says you need to sleep in the same room with that bag. It’s more than welcome to stay where it is."
"Hailey, seriously.” His sigh was b-movie star worthy. “We're adults. There's absolutely nothing wrong with us sharing your bed."
"I'm sorry you're so confused about this, but I don't casually sleep with men. I know that makes one of us, but—"
"Two. That definitely makes two of us."
I rolled my eyes.
"Fine, I don't casually share my bed with anyone indiscriminately—even just to sleep. There are some lines I don't want to cross. You wanted to stay here so it helps the story and makes you look like Mr. Good Relationship Guy. That's fine. But you stay on the couch."
I couldn't tell if he was annoyed or trying to come up with another argument to wear me down. I'd started to feel like I was getting a real glimpse of him. One meal and I was already caving. Not being able to read a simple facial expression was a huge red flag.
WARNING: Back the heck up.
"Okay. I get it.” He crossed his arms as if he were the one being put out. “I'll sleep on the couch."
Note #1: He agreed.
Note #2: He did not go get his bag.
I stood there waiting, watching him. He settled onto the couch, moving pillows around so he could make himself as at home as possible. He flicked the light next to the couch off and then turned back to look at me.
"Are we going to watch that movie or not?"
I swear he did things just to keep me off balance. He was good at that too. And the whole charm thing. And the impressive manners. Not to mention his ability to lead conversations with fans seamlessly.