Reckless Love: Episode 10
Reckless Love: Episode 10
It was Charley Culpepper’s big day so Leo wasn’t able to put any of his football players in an interrogation room. It was frustrating but expected. I tried to concentrate on my work but ended up spending most of my time in my office Googling ideas and scribbling in my notebook.
Don’t worry, I write in code. If anyone found it they wouldn’t be able to decipher it unless they were a really talented code breaker. When I asked about Claudia sitting with us tonight I was informed that she had finally ended things with Seth Butler. I was happy for her but sad for me. I enjoyed going to games with her.
And yeah, I liked the nice seats.
But Leo said he’d make it up to me. That’s all he said. I wasn’t sure if that meant I was getting an orgasm, chocolate, or box seats. When I arrived at the Mantas stadium Leo met me at the players entrance and walked me in.
“Here, put this around your neck.”
It was a new badge for tonight’s game that gave me access to just about anywhere in the stadium. “Have I mentioned how much I enjoy the perks of being your girlfriend?”
“I don’t think you have.” He grinned, waiting expectantly.
“Well I do. Very much.” I kissed his cheek and gave his ass a nice squeeze.
“Come on. Let’s see if we can distract Charley with your beauty.”
“He’s still nervous?”
“I’ve never seen anyone get it this bad.”
We found Charley puking in the locker room with Seth watching him from a safe distance.
“I’m not a puker. I don’t know what to do with this. Chris is a puker. You want me to get him?”
I was pretty sure Seth was going to keep shrinking backward until we said yes. “That would be great if you could?”
“Yep. Yep. I can do that.” And then he ran across the locker room.
“Who’s Chris?” I was trying to keep everyone straight and learn as much as possible in the process.
“Pitcher,” Leo said over his shoulder as he got Charley a fresh glass of water. “He pitched last night so we’re in luck.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Hancock. I just . . . can’t get it under control.”
Poor kid was white as a sheet and looked so very young still. He had one of those baby faces you knew was going to be drop dead gorgeous in about five to ten years, but for now you kind of wanted to pinch his cheeks and give him a lollipop for good behavior.
“What have you tried so far?”
Charley blinked a few times as he focused on me. “Wow.”
Leo grimaced. “Charley this is Esme. My girlfriend. I told you about her, remember?”
I rolled my eyes and shook Charley’s limp hand. “Ignore him. He’s just marking his territory. You’re not looking so good. How can I help?”
“Stand there and smile until I have to go out there? You’re very distracting.”
Leo looked like he wanted to strangle Charley but I glared at him. “This is what you wanted isn’t it?”
“I changed my mind.”
A very handsome man in a Mantas sweater and pants sauntered up with a smile. “I hear our new kid is having some nerves. Hi, I’m Chris.”
Charley turned even whiter. “You pitched the World Series winning game,” he whispered.
Talk about star struck.
“I did. And did you know I threw up four times before that game? It’s not easy having all this pressure on with a packed stadium, but you can do this. Have you had any of my ginger candy stash yet?”
Charley shook his head.
“Well come on. Let me show you my special locker. It’s right in here. No one else on the team gets nerves quite like I do so it’s pretty much just whatever I put in here. You’re more than welcome to any of it. Just restock if you finish something out.”
Between the showers and the training tables was a set of lockers. Chris opened one up and showed off his collection of ginger candy, ginger ale, soda water, crackers, and pretzels.
“It’s not perfect but it helps. Do you have headphones? A playlist? You need that too.”
Charley nodded at everything Chris said. “I do but I’m too far gone today, man. I can’t keep them on my head when I keep running to the restroom.”
I watched the men talk and trade secrets for nerves. I sympathized but didn’t really have anything to add to the conversation. I’d never pitched a World Series winning game or stood in a packed stadium. I’d also never negotiated contracts for millions of dollars. Although I had written some amazing grant proposals that ultimately funded a self-sustaining multi-million dollar lab. So there was that.
Charley nibbled crackers and sipped ginger ale but he didn’t seem to be getting any better. Chris excused himself because he wanted to get out to the bullpen and cheer on his fellow pitchers before the game started. The rest of the team was joking and seemed to be going about their usual pregame rituals of stretching, breathing exercises, and dirty jokes.
Apparently someone’s momma was very fat, hungry, and loved sex. I never really understood Your Momma jokes. Maybe it was because my mother was paid to disappear before I started kindergarten.
“Charley, it’s just a game. They need someone with your talent at first base while Brian gets better. What’s the worst that could happen?” Leo looked like he almost regretted asking that.
“Uh, I could have five errors in the first inning and fly-out on the first pitch.”
“That’s not going to happen. You might strike out. In fact you probably will. Pitchers love to make rookies miserable. You’re not here to hit home runs like Seth. You’re here to protect first base.”
He nodded, appeared to turn a shade of green I didn’t think was possible. Then he ran back into the bathrooms.
“Leo, that’s not normal.”
He swallowed and nodded. “Yeah, there’s something else going on here.”
“You think he caught the stomach bug?” I quickly scanned the room for one of those hand sanitizer stations. Why did I shake his hand? Oh, that’s right. Because it was polite and I assumed he just had nerves. Now I was starting to think he had nerves and salmonella. Or rotavirus. Or what was that cruise ship one? Norovirus? Maybe he had that.
“No. I don’t.” Leo scratched his jaw. “There’s fear in his eyes.”
“He’s terrified of playing a game he’s played his whole life?”
Leo shrugged and pulled me into his side. “Yes, but he’s also dreamt of running out onto that field his whole life. All the pressure is from himself. Yeah the team needs him but this isn’t the World Series. There isn’t a championship hanging on this game. I suspect he’s built the whole thing up in his head and it’s crushing him.”
“He’s going to be his own nightmare if he doesn’t pull it together. Ugh, can you imagine getting a shot like this and melting down in front of a national audience?”
“He won’t melt down. He might suck but once he runs up from the dugout to the crowd clapping for him, he’ll get his head on straight.”
I wasn’t so convinced but wouldn’t you know it? The kid played like the phenomenon everyone said he was. When he ran out on the field there was only an enormous smile on his face. When he took his base he was focused. He played . . . well, beautifully.
“I can’t believe that’s the same kid we were coddling downstairs,” I murmured.
We were in one of the fancy suites owned by one of the team executives. Greg and Marie were also there because they were good friends with the suite owner and her husband Jake, who was also with us.
“That’s the puker?” Greg pointed at Charley with a pretzel still in his hand.
“Yep. We didn’t think he would be able to stand the way he was going.” Leo shook his head. Even though he sounded so confident when he predicted Charley’s transformation, he was still shocked by how complete it was.
“No kidding. He’s playing like he owns that base. Like he’s been a pro his whole damn life.” Greg shrugged.
It was really pretty surreal. Charley wasn’t just doing well, he was thriving. Steady. Confident. Focused. He even drove in two runs.
Jake stretched his long legs over one of the empty seats. “It’ll be interesting to see how they close out this season. Between Brian’s injury and Carson and Trevor retiring, the team’s going to look real different next year.”
“New blood can be good,” Leo said. “Plus at least one of the guys they’re eyeballing as a replacement is one of mine. And you know I want to see him succeed.”
“You want him to earn a big fat contract in a couple of years,” Greg laughed. “You too.” He kissed his wife.
She shook her head and sighed. “I seem to remember you enjoying our week in Tuscany thanks to a few of those big fat contracts.”
“Oh I do.” Greg grinned. “So keep the talent coming, boys. Keep it coming.”
“Don’t worry, you won’t get used to him.” Jake shook his head and smiled at me. “He’s just . . . like this. All the time.”
“And you love me.” Greg patted his leg.
“I do. I really do.”
Greg grinned even wider. “You know what I’ll really love? If the Mantas win by two.”
Marie gasped. “You bet on the game!” Then she buried her face in her hands. “You know I don’t want you doing that.”
He shrugged. “It’s all this insider bull crap that she doesn’t want on her plate. But you know what? I’m a red blooded American and I like to bet on sports.”
“I’m going to kill you. I’m going to murder you in your sleep.”
“No she’s not.”
“I think she might,” Jake quipped. “I don’t think I’d blame her. I won’t tell the cops it was premeditated.”
“Look,” Greg pointed at the scoreboard. “They’re up by four right now. I’m golden. Those bozos from Atlanta can score two more runs and I’ll still win. At least I didn’t bet against the Mantas. I should have. The underdog payout is way better tonight.”
Greg stopped talking mid-sentence as one of those Atlanta bozos smacked a grand slam home run right out of the park. That four run lead dissolved. To add insult to injury, our golden boy made his error. It was a strange one too. The third baseman made a perfectly good throw across the field, but Charley hopped off the base when he caught the ball. That runner was driven in by the end of the inning, helping Atlanta win by two.
“Son of a bitch,” Greg whined as we all filed out of the suite.
“I hope you didn’t bet too much.” Leo slapped him on the shoulder.
We made our way back down to the locker room. It was pretty quiet. Everyone seemed to take the loss pretty hard.
“I was thinking about taking Charley home,” Leo said. “Maybe I can buy him a cheeseburger or something. He’s got to be starving.”
“I can get myself home.”
“I know you can. But I want to be sure you’re okay with it first.”
I kissed his soft cheek then nibbled his earlobe. “I’ll be just fine.”
We were mid-make-out when Charley came clumping out of the showers looking completely miserable.
“It was a good game, kid. Really. One mistake,” Leo said.
“Stupid mistake.” He shoved open in his locker and began pulling out his street clothes. “Stupid fucking mistake. For a stupid fucking reason. What’s the point of calling it a sport, huh?”
Leo blinked. “Charley . . . what’s going on?”
I studied him because his anger confused me. He was vibrating with it. His face turned redder the longer he fumed. “The money. You know what. Never mind. I didn’t say that.”
“Charley.” Leo grabbed his arm and gave it a slight jerk. “What money?”
He sniffed and looked away. “Is this the way it is in professional sports? It’s all just a show? All these guys I’ve looked up to my whole fucking life? Were they just playing parts?”
Leo stepped right into Charley’s face. “What. Money?”