Author: kgregs PM
Leah Zimmerman loves baseball. She loves the Washington Nationals. She's in love with their starting second baseman. But life - and a certain hotshot rookie - are throwing her a curveball. Danny Espinosa/OC/Bryce Harper. Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Michael Morse, Gio Gonzalez.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Chapters: 6 - Words: 23,024 - Reviews: 32 - Favs: 3 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 12-05-12 - Published: 09-11-12 - id: 8517619
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Thank you so much to those who have reviewed and even followed this little ol' fic. You fill me with all kinds of warm feels inside. I wasn't going to post this chapter just yet, but since tonight's game has been postponed due to stupid rain I figured I'd take advantage of your withdrawal :) Enjoy and please review!
Leah's last few days had been exhausting.
Her initiation as an apprentice athletic trainer for the Potomac Nationals had taken place on the road. They had played a three-game series against the Wilmington Blue Rocks – and unfortunately they hadn't won a single game. Individually, all the boys on the P-Nats were great; but they seemed to be having some difficulty working as a team. Needless to say, the morale on the bus wasn't too high at the moment.
Although, it was difficult for Leah to be too incredibly somber while sitting next to Michael Morse.
"I blame you. You're bad luck – like a woman on a ship."
She just shook her head. Morse was the biggest goof in the entire Nationals organization, not to mention unbelievably superstitious. "Okay, Jack Sparrow."
"I could totally rock his look and you know it," he returned. "I'm part Jamaican."
"One, please don't. And two, it's in part thanks to this woman that you'll be back with the Nats on Friday."
"In part?" he scoffed. "Yeah, like one thousandth of a part. Alan did all the real work."
He was only teasing, and Leah knew it. "Why are you such a jerk to me all the time?"
He grinned. "'Cause you're my friend."
"Gee," she dryly returned, "I feel so special."
"That's what I was going for," he answered. Leah couldn't help but smile.
All of a sudden her phone started to ring. She fished it out of her jacket pocket, but when she saw the name on the caller ID she stopped short.
It was Danny.
The last three days had kept her so busy she hadn't had time to think about it, but now Leah realized she and Danny had barely spoken since the last time she had seen him, the night of her graduation.
A frown crossed her face. That night had been wonderful… up until the morning after. Danny hadn't even stayed for breakfast; when Leah had woken he had already been getting ready to leave. Yes, they had slept in a bit and yes, he had to be at the ballpark in a few hours – but knowing that hadn't kept her from feeling like little more than a tool for his needs.
Truthfully, it wasn't that unfamiliar a feeling when it came to Danny.
"Are you gonna answer it?"
Morse's question brought her out of her thoughts. He was staring at her phone the way a dog would a treat. Like Ian, he knew more about her situation with Danny than anyone else; and not only was he a goof, he was nosey.
"Answer it! I wanna listen!"
Of course he wanted to listen. She rolled her eyes as she tapped the screen, answering just before it could go to voicemail.
Hearing Danny's voice made Leah's heart feel a bit lighter; but then she heard more voices in the background and remembered the team was on their way to Atlanta for the next three days. After that they would head straight to Miami for three more. She wouldn't be able to see him again for another week at least.
"Are you on the bus?"
"Yeah," he answered. "We didn't win tonight."
"I know," she said. The Nats had lost the series finale against the Phillies 1-4. She also knew Danny had only gotten one hit the whole game and he couldn't be very happy; he had always been hard on himself. "But at least you won the series. We didn't win tonight, either. Or last night… or the night before."
"Obviously you're not doing your job," he joked. It gave Morse a laugh.
Leah smiled in spite of herself. "I'm a trainer, not a coach." She just knew he was grinning on the other end. She could feel it.
"Where's your next series at?"
"We're on our way to Lynchburg for the weekend," she explained with a bit of a tired sigh. "Then we have Myrtle Beach at home."
"Welcome to life on the road."
"Thanks," she accepted. Honestly she didn't mind it; road tripping was one of her favorite things. Then again, she had only just begun this new life on the road. One day it might become tiring, but for the moment it was still far too exciting. "Speaking of that, you won't be back in town until next Thursday."
"I know. Make sure you're home – I promise I'll come over and stay for breakfast."
Morse wagged his eyebrows, but Leah gave him a shove on the shoulder. It was a bittersweet thing for Danny to say.
"I would like that," she answered, but the warmth of her tone hid a myriad of stormy emotions.
Suddenly there was a lot of rustling coming from Danny's end. "Hey, we're making a quick rest stop. I'm gonna find something to eat and then pass out until we get to Atlanta."
"Okay," she said, and the heaviness in her heart increased. They had barely been talking for 5 minutes!
"Get some wins in Lynchburg for us."
"We will," her tone was dejected, weary. Either Danny didn't pick up on it or he just didn't want to deal with it at the moment.
"Bye, babe. I'll talk to you as soon as I can."
She hung up and returned her phone to her pocket. Morse knew she was upset, and he knew exactly why without any words being said.
"I warned you about Danny, Min."
Her sad brown eyes turned angry as she glared daggers at him; now was not the time for I told you so.
"I just don't want you to get hurt," he quickly explained. "You're like my little sister. I know you care about Danny, and I can assure you he cares about you, too. But what I can't assure you is that he can give you what you want."
What you want. The words rang in Leah's ears. She knew exactly what she wanted with Danny: A committed, official relationship.
But at the moment, Morse's lack of reassurance held far more weight than any hope Leah had.
The Nats had been swept.
It was a crappy feeling. They had gotten their very first sweep of the season off the Atlanta Braves only to come down to Miami and have the Marlins do the same to them. Now their position as the number one team in the National League East was being threatened by a team that used to be dead last. They would need to beat the Braves in their upcoming homestand this weekend if they wanted to stay on top – and they were determined to make exactly that happen. They had gotten too used to being number one to fall behind now.
But for the moment, Bryce was still stewing over his performance in that night's 5-3 loss; and he was not happy. In fact, he was downright pissed. He had been on a nine-game hitting streak and tonight he hadn't gotten on base once. Not one single damn time. And there was absolutely nothing in the world that vexed him more than being kept off base.
Ryan couldn't help but notice the kid's sour mood – it was rather hard to miss, what with the stone-faced expression he was wearing as he glared out the bus window. This was the only time Bryce ever acted like a teenager: when he wasn't happy with his performance.
"Buck up, hotshot. We all have our off days. Hell, I've been having an off week… or month." He didn't know why, but Ryan felt like he needed to take Bryce under his wing. He saw a lot of himself in the young outfielder: Ryan had only been a year older than Bryce when he himself had started playing for the Nats back in 2005, and with all the same aggressiveness and unbelievably high standards to which Bryce held himself. Besides, the whole reason Bryce was here now was because he had been brought up to replace Ryan in the batting order while he had been on the DL – so he kind of felt responsible for him.
"I try to keep my off days to a minimum," Bryce returned.
He wasn't making the responsibility easy to take, though.
"Listen," Ryan started, "you just got up here and you've been doing way better than average so far; I'm sure I don't need to tell you that. But you're 19, man. You have a long career ahead of you, and more often than not you're going to walk away from that plate disappointed and feeling like shit. So you can't sweat it when you don't perform up to your own standards. Just do your best to meet them at the next game."
The pep talk seemed to get through to Bryce. Well, he didn't look any less disappointed in himself but at least he had stopped staring out the window. "I know, man. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but that's how I've gotten this far, you know?"
"There's nothing wrong with putting pressure on yourself. Just don't let it negatively affect your mental game." Ryan gave a wry laugh. "That's why I'm stuck in a fucking dry spell right now."
Bryce shot him a surprised look. "You? Come on, Zim. You're like the Nats' poster boy for coolness under pressure."
"It's not nearly as easy as it looks," he answered. "I feel like everything is coming at me all at once. The shit with my shoulder and trying to get back into the swing of things; Heather's been planning the wedding and I feel like an ass because I haven't been able to help at all. And now there's a whole bunch of crap with my sister and her position with the P-Nats. There's too much going on right now. Some days I feel like I can't focus."
"Just leave that stuff in the locker room," the rookie was the one giving advice now. "None of it matters when you step out on the field."
"It doesn't," Ryan agreed. "But that doesn't mean it can't wear you out."
The entire Washington, D.C. area was being pounded by one of the most violent storm systems it had seen all year. Roads were flooded, a tornado watch was in effect until 9 p.m., and the Nats and P-Nats home games against the respective Braves and Hillcats had both been postponed.
And it meant Leah had Danny all to herself.
They were cuddled up on her couch, watching TV and listening to the sound of the rain. Leah breathed him in for what must have been the millionth time – he was wearing her absolute favorite scent of Old Spice. She loved the way he smelled.
"It's nice to have two days off in a row," he said as he trailed his fingers up and down her arm. "I think we needed it after the crazy amount of traveling we just went through."
"At least you got to sleep yesterday," she said with a cheeky grin up at him. He had come over not long after arriving back in D.C. from Miami and passed right out in her bed. It had made her happy, just having him there like that. He could have just as easily gone to his place, but he had come to hers. It made her feel like he really did want to be there.
"I just wish I could take you out. You know, to make up for the last time I was supposed to."
She looked up to see him smirking impishly down at her – he clearly had zero regrets for not taking her out the night of her graduation, not one. She couldn't say that she blamed him, though; they had certainly had much more fun staying in. "Trust me; you don't have to make up for last time."
"But you wanted to wear your new dress," he went on, the playful smirk never leaving his lips.
"Well, you were nice enough not to rip it so I can wear it another time."
His grin grew and he drew her lips into his. Leah's stomach went all aflutter.
The minutes passed in comfortable silence as the storm calmed outside; but it was an entirely different story inside Leah's mind. A million and one thoughts were accumulating in her brain; and before long they had built up into a high-pressure system that she just couldn't contain any longer.
"Danny," she sat up so as to look him squarely in the eye. "What do you consider this to be?"
As soon as the words left her mouth Danny seemed to wilt. "Leah, we've talked about this before."
"I know we have. And you've always said you didn't think we should be 'together' while I was still in school. Well, I'm not in school anymore."
"I know," he consented. And then, "But—"
"But what?" she interrupted. She honestly couldn't see how there was a "but" in this conversation. "I want to be with you, Danny, and unless I'm mistaken over the course of the last year I've been under the impression that you want to be with me, too."
"I do, Leah. You know that."
"Then what's the problem? Are you really that worried about what my brother thinks?"
"No," he almost laughed at her. "I'm a grown ass man. I don't have to answer to anyone about who I spend my time with."
"Baby," he appeased her, "listen to me for a second. I'm trying to be realistic about how easy it would be to make a relationship work."
Those words were like a punch to the gut. It was as if the wind had been knocked out of her. "What?"
A sigh escaped him. This wasn't good. This wasn't good at all.
"I'm on the road virtually six months out of the year, and during the offseason I'm clear across the country in California. We would hardly have any time together."
"What?" The question blurted out of Leah's mouth; his reasoning had her completely and utterly baffled. That was something every pro baseball player had to deal with: the struggle to keep relationships afloat in the face of a hectic schedule. Of course it was difficult, but plenty of guys made it work just fine. After all hadn't they been, on some sort of level, making it work for the last year? "Why would it have to be any different than it is now? I would see you when you're here for games, just like I do now. And as for the offseason, I'm an adult; I can come visit you in California."
He smirked, as if he knew something she didn't. "Babe, you're gonna be a hell of a lot busier now that you work in baseball. Trust me."
"So? Like I said, I want to be with you so I will make the time, even if I don't have it."
Danny grew quiet after that. It angered Leah. It communicated that he didn't have anything to combat her argument with because he knew she was right – and for some reason he didn't care enough to admit it.
"You're afraid of the label, aren't you?" she asked. "You don't want the pressure of an actual relationship."
"Because I don't want to disappoint you!"
Her brow furrowed. "Why are you automatically assuming you would?"
"Because things change when you add the label, Leah."
The previous punch to the gut had been mild compared to hearing that. That was like a stab in the heart.
"I'm not trying to tie you down, Danny. I just want to be with you and only you, and I'm sorry but there is some sense of security that comes along with the whole 'boyfriend-girlfriend' thing."
He couldn't look at her anymore; he had all but shut down. "I know."
That was the end of the conversation for Leah. She hated arguing with anyone, and having this particular argument with Danny – and facing his uncertainty – was just too much right now.
"Fine. Let me know when you figure out what it is you want."
She pushed herself off the couch and retreated to the safety of her bedroom. Danny really had no idea what he was putting her through.
Because he had no idea she loved him.