XXX CHAPTER 9 XXX

ɸ69fanatic: #whatiloveaboutbaseball Autographs.

Well, well, well, Professor. What have we here? Emmett grinned as he clicked on Edward's new profile picture. He must've had Carlisle shoot a picture of his back after they left. A warm glow lit Emmett from the inside out. If there was any smidgen of uncertainty about Edward's loyalty, Emmett's name in triplicate on his back had definitively put an end to it. Mine, mine, mine!

His smoothie could wait. Emmett flopped into the desk chair and scrolled through the replies: "Lucky fucker," "Awesome, how'd you get those?" "Jelz!" and Emmett's favorite, "Looks like you had a Big Mac attack on your back!" Not a single response from Edward, as usual.

Jean-Luc Picard's command spurred Emmett to action. "Engage." I am totally geeking out here.

Direct Message ɸ69fanatic: I really made a mess of your jersey! Think I owe you a new shirt.

Are you kidding? I might never wash this one again!

Hey, don't use me as your excuse to neglect your laundry.

"Oh boy," Emmett said to himself, stepping away from his desk. He pulled open the refrigerator and took a visual inventory. This place read "bachelor" on a good day, and provisions were getting low, but that was okay. The team was headed to Cleveland after tomorrow's afternoon game. Emmett dumped the remains of the blueberries, a banana, and half the kale into the juicer, added the protein powder, and drizzled in some apple juice. His phone startled him, lighting up and buzzing on the counter behind him, and Emmett's first thought was that Edward was calling him.

He cut off the juicer and snatched the phone, grinning when he saw who was calling. "Good morning, sunshine."

"Don't 'good morning' me, mister! You met your fan, and you didn't even tell me!"

"I just woke up, Tam! I've barely had time to scratch my balls."

"Stop trying to sweet talk me and give!"

Emmett chuckled in her ear as he carried his smoothie out to the terrace. "What would you like to know?"

"For starters, how's the front look?"

Emmett's gaze wandered across the bay, and Edward's exotic features rippled over the calm surface of the water. The individual components refused to come into focus, but the overall gist—complete with one of Edward's many epic blushes—made Emmett smile. He settled his lips around the rim of his glass and tipped back his drink. When he felt composed enough not to give himself away, he answered, "He's fine."

Tammy's response was unexpectedly quiet. "I knew it."

The skin prickled at the back of Emmett's neck. He'd spoken a total of two words about Edward and had already given himself away. "You knew what?"

"C'mon, Em, it's me. No BS, right?"

He considered disbelief, denial, and even outrage, but he wasn't fooling Tammy, and he wasn't fooling himself. "Okay," he said with a loud sigh. "He's better than fine. He's . . ."

"MacPerfect?"

"Ugh, can we let that one go, please?"

"That depends. Give me some good deets on your man, and I'll consider it."

The smile settled on his face again, and Emmett didn't even try to stop it. "He's fucking adorable, Tammy. He's kind of . . . a hot geek, I guess. He's sweet and unassuming—the only thing he asked for was a picture with his dad in front of my locker."

"You have a picture? Give!"

"No, I took it with his phone. He was supposed to send me one of the two of us." Emmett felt himself blush as he remembered the shirtless poses. "I might've made a bit of a fool of myself."

"What, you mean spraying the guy with your name all over his back? He doesn't seem too upset about it."

"I suppose I got a bit possessive. Would you believe Bender came up and asked him to recalculate his slugger stat? The nerve of that fucking guy."

"That is despicable!" Tammy giggled while Emmett rolled his eyes at both of them.

"Yeah, I'm not really sure what happened there."

"Hmm, do you need me to explain it to you?" Her voice still carried the lilt of a tease, but there was nothing harsh about it.

"Fuck, Tam. What am I gonna do?"

"What do you want to do?"

"You know that stash of gay porn in your naughty file? A whole lot of that, I think." It felt good to turn the tables and tease Tammy for a change.

"Oh my!"

"Mmhmm."

"Damn."

"Exactly." He swallowed the remains of his breakfast and wandered back inside. "So, what am I supposed to do with this?"

"You've had flings before. You know how to do that."

"Edward is nobody's fling!" Whoa, where did that come from? "Shit, I'm sorry, Tam. I don't have a clue what I'm doing. All I know is that this guy piqued my interest well before I ever saw him, so it can't be just a physical thing. Don't get me wrong—he is not hard on the eyes—but I feel like there's so much more there this time."

"All right. Take a deep breath."

"Tam—"

"Listen to me," she said, her voice holding just the right mix of compassion and authority. "Your devoted fan is not going anywhere, so there's no reason to rush. Take your time. Get to know him. Are you even sure he's gay?"

"Short of catching him with a dick in his mouth, I'm pretty damn sure."

"Thank you for the lovely visual. Okay, let's assume you're right. He's gay, and clearly he's fixated on you."

"Ya think?"

"Fine. I take back my comment about your being an egomaniac."

"I love it when you're wrong."

"Moving on . . . why not try to deepen the friendship and just let nature take its course?"

Emmett let out an exasperated sigh. "You have no idea how hard it is not to flirt. He blushes at the drop of a hat. He's so damn easy."

"You better be careful. It would be cruel to lead him on if you're not going to follow through."

"I want to follow through." So fucking badly. "Just standing next to him was torture, especially in front of the other guys. I honestly don't know how anyone could not have known yesterday."

"They're not looking for it, so they don't see it."

"I guess," he said, "but how much longer can I hold out?"

"I think it's pretty remarkable how long you've already lasted."

"It's not like I've had a choice.

Tammy stayed quiet, but Emmett heard the truth through the silence. There's always a choice. "Fuck," he whispered.

"C'mon, Em, you're gonna be fine. You'll figure this out."

"I sure fucking hope so. I don't want to blow this." The more they talked about Edward, the more Emmett wanted to talk to him, and that wasn't helping at all. "So, did you find a dress for the gala?"

"I have. Still looking for fabulous heels."

"Why? They won't even show!"

"Ugh! Aren't gay men supposed to understand fashion? I swear, you're useless."

"I'm pretty good at figuring out which uniform shirt goes with which pants."

Tammy chuckled. "Your tux is clean, right? And that Mariner-teal tie?"

"Um, no. I'll go so far as the studs and cufflinks, but the bowtie is black."

"I'm sure you will be a handsome devil whatever you choose."

"Thanks, Tam. And you will be the belle of the ball."

"Aww, you say the sweetest things. Listen, if you need to talk, I'm here, okay?"

Emmett sighed and closed his eyes. "Thank you."

"Love you."

"Yeah, you too."

Emmett ended the call and spotted the text bubble on his phone. Three messages waiting . . . Media content in this message. His heartbeat spiked when he saw that all three were photos from Edward. Operation Friendship, here we go.

He tapped the first picture impatiently, and the image opened and filled his screen. Edward was pitched forward with laughter as Emmett grinned at him. The next one was dangerously intimate, the two of them eye-to-eye and their mutual admiration ridiculously conspicuous. Emmett would come back to that one later, he had a feeling. The third and last shot was the typical "say cheese" pose, but the smiles were dazed and relaxed, the kind of smile that hangs around your face at the end of a good laugh. Both their faces were aimed toward the camera, but their heads were angled toward each other, the invisible pull between them popping off the screen as clear as day.

There were no captions, just a simple "Thanks again for having us." Damn, the professor was succinct.

He's being careful not to overstep, and you'd do well to follow his example.

I think the first one is my favorite, Emmett texted back. And good morning and thx for the pics.

Mine too—my face is hidden and it's all you!

Emmett shook his head at his shy friend. Not what I meant. I love making people laugh.

Maybe you were a clown in a previous life and some tragedy befell your circus, hence your phobia.

Oh, I see. Did they teach psychology at math school?

Nope. Picked it up on the streets.

An image of street-smart Edward hopped into Emmett's head and got cozy inside. Black leather bomber jacket with biker boots to match, the rough scruff of a couple days' growth on his face, a pair of dark sunglasses—no, scratch that. Emmett needed to see those eyes. And how about his hair? Emmett laughed out loud when he realized Edward's everyday crazy-hat-head hair would do the trick. Smiling like a fiend, Emmett texted, And those would be the mean streets of Seattle?

No. Palo Alto.

Fuck me. You went to Stanford?

Just for my PhD.

Just. Damn, this guy wasn't some run-of the-mill numbers geek; he was a brilliant one! Wait, did we overlap in CA?

Yes, 2 years. You didn't appear on my radar until you signed with the Mariners. No offense, but I don't have time to follow college ball too.

Not offended.

Good. Also (full disclosure again) I may have gone back and watched some of your UCLA footage.

You did?

It's pretty cool to see your growth and progress over the years. The raw talent was always there, but what you've done with that as you've matured is what makes you a champion—IMHO.

Emmett quickly googled IMHO. Yes, the man's opinions were humble, just like everything else about him. That's very kind of you to say…write.

I call 'em how I see 'em.

Yes, you do, my filter-free friend. I'd have to credit my coaches for all that. I've truly been blessed.

Anything in particular you could share? I'm about to embark on a lifetime of teaching and I'd love to know what works.

Well, there was something new and different. Lots of folks had asked Emmett about throwing technique or the care and keeping of a pitcher's overworked arm, but here was a man who wanted to understand how to help move a person forward to reach his potential. Warm, gooey ideas multiplied in Emmett's gut.

I can only say what's worked for me. Not sure how it will translate to 6th graders. (Please hold the snide remarks!)

Holding…

Emmett smiled, and he imagined Edward doing the same.

Hey, let's not forget you just complimented my maturity.

Um…not exactly. ;)

Whatever, dude.

So…coaching insights?

Edward seemed genuinely interested. In that case, Emmett had a world of great coaching advice to share, too much for typing into a tiny box or limiting himself to short messages. Besides, Emmett was more than a little interested in turning this into a conversation with Edward, preferably over a steak dinner with a bottle of wine. Damn! If only . . .

Emmett's fingers twitched over the touchpad. Did he dare? Why not? Who said they couldn't get together again—as friends? Sure, I suppose I can share a few secrets of the trade. Should we grab a coffee when I get back from Cleveland?

WOW! REALLY?

Oh, Edward. I'm eager to see you again, too. Sure. How's Tuesday?

Hmm, let me see. Emmett McCarty wants to grab coffee. I'm pretty sure I can make myself available.

Zero defenses. The flattery was heady, but bubbling up on its heels came a wistful yearning. Oh, to have Edward's ease, his freedom to unapologetically express his desires. Emmett had reached out and invited him for coffee, but a snarl of knots was already forming in his belly. What would happen if he decided to go for more? How could he not?


Author's Note: How could he NOT? Sounds to me like someone's got a second date! NOW KISS, right Shell? Heehee.

Thanks for all the love on the previous chapter. That was one of my two favorites in the story, and I've just finished writing my very VERY favorite, but you guys are going to have to wait a while for this one. Meanwhile, how did this story just top 50k, huh? I sure hope you like a lot of words! MWAH!

Love to my front office: Jayme, Shad, Lady V, Shell, sometimes Tammy *wink*, and always Chayasara.
XXX ~BOH