A/N Reader/Twitter friend HeBelongsToMoi asked if I could do a baseball story since she liked my football one. My mind immediately came up with this and I got writing. It was initially going to be a one-shot but I decided I want to write a second chapter since I didn't feel I could do all I wanted in the first. Hope you enjoy!
It was the bottom of the ninth and the bases were loaded with two outs. We were up by one but a hit here would mean a loss to a division rival that we could not afford at this point. We led by two games but the Cubs were breathing down our necks and the playoffs were fast approaching. Derrek Lee was at the plate, nursing a full count, hoping Crowley left one in the sweet spot right down the middle. Lee was in a slump at the moment but he'd always been a pretty clutch hitter. I grimaced as the word slump entered my mind. You'd know all about that, wouldn't you, Cullen?
There wasn't time to ruminate on that thought because Lee connected with a breaking ball that didn't break. The bat splintered on impact and the ball was scorched directly at me. I ranged to the right, toward my third baseman, scooping the ball in my glove and pivoting to fire the ball to second. Uley got the ball just before the runner touched the bag and the ump threw up his thumb to signal the out. Game over and now our division lead was three games with only fourteen left to play.
"Nice play, Captain," Emmett said, swatting me on the ass with his glove as we jogged into the dugout. I tossed my glove at him and he dodged it, laughing loudly. Emmett McCarty had been the Cardinals star first baseman for the past seven years. He was our cleanup hitter, a big time home run and RBI guy. Of course, he also had the most strike outs on the team but that's what happened when you hit for power.
"Thanks for preserving my W," Jasper Whitlock, our starting pitcher said as I walked into the locker room. He'd pitched eight strong innings, only giving up one run. Had our offense not been anemic lately, there wouldn't have been any drama in the final inning. I'd gone 0-3 with a measly walk today. I was still batting just over .300 but I wasn't hitting the ball well lately. It was exactly the wrong time for me to start cooling off too.
"Anything for my favorite brother-in-law," I told him with a quick grin. Jasper had married my little sister Alice just over two years ago and they were expecting their first child any day now. I was completely excited to be an uncle and couldn't wait the arrival of my niece. We were all hoping she would arrive before the playoffs but who knew? If she was anything like her mother, she'd be late.
"Will you be at dinner tomorrow night?" Jasper asked, wincing as he took the ice pack off his shoulder.
"Yeah," I muttered, shrugging out of my jersey and bending to take off my cleats.
"You're not bringing anyone, are you?" he asked, a note of alarm in his tone.
I laughed at the fearful expression on his face. "Hell, no. Alice has hated every girl I've ever dated. If you think I'm going to risk her pregnancy hormone wrath, you've got another think coming."
"Thank God. She ranted about that Jessica chick for a week straight," Jasper told me, relief coloring his voice.
I shook my head. "She was right about her." Alice was generally right about the women I dated but I would never give her the satisfaction of letting her know that. Jasper could tell her if he wanted.
He chuckled. "Of course she was. My Ali tends to read people very well."
"Yeah," I rolled my eyes and turned around to grab a towel. I stood to head to the shower when our manager, Coach Clapp, came around the corner.
"Hey everyone, listen up." There was a chorus of groans as we prepared for another of his long winded post game speeches. I sank back down on the bench to sit next to Jasper. Emmett plopped down next o me.
"Here we go again," he muttered.
Coach cleared his throat and I noticed that his eyes were a little red. I nudged Emmett, who was texting on his blackberry. "What man?" he asked in irritation. I nodded my head toward Coach and Emmett's eyes widened and he put his phone away.
"I have some bad news." The locker room went silent at his raspy words. Something was very wrong. "I just got a call. Charlie Swan suffered a massive heart attack today. He passed away a couple hours ago." There several gasps throughout the room and I felt like I'd been punched in the gut. Charlie Swan was our team owner. He'd bought the St. Louis Cardinals fifteen years ago and he was a hell of a man. He wasn't one of those hands off owners, who sat in the luxury box and read stock reports. He spent the majority of his time down in the dugout with the rest of us. He was a surrogate father to many of us, and a friend. He wasn't even very old, late 40's, early 50's tops. How could he be gone?
"Coach, what does this mean for the team?" I glared at Mike Newton, insensitive asshole. Typical of him to only be thinking of how Charlie's death affected him.
"I don't really know, Newton," Coach told him angrily. "I imagine Charlie's daughter will inherit the team. She's his only living relative. For now, Eric Yorkie will continue to the run the team as GM, just like usual. Whether Isabella wants to do anything different…I can't really say." I jerked at the sound of her name. Little Bella Swan was going to be our new owner? She was just a kid.
"The funeral will be held on Thursday and I expect all of you to be there to pay your respects. It's an off day so nobody has an excuse." He glanced around the room. "We're going to send our owner off in style and give Isabella all the support she needs. Hit the showers." He left as quickly as he'd appeared, headed back to the office to make some calls I imagined.
"I can't believe Charlie's dead," Emmett said softly.
"I can't believe a twenty-two year old is going to be our new owner. I wonder if she's gotten hotter since she grew up," Mike Newton murmured. "Maybe I could help her overcome her grief."
That fucking did it. I turned around and slammed him into his locker. He let out a grunt of pain. "What the fuck, Cullen?"
"Her father just died, you asshole. The last thing she needs is a dick like you hitting on her. You show her some respect," I shouted, my forearm pressing into his windpipe.
Emmett and Jasper each grabbed one of my arms and pried me off him. Mike gasped for breath and glared over at me. "Shit, Cullen, what was that for? I was just playing." Then he grinned. "Oh, I forgot. Bella had a bit of a crush on you back in the day, didn't she? Didn't she ask you to prom? You broke her little heart and I'm the asshole?"
"That's utter horseshit and you know it, Newton." Bella hadn't asked me to prom, she'd just followed me around like a puppy dog. I remember how gangly and awkward she was when I met her. She was seventeen, in that stage between being a girl and being a woman. She'd had braces but contrasted that with some nice curves. I was twenty and had just been called up to the bigs. She hadn't ever worked up the nerve to ask me out. I knew she had a crush on me, I wasn't blind. I'd never broken her heart though. I just hadn't responded to her romantically. We spent a lot of time together, talking and being friendly. Bella was my friend, despite the fact that she had beautiful eyes and very kissable lips. I couldn't have gone there, she was just a kid.
"Whatever you say, Edward. I remember she had those pretty doe eyes…I imagine they'd look really sexy as she was looking up at me while giving me a blow job. I'll be sure to take her off your hands this time around." I lunged at him again but Jasper and Emmett had not relinquished their hold on me.
"Get the fuck out of here, Newton, or I'll turn Cullen loose and come after you myself. You don't talk about Isabella like that," Emmett told him, his voice filled with ice.
"Yeah, you know, I might just have to tell her what you said," Jasper said thoughtfully. "I don't imagine the new boss would be so amenable to cutting your checks if she knew how you talked about her."
"You guys are dicks. I'm just having a little fun," Newton muttered, slamming his locker and stalking off toward the showers.
"He really needs an ass kicking," Emmett said.
"I was trying to give him one before you pulled me off him," I pointed out. I was all fired up and I really wanted to get rid of my aggression by pounding on Newton for awhile.
"Wait until after the season," Jasper told me. "He may be a douche but I need him behind the plate." Yeah, Mike was actually a very good catcher and we couldn't afford to lose him for the playoffs. I would kick his ass the instant we were done though.
"Fine," I agreed reluctantly.
"I wonder what Bella's like now," Emmett said. "I haven't seen her since she headed off to school. Where'd she go again?"
"U-Dub. Charlie was originally from Washington and she decided to go home." I remembered how excited she'd been the day she got accepted. She'd been glowing when she came to the stadium to show her father the letter. She'd been beautiful, but so very young. I'd congratulated her and hurriedly left the locker room that day. I had only seen her one time since, when she came to say goodbye.
Newton was an ass but he was right about one thing, she had gorgeous brown eyes. They'd been shining with excitement as she got ready to drive from St. Louis to Washington. She'd given me a kiss on the cheek and told me goodbye. The moment her lips touched my face was burned into my memory. Her lips had been incredibly soft and I'd felt that simple kiss all the way down to my toes. My reaction to her had stunned me but I'd covered up my surprise by telling her to have fun at school and stay out of trouble. Some of the light had died out of those pretty eyes as she nodded and walked away without another word. She hadn't been back since, though I knew she'd visited her father. I wondered what she was like now, if she was dating anyone and if they were treating her right and how she was doing. She and Charlie had been incredibly close. This had to have hit her hard.
"I guess we'll see her at the funeral," Emmett said softly, his usual exuberance muted at the thought of Charlie's passing.
"Yeah." I slammed my locker shut and made way to the showers. I had been standoffish to Bella because of her age, but she was an adult now and she'd need some friends to help her through. This time, I was going to be there for her.
My alarm sounded bright and early Thursday morning and I grunted as I smacked the snooze button. We'd played until 10:30 PM last night and I hadn't gotten home until after midnight. Now it was 6 AM and I had to get ready for a funeral. Not exactly a great day off. I dragged myself out of bed and into the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee. I needed lots of caffeine to get through this day. I was in the middle of my second cup when my cell phone sounded. Who the hell was calling me before 7 AM?
I grabbed the phone and my heart started pounding when I saw Jasper's name on the caller ID. I hit talk and before I could say a word, his voice came over the line, sounding both excited and panicked at once. "It's time," he told me.
"Alice is in labor, now?"
"Yes! Call coach and tell him I can't be at the funeral. Hell, you better tell him you can't be there either. Alice will have a fit if…" he was cut off by the sound of my sister screeching in the background.
"You better be there Edward or I'm going to kill you!" she shouted.
I held the phone away from my ear and fought back a laugh. "I'll be there."
"Thanks, man," Jasper sounded incredibly relieved. "I'm driving as fast as I can Alice! Do you want me to get pulled over? Do you want to have her in the car?"
"I will if you don't drive faster!" she screamed. Holy shit, this was going to be one hell of a day. "I gotta go, see you there. Get there quickly," he ordered, hanging up without another word.
I shook my head and dialed Coach quickly. After I explained what was going on he was okay with us not being there. I felt bad for not being there to say a final goodbye to Charlie but I knew he would have understood. Hopefully Bella would as well. I felt a twinge of regret over not being able to be there for her today. I'd find a way to contact her soon, let her know how sorry I was.
I got home from the hospital fourteen exhausting hours later. I didn't even bother to eat or turn on the TV; instead I went directly to the bathroom and took a shower, then slipped into bed and thought about the past day. While my surrogate father had been laid to rest, my sister had given birth to a beautiful baby girl. Jasmine Marie Whitlock had been born after thirteen hours of labor. She was gorgeous, with a head full of Alice's black hair and Jasper's electric blue eyes. I was wrapped around her little finger the instant I laid eyes on her.
I wasn't in any rush to have children but I did feel a slight pang when I held her for the first time. I'm only twenty five and I have plenty of time for a wife and kids but I'm pretty tired of playing the field, so to speak. Getting girls wasn't difficult for me at all but keeping them around for any length of time didn't seem to be my forte. I'd get bored or they'd want more than I was willing to give. I was more of a homebody than anything else and the women I dated usually wanted to be out and about.
I felt a smile cross my lips as I remembered the first time I met Charlie Swan.
It had been my first day in the league and I was told to go into the office for a meeting. I assumed it was with Coach but I was dead wrong. I opened the doors and there was Charlie Swan, leaning back in his chair, watching me steadily as I walked into the room and stood awkwardly next to the door.
"Well, sit down boy, what are you doing standing there?" He gestured to the leather chair in front of his desk and I hurried to comply with his request. I was petrified, just a kid really and here I was meeting the man that would be deciding my fate.
"So, they tell me you're the next Derek Jeter. Is that true?" His moustache twitched and his dark eyes twinkled at the question.
I sat up in the chair and straightened my shoulders. "I don't like to compare myself to anyone. I'm the first Edward Cullen."
He let out a hearty laugh. "I love that. Always be you, kid. Don't change who you are. I hear you're destined to be a star and maybe that's true. But remain humble. I don't ask much out of my players, just that you put your best out on that field every day and don't do anything to bring a black eye to the team. Think you can manage that?"
I nodded emphatically. "Yes, sir."
He snorted. "It's Charlie, kid. Now, tell me something, you gotta girlfriend?"
I was momentarily frightened by the question. What did that matter? He wasn't hitting on me, was he? I shook my head. "Well, a good looking guy like you is going to have women throwing themselves at him. Be smart about who you hook up with. You never know who likes you for you or who likes you because you're the starting shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals."
I was relieved that he didn't seem to want me and I smiled. "I think I can handle it." Hell, that was a good problem to have, right?
Charlie laughed. "I'm sure you think you can. Just remember, regardless of what you want from them, be it one night or a lifetime, you treat them with respect. Even if you think they're using you. There's nothing like a woman scorned, Edward. I don't need girls crying to the press over their treatment by one of my players. You get what I'm saying?" I told him I did and he dismissed me.
Charlie's words had stayed with me during my five years in the league. I kept my one night stands to a minimum and when I ended it with a woman, I did so gently. I even managed to stay friends with a couple of my exes. I thought that was great but Emmett told me it just meant that I'd yet to find a girl that incited my passion. Maybe he was right. I'd certainly never been heartbroken when a relationship ended. I just…moved on.
But today, seeing the look on Jasper's face as he looked at Alice while he held his daughter for the first time really drove home the fact that I was alone. I wanted to feel that way about someone. My eyes were heavy so I put those thoughts away and prepared to sleep. Maybe someday….
I got up at ten on Friday morning and made my way to Busch Stadium in the early afternoon. We had a 7:05 PM game against the Brewers, another important divisional matchup. They were only four games back so we needed to take this series. I needed to start hitting. I couldn't figure out what the hell was wrong with me. I was doing everything the same as I always did. I wore my lucky gold chain that Alice had given to me the day I got called up to the majors, I blew a bubble before exiting the dugout, I took three practice swings before every at bat…what could it be? I was mystified. It felt like I was seeing the ball well, my swing seemed solid…I had no clue. Neither did my batting coach.
I went to my locker and changed. I was the first one in, which was nothing unusual. I liked to get extra time in the batting cage and watch game film on the opposing pitcher. Randy Wolf was on the mound for the Crew tonight and he had a wicked curve ball. I usually hit him pretty well but who knew what today would hold?
I heard the distinctive click of high heels on the concrete floor and glanced over my shoulder to see what was going on. I hoped to God it wasn't Lauren Mallory looking to corner me before the game. She worked for The Post-Dispatch and was constantly attempting to get me into bed. Like I was stupid enough to sleep with a reporter? Rejection seemed to bounce off her though; she just kept coming after me like a rabid dog.
The first thing I noticed when I caught sight of the female walking toward me was that she wasn't Lauren. This woman put Lauren to shame in every single way. She had hair the color of the mahogany wood cabinets in my kitchen. I loved that color. Her heart shaped face was gorgeous, a perfect peaches and cream complexion, high cheekbones, deep brown eyes flecked with some gold…she was stunning. And the rest of her body was as lovely as her face. She was wearing a charcoal gray pinstriped suit/skirt combination with a cream colored blouse underneath. Her legs were perfect, shapely and muscular at the same time. The tight little package was made complete by a pair of gray heels that matched her outfit perfectly. My mouth was watering at the sight of her.
It wasn't…it couldn't be…"Bella?" I asked, shock coloring my tone.
Her lips twitched a little before she answered me. "Yes, Mr. Cullen. I'm Isabella Swan." Mr. Cullen? What the fuck was up with that?
I tried not to let my irritation show. "It's good to see you again, Bella. I'm so sorry about Charlie."
She frowned in response. "Thank you. I was hoping I could speak with you before the game today?" Bella was acting extremely weird, not at all like my Bella. Your Bella? What the fuck does that even mean? I shook that thought off. Maybe this was just her reaction to grief. She was putting up a barrier between herself and everyone else. I could understand that.
"Sure," I told her. She turned on those slim heels and made her way back toward the offices. I guess we were going to be formal about everything. I put my glove back in my locker and shut it before following her. She paused outside of Charlie's office for a minute and I placed a hand on her shoulder. "I know it's hard but he'd want you to take it over. He was so proud of you, Bella." She let out a little sigh and pulled away from me as she opened the door. She walked to the desk, trailing her elegant fingers over the gleaming cherry wood before pulling out the chair and sitting down. She gestured to the seat in front of her, much as her father had five years ago. I bit back a smile at the memory.
"I'm thinking of making a few changes and I wanted to talk to you before I did," she told me. She wasn't looking directly at me; instead she seemed to be focused on the wall behind my right shoulder.
"Changes? What kind of changes?" She was in charge all of one day and already she wanted to make changes? I willed myself not to get irritated. She'd just lost her father. She didn't know what she was doing and at least she'd sought me out to talk about it first.
"Yes. Laurent isn't pulling his weight in center field. He's batting .220 overall and .180 with runners in scoring position. Meanwhile, Jason Garrett's on the bench and he's batting .295. It seems like a no brainer to me that he should be starting, not pinch hitting once every four games."
I couldn't help it and I grinned at her. She may not have been around but she'd definitely been paying attention. I felt a surge of pride go through me for some strange reason. "I couldn't agree more. Laurent's a real liability at the plate lately. Can I ask why you're discussing this with me instead of Coach Clapp?" Not that I minded, not at all. She looked so lovely and authoritative behind the desk and I wasn't going to lie, hearing her spout baseball stats was really turning me on. Thank God I was already wearing my cup.
She raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. "Because he's not here yet and you are. Plus, you're the captain. I value your opinion, Mr. Cullen." There we were with that Mr. Cullen crap again.
"Why do you keep calling me Mr. Cullen? You've known me for five years!" I wasn't going to let that continue without questioning her.
She blushed but met my eyes this time when she answered. "Our relationship has changed. I'm not a teenager anymore, Mr. Cullen. I'm your boss and as such, I expect you to call me Ms. Swan and I will call you Mr. Cullen. Or maybe just Cullen, since I've noticed you guys refer to one another by your last name often."
I opened my mouth and then closed it again, not sure how to respond. Where had my Bella gone? I understood her need to appear professional in front of reporters and even in the clubhouse but here and now? I didn't like it one fucking bit. "Very well, Ms. Swan. Will there be anything else?" I couldn't keep the irritation out of my tone, nor did I want to. I wanted her to know that I was annoyed by this barrier she'd slapped up between us.
Her blush deepened but she didn't back down. "Yes, there are a few things. I'm also thinking we need to bring Lopez up from the minors and let him be the fifth starter. Call is not getting it done; he has a 5.32 ERA in his last 6 games. We need a strong staff for the playoffs, if we even get there." Again, she astounded me. She was exactly right. Julio Lopez was throwing well and Embry wasn't. It was another no brainer. More pride stirred in me as I looked at Bella, so confident in her baseball knowledge. Oh, excuse me, Ms. Swan. She was equal parts arousing and irritating and I didn't know what to do about it.
"You're exactly right. I've heard great things about Lopez and Call's not right. I think he may have tweaked a muscle in his shoulder. He denies it though." She muttered something about men and their arrogance before giving me a smile and a nod.
"I'm glad we're on the same page. I'll speak to Coach Clapp about those moves as soon as I see him."
"Listen, Bella." She frowned and I rolled my eyes. "I'm sorry, Ms. Swan. I just wanted you to know that I'm impressed with the moves you're making and Charlie would be very proud of you." She flinched as I said his name and I fought the urge to get up and touch her hand or hug her or some shit. I wanted to but I was pretty sure she wouldn't welcome the move. "He always was, you know." We'd talked about her plenty of times and he lit up like a Christmas tree whenever her name came up. "I'm sorry that I wasn't there to say goodbye yesterday." She looked like she was going to be sick. Was that what all this Ms. Swan stuff was about? Did she think I'd blown off her father's funeral? "My sister went into labor yesterday. I'm all the family she has left and she wanted me there. I wouldn't have missed it for any other reason."
She put her head in her hands and looked down at the desk instead of at me. "It's fine, Edward." She shook her head. "Mr. Cullen. Coach Clapp told me and I understand. I know how close you and my father were." Her voice broke a bit on the word father and I did stand up to go to her this time. I put my hand on her shoulder and she shot up like a rocket at my touch. "I'm fine!" she exclaimed, pulling away from me like I'd slapped her instead of touching her softly on her shoulder.
"Okay." I held my hands up in an "I surrender" type gesture and edged my way toward the door. It was clear that Bella was feeling pretty volatile right now, which was more than understandable under the circumstances. "I'm going to go hit the cage now." We had an underground batting cage with a machine that threw the balls for us. I needed the extra work.
Bella looked up at me then, her face pale. She bit her lip but her eyes flashed with resolve. "There is one more thing, Mr. Cullen."
"Okay, shoot," I said, giving her my lopsided smile. It never failed to make her blush back in the day. This time, though, there was no reaction. She folded her hands and regarded me steadily. "Well, what is it?"
"There's another change that needs to be made." She bit her lip as I stood by the door and waited for her to get on with it. "It's you," she blurted. What?
"Me? What about me?" I asked with my eyes narrowed.
She took a deep breath and then answered me. "You're not getting it done either." What the fuck? "You haven't been hitting well the past three weeks and we need production out of the three spot. We need guys on base when McCarty's at the plate." Okay, that was true but I was working on it and it wasn't like I was on a long cold streak like Laurent was.
"What are you saying?" I asked coldly. Surely she wasn't going to put me on the bench? She'd be crucified in the press if she even tried it, not that Coach would let her.
"I think you need to switch places in the batting order with Newton." Newton? He batted fucking seventh! I'd batted third since I came into the league. There was no fucking way.
"No fucking way," I spat at her before I could think about it. "I know I've been in a bit of a funk lately." I wasn't even going to use the word slump. "But that's why I'm here for some extra work. I'll be fine today, you'll see." That was that.
"No, Mr. Cullen, you won't be fine until you correct that little problem you've developed." Problem? What the hell was she talking about?
"What the hell are you talking about?" Okay, so my verbal filter was completely gone at this point but she'd pissed me off. Seriously, she thought she knew better than I did?
"You're stance has been off since you sprained your ankle four weeks ago," she told me matter-of-factly, like this was some common fucking knowledge that everyone but me had.
"What do you mean, my stance is off?" Like she knew? She'd never played a damn sport in her life. Charlie had told me she was hopeless.
"Watch some tape, Cullen. You're leaning forward in the box more, putting pressure on your left leg instead of your right. The right is what gives you your power." Well excuse me; I didn't know Bella had gotten her damn degree in fucking baseball physics while she'd been away. She leaned back in her chair and any sign of nerves was gone. In fact, her eyes were shooting fire at me and her cheeks were flushed with anger.
"You don't know what you're talking about!" I shouted at her.
"Don't I?" she asked sardonically, a small smile flirting at her lips. "You didn't seem to have a problem with my knowledge of the other players we just discussed." That was different. It just was.
She smirked at me then. "I'm sure it is. Why don't you go and watch some tape from last month and compare it to now and see just who is wrong here." Like hell I would. "Meanwhile, I'll talk to Coach about that lineup switch." Like hell she would. What the fuck had happened to her since she left? I didn't like the change, not one bit. You sure as hell do. Look at her. Okay, so she was stunning now but she was a hard, cold bitch too. That I didn't like. So she looked great even with her eyes snapping at me and an angry look on her face. That didn't mean I liked her. She was a ball-busting bitch.
"I'll talk to Coach as well," I warned her. He'd side with me, he always did.
She just smiled and waved her hand at me in dismissal. "Yes, we'll see who he listens to," she said.
"Is this because I rejected you all those years ago?" The words were out of my mouth before I even thought about saying them and I instantly wanted to take them back. She recoiled as if I'd slapped her and the cool woman vanished for just a moment. I saw the vulnerable, sweet girl she'd been years ago.
"Rejected me? I don't recall ever making a move on you," she replied coldly as the flicker of the old Bella I'd seen went away. "I may have had a crush on you, Mr. Cullen, but I can assure you that I got over it rather quickly. I would never let something as insignificant as that influence how I run my team today." If looks could kill I'd be a corpse on the floor right about then.
"Look, Bella, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say that, I just got angry and…"
"It's fine, Mr. Cullen. I'm well over it. Go hit the cage. You need the practice." I bit back an angry retort and opened the door. Okay, maybe I shut it a little loudly but I didn't slam it. I heard a bang from behind the door but didn't stop to wonder what caused it. I stalked into the batting cages and started hitting the hell out of the ball. Who did she think she was? Your boss. Alright, I knew that, logically, but she was still Bella Swan. We'd been friends once, sort of. Was it really a friendship though? She had a massive crush on you and you treated her like a little puppy dog. Okay, true, but I had talked to her, been friendly with her. There wasn't an ounce of friendship there now.
I shook off thoughts of the past. It was time to focus on the here and now. I was going to break out of my funk and I would show her just who should be batting third. She could choke on her words. Little Bella Swan was gone and I had no use for the Ms. Swan that took her place.
"What do you mean I'm batting seventh?" I shouted, rage echoing in my tone.
Coach Clapp didn't bat an eyelash at my yelling. "Ms. Swan and I discussed it and she made some good points. Until you can get back to being yourself, we need to have you lower in the lineup. We're getting zero production at the top of the lineup and you're part of that. Newton's been hitting well. It makes sense."
"I can't believe you'd just let some woman who knows nothing…" I ranted, kicking the folding chair in Coach's office out of my way. His office was more like that of a high school coach's, not quite the high end business office that Bella had.
"Do you think it doesn't chap my ass that she was the one that saw what I didn't?" Coach interrupted, his nostrils flaring. "I used to give that girl piggyback rides! I've known her since she was seven years old. You think I wasn't a bit thrown to have her telling me what to do with my players?"
I stopped my pacing and stared at him in surprise. "Well, yes, I guess that would suck," I told him.
He laughed. "The bitch of it is that she's completely right. I should have benched Laurent's ass a month ago. I should have brought up Lopez that long ago as well." He sat back in his chair, his paunchy gut spilling over his uniform pants. "And you," he pointed at me. "I should have moved you down in the lineup a week ago. You've never gone this long without producing and I just told myself to wait it out. If this were May or June I could let you work through it. But it's September, Cullen, and we don't have time to dick around. We've pissed away a ten game lead and we've got another 4 game stand with the Cubs coming up. We can't afford to blow this, not after last year." I knew he was right. We'd choked last year and not made the playoffs at all.
"But, Coach, I can…"
"I know what you can do; Cullen, but you're not doing it right now. I watched film and I think Bella's right. It's barely perceptible…how the hell she caught it I don't even know. But it does look like you're letting the left leg take more of your weight." I scowled at his words even though I had a feeling she was right too. I'd tried adjusting my stance in the cage and I seemed to be instinctively keeping the pressure off my right ankle; which was fucked up because it didn't even hurt anymore.
He pulled out a sheet of white paper and held up the lineup card. "I've penciled you in at the seven spot for the next week. Work on the stance, show that you're back, and I'll move you up in time for the playoffs. I know it pisses you off, Cullen, but it's the right thing to do."
I gave him a curt nod because I knew better than to argue with him at this point. Coach was a stubborn bastard and Bella had gotten into his head. Mine too, apparently. I made my way into the locker room and found that the majority of my teammates had finally arrived. Jasper wasn't pitching for the next few days so he had the weekend off to be with Alice and Jasmine.
"Hey, Cullen," I bristled at the sound of Mike's smug voice behind me. "Looks like I'm taking your place today. I guess the boss lady doesn't have a crush on you anymore. Maybe I will ask her out."
I turned and glared at him. "Don't get too comfy, Newton and don't even think about going after Bella."
He laughed, his blue eyes twinkling with mirth. "Why, do you have a crush on her now? Role reversal? That's pretty pathetic, Cullen."
I slammed him into the lockers again. "I'll show you pathetic as soon as the season's over, you insignificant little prick." The humor died out of his face and he looked frightened. He knew I could kick his ass, he'd seen me in brawls on the field before.
"Edward, you okay man?" Emmett put a hand on my shoulder and I shrugged and released Newton.
"Get out of my face," I told him and smiled as he scurried away from me. Fucking loser. I turned to Emmett and nodded. "I'll be fine."
"Look man, I know it's a bitch but you'll be back to normal in no time."
"I will be; you're right about that." Damned if I was going to let Ms. Swan keep me down for long. "Let's get out there and kick some ass," I told him.
He grinned. "Let's do it!"
Unfuckingbelievable! I came off the field and tossed my glove into my locker with a loud clang. "What's your problem, Cullen?"
I turned and looked into the smug face of Mike Newton and cocked my arm back to punch his ass. Who gave a fuck if he had a black eye? He could still play. Now if I broke his arm…
Emmett caught my fist and Newton scurried away like the pathetic little coward he was. "What the fuck, McCarty?"
"Do you really want to get suspended for fighting? You think our new owner wouldn't be more than happy to lay the hammer down on you after that performance tonight?" Damn it, I knew he was right but that didn't make me any less angry. Newton had gone 3-4 with two RBI's and scored two runs as well. I'd put up a fucking 0-4 from the seven spot. And don't think I didn't fucking hear the murmurs when the lineup was announced and everyone in the stadium knew that I'd been demoted. I don't care if they called it something else; it was a fucking demotion plain and simple. To top that off, I'd actually made an error, the ball rolled right under my glove and they'd scored a run because of it. We'd still won but it had been an all around crappy performance by me.
And it was her fucking fault entirely. She'd gotten into my head and I'd been shifting around so much in the batter's box it was like I'd had ants in my pants or some damn thing. And every time Newton got on base I was seething, which was fucking wrong. He was my teammate and I should want him to do well. If he wasn't such a douche and wasn't batting my spot in the order, maybe I would have.
Emmett eyed me for a minute to see if I was going to behave I guess and then he let of my fist. "I'm going home to Rose, do you need a ride?"
"Why would I need a ride? I have a car," I told him. Hell, he knew that. He lusted after my cardinal red Ferrari.
"Because you're too worked up to drive. The last thing you need to do is crash that pretty car of yours. I wouldn't be able to take it if something happened to it." His dimples winked as he grinned at me mischievously.
I barked out a surprised laugh. Only Emmett could get me to laugh after a day like this. "So, it's okay if I get hurt, but not my car?"
"Damn right. That car's classic, Edward. One of a kind. I can find another you somewhere. You're not that damn special." Nothing like being put in second place behind your car. He was right though, it was one of a kind. They'd never used that color of red before and they never would again, it was specially made just for me.
"I'm going to hang here for awhile and cool down before I head home." And watch some fucking tape, because apparently Bella, excuse me, Ms. Swan, was right about my stance. I had to get that shit corrected pronto.
"You sure, man?" Emmett's concern for me was clear in his tone so I gave him a half hearted smile.
"I am. Go, Rose probably needs the relief." They had two year old twin boys and a daughter who was one.
He rolled his eyes. "You don't have to tell me twice. Last time I was an hour late getting home she about tore my head off. I'll see you tomorrow, Captain." He cuffed me on the shoulder and hurried out of the locker room.
I sat down on the bench and leaned my head against the cool metal of my locker, just letting the game play out again in my head. I'd been pissed in my first at bat in the second inning. I'd swung and connected with a low curve ball and I'd grounded it right back to the pitcher. Where was my patience? I rarely swung at the first pitch, particularly not at a low ball. My second at bat hadn't been any better. I'd gotten under a fast ball and popped it up to second base. I'd shown a little more patience my third time up, working the count full before striking out on an inside slider. My fourth at bat, when I was seething after my fucking error, I'd struck out on three straight fast balls. It was a pathetic showing by any standards, especially mine.
I heard the last of the players in the locker room clear out. They'd all wisely avoided me, having seen my mini-tantrum in the dugout. It felt good to knock over that jug of Gatorade though. I was ashamed of myself for acting like such an asshole after we won the game. I was the captain and it was my job to set a good example. Maybe Ms. Swan would strip me of my title after that performance. Maybe Newton should be fucking captain. God I hated that motherfucker.
Sighing, I got up and stripped out of my stained jersey, tossing it into the huge laundry bin. I pulled on a pair of jeans and a plain white t-shirt, opting to shower when I got home so I could hit the tapes now. I walked down the hallway into the audio-video room. We had tapes of every game this year, plus opponent's games lining the right wall. I grabbed a couple of disks from last month along with a disk from this past week and fed them into the DVD player. I sank onto the comfortable leather sofa and hit play.
The first tape I studied was against the Reds from a month and a half ago. I'd gone 3-3 that day with a home run, a double and three RBI's. My swing was as sweet as ever. I skipped ahead to a disk from last week when I'd gone 1-3 against the Mets. The hit was a bloop single that just happened to fall right, I hadn't hit it well at all. I watched each at bat, stopping to rewind the video and focusing solely on my feet. Damned if she wasn't right. My right foot barely flush to the ground, in contrast to the first video where I pushed off that foot to put more power into my swing.
I'd sprained my ankle a month ago sliding into home. I'd been out for nearly a week while I healed and when I came back I felt fine. I didn't walk with a limp or anything but apparently I was subconsciously avoiding putting real pressure on it when I hit. It didn't make a lot of fucking sense since I was fine fielding, with the exception of today's inexcusable gaffe. But baseball was a psychological sport and I'd clearly let something get into my head.
I stood up and moved behind the couch, mimicking my own batting stance and pretending the ball was being fired at me. I swung and felt myself pushing off the left leg. Not good. I kept swinging my fake bat, concentrating on my right leg, leaning back and trying to get my power from that back foot. Eventually, I felt it. I felt like my swing was the same way it had been. How the hell had I not known the difference? Why, of all people, did she have to see it?
"It looks like you've figured it out," a quiet voice said from behind me. Her voice. Fuck. I closed my eyes and hoped when I opened them that I would find that I was imagining things. I opened them turned around slowly and there she was, still looking cool and perfect in her pretty gray suit. She was leaning in the doorway watching me with appraising eyes.
"Maybe I have," I muttered, not willing to agree with her even though she'd been right.
"Crappy night," she said, tilting her head against the doorjamb.
"It happens," I responded. I wasn't going to give her anything. She was right about my stance but that didn't fucking mean she was right about demoting me.
"I heard you and Newton had a bit of a thing in the locker room," she said with a raise of an eyebrow.
"So? He's a douche and you should stay away from him. Did he come crying to you?" I asked harshly, pissed off all over again at that the thought of that asshole hitting on her.
"What if he did? Wouldn't it be my job, as owner, to hear concerns of harassment against my players?" she asked with a sweet smile.
"I wasn't harassing him. I was just informing him that I was going to kick his ass." That wasn't harassment; that was a warning. There was a difference.
"Somehow I don't think my players fighting one another is a good thing," she responded dryly.
"Well get used to it as long as we have dicks like Newton on the team. And isn't it a little early to be calling us your players? You've had the team for all of one day."
Her whole body went rigid and I immediately regretted my words. What the fuck was wrong with me? I wasn't an asshole, was I? Why was I acting like one when it came to her? Why was she so damn different from the sweet kid I knew so long ago?
"Maybe Newton isn't the only dick on my team that I need to think about getting rid of," she snapped, eyes flashing with anger. "Maybe I need to get rid of a captain that thinks he's more important than anyone else on the team. While everybody else was celebrating an important win tonight, what were you doing?" I didn't answer her, my mind still focused on her calling me a dick and implying that she might get rid of me. She couldn't do that. I belonged here. "You were throwing a tantrum, that's what. The captain of my team shouldn't be such a self-important jackass. So you're in a slump. Get the hell over it. There are far more important things to be upset about!" She was yelling now and tears were in her eyes as her voice cracked at the end of her statement.
She was right. I was a complete jackass and I was certainly no better than Newton. Before I could think about it I crossed the room and did the one thing I'd been thinking about doing since I first laid eyes on her earlier in the day. I wrapped her in my arms and reveled in how right she felt there. She was stiff at first but then her countenance softened and her arms went around me as she buried her face in my neck and started crying. She cried silently but they were sobs that shook her whole body. I scooped her up and carried her over to the couch and sat down with her.
"I'm so sorry, Bella. I know how hard this is for you and I never meant to be a jerk about it. I miss him too and I guess I'm not handling the idea of him being gone very well." I rocked her as she continued to cry in my arms. She wasn't Ms. Swan anymore, she was Bella, the girl who had lost her father and was doing her best to make sure his legacy lived on. Why the hell hadn't I seen that before?
She kept right on crying so I kept on babbling. I've never been good with a woman in tears. "I've been feeling like shit about my slump and I took it out on you even though I knew you were right about switching me with Newton. I didn't know about the stance but it looks like you were right about that too. I want you to know that I have no issue with you being in charge of the team. You clearly know your stuff. How do you know all that? I guess Charlie taught you. He taught me a lot too. One thing he taught me was how I should treat a woman but I didn't treat you very well. He'd kick my ass if he heard how I talked to you today." Bella hiccupped out a laugh and I figured that was a good sign.
I tilted her head away from my very wet t-shirt and looked into those streaming brown eyes. Though they were red, they were still very beautiful. "I am so sorry, Bella, for everything. Mostly I'm sorry about Charlie. He was truly the best guy I ever met." She smiled at me through her tears.
"He was. He was always so full of stories about you, Edward. He loved the way you played baseball. He told me to watch you, always to watch you, to truly understand the game. He said you just got it. That's how I knew something was off with you. I've spent a lot of time looking at you." Her voice was raspy from her crying but I understood everything she said. She bit her lip after that last sentence she'd uttered and tried to look away again.
I still had a hold of her chin and kept her from breaking away from my gaze. "I spent a lot of time trying not to look at you, but I wanted to," I admitted. I'd never even admitted it to myself but now I was telling Bella. Her mouth dropped open and then she closed it again quickly and shook her head.
"You thought I was a little kid with a crush."
I nodded because there was some truth in her words but it wasn't everything. "I thought you were a kid with a crush, yes, but I also thought you were beautiful. You were too young and your father would have killed me if I tried anything with you, Bella. Right before you went to college, when you had your braces off and you were so happy about getting into U-Dub, you were lovely, a woman, finally…I wanted you but I couldn't do anything about it."
She sighed. "I wish you had, Edward."
"I wish I had too." I brushed a thumb over her lips and felt them tremble beneath my touch. "Timing is everything though." And I knew the timing was not right again. She'd just lost her father, she was my boss. It seemed like our opportunity had come and gone. I let go of her face and sat back. She looked at me with her sad eyes and I wanted nothing more than to kiss her and try to take all her pain away but I couldn't. "It's late and I guess I better get home."
She put her hands on my face then and I felt a thrill race through me at her touch. "No, Edward. You're not pushing me away again."
"But, Bella, you just lost…"
"I know exactly what I've lost, Edward," she interrupted. "And I know exactly what my father would tell me if he was here. It's the bottom of the 9th and the count is full. Are you going to let the ball blow by you and hope it's not a strike or are you going to swing? Maybe you'll miss; maybe you won't, but at least try." I'd heard Charlie use that analogy countless times.
"You want to swing away? With me? Bella, I don't want you to regret anything. Our timing is shitty and I've been an asshole to you since you got here and…"
"And I still want you. I always have. Do you know how hard it was for me to tell you I was moving you down in the lineup? Do you think it didn't break my heart when I saw how angry you got? I couldn't show you because God, I was embarrassed. I still want you, all these years later. How pathetic is that?" Her voice was filled with passion and there was nothing pathetic about her.
"It's not pathetic. It's wonderful. I can't believe you still want me even though I was such a jerk."
She rolled her eyes. "I've seen you be a jerk before and I'll see you be a jerk again. You can't help it." I smirked at her and she laughed. "I want to do this, Edward. I know it's stupid and the fact that I own the team might be an issue…"
"Not for me, but maybe for you."
"We'll figure it out, together. But for now, would you just swing at the pitch, Edward? I've been waiting five years for you to take a chance." Nothing more needed to be said. I framed her face with my hands again and wiped the remaining tears off her cheeks. I leaned forward, slowly, and pressed my lips to hers. She moaned softly the instant our lips touched and then she parted hers and my tongue slipped inside to meet hers. Slow, soft movements. She tasted like heaven. I moved my hands from her face and ran them through her incredibly soft hair.
Her hands gripped my shoulders tightly as we kissed for a very long time. I had no idea how much time had passed when I pulled back but her eyes were no longer red. No, they were shining with happiness and for the first time since I'd seen her again, she looked like the happy girl I'd known back then. I wanted her to always look like that. "I think that's enough for tonight. You've got a lot going on and I really don't want to take advantage of you."
She laughed and the sound of it was melodic and beautiful. I'd missed that too. "I believe I was the one that told you to swing for the fences. But you're right, this isn't the time. But soon?"
I kissed her again, firmly, before pulling away. "Very soon." She got off my lap and smoothed her skirt back her lovely hips. I groaned at the sight and she sent me a seductive smile.
"Apparently." I shifted uncomfortably, not that she hadn't been aware of her effect on me.
She walked slowly toward the door, her hips swaying suggestively and making me regret being practical already. "Hey, Cullen?"
"Yes, Ms. Swan?"
"Keep working on that stance. I expect you to hit a home run for me real soon." She tossed a sexy smile over her face and walked out the door. I leaned back into the couch and let out a breath, reaching for the remote. I needed to watch some more tape. She'd get her home run, both on and off the field.