College is over. For me, anyway.


I didn't graduate. I probably won't ever, which is yet another eternally shameful notch in my belt as far as my father's concerned. But my father's dead now so it's just the ghost of his voice in my ear, telling me what a worthless sack of nothing I am that I have to contend with. That, and the memory of my mom's disappointed eyes and the small, sad shake of her head.

It's over because I'm drafted. By the Pro Baseball League here in Fire Country.

Pitcher. Rotation pitcher, none of that relief bullshit. You'll never see me in a bullpen.

It's what every little fucking boy dreams about it, ain't it? Getting drafted into the big leagues. I'm 19, so there's a lot of buzz about me. At least, that's what everyone's saying.

It's too bad I don't share their enthusiasm.

See, here's the thing about me.

Even if baseball's my greatest passion (and it is.) Even if it makes me feel alive like nothing else can (and it does.) Even if I love it more than drugs and sex and rock and roll and anything else anyone's ever loved (and I do.)

Even if all those things are true (and they are)…none of it means shit to the Uchiha Family.

Doing this…signing this contract, withdrawing from college in the middle of my sophomore year…it's never been done before, not in the Uchiha Family. No one's ever turned their back on the legacy. No one's ever turned down the chance to lead our financing company to its usual eminence.

And so as I sit here at my press conference, wearing my brand new jersey (white with red pinstripes, and a red cap with a silver K on the front for the Konoha Heat, and my number, 17, sprawled on the back with red stitching.) And there's flashbulbs and the manager, a guy named Kakashi with a facemask like he's got swine flu or SARS or some shit, he's shaking my hand to welcome me to the team. And reporters ask all kinds of questions and congratulate me and ask what I'm gonna bring to the team.

I want to look them all in the eye and tell them I'm bringing nothing but trouble, since nothing but trouble follows me and all I do is fuck shit up and ruin lives. I want to tell them all that I'm not gonna be their hero, I'm gonna be their undoing. I want to tell them all that I love baseball and I dreamt of playing for Konoha since I could lift a baseball bat and that this is a dream come true gone horribly fucking wrong because my family's dead and if they weren't, they'd hate me.

"A hell of a slider," is what comes out instead. And everyone laughs and chuckles appreciatively because I'm young and healthy and they think I've got attitude. They eat this shit up and I wish, just for one fucking second in my life, I could share in their happiness.

This should be my dream come true.

Should be.

Lights. Camera. Action.

I met a girl in high school I haven't been able to forget.

Girls throw themselves at me one right after the other. It's always been like that. I've never had a shortage of girlfriends. Well, not girlfriends. I never had a proper one of those. I hit it and quit it and I find girls who don't want anything more than that from me. That's the way I prefer it. When they leave the next day.

But this one girl. I don't know.

I haven't seen her since graduation. We were friends. As close as I'll ever get to being someone's friend anyway, since I know I'm shit at everything. But she was different, somehow. Never let me be shit enough to turn her back on me.

I never met a girl as smart and as driven as she was. I hated her for it at first, for the big brain she hid behind this candy-colored hair. She understood everthing so easily, never really had to work for her grades. And to the angry piece of shit boy I was (and still am), I couldn't stand it and I couldn't stand her.

She grew on me, though. In the end, she grew on me.

Real pretty. Smart and a sweetheart right down to her core.

Her name was Sakura. I haven't seen her since we graduated.

I'm Sasuke, by the way.

There's a kid the Heat's bringing up with me. Same age. Drafted out of some community college a thousand miles away.

His name's Naruto.

He's gonna be the catcher.

I can't fucking stand him.

I see her before she sees me, at this stupid fucking party I was gonna skip in the first place.

She looks like she walked out of some fucking fairy tale with her perfect hair and her perfect skin and her perfect smile. She's lighting up the room and it almost hurts to look at her, the way it feels when you stare right into the sun. Like your eyes are gonna burn right the hell out of your sockets, but it's gorgeous, so you don't really mind.

Gotta wonder what she's doing here, at a charity event I was gonna skip in the first place. It's mostly baseball players and their families, and the needy kids (or maybe it's cancer survivors?) and widows and orphans (or was it veterans? Who cares, someone who needs something) who are gonna be taking home the big fat check Konoha's signing over at the end of the night.

I don't know why they don't just send the check and skip the party. So we can all stop pretending that any single one of these asshole coaches and managers and assistants who're all making millions of fucking dollars a year, so we can stop pretending they give two animal shits about orphans and endangered species.

Anyway, I don't know why she's here. I try to remember where she said she was going to college after high school, but back then, I didn't want to know. I wanted her to evaporate, disappear into some future I had nothing to do with because even if I wanted her, (not saying I did or do or ever will) I never would've been good for her. I know what I am.

But I didn't keep track of her after graduation last year. There wasn't any point in finding out how happy and successful she became without me.

For something to do I grab a glass of wine. I'm too young to drink but no one knows or notices or cares, I guess. And it suits me fine because when the alcohol burns its way down my throat, bitter, because this charity event apparently couldn't afford good shit, it warms something in my stomach and makes my thoughts fuzz.

Still, though, she dances away from whatever conversation she's having and because it's fate or kismet or just fucking bullshit unfairness, she looks across the room and her eyes are on me and then her mouth opens.

To turn tail and run would show cowardice, or it might hurt her the way I knew it did when I stopped answering her texts. It hurt me to do it but she doesn't need to know that. Doesn't need to know anything beyond we-were-friends, now-we're-not.

So I hold her gaze, and even across the room, she's got these green eyes, crazy green eyes, that are light and burning and a storm. And I keep hold of those eyes with mine as she excuses herself and makes her way directly towards me.

"Sasuke!" she says, and there's such warmth in her voice, tinged with disbelief. No sadness anywhere at all. Her arms are around my neck and she smells like flowers and sunshine, and she withdraws from the hug before I can respond to it. "What are you doing here?"

It's a weird question for her to ask. Everyone knows what I've been up to. Right? Fucking 16th draft pick, everyone knows all about me. Starting pitcher at age 19. Konoha's wonder kid.

I realize the truth too late. I wasn't the only one to let go. She doesn't know what I do because she did the same thing to me I did to her: cut her out.

"I pitch for Konoha," I say quietly, and take another sip.

If she notices my underage drinking, she says nothing. Instead, her eyes brighten, like that's fucking possible, and she smiles as bright as the moon.

"Really?" she squeals. "Sasuke, that's amazing! I'm sorry, I was out of the country and I really haven't heard much of anything over the past few months. That's incredible, Sasuke, I'm so happy for you!"

Out of the country, huh? Well that would explain it then. But where have you been, Sakura? Where did you go when I left?

"How have you been?" she asks excitedly, like she's happy to see me, like I didn't hurt her the way I know I did. "Obviously pretty good if you're a professional baseball player!"

"Hn. It's all right." It should be anyway. Opening Day is a few weeks away.

"I missed you," she adds, like an afterthought. It's beautiful, the most beautiful thing I ever heard, and thanks, pretty girl, for missing me, for thinking about me the way you did, for being the only fucking person alive who ever missed me when I was gone. "You kind of…I don't know. We lost touch."

There's no accusation in what she says. Like she's accepted it as equally her fault, when I know it was all mine. That's always been your problem, hasn't it, pretty girl? You never know when some asshole's treating you like shit and you didn't fucking deserve it.

Did you know I missed you back, pretty girl?

Do you know I miss you right now when you're fucking in front of me?

"If you want it," she continues, "I changed my phone number. I had to. Um. Things…things happened. Whatever. But if you want it…" She flags down a waiter, asks him something, I can't really hear it because I can't stop looking at her, she's just so fucking beautiful. Then, she scribbles something on a piece of paper the waiter must've handed her, and she presses it into my hand.

It's her phone number.

"No pressure," she says, like she might've overstepped a boundary with me. She tucks a stray lock of hair behind her hear and it's a nervous gesture, I remember from when we were in high school. "I know you're busy. Must be, anyway, you're a big celebrity now." She smiles teasingly and I think I might love her. I don't know. "But if you ever feel like…I don't know. Feel like talking to someone who knew you before you were famous. I'm here."

I put the paper in my pocket. I finish the rest of my champagne and wish like hell it was stronger than it is. I look around for something to do, something to say to this pretty girl who never knows when to quit. Why'd you change your number, huh? Was it me? Did you hate me when I stopped answering? Do you still hate me?

"Well, I have to get back," she says, looking back over her shoulder. "They're expecting me."

"Who." It's a question but I never seem to phrase questions like questions.

"Oh. My classmates. We just got back from South America…we built a hospital. In Costa Rica. It's…what this event's for. Sponsoring medical supplies to fill up what we built. Didn't you know that?"

No. No I didn't know because I'm only at this charity event because I'm paid to be, same as everone else here. Except for you, pretty girl. Out there saving the world and shit. And I never followed you anywhere because I'm no good for you.

So why am I keeping your number, huh?

Because she's always been the good person, not me. I'm just a selfish fuck who'd drag her down with me just to keep her in my life.

"Hn," is what comes out instead.

"Okay. Well…it was great seeing you again, Sasuke. I mean it."

Then she stands up on tiptoe and there's a featherlight kiss to my cheek. A friendly kiss, a sweet kiss, but I've never been kissed like that. So innocent, so innocuous, that no one even looks up so why do I feel so fucking out of control? Like I'm gonna grab her by the front of that dress that fits her like a second skin and fucking lose it on her?

"See you around," she says with a smile, and then her back's to me, exposed in that dress, and she disappears into the crowd.

Her name's Sakura.

I have her number in my pocket and the ghost of her kiss on my cheek.

I haven't forgotten Sakura. I just wish I could.

For both our sakes.

The catcher, Naruto, is a fucking idiot.

He calls all the wrong pitches. Every single fucking time, he moves his fingers like he knows what he's doing.

You get in trouble for ignoring the catcher's calls. Coach doesn't like the way I hang Naruto out to dry like the shit he is, but isn't winning what's most important? More important than trying to make your teammate feel like he's worth something?

That's what I was raised to think, anyway.

"Relax, man!" Naruto says, laughs, after practice one day. He claps me on the back like we're best friends as we head to the locker room. I want to tear his arm off and beat him with it. "It's just a game! You take it way too serious."

Why so serious, Sasuke? I hear my mom say it.

Winning is everything, Sasuke. I hear my dad say it.

And all these fucking voices in my head, dead voices, ghost voices, voices that aren't mine and do I even HAVE a voice anymore?

No voice, no choice, nothing here but my dream come true that's gonna go up in flames, and my dream girl who's standing too close to the fire, and my dead fucking family that's only alive in my dreams. Dreams are all I've got, distorted mirror versions of them, anyway.

I'm Sasuke, by the way.

I'm 19. I'm an orphan. A college dropout. A professional athlete. A lovesick sap. A fuckup of absolutely royal proportions. A shit friend, a shit teammate.

Nice to meet you.

note.. A baseball story was pretty much inevitable for me at some point or another. Hope you like it! Let me know :)

Happy Monday!