Thrown by a curve, p.40
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       Thrown by a Curve, p.40
 

         Part #5 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
Page 40

  Author: Jaci Burton

  “You ready for me to stretch you?”

  He looked up to see Alicia standing over him. He hadn’t even realized there was anyone else in the workout room. But now, there were other players filing in to do their pregame warm-ups.

  It was the home opener today. Normally, he’d be excited as hell about the home crowd, the home stadium. Normally, he’d pitch the home opener. He always had. At least since he’d been a starting pitcher.

  Today, Walter Segundo would start the game. Maybe, if he was lucky, he’d get to throw some middle-inning pitches, but Segundo was a strong pitcher and could often carry the game until the closer came in, in the eighth or ninth. Garrett might not get to pitch in the opener at all.

  “Garrett,” Alicia said again. “Let’s stretch that shoulder. ”

  He looked up at Alicia, wondering if he’d made the right choice a few months ago when he’d told the doctors and coaches that he wanted to work with Alicia. Maybe he should have stayed with Max, the head of the sports-medicine department.

  He felt disloyal to Alicia just thinking it. He was pitching now, where before he’d done nothing but feel sorry for himself, convinced he’d never pitch again.

  He was pitching again, just not the way he’d envisioned. Surely that wasn’t Alicia’s fault. Or maybe it was. She was responsible for his recovery, wasn’t she? She’d told him she’d get him on the mound again. She’d done that, but not in the way he wanted.

  Shit. He didn’t know what to think anymore.

  “Garrett?”

  He got up and followed her. “Yeah. Sure. ”

  At the table he kept his eyes closed, concentrating on his arm, on what it was supposed to be doing that it wasn’t, while Alicia stretched him.

  “You’re very quiet today. ”

  “Just thinking. ”

  “About the game?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “I hope you’ll get some work in today. Be sure to keep your arm loose. ”

  “I don’t think you need to tell me what to do in the bullpen. ”

  She didn’t say anything after that, which was fine with him. They hadn’t seen much of each other over the past week. They’d been on the road, and the two of them hadn’t spent much time together other than her doing his therapy. They’d met on the field and in the workout room, but there’d been so much going on with media interviews and the games that they’d had no alone time. Alicia was rooming with the other female therapist, and Garrett had one of his teammates as a roommate.

  They’d hardly spoken, other than as player and therapist. Not since he’d snapped at her when he’d found out he was going to be assigned as a middle-inning relief pitcher.

  Which had probably been for the best. Garrett hadn’t exactly been the best company lately.

  He hadn’t called her when they’d gotten back into town, either. Too much was going on in his head, and none of it was pleasant. She probably knew it, too, because she hadn’t said anything about it, just showed up at the facility with her usual smiling face, patiently working on his shoulder as if nothing had changed, when in fact everything had. At least for him.

  He didn’t deserve to have someone like her in his life.

  Her hands on him felt good, though, and when she rolled him over to massage his back and shoulders, she released some of the tension he’d been holding in. At least physically.

  There was nothing she could do to take away the doubts in his mind.

  “Okay, sit up,” she said.

  He grabbed his shirt and pulled it over his head.

  She looked at him, and he was reminded that, despite those ugly physical therapy uniforms they wore, she was still beautiful. He didn’t know how he hadn’t noticed it all those months ago.

  She gave him a smile. “You’re going to do great today. ”

  “Yeah, if I get on the mound at all. ”

  She looked around the room, then brushed her fingertips across his knee. “Give it time, Garrett. Recovery is never fast. You’ll get there. ”

  “Yeah. Sure I will. ” He slid off the table, then left the treatment room.

  During the game, Garrett watched from the bullpen. Segundo pitched a shutout through eight innings, and Maloney closed the last inning for him. Garrett never got to pitch.

  He’d never ached to be on the mound more in his life. He’d have given anything to even pitch the middle innings.

  But what he really wanted was his own game. He wanted to start so badly it hurt.

  In the locker room after the game, Garrett showered, dressed, then sat in front of his locker, hoping like hell the media would be more focused on Gavin and Dedrick and Stan, the playmakers who’d driven in the winning runs, and Segundo for his stellar turn on the mound today, and less on the fact that Garrett had been nonexistent. He couldn’t face them, had nothing to say.

  Max came in and sat next to him. “You doing okay?”

  He lifted his head and nodded. “Fine. ”

  “Your shoulder is fine, too, you know. But maybe it’s time for a change. ”

  Garrett frowned. “What kind of change?”

  “You’ve been working with Alicia for a while now, and while she’s gotten you this far, maybe it’s time you let me take over and get you the rest of the way. ”

  “The rest of the way?”

  “Your mechanics are good, but you’re not there yet. I have a few ideas for tweaking the small amount of scar tissue that’s still left in your shoulder, and I think we can get you back in the starting rotation. ”

  That would mean dumping Alicia. “Alicia’s been a lifesaver, you know. She really worked me back into shape. I wouldn’t be where I am now without her skills. ”

  “Oh, I know she did. Better than I thought she would, frankly. Now, let me take you the rest of the way. ”

  Garrett swallowed. This was his career, and he had to put it first. Even above Alicia’s feelings. It wasn’t like she’d be fired or anything. She’d done her part, and God, he was grateful. But he had to be a starting pitcher again, and if Max could make that happen . . .

  “Fine. Whatever you think needs to be done, let’s do it. ”

 

 

  TWENTY-SEVEN

  SOMETHING WAS GOING ON WITH GARRETT. ALICIA HAD no idea what it was, but she’d bet it had something to do with his unhappiness at being stuck in middle-inning relief.

  She knew his shoulder therapy was still going well. He had full range of motion and exhibited no signs of pain when throwing the ball. The problem was, he’d pretty much climbed up into his own head and refused to talk to her. And when a player got into his own head, it was never a good sign. That’s where Garrett had been when she’d started working with him, and it had taken some effort to get him out of there.

  Unfortunately, they hadn’t had any alone time together, first because of the road trip, then because of the string of home games, plus the media circus in St. Louis. She couldn’t even fathom the pressure Garrett must be under right now, but the last thing she was going to do was add to it with any kind of emotional stuff related to the two of them.

  He had enough going on. There would be time later for the two of them to kick back and talk about their relationship. Right now she was more concerned about his career and where his head was. She needed to convince him that his pitching days weren’t over just because he wasn’t currently a starting pitcher.

  She believed in him and in the work they’d done together. She knew he’d start again. The key was in convincing him.

  She walked out onto the field where the pitchers were taking practice throws, ready to work with him and with the pitching coach. She and Bobby had gotten into a rhythm of diagnosing Garrett’s mechanics and working on adjustments that would affect his positioning. Bobby would ask her if that would hurt his arm in any way, and she would have Garrett throw and gauge his pain level.


  These days, nothing seemed to cause him any pain, which was a very good sign, but she could tell afterward, when she did therapy, if any of the throwing mechanics had an adverse effect on his shoulder. The last thing they needed was to take any step backward in Garrett’s recovery.

  This morning, Max was out there, and Garrett was already throwing. She grabbed her notebook and opened it, checking Garrett’s warm-up time. No, she wasn’t late.

  “Morning, Max,” she said as she headed out onto the field.

  “Alicia. Garrett, why don’t you come over here for a second? Give us a minute, Bobby,” Max said.

  “Sure,” Bobby said, moving over to work with one of the other pitchers.

  “Garrett and I spoke yesterday,” Max said. “You’ve done an excellent job, Alicia. But in order to effect more progress in his recovery, it’s time for a change. ”

  Alicia looked from Max to Garrett, who positioned his gaze somewhere over her shoulder, not at her.

  “I don’t understand. ”

  “Just to shake things up a bit. I’ve got a few ideas that I think will eliminate the remainder of the scar tissue in Garrett’s shoulder and will get him back on the mound as a starter. ”

  “Yes, Max, so do I. ” She flipped open her notebook. “If you look here . . . ”

  But Max waved his hand. “It’s okay, Alicia. I’ve got this now. Transfer your notes on Garrett to my desk. Why don’t you go tape up Cleron’s ankle? He’s complaining of some soreness. ”

  “But—”

  “That’s the final word, Alicia. You’re off Garrett’s case. ”

  She looked at Garrett, who gave her a short nod. “I’m sure Max will do a good job of getting me the rest of the way. Thanks for all you’ve done, Alicia. ”

  Thanks for all you’ve done? That was it? It was like they were strangers. And just like that a chasm opened between the two of them, a distance she’d felt for a while now but had ignored.

  She pasted on a professional smile and nodded to Max.

  “Okay, Max, sure. I’ll have those notes transferred to your files right away. ”

  She turned and headed toward the locker room so she could grab her kit that held the tape for Cleron’s ankle. With every step, the emptiness in the pit of her stomach grew.

  It wasn’t personal, despite the devastation she felt. This was part of her job, so the ache in her stomach could just take a hike.

  It was time for distance between her and Garrett, anyway. He needed to focus on his pitching, and she needed to get back to what she did, which was work for the sports-medicine team in whatever capacity they needed her.

  Their time together was coming to an end. Or maybe it had ended a couple of weeks ago, and Garrett had been the only one to notice it while she’d been working so hard on his arm, trying so desperately to put her feelings on the back burner. Because it had been his career that had been so important to her, and his feelings that she’d been tiptoeing around.

  While he’d just crushed hers without a second thought.

  Tears pricked her eyes. She swiped them away, refusing to be such a girl about the situation. She was at work and she was going to be a goddamned professional. This wasn’t about her and Garrett as a couple; this was about Garrett, her client.

  Getting personally involved with a client had been the problem all along. She’d known this would happen as soon as the two of them had climbed into bed together.

  Ending their personal relationship was for the best. She knew it, and obviously Garrett knew it, too. She’d known from the beginning they wouldn’t be able to work together once his shoulder healed. And being together while they worked for the same team was a conflict of interest. There was no way she was giving up her job. She loved her work with the Rivers, had fought hard to get this job. It was iffy as it was with her cousin playing for the team. Having a relationship with another player? If that was discovered by her bosses, it would be death to her career.
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