Thrown by a curve, p.41
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       Thrown by a Curve, p.41
 

         Part #5 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
Page 41

  Author: Jaci Burton

  It was time she categorized her relationship with Garrett where it belonged—a wonderful interlude, something she’d remember fondly, but not something that could be continued.

  It was over. Door closed. Done. Already forgotten.

  She pulled up Garrett’s treatment file on her notebook and sent it to Max. When she came out of the locker room, she headed straight for the bench, focusing only on Cleron. She didn’t once look up, didn’t once search out Garrett. She had to make a clean break from him, not let her emotions cloud her logic.

  She kneeled in front of Cleron. “Okay, Jeff. Let’s take a look at that ankle. ”

 

  * * *

  GARRETT WATCHED ALICIA WORK ON CLERON’S ANKLE. She never looked over at him, not even a glance over her shoulder.

  What did he expect after the way he treated her? The shock in her eyes when Max had told her he was taking over, followed by the look of pain that crossed her face when Garrett had basically given her a kiss-off still stuck in his gut like a hard punch.

  “Garrett. You’re not focusing,” Bobby said. “You haven’t hit the strike zone in six pitches. ”

  Garrett walked off the mound, his concentration broken. He shouldn’t be focusing on Alicia. This was his chance to change his pitching style, to have Max finish off his rehab, and to finally—finally—get back his starting pitching job. He couldn’t take this personally, and neither should Alicia. It wasn’t personal, it was his career.

  And, unfortunately, hers. She had probably taken it personally, and she likely thought he was dumping her personally on top of dumping her professionally.

  Shit. He took off his ball cap and threaded his fingers through his hair.

  You didn’t treat someone you loved that way.

  Wait.

  Loved?

  He shot his gaze across the ballpark toward the dugout.

  Alicia was gone. Cleron was back in the outfield, but Alicia was nowhere to be found.

  He already felt the emptiness.

  “You gonna count daisies out here all day, Scott, or do you maybe feel like throwing some pitches?” Bobby asked.

  Garrett scanned the ballpark one last time, but didn’t see Alicia. He didn’t know what he’d do if he did see her.

  He’d fucked up and didn’t know what to do about it. Instead, he turned and stepped back up on the practice mound. “Yeah, coach. Let’s throw some pitches. ”

 

 

  TWENTY-EIGHT

  IF THERE WAS ONE THING ALICIA DIDN’T DO, IT WAS avoidance. She was a direct, in your face, let’s-put–it-all-out-there-and-resolve-the-problem kind of person. Things that festered tended to get ugly, and she was a big believer in communication.

  Which was why she was sitting at her aunt’s house on a Sunday afternoon watching the Rivers play baseball instead of being at the ballpark.

  “Shouldn’t you be working?” her dad asked, munching on a pretzel as the family gathered around her uncle and aunt’s television to watch the game.

  “We do occasionally get days off, you know. ”

  “Yeah, when the team is off,” her father said.

  She rolled her eyes. “There are plenty of sports-medicine specialists to handle injuries. We don’t all work every game day. I’m not on today. ”

  “But you get free game tickets, and you can go to the ballpark any time you want, right?” Jenna asked.

  Alicia shot Jenna a look that plainly said, “Shut. Up. ”

  “Yes. Just didn’t feel like going today. ”

  “Hmmm,” Jenna said.

  “Hmmm, indeed,” Savannah added.

  “Besides, it’s Dad’s birthday. I specifically asked for today off so I could be here for the big family party. ”

  Her dad grabbed for another pretzel. “I dunno, sweet pea. I’d rather be at the game. ”

  Cole snorted. “Me, too, Dad. Alicia should have given us her tickets. ”

  “I could have gotten you seats if you’d asked. Gavin can get you tickets, too. ”

  “That’s true,” her uncle said. “Though these are pretty good seats, too. ”

  “Better instant replay,” Jenna said.

  Alicia would rather be watching some old black-and-white romance on television at home while crying into a gallon of chocolate chip ice cream, but it was her father’s birthday, and her aunt and uncle had decided to host a barbecue at their house today, so she had no choice but to attend. It was either that or go to the game, and being at the game meant being near Garrett, and right now that was not a place she wanted to be.

  “Aunt Kathleen, can I do anything in the kitchen?” Anything to avoid the game on television.

  “No, thank you, honey. I made the potato salad and slaw last night. The ribs are soaking in barbecue sauce, so everything’s ready. ”

  “I could grill the ribs. ”

  Her uncle scowled at her. “That’s my job, missy. Don’t even think about it. ”

  Jenna snickered. “Well, I could use a little girl gossip upstairs. ”

  Bless Jenna. “Sure. ”

  Savannah stood. “I’m coming with you. ”

  “Me, too,” Tara said, handing Sam off to Mick, who grinned and snuggled the baby in the crook of his arm.

  “Liz will be unhappy she’s at the game today and missing out on this,” Tara said after they moved upstairs and got comfortable in Alicia’s aunt’s room.

  “Alicia looked like she needed a break from all things baseball,” Jenna said, looking to Alicia to start the conversation.

  The last thing she wanted to do was talk about it, but when faced with her family, it all came pouring out. She told them everything that had happened with Garrett, including being taken off his case.

  “What a dick,” Jenna said. “I can’t believe after all you did for him that he dumped you like that. ”

  “Men can be so obtuse at times,” Savannah said. “Have you spoken to him since that happened?”

  “No. He did call, but I didn’t answer. I don’t see the point. ”

  Tara, who’d pulled up a spot on the bed next to Alicia, patted her hand. “You can’t hide from him forever, you know. Eventually, the two of you are going to have to have a conversation. ”

  Alicia sighed. “I know. I’m just not ready yet. We’ve been through so much, and he really needs to concentrate on his pitching. ”

  “Oh, bullshit,” Jenna said. “He really needs to come over to your house, beg your forgiveness, and kiss your ass for what he did to you. ”

  Alicia let out a laugh. “I wouldn’t go that far. He has to do what he thinks is best for his career. ”

  “You’re what’s best for his career. ” Jenna lifted her chin, clearly on Alicia’s side no matter what.

  And that’s why Alicia loved her. “Max is the head of sports medicine. It’s not like he sucks at what he does. ”

  “And you’re the one who got Garrett pitching again, aren’t you?” Savannah asked. “Is it possible he took his frustration at not becoming a starter right away out on you and let this Max person sway him into switching therapists? As I recall, Max wasn’t very happy about getting the boot in the first place, was he?”

  Savannah had a point that Alicia hadn’t considered. “No, he wasn’t. ”

  “So there could have been some behind-the-scenes maneuvering on Max’s part to shift you out and put himself back in charge of your guy’s therapy. Then, when Garrett moves back into the starting rotation, who gets all the credit?” Tara asked.

  “Max likely will,” Alicia admitted.

  Tara nodded. “That’s what I thought. Jenna and Savannah are right. You need to talk to Garrett. ”

  Alicia stared at all of them. “And tell him what? That I’m pissed he pushed me out? It’s his prerogative. He can choose which therapist he uses. Max is the best. ”

  Tara coc
ked a brow. “Is he the best for Garrett? Or are you the best for him?”

  “I think I’m the best for him. I got him to stop moaning about never pitching again. And goddamn it, he is pitching, just not the way he thought he’d be. And he will be a starter again. ”

  “Then tell him that,” Jenna said. “And when you’re doing that, also tell him he acted like an asshole. ”

  “One would think he’d come to that realization on his own,” Savannah suggested.

  Alicia sighed. She didn’t know what to do. But she definitely wasn’t going to go begging to Garrett. He would either figure out he needed her or he wouldn’t. In the meantime, she had other players she was assigned to and her own job to protect.

  Her own heart to protect.

  “But it’s more than just your job and your working relationship with Garrett, isn’t it?” Tara asked, keying in on what was really bothering Alicia.

  “Maybe. ”

  “No maybe about it. You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”

  She turned to look at Jenna. “Yes. I’m in love with him. Or I thought I was. ”

  “Is he in love with you?” Savannah asked.

  “I don’t know. We never talked about it. ”

  Savannah slanted her a look. “Did you ever tell him how you felt?”

  “It was never the right time. ”

  A collective chorus of groans filled the room.

  Alicia drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. “So now what do I do? After what happened, I’m sure as hell not going to tell him I love him. It would seem like begging for my job back. ”

  “No, you can’t tell him now,” Savannah said. “The ball is definitely in his court. He has to come to you. He owes you that much. ”

  “So, now I wait?”

  Jenna nodded. “Since you’re in love with him, I guess waiting is the best thing to do. I agree with everyone else—you can’t go to him. Not with all those feelings you have. Then if the two of you end up together, you’ll always be left wondering. It’s definitely his move. If he’s worth it at all, you shouldn’t have to wait long. ”

  “And if he doesn’t come to me?”

  Tara shot her a look of sympathy. “Then he’s not worth waiting for, honey. ”

 

 

  TWENTY-NINE

  IT HAD BEEN A REALLY GOOD DAY. GARRETT HAD pitched two solid innings. Things were going well. He’d been working with Max, who seemed to think therapy was progressing nicely.

  Manny had told him his pitches were getting stronger, hitting the mark, and if all went well, he might be rotating into the starting lineup within the next month or so.

  Things were looking up.

  But he still felt an emptiness inside that couldn’t be filled, because Alicia wasn’t in his life, wasn’t the center of his universe, and that just plain sucked.

  He’d called and texted her a few times after Max had removed her from his case, but she hadn’t answered. And like a coward, he’d stopped trying, focused instead on his pitching, figuring that maybe it had been for the best, that maybe they’d had a great fling and he should just look forward, not back.

  Problem was, she filled his head at night when he lay in bed, and on the road all he could think about was talking to her. When he was at home, he wanted to see her, be close to her. He wanted her at his place. He wanted to have dinner with her, sit on the couch with her watching movies. He wanted her in his bed.

  He ached for her. Like it or not, she’d become an integral part of his life that had nothing to do with rehabbing his shoulder. His shoulder was fine. He was nearly 100 percent recovered now, and eventually, he wouldn’t have needed her for that anymore anyway.

  But he’d always need her to fill the space in his heart that had opened up and let her in.

  And that’s what he needed to tell her. He couldn’t allow fear to keep him from having something—someone—that meant so much to him.
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