Fiction Friday: CURVE BALL

One day I was mulling on my story here and I decided Grant needed a friend. Joe walked in, said, “Howdy,” and we got to work.


Chapter Eighteen

Grant leaned his injured arm against the wall of the physical therapy clinic. Grimacing, he walked his fingers up the wall with all his weight on the bad shoulder. His therapist approached and Grant forced a grin. “Hi, Matt. How are you?”

“Good. How does that feel?”

“Fine.” Grant smoothed his mouth into an easy grin. He hoped.

“Then why is your face contorted?”

“Just thinking about how eager I am to get back to work.”

“If you push too hard and re-injure yourself, you’ll miss two seasons, not just this one.”

Grant sighed. “All right. What’s next?”

“Let’s see some range of motion. And stop as soon as you feel any pain.”

Grant stood in front of Matt and stretched his arm across his body. He gently pulled his right arm with his left. He moved it to the side, behind him and overhead.

Matt watched his face. “Now some pendulums.” Grant grasped a nearby chair-back and bent over, allowing his arm to hang straight down. He swung it back and forth several times, then in circles that grew in circumference with each rotation. Ten minutes later, Matt stopped him.

“Okay. Do these same exercises at home twice more today and come back tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks, Matt.” Grant gathered his belongings and headed to the parking lot.

It had been a rough few days. The pain was worse than he’d anticipated. He acted like it didn’t hurt, but he was pretty sure Matt had seen through his charade. Grant’s shoulder tightened with stress and it spread across his chest. His body had always obeyed his commands, running faster and throwing harder, doing whatever he asked of it. But now, his shoulder remained obstinately painful and stiff. Just when he needed it more than ever.

Well, at least there was one bright spot in his life: Cami. Since the evening after his surgery when he’d called Delia, Cami had been freer with her emotions, not so contained. This new side of her seemed comfortable with him, more at ease than at any time since they’d begun dating. And as she relaxed, his feelings grew proportionately. If he was crazy about her before, he now knew he was falling in love with Camille Henderson. Hopefully, it was mutual.

He arrived home where a green Camry sat in front of his house. Joe Spencer, a Coyote starting pitcher, got out.

“Hey, Grant. I was leaving you a note.”

“What’s up?”

“We got back into town last night, and I wanted to see how you were doing. What’s the doc think?”

“If it heals completely, I’ll be back next season. Great game against Dallas last week.”

“Thanks. We missed you there and in Seattle.”

“Hopefully it won’t be for long. The new shortstop seems to be pretty good.”

“Worried?” Joe stepped aside so Grant could lead the way up the narrow walk.

“Wouldn’t you be?” Grant answered over his shoulder.

“It’s different for pitchers. Coach has our replacements warming up in the bullpen right behind our backs. He had to call Fresno for yours.”

“I still don’t like it.” They reached the front door. “Want to come in?” Grant asked.

“For a minute.”

As Grant unlocked the door, he glanced at Joe. What was up? A few years older, Joe was a veteran starter, a nice guy, but not one of his close friends on the team. Locker room gossip said he was on his way out, either toward retiring or moving to relief. But so far this season, his arm had been as strong as ever and he’d won three of his last five starts. Joe also was one of the outspoken Christians on the team and let it be known that he was available if anyone ever had any spiritual issues. And he led a few of the other players in some sort of prayer group.

What if he wanted to pray for him? Could he say no without looking like a complete jerk?

“Coffee? Or something cold?” he offered once they were both inside.

“Coffee’s fine.” Grant went into the kitchen to brew a fresh pot while Joe looked around. He walked to the wall of windows along the back of the great room. “Wow. I love this view. Is that the Newport Beach Golf Course?”

“Yeah. Do you play?”

“Some. One of these days I’ll get serious.” They talked of courses they had played around the country while the room became redolent with Grant’s favorite French Roast. Once the coffee maker quit gurgling, Grant filled two mugs, handed Joe one and indicated he should take a seat. “So, what’s up?”

“You mean to what do you owe the honor of my visit?”

“Something like that. You’ve never dropped by before.” Grant sipped his coffee.

“I wanted to see how you were doing.”
“I’m fine.”

“I don’t mean in the surface way we usually ask that question. I want to know how you really are. Are you in pain? Angry about getting hurt, or depressed? Discouraged?”

“Why do you ask?” He was still puzzled by this visit.

“I guess I’m feeling guilty that I never took the time to get to know you before your injury.” Joe stood and faced the view again. “God has been nagging me to talk to you. To encourage you, if I can. And I’m tired of ignoring Him. He’s not going away.”

“Do you guys have secret codes for alerting each other when a doubter is in your area?”

“No, God badgers us until we give in. Like I did. So, how are you really feeling?” Joe dropped onto the couch.

The doorbell rang then, saving Grant from answering. He opened the door to find Cami on his front porch.

“Hi,” she said. “Do you have company? I don’t recognize the car out front.”

“Joe Spencer, from the team.” He tipped his head for her to follow him inside. “You met him at the opener party. He stopped by to see how I was doing.”

Cami shook Joe’s hand. “I’m glad to see you,” she said. “I wondered why more of Grant’s teammates haven’t called or visited since his injury.” She sat in the recliner.

“Some guys think injuries are contagious. Some feel they don’t know Grant well enough. And the rest of us are too busy or self-centered or whatever.”

“You think injuries are contagious?” She gave Joe one of those looks she got sometimes when she was concentrating hard.

“Ball players have their superstitions. You’ve heard of guys wearing the same socks all season, haven’t you?” Joe stretched his arm along the back of the couch.

“I guess I lead a pretty sheltered existence.” She raised one eyebrow, reminding Grant of Petey, head cocked, and waiting for his leash to snap on.

“I’ll start some hot water for tea for you,” Grant said. He returned to the kitchen, turned the stove on under the kettle and refilled his coffee mug. He leaned against the counter as he sipped his coffee, then tilted forward to turn the stove burner down. Just a little, to give him a couple more minutes in the kitchen and away from Joe and his questions.

“Grant!” Joe called.

Grant’s shoulders sagged. So much for a kitchen break. He went back into the great room where Joe stood, keys in hand, and Cami was almost bouncing on the sofa.

“Joe asked if you and I would like to go to lunch with him and his wife,” she said. “What do you think?”

The last thing he wanted to do today was to go out and pretend to be sociable with Joe Spencer. “Don’t you have to work?” he asked. “And what are you doing here, by the way? At this time of day?”

“I’m doing the finishing touches in your office. And that’s the beauty of being self-employed. I give myself permission to go to lunch with Joe and his wife. What about you?”

“I don’t know. I’ve got therapy to do.”

“Haven’t you already been to your appointment?”

“I’ve been assigned home exercises, too.” How many excuses could he come up with?

“How long will they take?” She looked so fresh and clean with her hair pulled back, her tan face and green eyes watching him. Maybe a lunch with the Spencers wouldn’t be so bad.

“About ten minutes,” he said.

She laughed. “Yes, we can meet you for lunch, Joe.”

“Great. We’ll see you around noon then? At Le Bistro. I’ll let myself out.” The door clicked shut behind him as Cami looked at Grant.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. “You acted like his being here was a hassle.”

“I don’t know what it is. I felt… cornered.”

“Cornered? By someone caring about you?” She sounded confused.

“I know it sounds crazy, but I was uncomfortable.” He looked back toward the kitchen. Maybe he shouldn’t have turned the kettle down. A whistle could summon him out of here.

“You know what I think it is?”


Cami rose from the couch and walked to where Grant stood. She put her hands on his hips. “You’re used to being the caring one in a relationship. And you don’t know how to behave when you have to accept someone else’s comfort. Either that or you’re depressed.”

“That sounds like something Doctor Phil would say.” Although the words came out easily, his breath didn’t. Except for the night she confided in him about her date rape, this was the first time she’d initiated physical contact. She did trust him. Not just with her thoughts and feelings, but with her physical safety. This was a huge step for her. He wanted to hug her close, but forced himself to lightly touch her shoulder.

“You really are depressed,” she said. “If you’re watching Dr. Phil in the afternoon, we’ve got to find you a hobby.”

“I was thinking earlier how much I’m enjoying this new easier side of you. But now I’m not so sure, not if you feel free to point out my flaws. I think I liked it better when you were ambivalent.”

“You know the old adage, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ You’ve got me now. For better or for worse.”

“Really?” He took a half step back, to look her full in the face, which had already flushed pink from her neck to her forehead.

“That slipped out. I didn’t mean I wanted to marry you. Of course, you haven’t asked. Not that I’m expecting you to. Or want you to. Not that I don’t want you to. I mean-”

Grant laughed. “It’s all right. I know what you meant. That you are now fully committed to this relationship. And if it leads to something more permanent in the future, that’s great. But for now, we’re both in the same place. For the first time.”

She smiled. “You know the right thing to say when I’ve completely mortified myself. I have to start thinking about the words I use before they’re out of my mouth.”

“Please don’t. I like your goofy speeches.” He did a Groucho Marx eyebrow waggle.

She pulled away and sat on the couch. “Getting back to what we were talking about, the other explanation for your indifference towards Joe is that God is moving in your life. And that’s always painful. Believe me, I know.”

“You’re full of theories, aren’t you?” He sat in the easy chair and reclined just as the teakettle finally made some noise.

“Yes, I am. Hey, the team’s back for a home stand. Can I go with you to the game tonight?”

The reminder of the Coyotes playing without him hit like a towel snap to the gut. “I’m not sure I’m going.” He played his thumb along the stitching on the chair arm.

“You really are depressed, aren’t you?” She leaned forward and he could feel her gaze. He kept his attention on the regular bumps of thread on top of the leather.

“I don’t feel like answering a bunch of questions or hearing any sympathy. I don’t even want to have lunch with Joe and Ellen.”

“You’re afraid he’s going to pity you? For being injured?”

“Something like that.” The gentle whistle from the kitchen grew shrill but he ignored it.

“Grant Andrews, I don’t know what’s going on.” She stood and approached again, bobbing her head to see his eyes. “But I do know that you love baseball, and if you don’t want to go watch your team play, something is very wrong. Should I call my pastor? Or find you a counselor?” She waited in front of him.

“No.” A crushing weight kept him in the chair.

“You’re scaring me.” Her voice was faint.

“I’m scaring myself.”

She took his hand and held it tight as the piercing whistle from the kitchen echoed between them.

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