Okay, that might not be the headline in the newspaper this morning, but it's the reality of my current situation. It all started a month ago when I received a call from my best friend, Kinsley. She’d gotten a new job in Chicago and needed a place to stay. I've known the girl since I was five, so I figured there wouldn't be any harm in having her stay at my place for a while.
Ha! Total disaster. Now instead of going out every night with my teammates, I'm couch surfing and sketching endless portraits of my best friend...but that's the least of my concerns. The disaster, you ask? I'm rapidly falling head-over-cleats in love with my best friend, my roommate, and my number-one fan.And she has no idea...
Release date: June 11, 2020
Publisher: Hot-Lanta Publishing, LLC
Print pages: 415
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The Change Up
Have you ever said something you regret?
Something you haven’t forgotten about an hour later?
Something that sits with you, stews deep in your belly, and then seeps into your bones, burying itself so far into your marrow that all you can think about is the one thing you said . . . and how you wished you could take it back the minute it slipped past your lips?
That’s where I am.
Full of regret.
People always say, “Don’t regret anything. It’s what makes you who you are.” That was said in a whiney, nasally voice. Did you hear it?
Well, those people, the ones trying to spew rainbows and sunshine up your ass about blatant mistakes . . . yeah, they’re only saying that because they fuck up on a daily basis.
Think about it, what REAL person is okay with all their regrets? No one. There is always that one thing you did, that one time, that you will always, always, always think . . . “What if I’d done that differently?”
It keeps you up at night.
You wonder, what transformed, what took over my brain, to utter such words. To alter your life completely and send it down an entirely different course.
Yeah, my life has been fucking altered all right.
Everything was fine.
I was pitching one hell of a fucking season for the Rebels, my ride or die team. I was getting along with my teammates, even the infamous Cory Potter, who made a splash after last season. I’ll hand it to the man, he really is the boss. I was getting laid whenever I wanted, which is always a plus for a guy who has massive amounts of adrenaline pumping through him daily, especially on a pitching day. And there were no strings attached.
Yeah, I might have a rotation of women I call, but any single player in the major leagues does. You need the outlet. Even the prestigious Cory Potter had some booty call numbers before he found Natalie.
I was living a great life, and then it all changed. And it changed fucking fast.
Before I knew it, I was staring into my fridge at dairy products not made from a cow, but rather from oat. What the fuck is that? Oat milk? Explain to me where an oat has a goddamn nipple.
My toothbrush is made from bamboo, which gives off a very woody, splintery taste, and I’ve been using toothpaste tablets instead of paste from a tube . . . because apparently, tubes suck up life in the landfill.
The eco-friendly toilet paper in my apartment disintegrates in my hand and is worthless, making bathroom breaks a fucking nightmare.
And there’s a goddamn three-legged dog in a suit and tie sitting on my couch that goes by the name Herman.
I don’t have any privacy, I barely remember what meat tastes like anymore, and Herman has a goddamn staring problem. And the three-legged motherfucker, yeah, he’s stealthy. I find him waiting for me outside the shower . . . staring.
When I wake up . . . staring.
When I’m trying to make a goddamn tempeh sandwich . . . staring.
Every time I tell him to “get a life” or to “fuck off” or for the love of Christ “get a new hobby”, he doesn’t even bat an eyelash.
He just stares!
I can’t fucking take it anymore.
I’m losing my goddamn mind and I don’t know . . . maybe it’s because I haven’t had sex in what feels like forever, or because my burgers are now made of imposter “meat”, or maybe because I’m forced to do things I don’t want to do. Either way, something needs to give, because I’m pretty sure from all the vegan shit I’ve been eating, my armpits are just about ready to spring their own mung beans.
One phone call.
That’s all it took.
One fucking phone call from a person I cannot say no to, a person who will forever and always be . . . my insanely beautiful and free-spirited best friend.
“What are you doing tonight?” Lincoln asks, my best friend who was traded a couple seasons ago to the Rebels, thank fuck.
I lean back in my locker and let out a long breath. It was one hell of a game tonight. Came all the way to the ninth inning where Cory clocked one to the right, bringing in Marcus, our third baseman, for the win. Defending our World Series title from last year hasn’t been easy, but we’re holding strong as we’re nearing the second half of the season.
“Probably going to grab a steak on the way home, call up Tess. Why?”
Lincoln shakes his head. “I have a date.”
“Really?” I ask, sitting taller. “Like a real one?”
“What other kind of dates are there?” Lincoln laughs.
I drag my towel off my head and push my hand through my damp hair. “The fucking kind of dates.”
Lincoln laughs and shakes his head at me. “Dude, there is more than just fucking around with a girl. There’s intimacy. Getting to know someone. Finding a person who makes you happy. You should try it sometime.”
“Nah, I’m good,” I answer while slipping on a pair of jeans.
“You sure? Because look at Potter and Orson. They recently found love and they’re having one of the best seasons of their lives.”
I pause and face Lincoln. “Are you fucking saying I’m having a bad season? Because I have three losses under my belt.” I hold up three fingers. “Three. That’s a really good fucking season if you ask me.”
“Yeah, but two of those losses were a bloodbath where you were out in the third inning.”
“I’m allowed to have a bad fucking day. Christ. And no girl is going to change my game. You should know that by now. And why do you even care?”
“Because . . . you haven’t tried to be in a relationship since Jamie. Maybe it’s time, you know?”
Is Lincoln drunk? Where the hell is this coming from? Granted, he’s always been the guy who’s been open to finding the right person for him, even if it’s taking him fucking years and a painful process to figure out who his soul mate is—even though I could probably point it out within a second—but to toss his ideals on me? He doesn’t do that shit.
I punch my arms through my T-shirt and slip it over my head. “Why the hell are you trying to get me to date?”
Lincoln shrugs. “Might be nice to go on double dates.”
I pause amid swiping on some deodorant. “Are you fucking with me right now? You’re coming at me hard with dating someone because you want to go on double dates?”
He shrugs with a smirk. “Heard they were fun.”
“Fuck, man.” He laughs. “Ask Potter or Orson out. Leave me the hell out of it.” I cap my deodorant, toss it in my locker, and snag the keys to my ’69 Mustang Boss 429—kept the motorcycle back at my apartment today—and stuff my wallet in my back pocket.
“But it would be more fun to watch you squirm on a date.”
“You’re a really good friend,” I say sarcastically while finally checking my phone for messages. Only one, from Kinsley. I smile to myself. “I’ll catch you later.”
“That’s a no on the whole double date thing?”
From over my shoulder, I say, “That’s a fuck no.”
On my way out of the locker room, I give a few guys fist bumps and then run straight into Cory Potter, who’s already dressed and heading to his car as well.
Last season, fuck, I don’t even know how to explain last season. When Cory was traded midseason to the Rebels two years ago, I was pissed. Not even going to sugarcoat it. The front office took on his massive contract, which I knew would eat up a lot of the pot when it came to acquiring additional players. We were already sucking big time that season and everyone thought he was going to turn it around for us. Spoiler alert: he didn’t. And what was even worse was he was known as a Bobbies fan—our hometown rival—so I wanted nothing to do with the overpaid asswipe. It wasn’t until the offseason when I heard the guys talking about his work ethic and dedication that I started to ease up.
Now, we’re really good friends, and I’m one of the reasons he’s back with his girl and getting married this November. I tell him it’s all because of me that he’s with Natalie. I tend to rub it in his face whenever I get the chance. He just laughs it off but deep down, I see the gratefulness in his eyes.
“Heading out?” Cory asks.
He nods. “Natalie made some dessert she wants me to try.”
We start walking down the hallway toward the door that leads to the players’ parking lot. “Is it really dessert?”
Cory smirks. “I never know with her. Somedays it’s actual dessert like a giant pan of brownies topped with caramel and nuts, and sometimes it’s her naked on the counter.”
I let out a low laugh. “Talk about that particular dessert with her brother?” Jason Orson, our catcher and resident obnoxious but sensitive jokester, is Natalie’s brother. When Cory started dating Natalie, it was a dream come true for Jason because his obsession with Cory was and still is borderline Kathy Bates in Misery.
“Sometimes.” Cory laughs to himself and says, “Just to make him cry.”
“Hell, I’d do the same. Fucking with him as a soon-to-be brother-in-law would be my daily goal in life.”
“It does breathe air into my lungs.” He props the door open for me and we both head out into the dimly lit parking lot that is patrolled by security until the last player leaves.
“A couple more weeks and then it’s the All-Star break,” I say, noticing our cars are parked next to each other. “I’m glad I’m taking the few days off rather than pitching.”
“Yeah, I wish I’d done the same, but making the All-Star team after all the bullshit from last year . . . wanted to revel in it.”
He doesn’t deny it, just shrugs. “The boss demands attention.” I roll my eyes at the use of his nickname.
“You’re getting far too cocky. I need to bring you back down to reality.”
“Only you could.” He unlocks his car. “See you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” I answer while sticking my key into my door and unlocking it.
Besides a few rookies still waiting to make their big purchase, I’m the only guy on the team with a car that wasn’t made in the last two years. When I was younger, my dad—when he was sober—took me to car shows after some of my baseball games, or even before sometimes. He would walk me around, telling me all about each and every engine. When I was in middle school, a black Mustang caught my eye. I remember spending an hour taking in every little detail. I memorized the name, took pictures of it, and told myself when I made it to the big leagues one day, I’d get myself one.
And I did.
Nothing sounds better than the roar of my mighty 375 horsepower V8 engine and its gnarly exhaust note as it rumbles around the Chicago streets. I set my phone and wallet on the seat next to me and click my seatbelt, which is when I see the text from Kinsley light up my phone again.
Kinsley: You better call me today, Maddie. Or this friendship is over.
Chuckling from the empty threat, I turn my engine to life. I’ll give her a call when I get home.
“You’re lucky you called me tonight.” Kinsley’s familiar smooth and girly voice floats through the speaker of my phone while I lie back on my couch with my sketchbook in my hand, a pencil in the other.
“You offered up a pretty scary threat, Kinny.”
“That’s right I did.” There’s fake anger in her voice. I can tell it’s fake because I’ve known the girl since we were five. Neighbors, best friends—who really shouldn’t be friends given our differences in interests—we know the ins and outs of each other. When she’s angry, her voice becomes shaky. She’s the type of person who reverts to crying because it’s the only way her body knows how to react when angry.
“What’s up?” I ask, scratching away on my pad, drawing her face from memory as we talk.
“What’s up? Seriously? Maddox, you missed our monthly talk. That’s unacceptable.”
“Busy schedule, babe, you know that.”
She sarcastically laughs. “Who was it . . . Katrina? Or Tess? Oh wait . . . let me look at my schedule.” She pauses and I continue to smile to myself as I outline her eye, thickening the top lid because of her dark lashes that line her beautiful green eyes. “According to what I have written down, it’s Yasmin.”
“Why do you have my fuck schedule written down?”
“I’m right, aren’t I?”
Rolling my eyes even though she can’t see me, I say, “Yeah, it was Yasmin.”
“I knew it,” she whispers. “Freaking Yasmin and her long black hair. She got me three months ago too.”
“Really?” I ask, feeling a little guilty that I’ve missed two of these phone calls. Third Saturday of every month. It’s what we “set in stone” when we were in high school when I was being drafted. She was terrified I’d forget about her. I told her that would never happen, so we made a promise to talk on the phone every third Saturday of the month. Ten years later, we still make that phone call. Even if it’s a day or so off.
“Yes. I mean, I get it, she has amazing boobs, but honestly, Maddox, is a pair of boobs really better than our friendship?”
“I mean . . .”
“I will glitter-bomb you. Don’t make me send another special package to your place.”
“Christ, please don’t. The last one shot up my nose. I was sneezing glitter for days.”
“Well deserved. At least the glitter was biodegradable so it probably dissolved in your snot.”
I loop my pencil around her other eye, paying special attention to the shine in her iris that I remember so vividly from the last time she came to visit. “Good to know your glitter bomb is a part of me now.”
“Just a gentle reminder that I’m always with you.”
I chuckle. “That glitter bomb was not gentle by any means.” She laughs, the sound like a warm blanket covering me up from behind. It’s impossible to count the amount of times I’ve heard her laugh, but the sound will never get old to me. It feels like home—and that’s always been about Kinsley.
“So tell me all the things about life. I see that you’re killing it on the mound. You were so sweaty the other night. Every time they did a close up, I gagged.”
“Aren’t you treat to talk to?” She laughs again. “That’s what hard work does to you, Kinny, it makes you sweat. You should try it some time.”
“My, my, my, you’re ripe today. Have you been taking those vitamins I sent you? They’re supposed to improve your mood.”
“They smelled like death. I chucked them.”
“What?” she screams on the phone. “Maddox. That is such a waste.”
“I’m kidding. They’re in my cupboard, untouched, but they’re in there.” I sketch out the little lift to her nose that I’ve studied many times. A slight slope with a gentle curve at the tip. A button nose, I’ve always told her.
“Well open them, they will do you some good,” she huffs and I smirk, loving how easily I can annoy her. “So what else is happening in your life?”
“Not much. Skipping the All-Star game this year to opt for a break. I feel like I need one.”
“I was wondering what was going on. Do you plan on going anywhere? Maybe coming to visit me in Michigan for a few days?” There’s hope in her voice and I hate to disappoint her but . . .
“Stay-cation, babe. Sorry.”
“Ugh, I knew you were going to say that. If people only knew you the way I know you, they’d be shocked that you’re not the rebel bad boy with the tattoos they paint you as, but rather a snuggle cuddly bear who enjoys hot chocolate with thousands of marshmallows and staying at his apartment with a sketchbook in hand.”
“Yeah, and if we can keep that under wraps, that would be awesome.”
“Don’t worry, tough guy, I won’t ruin your image.”
“It’s appreciated.” Heart-shaped lips where the corners automatically tilt up ever so slightly, as if she has a permanent smile on her face. It’s a little thing I’ve noticed over time about her lips—the corners are always aiming toward the sky, rather than the ground. It’s what makes her so special, ever optimistic. “What’s up with you? Any new boys I need to know about?”
“Unless you’re speaking of the four-legged kind, then no.”
Kinsley works for an animal shelter in our hometown. She’s always been the girl that takes in every animal that crosses her path. A Mother Earth type, healing, feeding, and saving one animal at a time ranging from caterpillars to stray cows she finds along the road.
Yeah, a fucking cow. She brought the heifer to my house first, knowing her parents were going to be mad, but she wanted to save “Bessy” and give her a warm place for the night until she could figure out her action plan. It’s how I ended up sleeping in my parents’ shed one winter night, sharing a blanket with an odorous cow.
“Well, you know, I do get my womanly needs met by Stan down at the Feed and Seed occasionally.”
I groan. “Jesus fuck, not Stan. Kin, have some standards.”
“You’re failing to remember that I live in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t many options for bed partners around here. Or friends for that matter . . .” she mumbles, and I know it’s one of her grievances about living in the town we group up in. Everyone left, including me, leaving her with her mom as her only friend and . . . Stan apparently.
“But Stan . . .”
“Hey, I don’t judge your brothel of women you keep on hold, so don’t judge my need for release with Stan. Okay?”
“Fair, but it’s not a brothel.”
“Agree to disagree,” she says as I start to work on her hair, wishing I could portray the natural blonde hue of it, the way it shines under the sun, making it almost look white. “I do have some depressing news.”
My pencil pauses as I look down at the phone. “Depressing? You never talk about depressing shit. You’re always a ball of positivity.”
“Yeah, I tried to put a good spin on this but not sure I can. I’m having a hard time. Maybe you can help me.”
“You know I’m the wrong person to try to spin something positively but I can give it a try. What’s up?”
“Well, you know I’ve been trying to get out of Woodland for a while now but it’s been hard given my job and the pay.”
“Yeah.” I draw the slope of her neck, trying to make my lines as smooth as possible to represent how soft it looks.
“Well, I got a job offer in Chicago—”
“What?” I pause my strokes. “Seriously?”
“Yup, it’s with Finding Homes. They connect animals whose owners are terminally ill with a family who can take care of the animal.”
“Shit, that’s depressing. I can see why you’re upset about it.”
“No, that’s not why I’m upset. I really love their work. It’s why I applied. All I kept thinking about was all those people who were dying and wanted to make sure their pets were taken care of. It gives them peace of mind, you know?”
Still depressing, but Kinsley has the most beautiful heart I’ve ever seen, so I can see why she’d want to work with an organization like that.
“Okay, so what’s the problem? If you got the job, isn’t that exciting?”
“Yeah, but then they told me the salary.” She sighs. “There’s no way I could afford to live in Chicago on that amount. At least not at first. They said they’re looking at a huge partnership with Barking Tails, the Organic Dog Food brand. If they can land the partnership it would change everything. More money, new facilities, more quality accommodations for transferring animals. But they won’t know about it until the end of the year probably.”
“And you need to accept now.”
“Pretty much.” She sighs again. “So that’s where I am, trying to put a positive spin on all of this. I guess . . . I mean . . . I could say . . .”
As her brain spins in all different ways to turn this into a positive moment, my brain spins as well, but for a completely different reason.
This is a dream job for her.
And she’s going to turn it down because of the cost of living?
“Take the job and stay with me for a bit.” But the moment the words fall past my lips, I realize what a huge mistake I just made. Shit.
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