|Not the Prettiest Game |
I. February 2011: Scottsdale, Arizona
They meet on the first day of Spring Training for pitchers and catchers: one a non-roster invitee who was invited as a favor to someone, and one a pick-up from San Diego who is only there for insurance purposes. They're paired up for catch the first afternoon apparently at random, Dave Righetti pointing at them out of a group of other guys--"Stew, Vogelsong, over here"--and sending them down the third base line away from where Lincecum and Posey stand near home plate, murmuring to each other, prom kings among commoners.
"Well, this sucks," Stewart says, not unfriendly.
"It's worse if you're not invited at all," Vogelsong answers. "Trust."
Stewart stops, adjusting his glove. "Yeah?"
"Japanese league." Vogelsong kicks the dirt along the line. "Four years."
"Chris Stewart," Stewart says, holding out his hand. "2009 Portland Beavers."
It is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
"Japan, huh?" Stewart says over lunch. The Giants catering is much better than the Padres was, even at the big league level. Someone in management at San Diego had weird ideas about food and all the San Diego buffets were full of things like couscous and vegan potato soup. The Giants have sandwiches and pasta salad and kettle chips.
Ryan swallows. "Yeah. I needed to make some money and that wasn't really happening here, so." He shrugs.
"I never even thought of Japan," Chris says. It's true. It hadn't occurred to him to see if they wanted him in Japan. It was pretty clear that no one was all that excited about him in the United States. "The money was good?"
"It was decent. Steady. And they really like Americans." Ryan shoves a little pickle in his mouth.
"Did you like it?"
Ryan shrugs again. "I guess. My wife really liked it."
"How long you been married?"
The cynical smile Ryan gives tells Stewart all he needs to know before the words even come out of Ryan's mouth. "Four and a half years."
"I made it a whole three," Stewart says, pointing at himself with a half-sandwich. "Kids?"
"One. A boy."
"Me too. He's in Illinois with this mother."
"Still in Japan." Ryan sets down his cup. "She, um. Met someone."
"A Japanese guy?"
"An English guy. Who lives in Japan."
"Wow. That's...I don't know what that is."
"Anyway, I figured if I were going to give this another shot, now's the time, right? So here I am."
Chris picks up his plastic cup. "To being here," he says. Ryan bumps his cup against Chris's and smiles.
If he's being honest, Chris doesn't know why he's at Spring Training. Or, well, he knows why he came--he was invited, and you don't turn down an invitation from the World Series champions--but he doesn't know why he was invited. The Giants have Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, and they have Gary Brown and Hector Sanchez in the farm, and they have Eli Whiteside as a backup guy. They seem all set for catchers.
But that doesn't mean he doesn't want to do a good job. Brown and Sanchez are both really young to the position, and Whiteside isn't better than him. He finds that out when they do drills. They line up in a row and catch in front of the coaching staff and Chris notices that he's gotten rid of his ball well before anybody else on the line, even Buster, who's down at the other end. He's always had a fast exchange and release--he played shortstop for a while--but he's a little surprised by how far ahead he is of everyone else, every time.
"Looking good," Ryan says afterwards, at the water table. "They were talking about you."
"They always talk," Chris says. "Then they see me hit."
"Yeah? How bad?"
Chris shrugs. "I should've been a pitcher."
"How are they?" Chris asks, nodding at some of the other pitchers, who are milling around. He's seen the Giants pitching staff before, but only from the dugout or on television. From those vantage points, they look nasty.
"They're good guys," Ryan says. "No one seems...I don't know. They're good. You'll see."
Chris gets his chance the next afternoon, when they start bullpen sessions. Chris settles in behind the dish, knees apart, glove open to Matt Cain. The moment before Cain starts his wind-up, Chris feels a pang of envy for Posey and Whiteside, who've had games and games of practice with this rotation, who know what is about to happen to him. Then Cain rears back and everything goes out of Chris's mind except for the ball.
People say that pitchers and catchers have to have a rapport to work together, that the relationship is special and matters to the game. In Ryan's opinion, that's both true and untrue. He's thrown to dozens of guys who he didn't have a "rapport" with, guys he'd never met until the hour before the game, guys who didn't even speak English, and it didn't make a difference. Or, he doesn't think it made a difference.
But certain catchers are easier than others.
Buster, for example. There's something about him, his presence behind the dish, that radiates calm. It's more than sixty feet from the mound to the plate, but Ryan feels like Buster is looking right into his eyes. No wonder, Ryan thinks after their first bullpen session together, when everything he throws finds Posey's glove like it's attached to a rubber band. No wonder he's Rookie of the Year.
Hector Sanchez has a little bit of that presence, but he's still jittery behind the plate, moving around, tapping his glove on the ground, shifting his feet. He'll settle down, Ryan thinks, and then he'll be great.
And Chris. He doesn't have the same presence as Posey and Sanchez, the same magnetism, but there's something about the way he sets the glove that just makes sense to Ryan, like Chris knows what he's thinking before he thinks it. Of course, he finds himself thinking every time Chris puts down a sign.
"Going good," Lincecum says as Ryan comes off the mound. He's standing against the fence, rubbing a ball in both hands. Ryan hasn't spoken to Lincecum much, but when he has, he's liked him. Ryan's met a lot of superstars, and most of them are not assholes, but Lincecum is more than just polite; he's normal.
"Thanks," he says.
"How'd you like Buster?" Lincecum asks.
Ryan can't help but smile. "Awesome," he says.
Lincecum's mouth twitches in a grin. "Yep. Now anyways."
Ryan pauses. "You, um. Had some problems?" He probably shouldn't ask, but it's been in the magazines, Lincecum's struggles with Posey, and he seems to be bringing it up. Plus, it's not like they haven't gotten on the same page since then.
Lincecum gives a one-shouldered shrug, tossing his ball from hand to hand. "It was hard, switching. I'd been with the other guy for a while and..." His voice trails off. "Some of us are going out tonight to play some pool. You wanna come?"
"Sure," Ryan says, trying not to sound too eager. This is how it works: you hang out on the field, then, if you click, you get invited to stuff outside the park. "Mind if I invite Chris?"
"Stewart." Ryan points to Stewart, who's standing on the first base line, his mask pushed up over his helmet.
"Oh, Stew," Lincecum says. "Sure, yeah."
"Sweet," Ryan says, and manages to resist the urge to run across the field and let Chris know.
"Whoa, what the fuck is that?"
Ryan looks down at his shirt, which Chris is pointing at like there might be a spider on it or something. "What?"
"You're wearing that?"
Ryan looks at his shirt again. It's a perfectly good shirt, black, button-down, with some shiny stitching over the shoulders in a sort of Western style. His ex-wife had always loved it when he wore this shirt, which is what he tells Chris.
"But then she left you," Chris says. He is wearing a white t-shirt under a blue button- down with the sleeves rolled up. Boring.
"They're waiting for us," Ryan says.
"Fine." Chris pulls the door shut behind him. They're meeting the rest of the group in the parking lot because someone--maybe Lincecum, Ryan's not sure--has rented cars with drivers for the night. It seems a little over the top to Ryan, like maybe too much is being made out of a guys' night out, but he's not paying for it, so why not?
"Nice shirt, Vogelsong," Wilson says as they approach the SUVs. "I didn't know you played in a Mariachi band."
In addition to Chris and Ryan, there are ten of them--the pitching/catching contingent of Lincecum, Wilson, Zito, Kroon, Posey, Romo, Lopez, and Mota, and the new arrivals Huff and Burrell, who Chris has never met, and who just showed up this afternoon a day early for regular spring training. It's too many for the two SUVs, so they end up crammed in like girls, Lincecum and Romo actually sitting on the laps of Zito and Posey, respectively.
"This is cute," Burrell says, turning around from his seat next to the driver to take a picture with his camera phone.
"Next time take your own car, you freeloader," Lincecum answers. Burrell makes kissy faces at him.
Ryan, crammed in the middle of the last row of seats between Chris and Buster Posey, tips his head to Chris' ear and says "I think this is going to be a good time."
Six and a half hours later, Chris finds himself in the same spot he started out in, the corner of the back seat next to the window, Ryan against his shoulder. Burrell is gone, vanished in a taxi with a Playboy-style blond, and Buster is in the front seat, but Lincecum is still on Zito's lap for some reason that Chris can't figure out.
Tim's talking, saying something mostly incoherent about curve balls that Chris can't quite hear. He gestures to the silhouette of Lincecum and Zito. Ryan shrugs.
The streetlights roll by, making Chris feel like he's inside the slowest strobe light, ever, but in the illuminated moments he tries to watch Lincecum and Zito. Something is happening, but he's not sure what, and his observation is complicated by the fact that he keeps wanting to close his eyes, just for a second.
They pull up in the condo parking lot. Tim rolls out the side door first, shoving a pile of money into the driver's hand and dragging Zito across to the entryway by the wrist, laughing and stumbling. It looks to Chris like they're on a date, but that would be...he doesn't know what that would be.
He tips out of the car, into Ryan's arms. "Thanks," he mumbles. "What's that?" He waves his hand vaguely and Lincecum and Zito. Lincecum's leaning against the wall by the mailboxes, his head rolling back and forth, a dizzy smile on his face. Zito's leaning over him, with the same dizzy smile.
Buster makes a face. "Fucked up, is what it is," he mutters. "Take it inside, Timmy!" he shouts.
Tim straightens and waves a hand. "Night!" He and Zito vanish down the open-air hallway to the back stairs.
"I'm over here." Buster points to the right. "So I'll see y'all tomorrow." He slaps Chris on the arm.
"Night, man," Chris says.
He and Ryan are in the building on the left, a few doors down from one another on the second floor. They walk in silence for a minute, then Ryan clears his throat. "Tonight was a good night," he says. It sounds like a question.
"Definitely," Chris says. "Yeah."
"What do you think, um. About Lincecum?"
Chris hesitates for a minute. The truth is that he thinks Lincecum is a really great guy, fun, down to earth, easy to get along with. He also suddenly wishes that he were a fly in Lincecum's room, because the guy is flexible as fuck and Zito does yoga all the time. There was a reason Chris Stewart didn't stay married. But he doesn't say any of this to Ryan.
"Whatever," he says instead, trying to sound casual. "I mean, it's his business, right?"
"Sure," Ryan says, but he seems nervous, licking his lips. Chris hopes that Ryan isn't some kind of homophobe. He can handle it--he's had to, living in the world of professional baseball--but he really likes the guy and was hoping they could be real friends, eventually, not just teammates. "You're right."
It's not exactly a gay pride march, but it's not a bad answer, so Chris will take it at face value. He stops at his door, gropes for his keys in his pants pocket. He's suddenly exhausted and can't wait to pull all his clothes off and get to bed. "Thanks for inviting me."
Ryan, who is already staggering off to his own door, waves over his shoulder. "Anytime, man."
Chris dreams of Lincecum sitting on his lap, laughing up into his face. It's the worst kind of dream, one where he wakes up with a hard-on in his shorts and longing in his heart. And a hangover.
It's one of those blinding spring days where the sun is everywhere--peeking through the heavy blinds, glinting around the edges of his sunglasses, ricocheting off the windshield of his car. Chris dry swallows two Advil on the drive to the park and takes another two with tepid water from the drinking fountain once he gets there.
Fortunately, he's not the only one who feels like he was beaten with a stick, and he's certainly not the most high profile: Lincecum looks like he's been wrung out and hung up to dry, a fact that is not lost on Righetti, who is not normally a yeller, but seems to have made an exception to that rule this afternoon. Chris sits at his locker and tries not to pay too much attention to what's being said.
Ryan comes over and sits down next to him, bumping his shoulder. "Rough." He nods his head at the Righetti and Lincecum Show.
"Yep. How d'you feel?"
Ryan shrugs. "Shitty, but in a good way, you know?"
Chris nods. "Exactly."
Ryan tips his head to Chris's shoulder and just leaves it there for a minute. Chris pats his knee. It's not unusual for stuff like this to happen--guys touch all the time in the game, it's part of it--and normally it doesn't bother Chris at all. As a catcher, he's sort of one of the dads of the team, expected to dole out affection and discipline, especially to the pitchers. But fresh off the strange night and his erotic dreams, Chris finds it hard to stay still until Ryan sighs and leans back.
"This is gonna blow," Ryan says, looking around the locker room. "I can just feel it."
Chris agrees with him, so he says nothing.
Ryan isn't sure how it happens, but the whole day, all he can think of is Chris Stewart. And not in a "Chris is a great guy" way. Well, in that way, yeah, but also in other ways, ways that are less platonic and more naked.
Obviously, last night had something to do with it, the strange charged air around Lincecum and Zito, but Ryan doesn't think that's it. It started, he thinks, in the van on the way out, when they were all crammed in tight together and Chris had put his arm around Ryan's shoulder. It hadn't meant anything--it was just for space--but it's been a really long time since anyone's touched Ryan, since Japan, and Chris's friendly arm had unlocked something that Ryan's been trying to keep locked for a while now. On the way home, he made sure to get in next to Chris again. And then, this morning, he'd sat next to Chris in the locker room and ducked his head to Chris's shoulder just so he could feel it again.
Ryan sighs, lifting his hat, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. He swears it smells like vodka.
This is it, he tells himself, focusing on Hector Sanchez's glove. He's working on his curve and it's coming around, even though he's tired and a little dehydrated. It's just a crush, and I'm not going to do it anymore.
Chris is standing in the shadows near the dugout next to Bumgarner, his mask pushed back on top of his head, waiting their turn. He's working with Maddy today, trying to get their rhythm down. "He's a lefty, but he feels like a righty," Chris said a couple of days ago. "I don't know how else to explain it."
"Okay, Vogey, okay," Sanchez says, coming out from behind the plate. "Good curve. Five more minutos, okay?"
Ryan nods. "Okay," he says. He likes Hector. Once the kid gets a little experience, he's going to be a prize. Sanchez goes back into the squat, opens and closes his glove, pats his free hand on the dirt.
Ryan casts one last glance at Chris, tall and angular and hot in his gear, and goes back to work.
It's not the worst practice of Chris's life, he keeps reminding himself, over and over again, as the temperature creeps up towards ninety and the sun seems to stop in the sky. He's not as hungover as he thought he would be, and he's not being asked to do a whole lot, and he's not Lincecum, who in addition to his normal bullpen with Buster and regular conditioning has been forced to throw batting practice at the other field and now is back with the pitchers and catchers running laps around the outside of the field with Kroon and Edelfsen. Lincecum hates running and looks like he's about to throw up when he passes behind Chris at homeplate. Chris suspects that's the point.
So he's not Lincecum, but it's still pretty rough out in the sun, trying to focus on Bumgarner, and a couple of balls get past him that shouldn't. He's not impressing anyone today, that's for fucking sure.
Finally, Lincecum throws up, bending over just past first base, his hair falling into his face.
"All right, hit the showers," Righetti says, stalking off the field. Everyone looks at each other for a minute.
"Really?" Romo asks. "That's all it took?"
"I shoulda punched him in the stomach an hour ago," Wilson says, peeling off his shirt. Chris isn't usually attracted to Wilson--his personality is too big, too loud--but the guy's got some wicked shoulders and some badass tattoos and Chris is both tired and horny, so for a second, just a second, he imagines licking them. Then he bends down and undoes his shin guards.
"Are you okay?" Ryan asks. Lincecum's bent over, his hands on his knees, just past the foul line in right field. Ryan doesn't want to get too close--his stomach isn't feeling too good either and he can't stand the smell of vomit--but he feels like someone should go after Timmy.
Lincecum wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "Yeah," he says. "Do you have any water?"
Ryan hands him the bottle, and waves it off when Lincecum tries to hand it back after taking a sip. "It's yours."
"Thanks." Tim sips again, swishes, spits. "Sorry for all this. I didn't know he'd be such a dick about it."
"That's what coaches do," Ryan says. "This one time, in Japan, we had to run until everyone threw up. To show our discipline. It took, like, three hours."
Lincecum's eyes are wide. "Dude."
"I know!" Ryan says. "I was so close to calling my agent and telling him I was coming home after that." He laughs. "So close."
"Why didn't you?" Lincecum asks. They're heading back in, now, trailing behind the rest of the guys.
"No one back here wanted me," Ryan says. "It would have been quitting."
"Oh," Lincecum says. "Sorry, man."
"Hey, I'm here now, right?" Ryan says, feeling like a douche. He was trying to cheer Lincecum up. "That's what matters, right?"
"Sure, sure," Lincecum says, but he's clearly still thinking about something else, maybe running around a baseball field for three hours, imagining what other tortures await those in the Japanese league.
"Look on the bright side," Ryan says.
"Only you had to throw up today."
Tim snorts. "Fuck you," he says, but he does seem to feel better, which is the whole point.
"Fuck," Ryan says as they're coming up the stairs.
"hmm?" Chris turns, shuffling through his keys.
"My air's getting fixed this afternoon," Ryan says. He's staring at his apartment's open door with something very like dismay. "I forgot."
Chris looks down the balcony at the heavy dented toolbox parked in front of Vogelsong's door, and the heavy dented guy crouched in front of it. "Hang out here," he says, unlocking his door.
"No, man, I couldn't."
Chris makes a face. "Why the fuck not. Come on." He lets Ryan in and throws his gear bag on the floor by the door. One of the nice things about the majors, even spring training, is that the staff will take care of all the really nasty laundry. He's still got some stuff to take care of, his civilian clothes, but in the morning his apartment won't reek of unwashed jock. Probably. "You want something to drink?"
"Pop or whatever," Ryan says. "Something with sugar."
Chris pulls ice trays out of the freezer. He showered at the park, but he sort of wants to shower again and then crash on the couch and not lift his head until it's time to go to bed. He almost regrets asking Ryan in, but he couldn't let the guy go home to no air conditioning and grimy repairmen.
"I been thinking," Ryan says, once Chris brings the drinks over, the glasses already slick with water from the melting ice.
"About." Chris leans forward, presses the button on the remote to turn the television on, and mutes it.
"Lincecum. And Zito. Or whatever."
Shit, here it comes, Chris thinks. If this devolves into some sort of homophobic bullshit, he will regret asking Ryan in. "Yeah? What about that?"
"I dunno." Ryan sips his drink. "Do you think it's a big deal?"
"Nope," Chris says, trying to sound causal. "I don't. Do you?"
"I dunno," Ryan says again. "Like, what would you do if someone, like, hit on you or something? Someone on the team?"
Here it is, moment of truth. Does he tell Ryan his honest answer--that it depends on if he's attracted to the guy or not, or does he lie and say that's he'd politely turn him down? He settles for the middle road--a joke.
"Ryan Vogelsong," he says, shoving Ryan's shoulder playfully. "Are you hitting on me?"
Ryan stares at his class of Coke and doesn't answer.
"Holy shit," Chris says. He can hardly breathe. "Are you?"
Ryan shrugs miserably. "No," he says. "I don't. No." But the truth is on his face and in the fingers clenched tight around his glass.
"Hey," Chris says. Ryan closes his eyes and shakes his head. In four seconds, he's going to bolt, sweaty repairmen or not. "Hey," Chris says again, but this time he hooks a finger under Ryan's chin and leans in until his mouth is almost touching Ryan's frown. "I wish you would."
The kiss is slow and tastes like Coke, and Ryan's mouth is cold from the ice.
"Fuck," Ryan says, when Chris pulls back from the kiss. He's panting and his dick feels like a metal rod in his pants. He hasn't done anything with anyone since his wife left--just the thought of it made him want to throw up--but now it's all he can do to keep his clothes on. "Chris." He presses forward, kissing him again.
Chris's hands are on his shoulders, squeezing his arms. He kisses deeply, leaning in, bending Ryan back against the couch cushions until Ryan has to hook his hands around Chris' waist to keep from tipping over. They adjust, Chris shifting without losing contact with his mouth, and then Ryan is on his back and Chris is over him, one knee between his legs, his elbows on either side of Ryan's head. Ryan slips his hands under Chris's shirt and up the strong muscles on either side of his spine. Chris pulls back for a second and his shirt's off, flying to the floor like the flag of a lost country. He's leaner than a lot of other catchers, his chest covered with soft hair that darkens along his breastbone. Ryan runs his fingers over it.
"This is okay, right?" Chris asks. His chest heaves against Ryan's fingertips.
"It depends. Are you going to keep your pants on?"
Ryan is surprisingly loud during sex. He doesn't talk much during practice, unless other people talk to him first, so when he lies back on the couch and lifts his hips to let Chris pull off his pants and starts talking, Chris is a little shocked. Shocked and turned on.
"Oh yeah," Ryan sighs, curling his fingers in Chris's hair, spreading his knees apart. "Please."
And that's just the beginning. Ryan moans in time with the motion of Chris's tongue over his cock, and sighs his approval when Chris closes his mouth over it. He gasps, and pants, and says things like "yeah, Chris, yeah" in time with Chris's hands, his hips pulsing up and down.
And he's gorgeous, lying back with his shirt still on, his arms hooked over the arm of couch, his back arched to give Chris better access. And his mouth, his open mouth, gasping out things like "oh god, just like that, like that Stew, just like that" before he throws his head back and comes, his voice high and uncontrolled.
It's amazing. Chris sits back on his heels, his hands on Ryan's big thighs. He wants to laugh just at the joy of it, but that seems disrespectful, to laugh after a guy comes in your mouth, so he settles for running his hands up Ryan's legs and under his shirt, planting a kiss on one knee.
"Fuck," Ryan breathes. He jerks a little when Chris brushes a palm over his softening dick, but otherwise doesn't move. "You're fucking incredible."
Chris smiles. "Aren't you glad you hit on me, now?"
Ryan pushes himself up on his elbows. "You'll let me fuck you, right?"
He wakes up in the middle of the night and the bed is empty. It's a strange feeling because it's not a very big bed--just a queen--and he and Ryan had been forced to sleep wrapped around each other, and now there's just mattress on either side of him.
He went home, Chris thinks, sliding to the edge of the bed and standing up, running a hand over his hair. The thought is depressing. He's not sure what he's going to say the next time they see each other, if this is something that just happened once or something...else. He's not sure what he wants it to be.
His muscles ache, both from the practice and from after. Ryan had held his ankle up so far Chris thought his foot might end up behind his head. He stretches and heads to the kitchen.
Ryan's standing in the big picture window, in his boxer shorts, arms folded over his chest. The orange lights from the parking lot stripe his shoulders like a tiger.
"Hey," Chris says. "I thought you left."
"Nah." Ryan glances back. "Oh! Unless you want me to--"
Chris intercepts him on the way to the door, an arm around his waist. "I don't," he says and realizes it's the truth.
"Can I ask you something," Ryan says, when they've made it back to the bed. Chris is lying on his back and Ryan is curled against him, stroking his chest hair. He's got some of his own, but Chris's is better, not sparse and patchy, but not thick like a porn star out of the seventies or something. Perfect.
And Chris has his hand on Ryan's ass, pulling him close, and his nose in Ryan's hair. It feels like the right time--if there is such a thing as a right time--to ask a serious question.
"Yeah, sure," Chris says.
"It's not going to be like that, right? Like--"
"Lincecum and Zito." Chris sighs.
"Because, you know."
"No, I know."
"So..." Ryan feels like a girl even asking the question, but he has to. Because if things are going to get complicated, it's maybe better if they don't do it again, if this is the only night, a one-time thing. And they should get that out in the open right away, just so there aren't any misunderstandings. He should probably say all of this to Chris, but he doesn't. He just says "so."
"No," Chris says.
"No, it won't be like them," Chris says.
Ryan sighs, almost dizzy with relief. "No?" He kisses the side of Chris's throat. "How do you know?"
"Start with, I'm not some psycho pitcher," Chris says.
Chris rolls over on top of Ryan, crushing him pleasantly. "You guys are all head cases and you know it."
Ryan grins. "And you love it."
Chris pushes Ryan's hair back and kisses him. "I have a weakness for crazies. You should meet my ex."
Ryan goes back to his apartment in the morning to shower and change clothes, leaving a strange feeling of emptiness behind him. Chris stands and looks at the whipped-up heap of his bedclothes. Ryan.
It's...he doesn't know what it is. He promised Ryan that it wouldn't be like Lincecum and Zito and it won't--neither he nor Ryan is half the drama queen that Lincecum and Zito are--but he doesn't know how it will be.
He gives up and gets in the shower. His legs still ache a little, but in a good way, and he feels stronger, more powerful, than he did yesterday. He's going to kick ass in practice today.
He's got his bag over his shoulder and he's fishing his keys out of the basket by the door when someone knocks.
Ryan, in the ugliest red and yellow checked shirt that Chris has ever seen, his hair sticking up in damp points, his own gear bag over his shoulder. "You ready?"
The player's lot is more crowded than it was two days ago--guys pulling behind them, milling around, slapping hugs onto each other's shoulders--and it takes Ryan a second to realize why: the rest of the team has arrived.
Ryan avoids looking over at Chris. He hadn't thought of how it would look, the two of them driving in together. There are a hundred straight guy reasons why he might catch a ride with his buddy Chris, but Ryan can't think of one right now.
"Sorry," he mutters as Chris shuts off the engine.
"Huh? For what?"
I didn't--everyone's here."
Chris smiles. His smile is maybe his most attractive feature, and every time he sees it Ryan flashes back to that first day of spring training, Chris extending his hand, grinning, making Ryan feel like less of an imposter. "Yeah," Chris says now. "That's how Spring Training works. Everyone shows up here. And then we train."
"You're a dick," Ryan says, but he can't suppress his smile.
"Get the fuck outta the car," Chris says. When Ryan does, he feels Chris swat him on the ass.
Having the position players at the park makes it feel real, like baseball is really beginning for the year. And it's a small world: Ryan knows a couple of the older guys from before he went to Japan, and Chris seems to know some people, even some of the rookies, from his time in the minors. The day flies by, full of introductions and drills and chats with guys he's never seen before. It's the first day, so everyone's on their best behavior--their real personalities won't show up until Wednesday or so--but it's still a relief to head into the outfield with the other pitchers for long toss. He already knows these guys, good and bad.
"Vogey," Wilson says, tossing him a ball. Ryan swipes it out of the air and throws it back. "Question."
Catch. Ryan smiles. Wilson is intimidating at first, until you realize that he's a big softie. "Shoot, Willy." He throws the ball back.
"Did you come with Stew today?"
Ryan's heart freezes and he almost misses the ball. "Yep," he chokes out as he throws it back.
"Cool. Do you think he'll drive me tomorrow?" Toss.
"Um, what's wrong with the Willy-mobile?" Brian's current vehicle is a banana yellow 1967 Camaro in really shitty shape. It's somehow awesome and horrible at the same time. Toss.
"New tranny," Wilson says. "She'll be back in commission by the end of the week."
Toss. Ryan tries to come up with some way to say no, that Chris can't drive Wilson, but there isn't one. "Yeah, sure," he says. "No big." Toss.
"Thanks, man. Owe you one." Toss.
"Wouldn't you owe Stew one?" Cain asks. He throwing with Maddy a few feet down the line.
"I owe Stew two," Wilson says.
I owe him three, Ryan thinks to himself.
"It's fine," Chris says on the way home. He feels grimy and sticky and pleasantly tired. He'd agree to chauffeuring the whole damn team around if Ryan asked him today, he thinks.
"You don't think it'll be...I don't know. Weird?"
Chris snorts. "It's Wilson."
"You know what I mean," Ryan says, and when Chris glances over, he looks really worried, like something's fucked up. His frown is so deep and significant that Chris reaches over the stick shift and pats his knee, briefly.
"You worry too much," he says.
"Probably," Ryan says.
The drive only takes ten minutes, then Ryan is walking up the stairs in front of him, his ass firm and flexing in the knee-length workout shorts he's got on. Chris tries to stop looking at it, but the only other thing to look at is Ryan's shoulders, stretching the fabric of his black t-shirt, which is almost as bad. Chris's fingers itch with the desire to touch him, any part of him.
"All right," Ryan says as they get to Chris's door. "I guess I'll see you later. Um...tomorrow."
"Or you could come in," Chris says, unlocking the door.
"Yeah?" Ryan looks out at the parking lot. "I dunno."
"You don't want to?"
Ryan's face flushes red. "No. I do."
"So come in." Chris steps back into the apartment. "I have to take a shower. You can wait, if you want."
"What? Come in. Or, you know, don't. Whatever." Chris reaches back over his head and pulls his shirt off. "Up to you."
"Motherfucker," Ryan mutters, but he comes in, pushing the door shut behind him.
Chris slides his arms around Ryan's neck. It's incredibly odd to kiss someone who is the same height as him--even the guys he's slept with before were smaller--but Chris likes that he can just step into Ryan's arms and look right at him. Ryan's got brown eyes like Chris does, but they're lighter, maybe with a little green in them, and they flutter closed when Chris leans in to kiss him. Ryan's hands come up, stroking Chris's naked back. He nudges Chris backwards until Chris bumps gently against the wall without breaking the kiss, then presses himself against Chris, thigh, stomach, chest, pinning him there.
The kiss is slow, Ryan's hands are slow, gliding from Chris's waist to his chest to his throat, then back down again, brushing over his nipples, stroking his ribs, hooking into his belt loops, and starting back up again. It's hypnotizing.
This time, he tips Chris's head to the side, his fingers soft on Chris's jaw, and kisses his neck, sucking lightly. Chris sighs. Ryan shifts his weight, moving just enough that his thigh slips between Chris's legs and presses firmly against his erection. "Fuck," Chris mutters, tipping his forehead against Ryan's shoulder. Ryan bites gently at his earlobe.
"Not yet," he whispers, his breath hot against Chris's wet throat, making Chris shiver.
Ryan's hands slide back to Chris's belt loops then find his fly and open it, his fingers slipping into Chris's underwear. Chris wants to stop him--he was sweaty even before Ryan starting kissing him, he needs a shower--but Ryan's easing the pants and underwear down until Chris's bare ass is against the wall and Ryan's got his hand around Chris's cock and his mouth on Chris's neck, and Chris can't find the words. The wall is cool against his back and Ryan's hand is hot, and he's trapped there, Ryan's thigh and mouth and hand pinning him.
"Ry," he pants. "Ryan."
Ryan releases his dick and lifts his hand to his mouth. Chris leans back, dazed, thrusting almost unconsciously against Ryan's thigh. Without it, he would be on the floor.
Ryan licks his palm, then presses his mouth against Chris's, tasting of sweat. He curves his slick fingers around Chris's cock, and his slick tongue around Chris's tongue, and pushes his thigh roughly upward and that's it, Chris is done, gasping against Ryan's mouth, his hands clenched in the fabric of Ryan's black t-shirt.
Ryan holds him there, afterwards, pressed body-to-body, licking the corner of his mouth. Chris is mildly embarrassed--he can feel the cum sticking his belly to Ryan's shirt--and still incredibly turned on. He's never been held against a wall; before, he was always the one doing the holding.
"Kiss me," Ryan murmurs. Chris wraps his arms tight around Ryan's ribs and kisses him until neither of them can breathe.
"You're really fucking hot," Chris says later, after they've showered and Ryan's come twice and they've showered again.
The blush starts in Ryan's chest, just like it does when he's about to orgasm. Chris puts his hand on it. His skin is hot, too. "Shut up," Ryan says. He's on his back on the couch in a pair of Chris's boxer shorts, the remote on his bare stomach.
This is part of what Chris really likes about Ryan: no matter what nice things you say about him, no matter how true they are--"wicked curve, man," "you're throwing darts out there," "nice dick"--he always seems slightly embarrassed about it. The baseball world is full of guys who believe their own hype, but Ryan doesn't. Maybe it's because this is the first time he's had any hype, really, Chris doesn't know. He just knows that he likes it.
He curves his hand over Ryan's pectoral and rubs affectionately. Ryan, his eyes back on the television, covers Chris's hand with his own.
It's easier to hide with all of the position players around. Ryan didn't think it would be--more people equal more eyes--but more people also means more drama and bullshit and conversation, so that two guys, quiet and keeping to themselves, don't attract a lot of attention. Plus, neither of them are rookies, which is where most of the team attention lies. Rookies are an endless source of drama and entertainment, especially for the veterans like Huff and Burrell and Rowand. They've chosen a few favorites--Brandon Crawford, a shortstop out of California, Brandon Belt, a gangly kid with a sweet swing when he can make contact, and Francisco Peguero, a Dominican guy that Huff likes to call "San Francisco"--who they tease mercilessly, knocking them into lockers, making them carry snacks and fetch water, slapping them on the ass with towels.
Ryan watches all of this with amusement, remembering his own days as a rookie when guys called him "Big V" and made him wear a boa to practice. It tickled his nose and got in the way of his motion, but otherwise he didn't mind it.
He wonders if he should have. Did they know back then? Could they tell?
Ryan sits in the shade of the dugout sipping water out of a paper cup and considers this. He's fucked around with guys here and there--a pitcher on a road trip in high school, a liberal arts major in college who was supposed to be tutoring him in English, a guy in his dorm, a couple of anonymous hookups in the minors. Then he'd met his wife and thought all of that was behind him.
And it was. It had been. The whole time they had been together, Ryan had been faithful as long as you didn't count the occasional jerk off to gay porn, which he didn't. You couldn't count jerk offs if they were to people you didn't know.
And then she'd come into their little apartment one day, his son on her hip, and said that she was thinking about staying in Japan, that Michael thought she had a lot of opportunities there, and Ryan had known what was happening even before she'd explained that Michael was more than just her friend and sometime tennis partner.
So he's fucked around, and he's been in love, and he's been married, but Ryan's never had a boyfriend before. He's not sure he has one, now--he hasn't asked--but if he does, he sort of likes it. They go to practice, they come home (usually to Chris's apartment for some reason), they eat, they have sex, they sleep. Sometimes they go out with the other guys. Sometimes Ryan cooks things, dinners he learned to make years ago in his mother's kitchen in Pennsylvania. As he stirs or sautes, he wonders when Chris is going to get sick of him.
He offers to go home occasionally, just in case. Sometimes, he goes without asking, to change out his laundry or take a shower or watch his own television until his phone beeps. He always thinks that this will be the night that it'll be silent, that he'll sleep in his own bed, wake up alone.
But it always beeps.
And when it does, he goes, pulling his apartment door shut behind him, walking the ten steps to Chris's door. Sometimes Chris will be on his couch surfing channels, or perched on a stool at the counter studying tape on his laptop, squinting at something a hitter does, some tweak of a pitcher's motion. (Ryan won't say it, but he loves it when Chris watches his tape. He knows it's Chris's job, that he would be doing it no matter what, but it still makes him hot.) Sometimes, Chris will be in bed already, and Ryan will feel his way to the bedroom, pull off his clothes, and slide under the blankets and into Chris's waiting embrace in the dark.
Yeah, he likes it.
This is Lincecum's motion: look in, hands together, toe touch, knee up, turn, then a blur of motion so fast that Chris can't see anything else. That's no good. He's got to pick up something in between the turn and the release, some markers to let him know what's coming. Lincecum's one of the most challenging pitchers he's ever seen; only Posey is truly good with him, and it's not really appropriate for Chris to ask Buster for tips about how to steal his job. Chris wonders if he knows anyone who knows Bengie Molina.
Look in. Hands together. Toe Touch. Knee up. Turn. Blur.
"Whatcha lookin' at?"
Chris smiles. Ryan, standing right behind him, so close he can feel Ryan's heat, even though they're not touching. The last couple of weeks have been the best he's had personally in a while. Ryan is easy to talk to, and easy to hang out with, and easy to sleep with in both the dirty and non-dirty sense, and this is the honeymoon phase, Chris knows that, but it's still really fucking wonderful. "Lincecum," he says.
Look in. Hands together. Toe touch. Knee up. Turn. Blur. Fuck.
"You like looking at him?"
Chris blinks. "What?"
"Lincecum," Ryan says, his voice low and soft, but with a sharp edge. "You like watching him?"
"I--" Chris doesn't know what to say. He's got a chill in his gut, like he's wandered into a cave on a sunny day. Does he like watching Lincecum? It's not a question of "like" or not. Lincecum's his job. "I'm not looking at him. I'm looking at his motion."
"It's beautiful," Ryan says. His voice is still soft and dangerous. "You think?"
Again, Chris is at a loss for words. Beautiful? It's a puzzle, a mystery that Chris can't seem to solve, and Ryan's strange mood is interfering with his concentration. He's missed two pitches already. He fumbles for words, trying not to make an excuse, but still to explain. "I can't see anything after the turn," he says. "He turns and then it's, like, BOOM! Ball's in the glove. I'm never going to get him."
"Hmm," Ryan says again.
Look in. Hands together. Toe touch. Knee up. Turn. BLUR.
Chris huffs out his breath. This is pointless. He can't pay attention if Ryan's breathing down his neck. He must give some indication that he's going to give up, because Ryan says
his hand holding onto Chris's sleeve.
"You're looking at his hands, aren't you?"
"I'm looking for the ball."
"No. Look at his feet. Right...there." Ryan presses one finger into Chris's back, at the base of his spine, right above his belt.
Look in. Hands together. Toe touch. Knee up. Turn. Then Ryan's finger against his spine just as Lincecum's front foot hits the ground, then Lincecum releases the ball.
Look in. Hands together. Toe touch. Knee up. Turn. Plant (Ryan's touch, firm and intimate, against his back). Release.
"Holy shit," Chris breathes.
Look in. Hands together. Toe touch. Knee up. Turn. Plant. Release.
"You see it," Ryan says. His breath is hot against Chris's neck.
Chris nods. "Yeah. I see it."
"Good." Ryan slaps his shoulder and walks away. Chris watches, timing Lincecum in his head until Lincecum strikes out the hitter swinging, and starts coming off the mound. Chris turns away, adjusting his jock, hoping nobody notices.
"What was that today?" he asks when they're back at his apartment. Ryan's making a bowl of cereal for dinner, his hair poking up in interesting directions from his post- workout shower. He's wearing a pair of Chris's boxer shorts and a t-shirt that's way too small, which means it's also Chris's. They're the same height, almost, but Ryan is definitely bigger.
"Huh?" he says, looking up from the milk.
"Today, at the game."
Ryan smiles. "You're welcome."
"Welcome? Dude, you were...I don't know. Acting jealous."
Ryan spoons some cereal into his mouth. "I helped you."
"Okay, but still. You can't get all...whatever every time I look at another pitcher. It's my job."
Ryan swallows. "Yeah, I get it. That's why I helped you."
"But, so--" Chris stops. He doesn't know what else to say. He's told Ryan to cut it out, Ryan's agreed. What else is there? "Okay."
Ryan salutes him with his spoon. "Okay."
"But admit it," Chris says. "Admit that you were jealous."
"Fuck off." Ryan shovels more cereal into his mouth.
"No." Chris reaches across the counter and socks him in the shoulder, knocking a wave of milk over the edge of the bowl. "Admit it. You saw me watching Lincecum and you were jealous."
Ryan rolls his eyes. "Nice. You have to clean it up."
Chris circles the end of the counter and puts his hands on Ryan's shoulders, squeezing. The guy has shoulders like a bull, muscular and firm. "Admit it."
"Yes," Ryan mutters.
"What?" Chris leans down next to Ryan's ear. "What was that?"
"Yes, okay! I was jealous. Happy, you dick?"
Chris folds his arms around Ryan's shoulders and kisses the side of his neck. "Yes," he says.
Ryan hears the shouting as he and Chris are coming down the cement walkway from the dugout to the clubhouse, not words, just the raised voices that indicate that some shit is going down. He picks up the pace to a trot, and Chris follows. The last days of ST are always tense because guys start realizing that things aren't going to happen for them this year, but Ryan of all people knows that anything can happen at any time. He doesn't want someone to ruin his chances for the next season or the next team by clocking someone in the face.
"--and you know it!" Crawford is saying, when Ryan comes around the corner. He's not yelling, exactly, but he's talking pretty loud and his face is red, and he's about three inches from Zito, who is standing with his arms crossed over his chest, looking over Crawford's shoulder, a vacant smirk on his face. Ryan doesn't know what's going on, exactly, but he knows it isn't good.
"What's up, guys?" Chris says over Ryan's shoulder.
Neither Crawford or Zito move, a bad sign. Most clubhouse things dissolve when witnesses show up.
"Tell him," Crawford spits. "Tell him what's fucking up, Zito."
"Kiss my ass, rook," Zito hisses.
Crawford's hand darts out, banging into the wooden partition next to Zito's head. "Fuck you, you fucking douche!"
Before Ryan can blink, Chris is between them, arms around Crawford's shoulders pushing him back. "Let it go, man," he's murmuring in Crawford's ear. "Let it go."
Crawford's shouting something about how Zito's a fucking prick and shouldn't even call himself a man, but Ryan can't be bothered to figure out what's actually wrong. Crawford is a rook, and Barry Zito is still a $35 million dollar paycheck, more or less, which means that Crawford is wrong and Zito is right, at least in this room. "Come on, Barry," Ryan says, holding out one arm. "Let's take a walk."
For a minute, he doesn't think it will work. Zito doesn't even seem to hear him, and Ryan is convinced by the contemptuous look on Zito's face that he's going to take a step forward and spit over Chris's shoulder into Crawford's face. But then the look vanishes and Barry turns away. "Sure, man," he tells Ryan, walking past him. "Let's go."
They end up in the narrow hallway outside the clubhouse, next to a couple of hot dog carts. Ryan doesn't know what to say. Except for some chit chat in the dugout and that one strange night out, he hasn't really spoken to Zito. "So...um..."
Zito scowls at him.
They stand there for a couple minutes. Ryan looks at the hot dog carts, at the damp cement floor, at the vendors and the staff going by on their way to whatever they're on their way to. Finally, Zito snorts.
"Okay," he says. "I get it."
"Cool," Ryan says. He's not sure what Zito gets or what he means, but he doesn't seem mad anymore.
"I'm gonna--" He hooks a thumb over his shoulder.
"Yeah, all right." Ryan nods. Zito slaps his arm and heads off down the hallway, arms still crossed over his chest. Ryan watches him, making sure of something, although he's not certain of what.
When he gets back to the clubhouse, Chris is standing in a huddle with Crawford and Mark and one of the junior trainers. Chris has his hands on his hips and his head down, the same way he does on the field when he's listening to one of the coaches on the mound. Crawford's shaking his head no, but his eyes are watering and he gives a little shout when Mark pushes on his fingers. The junior trainer runs for a phone.
"What's up?" Ryan asks.
Chris shakes his head.
After consulting with someone on the phone, the trainers take Crawford away for x-rays, Ryan tries again. "What's the story?" he murmurs over Chris's shoulder as they watch Crawford go. Chris glances at him, then at the other guys who are milling around, attracted by the commotion. He shoves his hands in his pockets and heads out toward the dugout without looking back. Ryan follows.
Chris stops at the far end of the dugout, his back against the wall, where no one can sneak up on them.
"The hell?" Ryan asks, keeping his voice down.
Chris sighs. "Lincecum."
Ryan feels like eyes are going to fall out of his head they're open so wide. "What?"
"He didn't say it, specifically, but. Yeah." Chris picks at a fingernail, looking miserable.
"Shut the fuck up. Are they, like..." Ryan trails off. He's not even sure what he wants to ask.
"Dunno." Chris shakes his head. "I don't think so. Maybe that's what pissed him off."
"Fuck." Ryan stares out at the field. "In the clubhouse."
"Exactly." Chris sighs. "His hand is jacked, too."
"Fuck," Ryan says again. He doesn't know what else to say. He stares out at the field, not seeing it, wondering what it would take to make him punch a wall. Not much, he thinks, hearing Chris shift next to him, remembering the look on Chris's face at he watched Lincecum throw. Not much at all.
Crawford's hand is broken. Not seriously, just a hairline thing that takes him out of the last week of spring training and puts the rest of them in the clubhouse while Bochy mumbles for twenty minutes about taking foolish risks and "keeping your damn fool heads" and how they need to leave their beefs on the field.
"What was it?" Darren Ford asks Chris after the second big speech.
"I was gonna ask you, man," Chris says. Crawford didn't say much after the fight, at least, not much that Chris could repeat to anyone but Ryan.
Ford shrugs. "Got me, dude. He ain't saying shit. I'm just his roommate; what the fuck do I know, right? Hey, ask your boy Vogey. He's a pitcher."
"Yeah, okay," he says, but he's not thinking about poor Crawford and his hand, he's thinking "my boy."
Neither Ryan nor Chris is surprised when they don't make the twenty-five man roster. Ryan's been throwing darts, but the starting rotation is set, and he'd go to waste in the bullpen. And Chris...well, he thinks it was nice of them to invite him, but it's been obvious since week three that the Giants invited him because they needed a Triple A catcher to handle guys like Vogey. "It's cool," Chris tells Lincecum, when he comes by Chris's locker to offer condolences. "I mean, Buster--" he shakes his head.
"Yeah." Lincecum nods. "But...anyway. Good luck." He makes a face, like he's thinking about saying something but isn't sure that he should. It makes him seem young, and Chris is overcome with sympathy, even though he's the one who just got relegated to Fresno.
He squeezes Tim's shoulder. "Hey, you too," he says. Then, impulsively, "if you need anything, Timmy, you can call me."
It's a dumb thing to say--what could Lincecum possibly need from him?--but Tim nods, swiping at his nose with the back of his hand. "Thanks. See you." He walks away quickly. For a second, Chris considers following him, but he doesn't. Timmy's going back to the show; his problems---whatever they might be--are over.
The guys who don't make it and don't have women in town go out to the cheapest, darkest bars they can find, and get drunk, really blitzed, so drunk that Hector Sanchez falls asleep on a sticky table and Burriss ends up vomiting on a waitress's shoes. Ryan manages to stay conscious enough to call for cabs and make sure everyone gets into one. He sends Sanchez with Jason Montez, who's from Alabama, but speaks Spanish and is staying the same hotel most of the rooks stay in, then he and Chris fall into the back of a yellow cab. Chris is blown out of his mind, and collapses against Ryan's shoulder.
"Costa Mesa Apartments on Mill Road," Ryan tells the cabbie.
"Mill Road," Chris mutters. He's slumped under Ryan's arm, his head lolling against his chest. The cabbie glances in the rear view mirror and rolls his eyes, but in a "drunk bastards" way, not a "fucking fags" way, so Ryan doesn't say anything. He closes his eyes when the cab starts moving, just for a second, just to rest them, and the next thing he knows someone is shaking his shoulder.
He pushes himself upright before he realizes that what he's pushing off of is Chris's ribs. Chris groans. "Gimme a sec," Ryan tells the cabbie and goes around to the other door. He reaches in and grabs one of Chris's arms and pulls. "C'mon, Stew."
Chris groans again and ends up mostly upright.
"C'mon, baby." Ryan pulls again and Chris slides across the seat, suddenly, and is out, swaying gently in the night air like a palm.
"Hey, man!" the cabbie says, hand out.
"Oh, fuck!" Ryan braces Chris against the side of the cab and gets his wallet out, making a mental note to pay the driver first, next time. "Here, um." Ryan pulls out a bunch of twenties. "Sorry."
"No problem," the cabbie says, making it sound like the biggest problem in the goddamn world. He doesn't even bother pretending to make change. "Have a good night."
Ryan pulls Chris off the cab and it's gone, taillights flashing. For a second, Ryan just stands in the quiet parking lot, Chris leaning heavily against him, and breathes. It's a beautiful night, clear and mild, and the moon high above them is a perfect round coin.
He didn't make the cut.
The thought comes unbidden, the sneak attack of a bully, but Ryan is surprised to find that it doesn't really bother him. He'd hoped, of course, and wanted. And he thinks that he made it a harder decision than management thought it would be, which is nice. But he didn't make it, so that means this might be his last year. Chris is younger, but catching is hard on the body and he wasn't called up until September last year, so maybe this will be his last year, too. He wonders if Chris would be interested in moving away from Cali--
A car pulls into the lot, lights splashing over them, and Ryan gets moving, holding Chris up by bracing him against his side. Chris makes a noise, but comes willingly enough. The stairs are a little bit of a challenge--Chris doesn't seem to be able to move his feet in the right pattern--so he ends up coming up on his hands and knees, which is a slow but hilarious process. Once he's on the second floor, though, he stands up again.
"Ta da!" he tells Ryan.
"Yes, congratulations," Ryan says, hooking an arm around his waist.
Chris's apartment is dark, but the bedroom is lit strangely by the full moon, silvery and alien. Chris falls backward on the bed, the bedclothes puffing up around him. Ryan kneels and yanks off Chris's shoes, then bends over him and unbuttons his jeans.
"Ryan?" Chris mumbles.
Chris holds his arms up. "C'mere."
"Give me a second," Ryan says. Who the fuck wears button-fly any more, really?
"C'MERE!" Chris says again, drunk and petulant, so Ryan abandons the buttons and leans up, his hand on the mattress next to Chris's head.
"What's up, Stew?"
Chris's arms wrap around his neck and pull him down. "I'm glad you're going to Fresno," he says. His voice is muffled, his mouth against Ryan's hair.
"Me too," Ryan says. He pats Chris's ribs and tries to move, but Chris doesn't let go.
"I'm so glad," Chris mumbles.
"Yeah, it's awesome," Ryan says into Chris's boring white shirt. "You gonna let me up?"
"No." Chris's arms tighten around Ryan's neck. "Come to Fresno."
Ryan laughs. "Of course, man."
"Okay." Chris sighs, deep in his chest, like something has just been settled. "Okay."
"Okay." Ryan considers backing out of Chris's grip, but why? He doesn't have to piss, the door is shut, and the smell of cologne and beer mingles pleasantly in Ryan's nose. He shifts and settles against Chris's side, one arm slung over Chris's waist. He pushes his shoes off, one toe at a time. Chris sighs again, squeezing Ryan's shoulders.
"Fresno," he sighs.
Ryan smiles, sleep already creeping in behind his eyes, rubbing his hand over Chris's stomach. "Yeah, man," he says. "Fresno."
End, Part I