|Sent Down |
They find out on Saturday that Beltran isn't the last trade, that Orlando Cabrera is coming down from Cleveland to meet them in Cincinnati.
Orlando Cabrera: veteran, owner of a .248 average, second baseman.
Lincecum glances across the clubhouse to where Crawford is on a bench next to Keppinger, the brand new second baseman, whose on base percentage is inhuman it's so good. Crawford is looking up at Bochy, the expression on his face the same expression of mild interest that was there when Bochy said "listen up" two seconds ago, but Crawford knows the same thing that everyone else in the clubhouse knows.
He's getting sent down.
It's not personal, Brandon knows that. It was a miracle that he got called up in the first place--he was in single A--and he hasn't been hitting for shit on a team that already has too many guys who aren't hitting for shit.
The meeting with Boch is short and as pleasant as it can be. "You'll be back, kiddo," he says. "Don't have any doubts about that."
"No, sir," Brandon says.
"And I want you to stay through Sunday. Fly back with the team. You've earned it."
"Okay." Brandon nods.
It isn't until he's back at the hotel that he realizes that Bochy is keeping him around for insurance, in case Cabrera doesn't show up in time for Sunday's game.
Lincecum sits next to him in the dugout during the game, spitting seeds onto the cement, saying nothing, even after Brandon gets pulled in the sixth. When he first came up, Brandon was unnerved by Lincecum's silence, his ability to sit in a group of guys and say nothing for hours at a time. Now, he knows it's just the way he is. Quiet. He'll miss that quiet in Fresno. He's gonna have to room with someone, at least until he can find his own place.
Lincecum sits next to him on the bus, too, sliding in to the seat next to him without a word.
Brandon doesn't even look at him, but he does shift so that their shoulders touch, barely.
Downtown Cincinnati is swarming with people--some sort of jazz festival or something in the square across from the hotel--and after the awful game, people can't decide whether or not they want to go out, so Tim has to wait almost forty minutes for everyone to get out of the fucking hallway before he can wander down to Brandon's room, the ice bucket in his hand even though he's pretty sure the ice machine is the other way.
The door is cracked open, held by the security bar. Tim taps the bucket on the door and pushes it. "Hey, rook?"
"Yeah," Brandon says. Tim slips in, pushing the door closed and flipping the bar, just in case. He walks down the narrow entryway, setting the ice bucket on the small desk next to the tv.
Brandon is sitting on the edge of the bed. He's wearing sweats and nothing else, his elbows on his knees. He looks exhausted.
"You okay?" Tim asks, cautiously.
"Could we not talk about this, please? I don't think I can talk about this."
"Sure." Tim slides his hand into Brandon's hair and pushes him backward onto the bed, straddling him. Brandon closes his eyes, but it's three or four minutes into the making out before Tim feels his body relax.
They don't fuck every night--the nights before Tim pitches are absolutely off limits (although the nights after are pretty hot), and sometimes they can't because the hotel walls are too thin. They usually skip the nights before the get away games, too, because they have to be up early in the morning, but tonight Tim pulls a condom out of the pocket of his hoodie and slips it into Brandon's palm before they even take their pants off.
They do it with the lights on, Brandon staring down into Tim's eyes, one of Tim's ankles over his shoulder. He couldn't believe that the first time Tim showed him; now, he just can't believe his luck. Tim keeps kissing him, pulling him down, hands on his face, his neck, his shoulders.
Afterwards, he brings Tim a washcloth and a glass of water, clicking off the lamp as he settles back on the bed. In the sudden darkness, the sadness hits him like a brick.
He doesn't want to go.
He wants to run to Bochy's room, pound on the door, beg for another chance, and the uselessness of doing any of that makes him want to vomit.
"Hey," Tim murmurs, his hand brushing Brandon's back, low. Brandon starts: he'd almost forgotten that Tim was there. "Lie down."
Brandon lies down on his back and Tim slips under his arm, resting his cheek on Brandon's bare chest. His hair tickles for a minute. Tim flattens his palm over Brandon's collarbone and strokes down over Brandon's pectoral muscle and back up, down, then up. After a moment, Brandon realizes that Tim is humming, some song Brandon almost recognizes. He falls asleep with Tim's tuneless voice in his ear, Tim's hand over his heart.
Tim lies in the dark and waits until he hears some of the guys come home around four, hushed laughter in the hallways, shoulders bumping into walls, doors slamming accidentally. He counts after each door closes, and when he gets to five hundred without hearing another door, he eases out of Brandon's embrace and heads to the bathroom to get dressed.
He shuts the bathroom door before he turns on the light. His hair is messed up, but that's easily fixed. The skin around his mouth is a little red and raw--Brandon always has scruff--but nothing that anyone coming home drunk at four in the morning would notice. He turns out the light and grabs his ice bucket and slips out the door.
The hotel is a luxury hotel of the old kind, the halls narrow and a little musty, but somehow glamorous at the same time. Tim makes it back to his room unseen. He lies down and wraps his arms around a spare pillow and stares at the blank white wall across from the bed until he loses consciousness. He does not think about anything.
Cabrera shows up the next day, on time, grinning from ear to ear. Brandon smiles and shakes his hand -- if you hold a grudge against every guy who comes up, you'll end up hating everyone -- and watches from a dugout hot as an oven as all the new guys lose 9-0 to Cincinnati. Tim doesn't sit next to him. No one does.
It's a relief to get on the bus, to get away from this city that's the location of his failure. It's even more of a relief to get on the charter, filing past the travel coordinators and finding a spot in the middle of the rows. He shoves his bag into the overhead compartment and flops down and closes his eyes. Just get me out of here, he thinks.
He opens one eye. Lincecum, standing in the aisle, hand on the seat in front of him. Brandon swallows. "No, man."
"Cool." Tim sits down next to him and slips his headphones around his neck. Brandon looks at him, but Tim keeps his eyes facing forward, like this is no big deal, even though the pitchers usually sit together in the back of the plane, of the bus, the cool kids who always seem to be having a better time than everyone else. Even over the rise of the plane engines, Brandon can hear the bark of Sergio Romo's laughter.
They're up soon enough, Ohio falling away below them. Tim settles his headphones over his ears. Brandon reclines his seat and closes his eyes again. He must fall asleep at some point, because he wakes up to the feeling of something moving against his thigh. He glances down.
Tim's long fingers, moving against the fabric of Brandon's khakis. Tim has his eyes closed, his face turned away, but he must be awake; his fingers trace the seam of Brandon's pants, back and forth.
Brandon looks out the window. There's nothing to see: wisps of cloud and miles and miles of geographic farmland, the world like a simple puzzle. Brandon slides his hand onto his thigh, then over the side of the seat, until his pinky brushes Tim's fingers, which stop moving for a moment. Brandon eases his hand down further, until it's resting flat on the cushion between his leg and Tim's.
For a second, nothing happens.
Brandon counts to five. If he gets to ten, he thinks, he'll pull his hand away. He's overreached, assumed things he shouldn't have, taken liber--
Tim's hand folds over his and squeezes and stays, his thumb stroking over Brandon's knuckles. After a minute, Brandon turns his hand palm up. Their fingers fit together like the laces on Brandon's favorite glove.
This is what I'll miss most, Tim thinks, following Brandon into his apartment. It's a crappy apartment, in a semi-crappy neighborhood, but it's on the top floor and it has a balcony that looks over the bay if you lean out a little. Brandon opens the French doors and the breeze comes in, erasing the cooking smells that seep up from the other apartments.
Tim drops his luggage by the door. He should have gone home, seen his dogs and his roommate, unpacked, slept, but his apartment is twenty minutes in the other direction from Brandon's and he didn't want to spend forty minutes on the road just to end up right here.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with this apartment," Brandon says, tossing his bag on a chair.
"Maybe someone else wants it," Tim says before he realizes what he's saying. "Sorry."
Brandon laughs without humor. "Fuck you."
"Trying," Tim says. He comes up behind Brandon and slides his hands around his waist, hooking his chin over Brandon's shoulder, nuzzling into his neck.
They fuck on the rug in front of the open doors, the breeze prickling Tim's skin and making his nipples so hard they ache. They end up with Tim on top, his hair falling in his face, his hands braced on Brandon's chest. Brandon's fingers clamp onto his hips. "Tim," he says. "Tim. Oh fuck, Tim."
Tim says nothing, even when he comes, Brandon still panting out his name. No one's said his name in quite that way before. He doesn't want to miss hearing it.
He should shut the doors, Brandon knows--the breeze makes it cold in his apartment by morning--but he doesn't because when his apartment is cold, they will get under Brandon's good down comforter and Tim will wrap himself around Brandon so close that Brandon won't be able to tell where he ends and Tim begins.
Tim leaves first in the morning, to go back to his apartment and shower and get to the park. They don't say anything, really, but Tim turns just before he opens the door and wraps his arms around Brandon's neck and kisses him for a long time.
Once the door shuts behind Tim, Brandon leans his forehead against the wall and breathes for a count of ten. He's pretty sure he's not having a heart attack, no matter how he feels. After a minute, he goes into the bedroom to start packing.
Crawford doesn't show up until the afternoon, when most of the guys are in workouts. Lincecum sees him out of the corner of his eye as he's heading outside to run stairs.
"Hey, Crawford!" he says, before he can stop himself.
Crawford stops. He must have already been to his locker; he's carrying a duffle bag crammed with stuff. "Oh, um."
Lincecum glances around. There are people in the hallway, vendors, clubhouse staff, players. "Heading out?" he asks.
"Yeah." Brandon smiles. "We have a game tonight."
Tim grins. "Good luck, man."
Brandon rolls his eyes. "Thanks."
"All right." Tim doesn't know what to say. He knows what he wants to say, what he wants to do, but he can't. Not here. "See ya." He leans in for a hug, a bro hug, hips apart. Brandon smells like he always does, like his soap and his shampoo and his laundry and himself, and Tim has to fight the urge to kiss his neck.
"See you in September," he whispers. He slaps Brandon on the shoulder and steps back.
"Later," Crawford says. Then he's gone.