The girl at the front desk has the hots for him, so Buster gets an upgrade to a suite without even asking. He takes it, smiling warmly. Perks like hotel suites don't bother his wife; perks like front desk girls are a different story.
To celebrate his good fortune, he invites a bunch of people up for food and movies. He wouldn't have done that last year; he'd been fed the stories about the all-night parties and the fast women in the big leagues, and he'd swallowed them all. But once he'd been called up, he'd been surprised by how many guys stayed in, at least on the road.
"Nah, man," Aubrey Huff said, when Buster finally gathered up the nerve to bring it up. "Maybe before, but this--" he gestured at the field, where some of the guys were stretching,"--it's too important now."
That was it, really, for most of them. For Huff, whose career was on the downhill (although even thinking that made Buster feel like a dick), it was too important to stay sharp and in shape, to avoid getting benched. For some of the other guys it was their faith, or their relationships with their wives, or their hitting streaks. There were still party animals, of course, guys who were out every night, but Buster had been relieved to discover that he wasn't alone most nights when he said "I'm going to hang at the hotel."
Tonight, four of them show up--Huff, Timmy, Cody, and, to Buster's surprise, Wilson, who's normally one of the going out guys.
"I need to chill, man," Wilson says, slapping Buster on the shoulder. "I need to recharge."
"Yeah, of course." Buster nods. He'd been freaked out by Wilson at first, by his huge shoulders and his inability to stop saying every damn thing that crossed his mind. But Wilson had taken to him right away, hooking a massive arm around his neck in the clubhouse and calling him "Bustin' Buster Brown" as in "no one fucks with Bustin' Buster Brown, am I right?" while grinding his knuckles into Buster's head. Apparently, Wilson didn't include himself in "no one." Buster imagines that having Wilson around is what having an older brother must be like, even though he's an older brother himself and never gave noogies.
They settle in and, while Buster orders way too much food, someone wrestles the remote away from Wilson. "No porn!" Buster shouts just as the room service woman picks up.
It's a good night. They drink a little, they eat a lot, Huff tells stories about shit that happened while Buster was still in high school. Second to the actual game itself, this is what Buster loves most about baseball, the camaraderie, the feeling of well being that he gets just hanging out talking shit with a good bunch of guys. "You're such a romantic," his wife said to him once when he talked to her about it. "You fall in love at the drop of a hat."
"You would know," he'd teased. He'd thought it was silly of her to say--romantic?-- but now, leaning back in a plush but somehow uncomfortable hotel chair, he remembered her words and they sounded more true. What wasn't to love, after all?
It's some time later that he goes into the bedroom and finds Lincecum asleep on his bed. Now that Buster thinks about it, Timmy disappeared maybe half an hour, maybe an hour ago. Buster thought maybe he left, but the Playstation on the bedspread next to him tells a different story: Lincecum snuck away to get in some quiet gaming time and dozed off.
"Timmy," Buster says.
Buster leans down. Timmy looks like a kid. It makes Buster feel guilty to think that because Lincecum is older than him, and has been in the majors longer. He's a two-time Cy Young winner, one of the best pitchers in the world, his stuff so nasty he makes hitters want to cry. And now he's curled on his side facing the door, one hand under his cheek. His t-shirt is rucked up in the back. His mouth is open. His long hair spills over his cheek. He makes Buster feel old.
"Timmy," Buster says again, but it's barely more than a whisper. Tim doesn't move.
Buster rocks back on his heels, wondering what to do next. It seems mean to wake him, so he moves the Playstation to the night table and leaves the room, turning out the light on the way out.
Wilson sees him coming out of the room. "You okay, Buster Brown?"
Buster blinks. "Tim's asleep in there."
"You want me to move him?"
"No," Buster says before he can think about whether he wants Tim moved or not. "No, he's fine."
Wilson shrugs and turns his attention back to the movie.
Buster thinks about it on and off for the next hour and a half--does he want Tim out of there? He doesn't come to any conclusions, until finally he's left alone in the suite living room staring at a bunch of empty bottles. He gets them all on to one table, turns off the television, turns off the lights, and goes into the bedroom.
Tim's still there. Still asleep.
Buster goes to the john, brushes his teeth, strips down to his underwear. Normally, that's what he sleeps in (he can't sleep naked--it makes him worry about what if there's a fire or something?), but the idea of crawling into bed with another man wearing nothing but underwear makes him nervous. Or...he thinks it's nerves. It probably is.
He digs in his bag and comes up with a pair of sweats and pulls them on. Then he goes to the bed.
Everyone lies on their charts about how tall they are and how much they weigh. Even guys like Buster, who have no reason to lie, add an inch or subtract five pounds. In a world where their every move is tracked and charted, Buster likes to think of the H/W chart as the one stat open to speculation. So he says he's 6'1" instead of six feet even, which he's been since senior year of high school.
Lincecum says he's 5'11" and 170, but he's not.
He's 5'10" maybe. If he's lucky. And he sleeps small, his knees drawn up, curled in on himself, hardly taking up any space on the mattress. Buster lies down next to him, on top of the covers, and realizes that Tim is on what would be, if Buster's wife were here, Buster's side of the bed.
He sighs. If he didn't wake Tim up before, there's certainly no reason to wake him up now, just so Buster can sleep on the left side of the bed. He closes his eyes.
He's almost asleep, his mind drifting free of the wrong side of the bed and the too-hot sweatpants when he hears the gasp, sharp, like someone's been stabbed.
"What!" He's sitting up almost before he realizes what happened.
It's Tim, also sitting up, his face startled in the orange glow from the city lights outside the window, and Buster knows what happened: something woke him and he didn't know where he was.
"It's cool, Timmy," Buster says, lying back down. "This is my room."
"Oh," Tim says. He sinks slowly back to the mattress. "Yeah, sure."
Tim lies on his back, hands folded carefully over his stomach, bare feet sticking straight up. They lie there, two grown men on a hotel bedspread. Buster wonders whether he should say something. He hadn't anticipated Tim waking up until morning, when they could blow all this off to a busy schedule and a late night. He'd even prepared a little speech--"you really crashed, man. You okay?"--while he was hanging with the others earlier, but he hasn't thought of this contingency, of Tim awake on his bed after midnight.
"So," Tim says. He's staring up at the ceiling.
At first, Buster had been worried about him. Tim was the only one of the starters who didn't settle in with him right away, the only one who continued to keep to himself after Buster demonstrated that he belonged in the show. It was loyalty, Buster had decided. Tim was a younger brother, and Bengie Molina had been his catcher for most of his major league career. Even though he was too nice to say it, even now, Tim hadn't warmed up to Buster right away because Buster had replaced his brother.
But then the slump had happened--"the slump heard 'round the world," Tim had said once, in the off season, and even then, months after winning the World Series, he'd winced--and management had spent day after day saying "listen to Buster, count on Buster," and Bengie himself had sent Tim text messages reminding him that he was okay, he was great, and then, after an entire August of heartbreak, Lincecum had allowed a guy on right away the first night of September and Buster had seen his face and jumped up. "Time," he'd said and headed out.
Tim had looked the way he always looked on the mound during that awful time, calm and terrified at the same time. And Buster had strode out there, feeling as much like a big brother as a guy could, and leaned in, his glove covering his mouth, and said "you can do this. I got you, man." Tim had stared at him silently, his eyes big over the edge of his own glove.
"Who are these fuckers?" Buster demanded. "No one. No one compared to you and me. Listen to me. You listenin'?" Tim hadn't blinked, hadn't moved at all, his whole body radiating the same stillness that showed when he was dialed in on the mound, his eyes locked on Buster's.
"Okay, good. I know you. I know you, and these guys aren't better than you. I. Got. You." He tapped Lincecum on the side with his hand in time with his words. He walked back to the mound, aware for the first time of all the eyes on him, all the fans, all the players, Boch, Lincecum.
"How's your boyfriend?" the hitter asked as Buster eased past him to take up the crouch.
"About to kick your ass," Buster answered, flashing the sign. Don't make me a liar, Timmy, he thought, and felt the slap of the ball landing in his glove. He hadn't smiled--it was unprofessional to smile--but he'd nodded, just a lift of the chin at Lincecum, and Lincecum had nodded back.
They'd won that game, and a whole bunch of games after that, including the World Series. Buster didn't take credit for that--he wasn't stupid--but he knew that was when it had happened, when he and Lincecum had finally clicked in.
But the "so" coming from Tim's side of the bed sounds a lot like the Lincecum of last August, the guy who lost games and came back to the dugout worried and silent. Buster had seen a lot of Tim's worried face last fall, the furrow between his eyebrows, the downturn of his expressive mouth. He thought Tim was probably making it now, in the dark.
"You can stay," he says, right as Tim says "maybe I should go."
"No!" Buster says, surprising himself with a negative answer for the second time tonight. "I mean, you don't have to. You're already here."
"Oh," Tim says. "Okay."
More silence. Finally, Tim sighs. "It's nice not to be alone sometimes."
"Yeah." Buster's a little surprised. Tim's a friendly guy, but he's also one of those guys who seems fine on his own. Buster knows what he means though--sometimes hotel rooms are really empty.
"Alright," Tim says and a moment later he's asleep, his breathing light and even. Unbelievable.
Hours later, Buster swims up out of sleep wrapped around his wife. She's on his side of the bed, her ass pressed into his groin, her hair silken across his face. She smells like the hotel shampoo. Buster presses his lips into the nape of her neck and slides his hand up her t-shirt and realizes that "she" is actually "he."
"mmm..." Lincecum shifts on the bed, not totally awake.
Buster closes his eyes. He tries not to think of his hard on and tries even harder not to feel Tim's firm ass against it. All he has to do is get away from Tim without waking him up. He waits for five breaths, then ten, then tries to ease his hand off Tim's stomach, out from under his shirt.
Tim catches him by the wrist. "Don't," he says.
Buster doesn't know what to say, what to do. He could jerk away, but that seems rude. He could say something, but he doesn't know what to say. Sorry about my boner; I thought you were my wife? It doesn't seem adequate, somehow. So he doesn't do anything, doesn't say anything, just stays where he is, Lincecum's fingers firm around his wrist, Lincecum's stomach firm under his hand. After a minute, Tim seems to realize that Buster's not moving and relaxes a little, sagging back into the curve of Buster's body. His hand still covers Buster's wrist, fingertips rubbing Buster's forearm idly. Buster feels himself relaxing, too, all of him, lulled by Tim's heat and languidness. He noses into Lincecum's hair and rests his mouth against the back of his neck. Tim's skin is warm and smooth beneath his hand. He has to fight not to stroke it.
They lay that way for a long time. Buster dozes a little. From time to time, one of them will shift and Buster will be nervous for an instant, that maybe this is over, that maybe they will have to talk about it, but that doesn't happen and finally he falls asleep for real.
When he wakes up the next time, Lincecum's gone.
He doesn't call him. He calls his wife instead. They talk about the game last night, the game coming up tonight, how much he misses her and she misses him. He almost says it to her--I have a crush on Tim Lincecum--but he doesn't. They've been together since high school: she knows all about the occasional guy. She's even teased him about Cain, who is Buster's type, tall and blond and powerful. But he doesn't talk about the guys with her ahead of time, because it seems mean. She's the only one he's loved, really, ever, and that's not going to change, so there's no point in bringing up something that may not even happen. It's a far cry from a snuggle on a bed to fucking. Even for professional baseball players.
He doesn't see Tim again until they're on the field warming up. He waves. Tim waves back, the same way he always does, so Buster strolls over.
"Hey," he says.
Tim smiles. He doesn't seem uncomfortable, but Buster's own heart is banging in his chest so hard that he swears it might burst through. "Hey," Tim says.
"So." Buster can't believe he's going to say what he's going to say, so he covers his mouth with his mitt the way he would if he were on the mound in the middle of a game. The way he did in September. "You have plans tonight?"
Tim's smile is wide and genuine. "Nah, man. We can abuse your mini bar."
"Awesome," Buster says. He knows his face his red. Thank god for the glove.
Tim leans forward, balancing on his toes like he's stretching, bringing himself almost next to Buster's ear. "How many drinks before you kiss me?" he murmurs.
Buster feels like his eyes are going to drop out of his head and roll around on the fine green turf of Wrigley Field. Tim laughs, cupping his hand around Buster's elbow. It's nothing, normal, they're horsing around just like everyone else on the field, but Buster's arm tingles where Tim touches it. The adrenaline makes him brave.
"Strike out ten tonight, and I'll do more than kiss you," he says, and swats Tim on the ass as he walks away, not even looking back to see the expression on his face.
Lincecum strikes out twelve.