After playing eleven years in the Minor Leagues, Coach Matt Hawley has returned to his tiny Alabama hometown to lead his old high school baseball team to their first state championship. At the other end of the state, René Días, who left the Major League after one season, is getting his team ready to defend their state title for the second straight year. One is in the closet. The other is between relationships. Neither has any intention of hooking up at the state tournament.
Then they see each other.
Pre-game lust turns into an intense one-night stand neither man can forget, and when their best friends embark on a romance, Matt and René are thrown together again. This time they decide it won't be for just a single night. But the fear of disappointing his minister father and shaming his family forces Matt to keep one foot in the closet, even as he and René find their lust is maybe something more. He's going to have to make a choice between between his family and his freedom.
(Originally published by Loose Id, October 2012)
Chapter One – May
As the sun rose, Matt sat cross-legged in center field. He’d already eaten the sausage and biscuit he’d picked up at Minnie’s Diner, and now he was lost in a book. He ran his hands over the dew-damp grass as he read, not caring that his fingers left marks on the edge of the pages when he turned them.
The boys would be there soon, and Matt would need to help herd them all on the buses. But for a few moments, he enjoyed the peace of the early May morning. Nothing to think about but the book in his lap, the field under his hands, and the sun in the sky.
He didn’t raise his head at the approaching footsteps. He knew everyone in the little town, and everyone knew where to find him at seven a.m. He smiled when the person sitting next to him huffed in frustration.
“You’re going to have to help me get back up. I’m too old for this shit.”READ MORE
Matt tore the corner off the paper bag from breakfast and closed it in his book. “Damn it, Emily, I was just getting to the good part, too.”
Emily looked at the cover and rolled her eyes. “You’ve already read that one, you dork.”
“Which is how I know I was getting to the good part.”
“Whatever.” She fell back on the ground, and Matt followed.
He wrapped one of her long blonde curls around his finger, just like he used to do when they were teenagers. “You know, I’ll never understand why the guys in town aren’t beatin’ your door down.”
Emily patted her stomach then her thighs. “You know exactly why. I’m no Daisy Duke.”
“I figured some of these good ol’ boys woulda grown up by now.” Matt sighed. “I never did understand Daisy’s appeal anyway.”
Emily gave him an elbow to the ribs. “Well of course you didn’t.”
“Don’t worry. Nobody here but us chickens.”
Matt knew that he was the only real chicken. Still, he planned to keep himself to himself. There was no need for the town—especially his father’s church—to find out things that were nobody’s business. His family didn’t need the shame. He was perfectly fine shouldering that on his own.
Matt’s phone buzzed, and he reached into his pocket to silence it. “You ready to spend three days being mother hen?”
Emily dismissed him with a wave. “Oh, please, who do you think kept those hellions I call brothers in line? These boys are little angels in comparison.”
“And they would so love to be called little angels.” Matt silenced his phone again.
“That your dad?”
Matt nodded. “He’s pestering me because I skipped church on Sunday. I just couldn’t take a Mother’s Day service,” he whispered.
Emily sat up and shook the grass out of her hair. “I’m sure he understands. He probably didn’t want to be there any more than you did.” She gave Matt a shove. “Want me to come with you Sunday, like we used to?”
“We’ve discussed this. I don’t want to scare off that guy who finally realizes how awesome you are.”
“Sweetheart, I’m gettin’ a little old to be believing in fairy tales. And you know Reverend Nate isn’t going to stay off your case forever.” She gave him that look, the one she gave her students who needed a little extra hand-holding. “How long are you going to keep this up? You can’t spend your whole life as a ‘terminal bachelor.’“
Matt scowled. “Did you really just use air quotes with me?” When Emily arched her eyebrow, he continued. “I will not hurt Dad and Jeanne. I made it this long—”
“Yeah, and you were gone for eleven years. Did you even come out in all that time? To anyone?”
“Come on, how many out baseball players do you know? None, that’s how many. And yes, there were people. Other players. Guys in different places. I got by.”
Emily leaned over him. “Don’t you ever want more than getting by?”
Matt pushed her aside and sat up. “There’s no point wanting what I can’t have.”
They sat in tense silence, Emily pulling up blades of grass and Matt chewing on the inside of his cheek. He didn’t understand why she had to start this, today of all days. Emily knew her family would love her no matter what. She hadn’t heard her father preach about the evils of homosexuality all her life. The only person who might have accepted him, might have loved him despite everything, was killed by a drunk driver a year ago. Now he just couldn’t compound his father and sister’s grief by scandalizing them. This town was their whole lives, and people here never forgot a damn thing.
“Coach Hawley! Miss Maxwell!” The tall, rail-thin boy ran across the field toward Matt and Emily, and Matt couldn’t help being reminded of himself at seventeen.
Matt stood and held out a hand to help Emily to her feet. “Hey Robby. What’s up?”
“Buses are here.” Robby was practically bouncing. “Everyone’s here but Ben.”
Emily chuckled. “Ben’s always late.”
Like everyone else on Matt’s team, Ben took one of Emily’s home economics classes. The parents didn’t understand why Matt had encouraged their macho baseball-playing sons to learn to cook, but Matt still remembered trying to figure out how to cook a frozen pizza his first night at minor league training camp. If a home economics class could prevent someone else from suffering the embarrassment of calling the fire department to put out a pizza, it was well worth it.
Matt patted Robby’s shoulder. “Thanks. Run on back and get my bus lists off my desk.”
“Yes, Coach!” And Robby was off again, running toward the school.
“God, that boy has the biggest crush on you,” Emily whispered.
Petrified, Matt stared after Robby. If Emily could see it, others would too. Robby was a good kid, a star shortstop, and an excellent student. None of that would matter to the other kids—hell, if Matt was being honest, to the parents either—if they sensed Robby was different. His life would be hell until he fell in line or left.
Emily grabbed Matt’s hand and squeezed. “It’s okay. No one’s talking. No one else has figured out. I doubt if he even has.”
Matt picked up the remnants of his breakfast and his book. “Let’s go. It’s a long drive to Montgomery.”COLLAPSE