Dom came up behind them. “Shit.”
“Yeah.” Stephen massaged the bridge of his nose. “But if I’ve got a post in the middle of Bethany’s open concept, she’ll have to change the whole design.”
“And you’ll have to replace the balls she’s going to rip off,” Dom muttered.
“If she hasn’t changed since high school, that sounds about accurate.” Travis dropped the sledgehammer and started to gather his tools, knowing it would be pointless to move on until they brought in a crew to bolster the structure. “You guys up for a beer?”
“I’m in,” Dom said, taking off his work gloves and shoving them in his back pocket. “Rosie is taking some exercise class tonight, so I’m fending for myself. Again.”
A deep trench formed between Dom’s eyebrows. Growing up, Travis remembered those two being a solid couple who seemed to speak their own language, no one else in the room existing when they were together. They’d had each other’s backs, named their future children, and were voted Most Likely to Get Married. After graduation, Dom made the yearbook prediction a reality and proposed to Rosie, right there in the center of the football field, both of them in caps and gowns. Months later, having parked a ring on Rosie’s finger, he’d joined the marines and spent time overseas—but he’d come back quieter. More serious.
Travis didn’t intend to diagnose Dom the way Stephen might, but there definitively appeared to be trouble in paradise where Dom and Rosie were concerned. Even Travis, who thought marriage was an unrealistic institution, didn’t want to see the couple drift apart. Back in the day, everyone had been so positive they’d be the ones to beat the odds.
If Dom and Rosie were going to separate, Travis could only be grateful they didn’t have children. He knew too well how divorce could turn a child into a pawn in an ugly game of chess. After all, he was standing across the street from the hell his own parents had created for him.
Yeah, definitely time for that beer.
They each took their own truck into town, parking in the lot behind Grumpy Tom’s and piling in through the back door, reserved for regulars. Port Jefferson was a small town, but it had become an increasingly popular destination over the years. Most of the sightseers stayed near the water where the ferry let off or shopped on Main Street. Every once in a while, some of them wandered into Grumpy Tom’s, but most of the bar’s patrons were locals. Some blue collar, some white collar, and all with one goal: to watch the ball game and unwind. Tonight in particular that was exactly what Travis needed.
Before they could order drinks, a man slid in beside them at the bar, pounding a fist on the wood and drawing attention with a booming laugh. “There he is. I knew Two Bats would get back on the prowl if we just gave him time.” The man scanned the bar. “Slim pickins tonight, but once the ladies hear you’re around, it’ll be standing room only. We all stand to benefit.”
Having his sordid past glorified didn’t sit right. Over the last year, he’d been traded to Chicago, San Diego, Miami. During nights out, or even in professional settings, men would approach him and ask for details of his exploits. Travis usually satisfied their curiosity without actually imparting any real information. The old I never kiss and tell routine. But even that felt wrong now. He wasn’t up for it anymore. And the reminder of his reputation was bothering him more than usual tonight, having Stephen within earshot—the man whose little sister had fallen asleep on his bed last week.
Travis sent the patron a vague smile, hoping he’d take the hint and fuck off. “All right, man.”
“The boys were saying you haven’t picked up one skirt since coming home, and I said . . .” He paused to swig his beer. “I said you’ve probably been going into Manhattan for the high-quality pu—”
“Okay, buddy. I’m going to stop you there.” Travis slid off the stool, avoiding Stephen’s eyes. “Order me a beer. I’m going to make a phone call.”
Stephen was eyeing the idiot with disgust. “Sure.”
Travis didn’t actually have a phone call to make; he just needed some air. Salt and humidity filled his lungs as he stepped out the back door of the bar. Wind kicked up from the distant water, blowing his hair around. Thankfully, the alleyway running behind Grumpy Tom’s was empty so he could have a minute to himself. He tugged his cell out of the back pocket of his jeans to check the time, surprised to find a missed call from his agent.
Hope straightened his spine before he could stop it. Was it possible a shortstop position had opened up and he was being called to suit up? They’d exhausted all options weeks ago, his agent telling him playing professional ball again was hopeless. What if something had changed, though? Maybe an overseas option?
He hit the call back button, holding the phone to his ear as he paced in a circle.
His agent picked up on the second ring. “Ford. My man.”
“Donny.” He tried to shake off the hope and failed. “What’s up?”
“First of all, it’s not what you think. Sorry. Nothing has changed.” Donny rambled right over the thick slowdown of Travis’s pulse. “But I’ve got a line on something better.”
Travis pressed his palm to the bridge of his nose. “Better than playing ball?”
“Fuck yes. Do I have to remind you about ice baths, road fatigue, and B12 shots in the ass? I know, I know. You’re going to tell me that sounds like heaven. But what if I told you, Ford, you could sit in an air-conditioned box at the stadium in a suit and commentate?”
The idea was so out of left field, Travis could only shake his head. “What?”
“The New York Bombers are looking for a new voice. Fresh, young, easy on the eyes. They’ve got a short list of candidates and you’re on it.” He could hear his agent punching computer keys in the background. “It pays in the two-comma neighborhood and you only have to work home games. National television. Who knows where it could lead? Look, man. It’s the next best thing to being on the field. You’ll be at the field, talking about the game you love. What do you say?”
Travis found himself thinking about the old Colonial with sagging shutters. The echoes of voices from the past in the kitchen, the feel of the coarse wooden porch underneath him. The man who’d told him he’d come crawling back as a disappointment eventually. Travis might have failed to achieve the kind of career he’d dreamed about, but this? This could be a way to salvage it. Commentating had never even occurred to him. Now it was this bright, shiny thing that made the chance to prove himself attainable again.
“You said I’m on a list. How do I get to the top?”
Donny sighed. “You know how it goes. There’s always a rub, my man.” His agent stopped typing, probably adopting his all too familiar let me level with you pose. “This is network television. They want wholesome. They want someone who isn’t going to show up hungover with panties hanging out of his pocket.”
“That happened once.”
“At a children’s hospital charity event.”
A jab of regret made Travis close his eyes. Just one of the many times he’d lived up to the Two Bats hype. “I’m not that guy anymore.”
“Right now you’re not—you’re in a rut. But a leopard doesn’t change its spots.” A calculated beat passed. “We just need to make them think you did.”
Travis shook his head. “How am I supposed to do that?”
“I’m working on getting you an invitation to dinner with the head of the network. Might be a couple weeks. Lie low until then. Or better yet, settle down and pop out a kid or two.”
“Not even if the Bombers offered me a ten-year contract, Donny.”
His agent snorted a laugh. “Worth a shot. Seriously, though. Find a way to prove some stability and we’re a shoo-in. You’re great on camera. Recognizable.” Another phone went off in the background. “I have to take this. I’ll keep you posted on that dinner invite.”
Feeling a little like a sleepwalker, Travis returned to the bar. It was too early in the game to tell Stephen and Dominic about the potential commentator job. He didn’t want to jinx himself, so he slid back onto his stool and picked up his beer, glad to see their unwanted guest had returned to his side of the bar. Travis’s mind should have been filled with the possibilities of getting a job involving baseball—something he’d stopped thinking of as an option over a month ago. Instead, something else was niggling at his subconscious. Like he’d shown up for a game without his favorite glove.
“Hey, what day is it?”
“Tuesday,” Dominic replied.
The few sips of beer in Travis’s stomach went sour.
He’d forgotten the fireplace appointment.
Poised to ask Stephen for Georgie’s number so he could call and reschedule, Travis took the phone back out of his pocket . . . and stopped. Let’s recap. You’re getting ready to ask your best friend for his little sister’s phone number. Are you fucking insane?
Yeah. He was. They never should have been spending time together in the first place. This was exactly what he needed—a wake-up call. If Stephen knew they’d been hanging out, he’d deck him. Travis would deserve it, too. He’d apologize for missing the appointment next time she showed up to pester him. Then he’d send Georgie on her way. For good this time. Still, when he put his phone back in his pocket, the guilt and unease refused to fade.