Anger and worry flooded through Ken. "We weren't followed at all Dan. It isn't like that." His face smiled, and it could be heard over the phone lines. "I've fallen in love. And so has Sean."
"Don't start with me about him Ken. We talked about it. If you need to find some guy to fuck around with, we can find a nice discreet hook-up for you. But you have to get this relationship idea out of your head."
Ken's anger welled up from deep down, from twenty-four years of lying, of denying who he really was. "I will not fuck around! God damn it! I am in love with someone who is perfect for me. And if I have to give up baseball I will. I don't care! Get that through your thick skull Dan. I. Love. Sean. That will never change."
"Ken. You don't know what this means. Your career is going to end. No one wants a fag playing in the Great American Pastime. I don't care that you like to suck cock. I could care less. But America kid, they do. And your career will be history. No more playing ball. No more commercials. Nothing. Zip. Then what? Your college degree is in history for God's sakes. Want to become a high school teacher? Coach baseball? Guess what? America don't want fags teaching in their schools either!"
The anger came through the phone in waves. Ken refused to back down though. What was money when he was alone? What was anything without Sean? Nothing. "I don't care Dan. I have more than enough money to see me through the rest of my life."
He heard a disgusted snort come through the phone. "Guess again sunshine. You think that five-year contract you have is going to pay out? Wrong! They will dismiss you and then sue you over the moralities clause."
Ken swallowed deeply. Dan heard it over the phone. Ken wanted to call his bluff, but didn't dare. Dan took advantage of the pause and drove his point home. He wasn't giving up this meal ticket. At worse, the league would dismiss him outright and null the contract. Most likely they'd keep him playing and let the country fuck off. But Ken didn't need to know that. 'Keep the money coming honey,' that had always been Dan's motto.
"I think you need to reconsider. I'll get you a few days during the All-Star break and a week off after the World Series. Then we'll get together and work on these deals. You can use that time to be with Sean. But get it out of your system. Because I need you focused."
Ken slumped in defeat. It wouldn't work. He was trapped. But he wouldn't need that week after all. He wouldn't hurt Sean more then he was going to. That week would only scar them both. So with resignation in his voice, he agreed to Dan's demands.
Ken sat on his couch, dejected after Dan's call. But his introspection was short lived. Dan had obviously called the manager. And his call was only worse.
"God damn it Ken! We need you one hundred percent. Stop thinking with your dick."
"Skipper, that isn't it at all. This isn't about sex." Ken felt like he was losing his mind.
"Of course it is. That's all it is about. My boy drops to his knees for any man who waves his dick at him. There is no love for you faggots."
Anger and righteous indignation roiled through Ken as he gripped the phone tighter and listened to his coach harangue every gay person on Earth. Finally he'd had enough and spat out all the venom that he'd bottled up, kept in check while being kept in the closet, bolted inside while trying to claw his way out.
"Listen to me Skip, I don't care what you think. If Sean were a woman, you wouldn't care a bit. Last year two of your players met, fell in love with and married women. This is the same thing!" He was on a roll, and the steam kept building. "I have fallen in love and I don't care what the fucking world thinks."
The evil chuckle he heard through the fun actually made goose bumps rise on the back of Ken's neck. "If you want to play hardball, so can I. You push this, and I will bench your ass. I don't care if you are the best damn catcher that has come through the majors in years. I won't have you throwing away everything for a piece of ass. Do I make myself clear?"
Ken had to swallow twice before he answered. "You wouldn't dare. How will you explain my not playing?"
"Injuries kid. They are a dime a dozen. And they can be real enough if need be."
Ken closed his eyes, knowing that this was bullshit. This was harassment. This was bribery. But he saw no way out, nothing that wouldn't destroy him, the team and probably Sean too. "What do you want me to do?"
"Don't ever talk to him again. Don't see him. Keep yourself on the straight and narrow. If you need to have a little release, I'll get my son to give you some. But you keep away from this guy."
The tears rolled down Ken's cheeks, knowing he was trapped, crippled with the pain he was in and the pain he knew would be killing Sean. "Can I call him and at least try and explain?"
"No way. Lover boy will just have to learn how to live with it. Welcome to the big leagues. Get it? A joke kid. You better paste a smile on your face come Tuesday. You're going to be hounded by the press for all of Spring Training. I suggest you get some rest and get over it."
Ken sat in his living room after the phone call was over, not able to move. He wasn't really aware of the rising of the sun until the bright light pierced his eyes. He wiped away the tear tracks and went to his room and packed. His course decided. He felt like a marionette. And Ken kicked himself for not having the courage to grab the scissors and cut the strings.
Ken left the next morning for Arizona and Spring Training while Sean sat down and worked out his sadness and loneliness in one of his best and most moving books, counting the days until opening day in April. Waiting for Ken to call, watching for glimpses of him from Spring Training on ESPN.
But the phone call never came.
The boys were with him when he went to the opening day game. The team had been on a road trip the first five games and was undefeated. Sean let the boys wander off to the area near the warm up pens, standing out of sight, where he could watch them, but not close enough to be seen. Their seats were about ten rows behind the home team's dugout, if Ken wanted to see him, he would. It wasn't like he could hide in the crowd.
The game was another victory, Ken playing well, no fielding errors, wonderful batting statistics and he ran the bases like a true pro. Sean felt a surge of pride, happy in his heart for Ken's victory. In his mind, there were lots of reasons why he didn't call. The road trip alone would mean he wasn't available. Sure, they'd had a few days break between training and the first game, but there were lots of reasons as to why he would have been too busy to call. He had heard through the news reports that Ken was working on a couple of commercials, endorsing products. It still hurt, but not enough to make him doubt.
Ken was miserable. He wanted to be open; he wanted his man to sit with the player's wives, to be a part of his life. But Dan schooled him to not go there. The manager told him the same. He was only able to put the hurt and confusion, the extreme loneliness away when he was playing. But at night, long after the game, he'd wonder why he was doing this. His dream had always been to play professional baseball; he had worked his whole life for it. But these dreams weren't keeping him warm at night. They didn't fill this aching gap in his heart. But all he knew was the dream. And he just wasn't strong enough to give up the one, to have the other.
It was on the nineteenth home game that Ken saw Sean sitting in the stands. He was just heading back into the dugout in the middle of the third inning. The gratitude and joy at seeing him there filled his heart and he couldn't help the smile. But the words of his manager and agent filled his head and he scowled, angry with himself and angry with Sean for being there, being a reminder of all he couldn't have; all he shouldn't want. Ken sat in the dugout, trying not to cry, his heart pounding with loss and shame. He was ashamed that he wasn't strong enough for Sean. There was a cold fury that descended over Ken; it gave him the strength and resolve to go out and play like he'd never played before, mean, to the point of being vicious, precise and almost heartless
Sean hadn't given up hope until the nineteenth game. The joy at knowing that Ken had seen him and that wonderful smile that made his whole face light up and his deep blue eyes sparkle had made his heart soar. Then he'd scowled and refused to look at him again. As the remaining six innings went by, Sean's heart slowly shriveled as each time Ken came back to the dugout, he purposefully looked anywhere but at him. When the game was over, Sean's heart was cold. He continued to smile and play and joke with his nephews, but the smile never reached his eyes. He took them home and then went to his own home and crawled into bed, wondering if perhaps it just had to do with the team's first loss. It was all he had to cling to. But the next two home games were no better. Ken looked up to where he was sitting, but avoided looking at him. He knew that Sean was there, but didn't acknowledge him. And by the end of the second game, Sean had sunk down into a funk of despair that was worse than when he couldn't sell his first book. His eyes became hollow and he wasn't sleeping. That night, he gave the rest of the season tickets to his brother-in-law, telling his nephews that he needed to go work at his cabin. He felt bad for disappointing them, but couldn't face those cold eyes again.
Each time Ken had seen Sean after that first time, seemed to send the knife deeper into his heart. Those three games were hell. He couldn't keep himself from looking up into the stands, searching those brown eyes and beloved features. It was torture. It was hell. But it was nothing once Ken stopped seeing Sean at the games. His seat was taken, a man shorter who looked like the two kids sitting next to him was sitting in it now. His heart sort of died a bit that day, wondering where Sean was. He was worried about him. He thought the pain was bad when he saw Sean everyday, but it was nothing compared to not seeing him at all. His heart was torn, between his first love and his second. But Ken did what he always did; he poured himself into the game, not realizing that his heart was no longer in it. He stopped sleeping, eating, drinking baseball. His first thought in the morning was not about the upcoming game nor was his last thought at night about the game just played and errors that needed to be remedied. His thoughts were filled with Sean and his warm, deep brown eyes and kind smile. So it was with a heavy heart that Ken started playing the best he could, driving the team to a great first half and an easy walk on to the All-Star team.
Fate can be a cruel and vicious master. Fate alone had Sean going to Chicago with his mother the same weekend as the All-Star Game. Fate had the two of them staying at the same hotel as the team. Sean was not at all sure he could face this. In the two and a half months since he had last gone to the ballpark, Sean had lost about thirty pounds. He no longer cared about his appearance nor did he sleep overly well. He got strange looks and people steered clear of him at the airport. Margaret looked at her son and could do nothing but worry. He looked like hell. He also looked like someone who had lost his last shred of hope. They checked into their hotel rooms and went to the first bookstore to attend the signing. Sean just stood behind his mother, not even listening to the praise. He stared across the room, to where another book signing table was set up and a children's author was there. Sean wasn't looking at the author, just at the general area. And Margaret realized that that table was about the same distance as the calendar table was at the women's conference. She had come back to the room and seen the two men talk. Now she wondered what had happened. What was causing her son to look like his heart had died and he was just waiting for his body to follow?
The book signing had been grueling. Sean's taste for it, like all things lately, was waning. He just wanted to go back to the hotel and sleep. The flight home tomorrow was going to be very welcome. He just wanted to return to his cabin and try and forget. But his heart wouldn't let him. It still beat. It still ached. It still yearned. He kept wishing there was an answer. And there was. Just like last time, he wasn't enough. There was something about him that was lacking. So it was with that realization that he entered the hotel's lobby, not even realizing that he would be facing a media and fan mob from the baseball game. He snuck down a service corridor, seeking any elevator, even a staircase.
Ken was walking through the hotel lobby, trying to sneak past the media throng and the groupies. He found a corridor through the kitchens that led to a service elevator. He just wanted to go to bed. The short break for the All-Star game had been hell. It just gave him too much time to think; too much time to realize that his heart wouldn't give up on his love for Sean. He missed him with everything that was inside his heart, mind and soul. He could see the elevator when he heard some screeching woman shout his name. He turned and was assaulted with a wall of wiggling female flesh. She hopped into his arms and started kissing him. He grabbed her ass, just to keep her from dragging them both down.
Sean had just rounded the corner into the service elevator bay when he heard the scream. He whipped his head around and saw Ken, with a woman jumping all over him. His hands gripped her ass as she ground against him. If he could have seen himself, from some out of body experience, Sean would have seen the last spark of hope flicker out of his own eyes. But he wasn't, he was bound into his body and felt the stab of pain in his heart and every petty, small-minded insecurity reared its head and pummeled Sean with self-loathing, dragging him deeper and deeper into despair, blanching his face in a powerful wave of pain so great he didn't think he'd survive. Just then, the ding of the elevator rang, breaking Sean's pain filled stare. He turned and climbed into the elevator, almost knocking a surprised bellhop out of his way. He turned to press the button and saw Ken standing on the other side of the door, his face smeared with some gaudy pink lipstick, the look on his face was horrified. As Sean looked him over from head to toe, the distinct ridge in his jeans was all the evidence he needed to see.
The ding of the elevator snapped Ken out of his absolutely dazed shock of being assaulted by this woman. He pulled her away and set her down, pushing her away. He turned to the elevator and watched as a giant of a man pushed his way through. The immediate swelling of his groin was all the evidence that Ken needed to know that that mountain was his mountain. It was Sean. He stood at the door, willing him to turn and see him. And when he did, Ken couldn't hide the horror he felt at what he saw. Where was the tanned, hulking man he made love with all those months ago? Where was the warm smile and kind eyes? All he saw was a pale face, sunken cheeks, and a pair of eyes so filled with pain and hurt, that it brought tears to Ken's eyes. Ken watched as Sean's eyes filled with tears. He gave Ken a small, trembling smile as the doors closed. Ken tried furiously to get to the button, to reopen the doors. He looked above the doors, but there were no indicator numbers on the service elevator. He had no clue which floor he got off on. With a small cry of despair, he sank against the wall, lost. He was torn, had been all season. Today had only proved that Ken had chosen wrong.
Sean sank against the wall of the elevator, the last of his strength leaving him. His control gone, he let the tears flow. When the doors opened on his floor, he staggered down the hall, bypassing his own door and knocking on his mother's. She opened the door and took one look at her son and pulled him in with her. She sat down on the bed and her boy kneeled by her and held on for dear life as he cried in her arms. Margaret had no clue what to do for her son. There were no words; she didn't know what to say. She just held on, dying because her boy was in so much pain. She held him and stroked his hair and let him cry for almost an hour before it wound down. With just a few short sobs he was done. She pulled his head up to look at her, but he was dead asleep. There was no way she could lift him onto the bed, so she helped him to the ground, placing a pillow behind his head. She sat back against the bed and stroked her boy's hair, and she cried herself, because she hated to see any of her children suffer. Later that night, she called the airline and decided to postpone their return flight. She also called the front desk and extended their stay. Margaret and Sean had a lot to talk about.
Ken spent three hours that night trying to bribe anyone in the hotel to get him Sean's room number. When that failed, he slumped in his room on the top floor, where all the players were. There was the rhythmic thumping against his headboard from the room next door and the female screams and the animalistic grunts of one of his teammates. He never understood the whole groupie sex thing. He'd tried it once, but it hadn't done a thing for him, just made him feel cheap. But then again, this was a victory night, and the guy was at least single. Most of the married players stayed true. A few strayed, but it was an extreme rarity. It used to be that he would listen to one of the single guys in the room next to him, rutting away, stroking in time to the bumping of the headboard, imagining himself under the player, being plowed by that cock. Hell, he'd seen all of his teammates naked, he knew who he found most attractive. When one of them was next door and he'd pick up a groupie or more, Ken would have a stroke fest to that heavy pounding and the heady moans. But ever since that week with Sean, he no longer found his little fantasies to have any appeal. In fact, when he did stroke himself, his mind kept going back to that first time with Sean, to when he had taken him into his mouth, the feeling of his lips caressing him as his tongue had teased him. He never lasted long at all when he thought about any of his time with Sean. He missed him terribly.
The next morning, with a very heavy heart, Ken boarded the plane to New York. He had two commercial shoots to do. Between his signing bonus and all the endorsements, he had close to thirty million dollars. On the flight, Ken gave serious thought to what life would hold if he gave up his dream. What it would be like to not play ball. Because if last night proved anything, it proved to Ken that he could have baseball for only a few years, but he could have the love of his life for a lot longer. A decision would have to be made and soon. Being away from Sean was killing him.
Margaret and Sean stayed in Chicago for three extra days. The first was spent with Sean sleeping. Margaret was a bit dismayed by it, until she saw him after he woke and some of the gauntness around his eyes was gone. After a long shower and some breakfast, they started talking. Sean poured his heart and his hurt out to her. Of her four children, Sean was the only one who didn't have someone to share his life with. He wasn't her oldest or her youngest, he wasn't unattractive; he was the sweetest, kindest, most tenderhearted man she had ever known. Even though she was biased, she knew that her son would love someone for life. She had never liked David. He was shallow and vain and he cheated on Sean constantly. Sean never told her, but she knew that he did. She was so grateful that David was gone. And Sean was nowhere near this devastated when David left. She knew that this time there was no going back. Ken Simms was the one for Sean, and he was hurting her boy. Perhaps it was one sided. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding. She didn't know. But she planned to find out.