Seventeen-year-old Annie Lucas's life is completely upended the moment her dad returns to the major leagues as the new pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals. Now she's living in Missouri (too cold), attending an all-girls school (no boys), and navigating the strange world of professional sports. But Annie has dreams of her own—most of which involve placing first at every track meet…and one starring the Royals' super-hot rookie pitcher.
But nineteen-year-old Jason Brody is completely, utterly, and totally off-limits. Besides, her dad would kill them both several times over. Not to mention Brody has something of a past, and his fan club is filled with C-cupped models, not smart-mouthed high school "brats" who can run the pants off every player on the team. Annie has enough on her plate without taking their friendship to the next level. The last thing she should be doing is falling in love.
But baseball isn't just a game. It's life. And sometimes, it can break your heart…
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About the Author
Julie lives in Central Illinois with her husband and three children. She's a lover of books, devouring several novels a week, especially in the young adult and new adult genres. You can find her online at www.juliecrossbooks.com.
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Whatever Life Throws At You
By Julie Cross, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Julie Cross
All rights reserved.
I'm afraid that the second I allow Frank Steadman, the new general manager for the Kansas City Royals, to enter our small Arizona townhouse, my mother will be right on his heels. Whenever major league baseball makes its way back into Dad's life, Mom likes to make a surprise appearance, screwing with Dad's head all over again.
Last time she showed up was Christmas two months ago when an old teammate of Dad's was in town and wanted to have dinner. I don't know how she found out about it. She stayed for exactly forty-eight hours, and it took a month to get Dad out of his post-Mom funk.
I can't deal with that again.
I've got track starting next week, and someone has to take care of Grams. God knows we can't have another incident of her shuffling outside in her old lady underwear at noon telling all the neighbors that the air-conditioning is broken.
Frank Steadman is grinning at me from the other side of the screen door. I can't make myself return the smile. He's a very nice guy, don't get me wrong — one of the few baseball people who regard my dad with some amount of respect instead of pity. I've just had my guard up since two hours ago when Dad told me Frank was stopping by for dinner. The good thing is that two hours' notice probably isn't long enough for Mom to get here from whatever dream she's chasing at the moment.
"Little Annie Lucas," Frank says, pulling open the screen and letting himself in. "You're practically a lady now, aren't you? Bet your dad is scared shitless."
I hear the familiar uneven thud of Dad's steps, his metal non-leg banging against the wood floors. He can insist on wearing pants 24/7, but his part-robot status is still obvious. "You got that right. I think it's about time I locked her in her bedroom for five or so years."
"Jimmy" — Frank looks over my shoulder — "How are you?"
Frank Steadman and Mom are the only people I've ever heard call my dad Jimmy instead of Jim.
They give each other the one-armed man-friendly hug before Dad ushers him into our small kitchen where my lasagna is now ready to be removed from the oven.
"Congrats on the new job, Frank," I say, sliding on green oven mitts. "They must have been really desperate for wins if they're turning Yankees recruiters into general managers."
Both Dad and Frank laugh. "Yep," Frank says. "That, and I came cheap. Anything to get away from New York. Been there too long."
"How's spring training going?" I hear Dad ask after I've set dinner on the table and started down the hall to wake Grams.
"All right." Frank sighs. "Got a couple rookies with potential. It's the veterans that are driving me batshit crazy. We don't have enough room on the field for all their egos."
The rest of the dinner conversation switches to non-baseball topics, like Dad's barely above a minimum wage job at the glass factory in town, and then onto his non-leg.
"Everything good with the leg, Jimmy?"
I watch Dad's face carefully while holding a fork out for Grams. Her wrinkled hand drifts in front of me, blocking my view.
"Same as last time." Dad swallows a bite of pasta, chewing slowly. "I'll have another scan in two months."
My heart speeds up. I hate the scans. I'm a head case for three or four months before and then relieved as hell after for only a few months before it starts all over again. I miss being too young to keep track of these things. To not understand the term oncologist.
It isn't until an hour after Frank's arrival, while we're in the living room and I'm curled up on the love seat beside Grams reading to her from my physics textbook, that Frank finally gets to the point of this visit.
"I got a kid I want you to look at," he says to Dad.
"Huygens' principle states that each point on a wave front ..." I read quietly to Grams while watching Frank remove his laptop from its case.
"A wave front," Grams mumbles beside me. "Isn't that what took out the Titanic, Ginny?"
I grind my teeth together. She can't help it. I know she can't. But I hate with a passion being called my mother's name. "That was an iceberg, Grams."
Frank must have caught what Grams said because he looks up from his laptop resting on the coffee table. "You look just like her, kid. It's amazing."
My expression probably represents anything but happiness, and Frank bows his head quickly. "Sorry."
Unlike the other baseball-related "old friends," I've always had the impression that Frank is aware of the real woman Dad is married to. Either he's observed enough, or Dad has confided in him.
He and Dad lean their heads together as they sit at the edge of the couch waiting for the video to download. I close my textbook and turn on the TV.
"Look Grams, Wheel of Fortune."
She turns her gaze to the television across the room. "Thanks, Ginny, sweetheart."
"Annie," I whisper in her ear before standing up. "I'm Annie."
I walk behind the couch and lean on my elbows. Dad reaches behind him and pats my hand, glancing over his shoulder for a split second. "It's just a phase."
I shrug, like it doesn't bother me, and nod toward Frank's laptop. There's a guy on the screen now, standing on the pitcher's mound. He's young. Really young. Sweat glistens on his forehead, dripping down from the edge of his dark hair. He's Italian or something that gives a person beautiful tan skin, dark hair, and chocolate brown eyes. Features much better suited for Arizona sun than my pale blue eyes and white-blond hair. I cart SPF 70 around like a diabetic with their insulin.
"He's hot," I say, winning an over-the-shoulder glare from Dad. "What's his name?"
"Why is that important?" Dad says, though he knows we have different priorities in this situation.
I shrug again, looking all innocent while ogling the computer pitcher.
"Jason Brody," Frank says. "He's only nineteen. Spent half a season with our farm team in Texas."
We all watch as Jason Brody winds up and throws his first pitch. Even with the click, click, click of Pat Sajak's wheel spinning on the television, I hear the smack of the ball against the catcher's glove, loud and clear.
"Holy shit," I murmur, leaning over Dad and seeing his unreadable expression. Frank is silent while Dad watches Jason Brody throw about thirty more pitches. Finally the video ends.
"Well, what do you think?" Frank prompts.
Dad leans back against my arms, carefully evaluating his answer. That's how he is with everything — quiet and calculated. Frank's hinted on previous visits that Dad was quite the hotshot in his own pitching days. His BC days. Before Cancer. I was too young to remember any of that.
"The fastball's great, obviously," Dad says. "What's he throwing? Ninety-five, ninety-eight?" Frank nods. "Have you given him any coaching? There's potential for a decent slider with his arm, but not without some work, some good instruction."
Frank grins. "I was hoping you'd say that."
"It's jelly donut, goddammit!" Grams shouts at the TV.
Frank is temporarily distracted but returns his focus after Grams throws the newspaper at the television.
"She's got an arm, too." He chuckles and then tucks his laptop away. "Johnson, the Royals' new owner, isn't too keen on signing a nineteen-year-old rookie to close this season. Plus, Brody's got a few indiscretions on his record, for lack of a better word. No high school diploma, not much family contact that I know of ... Could be a problem player, especially given his age."
Now Dad's eyebrows lift — even though he had no reaction while he watched the guy throw ninety-eight-mile-an-hour pitches.
"Right," I say. "'Cause a hot nineteen-year-old bad-boy pitcher won't help get some asses in the seats this season. Guess the owner is fine relying on giving out bobble-heads and seat cushions every night."
Frank laughs again but Dad just rolls his eyes. "Annie. Dishes. Now."
"Why? Because I'm a girl?" But I'm already walking away toward the kitchen. I let the water run at only half speed so I can eavesdrop.
"She's got a point," Frank says. "This kid will sell tickets. Maybe even help us win a few games."
"If it were my decision, I wouldn't give a damn about his record," Dad says. "He's got potential, he's hungry. I can see that from the footage. And really, what the hell do you have to lose? It's not like you're coming off a World Series win or anything."
"So if it were you in my position, you'd coach this kid? You'd sign him?" Frank asks.
"In a heartbeat," Dad says matter-of-factly. And Frank probably knows as well as I do that Dad doesn't bullshit anyone. Frank has known my dad since before I was born. He's the one who discovered Dad, who recruited him for the Yankees before he even finished college.
"Which is why I'm really here. I need a new pitching coach, Jimmy," Frank says. "And I think you're the best man for the job."
The soapy plate slips through my fingers and crashes onto the kitchen floor, snapping into a dozen pieces.
Dad is up so fast, his non-leg thudding into the floor until he's standing in the doorway of the kitchen. "You okay, Ann?"
"Leave the dishes and come in here, Annie," Frank calls from the living room. Dad and I walk back together, standing behind the couch, waiting to hear Frank's punch line. "What do you think about moving to Kansas City? What do you think about your daddy coaching big league ballplayers?"
The first thought to drift through the shock of Frank's proposal is Mom. She'd love this. She'd be all over this. All she's ever wanted was to be Dad's trophy wife and to dress me up like her personal Barbie doll, but accept none of the responsibility that comes with marriage and kids.
Dad responds before I get a chance to. "I can't pull Annie out of school in the middle of the semester. She's got track season coming up."
Frank lifts an eyebrow, shifting his gaze to me. "Another athlete in the family, huh? Can't say I'm surprised."
"She runs a mile in four fifty-five." Dad grins at me. "Her coach thinks she'll get offered a scholarship to Arizona State."
"Damn, kid, that's quite a time. But there're schools in Kansas City. Good schools with great track teams." He turns to Dad again. "The pay's not great. They'll probably let me start you out at one fifty a year."
I gape at Frank. "One hundred fifty thousand a year?"
Dad's eyes drop to the floor for a sec. "You don't have to do this, Frank. You don't owe me anything."
A silent exchange of words and memories seems to pass between the two of them. Things that happened years ago, most likely. Before I was old enough to understand.
"It's not that," Frank says firmly. "I want that Brody kid, and I need someone on my side. Someone to back me up and honestly, I need a real technician on my pitching staff, not a goddamn washed-up player who's been promised way too many perks. You know this stuff as well as anyone in the league, if not better than most of them."
Does he? I've never seen Dad coach baseball or even play. But we've watched hundreds of games together, and I've heard him mumbling things under his breath, shaking his head when he's not happy with a pitch. I've seen the intense way he studies players' movements, leaning forward on his elbows like he's willing the TV to move closer. It's definitely different from the typical shouting and cheering in the sports bar kind of behavior. He's the opposite of a rowdy, temperamental fan. And when I ask questions, he has very technical, logical answers. So maybe Frank is right?
Dad glances at Grams and shakes his head. "I can't leave Evelyn."
"Bring her," Frank booms, throwing his hands up in the air. "Bring whoever the hell you want to bring. We'll take care of everything for you."
"I don't know ..." His voice trails off, his eyes meeting mine.
Suddenly I understand his resistance. It's crystal clear. He thinks Grams is the way to keep Mom coming around. He thinks if he keeps her mother close and takes care of her, that Mom will change her mind and come live with us again.
Fuck that. We're getting the hell out of here.
"Kansas City, that's like in Kansas, right?" I ask.
"Missouri," Frank and Dad both correct.
I clap my hands together. "I'm dying to go to Missouri. Let's do it, Dad."
His forehead wrinkles. "You want to leave your school, your friends, your boyfriend?"
You mean my boyfriend who just dumped me for Jesus and other boys? Yep, let's get the hell out of here. "Yeah, about that boyfriend ... It's kinda over."
Dad looks relieved but tries to hide it. "Since when?"
I just shake my head. "Think about it, Dad. Grams can visit her sister in St. Louis. She'd love that."
I have no idea if she'd love it. Honestly, I could probably grab some random old lady in the supermarket and tell Grams it's her sister, and she'd believe me. But like me, Dad adores Grams, and he'd do just about anything if he thought she'd enjoy it.
"Why don't you take Grams for a drive, Ann?" Dad says.
I groan like I'm super annoyed with being shooed out of the grown-up conversation like a toddler before hauling Grams toward the front door. Hopefully, Frank has some persuasive skills.
"This would be a great opportunity for your daughter, Jimmy," I hear Frank say as we step outside.
"I'd be away all the time ... on the road," Dad says, but I hear the tiny hint of concession in his voice.
"Where should we go, Grams?" I help her into the old beat-up Ford Taurus that Dad and I share, and then make my way toward the driver's side. "Ice cream?"
"Florence!" Grams shouts, punching her fist into the air.
I laugh and back out of our assigned parking space. "We went to Italy yesterday. How about Hawaii this time?"
"I love a good pig roast, Ginny."
The sigh escapes despite the fact that I don't blame Grams. "Do you remember Dad playing baseball?" I glance sideways at her. She's waving her hand over the air-conditioning vent, no hint of a response coming anytime soon. Her lucid moments have become very rare lately. I try a different tactic more out of boredom than actual curiosity. "Remember Jimmy playing ball, Mom?"
She looks directly at me. "Don't you worry about those women all over him, dear. He loves you."
"I know he does," I whisper.
"He can be an arrogant cad, but he's smitten with you. One of these days, that boy's gonna get pelted in the head with a fastball and the rest of the world will be standing over him, laughing their heads off. No one likes a showboat. You be sure and tell him that, Ginny."
I laugh under my breath. My dad is so not a showboat. What's the opposite of a showboat? Because that's the label I'd give him. He's worked the same dead end, low-paying job for five years, and I doubt a single one of those guys in the glass factory have any idea about Dad's baseball days. If it weren't for guys like Frank, I probably wouldn't have a clue either.
I get both me and Grams each a two-scoop hot fudge sundae and then drive around until she falls asleep. When I get home, Dad comes outside and helps me get Grams into the house. Frank is gone and the kitchen is spotless.
"So ...?" I say after he's closed Grams' bedroom door. "Are we moving to Kansas?"
"Missouri," he corrects me again.
"So we're going?" I fold my arms across my chest, tapping my foot against the wood floors in the hallway.
Dad rubs his hand over his face, looking completely tormented. "I don't know, Annie."
"Why not?" He's walked away, so I follow behind him. "This is a huge opportunity for you, Dad."
"Your mom —" he starts to say, but I cut him off.
"Don't even go there," I groan. "Seriously, Dad? What the fuck?"
"We're still married." He's using the firm Dad voice that only comes out when I've really pissed him off. "I can't just take her mother across the country."
"Yeah, you're such an asshole." I step in front of him, not backing down. "How dare you take care of your negligent, flighty wife's mother and keep the state of Arizona from locking her up in an old people's home. I can't even believe people like you are allowed to exist in society."
He cracks a smile and leans forward, planting a kiss on the top of my head. "I love you, honey."
Excerpted from Whatever Life Throws At You by Julie Cross, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2014 Julie Cross. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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