Home > The Grumpy Player Next Door(9)

The Grumpy Player Next Door(9)
Author: Pippa Grant

Addie Bloom, our batting coach, is out here with us too, renting space above the bowling alley, and Hugo Sanchez, our conditioning coach, is in a spare cottage on a goat farm. Cooper has a couple rental places on the mountain, but they’re all booked sporadically through one of those house vacation rental sites, and I’d have to move my crap out every few weeks if I used one.

There are literally no other options in this town unless I want to move into the hotel, which would be even worse. And yeah, I could move back to my own place in the city for the rest of the winter, but other than Tillie Jean, I like being here.

I like working out with my teammates.

We’re the only ones who know what we’re going through, and while there are a bunch of guys still in the city, they’re not doing what we’re doing here.

They’re not being a support group without calling it that. They have their own personal trainers, their own schedules, and their own gyms.

Not like Cooper, Trevor, Robinson, and me. Together. Day in and day out. Like the team we need to be next year.

“Drop it, bird,” Tillie Jean hisses.

How a woman can hiss loudly enough to wake the dead is beyond me, but she is, and now, after a couple weeks of not letting her destroy my calm, Tillie Jean is bursting out of that little mental box I store her in.

The one labeled Her brother is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a best friend, knows my reputation, and would kill me if I looked at his sister wrong, therefore, it’s a good fucking thing she’s annoying as hell.

And then there are days like the glitter bombing day. This morning. The day we met, which I actively refuse to acknowledge for my own sanity, and which has been joined by that stupid kiss on the list of things I pretend I don’t think about but which have made my list of things I hate about Tillie Jean Rock grow exponentially.

Concentrate on what you love, not what you hate, my therapist would say.

Fuck him.

He’s not here. He doesn’t know what it’s like.

Sure, Max. Keep telling yourself that. Maybe try to age back up to adulthood sometime today too?

“Rawk! Eat shit! Rawk!”

“Fine. New tactic. You look lovely today, Long Beak Silver. Your feathers are extra pretty. Who’s a good bird? Who’s such a good bird who wants to drop it right now?”

“I saw your mama blowing Santa Claus. Rawk!”

I roll out of bed, stalk to the window, and open it to a blast of cold air. “Does this town have noise ordinances?”

Tillie Jean shrieks.

“Hide the treasure! It’s the po-po!” Long Beak Silver says.

“Go walk the plank, you mangy bird.” Tillie Jean lifts a flashlight and aims it at the parrot, who’s sitting on her roof with something shiny beside him.

“Middle finger emoji,” the bird replies.

Yes, seriously. The bird has learned to say middle finger emoji. I watched Cooper teach it the phrase two days ago over lunch at the Korean place that’s apparently also relatively new.

Tillie Jean makes one of those are you kidding me? noises. Then sighs. “Why do you walk the plank for my brothers but not for me?”

“You’re a girl. RAWK!”

She swings the flashlight at me, temporarily blinding me on top of all the noise. “Do you see what I have to—oh my god, are you naked? Do you ever wear clothes? It’s thirty degrees out here.”

I dig deep to not turn into the cranky asshole I would very much like to be right now. “Why the hell are you arguing with a bird while I’m trying to sleep?”

“He stole my keys.”

“Where do you need to go at five fucking thirty in the morning?”

“I was planning on leaving a present for Grady at his bakery, since he left me a present at Crusty Nut yesterday and this is the only day of the week that he’s not there at four in the morning himself, but it appears I’m up early to pluck a parrot featherless instead. If I can get my hands on him. And don’t tell me this is the universe’s way of telling me it’s a bad idea to prank Grady. Sometimes the universe wants you to work for it.” She tilts her head, and in the span of a blink, she turns back into Cooper Rock’s Annoying Little Sister, dropping her voice so it’s throaty and full while she bats her lashes at me. “Care to join me? You don’t have to put your clothes on.”

Four years of being Cooper’s teammate.

Four years of Tillie Jean flirting with me.

Four years of my molars getting closer and closer to cracking every time she pushes it.

I’ve mentioned there are ten million things I hate about this woman, right?

The first time I saw her, I didn’t know who she was. I just knew she was in Chance Schwartz’s apartment, a dark-haired, flushed-cheek, full-lipped vixen, naked and alone but still enjoying herself in his bed. I couldn’t see everything, but I could see her full breasts, and I could hear something vibrating under the covers where her legs were clearly spread.

Didn’t think much of it, beyond being grateful for the show.

I’ve had women in my bed too, when my teammates dropped by. Not usually having to get themselves off, but definitely in my bed.

But showing up for lunch with a bunch of the guys on my new team a few hours later and getting introduced to her as Cooper’s little sister while Schwartz was slipping his phone number to our server?

She and Schwartz didn’t last long after that.

Schwartz didn’t last long on the Fireballs either.

Both are my fault, even though any woman deserved better than Chance Schwartz, and Cooper was technically the one who informed management that Schwartz needed to be traded off the team or he’d be calling his agent to make sure he himself was, and even the old management wasn’t dumb enough to let Cooper walk.

Also, no, I don’t lose any sleep over that. Schwartz was a prick.

If I had a sister, I wouldn’t have wanted her dating him either.

And I’m no better than he is when it comes to women—I get around and I don’t commit, though unlike my former teammate, I’m upfront about it—and I like having Cooper Rock as one of my friends.

So instead of answering his sister’s invitation to join her naked, I slam the window shut, and I take myself back to bed, where I bury my head under two pillows and tell myself I’ll be able to get back to sleep.

I don’t.

Naturally.

Instead, not three minutes later, I hear the distinct clink of a ladder being propped against a roof.

Reason number eight thousand, two hundred fifty-five…

It’s dark as a meatball’s asshole outside, and she’s climbing up onto her roof to chase a bird.

An old, familiar sense of duty pokes me in that damned spot between my shoulder blades, and the next thing I know, I’m pulling on sweatpants and heading out into the chilly night—sun’s not up, so yes, it’s still night—where Cooper’s sister is ascending a rickety ladder with nothing but a flashlight and the sound of a parrot’s voice to guide her.

And we’ve added gets me up at stupid hours of the night to the list of things about Tillie Jean Rock that I cannot stand.

“Rawk! To the left. Rawk! To the right. Rawk! Dip and grind! Dip and grind!”

“Please just give me back my keys.”

“Daddy gives and Daddy takes away. Rawk!”

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