Roommates With Benefits
A few months later
I walked to the end of the living room, turned around, and walked back.
“Can you stop pacing?” Harper asked.
“I’m nervous,” I replied as I turned around and crossed the room again.
“Yes, well, you’re making me nervous. And if all of us are nervous, it will affect Riley.”
“I’m actually fine,” Riley said on the couch. He had his feet propped up on the coffee table and his hands behind his back.
I rounded on him. “How can you be fine? The baseball draft starts in five minutes!”
“It’s out of my hands,” he replied simply. “I already spent the spring boosting my baseball resume. Whatever happens next is fate.”
I frowned at him for a moment. “You had one of Avery’s brownies, didn’t you?”
“It’s possible,” he replied, “that I had a small bite of a baked good that may, or may not, have been laced with certain medicinal properties.”
“I can neither confirm, nor deny, that I shoved said baked good into his mouth,” Avery chimed in.
I glanced at my watch. “I would do the same, but I need a clear mind today.”
“Working with the football team?” Harper asked.
I nodded. “Coach has me doing therapy sessions with the quarterback. He’s dealing with some serious impostor syndrome trying to fill in this season.”
Even though I was starting my graduate degree this fall, I was already working part-time with the Coastal California College athletics program. It started with the football team, but already the basketball and field hockey coaches were jockeying for my time. Apparently, news had spread about how I cured Riley’s yips.
“Second round would be great,” Avery was saying. You shouldn’t go worse than third. Right?”
Riley shrugged. “Who knows? Scouts all have their own opinions about my long-term potential. I’m not worried about it.”
I let out an annoyed sound. “You may not be worried, but the people who care about you are!”
He smiled up at me. “I love that you’re concerned.”
I threw up my hands. “How could I not be! You…” I couldn’t say the words. Riley could get drafted somewhere far away, and then we would never see him. I was hoping he would stay closer. It was a selfish hope, but one I clung to fiercely.
A therapist might say that I was being co-dependent. But I thought this was a totally normal reaction when your boyfriend might get moved across the country.
“Okay, we need a distraction,” Harper said, adjusting his glasses. “Top five best cities for Riley to get drafted.”
“Los Angeles,” I said immediately.
“Angels, or Dodgers?” Avery asked.
“Either. As long as he stays in the area, that’s a win.”
“You do know that their minor league teams are spread out around…” Harper trailed off at a glare from Riley.
“Boston,” Avery said next. “Playing for the Red Sox, at historic Fenway Park? It doesn’t get better than that.”
Too far away, I thought glumly.
“Toronto,” Harper said after a moment of thought. “It’s a great city, and you would get to live in Canada!”
I made a face. That was almost as far away as Boston.
“San Diego,” I said. “Because it’s almost as close as Los Angeles.”
“That’s four,” Riley said. He was grinning widely, enjoying the banter. “One more.”
“That’s easy,” I said. “Arizona. You would get to play for my Diamondbacks.”
“No step on snek,” Avery said with a smile. “It’s a meme.”
I glanced at the TV. The draft still hadn’t started. I began pacing again.
“Okay, try this,” Harper said. “Top five worst cities for Riley to get drafted.”
“Toronto,” Avery immediately said. “Because you have to live in Canada.”
Harper rolled his eyes at him.
“New York,” I said next. “It’s super far away, and the fans and media are brutal. The first time you walk a batter, the crowd will boo you mercilessly.”
“Damn. I hope I don’t get drafted by the Yanks,” Riley muttered.
“Tampa. They have almost no fans at the games,” Harper answered.
“Seattle,” Avery said. “Too much rain. Seasonal depression.”
“Which I could then treat with expensive therapy sessions,” I pointed out.
“Oh?” Riley asked. “Is that the plan? To follow me wherever I end up? What about grad school?”
“By the time you make it to the majors, I certainly hope I’m done with school!” I replied with a laugh.
“One more,” Riley said, holding up four fingers.
The three of us frowned in thought.
“Kansas City,” Avery finally said. “They aren’t a very good team, and you would have to live in Kansas.”
Harper glanced at me. I bit my lip. We were thinking the same thing.
“Avery, sweetie,” I said. “Kansas City isn’t in Kansas.”
Avery scoffed. “What? Of course it is. It’s literally in the name. Where else would it be?”
“Missouri,” Harper replied. “Kansas City, Missouri.”
Avery rolled his eyes. “Nice try. You aren’t pulling one over on me.”
Riley cleared his throat. “Alexa! What state is Kansas City in?”
The Alexa unit in the kitchen chimed to life and spoke in a soothing feminine voice. “Kansas City is located in the state of Missouri.”
Avery’s jaw dropped. “You programmed her to say that.”
“Oh, sweetie,” I said, putting an arm around Avery. “Check a map.”
“I don’t want to.” He pulled out his phone hesitantly. “My entire life is a lie.”
“It’s starting!” Harper suddenly exclaimed. “Turn the volume up!”
There was a swirl of graphics on the TV, and then the Major League Baseball draft began. The four of us crowded together on the couch.
“I can’t look!” I said, snuggling up against Riley’s body.
“You don’t need to look,” Harper said. “Just listen.”
The announcer’s voice suddenly filled the room: “With the first pick in the draft, the Kansas City Royals select…”
There was a hushed silence in our room.
“Aw, man!” I said. “I’m sorry, sweetie.”
Riley chuckled. “I knew I wasn’t going to be the first overall pick. I won’t be picked in the first round.”
“I was hoping you might sneak in there!”
“Sneak in there and play for Kansas City?” Harper said. “In the great state of Missouri?”
Avery flipped him off.
“With the second pick in the draft,” the announcer said, “the Miami Marlins select…”
We watched as each team selected a player in the first round. Then the second round. Riley wasn’t picked, which was fine, because he assured us he didn’t expect to go so high.
But then the third round came and went, without his name being called.
And the fourth round.
It wasn’t until the end of the ninth round when the announcer said, “With the twenty-eighth pick of the ninth round, the New York Mets select… Riley Carter.”
I jumped up like a bomb had gone off and started screaming in excitement. Avery and Harper did the same, grabbing Riley by the arm and dragging him to his feet to join our group hug. We jumped up and down and cheered like he had won the World Series.
New York is so far away, I thought, suppressing my disappointment. But I need to be happy for Riley.
“We need hats,” I said, looking around the living room. “We should have bought thirty hats, one for each team! Like the guys in the first round! They all had hats.”
“I’m sorry you were drafted lower than you hoped,” Harper said, hugging Riley and clapping him on the back. “That means the signing bonus will be smaller, right?”
“Yeah. Probably a hundred and fifty grand, give or take.”
I gawked. “A hundred and fifty thousand? Dollars?”
Riley shrugged. “It’s peanuts compared to what they make in the higher rounds. If I had gone in the third round, like I hoped, my signing bonus would have been close to a million.”
“I’m sorry.” I stroked his arm. “You’ll make more when you eventually work your way up to the major leagues.”
“Nah,” Riley replied. “I won’t.”
I gave a start. “Why not?”
“I’m actually kind of relieved I was drafted so low,” he explained to the three of us. “It makes my decision that much easier.”
“Decision?” Harper asked. “What decision is there to make?”
Avery’s eyes widened. “No way.”
Riley nodded. “I don’t think I’m going to accept the offer from the Mets. I’m going to go to grad school and study environmental science.”
I gasped. “Really? You’re staying?”
“I was already accepted into the program here at the Three-C,” he revealed. “I kept that in my back pocket as an option, and the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s what I want to do.”
“Are you sure it’s what you want?” I asked. “You’re not staying here for the wrong reasons?”
“Positive,” he replied, holding my gaze. “This is what I want. A life that’s fulfilling, not just throwing a ball every five days. Now I just need to figure out where to live…” He looked around the house. “Do you guys know of anyone renting a room out?”
Avery and Harper started shouting joking insults at him, but I threw myself into his arms and clung to him. I didn’t want to let go.
I never will, I thought as Harper and Avery joined in the hug. Never again.