Book cover of “You Are My Partner“ by Taylor Brooks

You Are My Partner

Feelings can’t follow strict rules. Even if you try to force them…Ethan faces the reality of strong feelings but could he really make himself love someone else if his heart is beating louder in the presence of one particular person, his crush — Riley? No. He won’t even try. But does Riley want him to be in his life? “So good, Riley! You’re f*cking... 

Chapter 1

Ethan

Ethan looked up from the car window to see the concrete slab apartment building looming above him on campus. It was a small building, only four or five stories high, that housed apartment-style dorms for new and current students. He would be sharing an apartment with two other students he had yet to meet. They would each have their rooms, shared bathrooms, and living and kitchen spaces. Trying not to feel too anxious, he bid farewell to his parents.

“Call us tonight,” his Mom said with a few tears.

“Relax. I’m a big boy now,” Ethan said with a brave smile.

He waved to them as they got back into their car and then hauled his suitcase up in the elevator to enter his future home. He walked through the front door to meet a beautiful girl with long, curly chestnut hair unpacking a box in the living room.

“Oh, hey,” she said with a friendly smile. “I’ll be your dorm mate. My name’s Hayley. Tommy’s gone to the grocery store. He’ll be back soon.”

“I’m Ethan. Nice to meet you.”

“You, too! I’m an Anthropology major! What about you? What are you studying?” she asked.

“History. But anthropology is interesting, too. I haven’t decided what my minor will be.”

“Me neither! I’m in my second year.”

“I’m in first year.”

“Oh, then welcome! Oh! I’ll let you unpack,” Hayley said. “See you when you get settled.”

Ethan nodded politely and then searched for room 301. He found it and dropped his bags to the ground to look around. He had an airy, bright space with a king single bed, a desk, some shelves, and a wardrobe. The building was new, and the furnishings pristine. He lay down on the bed, trying to deal with the nerves of starting a new life independently. He’d said goodbye to his family, and now he was alone and with a busy schedule ahead of him. After that, he’d begin the next stage of his life: four years of tertiary education and athletics on the baseball team as a condition of his scholarship.

He wondered whether Tommy, who Hayley had mentioned, was their third roommate. Well, he’d find out soon enough. He decided to unpack and then make an effort to set up his stuff in the kitchen as a chance to get to know his flatmates. After that, he’d set up his laptop and sign up for some classes.

He thought about the new friends he’d make as he heard noises in the living room, hoped he’d get along with his roommates, and maybe he’d also meet a nice girl during his time here. But unfortunately, he also had baseball practice the following day, so he needed to sleep early. He talked to Hayley and Tommy for a while before retiring when it was polite. As he curled up in bed later, he listened to the voices of college students having a loud party in the next apartment and wondered what college life would be like.

***

Baseball. His first practice session. Ethan enjoyed the feeling of the field under his feet. This was the earth that made up his world of sport. Sweat and tears, the highs and the lows. He felt the incredible inspiration of standing on college turf where the stakes were higher, and the passion for baseball was more visceral. He was honored to have gained an athletic scholarship after his high school team had won the attention of several scouts. He hoped that he’d make it onto the first string of his college team and be able to play in many games during his university career.

The first practice was an eye-opener for him in terms of difficulty. College baseball training was considerably more challenging than in high school. He ran until his legs were trembling, his sweat dripped to the ground, and he often stopped with his chest heaving for desperate breaths. Finally, when he thought he couldn’t go on anymore, their coach split the team into pairs for one-on-one training. Ethan wiped his face with his shirt and looked up to see who he had been partnered with. 

First, he saw the back of the teammate who he had to throw to as he talked to some of the others beside him. Then, when the player turned to face Ethan, Ethan was floored by his confident, mildly mischievous good looks. His partner was an athletic young man–perhaps a year or two older than Ethan, maybe twenty or twenty-one years old. He had sunbleached blonde hair and an undercut, a rebellious smirk on his face, and ice-blue eyes. When he turned his gaze on Ethan, he sized him up, openly looking him up and down. But, of course, Ethan accepted the glance; he was there to play catcher, and this guy was the team’s Ace; Ethan would need to prove himself to him during his time on the team. 

“Hey. The name’s Riley,” the young man in question said.

“Hi, I’m Ethan.”

“Come on. I’ll show you the way to the bullpen.”

Ethan followed, watching curiously as Riley led him to the side of the field, his body lean and muscular and his lope confident. They set up their positions opposite each other and tried to gain a feel for each other’s skills as they threw back and forth. Ethan had been the starting catcher back home, so he’d played with several different pitchers. Riley’s pitches hitting his mitt felt good, landing with a firm, resounding thud each time. Ethan looked forward to his time on the team with this particular pitcher, the Ace. Riley seemed to feel a rapport with him as well.

After practice, Ethan wanted to get back to the dorms quickly, so he was distracted as he changed in the locker room. As he tied up his sneakers, he noticed Riley exiting the showers, a towel tied around his waist. Wet droplets dripped from Riley’s water-darkened hair, landing on the strong planes of his chest and stomach. Ethan suddenly had difficulty swallowing as an unfamiliar heat lit up his chest and throat. He had to look away to regroup his thoughts, but he thought about Riley all the way back to the dorms. As he dropped down onto his bed to rest, he thought that maybe he was dwelling on Riley because he was the Ace. A very stunning Ace, so brilliant to look at that it was hard to think about anything else. If he were to name that feeling of dwelling on the blonde, he wouldn’t even know what to call it. He closed his eyes and tried to think about what else he had to do that night and tried to forget about practice for the time being. 

Oh. History lecture tomorrow. 

He sat up, rubbed his eyes, and looked at the books lying on his desk. He had to do some study or be lost during class. He quickly changed into comfortable track pants and a t-shirt, fetched a can of diet soda from the fridge then sat down to prepare. The first lecture had been quite an information overload, and he had a lot of reading to do to ensure that he stayed on top of his scholarship. But it was hard when he just wanted to think back to what happened on the field–how Riley’s pitching in the bullpen had Ethan wondering what it would be like to play with him in an actual game situation and what it would feel like to be the starting catcher and to always be by Riley’s side.

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