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Taking BP VI: Tim Lincecum

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22 July 2030
Seattle
Cincinnati Reds at Seattle Mariners

It’s been raining since the Reds got off the plane at SeaTac, and the forecast today is for more of the same. But Safeco Field’s got a retractable roof, so Buster figures there’s no chance of a rain delay.

In Seattle, the visitors’ dugout’s on the third-base side, and for the first couple of innings, Buster’s so busy directing traffic - a foulup with the batting order, a bullpen question from Denario, his pitching coach - that he doesn’t think to look. At the bottom of the third, as the Reds' pitcher is throwing his eight, Buster squints over at the first-base dugout, looking to see Tim Lincecum, his old battery-mate, who’s now the Mariners’ pitching coach. Buster’s pretty sure he’d recognize him, even after all these years.

When Buster sends sign out to the third-base coach, his eyes travel back to the Mariners’ dugout and linger there longer than necessary. He sighs. There’s a bank of cameras in his line of vision, and the batter in the hole’s blocking his view of the corner spot that’s usually the territory of the coaches.

It’s the arms hanging over the dugout lip he finally recognizes, the left wrist still cluttered - all these years later - with hippie bracelets. Buster’s eyes aren’t what they once were, even after last winter’s Lasik surgery, but when Lincecum looks up at him, it clicks: those are the eyes, dark and right on him, that he remembers.

And then Tim sees him too, and he breaks out that slow-burning dog grin, all teeth, his unruly hair still poking out of his cap, that makes the hair on Buster’s forearms press up against the sleeves of his jacket.

//

The Reds are treating this interleague series as a vacation, an escape to the rainy overcast of the Pacific northwest. The guys have made no bones about it; they’re glad to be away from the soaking heat of Cincinnati, where their old-fashioned open-to-the-sky stadium hasn’t caught up with the climate change that’s made Ohio summers as hot, wet, and windy as Houston’s. It’s not just the heat; they’re twelve games below .500 and attendance at home has dipped to an all-time low. There were only about two thousand people at their last home game. Buster’s mind’s been on what he’s gonna do about the shortstop, Rubalcava, that he’s trying to shop before the trading deadline, and maybe St.-Onge, who’s 38 and batting .187 and being hauled over the divorce coals by his crazy Haitian wife.

It’s the final game before the All-Star break, the point in the season where managers cut both their hopes and their losses. Usually Buster looks forward to it.  Now that he’s no longer a player, he actually needs it, needs to stop thinking about baseball. He needs to eat junk food and watch Love It Or List It reruns till the automatic lights switch off at two. He needs to play nineteen holes as many times as it takes.

He knows he's finally rinsed baseball out of his system when he starts dreaming of the fifth hole at Summit, the wind skewing his drive sideways, instead of the blank green of the batter’s eye hiding the river behind it.

But this year, for the first time, Buster finds himself dreading it. The All-Star break is a blank, a nothing, a question mark.  The flight home long and airless, the plane’s wheels crunching down on the patched and lumpy concrete at CVG.  He sees himself walking out to the long-term lot trying to remember where he left it. His car. His career. His life.

Mostly because of things at home - home, right. He’d taken the job knowing that managing would be a challenge. But Kristen’s law practice has been taking her to China for two or three weeks out of every month, and he hasn’t seen her now for what, twenty-three, twenty-four days?

Their kids are nearly grown up and launched. The twins are at Stanford majoring in things like art history and engineering, and Traci’s a senior, boarding, at Case Western Academy. Surprisingly, Buster doesn’t worry about them. He and Kristen made sure they were raised right, and now, if he’s honest, he has to admit he doesn’t think about them much at all. Last time they were all together, at Christmas, he’d been so tied up with leftover winter-meetings crap that he’d barely emerged from his study. It hadn’t seemed to make a difference. The kids’d treated him with that mixture of pity and polite contempt that teenagers reserve for the elderly.

What Buster hasn’t been able to get used to is coming home to a house that’s dead quiet and stale from being closed up. He’s taken to emptying out his pockets on the granite kitchen counter, an old habit of his that drives Kristen nuts. He knows that, in the morning, his wallet and keys and change’ll be right where he left them, untouched.

//

Rule 3.09: Players of opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time while in uniform.

Basically Rule 3.09's a formality that means unless you’ve just been traded, stay outta the other team’s clubhouse. It’s more honored in the breach than the observance. Nobody, not even the umps, gets too upset when the catchers and batters exchange words or a runner shoots the shit with the first baseman. The ‘uniform’ part is what makes it confusing. Is only the literal part true, or does it mean you shouldn’t talk to the other guys in the hall after the game? Or have a beer with the guy you caught in the minors? Baseball’s full of unwritten rules that nobody wants to break, and you can’t ask about them unless you want to be mocked as a rube. Especially when you’ve been around baseball as long as Buster has - twenty years and counting.

Baseball’s also the only major sport where the staff suit up along with the players. So today, Buster, as manager, is wearing the tomato red of Cincinnati. Tim, as the Mariners’ pitching coach, is in dusty blue-green.

//

Slowly, across the field, the gaze between Tim and Buster hardens into something that makes everything else blur. The spiky roar of the park, the batboy jostling his elbow, the ccchhhh of Elmore behind him hawking up a spitwad - it’s all happening somewhere else. Buster feels himself flushing to the tips of his ears. So quickly he straightens his face into an expression that says I’m all business. And then he gives Tim the sign they’d devised in their first season together, twenty years before: I’m comin’ out there and talk to you.

A minute or so later, his phone buzzes with a text.

//

The game’s called in the bottom of the fourth when the black sky outside explodes into a torrent of rain that blows sideways through the open transoms of the retractable roof and drenches right field. The stadium lights flicker. Rivulets and then cataracts stream over the roof trusses onto the first-base side of the infield, where the waterfalls raise geysers of mud. By the time the plate umpire signals for the players to leave the field, pretty much everyone’s already gone.

//

Over the stadium’s PA system, an eerily calm artificial female voice is exhorting everyone to leave the park without delay, so Buster simply joins up with the crowd of athletes and staff that’s seething through the cement-walled labyrinth of Safeco Field and lets himself be carried towards the players’ lot.

Tim, who’s waiting for him by the double steel doors, uses his arm to wave him through before Buster can say hello. By the time the two of them get to Tim’s SUV, the water’s already ankle-deep in the underground parking lot, and it’s a good thing there’s a high clearance on Tim’s jeep, because the tires slip as they grind their way up the ribbed ramp. The current lifts the chassis and shoves the vehicle sideways so that Tim has to oversteer to straighten it out.

When they emerge from the garage at street level - the automatic doors are stalled three-quarters-open - the night-time streets are nearly deserted except for a few pedestrians up to their insteps in what’s become a raging brook, slogging towards nobody knows what.

//

- Guess I shoulda brought my rubber duck, says Buster. He shakes his hair loose and uses his thumb and forefinger to squeeze the water out of his nose.

Tim doesn’t respond. He’s concentrating on driving as they negotiate the wrong way up a one-way street, past stalled and abandoned cars that have drifted sideways into the path of traffic. He shifts the jeep into a lower gear that makes the engine whine - the water’s now rushing against them, foaming up over the hood, channeled by the curbs like a desert gullywasher. As the SUV bucks and slides, Buster leans back against the seat, his wet clothes sticking like cold plaster to the leather. It’s dark and the windows are streaming, and the lights of other cars are little more than blurry red and yellow dots around them. Tim’s got his head out the open driver’s-side window, the water sluicing in all over his shoulders and legs, navigating by feel.

//

- The great thing about these flash rains, shouts Tim as they struggle out of the car, pushing against a blast of wind to shut the doors - is the parking.

They’ve pulled the jeep up on the up-sloping sidewalk in front of Tim’s downtown high-rise and simply abandoned it there. The lobby, evidently built to withstand storms like this one, is several steps up from street level. When they get inside, where it’s quiet, dry, and half-dark, Buster feels like a character in a movie who’s just escaped a raging t-rex.

Tim, raking his dripping hair back from his eyes with one hand, tips his chin in the direction of a windowed metal door next to the elevators. The electricity’s off and the stairwell’s dark as a hole, but as Buster follows Tim’s dark shape, his breath comes back, shallow at first, then deeper. Using their phones as flashlights, they make their way up sixteen flights. The slog gradually squelches the water out of Buster’s sneakers, and the effort gets his blood going. When they emerge from the stairwell at 17, his skin’s started to warm beneath his soaked and clammy Reds uniform.

//

One whole wall of Tim’s condo is floor-to-ceiling windows, and at nine o’clock in mid-July it ought to still be light outside, but lights are out all over the city, and the storm’s blackened the sky as if it’s midnight. So, in the near-darkness, Buster carefully threads his way around the furniture, following Tim, over to where they collapse, winded, on a deep-seated leather sectional.

They’re both still in their uniforms, soaked and dripping, their necks glistening with the wet, and they’re both shivering, because even though it’s July, it’s still cold in here.

Feeling suddenly awkward - they’ve hardly said a dozen words - Buster makes himself busy unbuckling his watch and carefully wiping the bezel dry with his fingers.

Somewhere else in the flat, a dog-door clicks open with a whoosh, and a couple of seconds later, two small burly shorthaired dogs are tornadoing around their legs, yipping and flinging spit.

When Tim bends over to scratch them, they both clamber into his lap, their wet paws scrabbling, stinking of dog and the damp-wool smell of sheep. As he watches Tim tussle with them, Buster realizes nothing’s changed.

Nothing. Except, of course, themselves.

//

- So, says Buster after a while, feeling like the silence has gone on a little too long, - whatcha been up to, Timmy?

He feels like an idiot. It’s been, what, six or seven years? The last time they’d seen each other, at Selig’s memorial, they’d hardly talked; there’d been too many reporters there, badgering Buster for a sound bite about the new take-out-slide rule.

Lincecum looks up from the pile of dog on his lap and lifts his forefinger to his lips.

- Can’t talk to you, dude, he says, - Rule 3.09. It’d be fraternizing.

And then he twists in his seat so that he’s facing Buster, settles back against the leather, and lets his gaze slide slowly over his old teammate’s frame. He takes his time, and by the time Tim’s eyes flicker up to his face, Posey can feel himself flushing. He has to fight the urge to cross his arms.

- We’re still in uniform, says Tim solemnly. - You know.

- Jesus, Timmy, says Buster, letting out a breath, - you are so full of shit.

He’s waiting for Tim to explode into laughter - to punch him in the shoulder - to grin in that crazy way that makes his eyes disappear into his cheeks. To get up and get them both a beer.

Tim says nothing, and his eyes don’t waver.

Buster barks out an uncomfortable laugh.

- I didn’t exactly have a chance to change outta my uni, he says, - hell, you were there, Timmy. Come on.

- Not my problem, says Lincecum crisply, rising to his feet. - I’m gonna go put on some dry clothes, though. Being this wet feels gross.

He looks over Buster again, his gaze critical, assessing, his hand rubbing his chin.

- I’d lend you some clothes, Posey, but we’re not even close to being the same size, so what’s the point?

Lincecum turns and walks down the hall, the dogs scampering after him.

In another part of the flat, Buster hears drawers opening and closing, a door click shut, the sound of a shower rushing on. As he sits there, and the flush that began as embarrassment changes to rage, he tries to get his mind around what to do. He’d like to get up and leave - he imagines the look on Lincecum’s face if he were to emerge and find Buster gone - but the rain’s not letting up, and where would he go, in an unfamiliar city in the middle of a paralyzing storm?

Suddenly, he hears Lincecum’s voice, muffled by shower noise and bathroom walls, shouting his name.

With an effort, Buster gets up and walks down the hall towards the sound, realizing he’s not only wet and cold, but his joints are stiff. When the bathroom door cracks open with a hiss of steam, Tim’s hand emerges, holding out a fluffy white bathrobe.

As soon as Buster takes it - snagging it harder than he needs to, he’s pretty angry - the bathroom door slams shut. As he’s walking away, Lincecum’s voice follows him down the hall.

- Don’t say I never did anything for you, Posey.

//

- Where’d you learn to cook? says Buster. He’s sitting on a high stool at the kitchen island, facing Tim, who’s standing across from him at the stove, fixing to flip the grilled cheese sandwiches he’s browning in a big copper sauté pan.

The gas line to the stove seems to be working, but the electricity’s still out, so Tim’s lit two old-fashioned kerosene lanterns and put them at either end of the island. Buster’s surprised by how much light they give off.

Buster watches as Tim scoops a sandwich off and slides it expertly onto a plate that’s already got slices of tomatoes and a chiffonnade of fresh basil fanned out on the side. To Buster, the smell’s intolerably appetizing - he didn’t realize till Tim started cooking how ravenous he was.

Tim places the plate in front of Buster, grabs him a beer from the dark fridge, popping the top with a churchkey.

- Zeets, says Tim, - he got sick of the way I used to eat. Made it a condition of our continued cohabitation, he says, smiling at Buster. - I don’t really cook, though, I just make a couple of things. Enough to keep him happy.

Zito and Lincecum had shocked the world of major-league sports when they’d gotten married in 2013, right after Congress and two-thirds of the states passed the 28th amendment. In a deliberate fuck-you to the establishment, they’d announced it the same week Lincecum was eligible for free agency. It was an outrageous gesture, and it went wholly unpunished - that winter, the bidding for Lincecum’s services had been even more intense than anyone had predicted.

When he’d accepted the San Francisco contract, there’d been a parade in their honor from the foot of Market to the Castro. (Which Lincecum had refused to attend, because he was busy, he told the press - tongue firmly in cheek - arguing with Zito and the decorators over the colors for their bedroom.)

- Jeez, Timmy, I never thought I’d hear you talking like an old married guy. So where is he?

- New York, says Tim, rolling his eyes, - I hardly ever see him during the season. ‘Cept when we’re playing the Yankees, and then not even much, usually, he’s too busy with other stuff.

- I think he prolly misses the dogs more than he misses me, says Tim.

Zito’s an analyst for ESPN, which Tim's always called the Eastern Sports Propaganda Network, and on TV, he’s bigger than he ever was as a pitcher. He’s got the Murdoch contract for the division and league championships and the World Series and a weekly column with Tyler Kepner in the Times.

- Speaking of old married people, Posey, how’s your brood? asks Tim. He’s slid onto the barstool next to Buster’s and he’s taken an enormous bite of his sandwich - a slice of tomato’s hanging out the side, and he sucks it in like an errant noodle.

- Good, says Buster, - we’re all good. Twins are at Stanford.  Traci thinks she’s gonna go to Brown. Kristen - she made partner at Baker Hostetler. Corporate law.

There’s a pause while Tim takes this in.

- Empty nest? says Tim. He takes a long swig of his Anchor Steam.

- Not hardly, says Buster, swallowing hard - the bread’s a little dry in his throat. - It’s like once Lee and Addie graduated high school, she was off like a shot. She’s never home  - they send her to China all the time, she’s got enough frequent-flyer miles to go to the moon. So I know what it’s like. For you, I mean.

Tim looks up at him - Buster’d forgotten how those big greenish-brown eyes remind him of some kind of animal's - and he pushes his plate to the side.

- Who’d a thunk it, says Tim, - when we won the World Series, that's right, you and me, motherfucker, that twenty years later we’d be sitting here, all middle-aged and boring, and you’re looking ridiculous in my bathrobe, and we’re talking about how unhappy we are in our marriages?

- Who said anything about unhappy? says Buster, instantly on the defensive.

- You didn’t have to, says Tim.

He holds his beer up for a toast, and Buster hefts his own and they clink. Tim’s eyes flicker up and fasten on Buster’s.

- You were the greatest batterymate ever, Buster, says Tim, - there’s never been one to match you, before or since. I was so young and stupid, I don’t think I realized it till Cousins blew you up. Motherfucker blew up my world too, that day. That whole season - after May twenty-fifth - it was just a blur of misery.

- After that, says Tim, - I never fucking took you for granted again.

Buster has to get up and move off into the dark, away from the light cast by the lanterns, because his eyes have suddenly filled with tears.

//

Buster finds himself back on the couch, wondering for what seems like the eleventy-thousandth time today what to do. He’s never heard Tim make such a blunt, emotional speech, and the more he thinks about what the pitcher’s just said, the stranger he feels.

Plus he’s sitting here in the middle of blackout-dark downtown Seattle, wearing nothing but Tim Lincecum’s bathrobe, and he’s basically stuck in this apartment for the night, trapped by the storm. The battery’s dead on his phone, so he can’t call Kristen, and anyway it’s fifteen hours earlier where she is in Shanghai, and he’s too tired to do the arithmetic to figure out whether that’s night or day. Technically, he thinks crazily, if he was in Shanghai with Kristen in some alternative universe, none of this shit would even have happened, and -

His mind’s still churning like this after Tim shows him to the guestroom and pads down the hall into his own room, shutting the door behind him.

//

Tim’s sleeping on his side on the far edge of the big bed. He didn’t stir when Buster first cracked open his bedroom door. And now, when Buster slides under the sheets and scoots his body over till his belly’s just touching, just grazing, Tim’s sleeping back, Tim still doesn’t wake. He sighs a little in his sleep and works one hand under the pillow, nuzzling a little deeper into it.

Tim, like Buster, is wearing nothing under the covers.

The sheets on the empty side of the bed are chilly and slick, and Buster can feel the warmth radiating from the sleeping man next to him, so he edges forward, folding his body against Tim’s, his legs finding the contour of Tim’s, his nose and mouth breathing warm against Lincecum’s neck. When he hears Tim sigh again, he slips one hand over his waist and along the smooth skin of Tim’s belly till his fingers come to rest in the crease where the pitcher's skin meets the bedclothes.

They lie there like that for a long time, Buster’s body learning the shape of Tim’s body, beginning to understand with hands and breath and skin what he thought he’d already known.

He’d known nothing.

As he presses himself forward up against Tim till they’re entirely skin-to-skin, Buster realizes his heart’s pounding so hard that it can probably be heard across town. Not only that, but his cock’s stiffened against the velvety curve of Tim’s ass, and he’s having to resist the urge to move his hips against the silent form of the sleeping pitcher.

After what feels like an eternity - what in the hell's he doing here, he musta lost his mind - he feels Tim stretch beneath him, his warm skin slipping against Buster’s in a way that makes the catcher’s heart leap. One of Tim’s hands fumbles back and seizes Buster’s ass. His warm, strong fingers pull their hips together, and Buster feels Tim's back arch and flex as the pitcher presses his ass into Buster’s hard-on.

- Buster, mumbles Lincecum sleepily, as Buster thrusts harder - he can't help moaning a little - and then he breathes rough and fast in Tim’s ear.

Tim pulls away suddenly, and Buster almost panics until he realizes that the pitcher’s rolled over so that they’re facing each other, and there’s just enough light for Buster to see that Tim’s mouth is half-open.

That mouth, Buster realizes - he’d spent so much of his catching time watching Tim’s face as they’d exchanged signals over sixty feet six inches of tension - that mouth.

Buster brings up his right hand and slowly strokes Tim’s face with the back of his fingers. The pitcher closes his eyes and moves under the touch, letting out a long sigh. When Buster reaches out with his fingertips to trace the shape of the soft curve of Tim’s lips, Tim sucks Posey's index finger into his mouth and swirls his tongue around it.

//

It’s Buster who pushes forward into Tim’s lips and licks into his mouth, ecstatic at the warmth and intensity of the kiss, the way Tim doesn’t exactly yield to him, but holds his ground, his mouth hard and soft at the same time, like the sweet sound when the ball meets the glove.

It’s Buster who starts at his mouth, and then his neck. and slowly makes his way down Tim’s body, using his tongue to awaken every muscle and bone, every hollow and hillock, until he buries his nose in the soft, wiry hair and takes Tim’s dick in his mouth and then gives himself up to the sharp pleasure of making Tim’s spine twist and his temples sweat and his legs tremble.

It’s Buster who, after they’ve sated themselves in the first round of lovemaking, rolls himself back over so their skin is touching again, and uses his wetted fingers to tease Tim’s nipples until he’s groaning and hard again, and ready to offer himself for what Buster’s begun to realize he’s been missing all his life.

//

At dawn, when Buster wakes, his mouth's wet against that place, just below the nape and between the shoulder-blades, where Tim has a tattoo of the Japanese ideograph for ‘man.' The next thing Buster notices is that the sound of the rain has stopped.

They’re still nested together like spoons on the edge of the bed - Buster’s just enough taller and bigger for Tim to fit perfectly inside the contours of his body.

Buster buries his nose in the curve between Tim's neck and shoulder.  His skin is fragrant with the smells of sex and sweat and sleep, and something sweet and pungent, like beeswax.

Buster lets out a breath, curls and uncurls his toes, and lets sleep take him back again.

//

Later, at the front door, Buster’s changed back into his now-dry Reds uniform. Tim’s wearing a pair of jeans and not much else; his chest and feet are bare.  His eyes are huge and hooded, the old familiar dimples and smile lines, Buster notices, now engraved on his cheeks.

- You know, last night, you could've lent me some of Zito's clothes, says Posey.

- Yeah, says Lincecum, - to tell you the truth, I thought about it.  But you didn't ask. 

As Buster puts his hand on the doorknob, it occurs to him that this is the end of a beginning.

It’s Buster who takes Tim’s face in both of his hands, his eyes wide open this time, and when their mouths meet, tries to think of a good reason to go.