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Nothing Ordinary: Chapter Two

Updated: Oct 4




Nothing Ordinary

By E.M. Lindsey

© 2021


All Rights Reserved

This text is not to be duplicated, distributed, or shared without the author's permission. Violators will be prosecuted the fullest extent of the law.

Please note that this text is unedited, and EM Lindsey reserves the rights to make any plot or editing changes throughout the posting process.


Content Warning: This chapter contains mentions of a career ending sports injury, and very non-graphic, very mild suicidal ideation. Please take care if these things are triggering for you.





Chapter Two





“You don’t need to throw it that hard. Just lob it at me. Gently.”


Gabriel tried not to bristle at his brother’s patronizing tone, but he couldn’t help himself. In fact, it took a concentrated effort not to pull his arm back and aim his fastball right at Pietro’s fucking mouth that never stopped running.


It wasn’t exactly an unusual or foreign feeling, either. Pietro lost his two front teeth when he was seven because he wouldn’t let up, and Gabriel had clocked him right on the playground.


He’d been grounded for a week because of it, but he had no regrets.


It was just how they were.


It got a lot worse though, after his injury. Pietro had always been the baby of the family, the youngest of nine, though barely. He was exactly seven months and three weeks younger than Gabriel—and that was because he’d been born six and a half weeks early, and pretty much all of their baby photos were the two of them in matching clothes sitting in strollers, or strapped to their parents’ backs in those weird little baby backpack things.


As they got older, strangers assumed they were twins, and their older brothers treated them like they were, and their parents let it happen. Gabriel supposed it was a lot easier than explaining to people that their catholic family popped out kids one right after the other until they couldn’t.


And Gabriel didn’t hate it, and he didn’t really resent it, either. He and Pietro had always been close.


Growing up, they did everything together—weirdly alike in every way—including their love of baseball. Their saving grace—which kept them from killing each other—was that Gabriel had been a child prodigy pitcher. And while Pietro couldn’t throw a decent pitch to save his life, he was breaking pro batting records by the time he was sixteen.


It had been absolutely no surprise to anyone at all when they were both drafted their senior year of high school, then given four years to play college ball and finish their degrees.


Gabriel also knew they would both survive comfortably in the MLB because while Pietro was asked to stay with the Denver Vikings, the Salem Canons clamored to sign the genius seventeen-year-old who could throw a submarine pitch better than some of the pros.


And it would have been great.


Hell, it was great. It was perfect, in fact.


He got exactly two amazing years in Salem, proving himself on the mound.


…until the accident.


Gabriel spent the first few years after almost losing his arm desperately wanting to blame someone for it. He wanted it to be because some person was careless or drunk so he could have someone to hate for ruining his life. At twenty-four, he wasn’t really emotionally mature enough to accept or understand that sometimes, shit just happened.


And he didn’t want to be the guy who was accidentally mowed down by a car that was swerving out of the way when a toddler broke out of their parent’s grasp and ran into the street.


The woman behind the wheel wasn’t even going that fast, which was the kicker. If she’d hit him head on, he’d have broken a couple of ribs, maybe even suffered a concussion which would have put him out for a few games.


Maybe even a season.


Instead, her car knocked him to his knees, then the bumper pinned his arm to a bench and dragged him around the support beam. It destroyed nerves and tendons, ruining his ability to grip a ball, and that was the end of his baseball career.


It took him two years before he could lift his arm up to his eyeline. It took three years before he could hold a fork in his hand without shaking it so hard, he dropped all the food to his plate. It took five years before he could look at himself in the mirror and not want to make it all stop, because he wasn’t sure who the fuck he was if he wasn’t a pitcher.


And even now, a decade later, he still had trouble wrapping his mind around how quickly it had all changed.


Ten minutes before the accident, he was a rich sports star married to his college sweetheart, living in a nice house with a long career ahead of him. He planned to be one of the greats who played so long, the die-hard fans begged him to retire because he was fucking up the game with his old bones and weak, arthritic grip.


Six days after the accident, his wife left him, he was officially retired from the MLB, and he was jobless.


He gave Cecily the house in the divorce because he had no plans to stay in Salem, and he moved back home to Indigo Falls, the one place swore he’d never return.


And it wasn’t like he hated that place. Indigo Falls held nothing but good memories—but he had sustained himself all through his childhood by promising he’d get out and do something great. The return was painful in more ways than he really wanted to think about, and it didn’t help that all of his brothers—at least, all but Pietro—had moved away.


And Pietro made it so much worse in the beginning. He didn’t talk to Gabriel for months and months, mostly because he was afraid Gabriel was going to be angry at him for not being the one who got hurt. Gabriel had no way to explain to him that he wouldn’t wish his pain on anyone—not even his worst enemy—so he just sat there, and he took Pietro’s awkward, uncomfortable silences as their new norm.


They were home together again for the first time in years, but nothing was ever going to be the same.


It was the same even now, ten years later as they stood on the abandoned field, in front of the little batting cage with the stacks of plates lined up for the breaking. The field was a relic of their childhood—their little league team which had seen enough championships to lay a path out for their future.


Of course, Gabriel had never really considered he’d end up a history professor and high school volleyball coach—but then again, he’d never really let himself look beyond the mound. Now, he stood in front of his brother with his arm cocked back, trying to ignore the wincing pity on Pietro’s face—and the urge to lob the baseball at his nose because his arm might be fucked, but his fastball was still pretty goddamn fast.


It could definitely break some cartridge.


“I know that look,” Pietro said, letting the bat fall to rest on his shoulder. He rolled his left one back, then dropped the bat and tapped it against the edge of his dress shoe which was going to be fucked beyond repair from the gravel and dirt.


Not that he cared. He had enough money to buy a designer shoe corporation if he wanted one, though Pietro had never been the kind of guy to flaunt his cash. He had remained far more humble than Gabriel had been in those early years, and sometimes Gabriel wondered if the universe was just trying to teach him some big, cruel, cosmic lesson about himself.


“Let’s set up the tees,” he suggested. Before Gabriel could argue that he was perfectly fucking fine to pitch a couple of balls, Pietro set his bat aside and went on. “You’ve got that, I accidentally ate laxative brownies, face.”


Which happened once in college. Once.


And it was Pietro’s fault.


“Someone put Ex-Lax in your Wheaties this morning?” his brother goaded.


Clenching his jaw, Gabriel dropped the ball into the bucket, then hauled it over to what was once home plate—though now it was just a cracked bit of plastic that hadn’t yet been taken by the elements.


Their batting cage wasn’t a batting cage at all, either. It was the remnants of the fence where a peewee catcher once stood, talking shit as Pietro and Gabriel walked up to bat.


Before Gabriel left Indigo Falls, the city had a plan to restore the field, but by the time he returned with his tail tucked between his legs and some pissant education degree under his belt, it had fallen to ruins.


Or well, it had fallen into the pit of old memories no one wanted anymore.


He grabbed one of the tees from Pietro’s hand, then set it a few feet from his brother’s before reaching down and balancing a ball on the top. Pietro stood a few feet away with both bats, and after stretching his uninjured a bit more, Gabriel took one and balanced it on his shoulder.


He couldn’t bat with both arms anymore—and he’d never really been good at that part of the game. But he was also aware he was better one-handed and permanently injured than most people were with two perfect ones. It was just harder to stand next to his brother who had won MVP seven years back—two years after winning Rookie of the Year.


“So, is this the silent treatment? I stepped into one of my fucking Wednesday nightmares where I wake up and I time-traveled to twenty years ago where we’re still asshole teenagers?” Pietro went on.


Gabriel let out a sigh, then turned and with his left arm, swung the bat. It connected with the ball perfectly, sending it flying across the short distance and into the first plate that was propped up against the brick pedestal Pietro had created a few years back when they started this little game.


The ceramic shattered, and the ball bounced to the right.


“Not bad.”


Gabriel dragged his right hand down his face and ignored the tremors in his fingers. “It’s been a week.” His voice sounded rough, having not used it most of the night. Usually, Pietro was content to just listen himself talk, but he was a persistent little dick when he knew something was wrong with his brother.


And he was unfortunately perceptive.


“Do you want to talk about it?” Pietro didn’t even look as he hit the ball and sent it flying. He dropped the bat, then went to set up two new plates from the box of restaurant rejects. Pietro had done the whole, buying real estate and restaurant franchises in case he went the way of Gabriel—or worse—after the accident.


Gabriel was such a self-absorbed asshole most of the time, he’d never asked how any of his ventures were going, but he didn’t think his brother expected him to, either. He was content with knowing that Pietro would show up at the field every couple of months with massive boxes of breakable things they could smash with bats and balls, and it was the best way for them to blow off steam.


At any rate, it was better than the old soda cans they used to smash up when they were kids. And most of the time, it was a lot more cathartic than therapy.


“How was spring training?” Gabriel asked him instead of answering the question.


Pietro raised a brow, then stepped back and scuffed his shoe in the dirt. “You never ask me about spring training.”


“Well,” Gabriel said as he took his spot at the tee and replaced the ball, “I am now. I was watching the trades. Your line up is good this year.”


It was maybe as close to a compliment that he’d paid his brother in years, but it wasn’t because he didn’t want to—or that he wasn’t proud as hell. The one thing he hadn’t walked out of the hospital with was resentment because Pietro could still play. But his brother had made wild assumptions, had avoided him, had refused to say the word baseball in his presence for years. And that caused tension that Gabriel couldn’t ignore.


Yes, he was sad that he lost everything he thought was important to him, but the accident had taught him the world still turned, even when he couldn’t throw a usable pitch to save his life any longer. And really, he was just fucking tired of being treated like he was as fragile as the plates they were currently smashing.


“I could use a drink,” Pietro said after the fourth round of ceramic shattering.


Gabriel grimaced and shook his head. “I don’t think I can handle a bar right now.” His brother would assume it had everything to do with wallowing, and he wasn’t really sure if he preferred it that way.


He’d spent the last near-decade coming to terms with a new life, so seeing his brother succeed only left him with a quiet sense of pride. Public humiliation, however…that was an entirely different beast—and turned him into one, if he was being honest.


He wasn’t normally such an asshole, but he’d embarrassed himself in front of the new teacher—and in front of his colleague which was almost as unbearable as if the whole thing had occurred in the middle of a crowded hallway with gossipy students watching. Though in his defense, the new guy really did look young.


Like, questionably young. Like Gabriel might want to stop by Anderson’s office and gently suggest they look into it because he wasn’t even sure Ezra Mandel could grow facial hair.


A small part of him wondered if it was some kind of long-con the seniors were pulling, which was intriguing. But more than that, it was just a headache he didn’t want this early into the year. School had been in session for less than two weeks, they’d already lost three teachers to various life emergencies, and he wasn’t sure he could handle some big newspaper scandal hitting the press.


No doubt they’d find a way to zero in on him.


“…even listening to me?”


Gabriel blinked, then handed the bat off to his brother and began to collect the balls, carefully plucking them off the shards of ceramic. He didn’t bother answering. He hadn’t been listening and Pietro knew it. And Gabriel knew he was being a shitty brother, but there was only so much he could rearrange about himself.


The silence continued as they cleaned up, then Pietro rolled his shoulders back and reached out, clapping Gabriel on the arm. “Your place.”


Gabriel blinked at him. “No.”


At that, his brother scoffed, shooting him one of his annoying little press-smirks that everyone loved so damn much. It was the same smirk that always convinced their parents that Pietro was the good child. “You really want to drive all the way to mine?”


Scrubbing a hand over his eyes, he realized Pietro wouldn’t be done with him until he was satisfied that Gabriel wasn’t standing on some ledge—metaphorical or otherwise. “Fine, but I don’t have much in my fridge, so don’t expect me to feed you.”


Pietro laughed and gave his shoulder a shake before dropping his arm and digging into his pockets for his keys. “I’ll stop on the way. You know I hate going home anyway.”


“That wouldn’t be an issue if you…”


“What? Found a Cecily?” Pietro shot at him, and Gabriel was woefully unprepared to hear his ex’s name, so he winced. “I’m not looking for a beard.”


“So, look for a guy,” Gabriel barked. He grabbed his laptop bag and tugged his keys out of the front pocket. “Also, fuck you.”


Pietro at least had the good graces to appear contrite and apologetic. He hefted both bats over his shoulder, then walked to the little run-down storage shed and dropped them inside, making room for Gabriel to set the bucket beside it.


He heaved the door shut with a small grunt, then turned and let his shoulder brush against Gabriel’s as they looked around at the empty field. The city had stopped bothering to maintain it once the city league had been shut down. Gabriel had sort of assumed that local parents would put up some sort of protest, but he supposed the kids of Indigo Falls were being gently corralled into the whole Private School Lifestyle.


They didn’t have any need for some filthy, overgrown, public field anymore.


Not when their schools had diamonds and fields to rival Wrigley.


“Hey, uh…you know I didn’t mean that,” Pietro said very softly, leaning back against the shed Gabriel wasn’t sure would hold either of their weight. “I was being an asshole.”


“Yeah, well…” He glanced at his brother out of the corner of his eye, then shrugged. “You weren’t wrong. She was a mistake.”


At that, Pietro laughed. “You were in love with her. Like…so in love with her.”


That wasn’t true though. Gabriel was in love with the idea of her. The person Cecily wanted everyone to believe she was.


They’d met in freshman history—one of the auditorium lectures with nine hundred students and seventeen TAs and a professor who didn’t do much beyond stand at his podium, click through slides, and give them all Scantron form tests. Cecily had been sarcastic and entertaining in a sea of monotony, and Gabriel had wanted her for that. Then they’d started dating and she’d been adventurous and unbearably needy which conflicted with the fact that he was going to leave college and become an MLB star so he wouldn’t have time to drop whatever it was he was doing and go boot shopping at her whim.


She’d always claimed she was fine with it. In public, she was the sweet, doting spouse who never stopped talking about how proud she was. In private, she resented him for being home, and then for never being home, and then for not having anything in her own life that could measure up to his success.


It was ugly before the accident.


And after, it was just empty.


But he’d known he was choosing her—dating her, proposing to her, marrying her—because it was easier than trying to find someone who really mattered. In the end, the worst feeling he was left with was that she had deserved better than he’d ever been capable of giving her.


And maybe he was a little bit bitter because he’d hoped that after all those years together, she would have cared to stay at least twenty-four hours after the news that he wasn’t ever going stand on the mound again.


He also knew he was using his disaster marriage as an excuse to avoid dating, and never learn the real names of his hook-ups. So, when Pietro flung her at him, it was more his own guilt than anything else.


“What about you?” Gabriel said, and Pietro let out a small cough. “You’re rich, good looking, famous. Unmarried…”


“Gay,” Pietro reminded him.


“There hasn’t been a big queer scandal in professional sports in years,” Gabriel reminded him. He couldn’t help but smile because being gay was Pietro’s Cecily—the outdated, useless excuse. But his brother had always kept his cards close to his chest, though Gabriel suspected Pietro had something going on and was using him as a way to avoid talking about it.


“This isn’t about me tonight. You asked me to meet you out here so we could wreck some shit.” Pietro turned his body and stared at him. “So, here we are, wrecking shit.”


“Drinks. We need drinks if you really want to know,” Gabriel said. “I’m not having this conversation sober.”


Pietro pushed off the wall, then tossed his keys in the air, catching them with a flourish. “I’ll do you one better—I’ll stop for tacos and beer. Just leave the door open for me.”


Gabriel wouldn’t, but it would be worth listening to his brother curse outside for the five minutes it took before he remembered to set everything down and use his damn key.




***




Gabriel was self-aware enough to admit there were things he liked about his forced retirement. Once things had calmed down with the press and people started to forget him, he realized there was a sort of peace to anonymity. Coming back home to Indigo Falls didn’t feel as overwhelming as he thought it would.


In fact, the day he bought his little house—which at the time was nothing more than a pile of sticks and spit—he knew there would be home in the rubble. It was more than a fixer-upper, it was an entire rebuild, and Gabriel had big dreams about doing most of the work on it. But, his arm had other ideas.


Still, he didn’t mind hiring a team of people to redesign and rebuild the place. It was still his design, and his project and eventually, his home.


The end result produced a little brick cottage with a tiled roof and a wrap-around porch with a white railing that made him think of the storybooks his mom used to read to them when they were very little. It was warm inside too, with the polished wood floors and dark furniture. There was a single room that he held as tribute to his once-career. He called it his office, though he never worked in there.


Most nights found him spread out on his too-large, too-empty bed with his laptop playing some garbage show on Netflix, and his red pen getting too much use as he marked through history essays and drew plays in his little notebook. It was fine, but it was lonely.


Pietro’s implications about his life being sad and too quiet weren’t wrong. He just wasn’t going to make another Cecily mistake simply to avoid that aching pit in his gut. It was far easier to live with that pain than having a shallow relationship which would, in the end, amount to a lot of regret and nothing else.


But it was nice when Pietro came to visit—and it was in those moments he thought maybe he should reach out to his colleagues a little bit more. Most of them were friends with each other outside of work, and they’d reached out to him enough times that he was pretty sure most of them were genuine when they asked if he wanted to tag along for drinks. Or, at the very least, wanted to get to know him, and not just because he could get them season tickets.


But he wasn’t really brave enough to take that leap.


He’d just stick to the few days during the season Pietro had time for him, and his nights in dark clubs with bad drinks and music that left an echo in his ears for hours after he went home.


Taking a deep breath, Gabriel sank into the Adirondack chair on his back porch, stretching his legs toward the deck stairs, and he tilted his head up toward the sky. The very edge of summer was creeping into autumn, if the chill on the breeze was anything to go by. He fixed his gaze off in the distance, the peak of the Rockies marring the skyline, and he let himself feel a burst of affection for their little home.


Then Pietro nudged him with the edge of his beer bottle, and he took it, wordlessly gulping down half before setting it aside and staring at the little foil-wrapped tacos from the one food truck in town that did a decent carne asada.


“So, are you ready to talk about it, or…?”


“I made an ass of myself at work today,” Gabriel said with a grunt. He peeled back the foil and picked up a long string of cabbage by the edge, crunching it between his teeth like he could bite away the lingering humiliation that wouldn’t just fuck off. “I thought the new teacher was a student, and I yelled at them.”


Pietro choked on his swallow, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, smearing hot sauce across his left cheek. “Was it a woman?”


“No,” Gabriel breathed out—the one saving grace. God only knew what rumors would have spread if whatever-his-name-was had been. “He’s the new foods teacher. Also, your face is a disgusting mess.”


Pietro grinned, then rolled his eyes when Gabriel primly offered him a napkin. He dabbed the corners of his mouth, then laughed when Gabriel kicked at his shoe, and properly cleaned up his face. “I can’t believe they still have foods class. Do you remember when we…”


“Yes,” Gabriel grunted, interrupting him. They’d gone to Indigo Falls High, not the fussy private school he was now teaching at, and foods had been their first period for sophomore year. It had been a barely put together class, and they hadn’t really learned anything besides how to make a faux chocolate mousse from whipping cream, and spaghetti sauce from cans of tomato paste. They’d managed to cobble together a student restaurant in the middle of the second quarter that lasted exactly three weeks before too many wandering bits of hair were found in the pasta, and they were shut down.


It had been a goddamn disaster.


And it had been fun.


It had left scars from hot oil and one peanut brittle recipe that had gone very badly wrong.


“Do you still have the burn?” Pietro asked almost eagerly.


Gabriel stretched his left arm out and turned it over, palm up, to reveal a long, dark scar on the inside of his forearm that curved slightly like a smile, from the edge of a cast iron pan. “It never did go away.”


“Amazing,” Pietro breathed. “Remember when that dickhead Johnny pushed…oh god, what was her name…?”


“Elizabeth,” Gabriel said, remembering how the nerdy girl with her big glasses and thick eyeliner that made everyone call her a raccoon had been minding her own business. Johnny, the quarterback and all-around piece of shit, had called her over, then knocked her into the open oven which had been on for the first forty minutes of class.


She’d managed to catch herself with the palms of her hands right on the open oven door. The burns had been bad, and the teacher had just sort of stared on like she didn’t know what to do. No one ever punished Johnny for anything, so the Bassani brothers had taken it upon themselves to teach him a lesson involving the locker room, shaving cream, a lot of hair clippings, his boxers, and public humiliation.


Johnny hadn’t stopped picking on kids after that, of course—it wasn’t some high school teen flick where everyone learned a valuable lesson. But he hadn’t picked on Elizabeth again, sp Gabriel had considered it mission accomplished.


“So, this foods guy…” Pietro asked, cutting into Gabriel’s old memory.


“He corrected me when I called his class that. Told me it’s culinary,” Gabriel sneered. He blinked and saw the image of Ezra’s mouth turning up into a sneer. “Pretentious, private school asshole.”


“Says the man who teaches and coaches there.” Pietro’s inelegant snort with his laughter cut into his words, and Gabriel shrugged, because it was what it was. “Anyway, so you were humiliated? Did you hit on him or something?”


“No, I didn’t hit on him,” Gabriel hissed between clenched teeth. “I thought he was a student. I just kind of…yelled at him, and I was on the verge of giving him a detention before Kaila walked in.”


Pietro didn’t bother asking who Kaila was, and Gabriel appreciated it because he didn’t really feel like explaining his weird, complicated relationships with his colleagues. She was as close as anyone came to being a work friend, but even then, they only spoke when they had to.


They’d done some unintentional bonding the year before when Anderson had made them chaperone the Math and Science Fair trip in Denver. They’d booked a hotel, had managed to keep the kids from too much drinking, drugs, and fucking, then stayed up til two a.m. with a bottle of merlot which resulted in him wearing sunglasses inside the museum all day because red wine always fucked him up.


Kaila was nicer to him after that though, even if he never quite tried to get to know her.


“So, you were humiliated by that because you…like her?” Pietro asked, genuinely sounding confused now. “Is that way you’re walking like someone shoved a bat up your ass?”


Gabriel grimaced. “Fantastic image, thank you.”


Pietro’s grin widened. “Hey, man. Don’t knock it til you try it. I saw this porn last week that Manny showed me where…”


“Seriously, stop,” Gabriel hissed, and Pietro threw up his hands in surrender. “I don’t have any feelings toward Kaila, though even if I did, it wouldn’t matter. She’s happily married and very pregnant. I’ve just worked with for her a long while and I don’t…I don’t like…looking like a jackass.”


Pietro took pity on him and reached over, giving his knee a pat. “Hey, I get it. I do. But I bet no one’s going to remember by tomorrow.”


Gabriel also didn’t feel like explaining to his brother how high school faculty were almost worse than the high school students in their gossip and social politics. He was just usually able to skirt the outside of the chaos because he didn’t ever get involved.


“Either way, I’m not thrilled I have to work with this guy. He’s fucking mouthy and young, and I don’t appreciate being talked down to like I haven’t been doing this teaching thing for almost ten years. He can’t be more than a fresh grad, and the last thing I need is some new hot professor making all the students overly focused on getting his attention…” He stopped when he noticed Pietro’s grin, and he scowled. “What?”


“Hot professor?”


“Oh my god, don’t start…”


“You’ve never, ever described any of your colleagues as hot before,” his brother crowed.


Gabriel slapped a hand over his face and sat back hard enough to make a noise against the chair. “Just because he’s hot doesn’t mean I feel anything toward him except irritated.”


“Sure, just like pulling Susie Chandler’s ponytail on the swings didn’t mean anything other than you hated long hair,” Pietro said with a grin.


Gabriel flipped him off as he finished his beer because, like he’d said earlier that evening, he was not doing this sober. “First of all, I was six, and no one had bothered to teach me that hurting someone because you liked them is a fucked-up concept. Second of all, just because he’s hot doesn’t mean he’s not insufferable, and I’m not interested in…oh for fuck’s sake will you stop giggling.”


Pietro laugh-snorted again and settled back into his chair like he’d never been so happy. Gabriel really hated him sometimes.


“He’s going to make this year miserable, and from what I can tell, he’s here to stay.” He ran his fingers through his hair, stopping only when he realized they were having another spasm, and it only took a second for Pietro to notice and for the mood between them to sober.


“Want me to get you a pill?”


Gabriel shook his head, gritting his teeth. “I just polished off that beer, and I’m not going to risk it.” The last time he had mixed his muscle relaxers with alcohol, he blacked out for six hours and he still didn’t know half of what he’d done. He couldn’t take the risk now, not with all these…these feelings he was having. “Anyway, it’s fine. Ignore it.”


Pietro pursed his lips like he wanted to do the opposite, but he was a decent enough brother that he still obeyed. “Fine okay. So, annoyingly hot culinary teacher, semi-public humiliation…it’s not the worst thing. How’s your team looking this year?”


Pietro rarely asked about Gabriel’s coaching. He assumed Gabriel had taken the position—avoiding baseball like the plague—because of his injury. In reality, Gabriel just liked volleyball. It was just as skilled as any baseball or football game, though undervalued in sports, which he hated. Every single year, his girls brought home trophies, and every single year, the parade was for the goddamn quarterback.


“It’s good,” he finally said from behind a sigh. “We had a couple of freshmen at camp with a lot of potential,” he said, grabbing another beer. His arm was calming down, and his heart was starting to find its rhythm again. “I think we can bring home the championship again.”


“Don’t forget to text me when it is,” Pietro reminded him, and Gabriel didn’t bother to tell him it wasn’t a matter of forgetting. It was a matter of his fucking famous sports star brother showing up on campus. And it wasn’t like Pietro tried to make it about him—it was just the reality of their situation, and his girls deserved better than having what little attention they got, stolen. “I want to support you.”


Gabriel made no such promise. He just tipped the neck of his beer toward Pietro and then polished it off.


After several beats of silence, Pietro stretched his legs out again and grinned at his brother. “So, hot teacher. How hot are we talking?”


Gabriel was going to kill him.




***




He was pleasantly buzzed by the time Pietro left, and feeling a little bit like weight had sloughed off his shoulders. It was entirely unexpected, but so was the amount of time he had ended up talking about Ezra—especially since he’d only spent about two minutes in the man’s company.


Pietro had eventually let it go, but by the time he had, Gabriel could remember every detail about the man’s face. Yes, he looked young, but once he realized the man was a teacher, his age appeared in some of the lines in his face. Like the laugh ones, by the corners of his mouth, and the stress ones in the corners of his eyes.


He probably really was fresh from grad school, which meant Gabriel had no business even looking at him, but he was good looking.


Hell, he was beautiful.


He was raw and real, unpainted and fresh, unlike the men Gabriel usually picked up at the clubs. He had smiled in a sort of people-pleasing way that made Gabriel a little nervous, because he knew a lot of ugly humans who would prey on that sort of thing.


He didn’t know much else though, and he wanted more, but he also knew he wasn’t ever going to be brave enough to reach out.


Especially not after what happened in the break room.


Something was humming under his skin as Gabriel got into the shower, though. He tried to ignore it as he washed up, giving his shoulder as much of a massage as he could to ease some of the tremors in his fingers.


But the feeling haunted him—a little needy, a little hot, a little hungry.


He was surprised when he glanced down and realized his dick was hard, and he was even more surprised when he realized he wanted to touch himself. He rarely masturbated, usually just letting the feeling build until he could sneak away for a weekend and find someone to suck him off. But right now, with the ghost of Ezra’s face behind his eyes…


He gasped at the first touch, knowing it was wrong, but utterly helpless against his want. He pressed his right arm to the tiles, knowing it was barely strong enough to hold him, so he spread his legs to brace himself and his left hand took his cock against his warm, wet palm that was still slick with soap. It had taken him a while to re-learn to do things that had come naturally to him with a useless right hand—like using his left one to do everything.


And maybe that’s why touching himself always felt so foreign after the accident.


But it was…god. Right then, it was so nice.


Warmth trickled up and down his spine, like spiraling pleasure, and he had a moment of wondering why he had stopped doing this. He increased his speed, tightened his grip, closed his eyes tight as he fucked into his fist.


It didn’t take long to come, either. It took him by surprise, shoot out of him in hot bursts, spilling over his fingers as some of it hit the wall. With barely-open eyes, he watched water gather along the white drops, taking it all toward the drain, and his entire body simmered with something just on the edge of unpleasant. It was the opposite of what he wanted, and he felt a little angry that he couldn’t just let himself have this.


And there was something else too.


Regret, maybe.


More twinges of embarrassment.


He’d let this teacher get to him, and now he’d have to show up and see him and remember his little…moment of weakness in the shower.


Fuck him, he thought savagely as he turned the water off and grabbed the towel to dry his body. Fuck that asshole with his pretty face and lean body and…


“Fuck him,” he said aloud to redirect his thoughts, because Ezra had no business in his head.


Gabriel would have to hate him, because it was the only solution. He’d worked too damn hard to get to where he was, and he wasn’t going to let some new person in his life turn everything upside down.


No matter how gorgeous he was.



Chapter Three











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