Baseball Bride by Penny Wylder

1

Gillian

“How’s that?” I ask, as I massage the outer bicep muscle of Frank Rogers, my patient and the famed pitcher for the Vulcan’s.

It’s taken me years to get here, to the perfect place where I’m able to help people exactly the way I want to. Working with athletes was never in my original plan when I decided to become a physical therapist, but I quickly realized I had a knack for sports medicine after seeing my first few clients at the rehab facility I joined straight out of college.

Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. This is where I belong.

“It feels great, Gil, so much better than it was.” He smiles up at me, so I smile back, happy to know I’m helping. “Although, I am a little tight up here,” he says, reaching for the lower part of his neck.

“Here?” I ask, digging the pads of my fingers firmly into his neck muscle.

“Yes,” he groans, letting his head relax forward. “That’s it, right there.”

Working his muscle, I massage out the knot. I spend a few more minutes targeting the areas I know get the most abuse. He’s a pitcher. His upper arms and shoulders take a beating. When you throw ninety mile an hour fast balls regularly, the strain on your body is intense.

Washing my hands, I wipe them off with a towel, and start to clean up my therapy room. It’s been a year now that I’ve been part of Vulcan’s clinicians’ team, and I like to think that I’ve become an important part of their success. At least that’s what the players tell me. I can see myself working here for years more, and maybe eventually becoming the head clinician.

“I can’t thank you enough, Gil,” Frank says, pilling his shirt down over his head and smoothing down his hair. “Honestly, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be able to pitch tomorrow.”

“Happy to help,” I tell him as I walk around to my desk. “Now just follow my instructions for warming up tomorrow and you’ll be good to go. I’ll see you soon.”

I have just a few minutes before the next player comes in, so I quickly take out Frank’s file to update his treatment plan. It’s really important we keep detailed notes. All of the clinicians work as a team, and even though Frank refuses to see the other clinicians in the office, I still like to make sure everything is well documented.

“Knock, knock,” a voice says behind me as I finish up Frank’s notes and slip his file back into my cabinet. Lifting my head, I see Dr. Benson in the doorway with a smile. “Busy?” he asks as he takes a step in.

Sitting back in my chair, I hold the pen in my hand and roll it between my fingers. “No, I’ve got a few minutes before my next client. What’s going on?”

“I just saw Frank leave. He’s doing really great since he started therapy with you.”

“Yeah, he’s been following all my advice, and doing the exercises I gave him. He’s come along quicker than I would have thought he would with a bicep tear of that degree.”

“He has,” Dr. Benson agrees, strolling through the room casually. He looks at a few pictures on the wall, then lifts up a lavender and chamomile candle on the small shelf by the exam table and smells it before setting it back down. This habit of his, of walking into my exam room as if he owns it, really irks me. The man is my superior, but still, he has a way of reminding me of his status that feels aggressive and just creepy sometimes. “I’ve heard you know exactly how to touch him.” His eyes flirt up to mine, and he smirks.

Why is he looking at me like that?

Here we go again. I can feel it instantly and I’m uncomfortable. The look in his eyes and the sound in his voice isn’t coming off as professional at all. It’s borderline flirtatious, like he’s hitting on me. He’s the kind of man who likes to skate that line, but he is my boss, so I have to stay professional as long as he doesn’t go too far. I’ve really learned to grin and bear it. Actually, grit my teeth and try to ignore that awful feeling of my skin crawling, is more like it.

“I did graduate at the top of my class, so I’m very proud to know exactly how to treat him. And he’s appreciative for that. In fact, the whole team is.” Sitting up straight, I drop the pen into the cup holder and look up at him cautiously. “Is there something I can help you with, Dr. Benson?”

Deflect, deflect, deflect, and usually he just loses interest in this game and walks away. I don’t want to confront him because Dr. Benson is the man who hired me. Despite this occasional unprofessionalism, he’s always been fair, given me great opportunities, but he hasn’t crossed the line. Yet.

“I’m a little tight myself, honestly. Maybe we can set up some time for you to help me out? You know, like you helped, Frank,” he says as he sits on the edge of my desk beside me. His eyes drift up and down over my breasts, and it makes my chest tighten uncomfortably.

Oh no, no, no.

“Look, Dr. Benson—”

“Henry, call me Henry. I’ve told you that before,” he says, cutting me off. “Dr. Benson is my father.” Chuckling, he lets his eyes settle on mine.

“Henry,” I correct myself, pushing my chair out from the desk, and further away from him. “I don’t think that would be appropriate. You’re my boss, I just think it’d be better if you went outside the practice for any therapy. In fact, I could recommend you to someone I’ve visited. He’s really quite good.”

“Gillian, sweetheart, I know what you do, and how you do it.” His mouth thins into a creepy smile, and he leans over to get a little closer as his voice drops to a whisper. “I’ve heard about all the things you do for the players. It’s no secret why you’re so popular in this office and with the players.”

“Excuse me?”I ask, my voice high pitched and standing up from my desk. I’m appalled at where he’s going with this conversation. Despite my past interactions with him, this is coming out of left field. I’ve never done anything out of the ordinary with any client at this clinic, or any patient I’ve ever treated, for that matter. Not once have I ever done something to jeopardize my license. And I never would. This is my dream job, and the thought of getting fired scares me to death. Is he making this up, or do my colleagues here really talk about me like this and question my professionalism?

“Come on, Gil, don’t play stupid. You really think I’m going to believe that all these players that come to you are just here for your physical therapy expertise?”

“Yes, that’s exactly why they come. They come because they get hurt and need rehabilitation. They come because I work here, for you, and for them. That’s it.” Slicing the air with my hand, I veer my stare. “I don’t appreciate these accusations, Dr. Benson, and I’m not sure where this is coming from. Maybe we should take this to HR.”

“And I don’t appreciate a cock tease.”

Taking two heavy steps toward the door, I swing it open, and I throw my arm out into the hallway. “Get out!” I yell, my teeth baring down as I do everything to resist punching him in the face. “Get the hell out before I call Mr. Union.”

Gabriel Union is owner of the Vulcan’s. He has more power than anyone on this team, including the man who hired me.

Dr. Benson strokes his jaw as he looks at me. He doesn’t look phased, he doesn’t look concerned at all by my threat. Smiling, he lets his eyes drift to my desk. Picking up a business card out of the stack, he flicks the corner.

We stare at each other in silence for what seems like forever. He doesn’t speak. I don’t speak, but inside I’m screaming for someone else to walk in and interrupt this insane stand-off. To distract his attention from me. To end this little game he’s trying to play.

Shifting his gaze back to mine, he flicks the card across the top of my desk, and it drops to the floor.

“Are you trying to get fired?”

“Wait. . .” Pausing, I hold my hand up, not sure if I heard him right. “What are you saying here?”

“Do you really need me to say it again?” Huffing under his breath, he stands. “Do you want to get fired?” The words come out slow, they land like a like a smack in the face. “Better? Did you hear me that time?”

Fuck you.

“You can’t fire me,” I say quickly. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve only ever done my job, and well!”

He laughs, an evil and degrading laugh like I shouldn’t be so stupid. “Do you know why I hired you to begin with? I hired you because you were hot. Nice ass is an asset in this business where the majority of our clients are fit and young athletes. Plus, I heard you were game. Easy. Word gets around, Gillian.”

“This is sexual harassment. You realize what you’re doing, don’t you? You can’t just fire me because I won’t sleep with you.” Crossing my arms over my chest, I stand tall and confident. “You’ll never win. Now leave my office. Now!” I’m shaking. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. And yet, it gets worse.

“You might be right, but think about this: who is Mr. Union and HR going to believe? A man like me, who’s worked on this team for over twenty years, who doesn’t have a single black mark on his record, and an entire team who will back me up. . .” His lips curl, his eyes darken, and his voice turns thick. “Or you? A girl who’s only been here a year, and has no other credentials to play than the ones I gave you? I also know a few of the guys who are more than willing to side with me, and make it sound like you’re running an illegal massage parlor in here. Your expertise, they’ll say, are happy endings.”

“You’re a liar. You’re pulling this all out of thin air and you know it. Why would you do this to me?”

What the hell is going on? What did I do to deserve this?

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Henry says, in a sickeningly sweet voice and a wink. I’m ready to gag.

No fucking way.

“You’re an asshole.” Flaring my nostrils, I tip my chin higher. “I’ll save you the trouble of reporting me. How does that sound? I fucking quit.”

Grabbing my bag, I walk out of my office and down the long hallway, never even giving him a second look.

And just like that my career is over. Everything I worked for, all the late nights of studying and learning, all the long hours building relationships with my patients, all for nothing.

Regret and dignity are currently at war in my head. I want both, but not at the cost of either. I won’t give up my dignity for a lie. But I don’t want to regret losing my dream.

* * *

“Don’t worry about it, Gil. I promise you, it’s not the end of your career.” My brother pops open a beer bottle and slides it across the kitchen table to me. “Look at dad, he spent thirty years as a janitor, only to change his profession at sixty and become a truck driver.”

“I don’t want to change my profession, Brad. That’s the whole point. I love what I do. I loved that job. I could imagine myself working there for the rest of my life. I thought I was an important part of the team.”

“I can go back and kick his ass for you if you want me to. I don’t mind that option at all. It’s actually pretty tempting.” Taking a swig from his beer, he waggles his brows.

“Thanks, but no. The last thing I need is to help you manage an assault charge. I’m not bailing you out from jail. I need to be careful with my savings now that I don’t have an income. I have no idea where I’m going from here.”

Shrugging his shoulder, he leans over and rests his elbows on the table. “Meh, it’d be worth it.”

“Right, and end up with a record? I don’t think Bethany would go for that. I like your loyalty, but I also like having a sister-in-law who doesn’t hate me, so I’ll pass. Thanks anyway.”

“Hey, my wife would probably be more upset if I didn’t take her with me. She loves a good brawl.”

We both laugh, and I let my eyes drop to the drink in my hands. Picking at the label, I frown. “This just isn’t what I expected. I thought I had found my place, and I feel so stupid now. I don’t know how I could have been so wrong.”

“No, don’t look at it that way. Think of it like this, instead. You left because you didn’t belong there; you just hadn't realized it yet. Your place is waiting for you. It’s out there for you and it an even better fit for you. You just have to find it.”

Flicking my eyes up to him, he gives me a big, reassuring, brotherly smile, and suddenly, I don’t feel so heavy. Because he’s right. Although I loved working with the Vulcan’s, there was always an underlying anxiety dealing with Dr. Benson. He’d never crossed the line before today. If he’d ever been that overt, I would have walked out the door sooner. But still, there was always this tension. And sitting here, knowing I don’t have to go into the office tomorrow, waiting to see if Dr. Benson was feeling playful (and that’s a generous way to describe his behavior), I feel lighter.

I can go somewhere else. Be someone else. I didn’t know it, but I’d been the hot rehab chick there, the rub and tug specialist rather than the kick ass and competent clinician I know I am. I want to be known as the person who heals, who helps, someone who can be trusted. And I want to work someplace where everyone values that.

“You know what, you’re right,” I say to Brad, holding up my beer to salute him. “To a new place and a new start!”

“To a new start,” he repeats. “See, sometimes you should listen to your older brother. Not always, and definitely not when he tells you to jump from the garage onto the trampoline, don’t listen to that. But right now, my advice is good. I know you. You’re going to land on your feet this time, kiddo, not on the driveway with a fractured wrist.”

Chuckling, I nod my head. “Got it. Follow the advice that doesn’t land me in the emergency room!”

“Exactly.” Pointing his beer in my direction, we both start laughing again, and I do truly feel better.

Lying in bed after leaving my brother’s, I flip through my email and find a few messages from other teams that have reached out in the past few weeks about open positions.

I normally just respond to these emails with a simple reply, explaining that I’m not looking for new opportunities, but thanks for the interest anyway. Tonight, though, I read them all, twice and very carefully. One in particular catches my attention. A small private rehab practice, Solum Clinic. They’re currently working with the Silver Hawks, a pretty hot baseball team in the national league. I click through their website and I really like what I see. The facility looks sleek and new. The credentials of their staff are top notch. It’s clear they’re a serious facility.

The Vulcan’s are one of those teams that plays off apparel and souvenirs, signed memorabilia and the franchise aspect of being an American league team. But the Silver Hawks focus more on the sport and the players, not just the money.

I send back a quick reply telling them I’d be interested in speaking about positions on their staff. Within minutes, I’m happily surprised to have a reply email with an interview request. They want to meet me as soon as possible.

Maybe my career isn’t over after all.

Dr. Benson was wrong. There are plenty of people out there can see what I’m capable of. I’m going to prove him wrong.