Chapter 17

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Josh arrived at the stadium for late morning work, feeling the weight of Neptune's predicament. He was mulling over all that Harv was planning to do in the next few days, when he got stopped in the parking lot by a fan who was coming in to watch batting practice.

"You're Joshua Malvern! Can you sign my stuff, man?"

Without his normal standoffishness, he signed a ball cap, and then a Longhorns poster, continuing on, preoccupied. He waved as the fan said "Thanks!" and took off towards the main gates. Normally that would have made him moody and tense, but today, not so much. It was different now. He knew he was a lucky SOB to be here. One wrong move and he wouldn't have been. All the hesitation and protective barrier he'd put up over the years had paid off. But there had been times he'd been foolish, just never got caught. Neptune wasn't so lucky.

The gate security let him through with a nod and wave, and as he walked down the concrete underground corridor towards the Longhorn locker room, Someone stuck their head out a door.

"Malvern." he barked.

Josh steered himself around and went back towards the coaching pit, walking in to the junior coaching staff. Their manager, Coach Davidson was there, as was their fitness manager. This didn't look good, and he swallowed the tension that immediately hit his throat.

"We want to give you a few days off."

Well, at least there was no beating around the bush. He dropped his duffel and looked at the coaches. None of them looked at him, clearing their throats. Were they expecting a fight? The story of his temper had not been kept secret, so he supposed there was some reputation that preceded him. Stupidity on his part not to be more in control when the Sixers optioned him out. It felt like a lifetime ago already.

"Can I ask why?" he replied, settling a hip on a desk. He would not get angry. He would stay calm. This was not a demotion, but it was still stinging. He clasped his hands, and took a silent, deep breath through his nose as discreetly as possible. "I'm not sure I understand."

"Your shoulders are locking again, son. We need you for the series with the Sixers, so you're gettin' a pass on this one." Davidson replied.

He nodded, swallowing. "Ok then. Am I DL'ed? Do you need me in the dugout for the games?"

"Nope. Go take some time off, see a girl, go home to your mom and dad." Davidson grunted, and stood.

Obviously they had no idea what his life was like. Go see his mom and dad? They were happily divorced and living separate lives on opposite sides of the country. Christmas and Thanksgiving was about it. He wasn't close with either of them. Hah. But a girl. He could go see Gretchen. But then shelved it. It was too soon, she needed more time.

"I know what you're thinkin'. We just want you to rest, get some diagnosis on that shoulder and be back in time to hit against Carlos. He's the starter for the Sixers series game one, and you know him. We're hoping to put you in fifth. If your shoulder proves to be a stuck pig, then we may DL you but we aren't cuttin' you."

OK then. He shook hands with everyone, picked up his duffel, and left the pit. No temper tantrums and no animosity. How about that. He was exceedingly calm.

He now had four days off. Last year, that would have felt like a death sentence, but now? He was free and clear to do what he wanted.

He stopped in at the gym, and did some mobility on his shoulders, not wanting to waste the day. They were stiff, and he grunted in pain as he stretched them out. The thought that this was not how he wanted to end his season badgered him as he went through the motions. What if this was it, the wear and tear was finally too much?

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