Ryan Kelly and Woodie Wodyzewski always fight for every inch.
Whether on the baseball diamond, the basketball court, or even the dance floor, these two friends are true competitors.
When Ryan beats Woodie in a bike race because Woodie has the misfortune to be hit by a car, he seems to have won. But the beautiful girl who crashes into their lives is worth far more than any trophy.
Molly De Leon knows all about winning, and nothing will keep her from her goals.
Ryan and Woodie have been vying for Molly since the day they met. How can she possibly choose between them?
Woodie has a complicated family situation and she desperately wants to help him through his misery and confusion. A little on edge with a temper, he’s the bad boy in her life who reminds Molly a lot of her mother, a powerful politician she’s grown up watching bend men and women to her will with a simple smile.
Ryan, on the other hand, is very close to his parents, grounded, and has a good sense of humor. He’s not your typical jock; he’s a safe, reliable pick, and a constant in Molly’s life—that is, until his injuries lead him down a destructive path.
Molly realizes it’s time to make a decision…
But how can she risk losing either one of them when they both own a piece of her heart?
1. I turn in time to witness Woodie’s arms lash out in an exaggerated sign of frustration. Fury and adrenaline fuel his fist outward, connecting with Molly’s jaw just as she reaches to wrap him in a caring embrace.
She’s falling before I can comprehend what happened. Whatever breath her lungs still hold escapes as a grunt as she hits the ground. Woodie pivots, eyes too full of anger to carry concern.
Overcoming my shock, I unfreeze my feet, and call out, “Molly.”
Woodie tilts his head skyward and screams louder than his last outburst. It carries throughout the whole park, an echoing challenge to anything within earshot.
I cradle Molly’s head up from the dirt, rocks, and anything else that might cause her further damage. I place my other hand on her stomach to hold her still.
All of a sudden I have to act as a shield between her and Woodie, and that’s something I never ever dreamt I’d be. Woodie has always had a temper, but this feels different. My best friend just hurt Molly, yet his only concern revolves around a bouncing orange ball and a rusting hoop.
I call, “Get over here, Woodie.”
Adrenaline must be pumping through his veins by the bucket, but I know he’ll come to his senses. Hell, let him yell and scream all he wants. I’m fine right here with this angel in my arms.
I look down and realize I’m caressing Molly’s cheek. She reaches up and matches my action. Overwhelmed by the moment, I lean forward, making my advance and ambitions as obvious as possible. I follow her raised jaw and peck a darkened area, already bruising.
“My hero,” she sighs, smiling despite the ugliness of the situation. “If you’re going to sweep me off…well, back onto my feet, you had better kiss me with more passion than that.” Her mischievous grin widens as she grabs my shirt and pulls me toward her. Our hands seek placement and purchase. Following her lead, my lips part. I run my fingertips down her arm as the taste of orange pop touches my tongue.
I flash back to the thousands of times I’ve pictured this moment, our first kiss. I don’t recall ever daydreaming of it happening to the soundtrack of screams. Though, as I pull back to peck down her left cheek toward her neck, I can’t imagine a more perfect moment.
2. From across the entire frat house, Molly’s emerald eyes sparkle with an intensity that would make anyone living in Oz jealous as she enters the party. Back in high school, Molly was self-conscious of her curly hair, but now she appears to be embracing it.
Mesmerized, I speak with a pause between each word. “She. Looks. Gorgeous.”
Ever the trendsetter, Molly wears a silky purple blouse that betrays her athletic figure. Not that she looks like a bodybuilder or some East German swimmer. It isn’t as much about big muscles as the way she carries herself.
A football player from my college, Jimmy-John escorts Molly, arm in arm, into my home. Goodbye confidence, hello jealousy. “Where does he get off, walking in here with her?”
In his free hand, the dumb jock clutches a shot glass full of my whiskey.
I admit, “I’d rather fill that glass with a rabies shot.”
“All right, Ryan,” Woodie whispers. “It looks like our lady has just upped the stakes. If this slab of beef thinks he can waltz in and swipe her away, he has another thing coming.”
I ask, “Ok champ, what’s the plan?”
Instead of a reply, Woodie advances toward Molly and her date.
Warning bells ringing as I follow. “Wanna drench him in beer? We have plenty.”
In the end, it’s nothing personal against the guy, but Molly’s out of his league, hell, she’s out of his universe.
Woodie enters the kitchen a few paces ahead of me. Shock stuns me for a moment as Woodie reaches out his hand to Molly’s beau, and says, “Hey pal, what’s up? It appears you’ve made a mistake. You see, this is my girlfriend you just waltzed in here with, and I don’t appreciate it.” His voice remains calm, yet his pace ramps up as he crosses the room toward the mass of human clay standing with Molly.
Jimmy-John reaches out his hand toward Woodie to shake it, and I know this will ruin the party. Woodie grabs the extended hand, pulling as hard as he can. Lowering his left shoulder, Woodie lunges forward.
Before Jimmy-John realizes what’s happening, momentum carries both men off their feet. Airborne, they crash backward into a door that doesn’t stand a chance. The splintering of old wood startles everyone. With little room to maneuver, I know this fight will get real ugly, real fast.
Woodie grabs onto the man’s shirt and shoves. “How’s that feel?”
3. Pushing with all of my strength, I extend my arms another an inch as I think of Molly, of Woodie, and about pitching a baseball. Another surge of effort, another inch, but the thoughts fueling my workout remain the same. I think of her. I think of him. I think about baseball.
Ho Ban, my team’s trainer, says, “A little faster, now.”
Separating myself from the stench of the padded floor, I push as I kiss Molly. Another push and I strike out Woodie.
I grunt, attempting to ignore the dull ache in my arm growing sharper with each rep, but I don’t allow any sign of self-doubt to show on my face. I’m not going to let anything stand between myself and the Triple-A Championship tonight.
“Ryan, keep your back straight. I don’t want to see you favoring your right side anymore.”
Ho, a former baseball star from
, is one of only three people in the
organization aware of my shoulder issue from college. South
Ho, a former baseball star from
“Embrace the pain, Ryan,” he says. “Embrace the pain and rise above it.”
I think about Molly, and I push faster.
The sweat feels good, the warmth of motion feels good, and, to be honest, even the pain feels good. Woodie, here I come.
Ho says, “Good. Good. That’s better.”
It’s still early in the day, yet I’ve been training for over an hour to prepare for tonight’s big game. Quickening my pace, my arms grow weak and a little shaky.
Ho says, “Ok, that’s enough.”
I ignore him and keep pushing.
Ho claps his hands, the sound echoing around the empty gym. “We get it. You’re capable of a massive amount of very fast push-ups, but you’re not going to win us the game at 7 in the morning.”
Making baseball a career requires a knack for swinging a stick of wood and hitting the ball screaming toward you at high speed, but keeping a routine can prove just as important a skill. The ability to grind it out day after day, night after night, small-town city after small-town city is what separates the successful players from the ones you’ve never heard about.
Tonight, I’ll be facing off against my best friend and oldest rival, Hank “Woodie” Wodyzewski.
I push, and I ache.
4. Woodie wraps his arm around Molly and pulls her close. “We’ve been arranging trips to see each other over the last year, and I just want to follow the natural progression of things. If I get traded, I’ll be leaving as early as tonight, so I had to ask now.”
Molly seems to have just noticed something of immense importance on her shoes.
I ask, “Will Mitch be going with you guys?”
Her footwear forgotten, Molly regards me with confusion, anger, and betrayal.
My friend’s brow furrows. “Mitch who? The gym guy?
“Molly, do you want to tell him or should I?”
Her shoulders slump and she slinks out of Woodie’s embrace.
Woodie asks, “What is it you want to tell me, Molls?”
To her credit, she doesn’t hesitate or try to deny anything. “For the past few months, I’ve also been seeing Mitch.”
Woodie’s nostrils flare, his eyes dart back and forth, and his upper body shifts back and forth as if containing his anger causes discomfort.
Molly slows down her speech, an attempt to calm the situation down. “I did it to appease my mother.”
“You’ve been dating him for months?”
Woodie snaps, “Call him right now and say it’s over.”
“It’s not that simple, Woodie. He contributes to several campaigns that mean a lot to me.”
Woodie jabs a finger into Molly’s collar as he speaks each word. “Don’t you dare.”
As usual, Molly isn’t willing to back down to anyone. “Woodie, listen, I don’t owe you anything. I won’t sit here and get treated to like a three-year-old by some aggressive, selfish jerk who can’t control himself when things don’t go his way. I like Mitch and you don’t own me.”
Without warning, he lunges toward her. His arms are out, but his palms are open, as if he’s trying to hold her, not hurt her. Molly uses her quickness to evade his advance. Woodie regains his balance, takes another step toward her, but again she retreats toward her car.
Breathing now, a good sign, Woodie slumps his shoulders and searches the trees for the right words. “Molly, don’t go. I’m sorry. I just want, I mean, today is supposed to be—”Molly still has her guard up as she turns. “Woodie, I know what today means for you, and I’m so proud of you, but I can’t be here right now. Not like this.”
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