Title: Pitch by Will Parkinson
Publisher: Harmony Ink
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 180 pages
A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title
The day Jackson Kern walks into Taylor Andrews’s classroom is a momentous day in Taylor’s life. He’s had crushes before, sure, but as time goes on, this is starting to look a whole lot more serious. Still, Jackson doesn’t return Taylor’s feelings.
Taylor has his own admirers, though. Kevin Richards is used to getting what he wants, and what he wants right now is Taylor, so when Taylor rejects him, Kevin retaliates. At first Taylor’s entourage rallies around him, but then Kevin takes his deception one step further and Taylor sees his support dwindle, teaching him the valuable lesson about who he can truly consider a friend.
TAYLOR ANDREWS glanced toward the door and noticed a young man, shoulders hunched, waiting outside the classroom. As he continued to stare, the newcomer took a deep breath, threw back his shoulders, and lifted his head before he stepped into Mrs. Wagner’s homeroom. He walked with purpose toward the front of the classroom and handed the teacher a sheet of paper without saying a word.
After a brief moment of studying the paper, Mrs. Wagner smiled at the young man before turning to the students filling the desks of her classroom. “Class, this is Jackson Kern. It’s his first day here, and I need a volunteer to help him get acclimated.”
Taylor looked at the new guy and felt his face heat. He grabbed his ever-present sketchpad from his backpack, his desire to capture this stranger’s likeness overwhelming. The guy was… well, gorgeous. Taylor’s hands flew over the paper as he took in Jackson Kern’s beautiful well-sculpted face, rich chocolate-brown eyes, and dark, thick hair. He had a toned body, maybe a swimmer? God, what he wouldn’t give to….
“I’ll show him around, Mrs. Wagner,” Becca Monroe offered brightly, interrupting Taylor’s wayward thoughts.
“Thank you, Becca,” Mrs. Wagner said with a smile before turning to the newest addition to the class. “Jackson, please take a seat. Becca will walk with you and show you the building and where your classes will be. If you have any questions, just ask her.”
“Yes, ma’am, thank you,” the new kid replied. Taylor noted how polite Jackson was, unlike most of the guys in his tenth-grade class.
Jackson parked his tall, lanky body in the seat next to Becca and started talking. Taylor watched as Becca’s eyes roamed over Jackson’s frame, and she licked her lips. He could tell she was already on the prowl. She was a pretty enough girl, if you liked them. Long reddish-brown hair, big green eyes, and a big… ego.
She was hot and she knew it. She was also the kind of girl who was only out for one thing. Herself. She was junior varsity head cheerleader, something his best friend, Benny Peters, always had a lot of fun commenting on. She’d dated the captains of most of the sports teams, always switching to a new guy at the beginning of the season.
“Damn lucky girl,” Taylor muttered. If he hadn’t been enjoying the sight of the new boy, he’d have volunteered for guide duty. Oh, the things he wanted to show him… not that he had any experience; he’d never even kissed another boy. He worked hard at trying not to look at other guys. The thought of being outed in high school scared him, so much so that he’d sometimes have panic attacks when he thought about it—clammy skin, problems breathing, feeling faint. He hated those, really hated not being in control. It always made him feel weak and needy.
The bell rang, startling Taylor out of his reverie, and the students moved like cattle, heading off to their next class. Taylor scowled when he saw Becca take the new guy by the arm and lead him from the classroom. As they passed he heard Jackson ask, “Do you know who I talk to about the baseball team?”
“What position do you play, Jackson?” Becca asked excitedly, ignoring Jackson’s question.
“I’m a pitcher.”
Taylor could hear the excitement in Becca’s voice, and he knew the reason. Baseball tryouts would be in the next week or two, and she needed a new ball-playing boyfriend since her ex, Cody Daniels, graduated. It was as if she’d won the freaking lottery.
Jackson was hot and he played sports. For Becca that was definitely the best of both worlds.
Taylor chuckled. Oh, how he’d love to be that boy’s catcher.
But damn, Becca was probably going to be all over that anyway.
Not that he’d ever have a shot with someone like Jackson.
According to Benny, he wasn’t bad-looking. Benny often said he was jealous of Taylor’s curly blond hair, which he himself despised.
Besides, Taylor thought, Benny’s straight. What does he know?
Jackson was probably three inches taller than Taylor’s five foot eight, but it wasn’t his height that bothered him as much as the extra weight. He was no one special, and someone like Jackson Kern would never give him the time of day. That’s just how things went.
Over the next week, Taylor would see Jackson throughout the school. Other than homeroom they didn’t have any classes together, but he noticed him in the hallway or heading to the gym. Taylor’s heart fluttered every time he caught a glimpse of Jackson. He loved the way his lip curled when he was amused or the way he arched an eyebrow when he seemed to be curious about something. The thing that struck him most, though, was the fact that Jackson was so poised and confident when he was with a group. People hung on his every word. It almost seemed like he was holding court. People just tended to gravitate to Jackson. His rich baritone voice had a soothing, hypnotic effect on Taylor from a distance. He couldn’t help but wonder what it did to the people Jackson was actually talking with. He watched Jackson in the school’s weight room one afternoon and stood transfixed as the muscles in Jackson’s chest and arms strained with every repetition. Taylor began to sweat and unconsciously licked his lips as he watched Jackson working his leg muscles. His pulse raced when Jackson pulled off his shirt, the dusting of dark hair across the expanse of his chest matted from sweat. Taylor swore he could smell Jackson’s scent, musky but sweet. He wanted to get closer but knew it would seem weird, so he reluctantly tore himself away and went back to class.
Taylor was envious of Jackson’s build. He studied his own body in the mirror and sighed. He was plump. That was the only way to describe it. There was no muscle definition. He tried to maintain his weight but couldn’t resist pizza. He’d tried to work out with Benny, who seemed obsessed with his body, but it just wasn’t for him. Taylor sighed heavily. He was so far out of Jackson Kern’s league, he’d never have a shot with someone like him, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy the view.
TAYLOR glanced over at Benny, comfortably stretched out on the sofa, thumbing through Taylor’s latest sketches. At six foot one and weighing in at nearly 215 pounds, Benny had always been one of Taylor’s favorite sketch subjects. His eyes were the coolest brown color with small flecks of gold in them. His sandy hair was always cut short, but not like a buzz cut, which Taylor had to admit was his favorite kind of haircut.
Benny had always stood up for Taylor and it was that fact which made Benny the only one Taylor had come out to. No matter what else happened between the two, Taylor was sure Benny would always be there for him.
“Benny, what would you say if I told you I was crushing?”Taylor asked, sitting up on his bed and tossing a rolled-up pair of socks into the laundry basket.
Benny met Taylor’s eyes as he laid the sketches across his chest. “I’d say who this time? Already over… what was his name?
Mason? Dixon? Something southern.”
“His name was Caleb,” Taylor groaned, rolling his eyes. “And he was a jerk. Remember how he humiliated and made Toby cry when he came into the locker room and found Caleb throwing his clothes into the shower?”
“Yeah, I remember. I was the one who got him something to wear for the rest of the day. I can’t stand bullies,” Benny snarled.
“So who has your undies in a bunch this time?
“I’m talking about the new guy, Jackson Kern. There’s just something about him. He’s… I dunno, different. He’s not loud or annoying. He seems really laid-back. And he’s totally hot. He just seems… perfect.” Taylor sighed wistfully. “I can’t imagine him ever doing a mean thing to anyone.”
Benny tried to suppress a snort. “And how long is this one going to last? A month? Two tops. You go through crushes faster than I go through underwear.”
“When you change them twice a year that’s not too difficult,”
Taylor was surprised when Benny hit him with a pillow, and the fight was on. He grabbed the other pillow and swung at Benny, who dodged and laughed. For such a big guy, Benny was surprisingly agile. They smacked each other around, laughing all the while, until Taylor cried uncle.
After they were exhausted, Benny turned to him and said with a sympathetic smile, “Taylor, talk to the guy. Pretty much the worst that could happen is he’s not interested.”
Taylor stared glumly up at the ceiling, his thoughts turning once more to Jackson. “No, the worst that could happen is he’s a homophobic asshat who wants to kick the crap out of me.”
“Yeah,” Benny observed thoughtfully, “but at least he’d touch you. That’s more than you’ve ever gotten before.” He gave Taylor a gleeful grin, as if waiting for the comment to sink in fully.
And as soon as it did, Taylor lunged at Benny, and the fight was back on. Once Benny succeeded in pinning Taylor, his expression turned serious as he said, “Look, just be cool. Don’t obsess. If you want to impress him, show him the pictures you drew of him. You’re really good at doing these.”
Taylor’s cheeks heated. He could never show his work to Jackson. He didn’t think they were good enough to share with anyone other than Benny. He’d been puttering around with drawing for years. He had several sketchpads full of various things that caught his eye. He loved to do drawings of nature scenes, people, and animals. He’d done several of Trip, his Siberian husky, before the poor dog died that still brought tears when Taylor looked at them. It was just a hobby, though. His father always told him he needed a real career and constantly reminded him that art wouldn’t amount to anything in the real world. He shook his head sadly. No, there was no way Jackson would ever see his work.
STANDING by the bleachers near the dugout, Taylor couldn’t help but wonder why he was there. Baseball tryouts held no interest for him. In fact, he’d always found the game kind of stupid, yet here he was. His gaze landed on Jackson Kern. Yeah, that was something he really wanted, to see Jackson play the game.
Jackson took the center thingy… the mound or whatever it’s called. Taylor had spent a good deal of time reading about baseball.
He figured he should know something about it, just in case Jackson ever spoke to him. Still, he was having a hard time wrapping his head around all the rules and terms. Didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try, though. He pulled out his sketchbook and did a few rough outlines, wanting to fill them out later. Jackson threw a few pitches to the catcher, loosening up. Mitch Daniels, Cody’s younger brother, stepped up and tapped his bat on the ground. Jackson brought his arms up near his chest, struck a pose, and shook his head slightly.
After a moment he leaned back and threw the ball. It went straight across the plate at blinding speed. Mitch swung at it and missed completely. When Jackson finished the inning, allowing no hits, he marched back to the dugout; the coach’s jaw fell open as he rushed out to meet Jackson.
“Kid, what’s your name?”
“Jackson, sir. My friends call me Jax.”
“Well, Jax, if you can throw like that with consistency, you’re gonna be our ace. I can tell,” the coach said, practically drooling over the young prospect.
Taylor thought he saw Jackson… Jax blush. By the end of the tryouts, not one person had hit anything Jackson threw. When the coach told him he had a spot, Jackson smiled so big and wide, Taylor was sure his heart would stop. Then Becca came running over and threw her arms around the team’s new pitcher. Taylor turned in disgust and started shuffling away, pausing to take a last look at Jackson. He was all hot and sweaty, and it looked really, really good on him. Taylor knew that’s what he was going to be thinking about when he went to bed.
TAYLOR found himself drawn to watch the practices. He kept trying to tell himself it was stupid, and he knew it was, but he really enjoyed watching Jackson. He’d been going to watch practice every day for two weeks when he saw Jackson turn in his direction. For just a second he thought, more like hoped, that Jackson was looking at him. His eyes locked on Jackson, and his mouth went dry, wishing that he’d come over to him, put his arms around him, whisper in his ear… but then the guy turned and walked over to the rest of the team, clearing the field for the next inning. Taylor’s heart sank, realizing it was all wishful thinking on his part.
“COME on, Taylor, crack a book. I came over to study, not to watch you stare at the ceiling,” Benny huffed, pushing a pile of laundry off the chair and parking himself at the desk. “And would it kill you to clean up a little bit? This place is a sty, man.”
Taylor never even registered the reproach in Benny’s voice.
All he could think about was Jackson.
“Benny, I’m going nuts. I know it’s never gonna go anywhere, but I can’t stop going to see him,” Taylor groaned.
Benny stared at him, eyes wide. “Wow, never saw you this bad before. You’d always crush for a few weeks and then see some new hottie that made you forget the old one. Maybe you really do have it bad for this guy,” Benny muttered.
Swinging his legs over, Taylor sat on the edge of the bed, grinning with excitement. “You’ve got no idea. Yesterday morning I saw him with a smear of toothpaste in the corner of his mouth. I swear it was one of the hottest things I’d ever seen, and I just wanted to lick it off.”
Benny’s lips tightened into a grimace. “Toothpaste is hot?
God, you’re so weird, Taylor. I hope you won’t be upset if I don’t admit to knowing you when we’re in public.”
Taylor smirked, remembering everything with vivid detail. “It was hot! If it wasn’t for the fact that Becca rubbed it off for him, which really pissed me off, by the way, I’d have stared at it all day.”
“So he and Becca are together?” Benny asked, putting the book down and finally turning to face Taylor.
“Yeah, I guess. She’s always hanging on him and hugging him. It’s totally disgusting,” Taylor sneered.
“Because it’s what you want to be doing?” Benny wondered aloud, keeping his voice low.
“Maybe.” Taylor sighed. “Either way, this just reinforces my dislike of public displays of affection.”
“So when are you gonna finally talk to him? How hard can it really be?” Benny asked patiently.
Taylor could see the look of pity on his friend’s face, but he snapped, “Well, you get a girl to notice you and then come back and give me some pointers, okay?”
Taylor knew it wasn’t fair. Benny was all about his schoolwork. His parents were always so strict about everything, and the schoolwork had to come first.
Benny quirked an eyebrow and stared at Taylor condescendingly. “I don’t need a girl to notice me, Tay. I’m not the one who needs validation. Maybe you should just join the monks.
I’m sure then you’ll get plenty of hot action,” Benny chuckled as he opened his math book. There was going to be a stupid quiz tomorrow, which, naturally, Benny was going to ace. He always aced them. Benny’s grades were important to him. As it stood Benny had a near-perfect GPA and would likely be valedictorian as a senior.
He and Benny had been the best of friends since kindergarten.
Taylor knew Benny would do almost anything for him, even if it included telling him things about himself he really didn’t want to hear, especially when it was the truth. Taylor knew he was a chicken, but he also knew unrequited love would be better than being humiliated in front of or by Jackson.
WILL PARKINSON believes that no matter what obstacles are thrown in the path of young love, it will always find a way to win in the end. He wants his characters to have their happily ever after, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to come easily.
None of this would have happened if he had followed the advice he was given many years ago. “What are you wasting your time on that for? It’s never going to amount to anything.” He believed it for the longest time, abandoning characters he’d created in his childhood.
He picked up his very first m/m story by a writer named Eden Winters, who was an absolute joy when they corresponded. She asked him if he wrote and he told her the story. Eden explained to Will that the voices in his head would never go away and how he needed to let them out. With that thought in mind, Will put e-pen to e-paper once more. It was truly a liberating experience and one he has no intention of giving up again.
Mr. Parkinson is giving away – Grand prize: Signed copy of Pitch and a $25 gift card to the winner’s choice of online book reseller.
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