Stashed (PG-13) I

It was dark in the dumpy studio apartment as Erick tried to concentrate on his studies but the pattering of the rain against the window distracted him and he had a hard time focusing on his work.

Rainy nights like this make him even more depressed than usual and he almost laughed when he glanced around at his pathetic surroundings that symbolized how far his life had sunk in just a few years.

There was a knock on the door that Erick almost didn't hear over the noise of the rain and the purring of the computer. The clock on the old laptop read 11:48 PM and he wondered who in the hell could be bothering him at this hour. He stiffly left his beat up old swivel chair and limped his way to the door, half-expected to find a lost pizza delivery guy or a neighbor reporting flooding from all the rain. But when he opened the door he saw the last person he ever thought he'd see so far from home (and Yale): Shannon Hamilton.

Erick squinted his eyes to make sure he was seeing right as he stared at the shadowy figure standing in the doorway. She was wearing a soaked pink hoodie over white shorts and sandals, holding a large duffle bag in her right hand.

"Hello, Erick," she said, sounding rather meek. "Do you think I could come in?"

"Uh….um…..ah…." A dazed Erick stepped back and motioned with his chin for her to enter.

She nodded her thanks as she entered the embarrassing dive, glancing around to take in her surroundings. One large room with busted down old furniture, a messy kitchenette in the corner, and a bathroom off to the right. Two windows were on the far wall, the faded off-white paint on the walls was cracked and peeling, and the rug looked like it was some sort of puke green and it was unclear if there were actual real puke spots soaked into the fabric.

"This is quaint," Shannon said with a mixture of sarcasm and humor.

Erick closed the door and studied her for a long moment. "What are you doing here?" He asked.

"Do you have a towel?" She asked, pulling off the hoodie to reveal her soaked blond hair glued to the sides of her head.

"Sure," Erick replied, quickly stepping into the small bathroom in search of a relatively clean towel.

He performed a quick inspection to make sure there wasn't anything gross in the sink or toilet bowl before returning to Shannon with the towel.

"Thanks," she said, accepting the towel and putting it to her head to dry her hair and face.

"How did you even know where to find me?" Erick asked with confused amazement.

"Schwartz told me," Shannon answered sheepishly.

Schwartz was their old high school pal from back home. Erick nodded his understanding. "What are you doing here?" He needed to know.

"Hiding," she mumbled sadly.

"From what?" He asked with surprise.

"More like from whom," she replied with a sigh.

Erick cleared off some old newspapers and other junk from the sofa. "Have a seat," he offered and she gladly fell onto the couch, letting out a long breath of relief as she let her duffle bag fall to the floor.

"Would you like something?" He asked. "I think there's a couple of beers in the frig."

"Sure," she agreed.

Erick went to the kitchenette and dug out the beers, cringing at the sight of the disgusting contents and unseemliness of the refrigerator and the general disarray of the kitchenette with its broken cabinets, dirty floor, unwashed dishes and unkempt counter. He wasn't expecting company and he rarely entertained guests in the dump.

He limped back to the sofa, handed Shannon a beer and took a seat next to her on the ratty piece of furniture. The towel he had given her rested in her lap now.

"Thanks," she said, taking the beer. "It's really pouring out."

"Has been for days," Erick remarked.

Shannon took a sip from the bottle and glanced at her host. He noticed her beautiful blue eyes and how her messy hair added to her sexiness. She had always been tall no matter what her age and her long blonde hair was one of her most attractive features.

"Could I stash myself here for a while?" Shannon asked hopefully.

"It's not exactly the Ritz, Ham," Erick remarked.

"Yeah, well, it will do," she responded, glancing around at the dump.

"What's going on?"

"Can I change out of these wet clothes?"

"Sure," he said.

Shannon took her duffle bag and headed for the bathroom, leaving Erick behind to try to figure out his friend's big mystery. They grew up together in Hillsboro, good friends although Erick secretly wished for something more but Shannon saw him as a brother and she had her separate romantic life anyway.

Shannon dated the perfect Brad Lattea for most of high school, the class president with the nice car, nice clothes, wealthy parents and a future paved with gold. Shannon and Brad were both accepted at Yale and the last Erick heard that's where they both were, living happily ever after now in their senior year of college.

Erick won a full baseball athletic scholarship to the small division III liberal arts college Eastern New York University about three hours west of Hillsboro but his career was dogged by injuries, finalized by a brutal ankle injury playing in the Cape Cod league the summer after sophomore year that ended his career. The University cut him from the baseball team junior year and took away his scholarship, forcing him to scramble to obtain loans to finish his college education. He was bitter about what he perceived as unfair treatment by the coach and athletic department, cast aside like dead weight and forgotten once he was unable to perform.

Shannon returned from the bathroom dressed in nothing but a white tee shirt that went down to her shapely thighs. She took a seat on the sofa again.

"Do you want to talk?" Erick asked.

"I'm really tired," Shannon replied. "Long day, long bus ride. I should try to get some sleep." She glanced around the room. "Where's the bed?"

"You're sitting on it," Erick replied. "It's a pull out."

"Oh," she said.

"I can sleep on the floor," he offered.

"No, that's not necessary, I don't want to put you out," Shannon insisted. "We can share."

"Okay," he agreed, wondering if his secret fantasy might somehow come true.

They got off the couch and Shannon watched as Erick tossed the cushions aside and pulled the sleeper sofa open. Most days he didn't bother closing it but for some reason he had that morning. The sheets, pillow and blanket were folded up inside the bed and he tried to remember when the last time was he washed the sheets and pillow case.

"You won't even notice I'm here," Shannon said with a weak smile.

"Sorry the accommodations aren't that great."

Shannon smiled as she gave him a hug followed by a peck on the lips, catching him by surprise. "Thanks, Erick."

She tidied up the bed and then crawled into it, slipping under the cover sheet and blanket. Erick dug another pillow out from the small closet next to the bathroom and tossed it on the bed before returning to his work at the card table that served as both his desk and dining table.

He tried to finish up his work while stealing glances at the sleeping Shannon in the shadows of the sofa. The only light in the room came from his computer screen but she looked like a sleeping angel from where he sat. This was the best thing that happened to him in months but he was afraid to get into the bed next to her so he worked for another hour before finally turning off the computer and limping to the sofa bed, carefully sliding onto the mattress next to Shannon without making any noise or movement to wake her.

The rain continued outside the windows but suddenly it didn't sound so forlorn anymore.

### ### ###

Erick used to get up at five in the morning to work out but those days were over when his shattered ankle shattered his life. Now he arose with the birds to get to the campus dining hall in time to work the breakfast shift, making money to pay the bills that the scholarship used to take care of. He put on twenty pounds since the injury, most of that from too much beer and junk food but once his career ended he didn't care much anymore.

Shannon was still asleep, her back to him as he carefully left the bed, grabbed some clothes from the broken dresser in the corner and went into the bathroom to quietly get ready for the day. He left a note that read 'Work/Class' on top of Shannon's duffle bag and he slipped out of the studio apartment to go through the motions of another futile day of existence, although it felt good knowing Shannon would be there when he got home.

Erick plugged in as many work hours as he could around his classes to make as much money as possible. Sometimes he was back in the dining facility three or four times a day depending on shift availability. Mr. Dyer the Facility Manager gave Erick as many hours as he could but there were plenty of other desperate students vying for time and sometimes Erick didn't get all the hours he hoped for.

It was after six when Erick returned to the studio apartment and he did a double take as he walked through the door and saw its new appearance. It was obvious that Shannon had spent the day cleaning the dump up. It looked tidy, smelled clean, and looked different. Some of the furniture had been moved around, the linoleum floor was actually yellow scrubbed clean (Erick was never sure of the real color), the dishes were washed and put away, the kitchenette area was spotless, the carpet had been vacuumed, and the bathroom smelled like lilac.

"You didn't have to do all this," Erick remarked, felling guilty for turning his house guest into his housemaid.

"I wanted too," Shannon said with a smile. She was resting on the sofa, dressed in sweats and a tank top tee shirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her hair was still damp from a recent shower. "Besides, I had nothing else to do."

"It looks nice," he said.

"There's goulash warming in the crock pot," she told him.

"I have a crock pot?" Erick asked with surprise and she laughed.

"I went down to the store and stocked up on some real food," Shannon revealed.

"How much do I owe you?" Erick wanted to know.

"Don't worry about it," she replied. "You're giving me room and board."

"Okay," he agreed, dropping his book bag on the floor knowing every buck he saved was important.

"How was your day?" Shannon asked with interest as she stepped into the kitchenette area to check on the goulash.

"Glad it's over," Erick replied, slumping onto the folded up couch to rest his ankle that swelled and became sore if he walked or stood on it too much.

"Schwartz said you got hurt pretty bad," Shannon said when she returned to the sofa and saw him rubbing the ankle.

"Three screws," he said, gesturing to the scar-covered ankle. "And another one up the ass," he added with resentment.

"I heard you lost your scholarship," Shannon sighed as she took a seat next to him. "That sucks. Wasn't your fault you got injured.

"They carried me for nearly a year so I guess I shouldn't complain," Erick commented. "But once they classified me as damaged goods that was it."

"So now you have to pay the rest of the way?"

"Thank God I only got a few months to go," he said. He glanced at her. "What about you? Aren't you about to miss finals or something?"

"I graduated early, in January," she said with a satisfied smile. "I've been hanging out in New Haven waiting for Brad to finish his degree."

"You majored in English Lit, right?"

"I'm thinking of going for my Masters," Shannon replied. "Maybe at Green College."

"Move in back home?"

Shannon shrugged. "Probably would be the easiest way to go."

Shannon was one of the smartest kids in their high school class and it was no surprise she got accepted at Yale. Erick was majoring in physical education but now that his athletic career was over he had a hard time picturing himself as a broken down old jock limping around waxing poetic about his glory days (all three of them).

Erick hadn't been to a baseball game since they carted him off the field on a stretcher that fateful day and he didn't watch the game on television anymore either. He couldn't even bring himself to sit on the bench being a cheerleader as a war casualty and the rest of the team moved on without him. Barrett took over at first base and was doing a fantastic job.

Erick still saw some of the guys around campus and they'd say hey and briefly chat but he had nothing in common with them anymore, no longer part of the 'collective' and these days he tried to avoid them when possible. He almost dropped out of school but he figured he was close enough to a degree to hang tough and finish up, even though he knew he'd be returning to Hillsboro with a useless degree and no real future. He'd probably end up working for his uncle's waste removal company which was the plan before he landed the scholarship.

"I should have stayed in Hillsboro that summer and played for the Browns in the Serguci League," Erick said aloud. "I thought I might get noticed in the Cape Cod league and it cost me everything."

"Noticed?" Shannon asked.

"By a scout," he admitted.

Erick knew his chances of extending his baseball career beyond college was very unlikely playing for a small forgotten Division III school but there was always the chance that somebody might sign him to an unguaranteed minor league or independent league contract to at least give him a shot.

"You had no way of knowing you'd get hurt," Shannon reminded him. "You did what you thought was best for your career."

"The family I was living with in Falmouth was really nice," Erick recalled. "The mother was crying when they came to the hospital after the surgery. She knew it was over for me."

"Maybe it was just beginning," Shannon countered with an enthusiastic pat on his thigh. "I know baseball isn't the only thing you can do well in your life."

"Why are you here?" Erick asked her.

Shannon glanced away. "I'd better check on that crock pot again," she said nervously as she scooted to the kitchenette. "I put all your pills in one place," she said, pointing to an A and W Root beer mug filled with multi-colored tablets. "Are you addicted or something?"

"No," he said. "I hardly take them anymore," he lied.

He gave up on the Oxycontin, but he still downed the Demerol, Vicodin and Percocet when the ankle worked up or he couldn't sleep or he was feeling blue, with or without the pain. The team doctor gave him several prescriptions as did the surgeon after his two surgeries trying to put his ankle together again. And everybody seemed to have them around the locker room. Sometimes three or four beers and a couple of pills allowed him to sleep like a baby and forget about the misery of his life. The surgeon told him he'd never walk without a limp again and that his ankle would remain as fragile as a twig so any sort of (athletic) force on it would be disaster.

"I think I saw some Viagra in there too," Shannon noted neutrally.

"Probably," he replied.

"The food's hot enough," Shannon announced, taking a couple of plates from one of the cupboards.

Erick removed the laptop from the card table and moved a folding chair with "ENYU" stamped on the back in black letters closer to the table. He sat in that chair so she could have the padded swivel seat.

Shannon dished up two plates of food and brought them to the table along with a couple of beers.

"Thanks again for letting me stay," she said.

"Does anybody else besides Swartz know you're here?" Erick asked as he began to eat his supper.

"I called my parents to tell them I'm okay but I didn't tell them where I'm at," she reported.

"Does Schwartz know to play dumb?"

"Of course," Shannon assured him. "There must be twenty messages from Brad on my cell and my mother says he's been calling there too."

"What happened?" Erick asked one more time.

"Nothing, really," Shannon answered, playing with her food with her fork.

"He smack you around?"

She shook her head no.

"Cheated on you?" Erick guessed.

"Not that I know of," she answered.

"Then why'd you leave?"

"I'm not sure," Shannon admitted.

"Didn't somebody tell me you're engaged?" Erick asked, remembering how crushed he felt when he heard the news.

"Yes, at Christmas," she said. "Very romantic. Very nice." She lifted up her left hand and showed him an impressive diamond ring.

"And you accepted the proposal?"

"Yes, I did," she confirmed.

"But now you're in hiding," Erick said, trying to figure it out.

"I should probably take this off," Shannon decided, pulling the expensive ring from her finger and placing it on the card table by her beer bottle.

"IT was the perfect moment I used to fantasize about when I was a romantic young kid," Shannon said, staring at the ring. "We had champagne. Our parents were thrilled. We were looking at a wedding date of next summer sometime."

"So, did you have a fight or something?" Erick guessed.

"No, not really," Shannon said. "But lately I realized that maybe this wasn't something I really wanted after all."
"How come?" Erick asked.

"Brad is graduating in a few months and joining his father's insurance firm and we're going to buy a house along the river and live our perfect lives."

"Something wrong with that?" Erick wondered.

"He says I don't have to work," Shannon reported, almost with disbelief. "He'll be making plenty of money and I can stay home. Well, what in the hell did I get my degree for then?"

"Tell him you want to work," Erick advised.

"Don't you see just how miserable we're going to make each other?" Shannon groaned. "He has this image of me that just isn't me and I'm going to resent him for the rest of the marriage if I get cast into the domesticated role he sees me filling. Bridge games and the country club and shopping with his mother and sisters, vacations in exotic places."

"You want to teach," Erick said, remembering their many conversations from high school.

"Or write," Shannon said.

"You can write at home."

"I doubt he'd let me," she sighed. "It's become clear to me that I'm making a mistake marrying Brad. I don't think Brad wants me to be my own person. He sees me being his wife."

"Barefoot and pregnant?" Erick guessed, remembering Lattea's chauvinistic attitudes in high school.

"I was stupid and selfish getting engaged," Shannon realized. "Brad just figured it was the next logical step in the grand plan."

"But now you don't?"

She closed her eyes and sighed. "I've hoped very hard for it to go away."

"So you went away," Erick said.

"I know its over and I really feel guilt and shame about it," she sighed, her eyes tearing up.

"You're going to be okay," Erick promised. "You've showed a lot of courage and insight to do the right thing sooner instead of later."

It wasn't courage," she insisted. "I never should have got engaged in the first place. I was stupid to say yes."

"I bet he'll be in engaged to someone else within a year," Erick predicted.

"Why do you say that?" Shannon asked with surprise.

"Lattea's all about image and status," Erick theorized. "He wants the glory and the trophy and if you're not willing to play the part he'll find somebody who does."

"So, you're saying he doesn't need me," Shannon sighed.

"I guess," Erick agreed.

She sat back in her chair and stared at him. "Do you need me, Erick?"

"You don't want me," he replied. "I'm not in your league."

She lifted her eyebrows. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"A Yale grad going for her Masters hanging out with a broken down ex-jock destined for an entry job in waste management?"

"Oh, so you think I'm all about status and image too?" She challenged with annoyance.

"We're friends, Ham," Erick reminded her.

"Do you need me as your friend?"

"I've missed you," he admitted.

"But you don't want me here?"

"I'm sort of embarrassed," he told her. "This is not where I saw myself being right now."

"Because you can't play ball?"

"Have you ever had a dream end?" He wanted to know. "Before you were ready for it to be over?"

"I don't know," she admitted.

"I thought I'd always have baseball," he sighed. "Play four years here and even if there was nothing after that, I'd go back to Hillsboro and become a lifer in the Serguci League, maybe get a job at one of the schools in physical education or something."

"You can still do that," she said. "The teaching part."

"I'm damaged goods," he sighed. "I'm just a spectator on the sidelines for the rest of my life."

"Maybe you're just feeling sorry for yourself," Shannon countered.

He burrowed his eyebrows angrily. "Yeah, that must be it," he said sarcastically.

"What changed with you, Erick?"

He got out of his chair and limped across the room to the sofa. "I'm still the same guy," he insisted defensively as he sat on the sofa heavily.

Shannon rolled her eyes, gathered the dishes and put them in the sink. "Wanna pop some pills?" She asked mockingly, holding the A and W mug up for him to see.

"Those were for my injury," he said defensively.

"Right," she replied. "So, can I flush them down the toilet now?"
"I still have pain," he argued.

"I bet you do," she said sadly, putting the mug back on the shelf. "Who doesn't hurt?"

"Are you here to avoid Lattea or nag me?" He snapped.

"Schwartz said you're in trouble," Shannon replied, glancing over her shoulder at him as she washed the dishes.

"Is that why you came?" He sounded horrified.

"I really am taking a time out from Brad," she said. "But I was worried about you too."

"Schwartz doesn't know what he's talking about," Erick grumbled.

"Are you telling me you're okay?" She asked, lifting up the root beer mug one more time."

"Look, my mother couldn't even afford to send me to Blue County Community College, Ham," Erick reminded her.

"I know."

"I didn't grow up on the richy hill with well off parents like you and Lattea," he said bitterly.

"That never bothered you before," she said, sounding hurt.

"Maybe it does now," he grumbled.

"Because of what happened to you?" She asked. "Because you lost your scholarship?"

"I would have loved to have played for the Yale baseball team, you know," he said, his voice full of resentment. "But I wasn't smart or good enough so the best I could do was some unknown rinky dink Division III college out in the middle of nowhere."

"I think it's nice here," Shannon said as she finished the dishes.

"I was grateful for the free education and a chance to play some competitive ball," Erick said. "Then the well dried up and I could either go home without a degree or I could stay here where its costing me more than my mother will make in a couple of years. So I bust my hump, fall further into debt, and survive the best I can until I have that damn degree in my hand so I can go back to Hillsboro with something besides a shattered ankle."

"You want to know what fascinated me the most about you all these years?" Shannon asked as she stepped into the room from the kitchenette. "You didn't care about my parents' money or where I lived or what kind of clothes I wore or the make of car I drove. You liked me because of me. You weren't embarrassed that you and your mom lived in a trailer park. You were proud of yourself and your ability to play sports well. You were one of the most cheerful guys at school, always quick with a hello and a wave, the first to help someone out. You never bragged about how good you were in sports. You were a down to earth, humble, mellow, good guy."

"I'm not now?" He frowned.

"You don't look very happy to me," she said.

"Sorry I don't measure up to your expectations," He barked, pulling himself off of the couch.

"Where you going?" Shannon asked as he picked up his book bag and headed for the door.

"Out," he seethed, slamming the door behind him.

### ### ###

Erick knew he overreacted. But the frustration, hurt and loneliness had been building up inside of him for a year and a half and Shannon was the first person who was able to burrow underneath his defense and his denial and hit him in the soft spot. She knew him at his best and now she was seeing him at his worst.

He went to the library and did his school work there, bumping into Brubaker from the team and scoring a few pills off of him so he wouldn't have to try to sneak a couple back at the apartment.

It was nearly midnight when Erick limped his way into the dark apartment, used the bathroom and climbed under the sheet of the sleeper sofa. The apartment and bed were both too small after fighting with Shannon but at least she was asleep although it was hard not to be right up against her in the sofa bed.

"You okay?" She whispered in the dark.

Actually, he was feeling pretty mellow from the pills. "Sorry I'm an asshole," he sighed.

"You're not an asshole," she said, turning on her side and squinting at him in the dark.

"Yeah?" He asked staring at her.

"Yeah."

"I guess," he said.

"How'd you end up in this dump?" She asked after a few moments pause.

"Couldn't afford the dorm," he replied. "One of the guys told me about this place after somebody flunked out."

"Do you bring girls here?"

"Are you kidding?" He groaned. "Fastest way to ruin a date!"

"But here I am," she said.

"You're not a date," he remarked.

"No, I guess not." There was a sadness to her voice that confused him.

"Remember when we used to pretend that we were married playing in the giant outside doll house of yours?"

"Yes," she said warmly.

"How'd I become so miserable?" He sighed.

"I don't know but I'm glad I had an excuse to come see you."

"Schwartz was probably right," Erick admitted.

"You're in trouble?"

"I guess with myself."

"I feel comfortable with you, Erick," Shannon let him know. "I always have."

"I know you care," he said. "I'm glad you came. I'm just sorry you have to see me like this."

"Shh," she said, reaching out and putting her hand on his chest.

Shannon gave him a quick kiss and then she rested her head on his chest over her hand. "I've really missed you," Shannon said.

"I've missed you too," he told her, closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep feeling peace for the first time in months (if not years).

It had been a long time since Erick had a woman sharing his bed for more than one night and he liked the comfort and intimacy of having Shannon next to him even if they weren't having sex.

### ### ###

They fell into a relaxed and easy routine during the next few weeks. Shannon started writing her 'great American novel' when Erick was working or in class. She kept the studio apartment neat and clean. She helped Erick with his studies at night, her being the intelligent 'Yale-ee' heading for a master's program.

Although Erick could no longer work out by running, Shannon convinced him to swim instead and he used a few of his remaining connections with the athletic department to get access to the pool at his convenience and Shannon often swam with him, usually late at night. Erick quickly dropped ten pounds and started feeling better physically. Shannon was also cooking healthy meals that helped his weight too.

Erick still occasionally snuck a pill from the root beer mug when Shannon was in the bathroom but the frequency became less and he didn't feel the need to be artificially mellowed as much anymore with Shannon present to whip him into shape and keep him company.

Shannon was the one with the credit cards and expense account (from her parents) and she was the one filling the refrigerator and cupboards with food. Erick felt guilty and cheap but she insisted it was okay and occasionally she'd allow him to take her out for pizza or dinner on him, even though he really should have been saving the money to pay off his debts.

They got along well as roommates in the tiny apartment with the bathroom the only place to escape for privacy or alone time. Sometimes Shannon went to sleep with Erick still working on his school assignments; other times Erick retreated to bed alone if Shannon was on a roll with whatever she was writing. There were no expectations between them – they were just stashing out together far from Hillsboro, Yale, or any other distractions.

Of course, sometimes Shannon was the distraction! As she became more comfortable and at home she was more likely to walk around the little studio apartment in various stages of undress, coming out of the bathroom in nothing but a towel, going to sleep in her panties and bra on occasion, dressing behind the counter of the kitchenette or the opened door of the refrigerator which raised the illusion of sexiness to a whole new level.

There was no vent fan in the bathroom so sometimes Shannon would shower with the door open and Erick was beginning to have a hard time trying to figure out where the boundaries were. One time he was in the shower when she came into the bathroom to take a pee and it was all he could do not to pull the curtain back and drag her into the shower with him!

Shannon rarely mentioned Brad and Erick certainly wasn't going to bring him up either but he knew that eventually Shannon would return to Hillsboro and that Brad would be waiting there for an explanation or confrontation.

Sometimes Erick wasn't sure if Shannon was flirting with him or just being friendly and at ease. She'd kiss him goodbye in the morning if she was awake and sometimes at night she would give him a kiss on the lips goodnight too.

Late one night, Erick awoke to find Shannon asleep in the little sofa bed with her head on his stomach. He often stared at her at moments like this, admiring her and longing for her when she wasn't aware that his eyes were on her or about the thoughts running through his head. Sometimes she would move around in her sleep and her arm would end up draped over his chest or her leg over his thigh, or with her hips spooning him. One time he awoke in the dark to find Shannon pressed against him, her crotch rubbing against his thigh. He couldn't help but feel himself getting hard and he had to roll over so she wouldn't feel him against her.

Erick usually arose first for his early shift at the dining facility and it also allowed him to escape to the bathroom to deflate his piss hard on although he was beginning to realize that it was something else that caused him morning stiffness. It had been months since Erick last had sex – some drunken fling with a baseball groupie – and now with Shannon sleeping next to him every night without that sort of intimacy Erick found himself going crazy. He knew he shouldn't think of his friend in that way but he couldn't help himself. She had always been the only one for him anyway.

Erick came home late one evening, having grabbed an extra shift at the dining facility that included cleaning up after the kitchen closed. The door to the bathroom was open and he could hear the shower running but he really had to take a leak and wasn't sure he could hold it until Shannon was done.

"Knock, knock," he said, sticking his head into the bathroom to see the naked outline of Shannon behind the new shower curtain she had bought to replace the grossly molded old one. This one was clearer with little flowery patches on it that strategically masked the nakedness behind in.

"Erick?" Shannon called out.

"I need to take a leak," he said.

"Go ahead," she gigged.

He stood at the commode doing his duty trying not to peak at the revealing shower curtain. Shannon was obviously washing her hair, her back to the shower and when the breeze caused by his entrance made the shower curtain move toward her he could see more than the outline of her bare ass against it.

He left the bathroom without flushing knowing the cold water would fade in the shower and he didn't want Shannon to be burned by the resulting hot water. He took a seat on the sofa and tried not to think of those buns betrayed by the moving curtain.

"Did you eat?" Shannon asked when she came out of the bathroom a few minutes later, dressed in her pink robe. "There's chili-mac in the crock."

"Sounds good," he said, walking to the small table she had found for ten bucks at a tag sale to replace the rackety old card table. She also found a double desk at another yard sale that they both used sitting side by side next to each other at night although the small studio was even fuller now with the added furniture.

Shannon served him a plate of the food. Sometimes it felt odd having a Yale graduate who was about to start her masters program cooking, cleaning and serving for him but she insisted she didn't mind.

"See, the difference between you and Brad is that he expects it and you appreciate it," Shannon once told him.

They told each other about their day as Erick ate the chili-mac and when he was done he took his plate to the sink and washed it himself, trying to do his fare share around the place.

There was no television or DVD so the two computers were their only real entertainment. Shannon insisted they get Wi-fi for internet service, partly for her writing research but also to have other options.

Time was starting to fly by now and Erick was preparing for graduation. Originally, he was going to have his diploma mailed to him and not participate in the ceremony but Shannon convinced him that he had the right to graduate with his peers, especially the baseball guys. It would also be nice to have his mother come out for the ceremony too.

"She's going to be so proud of you," Shannon gushed.

Erick was relieved and happy that graduating from college no longer felt like a burden and an obligation and instead now felt like an honor and a positive achievement. He was actually finishing his college career with a flourish thanks to Shannon's motivating support and help with some of his papers and other requirements. It was Shannon, of course, who was responsible for turning his attitude around and making him feel good about himself, even without baseball in his life.

Erick woke up one morning to find Shannon already awake, her head propped up on her elbow as she stared down at him.

"What?" Erick asked with surprise, feeling weird to be looked at that way.

Shannon smiled and gave him a peck on the lips. "Morning."

"Morning," he replied nervously, looking at her. "You okay?"

"Yep," she said happily.

He started to roll out of bed to start the day but she grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him back. "Don't go."

"Huh?"

"Stay for a while."

"I gotta go to work," he told her.

"You can be late once," she said, giving him a quick kiss on the lips. "You'll be quitting in a few weeks anyway."

Erick fell back on his back on the pull out sofa mattress and eyed her, not sure what she wanted from him.

"Do you think I've proven myself to you?" Shannon wanted to know as she sat up in the bed and stared down at him.

"Proven yourself?" He frowned.

"That I'm not all about image and status," she explained. "That I can be perfectly happy living in a one room studio apartment with one luggage bag of clothing?"

"Is that what this has been about?" Erick asked.

"Among other things," Shannon admitted. "I wanted you to know that I don't care about the big house on the hill or my parents' W-2's or my fancy car sitting in my driveway back home."

"You're still going back there, Ham," he reminded her.

"So aren't you," she said.

"To my mother's trailer," he pointed out.

"I'll go there with you too if you want," she offered hopefully.

"You want to live with your friend in a trailer?" He asked with confusion.

"I'm not sure if we're just friends anymore, Erick," she noted with a funny look on her face.

Shannon reached up and pulled her sports bra off over her head, letting him see her breasts for the first time.

"You really want me?" Erick asked with disbelief.

"Go to work and think about it," she whispered, leaning over and kissing him before she climbed out of the bed, pulled off her panties and walked naked to the bathroom.

Erick watched her walk into the bathroom before he slipped out of bed, went to the kitchen, took the root beer mug full of pills, walked into the bathroom, flushed them down the toilet, and then joined Shannon in the shower.

"You're my favorite stash," he told her before planting a kiss on her wonderful mouth under the hot running water.