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Lean on Me


When You're not Strong


- Bill Withers

Friday evening I loaded the practice balls and bats into my trunk as my girls slowly dwindled down to one.

“Coach Nessie, my mom isn’t answering her phone.”

“Okay, love, give me one second and I’ll try giving her a call, okay?”

I made my way to the driver’s side to grab my phone from the center console. I scrolled through my contacts before finding Lara’s mom’s number. She didn’t answer.

Voicemail? I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do in this situation.

Lara and I sat on the curb for a while waiting for her parents. I’d have taken her home myself but it’s against policy so here I am later than I ever anticipated.

About half an hour after practice had ended, I was finally in my car headed home.

I pulled up to my street to find a black vintage Mustang sitting outside my house… I’d kill for that car.

As I got closer to my home I noticed the driver wearing raybans and perfect curls. Is that?

He looked over at me with a look that clearly said ‘you’re late.’

I pulled into my driveway before hopping out of my car. Nick began walking up my driveway with his raybans still firmly over his eyes.

“Nick?”

“You’re late.”

“I had a kid who-”

I could have sworn I saw him scan my outfit. But then again, I could be delusional.

“Where’s your gear?”

“My softball stuff?”

Nick looked at me deadeyed… I think… he’s still wearing the shades.

“It’s in the trunk?”

He walked toward the trunk of my car. “Open up, we’re late.”

“Late for what?” I asked, confused.

“The game you signed up for?”

He smirked like I was suddenly chickening out.

“No one told me when the game would be.”

Nick sighed, “of course, that’s why you don’t leave things up to Joe.”

I didn’t think Nick would be so easily agitated.

He pulled his shades off before tucking them into his shirt. “Can you please open the trunk?”

“Right, sorry.”

I pressed the button on my key fob as the trunk popped open.

Nick looked in to see my practice ball bucket had knocked over in transit and now my trunk looked like an unfinished game of “Hungry, Hungry Hippo.”

“What should I grab?” he asked.

“I can get it, I just need my bat and my glove,” I reached into my monogrammed bag for my tools.

I turned around and for a split second I could have sworn I saw Nick watching me. Then again, I could be imagining things, right? I mean really?

I closed my trunk and followed behind Nick back down the driveway to his vehicle parked outside.

He opened the trunk. “Just drop your items in there.”

I did as he instructed and made my way to the driver’s side to wait for him to unlock the car.

Nick walked over toward me and stared at me for a moment before he spoke up. “I need you to take a step back.”

I did as he asked and he unlocked the door before opening it himself.

“Oh, thank you,” I mumbled.

Nick made sure I was all the way in before closing and walking over to the driver’s side.

He started the car and handed me the aux cord. I held it for a minute when he started driving.

“Play something.”

“Right… sorry.”

I’m honestly a little terrified to share my music preferences with a musician but I might be more terrified of sitting in silence with one.

What should I play? ‘When in doubt run it out,’ my coach reminded me. Would that apply in this situation?

As soon as the first song came on Nick looked over at my phone to see the name of the playlist.

“I Just Felt Like Runnin’?”

“Yeah, like Forrest Gump?”

Nick’s lip twitched up in the slightest… I think.

Should have known, that joke never lands.

“I thought you said you didn’t like running?”

He remembered that?

“It’s a love hate relationship. In that, I hate it but it does the body good so I have to suck it up… or so I’m told.”

Nick looked over at my legs almost as if deciding whether or not that was true. Are my legs toned enough? Are they too big? Are my calves too skinny?

Stop thinking about your legs, you’re being weird!

The Arctic Monkeys began pouring through the speakers and was reminded that I had heard this playlist today… when I was running, during track practice… and I haven’t showered since.

I tried to sniff myself subtly to see if I smelled as bad as I imagined. Could Nick smell me? I rolled down the window and leaned against the door to try to get as far away from him as possible. The further I am, the less he can smell me.

“Is everything okay?”

I looked over at Nick surprised by his question.

“I think so?”

Nick kept his eyes on the road highly focused on whatever was going on in his brain.

“What do you like about the Arctic Monkeys?”

Are they a bad band? Do I have bad taste?
Nick looked over at me for an instant and gave me a reassuring glance, “I personally think Alex Turner is a lyrical genius.”

“Oh, yeah… um, I just like running to the beat. Keeps me going… makes me feel tough.”

Nick smiled a closed smile, “really, tough, huh?”

I’m confused, “you don’t think I’m tough?”

My brows pressed together in concern that I might be coming across as wimpy.

“Can’t say I’ve seen tough from you, yet.”

“I’m very tough,” I tried to assure him in a voice a few keys higher than necessary.

“Prove it,” he dared me with a smirk.

“I’m so tough, one time I got a papercut and I didn’t even cry!”

Nick let out a small chuckle and I blushed. He thinks I’m funny!

“I stand corrected,” he agreed looking over at me.

I couldn’t help but smile back.


As soon as the game started nice Nick vanished into thin air and was replaced with a middle-aged coach with a heart condition and an anger issue.

“That’s bullshit! That was safe and you know it!” He yelled out as one of his players was sent back to the box without scoring.

As we headed in from the field to the box Joe caught up to me and placed an arm around my shoulder. I walked slightly to the right and out of his grasp as his arm slipped right off.

“Hey, I know Nick can be a little-”
“Grumpy?”

“I was going to say ‘dick,’ but… that just brings me back to my point, would it be possible to compensate you for your discretion?”

Compensate? Wait, is he offering to pay me?

“Oh, no.”

Joe’s eyes widened in fear.

“No, I mean. It’s not necessary. I won’t tell.” I promised.

“It’s just we’re still contracted with-”

“You don’t have to explain, I won't tell.”

“Thanks, Nessa.”

He smiled before patting my shoulder. Why does he keep touching me?

“Hey, shortstop!” A female voice shouted behind me.

I turned around to see one of the members from our team rushing toward me.

“Hey sorry, about that I don’t know your name.”
“Vanessa,” I responded quietly, not sure if I was in trouble for something.

“I’m Rochelle, nice to meet you,” she smiled.

So I’m not in trouble.

“Anyway, I just wanted to let you know you’re killing it out there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a redder shade of Nick,” she laughed.

“Is he always that angry?”

“He’s a totally cool guy… except in sports… then he’s…”

“A middle-aged man with anger issues?”

“Exactly!” She laughed. “Also just thought you should know that I’m out in right field and the view is quite grand.”

I looked around confused. Was I too focused on the game to realize what was going on around me?

“Where?”

“Behind you, obviously!”

My eyes widened in shock. “What?”

“Oh, come on, I can’t be the first person to tell you this! That ass has got some real class.”

I shook my head, “you kind of are, most girls just kind of smack me,” I admitted.

“I’ll keep that in mind for next time.”

Nick was an ultra focused short stop when his team was up for defense. He was not afraid to roll around. His pants were a completely different color by the end of the game.


The last play came down to Kevin at bat with me on second one strike, one out, tied game. I could see Joe coaching from behind third. He rolled his fists and his body before patting his head with closed fists. I think he’s reminding me to run.

I started to move toward third waiting for the pitcher to release the ball.

“Don’t even try, you’re not going to get it,” Nick called out beside me.

“I don’t know I might go for it anyway.”

Nick rolled his eyes, “if you want to throw the game away, by all means.”

The pitcher heard our conversation and threw it to second. I dove for it, putting the first stain on my white shirt and shoving unnecessary amounts of red dirt into my bra.

“Safe!”

I smiled over at Nick just to tease him. “You don’t mind a little dirt in your car right?”

“Keep it up and you’ll be riding in the trunk.”

I took a step off base and began inching toward third again.

“Imma do it, you know why?” I asked him, my eyes still set on the pitcher.

He wound up to pitch.

“Because I felt like runnin’!” As soon as the ball left his hand, I took off full speed.

“Watch it!” he called out as the ball came straight in between us.

I ducked and lost my balance but I kept running, hoping I’d make it to third before catching a face full of dirt.

“Shit, I’m so sorry Nessa!” I heard Kevin somewhere in the background.

I dove and hoped for the best while Nick rushed back to get the ball.

“Run Kevin!!” I heard a crowd shouting behind me as my three fingers gripped the base.

“Move Nessa, move!!” Joe shouted as he jumped up and down.

I got up and took off as fast as I could aiming for the home plate.

“Out!” I heard from first base.

“Go, Nessa, go!!!”

I ran as fast as I could as I saw the catcher come in to crowd the plate.

I saw the ball I was racing against as it zoomed past me.

I couldn’t let Nick win after all the things I’d just said.

I slid in feet first hoping to knock the pitcher out of the way.

“Safe!” My team cheered from the box as I got up to jump around.

Joe came and lifted me over his shoulder as he jumped around the home plate with me.

I covered my face and prayed it would be over soon.

Eventually Joe put me down and Rochelle rushed over to smack my butt.

“Way to go, Nessa!” She cheered before wrapping me up in a hug that I had no qualms returning.

I turned around to see Nick coming in to home plate to admit his defeat. “Check it out, the last dance!”

I turned my back to him and copied his strut for a few steps.

“What happened to your leg?”

I looked down at my sliding leg to find it covered in dirt and small amounts of blood. Raspberries. I forgot I wasn’t wearing my sliding shorts.

If you don’t know what raspberries are, imagine throwing yourself onto a “Slip n Slide,” but instead of watered down plastic, you do it on a grainy, dirt-filled field. It’s not pretty.

“Ooh, Nessa, that looks rough!”

Rochelle used her water bottle to try and rinse off as much of the dirt as currently possible.

Nick and Rochelle worked on getting me cleaned up while Kevin and Joe dismissed the teams.

My leg trembled slightly as Rochelle kept pouring ice water over raw skin.

“Can you admit that I’m tough now?” I asked Nick who chuckled.

“That’s gotta be painful.”

“I’m all out of water.”

“Thanks, Rochelle. I can clean it up when I get home.”

“I’m gonna head out, I promised my boyfriend we could grab dinner after the game.”

“Thank you, Rochelle.” Nick nodded at her.

“Great game, Nessa. You are the best shortstop I’ve ever seen.”

I looked over at Nick with a smile to gauge his reaction. There wasn’t one. He was more focused on my leg. I guess nice Nick is back.

“Will it need to be cut off?”

Nick looked up with a smirk, “I really didn’t think, you’d sacrifice a leg just to beat me.”

“Hey, whatever it takes, right?”

“I think you might be more competitive than me.”

“Only when I’m losing,” I shrugged.

“Let’s go get you cleaned up.”

I rose to my feet and Nick eyed me carefully. 

“Need a hand?” He held his hand out to me.

“I think I’m good,” I limped slowly beside him.

Until reaching the steps to exit the box. I looked around to see how I might use my surroundings to hop out onto the field.

“I’ll help you, lean on me” Nick insisted before wrapping a hand around me to rest low near my hip bone.

I froze momentarily before Nick’s hand readjusted higher up near my ribcage.

“Thank you,” I whispered quietly.

Joe and Kevin were in the parking lot waiting for us as Nick walked me to his car.

“How do you feel, Nessa?” Kevin asked with concern in his voice.

“I’ll be fine. It’s just a scratch.”

“Pretty big scratch,” Joe noted staring at the raw flesh on my leg.

“Worth it,” I smiled at him.

Joe reached a hand out for a high five which I gladly returned.

“What are you guys going to do right now? Dani is making dinner if you guys want to come,” Kevin offered.

“I’m in for sure. Dani makes the best meatballs.”

“I’m gonna take Vanessa home and get her cleaned up, maybe next time, Kev,” Nick answered.

“I’m sorry. I can just call a ride, it’s no big deal if you want to go.”

“Absolutely not,” Kevin refused. “You guys can come over some other time. You’ve gotta take care of the leg first.”

“Sorry, again.”

“Don’t even apologize, you’re the MVP!” Joe hyped me up.


Nick helped me into his car as carefully as possible to avoid inflicting any further pain.

He rushed over to the other side and hopped in before grabbing a sweater from the back seat.

“Here, this might stop some of the bleeding.”

“I really don’t want to get blood on your clothes.”
“Your bleeding leg takes precedence over my sweater.”

He pushed the sweater toward me again and I didn’t refuse.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

Nick smirked at me. “You’re welcome.”


Nick drove past my freeway exit on the way home.

“Um, Nick?”

“Hm?”

He didn’t take his eyes off the road.

“I think you missed my exit.”

“We’re not going to your house,” he looked over quickly before turning back to the road. “I want to get you cleaned up before sending you home.”

“I really don’t think I need to go to a hospital for this.”

“I’m taking you to my place, I hope that’s okay?”

He looked over at me with raised eyebrows.

“We’re going to your parents house? Dressed like this?” I looked down and immediately regretted rolling around in the dirt for a silly game.

“No, my house.”

“You have a house?”

Nick hid a smile from me.

Is that a stupid question? Do most people have houses at his age? What is his age?

“How old are you?”

“I’ll be twenty, soon.” September 16th I know that much. “How old are you?”

“I just turned 18 a few weeks ago.”

I saw Nick visibly relax.

“Great so this isn’t kidnapping, just plain old abduction.”

I laughed, “I don’t think that’s how it goes.”

We pulled up to a home slightly bigger than my own, or rather my mother’s.

“You live here by yourself?”

Nick stepped out of the car and closed the door behind him without a word.

I took my seat belt off and leaned over to open the door to find it already opening.

“How?”

Nick smirked, “I beat you to it this time.”
I raised an eyebrow in question. “This time?”

“You jumped out much faster than I expected at the park.”

I didn’t even know he was going to open it.

He reached in to help me out of the vehicle again. “Do you want to put your hands around my neck?”

I did so against every instinct of mine screaming, ‘stop!’

“I’m gonna put a hand on your back to help you up, okay?” I felt his hand on the small of my back and tried not to flinch.

He lifted me out of the car easily and I quickly turned away from him to hold on to the frame of the car.

Nick shut the door before turning his attention to me again. “Ready?”

I nodded nervously as he kept his hand as high on my back as possible and I found it infinitely easier not to turn away from his touch.

“You smell nice,” he commented.

I became instantly self conscious knowing I was covered in sweat and dirt and who knows what else.

“Like dirt and… something fruity, or fresh…” Wait was he being serious?

I gave him a shy thank you

Nick helped me into the house and down the hall to the guest bedroom. “There are fresh towels in the bathroom and a bathrobe in the closet.” I limped into the big fresh room. Why is everything so pristinely clean?

“I don’t have any clothes that would fit you, you’re really small. But we can wash yours.”

I looked around awkwardly.

“I’ll leave you to it and come back to check on you in a minute.”


After my bath, I stepped out of the bathroom in my bathrobe with my dirty clothes neatly folded in my hands. It seemed like a cardinal sin to leave any sort of mess anywhere. I placed my clothes on top of the dresser and checked my phone to find a text and two missed calls from my mom. I sent her a quick text explaining that I had gone out to a game with friends. I made no mention of the fact that these ‘friends’ were actually the Jonas Brothers doing me a favor for kidnapping me last weekend.

I heard a knock at the door followed by a muffled, “Nessa, may I come in?”

“Yes?”

Nick opened the door slowly, “Can I put your clothes in the wash?”

“I can do that,'' I insisted, grabbing my items from on top of the dresser.

“I’d rather not make you hop around the house,” Nick smiled apologetically.

Nick helped me to the couch in the living room before making his way to the laundry room with my items. I’m essentially naked in the middle of Nick Jonas’ living room. This is definitely not where I expected to end up.

Nick returned after some time with a first aid kit in his hand. “Can I clean your leg up for you?”

But I’m naked… “um, that’s not necessary.”

“I’d really rather avoid infection.”

But I’m naked. I looked up at him not knowing what else to say. He sat beside me with at least a foot and a half of distance between us. “You can stop me if it gets too painful,” he offered.

I nodded nervously, biting my lip.

“Do you want to lay down?”

My heart was racing as I layed on my side. “Can I move this, or do you want to?”

My shaking hand moved part of the bathrobe aside so that Nick would have better access to the scratches on my leg.

Nick soaked a cotton pad in alcohol before pressing it against the scratch on the lowest part of my skin. I flinched slightly.

“Hurts?”

“I’m fine,” I lied.

“Why’d you dye your hair that color?” He asked as he continued to tend to my wound.

“I don’t know…”

“Suits you,” he noted. “What color are your eyes?”

“Brown?”

Nick blew lightly on the freshly cleaned area of skin before moving up my leg slightly.

“Not brown, mine are brown, yours are… different.”

He looked up at me while I tried to hide the fact that I was holding my breath.

“Kind of like honey… gold… it matches perfectly with your hair, though”

“Thank you,” I mumbled.

“Are you hungry?” As soon as he said that my stomach finally remembered it hadn’t been fed in hours and retaliated in a vicious cry.

He chuckled, “what are you in the mood for?”

I shrugged, “Anything.”

“How do you feel about wings?”

“Redbull gives you wings.”

Nick smiled, “so it does. More importantly, however, if I gave you wings, would you eat them?”

I nodded timidly. 

“What kind of wings would you like?”

“Chicken…”

Nick looked up at me while he blew on my leg again. 

“Boneless, bone in?”

“Boneless, the other kind slows me down too much,” I joked.

Nick smiled again, “What kind of sauce would you like?”

“Lemon pepper.”

“What’s your favorite subject in school?”

“I haven’t decided, lately it's been based on the cooler teachers.”

“Which one is the coolest?”

“Mr. Roberts.”

“Why is he the coolest.”

“He’s funny, he introduced me to the Arctic Monkeys, he’s really nice… he’s so smart.”

I noticed Nick’s eyes observing me and I blushed.

“Do you have a crush on Mr. Roberts?”
I bit my lip and shrugged.

“Does he know?”

I shook my head, “not a chance.”

“Is he good looking?”

“He’s average.”

Nick nodded taking in the information I provided.

“Have you ever had a boyfriend?”

I nodded, “It didn’t really work out, though.”

“Why is that?”

I furrowed my brows, “he was… kind of controlling. He didn’t really let me have ‘unsupervised friends’ or male friends in general.”

“That sounds awful.”

“I actually lost my best friend because of him… most of my friends, honestly.”

“I’ll be your friend,”

Is he serious? Is this a real offer?

Nick used a q-tip to apply some sort of ointment.

“So what do you do?”

“Stay home? Study, work, training, just stuff, I guess. Between school, Track and work, I don’t have a lot of free time left.”

“So your first day out and you end up tearing up half your leg?”

“Yeah, maybe my ex was right after all, huh?”

Nick put a few pieces of gauze on my leg and sealed it with tape.

“Definitely not, look at that, like new.”

I looked down at the giant white square that covered my leg. “It looks exactly as before. Thank you.”

“Of course. What are friends for?” He pulled the fabric back over my leg as I sat up again.

“You’ll be my friend?”

Nick looked at me confused.

“Why?”

“Because everyone needs somebody to lean on. Besides, sooner or later, when I need somebody to lean on, I’ll put that burden on you,” he joked.

I smiled back at him. Am I really making a friend? I thought he couldn’t stand me.

“So let's order those wings shall we?”

 

Chapter End Notes:

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