His response came instantly. RIGHT BACK AT YOU. WILL DO.
LOVE YA, JUDE.
LOVE YA, LUCE.
I didn’t know how he had time to be texting when the game was set to start in a few minutes, but I’d known from the beginning that Jude did what Jude wanted to.
It felt good to have a smile on my face. A real one. It might not have won any blue ribbons for biggest or best, but it was a genuine one. That smile ran away the moment the usher walked me into a big room lined with windows. The football field seemed like it was a mile below us.
Had I mistaken a nightclub for a football stadium?
Most of the same women I’d been hanging with on and off all summer, and a few new faces, were milling about the room, drinking their champagne or sparkling water, wearing dresses and heels. They had on their fancy jewelry and their evening makeup.
I was sporting my standard-issue game-day gear: black leggings, riding boots, and a jersey with Jude’s name and number on the back. I looked like a country bumpkin in comparison to these Rodeo Drive glamazons.
After the initial glances over, no one noticed me as I walked across the room. Well, they noticed me, but they tried to keep the curled noses and what the hell? faces to themselves.
All I wanted to do was watch a football game, cheer Jude on, and forget about my life for a couple hours. I wanted to fade into the crowd.
Fading wasn’t in the cards when you showed up looking like you were headed to a slumber party when everyone else was heading to a Miss January party at the Playboy Mansion. I grabbed a bottle of water from the end of the table that was lined with food and drinks, and beelined to the end chair in the corner.
I made myself forget about the room and everyone in it and focused on the game. I picked out Jude immediately. It was funny how he finally blended in more with the players. In high school, he’d looked like a hybrid giant on the field. In college, he’d still had a few inches and a good twenty pounds on a lot of the players, but now, out there with the best in the nation, he was about par for the course. I almost stood up and started cheering my head off, but caught myself. No one in here was cheering. No one was even watching. Sure, kickoff hadn’t happened yet, but a survey of the stands proved that people were hooting and hollering, because that was just what you did at a football game—from the time you entered the stadium till the time you left it.
I knew we were supposed to have the nicest seats in the house up here, but I was jealous of even the fans in the nosebleed section. I’d have to talk with Jude and see if he could score me some tickets out in the stands. I missed my front-and-center seat, where I could scream his name and pretend that he heard me. I missed seeing his ass in spandex from up close, and I knew I’d miss our post-touchdown kiss even more.
A minute or so before kickoff, the door burst open and a familiar face waltzed in. “What’s up, bitches?” Sybill said, filling the room with her voice and energy. I was able to release the breath I’d been holding for I didn’t know how long. Greeting a few of the girls as she headed to the food table, she stopped when she saw me.
“What the hell are you doing stuffed in the corner, Lucy?” she said, snatching a cola from the table as she crossed the room toward me. Another smile, a real one, blossomed when I checked out her wardrobe: jeans, sneakers, and a jersey. “These bitches put you in a time-out for your fashion offenses?” She winked as she took a seat next to me. “I mean, come on. What are you thinking, showing up to a football game without your Saturday-night streetwalking finest?”
Was that a laugh I just heard? Coming from me?
Couldn’t be. I hadn’t been in a laughing mood all week.
“Yeah. My bad. I think next time I’ll be banished to the stands with the rest of the fashion-impaired.” That sounded like even a bit of wit. Was the Lucy Larson snarkiness making a comeback?
I wanted to get up and dance.
And then I remembered I had to take it easy. Because I was pregnant. Doctor’s orders.
A smile and the snark had never disappeared so quickly.
I swore I could feel my belly growing whenever I remembered there was something inside there.
“Are you excited?” Sybill asked, nudging me as she cracked open her cola.
“Yeah. Excited, nervous, you name it,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s always us who worry our heads off. The guys are cool as cucumbers out there,” she said. “But don’t worry. I watched Jude’s warm-up, and that boy is primed and ready to get us to one and zero tonight.”
“You got to watch him warm up?”
“The kids and me always show up an hour before the game to watch the players get ready.”
“You brought the kids?” I turned in my seat, looking for a handful of munchkins. “Where are they?”
“God willing, they’re still in their seats listening to my mama,” she said. “But they’re most likely about to jump down on the field and ask their dad to sing them ‘We Are the Champions.’” She took another sip of her soda. “Not that that happened last season . . .”
“Wait”—I grabbed her arm—“you sit down in the stands?”
“Front row, baby,” she said proudly.
“Mostly. But it would be so damn funny to see the look on these broads’ faces if I ever dragged my four little twerps up here, I might just give it a go for fun,” she said, glancing at a few of the girls and shaking her head. “This is all a little too Emerald City for me, you know? I’m more a jeans-and-hot-dog kind of girl.”