Jared couldn’t talk either. His hand went out as if he were a robot, and he was shaking Colby’s hand, looking at the two hands, to Colby’s face, back again. A gargled sound came from him. “Oh, my fuck. You’re Colby Doubard. I’m Jared.”
“I know. Hi. Nice to meet you.” He nodded to me. “Your sister can cook.” He said to me, “I’d give you a hug, but I think Reeves would rip my arm off.”
A whole burst of flutters kick-started in my chest.
I heard Georgia sighing behind me.
Colby was shaking hands with Apollo and the rest of their family. They took pictures with him. Jake came over and it was almost the same exact response, except Georgia got all flustered, or even more flustered. Her husband leaned down to say in my ear, “She’s had a crush on him since last year.” He was grinning, and that was another testament to their marriage. There was no jealousy, no insecurity. In fact, he was almost as flustered as his wife when Jake came over to shake his hand. Angie had woken up by then and she was blinking, confused as she turned and was face to face with Jake Bilson.
She started crying.
Then I felt a hand sliding around my waist and I was being pulled into a sweaty and smelly chest, but damn, it was a delicious sweaty and smelly chest. Stone bent down, burying his face into my neck. “Fuck. You feel good.”
My heart dipped. It skipped a beat, and those flutters suddenly exploded all over in me.
I pulled back, giving him a glazed-over look. I was trying to smile, but I wasn’t sure if it was coming out the right way. “You were amazing.”
He looked at me, his eyes darkening. He bent down, saying to my ear, “Can’t wait till we get back to the house.” Then he was pulling away, but his hand dropped, grazing just slightly over my ass and I knew it’d been intentional. I stepped back, a private smile on my face, so I looked down.
Jared and Apollo were going crazy over Stone. It was the same as with Colby and Jake. Pictures were taken. They got his autograph on everything they had, their clothes, too.
Georgia sidled up next to me. “He’s delicious.” She was now holding Angie and was patting her back, her head lying over her shoulder. Georgia was taking in Stone. “Wow. You know, we’ve always heard about him back home. I’ve met his parents, but we don’t run in the same social circles, and I didn’t know what to expect. I knew Jared looked up to him, but I was worried. Thought he’d be arrogant, or I don’t know. I heard he wasn’t the nicest person when he went to school there. Now, seeing him, I’m happy I was wrong.” She nodded at me. “I’m happy I was wrong for you, too. I saw how he looked at you. Whatever you two are doing, he’s all in. You know that, right?”
I stepped back.
I didn’t mean to. The response was instinctual, but seeing that Georgia registered it, hurt flashed in her gaze.
Before I could say something, try to rectify that, a hand came around my waist again. I was being pulled back to Stone’s chest.
He kept me anchored to him, my face in his chest, as he continued talking to someone beside me.
I could feel his other arm signaling for someone or something. His hand came to the back of my head and he looked down at me. “Just a bit longer. I’ll have someone show you to a room to wait in.”
I sagged into him, knowing there were probably a hundred images being taken of this moment. Or just one. One was all that was needed. But I couldn’t pull away, not even for the life of me, and there’d been no getting around this moment because this was all for Jared.
Georgia touched my arm, leaning into me. “We’re going to go. This little one really needs to get to bed and we have to be up by four. It’s going to be a short night for us.”
I stepped away from Stone’s shelter to hug her goodbye. Even Apollo hugged me. Angie wound her arms tight around my neck and said, “Your boyfriend is cute.” Then she was back cuddling against her mom.
Jared was last.
His face was a mix of adrenaline, excitement, and now a somberness was edging its way in.
I shook my head and grabbed him for a firm hug. “Nope. Don’t look like that. It’s my turn to come see you. Okay?” I pulled back, my forehead to his again. “Got it? No sadness. Nothing. Text me later.”
He nodded, but he flicked a tear away, then he hugged me back. “Love you, sis.”
I clasped my eyes shut, knowing I would have a cascade of tears falling if I didn’t keep them shut. I groped for his hand, squeezing it as he moved back. “Love you back.”
With a last wave, Georgia herded her family through the crowd. Then the two of us were left, and Stone bent down. “You okay?”
“I will be.”
And I meant it.
It took about another hour before the door opened and Stone walked in. “You ready?”
I’d been curled up on the couch. He’d had me taken to the same waiting room as before. There’d been a few other people waiting in here, as well, but one by one, they left. The last thirty minutes had just been me, and this couch had started calling my name.
“Yeah. Hi.” I gave him a sleepy grin, and however I looked, Stone laughed a little.
He let go of the door, coming inside and moved to where I was still sitting on the couch. He sank down next to me, laying an arm over the back of the couch, and just like that, I wanted to sink back down into him.
A yawn left me, one of those full-body ones, and I was closing my eyes.
“Colby invited us over. I’m assuming you want to head home instead?”
I didn’t have a home anymore.
Suddenly, I was wide awake. “Yeah. I’m ready.”
He frowned. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” I was peachy, even tried to give him a thumbs up.
“I’m starving. I want to swing through some place for food.”
When we left, we walked side by side. Stone was leading me through a maze in the back until we came out into one of their back parking areas. Most of the people were gone, but some still remained. People took note of Stone. Even the people who worked there.
He was special.
That came over everyone when they saw him. It was an invisible sizzle in the air, and it wasn’t that he was famous. There was something extra about him, something from his aura that whispered to people to take notice, pay attention, and remember him because he would be a time in history they’d want to always cherish.
Or maybe it was just me. Maybe I knew to take note of these times because they’d always be a memory for me.
Either way, people stood up taller when they saw him. The smiles came quicker. If people were talking when he went past, the second he said hello, their conversation was dropped so they could return the greeting, as if they’d been paying him attention the whole time.
It was the same when we left, when we stopped at the parking lot attendant, when we got food, and this was one night. One day. One weekend in Stone’s life. I didn’t know how he remained grounded, but he did. He was.
When we went inside his house, he put his food on the counter, his keys next to it. “Want something to drink?”
“No wine or anything?”
I shook my head. I’d gotten sleepy on the drive here. He lived a good forty minutes away, and that was after the rush of traffic, and it was close to midnight by now. He poured a glass for both of us, then went to unwrapping his sandwich. Putting it on a plate, he saw my food was untouched. “You’re not hungry?”
“No.” Another yawn. Good gracious.
“Thought that might’ve been a power nap for you before.”
I eyed him. “I can’t believe you’re not tired.”
He shrugged, placing the second sandwich on his plate. Scooping up his water, he motioned. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?”
But I knew. Grabbing my water, I followed him to the theater room. He grabbed a remote, hitting the button and the screen lit up the room. He sank down on the middle couch. His plate was put on the console by his armchair. His water, too. I sat beside him, but a few feet away, my own water in hand.
I wanted to go to bed.
I wanted to sleep.
But seeing him, seeing the restlessness in him, he needed to wind down. Eating and the TV were going to do that apparently. And if I were being honest with myself, I wanted to spend time with him. He scored all the touchdowns for the Kings that night. He was the MVP. He’d been interviewed by so many members of the press.
I was feeling what all those other people felt.
We weren’t enemies anymore. I wasn’t even sure if we’d been enemies in the first place. There was a dark place in my heart that he contributed to. He knew about my family. He knew what his father did to mine, what I now knew his mother had done to us. But there was one more thing he didn’t know. No one knew, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to give it a voice. Ever. Maybe it was a secret better kept buried.