I covered her hand with mine and squeezed. “You’re not small. No one’s small, and it doesn’t matter who you know. That doesn’t make you not small. I am like you. I just know a few people you don’t, that’s all.”
She looked like she had more to say, but Trent came back to the table then and we went to studying.
My housemates, they were ecstatic.
They went to a couple of Stone’s games. Stone went to a couple of their games with me, Colby and Jake, too. I was learning that the three of them had a friendship dynamic that I didn’t think I’d ever understand. Colby and Jake razzed each other. Stone was quiet, but somehow, the three were always so in tune with each other that it was a little freaky. Stone told me later that that wasn’t normal. Guys on the teams didn’t get close to each other. It was a job. People showed up. Did their job. Went home to their family. A few times, a couple guys might get close, get friendly, but with the threat of being traded to a different team always looming, most didn’t let themselves get super attached.
It was too late for him, Colby, and Jake. They were attached. Cortez came over to Stone’s house a few times, too. He was like an appendage, like an arm to the body of the three.
Noel. Wyatt. Nacho. Dent. The four lost it every time the three or four of them sometimes showed up.
Colby had started mentoring Noel.
Stone sometimes gave Wyatt pointers, but I could tell there was something there. The pro-ballers were a little detached from the college footballers. I didn’t know why, except Jake made one comment that they shouldn’t be partying as much as they were. Colby and Stone didn’t rebuke him. They both just got a nod and that was it. Made me wonder if maybe my housemates weren’t as dedicated as they should be, but Colby mentioned they had one more year before the Combine.
No clue what that meant, but again, the other two just nodded and said nothing else.
We were driving in his truck, and he was right. I kept playing with my hands, moving around in the seat. I was not comfortable, and I’d try to get comfortable and I just kept doing that. It was a whole cycle. Over and over again. Cursing, I stuffed my hand under my leg. I was about to do the same with my other hand, but Stone reached over. He grabbed my hand, laced our fingers, and threw me a smile. “Okay. Let’s not get hasty here.”
I laughed, and it was enough, just enough. No. It was perfect because it calmed some of the nerves.
We were driving to Acquiesce, a more upscale restaurant that bordered on a club. I’d heard about it. Stone mentioned it in passing, that we should go because we’d never been on an official date. I relayed the name of the place to Nicole, and she and Savannah went apeshit, claiming how prestigious the place was. Mia’d been walking through the living room, overheard our convo, and paused to give her two cents. “I’ve been there. It’s cool. They have dancers.” That’d been it. She kept moving, reminding me of the first time I met her and thinking she was a gazelle in human form. Her long legs striding forward, but moving as if she were delicately prancing. It worked for her. Me. I’d look like a goose trying to pretend it was a flamingo. Just couldn’t pull that one off.
But I was nervous because one, it was our first ‘out’ date together. People knew. Blogs knew. Half the male population on campus knew, and not because of me, because of their love for Stone. This was different, though. Felt different, more official, and I was sweating buckets. Hence, the fidgeting.
“What’s in your head?”
I tried to pull my hand from Stone, but he only tightened his grip and squeezed me back.
He was swinging into the parking lot, and it was a circle drive-up thing. There was a line of cars in front of us, and they had valet. Stone was glancing around, making sure he didn’t have anything expensive laying out. Wasn’t supposed to happen with valet, but let’s be real. It happened. I just went right back to fidgeting and smoothed my hand down over my dress.
I was wearing a pink dress that Savannah insisted on. There was a sheer covering up my top, with green beading that made it look like I was wearing a fairytale garden. The bottom was pink tulle and she’d thrown on a long necklace of white beads at the last minute. I’d done away with the blue hair, and my hair was now dyed back to my dusty blonde color. I thought it was appropriate. It was up in half curls and a half braid. According to Mia, the only housemate who’d been to Acquiesce with Wyatt because they had dinner with his parents there, the dress was perfect. I wasn’t sure, or I hadn’t been until now. Stone was wearing a nice button-down shirt and nice jeans. He could’ve stepped off a yacht in Cannes and fit right in, but the couple in front of us got out of a fancy car and I settled even more. The woman had on a gold sparkling dress, top to bottom. Diamonds dripped down her neck, so yeah. I was probably underdressed.
“This place is a different level of fancy.”
It was our turn next, and he pulled up, but when the valet opened his door, Stone didn’t get out. He was watching me. “You don’t want to go here?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“It’s in your voice. I can tell.” He looked around, cursing, and motioned to the guy. “Sorry. Change of plans.”
“What are you doing?” I asked as the valet nodded and stepped back, helping Stone shut the door at the same time, and then we were moving forward, pulling back onto the highway.
“You don’t want to go there. I can tell. I’m sorry. Asked around. Everyone said to take you there, said all chicks would want to go there. I should’ve known. You’re different.” He sighed. “Thank fuck you are.”
I should protest, have him turn back, but he was right.
“Besides.” Stone threw me a wolfish grin. “Pretty sure we’d have our pictures sold to a gossip site.” He reached for my hand, our fingers sliding against each other. “Way you look, we would’ve been put up somewhere.”
The paparazzi buzz had settled, too. Mostly because we never went out. Stone didn’t have the time. If he wasn’t at practice or traveling for away games or at the stadium in meetings, he was watching tapes at home his place. We divided our nights. The nights before my early morning classes, we were at my place. All the other nights, we were at his, so I almost thought home—my home—but it wasn’t. And that was moving too fast. We weren’t there, but as his thumb started rubbing over the top of my hand, I started wondering if we were actually already there.
I definitely felt like I was.
It wasn’t long before I saw where he took us.
We pulled into the parking lot of the Quail.
I shot him a look. “Way to keep a low profile.”
He laughed, parking and getting out of his side. Coming around, he opened my door and helped me down, saying, “Your school knows who you are.”
A fact he’d been a part of since he kept coming to the Quail when I was working. He’d stop in, get food, give me a kiss, and then usually head out. Or he’d come in with either Colby, Jake, or both of them, and they’d sit a while. His presence wasn’t as big of an uproar. There were still a few whispers, some looks, maybe one person asking for an autograph or a selfie, but for the most part, he was right. He’d blended in, and he was also right because as soon as we walked in, a collective laugh came up from the corner booth. My housemates were all sitting there. It seated twelve, so the adjacent booth had the rest.
Nicole slid out and came over, a beer in hand. “What happened to the date?”
Stone’s arm came around my shoulder. “This is it. We’ll do fancy for Valentine’s Day, but till then, this is what my girl wants.”
He was right, and I was grinning, feeling weird about smiling so much, but it was what it was.
“Well.” Nicole’s tone turned into a warning. Her face grew somber real quick. “Then I should prepare you…”
“Is that her?!”
Coming out of the bathroom, behind Mia, was another just-as-beautiful-looking girl. Charcoal black hair. Pert nose. Tiny chin. A dimple on one side. Flashing green eyes. Megan Fox look-a-like. She stepped around Mia, her hair being tossed over her shoulder. She was finishing drying her hands and she came forward, walking as if she owned the Quail, the whole college, and the whole world.
“Hi!” She held her hand out, but her eyes were raking in Stone. “I’m Char. Finally nice to meet you.”
Nicole sighed beside me. “This is Char, Dusty.”
“Dusty. I just love your name. It’s the best ever.” I didn’t shake her hand quick enough. She transferred it to Stone, upping her smile wattage. “Hi! I’m Char.” Her eyes widened and she took a step back. “Holy shit. You’re Stone Reeves. Aren’t you?”
Stone looked at her, her hand, me, and shifted back, placing a hand in the small of my back. That was his cue he wasn’t engaging. This was all me, but he was there to support me.
I eyed Nicole. She was flashing me an apology. She wasn’t saying it, but it was there in her eyes.
A double dose of ‘oh, shit’.