The coach pushed the door open, stepping back and giving us space so both of us could pass him by. As I stepped outside, I moved to the side, giving Reese a good side-eye. “We go left.”
His mouth twitched, but he ran a hand over it, hiding his expression. “You sure about that?”
My God. I had to think about it.
As he was looking down at me like that, like we were having our own secret, I almost faltered in my step. He was mesmerizing. “I…yes. I’m right.” I blanched.
Reese started laughing.
I wasn’t ready.
He’d been pissed the first night, confused after that, and guarded yesterday. This Reese was electrifying. I’d seen it earlier in their practice and had been half-swooning, but standing so close to him, having him giving me this attention—a jolt went through my entire body as the sound of his laugh washed over me. It took a moment to regroup.
“Yes. I’m right. It’s left.”
The coach sighed, moving ahead of us. “Just don’t get us lost. We are on a time table here.”
Then we were getting on, and a lot of eyes were focused on us.
One head coach. Four assistant coaches. Two trainers. A few other extra staff and nineteen players were waiting for us. Only half were watching, but it didn’t diminish the effect of being the center of their attention.
Reese started to take one of the open seats in the front, until their head coach grunted. “In the back, Forster.”
He paused, mid-swing into the chair. “What?”
His coach was looking over some papers, jerked his hand toward the back. “Passing along the message. Cartion said you had to go back there.” He looked up, his eyes all business. “I don’t know why.” Then the other coach was sitting behind me, and he focused on me. “You’re the staff?”
Staff. I dipped my head down. “That’s me.”
Reese’s grin was slow. “She needed to ask for directions.”
“Shut up,” I hissed under my breath, then was more mortified as three of the coaches looked over.
Winston Duty’s eyes were narrowing the more he watched us. Then he motioned for an empty seat right behind the driver. “I’m starting to see why Cartion requested your presence in the back.” He said to me, “That’s for you. You’ll be relaying directions to Pete.”
Pete was fifty-three, grandfather to three little ones under the age of five, and he was tickled pink at being the team’s driver. They employed him during the season, and not only was he deemed the team’s greeter, but he was also their storyteller. Unofficially, of course.
By the time we were pulling into Fairview’s tiny airport, where their plane seemed to take up half the tarmac, I learned about the time they traveled last year to Oregon and had a tire go out. I learned about the police officer names that came to assist them, and how Pete himself knew all of the first responders who attended their games in Seattle. Did I want to learn more about Washington itself?
I was turning that last request down, my head buzzing with all the information, names, dates, and little factoids like the fact that Pete’s granddaughter was not actually named after Reese, the actress, but after their very own Reese Forster. Pete had a good laugh about that. It was always a source of confusion when people met his little granddaughter.
He kept talking, swinging the bus over into the parking lot.
A hand touched me from behind. Aiden leaned over, saying under his breath, “You can tune him out. Once he starts, he won’t stop.”
I half-glared at him. “You tell me now?” I motioned outside. “We just got here.”
He chuckled, grabbing his bag as the bus stopped and Pete opened the door. Standing up, he patted me on the arm. “Pete does best when he’s talking to someone, and from what I hear, you needed distracting. Least, that’s what Forster said earlier.”
He said what?
But Aiden was off the bus.
I was going to get off next, but one of the coaches said, “Stay put.”
I stayed put.
I stayed put as all the coaches got off, the other trainer. Their other staff, and as each player trailed past me.
“Heard you almost got us lost.”
I swallowed over a lump. That was Lestroy talking to me. He was teasing as he held his bag over his shoulder and added, “Thanks for not doing that.”
Garth Carzoni was next, winking. “I was rooting for the right, not the left. Glad you were correct.”
Seat, swallow me now.
Matthew Crusty was up. He said to Carzoni as he passed me by, also winking, “I heard she’s dyslexic and has to turn her hands around to get the L right.”
A little gurgling sound came from me.
Juan spoke up, the next one passing me by, “That’s why Reese went after her, making sure we didn’t end up at that casino. Remember that one time?”
Crusky raised his arm, already outside. “Oh yeah. That one time.”
Juan went down the stairs, but flashed me a grin over his shoulder. “Wish us luck, Staff Member.”
Direction Girl to Staff Member. I wasn’t sure if I’d been demoted or not.
Reese was the last one out except for one of their staff in the back of the bus.
He stopped at my seat, a backpack on and his hands resting on the straps. “They’re hazing you, just a little bit.”
Another gurgle escaped my throat.
“You guys don’t get it.” I had to blink a couple times. “This is—a wet dream for me.”
But no randoms came out of me. I just now realized that, and as if reading my mind, Reese said, “Why do you think Pete was talking to you the whole time? I might’ve had a word with him earlier.” Then he was moving past me.
All of them were going up into the plane. I was looking around. “Where is Pete?”
“He’s on the plane. He wanted to get on first because his knee was giving him problems earlier. We’ll have a bus waiting for us at the next airport to the stadium.”
Reese chuckled. “Have a good one, Direction Girl. We’ll be back after we win.” He didn’t wink, but his smirk had enough punch behind it. I lost my train of thought for a second, until I clued back in that he was getting off and crossing the tarmac to get on that plane too.
They all had been, except one.
The last staff guy was holding a bag of garbage, coming back down the center aisle. I asked as he passed me by, “Do I have a ride home?”
He glanced up and shrugged. “I don’t know, but you gotta get off the bus. I have to lock it for Pete.”
I got off. He locked the bus, jogging over to the plane, and I was left standing there, my mouth hanging open. All the while as the plane closed up and took off, long after I saw it disappear into the air.
I’d been ditched, and I wasn’t even sure who had ditched me.
Then the airport office door opened and a woman waved at me. “You Direction Girl?”
I groaned, heading over to her. “Yeah.”
She smiled, laughing. “They told me to wait until the plane was long gone to tell you that I’m your ride back. Give me a minute to close up, then I’ll drive you.”
I didn’t know if I should laugh or curse.
I did both.
Two days later, they’d won their first preseason game and were back practicing.
Both gyms were filled and were in the middle of drills. The sound of bouncing basketballs, whistles, yelling, and the squeaks of shoes against the floor filled the courts.
And the smell of sweat.
I loved it.
I’d never enjoyed playing the sport myself, but my brother was a basketball star for our high school team. He was starting varsity in seventh grade, and growing up as Chance Manning’s little sister had its benefits—but also its cons. One of the benefits, I was treated like royalty at every single basketball game. Another girl, whose brother was on the varsity team with Chance, told me she’d started being one of the team’s managers. That was a loose title they’d given her because she showed up and took stats for their games. She’d asked if I wanted to do it with her, and the answer had been a resounding hell yes. The popular girls down front always had time for Chance’s little sister, and the only better seating was actually with the team. That’s where they put us managers.
So even to this day, a filled and active gym of basketball players made a part of me purr like a kitten.
I’d missed this, and I’d forgotten how much I missed this. Seems as if coming back to camp hadn’t been the only part of my history I was revisiting, and I was okay with that too. I dropped the ball I’d been bouncing idly and whipped my head around.
Reese stood at the counter, sweat wetting his hair, his face, and his shirt. He held a basketball on his hip.
My brain turned off. Reese Forster looked as if he’d stepped out of the shower. He didn’t smell like it, but he looked like it.
My groin was inflamed. The Fourth of July decided to visit, and I groaned, biting my lip. So embarrassing.
“What’d you say?” I asked again, my voice a little raspy.
He nodded toward the screen door. “You and that guy from the other day. You’re good friends.”
It took a second, but Grant. It clicked then. The Tub Day.
I was not going to let my weird brain go nuts with thoughts here. He was asking because he was curious. That’s all. For no reason other than curiosity.