And really. I glanced at the back end of the hallway. Keith didn’t believe in using an air conditioner for the indoor gym, said all the windows were enough for the ventilation, but maybe we needed to add more windows.
My voice came out strained. “You knew I was there those times?”
“One of the guys heard you freaking out the first night they got here, told me about it last night after he saw us talking by the courts. Figured I needed a warning.”
I could’ve been a puddle by now.
A slight chuckle from him. “I don’t give a shit about that. You about to start creeping outside my cabin window?”
Yes. Maybe. I mean, no.
“What cabin are you in?”
The corner of his mouth tugged upwards. “Yeah, right. I’m half-tempted to tell you. I want you back to how you were.”
“How I was what?”
“Being weird.” He raked me up and down. “You’re being normal. I don’t like it.”
I frowned a little. “You’re very vocal and demanding.”
“I know what I want.”
And apparently, he wanted me weird. Well, I could so out-weird him.
I mean—where’d that come from?
Now my eyebrows went up. “I don’t get a lot of requests to go back to being crazy.”
He grinned, but then shrugged and readjusted his leaning stance against the wall. His hands went into his pockets. “I don’t know. Just doesn’t feel right.” Then that grin came back. It was teasing now. “Or maybe I thought I was getting my own ball girl for a second, and before you run with that one, I mean as in someone to retrieve my balls for me so I don’t have to stop shooting hoops.”
I almost cooed at him, all the embarrassment shifting to more comfortable terrain here. “That’s cute. You want an errand girl.”
“Yeah. Maybe.” His eyes darkened.
“No, seriously. Think of it this way,” I told him. “Now you don’t have to be scared you’ll find me in your bed one night with a knife and hot wax.”
Someone walked past the hallway, then backtracked.
“Reese.” It was Aiden. He was frowning at us. “Coach wants you back.”
Reese nodded to him, and after a questioning look at me, Aiden returned to the courts.
I started to go back, but Reese caught my elbow.
I stiffened, my insides shrieking. Code Red, people! He was touching me!
Reese was saying over my internal tornado alarms, “Just tell me. Does it have to do with a guy?”
And just like that, the tornado alarms switched off. A whole different form of storm was tearing me up inside, one that was way too fucking real for this conversation.
I gentled my tone, but I needed to let him know I meant business. “Look.” Fuck. I sighed, biting my lip. “Yes. It’s part of the tragically stupid thing from before, but I don’t even talk to my friends about it.”
Technically, I didn’t talk to anyone about it. The therapist had been a little over six months ago.
His hand was still on my elbow. He was leaning closer.
I gave him a little bit more. “It’s taken a full year for me to get where I am now, so…”
He nodded, new understanding dawning in his eyes. He held his hands up, and I tried to ignore how I protested the loss of his touch.
He straightened away from me. “Back off?”
I felt it. I saw that he felt it too, and I didn’t think it was my delusional side imagining it. I nodded. “Back off.”
“No need to say anything more.”
He meant it, bypassing me.
He was almost to the courts when I followed him back into the gym. Someone tossed him the ball, and he was dribbling for his team within seconds, calling out the play as he went.
I stopped in my tracks, though.
That look. His touch. The slight concern that I was just now realizing I had heard when he questioned me in the hallway. I didn’t know how it happened, when it happened, but there was something there.
His shirt was flapping in the wind, showcasing a good amount of skin and a tattoo running vertically under his arm, and my heart just did a backflip.
All those flutters exploded in my stomach.
My head spun. I wasn’t quite sure what had happened, but I think, just maybe, someone had understood me without me saying a word about it? Maybe? I was in trouble, very real and serious trouble.
Over the rest of the week, I fell into a routine.
One could’ve argued that everyone had a routine, but mine was up at five to open the courts. The kitchen was next for coffee, then breakfast prep with Owen and Hadley. I’d start dishes when they began piling up, and do them throughout the meal. Most of the team still left everything at the tables, but after Reese started bringing his tray to the dish window, others followed suit.
I thanked each and every one in a polite, appropriately cheerful voice and a smile in my eyes—no extra weirdness or flaking out on my part. I was quite proud of myself.
After breakfast, I’d head back to the courts and man the equipment closet.
Aiden came up a few times with things he needed for the team, and I’d do whatever he asked. I was usually desperate to leave that equipment cage. A girl could only smell hot and sweaty ball players, hear the sound of basketballs bouncing and feet running up and down the court, and stare at nothing for so long before she’s ready to combust.
The inner fan wanted to break out still. I was struggling at being completely rational. Still.
The other part of me would break out in heat whenever Reese came over and not because he was the celebrity superstar to me anymore, because he was a man. All man.
A few of the players had learned my name. I was no longer Direction Girl or Staff Member, but Reese kept to his nods. He was polite.
A polite thank you here. A polite you’re welcome there.
At times when I felt my inner craziness etch out of control, Damian would come to mind. And with the thought of him, the impending doom soon settled in, helping me bottom out all over again.
I felt like the underside of my stomach had a trap door, and the thought of him opened it. All my contents dropped to my feet, and the door would close, leaving me with nothing but a mess to clean up.
I’d operate that way until something caused a spark—usually Reese looking at me—and then I’d start feeling a little buzz inside again.
After the first time when I realized I could use the Damian trick to calm myself, he had started sneaking into my head more and more. And I could handle that, sort of, but then the nightmares started.
I’d tossed and turned, and then the last few nights I’d jerked awake screaming.
That gave me a fright all on its own.
My time off was nonexistent, but that was okay with me.
The busier I was, the better, but I was tired because of it.
Still somehow that method had gotten me all the way to here: my first time off because the team had gone to another preseason game. Keith kept us busy the first time they were gone, with random projects around the island. This time, we got a full twenty-four hours off, and I was walking back to my cabin, unsure what I wanted to do.
I’d done nothing with the book I was going to write. That only brought more Damian gloom.
Oh, thank God. A distraction.
It was Grant.
Be gone, stupid queasy stomach. I don’t need to feel you. Please have work for me to do, Grant. I’ll do almost anything at this point.
Almost. Let’s not get crazy now.
He was walking toward me from the back of the main building. He slid his hands in his pockets and jerked his head back over his shoulder. “Owen and Hadley are heading into town, dinner and drinks. Want to come?”
He said dinner. I only heard drinks. “I’m down. Can we add the last D word?”
Grant laughed. “You know how those two are. Any excuse for some dancing. We can go to The Barn. They’re actually playing a DJ these days.”
I was impressed. The airport was small, but Fairview had a surprising number of bars and a couple nightclubs even. The Barn was in one of the smaller towns outside of Fairview. We were going even smaller.
I loved it.
Grant nodded. “It’s Thursday, so there might be college students there.”
“Just call me Mrs. Robinson.”
Instead of the grin I expected, he grew more serious. He was quiet a beat. “You okay, Charlie?”
“As okay as I can be in Candyland.” I shot him a grin, trying to up the ante here. “You know how I am with the Seattle Thunder.”
He didn’t fall for it again. I was losing my touch.
“I’m serious. I know you, remember?”
Oh God. We were going into Realityland. Nope. No way. Retreat.
My smile slipped, but I lifted a shoulder. “I’m as good as can be, I guess.”
This was Grant. I had to give him something or he’d never let up. But I knew him too, and he loved gushing about people he loved.
“Is Sophia coming?”
See? There. His fiancée would do the trick.
And she did. His eyes lit up, and he launched into a story about how not only was she coming, but we’d be lucky if her Nana and abuela didn’t show up themselves.