Grant filled me in on Sophia’s dancing-loving family as we headed to my cabin. He didn’t stop until we reached a fork in the path. I had to go left for my place, and he had to go right, because I assumed he had work in that part of the camp?
I gestured behind him. “Got a maintenance order or something?”
“What?” He looked. “Oh, yeah. One of the players was saying his toilet wasn’t flushing. I’m excited to see.” His chuckle was dry. “But yeah. Let’s meet at the main lodge in an hour. I’ll be sobercab too, so feel free to let loose.”
Let loose. Did he not know me?
“Sounds like a plan.”
He nodded, his eyes warming. “It’ll be nice to hang out like real friends again.”
I gave him a thumbs-up, but as soon as my back turned, my smile fell.
Friends were a commodity I hadn’t had in so long. There’d been no friends from work. I’d faded away from all my friends during the Damian era, because it was too hard to see their normal lives when mine was slipping away daily. You can only talk about what’s going on for so long. People like to say they’ll be there for you, but there’s a time stamp on that offer. What they really mean is that they’re there for you over the next three days. If it takes longer than that, you’re out of luck. You need to move forward, find new friends to confide in.
No one understood unless they were on the “outside” alongside me, because everyone on the “inside” was busy being normal and living a normal life.
So after it ended with Damian, it’d been just Lucas, and yeah, the rest is history from there. So, no friends for me. And now here I was, back where I had friends around me I’d considered family at one point.
Working was easy. I could do that without talking. Jokes? Cheesy lines? I was the queen of those things. Want a random question? My need had simmered down, but I could pull one out if I needed.
But time outside of work, over food and with booze—that meant talking.
Normally, people love talking about themselves, so it’s easy to distract them. But not these guys. Not Hadley, Owen, or Grant. And they knew my tricks.
Yep. Cold sweat.
I could already feel I was on the verge of a breakdown. Again.
But I was tired. Not sleeping tired, but bone tired—tired of being alone, tired of dodging and evading. As I stepped into my cabin, I felt tears starting to roll down my face.
Maybe I should actually tell them? I ran through the conversation.
I’d see pity on their faces. Hadley would start crying. Owen would roll his shoulder back because he’d be uncomfortable. And Grant, he’d be angry. I could only guess at why he’d be mad, but I knew he would be. That was his go-to emotion for situations like that.
I decided instead that I’d get drunk. Problem solved. I was always a happy drunk too, like a Labrador.
Labrador it was.
I shouldn’t have worried about deep and meaningful conversation.
The Thunder’s preseason game was on television, so we ended up taking our plates to the bar. We ate and watched the game—seemed the loyal thing to do. People were yelling and cheering, and I had a flare up of Crazy Charlie when Reese stole the ball at the end of the third quarter, followed up with a fouled shot that went in, and followed that up by sinking the free throw. And then he stole it again, but instead of running up for the layup—which would’ve been blocked, the guy had three extra inches on Reese—he backed up and laid out the prettiest, most smooth-sailing floater I’d ever seen.
Swish. Only net.
That was going to be played on ESPN for the rest of the night.
The bar broke out in groans, since they were playing our local state team but some had to cheer. It was so damn beautiful.
That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game, and for us.
The Thunder stomped our team, but it was so pretty to watch. Reese dominated the floor. The announcers wondered aloud how the rest of the season would go, if this was an indication of the Thunder trying to make a point. They were one of the best teams for a reason. There was speculation about Reese’s brother as well, about the consequences, and then a mention that the team was using an undisclosed location for their camp.
We all watched. We all heard, and we lifted our drinks for a toast. It wasn’t high—more at chest level—and not a word was spoken, but after that, we were all in for partying. Owen ordered two rounds of shots. Hadley had two martinis, and we were lit.
And after meeting Sophia, then her family, I would’ve married her too.
We went to The Barn for dancing.
Hadley got another martini. I had another shot.
There was twerking. Running man. Sprinkler.
I grocery shopped. I changed a tire. I was a half of a unicorn dance. It was new. We’d just created it that night. I was the ass part, and Sophia’s abuela was the head part. Sophia tried being the hooves, but she just didn’t get it. When she swung her head back, I’d kick up my leg and throw some confetti in the air. Then we’d go back to prancing and pretending to kick people.
It was just what I needed. Tomorrow was going to kick my ass.
Even drunk, I could feel my sides hurting from all the laughing as we drove back.
Grant dropped Owen and Hadley off at their house. Sophia was snoring in the front, but they lived off the island, so it was just me. He drove to the village.
The path to my cabin wasn’t driveable so he parked at the mouth of the trail.
“I’ll walk you.” Grant opened his door as I got out.
“No, no!” I nearly yelled. Looking around, some of the lights were on in the nearby cabins. “Those guys are back already?”
Grant looked around. “Yeah. I mean, Minneapolis is only four hours away. Their game ended around ten, and it’s after three in the morning.”
Oh fuck. That was true.
“I have to be up at five.”
“We have the morning off, remember?” Grant nudged me because I’d started staring at one cabin in particular—the one Reese was staying in. The lights had been on, but they’d just turned off. Reese was in bed. Crawling into bed. Maybe shirtless. Probably shirtless. What guy wore a shirt to bed? He was definitely shirtless. And that tattoo. I remembered it. I’d been secretly salivating over it all week, and I say secretly because I was a reformed stalker.
Maybe not as reformed as I thought.
I hung my head. “I’m so messed up,” I whispered to myself.
I wasn’t talking the usual craziness. Though that was there, and I held it up like a shield, loving it and hugging it close because it kept so much real shit out. I meant Damian. I could feel him. He was sitting on my chest, pushing me down.
I felt tears on my face, which dammit, probably meant I was bawling.
“Charlie?” Grant edged closer.
Sophia’s snore rose to a crescendo, and I realized what I’d just said.
I jerked away. “Sorry. I’m good. I—” I wasn’t, but I wasn’t looking at Grant. I was too embarrassed. “Thanks for the ride, Grant. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“We’re off till lunch.”
I waved. “Okay. Thanks. See you for lunch.”
Grant drove away, and there was a lone light left for the entire village. It cast just enough light for me to make it to my front steps.
That’s when the dark shadow spoke. “You reek.”
“Holy fuck! Shut up.” The dark shadow moved at an unnatural speed, slamming a hand over my mouth.
It pressed in close, but I was still trying to get some air for more screeching. My heart was in my head, trying to burst out of my skull.
“It’s me. Forster. Shut up.”
OH! Oh, God. Oh God, oh God, oh God. Oh God, God, God, God.
Deep breath. I needed to calm, but holy fucking hell. I was having a hard time.
Shoving back from him, I hissed, “You scared the crap out of me.” And on second thought, I felt my butt. I couldn’t tell if my pants felt wet or not.
I couldn’t see a thing, but I swear I could hear his eyes roll. I heard my screen door open, and he rattled the doorknob.
“You got a key?”
I moved forward, bumping into him so I could insert the key. No light meant you had to go with feel, and Keith had given me a crappy key. You had to insert it, then jerk it to the right just as you unlocked it, or the lock would get stuck. I was not going to explain that to Reese right now, when I was drunk, and he must’ve been…
I rounded back to him just as the door gave way. “What are you doing here? Why aren’t you sleeping?” And who had turned that light off in his cabin?
He didn’t say anything, just grunted and stepped inside. “Where’s your light?”
Now that sane thought was fighting its way to the surface, I was having a moment. Reese Forster was in my cabin and asking where the light was. Did I want the light on? Of course I did. I might be deluded, but I wasn’t a wanton hussy, or I was trying to tell myself I wasn’t. Though with him, persuasion would go a long way.
“There’s a string in the middle of the room. You gotta pull it.”
I was not entering that fairway. With both of us standing in the middle of the room, swinging arms around, someone was bound to lose an eye.