He nodded, flashing me a smile. I started moving toward the bathroom, and when I glanced back, Trent was already angling toward a hot blonde back on the dance floor. Judging by the smile on her face, I knew he wouldn’t miss me any time soon.
Knowing that, I slipped out to the sitting area. A few tables were full, but I grabbed one toward the edge. Though we were outdoors, there were plenty of televisions and games like foosball and air hockey. There were a couple pool tables too, but they were at the other end. They tended to be surrounded by serious players, i.e., douchebags trying to look all tough and manly. Newt had probably been one of them in his younger days.
At the thought of him, I started growling. To myself. Because I was demented now. But he’d stolen my Reese Forster shirt. That pretty face didn’t belong over Newt’s saggy chest and balls. He deserved to be resting over me, keeping me warm—I had to stop myself. I noticed I’d started to caress my drink like it was Reese Forster.
And sitting alone at a table, that wasn’t a good look.
“…...Forster’s brother is going to damage his season? What do you think, Kat?”
I snapped around, hearing the sportscaster’s voice.
A few other guys were standing in front of the TV, one pointing a remote control and upping the volume level.
I went over, standing behind them to hear Kat’s response. “We all have to remember that this scandal isn’t Reese Forster’s scandal. It’s his brother’s. It’s getting coverage because of his relation to Reese, and I hope it doesn’t affect his season this year, but who knows? It very well could.”
On the screen, one of the other men at the desk leaned forward, his suit wrinkling. “You have to feel for the guy. Reese Forster is known to be private. He’s intense on the court. He’s a leader for that team, and now his name is being connected to what his brother—”
“—what his estranged brother—” Kat interrupted.
He motioned toward her, nodding. “Yeah. What his estranged brother has done.”
The first guy that spoke leaned back in his chair, frowning. “I do believe it’s Forster that’s estranged from his family. Not the other way around. That’s the one thing we know about his personal life—an ex let that slip.”
Kat barked out a laugh. “Oops. What an ex-girlfriend, huh?”
The first guy smirked. “Probably why she’s the ex now.”
Kat nodded. “And getting back to the estranged part, it should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? I mean, when you have a brother sexually assaulting women—”
“Allegedly.” The first guy pointed his pen at her, grinning out of the side of his mouth. “We have to use that term, remember?”
The second guy snorted, picking up his papers and organizing them. “Yes. We must use ‘allegedly’ or our own lawyers will be hitting the red light for us.”
All three of them looked up, past the camera, and laughed.
“And there you have it.” Kat leaned forward, the camera zooming in on her. “Our lawyer just spoke. We’ll be right back to talk about where the Seattle Thunder are allegedly going for their preseason training camp.”
The second guy laughed. “We’ll allegedly hear from our sponsors right now.”
They started laughing again as the screen switched to a sports drink commercial. If I drank the purple drink, and if I was wearing an almost see-through bathing suit, climbing out of a pool, then I’d be so sexy that I’d have to bat the boys away.
More like I’d scare the boys away.
I snorted to myself, and the guy with the remote control looked back, along with a couple of his friends.
I’d forgotten I was at a bar, and that I’d had four shots of tequila before coming here. Interest sparked in a couple of them. As their gazes roamed over me, I also remembered I hadn’t cared what I wore. I wasn’t dressed skimpy, but I hadn’t changed since I left Newt’s house, and I’d been dressed for Lucas. He always gave me crap about not being sexy for him, so I’d put on a black, high-collar halter tank top. It was cashmere, and I’d paired it with a silver skirt that had a slit up the side.
“Uh. Hey guys.” I waved, still backing away. “How about Forster’s brother, huh? What do you think his favorite strain of weed is?”
The closest to me leaned forward, leering. “You like basketball?” His breath reeked of cigarettes, chew, and alcohol. I was a fan of only one of those things.
I sagged in relief, hearing Trent shout my name.
I pointed over my shoulder. “Gotta go. Catch you on the rebound.”
I’d taken three steps before I realized how that sounded. My cheesy basketball humor only made me seem desperate. Damage done. I headed toward the tables in time to see Trent going back inside. I waved, and he saw me, his eyebrows rising.
He held his arms out, weaving around to me. “Where’d you disappear to?”
I gave him a knowing look. “Like you weren’t having fun in there with Miss Boobs-a-Lot.”
He lowered his arms, but I caught the stupid grin on his face. And the way his cheeks got the slightest bit of pink in them.
He took the seat across from me at the table and raked his hands through his hair. “Her name is Claudia, and she was actually really nice.”
“Nice, like you want to head home with her tonight nice?”
“Har. Har.” He shot me a look, but I saw the interest in his eyes. He was Boobs-a-Lot smitten. I started to wave my finger in the air, the Trent and Boobs-a-Lot Sitting in a Tree song on the tip of my tongue, when he snatched my finger and shoved it back down on the table.
He glowered. “Don’t start. You’re about to break out in a full rendition with clapping and hand motions, and before we know it, I’ll be taking you to the hospital because you broke your nose trying to breakdance on the floor.”
My nose began smarting just at the mention, and I cringed. “Okay. One, I was a breakdancer at one point in my life.”
“Never. Never. You had two breakdancers in your cabin that summer, but you weren’t a breakdancer. Knowing two lock-and-pop moves doesn’t make you one of them, and those were with your wrists.”
I ignored him. “And two, that softball came out of nowhere. Literally. We didn’t know there was a game being played on the other side of that building. I thought I was in the clear to show you all my skills.” I smoothed out my shoulders, pretending to brush off some dirt.
He rolled his eyes. “Same Charlie. Funny and deluded.”
Okay. Ouch. “Rule number one of hanging out with Charlie: you can’t tell me I’m deluded until I say it first.” I smacked my hand on the table. “Take that, Motivational Marathoner.”
He shook his head. “You did—three times on the walk here. And don’t think I don’t know what you were doing. You were trying to distract me from talking about camp.” He was trying to keep a straight face. Trying…and he was failing. He laughed, shaking his head. “Man, I’ve missed you.”
There went that moment.
Eight years. It was a long fucking time to stay away, and I was sore from all the cringing on the inside. Including right at this moment.
He hadn’t pushed me to talk about him or why I faded from everyone. While I knew I was being a coward, I’d been grateful.
It was time. Long past time, because I was glad that I answered his call and I was glad he’d gone dancing with me tonight. But I was really glad that I just saw him again.
I’d forgotten how much I missed everyone.
I looked down at the table, the words burning in my throat, but I had to say them. Or say something, at least. I wasn’t a total jerk.
“I know I went MIA—”
“Hey.” His voice was gentle, and he laid a hand on mine. “I know enough to realize you were going through something bad. You don’t have to apologize to me or explain anything.”
That made the burning worse.
I tried again. I had to. He was a good friend to try after eight years of me ghosting, and since he’d showed up, it’d been drama overload. I never used to be a shitty friend.
I didn’t think so, anyway. But that might’ve been something else I was deluded about.
“You gotta know it wasn’t just the camp group,” I said. “It was everyone. I ghosted on everyone in my life. My family too.”
The music blared as someone opened the door. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
He waited until the door closed again, until it was just Boom, boom, boom, and then he leaned forward, his forehead almost touching mine across the table.
“I knew you were going through it. We all did, and some of that’s on us too. You know, when you and…”
It was time his name was said.
He hesitated to say his name. Hell, even I did at this point.
He cocked his head to the side. “When you began dating Damian, I’ll admit that some of us didn’t handle it the right way. I know I got pissed—not because you were with someone, but because I couldn’t call you at three in the morning to talk about whatever girl I had in my bathroom and figure out how to get her out of my apartment. At some point, you were no longer our Charlie, but his Charlie.”