Ah. I’d been demoted.
I lie back on the bed. My bladder was not happy with that decision, but who knew the next time a pro basketball player would be on the phone with me? Saying I was supposed to entertain him? My bladder could wait.
“Tell the truth. You’d rather I was your roommate than Juan.”
He laughed. “Yeah. Maybe. He snores. You don’t.”
“Says you. Maybe I wait till you fall asleep and then zonk out, and I always wake up before you.”
“You don’t snore. I’m a light sleeper. I’d know.”
“Yeah, yeah. Maybe I sneak over and put earplugs in your ears.”
“I’d definitely wake up for that.” He waited a beat, dropping his voice low. “For real, though. Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” This was feelings territory. I liked Jokingland. Let’s go back there. “You gonna replace me with a new ball girl? One that’s a real ball girl?”
Another short laugh from him. “Nah. That’s not the term I use for those girls.”
“That or a one-use girl.”
My eyes widened. “A one-use girl? Really? That’s crass.”
I could hear his smirk over the phone. Someone said his name in the background, and he responded, “Yeah. Be right there.” A door closed, and he came back on the phone. “I gotta go. You’re going to watch later?”
“Yep. A whole bunch of us are going to Grant and Sophia’s.”
“That’s the good friend of yours, right?”
He paused another beat. “Tell me straight. You okay or not?”
I had to smile. “Why? You worried about your gnat?”
“Maybe I’m a little concerned for my friend.”
See! We were friends. “I’ve been promoted. Direction Girl, Gnat. Now Friend, but not your ball girl.” And definitely not a one-use girl. Hell to the nah. I had more respect.
Okay, enough with that thinking. We were friends. Platonic, no fucking. But, “Hey, Reese?”
“Yeah?” He sounded distracted.
“Are you going to use a one-use girl tonight?”
There was silence on his end.
I shouldn’t have asked, but I did, so I waited, my chest tight. I sat up, pressing the phone tightly against my ear.
“I was more hoping to call a certain gnat tonight.”
My chest felt lighter. “Really?”
He hung up after saying goodbye, and I sat there a full minute afterward, just holding the phone.
? ? ?
I took my phone out later on when I was waiting for Owen and Hadley to pick me up for dinner.
Me: Why is it llama and not lama?
Me: Have you ever been propositioned by an ex’s grandmother?
Me: Rate your teammates as shades, curtains, drapes, or blinds.
Me: Would you consider yourself a camel, a lama, or an alpaca? Or a goat? Goats are options too. Not sheep.
I was thinking of more when my phone buzzed.
Reese: What the fuck are you smoking?
Me: Boredom and emotional numbness.
Reese: You’re not high?
Me: emoticon sad face, followed by emoticon thumbs-down Reese: You didn’t have to type that out. Could just do the actual emojis.
Me: But what’s the fun there?
Reese: I gotta go. We’re warming up.
Me: During your winning interview, give me an Easter egg.
Reese: I like your cockiness. And what do you want?
Me: Flick your ear, from behind.
Reese: Okay. Ur with good friends tonight, right?
Me: You’re starting to more than care for me. Watch yourself, son.
I sobered, because damn, the knot in my gut started to thaw.
Me: This was supposed to be an entertaining relationship. I entertain you. I am the gnat. You’re not supposed to care about the gnat.
Reese: I do what I want. And I’m being serious. If you’re drinking tonight, you’ll be safe right?
Me: That’s not proper grammar.
Reese: This is texting. I don’t give a shit. Answer me.
I sighed as I heard the sound of tires covering gravel from behind me.
Me: I’ll be fine. Probably be bored even. Gotta go. My Uber just got here.
Hadley rolled her window down. She was on the passenger side, a bright smile on her face. “Hey! Ready for some margaritas?”
My phone buzzed again as I got inside. “Margaritas? I thought you were all about the martinis?”
Owen laughed as we pulled away.
“Not at Grant and Sophia’s. Sophia makes amazing margaritas. You’ll see. You’ll love them too.”
My phone kept going so I pulled it out.
Reese: So a llama isn’t mistaken for a lama, which is also a Tibetan monk. Google.
Reese: I have actually. She pinched my ass and I offered her some Ensure.
Reese: Drapes: Juan. Nothing gets past him when he’s playing defense. Shades: Carzoni because he does his job, but he’s a softy inside. Curtains: Lestroy because he wears his heart on his sleeve so you can see through him at times. Blinds: Crusky because the Cruskinator is hard as nails, though sometimes his humor is sideways.
Reese: I’m THE goat. You figure out why.
I barked out a laugh, but covered my mouth quickly. Jesus. I hadn’t expected him to answer, but he always did.
Hadley twisted around in her seat. “Is that…”
She bit her lip as I put my phone away. The smart-ass answers could come later, when I was buzzed with even more attitude.
“Yeah,” I answered. “It was Reese.”
She glanced to Owen.
Coughing, he rolled his shoulder back. “So, uh…” His voice was strained.
Hadley’s wasn’t. Her eyes were big, and her tone was gushing. “What’s the deal with you two? Are you really not sleeping with him? Because, I mean—”
“What?” She looked back at her husband. “Are we really going to ignore this? She’s texting with Reese Forster! She was freaking out over him herself a week ago.”
I snorted. “I still do.”
“See?” Her grin was smug as she turned back to me. She leaned even closer. “Tell us everything. What’s he really like? Is he nice? Is he a dick? Has he put the moves on you? Because you know, ball players can get laid.”
Owen groaned. “We all know that, but…” He hesitated, looking at me in the rearview mirror.
They were curious. I would’ve been too, if I looked at it from the other side. But I wasn’t on the other side now. And I was protective. Whatever kind of friendship Reese and I had, I needed it. He wasn’t twisting my arm to know about Damian. I didn’t feel obligated to apologize to him for skipping out on years of friendship, or to tear open my insides and show him how I was still devastated, still in pain, still not quite healing.
I didn’t have to explain anything to him, and that’s why I liked him. I mean, other than the obvious: his ball skills.
I sat back and shrugged. I needed to proceed with caution. I loved these two people. I owed them too, because they could’ve declared me dead to them, and they hadn’t. But I couldn’t give them what they wanted.
“He’s cool. He’s funny.”
“Have you two, you know…”
“No, Hadley. There’s been nothing like that. Just friends.”
“But still.” She sighed, moving to sit more forward in her seat, her profile to me. “Can you imagine being friends with someone that famous? I know we get celebrities here sometimes, but we’re staff to them.”
“Yeah.” I understood.
“Some are so nice and down-to-earth, but we’re not friends when they leave.”
“It’s their staff that aren’t so nice sometimes,” Owen added.
Owen and Hadley shared a laugh, and I knew what they meant. Reese and me, though, this wasn’t just a camp friendship. It didn’t feel like it.
But maybe it would be. Maybe when he left, and they entered their regular season, that’d be the end of us. I guess if that happened, then that’s what happened.
Was I really in a place to demand otherwise? I mean, come on. I was a mess, a certifiable, fucked-in-the-head, slightly-crazy-and-I’m-not-joking-about-it sort of mess. Reese had become some form of weird name-calling glue that held me together.
Was this the beginning of healing?
God, I hoped so.
Either way, when we pulled in to Grant and Sophia’s house, I was more than ready for some margaritas.
Three hours later, the screen door opened behind me. A beer and a package of smokes landed on the table, and Grant sat beside me.
I grunted as he yawned, then lit one up. “I forgot you smoked.”
My stomach knotted. I knew why he’d come out, and the somersaults were going.
He breathed in, his arm resting on his knee. “Yeah. Just when I’m drinking.” I felt his gaze. “If we were teens, I’d offer you one. You stopped, right?”
“I only had a few that one summer with you. And they were cigars.”
I’d gone a whole summer thinking I was badass, sucking in, holding, then exhaling. I never actually inhaled the cigars, and I’d had no clue I was doing it wrong until a friend realized what I was doing. She’d laughed so hard that I gave up cigars after that.
My voice was hoarse now, from the yelling, cheering, laughing, drinking—just from all the hoopla I’d learned defined a party at Grant and Sophia’s house.