Teardrop Shot

Page 27

I closed my eyes, shaking my head. “I can’t, Reese. Don’t make me tell you everything. I can’t. Not yet.”

He stepped closer. I could feel him, and he spoke so softly that it broke the rest of me apart. “How long did you have to breathe for him? Before you got help?”

I was crying.

I couldn’t feel the tears, but I knew they were there.

I saw them falling to the floor, some hitting my shoes.

“Too long.”

“How long were you guys together in total?”

I paused, not because it wasn’t in me to answer, but because my vocal cords had frozen. One beat. Two. Three, and then I could speak again. “Seven years.”

I’d had two years, two amazing years with my soulmate.

He cursed under his breath, then stepped close to me. His arms came around me, his hand cradling the back of my head, and at first I just stood there.

I had never spoken about what I went through.

I never said any of it out loud, just explained the bare minimum to his mother before they’d stepped in to help with him. I had to write out a list of behaviors and events for a lawyer once, but that’d been it. No one else knew—until now, until Reese. My parents. My siblings. My friends. No one. And in some ways, even I didn’t know it all.

It was out now, though.

I had a bleak thought, standing in Reese’s arms, that Trent had gotten what he wanted. Grant had gotten what he wanted. I was dealing with life again.

Then I crumbled.

Reese caught me. He held me, righting me so I didn’t totally fall to the floor. He went with me, moving so we were sitting in a corner of the room, me between his legs. He folded his arms around me, and I broke apart, my sleeve stuffed in my mouth to quiet my tears.

I was still sitting in his arms, resting against his chest when I heard people leaving the dining area.

“You should go eat.”

“Fuck eating.” His chest rumbled from his words.

We heard a voice asking for Reese through the kitchen, then a tentative knock on the door.

“Reese?” It was Juan.

He opened the door, his head poking in and his eyes sweeping the room until he saw us. He didn’t look surprised to see how we were, just pursed his lips together a second.

“Uh. Coach wants a word with you. We’re having a meeting, then we’re doing practice in an hour.” His eyes flashed to mine, an apology flaring. “You got some keys on you? I can open the courts for you, if you want?”

Oh. That made me feel nice, but crappy. I shook my head, scrambling up. Every inch of me protested as I pulled away from Reese, but I had a job to do. No way would I let a camper, and a professional ball player at that, do my job for me.

“I got it. I’m okay. Minor meltdown on pause.” It was a lame attempt at a joke, and it fell flat. No one laughed.

Reese stood behind me. “Coach is mad at me?”

“Uh…” Juan’s gaze fell to me again. “I think he just wants clarification, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah. I got it.” Reese’s hand found my arm as he stepped around me. “Give me a second? I’ll be right out.”

Juan nodded. The door closed softly behind him.

Reese looked at me. “You okay?”

I nodded. “Totally.”

He laughed. “You’re a shitty liar.”

I grinned, knowing it was crooked and more just an attempt. “You’d be the first to claim that.”

“I doubt it.”

I lifted my gaze, feeling the dried tears caking my face. I flinched, seeing his knowing gaze, feeling him in me, feeling how he knew I was so full of shit, feeling him know the storm I’d been through, just feeling him know me.

“Your coach wants to know about me?”

“Probably. He knows the team likes you, but me coming right in here and skipping a meal, that’s going to raise eyebrows.” He gave me a crooked grin. “Don’t worry about it, though. I’ll explain. It’ll be fine. I don’t have a $20-million endorsement deal in the works for nothing. As long as I show up and win, he’s happy.”

“What an understanding guy.”

He smiled. “Think you can find me something quick to eat before I head over to smooth things out with him, just in case?”

“On it.”

Owen and Hadley were quiet when we came back out, but Owen being Owen, he already had a plate ready. He indicated a tray on the counter: water, milk, silverware, even salt and pepper were on there.

“There you go. Owen’s way ahead of us.”

“Thanks, man.” Reese nodded to Owen.

Owen cleared his throat, tugging one of his sleeves down, his shoulder rolling back. “No, thank you.” He jerked his head toward me. “We, uh, we heard some of it.”

Floor open up. Let me fall through. Please. Now.

Hadley was crying in the corner. She wiped at a tear. “I can’t even imagine. Charlie…”

I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

I should’ve gone to her, took her in my arms, whispered that it was okay, but I didn’t have it in me. I wanted to disappear, and as if sensing what was going on with me, Reese took my arm once again.

“Maybe, uh, come with me? Yeah?” He looked at Owen, though, who nodded back. Owen was the one to go and take his wife in his arms.

He was the one to comfort her.

He was doing what I should’ve been doing, and Reese, he was being a friend. He pulled me with him, grabbing an extra apple on the way, and I knew that was for me and not him. He stuffed it into his pocket, his hand falling to mine.

He was leading me out, the cafeteria empty, when the back door opened.

Grant stepped in and saw us, his eyes falling to our hands.

Reese didn’t stop. He only dipped his head to Grant, grunting, “What’s up?” Then he tugged me the rest of the way through the cafeteria with him.

I was so beyond thankful for him because he wasn’t letting me make decisions. He knew I wasn’t ready to deal with the aftermath of what Owen and Hadley had just heard. He knew Grant would find out. He knew I wouldn’t want to stand there, feeling completely exposed, all my insides out in the open for them to see. And he wasn’t letting me stay and dwell.

He went into the camp office, where his coach was talking to Keith.


Our hands came apart.

Keith’s eyebrows bunched together. He was wearing an olive green polo shirt today, the same khaki shorts, though. Could he ever wear something else? I doubted it.

“Charlie?” Keith frowned at me.

Reese’s coach cleared his throat, glancing between Keith and me. “Uh, yeah. Can we have a word? Keith, you have an office we could use real quick?”

Keith brightened and came around the desk. He picked up his Boss mug and held it out to me. “Charlie, wash this for me?”

Reese’s jaw clenched. He took the mug and put it on the counter behind Keith. “Charlie’s going with me to the gym. I asked her to open it early.”

“Yeah?” Keith’s smile was wide. “That’s great. She does a good job. Don’t you, girl? Oh hey. We’re closing up early in three days, so you can make travel arrangements. I’ll cut you a check at the end. It’ll be a little short what I promised, but you did a good job—opening the gyms, taking inventory—a good job. I was just talking with Coach Winston, going over the last of the details.”

I felt Reese’s tension.

He jerked forward, but I grabbed the back of his sleeve. It wasn’t a firm hold, just a reminder.

Coach Winston saw the motion and narrowed his eyes, but he didn’t say anything.

Keith was clueless, as usual. He smiled, nodding. “Since you’re here.” He grabbed a piece of paper from the counter, holding out a pen. “Mind if I get your autograph? My son will be jealous when I show it to him later.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” Reese said, his eyes wide.

Keith’s smile slipped.

Coach Winston stepped forward, moving between the two. “If you don’t mind, Keith, I need to have a word with my player. We can do autographs later.”

“Sure! That’d be great. I could grab some posters, get the whole team to sign them? We do auctions here. That could help support the camp a bit more.”

“Uh-huh. Yeah. Sure.” Coach Winston urged Reese outside. “Hallway.” His eyes flashed.

Reese nodded, turning, his hand going to my hip and moving me ahead of him. Once outside, Coach said, “Upstairs. Your friend too.”

I was in trouble. By Winston Duty.

The old Charlie came to life, just a little. She did a little somersault inside me.

We went upstairs, moving into one of the sitting rooms. Once inside, Reese’s coach shut the door and shook his head. “Hell. That guy.”

“Is he for real?” Reese asked. “He wants my fucking autograph, so his son gets jealous?”

“This place was recommended by a buddy of mine, but now I don’t know.”

“Keith is usually kept away from campers. Owen, he’s the guy that’s been in the kitchen this whole time? His job is usually handling campers. He’s better at it.”

Both looked at me.

Reese asked, “Why’s he in the kitchen then?”

“Keith wanted to keep the staff at a minimum. It’s protocol if celebrities are here, and you guys are special. Keith thinks he’s a big basketball guy. He’d strut around like a rooster if more pro teams came here.”

The two shared a look.

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