“Hmm?” He popped out from around the back office corner. His Boss mug was still on the counter. I’ve no doubt he never had it cleaned. He could’ve asked Owen to run it through for him, but that wasn’t my concern this morning.
“Is the team using the gyms this morning?”
“Uh…” He had to think, his curly hair slightly damp from his shower. “No. They’re doing meetings this morning.”
Sweet. That meant a morning off.
I was slipping back out when he called my name. “Hey, Charlie! Wait. One sec.”
Now wary, I eased back into the office, keeping the door open and one foot outside. “Yeah?”
He shifted, staring at me a moment. A cough. He tugged his collar around. “You’re doing a good job, and I want you to know I’ve really appreciated all the extra help you’ve been doing around here. The board too.”
He was being kind.
He was smiling at me, and it wasn’t creeping me out.
But it was setting different alarms off in me, because this was not Keith. He wasn’t kind. Ever.
“But?” I was readying myself.
He stroked his jaw, an uneasy guffaw leaving him. “Uh, but. Yes. But… I got a call from one of the board members last night, and I guess you weren’t approved to be on staff during this time. We only have enough funds to cover your first two weeks here.”
My first two weeks… That would’ve ended three days ago.
“Are you kidding? I’m not getting paid for this week?”
“Well, it’s only been a couple days that you won’t have been paid, and the team wasn’t here, so technically, you shouldn’t have been doing any work anyway. But yes.” He moved closer to me, rolling his shoulders back, sucking his gut in. He began to tap on the counter, his nervous habit. “So what I’m saying is that—”
I was out of a job.
“I’ll be manning the gyms for the next two days. I mean, it’s really only today. They’ll be leaving in the morning.” He reached into his pocket and slid a check over to me. “Here you go. And we really do appreciate all the help you gave the kitchen too.”
Really? I had no words. None at all, and because of that, I just stepped back, let the door slam shut, and I walked out. Unfuckingbelievable.
Reese was coming out from the cafeteria.
I didn’t look up. “No.”
“Forster!” one of his teammates yelled.
I looked now. He stood in the hallway, concern etched over his face.
“Reese.” His coach stepped up, putting a hand on his shoulder. “We gotta go. We have a meeting with the other coaches.”
But he wasn’t looking at Reese. He was watching me. There was a gravity in his gaze, but not the caution I saw last night.
I got it then.
This wasn’t Keith. This wasn’t the board. This was Reese’s coach. He knew. Somehow he knew about us, and he was putting a stop to us in his way. He was pushing me out.
There was a warning in his gaze, his mouth thinning as if knowing I connected the pieces.
“Yeah. Okay.” Reese was reluctant to go. He glanced back to me. “Charlie? You want to talk later?”
It felt final. All of this. The firing. Reese would be in meetings the rest of the morning. I could feel my bank account dipping lower every minute I stayed here. And I hadn’t done anything I’d set out to do. Well, I’d written one night. But the reprieve from reality was gone. Whatever friendship I had with Reese, I’d have to see what happened, but I knew I couldn’t stick around. I couldn’t afford to stick around.
And I had a feeling Coach Winston would find a way to get me kicked off the island if I tried to.
“Yeah. Talk later.” I attempted a smile.
It was enough to appease Reese, more because another two of his teammates were calling his name now. They all walked past us, heading outside and up to the meeting hall. Coach Winston waited until Reese was gone and the last of his team had filtered past us.
“If one of them knew, and if one of them was unhappy with our team, they could leak you and Reese to the tabloids. It’d be that easy. His name’s already being put through the ringer because of his brother. We came here to protect him, and to keep him focused. I know he’s a grown man, but he’s my player. I have to look out for him.” He paused a second. “You understand, don’t you?”
I held up my check. “I came here for two reasons. One, because I’d just gotten fired, and two, to try to get my life back on track somehow because my dementia-boyfriend dumped me during one of his rare lucid moments. He kicked me out the apartment and his life, and I’ve been floundering ever since. That stopped here, because of Reese. And now I got fired again.”
I looked at the dollar amount on the check and started laughing. It barely covered half a month’s rent. It was less than what Keith first promised me.
“Here.” I pressed it to his chest, passing him by. “I’m sure that’s what you make in ten minutes. Have a couple coffees on me.”
I’d gone a few steps outside before I had to stop and bend over.
I was going to throw up.
The world began to swim around me.
I was having a panic attack. I recognized the symptoms, and damn, these were a bitch.
I couldn’t… I had to—one foot in front of the other. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
It hurt. I was moving against cement in the air, but I had to keep going.
I was dizzy and sweating, and when I glimpsed myself in the mirror back at Reese’s cabin, I wasn’t surprised. I looked like a ghost, but I didn’t have time to stop and take shelter while this storm passed. I had to get out. Too much of life had taken a shit on me.
The amazing sex… I couldn’t stay just for that. My pride was shredded. I just wanted to grab my stuff, get to my car, and leave. I’d send my goodbyes later.
I was running. I was doing it all over again, but my God, I had just been booted from my old place of employment—after being told I’d worked there three days for free. Keith was a dick, but he’d never made me feel unwelcome here. It took good ol’ Coach Winston to do that.
I bit back tears as I filled my bag. Then I wavered. I did still have things in the fishing cabin, but I couldn’t bring myself to go in there to pack it all up.
I was telling myself that as I walked the north path that wound around the lodge, bypassed all the buildings, and came out just beyond the parking lot. I told myself I didn’t have the energy to explain to Owen and Hadley what had happened. They’d be angry. They’d rally around me, but for what?
I’d been dismissed because I was a liability to someone more powerful than all of us.
It felt like the world had stomped on me once again, but this time was different. I wasn’t shattered by trying to hold Reese up. It wasn’t that situation at all.
Unlocking my car, I tossed my bags in the back and got behind the wheel.
I had to reassess the situation.
I was exaggerating, reacting because of how final it all felt. That was it. That was all. This was not the end of the world.
I’d been fired. So what? I’d come here for the specific purpose of having a place to run away from my current life. Which I did. That’d been successful.
I’d wanted to reconnect with some of my old friends. Mission accomplished. I wouldn’t text or email. I would call Owen and Hadley to say my goodbyes. I would call Grant—oh shit. Grant. I’d forgotten. And Trent! Trent was coming tonight. He was expecting to have dinner.
Then there was Reese.
I couldn’t tell any of them why I was let go. It was because of Reese, and if I told them, they’d just have to look at me to know things had gone past friendship.
They would know.
They couldn’t know.
I sat in my car, and I had no idea what to say to my friends.
I’d have to use Keith’s excuse: the board hadn’t approved my employment past the first two weeks. And in that case, the job was done. Whatever.
This was no big deal.
Right? I mean…
I came for a job, and it turned out that job was done. That was it. That was all.
I should’ve stayed and said goodbye in person. I’d left everyone, Reese too.
What do I do? How do I clean up this mess?
My phone buzzed. I tensed, but it wasn’t who I thought it’d be. I almost started laughing.
Unknown: I have some of your stuff. Went to drop it off at your job, but the chick at the front said you don’t work there any more. You got fired?
Of all the timing, now he texted me? Now?
I might still have been slightly hysterical, because I called him back.
“You got fired from that stank-ass place?” he said when he answered.
“Hi, Lucas. I’m fine. How are you?” I sighed. “You’re right. Normal, pleasant greetings are a waste of time. Get right down to business. Yes, they fired me the same day your grandpa dumped me, and yes, I just got fired from the new job. I’m sitting outside a hotel, not sure what the hell to do anymore.”
He was quiet for a moment. “You have enough for rent?”
“I have a small bit to cover a few months, but coming here wasn’t such a good idea after all.” I laughed, the sound so pitiful. “You take in homeless people? Because I don’t know if my mom’s going to let me stay at home rent-free this time. She wasn’t really up for it last time.”
“It’s not my house. You know that.”
Right. Of course. Why would he be decent?