She gave an easygoing shrug. “We’ll figure it out. We’re prepared to handle Janet for you. Don’t worry. If you want him to come with us, he’s welcome. If you want to have your time with him, just give me a wink and a motion and I’ll cover. It’s really no problem. Are you staying with him tonight?”
I glanced up at Trent, half-turned to face Lauren, and he glanced back.
“You can just give me an extra key,” he said. “We can work it out. If you want to sneak in, I’ll make sure Lauren and I are in the guest room. We can do this. I mean, we understand.”
My face felt flushed. “We’re not even…” Yeah. How did I have that conversation with them? “We’re just friends.”
Hadley snorted. “Right. No boning there.”
“We might work at a camp, but we’re not backward hicks or something. I do have three children.”
The back of my neck was sweating. “This is just a lot to handle. I’m used to being a hermit and taking care of someone who some days remembered me and other days didn’t.”
My second reference to Damian.
They were coming easier and easier.
My therapist would be so proud, and I waited, but the instant, white-hot panic that always hit me after I mentioned Damian didn’t come.
It was getting easier.
Reese: Easter egg request?
It was like he knew me. Finally, finally.
Me: Sexy librarian look. I want the glasses.
Reese: You serious?
Me: Absolutely. You’ll get banged tonight if you do.
Reese: Not to be cocky, but I’m going to bang anyways.
Reese: K. Gotta go. Head to the players’ exit when you’re done. Or I’ll check my phone once we’re done. Think Juan wants to do dinner with us.
Reese: Whoever. Are we doing your friends too? Or just you, me, and Juan. I don’t care.
Reese: Or I can tell Juan to do his own thing. You decide.
It was all up to me. What a disconcerting thought.
I didn’t text him back. The game, then the players’ exit after that.
But one thought was seeming more and more appealing: There was beer at the concession stands.
I loved going to basketball games. Like, loved loved, obsessed-over loved, and I was such a sports fanatic that it wasn’t just basketball games. Football, hockey, baseball—men’s, women’s, kids. I didn’t care. I’d go to a fifth-grade football game if I were invited. I couldn’t explain why, but it never mattered.
As soon as I got to my seat and got comfortable, I was ready to go.
An excited buzz started to build as we entered the arena, and once we got to our seats, I felt ready to explode. Nerves. Excitement. Anxiety. All of it had rolled together, and I felt like I was bouncing inside of myself, only being held together because of my skin.
“Trenton said you had a friend who got these tickets for us?” Lauren leaned over Hadley to ask me. She was so beautiful, even a little birthmark over her lip winked at me from her confusion. “Does your friend work at the Target Center? These are really good seats.”
Hadley leaned forward, an easy smile on her face. “It’s someone who knows someone who knows someone. It was that sort of deal. I don’t think it’ll happen again.”
“Ahh.” Lauren leaned back in her seat. “I got it.” She laughed. “I thought for a second Charlie knew one of the players or something.”
Hadley didn’t respond. I pretended I hadn’t heard, and as Hadley patted Lauren’s hand, we shared a look. We were close to where the players would come in from the locker rooms, so that was adding to the whole messiness inside me. I kept thinking a player would step out, see me, and point saying, “SHE’S OVER HERE!”
I know, I know.
I was a bit much.
But really. I had some anxiety.
Hadley checked her phone. “Owen’s bringing beer.”
Lauren frowned at me.
After the guys got back, the dance music started. The teams were coming out.
When the announcer’s voice began booming, the Thunder began running in.
Hadley gripped my hand. “OH MY GOD!”
The Cruskinator went by.
I could name each and every one of them, and not just because of camp.
One saw us and stopped. “Hey!” He waved. “It’s nice to see you guys again.” He saw me. “Oh yeah,” he said with a laugh before he hit the guy next to him, jogging on.
Still others passed by.
A couple of the coaches.
Aiden was with them.
When I turned, Reese was staring at me, a smirk on his face.
I couldn’t hold it in. A secret grin showed, and he answered it with one of his own.
Juan pounded his arm, waving to me too before they jogged the rest of the way.
I was not going to look around, but I knew the people around us were watching me. I scooted low in my seat and folded my head in, now wondering if his jersey was too obvious?
Then, fuck it. I was here to support him. Half the women in this arena had his number on their backs, so I sat back up and started cheering with the rest of the crowd.
Hadley was up and dancing. She and Owen were doing their dances the way only they could. He pretended to smack her ass as she waved her arms in the air.
Lauren looked at them, her eyebrows high until Trenton leaned in and whispered something in her ear. Her confusion cleared, and her cheeks pinked. She drew closer to his side, and soon both of them were moving to the music.
Once the game actually began, it was pandemonium—the way a game should always be. Everything happening inside of me came out, and I was yelling with the rest of them. We were in Thunder territory, but I liked the Coyotes too. It hurt when they fell behind, when Reese stole one, two, three balls, made his free throws, and had at least one beautiful teardrop shot.
He really was having one of his best years. They’d won all their other games but one, and they seemed to be on the fast track for the NBA Finals, but that was a long way off. They were currently rated number two in their conference.
And it wasn’t just Reese.
Juan was on the court almost the whole time, leading the team in rebounds and tying with Reese for assists. Lestroy led with three-pointers, and the Cruskinator dominated under the basket.
Thunder led 72-63 at the half, and after a quick dash to the bathroom, I sat down for the first time since the game began.
“Holy shit.” Hadley fanned herself. “We need to come to these games more often. They’re a workout.”
The Coyotes mascot was throwing shirts into the crowd across from us. On our side, the dancers were tossing little basketballs.
Lauren leaned over a bit after the guys went for the concession stands, her eyes a little wide. “This is so exciting! This game is amazing.” She pretended to scowl at us. “You guys never told me you knew some of the Thunder team.”
We’d signed NDAs. None of us could say a word.
Hadley just smiled, the way she usually did. “There’s a reason we can’t talk about it.”
“Oh!” Lauren smiled. “I got it. Say no more. But did you guys meet Reese Forster? He looked over here like he knew you. Does he?”
Right then and there, I decided I was keeping Reese to myself tonight.
Hadley coughed. “Again…”
“Oh.” Lauren sat back, waving her hand and trying to air out her shirt. “Say no more. I got it.” She giggled, results of the beer. “I might ask Trenton later, though.”
The guys were coming back, more goodies in hand and a beer for me. Owen handed it over before sitting back down.
I’d just had a sip when Grant came around to kneel beside me. “Hey. So did you decide about tonight?”
I lowered my voice and flicked my eyes behind me. “Trent’s girlfriend seems kinda keen on Forster so…”
“Okay.” He bobbed his head. “You can make plans with him after the game, I’m guessing?”
“Good. We ran into Janet up there. She might come down and visit a bit, but we’ll make up some excuse for you about dinner. I think Hads had something planned. She thought about it all on the way down. And about Trent and his girl?”
I lifted a shoulder, shaking my head. “I don’t know. I have to talk to Reese, see what he says about tonight.”
“Well, I was going to suggest, do you want Sophia and me to switch with Trent and Lauren? They can take the second guest room at Janet’s and we’ll stay at your place? It makes sense, in a way. Trent’s a lot closer to Janet than I am. I was always loyal to you. Plus, Hadley’s friends with her too. And you and I are closer, you know.”
I nodded, loving this new plan. “Yes. Then we don’t have to hide or dart into a hotel room.”
“Good.” He squeezed my shoulder, standing back up. “I’ll talk to Trent about everything, and we’ll sort it out. If for any reason it doesn’t go down like that, one of us will let you know. You can have your time, and tomorrow then?”
“He’s flying back with the team, so I’m free as of tomorrow morning.”
He knelt back down, looping his arms over his knees. “Janet asked about you, wondering if you’re mad at her or something. I think she’s trying to figure out how we got these tickets.”
I groaned. “Can Hadley make up something there too?”
He grinned. “We’ll cover, but just so you know for tomorrow. She invited all of us over to her place for dinner.”