Teardrop Shot

Page 43

I shuddered, the memory haunting me.

“I bolted upright thirty minutes later. I knew—he hadn’t just left the door open. When he went outside, he never closed the door, but he rarely went outside anymore. The door wasn’t closed…because he was out there.”

Reese drew in a harsh breath. “What happened?”

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“DAMIAN!” I could hear myself, the wind. I could feel the biting cold.

“They found him two blocks from the house.”

I couldn’t feel my mouth.

I couldn’t feel my hands.

I couldn’t feel my legs.

“He almost froze to death, and it was my fault.”

“No—” Reese began.

“It was!” I bit out. “It was. I was the caregiver. Me. Not him. I should’ve taken control long before then. He told me over and over again that I had to take him how he was or it was over with us. He threatened me every goddamn time I tried to say something, but I should’ve done it anyway. I should’ve called his bluff. I should’ve broken up with him if he wouldn’t listen to me. I should’ve called his mother as soon as the first symptoms started, but I didn’t. I didn’t because I didn’t want to lose him, but I lost him anyway. He was already gone. That first time he forgot my name? He looked terrified, but it wasn’t because he couldn’t remember me. It was because he thought a stranger had broken into his house. He was terrified of me. That’s the day I lost him; I just never wanted to accept it.” I shoved up from my chair.

I got two feet before Reese caught me. His hand took mine, and he folded me into him. “Charlie. Charlie,” he whispered, wiping my face.

Tears. Of course. When were they not there?

“Jesus, Charlie. I’m so sorry.” He hugged me as I stood frozen.


I heard the click. It had happened once before. And it just happened again.

I felt everything shutting down, turning off.

I closed up.

Nothing could hurt me.

I was a stone-cold statue, whether I wanted to be or not.

I sat on my bed.

Reese’s phone was going off, and he’d been on it for the last hour, almost since the moment I went robot-style. I caught a few names, but he was trying to keep his voice muffled. I knew he was talking to Juan at one point, then his coach. Who knew who else. People had started calling him. Otherwise I would’ve been worried he was trying to plan a feelings intervention for me.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll be there in the morning. Thanks, Coach.”

The front door opened.

Grant and Sophia were back.

They came in laughing just as Reese went back down the hallway. I could see them from my room.

“Hey!” Grant burped. “Sorry, man. We had to Uber here.”

Sophia bumped into him, trying to take her shoes off. “Too much wine. So much wine.”

Grant caught her, steadying her, and then she helped balance him while he took his shoes off. They were a good team. Perfect for each other.

I could feel Reese looking at me. I could feel his concern. It was in the air. I could almost smell it. And me, nothing. Just nothing.

I was back to that shell I’d always been.

This was a mistake. All of it—opening up. Letting Trent come over in the first place. Going to camp. Being with Reese. I sucked in a shuddering breath…falling for Reese. All of it was a mistake. If it happened again? If Reese ever looked at me and told me he didn’t want me? If his mind started to go? What was I doing?

He was a pro basketball player.

He wouldn’t want to be with me. Not for long.

We were friends. Fuck friends. Screw friends.

It didn’t mean anything.

His going bare? That meant nothing. That was just for heightened pleasure. That’s all. Nothing else.

“How was your night?” Grant asked. “Should I even ask?” He slapped Reese on the shoulder.

Reese was turned toward me. His hand ran through his hair. “Charlie.”

“No.” That word wrenched itself from me. Just no. No to anything more. I couldn’t take any more of anything. “No.”

“I think you should tell your friends.”


Grant frowned. “What’s going on? Tell us what?”

“Charlie, she, uh…”

I was off the bed the next second and pushing Reese back. “It’s not for you to say anything.”

“You spilled all of that to me, and you’ve been in lockdown mode since. You don’t think I recognize the signs? My brother’s an alcoholic. That’s why he does all the shit he does. That’s why I enabled him for years, but don’t think I don’t get phone calls from him that break my heart. I do. And I get it—some of it. I get what you went through. But going locked-down right now? Not the answer. You can’t open up, then shut off right afterward. That’s not how you get better—”

“Fuck you!”

I didn’t know why I’d said it. I just wanted him to shut up. I wanted him to stop. He didn’t understand. No one could.

But his words had made a dent. I felt them sinking in, burrowing inside of me.

His brother was an alcoholic? What did that even mean?

“You enabled him?”

“Yeah. Like you enabled Damian.”

I shook my head, bowing until I was almost a ball, just barely standing on my feet. It wasn’t the same. “I didn’t enable—”

Gentle hands found my shoulders. He lifted my head, then groaned at whatever he saw and just lifted me up. “You did enable him, but you didn’t know you were enabling him.”

He ran his hand through my hair, down my back. He was holding me like a child, but maybe it was appropriate. I was acting like one.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he whispered into my neck, pressing a kiss there.

Grant coughed, clearing his throat. “Um… I’ll give you guys some time, yeah?”

Reese took me back to my bed, but got up again with me still in his arms. He crossed the room as Grant shut the door. He left the bathroom light on, the door ajar, and he hit the lights in the bedroom. The room was cast into darkness, a soft glow from the bathroom shining in.

It helped. I don’t know how, but it helped. It lifted some of the whatever-the-hell-I-was-feeling off me, just slightly. There was still so much there. Almost too much.

He flipped on my fan next, giving us a modicum of privacy so we could speak freely.

Then he settled on my bed, resting against my headboard, with me on curled up on his lap. He tipped my head back so I could meet his gaze, and he tucked my hair behind my ears.

“I idolized my brother. He was the star in the family. Charismatic. He always had a girlfriend—and always one of the hot ones. For a guy, that says something. He was popular. There’s about five years between us, so I was young enough not to see the signs growing up. Drinking, partying. I thought that was normal, and he was the star athlete, right? Then things changed. I was starting varsity as an eighth grader when it was his senior year. He rode the bench during the first few games. Suddenly basketball wasn’t his thing. Suddenly he didn’t want anything to do with the game. Football, though. He boasted how he wished I had played varsity on his team. He would’ve destroyed me, hazed me. And baseball. He let me know that if I made varsity baseball, I’d better watch out for his pitching hand. So I heeded his warnings. I stayed with basketball. I didn’t even try for baseball, even on my own grade’s team. I didn’t want any issue with him.”

His voice grew thick, strained. His arms tightened around me. “I thought things would be fine. They weren’t. He didn’t want us at his baseball games, said there could only be one kid who got Mom and Dad’s attention in the family. They went to my basketball games, so if they did go to his baseball games, he wouldn’t see them there. It was a brainwashing/mind-fuck thing on a whole other level, because he wanted them there. He just wanted them to feel like shit because they supported me his senior year. It worked.”

His tone turned gravelly.

“His drinking was worse that year. He crashed his car, but our parents just felt so guilty. They felt bad for him. I realize that now—that they knew I was going to be something and Roman wasn’t. Or he wasn’t going to be a star athlete, and that had always been his thing. He’d banked on a professional career.”

He sighed.

“He got a scholarship to school. Joined a fraternity. My parents thought everything would be fine. He was out of the house. Had a new girlfriend. Then the drinking got worse. He was skipping classes, skipping football practice. He had his second car crash that year, and this one smashed his leg. He was off the team. His grades were so bad, he lost his place in the fraternity. So he came home. And he kept drinking. And it got worse. Worse and worse and worse, to the point where his friends still in high school threatened me for him.”

I gasped.

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