I didn’t care. I should have, but I didn’t. Reese and I were not a permanent thing. And even if we became—nope, I was not thinking that way. Stress, expectations, all the normal worries about relationships were starting to weigh me down, and that wasn’t Reese and me. I wouldn’t let that happen. We were fun and carefree. Free, being the key term there.
I plastered a smile on my face, nodding again. I was tempted to bow, but refrained. “It’s nice meeting you.”
I made a point of turning to look out at the gym. The team’s cheerleaders were on the court, doing a dance for the crowd. Thunder was waving his arms around.
I could feel Marie and Stan exchange a look, but it wasn’t happening. I wouldn’t get pulled in, get a label put on me, and then have to endure another round of suspicious questions. He and Marie had both put me through the wringer, but then she’d introduced me to tampon-shot-disguising tubes and told me I was hot, so I was a little in love with her.
They still hadn’t started talking, so I looked back. “Excuse me. I’m going to go to the bathroom.”
Stan’s entire face was twisted in a question mark.
Marie coughed. “Oh. Okay.” She finished her hotdog, wiping her face with a napkin. “We gotta go out for the restroom. You want anything else?”
I had a full beer in hand, and my own hotdog was starting to feel unsettled. “Nope. I’m good.” I smacked my groin. “Just gotta pee.”
Stan’s head reared back, and Marie’s eyebrows shot up.
She seemed transfixed, so I led the way—around a few groups of women who looked like they could be supermodels, and men I knew had to be in positions of power and wealth to even be in that box. Once outside, I was grateful. Marie had been following, but I looked back through the door, and she’d been caught by one of those groups of people.
The door closed.
I waited against the opposite wall.
The door opened, and two guys came out. Marie caught my gaze and held up her hand. One minute.
I nodded, settling in.
But then the door opened again and Reese’s manager stepped out. He had turned to look down the hall, so seeing me across from him drew him up short. He straightened up, smoothing out his collar and adjusting the Thunder pin before stepping toward me.
“Can we talk?”
He cringed. “You’re…not what I expected, I’ll admit.”
The appropriate thing would be to ask what he meant. I did nothing.
His response to me cooled. “I’d imagine you wouldn’t want to make a bad impression on Reese’s manager since I’ve worked for him since the second he turned pro.”
Seriously? “After how you talked to me at his house? You laid the groundwork first. And—” My fourth lay-your-cards-down moment. “—I’m not permanent.”
The door opened behind him, and it was Marie. She crossed the hallway, standing to the side of Stan.
“I get that you guys want to protect him, but it’s not him you have to protect. We became friends, oddly enough, and that’s all I’m going to say. You want information, you ask him. You want my name, you ask him. You want to know my intentions, you ask him. I have no problem walking away from this. Like I told Reese before, I could ditch and watch his game from the aisle because that’s the type of girl I am. Whatever girls you’re used to, that’s not me. Promise.”
They were both quiet.
“I don’t like you,” Stan announced.
“I think I love you,” Marie countered.
Yeah. Okay then.
I stepped away from the wall. “I’m going to go find a bathroom. I can meet you at the seats?”
The door opened and a woman stepped out, calling Marie’s name. I was going to give her an option to sit with me, or stay in there. It would be up to her, but I saw the conflict flash over her face. Her mouth tightened a second.
“Hey.” I infused my voice with warmth. I was being so fake, but I was selling it. “You called me low-maintenance earlier. Well, I really am. I’m a true sports fan, so if you want to watch with your friend in there, I have no problem sitting by myself. I’m totally okay with it.”
“The fuck are you talking about?” She looked back. “I’ll be right there, Tawnia.” She looked back to me. “I was right.” She dipped her forehead to me, walking backward with her beer. “Baggage. Lots of it.”
I had to give her that one. “More than you could imagine.” I nodded behind her. “Go. Talk. I’ll be at the seats.”
She rolled her eyes. “You and me. We’re getting drunk later, and you’re gonna tell me something about you.” She dug in her pocket with her free hand and handed over one of the tickets. “I’ll see you there later.”
I ignored Stan. So did she, going back inside.
I went in search of a bathroom, knowing I’d just crashed and burned in my first brush with Reese’s world. I hoped he wouldn’t hold it against me.
? ? ?
Reese or Juan, whichever of them had done it, got us regular seats, so I wasn’t close to the court. That didn’t quell the excitement in me when the players came out and the game started. The whole lights dimming, announcer booming their introductions raised everything up a notch.
Marie never came to the seats, and I didn’t think I’d be allowed back up to that box if I went to search for her. We hadn’t exchanged phone numbers, and I was glad I’d remembered to grab my usual items when we left Reese’s place.
Though, shit—I didn’t know his physical address, and I wasn’t about to go find Marie to ask her. I’d figure it out. I had money with me. My phone. My wallet. I was an able-bodied person, so I settled back and enjoyed the game.
Reese didn’t lead in scoring, but he did with three-pointers. Having a girlfriend and a wife must’ve worked for Crusky, because he got most of the foul shots, and he made all except two of them. After the ball sank on his last one, tying up the score, I was on my feet along with everyone else.
I loved this game—the fast pace of it, how a steal could flip everything upside down, how fouls were necessary to stall, but could work in the other team’s favor. The way you have to have teamwork to get anywhere. This game couldn’t be won by one person—there were exceptions, but that was rare. It was beautiful with high-arching shots, edgy with quick ball work, surprising the way a shot would go through that shouldn’t have or how an assist could get past a wall of bodies that should’ve stopped it. And it was rough with shoving under the basket.
It was ruthless, but so captivating, and I was back at my high school gym, watching my brother throw up a winning shot. It was the end of the fourth. Three seconds on the clock, which could get stalled out to twelve seconds, plus a time out.
Adrenaline bounced around inside of me.
I was on my feet yelling, and I didn’t give a thought what happened with Marie. If I’d been a long-term thing, if things had been serious with Reese and me, then maybe. But I wasn’t. We meant something, but that was all I could deal with.
I did keep an eye out for Marie on the off chance I saw her on the way out.
I sent Reese a text, letting him know I got separated from Marie. But he never replied, so after waiting a while, I decided to take things into my own hands. I headed out, calling an Uber, and I looked up a hotel on the north end of Seattle. It was a 3-star, so I was hoping I could get a room if worse came to worst.
For now, I got out and headed for the hotel’s bar.
Then I waited, an empty sensation settling on my chest.
“What do you mean she’s missing?”
Marie held her hands up, arms wide, and panicked—right here in the team waiting room at the stadium. She’d been on the verge of panic since she first came to me, telling me Charlie wasn’t in the seats when she went to sit with her.
“I don’t know. I gave her the tickets. Candace kept asking me questions, so I couldn’t get away as fast as I wanted, and when I got there, she wasn’t there. We didn’t exchange numbers, and I kept asking you for her number, but you weren’t answering either.”
“Fuck!” I threw my head back, raking my hand through my hair.
I’d showered after the game, knowing Juan wanted us to go to his place for a low-key party. But I was fucking agitated. Roman had been here. Word had gotten to me. I’d tried to have him banned from the stadium, but there was only so much security could do. He’d gotten in and was live-tweeting the game until they’d found him and escorted him out.
“I forgot my phone at the house. Stan was being a dick—”
I didn’t even look. “You were, asshole. No wonder she ditched. She said she would.”
Juan was laughing, shaking his head.
“Hey.” He lounged back on a couch and spread his arms on both sides of him. “Your girl, she was a trip at camp, and she’s still being trippy. She’s hilarious.”
Marie sat down, perched on the edge until he wrapped a hand around her shoulder. Juan tugged her back.
“I like her,” she said. “Go find her, and make sure she’s fine.”
That was the plan—but fucking hell. That meant a drive to my place. Post-game traffic sucked getting anywhere.
“Where would she have gone?” Stan asked.