Coach nodded to me and mouthed, “Thank you.”
I nodded back, just the smallest of motions, and he eased back. I heard the bedroom door click shut softly, and I assumed he would talk to Stan about whatever needed to be said to Reese.
Thirty minutes later, Reese pulled himself together, his eyes red-rimmed and still sniffling. He dressed for the day, putting on the suit Juan had brought with him the night before. I didn’t know what all happened on the day of a game, but figured there were team things he needed to attend to.
He stepped into the hall, and I was right behind him. Stan straightened in the hallway. He had dressed in a suit as well.
He noted our clasped hands and cleared his throat. “I’ll make sure Charlie’s in a room close by for you.”
Reese’s voice was raspy. “Thanks.”
And just like that, we gathered the rest of our stuff and headed out. I took Trent’s keys with me. Going downstairs, no one said a word in the elevator, but an SUV was waiting for us.
This was Stan’s doing.
On the drive to the stadium, he informed Reese, “I’ve chartered a private jet. A car will take us straight to the airport after your game. Your coaches are aware of everything. They’re on board for you to take the weekend. You’ll be expected back to the arena Monday morning for your game that evening.”
“Your mother identified the body this morning, and she reached out about funeral planning. She’d like you to pay for everything.”
Reese’s hand tightened over mine. “Of course.”
Stan paused, then coughed. “The timing was good—shit.” He looked down. “I’m sorry. That was a bad choice of words…”
“Roman went to rehab twelve times.”
I looked over. Stan stopped talking.
Reese was gazing out the window, his hand still holding mine.
“And he wasn’t alone in that hotel room. Two girls were with him. One already reached out, asking for money to keep quiet.”
Stan’s eyes closed for a beat. “I didn’t know that.”
Reese’s voice was devoid of emotion. He kept looking out the window. “She reached out via my Instagram. My social media team sent it to my publicist. Monica’s waiting for my decision.”
“I can—” Stan’s voice was strangled and thick at the same time. “I can handle it all, if you want?”
But so firm at the same time.
Reese sounded sure as he said, “No. I don’t care what they come out and say. It’s no secret what Roman was like. I’ve never paid to have anyone keep quiet about him. I’m not going to start now.”
Stan winced, looking down at his lap for a second. He looked up at me first, then Reese. “The medical examiner’s report says overdose, but some media outlets are reporting it was suicide. How do you want me to handle that?”
Reese turned to look at him now, his eyes hollow, his face gaunt. “How do you usually handle it? I’ve never spoken out about Roman. Won’t start now, not about this. Why would I change now that he’s dead?” He raised our clasped hands and pressed a kiss to the back of mine before turning once more to the window. “He’s at peace now, Stan.”
Agony ripped through me, and tears came to my eyes. I held them back, but my chest felt a crushing weight, as it had over and over since that phone call.
“I gave up on a relationship with my brother long ago, but I didn’t stop caring,” Reese added. “That’s the part that was hard—still loving him when I couldn’t do anything to help him. He tried a couple other times.”
Stan’s eyes widened.
Reese kept on, not seeing his manager’s reaction, “It was earlier in my career, when I was in college, so it never hit the news. No one cared about Roman Forster back then, but it was only two times. He wasn’t bad all the time, or struggling all the time. He went in waves. He had some good times when he was doing well, when rehab stuck for a bit. But then he’d fall back down. He’s better now, though. He’s not hurting anymore.”
A car honked outside.
A sprinkle of rain sounded on the top of our vehicle.
We drove a few more blocks.
“What should I tell your mother?” Stan asked.
“Tell her I’ll pay.” Reese’s hand squeezed mine so tight as he looked over at his manager. “But only if Dad goes to a six-month rehab and she’s checked into a mental health facility. I won’t pay for shit if they both don’t agree, and they go today.”
Stan’s face went white. “What about Roman’s funeral?”
Reese went back to that window, his hand easing on mine, but not letting go. “They get committed, but they’ll need permission to leave for his funeral, and only his funeral. They go to the church, to his burial site, and then back into wherever they go. No time afterward for ‘coffee hour.’ I won’t do anything if those steps aren’t taken today. And if she thinks about going to a tabloid and selling some story that I won’t pay for anything, let her know I will respond, and I will be giving my terms to the public.” He laughed, bitter and empty. “She always hated what people thought of her. If anything, that’s the only threat that’ll work on them both.”
We pulled into a back parking lot for the stadium.
Stan had his phone out as the doors opened and we got out. “One of our lawyers is with her. I’ll relay your terms, and I’ll give the word to start the process. We’ll get them both into facilities today. Don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you,” Reese said.
Stadium employees greeted us just inside the door. A photographer and camera crew were there, but no one paid them any attention. When Reese turned down the hallway, Stan caught me and held me back.
The phone to his ear, he said under his breath, “He’s gotta be with the team now. There’ll be some press interviews, just one, but he needs to focus on the game as much as possible.”
“What do I do?”
“There’s a family lobby here. I’ll show you where, and I’ll get a pass for you. You can come and go as you want. Reese needs to know you’re close by, but I know him. He won’t reach out for you until after the game. He’ll try to put everything out of his mind as much as possible right now.”
I nodded. I could do that.
Be here. On call.
I could more than do that.
? ? ?
Trent called. Owen called. Grant called. I talked to Sophia and Hadley as well.
I asked Stan at one point if I could get Trent a pass to come in and stay with me. So two hours into me being here, Trent came to sit next to me.
We didn’t talk much.
I texted with Reese a few times, checking on him, but I knew he needed to focus.
The afternoon stretched into evening, and someone from their team came to get me. Reese had requested to see me an hour before going onto the court.
Trent had gone up to the box by then. He said his friend and my airplane buddy Dwayne was there, and he didn’t know anything about what had happened. Someone had taken a picture of Reese kissing me the night before, but my face wasn’t visible, and in light of Roman’s death, Stan got that story killed right away. I hadn’t even known about it until Trent mentioned seeing it in an early alert, then nothing after that.
I was taken to a room. People were everywhere, lining the hallway, and someone mentioned the locker room wasn’t too far away.
Stan came in minutes later and motioned to the door. “Reese just wants a minute with you. He’ll be coming shortly, but then to fill you in on everything, he’ll return to the locker room, and after that, they’ll go out to play the game.”
“Trent said there was a picture of us?”
Stan grimaced, tugging at his collar. “Yeah. I bought the story and killed it. People are already curious about you. It’s been pushed off because of Roman’s death, but word’s spreading. Two bloggers are claiming they have video of you two conversing at the Coyotes game. Is that true?”
I knew who he was talking about, and unease began to trickle in. “Not talking or anything. Reese was going off the court. I held my phone up and he nodded. That was it. Those guys followed me after that, but I lost ’em and left the game with my friends.”
“And these friends? If they’re tracked down, what are they going to say?”
“Nothing.” I felt slapped by his accusation, but the jaded look in his eyes was just resignation.
“Everyone has a price.”
“Not these guys.” My head rose higher. “Not me either.”
He stared at me, hard, unblinking, and then a wall slid away. He cringed. “I, uh, I have to apologize for something.”
More unease. Alarms began to sound.
“That last game you were at, in Washington, that whole mess was because of me.”