I lowered my head, my eyes still on him. “Repeat that.”
He studied me a moment. “Marie didn’t ditch you. She was so intoxicated that I switched her ticket. I stayed in the box, and she left twenty minutes later. She thought you’d ditched her until she saw how irate Reese was about it all.” A vein stuck out from his neck. He was so stiff. “And Reese didn’t forget his phone. I purposely took it out of his bag and put it on the counter, after I knew he wouldn’t return to the house.”
My teeth were grinding. I was seeing pink. Not red, just pink for now.
“I wanted to see how you would respond.”
This fucker. “And did I pass?”
He flinched, a flash of regret passing over him before his features turned back to stone. “It was…eye opening. If you’d wanted Reese for his money or fame, you would’ve stayed at the stadium. I apologize for the damage I inflicted. I didn’t realize how deeply he cared for you. I do now, and I can tell you I will never do anything to get between you. I am four years older than Reese. In many ways, I feel like I’m his older brother. Taking care of him has always been my job, and knowing how much he cares for you, you are now a part of that world. Now…” He drew upright, adjusting his suit jacket and smoothing out his sleeves. “Because I am not actually a big talker, this is probably the longest conversation you’ll have with me, but I am in your corner. That will never change.”
He started for the door.
“And if I hurt him? What then?” I called, stopping him.
He didn’t even look at me, just reached for the handle and opened the door. “You won’t. I can tell you love him too.”
Then he was gone, and I wanted to curse at the door.
What a fuckhead, who I kinda liked now.
There’s a stillness in the air after someone’s died. You feel it, knowing something had changed drastically, but yet the world around you keeps moving forward because while you know it, they don’t. It’s an odd dichotomy, and standing in that room, waiting for Reese to come in, I noticed everything.
The quietness in the room.
The distant roar of the crowd through the walls. People going past in the hallway. The smell of popcorn, hotdogs, and whatever else mixed together for the heady aroma and yet, down below where I stood only a faint trace of it mingled down here.
There were also hushed tones. Quiet footsteps.
And nerves. My nerves.
I was in that room by myself, knowing Reese was going to step in, knowing he loved me and I loved him and knowing how big of a responsibility that was now. In that stadium, twenty thousand people were waiting to watch him play and most of those probably knew of his loss. Some would care; some wouldn’t. Some would just want to watch a fucking good game.
I was nervous.
My heart was breaking.
And I just wanted to see Reese, one last time before he had to go out there for his job.
The door opened. My heart jerked, but it was a female staff member. Seeing me, she pressed a finger to her ear and said, “She’s ready.” She disappeared and a second later, she was back, but opening the door.
Reese walked in, decked out in his warm-up gear.
A burst of sensations exploded in me, filling me up. My throat swelled for a second, but without looking around, he came right to me.
I held my arms open and he stepped in, folding his body around me. I heard the distant sound of the door closing, and it was just him and me in that room. Not a word was said. My heart swelled up too, beating hard, beating strong.
He buried his head into the crook of my shoulder and neck. I felt his body shudder.
A few seconds…
He felt good against me. Firm. Strong. And his arms tightened.
We were at a minute and forty seconds now.
Three and thirty.
Then, a soft knock on the door, and he lifted his head up.
It opened as he stepped back, the same girl from before looked in. “It’s time, Mr. Forster.”
His hand was still on my hip. It tightened, flexing against my skin, and his shoulders rose up and down in an exhale. His head folded down. “Okay.” His hand fell away, but I caught it. It kept moving, his fingertips grazing mine.
With a last look, his eyes haunted in a brief flash, before he looked back to the staff and he closed it all off again. His shoulders went back up. His head straightened. And his walk was more confident.
He was back in game mode.
And me, I was fighting back tears, for him.
“Are you ready?”
Stan. I hated him in the beginning, but now I was starting to rely on the dickwad. He’d come back after Reese left and after the team had gone out to start warming up.
Now he guided me up to the family and friends’ suite. He walked beside me. A few people recognized him, their eyes enlarging, but he swept past as if he didn’t see them. He kept a hand behind me, not touching me, but still there as if he were guiding and protecting me all at once. A couple people frowned when they saw me. I don’t know what that was about, but when we got to the suite, we paused outside.
Last time I was in a similar room, I wanted to hide and run away. That wouldn’t happen this time. Word would’ve gotten out. Plus, I knew Trent and Dwayne were in there. Stan held the door for me, but I couldn’t bring myself to go in first. I waved at him, motioning for him to lead instead, and he dipped his head, doing as I asked.
I didn’t need to be worried.
I knew that as soon as I stepped inside and Marie was there, her arms around me, tears on her face. “Charlie. Oh my God. How are you?” She pulled back, framing my face with her hands, her eyes so earnest. “Do you need anything? I packed up all of Reese’s things and gave them to Stan.” She glanced at him.
He stepped close, coughing. “Yes. That’s all been taken care of.”
My tongue was firm in the back of my throat, weighing me down. I—I didn’t know quite how to respond, but it didn’t seem to matter. Marie was hugging me again, then stepping back and wiping her tears away. “I can’t imagine. Okay.” She was scanning my face, reading me. “You’re a little overwhelmed, I can see it.” She squeezed my hands before stepping even farther back. “What do you need? Booze? A shoulder?”
I was scanning the room. Half the room was watching us, some of the women were whispering to each other, then starting to come over.
“I had two friends coming today…” I started to say.
“I got you. There are two guys in the corner. They were talking to the manager.” She pointed behind me. “Is that them?”
They were positioned at a corner table, in another suite that was connected to this one. Dwayne had a beer in hand, nodding to the conversation and watching the teams below. Trent was conversing with another man in a business suit. The suit guy was the one talking, his hands in the air, but Trent glanced back. His eyes caught me, and a look flashed in them. He said something to the suit guy, turning to come for me.
“That’s them, yeah.”
“Got it.” Marie patted my arm. “You go over to them, and I’ll grab you something to eat and drink, hmmm?”
But she hadn’t gone a step before a woman stepped in. “Are you Reese Forster’s girlfriend?”
A gargle left me. I didn’t know how to respond, not at first. Then a calmness settled over me and I held my hand out. “Yes. I’m Charlie.”
She introduced herself. It was Lestroy’s wife.
“If you ever need anything, let me know. Marie has my number.” She was kind, and giving. She was there for me, but I knew it was her way of reaching out, being there for Reese. This was all for Reese.
And after she stepped back, another came forward. Crusky’s girlfriend.
A few of the men came over, introduced themselves. Condolences were said over and over until my mind was a blur.
I couldn’t remember faces, or names, or even what they said. But I remembered the sentiment.
They were being kind.
That went a long way with me.
By the time the last one who came over had stepped away, the lights in the gym were dimming for the announcer’s introductions. Trent was next to me, his hand on my arm. “We have seats in the corner. Ready?”
I had caught Trent and Marie introducing themselves from the corner of my eye during my line of people. Stan appeared when we went over. There was no surprise from Trent so I assumed they knew each other. Dwayne was watching me, his eyebrow slightly raised, but he kept sipping his beer. He was eyeing Marie at one point until Trent nudged him and leaned in to whisper something. Dwayne jackknifed toward the window again, and stayed there.
From what I’d been told, I didn’t think an official announcement had been made over the game’s intercom system about Roman’s death. I mean, people knew, but it wasn’t something that needed to be announced.
But then the lights cut for the Seattle Thunder’s entrance, and the personal phone camera lights blinked on. But they weren’t the usual color. They were a pastel blue—the team color.