Another squeeze, then she was off and getting into one of the other vehicles.
Stan had opened the door to the one we stood by, and I climbed in. He leaned in. The reporters had remained at the exit, but there were other people standing around, and a couple had their phones pointed at us. He blocked their view, his hands on both sides of the door. “I’m going to get in the front with the driver. Reese is heading out now. Do you need anything while I’m here? I can grab a water or anything else?”
My stomach growled. I hadn’t eaten all day, but I shook my head. “I’m good.”
I just wanted Reese.
He dipped his head down and stood back, shutting the door. He climbed into the front a second later, then we waited. The vehicle was silent, even the driver. Then a whole surge of activity happened toward the front. Lights were flashing, and out strolled a few of the players.
Then Juan, and following him: Reese.
Everything raised a whole octave at Reese’s appearance, but he walked through, ignoring everyone. Juan waited, and Reese bumped the side of his fist against his. Both separated. Juan went to where Marie was waiting, and Reese came to us.
He got in, tossing his bag in the back before sliding next to me. The door was shut, and he reached for my hand, entwining our hands. The SUV started, and within a minute, we were pulling away from the arena.
? ? ?
Life was a whirlwind after that.
We flew back to Washington that night. Both his parents were already checked into their respective facilities by the time we landed, and as Reese had said, they attended Roman’s funeral. It was an emotional day for all of them. I sat beside Reese, holding his hand, and that night, I held him in my arms.
He was peppering kisses up my spine, his hand shifting over my hip as he rolled me to look at me. He was looming above me, resting on an arm to hold himself up.
The stark need in his eyes had me biting back tears. He’d had that look quite frequently this weekend, and I slid my hands up his arms, then moved one around his neck, going up into his hair and I fisted it there, pulling him down to me.
His mouth met mine. A soft graze. Loving.
It made me ache, but this time it wasn’t a body ache. It was a soul ache. He brought me to life, and I just wanted to do the same for him now. I wanted to push all his haunts away.
He lifted his head. “What’s wrong?”
My top lip curved up at that. “You’re asking me what’s wrong?”
He rested on his side, his hand tracing circles over my stomach. The sheet fell to the side. He was seeing all of me and he bent forward, his lips finding my breast, tasting me.
I closed my eyes, that soul ache shifting to peace. He filled me up in every way now.
Then I started talking, “You have not once pushed me away during this time. You’ve not once tried to avoid dealing with your parents or your brother. You’ve not once shied away from all the responsibilities on your shoulder.”
That meant something.
He carried it all, and he did it without a thought, without breaking stride, and I knew he’d continue to do so as long as his parents were seeking help.
He lifted his head up, gazing down at me. “Yeah. Why would I?”
A half-laugh slipped from me. “I would’ve. I did. You changed me.” I trailed a hand down his shoulder, his arm, his chest. “I couldn’t even feel my emotions before. I asked those questions to evade it all, and here I am, actually feeling tears and peace and not shitting my pants because of it.” I looked him in the eyes, drawing him back in. “That’s because of you.”
He shook his head, his hand going to the side of my face, tracing down my jawline. “No, that was you. You were starting to face the world again. I just happened to be in the way.” His lip curled up, and he leaned down, nuzzling my jawline and moving south.
I closed my eyes, reaching up, grabbing a fistful of his hair.
My breath was shortening. Panting.
He was growing closer to my mouth.
He paused before touching his lips to mine and murmured, “You know my tattoo?”
I nodded. Did I? I admitted, “I might’ve salivated over it a few times.” He lifted his head farther and moved so we could both see it on his side. “What does it mean?”
“It’s Hebrew for teardrop shot.”
He was holding back a grin. “I know. It’s kind of embarrassing.”
He laughed, burying his head in his arm for a second. “Because I thought it looked cool. I got it in college, and one of my friends was obsessed with learning Hebrew. I have no idea why, but we got drunk one night and resolved to get something that stood for our future. I got teardrop shot because it’s rare and it’s under utilized, and I wanted one thing to excel at in ball. I knew I was fast. I knew I could handle the ball decent, but I wanted one more thing that would make me stand out. I wanted to further pack my resume, I guess. But it also means more than that to me now.” He paused, a dark emotion starting to blaze from his eyes as he gazed at me.
I whispered out, “Reese.” My hand cupped the side of his face.
He caught my hand, bringing it to his mouth and kissing it. Then he rested it against the side of his face. “You think you had all this baggage when we first started.”
I quirked an eyebrow up.
He relented, “And yeah, you might’ve, but you’re going to be fine. You’re going to be amazing. You can do anything you want, and I really believe that. All that stuff you went through, it didn’t break you. It made you stronger, and I think it made you perfect for me.” He paused, swallowing before he spoke again, his voice dropping low to a rasp, “Life with me is going to be hard. I’m the one with the baggage now. There’s going to be fan pressure, women, publicity. Life’s different at this stage, and I think, I really think, you’re my teardrop shot. You’re the high arch in my life. You’re beautiful inside and out, and you’re rare. So very rare.” He leaned down, his mouth capturing mine.
All the love, pleasure, peace in me swirled up, flooding my senses.
I was blinking back tears, my hand moving to his chest. “There was a time when I thought I would never be happy again.” My eyes held his. “I gave it up. I was just trying to find the will to keep going, then you happened.”
“I got back a part of my old life. I got a piece of a new life.” Reese. “And suddenly, I could deal with losing a huge chunk of myself in the in-between. You think I was made for you. Well, I think you were made for me too.” Then I grinned. “I mean, who else still responds to me when I randomly text for thoughts on beluga procreation?”
He laughed, his mouth closing in over mine. “That’s true. I mean, if there’s one thing that keeps me up at night, it’s beluga fucking each other, especially at three in the morning when I’m lying right next to you.”
I laughed, but then his mouth grew more commanding, and I knew the talking was done for the night. I was okay with that.
I was happy.
? ? ?
Reese was right. Life happened after that. A lot of life.
His father emerged from rehab six months later sober and he remained that way. Reese got his dad back. It wasn’t quite the same with his mother. She was treated for chronic depression, survivor’s guilt, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Through the years, she had ups and downs, but she continued to struggle the rest of her life. She was in and out of mental hospitals, but she tried. She really tried.
As for Damian, the first day he met Reese, he beamed from ear to ear. He ate all of his meals. The nurses marveled at how happy he’d been. By that time, he’d already forgotten about me. I was his friend who watched sporting games with him, and then I became Reese Forster’s woman.
I always got a little sad when he called me that. He never understood why, and I never shared. It was easier to go with the new name. It was the happiest for him. He was proud to know me.
He forgot AJ, but not Mickey or his mother. He remembered both to the end.
He passed in his sleep, five years from Roman’s death. The nurses never heard his bed alarm. When they checked on him for their three am rounds, he was gone.
My family came around, but it wasn’t a happily-ever-after ending with them. They were excited to meet Reese, but I was never able to get past what had happened with Damian. A piece of my heart had died, and though I tried to put it back, it never filled again. I was on polite terms with my family. Polite, but distant, and it stayed that way even while I worked close by in marketing for Echo Island Camp.
I remained with the camp for two years, going back and forth from Seattle.
I only needed to be there half the time, when I was in charge of photo ops and had to document all the busy camp schedules. Reese came with me if he wasn’t training in his off-season, and during my off-season at work, I went where Reese was.
I put in my resignation when I was ready for a career change—and remember that book I said I was going to do for therapy? I finished it.