I gulped down some oxygen once he lifted his hand. “Thank you. I almost lost a second job there.”
He moved back, but his chuckle was strained. “I gotta go, but you need to get yourself in check. I mean it. I have to leave tomorrow for another speaking event, and I won’t be back till the end of their stay. You going to be okay till then?”
Once the camp weeks started, it wouldn’t be hard to avoid Keith. He tended to only show up for meals. He’d stay in the office other than that, so as long as he wasn’t poking his nose in at the gym courts, I would be fine. I could do the dishes and squirrel away a plate of food.
“You’ll help rein her in if she needs it?” Trent called to Hadley, walking by.
She threw him a smile over her shoulder, not stopping. She went out, picked up a steamer, and brought it back. “No problem,” she said as she passed us again. “Though I’ve always enjoyed Charlie’s feisty side.”
“For some reason, I’m not reassured.”
I slapped Trent on the arm. “Get on. I’ll be fine. And if nothing else, I’ll whisper my random questions.”
He gave me a dry look. “Right. Because that’s not creepy.”
I shrugged, going back to the dishes.
The players had started to migrate out the doors, leaving all their dishes on the table.
Normal camps had a process where campers were told how to collect plates on one tray, silverware on another, throw away their trash, etc. Adult camps were just told to take their dishes to the dish window, but these guys were none of those. I wasn’t surprised to see that not one of them brought their stuff to the window. That would add thirty minutes to the cleanup.
But just then Owen whipped through with a cart.
Owen was bringing the window to their dishes. It was decked out, even with a soaker tub for the silverware.
“Okay. I’m going to go.” Trent still lingered. “You haven’t asked about your baller crush.”
Do you regret anything you did five days ago? Five weeks? Five months? Five years?
I was biting down hard on my lip. None of those questions spilled out, and I was damn proud of myself.
Then I heard Trent say, “He’s not here. He’s coming tomorrow.”
Oh good God.
If you can see a fart on a thermal camera, could you see a climax too?
It didn’t take as long to clean as I thought.
I was walking out of there thirty minutes later. Hadley had set a plate of food aside for me before they put everything away. I could’ve kissed her when she gave it to me because my stomach was doing some serious growling and rolling. I could’ve intimidated bears if I needed to, but because I was scarfing down my food, I was also cutting through the back of the lodge, heading for the gyms.
I wasn’t sure how long they’d keep everyone at the opening/welcome ceremony, but I hadn’t checked out the gyms yet.
That was always one of the number one rules. Actually, we didn’t really have a list of rules. They were all considered the most important, and we had to figure it out from there. My personal number one rule had always been eating, so there you go. Smart girl priorities.
Anyway, I was in a bit more of a rush than I normally would’ve been, and I slammed through the screen door leading into the inside gyms, only seeing the silhouette at the last second.
“Oh shit!” I tried swerving around him, but I failed.
I hit the guy smack in the center of the chest, and down we went. My food rained on top of us.
Is rain only called rain if it’s the liquid form of water? Could my food have snowed down on top of us too?
I bit my lip so hard as I rolled to my feet. “Sorry.”
I wasn’t sure if I should look, but I did. I sighed in relief. “Oh, Grant. It’s only you.” And then I immediately seized up in a mouth-twisting-biting-hands-wringing moment because I hadn’t meant to imply he didn’t matter—like I hadn’t purposely not asked about him, because I knew he was here or he would be here, and yeah. I was sucking at this whole thing.
I still couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eye, but I was very aware of our surroundings. Even in the dark, I was already taking inventory. There were two indoor gyms and in the corner was the cage where I’d be sitting and trying to write out a lame and overly committed-to therapeutic exercise. I’d come in through one screen door, but straight across from us, another screen door led to three brand-new outdoor gyms. Leaning to the side, I could see that the last court had a volleyball net up and shit. That’s probably why Grant was here.
“Are you here for the net?” I asked.
I was aware of how he hadn’t moved since I jumped to my feet. He was still on the floor, and I got a glance in before I panicked, just quick enough to see my roll sitting on his jean’s zipper, right where a whole other type of bread was.
I made every effort to change my thoughts, because I could feel all the sexual-themed questions coming, and with my history with this guy, I did not want to take that on.
He grunted, finally standing up. “That’s all you’re going to say to me?’”
Well…what else was there?
I mean, besides the fact that for all the crap I took from Keith about “dating” my guy friends, I hadn’t dated any of them. Yet, this was the one guy who actually came close to entering that zone. The dating zone.
That’d been Grant.
And no one knew. No one.
They just knew he’d been my best friend for six summers in a row. They didn’t know we’d kissed on the hanging bench my last summer here, and we’d held hands on the walk to my car—right to where I had it packed with all my belongings. We drove our separate ways, and that was the end of our summer.
Grant went north four hours to finish his last year at college, and I went south to meet Damian. Life took a turn after that—a big, fast, and dramatic turn, and sometimes I felt like I’d taken that turn so fast, my car had rolled in the ditch and I’d never woken up.
My throat suddenly had an STD. There was burning, more burning.
“How’s Damian?” Grant asked.
We were going serious right off the bat.
“If everyone started using shiitake as a curse word, would we switch things and call them shit mushrooms?”
He snorted, rubbing a hand over his jaw. “You’re exactly the same.”
No, Grant. No, I wasn’t actually. I was very, very different inside, but it was all covered up in lame questions and stupid jokes because I couldn’t admit the truth or I would collapse. That was the real Charlie, and I clamped her down because I couldn’t even handle her myself.
“Well…” His voice lilted with sarcasm. “I’m engaged. Do you give a shit?”
I looked up at him now, finally. His eyes bore into me, and I swallowed.
“Yes,” I whispered.
I rolled my eyes at myself. I wasn’t a meek and timid mouse, but that’s what was coming out. Coughing, I hit my chest with a fist and exclaimed, “I mean, yes, I do.”
It came out booming now. All I had to do was throw my arm out to the side and it would be as if I was announcing the Seattle Thunder’s starting lineup.
His lip twitched.
That relaxed me. My lungs weren’t so shriveled up.
His looked at me and lowered his head, seeming to study me. After a moment, he shook his head. “Yeah. Okay, kid. You and I can do our dance later.” He gestured around us. “Boss wanted this cleaned up and the net taken down. I’ll handle it.” He nodded to the cage. “You need to count everything in there.”
The cage was just what it sounded like: a small room set in the corner with two large doors, but only one was used to enter and exit. The other one had been cut in half. The bottom had the door handle. It could swing open and closed, but the other section of the door had been taken off, cut in half again and glued over the top so it looked like half a concession stand.
Years ago, it had looked rough, but they had made it look better. It looked like an equipment room any top-notch facility would use now. The budget had been good to this place.
Heading in, I switched on the light. The cage had been organized. All the balls were in place, the equipment in its spots. I scuffed my foot over the floor. Even that had been cleaned.
“Grant, you did this?”
He’d just cleared the screen door, but hollered back through it, “Nah.”
Grant wasn’t a liar, so that meant Mary had done it.
I yelled back, “Thank your mom for me, please.”
He raised a hand in response, crossing the first of the two courts.
I got myself to work, and I was kneeled down behind a partition, going through the second rack of hockey equipment, when I heard the first voices. They came closer and closer, and I couldn’t move.
Grant had left twenty minutes ago, so no one knew I was back here. I squeezed my eyes shut and took a breath. Meditation, bitches. I’d need to become a namaste maestro by the end of these three weeks, but Reese Forster wasn’t here.
I whispered that to myself, over and over again. I hoped fervently it would give me some form of bearing so I wouldn’t get swept up in the craziness.