“—gotta call the woman and check in.”
Yes. I recognized that voice. I’d heard it from locker-room interviews, but I wasn’t going to name the Cruskinator. If I did, I’d be nutso.
I wasn’t going to be nutso.
Someone else responded, “You have a four year old, right?”
“Yeah. He’s such a little punk—”
He sounded so fond of his kid.
The Cruskinator kept talking, but the word rascal did it for me.
I could rattle off his stats for four years in a row—not the last four years, but a few years before that—yet hearing him call his kid a rascal grounded me.
He was a father, and a good father from what I’d read.
A different voice: “You guys seen Aiden?”
The door to the cage rattled, but it held firm. I forgot I’d locked it. It’d been an automatic motion for me, a policy Keith hammered into our heads so no campers could get in and steal the equipment.
That same voice: “Door’s locked. We don’t have any balls to shoot with.”
“Half the guys are heading to the cabins to call their families.”
That guy grunted. “True. We could come back later?”
Cruskinator asked, “When’s Forster showing up?”
The squeak of their shoes on the floor. They were moving away.
The screen door protested as someone hit it open.
“I thought tomorrow…”
They faded away after that, and I let out a deep breath.
Okay. I’d been acting like a twenty-something, which I was, but I needed to rein it in. I was twenty-seven. I was almost an adult. Kind of. God help everyone, but I was annoying even myself.
Yes, these guys were some of my idols. Yes, I had watched them when I was with Damian—and my throat was burning again.
Being back here shouldn’t have brought him to my mind, but he was everywhere. Everyone grew up. Everyone had formed a family—got married, had kids, got divorced. One guy went to prison. Working here, we’d all had dreams, together, and my dream had been shattered.
And no one knew why.
I felt a tear slide down my face.
The gym’s lights were on a timer, which chose this moment to turn off. It seemed fitting, so I didn’t move. I remained in place—no questions bouncing in my head, no jokes on my tongue—and for the first time in a long while, I let myself feel. A monsoon of grief pushed through me, tearing everything in me and commanding I deal with it.
Well. Fuck that.
Feeling sucked. Who liked to cry? I couldn’t do it.
I thought I could. I changed my mind.
I was pushing myself up from the floor when the lights switched back on. The screen door shoved open. I heard angry stomping coming across the room as the door slammed shut, and before I could prepare myself, Reese Forster was standing smack in front of the cage, his stormy eyes locked on me.
“I need a ball.”
Shit. I was going there. I tried to stop myself, but, “What’s your criteria for determining who you choose to be a fuck buddy?”
He scowled. “The fuck you say?”
Oh shitty crap.
My idol was scowling at me, and I swallowed over a piece of bark in my throat. I had to go for broke here. If I didn’t, I’d forever be a freak in his eyes. I could not go to my grave knowing Reese Forster—who was overwhelmingly live and livid and lovely—would think of me as that freak fan.
(Though, I kinda was.)
So, taking a breath, I rushed out, “I didn’t mean that the way it came out.” I might’ve. “I have a problem.”
The scowling lessened, but his eyes were still narrowed at me.
“It’s just something weird I do. It’ll go away. I hope,” I explained. “I just—I don’t know where I picked it up, but when I’m nervous or excited or angry or if I just can’t deal with whatever I’m feeling, these stupid questions burst out of me.”
Stop. Take a breath.
The bark was still there. Ouch.
And once more.
“I’m nervous,” I added. “Soo nervous.” I bent over suddenly.
The scowl was gone. His head cocked sideways, and he stepped back, his hands stuffed in his hoodie. I was either back to the alien theme or he was looking at me like I was nuts. Which was still in the freak category.
I waved a hand in the air, puffing out. “I’m good. I’ll be fine. Nothing to see here. Totally normal.”
I felt them coming. More. They were going to burst out of me.
Annnnnd…here we go.
“If you were guaranteed the truth, what question would you ask someone?”
I bent down farther, resting my forehead to the counter, but another question came out. It was mumbled. “Favorite curse word to use while having sex? Or biking? Or having sex on a bike?”
I’d just answered my own question, and I bit my lip.
It wasn’t working.
I tried my cheek. Ow! And that wasn’t working either.
“What do a mullet and a ferret have in common?”
I bit down harder, and this time I tasted blood. I was almost hyperventilating again. If I went down a few more inches, I could just buckle to the ground, wrap my arms around my knees, and hope to disappear.
I’d started to think I should do that when I heard a soft chuckle.
“I would ask my brother something,” he said. “I like the word fuck for anything, and having sex on a bike sounds fun to try. I can’t think of anything they have in common except the words both have two of the same letters in the middle, both have six letters, and you could put a ferret on someone’s head to look like a mullet.”
I…had no idea what to do.
He’d answered my questions.
No one answered my questions.
I stayed frozen for a second before lifting my head. I gulped again.
“You don’t think I’m a freak?”
“No, I do. You’re crazy.”
The corner of his mouth tugged up, and holy shit, my heart flopped over in my chest. There was the Reese Forster that was in Person magazine’s Most Beautiful People issue. There was my fantasy for so many years.
“But I’m hoping you’re harmless.” He laughed softly, his hands pushing down on his hoodie so it stretched from his shoulders to accentuate his physique.
I had watched him running up and down the court so many times—I knew his body was lean and muscled. He was solid, but in front of me, he seemed larger than life, with bright hazel eyes. They had a golden ring of honey around the iris, and a smattering of blue and green.
High and angular cheekbones.
A strong jawline that could cut paper, or glass—maybe not glass, but definitely something else. Go back to the water. Man, I had just envisioned him with droplets sliding down his face, lingering at the dip of his chin where it came to the most perfect square end. There was a slight scruff on his face. He hadn’t shaved that day or the day before, giving him a very rough, slightly alarming, and so authoritative air.
I sighed to myself, my fingers curling around the counter.
I was ogling.
I didn’t care.
After all the questions, this was nothing. The guy must’ve been used to it by now.
A slight growl vibrated out of him, and my gaze snapped up to his.
His hair. I was distracted again. It was the perfect short length and a dirty blond color. It matched the honey in his eyes.
In some ways, it wasn’t fair.
No guy could measure against him. None.
“Would you stop fucking leering at me? I don’t do camp groupies.” He thrust a hand out, pointing behind me. “I want a ball. Now.”
I snapped to attention, jerking around. I grabbed a ball and thrust it at him. “Here.”
He took it and rotated swiftly on his feet, pushing the ball to the ground in a bounce as he stepped over it at the same time. He began dribbling as he went to the court—so smoothly, so naturally, it was like he didn’t even realize he was doing it.
There was a sign-out sheet campers were supposed to use when they took equipment, but sorry, Keith. No camp policy for this guy, though I did scribble his name on the paper. My hand was trembling so much it looked like a chicken scratch.
It’d have to do.
He ignored me and began shooting hoops. He’d toss the ball up. It’d go through the basket, with a nice swishing sound, and he’d grab it off the first bounce to follow with a quick layup.
I was riveted.
My whole body had been shaking, but he kept going, and going, and going, and after what must’ve been an entire hour, I felt calm.
I almost wanted to freak out, realizing that, but nope.
Watching him play, the same motion over and over and over again, was soothing. He had such control every time he touched the ball. He never struggled. The ball answered his commands seamlessly, as if connected to him through a mental string.