The choking sensation is growing, clogging my throat, filling my lungs.
“The break is clean,” he says. “You’re young and strong. You’ll heal and be back to top form in no time.”
I make the mistake of meeting his eyes. And shit, that was stupid because our gazes lock, and I know he sees everything. That he gets what’s going on in my head, that I’m spooked. That the instant I heard my leg snap, something within me did as well, and I’d realized everything I’d ever relied on was as solid as smoke.
Maybe he too is thinking of my dad, whose pro career was snatched away by a college injury. My dad wasn’t a bitter man, but the loss haunted him. I’d seen it in his eyes, in the way he’d grow distant sometimes when we walked about me going to the NFL. My dad was the best man I’d ever known. But I don’t want to become him, not that way.
Coach had to understand this. He’d been friendly with my dad. The silence between us stretches tight, and I want so badly to look away that I grind my teeth.
“Drew,” Coach pauses, and I know it’s going to get worse. “Maybe it’d be good if you saw a counselor—”
“No,” I shout despite me desire to keep calm. “I’m not f**kin—” I take a sharp breath and hold up a hand. “I’m not going to a counselor, all right? So just get that off the table now.”
His eyes are hard. “There’s no shame in talking to someone.”
“You think I don’t know that?” I hobble over to the kitchen island with enough force to make my leg ache. “I was there enough when my parents died. I’m fine.” I glare at him. “Fine.”
Coach sighs. “Just think about it, son.”
“I’m not your son.” Great, I sound petulant now. I grip my hair to keep from shouting again.
“I know that,” he says quietly. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t care about you and what you’re going through.” His gaze pins me. “And I promised your parents that I’d look out for you. I don’t go back on my promises. Neither do you.”
A low blow. Because, when I’d agreed to play under Coach’s program after he’d vowed to do right by me, I’d promised my parents that I’d respect the man’s rules. Now there’s nothing I can say that will not make me look defensive. I pinch the bridge of my nose, pushing against my aching eyes. I just want to sleep.
Coach’s heavy hand lands on my shoulder and gives it a squeeze. “Just think about it, okay?”
Dully, I nod, but it’s an empty promise and we both know it.
It might have helped if Anna came home. She can distract me better than anyone. In truth, she’s the only one I want around me these days. Something I know I ought to be worried about.
The only distraction I can find is doing some upper bodywork on the weight bench. When I hear the phone ring, I set the weights down with a clang. Unfortunately, it isn’t Anna but Grey.
“Hey, man. I’m coming over and making lasagna tonight. And before you say no, Anna says you’re free. Shocking, isn’t it?”
I frown down at my cast. “You talked to Anna first?
“Uh, yeah. How else am I going to get an invite anymore?” The annoyance in his voice is thick, and it irks me.
“Then why bother telling me? Why not just show up?”
“Because I’m not a dick?”
“You sure about that?”
The silence on the other end of the line is total.
Okay, that was shitty. But I can’t help it. The little f**ker is plotting behind my back. With Anna. My chest clenches tight. Fuck it, did they know Coach was coming over too? Heat crawls up my neck. I’m pretty f**k-all sure they did.
When Gray finally speaks, his voice is sharp with anger. “What’s your problem, Drew?”
I have a long list right now. “Forget it.”
“Right,” Gray snaps. “I’ll do that.”
Which means he’ll glare at me when he gets here and make me feel like shit. I rake my hand through my hair, pushing down on my scalp. My head is a steady throb of pain now. “You need a ride?”
Because it occurs to me, with a sinking feeling, that not only has the punk offered to cook for me again, he’s also lent me his truck so I’m not stuck in the house. Guilt sucks.
“Naw,” Gray says, lighter now. “Anna said she’d bring me.”
My teeth meet with a loud clack. Right. Because they’re communicating. My grip on the phone goes knuckle white. “Gotta go. See you later.”
There’s another awkward pause, then Gray speaks. “See you.” He hangs up.
The phone is a brick in my hand. I want to call Anna and ask her why she thinks it’s okay to sic my friend on me. Is this some sort of sympathy party? Or does she no longer like hanging out only with me? Is Gray here as a buffer?
I hate being paranoid. Hate this feeling of dissatisfaction crawling through me at all hours. I need to get out of the house.
Taking Gray’s truck—which brings on a fresh wash of guilt—I head out. Anna likes wine, so I’m going to get her some for dinner. Unfortunately, once at the store, it’s clear I have no idea what I’m doing. I know she’d like red with lasagna, or at least that’s what my parents always drank with it. But there’s like five hundred bottles of red. What type would she prefer? Merlot? Cabernet? Pinot Noir? What’s the difference?
“Can I help you… Drew?”