George blinks rapidly and fiercely, and I let him have a moment. I have no words of comfort. How can I? My future is a dark, empty hole now. If I look too hard at it, I’ll scream.
A biker rides by, breaking the silence. And I take a deep breath. “So we let Iris do the dishes all summer.”
A laugh bursts from George. “She’ll bitch, but you know she’ll love it.” Iris is a complete neat freak.
We both smile as we finish our waters.
“What’s the deal with you and Baylor?” George gives me a searching look. “For serious now. No bullshitting.” He knows me well enough to understand that this version of me isn’t normal.
“Are we still sharing?”
George glares. “I spilled my guts, so yeah, we are.”
I sigh and rest my arms on my raised knees. Green grass tickles my ankles as a breeze dances over the lane. I pick up a brown leaf and twist it around by its brittle stem. “We’re having sex. A lot of it.” God, it ought to be easier, but then confessions never are. And I’m afraid if I open my mouth to purge, the flow might never stop.
“Is he stringing you along, Banana?” The implicit threat of George hunting down Drew and making him pay is clear.
A huff of laughter escapes me. “More like the other way around.” Shame creeps up my neck and makes it tight. “He wants…” Everything. I shudder. “It’s just supposed to be sex.”
George hums in his throat. “Who do you think you’re fooling with that one?”
“No one but me, apparently.” I frown down at the ground.
After a long moment, George stirs. “This isn’t like you. Not this weird limbo shit you’ve got going with him. What’s the deal?”
Because it’s either a hook up or casual dating for me. Drew doesn’t fit in either category. He never really did.
“He’s… He’s my mirror.” It sounds stupid when I say it but also rings true inside of me. “When I’m with him, I can’t hide. All the bullshit, all the f**ked up issues I think I’ve overcome are reflected back at me in perfect clarity, telling me that I’m full of it.”
“Shit,” says George.
The leaf spins round faster. “You know the most f**ked up thing of all? Even though I see all of my flaws, when I’m with him, I’m…” I toss the leaf away and shrug as a helpless sound comes out of me. “God, it’s going to sound so stupid, George, but I feel… everything.” I press the heels of my hands into my eyes so I don’t have to see my friend. Because it is sappy. So freaking sappy, but undeniable. “I’m so happy that I’m afraid to take the next breath because it might end.”
I might not be able to see him, but I can feel George’s presence. And the weight of his stare. “If it’s that good,” he finally says, “why are you keeping him at a distance?”
It takes several swallows to find the strength to answer. “Because it has to end. He’s going to go out there and have the world in his palm, while I’ll struggle just to find a nine to five job. And when it does end, I won’t recover.”
Silence greets me. Filled with the chirp of late fall crickets and the distant motor traffic. I want to crawl away and die. Especially when George sighs.
“Yeah,” I say, knowing what he really means: I’m screwed.
He puts an arm around me and tugs me against his sweaty shoulder. I lean into him, registering even now that his comfort isn’t half as relieving as Drew’s. Which just makes it worse.
I don’t see Drew all week. He texts me to say that, thanks to his away game, he’s behind on his classwork and has to catch up. No one I know has a schedule as crazy as Drew’s. Up at dawn to work out with his team, classes afterward, then practice, then meetings, then classwork and studying. Frankly, I’m shocked he ever finds the time to see me.
When Drew finally is available to hook up, I’m the one stuck working. As if the universe is conspiring against us, our one class together is cancelled when Professor Lambert sends an email telling us that she’s got the flu.
But late at night, when I’m in my bed and he’s in his, he calls me. We talk of nothing too deep, just small things. Which means that I now long to hear his voice as much as I need to feel his body against mine. All of which winds me up and makes me twitchy. But maybe a little space is for the best.
HOME GAME. SECONDS on the clock, and we’re sixty yards from the end zone. One touchdown and the game is ours. The noise of the crowd is a jet engine revving up for liftoff. It rushes down the sides of the stadium and washes over me with a power that vibrates my bones. The hairs on my skin lift. My balls draw up tight. Go time.
Heart in my throat, I bend close to my guys to call the play. I can barely hear my own voice and use hand signals as well to make myself clear.
“Crabapple Betty. One.”
“Hut,” they shout in tandem. A clap of the hands and they break and get into formation.
Around us is a sea of fans in red, cresting high like a breaking wave. Many swing plastic battle axes back and forth, their chant a rhythmic pulsing: Battle, Battle, Battle. Before me is a stretch of endless green and a wall of hulking linemen twitching with the need to crush me. Grunts and stamping feet. Under the lights, it’s brighter than midday and hot as hell.
Adrenaline surges, and I tamp it down. Quick check toward Coach. Good to go.
Dex snaps me the ball. Guys burst into action. The thuds of flesh against flesh ripple through the air. Handoff fake to Gray, then I step back into the pocket. Footsteps pound. Linemen rush in when they realize the fake. My boys hold them off.