“Well, it’s certainly an unfortunate story—”
“A week later,” Gray cut in, “Jenny’s telling anyone who’d listen how Drew dumped her because he was stressed over football. That he was scared of losing. That his arm was ‘in agony’ after every practice. She showed people their text messages. Select ones that skewed the truth to her purposes.”
Gray’s expression turns ugly. “You said it. And they listened. The press. Other teams. You expose a hint of weakness, and they pounce. Drew was pummeled during every game we had. Now, every girl he’s with, he has to wonder if she’ll sell him out.”
I sink back into the leather seat, deflated. “Why are you telling me all this?” I look at Gray. “I mean, shouldn’t you be watching his back, not spilling his secrets?”
“I am watching his back. You need to know that he isn’t a player. And if that’s all you’re after—”
“There are things about me that Drew had wrong too,” I snap, but then sag. “I’m not telling them to you. But he’s more to me than just…”
My face flames. “Really? You really just said that to me?”
He laughs. “Kind of worth it to see your cringe.”
While Drew has his bone reset, Gray and I sit in the lobby. A ways down, the ubiquitous group of girls hangs around like specters, clearly waiting for word of Drew. They titter when they catch sight of us, and I roll my eyes.
“Excuse me,” says one of them, her voice anything but polite. “Are you Big Red Hen?”
My face prickles. Beside me, Gray mutters something ripe under his breath and rubs his big hand over his eyes. Is that what people have been calling me? Iris and George have been sheltering me, keeping me off social media, but I know there’s been talk. Most of it ugly.
Slowly I turn. There’s four of them. Tanned, thin, smug.
“No,” I say. “I’m Anna Jones.”
Heavy Eyeliner smirks. “Yeah, exactly. I can’t believe you’re here. Isn’t that kind of pathetic? Drew dumped you.”
Gray shifts in his seat, wincing. I remain stone still. There’s so much I could say about just who and what is pathetic in this scenario. And, yes, a part of me feels the familiar hot weight of humiliation and wants to hide from it.
But I take a deep breath and address what’s really important here. “Seriously, what is wrong with you? Have I given you any reason to be a bitch to me? You know what,” I say when she opens her mouth, “I don’t care. I’m done with you all. Fuck along now. Go on, fly monkeys! Fly!” I make shooing motions with my hands until they all turn beet-red and stalk off, muttering various insults under their breath.
Beside me, Gray laughs into his fist. “Women are evil.”
“Women are awesome,” I answer, not looking at him because I’m still irked. “You’ve just been overexposed to the worst of our gender.”
He grunts in acknowledgment, and we wait in silence. By the time Drew is resting in his room and visitors are allowed, his coach has already arrived and stands like a gryphon, blocking entry to Drew’s door. When Gray escorts me up to Drew’s room, his coach steps forward. I half expect him to pull a Gandalf and state, “You shall not pass!”
Which he basically does, though his delivery has southern politeness to soften the blow. “I’m sorry, young lady, but no visitors. It’s best you go on home now.”
Unfortunately for him, I’m not much in the mood for social graces. “I’m not leaving until I see Drew. He can tell me to go if he wants me to.”
The coach is a big man, and when he crosses his arms over his chest and braces his feet apart, he blocks the entire doorway. “Drew isn’t in the position to make that decision. I’m making it for him. You cannot go in.”
I smile at the coach, pleasantly as if I have all the time in the world. “I am not one of your players or your daughter. You have no authority to tell me what I can and cannot do.”
“Look, young lady—”
“Do not,” I interrupt, “use that misogynistic, patronizing title on me again. You may call me Anna, or Miss Jones if you want to be formal. But ‘young lady’ is off the table.” I raise a brow at him. “Unless you like to be called ‘old man’ which would be the equivalent insult.”
At my side, Gray clears his throat several, quick times, but I don’t spare him a look. Drew’s coach is staring at me like I’ve grown two heads. “Well,” he says in a somewhat strangled voice, “I guess you put me in my place.”
“I’m not trying to do anything other than get to Drew.”
“Coach,” Gray interjects, “she’s Drew’s girl.”
Drew’s girl. Not really. That hurts too.
“The reason why he’s been playing like the walking wounded, you mean.” Coach Smith’s eyes are hard on me, making me want to squirm.
“Which means he’ll probably feel a hell of a lot better seeing her than us right now,” Gray says.
I want to hug him, even if I’m not so sure he’s right.
Coach Smith seems to think the same.
“I’m going in there,” I say. “Try to stop me, and it will get ugly.”
This time, Gray’s suppressed laugh isn’t as successful. Coach Smith’s brows rise, but he steps aside. “If you’re that insistent. By all means.”