When I don’t say a word, he just keeps talking. Maybe he knows I’m hiding under the covers now. Maybe he knows I’ve lost my voice.
“You ever wonder if who you are is the person you’re supposed to be?” He speaks low now, as if he’s lying beside me on the bed, as if we’re having the kind of drowsy chat you use at a sleepover, just before you nod off.
“Like should I be trying to change who I am?” I ask him.
“Not exactly. More like…” He laughs softly. “Hell, I’m not even sure. I just…I’ve always wanted to play football. I can’t even fathom an existence that doesn’t include it.”
“At least you know. I have no idea what I want to do. I don’t want it to be drudge-work. I don’t want it to be boring. I want a life outside the ordinary. But how do you get that when you’ve no clue?” When all you are is ordinary.
I’ve opened my soul to him. But it doesn’t hurt, because he’s giving me a glimpse of his in return.
“You think knowing is better? All I know how to be is a quarterback. And every moment of it revolves around winning. Or losing.” He pauses as if struggling. “Think of it, a whole life constantly focusing on the next game. So does that make me who I am? An endless roster of victories and losses?”
For a moment I feel the weight of every one of those eyes that constantly bear down on Drew. And it’s crushing. My fingers tighten around the phone. “Are you afraid to lose?”
At first I think he won’t answer, but he does and his voice carries a strange, almost secretive tone. “You want to know what winning really is?”
“It isn’t about talent. Not at the top level. That’s almost equal. And it’s not even about who wants it more. It’s about who believes with the most conviction they can take it. Fear, doubt, hesitation, that’s what kills you.”
“So are you afraid?”
“In the dark, late at night? Yeah. Sometimes. On the field? No. Hell no. It’s just in me. Knowing I can do it.”
I smile at that. “Yet you sound…low. Did you lose the game today?”
“We won.” There’s a hint of amused censure in his tone. “Do you ever watch my games, Anna?”
Anna. The sound of my name on his lips feels more personal than when I bared my skin to him. I burrow farther under the covers. “Once.” It had been a beautiful and agonizing thing to watch. My stomach had clenched every time he took the field. “I didn’t like seeing you get hit.”
I’d hated it, hurt for him. And yet every time he made a play, I’d felt such pride, such awe of his skills that my breath had grown short and my heart had ached.
The silence between us is pregnant and swelling. Double shit f**k. I rush on. “And I think how you see yourself makes you who you are. Your soul doesn’t have a title or an occupation. It’s just you. The rest of the word can go f**k themselves.”
That brings a dry chuckle from him. But he soon goes quiet again.
“And how do you see me?” he finally asks. So carefully.
“You’re just Drew.”
A coward’s answer. But also the truth. He’s too much for simple words and too much to be cut into categories by them.
“I think you’re beautiful,” he says softly.
“Beauty fades,” I choke out.
“Not when it comes from inside.”
Jesus. My eyes flutter closed, and I’m curling into myself. We don’t talk. His breathing is a light noise that mingles with the sound of my own.
When he speaks again, his voice has gone even lower, a caress along my cheek. “I want to kiss you, Anna.”
My breath hitches. I’m all the way under the covers now, in a dark heated world. And there’s nothing but his voice. “I think about it all the time. How soft will your lips be? What will they taste like? Will you make those sweet little noises like you do when we make love?”
Make love. Not f**k. I shiver. Drew.
I don’t even know if I’ve said his name aloud. It doesn’t matter because he just keeps talking, a confession that grows more urgent even as it slows down. “I want to kiss you so badly, I’d forgo the sex for a chance at your mouth. I love your mouth, Anna. The way your upper lip is like a bottom one, a plump, smooth curve that puffs out like a pout. I love your soft, pink, upside down mouth.”
His whisper is rough and thick. And I’m so hot I’m sweating. My hand glides down my chest, to the swells of my heavy, aching br**sts, and stops over my heart. I press against it as if to keep it from breaking free of my body.
“But you won’t let me kiss you,” he says to me in the dark. “Why won’t you let me kiss you, Anna?”
I can’t breathe.
“It’s too much,” I rasp.
“Not when I want everything.” He says it so deep and strong, a staking of a claim. “And I want everything with you, Anna.”
I think he says my name now because he knows what it does to me. He has to, using it that way, over and over, like he’s saying something far more important than just my name. He says it with reverence. With intention.
Tears prickle behind my eyes. What the f**k is wrong with me? I care about him. He’s my lover, but he’s my friend too. The one I find myself turning to first and foremost. Why can’t I just give in? Why can’t I let myself have him?
In my mind, I see Drew Baylor, microphones shoved under his face as he hollers in victory after winning the National Championship. One hundred thousand screaming fans are in the background. Drew Baylor, who personally brings millions of dollars in revenue to this university, who is interviewed by ESPN, who has agents crawling around him, promising the world. Drew, who will go to New York for the draft and sign a multimillion-dollar contract by this time next year.