Sighing happily, the nurse bustles out, not seeing Drew’s mouth twitching at the corners. But I do, and once she’s gone, I lean in and kiss his stubble-covered cheek. “Thanks,” I whisper. “I was trying not to sneeze with all of those flowers.” I know exactly why he hates the sight of them, but I’m happy to pretend I was the one who didn’t want them.
Drew’s head tilts back as he closes his eyes. “I just want to get out of here.”
“I know.” Gently, I run my fingers up and down his forearm. I love the tight, satin texture of his skin and could touch him indefinitely. But a shadow from the window in the door catches my attention. “Looks like the guys are here to see you.”
Drew lurches up, his eyes wild. “Oh, shit no.”
“What do you mean, ‘no’?”
“Get rid of them, Anna.” He looks positively panicked.
“Drew, I’m not going to tell them to go. They must be worried about you.”
He grabs my hand. “I don’t want them to see me like this.” His lids lower, his gaze skating away. “I don’t want to hear about the game. Or face them. Fuck!”
Because Gray is already heading in with what looks like the entire team. Evading Drew’s hand, I get up and lean over him. “These guys love you. And you love them. Don’t forget that.” I kiss him on the cheek and pretend I don’t see him glaring at me like I’m a traitor as I walk out the door.
I KEEP MY eyes on Anna’s pert ass as it sways out of my room. Traitorous woman. With her gone, I have to face the guys, who are shuffling in like they’re going to a f**king funeral. And aren’t they, really? Ladies and Gentlemen, the death of Drew Baylor’s college career. Unfortunately, he did not go out in a blaze of glory, light, and screaming fans. No, he was carried out, screaming in pain and wanting to cry for his mommy. Shit.
No one says anything as they stream in, a parade of legs filling my view, and the scent of deodorant, shower gel, and the faint smell of what I can only describe as “football” that lingers on them filling my nose.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
I have to look up. It hurts my neck to do it. My eyes burn as I fight to keep them open. Starters surround me, bench warmers and second strings spilling out into the hall.
“Hey.” I say to no one in particular.
A unified grumble of “Hey, Battle,” is returned.
It’s so awkward, I’m choking on it. Beneath the sheet, I clench my fists. I don’t meet my guys’ eyes, and they don’t meet mine. Gray steps forward and plops down on the seat Anna vacated. “Jesus, someone tell a joke or something.”
A couple of guys laugh nervously. The following silence is deafening.
“Hey,” says Gray into the void, “how did Darth Vader know what Luke got him for Christmas? He felt his presents!”
Everyone groans at that.
“Fucking lame, Gray-Gray.”
But they’re laughing more. Rolondo comes forward and slaps my shoulder. Hard. “You all right, man?” He winces. “Aside from your busted up leg.”
We eyeball each other for a beat then both laugh. It isn’t a full one but enough for now. “Yeah. Other than my busted up leg. And stinking of hospital.”
“That nursemaid of yours can’t hurt,” Dex says with a smile.
Someone coughs, “Scarlett.”
I roll my eyes, but I’m not touching that one.
Dex’s smile fades. “We kicked their ass, Drew.”
“For you, man,” adds Simms. Cool rage simmers in his eyes, and in the eyes of my guys as I look around. For a brief moment, I almost feel sorry for the players they must have pummeled. But then I remember why and a tight pain twists my gut. I don’t want to be the team’s Gipper.
“Motherfuckers had it coming,” says Marshal. A louder grumble runs through the room.
“We in the playoffs, then?” I manage to ask.
No one looks at me then. “Yeah.”
Without me. They didn’t need me after all. Is it petty that it feels like a kick to the gut? Yeah. But I say what they need to hear. Taking a deep breath, I force the words to come out with conviction, to face each and every one of their eyes. “And you’re gonna kick ass.”
A sound of agreement goes through the room, but it’s half-hearted at best.
Thank God, or whoever is listening to my pleas, that the nurse weaves through the crowd and starts to shoo them out. And they go. Having been on the other side of these sorts of visits, I know how badly they want to escape. I want to follow them.
One after another, they come forward, give me a pat on the arm or the shoulder with a murmured, “Get better,” or some equivalent. And each time, if feels like another nail on my coffin. By the time it’s just Gray, I want to be alone so badly, I’m sweating. Scratch that, I want Anna. I want to get lost in her warm scent, her syrup-sweet voice, or just her smooth skin.
But Gray lingers. He frowns, opens his mouth, closes it, and then tries again. “We won because our defense shut them down. We didn’t score another f**king point. Our offensive productivity went to hell when you were taken out.”
My throat closes, and I study the waffle weave of my thin hospital blanket.
“You’re one of the greats, Drew. Don’t you forget it.”
“Was,” I mutter.
He takes a step closer, getting into my field of vision. “Are.” His expression is fierce. “You aren’t done yet.”
Anna walks in but halts, her gaze going to me and then Gray, and she hovers, clearly worried she’s interrupted something. Gray glances at her but then looks back at me. Moving faster than I expect, he reaches out and musses my hair, giving my head a little shove at the end.