Just thrilled to bits. I give him the creepy smile.
I’m about to approach a man who clearly said he never wanted to see me again. An image of him spins around in my head, those tight leather pants, the steel six-pack under his shirt. Unbidden, another memory stirs inside me, of a long ago forbidden kiss. I shut it down hard.
“You bet.”It’s two miles from the Gazette to the stadium, not that far considering how much I walk, although when I exercise, I usually wear sneakers. I send up a silent prayer for my car, which is still stuck at the Piggly Wiggly. I know no one will steal it; it’s too ugly. I called the manager of the Pig the morning after it wouldn’t start, and she assured me I could let it sit in the parking lot until I can pay for a tow or get my brother out there to take a look at it.
By the time I’ve made my way through the winding hills of campus to the stadium, my white silk shell clings to my skin and my face is damp from sweat.
Waylon University Tigers is painted in bright orange at the south end entrance. I brush my fingers over the paw print mural. Superstition says you can’t enter without touching it, and if you don’t, it brings bad luck to the team. I may not have attended many games, but I’m willing. I touch the paw. If this is my new assignment, I’m going to tackle it with my usual excellent work ethic.
After getting lost for several minutes, bemused by the number of stairwells and halls, I find a directory and take the elevator to the offices upstairs. I meet the media director, get my press pass, the itinerary, a list of players’ and coaches’ names, and a bundle of promotional materials, as well as a map of the stadium. An hour later, I take the elevator down and wince at my reflection in the mirrored walls. At least I’ve worn my contacts today. I whip out my sunglasses and push them on my face, hoping it makes me a little incognito in case I run into him.
I step out of one of the upper-level tunnels. The heat may have diminished slightly, but the humidity feels thick inside a facility that seats over a hundred thousand fans. Considering the student enrollment of Waylon is smaller compared to other SEC schools, the stadium is a testament to how important football is here. Brightly colored championship banners dance in the wind, and sky rooms with tinted windows sit high in the air, arching out over the lower decks.
“You know nothing about football,” I mutter to myself. I’ll need to find a way to relate, and to do that, I’ll need to get closer. I head down the stairs to the seats near the sidelines on the fifty-yard line. The field already has players on it, most of them running drills and working in small groups.
A tall guy in a dress shirt and slacks is already in a seat with his laptop out as I approach. I figure he might be press and head that way. He’s handsome with sandy-colored hair and fashionable square-cut black glasses. His eyes flare when he looks up and sees me. “Serena?”
I rack my brain then smile broadly. “Neil? Hey!” I’m used to seeing him in casual attire, mostly jeans and Waylon basketball shirts.
He laughs. “You didn’t know who I was! How long since we had that horrible class together?”
“Dr. Cartwright,” I say when he reaches over to sweep me up in a hug. “Sophomore year. I loved that class! Having to write down our secret thoughts was awesome.”
He laughs. “Until he calls on you and your comment is This professor needs to get laid and you have to read it aloud.”
I sit next to him. “He didn’t like you much after that. He called on me once and my comment was Cereal is soup. We debated for ten minutes.”
“It isn’t,” he says with a smirk.
“I have a valid point. You eat both with a spoon. You crush crackers in soup, and cereal is made from grains. Maybe soup is just warm cereal. It’s a fine line. Admit it.”
He laughs, his gaze warm. “Sure.”
I pull out my ponytail and redo it, arranging it in a messy knot. My hair develops a life of its own in the humidity, but Nana says it’s my best attribute. The length is mid-back and it’s thick, the color a rich brown with natural copper glints. I add the blonde highlights on my own. Once upon a time, I used to get it done at the salon, but that was one of the first things to go after my parents died.
“So you’re going to be traveling with the team?” he asks.