“Put your earphones in and meditate. You’ll be fine. Good paintball this week.”
He gives me a wary look. “Yeah, thanks for including me.”
“Just waiting till you love me like everyone else.”
“You are such an asshole.”
I’m not listening to him as I hear Serena’s voice behind me. The last time I saw her was when I woke up on her couch, peeked in her room, then left for my run. I wrote her a note thanking her for our date. Ha. We’ve texted on and off, but with the game looming, I crashed last night.
I turn and see her with Neil. I’m cool. Not gonna punch him. She said he’s just a friend. Don’t even know what we are… Just taking it slow. She needs baby steps.
I take my seat and dig out my headphones, waiting for her to walk past, jonesing to see her face.
An exhalation slides through my lips when she approaches, tension easing. She’s wearing one of those tight little pencil skirts, black heels, and an orange Tigers shirt. My eyes snag on a navy ribbon around her neck that leads to something hidden under her blouse. Her hair is up in a high ponytail.
“Ballbuster!” Sawyer calls out to her.
“Everybody cover!” Troy chimes in. “Cod Killer is on the plane!” He slaps her on the arm, then reddens in embarrassment. “Uh, ‘cod’ is slang for a certain male appendage, you know, in case you didn’t get it.”
She smirks. “I got it, Troy.”
“Hey,” I say when she gets to my seat.
“I’m glad you’re here.”
We gaze at each other, and my blood hums.
“You look nice,” she says.
“What’s under your shirt?”
“Uh-huh. What else?”
“Come on. Is there a certain, um, charm under your shirt?”
“Please keep the line moving,” comes from one of the assistants at the head of the plane.
She looks back at a scowling Neil then back to me. “Gotta go. I’m causing everyone to wait.”
“Later.” As soon as she’s gone, I blow out a breath.
I mutter under my breath. Lame, fucking lame. Why did I ask about the charm?
“Who you talking to?” Sawyer asks, giving me side eye from the seat next to me.
“Himself,” Troy says from the seat across the aisle. “Get your head in the game, QB1. Your challenge can wait.”
“Shut up and mind your own fucking business, Texas,” I mutter, frowning.
The challenge isn’t real to me, she is.
By the time we land and get to the Double Tree Hotel, it’s after two, and we immediately change and head to the field for a scheduled practice. When we get back, we’re sweaty, worn out, and ready for dinner in the hotel. After that, we’ll have a few hours to ourselves, but curfew is at ten. Coach runs a tight ship, and I’m expected to be a role model, which means I tell some of the younger guys Hell no when they plan to hit a bar down the street, maybe a strip club. In my younger years, yeah, I would have been all over that, but now…my game starts at one tomorrow, and it’s televised.
My dad is coming.
He’s been on my mind this week and we’ve spoken a few times, working out a plan to see each other. He’s flying in on his private plane, watching the game, and then we’re going to grab dinner before we leave.
Brianna is also coming, and they’re bringing Marley, their nine-month-old. The last time I saw them was in February when I flew to California to see her after she was born. I passed on meeting them in the Hamptons this summer, opting to stay in Magnolia with Sawyer. Seven months without seeing my dad…
“Your phone is ringing off the wall, man!” comes from Sawyer as I step out of the shower in our hotel room.
“Okay!” I quickly dry off, throw on shorts, and come out to the room I’m sharing with him. Snatching up my phone, I do a quick redial, and Dad answers. “Hey! You here yet?”
“Dillon, son, I’m sorry.” His voice is gruff. “We can’t come.”
I clench the phone, disappointment crawling over me. “Why?”
“Marley’s got a fever, probably just teething, but Brianna doesn’t want to travel with her. She’s fussy and can’t rest, and it will be hell. Brianna isn’t feeling great either. We’re… She’s pregnant.”
My heart drops. Mom’s getting married and Dad is having another baby? A long breath comes from my chest. Do I even matter at all anymore?
“Congrats,” I push out.
“Took a look at your schedule,” he continues as if everything is fine. “Maybe we can make the Alabama game in October.”
My heart thumps, anger rushing like a wave. “Ah, I see. You don’t have a nanny to babysit. Funny, I recall you jetting off whenever you felt like it when you were married to Mom, and you can’t even come to a game? You didn’t make the national championship—”