“Shit,” George drawls on a smile. “We’ve got her monologuing.” He ducks a sock I chuck at his head. His expression turns serious. “If you’re that sure about it, then you have my blessing, young Anna.”
I kiss the top of his head. “Thanks, Georgie.” Then I give his head a light whack. “Smart ass.”
He laughs. But Iris doesn’t. Her dark eyes are still troubled. Which troubles me. “'Ris?”
Slowly she shakes her head. “I still say you’re crazy. But I’m with George. If you’re that sure, I’ll support you.”
“I’ve never been more sure of anything.” I thought I had lost myself in Drew. But the truth was that I’d found myself in him. It never occurs to me that Drew might be the one to lose faith.
I DON’T SEE the trouble at first. All I see is Drew. The only thing that occupies my time is the way we instantly click together when I move in. We get along so well, it’s like having an endless sleepover with my favorite person in the world. So of course I miss the signs.
It isn’t until another week passes and his friends start showing up that I notice something’s wrong. For one thing, Drew doesn’t want to see them. These are his teammates. These guys practically live in each other’s pockets. And now? Now Drew is hunched on the far recliner, staring off at nothing, while his boys hang out on his couch, watching an NFL game. They’re a boisterous lot, shouting and laughing and trading good-natured insults. I like them.
They also eat. A lot. I’m bustling back to the kitchen for more chips when Drew snags my arm. “You don’t have to feed them, babe.”
I run a hand over his hair. “I’m half-Irish, half-Italian, and all Southern, Drew. It’s like physically impossible for me not to offer food and drink to company.” Honestly, I think I’d die of shame if I didn’t.
His brows snap together as he glances over at them. “Then I’ll tell them to leave. Problem solved.”
Laughing, I kiss his forehead, and his arm instantly wraps about my waist. I lean into him, because he seems to need it. “But I like that they’re here. They’re your friends. Which means they’re mine too.”
He grumbles something under his breath, but I ignore it, hoping that his mood will elevate now that he knows I’m not put out by company.
It doesn’t. It gets worse. He sinks into a silence that somehow shouts loud and clear that he’s displeased.
“Yo, Drew,” his friend Rolondo calls over to him. “Man, you need to settle down over there. I swear, you talk any more and you gonna bust a gut.” He grins as he says this and chucks a cheese puff at Drew’s head.
Drew swats it away. “Pretty sure you do enough talking for all of us, ‘Londo.”
There’s no humor in his tone. I haven’t had much interaction with the star wide receiver, but I know Drew and Rolondo are close. Rolondo’s glaze flicks to mine, and I see the worry there, and it feeds my own.
It gets worse when halftime comes on, and one of the guys changes over to ESPN. As luck would have it, they’re talking about Drew and his chances of still being a top draft pick. Apparently, most experts had slated him to be the number one pick. Now, with his injury, it’s all up in the air. Everyone stiffens, Drew most of all, but no one seems capable of changing the channel.
The light of the screen flickers off of Drew’s stony expression as he watches some oversized guy in a slick suit speculate about his leg. And my heart aches for him. Until they mention their visit to campus. Instantly, my gut plummets. Shit. I’ve been the one who’s gone out for food—or sustenance as Drew’s taken to call it—and I hadn’t exactly been left alone.
I edge closer to the remote. “Maybe we should watch—”
“Here’s what Anna Jones, Drew Baylor’s girlfriend had to say,” announces the reporter.
My face shows up on the screen, microphones being shoved under my nose as I try to escape from the parking lot at the Piggly Wiggly. I feel my cheeks heat. God, does my face really look that round?
Instantly, everyone perks up, shooting glances as me, then back at the TV. I can’t even meet Drew’s eyes. I want to cry. I stare at the TV instead. The footage splices to my face, the very moment, I’d broken, tired of hearing the doubt in the reporter’s voices, of seeing them turn against their hero. I’d wanted to punch each and every one of them.
“You named him Battle for a reason,” my voice snaps through the speakers. I look angry. I remember that anger. It had fueled me, made my words come out hard. “Because he never quits. You’re going to have to trust that he won’t give up on this either.” My TV self pushes past them then and escapes in Drew’s car.
My face is positively on fire now. Every eye is on me, but I only care about one set, and he isn’t looking my way. And then I notice that the rest of the guys are grinning.
“You tell ‘em, Scarlett,” says Marshal, which for some reason earns him a bap on the head by Dex.
“Ain’t nobody messing with our boy,” Rolondo insists. “Not with our girl kicking ass.”
Gray catches my eyes, and a small, bemused smile plays about his mouth. I blush harder.
And then they’re all laughing and talking as if nothing happened.
I stare at Drew until he finally lifts his head. I can’t tell what he’s thinking, and that scares me. I move close to him, afraid to touch him. I shouldn’t have talked. Never talk to the press. Even I know that.