Still not quite meeting my gaze, Drew collects my hand. His is cold and dry as he links his fingers with mine and brings them up for a kiss. “You defended me.” It’s a quiet murmur.
“Of course I did. I’ll always defend you, Drew.”
He presses his lips against my fingers. “I’m sorry you had to deal with that.”
“I’m not,” I say. “I’m only sorry that they had to ask. Of course you’re coming back.”
He looks away. Not long after, he hobbles into our room, claiming that he’s tired. He doesn’t come back out. And from then on, he doesn’t ask the guys over. Avoids them all with a skill that would be impressive if it didn’t worry me so much.
“I only want you,” he whispers against my neck in the dark cocoon of our bed. “Only you.”
It ought to please me. But it doesn’t.
AS LONG AS I don’t think about football, I’m all right. But the world doesn’t want me to stop thinking about football. I’m beginning to resent the claim the game and its fans have on me. I’ve given it my all. I’m tired now.
Coach expects me to come to practice, there’s only one game left, and it’s the National Championship. I need to be there, show my support. The coward in me wants to hide. I don’t want the pity looks. But my team deserves better from me. So I’ll go. But Coach also wants me to go to physical therapy. I need to stay in form as my leg heals.
I promise to go to PT, but I don’t. I don’t do anything. And it becomes a weight on my chest. But I can’t seem to snap out of it. I know Anna notices. She hasn’t said anything, but it’s coming. She wouldn’t be Anna if she kept her opinions to herself.
Worse? The nightmares. They hit me like a sack. I wake shaking and sweating. It takes me too long to realize that I’m not on the field, my mask buried in mud, turf in my mouth, and my leg bone snapped in half.
But I’m okay. As long as I don’t think about football, I’ll be okay.
Hard not thinking about something you love.
Anna has gone out with Iris. She was antsy as she left, fidgeting with the car keys and kissing me almost absently as she bustled out of the door.
I sit on a stool at my kitchen counter and spin a bottle cap. Is she disappointed in me? Does she want me to go out more? I rub my fingers against the stubble on my jaw. Hell, I haven’t gone anywhere in weeks, not wanting to see people. The last time I ventured out for a checkup, the sheer number of pity pats, get well soons, and you were the best we’d ever had—one incident accompanied by a grown man literally crying on my shoulder, God help me—was an absolute nightmare. I’d broken out into a sweat and almost threw-up before Anna had reached the house.
She hadn’t said much then, just that people were f**king weird. When we were safe at home, she’d taken me to bed and kept me occupied for the night. It isn’t right, the way I’m leaning on her. It’s yet another thing I can’t seem to stop.
A knock on the door jerks me out of my funk. I literally flinch, my back tightening and my heart beating too hard. With a snarl of irritation at myself, I push back from the counter and get the door.
Coach stands on the threshold, his weathered face shadowed by a baseball cap. He’s going casual, which, for him, means slacks and a polo shirt. It also makes me suspicious. Coach is probably not aware, but he has tells. A suit means he’s going to kick your ass in a hurry. Casual means he’ll come at you as a friend, hoping to sneak past your resistance before you realize you’ve been played.
“Hey, Coach.” I step back to let him in.
“Drew.” He heads for the kitchen. He’s been here enough to know where it is. Coach helped me pick the place. Helped me pick my ass off the floor when my parents died. And I don’t want him here. The smell of his expensive cologne makes my throat close up.
He turns and looks me over. “How you doing?”
“Good.” I limp to the counter. A half empty beer bottle rests on it. I want to drink it down, and at the same time, shove it away, hide it from Coach.
I settle for resting my hands on the cold marble. “You want a beer or something?” God, I just want him out of my house. His presence is choking me.
He gives me a level look. “You drink often?”
I can’t help but snort. “I’d like to think I’m not so prosaic as to become a drunk. Or a druggie,” I add because I know his next question will be about my painkillers.
Annoyingly, he smiles in that way of his, like I’ve made him proud. Which makes me want to smash things. But the smile falls. “You’ve missed another PT session.”
What can I say? Nothing. The weight on my chest grows.
I feel him watching me.
“Want to tell me why you missed? And practice too? You might not be able to play, but you are still a member of this team. It reflects poorly on you and the team when you don’t show.”
Never have I heard such subdued disappointment from my coach. I clear my throat. I can’t tell him the truth. How can I tell this man that I don’t want to return?
The giant clock my mom salvaged from a downtown building in Chicago ticks away in the dining room. And then Coach takes a step toward me.
“If you could see yourself the way I do.” He shakes his head. “I just don’t want all that potential to go to waste, Drew.”
“Yeah, well neither do I.” Unfortunately some things aren’t under my control. I shift my weight further onto my good leg, and say what I need to say to get him out of here. “Look, I won’t miss another PT.”