“Fucking?” George offers.
“I’m whatever,” I grind out, “in terms of a zit.”
“Yeah, well,” George steals one of my fries, “it would definitely kill the buzz if you did.”
“I’m going to think of you as a pimple,” Iris snaps. “You know, those deep-seated ones that make your life hell and always show up right when they will embarrass you the most.”
“Ah, you love me, sis.” George blows her an air kiss.
Iris rolls her eyes before turning back to me. “I think you’re making a mistake.”
“Agreed,” I say succinctly, purposely misinterpreting her words. “It was a mistake that won’t happen again.”
GRAY AND DIAZ are in my kitchen when I get home for the day. My mood is so rotten, I almost regret giving Gray a key, but then I smell something drifting from the big pot on the stove that makes my mouth water and decide his occasional invasions are worth it. I might have asked him to be my roommate, but every time we go to an away game, I have to room with him—and sometimes two other guys—which is more than enough socializing for me. Besides, I like living alone.
When my parents died, I was handed a life insurance payout check for two million dollars and two death certificates. I promptly threw up the contents of my stomach and didn’t get out of bed for a week. I wouldn’t even touch the money. I wanted my parents, not some f**king check. Eventually, Coach convinced me that my parents took out those life insurance policies because they wanted to provide for me. Not the best comfort, but I bucked up and called a financial advisor who put the money in various accounts.
Last year, when I learned the true value of privacy the hard way, I bought a small bungalow style house. I don’t plan to live here permanently, but I bought for cash and, over the summer, I had the master bath and kitchen redone. When I’m ready, I’ll sell it at a profit and put the savings away. For now, however, it’s my haven.
Tossing my keys on the hall table, I make my way through the open concept living-dining room. I kept a few things when my parents died: the dining and living room furniture, my mother’s beloved wedding china, and some childhood mementoes and pictures. Giving the rest away was a nightmare that still haunts me from time to time.
Maybe some people might think I’m not letting go by keeping the furniture, but there’s something soothing about seeing my mom’s carefully selected leather couch and chair set from Pottery Barn, or the coffee table they bought on a weekend getaway, or the dining table that came from my dad’s parents’ home.
Gray and Diaz give me nod as I walk past them and into my room. After a quick shower, I join them.
“What’s cooking, honey?” I ask Gray, who tosses a dishtowel at my head in annoyance.
Unlike me, Gray can actually cook. His mother was Norwegian, and apparently Norwegian women believe in equality for all domestic tasks. He’s been cooking since he was in the seventh grade.
“Stew, sweet cheeks,” Gray answers with sarcasm. “Now fetch me a beer, will you?”
Diaz simply grunts with amusement. He’s one of the best fullbacks I’ve played with, but he doesn’t say much. Ever. He does, however, know how to find a good, free meal, which explains his presence here.
I reach into the fridge and then toss Gray a beer. A raised eyebrow to Diaz, and he gives another grunt then finally speaks. “Got Gatorade?”
The 32-ounce bottle of berry flavor goes to him. I know he’ll drink the whole thing.
As for me, I forego alcohol for the season, so I’m having the bottled water. I’m beginning to get sick of water. I’m sick of a lot of things, actually.
We’re silent as we settle in the living room to eat while watching TV. Something I’m grateful for. I don’t really want to talk. The stew is good. Better than anything I’ve had all week. Damn, I’m going to have to ask Gray to teach me how to cook one day, because this beats carryout and frozen meals by yards.
My mouth is full of stew when Gray attacks.
“So, what’s the deal with you and the redhead?” He looks me over. “Did you tap that?”
Though I don’t say a word, Gray knows me too well, so when the corner of my mouth tightens in annoyance, he grins. “Booyah for you, man. It’s about f**king time. Rubbing the chub just isn’t the same as f**king.” He shakes his head as I roll my eyes.
Gray has despaired of me foregoing casual sex for the past year. I’ve despaired of me too—having become way too acquainted with my right hand, as Gray so thoughtfully pointed out—but the risks haven’t been worth it until now.
I don’t want a relationship. Especially not with you. Yep. That still hurts.
Gray gives my arm a smack. “I’m thinking she’s more than a handful, eh? Man, she has an ass on her.”
“She has a name. It’s Anna. Use it.” I stare at Gray. Hard. “And if I catch you talking about her body again, I’ll rip a piece of yours off.”
Mistake number one: giving a name to your tormentor. Mistake number two: becoming visibly protective.
Gray’s grin stretches. “You like her.”
He has no idea.
I take another bite of stew so I don’t have to talk.
“So you’re into her, yet you’re moping around like a sad sack. What’s the deal?”
“There is no ‘deal.’” I gesture to the TV with my fork. “I’d like to watch Pardon the Interruption, if you don’t mind.”