The corner of his mouth lifts in a weak attempt at a smile. “How could you be expected to know?”
“This is probably one of those common knowledge things about you, isn’t it?”
“Maybe. But then we both know you don’t follow football or my life.” He sounds oddly relieved about that.
“Did you,” I fight to keep my voice from wavering, “go live with your grandparents or relatives?”
He clutches the back of his neck again. “Naw. I don’t have any. It was just me and my parents.”
Jesus. All I can think is that he’s an orphan. Alone in life. And look at what he’s accomplished. It isn’t my business to feel it, but pride and admiration swell within me. Not that I can tell him that without it sounding patronizing.
“Drew, I am sorry,” I say. “That sucks.”
“Yeah. It does.” He doesn’t look at me.
“How…” I wince. “Never mind.”
“Nothing wrong with being curious, either.” A small, wry noise leaves him. “It happened the summer after I graduated high school. They were hiking in Colorado. A flash flood came and…It was… I don’t know. I mean, who the f**k expects something like that?”
No one. I want to hug him so badly that my arms ache. But I don’t think he’d appreciate the gesture. If it were me, I’d take it as pity. As if he’s worried about that very thing, he glances toward the kitchen. “Can I still have a drink?”
“Sure.” I snap out of my daze and move to the fridge. “Right.”
Baylor leans a hip against my breakfast bar.
“We’ve got,” I open the fridge and peer in, “One Blue Moon, bottled water, white wine, and orange juice.”
“I’ll take a water.” His stomach gives a loud and impatient gurgle. A flush washes over his cheeks and his mouth tips wryly. “Sorry.”
“Hungry?” I say, raising one brow.
“Almost always.” He doesn’t even try to make it sound like an innuendo. And yet somehow it does. Probably because I can’t be in the same room with Drew Baylor and not think about sex. But I behave as I open the fridge again and rummage through it.
“Okay, there’s cheesecake, two pieces of chicken satay, yogurt, though we really shouldn’t touch that or Iris will kill us…”
Behind me, Baylor twists open his water and takes a long drink before peering over my shoulder. “Iris? Your roommate, right?”
“The very one.” Every muscle in my body twitches at the close proximity of his. But I affect calm. “She’s on a Greek yogurt kick.”
“There’s also…” I peek under an aluminum lid, “…ooh, kebobs.”
“Did you have a party or something?” His arms rest on the edges of the door, bracketing my shoulders, and I feel oddly sheltered.
“They’re from catering gigs. The right to bring home left over food trays is one of the main reasons I took a job in the catering department. Iris and I save a boatload on our food budget.”
Baylor’s eyes crinkle at the corners. “I’m pretty sure you are every athlete’s dream roommate.”
I do not ask if that includes him, but turn back to the food. “Well? What will it be?”
“You’re really going to feed me?” He sounds surprised.
“Of course I am.” I shift uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “Or don’t you want me to?” Because I can take it back. I can simply lead him into my room and—
“No, I mean, yeah. I want it.” Baylor full-on blushes now. “Shit. Food. I mean—”
I laugh. “I know what you meant.”
He groans and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Just make the kebobs.”
Still laughing, I pull out the container and a pack of eggs. “Okay, but I don’t do reheats. I like to think of leftovers more as raw material for new meals.”
His self-deprecation melts away, and he leans back against the counter. “What are you making me, Jones?”
“A frittata.” I grab a small hunk of Gouda that we actually do have left over from a party. “With cheese.”
It’s surprisingly easy and fun with Baylor in the kitchen. He helps me free the meat and veggies from their skewers, and then I chop it all up into smaller sizes while he grates the cheese for me.
“You know how to cook,” he observes as I begin refrying the kabob pieces. The scent of onions and beef perfume the air.
“I’m proficient.” I whisk a bowl of eggs and pour it into the frying pan. “Growing up, it was just my mom and me, so I helped where I could.”
Four generations back, my mother’s family immigrated, not to New York with the rest of their Italian brethren, but to Georgia. But my father is pure Irish, and fresh-off-the-plane when he met my mother. Pictures of him as a young man paint him in tones of milk white and vivid orange. I ended up a physical blend of them with pale, ivory skin that tans but also freckles, dark green eyes and dark red hair.
I really don’t remember much of my dad now. Time has a way of fading the sharp edges of a person’s image. Unfortunately it also has a way of letting a wound fester and burrow deep beneath the skin.
“Iris is the real cook here,” I babble on. “She’s like a fifth generation Mexican-American, and her family owns this kick-ass Mexican restaurant in Tucson.”
Drew watches me push the eggs around. “What happened to your dad?” It’s a quiet question. Because he knows firsthand that my answer might be bad.