“She named you after a character in a book?” I blurt out. Atticus Finch is one thing. Hell, I’m pretty sure the South is peppered with Atticuses and Rhetts for that very reason. But this is a new one to me.
“She was reading it during the end of her pregnancy. Anyway,” Gray shrugs, “she though Gray Grayson would be ‘just so cute.’” Now he’s scowling, but there’s no real anger behind it, only fondness, and a slight wince as if it pains him to think of his mother. “So that’s what I got stuck with.”
“Sometimes we call him ‘Gray-Gray,’” Drew puts in helpfully and earns a punch on the arm from Gray.
“And sometimes I call him,” Gray nods towards Drew, “‘QB with my foot up his ass.’”
Gray eyes the ball waiting in the end zone then looks at Drew. “You ready, man?”
Because Drew is standing so close, I feel the tension in his arm.
“Yep.” Drew glances as me. “It’s Gray’s birthday.”
I give Gray a polite smile, because I’m still pretty sure he doesn’t like me. “Happy Birthday.”
Gray’s answering smile turns more genuine. “Thanks. Though I don’t know about turning 22. It’s like the beginning of the end.”
“I don’t know what he’s crying about,” Drew says to me. “He’s the baby of the bunch.”
Gray sighs loud and long. “Feels like yesterday when I retired my fake ID.”
The corners of Drew’s eyes crinkle. “The way you carried on over that damn thing, you’d think it was your baby.”
“Hey, it gave me years of service, devoted to finding me pleasure.”
I smile at their interplay, but then catch on to what Drew says. “You’re already 22?”
“I told you I was older, Jones.”
“I thought you meant by a day.” I glance between him and Gray. “How is it you’re both 22?” Hell, Drew’s almost 23.
“We redshirted our freshman year,” Gray says, as if this is obvious.
When Drew sees that I have no idea what the hell Gray’s talking about, he gives me a tight smile. “Basically, we spent our freshman year on the sidelines, taking classes but not playing. It’s called a redshirt.”
“Think of it this way,” Gray puts in, “we’re aged like wine. The longer we’re here, the bigger, stronger, and better we get. Why should a program lose out on playing us when we’re reedy little 18 year olds instead of waiting until we’ve reached maximum efficiency?”
It all sounds kind of mercenary, but smart, I suppose. And because there’s a hesitancy in Drew’s eyes, like he expects me to think less of him because of the redshirt, I tell him this, watching as he visibly relaxes.
“College football is nothing if not mercenary,” he says lightly.
Gray gives Drew’s arm a slap. “The guys are waiting. Let’s get a move on.”
But Drew eyes me again. “You want to go? We’re just hitting a couple of bars.”
It’s actually sweet the way he’s visibly conflicted, as if he doesn’t want to leave me but wants to go out with his friends too. I smile and shake my head. “Thanks, but I’ve got a paper due.”
“I’ll walk you to your car.” His fingertips graze my elbow, and I feel the touch between my thighs. Jesus, I’ve got it bad.
While Gray runs off to gather the other guys, Drew and I leave the stadium. The air between us is subdued, as if both of us are too aware that we don’t hang out like this. And it’s just as clear to anyone who’d bother to look that we aren’t just friends. Not by the way we walk so close, our arms nearly touching. His hand brushes against mine, and I wonder if he’ll hold it, but we’re at my scooter, and I reach in my bag for my keys.
Drew sizes up my ride with a quirked brow. “You ride a red Vespa. With a basket on the front?” His dimple is showing. “God.” He clutches his chest. “The urge to make a Red Riding Hood joke is killing me.” An exaggerated groan of frustration leaves him.
I roll my eyes as I crouch down to unlock my chain. “I knew it.”
He’s unrepentant. “It’s f**king adorable, Jones.” Warm brown eyes look me over. “You’re adorable.”
“And you’re about to lose valuable equipment, Baylor.”
He gives me that shit-eating Drew Baylor grin. “I’d be worried if I didn’t know you have a vested interest in my equipment.”
“God, I walked right into that one, didn’t I?” For a moment we just smile at each other, then something changes. My heart begins to beat faster and another flush of warmth washes over me. I think I’ll want him always. And by the way his eyes darken and his body tightens, leaning closer to mine, he wants me too.
But he’s looking at my mouth, his lids lowering, his own mouth going soft. I stand and abruptly smash on my helmet. My hair springs out around my neck like red tentacles. “Well,” I say with false brightness. “Have fun tonight.”
Drew’s quiet as he steps up to me. Everything inside me seizes, but he simply lowers my visor with a gentle hand. “See you, Jones,” he says. “Take care.”
I straddle my bike and start it, but I pause and lift the visor. “Drew…” I take a small breath. “Thanks for listening, for making me feel better.”
He rests his hands low on his lean hips, and when he speaks, it comes out just a bit rough. “Thanks for trusting me enough to share.”