My throat aches as I leave him standing in the parking lot, my neck tight with the knowledge that he’s watching as I drive away.


13

FOR THE FIRST time since I’ve been with Anna, I’m relieved that she doesn’t want to be with me tonight. I don’t want her to see the spectacle that is Gray’s birthday celebration.

We hit a few bars, staying only long enough for the crowd to shout its appreciation, for Gray to have a drink, maybe play a game of pool or darts, and then move on. It might seem tame, but even now, there are rules. No binge drinking, no public spectacles, and absolutely no taking home random girls. Right now, we’re ranked number one across the board, and every team wants to take us down. There’s no room for mistakes. Maybe other teams play it differently, but it works for us. Dex and I are in charge of keeping the guys in line. We’re the sober sentinels standing on either side of the ever-moving group of our guys.

Ordinarily, this is a suck-ass job, but I don’t mind it tonight. Though I love hanging with my guys, the whole scene tires me. A few months ago, this might have me worried, but now I recognize it for what it is: my idea of fun has changed. It no longer includes anticipating how many different sets of tits are flashed at me or how many girls I can f**k. I don’t care if people recognize me or slap me on the back and offer to buy me a drink. I’d rather they not notice me at all. That sort of attention means dick-all to me now.

Life has more color, more flavor, and heat in the few hours I’m with Anna, then I’ve experienced in all the years I’ve partied. Because that fun always felt like I was searching, pushing for some ineffable satisfaction that constantly eluded me. With Anna, I feel like I’ve landed right where I want to be.

Exhaustion weighs down my shoulders and my eyelids are gritty as we head back to my house. Normally, I wouldn’t agree to a party here. But it’s Gray’s birthday, and he deserves to have his fun. My house is safe from the public eye and events can be contained there. Because Gray has been adamant about one birthday request.

With a suppressed sigh, I lean back against my living room wall and watch four half-naked women give Gray a lap dance. There are so many na**d limbs, it looks like some demented female hydra writhing around him. Tits bounce in his face, an ass grinds on his crotch, hands run over his head and shoulders, and he’s loving it, as are our teammates. Hoots and catcalls ring out. Especially when the women fan out, each of them headed for a guy. Music thumps in time to writhing and sleek female flesh.

I eye the clock on my DVR and grit my teeth. Yeah, I’m officially a grumpy old man. I just want to go to bed.

Across from me, Dex leans against the kitchen counter nursing a bottled-water. With his bulky frame, shaggy brown hair, and full beard that he insists on wearing, women often call him Bear, something I’m fairly certain he gets off on.

Ethan Dexter, or Dex as everyone calls him, plays center, my right hand, ultimate look out, and the last man standing between me being flattened by hungry linemen. I love this guy and am not ashamed to admit it.

I make my way to him, stepping over the legs of the woman now kneeling before Gray, her head bobbing up and down in rhythmic fashion. Holy hell, I do not want to witness that. Some things can never be unseen.

“Who the f**k arranged for a full service performance?” I ask Dex, as I stand next to him. “That was not part of the deal.”

Dex crosses his beefy arms over his chest. “Simms. The little f**ker.”

Simms, who is a massive defensive end, is also getting some personalized service. I turn away and fish a water out of the fridge. “Let them finish off, and then the girls are out of here.” I take a long swallow and grimace. “I don’t give a shit if it’s Gray’s birthday, I don’t need to see all of that.” Never mind that if we get caught, we’re in deep shit. Not by the police. It’s a sad truth that we’re so revered by this town, this state, that we can get away with anything short of murder. And some days, I wonder about even that. No, I’m talking about Coach. Who doesn’t put up with any shit.

Dex grunts. His face is flushed and his mouth pinched. If there’s one thing that I know about Dex, it’s his intense dislike of exhibitionism. He’s never gone for casual sex. For all I know, he might be pulling a Tebow and is still a virgin. “Why not stop them now?”

“Seems cruel to stop a guy in mid…” I shrug, not wanting to finish that statement.

But I’ve made Dex blush harder.

“You can go if you want,” I offer. “I can clear them out on my own.”

Dex shakes his head and grabs his own water, chugging it down in two gulps. He slams the empty bottle down and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “Naw, I’m not doing that to you, man. Can you imagine any girlfriend being okay with this?”

Despite my foul mood, a smile tugs at my mouth. Anna would probably go into a tirade about the objectification of women and how such paid services dehumanize both sexes. She’d be right, but then she’s never had to deal with a whiny Gray before.

Pride. It washes over me with warm satisfaction when I think of Anna. And then it promptly flushes away, leaving me cold, because I want Anna to meet Dex and the rest of them. Which seems like it will never happen. She’d balk at the idea. Then again, she came to my practice today. She sought me out for basic comfort.

The warmth returns. Strange how much satisfaction I got just from taking the hurt out of her eyes and replacing it with happiness. When I think of her asswad absentee father, who I’d personally like to pound into a stain on the turf, and of her mother’s roving hands boyfriend, Anna’s reluctance to make a deeper connection becomes clearer. Whereas I grew up seeing firsthand what a loving, committed relationship can be, she likely hasn’t got a clue.

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