“I’ve got a family thing,” I blurt out when I call Dave. Besides being the lamest excuse in the world, it’s a total lie. My plans for the weekend include making a large batch of brownies, watching a movie that has absolutely no romance it, then climbing under the covers and hiding there until class starts again.
He’s supremely unhelpful. “Then you ought to have said so two weeks ago when I was doing up the schedule.”
“Can’t I change shifts with someone else?”
“Who? I’ve got all hands on deck working. This is the last game before the playoffs.”
Other team losses have put Drew’s team in contention. Something everyone but me takes very seriously. For Drew, this is one of the final steps to the National Championship. For a fleeting moment, I wonder how he feels, if he’s nervous. Then I remember that I’ve put a ban on thinking about Drew. As for the rest of the world, he’s all they can talk about. Excitement over the game and discussions about the team’s chances has been buzzing around campus for weeks.
Dave’s tone is far from compassionate. “Sorry but you’re shit out of luck.”
And so I’m stuck working the luxury box during Drew’s game.
Fuck. A. Duck.
Usually this is a good gig. The luxury box is heated, while everyone working outside freezes their asses off. I simply have to set up the buffet and wine bar and then keep it clean. Only I can’t avoid seeing the game. Or hearing it. Our college sports radio pipes in through speakers, giving me a play-by-play update on Drew’s progress as I try to concentrate on my work.
University bigwigs and their friends are relaxing, stuffing their faces, and giving their opinion of Drew and his teammates.
“Grayson is looking good,” one of them says. “But Baylor’s off. Don’t know what the hell he’s thinking—throw the damn ball, boy!”
I want to tell the man to shut the hell up or get down on the field and play the game himself. But I hold my tongue.
“He’s open. Johnson is open. Throw—Damn it!
The room groans as the radio announcer calls an incompletion. I can’t help but look. Drew, both the real man and his doppelganger on the TVs, has his hands on his h*ps and is looking down at the grass. He clearly utters a ripe curse and then turns back to his team.
“He’s been off for the past few games,” insists Mr. Know-It-All.
And though the guy next to him is quiet about it, I still hear him mumble, “Pussy problems.”
But, God, is that what people think? My stomach rolls.
It must be, because the pig isn’t the only one who complains that Drew is off his game. The radio announcer goes on about how Drew hasn’t been himself for the past month or so. And how he needs to get his head back into it, because this game is brutal.
And it is. Every hit Drew takes has my entire body clenching in sympathy. The box is close enough that I can hear the impact of flesh upon flesh, the grunts. The opposing team, big f**king brutes from Alabama, are pummeling Drew and his boys.
Grayson is limping after a particularly vicious take down, clearly trying to shake it off, and Drew is slower to get up every time the defense hurtles into him. But he’s holding it together. He’s winning, even if it’s obviously taking everything he’s got.
When halftime rolls around, I’m a nervous wreck. My neck is aching, and I can only imagine how Drew feels. The vivid memory of his hip and torso, blue and black with bruises, cruelly shoves itself into my mind. I’d kissed and licked my way across his battered flesh. And he’d threaded his fingers through my hair and held me to him as though I was the only thing that mattered.
The truth crashes over me like a breaking wave, and I’m sucked down in the aftermath. He is the only thing that matters. I’ve known this, but until now, never completely let myself feel the void of his loss in my life. The feeling is so hard and strong that I nearly stagger.
Tears smart my eyes as I walk back to the tiny kitchen to get another platter of chicken fingers. Staring blindly at a gloppy vat of barbecue sauce, my body goes numb, as a lump fills my throat, threatening to choke me.
I’ve become everything I’ve ever been accused of, a nobody, a shadow who sought dark corners for fear of judgment. And I’d done it to myself, believing in other people’s perceptions of me, playing into it and hiding away as though I’m not good enough. The worst part is that I thought I was doing the opposite, that I was being strong, not giving a f**k.
What bullshit. If anything, I care too much. I care about the opinions of the wrong people, faceless f**king people that will never mean anything to me, and yet I’ve been ducking my head for fear of what they think.
“God.” My fist hits the countertop with bruising force. Bracing my hands on the counter, I rock back and forth, blinking back the tears. I can’t believe this. I’ve been so stupid. So blind. “God.”
In the outer room, the crowd cheers at a play. I suck in a sharp breath and wipe my eyes with the back of my hand. A strange sense of lightness steals over me. My shoulders lift. But deep inside my chest, I still ache. The hole is still there.
Drew. Only he can fill that void.
After the game is over, I’m going to him. I’ll tell him everything. Beg for another chance if I have to. We could have been so good. We were so good together. I was just too much of a coward to believe in it.
As I return to the box, I feel battered but calmer, like I’ve cried all night but have finally caught my breath. The game is back on, and the spectators settle in.