“All fine and well. Leo is getting bigger.” And louder.
“He’s beautiful, isn’t he?” Mom had been there for the birth and instantly became a doting grandmum—as she insists on being called. “I tell you, he has my eyes.”
I can’t help but laugh. “Mom, his eyes are blue.”
Hers are green like mine.
“All babies’ eyes are blue. His will turn. And they look like mine.”
Anyone can see that Leo has Gray’s eyes. Down to the exact shade of blue. But I don’t argue. “How’s the business?” I ask instead. My mom owns a chain of bakeries. Ivy was supposed to go into partnership with her but chose to be an agent like our dad instead.
I don’t know who was more shocked by that—Mom, Dad, or me. Ivy hated how Dad’s business pulled him away from our family almost as much as I did. Yet here we are, Ivy as an agent and, hell, me falling for a football player.
As my mom talks about her shops, the image of Dex’s grin—so rare but so gorgeous, framed by his lush, dark beard—pops into my mind. My palms tingle with the need to run over it, to smooth over the massive swell of his hard, hot chest.
I swallow and focus on Mom. She’s telling me about a yeast delivery gone bad, her voice breathy with exasperation, and I blink hard. I miss her. I miss Dex. I miss everyone.
I clutch my phone, feeling lost and abandoned, which is ridiculous. No one has left me behind. I’m here because it’s where I chose to be. This is life. Like some messed-up game of Boggle, it shakes us all up, and we land where we fall.
This isn’t even close to the first time I’ve felt this way. But usually I’m able to distract myself with friends and parties and laughter. Only I can’t find it in me to laugh anymore. And I wonder if this is the only way life can be. Because I want some fucking control back.
“Look, it’s Sinatra!” Delgado, my fellow lineman, shouts when I walk into the locker room.
I’m greeted with a rousing chorus of “Gold on the Ceiling,” all of it off-key and loud. I’d been informed by a cackling Gray that video of my karaoke performance had gone viral. If that hadn’t been enough, the ESPN highlight, complete with accompanying jokes, made it clear I’d get my fair share of shit come Monday morning.
“Yeah, yeah,” I wave an idle hand. “Laugh it up, fuzzballs.”
Sampson, a nose tackle, makes an attempt to roar like Chewbacca but ends up choking, which cracks the guys up even more.
Grinning, I sit down and kick off my shoes. Finn Mannus, my QB, saunters over, a smile wide on his face. He gives my shoulder a hearty slap. “So, Dexter, have a good week off?”
“Say what you’re gonna say, Manny, and fuck off,” I tell him lightly.
He’s still grinning at me like a smug fuck. “I must say, I enjoy seeing you hang your balls out, Dex. I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“Pretty sure there’s a lot you don’t know about me.” I’ve stripped down to get in my gear when I catch his eye. He’s no longer smug but serious.
“That’s kind of the point,” he says. “You’re my center.”
His words give me pause. I like Finn. He’s a rookie, which especially sucks for him because he has to carry the team without the freedom to ease into his job. But he’s also a good quarterback, and it’s my job to protect him. But I don’t know him like I know Drew. I haven’t taken the time. Guilt tilts in my belly.
“Come out for a beer with me later,” I suggest. “And I’ll tell you all about my wild week.”
He looks at me with those famous baby blues that have women all over America sighing and throwing their panties in his direction. Doesn’t do anything for me, but I’m comfortable enough in my manhood to see what chicks dig about him. I guess I’m doomed to always cover pretty boys.
“Yeah,” he says. “Sounds good.” He moves to go but then halts. “Hell. We’ve got that photo shoot at four.”
A scowl works across his face, and now I’m the one who’s laughing. “Ah, the charity calendar. Thought that would be right up your alley, GQ.”
Apparently not, if his disgusted look is anything to go by. “Charity, yes. I’d just rather do it talking to a bunch of kids or something, not offering my ass up like a side of beef.”
“Aw, Manny,” says Sampson, walking past, “but it’s such a big ass. Almost as big as your head.” With that, he snaps a towel at said ass and takes off as Mannus lunges for him.
“Keep running, dickhead,” Mannus calls.
I suit up, more than happy for the attention to slide off of me and back to Mannus, where it belongs. Only that isn’t the case. For the rest of practice, guys serenade me. On the sidelines, when I’m gulping down Gatorade and stretching out my burning quads, Dean Calloway, the offensive line coach stands beside me, his gaze on the other players, but his mouth twitching.
“Guess I know who’ll be the lead in our annual team musical, Dexter.”
“Didn’t know we had a musical, Coach.” I toss my empty bottle into the trash.
He turns to me. “Maybe we should start one now.” Giving me a slap on the back, he ambles off with a, “Good work, Dex.”
I watch him go, and it occurs to me that although I’ve played for this team for going on two years, I haven’t really engaged. It’s too easy for me to hide away from the world. But laughing with my team, not taking shit too seriously, it feels good.