Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 125
This time, that hadn’t happened at all. In fact, pushing him away had just seemed to cement him in my mind, and I couldn’t forget about him at all.
It didn’t help that he was on the news, and anyone who talked about football reminded me of him. And I worked at the Sharks’ facility with the girls. What if I saw him again?
I hadn’t seen him since Sunday, but two days wasn’t enough to know I wouldn’t see him again.
Chances were I would, even if it was just on television.
On Tuesday evening, I trained with the girls again. It was a normal training session. The girls were in top shape and doing well. I’d started training with them instead of standing on the sidelines and calling the shots. I missed being active. I missed using my body and pushing myself to the limits.
Working so hard physically also helped me feel grounded. While the adrenaline flowed and I focused on doing everything precisely, I didn’t think about anything at all. During the times I trained or went for a run, I didn’t think about Brian, and that was the only peace I found.
Tonight, I had thought about not training my squad. I could let Lorraine do it. I was getting sick of pushing them too hard, and I was burning out. I knew when I had to stop, that even though getting away from my thoughts sounded like the best idea, I wasn’t going to sacrifice my health and well-being for it.
But I hadn’t listened to myself, so here I was, doing the only thing I knew how to do— trying to push through the pain, both emotionally and physically. That’s what this sport was about, and it had served me well during the last five years.
“Well done, girls,” I called when they completed the routine without a hitch. “Let’s do it again.”
They complained. I laughed and shook my head.
“We don’t train until we get it right. We train until we can’t get it wrong.”
I froze. Brian had always said that. I didn’t know how I knew, but I knew.
A memory slammed into my mind so clear, so undeniably a memory and not a fantasy or a dream, I couldn’t breathe.
Sophomore year was my favorite. We weren’t the babies of the school anymore, and senior year was still far enough off that we didn’t have to worry. Life was all about making good enough grades to pass, but not so serious that we needed to get into college yet. Life was perfect. I had great friends, my cheerleading was going better than ever, and I had a place where I belonged.
“I don’t think I’m going to Charlie’s party tonight,” I said to Breanna, my best friend.
“Come on, Sadie. The whole team is going to be there. You can’t miss out on it. We do everything together.”
I rolled my eyes, but she was right. We did everything together, and I liked spending time with my friends.
“The parties get a little out of hand sometimes. And you know Charlie is going to try get alcohol. What if the police show up this time?”
Breanna shook her head. “You stress too much.”
I shrugged. Maybe she was right.
Which was why I ended up going. Charlie’s house was huge, and everyone that wasn’t a junior had arrived, whether they were invited or not. All my friends were there. We were all dressed in our cheering outfits, a picture perfect squad, a team united.
But I wasn’t feeling it. The loud music, the inevitable alcohol. It just wasn’t my scene tonight.
I walked out onto the terrace and leaned against the rail that looked out over the lawn.
“Are you okay out here?” someone asked behind me.
When I turned, Brian stood behind me. He was on the football team, and we saw each other often during training and games, but we’d never really spoken to each other.
He was so hot, though. I couldn’t believe he was talking to me. Tingles ran down my spine as I lowered my eyes away from his intense, handsome ones, only to end up staring at his broad shoulders and chest. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him.
“Just getting some air,” I said.
“It’s a little crazy in there, tonight,” he said, and I blinked at him as he came to stand next to me. “Sometimes I prefer a quiet night.”
“You don’t always like to drink and party and scope the girls? Not a lot of guys would admit to that,” I said.
Brian shrugged. “I’m not a lot of guys. I’m me.”
I nodded. That was true.
“Do you want to go sit down there, on the grass?” he asked.
I hesitated a second. What would they think if I disappeared with Brian? I only wondered a moment before I decided I didn’t care. I nodded, and he smiled.
We walked down to the grass and sat under a tree, looking back at the house. We could hear the faint thud of music and the laughter scattering through the crowds, and I felt oddly removed from it.
I liked it.
We started talking. We talked about everything. What we liked, our hobbies, and dreams. I wanted to go to college and have a career that would help other people and change lives. I didn’t know what yet. I wanted to be on the cheerleading squad at college. He wanted to play pro ball. He told me he could tell I was going places, that I could do whatever I set my mind to.
He seemed so sure of it, and then I realized it’s because it was the philosophy that he himself lived by. It was refreshing to find someone so inspirational and positive, when most of the kids my age were complaining about trivial things like not being able to buy beer, or that the latest hit album that was always playing on the radio sucked.
I was supposed to stay over at Breanna’s house, but I didn’t want to go back inside and look for her. I didn’t want to break the bubble Brian and I were caught in. We talked all night.
The sun finally rose over the horizon. I huddled into the jacket he’d given me against the cold, and he sat close to me so our bodies heated each other without being inappropriate.
It was as if he just wanted to get to know me for me, although he was also very complimentary about my looks, my body. He was the perfect gentleman. As if he had just stepped out of some romance novel.
I looked up at him as the golden rays of the sun kissed his sandy hair, and I realized I liked this boy. I could love this boy, if I wanted to.
When he turned to me, he smiled as if he knew.
I pressed my hands against my chest. My head ached dully, and the scar throbbed. I raised my fingers to it.
“Coach?” one of the girl asked me.
I shook my head while trying to shake away the image. But I shouldn’t try to push it away. It could be dangerous to remember it and follow wherever the memory might take me in the here and now, but, it was also all I had. I didn’t want to regret not savoring it enough, like the other memories that had come and gone.
“Yeah, good,” I said. “I think that’s enough for tonight.”
I realized I probably wasn’t going to be able to erase the memory from my mind even if tried. It had been so vivid. It seemed much more permanent than the other memories.
I pulled out my phone and scrolled to Brian’s number in my contacts list. Was I making a mistake?
I texted him anyway.
Let’s meet up at Blue Collar for dinner, after all?
It was silly and I felt like a middle schooler. But it was also scary and I kept wondering how I would feel if he said no.
But a moment later, I caught my breath as my phone vibrated. He had replied.
My pleasure , he said. Should I pick you up?
I liked that he wasn’t being pushy. He was letting me take the reins. I think I needed that right now. And, because I was afraid of having another panic attack and not being able to get out of there, I decided that him picking me up wasn’t the greatest idea.
I’ll just meet you there , I texted him. 8 pm?
Sounds great, he responded. See you there .
Oh, my God. I officially had a date with my ex boyfriend. That I could kind of remember, just a tiny bit.
I refrained from doing a happy dance, since my girls would think I had gone insane. I knew it didn’t seem like
On Wednesday, I still couldn’t believe that I had texted Brian and that I was about to see him. I hadn’t regretted it, though— in fact, I’d been anxiously awaiting this moment.
I tapped my foot impatiently as I stood near the hostess’ podium and looked out the window, wondering when– or if? — Brian would show. For all I knew, he had gotten tired of this back and forth. But then I saw his handsome frame strolling down the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, and his strong arm pulling open the door. I let out a deep breath I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding in.
I was always punctual, but I was impressed to see that Brian was too. I still didn’t know that much about him, despite the one wonderful memory I could still remember, of the first time we had ever met. I didn’t even technically know whether that memory was accurate, but I had a feeling it was.
“Thank you for meeting me,” I said, when he arrived. “I know you probably think I’m a crazy lady because I asked you to go away and then texted you to reschedule but—”
“Don’t,” he said. He was smiling and his eyes were drowning deep. “I’m happy you texted me. I’m happy to be here.”
I smiled and reminded myself to keep breathing. He had literally taken my breath away. He looked amazing. He wore dark jeans with Italian loafers and a wine-red, collared shirt that brought out the beiges in his stylishly messy hair.
I felt a little out of place. I had put on the proverbial little black dress and kitten heels. I’d pulled my hair up into a bun and put on silver jewelry. But everyone here was dressed up so fancy, and I hadn’t ever been on a date or even to a place like this.
I told myself I had better things to do— like train my cheerleaders— but a part of me knew I was closing myself off to relationships, to love. Until recently, when I had met Brian. Or, re-met him, I guess I should say.
“You look beautiful,” he said. “And I don’t think you’re a crazy lady at all.”
I smiled, glad that he had broken the ice on what felt to me like our first date, my first date ever. Even if the “old me” had been on dates with him, I didn’t remember, so to me, this was all very new and exciting.
We walked into the restaurant, while Brian explained that it morphed from one thing to another depending on the day or night.
“I love this place, because in the mornings, it’s a breakfast and brunch place, then they serve lunch, then it becomes a fancy restaurant for dinner, and then in a few more hours it turns into a bar and club. Talk about a versatile use of space.”
We both laugh, but I can’t help but wonder how many other girls he had taken here. The lifestyle he had been living before he and I had re-met. It was only natural and fair to assume he had been the typical “player,” not just of football but women too. He was a gorgeous, talented, and very rich guy.
Naturally he wasn’t going to just sit on the bench in the dating game, hoping I would change my mind after telling him to leave. But I didn’t really want to think about all the things he had been doing in the meantime.
Instead, I looked around at the surroundings. Brian was right—Blue Collar was the place to be no matter the day or time. The restaurant was classy with a terrace out onto the water of Biscayne Bay and Brickell Key. The sun was setting, and the water sparkled like diamonds.
We sat down. He ordered whiskey. I asked for sparking water. Suddenly, I didn’t know what to say. I took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry about Sunday,” I said.
Brian shook his head, but I wanted to explain.
“The thing is, lately I’ve been remembering things. About you.”
I watched his face carefully. A flicker of emotion crossed his face, but I couldn’t place it.
“I keep forgetting them again, though,” I said. “And that scares me. Knowing I’ve lost something and having it back to have it ripped away again are two different things.”
Brian nodded. “I can understand that.”
His eyes were a cerulean blue, so deep and so bright I felt like I could fall into them and never swim up to the surface again.
I looked down at my glass, watching the little bubbles travel to the top and bursting on the surface.
“I wanted to ask you something,” I said. “About a memory I can remember.”
Brian nodded, and this time, I recognized the expression on his face. Curiosity. A glimmer of hope.
I feared hope. It had let me down so many times. And obviously it had let him down too, in large part because of me. But it was something we held onto like it would keep us afloat in an ocean of despair.
“Okay, ask,” Brian said in a very soft voice.
I took a deep breath and explained that night to him, the smells, the sights, the sounds. The taste of summer and possibility on my tongue.
He was quiet the entire time, until I finished. When I looked up at him, he looked raw, as if he’d been pulled apart.
“Is it real?” I asked. “Sometimes, I remember things that never happened.”
I shook my head. “I know it sounds crazy.”
Brian shook his head, too. “It’s not crazy,” he said. “And yes, it’s real.”
I felt suddenly like I wanted to cry. A lump sat in my throat that I couldn’t swallow down. I took a deep breath, trying to regain control of my emotions.
“We were in love, weren’t we?” I asked.
Brian nodded slowly.
“We were. Since that night.”
He didn’t say anything more. I think that he was scared to say more, to push again. I didn’t blame him.
I sipped my water, trying to make sense of it all. Why now?
“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “All of this feels strange. I’ve taught myself to move on, to live without everything.”
I let out a breath with a shudder. My whole body was tense.
“I know it’s hard,” Brian said. “I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like. But I’m here for you, if you want to talk.” He made a movement like he wanted to reach out to me, but he didn’t. I wasn’t sure if I was happy about it or disappointed.
“You can talk to me, whenever you need to,” he said. “I’m here. Sometimes it helps if someone knows what you’ve been through.”
He was right. The only people left in my life, now, only knew about what had happened in theory, if at all. None of them had been there. Brian was the only one left.
Somehow, I was glad that it was him.
At the end of the night, he walked me back to my car. Although we’d had more than a pleasant evening, silence hung over us, as if he was unsure what to do.
I know he wanted to kiss me. I wanted that too. But a kiss held a lot of unspoken things, including promises sometimes, especially in a situation such as this. But it was too early to be making promises I might not be able to keep.
I nodded at him and then ducked into my car, leaving everything hanging between us, just as things had been for the past five years.
The first preseason game was always the best to watch. None of the key players took part. It was a perk we got as the stars of the show. Instead, we watched the game along with the spectators and enjoyed it the way normal fans did.
I sat next to Coach Rudi, and we watched the B team players get their asses kicked.
Coach laughed when one of them got tackled into the ground like the guy was plowing the dirt with him.
“I love it when I can pick off the weaklings,” he said. “These games are my favorite.”
I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to laugh about it or not.
“Was that what you did with us?” I asked.
Coach laughed again. He was in his element, loving every moment. “You know it. But you were good from the start. There was no way I was going to lose you or Hanson or some of you other dickheads.”
Dickheads. Nice to know we were appreciated.
The game was okay. They didn’t have a lot of skill. It was mostly raw talent. Even though they played their best, they still lost.
I didn’t matter, though. It was a preseason game. Our games were the ones that really influenced the league, and it was a month and a half before we really got into it.
Hanson appeared next to me.
“Lacey is taking Liam to her mom tonight. They’re not coming back until tomorrow, and the boys want to hit the town. Are you coming?”
I shook my head. “I’m not in the mood to party tonight.”
Hanson pulled a face. “Come on, how often do I get to just let loose? It will be fun, like old times. Minus the women for me. What do you say?”
I smiled at him. “Maybe just a drink or two,” I said.
I had mentioned to him that Sadie and I were still talking, but, I had purposefully done it while we were in the weight room and he was in the middle of a hard rep. I hadn’t wanted to go into details or let his well-intentioned but perhaps off the mark advice cloud my head. I still had no idea what to think about where Sadie and I stood.
Hanson and I got dressed and headed out. When we arrived at the party, it was loud, the crowd squeezing against each other. Half of them were already drunk.
It wasn’t my scene tonight at all. I had a lot on my mind. This used to be the thing I did all the time. I dressed up, went out, and tried to psych myself up about finally really hitting it off with a woman— which I never ended up doing, but I guess at least it had always been nice to have some hope. Tonight, I wanted to go home. I wanted peace and quiet, and maybe to mindlessly browse the Internet.
“I’m going to split,” I said to Hanson, not even an hour into the night. I had barely touched my drink.
“Come on, dude,” Hanson said. He was already a few drinks in.
“I’m tired,” I said.
“Pussy,” Hanson accused me. But then he nodded and said, “You know what? I think I can understand where you’re coming from.”
I waited for him to elaborate, which Hanson always does. He likes to have all the attention on himself.