Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 132
And it really was. It was calming to know that other women did this crazy thing— dated a football player— and that sometimes it turned out okay. Sometimes they appeared to live relatively sane lives, with marriage and a baby included.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Lacey said. “And yes, it really is possible to date a football player.”
I laughed, loudly and freely for the first time in a while. I already liked this Lacey chick. And I was glad we had come.
The glasses of wine arrived. We watched as the seats filled with locals, wearing the fan colors.
I sipped the wine. Lorraine had ordered a platter when the wine arrived, and it was delivered soon after. We nibbled on the food and sipped the wine. God, we were living the life.
“You know what, Sades?” Lorraine asked. I looked at her. “I know this is hard and everything, but there are perks to dating a pro player. All of this is really nice.”
I laughed and nodded. “It is really nice. And you’re right about there being perks.”
“Uh huh,” Lacey said from beside us, winking at us.
Her baby reached out to take my hand, so I let him.
“Awww, what a cute little guy.”
“Thanks,” she said, with a smile. “But I’m not sure you’d say that while changing his diaper at three in the morning.”
“No,” I told her, laughing while I curled my finger around the baby’s. “I don’t think I would.”
My thoughts returned to dwelling on Brian. I didn’t tell Lorraine that the money and the luxury weren’t as important to me as the emotions behind everything. I was still unsure about what I felt, but we were having a good time, and the seats were amazing.
I told myself to just relax and have fun. But I never seemed to be very good at that and I was nervous about whatever was going to happen— or not— between Brian and me.
After a few minutes of staring ahead and willing myself not to talk about Brian, I couldn’t help but do just that.
“I just don’t know how to deal with all these stupid tabloid articles,” I said to Lorraine. “They’re driving me mad.”
Lorraine nodded. “I noticed that.”
She was referring to the night I took my mood out on the girls. Since then, they’d forgiven me, and I’d gone back to my normal training routine.
“I don’t know how I’m supposed to deal with them twisting the information like that.”
Lorraine frowned. “Can I be honest with you?” she asked.
I nodded. “Please,” I said.
I could really do with a little reality check right about now.
“Well,” she said. “I don’t mean this to come across wrong, but they’re not exactly twisting anything.”
I opened my mouth to argue. I was shocked.
“Don’t get upset yet,” Lorraine said. “Hear me out.”
I closed my mouth and bit my tongue.
“They caught you guys kissing on your patio, right? Well, that happened. And your sneaking out on him after you picked him up? That happened, too. Right now, you’re so up and down with him, you do look like just a fling.”
“But they made me sound like I was trashy,” I said because there was nothing else I could complain about. She was right.
Lorraine nodded. “Yeah, they could have worded it better. But imagine what it looks like to outsiders. Not just that, imagine what it looks like to Brian.”
I frowned. “Are you kidding me?” I asked.
Lorraine shook her head. “You’re blowing hot and cold with this guy all the time. You’re leading him on and dropping him. The papers are just calling it what it is.”
I was getting angry. “Those are big accusations,” I said.
“I know,” Lorraine said. “I told you I wanted to be honest.”
I wanted to tell her she was being a bitch, but I was starting to think maybe she was right. I hadn’t exactly been fair to Brian. He’d been more than nice to me, picking up the pieces every time I fell apart, dealing with me patiently when I got angry or scared and decided to leave. Come to think of it, it sounded a lot like what he did those first three months when I was impossible to deal with.
Was I still the same? That couldn’t be. But Brian was. He was solid and steadfast all the way through.
“What do you think, Lacey?” Lorraine asked, and I wanted to hit her.
I couldn’t believe she was inviting this near stranger into our conversation. But, knowing Lorraine, I know she probably just wanted some validation for her point of view.
“I happen to agree with you,” Lacey told Lorraine, after turning in our direction. She unwrapped a strand of her hair from the baby’s hand, since he reached for it once she turned.
Lorraine gave me a gloating expression, but Lacey added, “On the other hand, I see where Sadie is coming from. It’s hard work to date a football player.”
“Thank you,” I told her, looking satisfied. Kina looked over at me and winked, as if she was on my side, too.
“But if you really love someone, it’s worth it,” she added.
Well, dang . If she was going to start bringing up the “L” word, I wasn’t sure I had much to say back. I was pretty sure that what I felt for Brian was love, but I don’t remember experiencing anything like it before, so I’m not sure how I would know for sure.
“Besides, Kina and I are both PR managers,” Lacey continued. “And our job is to present to the public the side they want to see. I believe that when an athlete or other notorious ‘bad boy,’ or really any man at all, falls in love, our jobs are made much easier. Because the woman— or, being in love with her— usually naturally brings out the guy’s good side. In this situation, it is doing the opposite, though.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Lacey cleared her throat, as if she was unsure how to continue.
“She means that you are really doing a number with Brian’s head,” her friend Kina piped up.
Everyone laughed, and I couldn’t help but join in.
“Hey!” Lacey interrupted. “Thanks for making me sound bad, Kina. I certainly wouldn’t put it that way.”
“I know, because you’re too nice,” Kina said. “But, to be blunt, Brian was always one of those alpha males who is definitely a bad boy— rough around the edges, drinks some and swears more, etc., but he is more quiet and reserved about it.”
“That’s true,” Lacey said. “I know Brian pretty well due to the fact that I happen to be married to his best friend, and he has always had this confident, yet stand offish and kind of grim personality. Almost as if he’s haunted. So, when you came back into the picture, all of us had hope. He seemed to have hope. But now he’s spiraling out of control because he doesn’t know where he stands.”
I sighed. That was sad. And I hadn’t meant for things to turn out that way. Life had a way of surprising me, all the time.
“Well, thanks everyone, for your insight,” I said.
“Aren’t you glad we could dissect your love life and give you our armchair advice?” Lacey asked.
Everyone laughed, the game started, and I pretended to watch intently. I didn’t know what to say to Lorraine. I used the game as a reason not to speak. Because she was right, and I didn’t want to admit to it. She read the articles, too, and she knew the inside story because of what I told her. She saw both sides of the coin. If there was anyone that could be objective, it was Lorraine.
Plus, now we had two strangers— Lacey and Kina— saying pretty much exactly the same thing. As well as pointing out that I had broken Brian’s heart once, without meaning to, and now I was doing it again. I felt a responsibility to make up my mind, once and for all.
The game was good. The Sharks won. I expected they would. The screens in front of us replayed the highlights whenever they had a timeout. It was the best football experience I’d ever had.
But the whole game had been overshadowed by what Lorraine had said to me. He
They were right. I knew they were. And that meant that I’d been playing Brian, even though I hadn’t wanted to. I pushed him away when I didn’t want him, and I expected him to come when I called. What did that say about me? What did that mean?
I knew how I felt about him. I knew how terrified I was, too. I never had any intention of messing with him this way. But in the process of trying to figure out what I wanted, I was pushing him around so much, and he was just patiently waiting for the person I used to be to come back.
That was my problem, though. I wasn’t sure that person would ever come back. And if she didn’t? Brian would have waited his whole life for nothing when he could have been happy with someone else.
I would never be the woman he expected.
Since the game was over, we said goodbye to Lacey and Kina.
“And bye, little Liam,” I said to the baby, tickling his cute chubby cheeks.
“Hope to see you around again soon,” Lacey said, as she left.
I said, “Likewise,” but my stomach was in knots.
“Where did he say he wanted to meet you?” Lorraine asked when everyone started to file out to the exits.
I shook my head. “I don’t think I’m going to meet him.”
Lorraine frowned. “Isn’t that what we came for?”
“It is,” I said, nodding. “But I can’t do this. I think it’s better if we just leave.”
I knew what she was thinking. I was doing it again, the thing that she pointed out before the game. But I had a lot to think about, thanks to her, and I needed to figure out what I wanted. I knew I was being a bitch all over again, but I needed some time to think.
“It’s your choice, Sades,” Lorraine said.
I nodded. It was my choice. Life would have been so much easier if someone else could make our choices for us, but the only way I was going to be happy was if I chose something and stuck to it.
I had to start doing that, or I was just going to end up hurting everyone involved. I had been able to hide behind the accident for so long, it had become a habit. That had to change. I had to start facing the facts and taking responsibility for my actions. And if it didn’t work out and it turned out I’d made the wrong choice? Well, I guess I had to live with that, too.
Sometimes, all it took was a friend to point out the obvious when it had been staring me in the face for so long.
We left the stadium and made our way home.
The stadium was almost empty by the time I’d showered and changed after the game. It had been a good game. I’d made some great plays, if I do say so myself, and so had Hanson and some other teammates.
A win always left everyone in high spirits, and I felt ready for the season. My fitness was on point, and coach was happy.
But my mind hadn’t been on football for most of the day. Sure, I’d given it my all in the game because my team deserved that from me, but a part of me had kept going to the seats on the thirty-five-yard line, wondering if Sadie was there, watching me.
I would know in a couple of minutes if she had come. I hoped sincerely that she would, and I had a feeling that she would be at the program booth where I’d asked her to meet me. It was the easiest thing for her to find.
When I reached the program booth, she wasn’t there. I had told her to go to the one at the northeast gate. To be sure she hadn’t gotten the wrong booth, I went to all four of them.
She wasn’t waiting for me at any one of them. There was no way that she could be late. She would have been waiting since the game ended. She hadn’t come.
Disappointment tugged at me. I’d really believed that she would come. I had wanted her to come. I needed to talk to her about everything. I wanted to make it all right again.
I fished my phone out of her bag and called her.
“Where are you?” I asked. A part of me hoped that she would tell me she was somewhere in the stadium and she didn’t know how to get to me. I looked out over the green field.
“I’m at home,” she said, and my heart sank to my shoes.
“Oh,” I said.
I shook my head, even though she couldn’t see me.
“I know that the articles might be right,” she said.
I frowned. She had my attention.
“What do you mean?”
She sighed. “I mean, I’m starting to realize that maybe they pretty much say what’s been going on. I’ve been so angry, but I didn’t look at it and think that this is really what it looks like. That I’m doing all this to you.”
I shook my head. “Don’t do this,” I said. “I don’t even read them anymore because they come up with ridiculous stories.”
“Not this time,” she said. “I’m sorry. I came to the game to see you. But I realized what was happening, what I was doing, and I can’t keep going like this.”
What the hell was happening?
“So, at first you reject me because of what I’m doing to you, and now you’re rejecting me because of what you’re doing to me?”
“It sounds terrible when you lay it out like that. At least I realized what was going on.”
“That’s all fine,” I said. I was getting angry. “You’re having a little trip of realization, and I’m grateful for that. But no matter what you decide the reason is, you’re still pushing me away. I’m still the one that’s being rejected. Your revelation still leaves me without you.”
She was quiet. I didn’t know where that had come from, but it was the truth. It was how I felt. Did I care about the why? Did it matter to me why she kept pushing me away? It probably should have, but it didn’t. I just wanted to be with her.
“Brian,” she said, and she sounded tired.
“Look, meet me at High Rock. You know where that is, right?”
“The place where I had my accident,” she said.
“Right. They won’t get photos of us there. Will you meet me?”
I waited for her to turn me down again, but to my surprise, she agreed.
“Okay,” she said tentatively.
Now just to make sure we could meet there soon, so she couldn’t go changing her mind on me, yet again.
“One hour,” I said and hung up.
* * *
I wasn’t at High Rock for very long before Sadie arrived. I had entertained the idea for a moment that she would stand me up, but then the cab arrived, and she got out. Her hair was tied back, and she wore a light jacket with her jeans. I was still in my post-game tracksuit.
“Come with me,” I said. I held out my hand, and we walked across the rocks, jumping from one to the next, until we reached the large, flat rock where everything changed.
“Do you remember this place?” I asked.
She walked onto the flat rock and out toward the place where she’d lost her balance and fell. She looked down, and I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. I hoped to God something would come back. I willed her to remember something, anything.
When she turned around, she looked apologetic.
“I know this is where the accident happened, but I don’t remember more than that.”
I sighed. I was going to have to let go of the past completely, wasn’t I? Her memories probably weren’t going to come back. I needed to get over that and move on.
I walked to her and pulled her against me. She looked surprised, but she let me hold her.
“Will you give me one more chance?” I asked. “I can’t promise that you won’t end up in the paper, and I can’t forget everything like it never happened. It was too special to me. But I want to try again. I’m not asking for anything more than a chance. If it doesn’t work, well, we tried.”
I was nervous of what she would say. Her gray eyes looked stormy against the blue skies behind us, and the wind whipped her hair around her face. Sh
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay?” I’d half expected her to say no.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’ll try.”
I was wary. What if she pulled away from me again? What if she decided she didn’t want to do this after all? But I was relieved and excited that she’d agreed.
“Come home with me,” I said. “Let’s just hang out.”
She nodded and smiled at me, and this time, I think she meant it.
We went back to Brian’s house, and whatever it was between us now, it was good. We sat together on the couch, the same one we’d had sex on, and we had drinks together. He’d given me wine, and he sipped a beer. The sun was starting to set, and the light that fell in through the window touched everything with a golden glow.
Brian was a good guy. He was there all the time, no matter how up and down I was, and he deserved for me to be better. I wanted to give him more. I didn’t know if I could do that in a relationship, but I wanted to do that with friendship, at least. I wanted him to start being a part of my life, the way I’d apparently been a part of his life for so long.
I sat back against the couch and sipped the wine, looking around the living room. On the bookshelf in the corner, a silver frame contained a photo that looked familiar. I got up and walked across the room.
The photo was of a bunch of kids wearing football and cheerleading uniforms. The uniforms were so familiar, and I realized they belonged to the school I’d attended.
“What is it?” Brian asked from the couch.
I stared at the photo, at the strangers’ faces, and suddenly, they weren’t strangers anymore.
I could tell who they were. Adrian and Derek and Rob the idiot. Jason, Brian’s best friend back in school, and Oliver who was better at being benched. The cheerleaders had been my friends. Dana and Olivia and Sarah and Jane. And Anna, who no one understood, but she could do a backflip or drop into splits on demand, so we kept her on the team because we wanted to win.