Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 88
“Because he’s a damn fine football player,” he finally says, with a resolute shrug. “And because of my loyalty to his dad.”
“To his dad?”
The image of Ronnie Reynolds shouting at Silvia Reynolds in their living room pops into my head.
“Yeah, he and I played together for the Wildcats, way back when.”
“Oh. I see.”
The timing would make sense. Wesley’s parents did look about the same age as mine.
I just never put two and two together until now. And Wesley had neglected to mention his connection to the string that was pulled in his favor.
Or I suppose he did mention it but I didn’t understand its importance at the time.
“What was he like?” I ask.
“He was a damn fine football player. But an asshole of a guy. His son clearly inherited some of his genes.”
I laugh, and he does too.
“But seriously,” he continues. “I feel kind of bad for Wesley, or anyone having to grow up in Ronnie’s shadow. It can’t be an easy life.”
I think about Wesley tumbling down off the playground structure, thinking his dad was going to catch him, only to have no open arms awaiting him at the bottom.
And how he’d shared with me the difficulty of growing up as his father’s son. Especially after the loss of his grandfather, who had accepted him unconditionally for who he was rather than trying to mold him into something else.
“But you just let Wesley on the team despite…”
He looks at me, and I just say, “…I’ve heard rumors.”
“I guess his hometown is only an hour away, so that was bound to happen,” my dad says. “But so far he’s done nothing but proven himself. Even though he’s a tad headstrong for my taste.”
“Yeah, I know,” Dad says, shrugging his shoulders. “His reputation precedes him. The thing that worried me the most was how he supposedly ‘mistreated’ those cheerleaders. What did that mean? I wondered. You know my feelings about how a guy should treat a lady. Since I have a princess like you.”
“Seriously, Chelsea. It bothered me. So I did ask his former coach about that aspect of his file specifically, and he said it was all blown out of proportion. He’d date a cheerleader and she’d think they were serious— ‘going steady’ or whatever you all call it these days— but then he’d move on to the next and the first one would get upset.”
This account matched up pretty well with what Taylor had told me. I guess I should have listened. Now I’m the cheerleader who had thought we were getting serious.
“His coach told me that he would have had as much right to complain about the women's behavior as they did about his. He’d call it off with them— or not, because I guess he thought there was nothing to call off— and they’d pester him with calls and voicemails and whatever messaging stuff you all do nowadays. When he didn’t respond, or when he asked them to stop, they’d run to the administration and say the star player was too much of a… player.”
“It’s funny, you know? A lot of women— not you, because you’re too smart— want the bad boy, but they want to be blind to the fact that bad boys can’t be bad boys without a reputation. And that there’s a reason for that reputation.”
Good point , I think, but I say nothing.
“Anyway, I just decided to give Wesley the benefit of the doubt,” my dad says. “In that regard, it didn’t sound to me like he’d done anything too serious.”
“But what about the drugs?” I exclaim, and then wish I hadn’t, because my dad is looking at me as if he’s wondering how I know about that.
Dad finally just says, “I guess word got out about that too.”
He sighs before continuing.
“And I know it sounds bad. I don’t want you to think I condone drug use, or the sale of drugs of course. But the coach wasn’t too helpful on that front. He said a deal had been struck and that the terms were confidential. He did mention that it was a weird situation that didn’t seem to match Wesley’s character, and that there was never any indication of erratic behavior on his behalf or anything like that. As part of his contract Wesley gets drug tested regularly and he’s always turned up clean.”
I knew about the drug test requirement, having read the contract. It’s good to know he seems reformed now, but I still can’t wrap my head around him having done it in the first place.
“You’re really taking a big risk letting him play,” I tell my dad.
As if I’m one to talk .
“And for what? One year of having a star quarterback? Then he’ll just ditch you and go back to his old team?”
It’s as if I’m talking to myself instead of him.
And I probably should be.
“Well, I’d never admit this to the guy, since he’s already got such a big ego, but I think the rest of the team can learn from his experience and his intuition. Plus their morale will be bolstered by all these wins.”
“It’s still really nice of you,” I tell him.
“I owed his dad a favor. A few years after we graduated, when the football team had started to go to shit and they started looking for new coaches, he and I were both being considered for the position but he stepped down to coach at Reardon. Said I was a better fit here. Sure, Reardon ended up being the better team so he got the better end of that deal anyway,” he laughs. “But whatever. Even leaving his dad out of it, when it comes to Wesley, I guess I just feel that even the baddest of bad boys deserves a second chance sometimes.”
“Well, good luck with the database,” I tell him, heading to my room.
And it’s about time I figure out whether I think the bad boy I willingly fell for deserves a chance now that I know all of this information about him.
Chapter 30 – Wesley
I scan the bleachers at the University swimming pool for Chelsea, wondering if she’s going to make it today.
I’m already ten minutes late, and I don’t see her here so I doubt she’s coming. I look around one more time, and start to leave, only to see her bouncing in, breathless and in a hurry.
“There you are,” she says, practically running into me. “I thought that if you had been able to make it at all, you might have already left by now.”
Despite myself, I give her a huge hug.
I’ve missed her.
She smells like spring, but underneath that freshly showered scent is a slight whiff of the outdoors. I know that the scent is from her cheerleading practice, and then her walk over here. But there’s something mysterious— almost magical— mixed in with it too. I fucking love the way she smells.
“Lucky for you, your dad kept us late after practice,” I tell her. “So I just got here myself.”
I don’t mention all the other times I’ve come looking for her, hoping she’d show up, waiting too long and then feeling pathetic as I left.
It’s been a few weeks since our literal roller coaster ride, and things have seemed shaky between us. We’ve barely been able to see each other. We’d arranged to meet here in what has become our secret hiding place as often as we can— every evening after practice, if possible. But more often than not, it hasn’t been possible for one or both of us. Usually her, it seems.
There are plenty of explanations for why we haven’t gotten to see each other as much as we both would like. I’ve been busy with practice and games, since mid-season and the extra training is nearing its peak and the team is doing really well. We’ve been winning most of our games and it looks as though we’ll have a real shot in the postseason, for the first time in the school’s recent history.
And I know that Chelsea has been just as busy, preparing the cheerleading squad for its upcoming competitions. Not to mention all the exam prep we’ve both been doing.
But the fact that we have to sneak around— and not
I was fine with that, of course— and I’d told her so, trying to psych myself up with the excitement of that arrangement— but I can’t help thinking I wanted more. Then, and now.
She pulls herself close into my hug and I lean down to give her a kiss. For a brief, passionate second, it’s just as if we’re picking back up the day after the amusement park, like we should have been able to do. If we were a real couple.
But I have an idea that I hope will fix that problem. Sure, it won’t make us be able to properly see each other, but at least we’ll see each other again.
“I’ve been thinking,” I tell her. “That it’s about time you watched me play something other than football.”
She glances up at me, her beautiful blue eyes shining with interest. I love how big and bright they are. Especially when she’s looking at me.
“Yeah. Did I ever tell you that I’m a member of the college Ultimate Frisbee team?”
“What?” she laughs. “No, you didn’t.”
“Well, that’s because it just started up a couple weeks ago, and it’s not an official sport.”
I wink at her.
She laughs, which was exactly my intention. I love the light guffaw she always gives me— goofy but natural, a contagious laugh that makes me want to laugh right along with her.
“Yeah, it’s actually just a bunch of guys getting together to run around the field like idiots, throwing a Frisbee to each other and chasing after it. Much like dogs do.”
There’s that laugh again.
“I’d love to see that spectacle,” she says. “When is it?”
“It’s this Friday night,” I tell her.
It’s perfectly timed, because it’s the team’s rest week so there’s no game for me to play in or for her to cheer at. And even though I know the cheerleaders have a big competition coming up, it’s on Sunday, so my stupid little Frisbee game won’t be interfering with that.
But her face drops.
I realize what the problem might be.
“The other guys on the team aren’t football players,” I hurry to add, to sweep aside any fears she might have in that department. “So your dad won’t find out we’re hanging out. Well, except for Christian, whom I’ve sworn to secrecy. These are mostly friends of his, and I’m trying to make some friends who aren’t in football.”
“Too much alpha male competition?” she guesses.
“Something like that. But anyway, a lot of these guys are soccer players, and it’s at the soccer field. Not the football field.”
“That’s good,” she says, but she still doesn’t sound too promising.
I assume she’s still worried about her dad finding out about us, no matter where we go or what we do. If it’s on campus, it’s probably a no-go for her. Guess I might have to endure another roller coaster ride at her beloved amusement park.
“We’ll probably grab some drinks after the Frisbee game, as that’s what we usually do,” I tell her. “And you’re welcome to come to that too.”
“I’ll try to make it, but that’s right before the conference competition…”
“I know,” I tell her. “I didn’t mean…”
Her phone vibrates, and she pulls away from me before I can explain that I hadn’t forgotten about her own weekend plans. She reaches into her bag to see who is contacting her on her phone.
“I’m so sorry to rush in and out,” she tells me, “but something’s come up. With the team.”
Uh huh .
So she’s giving me the blow-off, I suppose. And coming up with a lame excuse, at that.
This never fucking happens to me.
Never, that is, until I let little miss Chelsea Thompson creep into my head and my heart.
Most girls want to be my girlfriend, yet I never want commitment.
I’m usually the one telling a buddy to call me and make up some reason I can leave a girl in the dust.
“It was nice seeing you, though,” she says, with a smile that’s almost half convincing. “And I really will try to come watch you and the other doggies play fetch.”
“Ha,” I say, trying hard not to laugh at her joke, even though it’s funny.
As she quickly heads towards the door, I feel like an idiot for even inviting her. Clearly she doesn’t have the time. She’s already moved on. And I’m dumb for thinking we could be anything more than rushed, secret hook-up buddies.
“Don’t worry about it,” I tell her. “It’s really no big deal.”
As I head home, I try to tell myself the same thing, about everything— about us .
But it’s really hard to convince myself.
Chapter 31 – Chelsea
I can’t believe the text I’m looking at.
It’s from Mandy’s mother.
Mandy’s been hospitalized. She won’t be able to make the conference competition.
I’ve had to read it several times to make sure it said what I thought it said.
And she’s one of the most talented cheerleaders on our team. Our conference competition that can make or break Nationals is right around the corner.
It took me a minute to catch up with reality, right when I was in the middle of seeing Wesley again. I’d been hanging back and avoiding him lately, not wanting to be pushy and annoying like the cheerleaders at his old school. And not wanting to be as silly as they were, thinking that he and I had something serious going.
But when I saw him, I couldn’t believe how much electricity still exists between us. I want to believe he’s as happy to have seen me as he looked.
I was a bit disappointed when he hadn’t seemed to remember my upcoming competition. Then he’d said he’d remembered it but that it was on a different day than the Frisbee game to which he was inviting me.
He obviously didn’t seem to understand that it took a lot of planning and practice and wasn’t just a one day deal. But I guess a lot of non-cheerleading people wouldn’t. So I’m willing to cut him some slack for that.
There’s no time to dwell on any of that now though. I’ve got to think about Mandy. And the rest of the squad.
After I break away from Wesley and as I hurriedly leave the pool, I text back: Where?
I text Taylor to meet me at the quad, and then I get another text from Mandy’s mom.
We’ll let you know shortly. We ask for no visitors at this time. Please keep this information confidential among only the captains for now until we figure out more information.
By the time I reach the quad, I’m a mess.
“Taylor!” I say, hugging her hard.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, holding onto me.
It’s also been a while since I’ve talked to Taylor. I was annoyed with her for butting in so much between Wesley and me. But now I just need her support.
“Look,” I tell her, showing her my phone with the texts from Mandy’s mom.
“Oh my god. That’s awful!”
We both cry, unable to hold back our sobs.
“I hope she’s going to be okay,” I say.
“I’m sure she will be,” Taylor reassures me. “Whatever’s wrong with her, she’s young and in good health.”
“I hate to mention it but…”
“Yeah,” Taylor says. “What about our routine?”
The routine I’d planned for the upcoming conference competition pretty much literally revolves around Mandy.
“I’m going to have to plan a new one,” I tell her. “There’s no way around it.”
“Couldn’t someone else just take her part?” she asks.
“No one else can do those tumbles and acr
“Tell me about it,” I say. “I’ve been so torn trying to decide what to do about Wesley. Then my dad tells me he’s in super deep with your mom. Then this happens, which causes me to worry both about the future of Mandy and our conference competition chances. I just don’t know how much more I can take.”
“Hold on,” says Taylor. “Back up. Your dad said he’s in deep with my mom?”
“Oh. Yeah. I mean, he didn’t come out and say it but he certainly implied it.”
I feel dumb. But clearly Taylor knew this information way before I did. It’s not like I was keeping a secret from her.
“And how exactly does that fact get added into the list of bad things that happened to you?”
“It’s not a bad thing. It’s just that…”
“I knew it,” she says, practically exploding. “I knew there was a reason you’ve been so distant from me. You can’t just be happy for my mom. And your dad. Everything has to be about you .”
Now I’m the one fuming mad.
“That is not true,” I tell her. “At least, not all of it. I haven’t been keeping my distance from you. Or if I have, a little, it’s just because…”
“Because what? Because I tried to give you some common sense advice about Wesley?”
“No!” I almost yell, frustrated beyond belief.
I hear Wesley’s voice in my ear, telling me how Taylor always acts like my mother figure. Maybe I just need some space from my “mom.”
Because you’re always trying to tell me what to do, I want to tell her.
But I really need Taylor right now. Neither of us may feel like best friends at the moment, but we are. We always have been, and we always will be.
“I’m sorry, Taylor,” I tell her, calming down long enough to give her a hug, which, thankfully, she returns.
“You’re right. I just… I just need a little freedom to make my own mistakes, I guess.”
Did I just admit that Wesley was a mistake?