Two days later, they’d won their first preseason game and were back practicing.
Both gyms were filled and were in the middle of drills. The sound of bouncing basketballs, whistles, yelling, and the squeaks of shoes against the floor filled the courts.
And the smell of sweat.
I loved it.
I’d never enjoyed playing the sport myself, but my brother was a basketball star for our high school team. He was starting varsity in seventh grade, and growing up as Chance Manning’s little sister had its benefits—but also its cons. One of the benefits, I was treated like royalty at every single basketball game. Another girl, whose brother was on the varsity team with Chance, told me she’d started being one of the team’s managers. That was a loose title they’d given her because she showed up and took stats for their games. She’d asked if I wanted to do it with her, and the answer had been a resounding hell yes. The popular girls down front always had time for Chance’s little sister, and the only better seating was actually with the team. That’s where they put us managers.
So even to this day, a filled and active gym of basketball players made a part of me purr like a kitten.
I’d missed this, and I’d forgotten how much I missed this. Seems as if coming back to camp hadn’t been the only part of my history I was revisiting, and I was okay with that too. I dropped the ball I’d been bouncing idly and whipped my head around.
Reese stood at the counter, sweat wetting his hair, his face, and his shirt. He held a basketball on his hip.
My brain turned off. Reese Forster looked as if he’d stepped out of the shower. He didn’t smell like it, but he looked like it.
My groin was inflamed. The Fourth of July decided to visit, and I groaned, biting my lip. So embarrassing.
“What’d you say?” I asked again, my voice a little raspy.
He nodded toward the screen door. “You and that guy from the other day. You’re good friends.”
It took a second, but Grant. It clicked then. The Tub Day.
I was not going to let my weird brain go nuts with thoughts here. He was asking because he was curious. That’s all. For no reason other than curiosity.
A monotone voice sounded through my brain: Calm the fuck down.
I swallowed, and just like that, I was calmer.
My normal response was to go into hyperdrive, but enough was enough. I needed to be a normal person. Reese (I wasn’t using his last name any more) had asked a general question, because he was generally interested, and I could respond—like a generally normal person.
You’d think I’d be better after getting hazed. I wasn’t. I was worse, in some ways.
I tucked some hair behind my ear. “I used to work here a long time ago, and he and I—”
Reese bounced the ball between his legs, once, catching it right away. “There was a thing?”
I was totally cool here.
“Yeah.” I winced at myself. “I mean, no. We were best friends. That’s it.”
He dropped the ball again, starting to bounce it in front of him. “So there wasn’t a thing?”
“So who did you have a thing with?” He was still bouncing, his head cocked to the side.
“What?” Why is he asking about this?
“Come on.” He looked me up and down. “You’re hot. You’re trying to tell me you’re single?”
I couldn’t say I wasn’t.
He kept on, “And you’re working here as what? A gym court attendant?”
“Um.” Shit. He wanted the deets on why this train wreck was still working at a camp.
All the Damian trauma, Grandpa Newt, and getting fired exploded in my chest in one big ball.
I let out a sigh.
“That’s…stupidly tragic.” What else could I say?
He caught the ball and stopped, staring hard at me. “Stupidly tragic?”
I clipped my head in a nod. “Would you like more water? I can get that for you.”
Pretending like he’d asked for more water, I started walking away. I called over my shoulder, “I’ll get you more water.”
He stared at me the whole way as I went back out the door. I couldn’t see him, but I felt him. And then I remembered: we had just filled the table with water an hour ago.
Reese kept his distance from me the rest of the day. I worked like a normal employee, with only minimal fangirling still going on inside of me, but not as much. The whole ‘stupidly tragic’ thing put a damper on my inner fangirl.
But he watched me, and I couldn’t ignore the flutter going on in my stomach. And those weren’t there because of my fanatical fan-ways. They were there and growing because of a different reason, one that was more like me woman and he man, that sort of way.
And that was bad.
I could do nuts. Crazy was a nice firm wall that I kept around myself, shielding people from getting too close, or from me connecting as a real human being kinda way. It was a good firm wall locked around me, and the more he was watching me, the more that wall was getting dents in it, and that was the bad part.
Really bad. Like seriously, I’m stupid—sign me up for another stint of therapy kind of bad.
I did not need to deal with anyone on a real basis. Lucas was the most I’d tried in a year, and we all know how that ended.
Reese Forster made Grandpa Newt not even a blip.
But, I was walking from the main lounge, after dinner when he fell in step beside me, and for some reason no one clued Reese Forster in on how bad of an idea he was to my senses.
“I didn’t mean to freak you out earlier,” he said.
I almost faltered in my stride, but caught myself and kept going. I needed to deal with this problem before I was put in a mental clinic.
“Tell me something gross about yourself.”
We were rounding one of the outdoor courts. A couple of the other players were there, shooting hoops.
I figured, why not. “Because gross helps balance things out. I need balancing out. I’m starting to like you.”
He grabbed my arm, jerking me to a stop.
His head inclined toward me. His eyes keen. “Say again.”
I rolled my eyes. “Come on. You’re a pro ball player. Women throwing themselves at you is not new. Why are you surprised by me?”
“It’s not that.” He gripped the back of his neck. “As a line, that was almost lame compared to some I’ve heard.” An easy grin fell back in place and he let go of his neck, nodding to me. “You can do better.”
Then I blinked a few times, staring at him because he was right. I could do better, and that sort of thing wouldn’t even phase him.
“Okay. Fine.” I could do this.
This was weird.
I was still going with it. “Is your dick cold? Because I’ve got a warmer for it.”
He didn’t react, his face expressionless, then his smirk grew. “That’s it? We’re not at the Roxbury. Do better.” His smirk was growing cocky.
Jesus. He did not realize the stalker he was fanning here.
Some of the bouncing from the court lessened. The guys were starting to watch us. One guy broke from their group, heading over. I saw it from the corner of my eye.
I coughed. “I don’t know. How do girls usually hit on you?”
He shrugged. “Most just usually send me a nude in my messages. Or you know, practically being naked and just grabbing me.”
His smirk was almost rakish now. “If I have an itch and she’s got the warmer for my dick.”
That was so crude. My warmer got hotter.
“Yeah. Well. I’m trying to warn you away from me.”
He rolled his eyes. “You don’t scare me. Besides, I thought you were funny.” He relaxed, rolling his shoulders back.
“Reese,” Juan called out, halfway to us. He shot out a ball. It bounced once and Reese caught it without looking away from me.
“You think I’m less funny now that I’m being honest?”
He flexed his hands around the ball. “Maybe I’m missing the questions?”
Juan stopped just shy of joining our group and conversation. He was waiting.
And I was waiting too. No one missed my questions. I didn’t even miss my questions. I was waiting because I didn’t know how to process this conversation. I narrowed my eyes at him. “Are you messing with me?”
There was another burning feeling in me, moving up, spreading over my stomach, my chest, rising all the way to my neck. It was a burning feeling that I hadn’t felt in so long. I almost didn’t recognize it.
“Is that another attempt? ’Cause that’s lame too.” He smirked. “Thought you weren’t a camp groupie?”
Well…there was always going to be a fine line with that one, especially with him, only with him.
I closed my mouth and bit down hard. Juan Cartion was listening to our conversation, and not even hiding it. The Cruskinator was coming in too, his large hands on his hips.
I focused back on him, trying to ignore the other two and now a third was coming over. “We have an audience.”
Reese’s eyebrows pulled together, skimming a look over his teammates. “So?”
“So.” I coughed, smiling and dipping my head down. My hands were almost shaking. “I should get the cage open. Excuse me.”
I wasn’t running. I honestly wasn’t.
I wasn’t hiding.
I wasn’t avoiding.
I—just—I’d hid from life while I was with Damian, then hid for another year, and Lucas had been a crash and burn attempt at jump-starting my whole living again. This, though. This, with a minor conversation with Reese Forster (yes, I had to say his last name because his first name didn’t put it into the best perspective) had me feeling things I’d almost forgotten could happen in me.
I felt normal, for a small moment.
I was a girl crushing on a guy, not a fangirl gawking over a celebrity, and it hit me hard in the chest. Right there, making that thing pumping and skipping a beat.
That was what I’d been afraid of. 4.
We were heading down the trail when we passed a few of his teammates coming the other way.
I averted my gaze, pulling on his sweatshirt as he stopped.
“What’s up, Forster?”
“Not much. Heading back to shoot some hoops.”
I could feel their gazes.
Reese’s sweatshirt swamped me, but it smelled like him. A hint of sand and pine mixed together. Tugging his sleeves down, I balled them up and pretended to look at them.
“We bus out at ten, right?”
Reese nodded. “Yeah. Breakfast is at nine.”
That was news to me, though not the busing-out part. I knew they had another preseason game coming up.
Fists bumped between Reese and the others as they said their goodnights. We’d walked a few feet before someone murmured something, and the others began laughing.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I knew that laugh was about me.
“They think we’re fucking,” Reese commented.
I smothered a “WHAT?” and let out a strangled chuckle instead. “Yeah. No shit.” A second thought, “You think they’ll tell your coaches about me staying in your cabin?” Because I hadn’t said a word to the other staff. I didn’t want to hear any of the lectures I’d get. Plus I knew Keith would relish the chance to fire me.
“Nah. And to be honest, I don’t think the coaches would give a shit—as long as we show and do our jobs. And you’re not underage.” He laughed. “Juan told the guys about your cabin, but none of them are buying it. I figure it’s easier to let them think that than tell them truth. Is that okay with you?”
I looked up. “What’s the truth?”
He grinned, the look taking him from hot to HOT. “That you’ve become like an annoying gnat that I like for some reason.” He raised an eyebrow. “How’s that for the truth?”
Warmth flooded me. I could be a gnat.
We started forward again, and I kept his sleeves wrapped around my hands. “You could tell them the other truth.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“That I’m a stalker with polite boundaries.”
He groaned. “Stop with the stalking bullshit.” He swung, but his fist was more of a tap on my shoulder. It was a soft tap, one between friends.
We’d become friends.
I was okay with that.