It fits the rebel in me well.
Charisma gives me a fist bump. “Looking stellar.”
“You look snazzy yourself. Indiana Jones, I presume.” I check out her pants, hat, and the whip that’s resting next to her.
She toys with it. “It’s for Blaze. Later. I’m going to make him pay for not telling me everything.”
Margo is in a pink business suit with shoulder pads, pumps, and bouffant hair. Connor is next to her and has on a Polo with the collar popped and penny loafers. Finally, it fits.
“And that’s a touchdown, folks! First one of the game for the home team!” The announcer’s voice blares as the Wildcats score. I put my eyes on the field to see what’s going on. I was supposed to meet the Chi Omegas and walk over with them, but in the end, I needed some time alone to pump myself up before heading to the stadium. Part of me almost didn’t come, but eventually, I threw my clothes on and drove over here.
It isn’t long before my eyes find Ryker’s jersey as he jogs off the field to let the defense go on.
Our seats are close enough that when he reaches the bench and stalks toward the quarterback coach, I feel as if I can’t breathe. He’s magnificent dressed in his uniform. Broad shoulders. Tapered waist. Tightly muscled arms.
He takes off his helmet and whips his hair out of his face. It feels like forever since we spoke though I know it was just yesterday in the early hours.
Time moves differently when we aren’t together. Slugging along.
I grab my purse and put on lipstick, freshening up my cherry red. I contemplate sucking on a lollipop, but I forgot to bring any.
He looks up, his gaze searching the crowd, up and down the rows until finally he finds me. The air stands still and nothing seems to move as we look at each other.
I can’t make out the details, but his face softens. He closes his eyes briefly and when he looks at me again, I imagine I see regret on his visage. Amid the screams of the crowd and over the heads of the cheerleaders, he mouths something at me.
I shake my head at him and hold my hands up. No clue.
Do I care what he’s saying?
Part of me does. I want this anvil off my chest.
“What’s he saying?” Charisma murmurs.
“I don’t know.”
She looks from him to me. “Uh, are you sure? Because it’s pretty clear to me what that is.”
“I don’t know!”
He waves his hands and tries again, but another player comes along and gets his attention. He turns his head to look at the field then stares back at me. The other team has given up the ball, and it’s his turn to head back out. He sends me a final look and takes off for the huddle.
I watch him.
“Seriously? You didn’t see what he said?” She’s looking at me like I have two heads.
She exhales, a thoughtful look on her face. “Let me ask you something: have you ever done or said something you really regretted like a second later?”
“Have you done it recently?”
I think. “I manipulated Ryker into coming to the party. I made him feel like a commodity. His words.”
“Right. Sometimes we do and say not so great things to get the thing we really want—even at the expense of others.”
My lips tighten. “He bragged about having sex with me.”
“He’s a man. He reacted like a Neanderthal. Plus, dude, he’s never been in a relationship. He doesn’t know how to act. You’ve got to train him up right.” She gives her little whip a crack.
I nod. “So what was he saying?”
She gives me a little smile. “Pen, that’s something you’ll have to ask him yourself.”
A couple of hours later, the game is over. We beat Georgia 7 to 35 and the fans are intense and excited. Without a loss yet, it looks like we might have a championship year.
I’ve left the field and am in the parking lot almost to my new Volkswagen—yes, I’m driving it—when I get a ping on my phone. I dive into my purse.
Part of me wants it to be Ryker.
I think about those words in my dad’s office: Live love, breathe love, give love.
My phone pings again before I can find it, and I let out a groan of frustration. It’s at the bottom of my purse. I let out an aggravated yell then finally snag it and yank it out.
It’s him. My hands shake.
The parking section I’m in is mostly deserted with no one around, so I drop my purse to the ground and hold my phone like it’s a grenade.
What do I do? What do I say?
Hey, I send back. Great game.
Thanks. You busy?
Only about to host the party of the year. No, I type.
Really? Don’t you have the party?
We’re texting like nothing is wrong, but I feel the undercurrent, the reality that we are different now. Vulnerable.
I’m not coming. I just wanted you to know I got the message from Blaze.
He sends another text. There’s something I’ve been wanting to say and I just haven’t found the right way—
The screen goes blank and I realize my phone has died.
“No!” I shout up at nothing in particular and let out a growl of frustration. I stomp my foot.
“Penelope.” The voice is deep and husky.
I whip around and there he is.
His hair is damp from the shower, curling at the ends. He’s wearing a button-up shirt and low-slung jeans. My gaze eats him up, missing him.
“What…were you there the whole time?”
He nods. “Coach let me skip out early and miss the celebratory talk. I showered fast and waited for you to leave and followed you.” Uncertainty crosses his features. “I was nervous to say anything in person, and I thought maybe if I texted you…”
I nod, getting it. We tend to say more in texts.
I think back to the game where I watched him the entire time, unable to shift my gaze away. And here’s what I realized. The Ryker of my heart would never participate in a bet that involved me. And I didn’t need Margo to tell me that. Or Charisma to explain about how sometimes we say things we don’t mean.
I know him.
I think maybe I’ve known him for a long time, or my soul has. Since the moment I researched and wrote the article about him, he carved out a place in my brain, and now he owns my heart.
He comes in closer, a hesitant look on his face. “Did you see what I wrote?”
I hold my phone up. “Well, my phone died…so no.”
He’s reached me now and we’re close, just a few inches between us. He smells like sandalwood and spices, and I want to lay my hand on his chest and feel his heart beat.
I do it. My hand trembles as I press it against his body. I gaze up at him and emotion swirls in his eyes. “Your heart is racing.”
“I love you,” he says quietly. He closes his eyes then opens them. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me—even better than football. If I had to pick between the two, it would be you every single time.”
My legs feel like jelly.
“The truth is, I wanted you that day at Sugar’s and it had zilch to do with a bet. I wanted you in my bed and it had shit to do with a bet. You are all I want, and if you’ll just forgive me for my big mouth…” He pauses and rakes a hand through his hair. “I can’t go on knowing you hate me, Red.”
“I could never hate you.” Tears prick at my eyes.