The Hook Up
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He takes a seat next to my mom and immediately drapes an arm around her shoulder, leaving his long, pale fingers to dangle right over her br**sts. Because, while he might stare at my boobs, he takes any opportunity he can to touch my mom’s when I’m around.
My stomach turns. “Hello, Terrance.” I keep my eyes on his greasy hair, parted severely down the middle. Like Hitler’s. When my stomach turns again, I look at my mother, who is trying to appear casual and calm, even though some creep is stroking her like she’s a lapdog.
I don’t bother giving my mother a dirty look—he’s here on my day with her. He does it every time.
If I live a hundred years, I’ll never understand my mother. She’s smart, brilliant, beautiful, and talented. And she has the self-esteem of a gnat. I cannot fathom why she’d rather not be alone than settle for these… I don’t even want to call them men.
“Did you tell Anna the good news, Cecelia?”
Mom has the grace to flush, and I know it will be bad. God, just don’t let it be marriage. I’ve feared that since I was ten and finally realized that one of these jerks might become a permanent fixture should Mom actually marry one of them. Luckily, the relationships ended before then.
“Well, dear,” she neatly shrugs out of Terrance’s grasp as she leans forward. “I’m getting older now.”
She’s fifty-five. Hardly old.
“And there’s so much to see in this world.”
Terrance’s hand lands on her hip and he strokes her butt. I’m now officially ill.
“So I’ve decided to retire,” Mom says with another flush.
“That’s…” I struggle. “Well, that’s great, if that’s what you want, Mom.” I’m happy to think of Mom relaxing, even though I suspect she’ll be bored within months.
But she’s not done. She shifts in her seat, and my heart plummets. God, please not the marriage thing.
“What?” I ask.
“I’ve also decided to sell the house.”
The words set off a bomb within my skull. I just sit there, my brain scrambled, leaving me unable to speak.
“We’re going on a world cruise,” Terrance puts in, grinning at me with his gray teeth.
“Are you selling your house?” I ask him. “Oh, right, I forgot. You rent.” Because I’m beginning to get the idea.
Terrance’s beady eyes narrow. “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
“Yet you’re here, when this conversation is really between me and my mom.”
“Anna,” Mom begins.
“Don’t.” I hold up a hand. Then take a deep breath. “Can I say anything to change your mind?”
“You should be happy for your mother, young lady.” Terrance is turning an ugly shade of red. “Not making her feel badly.”
“Do not f**king call me young lady again. And I’m not talking to you.”
“Anna, language.” Mom eases closer to me, like she might reach out and pat my hand.
I place my hands in my lap. “Can I?” I ask again.
Her eyes turn sad, regretful. “You don’t live here anymore, and I thought I’d buy something smaller when I return.”
“Never mind that your parents gave you this house. That it’s the only home I’ve ever known.”
Terrance snorts. “I told you she’d covet the house, Cecilia.”
“Like you are, Terry?” I snap back.
“Anna.” It’s a plea from my mom.
“No, Cece, don’t baby her.” Terrance cuts in, raising to glare at me. “I can take care of myself.”
“All evidence to the contrary.” I say, not stepping away from his looming figure. “And if you come any closer to me, you’ll see how easily I can take care of myself.”
Mom jumps up then. “Anna, Terrance, stop this now.” She turns and places a hand on the sleaze. “Let me handle this.”
I can’t watch anymore. In truth, I ought to have left long ago. I know the drill. She might love me, but she always chooses her boyfriend’s side.
“I have to go.”
Mom’s mouth falls open, as if this is a shock to her. “But you just got here. You haven’t even eaten.”
I’m not eating now. I’ll throw up.
“I’ll talk to you later.” I grab my purse and leave. And she doesn’t try to stop me again.
Hurt, anger, and disgust is an ugly cocktail in my veins. Well, I think wryly, I wanted a reminder, and I sure as hell got one. This isn’t the comfort I need. I drive around until my arms are tired and I’m nearly out of gas. I don’t want to go back to my apartment. I don’t want to talk to Iris or George about it; they’ve both heard the saga of my mom many times before, and whatever they say is not going to help. Nothing is going to change the situation. Which only makes my agitation burn stronger.
The beautiful fall day is totally incongruent with my mood. Fluffy clouds bump around in a blue sky. The air is just this shade of cool, and the sun shines hot on my head as I walk across the campus parking lot, leaving my Vespa behind.
The stadium looms over me, and my heartbeat picks up. The closer I get, the easier it is to hear the sounds of play, the errant trill of a whistle, and the grunts and thuds of young men throwing themselves against each other or those padded training contraptions, the name of which I cannot recall.
Scattered about the stadium seats like birds alighting for feed are people watching the football team practice. Heads crane forward to watch Drew throw a pass. The ball spirals through the air, fast and sure, to land with perfect precision in a wide receiver’s hand. The player laughs and jogs lightly back to Drew, tossing him the ball before one of the coaches makes a comment to both of them. I’m too far away to hear it, and I like it that way.
Sitting a few feet from a couple of younger guys who wax on about the awesomeness that is Battle Baylor, I feel anonymous. Safe. The sun has slipped behind the line of the stadium, and my spot falls to shadows. A relief from the heat.
Drew makes a few more throws, each one farther, each in a different direction, different approach. He’s wearing a helmet, loose basketball shorts that hit him at the knees, and his jersey without the extra bulk of pads. And every time he throws, a swath of tawny skin shows along the bottom of his jersey. Something that makes all my happy places clench sweetly.
I shouldn’t be here, mooning like some groupie. A clamor in my head that grows as people slip away and I become more exposed sitting alone on the bench. But I can’t find it in myself to leave. I like watching him move, like seeing the way his team and coaches interact with him. They love him. It’s clear to see. As is the joy he feels. He’s lit up from within. And it’s only a practice. I envy him. Never in my life have I felt that way about something I’ve done.
The team breaks up again, moving into clusters, and Drew starts some strange squat-then-jump-into-a-lunge exercise with a group of guys who must be backup quarterbacks, because they’re all holding footballs and pretending to throw them with each lunge. It ought to look ridiculous, but it’s more like a dance: graceful, powerful. None more than Drew. God, he’s fast. My thigh muscles would rip away from my bones if I tried to move that quickly. But he just keeps going, as if it’s effortless.
My butt goes numb from sitting, but inside, a calm steals over me. I take a deep breath, drawing in the scent of grass, the metal seats, and a faint trace of clean, male sweat. A loud whistle rings, and they’re jogging off, leaving the field.
All but Drew. He’s pulling his helmet off, his eyes on me, as if he’s known all along that I was there. Maybe he has. I don’t know. My breath surges, my ni**les tightening as my heart rate increases. I find myself rising, my legs taking me down the concrete steps as he walks my way, his stride long and confident.
By the time I reach the emerald green field, he’s grinning. And while part of me wants to grin back, suddenly I am nearly in tears. Shit.
He draws close, still holding a football in his hand as if it’s an extension of himself. “Miss Jones.” His voice is light with teasing. “For a while, I thought you were a mirage.”
I can’t quite look him in the eyes. Not when mine are burning and my lips want to quiver. Inside, I’m shaking. Drew is so near now, I could reach out and touch him with ease. I could press my cold palms to the dense muscles of his chest, where I know it will be warm.
I need you. I need you so badly…
I think of smug, f**king Terrance, his hands roaming over my mother’s ass, and I shove my hands deep into the pockets of my light jacket. “And here I thought I was being stealthy.”
“I thought I told you, Jones. I always notice when you’re around.” His smile wavers as he sees my expression. “Something wrong?”
I blink hard and look away.
“There is.” He takes a step closer, the ball dropping at his feet. “Are you okay?”
“No.” Shit, shit, shit. I’m going to lose it. “I, ah… No.”
On the next breath, his arms are wrapped around me, holding me against his lean body. For a moment, I tense, feeling exposed in too many ways. I’ve never been held like this by a man. Not one of my supposed boyfriends or hook ups has ever really hugged me. And I certainly haven’t been hugged by my father. The knowledge is a shock, as is the all-encompassing comfort I feel in Drew’s embrace.
I burrow my nose into the center of his chest as I wrap my arms around his lean waist. He’s damp with sweat, reeks of it. I don’t care. He feels so freaking good, his hard body solid and warm against mine, that I want to stay this way until he has the sense to let me go.
But he doesn’t. He holds me. Not weaving or speaking, just holding me strong and secure, his lips pressed into the crown of my head. I’m tucked into the shelter of his body. Safe from the entire world.
When I fully sink into Drew’s embrace, my body relaxed, he speaks. “Want to talk about it?”
I love this particular tone of his voice. I’ve never heard him use it with anyone but me. But I ease away from him. I can’t talk about this and cling to him at the same time. Not if I want to maintain my dignity.
Thankfully, he lets me go, but his expression is fierce, as if he’ll go kick someone’s ass if I ask him. Were I not so drained I’d smile. “I went to visit my mom.”
Fear, stark and deep fills his eyes, and I curse myself. “She’s fine,” I say quickly. “It was…She just… Ah…” Shit-fuck, how can I be complaining about my mother’s antics to him when I know he’d kill to have his mother back?
Somehow he reads me too well, and a wry look comes into his eyes. “You’re allowed to be in a fight with your mother, Anna. I promise, it’s not going to upset me.”
My shoulders fall on a sigh. “It just seems stupid when…” I trail off again, flushing with irritation.
He touches my cheek, brushing back a lock of my hair. “What happened?”
I rock back on my heels as I stare down at the fresh-cut grass. There’s a bit of chalk on the toe of my boot. “She’s selling the house.” Bitterness fills my mouth. “So she can go on a world cruise with Terrance-The-Ass-Fuck.”
Drew braces his hands low on his narrow h*ps as he peers at me. “Shit, Anna. I’m sorry.”
Yeah, because he knows how it feels to lose his childhood home. Again, I cringe. I shouldn’t be complaining, but he doesn’t seem upset. In fact, his nose wrinkles a bit along the high bridge. “Er… Who is Terrance-The-Ass-Fuck?”
I fight a smile. “Her boyfriend of the moment. I wasn’t being literal, thank God.” My smile falls flat. “Though I really should call him ‘He of the Roving Hands.’”
Drew’s brows snap together, his nostrils flaring as he straightens. “He hasn’t touched you, has he?”
I can see old Terrance laid flat on a hospital bed if I say yes, but I shake my head and Drew relaxes.
“No. But he feels up my mom in front of me.”
Drew’s scowl returns. “I think I’d have gone f**king mental if I’d had to see some guy grope my mom.”
“It’s disgusting,” I say. “He does it to bother me. Because of him, she’s selling our house. Because old Terry doesn’t have the funds to pay his way.” I curse again. “There is nothing I can do. She won’t hear me, no matter what I say.”
I blink rapidly and try to calm myself, but I can’t stop talking. “I know I’m being a baby about this. It isn’t like I live there, or plan to anymore. But it’s like that final safety net is gone. And now I’ll never be able to go…” My words die, horror invading me.
But Drew looks me in the eye and finishes my sentence. “Go home again? Don’t hold back your words out of pity, Anna. I don’t need that.”
I want to shrivel into the grass. “I think there’s a difference between pity and sympathy, don’t you?”
He doesn’t break my gaze as he slowly nods. “Sometimes, without warning, I’ll catch the scents of my old home. I don’t know what it will be exactly, maybe a mix of old books and coffee, or laundry detergent and cool air.” His gaze turns inward. “But it smells just like home. And I’ll miss mine so f**king badly that I can’t breathe.”
“I wish you could go home again,” I say, wanting to cry.