The Hook Up
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“Yeah.” The sound of him shifting around comes through the phone, and I immediately wonder if he’s in bed. Does he sleep naked? “Can’t sleep though,” he says, thankfully unaware of my devolving thoughts.
“Happen a lot?” I know it does. We’ve already talked each other to sleep before.
“More so now.” He pauses. “I keep thinking about you.”
Shit on a pretzel stick.
The pillow is soft against my back, but my skin is still too warm. And then my stupid mouth betrays me. “I think about you too.”
I cringe so hard my cheeks prickle. But he sighs. It’s soft and gusty, and I lean toward it, pressing my cheek to the phone.
“I wish I were there,” he says.
I do too. So much it hurts. It hurts deep in my chest and along my stomach. I slide farther down the bed, as if I can run away from the feeling.
When I don’t say a word, he just keeps talking. Maybe he knows I’m hiding under the covers now. Maybe he knows I’ve lost my voice.
“You ever wonder if who you are is the person you’re supposed to be?” He speaks low now, as if he’s lying beside me on the bed, as if we’re having the kind of drowsy chat you use at a sleepover, just before you nod off.
“Like should I be trying to change who I am?” I ask him.
“Not exactly. More like…” He laughs softly. “Hell, I’m not even sure. I just…I’ve always wanted to play football. I can’t even fathom an existence that doesn’t include it.”
“At least you know. I have no idea what I want to do. I don’t want it to be drudge-work. I don’t want it to be boring. I want a life outside the ordinary. But how do you get that when you’ve no clue?” When all you are is ordinary.
I’ve opened my soul to him. But it doesn’t hurt, because he’s giving me a glimpse of his in return.
“You think knowing is better? All I know how to be is a quarterback. And every moment of it revolves around winning. Or losing.” He pauses as if struggling. “Think of it, a whole life constantly focusing on the next game. So does that make me who I am? An endless roster of victories and losses?”
For a moment I feel the weight of every one of those eyes that constantly bear down on Drew. And it’s crushing. My fingers tighten around the phone. “Are you afraid to lose?”
At first I think he won’t answer, but he does and his voice carries a strange, almost secretive tone. “You want to know what winning really is?”
“It isn’t about talent. Not at the top level. That’s almost equal. And it’s not even about who wants it more. It’s about who believes with the most conviction they can take it. Fear, doubt, hesitation, that’s what kills you.”
“So are you afraid?”
“In the dark, late at night? Yeah. Sometimes. On the field? No. Hell no. It’s just in me. Knowing I can do it.”
I smile at that. “Yet you sound…low. Did you lose the game today?”
“We won.” There’s a hint of amused censure in his tone. “Do you ever watch my games, Anna?”
Anna. The sound of my name on his lips feels more personal than when I bared my skin to him. I burrow farther under the covers. “Once.” It had been a beautiful and agonizing thing to watch. My stomach had clenched every time he took the field. “I didn’t like seeing you get hit.”
I’d hated it, hurt for him. And yet every time he made a play, I’d felt such pride, such awe of his skills that my breath had grown short and my heart had ached.
The silence between us is pregnant and swelling. Double shit f**k. I rush on. “And I think how you see yourself makes you who you are. Your soul doesn’t have a title or an occupation. It’s just you. The rest of the word can go f**k themselves.”
That brings a dry chuckle from him. But he soon goes quiet again.
“And how do you see me?” he finally asks. So carefully.
“You’re just Drew.”
A coward’s answer. But also the truth. He’s too much for simple words and too much to be cut into categories by them.
“I think you’re beautiful,” he says softly.
“Beauty fades,” I choke out.
“Not when it comes from inside.”
Jesus. My eyes flutter closed, and I’m curling into myself. We don’t talk. His breathing is a light noise that mingles with the sound of my own.
When he speaks again, his voice has gone even lower, a caress along my cheek. “I want to kiss you, Anna.”
My breath hitches. I’m all the way under the covers now, in a dark heated world. And there’s nothing but his voice. “I think about it all the time. How soft will your lips be? What will they taste like? Will you make those sweet little noises like you do when we make love?”
Make love. Not f**k. I shiver. Drew.
I don’t even know if I’ve said his name aloud. It doesn’t matter because he just keeps talking, a confession that grows more urgent even as it slows down. “I want to kiss you so badly, I’d forgo the sex for a chance at your mouth. I love your mouth, Anna. The way your upper lip is like a bottom one, a plump, smooth curve that puffs out like a pout. I love your soft, pink, upside down mouth.”
His whisper is rough and thick. And I’m so hot I’m sweating. My hand glides down my chest, to the swells of my heavy, aching br**sts, and stops over my heart. I press against it as if to keep it from breaking free of my body.
“But you won’t let me kiss you,” he says to me in the dark. “Why won’t you let me kiss you, Anna?”
I can’t breathe.
“It’s too much,” I rasp.
“Not when I want everything.” He says it so deep and strong, a staking of a claim. “And I want everything with you, Anna.”
I think he says my name now because he knows what it does to me. He has to, using it that way, over and over, like he’s saying something far more important than just my name. He says it with reverence. With intention.
Tears prickle behind my eyes. What the f**k is wrong with me? I care about him. He’s my lover, but he’s my friend too. The one I find myself turning to first and foremost. Why can’t I just give in? Why can’t I let myself have him?
In my mind, I see Drew Baylor, microphones shoved under his face as he hollers in victory after winning the National Championship. One hundred thousand screaming fans are in the background. Drew Baylor, who personally brings millions of dollars in revenue to this university, who is interviewed by ESPN, who has agents crawling around him, promising the world. Drew, who will go to New York for the draft and sign a multimillion-dollar contract by this time next year.
I’ve lied to him. I don’t just see Drew. I see the star too. And I’m just Anna. I don’t like the light. I need the dark.
He’s too smart not to understand that he’s pushed me to my limit, and his tone turns gentle, tender. Which is infinitely worse. “I just thought you should know. Goodnight, Anna.”
I don’t say a word. I hold onto my phone long after he’s hung up.
THE SANCTITY OF my morning is broken by Iris and Henry. Who are not quiet about what they’re doing. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of the same. Though I do try to contain myself when I know Iris is here. Not so for them. Especially not for Henry. I have my suspicions that the ass**le is being loud on purpose; he’d be the type to get off on something like that. When he starts to grunt “yeah, yeah, yeah,” I don’t care what his motivation is, I need to get out of here.
I pick up the phone and dial. “You want to go for a bike ride?” I ask as soon as he answers. I’m desperate now, practically hopping around my room as I get dressed. “Iris and Henry are going at it like crazed rabbits.”
Thank God he says yes.
“Do me a favor, will you, Anna?”
My bike hits a rut, and the whole frame rattles, and me along with it. “What’s that?” I say when the danger of biting my tongue passes.
George gives me a quick glare before swerving around another pothole. “Do not tell me that my sister is going at it with that sleazy little bitch again.”
Instantly, I cringe. Not only should George not have to hear about his sister having sex, but he hates Henry. “Shit. I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
He falls into a nice, quick pace. “Yeah, well, be forewarned. Do it again, and I’m bringing Sylvester to our next dinner out.”
“Ew, no! I’ll behave, I swear!” Sylvester is Iris and George’s creepy hands-y cousin who I’m convinced is a serial killer. Years from now, I’ll see George and Iris being interviewed on CNN, “We always had our suspicions about Sly, but our mother made us hang out with him.”
Having sufficiently terrified me into compliance, George gives me a grin and speeds up. We pace each other as we ride along the bike trail. Early morning light peeks through the gold leaves and the air is crisp. I draw it in and let it cool me.
After a couple of miles, we reach a clearing, and George nods toward it. We roll over to a large elm and leave our bikes resting on the ground as we sit. Silence surrounds us. Despite the good weather, the path is basically deserted. It’s early Saturday morning, so I’m guessing most people are still sleeping off Friday night.
After taking a long drink of water, I nudge George. “So what’s going on with you?”
George finishes his own drink before answering. “That’s what I was going to ask you.”
“Tough. I asked first, so spill.”
“Damn, woman.” But George smiles. His smile gets bigger, but he’s obviously trying to maintain an air of cool, and my curiosity skyrockets. He doesn’t leave me hanging for long. His dark eyes look at me sidelong as his cheeks flush. “I got an internship with Jackson and Goldman in New York.”
“Georgie!” I nudge him again. “That’s great!” After years of hearing George drone on about finance, I know that Jackson and Goldman is the best investment-banking firm in New York, and George’s idea of Nirvana.
“Fuck yeah it is.” He grins wide as he ducks his head. “A couple professors put in a good word and…” He shrugs.
“And they recognized the brilliance that is you?” I add, making George laugh.
“Yeah, and that.”
We both grin like a couple of idiots then.
“You are so inviting me to your Hampton’s beach house.” If there is one thing George and I have in common, it’s our desire to live in New York when we graduate.
“Extended stay, Banana?”
“You know it. I can do the dishes.”
“No thanks. You suck at doing dishes.”
I shove him with my shoulder, and he chuckles, but shadows linger in his eyes.
“So,” I say when we’ve grown quiet again, “what’s the problem? Are you worried about doing well?”
George snorts. “I’m going to kick ass. It seems like I’ve been waiting my whole life just to get this chance.”
“But…?” Because it’s there, something dark and heavy weighing on him.
Tension gathers along the corners of his eyes, and he studies his hands that dangle over his bent knees. “It’s Iris.” His shoulders lift on a sigh. “I know it sounds crazy, but we’ve always been together. And now…”
They won’t be. Iris hates New York City with a passion. And she’s already been accepted into Arizona State’s Archeology graduate program.
“You haven’t told her, have you?”
“No. I’ve been trying to work up to it.” George shifts as if his shirt is too tight. “I mean what guy whines about leaving his sister behind? But she’s also my twin.”
“I know,” I say. And I do. Despite their occasional bickering, they are as close as any siblings I’ve met. They often finish each other’s thoughts. And they are almost always together.
George could have gone to an Ivy League school where he might have gained valuable contacts. He had the grades and the offers. But he chose to follow Iris to State.
As if he’s thinking the same thing, he says, “I promised my ma that I’d watch after 'Ris. I wanted to do it.” A weak snort leaves him. “Now everything feels so real. We’ll be going our separate ways and, shit, it’s a f**ked up thing to realize that maybe I really needed her to look after me.”
George blinks rapidly and fiercely, and I let him have a moment. I have no words of comfort. How can I? My future is a dark, empty hole now. If I look too hard at it, I’ll scream.
A biker rides by, breaking the silence. And I take a deep breath. “So we let Iris do the dishes all summer.”
A laugh bursts from George. “She’ll bitch, but you know she’ll love it.” Iris is a complete neat freak.
We both smile as we finish our waters.
“What’s the deal with you and Baylor?” George gives me a searching look. “For serious now. No bullshitting.” He knows me well enough to understand that this version of me isn’t normal.
“Are we still sharing?”
George glares. “I spilled my guts, so yeah, we are.”
I sigh and rest my arms on my raised knees. Green grass tickles my ankles as a breeze dances over the lane. I pick up a brown leaf and twist it around by its brittle stem. “We’re having sex. A lot of it.” God, it ought to be easier, but then confessions never are. And I’m afraid if I open my mouth to purge, the flow might never stop.