A game of questions was sure to follow. It’s what always happened.
What was going on this weekend? Did I had an in to the newest nightclub? Did I know the bouncer at that club in Hollywood? Were we throwing a party that weekend? It could be any number of things.
On any other day I wouldn’t have minded nearly as much, but not today. Today I wanted to get to know Jess, to see if we had anything in common.
My reputation preceded me, but I actually did have standards. My dating a lot of girls simply boiled down to not having found one good enough to stick around for. It wasn’t my fault. It was hard to find a decent match when you were in college and girls were looking for all the wrong things—a guy with money or a nice car, someone who had famous parents or something you could offer them. Yeah, it’s true, guys wanted all the wrong things too, like an easy lay or a pretty face. But I honestly tried to be better than that.
“Jess, we aren’t going to get any privacy in here. Will you go somewhere else with me?” I narrowed my eyes, willing her to say yes.
“Of course,” she responded easily.
I nodded toward the exit and headed in that direction as she followed a step behind. Once we were through the double glass doors, I set our tray on top of a trash can and grabbed our food.
“Come on.” I motioned, holding both of our sandwiches as she carried our drinks.
“Where are we going?” She squinted before juggling the drinks so she could lower her sunglasses over her eyes.
“That’s a surprise, but it’s not far.”
Eh, it was a little far but it would be worth it, and I had a suspicion that Jess wouldn’t mind the walk. I glanced at her shoes, noting the sandals on her feet.
“I might have lied,” I said.
Her smile dropped. “About what exactly?”
“The distance. It’s on the other side of campus.”
“Where exactly are you taking me, Mr. Fisher?”
Jess snagged her bottom lip between her teeth as she waited for my response. She might have been waiting a minute, ten minutes, or a year, I couldn’t be sure. I was so focused on that lip.
Shaking my head slightly to regain my focus, I said, “The field.”
“The football field?” she asked, clearly confused.
“Weird, but whatever.” She shrugged one shoulder and picked up her pace.
I knew no one would be there, and even though I wasn’t on the team anymore, the field was still sort of a sanctuary for me. It was the one place I could hide out when I didn’t want to be found, which wasn’t very often, but still, everyone needed a safe place. The football stadium at State was mine.
We slipped through an opening in the gates, then climbed all the way up to the last row and sat in seats beneath the press box. It was the only area in the whole place that had any sort of shade.
Jess settled in the seat next to me, and I kicked my feet up on the chair in front of mine and scooted lower into my seat. She handed me my Pepsi and I handed her her sandwich, and her stupid chips.
“Why the football field?” She glanced at me as she pushed her sunglasses on top of her head, trapping strands of her blond hair behind her ears.
“It’s the one place on campus where no one bothers me,” I admitted, far too quickly and easily to someone I barely knew. “If we’d stayed in the student union, we’d never be able to have a real conversation.”
“You used to play, right?”
I nodded, taking a bite of my mangled sandwich. “Up until last season.”
“Yeah, I heard something about that. You don’t want to play anymore?”
She lifted her mile-high sandwich to her lips, making me wonder how on earth she was going to take a bite without spilling the contents down her dress. That mystery was solved when she pressed it between her fingers, making it as compact as possible before moving it to her mouth and taking the smallest bite I’d ever seen. I would have bet money she only got lettuce in that bite.
“I’ll look away and you can just shove it in there,” I teased, not purposely avoiding her question.
“Excuse me?” she mumbled, still chewing.
“Asshole Man Bun made your sandwich too big. I’ll look away so you can get a good bite in.”
She started laughing, or maybe she was choking; I couldn’t be a hundred percent sure. She reached for her water and took a swig.
Once she had herself under control, she said, “Asshole Man Bun?”
“Yeah, didn’t you read his name tag? That’s what it said.” I gave her a sly smile.
“Must have missed it. Okay, so . . . seriously, turn away so I can get down and dirty with this sandwich without you watching.”
I turned away from her and stared at the seats in the stadium, remembering how they used to fill up when I played. Nothing compared to a Friday night under the lights, but that time in my life felt like eons ago instead of only last year.
“You can look back now.”
I turned back and grinned at the spot of mustard that rested on the tip of her nose. Leaning closer, I reached out to wipe away the offending condiment, letting my fingers brush her cheek as I did.
“You had a little mustard there.”
She swallowed hard. “Oh. Thanks. So much for not embarrassing myself. Quick, do something distracting so we can pretend this never happened.”
“It was just a little mustard, Jess. I think we’ll be okay.”
I tossed my arm around her shoulders and tugged her toward me. Being with her was easy, not tense and awkward. I wasn’t used to things with a girl being so easy, so carefree. There was always a hidden agenda, but Jess didn’t seem to have one.
“Are you going to tell me why you stopped playing football?” she asked again.
“What’d you hear?”
She sighed. “Do you always answer questions with questions? Why are you so evasive on this topic?”
I spit out a laugh before removing my arm and reaching for my drink. “I’m not. Sorry, it’s just that I thought everyone knew the answer to that one already.”
Her gaze softened. “I did hear something, but I’d rather hear it from you.”
“I didn’t want to go pro,” I said as my chest tightened. “Honestly, I don’t even know if I was good enough, but plenty of guys on the team were, and that was their dream. I couldn’t, in good conscience, continue playing every Friday night over someone else who wanted it more than I did, who wanted their future to include football when I didn’t.”