O N E
Brawny, well-built college men, dressed in red and blue respectively, crowded on the grassy football field, clambering against one another to get the ball to their end zone. People clamored around me; some nail-biting while others roared in solidarity for their team. Football wasn’t a familiar concept for me, but being the star quarterback’s girlfriend meant I was at every game. The atmosphere was thick, tensions high. Most attention flickered to the player holding the ball, but mine was glued to Sutton.
Athletic and attractive, Sutton was popular with the other students, maintaining good grades and a competitive nature with ease. I, on the other hand, was the polar opposite. My grades were average, my athletic prowess non-existent. Parties and football games bored me, but surround me in nature and I was in heaven. Nevertheless, as the old saying goes, opposites attract and we’d been together for eight years and counting.
Ear-splitting cheers snapped my attention back to the game. The whistle blew, signaling full-time; Sutton’s team winning effortlessly. The potential to be scouted grew higher in the final weeks of the season and Sutton upped his game to ensure procurement. Although his parents disapproved of his ‘hobby’, Sutton hoped an offer from the NFL would change their minds. Highly unlikely.
Breathing heavily, Sutton tugged off his helmet, holding it in the crook of his arm as he high-fived his teammates. Brown eyes met mine, smiling through his reddened face and messy blonde hair. Jogging to the bleachers, he hoisted himself smoothly over the seats and drew me into his chest. Although his face was heated, his lips were cool as he kissed me. Stumbling back, I shook off the surprise, melting against his sweaty jersey. Public displays of affection were not Sutton’s thing, but the adrenaline of winning turned him mushy.
Jared, the cornerback, sidled over and Sutton released me, his arm slinging over my shoulders. Jared held out his hand for a high-five, eyes bright in jubilation. “Great game, man!”
“Didn’t play too bad yourself, bro,” Sutton grinned.
Appearing by Jared’s side, a pretty redhead shamelessly eyed Sutton’s muscular frame. Animosity flashed across pretty blue eyes as she glowered at me. Swiveling her attention back to Sutton, she plastered a nauseating smile on her made-up face. “Are you heading to Sticks now?”
“Yeah, we’ll be heading in after I shower. You going, bro?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at Jared.
Lines buried in my forehead; the sinking feeling in my stomach outwardly displaying on my face. Hiding my emotions had never been my strong suit. Gleefully noticing my dismay, the redhead smirked. “I’m heading out there now so I’ll see you there, superstar.”
Her gaze drifted over her shoulder as they left, comely features sinking in disappointment at Sutton’s lack of acknowledgment. Instead, brown eyes remained on me, awaiting my inevitable irritation. I frowned, “You said we’d stay in tonight.”
Releasing my shoulders, Sutton sighed, “Babe, we just won a massive game. The guys want to celebrate.”
“But you guys celebrate every week, even when you lose,” I retorted. “You promised, Sutton.”
“Can we not do this, Hazel?” he huffed. “Stop being a downer, for an hour. Please. We’ll have some food and a drink or two and then we can go home, okay?” Not waiting for an answer, he kissed my cheek dismissively. “I’m going for a shower. Wait for me in the car.”
Quick footsteps crunched against the grass and he disappeared into the locker room, leaving me in the partially-emptied bleachers. Groaning, I grabbed his keys from my purse and trekked across the field. Spectators formed small crowds, enthusiastically reenacting plays as if they hadn’t just watched the game. Electricity sparked in the atmosphere for everyone but me. Unfortunately. I’d love to be so passionate about the game Sutton loved so much.
Sutton’s Bentley – his parents present for his 21st birthday – sat beneath the streetlight, illuminating the sparkly, black exterior. Sliding into the passenger’s seat, I shivered on the atrocious tan leather seats and leaned over the steering wheel to start the car. It purred. Dialing up the heater, I held my cool fingertips to the air vent and sighed with relief.
Fifteen minutes later, Sutton’s shadowed frame emerged from the locker rooms with a few of his teammates. My heart involuntarily fluttered at his handsome face, twisted in laughter, as he stepped into the light. Eight years and I still felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
The Bentley came into view, the lovely smile faltering as he said goodbye to his friends. Yanking open the driver’s door, he grimaced, stuffing his bag into the back seat. “How many times do I have to tell you not to leave the car running?”
His intense glare sent my heart rate spiking, warmed hands tangled together in my lap. “Sorry. My hands were cold.”
“It’s almost summer,” he tutted, rolling his eyes. “It’s not even a little cold. Next time pack some fucking gloves or something.”
“Surely ten minutes wouldn’t hurt,” I murmured. Sutton gave me a sideways scowl; a warning not to push the issue, a look I knew all too well. The car revved and I diverted my gaze to my scuffed shoes, before the crunching of gravel beneath tires filled the tense climate of the car.
Sticks’ Diner was packed; muscular bodies huddled into retro red booths, mingling with popular students and scantily-dressed ladies vying for the attention of the football team. Chants echoed, loud laughs ringing through the chaotic atmosphere as fists banged against the metal tables. Behind the bar, an exhausted, older lady rubbed her forehead, shaking her head at a second waitress, clad in the same red and white pinstripe apron. Sutton quickly found a seat, dragging me into the booth beside him. He slung his arm across my shoulders, motioning unmannerly at the waitress. Raising her thin, brown brows in disdain, she ambled over. “You ready to order?”
“Cheeseburger and a rum and coke,” he said dismissively, turning his back to the displeased woman to continue his conversation with his teammate.
The blush crept across my cheeks, and I hesitantly smiled up at the woman; Heather, her name tag said. “Can I please get a plate of nachos and a glass of water?”
Grumbling, she scribbled the order on her notepad, her sneakers squeaking against the linoleum as she stomped to the kitchen. The commotion grew louder; the two waitresses glaring as they complained to the chef. Heather returned after a moment, sliding our drinks across the table with white, arthritic knuckles, ignoring the spill of coke on the table. Sutton’s eye twitched, his mouth curling into a sneer as he opened it. Closing my eyes, I prayed he wouldn’t make a scene, wouldn’t get us thrown out of yet another public space. My chest lightened as he returned to his earlier conversation, disregarding his superiority complex for the moment.
Picking the ripped knee of my jeans, I stayed silent, offering a soft ‘uh-huh’ or ‘yeah’ whenever Sutton acknowledged my existence. The food arrived quickly and I was grateful to have something to occupy my time. Picking at the beans on my plate, my focus was broken by the redheaded minx who plonked down opposite Sutton. Dainty forearms rested against the table, her slim biceps pushing up her ample chest.
As Sutton grabbed a napkin, she pounced, black nails dancing along the hairs of his forearm. Involuntarily, I clenched my silverware. Vexatious blue eyes darted in my direction, her plum-colored lips drawn between white teeth. “You played so well today, Sutton. I just couldn’t take my eyes off you.”
Grunting, Sutton retreated, raising an eyebrow. “What was your name again?”
Her cheeks flamed the same color as her hair, annoyance flaring her nostrils as she glared at my stifled smirk. Regaining her composure, she gave a tight-lipped smile. “Claire.”
“Well, Claire,” he smirked, licking ketchup off his thick fingers while motioning in my direction. “Have you met my girlfriend? Hazel, Claire. Claire, Hazel.”
Sinking in the padding of the booth, Claire pursed her lips. Ocean eyes transformed into the color of a storm-addled sea. “Nice to meet you, Hazel.”
“Likewise,” I lied, crunching satisfactorily on a corn chip.
Claire pushed her way out of the booth, and I returned to my nachos, straining to hear to the rock’n’roll tune playing in the background. Conversations thundered all around me, snippets of which I was able to hone in on. Jared’s voice, across the table, was one of them.
“Carmichael’s having a party tonight. His ’rents are out of town and his dad has a fridge fucking stocked. You gotta come, bro.”
The corn chip hovered in front of my mouth, a string of cheese oozing and falling onto my plate as I awaited Sutton’s answer. Keeping my gaze down, unease burned my chest at his hesitation.
“Nah, man. Not tonight. I have other plans at home.” Sutton peeked at me and winked. The butterflies swirled in my stomach, their wings battering against their confines as I smiled. His heated palm squeezed my thigh, rising slightly higher than appropriate, before slipping away to order himself another rum and coke. Noticing my dismay, he kissed my temple, his breath hot on my face. “Just you wait ’til we get home.”