Playing With Fire

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Saying The Word

Holli

I’m waiting on a bench near Arbury Prep’s teacher parking lot when Andy pulls up, but when the Audi reaches the curb and the driver’s side door flies open, it’s his wife that hops out and rushes toward me.

Querida, I got here as fast as I could. I hope you don’t mind. I was closer than Andy. He’s still blocked in by rush hour traffic.”

She wraps her arms around me, makeup and fabric wrinkles be damned. The scent of her spicy, citrus perfume is comforting and a hug from the closest thing I’ve had to a sister since Janelle, makes me want to break down and tell her everything.

I’ve withheld so much between both Anderson and Lolita, that it’s an exhausting fight just keeping up with the façade. I pretend to be alright, then one thing can send me spiraling back and suddenly I’m the twenty four year old, bleeding out on my living room floor while my inner conscience sits atop her pedestal, telling me ‘I told you so.’

I’ve made a decision and tonight, everything comes out. I’m done running, done feeling like a victim. Lucas or not, I want to be able to live a life on my terms, not sent into hiding because my ex-husband decided he liked alcohol and painkillers more than being a good man. Because he couldn’t keep his temper in check long enough to realize his punch could kill.

“Thank you for coming,” I tell her.

Lolo leans back and assesses me with narrowed, dark eyes. “Is this a let’s go get ice cream moment or a crack-open-the-good-liquor moment?”

I swallow. “The latter.”

“Way ahead of you, Hermana. I got Patrón y Bacardi.”

“Margaritas?” I ask, hopefully.

Lolita snorts. “Better. Abuela Alvarez’s coquito recipe. You drink a few shots of that, you’ll be lucky if you remember your name.”

“You are such a bad influence on me,” I say, giggling.

“Funny, your brother says the same thing. I tell that güero, Preocúpese por lo suyo.’”

“What does that mean?”

“To mind his damn business.” I snort. Only Lolita can get away with sass mouthing my brother like that. Our mom says it’s refreshing.

“Come on, we’re going to get fucked up, then do something my husband would approve of, like watch The Notebook or whatever it is you white girls rub one off to.”

I shake my head at my brother’s crude wife and get into her car. “To be fair, everyone has rubbed one off to Ryan Gosling at least once.”

“I don’t know, I kind of prefer the big, viking, Jason Mamoa types.”

I roll my eyes. “Okay what is your thing with hairy men?”

“Don’t kink shame. Did you think I fell for your brother for his sunny disposition?”

I make a pretend gagging noise as she pulls out of the school. “It’s not the kink I’m shaming, it’s the mental images I could have gone my entire life without.”

She snorts, pulling into the highway. “Your brother is hot, I like to fuck him. Get over it.”

I cover my ears. “Please stop torturing me.”

She laughs. “Okay, well then how about we talk about the man you’re always texting when you think no one is watching.”

I still. “What do you mean?”

“Holli…” She purses her lips. “I wasn’t born yesterday. A girl only smiles like that for two reasons, when the server brings out the alcohol or because of a man, or woman if you’re into that.”

My face heats. “It’s still really new. I don’t want to... jinx it.” My weak excuse rolls off my tongue like vinegar. I hate lying to people I love. Not to mention, I already have one bomb to drop tonight. My brother’s heart just might give out if I add to it. Oh by the way, I also fucked your best friend.

Not happening.

“I get it, you don’t have to tell me. It’s just, I’m really proud of you, Holli.”

“For?”

“For not letting him win. For living for yourself. You deserve happiness. Your brother says it all the time and I agree. I’d love to see you with someone who treats you with special care. Eres dama delicada.

I refrain from snorting. “I’m not delicate… I’m ruined.”

“You’re perfect,” she says, her slight accent adding to her sincerity. “And the right man will see that from the beginning.”

I offer her a small smile, but my sister in law still has her heads in the safe clouds of her own marriage. I know Lucas likes me and he’s very sweet, but what we’re doing could hardly be considered hot and passionate.

Whether he knows it or not, he treats me like a China doll, susceptible to break at slightest touch. He’ll tease me through our messages, but doesn’t follow through and I don’t get it. He hasn’t tried to have sex with me once since that first night.

No sooner than I think the words, my stomach rolls as I consider why he might be holding out on me.

Dale was right.

Nothing escapes Lucas’s attention. It’s likely he already knows what I haven’t been ready to talk about with him. And surprisingly enough, it’s not even the idea of him knowing all of my skeletons that always had me putting it off, but rather I hadn’t wanted to ruin the time we spent together, with my baggage.

The revelation surprises me. I’ve felt more like a woman in his presence than any other time in my life and I selfishly wanted to hold onto that for as long as possible. Anderson and Lolita tiptoe around me as though they’re afraid to trigger a bad memory, but with him, I’m not some fragile, breakable thing. I’m just Holli. But if he already suspects, he’s going to keep me at arm’s length until I’m honest with him and the longer I keep him in the dark, the longer I hold onto my past. I already did my grieving for the girl who was Winston’s wife. Then buried her six feet under.

I’d left Holiday Drake behind and reacquainted myself with Holli DeLower. I made that choice. No matter that I’d stayed longer than I should have. No matter that I had the resistance of an entire police force against me.

I had gotten out. I’d decided to re-enroll in school and finish my degree, then I’d decided to teach. My decisions.

Now I’m faced with the choice to be a coward and not tell a man that respects me enough to be honest with me at all times, what’s going on… or I can pull strength out of thin air and woman up.

Either way, the more I hide my old life, the more it crowds my head with chaos.

As Lolita pulls up to the gate of her home, I resolve to leave the decision for later. Because first, I have an even bigger beast to tackle and I’m going to need all the strength I can muster.


“So you never answered my question.”

I look up from my freshly painted toenails to Lolita. She points her pen at me. Papers scattered over her lap, reading glasses on, my sister in law is neck deep in work while I avoid the ungraded English essays in my school bag.

“What question?”

“When are you going to tell your brother you’re dating again?” She asks, impatiently.

“I have to tell him?”

“You’ve met my husband, tell me what you think,” she challenges, raising a brow.

I lean back on the sofa as shots of Puerto Rican eggnog surround my brain in it’s comfortable fog. “You’re right.”

The pang of guilt I’ve been pushing to the side over keeping Lucas a secret from my brother is beginning to eat its way through my conscience. Andy has done nothing but help me reconstruct the broken pieces of my life and has had my back since the beginning. He doesn’t deserve to be blindsided.

I’m not an idiot. Whatever we’re doing, Lucas and I won’t be able to keep it a secret forever. Lolita does a great job of keeping me out of my brother’s media attention, but a scandal like this could affect more than my family, but the team also.

“I need another shot,” I mutter, not even wanting to touch the surmounting mess of problems my life has become.

Lolita hands me the Tequila bottle as she scrolls through her laptop and I swig straight from it. “Why are you working? We’re supposed to be drinking and sucking down ice cream.”

“Remember that baseball player I told you about?” She asks, closing her laptop.

I nod, chasing the burn of the Patrón shot with a sip of soda. “Barker. Good client. No scandals, beautiful defensive skills, three fifty career average. He’s also the youngest player to negotiate a no trade clause. Only two Atlanta players have one right now, him and Foster Jr.”

Lolita stares at me as though she’s forgotten the English language. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Jesus, you’re like Monroe.”

I laugh. “We need to take that girl to Vegas and use her eidetic memory for good.”

“Right! But anyways, get this. So, I meet this girl at the game. Total coincidence and she just so happens to be the operations director for his business. We have drinks, she gives me his agent’s info and a week later, I’m setting up the video call interview, the vetting process, and he signed the contract last week.”

“Oh my god! Congratulations!” I squeal, throwing my arms around her. “You’ve worked so hard for this, you deserve it.”

Gracias, Hermana. But that’s not even the craziest part,” she says when I release her. “Mira.

She turns her laptop so I can see the screen and I slap my hand over my mouth.

“Is that…”

“My client,” she mumbles, shaking her head. “My seven year career, golden boy with zero scandals? Is now on the front of TMZ, Daily Mail, and The Shade Room. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get on The Shade Room?”

I suppress my alcohol induced giggle as I assess the damning photos. It looks as though Cincinnati Barker of the Atlanta Statesmen is getting onto an elevator, but the cause for commotion probably has more to do with the long-legged woman over his shoulder and his hand on her ass.

“The worst part is, these photos are two weeks old and they’re still circling because everyone’s trying to figure out who the girl is. I’ve got angry emails from offended feminists to jealous groupies.”

“Do you know who it is?” I ask.

Lolita smirks. “Of course. But I signed an NDA so I can’t tell you. I will say, though, there are going to be a lot more jealous fans after I’m through with this mess.”

I nod in agreement. Cincinnati Barker isn’t just the best shortstop in the National League, but the most attractive and the most humble. Throw in a non-profit that raises up the next generation of baseball players and thousands donated to several different charities for the deaf and the man is a homing beacon for straight women. “Lucky girl.”

She pretends to zip up her mouth. “I said nothing.”

The alarm chirps as the front door opens and I groan as the reason I’d decided I needed liquid courage in the first place, walks in. Lolita offers me a small, sympathetic smile as she puts away her work documents and stands to greet her husband.

“Sorry, Hol, traffic was a bitch today,” he says, coming out of the foyer. Andy kisses his wife then turns to me with concerned eyes. “Everything okay? Dale made it sound serious on the phone.”

I take a fortifying breath, but despite the alcohol, my bravery has all but left the building. I never once thought I’d feel this way again, but I need my brother’s unwavering disapproval. I need the chastising and the yelling and the anger because I can’t take the way he’s looking at me right now—like I’m some broken baby bird without wings to hold me in the air.

I’m not the girl he flew to California to save. I’m stronger, in a better place mentally and this moment is supposed to prove that.

One question at a time. Answer this one.

“No,” I whisper. “I’m not.”

Andy opens his mouth to speak but I cut him off. “Let me finish, please.” My brother nods and Lolita slips her hand into mine.

“At the moment, yes, I’m fine. But I’ve been thinking a lot about two years ago, when you flew down to California… You know how you said if I ever changed my mind, all I have to do is say the word?”

“Offer still stands,” he confirms. My brother’s expression remains stoic but I don’t miss the way his arms tense. Andy’s always been a hothead— hit first, ask questions later. I hate that my situation triggers him, when he’s been working so hard at his anger management.

“Well, I’m saying the word. I want to press charges. I know that it looks bad, having waited this long, but…” I trail off, unsure of how to tell my brother the most heartbreaking part of my life.

It was painful enough reliving every agonizing second with different therapists. It’d taken over a year just to stop the crying in public places, or the soul crushing moment before waking up and realizing it wasn’t just a bad nightmare. But I have to do this, not just for me anymore.

“I think you should sit down.”

“Holli, I’m going out of my mind. Just tell me,” he pleads. Lolita shakes her head at him, her brown eyes glistening. “Amor,” she warns.

The next morning, I won’t remember the rush of words that leave me at once, tumbling over each other through choked sobs. I won’t remember how many ounces in tears were shed or how long I held onto my family.

I’ll never forget the anger, the utter helplessness, and hurt in my brother’s eyes nor will we ever be the same people again after that.

But most memorable of all, will be the first full breath I’ve taken after recounting the biggest failure of my entire life. For better or worse, I’ve signed and sealed my decision to live. And I’m not renouncing it for anyone.


Translations:

Querida - Dear/term of endearment.

Dama Delicada- Delicate Lady

Hermana - Sister

Abuela - Grandmother

Preocúpese por lo suyo - direct translation: Worry about yours.

Güero - Puerto Rican, non-offensive slang for white person/American

Coquito - Puerto Rican, eggless eggnog. With a lot of alcohol, made mostly with rum. (DELICIOUS)

Mira - Look (command)

Amor - Love (term of endearment)

Gracias - Thank You

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