“Are you sure you don’t want to com with us?” My roommate and friend, Jade, asked while we were getting ready. “We’re still going to watch your brother’s game; we’re just not going to do it from some stuffy spectators box with only the rich folks.” Jade turned her nose up as she spoke of the rich people.
“My parents are going to be there, my sister in law and their kids. It’s tradition. Plus, this way, I I don’t have to pay for my booze or my food. And the food is amazing.”
“Please, you know they’re not going to let you drink. Your fake ID won’t work there when everyone knows who your brother is.”
“No, but Val sneaks me booze.” She rolled her eyes. “Why don’t you just come with me?”
“Because Josh is coming with us.” Ah. The unattainable Josh. Jade had been crushing on him since we were freshman. Three years later and at the start of our senior year, she was still crushing on him. I would tell her to invite him, but I only got one extra ticket to the box Reggie had reserved for his family and friends.
“Next weekend,” I promised her. “I’ll go with you next weekend. And for all the away games, but I have to go to the home games with family.”
“Fine,” she pouted. We did this dance at the beginning of every school year and football season. I was only twenty, close to a full year younger than all my classmates, more so than others. I skipped second grade and didn’t turn seventeen until October of my senior year of high school. I didn’t mind it, but it was frustrating still having to feel the panic from using a fake ID to get booze when everyone else around me was finally using their real IDs.
Only four more weeks until it was finally my turn to celebrate turning twenty-one. Hopefully Val and I would have time to talk about my party while we were watching the game today.
“I’ve got to go, or I’m going to be late. I’ll see you later.”
“Bye!” Jade called after me.
Double checking that I had my keys, wallet, and phone, I put my purse strap across my body and headed out of the apartment and into DC fall air. It was warm still and absolutely gorgeous. I was wearing a jersey with Reggie’s number on the back. Walking the few blocks to the metro, I descended the stairs to the underground stop. I hated how crowded the system got when it was game day, but I hated sitting in stadium traffic even worse.
The worst was when someone actually recognised me as the star quarterback’s little sister. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, I was often trapped in a metal tube with nowhere to go. Being in the public eye had never been my life goal.
After arriving at the stop for the stadium, I walked through the crowd the nearly one mile to the entrance. At the end of my walk, I veered away from the crowd to the special entrance for families and other people shelling out large sums of money for box seats.
The security guard let me in without any questions. He’d known me since I’d been coming here for nearly ten years, since I was twelve. Reggie was in his ninth season as the starting quarterback. I couldn’t believe it. Time was flying by.
“Auntie Val!” Vincent was the first to see me when I walked into the busy box. My adorable nephew came running over to me. He was going to be four just before Thanksgiving.
“How’s my little man?” I had to stop calling him my favourite little man when his brother, Zeke, had been born. Zeke was turning two in just a few days. Scooping Vincent in my arms, I peppered his little pudgy face in kisses while walking towards where Val was already sitting with my parents. “Hey mama, hey dad.” I kissed both my parents cheeks. “Hi, Val.” I kissed my sister-in-law’s cheek and sat down next to her.
“How’s school?” She asked me. Vincent sat himself in my lap, looking out onto the field, trying to spot Reggie warming up.
“It’s only been the first two weeks and I’m already exhausted,” I said.
“That’s what you get for doing a double major in four years.”
“I know. Not my smartest move.”
“Your brother would happily pay for you to take another year to finish,” she told me.
“He’s already got to pay for grad school.” I’d long ago stopped worrying about Reggie spending money on me. He and Val lived well below their means, living modestly despite the millions of dollars Reggie made every year. He called my education a good investment. It would be; because, I wasn’t going to let him down.
“Mama, I’m hungry,” Vincent said from my lap.
“Want me to take him?” I asked her.
“Please.” Zeke was asleep on her chest. It was his nap time, but he’d be awake for most of the game, cheering his daddy on like the rest of the box.
“Should we go see if we can find something yummy to eat?” I asked Vincent. He hopped off my lap and waited for me, taking my hand before pulling me excitedly to the back of the booth where the buffet was. I grabbed a glass of wine, nobody here would say anything about me being under twenty-one. But, just to be safe, I poured it into cup that way nobody would be able to tell. Val would.
But Val was the one who had taught me how to drink and be able to handle my booze before going to college. Reggie hadn’t been happy when he’d rolled into their house one night to find us both completely hammered. To this day, it was still one of my favourite memories. My stomach had hurt for days from laughing so much. The hangover had been worth it.
“What do you want to eat?” I asked Vincent. He was tall enough to see everything on the table and reach it all, but I would still grab it for him. He’d end up spilling something. “Chicken nuggets? A hot dog? A sandwich?”
“Hot dog,” He said. I put a hotdog and a bag of chips on his plate and a cookie.
“Can you carry it back to your mom carefully while I get my own food?”
“Yup,” he said seriously.
“Two hands, buddy.” Delicately, he took the plate from me, using both his hands while he walked to sit down in front of his mom so he could eat. Once he was safely there without having spilled anything, I grabbed a plate for myself. Collecting a sandwich, some fruit, veggies, a cookie and chips, I grabbed a bottle of water too and tucked it under my arm.
“Didn’t know you’d be here, princess.” I didn’t need to look to recognise the voice. My heart rate picked up, betraying me and all the promises I’d made myself to stop lusting after him. His baritone voice was like silk as it washed over me, deep and husky. He always sounded like that now.
“Hey, Michael,” I said, turning to face him. I tried to seem unaffected by his presence. Hopefully I was as good an actress as I thought I was. “I didn’t know you were going to be here.”
Leaning forward, he kissed my cheek, an act he’d been doing since he rescued me from the snow all those years ago, the moment my crush had started. It was just a reactive thing; he’d been my night in shining armor. Women always fell for their rescuers- cops, firefighters, doctors. There are studies published about the phenomenon. It was white night syndrome or something. It would pass. That’s what I’d been telling myself for years anyway.
I also didn’t call him Mikey anymore. Everyone called him Mikey, including the broadcasters for ESPN, the sports journalists who interviewed him and anyone else.
I wanted to be different. So I started calling him Michael. He’d never objected.
“I’ll be around a lot more,” he said. “I got traded to Washington. I’m coming home.”
That was bad.
The only reason I’d been able to keep any semblance of my sanity was because Michael was gone for the last four years. I saw him maybe half a dozen times a year, but now we were living in the same city. Sure we talked a lot, weekly through text mostly. A lot of it was just me sending him cute pictures of our shared nephews, but still, we communicated.
And now a lot of that communicating was going to be done in person.
I was screwed.
“That’s great,” I managed to get out nervously.
“You want tickets to the season opener?” He asked. “I can get you and a friend or two into the box seats with the rest of the family.”
“I’d love that,” I said way too quickly.
Love? Why couldn’t I have used a simpler word? Like. Like was a good word.
“Great,” he smiled at me. “We’ll be seeing a lot of each other.”
He didn’t mean it the way that I wanted him to mean it. I wanted him to mean a lot of each other’s bodies, as in I’d finally get to see what he was hiding behind his pants. I’d seen him shirtless countless times, and that was enough to torment me.
Would he ever realise that I wasn’t a little girl anymore? That I was finally a woman. He’d probably always see me as Reggie’s kid sister. I was going to need a distraction from his presence.
Michael grabbed a beer from the table and followed behind me. “Mikey!” Val shouted. “When did you get here?”
So he’d sought me out first? No, that couldn’t be right. The table was just next to the entrance and he’d spotted me first. “A few minutes ago.” Leaning down, he kissed her cheek and hugged her before kissing his sleeping nephew’s head. I felt my ovaries clench at the sight. “Mom not here?”
“No, she and Thomas are photographing a wedding. It’s their last one of the season. They’ll be at the next one though.”
“Hey Mr. and Mrs. Howard,” he greeted my parents. He still refused to call them by their first names. Val had taken to calling them mom and dad too.
The only free seat around us was next to me and Michael took it as kick off was getting set up. I’d been too distracted by watching him chat with my parents that I’d missed Reggie walk out onto the field as one of the captains. I was assuming he won the toss though because his team was kicking. He always chose tor receive kickoff during the second half.
“There’s daddy,” Val pointed. She had both boys on her lap now, leaning forward so they could get a glimpse of their father throwing the ball on the sidelines. He was throwing to Jeremiah, his star receiver. They’d been rivals while playing I college. Jeremiah had played for Virginia Tech, but they’d been drafted to the same team straight out of college. Jeremiah was drafted a year later and was a year younger than Reggie, but they were a phenomenal duo. Together they’d won four Super Bowls in seven years. The first win had come Reggie’s sophomore year in the NFL and Jeremiah’s freshman year. Reggie had thrown a sixty yard hail mary at the end of the fourth quarter. Jeremiah had caught it and slid into the end zone. Reggie had the photo of the ball leaving his hands blown up and framed in the trophy room in their house.
Yes, they had a trophy room. It was full of his high school, college and now professional league trophies as well as pictures from his entire football life, starting with peewee and moving all the way up to last season when they’d lost in the NFC championship game.
“Go daddy!” Vincent yelled from beside me, making the others in the room giggle at us. We were seated with at leat one other family, but nobody I really knew. Val probably knew all of them, but she was content to sit with her babies and next to my parents and me.
“Daddy isn’t on the field,” Val whispered to her oldest. “Not yet. He’s right there.” She pointed to him and Vincent waved crazily. Reggie waved back, how he saw that his kid was waving at him, I had no idea. Maybe it was just luck. The Giants didn’t even get a first down and had to punt on fourth down. Gerald, the punt returner for Reggie’s team ran it all the way back to the Giant’s forty yard line, giving Reggie excellent field advantage to start the game.
“Go daddy!” Vincent yelled again. Reggie jogged onto the field, his number nine jersey clearly visible as he pushed his helmet onto his head.
Val clapped for him, a goofy grin on her face. She always looked ridiculously in love when it came to Reggie.
I wanted a love like that.
And what was worse, I wanted it with Michael, my much older brother’s best friend. Reggie had dated his best friend’s sister; hell, he’d married her. It was fine for me to date my brother’s best friend, right? A ten year age difference was not that big in the grand scheme of things.
I tried to focus on watching the game, but having Michael next to me was proving to make it hard to concentrate. I’d been stunned when I saw him. He and Val were twins, but fraternal, obviously. They didn’t look anymore alike than Reggie and I did. Michael had deep brown eyes, Val’s were Hazel. Michael looked bigger every time I saw him. Before he’d left for college he’d been tall and lean, somewhat lanky. But after his first few years playing college basketball, he’d filled out, and he’d only continued filling out more over the years. He was at least six foot two, towering over my five foot six. He felt like a giant sitting next to me.
My only solace was that in the years since he’d left Roanoke, he’d never once brought a girl back to meet his mom and Thomas. I’d seen his string of flings scattered around the tabloids. He dated all types of girls, all ages, races, body types. If anything, he didn’t have a type. There’d been models, actresses, singers, even a professional basketball player. But nothing seemed to stick. I was dreading the day that news of him knocking one of them up or proposing to one of them graced the cover. Hopefully I’d know first and wouldn’t be blindsided by it.
I could imagine the headlines if he and I did end up together. Reggie Howard’s baby sister with his best friend and NBA superstar Michael Williams- she’s ten years his junior. He’d dated a few girl’s my age last year. He’d also dated someone his mom’s age. He definitely didn’t have a type.
I wanted to be his type.
By the time it was half time, Reggie had thrown one touchdown pass, had a running back run for a touchdown and ran the ball into the end zone himself, giving his team a 21-3 lead.
“How’s school?” Michael asked me. Vincent had decided to crawl into his lap during halftime and I was pretending to not be upset that whenever Michael was around I wasn’t his favourite.
“Good,” I told him. “Can’t wait to graduate.”
“Intense majors, right?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “But so worth it. If can start a foundation for people victims of hate crimes and domestic abuse, I’ll be able to help so many people.” Growing up in a mixed race family hadn’t always been kind. Reggie and I didn’t know our grandparents on either side because of their hatred and bigotry. From a young age I also learned that going somewhere with my dark skinned mother was an entirely different experience than going somewhere with my white father. When I’d finally been old enough to figure out that the only difference was because of the color or her skin, I’d been devastated. I’d lost my child like innocent view of the world too young, like most children of color.
And then in high school, I found out that one of my best friends, Tamara, lived in an abusive home. Her dad regularly beat up her mom. They had no family and nowhere to go. It took her dad nearly killing her mom for her to finally leave. If she’d had more access to resources, she could have left sooner. I wanted to be that resource for someone.
After graduation, Reggie was going to help me set up the foundation. He had all kinds of connections and extra money to spend. Privilege didn’t always have to be a bad thing, it just depended on what you did with it.
“You’ll do great with whatever you want to do,” Michael told me. When I finally dared to look at him again, he was staring at me, a look on his face that I couldn’t quite place.
“Thanks,” I said. I could feel heat rush to my cheeks.
“Auntie Ty,” Vincent said while crawling from Michael’s lap to my own.
“What’s up?” I asked. He wrapped his little arms around me and held me close. “I need to potty.”
I hated the term potty. My kids would only use correct terms. No tummies, no potties, no tinkles. He needed the bathroom.
“I’ll take you buddy,” Michael said. “I need to go too.”
Michael lifted Vincent out of my arms, touching me while he did. It was an innocent touch. It was hard to take a child from someone’s arms without coming into contact with them in some way. But still, it had made butterflies fill my stomach.
I watched the boys walk away. “Are you okay?” Val asked. I turned to look at her.
“I’m fine. Why?”
“Nothing,” she said, shaking her head. “I think I’m imagining something. Can you watch Zeke while I go to the bathroom?”
“Of course.” Zeke was playing on the ground in front of us. He was too young to be able to stay focused on the game for any length of time. I was playing with him when Michael came back with Vincent.
“You want another drink? Something to eat?” He asked.
“I’d love another glass of wine.”
“Naughty Tyler. You’re not twenty-one yet.”
Was he flirting with me?
“I won’t tell if you won’t.”
Was I flirting with him?
“You’re a bad influence.”
“I’ll take some crackers and cheese too. And a cookie.”
Michael still had his boyish smile, the only thing boyish about him at this point. The rest of him was very clearly all man.
When he came back with my drink and snacks, our fingers brushed as he passed them to me. I felt like I was sixteen all over again. Would I always feel like this around him?
It would never work between us. Could never work between us.
I needed a distraction. And soon.