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Hands Down(3)
Author: Mariana Zapata

Zac Travis, who had been the starting quarterback of the National Football Organization’s Oklahoma Thunderbirds? The one the TV anchors had literally just been talking about? The man whose life I’d saved when we were kids?

Seriously, what the hell were the chances?

“Please, B. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t have to.”

Of course I knew that. Boogie rarely asked for anything. So, of course, of freaking course, when he did it would be something like this.

“But he’s not picking up, and I’ve been blowing him up for the last hour. His mom’s been trying to call him too and nada,” my cousin rattled on, stress and worry hanging on his every syllable.

He’d used the same voice back when Mamá Lupe had been sick. But this was different.

My cousin wanted me to go tell his best friend that his grandfather was in the hospital because said best friend wasn’t answering his phone.

It was that simple, and it made a whole lot of sense.

In a way, it was nothing.

My cousin wanted me to go tell his best friend, who I had known almost my entire life, who had loved me and treated me like a little sister once upon a time, that there was something going on with his grandpa because he wasn’t answering his phone. Because he needed to know. Of course he did. Of course he should.

There was no reason for me to say no. No real reason for me to even hesitate. So we hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in almost ten years; it wasn’t like that had happened because we’d gotten into a fight or because I’d done something dumb to make things weird.

Nope. There was no real reason.

Just me being a coward.

And him… well, it didn’t matter anymore.

“Bianca?”

“I’m here,” I replied, looking at myself in the reflection of the long mirror that took up the majority of the wall directly in front of the front desk and juice bar where I stood all day. Even with my hair down, I could see the bags under my eyes from all the way over here. I’d stayed up too late watching this Turkish romance online last night, and it had been totally worth it. It wasn’t like the gym members hadn’t seen me at work on three or four hours of sleep on a regular basis.

But….

Why did he have to ask for this of all things? Then again, it was a Christmas miracle that it had taken this long for me to get put into this position in the first place: having to go see Zac. It wasn’t like I’d thought I’d never see him again. Just not any time soon. Maybe the next decade. From the moment I’d heard that he was living in Houston, I’d kind of prepared for the fact that my time was coming to an end, and it had been pretty much a miracle of its own that my cousin had been working out of the country for the last couple weeks so he hadn’t gotten a chance to come down to visit.

But now Boogie was asking.

I had made my choices, and so had he. There were no hard feelings.

Now, here we were.

All I had to do was relay the news to him. That was it. No big deal.

I held back a sigh and gave my cousin the only real answer I could. “Yeah, of course I’ll do it.”

I’d love to see him—Zac—under better circumstances. It wasn’t like I hadn’t tried over the last ten years. It had just never… worked out.

All right, maybe I could have tried a lot harder but hadn’t. Okay, maybe I hadn’t actually tried, period. Because deep inside of me, the wuss still ran strong in a few situations, but extra, extra especially when it related to Zac Travis. Time had healed a lot of wounds but not all of them. Not the fine, little ones with hairline fractures that really hit home.

But my cousin’s best friend needed to know his grandpa was in the hospital. And if he wasn’t answering his phone, and I lived in the same city where he was training during his off-season? It was probably fate.

An image of what the commentators on The Sports Network had been just talking about flashed through my head.

Oh well.

I would do anything for the people I loved, and I loved Paw-Paw Travis. And I had loved Zac. Despite everything, I still did, in a way, and more than likely, I always would.

But even if I didn’t, I couldn’t say no to Boogie.

“I get off work soon. Where do you think he is?” I managed to ask, ignoring that lump of dread and nerves in my belly at the idea of seeing him again after so long, especially today of all days. But maybe he’d already known it was happening. That the Thunderbirds were signing a new quarterback.

Yeah, that could be it.

And really, this could be worse. Going to see him, I meant. At least Zac had never known I’d been in love with him.

Thank God.

He’d just forgotten all about me.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

I should have just gone home and eaten dinner in front of the TV.

I popped the last grape from the fruit cup I’d bought at the gas station into my mouth and stared at the massive house through my window.

This was the house that Zac was living in, according to the address that Boogie had texted me right after we’d gotten off the phone. I double-checked the numbers to make sure I had them right, and yep, I did. I mean, the code for the gate to get into the neighborhood had been correct as well… unfortunately.

Where else would I expect a millionaire to live? I was 99 percent sure he didn’t actually own the house since he wasn’t going to be staying in Houston long term, but that didn’t change the fact his rent had to be out of his ass for a place like this. I’d seen pictures of Zac’s home back in Oklahoma. Boogie had sent me a picture of himself draped across marble floors between a grand staircase made up of all iron and rich wood, head propped on his fist, with Zac lying on the floor beside him in the same position. It had made me smile.

Back when I had really known Zac, when he’d been my friend, he’d been rolling around in a car with no air conditioning and a bumper with so many dents he called them freckles. And now? Well, the last time Boogie had sent me a picture of them together, they’d been in some BMW that probably cost more than the house I’d grown up in.

But he’d worked hard for everything he had and more. The big house, nice car—or maybe cars—and positive attention. And according to my current view, he had plenty of people surrounding him too.

Of course he did.

He’d been busy all those times I’d texted him and hadn’t gotten a response, I knew. That knowledge needed to comfort me the way it had a decade ago when we’d… lost touch. Lost touch. That’s what I was going to call it.

From the look of it, the house he was in now was just as big and more than likely just as luxurious as the one he’d been living in back in Oklahoma—two stories, wide, and with a circular driveway. I was only a little bit surprised to see that it was packed with cars. So was the street in front of it.

Three people happened to be walking up the path in front to what was one of the biggest homes I’d ever seen, and they were nicely dressed. I pulled my car over two giant houses down and hoped like hell no one would call to get it towed.

And why the hell did he have to be having a party today?

I locked my car and sprinted across the street in my black tennis shoes, eyeing each mansion for a second.

I palmed my cell and looked down at the screen, triple-checking the address that Boogie had texted me, just in case.

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