Home > Hands Down(4)

Hands Down(4)
Author: Mariana Zapata

Yep, it was still correct.

I opened my text messaging app before I forgot and shot my sister a new message. She still hadn’t replied to me about needing a date to the quinceañera.

Me: I’m going into a house I’ve never been in before. If I don’t text you back in an hour, call the cops. The address is 555 Rose Hill Lane.

I stopped, thought about it, and sent her another message.

Me: Don’t invite anyone I don’t like to my funeral.

Then I sent her another one.

Me: And don’t forget to drop my laptop in a swamp if something happens.

I thought about it for another second.

Me: And don’t forget you’re the only one I want to clean out my nightstand. Wear gloves and don’t judge me.

I slipped my phone back into my purse as I stopped in front of what had to be at least an eight-thousand-square-foot home and eyed the combination of brick and stone walls, telling myself that I had to do this. Boogie had asked.

And the sooner I did this, the sooner I could go home.

Through the oversized glass and iron door, I could spy a whole lot of people inside, but I still knocked. And of course, no one heard, or at least they pretended not to hear or look over.

I rang the doorbell, watching the people hanging out inside some more, and still nothing. Why there were so many people over was beyond me. It wasn’t his birthday. He’d already been in Houston almost two weeks by this point. Maybe it was a party just for the hell of it. To celebrate entering a new chapter of his life without the Thunderbirds? If it were me, I’d probably be balled up on my couch eating marshmallows and crying. What did I know though?

I waited a little longer, hoping someone would happen to look over… but still, no one did. A couple of the guys I could see inside were huge, and my gut said they had to be football players too. Like Zac. That’s why he was here in Houston now, because he was going to be training with some special people or something before the preseason started. From the bits and pieces I’d collected from my cousin’s comments, he’d gone on a long vacation before coming here.

I wondered what he was going to do now that he wasn’t with the Thunderbirds anymore.

Bouncing on the balls of my feet for a second, I eyed my Maio House polo shirt and decided not to give a shit. I knocked once more, and when still no one looked at me standing there awkwardly, I went for the freaking doorknob. I had to do this.

I turned it.

It opened.

All right.

I went in, closing it behind me and eyeing all the nicely dressed people inside. None of them had tuxedos or suits on, but they sure as hell weren’t in collared work shirts. I suddenly wished I’d at least put a little more lipstick on before getting out of my car.

Whatever.

The house opened into a pretty but basic formal dining room on one side and an office on the other. The office just had a desk, a chair, and a printer in it. There was nothing hanging on the walls as I continued further into the home, eyeing what had to be who the hell knows how many people spilling through the next part of the open floor plan house with its vaulted ceilings.

Everyone was talking, and there was a movie playing on a big television that was mounted above the fireplace in the living room. I spied a couple more guys who had to be some kind of athletes from their muscle composition and postures, and one of them met my eyes and smiled at me. But he wasn’t the football player I was looking for... even though I wouldn’t mind looking at him under different circumstances.

Clutching my purse a little tighter, I slowly made my way through the living area, looking for that light-colored head of hair in a sea of freaking giants.

I tried to look at every face but couldn’t find the one I needed. The one I used to know.

Even more nerves set up shop in my stomach with every minute that dragged by. I was going to find Zac, do what I had to do, and it was going to be fine. And yeah, I had bad news to give him but at least it wasn’t worse news. He’d be polite. Maybe we’d smile at each other, and I would mostly mean mine.

I didn’t hold anything against him.

I’d see the man I’d known, give him his message, and then go back to my life. Maybe I’d see him again in another decade, and maybe I wouldn’t. It’d be easier to accept and think about this time around, at least.

I headed toward a sliding door near a breakfast nook that led outside, noticing that it kept being opened and closed as partygoers came in and out. I wasn’t going to wonder if Zac was in a bedroom or not unless I absolutely had to. As I was going around two people who happened to be coming back inside at the same time I was going out, the sound of laughter had me turning. Spotting him.

I almost did a double take.

On a lounger, flanked between two women, was a man I had seen on television about an hour ago when the commentators had been discussing his career. From a starting quarterback for a baby franchise to… well, who the hell knew what now. My cousin’s best friend. My old friend.

I visually sucked up the man I hadn’t seen in person in forever as I made my way over, scooting through and around groups of people who weren’t paying me any attention. There had always been… something about Zac. Something there wasn’t exactly a word for that was part his good looks, but mostly something inside of him that drew a person in—that drew people in. Something almost magnetic, and I could tell it was still alive and well even from a distance.

That was one of the things that made him an ideal quarterback.

That and his huge heart.

At least I’d thought that in the past.

Zac’s signature cowboy hat hid what I knew was dark blond hair shot through with strands of auburn and a little brown. One of the last few times I’d seen him live on TV, it had been pretty long. I caught a slice of a bright white smile—a smile I knew constantly lingered on his face—as he talked to one of the women sitting beside him. His long legs were stretched out in front of him, covered in jeans like always. Even when we’d been kids, I couldn’t remember him ever being in shorts unless he’d been at the pool in long, baggy swim trunks that Boogie had always been trying to yank down.

I smiled at a couple of people who caught my eye as I picked my way through the crowd hanging around the patio, and luckily no one grabbed me and asked if I was lost or was in the wrong place.

Nerves made my stomach feel a little weird, but I ignored them. This was Zac. I had known him—known of him—for more than half my life. He had sent me Christmas presents for a while. I loved him, and he had loved me for a long time. He was best friends with the man who had been better than a brother to me.

So what if Zac was some big-shot famous football player?

So what if he had been on the cover of magazines?

Or been the face of a football franchise?

So what if one of the last times I’d seen him in person, his girlfriend at the time had crushed my precious, fragile self-esteem into tiny little pieces with her fake-ass smile and harsh words? I wasn’t seventeen anymore. I didn’t weigh my self-value against other people’s opinions.

And really, more than any other question, so what if he hadn’t responded to any of my calls or texts for years? I was over that, and I had been for a long time. I didn’t resent him for being busy.

I rubbed my sweaty fingers against each other and pressed my lips together as I kept on going.

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