Home > Hands Down(5)

Hands Down(5)
Author: Mariana Zapata

The pretty blonde sitting on his right was the first one to look up at me, and luckily, she smiled. The brunette on his left didn’t. She didn’t really make any kind of facial expression, but there was something in her eyes that I didn’t need to be a mind reader to know was more like what are you looking at, bitch? Pssh. Like that was intimidating. You didn’t know scary until you read what people thought about you on the internet.

It wasn’t until my feet stopped in front of the three of them that the cowboy hat tipped up and a pair of light blue eyes, such a pure soft blue that they could have almost been called baby blue, landed on me, making their way to my face and staying there.

He watched me, still smiling that smile I’d seen a million times that was all mischief and good humor. At least he wasn’t devastated by what had happened with his former team, right? That was good. Then again, I’d seen him smile when I’d known he was devastated. That was just what he did.

It took me a second, but I smiled back at him, just a little thing, wiggling four fingers at him that I was pretty sure he didn’t notice because his gaze didn’t move anywhere below my neck.

And the first thing I said to a man who had carried me around on his shoulders, who had given me rides around my abuela’s neighborhood on the handlebars of his bike, was “Hi, Zac.”

And no, no, that wasn’t freaking bittersweetness creeping up my throat.

He blinked again, and he kept on smiling as he drawled in a voice that had gotten deeper over the years, “How’s it goin’?” Casual and friendly like always. Just like fucking Zac.

I went up to the balls of my feet, keeping my gaze right on a face that, in person, I could see how much it had matured. The softness that had been there before, that had been all boyish and cute, had mostly disappeared, leaving a leaner structure with high cheekbones and a sharp jaw. Fine little lines bracketed down and along his mouth. He was thirty-four now, after all.

And he was even more handsome than he’d been as a teenager or as a twenty-something, especially when he was smiling the way he was right then. Crooked. Still easygoing and friendly. Big Texas personified.

He was welcome.

“Hey,” I told him carefully, still watching his striking, tan face. “It’s me.”

Me. Twenty-seven, not seventeen. My hair was long and down. When I’d been younger, it had always been up because I hadn’t known what to do with my curls other than straighten it. I wore makeup now too. Plucked my eyebrows. Lost some weight. But I was still me.

His smile widened a little more, but I could tell, I could just tell….

“Bianca,” I said, going up to the balls of my feet again.

Zac blinked and still….

I looked from one of his eyes to the other, taking in the color that was still so rich, and realized… he didn’t recognize me. He didn’t… remember? Or, if he did, then he didn’t give a shit.

There was no hug. No “Bianca! Holy shit! It’s been so long! I’m so happy to see you! What are you doing here?”

He just kept right on looking at me, blankly but politely.


My heart sank. I didn’t mean for it to. I hadn’t thought it could or would. I didn’t want it to, but it sank. To my stomach at least. Probably all the way to my toes though. Because he’d been one of the most important people in my life for fourteen years, and he didn’t—

It didn’t matter.

I was here for a reason, and regardless of whether he remembered me or not, that didn’t change anything. He didn’t remember me, but I remembered him.

I had never forgotten Zac. Unlike him.

My toes curled inside my sneakers, and I forced the smile onto my face through sheer will, burying the disappointment deep as I went for it…. Then burying it even deeper. In and out. Let’s do this. “Can I talk to you in private?”

One of his cheeks hitched up a little higher before the man who had been to my birthday parties until he’d left for college at eighteen said, “Aww, sugar, we can talk right here, can’t we?”

He was still saying sugar. Of course he was.

My toes curled a little more in my sneakers as I clung to that “sugar” and reminded myself again that I wasn’t being annoying or an inconvenience right then. I was here for a reason. An important one.

“I think it’d be better if we talked in private,” I tried to explain as part of my brain tried to accept that he either didn’t remember me or didn’t care if he did. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter what the case was. But I was going to go with option A because option B hurt just a little too much, even though it shouldn’t have. “Zac, it’s me. Bianca Brannen.” I tried again, just in case. “Your mom’s been trying to call you….” I trailed off, hoping he’d get it. Hoping he wouldn’t force me to accept that he knew who I was and just didn’t care, even if my brain was aware he hadn’t felt that way in a while.

He got something though, because his next blink was slow. His gaze sharpened suddenly. His forehead furrowed.

He was gorgeous.

He sat up straight and stared at me with those light blue eyes. For so long, I’d thought they were the kindest eyes in the world, and that was saying something because I knew a lot of good people. But none of them had Zac’s eyes, and I had no reason to believe he wasn’t that same person still, regardless of him dropping me like a bad habit. Boogie wouldn’t still be friends with him if he’d changed too much, I knew that. Mamá Lupe used to call him mi cielo for a reason. My sky. Because she saw the same things in him—that innate goodness. She had loved him as much as she’d loved her biological grandkids.

So I told myself two things.

One: I wouldn’t be sad if he didn’t remember me.

Two: I wouldn’t be sad if he didn’t want me around. I had popped out of nowhere, and I was asking for his time when he was busy. It wasn’t like he was being mean or rude.

And you couldn’t fake those eyes.

I swallowed and went up to the balls of my feet again like it would really make me taller. The words felt thick in my throat. I am here for a reason. “I’m not trying to bother you. Boogie asked me to come. He’s been calling you too and—”

This beautiful man who had been featured naked on the cover of a magazine a couple years back got to his booted feet in about half a second. His mouth suddenly dropped open as those blue, blue eyes moved all over my face fast, fast, fast, and I could barely hear him as he gasped, literally gasped, “Wait. Bianca?”




Chapter Three



I couldn’t actually remember meeting Zac. I couldn’t remember meeting Mamá Lupe or Boogie for the first time either. My most blurry, distorted memories all included them though, like they had been around forever. Like life before them hadn’t been memorable enough.

In my head and in my heart, they had always been around. From the beginning. Like my arms and my eyes, they were just… there.

I knew that I’d met them when I was three, when my parents moved to Liberty Hill with fifteen-year-old Connie and me, their oopsie, their surprise baby late in life. Somewhere along the way, for all I knew the same day we’d gotten to Mamá Lupe’s house, Boogie and Zac had been there, along with a couple aunts and uncles I’d never met that had lived down the street too.

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