Home > Hands Down(7)

Hands Down(7)
Author: Mariana Zapata

I couldn’t help but smile a little against his cheek, still right there in those final moments I was giving myself to soak up his attention after so long, right against the chest I’d seen bare countless times before he’d had any hair on it, and let myself savor his unexpected joy.

When he lowered me enough so I could touch the ground again flat-footed, I looked at him, still smiling. Feeling happy and surprised too.

Relieved.

The handsome man I’d been in love with when I’d been younger and dumber grinned down at me with an amazed expression that lit up his features in a way that I would have bet my life against a month ago. Zac’s gaze flicked down to everything below my neck for a split second before it was back on my face, probably taking in my Maio House polo, my plain blue jeans that were rolled up at the ankles because they were too long, and my plain black tennis shoes with white soles that made standing for eight hours a day bearable. And that beaming white smile went even wider before those strong arms went wide at his sides, his expression flushed and pleased and earnest and totally freaking Zac before the NFO. “I can’t believe it’s you. When the hell did you grow up, huh?”

Of course he couldn’t believe it was me. He hadn’t seen me in so long or even looked me up.

Andddd there went at least half my joy.

That was reality for you, a kick to the freaking vagina when you needed it and even more when you didn’t need it.

He kept right on smiling brightly as those light blue eyes strayed all over my face while my spine went tight and my shoulders dropped at his comment. “Peewee, you’re an adult,” my once-upon-a-time friend added, oblivious to what he’d reminded me of.

But I was over that shit. So I nodded at him again and said, a little bit weakly, “Most of the time.”

“What are you doin’ here?” Zac asked in that same excited voice, still oblivious. His face was all angles now, and up close, his eyes were just as kind as always. His finger came up to tap my beauty mark again as he shook his head one more time. “I cannot believe you’re here, livin’ and breathin’ in front of me.”

I remembered why I was there.

I started to reach for the blond-dusted skin wrapped around the hard muscles of his forearm before stopping. What the hell was I doing? I lowered my hand back down to my side and forced myself to meet those light blue eyes so I could do this. “Can we talk in private?”

The big smile still on his face hurt my heart, especially when he glanced down at the hand I’d pulled back, and part of it slowly melted off. But he nodded after a second, his expression turning somewhere between confused and hesitant, picking up on my mood, I could only guess. “Wherever you want, darlin’,” he agreed easily.

In other circumstances, in another lifetime, his next words would have made my day. They would have lifted me up and made my whole month. I had loved him—loved him—but for what were probably a hundred different reasons, we hadn’t seen each other in almost a third of my life. “When’d this happen? Do you live here?” he asked like he’d instantly forgotten I wanted to talk to him in private. “I feel like I’m imaginin’ this.”

I am here for a reason. Right. He needed to know; the sooner the better. I had to stay on track. He didn’t really… care. Not really. “Do you know where your phone is?” I asked him instead.

That got his smile to falter just like that. “No. I let somebody borrow it. I thought they gave it back….”

He was onto me. Maybe he’d finally put together what I’d said about his mom and Boog calling, about being sent here, about wanting to talk to him in private.

“Want to go inside?”

He started to nod before he stopped, every single line in his body dropping. His eyes moved from one of mine to the other as he asked, very, very carefully, the warmth in his expression disappearing by the millisecond. “Is it—” His Adam’s apple bobbed. Those long, sand-colored eyelashes fluttered, and the pain, the worry, the terror was there as that voice that had been bright and welcoming four minutes ago pronounced three words. “Is it Paw-Paw?”

I didn’t want to tell him out here in front of his friends, and I didn’t need to look around his body to know that there had to be a handful of eyes set on us. On him. I could feel it. He had to know it too.

“He’s at the hospital, and they’re running tests. That’s all I know. Your mom and Boogie have been trying to call you but….” You haven’t answered. Because he’d lent someone his phone while he was having a party. But it wasn’t like he couldn’t put that together on his own.

The man who I’d assumed had spent the majority of his life laughing and smiling went stone-faced and pale in about half a second.

I needed to keep going.

“Boogie gave me your address and asked me to come look for you. I got here as soon as I could,” I explained, eyeing the arm that had been hanging loosely at his side and thinking about taking hold of his hand just like I had done to him countless times when I’d been little. Except now those fingers that I would have meshed through mine were million-dollar fingers while mine were in the thousand-dollar club. But I didn’t take his hand. We weren’t there anymore. I focused on that lean, subtly striking face with its laugh lines that were hiding and pink lips and those warm blue eyes. “Want to use my phone and call them in the meantime?”

Those eyes flicked down to me, and his Adam’s apple bobbed again as he nodded and lifted a hand to rub right between pectoral muscles buff enough for that touch to make them form a valley. There hadn’t been any muscles there back in the day, that was for sure. His head turned to the right, and he called out, “CJ! Can you call my phone? I gotta find it.”

“You got it, Big Texas,” whoever he’d been talking to responded in a deep, deep voice.

Big Texas. I doubted he still thought of me whenever someone called him that. I had a feeling it had been a long, long time since he had.

I shoved my phone toward him. The faster he did this, the faster I could leave. “If he’ll call it, I’ll help look for it while you get in touch with your mom.”

Those blue eyes moved toward me but were totally and completely distracted, like I was there but wasn’t. I couldn’t say I blamed him either, not after how the day was going.

My thought was confirmed when he looked down at my phone with sightless eyes. The beaming, happy man from a minute ago was totally gone, and I figured he needed a moment. Or ten. But he really did need to call his mom or my cousin.

And I needed to help him find his phone so I could go home.

I turned around to figure out who he’d asked for help and found a man pretty much directly behind me with platinum, bleached blond dreadlocks tied up into a ponytail holding a cell phone to his ear and swinging his gaze around at the same time. He wasn’t very tall—not like I was one to talk—but he was really fit. After casting one last glance at Zac as he stared down at my cell like he didn’t remember how to use it, I faced the other man again and got his attention. Two dark brown eyes flicked down to me.

“Hi. If you’ll call it, I’ll look for it.”

The pretty buff man eyed me with a nod, his gaze sliding to my polo shirt for a second before he said, “I’ll keep calling until you find it.”

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