Home > Hands Down(8)

Hands Down(8)
Author: Mariana Zapata

“Deal.”

It took a long time walking through the house and the crowd of strangers to finally find a ringing iPhone with a big crack across the screen in a half bathroom by the front door. I snorted.

This man who used to have an eight-figure contract had a phone with a cracked screen. It wasn’t so different from the Zac I’d known who would use duct tape on tears in his jacket, had cardboard taped to his car window for two months after an ex-girlfriend broke it, and had always ordered from the dollar menu because it was cheaper than buying a meal at the drive-through.

He really hadn’t changed that much over the years. It was nice. If life and people and fans and critics hadn’t done it, I had a feeling nothing and no one ever would. And that was even nicer.

He’d been happy to see me, there was no hiding that.

I hit answer as CJ Daniels—White Oaks flashed across the screen. “Got it. Thanks.” I got a grunt in return and hung up.

Zac’s phone vibrated, and the screen illuminated. It was second nature for me to look at it.

NEW TEXT MESSAGES

AMY BLONDEWAITRESS OKC: [picture message]

And below that, there were older notifications.

KEISHA BLDIVORCELAWYER OKC: [picture message]

STACY BROWNBANKER OKC: Just heard about…

VANESSA: [two new messages]

AIDEN: Call me.

TREVOR: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING. CALL ME BACK

Amy. Blonde Waitress. OKC.

Keisha. Blonde? Divorce attorney. OKC.

Stacy. Brunette banker. OKC.

And a Vanessa.

At least he had his way of remembering the… people he met.

For one tiny, stupid, unnecessary second, I wondered if he had any Biancas in his phone. But just as quickly as that question entered my head, I kicked it to the side, as far away as possible.

It was none of my business.

I made my way back through the house but couldn’t find him in the yard where he’d been. When his friend, the guy with the dreadlocks met my gaze, I lifted Zac’s busted-up phone to reconfirm I’d found it and gave him a thumbs-up with my opposite hand, earning me a jerky nod. Now where the hell was he?

“I think he went to his room,” the blonde who had been sitting beside him called out from the same spot she’d been in, getting my attention. She pointed up.

She knew where his room was. That wasn’t any of my business either.

“He was still on the phone,” she went on, with her nice voice matching her pretty face. “Is he okay?”

I lifted a shoulder. I didn’t know her. I wasn’t going to spread Zac’s business around, especially not to someone who may or may not have a description after her name on his phone. I couldn’t imagine knowing or meeting so many people that I had to describe them to keep track of them. At the most, a few people had last names under my contacts.

Anyway.

“Thanks for telling me.” I offered up a little smile that was genuine because she was being nice. I liked nice people.

But now I needed to figure out where he was, get my phone back, and bounce.

“How do you know Zac?”

I glanced down at the unfamiliar voice and found the other half of the Zac sandwich bread, the brunette who had given me a funky look, still giving me a funky one after asking her question.

I gave her the only answer I would or could, especially around someone who didn’t give me nice-person vibes. “We’re family.” She could do with that whatever she wanted.

Her face said she didn’t believe me even a little bit, but I didn’t give a shit. I turned around and headed back inside after smiling goodbye at the other woman. Finding a staircase tucked by the living room, I headed up, taking in all the plain white walls that matched all the white downstairs too. I couldn’t hear anything over the voices downstairs as I made my way down the hall, peeking into every open room.

Each one was different. The first one was mostly empty except for a modern queen-sized bed and dresser. In the second room was an exact replica with another queen-sized bed and brand-new, never-been-lived-in everything. The carpet was pristine too.

The third room I came across though had a king-sized bed that took up the majority of it, and there was a medium-sized flat screen mounted to the wall. The closet door was open inside, I could see a hint of clothing hanging. On the bed was a T-shirt. And it was while I peeked into that room that I heard Zac’s voice. I passed by a big media room with four large recliners and a projector. It also looked brand new.

I found him in what had to be a master bedroom, or at least one of the master bedrooms in a house this big. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t one downstairs too. One day when I was bored at work, I’d looked up plans to a new development I’d driven by, and some of those houses had not one but two suites. F-a-n-c-y.

Zac had my phone against his ear, and there was a suitcase sitting open on top of a king-sized mattress. A plain white comforter and sheets were balled up at the foot of it. A random pair of socks were lying right next to stained blue and gray sneakers. A glass half full of water was on the nightstand closest to the bedroom door… but that was mostly it other than a big black dresser against the wall. There was nothing on the walls in this room either. Nothing personal. No knickknacks.

“Uh-huh, all righty,” Zac said, making eye contact with me when I stopped at the doorframe before he tipped his head like he was gesturing me to come in. One hand was aggressively digging through that dark blond hair that was the exact same shade I remembered it, just a little bit longer than I’d usually seen him wearing it through the TV.

I went in. I’d been in his room a couple of times, but I couldn’t remember what it had looked like. There were only faint images of a messy, cluttered room that had smelled like sweat and feet and some kind of cologne his aunt had given him for Christmas every year supposedly.

Longing hit me low in the belly for that younger boy I’d loved as a brother figure and then as a fantasy, even though he’d let me down by moving on with his life and leaving me behind. But it was in the past, and I understood.

I watched as Zac turned to the dresser, pulled out some clothes, and tossed them into the suitcase.

But I saw it. Saw him.

His hands were shaking.

They were shaking big-time.

Shit.

He said “okay” and “uh-huh” a couple more times as he dumped more clothing into his suitcase. And yeah, I listened the whole time. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Love you, Mama.”

His mom.

He was clutching my phone hard as he ended the call and stood there. He’d pulled his cowboy hat off at some point—this plain brown thing—and his hair was tossed all over his head, messy. I could see in the bedroom light that he was really tan from all his outdoor training, and he looked more muscular than I’d ever seen him. His torso was lean and endless, his shoulders so broad in person, those strong arms lined with ropey muscles; it caught me off guard.

But his face….

It reminded me again of how long it had been since I’d last seen him in person. He was about to be thirty-five in a few months. I could faintly remember his seventeenth birthday when Mamá Lupe, my grandma and the person who had babysat Zac for years, had surprised him after football practice with his favorite tres leches cake—cake made with three different kinds of milk. She’d kept the picture of him blowing out the candles on that day, with an enormous smile on his face, on her mantle for the rest of her life. You could barely see me right beside his shoulder, all cheeks and chins, peeking at what I’d known was going to be some awesome cake, with Boogie on Zac’s other side.

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