I didn’t think he saw it.
I went to him, and in one breath, I pulled him to me. “Hey.” I wound my arms tight around him.
He stiffened. His body was so skinny. Tall, but skinny, but damn. His arms came around me, too, and he wasn’t weak, like at all. Oomph. He was hella strong. Holy Jesus. He was almost crushing me, hugging me so tight. I felt his body start to shake, and I felt the wetness on my shoulder. I just hugged him harder. The two of us, we were crushing their memories between us. Gail and my dad. Who were they? If we hugged just a bit harder, we’d make them disappear, or bring them to life. Right? That’s how it worked?
No. The harder we hugged, the faster the tears fell.
We were all a mess. Except for Angie. She was trying to stop the soda from running free when Jared and I separated.
Georgia. Bud. Even Apollo was having a hard time holding back the tears. Jared’s eyes were red-rimmed, swollen, and I could only imagine I looked worse. We all stood in a circle. I wouldn’t let go of Jared’s hand. Georgia came over, hugged me again. She smoothed her hand up my back in a comforting motion.
And Angie. She started crying because the soda wouldn’t stop running over the sidewalk.
“Oh dear.” Georgia laughed, realizing what her daughter had been crying about. She scooped her up, and her husband helped to clean Angie’s fingers.
And Jared, he was just staring at me. “It’s good to see you.”
Oh, yeah. My throat was so clogging up again. “You, too.”
Jared ducked his head.
“I have to pee!” Angie announced to everyone. A few people going past heard and snickered. One teenager wrinkled her nose. “Ew.”
“Hey, that’s my sister.”
Yeah. That didn’t come from Apollo. The girl stopped, taking Jared in, and I could see the crush already starting. And I could see why Angie was smitten. Jared was all angry and smoldering and he was cute.
He was going to be a heartbreaker.
The girl said, “Sorry.”
When she kept going, Angie snorted. “That was a fake apology. She didn’t mean it.” She raised her voice, “You don’t mean it!”
“Oh, dear God.” From Georgia.
Apollo was laughing. “I have to pee, too. Can we, you know, move it along here?”
On that note, I stepped forward and knocked on the door. A security guy opened it. He verified who we were, then showed us inside. A quick trip to the bathrooms, then we were taken to our seats.
Watching Stone run out for their game, I’d forgotten what it was like to see the game in person.
It was pandemonium. It’d been like that back home and it was ten times louder now, but damn. In his uniform, those shoulder pads, his hips. Wow. There were emotions going on inside of me, but I was really only remembering how he felt above me and inside of me last night.
Lots of emotions firing inside of me.
My lips were dry. I knew my eyes were hungry, because damn. Stone was hot. His picture flashed on the jumbotron and his eyes were smoldering, that square jaw firm, a slight scowl on his face, but with his short hair, yes, just fucking hot.
Jared didn’t talk much to me after our initial meet-up. He laughed with Apollo. They were either on their phones or pointing to the field. Right before kick-off, he and Apollo went with Bud to the concessions. Georgia moved down and took Jared’s seat beside me.
I had a feeling she was going to stay the whole time.
Angie came running next to her, launching herself into her mom’s lap.
“Oomph.” Georgia laughed, untangling some of Angie’s curls. “I was hoping to talk a bit. What are you doing after the game?”
I frowned at her. “What do you mean?”
“Stone offered to meet us on the field if we wanted pictures. We have to head to the hotel and get to bed right away since we fly out so early. So instead of going somewhere after the game, we were just going to go on the field to see him, but I wanted to talk about Jared and his future.”
My stomach took a nosedive. “About?”
“The adoption. I wanted to make sure you were still okay with us doing that.” She seemed to be hesitating before blurting out, “I know Jared’s been wishy-washy, and I think that’s normal with what you’re both going through.”
I didn’t respond. I didn’t know where she was going with this.
She added, tucking more of Angie’s curls behind her ears, “Gail and I talked maybe a year ago. I know they didn’t specify in their will where they wanted Jared to go, but she and I talked. She said she’d be happy if we brought Jared into our family.”
She was biting her lip, and understanding dawned then.
She felt guilty.
I laid a hand on her arm, and felt her own slightly trembling. “I’m okay with this. Jared, he and I barely know each other. His mom called me a bunch of times. My dad raised him the last few years. The two of us need to get to know each other, but as long as he’s happy with you guys, then I’m happy. You guys have a family already. You’re established. You have careers. And I know you’re amazing parents. It’s obvious.”
More tears slid down her face. Her mouth was shaking and she pressed her lips together. “You mean that?”
“I do.” And I did.
She stopped, looking and watching Stone for a moment. “You and he, are you guys…?”
Oh, boy. I didn’t want to lie, but I didn’t want to tell her what we were doing.
She added, “No talks about marriage or…?”
Oh! It was all lining up, how she kept talking to me, making sure I was okay with them adopting Jared, and now coming here, asking about marriage.
I sat up straighter and spoke clearly, “I don’t know what I’m doing. My focus is getting through one day at a time right now. If you’re worried that I might marry Stone and decide I want Jared,” she sucked in a breath. I kept on, “I can reassure you that that won’t happen. Jared needs a functioning and stable family. I am not that at all right now.”
“Oh, honey.” Her hand came to my arm.
“You don’t have to worry that I’m going to change my mind and fight you for Jared. I wouldn’t do that unless I truly believed he’d be better off with me than with you guys, and I don’t think that’s the case. I’d be hurting him if I made him be with me.”
She held still.
The crowd was deafening around us. Hip-hop music was blaring over the speakers. Cheerleaders were dancing. Mascots were walking around, waving to the crowd. The players were finishing their warm-ups, but all that melted away.
Georgia saw me. I saw her.
She was grieving losing Gail, and she was a mother yearning to love another son. And me, she saw me, too. I don’t know what she saw, but she did, and a look melted over her face. “Oh, baby.” She reached for me, pulling me in. Angie squeaked, but she was in the middle of the hug, and after stiffening, she laughed. Twisting around, her little arms wrapped around me, too. She could only get one of my arms, but she buried her head into me.
I laughed. Georgia chuckled. Angie was laughing, then said, “Your hair is tickling my face.”
Georgia released me, sitting back, and I could see how relieved she was. She rubbed a hand up and down my arm. “We’re here for you, also. I want to make sure you know that. I am fully ready and prepared to step in and be another mom if you’d let me. And that’s only if you want that.”
I let out a ragged breath, one that I hadn’t known I’d been holding. The mom offer was nice to hear, but I was fighting dealing with my own feelings of how good of an older sister I was being. And since Jared wasn’t there, I asked, “How’s he doing? For real?”
Georgia and I both froze, but it wasn’t Jared saying that.
Angie shoved up on her mom’s lap, pointing and waving. She added, yelling, “Jared! Apollo!”
They were higher up, coming down the stairs. Their hands were full of soda and popcorn. I spied a few hot dogs. Pizza. No, two pizzas.
As soon as they got to our chairs, Angie pointed at us. “They were talking about you.”
Jared froze, a slice of pizza halfway to his mouth. “Huh?”
Georgia stood up. “Oh, it’s fine. Your sister was asking how you’re doing. That’s all.” She reached over, taking some of the food and drinks from him before moving back to their seats. “Come on, Ang. Let’s sit over here again.”
Apollo came in.
Jared waited, looking up the stairs.
Apollo’s dad came next, stepping just past me, and then his son. “Thanks for moving, bud.”
“No problem, Dad.” Apollo popped the rest of his slice in his mouth.
Jared stepped around me since I was on the end, sinking down next to me.
The players were lining up, readying for the anthem to be sung, and Jared waited for all of that. Once the song was done, the fans were going nuts as the captains were running out on the field, Jared looked at me. “You want to know how I am, you ask me.”
“It wasn’t like that. Georgia was worried that I might try to take you away from them.”
“Why would you?” he bit out, shoving half of a hot dog in his mouth. Two bites and it was gone. “I’m seventeen. Not even a full year and I’m an adult. Who’d want to fight for me?”