They threw up their arms. “Heeeey!!”
The rest of the bar thought I was cheering them and they all joined in, yelling out congratulations.
Once they died down, Nacho leaned toward me. He was the closest and his beefy arms were resting on the table. “You watched our game.” He looked happy about that.
Wyatt had pulled his phone out and he read from the screen, “Nice fucking tight ass. Tell Mia she did good picking you for your second score from the thirty.” He was beaming as he looked up at me. “You’re awesome.”
I tipped my head back, laughing, and actually enjoying it for once. “Thank you, and I meant what I wrote. You guys did really great today.”
Nicole asked, “Why didn’t you sit with us?”
I was wincing on the inside. “Because I was actually working. One of the boxes, but I could still see. I made sure to see.”
She frowned, but didn’t respond.
Mia’s eyes narrowed. “What box?”
Fuck’s sake. Really?
I shrugged. “Just one of them.”
“There’s just two boxes that get servers during games. The coach’s box, which a bunch of the Kings’ players and families were using today, or a TV exec box. Which one were you in?”
Why did she continue to hate me? I thought we’d moved past this. But I lied through my teeth, “Must’ve been the exec one. Funny. I thought they seemed a bit Hollywood.”
She pressed her lips together and I knew what she was thinking. Liar. Yeah, well. I was. I didn’t care.
“So, what’ll everyone have?”
They gave me their orders and I weaved through the crowd to go put it in. Mia must’ve followed me, because as soon as I got to the register, she was next to me and scowling. “Why’d you lie?”
I paused, eyeing her. She was glancing over her shoulder. One hand on the counter by the register and the other tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She moved as Cammie had to get behind the bar. Kneeling down, Cammie shot me a look.
I shrugged, but Mia was back to scowling at me.
“What do you mean?’
“I know you were in the other box. I know Ben from class and I ran into him after the game. We chatted. He told me about a blue-haired girl helping him today. That was you.”
I finished putting in the order and went to fill a pitcher of beer. Mia waited, going right with me.
“So?! So, you shouldn’t have to put yourself in a situation like that. I looked up Stone’s parents. His mom looks like a bitch.”
An argument could totally be made here, be one to know one, but I moved to another table and gave them the new pitcher, pulling the empty one. All eyes went to Mia, because she was one of the blessed and holy people. She just didn’t get it in that moment. All eyes would be on me until she and the entire table left, but they’d had my back the last month. I could make Stone hate me, but I didn’t have it in me to make them hate me. There was no point.
Then it hit me what was actually going on.
Mia was worried about me.
Mia. Bitch Mia. Bully Mia. Mia who I thought would’ve laughed if I had killed myself when I first moved in, that Mia. Now she was the one following me around at my job, interrogating me why I put myself in that situation.
A wave of emotion swept over me and I put the emptied pitcher on a nearby table. Ignoring the ‘hey!’ from the girls there, I grabbed Mia in for a hug.
She stiffened, her hands coming to my side. “What. Is. This?” Yes. She said it just like that.
I just laughed, hugging her tighter before stepping back and picking up the empty pitcher again. “Nothing. Just felt a hug coming on.”
She backed up, her mouth fully sneering at me. “Well. Don’t.” She shook her arms as if to get the touch of me off of her. “Wyatt’s the only one who touches me.”
She cared. She totally cared.
She kept backing up, then stopped. Her face cleared before growing determined again. “Next time you have to work a box at a game like today, ask who’s going to be in it.”
Okay. Let’s play this game, too.
I asked, starting to grin, “And what, then? If I find out it’s someone like today?”
My grin grew. “And if my boss says I have no choice?”
Her mouth flattened. Her head pulled back. She’d never thought of that scenario and gave me a shrug. “Then quit? They’ll hire you the next day. I mean, look around.” She waved a hand. “This place needs you. It’s a mess.”
I let out a full laugh now.
Mia rolled her eyes and turned to go back to her table.
Cammie sidled up next to me, a tray under her arm. “You know Mia Catanna?”
I did her one better. “I live with Mia Catanna.” I moved to go and take more orders because this was my job and this was my new normal. And I loved it because for some reason, everything fell into place and it hit me that night.
I would be okay.
Boy, oh boy. Times had changed.
All of my housemates and the rest of the football team stayed until the bar closed. And apparently, when everyone is celebrating, when everyone is loose and relaxed and happy, there’s a contagious feeling that takes over entire crowds. I could say that because I was in the back of my house. I was sitting at the picnic table, squished with Joe on one side, Cammie on the other. Ben had even been called and he was sitting at the end of our table.
We had Dent and Nacho debating the dangers of going keto during the off season, even for a month to trim pounds, and the rest of my housemates were either spread around the backyard or in the house because here I was. Antisocial, newly orphaned college student in the midst of one of my housemate’s infamous parties. I knew tonight was extra special because I’d even glimpsed some of my classmates from my genetics class in the corner.
“It’s ridiculous!” Dent cried out, half rising from his side of the table. “Why the fuck would you want to trim weight and in the off season, no less? You’re a defensive lineman. We need you in your weight class.”
“Because Coach thinks I need to trim.”
“Not like that!” Dent was very concerned about this potential diet. “Your body will rebel and you’ll lose muscle mass. This is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard from you. Lean meat. Carbs in moderation. And fruits and vegetables. Stick to your protein drinks, too. Or hell, have you talked to the team’s nutritionist? What’d she say about this?”
Nacho’s shit-eating grin was enough to convince me he had no intention of going through a keto crash diet, but it was funny to see Dent get so worked up.
Cammie leaned down to me, then. “So, these guys? Really? They’re all your roommates?” Her tone was awed, but she was trying to hide how awed she was. That told me she was really awed.
“It kinda was this horrible miscommunication, but we’ve all grown on each other. Sort of like a clam and two shells.”
“I’ll say.” Nacho had overheard. He pointed at me. “I love clams. They look like dicks. And you guys haven’t lived until you’ve tasted this girl’s cooking. She does a full pizza buffet that’s out of this world. I don’t know what you’re going to school for, Dusty, but you should be going for culinary school. You could be one of those Michelob chefs.”
Dent burst out laughing, holding his sides. “It’s Michelin chefs. Michelin. Not the beer, you dumbass.”
“I’m not the dumbass thinking a starting defensive lineman is going to do keto on his off season.”
Dent stopped laughing. Frowned. And shot to his feet. “What? You were lying the whole time?”
“I was messing with you, not lying.”
“You fuckhead.” He stalked off, going into the house. Lisa called after him, but he ignored her. She frowned, holding a beer, but turned back to the group she’d been talking to.
“He gets so worked up about everything.” Nacho was now griping, but he stood and was going after him.
Lisa said something to him, too, and he only gestured into the house. She sent me a frown, wavering, then came over. She moved to the edge of the table where I was. The rest of the conversation halted. That’s just what happened when these guys approached. Lisa didn’t notice, her eyes only on me. “Those two fight or something?”
“Nacho was gonna do the keto thing. Dent believed him. Got upset when he found out it was a joke.”
Lisa rolled her eyes. “He’s so sensitive sometimes.” She migrated back over to her group, sipping on her beer the whole time.
I didn’t recognize the others at the table besides Joe, Cammie, and Ben.
Joe groaned, hunching over the table. “I shouldn’t be here. I’m a grad student and I manage the Quail. I should go, be irresponsible somewhere else.”
Ben grinned at him. “Or maybe you should stick around, see if you can get lucky?”
Ben held his beer up over the table. He said as Joe clinked it with his, “That’s the way to go, man. It’s only Homecoming once a year, and we blew the Stallions out of the water this year. We should celebrate.”
Cammie was watching the two, her own faint grin tugging at her lip. “Look at you both, bonding and having a good time.”