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He’s not sarcastic. He’s serious. Concerned about me.

I lift my coffee, take a drink, then meet Nate’s eyes, trying my best at an answer. “I finally became the starting quarterback this past season. It was more nerve-wracking than I wanted to admit. The pressure was intense,” I blurt out. That’s a good enough way to begin.

He nods thoughtfully. “It’s a high-pressure job.”

“It is. I don’t want to mess it up. I rode the bench for a long time,” I add.

“You did. No argument there. You were patient.”

“This is my chance, and I need it. I want to do right by my mom,” I say, then reach for my phone to show him her texts from last night. It wasn’t entirely a lie when I said I needed to talk to my mom.

The woman has been my biggest supporter my whole life. She rearranged her entire schedule to ferry me to football practice every day. To take me to games every weekend. To make sure I had everything I needed.

She did it all with no help, just looked out for my twin sister, Lucy, and me, since her on-again, off-again boyfriend—AKA my sperm donor—took off when we were young. The deadbeat left her with two kids to raise and left me with the reminder that people can be assholes.

He’d swing by on holidays, every time with a new girlfriend, every time saying she was the one.

Like we were supposed to be happy for him since he’d fallen in love again. Like that made up for him not showing up for me, my sister, and my mom. I want to show her that her faith in me was not for nothing. That her support was for something valuable.

I click open the text thread.

Mom: Look what you did! I’m seriously proud of you! But I’m mad at you now too. Are you and Tanner a thing and you didn’t tell me? That would be so sweet!

Nate chuckles. “She’s the cutest.”

“She is,” I say with a smile. “I’m lucky.”

“Yeah, me too,” he says. He’s got a great family. A mom and a dad who are totally behind him.

Nate clears his throat. “But help me out here,” he says, rerouting the convo. “What does this have to do with Tanner?”

That’s the question, isn’t it? Facing the answer isn’t easy, but I do it anyway. “Dating. Men. Stuff like that. It’s…distracting,” I add, circling the issue of this meteor of lust that crashed into me last night.

“It can be.”

“And, well, Tanner was helpful. He was supportive when I was starting last season for the first time,” I admit, and there it is—the big issue with this lust. Tanner and I are friends. I’ve always seen him as a friend. But I’ve also always needed him as a friend. I lay it all out. “Like, when I had this one shitty game last season and threw two picks. He was there afterward. I went upstairs to his place and we shot aliens on his TV, ordered spicy, hot Korean food, and then he handed me a beer and said, Stay grounded. The next game will be better.”

“And was it? Better?”

“Yeah. It was. It was this simple piece of advice. I stayed grounded. And the game was better.”

I lift my cup and drink some more to keep busy.

“And you don’t want to risk that,” Nate says, wisely.

I nod into the coffee. “Yeah.”

He hums thoughtfully. “It’s hard. Attraction. Friendship. Figuring it all out.”

I drop my head in my hand and sigh. All the air escaping me feels like the truth pouring out at last. “Yes,” I mumble. Then, there’s the elephant in the room—is Tanner suffering from dirty thoughts too? Or was that friends declaration a clear line in the sand?

Don’t know. Don’t want to ask Nate. I am not in the mood for that level of vulnerability. Admitting this uncomfortable attraction was hard enough, thank you very much.

Nate pats my shoulder. “If it’s any consolation, I’m pretty sure you’ve been attracted to him for a while now.”

I lift my face. Do I look as miserable as I feel? “Seriously?”

“Yes,” he says emphatically. “Did you not hear what I said the other night?”

“I heard you. But…”

“But it sounded like something you didn’t want to hear?”

Hit the nail on the head, why don’t you, Nate? “Yes.” Since I’ve come this far, I go further. “Even if he’s…” I make a rolling gesture with my hand, hoping it translates to into me the same way. It seems to do the trick since Nate motions for me to keep going. “I don’t want to fuck up our friendship. That would be bad. I also don’t want to lose sight of what matters. The game.”

“Let me ask you a question then,” he says, thoughtful but analytical.


“If you’re trying to focus on the game, and also trying to preserve the friendship, why did you bid one hundred thousand on a date with him?”

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