Under the towel.
“I’m busy tomorrow. Can’t do that photo,” he says, curtly, as he whips off the towel with an irritated flick of his wrist. “But whatever. What are they gonna do?”
“I don’t know,” I say, as my brain scrambles to figure out what Luke wants or needs from me.
Luke swaggers past me to the bathroom to hang up the towel. “It’s not like the Comets are going to drop you from the lineup. Oh, gee, Sloan didn’t post a pic of his date.”
And I better find the fix, stat, because I fucked up.
Luke opened up to me in the shower in his own way, telling me he likes the way I smell. What did I do? Acted like he’s a hit-it-and-quit-it hookup.
“Same for the Leopards,” I say to fill the uncomfortable silence, but nope. That won’t do.
Where is the handbook for hooking up with your close friend?
“Do you want two dinners?” I blurt out, hoping Luke’s favorite things might Band-Aid me back into his good graces.
“Huh?” He barely looks at me, just turning his face enough to make it clear he’s confused.
“I bet you’re hungry. Let me get you some Italian. I ate at the ballpark, but I could use two dinners. Want food too?”
He dips his face, his lips shifting, like he’s working through something. His feelings maybe. His willingness to let me back in. When he looks up, he’s not smiling. But the razor’s edge in his gaze is gone. “Yeah. I’m hungry.”
It’s a reprieve, and I take it.
Thirty minutes later, we’re spread out on his couch, digging into a late-night meal of carbs, carbs, and more carbs. His orange cat is perched on top of the cushions, watching us, and my newest playlist is serving up some cool rock tunes from my phone, starting with Stone Zenith, one of my favorites.
“Tell me,” I begin, waggling the dish of pasta. “Will you have to double your workout or something tomorrow?”
“Yes,” he grumbles, then stabs his fork into the takeout container of penne pasta primavera, spearing an artichoke victoriously. “But hey, there are some veggies in here at least.”
He eats the green triumphantly, then moans his culinary appreciation. “That was good. And now I’ll run ten miles in the morning to repent.”
“Carbs aren’t the worst thing for a pro baller,” I say, taking a bite of the pesto pasta with chicken and tomatoes.
“I know, but still. I’m trying to eat clean so I’m at the top of my game this season,” he says, his voice strung a little tight.
That sound concerns me. I set down the container. “You met with Maddox today, I assume?”
“Yeah. Thanks again for the intro,” he says, but that’s not what I’m getting at. Besides, he signed with Maddox a month ago and gave me a bottle of some glorious single-malt as a thanks—a thanks he didn’t need to give.
“So how was it?” I ask, trying a second time.
“Good,” he says, clearly evasive. Maybe he doesn’t want to talk about the business of our business.
But I guessed wrong earlier tonight about his post-shower wishes. I don’t want to be wrong again.
As he fidgets with the food, poking around the container but taking nothing, I try once more: “Is he going to try to get you an early renewal?”
Luke looks up curiously, tilting his head. “I don’t think I mentioned I wanted that.”
As the playlist shifts to a tune of longing from Lettuce Pray, I shake my head. “You didn’t have to say it for me to figure it out.”
He sets down the container on the table. His jaw ticks, and I wish this weren’t hard for him at times. But it clearly is. With a heavy sigh, he leans back into the couch pillow but pops up instantly. “Hey, you,” he says, stroking the cat that he just bumped into.
The orange boy sets a paw on Luke’s shoulder and my heart skids. I’m not a cat person, so this reaction makes little sense.
Luke likes the critters, and End Zone seems to settle him, since he turns to me, saying, “It’s just stressful going into the season and not knowing. I mean, I could play great. Hell, I will play great. But either way, what if they trade me? They could trade me anytime. I like it here. My mom is here, my sister is here…” he says, shaking his head. “But it’s not like I’m going to get a no-trade clause.”
“What does Maddox think he can do?”
Luke shrugs. “He’s meeting with the GM later this week. I’ll try not to go nuts, waiting and wondering. He says he’ll try to get me an early renewal. But I don’t know if he can.”
“He’ll try. He’ll fight like hell for it. That’s what he does,” I say, doing my best to reassure him.
“Easy for you to say,” Luke says, but it doesn’t come out as bitter, like he resents the security I have thanks to my no-trade clause.