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“Anyway. I’m off to Wistful,” I say again, to keep up the conversation, and to cover up the things I don’t know how to say.

Or can’t say. I’m not sure which it is.

“Is Elsie all set to take care of your cats?” Tanner asks.

“She is. I’ve got the kush for them. Lots of food. Stocked up on kibble. I even bought some toys,” I say as the elevator slows at the lobby, and I want to kick myself.

I’m talking about my cats’ plans, for fuck’s sake.

When the door opens, Tanner gestures for me to go first. I stride into the lobby, then look behind me. In case he darted into the mail room to, I don’t know, avoid me.

Tanner’s right here though, and he looks the same as always. Messy hair, a little long.

Scruffy jaw, finely stubbled.

Deep blue eyes that can see into my soul.

And a sturdy, calming presence in my life.

But I hardly feel like he’s in my life anymore. All we can talk about are cats.

“I’m sure when I return, Elsie will have charmed Kickoff. And maybe taught her to play nice,” I say, desperately clawing at anything to fill the silence.

It never used to be hard to talk to Tanner.

But it’s hard now when I can’t say what I feel: I would have said yes to you, but I’m scared of losing everything.

Instead, I chatter on about how often the felines like to eat, how long Kickoff sleeps, and how excited End Zone was to see me when I returned from California.

Like any of this matters.

When I reach the street, Tanner lifts his hand in a wave. “Take care of yourself, Remington,” he says, and it feels like the period at the end of a sentence.

He picks up the pace, jogging away from me at a steady pace.

I watch him go, wishing I hadn’t ruined our friendship.

Among other things.

Wistful is not a place to be wistful.

It’s brutal, but training camp is designed to be brutal. And clearly, I need the intensity. Need to prove my worth. Need to purge all these mushy feelings for my friend from my system.

At the end of our first week, I’m on the fifty-yard line and sweat is pouring down my chest under the July sun, but when I get in the huddle for practice, I’m where I need to be.

I call the play, then drop back into the shotgun and hunt for an open receiver.

Cruz hustles downfield, and I hurl the ball at him. He catches it flawlessly.

We move like that all during practice.

Executing play after play.

Day after day.

I go hard, and I go fast, morning, noon, and night. That is all there is. All I will allow.

As the second week nears its end, Coach pulls me aside after an exhausting afternoon on the field.

“Looking good, Remington,” he says. Then he waggles his tablet. “Got a few minutes to chat about the first pre-season game?”

I’ve got nothing but time. “Of course.”

On the field, we talk about the game plan, coach and quarterback, as it should be. When he’s done, he claps me on the shoulder. “Keep it up.”

“I will,” I say, crisply, like a good soldier.

Just you wait and see how damn well I can keep it up.

A few more days of this and I should be rid of these last pesky feelings for Tanner.

Feelings that could threaten to get in the way of the game.

On the last day of training camp, I’m packing up my room, ready to return to the city stronger, tougher. I’m the determined leader I need to be to prove my freshman season as a starter was no fluke.

I toss my duffel over my shoulder then grab my phone and the charger, ready to hoof it out of here and onto the team bus. As I’m heading down the hall of the players’ dorm, my group chat with the guys is going off.

Jason: Best training camp ever for me. May I recommend a honeymoon with a hot-as-sin man for the rest of you too?

Nate: Um, hello. I knew that. I did that first. Don’t think you can copy me now and get the credit.

Gunnar: Thanks for the tip. I had no idea getting laid on the reg was a good thing. Wow.

Zane: The more you know, buddy. The more you know.

Jason: I can’t wait to show up at your wedding in a thong, Gunnar.

Gunnar: Oh, didn’t I tell you? That’s what all the groomsmen are wearing. Thongs.

I barely muster a half-hearted smile as I read their rapid-fire replies. The guys usually crack me up. But not today. Maybe because I’d normally be side-barring Tanner about their cocky comments. Laughing at them with my close friend.

Except that’s wrong. He’s not just my good friend. Or one of my closest friends. Turns out, all along, I’ve relied on him in ways I didn’t fully realize till we slept together. He’s more than a good friend. He’s somehow, quietly, day after day become my best friend.

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