Chapter 5

Fucking money suit, this is. Tightening my tie, I give myself one final check in the mirror. Not a hair out of place. Not that mom would allow it. She would force me to start all over again if she found something wrong with my appearance. I step out of the bathroom and take a seat on the edge of my bed.

Jesus, I’m freaking exhausted. Up until three thirty in the morning doing drills and up again at nine to start them all over again. I didn’t even have time for a nap today and damn near broke my ankle from almost falling asleep in the shower.

I look at my phone for the time and see I need to get downstairs. With one final mirror check, I begin the arduous process of wandering through the far too large house to get to the ground floor. I’ve never understood the point of having a house this gigantic. Only three people live here. Twenty could live here comfortably.

But I guess Mom wanted to keep up the appearance of a very well off family with a perfect marriage and a perfect little son in every aspect. Makes me want to puke. I finally get to the stairs and climb down to the ground floor, finding Mom standing by the front door in one of her hideously gaudy dresses, complete with fur and sequins.

She notices me and glances at her watch. “Perfect timing. Now we can be fashionably late to Rebecca’s house!”

Yup. Not even a hello. She turns for the door and steps outside, me following behind her. One of dad’s cars is sitting at the base of the stairs, Kurt, the family driver, standing in front of it. He opens the door for Mom and she steps in without a thank you. I give Kurt an apologetic smile and a nod as thanks and climb in as well.

Kurt closes the door and moves to the front of the car. “Step on it, Kenneth,” Mom says, pulling out her compact and checking her appearance in the mirror.

He’s worked for us for more than fifteen years, woman. Learn his fucking name. Kurt starts the car without a word and drives away from the house. I look out the window as we drive to this event I have absolutely zero interest in. “Justine’s daughter will be there,” Mom says, checking her lipstick.

“Which one is that again?” I ask.

I can feel her gaze boring through the back of my head as I continue to look out the window. “Cynthia. The one you dated back in high school? You two spent so much time together whenever I took you to one of my events!”

I’m pretty sure Cynthia and I hung out twice during the whole time I was in high school, both times were at our parents’ stupid events. And all we really did together was show each other stupid videos on the Internet. “I guess,” I say, trying to appease her.

“Why is it you don’t have a girlfriend yet? You’re almost 22. You need to find someone to settle down with.”

“Like you and Dad did?”

“Exactly. And things have been good for us ever since.”

Yeah, the perpetual alcoholism, obsession with plastic surgery, and the fact that the two of you haven’t slept in the same bedroom for the past ten years really shows that. I glance over at her and have to force myself not to shudder. How in the world does she think she looks good?

There’s so much botox in her face that half of it hardly moves anymore. Combine that with the obvious nose job, lip injections, and eyelifts, she looks like five miles of bad road. Not to mention the boob job she had done when I was younger that tripled her breast size (gross). Her gaudy dress can barely contain those melons (yes, this may sound mean, but many other share in my sentiments).

I go back to looking out the window and feel my phone vibrate from my pocket. Pulling it out, I feel myself smiling at the text from Declan on the screen.

‘Have fun at that lame event tonight. I’ll pray for you.’

I type out a reply.

‘There isn’t enough prayer in the world that can save me from this bullshit.’

I slip my phone back into my pocket and see us pulling up to the house, an equally sized piece of architectural madness as our house. They really didn’t pull any punches with this thing. Balloons, dozens of decorations, hell there’s even a fucking red carpet going down the front steps of the house.

Kent pulls up to the front of the house and comes to a stop, quickly jumping out and opening the door for me. Taking a breath, I put on my appearance face for anyone that may be watching. Always smile. Appearances are everything. That’s what Mom taught me.

I step out of the car and find a few dozen camera flashes going off. Must be a slow day for these people. I hold my hand out and help Mom out of the car, a Joker-sized grin on her face as she poses for the cameras. She’s off in her own little world as the cameras go off. “Shall I be ready to come back for emergency pickup?” Kurt asks me, looking like he wants to be anywhere else.

“If only, Kurt. But I think I’m stuck in this hellhole for the time being.”

He gives me a sympathetic look. “I’ll return at midnight to bring you both back to the house.”

“The airport for me, actually. I have a two A.M. flight to Raleigh so I can get back to school.”

He nods and I thank him before he heads off. I stand off to the side with my hands in my pockets as I wait for Mom to finish with the photographers. Who the hell is even going to see these photos? There’s no point to them. It only makes people feel like they’re somehow important.

Mom waves at the photographers, letting them know she’s finished. I take my place by her side and she takes my arm and I lead her up the stairs. Sure enough, the interior of the house is just like every other event I’ve been to with Mom. Dozens of standing tables surround the entrance to the house, people in expensive suits and dresses walk around, putting on airs in order to make other people feel jealous, and likely half the people in here don’t even know what this fundraiser is for.

Mom and I take two drinks from a waiter walking around with a tray of champagne. “Elizabeth! So glad you could make it!”

Mom lets out a squeal that causes the waiter to wince from the pitch of it (I’ve built a resistance to it over the years) and rushes over to Mrs. Belleville. I simply stand there with the two drinks, knowing Mom will want both of them. “Always be close to the woman who was just with me,” I say to the waiter, handing him the drinks back and a twenty from my wallet.

“Should I be worried?” he asks me.

“She’s like a fish. She’ll always need a new one. You’ve been warned.”

I head off in a random direction, leaving Mom behind. I’ve done my duty of leading her into the event. Now I’m stuck here for a few hours. I walk into the back ballroom and find just as many people here as there are out front. “Why Ash Williams. Pleasure seeing you again.”

The voice causes me to shudder involuntarily, but I put on a smile as I turn to face the man. “Nice to see you as well, Mr. Belleville.”

I hold my hand out for the portly man, who takes it in a weak grip. Christ, feels like I’m holding a cold bag of ground beef. Mr. and Mrs. Belleville have been family ‘friends’ for as long as I can remember. And by friends, I mean Mom and Mrs. Belleville love going shopping together while Dad and Mr. Belleville can’t stand to be around each other.

Mr. Belleville is a short man and he’s always made me a little uneasy to be around. Always has a strange look in his eye and made me feel like he was hiding something. “Football going well, my boy?” he asks.

“Yes, sir. I’m hoping to win the Heisman this year. There’s a lot of competition this year though. So it will be tough.”

“Well based on all the training your old man has put you through I would be surprised if it weren’t you. You’re a hell of a player, kid. A lot of us here are already putting in bets for you to win it. I really hope you don’t let us down.”

Nice of you to say, you douche. Mr. Belleville turns his head and his face lights up. “Oh, if you’ll excuse me. There’s someone I must speak to.”

He heads off in the direction of a young woman who looks to be no older than 17. Fucking creep. I roll my eyes and head off in a random direction. I somehow get upstairs and find noticeably less people up here. Turning into a room, I find a small lounge and see a group of people sitting together.

I recognize them immediately and make my way over. “Hope you all are having as much fun as I am,” I say as I approach.

The small group notices me and gives me welcomes. I take a seat next to Alexandra, who hands me a flask. “Drink up, buttercup,” she says. “It’s going to be a long night.”

I take a small swig of the burning liquid and hand it back to her. “Shit burns,” I say.

“My dad’s good whiskey,” Rob tells me. “I doubt he’ll notice some of it is missing.”

“You all got dragged here too?”

“Unfortunately,” Alexandra says. “I would much rather be at home in my underwear with junk food and my laptop. But instead, I’m in a dress that costs more than someone’s monthly wage that is constricting my breathing surrounded by a bunch of creepy old men giving me looks.”

“I swear to God if some woman tries to grab my butt one more time I’m going to punch a wall,” Derek says, taking the flask for himself. “Hell, I’m only here because my old man wanted to brag to his friends that I got into Harvard Medical for next year. I’m just glad I managed to sneak away.”

“I’m nothing but arm candy here,” I say, leaning back into the couch. “And I shouldn’t even be here right now. I have class tomorrow morning and football practice in the afternoon. Not to mention I’m fucking exhausted from training last night.”

The group nods in understanding. “Another of your dad’s Hell Night’s?” Daphne asks.

“Training until nearly four in the morning then up at nine for even more training. Then I had to go to a fitting for this stupid suit that I’ll probably wear once in my life and my mom will have it burned because, apparently, I can’t wear the same outfit twice in public. And I have flight back to North Carolina at two in the morning.”

“Shit, man,” Rob says. “My parents don’t give a shit about what I do as long as I keep my grades up at school. But your dad practically runs your life.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“Have you ever thought about saying no?” Alexandra asks.

“I did once when I was 16. My dad went ballistic, took away nearly every right I had, and doubled my training regiment. I haven’t said no since.”

Derek sadly shakes his head. “I hear all these horror stories from you guys and I keep reminding myself how lucky I am to have perfectly normal parents.”

“Tell me about it,” I say. “Hell, I lost contact with a friend thanks to my dad. But I thankfully managed to find him again, so at least there’s that.”

“Geez, your dad is a piece of work,” Alexandra says. “But it’s good you found your friend again. Have we ever met him before?”

I shake my head. “His name is Declan. His family…isn’t like the rest of ours.”

Everyone glances at one another. “Like…not as well off?” Daphne asks.

“Very much. They live in Rockburg.”

All four of them wince as a whole. “Ouch. Like…bottom of the barrel,” Rob says. “Not that I’m trying to be mean or anything like that. It’s just…”

“Yeah, I understand,” I say. “I’ve seen it for myself. But he and his family do okay for themselves. They may not have much, but they make it work. And they’re actually a family. Much more than most of ours.”

They all nod. “Anything to show of this friend of yours?” Derek asks.

I pull out my phone and show the selfie Declan took with his friends from his dance school. “Oh, he’s cute,” Daphne says. “Very fit from the looks of it.”

“He’s a dancer. And a damn good one.” I put my phone away. “And sorry, ladies. But he doesn’t swing that way.”

“Gay?” Alexandra asks.

I nod. “Dammit,” Daphne says, falling into her chair. “Oh well. I’ll look for another boy to capture my heart.”

“I’m always here,” Derek says, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Hmmmm, I think I’ll keep looking.”

We all chuckle while Derek rolls his eyes and takes another sip from the flash. A distant squeal grabs my attention and I immediately freeze. “Hide me!” I whisper to them.

I quickly duck behind one of the couches while they all form a protective wall in front of it. “Ash! Where are you?” I hear Mom call out.

The sound of a pair of high heels walks into the room and I feel myself tense up. “Oh! You all know Ash!” She walks over and I see her feet through the opening underneath the couch. “Have you seen him? I’ve been trying to find him for a little while.”

Jesus, she’s going fast tonight. It’s barely been an hour since we got here and I can already hear her slurring. “No, ma’am,” Rob says. “We haven’t seen him all night. We’ve been in here the whole time.”

“Are you sure? I want to pose for a few more pictures and I need him to hold my purse!”

So I’m a fucking coat rack for her? “Oh, maybe I did see him earlier,” Alexandra says. I think he may have been heading to where the food is. I heard there was a chocolate fountain.”

“Ugh, that boy of mine has no self control. He should know that sweets cause you to break out! I will not have a blemish on that face! How will that make me look?”

She turns and storms off, calling my name as she leaves. I slowly stand up and dust myself off. “I owe you all for that,” I say, taking a seat once again.

“Sounded like she hit the champagne a little hard,” Daphne says.

“She usually does. Only four more hours of this hell before I need to go.”

There’s another distant squeal followed by what sounds like a plate falling to the floor. I sigh to myself and hold my hand out. “Hand me the flask.”

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“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.”

I rattle off numbers as I clap my hands, watching the small group of dancers in front of me going through the motions I arranged for them. With a few more claps, they come to the end of the routine. “You’re all getting better,” I say. “I think by this time next week, you’ll have it down and be ready for the competition.

“Be sure to get some water and stretch out and we’ll move on to your individual routines.”

They all thank me and leave the room while I grab my own bottle of water. Teaching may be different from actually dancing, but I enjoy it just as much. It also is nice to see the younger dancers growing and getting better at what they do. “Declan! Yoo hoo!”

I look up to the observation room (the room reserved for parents to watch their children) and see Ms. Buchan up there, waving wildly at me. She gestures for me to come up to her. I head up to the room and see her practically vibrating. “I have great news!” she yells.

“Is it about that girl that got stuck in the fence in Brier Park? It’s the third time and-“

“No, silly! But that girl does need a leash or something. You’ll never believe who called today!”

I take a seat on one of the benches while she continues to bounce. “The psych ward you escaped from?” I joke.

“No! One of my old roommates from college reached out to me and told me that an instructor at the school she teaches at had to leave for the year in order to help take care of some family business. So there’s an opening for the position!”

“And you’re telling me this because…?”

She rolls her eyes dramatically. “The instructor teaches dance! My friend works in the English department and is close friends with the hiring department for the school. I told her that I have a student who has a lot of experience teaching dance and would be interested in the position.”

“So you volunteered me for the job without telling me?”

“I’m telling you now! And I didn’t volunteer you. I simply said you were interested in the position. The school is in North Carolina would provide you with free, private housing on campus and a free meal plan to help with meals. They would also pay you! Granted you would get less than the original instructor, but that would be because of the other stuff.”

I run my finger over my chin, thinking this all through. “Now you don’t need to make a decision quite yet,” she continues. “Just try to think it over and come back to me with your answer in a few days and I’ll let my friend know. Here’s her number.”

She hands me a business card before turning and heading out, leaving me by myself. Teaching? I mean, yeah. I have a lot of fun instructing the younger dancers and I enjoy seeing them get better. But in a professional setting? I have no idea. I need to think about this.

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“Dec! Heads up!”

I don’t react in time as a towel is thrown onto my face. Pulling it away, I find Emmett standing in front of me. “Should I ask why a dirty dish towel landed on my face?”

“Nope. Just wanted to screw with you. Your turn for dishes tonight.” Sighing to myself, I head into the kitchen and start cracking at the dishes. “Something on your mind? You’ve been kind of down since you got home.”

“Nothing important really. Just some dance stuff.”

Emmett takes a seat at the table and turns to look at me. “I have time to spare. What’s up?”

I turn my back to him so I can work on the dishes, but I feel his eyes on me. Emmett is the oldest of my brothers, six years older. He really takes after Dad and worked his ass off to help ease the burden after Mom died. Light brown hair, murky green eyes, a worked out body and pushing six and a half feet, he’s a giant among men. “So…Ms. Buchan talked to me.”

“The owner of your dance company, right?”

“Yeah. She told me about something going on with a friend of her and…um…it’s a job.”

“Like a dance job?”

“Partially. She…kind of told her friend I was interested in the job.”

“Well, that’s good, right? Having a job doing something you enjoy? Should be what you strive to do.”

I set some dishes aside and turn to face him. “It sounds like a good job and I think I want some more information about it.”

“So I’m not sure I get what the problem is. You’re distracted because you got a job?”

“No, I’m distracted because me accepting the job means I won’t be living here with you guys and Dad because I’ll be down in North Carolina.”

Emmett gets very quiet and stares at me, but I can tell he isn’t looking at me. He’s taking my news in and trying to figure out what to do. “The job would provide me with free housing on campus and a meal plan so I can eat from campus dining,” I continue. “All I would pay for are personal expenses, which I won’t have a lot of.

“I’m not sure what kind of school I’ll be teaching at or the kinds of students I’ll be teaching, but I think it could be an interesting experience. A-And I-“

“Dec, you’re rambling.”  Jesus, was I? Emmett smirks at me and stands up, taking a place next to me propped against the counter. “I think this is a decision you should make on your own but are trying to find a reason to get out of making it. Personally, I think you should go for it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. It’ll be tough starting out on your own, but it’s something we all need to do. Colby, Brock, and I, we all stayed on our own for a little while when you were younger and learned how to fend for ourselves.”

“So why is it you live here?”

“It’s close to the shop and we like annoying you and Dad.” I raise an eyebrow and he chuckles. “Okay, we all just really want to help Dad pay for expenses from our pay at the shop. If we took the pay we got from working and spent it on our own places, Dad would have trouble paying us so we could pay rent.”

Makes sense. “If you’re getting free living and food, then go out and try whatever this thing may be,” he continues. “And we’re all just a phone call away and we can drive down when we have free time to visit you. And there’s always a place for you to crash right here if you ever come back.”

I feel myself smiling, knowing how lucky I am to have such an awesome guy for a brother. I wrap my arm around his back and pull him in for a one-armed hug. “Thanks, Em.”

Em is the name I call Emmett when I show him I really am grateful to him. He returns my hug. “Love you too, Dec. Now get to the dishes. They aren’t going to wash themselves.”

He laughs to himself as he leaves the kitchen and I return to the job at hand. His words run through my head as I scrub the plates. I put a plate into the drying rack before I reach into my pocket. What was that woman’s number again?

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The ball flies from the tips of my fingers, heading straight for a sprinting Trent, who manages to grab it effortlessly before being tripped up by Marcus, one of our cornerbacks. “Good one, Williams!” Coach yells from the sidelines. Baise! Switch out with Williams!”

I jog away from the offensive line, knocking heads with Baise as he takes my place, and return to the bench. Peeling off my helmet, beads of sweat dripping from my hair, I flop onto the bench and chug my water bottle. “Slow down, Williams,” Coach says. “Can’t have you puking on me.”

I pull the bottle from my lips, trying to catch my breath. Every inch of my body just wants to die right now. Hell, I landed back in North Carolina less than three hours ago and haven’t gotten a minute of sleep since yesterday. Not to mention I had to play babysitter for my mother last night.

What a fucking shit show that was. Drunk after less than an hour and hammered in no more than two. Keep an eye on that woman is a job in of itself. And by the time I did manage to wrangle her out of there, it was the middle of the night and I had to catch a plane. And no time to sleep either, because I had to rush from the airport straight to practice, lest the old man try to rip me a new one.

I set my bottle of water down on the bench and fall back where I sit. Did the sun get just a little bit brighter? And is the ground supposed to look so…wobbly? As I try to sit back up to get my bearings, the wobbling ground only gets worse. “Williams?” Coach’s voice echoes in my ear.

As I try to look up at him, the rim of my field of vision slowly gets more and more blurry. “Hey, someone get a medic!” he yells, grabbing my shoulders and easing me onto the bench.

What did he say? I didn’t quite hear him. Something cool is pressed against my forehead and, thankfully, the blinding sun goes away. A sudden, hard breeze hits my face, feeling absolutely incredible. “Everyone, give him some room!” I hear a voice yell out.

Give who room? Did something happen? Jesus, why do I feel so heavy? Okay, now why is the sun getting dimmer? “Williams, you better not pass out on me!”

Me? What am I doing? Not even a second later, everything around me goes black. Okay, who just touched my butt? Only I get to touch that. Okay, ow. Something just stabbed my arm. What the hell is going on? “I think he’s coming to.”

I slowly feel my eyes start to open up, only to shut them from a bright light in my face. Slowly opening them again, I find myself lying on a gurney bed with an IV in my arm. Sitting beside the bed is Coach and standing at the foot is the team doctor, Dr. Gasset. “The hell…?” I quietly say.

“You passed out on the field, Mr. Williams,” Dr. Gasset says, jotting a note on her clipboard.

I slowly sit up, mindful of the needle in my arm. “How?”

“Exhaustion,” she says. “That and low blood sugar as well. Put that on top of strenuous exercise and you have a recipe for disaster. When was the last time you slept or ate anything?”

“Um…I ate some hors d’oeuvres at a party late last night, and I got some sleep yesterday. About four hours of sleep total.”

She clicks her tongue, shaking her head and writing on her clipboard again. “That’s very unhealthy, Mr. Williams. Especially for an athlete.”

“Let me guess,” Coach says. “Your parents ran you ragged once again and left you to fend for yourself?”

I sadly nod my head and fall back into the pillow. “I got home Saturday night close to midnight. I had been driving all day. Then my dad had me running drills until four A.M. And then at nine in the morning, it was back to drills. Then that night, I had to babysit my mother while she went to some fundraiser she didn’t care about and got as sloshed as a freshman at a bender.”

Both Coach and Dr. Gasset both stare at me, disbelief in their faces. “That’s…borderline abuse,” Dr. Gasset says. She shakes her head and sets her clipboard down. “Don’t move. I’ll be right back.”

She leaves the room and I notice Coach staring down at the floor. “You should have told me, son.”

“I know, sir. I just…I’m the starting quarterback. How would it have looked if I told you I needed the day off?”

“It would have looked smart to me had you explained why you needed the day off. But now I don’t really have a choice. I’m putting you on the bench this week.” I open my mouth to protest, but he cuts me off with a piercing glare. “Not because you did anything wrong or bad. But have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately? And I mean really looked?”

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone, flipping the camera and holding it out to me. Jesus. I look like ten miles of bad road. Dark circles under my eyes, my skin slightly pale and sweaty, and…is that a zit? Gross. I’ll need to look at that later. “This is for your health, Williams,” Coach says, taking his phone back. “You’re on the bench until after Thursday’s game. Understood?”

Finding no point in trying to fight back, I simply nod. Dr. Gasset returns with a small paper cup and a glass of water. “These are sleeping pills. They’ll knock you out for a few hours, so you can get some rest. I’ve also sent a notice to your academic advisor to let your professors know you won’t be attending classes today.”

I thank her and take the pills and throw them back. “I’m going to have you rest for a while. You’ll be able to leave by the time you wake up. Is there anyone we can call to help you?”

I shake my head. “My roommates have class all day. But check my bag for my phone. There should be…someone there…I think…”

Man, these pills are great. I already feel myself getting sleepy. It’s not even a minute later before I’m out.

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“So this is where you’ll be living,” the young woman showing me around tells me. “While it isn’t the biggest place we have available, it does come fully furnished and the market is just down the street from here.”

I set my modest bag down and take a look around the place. Damn. This is perfect for me. A nice view over one of the campus quads, a long couch, a lounge chair, and a personal kitchen? Seems like heaven. “It all looks great,” I say.

“Fantastic! Well, I’ll let you get situated. If you anything that may need fixing, don’t hesitate to call.”

She leaves and I’m left in the fairly spacious apartment. Throwing myself onto the couch, the realization of me being here has really set in. Duke University. I’m a dance instructor at an actual university. I reach for the laptop the university has so graciously lent me for my work and flip it open.

Connecting to the courses website for the school, I take a look at the class list for the first of my classes two days from now. Okay, not terrible. Actually a pretty decent size. Mostly girls, but a couple of guys as well. That should be interesting.

My phone begins ringing and, thinking it’s a call from dad or my brothers, I quickly pick it up without taking my eyes off the computer. “Hello?”

“Hi, is this Declan?” a woman’s voice asks.

Hm. “Yes. Who is this?”

“My name is Dr. Gasset and I’m the head physician for the Duke University Blue Devils. We found your name and number in Ash Williams’ phone.”

I don’t like that tone of voice. “Is everything okay?”

“Mr. Williams passed out at practice due to a lack of sleep and low blood sugar. He’s currently resting comfortably, but I felt it was best to have someone come and help him return to his home when he finally wakes up.” Oh Jesus. “Are you available to help him with that?”

I’m immediately up and off the couch. “I am. Where can I get him?”

“Wallace Wade Stadium. Go to the front office and tell the security there that you’re there for Dr. Gasset. I’ll let them know you’re coming.”

Hanging up, I grab my map of the campus and quickly look it over. On the other side of campus? Shouldn’t be too hard to get there. Grabbing my things, I set out for the stadium. Well, I guess this could be a worst first day on campus. It could be raining. Oh don’t you even think about it, cloud in the distance. You will not rain on my parade.

As I wander though campus, I feel a sudden tightness in my chest. I’m going to be with Ash again. Well, I’m supposed to help him. But still. This is the guy I’ve been crushing on for the better part of almost four years now. Wouldn’t you be nervous too?

After quite a bit of meandering and asking people for directions, I finally make it to the stadium. I walk up to the front gate and find a security guard standing there. “You here for Dr. Gasset?” he asks.

“Yes, sir.”

He waves me through the gate and leads me down to what appears to be the area where the athletes go during game day. “If you keep going down the hallway and take the first third door on the left, you’ll get to the locker room,” the officer says. “The doctor’s office is in there.”

Thanking him, I follow his directions and walk into the locker room. Walking in, I find nearly everything is covered in Duke blue and whites. From the thin carpet covering the floor, to the blue stained wooden lockers, everything just screams Duke. The place is completely empty, save for the smell of cleaning product and just a hint of sweat.

Taking a quick glance around for any other person, I come up with nothing. So I take liberties into my own hands and check around the locker room. Bathroom stalls, shower room, closet, another closet. Hm. No doctor’s office. Maybe around this corner? Ah. Here we go.

Stepping into the mostly white room with a few accents of Duke blue, I try to find the doctor but don’t see him or her anywhere. I know Brock always told me to stay away from curtains in medical rooms (he always thinks there’s a killer behind one of them), but there really isn’t anywhere else to look.

Going to the curtain, I slowly pull it back and feel my body freeze. Rather than a killer, it’s Ash asleep on the bed. Stripped to the waist, he lies completely prone on the bed, his chest slowly rising and falling with every breath. I try to get back the moisture in my mouth as I take it all in.

Thankfully there’s a chair behind me and I collapse into it. I was not expecting that at all. “Oh, hello. Who let you in here?”

Looking over my shoulder, I see a woman who looks to be in her early forties wearing a lab coat and holding a half eaten bagel. “Hi um…I’m Declan. You called me?”

“Oh that’s right. I’m Dr. Gasset. Sorry I wasn’t in the locker room to greet you. I was toasting this bagel.”

She takes a bite of it, the bagel making a satisfying crunch. “That’s okay,” I say. “I managed to find my way here. How’s he doing?”

Dr. Gasset walks over to the side of the bed with me. “He’s been resting comfortably,” she says. “Hasn’t moved an inch since I gave him some sleeping pills a few hours ago. He should wake up fairly soon.”

She takes another bite of her bagel. “You said he collapsed from low blood sugar and exhaustion,” I say. “Do you know the cause of it?”

“Ash woke up before I gave him the sleeping pills and told us that his father had forced him to train nearly nonstop over the weekend. And when he wasn’t training, he was babysitting his drunkard of a mother at some shindig. He said he got about five hours of sleep the whole weekend.”

Jesus. “Some people really shouldn’t be parents,” I say voicing my thoughts.

“I agree 100% with you. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about it now. But Ash has been benched for the rest of the week so he can recover some more. He’ll be back practicing by this weekend.”

“Thank you very much.”

When I feel she’s about to leave, she instead takes a seat on the edge of the bed that currently holds Ash. “I don’t recognize you. Normally I see the friends of most of the players on a regular basis.”

“I just came to Duke. I’m actually a dance instructor hired by the school for a period of time. But Ash and I have known each other for some time.”

She raises her eyebrows and nods. “Interesting. But it’s nice to know that Ash has a friend who’s willing to help him with such short notice.” She glances at her watch before standing up again. “I have a few forms I need to finish. But you’re more than welcome to stay until Ash wakes up.”

Nodding my thanks, she leaves the room and shuts the curtain behind me. I go back to staring at Ash, taking in how his golden hair falls perfectly over his forehead, his cheekbones strong and prominent, a single day’s scruff beginning to appear on his chin, it’s just all…amazing.

I notice a sudden strain in his face, his eyes forcing shut and his hands clenched into fists. He must be having a bad dream. Instinctively, I reach forward and rest my hand on his, running my thumb over the back of his palm. Slowly, the strain begins to go away and his peaceful slumber returns.

As I’m about to take my hand back, a small voice in the back of my head tells me to keep it there. But what if he wakes up and finds my hand there? Oh sorry. My hand accidently fell on yours and I made the decision to not move it? What a load. But…maybe just a couple more minutes.

I sigh to myself, knowing I won’t get this opportunity again. I just wish what I want could become a reality.

 

RichardAdams

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