It’s an illusion. A memory that should be faded and not Technicolor. It’s of a woman who doesn’t exist anymore and shouldn’t ever be taking up residence in my conscience like that.
I force myself to text back to Michelle. Can you fly in tomorrow? Having a team party but I’ll clear everyone out early.
I wait with a feeling of anxiety for her response, praying she accepts. Hoping she will show up on my doorstep tomorrow and do whatever fucking sexy mojo she can do to make sure Vale doesn’t cross my mind again like that. My heartbeat is racing in anticipation, and when her reply comes, I’m stunned at how I feel.
Can’t this weekend. But maybe next if I can clear some things.
Relief. Fucking relief that she’s not coming.
What the ever-loving fuck is going on with me? Vale Campbell cannot be impinging on my sex life. She has no right. No business. She should be nothing to me other than a friendly acquaintance.
And yet, I still find myself hoping I get to see her tonight when I get to Dave’s.
I glance at my watch…again.
It’s 10:45 p.m. and Vale still hasn’t shown up. I’ve resolutely refused to ask Dave about her whereabouts, and besides, he fell asleep in his recliner going on two hours ago. That happened not long after we ate some chicken tortilla soup that Vale had made and he had a nonalcoholic beer I brought him, while I sucked back three Molsons.
The football game is almost over and I’ll have no reason to stay when it’s done. This sucks, because I’m a little worried about Vale and the fact she’s working so late. Does she even get to eat dinner?
My heart about lurches out of my chest when I hear a key in the door and I sit up straighter on the couch, prepared to see a probably exhausted Vale walk through the door.
Instead, a radiant woman walks in. A different Vale than I’ve seen in her tidy Cold Fury AT uniform since training camp started. Her hair is long, loose, and curled into soft waves. She’s wearing makeup and her lips are glossed slick. She’s casual in a gray striped cotton skirt that flutters around her knees and a white T-shirt, but she looks utterly feminine and sexy. Her head twists over her shoulder to look at something behind her and she laughs. “That’s so not true. I’ll make you pay for that.”
And then I see a man behind her, and he’s laughing back at her with utter devotion in his eyes. She twists back to face us and her eyes immediately slam into mine. She comes to a dead halt and the guy runs into her back. His hands come to her waist to keep from knocking her over, and I have a sudden rush of hatred toward this guy. I want to rip his hands away and break every finger…at least twice.
Vale’s gaze slides to her dad and her mouth goes soft when she sees he’s sleeping. She looks back to me with a gentle gaze as she whispers, “How long’s he been out?”
“Since the end of the first quarter,” I whisper back, and stand up from the couch.
“I made it to almost halftime,” I hear Dave grumble, and I look down at him. His eyes are open but a little bleary. He leans forward and puts his recliner back in the normal sitting position.
Dave then stands up, gives a cough to clear his throat, and leans past Vale with his arm extended. The dude steps forward and accepts Dave’s handshake.
“Hey, Todd. Good to see you,” Dave says, and I try to analyze his voice. Does he like this guy? Clearly this is someone Vale’s been seeing awhile, and I know without a doubt it’s the guy that called her the other night when I was here. I don’t hear any overt affection for the dude, but he seems happy to see him.
I take a moment to really look at the guy. He’s good looking enough, I suppose. Nothing spectacular, in my opinion. He’s wearing a pink button-down, khaki shorts, and a pair of deck shoes.
“So, hey,” Dave says as he realizes introductions need to be made. My eyes cut to Vale and she’s staring back at me. “Hawke…this is Todd Walters. And Todd…this is—”
“Hawke Therrien,” Todd says with a beaming smile. He pushes past Vale, rounds Dave’s recliner, and advances on me with his hand out. “I’m a big fan. Huge, as a matter of fact.”
His hand grabs mine and he pumps enthusiastically. With a nod over his shoulder at Vale, he says, “Knew you’d been traded here and Vale told me tonight that Dave used to train you in the minor leagues.”
“Junior majors,” I correct him, the moron clearly not knowing a damn thing about me or my career.
“My bad,” he says sheepishly as he pulls his hand away. “Yeah, Vale said you used to be friends way back when.”
“She said that, did she?” I look back to Vale and her eyes are now lowered as she fastidiously studies the carpet. Refusing to look at me and acknowledge the fact that she’s withholding information from her boyfriend.
“Yeah, Vale and I go way back,” I say as I continue to look at her, watching her shoulders tense. A quick glance at Dave and I see him with his face lowered, biting back a smirk. It’s in this moment that I realize Dave isn’t all that fond of Todd and is relishing this interplay.
“Well, as much as I’d like to reminisce about old times, it’s getting late,” Vale says as she steps past her father to stand beside Todd. His arm slips around her waist and he pulls her in close, still beaming that smile at me. Vale looks at me imploringly, her message clear. She doesn’t want her boyfriend to know about me and what we had together. I bet she’s afraid it will scare him off, knowing how quickly she can cut a guy off at the knees.