“Love you, too, Ma, but we gotta go!” I tell my mom as I corral my brothers out the door. It’s not until I’m pulling out of the driveway that I take a breath. “I forgot how suffocating they can be at times.”
Taylor laughs from where he’s smashed in the back seat of the truck. His long legs are high and tight against his chest. I should get a crew cab but this truck has done a great job over the years.
“It’s only been a week,” he reminds me. “Two more to go.”
I groan at the thought. I love coming home and I love my parents, but it can be so dang exhausting. There’s a pressure that comes with being the first born, an expectation, a constant reminder that you need to set an example. It’s not something you escape from when you turn eighteen. It follows you forever, apparently.
We head back to the cabin and spend the night playing board games while ESPN plays in the background. It’s what I consider a good day off. Morning with the parents and the rest of the day with my brothers. Tomorrow we’re back to the grind. Six days on, one day off. People think the spring is nothing but a vacation, but to win, there is no off season. Something I’ve lived by until I met Loren.
When I win the fifteenth consecutive game of Stratego, they give up. Derek sweeps all the pieces into the box before we can set up another game. “I know it’s not a complicated game, but damn, how’d you get so good?”
“It’s Loren’s favorite game. We played it a lot in the beginning, when we weren’t having sex.”
Taylor makes a face and scoots away from the table like it zapped him. “Are you saying that this is your foreplay game? Nasty.”
I laugh. “This is a fresh copy, I brought it just in case.”
“In case what? Oh God,” he plugs his ears. “I don’t think I want to know!”
I laugh at his immaturity. “I bought it in case he felt like decompressing. I didn’t know how he’d react when we got here.”
“Aren’t you sooo romantic. What else did you have planned as a contingency?”
“Nothing crazy. Some of his favorite foods. Ideas for work.”
“Ideas for work?”
“Yeah, in case he needed to feel in control.”
Derek tilts his head. “Why would you need that kind of contingency?”
There’s no way to explain everything without breaking Loren’s trust. I don’t think he would appreciate me telling his secrets, even if it is just my brothers. “People that don’t come from amazing families like ours. They don’t always feel comfortable around said amazing families.”
Realizing what I’m insinuating, Taylor runs his fingers through his hair and frowns. “I wish we would’ve known. We could’ve done more.”
“You guys did more than you’ll ever know. And everything you did came from your heart. He saw that. I think you were the highlight of his week.”
“I felt like we were annoying.”
“You totally were. I couldn’t stand either of you–“
“Shut up,” Derek says, laughing. “You were the annoying one. Always attached to Loren like glue. It was really unbecoming.”
“And how do you think you act when Danielle is here? You don’t exactly play it cool.”
Taylor gestures for us to calm down. “Not to take sides, but Jay, you’re way more whipped than Derek could ever be, and Derek is already pretty fucking whipped.”
I finish putting the game away, then stretch out on the couch. “Say what you will, but if you had someone like Loren, you wouldn’t have a problem being whipped. In fact, you guys were pretty whipped around him last week. So, I don’t think you have room to talk.”
“We weren’t whipped, we were starstruck,” Taylor huffs like I’m the idiot. “It’s not every day Loe Patrick shows up.”
“Why do people make it seem like being whipped is a bad thing?” Derek asks. “So what if I enjoy doing things for Danielle? How does that make me less of a man than the next guy?”
Taylor thinks about it for a moment, then gives a thoughtful nod. “Bro’s got a point.”
He does, he really does. Meeting Loren is the best thing that ever happened to me. Doing things for him makes me feel like more of a man than anything else I’ve ever experienced. For the first time in my life, things are shifting. I’m seeing a bigger plan unfold. “I’m thinking about retiring.”
Derek and Taylor freeze. Taylor narrows his eyes. “After your next extension?”
I shake my head.
Like conjoined twins, Derek and Taylor move to the end of the sofa and stare at me carefully.”You’re not extending?!”
“I don’t know yet. A lot can happen in one year, but I’m leaning toward…no.”
“No? You’re leaning towards no?” Derek chokes on his own spit. He sits back and takes a deep breath as he processes the news.
Our lives have revolved around football since before we could walk. I can only imagine their shock that I might not be playing much longer. I’m playing just as good as I was during year three and four. On paper, there’s no reason to walk away. I could easily bring home some serious dough if I stay.
“You’d kaçak iddaa give it up for Loe?” Taylor asks. “I love Niki but I’m not about to stop playing.”
“I mentioned to him that I was thinking about letting my contract expire, but I don’t think he understood what that meant. He definitely didn’t ask me,” I tell them. There’s a big difference between feeling pressured into something and doing it voluntarily. “I guess I’m at a point where I don’t enjoy the game as much as I used to. Every time I’m boarding the plane or doing interviews, I’m thinking about Loren. When I’m practicing or when I’m in the middle of a game, I’m thinking about Loren. Things that didn’t matter, like injury, stress me out now. I guess…I’m not giving it up for Loren, but I’d be giving it up because of him.”
After a few minutes of digesting, Taylor smiles. He looks at me and I can almost feel the tease manifesting. “I can’t blame you. He’s a hot piece of tail.”
I smirk back. “I know.”
“Okay, but real talk,” Derek says. “I know you’re Jay Petermeyer and the entire world thinks you’re this perfect blonde American sweetheart, but there’s no way you fucking landed Loe Patrick.”
“Shit,” I laugh. “Landing Loren was easy. Like taking candy from a baby.”
They both study me. Then Taylor’s lip curls and he shakes his head. “You’re lying.”
“Absolutely I am,” I say, laughing as I recall the shit show that was getting Loren to notice me. “There was no easy landing when it came to Loren. It was a crash landing, in the Amazon, at night, with a jungle full of hungry predators, while shoeless.”
“And you want to give up your career for that?”
“In a heartbeat.”
Ray put us through the wringer. Every muscle in my leg tenses as I climb the three steps to the front door. There’s a pile of boxes stacked on the deck. “Can you grab those?” I ask Taylor. As the youngest of us, he bounces back the quickest.
After snooping, he tosses one box to me, the other to Derek, and keeps one for himself. “Hey, one of these is for me!”
My brothers barely make it inside before they open their boxes, tearing them open like savage beasts. They’re already digging around inside their boxes before I sit down.
“Loe sent us goodies!”
I slowly cut the box with a knife. Now that I know it’s from Loren, I can’t wait to see what he sent. I haven’t talked to him a ton as of late. With the time change and the difference in our schedules, it’s been quick messages and a couple of hey, how are you phone calls.
The box is mostly clothes. Prototypes for his next drop, which send my brothers into an absolute frenzy. Turns out they keep missing his drops and can never get their hands on his merchandise. To get the latest and greatest before anyone else is like a Christmas miracle, or more like my brothers getting a turn with the Lamborghini.
It’s funny, brands send them free stuff, yet Loren’s goody box is the cake to their day.
“What did you get?” Derek asks after he finishes scoping out his stuff
I got clothes, too. He also sent a few items for the cabin; toothbrush cup and a toilet paper holder.
I don’t know about re-decorating the entire cabin, but this is a start.
Let me know what you guys think of the new line. Send me pics so I can see how they fit.
Train harder. I bet I can bench more than you.
“With that grin I’m guessing there’s a nudie in that card.”
I ignore my good-for-nothing brother and carry the toothbrush cup and toilet paper holder to the bathroom.
Each day a new package arrives; for me, not my brothers, much to their chagrin. Each box is something for the cabin. They just keep coming.
After training, we had dinner with the parents and now we’re back at the cabin. I have one week left in Wisconsin before heading home.
Taylor slides into the dining chair next to mine and rests his chin on his fist. “You just can’t wait to see what Loren sent you.”
“You just can’t wait to be jealous because you didn’t get shit.”
“Hey,” Taylor complains. “He’s sent me a few boxes. There could be something for me today.”
There could be, but there isn’t. Just a package for me. Three new blankets along with detailed directions on what they’re replacing.
“Dude, I want those,” Derek says, calling dibs on the cast-off blankets. He lifts his favorite pine tree cabin blanket and smiles. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Taylor leans his hip against the table and helps me rip the tags off the new stuff. “You’re really gonna let him change this whole place?”
“I did ask him to, so yeah.”
“I just mean, you haven’t even looked twice at any of the stuff he sends. You just switch it.”
“Yep. He could decorate this place like Barbie’s dream house and I wouldn’t say a word.”
“You really fuckin’ love him.”
“Never said I didn’t.”
“You’re gonna marry him.”
My heart clenches at the sensitive subject. kaçak bahis Would I marry him? In a heartbeat. Would he marry me? Not likely. It’s nothing against me personally. It’s all him and the burnt pieces of his past. I get it, and I would never press it, even though deep down, I long for it.
“A future doesn’t have to include marriage.”
Taylor rolls his eyes and tosses me the blanket he unpackaged. “Keep telling yourself that.”
I switch everything out per his instructions. It’s been a long two weeks so we call it an early night. As I’m crawling into bed, Loren texts me.
What did you think of my package?
Me: Loved them. You have great taste. Thank you
Three dots appear and disappear a few times. Finally, he says, did you get everything out of the box?
I flip the blankets off and jog out of the room; grabbing the door jamb as I slide around the corner, flinging myself into the garage. I beeline it to the other side, where the box from earlier was carelessly cast aside. Sure enough, at the bottom of the box, under the packaging, is a manilla envelope. I peek inside. My jaw drops. I press the envelope to my chest as I run back to my room.
Me: You sent me nudes!
Loren: They’re not nudes you idiot lol
Me: Might as well be!
They’re sexy pictures. Professionally taken. He’s not naked, but he’s not fully clothed, either. He’s all greased up, showing off his muscles.
Loren: I’m wearing underwear.
He’s not wearing underwear, he’s wearing a jock. I can only see his backside and it’s not covering much.
Me: You’re killing me here…
Loren: More where they came from…
Me: Do I have to wait?
Loren: We’ll see…
I don’t have to wait. There’s a picture waiting in the next box. And the one after that.
Instead of texting, I call him. It’s late for me but it’s still early for Loren. When he picks up, I can hear the chattering of people in the background. Mr. Popular, always surrounded by people.
“Hey!” Loren sounds excited but also like he’s trying to hide, sneaking away to a quiet corner. “What’s up?”
“I’m coming home early.”
“What? You have four days left.”
“You keep sending me all these sexy pictures. It’s getting really hard to stay away.”
“Good? Is this a game to you?”
“A game I’m winning.”
I squeeze my crotch.”You’re so frustrating.”
“And yet you love me.”
I slide my hand under my boxers. “Can I come early? Please?”
“Nope. You stay the course. It will be worth it.”
“You don’t even miss me,” I pout.
“Believe what you will. Anyway, I have a house full of people. Can I call you tomorrow?”
“Okay, cool. Talk to you then.”
When he doesn’t say anything else, I roll my eyes. “I love you, too.”
A soft chuckle rolls through the line. “I love you.”
“Oh hey!” I say before he hangs up. “Who’s taking all these photos of you? Should I be worried?”
“Goodnight, Jay,” he says, still laughing at me.
“Who is it?!”
The call disconnects. I look at the screen and growl. Two can play at this game.
I knock twice, then open the guest bedroom. It’s dark inside. “You awake?”
A beat passes, then light shuffling of sheets. I can barely see Taylor sit up in bed. “I am now.”
“Get up. I need you to take some pictures of me.”
“What the fuck, Jay? Pictures? What kind of pictures?”
“The sexy kind.”
There’s another beat of silence, more sheets rustling, and then Taylor is standing in front of me with the biggest shit-eating grin ever. “How sexy exactly?”
“Make Loren beg me to come home early sexy.”
I picked Taylor because he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. On a scale of one to stick-up-the-ass, Taylor is a three, I’m a seven, and Derek is king of the sticks. He’s practically a scarecrow.
“What kind of sexy undies do you have?” he asks as he rearranges the living room a bit, moving the lamps to cast the best light possible.
“I don’t. Just regular boxer-briefs.”
Taylor looks at me like I’m an idiot who brought cotton balls to a knife fight. “Show me the pics Loe sent you. I want to see what we’re up against.”
“No way. I’m not showing you those pictures.”
“Why not? I’m your brother. We share everything.”
“Not these pictures…”
But Taylor is the baby of the family. I changed his diapers more than I care to admit, plus, he’s got these big brown eyes that he knows how to use. So, I end up showing him the pictures, at least a couple of them.
“Look at that muscle definition.”
“He’s a hawty.”
I smile at my dumb brother. “I know.”
“He also knows how to be sexy.”
I decide he’s had enough visuals and snatch the photos from him. “Yes, I know.”
Taylor motions for me to strip naked and dictator-like, poses me like a Barbie doll. Well, more like Ken. I feel stupid, but he promises that they’ll turn out.
“Do you send illegal bahis Niki a lot of nudies?”
“A couple. Not many. Too dangerous. Hey, do you want full frontal or keep the gems hidden?”
“I think that’s a good call. Gotta leave a little mystery, you know?” Taylor moves a few more things around, getting ready for another round.
I look down at myself and blush. “There’s not much mystery.”
“There’s always mystery. You just gotta believe.”
He takes a few more pictures before deeming the shoot a success. He assures me most of them turned out, but he needs to finish editing before the big reveal. So, while he does that, I pull out my phone and watch Loren’s stories.
Tonight is chaos. It’s Isaac’s birthday and the house is packed. There’s some drinking but mostly everyone is chilling and dancing. Loren isn’t filming, just sharing and re-sharing photos and videos he’s being tagged in. I kind of like the different point-of-view; seeing him the way everyone else sees him. It only proves how much of a hold he has on everyone. They’re desperate for him.
I watch him until his story runs out, then I go down a rabbit hole that is all the people he’s spending the evening with.
“Dude,” Taylor says, breaking my concentration. “These turned out so good. I should switch professions.” He took close to two hundred photos on his phone but only sends me the top ten. And he’s right, they’re really good.
“Damn, I’m hot.”
“Ehh, you’re alright. You’re no Loe, but he seems to be okay with what you got.”
Sometimes I want to throttle my brother.
Me: You alone?
Loren: Not even a little, you?
Me: I want to send you a picture
Loren: Fuck yeah. Send away
I send it with the invisible ink option, that way it’s hidden unless he swipes on the picture.
Loren: Who are you and what have you done with my uptight boyfriend?
Me: Guess you’ll have to wait 4 more days to find out. Sorry
The next day goes as usual. Wake up early, train, expedite a package to Loren, eat lunch, train some more, visit the parents, bail when they start getting clingy. I hangout with my brothers, enjoying the last few days before we part. I probably won’t see them until we play each other next season. And by hanging out, I mean we’re all strewn about the sectional as we ignore one another for the convenience of our phones.
Derek grunts a few times. It’s something he does when he’s thinking too hard. “Who’s this guy that’s been salivating over Loe for the last few days?”
I laugh. “Which one?” There are lots. Most don’t even mean to, it’s part of Loren’s charm. You can’t help but want to be around him. The salivating comes naturally. My dude is hot as hell. Well dressed, tanned, dark hair, dreamy eyes, muscles for miles…
“I don’t know, this blonde guy.”
I close out of the ESPN app and pull up Loren’s account. He’s been busy the last twenty-four hours. Lots of videos to tap through, but I see who Derek is talking about. Blonde guy, early thirties, not unattractive. I remember seeing him at Isaac’s birthday.
I remember his account. He was one of the rabbit holes I ventured into while Taylor edited my photos. They guy’s account read like a professional portfolio. “I think he’s a photographer or something.”
“He needs to step off a little,” Derek says with an edge of protectiveness. “I’m sure he knows Loe has a boyfriend.”
“Simmer down. It’s not that big of a deal. I’m used to it. The guy might want to get in Loren’s pants but I can promise you, Loren doesn’t want to get in his.”
Derek’s glaring at his phone. “I think it’s disrespectful.”
Taylor looks at me strangely. “You said he’s a photographer?”
“I think so. I remember seeing his account last night. He posted a video of Loren bartending. He was doing the cool bartender bottle spins.”
He stares at me like ‘Hello? Are you clueless? “A photographer that’s hanging out with Loren?”
“Yeah?” Then it clicks. Someone took those nudie pictures of Loren. They were professional quality, not something he took himself. This guy’s been around for a few days, so it’s possible…
“Pull up his account,” Taylor demands. When I do, he compares the styles of the account to those of Loren’s pictures. It’s a match.
As much as I don’t like it, and as much as it makes my gut twist, I remind myself that just because the guy saw Loren naked and wants to get in his pants, doesn’t mean he will. I take a deep, albeit extremely jealous breath. “I trust Loren.”
“I trust him, too, but that guy–” Derek holds up his phone where a video is playing of said photographer flirting with Loren, “–he’s a snake.”
Which is why it’s almost one-am and I’m watching both of their accounts like a hawk. There’s really nothing to see. It’s pretty innocent content on Loren’s end. But the seed has been planted and my blood is beginning to boil.
Loren could put some distance between them. He doesn’t need to let the guy up in his space so much. It’s my space to invade, no one else’s. Finally, and not a moment too soon, the gathering comes to an end and everyone leaves, including the photographer.