I sat around most of the weekend watching TV and relaxing, trying to unwind from the hectic pace of school and football. On Monday, I started my training program with Carl, then off to the track to meet Coach Jerry again. I sunk myself headlong into the workouts, once again determined to show up at school ready to play, no excuses.
I guess three or four days passed before I got a phone call from Courtney, even though I come very close to not even answering it.
"Brian, this is Courtney.", she said, in a low, very demure tone.
"Hi Court.", I answered, in a similar tone.
There was a pause of maybe ten seconds, I was wondering if she was going to hang up.
"Look Brian, I don't know what to say. My parents jumped me when I got home last night. They insisted I call you first thing this morning.", she said, "My dad is so pissed at me.
"Court, really it's ok, I'm sorry I showed up unexpected like that. I just wished you would have been honest with me about Darren. I know you were upset with me over spring break, maybe I should have come home. But it's all said and done now, no point in fighting over it.", I replied.
"You're not mad ?", she asked.
"Mad? No, I am not mad, I am hurt, but not mad. The thing that really bothers me the most is that you just didn't tell me. Why tell everyone that I had another girlfriend ?", I asked.
"I dunno, it was all I could think of.", she answered.
"Well, it's over, don't worry about it. Just please be careful, take care of yourself.", I told her.
"Thanks, Brian.", she said, as she hung up the phone.
The next month seemed to fly by, I was so immersed in my workouts to give anything or anyone a second thought. It was getting close to the Fourth of July before I even ventured out of the house for anything more than a workout. I was in town on Saturday morning when I ran into Courtney's dad in the drug store.
"Hi Brian, how have you been ?", he asked.
"I'm good sir, and you ?", I answered.
"Ok, I guess. Been training hard ?", he inquired.
"Yes sir, six days a week.", I replied.
We talked for a few more minutes, then he walked away. Seeing him only reminded me of Courtney, something that I really didn't want to think of. I picked up a few things, then made my way back to my truck. Everywhere you looked signs were advertising the big Fourth of July Bash that would be held out at the lake, tomorrow night. There would be fireworks, food, and music, everyone in town would be there.
Later that night I was watching TV when Ashley popped her head into the room.
"You plan on going to the lake tomorrow night ?", she asked.
"I dunno really. Probably not.", I answered.
"Aw come on, you can be my date. I don't want to go alone.", she whined.
"Alright, I guess so.", I replied.
I really had no desire to go and see everyone, much less I am sure to run into Courtney and Darren, and lord only knew who else. Maybe before now and tomorrow night I could weasel out of it.
I woke up the next morning early, hit the gym, and was back home before nine. Ashley was already up and cleaning the house by the time I got back. I could see she seemed excited about something, I guessed it was tonight. It was going to be hard to get out of it, I could tell. At about three o'clock that afternoon, she asked me about what time I wanted to leave for the lake.
"You really want to go tonight ?", I asked, hoping she would decline.
"Yes, I do. You promised, no way you're getting out of it.", she answered, "Besides, you may meet a girl, who knows."
About five that evening, I knew I had to face the inevitable, so I got up, took a shower, and dressed. Ashley was already in her room, showering and dressing. I was waiting in the family room when she came out. She looked amazing, but then again, she almost always did. But for some reason, tonight, she went way past just amazing. She was wearing a very tight pair of jeans, the legs tucked inside of almost knee-high, suede black boots. She had on a black very tight tank top, her hair pulled back in a black satin ribbon. I am sure, every man at the lake tonight would be eyeing her up.
"I'm going to drive, is that ok with you? That way, I can have a daiquiri or two, if I need you to drive home you can.", she asked.
"Sure, no problem.", I answered.
We locked up, climbed into her SUV, which was new, this would be my first time to ride in it, and headed out to the lake. It was about a twenty-minute ride, we talked mostly about my next year up at school and what my expectations were. By the time we arrived out at the lake, there was a large crowd already assembled, the parking areas were almost full. The police officer directed us to one of the backlots to park in, Ashely pulled in and found one of the last few spots. We got out, I unloaded the folding chairs and locked the car. We walked quite a way before coming to the main area, near the north end of the lake. Tents and a stage had been set up, there were well over a thousand people there already. I followed Ashley as she made her way through the crowd, stopping and chatting with people here and there. She finally made her way to an open area near a large tree, she showed me where to open up and set the chairs. I did as she wanted me to, I sat down on one of the chairs. Ashley was still talking to a few parents and students about school activities, something which seemed so far removed from just a few years ago. I was just sitting there, looking out over the lake, not paying much mind to anyone. I had been there a few minutes when Jasmin's dad walked up next to me.
"Hello Brian, how have you been ?", he said, extending his hand.
"I'm doing well Mr. Thomas, how about you sir ?", I answered.
"Fine, son, just fine. I watched you play a few times this year, you had a great season, I was impressed.", he stated.
"Thank you, sir, we just fell a little short.", I answered.
"Maybe, but you gave a good account of yourself. Keep that kind of effort up and I might be watching you play on Sundays one day," he said.
"I hope so Mr. Thomas.", I replied.
We talked for a few more minutes, he excused himself and walked over to another group of people. Over the next few hours, I talked with Jasmin, Kelly, Devon and a few other people that I had gone to school, with that were either back in town for the summer, or were not going to college and had stayed home. It was getting close to ten o'clock, the fireworks show would be starting shortly. I was once again seated in my chair, as Ashley was her's next to me. I had noticed she was drinking daiquiris most of the day, I could tell although, she was far from drunk, she was feeling quite well. I had also noticed this one guy, who had been hanging around her all night long. I didn't recognize him so I figured he had to be new to town, or perhaps Ashley had been seeing him for a while, I had no idea. Just before the fireworks began, I got up and walked to one of the booths to get a Coke. On the way over I noticed Courtney was with Darren over by the stage, he was surrounded by his "crew', as I called them. These were all guys who had played a little ball in high school but never moved on to college. They were trapped here, trying to relive their glory days, refusing to accept that they had become adults and it was time to grow up. I saw a few of them looking at me as I crossed in front of the stage walking toward the refreshment booths. I just looked away, the last thing I needed was a confrontation with a pack of idiots tonight. I was standing in one of the two lines waiting to be served when I heard them walk up behind me and get into line. They were talking really loud, trying to get my attention, hoping I would react to what they were saying. I ignored them and continued to move forward in line, waiting on my turn. I was finally served, paid the lady, and turned to walk back to Ashley when one of them spoke up.
"Well I'll be dammed, it's the superstar gracing us with his presence tonight.", he said, in a loud voice.
The rest of his buddies, which I counted quickly numbered five, all roared in laughter. I knew who this guy was, we graduated together, but ran in different circles. Most of the group I knew from school, only one was a stranger.
"So Stevens, tell us how it feels to be a big football star.", he chanted.
I stopped briefly and looked in his direction, he immediately took a defensive posture.
"Let it go, buddy. Trust me, it won't get you a thing, other than injured.", I said calmly.
"Ooh, now we are scared.", he said, mocking me.
"Of course you are, that's why you need five guys behind you to talk to me. That's obvious.", I answered.
By now the crowd that gathered around this encounter was growing. They whooped after my last comment, trying to egg him on.
"I don't need anyone to handle you boy.", he shot back, angry with my reply and the crowd's reaction.
"I'm right over there when you're ready.", I said, pointing to where Ashley and I were sitting.
By this time, someone must have gotten one of the police officers who were working the celebration to hustle over. One of them stepped inside of the crowd and made his way over to me quickly.
"Is there a problem here ?", he asked sternly.
"Not with me, check with him.", I said walking away.
I saw the police officer talking to several people in the group after I left, I guess he was trying to get a feel for what was going on. By now the fireworks had started, most of the crowd was surrounding the lake watching the show. It lasted about forty-five minutes, it was close to eleven o'clock when everyone started picking up their things. I grabbed both chairs, Ashley and I headed back to her car. I loaded the chairs into the back of her SUV, then closed the window.
"You want me to drive Ashley ?", I asked.
She thought for a second, then reached into her pocket, tossing me the keys. We got in the vehicle, I backed out and waited in line to pull out of the loot. It took close to ten minutes before we were actually back on the road and headed home. I could tell that Ashley had enjoyed herself, she was all smiling.
"Who was that guy that you were talking to most of the night ?", I asked.
"Oh, that's Bill. He works at the computer store in town. I met him a few months ago.", she answered.
"Well I think Bill likes you quite a bit, Ashley.", I laughed.
"Bill is engaged to be married, silly.", she chuckled back.
"Well you coulda fooled me.", I shot back.
She turned to me with a devilish grin, reached across and put her hand on my thigh, and gently squeezed it.
"Hmmmmm, sounds like somebody's jealous to me.", she laughed.
I had no reply for that remark. I just grinned foolishly and turned my eyes back to the road. Was she right? Was I actually jealous he was talking to her? Did I really have those kinds of feelings for Ashley? As quickly as those thoughts raced through my head, I was snapped back to the reality that Ashley's hand was still on my leg. A few moments later she pulled it back, but I was tingling from head to toe by then. As I turned on the main highway through town, we would be home in just a few minutes.
"How about we get a cup of coffee before going home ?", Ashley asked.
"I guess so.", I answered.
We were only a block or so from the diner, so we arrived quickly. It was almost empty, everyone was still out at the lake or heading home. We walked and found a booth near the middle of the room, sliding in quickly. Ashley was seated across from me, she seemed like a schoolgirl out on a date. She was all smiles, her face glowing, a sparkle in her eyes. We ordered two cups of coffee, which arrived quickly. I had just put crème and sugar in mine when she spoke up.
"I had a nice time tonight, thank Brian.", she said softly.
"You're welcome.", I answered.
"So did it really bother you watching me talk to Bill ?", she laughed.
"Oh Ashley, stop. I was just asking.", I said, annoyed.
"Maybe I was trying to make you jealous.", she said, as she laughed a bit louder than normal.
"And maybe, Ashley had one too many daquiri's tonight, as well.", I answered back, trying to end this conversation.
"Hmmmmmmm maybe Ashley did, but is that a bad thing ?", she inquired.
"Yes, that's a bad thing, now drink your coffee.", I replied.
She continued her relentless teasing of me for close to forty minutes as we were on our third cup of coffee. As we were finishing up, I noticed I could feel the toe of her boot, rubbing up and down gently on my ankle. As odd as it should have felt, it didn't, I was on fire from my head to my toe. I just had no idea if Ashley was serious about her intentions, or as was probably the case, just had a bit too much to drink. I got up and went and paid for the coffee, she got up and followed me out. I opened her door and she slid into the SUV's bucket seat easily, I closed the door behind her. As I walked around to the driver's door, I was trying desperately to sort this situation out. Was I really contemplating a sexual relationship with my father's widow? Or was she even really seriously pursuing me? I opened the driver's door and climbed in, starting the engine. As I buckled my seat belt, there was no doubt she was leaning my way in the seat. I pulled out of the parking lot and headed home, I decided to keep quiet for the rest of the drive.
We pulled up in the driveway, it was almost one o'clock in the morning. Ashley grabbed the keys from the igntion, hopped out quickly and ran to the door. I locked the car and slowly followed her through the kitchen door. I locked the door behind me, turned off the outside light. For the first time, since I had known Ashley, I actually felt uncomfortable around her. I'm not sure if I was scared she would possibly be interested in me, or was I afraid of my own feelings? Quickly I decided to defuse the situation and head for my room. I was halfway down the hallway when Ashley called out from the family room.
"Brian, come see for a minute, please.", she said, in a loud voice.
I turned and walked back down the hall to the family room. Ashley was sitting on the sofa, she had removed her boots, tossing them aside. She had one arm across the back of the sofa, her legs curled up in front of her.
"Come sit down here for a second.", she said, patting the sofa, next to where she was sitting.
"What for ?", I asked.
"Please Brian, just for a second.", she pleaded.
I walked around the back of the sofa, stepped in front of her, and sdat down beside her on the sofa. I was six foot six inches tall, weighed about two hundred seventy five pounds, played defensive end against some of the biggest players in the country and I was scared to death. This tall slender, beautiful woman next to me, scared me like no opponent I had ever faced. I had no idea what to say or do.
"Brian, can we just have an honest conversation for a minute ?", she asked.
"I guess so.", was about all I could muster.
"I really need to know if you were jealous watching me talk to Bill tonight. Not because I find it humorous, far from it. I know what I am asking is crazy, I just don't know what else to do but be up front about it. Do you have feelings for me, that you think, maybe you shouldn't have ?", she asked softly.
"Oh God Ash, you gotta be kidding me.", I blurted out, my hand rubbing my head.
"No, I am not kidding you. We need to sort this out now.", she demanded.