Practice the following day should have been easy. We were coming off our first game, and our first big win. But I had to look Skyler in the eye after he’d kissed me the night before.
And I had to pretend it never happened.
I had to pretend everything was normal. I had to let them all congratulate me and talk about their favorite plays and comment on that huge linebacker on the opposing team. I had to avoid looking at Skyler.
There was no shortage of distractions. All the guys wanted to sit next to me while we watched the recap in the coach’s office. Jayce won the coveted spot on my left and Connor managed to monopolize my right, but I was very aware of Skyler sitting behind me.
He leaned forward after we watched a particularly good play and his breath was close to my ear. “That was a heck of a catch, Gillis.”
I fought the urge to lean back and let him hold me again. Before he sat back, he nudged his head against mine. It was something. I was certain no one else noticed, but it meant something to me. Like he was reaching out to offer just a tiny recognition that last night hadn’t been a fluke. We may not be able to show each other affection in public, but he wanted me to know he was there.
My eyes closed involuntarily, and I inhaled the scent that was uniquely Skyler. We hadn’t started actually practicing yet so none of the guys were sweaty and gross. They all seemed to come to practice freshly showered and wearing cologne. Like they were still hoping I’d notice them.
I noticed them all right. I noticed them in the way I’d notice a mosquito buzzing around my ear while I was trying to sleep. I didn’t want to encourage any of them, yet I still needed all of them in my corner. This football team was like a family to me.
Coach Bryant turned the lights back on and we all sat up straighter. “At the behest of sounding overly-congratulatory, and over-confident, I’ll start by telling you how proud I am of you.”
“Yeah, nice job everybody.” Skyler clapped his hands in a way that showed his leadership and didn’t imply we should all join in.
“Nice job to you too, Skyler,” Coach said, pointing a football at him. “A team is only as good as the quarterback who can hit the targets.”
“And thank you to the defense for stopping the other team.” Skyler deflected the attention.
“Shoot, all Jonnie had to do was smile real pretty and they all just sort stepped aside,” Jayce said.
“Very funny.” I rolled my eyes but had to force to maintain a neutral expression.
“Yeah, she’s my playmaker.” Skyler’s voice lowered and he smirked, not hiding his admiration behind any pretense for one brief second before breaking eye contact and enthusiastically addressing the whole team. “Now let’s go make some plays!”
The guys grunted their approvals with “Yeah!” and “Let’s go!” and we all rose from our chairs and grabbed our pads and helmets.
As everyone shuffled out of the room, I caught Skyler’s gaze and he shrugged and winked at me. The tension had broken, and the rest of practice was fun and light. We could get through this.