Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)(13)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)(13)
Kennedy Ryan

“You can drop the ‘sir’ and call me Deck,” he says, accepting my handshake. “You have a bright future, August. I’ve been watching you for a while now.”

I glance between Lloyd and Decker. I don’t want to play for an expansion team. Even Deck, one of the most brilliant basketball minds of our generation, can’t skip the slow start any expansion team inevitably experiences. It’ll be awhile before the Waves start winning. Spending my most productive years in a brand-spanking-new, dead-end situation is not how I envision my run as a professional basketball player.

If I thought Lloyd was avoiding my eyes before, he’s damn near hiding now. There are several things we haven’t seen eye to eye on already, and if he was expecting some wet-behind-the-ears pup who would blindly do whatever he said, he’s got another thing coming.

“Congrats on the championship.” Deck sips his coffee, one arm still resting lightly around Avery’s waist. “And on the Naismith. That’s quite a senior year you had there.”

“Thank you, sir.” The lift of his eyebrows reminds me he doesn’t want the formality. “I mean, Deck.”

“You took a risk staying all four years,” he says, watching me closely.

Most players with my prospects leave college after their sophomore or junior year. They want to start earning as soon as possible, and the risk of injury before we reach the NBA always hovers over every year we remain in college.

“I wanted my degree. Wanted a thorough education.” I toss the half-full cup of coffee into a nearby trash can. “On and off the court. Coach Mannard’s program was great to shore up my fundamentals.”

“True. And frankly, I wish more players stayed in college longer. The one-and-done era has weakened fundamentals overall.” Decker nods, his mouth quirking in a one-sided grin. “There’s no education like playing against elite players, though. There’s no preparation for that. You just gotta dive in, sink or swim.”

“I plan to swim.” The assured words leap out before I catch them. I don’t want to seem arrogant, but if there’s one thing I have, it’s confidence.

If there’s one thing I don’t have, it’s tolerance for the douchebag who just walked on set with his new agent. I catch myself glaring at Caleb and make a conscious effort to relax my facial muscles.

Caleb may have missed the animosity on my face, but Deck didn’t. He glances over his shoulder in the direction of my glare before turning back to smirk at me. He probably thinks it’s simply juvenile rivalry between us, but it’s become more than that. In only two encounters, Iris made it more.

I deliberately offer Caleb a jaunty salute, my teeth gritting when he gives me that slick crocodile grin, the kind that spreads open all friendly, only to chomp you between its teeth when you least expect it.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Avery says, nodding to a production assistant who’s just handed her a stack of papers. “I need to review a few things with my co-host before the show starts.”

She walks off, stopping beside Caleb and his agent to give them both a smile and a few words before moving on.

I want to put some distance between Caleb and me.

“Where are the restrooms?” I ask, looking from Deck to Lloyd.

Deck gestures to a dimly lit hall a few feet away.

“Over there.” He pats my shoulder in an almost avuncular manner. “I hope we’ll get to chat some more before you leave New York.”

I assure Deck I’d love to have dinner and talk, and that he can set it up through Lloyd. I’m so ready to get away from Caleb’s cocky grin. The bathroom door swings closed behind me, and I draw a deep breath. I’ve known Caleb since middle school, but not once been jealous of him. But knowing he has Iris, I’m jealous. It’s ridiculous, considering I’ve only met the girl twice. I certainly don’t know her well enough to feel this intensely about Caleb kissing her. About him fucking her. About him probably marrying her someday. My hands sting under the hot water while I wash them unnecessarily. I switch the faucet to cold and splash water on my face, a lame attempt to cool down the temper that flares the more I think of a cretin like Caleb with a girl like Iris.

“Fancy meeting you here,” Caleb says from the door.

I meet his eyes in the mirror for a moment before looking away, devoting my attention to turning off the water and drying my hands.

“I didn’t realize you’d be here today,” he continues, though I haven’t said a word in reply. “Maybe they thought I wouldn’t show if I knew you were coming, but they were wrong. I’m really glad we have a few minutes to talk.”

I still don’t dignify anything he says with a response but hold his eyes in the mirror for another few beats.

“My new agent has his ear to the ground.” Caleb pushes away from the door, walking deeper into the bathroom until he stands right in front of me. “Seems your hometown Baltimore Stingers want me.”

Disappointment settles in my chest. It might be a lie, but Lloyd and Decker looked a little too cozy when they came in. I bet they were talking about a possible deal with the Waves. I have so little control over this next phase of my life, and it frustrates the hell out of me, but it’s the nature of the NBA. Rookies don’t get to choose.

“Oh!” Caleb snaps his fingers. “Before I forget, I wanted to show you something.”

He pulls his phone out and scrolls over a few pictures until he finds the one he wants. There’s no chance this is benevolent. I’ve seen his “up to no good” innocent face since we were twelve in our first basketball camp together.

He turns the phone to show me the screen. At first, I don’t know what I’m seeing, but then, as my brain and my eyes connect, I get it.

And what I wouldn’t give to slam his face into the urinal.

An ultrasound.

This isn’t happening. Not to me, and I wish it wasn’t happening to Iris.

“Aren’t you gonna congratulate me?” Caleb stares down at the little cloudy image before sliding his phone back into his pocket. “I’m gonna be a dad. Iris and I are ecstatic.”

I can’t do it. The image of Iris pregnant with this man’s . . . spawn . . . strangles the words in my throat. I just stare at him, nauseous, before nodding and walking to the door with still-not-quite-dry hands.

“I feel like I should apologize,” Caleb says at my back, rushing the words because he probably realizes I’m not pausing to hear him out. “I mean, first the Stingers. Now Iris. I just keep taking the things you want, don’t I?”

I do turn then, meeting his mockery head-on.

“What makes you think I want her?” I ask, cocking one brow for good measure.

“Oh, come on, West.” Caleb laughs, sliding the phone back into his pocket. “How long have we known each other? I’ve never seen you look at a girl the way you looked at my girl.”

“You’re such an asshole.”

“An asshole who has the girl and the team you want.” A bright smile breaks across Caleb’s face before he turns toward the urinal and I hear his zip slide down. To the sound of him whistling and pissing, I stalk out of the bathroom, ready to blast Lloyd for putting me anywhere near Caleb and his damn ultrasound. My teeth ache biting back curses. What I wouldn’t give to punch this dude’s pretty face.

What I wouldn’t give for a few moments with Iris to remind her of our last conversation.

Don’t lose yourself in him.

Don’t forget your dreams.

Don’t follow him.

Most of all . . .

Don’t choose him.

I didn’t have a right to say those things before, and I certainly don’t now that they’re having a baby together. He’ll convince her to marry him. I know it in my bones the way you know two trains racing toward one another will collide. With this baby in the picture, it’s a whole new ball game.

For the first time in my life, I’m riding the bench.

7

Iris

The bleeding hasn’t stopped. It’s been heavy, constant since last night. I didn’t want to, but I called Caleb, who predictably freaked out. I’m freaking out, too. Is it anxiety twisting my stomach into knots, or am I miscarrying? Are my breaths short and quick because of fear, or is it something else? What’s happening to me? To the baby?

My OBGYN told us to meet her at the hospital. I’m nearing the end of my first trimester, when miscarriages are most likely. God forgive me, but there is a small part of me that would be relieved if I miscarried. Like I’d dodged a bullet and could go on with my plans undisturbed.

I know there are women, probably on this very floor, so joyful and grateful to be pregnant. Some of them made sacrifices, lost babies along the way, underwent fertility treatments to have what I don’t want and never asked for, but I can’t argue with that renegade part of me that sees this as a possible escape.

The door to my room swings open slowly, and Lotus pokes her head in.

“Hey, Gumbo.” Her smile belies the concern on her face.

I wave her in, tears leaking from the corners of my eyes. She hurries over and plops onto the bed beside me, her arms encircling me. I bury my face in her shoulder and try to hold all the emotions in—the anxiety, the guilt, the hope, the frustration. They all swirl inside of me, as mixed up as the soup I’m nicknamed for.

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