Home > Long Shot (Hoops #1)(21)

Long Shot (Hoops #1)(21)
Kennedy Ryan

Iris

“We need to schedule some charitable work for you, Caleb.”

Sylvia, the Stingers’ community outreach coordinator, bites into the beignet I offered her with a cup of coffee.

“These are incredible.” She groans and closes her eyes in what looks like rapture. “Did you make these yourself, Iris?”

“Yeah.” I laugh and wave a finger in front of my mouth. “You have some powder.”

“Oh.” She brushes away the white powder. “Thank you. I didn’t know people actually made these at home.”

“Well, I’m from Louisiana.” I smile, thinking about the time MiMi showed Lo and me how to make them. “It’s one of the few recipes I follow pretty well.”

“I need to leave for tonight’s game in a little bit,” Caleb interjects, a small frown marring his expression. “What are the charitable opportunities?”

Sylvia’s smile dims a little, and so does mine. Caleb has been uncooperative and surly all day. I hoped he would shake the funk for this meeting with Sylvia, but he’s been distracted and abrupt the whole time she’s been here.

“Um, we have a great one at a community center downtown,” Sylvia says. “The heroin epidemic in Baltimore and the surrounding counties is unbelievable. We had twice as many overdoses as murders last year.”

“Oh, my God.” I lean forward and press my elbows to my knees. “That’s awful.”

“And what exactly does this have to do with the Stingers?” Caleb asks, sipping the coffee I poured for him. “Iris, what the hell is this? Since when do I take sugar in my coffee?” He shoves the cup at me. Some of it sloshes over the side, scalding my hand.

I gasp, wiping the wetness away on my jeans and rubbing at the tender spot.

“I’m sorry, babe.” He looks concerned for half a second. “If you could bring me a coffee the way I take it, I’d really appreciate it.”

I glance at Sylvia before walking into the kitchen to get him a fresh cup. Our eyes meet briefly, hers wide with surprise, but she glances down at her purse right away. She’s as shocked as I am by Caleb’s inconsiderate behavior. This has been his MO since our argument about marriage a few weeks ago. Rude. Inconsiderate. Asshole. It seems to worsen by the day. His patience is thinner, and mine is nearly gone. The season is almost over, but I’m not sure we’ll last until then.

“Downtown?” Caleb is asking when I re-enter the living room. “Downtown Baltimore? Wow. I’m pretty sure I’m traveling around then.”

“We haven’t set any dates yet Caleb,” Sylvia says, pinching her lips together and glancing down at the pad in her lap. “The community center is a great chance to interact with some of the local youth. Maybe doing some basic drills with them, maybe working on a beautification project at the center. Things like that.”

“Could I help?” I ask before I think better of it. Sylvia and Caleb both turn surprised looks my way. “I mean, if I can help, I’m willing.”

Caleb frowns, his lips already parted and denial in his eyes. Sylvia steps in before he can voice his displeasure.

“I think that’s a great idea.” Her warm smile eases some of the regret I feel for speaking. “We’ve been trying to get more visibility for players’ wives.”

“Oh, Iris isn’t my wife,” Caleb cuts in, his eyes dropping to the ring MiMi gave me. “We’re not even engaged.”

He and I lock stares, both defiant. He’s determined to get his way, and I’m determined that he won’t.

Sylvia clears her throat.

“But you’re a family,” she says, glancing at me reassuringly. “You have a daughter together. Lots of players’ girlfriends are involved. I think it would be great. If you aren’t too intimidated by downtown Baltimore, Iris.”

“I grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward.” I set Caleb’s coffee down in front of him with a clang, looking at him when I say my next words. “I’m not easily intimidated.”

With his eyes narrowed and his mouth set in a hard line, he sips and nods his grudging approval. “Community center, huh?” He bites into a beignet, stops mid-chew and squints. I’ve seen just that look when he and his agent are assessing if something will be good for his career. That’s what he’s doing now: weighing how me doing this will reflect on him.

I don’t know where that comes from. I’m being petty.

“You’re right. It’ll be good for my image in the community,” he finally says to Sylvia, confirming my suspicion. “For people to see us active and involved. Goodwill for the team. Iris can represent us.”

Permission granted.

Irritation snaps my teeth together. He makes me feel invisible all the time or like he’s running my life by proxy, making decisions on my behalf. Does he even realize this is the kind of thing I might have been organizing if my career were on track? That I could do Sylvia’s job with my eyes closed? In my sleep?

“Then it’s settled.” Sylvia stands and gathers her purse and jacket. “I’ll call you with details, Iris. Thank you both.”

“Sure.” Caleb turns toward the stairs and throws a comment over his shoulder. “I need to leave soon for tonight’s game. See you later, Sylvia.”

“I’m really excited about this opportunity,” I tell her at the door. “I’ve been wanting to do something meaningful for a while now.”

“Then this could be a great fit. Oh, and there is a daycare onsite if you think your daughter would be fine there for an hour or so,” Sylvia says, making her way down the short set of steps to her car parked in the circular drive. “I’ll be in touch.”

Once she’s gone and I’m back in the kitchen, I allow myself the simple pleasure of anticipation. I’m going to do something outside of this house, at least for an hour or so. Something that doesn’t involve mammary glands or diapers or mashed vegetables.

But not today.

The dishes in the sink, mostly bottles and baby spoons and bowls, remind me that at least for today, this house is the scope of my existence.

I start setting the kitchen to some kind of order, cleaning the food processor and mopping up the clumps of Sarai’s breakfast that didn’t make it to her mouth.

Caleb will be heading to the arena soon. I can’t decide if I like things better when he’s on the road or when he’s home. It’s just as lonely in this huge house when he’s here as it is when he’s gone. Surely this isn’t what he wants in a marriage? We’re just co-existing. There’s no real connection, no friendship. We at least used to have that. We started as friends, but even that’s hard to remember now.

“What’s this?”

I look up from washing Sarai’s bottles to see Caleb in the arched kitchen entrance holding a few sheets of paper.

“Where’d you get those?” I know exactly where he got them. I’m just delaying the questions those papers lead to.

“In my office,” he says abruptly. “On the printer. What’s this about, Iris?”

His office. Everything in this house belongs to him. His eyes roam over my breasts and hips and legs, reminding me that I belong to him, too. At least, he likes to think so. We sleep in the same bed, but I’ve managed to avoid having sex again. He hasn’t mentioned getting engaged again either. We’re both tiptoeing around issues that will lead us to crossroads. I’m not ready to go out on my own, not without a job, a home, resources. Something to ensure Sarai and I will be straight.

I know if I leave now, Caleb will provide for Sarai. Legally he has to, but I don’t want to get into all of that right now, not when Caleb is under so much pressure. So we’re in limbo, but I’m researching the next steps to secure our future, mine and my daughter’s. And that’s what he’s holding in his hand.

“It’s just some information about an online certification program for sports industry essentials.” I push a chunk of hair behind my ear before meeting Caleb’s icy blue eyes. “I’m thinking about enrolling.”

“No.” His harshly spoken word freezes me against the sink. “Not happening.”

“Sarai is getting older,” I say carefully, not wanting to fight before Caleb’s game. “I have to think about what I’ll do with the rest of my life.”

“What the hell does that mean?” In a few strides he’s beside me, towering over me. Glowering at me. “The rest of your life? You’ll marry me and raise my children, Iris. Nothing to think about.”

“Children?” Shock hushes my voice. “I’m not having more kids.”

The quiet following my words swells with the fury in his eyes.

“What did you say?” he asks, his voice deathly quiet.

“I mean, not until I get my future on track. Caleb, you know I never planned to get pregnant at this stage of my life. I love Sarai, but I still have the same hopes and dreams I had before she came. I want to resume my life.”

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