Game For Love(6)

By: Mara Jacobs

He finally made it to the arched entranceway at the back of the room, which Marlee assumed led to the kitchen. She wouldn’t get to see it after all, but that was okay. Her need to leave this house overrode her curiosity. She wanted to get away from these people—the loud, physically overbearing men and the sexually aggressive women. It was like high school with money.

He turned, saw her watching him, and smiled and waved to them, assuring that he had made a clean break. He motioned to them—twirling his long fingers in a circle—to leave and that he’d meet them outside.

Cole, Anna, and Marlee turned and headed to the front door. They hadn’t been inside very long and the coat check girl still had their coats out. She wore a cute little uniform, sort of French maid, and once again Marlee was jarred at the stab of…jealousy?…that the thought of this girl, and those women inside, did to her now that she’d met Declan. Now that she knew that this lovely house was his home, and that all these women were here at his invitation.

Coat check girl, valet parking when they had come in…Marlee had also seen several wait people circulating around the living room with trays of food and drink. The man spared no expense. Of course not. Though the home was much more modest than she would have thought, he was still an NFL star, and thus would be dripping with money, and eager to show it off.

Cole helped both women on with their coats. Anna a sensible parka and Marlee’s long camel hair coat that she wore to the university most days over her suits. Anna had told her to dress warmly, but this was the heaviest coat she owned. She had never been outside for four hours in one sitting in a Boston January. She was a Boston native, though she’d spent several years in California, first at Stanford and then San Diego. But she’d been back in Boston long enough that she should have known better.

“How can you not know who Declan Tate is?” Anna asked Marlee. Cole held the same incredulous expression as Anna handed the valet her parking stub. “We watched him all day. It was Tate Day at the stadium because of it possibly being his last game; how could you not have noticed it? They were giving away Tate bobble heads, for goodness’ sake.”

“So…he’s a football player?” was Marlee’s weak reply.

“Not ‘a’ football player, ‘the’ football player. Sixteen-year pro career, the last five with the Pumas. Two Super Bowl rings, one in which he was the MVP, ten Pro Bowls, four-time league MVP…he’s Declan Tate!” Cole was listing off Declan’s stats, but Marlee had ceased to listen.

He was a professional athlete. Dear God, not again.

The attraction Marlee had felt slid from her like a snake sheds a layer of skin, and she felt just as slimy. A sports star, sure to have a groupie in every city, and a different one every night. She wondered how many nerdy boys he had pushed into lockers during his lifetime.

As she settled into the car, wrapping her arms around herself to try to stay warm, her mind wandered back to her stint as tutor to a football player when she was in high school. The first time in her life she’d had any kind of contact with an elite athlete.

Marlee had tutored Troy Stepovich the fall of their junior year in an attempt to keep Troy eligible for football. When their sessions first began, he flirted outrageously with the then-shy Marlee, taking great delight in making her blush. Toward the end of their sessions, he had toned down his style, if not his intentions. He was sweet and sensitive with her, holding her hand under the table as they studied in the privacy of the coach’s office. She knew Troy could barely read beyond a seventh-grade level, but that didn’t matter to Marlee. Not when Troy would rub her back as she tried to explain the different triangles to him. They never saw each other outside of their sessions—Troy had said he needed to concentrate on football, that with Marlee’s help he could get a scholarship to play Division One football. She didn’t care; she only wanted those sessions with Troy to never end.

But end they did, right after the football season. Elated with the idea that now that football was over they could spend more time together, Marlee waited for Troy at his locker the first Monday morning after the last game. He came toward her and she saw he was holding hands with Nicole Baranski, the head cheerleader. Marlee wasn’t in the loop with the social crowd, didn’t know how long they had been a couple—if indeed they were a couple—and then she noticed Troy’s class ring on Nicole’s hand. Well-worn red yarn wrapped around the band making it fit on her petite fingers.

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