I was sporting my standard-issue game-day gear: black leggings, riding boots, and a jersey with Jude’s name and number on the back. I looked like a country bumpkin in comparison to these Rodeo Drive glamazons.
After the initial glances over, no one noticed me as I walked across the room. Well, they noticed me, but they tried to keep the curled noses and what the hell? faces to themselves.
All I wanted to do was watch a football game, cheer Jude on, and forget about my life for a couple hours. I wanted to fade into the crowd.
Fading wasn’t in the cards when you showed up looking like you were headed to a slumber party when everyone else was heading to a Miss January party at the Playboy Mansion. I grabbed a bottle of water from the end of the table that was lined with food and drinks, and beelined to the end chair in the corner.
I made myself forget about the room and everyone in it and focused on the game. I picked out Jude immediately. It was funny how he finally blended in more with the players. In high school, he’d looked like a hybrid giant on the field. In college, he’d still had a few inches and a good twenty pounds on a lot of the players, but now, out there with the best in the nation, he was about par for the course. I almost stood up and started cheering my head off, but caught myself. No one in here was cheering. No one was even watching. Sure, kickoff hadn’t happened yet, but a survey of the stands proved that people were hooting and hollering, because that was just what you did at a football game—from the time you entered the stadium till the time you left it.
I knew we were supposed to have the nicest seats in the house up here, but I was jealous of even the fans in the nosebleed section. I’d have to talk with Jude and see if he could score me some tickets out in the stands. I missed my front-and-center seat, where I could scream his name and pretend that he heard me. I missed seeing his ass in spandex from up close, and I knew I’d miss our post-touchdown kiss even more.
A minute or so before kickoff, the door burst open and a familiar face waltzed in. “What’s up, bitches?” Sybill said, filling the room with her voice and energy. I was able to release the breath I’d been holding for I didn’t know how long. Greeting a few of the girls as she headed to the food table, she stopped when she saw me.
“What the hell are you doing stuffed in the corner, Lucy?” she said, snatching a cola from the table as she crossed the room toward me. Another smile, a real one, blossomed when I checked out her wardrobe: jeans, sneakers, and a jersey. “These bitches put you in a time-out for your fashion offenses?” She winked as she took a seat next to me. “I mean, come on. What are you thinking, showing up to a football game without your Saturday-night streetwalking finest?”
Was that a laugh I just heard? Coming from me?
Couldn’t be. I hadn’t been in a laughing mood all week.
“Yeah. My bad. I think next time I’ll be banished to the stands with the rest of the fashion-impaired.” That sounded like even a bit of wit. Was the Lucy Larson snarkiness making a comeback?
I wanted to get up and dance.
And then I remembered I had to take it easy. Because I was pregnant. Doctor’s orders.
A smile and the snark had never disappeared so quickly.
I swore I could feel my belly growing whenever I remembered there was something inside there.
“Are you excited?” Sybill asked, nudging me as she cracked open her cola.
“Yeah. Excited, nervous, you name it,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s always us who worry our heads off. The guys are cool as cucumbers out there,” she said. “But don’t worry. I watched Jude’s warm-up, and that boy is primed and ready to get us to one and zero tonight.”
“You got to watch him warm up?”
“The kids and me always show up an hour before the game to watch the players get ready.”
“You brought the kids?” I turned in my seat, looking for a handful of munchkins. “Where are they?”
“God willing, they’re still in their seats listening to my mama,” she said. “But they’re most likely about to jump down on the field and ask their dad to sing them ‘We Are the Champions.’” She took another sip of her soda. “Not that that happened last season . . .”
“Wait”—I grabbed her arm—“you sit down in the stands?”
“Front row, baby,” she said proudly.
“Mostly. But it would be so damn funny to see the look on these broads’ faces if I ever dragged my four little twerps up here, I might just give it a go for fun,” she said, glancing at a few of the girls and shaking her head. “This is all a little too Emerald City for me, you know? I’m more a jeans-and-hot-dog kind of girl.”
“Sybill, I know this might seem forward, given that I’ve met you all of a handful of times in my life, but I love you,” I confessed. “Would you mind if I sat with you at future games?”
“I’d love a little company that isn’t my mama or a spawn of mine.”
“Sweet. I’ll talk to Jude about scoring me some tickets with you, because I don’t think I can handle this Barbie brigade for the rest of the season.”
“I’m sure he won’t have a problem getting you a ticket. Deon started me out up here, too.” She laughed, looking lost in a memory. “Lord knows I love that man, but sometimes he’s just too damn overprotective.”
“I know the feeling.”
“Jude said you’ve been real busy this week, being back to school and all. How have you been holding up?”
The waterworks were twisting on. That one question could reduce me to a near blubbering mess was further evidence that I was an emotional, hormonal wreck.
“Not bad,” I said, looking away.
“But not so great either, eh?” Sybill asked.
I’d gone from being happy at seeing her to wishing she’d leave in the span of a couple questions.
“Not so great, either,” I admitted.
“So . . .” She twisted in her seat to face me. Her eyes dropped to my stomach. “How far along are you, sweetie?”
I wasn’t sure if my mouth or my tears dropped first.
“It’s all right, baby,” she said, reaching for my hand.
“How did you know?” I asked, peering around the room. No one was paying us any attention. I doubted they’d pay us any attention if I got nak*d and started doing jumping jacks.
“I’ve been pregnant so many times in my life, Lucy, I can tell when a woman’s pregnant before she can.”
I stared at my stomach. I wasn’t showing. Yet. But I would be soon. The doctor had said I could expect a bump to start popping through in the next month. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret any longer.
“So?” she asked when I stayed quiet.
“I’m almost four months,” I said, feeling lighter just having admitted it to someone.
“And I take it that since Jude wasn’t bragging and going on about this precious little baby earlier, he doesn’t know yet?”
I shook my head. “Does that make me a horrible person?”
“Oh, Lucy, of course it doesn’t, sweetie.” Sybill draped her arm around my shoulders and tucked my head beneath her chin. She couldn’t have been more than ten years older than me, but the gesture was so nurturing, it was clear she’d been a mom for a while. “It makes you a scared person. A worried person. But not a horrible one. Not even close.”
“Then why do I feel like a horrible person?” I said, choking on a sob.
“Do you feel that way because you’re pregnant or because you haven’t told Jude yet?” She continued to hold me close and wouldn’t let me pull away. I stopped trying.
“Both,” I admitted.
“Can I ask why you haven’t told Jude yet?”
“I don’t really know,” I said. “I’m scared to tell him, I guess. I’m scared of what his reaction will be. I’m scared that his feelings might change. I’m scared that he might not be ready to be a dad yet. I’m scared he won’t want some fat college dropout when he’s . . .” I waved down at the field, where kickoff was getting under way. “Everything he is.”
Sybill sighed while I shed a few tears. When we should have been on our feet cheering, we were curled around each other, one trying to hold the other together.
“I know what it’s like to be scared, Lucy. God knows I know,” she said, watching the field with me. “I’m going to tell you a story. It’s no fairy tale, but it has a happy ending. And I’m something of an expert on it, since it’s my story.” She paused and took a sip of her soda. “Deon and I met when we were in college. Lord, I loved that man the moment I saw him, but . . . he didn’t exactly see me. Not at first, anyways,” she said, laughing to herself. “One night we were both at the same party and, thanks to my cousin lending me a teeny little dress and showing me what mascara was, Deon and I wound up dancing. After a few dances, we were kissing. And after what felt like a few hours of kissing, we were losing clothes and looking for an empty bedroom. We had sex that night. It was my first time, and I was kind of horrified the next morning that it had been with some guy I barely knew during a drunken, wild party.”
She was right: This definitely wasn’t sounding like a fairy tale, but I loved it. I loved her story. I loved the way her voice was all soft when she told it.
“I made it my mission to avoid Deon at all costs after I woke up that morning. And it worked. For all of a day.” She laughed. “That boy went on a crusade asking anyone in passing if they knew the girl he’d been with the night before. Of course, very few in his inner circle did, because I was a loser to their elite status. He’d surreptitiously “run into” my cousin at the cafeteria that night, and she gave him my phone number, what dorm I lived in, my birthday. Hell, practically everything but my social security number. So he shows up at my door, flowers in hand, with those huge puppy-dog eyes of his, begging me to let him take me out on a date. A real date.”
I was starting to smile at this point. God, this story was different from, yet the same as, mine and Jude’s.
“So we went out on that first date, and a second and a third. We started spending every free minute we had together. It was something I knew was special, something I knew was meant to last forever. Two months later Deon got drafted. We were ecstatic, and he proposed to me that same day. I was living every girl’s dream, as far as I was concerned, and then I found out I was pregnant.”
Yep. This was very similar to Jude’s and my story. So much so that I almost pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
“I was sure Deon was going to leave me. Why would he want to be strapped to a quirky pregnant girl when he’d just signed a huge NFL contract? I didn’t tell him at first. I didn’t want the fairy tale to end. I didn’t tell him until I started to show. I remember being so scared I almost passed out.” A few more tears leaked out of my eyes. “I told him the night after his first game. I even had a good-bye all ready to go. And you know what he said right after I told him? What the first words out of his mouth were when I told him his nineteen-year-old girlfriend he’d been with for five months was pregnant?” Sybill must have started crying along the way, too, because I felt a tear land on my forehead. “He said, ‘I always wanted a big family. I guess it’s a good thing we got started early.’” She shook her head and laughed. “Then he told me he loved me and we got married a whole month later. And, ten years and four kids later, the rest is history,” she said, sweeping her hand down at the field.