I smiled to myself with my eyes still on her. Her dark hair hung down her back in soft waves — you could see that her frame was slight, even in a loose black-and-red flannel. When she turned back to me, her rosy lips were tilted in a smirk, dark eyes twinkling behind her glasses.
Here’s the thing about Cam Emerson: she knows everything.
Okay, maybe not everything, but I’ve listened to her carry on conversations in Japanese, German, and French, and she knows enough Portuguese to do more than ask where to find the bathroom or library. I’ve seen her bake a soufflé from scratch that actually melted in my mouth, and I’ve watched her rebuild a laptop for gaming, lip between her teeth, hunched over the coffee table scattered with screws and hardware. I’ve also heard strings of obscenities leave her mouth when she’s watching football and disagrees with a call, which is often, because Cam is also always right.
She handed me a five-dollar bill across the bar with a look on her face that said I should have known better than to bet her. She was right about that, too.
“So what are you doing tonight?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Didn’t have plans, since I’ve got work in the morning. Kyle just texted me that he’s on his way.” I took a sip of my drink to wait for her reaction, since I knew there would be one.
She narrowed her eyes, the corner of her lip pulling into a little grimace. “Ugh.”
“I know. Maybe he won’t be so bad today.”
“We can hope.”
“He isn’t always a douchebag.”
She hung a hand on her hip. “You always say that, but I have yet to see any other version of Kyle.”
A pang prickled in my chest. “I know, but he hasn’t always been like this. When we played together in Nebraska … I don’t know how to explain it, Cam. When you go through that kind of training together, you walk away from it brothers. Maybe he’s let his fame go to his head a little—”
I gave her a look. “—but he’s a good guy under all of that. When I got hurt, he was the one person who was always there for me, besides my parents. He came every day to the hospital and after, distracting me from the gravity of what happened, distracting me from the knowledge that I’d never play again, never go pro. I was devastated, Cam, and he was there for me.”
“I know,” she said quietly, her eyes soft.
I shook off the emotion. “Anyway, it worked. He helped me through my darkest days. I owe him a lot, including sticking with him through his asshole phase.”
She smiled, her glasses slipping down her tiny nose. “You’re one of the most genuinely good people I’ve ever known. So if you say Kyle is all right, I shouldn’t argue.”
“But you will anyway.”
“Of course I will. Have you met me?” she said with a laugh. “But I’ll try to be nice. For you.”
Her eyes flitted behind me. “Speak of the devil,” she muttered before stepping away to make herself busy somewhere else.
I turned to find Kyle strutting toward me with a hint of a gangster lean, smiling under the flat brim of his hat. If he’d had a ghetto blaster to soundtrack his entrance, it would have been playing Kanye. He was one of the only people who I hung out with anymore. I just hadn’t felt like I belonged, not for a long time, but Kyle was familiar, even if he’d changed in the years since college.
“’Sup, man?” he said in greeting as I stood.
We clapped each other on the back. “Hey, man.”
Kyle looked around as we parted, shaking his head. “The fuck is this place? This is the weirdest bar I’ve ever fucking seen. And you wonder why I’ve never come here before.” He took a seat next to me as he looked around with disdain on his face. “You’ve got to quit hanging out in places like this. It’s gonna fuck up your rep.”
“What rep?” I sat and picked up my beer.
“Exactly.” He smirked as he turned to face me and leaned on the bar. “What’s new, bro? I haven’t see you in weeks.”
“Not too much. I think I’m getting close to a yes for my first player. I’ve got a pretty solid yes from Darryl Johnson, I think at least, plus a few more I’m courting, but Darryl is where I’m putting most of my energy.”
He raised a blond brow. “Running back for Nebraska?”
I nodded and took a sip of my drink. “I’m heading up for homecoming. I just hope he sticks around.”
“Maybe if you’d stop being a noble son of a bitch and buy the kid a car, he’d sign the papers as soon as you put them in front of him.”
I frowned. “You know that’s not how we do things.”
He laughed and put up his hands in surrender. “I know, I know. It’s honorable, and I’m proud of you for hanging on to your integrity, doing it the ‘right’ way and all. I just don’t know how that’s ever going to pay the bills.”
“If a player doesn’t want to sign with me because somebody else bought him a car, I don’t want to represent him.”
“Fair enough.” He looked around again, wrinkling his nose. “It smells like coffee and learning. This place sucks. I just don’t get why you come here when I can get you into any club in New York.”
Cam turned the corner of the horseshoe bar and made her way toward us, and Kyle laughed a little too loud.
“Oh, right. I forgot she works here.”
I shot him a look before glancing back at Cam, who had on a smile that I could only describe as bullshit.