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I stare out the window like a puppy waiting for his owner. Stupid, I know. Doesn’t change the facts. Doesn’t change the way my heart races when the sand-colored Sprinter van with aftermarket details pulls into the circular driveway. Loren gets out holding two iced coffees and wearing the best smile that seven-am has to offer.
I meet him outside and he hands me a drink. “Good morning.”
It’s a great morning.
We quickly load up in my SUV and drive to the trailhead.
“Is this a leisurely thing or do you want a challenge?” he asks as we get out of the vehicle.
I lock my SUV with the click of the button and we walk to the trailhead, stretching as I go. “You can’t ask if I want a challenge and expect me not to accept said challenge.”
“Okay then…” Loren looks at me with a tricky grin and a glint in his eyes, then he’s off. He darts past the trail’s entrance sign and disappears around the corner.
I’m all too happy to give chase. The trail is canopied by Washington’s famous evergreens. The dirt path is wide and worn from heavy foot traffic. I could easily run beside him, but it’s more fun to push him as we dart up the trail, swing around trees, and jump over the roots.
When we get to the bridge, we slow to a walk. The chill from the river water below feels crisp in the breeze. I push him forward, then tangle my finger in his shirt and yank, forcing him to stumble back. Loren’s back hits my chest, coaxing a flirtatious glare out of him. “Keep walking,” I tease.
He laughs. “Stop slowing me down.”
We continue on. Switching between running and walking, I bump into him, tug on his shirt, whatever I can to slow him down. He smiles and shoves me into a tree.
There are several trail options; this fork or that fork. When given the choice, we opt for the long trail, the hard trail, the challenging trail.
We hike for seven miles before we reach the end. My shirt is drenched and sweat is pooling on my lower back. Loren is bent over with his hands on his knees, breathing hard. Sweat beads cling to his hairline and his face is flushed from exhaustion. He stands up and strips his shirt off in one fluid motion.
I look around to see if anyone is watching. “What are you doing?” I ask.
Loren balls the up shirt in his fist and grins. “It’s hot.”
“Are you blushing?” he asks.
“What? No,” I lie, wiping my face with my shirt. “Like you said, it’s hot.”
He walks past me, shouldering me as he goes. “Mhmm,” he hums disbelievingly.
We start back. I look at the trees, the mountains, the rocks. No matter what I look at, Loren keeps putting himself right in my line-of-sight. To make it worse, every time he catches my eye, he chuckles. I can’t get a break. He’s a dog with a bone. A cute dog with an amazing smile and a ripped body that he clearly wants to show off.
The wide dirt trail is no match for mid-day leisure hikers. They’re everywhere. And they’re watching us. I glance at Loren and he rolls his eyes at the fanfare. We walk faster and faster until we’re jogging. This time he’s chasing me. Right before we make it to the parking lot, he tugs my shirt and slides past me, beating me to the finish.
“You’re not that fast for a professional athlete.”
“How dare you–” I growl. His eyes widen as I charge him. He takes a few steps back but my shoulder connects with his stomach. I sling him over my shoulder and I haul him across the full parking lot.
“What are you doin’?!” he tries to yell but his cries are muffled by my butt.
“What I lack in speed, I make up for in might,” I tell him as I carry him all the way to the truck before setting him on his feet. No easy feat considering his build and how much damn muscle he carries. “Hungry for some lunch?”
He glares at me like I’m unbelievable. I smile despite him trying to level me like an atomic bomb. He can glare all he wants, I see past it. Besides, it’s this look that had me from moment one. Looking at him is like…every good day you can dream of.
I open the back of the SUV to get some more water. Loren leans against the tail lights. His glare fades to disappointment. “I put off work for this hike and I need to get back.”
He watches as I down the twelve-ounce bottle of water in under five seconds. I hold eye contact as I toss the bottle in the rig. “Something I picked up as a professional athlete.”
Loren shakes his head because I’m so damn adorable he can’t help himself. He takes a slow drink, watching me as I move toward him. The closer I get, the less interested he is in his water.
Curious eyes track me.
I trap him against my car–a floss length from touching him. My fingers twitch so I fist them before they do something stupid. “Come to lunch with me,” I ask again.
He drops his head back against the car and bites his lip. He wants to say yes, I can see it. Instead, he shakes his head. “Work.”
This time I shake my head. No. Unacceptable. I lean forward. “Are you always going to be this difficult?”
He swallows. “I’m not difficult. Bolu Escort Just busy.”
“I’m busy, too, but watch me make time.”
“Well, we’re not at that level yet. Right now it’s–” Loren raises his hands eye level, “Work, work,” he lowers his hand a little each time. “Gym, rock-climbing, work, and all the way down here–” Loren lowers his hand as far as it will go, “Jay Petermeyer.”
I grip my chest. “Ouch. But here’s the thing, if you want to admit it or not–” I grab his hand and raise it back up, not to the top of his little list-of-importance but close, “I’m nowhere near the bottom.”
Loren smiles and shrugs his way out from between me and the truck. “I guess we’ll see how that plays out for you,” he answers flippantly.
On the way back to my house, Loren surprises me. “What is your greatest accomplishment in the NFL?” My chest flips. He hasn’t voluntarily asked me a question without prompting. Now there’s no way he can convince me I’m at the bottom of his list-of-importances. No way. He’s practically in love with me, he just doesn’t know it yet.
“There are several,” I answer. “I’ve had some stellar seasons since being drafted and have a list of notable accomplishments. Defensive Rookie of the Year, four-time Defensive Play of the Year, and the highly coveted Walter Payton Player of the Year to name a few. But being drafted as an openly gay player takes the cake. It might always be my biggest achievement.”
“I read about that. It is impressive.”
I raise my brow and turn my head. “You read about me?”
“Don’t flatter yourself. It’s technology, you know? Phone microphones nowadays pick up on what’s being said at any given time and then they store it in their little memory. They probably heard my friends say your name and thought I cared. Now you’re showing up in my google searches.”
“I’m showing up in your Google searches?” I say, trying not to laugh at the most ridiculous lie ever. “So, you google directions to Anchorhead coffee and google shows you Ten Reasons Why Jay Petermeyer Should Be Your Husband? And then technology made you click the article and read it?”
Loren snorts. “Can’t say I came across that exact article but, no, curiosity made me click.”
“Now that you admit you’re stalking me–“
“I’m not stalking you.”
“Mhmm,” I hum, secretly pleased with the turn of events. “What do you think my greatest accomplishment is?”
Loren rolls his eyes. He looks out the window for a moment. “I’m sure this will be terrible for your ego, but there’s a lot to choose from. I’ve never been a big sports fan. In fact, there’s a lot about it that I disagree with. I think the money they make is proportionately unfair, I don’t think athletes use their platforms the way they should, and historically, the long-term damage from injuries is downplayed. I could go on. But you seem to go against the grain. I think that’s one of your biggest accomplishments. You set a great example for queer kids, up and coming athletes, and the industry as a whole.”
I fluff my hair and preen a little at his compliment. “Could you not be so obsessed with me?”
That gets another laugh out of him. He reaches over the console and punches my arm. I punch back. He tries again but I block, the next attempt is more stealth and he whomps me good. I look at him. He’s got a playful look. I smile because he’s cute and I’m quite enjoying the back-and-forth.
“What exactly do you do in the sales and marketing field?” I ask.
“I partner with brands and companies to promote their product.”
“As someone who’s passionate about people with visible platforms using their power for good, do you use your position in marketing to select products that do good? Or will you market any product as long as you get paid?”
“There was a time when I would work with almost any brand that paid me, but I learned quickly that it’s hard to promote a shitty brand. It almost always backfires. Now I’m picky. Extremely picky. I have a team that does a lot of legwork to make sure it’s a solid company, then I personally use the product before agreeing to market them.”
“That’s pretty intense for a marketing company.”
“I market for myself when I market for others. Poor partnerships negatively affect my reputation.”
“What’s one of your favorite brands to work for?”
“I don’t work for any brand, I work with them,” he corrects me. “And I have several that I have worked with for years. They’re typically things I use a lot in real life. Gym equipment, rock-climbing equipment, clothes, technology, food.”
“How long have you been in marketing?”
“A long time, but I didn’t know what I was doing for the first good while. That’s when I was marketing anything and everything for a few bucks. The last ten years have been solid, though.”
“I’d love to see you in action some time. Maybe you could take me to work one of these days.”
“Maybe some time,” he says in a very noncommittal tone.
“You should come watch me practice. I could show off for you.”
“What Bolu Escort Bayan makes you think I’d enjoy that?”
“Because I’m so adorable and you know you want to see me in my practice gear.”
“I don’t even know what practice gear looks like.”
“Only one way to find out…”
Loren shakes his head. He thinks I’m ridiculous, but I think, secretly, he doesn’t hate the idea. He’ll need a little more convincing. Not because he doesn’t want to watch me, but because he does. Loren is keeping his cards close to his chest and that’s fine. I’m not looking for something quick, I’m looking for something serious.
“When do you want to meet again?” I ask.
With a devious and cocky grin, he says, “I’ll call you.”
I’m still hunched over and panting when Marcus jogs back. He’s sweating like a stuffed pig and looks like he’s about to pass out but gestures for us to go again. “I’m gonna fuckin’ beat you Petermeyer. I’m gonna fuckin’ beat you,” he pants.
We get low on the line, one hand in the turf. My off hand is coiled like a snake, ready to strike. The whistle blows and we’re off. We dart between the cones and head to our first bag where I stab. Second bag is a slap rip. Third bag is a slap swim. We keep going; bag after bag like beasts. My heart is beating through my throat as I shoulder the last bag before pivoting and sprinting back to the line. Marcus is hot on my tail but not close enough to be a challenge.
I collapse on the ground.
“How?!” Marcus cries as he flops down beside me.
“Train even when you don’t have to.”
He groans on the ground. Practice has been extra brutal. Punishing even. We’re aiming for some serious wins this season but we’ll end up empty handed if we don’t put forth the effort. There are definitely guys on the team who don’t realize that getting paid the coin we make to play football is a privilege. The wins and the titles don’t come for free.
“Jay. I am training when I don’t have to be!”
I quickly bring my legs to my chest then catapult my body off the ground. I turn around and offer Marcus my hand. “This is mandatory practice, Marcus. Our first preseason game starts next week. If you would’ve come to the mini-camps then the rooks wouldn’t be running circles around you. Now get up and run ’em again.”
Shawn and Garrett join us and we run drills together. When we finally finish, walking feels like a privilege I’ve taken for granted.
“I need a fuckin’ drink,” Garrett says as we leave the practice facility. “Who’s down?”
Marcus and Shawn are game. I’m about to bail when Garrett puts his hand on my shoulder.
“How would you know?”
He holds up his cell, showing me a text that indeed confirms that Loren is there. “Made friends with Isaac.”
It’s been a few weeks since we went hiking. The last thing he said to me before he left was that he’d call me. That hasn’t been the case.
Garrett chuckles. “That’s what I thought.”
We say hi to Randy and order enough food to feed a small army. On the way to our booth, we swing by Loren’s table. They’re all there, chatting and having a good time. Shawn, being the awesome wingman he is, invites the table to join us.
They don’t need to be told twice. They disperse, grabbing their drinks and jackets and heading to the booth before we can change our mind. Loren and I make eye contact and I sidle up beside him. He smiles and watches his friends as they scramble to our table.
“They don’t even care how pathetic they look.”
I don’t care what his friends are doing or how desperate they look. I grip the back of his neck and veer him away from the booth.
“I thought you were going to call me.”
Loren rests his shoulder against the wall. “I will.”
“It’s been weeks.”
“And I’ve been busy.”
I look to the sky for patience. “I don’t doubt that, but you couldn’t carve out time for a phone call?”
“You have my number, too. You can call me any time.”
“You’re the one who said you’d call. So, what? The ball is always in my court? How am I supposed to look cool when I’m always the one chasing you?”
Loren steps closer, making me take a step back. “You’re a professional athlete, don’t you chase for a living?”
“Then you’re just going to back down from a challenge?”
He presses his shoulder to mine as he passes. He leans in and tickles my neck with his breath. “Good.”
The chill running down my spine is the only reason I know I’m not paralyzed. When I finally find my breath, he’s watching me from the table like a predator.
It takes every ounce of energy to keep from wobbling back to the group. Loren does a bang-up job of not watching me from the corner of his eye as I trip over myself on the way back to the table like a love sick fool. He does an even better job not watching me as I sit next to him. What he fails at, much to my satisfaction, is the subtle way his body reacts to me. A fleeting touch Escort Bolu to the small of his back as I ask if he’d like a drink, a casual arm draped across the back of his chair, a thumb grazing his shoulder.
Despite the tension, or maybe because of it, it’s a fun night. We stay later than usual. When we leave, Loren walks with Isaac a few paces in front of me before he turns around and starts walking backwards, looking cool and casual.
His eyes take in my body. “I’ll talk to you soon, Petermeyer.”
Before he can spin away, I grab his shirt and pull him in. The hair around his temples tickles my lips. “I’m playing your game, but don’t confuse my patience with weakness. I will get you, and when I do, you’ll be just as collared as I am.”
Loren licks his lips and his eyes come alive in the moonlight. He opens his mouth to deny the truth with some sassy comeback, I’m sure, but he grins instead. It’s very, what am I going to do with you, Petermeyer? He plucks his shirt from my finger tips and takes a few steps back. “I’ll be at Rock Steady next Wednesday at three.”
“Is that an invitation?”
“It’s a statement. What you do with it is up to you.”
He walks backwards while holding eyes with me until he reaches his van. That damn grin, so cocky but so telling and genuine, it will be the end of me. It’s more than enough to keep me holding on and pressing forward.
There’s a reason the Seahawks defense is called the Legion of Boom. We’re unstoppable. Our fans live up to their role as the twelfth fan. They don’t break the Guinness World Record for noise like they did back in 2013, but it’s close.
I’m still riding the high the next day when I roll up to Rock Steady. It’s a giant warehouse just south of Seattle in a quiet industrial area. Pretty nondescript…until you walk inside and then you’re transported to a new dimension. Rock walls tower over me as I stride across the building. Dozens of different colored walls of varying angles, some parallel to the ground. Each wall is littered with brightly colored holds. There are ropes hanging from the ceiling, waiting to guide someone on their next adventure.
“I was wondering if you were going to show,” Loren yells. He’s clinging to one the walls, half way up a climb that looks incredibly difficult and dangerous. Of course, he’s smiling. He’s also not wearing a harness. I don’t like that.
Loren tosses his body and quickly finds a new grip. “I expected better,” he yells back. My heart damn near leaps out of my chest. The lack of harness is going to kill me, or him. I barely breathe as I watch him descend the wall. Before he reaches the bottom, he jumps from the wall and lands on the mat like a superhero. He’s sweaty and littered with chalk residue.
“Do you ever wear a shirt?” I ask.
“Not when I climb.”
“Yeah, not usually then, either,” he smiles. “Have you climbed before?”
“The occasional rock wall meant for kids. Nothing like this.”
“Well, if you want there’s a wall over there for kids.”
I shake my fist at him. He laughs and motions me to follow him. “I think we’ll start at a V2,” he says as we walk deeper into the building. “I’m sure you could do a V3 but we’ll get you familiar with the technique first.” He holds out his hand for me to stop while he grabs a harness. He helps me in it and then grabs the rope. “This is a belay. It goes through here, like this. I’ll hold the rope and catch you if you fall. Once you reach the top, you can climb back down or jump, which I recommend.”
With the ease of a veteran, Loren has me hooked up and ready to go.
“Which problem are you taking?” he asks as I stand in front of the wall trying to figure out where I want to start.
I look back at him. “Isn’t the point to not have a problem?”
Loren laughs. “See how the holds come in all different colors? If you choose orange, then you should only use orange on your way up.”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t use orange? Is there a color that’s less of a problem?”
He laughs again. “Doesn’t matter what color you pick, you’ll solve the problem as you go.”
“Well,” I look back at the wall. “I guess I’ll do orange.”
The wall is pretty easy and not very tall. I make it up with no issues. I’m a little afraid Loren can’t hold me if I jump, but he proves otherwise. All those muscles come in clutch. He has me do the same wall again, but a different problem. I do blue this time and I fall twice.
When I finish, Loren unclips me and we go to a different wall. “I’m going to climb with you.”
“Who’s going to hold my rope?”
Loren raises his brow…
“Who’s going to hold my rope?” I ask again.
Loren connects me to the new rope but it’s different… He stands in front of me and hands me a glove and the slack end of the rope. “If you need to tighten, pull like this. If you need slack, do this–” He ignores my glare as he explains how I’m going to be my own rope holder person. “When you’re done, hold the rope here with this hand, make sure you have a good grip. Then jump. You won’t go anywhere. You’ll just hang there. When you’re ready, use your other hand and pull the rope like this; the further the rope is from your body, the faster you’ll fall. If you want to slow down, rein it in.”
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