BODY ODOR AND PAINT THINNER
A bigger group lets us join in on their paintball game.
We’re divided into teams of five. Scarlett and I get on the same one, and we move with the rest of our teammates to one side of the large room, as the other team heads to the other side. Tires and other structures divide us and offer hiding spots. When the game starts, our three teammates take off hustling to find the enemy. Scarlett and I hang back.
“This sounded like a better idea from afar. Is it too late to be a spectator?”
“Afraid so.” I smile at her nervousness. “Probably got a couple of minutes before they find us. What shall we do with the time?”
I let my gaze flick over her body and then back up to those plump lips I can’t stop thinking about.
“How can you possibly be checking me out in this hideous outfit?” She stares down at her clothing. “It smells like body odor and paint thinner.”
She’s right about that. These clothes could use a spin in the washing machine. Even so, she’s sexy as hell in her camouflage overalls and face mask.
“You forget, I know what’s underneath.”
She looks away and adjusts the goggles on her face. “Is that never speaking of it again?”
“Which time are we never speaking of again?” I ask, and she raises her brows with a playful smirk on her lips I want to kiss off.
The sounds of battle in front of us indicate some of the players have found one another.
“Come over after.”
“What?” She laughs lightly. “You have a meeting.”
“I know, but I want to spend more time with you. You can clean up at my place, and then hang out if you want while I go to my meeting. Shouldn’t take long and we can do something later. Watch a movie or…” I trail off because all the other ideas jumping to mind are dirty.
“Clean up? I don’t have a drop of paint on me. I don’t know about you, but I plan to leave this game without being splattered in paint. We’ll just hide out here and—”
I fire the gun at my shoe and then wipe my hand on the yellow paint.
“Oh no,” she says as I reach toward her.
I stalk forward, watching her beautiful eyes widen.
“Leo,” she warns and backs away from me. She’s so worried about me that she doesn’t notice that we’re out in the open. Neither do I until a barrage of pink, blue, and green paint pelts us. A blue blob hits the side of her glasses and streaks down her hair, but her smile doesn’t falter. And neither does mine.
After a brutal loss, we shuck the overalls, and I walk Scarlett out to her car. “I don’t know how to tell you this,” I say as I lean into her, brushing a hand along the curve of her neck. “But you stink.”
She tucks a piece of hair behind her ear as laughter spills from her lips. “Yeah, well, you don’t smell so great either.”
I drop my mouth until it’s an inch from hers. Just a hint of caramel apple vodka lingers on her breath. I gotta say, I prefer it a lot more this way.
“Come back to my place,” I ask again.
“Can’t or don’t want to?”
She doesn’t answer. Instead, she opens her car door. “Thanks for the game, Leo Lohan.”
“Just out of curiosity, what’s with calling me by my full name?” I ask as I watch her slide behind the wheel.
“Do you have a problem with that, Leo Lohan?”
“Sure don’t, Scarlett Miller. Just wondering why?”
“It reminds me who you are.”
The way she says it like this is a terrible idea, doesn’t phase me. I’m in too deep.
I hold her stare. “I’m just me. Awesome paintball player, exceptional date, and vodka tasting assistant.”
“You’re a professional athlete and you play for my dad,” she fires back. “Bye, Leo Lohan.”
I go to the arena for my meeting with coach.
“Come in. Come in,” he calls from behind his desk with a scowl. “Have a seat.”
That glower deepens when I fall into the chair. He rummages through a few papers on the top and then opens and closes every drawer.
“I can’t find my phone. I know I left it in here.” The stack of papers falls to the ground as he continues moving things around.
“I got it,” I offer and squat down to pick up the papers. I stand and set them on a corner of his desk. Finally, he lifts his laptop bag, and the phone appears.
We take our seats again.
“I was supposed to make reservations for tonight and it slipped my mind,” he says as he taps out something on the phone. “Just one second. I need to send an SOS text to my wife and see if she can bail me out. After almost thirty years, I think she’s probably expecting it at this point.”
“No problem.” I pick up a framed photo on his desk. It’s a black and white of him smiling from the bench. He’s younger here, taken some time before he came to The Wildcats, but I recognize the smile. It’s a victory smile—one I hope we get to see frequently this year.
“My daughter took that years ago after the junior’s team I was coaching won the division title,” he says when he notices me looking at the picture.
His daughter. Scarlett.
“It’s a great photo.” I set it back on the desk.
“She’s talented,” he says, staring at it like he’s seeing it again for the first time. “One year for her birthday, she must’ve only been five or six, she asked for a camera. We got her the cheapest digital camera we could find, fully expecting that she’d lose it or break it in the first week.” He shakes his head lost in the memory. “She had it for years. Brought it with her everywhere. I think most of our family photos over the years were taken on that thing. Lasted well into her teen years before it broke. By that time, I would have gladly bought her a nicer, newer one, but she only wanted to use that old cheap one, so then we had to find someone to fix it.”
“Does she still have it?” I’m smiling at the glimpse into a young Scarlett and her stubbornness, not thinking about how asking private details might seem odd.
“Nah. She has this big, fancy thing now with lots of buttons and detachable lenses.” He waves a hand dismissively. I know that camera, but I like the image of her with an old cheap one because it’s another piece to the puzzle that is Scarlett. I’m eager for any details he might toss out, but he changes the subject.
“Any grumbling in the locker room about the line switches for tomorrow night?”
“No, sir. We’re ready.” The first regular season game is tomorrow, and the only chatter is how much we want to win. There are a lot of people who have already discounted us because we’re young and we want to prove them wrong.
“Good. I saw some nice things on the road. Let’s use these next few games to let everyone feel out where they’re comfortable and where they fit best. You’ve been a consistently strong player for us, Leo. I’ve switched your line maybe more than anyone else. It isn’t because I’m trying to figure out where to put you. It’s because you make each group better.”
It hadn’t occurred to me that when he was asking about the guys grumbling, he really wanted to know if I was silently fuming about the lineup for tomorrow. Would I love to be on the first line with Jack and Ash? Hell yes. That’s where I was last season and we read each other so well it was almost easy. But Coach’s been trying me at center with Tyler and Maverick. We’re not quite at that same comfort level as I was with Jack and Ash, but they’re great players, and I have no doubt we’ll work well together.
“All that’s important is we win.”
“That’s what I needed to hear.” He smiles and stands. “Thanks for swinging by. I won’t keep you. I’m sure you have plans of your own tonight. Girlfriend?” He squints like he’s trying to think if he’s ever seen me with a woman.
“Not currently,” I say around a lump in my throat. My palms sweat as I slowly back out of the room. The only woman I’m interested in might earn me a permanent spot on the bench. Or worse.