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Forget Me Not
By Crystal B. Bright
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Crystal B. Bright
All rights reserved.
Gideon Wells pressed his phone to his ear in a feeble attempt to drown out the shouts and chants of his teammates in the expansive locker room. The sounds brought him back to the first time he'd run with a football to the goalpost as a kid, trying to balance the big shoulder pads on his feeble frame. Time had changed him and his body, and ramped up his love of the sport.
He couldn't blame the men for their excitement. The Super Bowl only happened once a year for two teams. Gideon's Virginia Beach Wolves had made it. He hadn't stopped smiling since their last game. Every time he'd talked about his upcoming participation in the Super Bowl, his first and, hopefully, not his last time, his skin had felt like he had electric sparks dancing over it. He hadn't been able to think about anything else but this game.
Then the call from his mother had come a week ago with news that had made him feel like he had been doused in ice-cold water. Gideon's thoughts had split between his mother and his career, two aspects of his life that gave him purpose.
At the first ring, he paced the red-carpeted floor ringed in a black-and-gold border in honor of his team's colors. His mother had approved of him going to play for the Wolves, not because the team made Virginia Beach their home and he could still be close to his family, but because they wore her favorite colors. Recalling his mother's almost regal voice forced him to smile.
Gideon took a deep breath on the third ring. The great thing about being a Super Bowl team had to be the way people catered to them. This locker room in Pasadena, California had been repainted with their colors and had their emblem over each wall. The fresh-paint smell still lingered in their air. Between the paint and the new carpet, the place had a new feel even though the stadium itself had been around for decades.
In his white tights, he didn't want to think about the confining feeling constricting his legs and waist. The armbands he wore compressed his limbs from his wrists to the middle of his biceps.
The cleats on his shoes sank into the plush carpeting. He wanted to wait before suiting up with the full shoulder pads. He found it necessary to wear knee pads right now. He tugged on the side of one as he lifted his leg. At that point, he heard a click on the other line.
"Hey, Gid! Getting your mind right?"
Gideon smiled when he heard Gunnar answer the phone, until it hit him why his professional-athlete brother had had to stop his career to go back home. As a champion mixed martial artist, Gunnar understood what it took to get prepared. Gunnar had had an MMA championship fight right when their mother had gotten sick. Gideon had this game, this one life-changing, dream-come-true game.
Standing in an area between the chaotic locker room and the shower area, the quietest area there, he leaned against a nearby wall. "The mind is right. Hyped up to play, you know."
"I know. I get it." Gunnar kept his voice low and even, as though Gideon had planned on leaping from a plane without a parachute and Gunnar had to talk him out of the act.
The shorthand way of talking about their professions worked for Gideon. The same went for his younger brother, Thane, another professional athlete, who also understood the importance of pregame rituals.
"Congrats on your match. You took your opponent out in, what, ten minutes?" Gideon scratched the back of his head as he imagined his older brother's serious countenance cracking.
"Seven, but who's counting." Gunnar laughed.
The sound brought him back home, back to a time when the two of them used to wrestle until one submitted or they got tired, whichever came first. Only one thing would have truly transported him to his childhood home in Virginia Beach. If he could see his composed mother, not in a hospital, but in her beloved flower shop where he used to help her, he would feel better.
"Good luck today. I'm sure you're going to kick ass," Gunnar exclaimed.
Gideon beamed as soon as he heard their mother in the background, the true reason for his call. Her calming voice and soothing nature always centered him. He could never figure out how he and his brothers had gotten so lucky to be adopted by a caring and compassionate woman.
He never saw himself and his African-American mother as being different. He saw himself as being Elizabeth Sommerville's son. Full flesh and blood. She never treated him or his brothers any differently.
"Sorry, Ma," Gunnar said to their mother. "Gid, I'm going to hand you over to Mom. I'll talk to you later. Love you."
"Love you, bro." Gideon looked toward the locker-room area. He spotted one of his wide receivers shrugging his shoulders and pointing to his wrist, pantomiming that Gideon would need to hurry up and get ready.
Gideon nodded and turned his back on his teammate to give his full concentration to his mother.
"Darling, how are you doing?" Elizabeth's words dripped with her trademark grace and elegance.
Gideon couldn't help but smile.
"I'm fine, Mom, except I have this little thing I'm doing later." He laughed.
"Cute." She laughed and then got silent for a moment before she spoke again. "Ah, my baby." She sighed.
"Thane's your baby."
"All of you are my babies. I worry about each and every one of you." Elizabeth sighed, the sound audible through the phone.
Gideon remembered the nights she'd stay up staring out the living room window during Gunnar's rebellious phase. She'd kept vigil by Thane's bed, a particularly sickly child who'd grew out of that as soon as he'd hit puberty and discovered the opposite sex. Gideon had recognized his mother being pulled in different directions and had been determined, even as a snot-nosed kid, to be the least of his mother's worries.
"I'm more concerned about you. How are you doing?" Elizabeth's struggles with her health plagued his thoughts.
"Don't worry about me. I'm doing okay. Gunnar and Eboni are taking great care of me."
Gideon blinked. "Eboni? Eboni Danielson? Really?" He remembered Gunnar had gotten on that Greyhound bus years ago right after he'd graduated high school, leaving Eboni, his high school sweetheart and professed love of his life, behind to pursue his mixed martial arts fighting dream. "Are they —"
"Together ... for now." The lightness that filled his mother's voice became heavy by the end of her statement.
At least Gunnar had someone by his side. After this game, Gideon would be rushing back home to take care of his mother. He'd learned from her to put family first.
"I'm glad he's there for you. Right after the Super Bowl, I'll come home to be with you all when you have your surgery."
"Oh, darling, won't you have press to do and have sponsors to please?"
"Come on. You don't think I'll do any of that with you having heart surgery. Hell —"
Queen Elizabeth, as her friends so dubbed her, cleared her throat.
Gideon stood up straighter. He'd forgotten to keep his locker-room talk segregated to his teammates. "Excuse me. I mean, I'm fighting staying here instead of coming home now."
"Only playing in the Super Bowl has been your dream since I put a football in your tiny hands. Do you remember that?"
Remember it? He still kept that same dirty, deflated, misshapen football in his home. To tease his mother, he said, "I barely remember that thing."
"Again, you are so cute." Queen Elizabeth laughed a little but completed the light expression with a slight cough.
An uncomfortable ripple slithered over his gut and up to his heart, where it constricted it from pumping for a hot second. He couldn't let her feel his worry. He continued smiling to maintain the lightness in his tone.
"Some new magazines came into the salon," she said with a playful lilt to her tone.
Gideon heard the joy in his mother's voice. He ran his hand over his head, knowing she would bring up some aspect of his personal life as only the tabloids could capture. "Really? That's interesting."
"It sure is." Elizabeth cleared her throat.
"Whatever you do, don't say it." Gideon shook his head.
"America's couple." Gideon bristled at the moniker the media had dubbed his brief relationship with actress Hilary Cox. He paced the floor, waiting for his mother's next statement.
"I must admit, you and that little blonde actress are cute together. Matching hair, both with blue eyes and great smiles. Bet you don't mind that I put braces on you when you were younger, huh?"
Gideon laughed, but he recalled those years. Girls hadn't given him a second look. He'd fought wannabe bullies every day on top of that. He hadn't needed Gunnar's help to win his fights back then. Gideon could be accommodating, but couldn't be called a pushover ... well, except when it came to his mother.
"I wish you wouldn't read that trash. They're all full of lies." He moved closer to the shower area to get farther away from the noise.
"It's the only way I can find out about your private life. You talk to me every day but never share anything about the special women in your life. I'm your mother. You should tell me everything."
Gideon imagined that his mother stood in front of him, wagging her finger at him with its impeccable manicure and, of course, the nail painted fire-engine red. "Mom, I have to keep some things from you. I'm not a boy anymore."
Elizabeth made a disapproving noise from her throat. "I know. You and Gunnar are so quick to tell me that." She paused a moment before barreling on with their conversation. "Will you be bringing Hilary home with you? I would love to meet her."
Gideon swallowed before he answered. "We broke up."
His mother gasped. "Oh, sweetie. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't think you would really care. We weren't together that long." Six months equated to a lifelong relationship in celebrity terms. For Gideon, it meant that the woman he'd spent time with wouldn't be the future Mrs. Gideon Wells or the mother of his children.
"What happened?" Elizabeth asked.
"The separation got to her. She would be off doing movies. I had games and training, plus living in Virginia and not California. It didn't work." He turned his back on the group. "Besides, my sucky love life has helped the team. I'm only concentrating on the team and how I play."
"You could have made it work if she was the right one."
Gideon knew a hint of truth existed in his mother's statement. As he thought about it, maybe he hadn't wanted a relationship with Hilary to work. With her, he'd felt more like an accessory, a great piece to have on her arm for red-carpet events. He'd gotten tired of hearing what a striking couple they made. Thinking about that label now had Gideon gritting his teeth.
"Honestly, that's not what I was going to ask you about." Elizabeth lowered her voice.
Gideon shook his head. He could only imagine what else his mother had read about him in those rags. "Spill it."
Elizabeth released a long exhale before she spoke. "Are you hurt?"
The question from his mother froze him to his spot. No way would one of those fashion magazines littering Queen Elizabeth's hair salon mention something like that. Gideon felt sure he kept his pains hidden. On instinct, he tugged on his knee pad again, which caused the joint to twinge. He placed his foot down to the floor and walked around to lessen the ache.
"I'm fine. Never better. Remember, I'm the one you never have to worry about."
Gideon recalled the nights of watching how Elizabeth had paced in their home as she'd waited to see if the police would bring Gunnar home or relay some tragic news to her. Thane had needed constant attention. Gideon hadn't wanted to add to her concern. He wouldn't be breaking that trend today.
Elizabeth cut into his thoughts. "I know. But if you are hurting, you know you can —"
"Don't get yourself worked up over nothing." Gideon took a breath before saying, "I apologize for interrupting you." The pain didn't hurt him enough to forget his manners. He glanced at the digital clock over the door. "And I don't have a lot of time."
"I know you have to go, baby. We're cheering for you from Virginia Beach. I love you." Elizabeth made a kissing sound over the phone.
"Love you, Mom. Be sure to tell Gunnar not to screw it up with Eboni again." One of the brothers had to be lucky in love. Gideon remembered how great Eboni had been with his older brother.
If Queen Elizabeth knew about Thane's penchant for loving and leaving women, she would pull the young player back home by his earlobe like she used to do when they'd misbehaved as children.
Gideon disconnected the call. Before he could resume with his team, he had one more quick call to make. He had to hear from Thane. He could go in this game with a clearer mind if he knew his entire family had his back. He knew he wouldn't hear from Hilary.
After the first ring, Gideon heard a click before he heard a voice.
"Gid! How the hell are you?" Thane's light voice seemed in conflict with the impression Gunnar had given of their brother.
Gunnar had told Gideon that each time he'd tried calling Thane, he hadn't gotten an answer. Gideon didn't know if Gunnar had exaggerated or if Gideon had gotten lucky with scoring a conversation with their youngest brother.
"Wound tight, Thane. But in a good way." Gideon shook out his free arm when he started to feel some tingling in it. He couldn't wait to start this game. It had been twenty-seven years in the making.
"I hear you. Thanks again for the tickets. With spring training coming up, I couldn't go. You understand, right?"
Gideon nodded. "I get it."
Like Gideon had his pro-football training, Thane had to prepare for his whole Major League Baseball season starting soon. Then Gideon heard a strange voice behind Thane. The tone and content of the statement didn't sound like any trainer Gideon had ever encountered.
"Come back over here, baby."
Gideon's shoulders tightened. Had his brother actually pushed him aside so he could lay up with some woman?
"Who's that?" Gideon balled his hand into a fist, stretching the tape across his knuckles.
"I'm not sure of her name yet, but believe me, she has the lungs of a cheerleader." Thane laughed.
Gideon found no amusement in it. Since Thane hadn't gone back home to help Gunnar with their mother, he would have thought his baby brother would have come to California to cheer him on his most important day ever.
"I got off the phone with Mom. She sounds good today." Gideon hoped his message got through to his younger brother.
"Yeah, I talked to her earlier. She told me she's having a Super Bowl party at her house." Thane laughed and then said something that sounded muffled.
Gideon assumed his attentions had been diverted by the stranger in his room.
"Didn't mean to interrupt your special day." Sarcasm dripped from every word Gideon uttered. "I'll talk to you later. Love you, man."
"Yeah, later." Thane disconnected the call.
Even at Thane's age, Gideon didn't remember being that self-centered. He had bigger things to worry about now. If his mother read in some magazine or saw on TV that he may be hurt, it wouldn't take long for his coaches to say something to him. It also meant he had to watch his back out on the field. The opposing team would love to take him out of the game, preferably on a stretcher.
Time. Gideon had to play in this one game. Then he could heal and move on with more training. Today, he would have to be faster against the other team. They'd probably be gunning for his leg to take him out of the sport, not only the game.
As he turned to go back into the main locker room, he ran into Dennis, the receiver who'd tried getting Gideon's attention earlier. Dennis had become like a third brother to Gideon. They had gone to University of North Carolina together. They'd been drafted together. They had even ended up on the same NFL team.
The big man with dreadlocks that went down to his shoulders smiled wide enough to express his happiness and the team's. "Come on, man. You ready?" He held up his hand to Gideon.
Gideon slapped his hand against Dennis's and pulled him in for a half hug. "We got this. Like back in the day as a Tar Heel."
"Were you talking to your mama?" Dennis paced as Gideon strolled to the main locker-room area.
Excerpted from Forget Me Not by Crystal B. Bright. Copyright © 2015 Crystal B. Bright. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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