Her hair is like the fields of barley and wheat we drive past on the way to my Grandpa Ray’s house. It sways in the wind, and carries a scent that makes me think of summer. She doesn’t realize how often she plays with it. I’ll stare at her from across the table when I take her to dinner and watch her toss it over her shoulder or twirl it around her fingers. It’s crazy. She doesn’t even think about it, and it’s constantly got me so full engrossed that I once missed a grand slam the Mariner’s hit to win the game in the bottom of the 9th inning.
It’s so pretty and soft.
The way it tumbles over her shoulders or when she sweeps it up on top of her head, and wispy tendrils fall in a delicate frame around her gorgeous green eyes. I want to bury my face deep into her hair, and breathe her in. I want to run my hands through it and feel the cold ends slide like silk through the tips of my fingers. I want to–
“Wake up!” Teddy’s voice only just manages to break through my dreams of Camille before I’m walloped in the face with a heavy pillow. My head jerks back and the corner of the pillowcase snaps my exposed eye.
“Ah!” I scream, reaching up to cover the blinding pain radiating from my eyeball. “What the fuck, Ted?”
“Your alarm has been going off for ten minutes. I can hear it all the way in my room.”
As the pain subsides to a dull throb, the shrill chirp from my phone starts leaking into my consciousness.
“Fuck!” I dive for it and leap out of bed the moment I see the time. Teddy scowls while I scoop a pair of basketball shorts and t-shirt from the top of my hamper, so I blow him a kiss as I push my way past him out the door.
“If I fail this test today, I’m going to kill you, Luke!” he calls down the hall after me. I flash him a grin as I pull on the banister to round the stairs.
“Not worried about it. I’ll bet on you, Poindexter.”
He tells me to fuck off while I take the stairs two at a time, and I hear Mom shout his name all the way back from her bedroom. The instant karma of it makes me grin, but that comes right back to bite me in the ass when I slip on the rug at the bottom of the steps in the basement and stumble into the gym, right into a rack of plates. They teeter, swaying to the left, then even further to the right. The momentum on the next swing is enough to send them clattering noisily to the ground.
Behind me, I hear the sound of a metal bar sliding back into the grooves on the bench press. I turn, moving slowly like I’m afraid to spook a wild animal.
My dad is not amused.
“I know, I overslept.”
“Greys don’t oversleep.” The gray in his eyes goes hard in the way only his can, like the steel of a broadsword ready to lunge out and cut you. I swallow the lump of trepidation growing in my throat.
“I don’t want apologies, I want excellence. Do you think this is excellence, Lucas?”
He saw my midterm grades. Shit.
“I’m trying, Dad…”
“Are you? Because you have to get into college to have a shot at an NFL career, and I know you were too young to remember the whole college admissions scandal thing, but I’m not going to Felicity Huffman myself because you don’t want to study.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to study, I’m just… I don’t know. I’m tired a lot, it’s hard to concentrate.”
“You wouldn’t be so tired all the time if you weren’t staying up until one in the morning on FaceTime with your girlfriend.”
My eyes go wide with horror. “You know about that?”
He rolls his eyes. “Of course, I do. Nothing happens on your phone that I don’t know about. Honestly, Calliope should have taught you better than that.”
Well, she did tell me that dad monitored our calls. I thought since FaceTime used WiFi, I could get around all that. And, you know, there’s the added bonus of having my smoking hot girlfriend on camera while we’re both totally alone.
I grin. “Well, if I have to give up the girl or the 5 AM workouts, I choose the workouts. So if you’ll excuse me…”
I turn and start for the door, but my dad grabs me by the back collar of my t-shirt.
“Luke, I’m serious. You’ve got a hell of a lot of talent but none of that means anything without discipline. What you want is not going to be handed to you the way so much of the rest of your life is. It takes work, dedication, and a lot of sacrifice. Are you willing to commit to that? Because if you’re not, you’re wasting both of our time.”
I stand under his expectant gaze, knowing that I’m messing up and that the opportunities to do that are getting fewer and fear the closer I get to senior year. But it’s not like I try to fail. Teddy and Callipe have never even had a tiny blemish on their spotless GPAs. Watching how proud our parents are of them while they give me some variation of the same lecture over and over again isn’t exactly what I’d call a great time.
Most of the time, I just feel like dirt.
“It’s harder for me, Dad.” The vulnerability in my voice melts the icy stiffness that grips his frame and he leans down to look me in the eye.
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone does everything so fast. I’ll read something, but I won’t understand any of it. So I’ll go back to read it again, but then everyone else is already moving on to the next thing and I’m behind. But I can’t catch up because I missed the middle parts.” My shoulders slump with my frustrated sigh. “I always think I’ll just do it at home, but the teacher doesn’t come home with me.”
“What about your mother and I? You know, people are generally of the opinion that she and I are pretty smart.”
“You’re never here. Ever since Grandpa’s campaign started, you’ve been away more often than you’ve been home. Mom’s got all the movie stuff going on… Jade tried to help me once, but she barely made it through her regular classes. Ten years ago. There’s nothing she can do to help me with Algebra II.”
He frowns. “What about Teddy? He takes the same classes you do.”
“I’d rather Teddy think I was lazy than dumb.”
The very last of the tension in my dad’s face disappears. His eyes shine with concern as he reaches out to cup my shoulder.
“You’re not dumb, Luke.”
“Then why does everybody else do everything so much easier than me?”
“I don’t know, but now that you’ve told me, I promise that your mother and I will do everything we can to figure it out. I’ll get you a tutor, if you want. And you could meet them at Aunt Mia’s house if you don’t want your brother and sister to know.”
“You won’t tell them?”
“Not if you don’t want me to.”
I hesitate. The idea of spending my free time with some nerd trying to teach me Economics isn’t exactly my ideal scenario. But Coach already warned me that if I didn’t get my GPA by the time report cards came out, I could kiss State goodbye.
And probably a few of my teeth when Brighton King found out he was going to be without his go to receiver with his senior year season on the line.
Dad smiles and clasps my shoulder once before straightening again and moving back to the same bench he was on before. “Pick up something heavy,” he tells me.
“Again and again and again…”
My routine is the same as it is every morning. Yoga, cardio, strength training. It’s boring, monotonous, and too easy to focus on how tired I’m getting. Dad has the TV set to CNN, watching two commentators I don’t care about talking about the debate Grandpa had with the president a few nights ago. It does little to distract me, so I let my mind wander back to my dreams about Camille.
We’ve known each other since Kindergarten. She was in my 2nd, 4th, and 5th grade class. I had her in homeroom all year in 8th grade, and she was in both my biology and French class Freshman year.
How did it take me all that time to realize how absolutely gorgeous she was? How is it possible that up until a few months ago, I just thought of her as a girl I went to school with? Why did it take a tight white tank top over a hot pink bikini and a bucket of ice cold water to make me see her?
Or the fact that she has the most incredible set of tits I’ve ever seen.
I have to drop the barbell over my head to cover the boner that tents my shorts when memories from the night before start flooding into my brain. She went farther than she’s ever let me push her before. I’m going to be haunted by that coy look she gave me when she took off her t-shirt after I asked if I could see her tits for the rest of my life. When I asked her to lick the tips of her fingers and pull on her nipples, she did that too.
“Yeah, Dad?” I squeak, turning to face him in a way that makes it impossible to tell that I’m hard in the folds of my shorts.
Something getting increasingly harder to do…
“You ready to go to some drills?” He holds up a football.
“Uh… yeah. Sure.” I turn back toward the opposite wall, close my eyes, and banish Camille from my thoughts. It doesn’t work, so I take a different approach. “Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut…”
I mean to whisper, but Dad sneaks up behind me somehow and overhears. I try to shift my shorts again, but it just draws his attention.
He smirks. “You need something that requires more thought than listing states you’ve already memorized, Son,” he chuckles. “The point is to divert blood flow back to the brain.”
I flash him a guilty look, but he gives me a conspiratorial grin.
“I usually try to think of business deals I’ve lost in the past and what I should have done differently.”
“This still happens to you?”
His grin broadens. “Have you seen your mother?”
“Ugh, gross.” I grimace as I get the very unwanted mental images his stupid smile puts in my head and stomp away. There’s a door on the other side of the room that lets out into the backyard, under the veranda. Dad stops right at the edge of the grass and the stairs that lead up to the main level of the house, and lobs the football into the air. I take off, throwing myself forward with reckless abandon as I steal as much purchase from the ground as possible. Since my growth spurt over the summer, I’m so much faster. I make it across the yard with plenty of time to turn and catch the ball right before it hits me in the chest.
“Excellent, Luke. Great speed. Now, high knees all the way back. Let’s go…”
We spend about twenty minutes moving between catching and calisthenics. It’s my favorite part of the morning because it’s the time I get to shine in front of my dad. Calliope may be perfect in his eyes. Teddy may be the budding genius in the family. But in these few minutes we have alone together every day, I get a break from being the screw up. Each spectacular catch I make, every personal record I break… it all culminates in the pride I see reflected in his eyes.
It makes me feel ten feet tall.
“Alright, we gotta head in so you can eat before school. You’re doing great, Kid. Your footwork is getting really, really good. I’m impressed.”
I beam at the praise. “Thanks, Dad.”
He tosses me the ball and we start up the stairs together. Before we get to the kitchen door though, I tug on his arm to pull him back.
He turns and raises an eyebrow at me. “What?”
“Can I, I mean… uh, can I ask you something, and you won’t get mad?”
“Probably not, what is it?”
I grind my teeth together, second guessing my curiosity. But now that I’ve brought it up and he’s staring at me, waiting, I can’t really back down. “Well… you met Mom when you were 19, right?”
“Well, was she… your first?”
“No, not your first love. Your… you know, first.”
He narrows his eyes and crosses his arms over his chest, almost defensively. “No, she wasn’t.”
“Oh. How old were you when you, uh… with a girl, for the first time?”
His answer is blunt, and the fact that he gave that answer so easily is surprising. “That’s the same age I am now.”
He nods his head, slowly. Keeping his eyes trained on me the whole time.
I fidget. “Do you… regret it? Doing it before Mom?”
I see his jaw twitch as he mulls over his next words very carefully, like he’s trying to hold back something and he’s afraid if he doesn’t think it through exactly, he’ll let out a secret. So I’m surprised by his curt reply.
“Oh.” A thousand things run through my mind at once. My dad is a lot of things and very important to a lot of people, but the thing I know about him better than anything else is that he absolutely, entirely, and forever is in love with my mom. The way he talks about her makes it seem like she’s always been the only girl in his life. Learning there’s another is a whole new aspect of him I’ve never heard about before, but as much as I want to question it further, the tacit permission he just gave me to do exactly what I want to do is really what I need to focus on right now.
“Something you want to tell me, Luke?” he asks, when I’m quiet for too long.
Dad sighs and pulls me over to the overstuffed patio furniture next to the door into the kitchen. I look into his probing eyes with caution.
“Are you having sex?” he asks.
I press my lips together, then shake my head. “No, sir.”
He doesn’t waste time not believing me. “Are you going to have sex with this Camille girl?” This time, I don’t answer. He continues like I did. “Look, I’m not going to waste my breath telling you not to, but if you’re going to start having sex, there are somethings you need to know and remember.”
“You already gave me the sex talk, Dad.”
“This isn’t just about mechanics.”
I narrow my eyes at him, and he moves his chair forward and leans in closer to me.
“Condoms are not optional. I know you think you’re the first genius who ever thought of pulling out, but you’re not, and I promise you, it won’t work. If you don’t believe me, you can take both your brother and sister, go look in the mirror, and see the proof yourself.”
I place a hand over my chest like I’m shocked. “Are you telling me that the Grey children were all accidents?!”
My voice is exaggerated in its offense, but only because it’s well known family lore that Dad only has three kids because he got snipped basically the day he found out about Teddy and me. He doesn’t rise to my bait though.
“I’m serious, Luke. Every. Single. Time. It only takes once, and a baby or an STD could ruin your whole life.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll wear a condom.”
“And remember that Camille, or whatever girl you’re with, is not just an object for you to fuck and move on. She is a person, with feelings, who is giving a part of themselves to you. That’s not a little thing, no matter how much you may think it is. If you choose to sleep with a woman, you will respect her, and the trust she has given you. Believe me when I tell you that I have never been put through more hell or been hurt worse than I was by a woman whose heart I broke.”
“The woman you slept with before Mom?”
He takes a deep breath, then shakes his head. “Maybe when you’re older.”
It’s my least favorite answer to anything. I’m fifteen, I’m not a baby anymore. I can handle the fact that my dad was probably an asshole when he was young. Hell, he’s an asshole at 39. And the fact that he doesn’t want to talk about it, makes me want to know more.
“Who was she?”
“The woman you slept with before mom.”
“She was… someone I don’t like to think about anymore.”
“But you said you don’t regret sleeping with her.”
“That’s not what you asked before.” I scrunch my eyebrows together with confusion, and he lets out an exasperated sigh. “I’m not at all proud of the person I chose to do it with, but I don’t regret having sex before your mother. It taught me how to be the lover she deserved–”
“Okay, okay, okay…” I cut him off before I start to think of his dirty hands on my angel of a mother. It’s bad enough I have to hear it all the time… from five doors down the fucking hall. “I’m sorry I asked.”
He smiles, which is a nice break in the tension that’s been building between us for the last few minutes. “The point is, I have no illusions that you’re getting to the point where you’re going to start having sex, and I’m not necessarily of the mindset that you need to fight that. But wear a condom, be selective, and don’t be an asshole.”
I grin. “Would you say that to Callie?”
He doesn’t even blink over it. “Absolutely not. When I gave her the sex talk, I told her that condoms weren’t effective and sex would kill her.”
I laugh, and he gets up out of his chair, reaching down to help me to my feet. “You’re going to be late for school.”
“Okay. Thanks, Dad.”