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HUGE PLAYERS: Chapter 24

We sit in the waiting room for as long as it takes for Jessie to be released. I thought that after my going through the hellish experience of giving a statement, it would happen quickly.

It does not.

It’s 3 am by the time Jessie emerges through the door, flanked by cops. He’s pale as a ghost, with fear on his face that I’ve never seen in any of my stepbrothers. It makes him look younger and more vulnerable.

“Jess.” Joshua stands and strides toward his brother, pulling him into a hug that tells everyone in the waiting room exactly how worried he’d been about his triplet. They’re like bookends. So alike that it’s baffling.

“Let’s get out of here,” Kyle says.

None of us object.

In the parking lot, Jessie turns to me. “Wait,” he tells his brothers. When his arms go around me in a furiously strong hug, I’m shocked. “Thank you,” he says, his face buried in my neck. I feel wetness against my skin and realize that my big, strong stepbrother is crying. Shit. My heart feels like it could break into pieces.

“You don’t need to thank me,” I say. “I should be thanking you all for standing by me and being so supportive.”

Jessie doesn’t let go of me, I’m assuming because he’s trying to compose himself before he does. I stroke his back, and his head, making soothing noises. “I did what anyone would have done and told the truth.”

“That’s not what that bitch did, is it?” Joshua spits. “She could have ruined Jessie’s life.”

“You think she had a choice?” Kyle says. “You know what Gordon is like. That brute beat up his own girl so he could frame Jessie. It’s not the first time, either. I’ve seen Kayla with bruises around her wrists and a black eye before. She always made excuses.”

I draw back from Jessie, stroking away a stray tear before he turns back to his brothers. “Kayla and Gordon?” Gordon is on the team with my stepbrothers. He’s supposed to be their friend. “Why would they do something like this?”

“Gordon wanted Jameson off the team. If he got kicked off, then Gordon would have had a starting position. He was desperate to get the exposure.”

“Desperate enough to ruin Jessie’s life? To ruin Jameson’s?”

Kyle shakes his head. “I don’t think it started off like that. He thought that Jameson would get in trouble for bringing the team into disrepute. Coach doesn’t like things like this drawing negative attention to the team. He encourages clean living. Gordon just didn’t think we’d be able to find out who took the video.”

“But you did.”

Kyle nods and runs his hand over his face. “He knew he was in trouble and he lashed out. He used his poor girlfriend to throw more shit at us. I don’t think he was even thinking about what would happen, just that he didn’t want any negative focus on himself.”

“So he got to be the caring and supportive boyfriend while poor Kayla suffered.”

“Kayla didn’t have to go along with this. She could have told Gordon it was wrong,” Joshua says.

“If she’s scared of Gordon, then I understand why she did what she did. He beat her up to make her story more plausible. She must be terrified of him.”

The boys are silent; I hope because they understand what I’m saying. I don’t blame them for not seeing the situation clearly. It’s too raw, and too personal, and it doesn’t matter how hard they try, they will never really understand what it’s like for a woman to fear a man. Abuse and violence in relationships wears people down until they have no strength, leaving them capable of doing anything so long as they don’t get on the receiving end of their partner’s wrath.

“What will happen to Kayla?”

“She’ll be charged with making a false accusation.”

“And what about Gordon?”

“Well, he’ll get off scot-free unless Kayla is brave enough to tell the cops what happened.”

Joshua swears under his breath. “I’m going to get that bastard.”

I put my hand on his arm. “You’re not going to do anything, okay? I’ve had to come get one of you out of the cells over this. I’m not going through this again.”

Joshua covers my hand with his, the warmth seeping into my bones. “I’m not going to let that asshole hurt you, okay?”

“It’s done already.” I put my arm around Joshua’s waist and rest my head on his broad chest. “You know, until I found out about Jessie being arrested, I was heartbroken about the video. It seemed to me to be just about the worst thing that could happen to me. But then this all happened and I realized that it’s not. I don’t care about Gordon or his lies. I don’t care about the video. None of that matters. I just want you guys to all be safe. I can’t go through this again.”

The tears that I’ve been swallowing down since Kameron told me about Jessie start to flow. My selfishness put him in danger and I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t been able to get him out of there.

Joshua makes soothing noised against my scalp, his hand stroking my back. I feel a hand on my shoulder and another on my waist as all my stepbrothers find a way to touch me reassuringly.

Well, all except Jameson.

I look up with a start. “Has anyone spoken to Jameson? It’s the middle of the night and none of us are at home. He must be going out of his mind.”

Joshua pulls his phone from his pocket and curses. “He’s been trying to call me.”

“And me,” Jessie says.

I look to the where our vehicles are parked, shrouded by the dark of the night. It’s been a terrible day, but we’re all okay. Getting home has to be our priority now.

“We should go,” I say. “We need to make sure everything’s okay with Jameson.”


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