Me: My abs are still impressive.
I hit send on the text message and drop my phone to the bed.
The sky is dark outside my hotel room window. I yank the curtains closed before resuming getting dressed. The black sweater I borrowed from River’s closet before I left campus sits snugly over my aforementioned abdominal muscles. I slip on a pair of sneakers—also borrowed from River because he has a better wardrobe than I do—and take a quick look in the mirror.
“Not too shabby,” I say to my reflection.
I’m reaching for my wallet next to the mini-fridge when my phone dings, so I grab it instead.
River: Oh, thank God. I was getting worried. <sarcastic emoji>
Crew: What kind of status update is this, Hollis? Your abs? Really?
I grin as I type out my response.
Me: Would you rather I had given you the weather?
As soon as I type that out, I know what’s coming. My eyes shoot to the ceiling, and I brace for the flurry of incoming texts undoubtedly on their way.
Crew: The weatherman Hollis Hudson!
River: Only if you jump up and down for two minutes while you recite it.
Crew: You should bring that back.
Flashbacks of my freshman year pledge for Kappa—the weather pledge—come floating back.
The fraternity officers were trying to embarrass me with that whole thing. I had to wake up at the ass crack of dawn and post myself reading the weather report on social media.
For a year.
On top of that, if anyone asked me the weather—which, naturally, everyone did—I had to recite it on the spot while jumping up and down.
For two minutes.
It was a hassle and a pain in the ass, as designed. The joke was on them, though. I got so much freaking attention from the female body of Braxton College without even having to try that I should’ve sent the officers a thank-you note.
Because the weather report my freshman year? It was raining women.
Crew: We’re just screwing with you. Did you make it to Savannah?
Me: I just got here a little bit ago. Hotel is fucking niiiiiiice.
River: It better be. Lincoln Landry is a baseball legend. He can afford to put you up in nice digs.
My whole body tenses. I sit on the edge of one of the two queen-sized beds with the softest blankets I’ve ever felt and let my elbows rest on my knees.
It’s been three months since I received the letter requesting my presence at the Catching-A-Care awards banquet, a nonprofit ran by future Hall of Fame baseball player for the Tennessee Arrows, Lincoln Landry. I’m as shocked now as the day I opened the envelope.
How the charity found out about the time I quietly spend with a foster group home on the weekends is beyond me. It’s not something I advertise or talk about during interviews. It’s a talking point I hide from the media.
It’s not for them. I don’t want it exploited as some mindless chatter while camera operators zoom in on a play.
It’s my thing. It’s the one thing I have all to myself. It’s the only thing not jaded by my position on campus or the fact that I’m an athlete or that my abs are awesome.
But, somehow, the board of directors got my name, and here I am.
A part of me was a little pissed off about the whole thing. I went back and forth with the directors for a long time—me saying, “Thanks but no thanks” and them saying, “But we’d really like to do this.” Eventually, they promised not to name the city I volunteer in or the organization, and I agreed to attend. I think they labeled me as being “difficult,” but whatever. I don’t want the kids feeling like I was spending time there for any other reason than I care.
The Board put me up in this kick-ass hotel—even covering it for an extra week because I mentioned I was coming in early. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s a pretty good distraction from life at the moment.
River: What are you doing tonight?
Crew: Don’t you mean WHO he’s doing tonight?
River: Excellent point.
I roll my eyes.
Me: Oh, come on.
Crew: Dude. Don’t try to lie to us. We know you.
River: The real you.
Crew: And we like you anyway. Go figure.
River: Most of the time. Easy with your generalizations there, Hollywood.
Crew: I stand corrected. However, do you have a name yet?
My laughter fills the room.
Me: While I’m honored you think I can work that fast, I haven’t.
River: We don’t think. We know. We’ve seen you in action.
Me: Like you’re any better, asshole.
Crew: Hey, I’m really feeling the love, but I gotta go. I’m in the middle of something. Thanks for checking in, Hollis, even if it was super random and slightly weird.
Me: You asked for check-ins. I’m giving them to you. Be careful what you wish for.
River: A redhead.
Crew: He’s totally going with a blonde.
Me: I thought you were gone.
River: I’m gone too.
Tossing my phone on the bed, I look up. My reflection is smiling back at me.
I sit and stare at myself for a while, taking in the strangeness of seeing something other than a grimace on my face. Between royally fucking up our football season, ruining any chance I had at the pros—however small that chance might’ve been—and now the holidays, life has been more piss than posies.
But when is it not, really?
Get your shit together. Crazy Carl’s words filter through my mind. The late-sixties alien hunter from our favorite bar, The Truth is Out There, gave River, Crew, and me that wise piece of advice after we lost our last game … and ended the season with an interception.
Somehow, it seemed fitting.
I grab my wallet, shove it in my pocket, and head for the door.
“You know you’re screwed when Crazy Carl makes sense,” I grumble, getting to my feet. “But he’s right. I gotta get my shit together.”
Time is running out.