The perfect play, p.27
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       The Perfect Play, p.27
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         Part #1 of Play by Play series by Jaci Burton
Page 27

  Author: Jaci Burton

  She crossed her arms. “I find that hard to believe. Look where you are now. ”

  “Right. But you only see the finished product. You don’t see what it took to get me here. ” He looked around. “There’s something I need to talk to you about, but not here. Later, when we get back to the house. It’s important, and it has to do with your idea of perfection. And Nathan, too. ”

  She cast him a questioning look. “I don’t understand. ”

  “I know you don’t, but I don’t want to talk about it here where there are so many people. Can we table this conversation for later?”

  “Sure. ”

  He lifted her hand and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. “Let’s go inside and dance. Show me your disco moves. ”

  She let out a soft laugh. “Oh, Lord. I might need some dance lessons from your mother before I attempt the hustle. ”

  He slid her hand in the crook of his arm. “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll teach you everything you need to know. ”

  THIRTEEN

  IT TOOK A LONG TIME FOR THE PARTY TO WIND DOWN. Mick’s family and friends could party all night long, but this time the venue hadn’t been booked for the duration of the evening, so they’d moved everybody out of the ballroom by midnight. As a gift to Mick’s parents, the kids had gotten them a suite at a very posh resort, so they’d already packed up and headed over there for a night in the honeymoon suite. Nathan was spending the night with Mick’s cousins again, which meant Tara and Mick had his parents’ house to themselves for the night.

  Tara ran upstairs and changed, grateful to get out of her sole-killing high heels and the tight dress. She slid into a pair of shorts and a tank top, then came back downstairs to find Mick had done the same thing. He’d shucked the suit and put on a pair of to-the-knee cotton gym shorts and a sleeveless tank.

  “Better?” he asked.

  She sighed in relief. “My feet were killing me, so yes, definitely better. ” She sank onto the sofa next to him.

  “Want something to drink?” he asked.

  “No, I’m good. How about you? Want a beer or something?”

  There was something odd about the way he looked at her. “Have a bottled water here, so I’m fine. ”

  “Okay. ”

  She propped her elbow up on the back of the sofa and leaned her head in her hand.

  “Tired?”

  “I’m okay. How about you? You’re the one who ran ragged all day taking Nathan to the ball game and keeping him entertained so I could get everything set up. And then you helped with the party. ”

  “I didn’t organize the party. You did. And Nathan is never a problem, so stop apologizing for your son. ”

  “I wasn’t—”

  “You do. A lot. ”

  She sat up. “Do I?”

  “Yes. You make Nathan sound like an inconvenience to me, and he isn’t. If he was, I wouldn’t be with you. I knew almost from the beginning that he was a part of your life, Tara. I get that he’s part of the package, so stop apologizing for his existence. ”

  Tears sprang to her eyes. That’s what she’d been doing? Oh, God, it was. She’d been apologizing for Nathan, for having him, for him being in her life. “You’re right. I have been. I’m sorry. ”

  Mick swiped at a tear that had escaped down her cheek. “You don’t have to apologize to any man that you have a son. He’s a great kid. You owe no one explanations or apologies for your life. ”

  She shuddered out a sigh. “I guess you’re right. I keep holding up other people’s childhoods and lives as examples of the perfection that I always found lacking in my own. ”

  “No one’s life is perfect, Tara. Not yours, not mine, no one’s. ”

  “So you say. Hard to see the imperfections through all the happiness sometimes. ”

  “You see what people want you to see, not what’s necessarily there. ”

  “You’re telling me your life wasn’t perfect. I find that hard to believe. ”

  He leaned back against the sofa and shoved his fingers through his hair. “There’s something I want to ask you. It has to do with Nathan. ”

  “Okay. ”

  “I’d like your permission to take him to a meeting with me when we get back home. I think it would be beneficial for him. ”

  “A meeting? What kind of meeting?”

  “An AA meeting. ”

  Tara’s eyes widened. “Alcoholics Anonymous? Are you serious?”

  “Yes. ”

  “Why would you want him to go to an AA meeting? Nathan’s not an alcoholic. As far as I know, that was his first foray into drinking. ”

  “Did you talk to him about that night?”

  “Yes. Of course I did. He understands what he did was wrong. And he felt terrible. ”

  Mick’s lips lifted. “Of course he felt terrible. He had a hangover. But that’s how it starts, Tara. One party, a lot of drinks. It’s social. It’s how they get accepted. Often it doesn’t stop there. I’d like him to see some cold reality. ”

  “I think that’s a little harsh, Mick. ”

  “Yeah, it is harsh. But it’s real. It’s not glossed over, and it’s not a sit-down lecture from his mother that he probably only half paid attention to. It’s never too early for them to hear what it’s really like when drinking gets out of control. ”

  “What do you know about AA?”

  “Plenty. ”

  She cocked her head to the side and frowned. The way he looked at her, cold and straightforward . . .

  Then it hit her. “You don’t drink alcohol. ”

  His gaze never left her face. “No. ”

  “It has nothing to do with training, does it?”

  “No. ”

  Her throat went dry as the realization of all these weeks together finally fell into focus. Her palms dampened, and she pulled her legs behind her, straightened herself up, and prepared herself for the truth. But she waited, not asking, knowing it had to come from Mick.

  “I’m an alcoholic, Tara. ”

  The gut punch hurt. She palmed her stomach, was glad she was sitting, because the room spun. “How long?”

  “Since I was a teenager. Still think I lived a perfect life?”

  She didn’t know if she was angry or hurt, at him or for him. She forced back the anger because she needed to know, and because he had the guts to sit here and face her with the truth. She reached out to grasp his hand. “Tell me. ”

  “Just like Nathan, it started at football parties. ” He looked up at the ceiling for a few seconds, seemingly lost in thought. “God, seeing him drunk at that party the other night—”

  He dragged his gaze back to hers. “It was like seeing myself. I went back in time sixteen years, and there I was, shit-faced drunk and having the time of my life. I was invincible, cock of the block, popular as hell at fourteen. All the seniors invited me to their inner circle, and all I had to do to stay there was drink. Easy, right? Drink with the guys and you stay in the circle.

  “I was desperate to stay on top, so I did whatever it took. I kept drinking. At first I hated it. It made me sick and it wore my body down. When you’re in football, staying in prime physical shape is everything to a guy. The last thing you want or need is a bunch of chemicals polluting your system. I was at war between what I knew was best for my body and what I wanted most of all—acceptance from those above me on the team. ”

  “You chose the team. ”

  He nodded. “Yeah. I’d never had big brothers. I’m the oldest in my family. The responsible one, ya know? So when faced with someone older than me telling me what to do, I crumbled. I did what they said. I drank. And I taught my body to manage it all the way through high school and college. Because by then my body had learned to depend on it. So I gave it just enough to where I could still function at peak performance, but I could party, too. By the time I was a senior in high school I was rocking hard on the w
eekends, but I was the leader of the team. So I could tone it down somewhat and let the others pick up the slack, which meant I coasted by okay my senior year, enough to pick up that scholarship.

  “But then college came around, and I was low man on the totem pole and it started all over again. I had to drink hard and party hard to fit in. By then I was already accustomed to doing whatever it took, so the daily drinking began. And the grades were easy to come by, so I spent a lot of time in college drunk. ”

  Mick paused, unscrewed the top of his water, and took a long drink. Tara released the breath she’d been holding, not wanting to say a word, hurting inside for what he’d endured.

  “Anyway,” he said, replacing the top on his bottle of water. “By junior year of college the alcohol was starting to take its toll on my grades and my football performance. Coach started to notice it, and so did my parents. Once they started looking closer, it didn’t take them long to figure out I had an alcohol problem. ”

  “What did they do?” she asked.

  He shrugged. “They told me to get help. But the thing is with an alcoholic, we’re big into denial. I was certain I didn’t have a drinking problem. I knew how to handle it. I could stop whenever I wanted to. ”

  “So did you?”

  “I tried because they told me I couldn’t. Coach even benched me for a game, and in college that’s some serious shit. I had to prove to them I could stop. The problem was, I couldn’t. I went home for a weekend and tried not to drink for two days, and it damn near killed me. ”

  Tara squeezed his hand, aching inside for him, wanting to fold him in her arms and hold him, wanting him not to have to relive this, but knowing it was important to him to tell her his story.

  “I’d never been so sick. I was shaking, sweating. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t think straight. I started hallucinating. God, the things I saw that weren’t real. They scared the shit out of me. But the thing that scared me most was that I craved a drink more than anything. I was such a bastard to anyone around me. I screamed at them that they were killing me. And I wanted to kill anyone who got in the way of me getting a goddamn drink. ”

  “Oh, Mick, I’m so sorry. ”

  He shot her a straight look. “Don’t be sorry for me, Tara. I did it to myself. I had no one to blame but myself for how I felt. ”

  She nodded. She knew what it was like to be a drunk, had faced it every day she’d lived with her parents.

  “I came at my dad and I hit him because he wouldn’t give me the keys to my car so I could go to the liquor store. I hit my father. ”

  Tears filled Mick’s eyes, and Tara couldn’t stand it. She felt the sting of her own tears but knew she had to allow him to finish.

  “My dad refused, wouldn’t punch me back, just let me continue to fight him. Fortunately I was too weak by that point to do much damage, and I finally gave up. I don’t even remember the crying and the begging, thank God. I just remember waking up the next morning, mortified that I’d hit my father. After that I knew they were right. I was an alcoholic. I admitted it and asked for help. ”

  “Thank God you were smart enough to realize that. ”

  His eyes were narrow slits of anger. “I wasn’t smart. If I’d been smart, I wouldn’t have become an alcoholic in the first place. I was lucky people loved me enough to want to help me and push me into realizing how bad I fucked up. I went to a treatment center, dried out, and got counseling. I haven’t had a drink since. It scared the hell out of me. I could have lost everything, all because I wanted to fit in and be popular. All because of one night all those years ago when I was fourteen. That started it all. So I’m sorry if you think what happened to Nathan is no big deal. To me it’s a big fucking deal. ”