When It All Falls Down
“Austin, I have something to tell you.”
Austin kept his head down, his hands clasped and his left leg bouncing. Because he trusted Sommer, he didn’t question it when she said she needed him to come with her to see her lawyer; not their lawyer but a lawyer she’d retained who he’d never met or heard about until now. Things were good between them, they’d had their second baby a little over a year ago, and although the football team was in a slump, that had nothing to do with their relationship.
He scratched his brow. “All right.”
She covered his hands with hers. “Look at me, baby.”
“I’m looking at you.” His head lifted. “Say what you have to say. You know you can tell me anything.”
No matter how much I don’t want to hear it.
“It’s about Matt.”
It was like someone put out a cigarette butt against his sternum. “What about Matt?”
“He’s been harassing me.”
His leg stopped bouncing. “What?”
“It didn’t stop at the parking garage.” She ran her palms over the back of his hands. “He called me from your phone one day after you guys had practice, and then he…saw us.”
Austin looked over at the lawyer. The right side of her mouth pulled back in what he already figured out was an embarrassed smile. She’d heard the story. She knew where they’d been seen. He knew it too, but he needed to hear it.
He drew forward in his chair, closer to Sommer. “Where did he see us?”
“In the closet. He, uh,” her tongue darted over bottom lip, “saw me, specifically. And then, he must have kept my number after he called me from your phone because I got a video not long after that from a number I still don’t recognize.”
His leg went back to bouncing. “Som, what’s the video of?”
“You know I’m not going to stop asking.”
She started to lean back, but he grabbed her hands and held them between his. He then took over the small rubs and caresses she’d given him. He’d been afraid she’d brought him there to ask for a trial separation. Even worse, a flat-out divorce. Now, he realized she was asking for his help. His support.
“It was of a Caucasian penis being stimulated, manually, to completion,” the lawyer cut in.
Austin closed his eyes, released a breath, and reopened them. “Matt…sent you a video…of him jerking off.”
“We haven’t yet confirmed it’s Matt Wilson,” the lawyer said.
“The man’s junk is all over the internet and you can’t confirm it’s him?” He pulled air into this chest, released it, and moved close enough to Sommer that her knee settled between his. “Sommer, you tell me. Do you think Matt sent you that video?”
She cleared her throat. “Yes.”
“Another question.” His fingers passed over her knuckles. “Is the implication here that he wants you to know he jerked off to what he saw, of you, in the closet?”
“I think so.”
“Come here.” He drew her onto his lap, into him, cradling her like he could shelter her from the world. And he wished he could, shelter her from any and everything threatening her harm. Keep her in his arms, never let her go.
“I’m sorry.” He kissed the side of her face. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”
“Austin, it’s ok—”
“No, it’s not. It’s not okay, not with me. You didn’t ask for that shit. How long ago did this happen?”
“About a week after the closet.” She played with the sleeve of his blazer. “But I’d already contacted Giselle even before that. I tried talking to Gary to see if maybe he could talk to the team owner about it, but with that avenue shut down, I had to take matters into my own hands.”
Austin looked over at the lawyer. “Giselle?”
“It’s an uphill battle,” Giselle said. “Right now, as it stands, there’s not much to go on but Sommer’s statement, but I’ve made a career out of going after high profile assholes. I won’t be roadblocked.”
He didn’t hear a word she said after “uphill battle” left her mouth. That meant nothing had happened. They had no proof. Matt had taken his phone and called his wife. The man wasn’t an idiot. He’d known, from the start, just what he’d been doing. He’d known how to get what he wanted while covering his tracks.
“The thing about guys like this is, they’re often repeat offenders,” Sommer said.
Giselle nodded. “Exactly, and we’re looking into his past right now.”
“Didn’t he have an accusation against him some years back?” Austin asked. “Right about when I got drafted.”
“The charges got dropped.” Giselle leaned forward, clasped her hands on the tabletop. “The accuser recanted her statement. I’ve already dispatched someone from the firm to go have a word with her, see what they can get. We likely won’t be able to use anything she says, but it’ll help build a character profile.”
“And you said the owners, they did nothing?” Austin wanted to be upset that she didn’t tell him sooner, but that wouldn’t do either of them any good. She had her reasons, and no matter how hard it was, he had to respect that.
“No, not really.” Sommer’s shoulders lifted in what looked, on the outside, like a lazy shrug but disappointment left her body in waves.
He cupped the sides of her face. The love of his life. The woman he’d loved before he’d even known what love was. “I’m going to deal with him,” he told her. “You know that right?”
“Which is why I didn’t tell you.”
“Excuse me?” Giselle lifted a finger. “It would be helpful if you kept your hands off him.”
“Can’t do that, Giselle.”
“Austin.” Giselle ran her fingers through her hair and then scrubbed a cocoa brown hand over her mouth. “Give us a chance to do things our way.”
“This man has been baiting me about my wife for weeks,” Austin said. “Harassing her, hitting on her. What you’re telling me is that I’ll have to walk into the training room and see this man’s face through weights, film, team meetings, and practice, for the rest of the week, and not do shit?”
Giselle’s head bobbed. “Yes.”
“You can do it, Austin.” Sommer brushed his hair back from his forehead and then kept her hand there, passing her thumb along his hairline, soothing and appeasing him. Trying to, at least. The leg she sat on bounced so hard, she had to keep a grip on his forearm to remain steady.
“Fine.” His jaw pulsed. “Fine.”
“There’s another thing.” Sommer lowered her hand to his thigh and gripped it, forcing it to stop moving. “He doesn’t know any of this is going on, and in order to gather something concrete against him—”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Austin tossed his head back. “So, this entire time, I’m also going to have to act like I don’t know anything if he keeps messing with you?”
“Just until we have something solid,” Giselle said.
“He cornered my wife in a parking garage.” Austin turned to the desk to face her, turning Sommer with him. “She was alone when that happened. Matt Wilson is six-foot-three and two-hundred forty pounds. My baby’s one-fifty soaking wet.”
“I’ll take precautions,” Sommer offered. “I won’t leave the office alone or late at night. Gary’s hired more security. And I’ll work from my office at home two to three days out of the week.”
“Like it’s safe there. I wouldn’t be surprised if that crazy fucker had something to do with what happened at the house. He got into your phone. He could probably hack a security system. Outside of football, a lot of us did study something in college.”
“He’s crazy, yes.” She squeezed his shoulders. “But he ain’t that crazy.”
“So you say.”
“We’ve already figured out what happened there.”
“Look, all I’m saying is,” he held her waist, “if we need to move, we’ll move. I can do that for you. But I’m your husband, and I’m not one of those who can only say that because I signed my name on a paper. I’m your protector, your partner, and you’re asking me to sit idle while you walk around feeling unsafe.”
“All my promises will be empty.”
She smiled. “I know, but I also know you’ll try, like hell, to help us get what we need without interruptions or distractions.”
He would, but he would fail.
It was a given.
“You’ll try, Austin.” She lowered her forehead to his. “Please…try.”
Giselle’s shoulders fell like she already knew what was coming.
* * *
After the morning with the lawyer, they had lunch, spent some time together, and then went to Gary’s house that evening for movies in the backyard. Eli and Olivia were already at what they considered their second home, the place they liked to threaten to escape to when he and Sommer shut down cookies and other snacks for the night. Olivia did all the threatening while Eli waved his hands, raised his voice, and stalked off when his big sister did.
They were in pajamas, Olivia on her stomach munching on popcorn and Eli running around, trying to touch everything that could be touched. When he and Sommer walked up, Olivia ran up to them for hugs and kisses before returning to her spot, the movie Frozen playing on the projection screen. Eli asked to be lifted into Austin’s arms and didn’t want to be put down, so Austin continued to hold him while he walked around, pretending everything was fine. While he and Sommer did have a nice afternoon, his mind never strayed from the Matt situation for more than a second.
“Hi, my love.” He leaned down so his mother, Emma, could kiss his cheek. “Are you okay, sweetie? You look upset.”
Sommer glanced at him.
“I’m fine,” he said, lowering into a lounge chair with Eli still clinging to him. “Long day.”
He reclined the chair and Eli took the motion as an opportunity to rest his head, cuddle deeper. Austin stroked his son’s back.
“Um, okay.” Emma paused the movie. Gary went to join her in front of the screen that had been set up against the back of his house.
“So,” Emma reached for Gary’s hand, “Gary asked me to marry him and I have accepted!”
Sommer leapt from her seat and rushed over to her mother-in-law, wrapping her up in a hug. Olivia joined her. Austin watched on, Eli now fast asleep on his stomach.
“We don’t want a lot of hoopla,” Gary added. “We would actually like to do a beach wedding in the Caribbean with our closest family and friends.”
They continued to talk, the conversation volleying between wedding plans, Sommer’s comments, and Olivia’s questions. All Austin could see was Matt watching his half-naked wife and then having the audacity to use that image as fuel for jerking himself off later, on his own time. There were probably other men out there in the world who looked at Sommer’s pictures on social media or wherever to add to their “bank.” He didn’t like it, but he didn’t know them. Matt had seen her. Seen her. His teammate. A man he had access to, could get close enough to wrap his hands around his neck.
His head snapped up. His mother was looking at him, her eyes glistening.
“Are you unhappy?” she asked. “I know you’ve never been able to accept me dating Gary, but I thought—”
“No, no. It’s okay, Ma.” He rose, walked over, and pulled her against him with the arm not holding Eli. “I’m happy for you. I don’t like you dating in general, but if I had to settle for somebody, I guess Gary would do.”
Gary grunted a laugh. “Thank you, I guess.”
“It’ll be small,” Emma reiterated. “You, your sister and her family, Walt, some of Gary’s friends…”
While she continued through her guest list that didn’t sound like a small wedding with the amount of names she continued to add, he stared at Sommer.
I’m sorry, baby. I’m going to mess up, and I’m not going to regret it.