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CHAPTER 14

 

 

I walked into the kitchen to get a water bottle for my run and found Nathan staring intently at the red Frisbee on the counter.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I can’t do it. I can’t call her.”

“You’re returning her Frisbee, Nathan, not asking her out. Just dial the number.” “You’re right. I know you’re right.”

I opened the fridge and grabbed a water bottle. When I turned around, Nathan was in the exac same position.

“If you were Lauren and some guy called you to return your Frisbee, what would you think?” he asked.

I pulled my foot to my butt to stretch out my thigh. “I’d think that some guy was calling me to return my Frisbee.”

He grunted. “Yeah, but you’re not a normal girl, so that doesn’t count.” The ache in my stomach twitched, and I cringed.

“Normal girls read into everything.”

Switching feet, I stretched the other leg. “And what exactly are you doing right now?” “I’m not reading into anything, I’m psyching myself out.”

I grabbed the phone off the counter and dialed Lauren’s number. “There. It’s done.” I thrust the phone toward him.

He held up his hands and wouldn’t take it from me, jumping away from it like it was an opposing team’s mascot or something.

“Ugh. You’re such a wimp.” I put it up to my ear. “Hello?” a girl answered.

“Hi. Is this Lauren?”

“Yes.” She sounded like a completely normal girl—whatever that meant.

“My brothers and I were playing disc golf out at Woodward Park the other day and found one of your Frisbees.”

“Oh. Awesome. I guess putting the info on the back really works.”

“Yeah. So what do you want me to do with it?” Disc golf Frisbees weren’t like standard cheapie plastic things. They were weighted and high-quality, so I knew she’d want it back. I happened to glance up at Nathan, and he was clutching the Frisbee in two hands, staring at me.

“Can I come get it, maybe?” Lauren asked. “Do you live near Woodward?”

“Not really. We’re actually about five minutes east of the mall, by Hillman Park.” “Oh, cool, that’s not too far from me. Will you text me your address?”

“Yes, but I’m getting ready to leave. My brother Nathan will be here, though.” And he owed me big for this.

“Okay. Thanks.”

I hung up, then texted her our address.


“Did she sound cute?” he asked.

“Nope, she sounded like a big, burly girl. Have fun.”

 

I lay on my bed, throwing a soccer ball in the air over and over. It was midnight. I couldn’t face sleep. I wondered if Gage, whose room shared a wall with mine, was going to come over and tell me to be quiet. I caught the ball with a loud smack and then pulled my arm back, poised to hurl it against the wall this time. That would wake him.

I sighed and let it roll off my fingertips instead, landing on the floor with a thud. I didn’t want to talk to Gage. I wanted to talk to Braden. I needed to apologize. That’s why my bedroom light was stil on, after all—a hope that he would see it. His room was dark, though. I sat up and planted my feet on the ground. Forcing myself to stand up, I walked to the light switch and flipped it off, then laid back down again.



The curtains on my bedroom window weren’t drawn tightly closed, and a strip of light from the moon cut across my ceiling. It was as if the moon was trying to tell me to stop being so stubborn. I stood again and marched down the stairs and outside. Then I sat there in the dirt by the fence. I should’ve just texted him, but I couldn’t. What if he ignored it? At least this way if he didn’t come, I could tell myself it was because he was asleep.

I wasn’t sure how much time passed as I sat there. Long enough for me to wonder why I was stil sitting there. I stood and paced the fence. If he didn’t come out by the time I counted to fifty, I’d go back inside and forget about this. I started my count. When I reached forty-nine, I decided that one hundred was a much better number. I needed to give him a chance, after all. Fifty seconds was barely more time than a center got to snap a football.

The numbers ticked through my head, one for each step I took along the fence line. “Seventy-six,” whispered aloud, my bare foot landing on a rock. “Ouch.” I stopped and clenched my fists. This was ridiculous. Just as I turned to head back to the house, I heard his back door snick shut. I whirled to face the fence again and watched him walk slowly toward it. He didn’t know I was there. I should call out to him. If he did know I was there, would he tell me how heartless I was for what I said the other night?

I was surprised when he walked right up to my board and leaned his forehead against it. “Hey,” he said.

I leaned into the board as well. “Hi,” I whispered. “I didn’t think you could see me.” “You’re wearing white. It practically glows through the cracks.”

I looked down at my basketball camp T-shirt. “Oh.” “Are you still mad at me?” he asked.

“No . . .” I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Relief flooded my body. I had missed him more than I realized. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For what I said about your mom and dad. My family is far from perfect, you know that as well as anyone. I’m sorry for turning it around on you. I was just surprised.” I shoved my hands into the pockets of my sweats. “Maybe my mom was different than I imagined her.”

“Your family is pretty amazing, Charles.” I heard him draw in a deep breath. Maybe he was relieved we were talking again too. “I shouldn’t have said that about your mom. I wasn’t thinking. Here you were upset you couldn’t remember anything about her and what do I do? Give you these


depressing memories that aren’t even yours. There were so many reasons she could’ve been sad. Maybe your brothers were fighting too much that day and she was at her wit’s end. She had four kids in six years. That had to get overwhelming at times.”

Unlike when we sat back-to-back against the fence, I could feel his breath seep through the crack and touch my cheeks. I still didn’t open my eyes. We were so close that the air smelled like him. I didn’t realize I knew how Braden smelled until that moment. “Thank you.” I twisted, turning awa from his scent, which was making my head spin. I put my back to the fence once again, then looked up at the night stars.

He didn’t do the same thing, because his voice was crystal clear next to my ear. “My dad is a jerk and my mom should leave him.”

“No. I shouldn’t have said that. He’s sick. If he would just stop drinking—”

“It didn’t start five years ago. I mean, the drinking did, but he was always a jerk. You know that. The alcohol just makes it worse. Why do you think I claimed your dad was mine at school that day? wanted him to be mine. I wanted to be in your family.”

“You are in our family.” “No, I’m not.”

“In all the ways that matter. I told you the other night that you’re stuck. You can’t disown us now.” “I don’t want to,” he whispered. My heart thought that was the time to beat out of control. I tried to

respond, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. The fence between us had never felt like a barrier to me. It had always felt like protection—the only reason I was able to say some of the things I could ou here. But tonight, I wanted to feel him next to me. I wanted to comfort him.

He took two deep breaths, then said, “You missed one of the funniest tantrums ever on the field the other day over a supposed foul.”

I relaxed, glad he changed the subject. My reaction had proved it was getting too intense. “George?”

“Of course.”

“Who fouled him?”

“That’s the point. Nobody fouled him.” “So you did, then. What did you do?”

He laughed. “I barely tripped him. Barely! He didn’t even fall. I was going for the ball. His foo just got in the way. Nobody else would’ve called it.”

“George is a baby.”

“Yes. Never date anyone you haven’t seen play sports. It says so much about a guy.”

It was true that you could tell a lot about someone by the way they played a game. I knew Jerom was a leader, Nathan followed all the rules to a T, and Gage was laid-back, in it for the fun. What about Braden? What had I learned about Braden over the years from watching him play? He was team player, never hogged the ball or took it when he couldn’t deliver. He hung in the background a lot, waiting until someone needed assistance. So he was . . . .what? Observant? Not selfish?

“And never, ever date a guy who acts like he’s playing in the finals of a professional sporting event when he’s really playing a pickup game.”

We had laughed about that a lot. People who took a pickup game so seriously that they lost their temper or threw a tantrum over the stupidest things. “What if he is playing in the finals of a professional sporting event?”


“Then it’s perfectly acceptable. And you should find out about getting free season tickets.”

I laughed. “Which brings me back to the fact game. I have one. If you could only have seaso tickets to one sport it would be baseball. A’s.”

“Are you sure? There are so many sports I like. This could be the fact that you lose over.”

“Only if I get it wrong and you can answer the same fact about me and get it right. But I’m no worried. You leave puddles of drool on the floor when you watch the A’s play. If you could watch even one game in the Coliseum, I think your heart would stop.”

He let out a short burst of air. “Yes. It’s true. But I don’t think I know this answer about you.” “I’ve known all along that I know you better. It just took me a while to prove it.”

“Can we institute a three-strike rule?” “Nope.”

“Fine. Give me a minute to ponder it, then.”

I hummed the Jeopardy! theme song. The funny thing was that I didn’t know if I knew the answer to this question about myself. I would love watching almost any sport live. So technically, I’d probably let him get away with any answer as long as it was a team I really liked.

“Your brother.” He said it with so much confidence that I almost immediately believed him. But then I realized what he said made no sense.

“What?”

“If you could have season tickets to any sporting event, it would be the UNLV Rebels soccer team so you could watch every one of your brother’s games from the stands. You would be in heaven.”

I started to deny it, to say that wasn’t technically a match because it wasn’t a professional team, but then I remembered how sad I felt every time Jerom told me he had played in a game and I wasn’ there.

“You should see the look on your face when you watch your brothers play. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone more proud than you.”

I couldn’t say anything. I didn’t trust my voice. He was right. There were no other games in the world I’d rather watch than ones involving my brothers.

“I know it’s not technically season tickets or a professional sports team, but I think it’s the most accurate.”

He was right. He did know me well. Better than I thought he would. I didn’t think he’d been payin such close attention over the years. He was always around, and being a year younger I was always interested in what he and my brother were doing. But I didn’t think it went both ways. “Yeah, it counts,” I said quickly.

“What was that?” “Yes.”

“Your voice sounds funny.”

“Yeah, well, your face looks funny. See you tomorrow.” I walked away from his laughter. “Who knows who better now?” he called out.

I shook my head with a smile. He was pretty good. I’d have to step up my facts. He would not bea me at this game.


UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

HarperCollins Publishers

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Date: 2015-02-03; view: 69


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