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I sat on the bleachers facing the track. Since Josh had made the football team, I was his designated ride home. He wasted his money on video game extensions instead of a car, but it wasn’t so bad, really. I got a lot of sun and a lot of schoolwork done, sitting there with nothing to do. Josh had just turned seventeen, and Dad’s gift to Josh was playing football. Of course, I taught him everything he knew.
My legs were getting so sore from sitting there for so long, so I stood up and stretched. The tight white shirt I wore rose a little, showing off my belly button. My favorite jean shorts were perfectly tight, but had a little stain on them. I scratched at it with a frown. My bright pink high top Converse smacked the metal loudly as I jumped from my spot and headed for the gate.
“Hey!” A voice called out to me. I turned around slowly and saw two boys walking up to me from the track. The one that spoke to me had floppy brown hair and pretty blue eyes. But he was short, only an inch or two taller than me. The other was a large guy, probably a lineman, both with very pleasing faces.
“Hey.” I said, walking over to them where they stood in the other side of the bleachers fence. The bleachers were tall, and I looked down at them, resting my forearms on the fence.
“Hey. I’m Kai and this is Cody. We noticed you watching and wondered which one of us you was looking at.” The lineman grinned. He had perfect teeth. But since summer, I was numb.
“Oh, you guys are cute.” I drawled, leaning over to show my chest, knowing I had their full attention. “You guys think I was looking at you?” I laughed but it held no joy. “Nah. I’m here for my brother.” I pointed at Josh, sprinting down the field to catch a pass. He saw me pointing and stumbled a bit before catching the ball.
Kai recoiled as if I had slapped him, but Cody just laughed. “Damn! This one’s feisty!” He chortled and nudged Kai in the ribs. Josh jogged over to us, ball in hand. I walked to the gate and stepped off the bleachers. Josh and Kai towered over me and Cody.
“Everything okay?” Josh asked, putting a protective arm around my shoulder. I was the big sister; he didn’t need to be protecting me. I shoved him lightly.
“Yeah. We’re just talkin’.” I answered, eying the boys in front of me. Silently, I wondered how the hell they thought this conversation would go.
“You got a helluva sister there, West.” Cody chortled again and slapped Josh on the back. I switched my gaze to Kai, who hadn’t said a word since I shut him down. He was eying the cheerleaders down the field, looking for an easier target.
“Thanks.” Josh mumbled, removing his arm from me and flipping the football in his hands.
I snatched it from him. “Go long.” I said, enjoying the rush of adrenaline seeping into my veins. The ball was rough and warm in my hands, waiting for me to throw it.
“Ash.” Josh whined, rubbing his legs. “Don’t make me run more than I have to. I’m so sore.”
“Do you throw far?” Cody asked, stepping a few feet away and holding out his hands. The movement offended me.
“You’re gonna hafta go father than that.” He raised his eyebrows like he didn’t believe me. I scoffed, readying my arms.
“Seriously.” Josh interrupted. “She taught me everything I know and more.” Kai and Cody laughed like they thought it was impossible for a girl to know anything about football. I loved proving people wrong. I walked slowly toward the end zone, still flipping the ball.
“Other end zone.” I said to Cody, preparing myself to thrown.
He scoffed. “The other end zone?” I nodded, motioning with my hand for him to go that way. “Are you sure you can throw that far?”
“Go!” I yelled, getting impatient with these idiots. Cody gave Kai and Josh a look that said I was crazy. Josh just folded his arms and smirked, knowing full well how I could throw. I could feel the eyes of the rest of the football team on me as well.
Cody finally made it close to the end zone, stopping ten yards short and facing me. I turned my body, rested two fingers on the laces, and launched. The football flew into a perfect spiral, soaring through the air with ease. Cody’s eyes widened in disbelief as he started running backwards to catch the ball. He jumped up and caught the ball with a loud smack, then fell to the ground.
“Damn!” A bystander yelled in appreciation, clapping at me. Pretty soon, the entire team was applauding my performance.
“Thank you! Thank you!” I bowed a few times and blew kisses to my audience. A few of the boys pretended to catch my kisses and swoon. Even the coach was clapping for me. I returned to Josh and Kai, a suck-it smile on my face.
Cody came jogging back to us, ball in hand and football pads stained. “Holy shit, you can throw!” He grinned wildly and looked at me. I recognized that look. I wanted nothing to do with that look.
“I told you I could.” I crossed my arms and bumped Josh in the shoulder, who didn’t even budge.
“Alright, team!” Coach Harrison called, summoning the sweaty boys to the end zone where I stood moments ago. Josh wrapped his arm around my shoulders again and forced me along. Coach was talking to someone, a new kid, I guess. He had his back to us, a red baseball cap over his blonde hair. His shoulders were broad and his hands rested lazily in his jean pockets. My heart jumped to my throat.
“Fuck.” I hissed, grabbing hold of Josh’s biceps and digging my nails in.
“Oww! What the hell--” He began to complain, but then slowly followed my gaze. His eyes widened, body growing rigid with anger.
“Alright, guys. This is our new team member. He just moved here but he’s a helluva quarterback. I expect you to give him a warm welcome!” Coach patted the new guy on the back and he turned to face us. My stomach lurched.
“Hey, everyone. I’m glad to be here, working with y’all and playing as a team.” Gabe grinned, showing off his dimple. Team members walked up to him and greeted him. The crowd that was separating us was slowly disappearing. I was still holding onto Josh’s arm when the last player left Gabe. He turned to us slowly, almost in slow motion, and his eyes found mine. His dark blue seas went wide with shock.
“Ash!” He yelped, taking a step forward and reaching for me. Josh formed a barrier between us. I rested my hand on the small of his back, so grateful he was here.
“Do you need something?” Josh growled, looking up at Gabe. Gabe was easily two inches taller, but I prayed Josh could still beat the shit out of him if he had to.
Gabe ignored him completely. “Ash, what the hell are you doing here?” His voice was incredulous, like he couldn’t quite wrap his head around the fact that I was standing right in front of him.
Renewed anger filled me when I remembered why he had driven me from Hidden Valley. “I live here, you asshole! What are you doing here?” I stepped out from behind Josh and looked up at Gabe. He looked down at me, sorrow taking place of his shock. He ripped off his cap and ran his hand through his blonde hair, making it stick up in odd angles.
“My dad just moved us here.” His voice was soft and his blue eyes found mine. My hands were clenched and trembling at my sides. He noticed, and moved as if he were going to touch me, but thought better of it and shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Leave.” I demanded, voice trembling along with my hands. I felt so damn weak, and I hated that he could make me feel this way. His eyes skimmed over me, ending on my neck. He was undoubtedly remembering when I ripped off the necklace he gave me and threw it at him. “Leave!”
“It’s not that easy, Ash!” He shouted, running his hand over his face and stopping on his split lip. I hadn’t noticed it before, tried not to notice all the places where I put my lips. I gave him that split lip when I walked in on him naked and half drunk, with his ex-girlfriend wrapped around his waist. “If I listened to everything you said, half the world would be on fire and the other half dead!”
“If you had listened to everything I said, I wouldn’t have found you with a girl around your waist! If you had listened to me, you would’ve left me alone that day on the dock and none of this would have even happened! If you had listened to everything I said, you would remember me saying that I didn’t want to fall in love with you because I knew you would hurt me. I knew you would. I told you to leave me alone. But guess what! You didn’t listen!” My eyes burned as I screamed and I knew I was making a scene. Josh stood rigid behind me, ready to jump Gabe. I shoved Gabe as hard as I could and he stumbled backwards. Josh put a hand on my arm but I ripped myself away from him.
I watched as something inside of Gabe snapped. “You know what else, Ash? You didn’t listen either! You didn’t listen when I told you I love you. You didn’t listen when I told you that you were it for me and I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. You left me that night because ever since we met, you were looking for a way out. You couldn’t trust me and really be with me, so I gave you your way out. On the dock when you said we wouldn’t work, you were breaking my heart. I wanted everything with you. Every. Single. Thing. You just wanted it to be easy.
“Sera came over, looking for a good time. I had drank all of the alcohol in my dad’s cabinet; I couldn’t even stand up. I was too drunk to do anything about it. I let her touch me, do whatever the hell she wanted. Her hands were all over me!” I flinched at his words, biting my cheeks. “But you know what I felt? Nothing. Not a single thing. Just from being around you, just from looking at you, my heart feels like it’s gonna jump out of my chest. You walked in the door that day looking for a reason. A reason to leave me, a way to hate me. A way to build those walls up again and protect yourself. And I gave you that reason. I gave you whatever you needed.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and put a hand to my head. My stomach was churning, feeling like it was about to spill. Josh placed his hand on my back and rubbed softly. My jaw clenched as I tried to find my angry resolve.
“You asshole!” I cried, stepping toward him and pushing him again. “You think I wanted to leave you? How stupid are you? I just knew that long distance wouldn't work for us; it never does! But I had one more week with you before that day on the dock. One more week to hear you laugh. One more week to be wrapped in your arms. One more week to tell you ‘I love you’ over and over again because it felt so good and so terrifying at the same time every time the words left my lips. One more week! But you stole that from me because you were angry and you just couldn’t let me have that week.”
“Ash.” He whispered, stepping toward me and grabbing my left wrist. I felt my body being sucked into his gravitational pull, wanting to give into him. I slapped him before I even knew what I was doing. His mouth fell open as he jerked backwards, the skin on his face turning a bright red.
“Don’t fucking touch me.” I said, voice low and harsh. “Don’t look at me. Don’t talk to me. Don’t even breathe the same air as me. You disgust me.”
The look of utter devastation on his face was nearly enough to crush me, but before it did, I spun on my heel to the bleachers. I grabbed my stuff with fumbling hands and sped out to the parking lot to my truck. A sob tried to escape from my lips as soon as I slammed the door shut. I didn’t want to cry anymore over that idiot, but I could feel the sob working it’s way up my throat and ripping through me like a serrated knife.
I cried until practice was over, feeling raw and numb. The tears were eventually gone, but I could tell that my face was still red and my eyes were glassy. I laid my cheek on the armrest and stared at the steering wheel. Josh appeared in the driver side window, looking at me briefly. He opened the back door and threw his equipment in roughly. Then he opened my door and shoved me over into the passenger seat. I didn’t complain.
Josh looked at me again, the frown on his face so deep and almost pitiful.
“Don’t pity me.” I mumbled, kicking him leg lightly. He fished around for a minute, looking for the keys. I grabbed them from under my butt and threw them at him.
He looked at me, that familiar smirk coming back. “Dairy Queen, it is.” I snorted at him and almost laughed. He knew I always went to Dairy Queen when I was upset over something. In that moment, I had never been more grateful to have my little brother.