Authors: Amber Garza
I fell for Dusty the first time I saw him skate. I’d never seen anyone as good as him. I still haven’t. There was nothing more thrilling than watching Dusty in his element. Even after everything that’s happened between us, there’s no denying his skill.
The same way I felt watching Dusty is how I feel at this moment watching Cal in his baseball game. I may not know much about this sport, but it’s clear how good Cal is. When my gaze sweeps the stands, I can tell everyone else here thinks the same thing. Especially the girls. My stomach sours as I catch the lovesick expressions of most of the females sitting near me on the bleachers.
It makes me kind of wish I’d worn Cal’s jacket the way he told me too. But the minute the thought enters, I silence it. Girlfriends are supposed to wear their boyfriend’s jacket, and I’m not Cal’s girlfriend. As nice as that sounds, I don’t think I ever can be.
In fact, I’m kind of shocked that I’m even here. I hadn’t planned on attending the game. Baseball isn’t something that appeals to me, and the last thing I want to do is lead Cal on. It’s clear that he was inviting me here as more than a friend. Our chemistry is undeniable when we’re together, and I know that I need to keep my distance for both of our sakes. But when I went home, I couldn’t get Cal out of my head. I kept picturing the smile on his face when he joined me for lunch. And I kept conjuring up the feel of his breath on my face and neck when he leaned in close and whispered in my ear. The more I thought about him, the more I longed to go to his game.
Students at the school talk about Cal like he’s a god, and honestly, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I see it now. Staring at him out on the mound, my stomach flip flops. The muscles on his arm bulge with every pitch, and his expression is intense in a way that sends chills down my spine.
“Hey,” a girl’s voice startles me.
My head snaps up in the direction of it. Emmy sinks down onto the bleacher next to me. Her cheeks and nose are rosy from the cool night air, and her hair is pulled back in a ponytail at the top of her head. She’s wearing a jacket similar to Cal’s and a pair of dark denim jeans. I glance down at my ripped jeans, black t-shirt and Converse tennis shoes. My dark hair is pulled back too, but not into a high pony. It’s tangled at the base of my neck in a messy knot underneath my black beanie. I marvel at how different Emmy and I are. Honestly, I’m different from every girl in the stands. Once again, I wonder what Cal’s interest in me is. It seems unfathomable that he would really be attracted to me. Is it only because I’m different? Because I bring excitement? I sure hope not.
“Didn’t expect to see you here,” Emmy continues.
“You and me both,” I mutter under my breath.
“Are you here to watch Cal?”
Her question causes me to ponder if he’s talked to her about us. Does she know about our kiss? About Dusty? “Um…yeah. He invited me.” I squirm in my seat.
“Cool.” She flashes me a large, toothy grin, and then returns her attention to the field. The catcher jumps up to snatch the ball, and Emmy leaps up, squealing so loud I worry she might have ruptured my eardrum. My gaze flickers to the back of her jacket. The name ALCOTT is printed across her shoulder blades. “Sorry about that,” she says breathlessly when she sits back down. “I get so excited when Chris makes a good catch.”
“Chris is your boyfriend, right?”
She nods, her smile deepening.
“And he’s Cal’s best friend?” I ask, connecting all the puzzle pieces.
She nods again, her smile slipping a little.
“That must be awkward.”
She shrugs. “It was at first. It’s getting easier with time.” She gives me a conspiratorial look. “Cal’s a super overprotective brother, and he’s never really liked any of my boyfriends. So it was definitely an adjustment when I started dating his best friend, but he’s coming around.”
“I can imagine,” I say, biting my lip.
I’m definitely seeing a pattern here.
“But it’s worth it.” Emmy isn’t looking at me. Her gaze is fixed on her boyfriend. “Chris and I connect in a way I never thought possible. And I’ve never been with a guy who treats me so well, a guy who makes me so happy.”
My chest tightens, and I find it difficult to draw breath. A montage of all my interactions with Cal float through my mind. I envision the way he held me close, shielding me from Dusty. And the way he insisted on driving me home. Also, how concerned he seemed the next morning when the rumors were floating around the school. If I allowed myself to open up to Cal, if I allowed a relationship to unfold between us, would he make me happier than I’ve ever been?
Emmy jumps up again, squealing, and it cuts into my internal thoughts. I glance up to see the Prairie Creek Panthers exiting the field.
“What’s happening?” I ask.
“You don’t know anything about baseball, do you?” Emmy raises her eyebrows.
Embarrassed, I shake my head.
“That’s okay. I know a lot, so you’re sitting by the right person.” She launches into the ins and outs of the game, and I listen as intently as I can. But pretty soon, I zone out. One thing is clear to me: Emmy likes to talk. Once she gets going, there’s almost no stopping her.
I say ‘almost,’ because one thing does stop her – when the boys take the field again. Once Chris is positioned behind home plate (one piece of information I did pay attention to) her eyes never leave him. She’s transfixed. It’s kind of amazing. A few times he peers over at her, throwing her winks or smiles. Their connection is palpable, and it makes me a little uncomfortable. But it also gives me another feeling. One I’m not nearly as familiar with.
. I find myself wanting what they have.
Since coming to Prairie Creek, I’ve realized that relationships can be beautiful. Love doesn’t have to hurt. It doesn’t have to be co-dependent or all-consuming or desperate. It doesn’t have to break your heart. Now I’m curious what a healthy relationship would feel like, and I wonder if it’s possible for someone like me.
I doubt it, but a part of me wants to try.
“Excuse me.” I’m kneed in the back, and I almost fall off the bench. I right myself and glance over my shoulder at the girl sitting behind me. Coughing, I smother my hand to block out her strong, floral scent. When my gaze connects with the culprit, I recognize her as a girl from my math class. Ashley, I think her name is. “Sorry,” she mumbles.
“That’s okay,” I respond before turning back around. When I do, I notice Emmy glaring in Ashley’s direction, her whole body tense with anger.
What’s going on there?
Before I can ask her, the stands erupt in cheers, and Emmy goes back to ignoring everyone but Chris.
The game isn’t as boring as I had assumed it would be. I actually end up enjoying it, and pretty soon it’s over. After a quick pep talk with the coach, the boys disperse. The minute Chris walks in our direction, Emmy says a quick goodbye and heads toward him. When they meet up, Chris wraps his arms around her and draws her close.
In the distance I spot Ashley trailing after one of the other guys on the team, but he hardly pays any attention to her. It reminds me of how Dusty often treated me in public, and it makes me sad.
“You made it.” Cal’s voice startles me.
I whirl around to face him. His face is red and shiny, damp tufts of hair sticking out from under his cap. He smells like dirt, sweat, and faintly of deodorant. I’ve never seen anyone look so good before.
“Yeah,” I respond shyly.
Reaching out, he touches the sleeve of my shirt. “No jacket though.” Disappointment taints his tone, and it peeks my curiosity.
“Why did you want me to wear it?”
“Cal!” A few girls shriek in unison from behind me. Cal glances over my shoulder, a smile appearing on his face. Pretty soon I’m crowded by big hair, perfume, and pink shirts. I can’t make out what they’re all saying since they’re talking over one another, but I know it’s all compliments toward Cal. Some of them are even bold enough to reach out and touch his arm. But the thing that bothers me the most is that they treat me like I’m invisible. Sickened by the whole display, I duck under their arms and break away.
“Taylor!” Cal’s voice cuts through all the gushing.
“Excuse me, girls.” He shoves past the group. “I appreciate you coming to the game, but I’m kinda in the middle of something.” His eyes never leave mine as he speaks. I hear huffing from the group of girls, and I’m sure they’re pouting, but I don’t look at them. I’m too busy staring into Cal’s eyes. In fact, I’m not sure “staring” is the right word. Drowning is more like it. His gaze is drawing me in, pulling me under, and I have no desire to fight it. As the girls move out of the way, he steps toward me. When he reaches me, he rests his hands on my waist. My body goes rigid, but I don’t move. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot the other girls stalking away, throwing angry glances over their shoulders. But I don’t care about them. All I care about is the boy in front of me. So I ignore them, allowing myself to be pulled back into his gaze. “You’re the first girl I’ve ever given my jacket to. Did you know that?”
My mouth goes dry. I shake my head.
“I know you want to know why, but I don’t know if I can give you an answer.” His hold on my waist tightens, as if he’s locking me in place. “I can’t explain the way I feel when I’m with you. It’s weird. From that first moment we spoke I felt something between us, and after we kissed, I couldn’t shake it.” He angles his face, his lips nearing mine. “Please tell me you feel it too.”
It’s happening again. That vortex feeling. He’s got me under his spell, and I’m not strong enough to resist.
“Yes, I do,” I breathe out.
He practically moans in response, his mouth so close it almost touches mine. My heart beats erratically in my chest, and my knees soften. Luckily, Cal’s hands hold me steady.
“I made you a promise, remember?” Hot breath fans over my lips.
My palms moisten as I long to feel his lips on mine desperately. Isn’t he going to kiss me? I lick my lips, staring at his.
He groans. “I won’t back down on my promise, but you’re making it difficult.”
I rack my brain. What the hell is he talking about? “What promise?”
“No more kissing.” he pauses, his eyes searching my face. “Until you give the green light.”
“Green light,” I say quickly.
He smiles. “Told you.” Before I can say anything in my defense, his bottom lip brushes mine. I feel heady, and I worry I might fall over. Reaching out, I clutch his shirt, bunching it between my fingers. My fingertips light on his taut chest muscles, causing a wave of desire to wash over me. His hands slide around the back of my waist, warmth seeping into my back. His body presses to mine as he exerts more pressure, both our top and bottom lips connecting. His lips are moist and hot, and I don’t even care that he smells like he’s been working out. When I was dating Dusty, I always hated kissing him after he’d been skating. I didn’t like getting the salty taste of sweat on my lips. And I hated inhaling the dirt smell that lingered on his body. But nothing about Cal repels me right now. If anything, I want to stay in this moment for the rest of my life. Cool air flicks over my back and skates across my neck, and I shiver.
“Cold?” Cal speaks against my mouth.
“A little,” I say, our lips bumping with each syllable.
“Well, we can’t have that.” He rubs his hands up and down my spine causing heat with the friction. “Has anyone ever told you that you have the most sensual lips in the entire world?” I can’t respond with words because he clamps his mouth over mine. So instead, I melt into him. But if I was able to speak I would tell him that no one has ever said that. No one has ever said so many nice things to me, and no one has ever made me feel like this. But since I can’t say a word, I show him with my lips, with my mouth, with my tongue. As much as I want to kiss him with everything I have, I keep it soft and light. I don’t want things between us to be manic or desperate. I’ve had that before. So I keep my movements slow and tender, and he responds in kind.
It’s a dance of tender kisses, of light touches, a gentle push and pull, give and take. Our first kiss was mind-blowing, intense. This one’s different. It’s meaningful.
It’s the kind of kiss I never thought I’d have.
But the kind I’ve always dreamt of.
It’s even better than our first kiss. I didn’t even think that was possible.
When our lips disconnect, I drop my forehead to hers and breathe in deeply. But I keep my hands around her waist, not wanting to let her go. Taylor’s so hot and cold, I’m actually afraid to release her. Afraid she’ll retreat into herself again. She was so open and vulnerable before our kiss, and I want her to stay that way. But I won’t trick myself into believing she will.
“No,” she finally says, and I flinch.
“No?” I ask, wondering if this is a delayed response to me asking to kiss her. If so, it’s a little too late.
“I’m answering your question,” she explains. “No one has ever told me that I have the most sensual lips in the entire world.”
Drawing back, I grin. “Well, you do.”
Her cheeks are flushed, her hair mussed underneath her beanie that is now askew on her head. She looks sexy. “Really?”
I wonder why this surprises her. Hasn’t anyone ever told her how hot she is? I lift one of my arms, leaving the other one hooked around her waist. Then I touch her lips, tracing each line with the pads of my fingers. “Yes. Really.”
She doesn’t move, but desire is written in her eyes. Lightly I cover her lips with mine. It’s one peck. Just a tease, really. But I like it. I like that she allows me to kiss her again. It makes this real. Gives me hope that she won’t run away. When I glance around the field, it’s mostly empty. Only a few stragglers left. I think about the girls who swarmed me after the game. At first I hadn’t thought much about it. I’m used to the attention. But when I saw the look on Taylor’s face, saw her try to escape, I felt like crap. She doesn’t deserve to be shoved aside like she’s nothing. She deserves all my attention. It’s obvious that she’s used to being treated poorly, but that ends now.
I plan to do everything in my power to make her feel like the most important person in the world.
“You’re amazing, you know that?” I ask her.
“Oh yeah?” She cocks an eyebrow. “What’s so amazing about me?”
“For starters, you’re sexy as hell. Second, you’re an incredible kisser. Third, you’re strong and brave.”
Her face darkens, and she steps back. “No, I’m not.”
I tug her back to me. “Yes, you are. You wouldn’t be here in Prairie Creek if you weren’t.”
“I’m here because my parents sent me here.”
“You’re forgetting that I was with you the night Dusty was in town. You were smart and resourceful, and you hid from him.”
“That’s being brave? Hiding?”
“Sometimes hiding is the bravest thing you can do,” I tell her honestly.
“Really? How do you figure?”
“I don’t know what happened between you and him, and you don’t have to tell me until you’re ready, but when I talked to him, it was evident that you two have a pretty intense history. I know that can be hard to walk away from.”
“You know this from experience?” Her tone is hope filled.
“Sort of. My sister’s dated some major creeps, and she had a hard time walking away. And my aunt was in an abusive marriage. Stayed with the guy way too long. He almost killed her. She was too scared to leave.” I touch her face gently. “She wasn’t brave like you.”
“What makes you think Dusty abused me?”
“You were scared of him that night he was in town. I could feel it when I held you.”
She nodded. “I was scared, but you made me feel safe. No one’s ever been able to do that for me before.”
I feel equal parts happy and angry. I’m happy that I’m able to make her feel safe, but upset that she’s endured so much fear. She shouldn’t feel fear. Not ever. Drawing her close, I press her face to my chest. “From now on you’ll feel safe. I’ll make sure of it.”
Her arms wrap around me, and she snuggles close. My protective side overtakes me, and I hold her as tightly as I can. If I could hold her forever, I would. But since I know that’s not possible, I make a pact to always keep my eye on her. To always be on the lookout. If anyone tries to hurt her again, they’ll have to go through me first.
Suddenly, she jerks back. “Um…I better get home.”
I know that look. I’ve seen it before. But I’m not letting her push me away again. My hand circles her wrist. “I’ll take you home.” She opens her mouth, but I shake my head. “We’ve been through this. I’m stubborn, remember?”
“How could I forget?” Her teasing smile is back.
I thread my fingers through hers. “Keep it in mind,” I say. “Especially if you’re thinking about running away from me again.”
She sighs. “Cal, you don’t know everything about me.”
“You don’t know everything about me either,” I point out. “I would venture to say that everyone has things they keep to themselves. My parents have been married forever, and they don’t know every single thing about each other.”
“I think it’s a little more complicated with me than that.”
“Maybe, but I don’t care. I like you, and you like me. Can’t that be enough right now?”
She hesitates, but I can see in her eyes that my words have hit their mark. “Yeah,” she finally replies. “I guess it can.”
“You’ll start wearing my jacket then?”
She giggles. “What is it with you and that jacket?”
“It’s important to me.” I give her the puppy dog look that always works on my mom. I’m hoping it has the same effect on Taylor. “What do you say?”
“Fine.” She groans. “I’ll wear it to your next game.”
I shake my head.
“What?” Her eyes widen.
“Wear it to school tomorrow. Hell, wear it every day.”
Her forehead scrunches. “You want me to wear it to school? You want me to wear it every day? Why?”
Because I want everyone to know you’re mine. And if that scumbag comes back, I want him to know you’ve got someone looking out for you. That you’re no longer his.
I tug on her shirt. “Because it’s cold, and nothing you wear keeps you warm. And also, because I like seeing it on you.”
She pauses as if mulling over my words. “Okay, I’ll wear it to school,” she says. “But only because you’re right, I am cold most of the time. It will be nice to have something warmer.”
I smile, satisfied with the small victory.
“Where ya been?” Emmy intercepts me the minute I get home. She’s sitting on the couch watching TV by herself. I search the room for Chris.
“You’re alone?” After dropping my bat bag near the door, I enter the family room.
She nods. “Chris is helping Olivia with something, Mom’s in her office, and Dad’s already in bed.”
I sink down onto the couch next to her. Some chick flick is playing, so I reach for the remote.
“Hey.” She snatches the remote from my hand. “I’m watching this.”
I chuckle. “Being with Chris has turned you into a sap.”
Her eyes narrow. She tucks the remote under her leg. I shake my head. Like that’s going to stop me. If I wanted the remote badly enough I could easily overpower her and get it. “So I sat next to Taylor during the game.” She cocks a brow, willing me to share.
“Good for you,” I say, not giving her anything.
She sighs in exasperation. “She said you invited her to the game.”
“Yep.” I glance up at the flat screen mounted to the wall. “You gonna watch your stupid movie or are you gonna keep yapping?”
She rolls her eyes. “You can avoid the question, but I know something’s going on between you and Taylor.”
Annoyance rises in me. “Chris tell you that?”
She shakes her head. “Chris doesn’t tell me anything about you. We may be dating, but he’s your best friend. You can trust him.”
Her words give me peace. It’s what I figured, but I had to know for sure. “Then where did you get this information about Taylor and me?” I don’t even know why I’m being so secretive. By tomorrow everyone’s going to know about us. The girls I ignored for her have probably already started gossiping. And if she wears my jacket, then there’ll be no doubt about where we stand. I think my reaction to Emmy is out of habit. I’ve always been pretty private about who I date, but this time I want people to know. I have this irrational desire to stake my claim when it comes to her.
“I didn’t need anyone to give me information. I know you, Cal.” She shrugs. “But it also helped that I saw you two kissing after the game.”
I laugh. “Yeah. That’ll do it.”
“I’ve seen you with girls before, but this looked different to me. You really like her, huh?”
I nod, all joking gone. “Yeah. I do.”
A chuckle escapes her lips, and she shakes her head.
“It’s just funny, that’s all.”
“What’s funny?” Mom ambles into the room. Her eyes are red, mascara ringing them. She looks like she’s coming out of a trance. Clearly she’s been in her office awhile.
I throw Emmy a warning look.
“Oh, nothing. I was just teasing Cal,” she says quickly.
Mom shakes her head, clearly confused, but she drops it. “Where’s your dad?”
“He’s been in bed for like an hour, Mom,” Emmy says in an irritated tone.
“Hmm.” Mom appears confused. “What time is it?” She squints toward the clock on the wall. “Wow. I didn’t realize it was so late.”
I hadn’t seen Mom at the game. Only Dad. Now I know why. She must have been lost in a fictional world.
“How was your game?” Mom asks.
“It went well,” I answer. “We won.”
“Good for you, honey.” She reaches forward and pats me on the head, but I can tell her mind is a million miles away. Most likely she’s writing a scene in her head. It’s the kind of thing that bothers Emmy, but I don’t care. It’s who Mom is. I get it because I’m the same way about baseball. It flows through my blood, pumps in my veins. If I’m not playing it, I’m thinking about playing it. So I can’t fault Mom for being as passionate about her writing. “I’m heading to bed. See ya in the morning.” In a daze she wanders out of the room.
Emmy blows out a breath. “Man, she is unbelievable. I’m surprised she even noticed we were here.”
Without saying a word, I smile. No sense trying to defend Mom. When Emmy gets like this, it’s best to let her vent.
“Sometimes I wonder why she even had kids. If we weren’t here, she wouldn’t have to venture out of her fictional world at all. Wouldn’t that be a dream come true for her.”
While Emmy is preoccupied, I bend forward, shove her leg out of the way and snake the remote.
Hey, I never said I was a saint.
“Cal!” She leaps for me, but I stand, aim the remote at the TV and quickly switch it to ESPN. Then I shove the remote down my pants for added insurance. “Eww. Gross.” Emmy folds in on herself, her nose wrinkled in disgust.
“Good luck getting it back.” I wink, swinging my hips forward and backward, as if daring her to try.
“You are so disgusting.” Emmy scoots even further away from me.
“Does Taylor have any idea what she’s getting herself into?”
“Oh, I think she does.” I grin. “And I think she likes it.”