Authors: Renee Ericson
Tags: #General Fiction
This is it—the moment I decide if I believe this is a date. It’s also the moment I decide whether I let someone see where I live, and he’s not just someone. I’m talking about
I have one year of school left. Enough is enough. I’m out of here in a year.
So, who cares?
I accept it. He’s picking me up. It is a date.
I’m letting him in my house, so I decide that I’ll wait on the front porch.
“Cool. I’ll be there at 7:30. You live near Lexi, right?”
“Uh, actually, no. I live closer to the lake.”
I give him the address, and he says he’ll use his GPS to find it. I know it isn’t necessary. We live in a small enough town. Since he grew up here, he knows exactly where my street is located. I’m guessing though that he’s being nice, not bringing up the fact that I don’t live in the one of the nicer neighborhoods in town. If he’s not making a big deal out of it, then I guess I shouldn’t either. Then again, maybe I’m overreacting about this whole thing a little too much.
“Okay,” he says in a smooth tone, “see you tonight. Looking forward to it, Ruby.”
The way he says my name sounds like a promise.
“Me, too,” I reply, realizing that I actually mean it.
We hang up. Although I have an hour, which is plenty of time, I decide to start getting ready now. I could take forever, trying to decide on an outfit.
going on a date with Brent Cromwell.
When did I turn into that girl?
Reality check: Just yesterday, I was internally chiding anyone who gawked over a boy, and here I am, openly being a bit of an idiot.
I change into something more appropriate for bowling, making sure it’s not anything slutty. Instead of my skirt, I put on a pair of shorts that don’t come close to my panty line, and then I choose a shirt that dips but not too low cut. As I start brushing out my dark wet hair, I hear someone approaching my bedroom door.
“Hey, Tuesday,” my dad says from the other side of the door.
“Hey, Dad. C’mon in.”
My dad opens the door and leans against the frame. He looks like crap, and he seems wired.
This is never good.
Who knows where he’s been or what he’s on?
“What’s up?” I ask, trying not to overanalyze his current condition.
Play it cool. He’ll just go to bed and sleep it off or something.
“Nothing. Are you going out?”
“Yeah, bowling with friends. How about you?”
Sighing, he rakes his hand down his face and then scratches the back of his neck. He looks to the ground. “Nothing.”
I start to wonder if he wants to do something with me. That would be a huge stretch, maybe hopeful but definitely weird, because he’s obviously intoxicated.
Other than the occasional breakfast in the kitchen, we haven’t spent any real time together in a year. The man is literally never around since he’s usually working, next door, or at Ace’s. I know he doesn’t sleep here every night either, and sometimes I wonder about where he’s staying. I don’t ask because I don’t want to know, but mostly, I’m more afraid that if I act like I care, he might start to show an interest in me again. Quite frankly, I’m not open to that. He checked out a while ago and left me to fend for myself. He seems to have moved on, and I see no reason to go backward in this relationship. In my mind, it’s too late. We’re on different paths, and I don’t see them crossing in the future.
My dad is still looking down, focusing on nothing. I start to feel sorry for him, but I have a hard time being the bigger person. I’m still pissed that he put this distance between us. Plus, I’m freaking seventeen, and he’s the adult, so he can make the first move. If he wants to be more than roommates, the ball’s in his court.
When I don’t respond to his last statement, my dad adds, “Jas said something about a bonfire tonight. Maybe I’ll go with him.”
I stare at him with no emotion. “Sounds fun.”
It actually sounds awful to me. I know it’ll be a night with a bunch of drunken idiots hanging out by a fire, saying crude things to one another, while becoming more and more senseless. Yes, I realize that I just went to a similar gathering last night, but we’re teenagers. It’s kind of in the handbook.
Rubbing the back of his head, he just nods before he heads back down the hallway. I can hear him in the kitchen as he opens the refrigerator and then cracks open a beer.
After brushing my hair, I turn on the hair dryer to straighten the damp waves. When I’m done getting ready, I head to the kitchen to spend a few moments with my dad before Brent arrives. Even though I have some issues with him and his behavior, we’re still cordial with one another. After all, we do live in the same house.
When I get to the kitchen, no one’s there. I peek out the back door and notice his car is gone. I guess our time together for the day is over.
Rolling my eyes, I walk back into the house.
At 7:25, I head out the front door to wait for Brent. Although I appreciate him picking me up, understanding the formality of it all, I want to make this as quick as possible. As I sit on the front stoop, I see an older red Mustang driving up the street, slowing down when it approaches my house.
I thought Brent drove an Audi.
When the car pulls in the driveway, I start to get up but swiftly sit back down when I recognize the driver as Cody. Working at the garage, he always has a new car project. It looks like the latest is this Mustang.
When he pulls the car next to my Gremlin, Dragon runs over to meet him as he gets out.
“Hey, cuz. What? No date tonight?” he taunts me.
“Hey, Cody,” I mumble very unenthusiastically as I kick my legs out in front of me.
Cody stops in front of the door to his father’s house and looks at me. “Is anyone here?”
“I don’t think so. My dad mentioned something about a bonfire. I guess that’s where they are.”
He rubs the scraggly pad of hair on his chin. “So, do you want to come with me and hunt down this party? I bet it’ll be a lot of fun. You can call one of your friends to come, too, if you like.”
“Uh, no. No way. Give it a rest.”
“I know you have some hot friends, right?”
“Geez, sensitive much?”
This spat with Cody has me a little too occupied, and I’m caught off-guard when Brent pulls into the driveway. My heart starts beating rapidly as I try to plan a safe and non-embarrassing getaway from Cody.
Man, I’m screwed!
I stand up, grabbing my bag, as Brent’s car pulls in behind my Gremlin. Before Brent has a chance to shut off the engine and get out, I briskly walk to the passenger side. My hands start to get clammy when I sense Cody following me. I’m almost there when I see Brent pop up on the other side over the roof.
“Hi, Ruby,” he says and starts to come around.
I stop where I am, trying to remain calm. All I want to do is jump in his car, so we can get out of here as quickly as possible, but at this point, I know it would be rude to launch myself into the passenger seat with Cody standing there. Not to mention, this is our first date. So much for being nervous about a first date because it’s with an amazing guy; I’m more nervous about what Cody might say.
“Hey, Brent,” I say with a half smile. “You ready to go?”
Stopping in front of me, Brent tilts his head to look over my shoulder at Cody and then lifts his chin in acknowledgment. I figure I better introduce them, or I’ll look like a total jerk.
I turn toward Cody and wave my hand in his direction. “This is Cody, my cousin.”
“Nice to meet you, man,” Brent says with an outstretched hand.
Cody has his hands shoved in his pockets, and I see something starting on the corner of his mouth.
He reaches out with his right hand to shake Brent’s. “You, too.”
Cody retracts his hand to his pocket and looks at me with a goofy, toothy, cheesy smile. I’m not sure what to make of this, but maybe he won’t embarrass me. I have no idea what my cousin is thinking, but he isn’t saying anything.
I’ll take mute over asshole any day of the week.
I give him a smirk, internally praying he says nothing else, and then I look to Brent.
“You ready?” Brent asks, gesturing to his car.
I breathe a little sigh of relief. Cody seems to have given me the gift of not being a dick for now.
“Yeah, let’s go,” I say, staring into his compelling green-gray eyes. Without another look to Cody, I start toward Brent’s car.
As Brent walks beside me, I’m hyperaware of his presence, feeling the body heat between us. When we get to the door, he opens it like a gentleman, and I slide into the smooth cream-colored leather seats. He shuts the door and waves to Cody while he rounds the front to the driver’s side. As I put on my seatbelt, I look out the window at Cody. He’s still standing in the front yard with his hands in his pockets while a shit-eating grin plays on the corners of his mouth. I know he must be laughing at me right now, but I’m just happy he wasn’t his usual total-ass self. I’m sure he’ll give me shit for this later.
When Brent starts the car, I turn to look at his gorgeous profile. He starts to back out of the driveway and then drives down the street without a word.
As we come to the end of my street, it feels like a weight has been lifted off of me. While I relax in the seat, it dawns on me that I’m in Brent’s car and have yet to say a word. I know I need to say something, especially since I probably came off really weird when he picked me up.
“So, did you have practice today?” I ask, hoping this will start some normal conversation.
His face ignites, showing off his amazing dimples, and then he chuckles a little. “We don’t practice on Saturdays, Ruby.” He looks straight at me.
I’m an idiot. Of course, there isn’t practice on Saturdays.
“But we did have a scrimmage early this morning,” he adds.
“Oh. Who won?”
I don’t know how it happens, but his smile gets bigger.
He asks, “Do you ever watch soccer?”
“Well, I guess not. I mean, I saw some British movie a long time ago about it. But I guess they call it football, and it’s
sport over there. Everyone loves it, and supposedly, you have to play it, or you’re an outcast or something. People are really passionate about it, causing fights in bars and all that. All I really got out of the movie though was that Brits say words like knickers and bullocks, have scheduled tea time, and listen to way cooler music than us. Not to mention, they wear tight pants, and they have the coolest accents. Everyone says it’s a funny movie, but I just didn’t get it. British humor, I guess. I wonder why they call it British humor. How does a whole country get its own brand of humor? Ever notice that the accent is a lot like—” I stop talking when I turn to him.
Why is he grinning from ear to ear? Crap. What did he ask me?
“No, I don’t watch soccer.”
I look down at my hands in my lap and start to nervously push back the skin on my cuticles. Then, the strangest thing happens. Brent’s hand covers my own and gives a little squeeze before he puts it back on the steering wheel. It’s so quick that I don’t have a chance to realize it’s happened until it’s over. Stunned, I turn toward Brent as he gives me a sidelong glance.
“Why don’t you come to the game next weekend? It’s our first official one of the season,” he says calmly as if I’m not weirding out.
Still trying to process what just occurred, I swallow hard. “Sure. I’ve never been to a game before.”
We talk a little on the way to the bowling alley, mostly about school, music, and his little brother who apparently goes on and on about his week at camp. Brent doesn’t touch me again for the rest of the ride, which is fine because I don’t expect him to, but I find myself hoping he does. That small amount of contact with him left me breathless in a good way, and I really didn’t get to enjoy it.
After we pull into the parking lot of the bowling alley, we get out and head toward the door. Brent walks beside me, placing his hand at the small of my back, as we go inside together. At that moment, I feel him apply the smallest amount of pressure with his fingertips. It begins to warm my body at the site of contact, radiating out into my stomach. I look at him from under my lashes, enjoying those dimples too much.
He opens the second set of doors, leading us to what I’m sure is bound to be something more than I ever expected.
Brent keeps his hand on my back as we walk toward the counter to pick up our shoes. The man there asks us for our sizes and then assigns us a lane.
“Hello,” Lexi sings to my right about a foot from my ear.
Brent removes his hand from my back as I turn toward her. Immediately, I notice the vacant and airy feeling the absence of his touch leaves within me.
“Hey,” I say, forcing a smile. I think I’m going through a minor Brent-is-no-longer-touching-me depression.
Owen is close behind her, and he nods to Brent. “We just got here.”
Lexi’s eyes twinkle, taking in my apparent nerves. “Grab your stuff, lady, and let’s kick these boys’ butts.” After we grab our shoes, she threads her arm through mine as we walk together to our lane with the boys following us.
We take a seat on the bench and the boys sit on both sides of us. I quickly put on the clown shoes and then hide my feet under the bench.
“So, who’s up first?” Owen asks.
“Ruby’s going first,” Brent replies, sliding his feet into the atrocious-looking bowling shoes. While he’s tying the laces, he looks up toward me as one side of his mouth pulls up in a flirty way. “Ladies always go first.”
“All right, girl, you heard the man,” Lexi says. She playfully slaps me on the knee. “You’re up first, and then I’m going next.”
I approach the ball return and pick up a bowling ball. I know I shouldn’t be nervous, but I am. Going first isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
“Kill it, girl. Make those pins your bitch,” Lexi encourages with her hands cupped around her mouth.