Authors: Renee Ericson
Tags: #General Fiction
She’s always over the top. Laughing, I head to the start of our lane.
A long time ago, my dad and I used to bowl together before we moved here. He belonged to a league in Boulder, and since I was eight, he took me to parents’ nights most weeks. Those nights were more of a social meat market for single parents. The purpose was never about the kids; it was all about adults with similar challenges hooking up. Although we didn’t bond over the whole thing, I did learn how to play.
Now, as I stand here with a ball in hand for the first time in more than two years, I realize it’s as familiar to me as riding a bike.
I’ve got this.
Holding up the eight-pound orb in front of my chest, I stare down the bitch pins, as Lexi so eloquently named. I carefully choose my target. Even though I haven’t played in a while, I know I can put a good spin on the ball. I’m sure my wrist will hurt after tonight. I take a deep breath and begin to step forward as I wind the ball back to create forward momentum. Taking three more steps, I release it onto the lane and it veers a little left off of my desired mark. It seems like I don’t have as much of a spin as I hoped, but this might work to my benefit. The stupid thing has a mind of its own and curves more to the left at the end of the lane, and then it dips just right of the center pin, knocking down all but the one on the far right.
Not too shabby.
At least I didn’t land it in the gutter.
The last one should be easy to pick up.
I hear a low whistle followed by hooting behind me. I turn and see Owen shaking his head while Lexi beams at me. Then, I notice Brent’s eyes are lighting up the room.
“Cromwell,” Owen says after a huffing chuckle, “that girl is going to smoke you. I bet you weren’t prepared for that.”
Brent looks at Owen. “Hey, I never said I was an expert at handling balls with my hands. I certainly don’t want to be an expert at
Lexi bends over in hysterics.
Brent looks at me and smiles. “Good one, Ruby.”
“Thanks.” When my ball releases from the return, I pick it up again and turn to the lane to finish the frame. Focusing on the last pin, I step forward and then hurl the sparkly sphere toward the isolated bitch.
Oh, yes, it’s my bitch.
I take down the pin with ease, earning me a spare on the first frame.
“Those bitches never saw it coming,” I say as I turn around with what I know is a particularly smug look.
Lexi gives an approving eye waggle while Brent stands as I approach the bench.
Brent and I exchange a high five. “Ruby, you could have told me you were a pro. I’m feeling a little inadequate.”
“I thought you already knew.” I feign, shrugging my shoulders. Feeling giddy and brave from my bowling adrenaline, I raise my eyebrows. “Isn’t that why you asked me to go bowling—to work my magic with an eight-pound ball?”
“Damn, Ruby,” Lexi adds, “I didn’t know you were so
with giant balls.”
Looking at Brent, I try to ignore the dimple threatening to expose itself on his left cheek. Instead, I need to redirect this conversation on anything else besides balls, especially giant balls.
I never should have gone there.
“So, Cody’s your cousin?” he asks.
“Um, yeah. Why? Do you know him or something?”
“No, not really. I just remember him from when I was a freshman. He was a senior at the time. Man, he pulled the best pranks.”
I hear the pins break after Lexi takes the first part of her turn. Owen has gotten up to stand near her on the lane.
“Oh,” I say, feeling somewhat defeated. I knew Cody’s reputation preceded him, but I really hoped that no one would link us together.
This can’t be good.
“Yeah, like this one time, he glued shut all the bathroom doors in the west and east wings.
Every last one
. He never got caught, but we all knew he did it. No one could use the bathrooms for the entire day. The only place to go was in the gym. It was classic.”
I look over to our lane and see Lexi taking the second part of her turn. Even though it only hits a few pins, she seems pretty stoked. As she bounces back toward us, Owen catches her mid-bounce and twirls her around, just like in the movies.
“Looks like I’m up,” Brent says. He gently rests his hand on my left thigh, giving it an ever-so-tiny squeeze, before he stands up to take his turn.
My eyes follow him as he moves in front of me. He actually looks good in bowling shoes.
How’s that possible?
He picks up his ball, turns in my direction, winks, and then continues to the lane.
Holy crap, that was awesome. Yep, that’s officially flirting.
I watch Brent as he proceeds to wind back the ball before he releases it. The heavy sphere literally bounces on the lane and rolls somewhat lazily toward the pins. It barely touches two pins on the left before hitting the gutter.
Well, I guess Owen wasn’t kidding.
“Woohoo! You slayed that one, man!” Owen taunts him.
“Oh yeah!” Brent serenades as he flexes his arms.
It’s silly but oddly attractive.
Brent rolls his second ball down the lane, once again with a body-cringing bounce, and luckily, he takes out four more pins. He has the smuggest look on his face as he returns to sit next to me while Owen takes his turn.
Is he for real?
“Wow!” I exclaim, trying to remain serious. “You’re a really amazing bowler. Where did you learn to play like that?”
“Well, you see, it’s all about turning your wrist in a special way as you time your release. Also, you have to consider the weight of the ball. These are all things you learn after four years of bowling camp.”
“Oh, I see. So, if I wanted to improve my skills, would you recommend a camp or a clinic? Think either of those would be a good fit for someone like me?”
“For you? No. Someone like you would need one-on-one coaching to master your skills. A few private lessons would help if you want to be considered in my league of bowlers.”
Oh man, he’s so full of crap. Sarcastic crap.
There’s no way I can hold it in any longer, so I completely lose it.
“I know. I’m terrible.” He surrenders, shaking his head over the ridiculousness of it all. “I have no idea why I agreed to this embarrassment. I swear that I’m better with my feet.”
“I bet. You probably don’t get much hand-eye coordination practice when you play a sport that has a no-hands rule.”
“Yeah…” he agrees. He looks into my eyes before he glances at my mouth. “But I swear I can do some things with my hands.”
Uh-oh. He is not going there. Is he?
“Like, I can hold a knife and fork.”
Thank goodness, he didn’t go there.
With his eyes back on mine, his fingertips move over to graze the pinkie finger of my left hand. I look down and watch his large hand as it slowly moves over my tiny one. When his fingers begin to curl into my palm, I turn my hand upward in a very natural and instinctual motion. He slides his palm until it’s flush against mine, and then we intertwine our fingers. He adds pressure to my hand, and I return it, signaling that whatever he’s feeling at this moment is mutual.
“Ruby!” Lexi shouts, bringing me out of our moment. “It’s your turn.”
“Right.” Looking at Brent, I shrug my shoulders and release our hands as I begin to stand.
As I walk to the return and pick up my ball, I can feel his eyes tracking my movements. Rolling a strike right now would be ideal to get my turn over with quickly. I want to get back to our moment because it felt so good. With determination, I hone my focus on the pins before me. Releasing the ball, I watch as it rolls down the lane, realizing my concentration worked.
I got a strike!
Out of competitor habit, I throw a victory punch in the air before returning to the bench to sit next to Brent.
Brent’s mouth is gaping as he greets me with a high five. ”You’re an animal.”
“Whatever. It’s probably just luck. I haven’t played in years.”
Brent grabs my hand from my lap, bringing it to rest on his leg. “Do you really go to Howard?” he asks in a skeptical tone.
“I just can’t believe that I’ve never seen you before.”
“I guess we haven’t had any classes together.”
“True, but our school isn’t that big. We should have run into each other somewhere, sometime.”
The truth is we have. He probably doesn’t remember moments like bumping into me while he was chatting with Liam at his locker, or standing near me in the lunch line when he was carrying a tray for Frankie, or a being in a small group together when we toured an art museum during a class field trip last year.
“Maybe,” I reply, brushing it off, “but I don’t remember.”
“Well, we know each other now, right?”
“Yeah, I guess we do.”
Knowing how much Lexi likes Owen, I can tell she’s thrilled by all the attention she’s getting from him while we’re bowling. Between each turn at the lanes, Brent and I have small conversations. He’s been making it a point to hold my hand, touch my arm, or caress my leg whenever we’re near each other. There are no complaints coming from me.
An hour later, we finish at the lanes and then head over to the game room. We waste a few quarters on some dance machine, and Owen is rock solid, kicking all our butts. We play two games of pool as well. Lexi, the snake, hustled all of us and later revealed that she used to play every weekend with her brother and his friends when they were over her house.
Around ten o’clock, we start running out of things to do at the bowling alley.
“Let’s go down to the dock,” Brent suggests.
“Isn’t it closed at this hour?” asks Lexi.
“Yeah, the public one is, but my family has a membership at the boat club. We have twenty-four hour access.”
“We aren’t exactly dressed for boating, Brent,” Lexi retorts.
“Nah, we can just hang by the dock. It’s a nice night, and there’s nothing else to do.”
Although I’m having a good time and I’m really starting to enjoy Brent’s company, the idea of being in a dark-lit private area with him makes me a little nervous. By the look on Lexi’s face, I can tell she’s not nervous about it at all. In fact, she looks like she’s ready to pounce all over the opportunity, so she can pounce on Owen.
Guess I’m going.
“Sounds great,” Lexi says.
“Great. We’ll meet you guys there. Owen, you know the access code,” Brent says to both of them as he grabs my hand and pulls me toward the door.
Brent and I walk to the car hand in hand. He opens the door for me and I distinctly notice the way his hand lightly brushes down the length of my arm as I move to sit in the front seat. When he joins me inside, I tell the butterflies in my stomach to calm down. He turns over the ignition and then we pull out of the parking lot to our next destination.
We pull into the private lot near the dock and get out of the car. Walking together, Brent leads the way until we find Lexi and Owen sitting on a bench near the water.
“Hey, guys,” Brent calls out to the edge of the lake.
“Yo,” Owen replies.
“I’m going to show Ruby our boat. We’ll meet you guys in a few.”
Brent takes me down the boardwalk to a cluster of boat slips. We walk over to a small sailboat that looks like it can accommodate about eight people. Brent steps on board and then helps me in. He takes a seat at the back, looking up at the sky, while I stand there, taking in our surroundings.
“Do you sail?” he asks.
“No. Actually, I’ve never been on anything bigger than a raft.” My eyes wander, looking at everything but Brent. Even my feet are doing a little side-to-side dance as I rock with the sway of the water.
Yep, I’m nervous.
“Well, I’ll have to take you out sometime then.”
“Yeah, that would be great. I’d love to,” I say vacantly as my eyes trail down the length of the mast.
“You know, there are seats. They won’t bite you.”
I’m being ridiculous. I walk over, take a seat across from him, and look up at the sky.
“So, did you have fun tonight?” he asks, bringing my attention back to him.
“Yeah, thanks, I did.”
“Good,” he says as he leans forward, putting his elbows on his knees. A smile, one that I’m learning to really enjoy, takes over his face. “So, are you available tomorrow?”
“Um, yeah. What do you have in mind?”
“How about I surprise you?”
“Something tells me you like to dish out surprises. What’s that all about?”
He puckers his lips, not saying a word.
“All right. I’ll allow it, but you have to promise me no Michael Jackson music. Deal?”
“That’s an odd request, but it’s a deal.” He stretches out his hand, and we shake to seal the deal. Looking deep into his eyes, I attempt to pull back my hand, but he squeezes it tightly. Then, in one swift motion, he playfully pulls me toward him, forcing me to move off of my seat. I screech as I trip over my feet, causing me to fall into his arms in an awkward embrace. Well, it’s not so much an embrace as I’ve just landed on top of him.
Wow, he smells good.
“Uh, sorry,” I mumble into his shirt. “I’m not usually such a klutz.” I push my body off of his, turning away from him to sit on the seat next to him.
This is a really uncomfortable moment.
Catching my breath, I look back to the stars in the sky. Tonight, they’re really shining brightly. As I feel him looking at me, I shift my eyes in his direction.
“Ruby…” He sighs.
I turn my head to get a better view of him. His mouth is slightly parted, and his eyes are hooded in deep thought.
He lets out a silent shaky breath before he continues, “Let’s go and see what Lexi and Owen are up to.”
He stands and grabs my hand, leading me off the boat and down the boardwalk toward the dock. When we arrive at the dock, Lexi and Owen are missing. Pulling out his phone to call to see where they are, Brent notices a text from Owen, saying he took Lexi home. I look at my phone and notice it’s a little after eleven.