Authors: Shay Savage
It was my only class with her, and I wasn’t going to take the chance, so I didn’t even wave. I could see her eyes narrow a little as she pulled herself up into that ugly car and drive off.
“It would be nice to have him stay on the west coast,” Dad was saying, “and the Sounders have certainly proven themselves as such a young team.”
“Schmidt’s been a major asset,” Nahuel said. “Thomas is not going to find a better coach in the States.”
“That may be true,” Dad said with a nod.
Always the politician.
I did a lot of smiling and nodding and rewinding inside my brain so I could answer questions. Mostly Dad and Nahuel talked though. Nahuel ordered some import beer, which Dad politely declined. My mind wandered.
I wondered if she went home or if she went to one of the post-game parties, like I would have preferred myself. I wondered if she went to one of the parties out at the beach, because now that I was thinking about it, her car did sound a little rough when she started it. She could get stranded out there.
I tapped my fingers against the table until a sharp look from Dad got me to stop.
Dad set up a visit for me to go and fly up and train with the Sounders for a day next month, which seemed to make both of them pretty happy. I was mostly glad to be getting out of there because I wanted to make sure Rumple got home all right.
Dad dropped me off at the deserted school so I could get my car. I told him I needed to go to the locker room for a bit, but as soon as he drove off, I got in my car and headed for Rumplestiltskye’s house.
Her car was in the drive, thankfully, because there was no way Dad wouldn’t notice if I ended up spending another couple hours looking for her. I did slow down a little as I drove by. Well, actually, I slowed to a stop and looked up at her window. I could see her hair piled up on top of her head and her face illuminated by a computer monitor. I started wondering if she used any kind of instant messaging system and if I could manage to find her that way.
I started counting in my head and made myself leave after three minutes. At least I knew she was home and didn’t have some drunken motherfucker harassing her somewhere. I drove home, managed to avoid Dad as I got myself a bottle of water, and headed to my room. I locked the door, set the alarm for five-thirty, and changed into some lounge pants.
As I lay back on the pillow and replayed the entire day in my head, I listened to the sound of Rumple’s breathing as I licked my lips and spoke quietly to her. I considered the minute movements of her tensed muscles when I said the word “orgasm” during class.
Morning came far too quickly.
I tossed on a pair of sweats and my running shoes before I headed out the door. I stretched and warmed up a bit and then put on my pedometer before I started to run. It was still dark, but at least it wasn’t raining at the moment as my feet pounded against the driveway and past the trees. Once I got to the road, I turned left and picked up my pace.
Rumple invaded my thoughts.
Actually, it was starting to annoy me for several reasons. Even though I had been trying a hell of a lot harder than I ever did, she still barely answered me when I asked a direct question.
And did she stand me up? For a study date? Did that actually happen?
My pace had slowed, so I picked it back up again, sprinting for a minute before dropping back to my normal pace. I could feel a trickle of sweat sliding down between my shoulder blades. It wasn’t raining, but it sure was humid. I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand and trudged on.
The thing that annoyed me the most was not knowing what I should do next. Usually all I had to do was show up and smile, and chicks would line up. They still did, as evidenced by Lisa and Lucy last night. Hell, I probably could have walked right up to Heather when Mika’s arm was around her and gotten her back in the locker room with me. So what the hell was wrong with Rumple?
I sped up again. My meandering thoughts apparently were affecting my feet. I wondered if the freak chick, Amy, knew what she was talking about but dismissed it almost as quickly as I thought of it. I mean, it’s worked on everyone else, hasn’t it? Maybe I just needed to dial it up a notch.
I got home a little late, and Dad was up and glaring at me as I came through the door.
“You didn’t get up on time?” he spit out at me.
“I was out the door at six,” I told him.
“Give me that,” he said as he reached over and grabbed the pedometer. “You really want to show these averages to the scouts? You want Wayne Messini to see your first mile is almost six minutes? Seriously?”
“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I guess I’m tired this morning.”
“What are you thinking about?” he asked.
“Nothing, really,” I said. I had to look away from him because lying to his face was too hard.
“No, really, Dad,” I said. “I’m just tired.”
“Do extra on the bike,” he insisted. “I want your averages under five-thirty tomorrow.”
“And lay off the pizza.”
I nodded and went downstairs to the stationary bike, then did the weights, and then went out in the back yard for some juggling practice.
I fiddled around with my bow tie until the damn thing was straight. There appeared to be a little spot of something on the jacket that didn’t come out when it was at the dry cleaners, but I hoped no one would notice. I checked myself in the mirror, evaluating my unruly, gelled hair—short sides, slightly longer on top, and basic brown. I’d gotten a haircut two days earlier, so I was looking more polished than usual. My hazel eyes shimmered in the light from the bulbs above the sink.
Deciding I was as perfect as I was going to get, I walked out into the hall and heard Dad cursing in the master bathroom.
“Need help?” I asked as I stuck my head around the corner. He was standing in front of the sink, leaning over and looking into the mirror with his bow tie wrapped around his wrist and fingers. His blond hair was perfectly groomed, quite in contrast to my own. He turned his blue eyes on me and glared.
“Goddammit, yes!” he snapped. Then he sighed and pulled the bow tie off his neck altogether before handing it to me. I smoothed it out and started tying it around his neck. His voice softened. “I used to wear the damn clip-on ones.”
“Yeah, until…” He paused and took a deep breath. “Your mom said they were ‘undignified’. She kept trying to teach me, but I never could tie the damn things right.”
I tried not to meet his eyes or even breathe. He didn’t talk about Mom. Not ever.
“She said she’d help me…” His voice trailed off.
“I can do it,” I said as I wrapped one end around the other and looped it through. He pointed his chin up at the ceiling.
“Yeah, and where the fuck are you going to be next year?” His jaw clenched, and I saw his hands clench into fists. I tried to tie a little faster. “Who is going to tie it for the city banquet then, huh?”
“If I played for the Sounders, I’d be—”
“You aren’t playing for the fucking Sounders!” he screamed. I tried to step back, but it wasn’t enough. His hands pushed against my chest, knocking me backward into the bathroom counter. Pain shot up from the small of my back as it made contact with the edge of the counter, and I winced. “You are going to Europe to play football! Real Messini!
I started to move to the side to get out the door, but he shoved me back again. I tried to hold my muscles still, but I was starting to shake.
“Maybe if I hadn’t been stuck with you, I wouldn’t have made it
big,” he snarled low, “but there’s no way I would have ever settled for what was
. You are not going to settle for anything other than the best, you hear me? You won’t settle for anything but
I didn’t answer. I had no idea if I should or not, but chances were if I answered him when he didn’t want me to, it would be worse than if I didn’t answer and he had to ask again.
“Doesn’t fucking matter anyway,” he said as he stood up straight and started brushing non-existent lint off his jacket. “Like you would come back here even if you were close. You probably can’t wait to get away from me.”
“I’ll still come home, Dad,” I said quietly. My hands gripped the edge of the counter, but I could still feel the shaking in my arms. “If I’m in Europe, you could move there, too…or I could—”
“Get the fuck out of here,” he interrupted. Not about to argue, I moved fast—out the door and into the hallway.
“Maybe with you out of the way, I’ll finally find someone else,” I heard him mumble as I left. “Who wants a guy with a fucking teenaged kid?”
I went down to the kitchen and splashed cold water on my face, careful not to get any on the tux, and tried to make my hands stop shaking. I rubbed at my back, which was bruised just a little, and then ran my hands through my hair again.
I paced and glanced at the clock. We had to be out of here in four minutes, or we were going to be late. If we were late…well, shit. I didn’t want us to be late. I was just about to head up to get him when I heard his footsteps on the stairs.
“Come on!” he yelled. “Let’s get going before we’re late!”
The car ride was silent, and when we pulled up to the city building, there were a massive number of people there, so I started calming down before I even got out of the car. I looked around at the gathering—the small-town politicians, people from the hospital and the school board—all dressed in their finest as if they were trying to relive prom or something.
Time to start playing the role for which we were dressed.
Dad tossed his arm lightly around my shoulders and laughed heartily at nothing as we walked across the sidewalk and up the stairs to the giant double front doors. He greeted everyone with a smile and at least a chuckle, shaking their hands, kissing their babies—the whole nine yards. Several people mentioned my PK save, and he beamed and clasped me on the back as he told them how proud he was of me.
I tried not to wince when his hand made contact with the bruise on my lower back.
“Ah, there you are, Greg!” Dad beamed again. His eyes were brighter than LED headlights. I turned my eyes to where he was looking and caught my breath.
It was Sheriff Greg Skye in his tux, and on his arm was Rumple in a light green, shimmery dress. It was extremely tasteful, covering her from her neck to her knees, and absolutely fucking gorgeous. Her hair was curled and loose around her shoulders, and the fabric of the dress was flowing over her arms and body as if it could be completely removed by a strong breeze from the wrong direction.
Thank God for the length of this tux jacket because parts of me were definitely taking notice and trying to poke out to get a better look.
“Thomas, you remember Greg.” Dad smiled, showing all his teeth as I reached out and shook the sheriff’s hand.
“Of course, Sheriff Skye.”
“And this is my daughter, Nicki,” the sheriff said. “She just moved here for her last year of high school. She’s only been here about a week, but I sure am glad to have her. I forgot what real food tasted like!”
“Dad!” she growled under her breath, but I could only think about her and her father sitting in the kitchen and eating dinner together.
I locked eyes with her.
I felt the corner of my mouth moving up a little.
“A pleasure to meet you, Nicki.” Dad reached out and brought her knuckles to his lips for a moment.
“It’s Nicole,” she said as she smiled at him. “I keep telling Dad that, but he still seems to think I’m ten instead of nearly eighteen.”
Dad laughed, and Sheriff Skye joined in.
“Teenagers, huh?” Dad continued to chuckle. “Well, Nicole, this is
Dad and the sheriff both laughed again.
“Very funny.” I nodded and looked at Rumple…er…
…as I rolled my eyes. “No one’s called me Tommy since I was four.”