Authors: Brittany Wynne
Tags: #Fiction, #Young Adult, #Romance
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 Brittany Wynne
Cover Design: Sarah Hansen, Okay Creations
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system without the prior written permission of the author. Except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages for review purposes only.
For my husband Chris,
The boy who swept me off my feet.
After I got hurt, coach didn’t make me attend practice. He told me to let myself heal and then worry about the physical therapy side of things. And that is exactly what I did. I spent my entire junior year letting my arm recover and then working with a personal trainer.
Hell, since that night I have hardly looked at a drink – much less had one. I never thought one fight could get so out of hand. I worked so hard for that top singles seed. Now I’d be playing boy’s doubles, at best. Fan-freaking-tastic.
The first day of practice my senior year, I had the right mind to walk straight up to coach and tell him I was done. I didn’t need another P.E. credit, and after a year of being out, I was sure my spot had long been filled. But then I saw her. She was on one of the top courts, surrounded by a few guys from the team and some other girl I didn’t know.
I wasn’t sure about a lot of things going into this year, but in that moment I knew I needed to be near her. I needed to kiss those lips and breathe her in. A girl like that, I bet she smelled damn good.
I was about to walk right up to her and snatch her away before any of those other pricks had a chance, but one simple move stopped me dead in my tracks. One of the guys snaked his arm around her waist, letting his fingers drag across the small of her back, and then whispered something in her ear. Whatever he said made her laugh, and I found myself clenching my fists at my side. I didn’t even know this chick, and yet she was already getting a reaction out of me.
I took a deep breath as I stretched my fingers out. This was crazy. I haven’t felt the urge to take a swing at someone since that night and still, then I’d had a few. I was completely sober, but all that long, blonde hair made me want to assault that guy, who was probably her boyfriend.
I shook my head as I took a step back. I hadn’t been that guy for about a year now, and I wasn’t about to go back. I have worked too hard to get where I am. Even if she is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. Even when just looking at her fills me with some primal instinct to make her mine. She was taken, and I was going to respect that. A girl like that deserves respect. And this is the new Jake Reynolds, damn it!
“How long have they been playing?” I asked as I positioned myself on the bleachers next to my best friend, simultaneously taking off my hat and trying to salvage my ponytail.
“Just started the third set,” Maya quickly answered, before turning back to shamelessly flirt with Dylan.
It was near the end of a long Friday, as I watched Ryan bounce that little neon green ball several times before tossing it up to serve. I was still amazed that I managed to successfully complete all my matches. Just this morning, my mom was running me to the small town pharmacy to try and find something to settle my stomach. Deciding on an old-fashioned remedy suggested by the pharmacist, my mother insisted that I sip the concoction as she drove back to the courts. It was not easy to choke down a thick, sweet, coke-flavored syrup when you’re already queasy, but my mom was desperate because it was the first tennis tournament of the season. She would have tried anything that would possibly allow me to play.
Through the nausea, I smiled when my mom wished me a happy seventeenth birthday before giving me the estimated time before my second match. My mother had always been the competitive type. See, though every coach that I ever had told me I had natural ability and was lucky to be tall and left handed, I didn’t have a competitive bone in my body. I like to believe that it was because my mother had all of them and there was none left for me when I came along. I had better be on my deathbed before I missed out on a tennis tournament.
“Right, Emma?” Maya said, shoving an elbow in my side.
“Huh, what?” I managed when I realized I had missed out on the conversation.
“You haven’t listened to a single word I said,” Maya pouted with a forced frown. Beaming, she continued, “I was just telling the boys the plan for your birthday party tomorrow night.”
“Sounds like the same back to school bash as always.” Dylan joined in, leaning forward around Maya, winking at me with his best Dylan Andrews smile.
“Y’all are obviously up to something, but I’m too pooped to make you spill!” I joked, reaching across Maya to shove Dylan’s arm.
I was an August baby, and my birthday always fell sometime during the first week of school. Therefore, my birthday party was always the first Friday after school started. Every year it signaled the giant pool party in my parents’ over-sized backyard. This year my birthday was on a Friday, but so was the first tennis tournament of the year. So the birthday party was pushed back to Saturday.
“Hey, who’s that guy playing with Ryan?” I asked, just noticing the tall guy with tousled dark brown hair whose smile made me want to be near him. “Is he new?”
I watched as he skillfully darted to the other side of the net and ended the point with ease, unable to tear my eyes away from how his calf and arm muscles flexed in the process.
Maya looked at me with her famous “you’re an idiot” smirk before replying, “That’s Jake Reynolds. He’s a senior. And, no, he is not new.”
Dylan leaned back to slap Gabe, who was on the row directly behind us, and mocked, “Is he new,” and all three burst into laughter. “My God, Em. Have you been living under a rock?”
I blushed while pulling a loose piece of hair that had fallen from my ponytail behind my ear. “Whatever.” I rolled my eyes while giving my best attempt to act annoyed.
“Nice shot, Ryan!” I yelled, looking up just in time to see Ryan end a point. The two high-fived, and I couldn’t help but notice the way Jake ran his fingers through his hair afterwards – or how it made me want to do the same thing.
Jeez Emma, get a grip. You don’t need to be fantasizing about running your fingers through some random guy’s hair. Even if it does hang perfectly right above his eyes.
I couldn’t keep from wondering what color his eyes were. But framed with all that dark hair, I bet any color would pop.
Good grief. You need to pull it together.
Maya looked at me like she was going to say something but changed her mind and returned her attention to Dylan. When it was obvious that Maya was distracted Gabe leaned forward, still munching on his trail mix, and whispered, “Like what you see?” with a nervous grin.
It was no secret that Gabe liked me, and though he tried to play it cool I could see it bothered him when he caught me starring at Jake.
“Oh shut up.” I said smiling, then leaned back against Gabe. He instinctually wrapped his arms around me and replied, “Just looking after my best gal pal.”
“I don’t need looking after. Besides, I’m just trying to figure out, if he’s not new, how we played on the same team for a year and I never noticed him before.” I reached back and playfully pinched Gabe’s side.
“Hey, hey, hey, OK!” Gabe laughed, throwing his hands in the air signaling his surrender and then wrapping his arms back around me and squeezing me tight. “I’m just waiting for you to look at me the way you looked at some guy you don’t even know,” he whispered.
I closed my eyes and breathed in. It’s not that I didn’t like Gabe; it’s just that I didn’t want to ruin our friendship by starting something that may not work. I mean, sure he is handsome with his deep brown eyes and rugged good looks, but we just were missing that chemistry or spark that an actual relationship needs, at least on my end. I heard him let out a defeated sigh as he breathed out, and I knew he wouldn’t mention it again. So I settled back into his arms, and we watched the rest of the match.
We all stood and cheered as Ryan and Jake shook their opponents’ hands at the net at the end of their match. Ryan was beaming when he turned to face us, knowing he and Jake were taking home first place in boy’s doubles and securing the overall win for our team. When the four of us rushed to the gate to congratulate Ryan, I found myself looking for Jake. During all the excitement, he somehow had disappeared. Before I could give it another thought, Dylan threw his arms around my and Maya’s shoulders shouting, “First victory of the year! Let’s celebrate!”
Laughing, I shrugged off Dylan’s arm. “It’s gunna be a long year,” I teased.
“You turn that frown upside down birthday girl.” Dylan shot back, obviously unfazed. He wrapped his arms around a squealing Maya as the five of us made it back to my mom’s car.
One of the things I loved about small tournaments, at the start of the season, is that we didn’t have to ride the school bus. There was something fun about just the five of us in my mom’s SUV. Plus, she always stopped for donuts before we left town.
At my mom’s car, Dylan pulled back the seat so Ryan and Gabe could climb into the back row. Once he closed the seat, he jumped in and slid across, patting the spot next to him while looking at Maya. Why those two didn’t just admit their feelings for each other is beyond me. I shook my head as I climbed in, and Ryan gave me a knowing glance.
The entire drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about Jake, and I found myself looking forward to Monday when I could see him again. I realized I was smiling when Maya gawked, “Oh no, I’ve seen that look before.” I shot her a look and she responded “alright” pretending to lock her mouth with a key and tossing it to the back seat at Ryan who pretended to dodge it. “But only because it’s your birthday!” she exclaimed, hugging me. “Now let’s talk about what we are going to wear tomorrow.”
“Do you two have to do this right now?” Maya turned to the right to look at Dylan who had a sly smile spreading across his face. “Well, then how do you expect me to plan my outfit if you two are planning yours?”
“Andrews, do you ever stop talking?” Ryan chimed in. “I’m beginning to think you just like the sound of your own voice.” He continued while leaning forward to deck Dylan in the arm.
Dylan swooped his hair to the side, casting those bright green eyes in our direction; he gave us a smoldering look. “I’m Dylan Andrews. Everyone likes the sound of my voice,” he replied with his best Chuck Bass impression.
“You have been watching way too much Gossip Girl on Netflix!” I giggled.
“I happen to like that show.” He said coolly, adjusting his shirt.
“And here I thought it was all part of your try to date Maya plan.” Ryan added, dramatically covering his mouth. “Oops!”
I could feel Maya’s excitement as she squeezed my hand while Dylan responded, “Ryan, you’re such a douche.” Then he turned his attention to Gabe on the other side of the backseat “You’ve been very quiet back there, Gabriel.”
“Just tired. Some of us actually played tennis today.” Gabe said coldly.
“Jeez. Don’t get your panties in a wad.” Dylan replied, pretending to be offended. Maya and Ryan looked up at him. He gave a confused shrug, playing up his hurt feelings act – cueing Maya to scoot closer.
“Did he hurt your wittle feelings?” She teased in a baby voice.
He nodded while tilting his head down and puckering his bottom lip. He began to pull her closer when my mom jumped in, “Dylan, not in my backseat. Save your smooth moves for another time and place.” she said, cracking herself up.
Embarrassed, the two quickly separated and Dylan responded, “You got it Mrs. C. Anything for my favorite mom.”
I rolled my eyes. “Dylan you’re such a suck up.”
“Now Emma, don’t be rude to my favorite adopted son,” she chuckled.
“You’re just as bad as he is!” I said, no longer able to contain my laughter.
I had forgotten Gabe’s bad mood until he was the only one I didn’t hear laughing. Turning to the backseat, I saw him gazing out the window into the dark and my laughter stopped. Luckily, the other three were still joking with my mom and didn’t notice the absence of Gabe and I in the conversation.
“Gabe,” I said softly as to not alert the others, “what’s up with you?” I knew my recent discovery of Jake’s existence had something to do with it. At the sound of my voice directed at him, his mood seemed to lighten.
“So now you want to talk to me,” he whispered. Seeing my confused expression he continued, “Don’t look at me like that. You haven’t said one word to me since we left the bleachers,” he finished, reaching up to tuck a piece of hair behind my ear.
“Oh.” I pursed my lips together, realizing his mood wasn’t just about Jake but also because my attention had previously been completely occupied. I probably shouldn’t mention that it was Jake that had me so distracted.
“Don’t do that, Em. Don’t lose your smile because of me.”
“I didn’t…” I began.
“Hey,” he interrupted me. “Don’t apologize because I don’t like you being interested in another guy.”
OK. So maybe he did know that it was Jake that had me so distracted.
“I’m the one that should be apologizing. Now, let’s move past this and talk about more important things,” he said with that impossible, boyish smile of his starting to make its way onto his face. “What do you want for your birthday?”
Gabe always could make me feel better. Somehow he always said and did the right thing to make me smile. He truly was my best guy friend. So after watching that smile creep across his face I promptly countered, pointing my finger in his direction and looking as stern as I could without laughing, “One, I am not interested in Jake. I don’t even know him. And two, you know you don’t have to get me anything for my birthday.” Completely giving into the smile that I had been fighting back, I added, “Although if you were to get me something…” Before I could finish Gabe was leaning over the seat pulling me back with him, which made me erupt into giggles as I pretended to fight him off.
“Em! Watch it!” Maya shouted as I was being pulled over the backseat.
“I’ll save you!” Dylan proclaimed, taking advantage of the moment to put his arm back around Maya.
Ryan started laughing at the whole ordeal and shook his head, “Why do I even put up with you people?”
“Hey, hey, hey. Cool it you two. I can’t worry about you, drive this car, and keep my eye on Mr. Romance over there at the same time,” my mother stated flatly.
“Cooling it,” Gabe replied as he settled me onto his lap, looking me in the eyes as he spoke.
“Mom, you have nothing to worry about. You know Gabe and I are just friends,” I said while playfully squeezing one of his cheeks. I wasn’t sure if I had said that out loud more to reassure my mother or Gabe.
“Best friends,” he countered touching his forehead to mine, keeping his arms wrapped tightly around my waist.
“Best friends,” I whispered back.
The rest of the ride home I listened to my friends plan my birthday. OK, Maya planned my birthday, but to be fair the guys did have some ideas – like sneaking in a keg – cueing my mother to threaten their lives and cancel the whole thing. She probably would have been more intimidating if she didn’t think the guys were kidding. Each time the guys suggested something else Maya was quick to dismiss their “silly” comments with her hand while she kept planning, never missing a beat. By the time we got to Ryan’s house I knew what time the party started, the theme, the playlist for the night, and who was on the invite list. I had to admit that Maya could plan a fun party, and I was pretty excited. We dropped the other two boys off, then headed back to my house.
Maya was staying for the weekend because her parents were out of town, which worked out great since it was my birthday weekend. By the time we got home we were both exhausted, so we said goodnight to my parents and went upstairs to my room. Just as we were climbing into bed, there was a knock at my window.