A/N: It's not April Fool's, it's just an EPOV Prologue of Designated Hitter covering the week before Edward met Bella for the first time…
(Un-Beta'd, please forgive mistakes)
December 18, 2007
Bass continued to thump beyond the door to the room even though it was after 3 am. It was near silent inside though; the only sounds were our heavy breaths as they slowly returned to normal speed. I slid sideways off the bed and slipped into the tiny bathroom attached to the suite, thankful I didn't have to go far to accomplish the task. It was one of the things I'd considered when I decided to follow Zafrina back to her room as the party started to thin out around 2. I cleaned myself up quickly and returned to the bed by the window.
Zafrina's eyes were closed, but she was smiling widely, and her white teeth gleamed against her smooth, dark cocoa skin. Her braids spilled over the pillow where she rested. Moonlight streamed in the window through the open curtains, but we were on the eighth and top floor of Brown College with no concern about curious stares. She was undeniably gorgeous, and I slid back under the covers next to her in the small, twin bed. The bed against the other wall was empty. Who knew where her roommate was? I didn't give a shit, that's for sure. I leaned over to kiss her deeply, and she rolled toward me. Her right hand drifted down my chest and lower onto my torso. I stopped her hand.
"Zaf, I gotta head out," I told her. She pulled back and sat up, a pout on her face. I was momentarily distracted by the view of her bare chest and considered sticking around for another round.
"Finals are over, Edward," she whined. "Senna won't be back tonight either. You could stay this time," she trailed off hopefully. I pulled myself together and kept my gaze above her neck. I gave her a quick peck and stood up and hastily pulled on my boxer briefs and track pants from the pile on the floor. I noticed her eyes did not stay above my neck and gave her a smirk. She rolled her eyes.
"I gotta go," I insisted. "It may be break, but I still have to get in a good workout in a few hours. I know you do, too. Your season starts even sooner than mine," I reminded her. Zaf was a star hurdler on the women's track team. She smirked back at me.
"Isn't that what we just did?" she asked archly. I huffed a quick laugh and felt relieved. She wasn't going get all mushy on me after all.
"We sure did," I agreed because it was true. With those athletic thighs, this girl had ridden me like no other. I'd forgotten what a good time she was; it had been a few months since my last time in her bed.
"Thanks for a great night, Zafrina," I said sincerely, and she rolled her eyes again.
"You're awfully sweet for such a dick," she complained. "If you weren't so nice and polite, I wouldn't keep falling for your bullshit, and I'd remember that you're never going to call me." I smiled and shrugged at her as apologetically as possible. I never made false promises.
"Get out of here, Edward," she growled and rolled away from me, her bare muscular back and the curve of her spectacular ass on display, but I knew she wasn't really mad and would invite me back to her room again in a few months, probably after the next party at Brown.
I sauntered down the hall toward the elevator after slipping out of Zafrina's room discretely. No need to flaunt what we'd been up to. I was sort of a gentleman, after all. There were still a few doors open and a handful of people scattered about the hallway, mostly sitting on the floor, Solo cups discarded nearby. The party was definitely wrapping up now. I wondered what had become of Jared when I'd headed off with Zafrina. I'd only come out tonight because he was interested in some chick named Kim who lived at Brown. I tried to recall which floor her room was on; I didn't think she lived in the same place as the party. I dismissed the thought and decided to head home on my own. If Jared was still here, he'd either hooked up or was trying too hard. My presence wouldn't help either scenario. He was a big boy and could manage on his own.
I shivered a little as I stepped out in the early morning darkness. It'd been warm enough for the t-shirt when I'd gone in last night, but the air had a bite as we moved closer to dawn. The courtyard was deserted, and I pulled my ball cap tighter over my forehead, stuffing my hands deep in my pockets as I prepared to make the long walk across campus and then the remaining few blocks to the off-campus house that I shared with three guys from the baseball team.
I thought about Zafrina as I walked. She was super-hot and pretty cool too. She was an athlete like me and understood the difficulties of balancing school and sports. She was obviously interested in something more regular or permanent between us, but I just wasn't feeling it. My life was about to get really hectic. Scouts were constantly visiting, reporters hovering on the edge of work outs, whispers in the media, it all added up to the same thing: I was sure to go high in the 2008 MLB draft and be a professional baseball player by this time next year. Now wasn't the time to consider a serious girlfriend.
Yet it was time to admit that these hook ups weren't satisfying me anymore. Sure, I'd enjoyed the hell out of that hour in Zafrina's room, but here I was ruminating over her feelings while I walked home. In the past my mind was blank until I reached my bed and passed out relaxed and sated, refreshed and ready for the next game. It didn't seem like that was going to happen tonight, this morning, whenever it was. Maybe facing a real adult future was making me more mature all around.
That would make my mom happy, I knew. She was hounding me all the time now about my manwhore-ish ways, not that she referred to it that way. She wanted me to focus on my game, get drafted, and then focus on making it to the Majors as quickly as possible. I knew she was trying to be supportive, but honestly, I felt a lot of pressure these days. It was all so confusing. I had just arrived at the main quad when I saw a shadow step out from behind one of the pillars along the walkway in front of Fondren Library. I stopped walking when I heard someone say my name.
"Edward?" a soft voice called. I stepped closer to the shadow and vaguely wondered why the early morning made everyone speak in hushed voices. As the figure stepped into the light spilling from the nearest lamp, I recognized her. It was Maggie from my music theory class. She had red curly hair and a pretty face covered in pale freckles. She also almost always wore very short shorts or skirts that bared her pale shapely legs, which was the main thing I'd noticed about her.
"Hey, Maggie," I greeted her. "What are you doing out here by yourself so late…or early, I guess?" I shrugged. She giggled, and I could tell she'd had more than a few drinks. What asshole had let her wander off by herself? Rice's campus was safe, but she still shouldn't be drunk and alone at this time of night.
"I was hanging out at Hanszen, and everyone just sort of passed out, so I figured I'd head home," she explained with a vague gesture down Virgin's Walk the way I'd just come. I sighed as I realized that I couldn't leave her.
"C'mon," I said turning in the direction she'd waved, "I'll walk you back, so you aren't by yourself. Which is your college?" I hoped it wasn't Brown. It wouldn't look good if I was seen walking back inside with one girl after having just left the dorm room of another.
"Jones," she answered to my relief and smiled goofily at me. We started walking, and she looped her right arm through my left one and leaned against me. Her body was warm against my cold skin, and her hair smelled like fruity shampoo.
"You're so sweet to do this, Edward," she prattled. "I know you're a busy baseball player and don't have time to escort silly nobodies like me around campus at all hours of the night." We arrived at the door to the building, and she turned to face me. Her big blue eyes stared up into mine. Even heartily buzzed, she was attractive. Her gaze was direct, and I knew what she was thinking. I was thinking it, too.
"Why don't you come up?" she asked. "It's pretty late for you to be walking alone, too, you know?" She winked. But I had some standards. Two girls in one night was not cool, and I wouldn't take advantage of an intoxicated girl. However, I was now having second thoughts about giving up the hook ups. I was a 21-year-old man after all, I mentally shrugged.
"Rain check, Maggie?" I gave her a loaded look. "I've got to work out with the team trainer in a few hours, but I'll be in a practice room tomorrow afternoon," I added suggestively. She grinned.
"Still practicing piano even after finals are over?" she asked referring to the test we had both taken earlier in the day. There were two more days of finals left, but I was completely done, and it looked and sounded like she was too.
"With the season starting soon, I need all the practice I can get," I told her, the double entendre heavy in my voice. She grinned again, more wickedly.
"See you there," she agreed and stepped inside the door. I walked backwards several steps and watched her watching me through the glass before I turned and finally headed home. I was thinking about Maggie's endless white legs when Zafrina's smile flashed into my head. I had an uncomfortable pit in my stomach the rest of the walk home.
Jared's door was closed when I got home after 5 am. I guess he'd made it back at some point. I quickly brushed my teeth and crashed into bed. The 9 am get up was going to hurt in a few hours, but the trainers' time was limited during the break. I'd missed yesterday because of my tests, and I had to make it today. They were only available 10:00-1:00 so three hours of sleep would have to be enough. When I had a multi-million dollar MLB contract, it would all be worth it.
I shuffled into the kitchen just after 9 and nearly groaned when I saw my roommate Paul and our next-door neighbor, Cindy Brandon standing by the island. Cindy was leaning on her elbows over the counter, staring into her coffee cup, obviously hung over. She was dressed in a flimsy nightie that left little to the imagination. I used to think she was hot, but she'd opened her mouth one too many times around me. I guessed her boyfriend had been studying last night, and she'd sought solace in Paul's arms. I might get around, but I definitely didn't approve of the blatant cheating going here. Paul was an athlete, even if a mediocre one, and so he was a bit more awake after a late night. He took a sip of coffee and nodded at me as I entered and headed for the coffee maker myself.
"I ordered the keg just now," he reported. "Don't forget to pick it up on Thursday afternoon." I frowned at him. I had agreed to pick up the keg for our joint Christmas party in 2 days, the first official day of the holiday break, but I knew he'd dumped that task on me because he had no plans ever to pay me his share. Jared and Sam had given me cash yesterday when Paul volunteered to call Spec's to place the order.
"I won't forget, Man," I responded testily. He smirked at me.
"Which one of your chicks got the pleasure last night, Edward?" he leered. I didn't answer, and Cindy looked up and glared at us both.
"Y'all are pigs," she groused.
"I didn't say anything," I reminded her. They both disgusted me. I got my coffee and hastily left for the gym.
My fatigue was forgotten by the time I left the gym. The trainer had put me through my paces, and I was high on those exercise endorphins. My melancholy thoughts from the night before were banished, and I was looking forward to a little piano practice at the Shepherd School. I wondered if Maggie would show up, and what we might get up to if she did. A slow smile spread over my face as I walked to my car. My phone rang just as I was about to start up, and I pulled it out to check the screen. It was my mom, so I answered. I left the key hanging in the ignition with the driver's door propped open and gazed out through the windshield at the parking lot in front of me as I greeted her.
"Hey, Mom," I said.
"Edward!" she called cheerfully over the line. "Your dad is working tonight, and I want to take you to dinner to celebrate the end of finals. We haven't seen you around lately, you've been so busy," she offered. Of course, I would agree. A broke college student always takes up their parent's offer of decent food. I said as much, and she chuckled.
"I have to put in a few hours on the piano this afternoon," I told her. "I can meet you at the restaurant. Where are we going?" I asked.
"Oh, no," she disagreed. "I'll pick you up from the Music School. I haven't been on campus in forever." I groaned internally. If Maggie did show up, I'd have to get away from her before my mom saw us together.
"I'll meet you by the fountain out front," I hastily instructed. Luckily, she agreed and didn't push it further.
"It won't be long until my rich, successful son takes me to dinner," she commented, and I felt that pressure crushing my chest again. I shook it off quickly because I knew she'd feel terrible if she knew how she was making me feel. She was trying to help. I hung up and headed home to shower.
I showered and dressed for dinner in an untucked button up shirt and khakis with flip flops. Not having to wear real shoes was one of the biggest perks of living in Texas. My biggest dream was play for the Astros and wear flip flops every day of forever. I slung a messenger bag full of my music books over my shoulder and headed back out to the Shepherd School. My hair was wet and acting crazy, so I just put a hat on it like usual. I knew it would be a riot when I took it off in whatever restaurant my mom chose but there wasn't time to let it air dry.
I parked in the enormous overflow lot that stretched between the music school and the stadium and headed into the side door near the practice rooms with my bag. I wasn't going to search out Maggie, but if she found me that would be a different story. I found an empty room and added my name to the bottom of the list posted outside the door, reserving it for 2 hours. I went inside, unloaded my books on the floor next to the bench and found the sheets I needed. Those I stacked on the music stand above the keys. I stuck a pencil behind my ear for taking notes and got to work.
Sometime later, I was hunched over the keys, pencil scratching over my sheet music, when I heard a soft knock on the practice room door. I stuck the pencil back behind my ear and sat up, a slow smile spreading over my face. The sheet music fluttered to the floor when I stood and sauntered toward the door. As I expected, Maggie was leaning against the door frame, a wide smile on her face, a tiny, short skirt over her hips, and a flute in a box dangling from her fingers. I opened the door wide and gestured for her to enter. I shut it behind her with a loud click. She sat on the piano bench with the flute next to her. She cocked her head and watched me stalk slowly back toward her. Her eyebrows were raised, and the wide smile dimmed to a smirk.
"I think I'd like to hear you play," she said. "The superstar athlete and the music major are so at odds. I don't think I'll believe it's possible until I hear it." We'd been in class countless times over the semester, and I'd never seen her act so forward. I wondered if it was just the end of the semester and end of finals that was making her so bold. I didn't care. The girls who were down for anything, no strings attached, were the ones I liked. She was giving off my favorite vibe. I decided to play along.
"Scoot over," I instructed and slid onto the bench next to her. She placed the flute carefully on the floor next to the piano. Not so cavalier about her instrument, it seemed. I settled myself on the bench and poised myself over the keys. I'd been practicing an original composition, but I wouldn't play that for her, much too intimate. I pulled out another classical piece I had memorized and started playing. She was also a classically trained musician, so I wanted something impressive, but not too elaborate. I closed my eyes and leaned over the keys, but I didn't get too far before I felt her hands slide over my shoulders and her mouth on my neck.
I pulled my hands off the keys and shut the instrument quickly then lifted her onto my lap, so that she straddled me and was wedged against the closed keyboard. Our eyes met, and I saw the hunger in hers. I leaned forward and let my mouth cover hers. I plunged my tongue into her mouth, and she gave as good in return. I felt her fingers on my chest as she made quick work of the buttons down the front of my shirt. I slid my fingers under the edges of her t-shirt, brushing the bare skin of her sides and felt her shiver against me. I quickly pulled the shirt over her head and threw it away across the room.
Our kisses deepened, and I moved to her neck, pulling her bra strap off her shoulder to get at the tender skin where neck meets shoulder. My shirt was unbuttoned now, so I shrugged out of it. She leaned down to trace her tongue around my nipples, and I groaned.
She moved her hands to fumble with my belt buckle and managed to get the zipper down too. Another few seconds, and my dick sprung free, and she fisted it up and down. Pleasure surged through me, and I focused my thoughts enough to appreciate the speed with which she worked. I followed her lead and quickly unsnapped her bra, pulling it off her shoulders. I ran the backs of my fingers over each nipple, teasing her, and she shuddered under my touch.
I broke off our kiss, and lifted her, turning us sideways so we faced each other, straddling the bench. I didn't bother to remove my pants but did reach inside the pocket for my wallet and made quick work of one of the condoms inside. She had wiggled out of the thong underwear she wore underneath that tiny skirt while I was busy. I grabbed her ribcage and lifted her at the same time she grabbed my dick and guided it inside her. She sank down and engulfed me in her warmth. I cursed out loud at the sensation, and she let out breathy puffs of air as she rode my lap, getting purchase on the floor with the balls of her feet. I helped her as best as I could, my hands at her waist.
We were a wild tangle of body parts as we frantically fucked on that piano bench. Finally, she leaned forward and bit my shoulder as she came moaning and shivering around my dick. I followed shortly after, and we rested there with her forehead leaning into my shoulder, both catching our breath. After a few moments, I lifted her gently off of me, and I shuffled to the trash can, making quick work of the used condom and wiping myself clean with a tissue from the box on top of the piano. I pulled my pants up and tied off the trash bag so no unsuspecting custodian would find that mess. I bent to lift my shirt off the floor as I walked back towards her.
She had replaced her panties already and was hooking her bra when I got back to the bench. Her shoes had been on the entire time. She stared up at me with bright eyes and flushed cheeks. I sat down next to her and leaned in for another searing kiss. I bent to pick up her shirt and handed it to her, once the bra was back on.
"Are you busy later?" she asked breathlessly, and my heart sank. Apparently, we weren't on the same page. That same guilt I'd felt last night when I'd left Zafrina spread through me once again. If I was going to feel like this every time, then I really needed to cut these hook ups the fuck out. Luckily, I had a good excuse to blow her off.
"My mom is taking me out to dinner after I finish up here," I told her truthfully. I glanced down at myself. "That's why I'm dressed up," I explained. Her face fell. Shit, she might have thought I'd dressed up for her. Maybe to take her somewhere after. I felt like a total jerk.
"Oh," was all she said. Then she surprised me by saying, "Right! I forgot that you were from Houston." That statement sent a jolt of ice through my gut because I'd never told her that. In fact, we'd never had much of a real conversation before, just chit chat in class over the semester. Either she'd been asking about me or stalking me online. With chagrin, I realized that even our encounter last night might have been orchestrated. I may have seriously miscalculated with this one. I tried to play it cool.
"Right, anyway, I've got to go meet her now," I looked at my watch. "I'm sorry to cut our time short. I had a really great time with you this afternoon," I told her sincerely. She nodded and looked disappointed. Then, she brightened.
"Maybe I'll see you at your party," she said, straightening her shirt and finger combing her hair. "I heard your having a joint bash with your back door neighbors on Thursday night. I've got an art history class with Bree Tanner," she said naming one of Cindy's roommates. My heart sank as I considered what a mistake that I may have made by hooking up with this girl. My mojo was off, I had too much going on.
"Maybe," I echoed her vaguely. I quickly stuffed my music back in my messenger bag and hastily pulled myself together. She did the same but much more slowly, finally picking up her flute from the floor. I chivalrously opened the door a crack and looked up and down the hall to make sure no one saw us come out together.
I stood outside the door and waited for her to pass me before I marked my name off the reserved list, but she paused underneath my raised arm and pressed herself against my body. She lifted her face and pressed her lips deeply against mine. Then she took a deep breath and stepped back with a sigh and a smile. I wanly returned it as she turned and flounced down the hall away from me. Then, I turned to head back the other way toward the main entrance with the fountain where I'd meet my mom. I froze before I could take a step in that direction.
My mom was standing in the middle of the hall. She hadn't been there a moment ago when I'd walked out of the room, but she'd obviously seen the entire exchange between Maggie and me outside the room. Her arms were crossed, and she was staring daggers at me. I looked back at her for a minute but then walked towards her. There was no point in hanging back or trying to delay things.
When I reached her, she turned without a word and walked just a step ahead of me. We exited into the bright sunshine, and I squinted towards where she had parked in a Visitor's spot near the fountain, her red BMW X5 a beacon for us. We continued to walk in silence towards it. Finally, right before we reached the car, I spoke to her.
"I thought you were going to wait for me by the fountain," I muttered. She whirled to face me.
"It was ok for you to act like THAT, as long as I was outside?" her voice rose at the end as she shouted her rhetorical question. I shook my head. That was a dumb thing to say. She gestured to the passenger's door and beeped the car unlocked. I climbed in and twisted to place my messenger bag in the backset. We drove in silence as she turned onto Rice Blvd and then onto Shepherd. I cleared my throat.
"Where are we going?" I asked. She kept staring through the windshield at the road, and I thought she might not answer me. Finally, she did.
"Churrasco's," she said. My heart lifted a little because I loved that place, but I knew this evening would be painful no matter where we went. And it was all my fault. I was an idiot, I was a kid, and I needed to get my act together or I'd never make it in the big leagues. Literally.
"Are you dating that girl?" she finally asked with some hope in her question. I grimaced as I killed it.
"No," I answered. I floundered for something else to say to smooth things over but came up empty. The silence stretched again as we turned on Westheimer then pulled into the restaurant parking lot. She killed the engine but made no move to get out of the car. She turned to face me, and I braced myself.
"Edward, I'm not going to berate you," she said surprisingly, "I know you are an adult and fully able to make decisions for yourself. I support that and you. But I'm worried about your decisions right now. I'm worried that you don't understand what you're facing in the near future. I'm worried that you're going to be taken advantage of. Coach Graham can prepare you for the baseball. You're more than ready for that. But I don't know how to prepare you for the rest of it…to make you see that you're not prepared…" she trailed off, and I had to take several deep breaths and swallow hard to keep the emotion out of my reply. She was my mom and would always have my back.
"Mom, I'm sorry," I started, my voice cracking. She turned to look out the side window and waved at me. I understood she was blinking back tears. "It's just…there's a lot of pressure right now. Nothing is certain. I know I'll have more focus once the season starts. I've already decided that there won't be any more of…THAT," I finished, using her own words to describe the incident. She didn't answer, just wiped her eyes with her fingertips. Then, she turned to me with a smooth, smiling face.
"Good talk," she said decisively, and I chuckled. "Let's go inside and enjoy our dinner. Hopefully, that discussion will not need to be continued." I smiled back at her and leaned forward to hug her towards me. I remembered the feeling of my mom's hugs surrounding me when I was little, and I hoped it felt the same for her now that I was the big one surrounding her.
Our dinner was lighthearted after that, and we just talked about my finals and how those went and what Dad was doing and other frivolous topics. Mom drove me back to my car at Rice even though we just lived around the corner from Churrasco's. It frustrated me that she'd insisted on picking me up, but I knew I'd needed her lesson this evening. I was better off. As we were pulling into the lot, she spoke again seriously.
"Dad's med school group is planning another dinner party," she told me. I smiled fondly, thinking of those families and all the fun times we'd had together over the years. My dad had a small clique of friends in med school, and they'd moved through their careers in parallel. Young single guys at first, then young married couples, then couples with young kids, until now, years later, they had adult children. These five families had weathered all the stages together, and even though we were busy, we got together whenever we could. Four of the families were regulars. One family had moved to Dallas years ago, and we hadn't seen them in a while. My dad jokingly referred to it as the Brotherhood.
"It will be all five of the Brotherhood this time," she announced.
"Wow, seriously?" I asked. "I haven't seen Kate in years. I can't wait to catch up," I exclaimed. Kate was their daughter, and we'd been fast friends back in the day. I'd taught her to swim at our beach house when we were five or six. My mom smiled at my enthusiasm. I felt better. Catching up with old friends sounded like a great grounding activity. There was no way I could get in trouble with something like that. I thought about the party at our house on Thursday. Maybe I should skip that. I wasn't sure I could be trusted in public. But I knew that was no real solution.
I shoved those thoughts away and asked, "When is the dinner party?"
"It's next Thursday, the 27th," she told me. "I trust you will be free," she added dryly. I nodded to her non-question, feeling a bit chastised.
"Count me in," I promised.
When I got home Sam and his girlfriend, Emily, were watching TV in the living room with a pizza box open on the coffee table in front of them. Paul lounged in the battered recliner on the other side of the room with a purloined slice. I opened one of the folding chairs we used for extra seating and joined them, declining the slice Sam offered. They were watching some food competition, and Emily leaned against Sam in a casual way.
I watched them surreptitiously. Sam and Emily had met in an English 101 class in freshman year and had been together ever since. I'd never given much thought to what a long-term relationship might be like, but now I was curious. Sam laid down his leftover crust on the box lid, and Emily handed him a napkin without him even asking for it. He grasped it perfectly without looking at his hand. They'd done this dance so often that it was second nature.
"You up for Halo?" Paul asked. I turned my attention to him.
"I'd love to school you," I taunted, "but I think Sam and Emily are watching TV." I looked at them pointedly. Emily giggled.
"Thanks for the support, Edward, but we already told Paul we were headed out in a few. I've still got another final tomorrow, poor me," she lamented. "I plan to let loose at your party on Thursday." Sam leaned in to peck her cheek.
"As long as you don't drop your drink," he teased. The statement meant nothing to me, but Emily blushed and whirled on him, smacking his shoulder.
"Shut it, you!" she cried. Their exchange had me mystified. It was obviously an inside joke though, and it meant something to them. They both dissolved into laughter. Finally, they straightened, and Emily closed the lid on the box. She looked at Paul.
"Should we leave the rest for you in the fridge?" she asked kindly. Too kindly, in my opinion. Paul inclined his head.
"That would be great. Thanks, Emily." He actually sounded sincere. Just then, the screen door slammed, and Cindy appeared in the room. She had one of those quilted pink bags with flowers on it and dropped it in the corner. Apparently, she planned on staying the night.
"Hey, Cindy," Emily greeted politely, but she and Sam started gathering their things. Cindy plopped onto Paul's lap, and he palmed her boob. She rolled her eyes but didn't complain. Their interaction was light years from that between Sam and Emily.
"Hey," she replied briefly to Emily and then launched into a tirade about her sister. I actually liked Cindy's sister even though she was kind of a close talker. But nothing made that girl happy. Paul interrupted her to address me as Sam and Emily left the room.
"You still up for Halo?" he asked again. I nodded in approval, not bothering to answer out loud since Cindy was simultaneously glaring at me and blathering on something about a medical student. I made a hilarious crack about Cindy looking stupid if she stood too close to a medical student as I gathered the controllers and prepared to kick Paul's ass. It crossed my mind that Sam and Emily were having a much better evening than I was. I suddenly craved that kind of stability, that companionship. But I'd never met anyone with whom I could imagine sharing that sort of silent communication. I wasn't sure I was capable of it.
Thursday afternoon I headed to Spec's Liquor Warehouse accompanied by Angela Weber. She was the girls' designated representative for choosing ingredients for the Christmas-themed Everclear punch they would mix for our bash, and we would provide the keg. It seemed like a decent arrangement to me; setting up a keg was no work at all. We'd let the girls do the fancy stuff. My mom's old BMW had a pretty spacious trunk, one of the only cars our group owned that could fit the keg, and I had a towel spread over the back seat to load up all the liquor bottles.
I was apprehensive about this party. I'd been looking forward to it weeks ago when the scheme had been hatched between our two "households", but now I wasn't sure how much I'd be able to enjoy it. I was too mixed up about the things that had happened over the last few days and what I was facing in the near future. I didn't see myself letting loose or relaxing in any way.
I drove all the way around the block and picked up Angela in front of her house. She was wearing the ubiquitous college girl short dress and flip flops, but I tried not to check her out, not that she wasn't worth looking at. Angela was pretty serious. She had light brown hair and fancy purple glasses but never said much. She often faded into the background, but I had noticed that when she did speak it was snarky as hell. And her jabs often went over most people's heads. I really liked her, and I wondered how she'd ended up with fairly shallow roommates. We were quiet for the first block or two of the drive over to the liquor store. I couldn't think of many times we'd been alone together. Then she spoke up.
"Bree is trying to fix you up with her friend the flute player," she announced. My mouth puckered with chagrin.
"Let me guess," I peeked sideways at her. "Maggie O'Hara." Angela nodded and gave me a quirky salute.
"She thinks she has a shot," Angela warned. "Apparently, you guys had a moment or something, and she's convinced it's the real deal." I sighed and pinched the bridge of nose, keeping my eyes on the road peripherally. I was such an idiot.
"Angela, I'm turning over a new leaf," I told her. I glanced sideways again at her to see what she thought about my statement. She twisted her mouth and cut her eyes back at me skeptically.
"What?" I demanded. "You don't think I can?" She shrugged.
"I don't know Edward. I haven't seen you bring many girls around our house or yours, but I've heard the tales. Everyone has heard the tales," she finished ominously. I pulled into the parking lot of the warehouse and cut the engine. I turned towards to her to say more, maybe try and explain myself, but I could tell she didn't care. What I did in my spare personal time truly meant nothing to her. It kind of felt good to realize that; I could just be myself around her. But who was that? That was the thing I needed to figure out.
"Let's go inside," I said. She nodded and followed me in.
I parked in front of the girls' house and helped Angela carry the boxes inside their kitchen. Bree and Lauren were there dressed in ratty t-shirts and shorts, cleaning the inside of two large ice chests. They directed us where to leave our purchases and went back to the task at hand. Angela joined in, and I waved good-bye to her and headed back to my car to park it back in my driveway before I positioned the keg in the backyard.
All my roommates were in the living room when I entered the house. Paul offered to help for once and followed me to the car. Sam had picked up several bags of ice earlier and had everything ready for us. We had the keg tapped in no time, and each of us poured ourselves a ceremonial first beer. Too much foam came out, and we laughed at that, but it felt good to hang out with my bros with no school or practice looming over our heads. Jared lugged out all the folding chairs and scattered them around the yard. It was only a little after 6 pm, but the party was already started on our side of the yard.
I sipped slowly, just enjoying the warm sunshine. People started to trickle into the yard from both residences. Normally college parties weren't swinging until after 10, but since finals were over, and people were headed out of town soon, I figured we might see a crowd well before that. Time passed, and I pumped another beer. I gave Jared $10, and he went inside to order pizza. Some other guys from the team showed up, and we joked around, making plans for the upcoming season. I turned down the offer of another beer, wanting to keep my wits about me.
Finally, Jared whistled from the back steps of the house, and we all trooped inside to eat. I got a Coke from the fridge and had a couple of slices. More people had arrived, and I stayed inside to watch as some of the guys started a video game battle. Their trash talk was immensely entertaining. A while later, I was surprised to see that darkness had fallen outside. The lights strung between the trees in the backyard were on, and someone had lit the tiki torches. It looked pretty cool, so I decided to head back out there for another beer.
Jared was chivalrously pumping a beer for Kim when I walked up. Sam was standing with him, too, and he gave me a chin lift in greeting. Lauren was talking to Kim; it looked like they knew each other pretty well. They were both dressed in short dresses with really tall shoes that were ridiculous for our dead grass backyard, and if you squinted, with their sleek blonde hair and pale dresses, they could be interchangeable. I looked down at my own bare feet with amusement. Maybe Lauren was how Jared met Kim, I didn't know. He had it bad; I could tell that. Sam and Jared both seemed pretty happy being one-woman guys. I realized that I envied them with a jolt of surprise.
Paul announced his arrival in our loose circle around the keg when he let out a low whistle behind me. I turned to look at him and then back in the direction he was staring. A stunning brunette had just walked out of the backdoor of the girls' house and was heading right towards us.
She was wearing a short dress too, but it was dark unlike Kim and Lauren's pastels, and set off her pale skin against her dark hair. She was wearing a sweater on top and flat shoes, not like those silly, tall shoes either. She was older, I could tell in the way she carried herself. She lifted her eyes to our group as she slowly made her way across the dirt. They were dark and serious and carried some deeper emotion, too. I considered and decided she looked sad, or maybe burdened was a better word. I was suddenly burning with a desire to know her story. She was hot for sure, but my curiosity about her overrode that first instinct. She didn't look like she belonged in this yard with us. And sometimes I felt like I didn't either.
All conversation had halted as she got closer to us. Everyone was staring at her. She looked uncomfortable and paused in front of us. Finally, Sam collected himself and offered her a beer. She accepted, and he pumped it quickly and handed it to her. I was holding my breath waiting for her to speak, but she just thanked him and walked away. Lauren scoffed under her breath, and Paul muttered what sounded like "stuck up bitch." I turned to glare at him.
"Don't be such a dick, Paul," I snapped. He looked surprised.
"Why is she even here if she thinks we're all scum?" he groused.
"Did she say that?" I asked rhetorically. Lauren interrupted.
"She obviously thinks we are, Edward," she insisted. I glanced over to where the mystery girl had ended up. She was sitting alone by our back steps on one of the chairs from our old rusted outdoor furniture set. She didn't look lonely or like she needed company. But I thought she looked wistful, not angry. I was pretty sure they were wrong about her. I decided to find out.
"I'm going to talk to her," I declared and started to go. Jared grabbed my arm.
"Dude, there are some girls that are even out of your league," he laughed. I shook him off.
"I'm not going to hit on her," I insisted. "I'm just going to find out her story." Lauren let out a gasping giggle in disbelief, but I ignored her. Paul snorted.
"Your funeral," he laughed. "But if you can add that one to your stable, I'll be forever impressed." Everyone around the keg laughed, and I felt a pit in my stomach. So that's how everyone saw me; I didn't like it. Just then I saw movement out of the corner of my eye from the other side of the yard. Bree and Maggie walked down the back steps of the girls' house. And they were headed our way. That was it. I turned away from the group and their jeering taunts, and I walked purposefully toward the mystery girl. I would learn her story if it took me all night.
Thanks for reading! Never know when I might pop back up so keep me on alert if interested.