Ryan Hunter (GBP 2)

Ryan Hunter

Grover Beach Players, 2

Chapter 1

I’D HAD MY fair share of girls in high school, that wasn’t a secret. But I had never really been in love. Well, not with any of the ones I’d had, anyway.

And still, there was her. She climbed out of Mitchell’s car, tossed her long brown hair over her shoulder, and adjusted the pink tee that was a snug fit and accentuated all the good stuff. The bright morning sun blinded her, and she squeezed her eyes to thin slits, which made the corners of her sweet mouth move up into something similar to her beautiful smile. And as always when my gaze got stuck on Lisa Matthews, I felt something slithery in my chest move into place.

She didn’t look my way. Never had. And why would she? Her universe was rotating around my soccer buddy, Tony Mitchell. As long as I had known Tony, he’d always come in a double pack. He and Lisa were what some people at school called M&M. I hated that term. Hated how she stood on her tiptoes now and slung her arms around his neck. Hated how—

Dammit! Was she going to kiss him? My stomach hardened in a way that made me want to claw those muscles apart. But damn, I was a man. I wouldn’t give away how tense I was. Or so I thought as I stood stiff as an ironing board and failed to tear my gaze away from the two of them.

They had never kissed. Lisa was in love with Tony, and I would bet my Need for Speed collection that he loved her back in a very odd, very secret way. But they Had. Never. Kissed. And that was good, because if they had, I might have gone over there now and rearranged my buddy’s face so that not even his family would recognize him afterward.

“Relax, bro. It’s just a peck on the cheek.”

I turned to Justin, who’d sneaked up on me and slapped my shoulder, and I let out the familiar breath that I held every time Lisa got too close to Mitchell.

“Yeah, it better be. I’d hate to go murder on a good friend today.” I grinned at Justin and did the ghetto handshake we’d been doing since we were out of primary school and became the cool kids who roamed the corridors of Grover Beach High.

Justin Andrews wasn’t a member of the Bay Sharks, the school’s soccer team, which I happened to be the captain of. He’d never cared for soccer but was actually a pro on his BMX bike. What he could do was amazing, but only for people who had a serious death wish. Jumping from bridges with his bike or balancing on picket fences earned him bruised bones and awesome black eyes nearly every weekend. Today he’d come to see his little brother off, who was only one year younger than us and actually played soccer on my team.

Justin jerked his chin to my left. “Are you going over there to say goodbye to the girl?”

“Why would I do that? We haven’t even made it to the hello yet.”

“Dude, if they haven’t become a couple in ten years, they probably never will be. It’s about time to let her know about the other fish in the sea that’s trying to get a bite of her.” He scratched his chin. “If you won’t do it, maybe I will. After all, you and that Mitchell guy are gone at soccer camp for five weeks.”

I slung a chummy arm around his neck, pressing a little harder than necessary. In fact, if I’d been any less gentle, the boy would have been blue in the face in a minute. “You can try, dude. But you know not even the FBI would find your body then.”

He punched me in the ribs so I let him go. But we were laughing so hard that some of the guys and their parents turned their heads our way. We didn’t give a shit about them but bickered some more, until I heard a familiar voice shout my name.

My sister came over and caught me in a hug that was impossible to evade. “I have to go. Phil’s waiting. Be careful, baby brother.”

“Yeah, sure.” I tried to fend Rachel off when she kissed my cheek. This was okay at home or anywhere people didn’t know me. But in front of my soccer buddies this was just unacceptable. “Go away, Rach. And take care of Mom and Dad while I’m gone.”

“I’m pretty sure they’re old enough to take care of themselves, but I’ll drop by for dinner once in a while if they feel alone or miss their pretty baby.” She laughed and ruffled my hair. Then she headed back to the parking lot near the train station.

Some of the kids had already boarded the train and were waving goodbye from the open windows. As I picked up my duffel bag and walked toward my coach, I caught a glimpse of the last thing I wanted to see this morning. Mitchell and Lisa in a pose that pressed her perfect body flush to his. He leaned down those few inches that he was taller than her and whispered something into her ear that made her blush an adorable pink.

“Man, you’re pitiful.” Justin shoved me forward, and only then did I realize that I had actually stopped walking.

Gnashing my teeth and keeping my eyes glued to the much safer ground in front of me, I moved past Mitchell and the girl I’d been dreaming of since ninth grade.

“Hey, Hunter.”

I knew I should just keep walking. I’d see Tony in a minute on the train, anyway. But the weaker part of me looked up just as Tony let go of my girl. “Hi, Mitchell,” I said as my gaze went out of control and swept over Lisa, taking in every inch of the suntanned skin that her illegally short pants exposed. I acknowledged her and cracked a smile. “And Mitchell’s groupie.”

She didn’t say good morning or how are you doing or even get lost and don’t ever talk to me again, though the latter might have been written in her green eyes which always seemed to turn a demonic shade darker when she looked at me. I knew she wasn’t my greatest fan. Not because she personally hated me, but because she blamed me for taking away her precious time with Tony. Mitchell had let that bit of information slip one day after she had all but growled at me for doubling the training time.

“See you, Mitchell,” I said and walked away.

“Save me a seat in your compartment,” Tony shouted after me.

I waved at him over my shoulder but didn’t look back. “Sure thing.” If it wasn’t me and Justin doing something stupid, it was always me and the guys on the team hanging out. We were really close. Like closer than family close. And yet, none of them knew of my obsession with a girl that only had eyes for my best player. Yeah, sometimes you just had to accept the crap life threw at you and put a shit-eating grin on your face.

I climbed the two steps into the coach before turning around to bump fists with Justin. “Enjoy the sun in Santa Monica,” he said. “I hear the girls down there are hot!”

“I’ll check them out and let you know.” Maybe. If I could get Lisa off my mind long enough to relax with another girl, something I hadn’t done in quite a few months. If this madness was going to hang on any longer, my reputation would be in serious trouble soon. Unfortunately, I had a weird feeling that it was only going to get worse for me.

Justin pointed a finger at my face. “And you take care of Nick. If he comes back with one scratch on his skin, I’ll hold you personally responsible.”

“Yeah, right.” I flipped him off, because we both knew that his little brother was…well, a little accident prone. Whatever happened during the next five weeks at our annual summer soccer camp, that kid would come back with a limb in a cast—no matter what. The question was just which limb it was going to be. Some of the guys on the team had a bet running. I had twenty bucks on any finger of his left hand, but Justin didn’t have to know that.

I found Frederickson and Alex Winter in a four-seat compartment in the middle of the train. We waited until Tony joined us, then closed the opaque sliding doors and settled in for the three-hour ride. We had chips, we had root beer, and it was just us guys. I decided that the next five weeks were going to be one helluva good time for all of us. But then I sneaked a glance out the window and caught Lisa still standing at the platform, her arms folded around her middle, her face sad.

If that look had been because of me and not Mitchell, I would have felt a lot better.


The first three days at camp were hell. We played a serious schedule every day, and by the time we were let off, our legs were on fire. By then, we weren’t up for anything other than grabbing some food and dropping onto our pillows. But we got used to the drill fast, and on day four, Mitchell, Winter, Frederickson, and I thought it was okay to stretch the camp rules a little and sneak out after dark for some fun.

Santa Monica had a few very cool places for students to hang out. No alcohol in the place called “The Teen Spirit,” but awesome music and some eye candy, too. It didn’t take long for a bunch of girls to close in on our table like we were the light to their moth lives. Two of them each sported something black that could barely be called a dress, and the other three were plastered into skintight jeans and tops that left the navel exposed to our view.

“Hi, guys,” one of them said, batting her lashes at me. Her eyes were a striking navy blue. I guessed that she was barely seventeen, still a year younger than me, probably a junior. “We usually know all the good-looking boys who come here. You must be visiting?”

Okay, she was a brave one, and not only because she dared to come here in heels that were longer than my middle finger and clearly gave her trouble walking. I wondered if she would have said that if she’d been facing us alone, without her lioness pack to back her up.

“We’re playing soccer just outside the city,” I told her. “Over the next few weeks, you might have time to get used to us coming here.”

She smiled a wide welcome and hooked her brunette hair behind her ears, revealing pirate hoops for earrings. “Mind if we sit down?”

“Sure.” I grabbed a seat from the vacant table behind me and pulled it around so that she’d sit right next to me. I didn’t know why. Maybe because Frederickson had made the most hopeful face when the girls came over, or maybe just because it was an old habit. Whichever it was, I regretted doing it the moment the other girls got chairs, too, and the pirate replica scooted so close that our legs touched under the table.

Gentlemen that we were, we paid for a round of sodas and made some casual conversation, but other than Frederickson, none of us guys seemed really impressed with the catch we’d made. The girl next to me, who had introduced herself as Sandy, ordered a mineral water and leaned in a little too close to say thank you. When I looked at her face, all I could think was that I’d prefer a girl who came clean and natural, without all the colorful cement on her face. I leaned back a few inches then widened the space between us to a solid foot. Not only was she painted like Picasso’s first test subject, but she also seemed to have fallen into a pot of her mother’s perfume, which stung my nose.

I’d stood next to Lisa a million times, and the floral scent of her shampoo and soap had never curled my toes.

Mitchell was having trouble warding off a strawberry blonde, who flashed braces in a flirtatious smile at him. It would have been interesting to know if he was avoiding her because of the same girl that was on my mind right now. We made it through one hour, but finally Tony and I shared a look that said, Run, and run as fast as you can.

To escape, we produced a lame ass excuse. That we weren’t allowed to stay out so late or we’d get thrown out of soccer camp, which wasn’t exactly a lie, but also nothing that we were really bothered with.

“Will you come back this weekend?” Sandy asked and curled a strand of her hair around her forefinger. God, who had taught this girl to flirt? It was like she had watched the worst chick flicks ever and taken notes.

Okay, maybe she wasn’t that bad, and a few months ago, I might even have encouraged her flirting, but tonight I wasn’t in the mood. “Guess we will. But we’ll probably bring our girlfriends, too, so this round won’t happen again.”

That made her back off, and I wasn’t in the least sorry for pulling that shitty lie out of nowhere. I tapped Frederickson on the shoulder and interrupted his making out with a girl who had hair as red as his. “We’re off, dude. Are you coming?”

He bit his lip, seriously deliberating. Then he detached himself from the girl he called Kelly and walked out the door with us.

“I’ve never been that happy to get away from a bunch of girls,” Mitchell said as we climbed over the threaded wire fence back at camp.

“Why?” Frederickson mumbled. “The chicks were willing. What’s your problem? Don’t wanna get laid?”

Tony and I simultaneously smacked him upside the head. “I don’t like it when a girl doesn’t take no for an answer,” I told him, then held the door to our dorm room open for the rest to slip inside. “And Sandy’s hand on my thigh definitely hasn’t heard the word no before.”

We crawled into the bunk beds and turned off the light.

As I walked out to the training grounds the following morning, I knew at first sight that this was going to be a special day. A group of girls, all dressed in soccer jerseys and cleats, sat on the lush green lawn, apparently waiting for us. This was the first year that girls had come, too. We’ve heard that the school administration felt guilty for not sponsoring a girls’ team at Grover Beach High, so they sent the girls along to soccer camp to make up for it.

Initially I’d thought that was a good idea. But when the coach told us to gather into co-ed teams, I was a little skeptical. We’d never played with girls before. They were fragile and breakable and definitely shouldn’t have been out on the field with us rowdy guys.

“Hi, Hunter,” two girls from my chemistry class greeted me.

“Hi, McNeal. Summers,” I said without stopping to talk to the two blondes. Chloe Summers was a capable player from what I’d seen the past three days on the other field, and Brinna McNeal seemed glued to her heel, no matter what.

For the sake of everyone’s bones, the guys and I toned it down a little as we started the first match. Maybe this was foolish of us, because before the first half was over, Chloe had fouled me three times, and I don’t mean gentle, womanly fouls. Twice she rammed into me at full speed and the last time she’d hooked her right leg around my ankle so that I went sailing a couple yards before I bellyflopped onto the grass.

I took a moment to pump air into my lungs again then climbed to my feet and headed toward her. Since she almost matched my six-foot-two, I could easily press my brow to hers and growl in her face. “Ah, you’re such a lady, Summers.”

“Sorry, did I hurt your feelings?” she countered with a grin that sat custom-made for trouble on her lips. “Can we continue with the game now, or do you need a minute to catch your breath, Hunter?”

I’d known that girl my whole life, since she only lived three streets away from me, and she’d never interested me one bit. But her aggressive style left an impression that day, and after two weeks of occasionally playing with the girls, I decided to chew through a topic with the guys on my team.

The Teen Spirit was the place where we would talk tonight. We hadn’t gone there since our first night out, and I wondered if Sandy and her lionesses would be around again. Guilty of the stupid lie about our girlfriends, I had a queasy feeling as we walked through the door. The feeling grew when we spotted the lionesses hanging out by the bar.

Very much to Frederickson’s dismay, we chose a table at the far end of the room. The place was packed on this Saturday night, and so we lost those junior chicks easily enough.

“I was thinking,” I started, only to be immediately interrupted by Alex.

“Hear, hear!”

“Shut up, Winter!” I punched him on the shoulder. “So, anyway, I was saying, what do you guys think about a co-ed team back home?”

All seven of my players leaned forward to rest their arms on the table. “What?”

“Not all the time, don’t panic! But you saw that playing with them isn’t half bad. I was thinking we could sort of recruit the best of them and then split our training time. Half time with and half time without the chicks.”

“If they agree, anyway,” Tony pointed out.

“I saw Chloe Summers and her friends near the entrance when we came in. If you’re cool with the idea, I’ll get them, and we can discuss this together.”

There was a collective silence. Slowly, grins began to grow on their faces. “Sounds like a plan to me. I’m in,” Frederickson said.

I knew he would be swayed easily because, out of all of us, he seemed to have the most fun with the girls.

Mitchell pulled a skeptical face. “I don’t know about this. I mean, they wouldn’t be playing the big games with us, anyway, so why sacrifice training time?”

“Well the girls don’t have a team at school and even though we wouldn’t play important games with them, we could play some friendly matches. I know Hamilton High has a co-ed team, too, and unless I’m very much mistaken, so do the Riverfalls Rabid Wolves. They’re two teams we could invite for a game once in a while. It just seems fair to give the girls a chance to play, too.” Then I laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. “If it helps, you can ask your girlfriend to join the team as well.”

“Who? Liz?” He made a baffled face. “She’d rather touch a leper than a soccer ball. And she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Yeah, right.” I was teasing him, but to hear the truth out of my friend’s mouth felt unspeakably good. “So, do we ask the girls now or not?”

The guys agreed as one. I got to my feet and headed over to the bar where I had last glimpsed Chloe, Brinna, and three other girls from our school. Tough luck—right next to them stood Sandy and the junior chicks. Sandy saw me walking closer, and the fact that I was alone seemed to make her happy. Her smile moved into place, and she said hi to me.

“Hey, Sandy.”

“No girlfriend again?” It sounded like a mix of accusation for the lie I had told her and delight over finding me still single.

I didn’t want to give her false hope, and more importantly, I didn’t want to spend the next hour fending her off again, so I grabbed the first familiar girl I saw and pulled her to my side. “Sorry to disappoint you,” I told a baffled Sandy. “But I just came over to get my girl.” I tilted my head to see who my girl actually was and found myself nose to nose with Chloe. She lifted a delicate brow at me but was cool enough to handle the moment. “You ready to come back to the table with me, hun?” I said through a grin.

Chloe caused me a second of panic, but then she played along. “Of course, baby. Let me just tell the girls that we’re moving. And that you agreed to pay for a round.”

I gritted my teeth behind tight lips, but the rescue was worth it. With my arm still around Chloe, I walked her over to our table in the back, knowing that Sandy would stare after us with those disappointed navy blues.

Chloe played her part a little too well. She was overdoing it when she wrapped her arm around my waist and shoved her hand into the back pocket of my jeans.

“Hands out of there, Summers,” I growled, but kept her tucked to my side.

“Why? You have a sexy ass, Hunter.” She laughed and pinched my butt cheek before moving her hand out of my pocket and up to safer grounds.

The guys had already found chairs for the ladies, and I was more than happy when I could let go of Chloe and slump back into my seat.

“Wow, this looks like you’ve been expecting us,” she said as they all sat down. “What’s up?”

“There’s something we want to discuss with you,” I replied.

“Really? And here I thought you only wanted to use one girl to escape another.”

I grimaced. “Yeah…thanks for that.” Then I ordered sodas for all of us, and we told the girls what we had in mind.

All of them were intrigued by the idea, especially since they didn’t have a girls’ team back in Grover Beach. The most soccer they got was in gym class, and only when the teacher was having a good day.

“I know of a few girls at school who would love to be on a team,” Brinna said. “If you don’t mind that they aren’t all going to be seniors next year.”

“It’s actually only Sasha, Tyler, and myself who are going to be seniors on our team,” I pointed out. “So you don’t have to worry.”

“Cool. I can text a few girls back home and we can all meet up when we’re back. How many girls do you need for the co-ed team?”

“I don’t know. Eight to ten would be good. If there are more who want to join, we’ll have to hold tryouts.”

The evening wore on a few more hours, before we finally left the bar together.

“Everybody grab a girl,” Alex said over his shoulder with a grin as we passed Sandy and her lionesses by the bar.

I wanted to tuck Chloe under my arm again, because she was walking next to me, but the blonde gave me a grim look. “Take Brinna,” she snapped, then she hooked her arm through Tony’s and batted her lashes at him. “I want to be his girlfriend for the walk out.”

Mitchell raked a hand through his blond hair and let loose a shit-eating grin. “Sorry, Hunter.”

He didn’t have to be. Brinna was as good a match as anyone, and I released her as soon as the door had fallen shut behind us. However, Chloe clung to Mitchell’s arm the entire way home. Then I got an update from Frederickson on the flirting that had apparently been going on all evening, and which I had completely missed.

Summers and Mitchell? Now, why did that thought make me grin to myself?

Back at camp, I threw a quarter in the soda machine in the hall, just to get a chance to see how Tony and Chloe would part tonight. Knowing Chloe, I was sure she’d go for a kiss, and if she did, this could finally be my chance with Lisa. If Tony was taken, she’d realize sooner or later that he wasn’t the only boy in the world.

I took a swig of Coke, watching them from the corner of my eye. To my total frustration, they didn’t kiss. They didn’t even talk about meeting the next morning at soccer training. All they said was “Good night,” and Chloe added, “Sleep tight, Anthony.”

Tony waited for me when she was gone and, together, we climbed the steps to the boys’ dorm. I didn’t touch on the topic, and neither did he.

Chapter 2

CHLOE SUMMERS WAS the female equivalent of me. Heading from one fling into the next and enjoying uncomplicated relationships that lasted about two to three weeks maximum and left us free of any ties. I was perfectly aware of the terms playboy or school hottie that most of the girls used in combination with my name. While I didn’t want to be bound to anyone because the girl I wanted walked in front of me every day, totally unaware of how I felt, I didn’t understand what kept Chloe from having a deep and meaningful relationship.

She’d flittered through half the guys at soccer camp by the time we evacuated our dorms when the five weeks were up, and she’d certainly made a name for herself because of that. There were only a few of us who were immune to her flirting, and Tony Mitchell definitely didn’t fall into that group. It would be a lie to say I didn’t hope they would hook up, even though he was my friend and deserved better. But she’d been the first girl in like forever that he seemed to be interested in—apart from Lisa—and I couldn’t help getting my hopes high whenever I saw the two of them together. I would never hit on any friend’s girl. But if Tony was with someone else, he couldn’t claim Lisa Matthews as his own any longer.

On the train it was the four of us again: Alex, Frederickson, Tony, and me. We had all tanned nicely from playing in the sun and were fooling around like cocky jocks, bragging about how the girls would be at our feet when we got back. But the truth was, only Frederickson really meant it, because I…well, I had stopped plucking girls from every corner of the school’s corridors some serious time ago. And Tony was texting like mad with Lisa, while Alex Winter had finally come out with why he had been so low-key around the fairer sex during the past five weeks. There was a girl on his mind, too. A special one. And he intended to get her to go out with him eventually, even though she’d rebuffed him twice before the last school year ended. Her name was Simone, and I thought I remembered her from the parties I sometimes threw. Parties at which I’d always hoped to see Lisa walking through my front door, but as it was, Tony had never passed my invitations on to her. He said she was too nice to be dragged into a hellhole like my house on a Saturday night, but I was sure he was just scared someone else would hit on her and she might like it.

I glanced at my friend who had just punched out another text message. He was surely telling Lisa that we’d be home in about two hours, and she was probably sitting in her room, biting her nails because she couldn’t wait to see him again.

“Are you two making out over the phone or what?” I mocked and kicked his tennis shoe with the toe of mine.

Tony glanced up with this innocent What? look in his eyes.

“You’ve sent Lisa over twenty messages in the past half hour,” Alex said, backing me up with a sneer. “What’s so urgent that it can’t wait until we’re home?”

“Nothing.” Tony cleared his throat and tucked the cell into his pocket. “I was just giving her an update about the past few days. Because Hunter wants to meet with the others about this co-ed thing right when we get back, she’ll be in a terrible mood since I can’t hang out right away.”

“Dude, give it a break. Just make her come along with you. I don’t see why you’re being so complicated,” I said. But the truth was, I was jealous, and more than just a little bit. I wished I could text back and forth with Lisa on the way home, have her all euphoric to see me again, and wrap her up in a tight hug, which Tony would doubtlessly do when he walked over to her house in a little while.

“She won’t come. She hates soccer, and when I mention your name, her face usually turns into a grimace.” Tony smirked. “No offense, Hunter.”

“None taken,” I muttered and turned to stare out the window. Lisa was probably the only girl in the universe that was resistant to my charm. Goddammit! But then again, she hadn’t seen much of it so far. Since the girls of friends were a no-go for me, it made me tone down the flirt-factor automatically. It could all change with Chloe, though. A bubbly spark of hope lit in my chest. It made me feel stupid, and I struggled to get that feeling under control. I glanced sideways at Tony. “What about the Summers chick?”

“What about her?”

“You two hung out a lot at camp.”

His lips became a thin line. “Yeah. So what?”

Heck, we hadn’t talked about her in all this time we were at camp, and now that I thought of it, it was because whenever someone mentioned Chloe’s name, Mitchell changed the subject. “So, is there something going on between the two of you?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Why don’t you want to answer?”

Alex bumped his shoulder into Tony’s. “Because this dude is in love, and it’s not with Matthews.”

Tony shoved him back. “Knock it off. I’m not in love with anyone.”

“Then why are you so touchy all of a sudden?” Alex asked.

“And so defensive,” I added.

“I’m not. You’re just idiots.”

Okay, we couldn’t contradict that, but Tony’s secretive love life was interesting me more and more. And then it hit me like a hammer on the head. “It’s because of her!”

He quirked his brows at me. “Huh?”

“It’s Chloe! Not me. She’s the reason you don’t want to bring Matthews along. You don’t want the girls to meet, that’s it!” Heck, I almost sneered at my friend because of my ingenuity.

And suddenly something weird happened, which none of us guys could have predicted. Anthony Mitchell blushed a pretty, girly pink.

“Oh my fucking God!” I slapped my brow. “So you have something running with the Summers chick. And you’re scared to tell little Lisa.”

Tony raked a nervous hand through his hair. “She won’t understand,” he whined. It didn’t help that at that moment another text from Lisa came in.

I knew it was an asshole move, but this time I couldn’t resist. As soon as he fished the phone out of his pocket, I grabbed it and opened the text. Tony jumped at me, but I held it out of his reach and wrestled myself free.

“We can do whatever you want. Go for a swim? We haven’t done that all summer. But then, you were gone all summer, you rascal,” I read out loud, and the other two repeated, “You rascal!” in the most girly way one had ever heard. We laughed our asses off.

“Give it back. You’re such an infantile, Hunter.”

Infantile!” we repeated and stuck our heads together like the three Stooges, already holding our stomachs from laughing. I was too weak to withstand Tony’s attacks, so I let him have his phone back. God knew what he texted Lisa then. Likely, that he was trapped in a train compartment with the kindergarten of Grover Beach.

When the train stopped at our station, we grabbed our bags and jumped off the coach into the warm Friday afternoon sun. I stretched my back and cracked my neck, which had gone a little stiff during the ride. Then I scanned the place for a delicate brunette with apple-green eyes. She hadn’t come, not even to pick up her best friend and childhood love. Not seeing Lisa for half of the summer and staying sane had been a challenge. Not seeing her now was torture.

But school was only three weeks away. I would be a man and bear it with a grin. Or so I told myself.

The guys and I bumped fists and shouted goodbyes to several other friends we’d made at camp. Then we fanned out to find our rides home. My dad would pick me up today, but before I found him, I ran into my friend Justin. He had a broken little brother by his side. Well, not everything of Nick Andrews was broken. Only his right wrist, which didn’t bring me any money, but it made me feel bad for him. It had happened only three days ago, up until which point we’d all wondered if he’d make it home sound for once. No such luck for the kid.

Justin wore a grim expression, but before he could say anything I cut him short. “Dude, I wasn’t even near him when it happened. He slipped in the shower. How could I have prevented that from happening, huh?”

He considered that for a second, then a grin curved his thin lips, and we went through our handshake ritual which ended with a fist-pound on each other’s shoulder. “What’s cracking?” he asked as he and Nick walked with me to the parking lot. Then he leaned in closer, so that only I could hear his taunt. “Did a nice babe come along and blast the Matthews girl out of your head?”

I grinned back. “Did you run a truck over your sacred BMX bike?”

“Nah,” we said simultaneously and laughed. Then I slapped his little brother on the shoulder and told him, “See you at Charlie’s in a bit.”

My dad was waiting by our black Ford Chrysler. I gave him a brief one-armed hug, dumped my bag in the trunk, and climbed into the passenger seat. Though this year at camp had been epic, it was nice to be going home at last.

Mom must have been waiting like a lynx behind the door, because the moment I opened it, she caught me in a bear hug that knocked the breath out of my lungs.

“Mom,” I croaked, but hugged her back and laughed. “Mom, let go. You’re hurting me.”

“Yeah, she missed you an awful lot,” my dad told me as he squeezed through between the doorjamb and my mom and me.

“Five weeks. You have no idea,” Mom exclaimed, then she stroked my cheek and kissed the other. “This house is way too empty with both kids gone.”

Ever since my sister ran off at age twenty—okay, she didn’t run off but moved to San Luis—I had become the sole center of my mom’s affection. While Rachel had quit college to marry the owner of a bar, I was the good kid who still lived at home and intended to go into my father’s business one day. He had a veterinary practice attached to our house and let me sneak in from time to time. I liked animals, and helping him treat the furry patients was cool.

When I made it out of my mom’s possessive embrace, I emptied my duffel bag into the wash and rushed upstairs to shower off the smell of a long journey. With a towel loosely wrapped around my hips, I shaved, put on some Axe Temptation, and rubbed my dark hair dry. From my closet, I grabbed a white muscle shirt and baggy pants then shoved my feet into black skater shoes. Next to my bed stood my graffiti-style skateboard. I stared at it for a few moments then decided to leave my car in the garage for one more day and use this ride instead.

Mom’s eyes widened when I came down the stairs with the board clutched under my arm. “Are you going out again? You’ve barely had time to say hello. And you didn’t tell me how camp was.”

“Yeah. I have a meeting with the guys from the team in”—I glanced at my watch—“fifteen minutes.”

“Will you be back for dinner? I was going to make a seafood platter tonight.”

My mouth spread into a huge grin. She knew I loved fish and shrimp prepared in all different ways and she usually prepared this for special occasions. Like when her beloved son came back from camp after five long weeks. There was only one thing to say to this. “I love you too, Mom.” I kissed her on the cheek. “I won’t be long. Just a couple hours, I promise. Then I’ll tell you all about camp at dinner.”

The kiss was my ticket to go. She could never deny me anything when I was the sweet boy who wasn’t ashamed of telling his mom he loved her.

Outside, I dropped the skateboard to the asphalt and headed to Charlie’s Café.

As I stepped off my board just in front of the low fence, I recognized some of the kids who had gathered around a few tables in the shadowy garden area. The place buzzed with activity this Friday afternoon.

I left my skateboard by the entrance with a couple others and headed toward the group to take a seat at one end of the table. Brinna was right, there were quite a few girls interested in playing soccer. I hadn’t expected this craze.

When Charlie came to take my order, I asked for a lemon juice and something to write with. A few minutes later, the tall, prematurely balding man brought me two white sheets of paper and a pen with my drink.

Tony wasn’t there yet, so a tiny flicker of hope remained that he’d bring Lisa after all. I took a sip of my juice and glanced over at Chloe in this white dress that looked like it was painted on her skin. Then again, it probably wasn’t such a good idea to introduce the girls today.

“All right,” I said to get everyone’s attention after I’d put my glass down. “It’s cool that so many of you came today. But since we can’t take on more than ten players, we’ll have to find a way to make a choice. Usually, it’s a tryout for the guys, so I was thinking of arranging one for tomorrow morning. Does anyone have a problem with that?”

There was some headshaking and mumbling that tomorrow was fine.

“Great. I’ll put each of your names down on the list then, and if you know of anyone else who’d like to play with the Bay Sharks, tell them to be at the soccer field around ten.”

I knew most of the girls here because they were either in my classes or I’d dated them once or twice in the past. When I was done with the list and lifted my head, my heart knocked seriously hard against my ribcage. Tony had just walked up to us, and with him was the most beautiful girl in the world.

Holy Jesus, how much I had missed the sight of her this summer! As always, her shiny green eyes caught my attention first. Looking at them reminded me of spring leaves. Lisa’s beautiful hair was tied in a high ponytail and only a few strands slipped out in the front, framing her heart-shaped face.

The pink T-shirt she wore today was my favorite, because it fit her like a second skin. From beneath the collar, two neon green straps ran up and around her neck to tie in the back. A bikini I guessed, remembering the text message I’d read on Tony’s phone earlier. She was up for a swim. And as I looked at her pretty, naked legs, I decided a swim was just what I needed to cool off. I pulled my cap a little lower over my forehead, tearing my eyes off my personal sunshine, and cleared my throat, which had gone from okay to dry-as-a-bone within moments.

They hadn’t even made it to our table when Chloe rose from her seat. “You’re late, Anthony. I almost thought you wouldn’t come.”

I found it hilarious how she was the only person I knew who ever called him Anthony, but he seemed to like it. When she walked to Tony and kissed his left cheek, all the hilariousness was blown out of the situation, and I found myself holding my breath. Alex and Frederickson seemed as stunned as Lisa and I obviously were. The scene went from bad to worse when Tony placed his hands on Chloe’s hips and let her kiss his other cheek.

Right now I wished I had the guts to stand up and wrap Lisa in a tender hug, and not for my personal pleasure, but because she looked like she had been run over by a bus.

“Mixed soccer teams, huh?” she growled at Mitchell then took a seat next to him, which meant she was also sitting directly opposite Chloe.

The least I could do was tease her a little and cheer her up. “The tryouts are tomorrow, Matthews. I can put you on the list, if you’re interested.” She didn’t seem particularly happy about my joke, which wasn’t really a joke anyway, but an attempt to get her on a team where I could play with her twice a week and have a reason to touch her. But she sent a surprised look in my direction. Maybe because this was the most I had said to her in one breath in all the time I had known her. I’d always found it easier to resist her when I didn’t have to talk to her.

“Liz and soccer?” Tony laughed. “You might as well try to get an elephant to dance the tango. Right, Liz?”

Oh shit. Could he be any more tactless? I’d never heard him talk to Lisa in this mean way. When she turned her head to him, her eyes held a great lot of hurt. But it seemed I was the only one to notice.

And then the unthinkable happened. Chloe opened her mouth, and I knew nothing nice would come out. “The elephant part hits home.”

There it was. Short, biting, and so Chloe-like. She definitely felt threatened by Lisa, or she wouldn’t have had to revert to bitchiness to carve out her territory, which, in this instance, was Tony. Somewhere in the back of my head, I was impressed. Chloe really looked like she felt a thing or two for this boy.

And this boy had just epically failed the friend test. He didn’t say one word when Summers insulted Lisa, and that—hooking up with Chloe or not—was totally intolerable. I wondered what Lisa was going to do.

“I tried puking up my meals in ninth grade, but that seems to be more your thing than mine,” was her retort. Obviously, that girl wasn’t as shy and silent as she made everyone believe.

I laughed, but apparently I was the only one who dared to. Everyone else was shocked into silence, trying to stay out of the line of fire.

“Did you just insult me?”

Yes, Summers, she did! Of course, this was a first for my female equivalent. She and I weren’t used to being bested by anyone. I was pretty sure that hurt her on a level she would never let on.

Lisa seemed more than relieved when Tony got a text message and asked her if she’d like to stay or walk back home with him. I’d never seen anyone knock back an almost-full glass of soda as fast as Lisa did while she rose from her chair.

“Nope, I’m ready,” she told him.

Tony shook his head at her, then he grimaced and shrugged in my direction.

“See you tomorrow, Anthony,” Chloe called out after him.

With her chin low and her gaze fixed on the ground, Lisa gritted her teeth in a way that made me fear for her molars. I didn’t want to be in her shoes right now. But then, it had been hard enough to be in my shoes the past few years whenever she was around. Maybe things were finally playing out to my advantage, sad as it made me to see her so crushed.

When she walked past me, I suddenly realized if I didn’t act now, I might not get another chance. The least I could do was get her to come to the tryouts. Maybe if I could show her that soccer wasn’t all bad, she’d be on my team. And pretty clear visuals of how I’d get closer to her were already playing in my mind.

In a mad lack of self-control, I almost reached out to grab her hand and make her stop. She couldn’t walk away from me just yet. But I pulled myself together and kept my fingers laced over my stomach when I asked her, “How about it, Matthews? Will you try out for the team or not?”

She stopped dead and looked at me, seriously surprised. “I—”

“You shouldn’t tease her. She’s just not made for soccer,” Tony said, cutting her off. He tried to push her on, away from me.

Oh, how I wanted to kick his ass for that.

I don’t know what really swayed her at that moment, whether it was just the wish to spend more time with Tony, or if it had to do with Chloe’s snorting laughter. But when she turned around to Mitchell and told him, “Know what? I think I’ll just give it a shot,” I had to really struggle to keep my stupid grin under control.

Tony gave her a dubious look. “You’re shitting me.”

Damn. She wouldn’t dare change her mind, would she? But the look she threw Tony said What do you wanna bet, buddy? And it was obvious she’d bite his head off if he said just one more stupid word.

“Cool, so you’re on the list.” Now I couldn’t help but smile. Also because, with her standing right in front of me, I could enjoy her beautiful view without seeming like a peeping Tom. The little strip of bare skin flashing out between her tee and shorts was an illegal temptation. “We meet at ten on the field,” I murmured.

“I’ll be there.”

This held the seal of a promise. And I’d nail her to it.

Once more, her deliciously long legs dragged my gaze down. I wanted to touch them—Lord, kill me now. I drank in every inch of her exposed skin, from her thighs over the little bruise on her left knee, to her bare feet in those light blue flip-flops. I swallowed, forcing my glance back up to her face. We looked at each other for a silent second, which gave me a strange feeling of goose bumps at the back of my neck, like she knew I was seizing her with my eyes—and like she enjoyed it.

“Bring shoes,” I told her and winked in a way she’d probably never seen from me.

Her lips parted very slightly. Just looking at them made me want to kiss her senseless. But I never got to hear whatever she’d contemplated saying, because Mitchell made her move.

When they were gone, I caught Alex staring at me, and it got on my nerves in the span of a millisecond. “What?” I mouthed at him.

Alex smirked and shook his head with backup from Frederickson, who did the same. I flipped them the bird, covering the gesture by dragging my cap a little deeper still. But a grin was sneaking to my lips, and I could do nothing to stop it.

Chapter 3

DINNER WITH MOM was exhausting. She knocked a hole in my head with her questions, and I struggled to enjoy my seafood between answering them. Right then, I decided I really needed to call her more often when I was gone for an extended period of time.

After dinner I got a text message from Mitchell asking me to meet him outside my house in twenty minutes. There was nothing else I had planned for the evening, so hanging out with him was cool. I asked him in when I opened the door a bit later, but he made a face and said he’d rather walk.

Walk? The guy who came to my house three times a week to play video games and who inhaled tons of cheese crackers every time? Who was the reason my mom now kept a supply especially for him? He shrugged off my invitation and just nodded in the direction of the old playground a few streets up. Something was off.

I nodded and started walking alongside him, tucking my hands deep into my pockets. “What’s up, Mitchell?”

It took him a few moments to answer. “I’m totally screwed, man.”

I cocked a brow at him. Tony cut me a glance, but then he focused on the pavement again, dragging out a deep sigh. “I need your help with Lisa.”

Ah heck, no! Don’t talk to me about her. Giving another guy advice on how to make it right with the girl I wanted ranked seriously low on my wish-to-do list. Yet here I was, still biting my lower lip and answering, “What can I do?”

“I want her on the team.”

I almost stopped walking. Okay, this was something I definitely wanted, too. “She said she’ll come to the tryouts tomorrow. That’s a start, isn’t it?”

“Yes, she’ll come. But you haven’t seen her handle a soccer ball yet. I swear she’d rather burn it than touch it.”

“That’s just because she hates you playing all the time when you should be spending time with her instead.” I winced. Why the hell did I say that?

Tony was distracted with kicking a stone in front of him, so he didn’t notice my grimace. “Maybe. But she won’t stand a chance at the tryouts tomorrow.”

Aha. He was worried about her failing. He shouldn’t be. Heck, I had been waiting too long for her to be on my team to care about her skills now. Whatever Lisa was going to do tomorrow, I’d make sure she was a member of the Grover Beach Bay Sharks at the end of the day.

But then I started to wonder. “Why do you want her on the team, anyway?”

We reached the playground where Rachel and I used to play every day when we were children, and while I took a seat on the swing, Mitchell sat on the slide, resting his elbows on his knees, staking me with a meaningful look. “You were right today. I’m kind of dating Chloe Summers.”

Excuse me if I get up and do a stupid victory dance right now. I cleared my throat, kept my expression even, and said, “That’s cool.”

“I just don’t know how to break it to Liz. She was pissed earlier because of a few things I did…or apparently didn’t do. I don’t want to hurt her, but I know it will be horrible for her if she finds out that I’m seeing another girl.”

“Yep, you’re going to break the girl. That’s a given.” But don’t you worry, I’ll be there to make her feel better. “So having her on the team helps you how?”

“Liz really hates Chloe. And that after only twenty minutes together. I’m hoping for them to get to know each other better. Maybe they’ll become friends.” Tony leaned back on the metal slide, crossed his arms behind his head, and gazed up at the already dark sky. “I don’t want to lose Lisa just because I have a girlfriend now.”

I didn’t know what to say other than, “Tough situation.” And it sure was for everyone. Didn’t he see that I was the wrong person to be giving relationship advice when it came to that girl? It would be so easy to talk Mitchell into something that would drive a wedge between him and Lisa. But I liked Mitchell, and once again, I put my own needs aside and said what he needed to hear from a good friend.

“Are you sure you’re doing the right thing, Mitchell? I mean, Lisa Matthews is madly in love with you. Just the way every guy would probably wish for. She’s nice, she’s pretty, she’s cool, and she’s fun. That’s everything I always hear from you.” I heaved a deep sigh and swung a few times back and forth, seriously wishing I didn’t have to say this. “What in the world is keeping you from hooking up with her?”

Tony sat up again, legs crossed. “I don’t know.” He sounded every bit sincere. “You know how much I like her. But I just can’t see us being together in a way like I want to be with Chloe. Not that I don’t find Lisa attractive, that’s not it. Heck, she’s probably the prettiest girl in town.”

She sure was. I got more and more confused as he continued.

“But I already know her. Like every little thing about her. She’s been my best friend since forever and I love hanging out with her. But Chloe…”

Oh boy, there was that devoted sigh that had gotten many men before him into trouble.

“She’s so different. She’s wild and tells me what she wants. It doesn’t even bother her that she’s a few months older than me and going to be a senior.”

The chains of the swing rattled when I got to my feet and walked to a tree, leaning one shoulder against it, folding my arms over my chest. “You do realize that she might have said the same thing to all the other guys she was with in the past? And by ‘with’ I mean for a couple of weeks, if we stretch it.”

“She told me it’s different this time. That she hasn’t felt this for any other guy before.”

Hah! I wanted to laugh about that, but it was late and dark and we were on a silent playground, so it would have made me sound like a mad serial killer. Besides, I wouldn’t laugh at a friend.

“I think I want us to be official,” Tony confessed.

I rubbed my hands over my face, feeling the need to drag Tony under a cold shower to open his eyes. “Look, I don’t want to sound like the older brother now.” Mostly because I always hated when Rachel did that shit with me. “But you should really think about it again. You and Chloe…well, you don’t have a future together. She’s not the type to go for a relationship. She’s like—”


“Yeah, thanks,” I muttered. “But that’s probably what it is. That girl has a record where guys are concerned. You’re interesting to her now, but she’ll dump you before you can put your pants back on.”

“That won’t happen. She really likes me.”

Damn, he wouldn’t listen. How very frustrating. I straightened, and my voice became cold. “You plan on sleeping with her any time soon?”

Tony pressed his lips together and shrugged one shoulder.

“Fine. We’ll talk again then. But be prepared for the possibility that by the time you’ve messed with someone else, Lisa might not be there waiting for you to return to her.”

“Liz and I becoming a couple, that’s not going to happen. I don’t need her to wait for me. I just don’t want to lose my friend.”

“With the way she feels about you, that just might happen, Mitchell.”

“I just need some time to tell her. So I want you and the guys to shut up about me and Chloe, until I get the chance to come clean.”

I chuckled. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

And then it became clear to me that I might destroy what little chance had just been dangling in front of my face if I said anything more. I didn’t intend to give it up when Tony was so set on the course he was currently taking with Chloe. However, there was one thing I needed to get straight. The bark of the tree rubbed against my back when I pressed a little harder against the trunk. “You want Chloe? Take her. I’ll keep my mouth shut. You want Matthews on the team? Consider her a member. But only under one condition.”

“And that would be what?”

“As part of my team, everyone sees her as that, and no longer as your sacred little girlfriend.” I paused to let that first bit sink in before I went on. “She plays soccer, she comes to my parties. You don’t stop her. And whatever happens there—if guys hit on her—you keep it together, man.”

Seconds passed, and Tony remained silent.

“I just don’t want any rivalries on our team,” I added. “Are we clear?”

Mouth still shut, Tony stood and slowly walked toward the exit of the playground. He didn’t turn around when he told me, “Deal.”


I lay awake for half of the night, wondering if I should have tried harder to talk sense into my friend. He was going to fall flat on his face, and the jerk just didn’t want to see it. If it was only about Chloe and him, I wouldn’t have thought about it twice but instead let Mitchell head into the adventure and come out of it a wiser man.

However, I knew what was going to happen. I hated to think of Lisa getting hurt in the game and my friend flushing the chance that I had always wanted—and which he’d had his entire life—down the gutter.

But it was not my job to change the world. And after so many years of having a crush on Lisa, it was time to think about myself for once. Well, about myself and her. She’d be in my house tomorrow night as part of my team. After-match parties were customary, and heck, I’d make sure to throw one for the new team members after the tryouts. I punched a short invitation into my phone and sent the text off to a group of sixty people. They would spread the word. My mom was on the texting list, too, just in case I forgot to tell her about the party in the morning. I never had to worry about running late to stock the fridge. Drinks and snacks were always there, and some of the kids would bring beer and wine coolers, anyway. But the best thing was, tomorrow, the girl of my dreams would be there. Sometime after midnight I fell asleep with a grin on my face.

The next morning, I went through my usual routine of showering, shaving, and getting dressed, all with music thundering from the speakers in my room. Currently, it was P!nk and Nate Ruess asking for a reason. I liked the song, mostly because it was the ringtone of Lisa’s cell phone, and listening to it reminded me of her.

I tugged the white soccer shorts up over my hips, sat down on the corner of my bed, and tied my shoes. The cleats went into my backpack to wear later on the field. I grabbed a fresh jersey and pulled it over my head. Over the lamp on my desk hung my Indians cap. It was my favorite and the one I wore most of the time at school, but as I was about to put it on this morning, I looked at myself in the large mirror attached to the door. My hair was still wet from the shower and all over the place. I knew that this chaotic look usually made girls go stupid. It was worth a try with Lisa. Back in the bathroom, I pressed a tiny bit of gel into my palm, just enough to fix the style without making it look sticky or coated.

The car keys jingled in my hand as I headed downstairs. From the dining room drifted noise, and I guessed my mother was in there. “Mom!” I shouted over my shoulder, already late. “You got the text?”

“Yes, darling!” she answered. “Your dad and I got an invitation to Mary Fisher’s birthday celebration. We won’t be home tonight!”

“Yesss,” I hissed and punched my fist in the air. Parties were so much better when I had the run of the house. “I’m off to soccer. Laters!”

In our double garage, my Audi A3 was dwarfed by my dad’s Chrysler, but I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel of my baby painted a shiny, nightfall silver. It had been a present from my parents for my eighteenth birthday, shortly before soccer camp. And with my own savings, I had turned the brand-new car into a real attention-catcher, with twenty-inch tires on specially designed aluminum rims, an epically mean-looking front, and the body slammed to the ground. Two hundred and forty hp made this rocket race through the streets like a shark under water.

When I climbed into the bucket seat and stroked over the curve of the wheel, I inhaled the scent of new leather and smirked. “Miss me, love?”

The answer came when I pushed the start button and softly tipped my foot on the gas pedal. The Audi gave a roar that would have made its big brothers go pale with envy. Man, I loved that sound. The garage’s wide roll-up door opened at the push of the button on the small remote attached to my key ring. Sunlight streamed into the garage and blinded me. I grabbed my sunglasses that lay in the center console, shook them open with one hand, and put them on.

The music boomed from the speakers on a level meant for going deaf as I left the garage and our driveway to head down the road. In no time, the ride was over, because the soccer field was right next to our school, only two miles away from my house. On this Saturday morning, the parking lot was quite busy, which meant that more students had come to the tryouts than expected.

From the floorboard on the passenger side, I grabbed my backpack and threw it over one shoulder. Locking the car, I headed for the grounds.

There I spotted Torres, Frederickson, Sebastian Randall, and Alex. I had asked them to come help me sort through the girls today, kick around some ball with them, and judge their skills. Frederickson was our goalie, so he’d do what he always did. The rest of the crowd on the lawn was female. Since Tony wasn’t here yet, I didn’t even bother to look for Lisa, because she wouldn’t come without him. I headed straight to the bench where about a million handbags and backpacks were parked, and one girl. While all the others did some stretching or chatting elsewhere, this one was actually reading a book.

She wasn’t in any of my classes, nor had I ever gone out with her, but I knew she’d told me her name yesterday at Charlie’s. Heck, what was it again?

I dumped my stuff next to her and said, “Hi.”

She looked up from her book and took off her metal-rimmed glasses. “Hey.”

“Good story?”

“Fantastic.” Then she blushed an awful red and grimaced, probably because she’d just caught my subtle taunting. It was weird to go to soccer tryouts to read a book. “I only have half a chapter left, and I just couldn’t stop.”

She was sweet, this one. “Go finish your chapter. I still need a few minutes to get everything ready, anyway.”

She seemed totally happy with my words, putting her glasses back on and her nose back in the book, which made me shake my head but chuckle as I fished for the list of names in my backpack. Running my forefinger from top to bottom, I looked for the name that I’d jotted down below Elisabeth MacKenzie, because I was pretty sure this girl had been sitting right next to her in the café. Yep, there it was. Miller. That was her.

Sitting down beside her, I traded my shoes for my cleats. An airy thud next to my ear said she’d finished her book. “How are you going to go about this?”

Making a knot with the loops of my tied laces, I tilted my head to look up at her. “What do you mean?”

“Well, there are way over fifty girls wanting on your team. How do you choose between us?”

I moved to my other shoe and started lacing it. “Dunno. Let you kick some goals and stuff. Watch you play.”

“Tough job with so many girls,” she replied and put her book in one of the million backpacks lying around. “Do you have a rating system?”

No, I didn’t. Because I thought there would be fifteen to choose between, maybe twenty. I didn’t reckon on half the school. I quirked my brows at her, chewing on my bottom lip.

“That means no, right?”

“No. Right.”

She laughed at that. “Maybe you should give points for certain things and then just take the girls with the highest scores?”

That sounded like a brilliant idea. “You’re a smart one.” I stood and gave her one of those smirks I usually saved for asking-a-girl-out moments. It was okay, because those moments had become rare, anyway. The only sheet I had with me, though, was full of names, and there was no room left for taking any sort of notes. “You wouldn’t by any chance have—”

“A notebook?” she finished for me, giving me the same mocking tone I had used on her before. By her grin, it was apparent she had one, indeed. She handed me the notebook together with a pen.

Yeah, that was perfect. I placed the book on a small table in front of the bleachers and moved a second bench closer so that I could sit down for writing. The girl came over and gave me a hand with the bench. “Thanks,” I told her.

She nodded then walked out to the field. It was rare that any girl managed to get into my good-zone so fast, but she was a nice one, smart and helpful. “Hey, Susan!” I shouted after her.

As she stopped and turned around, there was this quirky look of surprise on her face. “Yes…Ryan?”

Ah, it was the fact that I knew her name that caught her off guard. I chuckled. I certainly wouldn’t forget it again. “Would you care to help me with the notes? I just think I should be more on the field instead of sitting here writing things down.”

Susan came back to me and looked me sternly in the eyes with her arms folded angrily over her flat chest. “You want me to be your secretary?”

“Ugh-ph…” I hadn’t meant to offend her, and to be fair, I had no idea what to reply to that.

Luckily, her cute face scrunched with a smile then, and she swatted me on the shoulder. “Just kidding, Hunter. Of course I’ll help you.”

I laughed and rolled my eyes. Yeah. Definitely liked her.

We discussed that she’d rasterize the sheet and in the end just add up the scores at the bottom. Her notebook turned out to be a grab bag of surprises, because she ripped two pages from the very back that had square stickers on them and gave them to me. “You write a number on each of these and have the girls stick them on their asses or wherever. It’ll be easier to work the scores out this way.”

She gave me another pen and, like a real assistant, shooed me off to get started.

The girls lined up, and one by one they took a sticker with a number from me, while I shouted the matching names over to Susan. Chloe was one of the first, and her friend, Brinna, of course grabbed the number that followed. By the time I’d given out over thirty stickers, the queue had only halved. It was amazing just how many girls at our school wanted to play soccer.

“Forty-five, Higgins! Forty-six, Stevenson! Forty-seven…” I looked up to see who was next and found myself face to face with the girl who dominated ninety-nine percent of my thoughts. “Matthews.”


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