THE PERFECT GAME
The deep, sultry voice stopped me in my tracks as my smile faded. I turned toward the source of the voice with revulsion. “You know, I don’t even like cats.” I lifted one brow and fixed Jack with a fierce stare.
“Actually, I didn’t know. But I’m glad I do.” He smiled and I swear part of my heart melted right then and there at the sight of his dimples.
I totally suck.
He fiddled with his baseball cap before putting it back on his head and tucking his dark hair underneath. I felt almost mesmerized as he ran his fingers absentmindedly across the white stitching of our school’s initials. I found myself noticing the way his dark blue shirt fit snugly against the muscles in his arms and shoulders. I hated how good-looking he was.
I tried to walk toward my best friend Melissa, who eyed me with piqued curiosity, but he stood his stupid gorgeous body in my path. I quickly moved to the right, but he hopped to his left to block me. I took another step to the left and he quickly moved too.
“What do you want, Jack?” I said, the anger in my voice taking us both by surprise.
“Are you always this hostile?” His smile told me he was teasing.
“Only to guys like you.”
“So tell me, Kitten, what’s a guy like me?”
“Not worth my time.” I shoved my tray into his gut and when he let out an ooof, I scurried past him, trying not to spill my soda.
“You’ll come around,” he shouted.
“I wouldn’t hold your breath.”
I rushed to our table, throwing down my tray of food.
“Nice scene.” Melissa’s eyes were huge as she fought a grin.
“Look around.” She waved an arm, gesturing toward the crowd.
I glanced around at the other tables in the student union. All eyes were either on me or Jack. Great. The last thing I wanted was the entire school thinking I was Jack Carter’s latest conquest.
“Is he always that obnoxious?” I ripped the top off my raspberry yogurt.
“I don’t know, Cass. I’ve never seen him act that way before if that’s what you’re asking.”
“I don’t know what I’m asking.” Irritated and annoyed, I scanned the room for Jack’s face. He sat at a table surrounded by giddy girls, tossing their hair, pawing his muscles, and laughing obnoxiously at whatever he said. His eyes briefly met mine before I turned away, and I felt my heart beat a little faster.
THE GAME CHANGER
I sensed Jack watching me from the bedroom doorway we shared as I tossed pieces of clothing into my open suitcase. Deliberately, I forced myself not to look at him. He could take the broken parts of me and shatter them even further. If I looked at his perfect face, I’d question everything. He could make me stay and I desperately needed to go. After adding two pairs of shoes, I zipped up the suitcase and lifted it from the bed.
“Let me help you,” he offered from behind me, his breath gliding across my back.
“It’s fine. I have it,” I said tightly, refusing to face him.
“How long will you be gone?” he asked, his tone desolate.
I shrugged, unsure of my actual plans. “I don’t know. A few days. A week, maybe. I’ll text you,” I offered with a glance in his direction.
Jack’s face turned sullen as the color drained instantly from his cheeks. He reached for me, his fingers tightening around my wrist, stopping all forward movement. “You are coming back. Right, Kitten?” A look of powerlessness covered his face.
My stomach dropped to my feet with his question. I took a few short breaths before responding, “Yes, Jack. I’m coming back.”
It wasn’t a lie, but the truth was almost as painful. Of course I would come back, but I wasn’t sure what I’d be coming back to. “I have a job here.”
His eyebrows pinched together, tears filling his eyes as he dropped his grip on my arm. My phone rang, breaking the sorrow-filled heaviness in the room.
“I need to go.” I leaned toward Jack and planted a soft kiss on his cheek before turning to walk away.
He gripped my wrist from behind and yanked me around to face him. “Get over here,” he said roughly as he pulled my body effortlessly into his. Before I could situate my arms, his were wrapped around me, pulling me tight against his heaving chest.
Oh my God, he’s crying.
“I love you more than anything. You need to know that before you walk out that door.” The warmth of his breath fluttered against my skin. My eyes met his and the tears that rolled down his cheeks caused my heart to shatter and turn to broken pieces in my chest.
“I love you too.” My current dysfunction had nothing to do with my feelings for Jack. I loved him more than I ever thought possible, but sometimes love isn’t enough.
THE SWEETEST GAME
The next morning, I woke up with a back sore from sleeping on the couch two nights in a row. The constant barrage of conversation surrounding me reminded me that my brother and Melissa were here.
It had to be clear to everyone that I was avoiding my wife. My mind was spinning out of control with thoughts I never imagined having. The idea of my baseball career being over wrecked me.
Literally fucking ruined me.
I couldn’t function like a normal human being anymore. The thought turned me into an unrecognizable asshole. And the worst part was, I knew it. I was completely aware of my behavior, but I couldn’t stop it. My head would tell my mouth not to say what it was about to say, but my mouth would say it anyway.
And even though I wanted to take it all back, I didn’t. It’s as if I started digging a hole and once I got in it, I couldn’t stop digging. I wanted to get low enough so that I could bury myself inside and never see the light of day again. That was what losing baseball felt like.
“Hey, asshole,” my little brother’s voice called out and I cleared my throat.
“What do you want, dick?”
“I want to sightsee and you’re taking me,” he demanded.
I almost fucking laughed. There was no way I was going to let Dean boss me around. “I’m sure Cassie would be better at that sort of thing.” Even that sentence came out sounding like a slam against her.
“I’m sure she would be too. But I want you to take me. You need to get out of this house. And you look like shit.”
Melissa laughed and I shot her an evil look. “Shut up, Fun-Size. Why are you even here?”
“Fuck you, Jack. I’m here because you’re being an asshole to my best friend. And someone has to give a shit about her.”
Her words stung, but I pretended not to be fazed. Each breath I sucked in pierced my heart more deeply. I had to stop hurting Cassie, but I couldn’t. Why couldn’t I just fucking stop? Pushing up from the couch, I glared at the three of them sitting at the table, then growled at Dean, “Be ready to leave in ten.”
THE OTHER GAME
Melissa and I headed outside, following Jack toward a cement bench where he pulled his baseball hat even lower over his eyes. Then he sat down and looked up at us, his eyes all but hidden.
“What are you doing?” I asked, expecting him to get up and continue walking back to the student union with us.
“Cassie’s class to end. I’m going to ask her out in front of everyone. She won’t be able to say no then,” Jack said with a big grin.
“Make sure you show those.” Melissa pointed at the pair of dimples on his face, and his grin only widened.
“I knew you secretly liked me. But I know you like him more.” Jack nodded toward me, and Melissa scowled.
“Don’t listen to him.” I threw my arm around her shoulder and steered her back toward the student union. “See you at home, brother.”
“‘Bye, you two lovebirds.”
“You’re so little.” I looked down at Melissa and smiled, wishing for once that I’d been born with at least one dimple for her to admire.
She scowled again. “I’m not that little.”
But she was. I was six feet tall, and she might hit five feet if she stood on her tiptoes. I towered over her, and I loved the manly feeling it gave it me.
“Do you have any more classes today?” I asked.
“Only because it’s not the class I have with you,” I said with a smile, and she swatted my shoulder.
“Dean Carter, did you just feed me a line?”
I chuckled and stopped walking. “No. Did it sound like a line?”
“Yes.” Melissa smiled, but kept walking.
I watched as her perfect little butt moved with each step she took, her entire body sashaying like it couldn’t help it. She stopped and turned around to catch me staring.
“What are you looking at?”
Terrified that she might think I was some sort of pig like my brother, I practically stuttered. “Uh, nothing.”
“Uh-huh.” She waited as I hurried to catch up to her. “So, do you want to maybe study together sometime?”
I cheered inside my head, and had to stop myself from throwing my fist in the air and doing a victory dance.
“Definitely. I could use the help,” I said, trying to keep my voice even. I knew damn well that I was doing perfectly fine in that class, but if she thought I needed help, she wouldn’t bail on me.
“Okay, good. I always do better if I have a study partner.”
My mind whirled at her words. How many study partners had she had? How could I convince her to only study with me?
I could have sworn that before Jack’s antics with her roommate that Melissa and I were on track toward something. I couldn’t help but want us to get back on that road, wherever it was leading.
“Can I get your number?” I asked while I still had the nerve.
“Oh yeah, of course.” She recited her phone number while I tapped it into my phone. “Send me a text so I have yours too.”
I did as she asked.
Dean: Hi. It’s me. You know, Dean. The other Carter.
When her phone pinged and she read the text, she laughed. “Got it. I’ll just put you in here as the Other Carter.”
“Or the only Carter you like,” I suggested with a smirk, and she smiled back.
“That’d work too.”
“All right. I’ll talk to you later. You know, to set up studying and stuff,” I said, stumbling all over my damn words.
“‘Bye, Dean.” Melissa laughed as she sashayed away.