“How about that one?”
We all snicker when we see who Diego’s discreetly pointing at as we walk past her in the hallway. Some freshman who looks about ten, with big blue eyes and a mouth full of metal. She’s cute enough, but way too young.
“I don’t think so,” I tell my friends as we stride toward the quad.
It’s lunchtime. Our senior year. We’re able to drive off campus now, but not today. Coach wants us to watch game film of the team we’re playing tomorrow night. So we have about fifteen minutes to grab food before we all meet in the team room to study our opponents. Learn their weak spots, their strengths. See if they’re better defensively or offensively.
When I say Coach, I’m talking about my dad. I just try to keep that shit separate. It’s easier that way.
“Check her out,” says Diego—one of my best friends—nudging me in the shoulder and now not-so-discreetly pointing at a group of girls sitting at a nearby picnic table.
“Which one?” Again, they’re young. Maybe sophomores? I don’t really recognize any of them. If they’re a couple of years younger than me and not friends with my sister Ava, who’s a junior, or on the football team, I don’t bother getting to know them.
That makes me sound like an asshole, but I don’t have the time. I have my circle of friends. I even have my circle of acquaintances. This year, my last year in high school, I don’t need to add to either group. I’m perfectly content with what I have.
“Any of them.” Diego slaps me on the back, a giant grin on his face. “You need to find someone, bro. This single, I-don’t-bother-with-any-girl business is getting old.”
I don’t bother with any girls anymore because when I do, they tend to take my heart and rip it to shreds. It’s ridiculous, but when I fall, I tend to fall hard.
Sophomore year I got my heart broken twice, once by Cami Lockhart. We got back together the beginning of junior year only for her to cheat on me—and I found out via Snapchat.
I’ve never bothered with a girl again. Fuck ’em. I’d rather focus on football and my friends and school, exactly in that order.
“Too young,” I tell Diego, and Caleb, my other best friend, bursts out laughing.
“Oh come on. She’s cute. I’d bet she’s down,” he says with a smirk.
Caleb is an actual asshole. He hooks up with an endless stream of girls, yet most of them don’t complain. It’s like they’re proud to be a Caleb fan girl.
“Find him a senior then,” Diego says, stopping in the direct center of the crowded quad. He settles his hands on his hips and turns in a slow circle, scanning the area with a narrowed gaze. Diego has a girl and they’re supposedly madly in love. I mean, good for him. They seem totally into each other—for the most part. They’ve been together for over a year, and Jocelyn treats him like a god, while she’s his princess, as he calls her. I’m pretty sure they’ve talked about getting married, which is just…insane if you ask me.
We all swivel our heads to see Tony—our quietest friend—inclining his head toward a table to the left of where we’re standing.
There’s a girl sitting there, her back to us. Alone. She’s wearing a black T-shirt, her reddish-blonde hair spilling down her back in loose waves. Her elbow’s propped on the table and she’s resting her cheek on her fist, an open book in front of her. Like she’s reading. For fun.
What the hell?
“No way,” Diego says with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Jake’s not into smart girls.”
I’m immediately offended. “Who says?”
“You, with the choices you’ve made in the past,” Diego points out.
He’s got me there. Cami wasn’t that smart. None of the girls I’ve dated were. Not really.
“I like her hair,” Tony says, his tone, his entire demeanor impassive, like we’re talking about the weather. “She’s cute.”
“You should go for her then,” Caleb suggests to Tony.
“Nah. Not my type.” Tony’s gaze meets mine and he tilts his head, like he’s giving me permission to talk to her.
“How do you know she’s a smart girl?” I study her, taking in her narrow shoulders, the elegant slope of her back. She brushes her hair back from her face, tucking the strands behind her ear and offering me a glimpse of her profile. She’s pretty in an understated way, I guess. Upturned nose. Pale skin. Freckles.
I don’t recognize her at all.
“Because she’s reading a book, dumbass.” Caleb sounds enormously pissed off, though I know he’s not. That’s just how he always sounds. “If you don’t ask her to wear your jersey, I think I’ll ask her instead.”
Yes, this is what we’re doing on a Thursday afternoon during lunch. Trying to find a girl for me to ask to wear my jersey on game day. It’s a big deal at our high school, and so far during my reign as the varsity team’s quarterback, I’ve only had one girl ever wear my jersey, and for only one time. It was Cami Lockhart, right at the beginning of our junior year, when I thought there was a possible chance we could work shit out and be a couple again.
But then someone sent me her private story off Snapchat—a video of her making out with motherfucking Eli Bennett, the quarterback for our rival school’s team, and I was done. Finished.
For some reason, this year my boys want to see me make a claim. Find a girl. They tell me I’m too grumpy. That maybe if I’m getting some on the regular, that’ll mellow me out. Some of them even complain I’m too focused, which I don’t get. Why wouldn’t they want me focused?
Focused wins games. I’ve had that drilled into my head over the years by my dad.
“No way,” I tell Caleb when he acts like he’s going to approach the mystery girl sitting at the table. “I’ll do it.”
I don’t know why I’m bothering with this. I don’t know her, but I’m guessing she knows me. Most girls would probably be flattered if I asked, but I’m not that sure if she’s into football, or if she even goes to the games. But it would be cool to see her wear my number around school all day.
Maybe I could make it a thing. Give it to a different girl every week. They’d start fighting for their chance. It could turn into a contest. Maybe it would go viral…
“Go ask her.” Diego gives me a shove in the girl’s direction, his hand right in the center of my back. “Before you chicken out.”
Okay, that shit’s annoying. And it’s just the incentive I need to make it happen. Glancing over my shoulder, I glare at my three best friends, but all they do is make clucking noises at me in return like they’re a bunch of chickens.
Slowly I approach the table, wondering what I should say first. I don’t have a problem talking to girls. I never really have. I almost wonder if this is because I grew up in a household full of women. Don’t get me wrong, Dad is a strong personality and is a big influence on me, but he wasn’t around much when I was little. He was busy working all the time.
Growing up, I was always with Mom, my older sister Autumn and my younger sister Ava. Our little brother Beck didn’t come along until years later, and by then I was resigned with the idea that I’d never even have a brother.
So I was constantly surrounded by girls. Autumn and Ava used to fight like cats and dogs. Now that Autumn’s gone, away at college in Santa Barbara, we don’t see her that much. Ava is happier with Autumn gone, I think. Having an older sister trying to boss you around all the time gets old.
I know I got tired of Autumn’s bullshit. Now, I miss her. Not that I’d ever tell her that.
Deciding I need to approach this mystery girl straight on, I walk around the table, keeping a wide berth so she doesn’t get suspicious or think I’m a stalker. And once I’m facing the table, I take a good, long look at her.
She’s vaguely familiar, so I’m assuming she’s a senior like me, or maybe a junior. Our school is small, so most of the time I feel like I know everyone, but I can’t place her. I don’t remember her name. Her hair is this burnished, reddish-gold color and her eyes are big and blue. Her features delicate—except for her mouth. Full, bee-stung lips that fill my head with dirty images.
Every one of them involves my dick.
Not that I’m actually interested in this girl. I don’t even know her. But as far as my first choice to wear my jersey this week, it’s not a bad one.
Not a bad one at all.
One of my friends, I’m not sure who, makes a bok-bok noise and I send them all a menacing look before I march right up the table and clear my throat. “Hey.”
The girl lifts her head, sky-blue eyes meeting mine, her expression open. Friendly.
Until she keeps looking at me, her gaze narrowing, that open, friendly expression disappearing within seconds. Almost as if she realized who she’s looking at and doesn’t like what she sees.
When she still hasn’t said anything, I decide to keep talking. “What’s your name?”
Her eyebrows shoot up. “You don’t know my name?”
I know this sounds weird, but I like the sound of her voice. A lot. “Should I?”
“I know yours.” She sniffs, shutting the book she was reading. “Jacob Callahan.”
Ah, see? She knows me. She’ll totally agree to wear my jersey. “You have the advantage then.”
“Because you still don’t remember my name?”
I shrug helplessly and flash her a smile that’s hopefully equal parts bashful yet charming. “Guilty.”
She rolls her eyes, resting her arms on top of the table. “Did you have a question or something?”
Her tone is short. Dismissive. This girl is totally trying to get rid of me. “Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do have a question for you.”
“I’m waiting on pins and needles,” she says, her voice going up a notch, those blue eyes of hers extra wide.
They’re pretty, I’ll give her that. She’s pretty. There’s a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose and she has very white teeth.
“I was wondering if you wanted…” I let my voice drift and I glance down at my shoes, kicking at the base of the picnic bench. I’m trying to up the anticipation a notch. Going for the golly, gee bashful vibe. Girls seem to like it.
Huh. Guess she’s not one for anticipation.
“If you wanted to wear my jersey tomorrow.” I lift my head, my gaze meeting hers straight on, and I see the surprise in her eyes. I’ve shocked her with my request.
Come on, I can see why. I’m me and she’s…whoever she is.
She studies me for a while, and now it’s my turn to wait with anticipation. Her full lips part, like she’s about to say something, but instead, she looks away from me, grabs her things and starts shoving them into her backpack.
As if she’s about to leave.
When she shoots me an irritated glare, slides off the picnic bench and walks away without another word, I chase her, surprised by how quick she is. My friends are laughing, I can hear them as I follow after this chick—still don’t know her name—but I can’t worry about them right now.
Even though they’re total assholes for laughing at me.
“Hey!” I call out, but it’s like my voice only spurs her on. She’s practically in a full jog as she heads toward Adams Hall, and I wonder if her plan is to duck into a classroom and hide from me.
Putting a little speed behind my step, I catch up with her easily, hooking my fingers around her upper arm and stopping her escape. She turns to face me, the look on her face so full of disgust I immediately release her and take a step back.
“Why are you chasing me?” she asks breathlessly. Her cheeks are pink, and she’s practically panting. I get the sense that maybe she doesn’t exercise much? I mean, I’m not even winded.
“You never answered my question.”
She lifts her chin. Blows out an exaggerated breath, like what I’m asking is too damn much. After enduring the last five minutes with this chick, I don’t even want her to wear my jersey now. She’s making way too big a deal about this.
But for some weird reason, I have to know what her answer is.
“My name is Hannah,” she finally says, and it all hits me at once. I do know her. Barely. Hannah Walsh. Senior. Moves in a completely different crowd. As in, she doesn’t really move with any crowd. I’ve never had a class with her ever, because she takes all the advanced courses. My friends were right.
She’s a smart girl.
“Right. Hannah.” I nod and smile. “I know you.”
She smiles in return, though it doesn’t quite reach her sky-blue eyes. “Uh huh. Sure you do.”
“I do. You’re friends with…” My voice drifts. I don’t know who she’s friends with. I can see their faces, but at the moment, I can’t recall their names.
“Please.” She reaches out, settling her hand on my forearm, and it’s like a spark of electricity between us the moment our skin makes contact. She snatches her hand away like I burned her. “Stop trying so hard.”
I almost want to laugh. This girl is telling me to stop trying so hard? Does she even know who she’s dealing with? The power I wield at this school? I’m the most popular guy in the senior class—maybe in all the classes. This is my year to shine. My year to reign.
And this Hannah nobody is telling me to stop trying so hard?
Get the fuck out of here.
Can’t back out now, though. I’m fully committed.
“So what do you say, Hannah? Are you in? Do you want to wear my jersey tomorrow?” Not like I want her to anymore. She’s been rude from the moment I started talking to her.
“Gee, I sure appreciate the offer, but…” She scowls at me, her lush lips pursed. “No.”