Better off Friends

Page 31


Join the club, I thought.
Tim and Andy had been working with me on my catching skills. Even Keith had joined us a few times and thought I could play, actually play, on the varsity team the next year.
This was the life I’d dreamed of when we drove to Wisconsin four years ago. Being with a crew, being popular. I didn’t care how shallow it sounded. It was true.
I walked to classes in a group. I hung out with a group. My group. Girls were paying more attention to me.
It was about two weeks after Macallan and I had shared that sweaty hug when I was with my crew at our after-meet dinner.
“California!” Andy started slamming his hands against the table.
Tim joined him with his fists banging. “California, come on!” Soon the entire table was chanting my nickname.
I picked up the milk shake and chugged the entire thing. I didn’t care that I could hardly taste it or that the cold burned my throat. My guys were cheering me on.
“Dude!” Andy laughed. “That was insane. Twenty-six seconds. You totally crushed Tim’s time.”
“Won’t be the last time that happens,” I boasted, ignoring the instant pounding in my head from brain freeze.
Andy straightened up a bit and ran his hands quickly over his hair. He then jutted his chin out. “What’s up, Macallan?”
I turned around to see that Macallan had walked in with Danielle. They took a corner table.
“Dude, come on,” Andy pleaded. “Ask her to join us.”
I couldn’t tell if the lurch I felt was from slamming a milk shake or Andy’s constant insistence on being set up with Macallan.
Andy took my silence as a non-invitation for Macallan to join us. He seemed to concede … but then he popped out of his seat and headed over to her table.
I could only see part of Macallan’s face as Andy approached. She looked confused at first, then gave him a big grin. Andy said something that made her laugh and I jumped up.
“What’s going on?” I put my arm around Andy and gave Macallan an apologetic look. “Is he bothering you?”
“I’m inviting these lovely ladies over to our table.” Andy bowed his head.
Danielle picked up her menu and refused to look up. Her tolerance for “stupid boy shenanigans” was about as high as Macallan’s.
I knew the only way to get Andy to leave was to make him jealous.
“Hey, you.” I pushed Andy aside and sat down next to Macallan. “What are you getting?” I rested my chin on her shoulder for extra effect. “Let me guess, tuna melt?”
“Maybe …” I saw her give Danielle a look that resulted in a conspiratorial smirk.
Quiet settled on the table. Andy excused himself, but I wanted to wait a few more minutes just to make a point that nobody else was allowed to be at this table.
“I’m going to go wash my hands.” Danielle got up and left.
I moved over to her side of the booth. “So what’s going on?”
Macallan shrugged. “Not much. Are you coming to Sunday night supper?”
“I can’t — I’ve got something at Keith’s. But Mom and Dad are still coming.”
She looked down at the menu again. This place had only about three things she would eat, so I didn’t know why she needed to study it so much.
“Oh, also, I can’t do Wednesday, either. I’ve got —”
“Something with the guys,” she talked over me, a bitter edge seeping into her voice.
“Ah, yeah.” I took her menu away. “Look, I’m sorry I’ve been preoccupied.”
“I get it.” I could tell she was hurt. She was used to me not having any plans. I couldn’t help it if the guys had me booked. I was a man in demand. “So will you be able to come to Adam’s birthday party?”
“Isn’t that months away?”
“Well, thought I’d get you to commit now. Even if you’ll probably cancel at the last minute.”
I decided to ignore the passive-aggressive comment.
Macallan picked up her soda and took a long sip. She paused for a second, then put the soda down and said, “So Keith asked me out again.”
“He did what?” I blurted loudly.
“Yeah, he came up to me yesterday after class.” She folded her body over like she was a caveman. “You. Me. Date. Grunt. I said no. Obviously.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
She studied my face. “I texted you yesterday to call me, but alas, you didn’t get back to me. Shocking.” Her lips were pursed. I remembered getting her text, but it had been during practice. And while I shouldn’t have ignored her, she’d been sending a lot more texts than normal lately. It bordered on needy. “Besides, I would’ve thought he told you.”
“No, he didn’t. He knew I wouldn’t be okay with that. I’ve made it clear that you’re off-limits.”
“I’m off-limits?” she snapped. “What does that mean?”
“It’s just, like, you know …”
“No, I don’t know.” She pulled the elastic out of her hair and immediately put her hair up again, her hands working quickly. I could tell she was annoyed. She needed something to give her a few seconds to figure out what to say next. “You’re such a hypocrite.”
I wasn’t expecting that.
Disgust filled her voice. “It’s totally okay for you to get a whole group of guy friends, but heaven forbid one of them wants to go out with me.”