On the Fence

Page 15


“Great. Um . . . there are four tickets, so I thought we could take Dustin with us too. Do you think you can get one of the other girls to come? Amber maybe?”
“Sure. I’ll ask her. Where should we meet?”
“I could pick you up. Five, maybe? It takes about an hour and a half to drive up there depending on traffic.”
“Sounds good. I’ll text you directions. And just a warning: that was only one of my brothers. I have four.” Yes, I included Braden in that count, since apparently that’s exactly how he saw himself. “And my dad is a cop.”
“Wow. Way to make a guy feel at ease.”
“You’ll be fine. See you Saturday.” I hung up the phone, the smile still on my face. There was nothing that made a girl feel better about a guy humiliating her than a different cute guy asking her out.
Behind me, Gage said in a low voice, “He will not be fine.” Then he laughed maniacally.
I whirled around. “If you ever do that again, something really bad is going to happen to you.”
“As in you are going to do something bad to me, or Fate is going to even the score? I really need to know, because it will make a difference in my decision.”
I shook my head.
“Who’s Evan?” Braden asked, his hazel eyes on me.
“Someone who is taking me to the A’s game this Saturday. And I know you both know who the A’s are playing. That’s right—the Giants.” I sang out a high-pitched note of taunting. “Who’s jealous?” I knew Braden was. I knew beyond anything that he would love to go to that game, and I felt terrible. But rubbing it in his face seemed the correct way to deal with those feelings.
Gage went to the kitchen drawer beneath the phone and pulled out a paper and pen. “Okay, you’ll need to write his full name here so Dad can run a background check.”
I sighed. “No.”
“How did you meet him? Where does he go to school? How old is he? Is he even an A’s fan?”
“Pretty sure he’s an A’s fan, since he has season tickets.”
“Call him back and ask if he has any extra,” Gage said.
“He does, but those are for my other friends. So tough luck.”
“Isn’t What’s-his-name’s wedding on Saturday anyway?” Braden asked.
“Who’s What’s-his-name?” I asked. “Wait, did I forget about some lame wedding I’m supposed to be at?”
Gage waved me off. “No. It’s this guy we know from years and years of soccer camp. He’s a couple of years older than Jerom.”
I pointed at Braden. “But obviously you don’t know him or you’d actually know What’s-his-name’s name.”
“I never went to soccer camp, Charlie.”
“I know.” Hadn’t we established I knew his life pretty well? “Soccer camp people do actually leave soccer camp at some point, though.”
Gage interrupted any comeback Braden might’ve come up with by saying, “His name is Ryan, and you’re right, his wedding is Saturday. Crap. How are we supposed to humiliate Charlie’s date?” He patted Braden on the shoulder. “Looks like it’s all on you, my brother. Make us proud.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Gage got up to leave, Braden trailing after him.
“Please don’t do anything to Evan,” I said to Braden as he reached the door.
He turned back. “No worries. I’ll steer clear.”
“Thanks.” If only I believed him.
Chapter 22
I came home from my shift at the store on Saturday just in time to see my brothers all tuxed-out for the wedding. “Look who cleans up nice,” I said.
“You’re one to talk,” Gage mumbled.
“Have fun,” I said, bounding upstairs. I only had about two hours before Evan would show up at my door, and I hadn’t exactly planned what I was going to wear yet. Last time Evan saw me, I was wearing my work clothes and more makeup than I had ever worn in my life. I knew I wasn’t going to replicate that, but I had no idea how far back I wanted to scale it.
My phone rang and I picked it up. “Hello?”
“Hey, Charlie, it’s Amber. So I bought a really cute A’s jersey to wear to the game because I had no idea what to wear to something like this. And then I wondered if that’s what I should wear and I didn’t want to feel stupid being the only one wearing an A’s jersey.”
She honestly thought it possible that she’d be the only one wearing an A’s jersey at an A’s game?
“So I bought one for you, too. They aren’t the same because I didn’t want to be twinsies or anything, but they were kind of boring so I bedazzled them.”
Bedazzled? What the heck was a bedazzle?
“I hope that’s okay. What do you think?”
“That’s cool. Jerseys are good. Thanks. How much do I owe you?”
“No, nothing. It’s on me.”
“Are you sure? Jerseys are expensive.”
“I’m sure. When do you want me to come over? I could come over soon and we can get ready together. Do you want me to, or would you rather I just come over right before the guys are going to come get us?”
“Yeah, why don’t you come over. I haven’t decided what to do with my face yet. You can help me.”
I heard her clap. “Yay. I’ll bring my makeup case.”
And when she said “makeup case,” she meant a large briefcase contraption that opened up and then expanded even further with different layers and pullouts.
“Just more natural this time, okay?” After all, my dad was downstairs. He’d see me.
“Of course. This is a baseball game, not a night at the club.”
She got to work right away on my face.
“What are you going to do with your hair?” she asked.
“I was just going to throw it back in a ponytail.”
“Yeah, that will be cute. Then our hair won’t take away from our awesome shirts.”
“True.” She hadn’t yet shown me these supposedly awesome shirts, but I was beginning to feel nervous about them. And I was right to feel that way, because when she revealed them I learned that bedazzling meant turning something cool into a glittering atrocity. My mouth hung open for a full minute while I took in the glowing gold A on the green V-neck jersey.
“I know, awesome, right?” she said, throwing it to me, then stripping off her shirt and putting her own jersey on. Hers was black with a silver A. There was no way out of wearing this and I knew it. So instead, I took off the shirt I wished I were wearing and put on the bedazzled jersey, thanking whatever form of good luck had made it possible for my brothers to be gone at What’s-his-name’s wedding.
“You look so good,” Amber said.
She did a full circle, and I realized that girl code required me to return the compliment. “Yeah, you too.”
My phone rang and I picked it up. “Hello?”
“Charlie, hey, it’s Evan.”
“Hi. What’s up?” I glanced at the digital clock on my nightstand. It was four thirty.
“Bad news.”
For a millisecond I hoped he was calling to cancel so I could take off this shirt.
“Dustin is sick. Like, beyond sick. Vomiting and the whole works. I’ve been trying for the last hour to find a replacement with no luck. Do you think one of your brothers can go with us instead?”
“My brothers are at a wedding. . . .” I stopped and looked at Amber, who was checking out the back of her shirt in my mirror, a big smile on her face. “I’ll find someone.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. See you in half an hour.”
“Sorry,” he said as he hung up.
“I’ll be right back,” I told Amber.
In the hall, I put the phone to my ear and listened to it ring three times.
“You don’t need to give me any threatening speeches. I really wasn’t planning to bug your date at all tonight.”
“The fact that you remembered I have a date makes me doubt that entirely.” Wait, why did he remember? Did it bother him? No. That didn’t matter. We were friends. “But actually, I have the best news ever. You will love me for eternity.”
“It’s not a bad thing.”
“Okay. What do I have to do?”
“One of our friends got violently ill today. . . .”
“Wow, that is good news.”
I laughed. “Well, I guess that’s not good news. But his ill fortune is your gain, because he can’t go to the game. Do you want to come with us?”
“To the A’s game?” I could hear the excitement in his voice.
“So am I replacing a guy or a girl?”
“A guy. Dustin. His date is Amber. She’s hot. Another reason you should be forever indebted to me.” I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I was setting up Braden with Amber. He really would fall for her. This was a good thing, I told myself. Exactly what I needed to happen so that Braden and I could maintain the amazing friendship we’d had for years.
He laughed. “All right. You twisted my arm.”
“Be over in half an hour.”
Chapter 23
My dad stared at me like I was speaking another language. I was convinced he had gotten over the initial shock of seeing me in makeup and a bedazzled shirt and had now moved on to trying to process what I was telling him. “Why didn’t you mention you were driving to Oakland before now? That’s kind of a big deal, Charlie.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t think you’d care. It’s the A’s game, Dad. Come on.” I hoped Amber, who was still upstairs putting the finishing touches on her hair, couldn’t hear us.
“Well, I do care.”
We each took a deep breath. My hands clenched into fists. He looked at me again and his face softened a little. He closed his eyes and when he opened them he said, “You look so much like her.”
My heart stuttered in my chest. So that was what the initial shock was about. With makeup on, I looked more like my mom. It was the wrong time for this, but my whole body waited anxiously for him to say something else. He didn’t. Instead, that familiar look of guilt filled his eyes. The one that said he wished someone else was in charge of me, because he had no idea what to do with me and this situation, and he felt bad about it. I hesitated, then said, “Is that why you’re so nervous to let me go? Because I’ll be driving a long distance in a car? We’ll be safe.”
His brows shot down. “No, Charlie. That’s not why. This is nothing like that.”
How was this nothing like that? My mom died in a car accident and now he was worried about me driving an hour and a half in a car. It didn’t seem so different to me. He glanced up the stairs like he, too, realized this was a bad time, with Amber steps away. He pinched the bridge of his nose and the guilt look turned into a sad look. Great, now I had him thinking about my mom. Stupid makeup.
“I’ll call and check in with you every hour. You can even have a police car tail us if you want.”
That suggestion made him smile a little, but he still said, “I just don’t feel comfortable with it.”
“Dad, you’ll like Evan. He’s really responsible and nice and . . .” I couldn’t think of any other adjectives for Evan since I hardly knew him. I wasn’t even sure if the first adjective described him. So, yeah, this wasn’t my most brilliant idea ever.
I heard the door open and shut behind me, and my dad looked over.
“Hey, Mr. R,” Braden said.
I tightened my ponytail and sighed, because I’d suddenly realized after all this my dad wasn’t going to let me go.
“Nice shirt, Charlie,” Braden said, tugging on the back, probably taking in each gaudy fake jewel.
“Yeah, Amber made it.”
“I hope you don’t blind the pitcher with the bling coming off this thing, because I don’t want any pitchers mad at me tonight.”
“Wait.” My dad pointed at Braden. “You’re going?”
I could actually see the muscles in my dad’s jaw relax. “Why didn’t you say so, Charlie?”
Why didn’t I say so? I should’ve known that would make a difference. “I don’t know. So we can go?”
“Yes. Be careful and call me when you’re heading home.”
“Thanks.” I turned around and mouthed Thank you to Braden as well. His eyes went wide. “What?” I asked, but then remembered how different I must’ve looked in a fitted V-neck jersey and more makeup than I normally wore. “Don’t say a word. I know I look like a clown.”
He shook his head back and forth. “No. You look . . . different.”
“Thanks for the confidence boost.”
“Sorry. It’s not bad.” He looked at my shirt, then up to my face again. “It’s just not you.”
“Two lives, remember?” It was the closest I’d come to referencing our fence talks during the day. “Oh, don’t look now, here comes your hot date.” I watched Amber come down the stairs, and even I knew she was beautiful. Bedazzled shirt and all. In fact, she kind of owned the bedazzled shirt.
Braden smiled his beautiful crooked smile at her, and I watched as her expression beamed pleasant surprise. She hadn’t been happy when I first told her, but I convinced her that Braden would be a way better date than Dustin. And now, looking at Braden and imagining how it would be to see him for the first time, like she was, I realized how gorgeous he was. His auburn hair flopped onto his forehead in a boyish way, but there was nothing boyish about him. He had grown up, filled out, matured. His shoulders were broad, his jaw strong.