On the Fence

Page 16


I watched the two of them come together and smile shyly at one another. A pang of jealousy radiated through my chest.
I brushed away those unhelpful feelings as he shook Amber’s hand and introduced himself. This was going to be hard. I shouldn’t have invited him. Five minutes later, the doorbell rang and I opened the door. Evan greeted me with a smile that wasn’t anywhere near as familiar as Braden’s. “You look beautiful,” he said.
He looked short. Our first and only meeting had been at the café, sitting around the booth. I didn’t realize how tall he was at the time, but we were basically eye to eye. Granted, I was five-eleven and was surrounded by people over six-three in my everyday life, so I wasn’t used to average.
“Thanks. Come in. My dad wants to meet you.”
He took a deep breath as if preparing for the encounter.
“Dad, this is Evan.”
My dad grabbed his hand in a firm shake. “Drive knowing that if anything happens to my daughter in your car, I will hold you personally responsible.”
“I will, sir.”
“Good.” He finally released his hand.
I managed to hold back an eye roll. “Okay, we’ll see you later.”
As we were leaving, I noticed my dad clamp his hand onto Braden’s shoulder and say something under his breath. Braden smiled and nodded, and then my dad gave him a friendly pat on the back. “Have fun,” he said.
“What was that all about?” I asked Braden when we left the house.
“Oh, you know, protecting-Charlie instructions.”
Braden gave Evan, who was walking down the path in front of us, a once-over. It wasn’t until Braden paused on Evan’s loafers that I realized he was wearing them. Braden raised his eyebrows at me and I nearly laughed.
Evan slowed his walk so that Braden and I caught up. “I’m Evan.”
“Oh, sorry,” I said, realizing I hadn’t introduced them. “This is Braden. Braden, this is Evan.”
They shook hands, and we resumed our walk to the car. Once we got there, we all stood for a second—each, I was sure, trying to figure out seating arrangements for the long drive.
“Girls in the back?” I suggested, not sure what date protocol was.
“I’ll sit in the back,” Braden said. “Why don’t you take shotgun, Charlie?”
“Are you sure? There’s more leg room up there.”
Amber gave me a withering look that seemed to say Let him sit in the back with me.
“I’m sure,” he said, and I wondered if he was just as excited as Amber about the close quarters.
I nodded, and they climbed into the back as Evan opened the door for me.
“You’re tall,” he said just as I started to get in. It was hard to tell if he was disappointed that I was tall or happy about it. So I just climbed in without a word.
At moments like these, I was grateful for Amber’s chatty nature. She kept the conversation in the car flowing naturally. Once there, I watched Braden’s reaction as we walked into the stadium. His eyes lit up and seemed to take in every detail, committing them to memory. It was pretty awe-worthy. Years of watching baseball on television did not prepare me for how beautiful and big the Coliseum would be. The grass was greener than any I had ever seen and the bases glowed white. Rows upon rows of green plastic seats filled the cement steps.
Evan laughed next to me. “You look starstruck.”
“It’s amazing.”
We worked our way down to seats that were fairly close, right next to first base. I nudged Braden’s arm so we could share a this-is-so-awesome look. He smiled at me, then squeezed my hand once. The gesture surprised me, and just when I was about to look up at Braden to see if there was any hint in his eyes as to what it meant, Evan put his arm around my shoulders and pointed to the home team dugout. “That’s where the A’s will sit.”
I nodded as though he was imparting some sort of new wisdom to me.
“You see that net thing? That’s where the pitcher warms up.”
“She’s not an idiot,” Braden said. “She knows what a practice screen is.”
I shot Braden a look as we all took our seats. Amber and I ended up sitting next to each other with the guys on the outside. Probably a good thing, considering Braden’s previous remarks. I found myself slouching down a little so that I didn’t sit taller than Evan.
“I’m thirsty,” Amber said the minute we sat down. “Charlie and I are going to go get some drinks before the game starts.” She pulled me up by my arm.
“Okay. Guess we’re going to get some drinks. Do you want anything?” I asked Evan.
He reached in his pocket and pulled out a twenty. “Yes, will you get me a Dr Pepper?”
Amber looked at Braden.
“No, I’m good.” And then, as if he remembered he was supposed to be her date, he quickly retrieved some money from his wallet and handed it to her.
She smiled her brightest smile. “Thanks.” The thing that bothered me was that the only reason I took Evan’s money was because he ordered a soda. I fully intended to pay for my own. So now I felt bad because I shamed Braden into giving Amber money.
As we walked up the steps to the concession stands, Amber said, “Geez, Charlie, when you were going on and on about how nice and funny and sweet Braden was, I thought he must be dog-ugly because you were focusing so much on his personality. All you had to say was he was hot and I would’ve been sold.”
I nodded, trying my hardest not to be bothered. There was so much more to Braden than his looks. “Yeah, I’ve known him my whole life, so I know him really well.”
“Do you think he likes me?”
He better not. “He just met you.”
“But don’t you believe in Fate? I mean, here I was supposed to go out with Dustin and suddenly he gets sick and who should happen to take his place but the man of my dreams? It must be fate.”
“Must be.”
“I’m going to buy him a drink anyway,” she said as we reached the front of the line. “What’s his favorite?”
Don’t you mean he is going to buy himself a drink? I wanted to say, but I decided I was being unfair to her just because she was Braden’s date. I was the one who invited him to begin with. Did I honestly think Amber wouldn’t find him attractive and vice versa? “He’s not really into soda, actually. Get him water or Gatorade and he’ll be happy.”
When she ordered a cherry Gatorade, I kept my mouth shut at first, knowing that was his least favorite. Cherry-flavored anything reminded him of cough medicine. But finally, I felt guilty enough to say “Lemon is his favorite.”
“Thanks.” She smiled at me with her perfectly straight, even teeth and changed the order. The way I was acting was not okay. I needed to snap out of it. We were friends. This was what we had both decided. Nothing more. And since when did I begrudge Braden a gorgeous, fun girl? I thought back. It had been a while since I’d seen him with a girl at all. Sure, he had his random dates here and there, but he hadn’t had a girlfriend for over a year now. I hadn’t been upset back then. I wouldn’t be upset now. Because we were friends.
Chapter 24
Amber spent the entirety of the game asking Braden questions about the rules and regulations of baseball, playing the perfect example of making a guy feel useful. I spent the entirety of the game pretending to be interested in Evan giving me the play-by-play while trying to actually watch the game. Toward the end of the game, Amber asked how long one of the pitchers had been on the team. “He looks so young,” she said.
Braden leaned forward and said, “You know, I’m not sure about that, but Charlie was just telling me about him the other day. How long has he been on the team again?”
I didn’t know all the players’ entry dates, but I happened to know his and yes, he was young. They all looked at me. The announcer’s voice rang out over the loudspeaker: “At the plate is Dunning and on deck is Lopez.”
“Um, yeah. He’s twenty-four. This is his second year.”
“She probably knows his stats, too,” Braden said. “She’s like a baseball encyclopedia.” He leaned back as if his job were done. And his job was done—I was mad.
“You should’ve said something,” Evan said. “I’ve probably been boring you to death.”
“No, not at all.” I gave him a weak smile. Just being here at the game was more than I could’ve hoped for. And despite the grade-school lesson on baseball, I was enjoying myself. Or was, until Braden made me feel like a jerk. I knew he did it on purpose, too. I saw the smug look in his eye as he leaned back.
“It’s pretty impressive that a girl that looks like you knows so much about baseball.”
I heard Braden laugh a little and wanted to punch him. Just because he didn’t find me attractive didn’t mean he had to make me feel stupid that someone else did. “You want to walk around before the last inning?” I asked.
“Sure,” Evan said, standing up and holding out his hand. I took it and tried to convince myself it wasn’t just to make Braden mad. Although I had no idea why it would. Except for the fact that maybe he didn’t think Evan measured up to the impossible standards he and my brothers set for my dates—he was wearing loafers, after all.
Evan made it past Braden’s legs just fine as we walked down the aisle to exit the row, but I knocked into one knee, nearly tripping, and couldn’t maneuver around his other. Evan looked back, still holding my hand. I shot Braden a look and he played innocent. I stepped hard on his foot. “Oh, sorry, was that your foot?”
He sucked in air and finally pulled his legs back.
It ended up being a good thing that Braden had outed me (not that I’d thank him anytime soon), because then we talked about things besides baseball. We talked about school and how he wanted to be a financial advisor when he grew up, like his dad. Now, finances were something I knew little to nothing about, so I had all sorts of questions for him. After a while, I said, “Yeah, you lost me when you got into that short-selling-a-stock thing. No idea what you’re talking about.”
He laughed, and I noticed how amazing it made his eyes look, all lit up like that.
“What’s your favorite sport?” I asked.
“To watch or play?”
“Both, I guess.”
“I don’t know if this counts as a sport to you, but I love to wakeboard.”
“Totally counts. That’s awesome. So you have a boat?”
“My dad does. He lets us take it out sometimes. Do you ski or wakeboard?”
“I’ve been a few times, but I’m not very good.”
“We should go. I’ll give you some pointers.”
“That would be really fun. Maybe we could take my brothers. I think you’d like them.” And they’d be super impressed if he was good at wakeboarding.
“Yeah, for sure. I’ll plan it.” He hadn’t let go of my hand as we walked around the concession level of the stadium, where they sold nachos, hot dogs, Dippin’ Dots, and waffle cones. It felt nice, not even clammy or anything. “Do you want anything to eat?” he asked.
“No, I’m good.”
He sighed. “I don’t think Braden likes me very much.”
“Braden is an idiot,” I said. “And he likes you just fine. I think it was me that he was trying to prove a point to.” If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was jealous.
“He really looks nothing like you.”
“Oh. He’s not my brother. I’m sorry, I should’ve clarified that. He’s my neighbor. But I’ve known him for twelve years, so I claim him as a brother, and he’s just as annoying as one, so it works out well.”
“Oh.” He glanced toward where our seats were, as if he could see Braden from here. “Your neighbor.”
Evan had a weird expression on his face that I couldn’t place.
“Should we head back? The game’s almost over,” I said, squeezing his hand.
When we were almost home, Braden said, “So, Evan, what are you doing in the morning?”
“Uh . . . nothing.”
“Do you like to play football? It’s just a pickup game. We play at nine at the park up the street from our houses.”
“Sure, sounds good.”
“Ohhh!” Amber squealed. “Do you go, Charlie?”
I nodded, silently seething over the invite.
She grabbed hold of Braden’s arm. “Can I come too?”
“Yeah, sure,” Braden said. “It’s tackle.”
I rolled my eyes. Amber wasn’t asking to play. She was asking to watch.
Evan hugged me good-bye, and then I watched as he drove away, followed shortly by Amber in her car. Braden and I stood side by side as her taillights disappeared around the corner.
“What was that all about?” he asked.
I took a deliberate step away from him. “What?”
“You pretending like you knew nothing about baseball?”
“That was me being a good date.”
He grunted and got that typical look he got when someone said something stupid—chin drawn down, eyes on the verge of rolling. “Really? Because it seemed like that was you playing dumb.”
“Whatever. That didn’t mean you had to go and do that.”
“Do what?”
“Invite him tomorrow.”
“Your brothers wanted to meet him. They texted me.” He held up his phone, as if that should make me feel better.