Fourth Down Baby(9)

By: Lauren Landish


I nod and look up at the ceiling. “And if?”

Dani shakes her head. “You think I'm the person who should be giving you an answer on that, considering what Pete and I just did? Get outta here.”

I look at Dani and see that she's in pain too. I step closer and give her a friendly hug, and she hugs me back. She's the best female friend I've got, and we've never thought about going from friend to . . . friends. I'm going to miss seeing her crazy ass around. “Thanks, Harley. Well, I can take care of that tomorrow. For now, I've got a workout with Troy. Someone's gotta make sure that idiot doesn't injure himself before he even gets to Clement.”

“What's he up to now?” Dani says, forcing a smile as we go out into the hallway. “I mean his shirts look like they're about ready to Hulk out any second. Someone needs to get him some stretchy purple pants just to be sure.”

“I think he hit the two twenty-five goal. We already talked, and he's going to go down to Clement a week after graduation to get an early jump on summer ball for them, but I think he's ready. He's straight up Beast Mode all the time now. The record board down in the weight room looks more like the Troy Wood Personal Best List.”

“Well, you keep him safe,” Dani says with more emotion than I would have thought. Harley's good people, even if she does hide it behind a thick layer of sarcasm most of the time. “Do it for Whit, okay?”

“Okay.”



“You got into Bay Area Consolidated. Congrats,” Patricia says as we hang the bedspread on the line outside. The spring weather is warm, a perfect day, really. It's only hard to do anything because of the storm still inside me, and I don't know how to talk about the subject. “Their financial aid package is good too. You never told me you had the grades to go with your investing brains too.”

“I don't normally let it get out,” I finally answer, reaching into the basket and pulling out the first of the sheets. “You know how high school is. If you're a jock, you're a jock. If you're a brain, you're a brain. The two should never meet. Especially if you're a guy.”

“True. And it's got to be easier being a dumb jerk jock than being a nice guy with a brain,” Patricia teases as we begin clipping the white sheet to the line. “How'd you keep up the deception so long?”

“By being an actual jerk most of the time,” I joke back, causing her to laugh. “But I'm not sure I should go.”

“What? You have got to be out of your mind!” Patricia exclaims, then stops when she sees my face. “Seriously . . . why would you pass up nearly a full ride to one of the best business schools on the West Coast? You told me yourself that if you do well there, you've got connections to the sorts of places that you're looking at trying to get into. You could write your own ticket to being a high-powered investment banker then.”

“But it's in San Fran . . . and that's a long way from here,” I say, trying to form the words that I want to say but can’t. “I . . . that isn't something I want.”

Patricia sets her clothespins down and comes around the wet sheet, coming next to me and looking me in the face. She sees what I'm trying to say, I can tell. “Oh, Cory . . . you're so sweet,” she says, reaching up and putting her cool hand against my burning cheek. “But I'm just your boss, the woman who's given you a part-time job. How's my money doing, anyway?”

“Up twenty percent,” I tell her, and she smiles. “But you're more than that. You know that.”

I can see that she wants to be upset with what I say, but her hand's still on my cheek, and I can feel the softness of her fingertips on my skin. “I know. It's my fault. I saw it starting, and I should have stopped it before it got this far. I should have stopped it at Valentine's Day.”

“Why? Why is it so bad that I think of you this way?” I ask, pained. “Why is it so damn wrong?”

“Because I'm twice your age,” Patricia says softly, ignoring my curse, then smiles sadly. “You may be mature for your age, but you’re still eighteen, with your entire adult future in front of you.”

I swallow and put my hand over hers. “Be honest. Tell me how you feel.”

She struggles, swallowing hard, then stands on her tiptoes. Her lips brush against mine, and her kiss is sweet, more tender than any I've ever had before, but it also breaks my heart because I see what's in her eyes when she lowers herself down. “I feel that someday, you're going to make some lucky woman very, very happy. And I feel that you can’t let yourself be hamstrung by me. I want you to go to Bay Area, get a great job, and make yourself into everything that you can be.”

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