Playing Her Secret Crush(7)

By: Casey Griffin

“I know,” she said, and by her tone of voice, he knew she understood that he was tired of missing him. Of hurting.

Jason once had the world at his feet. Everyone loved him: teachers, football scouts, gullible parents, and, most importantly, girls. Alex had just found him annoying, really. But that was mostly jealousy of his older brother, resentment of living in the shadow of The Golden Child.

That resentment went away after he got sick and they started getting close. Jason was always asking Alex to visit him in the hospital, maybe because he regretted how their relationship had been. Alex recalled him once saying that he had a lot of regrets.

The week before he’d died, he told Alex, “Life is too short. You never know when it’s all going to stop.” He reached out to grip Alex’s collar, the line for his morphine drip stretching to its limits. “Promise me you won’t let it go to waste. Promise that you’ll live life to the fullest.”

Alex didn’t understand how someone who seemed to do it all, to have it all, could feel like they should have done more with their time—as short as it was—like Jason had somehow missed out between all the partying and girls in the backseat of his car. Alex promised his brother, anyway.

Since then, he hadn’t just followed in his brother’s footsteps. He’d taken that life and practically made it an extreme sport. Despite his parents’ and therapist’s objections, he wouldn’t live with any regrets. And yet, he still felt like there was something missing, something more that he could be doing. Between the skydiving, mountain biking, white water rafting, and a new girl every chance he got, it was just never enough.

It made him anxious when he really thought about it. It caused his heart to race, his hands to shake, a pressure to build on top of his chest like it could all end any second, and he hadn’t done enough. Of course, he never dreamed of telling his therapist that, in case she diagnosed him as completely insane. Or worse—he’d be forced to see a doctor only to find out he was dying of cancer, too.

Instead, he liked to imagine the crushing weight was a message from his brother, a reminder not to slip into contentment, to live every moment like it was his last. His big brother was guiding him even now. More and more lately, Jason had been telling him there was something wrong, and it had to do with his feelings for Katie. That was what he needed her help with.

Katie was watching him closely, waiting for him to go on. He’d been quiet for a while now, and a cute little worry line had formed between her eyebrows.

He shrugged it off. “I’ll be okay. You ready to play or what?”

“Sure.” She hesitated and touched her lips kind of self-consciously. “I’ll be right back. I’m just going to go wash this off.”

Once she was gone, Alex stretched out on the bed and rolled onto his side. He heard a crinkle beneath the blanket. Sitting up, he fished around until he found a magazine. It was some girly magazine, and it was open to How to Hook Your Guy.

He tossed it aside, already coming up with ways to tease Katie about it like her mom did. Then he noticed another magazine on the floor. He picked it up, and it automatically fell open to a dog-eared page. Six Ways to Improve Your Love Life.

Why would Katie even read this crap? She made fun of this stuff. In fact, she often criticized the girls he dated for these very things. The articles were always focused on how you looked. He supposed Katie did look pretty good today. Different, but good. She always did, though—without the magazines.

He took a closer look at the article, and suddenly her strange behavior made sense. He’d laughed when her mom had teased her before, but she was right; Katie was looking for a boyfriend.

Why was she suddenly so obsessed with improving her love life, anyway? What kind of guy was she going to get by following the trashy advice in a magazine? Some sleazebag, probably. No one good for her, that was for sure.

Alex threw the magazine aside. It wasn’t like he could say anything. Why shouldn’t Katie put herself out there? Heck, he’d dated at least twenty girls in the last two years. Not that he’d planned it that way, though. The relationships just fizzled out every time, like a skydiving trip where the plane won’t take off the ground or scuba diving with an empty tank of air—short-lived. Only, there was one girl he couldn’t touch, the person his brother had developed serious feelings for before he’d died: Katie.

Once Alex had learned of Jason’s feelings, going for Katie would have felt like a betrayal, like stealing his brother’s girl behind his back. Besides, he’d always thought Katie liked Jason back. Why else would she have spent so much time at the hospital visiting? But being near her only made Alex yearn for the same kind of relationship he had with Katie, only, with someone he could touch, he could kiss. That girl just couldn’t be Katie.