Chapter 1: You can't always get what you want
I couldn't remember her name.
The girl standing in front of me, twirling a lock of her blonde hair around one scarlet-tipped finger as she leaned forward to give me a good look at her t**s down the scooped neck of her snug sweater ... I didn't know what to call her.
That wouldn't have been such a big deal if I hadn't spent a couple of hours last night f*****g her senseless.
"I didn't know if you had my phone number." She smirked and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "We didn't actually do much talking last night."
"Yeah, that's true." Holly? Hallie? Hildie? God, who was she?
"But in case you wanted to get in touch so we could . . ." One of her light eyebrows rose suggestively. "You know, get in touch again, you should have my number."
Before I could reply, she eased closer to me, brushing her boobs into my chest as she reached around to grab my ass. Or I thought that was what she was doing-but no, her fingers dug into the back pocket of my jeans and pulled out my phone. With a smile that I guessed was supposed to be sultry, she glanced up at me.
"What's your passcode?"
Like I was going to tell her that. "Uh, here, I'll type it in. It's kind of complicated." It wasn't, actually, but no way in hell was I letting this chick whose name I didn't even know figure out how to access my phone. I tapped in the six digits. "Okay, tell me your number."
It wasn't until the words left my mouth that I realized I'd made a big mistake. How was I going to add her contact info without knowing her name?
But she solved the issue before I had time to panic. Lifting the phone from my hand again, she began typing away, her fingers flying over the screen. I breathed a silent sigh of relief, and then I asked myself why I was so worried. It wasn't like I was really planning to hook up with this girl again. I didn't usually do repeat bangs. And even if I did, it would be a matter of opportunity. I didn't need to call or text a chick to arrange a booty call. The chicks came to me.
After all, I was Leo Taylor, football star of the Eatonboro Eagles. Leo the Lion, they called me, and even though I secretly hated the title, there wasn't any denying that it got me my share of tail and then some.
If I was more like the rest of the guys on my team, I wouldn't be bothered that I couldn't remember this girl's name. There were a shit-ton of girls at our high school, and who had time to memorize who each one was?
But although on the outside I seemed just like the rest of the team, I still had an inner voice that didn't let those things slide. That voice was appalled not only that I didn't remember who the blonde was but that I'd had s*x with her in the first place. That voice was exasperated and impatient with me ...and even though I didn't want to admit it, that voice sounded an awful like my best friend Quinn.
Quinn. I'd known her-and third member of our trio, Nate-for as long as I had memory. We'd navigated childhood and preteen years together, and even when life-and football-had pulled me away from them, I always knew they'd be a steady presence in my world, the same way my mom and dad and my two brothers were. Quinn and Nate were like extended family ...or at least, that was what I'd thought up until we were sophomores.
Now, I still saw Nate as an honorary brother, but my feelings toward Quinn were a hell of a lot more complicated.
It had begun right after my first big game last year. I'd just gotten bumped up to varsity, and I'd been feeling like I was on top of the world. At the Starlight Diner, where we all hung out after games, Quinn and Nate had come over to congratulate me on the win, and Quinn had wrapped her arms around me, giving me one of her signature tight Quinn bear hugs. She'd always been the more demonstrative of the three of us, being the only girl, and I was used to her impulsive embraces, but something had been different that night.
For some reason, that night when she'd pressed her body into mine, I'd become painfully aware of the way her boobs had filled out recently. I'd noticed the subtle scent of her shampoo and perfume, and I'd accidentally brushed my hands over the gentle curve of her ass.
What had always been solid friendship had, in a matter of seconds, morphed into something new and terrifying. I'd stepped away from her, laughing, but not before I noticed the flash of confusion in her eyes. She'd felt it, too.
Next to us, Nate had given my arm a punch. "Nice job out there tonight, Leo. A couple of times, it looked like you were flying instead of running."
I'd grinned back at him, feeling the same twinge of regretful guilt I often did when it came to Nate. He was oldest of us by a few months, but that wasn't a good thing. He'd been born prematurely, and his life ever after had been series of illnesses, physical setbacks and occasional victories. Thanks to the muscular degenerative disease that afflicted him, Nate had been slow to walk and even now struggled to keep up with us in the school hallways and when we went to and from each other's homes on foot.
Since we'd started high school, though, he had gotten involved in rowing crew, and he spent long hours down at the river, practicing and competing. It was beginning to show, too. Although Nate was still smaller than the rest of us and had that sort of scrawny look to his face, his arms and chest had filled out, and he seemed to have found some kind of quiet confidence that he'd never had before.
But it wasn't only the physical chasm between us that gave me a guilt trip about Nate. It was the fact that I'd known for years that he was in love with Quinn. I'd watched his feelings of friendship develop into undeniable adoration, and I'd also seen the way Quinn refused to acknowledge the shift. She treated him the same way she did me: with a tidal wave of affection and steady loyalty. She showed up for his crew competitions the same way she did for my football games, cheering for both of us.
In return, Nate and I tried to show support for Quinn's passions, but it wasn't always an easy task. She'd never been interested in playing sports herself; instead, she'd gotten involved with the school newspaper in our freshman year, and she spent most of her free time hanging out in the paper's office with the rest of the staff and the advisors.
I knew that Quinn had made friends with a few girls who worked with her on the newspaper, and when, in an effort to be a good friend, I'd asked her about it, she'd gone on and on about the joys of writing. I didn't get it myself, but since she helped me sometimes with my essays and term papers, I kept my mouth shut and nodded a lot.
That night in the diner, though, had forced me take a closer look at how my friend had changed in the last few months. I was already aware that she had grown until she was among the tallest girls in our class. The jeans she wore that evening showed off her long legs, and as I watched her move away, I noticed that she carried herself with a sort of grace I didn't see in other girls. Her face had slimmed and softened, too. The only thing that hadn't really changed was her hair, which was still long and curly-and judging by how impatiently she swiped it out of her face now, still always in her way.
On some level, I'd realized all those markers before that night. But in my single-minded focus on football, I'd hadn't been paying attention. Now that I'd acknowledged that my childhood friend was a total babe, there wasn't going to be anyway to unknow it. I wanted to dash after her and tug her back to the booth I was sharing with my buddy Matt Lampert and a couple of other team mates. I wanted to convince her to walk outside with me so I could hold her again, this time taking advantage of privacy to run my hands over her curves and taste her lips.
I wanted Quinn.
Coming fast on the heels of that realization was the crushing knowledge that I could never have her. Quinn Russell, my best friend, was everything pure and good in my world. If I went there now-if I gave myself permission to touch her and kiss her and do all the other things my body was suggesting, something would change, and I wasn't ready for it. I didn't want Quinn's perception of me to change, and I knew it would happen if I let her in.
And then there was the Nate issue, too. How in the hell could I break my other best friend's heart, when he had so little in his life? If I made a move toward Quinn, it would destroy the delicate balance between the three of us. I wasn't going to do that.
So that night, I'd let her go, and afterwards, I'd been intentional about putting space between us. I wasn't mean, and I didn't end our friendship, but I made conscious choices to spend more time with my friends on the team and the girls who hung around with them. The distance that grew between Quinn, Nate and me didn't make me happy, but I knew this was how things had to be.
I didn't have room to complain ...even if I'd chosen to give up a couple of old friendships, my life was pretty damn spectacular. Exhibit A still stood here in front of me, in front of my locker, fluttering her eyelashes as she handed me back my phone.
"Here you go." She turned and winked at me over her shoulder. "Don't lose that number, Lion. Pretty sure you'll want to use it soon."
She walked away, but I didn't miss the extra wiggle she added to her saunter. My lips twitched; I might not have remembered her name, but damn if I still couldn't feel her round ass under my fingers as she'd ridden my c**k.
Name. Shaking my head ruefully, I checked out the added contact to see who she was, just out of curiosity. And when I saw what she'd typed, I groaned.
In the spot where she should've put her name, she'd written instead, Best s*x of Your Life.
"Not even close," I sighed, erasing the entire entry. I didn't need a clingy girl like that in my life. The truth was that I had a girlfriend, and she was damned demanding, commandeering my Friday nights, my Saturday mornings and just about every other waking hour of the week, particularly from late summer through early winter. Her name was football, and for her, I'd give up just about everything else.
From my earliest memories, football had been my life. It was my reward for making it through a boring day at school or for doing my chores and homework. Football was what made me different than my two older brothers, who were all about the round ball and the hoop.
I liked that, having something of my own that made me stand out from Simon and Danny. And even better, I was good at it. When I was on the field, something almost mystical took over my body and mind, and I became more. I was focused only on the ball and where it was. When the QB threw a pass, I could predict where it would land. This innate sense gave me more receptions than most kids my age, and it made the coaches sit up and take notice.
Don't get me wrong--I still put in the practice and the work. Most nights during the season, I dragged my sorry, aching body home and fell into bed, exhausted. But it was a good tired, the kind that made me eager to jump out of that same bed in the morning.
Now, as a junior, I was eating, breathing and sleeping football. And I loved it. I never complained about the day-long practices in a hundred-degree heat or about the games where they had to clear snow from the ground so that we could see the yard markers. As long as I was out on the field, I was in heaven.
And if I'd eased away from people like Quinn and Nate, I still had a pretty cool group of friends. Most of them were football players, too, because it was easier to hang with guys who knew what I was talking about. And the girls were usually cheerleaders or the girlfriends of the football players. They understood the game and the commitment.
I'd been relatively successful in ignoring my feelings about Quinn. Other boys in school had begun to notice her; some of them, remembering our long-time connection, asked me about her, what she was really like. I knew a few tried to ask her out. Whenever that happened, my chest got tight, and I wanted to punch something, which I knew made no sense. I didn't want to admit to myself that my feelings toward the girl who'd gone skinny-dipping with me in our baby pool were ...complicated. Yeah, I dreamed about her sometimes. Yeah, there were times when she turned a certain way, looked at me or smiled when I felt like I couldn't breathe. But she was Quinn, the same perfect, innocent girl who'd been almost part of me our whole lives. And since that night at the Starlight Diner, I'd made choices that meant I wasn't good for her. Not anymore.
To my secret relief, though, Quinn never seemed interested in the guys who asked her out. She was always nice enough to everyone, but she just didn't date. I couldn't figure out why. She didn't seem to want the same popularity that I had, and there were times I wondered if she thought less of me because I did want it.
I wondered, too, how much Quinn knew about me off the football field. I hooked up with lots of different girls. I didn't go around flaunting my stellar s*x life, but I didn't make a big effort to hide it, either. Whenever my mom or my brothers teased me about not having a steady girl to date, I had to remind them that for me, football came first. If a girl didn't get that, she didn't get me.
Which, of course, brought us back to Ms. Best s*x of My Life whose name would forever remain a mystery. I rolled my eyes and tucked my phone back into my pocket before closing the door to my locker. If I didn't hustle, I was going to be late to practice and get my ass chewed off by Coach.
I'd almost made it to the locker room when I spotted Quinn. She was clutching a pile of notebooks to her chest and walking in front of me, her head down and her shoulders stiff. Behind her, between us, a bunch of girls I recognized as cheerleaders were giggling.
Before I could say hello to any of them, one of the cheerleaders, Trish, reached deftly around Quinn and knocked a book out of her arms. I started to smile, thinking it was the kind of thing a guy would do to a buddy, but then I saw Quinn's reaction. Her face flushed, and she jerked away before leaning down to retrieve her book.
"What's the matter, queen? Clumsy today?" The girls surrounded her, hemming her in.
Quinn pressed her lips together tightly and didn't answer. She began to stand up, and another cheerleader shoved her back down.
"We didn't like what you wrote about the squad. You need to stop saying stuff like that."
"It's an editorial. Opinion. Look it up. It means I can write what I want."
I winced. That wasn't what these girls wanted to hear. I knew them all from parties and from away games, when we traveled together on the bus, but these three weren't people I generally hung around with. They tended toward meanness, and I didn't have time for that s**t.
"Leave her alone." I stepped forward and stood in front of Quinn. "What the hell's wrong with you?"
One of them smirked at me. "This isn't your business, Leo. We've got it covered. Run along."
"Quinn's a friend of mine, and I'm pretty sure she didn't do anything to you. So yeah, it is my business." I grabbed Quinn's hand and hauled her up.
Trish, the undoubted queen bee of the group, looked as though she wanted to say something else, but one of the other girls snagged her arm and pulled her away. She threw another poisonous glare over her shoulder as they headed down the hallway.
I glanced down at Quinn. "What was that all about?"
She was standing frozen, and I realized that she was staring at our still-joined hands. I released hers, and she looked away.
"It was nothing." Quinn shrugged. "Stupid cheerleaders."
"What were they talking about? What did you write to set them off?" I persisted.
She looked me full in the face for the first time. "I guess this means you don't make it a priority to read my editorials." There was something in her voice that wasn't quite humor mixed with a little bit of hurt, and guilt made me snap back at her.
"I don't read anything but school stuff and play books during football season. No time. So tell me, what did you do?"
"I didn't do anything. I wrote an opinion piece about the special treatment the cheerleaders get, nothing that everyone else in the school isn't thinking. And some of them obviously didn't like it. No big deal."
I gritted my teeth and ran a hand through my hair. "Mia, are you crazy? That's not exactly the way to make friends." I used my pet name for her, the one I'd called her since we were toddlers, without thinking about it.
There it was again, that flare of pain in her eyes. I wasn't sure if it was because I'd used the old endearment or because I was scolding her.
"Gee, thanks, Leo. This is all good information. Funny, though. I didn't know I needed help making friends. I used to have some really good ones, once upon a time."
I ignored the sarcasm. "I'm still your friend, Quinn, you know that. But couldn't you try a little harder? I mean, with other people? Sometimes you have to play the game to get along in the world."
"The people I want for friends wouldn't expect me to be a phony. They would accept me for who I am." She lifted her chin and leveled a gaze at me
"You don't think I do?" That stung, maybe because it felt a little bit true.
"I don't know, Leo. Do you even know who I am anymore?" She jerked her arms away from my hands and stalked away, down the hall.
I didn't try to follow her.