The sip evaporated on my tongue in an instant. Your turn! Praise my mad reflexes!
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I caught it before it hit my churning stomach. Tony pulled me to my feet and gave me quick instructions on how to hit the ball for the best impact. Yeah, right. As if I really wanted to know that. I placed the ball on the ground then kicked it toward Frederickson who stood in the goal. It dropped to the lawn several feet in front of him then rolled on as if out for a relaxing stroll before it touched his left shoe. Beaten and exhausted, I was ready to surrender, but when he offered me the soccer ball, his lips curved into a mocking smile, which prompted me to prove him wrong.
I accepted the challenge. He planted the ball in front of me, but then he had me take several steps back. The boys laughed, and Tony pried my fingers loose from his collar.
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Ice cream? Then he sprinted back to the low desk where Susan took her notes and called Cynthia Ramirez to try her luck. Unspeakably proud, I turned a smiling face at Tony. But my smile got lost the moment I glimpsed Barbie girl standing with him. Hands laced behind her back, she rocked on her heels in front of him. Her boobs pushed out so far, she could have staked him in the heart. I gulped. I could only rely on the gossip in school of course, but rumor had it his father was friends with Chief Berkley, and so Ryan could turn up the music to a maximum all night.
Beer flowed in endless rivers, and he even had his own pool table. The closest I had been to his house was when we drove by to get to the library, but it looked big enough to bear several halls.
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Getting an invitation to one of those parties meant stepping up into the cool league. Not that I cared about hanging out with jerks like Chloe—yuck. But Tony had been to many of his parties, and he never told me much about the events behind those doors. That alone sharpened my curiosity.
He would go tonight for sure. The fact the Barbie clone would be there too had my heart slipping to my pants. I put up a nonchalant face while I actually felt like bawling and trudged over to the water cooler to get a drink larger than the fly pee Tony had brought me after the warm-up. The afternoon dragged on with more exercises that involved passing the ball back and forth, zigzagging over the field with short kicks, and finally a count of how many times one could juggle the ball in the air without losing it.
I got an amazing two and a half.
This was it. I was done with soccer. May the ball rot in hell and the players die of thirst. Playing ball in the scorching sun was for morons anyway. I wiped the sweat off my face with the towel Tony had brought, then stuffed it back into his backpack, and stomped off.
He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and used my speed to propel me in the opposite direction. This was the first time you came into contact with a soccer ball and you almost got a goal on the second try. All you need is a little training. I found that hard to believe, but the expression in his eyes told me differently. He meant it. Confused, I gave him a sideways glance. Unfortunately, Chloe intruded into my view as she came skipping over to us like the tooth fairy.
Her perfectly manicured fingers wrapped around his biceps as she bounced up and down before him. He already told me that I was on the team. My molars suffered from the hard grinding I did. The thing was—I needed to become a member of this team, badly. How else could I fend off this bimbo? Ryan Hunter held a list in his hands as he stepped in front of the expectant crowd.
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If yours is among them, well done. I really made it, and he owed me ice cream. What a freaking fantastic day. I jogged to the bench and slung my backpack over one shoulder. Certainly, I had the most stupid grin in the world pasted on my lips. It slipped as the word owe got stuck on repeat in my mind. What if he had asked Ryan to let me onto the team even if I was a miserable player? Turning to leave, he glanced at me over his shoulder.
His eyes sparked with a glint of mischief. Unfortunately, the boy was like a fortress. Bolted down. He refused to tell me what he had to give Ryan for letting me play on the team. I had no idea what people wore to those parties, but since it was still over sixty degrees in the evening—not unusual for Northern California in August—I chose a dark gray tank top and black hot pants. Judging by the smirk I earned from Tony, I supposed I had settled on the right clothes.
Tony appeared unimpressed and maneuvered into a spot at the corner, but I had a hard time closing my mouth. Usually, there are a hundred to a hundred and fifty. If his parents are gone, the number might well get up to three hundred. We walked up the drive then climbed the marble steps to the door with the bowed top.
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Tony jiggled the handle, and it opened easily. Bodies bumped and ground against each other in salacious moves I only knew from films. Several boys shouted a conversation over the noise and drank beer from bottles while groping the butts of the girls with them. Some people kissed in the dim light. But his arm pressed my hands tighter to his body as he pulled me into the mass of people. Not all of them were kids.
It seemed Hunter had a lot of older friends, too, ranging from sixteen to about twenty-five. A small group of girls from my history class gathered in the middle of the room. Simone Simpkins grabbed my arm when we passed them. I had to lip-read to understand that she wanted me to join them. I nodded and watched him walk away with a weird quiver in my stomach.
What if he never found his way back to me in this blasted place? The distance he put between us was quickly filled with the throng of strangers.
Turning back to the girls, I tried to join in the conversation, but mostly I just stood there and nodded, pretending to understand what they said. Parched by the heat in the room, anything cool was welcome. I wet my lips with the beer then licked it off.
I took a real sip. A little bitter, but quite palatable.
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I had downed half of the bottle when my head started to feel dizzy. Across the room I thought I spotted Tony. I waved goodbye to the girls and headed off toward the back. But Tony was nowhere in sight. A high arch in the wall connected this room to the kitchen. I headed there and found Ryan standing in the doorway, leaning one shoulder against the wall.
The sleeves of his black shirt were rolled up to his elbows, and the jeans he wore were ripped at the hems.