Playing Cupid

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Chapter 2: Collision

“Oh, my dear brothers,” I sang, reaching out to every single one of them at the dining table and kissing them on the cheek. I woke up in a relatively good mood and was keen on sharing positive energy. I dance towards the kitchen to fetch cups and orange juice. As I poured out juice for each of us to drink, my eyes were met by three very startled ones.

“Yes?” I hummed, passing out the cups.

“Who are you and what have you done to our sister?” Jace asks in mock seriousness, threatening me with the spoon from his cereal.

“Yeah, I like the imposter more than the old Jade,” Jeremy says before chugging his cup of orange juice.

“Really? I can’t be nice to my brothers?” I ask slightly offended.

“I honestly can’t even remember the last time you greeted us in the morning.” James exaggerates. “Also what did you do to your hair? Why does it look like that?” James adds, scrunching his nose.

“Well, I straightened my hair with an effort to look presentable today,” I say, twirling around in place and striking a pose for approval.

Jace stares at me blankly for 3 seconds and says, “I like your old hair,” proceeding to munch down on his cereal.

“You guys could be more supportive.” I roll my eyes and stomp to the living room to retrieve my bag.

“There she is! She’s back.” I hear James joke from the dining table, followed by the synchronized giggles of my other brothers.

It is so difficult living in a household surrounded by boys, especially when it comes to conversations revolving around fashion and beauty. It’s hard to get a credible second opinion with a dad who compliments everything I wear and with brothers who don’t compliment me at all.

I check out my phone and text Nikki to pick me up in front of our driveway. I comb out my hair one last time and headed for the front door.

“Where are you going?” I hear one of them call out.

“School duh? Where else would I go in uniform?” I ask dumbfounded, shaking my head.

“Nikki picking you up?” I hear the voice call out again, which I assumed to be James.

“Yep, I’ll see you at school.” I screech back and walk out the door.

I stand at our driveway and waited patiently. After a few minutes, I spot Nikki’s car and shove my phone back into my suit pocket

“Good morning,” I greet and hopped inside, claiming shotgun.

“Morning,” She greets back and takes a sip of coffee. She lowers her sunglasses and shoots me an approving look. “I see you’re bringing back the straight hair.”

“Thank you!” I exclaim. “My brothers were being such dicks about it,” I grumble, removing my school blazer before fastening my seatbelt to avoid creasing it.

Nikki speeds off and I grab the car handle on the ceiling to tease her. She sees what I’m doing and glares at me playfully.

“Sorry, just trying to survive.” I continue to mock her and she imitates me back jokingly.

“So, what are our plans for lunch?” I start after driving in silence for a little while.

“Can’t have lunch today, love,” Nikki replies, focusing on the side mirror as she prepares to park.

“Why not?” I answer back grumpily.

“I have cheering stuff to deal with.”

“You never have lunch with me anymore.”

“I know and I’m sorry, but I’ve just been super busy lately. I promise I’ll make it up to you.” She keeps her eyes away from the road for a second to flash me a big toothy smile.

“You better,” I snort.

Nikki pulls over and I step out the car. I fix my button-down and re-tuck it again into my skirt. I wear the blazer and clutched my bag from the inside. Nikki was doing the same thing and pushed her golden curls back as she fixed the pleats of her skirt.

We strut into the hallway and part ways after Nikki hugs me goodbye. I walk over to my locker and grabbed the textbooks for my first few periods. My locker door was suddenly slammed shut and I was greeted by a fiery redhead, chewing her gum obnoxiously.

“What can I do for you, Tara?” I breathe and slap on a disingenuous smile.

“Where’s James? He hasn’t called me back.” She complains while checking her nails out.

Tara and James went out for a little over a month last year. Unbeknownst to Tara at the time, she was James’s rebound. After Arissa Hashimoto broke his heart in the winter of last year, James spiraled. Our family advised him to seek out a distraction and hoped he’d develop an interest in a new sport, not Tara.

“I don’t know where he is,” I respond truthfully.

“He’s your brother,” She points out condescendingly.

“And?” I answer sharply. She stares me down almost menacingly but I don’t back down.

“Ugh, never mind! You’re no help at all.” She flips her hair and stomps out like the true drama queen she is.

Ever since James broke up with her, she became relentless. She’s so convinced what they had was true love, she’d do anything to get him back despite him telling her many times it wasn’t going to happen.

The first bell rings and I calmly walk to homeroom. I grab a seat next to Rhett who was admiring himself in his handheld mirror.

“Hey stranger,” I greet as I put my bag down next to me.

“You know I’ve always loved your hair straight.” He admits and begins to stroke my hair.

“Creepy,” I joke. Rhett pulls his hand away and chuckles.

We sit through 30 minutes of Mr. Rand talking about school and classroom rules that were going to be broken inevitably. The bell rings and I hop off to my first period.

I sit down and divert my attention to Mr. Martin, preparing my stationary to take notes. He grabs the whiteboard eraser and wipes the board clean, giving Camille Allred enough time to slip past him and sit on the empty seat next to me.

Camille and I used to be close up until I quit the cheer team last season to focus on my mental health. We tried our best to keep the friendship alive but there were just so many things in the way.

“Hey,” She raises her hand slightly and smiles.

“Hi,” I say back quietly.

I shift my attention back to Mr. Martin to avoid any awkward glances and she does the same. I open up my notebook and started taking notes. After a while, Camille looks at me and it feels like a non-verbal cue to start a conversation.

“How are things coming along for the team?” I ask.

“We’re starting tryouts this lunch. You’re more than welcome to come join us if you’d like.” She invites enthusiastically.

“Like watch tryouts or actually try out?” I tease. She looks at me trying to decipher whether or not I was kidding.

“If you’re ready to join back, you don’t need to try out again.” She puts her pen down and looks at me intently. “I don’t want to pressure you or anything but we’d really love to have you back.” She continues.

“I don’t know if I’m ready for that, Camille.” I contemplate.

Gun to my head, the cons for rejoining the cheer team outweighed the pros. Our school team was pretty competitive and it would be selfish to even reconsider joining with all my baggage. It takes real commitment to join and I would need to have little to zero hesitation.

Camille studies me and seems to notice my internal struggle. “I mean you don’t have to decide now. You can take your time to think about it.” She offers.

“Yeah, I’ll definitely think about it.” I nod assuringly.

“OMG! This is so exciting,” She squeals causing a few students to look over their shoulders. “Sorry,” she mouths back at them. She squeezes my hands in excitement and I start smiling widely.

“We should hang out soon,” She says.

I’ve heard that one before.

“Yeah, definitely,” I answer, trying my best to mimic her enthusiasm.

After what felt like forever, we’re all dismissed from Chemistry for recess. I decide to go walk around the field to clear my head. Students come running down the stairs from what I assume was a late dismissal. I spot Nikki from the crowd next to Camille, whispering in secrecy and giggling boisterously.

I could’ve easily blamed it on my crippling paranoia but couldn’t help think they were talking about me. There were so many things I haven’t fully wrapped my head around because of pure denial and fear of reality. Fear of reality

I drown in my thoughts and walk blindly towards the field. The thought of my friendship with Nikki dissolving was beyond me. She has always been there for me and I would go insane if I had to lose her too.

I reach the opening of the field and took a deep breath of fresh air. I close my eyes and envision myself in a movie. The wind dances on my skin as I stride forward with outstretched arms. The realm of possibility was open again.

My moment was quickly interrupted when I hear a thud coming from underneath the bleachers. With curiosity overpowering fear, I walk towards the sound. I mentally prepare myself for whatever was down there but had my money on an unstable raccoon.

Suspense builds as I carefully tiptoe around the area to avoid scaring it off. To my horror, I catch two students in the middle of an intense makeout session as the girl looks my way and we lock eyes. I run as fast as my legs could carry me and I collide right into a tall, masculine figure.

“Damn,” I hear his strong voice say as he lifts himself off the ground. He offers me a hand and helps me up.

“I’m so- I’m sorr- so sorry.” I stutter. I was both out of breath and deeply embarrassed over the series of unfortunate events that have unfolded over 5 minutes.

I finally gather the strength to look up and face the man I just knocked over. As soon as I did, I recognized his face but couldn’t tell where from immediately.

“You’re from Liberty aren’t you? Football team? I question him.

His concern vanishes and his expression turns cold.

“Yeah and? Are you gonna start judging me too? He scoffs. “Better run because I’m so dangerous right?” He taunts harshly.

I had no idea what he was talking about but didn’t want to cause any more problems so I just decided to walk away.

“Oh, I’m sorry... I’ll just go then.” I trail off, unsure of what to say.

“Wait,” He exclaims and grabs my arm. “I’m really sorry, that was rude.” He apologizes.

I stare at his hand clutching my arm and felt the warmth as soon as he let go. I clear my throat and turn my body towards him.

“It’s alright, I think,” I pause.

“I’m just sick of people calling me out on shit they know nothing about.” He admits, visibly frustrated. He looks at me with the sun reflecting off his sad brown eyes, gravitating me to it. I spot the bruising on the side of his head.

He searches my eyes for a response but I wasn’t sure of what to say. “I’m sorry, I’ve just had a long day.” He continues.

“No no, it’s okay. What happened there?” I ask, concerned.

“Self-defense?” He tries to crack a joke but it felt more sad than amusing.

“No seriously, are you okay? Do you need me to take you to the nurse’s office?” I offer.

“I’m alright thank you, I’ve just been.” He says.

I run out of things to say and he does too.

“Well, I guess I better get going.” He says, preparing to head into the field.

“You probably don’t want to go in there just yet. Trust me.” I say nauseously.

“Why not?”

As soon as he finishes his question, Maddison Prescott and her new boy toy emerge out of the field. She can barely keep her composure as she looks at me with pure embarrassment.

“Oh,” He mouths.

The bell goes off and I take that as my cue to leave.

“I’ll see you around..?” I drag on, not knowing his name.

“Ace,” He says proudly.

“I’m Jade,” I introduce myself.

“It was nice meeting you, Jade.” He salutes and walks off.

I watch him walk away and smiled. I saunter off to my next class, mind even messier than earlier.

I enter the cafeteria and the smell of freshly cooked food surrounds the room. I place my croissant filled tray down on a vacant table and fished out my earphones. As I was enjoying my lunch while scrolling through my phone, a girl furiously taps my shoulder and I immediately remove my earphones.

“What is i-” I look over to the middle of the cafeteria and I see James grabbing Ace by the collar. I mindlessly dash to the center and stand in between both of them.

“Back off from my sister,” James growls. His jaw clenches and moves to an offensive position. Ace was on the defensive with his sleeves rolled up but didn’t look threatened by James at all.

“James no, he’s a friend,” I beg, pushing him back with both my hands to create some distance. I look over to his friends and see the boy Maddie had her paws all over. He’s the only one who would’ve told James. I shoot him a glare and shift my focus back on the two boys.

“A friend? Do you even know him?” James reasons, his voice filled with anger.

“Do you?” I counter, echoing his tone.

“Actually yeah I do, he’s dangerous Jade.” I turn my head to face Ace but he doesn’t say anything. I look directly into his eyes and I just had a gut feeling deep down he wasn’t.

“No, he’s not,” I say firmly.

“Yes, he is. Stop being so naive.” He says, with the same tone in his voice.

“Stop being so judgemental. Have you ever heard his side?” I snap. I wasn’t entirely sure what the actual accusation was leading people to believe he was dangerous, but I know well enough to know there are two sides to every story.

“He shoved Griffin,”

“As self-defense,” I state. “If you’re really concerned about me then why don’t you get to know him first before you throw around accusations like that.” I fire back. James drops his stance and lets out a long exhale.

“Damn Dyer, your sister’s on fire.” One of his friends say

“Shut up, Bennett.” James grunts.

James and the rest of his football buddies take a seat and so does Ace. They sit directly in front of each other while I sit next to James acting as the peacemaker. The rest of the students in the cafeteria focus back on their lunch as the tension dissolves.

“Funny how you needed my sister to defend you.” James comments and I furrow my brows at him.

“I don’t,” Ace admits smugly. “She was handling the situation quite well if you ask me.” He says in mock innocence. I shoot him a look and narrow my eyes.

“So, tell us Ace. What’s your side of the story? Why did you violently beat up your friend?.” James asks, expanding on the word violently and tension starts to build up again. I guess word got around fast of what led to his expulsion. My heart pounds in shock as I search his eyes for an explanation.

“It wasn’t like that,” Ace begins to explain. “It only happened because he did something unspeakable to a close friend of mine.” He shuts his eyes. “I lost control that night and I just couldn’t handle it.” He says, pained.

Silence fills the table and I take that as my cue to step in.

“Whatever Ace did has nothing to do with us and we should all just respect that.” I jump in, fulfilling my peacemaker role. “Let’s just stop with all the accusations.” I add, sternly.

Ace gives me a weak smile and I let out an exhale.

“Plus I think he’d be a real asset to the team.” I point out.

“Please, he has to try out first.” Griffin Bennett scoffs.

“Chill out, Bennett. We got to see the kid play last season and he’s not bad at all.” Levi comments.

“See? Was it that hard being nice?” I say condescendingly. All the boys turned their heads and gave me a frown. I shoot my hands up in surrender.

“I’m warning you right now Ace, you hurt my sister in any way and I will end you.” James threatens.

Ace nods firmly before looking at me.

“Is this the part where we all shake hands or give out hugs?” I tease them.

James offers out his hand to which Ace shook tenaciously.

“Anyone else have any internal struggles they’d like to share with the group?” I mock one last time before standing up. “This table reeks of toxic masculinity,” I say, pointing at the whole group while waving my hand in front of my nose.

I walk over to my unattended croissants and lifted the tray to put back on the rack. I check the boys’ table again and see them talking a little more in-depth. I head to the bathroom to fix myself up after all the commotion.

I drive Jace and Jeremy back home and throw myself onto the sofa. I get a call from someone but I don’t pick up. Jeremy’s airplane toy gives me a headache and I sit upright on the sofa, caressing my head.

Jace walks over to me and gives me a glass of water, “You look tired.” I take the water and downed it. He sits next to me on the sofa and I lean on him.

“I’m just hungry,” I lie.

The doorbell causes Jace to jump out his seat and I fall back onto the sofa.

“Jade, someone’s here to see you.” He howls, his voice barely reaching the living room.

I grumble and run my fingers through my hair to fix myself a little. I lift myself off the sofa and drag my body to open the door.


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