Playing Cupid

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Chapter 3 : Football Team Material

"Hi,"

The aroma of freshly made pizza fills the air, and my mouth starts to water.

"Told you I'd make it up to you," Nikki says, letting herself in with three boxes of pizza and some drinks. She puts the boxes down onto the table, and I give her a tight hug.

"Thank you, I really needed this." I sigh with relief as she squeezes me back.

"I kinda heard what happened at the cafeteria earlier and figured you needed a girls' night to chill." She explains, breaking away from the hug.

"Why'd you buy so much pizza?" I ask, pointing at all three boxes.

"One box for the boys and two for us," Nikki winks as she separates one box and places it onto the middle of the table. "I also brought an extra bottle of Sprite," Nikki announces and pumps her brows at Jeremy.

Jeremy lights up and waddles towards us, claiming his drink.

"He's going to be so hyper later," I say, rubbing the side of my head. She casually shrugs and opens her bottle of soda.

"So, pool or room?" She asks, sipping on Sprite.

"You're gonna swim in that?" I point at her denim jeans.

"No, of course not silly. I wore a bikini just in case you'd say pool."

"You mean, you were hoping I'd say pool so you could wear your new bikini," I correct her.

"This is why we're best friends," She hums.

"You don't think Camille would want to come over?" I suddenly ask. Nikki throws me a puzzled look. "We've been meaning to hang out, so why not tonight?" I continue with enthusiasm.

"Okay, I'll call her," Nikki nods with the same excitement.

We bring out the pizza boxes into the poolside, and we both exhale, admiring the breathtaking sunset.

"What are you still doing in your uniform?"

"Oh, right, hold on." I dash to my room and pick out my purple swimsuit. I throw my hair into a bun and stuff my uniform into the laundry basket.

I walked back towards the pool and grabbed a slice of pizza before resting on the lounge chair next to Nikki.

"So, what actually happened during lunch?" Nikki inquires as she puts down her drink.

I turn my head and watch Nikki as she takes her third slice of pizza. I start the story from the beginning, leaving out a few minor details as she listened intently.

"He got expelled for defending his friend?" Nikki asks in admiration.

"We all agreed not to bring it up anymore, so he gets to start fresh."

"He cute?" She raises her brows.

I pause for a second to evaluate. Ace's eyes were his most dominant feature. They were like pools of honey under the sun, captivating and easy to drown in.

"He's okay," I lie to both myself and her.

Our conversation gets cut when we shift our attention to the approaching pair of footsteps.

"Camille's here," James pokes his head out the pool area.

"Thanks for the invite," She grins.

"Come sit," I smile as I gesture at the empty lounge chair beside me.

"Okay, so what's the pizza situation?" James questions in a hopeful tone, referring to the box Nikki left at the dining table.

"It's yours, James." Nikki proclaims.

James waves his fists in the air in victory and walks off.

"Share!" Nikki shouts after him.

Camille rests on the lounge chair and reaches for a slice.

"You guys eat a lot of these," She comments jokingly, pointing at the two boxes.

"Shh, it's cheat day. Leave us be." Nikki defends.

"You're going to want to lay off the pizza, if you're thinking of rejoining the team, Jade." Camille humors me.

Nikki sits upright, and her expression turns serious.

"You're rejoining the team?" She asks seriously.

"I've been thinking about it," I admit.

"Isn't this great news, Nikki?" Camille squeals.

"It's great," Nikki's voice hinted excitement, but her eyes conveyed the opposite.

She stays quiet for a while, leaving Camille awkwardly eating her pizza in silence.

"Is everything okay?" I ask.

"Yeah, it's just a lot to process. Are you even ready to be part of the team again?" She examines me.

"I mean... Yeah, I think I am. I want to start again this year." Her question catches me off guard.

Camille senses the tension building and changes the topic.

"It's getting cold, let's all go inside?" She prompts, and I smile at her gratefully.

We all clean after ourselves and make our way to the living room. I put on The Notebook as we divide the remaining slices. We all sit on the couch with Camille seated in the middle as a barricade.

The rest of the night goes by pretty slow, with none of us initiating a conversation. About an hour into the movie, Nikki gets a call and starts to pack her things.

"Do you have to go?" Camille asks.

"Yeah, my dad needs me for something." She responds, jumping into her jeans.

"Is everything okay?" I ask.

"Yeah," She replies blankly, not looking at me as she puts her socks back on.

Camille and I accompany her to the front door and say our goodbyes. She embraces Camille first and then turns to me. She hugs me, but it feels tense and forced, I break away early to save ourselves from anymore awkwardness. I close the door behind her and finish the rest of the movie with Camille.

"Why do you think she reacted so weird?" I quizzed her.

"Maybe she was just concerned you weren't ready yet."

I frowned because whatever emotion Nikki showed was anything but concern. It was almost as if she didn't want me on the team.

"You don't think she doesn't want me on the team, do you?" I voice out my thoughts.

"She was probably just trying to process everything, I mean you know Nikki, she doesn't do well with change," Camille points out.

"I guess..." I just wasn't convinced, but I didn't want to dwell on the topic anymore. Besides, it wasn't like I've made my decision yet.

The movie wraps up, and by the end of it, we were drowning in tears. Something about watching two people grow in love tugged on my heartstrings; I longed to find a love like theirs someday.

Camille heads to the bathroom, and I start cleaning up. I tear up the empty pizza boxes and throw them into the trash. Camille returns, and I help her pack up.

"Thanks for coming. It was really great to have you over." I smile and embrace her.

"Hopefully, this becomes a regular thing." She admits. "Not the awkward fighting, I mean." She clarifies.

"I hope so too." I try not to get my hopes up but remain optimistic.

"Don't worry about Nikki. She'll come around," Camille assures me. I give her a small smile and a nod. I walk her to the door and waved her goodbye.

I slump onto the sofa again, still wearing my swimsuit, and reached for my phone.

Jeremy comes up to me in his pajamas, his stuffed monkey nestled in his arms.

"What's wrong, Jer?" I ask, sitting up to wipe the sweat from his forehead.

"I can't sleep," He replies, hugging his stuffed toy tighter.

"That's what happens when you drink soda before bed." I lightly scold him.

I check the time, and it was almost half-past nine.

"Let's get you to bed," I usher him up the stairs and bring him into his room.

Seeing all the Iron Man posters and figurines scattered all over his room, you could easily tell he was Jeremy's favorite superhero. Batman was also a strong contender with the walls decorated with more than a few posters.

Jeremy clambers into bed as I adjusted the thermostat to a lower setting.

I pull the blanket over his tiny legs and kneel by the side of his bed. I pat his head gently and start humming a soft lullaby. Our mom would do the same every time we had a hard time sleeping. She would hum a distinct tune that we knew by heart.

By the time I finished humming the melody, Jeremy was sound asleep. I fix the monkey into his arms and kiss his forehead. I switch the lights off and creep out the door. I quietly shut the door behind me and exhaled.

I take a quick shower and get ready for bed. Today was probably the most eventful day I've had in a while. My mind was spinning from things I had yet to process; I stared at my reflection, toothbrushing for the longest time.

I climb into bed and stare at the ceiling. Glow in the dark stars I've had since I was a little girl twinkled above me. There were so many things going through my head. I wasn't sure what to work out first.

"I'll deal with my problems tomorrow." I sigh.

***

I walk into homeroom, distracted from still not being able to contact Nikki. Whenever Nikki and I would disagree, she'd typically reply before the next day. I sit down and throw my bag onto the floor. I let out a frustrated sigh and take out the assignments I need to complete before any subject classes start.

"Why so hotheaded today?" A voice asks, sitting next to me.

"Not in the mood to joke today, Rhett." I murmur.

"Rhett?"

I look up at the person sitting beside me, whom I was quick to assume was Rhett, but his darker hair said otherwise.

"Ace? Isn't this class supposed to be full?" I ask in wonder.

"Nope," He pops.

"Then why weren't you here yesterday?"

"Suspended, remember?" He points at the bruising on the side of his head. It's subsided, so it looked much better than yesterday.

"Right," I point a finger gun.

"So, what's going on in that pretty little head of yours? Something bothering you?" He asks.

"Just got into a thing with Nikki."

"Nikki? Sounds like a cute name." He comments.

Nikki was the representation of every cliché high school it girl. She had blonde hair that reached her hips and the bubbliest personality, making her the perfect cheerleader.

"Yeah, you guys would look good together," I tease.

"But I only have eyes for you," He says with no hesitation, eyes staring right into mine.

I know he's joking, but it's enough to make my heart jump.

"You're such a flirt," I smack his shoulder, composing myself. He laughs with me and casually shrugs.

"Did it work?" He jokes again before turning his body to me. "So, how about it? Come watch my tryouts?" His voice and expression transitions into something more hopeful.

The last time I watched football tryouts was when I was a freshman during my brother's sophomore year. However, I do everything I can to make it to all of his games. It would be nice to let him know I'm here to support him in his senior year.

"I'd love to come. I get to watch both you and James," I answer.

His face lights up, and he flashes the most dashing smile. "Don't be late,"

"I won't," I assure him.

Mr. Rand shoots us a look, and we zip our mouths shut. After a little while, class ends, and we set off to our respective subjects.

"4:00 sharp, Dyer." Ace calls out loudly before turning the other direction.

I get to history class just before Ms. Wallace walks in with her notorious scowl. The whole level falls silent immediately as she starts her lesson. I browse the room, and I spot Maddison Prescott, whose eyes widen in shame the minute they land on mine.

Flashbacks of what happened at the field came flooding in despite my many attempts of trying to erase the memory. I consider teasing her about it to lighten the mood but figured it would be too soon.

As it was Ms. Wallace's class, and no student would want to risk getting into detention by yapping; We'd turn to good old-fashioned note passing to get messages along. It was a system based entirely on trust, hoping no one else would open the message you have addressed to someone else.

I quickly scribble my message down and address it for Maddie before passing it to the brunette in front of me. I watch as the note gets passed down in an agile manner, careful not to get caught. The note reaches her desk, and she quickly writes her response. It gets carefully transported back, and I open the note.

She's not at school

It wasn't unusual for Nikki to skip out on school every time she didn't feel like going. I just hoped she did so we can patch up whatever it is we're even arguing about. I sit through the remaining hour, trying my best not to yawn at Ms. Wallace's monotonous voice. The bell saves me from my misery, and I quickly walk to my locker to drop a few things off.

***

The day goes by and I'm seated in my last class. Luckily, I had biology and it was something I was actually interested in. The only thing I hated about it was the amount of homework we're assigned every week. I zone out looking at the window and Ms. Garcia notices.

"Miss Dyer, give me three conditions needed for seed germination." She calls me out.

I snap back into reality, "Uh, water, oxygen and a suitable temperature." I answer.

"Good, eyes on the board please." She points back at the board.

As soon as the bell goes off, I scramble out to the opposite campus to pick up my brothers. It takes me a while to find them with both of them at opposite sides of the general area; Jace was on one side with his head buried in a book while Jeremy was running around with schoolmates on the other. I grab both of them and lead them out to the field.

"Where are we going? This isn't the way to the parking lot." Jace notes.

"We're going to watch the football tryouts," I reply.

Jeremy beams and starts walking ahead of me.

"I don't want to watch the football tryouts. It's boring." Jace whines. "Can't Jeremy and I just grab a ride from someone." He proposes.

Jeremy frowns at him, "I want to watch football." He says firmly.

"Yeah, and who's going to look after you at home?" I challenge Jace. "You can continue reading in the field." I continue.

"Okay fine, and just so you know, I can take care of myself." He puffs his chest out.

"Sure," I respond sarcastically.

Our school had a vast field that came with the many benefits of attending Eastwood. We are fortunate enough to have so many facilities available for our use. I spot Camille waving at us from the top row of the bleachers on the north wing, and we walk towards her.

"Hey," I hug her briefly.

"I see you've brought the whole family." She greets Jeremy and Jace.

"It wasn't voluntary," Jace states. He plops down and continues to read his book.

"He's not crazy about football." I shake my head. "Are you here to watch anyone?" I ask innocently.

"I'm just here to support the team." She blushes.

"If ya say so," I wink.

The football team and hopeful recruits rush out, and we all cheer. Even if you were already part of the team, everyone had to go through the tryout process to signify unity. James was groomed to take over as captain this year, so his leadership skills are to be put to the test. Levi Baldwin was also up for the role, so it really depended on who could showcase the best expertise while handling the team.

Ace scans through the bleachers and smiles widely when he pinpoints me. I throw my hands up in the air and wave energetically.

"You know, Ace Wilde?" Camille asks in disbelief after watching our interaction.

"Kinda a long story, but yeah, we're friends," I explain.

The team huddles up, indicating the start of tryouts. Jeremy watches excitedly, standing to get a better view. The coach starts them off by doing laps around the field to test their stamina. James and Levi lead the rest of the group, running ahead.

Next, the coach has them do some drills to test for their speed, footwork, and hand to eye coordination. The group splits in two with both hopeful captains demonstrating in each one. I try not to be biased when evaluating the players, but I really couldn't keep my eyes off Ace. Sure, there were a handful of other skilled players, but no one had the same look of intensity he had.

This year's season is starting late September, so those who make the cut have a little over a month to synergize and catch up with the rest of the team. After about an hour, the coach blows his whistle, and the group disperses into different sections of the field.

Ace and Griffin walk over to us, and we congratulate them on completing the intense tryout.

"How was I?" Ace asks, pouring water on his face to cool him down.

"Eh, you were okay." I joke. He points his water bottle at me, threatening to squeeze it.

"You already know you did great." I shield my face as a reflex.

"I know, but it's better when it comes from someone else."

"You did really good," Jeremy squeaks, hiding behind me.

"Why, thank you..." He trails, looking up at me.

"Jeremy," I whisper.

"Jeremy," Ace repeats louder. "Are we going to see you in the football field anytime soon?" He asks, boosting Jeremy's confidence.

"I want to play, but I'm too chubby." He shrugs.

"Who said that?" Ace asks in mock anger.

"Jade," Jeremy points at me.

"Hey!" I exclaim. "I never said that." I sneer.

"Did too!" Jeremy accuses me.

"Ignore her she's a bully." Ace coaxes him, sticking his tongue at me. "If you want we can all play together sometime." He continues.

Jeremy nods vigorously and high-fives Ace.

"We're gonna go ahead," Camille pipes in, gripping Griffin's arm.

"Take me with you," Jace exaggerates.

I wink at her and her cheeks turn a rosy pink. They meet James halfway as he exchanged a lengthy handshake with Griffin.

"You're not bad at all, Wilde" James fist bumps Ace. He then walks over to me with his arms outstretched.

"You're dripping in sweat, don't touch me," I exclaim. James snorts and Ace does too.

"For real though, I think you're definitely going to make the team." James turns back to praise him.

"Thanks man, I appreciate it." Ace beams. "If I make the team, I'll throw a party." He half-jokes.

"That'd be sick," James responds.

"Alright, I'm gonna go shower. The sweat's starting to stick. It was nice meeting you, Jeremy." He smiles and turns the other direction.

"Oh and, thanks for coming Jade." He turns back before running off to hit the showers.

"We'll wait for you in the car. Go shower too, you stink." I scrunch my nose at James. I steer Jace and Jeremy out of the field and we walk to the parking lot. I roll down the windows so air can circulate in. I roll up my sleeves and wipe the sweat off my neck.

After a while, there was still no sign of James and I debate driving home without him. We wait for a little longer and he finally arrives.

"No really, take your time." I mock. He ignores me and I move over, riding shotgun.

"I saw someone watching you very attentively this afternoon." I tempt as he moves the gear stick to first gear.

"Really, who?" He tries to sound uninterested but I knew better.

"Tara," I tease.

"Tell me," He says impatiently.

"Arissa," I confide.

"Oh,"

"She even asked about you,"

"She did?" He blurts.

"No, she didn't." I laugh.

"Jade," He scolds, almost angry.

"Lighten up," I smack his shoulder. "Why don't you try talking to her, you clearly still care about her," I ask.

"It's complicated." He sighs.

"That's what they all say." I sing quietly.

"What?"

"Nothing."

I go through the front pocket of my bag for my earphones. I peer at the backseat and see both my brothers asleep and smile internally. I close my eyes too and try to get as much rest before arriving home.

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