Playing Cupid

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Chapter 4 : Apologies and Announcements

The car honks, waking all of us up from our catnaps. We scramble into the house, and I immediately dash up the stairs. I pick out a fresh set of clothes from my closet, envisaging a relaxing soak. I start the bath, adding in my favorite lavender bath salts. I tie my hair up into a bun and adjust the water temperature to a hotter setting.

I step into the bath and cautiously position my phone in my hands. I debate on calling Nikki but figured she probably wouldn't pick up. The steam engulfs the room with the scent of lavender, radiating a calming vibe. I breathe it in while the hot water kisses my skin. I carefully place my phone out of the tub and continue to soak, trying my best to stay relaxed.

As much as I feel like I didn't do anything wrong, I still feel compelled to approach her and patch things up without wasting any more time. The longer we avoid talking about it, the messier the situation will get.

I dry off and get dressed, throwing on denim jeans and a white tee. I pace back to my room, grabbing my handbag. I stuff my wallet in, and shove my phone in the back pocket of my jeans. I descended the stairs and searched the living room for my car keys.

"Where you off to?" James asks, biting into a sandwich.

"Nikki's," I answer, looking under the pillows. "Have you seen my keys?" I question, cutting him off.

"Why don't you just use my car?" He suggests.

"Dad bought me a car for me to use," I sass him.

"Spoiled brat," James says under his breath, and I throw a pillow at him.

I spot a blur of black and silver on top of the magazine tray and snatch it.

"I'm just kidding!"

I slam the door behind me and head to the garage. I steer off in my black convertible and make my way to Nikki's. I gently ring the bell and take a deep breath to prepare myself. It takes a few minutes before Nikki opens the door.

"Hey," I smile, and her expression softens.

She beckons me inside, and I greet her mom before running up to her room.

When we both got inside, the room was immediately engulfed into an awkward bubble.

"I'm sorry for dropping in. I just wanted to talk about... you know." I pause, not knowing exactly how to describe the situation.

We position ourselves on opposite sides of the room. I stand by the door while Nikki slowly sits onto the side of her bed.

"I should be the one trying to make amends. You didn't do anything wrong." She admits, exhaling loudly.

"I just want to know why you reacted that way. Do you not want me back on the team?" I question her sadly.

"No, it's not that. I honestly don't even know why I reacted the way that I did." She confesses. She gently pats at the space next to her, motioning me to sit down.

"All I can tell you is that I should've just been supportive." She acknowledges, looking at me with regret. "I guess I was just partly concerned about you and scared of everything changing again. I'm really sorry." She continues, leaning on my shoulder.

Frankly, her explanation wasn't the best and it didn't answer all the questions I had, but it was an appreciated effort. Her apology seemed sincere, and that's all that mattered to me.

I wrap my left arm around her shoulder and gently nudged her head.

"You're lucky you have an understanding best friend." I tease.

"I'm sorry, Jade." She apologizes again.

"Don't worry about it." I sigh.

She smiles, and we sit in silence. My mom always taught me that forgiveness doesn't change the past, but it does change the future.

"I skipped dinner just to talk to you," I note. Nikki stands up and yanks both of my arms. I jokingly stay glued to her bed, trying my best to resist.

"Let's go," She laughs. "I haven't eaten either," She states.

We plummeted down the stairs and were immediately hypnotized by the smell of her mom's cooking.

"What smells so good, Mrs. Kellet?" I ask in wonder.

"Jade, you're practically family. Call me, Rhea." She smiles warmly.

"Rhea, whatever you're cooking, it smells delicious." I compliment.

"You're too kind. Just a quick Spaghetti Bolognese." She chirps.

"Is Dad not coming home for dinner tonight?" Nikki asks.

"Another late night at the office," Rhea sighs.

We sit around the dining table, and she serves us individual platters of pasta. Nikki fetches us apple juice, and I beam at their hospitality.

"How's your dad?" Rhea inquires.

"He's good. He's actually out in Singapore right now, expanding the business." I answer, taking another bite.

"What company does he work for again? Sorry I don't quite remember the name." She says apologetically.

"He's founded AmethystDigital," I reply. "It's a digital marketing company," I add.

"Right, right. I remember now." Rhea says. "It must be hard with your dad out all the time," She points out.

"It's definitely been tough, but we've been managing."

"Well, just let me know if you guys need anyone to cook for you. I always cook too much, and this one barely eats," She jokes, pointing across the table. Nikki shrugs and continues to scroll through her phone.

"Thank you, Rhea." I nod gratefully before pausing. "You should see her with pizza," I joke back.

We finish eating, and I help clean up. I stack all the plates and utensils into one pile and load the dishwasher orderly. After, I wipe the table clean of any crumbs or stains left from dinner.

"You didn't have to do that. You're our guest." Nikki frowns.

"It's the least I could do," I reply.

We sit around in the living room for a little bit as I fill her in on all the things she missed at school.

"OMG, I really hope he makes the team." She longs. "Now that I think about it, it's been ages since you've last gone to a party. Wasn't your last appearance at Levi's? She recalls.

"No, I'm pretty sure it was Tara's. I'd remember. That was the night some girl was caught making out with Li-"

"Let's not talk about him," She says to prevent me from thinking about that party all over again.

"Yeah, last year was not it for me." I joke sadly.

We stay quiet as I relive every lousy memory from last year.

"Do you miss her?" Nikki breaks the silence.

"Everyday," I admit. "But it also gets better every day," I smile, trying to lighten the mood.

She comforts me, and we talk a little more. It was nights like these that I valued most about our friendship. Deep talks without the fear of judgement. We don't always get along, but when we do, no one is as understanding.

Nikki walks me to the door, and I give her one last squeeze before driving off. I play songs in the car, emoting every time a sad song would come on. I'm three sad songs in when I suddenly get a call.

"Dad, I'm driving right now," I inform him, making a left turn.

"Where have you been?" He asks in a pressing tone.

"I was at Nikki's. I had dinner there," I explain.

"Oh, I was just going to ask what you guys had for dinner." He chuckles.

"James always cooks mac n cheese as a celebratory meal." I pull up in our garage and unfasten my seatbelt. I reach for my phone and put my dad on loudspeaker.

"What's today? Did I miss his birthday?" He jokes.

"Tryouts," I remind him.

"Right, James was telling me all about it the other night. Did he make captain?" He asks enthusiastically.

"Results come out tomorrow so, fingers crossed," I say in a hopeful tone. "When are you coming home?" I add.

He pauses to check his schedule, "I think I'll be there by Saturday afternoon or early Sunday morning." He assures me. I put up a goofy thumbs up and dial in the door code to unlock the front door. I step in and throw my keys into the trinket dish by the door.

"I'm home," I scream out and stroll towards the living room. I catch Jeremy snacking on Cheetos, watching a Batman movie for a change.

"There's your healthy boy," I flip the camera at Jeremy, and he charges at me.

"Stop!" He yells. "Oh, hi dad." His mood completely shifts as he waves happily into my phone. I pass him the phone, and he waddles back to his seat.

I hydrate myself with two glasses of cold water and walk back to the living room. I see Jeremy talking dad's ear off, overhearing promises of Iron Man merchandise.

"Here's Jade," Jeremy relinquishes the phone.

"Jade, I have to go. I have a meeting in about an hour." He states. "Take care of your brothers, and I'll see you guys soon." He continues.

"Alright, take care dad,"

"We miss you!" Jeremy exclaims, and he drops the call.

"Time for bed," I raise my brows at him, and he grumpily stomps off to retrieve his Cheetos.

***

A wave of good lucks were exchanged across the hall; Results were coming in today, and nervous energy overflowed.

Students could barely contain their excitement. Suspense grows as we sit around in our classes, anticipating the weekly announcements. I look over to Ace, who wasn't breaking a sweat.

"Good morning Eagles, the sun is out and it's the start of a wonderful day." Arissa's voice echoes through the school's PA system. "Eastwood has just completed its first week, and so I hope everyone has settled in by now." She broadcasts.

The Eastwood Eagles did not have a good ending last season. We started strong and had a promising start. It all went downhill during the last few games. With an injured wide receiver and a quarterback out of focus, we lost to a devastating 25 point gap. We are all hopeful to come back strong this season.

"Here are your announcements for the week," A tacky jingle plays right after, mimicking an actual news report. I cringe at the tune, and Ace laughs it off.

"First, we have an announcement from the student council. If you are interested in forming a cabinet, please approach Yara Bentley by next Tuesday. Being part of the student council can be very beneficial for your portfolio, so do think about it!" She tries to encourage.

Ace nudges me and points at the PA system, and I stick my tongue out.

"Next, the announcement you've all been waiting for," She pauses for effect. "Is everyone ready to find out who's going to be carrying us to victory this season?" She yells in excitement.

The classroom erupts, and I give Ace a small nod.

"Starting with this year's quarterback and leading the Eagles, the one and only... JAMES DYER." She explodes, and the class roars. It made me happy, seeing everyone show immense support towards James. Kudos to Arissa for displaying such professionalism and maintaining the same tone of enthusiasm all the way through.

Arissa goes on to announce the names of who made the cut, and a few names stand out; Baldwin, Dempsey, Bennett and McClaren. Ace hasn't been called out yet, and his confidence begins to falter. Arissa continues down the list and I bite my nails. The names that roll right off her tongue forms an image of another promising line up.

"And last but certainly not least," She says, queuing up a drum roll that sounded straight from iMovie. I was almost certain it would be Ace, it would be a terrible loss for the team if it weren't. "Eastwood's newest arrival, Ace Wilde!" She celebrates, and he instantly gets flooded with pats on the back and high-fives.

"And that concludes this week's announcements. Congratulations to everyone who made it. Soar high!" The broadcast ends, but the excitement's just been dialed up.

Ace pumps his fists in the air, "PARTY AT MY HOUSE TONIGHT!" He screams, and the class goes wild.

"Ace!" Mr. Rand calls out. "Get down from your chair, we're still in class" He scolds.

Ace hops down and drops his weight down onto the chair. He wraps his arm around me, bringing me closer to him.

"Never doubted you for a second," I laugh.

***

School ends with majority of students gleaming in ardor. The latter simply didn't care about football or were skeptical of the team chemistry. Nonetheless, it was a happy day for Eastwood and this called for a celebration.

I wait for Nikki in front of Miss Jensen's, who never fails to dismiss them late. She catches a glimpse of me from the corner of her eyes and points a finger gun to her head, pulling the trigger. Class finally ends for her and she sprints out. If she were a cartoon, she would've left her skin. She drags me by the arm and we run down the stairs.

"Why are we rushing," I pant. She halts and checks the time on her phone.

"Okay so right now it's almost 4:00. We'll drive by your house to grab some stuff and hopefully finish by 4:45, giving us 15 minutes to drive to mine. Camille will be there by 5:00 and we'll have two and a half hours to get ready before the 30 minute drive to Ace's. She breathes.

I slow clap and she just tugs my arm with full force to her car.

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