What the heck was that? We went from casual flirting in the friend zone to suddenly gazing into each other’s eyes like lovesick puppies. Okay, that pretty much describes me anyway. But Amberlyn has made it clear she’s not looking for a relationship so soon after breaking up with Skyler and I’m trying to respect that.
She wasn’t making it easy on me.
I led her around the four netted batting enclosures where my buddies were in various stages of practice. Off-season training was crucial for success come spring, and we all knew it.
Most of the guys were from our school so it wouldn’t surprise me if she knew them, but she didn’t seem to shrink away or hide the fact that we were holding hands. That had to mean something, right?
“Dude, what the heck?” Taylor James called to me from just inside the furthest cage. He and Russel Cade were pitching and catching, like they did most mornings. “When did you two start going out?”
“We’re not,” Amberlyn and I said at the same time, then turned to each other and grinned.
“Not really… I mean…”
“Yeah, right, man, sell it to someone else.” Taylor turned to Amberlyn. “I take it you’ve gotten over that idiot who was stupid enough to dump the coolest girl in our senior class.”
“Aiden has been an instrumental part of my ability to spring back from that betrayal,” Amberlyn said with a flirting lilt. Dang, she knew how to turn on the charm.
“She’s just decided she likes baseball players better than football,” I teased right back.
“Well you’ve come to the right place,” Taylor said, raising his hand like a gameshow host. “We have lots of baseball players here. Take your pick.”
“Speak for yourself,” Russel called, standing up from where he was crouched waiting to catch Taylor’s pitches. “I have a girlfriend.”
“That’s okay, Russ,” Amberlyn called back. “I think I’ve already chosen my favorite baseball player.” She gave my hand a little squeeze and I fought the urge to jump into the air and pump my fist.
“I dunno, you haven’t even seen me pitch,” Taylor said, leaning closer. “You might want to keep your options open.”
“I haven’t seen any of you play,” Amberlyn said. “For some weird reason y’all don’t have a cheerleading squad for baseball season.”
“Yeah, why is that?” I asked, pulling back and rubbing my chin thoughtfully. “I think you should start one.”
“I agree.” Taylor’s tone was serious. “And bring lots of your friends.”
“Hey, that reminds me,” Amberlyn said, looking up at me. “What position do you play?”
“That’s just ‘cause he’s lazy,” Taylor said. “He knows all he has to do is stand there and hold out his glove and the rest of us send the balls to him.”
“You’re one to talk, all you do is stand on that mound and play catch with your little friend, Russ.”
“I resemble that remark,” Russ called from the other side of the cage. “Now, can we please stop flirting with the hot cheerleader and get back to practice.”
“Duty calls.” Taylor held up his gloved hand and offered me a fist bump through the net. “Good to see ya, man. Amberlyn, let me know if you change your mind and want to see a real man play baseball.”
“Very funny,” Amberlyn said. “See ya in civics class.”
“Bye, Amberlyn,” Russ called.
“Bye, Russ.” She waved lightly with her free hand, the one that wasn’t holding mine.
I relished in the way she gripped my hand as if she didn’t plan to let go. I didn’t want her to let go, but I really did need to get practicing. I led her upstairs to the lounge and pointed out where she’d be able to look right down and see everything I did. No pressure on me. Gulp.
She leaned over the railing expectantly and I bounded down the stairs. After a few good practice hits, I set the pitching machine to 95 mph and hoped for the best.