I raised my head from where it rested on my knees and frantically wiped the tears from my face. Oh my gosh, how embarrassing. Matt Bailey stood in front of me, out of breath, in his basketball shorts and practice jersey, squirting water into his mouth from a Gatorade bottle.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked.
Was that a rhetorical question? The hallway where I’d come to be alone and wallow in defeat wasn’t quite as private as I’d hoped. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Uh… sitting on the floor, crying?”
“Ding, ding, ding, you get a prize,” I said. Just to add humiliation to my misery, Matt sat beside me and leaned his back against the cinderblock wall.
“Why are you sitting on the floor, in an empty hallway, far away from the overflow gym when the rest of your team is finishing practice? Are you hurt?”
“I got cut, okay?” I kept wiping at my eyes, wishing I had a tissue.
“Cut? It’s the first day of tryouts.” Matt had known me for years. He’d seen me play in previous seasons. We’d been friends forever. This all should have been obvious.
“I can’t shoot. I didn’t land a single shot the whole afternoon, and I’m too fat to run back and forth across the gym.”
“Oh, please,” Matt scoffed. “You’re not fat.”
“Way to invalidate my feelings.”
“What did you want me to say? Wow, you have gained a few pounds. That must be tough.”
I couldn’t help it. I burst into fresh tears.
“I was joking,” Matt said frantically. “Don’t you have a tissue or something? Here, take my shirt.”
Take notes, guys, if you want a girl to notice you, take off your shirt and hand it to her to dry her eyes. Especially if you have abs of steel and pecs that bulge when you take each deep, glorious breath.
I accepted Matt’s shirt and wiped the makeup from where it was running down my cheeks.
His musky deodorant combined with the after-hint of whatever cologne he’d sprayed on himself this morning did something intoxicating to any sweat that permeated his t-shirt. I tried really hard not to go out of my way to take a big whiff.
“Better?” He raised his eyebrows, obviously concerned. I’m not sure if he was worried I’d start crying again or just genuinely concerned for my mental well-being. “Why don’t you start from the beginning and tell me everything.”
“Well, you see, there was this giant box of Twinkies I just couldn’t resist.”
Matt threw his head back and laughed. “Stop, you’re gonna make me die of laughter.”
“Okay, in all seriousness, I think it’s just hormones. I mean, I’m not eating wrong or sitting around eating doughnuts and binge-watching old sitcoms.”
“Trina, I don’t care about your weight,” he said. He doesn’t? “What happened in the gym that made you so upset you ran out here to start crying?”
“Coach read off the list of people who made it through the first round of cuts, and… my name wasn’t on the list.”
“It’s my senior year. I wanted to make it count.” I stopped and shook my head, letting out a deep breath. “What am I supposed to do with my time now that I don’t have practice? I was counting on that keeping me busy.”
“We’ll think of something.” Even though his tone was reassuring, there was nothing he could do to make this better. He didn’t know what it was like. He would be a starting point guard. He had everything going for him.
I started to stand, but remembered something that was good news. “Oh, hey, your exchange student made it through the cuts.”
“Ariane? That’s awesome. She’s going to be so happy.” Matt stood and reached down to help me. When he got me into a standing position, momentum pulled me forward, and I fell into his arms.
How incredibly embarrassing! How incredibly amazing his bare chest muscles were. His hands rested on my hips to steady us both, and he looked down into my eyes.
“You okay?” He hadn’t removed his hands from my hips. There was probably a lot more meat on these bones than any other girls’ hips he might have held.
I pulled away and held up his shirt. “Sorry, I got mascara on your shirt. Do you want me to take it home and wash it?”
“Nah, it’s just gonna get covered in sweat again anyway.” He took the shirt from my hands and evaluated the damage. There wasn’t really that much mascara on the shirt. Then he sniffed the fabric and wrinkled his nose. “Ugh, I am definitely taking this home to be washed. I am so sorry I forced this nasty smelling shirt on you.”
“I didn’t mind.” Boy was that true. Maybe he thought it smelled like sweat. All I smelled was his cologne, and, wow. I started toward the gym to pick up my duffel bag and head home. I turned back toward him. “Was there something you needed down this hallway?”
“No, I heard someone crying and came to investigate.” He picked up his pace and then fell into step beside me. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.” He put his bare arm around my shoulder.
“I’m okay.” My voice didn’t hold nearly enough confidence. “I’ll be okay.”
“By the way, thank you so much for befriending Ariane. Not that she doesn’t understand English, but she really appreciates having someone who can speak French.”
“It’s good for me too,” I said. “After three years of high school French, you’d think I’d know more than I do.”
“By the time she goes home after Christmas break, you’ll be fluent.” He still hadn’t removed his arm from around my shoulders, but I wasn’t going to complain.
“I highly doubt it but thank you for your confidence in me.”
“No problem.” He lowered his arm and slipped his shirt over his head. “Hey, do you need a ride home?”
“It’s only two blocks.” I shrugged. “I can just call my mom.”
“You could ride with me and Ariane,” he said. “We have to drive right past your subdivision anyway.”
“Okay, I appreciate that. Thank you.”
“No problem. I’ll go grab my stuff and meet you outside the gym.”
“I’ll find Ariane while I’m grabbing my bag,” I said.
“See you in a few minutes.”
Wow, his smile is genuine.
He’s out of my league. Man, I wish he wasn’t out of my league.
Great news! Basketballs and Mistletoe: All's Fair in Love and Sports Series is now available on Amazon!
A stand alone novella in the All's Fair in Love and Sports Series by Julie L. Spencer.