Great. We no longer had the gym to ourselves. At least two dozen people were scattered within the first few rows of bleachers at about half court. I slipped my bag off my shoulders and dug out my basketball.
“What do you say we start from the outside and work our way in?” Dylan suggested.
“I thought you wanted me to run today?” I stretched for a moment then made my way to the far corner where we left off the day before.
“Your fan club wants to see you shoot,” he said.
I glanced over and gave them a little wave, then dribbled a couple of times, mentally calculating the distance to the hoop. Even though I was almost to the far wall on the other side of the court, I lobbed it in as if I were standing at the free throw line. I guess those hours in the weight room first trimester were paying off.
“Three hundred and fifty-four,” Dylan said.
“Can’t we just start back at one and add them up at the end?”
I continued shooting. I wondered if the spectators would eventually get bored, but they kept watching, occasionally applauding and cheering but mostly just watching. I started visualizing how it would feel to stand in a large arena, playing on a pro team. I decided I didn’t want anything distracting me, so I corrected my focus back to the task at hand.
As I got closer and closer to the hoop, the crowd got more and more excited until finally I was again directly under the hoop, glanced up through the net, and rolled the ball off my fingers, completing a perfect rotation back to where I’d started the day before. The remaining spectators cheered, and I took a little bow.
My first words echoed that of the day before. “I’m hungry.”
A boy came running across the court and I realized it was my little brother, Carl. “That was amazing!” He lifted me and twirled me around in a circle.
“I didn’t know you were watching.” I laughed and wrapped my arms around his shoulders.
“I hid behind a couple people so I wouldn’t distract you.” Carl stopped spinning and set me on my feet.
“Hi, I’m Dylan.” Was that a hint of jealousy?
“Carl.” My brother shook Dylan’s outstretched hand. “I’m Chris’s little brother.”
Dylan visibly relaxed. He was jealous. Hmm. “You’re kind of taller than Christine. I’d hesitate to call you her little brother.”
“Yeah, I keep forgetting I’ve grown.” Carl reached up and scuffed my hair.
“Hey, you’re messing up my ponytail.” I shooed him away, pulling my hair down from its scrunchy and shaking it out, letting it fall across my shoulders. I glanced up to see Dylan’s jaw dropped. “What?”
He pulled his mouth shut, gulped and then shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. He took a step back and shuffled his feet, staring at the gym floor. I couldn’t help chuckling.
“Let’s walk home and see what mom’s got in the crockpot today,” Carl said.
“Food, I’m excited about. Walking, ugh.”
“I can drive you guys home,” Dylan suggested. “My car’s right outside.”
“That would be awesome, man.” Carl nodded. “Thanks.”
“Yeah, that will save us from freezing our cheeks off.” My stomach tingled at the thought of riding home with him. Why? That was stupid. I’d spent hours with Dylan the past few days. What could be any different about him driving me home?
“Cool. Let me just go grab my bag and coat.”
We all walked over to the entrance of the gym and I donned my boots and coat, slipped my ball into my bag, and slung the bag over my shoulders.
“That is your car?” Carl stopped short when he saw the only vehicle in the now-empty parking lot.
The three of us walked toward a sleek black Dodge Charger with pristine tires and the latest body style. Dylan had a brand-new car?
That was confirmed when he held open the door and the passenger-side floormats still had the paper covering left by the dealership to deter footprints during test drives. From the barely-visible prints, I could tell this car had been test-driven once.
“Oh, sorry.” Dylan leaned in and pulled the paper off, wadding it into a ball and shoving it in the pocket of his jacket.
“New car?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Yeah, well—” He stammered. “We thought it would be best to have something less—I mean, something sturdy to drive around in Michigan winters.”
Why was he so nervous about his car? I climbed in and was careful not to allow any mess from my boots to taint the floormats, now that I knew my shoes were the first to touch them.
I couldn’t decide which smelled better. The new car, or whatever cologne Dylan wore. They equally hung light in the air. While he was walking around to slip into the driver’s side, I drew in several deep breaths.
Confusion pulled my attention away from the olfactory bliss when Dylan reached in and pulled a lever then shut his door again. I realized my brother had yet to get in the back seat. The hood of the car opened. Was he having car trouble?
I opened the passenger door and lifted myself off the seat to see around the front to where the two teenage boys were standing at the front of the car. “What’s wrong?”
“You gotta come see this,” Carl called to me. I sighed.
“See what?” I climbed out and walked around the front. The engine was perfect, like showroom perfect. Pristine, silver, shining in the overhead parking lot lights. My brother loved cars and hoped to be a mechanic someday. This was his equivalent of a basketball court. I hated to do this to him. “Guys, I’m still hungry.”
“Okay.” Carl sighed but didn’t move. Dylan reached up to unhook the prop rod and lowered the hood slowly. Carl took a step back and his shoulders slumped.
“I’ll let you drive it sometime, okay?”
“No kidding?” Carl hurried to get into the back seat and looked around like a kid in his favorite toy store. We all settled in and pulled our seatbelts into place.
“Where to?” Dylan raised his eyebrows. He almost seemed to be avoiding eye contact. Weird.
“Turn right at the corner.” I pointed ahead. “We’re two blocks down Elm St.”
“And you walk every day?” Dylan put his car into gear and reached his hand up to my headrest as he looked behind to back up. He caught my eye while pulling his head back around.
Did I seriously just batt my eyelashes at him? Oh crap. Was I flirting with Dylan? Stop it, right now, Christine. I lowered my gaze.
“I could—” He coughed lightly as he shifted into drive. “—give you a ride home. Ya know, on days when it’s really cold like this.”
Or even on days that are warm, I thought to myself.
“Can you pick us up in the mornings too?” Carl asked from the backseat.
“Carl!” I turned and glared at him. “You shouldn’t invite yourself like that.”
“I’d love to.” Dylan’s voice was husky. He cleared his throat. “I mean, it’s cold in the mornings too, right?”
“Yeah it is,” Carl agreed. He just wanted the chance to ride in Dylan’s hot car. Neither of them realized I wanted to ride with the hot guy who was driving.
What was I thinking? I had to stop this before it started, like it ever would. Like someone as hot as Dylan would ever look twice at a plain girl like me. Of course, he did get visibly distracted when I pulled my hair down from my ponytail. Maybe. I was so lost in contemplation I forgot to tell him which house was ours.
“Stop here,” Carl said. Dylan pushed on the brakes and the car halted almost instantly, pushing me against my seatbelt. “The house on the left with the green mailbox.”
I was suddenly a little self-conscious of our humble abode. With his fancy clothes and brand-new car, Dylan must be well off. We were quite obviously not rich. It had never occurred to me to care until now.
“Thanks for the ride.” Carl hopped out but continued staring, walking around the back to ogle a bit more.
“What time should I pick you up in the morning?” His voice was husky again.
“We usually leave about 7:30, but that’s because we need to factor in walking time.”
“I wouldn’t want to alter your routine,” he said. “We’ll be plenty early, ya know, in case we want to take a quick look at our geology homework before class starts.”
“Good idea.” I unbuckled my seat belt, hesitated a second, and then opened the door. “Thanks again for the ride.”
“See ya in the morning,” he said as I closed the door and took a step away from the car, watching as he backed out of our driveway.
Carl stood beside me and sighed. “That is one hot car.”
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s exactly what I was thinking too.” I turned and headed to the house.
Although dinner was later than usual, our routine didn’t change and soon we were sitting at the dining room table. As I pulled my textbook and notebook from my backpack, I realized I’d grabbed the wrong notebook.
“Eddie,” I whispered, hopefully not loud enough for Carl to hear me. He did.
“How’s Eddie doing these days?” Carl asked before shoving a bite of food in his mouth.
“Um, good, I guess.” I smoothed out the notebook and grabbed my pen. “He’s only allowed to write once a week, so there’s a delay between our letters.”
“Tell him I said hi.” Carl opened his math textbook, oblivious to the way my hand hovered over the page.
I had no reason to hesitate. I had done nothing wrong. I shoved all thoughts of Dylan from my mind or tried to anyway. I put my pen to the page. Eddie, guess what? I made 353 shots in a row yesterday and another 289 shots today. My gym teacher wants to invite college recruiters to come see me. Isn’t that exciting? I might actually have the chance to go to college…