“Geesh, Tay, aren’t you even going to wait until I have a chance to unpack a racket?” Gracie asked me as she set down her bag and unzipped the compartment with her favorite rackets. She kept them lined up in order of string tension and practiced with a different racket each day to gradually break them all in. By the time she got to a tournament, most of the rackets in her bag were optimized.
“No,” I grumbled. “Stay over here. I don’t want to hit you.”
“Okaaay…” She wisely slipped behind me and to the side, keeping a wide berth.
I tossed the next ball into the air and smacked it as hard as I could, not caring whether the serve was accurate. This wasn’t practice for me; it was blowing off steam, shaking off the aggression in my heart. Every ball I hit I imagined Kade’s smirk and I just wanted to smack him. Punch him. Hit him. Each ball had his face.
Then I realized his face was my face. Hating him was hurting us both. I screamed and almost smashed my racket against the court. Thankfully I kept my temper at bay.
“Hey.” Gracie’s soft voice was closer than I was expecting. She was brave to come this close to a guy who was a hair away from losing his temper. That woke me up. “You want to talk about it?”
“Not really.” I lowered my racket and let my arms go slack at my sides.
“I take it Kade moving in with you guys wasn’t your idea?” Her compassion was undeserved especially when I responded with sarcasm.
“Gee, what makes you think that?”
She didn’t answer, just pursed her lips and lifted her chin. Her long blonde hair pulled into a ponytail fell down her back.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be a prick.”
“Do you remember the first day we came here to the tennis courts two years ago?” she asked.
“Of course.” I knew where she was going with this. “I watched you from my bedroom window as you stormed out of your house carrying your tennis bag and wiping tears from your face.”
“And do you remember why I was crying and storming from my house?”
“Because your parents were fighting again.”
“And what did you do?” she asked.
“I followed you here like a stalker.” I chuckled and she joined in, breaking the tension.
“You listened,” she said. “Even though we barely knew each other, and I was a blubbering mess, we sat here on the court and you listened as I told you about my horrible day.”
“And you smiled afterward.”
“And then we played tennis together for an hour,” she said.
“And I was terrible.”
“You had room for improvement.” She raised her eyebrows. I knew she wasn’t just talking about tennis anymore.
“He’s a jerk, okay? I don’t want him living with me because he’s gonna ruin my life again when I finally have normal friends and a normal house and a normal life, and I don’t want his drama.”
“See, don’t you feel better now, getting that off your chest?” She raised her eyebrows. “If I know anything about my best friend it’s that you won’t let some jerk ruin your life.”
“Easier said than done when the jerk is family,” I grumbled.
“I’m never going to choose him over you, if that’s what you’re worried about. One date with your cousin isn’t going to change the friendship you and I share.”
“Unless you fall in love, grow up and get married.” I was trying to make a joke but the thought of them together that way was revolting. She deserved a guy better than him.
“Well, if that were the case, I’d have the best cousin-in-law ever.”
I almost corrected her that she’d have the best brother-in-law ever, but I kept myself in check. I held up my racket. “You ready to beat the crap out of me?”
“Definitely.” Before heading over to the other side of the court, Gracie tucked herself into my arms and we held each other in a comfortable hug for a long moment.
I wished she could be in my arms every day and go on dates with me, not my twin brother. But she didn’t like me that way, and I could understand why. I was boring and normal. Kade was a sexy, brooding bad boy with the potential to be a rock star someday. If he hadn’t gotten into trouble when he did, he’d probably already be a rock star. With our dad and his connections, Kade could pick his venue.
No girl would choose me over him, not even my best friend. I pulled back and handed her the ball I’d had in my hand. “You can serve first.”