After the meeting breaks up, Coach motions for me to follow him to his office. At first, I wonder if he is changing his mind about Annie. He motions for me to close the door as he sits at his desk.

"Have you worked out transportation?" Coach asks, writing something on his clipboard. "Are you riding on the bus with the team, or are you driving your own car?"

"I usually ride with the team . . ." I reply slowly.

"Hmm . . . If what you said about Annie wanting nothing more than to be friends is true, will she be opposed to riding on the bus with the team?"

"I . . . I don't know. I have not really thought about it. I guess I assumed she would ride on the bus, because the mascot usually comes with the team."

Coach nods, but does not look up from what he is writing.

"Ask Annie what she thinks about it," he says, shrugging. "Accommodate to her preference. She might not want to ride on the bus, in sight of prying eyes, but she might not want those same eyes to see her going in your car."

"Yeah," I say, nodding. "Was there anything else?"

"No, that's all."

I nod again before leaving the office. Jacks notices me walking out and sprints to catch up.

"What was that about?" he asks, falling in step with me.

"Nothing important," I reply, shrugging as I change the subject. "How's Karissa doing?"

"She's alright; she called me this morning to tell me that she no longer needs official proof that she is pregnant because she has had morning sickness every day this week."

"You should get a ring and finalize it, bro. It is rather obvious that she is waiting for you to ask."

"I already have the ring," Jacks sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. "I was going to ask her after the game that night, but then she told me about the baby and it flew out the window. She had told me before the game, which is probably why I kept stealing away to kiss her."

"Huh . . . Well, that clears that up. Bro, I need advice . . . About Annie."

"Talk to me," my brother grabs my shoulders and pulls me towards one of the empty hallways.

"Annie is coming to the game tonight," I explain, running my finger through my light brown-copper hair. "Apparently, she is at every game and I finally know why, but I don't know if she wants people knowing how that works, so I am not going to elaborate on that. Annie is going with me, but it is only as friends, and I do not know whether to have her sit with me on the bus, or we ride in my car. Both options have a setback. Annie does not want people thinking we are more than just friends. If she sits with me on the bus, people make assumptions. If I take her in my car, they assume the same thing."

I sigh and glance at my brother. He is nodding his head, mulling over my words.

"I did not think Annie was the girl who cared about that," Jacks says, after a few minutes. "In any case, you could do either one of those things. I can tell that you do not care, because you care about her. Sit with her on the bus and to hell with what anyone else thinks."

"Leave it to you to make it seem so simple," I say, grinning sheepishly.

"You know what might make Annie change her mind?" he asks, crossing his arms with a wide grin. "Kiss her. Always leaves an impression and usually works. Karissa told me a bit of your conversation from yesterday. She's right; Annie just needs to see that you are all in, no matter what."

"I know that, but how am I supposed to convince her?"

"Kiss her tonight, behind the bleachers, while everyone is busy cheering for the game."

"And if she slaps my face and never wants to speak to me again, what then?"

Jacks chuckles, "Eric," he says, resting a hand on my shoulder. "Quit worrying over nothing. Annie likes you, but just does not want to admit it because of . . . whatever. I've seen the very look she gives you when Karissa looks at me."

I blink; my brother nods with a knowing expression. I nod and we turn to head outside.

"There's a party at the house, next Saturday," Jacks' goes on as we head to my dorm. "Family and plus-ones invited. You're family; you should ask Annie to be your plus-one."

"She would only come if I did not think of it as a date," I point out, shaking my head, taking the stairs two at a time. "I might not live if she . . . If she were to decide to cut me off."

"She won't . . . Back to the main subject. Sit with her on the bus. Friends sit with each other all the time. If it will keep things smooth, I will sit nearby and pop into the conversation now and then."

I nod, "That would help a bit . . . You really think she looks at me like that?"

"Dude, I know she looks at you like that. Annie must be the type of girl who is headstrong . . . She doesn't want to admit, but she will . . . eventually and hopefully before it is too late."

I nod again and let out a sigh. Jacks' pats my shoulder as we approach my doorway. We are about to enter my room when someone calls my name. I turn and see Annie coming up the hallway. She is close to tears, which immediately wakes my concern.

"What's wrong?" I ask, letting my backpack fall down my arm before tossing it into my room.

"Can I hide out here until we leave?" Annie asks as a tear slides down her cheek.

"Yeah," I reply, nodding as I slide my arm around her shoulder and lead her inside.

I give Jacks a look and he nods.

"I'm going to go grab something to eat," he says, standing in the doorway. "Want me to bring anything back?"

"Chinese," I say, nodding.

"Alright . . . I'll be back later."

My brother slips out and closes the door softly. I lead Annie to my bed and we sit together.

"Are you okay?" I ask, lowering my voice as I tuck a hair behind her ear.

"I never hate anyone," Annie replies as another tears streams down her cheek. "Never . . . But I hate Mandy so much right now."

She starts to sob and I pull her against my chest. With my arms around her shoulders, I feel Annie relax a bit, but she still cries softly.

"Want to talk about it?" I ask, absentmindedly kissing the top of her head.

"In a minute," Annie replies softly, sniveling. "I don't think I want to share a dorm with that . . . that crazy piece of no-good girl, not anymore."

I kiss the top of her head again, hugging her closer. I have never liked Mandy. Whatever she said had to have been horrible, to make Annie seek refuge with me. I am an inch away from offering to let her stay here, but that would not look good. Not that I care what people would think, because I would know the truth, and that is all that would matter.

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