Inning 13 ★ Life Throws a Curve

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Something horrible happened on Wednesday.

We were sitting at our usual table in the cafeteria when Jessica Ashford joined us, sitting next to Santiago. Suddenly my fries went from tasting bland to tasting rancid.

"Hi guys," she said this while taking one of Santi's fries and eating it slowly, as if she weren't used to fried stuff. Which was my guess, when I glanced at her tray and saw a salad that seemed to consist only of lettuce, tomato and one cucumber slice. One. Or maybe she'd been trying to be seductive, I didn't know. "What are you chatting about?"

We all exchanged glances. This was a first for everybody on this table, and it was clearly only possible because of whatever was going on between Santi and her. Chris caught his eye and Santi just shrugged. Ellen poked my thigh and I ignored her.

Anthony replied to her question with, "We were just talking about how much more grueling practice has got ever since Peyton joined the team."

She gasped and looked at me, her eyes shining. "You joined the team, Pey? I always thought you were like one of the boys but didn't know the school saw it that way too." Santiago looked at her in a weird way, but she'd gone back to eating her garden.

I licked my lips, just so my tongue could get busy with something other than insulting her back. I'd always been one of the boys and that never had bothered me until she came along.

"Only my friends can call me Pey, Jess," I said instead.

"Great! I'll call you Pey because we'll become best friends, right?"

She grabbed Santi's hand. In front of my face.

"I have a great idea," Ellen cut in. The boys zoomed in on her because they weren't stupid and they knew shit was getting awkward. I felt a sense of gloating when Santiago freed his hand and picked up his burger instead. "This weekend is the last one we have before we start the baseball season. Why don't we go to the beach together?"

"That'd be great," Chris said, and I nearly got infected by Ellen's smile.

"Booyah, I'm in." Anthony smacked the table. "One last chance at getting properly tanned before only my arms and face get chocolate brown."

"Narcissist," I muttered, rolling my eyes.

Santiago looked at me, and as he munched he asked, "Don't you have pee wee league on Saturdays?"

Jessica clicked her tongue. "Aw, that's too bad. It'd be fun if you could go."

"Oh, I'll go," I said, chewing on fries with my mouth open just to gross her out. I could tell it worked when her expression turned all sour. "I'll find a substitute for one day." And I just knew exactly who it'd be. My dad owned me my dignity after his Monday speech, and he'd had the decency to not approach me much since. I smiled at her. "It'll be grand."

When the bell rang, I jumped to my feet and tossed everything on my tray into the trash. I all but ran out of the cafeteria, but Ellen caught up with me.

"In my defense, I was planning on proposing that idea anyway. And the mood was just turning stormy and it was the first thing I thought of blurting out to avoid WWIII."

I glanced back at her, quickly being swallowed by the throngs of people. I slowed down for her. "You don't need to defend yourself, I'm not mad at you."

"Really? You looked pretty murderous back there."

"At her smug face, yes."

She grabbed my arm and stopped me, swinging me around to face her with a lot more strength than I thought she had. "You know what this means, right? She's going to wear a super hot bikini and we're going to look like stumps next to her. The boys won't even look at us."

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