Inning 25 ★ The Game is Called

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A weird series of events found me driving to a party with Ellen next to me and Gigi chattering away in my backseat. It had been planned for tonight, regardless of whether we won or lost. But the fact was that we won and were now one game away from winning district. Exactly where we'd been last year.

But we were completely different people now.

I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel and itched to grab my phone. I wanted to check if Santi had arrived at the party. Gigi was so excited that it was in the UCF area; there were guaranteed to be college boys. And girls, I added in my mind, competition for her. They'd convinced me to wear a form fitting slip of a dress that Gigi owned and had me feeling major self conscious, but they caught me riding a high after that huge win and I let them get me into it, because I wanted to see if I could feel high from being girly, as well.

When we got to the house I had a niggling feeling that we'd encounter trouble tonight. It looked like a frat house.

"Guys, we don't have to do this," I said, looking as a group of people spilled out of the house, drinks in hand, laughing about something or someone. "We're still minors, you know."

Gigi just said, "Live a little!" And jumped out of the car before I'd even found a good parking spot.

My best friend looked at me, much more serious than I'd have expected. "If you weren't here, what would be the alternative? Going home to dwell on the win or on how it's been a year since the accident?"

I didn't answer her question. Instead I found a decent parking spot clearing not far from the entrance of the residence. I parked my car and we got out, making a mental note of exactly where it was in case shit went south and we had to make a dash for it.

There was a wall of music as soon as we walked in, louder than a regular house party. Either these guys had serious dough to spend on a sound system or-

"Holy shit!" Ellen screamed, and to me it almost sounded like a whisper.

There was a live band. In a house. What the hell?

They were playing some rock song I didn't recognize, maybe an original, but they sounded right up my alley. I tried to Shazam them but no dice. The lead singer was a thick girl with hair that had a life of its own, and her voice did all sorts of things that made me wonder if it was autotune. But someone made a mistake that rattled the rest of the band for a second, and I realized they were live. Holy shit, indeed. I tried to ask someone the name of the band but all I could make out was the word Funeral.

I wanted to find out more about them, but more importantly I wanted to find our friends. Ellen and I grabbed hands and set out to explore. We passed a group of people playing beer pong, then another group of what seemed to be like a competition of making out the longest. My best friend nudged me and openly pointed at a guy who was checking me out. There was something definitely sleazy about him and I sped up the pace.

Ellen saw them by the pool in the back. Great as the music was, I was thankful to be able to hear my thoughts again as we stepped outside. What they were telling me where lovely things like, what is that bitch doing, or what the fuck is going on. Lots of cussing overall when I saw Jessica run her hands down Santi's chest. He stepped back and turned his head, seeing me for the first time but as if I'd pulled an invisible thread that drew his attention. I just raised an eyebrow to him and he shook his head very slightly.

We were still play-acting at being just friends, and since no one except Ellen knew better, there was no way Jessica could be doing this on purpose. Except that she'd said she was over him. So what the hell?

And then I saw McCann sitting with a beer to the side, staring at them.

"Well, that's awkward," Ellen voiced the understatement of the year.

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