The next two weeks of school were end-of-year testing for Advanced Placement classes, so Monday and Tuesday, Lawrie and I didn’t have to go to school, just to our exams. On Wednesday, Lawrie conveniently came down with some 24-hour bug, so Mom and Dad let him stay home.
After school, I headed down to the practice baseball field with Renee Carrigan (who’d been dating Andy Rucka, the catcher, for close to three years). Lawrie, being so terribly, terribly sick, wasn’t at practice. Renee, the other statistician/ballgirl/whatever we were, and I stretched out on a short wall of the dugout, leaning back.
“God, Andy looks good,” she said after a few minutes of comfortable silence. She was watching her boyfriend, letting her eyes roam up and down his body. I would’ve made fun of her, but I was too busy doing the same thing to Bear.
“Sometimes, after practice, when he’s all sweaty…”
This time, I did laugh and swatted her arm.
She grinned. “What? My boy is hot.”
Almost as if on cue, Andy looked over his shoulder, sending a wink to Renee. As her smile slowly grew, mine slowly fell. I was jealous!
I’d never been in a real relationship, not like Renee and Andy’s. Sure, I’d gone on dates here and there (Lawrie had too many friends for that not to happen), and it wasn’t like I’d never been kissed (again, thanks to Lawrie’s friends).
But I’d never had that one-on-one connection with someone, someone who made me feel right, someone I felt comfortable around. In fact, I’d never made it past the “trying to impress” stage.
The rest of the practice went by like usual. Renee and I were helping pick up all the equipment when I looked up to see Bear and Andy headed towards us. I immediately straightened, trying to smooth my hair down.
“Hey, Emma Gray.”
I couldn’t do anything but smile.
“What’s Lawrie up to? Faking a fever?” Andy teased, wrapping Renee in a hug.
I choked out a laugh and nodded, my eyes carefully avoiding Bear’s.
“All right, well, we’ll see you guys later,” Andy said.
Once the couple was out of earshot, Bear cleared his throat. “You waiting on Laney?”
I nodded, squinting up at him.
“Well, look, my buddy Ben’s having this party Saturday at the lake. You should come.”
My mind blanked. Bear was inviting me to a party!
I guess I must have stared for too long, because Bear started talking again. I didn’t hear anything he said, my mind was temporarily vacationing on Cloud Nine. I just kept nodding and smiling.
“… on your left. You can get there pretty much anytime after, like, 7:00 or so.”
“Okay,” I said dumbly.
Suddenly, calm, cool and collected Bear got flustered, pulling on his hat, his eyes flickering behind me. “Yeah, I mean, go ‘head and bring Lawrie and Laney if you want. It’s real casual.”
Correction: Bear was inviting me, Lawrie, and Laney to a party. Somehow, it just wasn’t the same.
I nodded to Bear and, suddenly, Lane was by my side.
“Hey, Em. You ready?”
“Yeah.” I let Lane lead me towards the parking lot, waving bye to Bear over my shoulder.
“Are you alright?” Lane asked me when we were out of earshot. “You look… weird.”
“Bear just invited me, us, to a party.”
“I heard,” Lane muttered, ushering me into the driver’s seat.
The car ride was silent until about halfway home when we hit a red light. Lane reached out and turned the radio off.
“You’re really into Bear.” It wasn’t a question, more of a realization he had just arrived at.
I half-smiled. “Well, yeah. So is half the school.”
Lane was quiet for a couple seconds. “I don’t know, Em,” he sighed.
I started a little bit. “What?”
Lane was playing with his (faint) five o’clock shadow. It had started making a regular appearance that spring and his fingers couldn’t quite get used to it. “I don’t know, I just… don’t really think Bear Williams is your type.”
“My type?” I echoed. I was in somewhat of a shock now, and my voice had risen in proof.
“Yeah. Bear is… Bear’s real flirty, Emma.”
I kept staring at Lane, just begging him to keep talking.
“He’s not really boyfriend material. I just don’t want you to overestimate him.”
I’m not going to lie, I was slightly pissed. (And since when did boys measure each other’s “boyfriend material”?)
“Lane, what are you talking about?” I exasperated. The light changed and I focused back on the road.
“Look, all I’m saying is Bear asks a lot of girls out, but when’s the last time he had a steady girlfriend?”
Okay, he had a point. I blushed a little. “I know, Laney. And, besides, Bear’s never asked me out,” I relented.
Lane screwed up his face. “Yeah, he has. He just did.”
I shook my head. “Uh uh. He invited the three of us to a party.”
Lane paused for a second. “Bear’s crushing hard on you, Emma.”
I blinked. “Shut up,” I whispered.
“No, I’m not kidding. Why do you think I’m talking to you about all this? He’s gonna lay it on thick for, like, about a month, get what he wants, and move on.”
Okay, now I was blushing for real. “Lane!”
“What? I’m just saying. I know Bear; I’ve heard him talk.”
“Gee, thanks,” I said, heavily sarcastic.
It got quiet after that. Lane left me alone to sit with my thoughts. I was see-sawing between extreme excitement and equally as extreme fear and doubt.
By the time I’d turned into my neighborhood, I’d decided I just had to go to the party and find out what Bear’s intentions were. Naturally, I would make Lawrie and Laney go with me, in case Lane was wrong and Bear wasn’t “crushing hard.”
And once that was decided, my mind drifted towards the great conundrum: what to wear?
“My buddy Ben’s having this party at the lake,” I replayed in my head. My buddy Ben. Ben McKnight. Rich, preppy, sexy Ben McKnight.
But what does one wear to a Ben McKnight lake party?
“It’s real casual.”
Did that mean bathing-suit-and-cover-up-casual or don’t-wear-your-stilettos-casual? I had no idea. I’d never been to a lake party. Especially not a Ben McKnight lake party. I decided to ask Lawrie about it. He was more into that scene than I was.
That reminded me.
“Are you gonna go?” I asked Lane, my voice just above a whisper, as I pulled into the driveway.
“To Ben’s party. Are you gonna go?”
Lane looked sort of confused. I shut the engine off, but made no move to leave.
“I dunno,” he answered finally. “Do you want me to?”
I shrugged. “It’s whatever.” I tried to say it nonchalantly, but my voice was a little too quiet to pass it off.
Lane continued to stare at me. “Sure, I’ll go,” he said flatly, unbuckling. “I mean, as long as Lawrie goes. He’s good with these things.”
Lane disappeared into Lawrie’s room and I didn’t see either one of them for the rest of the evening, but the whole afternoon was on replay in my head all night. I went to bed feeling oddly unsettled, but by the time I fell asleep, Lane’s words of caution had been pushed out of my head and replaced instead with a rough, sexy voice telling me, “My buddy Ben’s having this party Saturday at the lake.
“You should come.”