The next day after practice, I quickly picked up all the boys’ equipment. Renee was mysteriously absent again, and I waited alone outside the locker room for Bear. He finally came out with Andy and Cody, and wrapped me in a big sweaty hug.
But I had a new resolve, and I didn’t let my brain melt into his masculine smell and exceedingly good looks.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said, taking me by the hand.
We ended up at the Cook-Out down the road. (I let him choose without commenting.) We sat in the back of his truck bed and I ate my milkshake while he went on and on about baseball. (What’s new?)
“Hey, Bear?” I asked when he paused to stuff a French fry into his mouth.
I took a deep breath. “Is everything all right? With us?”
He looked at me like I was crazy.
“It’s just, lately, I feel like almost an afterthought to you,” I continued, knowing if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to finish. “Like I have to force you to hang out with me.”
“What are we doing right now?” he interrupted.
I rolled my eyes. “You sounded like this was the absolute last thing you wanted to be doing yesterday. Like, ‘Fine, I’ll rearrange my life to spend time with you to get you to stop bitching.’ I know, I know. It’s almost state finals. But still.”
He looked genuinely confused. “Damn, Emma, I didn’t mean to. I’m just busy this week, that’s all. I promise, when states are over…”
“It’s not just this week it’s been like this, Bear. I feel like you don’t like me anymore.”
“Well, I’m sorry, Emma.” We were both defensive by that point. “I obviously still like you, ‘cause I’m here now, aren’t I?”
My phone picked that moment to ring. Bear looked annoyed as I pulled it out of my pocket.
“Don’t answer that right now. I’m trying to talk to you,” he spat out.
“It’s Renee. I haven’t been able to get a hold of her all week.”
“So? Call her back later,” he said as I answered it.
“Emma?” Her voice was off and I instantly knew something was wrong.
“Renee? Are you alright?” I stuck my finger in my ear, trying to block out Bear, who was still bitching in the background.
“Can you come over?” she whispered.
“Um, I’m with Bear right now. What’s wrong?”
All the sudden, she burst into tears. “Me and Andy broke up,” she sobbed.
My hand came up to my mouth. “Renee, oh no. I’m coming. I’m on my way, okay? I’ll be there soon.”
“Okay,” she blubbered. “Thanks, Em.”
We hung up and I stared at Bear, shocked. “Andy and Renee broke up.”
“I know,” Bear grumbled. “He told me he was gonna, like, last week.”
My eyes got big. “And you didn’t tell me?” I nearly shrieked.
Bear shrugged, obviously pissed off. “It’s none of your business.”
“She’s my best friend! Of course it’s my business! I have to go,” I said, jumping down.
“Emma Gray, we’re in the middle of a conversation.”
“Bear, I have to go. My best friend just got broken up with.”
“Yeah, well, you’re about to be, too,” he yelled.
Everything stopped and my chest caved in. “What?” I rasped.
“You complain that I never hang out with you, but when I cancel my plans to do something with you, you run off with your friends? That’s not fair, Emma.”
“Are you telling me to pick you or Renee?”
He just shrugged.
“Well, you’ll lose that one every time. I have to go,” I said, my gaze steely.
Bear glared back from his vantage point atop the truck bed. “So that’s it then?”
“I guess so.” My voice wasn’t angry anymore.
“You really were different for me, Emma Gray. I never made any of that up.”
“Goodbye, Bear,” I said, turning away as I felt the tears pricking my eyes. I ran into the bathroom and called Lawrie to come pick me up. By the time he got there, Bear was gone.
I cried the whole story out to him on the way to Renee’s, and by the time we got there, I had semi gotten myself back together. Lawrie pulled into the driveway and stalled the engine. He hadn’t said much, other than to ask me if I was all right. He’d just calmly let me pour my heart out.
“Thank you, Lawrie,” I said, loving my brother more than ever.
He looked at me, protectiveness and concern etched into his brown eyes. “Call me if you need anything, Em.”
I nodded and shut the door behind me.
Before I even made it to the porch, I saw Renee hovering in the door frame, looking a total wreck (not that I was about to tell her so).
“Hey,” she offered a weak smile.
I pulled her into a hug that initiated two sets of waterworks.
Three hours, two boxes of Kleenex and one pint of Ben and Jerry’s later, we had both dished on our breakups.
“God, Emma Gray, aren’t we pitiful?”
This elicited a snort of laughter, and then we were crying again, but this time in a very different way.
“Who needs boys anyways?” Renee yelled as she sprawled out on the carpet in her basement bonus room.
“Who needs baseball?” I added.
“Those damn baseball boys. They think they’re so hot, with their little white pants.”
“They are so hot,” I grumbled.
Renee part giggled, part sobbed. Suddenly, she sat up. “A Walk to Remember?”
I nodded vigorously.
At 4:00 a.m. we were finally lulled to sleep by Macaulay Culkin in My Girl.
Renee dropped me off at home way later that morning, and I crawled upstairs to find Laney and Lawrie taking advantage of the break between practices to steal a nap. Lawrie had the blinds drawn and heavy blankets draped over each window, so, luckily, the boys couldn’t see my swollen eyes.
“’Ey,” Lawrie mumbled into his pillow as I slid between them.
“Hi,” I whispered.
“Everything all right?”
I nodded in the artificial darkness. “Who needs boys anyways?” I quoted Renee, slipping my hand into Lane’s.
“If it makes you feel any better, Andy didn’t look so hot this morning either,” Lane said groggily.
Lawrie yawned and rolled over. “Why’d they break up anyways? Sick of each other?”
I shrugged. “He was sick of being called whipped.”