I was sitting at the table where Rick had left me. I had just finished reading Riley's letter and my emotions were in free fall. I felt angry, surprised, happy, hurt and angry, all at once. Before I realized what was happening,my vision blurred and gravity took over the march of tears. Just as I was reaching up to wipe them the bell rang signaling the start of 'home room'.
The clatter of students leaving the Cafeteria drowned all, and I wasn't aware of him till he sat and spoke.
"You alright, bud?" (just a tidy up)
I must have appeared confused... but what I really felt was a mixture of fear and wonder. I didn't know who this boy was, but based on his looks, I was almost sure he was popular. It didn't bode well that I was sitting at a table with tears running down my cheek... .alone. I realized I was staring.
Oddly, he was staring back! His eyes seemed so expressive, so alive. They truly seemed to be a window into his soul. I just stared, afraid to turn away. I saw in them concern, wonder and something I just couldn't place.
His eyes brows began to furrow and a puzzled expression sealed his face.
"Dude... you're starting to freak me out... are- you- all- right?"
He was stressing every syllable, but I noticed that each one was heavily layered with unmistakable concern.
I shook my head gently from side to side, transfixed by not only his looks, but also by his apparent attitude.
"Umm... I'm ... I... " shaking my head again "I'm alright, thanks. I just got some... interesting news, I guess."
I prayed he wouldn't ask me to explain. Our eyes were locked, still lost in the obsession. I saw what seemed to be a flicker of fear. He looked away deferring further inquiries.
"Well, you know the bell just rang... so maybe we should look at heading to class... you sure you're going to be OK"? He looked at me again. "Want me to walk with you?"
I couldn't help but smile. He was really being... .well... sweet!
"Nah,... no thanks. I'll be alright. What's your name, by the way?"
He smiled uncomfortably and contorted as if to shake off the embarrassment of introduction.
"It's Mike. Mike Sorenson. What's yours?"
His right eye brown rose slightly. "Just Chase?"
I couldn't help but smile. He exuded a natural charm that I couldn't help but find irresistible.
"Chase Thomas. Ah, look... thanks a lot for your concern, but maybe we should head to class now." I glanced over at the clock. "Home room's almost over."
Smiling at him one last time, I made a hasty retreat, determined to find out as much I could about him. When I reached the Cafeteria door, I stopped briefly and turned my head to take one final glance at him. I didn't realize he was so close behind me until it was too late. When I stopped abruptly, he walked straight into me. Worse still, having turned my head along with the sudden stop, his lips smacked onto my right check before he was able to stop himself.
"Oh God. I'm so sorry!"
I was beyond embarrassed. When I looked up at him, expecting to see an angry expression, I was surprised to see him smiling. My heart melted.
"It's alright... " and shaking his head with an evil grin, "Later Chase."
Oh shit! He remembered my name !)
With that, he was gone.
"Why are we here?" I heard Rick ask me as we sat on one of the empty bleachers in the school's gym. "I didn't know we were allowed to watch practices."
"Patience, my friend... You'll see soon enough." I replied.
I took a glance at my watch: 4:05pm. The basketball team had been practicing for nearly an hour now. Practice was about to finish. Scanning the players as they rushed from one end of the court to the other, I spotted the reason for our visit.
In hushed tones and pointing as discretely as I could, I said,"You see that guy over there... the tall blonde? He just got the ball."
Rick followed my finger. "Do you mean Mike? Number 23?"
"Yeah, do you know him?"
"Of course! Who doesn't know him?" Rick said almost indignantly. "He's the damn captain of the team... not to mention that he's also on the swim team AND the debate team."
I must have looked crestfallen and Rick quickly picked up on the change in my demeanor. "Why, what's up? ...w-a-i-t... " looking almost puzzled, "How do you know Mike?"
I slumped back in the chair sighing heavily and thought about our earlier meeting. I looked at Rick, then back at the players on the court. I closed my eyes, reminiscing on the friendly conversation I had had earlier. I turned back to face Rick, tuning out the thunder of feet beating against the wooden floor.
"After you left me this morning with Riley's letter--" Rick cut me off.
"I've been meaning to ask you about that. What did he say?"
"A whole load of crap. Basically, he wants to get back together. He also wants me to call him."
"Are you going to?"
I took a while to think about it. I didn't want to say 'yes', but truthfully, I wasn't sure that I wanted to say 'no' either. I could feel Rick looking at me expectantly, patiently awaiting my answer. I let him wait.
I focused my attention on Mike. He had just got the ball, and I watched as he gracefully dribbled down the court towards the west basket. He looked left for a moment, scanning his team, preparing to make a pass. I watched and his eyes quickly glanced into the stands. He saw me. Our eyes locked for a split second before he released the ball, sending it spinning out of bounds. His face flushed.
"Earth to Chase. Look homie, forget about white boy right now... you gonna call him or not?"
"Call who?" I heard myself ask, still locked in my trance, "Oh... I don't plan on it." I deadpanned. Just then the coach's bellowing voice echoed through the gym.
"SORENSON! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT!"
Mike immediately started to full flush, glancing at me a second before turning his gaze to the coach.
"Sorry, Coach. I got a bit-- distracted."
Coach seemed indignant. "Distracted! You're getting distracted?... N-O-W? WHAT THE HELL IS DISTRACTING YOU! We have one more week before the tournament and you're getting ... DISTRACTED!...TAKE A LAP... .everyone else, hit the showers."
As the other players moved almost solemnly toward the locker room, Mike began his lap; head held low. I watched him, unashamed of my blatant staring. He looked so... shy... no, ... sexy. I didn't know much about him, but shy just didn't seem like his personality type... 'sexy' however, definitely fit somewhere.
His oversized basketball jersey loosely draped his upper body, giving me just enough of a view to admire his athletic tone. He was much more 'built' than me, and far more toned. His pecs., which were visibly protruding were glazed by a thin layer of sweat as he jogged the perimeter of the court. I could see the muscles bouncing gently in time with his curls. I was momentarily dazzled when he gently shook the stray hairs away from his forehead. Damn he was beautiful!
"EARTH TO CHASE... EARTH TO CHASE!"
I turned my head briefly, aware that Rick was looking at me with a puzzled expression
"What's up with you, dude?...Ever since we got here, it's like you're damn in lo... ."
Realization seemed to hit him. "Hold up! Why did you say we were here again?"
"I didn't say." I stated simply, turning my focus back to Mike who was approachingour area. I looked at Rick, my eyes pleading with him to let the issue drop for the moment. Thankfully, he did.
As Mike approached, he looked up into the stands, his eyes meeting mine, and then slowly focusing on Rick. He looked back where "Coach" was supposed to be and seeing that the old man had left, he stopped jogging and made his way towards us. He looked tired.
Rick looked at me. I quickly returned his glance. My heart skipped a beat, but I was determined to appear cool.
"Hey Chase, what's up?"
His voice sounded so comforting.
He was now standing in front of me. Our eyes met. It was as if I was watching him in slow motion. I saw a glow muster in his cheeks. He looked away, as if trying to muster support from the now empty stadium.
"Nothing much... Just... figured I'd watch you guys practice."
I had hoped to sound matter of fact, but there was an incredulous expression plastered on Mike's face. I was now the one to blush.
Clarity hit. Rick was still beside me, waving his head side to side. A light bulb appeared to have gone off in his head. He eyed Mike and nodded me.
I turned to look at Rick.
"Hey Rick... ummmm, do you think you could give me a minute here with Mike. I need to tell him something. I'll meet you outside OK?"
As I said this, I had narrowed my eyes, looking deeply into Rick's, almost daring him to refuse. He smiled, flicked his eyebrows and then nodded to Mike. Smiling, he simply said, "Later dude!"
Both Mike and I watched him walk away. Neither of us said anything, waiting for clearance.
I was alone with him! My heart began beating faster and I felt dizzy. I wasn't sure what I needed to say to him. I was sure what I wanted to say, but unsure if I could actually say it.
I turned to face him. Raising my eyes to him, I saw that he was already squaring me. I smiled shyly; again thankful that my complexion was enough to hide the blush.
"Look, I know that you have to get showered and changed and all of that, so I won't keep you. I just wanted to thank you for looking out for me this morning. I... I really appreciated it... So... thanks, I guess."
Mike smiled. His eyes narrowed as he looked at me; searching my eyes for answers to questions he had yet to ask. I immediately felt paralyzed. I was looking at an angel. My eyes met his bluish grays and almost instantly, they locked. I noticed his deeply chiseled face, smooth, straight nose and dimpled chin. I saw his nicely framed eye brows arched, as he silently questioned me. I saw his lips. Soft, pink, and full... slightly parted and wet-looking...
I didn't look away. Silently, I willed my eyes to bare my soul. I wanted him to know me. I wanted him to see the person I really am. I wanted him to see the pain of my past and my joy at our future. I wanted him to see the potential of my love.
Breaking the trance, Mike was the first to speak, "No probs. Bud. That's what friends do, right?"
Damn, he was cute! My eyelids scrunched.
"Yeah, it is... but we're not exactly friends... yet. The first time I saw you was this morning... remember?"
His face contorted into a puzzled expression. He was thinking. Very briefly his face lit up. It was so fast that I wasn't sure if it had actually happened. He opened his mouth to speak, calculating every word before it left his lips. His eyes squinted.
"So, umm, you said this morning was the first time you saw me?"
"Yup." I marveled at my eloquence.
"But... " still speaking deliberately, "if it was your first time... how did you know that I was on the team?"
The look on my face must have been classic dork. All of a sudden I heard him chuckle. He was still looking at me, and I knew I had to answer. An imperative pushed us. His teammates would soon begin filing out of the changing room and our privacy would be withdrawn.
"Well, after you left this morning, I sort of... looked you up." I said bowing my head.
"What did you say, dude?" He sounded more amused than angry. I felt my courage level begin to rise.
"Well, during lunch I looked you up in the year book. I found out that you had a class with my friend Megan, and I asked about you."
I said all of this while looking down; my eyes focused on his feet. I was afraid to meet his gaze. After a moment's silence, I went on with my explanation.
"She told me that you were on the team and that you guys were practicing every day this week for some kind of tournament, or something. So, I thought I'd stop by and thank you... you know... for this morning... "
I finally built up the courage to look up. He was staring at me, slightly amused... smiling. He seemed pleased. I went on, deciding to take the plunge.
"AND... well... I was wondering if you'd want to do something sometime... like a movie or something... "
My heart began beating faster and my palms began to feel moist. I was suddenly embarrassed about the implications. He took a deep breath, about to say something... I assumed he was about to reject me and then laugh in my face. I cut him off, quickly.
"Look, I was just thinking that... you know... I could sort of treat you to a movie or some food... to show you how much I appreciate you doing what you did this morning. You could have just left and gone to 'home room'... but you didn't, you know, and I'm just grateful."
A slow grin spread across his face. He cocked his head. I couldn't help but smile back.
"Sure. I'd like that, Chase."
Just then, the changing room doors opened and two guys from the team walked onto the court towards the exit doors. They were standing side by side, busily chatting. I looked at Mike, and then at the guys. Mike looked at the guys and then returned his eyes.
Suddenly it wasn't just a stare anymore. I felt something deeper, but quickly locked that feeling away.
"Look, I'd better go shower up. When did you want to ... you know... "
"Well, that depends. You want to see the movie, or go for food?"
His answer both surprised and thrilled me.
"How 'bout both. We could catch the early movie and then grab a bite to eat."
"SURE!!!" My eyes grew wide as I realized how quickly I had said that. I bowed my head, again looking again at his shoes, too embarrassed to face him.
I looked at him.
All I saw was a shit-eating grin.
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