“Do you want to sit next to Stella on the airplane?” Arlo asks.
“What? Fuck, no,” I say while turning up the game so I can hear the announcers over my tedious, wedding-planning best friend.
Arlo snatches the remote from my hand and turns off the TV. The room is silent for a moment before uproarious objections fill the air.
“Gentry is up next,” Gunner, my other best friend and former teammate, complains from next to me. “He’s three for three so far.”
“We need to talk,” Arlo says in that stern, alpha-like voice that won over his fiancée. Little does he know it doesn’t work on me.
I reach for the remote but he swats my hand with a resounding thud, causing me to yank my hand back. “What the actual fuck, man?”
When I decided to have the guys over to my loft, I assumed we’d tear up some wings, drain some brews, and watch the Bobbies game. Never in my wildest fucking dreams would I have pictured Arlo Turner, the grumpy curmudgeon of the Forest Heights English department, to roll in like a beaming bride, holding a wedding planning folder to his chest, and consume the night with questions about what he should wear and if coconut cake is too “Hawaiian-y” for his Maui destination wedding.
But here we are.
“Cut the crap, Romeo.”
“Cut what crap?” I reach over to the coffee table and pick up my almost empty glass of beer.
“I’m not about to have the Bickersons attend my wedding, so what the hell is going on with Stella?”
“Nothing is going on,” I answer, then take a small sip of my beer, making the liquid last so I don’t have to get up for a refill.
Gunner leans in and asks, “If we get to the bottom of the problem, can we turn the TV back on?”
“Yes,” Arlo answers.
“Then it was the baseball game he took her to.”
“Dude,” I say in protest while sitting up on the couch. “What the fuck happened to don’t say anything?”
Gunner unapologetically shrugs. “I really want to watch the Bobbies kill the Rebels in interleague play.”
“What baseball game?” Arlo asks. “Do you mean the game you took her and Cora to?”
“Yup.” Gunner pops a chip in his mouth from the bowl on the coffee table. “Except Cora wasn’t supposed to go. It was supposed to be a daaate,” Gunner drags out.
“You asked Stella out?” Arlo asks, shocked.
“Way to sell me out for a game, you dick.”
Not showing an ounce of remorse, Gunner stands from the couch and takes my glass from me. “I’ll top you off. You’ll need it.”
Seething, I pass my hand over my head and say, “Yeah, I asked her out. She invited Cora. End of story.”
“That’s not the end of the story,” Gunner says from the kitchen, the open concept of my loft allowing his voice to carry to us easily.
When you think a friend is trustworthy and then they go and shock your fucking nuts right off by divulging everything you told them in secret . . . without even a blink of an eye. Gunner is dead to me.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t say anything to Arlo about what happened, given he’s one of my best friends, right? It’s simple. Gunner got me drunk and I relished in the comfort of far too many cold beers and a listening ear. If it wasn’t for that, I’d have kept my mouth shut, because the entire incident was fucking humiliating.
Between you and me, I’ve liked Stella Garcia, the Spanish teacher at Forest Heights, for a while now. Far too long actually. I can’t quite pinpoint when it happened, but all I know is over the three years I’ve known her, I’ve been pining after the girl for the majority of the time.
Fucking bold, quick-witted with a sharp tongue, loves sports, shy when it counts. Flat-out gorgeous with her long, wavy brown hair and fascinating green eyes that have a ring of brown around the pupil. She’s had my attention for a while and last year, I decided to finally make a move.
Enough was enough. We shared too many dinners together as friends. She’s pressed her lips to my beer glass without a second thought way too many times. The moment presented itself, I grew a pair, and asked her out to a baseball game knowing she loves watching the sport as much as I do.
But fuck did it backfire.
“What’s the end of the story?” Arlo asks, growing agitated. His patience runs thin, which is surprising, given his profession of educating the youth.
He’s not going to drop it.
Arlo’s relentless when he wants to know something.
Dragging my hand down my face, I say, “It was supposed to be a date.” Gunner sits next to me and hands me my refilled glass, which I gladly take. “She invited Cora. Which was fine. We had a good time, I still sat next to Stella, and we shared jokes even if there was a third wheel. But it was what happened afterwards that—”
“That gutted him,” Gunner finishes for me. When I snap a look at him, he smirks. “That’s what you told me. Just thought I’d help tell the story.”
“I wasn’t gutted.”
Maybe I was a little.
Hell . . . I was humiliated.
Gutted isn’t a strong enough word for what happened.
“What the fuck happened after? Christ. Why are you taking so damn long to get to the point?” Arlo practically growls.
“Go easy on our guy.” Gunner grips my shoulder. “He was embarrassed, man.”
“It’s fine, I’m over it now,” I say in a passive-aggressive tone.
“You’re clearly not if you and Stella can’t even be in the same room together. I don’t want anything ruining this trip for Greer, and your constant arguing with Stella is driving everyone fucking crazy.”
“Great, then I just won’t talk to her. Simple.”
“Just tell him,” Gunner says, nudging me.
Staring down at my beer, I quietly say, “She went home with someone else that night.”
The room falls silent.
They don’t have to react for me to know what they must be thinking. They know I’ve liked Stella for a while. They know I’ve been trying to figure out a way to ask her out.
And this . . . hell, this was an epic fail on my end.
It wouldn’t be as bad if I weren’t already carrying a chip on my shoulder about the way I was forced to twist my life around.
Five years ago, everything changed.
Five years ago, I was stripped of the one thing that brought me life.
A ruptured Achilles tendon ended everything for me.
I never got the chance to appreciate my last game.
I never had the opportunity to sit on the field and say goodbye.
Instead, playing professional baseball was stripped from me and I was forced to fall back on my teaching degree I earned while playing in college.
To say I’m bitter, resentful, and fucking angry . . . yeah, that’s an understatement.
I live with regret daily and harbor more animosity than anyone should.
So, when I took Stella to the game, on a date, hoping to tell her how I feel, and she went home with someone else, it fucking stung.
Do you know what stung more, though?
The fact that she looked right past me and instead went for a rookie on the Bobbies.
Why go out with a washed-up baseball player turned phys ed teacher with a slight limp in his walk, when you can go out with an unmarred professional baseball player?
Yeah. There’s resentment for a reason. She chose the star. That’s who she wants.
That’s who I’ll never be.
And that’s why I plan on staying as far away from Stella Garcia on this trip as I can.
And when we get back to Chicago and the school year starts, everything will go on as planned.
Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.
Too easy, right?