Other than Pete, Mooney, and Jin, also headed for law school, the group includes John, who wants to be a writer, and me. So then, I’m the only one who hasn’t got a clue or a master plan.
“Pete’s right. They’d be crazy to turn you down.” Jin leans against Mooney, giving his arm a squeeze. They’re so cute together. Always touching, always making each other smile.
I glance at the window, where crystalline drops of rain pepper the glass. Conversation hums around me, comforting and familiar. But there’s a push against my skin from the inside, as if I’m trying to break free from my body and travel outside of myself. Mooney’s next words pull me from my fog.
“So I…we,” he glances toward Jin and blushes again, “have more news.” He turns beet red as his hand settles over Jin’s. “We’re getting married.”
Silence falls so swiftly that the sound of someone’s stomach gurgling rings out. If my face looks like everyone else’s, I’m gaping like a fish. Jin and Mooney wince as one, their happy smiles falling, and I force my mouth to move. “You guys! Congratulations.”
The rest snap out their shock.
John clears his throat. “Uh, yeah, congrats.” It’s obvious he thinks they’re insane. And maybe we all do. Married? Now?
Jin narrows her eyes at us. “You all think we’re crazy, don’t you?”
“No,” Pete protests weakly. He sits up higher in his seat. “No, Jin. We all know you two belong together.”
She snorts but looks slightly mollified. “Well, duh. Otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. Besides, we’ll qualify for married student housing.” But that’s not why. The true reason is written in the way she looks at Mooney. The way he looks back. They just know.
I’m in awe of their faith in each other. Their bravery.
John tosses his cards on the table. We’ve stopped playing anyhow. “Since we’re announcing shit, I’ve met someone.” He glances around, his blue eyes growing tense at the corners. “His name is John.”
Another pained silence falls. I had no idea John was g*y. I’m pretty sure no one here did either.
“John and John? John-John.” I smack his arm, felling the tension. “How cute is that?”
He pretends to glare, but I hear the sudden release of breath, and see the smile creeping over his lips. “Shut up, A.”
Pete tosses his cards too and reaches for more Twizzlers. “I can’t believe you waited until now to tell us you’re g*y.”
“Kind of just accepted it about myself, Petey.”
Pete makes a face. “Frankly I’m a little insulted that you never hit on me. I’m f**king hot.”
Mooney snorts. “You? I’m clearly hotter.”
“Yeah, but you were taken,” John quips, still looking a little pale but grinning now.
“And I hear Petey doesn’t put out,” I add, stealing one of his Twizzlers.
“Why don’t you try me and see,” Pete offers with a stage leer.
I take a hard bite of Twizzler, snapping a chunk off at the tip, and everybody groans in mock horror.
“What about you, Anna,” John offers with a soft smile. “You got any bombs to lay on us?”
Oh, sure. I’m banging the star quarterback. Not even on pain of death would I say the words aloud. It would feel like a betrayal to Drew, and honestly, it might be a bomb, but it isn’t an accomplishment. It isn’t even something I can say with pride. And yet the thought of giving Drew up makes my breath hitch in fear.
“Naw.” I take another bite of Twizzler, hoping it won’t get stuck in my throat. “Same old, same old for me.”
On that lie, the group starts chatting again, talking about their plans. I lose the thread of the conversation, their words tumbling into an indistinct buzz. My friends’ faces become a series of flashing smiles and gleaming eyes. For no real reason at all, I want to cry.
The taste of artificial strawberries fills my mouth, and that strange push within me starts up once more. It feels like dissatisfaction. And need. I rub my lower belly where the ache is centered and count the minutes until I can go home. My friends are happy in a way that I’m not. But I know how I can get there, at least temporarily. My hand creeps toward my phone.
ANOTHER GAME, ANOTHER win. We’re undefeated. The playoffs, a first for college football, are closing in, and the championship is ours to lose. The guys are jubilant as the bus rolls back onto campus.
Rain comes down in thick, hard sheets that pound the top of the bus like gunfire. It doesn’t stop us from running out into it, or laughing as Marshall slips in the mud, falls on his ass, and curses.
I stop to get my bag, waiting my turn as the driver sorts through the luggage. Seems the sensible thing would have been to stay on the bus.
Across the way, Harrison’s girl is waiting under a massive umbrella, her butt leaning against a gleaming black Range Rover.
“Wooo,” Rolondo Johnson our star wideout whistles under his breath as he comes up beside me. “That’s one sweet ride.”
“Whose car is it?” I ask, frowning as Harrison runs over to greet his girl. Because we both know it was either an overly supportive booster or an agent who handed him that car. Agents are particularly aggressive in their pursuit of us. They can’t outright give us things, but they are masters of finding grey areas --lend a luxury car indefinitely, buy a guy’s destitute parents a mansion, buy his childhood friends gifts in exchange for putting in a good word for them, and a dozen other shining carrots dangled in our faces if we just sign with them.