Unathletic people should not agree to bets that deal with sports. It's a simple rule. And even though I wouldn't call myself hopeless in the athletic arena, the fact that I go to the rec for the boys instead of the exercise should give you a clue that I'm not exactly Olympic material, or even anything close.
And sure enough, here I am, losing 0-9 in what could be one of the most crucial games of badminton in all my seventeen years. If I win (which, it doesn't appear that I will), I get to go on a date with the extremely gorgeous guy who is my current opponent, a blonde cutie named Carlos. But if I lose, I have to play one more game with his two friends – in my bra and panties (and unfortunately, this seems to be the more likely outcome).
You wanna know how I got into this mess?
It all started two weeks ago, when I joined my brother Eric on our usual weekend rec trip. While Eric went off to greet his numerous temporary girlfriends (even though he kind of has a real girlfriend now, but no matter), I hurried upstairs to find my usual running partners, Felix and Axel. Or, as I like to refer to them, Mr. Sex God and his equally sexy younger brother.
The first thing I noticed was that Axel wasn't there. This didn't really surprise me. Ever since he started going out with some girl named Lauren, whom I have never seen at the rec, he has showed up less and less. Felix, however, was thankfully present. But unfortunately, he wasn't alone. Some blonde-haired woman was with him, and they were talking softly. And holding hands.
Yeah. My sex-god had brought along a female companion. And get this—they were engaged! I hadn't even known he had a serious girlfriend!
I stayed with them for one lap, hoping that Felix wouldn't be too distracted by that woman's presence. After all, she wasn't exactly the kind of girl I expected to see running the track. She was light-skinned and wispy, with dark blonde hair a shade darker than mine and blue eyes that were exactly like my own. She was just like a taller, thinner, more delicate version of me (except in a dress, which I would never wear), yet Felix was completely obsessed with her.
I barely survived that one lap in their lovey-dovey presence, and with some mumbled excuse, I left the track and headed back downstairs to the open courts of the rec.
This was where the real problem started. After spending many weeks upstairs with the track and the exercise machines, I had no idea what to expect in the badminton courts, the first area I stumbled into. I had no one with me, and so I blindly wandered around and watched people, two or four in a court, swinging rackets around and trying to hit some small, feathered ball.
That's when I saw them. Three boys taking turns with two rackets on the court in front of me, the one person left out keeping score for the other two of their trio. Two of the guys were ordinary looking, and though I eventually got to learn their names, I call them Bruno and Shorty. The third, however, was very, very attractive. So attractive that I managed to convince a nearby court's team to let me join them. The two nice old ladies that I had interrupted were kind enough to lend me a racket so that I could swing it around aimlessly, pretending to play, while I really kept my focus on that ridiculously attractive guy now on my left.
I really should have seen it coming. After all, I was being really obvious about the whole staring thing, and sooner or later, they were bound to notice. I think it was Shorty who pointed me out, noting that in the whole two hours I had stood at that court holding the racket, I hadn't done anything remotely resembling a badminton move. I swung the racket around in a spiral, didn't pay attention to my court…basic clues that gave away my true motive. I managed to dodge their questions at the time, and they soon forgot about me.
Then I went ahead and reminded them about my presence the following weekend, again pretending to play while staring at their court. The three boys obviously noticed me as well, judging by the way they had thrown curious glances in my direction. I had dressed up better too, wearing a matching set of Nike athletic shorts and t-shirt. After many months of running the track and at least trying to lift weights upstairs, I think I had achieved a pretty good body. Slender and curvy, no lumpy fat whatsoever. It was effort well spent, since Shorty and Brunette very clearly appreciated my legs if they ever got close enough to me. But once again, they had left me alone for the most part, and I had swooned after the attractive guy, memorizing his every move in silence.
Until the following weekend. Today. The badminton game from hell.
When I walked into the rec this morning, I noticed that there were far fewer people present than normal. As usual, I went upstairs to check if Felix and Axel were there, but like the past two weekends, no luck. Even Felix hadn't bothered to show up today. He really took this engagement thing seriously, I guess.
After a few quick laps by myself, I had no choice but to return downstairs to the badminton courts. I looked around for the two ladies whom I had shared court with for the past two weeks, but surprisingly they weren't there. Instead, the attractive guy that I had been obsessed with all this time was in their spot, casually leaning against one of the net's supports while his two friends played on their usual court. He was holding two rackets in his hands, and he offered one to me as I walked up to him involuntarily.
"Uh…um…hi," I eloquently greeted him.
"Yo," he responded. "We've been watching each other for a while right now, but we haven't actually introduced ourselves. I'm Carlos." I stopped in front of him, staring down at the extended racket as if he had just offered me the keys to his car.
"What?" I asked, looking back up and shaking my head in bewilderment. It was at this point that Carlos's two buddies finally finished their game and jogged over as well. The three boys grinned at me as if they had some great secret to share.
Shorty – the one who was about the same height as me, 5'4" – was the next to introduce himself. The only non-blonde in our group, Bruno – short for brunette – followed up with his own introduction. I paid little notice to them. My attention was fixed on the blonde-haired, green-eyed Carlos. He stared back, and we spent a few moments in awkward silence before I realized what he was waiting for.
"Oh, I'm Susanne!" I blurted. Carlos raised an eyebrow.
"Nice," he said. I blushed, self-consciously brushing down my outfit. It was another sporty shorts and t-shirt set, but I had – in my efforts to catch Carlos's attention – chosen one with a lower neckline to pair with a push-up bra. Apparently it was working, because I caught a different undercurrent in his compliment as his eyes traveled down my body.
Bruno finally broke the silence. "How about you and Carlos play a game?"
I turned to him, gaping. "Play?" It was then that I realized why my crush had offered a racket to me in the first place.
"Yeah…you and me," Carlos said, nodding towards the court. "A quick game." He turned to Shorty and Bruno. "What do you think, guys? What's a good number?"
"Eleven," Shorty responded confidently. I looked at each of them as they discussed this, wondering what the heck they were talking about. When they returned my glance expectantly, I decided to lay down the law.
"Look, guys, I'm not going to play," I stated firmly, crossing my arms. Three pairs of eyes were instantly lowered. I uncrossed my arms, frustrated.
"Why not?" Bruno asked. There was an obvious challenge in his voice, one I couldn't help but answer.
"Because!" I replied. "I'd completely wipe the floor with you. I'm really good at this game." It was a lie, and I knew it. They knew it too.
"Oh, is that so?" Carlos said. I nodded with false confidence. My crush simply raised his eyebrow in amusement as he shot a side glance at his two buddies. They snickered. I placed my hands on my hips and shifted my weight to the side, raising my eyebrows in a serious business expression.
I hadn't meant to come off that flirty, but the boys totally took the bait. Shorty elbowed Bruno, who smirked.
Then they sealed my fate.
"So…you think you're that good, do you?" Bruno taunted. I gulped. "Well, then, how about a bet?" He looked at Carlos, who also smirked.
"Yeah. One game, eleven points," Carlos continued. "If you win, I take you out on a date." My eyes widened. "But if you lose…"
"You play the two of us," Bruno finished, pointing to himself and Shorty. "In your underwear." That bold statement was followed by a long pause in which the three boys stared at me expectantly while I debated the choice presented to me. Though it really shouldn't have, the possibility of dating Carlos completely made me ignore the other, less-than-desirable consequence.
"You're on!" I declared. Carlos and his two buddies burst into laughter as they slapped each other high-fives. At the time, I merely huffed and vowed that I would not let them intimidate me, that I probably could beat Carlos, if I tried.
Now I know that I was dead wrong.
"It's your move," Carlos says, interrupting my thoughts. I look up. The birdie (as I learned it was called) is on my side of the court, obviously because I keep missing like the last nine times Carlos hit it over to my side. Like I mentioned before, the score is currently 0-9.
"Ms. Hoffman, please serve," Shorty calls from the side of the court, acting all official. I regret telling him my last name now. It just feels so much more depressing to be Ms. Hoffman and losing at the same time.
I take a deep breath and reach down for the birdie. I don't care that I'm only delaying the inevitable. Every second that I can put off taking off my clothes is worth it.
I should have never agreed to this stupid bet.
"Here it comes," I declare, tossing the birdie out blindly in front of me while I simultaneously swing my racket. I hear a horrible crack that tells me that the birdie hits the rim. It barely makes it over the net, and Carlos lunges forward and just lightly taps it. I am forced to run to the net in a vain attempt to counter. Of course, I hit the net instead, and the birdie falls by my feet.
"0-10, Summerlin," Shorty exclaims. It is a nice last name, but I am about sick of hearing it every time Carlos scores a point. I scowl.
"You're not trying very hard, I noticed," Carlos calls from his side of the net. I walk backwards, glaring at him all the while.
"What the heck are you talking about?" I retort. My crush merely shrugs.
"Well, I don't know. You're not really taking this too seriously," he replies. I narrow my eyebrows. What does that have to do with anything? I don't take many things seriously. I think I get it from my brother. We always try not to think too much of any problem, pushing away the harsh reality of the situation to avoid dealing with it. It drives some people crazy, I admit, but it has worked so far. I'm far less stressed about anything if I don't put my mind on it.
"So? Who cares?" I finally reply. Bruno has tossed me back the birdie. We promised to swap serves every three points, so it is my turn again.
"You should," Carlos replies, bending his knees to get ready for my play (as if I am actually going to hit something decent). "It might help you win somehow. And you do want to win, don't you?"
I snort and toss my hair over my shoulder. As if I really need his advice or something. A few words aren't going to change much about my complete lack of skill. I look down at the birdie in my hands, feeling the urge to just give up. There is only one point left for Carlos to win anyway. And, what does it matter in the scope of things? I do happen to be wearing my best bra.
Wait, no. If I win, I get to go out with Carlos. It may be just one date, but it would be worth it. Just for that, I should try in this game. Carlos has played for a while – he just might know what he's talking about with this whole "caring" thing.
Just for giggles, I take my time in aligning the birdie with the center of the racket. I give a few test strokes, just to make sure, and hit it. And lo! The birdie flies perfectly straight, sailing over Carlos's head. I can see he wasn't expecting that, because it takes him a second to act. Just the second the birdie needs to fall to the ground behind him.
"Whoa, 1-10 Summerlin!" Shorty shouts, and even though he said Carlos's name, the cheer is for me. I smile. Okay, maybe my crush is right. This isn't that bad.
"See what happens when you pay attention?" Carlos asks. I smirk, thinking about how ironic his words are. I have definitely been paying attention to him for the past two weeks, which is why I'm in this mess in the first place. And not like I can help it. The way he plays just mesmerizes me. He always has this pattern he follows that makes it seem like his swings and serves are effortless. Now that is worth paying attention to.
…Wait a minute. Wait a minute! I just realized something! I know how he plays. I know what he will expect, and how he will react to certain things. Why didn't I think about this before? Sure, I may be only one point away from losing, but technically, I'm also ten tricks away from winning. I can this to my advantage.
"Why the long silence?" Bruno's call vaguely registers in my mind. I look up. Carlos and the others are staring at me strangely. I grin.
"Nothing, guys!" I assure them sweetly. If Carlos is suspicious, he does a good job of hiding it. He just shrugs at the two boys and turns back to me.
"Alright. You have one more serve before we switch back. If we switch back," he tells me. I nod enthusiastically. I pretend to ignore his reference to me losing. If I have anything to say about it, that won't be happening.
Just like before, I am careful to watch the birdie as I toss and swing, but this time, I'm also watching Carlos. Just as I am about to let go, he puts up his hand and steps back. He expects me to hit far and tall, since we are in a small court. I smirk and cut back on my stroke, the birdie falls shorter than he expects. It takes him a second to flip his racket down and reach forward, and his hit slams the net.
"2-10, Summerlin," Shorty calls with a touch of amusement in his voice. Carlos shakes his head and chuckles.
"Fooled me again, Susanne," he says. I hold up a peace sign to signal my victory. Carlos only grins, winking at me. I'm glad to see that I'm amusing him. I remember that this guy is technically interested in me. After all, he was the one who made going on a date with me one of the two outcomes of the deal. I blush thinking about it, but I must be patient. I still have a ways to go to beat him.
Turns out that it isn't really much of a problem. Carlos starts serving, but I remember almost all of his plays from when he served across from Shorty. I can tell where he is going to send the ball by watching the way he places his feet and shoulders. Then, I simply recall what Shorty had done in the situation and copy the move. Apparently Carlos isn't exactly as good at badminton as I thought. Either that, or I've always had a talent for this game and never knew.
"10-10, Summerlin and Hoffman are tied!" Shorty exclaims with awe many minutes later. I wipe sweat away from my forehead with my arm. Carlos looks like he just lost his favorite possession or something, on top of breathing heavily and generally looking worn out. We had spent the last eight points running from one end of court to the other. Catching up had been hard – Carlos was tall and had long legs to make up for his predictable moves
Now, there is one more point left until one of us wins. It is Carlos's last serve of his triple. I take a deep breath as he tosses the birdie and swings. I carefully hit it back, aiming across court, but unfortunately, it doesn't go according to plan. The birdie bounces in a tall, straight arch and I frown. Now Carlos has complete control where it goes next, and I am unprepared.
I squint and study Carlos's footing, wondering where he is going to hit it next. By doing that, I happen to ignore one important thing. Before I know it, Carlos hits the birdie straight, almost clipping the net as it shoots toward me like bullet. I am vaguely reminded of a volleyball spike before it bounces off of my thigh, making my skin burn.
"Ow!" I cry, and then realize that I have just lost the point.
"11-10, Summerlin," Bruno says, thought he seems more anxious than excited. Shouldn't he be happy that Carlos just won the game? As for me, I am too shocked to realize what had just happened.
"What are you doing?" Carlos asks. "It's your serve now."
What? Now I'm confused.
"I thought we're only playing till eleven points," I say.
"Yeah, but the winner has to win with a margin of at least two points," Carlos tells me as if the fact is obvious. I frown at his tone at first, before realizing what that means for me. Wait, a second chance!
"Oh," I respond lamely. I pick up the birdie like he says, and start off the next point. We hit the birdie a few times back and forth as I contemplate how to win this point. This time, I can't lose. Carlos is not playing very hard – he's probably trying to prolong this last point just to taunt me. I try to remember how he had hit the birdie so fast in my direction in the previous point. It was the first point I had lost in a while, and only because he had never used that trick against Shorty or Bruno. I have to make sure he doesn't do that against me again.
In fact, I think the best option would be to try to use that trick back against him. It is worth a shot. I have to wait for a good opportunity though, and I think one is just about to come. Carlos brings his racket in a low swing, and just as I expect, the birdie kicks up into the air. I don't remember exactly what he did, but I think I just have to hit hard, fast, and straight across the top of the net.
I try, but it doesn't come out quite like I expected. Carlos recognizes what I am doing.
"It's not as easy as you think. You don't have the arm strength," he teases me as he swings. Luckily, talking distracts him and he hits the birdie directly into the net.
"11-11, tie again!" Shorty calls.
"Make a wish, Susanne," Carlos says with a wink. That is enough to make my heart beat faster, and I get so flustered that I almost mess up my serve. Almost. But at the last second my racket seems to swing up almost on its own, and I hit it to Carlos's left. I think the fact that my face (which is staring straight ahead) and my actions (almost instinctive) don't match confuse him, because he doesn't make it as he lunges for it.
"12-11, Hoffman?" Shorty states in a weird tone. This the first time I'm actually leading, so I'm not surprised that he's surprised.
"Come on, Carlos. Are you going to let her win?" Bruno yells from the sideline. Apparently he was looking forward to the underwear game very much. Sorry to disappoint you, Bruno. I'd rather have the date.
Oh my gosh. I'm only one point away from being able to go out with Carlos! I must not lose focus now. It's my final serve, and I start the birdie's flight. We hit it back and forth for a while. The fact that it is the final point – if I win it – screams loudly in my head. I keep looking for an opening, but I think Carlos is too, because neither of us is making a definitive move. Until, of course, I get an opening. Carlos once again launches the birdie into the air.
"I know what you're going to do," he says as I watch the birdie come towards me, my arm angled to swat it down. I smile. Of course he knows. But he doesn't know that I'm going to do anything to be successful. There's no way I'm giving this up.
I am fortunate that luck is on my side. My conviction was enough to allow me to duplicate his earlier move, and the birdie shoots over to his side faster than he can blink. I knew lifting those weights would eventually come in handy. Carlos stands there, looking so confused, as I interrupt Shorty to call out the score myself.
"13-11! I win!" Bruno and Shorty look downright disappointed. I don't know whether this is flattering or just plain creepy. Carlos, however, isn't upset at all by his loss. Instead, he's giving me the cutest grin that melts my heart.
"Good," he says earnestly, walking up to the net. He ducks under it so I don't have to see his face from behind a set of crisscrossed threads. He catches my eye, and I take a deep breath as he adds, as if he had intended to all along,
Carlos and I are sitting on the roof of a small pavilion in the park near my brother's apartment. When he had said dinner, I imagined some sort of casual restaurant where he would take me. Instead, he pulled up this evening with a picnic basket in his trunk, and instead of just laying out on the grass like normal, he set up the blanket and food on the roof of a small pavilion. So it was like we were on top of the world, under the stars.
He is so adorable with his ideas.
We are having a good time, talking and laughing, when suddenly, Carlos stops and looks at me intently. I pretend to be studying the stars, even though I'm paying very close attention to his every move, like I always do, when Carlos speaks up.
"You know, I want to change the conditions of the bet we had yesterday," he says. I stop avoiding his gaze and turn back to him.
"You can't do that now," I protest. I watch to see his reaction. He's leaning against the tiles, propped up on his right forearm, facing me.
He finally shrugs. "Sure I can." I shift my eyes away and then back again. Pale moonlight makes his hair shine. My curiosity has a hard time winning against my desire to just collapse against his chest and close my eyes.
"Okay…so, what are you going to change it to?"
"Well, you know, with the bet, we only agreed to one date," Carlos explains. I nod and murmur for him to continue. "And I really enjoyed my time tonight. I want to have more than one date, if that's okay with you?"
I grin. "You mean…?"
"I want you to be my girlfriend, Susanne." It sounds so sweet when he puts it that way. I laugh, taking his left hand with my right and lacing my fingers through his.
"Wow, I didn't see that one coming," I admit. Carlos brushes my cheek with our clasped hands, and I shiver.
"Unlike most of my other moves, right?" he asks. I smile even wider, something I didn't think was possible, and nod. Carlos's grin turns into a smirk.
"Well, I can think of one more move that you probably don't expect," he says, and that's all the warning I get before he dips in to kiss me. I lean back against the slanted rise of the roof, feeling his warm lips moving against mine.
For once, I don't need to care that I didn't see it coming.