. Twenty-Two : "Purple Elephant" .


All weekend, I had been trying not to think of Macon's kiss. But it was like telling someone not to think of a purple elephant, and of course, a purple elephant would pop into their head.

For me, my mantra, I do not want to kiss Macon again or Stop thinking about kissing Macon again was the purple elephant.

When I clocked in for my shift at eight, I was surprised to see, for once, Zeke. Of course, he didn't speak more than a few words to me as usual, but at least he wasn't skipping work to avoid me anymore. Or maybe he had finally reached a limit on the amount of days he could skip—even concession stand managers had rules as well, right?

I smirked smugly to myself as I wiped the counter clean from spilled condiments.

"Hey, man. Refill the napkin dispenser when you're done with that, alright?"

I was so surprised Zeke had started a conversation with me—okay, so it was just a request, barely a conversation, but I'll take what I could get—that I actually jumped up in surprise, slamming into him. He reached out to steady my waist but instead of feeling all warm and fuzzy like I usually did when a cute guy touched me, I felt nothing.

His hands were wrong—cold and rough from working on sandwiches every day. They weren't like Macon's, blazing my skin with a simple touch—

Damn it! Stupid purple elephant.

I do not want to kiss Macon again.

I do not want to kiss Macon again.

I do not

"Can you let go of me now, man?" Zeke enunciated each word slowly, as if I was some kind of moron. I felt a surge or irritation shooting through me even though I was supposed to let people think I was dumb.

I stepped away from him and painted a smile on my face. "Where did you disappear to last night?"

"Oh, I went inside."

"Why?"

Zeke's scoff was condescending. "Man, those kids were really immature—I mean, truth or dare? That's about the stupidest game ever. I had a much more productive time inside, writing my guitar music."

I chuckled nervously, like I completely agreed with him, even though I didn't.

"Yeah, I even went to the woods by accident because it was soo bori—"

But Zeke wasn't listening anymore and I stood behind that counter, looking like a complete idiot talking to myself, as he slipped inside his messy office. I sighed and rested my chin on my arm, feeling defeated. Why was it so difficult to get him to like me? I never had to try this hard to land a guy before—guys naturally came to me whether I wanted them to or not.

Maybe I should just give up. Maybe it was time to find another non-jock to fall in love with.

But then…what about the bet? I could just imagine the smug look on Erin's face if I told her I'd given up this early in the game—no. I refused to let her win. She could win any other bet, but this one was mine. There was no way I was going to babysit Evan for three months.

Zeke, you jaded little mutt, I'm not giving up on you just yet.

- OOO –

I was headed back towards the park's entrance once I finished my shift, but my eyes couldn't help but flicker to the baseball diamond. I knew the team had no official practice today so I was surprised to see that there were a couple of people running around the bases and throwing a ball.

Upon closer scrutiny, I realized that I knew those people.

My feet had taken me onto the field without a second thought. I watched as Erin was up to bat, awaiting the ball that Macon was going to pitch to her. Tyler was on first base, Evan on second, Hayden on third, and Garrett as the catcher. There were a few more boys who looked to be the younger ones on the team lining up to bat next.

"Hey." I climbed out of the dugout and stepped onto the edges of the diamond. "What are you guys up to?"

Everyone's head turned in my direction and my friends yelled out their own greetings.

Evan ran all the way from second base, tackling me into a fierce hug.

"Charley! My Marie! It's my soul mate—or, as Pablo would say…" He said some random word that I guessed was supposed to mean soul mate in whatever foreign language he was attempting to speak.

I laughed, rubbing his back for a few seconds before pushing him off. "Alright, alright. Get off of me, you big dope."

"That's exactly what Marie would say to Pablo." His eyes were shining down at me so wistfully that I felt the need to snap him out of it. I flicked his nose jokingly and pushed past him to the pitcher's mound.

"Can I play?"

Macon held out his hands to the rest of the players, as if asking for permission. Tyler shrugged and grunted something that could only mean "okay" from his indifferent expression. Everyone else more or less gave the same responses. Macon turned back to me with a grin.

"Looks like you're in."

"Great." I moved toward the batting line.

"Charley—"

I turned back and Macon cleared his throat, scratching at the collar of his t-shirt awkwardly. My gaze travelled down to his hands at his neck and I remembered trailing my hand down that very same spot last night, going over the bump of his Adam's apple.

I shook my head and took short, calming breaths, staring at the mound instead of at him.

I do not want to kiss Macon again.

"Uh…I just wanted to know how you're doing." His voice sounded so choked up, that I had to glance up at him. "I mean—never mind. That was a stupid question—"

"Are you nervous of playing against me, Macon?" One hand was on my hip as I struck a superior pose. I felt my nonchalant act become easier when I saw his anxious frown start to dissipate, felt the teasing smile stretch across my lips. "It's okay if you are. You wouldn't be the first guy to cower from my arm of steel."

His laugh started out forced, but then he seemed to loosen up when he probably realized I was acting like last night never happened and he should too. "I don't 'cower' from anyone, Charley."

"We'll see about that."

His lips twitched in amusement. I felt my stomach flip at the way he was staring down at me in that potential-girlfriend smile again.

I cleared my throat, shifting my gaze to his pitching glove, and held out my hand.

"What?"

"I decided my arm of steel would be better shown through pitching," I said.

"You want to pitch?" Incredulity laced his tone, but his eyes were kind. Macon grinned. "Alright. I'll buy it." He slid off his glove and stuffed it into my hands. Then he leaned forward so our cheeks brushed ever so slightly, and murmured huskily, "Don't think I'll go easy on you just because you kiss well."

And he strutted off to bat without a second glance back.

My mouth dropped open in shock. What the hell was that?

I thought we had agreed to completely forget about the kiss! And what was up with him—about to say something before and acting nervous, and then become Mr. Sexy-Flirt a few minutes later?

"Thomson!" My head shot over to Tyler, still on first, looking impatient and irritated. "If you're just going to stand there with your mouth open like that, please do it off the field. We're trying to play a game."

I sealed my mouth shut with a huff and glared at him. "'Trying' being the key word, right?" I shot back with a sneer. "I doubt you'll be playing a game any time soon."

"You know what—"

"Both of you, shut up!" Erin intervened exasperatedly. "Let's just play."

I scowled and put on the glove. The baseball was on the ground, right near the plate and I dusted off the sand before wrapping my fingers around its red stitching.

Taking a deep breath, I twisted my body to the side and got in a pitching position. Erin was hunched over, her bat swung over her shoulder as she got ready to swing. I snuck a peek at Macon, who had somehow gotten to the front of the line and was watching me with his arms crossed over his chest.

I lowered my hands and wiped the sweat that had gathered there on the sides of my shorts.

Don't look at him, Charley.

Curving my arm back, I threw a perfect fast one at Erin. It had always been my best pitch—especially if I was angry. Let me just say, pitching balls was a great way to channel your anger.

Erin struck out and I smirked. She rolled her eyes and yelled, "Again!"

"That's the point of the game," I deadpanned.

"Again!"

She growled like a barbaric caveman from the prehistoric times. I chuckled at her antics and threw a curveball, meaning to throw her off her curve. But Erin managed to successfully hit this one—not out of the ball park, but at least to the outfield.

Evan ran to get the ball since there weren't enough players to be outfielders. He swiftly passed the ball to Hayden on third and tried to run back to second in case Erin was already there. But everyone paused in surprise when we saw that Erin had stopped at first and wasn't even trying for second. We all stared at her with questioning frowns on our faces and she blinked blankly.

"What?" She shrugged. "I'm not allowed to stop?"

"You're supposed to keep running, dummy," Evan said, earning him a glare from her sister.

"But I like it here." All of us rolled our eyes when she squeezed Tyler into a hug. He smirked at Evan when he hugged her back. Of course she would.

I got my pitching position ready and quirked a sly eyebrow at Macon, who was up to bat. The first pitch I threw was a ball. He smirked at me and mouthed, "Steel, huh?"

Oh, I'll show you steel, Graham.

I threw him my best pitch, whizzing the ball as hard and as fast as I could. He struck out this time; I grinned smugly. I threw him the same pitch for the second time and he missed again, but this time, I frowned because he was smiling at me in amusement like he was striking out on purpose.

God, I hated being patronized. I didn't need his pity—I pitched just fine. I didn't need him helping me.

So I cried out, "Are you holding back on purpose?"

"No."

"Seriously, Macon—"

He laughed at the ground below him. "I'm not," he insisted. "I haven't batted in a long time. It's nice to know you think so highly of my skills, though. But honestly, Charley, you're just a good pitcher."

"Uh-huh," I muttered, unconvinced.

Instead of inspecting him closer to see if he was lying or not, I decided to take the boost to my ego and resumed pitching. I had barely blinked when the fastball I had just thrown flew over my head, soared onto the outfield, and went down a slope that led to the other side of the neighborhood.

If this was a real game, that would've been a home run.

Macon ran up to my mound, instead of running the bases, and pinched my slack jaw closed with his thumb and forefinger. "I'm a better hitter, though."

He grinned, pulled his hand away and pried his glove off my hand. Without his fingers under my chin to keep it up, my jaw sprung open again and I was left gawking at the back of his t-shirt because he was already getting ready to pitch to someone else.

I was still shocked frozen to the spot, only snapping out of my daze when Erin yelled at me to bat.

"Off you go, Arm of Steel," Macon said.

He gently pushed me in the direction of the batters and I scowled at him to get him to take his hand off my arm. "Oh, shut up, Macon!" I stomped behind the line of batters, picking up a bat from the rack in the dugout.

When it was my turn at bat, I bit my lip nervously—I wasn't a hitter. I was a much better pitcher, but obviously, not as good as Macon was.

"Problem, Charley?"

"Shut up and pitch, Disney's number one fan-girl," I spat in retort.

Instead of getting annoyed like I'd expected him to, Macon actually doubled over in laughter. He had to take a moment to compose himself before throwing me a curveball. It was a strike, but I was too busy smiling at the sound of his laugh to get annoyed.

He caught my smile and flashed me his own set of teeth as he threw another curveball. This one I was able to hit, even though the ball only made it a few inches past Hayden on third. Still, it was enough for me to make it to first and for Erin to return home.

We played for a little while longer—enough for everyone to have a chance to make it back to home base—until Evan announced how thirsty he was and suggested we all go to a local smoothie shop called Gurgles. Macon and the boys on the team packed their stuff into their gym bags and the group started walking down the diamond.

My arm was pulled back so I was left a little behind the rest of the group. "You're pretty good."

Macon.

I smiled into his jeweled eyes. "You're pretty—period."

He scratched the back of his neck as he laughed. I loved the way the skin under his eyes crinkled when he smiled or chuckled. People whose skin crinkled when they smile usually tended to have gorgeous smiles, like, of course, Macon.

"You're a lot nicer to your friends," he commented, nudging his shoulder playfully against mine. "I'm glad we're friends now."

"Me too," I replied.

But the words sounded hollow to my ears because I wasn't, really. For some reason, I felt a kick to my gut at the thought of having to be friends with this incredibly sweet, funny, guy.

This was ridiculous.

I started chanting my I do not want to kiss Macon again mantra in my head but having him that near me wasn't really helping the purple elephant situation.

"Your fastball is your best pitch." Macon stated matter-of-factly.

I nodded and explained to him that it was my father's best pitch as well and so it was the first pitch he'd taught me, and the pitch I kept practicing all these years.

Sometimes, pitching a fastball reminded me of the first day my dad introduced the pitch to me and I would still be able to remember the way he stood behind me, his arm covering mine as we curved our arms back together and let go of the ball together.

Fists clenched to the side to keep my eyes clear, I washed my face clear of any emotions.

Macon continued, "Your curveball wasn't so bad either. If you angle your arm more to this side—" He covered my hand with his large ones, guiding it behind my shoulder and over it to demonstrate what he meant. "—you'll get a much better curve."

"O-okay." I let out a shaky breath because his fingers had skimmed down my arm a bit slower and longer than needed and I was reminded of the kiss once again. Macon grinned and stuffed his hands in his pockets, oblivious to my frazzled state.

This was torture.

It was so, completely, unfair. It wasn't fair that he was a jock. It wasn't fair that he was a nice jock. It wasn't fair that he was a nice jock who kissed so freaking well—and it definitely wasn't fair that he was a nice jock who kissed so freaking well but promised to never kiss me again!

But, you know, I wasn't complaining…

"So…how's it going with Zeke?"

I snorted, thinking about his indifferent attitude and how I was just about ready to give up on him. But Erin was only a few feet away and I wasn't stupid enough to admit that with her right there.

So I tugged Macon's arm and made him slow down. I waited until we were a good distance from the group to tell him that it wasn't going well.

He glanced at the group in confusion. "Why did you slow down?"

I paused, but one look into his curious eyes made me crumble over and think—oh, what can it hurt? And I told him about the bet between Erin and I. "I don't want her to hear that I was ready to give up on Zeke this morning—"

Macon halted in his tracks and stared at me with wide eyes.

"Really?"

I gave him an odd look and answered slowly, "Yeah…"

He cleared his throat, muttering, "Sorry. I was just surprised, that's all. Continue."

Boys. They were an odd bunch.

"Yeah, so I didn't want Erin to hear that because I'm not ready to give up yet. I'm not ready to let her win. And I can't let her think I'm wavering."

"I don't understand why you're so intent on forcing yourself to like Zeke," Macon huffed. "If you don't have feelings for him now, what makes you think you will in the future?"

"People's feelings change over time."

Macon made a disgruntled sound in the back of his throat. "Jesus, Charley. You—"

"What?" I demanded, crossing my arms over my chest.

He stared at me like he was waiting for me to clue in, to understand what he was so frustrated about, but I didn't. His piercing orbs flew all over my face for that light—that dawning moment—but he must not have found it because he let out a small sigh and brought his gaze to the ground.

I didn't like seeing Macon upset. It didn't fit his personality at all—it was like kicking a wounded puppy to the curb, and I felt terribly guilty for making him look like that even though I didn't even know what I had done wrong.

I took a step closer to him and gently tugged on his shirt. "Macon? What were you about to say?"

His head rose and his eyes seemed to swirl with emotion. I had never seen his eyes this close before—when we'd kissed, it was too dark to see them—but they were even more enthralling up close. There were specks of light dashing around the dark pupils, and the vibrant greens. His eyes alone could be canvasses, beautiful works of art.

"You're—you're unbelievable." His voice was hushed, weary and sad.

Macon lifted a finger to stroke my left cheekbone, leaving cold goose bumps on my skin when he took his hand away.

I didn't know if he meant the statement in a good way or a bad way, but at that moment I couldn't care less.

Because I was standing that close, breathing his wonderful smell, staring at his alluring eyes, feeling his burning touch. I couldn't care less. I couldn't care less.

But the moment was shattered when our friends called our names and reprimanded us for being so slow. Macon took a step back and the magic of his swirls disappeared—the sad expression on his face scrubbed off, and his signature teasing one replaced it.

He twined his fingers through mine and brought me forward to the rest of the group. Yet, the minute we were caught up, I felt a chill seize me when the warmth of his fingers were slipped out of mine.

I glanced at Macon with a frown, despite telling myself I shouldn't care that he wasn't touching me anymore. I should be happy that we were friends—no, I was happy. No, I was satisfied. No, I was…okay with that.

I was okay with that, because even though I liked him kissing me, touching me, staring at me in the I-think-you're-cute-you're-potential-girlfriend-material kind of way, I was okay with us being friends. I could just relax around him more and not have to put up so many walls like I did before, but I wouldn't have to worry about trying to impress him like I would if we were more than friends.

Who would want to deal with the bother of going through all those moody stages you go through when you were in love? You know—how you were always a thousand times happier when you were happy, and a thousand times sadder when you were sad, because you were in love.

Being friends would level my emotions—I could just be myself around Macon, I could joke around with Macon, I could hang around Macon, without any of the typical baggage I would get if we were more than friends.

And I wouldn't want baggage.

Right?

I only realized I was still ogling Macon when he turned around, catching me staring at him, and winked playfully. His lips twitched in amusement at my glare but he never caught my flustered cheeks—because apparently, I blushed like a normal person now—I mean, how ridiculous was that?—because I had spun my face away from him before he could.

I do not want to kiss Macon again.

I do not want to kiss Macon again.

I do not want to kiss Macon again.

Stop thinking about not wanting to kiss Macon again!

Go to Tartarus, purple elephant.

- OOO -


A/N: In answer to my anonymous reviewer, Butterflyz 's question, "...I swear Evan is my favorite character, would you ever
write a story with him as the main character?" Yes, I would love to. That's all I'm gonna say on that topic. ;)

Review pretty please? :)