There was still a lot to tell but I was taking my time. After three years of knowing one another, I wanted to make sure my friends knew exactly what had happened. But Alma, wasn't so patient. After mulling over my first half of the story she frowned.
"So you guys dated?" Alma finally asked.
I shook my head. "No, we didn't." Alma gave me a look, letting me know that she didn't believe me.
"Well, at least not then. We didn't date right after he signed." At my correction, even Victor choked on his drink and they gave me expectant looks. I shifted in my seat. "We didn't date. The first two years he was really career oriented. It was – is – his dream. I wasn't going to get in the way of it." They leaned in and I felt much like an elementary teacher reading a story to five year olds. "But even during those two years, we constantly made time for one another. I tried to go to as many of his matches as possible, he would visit when he had time, anything and everything so our relationship was building but we were both extremely careful around one another because we were scared of messing up again."
I took a deep breath. It was so weird sharing this. I mean, I hadn't exactly woken up today with the intention of divulging my closest friends with my relationship history with Jared. Their expectant faces kept me going though. They were my best friends after all. If anything, while I was in Brazil the next couple of weeks I could call them if I had any issues and they would fully understand. So again, I shifted in my seat and started talking.
My senior year in high school was a complete mess. All of a sudden everyone knew about him and that he had signed. He was playing his first World Cup competition the summer after I graduated – even though he was just going as a sub and not a starter. It was a big deal and everyone kept asking me about him and I was getting more and more attention every time I would go visit him. I thought that maybe if I avoided all the high school rituals like homecoming, football games, ditch day, and prom that I would be okay. But he didn't want me to miss out on any of those.
And it was true. While he wasn't able to do too much about any of the others because his schedule was so jam packed, he demanded a day off for the night of my prom. He had Carla find me a dress and force me into it. She had been more than willing to do that and helped me with hair and makeup as well. And when he showed up at my house with a corsage two hours before prom I had been left breathless. He had taken me to dinner and then we went to Prom where pictures were taken and put up all over the internet. But it didn't matter because I was so happy he was there. And it didn't matter that we had a picture taken when we kissed shortly after Jared asked me to be his girlfriend, in the middle of the dance floor, during a slow song, making sure no one else but me heard his request. And it didn't matter that the next day he was getting on a plane to go join his team in the World Cup.
As the World Cup started getting more and more intense, and one of the strikers was badly injured, Jared was asked to step in. He was fantastic, getting goal after goal after goal. But the picture of us kissing at prom started to matter when Emma walked into our lives. Because all of a sudden, Emma Valencia, a beautiful 22 year old European model was interested in Jared. Two years older than him and four years older than me. Goodness, I felt like such a girl, compared to Emma's beautiful full grown woman body and personality. Jared assured me over and over that they were only friends. Just friends. And I tried to believe it. I pushed aside all my doubts and worries and stood by him.
The interviews for Jared were never ending even though his team didn't win, coming in at third place. Still, his days were insanely busy that I was so shocked when he managed to surprise me with a birthday bash a week after the Final. A few of his teammates came in to help celebrate, inviting a million of their friends along. It was such a star-studded event for little ole me, really. But most of the party goers didn't have any idea why they were there, thinking it was just another night out. And I shouldn't have been so surprised but I was as I watched Emma strut into the club that Jared had rented out for my birthday.
She flirted with Jared all night, flipping her gorgeous chestnut hair, and batting her deep blue eyes at him. And I remember feeling my stomach churn at the sight. Jared was a complete gentleman though and kept trying to get away from her without causing too much of a stir. But I could also remember that Jared had disappeared while I was cutting the cake. I couldn't find him and I had been delaying the cake cutting because it was my eighteenth birthday and my last summer before going off to college and I wanted Jared to be there because he was my boyfriend and best friend. Albeit, a boyfriend I hadn't had much of a chance to be with since he had asked me out the month before – it was still new and not a lot of people knew about it. All they had was a picture of us kissing at the Prom but it didn't concretely define anything. But one of his teammates had good-naturedly carried me off to the cake and handed me the knife, telling me that Jared was probably getting another surprise ready for me.
In retrospect, I guess it was a surprise. A delayed and not very pleasant surprise but a surprise none the less. Because when he finally showed up again an hour and a half later, he couldn't look me in the eyes. He kept squirming and avoiding me and I knew something bad had happened but I took it in stride, telling myself that he had had too much to drink. I wish that he had just been drunk though because the next morning proved so much more cutting than I could have ever expected.
As I woke up the next morning, I realized it was everywhere. On the news, on the internet, in magazines – everywhere. A picture was circulating through every media outlet. It was of Jared and Emma kissing in a very provocative manner from the night before – from the night of my birthday. And it all made sense. He had disappeared with Emma. I remembered the bile that rose in my throat, the hurt that was shattering my heart, and the desperation to hide because below that picture was our picture from prom. Our picture was so innocent – a stark contrast from theirs.
Emma was on an interview that very morning, where she confirmed their night together, saying that Jared's and my picture had probably just been a mistake. Nothing meaningful. I remember watching her smile and casually flip her hair behind her back, "Hopefully she doesn't get too hurt. I mean, she really should have thought a little more clearly. Why would Jared be with her?"
Jared also had an interview that same day and when they brought up the topic he hadn't denied it or defended me. He had just picked up a glass of water, took a sip, and muttered the words, "Yeah, I'm seeing Emma."
It had hurt. A lot. And I still had a week to go until my flight back home. But my desperation to leave won out. I had a credit card for emergencies that Jared always provided me with when I went to visit him. Using that Visa, I bought a ticket for the next available flight which wouldn't be until late at night which was fine with me as I packed my things. I didn't even feel guilty about using his money. He deserved worse.
Medina didn't give up easily though. He had seen the purchase of my ticket on his account and was waiting for me at the airport – at my boarding gate – away from all the paparazzi, ready to dish out an explanation. I ignored the fact that in order to have gotten through security he had either gotten special access with the help of Xavier or had to buy a ticket.
"Camila, I didn't want to make a bigger fuss over everything. I lied in that interview. I mean," he backtracked, "yes, I was with her last night but we're not together and nothing happened. I just didn't want people to come after you asking about my behavior."
Something in his eyes, made me begrudgingly forgive him. Not entirely but I reminded myself that he was my best friend and my words to him were a slap to his face.
"Medina," I had said, his face falling at my use of his last name, something I had never done. "We're best friends. Emma was right. We really didn't stand a chance."
And he didn't say anything after that. It was pointless to try to salvage our barely-there relationship. It was better to forget and continue with what we knew best: Being best friends.
So I left, not looking back. I struggled to make sure that once I started university that no one would know about my history. I only had two months to do that but I managed. Which is how Alma and Victor met me – knowing of me but not entirely believing everything they read or saw. It helped a lot that the US didn't cover the sport or its players all that much. Soccer wasn't such a big thing at home. So, Victor and Alma took the chance and befriended me.
The next three years, I watched the news as Jared and Emma started becoming closer and closer. More dates, more laughs, more kisses, more scandalous behavior. So much for not seeing each other, right?
For me, that meant, less and less visits. And when I did visit, Emma made sure to always tag along, throwing in sly remarks on my not so forward fashion choices, my hair, and my lifestyle in general. She was careful to mask these thinly veiled insults when Jared was around, seeming like a wonderful girlfriend and every time she did that, I wanted to stab her. I would constantly roll my eyes and ignore her. And slowly my visits started to dwindle. But Jared was persistent. He started calling more and more and started mentioning me in interviews more often. It was like all of a sudden he needed to let the world know that we were friends – that there was something linking us together.
Emma didn't like this one bit. So she called me out on it, in quite a few interviews, saying that obviously I was a terrible friend, trying to come between their relationship. I did everything to ignore it. It seemed petty anyway – a beautiful European model so preoccupied with a student in the USA. But that's when Alma and Victor started to get curious and where I started laughing things off.
"Of course she's saying that," I would laugh. "Dude, Medina and I have known each other since birth. We're like siblings." Lie. Lie. Lie.
It got to the point where I gave up on visiting. I stopped. I didn't want to see her two-faced self anymore. And the past year had been fairly blissful. I didn't have to deal with her crap or with paparazzi but deep down I knew Medina and I were still friends, no matter what she said.
As I finished, Victor and Alma shared a look. Alma took a deep breath and asked the one final question they both had. "But they're not dating anymore, right?"
I grinned. They were smart enough to not believe everything they read so I explained to them. While Jared and Emma had split up, it didn't mean they weren't still friends. It didn't mean that Emma had made it obvious to the entire world that Jared was meant for her and her alone. And it didn't mean that Jared had ever declined any of her dates or her words in interviews. They were still friends. And even though it made my skin crawl, I knew that it was something more along the lines of friends with benefits.
"That bitch!" Alma suddenly exclaimed, stabbing her untouched pancakes with her fork.
People glanced at us with alarmed looks and Victor grinned, lifting his hand in apology while I sunk lower in my seat. I didn't need people to recognize me.
Alma's hands were shaking as Victor slung his arm around her shoulders, pulling the fork out of her hand and then catching a glimpse of the knife and moving that aside as well. "Who the hell does she think she is?!"
"Alma, babe," Victor said, trying to keep her from her raising her voice anymore. "Chill."
Alma took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. "Is she going to be at the Confederations Cup?"
I shrugged. "Not sure but mostly likely, yes."
Victor shook his head. "I've never wanted to hit a girl so bad."
Alma turned to him with a stony face. "She's not a girl. She's a lying, two-faced, scumbag so I give you full permission to do so."
They were both so serious about their insults that I had to laugh. "Guys, relax."
"How can you be so relaxed after that?" Alma hissed. "She's an ugly, attention seeking, pathetic person. God, I can't believe she made that Valentino dress look so beautiful!"
I laughed. Obviously Alma was passionate in her opinions. "It was years ago. It doesn't matter anymore."
"The hell it doesn't," Alma muttered, finally in control of herself now. "If I ever see her, I will gladly punch her to the point that no amount of cosmetic surgery will be able to give her back her pixie face."
"I should have told you guys a long time ago about all of this," I said.
I really should have but it was so hard at the time because I didn't want any more unwarranted attention. But I had to say, I definitely felt like a huge weight was off my shoulders. No one really knew the full story. The only ones that had an inkling of an idea of it were my family and Jared's own brother. But, really, not even they knew the whole thing.
It had been a sort of unspoken agreement that Jared and I had created. We weren't going to let anything divide our families because our mothers' friendship came first.
"Do you still need to go to the store to pick up some last minute things?" Victor asked, obviously trying to help me change the subject.
I smiled gratefully at him, even though I had nothing left to buy. I had everything that I needed for the trip and if I happened to forget anything, I could easily get it with Jared's help – as much as I hated to admit it.
I quickly thought of a good reason to leave though. "I want to find a neck pillow. I know they're all over the place in airports but they're way over priced," I said, getting up and dropping a few bills on the table to cover our breakfast and the tip. "And a good book."
Alma was still quite peeved as she walked to her car with a stiff back, and still muttering a few curses under her breath. Victor rolled his eyes at her behind her back and I stifled a laugh as she started speed walking to her car.
"Make sure she doesn't go to jail while I'm gone," I chuckled.
Victor winked at me. "Are you kidding me? I'm the one she'll be killing."
As Alma drove us over to the nearest outdoor mall, she was still grumbling a few curses. I sighed, knowing that if she was reacting like this, without being part of it all, I was probably a million times worse when I had gone through it all on my own. She was being a good, loyal friend by cursing Emma and calling her a heifer but I wanted to forget about all of that for now. I only had until tomorrow to be free and I sure as hell didn't want to spend my last day with my friends, thinking about Emma. So, with big effort I attempted to change the subject.
"So, Neal called me last night," I said.
Oddly enough, Victor and Alma's reactions were similar – the only difference being that Alma didn't outwardly groan in annoyance like Victor did.
"What?" I said, confused at their sudden looks of annoyance.
Victor though wasn't nearly as tactful as Alma. "You're still talking to that guy?"
I frowned. "Why are you so hostile towards him?"
He shrugged as we got to the outdoor mall and he led the way past stores. I grumbled under my breath and Alma came up to me and bumped my shoulder with her own. I glanced over to her and she rolled her eyes at Victor's back.
"He's just being overprotective. You're like a sister to us. But he's got the big brother role to fill in. You know he doesn't have any siblings."
"Then why can't he tell Medina to back off?" I complained.
I was expecting Alma to give me some kind of response, however, I wasn't expecting her to give me a quizzical look and ask, "Do you still like him?"
My feet stumbled and I felt my face flush as I nearly fell. "What?" I exclaimed as I regained my balance. I glanced around for witnesses and noticed that no one was laughing at my expense. Victor was far ahead, making his way into a video game store and I wasn't quite sure if I was glad he wasn't listening or if I actually wanted him here to change the subject.
Alma for her part simply repeated the question without hesitation as we came to a complete stop. She blinked at me. "Do you still like Jared?"
I felt my face relax into a neutral blank stare. "He's my best friend."
"That's not answering my question," Alma said, crossing her arms. "Do you still like him?"
"But that is my answer," I argued. "He's my best friend who I haven't really seen for a year up until recently." At her dry look I rolled my eyes. "In other words, I'm not sure anymore."
She blinked at me again and I felt my face slowly morphing into one showcasing my nerves. "You still like him," she said with authority.
I gaped at her retreating back and found myself flustered beyond words. My mind was reeling and my breathing was coming in short breaths. I couldn't believe her. I was attempting to control my emotions as I followed her to the video game store that Victor was walking out of with a much annoyed expression.
I didn't have to wonder why for too long why he was annoyed because following Victor was Neal with some other guy I didn't know. I fought the urge to run and hide because after Alma's accusation, I wasn't really sure what I was doing with Neal anymore. I mean, I wasn't leading him on. I was honestly interested in the guy.
But I also couldn't deny all the butterflies in my stomach whenever Jared was near me. I wasn't stupid and I also knew that it felt the same as all those years ago, no matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise. My brain, however, had lately been insisting on forgetting about Jared as much as possible which was also why I found Neal so attractive. He was exactly what I needed.
Squaring my shoulders, I went to meet my friends and Neal, whose friend was telling him he would wait for him at whatever store they were meant to be going to. I wasn't paying much attention to their conversation because both Victor and Alma were regarding me with dumbfounded looks.
"Hey!" Neal greeted me and pulled me into a hug. He was warm and oddly comfortable to me. I liked it.
"How are you?" I asked pulling back.
Neal grinned. "I'm great. I heard you're heading out with your brother to Brazil tomorrow though. Victor and I were just chatting."
Behind me, Victor scoffed as if talking to Neal was a despicable idea. I made sure to smile a little brighter just to annoy Victor. "Yeah, I'll be the legal guardian."
Victor stepped forward and slung his arm around my shoulders. "And Jared Medina's very own VIP guest."
Neal lifted his eyebrow, quite obviously unimpressed which, honestly, impressed me because most people that I met would always fawn at the idea of me knowing a rich athlete.
"Right," Neal said, "well I hope you enjoy your trip and if you need anything, you have my number."
I grinned and again we hugged. "Thanks."
He waved one last time to me as he rounded the corner at the end of the block, heading to the west end of the outdoor mall.
"Ugghhh," Victor moaned behind me. "Kill me now." And then in a despicably annoying voice mimicked Neal's words. "If you need anything, you have my number. What a douche."
Alma laughed from next to him and I shot them both a glare. It got them to shut up for all of two seconds but then they started to laugh again. Alma was the first to stop and shrugged at me, giving me her best innocent look. "Come on, Cami. It's all in good fun."
"Not for me," Victor interrupted. "You can do better than that bore. He pretty much has that as a script. Call me if you need anything. Seriously. Who says that?"
I crossed my arms. "I know it's a foreign concept to you but it's called being nice."
"Or a total bore," Victor shot back.
I would like to blame the heat of the day at my total lack of response. There was nothing in my brain that I could retort with so I simply said, "Don't be jealous." And I promptly stalked off to find my pillow and a good book for the airplane ride tomorrow.
We didn't talk about Neal or Jared anymore after that, instead filling the silence with random chatter about Summer plans. Victor would be looking into various locations for his dad's first chain restaurant and also planning a house warming party. Alma would be picking up as many shifts as possible at the receptionist seasonal job she had managed to snag.
"It's too bad we won't be able to get you drunk for your big two-one," Victor lamented as Alma pulled up to my house. "Don't get drunk without us, okay?"
I rolled my eyes. I didn't exactly want to spend my birthday with these two for that very reason but the alternative – and unfortunately only choice, I had – was not much better. I would be spending it in Brazil. I was determined to spend it in the hotel room. The idea of another birthday bash gone wrong was too exhausting to even attempt to think about.
Victor opened the door for me and pulled me out of the car. "I'm gonna miss you, Cami."
I laughed pulling away from him. "It's only a month."
"But in the world of best friends, that's like a gazillion years," Alma laughed and also hugged me. While she was holding me close, she whispered in my ear, "It's okay if you still like Jared. Gotta admit he's good looking."
I didn't have a chance to reply as Victor threw himself at us and we stood there engulfed in a group hug. Contrary to my previous words to Victor, I too was going to miss them. A lot. Mostly because by this time in a couple of days, I would be in a different country, faced with the prospect of having to spend time with one of the most famous star athletes while cameras from all over the world followed his and my every move without Victor and Alma to help me laugh it all off.
And even with that giant mountain of trepidations, the biggest one was what Alma had just said to me. What if I still liked Jared?
A/N And, everything is explained! Thoughts? What do you think of Emma? What do you think of Jared now?
Let me know what you think in a review! Also, I'm thinking of creating a new summary. Now that you have a good grasp of what this is about, can you give me any ideas as to what I could write for it?
Thanks for reading!