I sloppily threw my soccer cleats into my gym bag, searching the tiled floor for anything I might've missed. Not seeing any gear or clothes, I zipped up the bag and tossed it over my shoulder, all but sprinting out of the locker room. I'd seen Hayden in the bleachers during the game, and even though she promised to come, part of me was afraid she'd bail. Especially because last time she'd been too shy to even show up.
Reaching the soccer field, my eyes scanned the bleachers in such a hurry that I almost missed her. But there she was, sitting in the seats at the complete opposite end of the field. It was only the beginning of fall, but it was already freezing, and seeing her huddled up in her maroon sweater with her hood pulled on I felt bad for making her wait outside. No doubt she'd frozen enough during the long game.
From this distance I could see her head turn my direction, so I waved. She stood to start making her way over, but I picked up walking too, to meet her halfway so she didn't feel the need to rush. She was striding along on the lowest seat of the bleachers, and it only took me a moment to figure out why. The toes of my sneakers were already wet from walking in the grass. I hopped up onto the stands to copy her, and she was getting close enough now that I could see her smile at me doing it.
"Hey," I greeted, my breath fogging in the air as I took the last few steps to reach her.
I glanced down at the bottoms of her skinny jeans and white shoes, glad they appeared dry. Her maroon jacket was thicker than I thought too, and the faux-fur that lined the inside of the hood blended in with her light brown hair. It was long and always perfectly wavy, but while it stuck out one side and fell over her chest, I noticed she'd taken extra time to make it even wavier.
"Hi," she replied timidly, the laugh line at one corner of her mouth deep with a receptive smile. She always blushed when I talked to her, but now I couldn't tell if the rose tint to her cheeks was me or just because of the cold.
All these years I'd never even had a conversation with her longer than a minute, so I turned to start back the way I'd come, asking, "Pizza?" I glanced back long enough to see her nod. "That was just a suggestion, by the way. We can get whatever you want."
"Pizza's good," answered her quiet voice. It was a Friday night, so busy in probably any restaurant that if I wanted to be able to hear her at all while we ate I'd have to come up with something low key. "My parents are kind of… health nuts," she added, jumping off the end of the bleachers after me. "I don't get pizza very often."
I couldn't help but smile. She was so shy every time I talked to her at school I almost expected I'd have a hard time getting her to open up. But she'd volunteered that all on her own. "How bad are they?" I asked, shifting my bag to the other shoulder so she could walk at my side without it bumping her.
She shrugged. "No gluten, all organic, probably a step away from being vegetarians."
"Nice," I laughed, pulling my car keys out of my jean's pocket, "So if I buy you cheesy, greasy pepperoni pizza and a massive soda, they'll never let you hang out with me again."
Hayden chuckled, and that was definitely a blush I caught while I reached for the handle to the back door of my car. "They would, but instead of being 'soccer girl' you'll be 'bad food girl'."
"They called me 'soccer girl'?" I asked amusedly, tossing my bag into the back seat and taking out my own jacket.
She pushed her hood down while I stuck my arms through my sweater. "Actually, my sisters just call you 'the girl'."
I tugged the blue and white sweater down over my head, and raised my arms to make sure my short black hair hadn't come out of my ponytail in the process. "The girl," I repeated with a smile. It was so definitive, and it made me feel like Hayden actually talked about me. Like I was the only girl she talked about, or the one she talked about the most. She clearly caught on to that idea too, because her blush darkened instantly. "The girl," I said with emphasis, grinning. "What do your parents call me?"
Her gray eyes darted away, and she uncomfortably pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. All it did was accentuate that laugh line, making the fact that she was embarrassed infinitely more entrancing. "They know your name," she muttered, immediately pulling open the passenger door and getting into my car.
My grin widened, and I chuckled all the way around and until I plopped down in the driver's seat. "Okay, Miss Health-nuts-for-parents," I said, turning the key in the ignition and backing out of my parking spot. "I saw you eating Twizzlers at lunch the other day."
"And they're never going to find out," she answered playfully, adding a moment later, "They were Red Vines, actually. I'm allergic to strawberry."
"No," I breathed in exaggerated disappointment. Hayden nodded. "You poor thing." This time, a shrug. "Have you ever tried it?"
"Yeah, once," she answered flatly, "And then never again."
"Right, duh," I laughed. "So how'd you like the game?"
"It was good," she nodded, "You're really good."
"Thanks." I glanced sideways at her, catching another blush. "You were bored, weren't you?"
"No," she said hastily. "Not… exactly." I huffed with amusement. "I'm not a big sports person. Usually I'm just sitting in my room, you know, reading or something."
That didn't surprise me. She'd always been more of the bookish type. That's why I was always keeping an eye on her, and making sure people didn't try to take advantage of her intelligence. "I waved at you though, did you see?"
She gave a bashful wince. "I didn't know if you were waving at me."
"Who else would I have been waving at?" I asked with a laugh. We arrived at the pizza place I went to occasionally with my teammates, and parked in a spot out front.
"Not me," she answered unsurely, "Anyone but me," and then like it was all the explanation she needed said, "You're Genevieve Moretti."
"Yeah but I invited you," I told her, trying not to laugh too hard because she was so timid. Her shoulders rose just slightly, unsure of what she could say. "And you can call me Gen, if you want." My lips curled in a smirk. "It's probably easier than Genevieve Moretti."
In response to my teasing she lightheartedly narrowed her eyes at me, but then her gaze wandered into the bustling pizza joint. There were teenagers all over the place, with an arcade on one side and sports games on TV on the other. I'd been there plenty of times – it was deafening.
"Are we meeting your teammates?" Hayden asked, unable to disguise the apprehension in her voice.
"Well I told you it could be just the two of us," I said, twisting the key out of the ignition. "So I was going to see if you wanted to get food and eat in here?"
"In the car?" she clarified, sounding a little surprised. Maybe it seemed more intimate than she was comfortable with.
I nodded hesitantly. "It's loud inside, and the car's warmer than outside. But it's up to you."
"Yeah, okay," she agreed, and when I asked if she was sure, she nodded.
We both got out and headed inside to wait in line. She was staring at the menu the whole time, like she was having a hard time deciding what she wanted. Eventually we were next in line, and it was so loud inside that I had to lean in to her ear so she could hear me.
"What do you want?"
She pulled back to look at me unsurely, and she was far enough away when she spoke that I mostly had to read her lips. "I'll get it."
I shook my head, smiling to let her know it was fine. "I made you freeze for a sport you don't even enjoy. It's the least I could do."
She stared up at the menu again, and at the same time she leaned in to tell me, "Just pepperoni," I leaned a little too, so that her lips accidentally brushed my ear as she spoke.
It tickled, and it was kind of unexpectedly pleasant and it made me shiver. I hardly thought it was an embarrassing blunder, but I had to work to contain an amused grin at how dark she colored because of it, and she looked immensely grateful that it was our turn in line. After ordering and receiving our food and drinks, we carried it back out to the car. Even though we were just going to be sitting there eating, I started the engine to keep the heater running.
"With your parents being health nuts," I started to ask, setting my drink in the cup holder and scooting my seat back to keep my plate in my lap, "Have they ever done juicing? You know with vegetables and stuff."
Her head fell back against the headrest, and she groaned, "They do it like four times a week."
"Oh my God," I sat forward excitedly, "So you know my pain."
She laughed, shifting in her seat. "Your parents do it too?"
"Well it's just my dad," I corrected. "But he got one for my little brother so he wouldn't get sick so much, and the only way my brother will do it is if I do too."
Hayden swallowed a bite of pizza, shifting again. "How often?"
I dropped my chin to tell her through my eyelashes, "Every. Day."
"No," she sighed sympathetically.
She shifted once more, and it was the first time I thought she might be uncomfortable sitting so properly in the seat. I'd noticed at school she always had at least one leg tucked under her, even when she was sitting at her desk. At lunch sometimes she pulled both feet onto the bench, or even sat on the floor.
"Get comfortable," I told her earnestly. "Stretch your legs. Kick your feet up. Take your shoes off. Whatever you want."
"Are you sure?" she asked with a bashful smile.
I nodded, and just to encourage her even more I leaned my seat back a bit, kicking my feet, shoes and all, onto the dashboard. Her laugh line deepened when I did, and she pulled one knee up onto the seat, turning in it to face me.
"How old is your brother?" she inquired before taking a gulp of soda.
"Eleven," I answered. "His name's Micah."
It looked like she was waiting for me to say more about it, but when I didn't she prompted, "And it's just your dad?"
"Mhm," I hummed, subconsciously touching the gold bracelet around my wrist. But I didn't want to talk about that, not tonight at least. "How old are your sisters?"
"Becca is twenty-six, and Millie is twenty-three."
"They're a lot older," I mused in shock, but couldn't keep from smiling happily, "You're the baby!"
"They don't let me forget," she chuckled.
"Do they still live at home?" I asked curiously, an amusing thought forming at the back of my mind. Hayden shook her head. "But they know about me?"
Her cheeks tinted darker than they had yet, and she reached for my iPod in the center console to distract herself. "You keep doing that on purpose," she accused, though she was having a hard time of hiding the smile on her face.
I was thoroughly pleased with her reaction. "Doing what?"
She looked up at me briefly before growing too embarrassed and glancing down at the iPod. "Bringing that up to make me blush."
I couldn't exactly deny it, but the last thing I wanted to do was annoy her. "Want me to stop?"
"Making me blush?" she asked unsurely. I nodded. "I don't think you could if you tried." At that her cheeks colored even darker, and she immediately clicked on a song from the iPod.
With the first notes my jaw dropped. "Did you pick this or is it random?"
"I picked it," she told me, her eyebrows furrowing with curiosity.
I set my teeth in a wide smile. "It's one of my favorites!"
She swallowed her last bite of pizza before agreeing, "It's a good song."
While I reached over to grab her empty plate I bobbed my head with the beat, and when the lyrics came on I belted them, tossing both our dishes into the back seat. I only got through two lines before glancing at Hayden again. She looked so incredibly self-conscious even though I was the one singing.
"I'm embarrassing you," I laughed in sheer amusement.
"No," she replied, but when I scowled knowingly she admitted, "Okay, yeah, but I like it." She blushed again at what she'd said, but instead of growing overly bashful she motioned to herself. "See, you didn't even have to do anything."
"It's okay," I told her with a coy smile, already knowing it would darken her shade, "I like it."
It did exactly that, and she broke eye contact sheepishly to change the subject. "The piano part coming up is my favorite."
"Yeah?" I'd heard the song so many times already that I knew exactly how the part went. "Do you play at all?"
Hayden nodded. "A lot actually." I gave an impressed smile. "What about you?"
"Oh no," I chuckled, taking my phone out of my pocket to check a message when it vibrated. "I have no musical talent whatsoever."
She huffed amusedly, but said, "You're a decent singer."
I ignored the text and set my phone in my lap, gasping with mock offense. "Hayden Blair, you just flat out lied to me." She laughed, eyes wide like she didn't know how to respond to that. She had the cutest smile. My phone buzzed again, but once more I ignored it, because I wasn't ready for this to end. "So you play piano. Are you in orchestra or band at school?"
"I'm too shy to be around that many people." She earnestly shook her head. "I can barely talk to you without freezing up."
"I can't even tell," I said honestly. Aside from the fact that she was so bashful, she didn't seem to have any problems finding things to say.
"Yeah." Her shock made me laugh, so I told her playfully, "I think you're pretty charming."
Her eyes widened, and she shook her head. "No, I-"
But she stopped, so I prompted curiously, "What?"
Her cheeks were in a constant state of rosiness now, but she finished what she'd been about to say almost boldly. "I'm not charming, you're charming."
She was being completely serious, but I'd never been so unable to resist teasing as I was now. It was that smile, and that laugh line. "You can't steal my word, that's cheating. You got to come up with a new one."
"Um," she hummed, pursing her lips thoughtfully, making that line stand out more than ever. "Alluring."
I'd expected her to say something like talkative, or – knowing how she liked big words – charismatic. Alluring was far more satisfying, and this time it was me who blushed. "I'll take it," I said softly, put off by how unexpectedly shy it made me. Is this what she felt like?
She was watching me attentively, and for some reason I couldn't look away. Until my phone vibrated again, and I picked it up with a light sigh. By the time I set it down again her eyebrows were furrowed quizzically.
"Sorry, my dad keeps asking me where I'm at," I explained reluctantly.
"Do you have to go?" she asked, sounding a little worried. "I don't want to get you in trouble."
"I probably should," I said through another sigh.
I shot my dad a text to tell him I was on the way, and then straightened in my seat to put on my seatbelt. When I was on the street again I started in the general direction I thought Hayden's house was, hoping she'd know to give me directions.
"I was wondering," I began, and while she pointed to turn right she hummed that she was listening. "You want to eat lunch with me on Tuesday?"
"Tuesday?" she parroted.
"Yeah," I answered, suddenly worried I was reading this all wrong and she wasn't having a good time with me. "I mean you don't have to. Only if you want."
"No, I want to," she said eagerly, pointing again to the left. "Of course." She sounded so sure that I couldn't suppress a grin. "It's this one, on the right."
I stopped my car in front of her house, and turned off the engine so I could get out with her. I knew exactly why I did too. Why I didn't want to go home, and why I was walking her to her door.
"Thanks for coming to my game," I said, following her up the sidewalk.
I'd never thought about doing it before. I'd never talked to her long enough to think about it before. But now I couldn't stop thinking about it, and all the things that could go wrong. I could've been misinterpreting the entire night, and every time she blushed. Or maybe I was reading it right, but she'd just think I'd done it too fast. Or she simply wouldn't like it. Or I'd mess it up.
"Thank you for inviting me," she replied, turning to face me as we reached her door, and added playfully, "Genevieve Moretti."
Just do it. "Anytime." Do it.
I leaned forward nervously, planting a brief peck on her cheek before pulling away, almost terrified of seeing the look on her face.
"You're smiling," I observed, feeling my stomach flutter. She opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. "And speechless," I chuckled timidly. "Is that good or bad?"
"Good," she managed after a few moments. "Really… good."
That, and the smile she still had, it was encouraging. Even though my nervous heart was beating so hard I could barely breathe, I took the tiniest step toward her, telling her softly, "I kind of want to do it again?"
Her beautiful gray eyes met mine, I could tell she was blushing again, and she nodded. But I wanted her lips this time, so I tilted my head forward just enough so our lips were almost touching, and I paused, giving her a chance to recognize what I wanted, or to stop me if she wanted. She was so shy it caught me completely off guard when she closed the distance. She kissed me, pressing her mouth to mine without any hesitation, and to balance myself from the rush of heat that crashed through me my hand instinctively set against her cheek.
She was soft, and warm, and her skin felt so smooth against my palm. I didn't want to stop kissing her. Now that I'd finally done it I never wanted to stop, but neither did I want her to get the wrong idea about what I wanted. My lips parted slowly, just enough to finish the kiss with one last, delicate brush against her mouth. Then I pulled away, so gradually that my reluctance had to be obvious.
"Goodnight, Hayden," I said quietly, hardly able to contain the massive grin on my face.
She couldn't contain hers either. "Night."