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A NineStar Press Publication

Published by NineStar Press

P.O. Box 91792,

Albuquerque, New Mexico, 871099 USA.

www.ninestarpress.com

Off Pitch

Copyright © 2017 by Brianna Kienitz

Cover Art by Natasha Snow Copyright © 2017

Edited by: Elizabeth Coldwell


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any material form, whether by printing, photocopying, scanning or otherwise without the written permission of the publisher. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact NineStar Press at the physical or web addresses above or at Contact@ninestarpress.com

Printed in the USA

First Edition

October, 2017

Also available in paperback

ISBN: 978-1-947904-01-9

Warning: This book contains sexually explicit content, which may only be suitable for mature readers.

Off Pitch

Pitch Prodigies, Book One

Brianna Kienitz

Table of Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

About the Author

Dedication

To Jen

This ball never would have started rolling without you.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Elizabeth Coldwell and the rest of the NineStar Press team for giving this book wings, and for managing my love affair with excessive punctuation and my remedial Spanish.

I don’t have enough praise for the organizers and judges of Son of a Pitch 2016 who helped me get this story ready for the Twitter pitch season.

A lifetime of thank-yous to my real-life friends and family (especially my ever-patient wife) for supporting me through all of my wild endeavors. I know how insufferable I’ve been during this new chapter of my life, and I love you all the more for sticking around.

Special thanks to all of my new friends on Wattpad and Twitter who have become indispensable on my writing journey. I never would have finished the first draft of this story without you, and I know that many of you will become lifelong friends.

And thank you to you, beautiful reader, for picking up this story. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Chapter One

I stood back to watch my handiwork as the soccer ball soared gracefully into the top-right corner of the goal, and a whistle blew from somewhere near the sideline to signal the end of practice. I sighed with contentment at my own spectacular skill and jogged toward the net to help clean up the mess of balls that littered the goal area. My bedeviled locks clung to my sweaty forehead as the summer sun beat down from the clear August sky and reflected off Lake Michigan, bathing the soccer field in a double-whammy heat wave.

“God, Adds! Do you ever let up? The season hasn’t even started yet,” Jessica whined from her position inside the goal.

“After fourteen years on the pitch together, I thought you’d have learned the answer to that question.” I gave her chestnut ponytail a playful tug, and she glared at me while she leaned casually against the goalpost.

“Well, there was that one time in first grade when we sat down in your living room and watched a movie.”

“Ha. Ha.” I rolled my eyes. Jessica Strobel and I had been best friends since first grade. Now, going into our junior year at Northwestern University, our relationship subsisted entirely on sarcasm and caffeine.

“I’ll tell you what. Since you managed to block almost 10 percent of my shots, and I know what a sore loser you are, I’ll take you out to coffee after we’re done here.”

“Wow, your highness. You are so magnanimous. Thank you soooooo much,” Jessica said with a flagrant eye roll. As much as we teased, I did feel a little guilty for dragging her to this practice. It was the last day before the start of fall classes, and while pre-semester practices weren’t mandatory, I was beginning to feel the stress of the inevitability of graduating in two years. I only had two seasons left to impress scouts and get picked up by a professional team, or risk becoming another college has-been. That was a fate to which I refused to succumb.

Jessica was, and always had been, my rock. She kept me grounded and sane, which was no small feat, given my penchant for being a high-strung ass much of the time. Her role in my life was much like that of the Roman slaves who whispered in Caesar’s ear, “Remember, thou art mortal,” as he paraded victorious. Not that I thought I was immortal but I did have a big head. Jessica was the person who kept my over-inflated ego from carrying me away like a hot-air balloon.

“Fahey! Strobel! Clean up now, chitchat later,” Coach barked from the sideline. “Some of us have places to be.”

“You heard the man.” Jessica gave me a pointed look. “You made this mess. You clean it up.” Without another word, she traipsed off toward the locker rooms. I sighed audibly, but silently smirked at her retreating back. She put me in my place like no one else could. It was only fair that I pick up. If I hadn’t dragged her to this voluntary practice, she would probably still be sitting in our shared apartment in her pajamas, watching whatever show she was currently obsessed with.

Once I had stuffed the plethora of soccer balls back into a bag, I hitched it over my shoulder and hauled it to the sideline where the coach waited impatiently. He seemed focused on whatever he was doing on his clipboard, so I didn’t dare disturb him. I threw the bag into the pile of soccer sundries for the equipment manager to deal with and started to trot toward the locker room. I was only a few steps along when the coach called after me.

“Hold up, Fahey. A word, please.” His tone was always gruff, but I had learned that his demeanor was more warm than harsh. His face seemed to bear a perpetual five-o’clock shadow, but his blue eyes were always bright beneath his bushy rich brown hair. It was as if he was built to be a coach, right down to his powerful physique and firm attitude.

“What’s up, Coach?”

“Gardener is gone,” he said without looking up from his clipboard.

“Yeah. I know.” I felt like he was stating the obvious. Cam Gardener had been the captain of Northwestern University’s women’s soccer team for the past two years. She had graduated last year, and we’d held a big going-away party for her and the other graduates at the end of the semester. I was perfectly aware that graduating meant she wouldn’t be on the team anymore.

“So, we’ll need a new captain.” Coach looked up at me finally. “It’ll be the ladies’ decision, ultimately, but I want it to be you.” His expression was calculating as he waited for me to respond.

“Oh…wow! I…thanks, Coach. I mean, it’s up to the others, obviously, but…yeah. I’ll think about it. Thank you. I’ll think about it,” I babbled and started to walk away. I felt Coach’s gaze weighing on the back of my strong shoulders, and my thoughts began to race. I had never really considered being captain of any team. I was an excellent player by any standards, and it wasn’t that I was selfish, or a showboat, but I was always focused on being the best I could be. I loved being part of a team, but I had never thought of myself as a leader.

The prospect was both exhilarating and daunting. I tried not to let it worry me as I undressed and showered in the locker room. Hopefully, Jessica was up for being a sounding board, and she could help me figure this whole situation out. She was always the level-headed one.



“Hmm. Captain Adeline. It has a nice ring to it.” Jessica assumed a pensive pose and stroked her nonexistent goatee. Even as she teased, I could tell that her words were genuine.

“Really? You don’t think it’s too…?” I fiddled with my tea mug, not sure how to finish that thought. We’d been sitting at our usual table toward the back of our usual coffee shop for almost half an hour.

“Bigheaded? Egotistical? Narcissistic? Come on, Adds. You have to stop pretending that you’re not the greatest thing since sliced bread, and go for what you want. We all know you have an ego the size of Russia. Own it.” Jessica’s tone shifted from serious back to teasing. “I mean, I think you’re a bit of an ass, but the others seem to like you. I’m sure they’d be happy to have you as captain. So, if you want to do it, just do it.” She made a Nike swoosh in the air with her finger.

I giggled at her play on words, but continued to contemplate the dregs in my tea mug. “That’s the thing. I don’t know if I want to do it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty much a dream come true…”

“But?” Jessica interrupted, garnering my attention so that my gaze shifted from my cold tea waste to her probing eyes. Her eyes were stunning. They were an electric green that seemed almost unnatural. I told her regularly that I was convinced they were Photoshopped into her head.

Not that the rest of her wasn’t beautiful. Her sleek chestnut hair and her tall slender frame had a way of turning heads wherever she went. But it was her eyes that captivated and enthralled her prey, and I do mean prey. Jessica was less of a social butterfly and more of a social hawk. She would circle a group until she found someone worth sinking her sarcastic claws into, and hang on until she saw fit to let go. It wasn’t quite so violent as all that, but it was certainly entertaining to watch whenever we attended gatherings.

“But I don’t know if I should,” I said at last. “I’m already so busy with school, and practice, and matches. I don’t want to overload myself and screw it all up.”

“That would be a valid concern, if the captain had any real duties. But really, all you do is wear an armband and tell us to buck up and stop being whiny bitches as need be. Basically, you’re a Nazi.”

I snorted at her callousness. It was fortunate that I had no tea left to drink, or I would have spit it all over the table. “Well, the whole thing is a nonissue until the others vote. There’s no point in worrying about it until they make a decision.”

“For what it’s worth, you have my vote, oh captain, my captain,” she said with a mock salute.

“Thanks, cornball,” I replied with an eye roll. “Let’s get out of here. It’s getting late, and I want to get ready for class tomorrow.”

“It’s only seven o’clock,” she said incredulously.

I responded only with a scolding look.

“Yes, Captain!” She hopped off her seat to stand at attention, giving another sarcastic salute.

“You’re so rude. Why do I put up with you?”

“Because I’m adorable, and quirky, and the love of your life,” she said in sing-song, batting her eyelashes at me.

“I thought you didn’t swing that way.” I raised a flirtatious eyebrow at her.

“Of course not, darling, but I can’t help that you’ve fallen madly in love with me.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, sweetheart.” I chuckled and linked my arm in hers playfully as we set out on the short walk home.



Our apartment was a posh, two-bedroom space near the Northwestern campus in Evanston, Illinois. It was above and beyond the typical college apartment, with creature comforts like picture windows and a jacuzzi tub that even most working people couldn’t afford. Living in the dorms had been an experience, to say the least. Jessica and I had been grateful to upgrade from a dingy dorm room to our comfortable apartment one year prior, courtesy of my parents.

Looking back, it seemed a miracle that I was able to juggle school and soccer around the inconsistencies of living in a dorm, and adjust to the wide new world of college without having a complete meltdown. It all seemed like a quirky Disney Channel movie about someone else trying to survive their freshman year of college. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it had certainly been a crazy, mixed-up, whirlwind of a year.

I unlocked the apartment door and ushered Jessica inside. I tossed my keys onto the granite countertop and headed straight through the kitchen/living room and into my bedroom. Jessica followed and propped herself against my doorway. She watched with mild interest as I began fishing textbooks from my bookshelf and slipping them into my backpack.

“Fourteen years of school, and you still get first-day jitters?” she said with a hint of amusement.

“I like to be prepared. You should try it sometime.”

She chuckled malevolently. “Ah, but that would detract from my mystique. It’s a lot of work to maintain this air of carefree indifference.” She gestured to herself to emphasize her point.

“Don’t you have your own room to flaunt your indifference in?” I whined. “Your carefree mystique is rotting my brain, and making it impossible for me to organize.”

Jessica gave another throaty chuckle. “One of these days, my pretty, we’re going to convince you to unwind, and it’s going to be glorious.” Her words sounded more like a threat than a suggestion as she stalked off to her bedroom on the other side of the apartment.

I shook my head and resumed packing my backpack for class the next day.

Once I was satisfied that I had everything I would need for class, I got ready for bed, went back to my room, and stripped down to my underwear. Even though our apartment was air-conditioned, August on the lakefront was still too hot and humid for clothes. Not to mention I loved the feel of the soft cotton sheets against my skin.

Splayed beneath the bedspread at last, I stared up at the blank white ceiling, wondering what life might have in store for me. My thoughts raced with wonder and trepidation all at once. Despite my disquieted mind and my first-day-of-school nerves, it wasn’t long before the exhaustion from our earlier practice overcame me and I drifted off into a heavy, dreamless sleep.

Chapter Two

It was a beautiful summer morning, as I ventured across campus. The sun shone above the horizon, but it was still cool enough to be comfortable. It was such a joyous day that I would have had a pep in my step, if not for my current destination. My first class was beginning Spanish. It was the last general class I needed before I could focus entirely on my major. I was studying biomechanical engineering, but I had always struggled to learn a language. If I couldn’t pass the class, I wouldn’t be able to graduate on time, and I was feeling the pressure.

I hurried up the stairs to the classroom. I was still a little nervous, and I wanted to be early. If I could claim a seat in the middle of the classroom, maybe I could skate by without drawing too much attention. I had always been a straight-A student, but Spanish was my kryptonite. I had taken AP Spanish in high school, hoping to accelerate my college experience. By the end of the year, I hadn’t even taken the test to gain the college credit. It was painful and humiliating, and I was not looking forward to reliving the experience. Hopefully, I would find some magical solution to turn things around this semester.

I tried to be inconspicuous as I shuffled into the small classroom and took a seat at one of the middle desks, without looking up. I set my backpack on the floor and started to arrange its contents on my desk to keep busy. Before I could get very far, I heard a familiar squeal from the direction of the doorway.

“Addie?”

I looked up. It was Carmen, one of the defenders from the team. Her robust figure made her a force to be reckoned with on the field, but off the pitch, her genuine smile and caring nature painted her as nothing less than one of the kindest people I had ever met. She hurried over to where I was seated and wrapped herself around me in a stifling hug.

“Urngh. Hey, Carm,” I grunted into her smothering arm.

“I didn’t know you were in this class, too. Maybe we can be study buddies. How was your summer? Are you so excited for this season? I know I am.” Carmen was rambling at a volume that was entirely too loud for the small classroom. Even so, I found her enthusiasm endearing, and I smiled down at her warmly. When she realized she was being overbearing, Carmen blushed and glanced around the room at the other students who were huddled sleepily in their desks.

“Sorry,” she whispered.

“It’s okay, Carm. How was your summer?”

“It was okay,” she shrugged, speaking at a normal volume now. “I wound up babysitting my siblings all summer. It was fun, but I really didn’t do anything. It was kind of nice to take a break from everything and be with my family, you know?”

“That does sound nice.”

“What about you? How was your summer?”

“I stayed here and worked for the kids’ league. I even got to be a camp counselor for a week.” I smiled at the fond memories of my summer adventures with the young aspiring soccer players.

“Do you ever do anything that isn’t soccer-related?”

“Well, I’m here in Spanish class. I don’t see how that’s soccer-related,” I replied.

“Fair enough.” She threw her things on top of the desk next to mine with a huff. The classroom had filled up with tired-looking students as we talked.

A few minutes before class was scheduled to start, an older woman walked in. Her hair was tied up in a bun, and a flattering cap-sleeved shirt and pencil skirt draped her slender frame. She placed her briefcase on the table at the front of the classroom, and I could only assume she was the professor. The murmur of old friends greeting one another after the break and students shuffling their belongings about continued, until the professor looked up and started to rattle off a string of words I didn’t understand. Presumably, they were Spanish.

The elegant woman stared us down with a serious expression. An uncomfortable silence fell over the classroom. It was clear I wasn’t the only one who didn’t understand what was happening. Just when the moment was becoming too heavy, a wide grin broke out across the professor’s bird-like face.

“That was your first test.” She chuckled at her own joke. “But don’t worry. It won’t be graded. My name is Marcy, and this is section two of beginning Spanish. If you’re not signed up for beginning Spanish, you’re in the wrong place.” She paused to give people a chance to leave. One young man, a freshman by the look of him, flushed scarlet as he gathered his things and hurried from the room. Once he had exited, the professor continued.

“Very good, then. This lovely young lady to my right is Gabriella.” I hadn’t noticed the well-tanned, dark-haired girl standing next to the professor.

She gave a shy wave on cue. Marcy was not wrong; she was lovely.

I blushed as the girl turned her shy smile on me, and our eyes met for the briefest of moments. “She will be our teaching assistant for the duration of this course. Gabriella, if you would please pass out the syllabi.”

Gabriella took a stack of papers from the table and began roaming the room to distribute them. Marcy continued with her spiel as she did so. “You’ll find both of our email addresses on the front page of your syllabus. Feel free to contact us at any time. We will also hold open office hours at the times listed, should you wish to speak with one of us. If those times don’t work for you, let us know, and we’ll figure something out.”

Marcy proceeded to jump right into the course and taught us all how to introduce ourselves with a few simple phrases that she wrote up on the board. After a couple of group rehearsals, we took turns standing up in front of the class and giving our introductions. Most of the students were visibly nervous, but the professor was patient and gracious as she gently corrected people’s pronunciations and word orders.

Despite my best efforts, I found my attention wandering to Gabriella. She sat quietly at the table, writing on a simple notepad. Her fingers were slender and graceful as her hand danced along the paper. I wondered if she was taking notes, or if her attention was elsewhere too.

“Miss Fahey?” My name floated to my ears. I realized too late that Marcy had been calling me up for my turn. I flushed with embarrassment as I walked to the front of the room. As I turned toward the class, my eyes sought a space on which to focus and found Carmen, who had already done her introduction. She smiled her cheesy cheerleader smile and gave me a thumbs-up. I managed to regurgitate the requisite phrases without making any more of a fool of myself. I hurried back to my desk and pretended to be absorbed in note-taking to avoid looking at anyone else in the class.

I was grateful that by the time we had finished our introductions, the class was over. I stuffed my belongings into my backpack and hurried out of the classroom without looking back.

“Hey, Addie! Wait up,” Carmen called after me. Her stride was brisk as she chased after me in the hallway. “Where are you off to in such a hurry? Do you want to get some breakfast with me?”

“I have another class across campus.” It was true, but I still felt as if I was making excuses to get away from social interaction for a few minutes.

“Oh. Okay. Well, I’ll see you at practice tomorrow?” Carmen’s peppy expression faltered almost imperceptibly.

“Of course,” I replied with a reassuring smile. “Have a great day. See you tomorrow.” I waved as we parted ways.



The first two days of class were a dull blur of course introductions, syllabi, and claiming my preferred territory in the lecture halls. I was constantly running into friends and acquaintances who all wanted to make small talk about the summer and what the new semester had in store. Not that I didn’t enjoy catching up, but it grew tedious.

Soccer practice on Tuesday afternoon couldn’t come soon enough. The pitch was my home. It was the only place where I felt wholly myself, and it was where I belonged. I loved running drills and scrimmaging with my teammates, and being around them put me at ease. I appreciated having friends outside soccer, but I would never share a bond with them like I did with my teammates. Many of us were closer to each other than we were with our families. Having the whole team back together at practice allowed me to finally start to feel normal in the new semester.

I worked hard, pushing myself to the brink as we ran drills, hoping to run off my start-of-term jitters. By the end of practice, I was too exhausted to worry about anything but taking a shower and collapsing on the couch with Jessica and a hearty dinner.

“Gather around, ladies,” Coach called out as we finished picking the equipment up off the field. “We have some business to attend to before you hit the showers. As you all know, we lost several teammates to the plague that is graduation last year.”

There was a murmur of acknowledgment.

So, we have some positions to fill. The fresh meat will be here for practice starting first thing next week. If any of you would like to try out for other positions, let me know, and I’ll throw your name in the hat with the rest of them.”

“Second, we’re in need of a new captain.”

I tensed, knowing where this announcement was headed.

“Now, the decision rests with all of you, but I would like to nominate Fahey to the position.”

A small din erupted from the circle. Everyone started talking at once, so that it was impossible to make out what any one person was saying.

“Easy, ladies,” the coach bellowed above the noise.

Everyone fell silent again immediately.

“I want to make this quick, so we’re going to do a yay or nay vote. All in favor of Fahey as your new captain, hands in the air.”

From what I could tell, everyone’s hand went up. Carmen even raised both hands.

“Stop cheating, Mayer. Everyone gets one vote,” Coach growled.

A wave of giggles made its way around the circle.

“All right then. All opposed, hands up.”

Everyone put their hand down, and we stood staring at each other, waiting for someone to object. No one did.

“Well, Fahey, what do you say. Will you do us the honor?” Coach beamed at me. I studied my teammates while they gazed back expectantly.

“Why not.” For better or for worse, the decision was made.

The others whooped and hollered, and huddled around me, hugging me, patting me on the back, and congratulating me.

“Thanks, guys,” I said sheepishly once the celebration had died down.

“No, Fahey. Thank you,” Coach corrected. “Now hit the showers, you stinking animals. We’re done here.”

Chapter Three

Time progressed with more urgency after the first few days of school. Teachers started piling on the homework, and students like myself set our noses to the grindstone as we settled back into the swing of things.

As the captain of the soccer team, I played an important part during tryouts in the second week of the fall semester. I was instructed to lead several of the drills, and I was encouraged to give my opinion on who should be placed in what positions. It was a fun experience, but I was exhausted when the first practice was over Tuesday evening. We still had one more placement practice to do on Thursday, but I was grateful to be free from soccer practice Wednesday evening.

It hadn’t even been two weeks, and already I was falling behind in my Spanish class. Much to my chagrin, I needed help if I was going to pass the class. And so it was that I found myself making my way to the place where Marcy had said she would be holding office hours. A few people threw casual greetings my way as I maneuvered through the narrow hallways.

“Heyyyy, Fahey,” a generic-looking bro said as he passed me by. I was too caught up in trying to remember if I knew the guy to respond. I was fairly certain I had never met him before.

Sometimes, being me was weird. A lot of people on campus knew who I was, not because I was a particularly social person, but simply because I was one of the top athletes in the school. I had received a full scholarship to come play soccer for Northwestern, and started every game during my freshman year. From the start, I was a force to be reckoned with. I’d been the school’s leading soccer star ever since. As such, my name had made it into the school newspaper after almost every game, often accompanied by pictures of me tearing it up on the field.

Suffice to say that I had achieved a moderate amount of celebrity on campus in the two years I had been here. It made me more than a little uncomfortable at times, but not enough to deter me from my passions. I played soccer because I loved the game, and nothing could change that.

I reached the office I had been seeking and stopped short outside the open door.

“Oh, hello. Adeline, right?” Gabriella sat at a nondescript desk in the cramped space beaming up at me more brightly than I felt the situation warranted. I hadn’t realized I was still standing in the doorway staring until Gabriella’s smile faded slightly and she cleared her throat. “Would you like to come in?” she asked, sounding concerned and confused by my behavior.

“Oh, right. Sorry. Just Addie is fine.” I snapped out of my stupor and took the seat at the end of the desk reserved for wayward students such as myself.

“What can I do for you, ‘Just Addie’?” she teased with a good-natured chuckle.

“Well, I’m hoping that you might help me pass this class. I’m terrible at Spanish.”

“Everyone is terrible at Spanish at first. That’s why they call it learning,” she replied with thinly veiled sarcasm. Gabriella may have seemed shy in the classroom, but clearly there was more to her than met the eye.

I had yet to be in such close proximity with her. Now that I was, I could see a spark burning behind her jewel-like hazel eyes that spoke of something fiery hidden beneath her reticent exterior. It created a persona of mystique that I was finding terribly distracting. It didn’t help that she was utterly gorgeous. Her chocolate-colored hair perfectly complemented her bronze skin. She was relatively small in stature compared to my five-foot-nine frame. I guessed she was a few inches shorter than me, and her curves were to-die-for.

“So, did you have something specific in mind to work on, or did you want me to teach you the whole of the Spanish language right now?” Gabriella’s snark caught my attention, and I looked down sheepishly to avoid staring at her any longer.

“Umm…I guess I don’t really understand the whole masculine/feminine thing.” Of course you don’t. You’re a lesbian. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing at my poor choice of words.

Gabriella was the picture of patience as she explained the difference between the masculine and feminine word endings, and the mechanics that went along with them. I marveled at the complete lack of condescension in her explanations. I had been to office hours with other TAs and professors that had left me feeling like a fool by the end of the session.

“Where are you from?” I asked several minutes later, once I felt that I was beginning to get a handle on the concepts we were discussing.

España,” she replied without looking up from the diagram she was drawing to display different vocabulary words with feminine and masculine endings.

“Oh. That explains the accent.” Wow. Smooth, Fahey.

“What about you? You don’t sound wholly American, either.” I was glad Gabriella had chosen to ignore that dumb comment.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” I said with a cocky half-grin. “I’m from Naperville, but my parents are Irish immigrants. I guess their accents rubbed off on me a bit.”

“Huh. That’s cute.” I didn’t know if she realized what she said, but the comment made me blush furiously. I was glad her attention was still focused on creating the endings table. “So, Naperville. Isn’t that pretty ritzy?”

“I guess so.” I shrugged, not wanting to delve into the details of my family or my upbringing. I was spared that uncomfortable conversation by a knock at the door. A young man I didn’t recognize stood in the doorway.

Buenas tardes, Juan,” Gabriella greeted him with a wide smile. The man, Juan, replied with a string of Spanish, almost none of which I understood. Gabriella nodded and hummed at appropriate intervals, and then looked to me when Juan had finished speaking.

“Did this help?” she asked, turning back to the business at hand.

“Umm…yeah. Thanks. I’ll be going.” I excused myself awkwardly, sensing that I was on the verge of overstaying my welcome.

“Okay. Feel free to drop by again if you have more questions.”

I waved in acknowledgment as I pushed past Juan and hurried out of the office.

I had no right to feel as downtrodden as I did by Juan’s intrusion, but the feelings were there, all the same. I was truly enjoying my time with Gabriella, even if it was for something as horrible as Spanish. Juan’s interruption had made me unnecessarily morose. I wondered if he was her boyfriend. Not that it mattered. I had a life plan to stick to. It would be in everyone’s best interest for me to keep my head down and mind my own business.

I kicked a pebble along the sidewalk absentmindedly as I made the trek back to the apartment. I hoped that Jessica wouldn’t be home so that I could be irrationally sullen in peace. Alas, I would have no such luck.

“Why so gloomy, sourpuss?” Jessica asked as soon as I walked in the door. I dropped my backpack on the floor, and flopped down on the couch next to her.

“I suck at Spanish,” I grumbled.

“Ah. The old coming-to-terms-with-the-fact-that-you’re-almost-as-human-as-the-rest-of-us bit,” Jessica said with unbridled sarcasm, throwing a piece of popcorn into her mouth.

“Whatever. What are we watching?” A colorful song-and-dance number was flashing across the TV screen.

Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“Isn’t that a Halloween thing? It’s barely even September.”

“Does it matter? This is the holy grail of musicals.” Oh boy. Jessica was on a roll today.

“Wow. I can’t believe my parents allowed me to be friends with you all these years. You better keep a fire extinguisher handy whenever they’re around. They might try to burn you at the stake for that kind of blaspheming.”

“Ha! Puh-lease. As far as your parents know, I’m as innocent as a lamb. I’m pretty sure they love me more than they love you.”

“You’re telling me,” I said with a snort. “What’s this show about anyways?”

“You haven’t even seen it?” Jessica exclaimed. “I feel like I have failed as your best friend. What else haven’t I made you watch?”

“How should I know? I’ve been too busy trying to be the best soccer player of all time.”

“God, Adds. You need to get laid. Sexually satisfied people are never this cranky.”

“Like you can talk? When was the last time you saw any action?”

“What do you think I was doing while I was home over the break?” She waggled her eyebrows. “I wasn’t teaching little soccer snots how to dribble a ball. That’s for sure.”

I sighed at her. “Wow. Good for you. I don’t have time for that stuff anyway.” I tried to back out of the conversation, but I knew it was no use.

“I know, Adds. Being perfect is too much work. You should take a break every once in a while, if you even know what a break is.”

“Never heard of it.” I stood and picked my backpack up off the floor, putting an end to the conversation, and headed to my bedroom.

“Hey, Adds!” Jessica stopped me when I was halfway to the door. “Speaking of Halloween, your birthday is coming up.”

“Yeah. And?”

“You’re turning twenty-one. That’s kind of a big deal. We’re partying, right?”

I threw my head back and groaned.

“Adds, come on. You only turn twenty-one once. You can let loose this one time. After that, I promise I will never lead you into temptation again.” She put her hands together in a gesture of prayer and batted her eyelashes innocently.

“Fiiiine. But if you let me do anything stupid, I’m kicking you to the curb.”

Jessica crossed her heart, and a mischievous grin spread across her face. She looked a little too much like the Joker for my liking, and I stalked off into my room before she could talk me into any more terrible ideas.

Chapter Four

The door to Marcy and Gabriella’s shared office was closed. I stopped in the hallway and listened for a few moments, but heard no voices inside. If there was anyone there, they were alone, so I knocked softly. Rustling carried from the other side of the door as someone rose from their chair and walked to the door. Gabriella’s cheerful face greeted me with a smile.

“Addie, it’s lovely to see you again. Please, come in. What can I do for you?” She pulled a chair out for me before taking a seat in the other one.

“Thank you. I’m having some trouble with the homework for tomorrow. I was hoping you could help me out.” I leaned over the side of my chair to pull out the homework in question. When I sat back up, Gabriella was sitting dangerously close. Her face was only inches from mine, and I leaned back to avoid knocking heads.

“Is that really what you want, Adeline?” she purred in a deep, sensual tone. Not giving me time to react, she tackled me to the floor and began pushing my shirt up to slither her hands over my toned abdomen.

Before I could think better of it, I pulled her in for a deep, passionate kiss. Her lips were soft and I sensed that she hungered for more. I trailed more kisses down her jawline.

Feeling my own desire growing like a fire inside me, I began to nibble my way down Gabriella’s neck to her collarbone. She let out a nearly inaudible moan that sent me into a frenzy. I pulled at her clothes in desperation.

I bolted upright in my bed. I was hot, sweating, and breathing heavily. My bedroom was still pitch-black, and I was alone. I must have thrashed about in my sleep, confusing Gabriella’s clothing for my real-life sheets, because I was hopelessly tangled in them.

“What the fuck?” I whispered, feeling out of breath. It had all been a dream, but that didn’t mean the emotions that had gone along with it weren’t real. I leaned across the bed and tapped on my phone to check the time, still trying to pull my lethargic brain back into reality.

It was 4:49 a.m. on the second Saturday of the semester. I groaned and threw myself back onto the pillows, hoping I might be able to go back to sleep. Immediately, my mind began racing with memories of the overly vivid dream.

Gabriella’s presence in Spanish class was becoming increasingly distracting. I had met with her again, one-on-one, the previous afternoon to go over the homework for the weekend. I’d had to fight through the entire session to stay focused on Spanish, and not on her dusky voice, her elegant movements. She was mesmerizing.

“Dammit, Fahey! Get your shit together. You don’t have time for schoolgirl crushes.” I flung the bedspread off me and threw myself out of bed. I tromped to the kitchen for a cool glass of water that I hoped would clear my mind and help me reset. Unfortunately, that was too much to expect of one inanimate glass of water. While I felt more awake, my mind was still fighting to rid itself of thoughts of Gabriella, and the things my subconscious wanted to do to her.

Frustrated, and more awake than I wanted to be at 5:00 a.m. on a Saturday, I decided to go out for a run. I could see the clear skies and early morning sun beckoning to me through the large picture window in the living room. I tiptoed back to my bedroom to change my clothes, ever wary of disturbing Jessica from her slumber. I had no desire to face her wrath if I woke her this early on a Saturday.

I changed into my sleek running clothes, pulled my long auburn hair into a ponytail, and set my iPod to my favorite running mix. Before I left, I scribbled a quick note on a notepad in the kitchen.

Jess,

Went for a run. If I’m not back in an hour, you can have my shoes.

Addie

I chuckled at my lame joke and hustled into the hallway and down the stairs. As I barreled through the front door of our apartment building, I breathed in the cool morning air with relief. There was nothing like a flat-out run in the morning to help me forget about everything else.

I sprinted for a quarter of a mile or so, until my brain could focus on nothing besides my rhythmic breathing and the pumping of my legs and arms. Once I was certain that my thoughts weren’t in danger of wandering to Gabriella, I slowed to a more comfortable pace and let my legs carry me through the familiar streets that I ran almost every day.

Forty minutes later, I found myself back inside the apartment, which was still quiet, aside from Jessica’s continued snores. The corners of my mouth turned up in a smile of endearment at the familiar, comforting sounds of my best friend sleeping peacefully in the next room.

I chucked my iPod onto the bed as I passed my bedroom and went into the bathroom to shower. The tiled room turned into a sauna as I allowed the hot water to run. Ribbons of floral scents washed over me as I indulged in a multitude of luxurious bath products.

I was reluctant to leave the comfort of the hot water, but after twenty minutes, I was beginning to prune, and I forced myself to shut the water off. The oversized towel I wrapped myself in was like a warm hug as I started for my bedroom, steam billowing behind me.

I took my time dressing and brushing out my hair. I dressed in my most comfortable pajama pants and an oversized Northwestern T-shirt and left my hair down. I didn’t have any plans for the day aside from doing homework, so I didn’t see any harm in being comfortable. In a last-ditch effort to put off doing my homework, I decided to make breakfast for Jessica and me.

We didn’t have much of a selection in the way of breakfast foods, but I managed to scrape together the ingredients for omelets and bacon. The sounds and smells of breakfast sizzling on the stove were almost as relaxing as the hot shower I’d taken. I felt content and much less distraught than I had when I woke up several hours earlier.

Jessica still wasn’t awake by the time I had finished cooking, so I decided to bring her breakfast in bed. I plated the food and silently carried it into her bedroom.

“Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey,” I cooed in a motherly tone.

Jessica groaned and opened one eye to look at me groggily from her blanket nest. She perked up almost immediately when she saw the steaming plate in my hand.

“Breakfast in bed? You are the best wifey,” she said, rubbing at her bleary eyes.

I set the plate on her bedside, aware of her penchant for dropping things before she was completely awake.

“If you like it, then you should’ve put a ring on it,” I teased and flashed her a warm smile.

“You wish. Can I have some alone time with my food, please? It’s too early for you and your neuroticism.”

“Okay, sleepyhead.” I left Jessica to her meal and wandered back out to the living room. I took my time to revel in my own breakfast before finally settling down to start my homework.

Half an hour later, Jessica emerged from her den and stumbled into the bathroom without a word. I chuckled to myself at the absurd level of Jessica’s aversion to mornings, but continued to work on my homework on the couch, not willing to let myself become too distracted.

An hour later, Jessica had made herself presentable and the next thing I knew she was sitting next to me on the couch browsing through Netflix. “It’s cool if I watch TV, right? I don’t want to mess with this whole ‘homework’ thing you have going on.”

“It’s fine, Jess. Just none of that reality crap, okay?”

Jessica let out an affronted gasp. “As if I would watch such a travesty. You wound me, madame.”

I couldn’t help but be amused by her silly outburst. Jessica always knew how to make me smile. It was frustrating sometimes. I could never stay mad at her, despite my best efforts.

We sat quietly for almost an hour, me doing my homework and Jessica watching some zombie show. It was peaceful, until there was a quiet, unexpected knock on the door. Jessica and I looked at one another with uncertainty.

“I’ll get it.” I pushed myself up off the couch and shuffled to the door.

“Hello?” I said, cracking the door just enough to peek into the hallway.

¡Hola!” It was Gabriella. I blushed violently at the memory of the dream I’d had of her only hours ago. I was also completely embarrassed that Gabriella was seeing me in my pajamas. What was she even doing here? How did she find me? Was I still dreaming? A dozen questions raced through my mind and rendered me dumbstruck. I stared at her with my mouth hanging open.

“Adds, who is it?” Jessica called from the couch. When I didn’t answer, she came to investigate.

“Umm…hi. I’m…Gabriella.” My perturbed TA introduced herself hesitantly, looking past me at Jessica. “I came by to drop this off.” She held my Spanish textbook out to me. “You left it in the office yesterday. I thought you might need it for your homework.”

“Oh yeah. Of course. Thank you.” My voice sounded too high-pitched as I snapped out of my stupor. Gabriella must have thought me a complete idiot. This was the second time in less than a week that I had simply stood staring at her. “I’ll just…” I took the book from her and tossed it on the counter. I realized too late that that might have been construed as disrespectful, and winced. “Sorry,” I mumbled. Pull yourself together. I mentally berated myself for my embarrassing display.

Huddled in the doorway, the three of us shared a moment of uncomfortable silence. Jessica stared at me, and her expression flashed from confused to incredulous to intrigued all too quickly. I knew I needed to speak up, or she would interject with something I was bound to regret. “Umm…I hope this isn’t rude, but how did you find me?” I asked Gabriella, sounding much more confident than I felt at having her at my apartment while I was in my PJs.

Gabriella blushed and looked away. “It was in your student records.” She began to play with her hair. “I didn’t want you to fall behind in your homework without your book.” Her excuse was hardly valid. She could have emailed me to come pick it up, rather than stalk me at my home, but I wasn’t about to call her on it and make her even more uncomfortable.

“Gabriella, I’m sorry that my friend here has the manners of a gorilla. Would you like to come inside?” Jessica offered.

“Yes. That would be—” She stopped herself, and her polite expression darkened with sadness. “Well, umm…I have to…I can’t. I’m sorry.” Without another word, she hurried off down the hallway.

Jessica and I stood dumbfounded in the doorway until the door to the stairwell at the end of the hallway clicked shut. I slowly closed our own door and turned back into the apartment.

“What. The hell. Was that?” Jessica asked dramatically.

I tried to reconfigure my expression into something more nonplussed, and I walked back over to the couch and plopped down on it.

“What do you mean?” I tried to play innocent. “She’s my Spanish TA. She was just bringing me my book.”

“Bullshit,” she said, unconvinced, and hurried over to sit next to me on the couch. “TAs don’t just stalk their students to bring them a stupid textbook, and you know it. What’s going on between you two?”

“Nothing! I hardly even know her. I have no idea why she came over here. So, can we drop it?”

“This isn’t over.” Jessica turned away and pressed the play button on the remote to resume her show. To anyone else, the conversation would have appeared to be over, but I knew better. Jessica would let the discussion simmer on the back burner until she thought she could catch me off guard and trick me into losing whatever social game we were playing.

I was just grateful to drop the conversation for now, so I turned my attention back to my homework. I could tell that Jessica was tense beside me from the odd visit, but I knew it was best to let her be. When the episode she was watching came to an end, she turned the TV off and dropped the remote loudly on the end table.

“Get dressed,” she commanded me.

“What? Why?”

“We’re college students, and it’s the weekend. I think we could both use some fun.”

“Jess, I can’t. I have homework.” I was becoming exasperated with her attitude.

“It’ll only be for a few hours. You can do it later. You still have all day tomorrow.” I was running out of excuses, and I could tell Jessica wasn’t going to back down.

“Fine. Where are we going?”

Jessica’s tone underwent a sudden excited shift. “Well, there’s a new Marvel movie out, and maybe we could go to lunch afterwards?”

“Deal,” I agreed and walked into my bedroom to change.



We cruised down the road in my 1964 Mustang convertible. She was my baby, despite her constant need for repairs and upkeep. The car had been a gift from my parents when I’d turned fifteen. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the wisest decision for them to give a new driver a mint-condition, antique car, but I had managed to avoid any major scrapes in it so far.

Jessica sat demurely in the passenger seat. With the soft top down, our long hair streamed behind us in the wind. Personally, I hated driving in the open air. I hated the feeling of the wind whipping my face and the awkward inability to breathe correctly as the air rushed around my nostrils, but Jessica insisted that we be as visible as possible for maximum sexual appeal. We never failed to turn heads when we traveled this way, and Jessica reveled in the attention.

She had even managed to pick up a date with this technique on one occasion. We had pulled into the coffee shop one evening for a study outing. A chiseled meathead had sauntered up to drool on my baby, and Jessica had engaged him in a nauseating flirtatious display. After almost half an hour of bad jokes and fake laughter, the meathead had taken Jessica away in his boring SUV, leaving me alone to drink my tea and work on my drafting homework.

I remember texting Jessica almost every half hour to make sure she was still alive. Being whisked away by any random stranger, even if it were a beautiful woman rather than a man, sounded like a terrible idea to me.

To my great relief, she had come home unharmed, if a little hungover the next morning. Apparently, she and the meathead had met up with some of the other girls from the soccer team. They had gone clubbing, gotten wasted, and Jessica had wound up spending the night at Carmen’s place. I was grateful that we had a supportive network of teammates who were always looking out for one another.

“Did you enjoy the movie?” Jessica asked, pulling me from my reverie.

“It was epic, as always.”

“Mmm. Nothing like a ripped superhero in tight pants.” I glanced over at her dreamy, far-off look and smiled.

“I’m more of a strong-independent-women-in-tight-leather fan myself.”

“What? Scarlett Johansson? Please, that woman’s got nothing on you.” Jessica’s compliment made me blush. There was nowhere to hide my face while I was driving, so of course Jessica noticed. “Aww, Adds, you’re so adorable.”

“Whatever,” I grumbled and flicked on the radio to try to avoid further embarrassing conversation. “Thanks for dragging me out, Jess. This was fun.” I knew Jessica would take the bait if I turned the compliments back on her.

“I know. I’m a genius. I’m here for you, Adds. I always know what you need.”

“Thanks, Mom,” I sassed.

“Speaking of, when was the last time you talked to your parents?”

“I don’t know. July, maybe?”

“Adds! Your parents live an hour away, and you couldn’t even be bothered to talk to them on the phone in the last three months?”

“Oh please, Jess. You know how they are.” It wasn’t that I didn’t get along with my parents, but our relationship was distant, at best. We had nothing to talk about, so why bother?

“What about how you are, Adds? You’ll never bridge the gap if one of you doesn’t take the first step.”

“Why are we even talking about this right now? I thought we were supposed to be having a relaxing, carefree afternoon?”

Jessica put her hands up in surrender. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m just trying to be your caring best friend. You only get one set of parents, and they won’t be around forever. I don’t want you to have any regrets down the line.”

“Message received,” I said with finality.

I was grateful to find a parking spot right in front of our favorite eatery, Nevin’s Pub. For Jessica and me, food was the great equalizer. We would be too focused on our food for at least the next hour to bicker. I didn’t understand why things had grown so argumentative between the two of us as of late, but the meal would serve as a welcome distraction, and hopefully, things would be more civil afterwards. We claimed a table on the bar side of the restaurant and settled in for a delicious meal.

Chapter Five

We were doing warm-up drills on the field for our first game of the season. I was nervous, but it wasn’t normal, pregame jitters. After the incident at the apartment, I had done everything in my power to avoid Gabriella. I hadn’t been to office hours all week, even though I still wasn’t having much success with the Spanish language. I kept my head down in class and avoided looking at her. I tried my very best not to think about her, but being human, the harder I tried not to think about her, the more she crept into the corners of my mind.

She continued to infest my dreams with increasing frequency. It was ludicrous, and it was starting to make me crazy. I didn’t even know the woman. There was no reason for me to take such a reckless interest in her. Granted, she was wildly beautiful, and patient, and kind, and her smile was like the sun in spring, and her voice was honey in a warm cup of tea. But that was beside the point. Aside from her physical appeal, and her country of origin, I knew nothing about her. She was an intense and unwelcome distraction in my already hectic life, and I would push her from my mind at any cost.

And so it was that I found myself running passing drills with the rest of the team, trying to pretend that the ball was my traitorous heart, and that, if I kicked it just right, it would fall in line like a well-placed shot. Unfortunately, like my foolish feelings for Gabriella, the ball kept coming back.

Coach called out to us from the sideline to huddle up. We picked up the warm-up balls and jogged off the field.

“All right, ladies, I don’t want any showboating today. Let’s have a clean, technical game. I want to see lots of passing. If the other team isn’t dizzy by the end of this match, you’ll all be doing laps for a week. Spread out, and for God’s sake talk to each other. Got it?”

There was a murmur of assent within the huddle.

“I said, got it, ladies?”

“Got it,” we called back in unison and with more gusto.

“Good. Hands in. Wildcats on three.” We threw our hands on top of one another, several ladies bouncing on their toes in anticipation.

“One! Two! Three!”

Wildcats!” We cheered in unison. Without prompting, we took off for our positions on the field.

“Don’t suck,” Jessica called after me as we went our separate ways.

“Watch out for the goalpost,” I hollered back. It was a pregame ritual we had shared for almost as long as we’d been playing soccer together. It had all started in eighth grade, after Jessica accidentally slammed her head into the goalpost while diving for the ball. She had knocked herself out cold and given herself a concussion. At the time, it had been a terrifying experience as I watched my best friend carted off the pitch on a stretcher.


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