Perfect Couple

Page 35


He stood. His hair was damp from his shower after practice, and long enough that it curled at the ends. Instead of his usual all-purpose gym clothes, he wore khaki shorts and a green striped button-down shirt that made his eyes look even greener. When I reached him, he took me gently by the elbow and said, "You look nice," in my ear. He kissed my temple-which struck me as something adult friends would do when they met in public and were pretending not to have an affair. Something my dad must have done a million times.
We sat down. "Sorry," I said. "Am I late?"
"I'm early," he said quickly, sounding almost nervous. He lowered his eyes as if he was embarrassed. Brody Larson, nervous and embarrassed around a girl: me! Surely I was reading him wrong, but in my fantasy he was affected by my presence, which was adorable.
Then I noticed the long splint on the middle finger of his left hand. A metal brace kept his finger straight, forcing him to shoot the bird perpetually.
"Brody! Did you break your finger?"
"Oh." He looked at it like he hadn't noticed. "Maybe. Probably not. I'm supposed to have it x-rayed tomorrow."
I gaped at him. "Does it hurt?"
He shrugged.
"Well, excuse my concern," I said, laughing. "I tend to overreact. I thought I was going to die from a contact lens gone haywire yesterday."
"You were really in pain, though," he said. "It's hard to think about anything else when you can't open your eye."
"True," I admitted, instantly feeling fifty percent less stupid. Brody did that for me a lot-made me feel less stupid rather than more. It was a strange sensation after weeks and weeks of Kennedy.
"Anyway," Brody said, "the hurt finger isn't on my throwing hand, so who cares?"
"Right!" I said with gusto. "How did practice go-besides possibly breaking a bone, but not a bone you care about?"
He shrugged again, and his mouth twisted sideways in a grimace.
I was afraid I knew what his expression meant. I asked, "Still being too careful when you play?"
"Yes," he said, "but we're also having the other problem you asked about yesterday. Guys on the team are being dicks about Noah."
"Yeah." I couldn't imagine having to put up with teasing or worse from a bunch of ultra-macho guys with something to prove.
"If Noah and I weren't friends," Brody said, "I might be the one being a jerk. I feel like a terrible person."
It took me a moment to decipher what he meant. "I feel like a terrible person" coming from Kennedy would have been sarcastic, but Brody didn't play that game. As I worked through his words, I murmured, "You honestly feel bad for something you didn't do?"
"No, I said if Noah and I weren't friends-"
"But you are friends," I said . "I mean, this kind of self-flagellation is what I do. But in your case, it makes zero sense. You are friends with Noah, and you've had his back. When he and I went out last year, he talked about how supportive you've been. That's the type of person you are."
Maybe it was just the dim restaurant lighting, but the shadows under Brody's eyes looked darker than ever as he said, "You always make me feel better." He said this seriously, like it was a bad thing.
"That's exactly what you do for people," I said. "You make everybody feel more comfortable."
"No, that's what you do," he said.
He was right. I wasn't sure I did make people feel more comfortable, but I tried. Maybe Brody and I were a lot more alike than I'd thought.
"You're an advocate for Noah," I assured him. "You don't have to give a speech about it or scold anybody. All you have to do is stand by him, because guys look to you as an example. You're the center of attention and the anchor of the team. You're so all-American, you might as well have the US flag tattooed on your forehead."
"Really?" he asked so sharply that I automatically responded, "No, of course not."
He eyed me. "You're saying I'm so unpredictable that I'm predictable. A football player who's everybody's friend, and who gets in a little trouble, but has a heart of gold."
I was shocked. That was exactly what I meant. And I could tell by his tone that he took it as an insult.
"I was kidding."
"It is what it is," he said. "That's not how I feel, but that's how people see me, and I have no argument with it, really." He spread his hands. The splint on his finger clicked against the tabletop. "Your observations about people are interesting. You don't have to back off just because I question you. I'm not Kennedy. I don't have to win the point every time."
I opened my mouth to respond, but I didn't know what to say. I'd resented Kennedy's power trip yesterday, but I'd thought I was just in a bad mood, crushing on Brody after he brushed me off. I hadn't realized my interaction with Kennedy was obvious enough for someone else to take note.
And I was very interested that Brody had noticed.
"Do you think I'm too quiet?" I asked timidly. "Kennedy tells me I hardly say anything, like I'm giving him the silent treatment."
"You speak when you have something to say, unlike Kennedy, who mouths off about movies nonstop until somebody tells him to shut up. Then he sulks and refuses to talk."

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