Falling into Us Read online

Page 17

Jason brought me home five minutes before my 1 a. m. weekend curfew, and we kissed slowly and tenderly in the warmth of his truck’s cab before I got out. We kissed differently, I realized. We were aware now of what came after kissing.

  I waved to him from my front door and went to my room, flopping on my bed with a crazy grin on my face, thoughts floating around my head as I fell asleep. I was a little sore between my legs, and I knew I would be tomorrow, too. It was worth it, even though I wondered, at the bottom of my heart, if it had been too soon, if we were too young, if I’d been totally ready.

  NINE: A Tree Falls


  August, two years later

  I lounged on my couch, expecting a call from Becca. My phone was on my thigh, the TV on, tuned to Sports Center. It was odd to be graduated, at loose ends. I had acceptance letters from the University of Nebraska and the University of Michigan, full-ride scholarship offers to both on the merits of football and grades. I needed the scholarships, especially since I’d stopped accepting any money from Dad for anything. I’d broken the national records I had my sights on by the middle of my senior-year season, and Dad had tried to give me something like two thousand dollars for each record broken. I refused it, he got pissed, we fought, and I put him in the hospital. He hadn’t even looked at me since.

  Becca was supposed to call me when she was done with her hair appointment, and we were going to go out for a late lunch to discuss university options. She was set on U of M, to the point that she’d only applied to there. Of course, she’d gotten in with a huge grades scholarship on top of all the other grants and scholarships she’d applied for. She was the valedictorian of our graduating class with a 4. 26 final GPA. Yeah, she was that kid. Her speech was moving and fluent, not one stutter. She’d even gone down to one ST session a month from twice weekly. She had so many scholarships her entire BS degree was going to be totally paid for, and I wasn’t quite sure how she’d done it. Well, I did, actually. She spent hours every day her entire senior year applying for them, writing essays, mailing them out, hunting for more scholarships. Her parents could afford to pay for her education, I was fairly sure, since they were pretty loaded—although they were quiet about that fact—but Becca refused to accept their help since it came with conditions. Namely, that she and I couldn’t live together. A deal-breaker for my girl, god bless her.

  I glanced at my phone: 3:52 p. m. She was supposed to call me at 3:30. I wasn’t worried or mad, just curious. She was punctual to a fault, so her being this late was unusual.

  I flicked off the TV and went to the dining room table, where the bills and mail were piled up. I lifted the two acceptance letters and stared at them, unsure of what to do. I really liked Nebraska’s football team, plus they had a great architecture program that I was interested in. Nebraska was Dad’s first choice for me, which sort of worked against it, in my book. The big issue with the University of Nebraska, of course, was the fact that it was in Nebraska. Fucking Nebraska. Six hundred and ninety-five miles from Ann Arbor, where Becca would be.

  Hell, no.

  U of M, of course, meant living with Becca. It had a couple of academic programs I was interested in besides their football team, which had improved over the last few years. Their starting quarterback was promising, and I was pretty sure his style would mesh with mine. Kyle and I had talked about going to the same college just so we could play together, but we had different careers in mind, and it just wouldn’t work. He didn’t really plan on trying to go pro, I didn’t think. He liked football, and he was damn good, but…it wasn’t his focus. He wanted to be a trainer, I think. I wasn’t sure. Me? I wanted to go pro, but I also wanted to have a degree to fall back on, a secondary career in mind. I’d learned something from Dad after all. He’d never planned on anything but playing ball. He’d floated through school, had a degree in English that wasn’t good for shit when it came down to jobs, since all his life was focused on ball.

  I didn’t want that for myself. I knew I was smart; I knew I had potential beyond football. I hadn’t spoken to another living person about this, yet, not even Becca, but I’d been browsing degree programs on the U of M website, and the one that had jumped out to me was their art and design department. Photography.

  I had a huge portfolio of photographs put together. Becca had helped me with it, claiming it was for herself so she could leaf through my photos in physical form. I knew better. She loved my photography. She was always encouraging me to pursue it. She’d be over the moon if she knew I was even considering a degree in photography.

  As stupid as it seemed, the biggest reason keeping me from it was my father. He’d disown me. Photography was art, and art was for sissies. I’d play ball, and that was it. As much as I hated my dad, deep down I knew I still wanted his approval.

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  An engine in my driveway had my attention immediately. It wasn’t my dad’s diesel F-350, that was for sure. I went to the window and nearly passed out when I saw Becca getting out of a sleek, black, brand-new VW Jetta. Her parents had refused to buy her a car, especially since I was always driving her everywhere, and they also refused to let her get a job to buy her own. That had been a point of contention in her relationship with her parents, which had improved over the last two years somewhat.

  I pushed through the screen door to greet her. She jumped up into my arms, wrapping her legs around my waist, a huge grin on her beautiful face.

  “They bought me a car!” She kissed me hard, holding the back of my head with both hands; I loved when she did that. “Isn’t it gorgeous? They said I needed a car to get back and forth from school. ” She wiggled out of my arms and ran to her car, running her hands over the hood.

  I laughed at her excitement, happy for her. “It’s awesome, baby. I’m so happy for you!”

  She straightened, bouncing up and down on her toes and clapping, acting more girly than I’d ever seen her. “I c-can’t believe it! I have a car!” I couldn’t keep myself from watching her boobs jiggle as she bounced on her feet. She caught me staring and gave me a wry glare. “Eyes on me, hon. ”

  I grinned sheepishly. “Sorry. I can’t help it if you’ve got a rack I can’t take my eyes off. ”

  She slid into my arms. “Haven’t you gotten enough of my rack by now?” She grimaced at the term I’d used. “Our two-year anniversary is next month. You’d think you’d be used to them by now. ” She smiled up at me, knowing the truth.

  I shook my head. “That’s impossible. I’m a guy. You can never get too much of a good thing. And, baby, your boobs are a great thing. ”

  She smacked my arm, but it was an empty protest. “You’re such a pig. ”

  “Yep. Oink oink. ”

  She just giggled, and god, did I love her cute little laugh. “Get in, hot stuff. This time I’m gonna take you for a ride. ”

  “I love it when you take me for rides. ” I grinned as I slid into the passenger seat.

  Becca ignored my not-so-subtle innuendo. “It’s a hybrid, sss-so it gets forty-two miles per g-g-gallon city, and forty-eight highway…” She backed out of my driveway, rattling off all the various specs of her new car. It made me seriously happy to see her so excited that she didn’t even notice her own stutters, which only happened when she was super nervous or excited. Or during the throes of passion, you might say. She tended to stutter a little as she came, and that always put a smile on my face. It was adorable, to me. A part of who she was, and knowing she felt comfortable enough with me that she didn’t even get embarrassed when she stuttered meant a lot to me.

  We passed my dad pulling into the driveway, and he gave us a cursory glare, lifting his eyes derisively at Becca’s foreign car. Buying foreign was a sin in his book; the fact that Becca was half-Arabic bugged him to no end, and we’d actually gotten in one of our worst fistfights over that very fact. He’d used a derogatory slur about her during my junior year, and I’d flattened him without hesitation. We