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The Single Game

An excerpt from


The Single Game

Prologue

 

 

“That was great, babe,” Riley said in a long exhale, rolling off of me unceremoniously.

“Yeah,” I agreed, wishing secretly that it had lasted a few minutes longer. I was almost there this time.

I think.

“Well,” he said after about ten seconds of staring at the ceiling. “I better get going.”

“So soon? Can’t we cuddle for a bit?” I asked as he stepped into his jeans. “I thought we were going to spend the day together.”

“Eden,” he scolded. “How many times do I have to tell you that varsity is no joke? If I want to make captain next year, I need to work my ass off this summer. That doesn’t mean I can sit around here all day with you playing house, now, does it?”

I sat up on my bed and crossed my arms in front of myself,feeling more naked than I already was. “You don’t need to bite my head off, you know. I thought you’d have more time once school let out. It’s not every day that we get the whole house to ourselves.” My mother was a romance novelist and worked from home; it was a rare day when I was home and she wasn’t, unless she was on a publicity tour. I thought I’d had it made that morning when she’d told me she was going into the city to shop with my aunt Emma.

“Hey, don’t be mad,” Riley said, grabbing my hand and pulling me up to my feet. “Give me a hug before I go.” I let him wrap his arms around my bare body, which felt odd since he was already fully clothed.“Listen,” he explained as he held me, “I didn’t mean to snap, okay? You know I’ve got a lot riding on me this year. But you know it’s going to be worth it,right? Who gets to go to homecoming with the king, huh?”

“Me,” I grumbled.

“Now, come on,” he said, pulling back to look at me. “Who gets to be the envy of all the other girls because she’s dating the captain of the football team?”

“I do.”

“That’s right; you do. I’m doing this for both of us,Eden.”

“I know,” I sighed. Sometimes I wondered if all the popularity was worth it. “Well, do you want to come back later for dinner? I’m cooking lasagna tonight.”

“I don’t think so; I’ve got a few things to do. Besides, you know I’m not a fan of the whole parents thing.” He turned to leave before stopping and looking back at me. “Why are you cooking again, anyway? Where’s your mom?”

“You know I like to cook, Riley. I used to help her when I was little and then I liked it so much that I sort of took over.”

“Well, whatever,” he said dismissively. “I think you should go to the mall with Becca and get some hot new bikinis for all the pool parties she’s going to have this summer, not hang around here all day cooking.”

“She’s taking me to the mall this weekend,” I replied as I brushed out my long black hair quickly in the mirror. Becca was my best friend at Glenbard East High School and she had the best in-ground pool. It made for a popular party scene every summer. I still didn’t have a car so I had to rely on her to get me around all the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. “And don’t knock my cooking,” I said with a smile. “If I remember correctly, you’ve loved everything I’ve ever made for you.”

“Yeah, all right,” he sighed. “Just don’t sit around and get fat.”

“Oh, shut up, jerk,” I laughed as I threw my bathrobe on. So far I’d been lucky in the metabolism department, so I chose to take his words as a joke, but I couldn’t help feeling a little nagging doubt in the back of my mind that he might dump me if I put on a few pounds.

“I gotta go,” he said, hugging me one more time. “We’ll do dinner another time, okay?”

“Yeah, fine,” I replied, trying not to pout. “Go on and get out of here so I can shower.”

“See ya.” He pecked me quickly on the lips.

“Bye,” I called after him as he trotted down the stairs and out the front door. We still hadn’t said “I love you.” We’d been together for over six months and I wondered if I should be worried about it, but the fact was that I knew I didn’t love Riley. I had no intention of saying it if I didn’t mean it.

I liked him a lot. We had fun together. He was very cute and extremely popular. I didn’t think he was the best boyfriend material all the time, but like Becca always said, what else matters when you have cute and popular? I worried that it made me shallow to agree with her, but there were seriously no other decent prospects at my school. Perhaps love would come in time.

And hopefully we would work the whole sex thing out eventually.

I sighed wistfully at that thought and went off to have a meeting with my shower massager.

 

* * *
 

Later that night, I sat at the dinner table watching my parents eat the aforementioned lasagna. I loved whenever they would grab a second helping of something I’d made; it made me feel giddy inside.

“Better than last time, Eden,” my dad mumbled around a mouthful of garlic bread.

“Mmhm,” my mom nodded enthusiastically, working on her own bite. After she swallowed she turned to look at me. “Sweetie, you make me feel so lazy when you cook like this! Did you do something different to the recipe this time?”

“I played around with the spices a little bit. And I added more ricotta.”

“Well it’s marvelous!” She swallowed another mouthful before adding, “I wish you would have come shopping with me today. I think you would have had fun. Your aunt Emma can sniff out a sale like nobody’s business.”

“No, thank you,” I groaned. I’d spent more than my fair share of time being dragged on daylong excursions to high-end department stores and up and down the city, looking for the perfect sale. When my mother and her sister-in-law went shopping, they didn’t play around.

“Maggie, leave her be,” my dad said as he wiped the sauce off his plate with another chunk of bread. “Not everybody loves to shop like you two. Besides, then she wouldn’t have had time to make this amazing dinner for us, would she?”

“Thank you, Daddy,” I said sweetly when he shot me a playful wink. “Have you guys given any more thought to getting me a car?” I asked hopefully. I’d been bugging them regularly for the last few weeks and I was starting to feel like I was making some headway.

“Eden, we’ve been over this,” my mom sighed. “You only have one more year of high school left. You’ll be going on to college and then you won’t be able to take it with you. Do you have any idea what it costs to keep a car on campus? Or in the city?”

“But all of my friends have cars already!” I could feel the childish pout beginning to form.

“Then you have plenty of options for rides, don’t you?” she snapped. My mom hated it when I pouted like a spoiled brat because she had tried very hard to keep me from becoming one. “Can we have a change of subject,please?” she huffed, setting her fork down with a loud clink.

“Actually, Maggie… I’ve got some news,” my dad said hesitantly.

“Yes?”

“Well, remember how I mentioned I’d been talking to Ethan last week? Well, he told me that they’re opening a new sports medicine clinic in Moline.”

“Oh, really? That’s interesting.”

“That’s what I thought. I made a few calls and it turns out that the guy who’s running it used to work with my dad years ago before here tired. As soon as he realized who I was he remembered that I used to work with the Bears. He was very interested.”

“Eric, what are you saying?”

“Well… The job is mine if I want it. Full time with benefits.”

“Oh my God, that’s incredible!” My mom jumped up and ran around the table, hugging him fiercely.

My dad was a physical therapist and used to travel all over the country working with professional athletes. When I started getting older he decided that he didn’t want to be away so much, so we moved to the suburbs and he took a job at the local hospital. He had always hoped to find another job working with athletes full time but there was nothing available nearby that wasn’t part time or didn’t require tons of travel. Plus, he’d always hoped to move a little closer to his hometown.

I knew all of these things, as well as the fact that this was an amazing opportunity for him.

That didn’t keep the spoiled brat from rearing her ugly head, though.

“What?!” I screamed. “Dad, you can’t be serious!”

“Lower your voice right this second,” my mom said sternly.

“But Mom! That would mean moving! My senior year! Who does that?”

“Eden, this is a big deal for your father. If you don’t change your tone right now you’re going to be grounded for the rest of your high school existence anyway, so it won’t matter where you live.”

“Maggie,” my dad interrupted, “sit down and everyone relax,okay? We’re still just talking.” He looked around the table at us before continuing. “Now, I called and spoke with my dad today and he said that if we want to do this, we can stay at their place until we find a house. He and Momare traveling this summer, anyway, so we wouldn’t even be in their way. That would also give us time to put this house on the market.”

I choked back a sob at the thought of moving nearly three hours away and leaving everything I knew behind.

“Eric, you’ve really given this some thought, haven’t you?”my mom asked. “Why haven’t you told me about this before now?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I guess I didn’t want to start this discussion until I knew it was a sure thing.”

“Do you think you want to live right there in the Quad Cities?”

“Well, we can certainly look there, but I really wouldn’t mind checking out what Aledo has to offer. I don’t mind the short commute and Ethan and Lily really seem to like it.”

Aledo? That’s even worse!” I cried, the tears streaming freely now. “It was a big deal when they got a stoplight!” My grandparents and my uncle had for some reason settled down in the tiniest Podunk town in the universe. My dad and his siblings had all grown up there and then moved away, but now they seemed to be going back, one by one.

“Eden, you’re being melodramatic,” my mom yelled at me.

“But Mom, how can you even be okay with that idea?”

“I can write anywhere, and your father has wanted this for a very long time. You certainly aren’t the only person in this house who has to make sacrifices.” When she saw that my tears weren’t abating, she said, “I think you should go to your room until you’ve calmed down. I’ll clean the table.”

I ran upstairs and grabbed my cellphone, hitting the speed dial for Becca’s number as I sniffled loudly.

Voicemail.

“Call me back as soon as you get this, okay?” I choked out. “I just got horrible news.”

I ended the call and dialed Riley.

Voicemail.

“Where the hell is everybody?” I cried into the phone, hanging up and tossing it on the bed. I knew I was being ridiculous, but I couldn’t believe that Dad just dropped a bomb on us like that. Or that Mom was fine with it!

I really needed to let off some steam and calm down, and sitting in my room wasn’t going to cut it. I threw a few things into my purse and went downstairs.

“May I please borrow the car?” I asked with a sniffle.

My mother turned around from washing the dishes with a look of disbelief on her face. “Just where is it you plan on going?”

“I’m sorry I freaked out, but I really need to go out and get some fresh air. I was going to see if Riley was home.”

“Do you really think that’s a good idea for tonight?”

“Well I have to break the bad news sometime, don’t I? I might as well get it over with now.” I tried not to snap at her, but I don’t know how successful I was.

She looked at me for a solid minute in silence before she relented and grabbed the keys out of her purse. “I don’t want you out at all hours of the night.”

“I won’t be.”

“I expect you to keep to your curfew, do you understand me?I don’t care how upset you are.”

“Yes. Thank you, Mom.” As I reached to take the keys from her hand she grabbed my arm and pulled me into a hug.

“I know this feels like the end of the world right now, but you’ll be able to put it into perspective before you know it. Please, try to calm down and speak to your father with respect.”

“I will. I’m sorry.”

I hurried outside and jumped into my mom’s car, quickly making my way across town to Riley’s house. When I pulled into his driveway I saw that just his car was there, which meant that his dad must be working nights again. I tried calling him one more time but it still went to voicemail.When nobody answered the door, I figured he was probably down in the basement working out with loud music playing and couldn’t hear his phone, so I flipped back the doormat and grabbed the spare key.

When I opened the door I could definitely hear loud music,but it wasn’t coming from downstairs as I’d imagined—it was coming from down the hall in his bedroom. I made my way quickly toward the door, but as I got close enough to knock I could hear other noises as well.

Forgoing the knock, I threw the door open to find two naked bodies intertwined on his bed. I could make out what was definitely Riley’s back,pounding away at some girl underneath him. I was about to interrupt when I spotted a very familiar butterfly tattoo on the mystery girl’s ankle.

“What the fuck?” I screamed at the top of my lungs.

They both jumped in shock and turned to look at me. Just as I suspected, there was my best friend.

Becca?”

“Oh, shit!” Riley yelled, grabbing for some sweatpants.“Eden, I’m sorry!”

“Sorry you got caught!” I yelled, fresh, hot tears streaming down my face. I looked back at Becca and—I swear to God—she smirked. “You know what? You two assholes deserve each other.” I turned and walked back out of the room.

“Eden, wait!” Riley called after me.

“Just let her go,” I could hear Becca say. “I told you she was too immature to be cool about this.”

I ran outside, sobbing painfully. My tears weren’t even about losing Riley—he was obviously a piece of shit. It was the outright betrayal.Before I could make it to the car I was hit with the memory that I’d just had sex with him earlier that very same day. Bile rose in my throat and next I knew, I’d painted his driveway with half-digested lasagna.

I made my way back home slowly, trying to see the road clearly through blurry, swollen eyes.

One thing was for certain now.

Moving didn’t sound so bad.

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