Gareth

“Well, that was humbling.”

I took my eyes off the road for a second to glance over at Ryder.

“What was?” 

“That, back there. At the diner. Our waitress, who happens to be in my psych class, completely and utterly ignored me.”

“You do realize you’re not God's gift to womankind no matter how good a player you are.” 

He sighed. “Of course I know that. It’s just that, after winning the world series last year, all the girls on campus seem to know me.”

I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. What a horrible problem to have. I certainly didn’t envy him though. I also thought about what he said. 

“Wait, isn’t that Professor Bledsoe’s class? The one that usually has over a hundred students? How do you even know she’s in there with you?” 

Ryder gave me a look that said he thought I was an idiot. “Number one, have you seen the tits and ass on that girl? Of course I noticed her. Plus, she always sits in the front row and off to the left so I have a direct line-of-sight view of her from my seat in the auditorium.”

I sent him a dirty look. “Tits and ass? Seriously? Dude, don’t be such a dick. Besides, this is me you’re talking to. You might say that kind of misogynistic shit in front of your frat boys, but I know you better than that. Despite the front you represent, you’re not that person. Stop trying to be someone you’re not, Ryder.”

He ducked his head in shame and his face flushed. “Sorry, that was an asshole thing to say.”

“Yeah, it was,” I bit out, still annoyed. 

He held his hands up in surrender and sent me a sheepish look. “Okay, okay. I get it. That came out totally douche-y. I’m sorry.” 

It irritated the shit out of me that my best friend felt the need to act like a chauvinistic pig to impress his other friends. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up bullied and mocked for being “sensitive”. Whatever the fuck that meant. Ryder had merely been a decent human being. However, after that comment, he needed to be reminded of the fact. I was just the person to knock him down a peg or two. 

“Anyway, I don’t think she ignored you specifically. I think she’s just shy.” 

“Nah, man. She definitely had eyes for you. I saw the note you left her. Do you think she’ll call?” 

When I turned the corner, the sun shone right into my face. I squinted and pulled down the visor. Chapel Hill was almost always sunny this time of year, which was better than the constant dreary rain of the Pacific Northwest where Ryder and I grew up. 

“She’ll call.” 

“So, you coming to the AEPi party next weekend?”

I shuddered. “You know frat parties aren’t my scene. Not anymore.” 

Ryder shrugged. “I know, but this will probably be the last one I ever go to. Graduation is coming up, and then I’m heading to that internship up in New York.” 

Even though I’d been friends with Ryder for eleven years and knew how much he loved baseball, I’d been shocked as hell when he turned down the minor leagues. I’d asked him once why, and he’d told me that baseball wouldn’t pay the bills forever. Considering how poor he’d grown up, it was probably a smart move. He had a good fucking head on his shudders despite occasionally spouting dumb shit.

“Besides, when your girl calls, you can invite her along. That is, if she actually calls.” He didn’t sound convinced she would.

“Oh, she’ll call. I have no doubt.”

I smiled with satisfaction. Underneath that shy exterior she presented, I’d seen a glimpse of bold determination mixed with strength. Olivia was a woman I was definitely interested in figuring out. I wanted to peel back all her layers and see how many fascinating aspects she had. She intrigued me. I’d also spotted some vulnerability. It brought out this protective instinct in me I didn’t even know I had.

“I hope she does. Does that mean you’ll come to the party then?” Ryder sounded hopeful.

“Maybe I will.” 

I pulled up in front of a powder blue, two-story house that needed more than just a fresh coat of paint to look like it didn’t need to be part of some home makeover show. Ryder turned toward me with a fist bump. 

“Thanks for lunch, man. I’ll give you a call later in the week, and we can set up a day to hit some balls at the batting cage.” 

He exited the car, and I had to lean over into the passenger seat so I could still see him. 

“You got it. I’m feeling a little rusty.” 

“That’s because you’re getting old,” he deadpanned. 

I flipped him the bird. “Fuck off.” 

He closed the door on a laugh and waved goodbye over his shoulder.

“Fucker.” I grinned and shook my head. Shifting into drive, I pulled away and headed to my apartment. I wanted to be home when Olivia called, so I could sit and relax while we talked. It seemed like the drive home took forever, but finally I made it. I tried passing the time by playing Call of Duty 3 for a while. Hours passed and my gaze continually darted to the clock as each minute ticked by. Three o’clock came and went. Four. Five. I even ended up cleaning my entire apartment while I impatiently waited. By the time six rolled around I started getting hungry again, so I made dinner. Seven came and went while I went back to my video game. Still, I waited. Fuck. I’d been so sure she’d call. I couldn’t stop this feeling of disappointment that I was wrong. 

Finally giving up, I shut off the video game and went into the kitchen to make some popcorn. I grabbed a random movie, whose title I didn’t even look at, from my VHS collection and popped it in the VCR. Then I collapsed onto the couch with my snack and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. It wasn’t fifteen minutes into it, and my cell phone rang. I grabbed the remote and paused Bruce Willis’ face on the screen

“Hello?” 

“Um, hi, is this Gareth?” 

I jackknifed up. “Olivia?”

“Yeah. Hi. I’m sorry to call so late. Is now a good time?”

My face hurt from smiling so big. “Now’s a great time.”