<i>Thank you to everyone who read and commented on my previous series. Sorry this one took so long to start getting up. School started and this got crazy! Again, there is a lot of build up, and there is no sex yet in this part. If that's all that you're looking for, save yourself some time and look elsewhere. Everyone else: enjoy!</i>
“Jon, who's the chick?” I gave my older brother the same look I had given him before we even left the house.
Before I could tell him, once again, that he could have left me at home, he wrapped an arm around my shoulder and looked to the guy who'd asked the question. “This is my sister Holly. She's going to be hanging out with us, and everyone will be nice to her, got it?”
“I will personally make sure of that.” Riley, Jon's best friend, stood on my other side. Whereas Jon was somewhat lanky and nonthreatening, Riley was rather nicely built, though still somewhat in his awkward stage at fifteen.
The rest of the guys, five total, were in front of us, all eyes on me. “What are we going to do with a nine year old?”
“We're going to do the same thing with my twelve year old sister that we were going to do before you all knew she was coming. We're going down to the beach.” His grip about my shoulder tightened a bit and he gave me a reassuring smile. “Come on.” We all walked off together, working our way down the mile of neighborhood to the “beach” at the edge of our community.
It was their volleyball day. They went every Tuesday during the summer months for a bit of a two-on-two sand volleyball tournament. This particular day, Jon decided not to leave me home by myself and instead take me along to hang out with him and his friends. I continually insisted they wouldn't want me hanging around, but Riley eventually was the one who convinced me that everything would be alright. “How are we splitting up the teams? There's an odd number of us.”
When we got to the beach, I sat down a bit away from them at the edge of the sand. “Odd number?” Jon questioned, looking at yet another guy in the group. “I see eight.”
“Come on, man. I get you're playing nice big brother, but you can't expect one of us to play on your sister's team.” Instantly, I felt silly. I shouldn't have come. It was so obvious that they did not want me there, and even more obvious that I didn't belong. They saw me as an intruder on their 'guy time', and that's what I was.
“Like I'd let any of you get this beast of a player to yourself.” Riley walked over and plopped himself next to me. “She's on my team.”
“You don't have to, Riley.” I whispered to him, appreciating him trying to come to my rescue, but still feeling embarrassed and out of place. “I don't mind sitting here.”
He slung an arm around my shoulder, giving me a playful smile. “You're on my team, punk, whether you like it or not.” He stood up and offered me his hand, pulling me toward him. “Now get up, and let's play!” Riley didn't baby me. He didn't jump in front of me to get the ball or make me feel bad if I messed up. In fact, he never stopped smiling. I got a high five every time we scored a point (even if I didn't contribute) and a huge, crushing bear hug after the games we won. Jon made sure I was welcome among his friends, but Riley made sure I felt welcomed.
When all of the rounds were done everyone was sweaty and good natured. Riley and I finished in third place, a fact that both upset and comforted some of the other guys: this team with the little girl had beat them, but this little girl wasn't entirely useless. To celebrate the end of the 'tournament' for this week, the boys stripped down to their boxers and jumped into the lake.
“Sorry, Holly.” My brother gave me a sympathetic look as he tossed his clothes away from the water. “I forgot to tell you to bring something to swim in, and I definitely don't want you out in your underwear. If you want to jump in in your clothes, that's fine, but you'll be cold walking home. You want me to hang out with you in the shallow parts?”
The tone was genuine, but his expression wasn't as much so. He was willing to stay with me, and he would do it without complaint, but hoping I wouldn't ask him to. I wasn't the best swimmer, and hanging out with me would mean only being in water that went up to my chest. “Don't worry, Jon. I don't want to swim anyway. Go.” He smiled, somewhat relieved, and gave me a quick hug before running out to join his friends.
I stood watching for a moment, again feeling left out but knowing it was better this way. The boys were all climbing onto a wooden dock in the middle of the lake and jumping off (or pushing each other off) into the water. They dunked and splashed each other while their laughs echoed off the water and nearby trees.
I was just about to sit when hands clasped down on my shoulders. They were warm and slightly rough, familiar. “Now, Holls, you can do this the easy way or the hard way. Easy way you walk in, hard way I throw you.”
Looking back at Riley, there was no mistaking the bit of mischief behind his grin. His nose was just slightly too big for the face that almost had a chiseled jaw, but was still overtaken with remnants of baby fat. Even with the mischief, he looked utterly harmless. “I can't go in unless someone stays by me, and I can't swim that well so I'd need to stay more in the shallow end. It's probably better if I just don't go in today.”
The grin grew a bit wider. “Wrong answer, punk.” In one motion, he picked me up and threw me over his shoulder. There was no strain or hesitation from him, and no pain for me. He wrapped his arms around my legs, keeping me in place while all the blood began to run to my head. He was strong and starting to grow solid in all the right areas of his body. He held me as if I were nothing.
“Ah! Riley! Put me down. Down!” I was laughing while I began to wiggle against his arms, trying to throw them off.
“Down you say?” Until that moment, I hadn't paid much attention to the fact that he was walking. Looking straight ahead (which was toward the ground in my position), I watched his feet cross the line of the water. “I supposed I could put you down.”
The meaning was obvious. “No! Riley, no.” The arguing and pleading approach was not working in the slightest, so I tried another. “If you throw me in, Riley, you'll have to stay by me.”
He stopped moving and his shoulders stiffened just a bit, as if he were thinking intently. Just as I was about to silently praise myself for my successful tactic... “Totally worth it.” … I was tossed down into the cool, clear water. Initially surprised, I resurfaced, being in a place where the water was only about four feet deep, and gave Riley a shocked look. He, however, was laughing heartily.
“Now it's war.” I jumped toward him, knowing full well I wouldn't be able to accomplish anything if he didn't want me to, and pulled him down into the water. For the rest of the day, he stayed by me as he joked, splashed and dunked. A couple of times, Jon came over and joined us, but he wouldn't stay terribly long before going back to the deep waters. Regardless, Riley stayed the entire time.
During the walk home, I was freezing but sufficiently happy.
“Hey, Riley, do you think I could get a ride?”
“Absolutely! I'll be there in a sec.”
“Riley, I'm having a lot of trouble with this history homework. Could you help me?”
“Could I say no to you?”
“I know this is going to sound stupid, Riley, but I tried taking the bus and ended up in the totally wrong place....”
“Just tell me the nearest intersection, and I'll be right there.”
“Could you beat your friend up for me, Riley. Jon said he'd take me to the game tonight, but he's got a date now so he's bailing.”
“Ha ha, sounds like him. No worries; you and I can go to the game together. I'll head out now, and we can grab a bite beforehand.”
“Holls! I got free tickets to that concert this weekend. Want to go?”
“What about Jennifer?”
“I don't think she'd like it as much as you would, so you'd make for better company.”
“You were right, Riley. Adam broke up with me.”
“How about I take you out for ice cream, and we just talk about how stupid and ugly he is.”
“I like that idea!”
“It wasn't really working out with Amy.”
“Think you could come over for a bit?”
“I think Rachel was mad because I wouldn't invite her to join us on guy's nights.”
“Austin is a stupid name for a girl. You're better off without her anyway.”
“Your parents are fighting again, aren't they Holls?”
“Liz was a bitch anyway. Forget her”
“I keep thinking about life after high school, Holly, and I'm just not sure. I mean, I think I know, but...”
“Whatever you want to do, you can do it. Just go for your dream.”
“My dad took off. It didn't sound like he'd be coming back this time...”
“I just heard, Holls, and I had to tell you right away! The police academy accepted my application!”
“Really?! That's great news. I'm so excited for you! What did Stacy say?”
“Oh, I haven't told her yet. You always pushed me for it, so you're the first to know.”
“I could really use someone to talk to, Riley. Do you think you could come over?”
“Of course. I'm leaving right now. I'll just need to drop Stacy off first.”
“If you're busy, it's no big deal.”
“It's fine, really. If you need me right now, I'll be right there.”
“Riley, really, it's...”
“Holly, no. I'm on my way.”
“Stacy and I broke up.”
“Oh... I'm so sorry...”
“Nah, it's alright. It just... it wasn't right.”
“Did it have anything to do with me? I know I ask you for things a lot, and...”
“No, no of course not. Don't go thinking like that, Holls. Please. I hate knowing my best friend's little sister is all upset.”
“I feel the same way about my big brother's best friend...”
“Hey, kid. What's up?” Two and a half years after the first volleyball, the guys had gotten used to my presence, and though they still complained about it from time to time, they greatly accepted it. I was a freshman, and freshly fifteen, while they were all almost done with their senior year.
“Hey, Tim.” I ducked away from his hand as he tousled my hair, almost sending me off the armrest I was sitting on. It was early spring, which meant no swimming just yet and a lot more video games. The rest of the boys all walked in behind Tim carrying an assortment of soda, snacks and X-Box 360s as they headed down into the basement of mine and Jon's house, where all the gaming systems were.
“Let's go, Holls. I need a zombie killing partner, and you have got one wicked head-shot ability.” It had become understood that Riley and I would be on the same team for everything, no matter what.
At first, I just watched them play. Then, Riley dragged me off the arm rest of the couch I always sat on, and where he always sat next to me, until I was practically on top of him, squished together from all the bodies in the room. He handed me a controller and told me to play. I was terrible, and still wasn't that great, but eventually managed the greatest head shot percentage in any game that required the shooting of zombies. After that, the boys were a bit less eager to complain.
Riley and I had become much closer over the years. He acted as a surrogate brother whenever Jon couldn't be there, and always showed up whenever I asked, especially when it involved my parents fighting, and did they know how to fight. Those nights, he would sneak me out of my room and take me to the park or down to the beach while I tried not to cry, though he always assured me it was okay to. The times when I finally did break down and cry, he would wrap me in his arms. I had long since learned that Riley's arms were the most comfortable place in the world. Sometimes, I even fell asleep like that, and he would let me, without complaint.
Even when I didn't cry, we would sit up talking about anything, and just like with volleyball, he didn't treat me like a little kid. We had conversations worth having. No matter what, at the end of the night, I got a hug, the magical kind that made everything else disappear, and I never wanted to let go.
I sat next to Riley on the couch in the basement, as always, and waited for the boys to finish setting up all the of systems so we could all play. “Ready for this? I'll take you down.” I tried giving him a challenging smile.
“You talk as if we're not on the same team, dork.” Attacking my head with both hands, he messed up my hair significantly. “Try talking trash to someone who won't be saving your butt from special infected every other second.” His voice was lighthearted and joking, and I could do nothing but laugh and try to push his hands away.
Just then, the other boys finished setting everything up, and two of them came to join us on the couch made for three. The side of Riley's body was pressed up against mine, warm and firm. Not having to reach far, he patted my leg thoughtfully, glancing down and giving me another smile. Why did I suddenly feel nervous?
I didn't get much time to think about it as the game started, but for the rest of the time, I was hyper aware of how close Riley was and how much of him was touching me. Every time he spoke or laughed, I felt the vibrations he sent through the couch or straight into me. At random times, he would nudge me or tease me in a very brother-like fashion, always making me laugh or roll my eyes.
Almost two hours later, the doorbell rang.
“Oh, that's the pizza. I'll get that.” Jon started to stand as he put his player on auto.
“You stay, I'll get it. I'm dead anyway.” Riley offered, just as a zombie made its final blow. “Want to give me a hand, Holly?”
I glanced at my health meter on the screen, still half full. “I'm not dead yet.”
He grabbed Tim's controller out of his hand and turned the character to shoot at me. Unable to react, he killed me quickly before dumping the controller back into Tim's hands. “Dude, you totally just killed my friendly fire score.”
“Dude, you totally just killed me!”
“Now you can help me with the pizza.” He winked with a mischievous grin, and I found it hard to stay mad at him. Standing, he offered me his hand and pulled me to my feet. Together we went up the stairs. While he retrieved the ridiculously large stack of pizza's from the delivery man, I searched the kitchen cabinets for enough plates and napkins (not that those would get used) for everyone.
“I can't believe you actually killed me like that.” I accused, a playful tone in my voice.
“You were being stubborn; I had no other choice.” My back was to him as we both laughed, knowing how ridiculous his excuse was.
Struggling a bit with the paper plates I grabbed, I tried pulling them apart to put each one in its own holder. “Hey, Holly?” Until he spoke, I didn't notice that he had moved closer to me. When I turned to look at him, he was barely a foot away. “There's something I want to ask you.” Placing his hand on the counter behind me, he was now only inches away. I only came up to his chest, and had to look upward to see him.
“Yeah?" There was a bit of a nervous quiver in my voice, though I hoped frantically that he didn't notice. "What is it?”
“I would... if I were more creative, I would find a better way to ask you this, but I'm not, so... will you go to prom with me?”
I stared at him, blankly, more confused than I could ever remember being. “Me?” Was all I could manage.
One corner of his mouth turned upward, almost shyly. He was still so close to me. “Of course you. I'd rather go with you than ask some random senior girl I barely know. Prom should be memorable, right? Twenty years from now, I want to look back at prom pictures and know that I went with someone because I wanted to take her, not just because I wanted a date.”
This barely cleared up the confusion. “Wouldn't you at least want to go with someone who looks good in a dress?”
“Have you ever worn a dress?”
“Not in memorable history.”
“Then maybe you'll look good. You never know...” With him so close, I was far behind the capacity to refuse.