Me: What did McCormack want?
For thirty long minutes, the buttwipe didn’t respond. I watched my mobile, willing him to answer. I would have hung around after school to find out for myself, but Dad would have gone off at me if I’d shown up late for my shift at our family farm store.
Ryan: Be there in 10!!!!
I sighed, frustrated I hadn’t a clue what was going on. When the head of PE had called Ryan out of our final lesson of the day, something was clearly up. The man hadn’t looked annoyed, which was something, but it was now after four in the afternoon, and Dad kept throwing me frustrated glances, since I’d screwed up pricing up some new stock twice.
But hell if I could concentrate.
Since the first day of high school, Ryan and I had been all but attached at the hip. He’d been new to town, a place my family had lived for three generations. As soon as I’d seen the gangly eleven-year-old, dressed in the usual daggy Queensland state school uniform, but noticeably not new with the loose stitching on his shirt and the scuffs on his pleather shoes, he’d captured my interest. And when some ninth graders tried to give him shit, his mouth shut them down pretty damn quick. I’d decided there and then, I wanted Ryan to be my friend.
But me waiting to find out what was going on pushed my neediness to a new level. We didn’t do anything separately, or near enough nothing. Seriously, we hollered conversations through the locked bathroom door to each other if one of us was taking a dump. Christ, I’d even joined the local under fourteens basketball team, which soon moved to the under eighteens, despite being so not interested in the sport, just because Ryan loved it and was crazy good at it.
Admittedly, Ryan had conned me when I was twelve, and I’d half-heartedly said I’d join. As soon as my words were out there, he’d grinned before shouting, “No take backs.”
And to this day, our “no take backs” rule stood firm. Neither of us was sure of the punishment involved should we defy our now five-year-old rule, but I had no desire to find out, not if it meant making Ryan unhappy.
So me not knowing what was going on with my best mate, and waiting for over an hour to find out, was a new level of torture.
When the bell on the door chimed, bringing with it a shimmer of winter warmth, I almost fell into a box of mousetraps in my rush to peer around the aisle.
“A minute longer and I thought Nate was going to have a meltdown or sprain his neck.” My dad’s tone held an edge of humor, and I caught his eye roll.
“Was not,” I grumbled.
Dad scoffed. “Whatever you say, kiddo. Go take ten, as I’m convinced you’re going to have an aneurism if you don’t speak to Ryan.”
Ryan’s grin stretched wide. “Cheers, Mr. G. After, I’ll make sure I help.”
Dad threw him a friendly wink before turning his attention to Mrs. Henderson, who was dithering over some plants in our gardening area.
I indicated toward the back room, and Ryan followed, grin still firmly fixed. I examined him closely as soon as we were in the large storage area. “What gives?” He was all but vibrating. The grin didn’t slip, and his eyes legit sparkled. Only twice had I seen him so excited.
One time was when he’d seen Lynn’s boobs, though admittedly, there’d been a wide-eyed hint of wonder there too. I’d given him a high five when he’d told me while I’d swallowed my nausea. The other was four years ago when his mum up and left and his gran moved in to look after him and his little sister, Amber. That time my celebration had been real. His mum was a waster, and while his gran was strict, she loved her grandkids.
“McCormack pulled me into a conference call with a bloke from the college basketball league in Ohio and Coach Milton from Luton Vale University.”
My heart slammed in my chest at the news. I knew what this meant, and while it was incredible, I struggled to catch my breath.
“I’ve been offered a full ride.” Excitement lifted every single word, his whole body shaking.
“Shit, man.” I shook my head, willed my smile to the surface, and swallowed the emotion clawing its way up my throat. I grasped him in a hug, squeezing hard and patting him on the back. “I’m so freakin’ proud of you.”
It was hard to get a basketball scholarship, and an Australian being able to score one, and in a division one school at that, was pretty much unheard of. Well, in our neck of the woods anyway.
I pulled out of Ryan’s grasp, carefully arranging my expression and willing it to be real. “Have you told your gran yet?”
“Nah, you’re the first.” His words had me puffing out my chest, filling me with pride and a buttload of feelings I had no right to be experiencing. “I couldn’t wait to tell you. Shit.” He laughed and held out his shaky hand. “I can’t stop shaking.”
I reached out and squeezed his arm. “You’re going to be amazing.” He would kick butt in the college league. Hell, he had the skills to go all the way and make a career out of it. This time, a real grin appeared. “This is what you’ve always dreamed of. The pros, man. Like… college basketball… this is huge.”
A flutter of happiness cut through my sullenness. It beat the misery back, reminding me my best friend was freakin’ awesome. “And it’s okay to leave at the end of the year, right? It doesn’t matter about their term times or anything?”
“It’s all worked out. I need to make sure I keep my grades up, but that’s what I’ve got you for.” He swung a muscular arm around me and hauled me into a headlock, going to town rubbing his knuckles against my head.
I laughed, trying to shove away from him. The guy was too bloody strong for his own good, gangly limbs and all. Managing to break away with a curse and a “Piss off, Broadwater, before I take you down,” I caught his gaze, and I begged my thoughts to not dip into territories of just how I’d like to take him down. It wasn’t too difficult, not when he shot me a huge grin, his cheeks red, and a legit sparkle in his eyes.
This guy here was my friend, and I was okay with that. I always would be. I loved the guy, and I knew he loved my skinny arse right back. Platonic or not, that was everything.
“You wanna come with me to tell Gran and Amber?”
My heart leapt, wanting to be with him every step of the way and share in his excitement. “Hell yes. Let me beg off from work.”
Once more, Ryan slung his arm over my shoulders, this time squeezing and not thinking he was a comedian. “How about I do the talking? Your dad won’t be able to refuse.”
I snorted, knowing he was absolutely right. When his muscles shifted a little, becoming taut, I angled to look at him.
Ryan’s smile slipped. “You’ll find a way to come and visit, though, right?”
The slamming of my heart against my rib cage was almost painful. I wanted to celebrate with him, see him rise and take the pro ball world by storm. “Hell yes. Me and you, Broadwater, always. There’s not a chance you’re getting rid of me that easily.”
“No take backs.” His grin was wide and so disarming, I returned it immediately.
“In that case”—I nudged him—“best make it a first-class ticket as soon as you’re rich and famous.”
“Is that right?”
“You better believe it, hotshot. Nothing but the best from you to me. Think of it as payback for putting up with your weirdness all these years. And hell, you know how many ankle sprains I’ve put up with, just because you wanted to play basketball?” I rolled my eyes, earning me a nudge.
We stepped out into the storefront, laughing and shoving at each other. “Don’t get me started on weirdness, Nate the Niplett.”
“I do not have a third nipple!” I cringed, not realizing just how loud I’d defended my birthmark.
Ryan snorted just as Dad called out, “Yes, just get out of here.”
“Ha!” Ryan glanced at me like he’d made that happen. “I don’t even need words. Just my godly presence is enough.”
“Godly, huh?” I rolled my eyes and puffed out my cheeks to stop the loud laughter threatening to spill. “And so it begins. I’m telling you now, Ryan, if you even think about getting a god complex and your ego grows to the size of Uluru, don’t think I won’t be the one to remind you exactly who you are. Remember, I know all of your weirdness.”
His grin was broad. “Sounds like a plan. You’ll be my very own Obsidian Blade. I’m feeling all kinds of special already.”
I smirked at him. “I’ll go all Skulduggery on your arse.”
“Valkyrie. She’s the only one who can wield the blade.”
“You’re such a dork.”
“Me?” His wide-eyed horror didn’t stick, not when his lips twitched. “I’m going to be the one playing pro ball one day. There’s nothing dorky about that.”
I tugged at his arm, as Dad was giving me “the look,” the one indicating we were loud and ridiculous, and we needed to make ourselves scarce. “Come on, Faceless One, you keep telling yourself that while we make a run for it before Dad changes his mind.”
Ryan’s hand shot up in the air, and he waved it high and long and ridiculously over the top, shouting, “Bye, Mr. G. Nate can’t come home tonight as I need help with my homework, so we’ll see you tomorrow.” He then snagged my arm, and we hightailed it out of the store, ignoring Dad’s grumbles and laughing like little kids.
Preorder No Take Backs today!