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The Assist (Smart Jocks Book 1) by Rebecca Jenshak (1)

Prologue

Blair

Three Years Ago

“Who run the world?” Gabby and I scream the lyrics at the top of our lungs. Top down on her cherry-red convertible, music blaring, hair blowing across our faces, we pull out of the high school parking lot with the first day of classes behind us.

“One more year, Blair. One more freaking year, and we’re out of this place,” she says when Beyoncé stops singing.

“You don’t think you’ll miss it? Even a little bit?”

She shoots me a look that questions my sanity. “No. We’re going to Valley U, we’re going to study hard, party our asses off, and then, when we graduate, we’re going to start some fabulous female only business and end up on the cover of Forbes or Vanity Fair. You and I are meant for more than Suck Hill.”

Her enthusiasm is contagious. I want all those things, truly, but it’s Gabby who is counting down the days until we can leave our small town of Succulent Hill, which Gabs lovingly renamed Suck Hill. I’ve always liked the community and friendliness of living in our hometown. Not Gabby. She’s been dreaming of moving to Valley and attending the university there since we were in middle school.

Bringing the car to a halt at the four-way stop just outside of our neighborhood, she turns the radio down. There aren’t any other cars as far as the eye can see, but we continue to idle in place. I meet her serious gaze. “What’s wrong? Are we out of gas again or something?”

“Promise me we’re getting out of this town.”

I laugh off her words. “I promise.”

She grabs my wrist and pulls on the friendship bracelet I made in eighth grade. The ratty thing made of purple thread from my mother’s sewing kit still hangs on my arm. A matching one dons her wrist. It’s become a symbol of our relationship and the promises we’ve made. “I mean it, Blair. You and I are getting out of this place. We’re going to make something of ourselves. Run companies, have someone fetch us coffee, live in fabulous downtown apartments, and have brunch dates after Pilates on the weekends.”

“I know. We’ve only been talking about it forever.”

I don’t understand the sudden urgency of her words. We should be enjoying our last year and planning what we’ll wear to prom or what we’ll put in the senior time capsule. College is a year away and there’s so much to do before then.

“Swear it. Swear you’re going to do it with me.”

Gabby’s perfectly styled blonde hair blows in the breeze like a commercial for Vidal Sassoon. It’s easy for people to laugh off her ambitions as the rambling of a pretty girl whose been handed everything her entire life. She is beautiful, and she has been handed her share of privilege, but only I know how strong her desire to rule the world is. I don’t believe in my own dreams nearly as much as I believe in hers.

I nudge her with my elbow. “I swear, Gabs.”

My faith in myself is shaky, but I believe in Gabby, and with her by my side, I know we’re capable of anything.

Dark clouds off in the distance warn of a monsoon storm rolling in just as Gabby parks in front of her house and closes the convertible top. “Sure you don’t want to come with me tonight? Rachel’s back to school pool party is going to be epic.”

“Can’t. We’re going out to dinner to celebrate my dad’s birthday.”

Outside of the car, I breathe in the smell of rain in the distance. The wind has already picked up, and I’m looking forward to the heavy gusts and downpour that won’t be far behind. When Gabby and I were little we’d talk on the phone through storms, anxiously waiting for the puddles that would be left behind so we could splash and play before the dry desert ground soaked up all the water. I shuffle toward my house, just three houses down from Gabby’s. We’ve been neighbors our whole life, best friends too.

“You could sneak out after.” Her sea-blue eyes light up with mischief.

“No thanks. I’m not risking getting grounded two weeks before the pep rally.”

She kisses the air. “Fine, loser. I’ll text you later.”

“Later, Gabs.”

I send her a wave over my shoulder and make my way home. Thirty minutes later, I’m sitting at my desk, watching the rain trickle down the window of my second story bedroom, when I see Gabby’s car pull away from the curb. With a sigh, I pull out my history textbook and turn to the assigned reading.

If my best friend could see me now, she’d roll her eyes and call me an overachiever. I’m probably the only person sitting at home tonight instead of attending Rachel’s party. Tomorrow everyone is going to be talking about it, and all I’ll have to contribute to the conversation is the formation of the Provincial Congresses during the American Revolution.

I struggle to focus on the words as my brain tortures me with daydreams of how much fun everyone is having. Still, an hour passes and I’m almost done with the first chapter when my mom knocks on my door.

“Blair, honey.”

I stand and stretch. “Come in.”

I grab my purse, prepared to celebrate my dad’s birthday. My brother and his new wife are meeting us. It should be fun. Although, it doesn’t really compare to a pool party with all the coolest kids at SH High.

When I open the door, mother’s face is not of happiness or celebration. My stomach drops, and my body tenses in preparation of receiving bad news.

“Mom, what’s wrong?”

“Honey, it’s Gabby.”

* * *

People talk around me. My brain catches and fixates on single words. Hydroplaned. Unconscious. Critical. Brain Trauma.

I don’t care about any of it. I just want to see her. I want to march back there and see Gabby pop up out of bed and tell me it was all a big joke to get me out of the house for the night.

But it’s two long days and nights of sleeping in the waiting room before they let me into her room in the intensive care unit. I’ve been warned about the trauma of the accident, internal and external, but when I see her lying in bed bruised and covered in bandages, I run to her side and grab her hand. It’s only relief and happiness that brings the tears to my eyes as she tries to smile around the cuts on her face.

“Gabs.”

She opens her mouth and then closes it, frowning. “I…”

“What is it?”

A single tear slides down her face. “I can’t remember your name.” More tears fall, and each one breaks my heart a little more. “I know you’re important. I can feel it in here.” She slowly lifts a casted arm to her chest and taps. “But I can’t remember who you are.”

A nurse in blue scrubs enters the room. “Gabriella, I need to take you downstairs for a scan.”

The use of Gabby’s full name opens the floodgates, and every emotion I’ve felt in the past forty-eight hours assaults me at once.

“I’ll come back, Gabs.” I squeeze her fingers lightly and then flee like a coward out of the room.

Tears blurring my vision, I stumble into the small sanctuary of the hospital and let the sobs wrack my body. I curse God and then apologize and send up a quick prayer. I’m not sure where I stand on God, but this doesn’t feel like the right time to snub divine intercession.

A small head pops up in the front row, and I halt two rows back, leaving a respectable distance between us. A girl, no more than ten, turns and offers me a small smile. I wipe my face and nose and give her a half-hearted wave before settling into the pew. The wood creaks beneath me, and I gaze forward to the huge cross nailed to a cement block wall.

Little feet skip down the side of the room and a mass of blonde ringlets bounces beside me. “Hi, I’m Sunny.”

Of course she is. She exudes light and cheer, which is saying something in this shitty excuse for a house of worship.

“Hi, Sunny. I’m Blair.”

“I like your bracelets.” Her eyes track my arm as she studies the colorful adornments with wide-eyed wonder.

“Thank you. Their friendship bracelets.” My voice breaks and I swipe at new tears.

“It’s okay to cry,” she says with reassurance. “Momma says we gotta cry out all the sadness to make room for hope to grow. Positive thinking attracts miracles.”

The door to the chapel opens and a woman looks in, finds Sunny and motions for her. “That’s my mom. Gotta go.” Sunny doesn’t wait for my goodbye, she runs into the arms of her mom. I watch as the frail woman hangs her head low and clings to the bundle of sunshine.

It’s too much, so I turn forward, giving them privacy and letting Sunny’s words take root. Positive thinking attracts miracles, huh? I close my eyes and say another prayer because, devoted believer or not, I’m willing to call in favors just in case, and then I push away all negative outcomes and only allow myself to imagine the future with Gabby by my side.