The California heat beat down on me as I stood next to the table. Five minutes left and then football practice was done for the day. That meant I only had five minutes to stand there and pretend that I wasn’t staring at Tyson Blake.
But how could I not? He was the epitome of perfection in his six-foot-two, incredibly toned, smells-good-even-when-he-sweats, senior body. And he was off limits. If dad even got a hint that I liked Tyson, I’d be sent off to Catholic school, where I’d be forced to become a nun.
Nope. I had to be discreet. Which I had gotten pretty good at. I’d spent years convincing Dad that boys were the last thing on my mind.
I jumped at the sound of Dad’s voice. Tiny. The lovely nickname given to me by my father that has carried over to the entire football team. Nothing like being reminded everyday just how short you really are.
I whipped my gaze over to find Dad staring at me. I’d been filling the last-minute water cups. Nerves raced through my stomach. Had he been reading my mind? Did he know that I was thinking about Tyson?
I shrugged, trying to look inconspicuous. “What?” I called out.
“You’re watering the grass.”
I glanced down at the cup I had been filling. Apparently, I was terrible at multi-tasking. I’d been too fixated on Tyson as he jogged across the field with his helmet off and his damp hair clinging to his forehead. The water had sloshed over the side and all over my Converses.
“Sorry,” I yelled back, raising the cup to show that everything was good. I set it down on the table and sighed. What was the matter with me? First day of school and I was already slipping up. Thankfully, I’d convinced my dad that I didn’t have to go to all the summer football camps with him, trading in my water-girl apron for one at In–N-Out.
It was really an act of self-preservation. Dad needed to think that I didn’t like boys. And going to a camp where they only wore football pants and strutted around with their shirts off? Nope. I only had so much self-control.
Keeping him believing that I wasn’t interested was really the only option. It kept his overprotective tendencies from spiraling out of control.
I set the last cup down on the table and straightened. Heat crept up my neck, so I reached up and pulled my long and—most of the time—frizzy brown hair into a bun.
“That’s brutal, Tiny. Having your dad around all the time,” a deep, joking voice said from behind me.
I squeaked and turned. I knew that voice. Tyson Blake was standing inches away from me. My gaze met his brilliant blue eyes, turning me speechless. Now I knew what it was like to be a deer in headlights. My brain screeched to a halt.
“I—um—da—” I slammed my mouth shut before I let more nonsensical sounds escape my lips.
Tyson raised his eyebrows as he leaned toward me. My heart hammered in my chest. What was happening? Was he going to kiss me like I’d played out so many times in my head? Was he going to hug me? Do I hug him back?
Before I could stop myself, I raised my arms. There was no way I wasn’t going to give Mr. Popularity a hug when offered one. Just as I began to close my arms around him, he stopped and straightened.
A water cup came into view. Heat raced across my skin, and I pulled my elbows in tight, praying that he hadn’t seen my humiliating blunder. Thankfully, all he did was glance down at me as he drained the cup, crumpled it, and threw it—swish—into the trashcan behind me.
“Thanks, water girl,” he said as he gave me a wink and turned away.
That’s when I realized that my dad, the head coach, was standing behind him with a very unpleasant expression.
“Boss,” Tyson said, nodding toward my dad.
My mind swirled. Even though Tyson hadn’t seen my aborted hug, my dad had. And he was not happy about it.
“Mr. Blake, what’s taking so long?” he asked, straightening. Even at his tallest, he was dwarfed by Tyson.
Tyson smiled at him and then flicked his gaze over at me. I shot him an I-don’t-know-why-my-dad-is-acting-crazy look.
“I was just getting some water,” he scoffed as he motioned toward the table.
My dad did not look convinced. He snapped his gaze over to me. “This true?” he asked me.
“Why would I lie about that?” Tyson stepped forward.
“It’s true,” I blurted out, praying that my dad wouldn’t ask me why I’d just tried to hug the star quarterback.
He must have sensed my plea, since he turned his attention back to Tyson. He held up a finger. “What is the number one rule?”
Tyson glanced over at me and then back to my dad. “Never hit on or try to date the coach’s daughter,” he said, holding up his hands.
Dad stepped forward. “And don’t forget that.”
Tyson laughed. “Trust me, I wouldn’t dream of it.” Then he took off, jogging over to where his minions stood, waiting for him so they could head back to the school.
Once Tyson was gone, I turned to my dad, who gave me a satisfied nod and then made his way over to Xavier, the assistant coach. Dad picked up his clipboard, and they bent their heads together.
I glared at him. I couldn’t believe that he’d completely embarrassed me in front of Tyson like that. I was never going to forgive him.
“Thanks a lot,” I muttered as I started handing out cups to the football players who had jogged over. Tyson was never going to be able to look at me without seeing my huffing, angry father. I was a social pariah. I might as well call in sick for the rest of the year.
Once the entire team was hydrated, I lifted the jug and set it on the grass. Then I turned back to the table and started folding it up.
“How’d practice go?”
I glanced over to see Rebecca, my best friend, walking up to me. Her cheeks were pink, and she was sweating. She was cheer co-captain and my best friend since we were in diapers. How she stayed with me through my frizzy, short hair and braces boggled my mind. We were literally Beauty and the Beast.
I groaned in frustration as I slammed down hard on the brace of the table leg and it folded in. “Terrible. I almost hugged Tyson, and my dad was here to make sure he knew that I was off limits.”
I slammed the other leg down and yelped as I caught my thumb in the folding bracket. I lifted my hand to my mouth, wincing as the pain shot through my thumb.
“Oh, no. Man, your dad isn’t going to let off this year, huh?” Rebecca asked. She finished folding the table for me and turned it on its side so she could grab the handle.
I grabbed the bag of cups and the now-empty jug and followed after her. “Nope, doesn’t look like it. First day back with the team, and he’s already on high alert. I don’t get it. It’s like he blames me for my mom leaving. He’s convinced that a boy is going to woo me and lead me down the path of, I don’t know, whoredom?”
Mom dropped a bomb three years ago when she announced that she was leaving my dad to live in Cancún with her massage therapist, Pedro. Ever since then, when it came to me and guys, Dad was less than thrilled. He—on many occasions—has declared that he would rather experience a root canal with no anesthesia than see me date a high school boy. Or any boy. Ever.
And since he was the gym teacher and head football coach, he made it his life’s mission to make sure that romance and I never collided.
“It’s not that bad, Destiny. At least your dad cares enough to watch out for you. My dad? He couldn’t be bothered to pick up the phone to wish me a happy birthday. Instead, he calls to tell me the twins are now a yellow belt in karate, which means they can poop rainbows or something.” She rolled her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Bec.” I sighed, blowing a loose strand of hair from my face. “Dads suck sometimes.”
She nodded. Then an excited smile spread across her lips. “You’ll never believe who I have in my pre-calc class.” She wiggled her eyebrows. A look only reserved for Sam Wilson.
“Really? That’s lucky,” I said, shifting the bag and jug to one arm so I could pull open the door that led to the gymnasium.
“I’d say. And, I get to sit next to him because Mr. Dawson is all, ‘everyone sit according to the alphabet.’ Wilson. Williams.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Bless that strange, OCD man.”
I smiled at her as we walked to the door in the far wall. Just on the other side was my dad’s office. And just beyond that. The boy’s locker room.
Where Tyson was.
I cleared my throat as I forced all the thoughts that would have my dad boiling mad at me from my head. “Well, I hope you guys finally talk.” I gave her a serious expression. “It’s time.”
Rebecca walked through the door that I held open. Once we were in the small hallway, I stopped in front of my dad’s office, grabbed the key from my pocket, and unlocked the door.
“Baby steps, little one,” she said leaning the table against a wall in the office.
“Well, don’t wait too long. He’s headed for college next year.” I set the bag of cups on the shelf and the water jug underneath it. I never understood why she was so nervous around guys. She was tall and blonde. And she’s had curves since middle school. When she walked down the hall, boys had to pick their jaws up off the floor. I was sure she could walk up to Sam, demand that he let her wax his legs, and he would lay down in submission. “Besides, he’d be an idiot not to date you.”
Her cheeks hinted pink as she studied her nails. If I didn’t love her as much as I did, I’d hate her. She was like a Disney princess. When she sang, wildlife collected around her feet.
“I just want it to be right,” she said.
“Okay,” I said nodding to her. Truth was. I had no idea. She had more experience in the guy department. She’d even kissed a guy before. Me? Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
Well, unless you count Porter Jones in the second grade. But that was more of a bite, on his part, than an actual kiss. I’m pretty sure that kissing involves lips colliding, not teeth. Porter didn’t seem to have gotten that memo.
She glanced down at her watch. “I gotta go. I have homework, and then my dad’s picking me up because I have to see the twins do…something. I really don’t know. I stop listening when he mentions those brats.”
“Thanks for helping me, Bec.”
She gave me a quick hug and sprinted from my dad’s office.
Now alone, I glanced around. Dad was still a half hour from leaving, and even though I’ve had my license since last summer, he insisted on driving me home.
I sighed and made my way over to the wall of team photos. There was one for every year that my dad had been coach of the football team, tacked up with tape.
Somehow—I don’t know how—my gaze found Tyson in last year’s photo. His hair was shorter then. And he looked skinnier. But he was as handsome as ever. I leaned in closer, studying his lips and his perfect nose.
For the second time that day, Tyson’s voice filled my ears. I yelped and turned to see him leaning against the doorway. He had his eyebrows raised and a hint of a smile on his lips. He was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt that hugged his chest. I could smell his soap. It had a woodsy hint to it.
“Yeah. Um-hum,” I said. Finally, coherent words. Sort of.
“I was looking for the Boss, but I’m guessing he’s not in yet.” He scanned the office.
“You guessed right, sir,” I said, saluting him. Then heat rushed across my skin. What was I saying? What was wrong with me? I pinched my lips together to cut off any other ridiculous reactions.
He studied me for a moment and then glanced down the hall. “Bummer.” He sighed. “Can you let him know I need to talk to him?”
Tyson studied me for a second longer before he turned. He took a step forward and then held his hand up. “Could you just tell him that I talked to you with other people around? I don’t want him knowing that we spoke alone in his office.” He grimaced. “I really hate running laps.”
My stomach sank. It was confirmed. No boy was ever going to talk to me. Ever.
My name, Destiny “Tiny” Davis, was synonymous with pain and vomit. Well done, Dad. Well done.
“Sure,” I said. My voice came out in a whisper as a defeated feeling settled in my chest.
There went any chance I would ever have to show Tyson that I was a cool person—that he was crazy not to get to know me. All he saw when he looked at me was the large, neon red sign my dad had placed above my head that said DO NOT TOUCH. In large capital letters.
“Thanks.” He smiled and the disappeared around the corner. And probably out of my life forever.
I sank down onto one of the stained chairs in my dad’s office and blew out my breath. This was going to be my life. My big, fat, sucky, junior year life. I might as well get used to it.