Your sneak preview of Follow Your Heart #1: Your Best Friend's Boyfriend, published by Scholastic books, continues below!
Something about the guarded way Mike holds himself -- his face stern, his shoulders back in a strong posture -- makes you think he wouldn't enjoy seeing a photo of himself getting faked out on the field. Yeah, you really get the feeling he wouldn't be into seeing that at all.
Anyway, why focus on the bad stuff?
"You've got some great moves out there," you tell him. "You look like you've been a soccer star your whole life, like before you could even walk ."
Over Mike's head, Sally shoots you a look. Maybe you were laying it on a bit thick.
Your big compliments don't bother Mike, though. "You know it," he replies. "My dad almost went pro way back in the early eighties, but that was before America was paying any attention to the sport, so there weren't any opportunities for him. He was my first coach. So, yeah, I have played soccer since I could walk." He takes a swig off a sports water bottle, washes it around in his mouth, and then spits neatly off to the side. "It's just something I do naturally. Like, genetically."
"Cool," you say, feeling pleased that you were on target with your observation.
"No surprise there!" Sally chirps, overly enthusiastic. She puts her hands on Mike's shoulders. "Anyone can tell you've got tons of experience. It's obvious the whole team is built around you."
After years of hanging around with Sally every day, sometimes you think you know her too well -- you can see right through her little attempt to stay on top. She's always trying to one-up people, but she rarely tries that with you. You're surprised how much it stings.
Mike laughs and stands up off the bench. He faces Sally and pulls her close. "You're crazy," he tells her. "You're already crazy in love with me. You can't hide it at all, crazy girl."
As Sally giggles and blushes with her arms around Mike's sweaty waist, you look away . . . and try to figure out why you feel so annoyed. Yeah, Mike's ego is the size of Godzilla, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, at least not entirely. Confident guys can be hot. Even arrogance can be sexy sometimes . . . if it's backed up by the goods.
Maybe it's that you can't believe Mike's falling for Sally's girly-girl show. Can't he tell it's all an act? For some reason, you just can't get it through your head that guys always fall for the Barbie doll fairy princess.
Now Sally sits down hard on Mike's lap, squishing his soccer shorts.
"Oof," he says softly.
Sally giggles, throwing an arm around Mike's neck to stabilize herself on top of him. For someone so pretty, Sally can come off as a desperate flirt sometimes.
You're not being fair. You and she have always been honest in your critiques and compliments of one another. She's got a more made-up look, but you also put a lot of thought into your appearance. You've practiced your flirting techniques, too, so you should cut her some slack.
You notice that Sally's wearing a new necklace -- a small, flat pink oval in a gold frame. You sit down next to Mike on the bench and reach into their love knot to gently raise the pendant up from Sally's throat. The pink oval is a slim slice of rose quartz crystal, marbleized with fine white lines. "Nice," you say.
"It's supposed to give me emotional stability," she says with a little laugh. "Rose quartz is good for that."
"You can't believe that crap," Mike says. When Sally shrugs, he gives her a squeeze and tickles her a little. She squeals and squirms in his arms, and Mike leans toward you. The edge of his shoulder pushes into your upper arm. He doesn't pull away quickly from the contact. Is he keeping his shoulder pressed against you for a heartbeat too long? After Sally stops squirming, and he shifts away from you, the sensation where he touched you lingers like an echo.
"Okay," you say, standing up. "There's nowhere I've got to be, but I'm done with this place."
Mike drums on Sally's back for a second. "Up!" he says, and she climbs to her feet, too.
"We're going to a party tonight," Sally brags to you.
"What happened to the movie plans?" you ask.
"Nixed," Sally answers. " Who wants to go to some dumb action flick anyway? I'd much rather go to a party in a mansion."
" In a mansion ," you reply. "Ooh la la."
"It's up in the hills and has a view of the whole town," she continues cheerfully. "Mike knows some kid whose parents are in Hawaii." She shoves Mike's shoulder. "Hey, what was that kid's name again?"
Mike raises his eyebrows at the shove, pauses a second, and then returns to stuffing a towel into his gym bag. "Darren."
"Darren," Sally tells you. "His dad's a banker or something rich and boring like that, but Mike says Darren throws good parties."
"Have fun," you say. "I'm going to catch up on my needlepoint." That's a joke. You'll probably really just watch TV.
Sally laughs. "Well, I wish you could come with us," she says.
Mike zips up his gym bag and stands up. "Why can't she?" he asks.
"Because," Sally replies, a little annoyed by his denseness, "I thought invitations were hard to get."
"Nah," Mike says, smiling. "Darren said we could bring anyone we wanted. She should come."
"She doesn't want to come," Sally says firmly. "Needlepoint, etc."
"Go ahead," you say. "Talk about me like I'm not here."
"You can never have too many girls at a party," Mike explains. "She should come." He looks at you with those potent blue eyes that make you forget what you're thinking about. "You should come."
Sally glares at you over Mike's shoulder, a big, fat No! blazing in her eyes.
"I don't think so," you say.
"You're going to leave me hanging?" Mike asks. "The girl/boy ratio will be a mess if you don't come. You're coming."
Sally glances at him sharply. You understand that she wants to be alone with Mike, but the implied disses of you are irritating.
"She's your best friend. You should want her there, and the party needs her," Mike tells Sally in an extremely final tone. "She's coming."
Sally's too sensitive not to pick up on the dangerous edge in his voice -- he's threatening to be angry with her if she doesn't listen to him. Which is the opposite of what she wants. Especially since they've been dating only a week.
"Oh, come along," she says to you with a giant smile, acting like that's what she wanted the whole time. "We'll all have fun. Maybe you'll even meet someone there!"
You have a feeling that Mike doesn't just want you to come simply because the party needs girls. It's more complicated than that -- he's more complex than that. Mike's been vibing you since the moment you shook hands, and there's really no getting around the fact that he's entirely hot. Yeah, his high opinion of himself is bothersome, but you admit that if he wasn't Sally's boyfriend, you would totally want to get to know him better.
But he is Sally's boyfriend.
Do you really want to provoke a dangerous drama between Sally and you with Mike in the middle? How big a mess would that be?
If you think going to the party just might be worth the trouble, click here.
If playing third wheel at a party with strange guys and not enough girls isn't your idea of a good time, click here.