Chapter 22 – Updated 1/3/17

Ashley can only blink at me. My shoulders slump, “Don’t look at me like that.” I put my face in my hands, “I know I’m fucked up. And I know it makes no damn sense.”She sighs, “Actually, it’s not that stupid.”

“Really?” I look at her face to make sure she’s not just being bitchy, “Why not?”

“Well,” she shrugs, “we almost had sex, didn’t we?”

“And,” I pause, “how the hell does that relate?”

She leans forward, towards me, “Look, you and I are best friends. And yes, God help me, I wanted you to do any and everything to me. And I’m not saying it won’t happen again. But it was, to a certain extent, weird.” She looks at me with that more-than-casual look she’s got, “So you’re telling me that you had sex with Sam and thought of Jesse the entire time.” I nod and her eyes narrow. She tilts her head to the side and leans back against the wall, crossing her arms over her chest, “What aren’t you telling me?”

“What do you mean?”

“There has to be more.”

I deliberately didn’t tell her about the conversation prior to my night with Sam. I try convincing her that there’s nothing more to know, “That’s it. I thought of Jesse the whole time and I feel like shit because of it.”

“Bullshit,” she stands and walks to her mini fridge, “There’s no way in hell you just randomly thought of someone who sent you to an overnight stay in the hospital. What happened after you two went skipping out the door? Do you want a drink?”

“Nah,” I swallow hard. I open my mouth to lie again and give in, “Fuck. Okay… Jesse told me she loves me.”

That stops her dead in her tracks, “What?”

“Yeah, that’s what I said!” I get animated now, “She came up to us when we were about to get into Sam’s truck. I sent Sam to get my purse. Jesse cried and told me she loves me. And I didn’t know what to say, right? I kinda fumbled around and then she told me that she’d intended to talk to me about ‘us’ the day she almost caught you and me! And then, oh God,” I groan and put my hands back over my face, “she almost kissed me and I really, honestly wanted her to in the worst way. I was praying some gust of wind would come up and push her into me or something.” I look up at her now, “If she’d kissed me, Ash, I’m not sure I’d have let go… ever.”

She takes a deep, ragged breath and sits beside me on her bed. For a long moment she’s silent and then she turns to me, “Do you love her?”

I swallow hard and then sigh, “I don’t know.”

“Liar.”

In horror, I recoil, “What do you mean? Why do you say that?”

She laughs, “Because of what you’re not saying.”

“God damn, she said the same fucking thing. What am I not saying?”

Smiling broadly, she answers, “You’re not telling me that you don’t love her. You didn’t tell her to get back, did you? You didn’t tell her to stop loving you. You didn’t tell her to stay away or get a life. You didn’t say no.”

I study the carpet and consider those facts, “No. I guess I didn’t.”

“I love you, Sara.”

The laugh is way too loud, but I can’t stop it, “Fuck no you don’t.”

“See?” She spreads her arms, “That’s what you would have said to her if you didn’t believe her.. or if you didn’t feel the same.” Her face falls a bit, “And I do love you, just not like that.”

I chuckle, “Same here, Ash.”  I sigh and lay back against the headboard, “What do I do?”

“Well, what do you feel for Sam?”

“I love her. I love spending time with her. I think she’s a great person and god, she’s hot. She’s great in bed, very passionate. But….” I sigh.

“She’s not Jessica Cooper.”

I smile a silly smile, “No, she sure isn’t.”

“Then you don’t need me.”

“Yes, I do!”

“Sara,” she puts her hand on my leg, “I am your best friend. I love you. I adore you. I support you. But I refuse to be the person who has to give you permission to be happy. I am not going to tell you what you need to do. You’re going to have to decide what you want and what you’re willing to do for it.”

I know what she’s saying and I hate to admit it, but I know she’s right. I sigh, “Fuck, I hate you.”  We laugh but are cut short by a loud thud in the hallway. I verbalize what we’re both thinking, “What the hell was that?”

She opens the door and looks into the hall. I watch her face break into a huge smile and she motions with her hand, “Come here.” She puts her finger over her mouth as a signal for quiet.

I poke my head out the door and cover my mouth, which is spreading into a huge grin.

“Okay, now box out,” Jesse tells Courtney, who has been struggling in practice to get the plays memorized. Jesse grins at her, “Good, excellent.” She hands Court the soft, toy basketball, “Okay, go about eight doors down and come at me for a layup.”

Court pretends to dribble and turns in the hall, dodging Jesse easily and putting the ball through the little hoop they’ve hung on the hall door, “Yeah, baby!” She grins big and chest bumps with Jesse, “Damn, you were really trying to stop me, too, but I got past you.”

“Hell yeah, you did!” Jesse picks the ball up off the floor and catches a glimpse of us out of the corner of her eye. She turns to us and smiles, “You gonna stand there staring at us or are you gonna play?”

Ashley crosses her arms over her chest in an effort to pretend Jesse’s charm doesn’t work on her, “Nah, we’re content right here watching you.”

Her eyes fall on me and a chill goes up my spine. She holds the ball out, “Mayze? You content just watching?”

I shoot a look at Ashley, “They’re tall,” I move out into the hallway, looking Ashley in the eyes, “slow,” I smile and peel my t-shirt off revealing my sports bra, “and easily distracted.” I toss my shirt at her, “This could be the easiest win in the history of easy wins.”

Turning to Jesse and taking the ball I quip, “Don’t worry, Coop, we won’t win by more than thirty.” I fake dribble and put up a pretty three point shot that falls perfect. When she looks back at me and smiles, I could die in this moment and be totally content.

I look for my team mate and Ashley’s right beside me, without her t-shirt, “That was pretty, girl.”

We fist bump and eye our competition. Jesse walks to the end of the hall and addresses Court, “They’re going to play dirty. Do not be fooled, Dixon, they are after your soul.” She steals a glance at us with a crooked smile, “They are ruthless, mean, woman-eaters. Got it?”

Court smiles, “But they fine as hell.”

Jesse playfully punches her arm, “Hey! They are not fine. They are..” she looks at us again and then shakes her head. “Fuck. Ok, they’re fine. We need a new strategy.”

Court, after a split second, smiles at her team mate, “Hey, man, I don’t mind losing to fine women. But they gon’ have to peel me off ’em to do it.”

“Stick to ’em. That’s a perfect plan.” She nods and looks directly at me, “Win or lose, don’t let them go without a fight.” She tosses the ball over her shoulder as she walks away from Court, “I got Mayze, you take Walker. Let’s do this.”

I smirk and shake my head but shiver under her stare, “You think you’re so bad.”

A t-shirt comes flying at Jesse from behind. She turns, holding it in her hand, “What the hell?” She smiles at Court, “Damn, cuz, you’re ripped!”

Court smirks, “Just trying to level the playing field.”

Ashley, completely surprised, agrees with Jesse’s assessment, “Holy hell! Can I touch them?”

I chuckle and Jesse turns to me, “What are you laughing at?” She tosses Courtney’s shirt down the hall and out of the way.

“Nothing,” I shrug, my arms crossed over my chest.

She nods slowly, “Mhm.” To my utter stupification, she peels her shirt off and throws it on top of Courtney’s. She adjusts her basketball shorts, letting them ride low on her hips, “Judging by the look on your face, baby, the playing field is now level.”

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