Read Chapter 1 of Playing the Game… – Ali Parker

Read Chapter 1 of Playing the Game…

Chapter 1


After a day of cramming and classes, I went back to my apartment and found that Clara, my sister and former roommate, was there to gather the last of her things. 

“Hey, Avery,” she said, peeking over the bar. She was down on the floor, and pots and pans rattled in the cabinet as she rifled through them. “I’m taking the extra skillet. Dillon is sick of microwaved eggs, and I can barely stomach regular food, much less that microwaved mess. Have you ever seen what a microwave does to an egg? It’s disgusting. It looks like a sponge, and I’m pretty sure it tastes like one too.” She made a face and kept on digging.

“Yeah, they’re gross,” I said, dropping my bag on the table. I went to the fridge for a drink and watched as she dug through a different cabinet.

“Now that he’s in camp, I’m using the time to gather the things we need to function normally. I feel like we don’t have anything we need, and too much of what we don’t.”

“Other than a sad lack of household wares, how are you doing without Dillon around?” This was my subtle way of asking her if she was still eating. Part of her recovery was to keep her strength up. Her heart was fragile from her anorexia, and while she had been doing better, being alone in her own place without Dillon could trigger her to resort to old ways of starving herself.

“I’m eating three square meals, so you can stop worrying. How are things with you?” She gave me a sideward look and put a small soup pot on the counter. “You don’t have company every day, do you?”

That was her subtle way of fishing around for information about my pending relationship with Seth Mills. I hadn’t given her the update of our status and decided it would be best to let her be happy and content with settling in her new place without worrying about me.

I loved Clara and wanted the best for her. My problems would only make her worry, so I played it off as if everything were good, doing my best to keep a big smile on my face and a positive attitude.

“No, you can relax. Things slowed down considerably with Seth and me.”

“Why?” she asked with a suspicious look in her eye.

“I just decided to hit the brakes and take it slow.” I tried to keep a bright smile to hide how I was really feeling.

“Good,” said Clara, not even knowing the look was fake. “You’ve come to your senses. I was actually afraid I might find him here. It would have given me great pleasure to ask him to leave.” She hated Seth, and I knew she’d never change her mind about him.

“Oh no, it’s my place now. Only I get to throw people out.” I just wanted her to give him a chance.

Clara laughed. “Is that right? I’d think our father would disagree.” She took the cookie sheet from the oven drawer, and I quickly snatched it back.

“He didn’t disagree when you and Dillon decided to shack up together.” Our father had never cared so much what we did as long as he didn’t have to deal with any drama.

“That’s only because he’s scared that I’m going to die before I get a chance to live. And he’s happy that I have Dillon to take care of me, so he doesn’t have to. Trust me. You don’t want the consequences of his approval. It sucks not being as healthy as I used to be. I’ve been working really hard at getting it back. Well, as hard as I can.”

She walked over and opened the pantry. “Do we still have that soup you hated?”

“I think you already took that.” She had come in and cleaned me out twice already. Granted, most of the stuff we had was hers before it was mine when she first came to college two years before me, but I was afraid she wouldn’t leave me anything. “I’m certain you did.”

She waved her hand and closed the cabinet. “Dillon eats like a horse. He probably ate it while I was in class.”

I thought the topic of Seth was behind us. But Clara gave me a another look as she opened the utensil drawer. “So, what happened between you two? Did Seth do something inappropriate? I could have Dillon kick his ass. I’m sure he’d love that.”

He might try, but it wasn’t like Seth was going to sit back and let him. “It’s nothing like that. He’s focusing on rugby, and I’m doing the same. We still text now and then, but I wanted to take your advice and go a bit slower. See what kind of guy he really is.” Our texting had even dropped off, but I didn’t want Clara to get too excited because I was growing weaker by the minute and felt like I needed to reach out before he moved on to the next girl. If he hadn’t already. The thought made my stomach ache.

Why did things have to be so complicated?

Not only that, but I knew if I told Clara the truth, she’d never accept Seth, no matter what decision I made.

After she tried to take the better of our two clothes baskets, which I didn’t allow, she instead opted for the older one to carry her stuff home in. She sat at the table to take a rest. “I hate being weak. I’m getting stronger, but I still get winded easily.”

It was hard to watch her be that way. Her anorexia snuck up on me, and in hindsight, it was so obvious that I still blamed myself for not recognizing she had a problem before it was nearly too late. The damage her decisions had done to her body was life threatening. “What are you up to this afternoon?”

“Aside from getting the apartment unpacked and organized, nothing. I didn’t realize how much stuff we had, but since he moved out of the Omega House, his mother has sent us boxes of his things. Too bad none of it was cookware.” She made a face as she looked at the things she’d gathered. “You don’t need any of this, do you?”

I looked at the stuff and shook my head. “Nah, take it.” I took a deep breath and continued the topic. “So, how did Dillon’s Omega brothers take it when he moved out? He had just been promoted to Micha’s right hand.”

“They understood, and it’s not like they miss him. He’s still hanging out there more than I’d like, but the Olympic training is going to take too much of his time, so I’m not too worried.” She let out a sigh and turned her head to look up at the clock. “Don’t you have practice?”

“Yeah, I do. I need to get something to eat and run. I didn’t expect to find my apartment being burgled.” I went to the fridge and found some lunch meat and bread. I slapped a sandwich together and wrapped it in a napkin to take along with me.

Clara got to her feet. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out with Seth, but it’s probably for the best.”

“I said we were taking a break.”

“Couples take breaks. You weren’t even dating. I just don’t want you to be too upset when he moves on. He’s a known player, and you deserve better. He probably knows it too.” She gave me a wink and pulled me close for a hug. “I love you, Avery. Don’t forget I’m just a phone call away, and I can be here in two seconds if needed.”

“Same to you. And I love you too.” I finished the hug, took her heavy basket, and carried it out. Clara locked the door behind us, and I put the basket into Dillon’s truck for her.

“I miss our car,” she said, making a grumpy face as she looked over at the Accord our parents paid for us to share. I had gotten to keep it since Dillon already had a truck they could use.

I thought I’d try and make her feel better. “But at least you got a hot boyfriend to go along with those new wheels.”

“Yeah, I’m really lucky. Screw the car. I don’t need it.” She lifted her chin and waved her hand dismissively as she got in the truck. She was so small behind the wheel, like a kid trying to drive a semi, but she cranked it up and drove away as if she had been driving it for years.

I let out a breath and went to my car to drive myself to practice.

When I arrived, I got dressed in the locker room and met up with the team on the field. We worked through some drills and worked on our next play. I tried to pay attention but spent most of the first hour waiting for our male counterparts to show up. Mostly their team captain, Seth.

The girls’ and guys’ rugby practices overlapped more and more each week, but that was only because we were inching closer to the championships and our coaches were pushing us harder than ever.

Rugby had been my way into college, but I didn’t see it as a future. I enjoyed it, but I hoped there would come a time when I could move on with my life and carry the fond memories of the field with me.

I had other things I wanted to take away from college, and the biggest one of them led the team as they finally took the practice field.

Everyone had warned me about Seth, not only Clara, but there was something about him that fascinated me and made my heart race every time I laid eyes on him.

I took a deep breath and pushed those feelings down, knowing they were probably right. Even my own sister had problems with him, and well, I had seen just how inconsiderate he could be.

Things had been going great between us, and I loved spending time with him, but the closer we got, the more I had a chance to see what people were talking about.

Not only did Seth have a temper when things didn’t go his way, but he had a hard time doing the right thing. It was bad enough he cheated on Layla and treated her badly—from what I’d been told—but he had let me down too. I hadn’t told a soul, and not even Seth knew what had me shying away.

Just after our date two weeks ago, when Seth had taken me to the movies, we left the theater to go to a party at the Omega House. Things were going fine until I left him for five minutes to find a bathroom.

Sure, we had turned some heads upon our arrival, and I was super excited to be there with him, hoping that everyone would see that we were taking the next steps at becoming the latest hot couple at Providence University. But I had not expected anyone to have a problem with me.

I had been so foolish that night, fluffing out my usually flat, blonde hair, and adding a little extra lip gloss to impress him. When I returned, I found Seth standing at the keg, talking to one of his friends.

The guy, who I thought was named Ben or some three-letter name I had decided wasn’t important enough to remember, was cracking jokes, and the two of them were laughing. “Dude, isn’t that tomboy rugby chick you’re seeing like a lesbian or bi? I didn’t think she liked boys.”

Seth shook his head and laughed. “Who’s talking about boys? I’m a man.” He gave the guy a jab in the arm. “Besides, maybe I’ll get lucky and get a threesome with her and one of her hot friends. Talk about some hot action.” 

They laughed it up together and chugged their drinks.

I turned and held back a minute so Seth wouldn’t know I overheard him, and when it was time to take me home, he didn’t know why I was so upset. “Come on,” he said. “Smile for me. You’ve been acting weird since we got to the party. I left because I thought you wanted us to be alone. I know I want to.” His voice softened a bit, but he had that look in his eyes like he had a lot more on his mind.

“It’s not that,” I said. “I’m just tired.”

Seth let out a heavy sigh. “Well, you said your sister isn’t home, so maybe I could come in for a while? I could tuck you in for the night.” He gave me a smoldering grin, and as much as I had wanted the night to end with us together, I just couldn’t bring myself to forgive what he’d said. 

“No, I think I need to sleep.”

He pulled into the parking lot of my apartment and stopped the Jeep. “Come on, Avery. You said we’d have the place alone. I really thought that you liked me.”

“I do. I guess I’m a lot more exhausted than I thought. It must have been the movie.”

Seth looked puzzled. “The movie was awesome. I thought you’d like that kind of show. It was all action.”

“Why would you think that? Because I’m a tomboy?” I looked away, unable to meet his eyes.

I finally glanced over after a minute of silence, and he gave me a strange look. “No, because of the lead actor. I know how girls like that guy. Layla was in love with him. She even followed him on social media.”

I let out a breath. How could he be so clueless? And comparing me to Layla was not winning him any points either. “I’ll call you later.” I opened the door to get out, and when I did, he jumped out of his side and came around to walk me to the door.

“Okay, if you don’t think I could change your mind. Seems like a wasted opportunity to me.” He took my hand as we stood on the steps, and I was still so upset I couldn’t even meet his eyes for too long. He lifted my chin, giving me no choice but to look. He leaned in to kiss me, but I pulled away.

“I’ll call you.” I didn’t want a kiss goodnight. He hadn’t earned one.

“No kiss? Come on. It’s not like it’s our first one. What’s going on? Did I do something?” He narrowed his eyes, and I could see his chest rise and fall quickly.

I should have said something right then, but instead, I told him no, and now I was lost in regrets and wishing I would have confronted him and worked it out. Being in limbo with him was the worst.

“Russell,” yelled Coach Simms, bringing my head around. “Are you going to stare across the field or get your head in the game?”

“I’m sorry.” I went to get in position and tried to focus, but I kept feeling like I had really screwed things up. But Seth’s words had hurt me deeply, and it was hard to tell if his intentions were pure or not.

I had always been a tomboy compared to my sister, who was way girlier and even more petite than me before her eating disorder. I had never worn much makeup, dresses, or girlie clothing. Most of the time, you could find me in boots and jeans with a worn-out T-shirt.

Jewelry wasn’t a big deal either, and I had one pair of diamond-stud earrings I had worn every day since I had gotten my ears pierced in high school. I’d never found another pair I liked more.

When Seth came to talk to me at an Omega House party months ago, I had been surprised he had even noticed me at all, much less asked for my number. He was extremely hot, really nice, and so popular that I couldn’t help but want to get to know him too.

But all of the bad rumors eventually got around to me. The one about him being Layla Roberts’s cheating ex and how horrible he had treated the girl when they were dating was the most popular one. And how he didn’t know the meaning of commitment, much less faithfulness. I had heard it all, but through that, I still felt like they were talking about someone else. Seth had never shown me that side.

It just wasn’t the Seth I had known, and I had given him the benefit of the doubt until that night at the Omega party.

As practice continued and we finished up working on the plays, Coach Simms talked to us about our progress and sent us to run a lap. I had my mind in the clouds anyway, and while the other girls were all talking and carrying on, I still couldn’t shake Seth from my mind. 

What if I was making a mistake? What if I was throwing it all away on an overreaction?

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