Home > Out of Character (True Colors #2)(4)

Out of Character (True Colors #2)(4)
Author: Annabeth Albert

   “You’re a fighter, that’s for damn sure. When I first saw you after the accident… Well, never mind that. Proud of you.”

   And that right there was reason number one why I needed to get Bruno his cards back. He’d been my first call that terrible night, and never once had he complained about having to be the one to tell Mom or all the ways, big and small, that he’d had to help me in the months that followed.

   “Thanks. And, uh…you hanging in there?” I never knew precisely how to ask about his work.

   “Yup. You can tell Mom I’m keeping my head about me. Don’t worry her, but shit’s been real here.” There was an edge to his voice that hadn’t been there a second before, but then he exhaled hard. “Anyway, I’m hoping to get word that we’ll be heading back to the States soon. Can’t wait to see you both. Think you’ll be up for an Odyssey game?”

   “Maybe,” I hedged, bile rising in my throat.

   “It was fun, right? Nice to have something to do now that kicking the ball around is out…”

   Soccer had been his sport first, then mine, and something we could always share. Except I’d gone and ruined that too.

   “Yeah. It wasn’t bad. Fun game.”

   “And you’re a natural. Got those killer reflexes left over from the field.”

   Oh God. Panic joined the nausea party. A natural. George had said that too. And I’d been my usual cocky self and believed him. And look where that had gotten me.

   “I’m not that great. Not like you.”

   “Hey, you’ll get there. I’ll show you more about deck building when I’m home. We’ll go through all my cards, maybe have a beer now that you’re actually legal.”

   “Sounds good.” I had no idea how I managed to get the reply out without croaking.

   “Soon.” Bruno said the word like a prayer, and I knew he’d be in mine later. Real shit indeed. I wanted him home safe in the worst way.

   “Soon,” I echoed. This was it. I really was going to retch now. I was a crap brother and worse human. Bruno had asked for one thing after all he’d done for me, and I’d fucked it up.

   A voice sounded from near Bruno. “Lionetti. Gotta go, man.”

   “Time’s up.” Bruno sounded weary, like Mom at the end of a long day. My chest ached as surely as if he’d landed a fist there. “Take care.”

   “Stay safe, Bruno.” No way could I fess up, not right then, not with him heading out to God knew what danger.

   “I try.” And then he was gone, and I was left holding the phone, my entire body hurting like I’d been laid flat on the asphalt. In a way I had. I had to get those cards back. Whatever it took. Even if it meant—

   “Milo?” Jasper emerged from the back of the game shop, wearing a bulky duffel coat and carrying a backpack that appeared to be more colorful patches than canvas. “What are you doing here?”

   “Waiting for you.” I was too wrung out from the call with Bruno to come up with anything other than the truth.

   “Figured.” Jasper’s voice was marginally less hostile than earlier. As before, he looked…different than last time I’d seen him. Older. Good in a way that I hadn’t been prepared for. Less scrawny for sure—more filled-out shoulders and defined arms that I’d tried like heck not to notice while he was stocking boxes. And failed miserably. His voice was more adult too. Firmer. “Was that Bruno on the phone?”

   “Yeah. He’s on some top-secret mission. Needs me to tell Mom not to worry.” I gave a harsh laugh. “And needs me to be less of a dumbass, but what else is new?”

   “You did screw up pretty spectacularly.” Jasper shook his head like he was admiring the wreckage of my life.

   “I did,” I agreed mournfully. “And now I need help.”

   “So you said.” Jasper paused, gaze dropping to my phone, almost as if he expected Bruno to emerge from it, special forces gear and all. “And I can’t believe I’m going to say this—”

   “Please.” My eyes squished shut as I did some major-league bargaining with the universe.

   “My help is worth something. What you’re asking for, it’s not five minutes of work—”

   “I know. I’m not asking you to do it for free.” My head did a ridiculous bobble as I tried to will him toward a yes. And paying him would be hard, but I’d make it happen. Anything to avoid disappointing Bruno yet again.

   “Good. Because I might have a proposition for you.”

   Relief coursed through me, so swift and overwhelming that my eyes stung from more than the cold. I had no idea what he was going to ask for, but I was going to do my damnedest to give it to him, even if it sucked.

 

 

Chapter Three


   Jasper

   Milo looked like he was in serious risk of passing out right there on the frozen asphalt behind the game store. I hadn’t seen him that upset since freshman year of high school when we’d had our last real conversation—a fight that had left me in a billion pieces. I’d shattered exactly like a rocket we’d worked on once, a freak collapse destroying days and days of work, except that time it had been years of friendship crumbling.

   * * *

   “I don’t get why you can’t sit with us.” My voice had done the wavering thing I hated on the walk home from school. I’d left school alone, Milo popping up two blocks into my trek, all cagey about why he hadn’t been at the lockers like usual.

   “Because the team sits together.” The team. God. I was already sick of hearing about the soccer team and definitely sick of Milo’s reverent tone when he talked about his teammates. “I may be JV now, but Coach says if I keep working, I’ll be the first freshman to make varsity. I need to be one of the guys right now.”

   “But you were one of us.” He’d sat with our crowd all through middle school and the first part of freshman year. Sure, the school was bigger, but we’d had the same core friend group for years now. We talked about our favorite games and complained about our least favorite classes, same as always, even though we didn’t have many classes other than lunch together. But then he’d gone and made the soccer team, and everything had changed. I hated it.

   He bit his lip, tongue darting out to soothe where his teeth had been, making my stomach do flippy things even as I knew I wasn’t going to like what came next.

   “I’m not a gamer. Not really. And I’m not gunning for honor society and math team like you guys. Coach says I’ll probably get a scholarship somewhere even if my grades aren’t all that. I’m just not a…”

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