Home > Hands Down(6)

Hands Down(6)
Author: Mariana Zapata

It had been a whole new world, I guess, going from living with only my parents and Connie to being surrounded by all these strangers who were family. According to Mamá Lupe, I’d fallen right into it. They claimed I hadn’t been shy, but I knew now how nice almost everyone on my mom’s side of the family was, so it must have been easy to get used to my new environment because of them.

It became home. The house. The people.

My parents didn’t stay there for long either. By the time I was four, they were gone—like they would be on and off for the rest of my life—off saving the world, and they’d left Connie and me behind with Mamá Lupe and the rest of the family.

What I did remember was the bossy, dark-haired boy who used to tell our other cousins to shut up when they’d call me “la güera”—the white girl, even though I was only half, stupid asses—and the almost-blond, skinny boy who was always over at my abuela’s house. Both of them were always nice to me. I kind of remembered them sitting in her living room, helping me build shit with big blocks, but that’s about as far back as I could go when I thought of them being present and there.

What I didn’t remember was the day that I supposedly pushed Zac out of the way of a copperhead in the yard and apparently saved his life. Everyone else just told me about it. What I knew for sure was that the blond, skinny boy was always, always nice to me after that.

Both of them were—my Boogie and Zac.

And with time, I could pluck out a whole lot more memories with them after that. How they taught me to ride a bike. How they’d let me ride on their bikes with them, at least until we got caught and Mamá Lupe hollered from the front porch to put me down before they killed me, even though I wasn’t scared.

If they didn’t invite me and I asked, they always let me tag along. I remembered that—never feeling excluded, always being welcomed by them.

Those two, along with Connie and my grandma, made me feel loved and wanted.

Despite the gap in our ages, we grew up together. Me and them. They got older and older and hung around less, but they never forgot about me. Not then. Not even the one who had gone from a pale blond and skinny to a dirty blond and still skinny.

They got licenses, and I got to go for rides. When there was a football game when they were in high school, I was the little kid who got to hang out with her cool older cousin. I was the girl who got waved at by the guy that every student and parent in the stands cheered for.

And when they left for college, I cried. But they still came back to visit, and I got to see them some weekends and every holiday.

And then I turned sixteen and fell in love with the blond-haired man-boy who was still skinny, but not as skinny, and treated me like a little sister.

And… life was never the same after that.

 

 

It took me a second, but I answered Zac, even as my throat ached and my stomach churned a little. “Yup. It’s me. Bianca.” I lifted my fingers again and gave them another wiggle that was pretty half-assed.

Eyelashes, that were somewhere between blond and brown, fell over those baby blue eyes. “No,” he pretty much whispered in what sounded like disbelief. Maybe even shock.

I nodded back at him, serious as a heart attack.

Those eyes moved over my face again right before he lifted one of those big, big hands—I tried not to think about how I’d thought he had the biggest hands and feet I’d ever seen back when I’d been younger—and he gently set the tip of his index finger right beside the corner of my mouth. Literally maybe two millimeters away. Right over the beauty mark there that I had hated when I’d been younger. I’d tried covering it up with my aunts’ and Connie’s makeup at least a dozen times.

Zac’s finger stayed right there as his gaze flicked back to mine and my old friend asked, still basically whispering in a stunned drawl, “Peewee?”

Oh.

He really hadn’t known it was me?

Warmth filled my chest—relief, it was relief, just a little bit of it; I could admit it—as I gave him another little smile, a hesitant one if I was going to be honest with myself. “Yep” was all I gave him, mostly because it was all I could. Okay, all I would.

Zachary James Travis’s—professional quarterback and my old friend—mouth fell right open, showing me all those white, perfect teeth before the hand he had beside my lip fell away, and the next thing I knew, he was shaking his head and stating loudly, definitely freaking surprised, “You’re shittin’ me.”

I shook my head in return.

Apparently that response was all he needed, because before I could do or say anything else, Zac took a step forward and, in the blink of a freaking eye, that six-foot-three body was there. Right in my face.

Right in my face and then lifting me up into a hug that had my toes leaving the ground in the time it took me to blink as he said, loud and in what really did seem like he was overwhelmed, “I can’t believe it,” as he hugged me so tightly to him, to that big, hard frame, so close.

A few years ago, that would have instantly eased most of the tension in my body.

He did remember me.

He was happy to see me.

And I wasn’t going to cry because he hadn’t totally forgotten me. Or that he wasn’t all blasé about seeing me after so long either. I wasn’t.

But I didn’t totally relax. Because it had been almost a decade, and because even though I understood that he was busy and had hundreds of people who wanted something from him, it didn’t erase the hurt from before. It didn’t wipe out the memories of staring at my phone and wondering what I had done wrong to make him not want to be my friend after so long.

I wasn’t scraps. I had a life too. A life I had worked my ass off for. I had people who cared and loved me for a reason, because I’d earned it. I thought I was a decent person, most of the time.

And regardless of all that, ignoring the fine fracture of pain I still felt, I still loved him. Not for a second had I ever not wanted the best for him. There hadn’t been a moment in my life that I hadn’t rooted for him despite him outgrowing me and then leaving me in the past.

He was happy to see me right then, and I’d take it.

I lifted my arms and wrapped them around his neck and hugged that long body back, tightly for all of a second, like I had missed the hell out of him. Because I had. Just for a moment, I pressed my forehead against a spot along his warm, smooth neck.

There was no harm in that. I used to hug the shit out of him all the time.

I wasn’t going to think about why we hadn’t seen each other in so long. I wasn’t going to be sad that it might be another ten years before we saw each other again after this. At least I wouldn’t be sad for one more minute.

After this hug and after what I needed to do, life could go back to normal.

“I can’t believe it’s you, Peewee,” Zac Travis pretty much whispered with that still surprised voice, the Texas accent he’d inherited from spending so much time with his Paw-Paw, thick and sweet. He held me so tight and high, I could barely touch the ground. And I’d be a goddamn liar if I said I didn’t notice how hard and muscular his chest felt pressed up against me.

One of those long arms loosened, and what had to be his palm cupped the back of my head in a gesture that surprised me even more as his rich and familiar laughter filled the ear closest to his mouth. “I cannot fuckin’ believe it.”

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