Against my better judgment, I follow Gretchen and find myself face-to-face with a shiny blue leotard hanging in one of the cubbies in the locker room. Gretchen, who can probably fit into a keyhole she’s so petite, says in a heavy Russian accent, “Put it on, then meet me in the gym.”

When she walks out of the room, I stare at the blue spandex and think . . . what horrible thing did I do in my life to deserve this?


Chapter 27


I look ridiculous and stupid. As I check myself in the bathroom mirror, I want to back out. I’m wearing a skintight leotard/ bodysuit obviously designed by women who have no clue about men’s plumbing, because the outline of my dick is obscene. Don’t dudes who do this sport wear a cup or something? I’ve been on a trampoline, but I’ve never done synchronized trampolining. Looking at myself in the mirror, I can see why. I thought having a private trampoline session with two pros would be funny, something completely off the wall. This idea has completely backfired.

I hear a loud knock. “Derek, come out!” Jumpin’ Jack bellows through the men’s dressing room door.

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I adjust and hope I can avoid further embarrassment by not getting a hard-on during this training session. When I walk into the gym, Ashtyn’s standing atop the center trampoline wearing a matching skintight leotard that leaves nothing to the imagination.

Her gaze moves downward and her hand flies to her mouth as she giggles. “Oh my . . . Derek, your, umm . . .”

“Huge, I know. Stop staring at it or soon you’ll be seein’ how impressive it really gets.” I gesture to her chest. “You cold, Sugar Pie?”

She crosses her arms on her chest when she realizes that I’m not the only one with body parts sticking out.

“Hold hands,” Gretchen instructs.

Ashtyn stares at my hands as if she’s not about to touch them anytime soon.

“Don’t we jump on separate trampolines?” I ask. This wasn’t supposed to be an intimate holding-hands session. I’ve seen the videos online. We’re supposed to be jumping on two different trampolines.

“You need to find and feel each other’s rhythm first.”

Sounds like screwing, not trampolining, but I’m game. I hold out my hands. Ashtyn takes a deep breath, then slides her hands on top of mine. Her touch sends a jolt of electricity through me. I look for a sign to see if she feels it, too. She obviously doesn’t, because her eyes are averted and she looks like she’d like to be anywhere but here.

“Start jumping!” Jumpin’ Jack orders.

We do. Ashtyn tries to stay upright, but falls backward. Since our hands are still attached, I almost fall on top of her.

“Sorry,” I mumble. This is way closer than I thought we’d be, and it’s throwing me off my game. Tonight was supposed to make me stop thinking about my grandmother. It was supposed to be entertaining, mocking her and the nondate I manipulated her to go on in the first place.

Ashtyn stands and holds out her hands so we can try again. “This is ridiculous. You know that, don’t you?”

“Feel my rhythm,” I say, then wink at her in an attempt to make light of the situation.

She tilts her head and smiles sweetly. “Fuck you.”

She tries to pull her hands away, but I hold tight and keep jumping.

“Feel your partner’s energy,” Jack instructs. “Don’t fight it. Match it, imitate it, until you’re of one mind.”

“Next time we go out, remind me to wear a sports bra,” Ashtyn mumbles. “And you’d be better off wearing a jockstrap.”

I try to hide a smile. “You’re already looking forward to the next time?”

“No. I just meant . . . Forget what I meant and concentrate,” she says, flustered.

“You’re cute when you’re nervous, Sugar Pie.”

“I’m not nervous.”

“Sure you are. Your palms are sweaty and—”

“Stop talking and focus!” Gretchen yells.

It takes us fifteen minutes before Jumpin’ Jack announces that we’re ready to separate and try side-by-side trampolines. With each jump, Ashtyn seems to relax. We’ve finally gotten the hang of it and she even starts smiling and letting out little laughs when we mess up. Jumpin’ Jack and Gretchen both take this jumping stuff way more seriously than it needs to be, which is comedy. Gretchen scolds us every time Ashtyn and I talk or laugh, which makes us laugh even more.

“When you jump in sync,” Gretchen says after Jumpin’ Jack teaches us a few tricks, “your bodies and souls become one entity. It’s like making love.”

I look over at Ashtyn and our eyes lock. I imagine what it would be like to be intimate with her, with her looking up at me with those expressive eyes and full lips. At first I’d take it slow, savoring each moment . . . then I’d let her set the pace. Would she let down her fierce protective shell, or would it always be there, a reminder that she’ll never fully let go of her inhibitions?

Shit, I better stop those wayward thoughts before everyone in the room knows what I’m thinking. If Ashtyn knew what was on my mind, she’d probably punch me in the groin—which she’d have no problem finding in this leotard. I tell myself I’m sexually frustrated because I haven’t hooked up with a girl in a few months. I need to fix that, and not with a girl like Ashtyn. She’s made for guys who want a commitment. I’m made for girls who want a good time. While we might be jumping in sync, our personalities when it comes to dating clash like oil and water.

At the end of the hour, and a picture that Gretchen insists we take in our leotards, we’ve mastered how to jump and do a few tricks in sync. Gretchen and Jumpin’ Jack are impressed with our progress and invite us back anytime for another lesson.

In the car, Ashtyn and I are silent as I drive to dinner. I’m still trying to convince myself I’m not attracted to her. We’re not in sync at all, in anything. Except trampolining. We rocked it tonight.

“Trampolining was a really stupid idea,” Ashtyn says. She’s back in her sweats, looking like she’s ready for an intense workout at the gym instead of a night out on the town.

“You liked it. Admit it.”

She shifts in the seat and looks out my car window. “I won’t admit anything. Now take me home so I can pig out. I’m starving.”

“I’m takin’ you to dinner.” I pull into the parking lot of White Fence Farm in a town called Romeoville.

“White Fence Farm?”

“Supposedly they have the world’s best chicken, made from real chickens. Admit that you have no clue what’s in that frozen crap your sister heats up every night.”

“I happen to like frozen crap, thank you very much.”

We have to wait over an hour for a table, so Ashtyn walks around the little antique museum inside the restaurant. She looks appreciatively at one of the vintage cars in the museum case. A slimy guy sagging his pants and looking like he’s on the prowl walks up next to her. He says something I can’t hear, then smiles when she answers him.

“What’s up, man?” I say to the dude as I put my arm around Ashtyn’s shoulder. He takes the hint and walks away.

Ashtyn brushes my hand off. “What are you doing?”

“Makin’ sure that guy knows you’re not available. Didn’t anyone tell you not to talk to guys who are just lookin’ for a piece of ass?”

“Takes one to know one, huh?”

“Somethin’ like that.”

“Maybe the guy was just trying to be nice.”

“I don’t think so.”

She winds through the crowded museum back to the front of the restaurant. When we’re finally seated across from a bunch of guys wearing T-shirts that say ROMEOVILLE HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL on them, Ashtyn is silent.

“You gonna talk?”

She doesn’t look up from the cartoon picture of a chicken on her plate. “I don’t feel like it.”

“Well, it’s a good thing this isn’t a date. If this was, you’d definitely be a dud.” She opens her mouth to protest, but the waitress comes. She’s a big woman with red curly hair who introduces herself as Tracie. She does her welcome greeting, then takes our order.

“Our sides are bottomless, so feel free to ask for more,” Tracie says with a smile, then leans in to whisper something important. “Our corn fritters are legendary and addictive.”

“Thank goodness,” I tell Tracie, who looks like she’s eaten one too many fritters in her lifetime. “Because my girlfriend here is legendary and addictive. Right, Sugar Pie?”

Ashtyn shakes her head, then kicks me under the table. Poor Tracie. Her smile fades as she doesn’t know how to respond, so she excuses herself and says the food will be out shortly.

“Thank goodness this isn’t a real date,” Ashtyn says. “Because if it were, I’d already have called a cab and been on my way back to Fremont.”

“If this were a real date, we’d already be in the backseat of my car with our clothes off.”

“Eww. Wanna bet?” Ashtyn says.

I grin wide.

She holds up a hand. “Forget I said that.”

Chapter 28


I’m glad those guys from Romeoville don’t recognize me. We played them this year and beat them 21–20 in the first round of the playoffs. A fight broke out between our players after I’d kicked the field goal to win the game. Police were called in to break it up.

Derek waves a hand in front of my face. “Stop lookin’ at other guys when you’re with me.”

“I’m not looking at other guys.”

“I’m not an idiot, Ashtyn. Every two seconds you’re checkin’ out the football players at that table behind me. Obviously you’ve got a thing for jocks.”

“I do not. They’re . . . rivals. I just hope they don’t recognize me.”

“Then stop lookin’ at ’em and pay attention to your date.”

“This isn’t a date.”

“Humor me and pretend it is.”

“What would Bree say if she knew you and I were out on a date?”

“Bree?” He laughs. “She just wanted to hook up. Nothin’ more than that.”

I don’t want to know how much he hooked up with Bree. I don’t like guys who think they’re God’s gift to girls and have no goals except to get with as many girls as possible, which is the definition of Derek Fitzpatrick. So why do I like being here with him, trying to one-up him on the witty comment scale? The guy makes stupid jokes and doesn’t take anything seriously—especially his relationships with girls. I mean, who thinks of taking a girl on a date to learn synchronized trampolining?

Not that this is a date. It’s not. It’s paying for a lost bet, nothing more. Sure, Derek’s pretending it’s a real date, but that’s only because he likes playing games. Taking me out is just another game to him, another way for him to amuse himself.

When Tracie brings the corn fritters piled up in a little white ceramic bowl, I sample one. I swear the fritter practically melts in my mouth, perfectly warm and sweet. It’s everything Tracie said it would be and more.

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