Final Play by Hazel Parker

Prologue

Ten Years Ago

I couldn’t believe I was doing this.

I didn’t mean in the sense of breaking out of the house after my bedtime; my parents barely cared if I stayed in or not, so long as I didn’t bring trouble to the “prestigious” Ferrari family name. I meant in the fact that I was breaking out of the house to go have ice cream with Lindsay McLean. She was literally the girl next door, my best friend since I was five years old, and one of the few people that made me feel comfortable in my own skin.

And I was about to fuck everything up because of hormones.

What could I say? She had turned into a real dime in the last few years thanks to puberty. I had always looked at her with awe at what she had turned into, but I had never had the confidence to ask her out. Never had the confidence to dare to make a move.

But I was fucking done being a pussy. I was fucking done being the awkward, ignored kid whose parents sucked. I was going to be the cool kid.

And if that meant making a bold move or two that maybe didn’t work out, well, what was the harm? I could find a new best friend. I think.

I didn’t even have to “sneak out” so much as I did just open the door from my bedroom to an outdoor patio, at which point I just hopped down, walked down the long driveway, and waited for Lindsay to come out to the street. She’d gotten my text messages; she was on board with this as much as I was. The only question was, did she feel the same way as I did? I mean, she had sent back a few kissy emojis, but the rumor was she was too sweet not to.

Personally, I said fuck the rumors. Rumors were for the kids who were jealous of what I was becoming. I ran my class, or I was pretty sure I did; I didn’t give a fuck what some jealous babies said about Lindsay.

They didn’t know her like I did.

“Hey!”

I could recognize her whisper from anywhere. It was cute and sweet, exactly like her. And then she emerged.

Although we both lived in the Bay Area, I always imagined that when people spoke about Southern belles, they talked about women like Lindsay. She was polite to a fault, dressed conservatively but not to the point of being stuffy, and always cared about the person across from her. She could speak with the star quarterback as easily as she could speak with the theatre extra in the most recent school play.

And lucky me, I not only got to be her close friend, I got to grow up right next door to her.

“You’ll have me home by ten, right?”

“Duh,” I said, trying not to make it seem like I was smiling too much. “You think I’d let you get in trouble with your parents?”

“Well, sadly, they already think you’re going down a bad path,” she said with an eye roll. “I told them they don’t understand you, but you know how they are.”

“Well, this may be the first time I ever say something in their defense, but I’ll say this. I don’t even think my own family understands me, so I wouldn’t expect yours to either. But forget about that. I got a surprise to show you.”

I pulled out a key from my pocket.

“That’s…a key?”

“Not just any key,” I said.

I led her down the street to an open garage. I sneaked in, found what I was looking for, and pulled it out.

“What do you think?”

“That’s…a motorcycle.”

“Indeed,” I said, proud of what I had found. “And whoever owns it does a terrible job of protecting it. So I say we borrow it for a spell.”

“You’re serious? We can’t be doing that!”

Her facial expression, though, was giving her away.

“Which is exactly why we should while we can,” I said. “Hop on. I promise on my heart that I will return this bike back here. It’s just for us to enjoy for the night.”

Lindsay looked at me, looked back at the bike, and looked so hard like she was trying not to wear a guilty grin. This girl could be so adorable when she wasn’t trying to indulge some of my more insane decisions. It was like she tried to be good but knew at her heart she wanted to be bad.

I hoped she was bad enough tonight for something a little more.

“If you promise to drive under the speed limit,” she said. “Five under. I will never do anything with you if you make me feel unsafe.”

“Totally understand,” I said. “Now come on. They’re gonna wake up if we keep talking out here.”

Lindsay put a hand to her mouth, but I did not wait to argue any longer. I wheeled the bike a little further away from the house, hopped on, and put the key in, though I didn’t ignite it yet. I nodded for Lindsay to sit behind me.

Truth be told, this was one of the dumber fucking things I’d done in my life. I hadn’t even ridden a bicycle, let alone a motorcycle, in about five or six years. I had to figure it wasn’t rocket science, as I had done some research beforehand, but I was fully aware this was riskier than twisting an ankle. We didn’t even have helmets.

But when Lindsay sat behind me, scooted her body up on mine, and I felt her warm arms wrap around my stomach and pull tight…

Hello, motorcycle ride!

“Let’s go!” I said triumphantly, igniting the engine.

“You’ve done this before, right?”

“Oh, totally,” I said. “Hold on tight!”

Even over the roar of the motorcycle, I could hear her scream. She had decent reason—the first few turns were very jerky and awkward, and it took me a moment to translate what I had read into actual action. But slowly, I started to get the hang of it.

And the one thing Lindsay had requested—for me the drive under the speed limit—was going to happen anyway, because anything over about thirty miles per hour felt like I was going out of control. How some went over sixty, seventy, even eighty on the highway felt mesmerizing to me.

Fortunately, our journey to some ice cream did not require us getting on any highways or even any busy local roads; we merely went along a couple of side roads with very little traffic before we arrived at the local ice cream store, Candice’s Creamery. When I stopped the bike, I had to rest for a second; my legs were tingling so much that my feet had gone numb.

“Wow,” Lindsay said from behind me, her voice shaky but in the best way possible. “That was amazing.”

She laughed and squeezed me tight. All sorts of nerves washed through me.

“You could say that again,” I said.

She jumped off first, doing a little hop-skip over to the store. She could be so cute but also so freaking innocent sometimes; I always wondered if, despite her being one of my closest friends, if she really was that innocent or if there was something she was hiding from me. I really did think, though, she was just that naive.

When I came up to her in line, I decided to make my first bold move.

I put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her in.

She leaned into it a bit, but it wasn’t long lasting. It was impossible to say what that represented, but at least that also meant it wasn’t off the table. When it was our turn, she ordered banana pecan ice cream, and I went with just vanilla. Ironic, I know; the rebel went for the plainest ice cream there was. What could I say, I thought making things more complicated than they needed to be was overrated.

We sat down at a nearby bench, and I let myself move closer to her.

“Not every day that you get to ride a motorcycle for weekday ice cream, huh?”

“I can’t believe this is happening,” she said with a giggle. “This is so bad!”

“But it’s so fun, isn’t it?” I said, my voice dropping lower.

She looked at me with such a serious gaze, her eyes burrowing into mine, that for a second, I was almost afraid that she was going to take the initiative and kiss me. I wouldn’t have minded that, but it would have been against everything I knew about Lindsay.

And then she laughed as if the whole thing had been a bit, and I felt mildly disappointed.

“You do have a way of pushing boundaries, Leo.”

Should I push this one? Is this the moment?

“How are you doing in Miss Webster’s math class?”

And it’s gone. Shit. I knew I should have fucking made a move sooner.

“Eh, it’s easy,” I said.

“You are the only person I know who has said that.”

I shrugged.

“You’re so much smarter than you give yourself credit for,” she said, but I just rolled my eyes at that. “You come from a great family—”

“Please,” I said. “A bunch of stuffy Italians who constantly preach saving yourself for marriage and getting into the wine industry? Hard pass.”

“But aren’t—”

“My siblings? Yeah,” I said. “But Nick’s trying to go pro in baseball, and Dad said if he was good enough to be a public face for Ferrari Wines, he should. Brett’s just a fucking idiot who has no other options. Layla…”

I sighed.

“Layla’s got options. But I’m worried she’ll feel like she has no choice but to go into the family business.”

“And you?”

“I’m fifteen. I’m just counting down the thousand or so days until I get to move out at eighteen.”

Lindsay laughed, dripping some ice cream on her pants. I used the chance to wipe it with my fingers, touching her thigh in the process. Oh, how I did love such naughty moves.

“You are one crazy man, Leo,” she said. “But that’s why I like you.”

That’s it.

That’s the fucking moment.

I looked at her. She had turned to me with an innocent expression, but as far as I was concerned, there was going to be no better moment than after she had said she liked me to kiss her.

Quickly, before I could think otherwise, I leaned forward, closed my eyes, and kissed…

Her cheek.

“What…what are you doing, Leo?”

Oh, no. Oh shit. Oh…fuck me.

“You just said you like me.”

“Well, I mean, yes, as a friend. And maybe a little more than a friend, but not like that.”

I leaned back and scooted away. Oh, God, how fucking mortifying this was. I’d made my move at the best possible time, and now, not only was Lindsay saying no, she was stunned and confused by what I’d done.

“I really thought…”

“I mean, I have,” Lindsay said, getting me to scoot back closer to her. “I don’t know, I go through phases, Leo. Sometimes I think you’re really cute. Other times, I think we’d never work. Sometimes, I think I want to defy my parents and date you, but then other times, I think that that would just be lying to date you. You know? I’m so glad you’re one of my close friends, and sure, the thought pops up from time to time, but…I just…”

“It’s not something we should do,” I said with resignation. “You’re the sweet girl, the daughter of two big-shot lawyers, who’s someday going to own her own firm.”

“God, I hope not.”

“And I’m the black sheep of a wine family whose current only goal in life is to break every rule and find out which ones have enough teeth to bite back.”

“Hey now, be nicer to yourself,” she said. “You’re one of the smartest kids in school. And you’re sweet when you’re not trying to be all badass. You just need to figure out where you’re going.”

But that was the problem.

I wasn’t trying to be “all badass,” not in the way I knew Lindsay was implying it. I really didn’t give a fuck about most norms and rules. I didn’t think I was some Compton gangster or some warlord or something like that, but it was absolutely true that I would never be a bootlicker or an ass kisser. Even to my grandparents—well, not grandma—I could be a real pain in the ass.

So to suggest that I needed to figure out which way I was going was a bit of a lie, because it didn’t really matter which way I turned—everyone had rules, everyone had a stick up their ass, and everyone looked at me as something dangerous to be avoided.

“Well, I’m sorry,” I said.

“No, Leo, it’s…look, let’s just make a promise to each other,” she said. “From this day forward, we’re just friends. I think you’re a great person, and I want you in my life as long as I can. But I don’t want to ruin the friendship we have with a relationship that might turn sour or have a bunch of obstacles in the way.”

I glumly bit my lip. I had to admit, I appreciated the fact that Lindsay would still be in my life. I was glad that my stupidity had not scared her off to the point that I would never see her again.

But “from this day forward?”

What if something changed over the course of high school?

What if something happened in college?

What if, after all the schooling we did, we both wound back up in the Bay Area and had a different feeling about each other?

We were just stupid fifteen-year-old, and I was the stupidest of them all. It felt unfair.

But if it kept Lindsay around…

“I understand,” I said. I took a deep breath. “I promise.”

I knew as soon as I’d said those two words that it was probably a lie. I was probably going to have great difficulty refusing to indulge her.

But for right now…it made sense.

“Thank you, Leo,” Lindsay said. “You’re a great friend. I don’t ever want to do anything to risk losing that.”

Fortunately, it did not seem that I had lost that.

Unfortunately, it did not seem that I felt the same way. I was a little too willing to risk losing that.

Only time would tell what would become of us, but already, sitting there, watching her finish her ice cream, I knew that it would be difficult.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s get back on the bike.”

Let me get back to my comfort zone. Let me be the rebel.