Deal Breaker

Prologue

 

Sophie - aged 14

 

“Don’t be too long, Soph! I wanna start the movie!” Autumn waved the remote at me, the TV screen frozen on Channing Tatum. We were watching Step Up for about the millionth time. The film—or rather a certain Mr. Tatum—was Autumn’s current hottie of choice. Not that I was complaining. He did have a certain appeal.

“I won’t!” I called behind me as I darted up the stairs to the bathroom, not wanting to keep Channing waiting too long. But I needed to get rid of the taste of chili and pepperoni first. Autumn always ordered the pizza too spicy for me, and the tang of it lingered in my mouth.

Our regular sleepovers at her house were nothing if not consistent. Catching up on homework before pizza and a movie, accompanied by gossip about boys we liked and girls we didn’t. As we grew older, the discussion around the boys in our class became more prevalent. Autumn’s crush changed on a fairly constant basis; one week we were discussing the captain of the football team, the next someone she’d spotted on the swim team, or the new guy who’d transferred from out of town. I, on the other hand, kept the true object of my affection to myself. Instead, I agreed with Autumn’s choices to keep the peace.

Before I went into the bathroom, I headed into Autumn’s room and found my comfy clothes to change into. After too much pizza, my stomach was so full, and my skinny jeans too tight. It was always the same—I never learned. But the pizza was always so tasty, with all the cheeses and all the toppings. Mom never allowed us to order pizza; she preferred to make her own authentic Italian version. It was okay but never the same as Joe’s Pizza.

“Phew!” I let out a breath after undoing the buttons on my jeans and shrugged them off, pulling on comfortable stretchy shorts instead. Thankfully, vegging out on the sofa with my best friend didn’t require much dressing up. Quickly I pulled my tank top over my head, just in case Autumn’s older brother, Max, or his friend happened to be passing and saw me getting changed. I replaced it with an oversized New York Giants football jersey, so big it practically swallowed me. Immediately my tummy felt better for being less constricted, and I could relax. I pulled my blonde hair out from the collar and wound it up into a ponytail, using the band I had around my wrist to secure it.

Max was home tonight, and his best friend, Joshua, was also staying over. Being two years older, he wasn’t around much anymore. No doubt football practice and hanging out with the varsity cheerleaders was much more interesting than being at home with his little sister and her best friend on a Friday night.

I’m sure Max never noticed me.

Never noticed the immense crush I had on him.

If he hadn’t, I hoped Autumn hadn’t either.

Momentarily, I contemplated putting my jeans back on, but comfort won out over glamour. Max would never see me anyway; he was holed up in the study with his friend. I could hear the noise of their video game through the door. Online games had never appealed to me.

I stepped into the bathroom and dug my toothbrush and toothpaste out of my toiletry bag. I squeezed a dab of toothpaste onto the brush and vigorously began brushing my teeth, trying to rid my mouth of the chili taste and replace it with a fresh minty one.

Midway through, the door to Max’s side of the bathroom swung open, and he dashed in, one hand already unzipping his pants.

“Oh, shit, sorry, I didn’t realize anyone was in here.” His hand froze in midair as he laid his gorgeous eyes on me.

Mentally, I cursed myself for not locking the bathroom door. The shared bathroom between Autumn and Max’s bedrooms was fraught with danger every time I stayed over. I had to remember to lock both doors not to be caught in an awkward situation. Like now.

“S’okay,” I mumbled through a mouthful of toothpaste, feeling a little dribble over my lips. Real classy, Soph, real classy. Bet he can’t wait to get his hands on you now.

Max stepped towards me, until he was only inches away. The hand which had been about to unzip his jeans reached over and swiped the toothpaste away from my bottom lip.

Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. It was the first time he’d ever touched me. The slightest brush of his thumb over my skin had me breaking out in goose bumps. If I wasn’t careful, I’d be drooling even more.

“You had a little…well, you know.” His mouth curved up into a smile. “And if you don’t mind, I’m desperate to take a leak.”

Jolted out of my reverie, I nodded. “Sure, yes, of course, give me a sec.” Turning my back so he couldn’t see me spit, I quickly finished cleaning my teeth, wiped my mouth, and got the hell out of there.

“Thanks, Soph, you’re an angel.” Max beamed as he slammed the door shut in my face.

I stared at the whitewashed wood for several seconds, trying to gather my thoughts. It was the longest time we’d ever spent in each other’s company without anyone else around. All two minutes of it. And me with toothpaste all around my mouth, Max desperate for the bathroom. I cringed.

What a perfect meet cute.

“Sophie, where are you?” Autumn shouted up the stairs. “You’re missing the start!”

“Coming!” I called back. I stashed my things back in her room and scampered down the stairs, not looking to see if Max was behind me. “Sorry, your brother needed the bathroom.” I rolled my eyes as if exasperated by his actions.

“Ugh, gross, sorry you had to see that. Now can we watch the film?” Autumn’s eyes were firmly fixed on the television, not giving the interaction between Max and me any attention.

For the next hour and a half, I barely saw the screen in front of me. All I could think about was the exchange with Max. In the grand scheme of things, a two-minute conversation where he basically wiped toothpaste off my face hardly counted as the big love affair of the century. But a girl could dream, right? If Autumn had her way, it would only ever be a dream.

Once the film had finished, we went up to bed. With the lights out, under the pretense of trying to get to sleep, Autumn quizzed me again about which boys I was interested in.

Thankful she couldn’t see me in the dark, I finally relented. “There is someone…”

“I knew it!” Autumn crowed. “It’s Jimmy Lucas, isn’t it? I’ve seen the way you look at him in math class.”

“Ugh, as if!” I chewed on the inside of my cheek. Jimmy Lucas had recently joined our school year as a transfer student. I’d been assigned to showing him around. While he might have been good looking, all golden hair and growing muscles, he could barely string a sentence together. I preferred to be able to hold a conversation with someone I liked.

She went through a list of guys in all of our classes, ticking them off on her fingers as she did so. With each one, I shook my head or made some comment. Then she started naming players on the football team—even the seniors who I would never even consider crushing on—finally landing on Max’s best friend, Joshua.

“Close…” I twisted my ponytail around in my hand, staring at the ceiling, glad Autumn couldn’t see my face.

“Oh my God, Soph! Brianna will kill you if you went after him!”

Our friend Brianna Ashurst had the most obvious crush on Joshua. She followed him around like some kind of puppy dog. If I’d have been him, two years older than her, I’d have given her the immediate brush off. However, Joshua seemed to entertain the attention. A part of me thought if I hung around with her often enough then Max might see me too.

“No, it’s not Joshua.”

The light suddenly came one, and I blinked at the brightness.

Autumn had a hand to her mouth as the penny seemed to have dropped. “Sophie Hale, do you have a crush on my brother?”

I sucked in my lips, picking at a thread on the quilt. Anything to avoid looking directly at Autumn.

“Shit, you do, don’t you?” She shook her head, as if trying to shake the thought. There was a pause. “You do know you couldn’t date him, don’t you? I mean, if he were to ever think of you as anything other than his little sister’s annoying friend.”

“I’m not annoying!”

“That’s what you think.” She made a face. “I’m serious though, Soph. I really don’t want you getting hung up on my brother. You realize you can’t ever date him. That would be too weird.” She shuddered as if to illustrate her point.

A sigh escaped my lips. It was already a little too late for me not to be hung up on him.

The one guy I truly liked had to be the one who was going to be totally off limits.

But Autumn had been my best friend since we were both old enough to sit up in our strollers.

And if she said I couldn’t date her brother, her word was gospel.

No matter how much I wanted it to be otherwise.

For the sake of our friendship, I had to try and forget about Max.

That would be easier said than done.

 

 

Max - aged 16

 

“We’re entering a new world, Max, get ready to spot the character with the yellow exclamation mark!” Joshua shoved me in the ribs as we started our World of Warcraft game.

“How often have we played this game? It’s not like I’ve forgotten how to complete a quest,” I protested.

Normally we watched music videos and drooled over the hot girls who danced better than any of the girls at school. But that night, we’d decided to go back to our early teenage roots and have a night of computer games. When we were younger, we’d spend hours, days even plotting against our online friends from all over the world and finding hacks to get the treasure. But at sixteen, it wasn’t considered cool. Particularly not for two kids who were on the verge of being picked for the varsity football team. For once, it was good to take a break from reality and go back to a pretend world where quests mattered more than who was dating who.

I could hear my sister and her best friend chattering away in the living room. Whenever we had friends over, there was always an argument about who got which room. This week, it was her turn to commandeer the living room, while Joshua and I had Dad’s study. He and Mom had gone out on date night, which basically meant them going to their favorite Chinese restaurant and drinking way too much sake. I was in charge while they were out. A feeling I loved, being able to wield power over my little sister.

Reaching over, I took a big gulp of my soda. We’d ordered pizza and split it with Autumn and Sophie. I’d watched as Sophie picked the majority of the chili off her slices. Why she agreed to order it if she didn’t like it was beyond me. I’d offered to eat the bit she didn’t want and now regretted it. My own mouth felt like it was on fire, and I downed the soda like it was going out of fashion.

Which now meant I needed to pee.

“Be back in a minute.” I tossed the controller onto the beanbag and hauled myself up. “Gotta use the bathroom.”

Joshua’s eyes didn’t leave the screen. “Get us some more drinks on your way back? That pizza was way spicy.”

At least it wasn’t just me.

I burst through my bedroom door and into the bathroom, one hand unzipping my pants, then ground to a complete halt.

Standing in front of the mirror was Sophie, brushing her teeth. She wore an oversized New York Giants—my team—football jersey, which grazed mid-thigh, stretchy shorts peeking out from beneath the hem. The shirt was at least two sizes too big and enveloped her body.

She looked totally adorable. Her blonde hair was pulled up in a perky ponytail, her clear blue eyes wide as she registered the shock of my arrival.

“Oh, shit, sorry, I didn’t realize anyone was in here.” My hand froze where it was.

“S’okay,” Sophie mumbled through a mouthful of toothpaste, a little escaping and dribbling over her bottom lip.

Instinctively, I stepped forward and brushed off the excess with my thumb. “You had a little…well, you know.” My mouth curved up into a smile. “And if you don’t mind, I’m desperate to take a leak.”

She shook her head, as if jolting herself back to the present. “Sure, yes, of course, give me a sec.”

Sophie turned her back, delicately spat into the sink, rinsed and dried her mouth. Then without another word, she left.

“Thanks, Soph, you’re an angel.”

I turned and rested against the door, letting out a hard breath.

Sophie Hale had been over to my house a million times. She’d had sleepovers with my sister more times than I could count. But tonight, it was like I saw her for the first time. That cute outfit, wearing my favorite team’s colors, the flush in her cheeks when I touched her. My dick twitched, overtaking the need to pee for a moment.

What was I thinking? She was my sister’s best friend. Autumn would kill me.

It took me a few minutes to calm down. I did what I needed to do and ventured back downstairs, careful to avoid going near the living room where I could hear Autumn and Sophie talking—not loud enough to hear the subject though. My ears burned. Could they be talking about me?

“You took your time,” Joshua complained, when I walked back in. “And where’s the soda?”

“Shit, sorry.” I slumped back down onto the beanbag and reached for my controller. “I’ll get some later.”

“What’s your problem?”

“I just saw Sophie in the bathroom.”

Joshua’s head snapped around to face me. “Was she naked?”

“Ewww, no! I’m not a perv.”

“Good thing too. She’s like, fourteen, buddy, and practically your sister. That would be gross.” He turned back to the TV screen. “Plus, she’s a snobby rich bitch. She wouldn’t look twice at you.”

“But you like her friend, Brianna,” I challenged. “Same thing, right?”

“Not quite. She isn’t my sister’s best friend. She isn’t off limits.”

Joshua’s earlier words echoed in my ears as I concentrated on playing our game. Sophie may have been the same age as my sister, but I already knew I saw her differently. If only I didn’t have to pretend I hated her now.