Quarterback's Secret Baby

By: Imani King

I had always been standoffish with Kaden Barlow. I had to be. He was handsome, popular, loved by everyone in town. He could have any girl he wanted. He was exactly the kind of guy I had to be careful around. He wasn't wrong about the incident in the parking lot, either. Every time I thought about it I cringed, even years later. I don't know why, but I don't handle screwing up in front of people well. I can't laugh it off the way other people can. I just find it excruciating.

"OK," I said. "OK, Kaden. I'm sorry if you think I've been a pain in the ass. I didn't mean to be. It's just - it's just how I am."

I moved to walk past him but this time, he put his hands on my shoulders and spun me around so I was facing him. "Tasha!"

"WHAT?" I yelled, not sure why he was so keen to keep poking at me.

"Will you please just come to the damn football game on Friday!?" He yelled back.

We both stood there for a few seconds, waiting for the other one to say something. When neither of us did we both started laughing.

"There. See. You can laugh. You look so cute when you laugh, Tasha. Your dimples-"

"Ugh," I held up my hand, stopping him. "Don't."

"Don't what?"

I looked into Kaden's ice-colored eyes. Properly this time. "Just...don't. I said I'd come to the game. Don't push your luck."

He rolled his eyes and shrugged. "OK. I mean, I don't know what you're talking about, I was just trying to pay you a compliment, but OK. I'll come pick you up at six, how does that sound?"

Hell no. He was definitely not coming to pick me up. I knew the neighborhood Kaden lived in - on the other side of town, nowhere close to mine. "I'll meet you there. Outside the ticket booth." I told him.

"Cool. See you then, dimples." Kaden grinned and turned on his heels, walking away before he even had time to register the frown on my face.

I spent the rest of the walk home in a state of acute but not exactly unpleasant stress. Kaden Barlow was, to put it subtly, a total hottie. I mean even apart from his popularity and his being good at everything and always succeeding at everything he tried. He was so hot I could hardly stand to look at him. Truthfully, that was probably a good part of the reason why I'd been so snippy with him. I didn't want to be another one of those silly girls trailing around after him. I also didn't want to come anywhere close to actually developing feelings for him. And that meant keeping my distance. Which, so far, is what I'd managed to do.

Chapter 3: Kaden

Finally. Finally I'd managed to get Tasha Greeley to agree to spend some time with me. Or at least some time watching me play, which I was pretty happy about because I'm good at football and Tasha seemed maddeningly difficult to impress. Which just made me all the more determined to impress her.

I didn't see her at school once before the game that Friday. I didn't even hear that adorable, cascading giggle of hers, which I had become embarrassingly adept at picking out of a crowd.

We always dressed up a little before a game but that Friday afternoon I took a little extra care, making sure I wore the pale blue shirt that emphasized the breadth of my shoulders. I borrowed one of my dad's belts, too, and he couldn't resist asking me if it was because I was trying to impress a girl.

"No," I lied, trying to look casual.

"You sure, Kaden?" My dad teased. "You're wearing cologne, too. I can smell it. Who's the special lady?"

My mom picked that moment to walk into my room. She immediately joined in with my dad. "Special lady? Who is it? Is it that little blonde girl - what was her name? Ashley?"

It was definitely not Ashley. It was always funny when my parents teased me about girls, though. They knew I wasn't a choirboy but there was definitely some weird form of pride going on there. The most that ever happened was my dad slipping me a condom before I went out and giving me a wink and a slap on the back.

"Naw, it's not her," I told them, not really eager to talk about Tasha in that joking way we always talked about girls I might be seeing.

"Huh. It sounds like you like this one!" My mom smiled, walking up to me and kissing my cheek. "Good luck tonight, honey. Your father and I will be there for the final whistle."

I left before my dad could continue the interrogation and drove to the stadium. It took a few minutes to figure out that my uncharacteristic nervousness wasn't even about the game - it was about Tasha. Tasha Greeley. The one girl I could not figure out. I'd tried repeatedly to get her to go out with me but she always treated me with this weird defensiveness that I couldn't make sense of. She couldn't possibly still be embarrassed about the spaghetti sauce incident outside the grocery store, could she? So what was her deal? When she was with her friends she was always laughing and smiling, but whenever I tried to interact with her she went all stiff and abrupt. I'd never given her a reason to dislike me. So what the hell?

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