The last few weeks had been nothing but classes, meetings and training, yet somehow, I found time to eat and sleep. I felt my apartment was going through withdrawal as I only entered the premises to sleep and leave the first thing in the morning. The plus side, my utilities bills had never been lower.
I had been making headway in getting to know my teammates. It was difficult to enter into a group that has been together for years so I took every opportunity to spend some time with the girls off the court.
Kit had become my ‘go to’ for anything. I felt at the beginning that I was a burden, like a little sister that requires supervision. To my surprise, she continued to contact me to extend invitations to parties and get togethers. It was only when she started to text me throughout the day asking me how my classes were and meeting me on campus to talk about anything other than basketball, did I feel that we were finally developing a friendship.
I met with each of my associated team members and learned more about mind and body than I ever thought I could know. My nutritionist was pleasantly surprised and enthusiastic that I knew how to cook and that my daily diet consisted of well-balanced foods. I failed to mention that my fridge was currently stacked with take-out cartons. She recommended that I add a few items to help with the rigorous training and to keep my body in check to avoid burning out. My physiotherapist was also happy with my overall physical condition, but scheduled weekly therapy for my old ankle injury, to make sure the strain of training was not too strenuous on my damaged ligaments. My sport psychologist explained what I would be facing in this upcoming season both on and off the court. She went into detail how balancing all my responsibilities with the team, school and life outside these walls, would be a task. I felt that I was prepared for this challenge, as my adolescence life revolved around basketball, school work and finding time for my personal life. The new balance was to incorporate cooking, multiple deadlines along with personal and professional responsibilities, all with having no immediate family assistance that I had been accustomed to having. She recommended learning breathing techniques, mentally preparing myself each and every day to avoid anxiety, getting plenty of rest, eating well and finally coming to her if I required help at any time.
My classes were typical and nothing out of the ordinary from my previous years back home. However, there was a class I looked forward to each and every week: Experimental Techniques in Physiology. My professor: Mr. Montgomery, was young, energetic and had the capabilities to transform a boring topic into a full-length film where everyone in attendance would walk away with not only a smile on their face but with a head full of newly acquired knowledge. He challenged his students and not one person ever uttered a word of disgust, that is, until today, with his announcement of the dreaded group project.
I despised group assignments. The roles of every group project tends to fall with one individual who completes most of the work, another designated as the dreaded tag-along who does no work yet shares the same grade, then the other students who collaborate but never agree on anything which results to each completing their individual idea, none of which works with the original point of the project. My immediate concern focused on one item: time. I barely had enough time in my schedule to complete my own school work let alone accommodating another’s timetable.
As I sat back in my chair and contemplated the upcoming project and difficulties I would ultimately face our professor added, “So I took the liberty to assigning partners for my new assignment. I thought it would be a great way for everyone to get to know someone more than just his or her name and hometown.”
“At least that awkward part of searching for a compatible partner has been taken care of,” I thought.
Mr. Montgomery started reading the list he had compiled. He then stated near the end of his script, “And I decided that our jocks, our two Hawks, our very own school celebrities, will pair up with one another. So that means Piper Sullivan and Tucker Fitzpatrick, you two shall tango together for this mambo.”
I cringed when I heard I was partnered with another Hawk team member. My hope to have a partner who was flexible and could bend to my strict time demands was banished the moment he paired me with another athlete. I had never met Tucker until today and knew nothing about him other than that he was a jock and I had my professor to thank for even that insight. I tried to listen throughout the rest of the class as Mr. Montgomery outlined what he expected for our project and deadlines, but I was focused on the building anxiety growing in my head. Mr. Montgomery dismissed the class early, allowing time to connect and start planning our presentations.
I was placing my belongings in my courier bag when I heard my name being called by an unknown voice. A pair of white and blue casual shoes appeared beside my bag. I looked up and a pair of light blue eyes captured my gaze. He was placing his gym bag over his shoulder. The thick black strap crossing his simple white t-shirt hinted at a body of a fit athlete. His baseball hat, unshaven stumble and slight grin forced a smile from my lips.
“Hi,” I choked out.
“Piper?” he asked pointing at me.
I stood up and quickly noticed that he was a good half a foot taller than me. “That would be me,” I blushed. “Are you Tucker?”
“You would be correct,” he beamed a perfect smile. “Looks like you and I are going to be working together for the next few weeks.”
“Looks it,” I shrugged.
“Well I have a couple of hours to kill before my next class, if you are available.”
I started to feel the anxiety fade away, “Sure. I am actually done for the day until practice this afternoon.”
We agreed that we would make our way to a nearby coffee house off campus to avoid the crowd. The café had a rustic ambiance with tables and stools made in two-tone varnished wood. Decorative rod-iron sculptures and metal coffee cups introduced a slight modern twist. It was a symbolic relationship between metal and wood like city and forests, development and nature.
We ordered our drinks and settled around a larger table closer to the back of the café where less people frequent. Even though we had all the intentions to start working on the planning phase of our assignment, our conversation gravitated to personal questions. I chatted about basketball and my route to get to New York as he divulged his soccer career history that led him to UNY.
“Yeah basically my day is the following, train, go to school, practice or game, school work, evening work out of some sort, then sleep.”
I nodded, “Sounds familiar.”
“Yeah and I try to fit in a social life and my girlfriend somewhere in there as well.”
“Girlfriend? What does she do?” I asked trying to hide my disappointment how this Adonis had fallen into my lap but was now off limits.
“She goes to an elite performing arts school here in New York.”
“I can only imagine if your girlfriend is attending an elite performance arts school, her schedule is probably just as crazy.”
“Worse actually,” Tucker added, “as she is trying to fit in a job at the same time.”
“Kudos to her,” I stated as I raised my coffee cup.
Tucker laughed and pointed to the barista at the till. “Her name is Hayley. She’s the reason why I picked this place. She should be finishing her shift in a few minutes and was hoping to catch some of those free minutes with her.”
“Well I will get out of your hair then,” I quickly replied as I began to close my laptop and gather my things.
“No, no, not what I meant,” Tucker interrupted as he waved his hands. “Please do not run off, enjoy your coffee and I can introduce you.”
I smiled back as I could feel his sense of pride and adoration for her,“Sounds great.”
With our tangent conversation completed and realizing we only had a few more minutes of solitude, we quickly chatted about our project. I began to feel greatly at ease about this joint task with Tucker as his work ethic was similar to mine. I had to remind myself to thank Professor Montgomery for placing us together for this assignment.
We were wrapping up our discussion when Hayley approached Tucker from behind. “Hey you,” she softly said as she placed a hand on his shoulder and sat down in the seat next to him.
“Hey baby,” he answered with a large grin as he placed his arm over her shoulders and planted a soft kiss on her cheek. “How was work?”
“Good,” she simply stated, “glad it is over.”
“Hayley, please meet Piper,” Tucker quickly added as he noted me staring at his girlfriend.
“Very nice to meet you,” I said as I outstretched my hand.
“You as well,” she nodded as she shook my hand.
“Piper is another Hawk, we were just placed together for a joint assignment.”
“What is the assignment about?”
As Tucker described our report, I was able to take a closer look at Hayley. She had long fiery red wavy hair, porcelain skin and emerald eyes. Even in her cafe uniform, her perfectly tinted and shaped eye brows, rosy lips and manicured French tipped fingernails hinted at a hibernating inner princess. I could only imagine how she put herself together for her own personal time.
“Sounds interesting,” Hayley stated after Tucker’s long-winded explanation. I watched as their gaze lasted a little longer as if sharing intimate thoughts.
“I can assure you it is not,” I grinned as I stared at the happy couple. “So, when do you want to meet up next?” I asked sensing I was imposing on their sacred time together.
“How about Sunday? My place,” Tucker added as he shut his laptop.
“Your place?” I mumbled, shocked at how friendly we so quickly became.
“Hayley and I were already planning on having some friends over to watch the football game. So, we can work for a few hours and then you are more than welcome to stay for some pizza, hang out, meet some new people.”
“Yeah, that sounds great. Thanks.”
“Actually, here is one of the gang right now,” Tucker added and pointed to the door. My eyes wandered from my courier bag where I was tucking my laptop away to over my shoulder towards the front door of the shop. I watched a young man with dark tussled brown hair with light facial growth who wore thick designer glasses and brand name fashion, enter the coffee house.
“Parker!” Tucker called with a wave. Upon hearing his name: his flawless pale complexion turned and his lips formed a sweet smile as he nodded in our direction.
‘Parker, Parker, Parker’ I repeated, having his name mentally imbed in my subconscious.
Tucker then continued to expand about the party and I believe he mentioned the next soccer game, but I was too distracted with mentally inventorying Parker’s looks and demeanor. My mind was drawn to his captivating walk that was relaxed, but at the same time demanded respect.
“Hey buddy,” Tucker called out, welcoming Parker to the table, which awoke me from my trance.
“Hayley, Tucker.” He smiled and then nodded in my direction.
“Parker, this is one of my friends from school, Piper,” Tucker quickly added with a wave of his hand.
“Nice to meet you.” Parker smiled and outstretched his hand. “Likewise,” I said shaking his hand.
“What’s on your calendar today?” Hayley asked Parker as she played with the lid of her to-go cup.
“Oh, meeting up with Elliot. Nothing much going on. We had our rehearsals this morning. How about you all?”
“School,” Hayley and Tucker answered in unison as Hayley giggled.
“No soccer tonight Tuck?”
“Nope, catching up on all my school work. Fun night filled for me,” he answered with a sarcastic grin plastered upon his face.
“Fun times,” Parker added and then directed his attention towards me. “How about you Piper?”
I peered up from my coffee and my sight was captivated by his brown eyes, even through his thick black framed glasses. “Looks like school work and practice.”
“Practice?” he asked.
“Yes, I play for the UNY basketball team.”
“Another Hawk,” Parker said after he swallowed some of his drink.
“Yes sir,” I grinned. “So, you mentioned you had rehearsals? Rehearsals for what?”
“Parker Michaelson,” Hayley sharply interjected, as we all turned and stared at her slight outburst. “You really do not know who he is?”
“Hayley,” Parker softly waved her off.
“I’m sorry, should I?” I added, anxious that I had offended Parker in any way.
“Parker Michaelson here, is a Broadway star,” Hayley stated as she sat with her shoulder’s back.
“Hayley, I have a hired publicist,” Parker leaned in to whisper loudly enough for us to hear.
“Parker,” I breathed completely embarrassed that Hayley called me out. “I am so sorry, I come from a family where we breathe, eat and sleep sports. The arts, though we have great respect for them,” I paused emphasizing the point, “never had a place in our household.” I slightly winced in embarrassment.
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” He waved off the comment and then quickly winked as he sat back and relaxed in his chair.
“If it helps, I am truly impressed,” I added.
The conversation slipped back into plans for the weekend, specific projects that Hayley was working on at school and little anecdotes that had happened over the past few days.
I barely noticed that the minutes continue to slip by and even though my bags were packed, I still made no effort to leave the premises. This new group of assembled people intrigued me to stay and to learn more. I was so focused on the conversation between Parker, Hayley and Tucker that I barely noticed a clean shaven, well-dressed man approach our table.
“Elliot hey,” Hayley smiled at his appearance in front of our group.
‘I have got to ask her where she finds these beautiful men. She seems to order them in bulk.’
Parker turned and smiled at him before looking down at his watch, “I did not think I would see you for at least another half hour.”
“Was not getting very far at work, needed to clear my head for those creative juices to flow,” he laughed and then looked around the table. “Can I get anyone a refill?” he politely asked and rested his eyes upon me.
“Elliot, this is Piper, another UNY student and athlete, she is working with me on a project,” Tucker added.
“Very nice to meet you,” Elliot added as he extended his hand.
“Likewise,” I said as I received his hand, “and thanks for the offer, but I am good, coffee wise.”
“Great,” he responded and then placed a hand on Parker’s shoulder, “be back in a bit.”
“Sure,” Parker added as Elliot walked towards the counter.
When Elliot returned the conversation continued with its normal tone and subjects. It fell quickly into casual topics between the four friends. I sat back deciphering what I could about each person: what they like, what they do for a living, what they enjoy doing for fun etc. I found out that Elliot was a designer completing an internship when he had met Parker on one of his assignments to work with a Broadway production a few years ago. Elliot was attending the same school as Hayley, and eventually their paths intersected and have been merged ever since. The topic transitioned to fashion and the conversation was then mainly held by Hayley and Elliot. I immediately saw Tucker’s eyes glaze over and Parker began to check recent texts on his phone.
I could not comprehend how Parker had captivated me nearly speechless. I was starting to think of how I could smoothly ask this guy out for a cup of coffee or a drink sometime, all without looking too aggressive. I felt like I was on the clock and I only had a few minutes and if I did not act I could lose my chance with him. We did not have a lot in common so those conversation starters where very limited. I did not want to have to rely on Tucker to ask Hayley to ask Elliot to contact Parker for me: this was not junior high anymore. It would be rather awkward to ask him in front of all of his friends and ultimately put him, and consequently myself, in an awkward situation. I could always follow him to the washroom and wait for him to come back and corner him. Even the thought made me giggle and question: ‘What I have become?’ I realized how desperately I needed a man in my life. I took a sip of my coffee to hide a growing grin.
Elliot’s voice brought me back to reality and into the conversation, “I know it does not matter what I buy in the end, Parker will love it no matter what.” I watched Elliot’s fingers reach out and entwined with Parker’s right hand that was resting on table. Parker looked up from his phone and smiled at him while squeezing his hand to complete the gesture.
I had to control the urge of spitting out my coffee from the shock, however after I quickly swallowed the nearly projected mouthful of coffee, I was unable to stop the words spilling from my lips, “Of course!” All eyes were on me at my exclamation. I could see the questions brewing and the judgement growing. Sirens were screaming in my head.
I took a brief moment to take a cleansing breath and then continued in a softer voice, “Of course.” I pulled out my phone and quickly searched through it as my fingers vibrated from the stress. “I was beginning to wonder why I felt like I needed to be somewhere, and yes, of course, I have to be back on campus in like five minutes for another basketball thing, practice.” I began to gather my items and duck my head under the table to hide the blush I could feel spreading throughout my entire face. “I am so sorry,” I continued as everyone’s eyes began to bore into my body. I stood up and placed the courier bag over my shoulders. “Parker, Elliot, Hayley nice to meet you. Tucker, I shall see you in class.” I then turned and began my march towards the exit.
“What about Sunday?” Tucker called to my back.
“Sunday,” I sighed as I turned about. “Right, meeting Sunday. Yes, we shall do that. Text me your info, if that’s okay with Hayley,” I laughed at the awkward situation but no one added to my lame joke making the air thicker with embarrassment. “Okay,” I softly sighed, “see you Sunday.” I nodded and turned one final time. I would not allow myself to look back as I could feel their gaze on me as I left the café, and passed by the windows. It was only when I was a block away and waiting for a walk light, did I pull out my phone and earbuds.
I mumbled sarcastically as I struggled with a knot in my headphone cords, “That went well.” I rolled my eyes, “I need to get out more.”
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