Home > Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(12)

Flirting with the Frenemy (Bro Code #1)(12)
Author: Pippa Grant

“DO NOT TRY TO MANSPLAIN ME.”

I growl while I cross past the ping-pong table, pool table, and foosball table to the far wall. “I’m not—what the hell is—dammit, Ellie, this is called denial, because Beck’s gonna—oh, fuck.”

The screen on the arcade console is one big squiggly mess of greens and blues. Ellie hits the buttons, and nothing happens. “I can’t unplug it myself,” she grumbles. “I can’t fucking bend that way.”

I toss the donuts on the ping-pong table behind me and shift behind the machine.

“Wait!” she shrieks.

“What?”

“Beck’s high score. He’ll kill you if his high score is gone.”

I freeze.

She’s right.

He hit seven hundred thousand something points over a weekend about two years ago. It was one of those rare times we were all around—Beck, me, the Wilson brothers, the Rivers kids, Davis, Ellie—and the whole weekend turned into one big party of watching Frogger and drinking beer and eating pizza and shooting hoops under the stars and just having fun again.

No worries, no responsibilities. Only fun.

Like when we were kids.

The whole crew will have a fit if that score’s lost.

It would be like losing the weekend.

It’s all we did that weekend.

“Can’t you take out the screen and shake it and make it work?” she says desperately.

“It’s not a fucking Etch-a-Sketch.”

“But maybe it’s the video card. Maybe if we get the video card out, we don’t have to reset the whole system.”

“Dad? Can I have a donut now?”

We both whip our heads around to look at Tucker, who’s wearing a milk mustache and a yellow streak that I expect is egg down his Fireballs T-shirt, which isn’t what he was wearing five minutes ago.

Also, did he just hear me say fuck?

Shit. I need to remember he can hear me. Bachelor life on base isn’t good for a kid-friendly vocabulary.

“Yeah, bud. Help yourself.”

Ellie’s watching me with wide eyes, like she has an idea.

Like she’s thinking nobody would say a word if Tucker spilled milk on the video game.

He’s just a kid.

And it could be our secret.

And—

She breaks eye contact, shaking her head with a high laugh. “We are terrible people,” she whispers. Then she shrieks. “No! Don’t hit the reset button! Maybe we can unplug it without losing the high score, but reset will definitely erase it.”

We’re an hour and a half by car into Copper Valley. The city’s our best bet for getting the system looked at, but just because it has a million residents doesn’t mean a single one of them will specialize in fixing a vintage 1980’s arcade game.

Beck said he had to go all the way to Atlanta to get this one.

“Two options,” I tell her. “We call a repair guy, or we reboot and hope for the best.”

“What if we can’t save it at all?”

“Whatcha doin’?” Tucker asks. He’s standing at the ping-pong table, donut in one hand, rubbing the top of a sparkly notebook next to it with the other.

“Mr. Beck’s game broke. We’re trying to fix it. Hang tight, bud. We’ll go golfing soon, okay?”

“Okay,” he replies around a mouthful of glazed donut.

“Did you go out for donuts at Crow’s Nest?” Ellie asks. There’s pure lust in her eyes. And her voice. And my dick notices.

“Cooper Rock biked up to drop them off for you.”

She blinks at me.

Then blinks again.

And then she busts up laughing.

At me.

“Feeling inferior?” she asks.

“You want me to pull this plug?”

“No, I don’t want you to pull the plug! I want you to fix it.”

This is new, Ellie asking me for something. Usually she’d tell me to go away, that she’d do it herself.

We’re like…a team. It’s weird. But not unpleasant.

I yank out my phone and start googling, because if we’re going to work together, I’m going to have The Google on my side before I do anything stupid.

“Look up if the high scores are erased if you unplug it,” Ellie tells me.

“Who’s mansplaining now?” I mutter, which earns me a light shove in the shoulder.

My skin tingles under my shirt, like I’m in danger of getting struck by lightning, and I concentrate on reminding myself that getting Ellie riled up is good for her, and has nothing to do with me.

Even if I did toss and turn half the night thinking about kissing her again.

“Alright, we shouldn’t lose the high score if we reset it by pulling the plug,” I tell her.

“But it’s old,” she points out. “Are you sure that’s accurate for old machines?”

“You’re right. We did just invent radio signals two years ago. I should check out this internet that’s been around since the twentieth century some more.”

“Fine, Mr. Expert. Pull the plug. But it’s on you if the high score’s lost.”

“I wasn’t the one who broke it,” I point out.

“I wouldn’t have broken it if—”

She cuts herself off sharply, pursing her lips and looking over at the Ms. Pac-Man game.

Was she about to say if you hadn’t kissed me?

I don’t remember who kissed who, but I’d take the blame.

It was worth it.

“Leg hurt too much to sleep?” I ask while I bend over behind the machine again and trace the right cord to the outlet.

“Yep.”

“Huh. My lips bothered me all night. Probably need Chapstick. It’s the elevation. Dries you out.”

She doesn’t answer, but she doesn’t have to.

I’m getting her goat.

I can feel it.

Plus, I’ve been practicing since I realized I annoyed her when I was about thirteen.

I know how to shoot a basketball, Wyatt. I don’t need you to show me how.

Damn if I didn’t have some fun telling her she was doing it wrong just to see her face light up in independent indignation for the rest of high school. It was almost as good as having my own little sister.

Until it wasn’t.

Because Ellie Ryder grew up, and she grew up stronger and faster and better at every sport she tried, and maybe it’s ego, but I swear she wouldn’t have been half as good if I hadn’t goaded her.

And I noticed. Believe me, I noticed. Even when I knew I shouldn’t, I did.

I yank the plug, and the fan inside the machine whirs to a stop. After counting to three, I plug it in again, then straighten to watch the screen.

Ellie’s rubbing her thigh, and I wonder if it’s aching this morning.

Not that she’d tell me if it was. She doesn’t admit weakness.

Not if she can help it.

The game flickers to life, the screen back in normal operating mode, and I breathe a sigh of relief while Ellie sags next to me.

Close enough that she’s almost sagging into me, matter of fact.

“Oh, shit,” she whispers.

Tucker giggles.

“Watch your mouth,” I mutter, but I realize she’s gone pale. “What?”

She points to the screen.

To the top. Where it’s supposed to say HI-SCORE 701,400, but instead says HI-SCORE 0.

“No, no, no,” she groans. “Do you know what this means?”

“Beck’s gonna kill you,” I offer. Fuck, I’ve got sweat gathering at my collar, because Beck’s gonna kill us.

Dating his sister might be okay—not that I have time in my life for that even if I’d let myself imagine it—but killing his Frogger score?

We’re both dead.

But I can’t say that to Ellie, because now I have to annoy her. It might be the only thing I do right for my buddy this week.

He spent hours. Hours. And we killed his high score. On his favorite game. Fuck, we all pitched in, egging him on, bringing him pizza. Levi even wiped his chin a few times so he didn’t have to break from playing.

It’s just a game.

This is stupid.

Except it’s the memories. And the glory. And Beck’s favorite game.

Tucker giggles again. “Daddy, what’s a ball chain?”

“What’s a what?”

“A ball—”

Before he can answer, Ellie’s shrieking again. She leaps off the stool, almost goes down to her knees, but doesn’t stop as she dives for the notebook in his hands. “Ohmygod, that’s not for you!”

She snatches the notebook, but not before I see—a drawing of a short penis? And two boulders?

“I like Dick and his Nuts,” Tucker says. “They’re funny.”

Her face is a cherry tomato with eyebrows and flashing blue eyes. “Please don’t open random notebooks and sketchpads in this house. You don’t know what you’re going to find, and my brother has some very adult things that you shouldn’t see.”

Beck doesn’t have notebooks and sketchpads.

Beck plays video games when he’s here. Sometimes poker.

But he’s never doodled or written stuff a day in his life.

Ellie, on the other hand…

“Not one word.” She lifts her palm to me and hobbles out of the room, but not before grabbing the donut bag too. “Not a single word.”

“Hey, you’ve got some Frogger to catch up on,” I call after her. “Seven hundred thousand points worth.”

She glances back at me, sees Tucker isn’t watching, and lifts a middle finger.

I stifle a grin, because that attitude?

That’s pure, classic Ellie Ryder.

And seeing her coming back in full force is more relief than I can ever admit to anyone.

Especially her brother.

Nine

Wyatt

Tucker and I are on the eighteenth hole, after having survived leaving the house with Ellie insisting she didn’t need a ride anywhere and that she’ll make sure none of Beck’s notebooks get left out again.

   
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