Braeden – 13 Years Old

“Does it ever bother you?” Braeden blurted out. He didn’t know why he all of a sudden had the guts to ask her the question he’d had in his head for years. There was nothing different about the day or what they were doing, but it suddenly felt like the right time to ask.

“Does what bother me?” Andi asked back.

Her eyes never left the screen in front of them even though he wanted her to look at him. She was too focused on the video game she was playing to take a second to glance his way. Her intense focus was the reason she beat him and everyone else every time they had the balls to challenge her. It didn’t matter that she could still probably kick their butts with one hand tied behind her back and her eyes closed. She never let anything distract her while she was playing.

“Does it ever bother you that your parents are never around? Or that they pay more attention to your brother than they do you?”

“Not really.”

The two words spoken so quickly with hardly any emotion, caught Braeden off guard. He wasn’t sure what he expected. He just knew if he were in her position, he’d be upset. He already felt a bit lonely being an only child, but figured it had to be even worse having a sibling that was rarely around. Add in having parents that didn’t seem to care what you were up to. It made him sad just thinking about it.

At five, he’d been too young to really understand what was happening when his mom left. For the first few years, he kept expecting her to come back. It wasn’t until he was ten that he realized it was always going to be just him and his dad. Even though his dad worked long hours to make sure Braeden had everything he needed, he also made sure that he spent quality time with his son. Andi’s parents didn’t do the same for her.

“Really?” he asked. “It bothers me, and I’m not the one they’re leaving alone all the time.”

When she turned to look at him, Braeden was shocked. He looked at the TV to find the scene frozen, Chun-Li’s foot about to make contact with M. Bison’s head. Andi was so close to beating the final boss in Street Fighter II, yet she paused her game so she could talk to him. He looked back at her to see if she was mad at him for bothering her, but instead of anger etched across her face, he saw a hint of sadness.

“Look, it doesn’t bother me. Not really anyway. I like having the house to myself. I like not having them breathing down my neck the way they do Declan’s. I actually feel a little bit bad for him. He loves baseball and he’s great at it, but dealing with our parents kinda sucks the joy out of it. I would much rather hang out with you playing video games, then spend every waking hour listening to them berate me because I bobbled the ball or missed a pitch.”

“I didn’t realize it was that bad for Declan.”

“He doesn’t like to talk about it, not even to me. I think he’s worried about sounding ungrateful, but the pressure gets to him sometimes.”

Andi shrugged before turning back to the TV. The sounds of the video game filled the room again. He watched her finish the beat down of her opponent in round one and then again in round two. As the end sequence began for Chun-Li, he turned back to watch her.

Although it bothered him that her parents left her alone as much as they did, he couldn’t be too mad about it. When they were gone he got to spend more time with her, just the two of them. There was no one there to divide their attention. No one to give him crap if they caught him watching her. But best of all, there was no one around to call him out on the crush he was developing on his best friend.

He used to think Declan was his best friend, but these days he felt closer to her than he did any of the guys. She knew him better than anyone although that was probably because he hung out with her more than the guys. Declan had baseball, while Oliver spent a lot of time with his brothers. Gabriel’s family had moved away so they no longer lived down the street. Thankfully he’d talked his parents into having someone drive him back and forth to school so they could see him, but getting to visit on the weekends or hang out after school wasn’t going to happen. Not unless one of his friends’ parents wanted to drive him around.

Shaking his head, he turned back to the TV, noticing that Andi had started the game over, this time choosing to play as Guile. Most people would probably be bored out of their mind watching someone else play video games, but Braeden didn’t care what he and Andi spent their time doing as long as they got to hang out together.

“You know another benefit to not having my parents around as much is getting to hang out with you, just the two of us. It’s nice not having to share my best friend with the rest of the guys. Now do you want to play or what? We can pick a different game if you don’t want me to kick your butt again.”

Andi smiled over at him, her green eyes shining. Her smile had filled him with happiness the day they met when they were five, but now, eight years later it did more than that. Every time she directed that smile at him, he felt warm all over. He felt invincible. Hearing her call him her best friend made him feel ten feet tall. Knowing that he was just as important to her as she was to him, made his day, heck it made his year.

He might only be thirteen, but Braeden had never been more sure about anything in his life. There was no one he wanted to spend time with more than Andi. One day, he was going to make it so they could spend all of their time together. One day, he was going to marry his best friend.