The day of Homecoming game dawned warm and sunny. The team would no doubt be grateful later. Fortunately being on track wasn’t like being on the Football team. A fact made more apparent by the preponderance of stares and sideways looks he got during the day. At least his popularity was enough to keep anyone from confronting him out-right with their burning questions.
Okay, almost everyone.
“James. Punctual as ever.”
“Har-har. Looking forward to the game tonight?”
Not really, no. But at the same time he was. Why did he think Amber didn’t want him there? Why wouldn’t she? Not the game itself. Which meant it had to do with her? That didn’t make sense. Considering where they’d already been… Okay, maybe that wasn’t worth counting. Could he just be mistaken? He’d watched her cheer before hadn’t he, at pep rallies or… wait.
“Frost, hello? Got lost thinking what she’ll wear to the dance or maybe just watching her in that little skir-“
“J, shut up so I don’t have to punch you.” He pursed his lips then added, “I’m thinking.”
“Geez. Oh-kay Frost. Living up to your name I see.”
“James. You’ve been harassing me non-stop about Amber since school started. I’m pretty sure I’d be justified by nearly anyone if I went ahead and hit you. Especially talking like you just did about my date.”
Also, legitimately trying to think here. The cheer squad was a staple of many events, beyond the ball games Frost did not attend. Yet he could not remember a time he’d seen Amber cheer. Sure he’d snuck out of his share of rallies, missed a couple events because of conflicts… But he’d seen the cheerleaders do their thing. Only now that he thought about it, all the rallies he had attended she wasn’t out there. They didn’t have the whole team for every single thing sure, but what were the odds that it would fall just right that he never saw …
“Frost, you’re zoning again. Not like you, man.”
“J. I’m going to politely tell you… Actually, you’ve seen her cheer haven’t you?”
“Amber? Sure I have. Who hasn’t?”
Me, apparently. Frost thought better than to say it out-loud.
James continued, “that’s why I don’t blame you asking, and am debilitatingly jealous that she agreed.”
First bell rang.
“Catch you later Frost.” There was a measuring look in James eyes that would have been cause for worry if Frost had noticed it.
It was reflexive. Frost wasn’t really paying attention as he made his way to class. Amber not wanting him to attend the game was looking very definite. It still didn’t make sense. Why would she avoid him? Apparently she had been doing so already. He strongly doubted she planned on meeting him that night, which meant avoiding him before was unrelated… This was getting ridiculous. Frost was having ever more questions and no answers.
Frost stuck with a group of acquaintances going into the stands. He was careful to pick a group that was reserved enough not to draw attention to his presence. He congratulated himself as he settled on the cold metal bench. James, his chosen barometer of obviousness had not noticed his entrance, despite clearly looking for him in the crowd. Amber probably wouldn’t create a scene, but if one developed around him he did not doubt there would be consequences.
Perhaps that was her interest in not wanting him here tonight. Still odd, but Frost was now certain he hadn’t mis-heard her on that score. Deliberately defying her needled at his conscience, though the irritation was minor. Frost was far more invested in learning why. It didn’t track, like everything didn’t seem to around Amber. She was cheer captain despite being a junior, and the school darling. Everybody knew who she was and everyone, apparently excepting Frost, had seen her cheer countless times last year. There was no logic to it.
He leaned forward, chin on interlocked hands, watching the cheerleaders warm up. She was not hard to pick out of the group. He wouldn’t be the only one watching the girls, if for slightly different reasons. There were inevitably those boys who wouldn’t remember to look anywhere else for long the whole night. A trifle disappointing perhaps, but everyone knew cheerleaders improved attendance wherever they went, by being present and visible.
There was absolutely nothing irregular about her actions, the actions of the rest of the team or anything else he could see. Even as the ball teams got on the field and the game started with the usual hoopla there was nothing out of the ordinary. Leading her team Amber was good, spectacular even, but also just doing her job. What was he missing?
The game proceeded, Frost couldn’t have said how it was going. He cheered when those around him cheered, stood up and sat down following their lead. Everything went along with utter mundane normality. Rather than getting into the game or the energy of the crowd the longer it went, Frost grew ever more puzzled. It couldn’t be much of a reason to keep him out if he couldn’t tell himself. Curious indeed.
Frost was starting to think he imagined it all when Amber looked up mid-routine, and their eyes met. His heart rate sky-rocketed and Amber stumbled. Looked away and recovered so smoothly he doubted many people caught it. Frost sat back trying to calm his racing pulse. Action on the field started again and Amber looked straight at him once more, fast, but the heat of her brief glare was palpable despite the distance. He winced.
Huh. Well that was something. Amber clearly blamed the stumble on him. Could that be why she didn’t- but how would she possibly expect to trip, if you could even call it that. Unless seeing him distracted her that much, and she anticipated it. But that didn’t make sense unless… No. What? She’d barely given him the time of day, while attending the same schools since elementary. Right? He didn’t remember talking to Amber before. She had only agreed to half of one informal dance on her father’s insistence. She couldn’t possibly- but what else could it be?
Teenage girls were fickle, no question. But would her contradictory behavior make any more sense if he was right? Frost needed someone to talk to. A girl, hopefully, could shed some light on his suspicions. Who, though? He didn’t think he could talk to one of his sisters without having the whole story, including the encounter in the park drawn out of him. Somebody in a position to know Amber would be good, too. Wait, Frost blinked, was Jess still…?
He scanned the cheer squad, feeling an embarrassed heat in his cheeks even though he was checking faces. Yep, Jess was still there this year. She’d gotten in on talent, only ever middling popular because she wouldn’t play the politics. They hadn’t hung out as much lately but Frost was still decent friends with her and her boyfriend. He wanted to smack himself for not thinking of her sooner. Tonight, he needed to see if he still had a date to the dance, and whether there were worse things than being branded to look forward to. But he would get a hold of Jess later, if he could still show his face anywhere by then.
He paid relaxed attention the rest of the game, but except for Amber not looking at the section of stands he occupied nothing else happened. Their team won, and he cheered with the rest of the crowd for the sake of solidarity. James would undoubtedly try to blame him for the victory, and no one else would care. Show over, the crowd made it’s way out of the stands.
“Hey Frost, you made it!”
Speak of the devil.
“See? Totally worked. Though looked like-“
“Shut up J!” Frost yelled back with a smile, pushing through to his friend. Next to him, Frost dropped his voice, “you trying to get me killed?”
“What? I was just-“
“I’m sure Amber, who grudgingly agreed to this dance, will really appreciate you making sure everyone remembers. And hears whatever you were about to mention. She wouldn’t take that out on me at all, would she?”
The words galled him. It made the girl sound so petty. But James needed to stop.
“Geez, I didn’t think of that. Sorry, man. But hey, you came, and we won! Now if we can just get you to all of them, we’ll have a perfect year.”
“She may not-” He disliked pulling Amber as an excuse even less. He expected clear censure, for all that he still wasn’t sure of her reason. If she told him not to, he would not attend. He couldn’t just blame her pre-emptively, “I mean, still not my thing. I didn’t even pay attention to the game.”
“I don’t blame you, either. I’mma try to reach the gym before cookies are gone. See you in there?”
“Don’t have too much fun.”
It wasn’t hard to loiter near the exit once he got there. Crowd pressure kept everyone moving on past him. Frost leaned on the wall, settling in. More than one girl gave him a look that was not at all unfriendly, and he smiled and nodded to the familiar faces that passed. Clearly, his presence was no surprise to most.
“I’m sorry man,” one acquaintance, Dan, paused long enough to put a hand on his shoulder, “Amber-date for only half a dance.”
Frost tried not to laugh at the term. Stamped firmly on any outward reaction as it occurred to him he’d already experienced more of Amber than anyone. Gently he shrugged off the hand.
“Better than no Amber-date.” He mimicked his friends tone.
With that pronouncement, Dan melded back into the crowd. Frost wasn’t sure how he felt about it. School was a constantly churning mill, looking for the next victim to drag under. He’d done more than his fair share making himself a target from day one this year. Something told him Amber always knew what was being said about her. Unfortunately, that did not explain her venomous glance. If anything that would generate more speculation, not less.
If she didn’t want him here, why did she say yes to the dance? The last two years made abundantly clear she would not be made to do something she didn’t want, especially when it came to boys. The only difference he could think of was that night in the park; shouldn’t she want to have less to do with him, not more after that?
Frost shook his head. Well, coming to the game helped to eliminate some of the possibilities at least. Which meant he knew less what could be going on, and why. He decided to call it progress anyway. The general exit slowed to a trickle, and the first of the cheerleaders and players appeared, headed for the school and the party.”
“Oh hey Frosty!” Jess rounded the corner at a run, pin-wheeling to a stop in front of him. “What are you- oh, right.”
“Heya Jess. Don’t let me slow you down.”
“Psh. I am gazelle.”
“I made him wait inside,” she stuck out her tongue, “so I could surprise him with my dress.”
“Lucky find. You’ll see it when you get there, hopefully.”
“Uh,” That sounded ominous, “what do you mean hopefully?”
“Ha! Just messin’. She isn’t,” Jess looked around quickly and lowered her voice, “gonna send you packing, death glare aside. You’re looking good by the way. See you on the floor!” She dashed for her car.