It was sophomore year the first time I saw her. I had just transferred to my rival high school. It’s not like anyone takes the rivalry past the football field, so it's not like I get bullied about or anything. Though I doubt anyone would. I kinda inherited my dad’s looks and my dad looks like a tree with a resting bitch face. My whole life people have kinda avoided me cuz of how... scary I looked...so I guess nothing new. After a couple of weeks of just sitting at home, my dad said I should find something to...so football.
It was halfway through the season and we weren’t doing that good. Gameday has always been an interesting experience for me. As a kicker, I’m not really seen as important as the QB or as popular as the offensive tackle. I’m a simple pawn in this game and when I’m expected to perform if I don’t execute it perfectly, I’m treated as if I’m useless. But that can be avoided with practice, I guess.
As we stepped off the bus and onto the empty field to practice, everyone already knows the drill. I walk over to the bleachers and I see Coach motion me over.
“Alright olive boy, you been practicing and I don’t need you gettin’ no performance anxiety alright!” He goes behind me and slams his hands on my shoulders. I try to make eye contact but he grabs my face and angles it toward the field goal.
“EYES ON THE PRIZE!” And before I can retort he’s already talking to the linebackers. Off to practice huh. Woohoo!
It isn’t until later I start to see more people file in. Our opponents arrive and practice on the other side of the field. The cheerleaders appear with a bunch of deafening drivel that distracts the QB and his posse from practice, typical. Leave it to small-town teens to play into stereotypes, probably isn’t too long before they have a child named Jakielyn or something as nauseating. I sit down on the sidelines and watch the middle school flirting. Soon diehard fans start to arrive and take up their spots on the bleachers. I scan over the familiar faces from hallways and ‘round town till… I see one I don’t recognize. She sat in the bleachers with a canon taking various pictures of things on and off the field. Phone pressed to her ear by her shoulder hidden in a fray of her purple-dyed hair, talking to it. I could never grasp reading lips and god did I really wish the talent would develop in milliseconds. Before God decides to bless me Coach blows his whistle for us to head into the lockers.
I’ll skip over his pep talk, it’s your usual garbage of we’re a family and to give everything out on the field. Cue huddle and I’m sandwiched between two sweaty receivers then “Go Bears!”
I walked out of the locker room at a decent pace, not as much gusto as my peers and someone walks to my side. It’s our Quarterback. Jamie Kirk, currently a Junior, our QB gives me the once over.
“Hey Oliver, right?” Everyone knows each other’s last name so hearing my first name is a bit unexpected. Alright, I’ll give props when it’s due.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“I know you’re new and it's a lot to take all in. This is your third game as kicker, yeah?”
“Well, I noticed you seemed a bit distant at practices. You’re a great kicker so I know you’ve got what it takes. But from experience, I can tell you this sport becomes more fun when you get to know everybody and I guess...” he scratches his neck “As cheesy as it sounds, become a family. Obviously not overnight” He stops walking and balances his weight on each foot.
“But you get what I’m saying yea?” I stop and stare blankly at him. He immediately looks shocked.
It’s enough to make me laugh and that’s enough to quell him from his thoughts.
“Yeah, I get it... uhh...I’ll make more of an effort to do that.”
He slaps the center of my back with a laugh. ”Great!”
We finally make it out of the tunnel and approach the field. “ You’ll see! I convinced Coach if we win the game we get to have a party at his house while his family is out next weekend. SO LET’S GIVE IT ALL WE GOT!” He brings his hand forward and pats my shoulder then running towards Coaches and the medical staff.
Alright, let’s get this over with.
The score ended up being 24-18. As much as I hate to admit it, it was a good game. I even landed a field goal. As much as I find the coach to be a prick getting compliments surely makes all the practice seem worth it. It feels nice I guess...to be useful?
Throughout the game, I checked the bleachers to see if I could spot the girl from before but when I found the spot she was before it was filled by freshmen. A particular kid did have the camera she was using from before, huh strange? Could be the newspaper or I dunno scrapbooking club?
I didn’t really expect that the party was really happening nor that if it was, that I was truly invited. But Jamie, as it would seem, was very serious about it and worse my attendance. But on the following Friday, I found a note in my locker that said: “Prove your word” with a scribbled address and… a number. What if I couldn’t make it? What if my poor “Aunt Susan”, who may or may not exist, met her inevitable demise. Or what if it is across town and I don’t have a ride.
I’m currently in my pickup, typing the address into google maps, debating just texting Jamie a half-assed excuse, and just finishing my playthrough of Detroit become human instead. Fuck it, my gas is running and If I don’t like it I can just leave. I’ll just show up and check it out. I turn on the radio, pull out of the driveway, and leave it on the news station.
“Hey, everyone! Thank you for tuning in on this lovely Friday night. After a week of chilly weather brace yourselves for the first snowfall of the season. It's also been a week since our Boys brought home a win against the “terrible tigers” . It was a close game but our Quarterback Jamie Kirk sealed the win with an incredible play and support from the defensive linebackers. We have a brief audio recording of our interview with Jamie and Coach Gilmore.
“We’ve got great players this year like Jamie himself. I’m looking forward to how the rest of the seasons gonna play out.”
“And Jamie, do you have any comments?”
“Uh… I really enjoy the game and it's a real pleasure playing with good teammates. Like Coach said I too am looking forward to the rest of the season. I know we started off pretty rough but I know we have a chance! GO BAKER BEARS!”
I lower the radio as I approach the street from the note. I can hear the sounds of music and start to see more cars litter on the street. I soon find myself parking and following the noise. Oh, wait... I barely know anyone I can’t just waltz in and be like “Hey, it’s me Oliver the new kid from your rival high school!” God why did I come, I’m just going to make a fool of myself. I’m a douche but not a full one, so I guess I’ll call Jamie and say my aunt did die. Bless you Susan we all kick it eventually you had a good ride of your brief existence.
I plug the number into my phone. It rings and when it answers, even louder music erupts from my phone making me lower it from my ear. When I regain my sense of hearing I raise it back to my ear.
“HELLO! I USUALLY DON'T ANSWER UNKNOWN NUMBERS! GIMME A SEC!
HEY! HEY, MAKENNA! I'M GONNA GO FOR A BIT, I GOTTA TAKE THIS CALL!”
“ARE you...” the second voice cuts off as if he walked away before she finished her sentence.
He coughs a couple of times while he looks for a quieter place to answer the call. I hear a door open and close, with the music significantly quieter he starts,” Oliver is that you? I don’t really give my number out like that and I don’t think a telemarketer calls this late.”
“Yeah, it’s me ...Uh about the party, uh...um”
“Is that you hiding by the silver Toyota?”
AWW SHIT to my left is a silver Toyota. How the hell did he spot me...I turn to face the house and I see Jamie on the porch phone raised to his ear. We make eye contact and he hangs up.
He walks over, “OLIVER! I'M SO GLAD YOU MADE IT!” I can smell the beer on his breath and I can guess he’s had a couple.
“Hey, Jamie” I reply sheepishly “You look nice.” He's wearing a slightly unbuttoned henley shirt with ripped jeans paired with sleek black jordans.
“AHHH, THANK YOU!” He gushes, cheeks a lil red from the alcohol.
“I TRY! YOU LOOK GOOD TOO!” He scratches the back of his neck. I look down at my worn-down jeans and flannel shirt. He throws his arm over my shoulder and starts to lead us towards the party.
“I was beginning to believe you weren’t going to show up!” he says with a laugh. Boy little did he know.
I fake laugh “hehe, that’s crazy.” We enter the house and I recognize some from practice and others I don’t.
He leads me through the party and we end up talking to some junior varsity players. After a couple of crude discussions of teachers and Principal Rango’s rack, Jamie disappears dragged off by some cheerleaders. I decide to look around the house. It blows my mind that the Coach let them have this party at his actual house. I guess that means he’s really dedicated... no... stupidly trustworthy of his team. I look over the mantle to find a family photo. In the photo, I see Coach Gilmore, his wife, huh head cheerlead is their daughter's surprise surprise...
WAIT A DAMN MINUTE. It's the girl from the game. It's an obviously old picture, her hair isn’t dyed yet and they all look younger.
I guess with his daughter staying for the party that makes sense. I wonder if she's also at the party. I scan over the people in the living room and she’s not here. I’m getting kinda hot, I grab a red solo cup and head to the kitchen to fill it with water. I drove here, I gotta wind my ass back home somehow. I take off my flannel and tie it around my waist thankful I wore an undershirt. I don’t know if she’s here but I need some air maybe she's in the backyard.
I open the patio door and I find Jamie bent over the banister, dry heaving. I glance back at the door to see if I can slip back. No Jamie’s actually been really nice to me. I should pay back that kindness.
I slide the door close and cough to get his attention. He looks up shocked. He’s covered in sweat with his curly brown hair falling into his eyes. His usual jovial charm is gone, replaced with a cold distant aura.
“Oh hey...Oliver, I was gonna *cough* check up on ya but I ran into a lil hiccup.” *Cough**Cough* “Are ya enjoying the party?” He stands up and walks toward me.
“Um… I think you need this more than I do.” I hand him my cup.
“I dunno my ma warned me ‘bout taking drinks from dudes at parties.” I give him a blank stare that screams ‘really’.
“Ollie I must have missed judged you! You brought vodka!?!?!?!”
DRINK IT!!!!! ”
He sniffs the water.
“You take a sip first”
“God are you always like this” I whisper under my breath as I take a sip and hold direct eye contact with him. “NOW DRINK!”
“GOSH, YOU’RE SO BOSSY OLLIE! By the way, can I call you ollie?” He takes back the cup and still looks at it hesitantly.
I sigh. “ Look dude I can try to fetch you an unopened bottle of water from inside. Does that work for you? And if you drink it, you can. ”
He opens his mouth looking as if he’s going to turn me down.
”Ollie, I’m fine! Really you can go back to the party. I’m- ”
I cut him “No.”
I turn and enter the house once again in the search of a dumb bottle of water. After a couple of weird looks as I search the pantry and fridge, I find myself back at the patio door. I take a breath, am I being pushy? I mean I’m trying to help him. I MEAN GODDAMN IT'S JUST SOME FLIPPING WATER. I hear shuffling from the patio I peel back the curtains and see Jamie with, I believe it's the cheerleader from before. He’s looking at the ground not meeting her eyes. She pushes herself on him and raises his chin to reach her eyes and says something that gets him to finally look at her. My breath catches… there's fear in his eyes. He looks so scared. What could she have said to him to make him look like that? Before I knew it, I had slammed the door open and immediately pushed her back from him. Everyone, including me, is very surprised by this action.
“Hey Jamie, I just remembered where I parked the car. Let’s go!”
“Um and who exactly are you?” She looks me up and down.
“Who are you?” I say with the scariest look I can make. I turn around and take Jamie’s hand, leading him off the patio towards the front of the house. As I look over my shoulder she’s still on the porch frozen from fear. Good.
It isn’t until we reach my small truck that the gravity of what I just did hits me. I look over at Jamie and he’s still looking at the ground.
“I’M SORRY!” I yell and he finally looks back up.“UH...I mean I know that probably wasn’t my place and I forgot the water I honestly don’t know where it is but you looked so uncomfortable and befo- ”
He hiccups and I see there are unshed tears in his eyes. It immediately cuts me off and I look away. We stand in silence.
I realize I’m still holding his hand and gently let go.
He clears his throat and wipes his face.
“Well, I guess you owe me water now, huh Ollie?” His voice is trying to sound playful but it sounds forced.
“Yeah,” I reply.
He stands in front of me and I look down at him and he's looking everywhere but me.
“Well I know it isn't water but I know a place that has good milkshakes and stays open late.”
He looks up into my eyes and replies “Is that a date?”
“UH…..UMM...WELLL...I DIDN'T-” My eyes widen and my brain shuts off.
“Relax Casanova, I know. Yeah… I could go for a milkshake.”
I nod. He nods. We nod in silence. I walk around the truck and struggle a sec before inserting the key. “The trucks a lil beat up, it's my dad's old work truck.” I say finally getting it to open. I get inside and reach over to open the passenger’s side door.
After a couple of tries, the engine starts off and we pull off.
We drive in relative silence. I turn the radio back up and it’s still on the news station. It’s playing the report from earlier over again. When it gets to the part about the game I see Jamie stiffen in his seat. I reach over and turn the station to another random station. Soon quiet jazz fills the car.