A Pinstriped Finger's My Only Friend (3 page)

BOOK: A Pinstriped Finger's My Only Friend
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*****

 

Chapter 4

 

TWO HOURS LATER:

 

Judd's still grinning by the time his fifth period class--Biology with Mr. Weaver--rolls around.
Nothing
is going to ruin his awesome mood.

The whole time Mr. Weaver's talking in his usual cheerful chirp about natural selection and biodiversity, Judd's lost in a swirl of sweet daydreams. He dreams he's back in the gym, soaking up adulation from the faceless mass of the crowd. He dreams he's playing in the last game of the state finals, and the fans roar as he sinks the winning basket just in time for the buzzer. He dreams he's in a parade celebrating his victory, and the crowd throws roses and chants his name as he rolls past, waving.

Then, suddenly, the dreams blow away as Judd realizes everyone's getting up around him. Mr. Weaver--a gentle giant with curly black hair--wipes notes off the whiteboard with the sleeve of his frayed black sweater, then reaches for the huge stainless steel thermos of coffee he always has close at hand.

(Earth to Judd! Something's up, but you can't quite put your finger on it, can you?)

At first, Judd wonders if class is over--but no. The other kids are just breaking into groups, moving their desks together in clusters.

(Aha! Light bulbs going on overhead, anyone?)

It's time for group work. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

So long, daydreaming. Hello, boring meeting.

But things are already different this time. Just as Judd's about to get up and move to the usual spot, the rest of the group comes to him.

(Ding ding ding! My finger sense is tingling!)

Judd grins at them and settles back into his chair. "Hi, guys."

The other three members of the group--a girl and two boys--push together nearby desks, bumping them up against Judd's. None of them looks amused...but Judd isn't worried. Mr. Weaver threw them together, they've got nothing in common, but he has no problem with these people.

"Hi, Judd." Melissa Lewis takes the lead, as always. She's a four-foot-tall stick-thin genius dynamo with short black hair, and she gets off on running the show. "How's your part of the project coming along?"

Judd's brain skips a beat.

(Project? What means this word, "project?")

Melissa cocks her head to one side. "
You
know. The one where we're designing an imaginary biosphere in an alternate reality populated by entirely new flora and fauna? The one that's based on an alternate history in which the dominant lifeforms evolved from species that actually became extinct in our
own
reality?"

Oh,
that
project. "Great, just great." He smiles at all three of his group-mates like he's got everything under control, even though the truth is...

"You haven't done it, have you?" Melissa pats her hair, which is so short it's almost a crew-cut. Word has it she's a lesbian, not that Judd cares.

"Oh, sure I have." Judd nods and looks at her like he couldn't
be
more under control. Like she's nuts for even doubting him.

"So let's see it," says Rajeesh Tamil, the male half of the Indian immigrant Tamil twins. His sister, Tulsi, is in another group across the room.

"Seriously?" Judd smirks and shakes his head. "Why don't you show me yours instead?"

Rajeesh opens a manila folder and holds up a stack of pages. Melissa pulls a similar stack out of her binder and flaps it at Judd.

The third kid, Jerry Nakamura, has a folder in front of him, but he doesn't pull anything out of it. He's on the tubby side, with spiky black hair and black-rimmed glasses, and he doesn't like making waves. I know he's got the work done, he always does, but he won't rub it in Judd's face.

Even if he did, it wouldn't faze the king of cool. Remember that theme song of his? It's still playing in the background, oh yeah.

Judd spreads his arms and shrugs. "Well, you're just gonna have to take my word for it. Looks like I left it at home."

Melissa shoots the other two a "See? I told you so," look. Then, she glares at Judd. "You think we'll do the work
for
you, don't you?"

"Not at all," says Judd. He doesn't
think
they'll do the work for him, he
knows
they will. The three of them care too much to risk a crappy grade.

Or do they? "Fine." Melissa smacks the papers down on the desk, sits back, and crosses her arms over her chest. "Then
none
of us will do it.
Any
of it. We'll all get an 'F' unless you pick up the slack this time."

She looks at Rajeesh, who nods...

(...reluctantly...)

...and Jerry, who blinks and gives her what's either half a nod or a meaningless nervous tremor.

Satisfied, Melissa looks at Judd with raised eyebrows and chin thrust forward. "Consider this an intervention." She sniffs once. "We are
not
going to let ourselves get
Judded
like all the other kids at this school."

"'Judded?'" Judd can't resist a good-natured chuckle. "Cool! You mean somebody named a word after me?"

"It's not a
good
word," snaps Melissa. "It's not something to be
proud
of."

"Oh, sorry." Judd doesn't quite manage to stifle his grin. Even if she's just making it up, the "Judded" bit strikes him as hilarious.

Melissa has a scowl that could curdle milk. "You're a selfish jerk, you know that? Our grades on this project are going to
suck
because of you."

Judd is the master of always seeming friendly, even when others are acting the opposite. Even now, after Melissa's nasty comments, he just smiles and shrugs. He feels kind of sorry for her, actually--for all three of them. They can't help it if they're not all that special. Not everyone can be a star like he is. "So get rid of me. No hard feelings."

"We already tried," Melissa says darkly. "Mr. Weaver won't change the group assignments."

The girl is bubbling with anger and hate, she doesn't try to hide it--but ol' Judd-meister lets it roll right off him. "Bummer, man."

"So you really don't care if you flunk?" says Melissa. "You don't care if you take us all down with you?"

"Ain't gonna happen." Judd grins and shrugs as the bell rings. He gets up from his chair and aims for the door. "Things just have a way of working out for me, y'know?"

As he walks away, he knows they're talking--make that bitching--but oh well. Whatever.
C'est la vie
.

Get over it.

His schedule's too full for this project nonsense, dontcha think? Remember a little something called
state basketball championships
? What would they rather have him do--pitch in on their lame project or bring home another championship?
Be honest, now
.

That's what I thought.

Besides which, the topic seems kinda meaningless to him. Alternate history? Alternate realities? Biodiversity? What does any of that have to do with everyday life?
His
everyday life?

Nada, I tell you. Zero, zilch, zippo, nil.

Anyway, there's absotutely no reason to sweat this, I guarantee. Because sooner or later, Melissa, Rajeesh, and Jerry will do the work--theirs
and
Judd's. Even if they don't, Judd has an ace up his sleeve. The situation's totally under control.

Let's review, shall we? Judd's natural born coolness? Check.

(
Big time
check!)

His ability to get along with anyone, no matter how unspecial they are or how much negativity they spew his way? Again, check.

And his teacher, Mr. Weaver? The one who just gave him a hearty wave while gulping coffee from his stainless steel thermos cup? Then topped it off with a nice big "don't worry about a thing, I got it covered" kind of smile?

Last I looked, he was still the assistant coach of the boys' basketball team.

Check, check, and double-check. Officially under control.

Smooooth sailing, bruh. Kick back and enjoy the ride.

Smooooth sailing.

 

*****

 

Chapter 5

 

SIX
HOUR
S
LATER:

 

What a day! Judd definitely has an afterglow going on as he sits at the dinner table with his family.

The pep rally left him with a major buzz. The "intervention" in Biology was such a minor bump, it didn't even put a dent in it. And once he got out of that class, the rest of his day just got better and better. In sixth period, Miss Holliday let him skate on a makeup history test and goosed his overall grade from a D to a C. (Woo hoo!) Then the cast sheet for the school musical went up, and guess who was right at the top in the lead freakin' role? (Yee-haw!) After that, basketball practice couldn't have been more awesome; Judd literally hit every shot he took, including a full-court (Say what??) long-bomb master blaster that was nothing but net. As if all that wasn't great enough, his after-practice date with Kaela (in her bedroom with nobody home!) was a mind-blowing spectacular that left him flying high on Cloud Nine.

(Not to mention Clouds Ten, Eleven, and Twelve!)

So it's understandable that his grin's a little bigger and he's maybe a little more...

(Obnoxious?)

...
outrageous
than usual at the table.

"...and then I got to speak at the mike, and I was like, inspired! The words just flew out of me!" Judd gestures with a forkload of homemade lasagna with bacon and extra mushrooms--his favorite dish. Sitting on the floor beside him, Sphinx the chocolate Labrador watches every move the fork makes with keen interest. "Everybody was screaming! People told me later it was the best speech they'd ever heard!"

Judd's father flashes a wry look in his direction. "Better than Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech? Better than Kennedy's '
Ich bin ein B
erliner'
speech?

Judd's laugh is as good-natured as always. "The best
pep rally
speech they'd ever heard."

"Well holy crap!" Dad's voice is thick with sarcasm. "That's still mighty high praise, son!" He has close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, a mustache, and a goatee. He's a tall, skinny guy with knobby everything and eyes so dark they look like they're rimmed with black eye shadow.

"I know, right?" Judd gets that Dad's yanking his chain but just keeps on self-back-patting. "I know it was the best
I've
ever heard. I wish you guys could've heard it!"

Just then, Judd's fifteen-year-old brother Nick speaks up. "Two of us
did
hear it, remember?" Nick grabs handfuls of his shaggy brown hair and rolls his bright green eyes.

"Chopped liver over here." Judd's sister, Brooke, waves her left hand unenthusiastically. She's thirteen, with the same inkwell eyes as Dad, only hers are painted on. She's an anime princess these days, tricked out in high-contrast cartoony makeup, short-skirted sailor suits, and red ribbons binding her jet black pigtails. "You do know we go to the same school, right?"

Judd ignores her. "I'll bet somebody recorded it on a phone. It was such a big event,
someone
must have done it."

"Maybe they'll post it online." Judd's mom says it while she's reaching for a hunk of buttered garlic bread. "Didn't someone do that last time?"

"That's right!" Judd lights up. "That'll
rock
! People will be totally
into
it."

Sphinx barks as if in agreement, but he really just wants a piece of lasagna.

"Especially after you actually
win
the state championship." Dad puts his fork and knife down on his empty plate and dabs a napkin at the corners of his mouth.

Judd leans back and folds his arms over his chest. "I wish you could've been there, Dad. If you could've felt the
energy
in that gym, you'd
know
we're gonna win it all."

"Judd. Son." Dad pushes his chair back from the table. "You know what the first rule of sports is, don't you?"

"'Go big or go home!'" Judd says it with certainty.

"Nope." Dad gets up and raises an index finger. "'Expect the unexpected.'" He smiles and nods. "Also the first rule of
life
, by the way."

"I thought you said it was 'trees don't grow on money,'" says Brooke.

"And
I
thought it was 'never give a sucker an even break,'" chimes in Nick.

"Try 'honor your father.'" Dad spreads his arms wide. "That one works, too, y'know. For once in your lives, give it a try."

"I don't think so." Brooke scrunches up her nose and shakes her head fast. "That doesn't sound like my cup of tea."

"I'll give
you
a cup of tea." Dad marches over and tickles her, pitching her into a giggling fit.

While that's going on, Mom smiles across the table at Judd. "You know we're all behind you one hundred percent, honey. You know we all believe in you."

"Absolutely." Judd flashes his grin. "And I couldn't do it without you."

"Really? You mean that?" Brooke shouts it between bouts of giggling.

"If it makes you feel better, than yeah. What the heck." Judd shrugs and gets up from the table. "More power to ya'." His voice and expression make it clear that he's kidding...

(But who knows?)

...even as he gathers up his dishes and turns his back on the family, heading for the kitchen.

(Do
I
know? We're in touch quite a bit, after all. Let's just say this...)

"I
don't
believe in you," says Nick. "You're not
real
. You're a figment of my imagination!"

(...if I
do
know...)

"Then I guess I should thank you, Nicky," Judd hollers from the kitchen, "for making me such an
awesome
, soon-to-be state champion figment!"

(...I'm keeping it to myself.)

 

*****

 

Four hours later, Judd's lying in bed, head propped up on some pillows, talking on the phone. He's multitasking, playing a videogame with the remote controller in his right hand, but he isn't paying much attention to the score. He's more focused on the sweet, high-pitched voice filtering through the phone into his ear.

"I'm so proud of you," says the girl's voice. "I love you so much."

"I love hearing you say that." Judd keeps his voice low in case someone in the house is listening. "You're the best, Eva."

(
Eva
? Did he say
Eva
? But what about what about
Kaela
?)

"I wish I were there with you right now," whispers Eva. "I need to have you in my arms, Judd. I need to kiss you."

"I hear that." Judd hits the red button on the controller, blowing a spaceship to kingdom come. "I need to kiss you, too."

Her voice gets a little softer. "I've been thinking about last weekend a lot, Judd. About what we almost did."

"Me too, Eva." Judd zaps another starfighter. "It was pretty amazing."

"I think...I think I'm ready, Judd." Eva takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "I'm ready."

Judd's grin gets bigger and more blissful than ever. He hits the red button on the controller five times fast, but he keeps his voice nice and calm and steady. "Are you sure, Eva?"

"I've never been more sure about anything," says Eva. "Let's make it really special, something we'll never forget."

"I like the sound of that," says Judd.

"After you get back from the state finals. How's that?" Her voice rises a little, sounding excited. "So you'll have something to look forward to. Something to
inspire
you in the big game."

"Perfect," says Judd. "I can't wait."

(But wait! But what about...)

Just then, his phone beeps with an incoming call. He checks the screen, sees who it is, and pops the phone back up to his ear. "Hey, Eva, can I call you back? I've gotta go."

"But I don't want you to." She sounds pouty.

"I know, I'm sorry, but I promise I'll call right back. Seeya!" With that, he switches from Eva to the other caller. "Hello?"

"Hey, baby." It's Kaela, sounding sultry. "What are
you
doing tonight?"

"Not much." Judd runs off another series of shots with the game controller, polishing off three incoming fighters with ease. "Just wishing this day would never end."

"I know the feeling." Kaela laughs in her deep, sexy voice. "So what was your favorite part?"

"All of it." The computer screen flares with light as Judd blows up a massive star carrier. "It was just a perfect day."

"Could be a perfect night, too," says Kaela. "Are you going to dream about me?"

"You know I will. But it might help if you tell me a bedtime story first."

"What
kind
of bedtime story?" says Kaela.

"You know the kind." Judd shoots down another fighter and tosses aside the controller. "My
favorite
kind."

Kaela giggles. "Once upon a time..."

And Judd lies back, grinning, because his own story is the best he can imagine, the best anyone could want, perhaps the best there's ever been.

He
can't wait
to see what's next.

 

*****

 

BOOK: A Pinstriped Finger's My Only Friend
4.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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