Authors: Peter Abrahams
the school year was always the last. Now, May 30, final day of his sophomore year at County High, he sat in the back row of homeroom, waiting for the teacher--a sub he'd never seen before--to hand out the report cards. As long as there were no Fs--even one would make him ineligible for football in the fall, meaning summer school, an impossibility because he had to work--Cody didn't care what was in the report card. He just wanted out.
"One more thing," the sub was saying. "The principal sent this announcement." The sub unfolded a sheet of paper, stuck a pair of glasses on the tip of his nose. "'County High wishes everyone a safe summer. Please remember . . ." And then came blah blah blah about alcohol and drugs, tuned out by some mechanism in Cody's brain, overloaded from having heard the same thing too many times. The sub thumbed through the report cards, called out names in alphabetical order, mispronouncing several. Cody was the only L. A minute or two later he was outside, crossing the student parking lot, warm sun shining down and the sky big and blue. Somewhere close by a horse neighed.
His car--a ten-year-old beater with 137,432 miles on the odometer, an odometer disconnected by the previous owner, one of his dad's drinking buddies--sat at the back of the lot, open prairie behind it and Coach Huff leaning against the fender.
"Hey, coach," said Cody.
"Close shave, son," said Coach Huff.
"Ain't opened your report yet?"
Cody shook his head. The coach already knew his grades?
What was with that?
"Waitin' for what, exackly?" said Coach Huff, a tall guy
with a huge upper body and stick legs, varsity football coach
and also teacher of health and remedial English. "Sign from
Cody slit open the envelope with his fingernail, slid out
the report card.
U.S. History--C-; Algebra 1--C-; Biology--D;
D minus: close shave, no doubt about
it. He looked up, feeling pretty good.
"Good thing Miz Brennan's a football fan," the coach said. "She is?" Ms. Brennan was the English teacher, bestower
of the D minus. Cody actually liked her, especially when she
forgot all about whatever the lesson was and started reciting
poetry, right from memory, something she did maybe once
every two weeks or so. Somehow Ms. Brennan, an old lady
with twisted arthritic fingers and a scratchy voice, had all this
poetry in her head. Poetry in the textbook was a complete mystery to Cody, but in a way he couldn't explain, the murkiness
all cleared up during Ms. Brennan's recitations, or at least he
thought it did. Like:
Screw your courage to the sticking-place /
And we'll not fail.
Cody was pretty sure he got that one, just
from how she'd spoken the words, made his mind picture courage fastened deep to something that would never break, like
a huge boulder. But he'd never seen Ms. Brennan at a football
"Either that," said Coach Huff, "or we're lookin' at a legit D
minus. That the story? It's legit?"
Cody didn't know what to say, felt his face turning red. "Just razzin' you, son. Nothin' wrong with your football IQ, that's for sure. We're all countin' on you in the fall." He pushed away from the car. The shocks squeaked and the whole body
rose an inch or two. "Stay in shape this summer."
"I will," Cody said, thinking:
Is there something wrong with
my other IQ? Does Coach Huff think I'm dumb?
The coach got a squinty look in his eye. "Workin' with your
"Maybe," Cody said. His dad did landscaping in the summer. Landscaping wasn't bad, and Cody loved being outdoors,
but he was hoping to find some other job, almost anything. "Just remember--landscapin' don't replace liftin', so hit the
"Upper body's important--put some zip on the ball." "Why, coach? We never throw."
Coach Huff gave Cody a long look, then laughed, a single
eruption of sound, close to a bark. "Sense of humor--I like
that," he said. "Just remember there's a time and place for
Coach Huff gave Cody a pat on the shoulder, started walking away. He met Clea Weston coming from the other direction,
report card in hand, and nodded to her, but she didn't seem to
notice. Her eyes were on Cody. The sun lit golden sparkles in
her hair, and Cody thought:
The whole summer ahead of us!
And what did he have at this very moment? A full tank of gas. "Let's ride out to Black Rocks," he said. Black Rocks was
an abandoned quarry near the bend in the river, the best swimming for miles around.
"I got a B in calc," Clea said.
"Wow," said Cody. There were two kids taking calc in
the whole school, Clea--a sophomore like Cody--and some
brain in the senior class. No one thought of Clea as a brain.
She was just good at everything: striker on the varsity soccer
team, class president, assistant editor of the lit mag; and the
most beautiful girl in the school--in the whole state, in Cody's
But a real person, as he well knew, capable of annoyance,
for example. When Clea got annoyed, her right eyebrow did
this little fluttering thing, like now. "Wow?" she said. "Yeah," he said. He himself wouldn't ever get as far as calc,
not close. "Pretty awesome."
She shook her head. "I've never had a B."
For a second or two, Cody didn't quite get her meaning;
he'd scored very few Bs himself. Then it hit him. "All As, every
"You never told me."
She shrugged. "My father's going to be pissed." "Come on."
"You don't know him."
Maybe not. He and Clea had been going out since Christmas but didn't spend much time in each other's homes. Clea lived with her dad and stepmom in the nicest house in town, a house that actually had a name instead of a number: Cottonwood. Cody lived with his dad--when his dad was around--in a one-bedroom apartment over the Red Pony, a dim downtown bar his dad--his parents, actually--had owned at one time,
back when his mom was alive.
"Then don't tell him," Cody said.
"Don't tell him my grades? Are you serious? He'll ask to
see my report card first thing."
"He will?" Cody's own dad hadn't seen any of his report
cards in years.
"He keeps them all in his desk," Clea said, "going back to
"Whoa," said Cody.
"How did it happen?" Clea said. "I thought I aced the
For a moment tears shone in her eyes, and Clea wasn't a
crier. He'd seen her cry only once or twice, and those had been
mixed-up tears, partly, even mostly, happy. Cody couldn't stand
to see her upset like this, especially about nothing. He handed
her his report card. "Scan this," he said. "You'll feel better." Clea ran her gaze over it. "Oh, Cody," she said, looking up,
laughing a little laugh, like What am I going to do with you?
She reached out, tousled his hair. Cody loved her touch, loved
everything about her.
"What do you think my IQ is?" he said.
"Three thousand," said Clea.
They drove out to Black Rocks. The town they lived in, Little Bend, lay at the western border of hundreds of miles of flatland, the Rockies' foothills in sight. The quarry, abandoned after World War II, stood at the top of a long rise--the first suggestion of the mountains to come--overlooking the town, spread out from that perspective like an open book. Little Bend had a potash mine, owned for two generations by Clea's family, and now a year or two left before being worked out; an ethanol plant, just getting started, owned by investors from Denver and run by Mr. Weston; a base that the Air Force was always threatening to close; and a rodeo every summer that attracted ten thousand paying visitors, sometimes more. A pretty town in a pretty place: almost all the kids at County High hoped to end up somewhere else--Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, California.