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First day of school, first period. Mrs. Harrison is making us all keep a journal for English Literature. We don't have to turn it in. We just have to write in it for the first ten minutes of class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridaysâor the last ten minutes, whichever she decides that day. It's weird to write with a pen in class. Usually I take notes on my laptop. My hand is already cramping up. The good news is that my handwriting is so atrocious, I'll be the only person who can read it, so I don't have to worry about anyone else deciphering this.
When Mrs. Harrison announced the journals, Tyler groaned like Coach was forcing him to run line drills. Mrs. Harrison told Tyler there's something physiological that happens when you write with a pen or pencil on actual paper. He said, “Yeah, my brain shuts down because it's so bored.” She just rolled her eyes and told him to “hush.” Tyler said he didn't have anything to write about, and she told him the point is to not stop, to keep your hand moving across the page even if you think you don't have anything to say. Then she held up a legal pad and a pen at the front of the class and pretended to write across it while she said the words out loud as an example:
“I have nothing to write about in my English class, but my crazy-ass teacher is making me keep a journal anyway. I hate her so much, I have smoke coming out of my ears, which I wish was
coming out of the bong I can't tell anyone I own because my name is Tyler Riggs and I'm a starter on the high school football team and if I get caught I will lose my scholarship to one of the forty-seven colleges that send scouts to Hillside High to watch me play. Plus, I will not get to start in the game on Friday night, and my pretty cheerleader girlfriend will think I am a loser.”
The whole class cracked upâeven Tyler. Mrs. Harrison is our favorite teacher. She's tough, but she says stuff like “crazy-ass” and makes jokes about pot, which she can get away with because she's such a good teacher and because her husband is the music pastor at the big Baptist church most of us attend. She's up front every Sunday, singing in the choir.
Actually, nobody knows who the starting lineup is for sure yet. List will be up this afternoon before we hit the locker room. Coach has been playing both me and Tyler at QB this summer. I'm glad two-a-day practices are over, but I'm nervous as hell about him posting the lineup. Tyler's my best friend and has been since seventh grade. I know how much this means to him. We've been pushing each other since we were in junior highâlifting, running, making sure our grades are decentâand it all comes down to this: Only one of us can be starting QB our senior year.
Tyler's got seven pounds on me, but I've got two inches on him. He can rush like a locomotive (takes three linemen to drag
him down), but I can leap and scramble. Under pressure, he likes to tuck the ball and plow down the field like a tank. I fall back and look for the pass. It's all up to Coach now.
Mrs. Harrison is right about the scouts, too. They've been hanging around practice all summer. Tyler told me last week that he's ready to give a verbal commitment to Arkansas. I've been holding out for Oklahoma.
I just heard this new kid sitting next to me flip to his third page. He's writing like his arm is robotic. His hair is wet and he's wearing a T-shirt that says
. I wonder if that's his last name.
Dang. Mrs. Harrison just told us to wrap it up. Can't believe it's been ten minutes already.
Everybody moaned when Mrs. Harrison told us to take out our journals today. She rolled her eyes and wrote
MY BIGGEST SECRET
on the whiteboard in blue marker. She said that was our topic for today's journal entry and reminded us that no one would be reading these journals, so we could be completely honest.
Crap. My pen is running out of ink.
I was just digging through my backpack, looking for another pen while everybody else was writing. The new kid across the
aisle is wearing a T-shirt that says
today. (“The Who”? “The Smiths”? Who are the Smiths is my question.) Anyway, he must've seen me because I felt a tap on my shoulder, and when I looked up, he was holding out the pen I'm writing with right this second. Write this second. (HA! Get it?
this second?) I kill me.
I whispered, “Thanks,” and he smiled at me, but not just with his mouth. He smiled with his eyes, too, and that's when I noticed how crazy this kid's eyes are. They are blue, but not like a standard factory preset sort of blueâthis kid has eyes that are a special feature sort of blue. He probably thinks I'm a total freak show, because I said, “Thanks,” and then just stared at him. I realized after a second that my own smile had fallen off my face and I was totally locked with this dude's eyeballs, and my heart was speeding up and I felt like I couldn't swallow and my stomach dropped even further than it had when Mrs. Harrison wrote today's journal topic on the whiteboard.
The weird thing was, this kid didn't look away. He just held my gaze, and his crazy blue eyes narrowed one-one-hundredth of an inch, like he was asking me a silent question. Then he brushed a stray piece of wet hair off his forehead and winked at me.
I almost jumped out of my skin when he did that. I dropped the pen he gave me on the floor and reached down to grab it so fast, I banged my head on my desk. Mrs. Harrison looked up and asked
if everything was all right, and I nodded and mumbled “yes” and “sorry” at the same time, so it sort of came out as “yaarry,” and Tyler snorted a laugh from his desk behind mine. I felt my cheeks turn bright red, and I'm afraid to look anywhere except this page in my notebook because it feels like the entire class is staring at me. Everybody must've seen him wink at me, and his smirk, and I'm such a freaking dumbass for not having an extra pen in my backpack. Now I bet every single person in the room has their mouths hanging open, wondering what just happened. I can't stand it. I have to know if everybody is looking at me.
Weird. I just glanced around superfast and nobody is looking at me. Nobody suspects anything.
Except the new kid.
When I glanced up just now, I saw his wet, wavy hair. It's sort of long on top and buzzed close on the sides. He's bent over his desk, writing so fast, it looks like his pen might spark against the paper and set fire to the whole building.
But he's smiling.
Just a little curl at the edge of his lips, peeking out of the scruff on his face. He's got a five-o'clock shadow, like one of those dudes on cable playing the bad-boy cop turned spy for hire who wears his mirrored aviator sunglasses all the timeâeven at Miami dance clubs at two in the morning. And how
does he manage to have stubble? I only have to shave once a week. Even when I forget, it doesn't grow in even like his does. My beard is sort of blotchy andâ
He caught me looking at him again. Eyes on the page. Keep your hand moving. Act like you have nothing to hide. Act like nothing happened. Even though it did happen. Twice. He caught you looking at him
. You freaking
. If Tyler saw that wink, or looks at that new kid and sees his smirk, he's gonna razz you for weeks. Just write. Write. Don't look. Don't think. Just keep the pen going. See? You can do this. You don't have to think about the new kid and his eyes and his stubble and his smirk and his weird-ass T-shirt collection and why in the hell his hair is always wet, and
, I'm doing it again.
Okay. New paragraph. Tyler is sitting right behind you. Football. Write about football. List went up Monday. Tyler is starting QB this year. I'm bummed but happy for Tyler. I'm starting Friday as a running back. Coach said he thinks that's where I'll get the most attention from the scouts. I wanted to tell him I'd get the most attention from the scouts if I were starting QB. I wanted to punch my locker and yell, but that's not how I roll. I'm the cool, calm, collected one. I don't break my hand. I don't raise my voice. I'm the yin to Tyler's yang. I'm chill under stress, which ironically, makes me a better QB than
Tyler. I know how to scramble while I find the perfect pass or the perfect path. I can move my feet without taking my eyes off Press or Chris while they sprint to get open. I can pass a hundred yards more than Tyler will ever be able to rush in any game, but Coach loves Ty. He loves watching Tyler scramble through the crunch. He's not into precision. He's into blood and guts.
Christ. If Tyler ever saw this, he'd freaking flip. He's my best friend. I should be cool with this. Monica tried to cheer me up. She pulled me out to the parking lot after the list went up and kissed me really long and slow with lots of tongue. She said it was to make me feel better, but it just reminded me that she's captain of the cheerleading squad and she's supposed to be going out with the quarterback. Isn't that the way it should work? Now I'm dreading having to hand this pen back to the new kid. I'm dreading having to even talk to him at the end of class. I'm supposed to be the cool, calm, collected QB. But now I'm just another meathead running back.
WHY DO YOU CARE WHAT THE FREAKING NEW KID THINKS?
Mrs. Harrison just said to wrap it up. You don't owe anybody an explanation. Running backs get great scholarship offers. And who gives a crap what anybody thinks? Especially
wet head in “The Who” shirt. I mean, what is going on with him and his smirk? What was it that passed between us when he winked at me? I have no idea what just happened.
But I have a feeling he does.
He knows exactly what just happened.
He knows my biggest secret.
Tonight is the home opener. Can't think about anything else. Just want to get out there and be playing. Nothing is worse than the anticipation. Or better. It makes me feel like I'm coming out of my skin. My hands are sweating just thinking about the smell of the grass, the crunch of the helmets and pads, and the roar of the crowd. And Monica screaming over it all to B-E AGGRESSIVE.
Tyler and I have been drilling hard all week in practice, and Coach has made us run a fake snap over and over. Ty drops back to pass, and I dart out of the line and run behind him. He throws his arm forward like he's passing but drops the ball back to me. Hopefully, this will draw off the defensive line and allow me to shoot out the side and run for my freaking life down the side of the field. The first time we ran the play, Coach had told only the two of us and it worked like a charm. By the time our defensive line had figured out Tyler didn't have the ball, I was in the end zone. I could hear Tyler cussing a blue streak at
Brandon Sears. He's this monster black dude who transferred in from Jefferson last year. Six feet five inches and roughly the size of an apartment complex. We call him Sears Tower. He just about crushed Tyler's spinal column, but we ran the play two other times, and it was only the third time that they were looking for it. Still made a five-yard gain before I got flattened. Just glad it wasn't Brandon. I'd like to live to see my eighteenth birthdayâwhich is tomorrow, actually. I'll be able to vote this year. And be drafted. But not drink. Legally, anyway. Weird that I'll be old enough to die for my country but not to buy beer. That regulation is screwed up. If I can be taught to fly a fighter jet, I should be trusted with a six-pack of Corona.
Not that I'll have any shortage of beer tomorrow night. Monica's parents are out of town, and she's throwing this monster surprise party for me at her place tomorrow night. I'm not supposed to know about it, but like we always say around here, the two fastest forms of communication are text message and Tyler-phone. Somehow he's sweet-talked an ex of his older brother's into getting him two kegs. She and her friends are supposed to bring them over to Monica's after the game. Why college girls want to hang out at a high school kegger is beyond me.