Authors: Flynn Meaney
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction / Social Issues / General
“Four of our starters transferred,” Damian tells me.
Damian’s a good guy, and he knows a surprising shitload about football, even though he spends most of his time in his basement, playing
World of Warcraft
“So they’ve gotta move up the guys from the bench,” Damian says.
“And they’ve gotta recruit new schmucks to sit on the bench,” Dave says.
“One of which is…” Derek says as he points his arm toward the field.
I turn around and shield my eyes from the sun. The guys on the field are getting into position, wearing those dumb nylon jerseys we have to wear in gym class, and our dumb gym teacher, who always blows his whistle too loud and is our new football coach, is out there. That’s when I see him.
“What?” I balk, turning back to Derek. “What the hell? Eugene is out there?”
Derek’s leaning back against the bleachers with both of his arms outstretched, and he’s got the biggest grin on his face.
“Eugene’s out there.”
“He’s trying out for the football team? Is this a joke? Is he trying to bust everyone’s balls?”
“He’s trying out for the football team,” Derek says, nodding.
“They really need guys,” Damian says. “They’re desperate. The coach even tried to recruit Dave.”
“As if,” mutters Dave. “Fuckers.”
“Obviously, Dave told them to fuck off.” Derek laughs. “But Eugene embraced it as part of his master plan.”
“He thinks he’s gonna get into Bobbi’s pants,” Dave says. “But he’s not.”
“So, what, Eugene thinks that girls only give it up to big, manly football players?” I say.
“No, you antifeminist,” Derek corrects me. “Bobbi’s on the tennis team, and the tennis team and football team work out at the same time. They’ll be hitting the gym together.”
Down on the field, Eugene’s sprinting up and down the sidelines. After about three sprints, he looks winded. I sit down next to Derek, who’s taken his lighter out of his pocket and is flipping it up over and over with his thumb.
“Hey,” I say to him. “How do you know all this? When did Eugene tell you about his master plan?”
Derek shrugs. “Last week. He took me out, and we had a heart-to-heart. He bought me waffle fries.”
“Dammit,” I say, shaking my hair into my eyes to block out the sun. “Eugene’s supposed to have heart-to-hearts with me. He’s supposed to buy
Shrugging, Derek says, “He said he called you, but you were asleep.”
Down on the field, the recruits are in position, and Eugene got put on the defensive line. Guys on the defensive line face the biggest guys on the field—the offensive linemen. Eugene, who’s neither built like a brick wall nor particularly fast, isn’t the best fit for the position. Right as the whistle blows, he charges forward and heads directly for Chung, who’s playing offense.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you get a black eye in touch football.
Meanwhile, all of us on the bleachers start to laugh. “Maybe we should be taping this for YouTube,” Derek says.
“Maybe we should be calling my chiropractor,” Damian says, sounding genuinely worried.
Once the excitement is over, the other guys take off, but I wait around for Eugene, who makes it through the rest of the tryout and even hangs out afterward, trying to be “the man,” slapping hands with all the guys on the team.
“Yo, Tim Tebow!” I call to him from the fence. “Let’s move it along here.”
Finally he gets off the field, and we head back to the school together. I’m on my longboard, weaving along the path, and Eugene’s walking next to me, chugging Gatorade.
“How’d I look out there?” Eugene asks me, in between huge gulps.
“Well…” I tilt my heels back so the longboard turns away from Eugene. Just then, Bobbi comes off the tennis court at the same time we’re walking by.
“Hi, Eugene! Hi, Hunter!” she says, coming toward us, holding her racket. “Hunter, are you trying out, too?”
“For the football team?
,” I tell her, shaking my hair into my face.
“You should!” Bobbi encourages. “They need guys! And you look like you’re in good shape!”
I just kinda laugh. I’m in terrible shape.
Speaking of people who are in terrible shape, Eugene asks Bobbi, “How was practice? Did you get the new serve down?”
“Not totally perfect,” Bobbi says, shaking her head. Her forehead is all sweaty, but even her sweat is sexy. “But how was practice for you? How was the first day of tryouts?”
“I think everyone was impressed,” Eugene says, all serious and thoughtful. “Those calf exercises we did together, I really felt those. I was pretty quick off the blocks, ya know?”
“Foot speed is important,” Bobbi agrees, nodding. “We’ll do more of those tomorrow.”
Eugene turns to me and explains, “I told Bobbi I was trying out for the team, so she took me to the gym this weekend to show me how to work out. She’s been giving me some great tips on building muscle.”
“Uh-huh,” I say, grinning.
were supposed to bring me that mineral bath soak,” Bobbi says. “My sore muscles need it!” When she says
, she pokes Eugene in the shoulder and laughs.
“I will!” Eugene says. “Text me to remind me!”
I’m seriously impressed. I mean, Eugene put his seduction plan into action on Friday night; it’s only Monday, and he’s already got Bobbi’s number,
her workout tips. As Bobbi walks Eugene and me back toward the school, I realize the weirdest part of this conversation isn’t the fact that Eugene takes baths. Instead, it’s that I think it’s possible that Bobbi Novak might be—as Derek would say—feelin’ the kid.
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always liked meetings with my guidance counselor. They get you out of class. Plus, the guidance office is awesome. It has these cinnamon plug-in air fresheners, so it always smells like Christmas. Plus, my guidance counselor, Ms. Duff, keeps a bowl of candy on her desk. She’s got some good stuff in there, like little bags of Sour Patch Kids.
My meetings with Ms. Duff have pretty much followed the same pattern since freshman year. She asks me, “How are you
?” in this understanding voice and tries to figure out if I’ve got any big emotional crisis going on. I never do, which I think disappoints her.
Then she’ll talk about how awesome my standardized test scores are. I do pretty well on those kinds of tests—the ones you don’t have to study for. I kicked ass on the PSATs. At my meeting in the spring, Ms. Duff said I was “highly
gifted” and called me a “natural test taker.” She showed me all these charts that said I was some kind of math genius. She moved me up to precalculus and signed me up for AP chem.
Usually, after she strokes my ego, she gives me a pep talk about putting more effort into my homework and essays and all that crap.
This meeting seems different, though. It’s October now, which is when juniors are supposed to start planning for college applications. Maybe it’s because meetings about college stuff are supposed to be intense, or maybe Ms. Duff is stressed out because the other guidance counselor left, but I’m getting a bad vibe from her. First of all, the candy bowl is missing. Even worse, Ms. Duff is armed with her Fahrenbach file, which has all my grades and test scores in it, and she launches right into the investigation.
“What happened on this precalculus test last week, Mr. Fahrenbach?” Ms. Duff asks. “Can you tell me why you got a sixty-eight?”
“Uh… well… that was a pretty tough test,” I say. “There were some trick questions at the end, I think. Everyone in the class was, like, freaking out.”
“The class average was a ninety-two.”
She also has the class averages for every test, quiz, and essay from this year.
“When are you going to complete this lab report for
AP chemistry? Why were you late for U.S. history every day last week? Why didn’t you participate in the President’s Physical Fitness Test?”
Man, I’ve got to get some excuses going. I can’t tell Ms. Duff that I skipped the President’s Physical Fitness Test to sit in the locker room and eat a White Castle burger.
“Well, for me, it’s like…”
I try to pull myself up so I’m sitting straight in the chair, so I look more serious. But the chair is really soft leather, so I’m still slouching.
“What about this pop quiz in humanities?” Ms. Duff demands.
Ms. Duff looks up from the file. “Honestly, Hunter,” she begins—I’m Hunter now, instead of Mr. Fahrenbach—“you shouldn’t even be taking this humanities course. You should be in AP English.”
Ms. Duff shuts the Fahrenbach file.
“Hunter,” she says, “I am now the guidance counselor for every single student at this school. I know everyone’s abilities. I know everyone’s grades. So I know that you are more intelligent than ninety-five percent of the students here.
“But almost every single one of them,” Ms. Duff continues, “is trying harder than you.”
I don’t want to look Ms. Duff in the eyes, but everything I look at in this office reminds me what a slacker I
am—the college pennants, the books about writing a killer résumé.
“What about extracurriculars?” Ms. Duff asks.
“Um, I’m in the band,” I say. “But… I guess that’s… The band doesn’t exist anymore. But I still play! I play the guitar, too, at home. And I write some stuff. I write some of my own music.”
“Okay, that’s good,” Ms. Duff says, nodding. But she doesn’t write anything down. “Is there anything you can do with music? Any way to show your leadership skills?”
“Leadership skills?” I ask. “Like, uh, conducting an orchestra or something?”
“Maybe organizing a concert for senior citizens at a nursing home? Fund-raising to buy instruments for underprivileged kids?” Ms. Duff says. “You need to connect to other people. You need to show colleges that you’re involved with your community. You must care about something, Hunter.”
“Well, I care about music. I do.”
“It’s time to prove it,” Ms. Duff says. Then she stands up behind her desk and extends her hand. I don’t think a teacher has ever tried to shake my hand before, but I try to hide my surprise and give her a firm handshake, because Eugene’s always lecturing me about how important it is to give a firm handshake.
As I push open the double doors to the hallway and breathe in the normal, bad-smelling hallway air, I see
Kelly and Chung’s sister Kristin coming out of the nurse’s office.
“Here you go,” Kelly says, handing Kristin a coat and two books. “This is what was in your locker. Is there anything else?”
Kristin is coughing up a lung, and Kelly reaches out and touches her back and says, “Feel better, okay? Lemme know if you need anything.”
Suddenly a lightbulb goes on in my head. This is exactly who I need right now. Kelly and I have been in band together since freshman year, and we have a bunch of other classes together, too. She’s always showing up to class on time and lending people pencils. I sprint down the hallway toward Kelly and stop short right in front of her.
“Hunter!” she says, surprised to look up and have me panting right in her face. “Are you okay? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you… run… before.”
“I’m good,” I say. “I’m really good. I was just thinking… I’ve been thinking about the music program. Ya know, the kids not learning music. Remember? In the band room?”
“Yeah, of course, the third-graders,” Kelly says.
“I want to do it,” I tell her. “Let’s do the thing, the peer thing. Let’s teach them. You and me.”
“We should!” Kelly says. “We should start figuring it out. Maybe for next year? We’d have to get permission, and find a teacher who would—”
“No! Let’s do it this year. Let’s get some instruments, get some kids, and get going.”
Kelly smiles, and her eyes crinkle up at the edges. That sounds weird, or not cute, but it’s actually really cute.
“Okay, I don’t know how long it will take to get going,” she says, laughing a little bit. “But we can get going.”
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hich one of you is flam tap?” Hunter asks. “And which one is paradiddle?”
It’s third period on a Thursday in mid-October, and Hunter is holding a drumstick in each hand and pacing the bandstand behind three of our third-graders, who are sitting in chairs with drum pads on their laps. One is this tiny girl with two pigtails that stick straight out of her head, and the other two are boys—one calm and one with no front teeth.
“I’m flam tap!” No-Teeth Kid says, raising his hand and drumstick really high in the air.
Hunter takes his sticks and poises them over No-Teeth Kid’s head. Gently, he taps the kid’s head with each stick in rapid succession, saying, “flam,” and then with only the right stick, saying, “tap.”
No-Teeth Kid loves getting hit in the head—even really, really lightly. When Hunter is done, the third-grader tilts his head back and gives Hunter a gummy smile.