Getting schooled, p.12
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       Getting Schooled, p.12
 

           Emma Chase
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  He could give me a hand, all right . . . a hand, a finger . . . two of Garrett's fingers was always my favorite.

  "Thank you, yes. That would be . . ."

  Fuck-hot? Incredible? So mind-blowing my hair will turn white?

  ". . . great."

  Garrett smirks, raising an eyebrow--like he can read my mind--and at this point, I have no doubt he can.

  I look to Michael. "Can you show them what we need from the storage closet?"

  Garrett and his boys follow Michael out of the theater.

  Then Toby flips through the script in his hands, shaking his head. "I don't know about this anymore. The idea of doing some of this stuff is pretty weird--they're gonna laugh at us. I don't want to look like a frigging idiot."

  Classic case of cold feet. They want the play to be good . . . but they don't trust me to show them how to make it good. Not fully, not yet.

  "You're only going to look like idiots if you hold back, if you try to play it off like you're too cool for school." I slouch and shrug the way David sometimes does, garnering soft giggles from the class. "But if you let it all go, throw yourself into your part--the only thing anyone will see is how amazing you are. That's why trust between the director and the performers is so important. If you trust me, I promise . . . I won't let you look like idiots." I meet their eyes and swear, "And I sure as hell will never let anyone have a reason to laugh at you. Not ever."

  "You should show them the thing." Garrett's voice echoes in the theater, surprising me. I spin around to find him leaning against the stage-left wall--all mesmerizing, cocky confidence.

  I know "the thing" of which he speaks. It was a trick I used to do for him to show off--back after our sophomore-year class trip to Manhattan to see Les Miserables.

  I shake my head. "I don't want to do the thing. I don't even know if I still can."

  He scoffs. "Of course you still can."

  "What's the thing?" Simone pipes up.

  "The thing," Garrett answers, "is why you should listen to Miss Carpenter. Why you should trust her. She knows her shit."

  David grins crookedly. "Okay, now you have to show us the thing."

  I sigh dramatically. "All right. But it's been a while, so be kind."

  I shake out my hands and crack my neck--and do a few vocal warm-ups.

  Garrett cups his hands around his gorgeous mouth. "Stop stalling."

  I stick my tongue out at him and the whole class laughs.

  And then I begin. I perform the full cast version of "One Day More" from Les Miserables--I step to the side, turn to the left or right, cross my arms, pound my fist into my hand, change my posture, the key of my voice, my facial expression--to differentiate each character. I'm just one person, but with each line, I become--Jean Valjean, Cosette, Marius, Eponine, Inspector Javert--I become them all. I don't look at my audience, but past them, towards the back of the theater, until I close my eyes on the very last rousing note.

  Slowly, I open my eyes and every one of my kids is staring at me like I have four heads. Until David starts to clap--loud and quick--and like baby ducks, the rest of them follow, until a full-on applause rings out. Garrett puts his fingers to his lips and whistles.

  And it's ten times better than any standing ovation I've ever received.

  "Holy crap." Bradley stands up. "That was sick!"

  It's okay--sick is good.

  "Can you teach us how to do that?" Toby asks.

  "Yeah." I nod. "Yeah, actually, I can."

  The bell shrieks from the hallway and the kids grab their stuff and head towards the door.

  "We'll pick this up tomorrow," I call after them. "And it's never too early to start memorizing your lines!"

  In the midst of the shuffle, I make my way over to where Garrett's still standing against the wall, arms crossed, waiting for me. I lean in towards him, as much as I can without setting the high school gossip mill on fire . . . or jumping him.

  "That was sexy as fuck," Garrett growls low, making me blush like the virgin I was before I met him.

  "You always did have a thing for Les Miserables," I tease him.

  And his smile hits me right in the center of my chest, making feel giddy and silly and light--like my feet aren't on the ground. He makes me feel that way.

  "Thanks for helping me with them--for trying to get them to trust me."

  He tucks a rogue strand of hair behind my ear. "Anytime."

  Garrett stares at my mouth, his brown eyes intense and swirling--filled with carnal thoughts and desperate, delightful ideas. "Come over tonight, Cal. Even if it's just for an hour or ten minutes, I don't care. I'll feed you ramen and do dirty things to you."

  I laugh. How could any girl say no to an offer like that?

  Chapter Thirteen

  Garrett

  No, no, no--as if this season wasn't already a flaming bag of dog shit . . . as if being 0-3 wasn't humiliating enough to make me want to burn the school down . . . now this, on game day.

  "Walk away, dude," Dean whispers to himself, because he gets it too. "Keep your mouth shut and walk away."

  Damon John--my star receiver and his long-term girlfriend, Rhonda, are having an argument--a loud, public, right in the middle of the fucking D wing-break-up, kind of argument. The crowd's about six students deep, but Dean and I can hear every word.

  "You broke my heart. You only get to do that once."

  I like Rhonda; she's a good girl for DJ--sweet, smart, doesn't take any of his stupid shit. But it would seem Damon John has forgotten that fact.

  "Whatever, baby." He shrugs, looking right through her. "Been there, done that. I'm over it."

  What a little asshole.

  But that's high school boys for you--back them into a corner and they turn ugly--like Gremlins fed after midnight.

  Rhonda lifts her chin, holding back tears. "Do not text me, do not call me, do not show up at my house. You are dead to me."

  When DJ swallows hard and his eyes flair with uncertainty--I catch it, but I'm probably the only one who does. To the rest of the world, he laughs, blows it off . . . but I know him--studied his every move, so I know better.

  "Works for me. In a few hours, I won't even remember your name."

  Dean covers his eyes. "Dumbass."

  With that, Rhonda turns around and walks away, and doesn't look back. The late bell rings and the crowd disperses.

  I glance at Dean. "DJ and Rhonda were together for two years, man."

  In high school years, that's like twenty.

  "Yeah." He shakes his head. "It's gonna be bad."

  ~

  And bad it is.

  I hear just how much as I walk down the hall towards the locker room after school. The mixture of despair and regret that sounds like a mortally wounded animal . . . but is really a seventeen-year-old boy who's been dumped on his sorry ass.

  I open the door and sure enough, there's DJ lying on his back across the bench, with his forearm across his face, covering his eyes.

  Crying.

  For even the staunchest supporters of the "boys don't cry" rule--a locker room is the exception. A thousand disappointed, heartbroken tears have been shed here.

  Six of my starters surround DJ, without a single clue between them about what to do. If he'd twisted an ankle or cramped a muscle, they'd know. But a busted heart? That's out of their league.

  "I don't get it," Sam Zheng says. "If you still like her, why did you say all that crap to her in the hallway? Why didn't you just say sorry?"

  Ah . . . Sammy, he's a sophomore--still innocent.

  "I don't know," DJ moans. "I didn't mean it." He turns on his side, moaning, "How am I supposed to play tonight? How am I supposed to live without my bae?"

  "Oh damn," Kyle Lanigan gasps. "What if she bangs someone else to get back at you? Or two people . . . a threesome? Dude, she could be doing it right now! Like right now!"

  DJ's face crumples.

  I walk to the bench, move his legs, and sit down.

&nb
sp; Then I sigh. "You screwed up, Deej."

  "I did," he sniffles. "I screwed up so bad, Coach."

  I look around at the faces of my players. "But, this could be a good thing. It's better you all know the truth now, while you're still young."

  They move closer, gathering around, staring at me like I'm Jesus Christ on the mount, about to preach.

  "What's the truth, Coach D?" Wilson asks, wide-eyed.

  I lean forward and lower my voice. "The truth is, when it comes to guys and girls, men and women? We need them, more than they will ever, ever, need us."

  I've passed on a lot of life lessons to these boys, but this may be the most important of them all.

  I mean, Stacey wasn't even that great of a wife, but my brother's a fucking basket case without her. Ryan without Angela? I don't even want to know what kind of disaster that would look like. Hell, my old man can't even make microwave popcorn without my mom telling him what buttons to push.

  And me . . . it's only been a few weeks . . . and the thought of Callie walking out of my life again makes my stomach fold in on itself and twist around in my gut.

  I'm so incredibly screwed.

  "Holy shit," Wilson whispers, his teenage mind utterly blown. "You're right."

  I nod my head. "Damn skippy."

  DJ sits up, wiping his eyes. "I gotta get her back, Coach. I love her, for real. I know we're young, but . . . she's the one . . . the only one for me . . . you know what I mean?"

  I think about green eyes, soft lips, and sweet laughter. I think about the voice I could listen to forever--how I'm captivated by every thought and wish and idea in her fascinating mind. I think about the feel of her arms clinging to me, wanting me--strong and delicate, fire and lace--and the scent of roses and vanilla.

  Oh yeah . . . I know exactly what he means.

  "Okay, then here's what you're going to do . . ."

  He huddles down, the same look on his face as when I'm breaking down a play.

  "First, you kick ass tonight on the field--show her you're a winner. Girls like winners. Then you're gonna admit you acted like a jackass, and tell her you're sorry. Because that's what real men do when they fuck up--they own it."

  "A grand gesture may be in order," Dean suggests, leaning against the wall near the door.

  DJ's face scrunches in deep thought. "What kind of gesture? How?"

  Jesus, have these kids never seen a John Hughes movie? It's times like this I worry about the future of our youth.

  "Do something big, something she won't expect--dedicate a song to her or a Facebook post or one of those Snapgram story things--whatever the hell you kids do now."

  "You get extra points if it involves begging and humiliation," Dean adds.

  I put my arm around his shoulder. "And then . . . maybe Rhonda gives you a second chance. You earn another shot."

  He wipes his nose. "What if she doesn't? What if I really lost her?"

  I pat his back. "It'll hurt like a hell, I'm not going to lie. But you'll get through it. You'll know you gave it your all and that your relationship with her was a moment in your life that you'll never forget. You learn from it, let it make you better. And maybe, down the road, you'll meet someone else and that's how it's supposed to go. Or maybe, one day if it's really meant to be . . . you'll get another chance with her. And if that happens . . ."

  Even if it's twenty years later . . .

  "You make damn sure you don't screw up again."

  ~

  Friday night-home games are always big in Lakeside--and not just because the parents of the players and students are in attendance. The whole frigging town shows up. My parents are here, my brothers, Callie's here with her parents and her sister too. I saw Callie outside my office before the game.

  She let me cop a feel for good luck.

  And then, I took the field with my team.

  No matter how old I am--fourteen or thirty-four--football games all sound the same. The crunch of the pads, the grunts, the war cry, the vicious shit-talking that would reduce grown men to tears, the drumbeats of the band, the chants of the cheerleaders, and shouts of the crowd. They look the same--the glare of the lights, the smoke of our breath, the streaks of dark mud on white uniforms. They smell the same--grass and dirt, popcorn and hot dogs, adrenaline and victory almost within reach.

  But not every game feels the same. Actually, every single one feels different.

  Tonight, there's something extra going on--an electricity in the air that feels like life is about to change. A pressure pushing down on my shoulders and a current of excitement sparking through my veins.

  We're playing North Essex High School. Their defense is top-notch, but tonight my boys are kicking ass and taking names. They're monsters--unstoppable--all their fucks surrendered in the last three losses, with no more left to give. Nothing and no one is getting past them. By the fourth quarter, with only twenty seconds left on the clock, the scoreboard is still 0 to 0. It's the best game we've played all year. The ball is ours and if we don't lock it down with a field goal or touchdown now, we go into overtime.

  "Yes! Nice hit, Dumbrowski!" I clap my hands as the players jog off the field. "Good hustle."

  Parker sprints off the bench to me as the offense moves onto the field. But before I open my mouth to give him the play, he calls it himself.

  "Wishbone forty-two."

  Well, what do you know.

  "That's right. Good call." I smack his helmet encouragingly. "You look different tonight, kid--did you grow last night or something?"

  He snorts, lifting a shoulder and grinning shyly. "I don't know."

  He does look different, but it's not because he grew. It's the way he's carrying himself, the way he walks. Hard work and focus will do that to you. Parker stands straighter, head higher, with a solid surety to his steps. Our extra practices have started paying off--being entrusted as the starting quarterback of a varsity team that has your back is starting to take effect.

  There's an air around him that wasn't there before--Parker Thompson knows where he's going, and more importantly, he knows exactly how he's getting there.

  "No? What'd you eat for breakfast this morning?"

  He shrugs again. "Cereal . . . I think."

  For some kids, direction is all they need. Someone to help them focus, to bring their talents to the forefront. Like a pencil--the lead's already there inside, it just needs to be sharpened.

  "Well, keep it up." I clap my hands. "Come on, let's go."

  Parker nods, his face scrunched and serious. He pops his mouthpiece in and slides his helmet on and yells to the offense as they jog onto the field, "Come on, guys, get on the ball!"

  The players line up and the ball is hiked, but North Essex anticipates our play. The line holds and Parker adjusts, stepping back, dodging, scanning the field, searching for an opening. We've been a running game the last few weeks, so the coverage on our receivers is weak. I know what's going to happen; I can practically see it before the chance comes . . . but more importantly, Parker can too.

  Time stretches, the seconds drag, and everything moves in slow motion. It's like I'm seeing the field through Parker's eyes--every route, every angle. And then it all clicks, snaps hard into place.

  "Wait, wait for it . . ." I whisper as the players push and clash.

  Down field, DJ cuts left at the thirty-yard line, breaking free of the cornerback who's right on his heels.

  "Now." My voice is low and urgent. My eyes dart from Parker to DJ and back again. "Come on, Parker, you got this. Throw it."

  He looks left, steps back, pumps his arm, reaches back, and throws.

  And god damn, it's pretty.

  The ball spirals through the air, high and long and straight, before arching down . . . right into DJ King's hands.

  There's a rush of sound--the cheers of crowd behind me--and my own blood roaring in my ears.

  "Yes! Go, go, fucking run!"

  I hop down the field, like an idiot--it's a coach thing--waving my
arms, telling DJ to run. But I don't need to--he's already hauling ass.

  And just a few seconds later, he sprints into the end zone.

  He spikes the ball and points at me. Christ, I love that kid. I point right back at him. And the ref raises his hands, just as the clock runs out, signaling a motherfucking touchdown for the Lions.

  The first of our season . . . our first win. Hell yeah.

  You'd think we just won the Super Bowl--that's how it feels. The kids go nuts, rushing the field, hugging each other, bumping chests and smacking helmets.

  DJ tears off his helmet, hops the fence, sprints up the stands to the announcer's box. There's the squeal of feedback, and then his breathless voice yells out of the speakers.

  "I love you, Rhonda! I'm sorry I'm an asshole, but I love you, baby! That was for you!"

  Dean appears at my right, pounding my shoulder. "That's how we do it! Back in the saddle, D!"

  And I smack his back. "Damn straight, man."

  I jog out to the field and shake Tim Daly's hand, the North Essex High School coach. And as I turn around and jog back towards the bench, I spot Callie, on the other side of the fence, watching me.

  She stands beside Mrs. Carpenter's wheelchair. She's wearing a black Lakeside football T-shirt under a puffy gray coat. She has a white knit cap over her blond hair that's fuck-hot in a really cute kind of way. Her eyes are like two shiny emeralds beneath the bright field lights, and as she lifts her hand and waves to me, her pretty lips slide into a bursting, exhilarated kind of smile.

  And just like that . . . I'm gone all over again.

  I don't stop jogging until I'm at the fence.

  "Hey."

  Callie tilts her head. "Nice game, Coach."

  "Yeah . . . yeah, it was a good one." I smile down at Callie's mom. "Mrs. Carpenter, can I take Callie out tonight? You can have my cell phone, keep it right next to you, and call us if there's any problems."

  If that doesn't work, I'm prepared to offer my little brother a thousand dollars to babysit them for the night.

  Mrs. Carpenter waves her hand. "We'll be fine. You kids worry too much. Go have fun; have her home by lunchtime tomorrow."

  Just when I thought this night couldn't get better--it blows better out of the frigging water.

  "I can do that." I nod.

  That's when the little bastards I coach decide to dump a cooler of Gatorade down my back. It's cold, like a thousand icicles stabbing my spine at once, and I have a sense of how Caesar felt when he got taken out by his Senate. Et tu, shitheads? But I take it like a man. I push a wet hand through my hair and lick some of the liquid off my top lip.

 
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