Chapter 5 of Valerie's story.
|Chapter Five - The Practice|
Slowly the gears of injustice continued to grind at the principal’s office. Mr. Williams decided he didn’t want to see Valerie or Drew again that day, particularly Valerie. So, it was the assistant principal who eventually came to room 101 and told Drew he had a cooling off period in the in-school suspension room for the rest of the day. He added Drew also had detention after school. They would tell him what other disciplinary consequences he had before he went home.
Valerie fumed. Then, the assistant principal pulled Drew from room 101 and started walking Drew down to the in-school suspension room. As she started to walk down with them, the assistant principal said to her, “You aren’t coming with us. You should be in class now. Actually what you’re doing now is skipping class.”
She said, “Yeah, that’s what you were told to say to me as you scooped him up, right? And you know why Mr. Williams is having you do it? Because you’re too dense or too cowardly to not do what he tells you to do. Disciplining Drew for behavior that’s related to his handicapping condition, as he is in the special education room with whatever label he has, but I’m guessing that’s LD or MR, although which doesn’t matter because any way you slice it, is illegal. It violates his right to an education. So if you don’t want me raising a big stink about that down the road, you’ll appreciate our cooperation right now, which you don’t deserve in the least, and you’ll “let” me come along. Listen, this won’t take long, I just want to make sure Zach and Carl aren’t in that room, which I’m about one hundred percent certain they won’t be. Plus, I need to make certain that that room looks all cozy and safe, like you all aren’t throwing Drew into another poorly supervised, unsafe situation, much more a trap. Does all that sound reasonable, Drew?
“All that sound reasonable, Valerie,” said Drew as he looked the assistant principal in the eyes.
He said nothing to this.
So when they got there, she opened the door to see three pathetic students in there with a bored supervisor. None of those students were Zach or Carl.
“All right, Drew,” she said to him. “This looks good. You only have an hour until the regular school day is done. I’ll be here when you come out. OK?”
He said, “Valerie a kick ass girlfriend..”
She said, “And you’re all that and a bag of chips.” She thought and then she asked him, “Do you actually want to try out for the football team?”
Drew said, “It look fun on TV, but cut in Valerie time after school.”
“If I sat in the bleachers and watched you during some practices and all the games, and if I rah-rahed and cheered your name a lot from there, would that suffice as not cutting into after school Valerie time?” she asked.
Drew smiled wide and said, “C’mon. Show off you some practices and every game?! Want so bad, that great after school Valerie time!”
“OK, got it. Bye, babe,” she said.
“Later girl,” said Drew, as he went into the in-school suspension room.
She lied and said to the assistant principal, ”Off to class now!” as she walked down the hallway.
Then the shaken, befuddled assistant principal took some time to process all that had happened there.
A minute later she knocked on Coach Cahill’s office door off the boys’ locker room. “It’s open,” Coach Cahill said.
She went in. Coach Cahill was standing on one leg as he had his other foot on his chair. He was rubbing his pot belly stomach over his shirt as he read a magazine that was opened up on his desk.
He didn’t even raise his eyes to her as he said, “Girls aren’t supposed to be in here. There’s a window to the boys’ dressing room in here. Now amscray toots, can’t you see I’m busy?”
She said, “I’ll avert my eyes, and I won’t have to for too long because I’m about two seconds from doing just that, leaving. And when I do, I can tell you that Drew will not be coming to your football practice today. Or ever, for that matter.”
“Drew’s girlfriend, right?” he asked, although he still didn’t look up from his magazine as he said this. “OK, you got my attention, talk to me...”
“He’s in in-school now, and he’s got detention after school,” she said.
“No, he doesn’t. He’ll be at my practice this afternoon. Problem solved. Dismissed,” he said as he stared at his magazine.
“Whether he’s going to be at your practice is still up in the air. I’m thinking I’m not super enthused at the idea of him playing for an idiot and a douche, like you are,” she said.
Coach Cahill said, “I take offense to that. I’m not an idiot. And he’s not playing for me yet, he’s trying out to make the team.” Still he had not removed his eyes from his magazine to even look at her once.
She said, “No, he’s not. It’s the other way around. You’re trying out for us this afternoon, to see if we can stomach him playing for you. I know you already know how he easily embarrassed two of your senior and best players during lunch with one hand tied behind his back. Otherwise you wouldn’t have taken care of his detention, already. Hey, by the way, thanks for not getting him out of in-school suspension.”
“Best players?! I never said that. Who ever said Carl and Zach were my best players?” he asked.
“Nobody, except for maybe them,” she said. “But they are two of your best players, and you know it. And they aren’t very good, and you know that too. Your team is going to suck this year, and everyone knows that, especially you. And we both know there are a ton of football-crazed parents that would like to see you replaced, and are breathing down your neck on a daily basis to boot.”
“You are really ruining my penthouse forum time here, sweetie,” he said as he closed his magazine, opened his desk drawer, threw the magazine in there in disgust, and then closed the drawer. He sat in his chair, leaned back, and put his feet up on his desk. He asked, “What do you want?”
“Carl and Zach are not going to be at practice today. If they are at practice, Drew is a no show,” she said.
“Done,” he said. “Next.”
“Yeah, like I’m supposed to believe that?” she asked.
He groaned and took his feet off his desk. He leaned forward and hit a button on his desk’s intercom.
“Main office,” the secretary said.
“This is Coach Cahill. Will you announce over the main speakers that Zachery Young and Carl Everett are to report to my office immediately.”
“Yes,” said the office secretary and then she clicked off.
“Anything else?” he asked
“Yeah,” she said, as she heard the office secretary call for Zach and Carl over the main speakers. “Two more things. You will personally supervise the locker room when everyone suits up before practice. I don’t want any of your out of control monsters to make the mistake of messing with Drew as he dresses. I will be standing outside the outside gym doors as you all come out for practice. If Drew says that you weren’t in there and keeping everyone in line, he does not set foot on your field, ever. Understand?”
“C’mon,” complained Coach Cahill. “That’s assistant coach crap. Are you really that worried about him so much, momma bear?’
“No,’ she said. “I’m worried about one of your dumb players, or three of your dumb players, saying sometime stupid to him. Then I have to spend two weeks dealing with the consequences of him stuffing all of them into their lockers, Carl trash can style.”
“All right, fine, I’ll babysit the change this afternoon,” said Coach Cahill. “I won’t ever, ever do that again though. This is the first and last time. I’m a busy guy. What’s the last thing?” he asked.
“I’m just going to wait here and make sure you tell Carl and Zach to go home today, and right after school with no loitering around this afternoon,” she said.
He smiled and said, “You want to watch a charismatic professional perform his job to perfection. I get it.”
“You’re amazing,” she said in disgust.
“Yeah, I know. Watch and learn, baby-doll,” he said.
Just then Zach and Carl entered his office. Both looked surprised at Valerie’s presence. Zach went to take a seat.
“Don’t bother sitting, Zach. This won’t take long,” said Coach Cahill. “I don’t want neither of you monkeys at practice today. At last bell, get on your buses, or whatever other means of transport you use to get from A to B, and go home. Come to school tomorrow, pretend that you’re learning stuff during during the day, and then suit up for the game after.”
Carl said, “But Coach, that’s…”
Coach Cahill snapped his fingers a bunch of times quickly. He said, “Wasting my time. Does this look like debate club in here? Last bell! No practice for you today! Leave the grounds, fake doing school stuff tomorrow, then get suited for the game. And try to impress me when you play, cause neither of you has yet. Now don’t let your asses hit my door on your way out. Seriously, no joke. Leave.”
Zach and Carl looked at each other and then they left.
“Lots of gems in there, right?” said Coach Cahill. “You can use them for your own purposes in the future if you want.”
“You’re amazing. “ she said, shaking her head.
“Is that the best gem you have in return? Weak, plus you already said that. Are we done here?” he asked.
“Very,” she said as she left.
As Drew entered the locker room, everyone was just starting to suit up. A bored and very annoyed Coach Cahill saw him. He said, “Wezell, your gear is in that bag over there. If anything’s too small, we’ll get you something bigger. If anything’s too big, deal with it without any bitching. You can use locker seventeen.”
“Thank you,” said Drew, smiling as he picked up his bag.
As he walked to his locker, he whistled a little nine note tune he composed himself just moments before. He did it repeatedly as he continued to smile. He sat down on a free spot on the bench in front of his locker. He began pulling his stuff out of his bag, but he messed up part of his little whistle tune up. As he started to undress, he tried to work on that more. So he started whistling those specific two notes repeatedly again, in rapid succession, as more and more of the football players stopped changing and talking to look at him.
He didn’t notice this as yet. He just smiled and whistled those two notes back and forth very quickly. When he finally looked up, he saw the whole row of players staring at him like they couldn’t believe him. All were quiet.
They had all heard about the whole lunch thing, of course. The whole school had.
“Sorry,” he said cheerfully. “Just learn how whistle today from Valerie. It fun, but see how annoy. Stop now.” Then he was quiet as he continued to change.
They were all quiet at this for a time. Including Coach Cahill. Then they resumed changing and talking.
A short time later Valerie saw the players starting to come out the gym’s doors. They were laughing and “amped” and ready for practice. She saw Coach Cahill come out. Then after a couple more players came out, Drew appeared. He smiled and waved at her across the lot. As more players streamed out, he immediately left the line to walk across the parking lot to her. She thought he looked adorable in his football stuff, especially since he still had his regular high top sneakers on. They both started to walk to the field together, separate from all the rest.
Coach Cahill yelled at him, “Wezell! The rule is no fraternizing with dopey females while suited!”
Drew called back deeply and challengingly, “Good, then no break rule! And no say other way or feel insult girlfriend, like lunch time!”
Valerie, the players, and even Coach Cahill were surprised by this. They all got quiet. As so, most of them could hear Drew change his tone and enthusiastically say, “Hey Valerie! I already get better! Listen!” And then he started whistling his little, nine note tune with the biggest smile he could make on his face and still manage to whistle as well.
When they finally made it to the edge of the field, she said, “They’re going to try to take that out on you, on the field...”
Drew said, “That plan before anyway.”
She smiled and said, “I’ll be in those bleachers. Good luck.”
Once settled on the bleachers, she started to do her European studies as she occasionally watched the practice. It started off non dramatic. They did stretching, calisthenics, and sprints. Then they kicked it up a notch. They ran drills. During the blocking drill she saw that a lot of the players were gunning for Drew, but he had no problem with it and he effortlessly bested them all. She could see he was taking it easy on them too. Nevertheless he was starting to impress them too, some in a good way, but others in a challenging way that threatened or angered them.
Then Coach Cahill shouted it was time to run some plays. This was really when the fun was going to start, she knew. She set aside her textbook to do nothing but watch. They put Drew in as running back and he joined the offensive huddle.
Rob was quarterback and he led the huddle. “Drew,” he said.
Drew looked at him and he said cheerfully, “Hey! You Janice boyfriend!”
Rob couldn’t help himself and he smiled a little. He said, “Drew, they want to see what you can do.” To the group he said, “Half back pitch, run to the right. And I want to see you guys actually fucking blocking. On two, Break!” he said.
As the players lined up, Rob said to Drew, “You’re going to stand here. When I’m snapped the ball there, you start running a little to the right. Then I’m going to pitch the ball underhand to you. You catch it, and keep running right. Try to get as far as you can down the field. Got it?”
“Yes,” said Drew.
“Good luck, man,” said Rob.
Meanwhile the defense huddle was much shorter. Cody, the defensive captain, said, “They’re going to give it to Dog-Boy. Then we’re all going to fucking cream his ass.”
Someone said, “Hey, that sounded pretty gay!”
Everyone laughed. Then Cody said, “Break!”
Now both lines were formed. Rob barked the count and said, “Hike.” Drew was in motion and Rob pitched him the ball. Drew caught it as he continued to run right looking for a hole in the line. There wasn’t one, so soon the defensive players came in for him.
He dodged the first one, broke through the arm tackle of the next, and when two of them converged on him, he used just enough strength to split through them with his lowered shoulder. Nevertheless, despite his restraint, both players were knocked off their feet. Then he was past the line and running down the field. He stiff armed the strong safety aside when he went to tackle him. Lastly, he outran the corner until he ran into the endzone.
He was smiling as he turned around, but as he started to jog back to the players, he saw one of the players he had run through was limping and was having a hard time catching his breath.
His jogging slowed until he came to a stop. His face fell. Then he started to walk off the field toward Valerie.
Moments later, they were walking in the parking lot toward the gym when Coach Cahill caught them. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, where do you think you’re going?!” he cried.
Valerie said, “Well, it’s really not any of your business, but I’m going to the library and Drew’s going to detention.”
“What?! Why?!” said Coach Cahill.
“You wouldn’t understand,” she said.
“Yeah, probably not, because all that crap sounded like women’s talk, but try,” he said in disbelief.
“Well, Drew doesn’t want to hurt anyone out there. So he doesn’t want to play football,” she said. And just for humor, she added, “As such, this frees up his afternoon back up. He thinks it’s only fair that he should be in detention right now, for getting in a fight.”
Then Drew said earnestly, “And Valerie go library get catch up on schoolwork.”
Coach Cahill just stood there staring at them with his mouth wide open.
She said while smiling, “I told you you wouldn’t understand.”
“This is football! Hurting people is the name of the game!” Coach Cahill shouted as he waved his arms around.
“I no know that,” said Drew.
Coach Cahill tried to reason with him. “Listen Wezell! If you aren’t running over and through people and hurting them, someone else will be anyway. The injuries are still the same! But you don’t get any of the glory! Look! Colewell’s has already walked it off and is playing again! C’mon on, son! Get back in there!” he said as he waved his hand enthusiastically toward the field.
Now it was Valerie’s turn to stare at him with her mouth open.
“Drew wanted do football. No want hurt someone. No hurt someone now, still afraid hurt someone soon time,” he said sadly.
Valerie turned and she looked at him. He looked very disappointed. She didn’t realize how badly he wanted to play.
“Drew, I think there may be a way for you to play football without hurting anyone. Would you want to try that?” she asked.
But before he could answer, Coach Cahill said, “No there isn’t!
She rolled her eyes and said, “Yes, there is. Protecting vulnerable people is his jam, believe me. But hurting people isn’t. You put Drew in the wrong position by not putting him in the right position.”
Coach Cahill now knew where she was going with this. He said, “But did you see what he did out there?! He was better than I dreamed he’d be, and those dreams were already really wet. I want him to carry the ball! We’ll win every game!”
“Hey, beggars can’t be choosers,” she said.
Coach Cahill almost looked at little hurt by this, and she cringed in thinking that one of her new, novel insults may have actually found home
She said to him, “Listen, buck up kiddo. I know you’re already picturing him opening up big old holes in defensive lines for your backs to run through. And I can see you’re also starting to envision him giving your talented, but beleaguered, and so ineffective quarterback, the best protection no money can buy, in your mind’s eye, right?”
“Go on, don’t stop, this is better than the penthouse forum…” Coach Cahill said in anticipation as he rubbed his pot belly while looking off dreamily.
“Now think of those holes as the Grand Canyon, and picture that protection as FBI approved. You’ll win games with him there too,” she said.
Coach Cahill's eyes refocused and said to her, “I’m thinking guard.”
“I’m thinking center would be better,” she said. “Because he’s wicked smart too.”
“Yeah, but he’s a little undersized for center,” said Coach Cahill as he tried to look like he had misgivings about this.
“Funny,” she said.
She and Coach Cahill both spent some time explaining to Drew the very basics of how to play center, right there in the parking lot.
Soon all three were walking back toward the field. As they neared, she slid off to take her “position” on the bleachers. Coach Cahill barked, “Mercogliano out. Wezell center.”
Drew ran onto the field and took his spot in the huddle.
Rob glanced at him for a moment. He thought for a bit, then he called for a back run up the middle off of a three count. As the offensive line formed, he hung onto Drew for a bit and explained what he wanted him to do.
Drew took to his stance behind the ball. He gripped it. Meanwhile, Cody (and the biggest player on the team) had set himself up in front of Drew in the nose guard position. From his low crouch in front of Drew, he said, “Oh, look, drama boy is back.”
Drew looked confused for a second. He said, “Who drama boy? Everyone call me Dog-Boy.”
Rob crisply said, “Hut one, hut two, hut three, hike!” Drew snapped the ball between his legs to Rob, then he stepped back with his left leg while keeping his right planted. Cody came right in but Drew won the inside hand battle to get them on Cody's chest. He raised upwards and pushed, driving Cody from his low stance. Cody went from halted to unbalanced. As Drew continued to push him, Cody stumbled backwards onto the turf.
The fullback broke through this hole and ran for twelve yards before the middle linebacker recovered from pass coverage to tackle him.
The offense huddled again. Rob called for a pass play. As they broke and formed, he said to Drew that this was just a one count, and he told Drew to just block any man who came down the middle from trying to sack his ass.
Rob said, “Hut one, hike.” Drew snapped the ball and remained low in his stance. When the middle linebacker came up the middle, he simply locked him up with blocks that the linebacker couldn’t shake.
It wasn’t the spectacular play the last one was, but it was him doing what needed to be done. During this time Rob had dropped three steps back, and then bounced into his throwing stance. As the rest of his line held, he looked off his first wide receiver who was covered, but when saw his second receiver had a step on his man as he cut across the middle, he threw it ten yards to him with a perfect lead. His receiver caught it in stride and ran down the field for another ten yards before he was caught by the corner who pursued him.
Coach Cahill smiled and he yelled, “OK ladies, that’s enough scrimmage. Everyone stretch out. Higgs, lead the stretches. Then everyone take five and hydrate good. After that we’ll have a team meeting right here on the field.”
As Rob sat down next to Drew to do his stretches, he said, “That was fucking nice. I hardly ran any pass plays last game, and I still got sacked three times. The first game was just as bad, with hurries up the ying yang and more sacks. That game I fumbled twice because of the non-stop pressure. I can’t wait to be able to air the ball out some tomorrow without running for my life. With the middle of our line better taken care of, and some better pass protection now, the opposing defenses won’t know it’s just going to be run play after run play. Now we’ll be able to mix passing plays in with the run plays. That gives defenses fits.”
Drew said, “I not understand all Rob say.”
Rob said, “Don’t be out fucking sick tomorrow. Understand that?”
“Yes,” said Drew. Then he smiled and started practicing his whistling some more.
Rob looked at him curiously. After a while he asked, “You don’t have any cleats?”
“No,” said Drew, and then he started whistling again.
“Listen, quit with the whistling for a minute,” said Rob. Drew stopped. Rob said, “You can’t play football in sneakers for fuck’s sake. You’ll be sliding all over the place. What size shoe do you take?”
Drew looked confused by this.
Rob laughed and leaned toward him. He bent back the tongue of one of Drew’s high tops and he said, “You’re a ten and a half. I’m a ten, so squeezing you into an old pair of mine is a bad idea. Tonight, I’ll see if I can scrounge up some cleats you can use.”
Drew nodded his head in appreciation.
Rob smiled at him and he said, “OK, you can go back to whistling now.”
A few minutes later, Valerie glanced up from her notebook to see Coach Cahill wandering over to her. Now that all the danger was over, she was actually doing nothing but her European Studies.
She continued writing. She didn’t raise her head when he finally made it to her to stand in front of her. She let him hang in the breeze for a time. Then she took a page out of his own book. Without bothering to look at him, she asked, “I’m on pins and needles, did he make the team?” as she turned a page in her textbook while continuing to write in her notebook. .
“I want to play him center tomorrow and I want him to start,” said Coach Cahill. “It would be better if I could get him and Rob out here tomorrow during school time, so they can practice snaps, gel, and coordinate better. Rob can show and tell him some more stuff he’ll need for tomorrow’s game. Shouldn’t take them long, a period should do it.”
“Oh, I don’t know about all that. He’ll miss a class that way. And more importantly, he might be in school suspended. Or even out of school suspended for that matter. Either way, he won’t be able to make it,” she said as she continued to read and write without raising her eyes to him.
“He won’t be none of those things,” Coach Cahill said.
“As his legal counsel, I want that in writing,” she said while turning another page in her text.
“Listen, it’s obvious to me now that you two are a package deal. So is that school time practice tomorrow good with you?” he asked
She said, “I’m OK with it, I suppose, but I don’t know if he will be.”
“Well, do me a solid and tell him to, pretty please,” he said.
“Umm, no. You can ask him yourself. I wouldn’t worry about it. He’ll probably say yes. I mean he already looks alarmingly addicted to playing football. Do me a solid, try not to rub off on him too much personality wise, pretty please,” she said as she scribbled.
“What’s a good time for him,” he asked.
“He’s in the special education class, so I’m thinking just about anytime. You can work in your football pow-wow around Rob’s schedule. Anyway, I hope our little football pow wow is just about done here, because like you, I’m a busy girl,” she said as she highlighted a line in her textbook.
“Funny!” he said. “I have to admit, I can see why he picked you as his girlfriend, as opposed to the other subpar girls at this second rate school.”
He turned and walked away, so now she raised her eyes to watch him go. And she was shocked by the irony that the best compliment that she had ever been paid in her life, came from the biggest douche she had ever met in her life.
When practice was done and as the players walked to the gym, Drew jogged to where she sat on the bleachers. She closed her European Studies book shut.
He was smiling when he stopped before her.
She smiled at him and she asked, ”Are you having a fun day?”
He said, “Yes, football fun.”
As they started to walk to the parking lot, she said, “Yeah, I’m cringing thinking it’s going to push you more in the frat boy direction. Listen Drew, I’m not overly worried about the locker room anymore, but are you going to shower in there?”
He said, “I want, do quick, get out way. Get more Valerie time tonight, if want.”
“I want that bad,” she said. She thought Coach Cahill had a point - there was a time to be a momma bear and a time to not be. So she didn’t say anything to Drew about showering with the guys. She was beginning to trust his judgment more and more.
“I want to head off to the library to get more schoolwork done. Will you come and get me when you’re done?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said.
As they went through the gym’s doors she asked, “You won’t forget I’m in there when you’re done and just drive home, will you?”
He immediately laughed at this. She smiled and asked, “Are you going to be laughing at all of my dumb jokes?” He laughed a lot at this as well.
Now they stood before the boys’ locker room’s door.
She said, “OK, here’s the play. Dog-Boy shower with other animals. Beast run library route. On three! Break!” as she clapped her hands together.
And as Drew walked through the boy’s locker room door, he laughed his ass off some more.
Just a short time later, Drew was whistling as he entered the shower area. He took off the towel he had wrapped around his waist and hung it up on a hook above the benches. Then he stepped through the entranceway into the shower spray area.
He had the pecs of a weightlifter, his arms were pythons, and it looked like someone could have scrubbed their clothes clean on his midriff. His thing wasn’t an elephant’s trunk, but it was more impressive than even a strapping six foot tall boy should have had.
The other guys had been goofing around and laughing in there before he entered. Then after, for a time, they weren’t.
About three minutes later a very, very sudded up Drew said, “Hey guys! Watch!”
He ran a little across the showers, then he belly dived on the shower floor. With his arms outstretched out like he was flying, he smiled like an idiot as he slid all the way across the shower area until he went out the entrance into the towel area as well.
A bunch of the football players busted out laughing at this, because big as they were, they were still teenagers who loved silly, stupid shit.
He came walking back in the showers whistling, and acting normal like he hadn’t just done that. This got some of the guys to laugh even harder. He smiled.
Then he started to move it again, because Valerie was waiting.
Ten minutes later he came into the library. She said, “That was quick, and good timing cause they’re closing up here.”
Soon they were walking down the hallway to their lockers.
“What want do tonight?” Drew asked.
“What do you want to do?” she said.
“Drive fish fry you,” he said.
She smiled and said, “We’ll have to do that another night. I have a ton of work to catch up on. I’ve never been so behind in my schoolwork. It’s a weird feeling.” Now she was spinning her locker’s lock.
“Valerie come Wezell’s house?” he asked.
“Yes, definitely, and I’ll make a quick dinner for us,” she said. Now her locker was open. She put her European Studies stuff in there. Her weekly assignment was shitty, but it would have to do. She pulled out her Calculus text, her Advanced Chemistry text, and their notebooks. She couldn’t remember what else she had to do, and so she looked at Drew. He was just watching her with his kind, water blue eyes while waiting patiently. All that only made her mind more fuzzy.
She closed her locker. Making progress with those two classes tonight would have to do.
“You set?” she asked.
He nodded his head and they headed down the hall to leave school. She said, “I want to make you dinner, and I want more Drew time. Can I bring my books over and sit at your table and work on those for a while, after we eat?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Now they were out the doors and headed for the truck. She said, “And I want to load you up with food again, because you got a big game tomorrow! You’re starting! Are you excited?”
“Yes,” he said. “More excited see you tonight.”
“You are unbelievable! Mr. Wezell said you were going to make me very happy! I had no idea!” she said.
He smiled. He pulled out his keys as they neared the truck. “Valerie want practice drive home,” he asked.
She stopped and looked at him. She had just ditched his truck two days ago. Now Drew stood there smiling with the keys held out. He said, “No have drive be no want. You chose.”
“Alright,” she said quietly, as she took the keys from his hand.
About fifteen minutes later she pulled to a stop in front of her house. “Good driving,” said Drew as he got out to get in the driver’s seat.
“Yeah well, you didn’t make it any easier on me, playing with the radio and whistling along with it, all the way home,” she said as she got out too.
Drew looked like this worried him, so she said, “It was fine and cute. I would have asked you to stop if it was distracting me.” He nodded his head and she continued, “You are quite the music fan, aren’t you?”
“Radio great! Better to TV. And TV great too!” he said.
She smiled and said, “I’ll be down at your house in about an hour, OK?”
Drew nodded his head. They said their goodbyes and he drove home.
As she walked into her grandparents’ house, she called out, “Hey Gram, hey Gramps!
From the kitchen, her grandfather called out, “Hey Doll.” She went in and saw he was reading the paper at the table.
“Where’s Gram?” she asked.
“Zonked out on the back porch,” he said.
She pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with him. He put his newspaper down.
“How was your after school stuff?” he asked as she had called home before practice to say she would be late. This wouldn’t raise any concern from her grandparents, as she sometimes did Chess Club, Yearbook Committee, school paper, and other nerdy stuff after school, then took the late bus home.
“Good,” she said. Now she knew she had to pitch more bull. “Hey, I’d like to go down to Mr. Wezell’s house for a while. And, by the way, he didn’t move, that’s just a rumor that started going around. What happened is his nephew moved in with him. I’d like to go down there later, to study, eat dinner with them, and hang out. Is that OK with you?
“Sure, that is welcome news,” said her grandfather as he smiled widely. “What’s the boy’s name?”
“Andrew,” she said. “Except everyone calls him Drew.”
“What’s he like?” asked her grandfather.
“He’s very nice, funny, and athletic. He made the football team today. He’s starting tomorrow.”
“No, kiddin’?!” her grandfather said because he had played football in high school at defensive end. “Where’s he starting tomorrow?”
“Center,” she said.
Her grandfather looked dumbfounded by this. He said, “Are you sure he’s Wezell’s nephew?”
She smiled and she said, “He’s a little undersized for the position. Gramps, can I go to the home game tomorrow too?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said. “And you’re sixteen, so you don’t have to ask me about something like that. I don’t think you’ve ever been to one of your high school games, right?”
“No,” she said.
“Do you want me to drive you there?” he asked.
“I’m pretty sure Drew’s going to want to himself,” she said.
Her grandfather took off his reading glasses and threw them on the kitchen table so he could look at her better.
“Where were you after school today?” he asked, smiling.
“On the bleachers,” she said blushing. She just couldn’t bring herself to tell him another lie.
“Is this boy handsome?” asked her Grandfather as he smiled more.
“Gramps, I can’t answer a question like that,” she said while giggling.
“You just did,” her grandfather said.
She blushed more and said, “It’s already five. I’m going to shower and then head over there with my books, OK?”
“Yeah,” her grandfather said to her. “Tell Wezell I said hello. And tell him I’m glad he’s still our neighbor.”
She nodded her head. As she went to go, he said, “I’m sure it will be after dark again when you leave there, so have Andrew walk you home again. It will make your grandmother more at ease. And make sure that it isn’t at three in the morning.”
“I’ll be home at nine,” she said smiling. “Drew has a big game tomorrow.”
Around a half hour later, a freshly showed Valerie grabbed her school books, said goodbye to her grandfather, and walked down the road to Drew’s house.
After Drew let her in, she put her books on the dinner table. She looked Mr Wezell’s old clock on the wall. Ten of six it read. She started to grumble out loud, “I feel so frazzled and it’s already getting late. After making dinner, cleaning up, and doing my homework, it will be time for me to go home.”
“Drew help Valerie make dinner, clean up,” he said.
“Sounds like a good time for you,” she said sarcastically.
“Yes,” he said seriously.
She smiled, grabbed the colander and they went outside to the garden together. She had him pull a bunch of carrots from the ground. Mr. Wezell had a small patch of sweet corn from which she retrieved three ears. She told Drew to pick some lettuce, and while he did, she looked about the pepper plants and found one that was still good. And just for fun she picked a giant zucchini and held it up for him to see.
“No funny,” he said.
She laughed and they went back in.
“Would you rinse all those veggies off in the sink?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said.
She ran some water in a pot and started boiling water for the corn. And just as she started to open the cupboard while dreading starting anything new, Drew came to her rescue. He asked, “We have other spam, mac-n-cheese in frig tonight?”
“Yeah, if you want those leftovers. It will save us a lot of time too,” she said.
He nodded his head. And so they made dinner together. She showed him how to shuck the corn, and how to peel and grate the carrots. As she went around taking care of the other stuff, she had him dice up the green pepper for their salads too.
The corn was the last to finish. And by the time it was done the table was set and all the food was plated once an ear of corn was added to each.
She said, “Drew, I don’t often do this, but I’m feeling very grateful now. I like to say a little prayer before we eat.”
He nodded his head. She said the common table prayer.
When she was done she looked up at Drew. He watched her silently for time. Then he said, “That beautiful.”
“Isn’t it?” she said.
“Valerie eat dinner tomorrow here, after game. Say table prayer more?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said quietly.
They started to eat. She took her time and she ate as slowly as Drew did this evening. They talked, but they didn’t talk about anything heavy, like the lunch time fight, or Drew’s world, or her need to become the queen of it, or anything like that. Football came up not once. Drew seemed to want to focus on the food and he paid her lots of compliments about it.
He quietly said things like, “Salad mix, carrots, green pepper, lettuce, dressing, good.” And, “Corn yummy, but messy, pain in ass get eat.” And, “Mac-and-cheese with spam more yummy now. Zucchini more gross.” She, of course, laughed at this.
When they were done, he thanked her, then he insisted that he would clean up, so she could do her homework. So she started with her calculus right there at the dinner table, while he went about removing the dishes from the table.
She absentmindedly noted that he did this slowly, and if doing the dishes was a Zen thing for him now. This helped her mind set for her calculus because this new limit stuff was hard and complicated. She was good at math, but she didn’t particularly enjoy it. She was more of a social studies and english girl.
But Drew’s quiet, slow, yet persistent washing of the dishes set a good mood for her taking on something that was hard and she didn’t particularly like. After an hour she had completed two calculus homework assignments, catching her up a lot.
Meanwhile Drew had done about two-thirds of the dishes and towel dried them. He was just finishing putting those away.
She pulled out her Advanced Chemistry book and she knew this would be easier. It was really just a little harder version of the regular high school chemistry class. So she kicked it up a notch and worked faster, and after a half an hour she had done all the work needed to completely catch her up for that class.
He, meanwhile, was now putting away the last of the second batch of dishes. The kitchen was in order.
Now it was eight thirty, which gave her half an hour of Drew time. She sighed, knowing that this was going to be taken up by the business of seeing that he was set up for tonight.
“I want to show you how to use the telephone, so you can call me if there is a problem. I have a phone in my room, so if you call my house I can pick up from there, as well as anywhere else in the house. Only call at night if it’s important, cause it will ring all over the house. You understand?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Come over here and let me show you how to make a call on Mr. Wezell’s old timey phone. Like corn, it’s a bit of a pain in the ass to use,” she said. Drew came over to her and she said, “He has our phone number written on the wall here. We are “The Wrights.” Then she showed him how to work the rotary phone. She ended by saying, “Now I’m not going to dial the last number because I don’t want our phone to ring, but if you were trying to call me you’d dial eight, and in a second it would start ringing, until someone picked it up.”
“Do you have all that?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Would you show me?” she asked.
Then he did all this perfectly, even stopping before he dialed the last number, but saying, if he needed to call her, he would then dial the last eight.
“That was really good,” she whispered. “You didn’t even look at the number on the wall. Did you?”
“No need now, Valerie just show,” he said.
“Drew, I think you may be smarter than me,” she said in awe.
“No smart. Mrs. Owens teach Drew count one to ten. She smart one!” he said
“Was it OK in there today?” she asked.
“Everyday OK there,” he said. “Mrs. Owens Queen too. Valerie, I want show Wezell money spots. Wezell say both Drew Valerie money.”
“OK,” she said quietly.
Just a moment later he pulled out a shoebox from under the sink. He handed it to her and she opened it. She counted it, and it had two thousand dollars in it, in fifties and twenties. How many more of these are there in the house?” she asked.
“Five,” he said. But one more shed, one more barn. Dark now, show those other time. No forget glove box money.”
“I won’t,” she said softly. Then he went around the house and showed her all those hidden places.
And then there was no more time and she had to get going.. “Are you sure you’re all set down here tonight?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“I have to get home now,” she said.
“I walk, wait minute, need brush teeth first,” he said as he raised his eyebrows up and down at her.
Just two minutes later they were out the door with her schoolwork. Just for fun, Drew carried her books.
It was tad chillier tonight, and a little darker as clouds partly covered the sky. But she could still see the road once her eyes adjusted to the darkness. An owl hooted twice as they strolled along, and this only added to the autumn ambience of this classic September night.
“Are you looking forward to the game tomorrow?” she asked him quietly.
“I looking more weekend Valerie time,” he said. “But yes, looking forward football game too.”
“Are you nervous?” she asked him.
“Yes, afraid Valerie no want see Drew weekend,” he said smiling.
“Funny,” she said. “I’m so dying for a nice big hunk of Drew time away from school too. By Sunday night, I think you’ll need to prybar to get me out of your house.”
He said, “No have pry bar, so Valerie need sleep night Drew bed then.”
“That was the cutest joke ever,” she said smiling.
“What joke?” he said smiling back.
Now they were at the edge of her lawn. Then they were kissing. To Valerie, this kiss seemed not as urgent and needful as his kiss had been the night before, or in room 101 today. It was gentler and slower, and more romantic.
He didn’t pull her in so tight to him, but instead he caressed her back, and stroked her arms lightly. And when he was done, he looked a little lost and small.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Yes, and no,” he said.
And then she saw he was crying a little, as a tear dripped down from one of his water blue eyes.
“Why are you crying?” she asked him.
He said in confusion, “I no know. I not sad. I so happy. No know why cry.”
And then, of course, she started to cry as well.