The description will be updated when I've figured out what the story is.
|I HAD TO PAT MY FACE WITH THE HEM OF MY SHIRT after Alex went outside, and my breath was coming in the kind of short, labored gasps that normally I'd have to run a long, hard sprint to get. I was shaking all over, too.
God damn it, Charlie, I yelled at myself, you should'a known better than to come over here. You should'a stayed away, because you knew Alex was going to be here and you knew what that was going to do to you.
I was rolling my open soda across my forehead, trying to cool it, when Madison came padding in from the den. "Hey, where'd everybody go?" she asked when she saw me. "Are you hot? Do we need to turn on the AC?"
"That'd be nice," I muttered, and she went around the corner. Air began to gush from a vent, and then she was back. She touched my cheek and said, "You are hot!" Then she grinned and said, "You are hawwwt," and grabbed my sides.
I jumped away. "Stop that."
"What's wrong? Are you getting ticklish on me again, C. C.? Are you—?"
And she did. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. Only I—" I swallowed. "I don't like doing that kind of thing in front of your cousin."
"She's not here now." Madison advanced on me with a grin.
Her face fell. "Why? What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing. Except you've been all over me—"
"You don't want me all over you?"
"Not in front of your cousin."
She stared. "What are you so worried about? We do this all the time at school!"
"Yeah, at school. But it's different when we're doing it in front of just one other person."
"It's only Alex." Madison glanced around. "Where is she?"
"The back yard."
"Oh, fer—!" She sighed. "Did she say something to you?"
"No! I've been meaning to say something to you, though, about— What's got into you?"
"Nothing's got 'into' me, C. C., I'm being the same—"
"And don't call me 'C. C.' I like it when you call me by my name."
"But 'C. C.' is my name for you!"
"I like 'Charlie'."
Her face fell into a deep frown, and she studied me for a long minute. Then she took my soda from me and put it on the countertop. "You've been in a weird mood ever since the game," she said.
"Weird mood how?"
"I don't know. It's like someone dropped a garter snake down your—"
She glanced down at me somewhere below my belly button. It took me a minute to realize that she was looking at my crotch, where I still had the boner that Alex had been giving me.
Her expression was heavy but neutral when she looked back up.
"Maybe you like it," she said, "when Alex calls you 'C. C.'"
"No, I—!" But she was already stalking off toward the stairs. I watched as she went up them, and waited for her to come back down. I was wondering if I was supposed to go up there with her—I'd never been up those stairs; I'd been in Georgina's bedroom but never even upstairs with Madison—when the sliding door rumbled open and Alex came back in. She looked at me and said, "Is Maddy still on her phone?"
"I dunno. She came in here, then she went upstairs."
Alex's eyebrows went up, but she only said, "Are we going to keep playing Sorry?"
"Oh. Probably not. We'll ask Madison when she comes back down."
"Maybe I should go up and play it with her." She went up the stairs without explaining what she'd meant by that.
She was back down in less than two minutes, by the clock on the microwave. "I think we're all done for tonight," she said. "Thanks for coming over."
I felt like I should apologize, but I was damned if I knew what I should apologize to Alex for, or even to Madison for, so I shrugged and asked, "How long are you going to be in town for?"
"A week. I don't think I'll be seeing you again, though. It was nice meeting you, Charlie."
I mumbled that it was nice meeting her, and dragged myself out the door.
The school website had contact information for both Thomas Hill and Jack Scalise, and when I got home I found that my dad had already called them and set up a time for me to meet them on Sunday, just them and me. But it was Madison and Alex I went to bed thinking about.
And Georgina. It wasn't too late, and it was Saturday night after a game, so I was pretty sure she was still up when I called her.
Music was playing behind her voice when she picked up, but I was laying on my back, on my bed, in the dark, staring up at the ceiling. For a moment I lay there, listening to the sounds of other people having fun, and wondered how come I couldn't have fun too. Which was a stupid and self-pitying thing to wonder, because I had fun at parties with lots of people almost every weekend.Well, I used to, before it was Madison I was supposed to be having fun with.
Anyway, I lay there listening until Georgina said my name a second time and asked if I was there. "Yeah, I'm here," I said. "Where are you?"
"At Chris's Steakhouse. Whole band is here. Where are you?"
"Well, why don't you come out—?"
"Are you guys still eating?"
"No, we finished up but we're still hanging out. I don't know why they haven't thrown us out yet, we're taking up, like, five tables. What are you doing at home? You doing a thing out there?"
"No, I just got back from Madison's."
"Did she have something going on at her place?"
"No, it was just— Listen, I wanted to call and say I'm sorry for last night. The mix up about the parties."
"What mix up?"
I rubbed the side of my head. Did she really not know? Or not care? Or was she just pretending that she didn't? And would she tell me which it was and could I believe her?
"The mix up where I wound up at Cole's and you wound up at Terry's," I explained.
"Oh that. Was that a mix up? I thought you just changed your mind about where you were going to go."
"I did, but I forgot to tell you."
"Oh, well, it was okay. I had fun and you had fun. Are you going out someplace now?"
I wanted to tell her that I'd had a fight with Madison, I wanted to tell her we were broken up and that I was going to be looking for someone new to hang out with. But I didn't want to bring her down from what was sounding like a good time with her friends and the rest of the band. So I just told her I was tired out from the stress of the game and wanted to go to sleep early. She said she understood and then she hung up before I was ready for her to, and I was left wanting to punch something, preferably my own face, because I felt like I'd fallen into a taffy-pulling machine and was being pulled and torn and shredded in about twenty separate directions by a couple of different girls. I got up long enough to brush my teeth, then took off my clothes and crawled into bed an hour before my usual fall-asleep time. There I laid on my side and nursed a boner as I thought about Alex until I finally drifted off to sleep.
I woke up early the next morning and went running before getting cleaned up. I checked my texts while pulling clothes on over my wet self, but they were all from Saturday, from people checking in on me to see where I was going to land for the night. It vexed me to see that I hadn't got any from Madison or Georgina or Derek. Or Alex, for that matter.
My meeting with the scouts was set for ten-thirty at a little bistro downtown, so we could have a quiet brunch before the Sunday crowds came out for lunch. Aunt Heather was all over me after I came out of my room, telling me what to say to them and how to say it, and I could tell it was all she could do to keep from ordering me to stay home while she went out to smooth everything over with them. My dad just nursed his morning coffee with a hangdog look, and after Aunt Heather had gone off to beat the beds into shape, he quietly told me to forget everything she'd said, and to just keep my mouth shut and my ears open, to listen politely, and to not commit to anything. "I think they want you," he said, "or they wouldn't be meeting with you again. So don't beg. Just listen to what they have to say, and tell them you will have to get back to them."
I got a text from Madison, finally, on my way out the door, telling me that we had to talk. I texted back to say I was on my way to meet the St. Athanasius people, and I'd text her after that was over and I'd talked to my dad. She didn't reply.
The Metropolitan was a swishy kind of a place with green tablecloths, and napkins inside silver rings, and three kinds of drinking glasses to go with the two kinds of forks. Hill and Scalise were waiting just inside the door for me. They were friendly and we all shook hands—though Scalise's hand felt like a bundle of sticks wrapped in ragged cloth—then let ourselves be seated by a fireplace that didn't give off any heat. The windows in the place shimmered with the late-morning sunlight.
"So what did you do last night, to celebrate, I mean?" Hill asked me after the waiter had filled our water glasses. "Nothing regrettable, I hope," he added with a grin.
"He must've done something regrettable," Scalise put in before I could reply.
"I went over to my girlfriend's," I replied.
"But nothing regrettable happened?" Hill asked with a waggle of his eyebrows.
"Specifically, nothing regrettable at approximately seven thirty-six?" Scalise asked. He had taken out a leather-bound notebook, and was consulting it.
"Maybe he doesn't think it was regrettable, whatever it was," Hill said.
"He must have thought it was regrettable," said Scalise. "That's why we had to make a note of it."
"What are you guys talking about?"
"I wonder which thing it was he regretted more," Hill said. "What happened last night, at his girlfriend's, at seven-thirty-six, or what happened in Menefee yesterday, on the last real play of the game."
I looked between them. Scalise's eyes were very bright as he said, "Can it really be he doesn't remember?"
"Remember what?" I asked. I was trying very hard to remember my dad's and Aunt Heather's advice to keep very cool and not lose my temper with them again.
"The last play of the game," Hill said.
"When he threw the ball to Number 54," said Scalise, "but it got intercepted and carried eighty yards to a game-winning touchdown by Menefee."