The description will be updated when I've figured out what the story is.
|DEREK DIDN'T EVEN STOP as he swung his Mustang up to where I was waiting, he just slowed up so I could dive in through the passenger-side door. My feet and ass were still hanging outside in the frosty night air as he sped back up, and he popped it into second as I pulled the door shut.
"'S'matter with your truck?" he asked.
"Nothing," I growled. "Turns out my Aunt Heather needs it."
"No way!" He giggled. "When'dja find this out?"
"Right before I freaking called you, when else?"
He chortled. "Does this make you my date for Cole's party?" He dropped a hand on my knee.
"Shut the fuck up."
He squealed with laughter, and punched up some music.
It was about nine-thirty, a good time to show up for the party. Plenty of time for things to have got swinging, and not enough for them to have soured. I wasn't in a hurry to get out there anyway. Some people are great at giving parties, while others are just kind of expected to host them. Cole Bolson, being our quarterback, was one of the second kind, and he definitely wasn't one of the first. Knowing Cole, I figured it would be a great party if it just ended without someone having to get stitches at the Emergency Room.
"Well, I was heading out to Cole's anyway," Derek jabbered. "I was just leaving Antonia's when you texted. Oh, dude, have you been out to her place?" He told me about the pool, and the deck, and the outdoor grill that was set up to look like a kiln or some shit like that. I let him run on, then told him I that I didn't even know Antonia was having a party. "Well, it was kinda lame," he sniffed. "Student council types, mostly."
"Being at Antonia's, it would."
"Yeah, well," he retorted, "Madison would'a had you out there, you know, if Cole's party wasn't the same night as hers. Oh, shit!" He sat up very straight, and the car wobbled a little. "Do we have to go to pick her up? Madison, I mean?"
I told him we didn't, that I was meeting her out there, on account of her cousins were in town and she'd had to go out with them and her family first for a little while.
"Pff, cousins," Derek snorted.
"What's wrong with cousins?"
"I got cousins," he said. "Low, sloping foreheads and not enough teeth."
"Not everyone's cousin is like that."
"I hope not, mine are enough like that for everyone."
And that, if you can believe it, was the smartest thing he said on the entire drive out.
Cars were lined up and down both sides of Cole's street as we pulled up, and some of the bigger trucks and SUVs were even parked on the empty lot next to his house. A soft, steady musical beat was pounding the night air. We stopped for a few minutes to bump fists and talk with some of the guys that had spilled out onto the front porch. Inside, the lights were low, the air thick, the foyer and staircase crowded, and the rumble of a couple score of voices loud enough to almost drown out the music.
"I'm gonna go look for Madison," I shouted in Derek's ear.
"What? Oh. Cool, I'm gonna go look for the ice chests. Meet you in the kitchen?"
He smirked at me, then turned and wriggled away through the crowd.
I figured that Madison and her friends would do their best to be at the center of the attention, so I looked in the living room for them first, then circled through some kind of den where I spotted Cole and a couple of his friends leaning over a pool table and studying it intently, like they were trying to break it in half just by staring at it really hard. I glanced out onto the back patio and into the back yard, which was lit up with tiki torches—
Cole didn't strike me as the type to go for that kind of thing, and I wondered who had arranged it.
—before finally finding Madison and the hive in the dining room.
Of course. Where the food was spread out. So that everyone was bound to come to them eventually.
They were dressed out in our school colors—orange and green—which left them looking like a small, squat forest fire. Some of them had also painted their faces. Madison herself, I noticed with some dismay, had painted her cheeks with my jersey number: 27.
She was drinking from a plastic tumbler and chattering at Ashleigh, but she jumped when she saw me and hurried over with a wide smile. "Hey babe." She wrapped her free arm around me and stroked my back. "You didn't get my texts?"
"I got the one about you going out with your cousins. Was it okay?"
"It was great, you'll meet her after the game tomorrow. But you didn't get my text about dressing up right." She stepped back and flaunted her orange scarf and green sweater at me.
"I guess I missed that one."
Her smile twisted. "You know, you've been missing an awful lot of— Well, never mind. Here." She put her tumbler down and picked up a plastic bag that was sitting at Ashleigh's feet. "Come with me, I'll set you up."
"Wait, where are we—?" But she was already tugging me toward the back of the house, threading a narrow hallway choked with other kids. I drew back, though, when she turned to pull me into the bathroom. "What are we doing?" I asked.
"I'm going to paint your face."
"Paint my—? Why do we have to do it there?"
She gave me a look as she flicked on a harsh, white light. "I need to be able to see, babe. Besides—" She hooked her fingers through my belt and pulled until I relented. "I thought you'd like some—" She giggled as she pushed the door closed. "Alone time."
I just got here, I don't need alone time with you yet, I almost said, but something very hard and solid was blocking my windpipe. I let her push me down onto the toilet. Then she straddled my lap as she set the bag on the vanity.
"What's with painting my face?" I asked. "No one else— I mean, I didn't see anyone else, except for you and—"
"It's so you'll be sporting the team colors," she explained as she extracted a small brush and jar from the depths of the bag. "Because you didn't wear that shirt I texted you to put on. Tch! Show some school spirit, why don't you? You're on the team, for chrissakes!"
"I didn't see any of the other guys with their faces painted," I protested.
"None of the other guys have a girlfriend who cares."
You tried getting everyone else on the team to put on the colors, didn't you? I thought. You and your friends on the spirit committee tried getting Cole and everyone else to dress in the school colors or to paint their faces or to do something to show that the spirit committee was up to its job, but they all told you get stuffed, didn't they?
I tried not to think about what Cole or Derek or any of the guys would say when they saw me—the one weak, wounded duck who got caught—painted up to match my girlfriend.
"That tickles," I said. "What are you putting there?"
"You can look in the mirror when I'm done. And don't talk, it makes your cheek all wobble and stuff."
"You're not painting a dick on my face, are you?" I said, trying to use only my lips and tongue. She punched me in the shoulder. "Or my jersey number?"
She pulled back. "And what if I am?"
"Oh, um ... Then I guess we'll match."
She smiled tightly, then resumed her work.
"It's a big day tomorrow," she observed. "Menefee."
"We'll do great. You'll score us all the touchdowns."
"I'm the backup quarterback, not a receiver."
"Maybe the coach will put you in as a receiver?"
Her expression turned very prim, but maybe she was just concentrating on her work. "Well, then, you'll just have to throw all the winning touchdowns!" she told me as she began working on my other cheek.
She worked in silence for a moment, then said, "You know what I said earlier, about none of the other guys having a girlfriend who cares about this stuff?"
"Well, don't you think it's kind of, I dunno, that it sucks that we've got a quarterback that doesn't got a girlfriend? I mean, shouldn't the school quarterback have a girlfriend? Isn't that kind of, you know, the usual thing about being the quarterback? That he's dating, like, one of the really popular girls?"
"You're not gonna try setting Cole up with one of your friends, are you?" The idea set all kinds of alarms ringing in my head.
"I wasn't talking about Cole."
"I said, doesn't it suck that we don't got a quarterback who's got a girlfriend. I didn't say that quarterback had to be Cole."
My throat tried to close up again. "So, who are you talking about?" I murmured. "Who would this quarterback with a girlfriend be?"
"Who do you think I'm talking about, silly? You're as good as Cole, aren't you? You wouldn't be the backup quarterback if you weren't."
"I wouldn't be the backup quarterback if I was. I'd be the actual quarterback, and he'd be—"
"He's not that much better than you," she told me with the tone of a math teacher explaining to the class yet again that two times two is not twenty-two.
"Does your cousin like football?" I interrupted.
"What?" She broke off her work long enough to frown at me. "I don't know."
"Then why's he coming to the game? It's a twenty-mile drive to Menefee."
"She, babe," Madison corrected me. "And she's coming out because I said I was going to the most important game of the season, and she said she wanted to come along. We were best friends back when we were kids, you know."
"Yeah? What happened? You have a fight?"
"No! She moved to Oregon, that's all. Tch!"
I blinked. "Wait, how old is she? Isn't she in school?"
"She's home-schooled. Poor thing."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because she doesn't got a school she can show spirit for!"
I must have made a face, because she slapped me in the shoulder again and told me not to mess up her work. So I shut up. But at least she did too, and only hummed along to the music that was pulsing through the door.
Ten minutes later, she got up off me. "Okay, you can look now."
I felt my knees creak as I got up and turned to the mirror. On one cheek she had sketched, in our school colors, a crude caricature of the Causey High School Tiger. And on the other, yes, a 27.
And over it she had written "Madison."
"Why'd you paint your name on my face?" I asked.
"Uh, to show whose team you're playing for," she said. "You are playing for my team, aren't you, C.C.?"
I winced inwardly at the initials, which she was still trying to make into a thing for me, into the name I'd answer to.
"Well, yeah," I said. "But not on the gridiron. The people out there are gonna think I'm, I dunno, advertising Madison High School."
"There is no Madison High School! Well, not around here."
"Yeah, but it still looks like—"
But I broke off as she loosed a massive sigh.
"Yes, of course I'm on your team," I assured her, and rubbed her shoulders. "On and off the field." She pouted up at me, but her eyes twinkled. "Maybe—"
Oh God. I couldn't believe I was about to say it, but I did. "Maybe we should have some team colors of our own? Just you and me?"
For me, I knew it was the worst thing I could think to say. But I also knew it was just about the best thing I could say to her. And it was. She squealed and threw her arms around me, burying her face in the side of my neck.
Her doing that took me back to the March of our junior year. I was out on the field behind the school, throwing passes to some of the guys after practice. Madison was sitting out on the bleachers with her friends, watching. And me, being a showoff, I pointed at one of them and shouted "This one's for you!" and sent the ball whizzing in a perfect pass to Derek, who scampered into the end zone with it like we were at a real game.
All the girls clapped and laughed, but it was Madison who came flying down off the bleachers and hurtling across the field to throw herself at me, burying her face in my neck, much to my surprise. We went out afterward for a bite and then hung out for a bit before parking out at the abandoned drive-in movie theater for a heavy make out session. And that's how it all started between her and me.
Thing is, I didn't even mean to point at her that day. I think I was pointing at one of her friends.