It looked like a fire drill, the way students came streaming into the gym. Loud, and stoked, and all sporting our school colors of black and gold, the entire student body was here today to pay homage to Stratford High’s winningest team. My teammates and I had nailed the state
championship in lacrosse. We deserved to be celebrated and admired. Besides, we all looked damn good in these new jerseys.
I scanned the crowd for a Hugo Boss suit. Our wealthy sponsor, Leo Messina, had three folding chairs reserved for him in the front row right beneath this makeshift stage. One for him, one for his daughter, Bonni, and one for his niece …
“Gonna get a cramp in your neck.” Cory Rash, left-wing attacker and one of my best buds, checked me in the ribs. “Keep staring around for Blythe Messina like that and you’ll strain something.”
“Who said anything about her? We’re history. You know that, man. I’m a free agent now. Means I can have my choice of any tail here.”
“Or any chick that Paolo throws our way.”
We both looked at our captain and center attacker, Paolo Prince, reigning “king” of Stratford who at this moment was preoccupied with all his adoring fans in the bleachers.
“Paolo! Text me! Call me!” Every female at this pep rally vied for his attention.
“Think he ever gets tired of that?” Cory asked.
I stared at him for a moment, and then we both cracked up.
“Hey, DB.” Cory nudged me. “Messina’s here. That his daughter?” He motioned toward the sophomore taking a seat in the front row next to our sponsor.
Cory’s mouth hung open. “She’s hot.”
“Bonni’s two years younger and millions richer than you, so close your trap.”
“Hey! I can handle young and rich, Douche Bag.”
“You so can’t, Diaper Rash. You can barely manage your own equipment.” I nodded at his jock.
“Watch it! I always know where my stick is. If you know what I mean.”
Our principal, Dr. Bard, stepped up to the podium. This show was about to begin.
“Well, good for you,” I whispered to Cory. “’Cause you’ll have to take care of your stick if you date that girl. Bonni’s VP of the Pro Abstinence Club.”
Dr. Bard tapped the mic. “Testing. Uno, dos, tres.”
“Real as that trophy.” I motioned toward the four-foot-tall loving cup on display beside the podium. “You’re not even in the same dimension as that girl.”
Cory crossed his arms, slumping in his seat. “You should talk. Looks like your ex is a no-show.”
I threw a casual glance toward the empty folding chair next to Mr. Messina. Bonni stood near her seat, facing the back of the gym. Kind of a short-stuff for a sixteen-year-old, Bonni bobbed up and down on her toes, struggling to see over all the heads.
Dr. Bard raised his arms, signaling for quiet.
“Too bad Blythe’s not here to witness your glory,” Cory whispered.
Yeah, too bad. Blythe used to love to come to our games. Never missed a match all junior year. But this season, our best season, she’d never shown. Guess she really had no reason to come after our break-up. It wasn’t like she’d a true fan of lacrosse. Just a true fan of me. I snuck another peek at those folding chairs.
Bonni was waving. “Here! Over here, cuz!”
I searched through the late-comers straggling into the gym until I spied Blythe—all five-foot-one of her, with her dark hair pulled back in that tight-ass braid. I liked it better when she wore her hair loose and long, but I could overlook anything when she dressed like she had today in those skin-tight jeans that hugged every sweet curve. Blythe looked mighty fine in that snug pink tee—Hey! Where was her black and gold? A growl escaped my lips.
“Something wrong, man?” Paolo asked, as the clamor in the gym died down.
“Nothing.” Nothing I couldn’t handle. Or ignore.
“Welcome, Stratford!” Dr. Bard said. “What an exciting day! Our heroes hath returned victorious.” Everyone cheered. The band paraded up the center aisle of the folding chairs, trumpets blasting our school song. Students tried to sing along, but no one really knew the words.
I made a feeble attempt at joining in, but it was hard to concentrate with Blythe and Bonni arguing, well—more like gesturing—in disagreement. No one and nothing could be heard over the brain-damaging blare of the mighty Falcons marching band. Bonni waved to Blythe, pointing like mad to the vacant chair beside her. Blythe stood against the back wall, shaking her head, and irritating the crap out of me.
Why wouldn’t she sit down?
Because. She couldn’t stand to be near me.
What was Blythe’s problem? The breakup had been almost a year ago. She needed to get over it already. I had. Besides, I had her to thank for being up here today. I’d played better than ever without her around. Chicks only messed with your head. My mind had been free and clear of chick-drama all season, and look where that had taken us. To state!
Thank you, Blythe, I wanted to scream … as she trudged up the center aisle.
“Looks like she made it after all.” Paolo leaned forward to catch Cory’s attention. The two busted out laughing as the band came to a halt.
I flipped them both off.
“That was superb!” Dr. Bard clapped, revealing those strange pleather patches on the elbows of his tweed jacket. Who wore tweed anymore? And in April? The guy was unique, I’d grant him that. But he was also fair and enthusiastic, especially about sports, and the theater, and well, just about any activity at Stratford. “Excitement is high today for our returning champions! Nineteen wins and only one loss! A new state record!”
The place went berserk. This was my moment of glory just like Cory had said. So how come I didn’t feel so victorious? I shot a quick look at that front row.
Blythe was filing her nails.
“And so without further ado, I give you the man who led the charge. Our own fearless Falcon, Coach Francis!” Dr. Bard stepped back, flicking at his shoulder-length ponytail which had gotten caught under the button-down collar of his shirt.
Coach approached the mic, looking more imposing than usual in a new black and gold tracksuit. The whole team rocketed to their feet. I stood with deliberation, stretching and flexing the muscles of my well-toned abs.
Was she looking? I checked out the corner of my eye.
Blythe was messing with her cell.
“Thank you. Thank you.” Coach motioned for us to sit down. “This has been the most exciting year of my life. And one of the best teams I’ve ever had the privilege to coach. Thanks to the incredible leadership of our captain and this state’s lead scorer, Paolo Prince.”
Crazy doesn’t even begin to describe the bedlam in the gym. Girls and guys alike chanted, Paol-o, Paol-o, as he hefted our first-place cup and swaggered from one end of the platform to the other.
“We need to acknowledge the generosity of Mr. Leo Messina of Messina Motors.” Coach waved Mr. Messina forward. “Leo and I go way back to our college days playing lacrosse for State U.”
Mr. Messina squeezed Bonni’s shoulder and then rushed up onto the stage. “It was my pleasure to sponsor this team,” he said into the mic. “I enjoyed every exciting minute of this season.” He and Coach shared an enthusiastic handshake. Mr. Messina patted Paolo on the back. “Coach, I know you have an awards banquet planned for Saturday. But I’d like Dr. Bard’s permission to move the festivities to my house.”
Blythe shot up. Her chair went flying backward.
I looked at her and this time, she looked back, her intense, brown eyes scrutinizing me from the inside out. For one instant, I couldn’t breathe or move or think. And then she turned and stormed down the aisle and out the gym doors.
What should I do now? Go to the banquet or stay away?
Damn women! They wrecked everything. Especially that infuriating one.