We drove to school mostly in silence. Krys tried to make light conversation but I had so much on my mind all I could do was give one word responses. I did apologize and thanked her for caring about the situation.
“You’re welcome. Now, let’s not ruin your second day of school by acting like we want to murder everyone, okay?”
It had been threatening to rain that morning. I almost chose to not run but decided to do it anyway, as a little rain was not going to kill me. However, by the time we arrived at the school it was pretty much a torrential downpour. It was a good thing my wardrobe was more down-to-earth in style—green blouse with a red camisole, jeans, tennis shoes and a gold bracelet—as heels would have been terrible to run in.
Mrs. Myers took it upon herself to congratulate me on my change into a more appropriate style of dress that morning. I politely thanked her for the observation and fought back the urge to tell her the next day I was going to wear something see-through, just to piss her off.
During the rest of the class, we were put into groups of four to go over the chapter review for a test. Our group had three people: Krys, Damon, and myself.
“Where are you from?” Damon asked as we situated our desks to be in more of a group setting.
“Montana,” I answered.
Krys looked at him with a scowl. “Let’s concentrate on the Ottoman Empire, okay?”
“Just thought I’d get to know people.”
“Damon, are you into politics?” I asked.
“Somewhat. I suppose….”
“Do you follow the news?”
“Can you do me a favor?” I asked with a deliberate look in my eyes and a certain tone in my voice, which made him pay attention to my every word.
I hadn’t even told him what I wanted him to do when he responded with a hasty, “Yes.”
“Is it possible to look up the address of the people running for office?”
“Like their campaign headquarters or do you mean their home?”
“Campaign.” I didn’t think showing up at his home— even though I wanted to see it—would be a good idea.
“That’s easy to find out.”
“Thank you very much,” I replied with in an aww, you’re so sweet voice.
“Can we get on with the Ottomans, please?” Krys pleaded—as she had her notebooks and textbook out before we even had our desks in position.
“Tell me again why you want to go see him? It won’t do you any good.”
We stood in front of the mirror in the restroom. Krys had the need to adjust something with her hair and I followed her as I had the only brush between the two of us.
“Closure,” I answered.
“You really think it’s going to close anything once you tell him?” Krys looked at me through the mirror.
“I’m not going to say a thing about it. I’ll introduce myself and ask a few questions…and say that it’s an assignment for a class or that I’m interested in politics,” It was a start.
“And it looks like you have another admirer.”
“I noticed that. He’s sweet,” I said, which caused Krys to frown.
“Okay,” Krys replied with a hint of bitterness.
“What’s the issue?” I asked as she handed back my
“Do you want every guy hitting on you?” she asked.
“I’m not trying to do anything but talk to people.”
“It’s not what you say, it’s more of your tone.” Krys pointed to her mouth. “You may not want to be too friendly to some people.”
“Um, thank you…I’ll try to watch out for that.”
A part of me felt insulted. The other part knew Krys was still getting used to me. At least she was trying—I hoped—to.
We parted ways until lunch, when I walked out the door to another building for my math class.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Matt appeared at my side and walked with me to the other building.
“That’s cute,” I replied with a smile, “Not highly original, but cute.”
“I try. Can you swim?” he asked.
“Well, the rainy season of course. If it’s not snowing then you get deluged by a flash flood.”
“Then I’ll pack some boots and a life jacket in my car.
“One always needs to be prepared,” he replied while holding three fingers up on his right hand in a Scout’s honor gesture.
He continued walking with me into the building—which was a bit out of his way for his next class. The hallway was pretty much vacant; only the squish of our shoes echoed off the walls. However, it appeared that Matt was on a mission, so he broke the odd silence.
“Do you dance?” Matt appeared to be full of questions that morning.
“A little, why?”
“Busy for prom?”
“When is prom?” I had to wonder how many times we could answer our questions with another question.
“Five months from now.”
“You’re asking me to a dance that isn’t for another five months and you’ve only known me for two days?”
I turned to look at him—and I mean really look at him.
Mostly at his eyes.
“I mean, if you’re not busy….”
“I don’t know about going with you to prom…that’s a bit far off. However, I would like to take some time to get to know you.”
“You said you weren’t too busy Friday—”
“Were you planning on breaking a leg to get out of playing?”
The class bell rang out in the near empty hallway. “How about afterward?”
“Yes,” I replied as I tried to walk into the classroom. “Best to get to class, Matt.”
“Right. I’ll see you later, Jen.”
He turned to walk away but kept looking back toward me. I waved him on to run; he took and bolted out the door—back into the rain.
It rained the entire day, with a little thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure. I sat with Krys and Lindsey again at lunch as we went over the routines for Friday.
“Jen, you’re going to be my base for a new stunt I want to try,” Lindsey said and then took a bite of a sandwich.
“Okay,” I replied.
“It’s because you have more muscles, I thought that—” she blurted out.
“I understand,” I replied.
“I didn’t offend you, did I?”
“You know, we need male cheerleaders. Think about what we could perform if we had more bases.”
Krys shook her head. “No way.”
“I’m not trusting any of these guys to throw me as far I could throw them.”
“What about you, Jen? How about Matt?”
“We’re not supposed to even think about Matt,” I answered as I looked at Krys for approval.
“Okay, so we’re back to hating him now? Tell me if I have to like or dislike him.”
“No one has to hate anyone, Jen’s just not supposed to talk to him,” Krys replied as she took her sandwich out of the bag.
After lunch, PE was relatively boring as we were forced to play basketball in the gym—never was a favorite for me. Chris made some small talk and also attempted to teach me how to shoot a three-pointer. We bantered back and forth and I was enjoying the camaraderie with him. It was such a long way off from when he would check me to the ground when I wasn’t looking. One would have believed he was trying out to be a winger for the Spokane Chiefs by the successful throw downs—except we weren’t on ice and I never had a helmet.
Cheerleading practice occurred later on in the same gym. We were on one side with the football players on the other, most of them pretending to skip rope or run scrimmage. Mostly though, I think they were all staring at us. Krys and Lindsey started practice off with having us run laps around the perimeter of the gym—which was just fine for me. Afterward, we moved to counting off the steps for a new routine. I tried to keep track of the timing and steps, but I kept feeling like I was being watched.
Looking over to the other side I could see six eyes looking in our direction—Matt, Chris, and Damon—at least he looked like Damon—which made me wonder whatever happened to Tyler.
Krys filled in the gaps as we drove home.
“Well, from the official story, Tyler, Matt, and Chris went out driving around when they were involved in a wreck.”
“No, surprisingly, they weren’t at fault, the steering went out,” Krys stated—she was apparently well-versed in Tracker folklore.
“Who was driving?”
“Joyriding?” I asked.
“No, just driving around when they struck a tree and Tyler was thrown out.”
It took me a moment to let all of that sink in. It took a few more for me to try and shake the guilty feelings of thinking the three of them were drinking or were drugged up or something as they sped down I-90 or something.
“Matt wouldn’t talk about it. Chris kind of changed too…and Damon, well I’ve never asked him about it…he doesn’t talk about it either.”
“When did this happen?”
Dinner was just the two of us as Aunt Lydia left a note on the counter that she switched shifts with another nurse
in the Emergency Room. We slummed it for the evening by pouring massive bowls of breakfast cereal and eating in the living room.
“Jen?” Krys asked while lying on the couch.
“Yeah?” I had taken the loveseat on the other side of the room.
“Where did you and Mike go while you were in Montana?”
Krys had a heaping pile of frosted flakes.
“We would go to the park and just sit and spend time together.” I tried to avoid spilling even one bran flake on the upholstery. “It was very tranquil.”
“Where did you meet him?”
I laughed a bit before replying. “The library.”
“Was he nice?”
“A knight in a shining Chevy,” I replied and then took a small bite. The cereal would be mush before I could eat a quarter of it.
“He had a car?" Krys barely kept from spilling her milk as she sat up.
A very nice truck and we went all over town, driving by the river and—”
“Had friends like Travis who were assholes.”
I placed the bowl on the coffee table—the cereal had the consistency of a milk shake.
“You see? You need to stay away from people like that.”
I took my bowl into the kitchen and washed it out in the sink.
“Krys?” I called out.
“I have to tell you something.”
She walked into the kitchen with her now empty bowl. “Hmm?”
“Matt-asked-me-out-Friday-night-and-I-said-okay-because-I-want-to-give-him-a-second-chance-even-though- it’s-kind-of-his-first-and-it-may-one-of-the-dumbest-things- in-the-world.” The words rushed out of me, and I exhaled a sigh of relief they were out there.
“Yeah, that’s pretty dumb,” she replied as she placed her bowl in the sink.
“I know, but—”
“It’s your new life, I guess.”
“That’s what I mean. He’s never met me and—”
Krys wrung her hands and gave a loud grunt. “What if I told you he kicks puppies and kittens?”
“He once kicked around someone we both used to know.”
“I know,” I said as Krys grabbed my hands.
“I have an idea. Go on the date and right before he expects the obligatory kiss goodnight you give him a swift kick in the ’nads.
“That’s what I would do. You could say this is for James and then boof!”
She moved my hands together and looked at my face. “Go out with him If you want. I’m not going to pretend to understand why.”
“If he tries anything I’ll-I’ll kick him in the ’nads.”
“There you go,” Krys replied.
I went to my room to work on a few of my designs.
It took a few false starts and a lot of cursing under my breath before I was happy with it—a long form, blue dress with small accents. I only had a few misgivings with it.
Officially, it was a prom dress but I was not officially going as it was almost half a year away.
It would have been wise to dismiss Matt’s invitation as a form of flattery—or a way to get into my pants. But, at least he was civil and wasn’t being crass or worse, beating the crap out of me.
I wanted to think he was different. Yes, he was an idiot, jerk, asshole—he had been all of those at one time in the past. Did he deserve a second chance? Would I give it to him?
My new cheer uniform sat on the side of my bed. I took a break from work to try it on. It was a multi-piece red and white outfit with a not-so-titillating design. It wouldn’t be something I’d make, but that was okay. And despite Krys’s objections to the contrary, it did indeed fit.
“Welcome to tonight’s game of your Ferris Saxons versus the Lewis and Clark Tigers!”
That Friday, for the first time ever, I stood on the sideline, looking toward the team at the first football game I ever went to. Actually, that’s half true. I had gone to one game and I was de-pants-ed…out in front of the home team section. Since I didn’t really care about football, and with Krystal being a part of the junior varsity cheer squad, I had no one to walk and talk with. It was best—and I use that term lightly—to stay at home.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please stand for our National Anthem, performed by the Ferris High School Marching Band.”
I stood with the others at attention as the band played.
However, my eyes wandered to look at the team, and toward Matt. Krys tried everything she could to get me to cancel the date as she thought it wasn’t a good idea. My purity—for lack of better words—may have been in jeopardy that evening. I’d wait and see where the night would take us.
I was abruptly brought back to reality with the start of the game.
“Jen, the crowd’s this way!”
“C’mon hear the Saxons call!”
I spent almost two hours on my feet performing almost every single cheer we had in our repertoire. We clapped so much our hands were chapped and I really felt like I would need a bag of cough drops before the next morning—but
it was worth it. I had survived being in front of everyone without tripping over my feet, forgetting a cheer, or falling out of step with the rest of the squad.
At the end of the game, we raced back to my car so we could make it out of the parking lot before the exit got congested.
“Where are you going to go? Krys asked.
“I don’t know…he didn’t say,” I replied as I unlocked the door.
“What do you really think about him?”
“I like him…I’ve always really liked him.”
“Why?” Krys asked as I drove out onto the street.
Our games were played at Joe Albi Stadium, a ten mile drive from the northeast side of Spokane back to the South Hill.
“He paid attention to me.”
“You want attention? Buy a dog.”
“I used to think that if I could get him to talk to me, we could work things out and maybe be more than friends.”
“Nothing says I love you like a punch to the gut.”
“I figured he would never see me through James.”
“Through James?” Krys asked. “You lost me there.”
I shifted gears and accelerated to get onto the interstate. “Matt couldn’t see me, the real me, through him.”
“And you saw him, the real him, do all of those things.”
“He’s different now. There’s something else there.”
“Whatever,” Krys replied then huffed out a breath.
“I promise you, I will do some form of bodily harm to him if he tries something.”
Thirty minutes later I walked out the front door wearing my uniform design, but with the tie loosened a bit and with my hair a bit in disarray. I wasn’t slumming it but I wanted to see what his reaction would be if I didn’t glam myself up for the rest of the evening.
Matt’s car drove up a few moments later and he leaned over and opened the passenger side door.
“Have you been waiting long?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
“We shall,” I replied as I stepped in and closed the door. “Would I be too forward if I said you look nice?” he asked.
“Well, you look nice.”
“Thank you,” I replied with a small grin.
“Where would you like to go? This is your limo….”
“Please, lead on, surprise me.”
We could have gone to McDonald’s, I wouldn’t have minded one bit.
“Well…I know this quaint establishment. They serve great Italian.”
We ended up at a small sandwich shop. Matt attempted to make it the best he could, allowing me to sit down as he ordered for us. I asked only for a large cup of water.
He came back to the table with the water, a Coke and a medium-sized sandwich. I didn’t know his financial
situation; I didn’t really care. We could have gone for a walk in the park downtown—well, during the day and without a baseball diamond in sight—and I would have been happy.
“You’re staying with Krystal?” he asked as he handed the cup of water to me.
“We kind of met some time ago and when I decided to come here, she invited me to stay.”
“I wished she would’ve mentioned you, but, she doesn’t really like me too much,” he replied as he invited me to take a half.
“Why?” I asked.
“She didn’t tell you?” I shook my head to his sandwich offering.
“Perhaps, but maybe you could tell me yourself?”
His guard dropped a little more. We had been alone for under thirty minutes total and I didn’t see any of the old Matt Tracker.
“I’m usually known as either a good guy or an asshole, depending on who you talk to. Sometimes I’m a jerk, I’ll admit. Isn’t everyone sometimes?” he asked as he picked up one of half of the sandwich.
“I think it’s in our nature, yes.”
“Yeah. Well, Krystal had this cousin, James. He used to go to Ferris and I knew him when he was in junior high and probably before that. He was kind of weird and—well, some people would’ve said he was gay or something.” He lowered the half back onto the plate.
“What did you think about him?”
“I didn’t. I didn’t really care about him in any way, he was just some kid and—”
The fact that I—I mean, James—had known Matt for a long time made it strange that he referred him as some kid.
“And what would you tell him now?”
“Dunno. I like to say that I’ve grown up...but guys never do,” he said with a shrug.
“Grow up, or mature?”
“You see, that’s what I like about you. You get it. You get what guys think. You must have a brother.”
“No, girls do stupid things too. Guys just don’t usually pay attention when we do.”
“So, you had no personal feelings about, James?” I asked before he took another bite.
“I didn’t care who he was. He was just there—an easy target and I was a stupid kid. What can I say? I was guilty of being a jerk to people who were smaller than me.”
I leaned forward and looked at him. He tried to avoid eye contact as he continued. “I don’t know. For all I know, he could maybe be six-foot three and could kick my ass— umm, rear—without effort. I wouldn’t put it past him and I’d probably let him do it. If I could say I was sorry, I would and I’d hope that he’d accept it.”
“You should tell that to Krystal.”
He shook his head. “She doesn’t want to hear a thing from me, especially things about her cousin. You ever meet him?”
“No, I can’t say I have. She’s talked to me about him… sad case.”
He gave me a slight smile.
“Are you going for a psychology career or something?”
“No, I just thought you’d want to talk.” I was interested in hearing a different side of Matt Tracker
“I’d like to hear more about you. You’re the mystery girl.”
“Is that what I’m called?” I asked.
“No, that’s what I thought of you…well, one of the things I thought.”
“What was another?”
He nervously swallowed. “Another what?”
“Another thing you thought?”
“Well, after I solved the mystery of your name, I thought: 'She’s cute…What’s she like?'”
He then reached out for my hand; I let him take it, even though there was a subtle trace of marinara on his palm.
We spent a little while at the shop, not talking about anything really big. I told him how my parents liked to do their own things and how I preferred to live a quieter life, which is why I chose to stay with Krys. We talked about the things we wanted to do after high school. The
employees had to escort us to the door at closing time and we continued talking in the lot.
“So, how’s your schedule for tomorrow?” he asked as we stood next to his car—the only one left by that time.
“I’m going clothes shopping. I don’t suppose you’d like to come?”
He hesitated before responding. “Would you think bad of me if I said no?”
“No, I’d worry more if you wanted to come along.”
“I have the patience, I mean, I’ll wait outside the stores for you.”
I leaned in and patted him on the cheek.
“That’s quite the sacrifice. But I couldn’t make you go through that kind of trauma.”
“I don’t know…I think I’d go through a lot more to be with you.”
He closed the gap, took my right hand, and turned me toward him.
“I’m going to say something that’s going to sound…old, like…I mean, I…I can’t….”
I moved my open hand to his face and placed two fingers on his lips. “Do you hear that?”
“What?” he asked.
“It’s the sound of the hopeless romantic who can’t speak his heart.”
“You’re right, I don’t know how to say—”
“Then don’t.” I replied as I moved to kiss him.
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