“Lucy!” a voice shouted over at me. “Lucy!” and again.
Try as I might, I could not escape the suffocating fog that was Taylor Donovan. “Get down here!” she motioned at me, waving at a space where she and her apostles stood clapping, kicking, and ra-ra-ra’ing.
Being front and center in a cheerleader sandwich wasn’t my first choice, but it was better than my current situation. Half nak*d boy to my right threw his arms into the air, yelling, “Go, Spartans!” and it was immediately clear he didn’t believe in, own, or use enough deodorant.
Paint me crimson and gold and call me Go, Fight, Win Wendy—I couldn’t get to those cheerleaders fast enough.
“What were you doing up there sandwiched between Dumb and Dumber?” Taylor asked, weaving her arm through mine. “You do realize you probably just made their night because I’m certain that was the first time either of them had gotten anywhere near copping a feel.”
“Eww.” I shuddered. “Taylor, please check the visuals at the door. I’m totally creeping out right now.”
“Well, you’re lucky I saved you,” she said, motioning at a few other cheerleaders. No big surprise they were the girls that sat at our lunch table, but the only names I could remember were Lexie and Samantha. “Besides, a girl like you belongs down here. I saw your tumbling routine in gym this week and you’ve obviously done this before.”
Of course Taylor would be the one person to catch a glimpse of my improv dance routine on the mats while I was waiting for everyone else to suit up. “I cheered at my last school,” I said. “But only because they didn’t have a dance team.”
“Well, we have a dance team here, but that’s just where the girls who are too fat or ugly to cheer go.” Not even a smidgen of remorse in her delivery. “You don’t want to join the dance team. You belong with us.”
A few of the other girls circled around us and nodded their heads.
“Since Holly didn’t come back this year, we’ve got an extra uniform and we just can’t form a proper pyramid without a tenth team mate.”
“Thanks for the offer, Taylor, but really, I’m more the dance team type of girl. Plus, I heard Southpointe’s has won some state champion—”
She lifted her hand to cut me off. “You’re cheerleader material. You’re gorg, you have experience, and ninety percent of the male student body is already jacking off to you.” Another visual I really could have done without. “The other ten percent is still undeclared in the sexuality department,” she whispered.
“There’s a potpourri of reasons to join if I’ve ever heard some,” I muttered, wondering if I was better off sniffing rancid armpits and getting “accidentally” felt up all night.
And that’s when Jude came jogging out onto the field. I forgot about Taylor, and armpits, and the whole damn world. There was nothing but him. And gold spandex forming over parts that flexed and stretched and pulled and made me forget how to blink.
“Who, in all God’s gracious green earth,” Taylor said, leaning over the fence, “is that?”
Just then, he looked over, meeting my eyes, and the smile that broke over his face couldn’t be disguised by the helmet’s face guard. Extending his arm, he pointed at me all the way to where the rest of Southpointe’s football team huddled at the twenty yard line.
“That, Taylor,” I said, weaving my fingers through the fence, “is Jude Ryder.”
“I knew there was a God,” she breathed.
“Yes,” I agreed, smiling as he squirmed in his spandex, “there most certainly is.”
“So are you guys . . .”
“Taylor,” I warned, spinning on her.
“What?” she said, adjusting the crown on her head. “Something is definitely going on with you two, and the only thing I’m more certain about than that is it’s not just a friend relationship.”
“We’re friends,” I said because I didn’t have any other title for what we were. We’d kissed in ways that were illegal in forty-nine states, spent every free moment at school together, he looked after me, I watched over him, but we were, as far as I knew, in no way exclusive. I didn’t have a claim to him, although I wanted that. But did he want the same?
“Honey, a girl can’t keep a man like that as a friend. He’s a lover or an ex-lover, but never a friend. Men like that weren’t created to be a woman’s friend—they were created to make a woman hit high C three times in a row.”
Another colorful visual by Taylor Donovan, although this one I didn’t mind as much. “Sorry, Taylor. I don’t know what to tell you. I care about him. He cares about me. If that doesn’t make us friends in your book, go ahead and label us whatever you like.”
Her eyebrows went sky high.
“Except for that,” I clarified.
The buzzer sounded and the two teams lined up, Jude in the QB spot looking like a giant playing a game with a bunch of munchkins. Snatching a pom-pom from Taylor, I lifted it in the air and shook the hell out of it. “Go, Spartans!” I hollered. “Come on, Ryder! Let’s see what you’ve got!”
It was a long way off, and he was crouched in position, but I would have bet my worn-in pointe shoes a smug smile appeared.
“Hut. Hut. Hike!” the center shouted, hiking the ball back to Jude. You could feel the collective breath every single Southpointe fan in the bleachers took.
Jude caught it easily and, instead of throwing it a respectable twenty-five yards to get us a first down, he cradled that football into his side and ran. In fact, he sprinted, sprinted like he was running from the cops. I grinned, realizing his speed work likely had something to do with evading the cops.
It was a long shot, hoping to run the football into the end zone when we were eighty yards back, but the only person who didn’t seem concerned with that was Jude. He ran like he couldn’t not finish in the end zone. He ran like no one could stop him.
And no one could.
Player after player from Cascade High tried to block him or tackle him, a few even tried to trip him or take him down by grabbing his face mask. None of them were successful. The ones who missed Jude’s stiff arm were just swatted off like they weren’t varsity grade high school football players.
At the fifty, the crowd busted into a roar. Everyone was hooting and hollering and swinging their arms in the direction of the end zone. Beyond every law of physics, Jude’s pace picked up.
By the time he hit the twenty, there were no more Cascade High players to stop him. They all decorated the astroturf like a box of fallen toothpicks. Jude danced the last few yards into the end zone, shaking and shimmying in those gold spandex pants, eliciting an uptick in the female hollering.
Once in the end zone, he spiked the ball and then turned to face the crowd. Everyone was going crazy, like they’d just witnessed the birth of Jesus and the invention of electricity at the same time. Jude was a rock star, their savior, and they were paying him homage.
Not taking a few moments to bask in the glory of the eighty yard run and one thousand people chanting his name, he loped over to the sidelines. Past Coach A, who was still frozen in place, past his players on the sidelines holding up their hands, and then over the cyclone fence in one seamless move.
He didn’t stop until he was sweating and smiling in front of me. “Hey,” he breathed, sliding his helmet off his head. The rain coming in contact with his sweaty forehead was steaming up the air.
“Hey,” I replied, pretending we weren’t the center of everyone’s attention.
“Did you like that little run out there?”
I smiled as he slid his beanie around until it was in just the right spot. It was like some damn security blanket. “It was all right,” I understated, lifting a shoulder.
“All right, huh?” he said, moving closer. In fact, so close our bodies couldn’t have been closer unless we were buck nak*d. “That was a pretty clever move there, Luce. Volunteering me for the jerk-off team to get back at me for getting you voted an official Southpointe princess,” he said, flicking my crown.
“It was clever, wasn’t it?”
“It was a good one, I’ll give you that,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “But the hell of it is, Luce, that I never, ever let someone else get the last word in.”
“Please,” I said, making a face. “What are you going to do? Have me suit up and be a back-up kicker?”
“No,” he said, lowering his hands to my hips. My throat ran dry. “I’m going to do something much better than that.”
“Oh, yeah?” I said, watching his eyes swirl silver. “What’s that?”
Lifting me above him, he winked. “This,” he said, lowering me so my lips landed right on his. And whether it was his or mine that started to move first didn’t matter because it was apparent neither were going to finish soon.
Rain. Jude. Me. Kissing.
Stick a fork in me because I was done.
“Mr. Ryder,” a dulled voice cut through the din of noise exploding around us. “Mr. Ryder!”
Jude groaned against my lips, not letting me go when he turned to Coach A.
“Think you’re about done here?” Coach A asked, smirking. “We’ve got a game to win.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be done here, Coach,” he called back, earning a few laughs from the bleachers and making me flush down to my toes.
“In that case, wrap it up and get your ass back out here,” he hollered. “Starting quarterbacks don’t make out with their girlfriends when they’ve got forty points to make up.”
“This one does,” Jude whispered, lifting me up onto my tiptoes and kissing me again. “Wait for me after the game. I’ve got some unfinished business with you.” Setting me down, he pulled the blanket tight around me again before leaping over the fence and jogging back onto the field.
I don’t know how he was able to bound and sprint like that because I couldn’t move. What the hell had just happened? Whatever it was, I wanted to rinse and repeat until I took my dying breath.
“What. The. Hell.”
My sentiments exactly.
Taylor marched up to me, arms crossed, and stare pointed. “Friends, eh?”
“Friendship is a pivotal element of our relationship.” I was still breathless, but at least I could form words like pivotal.
“Yeah, but not the defining element. Obviously.” For whatever reason, Taylor seemed pissed. I guess she was going to revoke my pom-pom privileges.
“Oh?” I was back to one syllable responses.
“Jude Ryder just kissed you in front of a gazillion people and he didn’t dispute it when Couch Arcadia called you his girlfriend.”
Now that the aftereffects of the kiss were wearing off, I could form and think a logical string of thoughts, and what Taylor was saying was true. Jude might as well have posted our make out moment to the internet for the number of people that had and would see it, and he’d barely flinched when Coach A used the “G” word.