"That's a huge compliment, coming from you," I said.
He opened one eye. "Right."
"I'm serious. You have a box too. You've wondered, 'Will any woman ever be as important to me as football? There is not such a woman. Despair!' Then you found me. I'm proud to sit in that box. Next to the box containing a football."
He rolled to face me. The smile had left his face. He wasn't kidding anymore. He said, "It's not just a game. I mean, it is, but it means more than that to me."
"I know." Admittedly, I didn't understand one hundred percent. But he seemed to love playing football like I loved taking pictures. At some point, an activity became a part of you.
"It could be a career for me," he said, "if not as a player, maybe as a coach."
"You would make an awesome coach," I said.
"But even if the game doesn't pan out for me," he said, "I've been good at it. I've worked hard for it. There aren't a lot of things in my life that I can say that about." He rolled on his back again and reached for my hand. We watched the clouds spin by above us.
After a long silence, filled with the roar of the excitable ocean, I said, "I want to talk about sex again."
He turned his head and gazed at me. "You only want to talk about it?"
"For now. Do you think we should wait for some special event, like graduation?"
"No," he said immediately.
He chuckled. "You're asking me if we should wait. My opinion is, no. But we will, if you want to." He pulled me closer. "I'll always be the one who wants to spend the summer after graduation touring Europe even though we don't have any money, who wants to cut class and go to the beach for the day, who drags you to Vegas the second we turn twenty-one. I'll say, 'Come on, it'll be fun.' You just have to tell me when to stop."
I laid my head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat. He wrapped his arm around me. Whatever my future was with Brody, it did sound like an awful lot of fun.
* * *
On Monday in journalism class, Mr. Oakley called me up to his desk. I hadn't planned to tattle on Kennedy. Quinn had done that for me.
Mr. Oakley asked me to tell him my side of the story, but Kennedy hardly let me get a word in edgewise. He followed me to Mr. Oakley's desk, stood right beside me, and denied everything I said. Mr. Oakley did not look happy. At first I thought he was furious with me. Then he barked at Kennedy to sit down-and Mr. Oakley was not a barker. He tried to convince me to stay on as yearbook photographer. I told him I couldn't work like this and resisted the urge to throw my hands in the air like a diva. He said we should table the discussion until he'd spoken to Kennedy, and he took Kennedy out into the hall
Half an hour later, at lunch, Kaye told me, "I know some gossip about you! We're having some minor problems in student council, so I've been spending a lot of quality time in the teachers' workroom. I've overheard things."
"I'll bite," Tia said. We all moved closer together, knowing teachers' workroom gossip was the juiciest kind of gossip. "What are the minor problems in student council?"
Kaye's eyes cut to me, then to Tia. "Top-secret issues that probably will amount to nothing. Anyway," she said, splaying her fingers like this was going to be delicious, "Mr. Oakley was bitching nonstop about Kennedy. He wants to fire him as yearbook editor for moving up your deadline, Harper. He said you were reluctant to accuse Kennedy yourself, but several students told him Kennedy fired you just because you broke up with him."
"Really!" I exclaimed. "Mr. Oakley didn't say anything like that to me."
"He can't," Kaye said. "He doesn't think he can fire Kennedy, because the code of student conduct isn't clear enough. Principal Chen is afraid Kennedy's parents could sue the school. Mr. Oakley is mad. As. Hell. He keeps saying it's a fucking travesty that Kennedy gets away with murder and makes the yearbook's ace photographer feel like she has to quit."
"Did Mr. Oakley actually say 'fucking travesty'?" Tia asked.
"Listen," Kaye said, "I have learned some language in the teachers' workroom that would curl your hair. You should have heard them after Sawyer passed out from heat exhaustion. The principal and the cheerleading coach and the football coach all blamed each other. I cowered in the corner, waiting for them to shiv each other."
I felt like a million dollars for the rest of the school day. I had liked Mr. Oakley before, but it was great to be called an ace photographer. He appreciated me and was trying to come to my aid. Maybe Brody had been right and my decision to quit had been too rash. I would talk to Mr. Oakley about it again tomorrow. Paid or not, yearbook photographer was an important position I'd worked hard for, and I wasn't ready to give it up.
My good mood lasted until about five o'clock, when, as I was in the middle of altering one of my dresses for Kaye, she called my cell and asked me to come back to school. She had student council business to discuss with me and Brody as soon as he got out of football practice. She wouldn't tell me what the business was over the phone, but there was no way I could have missed this. I was afraid this was the reason Kaye had been spending so much quality time in the teachers' workroom: the minor problem, the top-secret issue that probably would amount to nothing. I hopped on my bike and pedaled back to school.