“I second it,” says Gwen with a bright smile plastered on her face, and red flags rise. She’s wanted the homecoming crown since she was three.
Beth jerks up and stamps her foot against the bleacher like a toddler throwing a fit. “No, you can’t. Nominate yourself.”
“It’s okay,” says Gwen, “I was already nominated in first and second period.”
“So was I.” I waggle my eyebrows at Beth.
“We could walk on the field together. Won’t that be fun?”
Beth stands completely still, mouth slightly slack, her hands held out to her sides with her fingers spread. I finally nailed the girl who’s been nailing me for weeks.
Coach Knox claps his hands to get our attention. “All in favor of adding Beth to the football homecoming court raise their hands.”
With every eye on Beth, the entire class raises their hands. Everyone except for Lacy. Her stare burns holes through me, but she keeps her mouth shut.
“All opposed,” says Coach Knox.
“Me,” Beth yells. I smile. I love winning.
“Congratulations,” Coach Knox says in a bored voice. “You’re on the homecoming court.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you people?”
Coach Knox points at her. “Take a seat and watch your language.”
The bell rings. Beth grabs her backpack and leans into my face. “You are so fucking dead.”
ARROGANT BOY—he’s going down. Blah. It’s aggravating the way they worship him. Ryan this. Ryan that. Ryan’s a god. Ryan’s a goddamn moron. I’ve met guys like him before. Hell, I screwed one. Rather, one screwed me over. I’m not a stupid little girl anymore and I will no longer fall for things that look pretty.
Our Calculus teacher, with teased eighties hair, peers at us over her gigantic glasses.
“When I call your name, come to the front and write out your work on the board.” She scans the class. “Morgan Adams, Sarah Janes, Gwen Gardner, and Beth Risk.”
The back of my head hits the wall behind me. Damn. This is Scott’s fault. The stupid guidance counselor told Scott I couldn’t keep up in this class, but Scott insisted I be placed in the honors program. Scott explained to me later that night, over the tofu and green crap his wife insisted on calling dinner, that he was raising my expectations of myself.
“So, it’s true,” someone says from the front of class. “Your last name is Risk.”
Clank. Clank. The sound of the chains squeezing my lungs echoes in my head. Since Ryan’s little performance in Gym, the entire school has whispered as I pass and this time it isn’t because I’m the school freak. No, they whisper for reasons way worse. Their envious, judging eyes survey me because they want to know me—or rather, my uncle.
“Are you related to Scott Risk?” asks a girl with short brown hair.
Everyone in the class watches me. My hands start to sweat.
“Ms. Risk?” prods our teacher. I’m not sure what she’s prodding me on: that I’m the only one who hasn’t come to the front or because I haven’t answered the question. I stare at my empty notebook. Panic pushes my heart past my rib cage. What do I do?
My teacher’s lips edge into a cheesy grin.
“Why don’t you go ahead and satisfy the curiosity of your fellow classmates.” On the first day of school, Scott met privately with my teachers to “ensure I was in the best possible hands.” The witch flirted with Scott until he gave her an autograph. She probably has his face tattooed on her ass.
Sweat forms along the hairline on my neck as the world sways. It’s been too much: the changes. Losing Mom. Losing Isaiah. Losing my home. I’ve tried. Really I have. I’ve roamed the halls as the reclusive freak show.
This answer will change everything again.
Whispers and comments rush through the class like wind from an oncoming thunderstorm. Our teacher becomes uncharacteristically cheery. “I’m sure Beth would love to answer your questions about her uncle outside of class. Now, Ms. Risk, would you please come and write out your solution to today’s equation?”
“No,” I say without thinking. No to both of her statements. I’m not answering anyone’s questions and I’m not writing out a solution.
My reply silences the class.
“Excuse me?” she asks.
I look at my blank sheet again. There is no way in hell I’m going to that dry-erase board and have the entire school witness the niece of the great Scott Risk fail because I’m an idiot. “I’m not writing out my solution.”
The bell rings and my teacher’s expression gives new meaning to the term wrathful. A couple more pounds of chains settle in my stomach. I’ve gone and done it—I’ve broken Scott’s rules in a very public fashion. How could I do this to Mom?
“Ms. Risk,” she calls from her desk as the rest of the class files out. I go, knowing the level of shit I’m in is too deep for her to allow an audience. “Let’s discuss a few rules.”
She “discusses” for a long time, and when she finally lets me go, I race down the stairs.
Scott made it perfectly clear I was never to miss my bus. The idling buses greet me through the window when I reach the bottom floor. I have seconds before they leave.
A high-pitched whistle catches my attention.
Ryan leans against the last locker with a shit-eating smirk on his face. He lifts his right hand and shows me his palm. Written there is the word that makes me want to vomit: can.
The buses roll out of the lot. Ryan withdraws his hand, and strides out the door.
DEEP, THROATY LAUGHTER fills the school’s weight room when Chris rips off the Kick Me sign Logan planted on his back. The laughter grows when Chris wads the paper up, throws it at Logan, and flips him off.
“All right, girls.” Coach bangs his hand against one of the lockers to gain our attention.
“I’ve got this week’s study hall list.”
The laughter switches to groaning. Coach is serious about our grades. Each week he pesters our teachers for a progress report and if he sees our grades slightly teeter, we end up in after-school tutoring. I wipe my hands on a towel and prepare to lie back to finish my reps. I’m no Logan, but I keep my grades at a decent level.
“Allen, Niles, and Jones.”
Chris tilts his head back and moans. “Damn science.”
I snap the towel at him. “Have fun.” Nothing can lower this mood. I finally got the better of Beth. And it’s about damn time. No one has bested me this long.
“Screw you, Ryan.” Without another glance, Chris leaves the room.
“Stone!” calls Coach.
Coach stares at me oddly and hitches a thumb in the direction Chris just went. “Study hall.”
“For what?” My grades are fine.
He shrugs. “Your English teacher requested you.”
Back talk will get me push-ups or laps, so I suck up any commentary and head out of the room and down the empty hallways. When I finally reach study hall, I’m immediately greeted by Chris’s chuckles. He leans back in his chair, ignoring the science book in front of him. “My life just got better.”
If it weren’t for the tutors and teachers in the room, I’d tell him where to shove it.
“Over here, Ryan.” Mrs. Rowe waves at me as if I’m across a stadium. Her hair has a green tint today. I acknowledge her with a movement of my chin and walk over to her desk.
I slide into the chair next to her. “I passed the quiz and I’ve turned in my papers.”
Her hand flutters in the air. “Oh, you’re not here because of your grades.”
My eyes narrow as my muscles tighten.
“Then why am I here?”
She shuffles through a stack of papers, searching for something. Possibly her mind. “Your coach said we could request you for any academic reason. It doesn’t have to be a bad reason. Stop being so pessimistic.”
Pessimistic? “I’m missing weight training.”
“So you are,” she says as she pulls my
George the zombie tale out of the stack. “You haven’t turned in your paperwork for the writing competition. What you should be worried about is missing your opportunity at a college scholarship. If you win this competition, you’ll receive money toward any Kentucky school of your choice. It’s not a full scholarship, but it’s something.”
“I’m not going to college,” I say plainly.
She freezes and stares at me as if I’d announced her impending death. “Why not?”
I gesture at my shirt. Is this lady for real?
“I’m a ballplayer. I’m going to play ball.”
“You can play ball at college. Ryan.…” She falters, then places my story in front of me.
“This is the most magnificent piece of writing I’ve seen from a high school student. Ever.
Have you considered that you’re more than a ballplayer?”
My mouth opens to respond, but absolutely nothing comes out and that shocks me into closing it. My mind’s blank. I’m a ballplayer. A damn good one. Isn’t that enough?
“Did you even read the information I gave you about the state competition? For three years I’ve watched you obsess over winning. Aren’t you interested in winning this too?”
I say nothing as my face reddens. Mrs. Rowe just called me out and she has a right to.
I didn’t read the paperwork. I haven’t even considered the competition since the other night when she first told me I finaled.
“I have a feeling you enjoyed writing this. It’s too good for you not to have.”
She’s right again. I did enjoy it. Finding those words, being in George’s head…I stare down at the printed-out pages…it felt freeing. Just like when I step on the pitcher’s mound before the game and the pressure begins. The moment when it’s just me, a ball, and a mitt to throw into.
And he wondered what happened to the world around him. Did it also collapse into chaos? Had everything ceased to exist as it was, just like how his life spiraled into nothingness? Or had the rest of the world continued on like normal, because in the end his position within it never really mattered?
The words I wrote glare at me in accusation.
A nagging ache pulls at my insides. I’m proud of those words and denying the competition is like denying part of me. In front of my computer, there were no secrets, no complications—just a world that I could control.
“In order to be considered for the award,”
Mrs. Rowe continues, “you need to complete a short story and turn it in a week prior to the event. Your attendance is still required that day, however, as that’s when you’ll get critiques of your work and meet with faculty members from universities across the state. It’s one day. Just one Saturday.”
I hear my dad in my head. “I have games Saturdays.” And I glance over at Chris, who’s eyeing me warily. How much of this conversation can he hear? “My team’s depending on me.”READ MORE >>