(This is one of 10 preview chapters for Boys & Girls: Part I. You can see the rest of the chapters on the official page)
September 20th, 2016
Kinsky, California, USA
Cole woke up from another nightmare.
Sweat drenched his bed. He took off the sheets and huddled them into a pile, then quickly got dressed out of the first things he saw in his closet. He put on the stained hoodie, flipped the hood up, and rushed down the stairs.
“You heading out?”
Cole turned around. The older woman from before was there, sitting at the table. This time she wore a pair of thin glasses, and had a newspaper in her hands.
“Uh… yeah. I’m, going to school early.”
The woman brought her glasses down to her nose, and gave the boy a look of suspicion.
“You’re… going to school, early?”
“Y-yeah, I just…” Cole looked away, leaning on the door to the outside. “I just need to get my mind off something, is all.”
The woman went back to reading her newspaper. Cole walked out to the car and drove off.
He did in fact go to the school that morning, more specifically to the small weight-lifting room in the gym. Getting up on the pull-up bar, he pulled himself up and down, over and over again, until he began to sweat. It helped dull the pain a little bit, but he could still feel it in the back of his mind.
“It’s funny. Usually I’m the first one here.”
Cole jumped down from the bar, his body out of breath. He turned to the entrance, and saw Isaac.
“Oh, yeah, I just needed to… distract myself from something. Sorry.”
Isaac smiled, putting his backpack on the ground. “No need to be sorry. It’s not my gym.” The football captain walked over to the dumbbell rack, when he had an idea. “Actually, since there’s two of us, we can do the benchpress and spot for each other. If you want to.”
“Oh, not today, but… thanks.”
The two went back to their own workouts. Isaac grabbed two heavy dumbbells and began curling for a bit, before bringing the conversation back.
“So, you coming to the game?”
“Yeah. Going with the rest of the crew.”
Isaac looked at himself in the mirror, continuing to pump the iron. “I’ll try not to embarrass myself in front of everyone, then.”
Cole continued going up the bar. “Pretty sure most people go to the games just to get drunk with friends. So you should be okay.”
Isaac laughed. “You aren’t wrong. Maybe I got a chance then.”
The two continued to work out in silence, until a few of the other football players came in. At that point, Cole quickly picked up his backpack and left.
It was lunch time in the art room. Ash looked up at her canvas, a brush between her teeth and an old surplus military jacket around her shoulders.
The door opened, revealing Emily with two lunch plates. “Here, I got you something.”
Emily put down one of the plates on the table beside Ash. Ash thanked her. The president sat down nearby, picking up some of her own food while looking at the painting. “So, what’s it gonna be?” she asked.
Ash took the brush out of her mouth, looking up at the canvas herself. “I’m not super sure yet. The theme is ‘storm’, and I was gonna have… a boat, here, in the middle… and maybe the storm kicks up in the background…” she pointed to different parts of the canvas as she spoke.
Emily looked at it, in attention. “Yeah, I can kind of see it.”
“Well, I mean, I haven’t added it yet. But that’s what I’m feeling. I don’t know, maybe I’ll change it…”
Emily, potato chips in her mouth, tried to intervene. “No, I think it’s a good idea! You should make it whatever you want. I trust your creative process.”
The door opened again. This time Kat, Rose, and Sadja all packed into the room. Kat saw the two girls in front of the painting, and approached them.
“Hey, you guys know where the spirit gear is?”
Ash pointed to the other side of the room, in a corner surrounded by boxes. “Up on the table, by the stack of notebooks.”
Kat smiled. “Thanks, Ash.” Rose and Kat both walked over to the corner, while Sadja stayed behind, looking at the painting.
“Damn Ash, this looks great!”
Ash blushed. “I mean, it’s not close to being done. I still have to, add some stuff… and paint it all…”
Sadja shook her head. “Sure looks a hell of a lot better than my stick figures.”
Kat and Rose walked back from the corner, a box in each of their hands. Kat thanked the two girls again, and the three walked back out.
“So, any plans on how we divvy this up?” Sadja asked, walking beside the two.
“Matthews wants us to just disperse it out to everyone. I figure we hit the courtyard and gym, since that’s where the most people are at,” Rose replied.
“Can I help either of you?”
“Yeah, sure.” Kat answered Sadja. “We can split up, pass stuff out at the courtyard.”
“Alright, I’ll hit the gym then.” Rose repositioned the box on top of her arms. “Seeya!”
At the pathway intersection, the girls split, with Sadja going with Kat. Rose walked down the path towards the gym, when she heard a voice speak to her.
Rose turned and saw Maria. She put down the box on a bench and walked up to the girl. “Hey, chica. How are you?”
Maria was depressed, and her face didn’t betray it. She tried to give a smile, but she ended up just looking over to the side, avoiding Rose’s face. “Listen, I… I don’t think I’m gonna come to the game tonight.”
Rose’s ears pricked up. “Are you coming to the dance?”
“Oh, yeah! Yeah, of course. Just, today, I’m not feeling well, and… I just, feel like I need to…”
Rose put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. The girl looked up at her.
“You do whatever you need to feel better. It’s okay. No excuse needed.”
Maria gave a smile, a real one this time. “Thanks, Rose.”
Rose smiled back. She picked the box back up, and the two went their separate ways.
It was now thirty minutes until game night. Cole drove himself and Lukas to the front of the parking lot, where they saw Rodrigo at the gate.
“How the hell’d you get here so quickly?” Cole asked as he got out.
Rodrigo shrugged. “Got here on the bus. We were one of the first people here. Aaron and Rose are here too, in line.”
Lukas closed the car door behind him. “Think they saved us some spots?”
Rodrigo smiled. “Let’s go see.”
The three boys came over to the ticketing gate. Rose and Aaron both waved them over, much to the chagrin of those in the back of the line. Aaron had on a Kinsky High hoodie, while Rose wore blue and silver painted stripes on her cheeks, with a fake silver streak clipped to her hair.
“So, I’m guessing that’s not water?” Aaron pointed to the plastic bottle in Rodrigo’s hand.
“Ah… you know me too well, don’t you?” Rodrigo smiled.
“Isn’t that gonna get caught by security?” Rose asked skeptically.
“Nah. I’ve done this like, a dozen times now. You see, the secret is this: they always check the bags, and they always check the metal bottles, but they usually don’t check the plastic disposable ones, and they especially never check them if they still got the label on.” Rodrigo pointed to the AQUASPIRIT logo on the bottle. “I guess they don’t expect anyone to be stupid enough to actually do it.”
Cole chuckled. “Seems like a major oversight.”
“Oh, lord knows they’re going to fix it. I just hope I get to graduate before then.”
The group got to the check, and as it turns out Rodrigo was right. The security guard spotted the bottle, but didn’t seem to care, and instead simply nodded as Rodrigo came through. Rodrigo nodded back.
When they got to the top of the bleachers, Rose pointed. “Look, Em and Ash are already here!”
The two girls leaned against the front railing, in the first row. Both wore Kinsky High baseball caps, observing the field. Rodrigo, on the other hand, started walking to the other end.
“Gonna sit over here, by the back. Keep the heat off, you know? If you want a quick sip, just come on over.”
Aaron called back to him. “You know I will!”
As the group walked down the steps towards Emily and Ash, Rose spoke up. “I feel bad for Rod sometimes. He always sits alone, Svedka or not. I feel like… we gotta be more proactive in inviting him over, you know?”
Aaron shrugged. “Man just wants to be alone sometimes. Can’t fault him for that.”
Rose sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. I guess.”
As the group came down, Emily spotted them and smiled. They all sat down in the front row, next to each other.
“Didn’t take you guys as football fans.” Lukas leaned over and said to Emily and Ash.
Emily laughed. “Oh, no. It’s a commitment thing. Stugo stuff, you know.”
Rose, who sat nearest to Emily, turned to her. “Has Kat gotten here yet?”
“I think I saw her on the field, but I don’t know where she went.”
The group sat, conversing among each other for a few minutes. At some point after Sadja came down, dressed in a Kinsky High Football shirt and denim shorts. Her face was intricately painted in the school colors, and the same streak which Rose had was multiplied across her bob.
“Damn girl, you went all out!” Aaron chuckled as he saw her.
Sadja sat down next to Lukas, on the end. “I always go all out, that’s my secret!” she called back to him.
The game got closer to the start, and the players began to enter onto the field. Rose checked her phone, and asked the same question she had before. “Where’s Kat?”
Sadja smiled. “Oh, you’ll see.” The words came uneasily to Lukas’ ears. The girl then got up, pointing to the others. “You guys want anything?”
Aaron pulled out his wallet from his pants, and gave her a few dollars. “Can you get me a popcorn and a Coke?” Sadja nodded and took the cash.
“Oh, we already got some stuff.” Emily pointed to the small popcorn bags at her and Ash’s legs. Sadja nodded.
“Oh, I don’t want anything. But thanks.” Cole responded. Sadja nodded.
“Lukas,” Cole spoke. Lukas snapped out of it.
“Oh, uh… nothing. Thanks.”
Sadja nodded. “Alright, sounds good.” She walked up the bleachers, and the band fanfare began to play.
It took a little bit of gazing, but Lukas finally saw her. She was along the sidelines, wearing the same shirt Sadja had. Her back was facing him, looking out at the field. There were a couple of blue and silver ribbons in her ponytail, and she wore a short light gray skirt. Her hands were together, behind her back.
On the field, the coin was called. Russell and Isaac represented the Eagles, and two other players represented the away team. Russell called heads. It landed that way, and they elected to receive.
The whole crowd watched as the boys went back to the sidelines. But something peculiar happened. Isaac took off his helmet, and instead of approaching the rest of the team he went over to where Kat stood. The two approached each other. Then, with the crowd in front of them, they came together and kissed.
The crowd cheered. Lukas felt his heart stop.
Aaron grinned, watching the scene below. “Damn,” he muttered audibly. “What I wouldn’t give to be that guy right now.”
Lukas snapped. He got out of his chair and stormed off up the steps. Emily and Ash didn’t seem to notice, but the three closest to him did.
“What, did I hit a nerve?” Aaron spoke.
The Asian girl next to him slapped him hard on the shoulder. “Aaron, chill!”
Cole, visibly concerned, got up from his seat and followed after the boy. The trip led him all the way up the bleachers and down the stairs. Cole yelled out when Lukas was about to leave the stadium.
Lukas turned back, still furious. “You followed me?”
“Listen, I just… I know that sucked, and I swear I didn’t know it was gonna happen. They didn’t tell me about it, I don’t think anyone else knew-”
Lukas brought his hands up in the air. “Alright, alright, let’s just cut the shit. You were right. You were right! I’m fucking jealous! Congratulations! Now, what the hell do you want?”
There was a silence. Cole stayed calm. His voice was low and soothing.
“I just want to see how you’re feeling.”
Cole’s demeanor struck Lukas. He began to calm down, turning away and taking a few deep breaths. Then he turned back to face the boy.
“I feel like God just personally came and kicked me in the balls. That’s how I feel.”
Cole smiled consolingly. “I know, that sucked. But they didn’t do it to piss you off.”
Lukas waved his hand, calmer now, trying to get off the topic. “Yeah, yeah, I know. It had nothing to do with me.”
Cole nodded his head back towards the stadium, where the cheering from the kickoff could now be heard. “Come on, let’s head back. No point in moping by yourself.”
“Okay, but… I’d rather not think about this. Not right now.”
“Don’t worry, I gotta plan. Follow me.”
The two came back up the stairs, where Cole peeked his head out behind the announcer booth. Before Lukas could do the same, Cole stopped him with his arm.
“Hold on. Stay right here.” Cole whispered to him. Lukas obliged.
Cole walked down the steps towards the others, where Kat, now standing by the others, spotted him and gave him a warm smile. “Hey Cole, is Lukas here?”
“Oh yeah, he is. He’s… uh, coming back from the bathroom right now. Listen, we were…” He moved his head towards the rest of the group sitting down, in order to include them in the conversation. This included Sadja, who came back while they were gone. “…going to go sit by Rodrigo, give him some company. Since he’s sitting alone and all.”
Aaron chuckled. “Oh, really?”
Rose slapped her boyfriend on the shoulder again, then turned to Cole. “Sounds good! You guys have fun!”
“Yeah, have fun!” Kat answered. Cole brought his fist up, and Kat bumped it. Then he went back up to the booth.
He walked back up to the booth, finding Lukas and tapping him on the shoulder. “Alright, follow me.” Lukas obliged.
Rodrigo stood out from the crowd with his curly mohawk and shining earrings. As the two friends came close, Rodrigo looked at them and smiled.
“Glad you guys could join me. Here, take some.” He handed the bottle to Cole, who took opened the cap and took a whiff. His eyes widened, and he handed it to Lukas, who took a whiff himself.
“Oh yeah, I’m gonna need some of this.” Lukas said.
Rodrigo leaned against the side railing, still smiling. “Take it, amigo. It’s meant to be shared.”
Cole faced the two, then looked back at the field. “Guess I’m driving us back, too.”
“Man, I never thought about it much, but… Coach Haa is a scary motherfucker.”
It was now the second half. The score was 14-7, Kinsky. Lukas and Rodrigo were properly buzzed, and there were half-finished popcorn bags between the three kids.
Rodrigo turned to the other two, continuing his statement. “How do you guys think he got the scar? Up on his head?”
“I dunno. What do you think, Rod?” Lukas answered back.
“Well, you know, I heard, through the grapevine…” Rodrigo pointed to Coach Haa down on the sideline, whose eagle eyes observed his players on the field. “… that when he was in Vietnam, he was clearin’ out houses ‘n shit, when all of a sudden — bam! — a Vietkong came out of nowhere, and slammed his head with a machete. But Haa shot the motherfucker dead, and came away with the scar.”
Lukas shook his head, wobbling slightly in his seat. “Nah man, that’s fuckin’ stupid. If Haa was in Vietnam, he’d be like… eighty or some shit.”
Rodrigo turned toward him. “Alright then, smart ass. How do you think he got the scar?”
“Well, you know how he’s a big mountain climber, right? So, one day, he’s climbing this mountain, out in like the middle of… Tibet, or some shit. And he’s climbing, and climbing, and climbing, when all of a sudden — pop! — a icicle falls from higher up, and just grazes the top of his scalp. If the icicle had been any closer, he would have been dead!”
Cole, who had been paying attention to the field, suddenly snapped to attention, shaking the two guys between him. “Look, look! They’re about to score!”
He meant the away team, who was on Kinsky’s goal line. The air was thick. The quarterback hiked the ball, scanned the field, and threw.
But he didn’t hit his target.
Instead, he hit Russell. Russell caught the ball in his hands, and began sprinting the other way. One lineman tried to tackle him, but Russell juked out of his grasp. Another missed. And another. Finally, it was just him and the quarterback. The guy didn’t stand a chance.
As Russell ran to the endzone, the audience began to cheer, increasing in volume every step closer he took. Finally, he reached the destination, and the referee called the touchdown.
Russell dropped the ball, and turned towards the crowd. The floodlights of the stadium reflected off his shaded visor. He took two fingers, kissed them, and pointed towards the home bleachers.
The audience went wild.
The teams set up their field goal play. From the booth, an announced called out.
That’s a Kinsky touchdown! Number fourty-three, Russell Israel!
“That’s him! That’s my motherfucker!” Cole screamed out, pointing back towards the boy he knew.
The game was now nearing its end. 21-17. Kinsky had the ball, and it was clear things were going to go in their favor. Still, things felt uncomfortably close to most in the audience who were paying attention.
The three boys sitting in the back were among this group, who now watched the game closely and in silence. Occasionally Lukas’ vision would gaze away from the game, and towards Kat, who sat watching herself in the front row with the others. Lukas would then remember the kiss, feel a sharp pain in his head, and turn back towards the game. He repeated this process a couple of dozen times throughout the match.
Isaac snapped the ball, handing it off towards Maurice. They were in their own endzone, and at this point the goal was more to run out the clock. As it would turn out, Maurice had other plans.
The running back first broke through the initial line, narrowing dodging a defensive back by shaking him off his shoulder. After that came the coverage, who converged to get him. But, for whatever reason, they couldn’t. Maurice broke out through the defenders, and ran all the way for the touchdown.
It’s another score, folks! Number twenty-two, Maurice Bryant!
Out of all the cheers, Emily’s scream was perhaps the most easily heard. Rodrigo’s came a close second, who jumped up on top the bleacher bench and shouted “That’s my man! I love him! I love that man!”
A field goal and a kickoff was all the game had left. The buzzer sounded, and almost immediately students from the home team bleachers began climbing off the railing and flooding the field. Rodrigo jumped down himself, and Cole got up on the railing when he turned back towards the seats.
Lukas was the only one still sitting, looking at Cole uncertainly. Cole, legs between the railings, beckoned him.
“Come on. For Rus and Maurice, at least.”
Lukas thought about this for a moment, and a smile crossed his face. He got up from the bench, and jumped across the benches to the railing. The two boys dropped down and reached the amassing blob of students below.