After English class Thursday afternoon, Sarah and I dropped our books in our room before turning around and heading back out. I followed her down to the TRAC, along with half the school. Most of the winter sports were held at the Theodore Rodgers Athletic Center.
I had only been there a handful of times and had never explored the building. I had no idea where the athletic office was. Sarah led me to the side entrance. While she went in the locker room, I continued down the corridor.
I passed some glass-walled rooms with red lines on the white walls and wooden floors. Each door was labeled with a number, but I had never seen rooms like these before. In the last one, I found a person hitting a small rubber ball against the back wall with some sort of racket.
Shrugging, I kept going along the hall until I found the dance studio. I recognized some of the students stretching on the floor, waiting for their hip-hop class, and felt a twinge of sadness that I couldn’t join them.
Across the hall was the athletics office. I went inside and found a small waiting room with a receptionist behind a glass window. It reminded me of my doctor’s office. I tapped on the window.
“Yes?” The woman behind the glass looked up. “How can I—Oh, dear. I can guess why you’re here. I didn’t hear of about any injuries during practices this week. Please, sit.” She gestured to a nearby chair.
I gladly plopped myself into the closest chair, propping my foot in another. “I slipped on the ice. Dr. Vitnor said I need to check in with this office.”
“What sport did you register for?”
“You aren’t Melinda, are you?” The woman’s tone suggested she wasn’t expecting me to nod.
“I’m Mrs. Carson. We spoke the other day. I’m sorry about your foot. Did the doctor tell you how long you’re on the DL?”
“On the what?”
The woman smiled. “Sorry. My husband and I follow a lot of sports. How long will you be on the crutches?”
“Possibly a couple of months. He said no dancing this term.”
“Okay. So, let’s register you for a new sport. Injured players often manage their team for the remainder of the season. Managers keep track of players’ statistics. For example, if you managed hockey, you would keep track of who scored goals, in which period. Some coaches like to know the time on the scoreboard when the goal was scored. During practices, the coaches sometimes have you help them, like fetching equipment or something. Usually, however, coaches don’t mind you doing your homework during practice, as long as you are not distracting the players. What else? You attend all games, home and away. As far as I know, only the boys’ ice hockey team has a manager at the moment, and he’s scheduled to resume playing in the next two weeks, so you can really manage any sport you’d like. Did you have any in mind?”
I considered for a moment. But, outside of dance, I knew very little about sports. I shook my head. “Not really.”
“Well, what sports are your friends doing?”
I closed my eyes, trying to imagine everyone sitting at the dinner table last night. Then, I shifted their seats until they were grouped by sport. “My roommate is doing basketball. One of my friends is doing yoga. Another is doing girls’ hockey. One is wrestling. Another three are all doing winter running. And everyone else is swimming. I think I forgot one . . . Oh yeah! I have a friend playing zucchini.”
“Zucchini?” Mrs. Carson raised her eyebrows.
“She said it’s kinda like tennis?”
“Squash?” I could tell Mrs. Carson was trying not to laugh.
I shrugged, looking at the floor. “I knew it was a vegetable.”
Mrs. Carson smiled. “Well, yoga and running are intramural, but you can manage any of the others.”
For a moment, I gave serious thought to managing Walter’s wrestling team. It had only been a few days, and he was already getting frustrated with me not understanding his sport. But I really didn’t want to spend my day watching smelly boys tackling each other, probably while yelling bad words. I would much rather spend my afternoon with smelly girls yelling bad words. I smiled at Mrs. Carson.
“My roommate is on the basketball team. I guess I can manage that one.”
“Which team? Varsity, JV, or thirds?”
“Oh, uh, thirds.”
“Okay. Let’s set you up here.”
I waited while Mrs. Carson clacked her computer for a few minutes. Then, she came out of her office.
“All set. Let’s go to practice. I’ll introduce you to the coach.” She held the door open for me before leading me down the hall. The corridor opened into the large multipurpose gym where my finals had been held last term.
I almost didn’t recognize it. Devoid of student desks, it had been divided into three by large partitions. On the court near me, boys were running around with some basketballs. I recognized a few from my class. It was probably the thirds team.
Above me, people were running on the suspended track. I knew Pat ran with Walter just after dawn, but I thought I saw Larry and maybe another friend pass overhead.
I hurried to keep up with Mrs. Carson, who walked past some volleyball courts to another basketball court. Sarah was running around with a bunch of other girls, Clarissa standing with a clipboard near the half-court mark.
When Clarissa saw us approach, she yelled to the girls to take a break and get a drink before coming to greet us. Mrs. Carson gestured towards me.
“Clarissa, you probably know Melinda. She’s going to be your manager this season.”
“Oh, how exciting.”
I quickly turned to Clarissa as Mrs. Carson returned to her office. “I’ve never done this before.”
“Not a problem. You can practice on Saturday. I was planning to inform the girls about an upcoming game. For now, you need to get that foot up. Why don’t you sit over there on the bench?”
I saw two players’ benches along the side of the court. The closer one was laden with water bottles. Despite its crowdedness, I didn’t feel like walking any more than I had to. I cleared some space, propping my foot on my crutch as I had in physics.
Clarissa turned back to the team. “Everyone gather here and sit down.” The fifteen girls did as instructed, sitting in a semicircle around Clarissa.
Clarissa pointed towards Melinda. “This is Melinda. She’s going to be our manager this season. Now, I’m going to divide you into three teams, and we’ll practice some drills.”
Clarissa sorted the girls and had the A team, which was mostly returning fourth form students, demonstrate a play, while the B team played the opponent. Then, B performed the play with C as the opponent and C did it with A as the opponent. They repeated this for about five different plays before the JV girls team started gathering for their turn on the court.
The practice fascinated me, and I spent the rest of the hour staring at their plays. By the time the JV girls arrived, I understood what the girls were doing nearly as well as they were.
Clarissa called the girls to meet in the center of the court as the JV coach instructed his team to run five laps around the track. Clarissa looked pleased as she glanced at her team.
“I think you’ve got most of the plays down, so time for the big news I promised you. Saturday, we will have a scrimmage against the JV team.”
“What’s a scrimmage?” I recognized the girl asking the question. She lived on the first floor of my dorm. I was pretty sure her name was Sandy.
Clarissa smiled. “We will keep score and rotate players and, for all intents and purposes, it will be a real game. However, it doesn’t count towards our record, or theirs. It is essentially a practice game.”
“Like a dress rehearsal?” I didn’t recognize the girl who shouted out.
“Exactly. We will be playing against the JV team. Now, there’s only twelve players on their team, but I intend to play each of you. I may rotate you. So, you may start the game as a forward, but later sub in as a guard. Or, I may have a center become a forward. Everyone will get some playing time. Questions?”
When there were none, Clarissa continued. “When you’re not playing, I expect you to be cheering for your teammates. If I see a single phone, I will confiscate it for the rest of the season. You are NOT to take pictures. If you absolutely must have a photo of you or your teammates, have a friend come to the game. She may take pictures. I do not want to see a single phone.”
I followed the team into the locker room, sitting on a bench while I waited for my roommate. Meanwhile, my lab partner, Erica, explained Clarissa’s passionate warning as she removed her shoes and pulled warm-up pants over her gym shorts.
“There was a game last year. Not all of us were playing. A couple of students took out their phones. One really was taking pictures. But the rest were talking to friends. Clarissa called players to make substitutions. But they were on their phones, not paying attention. The players missed the opportunity to go in, and the players on the court were really struggling. Clarissa was livid. She spent the whole halftime break yelling at the entire team. Said she never wanted to see another phone. During the second half, the photo girl, I forgot who it was, she started taking pictures again. Clarissa took the phone away. Not sure whether she ever gave it back.”
A chorus of “Wow” went through the locker room and several girls vowed to leave their phones in their lockers for the rest of the season. By the time Erica finished her story, Sarah was ready to return to the dorm. We braced ourselves for the cold as we crossed to the opposite end of the campus.
Sarah smiled as held the door for me. “This is so awesome. I didn’t know you were gonna manage my team.”
“I didn’t either. Mrs. Carson told me to pick any sport. I figured I would pick something my friends were on. It was basically basketball or wrestling. I figured I didn’t want to be trapped in that little room with a bunch of smelly boys for an hour.”
“Eww. Actually, I think they practice longer than that. A lot of the JV and varsity teams practice 90 minutes or even two hours.”
After dinner that night, I stopped by the infirmary on my way to Wind Orchestra. The nurse asked a bunch of questions about my pain level. Since I hadn’t been taking the pain meds Dr. Vitnor gave me, she suggested I take the ibuprofen I had in my dorm if my ankle bothered me. She also told me to keep icing my ankle, although I could go from hourly to three times a day this weekend. She even gave me a reusable cold pack to keep in my advisor’s freezer.
When I was finally released, I made my way to the Arts Center, retrieving my flute from my third-floor locker. After taking the elevator all the way to the basement, I hobbled to the rehearsal room. Not only was Sarah already there, she had pulled up an extra chair for me. For the first time, I was glad to be sitting on the end.
After elevating my foot and covering it with a disposable cold pack, I assembled my flute, practicing our latest song while I waited for my conductor.
Mr. Williams was one of the tallest men I had ever met, with a solid build and forceful presence. Sarah had once called him formidable, and I had always thought that to be a perfect description. He walked into the room, heading straight to his music stand in the center of the room. Before he could call for our attention, his gaze landed on my foot.
He scowled at me. “Which coach injured one of my musicians?”
“Mother Nature. I slipped on the ice.”
His laugh filled the room. “Okay, everyone. Gimme a B-flat.”
After English, I went to one of the administrative offices in the basement of the dining hall building. The community service director shared an office with the four college counselors. I knew the woman by sight, since she had spoken at several school meetings, but I had never needed to speak with her before.
The secretary showed me to the director’s office and closed the door. I sat in one of the visitor chairs across from her.
“Thank you for meeting with me. I just learned about this community service program in town and I was wondering if you knew anything about it. It’s called Drive Me Home.”
Mrs. Lindgren couldn’t quite hide the surprise on her face. “Yes. I have heard of it. I’m surprised you have.”
“It’s a long story. Is Hartfield part of it?”
“Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me what you know of the program.”
“Well, from what I could research, kids can text the program when they need a ride. Like if they’re at a party and their designated driver ends up drinking.”
“That’s how the program started. I helped develop it with my counterpart at the local high school. Not long after it launched, we received calls from the senior center. Apparently, some members had heard about it from their grandchildren and were wondering if they could also have rides.”
I smiled. “Granny needs to go to the grocery store?”
Mrs. Lindgren returned my smile. “Usually it’s a place of worship. There are three women who have a standing appointment with us every Tuesday night for a prayer service at a church in the center of town.”
“So, Hartfield participates in this program?”
“In theory. However, none of our students have signed up.”
“What would I need to do? To volunteer?”
“Well, for starters, you would need a car. You’re not a day student, are you?”
My heart sank. “No.”
“Well, if we could get permission from the deans, do you have access to a car? One that would remain on campus during the term?”
I couldn’t help smiling. My father literally owned over thirty cars. I was pretty sure I would be able to convince him to let me bring one to campus. “Yeah, I have a car at home.”
She nodded. “Well, we will be verifying your license and driving record, of course. So, tell me now. Have you received any tickets or had your license suspended?”
I shook my head. “No. But I am still under restrictions until March.”
She assured me that was not a problem and began describing the rules for volunteers. The more she told me about the program, the more hooked I became. I really wanted to be part of this program.
“So, where do I sign up?” I asked when she was done.
“You just did. I need to do an orientation with you. It takes a couple of hours, so it would have to be after school. When do you get out of sports tomorrow?”
“I do winter running. I like to run before school.”
Mrs. Lindgren raised her eyebrows. “My son is graduating from college this year. He scheduled all his classes to start after noon because he can’t wake up that early.”
I shrugged. “I’ve always had to be on set by eight or nine, even when I wasn’t the one filming the movie. My whole family? We’re all early risers. Except my dad, but then again, he doesn’t get out of a show until three in the morning. So, he’s allowed to sleep in.”
Mrs. Lindgren shook her head. I’m not sure she knew what to say.
I helped her out. “So, can we do orientation right after school tomorrow?”
“Oh. Uh, yes. After school should be fine.”
“When could I start?”
“Well, I would like you to drive around with whomever is on duty tomorrow night. I could arrange for you to miss study hours. Then you could be on duty as soon as you get a car.”
My mother was from in the dinosaur age. She refused to learn how to video chat. In order to talk to her, I actually had to call her on the phone. Thankfully, when I called her from my dorm after school, I caught her at home.
“Hey, Munchkin. How’s your first week back going?”
“What’s wrong? Is it your brother again?”
“No. It’s a long story. You got a few minutes?”
I sat on my bed, doodling in one of my notebooks as I explained how Melinda broke her ankle (“Oh no!”), about DMH (“What a fantastic idea.”), and how Walter suggested I volunteer for it (“I’m so proud.”).
Mom hesitated for a moment when I was done. “I have to ask. Are you joining this program just so you can drive your girlfriend around?”
“No!” I nearly whined. I checked my tone before continuing. “It’s a great program. I’m going to keep doing it even when Melinda’s foot is better.”
“Then I think you should join the program.”
“Sick. I need your help.”
“Yes. First of all, I need you to convince Dad to let me take a car to school. I was thinking Pendek.”
“Huh? I’ve never heard of a Pendek.”
I laughed. “Dad and I named all the cars. The huge black SUV is Bigfoot. The mid-sized SUV is its smaller cousin, Yeti. That’s the white one you drive in the winter. The small blue crossover, that’s Pendek.”
“What kind of name is Pendek?”
“Walter named it. It’s a Bigfoot-like creature in . . . Indonesia, I think. You know Walter. He’s full of random information.”
Mom sighed. “So, you want to borrow the blue crossover. I’ll talk to your father.”
“Great. Can I ask one more favor? Can you talk to Melinda’s mother about this?”
I sighed. “Well, at the very least, letting me drive her to church for Mass and CCD. But maybe you can convince her to let Melinda volunteer with me?”
“Why don’t you call her yourself?”
“I’m not sure she likes me.”
“Why wouldn’t she like you?”
“Mom? Have you ever liked any of Meghan’s boyfriends?”
Mom was silent for a moment. “I’ll let you know how it goes.”
We talked about my classes for a little while and she told me a little about the movie she considering filming after Christmas before we hung up. I texted Walter to come find me when he was done with his wrestling practice, then I set out to complete some of my assignments for the rest of the week. If I was going to miss study hours tomorrow, I wanted to at least get a little ahead tonight.
Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.