After Hartfield beat our opponents, I joined my teammates in the locker room to distribute the chocolate bars Clarissa had brought.
Erica grumbled when I reminded her that she didn’t get any. “I swear. That ref had it out for me.”
Clarissa shook her head. “That just means you need to be that much more careful.”
Erica followed me out of the locker room. “So, when Walter walked me here after lunch, he asked me to join him for dinner at the MAC Attack tonight.”
She bit her lip. “I know. I just wanted . . . it’s not like a thing, right? I mean, does he always do that?”
I shrugged. “Well, you wouldn’t be the first girl he’s eaten there with. But I don’t think he’s ever gone there on a first date.”
Erica smiled. “That’s good to know. Are you coming to watch the JV game?”
I shook my head. “Nah. I’m going to go dance. I’ll catch you later.”
After getting permission from the office, I headed to the dance studio, not surprised to find Brody waiting by the door.
I approached with a smile. “Hey. You been waiting long?”
He shook his head. “Nah. Just got here.”
I unlocked the door, crossing straight toward the mirror. After removing my boots, I peeled off my jeans and sweater to reveal my leotard. I threw on my tap shorts and shoes before hopping to my feet. Brody was still tying his shoes when I connected my phone to the sound system.
Warm up music resonated throughout the room. Together, we performed the barre warm-ups Mr. Pablo had taught us, then we began practicing Brody’s routine. He showed me the section his teacher had added since we had last danced together, and I quickly caught on. The routine was only about half-choreographed and currently ended with a difficult lift.
We ran through the routine several times, continually stumbling over that last lift. However, we pressed on. It took more than an hour, but we finally nailed it. I balanced myself above Brody’s head, my arms locked with his, my legs straddled around his ears.
Someone applauded from the doorway. Brody nearly dropped me, although somehow I managed to just barely land on my feet.
“Brody! I don’t need another broken bone. It’s not funny!” I glared at Pat as he entered the room laughing.
Taking a water break, I stretched my feet as I walked to make sure I hadn’t pulled anything when I fell. Brody remained frozen in the middle of the room, his eyes following Pat in the mirror.
I pointed to him. “This is my friend Brody. Brody, this is my boyfriend, Pat.”
Pat waved. “Nice to meet you.”
Brody looked back and forth between me and Pat several times, his mouth agape.
“Brody? Say something.” I went to him, waving my hand in front of his face.
“Pat’s a student here.”
“I’ll leave,” Pat offered, although I could see that was the last thing he wanted to do.
“No.” Brody shook his head quickly. “No. I just—you took me by surprise.”
I rolled my eyes and turned back to Pat. “What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you were going to church.”
He shrugged. “I did. Now I’m back. Came to get you for supper.”
Brody glanced at the clock on the wall. “Oh, wow. It got late. What do you say to next Saturday?”
I shook my head. “Can’t. What about Sunday? Say, after lunch?”
Pat waited in the corner while Brody and I changed our shoes and put on our street clothes. After I locked the studio, Brody gave me a hug.
“See you next week. It was, um, nice to, uh, meet you.” Brody gave a quick wave in Pat’s direction before heading to the exit.
After I returned the studio key to the office, Pat remembered he had left his scarf in his car. I followed him to the TRAC parking lot, where we found Brody kicking a silver sedan. I walked over to him as Pat searched for his scarf.
“Brody? You okay?”
Brody frowned. “No. This piece of junk. I bought it from my grandmother for a dollar. That’s about what it’s worth. The stupid thing won’t start. It’s been giving me trouble all week and now it just died.”
“Is there someone you can call? Like a tow truck or something?”
Brody shrugged. “My parents are both at work until eight. I texted my dad. He said to just leave it here and he’ll check it out when he gets home tonight.”
“So, you’re stuck here?”
Brody sighed. “Well, I was going to text Drive Me Home for a ride.”
I hollered across the parking lot. “Hey, Pat! We on for DMH tonight?”
Pat closed his car door and headed toward me and Brody. “No. Not until Wednesday.”
I turned back to Brody with a frown. “Sorry. I was going to offer you a ride, but Pat’s only allowed to drive when we’re on duty.”
Pat raised his eyebrows at Brody’s car. “You need a ride?”
When Brody saw where Pat was looking, he kicked the tire again. “Can’t get her to start.”
“You know what’s wrong?”
Brody shook his head. “Not exactly. Been having issues with it for a while. My dad thinks it may be the alternator, but I’m hoping it’s just the battery.”
Pat nodded. “Much cheaper repair.”
“Well, I’ve got cables. Could try jumping it.”
Pat didn’t wait for an answer before walking back to his car. Brody looked like he was about to faint.
I peered at him cautiously. “Brody? You okay?”
“Yeah. I’m—I’m sorry. It’s just—this is just so surreal. Patrick McGregor is helping me with engine trouble.”
Thankfully, Brody’s car was facing an empty parking space, so Pat could pull in facing Brody. He rummaged around the trunk for a moment before emerging with two long cables: one black, the other red.
Pat nodded toward Brody. “Pop the hood.” While Brody did as instructed, Pat started playing with his phone.
I sent him a curious look. “What are you doing?”
“Well, I’ve never actually done this before. I want to make sure I don’t screw it up.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Maybe we should like, I don’t know. Call a tow truck?”
Pat waved a dismissive hand. “Nah. I know the basic principle. We’ll be fine.”
I didn’t share Pat’s confidence, but I remained silent as Pat passed Brody one end of the red cable.
“Okay, Brody. This says we need to find the positive terminal on the battery.”
Brody held the hood in one hand as he looked around. “Which one’s the battery?”
“Careful, man!” Pat rushed over to grab the hood. He lifted a thin bar from the front of the car and attached it to the hood. “You trying to decapitate yourself?”
Brody shook his head. “You would think I’d have learned that by now.”
Pat pointed to a large black box to the right of what I assumed was the engine. “That’s the battery. See that red plus sign? That’s the positive terminal. Lift that little cap there and clip this to the bolt.”
Brody followed Pat’s instructions and Pat did something similar to his own car. Pat then attached the black cable to his battery and to his car.
“Okay. It says I need to let my car run for five minutes.” Pat reached into his car to start the engine before returning to Brody’s side. “Why don’t you guys climb in? Get warm.”
Didn’t need to tell me twice. I jumped into the front seat. Brody was a little slower getting in behind me.
He glanced at both of us as the car warmed. “So, you guys both volunteer for Drive Me Home?”
I turned to face him. “Yup. We normally drive Wednesdays. Sometimes Saturdays.”
“That’s cool. I just learned about it last week. Why’d you guys join? Because it looks good on college applications or something?”
Pat shook his head, pointing to me. “She broke her ankle a couple of months ago.”
Brody gave a small laugh. “Yeah. I saw that picture of you guys mini-golfing. With crutches.”
Pat laughed. “Yeah, that was sick.”
“My car done yet?”
Pat glanced at the clock. “Give it another couple of minutes.”
“How do you know so much about cars?”
“My dad. I helped him rebuild a couple.”
Brody’s eyes went wide. “Dude, really?”
By the time Brody and Pat finished talking about rebuilds, more than five minutes had passed. Brody’s car started on the first attempt.
Pat climbed out to disconnect the cables. “Great. Now, you need to leave your car running for about fifteen minutes.”
Brody nodded. “Not a problem. I’ll take the long way home. Thank you so much.”
“What’s your number?”
Brody rattled it off as Pat entered it into his phone. A moment later, I heard Brody’s phone ring.
Pat returned his phone to his pocket with a smile. “In case you have any problems on the way home. Or wanna talk cars.”
“Thanks!” He thanked Pat with a fist bump. “See you next Sunday.” Brody gave me one more hug before climbing into his car and driving off.
Pat turned off his engine and returned the cables to his trunk. With his arm around my shoulders, he walked me home to change for dinner.
That afternoon, Melinda and Sarah had a home game, so Larry and I sat on the suspended track above the court, watching Hartfield crush their opponents. Afterwards, I had just enough time to head to the opposite side of campus to watch my brother.
Whoever had designed Bruckman made it look as if it wanted to be an arena, but didn’t quite meet the mark. I went through the main doors to find myself in a gallery, with rest rooms on one side and the gym floor sunken on the other. A large blue mat took up most of the floor and two boys were grappling within the large white circle in the center, while a referee was running circles around them. Between me and the floor were several rows of stadium-style wooden benches.
I was about to sit down when I saw one of my former roommates, Zach, sitting in the back row with his girlfriend, my former friend Chloe. I watched as he whispered something in her ear that made her giggle like a madwoman. When Zach headed off to the restroom, I shook my head and scanned the room for my brother.
The Hartfield wrestling team was sitting in the front row of benches on the right side of the gym, while the opposing team was sitting on the left side. Before I could visit my brother, I saw Chloe stand. She made her way to the water fountain between the restrooms. After glancing in both directions a few times, she quickly ducked into the boys’ room. I shook my head in disgust as I went to my brother.
“Hey, Doofus,” I whispered as I crouched behind him. “You go yet?”
Walter shook his head. “Soon.”
I tapped his shoulder a few times and went to sit a few rows back, where I could see the circle better. I was a little surprised when Chloe sat beside me a short time later.
Once upon a time, she had been my sister’s best friend. At the beginning of the term, I had considered her my closest friend. She had ruined all that the night I found her with my roommate. In my bed. I hadn’t spoken to her in nearly two months and I was surprised to see her beside me.
I raised my eyebrows and didn’t quite keep the anger out of my voice. “Where’s Zach?”
She giggled. “Oh, we’re playing a game. He went to go find someone.”
Well, that piqued my interest. I loved games. “What kind of game?”
“Oh, Sweetie. You were disqualified months ago.” Her tone was so saccharine, it was almost nauseating. I wanted to tell her I didn’t want her sitting near me, but I didn’t get the chance. Chants from the Hartfield team interrupted us.
Walter was heading to the mat. Although he was not wearing a number, the chant was for him. He had pinned all eight of his opponents this season. If he could do it again, it would make number nine. But, as he shook hands with his opponent, I wondered if he would remain undefeated.
Although Walter was in the middle of one of the middle-weight classes, his opponent looked like he belonged a class or two higher. No one else seemed to agree, since the ref blew his whistle and Walter and the other guy began their dance.
As soon as Walter got his hands on his opponent, I knew the guy had no chance. The opponent charged Walter twice, but my brother deflected both moves. When the guy tried to charge a third time, Walter grabbed his opponent at the waist and the two of them somehow ended up on the mat.
The referee crawled on the floor, scrambling circles around the boys as they tried to push each other to the ground. In a matter of seconds, Walter was lying on top of the other guy, his chest on the guy’s head, his body pushing his opponent’s shoulders toward the floor.
The whistle sounded and everyone started screaming even louder. Walter had pinned the guy in less than a minute. He walked off the mat, holding both hands above his head in victory and looking elated. After a quick celebration that involved Walter exchanging high fives with every member of his team, Walter stood near a card table off to the side, guzzling from a water bottle.
Chloe was on him a moment later, a devious look in her wild eyes. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but I could see Walter was uncomfortable. His already flushed face was turning redder, and he was slowly backing away from her advances.
She traced a finger slowly down his chest. She had done that to me once upon a time. I knew what was next. Suddenly, her words came back to me. We’re playing a game. You were disqualified months ago.
I rushed over and grabbed Chloe’s arm, dragging her back up the steps and out of the building. As soon as we were outside, she wrestled her arm out of my grip. When she glared at me, I realized I wasn’t really looking at Chloe anymore. There was something funny about her eyes. I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong, but I had a feeling she wasn’t exactly sober.
That just made me angrier. I glared at her. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“What business is it to you?”
“Stay away from my brother.”
“Or what?” She sent me what I think was supposed to be a coy smile, but it was very unflattering.
I shook my head. “I know you’re not sober, Chloe. I don’t want to get you in trouble. But if you ever go near my brother again, I will tell the deans you’re drinking on campus. You’ll get kicked out just before graduation. How do you think your parents would like that?”
Chloe scoffed. “Like they’d even notice. But, whatever. Your brother wouldn’t have worked, anyway. It’s a shame.”
I wasn’t sure I understood what she meant, but it wasn’t worth asking for clarification. As I watched Chloe head down the path, I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to my friend. Part of me wished I she were back to her old self, just so I could talk to her again. I missed her.
When she disappeared behind the language building, I checked my watch. I had barely enough time to get to the church.
Back at the beginning of January, I made a few poor decisions that landed me nine weeks of Sunday detention. So instead of walking into town with my girlfriend and brother on Sunday mornings, I had to attend Mass on Saturday nights at the church a few towns away. Sometimes, I felt like that punishment was even worse than the lifetime detention sentence.
That evening, when I returned to campus, I returned my car to the TRAC parking lot. Since I was there, I might as well check if Melinda was still dancing. While I didn’t actually expect to find her, I went in search of the dance studio.
It wasn’t too difficult to find, although I had never really noticed it before. I paused outside the room to listen to the music. Two sets of shoes were clacking rheumatically to it. I peeked in the window to see Melinda circling her partner.
He was about as tall as me, though kind of scrawny. Although he was smiling, I couldn’t tell if it was because he was enjoying the dance or the company. Maybe I would get a better idea if I watched from inside.
As I opened the door, the guy grabbed my girlfriend by the waist, lifting her into the air. I watched as they shifted their hands and grasped each other’s wrists. She was sitting in midair with her legs extended on either side of his head.
Even though the music continued, they stayed in that pose, as if thinking about what to do next. I had to admit, they were impressive. I wasn’t sure I could hold Melinda like that for that long.
When I clapped, Melinda glanced at me in the mirror. So did her partner. He was obviously shell-shocked. I had never gotten this reaction from a guy before. It was a little discomforting. He seemed to forget everything around him and just stared at me in the mirror.
And then he dropped my girlfriend. I couldn’t help but laugh. She landed on her feet and yelled at him. Then she yelled at me for laughing.
I followed her to the corner of the room where she paused the music and grabbed a drink. The guy followed me with his eyes. Eventually, Melinda introduced me to Brody.
I waved from where I was. “Nice to meet you.”
Brody looked like he wanted to say something, but words just were not happening. Melinda went back to her friend, waving her hand in front of his face. He muttered something unintelligible.
“Pat’s a student here,” Melinda explained.
“I can leave.” I didn’t want to, but I didn’t want to intrude on Melinda’s dance time. I had just wanted to remind her of the time.
Brody shook his head vigorously. “No. No. I just—you took me by surprise.”
Melinda turned her attention back to me. “What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you were going to church.”
I shrugged. “I did. Now I’m back. Came to get you for supper.”
That seemed to help the guy get over his shock. I saw him glance at the wall clock, and decide they were done for the day. Then he and Melinda made some plans to meet the following weekend.
I waited for Melinda to change her shoes and throw some clothes over her leotard. After she locked the studio, Brody hugged her goodbye and headed outside. I followed Melinda to the office to return the studio key before we left the building.
As soon as the cold air hit us, I turned to Melinda. “I need to stop by my car.”
“We’re not driving into town.”
I shook my head. “Nah. I just forgot my scarf.”
Melinda shrugged and followed me to the car, but she disappeared while I was trying to remember where I had actually left the thing. I couldn’t seem to find it. After looking under all the seats, I finally remembered it was sitting on my desk.
As I climbed out of my car, I heard Melinda calling to me. “Hey, Pat! We on for DMH tonight?”
I locked the car and turned to her. She was standing a few cars away with Brody. “No. Not until Wednesday.”
Melinda turned back to her friend. “Sorry. I was going to offer you a ride, but Pat’s only allowed to drive when we’re on duty.”
“You need a ride?” I glanced beside him. Since he was hanging on a silver sedan, I was pretty sure he already had one.
He kicked the tire. “Can’t get her to start.”
After discussing what might be wrong, I offered to give him a jump. When I had asked to bring a car to campus, Dad had insisted that I keep a well-stocked emergency kit in the trunk. I knew I would find jumper cables in it.
I drove my car to the empty parking space facing Brody’s and rummaged through the emergency kit until I found the cables. Then, having never actually had to do this before, I looked up the directions online. It looked simple enough. Actually, it looked like something I had done in physics class.
I popped my hood. After telling Brody to do the same, I read the directions one more time.
Melinda frowned at me. “What are you doing?”
I shrugged. “Well, I’ve never actually done this before. I want to make sure I don’t screw it up.”
She bit her lip. “Maybe we should like, I don’t know. Call a tow truck?”
“Nah. I know the basic principle. We’ll be fine.”
I could tell she didn’t fully approve, but at least she didn’t belabor the point. I passed her friend the jumper cable. “Okay, Brody. This says we need to find the positive terminal in the battery.”
“Which one’s the battery?”
Seriously? It wasn’t hard. I turned around. He was holding the hood with one hand and had his head in the engine compartment. If he ever let go . . .
I rushed to the car and grabbed the hood, quickly securing it with the prop. “Careful man! You trying to decapitate yourself?”
“You would think I’d have learned that by now.”
There were many things I wanted to say, but I just pointed to the battery and showed him where to attach the jumper cable. I attached the cables to my own battery, then started my car.
According to the directions, my car needed to run for about five minutes, so I invited everyone inside to warm up. While we waited, Brody asked me and Melinda us about DMH and we told him a little about it.
When it was time, his car started right away. I reminded him to keep it running as I disconnected the cables.
He nodded. “Not a problem. I’ll take the long way home. Thank you so much.”
I took my phone out of my pocket. “What’s your number?”
I entered it as Brody recited it, then sent him a quick text message. Sometimes a phone number could be better than an autograph. He gave me a look of disbelief.
I flashed him my famous smile. “In case you have any problems on the way home. Or wanna talk cars.”
We bumped fists, and he hugged Melinda one more time before climbing into his car. As he drove away, I turned off my car and returned the jumper cables to the emergency kit in the trunk.
As Melinda and I walked back to the dorms, I listened to her tell me about her afternoon with her friend. He seemed like a good guy and, as far as I could tell, he didn’t really seem all that interested in her as more than a dance partner. Part of me was still jealous, but it was such a small part, I didn’t think Melinda noticed.
Another part of me wished I had a friend like that.
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.