As I brought my tray to the lunch table, I couldn’t help but smile at the person already sitting there. His mop of dark curly hair was overdue for a cut, flopping in his eyes as bit into his sandwich.
I placed my tray beside Larry, kissing his cheek. “How’s your morning going?”
“Better now that you’re here.”
He could be so sweet sometimes.
I glanced up as Walter placed his tray across from us. He wasn’t looking for a response. I was about to ask Larry about his physics lab when my roommate joined us. Walter immediately asked if she would be attending tonight’s Whomping Wheeler Whally.
“The what?” The baffled look on Melinda’s face was priceless.
I giggled. “The pep rally. Tonight.”
I watched her read the daily itinerary in the center of the table. “This is during study hours.”
I nodded. “Yeah. Isn’t that awesome?” Sure, I would probably regret not studying later, but I could worry about that over the weekend.
Melinda was still clueless. I listened as Walter explained how every Hartfield athlete would take a turn beating the giant papier-mâché wolf in the middle of the football field.
Larry rubbed his hands together. “I can’t wait. It’s gonna be epic.”
I had mixed feelings about the event. “I don’t know. I mean, I know it’s pretend and everything, but I really don’t like the idea of beating up a poor little wolf. I like wolves.”
Larry raised his eyebrows. “You do?”
I nodded. “Yeah. They’re cute. Especially the puppies. I wanted one when I was little. We ended up getting a dog that looked a lot like a wolf. Her name was Wolfie.”
“You have a dog?”
“Not anymore. She died last summer.” I really missed her, too. Part of me still expected her to jump on me whenever I went home.
Larry sent me a curious look. “I never pictured you as a dog person. You always struck me as a cat person.”
Ew. “I hate cats.”
“I have two: Fluffy and Whiskers.”
Seriously? My boyfriend was a cat person? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
He narrowed his eyes at me. “What do you have against cats?”
Wasn’t it obvious? “They’re just so unfriendly! They want everything to be their way. Dogs are so loyal.”
“Cats are not unfriendly. They just want to be loved.”
I couldn’t do this any more. I threw my dishes onto my tray and got to my feet. “Well, I’m sorry. I can’t be with a cat lover.”
Larry looked bewildered. “What does that mean?”
Grabbing my tray, I practically ran to the dishroom. I didn’t even bother sorting out the utensils before huffing out of the building. Melinda met up with me near the main entrance.
“Hey. Wanna talk about it?”
“Not really. He’s a cat person. I’m a dog person. Oil and water. Good to know now before we got too emotionally involved.”
“So, that’s it? You’re breaking up with him because he likes cats?”
“Yes. You got a problem with that?”
She held up her hands. “Nope. Just wanted to make sure I got it right.”
I spent my afternoon trying to focus on the rally, not the ex-boyfriend. It wasn’t too difficult. It wasn’t like we had any classes together.
During field hockey practice, Coach kept us late to point out some of the issues from our last few games that could hurt us tomorrow. Then, she gave us the instructions for tonight.
As we headed back to the dorm, one of my friends asked about dinner. I shook my head. “I’m too nervous to eat. I’ll meet you in the locker room later.”
The truth was, Larry and I had the same friends. I didn’t want to risk running into him.
We had been together for more than six weeks. He was the first boy I had ever kissed. And, we got along really well. It was going to take some time for me to get over him.
Melinda had some dance rehearsal thing all afternon, so I was able to wallow in my room in peace. A little before study hours was starting, I headed over to the athletic center.
The girls locker room was a zoo. I had never seen it so crowded. Every girl on every sports team was getting ready for the rally. Except the water polo teams. They were in the pool lockers.
I grabbed my warmups from my locker and threw them over my clothes. My friends were huddled on one of the nearby benches tying black and gold ribbons into each other’s hair. One of them pointed to the next bench.
“One of the fourth formers said she might have enough face paint to share with us.”
Jessi’s eyes lit up. “That sounds fun!”
We took turns writing large Hs on our faces—black on one side, gold on the other. Another fourth former passed us some colored hair spray. I divided my hair into two pigtails. Since my hair was already nearly black, I sprayed the gold on one half. I had Jessi paint my cheeks the opposite colors of my hair. She had just finished when the team captains started calling for attention. I followed the rest of the thirds field hockey team to the varsity football field.
It looked as if most of the school had shown up. The bleachers on both sides were packed. I stared at the wolf on the field. It was massive—probably twice as tall as me—with grey fur and a white belly. It even had a green shirt painted onto it. It looked adorable.
But, it didn’t look real. I tried to think of it as a really big piñata as we lined up alongside the activities center.
After everyone sang the school song, the pep squad tumbled onto the field and led some cheers. Then, the teams began running onto the field.
My teammates and I screamed as everyone took a swing at the wolf. The football team was lined up behind us and some of the boys had mingled with us to better see the field. When I found myself standing near Larry, I quickly changed positions with the girl standing beside me.
The guy on the field shouted into the mike. “Put your hands together for field hockey.”
With rousing war cries, my teammates and I flooded the field. The guy with the mike handed large rubber mallets to the two girls in the front of the line and they went to stand by the wolf’s head. They were about the size of it’s legs. The taller girl wacked it’s nose, while the shorter one aimed for the chest. As each girl took her turn, I thought about where I would use my hammer.
There was a weak spot where its right foreleg connected to the belly. When Jessi passed me the hammer, that’s where I aimed. I thought about all my frustration with Larry as I weilded the hammer. With a primal scream, I swung.
My hammer broke through with a loud crunch. Paper debris rained on my head. The crowd screamed in appreciation.
I passed the hammer to the girl behind me and ran to stand with my teammates in the end zone. The energy was almost electric. I knew we would win tomorrow.
I couldn’t not cheer when the football teams took their turns. I told myself I was cheering for everyone but Larry. But, he looked adorable. Like me, he had painted Hs on his face. He had also pulled his hair into a very small pony tail. I hadn’t realized it had grown that long. It made him ten times more attractive.
He swung the hammer like a baseball bat, aiming for the wolf’s knee. It was forceful enough to have the giant creature buckle. People started cheering even louder.
The boys came to stand near us, but I hardly noticed. I was too busy cheering with the rest of the school. It wasn’t until after the varsity captains had taken the final swing at the wolf that I realized Larry was beside me.
I stared in horror as the athletic director approach the wolf with a torch. Hitting the wolf was one thing, but lighting it on fire? I buried my head against Larry’s chest.
He held me close. “Hey. It’s okay. It’s just pretend.” His breath tickled my ear. It made me smile. But, I didn’t move.
I listened to the noise die down. Turning my head, I glanced sideways at the wolf. It was still smoldering, but it really didn’t look like much of a wolf anymore.
Larry ran a hand along my head. “You okay?”
I sighed. “I guess. Sorry.”
“Can we talk about what happened?”
I sighed. I wasn’t as mad at him as I was before. And, even though it had only been a few hours, I kind of missed him. When I nodded, he took my hand.
Both our teams had started leaving the field. Most people were heading to the dorms. Larry and I followed. He squeezed my hand.
“I know you like dogs and I like cats. But, that’s like me liking chocolate ice cream and you liking strawberry.”
I sent him a confused look. “I like chocolate.”
He shook his head with a smile. “It was an example. My point was, is this really something you and I need to break up over?”
“But, what if it’s just the beginning. Today it’s cats and dogs. Tomorrow its different ice cream. Next week, I’m going to find out something else, I’m sure.”
He squeezed my hand. “And that’s what so great about this. That we’re learning all this cool stuff about each other. Now I know that I should buy you something with wolves on it for your birthday.”
I smiled at him as we entered my common room. I led him to the back corner. “My birthday’s in May.”
He nodded. “I knew that.”
“You think we’ll still be together then?”
“I think we’re still going to be together when we graduate.”
I couldn’t see that far ahead, but I loved his optimism. I showed him with a kiss that lasted for the entire study break.