April Marriott’s Dream:
The grass never grew weird on that one spot on the field. The roots never got twisted or whatever went on to make that little lump, that little sprout of grass just behind second base.
No. The state championship banner hangs just inside the lobby like it does for every team. Like it did for the football team in my freshman year, like it did for the swim team and the soccer team in my sophomore year, like it did for the girls’ basketball team and even for the drama club last year when I was a junior. It hangs this year for us, for the girls’ softball team because we did it! We did it! We beat our arch rivals in the championship game, and that pucker-faced little blonde-haired pitcher who made such a point of fixing her pony tail before every pitch—every single pitch? She cried. Her mascara ran down her cheeks and made her look like some zombie softballer from hell. She just sat right on the bench and sobbed those brown eyes—those eyes that would stare you down every time you stepped up to the plate, those eyes that said you were nothing but a cockroach—sobbed those pretty brown eyes out until they were completely bloodshot and defeated.
The announcements aren’t coming on now to say that we lost the game. I am not hearing them say, “The softball team lost a heart-breaker last night against the Green Mountain Mountaineers.” They are not saying, “Tough break, softballers, but congrats on a great season and the distinction of being the state runners up.” No. No, no, no! They are saying, “Last night’s softball game was just another take-care-of-business outing for our team as they swept the league and came home state champions! Great job, everybody!” And I’m cheering again, just like I cheered myself hoarse last night on the bus ride home. I’m jumping up and down in homeroom and Miss Tingdale isn’t even complaining. She’s giving me a hug, both me and Sonia, and she’s telling us, “Nice work, girls—way to bring it home!”
That has to be what is happening. Because last night I was playing center field, and we were ahead by two runs, and it was the bottom of the seventh with two outs and a girl on second, and the girl up at bat, the one with the frizzy hair sticking out from both sides of her batting helmet, she hit a grounder right at me. An easy grounder. I scooped it up and tossed it to Carmen at first base and that was it—the last out of the game and we went crazy, hugging and jumping and throwing our gloves in the air. The pitcher, that blonde-haired she-devil who had to adjust her hair before every single pitch, she just collapsed in the dugout while we celebrated out on the field! Yes!
Because that ball never took a funny little hop. It never hit a divot in the field and jumped up higher in my glove than I expected and then kept rolling right up my glove and up my left arm to smack me in the chin on its way to tapping me on the shoulder and falling behind me. I never looked like a complete bumbling idiot long enough for the batter to make it to first and for the girl on second to make it to third. That never happened.
No. We’re going to have a special team meeting after school to talk about the color and style of our championship jackets. We’re going to go to Morgan’s house this week-end and watch the game on her huge-screen t.v. and relive the glory.
That hair-adjusting stuck-up bitch of a pitcher didn’t get up to bat next after my error and blast a shot over the head of the right fielder. She did not get a triple. She did not cross home plate and turn to us all with both of her hands formed into guns and crouch down and say, “Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, suckers!” just before her teamed mobbed her.
We won. Of course we won.
Because how could I live with the memory of myself on the bus with the hot tears coming out of my eyes? How could I remember saying to Margot, my best friend on the team and in life, “Did you see that little hop it took? It took a hop. There must have been a…there must have a hole or something, or a little mound. Didn’t you see?”
Of course we won. Marcus Deither just passed me. He said, “Sweet win” with that gorgeous, deep voice of his. That’s what he said. He didn’t look the other way like you do when you’re embarrassed by somebody’s total failure. Just like Margot could not have said to me last night after 15 minutes on the bus and me telling her about the divot in the field, “Give it a rest, okay? Nobody saw anything funny on the field. The field was fine. You just missed the frigging catch.”
We won. That’s what’s happening today, the celebration. We definitely won.
Reality Check: Dream 21
ü Note on April Marriott’s locker, day after championship game: “Congratulations, LVP (Least Valuable Player). Great job in the field and thanks for helping us end the year just the way we wanted to.”
Marcus Deither’s Dream:
God, his shoulders are gorgeous. Even through his t-shirt I can see the jagged definition of his muscles. Now he’s standing; now he’s holding his lunch tray in front of him; now he’s walking gracefully, maneuvering through the mobs in the cafeteria. I’ve got to stop staring, but his every move ripples some other fascinating part. His chest! If a shape like that doesn’t inspire sculpture, not to mention straight-up lust, I don’t know what does. I’m thinking at him, Son, if you don’t hurry up and sit down, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to keep from…
“Hey, Marcus, I want you to meet somebody.” It’s Catherine, plopping down in front of me, obstructing my view.
“Hey, Catherine,” I reply, trying to look interested in the gob of school-manufactured chili on my plate, as if it could possibly hold more interest for me than the chiseled demi-god named Michael Harding.
“I’ve got somebody for you to meet,” Catherine sings.
“Yeah, yeah, I think...right, you said that already.” I’m still trying to get acclimated to the real world after being transported by Michael’s finely-tuned bode.
“She’s really cute. I think you’re going to like her.” More singing, more annoyance, more complete ignorance of what I’d like. Hint: the pronoun “she” is a bad start. Not that I can blame Catherine. She’s been trying to set me up with a member of the opposite gender since second grade, about as long as I’ve been simultaneously panting after and pretending not to notice the objects of my obsession: boys. Like Michael, who just yawned and turned that average act into a glorious overture. What am I going to do with myself? Gayness, after all, is not an advisable state of being for the son of a Baptist minister.
“She’ll be here any minute,” Catherine says. “She’s new. She moved from Carlton, but you know what? I met her before, at a music festival in middle school. We’ve been Facebook buddies for, like, four years, and…” Catherine chatters on. I want to just grab her, look her in the eye and tell her: “Catherine, I am gay. Stop trying to set me up with your girlfriends. It’s not going to work because, again, I am gay.”
I don’t, though. I can’t tell her anymore than I can tell anyone. Everybody’s like, “Free to be you! Rainbow power! Go individuality! Embrace your sexuality, ra, ra, ra!” That may be fine for them, but they don’t live in a household where being gay is an ungodly abomination. They don’t live in a household with very loving, very supportive parents who also happen to believe that homosexuals will burn in hell. I believe it, too. I know I’m damned. But knowing that doesn’t keep me from thinking guys like Michael Harding are more gorgeous than any female model or movie star you could point out.
“There she is! Over here, Jess! Over here!” The new girl, hearing Catherine’s shouts, turns toward us. She is definitely good looking. I don’t have to be straight to recognize that her thick auburn hair, her finely-proportioned torso, her athletic legs, all put her in the category of “babe.” Jess waves and walks over to us. Several boys’ heads, including Michael Harding’s, swivel as she walks confidently by them. Jimmy Sanderson, an annoying junior who thinks he owns the place, stands and holds out his hand toward Jess. “You’re new here, aren’t…?” Jess leaves him in the dust.
“Jess, this is the guy I was telling you about, Marcus Deither. Marcus, this is Jess Piffany.”
“Nice to meet you.”
Jess looks at me for a long moment. Her eyes are extraordinarily green. Finally, she says just one word: “Wow.”
“See, didn’t I tell you?” Catherine says.
“What? What’s going on?” I ask.
Catherine replies, “I was telling her you were totally gorgeous, and now she’s seeing for herself, that’s all.”
Jess sits down across from me and keeps staring. I can’t stand it. “Look, this is pretty embarrassing, okay? Could you just…?”
“Catherine also tells me you’ve never been with anybody, never had a girlfriend, not even her.”
Catherine says, “I never wanted to be...we’re, we’re just, you know...he’s like my brother, right?”
Jess’s gaze stays fixed on me like I’m some exotic creature. She suddenly says to Catherine, “Is he gay?”
Catherine turns to me, shocked. I can see that so many things are clicking into place now that Jess has asked the question. I feel my world crumbling. I’m about to lose my greatest secret, my greatest friend, my family, my religion...all within the next few seconds.
Jess turns the question on me now: “You aren’t gay, are you?” I feel the heat rising in my face, my throat constricting. I can’t breathe, and I can’t bring myself to speak.
“Marcus?” Catherine asks pitifully. My eyes are locked on the green of Jess’s eyes, though. She owns my fate. Her hand reaches across the table and takes mine.
“No,” she says. “You’re not gay. You just haven’t met the right girl yet.”
Suddenly, I love this girl. Not like I have loved Catherine or my female friends, as sisters and buddies. No, in an instant, as if she has given me a sexual transfusion through our clasped hands, Jess has become my desire. I flush. My body is covered in a sheen of sweat, and my face must be beet red. The thrust of her breasts against her sweater, the curve of her neck, the color of her hair, the excruciating sensation of her hand in mind--it all hits me with the force of a blind man’s first sight, a deaf man’s first sound.
But Jess is only the catalyst of my change--I am in love with her, yes, but I am suddenly in love with all the girls in the room. Jess has released into the air a delicious poison, and all I want to do is inhale as deeply as I can.
“Isn’t that right?” Jess says. “You just haven’t met the right girl yet?” On the word “right,” she runs her middle finger down the center of my palm. A warm shiver spreads into my every capillary. I take in a deep breath before I pass out, blow out with a quick “whew.” Jess smiles, knowing she owns me, and has utterly converted me.
At last, I croak out, “So, uh, where are you from?”
Jess leans over the table, bringing her mouth close to the side of my face. I feel her warm breath. She flicks her tongue against my earlobe. Electricity surges through me, centers on my groin. Jess holds my hand firmly in hers, keeping me under her control as she whispers, “I’m from heaven, Marcus.” As she pulls away from me, this sexual angel, this first of many girls I know I will love in my life to come, I completely believe her. Thank you, God!
Reality Check: Dream 22
ü Title of Marcus Deither’s Current Events research paper: “How the Homosexual Agenda is Ruining Our Nation.”
Jimmy Sanderson’s Dream:
The World Comes Around
We get to the car, me and my father. I stand beside the driver’s side because I’m supposed to practice. Dad knows this, but he never lets me drive to school because the roads are too busy early in the morning and lots of other kids are out on the road and you’re not totally awake yet, you’ve never been a morning person, and yes, I know you’re supposed to log a certain number of hours on your permit before you can get your license, but today’s not a good day and what if you brake hard and I spill my coffee, that would not get my day off to a good start, not at all, and yada, yada, yada. I hold out my hand for the keys anyway.
Without a word, Dad hands them to me. I suspect someone has replaced my father with a zombie, but I’m not complaining. Not now, certainly. If he’s taken some weird kind of medicine that has him drugged out and compliant all of a sudden, no problem. I’m just going to drive, baby!
Off to school we go, me behind the wheel, Dad silent and smiling. I take the corner a little fast, slight squeal of the tires—nothing to worry about. I’m actually a very good driver, even though I haven’t had a lot of practice. I look over at Dad when the tires squeal, but he doesn’t seem fazed at all.
He actually looks relaxed. Even at the four-way stop, when the jerk in the white BMW honks his horn at me when I take my turn. I mean, okay, he technically got to his stop sign a little before I got to mine, but he came to a full stop— his car lurched forward a little bit and then settled back—and I never did. I still have some momentum moving forward when I come to my stop sign, so I figure that I pretty much have the right to go before he does because of the laws of physics: It would take more energy for me to wait than it would for him since he is at a dead stop, so I go, and the jerk honks his horn at me. But before I can even say anything about what an idiot the white BMW is, my father actually flips the guy the bird and says, “Asshole.” He turns to me and says, “It was totally your turn.”
I’ll tell you what, yesterday you could’ve told me that driving to school with a tight-ass like my dad in the passenger seat sounded like about as much fun as a barbed-wire wedgie, and I would’ve agreed with you, no question. Today, though, with him sitting there looking out the window, taking in the sights, sipping on his coffee as I push on the gas a little and then a little more so now I’m going 60 in a 35 because come on, who needs to be going that slow around this neighborhood? Today, it’s a beautiful drive. I come to a stop in front of the school, another little squeal of the tires, and my father hops out and says, “Nice job. You should drive every morning. Gives me a chance to gather my thoughts before work. But hey, that’s what you’ve been telling me all along, isn’t it, Champ?”
I point my fingers at him like a gun; he points back the same way. I toss the keys; he catches the keys. I’m on my way, he’s on his. Nice. Whatever drugs you’re taking, Dad, keep ‘em coming!
This happy mood of mine fades as soon as I get to my locker and realize that today is Wednesday, and first period is history, and the combination of those two things means I’m about to have an oral quiz on crap I haven’t studied. I trudge on down toward Room 155. No use being late—Mr. Draper loves to make an example out of you if you’re late, especially on oral quiz day. Last one in, first one asked, and always the toughest question. The mobs in the hall don’t want to cooperate. Come on, people, come on--let’s break up the traffic jams, here! Get the hell out of my way! All the mental road-rage doesn’t do me any good. Draper greets me with a booming “Mister Sanderson!” as I enter the room, and I know I’m screwed.
“Would you care to enlighten the class about three of the major causes of the Revolutionary War?”
“I’m afraid I will not accept ‘uh’ as a major cause, Mr. Sanderson.”
So. In a situation like this, I’ve got two options. One, say “I don’t know” and take the zero and slink my way to my seat, tail between my legs, disgraced. Seeing as this is me, though, and I’m not a fan of disgrace, I guess I lied because, actually, I’ve only got one option: bullshit.
What version of bull does the morning call for, though? There’s your beat-around-the-bush style, your that-depends-on-your-perspective style, your talk-about-something-unrelated style, your…
“Well, Mr. Sanderson?”
I don’t like Draper’s attitude when she says my name, so I guess I’m going to go with the attack the system tactic, see where it takes me.
“You know, Ms. Draper, I thinks it’s pretty funny that you asked me about the American Revolution.”
“Yes, yes, I do. Because the American Revolution was all about Americans rising up against tyranny, right?”
“Go on,” says Draper, which surprises me a little since he is an idiot, but he does have a decent b.s. meter and normally he’d have shut me down already for evading the question and told me I got a zero on the quiz, but at least I would’ve scored smartass points with the class. But Draper just said, “Go on,” and it didn’t even sound like the usual sarcasm. So on I go.
“Well, see, I’m like America right now, like one of the colonies, and you’re like England. And yeah, so this whole quiz thing, picking on the last person that comes to class, it’s totally unfair. Totally…” Oh, man, time to pull out a good word here. “Totally...tyrannical! So I don’t even think I should have to answer.”
Everybody laughs, but there’s a little bit of nervousness to it, too, because I’m coming pretty close to crossing a line with this uprising of mine. Draper looks kind of thoughtful and then says, “You know, I think you’ve got a point, Jimmy. And for having the courage to speak your mind, I’m giving you full credit on the question.”
Full credit? Cool! I waltz to my seat while Mr. Draper turns to McKenzie Silver and asks her, “McKenzie, why don’t you tell us about three of the major causes of the American Revolution? Don’t bother trying Mr. Sanderson’s approach, either--that only works once.” Whatever drug my father had this morning, somebody slipped the same pill in old Draper’s coffee. Life is good.
And it doesn’t stop there. The day goes on, and I keep winning. I know my reputation--I’m an arguer. I see something that’s supposed to happen or not supposed to happen, I speak up about it; it’s just the way I am. A good day, for me, is when I win, say, two out of the approximately 50 fights I get into.
Today? I don’t even have to argue. Donny Lloyd, I tell him the Steelers suck. He agrees they probably won’t even make the playoffs. Eliza Denton, I tell her that her boyfriend should apply for a job as a speedbump. She admits that yeah, he’s pretty much useless and she should probably break up with him. I get Ms. Warren to postpone a test, Mr. Gunderman to stop lecturing about climate change, and the lunch lady to give me a free whoopie pie.
As the day comes to a close and I sit in Geometry, my last period of the day (no homework, for once, thanks to me), I realize what’s happened. For 15 years people have lived with me, listened to me, told me I’m wrong, heard my arguments, told me I’m wrong again, and now, at long last, the world has grown up and realized that when Jimmy Sanderson speaks, he tells the truth. The world has finally realized that I am always right.
Reality Check: Dream 23
ü Number of times James Sanderson took his driver’s license exam before passing: 4.