I Won't Back Down
The key to success is the element of surprise. That’s why every military since the Trojans have tried a sneak attack. You have your unsuspecting enemy in his natural environment, going about his daily business, and then BAM - strike with an iron fist. Deliver your crushing blow. Go all out. No surrender, no retreat. He’ll never see it coming.
I push past the heavy doors of the school entrance and stride past the office. I march down the hallway, ignoring the secretary voices calling after me.
“Young lady, what are you doing?”
“Miss, you have to sign in!”
I turn the corner and head straight for the gym. I pass the volleyball team as I cross the court, not caring that I interrupted their practice. I make my way to the corner office where Mr. Gardner is visible through the door window, seated at his desk.
They call him Pumpkinhead. And it’s obvious why. His noggin is the size of an average jack-o-lantern and about as round. His complexion is rather orange. He’s short and squat in stature. Plus he’s always smiling, even when he’s serious. His hair is close-cropped, white, and he has a baby face.
I open the door without knocking. He appears startled.
“Are you aware,” I demand, “that the school is in violation of Title IX under Federal law in denying me the right to play football for Truman High?”
“Wh- wh- I’m not sure what you’re referring to?” Mr. Gardner stutters. He has a bit of a jolly old St. Nicholas voice.
“I was the only female who tried out for Truman’s football team last week, and I was the only student who did not make the team. That’s a clear-cut case of sexism. I don’t think the school would appreciate a lawsuit, do you?”
His mouth is open dumbly, and he keeps trying to form words, but no sound is coming out.
“W-w-well, no, but, are you sure it was sexism at play here? Perhaps it was...your skill level wasn’t - ”
“No,” I snap. “There were boys who’ve never played before who made the team. I have years of experience under my belt. I’d gladly put you in contact with my lawyer, though, if you’d like to straighten things out with him.” I slap my hands on his desk and lean forward. Be aggressive. Stare him down.
“N-n-no, that won’t be necessary.” He’s trembling. He sifts through a mess of papers coating his desktop. At last he pulls one out and puts on reading glasses. He peers at the paper. “I’ll contact the coach and inform him that he must allow you to play.” He looks up at me.
“Well?” I snap. “What are you waiting for?” His eyes widen.
“Oh! Yes, I’ll do it right now!”
I nod, satisfied. He fumbles with the handset phone, punches a few numbers.
“Landon? Yes, this is Ron Gardner. I’m calling about an issue with the team.”
I can hear Coach’s loud, gruff voice radiating unintelligibly from the phone.
“Yes, I have to tell you that you can’t restrict any student from playing. Not even a female student.”
“WHAAAAAAAAAAAT?!” Coach blasts through the phone. It’s so loud, Mr. Gardner has to pull the phone away from his ear.
“Yes. I’m sorry, but if you don’t let - ”
“Stephanie Rogers,” I whisper.
“If you don’t let Miss Rogers play, I’m afraid I’ll have to let you go.”
“BLAAAAAAAAARRRRRGHHHH!” is what it sounds like Coach says. I can’t tell; all I know is, he’s pissed. I smirk.
“I’m sorry, Landon. My hands are tied.” The AD listens while Coach shouts into the phone. “I know. I know. Okay. Good. Mhm. Yes. Buh-bye.” He slams the phone down. He looks up at me. “You’re all set,” he smiles.
“Thank you,” I nod. “Have a great day.” Then I turn on my heel and bolt out of there before any questions can be asked or any minds can be changed. I stay on guard, though, in case he comes after me.
When I burst through the school doors and hit the parking lot, I know I’m home-free. Cal is waiting for me in his truck.
“It worked!” I cheer, beaming. “And it was way easier than I thought!” I hop into the shotgun seat.
“Awesome! I knew it would,” he smiles. “Threaten someone with a lawsuit, and you’ll have them eating out of your hand.”
I slide over and give him a side-hug. He returns the gesture.
“Thank you,” I say, my head on his shoulder and my arm across his back. “You were brilliant. You’ll make a great lawyer someday.” He rests his head on mine.
“Welcome to the team, Stevie.” He grins. I sigh blissfully.
“Just like we always wanted, huh?” I breathe. “Playing high school football together. Our little sixth-grade dream came true.”
“Yeah,” he murmurs. I get a whiff of something nice. His deodorant, probably. I always did like the scent of Old Spice. It’s a dad scent. And Cal’s got a dad personality. It suits him.
“You smell nice,” I state, pulling out of the hug.
“Do I?” He lifts his shirt up for a sniff. I chuckle. He blushes. “Yeah, I guess I do.” He shrugs. “Okay, well, you gotta get home. Your shift supposedly ended at five, so you’ll be expected home any time now.” He starts the truck and we pull out of the school parking lot.
“I’m so glad Skinny agreed to help me out. He seemed pretty happy that I’m playing, too. He said he’d probably come to one of our games to watch me play.”
Zennen called him about my schedule. Luckily, I’d already asked him to pretend to extend my hours so that I could go to practice without my parents being suspicious. When school starts, I can go to practice, and my parents will think I’m at work because of my “new hours”. It’s perfect.
“That’s great,” Cal replies.
“Yeah. I think I’ve become like the daughter he never had, ya know? I mean he’s never been married, doesn’t have kids. He’s kind-of adopted me.”
Cal smiles. “Sounds like a good man.”
“Yeah, he is. I love the guy. He’d make a great dad. So would you,” I add. “Your little sisters adore you.”
He blushes again. “Thanks. I like to think I’ll have kids someday. You know. After law school.” He shakes his head sadly. Because we both know the likelihood of that actually happening is slim to none.
“Hey,” I say, touching his arm. “You’re gonna change the world, no matter what you do with your life. You’ve changed mine.”
He just smiles out the windshield.