I made a move to Miss Issel’s room but was tapped lightly on my shoulder.
“Period four Brink. That would be gym, right?”
“Forgot my shorts Mrs. Stone.”
“We can work with that.”
“Still have three minutes.”
“You lost those three minutes for the forty-five you just cut. So you owe me forty-two more.”
Looked like a day of calculating. My head strained backwards to see the back of what I thought was Wade, disappearing with no signs that he saw me. That got my attention. CJ’s rumor must have been correct.
“I’ll walk you to the gym, make sure you don’t lose your way. I saw your speaking with Fabian Stark. How’s Club Dead going?”
“Oh well, you know, death this, death that. Frankly, it’s kind of monotonous.”
“Anything you can tell me about the club?”
“If anyone is intending to hurt him or herself?”
“You mean suicide? You want me to be your spy?”
“Brink, why do I detect resistance whenever I speak with you?”
“There’s a lot to resist.”
“There is? It’s our fate to go along with the plan.”
“Mrs. Stone, if this is my fate, then I don’t want life. Now, if you want to talk about free will, I’m all ears. You see, if I have free will, then I want the plan out of my way so I can work on making an acceptable life.”
“What is it with you young people? You see nothing but the bad side of life. How can you be so negative?”
“Were you never a teenager?”
“I suppose I was a normal teenager.”
“Flash Mrs. Stone: I am not normal”
“I’ll see you after school, Brink, for your forty-two minutes.”
I moved away. Mrs. Stone held on my arm. I tugged. Her grip convinced me that somewhere in the past Mrs. Stone performed manual labor. I tugged again. We stared at each other. She let go and I entered the girl’s locker room.
First I would beg.
I moved through the girls changing into their gym clothes. I explained to Suzy Harrison my predicament. She was good about it, sympathetic, and handed me a buck. I went down the line, fifty cents from Gerri Vincent, lose change from Tiffany Els, a fiver from Lucy Stimson. Good people, here and there. Most of them pricks. I’d work on them later.
But my problem remained. I counted $8.72, for a total of $73.72. I didn’t bother thinking that Wraithe would accept this. When that dude said $100, he meant $100. I bit two fingernails and watched blood surface. I changed into my shorts and t-shirt and thought about means and ends.
I walked out with the other girls into the gym, meeting the boys, and began walking in a circle to the beat of an 80’s dance tune. I never thought schools had people with the ability to make sensible decisions, but whoever cooked up the idea that walking in circles for twenty minutes instead of playing games that allow aggressive peers to prey on the weak gets my vote for employee of the year. I often do my best thinking walking in a circle.
“How did you do?” Gerri asked.
“I need $26.28.”
“Sorry. Wraithe is scary.”
“Indeed. But I’m not giving up yet.”
“I can’t believe the other girls wouldn’t help you.”
“I haven’t cultivated the best relationships at school.”
“Heck, half of these creeps would like to see Wraithe work me over.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I was just working that out. You see, Gerri, it’s about means and ends. My end is clear – I need to ditch this school. And that’s a good. So, the question is, how can the means satisfy the ends?”
“Which means I’m going back into the locker room and steal.”
“The means are mean.”
“Okay, stealing is mean, but if the end – which is good – trumps the mean means, then I’m off the hook.”
“Where did you learn that?”
“You’re going to hell.”
“Gerri, I didn’t know you were religious.”
“I’m not, especially, but you can’t sell me that. You’re behaving badly.”
“Desperate times require desperate measures.”
“What happened to your moral universe of means and ends?”
“Hey, you have your beliefs Gerri, I’m still working out the kinks in mine.”
“Coach, got to the locker room”
“Forget it Brink. Keep walking!”
“Don’t do it Brink,” Gerri advised.
“Girlie stuff, coach.” I broke off from the circle, pointed to my crotch and headed into the locker room.
The empty locker room stirred memories of a time when I cared. I played soccer like many other girls, crafted my hair with French braids, thought Bend It Like Beckham meant more to me than my family, wanted to win. All very Ben Franklinesque.
The break from that startled me as much as it did my friends and family. But I saw the obsession working corrosively within my body and soul. I kept a daily chart of calories consumed and expended. I called sports reporters, insisting to know why my name was omitted from our victories (that I was primarily responsible for). I developed flops that kept refs on my side. I stepped on opponents’ feet, hard! I simply adhered to the coaches’ advice to “Kill them!” I was a killer.
It unraveled quickly enough. During the last game of the season against the Purdy Rebels, with my team leading six nil, I took a pass from Clare Newmeyer and split the defense. I thought it strange the defenders were walking away from me. But as I said – I was a killer.
I stopped and booted it past the hapless goalie. A hat trick! I ran in circles, hands raised, slid to my knees, pulled a Brandi Chastain, showed everyone my sports bra and grabbed pieces of turf. Strangely no group celebratory pile up occurred. I looked up holding two fists of grass and saw the field empty. Apparently my goal was a non-goal, time having elapsed.
Coach stood on the sidelines staring at me, making mental notes. Mom and dad had left without a good-bye. My isolation had only begun.
My foolishness went viral, ripping the shades from my eyes. My retreat was quick and emphatic. I quit the team, grew silent and sought anonymity. My fall was complete.
I brooded about my understanding that I had been created by an athletic system to do exactly as I did. I scored, I stomped, I celebrated. But that system never told me about the line. I crossed it into a place of shame. I read the comments on the video and learned words like ignominy, supercilious, opprobrium. Disgrace, I knew.
I pulled open an unlocked locker.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Melissa Frank walked in and up to me.
“Oops, wrong locker.” I stepped back.
Melissa Frank had won the state’s wrestling crown three years running, 192 pound class. She unsuccessfully appealed the board of education to allow her to play on the guy’s football team. She broke records this spring throwing the shot-put.
“Gerri told me about your plan.”
And then the blood flowed.
I once broke a pinkie playing soccer, my first and only broken bone. Until now.
Gerri found me with my head tipped backward.
“I just saw Melissa shaking her fist. Figured I’d see the damage. Here.”
Gerri found a towel to clean up the blood.
“Appreciate it. A pal, Ger, seriously.”
“I was trying to help you - ”
“I know, stay out of hell. Good intentions. Help me to the nurse?”
Gerri guided me out of the gym and down the hall to the nurse’s office.
“I’ve seen worse. Doesn’t even look bent,” Nurse Remington said. Gerri, looking pleased at that news, slipped out and returned to gym. “Tip your head back, hold this. You’ll be set to go by next period.”
Thinking of Wraithe, I asked, “Can I stay here? I don’t feel so good.”
“If you haven’t noticed, we’ve got a run on sick kids. No beds available honey. Now come on, let’s go. If the bleeding doesn’t stop come on back. Ibuprofen?”
I gobbled a few and headed to the cafeteria.
“Oh, and your CPR certificate arrived. Let me get it.”
She handed me the piece of cardboard paper, which I folded and shoved into my back pocket.
I changed in the gym before class ended and stepped out into a near-empty hall. I cradled the $73.72 in my pocket and watched for signs of Wraithe. Lunch kicked off period five, so I had a respite before heading to English. I dragged myself up on the stage and figured I hang out with Club Dead before Wraithe or English took over my day.