The next day at school was a swift slap in the face of normalcy, and I guess I needed that. It was back to the world that made sense to me.
Doyle was cracking down on us at practice. The big, all-important New York competition was in three weeks, and Doyle was becoming the Sadam Housain of Sunny Mountain High.
The only new thing this week was that my friends were avidly spending more time with me, paying more attention to me. Stephen took me home every day, and, on Tuesday when we didn’t have practice, he stayed at my house for dinner, which didn’t bother Mom one bit—I think maybe she had a little crush on him.
On Wednesday at practice, the guys on the team who usually hung around Stephen were loud and rowdy. They seemed excited about something in a primitive way.
At break, he and a few of the guys came up to me where I and the other flutists were sitting in the grass.
“Well, I guess the team is going to throw me a birthday party,” he said.
“Really?” I said. “Your birthday is coming up?” I was reminded of what Brianna said, about Stephen expecting more for his birthday.
“Yeah, on Sunday,” he said.
“How old you gonna be?”
“Ooo, the big one,” I said.
“Will you be able to come to the party?” he asked.
“You mean I’m actually invited? To a jock a party?”
“Of course you are. It’s my party and I want you to be there. And there’ll be a keg.”
I’d never been to a party like that before. I would like to go, but I felt intimidated.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“What are you talking about? You have to come. I won’t have any fun without you.”
I frowned at him; I didn’t believe that one bit.
“Sure you would,” I said.
“Come on, it’s my birthday,” he implored. “You don’t have to get me any presents. Just come to my party.”
I pursed my lips to one side and thought.
“Can I bring Reina with me?” I asked hopefully.
“Sure, bring whoever you want,” he said.
“Where is it going to be?”
“At Carlos’s house; he’s the captain. His house is two stories, so it’s pretty big.”
“Where does he live?” I asked.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll pick you up, so you don’t have to worry about trying to find it on your own.”
“Cool,” I said.
The next morning at the cafeteria, I waited for Reina to come to the table. But she didn’t come to breakfast. Of course, it would have to be on this day that she would choose to be late to school.
In calculus, I bounced my leg as I watched for her to come through the door. She finally did just before the last bell.
“There you are,” I said as she took her seat next to me.
“Hi, Crim,” she said cheerfully. “I missed the bus this morning so I had to walk here.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re here because Stephen is having a birthday party with the other jocks and he wants me to come,” I said. “But I don’t want to go by myself.”
“But Stephen will be there, so you won’t be by yourself,” she said.
“Yes, but that’s his atmosphere. He’ll probably forget all about me. And I wouldn’t feel comfortable around those other guys. So I was hoping that you would come with me. I already asked Stephen and he said you could come.”
“Umm, I don’t know,” she said naywardly. “That really doesn’t sound like my kind of party.”
“Aw, please, Reina,” I begged. “I really don’t want to go by myself. But I already said I would go and I can’t just not go!”
“You could ask Amber, or Robert,” she suggested.
“Amber won’t want to go—I know that already. Robert might, but he wouldn’t be too much of a comfort. You sure you don’t want to go?”
“Yes, positive,” she affirmed.
“Fine. I guess I could ask them, then.” I sighed.
At lunch, I asked them both.
“Spend an afternoon with a bunch of apes with pig-skin for brains?” Amber said wittily. “No thanks.”
“Robert?” I asked.
“Oh, I wish I could, but I can’t,” he said. “My mother is dragging me to Phoenix this weekend to visit my grandmother. Damn, that woman is so old! I mean, honestly, I can’t believe she’s not dead yet.”
“Robert, you shouldn’t talk like that,” Reina said.
He just laughed and flipped his blond bangs out of his face.
“But, yeah, anyway, I can’t go,” he said to me. “Sorry.”
“What are you going to get for Stephen?” Reina asked.
“He told me that I don’t have to get him anything, that he just wants me to come and that’s all.”
“Whatever!” Robert scoffed. “You have to get him something.”
“Like what? I don’t know what kind of things he would want. It would be different if I were shopping for a girl. What do guys like?”
“Well, I’m not really an expert on what straight guys like,” Robert said. “But basically, it’s sex, alcohol and food.”
Amber disregarded Robert’s insinuation. “Look, why don’t we just go to the mall on Saturday and we’ll help you pick out something,” she said.
“Okay,” I said. “I guess something is better than nothing.”