Chapter 20 - Something to Talk About
“People are talkin’, talkin’ ‘bout people / I hear them whisper, you won’t believe it / They think we’re lovers kept under covers / I just ignore it, but they keep saying / We laugh just a little too loud / We stand just a little too close / We stare just a little too long / Maybe they’re seeing something we don’t, darlin’ / Let’s give them something to talk about” – Something to Talk About, Bonnie Raitt
“So, tell me everything!” Diana says as she rushes up to me at my locker. “Leave nothing out!”
In the two months I have been here, Diana and I have become close, especially since our lockers being next to each other requires us to cross paths between every period. She was the first person who was kind to me when I transferred here. My first friend here, and I will be forever grateful to her for letting me into her group, something she didn’t have to do. She gave me a place in this school, she and her friends made me feel like I belonged, and not just a West Sider. “It was the most amazing night,” I say, thinking back on it. “I didn’t want it to end.” And then I explain everything about the evening to Diana, from the church meal to the picnic dinner, from the bonfire to Lisa’s jealousy, and then finally to the kiss. I leave nothing out, even going into the details of the kiss that I didn’t share with Mia, knowing that Diana would love to hear it.
“Damn, girl!” Diana says when I tell her about the kiss, “Even after all these years, Mr. James Fox still has game! I always thought he would be a good kisser, gentle yet controlling, the perfect combination.”
“Correction,” I say, “He is an amazing kisser.” And Diana hits me on the side with her binder.
“You got it bad!” Diana says. “So what are you guys now? Are you dating, is he your boyfriend? I’m living my dating life vicariously through you, so you have to give me details!”
“We’re just seeing each other.” I say, “It was one date, but we both want to go out again.”
“Mm…” Diana says, “I’m sure he’d like to take you back to that abandoned house.”
“Hey!” I say, hitting her on the shoulder.
“Don’t tell me you weren’t thinking that!” Diana says and she’s right. As long as I’m with James, he could take me anywhere and I’d follow willingly behind. I could have spent the entire night with him in that abandoned house and it still wouldn’t have been enough.
“And then she flipped on me being like, ‘Maurice, if you’re not going to take this relationship seriously, then I don’t even know why we are still together.‘” Maurice, a Grade 12 and wearing only a towel, says in the locker room as all the boys are getting changed after morning soccer practice. “I mean, Friday night has always been guys’ night, and then she wants me to cancel to go to her cousin’s party? No, not doing that.”
“You can never keep them pleased.” Another Grade 12 says, “You give them everything and then all they want is more.”
“You’ll be back with Constance before the end of the day.” Daniel, the captain, a Grade 12 and wearing only a towel, shouts across the locker room, “No one cares about your guys’ never-ending makeup and break up relationship.”
“Hey!” Maurice shouts at Daniel, throwing one of his soccer cleats at him, and Daniel throws it right back at him.
“Instead, I want to hear about how our Grade 11 superstar took out that West Side chick this weekend,” Daniel says, looking at me, trying to find some gossip for the locker room.
“Ohhhh…Did Foxy get himself a girlfriend?” Maurice says all excited.
“She’s not my girlfriend,” I say automatically, only half-dressed with no shirt on, going through my locker.
“So there is a girl!” Maurice says.
“Of course there is,” Daniel says, “She’s on the girls’ soccer team. The hot one with the long brown-blonde ponytail I pointed out to you last week.”
“Her?!” Maurice says, almost in disbelief as his eyes go big. “Damn, Fox. Why didn’t you tell us you were taking out the hottest girl on the soccer team?”
“Don’t let Isabella hear you say that!” someone says, and Maurice just laughs.
“So, tell us how it went?” Maurice asks.
I don’t want to talk about Arya here, not with these guys, but I know the more I refuse, the more they will push, which will only make things worse. “Really well actually,” I say, trying to get away with saying the least amount possible.
“You gotta give us more than that!” Daniel says, coming up to me, leaning an arm on the locker and brushing his blonde messy hair out of his face. “Tell me, is she as hot underneath that clothing as we are all thinking?”
“Lay off, Daniel.” Malcolm, half-dressed like me, says in my defense.
“What, Malcolm?” Daniel says, looking at Malcolm who’s behind me, “I’m just asking what we are all thinking. Remember last week when she was running around the track on her own?” Daniel asks all the guys, “What I wouldn’t do to have those tanned legs wrapped around me. I bet it was nice, wasn’t it, Fox?” And he hits me on the shoulder in an attempt of camaraderie, “Come on man, you can tell us anything, this is what locker rooms are for.”
“Not interested,” I say, turning back to my locker.
“Unless nothing happened?” Daniel mocks me, “Did you just bring her home before her bedtime on a cute little date you planned?”
“You need to back off, Daniel,” I say, closing my locker, turning to him.
“What?” Daniel says, “I’m just trying to make sure that you are treating your girl right. If she’s interested in a real man you can let her know that I’d be happy to oblige.” And then he winks at me.
“Don’t talk about her like that,” I say, trying to contain my anger and not lash out at the captain of the soccer team.
“Chill out guys.” Maurice says, “It’s James’ girl and if they are happy together, you have no business butting in their relationship, Daniel.” I am thankful for Maurice saying this. It’s hard for a Grade 11 to stand up to a Grade 12. There’s a seniority issue that the Grade 12s never let you forget. And for this one year alone, they run the school. Something they take full advantage of.
“Hey, I was just trying to find out about James’ date,” Daniel says defensively as if he has done nothing wrong, “I didn’t realize he was such a pansy,” he says looking at me, and then to everyone he says, “but there’s no way that West Side girl doesn’t want a guy to give it to her. I know she doesn’t wear those short soccer shorts for herself.”
“Fuckin’ asshole!” I say, letting the anger overtake me and I push Daniel’s shoulders, which causes him to stumble back slightly, but he catches himself.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Daniel yells at me, heated with anger, “You think you can push your captain?” and at that moment, Maurice comes up beside Daniel, ready to cage the animal in case it turns violent. “I don’t care how good of a soccer player you are, I’m not dealing with some Grade 11′s anger issues. I can get you off the team in an instant, so you better watch your back.”
“Then you’ll have to get rid of me too, then.” I hear Malcolm say from behind me.
“Me too.” Both Richard and Samson chime in.
“I don’t think it would look too good on you to lose four of your players from the starting lineup,” Malcolm says, coming up to stand beside me, facing Daniel and Maurice.
“Whatever,” Daniel says, “James, just know that I could easily steal your girl if I wanted, so don’t piss me off again or else I will.”
“Do whatever you want, Daniel,” I say, “just leave her out of it.”
“Protective of her, now aren’t we?” Daniel mocks, “I guess we know what your weakness is now.” And then he turns and walks away from me before I can do anything else, along with Maurice, who follows behind.
Malcolm can see the anger bubbling inside of me like a volcano, “James, just chill, he’s not even going to do anything. He’s all talk.” Malcolm says, “He can’t kick you off the soccer team and there’s no way Arya would go for a guy like that in a million years!”
“I know she never would.” I say, “I just couldn’t forgive myself if he did something to her or forced himself on her.”
“He’s not going to do that.” Malcolm assures me, “He just talks a big game, that’s all.”
“I hope you are right,” I say.
“So now that we are away from horny Grade 12 jocks, do you want to tell us what happened with Arya after you left the bonfire?” Richard asks as we are all at my locker before the first class of the day, while Malcolm is trying to head a soccer ball as many times as he can in a row.
“I took her home,” is all I say.
“James,” Samson says, “We have been friends since we were kids, you know you can tell us anything right?”
“Yes,” I say, “I’m just wondering why everyone is asking about my love life now.”
“Because up until this past Saturday,” Malcolm says, continually heading the ball, “You didn’t have one.”
“Mr. X, no playing with soccer balls in the school!” Mr. Trelawney says to Malcolm as he walks by, to which Malcolm grabs hold of the soccer ball.
“Yes, Mr. Trelawney!” Malcolm calls out after him.
“Anyway,” Samson says, “We haven’t seen you like this in so long. You were so carefree and happy on Saturday. It was like the old James was back.”
I look at all these guys, my three best friends. They have always stuck by me, even if for the past two years I’ve been blowing them off or been distant. “I feel like I can be like my old self with her,” I say. “She brings it out of me.”
“And we are so happy for you man!” Richard says, slapping me on the shoulder.
“I kissed her,” I say and the guys look at me, listening for more. “I took her to that abandoned house we found when we were kids and I kissed her, and it was incredible. I never thought I could feel this way about someone.” Daniel was right about one thing; having those sexy, tanned legs wrapped around me did feel amazing, and I would do anything to do it again.
I rush down the stairs to head to Biology, which is on the first floor, right next to the gym, the only science class that’s not in the science wing. As I come up to the class, I see her. She’s by the gym doors, looking at the bulletin board. She’s wearing tight, dark jeans, knee-high dark brown boots, and an army green dress shirt that she has tied up at the front in a loose bow. The shirt just slightly exposes the skin above her jeans, driving me crazy from all the way over here. Her hair is loose, hanging over her shoulders like a beautiful golden waterfall. The guys’ Grade 12 gym class is heading to the change room, and with her back to them, I can see them pointing, commenting, and staring at her, while she just looks at the board, oblivious to all the attention she attracts. I walk over to her because I just need to be close to her again, see that smile again and hear that voice again. When I come up behind her on her left, closer to the gym doors, she is focused on something on the board, and when I realize what it is, I comment, “Did you really have to check if you made the soccer team?”
It snaps her back out of her trance and she looks at me and smiles. “With Isabella as captain, I couldn’t be too sure.”
“There’s no way Mr. Sprout would have kept you off the team unless he was delusional,” I say honestly.
“I assume you made the team as well,” Arya says. “Unless Mr. Quirrel is just looks and no brains.”
I laugh out loud. “Is someone attracted to the boys’ soccer coach?” I ask. Of course she is attracted to the hot and fit Mr. Quirrel. All the girls at school are attracted to him. Being older and a teacher just makes him more attractive, how can any guy compete with that? But I’d rather her deny it or say something that makes him unattractive to her.
“Every girl at this school is attracted to Mr. Quirrel,” she says. “Last week,” she begins excitedly, putting a hand on my arm, “I ran into him in the hall and he said he remembered seeing me play last year when he coached the junior girls and that I was, in his own words, a ‘tremendous’ soccer player!”
“Oh really?” I say.
“It was the highlight of my week.” Arya says dreamingly and then I just give her a look of ‘really?’. “Besides our date, of course!” she quickly corrects herself.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” I joke with her. “It’s going to be hard to battle for your affections with that guy though.”
“Don’t worry James,” Arya says. “He made a joke about me being short right after which I didn’t appreciate, so you still remain my favourite.” I smile at her and then the warning bell goes off. “I guess we should head to class.”
“Probably a good idea since I don’t see you holding any books,” I say.
“They’re already in the class,” Arya says. “I’m not entirely hopeless.” And then the guys from the locker room start coming out to go into the gym, passing by me and Arya. She’s facing away from them, but I can see all their faces as they pass by us. And I know what they are all thinking about seeing her and me together. They were staring, pointing, and making comments at her when they walked into the locker room and they are doing the exact same thing as they exit. And because life is never fair, Daniel walks out with one of his friends by his side. When he sees Arya and then me, he points at Arya and whispers something to his friend, something obscene I’m sure by the reaction on his friend’s face. And then he winks at me as he walks by, trying to ignite the rage inside of me. “James?” Arya says, and I look at her, not realizing that I had been clenching my fist. “Who was that guy?”
“No one,” I reply.
“He’s on your team, isn’t he?” she says as she looks around me to see him.
“Yes, he’s the captain,” I say quickly because I don’t want her to spend any time or energy on him.
“Is someone else having trouble with their team captain as well?” Arya asks jokingly.
I laugh at her, “I guess it’s another thing we have in common.”
“He’s probably just jealous that you are the better soccer player,” Arya says. Arya, you don’t know how much I wish that that was what he was jealous of.
“Mr. Fox, Ms. Secord.” Mr. Quirrel says as he opens the gym doors, “Shouldn’t you two be in class?”
“Yes, Mr. Quirrel,” we both say in unison.
“Good.” Mr. Quirrel says, “Good luck for the season Arya, I’m sure you’ll help bring the championship back to East Side.”
“I’ll do my best,” Arya says, smiling at Mr. Quirrel, and he flashes back his smile that makes all the girls swoon.
“Great practice this morning, James.” Mr. Quirrel says as if it’s an afterthought. “See you tomorrow for practice.” And then he heads back into the gym, leaving Arya and me alone.
“Oh man,” Arya says.
“What’s wrong?” I ask her.
“Did you see that!” Arya says excitedly, pointing at the gym door, “He remembered my name and he said I would bring the championship home!!” Arya seems very excited by this interaction and I respond by rolling my eyes and heading off to class, not wanting to hear another girl gush about Mr. Quirrel, especially not Arya. “James!” she runs up to me, touching my shoulder, which makes me stop and look at her. “You don’t have to be jealous James,” she says, holding my arm, “Just because Mr. Quirrel didn’t say that you would bring home the championship, doesn’t mean he doesn’t like you too.”
“You’re impossible,” I say smiling out of frustration at this girl that has turned everything upside down so quickly.
“Unfortunately, teacher’s favourite and coach’s favourite is actually a thing,” Arya whispers to me.
“He’s not your coach, Arya,” I whisper back.
“But I can tell he wants to be,” Arya says, and then the final bell rings. “Okay, now I need to go.” She says and then runs through the door and starts sprinting up the stairs and I laugh as I watch her.
“So guys, I have important news!” Diana says as she sits down at our lunch table with Lincoln, who seems to be in a mood.
“What is it?” Sarah asks.
“Well,” Diana begins, excitedly, “Today marks the day that yours truly received a 100% on her English test and my sad accomplice here,” Diana puts her hand on Lincoln’s shoulder, “Only received a 98%.” She whispers the last part.
“It’s not a big deal,” Lincoln says, annoyed at Diana’s gloating, though I can tell he’s not actually mad.
“It actually is a big deal because this is a historic moment.” Diana says, “No one has ever gotten a higher grade than you in English or History! Ever!”
These two superstars make our grades look terrible in comparison. Yes, they are great to study with, and George, Teddy, and I all got over 85% on that test as well, but Lincoln and Diana are just in a league of their own. Lincoln excelling in History and English while Diana excels in Math and Science, so of course Diana would make a big deal out of laying claim on Lincoln’s territory.
“Anyway, can we please change the subject,” Lincoln says, “Diana will go on about this all day if we don’t stop her.”
And then I see him, out of the corner of my eye, walking through the cafeteria, and without even thinking about it, I get up to go over to him, immediately attracted to him like a magnet.
“Arya!” he says happily when he sees me. “You look beautiful today, as you always do.”
“I just want to check in with you about our second date.” I say, “I don’t want you holding out on me.” And James just laughs.
“I’m working until 3 pm on Saturday, so not enough time to take you up to the Sugar Shack, but how about a hike instead?” James says.
“Well it’s a downgrade from pancakes covered in maple syrup, but I’ll concede,” I say.
“Aren’t they the cutest thing you have ever seen?” Diana says, looking at her friend talking to the handsome devil that is James Fox. This guy who blew off every girl interested in him since Grade 9 is now looking at Arya as if she is everything to him. And this girl, that was so shy when she came here is now so confident in herself and knows exactly what she wants. And she wants James.
“They’re both great soccer players, they’re both smart and they are the perfect height match!” Eleanor says excitedly.
“Look at the way he looks at her.” Sarah comments, “He’s a man falling in love.” And then she rests her chin on her hand to watch admiringly. “Where can I find a guy like that?” and Teddy and George both roll their eyes at Sarah.
“They’ve only been on one date,” Lincoln says, about to bite into his apple.
“Is that jealousy I hear?” Diana says, looking at Lincoln to read his facial expressions.
“No,” Lincoln says calmly, “I’m just commenting that they barely know each other. Saying that he’s in love is a bit much, Sarah.”
“The eyes don’t lie, Lincoln.” Sarah says, “And she really likes him too.”
“You missed your chance, Lincoln,” Diana says.
“I don’t like her like that, Diana!” Lincoln yells at her, which causes Diana to shrink back, something that she never does.
Lincoln is well aware of the connection between Arya and James. He was the one that was there when they first met, however brief it was, but he knew then that there was something more there. So it’s not jealousy Lincoln feels because he doesn’t have those types of feelings for Arya. But rather, it’s protectiveness over this girl that he has found to be a true friend in these past two months. Lincoln knows that James is a good guy, that he would be good to her, but it’s not James that he is worried about. It’s James’ world, and if he and Arya are together, then she will be sucked into that world. If she dates him, all the girls will become jealous of the new girl dating the popular soccer player. If she dates him, all the older guys in Grade 12, the only ones with a higher social standing than James, will see her as something of value, something to obtain. Arya is safe with us, in our group, in our world of this high school. She’s safe with us, but with James? Even he might not be able to protect her from the evils of his own world.
If Arya wants to stay out of the spotlight, James is the exact wrong guy to get involved with.