“Will you stop biting your nails? Honey, he’s going to be fine.”
I could barely hear from over the noise of the bleachers. I clutched Wren’s arm, using her body as a shield against what was going on below.
“How-can-you-be-so-calm?” I said tightly.
I had bitten my nails down to the skin, and my eyes kept scanning from place to place. I was trying to focus on something, on anything.
Wren made a sound at the back of her throat. In her typical sarcastic tone, she replied, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe because my boyfriend is not the star of our school’s football team?”
A cheer rang out across the bleachers.
“What’s happening? What’s going on?” I braved a cautious look beyond Wren, “Did somebody score?”
It was dark outside, and despite the pitch being illuminated by bright florescent lights, I was still struggling to make out anything discernible. I was looking for the number 10 – but all I could see was a mass of red and blue jerseys.
“Yep,” Wren tried to disentangle my hand from her arm. “Our very own Man of the Hour.”
She made jazz-hands and raised her voice in fake glee.
“Seth scored!” I exclaimed. The pounding in my chest grew louder.
I hugged Wren’s torso in delight, “He actually scored!”
The sound of the crowd was infectious. A Mexican wave began two rows down from us. The school’s mascot, a tiger, punched the air and brought out the scoreboard.
12 to 8.
We were four points up.
I clutched the side of my seat in anticipation.
There were only four minutes left.
“And I remember the days when we used to make fun of this sport,” Wren muttered.
The players began to restart the game.
I stared at Wren from beneath my blond wavy hair. She was of average height with a dark complexion, dark hair, and dark eyes to match. She always wore a pair of glasses with no lens in them, because, quote, ‘they made her eyes look bigger.’ According to Wren, it was the consequence of inheriting her mother’s Filipino genes, and none of her father’s.
As the oldest daughter of five, it was fair to say that Wren had learnt to grow up pretty fast.
She used most of her mothering skills on me. Not a day went by when I wasn’t reminded of my unfailing childishness and immaturity.
Not that I was complaining. Sometimes my eccentricity was a lot for people to handle.
“I know,” I ruffled her hair, “but ever since Seth explained the rules, I just get so excited…”
Wren levelled a pointed look at me.
I gave her my best puppy-dog eyes. “I promise I’ll make it up to you after the game. I’ll take you to get ice-cream.”
Wren folded her arms. She pretended to look unimpressed, but we both knew I’d seen her eyes glint at the prospect.
I dropped the deal-closer. “I’ll even pay…”
To her credit, she didn’t crumble right away.
After a few moments of hesitation, Wren grumbled out, “Fine. But we go to Franco’s. They have the fudge flavour.”
It didn’t surprise me one bit that Wren knew the ins-and-outs of our small beach town. She made it her business to know pretty much everything.
That didn’t mean she was school-smart though. Wren’s grades were average. Instead, she was canny, witty, street-smart, and about the best damn friend I had.
“What did I miss?” Jace sat down on my right.
“A whole bunch of noth…” Wren began.
I closed her mouth with my hand. “What she meant to say is that Seth scored.”
“Really?” Jace craned his neck to get a look at the game. Perhaps he could see more than I could, because his blue eyes widened and he ran a hand through his soft jet-black hair.
Jace threw his long hands in the air as a man came round selling cotton-candy. Reaching out his thin arms, he tapped Wren on the back, giving her his signature – ‘I’ll pay you back’ smile. Wren rolled her eyes and handed him some money.
No wonder the boy was so tall.
He never stopped eating.
Maybe that’s why his IQ was as high as it was.
Jace had some of the best test scores in the county. As an engineering and technology whiz, his first choice for colleges next year were situated in the Cambridge, Massachusetts region.
Stuffing a handful of cotton-candy in his mouth, Jace hollered, “Go Tigers!”
He whistled and then said, “Seth’s on a roll this year, Nora. Maybe we’ll finally beat the Hawks this season.”
I began biting my nails again.
“Maybe,” I muttered, more to myself than to anyone else.
It was no secret that the Hawks were the Tigers’ greatest competition. I just wished that Seth wouldn’t put himself under so much pressure to beat them all the time.
It didn’t exactly help that Seth’s main competition was his brother. Or as he liked to remind me: his step-brother. Without A.J the Hawks would be without their best player.
All of this could have been avoided had Seth and A.J simply gone to the same school. But instead, Mr. and Mrs. Lawson had decided to spark up the greatest sibling rivalry this town had ever known.
Remind me to thank them for that one day.
“Not you too, Jace,” Wren said. Her face was aghast as she realised just how caught up in the game Jace actually was.
“What?” Jace reached out to grab the popcorn sitting in my lap, “I have two older brothers.”
“Besides,” he shrugged, taking a sip out of my drink when I wasn’t watching, “Seth is a pretty cool guy. And we’ve got to spend some time with him recently. After the whole incident and all…”
I punched him in the side of the chest, “Will you please just watch the game, Jace?”
“Ouch!” Jace protested. “Still a touchy subject, huh?”
“Yeah, it is,” Wren thankfully replied for me.
I turned my attention back to the game, trying to avoid the looks that Wren and Seth were sending one another.
I really had hoped that they’d be done with their judgements by now.
It had been almost a month since it had happened. Seth and I were happy. We were back to how things used to be…
The whistle blew and a mighty roar rang out across the bleachers.
On the pitch, I saw the team take off their helmets as they began to celebrate among one another. In the midst of all of this, I was lifted up by Jace. An on-looking Wren folded her arms in disapproval.
My heart swelled as a saw a tall form with a mop of sandy blond hair running towards me.
He clocked me in the stand and made his signature beckoning movement. His pads were already off and he had begun to remove his red jersey.
He was wearing the number 10.
I tried to ignore the furious blush that began on my cheeks as the crowd hushed around me.
Since we’d been together, this had been our ritual.
I made my way down the stand. I was two rows from the front when Seth’s tanned face spread out into the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. It was full and brimming with happiness. The crowd cheered for him as he threw me his jersey.
A slight arrogance was in his green eyes. That was how he’d won me over. Time and time again. It was that attitude of his – that smile which could melt butter. I was a goner from the moment he began to pursue me.
I caught the jersey, smelling the familiar scent of pinewood and sweat.
Then he said it. Our words.
“What’s yours’s is mine, baby,” Seth hollered, in a voice laced with seduction.
He’d won the first game of the season. He was going to be on cloud-nine for the next week, and I was going to have my hands full.
I shrugged the shirt over my body and called back, “Forever and always.”
Seth’s face lit up.
He began to jog backwards, all the while his eyes remaining locked to mine. Ten metres away from me and Seth paused, just like he always did. He raised his right hand and placed his fingers to his lips. I did the same.
This time though, Seth kept holding my eye contact for longer than usual. A small amount of tenderness spread across his face, and I noticed a hint of concern.
Under the circumstances, I suppose that was to be expected.
As Seth went to re-join his teammates on the pitch, I walked back to my seat with a giddy expression on my face.
Jace gave a soft whistle as I sat down next to him; Wren looked nonchalantly out at the scene in front of her. Behind me, a group of girls had begun to whisper.
“Okay, enough of this,” Wren said determinedly. She stood up from her seat and made a motion for us to do the same.
In the voice of a crazed-heroin addict, Wren said, “Somebody promised me ice-cream. And now we’re going to get some.”
Jace laughed into his hand, but he stood up regardless.
“And who am I to get in the way of fate’s wishes,” he said, dramatically bowing to Wren as we made our way up the stands.
We were halfway across the parking lot when someone hauled me up over their shoulders. I gave a small screech and the frame beneath me let out a deep laugh.
Despite the fact that I could only see the back of his head, I knew who he was.
“Put me down, Seth Lawson!” I screamed.
“Nope. Sorry. Can’t do.”
I could hear the smile in Seth’s voice. He began marching me back the way we came, towards the emptying football pitch.
“Seth!” I squealed. I looked pleadingly over at Wren and Jace.
I tried to think of the best way to explain my predicament to them, but apparently there was nothing you could say when a gladiator of a guy hauled you up over your shoulder and started marching you across the school.
Seth had always been impulsive. And after he won a game, that impulsiveness quadrupled itself.
“You guys go on without me!” I yelled.
As Seth patrolled me across the football pitch, I began to stop struggling. There was no point. His grip was vice-like. He didn’t exactly earn those muscles from sleeping all day.
The night was cool and fresh. A September breeze hung in the air. There were stars in the sky, but not too many of them. The pitch smelt of spilt Gatorade and freshly cut grass. Apart from a few stragglers, we were completely alone.
“Hey Tarzan, you can put me down now,” I muttered.
In the centre of the pitch Seth gently lowered me down from his shoulders. He placed me on the ground and said softly, “Me-Tarzan-you-Jane…”
I raised my hand to playfully hit him in the arm, but Seth deflected my measly attempt. Then he reached towards me, pressed a hand to my lower back, and kissed me.
It was a sweet kiss. A kiss that promised more to come.
When it was over, Seth pressed the tip of his nose to mine. As I opened my eyes, he whispered, “Hey beautiful,”
I felt myself blush.
“Hi,” I replied quietly.
For most of last year, Seth Lawson had made it his mission of win me. I’d caved about in six months ago and we’d been dating ever since. We had been, and we still were, the talk of the school.
It had been a shock to the student body. Seth was athletic, handsome, and way too confident for his own good. He ran with the ‘cool kids.’
And I did not.
That wasn’t to say that I was a ’nerd’, or anything cliché like that. Jace, Wren and I were just a different form of cool; a different form of popular. We preferred beach parties to house parties; theatre productions to movies.
Seth and I ran with different crowds.
When we first started dating, I’d been worried that we were too different. But that hadn’t been the case. Seth had done his thing and I had done mine. I hadn’t been transformed into a cheerleader with an obsession for fake-tan. I had gotten to keep my friends and my allocated space in the student body.
The only thing that was different was my social presence: it had virtually hit the roof.
Dating Seth Lawson gave me a kind of street-credibility at our school.
It gave me a buzz.
“Are you going to the after-party?” I asked hesitantly.
We were now lying on the grass of the pitch, and I could hear Seth’s phone vibrating from somewhere inside his pocket. He’d changed out of his uniform but his hair was still sticky at the ends.
“No,” Seth mumbled lazily. He stretched out his legs, just like a cat would, and gently pulled me closer towards him.
He looked up at the stars and said, “From now on, I’m done with parties.”
I rested my head on his chest, hearing the soft and steady sound of his heartbeat. I spoke into his shirt as I asked, “Why is that?”
“Because I’m happy here with you,” Seth answered honestly.
I exhaled a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
I tried to hide the smile that was forming on my face, “You are?”
“Yeah,” Seth sighed. He brought his chin to the top of my head. “I could stay here forever with you, Nora Pierce.”
My hand made circular movements on his chest, “Me too, Seth Lawson.”
Seth stared up at the sky for a few moments. It was peaceful, and he was peaceful.
This was home.
“I’m going to marry you one day, Nora,” Seth said into my hair.
It scared me just how serious he was. There was an intensity in his voice that I only ever heard on the pitch. With me he was always to calm, so content.
I turned in his hold. Looking into his burning green eyes, I said quietly, “Okay then. Just make sure you ask my father first. We’re a very old-fashioned family.”
Seth nodded. He rubbed a stray strand of hair away from my face. His lips were inches from mine as he murmured, “My parents got married at eighteen, you know? They’d just finished senior year.”
The end of senior year was nine months away.
Some stupid part of my mind wondered whether this was a proposal. In fact, it took me a few minutes to realise it was not.
Seth would never ask me to marry him here, when it was quiet and when we were alone. He’d do it in front of crowds and crowds of people. It would be elaborate, it would be filmed, and it would eventually end up as a YouTube sensation.
Seth lived for an audience.
I hoped he couldn’t sense how of out of breath my voice sounded. “I thought you said your parents got married too young?”
“They did,” Seth swallowed, “but they weren’t right for one another. We are.”
I closed my eyes, drinking him in and smiling a brilliant smile.
I tried to imagine what it would be like to spend the rest of my life with Seth. I imagined our lazy Sunday mornings, the weekends when we did nothing but cook for one another and lay out in the garden. I imagined photo album after photo album sprawled out across our living room floor.
Seth loved taking in pictures, or maybe he just loved being in them.
“Yeah, I know,” Seth stretched out his muscles, “You’re probably right.”
“But mark my words, Nora Pierce,” Seth said, looking down at me once more with those green eyes of his. “I’ll make an honest woman out of you one day.”
My heart swelled.
I laughed, and then, just because he looked so adorable, I kissed him on his cheek.
“I don’t doubt it, Seth Lawson,” I murmured, “I don’t doubt it at all.”