White Walls, by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, was playing as we pulled up to a red set of traffic lights.
Beside me, Seth was slurping an almost finished pink milkshake and nodding his head along to the beat. The windows were rolled down; Seth was doing that signature move of his where he rested his arm on the window frame and tapped the outside of the car door with his fingers.
When we first started dating, I was surprised that he liked this kind of music. I had begun to understand why though. It had the same kind of intensity Seth had. This was game music. The amount of times I’d seen Seth Lawson with his headphones on during halftime...
“What are you thinking about?” Seth asked. He chucked his empty milkshake towards the back seats.
“Seth!” I exclaimed. “This is my car!”
He stretched out his muscles and yawned lazily. He gave me his ‘I’m so innocent look’, and I knew right them that I was a goner.
All was forgiven. All was forgotten.
“You know,” I said carefully, “the sooner you learn to drive, the sooner you’ll be able to take yourself to football practice.”
“Nora!” Seth gave me a glaring look, “I have learnt to drive. I just can’t pass the damn test.”
Seth Lawson could lead his team to victory in the county championships; he could run one mile in under five minutes. But for some reason, he did not have the capacity to drive. He was pretty diabolical at it actually. As a footballer, Seth was naturally blessed with exceptional spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination. Apparently that all fell apart when he got behind the wheel.
I kind of enjoyed the fact that he couldn’t drive though. It made him human. It also gave me an excuse to spend more time with him.
As the lights turned, I sped down the road, tapping my fingers on the steering wheel as I did so. His type of music had grown on me.
“What are you doing tonight?” I asked.
Seth made a sound at the back of his throat; he began to tug at the sleeves of his v-neck shirt. It was something he only did when he was nervous, or alternatively, angry at something. It was like he didn’t know what to do with his hands.
“I have to go to this stupid family dinner thing,” Seth said through his teeth.
My mouth formed a small ‘o’. I asked quietly, “With the whole family?”
“You’re damn straight,” Seth sighed.
He explained to me, “It’s A.J’s birthday. Apparently, mom and dad want us all to spend it as a family.”
That wasn’t good.
Seth and A.J couldn’t stand to be in the same room as one another. I couldn’t imagine either of them sitting round the same table without somebody having their cutlery thrown at them.
“They picked somewhere public, don’t worry,” Seth continued. He levelled me a look, “they figured we’d be less likely to start a fight if we were in a public place.”
I knew about Seth’s rivalry with his step-brother long before I started dating him.
Hell, everyone did.
The boys were both intense and competitive; they were cocky and loved an audience. Neither them had ever backed down from a fight before. This, of course meant that any sibling rivalry was conducted in front of the eyes of a huge throng of spectators.
Somebody really needed to give Mr and Mrs Lawson the 411. If anything, their sons would be more likely to fight in public. In fact, I’m pretty sure that their fights were so public, a YouTube channel had been created in order to display them.
I pulled up to the football pitch and killed the engine. As it faded into a low moan, I asked cautiously, “Do you need me to take you?”
I knew how angry Seth got around A.J. When that rage started, it was difficult to get it to pass. I found that the only thing that worked was food, his favourite pink milkshake, to be exact, and kisses.
The drama had started about three years ago, at the start of sophomore year, and it had only escalated in junior year when both Seth and A.J began to captain their respective football teams.
At the beginning of junior year, Seth and A.J got into a fight in Crescent school carpark. They were both suspended from the school teams for an entire semester. Since then, fighting on school grounds had been mainly localised to Seth’s bunch of crones against A.J’s. Off-site events were another matter altogether.
Northview Hawks and Crescent Tigers had always been major rivals. But those tensions had only escalated in recent years with the birth of the Lawson rivalry.
The amount of Northview Hawks’ parties the Crescent Tigers had crashed was endless. Last year, rumours had abounded that there were Hawk spies in Crescent. It was safe to say that romantic relationships between the two sides were virtually outlawed.
Seth and A.J were easily the best players in the county, possibly even the state. But that was the problem. In the boys’ eyes, there could only be one winner. And second place was not an option for either of them.
“Nah, I’ll be alright,” Seth sighed. He stretched out his muscles and planted a small kiss on my lips. “Thank you for caring though.”
“Sure,” I whispered back. It was amazing how the butterfly feeling hadn’t worn off yet.
It was about this time that I realised the rest of the Tigers should have been cat-calling us. They always did.
I looked beyond Seth and frowned at sight of our Crescent School football pitch. Something wasn’t right. There was a distinct lack of people.
“Are you sure you got the right day?” I asked slowly.
Seth smiled sweetly; he planted a kiss on the top of my forehead and began exit the car.
“I’m doing extra practice sessions. Totally off the books, of course.” Seth grunted as he hauled his bag over his back. “Don’t tell coach.”
“Wait, what?” My voice was surprised. “Why would you do that? You already train seven days a week.”
Seth dead-panned. “The game against Northview is in a month’s time, Nora. I want to win.”
The game between Northview and Crescent was the largest event in the school year. It was bigger than prom and homecoming combined. Both sides took the build up pretty seriously. Preparation was not just confined to pep-rallies. It also involved a whole host of other activities, including tribute selection, when the Hawks and the Tigers kidnapped a selection of students from the enemy school. It was also tradition for the two teams’ mascots to fight one another. Another tradition was for the Hawks and Tigers to crash one another’s pep rallies.
Some of the activities were actually quite sinister. For example, both teams staged an annual ‘dare contest’ before the big game. On two consecutive nights, the Hawks and Tigers were invited to their enemy school. The kind of stuff that was done there took Halloween to a whole new level.
The hype for this year’s game was especially intense, and it was intense for one reason and one reason only. Seth and A.J hadn’t played against one another since their suspension in junior year.
My knuckles clenched against the steering wheel. “You mean you want to win against A.J?”
Seth began to play with his sleeves again. “Damn it, Nora, don’t give me that look. I can’t stand him at the moment. He’s worse than usual. He’s always riling me up, psyching me out...”
That didn’t surprise me one bit.
I didn’t think I could dislike someone as much as A.J Lawson. I hated the way he treated Seth, and there was no doubt in my mind that he was the real instigator behind this rivalry.
A.J’s reputation preceded him. I had never spoken to the guy, or even seen him up close, but I knew enough about him to realise that he was bad news. He had a reputation for being someone you didn’t mess with, for getting through way too many girlfriends, and for having an ego large enough to put the planet Jupiter to shame. He was unashamedly arrogant and self-centred.
The difference in the way Seth and A.J played was enough to demonstrate this. While Seth was a team-player, A.J played as an individual. I once took Seth to spy on A.J whilst the Hawks played an away game. He was fast and athletic, but his passes were sloppier than Seth’s were. He got by on brute strength and confidence, rather than skilful handwork. That fact alone suggested someone who was complacent - who regarded himself as so far ahead of the field that had just stopped trying.
I had never even met the guy, but from that moment on, I had developed a burning dislike for him.
“Okay, okay. I get it,” I said softly. I threw my hands up in the air, knowing that there was nothing I could do to stop Seth once he decided what he wanted.
I levelled him a pleading look. “Just please don’t injure yourself. You won’t be able to play at all if you do.”
Seth’s blue eyes relaxed. He said quietly, “Thank you for caring.”
“It’s my pleasure, Seth.”
As Seth shut the car door, I began to pray to myself.
Please, God, don’t let him get too caught up in this. A.J isn’t worth it.
In this midst of my internal dialogue, I heard a distant call.
“Love you, Nora.”
My voice sounded like the wind as I replied, “Love you too, Seth.”
And then he was gone. He sauntered down towards the football pitch without even a look back.
I stared at the Tarmac long after. His words reverberated...
Love you, Nora.
I walked into my house with a grin on my face. I’d seen it in the glass of our front door. My eyes were creased and my cheeks had small dimples on them. The tear-shaped scar on my left cheek was all crinkled up.
Seth told me he loved me.
And I said it back.
When had I known that? When had he known that?
“Eleanor Rose Pierce!” My mother exclaimed.
I rolled my eyes and stepped into the kitchen.
My mom was sat on the kitchen stool, eating fruit and reading a newspaper. Surrounding her were unwashed plates and unpacked groceries. Random pieces of clothing, some needing to be washing, and some needing to be ironed, adorned the nearby dining table.
My mom had never been a good housewife. Not that I cared. It was one of the reasons I loved her so much. She was always trying to off-load the daily household chores onto either Luke or me. Now that Luke had gone off to college, the burden had solely fallen to me.
“Dad told me he wants you to take the trash out,” my mom said. With a fork in her right hand, she made a motion to the black bin liners sitting at the edge of the kitchen.
“No he didn’t,” I protested. “I heard him say half an hour ago that he wanted you to do that.”
“Tomato-tomata,” my mom waved. “I’ll give you ice-cream if you do it.”
“Deal.” I said. You didn’t need to ask me twice.
I picked up the liners and moved them out to our front porch.
My mom has always been pretty eccentric. She was an artist, but she was also a school teacher at the nearby elementary school. Her creativity was something she prided herself on. For so long, my mom had drifted from job to job, never finding anything that satisfied her. Just last year, she’d started her first teaching position, and I felt so happy that she’d found something she truly enjoyed.
When I came back into the house I found my dad in the living room, eating his usual spicy chilli and watching the TV.
“Hey kiddo,” he said through a mouthful of food, “how was school?”
“It’s a Saturday, dad.”
“Oh yeah,” my dad shrugged. “So it is.”
Sometimes I really questioned my parents’ sanity.
I couldn’t believe Luke had grown up so well. I stared at the pictures of him on the wall: Luke at graduation, Luke leaving to college, Luke this, Luke that.
My dad was one of those fathers who displayed every single one of his children’s achievements. All of them lay scattered across our living room.
Compared to Luke’s, my achievements were slightly less than impressive. Luke: swimmer of the year, Varsity track athlete, second place in piano recital, star of the Math Decathlon. Nora: best improved in under-10 gymnastics, best crossword puzzler, most likely to become a ‘news-anchor.’
I sat down next to my dad and sighed, “Mom made me take the trash out again.”
“That woman,” my dad whispered. He turned the TV up so that she wouldn’t be able to hear us. “No wonder my blood pressure is so high. Good thing I love her, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. I though back to Seth’s beaming smile. “Yeah it is.”