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Under The Bleachers
Mom’s always tied up in the game: nachos in one hand and a large Diet Coke in the other. My brother Gus is too scrawny to play, and I’m a 12-year-old girl who’s not particularly interested in the game, so mom lets us go exploring under the bleachers. Gus picks up the candy wrappers to add to our collection at home while telling me about high school. After we’ve scanned the bleachers, we lie down in the dirty gravel and listen to the marching band above us. The student section trembles like a storm cloud and rains candy wrappers so we pick them up before we leave.
I’m a writer and Gus is an artist. I sit there jotting down what I hear in the chaos above, and he draws me, staring intently through reading glasses at his graphite lines.
This is our place. We write our names in the gravel and swear to never take anyone else here. We scuff our feet in the gray dust from the rocks until our sneakers are coated. Mom usually kicks up a fuss about having to clean up the dust in the car when the team has lost. When they win, she looks giddily at us and sighs.
Gus is leaving for design school in New York next year and he tells me to keep our haven clean during next year’s season. It will never be the same, but I know I’ll keep our gravelly house spick and span, and I’ll write some stories for him when he comes home.
I never let anyone else in. Gus has been away for three years now because he’s ‘tied up in making a life for himself’, but I still come down here while mom is watching the game.
I hear a lanyard of keys dangling from a pocket, clinking against moving legs like a string of bells. The football players have made a touchdown, and the keeper of the keys stops for a minute, wrapped up in the commotion.
I am holding my breath, hiding behind a metal strut on the bleachers. The cold night air has started to brush against my cheeks and my nose is numb as I push it up against the metal.
He is just standing there with hands on hips and looking out towards the rolling hills that descend into the busy night road coated by gleaming taillights. The glare they make mimics the soft glow from the stars.
A sparrow flutters beneath the bleachers, stumbling around searching for its nest in the darkness. The man with the keys hears the banging of its soft head against the metal and searches under the bleachers like a mole. I suck in my breath and move towards darker part of the bleachers at the front where I sit down motionlessly. He doesn’t seem to see me but when he starts to crawl further towards the front, I know he is coming towards me. The crunching of the rocks grows louder and louder as his heavy boots drag along the ground. His head bangs into the top of the bleachers and he swears loudly.
“Here birdie.” He extends his slender quivering arm and it suddenly hits me that despite his height, this is no security guard, but a teen like me. I exhale deeply in relief but remain hidden and he turns his head in slow-motion. The fear, the confusion, the curiosity wrap around his face quickly and then he looks puzzled and begins to approach me.
It is a strange feeling but I can’t bring myself to respond. It’s like being stuck in a happy dream that repeats itself over and over. I feel Gus here with me and I know he would not break the promise if it were him. He has found me but I remain huddled in my darkness, denying that I am not alone.
“You do this too?” He seems settled.
“Go away,” I whisper harshly.
“I found you. You can come out now, “ he mocks.
I am trapped. He is coming towards me, so I have no choice. I slip out with a stern expression on my face, the moonlight illuminating my pale forehead.
“The name’s James.” He extends his arm.
His hand is soft and warm and the cold November air creeps between our fingers. James and I talk until the bleachers above us shake and we can hear the footsteps like rain on a tin roof.
When I asked Gus about breaking our promise, he didn’t remember making it. He said that everything has changed now and that I am on my own. He wished James and I the best of luck.
I can’t write the stories anymore. Not without Gus drawing me. James tells me the names of all of the stars and reads some science fiction novel that he keeps in the inner pocket of his jacket. I listen, the sound of his voice like a melody, a lullaby. My mind is drifting away. Away to the road of cars, knowing that in a city like New York, Gus must be able to see what I see.
I think Mom can notice emotion in my eyes but she can’t read them. She thinks I am madly in love, filling the gap in my heart with something new. I am not. I am comforted, flattered, and happy with James, but these are just words. Words like the ones from his science fiction book but not from my stories.
Our sneakers are always clean when we pile into the car.