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Playing it Cool
The Physical Education’s class of Zachary Pearson High School had just finished jogging their fifth lap around the track outside. The school, located in Queens, New York City, had a plain-gray building with a gymnasium and a worn-out track. Not many students took P.E., which meant the blocks had been arranged such that students from grades nine through twelve mingled in equally plain-gray uniforms.
It was a chilly winter morning, first period, and Mr. Planks, the P.E. instructor, blew on his whistle and hollered at the students, “Get your lazy bums over here; we’re going to play dodge ball now!” His booming voice reverberated against the cool gym walls, and Carter shoved his hands deep into his pockets. They had been jogging around the track for a while now, and before that, they had tried playing a few matches of soccer out on the field. The sky had started to look threatening, however, and as soon as the drops started hitting the ground, Mr. Planks decided to lead the students back inside.
This takes us back to when the students jogged to meet him.
“Okay, this is what we´re going to do. I need two captains, so … okay, Josh and Mike, come over here. Alright, we´ll mix the teams, so each one has to choose five girls and seven guys, okay? Do it, now!”
As the teams began to set up, Carter watched from the corner of his eyes at Milo, a girl at a grade higher than his. She could have been younger, for all he knew, with her messy braids and lanky figure. Milo had a boy name, and used to be embarrassed of it; years earlier, she had forced her friends to call her Millie or something girlier, but as time passed by, she had gotten used to it. Carter liked her name, though. It gave her something that he couldn’t quite nail down.
Carter was called on the team with the red tops, and as he approached Ryan, he knocked fists with him, relieved and glad to be on the same team. He watched as Milo was chosen on the opposing team, and he observed amusedly as she struggled to put the blue top on whilst laughing with Claire and Ashley. Milo looked like an easy target, Carter figured, but he didn’t want to burn her out of the game immediately. Unless it was absolutely necessary, of course.
Mr. Planks blew on his whistle and the game started, the boys picked up the foam balls and quickly aimed for shrieking girls. Carter avoided easy shots, and took the time to admire Milo’s gracefulness as she flew by multiple balls, screeching a bit if she was close to being burnt out. He played violently, picking up the balls and throwing them with full force against clashing bodies and screaming people. He moved agilely, skidding across the gym’s squeaky floor, and swiftly caught balls in the air and shoot them towards the opposing team. He would smile when he caught people off-guard or he avoided balls without really meaning to, yet, grin grew even bigger with the game’s increasing intensity.
Soon, the teams were reduced to the few students that successfully avoided balls yet were unable to catch the other students. Carter smiled triumphantly; only he and Mike were left, which meant they would be the ones to make the decisive moves for their team, and his ego inflated as realized the team still had five members left. The atmosphere was tense as the teams tried to single-out a target and aim all of the balls towards that person, which kept the students outside on the edge, cheering for their teammates. Milo had long been burnt by now; when she was tagged, she avoided being dramatic and combusting into anger, and instead, she had walked towards the sideline in a dignified manner. Carter hadn’t really noticed her then; he had been too busy avoiding the multiple balls directed towards him.
After a few more shots, Mike was burnt out, and he flung the foam ball against the floor as he stomped out to the outside line. Carter’s eyes momentarily widened as the ball sprung up; he caught it and stared at Mike, who raised his chin to warn him from a ball aimed at his back. Carter side-stepped and took a chance to breathe slowly, preparing himself for the attack—but not without having one quick scan over the crowd, searching for Milo. Their glances met halfway, and for a mere two seconds, he froze, as she gave him a reassuring smile.
The opposite team, noticing his distraction, used it against him and aimed to his body in attack. Carter, coming back to his senses, jumped out of the way and ducked, but his sneaker slid and he tripped over. He threw the ball in his hand, fast, and caught someone on his left leg; he scrambled back onto his feet, but unfortunately, a ball caught him, and the opposing team broke in a cheer to his defeat.
He looked at the floor, catching his breath, unaware that his team members were clapping. Suddenly, he snapped his head up, and smiled amusedly as even members of the opposing team clapped for him, including Milo. His grin stretched out in pride and his ego regained the initial boost he had when he had been one of the last members to stay in the game.
Mr. Planks clapped too, and then blew on his whistle, calling the class to an end, and said, “Alright, alright. That was a great match, everybody, great job! Grab the balls and place them over here; you’re dismissed once they’re all back!”
A few students grumbled as other returned the foam balls to Mr. Planks. Several students grabbed their sports bag and headed for the lockers; Carter had kneeled down to tie his shoe. Ryan caught up to him, and jokingly pushed him, knocking him to the side.
“Hey, watch it!” Carter said seriously, but looked at Ryan with a foolish grin.
“I know why you got buuuurnt”, said Ryan whilst waggling his eyebrows.
Carter pretended he didn’t hear, and once he finished with his shoe, he stood up to face Ryan. Ryan, knowing better, elbowed Carter and then gestured with his head towards where Milo had walked off with her friends, talking near the locker room’s door. Carter’s eyes followed his head, but he shrugged and said, “What?”
“Pfffft, you can’t fool me, Romeo, I can see it in your eyes”, Ryan replied, pointing to his eyes with his index and middle finger and then towards Carter’s eyes.
“C’mon, we’re going to be late for class”, said Carter, waving him off and making his way to the locker rooms. Ryan shrugged, following Carter, but turned to look at the girls one last time, and saw Milo looking at Carter. His eyebrows raised, surprised, as Milo’s eyes met his, and ashamed of being caught, she glanced away. Ryan, dumbstruck by the girl’s reaction, called out for Carter, but he did not reply or turn around. He sighed and broke into a quick jog to reach the locker room, where Carter had already disappeared, and mentally decided to stay silent; the two lovebirds would find their way.