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Tanner Chapter 1
Carly Anne!” my best friend Rachel Lofton called as she entered my house. She let the front screen door slam behind her, tracing over a path that she had moved over a countless number of times in our 17 year friendship. “Come on, we're going to be late!”
“I'll be out in a minute,” I yelled back to her from my bathroom, running a straightener through my hair once more, in an attempt to smooth out any curl or wave that might be left. “Besides, when have you ever cared about being on time?”
“True statement,” I heard her laugh. “You're wearing your uniform right?”
“Of course Rach,” I laughed, adjusting the top on my blue and white Tanner High School cheerleading uniform, pulling it lower to meet with the top of my white skirt. “It's a Friday during football season. And we're in the semi's tonight. I can't break tradition.”
“I was just making sure,” she yelled to me. I could hear the murmur of her conversation with my mom in the kitchen, a familiar sound to me.
I turned my attention back to the reflection in the mirror. The shoulder length, chestnut hair that desperately wanted to spring into it's natural curl. The tan face with several small freckles that were spread over my forehead and cheeks. The eyes that were a mix of blue and green, eyes that were alert, awake, surrounded by mascaraed lashes.
I smiled at myself, a wide bright smile that showcased all of my teeth. They were white and bright, the at-home whitening treatments obviously working. A quick smear of Chap-Stick and I knew that my morning routine was finished.
I glanced once more at the small bathroom and made sure that everything was in it's place before I turned to leave, prepared to face another day.
“Jesus Christ Carly,” Rachel said from her perch on the kitchen counter as I moved into the room from the hallway.
“What?” I asked, putting my books into my blue Jan Sport as she sipped from her Starbucks cup.
“Don't what me,” she laughed. “You know what.”
“I have no idea what you're talking about Rachel,” I laughed back, glancing at my mom who stood clutching her coffee cup in both hands, a small smile on her face as she watched the two of us.
“Well, let's just say that if I was a lesbian I would totally and completely have a crush on you,” she said, her tone more serious than light-hearted.
“Rachel Marie!” my mom scoffed as I let out a short laugh. “Did you really just say that?”
“Mom, you can't tell me that you are surprised,” I smiled, shaking my head. I rested one hand on the edge of the counter, the other taking it's regular spot on my hip.
I looked at my mom as she laughed. Her hair was short and a dark brown, with patches of gray finally starting to show through. After years of coloring her hair, she had finally decided to let it do whatever it wanted to do. Even with the graying, her face was young and pretty. It was soft, her smile warm, her brown eyes welcoming. She was small, petite, standing only 5'4”. She looked tiny next to my 5'9” frame. Though she was small, she was mighty. She sure as hell scared the s*** out of my 3 older brothers and myself.
She was crazy.
But we wouldn't have had her any other way.
“No,” my mom said, shaking her head, smiling. “I shouldn't be surprised by anything that Rachel says.”
“No ma'am you shouldn't,” Rachel laughed, hopping down off the counter.
“Oh for the love of God, Rachel, don't call me ma'am. I'm not in the home yet,” my mom joked.
“No,” I interjected, “but you're getting closer every day.”
“Rude!” she said, trying to sound offended. The smile on her lips let me know that she was enjoying this. She loved being around my friends. They made her feel young again.
“But true,” Rachel laughed.
“Go to school,” she said, doing her best to shoo us out of the house.
“Bye Mama,” I smiled, walking over and kissing her quickly on the cheek.
“Have a good day sweetie,” she said as I pulled away.
“Bye Nancy,” Rachel said, also giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. She gently tapped my mom's face twice with her hand. “I love ya, kid.”
“Yeah, yeah,” my mom said sarcastically. “Now get out of here so I can actually have some peace and quiet.”
“Nance,” Rachel said to my mom as I stood at the door waiting for her. “You coming to the game tonight?”
“It's the semi's Rachel Marie Lofton. Of course I'll be there,” she said.
“You better,” Rachel laughed as we walked outside, letting the door slam behind us. We stepped out into the warm Texas sunshine, the kind that made it hard to believe that it was already close to the end of November. That there were potentially only two more football games left.
I walked over to Rachel's lime green Jeep Wrangler and opened the passenger door, slipping into the front seat. She walked around the front of the car before opening her own door. She turned the key, the engine roaring through the still air. Eminem blared through her stereo before she reached over and turned it down.
I looked over at my best friend, her long blonde hair pulled back into a tight braid. Her blue eyes were shining, her skin still perfectly tan from a long summer spent out by her family's pool. Her acrylic French tip manicured nails were tapping on the steering wheel. She was little, no taller than my mom, but thinner, more muscular.
“You think she'll actually show up?” Rachel asked, referring to my mom and the game.
“Nope,” I said, not even having to think about it.
“Really,” I said.
“Because I'm sure that something will come up with my dad and one of his cases and he'll ask her to go along and she'll say yes. Because that's what they do.” I could hear the bitterness in my voice.
“They came to the Homecoming game though right?” Rachel asked as she turned onto Kemple Avenue, the main street in Tanner.
“Because Kyle and Billy were in town,” I reasoned.
Mom was the belle of Tanner when I was growing up and when my brothers were playing football at the high school. She cooked team dinners, she worked the concessions stand at home games, she made sign after sign after sign to decorate the lockers of the football team members. She was always involved, never missing a game, even when they played Bishop Nickless High School, a 5 hour drive from our house. She was the woman that everyone knew, that everyone wanted to be around, that everyone loved.
Then my brother Kyle graduated from Tanner when I was a freshman and she seemed to stop caring.
She stopped helping with the booster club. She stopped decorating lockers. She stopped going to games.
It didn't help that my dad was a senior partner at his law firm and was always being called out of town on business and always took my mom with him. It was now a rarity to have both of them home at the same time for more than a week.
“I'm sorry Car,” Rachel said, as we rumbled past the stores that would soon open.
“No need to be sorry,” I said, pasting a fake smile on my face. A smile that I had perfected over the past several years. “It's all good.”
“So do you think that the boys are going to win?” she asked, changing the subject.
“I think that they have a really good shot. Platte's not that good, I don't know how they made it this far,” I said, grateful for the new topic.
“What do the boys think?”
“They always think that they are going to win,” I laughed.
“True,” she smiled. “That's a good thing though.”
“A very good thing.”
“God, can you imagine if we make it to the state game? Luke probably won't talk to me for the entire week leading up to the game,” Rachel said, referring to her boyfriend of 2 months, Luke Cawley. “He freaks out so much about it.”
“That sucks.” I could imagine the junior quarterback tossing and turning, thinking about the different routes his receivers would run, how to throw the perfect spiral, the quarterback sneak. Things that ran through the minds of all high school quarterbacks before the big game.
“Doesn't Ryan get like that?” she asked as she pulled into the parking lot of the school, easily finding a spot close to the school.
“No,” I smiled, thinking of my boyfriend of 3 years, Ryan Quinn. “He's pretty good at keeping his head about him.”
“God, you're so lucky. You are in basically the perfect relationship,” Rachel laughed.
“Basically,” I laughed. I couldn't keep the smile off my face as she shut off the car. I pushed open the door, grabbing my back pack and moving to meet Rachel on her side of the car.
“Oh my God,” she said quietly, leaning against the car door, her neon yellow purse slung over her shoulder.
“What? Did you get coffee on your uniform?” I smiled, still preoccupied with the thought of Ryan.
“Carly, this could be my last game as a Tanner cheerleader,” she said, looking up at me as though from somewhere deep inside herself. A sad place. A place that Rachel went often but that few knew about.
“Oh Rachel,” I said, my hands on her shoulders, “this isn't going to be your last game. You've still got one after tonight.” I hugged her tightly, her body leaning onto mine.
“I hope you're right kid. Because you've still got one more year after this,” she said, as I pulled away.
“I know. Now come on, I can't be late for chemistry again. I can't take another Ress lecture about how my coming in late interrupts the entire learning process for the rest of the class,” I smiled, looping my arm through hers as we headed down the sidewalk toward the school.
“And we wouldn't want that now would we?” she said, a small smile on her face.
“Not at all.”
We passed various students, waving to the ones we knew, nodding politely to the ones we wouldn't ever know. Together, we pushed open the glass doors and were immediately met with the energy buzzing around the lobby.
“See you at lunch?” Rachel asked, her mouth close to my ear.
“Wouldn't miss it,” I said, squeezing her lower arm in my hand.
“Bye sweetie,” she said, moving away with a group of her senior friends. I moved over toward a group of my fellow juniors who were walking down the hall. I passed between kids that I'd known since birth but hadn't talked to since freshman year.
It's funny how high school does that to a person. How you can grow up with a kid who played the tuba or was into Anime and you didn't see a problem with it until you reached the bright lights of high school. It wasn't until someone pointed out to you that someone was weird or different that you started to care.
Started to notice.
Started to change.
I pushed the thoughts out of my mind as I neared my locker.
21-15-26, I thought to myself as I turned the combination lock. It opened with ease, revealing pictures of those that I loved the most.
“Well hello there beautiful,” I heard a familiar voice say from behind the locker door. Ryan peaked around, a playful smile on his face.
“Hey yourself,” I smiled up at him.
I loved that I had to look up at him.
The star senior linebacker was 6'4” with broad shoulders, his blue number 24 jersey stretched across his muscular chest. His hair was a deep brown and was starting to look shaggy. The team hadn't lost the entire season and he refused to cut his hair until they lost. Or until they won state. But he had combed it over to the side, giving him the classic all-American look. It was the way that you would expect Tom Brady to wear his hear. There was some stubble growing on his chin. It was due to a combination of No-Shave November and superstition. His face was tan, earned from hours spent out on the football field.
But it was his eyes that continued to draw me in. Eyes that could be so caring and passionate and competitive all at once. Eyes that were a deep emerald green with flecks of blue and gold surrounding the pupils.
He smiled at me, showing his straight, white smile. It was, indeed, the smile that had captured the hearts of every girl in Tanner at one point or another. Young and old alike swooned over this boy. After three years that smile still made my knees go weak, my stomach flip, my head light. He had one dimple on his right cheek. It gave this 18 year old man the appearance of a child at times.
“Here,” I said, handing him my chemistry book. “Hold this please.”
“God,” Ryan said, flipping through the book. “This class was such a b****.”
“Ry, you passed the class with a 98%,” I laughed.
“Was still hard.”
“I'm not arguing.” I smiled at him and took the book, slamming the metal door shut behind me.
“Will you hold something for me?” he asked.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, reaching around to put my book in my bag, absentmindedly sifting through the papers that had collected in there.
I turned around to find Ryan holding a bouquet of yellow tulips from the flower shop that his aunt owned. The stems were wrapped in a wet paper towel, freshly cut earlier that morning. He had a goofy grin on his face and I couldn't help but smile.
“You already said that you would hold them.”
“Oh Ryan,” I beamed. “You are ridiculous.”
“I know,” he laughed.
“What's the occasion?”
“No occasion. I mean, I don't need an occasion with you.”
“Well thank you,” I smiled, my head cocked to the side. I rested my hand on his strong chest and reached up to kiss his lips gently. I took the flowers from him as the bell rang overhead.
Ryan grabbed my free hand and we lazily started down the hall toward the chemistry lab. We didn't speak, we didn't feel the need to. Instead, we watched the different students around us, moving to their classes.
There was a certain excitement pulsing through the student body today. There was always that excitement on game days. Every student, whether a cheerleader or a theater dweller, computer geek or baseball stud, got excited about football.
Football brought us all together. It was the one thing that tied one generation of the town to the next, past to present, present to future. It allowed us a temporary escape from whatever problem we might be facing with family, friends, jobs. It was our escape from alcoholic pasts and abusive futures. It was our escape from our own addictions. Addictions that plagued all of us. For one day of the week we were together, fighting one common foe, living vicariously through the coaches, players, cheerleaders.
For one night, we were all one.
“I'll see you after class,” Ryan said, kissing the top of my head gently.
“Ok,” I smiled up at him.
“I love you,” he said before turning away, starting off toward his own class.
“Love you too,” I said, standing at the door of the chemistry lab. I smiled to myself, holding the door open for some fellow classmates, Rachel's words ringing in my head.
“God you're so lucky.”