They say everyone has a double, a doppelganger, someone who’s their mirror image. What if you just met your double? What if you were a thirteen-year-old kid who’s gay and you just met your double?
Because we were having the scrimmage after school on Wednesday, I didn’t have to go in early so Todd and I took the regular bus to school that morning. Scott and Frank sat in front of us and we joked about the latest rumors going around school. The most interesting involved the varsity football team. Randall Spitz, the first string quarterback, and Andrew Webster, the second string quarterback, were seen kissing in the locker room after their practice Monday afternoon. During lunch Tuesday someone followed Randall down the hall harassing him. Randall turned around, then yelled, “We’re gay, so fucking live with it!”
“So who was it who hassled Randall?” Scott asked.
“Damned if I know,” Todd replied.
“Tony, you’re on the football team. You must have heard who it was.”
“I’m on the freshman football team. We never hear anything.” That wasn’t true; I knew who did it, but it wasn’t anyone else’s business. The guy who hassled Randall was the first string center, Coby Harrison. I also knew that Coby had been suspended for a week for yelling anti-gay expletives at Randall, and the suspension meant he couldn’t be at practice or play in the game against Campo on Friday. I figured that we’d find out more over the next week.
The conversation moved to a discussion about jocks — guys who go out for sports in high school.
“Everybody thinks jocks are homophobic assholes,” Frank said, “present company excepted, of course. Anyway, it’s not true. There are two guys from the varsity team in my Art 3 class. They are big, muscular guys, but are regular guys.”
“Who are they?” I asked.
“Leander Wainwright and Jeff Post. Leander is into graphic novels, and Jeff wants to become a graphic designer.”
We all agreed that it was cool that two football players, especially Leander who was about six-five and two hundred thirty pounds, were into art as a career.
“So, Scott,” Frank said, “there’s another rumor I’ve heard and it’s about those twin cousins, the two guys right here sitting in back of us, Tony and Todd.”
I looked at Todd. “Rumor?”
“Damned if I know,” Todd replied, then he smirked. “Did you notice?” he asked me. “That’s the same way I replied to the question about Randall.”
The two of us started laughing, which caused others on the bus to turn around and look at us.
“So, Frank, what’s this rumor?” Scott asked.
“Todd’s running for Freshman Class President, and Tony’s running for Vice President.”
“That’s not a rumor. That’s a fact,” Scott said. “I knew about that. It was announced in homeroom last Friday. You gotta start paying attention in homeroom.”
“Nobody ever tells me anything!” Frank responded. “But hey, that’s cool. You two have my vote.”
“Remember,” Scott said, “vote early and vote often.” That made us laugh.
“That’s funny, but sort of illegal,” Frank said.
“Besides,” I said, “I don’t have a clue how anyone could vote more than once. The voting is done Friday in homeroom and nowhere else. The homeroom teachers pass out voting forms, people vote or not, whichever they want, and fold the voting form in half then in half the other way. The teacher goes around and collects the voting forms, one per desk. Each folded voting form is stamped with the teacher’s date and time stamp. Then they’re put in a big envelope that’s sealed, and the teacher takes them to the office. When they’ve all been turned in, the envelopes are opened and the votes are counted by the vice principal and a couple administrators. Then they record the totals and give them to the principal who announces the results Monday morning during homeroom.”
“You’re right, Tony,” Scott said. “There’s no way I can vote fifty times for you two. How sad!” He grinned. “I would have, though.”
With that the bus arrived at school and we started our day.
We’d been looking forward to our scrimmage with the JV team. This would be the first practice that would be more like a real game. During our seventh period PE class Coach Kavanaugh went over the playbook. He said the scrimmage would help get us ready for our real first game against Campo on Friday. The scrimmage was scheduled after school at three thirty. Because eighth period classes, and the school day, didn’t end until twenty after three the guys on the team were excused from those classes.
Most of the eighth period classes were electives and didn’t have tests or quizzes or labs that couldn’t be made up. It was easy for me since I had Creative Writing eighth period. Ms. Porzio knew that I was on the freshman football team and she’d been given my schedule. I’d met with her and we went over what I’d miss each time. We did writing exercises in class. When I’d miss one of those I’d have to go on Blackboard and get that assignment when I got home, do the exercise, and submit it before seven a.m. the next morning. That worked okay for me. Most were short and easy to finish.
This week I’d miss Creative Writing twice — today for our scrimmage and Friday for the game with Campo. Usually I’d miss the class only once each week, on game days.
It seemed strange, but I didn’t think about the scrimmage until lunch. I picked the day's special ‘Football Team Lunch’ which was a grilled chicken breast sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes on a whole wheat bun, mixed vegetable salad with broccoli, carrots, green beans, tiny yellow tomatoes, celery, and different kinds of lettuces. It also had green bell peppers which I don’t like, so I picked those out as I found them. It came with cilantro salad dressing on the side which I really liked. As usual I used the entire container of the dressing on my salad.
When I sat down at our regular table everyone wanted to know what a scrimmage was like, so between taking bites of my lunch I explained it.
“A scrimmage is football practice with another team where we wear our practice uniforms, the coaches are on the field and decide on what each team will do for each of the plays, the teams alternate in carrying the ball, downs aren’t counted, score isn’t kept, and there aren’t any regular officials. The coaches and team managers — they’re students — do the officiating. Except for all of those differences, it’s about the same as an actual game.”
“Can I come and watch your scrimmage?” Frank asked.
“Sure, but it’s best if you don’t cheer one team and not the other. So cheer for good plays made by both teams.”
“Okay, I’ll be there,” he said.
“Me too,” Scott added.
“How long is a scrimmage?” Todd asked.
“It’s not nearly as long as a regular game. Each quarter is only six minutes long, and the clock keeps running unless there’s a time out; maybe there are some other things that also stop the clock. The idea is to try out offensive plays and defensive alignments against the other team.”
“Who is the other team?” Heather asked.
“The Wilson JV team,” I replied.
“They’re a lot bigger than you guys,” Scott said.
“Yeah, but that’s good for us to see how well our offense and defense can play against a stronger team without waiting until we run into a school that has some bigger players than ours.”
“How’s it help the JV’s?” Brian asked.
“They get to try out their plays and defenses, same as us freshmen. Coach Kavanaugh told us that a lot of the guys on the JV team didn’t play football before. Maybe they weren’t interested when they were freshmen. So this is their first time playing against another team.”
“How old do you have to be to be on the freshman team?” Heather asked.
“At least thirteen, and you have to pass the physical and it requires approval of the principal. And your parents, of course. If you’re fourteen or older you don’t need the principal’s approval.”
“When’s your first game?” Greg asked. “And do we have to pay admission to get in to see your game?”
“Friday, against Campo. Our games are free. You’ll never find a better deal!”
“How come you guys aren’t starting until this Friday when the varsity has already played two games?”
“Those games were non-league. The freshman don’t play any games until the first league game. That’s Campo. We have one non-league game later in the season, Clayton Valley, same as the JV’s and varsity.”
Greg was grinning. “That’s not going to help you achieve your objective to have a better record than the varsity this year. They’re two games ahead of you already. They won both of their games, and against high rated opponents, San Ramon Valley and Valley Christian.”
“Yeah, but don’t you know why they’re going to struggle in most of their games?” Brian asked.
“Why do you say that?”
“Don’t you see? The only games they’ve won are when they played teams with the word ‘Valley’ in their name. So the only team they’re guaranteed to beat the rest of the season is Clayton Valley. They’ll have to struggle to win their other five games.”
“That is nonsense,” Greg growled.
We hadn’t noticed that Randall Spitz had walked to the table behind Greg and was standing there grinning. Of course, most of those at the table didn’t know him so they didn’t recognize him. He said, “I hope you’re right about it being nonsense.”
Greg twisted around and looked up at Randall. He was about six foot four inches tall. Greg’s eyes bugged out.
Todd jumped up. “Randall! Grab a chair and sit down.”
Randall pulled a chair from the next table and Greg told the kids sitting to his right to move down, which they did. Randall shoved his chair into the empty space and sat down.
“Guys,” Todd said, “this is Randall Spitz, the first string quarterback. Congrats to you and the team for the two wins, Randall. Especially that game against San Ramon Valley. They were rated in the top ten in the Times sports section.”
He looked across the table at me and grinned. “You’re Tony, right? I’ve heard good things about you from the coaches. If it’s okay I’d like to join in when you have your scrimmage this afternoon. Maybe I can give you and the quarterbacks on your team some tips.”
“That would be fantastic. Won’t you have to get Coach Kavanaugh’s okay?”
“I already talked to him and he said it’s okay as long as I do the same for the JV backs.”
He looked down the table to where Jiago Garcia and Cameron Phillips were sitting. They were battling for the backup quarterback position.
“Hey, Jiago. Hey, Cameron. Looking forward to getting with you guys this afternoon and maybe giving you some tips that will help you run the double wing offense. It’s not much of a passing offense, and because of that you can fool the opponents. If you have a good running back like Tony here who’s also good at catching passes, then you can run some pass plays that start out looking like they’re going to be running plays.”
I blushed, but I grinned. What a great thing to say about me. I just hoped he was right.
“Hey, Randall, that’s fantastic,” Jiago said.
“Yeah!” Cameron added.
We talked football for a few minutes until the first bell announcing the end of the lunch period.
“See you guys after school,” Randall told us, and we waved and said our okays.
“So this is a big deal having Randall stop by during lunch?” Heather asked me as we dropped off our trays and began to leisurely stroll to our Spanish 3 class.
“You can’t believe what a big deal it is. Especially having him come to our scrimmage and work with us and give us tips. That he’s going to help the freshman team is… is….” I shook my head, took a deep breath, then continued, “It’s the freshman football team equivalent of having Tom Brady show up to help the UC Berkeley varsity football team.”
“Mmm… he’s sexy,” Heather said.
“Who, Tom Brady or Randall Spitz?”
“Tom Brady, of course! He’s got such a fantastic smile. He’s smiling all the time.”
“Girls!” I said under my breath. Heather popped me in my arm, but not too hard.
“Hey, what was that for?” I asked.
“The way you said ‘girls’ made it sound like you’re demeaning us.”
“I said it that way because it means I don’t understand girls. Like, what’s the big deal about a guy who smiles all the time? Lots of other guys smile all the time. Like me!”
Heather giggled. “It’s thinking about how good his smile looks at the top of that sexy body.”
“You, Heather Miller, have a dirty mind.” I popped her on her bicep, not very hard.
Heather laughed. I shook my head, then laughed too. We were giggling by the time we got to our Spanish 3 class.
When Biology ended I walked to the gym with Todd. By the time we got there I was mentally ready for our scrimmage with the JV team.
“What are you going to do while you wait for your scrimmage to start?” Todd asked.
“We’ll use the weight training room as usual. That will help us prep for our outdoor pre-scrimmage practice session which will be next. Then we’ll rest for a while. Then we’ll go out on the field and do warm-up exercises for about fifteen or twenty minutes before the scrimmage starts.”
“Let me feel your bicep.”
I made a tight fist and brought my forearm up. Todd reached over and squeezed.
“Whoa! Man, I wish I had muscles like that.”
“You can. Talk to your folks. Get them to sign up at a gym, or the YMCA, so you can take Weight Training classes there. Then when you sign up for next year’s classes pick Weight Training for your PE class.”
“Okay. One condition. You sign up for a gym or YMCA too.”
“Sure. I’ll do that.”
“You will?” Todd asked.
I grinned. “Yup. I said I would and I will.”
Todd smiled. “Fantastic!”
We arrived at the gym and went into the locker room to change.
“Well, well, look who we have here. The Bobbsey Twins.”
I turned to see who’d made that comment.
“I thought you’d been sent to reform school,” I said.
“Who’s that dufus?” Todd asked.
“Kiernan Mach. He’s the guy who tried to body-slam me into my locker.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember you told me about a little talk Vice Principal Garrison had with him, and how he got kicked out of school.”
“He’s the one.”
Kiernan stepped up and grabbed my left shoulder with his right hand, hard. “You better know that you’re dead meat, McKinley,” he said. “You got me kicked out of school and now I’m going to make you pay for it.”
I smirked, tightened the muscles in my shoulder and arm, the trapezius, deltoid, and pectoral. We’d learned about these muscle groups in the Weight Training class. As a result Kiernan’s hold on my shoulder let up a little and he looked surprised. I grabbed his left hand, hard, and twisted it clockwise making him loose his balance. He released my shoulder and tried to swing at me with his right fist. It didn’t work because I continued with my twisting motion, kicked his left ankle as hard as I could, and tossed him so he was leaning over the changing bench. He twisted around so he was face up and tried to kick me in the balls. I dropped onto his groin with my left knee, hard.
Kiernan cried out, and I could see him tearing up from the pain. I lifted my knee then dropped it back onto his groin. Then I stood to the side, lifted his legs, and pushed him off the bench onto his side on the floor.
I heard applause and looked up. I hadn’t realized that I had an audience.
“Palmer went to get Coach Kavanaugh,” Cameron told me. “Who is this piece of crap?”
I explained where Kiernan came from and what he did that got him expelled.
“Hey,” Jiago shouted, “look out, he just pulled a knife out of his pocket.”
Kiernan was still on the floor. Todd was closest to Kiernan’s left hand and the knife. He lifted his foot and stomped on Kiernan’s left wrist several times until Kiernan let go of the knife. Jiago kicked it aside. “Don’t pick it up,” he said. “Leave it on the floor so none of our fingerprints are on it. We’ll keep this asshole from trying anything else until the cops get here.”
“The cops?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Ron said. “I called the cops when this got started. I recognized Kiernan. He’d been in one of my classes. A classic bully with no class.”
“I thought he’d transferred to Valley Christian,” I said.
“Wherever he ended up, he sure as hell isn’t a student at Wilson High,” Ron responded.
“What’s going on?” Coach Kavanaugh asked as he pushed through the crowd of kids.
“I think you’ll remember Kiernan Mach,” I replied, pointing to where he laid on the floor groaning. “He got on campus and I guess he decided he’d get back at me for getting him kicked out of school.”
“Yeah, he pulled out a knife and Todd stomped on his wrist to make him let go,” Jiago said. “Then I kicked it away from him. None of us have touched it.”
“Ron called the cops,” Cameron said.
“Good. We’ll all wait until they get here,” Coach said.
We heard the sirens and a few minutes later Vice Principal Garrison and four policemen walked into the locker room. Coach Kavanaugh walked down the aisle to meet them, then we heard him tell them what he knew about what happened. Two of the policemen cuffed Kiernan, lifted him so he sat on the changing bench, and read him his rights. He never said one word, just sat there and looked scared until they walked him out of the gym. One of the other policemen collected the knife and put it in an evidence bag.
That, of course, was just the beginning. They interviewed Coach Kavanaugh first, then me, Jiago, Ron, Cameron, Palmer, and finally Todd. Then some of the kids who’d seen what happened were interviewed, and while that was going on we put on our practice uniforms to get ready for the scrimmage.
The interviews of the team members took about a half hour, so we were held up and missed part of our practice session. The JV team arrived at the start of eighth period, and they were held outside of the locker room for about fifteen minutes. Finally the police were done with everyone and the JV team could suit up in their practice uniforms.
Vice Principal Garrison told all of us we were not to say anything to anyone else about what happened. Good luck with that! Later I found out from Todd that everyone in the school knew all of the details before the final bell at the end of eighth period. All I know is that I didn’t say anything to anyone until I walked home with Todd. I figured being off-campus meant the school’s “don’t say anything” rule didn’t apply.
Anyway, back to the scrimmage. The coaches had a hard time keeping us focused. Finally, Coach Kavanaugh blew his whistle and called the freshmen team together for a discussion.
“I’m disappointed in you guys. So there was a little excitement in the locker room at the beginning of seventh period. That was over two hours ago. So get your heads out of your behinds and start playing football. If you don’t, you’ll find that our game with Campo on Friday isn’t going to go the way it ought to. Okay, guys?”
We agreed and got serious about our scrimmage.
I learned a lot from the backs on the JV team, and their offensive and defensive lines too. Randall Spitz was a big help for the quarterbacks and running backs on both teams, and no one made any remarks about him being gay. If any of them thought it, they kept it to themselves.
We didn’t keep score in our scrimmage. It’s sort of against the rules to do it because it's not really a contest with a winner or loser, and you’re not supposed to publicize it. Because of that, we really didn’t pay any attention to the score. We made some good plays, mostly long runs, and several passes including one I caught. For me one of the best things was that some of the JV defensive linemen gave me some tips about how to avoid tackles. Up to that point I’d been tackled more often than I’d expected would happen. They told me to watch their feet and shoulders to see if they'd telegraph which way they were going to move, then to jig in the opposite direction to get out of their way. I did a lot better when I did what they suggested.
After the scrimmage and we’d showered and dressed we sat around with the JV team and the coaches and talked about what we’d learned. The guys on the JV team had more tips for us, and we even had a few tips for them. We had a great time, and finally left when the coaches shut us down at five p.m.
I saw Todd waiting for me so we could walk together to his house, and I walked over to him and grinned.
“You were hit quite a few times this afternoon. I figured you’d be feeling that about now.”
“I feel fine. I hope this doesn’t sneak up on me and make me sore later. Especially on Friday at the Campo game.”
“You could ask your mom how that works, Tony. She oughta know.”
“Yeah. Maybe I could call her when we get to your house. She should be home. I ought to anyway since she and my dad are going to be all curious about what happened at the scrimmage this afternoon.”
“So… what do you think about moving in with us?” Todd asked.
“For me it’s going to be good. I’ll be able to stay at Wilson and play football. I’ll be able to see Scott whenever I want. I’ll be able to see you whenever I want… or until you get tired of seeing me.” I grinned, and Todd punched me in my left bicep.
I grabbed my arm. “Oh! Ow, ow, ow!” I shouted, pretending that my arm hurt.
“I didn’t hit you that hard. Don’t be a crybaby.”
“Crybaby? You damaged my arm. I won’t be able to throw any touchdown passes against Campo.”
“I hit your left arm. You’re right handed. Besides, you’re not the quarterback. So you don’t throw the football. Unless you’re fumbling the ball.”
“I’ve never fumbled!”
“That’s only because you haven’t played any real games yet.”
“I didn’t fumble once during the scrimmage today. Coach even congratulated me for my good hands. I’ll bet that I don’t fumble the ball in any game this year.”
“Okay, I’ll take that. How much do you want to bet? And how do you want to do it?”
“You pay me twenty bucks for each game where I don’t fumble, I pay you twenty bucks for each game where I do fumble.”
“Twenty bucks? Where am I supposed to get twenty bucks?”
“Your allowance. Your stash of cash. Your savings account. Your folks. Same places where I’d have to get it if I fumble.”
“Hmm. Worst case would be… how many games do you play?”
“Eight, assuming I play in all of them.”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“I might miss a game if I’m injured, or if I’m benched because Coach decides to put someone else in my position.”
“What if you’re in the game but only for one or two plays? That shouldn’t count.”
“I agree. I should be in for at least half of the offensive plays. Otherwise it doesn’t count, regardless of whether I fumble or not.”
“Okay. Who’s going to count the total number of plays and the number you’re in?”
“The team manager, Jeff Liu. He’s the freshman team statistician during games.”
“Okay, and he should be ethical, right? Now, let’s say you don’t fumble in any game and you’re in all eight of them. That’s one hundred sixty bucks. I don’t have that kind of money. It also takes it out of what should be a friendly bet. How about one dollar instead of twenty?”
“One dollar? That’s not worth the effort. Lemme think.” I thought about it for maybe fifteen seconds. “Three bucks.”
“Okay, three bucks,” Todd said.
We shook hands then I started laughing.
“What’s so funny, Tony?”
“What we’re doing is so silly. We’re teenagers. This is like what little kids do.”
“And what you’re saying is…?”
“We can’t tell anyone that we’re betting on my fumbling or not. Agreed?”
“Okay, agreed. Let’s shake on that,” Todd said.
We shook hands, and by then we’d arrived at Todd’s house.
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing A Time When It All Went Wrong
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