“Jessie? Hello? Are you even listening to me?” Sarah Gleeson exclaimed and snapped her fingers in front of Jessie Robin’s face.
Jessie turned toward her best friend. “Sorry. What were you saying?”
Sarah sighed. “I swear you only wanted to come to this game because he would be here.”
Jessie dropped her jaw. “How could you say that? I don’t even know him, and he certainly doesn’t know me!”
“He’s a jerk!” Sarah exclaimed as she glanced at the group of freshmen boys standing behind the cheerleaders.
“Don’t be judgmental,” Jessie said and blushed slightly. “You don’t even know him.”
“Um, okay, sorry to be sinful—or whatever—but, seriously, have you ever listened to him talk? He’s not a nice person!” Sarah cried out defensively. “I know your dad’s a pastor, but how can you not judge someone like that?”
Jessie rolled her eyes and turned away from Sarah. As she glanced toward the field, a magnetic-like force captivated her eyes and planted them upon him. Dressed as nicely as usual, in a pair of khakis and a loose blue sweater, he stood out from his crowd of beautiful people. Doing some sort of jig—most likely making fun of someone nearby—he had his friends in hysterics.
“I’m sorry, Jessie. I don’t want to discourage you. I’m just trying to look out for you,” Sarah said apologetically. “I know that you think he’s cute, but he’s bad news. You don’t even want to go there! Plus, he’s dating Cathy Kagelli. She’s the last person anyone should cross. She and her friends would rip you apart.”
Jessie’s heart sank at the sound of Cathy’s name. It was hard to believe that Cathy had once sung alongside her in church and slept over her house. “I’m not afraid of Cathy,” Jessie stated sternly. “And it’s not that I think Jason’s cute. It’s nothing like that at all! I’ve told you a million times; God is drawing me toward him.”
Sarah laughed. “Why in the world would God draw you toward someone like him? Did you tell your father? He’ll straighten you out. Listen to me, Jessie. There is no way God wants you to have anything to do with Jason Davids. He’s like the Satan of our grade.”
“God’s ways are not our ways,” Jessie replied as she glanced again in Jason’s direction. “I know God’s voice, Sarah. Just pray for me.”
Walking in front of the bleachers toward a large group of juniors, Jason pulled his vibrating cell phone out of his pocket. For the fifteenth time that night, he sent Cathy’s call to voicemail. What does she not understand about a break? It’s not a breakup, so there is no need to freak out!
Their “break” had taken place five days prior. Since then, she had called him over fifty times and refused to speak to anyone except her closest friends, Lisa Ankerman and Julianna Camen. It bothered Jason to see Cathy hurt, but he knew that he could not help her, unfortunately, until he found help for himself.
Chris made it look so easy. Chris had been worse into drugs than Jason, and he had practically given them up overnight. Chris had even admitted that getting sober had been easy for him. Most importantly, he had said that he would help Jason. Dating Cathy pulled Jason away from Chris and into everything detrimental to his life.
“I’m going to get hot chocolate,” Jessie stated and rose from the bleachers. “Do you want to come?”
“Of course,” Sarah replied and stood up beside her friend. “I’m all set with sitting here by myself. I don’t even care that we’re winning.”
Jessie laughed. “Well thanks for coming with me. My dad said that he has a ‘friend’ on the team that he’d like me to cheer on,” she said, walking across the bleachers toward the concession stand.
“Who’s your dad’s friend?” Sarah asked with a short laugh. “No one from youth group is on the team.”
“You’re going to laugh when I tell you,” Jessie replied. “You’ll think I’m making it up.”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Try me.”
“Number 85—Chris Dunkin,” Jessie said and widened her eyes.
Sarah laughed. “Okay, you’re kidding right? How does your father know Chris Dunkin?”
“You haven’t noticed a change in Chris?” Jessie questioned her as she stepped down the stairs toward the field. “He comes to church now. He’s been coming since September.”
“I saw him at Andy’s prayer service, but I also saw Jason, Lisa Ankerman, and Leslie Lucus. I just figured Chris was there to support Chantal, like the rest of them,” Sarah replied.
“I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you this, but you probably won’t believe me anyway,” Jessie said as she stopped on one of the steps and turned toward Sarah. “Chris and Jason came up with the idea for Andy’s prayer service.”
A perplexed expression coated Sarah’s face—the exact reaction Jessie had expected. “I’m not budging. Jason’s still evil,” Sarah stated and stepped past Jessie down the remaining steps.
Jason and Bryan walked to the right of the bleachers where Luke and his friends were gathered. Luke was standing with his girlfriend against the chain-linked fence near the concession stand.
“Sup, Jay?” Luke called and waved Jason over to him.
“We’re ready to leave when you are,” Jason replied as he walked toward Luke with Bryan. “Hi, Missy.”
“Hey, Jay,” Missy said. She flipped her long blonde hair over her shoulder and smiled brightly. “Your friend’s playing really well out there tonight.”
“Yeah,” Jason agreed and glanced back at the field. “Chris is sick!”
“I’m down to the last beer I brought in,” Luke stated as he patted down the cargo pockets of his khakis. “I’m good to leave in a few. Why don’t you guys go get us some pizza?”
“Dude, what are we? Your slaves?” Jason asked and rolled his eyes.
“Hey! You owe me,” Luke said and pushed Jason toward the concession stand. “I’m about to take you to the sickest party you’ve ever seen. Saddle up, cowboy.”
Jason sighed and reluctantly turned back toward the bleachers. “Yo, at the party, I’m staying clear of any blunts that get passed around,” Jason said quietly to Bryan as they walked toward the concession stand. “You can do whatever you want, but I’m good with it.”
“Is your brother still going to give us those painkillers?” Bryan asked.
“Yeah, he’ll give us whatever we want,” Jason replied and shrugged carelessly.
Bryan smiled. “Don’t worry, dude. I won’t be smoking up either. I can’t lie to Courtney, and I know that she’ll ask if I smoked anything.”
Jason patted Bryan on the back appreciatively and then stepped into the food line. He leaned to his left to read the wooden menu above the ordering window. As he turned to suggest pepperoni pizza to Bryan, he felt his eyes grow abnormally large and his cheeks begin to burn.
Jessie was standing in line at the concession stand with Sarah when a group of sophomore boys approached them. From the scents on their breaths and the hazy looks in their eyes, Jessie could tell that the boys were intoxicated.
“Hey, girls. How’s your night going?” one of the boys asked as he leaned in closely to Sarah.
Sarah turned away and rolled her eyes at Jessie. Jessie continued to stare straight ahead.
“Oh, what, you don’t have any love for my boy?” another one taunted and stepped beside the first boy.
“Can you just leave us alone, please?” Sarah retorted sternly.
“That’s tough with two cute girls,” a third one laughed as he walked around to the other side of Jessie. “Why don’t you come chill with us?”
“Because you’re annoying,” Sarah rebuked and latched onto Jessie’s arm.
“Woah! That’s bold!” the first one laughed. “I like the little feisty one.”
“Why don’t you girls come sit with us for the rest of the game?” the third one suggested and placed his arm around Jessie’s shoulders.
“Please don’t touch me,” Jessie said calmly.
“I don’t think these broads like us very much,” the third one said to his friends as he tightened his grip on Jessie. “That’s just because they don’t know how satisfying we are.”
Jessie dropped her jaw and turned to push the boy off of her. Before she was able to lift a finger, the boy went flying off of her and onto the ground. Jessie’s heart pounded heavily inside of her chest.
“Stay the #$@% away from her!” Jason Davids screamed at the sophomore on the ground. “Don’t either of you look in their direction!” he cried out as he turned to face the other two boys. He grabbed hold of his fist that had sent Jessie’s perpetrator to the ground and turned toward Bryan Sartelli. Bryan’s eyes were wide and confusion was plastered all over his attractive face.
“Oh, what, do you think you’re tough or something, Davids?” the boy on the ground called out as he wiped blood off his lip.
A large crowd began gathering around them as people started chanting, “Fight! Fight!”
Suddenly, the boy on the ground jumped up and lunged at Jason, thrusting him into the chain link fence nearby. Immediately, Jason wrestled him to the ground. The sophomore’s two drunken friends jumped in, dragging Jason off of their friend and pinning him up against the fence. Without hesitation, Bryan lunged at the sophomores, grabbing one of them by the throat and punching him across the face.
Luke Davids, the most handsome boy at Montgomery Lake High, appeared through the crowd. His normally-at-ease-disposition turned angry once he caught sight of Jason being choked up against the fence by two of the boys. Without a second of hesitation, Luke tore the boys off of his younger brother. “What the hell is going on here?!” he screamed as he thrust the two boys into the crowd and then separated Bryan from the other one.
Gasping for air, Jason leaned against the fence with his eyes closed.
“Don’t you know enough to stay away from my brother?” Luke yelled at the bloody sophomores who were fleeing the scene.
“I started it,” Jason huffed, gasping for breath as he opened his aquamarine eyes.
Jessie stood frozen, trying to process the scene before her.
“What was the heck was that about?” Bryan asked as he eyed Jason warily. “Dude, you sucker-punched O’Leary for no reason. What the hell?”
Luke and Bryan stared expectantly at Jason as he slowly stepped away from the fence. He began walking toward Jessie, brushing dirt off his sweater. “Are you okay?” he asked, panting and eyeing her with concern.
Jessie swallowed deeply and nodded, gazing hesitantly into Jason’s glassy eyes.
“All right. I have to get out of here before the principal shows up, but I’ll see you around, Jessie,” Jason stated and smiled at her before hustling off through the crowd.
Jessie stared blankly ahead as the world spun around her. She blinked, half expecting to find herself sitting on the bleachers beside Sarah, realizing the fiasco had been a mere daydream. That, however, was not the case. Jason not only knew who she was but also felt the need to protect her—two things she had never expected. “I’m not even thirsty anymore,” she stated. She let out a short laugh, realizing that she had underestimated God.
“Okay, you need to run that by me one more time. Who is that girl?” Bryan asked as he jogged beside Jason toward Luke’s car.
“Her name is Jessie Robins,” Jason replied, stopping short at his brother’s BMW 650i black convertible. “I really don’t want to get into it. She’s just a girl in our grade. O’Leary was being an idiot. No one should treat a girl like that.”
Bryan stared at Jason skeptically, recalling the many times one of their friends had mistreated a girl and Jason had done nothing but laugh. Clearly, Jason had some ulterior motive for fighting O’Leary. “Well, I think she’s pretty cute,” Bryan said.
“She’s do-able,” Jason stated flatly.
Bryan laughed. “You’re going to have to explain this a lot better to Luke. He seemed pretty heated,” Bryan said as he noticed Luke and Missy heading toward them.
Jason rolled his eyes and touched the small cut on his cheek. “Good thing I planned on popping Vicodin tonight,” he said as he twisted his bruised wrist. “It’s eight o’clock, and I’m already banged up. God help me.”
“What are you doing to celebrate tonight?” Justin Knight, the captain of the team, asked Chris Dunkin inside the locker room.
Chris smirked. “I am, first and foremost, thanking God for our victory and then chilling with my girlfriend at the Kagellis’ house,” Chris replied as he stood up from the bench.
“No crazy booze-fest?” Justin asked and stared at Chris strangely.
“Nope,” Chris laughed, wondering if his old reputation was going to haunt him for the remainder of high school. He patted Justin on the shoulder and walked toward the exit.
“Wow, you really do take more after Marc than Jordan and Taylor,” Justin said with a short laugh, referring to Chris’s older cousins, Montgomery Lake High football legends. “Ha, well good game, bro. See ya at practice.”
“Later,” Chris called as he tossed his gym bag over his shoulder and exited the locker room.
It would be so nice to see you smile, Katherine Rossi thought as she watched her boyfriend, Bobby, walk out of the locker room. She had been waiting for him in the gym with her close friends Lisa Ankerman, Leslie Lucus, Jeff Brooke, and Adam Case for fifteen minutes. She knew that everyone was trying to pretend Andy was outside, or just in the bathroom, or on the bleachers with Chantal. Sometimes, the mind game actually worked, the self-trickery, the delusion of it all. That’s not really an empty seat at our lunch table. Andy is just in line, getting a drink. But he wasn’t. He was in a hospital bed across Montgomery, hooked up to machines, fighting for his life.
“Hey, guys,” Bobby greeted them. He let out a loud sigh once he reached his friends. “I’m exhausted.”
“Good game, hunny!” Katherine exclaimed, hoping that her excitement would somehow be contagious and steal Bobby out of his sullen mood. She jumped up and threw her arms around him without hesitation.
“Yeah, Dunkin carried the team—again,” Bobby said. He dropped his gym bag to the floor and squeezed Katherine tightly. “That kid’s unstoppable.”
“You made some good passes, man,” Jeff said from behind Katherine. “We were watching.”
“Any word on Andy?” Bobby asked as he set Katherine free from their embrace.
“Sorry, dude,” Adam said and shook his head. “We haven’t heard anything.”
“We’ll go visit him tomorrow,” Lisa assured Bobby and placed a supportive hand on his shoulder. Katherine leaned against Bobby’s other shoulder and took hold of his arm as they began walking out of the gym.