“You should be one hundred percent by game time,” the nurse said. I thanked her, took some candy off of her desk, and hurried to the field to tell coach that I would be missing practice.
I showed up without my football gear and he was furious. I told him I wasn’t feeling well and that the nurse said I was exempt from practice for today. When he snatched the note from my hand saying, “You are practicing today,” his face reddened with anger, I responded, “The nurse thought you would say that and told me to tell you that legally the note exempts me from practice.” He was screaming at me and I responded with a blank stare. Once he was out of breath, his face purple and his voice raspy, he let me go but it sounded like to me like a cough. I said, “I’m going home now,” but I knew I wouldn’t, I knew where I wanted to go.
The hallways were empty except for Tim who was scraping gum off of a flipped desk. A kid must have thought it would be funny to see how many pieces he could stick to it in one class period. I walked up to him and started saying, “I’m sorry, that’s horrible,” but he cut me off. “Why are you saying sorry? You didn’t do this.” I asked him if he needed help while tapping my foot and glancing down the hall. He said, “Don’t worry about it, you look like you are in a rush. I know when a man has a woman on his mind.” I blushed. Tim laughed a deep throaty laugh. I asked him if he knew where the gaming club met since they’re always here the latest. “Third door down on the right side.” I turned and ran, forgetting to say thanks. His laughs turned to bellows that echoed down the hall.
I cracked the door open and peered inside. No one noticed. The club members sat across from each other in three pairs. They looked like they were playing poker. They stared daggers at their opponents. On the table, there were six play mats decorated with different dragons, angels, and demons. On the play mats, each player had a stack of cards in colored protective sleeves. One of the club members had Star Wars sleeves. In front of each person, there were about a dozen face up cards organized in a grid. The cards also had the same style fantasy artwork. They spoke strange jargon, like moving to “draw phase” or “do you declare blockers or counter target spell” or “I have priority in this game action.” I had no idea what they were talking about. They moved the cards around like chess pieces. I leaned on the door, and Emily wrenched it open.
I fell forward and landed flat on my face. Emily held out her hand and pulled me up. The club members stared wide-eyed at me. “Always the graceful one,” she said. I said, “You’re a jerk.”
“I was waiting for you to lean on the door.”
“How did you know it was me?”
“You walk like a dinosaur.” She said she could recognize my thumping from a mile away. I laughed and called her a punk. None of the club members said anything to us, but their mouths hung open. Some wouldn’t look me in the eye. Emily asked, “What’s up?” And I told her, “I’m skipping football practice because I wanted to hang out with you.” Her cheeks turned rosy red. Closing the door, I said, “I’m sorry about what happened earlier with Sam,” noticing the blotchy purple stain on her cardigan. “Don’t worry about it. Not your fault.” “It was still a shitty thing to do.” “You must be starving,” she noted, as my stomach grumbled. Shoving me her dinner, she said “Shut up and eat or I will make you eat.” The food tasted sweet. She asked if I wanted to play with them. I sat down and said, “Teach me.”