The music reverberated through my body as I approached the field, and the crowd around the keg was bigger than I’d ever seen it before. A few dozen people gathered around the bonfire, several more hung out near the swimming hole, and I couldn’t begin to count how many couples were canoodling in the backs of pick-up trucks. Where the heck had all these people come from? I looked around and smiled. Man, I loved the field parties. You never knew what to expect.
“I was wondering if you were gonna show up,” Brody said to me as he approached.
Today was the last Saturday of Spring Break. School would resume in two days. “You really think I’d go missing it?” I asked.
I took the cup of beer Brody offered me. He flung his arm around my shoulders and kissed my cheek. “As the resident bad girl of Haldeen, I’d sure hope not.”
I laughed as he let out a loud whooping noise. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you like the fact that I’m a bad girl.”
“You’re so much more fun now,” Brody said with a wicked gleam in his eye.
I smiled at him and finished my beer in two long gulps. None of us were old enough to legally drink, but Jimmie Allen’s alcoholic father owned the only supermarket/liquor store in town, and Jimmie Allen was always stealing beer from his father. “I see the keg is the spot to be. Is there another one around here someplace?”
“Over by the tree, darling.”
I let Brody slide his arm from my shoulders to my waist and walked with him to the large tree near the end of the swimming hole. I refilled my cup and turned my attention back to the party before I was flooded with memories that I didn’t want — memories that always seemed to surface every time I was near that tree — memories of my two best friends I hadn’t seen in nearly three years. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop the memory from consuming me.
“Race you to the swimming hole,” Tucker shouted as he took off running.
“That’s cheating.” Levi chased after Tucker.
“Yeah, quit your cheating!” I called as I followed both of them. I was a fast runner, and it didn’t take long for me to pass them. Maybe I’d finally beat them this time. My ponytail bounced with each step I took and the harder I pushed, the more it’d swish back and forth. Old Man Potter’s swimming hole was close. I could hear the water moving, and I could smell the distinct fish-like odor of the Chattahoochee River.
“Grab her,” Tucker panted.
“No!” I squealed as Levi grabbed me around the waist and held onto me so that Tucker could take the lead. Levi nudged me, not hard enough to hurt or make me fall, but enough so that he could take off ahead of me. And just like that, I knew I had lost yet another race to the Corbin boys. Someday I’d beat them.
When I reached the swimming hole, Tucker was climbing the tree. He did this every time we came here. He’d climb out on the large branch that extended over the deep part of the river. After yelling
“Beat this!” he’d jump into the water. Levi never did it because he was terrified of heights. I hadn’t done it either, because I was afraid I’d hit my head on a rock in the water or something.
After jumping in, Tucker surfaced and grinned at me. “Your turn.”
I took a deep breath. Today would be the day. I’d do it. Getting up to the branch was easy. Maneuvering my way onto it without falling was a bit tougher. I made the mistake of looking down. My heart rate spiked, my palms began to sweat, and I felt like I had to throw up. What had I been thinking? I couldn’t do this.
“Don’t be such a girl, Al. Jump,” Tucker said.
I scowled even though I knew Tucker couldn’t see me. I was one of the boys and for him to imply I wasn’t made me angry. But the longer I stood on the branch high above the water, the less I cared about being one of the boys.
“It’s okay, Al,” Levi said, looking up at me. “We won’t let anything happen to you.”
Deep down, I knew they wouldn’t. They’d probably even try to catch me if I asked them. I took another deep breath and climbed back down the tree without jumping. I was surprised when neither of them said anything to me about it.
“Ali!” Cassidy Hamilton called my name and waved.
I snapped out of my memory, thankful for the interruption. “Hey, Cass, when did you get back from Atlanta?” I asked as she ran toward me with her arms open and her wild, curly auburn hair flowing behind her. I hugged her.
“Yesterday. So, how was your spring break?”
“Not bad,” I said with a shrug. “I spent most of it sneaking outta my bedroom window.”
Cassidy’s eyes got wide. “A guy?”
“No.” I laughed. “I took my daddy’s pick-up truck without his permission, drove to the next county over, and went to a bar. He found out, and I got grounded.”
“Ali!” she squealed. “How’d you get into a bar? You ain’t old enough.”
I smiled. “Shelby Blake’s aunt owns the place.”
“Since when did you start hanging out with Shelby for fun?”
“About the time you took off to Atlanta and I had no one to hang out with,” I said and took a drink of my beer.
“Oh, I’m sure you could’ve found someone other than Shelby to hang with.” Cassidy nodded over my shoulder. “It looks like Brody is still obsessed with you.”
I glanced over my shoulder and saw him staring at my ass. “Yeah and now that he’s gone and grown some facial hair he thinks I’m gonna fall at his feet.”
Cassidy laughed. “You really should be nicer to that boy. He ain’t too hard on the eyes, y’know?”
“Yeah, I know.” I studied Brody for a moment. He played three different sports and his body reflected that. He was tall, with a thin, yet muscular frame. Pure brown eyes and sandy hair accentuated his round face. A short trimmed mustache and goatee covered his upper lip and chin. He was definitely cute, but I just didn’t like him that way.
* * * *
Physics lab first thing Monday morning? Somebody in the administration office had to have hated me. There was no other explanation for it. I should’ve been used to it by then, but I wasn’t. It sucked. Then again, every class that wasn’t an English class sucked, in my opinion. The first bell had already sounded, but the hallways were still full of procrastinating students. Returning to school after a week-long break was always hard.
“Hey, Cass,” I said, catching up to her before she turned the corner.
“Where’re you going?”
“Trig.” She made a sour face. “You’d think you’d know that by now. You ask me every Monday.”
I frowned. Cass was in a bitchy mood today. “Have fun.” I was eager to get away from her attitude.
“Wanna hang out after school today?”
“Don’t you have to babysit your brother?”
Cass smiled mischievously.
“Nice try,” I said, “but I’ve told you. After last time, I’m never helping you babysit again.” Last time Cass had conned me into babysitting with her, it’d been a friggin’ nightmare. Her little sister had been sitting on my lap, bouncing up and down and laughing when she threw her body back, head butting me. She’d given me a bloody nose. It’d hurt so much it’d brought tears to my eyes. So I’d gone to the bathroom to clean up and change my bloodied shirt.
Cass’s nine year old brother and his friend spied on me changing and using the toilet. Never. Again. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, my nose was swollen and my cheekbone was black and blue for days after. Shelby had decided to tell the entire school that she’d kicked my ass.
“C’mon,” Cass begged. “You know how much I hate babysitting alone.”
“See ya later.” I laughed and waved as I walked into my class.
Cass peeked her head in the room. “Will you at least think about it?”
“Fine. I’ll think about it.” I’d said it just to shut her up, but there wasn’t anything to think about. There was no way in hell I was going to put myself in harm’s way like that again.
“Well I’ll be…don’t look as though this class is gonna suck as much as I thought,” Brody said, walking towards me.
I smiled. “Hey, Brody.” He sat beside me. “Since when are you in this class?”
“I was doing an independent study so I could get some credits for college to help me earn a scholarship, but I was failing. Coach told me if I didn’t get my grade up I’d be kicked off the baseball team,” Brody said with a shrug. “I was just going to drop the class but apparently it’s too late for that.”
“Mr. Nash?” Mrs. Dolgen said. She was the only science teacher in the high school and not many students liked her. A lot of people said it was because she gave out detention a little too generously and without good reason. I’d gotten it from her a few times, but overall she wasn’t so bad.
“Here.” Brody raised his hand.
“Yes, I can see that. Would you mind taking that seat over there?” She pointed to a table on the opposite side of the room.
“Do I have to?” Brody whined.
I stifled a giggle. Last year Brody and I had Biology together, and Mrs. Dolgen was always yelling at us for goofing around. It was probably best that she separated us, but that meant I was still going to be the only one in class without a lab partner. I’d been doing the same work as everyone else all year, but I’d been doing it alone. I should ask Mrs. Dolgen for some extra credit. Although, she’d probably assign me detention for being disrespectful to a teacher. She was famous for that.
“Yes,” Mrs. Dolgen said. “Last time you and Ms. Philips were lab partners there were problems.”
“I have to disagree, Mrs. Dolgen. I enjoyed being Ali’s lab partner last year. We didn’t have any problems at all. In fact, I think we worked very well together,” Brody said.
“And therein lies the problem. You two worked a little too well together.” She came over and stood in front of our table, arms tightly crossed over her chest.
I held my breath. Being Brody’s lab partner again would be fun, but he was pushing his luck arguing with Mrs. Dolgen, and the last thing I needed was to get detention again.
Mrs. Dolgen looked back and forth between me and Brody.
“Consider today a trial run. I’m doing you a favor allowing you to join class so late, Mr. Nash. Don’t make me regret it.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Brody said.
“Thank you, Mrs. Dolgen,” I said with a smile. When she walked away I jabbed Brody in the ribs with my finger. “Are you trying to get us sent to detention already?”
Brody rubbed his side and laughed. “Relax, it’ll be fine.” He winked.
I shook my head and turned to face the front of the room as the second bell rang. For the first time all year, I was actually looking forward to physics lab.