I’d been right. The other team was flustered to the point of an easy victory. Logan had rushed for 150 yards and ran in one touchdown. Doug had caught every pass, as had Jayce. Connor protected me as if his life depended on it, and Aiden had recovered a fumble to run in a fifty-five-yard pick six.
But Jonnie had been the real star of the show, as planned.
She dashed down the field faster than the other team could get their bearings and never risked a tackle once. Using her as a decoy over and over led the other team to grow confused and complacent, which allowed me to have an open receiver nearly every play.
The biggest frustration was after the game. Jonnie went into the girls’ locker room and we went into ours. I felt an almost physical pain of separation having the rest of the team surrounding me, but without her—my best friend.
Was Amberlyn correct? Was Jonnie more of a girlfriend than a best friend?
I’d been dating Amberlyn since our Freshman year of high school when I’d served as the student council president and she’d been the vice-president. We’d done everything together for several weeks, and the homecoming dance had been approaching. I asked her to come with me on a whim and we’d been together ever since.
Amberlyn had never questioned my relationship with Jonnie until now. Maybe that was because Jonnie hadn’t looked like a girl until now. Or maybe because my face was too easy to read and I could no longer hide my true feelings.
The cheerleaders had some sort of planned overnight together so I knew I wouldn’t see Amberlyn after the game. I didn’t see Jonnie either. I wondered if she’d gone with the other girls to hang out.
When I left the locker room, the lights of the stadium were still burning bright and a few people mingled in the stands and near the fences. I carried my shoulder pads to my car and sat inside listening to music and waiting for the lights to turn off. Years ago, I’d started a habit of heading back onto the field alone in the dark. Something about the empty stadium after a game gave me peace and closure for the night.
I waited ten minutes after the stadium went black, hoping most people would have left. Most had. One had not. I knew exactly who was sitting cross legged at the center of the fifty-yard line. I hesitated a few seconds, watching her still form, sensing what would happen if I dared venture out to disturb her.
“What are you doing, Skyler?” I asked myself as my feet carried me forward. “You have a girlfriend. You have a girlfriend. You have a girlfriend.”
I expected her to maintain a trance as I approached like she’d done the day of our first practice. She didn’t. As if sensing my presence, Jonnie turned her head and watched me.
“Hey,” she called softly when I was ten feet away.
“What’chu doin’ out here?” My voice cracked. I lowered myself to the grass beside her and leaned back on my hands, gazing up at the stars.
“Same thing you’re doing,” Jonnie said.
“I highly doubt that,” I mumbled. What I was doing was thinking inappropriate thoughts about the woman sitting beside me who used to be a girl. The same girl who used to be a tomboy. The tomboy who used to toss a football back and forth and play video games and go jogging. I doubted she was thinking about the cheerleader who was counting on me to be faithful.
“Great first game, huh?” Jonnie’s voice was subdued. This wasn’t a high-five kind of question. There was underlying meaning. Deeper meaning. What was she really asking? What was my answer? I answered her question with a question of my own.
“Do you remember the day we met?” I asked.
“The first day of preschool?” She guessed.
“I thought you were a boy.” I bit my lip sheepishly.
“It was the hair, wasn’t it?” Jonnie chuckled. “I cut it myself with the kitchen scissors. My mom was so angry, but I was tired of her putting it up in braids with pink ribbons.”
“By the time I figured out you were a girl, it was too late. You were already my best friend.”
“You were the only one who could beat me in a foot race.” She shrugged.
I took a deep breath and steeled myself for where I knew this conversation had to go. “I swear this has nothing to do with your looks. I’m not that shallow. But you’re kinda more than my best friend now.”
“I know.” She picked grass from the field and lowered her gaze. The freshly cut field from earlier in the day was trampled and muddy but it smelled like football season.
“Something changed over the summer. I’m not a boy anymore, and quite frankly, you’re not a girl anymore. The guy in me thinks you are smokin’ hot and it scares the heck out of me.”
“The feeling is mutual.” Jonnie whispered.
“I know. I can see it in your eyes, or I wouldn’t have said anything.”
“What are we gonna do?”
“I can’t break up with Amberlyn right now,” I said.
Jonnie turned away and her shoulders hunched. I panicked and tried to turn her back around. When that didn’t work, I wrapped my arms around her from behind.
“It’s not that I don’t want to,” I said, a lump forming in my throat. “The timing would be horrible. People would think I was dumping her because you grew up over the summer and can catch every football I throw at you. Do you know how bad that would look?”
She didn’t answer.
“Give me a couple weeks to figure this out, okay? Go to the homecoming dance with one of your disciples and wear a pretty dress and make me jealous to the point of distraction.”
She chuckled and wiped at her eyes, leaning back against me. The chill in the late summer night was obvious with her warmth in my arms.
“I haven’t kissed Amberlyn in weeks,” I whispered. “I just wanted you to know that.”
“You kissed her on Tuesday,” Jonnie said. “I saw you.”
“That was a peck,” I said. “You knew what I meant. I mean, really kissed her. And I don’t plan to.”
Jonnie laid her head on my shoulder and I realized my lips were very close to her neck, just below her jaw. The temptation was overwhelming.
That was the moment the automatic sprinklers turned on.
We jumped up from the grass and ran toward the building where the locker rooms and concession stand stood dark and locked. We laughed and shook the water from our arms and faces and hair.
Our eyes met and our laughter halted. My breathing was heavy, whether from running off the field, of the nervousness of what I knew I was about to do.
I took a step forward and laced my hands into Jonnie’s hair, cradling her head and searching her eyes. There was no hesitation. I pressed her up against the wall of the building and kissed her for several long, incredible moments before choosing the impossible.
I released her gently and walked away.