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 Chapter 30: In the Net

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Kell
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PostSubject: Chapter 30: In the Net   Tue Mar 05, 2013 5:55 pm

"Pep rallies are so dumb," I said to Jacob as we were swept along with the rest of the crowd towards the gymnasium. Now don't get me wrong, I adored school just as much as the next teenager, but I REALLY couldn't stand pep rallies. If the school really wanted the students to enjoy school more, then maybe they should do something more efficient & productive, like canceling it more often, rather than lame attempts to boost that "school spirit" I once heard about.

"Eh. They're a nice break from classes though," Jacob said. "Hey maybe they'll have another awesome game of dodgeball like they did last year."

"Oh. Uh, I wasn't at the last pep rally," I said.

"What do you mean? Where were you?"

"Well," I looked around & figured that over all the noise of the crowd of students, no one would hear me, "Travis & I snuck out to the dumpster behind the school & made out for a bit."

"How romantic."

As we found spots in the top row, I saw Travis down on the floor talking with some other kids who I figured were going to be part of the rally. Since Travis was the captain of the tennis team, I wondered if he'd be a part of the rally. Football wasn't our school's glory sport like it was in so much of American culture. Instead, our lead sport was tennis. Which I had always found a little weird, seeing as tennis is usually the sport for...well, those who went to a school on a hill & wore white Polo shirts, not some "city school."

When the bleachers were finally filled up, the rally started. First was a dance number by the cheerleaders, followed by an ACTUALLY impressive bit from the gymnastics team. Afterwards there was a pie-eating contest amongst our favorite teachers & school staff, & then a game of dodgeball between some student athletes & teachers. It was all right. It didn't seem to be as impressive as the one from last year according to Jacob. The whole time, I noticed Travis standing by the mic with some other students who had been announcing different segments of the rally. I figured as the captain of one of the sports teams, it was no surprise he was standing with the rest of them. As the game of dodgeball ended with a win for the teachers, Travis then took the mic.

"Hey look, Travis is gonna say something now," Jacob tugged my sleeve.

"Ugh," I mumbled. "Who cares. It's the last thing & I just wanna go home. Wake me up when it's over," I closed my eyes & leaned my head back against the wall. Just then, I heard Travis' voice come over the loudspeaker.

"Hey guys, how y'all doin'?" he said. He was met with cheers & applause from those who wanted to be here. I cringed from all the loud screaming around me.

"Good! All right, so for our final event here, we've decided to pick a random student & have them attempt to shoot a basketball from the half-court line. If they make it three times, they'll automatically become head of the student committee for coming up with ideas for prom!" he said.

"Aww, I wanna do that," Jacob said.

After the cheers settled down, he started again. "Ok, I have a list here of all the students in alphabetical order. I'm gonna pick at random someone's name by just dashin' their name with this pen. So if Mr. Dwight would kindly put this blindfold on me." Mr. Dwight was the vice principle. He had been one of the pie eaters & so even though my eyes were closed, I could imagine his face was still covered in it.

"Ok, you guys ready?" Everyone cheered.

I could hear some murmurs & mumbles as everyone waited to hear who Travis would select to come down to the court.

"CONNOR TRUMAN!" my name blared over the loudspeakers.

My eyes sprang open as Jacob tapped my arm. A slow clap started to cheer me out of where I was hiding among the student body. I went red as Jacob pushed my back to go down. As I reluctantly got up to start down the steps, the crowd caught me & started cheering me. I kept my head down the whole time. Travis had TOTALLY called me out on purpose.

"Connor! How 'bout another hand for my bud here!" Travis called out. I was again cheered as I walked up to him, shooting him the look of a not-so-happy-camper.

Travis handed me the basketball as he led me to the half court line. "Good luck," he whispered, patting me on the back.

I held the ball dumbly in my hands. I had never really been good at shooting a basketball the way you're supposed to. Chucking it with one hand always seemed to work just dandy, so as I looked up at the basket, I took a deep breath. With the hundreds of students cheering my name, which I was surprised they even remembered, I moved a foot back, brought my arm with the ball back & tossed the ball.

As the ball continued on a straight path, I hoped with each second that it would stay that way & not veer off course. And sure enough, as it closed in on the net, my eyes widened just as the ball cradled its way through the net, as if it were made to do catch my shot & my shot only. Everyone in the bleachers cheered & clapped. A smile nearly blew my face in half. The thought of it being a lucky shot tried to creep its way into my head but I was too happy to care whether it was luck.

"All right!" Travis called out into the mic. "One down, two to go." He handed me a second ball.

I glanced around the gymnasium as people started cheering my name again. I'd never really been in the spotlight for anything before, so it was certainly enchanting to hear hundreds of people saying my name, wanting me to succeed in something. I didn't particularly care for the prize of being put on the student committee for prom, but I was hoping to get in at least one more basket just for myself. My self esteem was pretty high at the moment.

I made my second shot & as the ball moved slightly to one side, I felt myself gasp as it hit the orange rim, threatening to bounce away. But my doubt quickly changed to a loud cheer as the ball fell into the basket contently.

You'd probably like a slowed down, deep breathing replay of how I felt when I shot my third shot. Like any basketball-themed movie you could imagine where it becomes instantly silent with the exception of a single, nervous heartbeat as the camera takes its sweet time stalking the ball. A ball which bounces divinely on one side of the metal ring, to the other...balancing dramatically before quietly settling into its nest...

As much as I would love to give that kind of account, I can't. What I remember is the ball swooshing in quickly & simply.

Winning!

Just as the ball fell through the white net, I jumped up & cheered loudly along with the hundreds of strange faces around me. I was beaming as I felt Travis' strong hand pat me proudly on the back.

"Congratulations Connor!" he called happily into the microphone. "Looks like maybe we got a potential player on the team, huh guys?" He was met with more cheers.

"All right! I'm handin' this contraption back over to Mr. Dwight," he drawled in a heavier southern accent than usual.

As Mr. Dwight gave the closing thanks and goodbyes, Travis came up behind me as I walked back to the bleachers.

"That was AWESOME!" he cheered quietly in my ear. "How happy are you to be on the prom committee now?"

"It's cool I guess," I shrugged. I suppose I was a bit more excited now about having a say in how prom would be designed. At the moment though, I was mostly just happy that I had gotten three baskets in a row.

"Hey, to celebrate, do you wanna maybe come over later and –"

"Um, why don't you find me later, k?" I said as I made my way up the bleachers against the people to rejoin with Jacob.

"Oh. Yeah, definitely," he smiled.

**********

Travis



Later that day as I was in the bathroom, Jordan Nolan came.

"Hey Jordan, how's it goin'?" I said. Jordan was class president & thus the head of student council. We were fairly friendly acquaintances although our groups of friends were very different. While I was popular in the jock-sense, he was popular in the preppy-sense.

"Pretty good Travis, what about you?" he said as he leaned against the wall next to the sink I was walking to.

"Same. How 'bout that pep rally?"

"It was pretty nice, huh."

"Yeah."

"That's actually kind of what I wanted to talk to you about," he shifted his feet.

I wiped my hands & looked at him.

"Ok?" I gave him a silly smirk.

"So you picked Connor Truman to be the person to shoot three hoops."

"Well his name is the one I randomly crossed off. Whose name I crossed through was the person, that was the rule."

"Yeah. I dunno, it's just...don't take this the wrong way but I don't think you made it as random as it should have been."

I looked up at him in the mirror. "What do you mean?"

"Travis," he cocked his head, "everyone knows that you & Connor are really close."

I held down a breath. I remember Connor had freaked out a while back after a classmate of Chris' had seen us. He was paranoid about word making its way up to our school but up until now, I had never really held any real suspicions. I had to be careful of where this was going. I really didn't want to subtly out him. He was really upset when I had done that in front of my boss at work.

"Yeaahhh...we are close..." I said cautiously.

"Dude...like I said, I'm sorry if this comes off badly, but I think you made a biased choice. I don't think you really made that random."

It was true. I hadn't actually crossed off a name until shortly after I had already called out Connor. Only afterwards when there was cheering and applauding did I subtly find his name on the list and cross it out.

"Admit it Travis, you didn't pick at random."

"Ok, so I didn't," I threw my hands up. "So what though? He's my best friend & it wouldn't kill him to be a bit more social with the student body."

"You still acted unfairly."

"Jordan," I cocked my head, "I picked the prom designer. Not the next American president."

"Yeah but now everyone thinks..." he shook his head & looked off.

"Everyone thinks what?"

He looked back at me. "A lot of people were already talking about...maybe that you & Connor are like, secretly gay lovers or something. I dunno. All I know is that now, not only did you make some people pissy 'cause you chose someone you knew on purpose, but now you got those rumors flying around you even more than they were already."

"Who?!" I exclaimed. "Who is ACTUALLY upset that I chose Connor Truman? Seriously, Jordan," I said, trying to divert away from the other subject.

"Me, for one. Student council. Connor is not a very social kid, never has been. How can you expect a kid who has virtually no friends to plan out something for the entire grade? He doesn't know what other people like, what their tastes are."

"And you have the magic ability to know what everyone likes."

"Well," he shrugged, "I do more than he does. I didn't win student body president by getting my name crossed off at 'random'," he crooked his fingers.

I scoffed.

"So lemme get this straight. You don't want Connor planning prom because he's unpopular & therefore doesn't know what's hip & cool & well-liked & popular & whatever other bull you're tryin' to sell?"

"To save air, yes."

"Then MAYBE you should have thought of a better way to pick the damn winner," I said.

"We didn't think you'd pull that stunt."

"Well gee dude, why don't ya find him, sit him down & list off what every person in our grades likes for colors, music, food, places."

"As the boyfriend, that sounds like it's more your job than mine to spend time with him," he jabbed.

I raised a finger at him. "Cut the shit, man. I don't know where those rumors started, but if Connor's gay, then that's up to him to decide when everyone else knows."

"It's not like anyone would really care if he's gay, Travis. It's not 1955, & we're not in Kansas anymore either. Well, I guess in your case it'd be Oklahoma."

"Then what hell is going on here!" I waved my hands around. "What's with cornering me in the bathroom & making me feel like you're threatening me with blackmail or something? You're making this feel like a Godfather film."

"No threats, no none of that," he put his hands up. "I'm just sayin'."

"Then what's your point?"

Jordan started to head for the door but turned back to me. "My point is, even though no one would care about the gay part, what people DO care about is having a lousy prom because the kid designing it is out of touch with everyone & whose popularity peaked in 7th grade as a 3rd-rate class clown. People are scared that he's going to have weird music, weird food, & pick a weird place."

"So because he doesn't have many friends, you think he's weird?"

"Isn't that reality?" Jordan said as he walked out.

I suppose I was somewhat glad that Jordan, who in some ways COULD speak for the student body, said that many people wouldn't care if Connor was gay, especially considering I had been welcomed with plenty of open arms. What I was more angry about was the clique-mentality that just because Connor wasn't very popular, he was assumed to be weird. He wasn't though. And even if he WAS, so what? We're all weird in some ways, some more than others. This wasn't 1985 anymore where the geeks get wedgies & hooked by their underwear to the lockers. Nobody should care if someone's a little weird. Right?

I sighed. The truth is...a lot of people care.

People didn't know Connor like I knew him. Like his brother knew him. He wasn't EVEN that 'weird' & yet everyone thought so. Somehow, I wanted to help Connor break out of his shell a bit so people could get to know the real him. Lately it had seemed like he was avoiding me a bit & so I wasn't sure how that would be possible but I knew I had to try.

Like everyone else, I too wanted prom to be the greatest night of my life. And I knew that Connor, even if he struggled with coming up with great & creative ideas, wouldn't ruin it like Jordan implied he would. But I wanted to help him nonetheless.

As I walked out of the bathroom, I took out my phone & checked my messages.

None. He hadn't texted me in a while. I just hoped he was ok.

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