This story is by Rachel Radner and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The sky morphed into a mixture of purple and pink, as the lights of the football field shown bright. The players all raced onto the field for the first game of the season, fist bumping each other and parading around.
Noah joined them on the turf, too. Of course. He held his helmet in his hand, running along with the rest of the team. His locks of silky blonde hair, with little hints of orange, danced beneath a cool, autumn sky.
Watching him in his blue and yellow jersey unnerved me in a way that it never had sophomore or junior year. Because now, as a senior, looking at Noah instantly reminded of this past summer. I followed him as he moved across the field.
I noticed the chain hanging beneath his neck. Though too far to see this detail from where I was, I knew the emblem to be a Captain America shield surrounded by gold. My mind flashed to a vision of us spinning clay—that same necklace dangling from his neck. The necklace that had brought us together because of our shared love of Marvel comics.
I was reminded of being at sleep away camp with Noah all over again. A magical time when the social status of the school year went into hiatus. When someone like me could be seen talking to a football player.
“I can’t believe you never texted him back,” Caley said over the band music, jabbing me in the side with her elbow.
“Uh, because he’s one of the most popular boys in school,” I said. “What could he possibly want with me?”
Caley and I stood with the rest of the Marching Band up on the risers. She smirked at me and simultaneously rolled her eyes.
Cheers erupted from the crowd as Noah caught the football mid-air and darted toward the goal line. I didn’t know enough about football to tell you if he was making a certain play. Just that we—the students playing instruments on the risers closer toward the bottom—were finishing our rendition of White Rabbit. Which meant Eye of the Tiger was up next. We now continued the music with even more gusto than before.
To clarify, I didn’t actually play an instrument. Instead, my arms moved along with the syncopated beat of the music, synchronized with the other members of the Color Guard. When we weren’t dancing with our flags during halftime, we spent the rest of the game up here on the risers, moving our arms like we were all one unit and not just a bunch of scattered teens. Cheering on our team against the opponent.
Not to confuse us with the cheerleaders on the ground. No way could we be compared with them. They were the rock stars. And we were—well—a bunch of cheerleader rejects who still wanted to show school spirit.
Noah nimbly crossed the goal line, slammed the ball down, and spun around, holding his Captain America necklace up in the air in triumph. Touchdown. The trumpet gave a few final hurrahs. Then, the music faded, and the loud conversation drifted up the risers, surrounding us like a cloud of smoke.
The football players were all jogging off the field. My cue for knowing it was show time for us band kids. When no one else remained on the turf.
“Noah!” A girl’s voice cried from below. The voice had come from Jessica, the lead cheerleader. She pushed her way through a crowd of game spectators, swatting at their bodies aside like flies. She jumped toward Noah, in her short cheer skirt and slid into his arms like another one of her cheer tricks. Surprisingly, Noah flinched before letting Jessica slide off him.
I gazed ahead at Caley, who was now stepping down the risers, and focused on her yellow uniform. A much longer dress than what the cheerleaders wore. I walked down with the rest of the group, careful not to step on the hem of my uniform, as we lined up by the gate where we would enter for halftime.
Someone squeezed my hand, and a little shock pulsed through my body.
“Hey, Bri,” Noah said, leaning down to me. His mouth opened into a large smile, revealing a set of extremely white teeth. Didn’t he know he was breaking one of the cardinal rules of public school? A football player shouldn’t be caught dead fraternizing with one of us. That went against the social structure of our school completely.
Yet, I basked in his name for me. Bri. Everyone else simply called me Brianna.
“If you’re free after the game, you should meet me by the bleachers,” he whispered.
Cardinal rule or not, there was no way I could say no to that.
“Is this where you have all your former camp buddy trysts?” I asked, playfully.
A light smile played on Noah’s lips. He stood across from me, and the light from above the bleachers shined through, highlighting the area around his eyes.
I remembered how those eyes sparkled in the rain while we huddled together, kissing in the woods. Not caring that our drenched hair and clothing clung to our bodies.
That was my last memory of Noah before we left camp. And I’d spent an agonizing month trying to forget the taste of those lips.
“Yeah, except that, by definition, a tryst isn’t between two buddies,” Noah said. He crossed his arms and leaned slightly closer. “That’s what you want, right? For us to be… friends.”
He placed extra emphasis on the word friends. I shut my eyes for a moment, and our final campfire danced in my mind. The one where I realized we might not ever be able to bond over Marvel comics again. Even now, I could see his fingers lingering over mine. During our last campfire talk.
“Well. I mean. That’s possible, right?” I asked. “To be friends.”
“Why wouldn’t it be possible?”
“Because you’re this amazing football player. And I’m… well… me.”
He took my hand in his and began to weave his fingers through mine. The warmest chill I’d ever experienced swept over my body.
“You’re not just anybody,” he said, softly. His shoulder pressed against one of the beams of the bleachers, and I found myself leaning in to meet him. “You’re Brianna. Who is wicked cool and marches with the Color Guard.”
I rolled my eyes, still electrified by his touch.
“Umm, yeah right,” I said. “There’s nothing cool about me. All those cheerleaders put me to shame.”
Noah raised an eyebrow.
“Alright, well. Agree to disagree then,” he said.
“Seriously? How can you say that? Isn’t dating a cheerleader sort of your destiny? You know, with great football player power comes great responsibility.”
“Oh really?” He laughed. “Is that what I’m supposed to do? Last time I checked the handbook, dating a cheerleader wasn’t part of the requirement for playing football.”
His arms rested against mine. We were so close now that, if I moved an inch in any direction, I’d be up against his chest. The gold from his Captain America necklace glistened beneath the lights above us. Suddenly, we were back in the lake at camp, and I saw that necklace as he smiled at me. With the same face that gazed at me right this second by the bleachers.
That’s when I realized. No, this wasn’t Noah the football star at all.
This was Noah. The boy I fell in love with at summer camp. It didn’t matter what uniform he wore. Or what sport he played. We both shared a connection that went way too deep for that to matter.
“Okay, I want to be friends,” I whispered.
Noah’s smile faded away, and he bit his lip.
“But see, that’s the issue, Bri.” Noah paused, his brows furrowing closer together. “I don’t think it’s possible for me to be your friend.”
“Because I’m too in love with you.”
My lips grazed his, and we melted together. Not a second later, we were making out the way we had been back at camp. Except now, I finally got it. Since camp had ended, I’d been the one putting up the block between Noah and me. I’d placed the stereotype of a football player on him. Telling myself this could never work without even giving it a chance.
A nippy wind picked up around us, and the free strands from my ponytail brushed against the sides of my face. Somewhere, in the far distance, I smelled the earthy, scorched wood of a burning fire, and my heart smiled. Because I now understood.
Noah was just a boy. And I was just a girl.
There was no magical hiatus. We were as constant as the Captain America necklace dangling around his neck. Camp, school, or otherwise.
Noah and I were a permanent connection.