Fourth Down Baby(10)

By: Lauren Landish

I blink, making sure no tears pool in my eyes. “But you'll be here.”

She nods, then steps back, her hand slipping from my grasp to fall at her side. “I have to be. My life is here.”

I shake my head, hating what's happening. “I can't just leave things like this. I can't do what Whitney did. That's not fair, dammit!”

“Life often isn't fair,” Patricia says, then sighs. “This is stupid on my part. I should just cut you off totally—it'd be better for both of us. But maybe I'm being greedy now too. Let me go get my card. It has my email, and you already have my cellphone. We can stay in touch.”

I stay still while she comes back and tucks the card into my back pocket. “I'll always remember Valentine’s Day,” she tells me softly. There’s a little pause, then she speaks up again. “Thank you for your help around the house, Cory Dunham, but I think that it would be best for both of us if we ended our work arrangement. I'll mail you your last month's paycheck. I don’t have the cash on me right now.”

I want to protest, but I don’t. Instead, I swallow and nod. “Thank you for everything you've taught me, Patricia. I'll never forget it.”

It's hot, the sun beating down from a clear blue sky as the graduating class for Silver Lake High School sweats in our royal blue nylon robes. I feel like an idiot standing here in a shirt and tie underneath my robe. I mean, you can barely see the tie at all unless you get up close. I don't think Mom or Dad would really be all that upset if I'd just gone with a t-shirt under my robe for the photographs I know Mom's going to snap away with her camera. Even Dad wouldn't mind, and I know he put in plenty of sweaty parades as a Marine in those sharp dress blues he still has hanging in the closet.

Troy notices my discomfort and comes over. There are still ten minutes before we start marching, and as one of the honor graduates, I'm in the front of the group. Troy's also up front, not so much as an academic honors graduate but for his athletic awards. “You doing all right, man? You're looking a little worn out.”

“Sweating my balls off is how I'm doing,” I grumble, wiping my forehead. “Why the fuck did I get dressed up underneath the robe?”

“You want to start being a banker early,” Troy jokes, taking a look up at the stands behind us. It's only ten in the morning, but it's already scorching hot, and I wish our stadium had a way for us to hang out underneath the bleachers. Troy watches the parents make their way up the steps on the home side of the field, then laughs. “You remember the game against Blueridge back in August?”

“Of course. If I remember right, we tore the hell outta those guys. What was the score?”

“Too much to not enough,” Troy says with a chuckle, shrugging. “I'm just glad we had the too much. But I was thinking about after, when Russ took off his pads. I have never seen someone literally sweat blood before.”

I remember the pink stain on Russ's shirt scaring the hell out of all of us until we realized he'd busted out some acne that had been bugging his left shoulder since summer. I laugh, thinking about the shit we gave him after that one. “God, who was it that gave him a maxi pad for the next game anyway?”

“Hell if I know,” Troy says. “I remember when I told Whit . . . well, never mind. I guess that's the past now, ain't it?”

I pat my friend on the shoulder, nodding. “If it helps any, I think I really understand now how you feel.”

Troy gives me a sympathetic look, knowing how hard it is to talk about the one thing we've never discussed in the past six months. “Grapevine said something like that. Thanks for not bringing it up.”

“No worries. You want to thank me, you let me do your investing when you sign that fat League contract. I’ll collect my trader's commission on the millions you should be getting.”

Troy nods, all serious. “You're goddamned right I will. I promise you, Cory, if you make it through BAC, I'll be calling you to set up my accounts.”

There's a squawk of sound from the stadium PA system, and Coach Jackson, who's riding herd on the senior class for the procession, blows his whistle. “All right, Senior Foxes, it's time!”

Troy and I bump fists before he goes back to his place in line, and I find my spot. The little parade starts, some wiseass doing the mandatory “Oooooooh yeaaahhhh!” Macho Man style as Pomp & Circumstance starts and the senior class enters the stadium. I'm looking in the stands for Mom and Dad. They said they'd be close to the thirty-yard-line. A flash of auburn hair catches my attention. I look, stumbling a little bit as I see Patricia, wearing a blue Silver Lake High t-shirt and jeans, standing in the non-ticketed area of the stadium reserved for the people who don't have sons or daughters graduating. She notices, covering her mouth a little bit to hide her laugh, and I have to laugh too as I recover. Walking past that area, she waves to me a little and I wave back.