Fourth Down Baby(8)

By: Lauren Landish

I'm knocked on my heels by the burning intensity in his eyes, and I wonder how I let it get this far. He works for me, and my daughter is his classmate! The thing is, though, I don't want to stop either. Instead, I nod and give him a sad smile. “I don't think the school would look on that too well.”

“Then I'm not going,” Cory insists, taking my hand. I shake my head, but I don’t let go of his hand.

“You still need to go, even if it's going stag,” I say softly, standing up. “If anything . . . I think Whitney would appreciate it if you and Troy were there together. He's going, right?”

Cory nods, considering the idea. “Fine. But I'm not going to dance with him.”

I laugh, our argument forgotten, and nod.

There's a pause between us, and I can read it in his eyes, so I break the silence before something happens that shouldn’t. “Come on. I've still got to teach you how to make real mac n' cheese instead of that stuff from a box, and we've still got to fold laundry.”

Cory looks like he wants to say something, but instead, he nods. “That sounds good. Think I can stay to sample my work, at least?”

“For sure.”

Chapter 3


“So how'd you do on the trig final?” Dani asks me, leaning against her locker. By pure luck, we've gotten lockers nearly next to each other this year, even if it's only for a few more days.

“Oh, you know how it is, Harley,” I say with a shrug, making sure my backpack has what it needs. One more final tomorrow, history, and my academic days at Silver Lake High are done. “Shit happens.”

“Yeah . . . you know, I don't believe you're telling me the full story,” she says, turning her head to look at me directly. “Come on, Cory. I've gotta have some good news for the day. All things considered.”

I nod and close my locker, pulling my backpack over my shoulder. “I know it's weird. I thought the end of high school was supposed to be this happy time, but instead, it does seem a little sad, don't it? Then you and Pete go and tell all of us that you two are breaking up at lunch today . . . put it this way. I'm glad I only had to turn in my English comp paper this afternoon. You really know how to screw with a guy's head.”

Dani shrugs, holding her chemistry book to her chest as she and I walk down the hall together. “Pete and I talked about it, and it just seemed like the best thing to do. I mean, he's going into the Navy, and I'm going to go to State, and we're both too young to really try that whole long-distance relationship thing. We're still going to be friends, though. Speaking of State and the Navy, you haven't let anyone know what your plans are. Where's Cory Dunham raising hell next?”

I sigh and shake my head. “I haven't really decided yet. I got my choice though.”

Dani stops and pulls me into an empty classroom, which I see is the newspaper room. With the last issue out for the year except the graduation special, the room's empty as almost everyone streams out of SLHS for the end of the day. “Spill it, Cory. Since prom, you've been a guy with his mind on something besides school. First, the trig final?”

“No, I did okay with it,” I tell her, giving her a little smile. “Eighty-eight. I mean, I'm not going to set the world on fire with it, but I've sewn up an honor grad slot.”

“Is it money then?” Dani asks. “Last I knew, you wanted to go to that place in San Fran, right?”

I nod, then shake my head. “No, I've got that okay too. Their financial aid offer came through, and it's really generous. Just . . . I was thinking maybe State, like you, would be better.”

Dani looks at me like I'm crazy and tugs at her right ponytail in frustration. “You out of your damned mind, Cory? What, so you can be like a thousand other biz grads? All right, I haven't said anything since you like your privacy and all . . . but is it because of Patricia Nelson?”

The look I give Dani is all the answer she needs, and she shakes her head in disbelief. She crosses her arms under her boobs and looks down, muttering to herself. “The fuck did I do to deserve this? First Troy, now you. Fucking Nelsons . . .”

“Come on, Harley, it's not that bad,” I say, shaking my head. “I mean, yeah, Troy and I went stag to the prom, and yeah, I didn't do much more than a couple of fun dances, but I'm nowhere near that dude's level. Besides, I thought Whit was your best friend?”

“She is, but you guys . . . no, you're right, you're not as bad as Troy . . . you, at least, aren't ready to be inducted into the priesthood,” Dani replies, then sighs. “I swear, you men and your bullshit are going to make me go into psychology for real. You know what you’ve gotta do, Cory. Talk to her. Notice I'm not saying it's a bad thing. I'm saying you need to talk to her.”