I got in, buckled up, and pulled down the mirror. A couple pieces of paper fell down from the mirror. They were all names and phone numbers from my drunk mother’s many boyfriends. I shoved them under my seat and took a look at my face.
My curly brown hair flew in infinite directions and my forehead had a decent bruise just below the scar from last year’s brawl. Some blood had, unfortunately, dripped on my Viking’s jersey. I was hoping I could’ve kept it off the jersey. My left eye was bloodshot, surrounded by a ring of red and purple. I lifted my finger and touched it, but pulled back and winced in pain.
“That was a good hit.” said Ben. “You’re messing up my canvas, Harrie.”
“I punched Alec Breitbart.” I said, blandly.
Without another word, Ben pulled out of the school parking lot. My brother didn’t ask too many questions. Ben would just drive me to my favorite burger place and let me do the talking. Over a cheeseburger and a chocolate shake, I would tell him everything.
We arrived at Chuck’s Diner, with greasy floors and sticky tables, and ordered the usual. Two chocolate shakes, two cheeseburgers, and a basket of fries. I tried not to make eye contact with Ben. I took out my phone and flipped through Instagram, checking out some replays of the latest Viking’s game. This was about the time where my brother would give me a look, and I would feel too guilty not to talk. However, this time he just looked down at the ground at his feet.
“Ben, what’s up?” I said, concerned.
Ben looked out the window at my mom’s car. Then looked back down at the table. He said, “I did something bad, Harrie. Like, really bad.”
I sat quiet. I wanted to ask questions. But I remembered what he never did: ask too many questions. So I decided to treat him as he always treated me. Let him do the talking. Don’t interrupt, and don’t cause confusion. Over a cheeseburger and a chocolate shake, I would let him tell me everything.
“I was taking a drive with some of my buddies.” He began, and his voice began to shake. “We...we were up in the middle of nowhere. I don’t even know what road. But I was driving. It was late. I was tired, and kind of dosing at the wheel.”
I felt on edge, anxiously waiting for him to continue. I could see Ben become more and more uncomfortable as he paused.
“I remember seeing a car coming towards us, up the road. But I dozed off again, and next thing I know... I drove off the road. I tried to slam on the brakes.”
“Did you...” I didn’t want to finish.
“I hit the other car.” He said. The tears flowed like rivers down his cheeks. “I looked back and saw the car was upside down. I was too scared. All I could think about was the money. What kind of money is our family going to pay? What about my art scholarship? I drove out of the ditch, and just kept driving. My friends were yelling at me to turn around. But I just kept my foot on the gas.”
I was speechless. My chest constricted, making it hard to breathe. My face ached from the blow from earlier that day, but not as much as the anxiety which gripped me now. I looked at my brother with wide eyes, and saw his face relax. He stopped crying. I knew it was because he saw my panic, as much as I tried to hide it.
“Harrie, ” He continued, gently, “they’re looking for me now.”
My eyes were burning and my throat was tightening, I tried to hold it in. But, it became too much to bear. I let the tears flow. But Ben, like he always does, lifted my chin, and handed me a napkin.
“Do you remember what I always tell you?” He asked. “Can you say it?”
“You are strong.” I said, feeling as though I was drowning. “There is nothing you can’t handle...”
“...as long as you have courage.” Ben finished.
“You’re going to turn yourself in, aren’t you?” I asked.
He nodded. I knew what this meant. No more Chuck’s Diner. No more letting him cover my bruises with makeup, practicing art techniques on my battered face. I would live with mom. Alone.
“This is going to be tough for you. I know you can’t depend on mom. So, I thought maybe this will help.” He stopped and pulled out a piece of paper. “School emailed, and not about the fight.”
I read the email, silently. My heart began to beat faster. This was impossible. There was no way school had written this email.
“The try-outs are in a half-hour.” Ben said. “The coach heard you’re a tough cookie.”
I was speechless. Unable to think. I stared blankly at Ben, who smiled.
“We gotta go now, or you’re gonna be late.”
Ben left some cash on the table and we jumped in the car. My anxiety was rising within me. We made our way down the road, and for a moment I forgot about Ben and his accident. I was solely focused on how I was going to kick that ball through the field goal. When we showed up to school, the coach was waiting for us in the parking lot. Ben pulled up and rolled the window down.
“I was hoping you would show up.” The coach said to me. “I’m not surprised you had the guts to come out here, Harrie Burton.”
Ben nodded to him, and he nodded back. I thought this was odd. It seemed like they knew each other. But Ben had never been to this school, let alone played football. Ben gave me a loving push, and I hopped out of the car. But, before I even had a chance to say goodbye, he drove away.
Something inside of me knew where he was going. Something inside of me was now missing too. It hurt to see him go. I remembered his dreams of college. His scholarship... it was his only chance and it was gone. No more Chuck’s, no more painted bruises, it was all gone too. Before I could cry, before I could collapse, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was strong and loving, and for a moment I didn’t feel alone. I looked up at the coach.
“I’m Coach Brian. Are you ready to play?” He asked.
Turning to face him completely, as much as I wanted to cry, I steadied my voice and said, “Yeah, I’m ready.”
The next day, I returned to school. I was tired and swollen-faced. I missed Ben, and knew he was probably feeling just as alone as me. When I showed up, people were pointing and staring. I thought it was for the usual reason: I was the troubled kid who had a tendency to pick fights. But, it seemed that something else was the cause of the commotion. Everyone was looking at a list outside Coach Brian’s office.
Before I had time to find out, I felt a hand grab my arm. I turned around and saw who I’d least expected. It was Alec Breitbart. My face was burning up at the sight of his black eye.
“What do you want?” I asked, irritated.
“I just wanted to say congratulations.” He said.
“You made the team. I guess we’re going to have to get along now, aren’t we?” He laughed a little, and continued. “I’ve never seen a freshman kick that many field goals at tryouts, let alone...”
“A girl?” I said.
“Your making history, Burton.” said Alec. He was about to turn and leave, but stopped and said, “Hey, I’m sorry about yesterday.
I stood, stunned, as he walked away. I was pretty sure Alec just apologized, but maybe I didn’t hear him right.
I left school that day in a bitter-sweet mood. I walked into the middle of the football field, my football field, and took a deep breath. I sat down and thought about Ben, and thought about how lost I was going to feel with him gone. But thought about football...
I layed back on the scratchy terf and looked up at the sky. The blue sky seemed to swirl in my vision. I had never looked at the sky this way before.
I’m fine, I thought to myself. I’m going to be fine.