Burn for burn, p.18
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       Burn for Burn, p.18

           Jenny Han
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  ACCORDING TO LILLIA, COACH CHRISTY KEEPS HER office locked at all times. Ten minutes and thirty-three seconds ago, she entered her office with the box of homecoming ballots. Her door is open a crack. She’s been typing on her computer for the past seven minutes and ten seconds. I know because I’ve been watching the clock at the end of the hallway the whole time. I’m leaned up against some lockers, and Kat is pretending to text on her phone by the water fountain.

  At exactly four o’clock Lillia comes flying past Kat and me, her ponytail swishing from side to side. “Coach Christy!” she calls out frantically. “You have to come right now! There’s a cheer-mergency in the girls’ locker room!”

  “What’s going on, Lillia?” Coach Christy asks, stepping out of her office.

  “Please just hurry!” she says, tugging on Coach Christy’s arm. “I think one of the freshman girls is having a breakdown or something. She’s totally freaking out!”

  The two of them disappear down the hallway.

  Kat and I grin at each other, and after a quick glance around to make sure no one’s watching us, we slip inside. I stay crouched by the door while Kat makes a beeline for the ballot box. She said Pat taught her how to pick locks when she was a kid. All you needed was a piece of a soda can. It seemed crazy to me, but she opens it in almost five seconds. She dumps the contents out on Coach Christy’s desk.

  “Looks like Reeve won without our help,” Kat grunts as she sifts through the piles.

  “I’m not surprised,” I say. “He’s definitely the best-looking guy in the senior class.” Kat gives me a weird look, but it’s true. She stuffs some slips of paper into her messenger bag. Votes for Rennie, I assume. Rennie won’t get to stand up there on that stage with him now. Too bad for her. Maybe she shouldn’t be such a bully.

  I train my eyes back on the hallway. Lillia and the coach could be back any minute. “Are you almost done?” I whisper.

  “I’m just counting to make sure Ashlin has enough votes,” she says, her head down.

  That’s when I hear Lillia’s voice coming down the hallway, high and hyper. “Oh, my gosh. I thought she was crying, but I guess she was just laughing!”


  Kat’s head snaps up. “I’m not done counting!”

  I shake my head. “We have to hide!”

  Kat stuffs the ballots back into the box and then looks around the room frantically before she sees the supply cubby. She gestures at me to follow, but when she opens the door, we see that it’s way too small for both of us.

  Lillia is babbling, and now they’re right outside the door. “It’s so weird! I mean, I think I even heard rumors she was a cutter or something, but I guess not! Maybe it’s just multiple personality disorder.” She giggles nervously. “We’ve all been kind of crazed, with all the stress of homecoming.”

  I dart behind the office door, and peek out to the hallway through a tiny sliver between the door hinges.

  “Well, I appreciate you keeping me in the loop, Lillia. It’s important that I know what’s going on with my squad.”

  “Oh, totally.”

  “Is there anything else?”

  Through the crack Lillia’s and my eyes meet. Hers go huge. And then the phone sitting on Coach Christy’s desk rings.

  “I’ve got to get that,” she says. Coach Christy grabs a hold of the door. I see her fingers curl around it. She’s going to close it, take the phone call in private. If she does, I’m done for. I am trying so hard not to breathe. I curl my feet in as tightly as I can and close my eyes. We’re going to get caught, and it will be my fault.

  “Wait!” Lillia cries out.

  “Just a minute, Lillia,” Coach Christy says. “I’ll be right with you.”

  Coach Christy stops talking suddenly, and my heart almost stops. I open my eyes. But Coach Christy hasn’t seen me after all. She shouts, “Lillia!” and rushes out.

  I peek through the crack again. Lillia has fainted. She is a small heap on the floor of the hallway. Coach Christy is shaking her, trying to wake her up. Lillia flutters her lids. “I don’t feel so good,” she whispers. “Can you take me to the nurse’s office?”

  Coach Christy practically sweeps her off the floor, throwing one of Lillia’s arms around her shoulders. And then they’re gone.

  “They’re gone!” I whisper loudly to Kat.

  She crawls out of the cubby. “That was way too close.” I figure she’ll go back to the ballots, but instead she runs into the hallway. I follow her.

  “Boo-yah!” Kat yells when we get outside.

  “I thought she saw me for sure.”

  “Well, obviously she didn’t!” Kat pumps her fist in the air. “I just wish I could’ve seen Lillia’s performance.” She mimics, “‘I don’t feel so good.’”

  I try to smile, but something doesn’t seem right. “Did you make sure there were enough votes for Ashlin to win?” I ask.

  Kat brushes me off. “I’m sure it’s fine. There were plenty of votes for her, and I grabbed, like, twenty of Rennie’s votes.” She sticks both her hands into her bag and pulls out two big fistfuls of ballots. “We got this. Trust me.”



  THE LAST SECONDS TICK OFF THE SCOREBOARD IN WHITE round bulbs. Three, two, one. The referee runs out to the angry seagull painted on the fifty-yard line and reaches for the air horn clipped to his belt. I don’t hear it blare because of all the cheering.

  We killed them.

  Jar Island 38, Tansett 3. A homecoming victory.

  Reeve leads our team off the football field, holding his helmet high over his head. He’s soaked with sweat, and it makes his hair darker and picks up the curl. There are a bunch of scouts on the sidelines, men wearing different college windbreakers, holding clipboards and video cameras. One of them smiles proudly at Reeve, as if he’s his dad or something.

  All of the cheerleaders jump up and down and hug each other. I look around to find Rennie. She’s by Nadia’s side, ruffling the top of her head. It messes up Nadia’s ponytail, but Nadia doesn’t care. Then Rennie turns a bunch of back handsprings. I’m surprised she’s not totally nauseated by this point, since she’s been doing them all game long. Rennie put on such a show cheering for Reeve, it was like she thought his scouts might offer her a scholarship to be his personal cheerleader.

  I give my pom-poms a halfhearted shake. We always have a big crowd for homecoming. Practically the whole school is here, teachers, parents, some alums, too. Everyone joined in our call-and-response cheers, and they knew every word to our fight songs.

  Reeve did have an amazing game. Perfect pass after perfect pass. He even ran one in for a touchdown himself. Our fans screamed their throats raw, chanting his name, but not me.

  I don’t know if Mary came to the game or not. I didn’t see her in the bleachers. I hope for her sake, she stayed home.

  As PJ walks past me, I pat him on the back. He’s not even sweaty. “Good job, PJ,” I say. I do a quick tuck jump.

  He smiles and pumps his fist in the air.

  Alex trails behind him. As he passes our bench, he turns so he is jogging backward and, with a big smile, calls out, “Thanks for the great work tonight, ladies!”

  Smiling, I shake my head at him.

  Nadia yells, “You’re welcome!” Her friends fall over each other in a fit of giggles.

  A few weeks ago that would have ruined my night. But now, after talking to Alex, I know I don’t have to worry. I believe him when he says he’s not interested in Nadia. He’d never do something I didn’t want him to. And, in that way, I guess my revenge was a success. We’ve gone back to the way things used to be. When Alex would do anything I asked him to. Only this time I’m not going to take advantage of it. He’s a person with feelings too.

  The boys gather up their equipment and head toward the field house. Everyone but Reeve, who is immediately surrounded by the scouts. The band finishes the fight
song, and the bleachers start to clear out. Some of the girls start putting away their pom-poms in the big team duffel bag.

  Rennie sees this and turns red. She storms over and shouts, “You cheer until every last player is off the field!”

  I don’t remember this being a rule. Apparently Ashlin doesn’t either, because she gives me a confused shrug. By this point Reeve is the only guy left, and it feels weird for us to keep cheering for him, because he’s talking to the scouts. I guess Rennie realizes this too, because she eventually sighs and tells the new girls to take down the banners and load the equipment into the back of her Jeep. She lets Nadia be in charge of her keys.

  * * *

  On the ride home Rennie is bursting with energy. She has on a CD of cheer dance tracks, which are club songs sped up even faster. Her radio volume is turned way up, and the bass makes her speakers crackle and buzz. I turn it down.

  “Wasn’t that game amazing, Lil?”

  “Totally,” I say. I worry for a second that I don’t sound like I mean it, so I cheerfully add, “Everyone’s going to be in such a good mood for the dance tomorrow.”

  Rennie nods. “We should start thinking about a new halftime routine for play-offs. Just to keep things fresh.” Then she reaches into her backseat, trying to find her purse. We nearly veer off the road.

  I swear, Rennie is the worst driver. I push her arm back toward the wheel and say, “What do you need? I’ll get it for you.”

  “Can you call Ash?”

  I do. I call Ashlin, put her on speaker, and hold my phone up between us.

  Rennie says, “Hey, Ash. I don’t know about you, but I am soooo amped up right now. Let’s go do something.”

  “Come over!” Ashlin offers. “You can finally see my new sauna!”

  I like the idea. I went in a sauna a few times, when my mom took Nadia and me for a spa day. It would be nice to relax and unwind a little, especially because, the closer tomorrow gets, the more I feel nervous about our plan.

  I glance at the clock on Rennie’s dashboard. It’s ten thirty. Mary and Kat are supposed to come over later to go over everything, and Kat’s bringing the ecstasy with her. But there’s plenty of time before that happens. I told them to come at two in the morning, because I know my mom and Nadia will be asleep by then.

  “Sounds good to me,” I say.

  “Yay!” Rennie says. “Ashlin, you call PJ and Alex and Derek. I’ll call Reeve.”

  Glumly Ashlin says, “Derek can’t come. He has a family thing.”

  I put my hand over the phone. “Why can’t it just be us girls?”

  Rennie laughs at me. “Don’t worry. No more spin the bottle. I promise. Bye, Ash!” I hang up, and Rennie nudges her chin at me. “Now call Reeve.”

  I find his name in my phonebook and press send.

  He answers after a few rings. “What up, Cho!” Apparently Reeve’s already celebrating. “Are you calling to congratulate me? This really is my lucky night.”

  Before I can answer, Rennie takes a hand off the wheel and pulls the phone out of my hand, and squeals, “Yay for Reevie!”

  * * *

  Thirty minutes later, the six of us are at Ashlin’s house, drinking beers in her sauna. Her dad had it built onto the pool house. It’s a huge room lined with wide cedar planks. Wooden benches are built into the walls, and there’s a big glass door that looks out onto her backyard pool and Jacuzzi. The light is soft inside, and the heat is making me sleepy.

  Ashlin’s in one of her bikinis. She offered Rennie and me ones to wear too, but Ashlin has huge boobs, and there’s no way either of us could fit into her top. So I’m in my underwear and a big T-shirt I borrowed from Ashlin’s younger brother, who’s, like, six feet tall even though he’s only in seventh grade. But Rennie’s just in her bra and panties, lying down on one of the wooden benches with her eyes closed, like she’s in a men’s magazine.

  I’ve known these guys for years, but it feels weird for Rennie to be in her underwear in front of them. And the dry heat is starting to give me a headache. I take a sip of my beer and hold the bottle up to my forehead.

  “I should get Coach to put one of these in our locker room,” Reeve says. “Good for the muscles.” Reeve’s in his black boxer briefs, and beads of sweat trickle down his abs. Alex and PJ are on opposite sides of him, in their boxers, with towels over their heads.

  “Seriously!” Rennie says. “I bet you Coach would do it, if you asked. You’re his star player, after all, the one who’s taking us to State this year!” Rennie gives a big “Woooo!” that fills the room.

  PJ clears his throat. “Ahem. Don’t forget about the kicker. Remember, for every six points Reeve scores, I’m popping a seventh up there. Right, Lil?”

  “Right,” I say.

  “Seriously, Reevie,” Rennie says. “Every one of those scouts wants a piece of you. How are you going to decide where to go?”

  “It’s gonna go like this.” Reeve puts down his beer. “First off, it’s got to be a decent school with a good communications program. After that I’ll consider the reputation for parties. And then it’s location, because I want to be somewhere warm and sunny.” He rips the towel off Alex’s head and puts it on his own. “And then I’ve got my Playboy college campus edition to refer to, in case of a tiebreaker.”

  I shudder, crossing my arms over my chest. “It’s nice that these schools are willing to overlook your grades,” I say to Reeve, because I can’t help myself. Sweetly I add, “I mean, if it wasn’t for football, who knows where you’d get in, right?”

  PJ laughs loudly; so does Alex.

  Reeve answers right back. “It’s a shame we can’t all be Asian, huh, Cho?”

  Everyone laughs this time. I take another sip of my beer. A big sip.

  We talk awhile more about the game, and Rennie goads Reeve into rehashing his plays for us, highlight reel style. I’m watching Rennie’s beer bottle, hoping that once she’s finished, she’ll be ready to take me home. I’ll never hear the end of it from Kat if I’m late. Plus, I have curfew.

  PJ has a watch that beeps every hour. When it turns one in the morning, I start yawning, every minute or so. Sometimes they are real, but sometimes they are fake. This one is fake.

  “You tired, Lillia?” Alex asks me.

  “Yeah,” I say. And then I make eye contact with Rennie. But Ashlin gets up and pours a ladle of water onto the hot rocks, filling the place with sizzling steam.

  Alex stands up and stretches. “I don’t think I can take this heat much longer,” he says.

  Rennie tells him, “Then get me another beer,” and cracks up hysterically.

  “You shouldn’t stay out too late,” I say to her. “Tomorrow’s going to be a big day for you. You don’t want to have tired eyes.”

  “But I’m so relaxed,” she says, glancing over at Reeve. Her words run into each other.

  “Come on,” I say. “Let’s go, Ren. I’ll drive.”

  Rennie makes a face at Reeve and says, “Is something wrong with her ears? Can she not hear me?” She looks back at me and says, “Testing, testing. One. Two. Three.”

  I want to slap her.

  “I’ll take you home, Lillia,” Alex offers.

  “Awesome,” I say, before pushing open the sauna door and stepping outside. Rennie can do what she wants. Why should I care? She’s not my responsibility. Just like I wasn’t hers.

  Ashlin’s backyard is dark, and the night air feels good against my skin.

  Alex walks out behind me. I tell him, “One second. I’m just gonna go put on my clothes.” I run inside Ashlin’s house and change back into my cheering uniform.

  When I get back outside, Rennie’s standing next to her Jeep, wrapped in a towel. “I thought you wanted to stay,” I say.

  She opens her mouth to answer me, but then Reeve calls out of the sauna, “Come back inside, Ren. Just let Lindy take her home. I’ll drive you later.”

  Rennie shifts her weight and looks back toward the sauna. “I think I will
stay. See you tomorrow!” And then she runs off, leaving tracks of wet footprints on the blacktop.

  I turn and see Alex, sitting in his SUV with the lights off. I climb inside. “Thanks for giving me a ride. I don’t think I can watch Rennie throw herself at Reeve for another hour.”

  Alex shrugs. “I don’t see him complaining.”

  He starts the car up and I buckle my seat belt. “Of course not. He’s an egomaniac.” I fiddle with the radio. “I mean, it doesn’t even matter who the girl is, as long as she’s as obsessed with him as he is with himself.”

  Alex doesn’t say anything, and I feel embarrassed. Maybe I took it a little too far.

  * * *

  At exactly two in the morning, I go downstairs and open the front door. Kat and Mary are both there. I hold my finger up to my lips and lead them into the living room.

  “How was the game?” Mary whispers to me.

  “Whatever,” I say. “We won.” I ask Kat, “Did you get the stuff?”

  Kat’s walking around the living room, looking at the pictures on the wall. The one of Nadia and me in our Easter dresses at our grandmother’s house, the family portrait my mom had commissioned by some famous Boston artist. She’s seen them before, but maybe she doesn’t remember. “Yeah,” she says, lingering at my mom’s cotillion portrait. “I got it.” She hands me a small glass vial.

  “What’s this?” I thought we were buying a pill.

  “Liquid ecstasy. It’s a lot stronger than the regular kind.”

  I unscrew the top. The liquid inside the vial is clear. I hold it under my nose and sniff, but it doesn’t smell like anything. “Are you sure this guy didn’t rip you off?”

  Kat glares at me. “What do you take me for? I know drugs, Lillia. A couple of drops in Reeve’s drink, and he’ll be tripping balls. It should only take about fifteen minutes to kick in, so wait until Reeve gets to the dance before you do it. If he starts wigging out before you get there, one of your friends might lock him in the limo until he sobers up.”

  “How long will it last?”

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