She can hear the music and chanting from outside the gym door, echoing off the walls and down the hallway as she approaches. Carrie takes a deep breath, pastes on a determined smile, and charges in.
The bleachers are full, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with her classmates. On the floor in the middle of the gym, their high school mascot — the Washington Lee Tiger — gyrates, as the band plays “Welcome to the Jungle” with pitchy brass instrumentation. Carrie has to fight not to grimace; Axl would fucking die.
She looks away from the action and casts her eyes up to the bleachers, seeking out the red-headed football player.
“You ready to own this shithole, Carrie Mathison?” Carrie starts at the sound of Allison’s voice, but she recovers in time to distractedly return the high-five her bitch-confident cheerleader sister-in-arms is offering.
Carrie laughs, bringing her hand down to smooth the too-short skirt of her crimson uniform. “Born ready, girlfriend,” she confirms, and follows Allison as they make their way through the crowd.
“C’mon,” Allison says, cocking her head toward the stands — but their path is impeded, suddenly, by a freshman girl. “Watch where you’re going,” Allison snaps, but the girl is gazing at Carrie in genuine, starstruck, awe.
“Oh. My. God. Carrie Mathison!” The girl puts her hand to her chest.
Carrie paints her face with an artificial smile and tries not to notice her short and unkempt fan. She looks right over her. Why be bothered? she thinks, anxious to find Brody and get settled before her coronation into Washington Lee cheerleading royalty.
This girl is dogged, however, determined to capture her attention and blocks her attempts to move past. Carrie concedes finally, ignoring Allison’s exaggerated, put-upon sigh. Carrie smiles, looking over this sorry excuse for a freshman.“Hi.”
The girl seems surprised when Carrie speaks to her and she lets out a gasp before gathering herself. "Hi. Hi! You look so pretty, so great, Carrie. And your triple back handsprings are just so perfect. I watch you at practice and..." the frizzy haired brunette prattles on, and even as she listens patiently, all Carrie can think is that the poor girl has two pimples on her forehead that are in dire need of an extraction.
"And you are?" Carrie interrupts, when the girl finally takes a breath.
"V-vicky! My name's Vicky, or, well, Victoria, and — and I placed 37th in States last year. Rhythmic gymnastics, not real gymnastics, I know — but I know, I just know, I could give so much to the team if you'd consider me. I'll do anything to join the squad. Please, do you think I could try out—"
Happy to be worshiped — always — Carrie softens. She examines this girl from splotchy forehead to Target-clad toe, taking in the size ten Guess jeans and the DKNY t-shirt in between. "Christ," Carrie exhales turning her head to the side. She looks to Allison to rescue her.
Allison, ever reliable for on-demand bitch support, steps forward. "Sorry, what was your name? Vera?" Her lip curls with scorn.
Carrie's eyes widen, knowing what's coming.
"You're short,” Allison drawls, “but not nearly light enough for tosses. And, your skin... Vera, you know, Clearasil is available at Walgreens." The two cheerleaders share an almost-serious look and Carrie struggles to keep a straight face.
The asskisser won’t give up. The girl wants in. “No, no I don’t think you understand. Making this team means everything to me. I just need some practice and—”
Allison narrows her eyes. "Sweetie, consider Weight Watchers and, well…" She waves a manicured hand toward Vicky's temple. "Vera? These glasses... Contacts. Save your allowance, sweetheart."
Carrie flashes Allison an admiring glance, amazed at her capacity for pitch perfect cruelty. Carrie, however, feels the need to temper her friend’s edges, so she makes an effort at kindness. She touches Vicky’s — or was it Vera? — arm and tries for a little damage control. "Consider a less visible extracurricular. For now. Cheerleading is not your gig. Can you write? I know Mr. Piotrowski at the Chronicle is looking for writers."
Vicky’s eyes widen, a little shocked at the dismissal and nods, unable to defend herself. She finally steps aside.
"Allison, harsh. Even for you," Carrie laughs, and Allison just smiles and links their arms together.
“Natural born gift,” Allison shrugs, “don’t keep your prince waiting,” she says, gesturing upwards into the bleachers where Carrie finally spots Brody. She lifts her free hand and waves at him with her pompoms.
Before joining him, Carrie pauses, a flash of guilt seizing her stomach. She glances back at the insecure freshman in her shitty shoes and trying-too-hard outfit. "Gimme a sec, I’ll be right there," she tells Allison, extracting herself.
Carrie finds V… whatever-her-name near the wall, dejected. “Hey,” she tries, but the girl doesn’t answer. "You're just out your league. Next year, maybe, after you get in shape. I just don’t want you to embarrass yourself." Her tone is kind, firmly believing she's offering comfort. Vicky, on the verge of tears, turns and walks away, head down.
The deep male voice, dripping with contempt, cuts through Carrie’s efforts at social charity.
Carrie's head whips up so quickly she almost stumbles.
The boy — man, almost — leans against the nearby wall, alone, arms crossed. He has one leg bent with his black boot braced upon the wall. He meets her look, meaningfully, knowingly, before his eyes flicker back to the dancing mascot.
Startled, Carrie collects herself, and assumes a bemused expression. "I'm sorry, did you think I was talking to you?”
He glances down at her, distaste evident. "No. Why would you bother?"
Carrie looks him up and down, taking in the black jeans and metalhead-vintage Scorpions t-shirt.
Unnerved, Carrie’s free hand flicks through her hair and she shoots back, "I bother. I was being nice."
"You sure about that, Carrie? Or is it Cathy?" Carrie’s eyes narrow at the challenge. She looks more closely at this tall boy who is clearly channeling I-don't-give-a-fuck rebellion. She knows a worthy opponent when she sees one.
“She’ll get over it. Truth hurts.”
“I get that.”
“Get what exactly?”
“That crushing souls gives you a cheer-boner.”
“I didn’t crush her soul!”
“Pretty sure you need a soul to vote.” The boy tilts his head toward Victoria, who is brushing tears from her cheeks at the doorway to the gym.
Carrie's eyes follow his before her head rears back at him. "What the fuck is your problem, metalhead?" He smirks, eyes locking with hers. She was the first to flare and has lost the battle. They both know it.
She plays for time, dragging her gaze lazily, obviously, down the length of his body, eyes finally lingering on his chest. "No one asked you. Why are you here, anyway? Did you come down with a bad case of school spirit?"
He doesn’t even notice, far more interested in the antics of the tiger mascot, apparently, who is now doing push-ups to the rhythm of “Pump Up the Jam.” The boy-slash-man eventually lowers his gaze to hers and she looks up reluctantly, meeting his startling blue eyes. "Required attendance.” He cocks his head to indicate the admin staff at the door checking-off names. “Or I'd have fucked off half an hour ago. Go wiggle your ass for the masses, Cathy."
Speechless, Carrie laughs soundlessly, but has no retort so she turns abruptly and strides over to the foot of the bleachers where Allison is waiting.
"Who is that?" Carrie asks, she can’t help it. She’s impressed in spite of herself.
“I dunno, some foster kid. Transferred for his senior year. Who cares? Focus, Carrie. Everyone’s waiting for us.”
Carrie nods, tries to push the boy from her mind — and succeeds, as she finally ascends the bleachers and approaches Brody, smiling as he rises to greet her.
"Hey, babe,” Brody says, reaching out his hand to pull her toward him. “What was that about?”
“No one. A loser. Kiss me.” He obliges, and she relishes the attention, knowing that the entire student body can see her locking lips with the quarterback.
"It's your big day," he says, and they sit.
He's right, she thinks. I'm gonna win. I've fucking won. Carrie settles next to Brody, whose hand immediately travels high under her pleated skirt. Aggressive. "Brody, not now," she hisses, reaching for his wrist, but he stops, resting his palm at the top of her thigh, fingers pressing into her skin.
Carrie bites her lip and looks to the action on the floor. The band, the uniformed football team around her… Vicky — whose soul has evidently recovered, is approaching Rhonda, head of Glee Club; Carrie winces. Rhonda, if possible, is even bitchier than Allison.
She tries not to notice the tall, curly-haired blonde, clad in a Rammstein t-shirt, who has joined the metalhead against the back wall.
Wondering why she even gives a shit, Carrie looks away — and immediately regrets it, as her eyes land on Jessica, the first-chair flautist sitting mid-gym with the band. "She's staring, Brody." Brody glances down, disinterestedly, at Jessica, whom he’d dumped the month prior to date Carrie.
Carrie exhales, briefly ducking down to examine her hands in her lap, and then she turns back to Brody. "You know she loves you, right?"
Brody snorts. "She’ll get over it. She had her chance," he says, as his thumb deliberately traces her slit over her red bloomers. Point made, she gets it. Territory.
Carrie crosses her legs, attempting to ward him off, but her hand goes to his chest to compensate just the same. Brody laughs down at her. "Tease,” he accuses her in a low voice.
She shifts uncomfortably, averting her eyes. She mentally curses as she finds herself looking back at the far side of the gym, where the metalhead is still lounged easily against the wall. Hundreds of people in this fucking auditorium, the most popular guy in school at her side, and she can’t stop looking at this asshole.
And he knows it, too, the Scorpions guy. He returns her stare — she doesn’t know how long it lasts and she doesn’t like it, gets a little locked in the gaze. He’s clearly amused, but accusatory, too, and somehow… somehow she gets the impression that he couldn’t really give a fuck.
The band finally finishes playing, the mascot leaps back to his feet, and Carrie is jolted back into the moment.
Principal Lockhart, mic in hand, is flanked at either side by Fara, the student body president, and Coach Boyd. He looks dramatically at the paper in his hand.
"Go Tigers!" Principal Lockhart exclaims, and the audio immediately shrieks in a screeching pitch. There’s a collective wince, and Carrie’s not the only one covering her ears. Max, the head of the A.V. Club and much younger brother to Mr. Piotrowski, dashes out to to adjust wires and turn the knobs at the speakers. It’s only a moment before he gives an apologetic, frantic thumbs up.
Lockhart taps the microphone. “Are we good?” There’s no feedback this time, and his sigh of relief is audible. “As I was saying,” he continues, “way to go Tigers!” Appreciative cheers fill the gym. He clears his throat. “What a great year our young athletes have had, right?”
The crowd roars.
“Allow me to turn it over to one of the driving forces behind all of our successes. I’m sure you’d rather hear from her, anyway. Welcome, Fara Sherazi!”
Fara mouths a thank you to Principal Lockhart as she steps forward to take her place in the Washington Lee spotlight. Carrie’s mouth twists into a smile — in spite of what she is breathlessly awaiting, she adores Fara; even helped her with her hair, make-up and clothes when she ran for student body president, and is one of the nicest people she’d ever known.
“Hi everybody,” Fara grins, when the microphone has been adjusted to her height. “It’s great to see you all for the first rally of the year! Go Tigers!” She punches her fist into the air. “Principal Lockhart has invited me here today to announce our new cheerleading captain!”
Carrie chances a look at Brody, who smiles confidently back. She ducks her head, hiding behind her hair.
“Please join me in cheering for a girl who’s been cheering for you for two straight years—” Carrie inhales sharply at Fara’s words, feels her teeth biting into her bottom lip — “Carrie Anne Mathison!”
She leaps to her feet, grinning. Brody stands with her, bends down to kiss her chastely on the lips before allowing her the space to exit. “Told you,” he smirks, but Carrie can’t hear him, she’s rushing down to the floor.
“You’ve got this,” Fara says, when Carrie reaches her, and they embrace. “You’re gonna be amazing, I know it.”
“Anything to say, Carrie?” Lockhart is bending into the microphone.
Carrie whirls away from Fara and takes her rightful spot in front of the student body, the first junior in the history of the school to be made captain of the squad. She has a lot to say. She has a speech prepared, and she delivers it seriously, all feigned humility as she begins praising her school, and her teammates, to the high heavens. “We’re gonna win it!” she announces at the end, and then echoes Fara with a fist in the air. “Go Tigers!”
The rest of the rally passes in a blur, the stage cleared away to make room for the squad, and she grins as Allison runs to hug her. “I knew it!” Allison yells, over the crowd, but when she pulls away Carrie can see the the taint of bitterness in her smile.
She ignores it, turning her attention instead to the rest of her squad, leading them into place in front of the bleachers. Carrie assumes her spot in the center — Allison should have known, Carrie thinks, a little nastily, before they launch into their routine.
Her body launches easily through the movements, she feels fluid as she lets muscle memory take over. “U Can’t Touch This,” thankfully a recording this time, blares through the speakers.
Carrie nails her final back handspring and in spite of herself she finds herself seeking out, not her boyfriend, but the guy in the Scorpions shirt. He’s not paying attention, though, his head is tipped down toward his tall blonde companion.
She tosses her hair.
The football coach approaches the gym floor with the rest of the team, and Brody immediately slides a possessive arm around her. There’s a final, glorifying speech from the coach, and then the pep rally breaks.
She shrugs out from under his weight, but spins toward him, tilting her head up for a kiss. Brody reciprocates, and she feels his hand on her ass.
When she pulls back, she glances to Jessica’s empty seat, and then to the door. The metalhead is gone.
After a celebratory dinner with her squad and the football team, Carrie lets Brody drive her home. “Thanks,” she says, a little guarded, when he puts the car in park half a block away from her house. He leans across the console, giving her a sloppy kiss, his tongue jutting into her mouth.
“Mmm,” she intones, pulling away and discreetly bringing her thumb to the corner of her lips to wipe away his saliva. “Brody, I’ve gotta go in.”
"No you don’t,” he answers.
"Yeah,” she insists, “I do. I'm failing calculus. Dad is pissed, he got me a tutor, and I’m already late."
"Jesus, Carrie,” he groans. “C’mon, it's been a month. I’ve got needs."
"Brody..." Carrie swallows, looks warily down at his hand on her breast.
He softens. Manipulating. They're matched that way. He brings his hand up, palm cupping her face, his thumb brushing her lower lip. "All I want is a blowjob." Carrie jerks away from him, offended but not — it’s not the first time he’s asked for this, or the first time she’s put him off.
It is the first time she’s felt secure enough to say no outright, though, the first time she doesn’t attempt to placate him, the first time she doesn’t move to bring her hand to the bulge in his jeans.
"No,” she says flatly.
"No?" Brody sounds incredulous, is literally wide-eyed with indignance.
"No,” she repeats firmly, shifting to exit the car.
Her palm curls around the door handle and she pulls — the door opens a crack, and Brody’s hand shoots out, gripping the door handle to pull it closed as his other hand works at his zipper. “No!” she exclaims, protesting, struggling for leverage.
Suddenly, without warning, the passenger door flies open — from the outside.
"She said no,” she hears, a deep voice.
Brody releases her abruptly, jumpy. Always jumpy. Carrie swallows, twisting toward the door, reaching to get out.
She stops short when she recognizes him, her fucking savior, the asshole metalhead from the rally. “She said no, asshole,” he repeats. “Even I could fuckin’ hear it.”
Perplexed, clearly pissed, Brody glances from Carrie to the figure looming at the opened door who is leaning down from the roof. "Who the fuck are you?"
"Doesn’t matter. Go home. If she wanted to suck your dick, I’m pretty sure she’d be doing it already.” He reaches into the interior, offering his hand for Carrie to take.
She does, letting him guide her to her feet as he steps back. Her knees are a little shaky, and she braces herself on the door as she looks back at him. “Brody, go home," she says quietly.
“I’ll call you,” Brody huffs, reaching over to grasp the door handle. Carrie loses her balance as he jerks it shut, but the Scorpions guy catches her — of fucking course — and steadies her on her feet.
“My hero,” Carrie says drily, her sarcasm belying her actual feelings, and he just shrugs and lets her go, taking a step back to lean against the lamp post. She takes a deep breath, looks from the moon back to him. “Thank you,” she adds. “Brody’s… great, he can just be… thank you.”
He doesn’t say anything, just reaches into his back pocket to pull out a pack of Marlboro Reds. He shakes one out of the box and offers it to her.
“I don’t smoke. It’s disgusting.”
“Yeah, you do.”
“What the fuck? Are you stalking me?”
“No, Cathy, you and your fucking posse smoke behind the ravine every day. Kinda hard to miss.”
Her eyes flick to his hands. She wants one. Badly. “Not here. My parents could see us.”
She walks with him toward her house and around the back to a hidden corner of the backyard. He offers her the pack again and this time she takes it, gratefully. He lights his own and hands her the lighter, pointedly not lighting it for her.
“Why the lie?” he asks, exhaling smoke.
“I didn’t lie.”
“Your parents aren’t home.”
“How do you know that?” She asks, alarmed, suddenly aware that she doesn’t know him, anything about him, and for all she knows he’s a psychopath, a fucking metalhead out for the head cheerleader.
The Scorpions boy transfers his cigarette to his left hand as he sticks out his right. She folds her hand into his for the second time tonight, warily this time, but the corner of his mouth twitches upward into a sardonic smile.
“Peter Quinn. Your calculus tutor.”