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Coming to Terms

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To say that it was hot as hell outside probably would have been a vast understatement. It was hotter. Hotter than hell—or at least, that's what I liked to think. I fanned my face with my hand as I walked the familiar path from the asphalt parking lot to the football field with my kid sister, Sheryl, in tow. Well, if I was being honest, Sheryl was several paces ahead of me skipping toward the field, but that was just a minor detail. What really mattered was that we practically lived on the football field, even before Mama had left us. But now it was just Sheryl, Coach, and I. A broken family held together by one thing: football.

I didn't even want to think what would happen to our family if that game was no longer a part of our lives. You see, Daddy was the head coach of the Hammond High School football team—and they were pretty damn good, thanks to my daddy. Sheryl, was a spitfire at nine years old, helped Coach out with the team; but it was obvious that she lacked frequent interactions with a motherly figure. I tried my best—but that wasn't my job. I was only seventeen years old and on the football field, I preferred to observe—not wanting to get too caught up in the game, despite my harbored passion for it.

I was already made fun of enough simply for all the time I spent on the gridiron by both boys and girls. High school was rough enough as it is and I didn't need to make it any worse. I knew my classmates would think less of me if they knew I could throw a football just as well as most of the boys on the team—maybe even better. Well, there was one person who knew; but I had sworn him to secrecy when we were little and so far, he hadn't betrayed my secret…yet. Although, I wasn't sure how much longer that was going to last.

Sheryl started to run farther ahead of me onto the practice field while I sat down on the bench nearest to the shade. I was here because I had to be, not because I wanted to be…or at least, that's what I wanted people to think. If I was being completely honest, I was really looking forward to seeing the team win this year. We had a good team. They were going to win state, I just knew it. As I sat down on the bench I adjusted my blouse which was sticking to skin, it was so humid. Summers in Alexandria could be brutal.

I reached into my book bag and pulled out my copy of Pride and Prejudice before I began to fan myself with it. At least good literature was good for something, right? I'm just kidding. I'm a bit of a bookworm in between my tomboyish ways. Yet another reason for the girls to make fun of me. I haven't exactly been trained to be ladylike or a future homemaker. Coach ain't much of a lady and Mama ain't around. So, I've been teaching myself…fine, more like miserably failing at teaching myself. While my Mama may have abandoned us, she did have some influence over me and a love of literature was one of those things. But I would much rather read the book than fan myself with it. So I looked around me to see if there was anyone watching.

The coast looked clear, so I dug in my bag once more and pulled out the Hammond baseball cap Coach had given me for my birthday two years ago. I piled my long sandy-blonde hair on the top of my head before pulling the baseball cap over. I opened my book up to the page I had marked.

Pride and Prejudice was only my favorite books as cliché as that may sound. I tried to read it at least once every summer break since I was fourteen. There was just something about Elizabeth Bennett's relationship with Mr. Darcy that makes one's heart swoon. While I had never gone steady with anyone, I really was a romantic at heart. It's not that I didn't want to go steady with anyone, it's just that…well, Coach could be a bit intimidating.

I heard that Alan once was going to ask me to a dance, not even going steady or anything, just a dance; but whatever Coach told him convinced him not to. I tried talking to Coach about it, but he just denied anything ever happened. I still think Coach sees me as a little girl, not as a nearly grown woman who was probably going to leave him for college next year—to pursue some sort of degree that I was pretty sure would once again make me the odd-one-out in a man's world.I was going to be a senior in high school this year, not starting the third grade; but I suppose that's just daddies for you: overprotective.

I adjusted the brim of my baseball cap before I turned my attention back to my book. I was to the part where Mr. Bingley came back for Jane. And soon I'd be to my favorite part: Elizabeth and Darcy finally admitting their love for each other. Sometimes I wish a Mr. Darcy would swoop-in and find me, but then I got a reality-check and realized that there were no Mr. Darcy's in front of me, especially not on the gridiron. I turned the page when I was rudely interrupted.

"Hey there, Julie," Gerry Bertier greeted me.

I looked up to find him standing right in front of me. Shielding my eyes, I commented, "You're blocking my sun."

Gerry chuckled to himself and sat right beside me on the bench. I rolled my eyes and turned so that my back was to him. I tried to continue reading my book, but he obviously wasn't giving up. Instead of giving up, the obnoxious boy started to poke at my back until I turned around and glared at him. He just smiled. "What ya, readin'?"

"None of your beeswax, Bertier."

"C'mon, Juju don't be rude. I'm sure Coach won't like about hearin' 'bout you bein' rude to his best player."

"First of all, it's Julie. Ju—lee. Not Juju. Just because you heard my kid sister calls me that, doesn't mean you get to. Second, the only way Coach would find out is if you told him. Thirdly, if you really think you're his best player, you've got another thing coming, Bertier. You hardly rank in Daddy's top ten."

I turned my back toward him once more. He remained silent for a moment as I hoped he didn't see through my blatant lie. Gerry Bertier was by far Coach's best player, but there was no way in hell I was going to give him the satisfaction of thinking I thought so. Gerry Bertier was probably the most self-centered, egotistical, arrogant boy on the team. Well, besides Ray, but Gerry was in a close second.

It was funny because Gerry and I were friends when we were younger. We both had a parent walk out on us, giving us something to bond over. He used to come over to the house quite a bit. Most folks thought he was working on his game with Coach, which was partly true; but he also used to come over to play with me, but when we got to high school things changed. He became the popular, well-liked football player while our friendship was left trailing in his dust. Not to mention that his girlfriend was probably the person who hated me most. He claimed he was just in a hard place with Emma, but really he should just man-up and not let her dominate his life. But then again, going steady with someone meant that you had certain hold on someone else and sometimes stooped to their level of pettiness.

"You stayin' for practice?" Gerry asked breaking the silence.

"You already know the answer to that," I retorted.

"Hey, I'm tryin' to be nice here."

"What would your girlfriend think of you bein' nice." Gerry didn't answer. I turned my head to look back at him, as he appeared deep in thought, but I just shook my head at him. "That's what I thought."

I roughly stood up, not even noticing my book fall from my lap. I just wanted to get away from that boy who infuriated me. I stormed away from the immature football player across the field toward the table where my sister was filling up cups of water for the team. Coach was over there too, talking with her as she worked. I only hoped he didn't see me stomping away from Gerry, otherwise, I was in for some trouble. But it's not like housework was much of a punishment. I already was doing most of the housework: cooking, cleaning, laundry, and babysitting; but Coach's silence and disappointed looks were enough to drive one mad.

I was almost to the table when I hear Gerry Bertier calling my name from behind me. I groaned before I turned around to see him hurtling toward me, with my book in his hand. I stop and fold one arm across my chest while I hold the other one out for him to place the book in.

"You forgot this," he said.

"I can see that," I retorted holding my hand out to take it back. "Give it here."

"Pride and Prejudice; what's it about?"

"Something you and your tiny brain can never possibly begin to understand." I attempted to snatch the book from his hand, but he then held it above my head. I couldn't reach the thing. I jumped a few times to get it, but he then just raised it higher. So, I folded my arms across my chest and glared at him. He smiled at me before he handed the book back, saying that he was just teasing. I gave him a fake smile before I turned around on my heel and walked toward my little sister, Sheryl.

"You're welcome!" Gerry called after me. I raised my hand in the air to acknowledge his response. If my sister and Coach hadn't been there, I would've considered being very unladylike and flipped him the bird; but I refrained. I walked over to the table and took one of the paper cups filled with water and drank it quickly. Sheryl yanked at my arm causing the paper cup to go flying to the grass.

"Hey! That's for the team," Sheryl complained.

"I'm close enough to being part of the team," I responded. Sheryl gave me a pointed look. She had near perfected that look and no doubt she had learned it from me.

"You know what I mean."

"Do I? Maybe I have amnesia or something."

"You'd better be nicer to me or I'll tell Coach you was arguin' with Gerry Bertier again." Damn, she was good. For being nine, she was already becoming a professional at manipulation. But I really didn't want to get in trouble again. I was still in trouble from two practices ago for arguing with Gerry in front of Coach. For once I just wanted to be on Coach's good side. For once I wanted to show him that I was capable of some maturity and that there was a reason he depended on me as much as he did. It was just that everything Bertier did made my blood boil. I leaned close to my sister's ear.

"What do you want?"

"Nothing now, but you'll know when I do."

"Fine." Coach walked up to us and wrapped his arm around my shoulders.

"Was that Gerry bringing you your book back?" Coach asked. I nodded my head in response, not really wanting to voice the words. "Nice boy; he's a real nice boy."

I bit my tongue as Sheryl looked over to me with a smirk on her face. She's had it in her mind for years that Gerry and I were gonna wind up married someday. And the only way that would happen would be if hell froze over and he was the only man left on the planet…and even then it was still a slim chance. Coach patted my back before he walked away toward the field where his football players were beginning to huddle around the fifty-yard line. I looked back to my sister and she shook her head.

"There's no way this is gonna last," Sheryl said.

"You just do your part and keep your mouth shut," I responded.

"It's not me you need to worry about." I ruffled my little sister's hair to which she responded by pushing me away. So I wrapped my arms around her, hugging her from behind.

"Juju, stop. I'm tryin' to watch."

"They just started. I doubt anything interesting will happen anytime soon."

"Let. Go." I released my sister and placed a kiss on the top of her head before I told her to get a drink. In this heat, one had to drink plenty of water. "You ain't my mom."

"Good as." Sheryl rolled her eyes as she plopped herself in front of the water table to watch the practice. I sat on the grass too, but I turned my back to the practice and opened my book again.

"C'mon Kurt, don't let Ray back you down like that!"

"I'm trying to read," I hissed at her. She turned around and stuck her tongue out at me before she went back to watching the team practice.

"You're twice his size!"

"Sheryl!"

"Aargh, what are they doing?" I turned around to see Gerry sack Alan. As much as I loathed, Gerry, he was going to lead this team to victory this year. "If they keep playing like that, we'll lose every game!"

"I didn't think that was so bad."

"Shows what you know."

"Hey, I've been on a football field since before you were born."

"I thought you didn't care about football."

"I—I don't. I just happen to know about it."

"Mhmm, right, you keep telling yourself that."

I shook my head and tucked a tendril of hair behind my ear. Little sisters could be so annoying sometimes. But then again, it wasn't easy playing mom to someone who was only supposed to be your sister. I never really knew what my role was as far as Sheryl was concerned. Was I supposed to suck-it-up and act like the mother? Or was it a moment when playing the annoyed older sister was appropriate? This time, I just let the conversation drop. There was no use in getting her all riled-up. I sighed and reached over to ruffle Sheryl's hair when she knocked my hand away and pointed off in the distance.

One of the senior boys who wasn't out for the football team, but was still popular with the guys came running down the field. He was screaming at the top of his lungs for the other boys to get down to the store. Something was happening, but after that, the only words I could make out were colored and shot. My heart sank and I instinctively reached for Sheryl's arm. This wasn't good. A colored kid had recently been shot not too long ago and now the town was up in arms, especially with the forced integration they were planning. Everyone and everything was tense in Alexandria. To be honest, it was all somewhat terrifying and I wasn't sure how I was supposed to feel about the situation. I just wanted to make it out of high school alive.

I could see Coach tense up as I held on tight to a struggling Sheryl. He started yelling something at the boys; but without even listening to a word Coach was saying, the boys took off in a sprint headed for downtown. I was somewhat thankful when Coach Herb came running for us. He opened his arms for Sheryl to run into. He swiftly picked her up with one arm and wrapped his other arm around me. I tried to watch the boys, but Coach Herb told me to keep my head down until we got to the school.

After one last glance at the boys who were becoming small black dots, I lowered my head and focused my eyes on the ground. Coach Herb opened the door into the school for me, still holding onto Sheryl before he led us into Coach's office. I opened the door and stopped suddenly in my tracks, causing Sheryl, whom Coach Herb had let down, to run into my backside. She went crashing down to the floor, but I stayed there as if I were frozen in place. I definitely wasn't expecting someone to be standing in my father's office. And I especially wasn't expecting to be seeing him.

Chapter Text

I couldn't believe it. I slowly blinked as I stared at the colored man standing in front of me with my mouth gaping. I knew it wasn't proper manners to do so, but I really couldn't help it. Especially give the ruckus going on downtown at that very moment.

The man was sharply dressed in a suit coat and necktie as he tossed a football in his hands out of pure boredom. Now normally, I wouldn't act so out-of-sorts, but the problem was that this man was standing at my daddy's desk playing with our championship ball from last year. Of course, the man probably didn't know the value of the object. How could he? Although it did raise the question, who in his right mind would play with someone else's belongings? I was certainly raised better than to do that.

When Sheryl finally managed to stand on her feet once again, she tried to push me toward him. Thankfully, I was bigger. I stood my ground and didn't budge. She groaned before she side-stepped me and looked right at the man before us. "Who are you?" Sheryl blurted.

"Sheryl, that's rude," I reprimanded her, flicking her behind the ear.

She groaned and held her hand up to her ear before looking at me with her eyes narrowed. "Do you know who he is?"

"You know I don't." I rolled my eyes before I continued. "I've never even seen him before."

My younger sister folded her arms across her chest. "Then are you gonna ask who he is or not?"

"Now, if you'd just give me a minute to talk to him, maybe I'd be able to." Younger sisters could be so annoying sometimes. I then looked at the man in front of my daddy's desk. The man nodded his head toward us before he tossed the football once more in his hands. It was clear he had been watching the exchange between Sheryl and myself. I faked another smile.

I then pulled Sheryl directly in front of me and placed my hands on her shoulders. I dug my fingernails into her shoulders to keep her from going anywhere. She yelped in pain under my grasp, trying to swat my hands away, but I moved my grip from holding tightly onto her shoulders to yanking on the back of her overalls. Sheryl still tried to fight to get away from me, but this time she was trapped. She could only get a few inches before being pulled back toward me.

The man in front of us looked at us with an amused expression on his face, as if the scene was quite familiar to him. Since he wasn't going to say anything, I reasoned that I probably should. "I'm sorry for my sister's lack of manners," I apologized. "We're working on them."

"She's young yet," the man spoke as he shrugged his shoulders. "I got a girl about her age."

"If you don't mind me asking, who are you?" I was trying my best to maintain my composure, but at the same time, I was curious enough to want to know who he was.

The man in front of me moved to stretch his hand forward like he was thinking about extending it forward. Instead, he brought it to his head and scratched behind his ear. He then responded, "I'm Herman Boone, the new assistant coach. And you two young ladies might be?"

I bit my bottom lip before I responded. "I'm Julie and this is Sheryl." I pointed nodded down toward my sister before looking at him with a raised eyebrow. "And you're at my daddy's desk."

The man opened his mouth to speak before he simply nodded his head. He set the football down back on Daddy's desk and then took a small step away from it. "Nice to meet you, Julie and Sheryl."

"Wish I could say the same."

He must have caught onto my sarcasm, but wasn't sure if that was how I actually had responded because his brow furrowed as he questioned,"Excuse me?"

But I never responded to him. I looked beyond him and out the window. Through the blinds, I could see my daddy's truck pulling back into the parking lot. As much as this man standing in my daddy's office bothered me, I was quite curious to see what had taken place. Right now Alexandria drama seemed a little more interesting than a man who was threatening to change a stupid boys' football program.

I slowly inched backward, "Now, if you'll please excuse me, there's something I need to be checking into."

"No there's not," Sheryl said bluntly.

"Yes, there is," I said through gritted teeth before I faked a cough. "I got a tickle in my throat. I-I need a drink of water." I pulled Sheryl by her overalls out of the office, leaving the new coach standing alone in my daddy's office. I released my sister as we began to walk down the hallway.

She folded her arms childishly across her chest as we walked. "I know you're not thirsty," she muttered.

"You're right, I lied. But Coach is back and I wanna know what happened. Don't you?"

Sheryl's interest piqued as she ran in front of me as I walked to meet Coach. Once outside, we found Coach Tyrell waiting by the door that Coach was going to walk through. He tried to tell us to go back to Coach's office, but the door flung open before he could enforce what he was telling us to do.

Coach walked through the door with Alan, Gerry, Ray, and John. Alan noticed me standing there. He smiled and nodded his head at me. John and Ray simply nodded their heads, while Gerry ignored me. It was as if he only noticed me when no one was around. Although, right now he was just too pissed off to even notice me.

Sheryl and I ran to catch up with Coach, who was followed by Coach Tyrell and the boys. Not watching where I was going, I ran into Gerry, quite literally. He glanced over at me but didn't say anything as Coach Tyrell started talking to him while I passed him to walk next to my father.

"Gerry, son, your heart's in the right place, but you ought to know better than to embarrass the coach like that," Coach Tyrell spoke. I looked back at Gerry, but his face was like stone. He scowled for a moment before he began to talk.

"Hell, why don't you just kick them all off the team?" Gerry sneered. "I don't want to play with any of those black animals."

Gerry finished his sentence as we rounded the corner into Coach's office, only to find the man who had been waiting for Coach, still there. This man who claimed to be the new assistant coach was still standing there holding that damnfootball, , he must have picked back up.

The man must have heard Bertier because he was looking right at our group in the doorway. Everyone's eyes widened at the sight of him, well everyone except for Sheryl and me. Seeing as we had already met the man.

"Nice one, Bertier," I hissed.

"Shut it, Julie," Gerry scoffed.

Daddy stood the closest to the stranger in the office, while Coach Tyrell stood back a few steps with his arms folded across his chest. He was clearly trying to intimidate the man. "Who are you?" Coach Tyrell blurted.

"As I already told the young ladies, I'm Herman Boone. I'm the new assistant coach," the man spoke.

Daddy, Coach Tyrell, and the boys looked at myself and Sheryl. I grinned sheepishly as Daddy shook his head. "Julie, you and your sister go for a little walk," Coach said. I stood there and waited for him to dismiss the boys, but he didn't. Coach pushed Sheryl over to me.

My brown furrowed. "What about them?" I asked as I nodded to the boys.

Coach folded his arms across his chest. He meant business. "You're my daughter and that was an order."

While I probably shouldn't have continued to defy him, I didn't think it was fair that the boys would be allowed to stay but I had to leave. So, I pointed that out. "Fine we'll go, but what about them?"

Coach's jaw jutted. He wasn't pleased with my response. "You worry about you and your sister and do as you're told."

I rolled my eyes childishly and groaned, "This is completely unfair."

Coach shot me a look and I knew that was my last cue to take Sheryl and leave without facing repercussions. Hell, I was probably already facing them for acting disrespectfully in front of a complete stranger. But it wasn't fair that the boys got to stay in there and I wanted to make sure that he realized that. The women's suffrage movement hadn't been for nothing, not that he cared.

Sheryl and I walked out of the office and into the hallway. I leaned up against the locker closest to the door, knocking my head backward onto it. Sheryl leaned against the locker across the hallway from me with the same glum expression on her face.

I wanted to sneak back and figure out what was going on. But I couldn't do it if Sheryl was going to tattle on me. Plausible deniability was my best option. "Why don't you go for a walk or something," I suggested.

She raised an eyebrow at me. "I'm not going if you're not," Sheryl sassed.

I narrowed my eyes at her. "Well, you're younger and should do as you're told."

"So should you."

Damnit. She had me there. I groaned, "Well it's not fair that he lets them boys be in there. I'm older than Alan and he gets to be in there."

"Coach isn't gonna be happy when he finds out you're listening."

.

"You're annoying, you know that?"

"So are you. But I'm nine, what's your excuse?"

"Fine, how 'bout this: we both stay here and listen and no one does any tattling? Deal?" I held my hand out.

Sheryl held her hand out and we both shook the air. "Deal."

"Good, now get over here and be quiet." I motioned for her to come to my side of the hallway quick.

Sheryl quickly tiptoed across the hallway and we both inched closer to the office door. She stood the closest and I stood behind her, leaning slightly over her trying to hear what they were saying in there. I poked my head around the corner to see into the office, but the colored man noticed me and raised his eyebrows at me. I quickly pulled my head back; there wasn't much of a prayer to get a good look in there. We were stuck just with listening.

"I won a couple of titles down in North Carolina," the new coach stated.

"That's double "A" ball," Coach Tyrell scoffed. "This here's Virginia. We play triple "A" ball."

"What an opportunity for me then…" the new coach started before pausing for a moment. "To learn…from the best."

"Well, I think that's enough for today," Coach said. "I'm sure we'll be in touch."

I could tell that Coach was trying to dismiss the man as civilly as he could, but I could tell from his tone that he was none too happy about the last part. I heard the man thank Coach for allowing him a moment of his time before his footsteps could be heard coming closer toward them. I quickly pulled Sheryl away from the corner and slid to the floor.

"Act natural," I hissed at Sheryl.

Sheryl nodded and followed my direction as she slid to the floor. I then slid her across the tile floor so that she sat in between my legs as I began to braid her hair which was already pulled back in a ponytail. The colored coach walked out and looked down both directions of the hallway before he looked down to Sheryl and me on the floor.

I pretended not to notice and focus on Sheryl's unruly hair while my younger sister sat with her head in her hands while I played with her hair. Sheryl looked up at the man and he nodded his head. "Your secret is safe with me ladies," the man stated.

"What secret?" Sheryl asked innocently.

"Don't know what you're talking 'bout, sir. I've been sittin' here fixin' my sister's hair," I added.

"You girls may be able to fool your daddy with that act, but you can't fool me," the man said.

"What are you gonna do about it?" I asked.

The man shook his head. I looked up to him and nodded my head. He pretended to have a hat on his head to tip forward before he walked down the hallway, headed straight for the door. Sheryl and I still continued to sit on the floor while I played with her hair. "That was close," I said.

"Yeah because you opened your big, fat mouth," she said.

"He already knew. He saw me trying to look in the office. What was I supposed to do, lie?"

"You don't seem to have a problem lyin' to Coach."

"I don't lie to Coach..." I began. Sheryl turned around and gave me a pointed look. "Much. I don't lie much."

"You still lie to him."

"A little white lie never hurt nobody," I said as I tugged a little extra hard at Sheryl's hair for effect.

Her hand flew back to her hair, but I moved it out of the way. "Ouch, that hurt."

"You should try brushing your hair."

Sheryl shot me a pointed look. "I brushed it this morning."

But I knew she was bluffing. I had watched her roll out of bed, head downstairs for breakfast, and then go right out the door. "Now who's the one lyin'?"

"Fine, I brushed it last night," Sheryl said wincing in pain. "Besides, I thought you said a little white lie never hurt nobody."

"Looks like I lied," I chuckled, but my sister didn't. She just groaned.

But the more I thought about it, Sheryl did have a point. I probably lied to Coach more than I should have, but what else did he expect? After all, I was still partially my Mama's daughter despite the lack of her presence in my life.

The boys began to walk out of the office, so I stood up to follow them to try and get some more information out of them. Well, by them I was going to get it out of Alan. He always had a soft spot for me and I could at least stand him. "Alan," I called as I jogged after him.

Alan stopped and looked back, but so did Gerry who held back Ray from walking any farther by placing his hand on his friend's chest. I tried to ignore Gerry's looks as I jogged up to Alan while Gerry stood only a few feet away with Ray.

"Hey Julie," Alan smiled.

"I was wonderin' if you could tell me what happened in there," I said sweetly.

"Well, Coach…"

"He won't find out that I know. And if he does, I'll just tell him Bertier told me."

I looked over to Bertier and raised my eyebrows, daring him to challenge me. He didn't say anything, but instead he walked over to where Alan and I stood in the hallway. Alan looked at us and even he could easily see the tension between Gerry and me. Alan placed his hands up in defense as he looked between Gerry and me. "I don't wanna cause any trouble," Alan stated.

"I promise you that any trouble won't be started because of you," I said glaring at Gerry who just shook his head.

"Well, I…" Alan fumbled for words.

"You wanna know what happened?" Gerry questioned, taking a step closer toward me and towering over me. He was trying to intimidate me. But I held my ground.

"Not from you," I scoffed.

"Well, I'll tell you what's not going to happen. I ain't gonna be playin' for no Coach Coon." Gerry looked rather angry. He had over a foot in height on me, but I was not going to be intimidated by him. Especially now that he was trying to make a show in front of Alan and Ray. He could be nice and sweet to me with only my father and sister present but throw anyone else in the mix and Gerry Bertier became an ass.

"You can play the tough guy Bertier, but just remember that I know things you don't want gettin' out," I hissed.

I knew I had probably just delivered a low punch to him, but I was sick and tired of his games. He quickly backed away and bit his bottom lip. He immediately knew what I was referring to. I had seen him cry so many times that I probably couldn't even count them all. Having his football teammates knowing that he was somewhat in touch with his emotional side could be easily embarrassing.

"My mama taught me right, so I'm not gonna get into this with you and simply walk away," Gerry said.

"A move you've perfected," I retorted.

"Julie Elizabeth Yoast," Coach shouted.

I groaned and threw my head back as I could hear my father stomping toward me. I was in trouble. He probably hadn't even heard the entire conversation. Probably only the bits where I had been nasty to Bertier. Through narrowed eyes, I looked at Bertier who was turning away attempting to hide the smile on his face. I then turned my head to see my father standing in between Alan and me with his arms folded across his chest and a stern look on his face.

"Apologize," Coach said sternly.

I looked at him and I could tell that he meant business. If I wanted any life outside of chores and going to football practices, I had to do as he said; and even then it wasn't guaranteed.

"Sorry," I muttered in Gerry's direction.

"Julie Elizabeth you know how to speak properly," Coach reprimanded.

"It's fine, Coach," Gerry said.

"No, it's not Gerry. Go on, Julie."

I folded my arms across my chest. I knew that there was no way of getting out of this unless I just grit my teeth and did it. So, I did. "I'm sorry, Bertier," I apologized once more through gritted teeth.

Coach shook his head and looked at me disappointedly. "Julie go wait in the truck with Sheryl while the boys and I carry some boxes out."

"Yes, Coach."

I looked for my sister and we walked out of the school to Coach's truck where I would soon be receiving my punishment for sassing Gerry Bertier. I don't know what it was about that boy, but something about him got me all riled up and I really needed to stop letting Gerry Bertier get the better of me.

Chapter Text

By the next day, I stood at the stove stirring a pot of mac & cheese for lunch. Personally, I thought it was too hot to make mac & cheese, but Sheryl had asked and so I obliged. I would have been more than satisfied with just a sandwich, but my maternal instincts toward my sister won me over. And what was mac & cheese without hot dogs sliced up and mixed in? It's about as gourmet as my cooking gets. I turned the burner that was cooking the hot dogs off before I went to strain the noodles.

It was almost time to eat. I glanced at the table and rolled my eyes. I had told Sheryl to set it when I started cooking and it still hadn't been done. "Sheryl!" I called dumping the noodles into the colander. "Get your little buns in here and set the table." She didn't respond, so I hollered, "Now!"

"Geez, I was coming," Sheryl groaned as she walked into the kitchen a few seconds later as I dumped the ingredients for the mac & cheese into the pot.

I glanced at her over my shoulder as she wiped her hands on her overalls. She reached for the upper cupboard door where we kept the plates, but I swatted at her hand and pointed to the sink. "Wash your hands first. Daddy ain't gonna wanna eat on plates touched by your grubby hands."

Sheryl looked down at her hands and frowned. "They ain't grubby."

"Were you playing outside?" I asked her with my hands on my hips.

She rested her hands on her eyebrows and arched an eyebrow at me. "Yeah," she responded as if the answer was obvious. She was gonna be trouble some day, but I had to stay strong. Sheryl was my responsibility.

So, I didn't back down. "And have you washed them since you got inside?"

"No," she muttered, knowing full-well that I had her there and that I was gonna win this one.

I smiled. "Then they're grubby. Wash 'em and then set the table."

Reluctantly and grumbling under her breath the entire time, Sheryl did as she was told. When she wasn't looking, I breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't easy playing mother to your sister. I started slicing up the hot dogs as Sheryl set the table before I mixed them in with the mac & cheese.

"Is there anything for dessert?" Sheryl asked.

I looked back to find her leaning against the kitchen peninsula and behind her, the table was set. I then nodded my head toward the refrigerator. "I made Jell-O," I responded.

Her expression soured for a moment. "Did you mess it up this time?" she asked.

After rolling my eyes, I said, "I followed the directions." Which was true, but I also thought I followed the directions the last time.

"Sure, you did."

"I did," I quickly retorted back at her, despite knowing that it probably wasn't the best idea to argue with a ten-year-old. Thankfully, Daddy chose that time to walk into the room, which shut both of us up.

"Smells good," he said offering me a smile. I smiled back at him. I knew he was grateful that I had slowly taken over the cooking responsibilities because, despite my poor cooking skills, he was even worse. To be fair though, I was pretty sure I received a few more cooking lessons than he had.

Daddy sat down at the table and looked at my sister. "Sheryl, why don't you give your sister a hand."

Before Sheryl could say something about already having helped me, I said, "I got it. Just gotta bring the food over to the table." He nodded his head and gestured for Sheryl to sit down as I dumped the macaroni, cheese, and hot dog concoction into a serving dish. Honestly, I would have sooner preferred just to set a hot pad on the table and then set the pot on that because it would mean fewer dishes, I knew that it wasn't the proper way to do things.

Once the macaronidish, , the store-bought rolls, and a pitcher of lemonade were on the table, I sat down to eat with my family. Daddy said grace and then Sheryl quickly scooped herself some macaroni. I said a silent prayer hoping that I hadn't messed the dish up. But I breathed a sigh of relief when my sister took a second bite without commenting on the first. I then dished myself some food and began to eat.

We were almost finished with lunch when the doorbell rang. Daddy told Sheryl to go answer the door and she did as she was told. A few moments later a man from the school board followed Sheryl inside. "I apologize for the interruption," the man said.

"Why don't you join us, Jim," Daddy said gesturing to the open seat. "Julie makes a mean mac & cheese that'll make her future husband a happy man someday" He gave me a quick wink and I felt my face flush. I knew he was just trying to be nice and compliment me, but it wasn't that good.

The man smiled at me and nodded. "I wish I could, but I told Helen I'd be back for lunch."

Daddy softly smiled. "So, what can I do for you, Jim?" he asked.

Jim shifted rather uncomfortably. "Perhaps we should discuss this in your office." It was obvious that whatever he wanted to tell Daddy, he didn't want to do in front of Sheryl and me. But Daddy figured that out too.

"Anything you need to tell me you can say in front of my girls," Daddy said folding his arms across his chest. "Besides, they're just gonna listen in and find out anyway." Sheryl and I looked at each other rather sheepishly, but we both knew it was the truth.

Jim slowly exhaled a breath he must've been holding onto. "Then why don't we do this outside. I don't wanna spoil your meal." It was obvious that whatever Jim had to tell us, he didn't look happy about it, meaning that it couldn't possibly be good news.

I looked at Daddy. He nodded. "Girls, why don't we head outside for some fresh air."

It seemed like an odd thing to do, but I could tell that Daddy was trying to make this easier on Jim. Whatever it was. The only thing I could tell was that it was going to be bad. Thoughts raced through my mind as I followed Sheryl through the patio door. I tried to figure out what he could possibly need to tell us. But my predictions were nowhere close to the news he actually delivered to us.

"There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just gonna come out with it Bill," Jim said shoving his hands in his pants pockets. "The school board held an emergency meeting this morning and it was decided that that negro, Herman Boone is gonna be the head coach at T.C."

The news felt like someone punched me in the stomach. Daddy was supposed to be the head coach. He had earned that title. He had worked hard and now just to have it taken away from him, it seemed wrong. Just plain wrong. While I couldn't hide my dismay, I kept my thoughts to myself, unlike my sister.

"It's not fair!" Sheryl shouted as my father absently tried to hold onto her, still processing Jim's words. "It's not fair! My daddy's head coach! This is gonna be his Hall-of-Fame year!"

I wished I could react the way Sheryl was, but I was old enough to know better.

Jim tried to plead with Sheryl. "Now one is trying to take away your daddy's future in the hall."

But Sheryl continued as she started to fight against the grip my father held on her shoulder. "You can't just walk in here and take away my daddy's job."

"That's enough, Sheryl," Daddy said rather quietly the first time. But when she wouldn't listen, his voice became stern as he repeated himself. "That's enough, Sheryl." He gave a firm tug on her overalls, which made her quiet down and instead, she started to silently sulk.

I stood there, still trying to process it all. Jim and Daddy continued to speak, but I wasn't listening to them. I couldn't focus on their conversation because my own thoughts were drowning them out. Just when things finally seemed to be going good for us, the rug was slipped out from beneath us again. We had mostly recovered from Mama leaving us and now, here we were facing another challenge. My first thought was to curse God for forsaking us, but I knew that wasn't right. At least not from what I had learned at church on Sunday mornings.

Daddy rested a hand on my shoulder and I looked at him, trying to hold back my tears. I could tell that he knew what I was thinking. Probably, because he was thinking it too. I sniffled and then said, "How 'bout that Jell-O?" It seemed stupid, but I had to say something otherwise I would just continue to dwell on what I couldn't change.

Daddy seemed to like my idea, so he ushered Sheryl and myself inside as Jim walked back to his car and left us to deal with the aftermath. Surprisingly, we ate our Jell-O in silence. Silence rarely happened at our dinner table. The last time I remembered it being so quiet was just after Mama left us. But we all ate our Jell-O, which turned out just fine this time.

An hour later, the phone rang. I answered the phone. It was a school calling to make Daddy an offer. Bad news sure travels fast around here. Daddy took the phone from me and talked with the man on the other line while I cleaned the dishes and straightened up the mess I had made in the kitchen. It was supposed to be Sheryl's job to do the dishes, but I needed something mindless to do, to keep my mind off things.

By eight o'clock that night, the phone had rung ten more times with schools calling to make Daddy offers. While it was comforting to know that schools were wanting Daddy to work for them, I wasn't sure I was ready to leave Alexandria. This was home. But if I was being honest, I wanted to stay just in case my mama ever came looking for us then she would know exactly where to find us. Despite knowing that would never happen, it was a childish longing of mine.

I was knocked out of my reverie when the doorbell rang. When Sheryl didn't yell got it, I walked over to the door. Who could possibly be coming to visit us at this hour? Sometimes, one of the guys from the football team would show up, so I just assumed it was one of them. I certainly wasn't expecting to see Herman Boone on the other side of that door. But that is who stood in front of me.

"Good evening," he greeted me. "It's Julie, right?"

I was sure my expression was gobsmacked, so I just curtly nodded my head. But before I could say anything, Sheryl appeared at my side with a scowl on her face and her arms folded across her chest. "What do you want?" she snarled.

Coach Boone pursed his lips for a moment before he said, "Is Coach Yoast here?"

Sheryl responded before I could. She was quick like that. "We're busy...interviewing for head coaching jobs. Gotten 11 offers already and certainly no time for you." Knowing how rude she sounded, I flicked my sister's ear. "Ouch," she hissed before looking up at me. "It's the truth."

"It don't mean now's the time to go running your mouth," I hissed back at her.

"Girls, I can take it from here," Daddy said approaching the door. Sheryl and I looked back at him and hung our heads. Daddy looked at Coach Boone and nodded his head. "Well, come on in. I've got an office out back."

Coach Boone looked at Sheryl and I before he took a step forward. "Excuse me," he said as he passed between us and followed Daddy into the house. They were headed back for the patio doors and then out into the barn in the back which was Daddy's office.

Sheryl and I waited a few seconds before we looked at each other. "Let's go," I whispered to her, nodding my head outside. "If we go out the front and sneak around the side he won't see us coming."

"I thought you were trying to be all mature now," Sheryl said with her arms folded across her chest, glaring at me.

I rolled my eyes. "Do you wanna know what they're talking about or not? Besides, Daddy probably already knows we're gonna listen in any way. He said as much earlier."

Sheryl smiled and shook her head. "Who are you and what have you done with my sister?"

I couldn't think of a great comeback, so I just muttered, "Shut up." And then we quietly escaped out the front door. We rounded our way around the house and dove into the bushes beneath Daddy's open office window. Clearly, we had never done anything like this before. I motioned for Sheryl to be quiet as I put a finger up to my mouth. She just nodded as we listened in on Daddy and Coach Boone's conversation from the bushes.

Coach Boone's voice carried through the open window, "Look, I can't even spell diplomacy and I'm sorry about the way things went down, but make no mistake, I am qualified to be this school's head coach."

Sheryl and I couldn't help but look at each other. We both rolled our eyes and waited for Daddy to respond. "Sure. You've been in, what, 4 or 5 programs in the past 10 years?" Daddy asked.

"With 4 or 5 championships," Coach Boone argued back.

There was a moment of silence between them. I almost wondered if it was the end of their conversation, but Daddy added, " This isn't about me. I'm worried about my boys." I could see where that would matter. Those boys had worked very hard to get to where they were. Even Gerry Bertier, whom I couldn't stand, didn't deserve this.

Coach Boone scoffed. "Well, I ain't gonna cook 'em and eat 'em. The best player will play. Color won't matter."

Daddy replied, "From the looks of our little situation we got us here, I'd say it's about all that does."

I sighed. I agreed with him. Don't get me wrong, I didn't think I was better than them, but I didn't think it was fair how my daddy's job was taken right out from underneath him.

Coach Boone sighed. "Yeah, you're right. We're in a tough spot., Coach. You. Me. The whole city. But I think that it would go a long way to smooth things over if you would stay, work on the staff, be a defensive coordinator, assistant head coach."

My eyes widened. He wanted Daddy to work with him?

But Daddy was thinking the same thing. "Work under you?" Daddy asked.

"If that's the way you see it," Coach Boone responded.

I quickly clamped my hand around Sheryl's mouth. I knew she was going to have something to say and I didn't want her big mouth giving us away. I was surprised when she didn't fight me. Instead, we both sat there and listened for what Daddy was gonna say next.

"Good night, Coach," he said and I knew the conversation was over. Daddy didn't want to say any more on the matter.

Things went silent and I removed my hand from Sheryl's mouth. "Who does he think he is? Coach ain't gonna work under him. No way," she whispered. I nodded my head as I heard the door to the barn swing shut. I could feel Sheryl wanting to move away, but I wrapped my arms around her overalls to keep her back.

Through the bushes in the dim light, I could see Coach Boone come to a stop. He stood there for a moment with his back to us. "Good night, girls," Coach Boone's said.

Sheryl and I looked at each other in shock as the man started to walk away down the gravel path. How did he do that? How did he know we were there? My sister and I saved these questions until after Coach Boone had disappeared and we ran back to the house, trying not to get caught by Daddy. But as we journeyed across the lawn, we couldn't figure out answers to any of our questions. Although Sheryl was quick to believe that the man had eyes on the back of his head. I knew better.

Once we were in the house, I shooed Sheryl upstairs to get ready for bed. I followed her upstairs, not wanting a run-in with my father tonight. Sheryl went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and I went to my room and closed the door behind me. I flung myself onto my bed, the springs of the bed groaning beneath my weight. It was funny how much things could change in a day.

But this wasn't the first life-changing day of my life. I think what scared me most was how it resembled the day Mama left and I wasn't sure how long it would take for me to find normal again. I rolled onto my back and glanced upward at the ceiling. I said a silent prayer, hoping that a miracle would happen because I couldn't think of any other way to fix what had just happened.

Author's Note: So there's that. haha. I'd just like to thank that anon on Tumblr for asking about this story. It's what got me going! :)