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Friday Night Lights

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“And that ends the first half folks, with the score Dripping Springs Marauders - 17, Leander Lions - 7. Will all participants for the Homecoming Court please meet on the sidelines by the 50 yard line.”

The members of the Dripping Springs football team were all smiles as they ran off to the locker rooms, enjoying being on top during the homecoming game. The cheerleaders and pom squad did back flips across the endzone as both teams left the field and the marching band waited on the sidelines to begin the homecoming court introductions. Harrison stood up from the bleachers and presented a hand to Beverly to help her up so they could go down to the sidelines for the ceremony.

They paused to watch Zane and the other two “Marauders” race their mustangs across the field as part of the school’s mounted spirit team. Z cut quite a figure riding low on the back of his horse with his black duster flying behind him and waving his Stetson to urge her to go faster, his face lighting up with a blinding grin that Harrison didn’t see often.

Harrison was gratified to see the exuberance in Z’s face as he swung down from the saddle and handed the reins to one of the other boys on the team. He hadn’t expected Z to want to be involved in something like the spirit team, but he had really embraced the chance to somehow be involved in the school activity. And to do it while riding a horse? Probably the kid’s idea of heaven. At first, Beverly had been perplexed as well, but she had come to see it as a means of raising his status at the school and a good addition for his college applications.

He turned to Annie who was tugging on his sleeve, a pout clear as day on her face. “Daddy! I wanna go down on the field too! I should get to go with you and Momma.” Harrison gave her a hug before saying, “Honey, you know it’s only for parents to escort the Homecoming candidates on the field. You sit here with your friend Marissa and wait for us to get back.” She gave a disgruntled little huff but sat back down. “Besides, I’m sure once you’re a senior, you’ll be on the field too and I’ll be escorting you.” He gave her a quick kiss on the top of her head. “But not too soon, alright? You can’t grow up too fast, promise?” Annie giggled at that. “Daddy! It’ll be forever before I’m a senior. Z is so old!” Harrison just smiled at her, amused at the notion of 17 being old. She had been a late surprise for him and if he could keep her a little girl as long as possible, well - that was just his wish.

“Come along, Harrison,” Beverly said as she started tugging him towards the stairway down to the field. “The Homecoming Queen candidates are going out first, but we still need to ready when it’s Zane’s turn.” Harrison stifled a sigh as he dutifully moved with her. Beverly smiled and waved at people she knew as Harrison nodded at the other ranchers who were here supporting the hometown team.

Friday night football in Texas was community event, and in small towns like Dripping Springs, almost sacrosanct. You were more likely to see your neighbors at the stadium under the bright lights than you were in the pews on Sunday. If you weren’t related to a football player, you were probably related to a cheerleader or a band player. Mothers of the football players knew as much about strategy and stats as the coaches and weren’t afraid to yell advice from the stands. The adults watched the game. The teens in the stands were more interested in avoiding their parents so they could hang out with their friends. The local coffee shops were a hotbed of Monday morning quarterbacking over the breakfast special while the latest newspaper clippings lined the walls.

Football in August was just a hot, sweaty mess for both the teams and the spectators, and Beverly found every excuse she could to avoid sitting in the stands for almost three hours every Friday night. It was exciting to see what the team was capable of after a month of practice, but the scores really didn’t matter until later once conference play started. Besides, the mosquitos and cricket infestations this year were a nuisance.

Football in October was a different story. Harrison thought nearing the end of the season was the best part about football. The weather in southern Texas was finally turning cooler and the sunlight at the beginning of the game had that golden hazy quality to it. By halftime the sun had completely disappeared and the stadium lights gave everything a festive atmosphere. Instead of cut off shorts and flip flops and their hair up in pony tails, the high school girls were dressed up for tonight’s homecoming dance after the game, either admiring the creativity of their friend’s homecoming mums or flirting with their beaus. Some couples had brought blankets with them and were snuggled together under them. And if the team played as good the second half as they did the first half, they were looking at going to the playoffs again this year.

By the time the two of them had made it down to the sidelines, the Junior ROTC cadets had formed into two lines and made a saber arch for the candidates to walk through out on the field, while the marching band played “Waltz Across Texas”. The four gals and their families were already lined up on the right side of the 50 yard line while the senior school counselor arranged them with all the precision of a drill instructor.

Zane was already lined up with the other 3 boys on the left side of the 50, one of whom was his cousin Jaime. Harrison shook hands with his brother-in-law while Beverly immediately started fussing over Zane, giving him a lecture on appearances while trying to straighten his collar and brush off the dust and dirt from his clothes that was a just a natural byproduct of riding a horse. Zane rolled his eyes but submitted to her fussing, knowing that it wasn’t worth the effort to say no. Harrison could tell he was only listening with half an ear anyway, all of his focus - as usual - on Becky.

Harrison looked over to see Becky standing with her dad as they waited their turn to be announced. She looked as lovely as ever, radiant with excitement at being a member of the homecoming court. Harrison barely managed to keep his lips from twitching at the sight of the mum she wore that Z had given to her before the game. It seemed to be as big as her head with so many streamers it was hard to notice her dress. But that was the style these days, he supposed. It certainly wasn’t the gaudiest one he had seen tonight.

Becky’s father was standing next to her with his arm around her shoulders, a smile of gentle pride on his face as he looked at her. But Harrison could see the sadness as well. He knew that the loss of Becky’s momma was never far from him, and he could well imagine that both of them were missing her fiercely at such an occasion.

Finally the announcer called out Becky’s name and she and her daddy stood under the saber arch while the school’s photographer captured the moment. Zane looked like his heart was about to beat out of his chest while he watched her. Harrison figured he’d disappear with her soon after the game and come home long after his curfew, but he didn’t really have any worries about that. Becky was good for Z and Harrison knew his boy loved and respected her enough to treat her right. Only time would tell if they’d stay together once Z left for college next fall and she finished her senior year, but knowing how steadfast his boy was, Harrison figured they’d make it work.

Beverly had been chatting with her sister-in-law, but started primping hastily herself once Jamie and his parents moved into position. After they had their picture made, they turned to walk down the 50 yard line to the center of the field to stand next to the school principal and then turned to face the home sideline. Zane offered his right arm to his mother and his left to Harrison. “It’s show time,” he said drolly as Beverly tucked her hand around his elbow. Harrison smirked at him as they moved in front of the photographer, enjoying his son’s quiet humor. To Harrison, it felt like graduation was basically around the corner and Zane’d be off to UT before too long, so he treasured every moment they still had together.

“Next we have senior Zane Z. Garrett. He is escorted by his parents, Harrison Garrett and Beverly Carter-Garrett. At this time, we’d also like to thank Ms. Carter-Garrett for hosting the Homecoming luncheon this week for all the honorees.” Beverly preened a little at the recognition - Harrison knew she had hosted it as much to be seen as a benefactor for the community as for supporting the kids, but if such activities made her happy, he didn’t see the harm. There was a brief pause for clapping at this before the announcer continued. “Zane is a senior this year and is in the running for Valedictorian. He’s a member of the National Honor Society, the Math Team, the Dripping Springs Square Dance Team, and the Mounted Marauders Spirit Team. He is planning on attending the University of Texas in the fall and study pre-law.”

The crowd applauded again and the photographer snapped a few more photos before they turned to move towards the middle of the field. The marching band continued playing as the announcer went through the same routine with the last two honorees. Finally they had made it through all the honorees - four girls and four boys. Someone in the band started a drum roll as the announcer asked for one more round of applause for all the candidates. Kids in the stands yelled out encouragement to their friends on the field.

“And the 1983 Dripping Springs High School Homecoming Queen is….. Jill Marshall!” Shrieks filled the air as the folks in the stands celebrated the announcement, while the other three gals rushed over to embrace the winner. “Your 1983 Dripping Spring High School Homecoming King is…. Jamie Carter!” More cheers erupted as Zane and the other two boys moved over to congratulate Jamie, slapping him on the back and high-fiving him. Zane tried to ruffle his hair before he could duck away, laughing at the attempt.

The parents were left to wander toward the sidelines while the photographer and the principal arranged the members of the Homecoming Court for final pictures, first with the whole group and then just the King and Queen together. Zane held Becky’s hand as they left the field, a soft smile on his face as he looked down at her. Becky reached up to whisper something in his ear, then blushed as they approached Harrison and Beverly.

“Congratulations you two,” Harrison said while Beverly complemented Becky on her dress. “Sorry you didn’t win.” Zane shrugged. “I didn’t expect to, honestly. Besides,” he said as he wrapped his arms around Becky and gave her a smacking kiss on the cheek, “if Becky had won, that means she’d have to dance with at least once with Jaime tonight, and I’d hate to have to beat up my own cousin for hanging on my girl.”

Becky giggled as Beverly started to sputter at the idea of her son starting a fight. Harrison shook his head as he took her arm and started leading her away. “He’s kidding Beverly. Come on, we should probably get back to Annie in the stands. You two have fun at the dance tonight. And Becky, you look beautiful. Give our regards to your dad.” “Thank you, Mr. Garrett! I will!”

As Harrison waited to climb the stairs back into the stands, he took one last look over his shoulder at Becky and Zane. The two of them stood wrapped around each other, Becky’s head resting on Zane’s shoulder, oblivious to the chaos around them as the football team rushed back toward the sidelines after halftime. Harrison sort of wished he had a camera so he could capture that moment, struck by the pretty picture the two young people made together. But as much as those two loved each other, he supposed there would always be plenty of time to do it later.

Zane give Becky a kiss and a final squeeze before jogging back over to the endzone where the Marauders hung out during the game. Becky chatted with a few of her cheerleader friends before quickly moving back into the stands to sit with the other girlfriends. Half time was over and it was time to get back to the game. The announcer came back on the PA system. “Welcome back to start of the second half of the Dripping Springs verses Leander game, folks…..”