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Falling From Grace

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Friday morning, 9:46 AM

“Desks clear, pencils out!” Mrs. Johnson exclaims, met by a chorus of groans. “Pop quiz time!”

Dee exhales. She’d meant to study for AP Chem last night, she really did…she just got caught up with the essay due for AP English Lit and the lab report for AP Bio on top of her evening run and helping her best friend Tiffani make signs for the cheer team car wash next weekend and-

“Miss Higgins? Desks clear.” Dee takes a deep breath. Counts to three.

That’s supposed to help, right?

It isn’t helping. She can’t do this. She can’t risk it.

“Mrs. Johnson? May I go to the bathroom?”

The chemistry teacher raises an eyebrow in her direction.

“It’s an, um….emergency,” Dee slips a small tampon pouch out of her jean pocket and nods her head towards it.

“OK, Miss Higgins, but you’ll have to sit outside and take the quiz when you get back.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Dee grabs her Tommy Hilfiger messenger bag, tossing it over a baby pink polo shirt clad shoulder and dashes out.

She runs down the staircases all the way to the first floor, and then to the courtyard outside the gym.

She’s in full panic mode now, her breath sharp and shallow. What should she do? Can she still study? Is there enough time?

She stops.

No.

She opens her bag and takes out her Walkman and headphones, pulling a Korn album out of her CD wallet and popping it into the player with a satisfying click.

She slumps down on the side of the building, pulling her flared jeans covered knees up to her chest, throws her headphones on and closes her eyes.

The music is loud and aggressive. Yet somehow it always calms her down. If Tiff heard her listening to “white people music” like this, she’d tut in disbelief.

But right now she doesn’t care.

After five minutes, her breathing slows down, almost back to its regular pace.

She needed this.

And maybe a bit more.

She draws her breath…should she?

Yes.

Why the hell not?

Dee does it. She closes her eyes and screams, long and loud and at the top of her lungs.

Whew. That felt pretty good.

“Hmm, impressive,” a low voice mumbles from beside her. “Who’d’ve thought the track princess of Cadie High had it in her?”

Dee doesn’t notice him until she snaps her eyes back open. She jumps, lifting the headphone wire over her cornrow braids and under her ponytail, resting it on the back of her neck.

Loki.

This kid. She’d seen him around before in the halls. Tall. Pale. Lanky. Black hair.

Thor’s little brother. Wears a lot of black and metal band t-shirts. And those big cargo pants with the chains coming off ‘em. A sophomore, she thinks.

He’s smiled at her a few times, she recalls.

But she never smiles back.

As his piercing green eyes meet her wide brown ones for the first time, she notices.

An old soul. That’s what her grandmother used to call it. She died just last year and Dee misses those Saturday afternoons making pecan pie and coconut cake and talking about everything under the sun. What was it about this boy?

Naw girl.

She tilts her head.

“What are you doing out here?” she squints.

“Minding my own business,” he squints back. “Just the same as you.” His voice is not quite what she expects. It’s low and raspy. And almost more of a growl at times. And, quite frankly, sounds like a cross between a cowboy, a knight, and a pirate. She studies him, her eyes pausing on his left hand where he’s holding a black lighter decorated with bright orange and red flames, the word “Megadeath” written on its side. He thumbs it without breaking her gaze, opening and closing the flame.

What the f-. Just ignore it, Dee, it’s not worth it.

“What are you listening to anyway?” Loki snorts, but his eyes carry a hint of something else before he casts them down. A hint of sadness. Sincerity even?

Dee’s not taking the bait.

“Thought you was minding your own business.” Dee sneers at him.

“Probably rap. Am I right?”

Oh no he didn’t.

“Uh, no. No, it’s not rap actually,” Dee rolls her eyes.

“Hip hop then.”

Dee coughs. Really? “No.”

“Techno?”

“Hell naw, I hate techno.”

“Me too. Techno sucks.”

Their eyes meet for a few seconds. Dee blinks and looks down. She notices that her music is still on full blast, tinny guitar riffs ripping through the foam earpieces. She sighs and hits pause, the shiny plastic machine whirring in response. She drums her nails on it.

“So you gonna tell me?” Loki looks down and then directly at her again, shifting his weight in his lace-up Doc Marten boots, his midnight black hair shading his eyes. Dee notices how long and thick and almost…elegant his eyelashes are. And his lips, so full and soft-looking.

She blinks, shaking her head and coming back to her senses.

“Nope.”

“I’m just gonna be here then, minding my own business.”

“K, cool.” She shuts her eyes, perching her headphones back on top of her head and presses play.

He goes back inside the gym. About ten minutes later, the fire alarm rings and he pops out again. Dee jumps, shutting down her CD player and tossing it into her bag.

“Ugh. Not again. I better get back to my class before Mrs. Johnson sees me out here.”

Loki shrugs.

“Wait a minute…did you just?” Her eyes go wide at the thought and she glances back down at his left hand.

Loki shrugs again, shoving the lighter into one of his enormous pants pockets and walks away, his lips upturned ever so slightly and his eyes sparkling.

Dee sucks her teeth and heads in the direction of her class’ meeting point.

Punk ass white boy.

As she walks down the street, she turns back and takes a look at Loki. He’s already halfway down the block, on his way to the strip mall down the street. She has to admit.

He’s got some nerve.

And she kinda respects that.

Friday afternoon, 12:17 PM

Dee chews on a bite of her turkey wrap and stares into space. She’d been distracted since her little encounter with the school weirdo this morning. Thankfully, Mrs. Johnson is letting her make up the Chemistry quiz next week, ‘cause she was so not in the zone today.

“Hello, earth to Dee?” Tiff pokes her in the arm with a pretzel rod. “I said we’ve got a surprise coming in about ten minutes.”

“A surprise?”

“Yeah, I think you’ll like this one.” She winks.

“Tiff…is this about…you-know-who.”

Can’t touch this…doo noo noo noo,” Tiff sings and shimmies her shoulders, mock-brushing them off like they have large pads on top of them.

“Girl, stop,” Dee laughs and swats at her arm.

“I’ve seen the way you look at him…you wanna get smashed by that Hammer! You should know he been looking at you too.”

“Shhh! He’s a friend. And besides…I ain’t trying to get down like that,” Dee shakes her head. She thinks about how she gets stares and followed around when she goes to the mall with certain friends. How she’ll hear a nasty slur thrown in her direction on occasion when she’s walking in town. Her throat tightens. The blond haired, blue-eyed quarterback is cute, she admits to herself. Very cute, in fact. But she couldn’t go there. Could she?

“Aw, come on, now’s your chance. Loosen up a bit before you hit Hopkins.”

“If I’m lucky, that is.”

“You know you’ve got it in the bag. So why not have a little fun this year, hm?”

“It’s not in the bag, T, you know junior year grades are really im-“

Tiff pops up from the table. “OK, time to get ready for the surprise. You, stay right here and do. Not. Move.”

Dee laughs, “OK, OK, this better be worth it.”

Tiff and several other uniformed cheerleaders disappear into the hall.

Dee sighs and munches on a chip. Well, she really could use a distraction.

“Ayyy, Cadie!” a group chants from one of the doors on the far side of the cafeteria.

“Yeah?” a second group calls back from a door on the other side.

“Ay Cadie!”

“Yeah?”

“Ay Cadie!”

“Yeah?”

“Let’s pump pump pump pump pump it up!”

“Let’s pump pump pump pump pump it up!”

Then they enter. Two rows, one on each side, stomping and clapping in rhythm as they continue the chants. Everyone turns and cheers. Dee hoots, catching Tiff’s eye and Tiff winks back.

“Ay Cadie!” “Yeah?” Ay Cadie!” “Yeah?” “Ay Cadie!” “Yeah?” “Let’s pump pump pump pump pump it up!” “Let’s pump pump pump pump pump it up!” “P-U-M-P” “P-U-M-P”

On the last P, the two rows of cheerleaders meet in the center of the cafeteria, holding a pose as...Dee gasps. The football team, led by none other than the Hammer himself, enters the cafeteria, in full uniform, jumping and cheering as best they can. Then they join the cheerleaders, remove their helmets, and pose. Thor takes a place right next to Tiff who whispers something to him that makes his cheeks turn bright red as he glances at Dee before looking down. Dee grins and waves at Thor and gives Tiff a hard look when Thor’s eyes are turned to a table of his friends, cheering and mimicking his pose. Tiff casts a coy smile in Dee’s direction then joins her teammates in psyching up the crowd.

“They’re all so cool,” a wide-eyed freshman sitting at the table next to Dee says and sighs. “I hope I can make the team next year.” “Yeah, me too. Especially if Lady Tiff is captain again. She’s amazing!” a blushing freshman exclaims, using the cheer nickname Dee had helped her pick out when she first made the team sophomore year. Dee smiles to herself. How time flies.

Then the next cheer starts. The cheerleaders hit both their kneels and stomp at the same time, then clap, then snap, then clap again, then stomp again, continuing the pattern over and over with the chant.

When I say rock, you say roll
When I say ice cream, you say cold
When I say disco, you say beat
When I say Dragons, you say HEAT
Say roooock rooooll ice cream coooold, disco beeeeat, dragons HEEEEAT

They pick up the speed with the claps and chants.

Say rock rock roll roll ice cream ice cream cold cold disco disco beat beat Dragons Dragons HEAT HEAT

Thor and the other football players are too cute, Dee thinks. They clap in rhythm (well, attempt to) with the cheerleaders, smiling and revving up the crowd, which screams in delight.

Then, the final cheer begins. Thor’s entire face is bright red and Tiff pats him on the back and whispers something in his ear. He blushes even deeper.

“Whoooo! OKAY Cadie, on your feet! Y’all know this one. Help us out!” Tiff does a high kick and returns to the line as everyone stands and whispers in anticipation.

Cadie, Cadie, that’s our name
You bring your boys we bring the FLAME

Tiff runs out into the cafeteria, grabbing a few students to come up and join the team. She finishes by running to Dee, grabbing her hand and dragging her right towards Thor.

What are yo- Dee mouths.

Just play along, Tiff mouths back.

You try to beat us you get HEAT
Our Dragon’s Hammer can’t be BEAT

Thor does a cross-armed pose in the middle and everyone laughs and cheers. Tiff twirls Dee around and she almost slams right into him, but catches herself at the last minute. She pretends to fawn and faint over Thor alongside a few of the cheerleaders, while Thor grins and basks in the “praise”.

Yeah, we say what [clap clap clap] Yeah, we say what [clap clap clap] Yeah we say what what what what what what what what what [clap clap clap]
GO DRAGONS!

The cheerleaders do a short step routine as Thor and the other football players grab the hands of their classmates who’d been dragged to the front and continue to pose. Dee thinks to herself, heck, why not? And on the final “Go Dragons!” pulls off a high kick of her own.

Everyone whoops and cheers and Thor smiles at Dee. “Impressive,” his deep voice throws her off guard. “And without so much as a warm up.”

“Well, I’m gonna pay for it later, I’m sure,” Dee laughs.

“Maybe. But I’m still impressed. Perhaps you can teach me?”

“What I’ve got can’t be taught,” Dee winks. She finds herself falling right into flirting with Thor.

“No doubt but I am willing to try. How about tomorrow? Meet me at the gym at 8?”

Dee raises an eyebrow “So forward of you, Odin. And 7. Varsity weight room.”

Thor smirks, “OK. You’ve got yourself a training date. Don’t stay out too late tonight, I’m not gonna go easy on ya,” he winks at her before running off to talk to some of his teammates.

Tiff runs up to Dee and squeals. “Now was that so hard?”

Dee punches her in the arm, “It’s just training, Tiff. We’re training buddies? Bud-dies? As in friends?”

“Just training, okay, suuuure. He really likes you, you know,” Tiff elbows Dee in the ribs.

“I dunno…we’ll see,” Dee grins to herself. She had to admit…a teeny tiny part of her hoped Tiff wasn’t exaggerating.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she sees him. Loki. In the hall, with his lighter. He catches Dee’s eye before grinning wide and wild and walking away, opening and closing the flame.

Shit.

What was this kid up to now?