Castle Roland

The Concord

by Sequoyah


Chapter 17

Published: 8 Apr 14

ASP--The Concord Five--Chapter Seventeen--Mary Kathryn

When I got back to school, excitement was intense at Independence. Excitement hadn't been as high since Greywolf and Michael had led the revolt against Mr. Gray the year before. You could feel the spirit among the students and it felt good. Jacob, acting as student body president in Michael's absence, announced there would be an assembly in the last period.

During lunch, students started singing the school fight song out of the blue. The cheerleaders came bouncing in and started performing. Students who were never interested in sports before, and especially in football, were joining in the singing and cheering. "I think the original idea behind school teams has resurfaced at Independence. They should be about teamwork and sportsmanship. Sports should rest on a firm morality about fairness, not a win-at-all-costs attitude," Keith said, and had the agreement of the Fellowship. "Jacob, what's this assembly all about? Something connected with the attack on Michael?" he asked.

"Well, kinda, but not really. It's going to be a big surprise, I think, and another affirmation of student power," Jacob answered.

"Anyone heard what has happened to Phillip? Understand he didn't show up with his parent this morning," Chris said.

"I haven't heard anything," Linda said, "but no-one has seen him so far as I know."

"And you would know," Susan laughed.

"You better believe it!" Linda agreed with a chuckle.

The excitement couldn't go on long at the fever pitch it was at lunch, but there was definitely a resurgence of school spirit which I hoped would continue.

About the middle of the last period, Jacob came on the intercom and announced that all students should report to the auditorium. "Teachers, dismiss your classes in order, beginning with freshmen."

When we got to the auditorium, the football team, in uniform, was on the stage--along with Ms. Jones, Mr. Allan and Jacob. The band was on the floor, waiting to play but, before anything official started, some students started singing the school fight song again and the sound was tremendous. When the seniors were in their places, the band started the alma mater. Seldom is the alma mater sung and I was surprised at how well it sounded. As soon as it was finished, Jacob walked to the microphone and said, "Students of Independence..." As soon as he said that, students started applauding and cheering, then someone started a Lakota war whoop and students quickly picked it up. Jacob looked around at Ms. Jones, who merely shrugged and laughed. Jacob raised his arms for silence, but the act only increased the war whoops, applause and shouting. He kept looking at Ms. Jones and raising his arms for silence until, finally, it was restored.

"Independence students, I am sure all of you know of the attack on student body president, Michael Andrews, yesterday. I am happy to report that no serious damage was done although it was initially feared he had internal bleeding which could be life-threatening. He received three blows to the stomach and is extremely sore. However, he did make it to school for a meeting of the student council this morning. Under his leadership, the council made two decisions concerning the Thanksgiving Eve football game. The first was that the four responsible for injuring Michael will not be allowed to play in the game. The football team--every single player--said they were unwilling to play on a team which included those who attacked Michael.

Unfortunately, the football coaches do not have the high principles and morals of the team and resigned when advised the four were off the team. Again, with the full support of the football team, the decision was made to play the game, even if Independence cannot win--but Independence can and will win!" The auditorium once again exploded.

When silence was restored, Jacob said, "Mr. Allan, would you address the student body, please?".

"Thank you, Jacob. Students, last year Independence gained national recognition through the efforts of four students, with very little help from faculty members, when they produced a concert and art exhibition. This year, she will do the same, except it will be through the efforts of a football team with principles." Mr. Allan said he had been meeting with the football team co-captains for a couple hours. "We decided the team knows its strengths and weaknesses, where it needs to work and how to use members most effectively. Technically I will be acting football coach, but the team itself will decide who will play and the plays it will use to defeat Andrew Jackson High School on Thanksgiving Eve. You can be proud of the young men representing you on the field."

"Thank you, Mr. Allan. Students, three of those who attacked Michael chose to face a school board tribunal rather than a student court. I guess that answers those who felt student courts and judges would be soft on student infractions. It is my understanding the tribunal met today and has rendered its decision. Ms. Jones, will you please report on the outcome of today's session of the tribunal."

"Jacob, students, the school board tribunal met in an extraordinary session at 10:30 this morning. This is the first time the tribunal has met this year and the usual time between an event and the tribunal is a week or so. Because of the violence of the attack on Michael Andrews, the tribunal was called into session quickly. The three confessed to their part in the beating, but offered the defense that they were influenced to take part by Phillip Curran. Since all are over eighteen, the tribunal declined the defense stating they were old enough to know better. Because the three confessed, the tribunal did not take evidence or call witnesses, and reached a decision quickly. All three are suspended from school until the beginning of next semester, and prohibited from participating in any sport or extra curricular activities for the remainder of their high school careers at Independence. Should they violate any school rule when they return, they can and probably will be expelled."

"Phillip Curran, who was responsible for causing the attack on Michael, was to have appeared in my office this morning with a parent. He did not. I phoned his home and learned his father did not know of the attack and Phillip's part in it. I informed his father he has been expelled from Independence and is under a restraining order prohibiting him being within five hundred feet of Independence or any Independence activity. Of course his sentence is subject to review by the tribunal since he has a right to defend himself. It is my understanding from a phone call from his father, less than half an hour ago, that Phillip has left Concord to live with his grandmother in Jackson."

"I'll close by saying I am very, very proud of you, Independence High School students. Thank you for making me proud to be your principal."

Jacob asked the students to stand and once again the alma mater was sung, after which we were dismissed. As students left the assembly, someone started the fight song and the band took it up. It had been a very emotional day!

As I drove home alone, I thought about the light of my life, Michael Jacob Andrews. It seemed to me that Michael was destined to bring about change for the best through his pain. He suffered and Independence grew. I was so proud of him and really honored by his love. I mean it was more than just being in love with him and him loving me. That meant the world to me, but there was more. He was an incredible human being who was willing to share his life with me, to let me be a part of that life. And, what's more, I had his love. I could hardly wait to get home and let him know just how great I thought--knew--he was.

When I got to the Andrews', Margaret said Michael had gone for a walk. "I'd bet anything you want to name that he's at the falls."

I walked across the meadow, humming to myself I was so happy.

When I reached the falls, I didn't see Michael. I wondered where he might be if he wasn't here. I doubted he had climbed to Lookout Rock as sore as he had to be but, then, he was Michael. On the off-chance he had actually climbed to the top of the falls, I started up the trail. When I neared the top, I could see Michael, stretched out on top of Lookout Rock, sound asleep.

When I reached him, his face was not peaceful. He was obviously not at ease. Maybe he was in pain from his beating, but I thought something else was going on. I looked at my sleeping hero, then leaned over and kissed him gently. Michael opened his eyes, smiled, then quickly frowned. "Mary Kathryn, we need to talk," he said.

ASP--The Concord Five--Michael

"Sure, what about?" Mary Kathryn responded.

I told her about my dream and then said, "Mary Kathryn, I am selfish, wanting you to be a part of a life which will be... difficult? Yea, difficult and then some, I guess."

"Michael, for someone who is supposed to be--is--a leader and a good student, you can sometimes be awfully dense. First of all, you seem to think you are in control, not just of yourself but me as well. If I didn't want to share your life, you can bet your ass nothing you could do would make me. As hard as it might be for you to realize--and accept--I am my own woman and I make my own decisions."

"Second, you seem to think that you are strong enough to fight the good fight alone. Well, I have news for you, Michael Andrews. Without me you couldn't do it. You know something, Michael? Behind every good man, there's a good woman. Well," Mary Kathryn looked at me with a gleam in her eye and said, "I guess behind some good men there's a good man--as our brothers prove. What I'm saying is: it takes two to make those involved whole, and it doesn't matter if it's two men or two women or one of each. You need me, Michael, you really do. But what you don't see is that I need you. We need each other and, together, we are whole and we are not whole without the other. It's as simple as that. Doesn't that make sense?"

I looked at Mary Kathryn and knew she was right. In spite of the fact that it hurt like hell, I hugged her real close and, I'll admit, I was pretty misty eyed as I kissed her passionately. "God, Mary Kathryn, I don't know what I ever did to deserve you. I mean that."

"Michael, I don't know what I have done to deserve you, but we have each other and that's just the way it is," Mary Kathryn said, then leaned over and kissed me ever so gently. She then told me what had gone on at school. "You would have been very proud of Jacob. He's not that silly kid who ran against you last spring. And the spirit at school is as high as it was at any time last year." We sat atop the rock, our arms about each other, talking about what we had to do the following week.

"There has to be some spirit event every day to let the team know they are appreciated," Michael said. "We also need to plan for Thanksgiving. I mean I know the moms and dads will take care of dinner, we need to think about how to make Thanksgiving special for all of us."

Saturday dawned rainy, cold and gray. I had hoped the Fellowship could go to the falls, but that was definitely out. It also meant there would be no work outside Saturday morning, but there was plenty to do inside. I got my laundry together and took it downstairs, got Mom's and Dad's and the twins' and started doing it all. As soon as I got the first load started, I started doing the vacuuming. It took a while for me to find a way to vacuum without too much pain from my soreness. As soon as a load was dry, I folded it and went back to vacuuming. By the time the laundry was done, I had finished the vacuuming and dusting. I took my clean clothes to my room and put most of them away, since only a few things get ironed.

"Michael," Mom called from downstairs.

"Yea, Mom?"

"Lunch in ten minutes."

"Right, Mom."

I decided I needed to change clothes, so I did, and then went downstairs. Dad was just walking in the kitchen as I came down. "How's things with the EMS today?" I asked.

"Fine. We had only one call. An elderly lady out near Fairview fell and thought she had broken a hip, but was only bruised."

"Dad, I don't think you EVER put "only" before "bruise". Believe me, I don't talk about being ONLY bruised."

"Well, Son, she just fell on her butt. No-one used her for a punching bag. By the way, I called Julian Curran today and asked about Phillip. He told me Phillip had gone to Jackson to live with his grandmother and go to Andrew Jackson. I told him I expected Phillip to be punished for his part in beating you. Mr. Curran said he couldn't do anything about that since Phillip was no longer living in Concord. I informed him that since he had managed to dodge punishment from the school--unlike the three he egged on--I had no choice but to file charges."

"He said since Phillip was no longer here, he didn't see why that was not being punished. 'Living with his grandmother is punishment?' I asked him. He replied that it was punishment because Phillip had to leave all his friends and give up playing football. I realized I was getting nowhere with him, so I just hung up the phone and went to the sheriff's office and filed charges against him for aggravated assault. Told the sheriff that he needn't waste any effort going after Phillip because I knew he would be back in town sooner or later. 'Probably for Thanksgiving,' I said. So we'll see. I think Julian is pleased he doesn't have to deal with Phillip, and Phillip thinks he has outsmarted Concord. We'll see."

"Dad, have you thought about the possibility that Mr. Curran might do the same for me slugging Phillip? I'm not sure filing charges is a wise move."

"Damn! I sure never thought of that but, knowing Julian Curran, that is a very real possibility. What should we do? I don't want Phillip getting away with what he did."

"He's in Jackson with his grandmother. Mr. Curran thinks he will be attending Andrew Jackson High School but, until he squares things at school, he can't get a transcript, can he? If he can't get a transcript, he cannot enroll in Jackson. He will definitely want to be here Thanksgiving Eve for the ball game. He will want to be able to laugh when Independence gets its ass kicked--which is not going to happen. Seems to me the best thing to do is to let Ms. Jones take care of it. Mary Kathryn said Ms. Jones has a restraining order against him. If he so much as steps on school property, he's trespassing. That way, we'll not be directly involved."

"Sounds good to me," Dad said. "I'll call the sheriff and drop the charges as soon as I know Ms. Jones has made sure he can't come on school property without being arrested. Got a head on your shoulders, Son," Dad said as he tousled my hair. "By the way, you need to get that woman of yours ahold of your beard. It's looking pretty ratty for want of a trim."

"Meant to have her do that yesterday, but I wasn't thinking too straight. I'll go to her place early and have her do it. As a matter of fact, I need to leave right now. See you later."

When I got to the Larsens', they were just finishing lunch. "Piece of apple pie, Michael?" Gabrielle asked.

"Gabrielle, have I ever turned down a piece of pie, especially one of yours?"

Gabrielle smiled and asked, "Ice cream?".

"Of course," I answered. She handed me a large slice of pie with a scoop of ice cream. "Gabrielle, you have outdone yourself. This pie is heavenly." When I looked up at Gabrielle, she was trying hard not to laugh. I looked at Jens, who pretended he was reading a paper. When I looked at Mary Kathryn, she was all smiles. "You made this, didn't you, Wild Woman?"

"Sure did," she laughed. "So finish it up so I can get to that beard before you are arrested for being a shaggy beast."

Mary Kathryn had just finished trimming my beard when Bill, Linda, Jacob and Susan arrived. "Looks like we could have had some of the weather we had last week while we were cooped up in school," Bill said as he shook the water from his coat. "Waste good weather on school and give us this mess on the weekend."

The next to arrive were Chris and Dan. "Sure I'm supposed to be here?" Dan asked. "Isn't this just the high school crowd?"

"More than welcome, Dan, because we're doing very little about school today. This is Thanksgiving holiday planning," Bill said. "Where's Keith? I thought he would be the first one here since he's practically walking on air thinking about the holiday."

Bill hardly had the words out of his mouth when Keith came in. "Now we're all here, where do we start?" Bill asked, paused and said, "Well, I see we are all being pretty self-centered. No-one has asked, so how you are doing, Michael?"

"I'm still very sore, but a lot less than yesterday. I think doing a little work this morning helped."

"Anyone know what's going to happen to Phillip?" Dan asked. "His dad was at the hospital asking about Michael's hospital stay yesterday, one of the nurses told me. She said he paid the bill without comment."

I told the gang what Dad had done and what I asked him to do.

"Frankly, I think he should have charges filed against him," Keith said, "but I can understand why you might not want to do that. So he will be prohibited from attending the Thanksgiving Eve game? That will sting because you know he wants to be there to see Independence get its ass whipped so he can brag about how it would not have happened if he had played," Jack said.

"You really think Independence will get its butt kicked?" Linda asked.

"I don't see how it can be otherwise," Jack said. "We were definite underdogs before the four were sent packing. I'm sure the guys will give it their best, but I don't think we stand a chance."

"Don't put all your money on Jackson," Mary Kathryn said. "I think some people are going to be surprised at how well the team does by directing itself. Maybe a big surprise there and even a small loss will be a victory for us. But we need to talk about Thanksgiving. You know you are all invited to the Greywolfs' for Thanksgiving dinner with the Family. Your parents too. Who's coming? And include your parents."

"Demetri and I will definitely be there--and Dan too," Chris said as he looked at Dan with that sick-calf look of someone hopelessly in love. "Demetri plans on bringing some food," Chris said. "He could make a bushel of those cookies and I'd be happy," Jacob said.

"Ditto that," Rachel chimed in.

"My parents won't be coming," Linda said. "We're having Thanksgiving dinner Saturday with my aunt and uncle in Lexington, but I'll be there."

"Same with me," Bill said. "Well, not exactly the same. My parents are going to Mexico for a vacation, but I'll definitely be there."

Turned out only Demetri and Keith's dad, of the parents, would be present. All the Fellowship would be. "I had a hard time getting to stay instead of being with Mom," Rachel said, "but I finally got Mom to agree to come here for dinner Saturday."

"I'm assuming Marc will be here," Chris said, laughing.

"Darn tootin'," Keith said. "He has found out that his plane can land on the small airstrip here, so he's picking Paula's mom and me up at 3:30 Tuesday. He planned to fly back that night with the Oberlin crew if weather permits, but realized he'd probably run into trouble over flying time--he's permitted to fly only so long without a break. It seemed best to leave very early Wednesday morning. By the way, he needs a place to stay. Dad is pretty good about me being with him, actually, he's very happy about it. He's very ok with me being gay, but he's not ready to have me sleeping with a lover right now in his house--dammit! As much as I wish we could just be normal and sleep together, I respect Dad enough to follow his wishes until he is ready to accept Marc's and my relationship completely. Since we only have two bedrooms, I need a place for Marc to stay. So anyone have an extra room for a damn good-looking, hot man?"

"Our guest room has had its walls papered with teddy bears and has been taken over by two selfish women," I said, "but I bet the Greywolfs would be glad to have him stay with them. I'll ask. If not, we can make other arrangements."

"Oh, I almost forgot... Janet and Douglas won't be coming. Douglas' parents are unhappy where they are living and are trying to get back to Sarasota. They have instituted a court case of some kind. Marc said Douglas and Janet were both about at their wits' end. They hope they can come Christmas but, right now, they have just about had it."

We talked about Douglas' and Janet's situation for a while, then Linda said, "Look, remember the talk in Ohio? I mean about Douglas and Janet getting their family together? Michael, I think you should call Luke and have him work on Douglas and Janet. Even if they have a mess with his family and a court case going on, nothing will be happening over Thanksgiving."

"I certainly agree," Keith said. "Marc and I didn't just talk lovey-dovey stuff. Marc talked about Janet and Douglas--more Douglas than Janet since he and Marc have been best buds for years--and one of the things Marc said was that Douglas really looked up to your families. I think they need to be around normal people--well, that's not exactly what I mean because, let's face it, your three families are not the usual run-of-the-mill families. I guess what I mean to say is they need to be around loving families."

"And that includes all of you," Mary Kathryn interjected, "and some of your families. I agree wholeheartedly, and Michael and I will call Luke tonight."

"With that out of the way, what about the opening of the teen club?" Bill asked. We discussed what we needed to get done for the opening and got people assigned to take care of it. "We're responsible for getting it off the ground for sure," Linda said, "but as soon as it's really up and going, we need to turn it over to some other people. Look how few of us will be in Concord next year. Like Michael and Mary Kathryn said, we definitely need to get as many people as possible involved in everything."

With Thanksgiving and the teen club settled, Mary Kathryn asked who wanted apple pie. Needless to say, everyone did. As we were eating, we talked about ways to show support for the football team. "There is always a big parade for the homecoming game," Susan said. "Think we could get a parade organized and ready for Wednesday after school?"

"Pretty hard to get floats built or even rented on that short notice," Bill said, "but we've got the band, the football team and the cheerleaders. What could we do, starting with those?"

"Jackson High is always poking fun at us as farmers and country hicks. How about turning the tables on them?" Linda asked.

"Just what did you have in mind, Linda?" I asked.

"Nothing, really, but surely there is something we can do with that idea. It would really rub salt in the wound if we did beat them."

"Well at least that's a starting point," Dan said. "Farmers, farm equipment, jeans and checked shirts. Let's think."

"Hey, while I was suspended I used some farm equipment, but for a parade? Hay rakes, balers and trailers? Afraid I don't see anything in my mind," I said.

"Ok, a hay trailer. How about putting the band on a couple of trailers with bales of hay for seats. Think they will appreciate not having to march," Susan suggested.

"Not sure but what we want the band marching. They put on a pretty good show," Bill said.

"You are right about that. They outdid Jackson in that department the couple times I have seen them," Rachel said. "But why not put the team on a hay trailer? Make a pyramid of hay and put the players on the sides."

"Michael, what kind of baler do you all have?" Jack asked.

"An old-fashioned one that makes square bales and drops them out the back. Why?"

"A dummy dressed as a Jackson player going in and a baled one coming out. Then some slogan on the side of the baler, like, 'Jackson, Independence will chew you up and spit you out'."

That got the creative juices flowing good fashion. Ideas were just popping when Keith said, "Then there's a manure spreader".

"Hold on," Chris shouted, "No manure in any shape, form or fashion!" and laughed.

Before we finished, we had organized a parade using farm machinery for floats. "Hey, I think it'll outshine the homecoming parade," Keith said. "Now we need to get TV coverage and try to get Jackson's team here in time for the fun."

"We need Jonesy's approval before we put the machine in operation," Bill said.

"I'll give her a call," Mary Kathryn said. "Principals aren't supposed to have a life outside of school," she laughed, picked up the phone and dialed. "I'll call the school first since she's probably there. It's ringing... Ms. Jones, Mary Kathryn Larsen. Need to check something out..." Mary Kathryn then told her what we had been doing. "Sure, we'll take care of getting it organized. Would you contact Mr. Smith about the band? I don't think he'd like a student calling him on Saturday. After all, he doesn't get paid principal megabucks!... Ok, we'll wait until we hear about the band before we move ahead."

Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Smith called. He said he liked the idea, but he thought it should be a student thing since we had come up with it, the football players were coaching themselves and, which we didn't know, the cheerleaders were doing the same. He told us to call Jose Gomez, who had taken Eugene's place in the ensemble and was student assistant for the band. Susan called him and he was very excited and said he'd contact the members. "He said he was sure the band would be all hyper to do the parade," Susan said.

"Now, just how do we get Jackson to see the parade?" Chris asked. "Any ideas?"

"The homecoming parade always ends at the stadium. If we are careful not to get on the field, why can't the whole parade circle the stadium a couple of times just before game time?" Keith asked.

"We'll need to clear that, but with whom? The head football coach was also the athletic director. I suspect when he resigned one, he was fired from the other. So who's in charge? Mr. Allan?" I asked.

"One way to find out," Bill said. "I'll call him. I think he'll welcome our plan." Bill called Mr. Allan. When he hung up, he said, "He's very excited about the whole idea. The only thing he said we already knew. We have to be very careful and not get on the field and damage it. So let's get going organizing."

We made a list of people we needed to call: the cheerleader captain, a couple farmers about equipment, the newspaper and the Jackson TV station as well as the Lexington one. Both station managers said they were planning to cover the game, but would have crews in Concord early.

"Well, I think we have done a day's work," Chris said. "How about hitting the Cosmos for coffee and cookies?" His suggestion was readily accepted.

Sunday, Fr. Tom told us everything was ready for opening the teen club after the final reinspection scheduled for Wednesday. We showed him the plans we had put together and he found nothing to add.

Monday at school, I made the announcement about the parade during homeroom. Before homeroom was over, the president of the sophomore class came to the office and asked if classes could march in the parade. "Sounds like a good idea to me," I told her. "Why don't you make the announcement?"

She did and added that, since the theme was farmers against city slickers, students should dress as farmers. "Checked shirts, seniors red and white, juniors green and white, sophomores blue and white and freshmen black and white. I have called Bargains Galore and they are getting shirts and selling them at their cost, $5.00 each. Anyone who can't afford it should see your class president."

"How are the class presidents going to get money for those who can't afford a shirt, even at five bucks?" I asked.

"Don't think there will be many requests. The store manager at Bargains Galore has put up $100 for those who need help. I figure I can make a sweep downtown and pick up a couple hundred from merchants if it's needed. I think the town is really excited about this game after what has gone on. If we come up short, we'll ask for money from students.

"I see where you are going to be a powerhouse at Independence. By the way, I forgot your name."

"Victoria, Victoria Henry."

"Henry, Henry. I know that name for some reason or other, I mean other than Patrick."

"Patrick probably owned one of my ancestors," Victoria laughed. "My grandad was pretty well known around here."

"Welsh Henry! Of course! I heard his story when Mr. Stephenson had a cross burned in his yard. So I guess you got some of his genes, sho' 'nough."

After school, Mary Kathryn and I went to Bargains Galore to buy shirts, since we didn't have green and white checked shirts. When we arrived, all the Fellowship was there. We had discussed Victoria's plan to make sure everyone who planned to march had shirts. When we got to the store, they had set up four tables, labeled freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. A clerk was behind each table with a cash box. Students walked up, gave the clerk their money and picked up a shirt of the correct size. Victoria had instructed students who needed help buying a shirt just to hand the clerk what money they had and the clerk would take the rest out of the kitty.

The Fellowship had given Rachel money for a shirt since she got very little from her parents and next to nothing from Jacob's dad. As Bill stepped up, he gave the clerk $6.00 and said, "Put the extra dollar into the kitty for those who need help." Most of us followed his example and what he had done got passed around, to where most students were paying $6.00 for their shirts.

As we were leaving the store, Victoria said, "Be sure to wear your shirts and jeans tomorrow and Wednesday. There may be news people at the pep rally Wednesday."

"There will be news people at the pep rally?" I asked Keith.

"Wouldn't be surprised," he answered. "I spread it on pretty thick when I called the newspapers and the TV stations."

Tuesday, the excitement at Independence was high. I didn't see a single student who wasn't wearing a checked shirt. You would have thought that jeans and checked shirts were required uniform.

During lunch, the band played in the cafeteria. It was hard to get Keith still enough to eat lunch, he was so excited about Marc arriving. Marc called during lunch to tell us Douglas and Janet couldn't leave without risking a great deal. He didn't know the details, but the court case was getting really nasty. I loaned Keith my car to drive to the airstrip. Bill would take me and Mary Kathryn to the airstrip to pick it up. Keith would call when they returned. We were all hoping Marc was up to flying back tonight, but didn't want him to take any chances with our brothers and friends.

After school, the marching band was being put through its paces by Jose. They were doing some very complicated moves and they looked good, very good. Bill suggested we go to the field and see how the football practice looked. I guess we expected to see chaos, after all it had taken two highly paid experts as coaches, hadn't it?

When we reached the field, the team had been divided into two and were playing against each other. Every member of the team was on the field, playing. Even Skinny Dawson was playing. Skinny had gone out for football every year and had always, I guess out of pity, been on the team, but never played in a game. He was hardly football material since he was about five four and probably weighed a hundred ten soaking wet, but he could run! As we arrived he caught a pass and streaked across the field. Maybe he should have been on the team all the time.

The two teams were so evenly matched, it was difficult to see how good--or bad--they were. Not only was Skinny Dawson proving to be a possible surprise for Jackson, but there was a bigger surprise in Majorie Boyd. Marjorie was an excellent kicker but, since she was a girl, was never allowed to play, but she was in the middle of the practice. The co-captains were each coaching one of the teams. We watched the practice for a while, during which the co-captains got the players together several times to discuss what was going well and what needed work. After each such discussion, players were exchanged. Bill, who knew more about football than I did, and who attended all the games, started laughing after one such switch. "Jackson is coming here to play the team they have scouted, and no doubt have video of games they have practically memorized, but the team they expect will not be on the field. The co-captains are making sure the best each player has to offer is used and there are no favorites out there. Damn if I don't think Independence has a chance of looking pretty good tomorrow night. One thing for sure: the four who got tossed off the team won't be missed. Man, I am looking forward to this game!"

Keith called at 9:00 and said Marc had to take a break so they would be flying to Concord in the morning. "We had hoped to leave here very early," he said, "but it seems Matt has a glitch and has to see Professor Larkin in the morning. We still hope to see everyone at school. It's good, though, Marc doesn't need to be flying without the proper rest."

"Well, don't keep him awake all night making love," I laughed.

"Only until 1:00 or so," Keith laughed in return. "See you at school."

I was glad Marc had to stay over. I'm sure he had to do so because of regulations for pilots but, even if he didn't, he had to be tired. And, besides, there was no doubt in my mind that he and Keith would get a chance to sleep together which they wouldn't have had they flown back right away.

Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, the excitement at school was at fever pitch. Everyone was in jeans and checked shirts, and giving each other high fives as they passed in the halls. During homeroom, Ms. Silvester, my homeroom teacher, asked Bradley Sims, one of the co-captains of the football team, how practice went. "I was sure surprised," he answered. "We discovered a lot of talent which has been warming the bench all season. If we had more time to practice, we would be some team. But, even with just Monday's and Tuesday's practice, I think we will make a good showing tonight. And the support we have from students is a big help."

During lunch the cheerleaders, in uniform, put on a good show. Mary Kathryn had to dash off to do something before I finished lunch. As I was walking out of the cafeteria, I saw Buffy Leister in a corner of the hall crying. I went over to her, put my arm around her shoulders and asked what was wrong. "You want to know what's wrong? My whole life is destroyed. I can never be a cheerleader again. That's what's wrong."

"Buffy, you have a whole life outside of cheerleading."

"The hell you say. I kept my grades up so I could cheerlead. Every summer I spent in cheerleading camp so I could be the best. All of my friends are cheerleaders and now I seldom see them. Even when they are not in cheerleading practice, they will have little to do with me because we have nothing in common. You tell me why I should go on living."

"For one reason: I would be very sad if you weren't around and if for no other reason, the alternative is very permanent. Maybe you'll never cheerlead again, but there's a whole world full of wonderful things to do."

"Yea, well, I'm not interested in a lot of wonderful things. I want to cheerlead."

I suppose I should have been gentle and lied and said one day she would, but I didn't see any point in that. It was a lie and she would know it was a lie. I didn't want to tell her what was running through my mind--namely that if her life was about cheerleading, it was going to be a very short life anyway. Who has heard of a thirty-year-old cheerleader? But I did give her a bit of a reality test. "Buffy, one thing is for sure. You'll never find a reason to go on living, hiding in a corner and crying. You have had a tough break and have to recreate your life. I can't think of a better time to start than right now. Come on, let's go to class." I walked Buffy to her class and said, "Buffy, think about what you need to do and can do with the body you have on your hands. There's a wonderful world waiting for that."

"Thanks, Michael, I guess," she said, and walked into her class. It was next to last period and Keith still had not called, but I wasn't worried, much--yet.

Pep rallies generally walk a thin line between utter chaos and pandemonium. Today's was different. As soon as Ms. Jones announced teachers should dismiss their classes, beginning with the freshmen, the freshman walking down the hall started singing the fight song. As each class was dismissed, the song started afresh. When the seniors started pouring into the stadium, the whole school was singing with them. The band came marching onto the field doing some very fancy movements. The cheerleaders took over and, finally, the team ran onto the field. After the cheering quieted down, Bradley Sims and Lowell Pitman each talked about the team and the last two days' practice. Both commented on the teamwork which was better than they had ever seen. They also said there were players who had not played in a game, or had played only a couple games, who had demonstrated great skill in practice, "I know Jackson was expecting to kick our butt before the four jerks got kicked off the team and the two coaches resigned. I can't promise you a victory tonight, but we will give Jackson a good run for its money. You can bank on that!"

I reminded students where the parade would form and told them to be there at 5:00. "The game starts at 6:30 so we want to run on a tight schedule in order to get to the stadium shortly before kick-off. Now if you will stand for the alma mater." The singing was the best I had ever heard from the student body. As soon as it was finished, someone started Lakota war whoops and others picked it up as the stadium emptied.

I had expected Keith to have called before the pep rally to say the crew had arrived from Ohio, but he had not. In fact, the pep rally ended and he still had not called. As I was walking toward the parking lot with Mary Kathryn, my cell phone started vibrating against my leg. When I opened it, it was Matt saying they had just landed. "We'll meet you at the airstrip and Bill can take some of you and you won't have to be packed in the Tracker," I told him. The airstrip was not far from the school, so we were there in fifteen minutes or so.

There were a lot of hugs and kisses before we all got in the two cars and headed for home. Bill said he would drop Eugene and Larry off at Millie's. The Tracker certainly wasn't designed for six passengers, but we managed to get all six of us--Matt and Luke, Keith and Marc, Mary Kathryn and myself--jammed in. Keith was going to the Greywolfs' with Marc. The two would meet Keith's father after the ball game. On the way, Luke and Marc told us Mr. Blalock had advised Douglas and Janet not to leave Sarasota. Seems there was some legal scheme which might overthrow Douglas' grandmother's will. "But they will be here Christmas--come heaven, hell or high water," Marc said.

When we reached the Greywolfs', Mary Kathryn said, "Matt, Greywolf told us you could use the van this weekend. We are all meeting at the Cosmos before the game if you two would like to come along. We're meeting at 4:30."

"All the Fellowship be there?" Matt asked.

"Sure. Matt, if you're going, you can drive the van and we can all pile in," I said.

"Sounds good. Hey, you know, I like Oberlin and Holtkamp and all, but it's good to be home," Matt said.

"Yea, it sure is," Luke said, "And especially since you managed to have a fight going on. I'm sure you got the football team in the pickle it's in just for us."

"What pickle? I haven't heard about the football team being in a pickle," I said in my "what's this nut talking about?" voice.

"I don't think I have heard anything about a pickled football team," Mary Kathryn said. "Now if you want to know about one that is pumped and ready to go, I can tell you where you can see one in action."

"Leave here at four?" Matt asked.

"Sounds good," I said and drove home. The day had taken the starch out of me. I was still sore from the beating, but I wouldn't have missed the day for anything.

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