Waiting on the Sidelines(2)

By: Ginger Scott

“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said.

“Tardy people get ten laps on the stairs,” she said.

“We had trouble with the car, so…” I tried to eek out an excuse only to be cut off by the tall lanky blonde in shorts so short they really seemed unnecessary.

“You can just start on the north side, run up to the weight room, cross over and come down on the south end.”

I was a bit puzzled, but I really didn’t mind running. And after all, I had missed warm ups. I nodded yes to the girls in the circle and set my gym bag down in the corner. I don’t know why I brought a bag really; it’s not like I had a towel or shampoo to take a shower. I wasn’t quite ready to experience a group shower yet and thought I’d put it off as long as I could. My bag contained an extra pair of socks, just in case I got a blister, and flip flops so I could pull my shoes off in the car and rest my feet on the ride home.

I heard the other girls start to pull things from the gym’s storage closet, and as I made my way up the north stairs, the expanse of the gym came into view. Each girl was getting paired off and pulling balls from a large bin to warm up with. I scanned the lines of girls for anyone I knew, but there were only a few girls who I recognized from junior high. In my circle of friends, I was really the only one into sports. Sienna, who I’ve known since first grade, was good at things like hair and make-up. She even had her own jewelry business. Her mom ran the local beauty shop and Sienna would make feather earrings and beaded bracelets that her mom would let her sell after school to the ladies in the shop. She actually had a pretty steady stream of customers and could count on a good $15 a week. And I could usually count on her to buy my ticket for the movies because of it. Sports usually resulted in an injury for Sienna, so I didn’t even ask her to come with me. Sarah, who I’ve known equally as long, was more into boys. Her focus was on joining the cheerleading squad. That was “a direct line to dating a football player,” she said. Sarah actually has some coordination, so I tried to get her to change her mind and join me, but my efforts were fruitless.

My stomach was starting to sink. I was going to have work into a group of two. I’m not what you would call a natural at breaking the ice. The thought of just running down the south steps and out the back door, hopping the fence and making the 7-mile trek home was starting to sound more and more reasonable. I was reaching for the door to give it a test yank to see if it made the same loud creaking sound as the main door that set my entire punishment run in motion when the door flung open and the sounds of cleats scratching linoleum echoed in the hall leading up to it.

Football tryouts. I recognized most of the boys from junior high, but there were a few new ones. There was really only one feeder school for Coolidge, so it was rare for new names to move into the halls of our school system. But there was one name that the entire town was buzzing about.

The anticipation of the arrival of Reed Johnson was enormous. He went to a private school in the city before he moved to Coolidge to live with his dad over the summer. He may be new to our school, but everyone knew him. His father, Buck Johnson, owned three Buick dealerships in Tucson. He owned several acres of land on the east end of town with a giant two-story home with a four-car garage. The front door was flanked by tall white pillars that made the entire place look like the White House. We always called it the Johnson Ranch, mostly because he had grand iron gates over the bricked roadway leading up to his main house. The entire roadway stretched about the length of a football field and was lined with towering trees that would swallow my trailer up whole, but planted near the Johnson home the trees looked almost like scrub brush.

In a rare moment of clarity, I stopped my run and camped out by the drinking fountain pretending to hydrate and re-tie my shoelaces while the line of sweaty boys rushed up the steps to the weight room. The last thing I wanted was attention right now.

For some reason, I couldn’t quit staring at Reed, though. I pulled my hair out of my face and tilted my head sideways while I drank, just keeping him in my periphery. He had perfect boy hair; it was brown and somewhere between long and short with a little curl that stuck out of the sides and back of his hat. A dimple punctuated each cheek at the corner of his lips when he smiled and laughed. He was wearing a purple jersey that read Johnson on the back in big golden letters. Probably his brother’s old jersey, I thought. His brother, Jason Johnson, was the school’s all-star quarterback a few years back, leading Coolidge to their first state title in 34 years. He was recruited by the University of Arizona when he graduated, but spent most of his time as back-up quarterback. He lives in Tucson and runs one of the dealerships with his father now.

Reed was already being touted as the school’s next great hope. Sure, his name played into it for the most part. But everyone also knew Buck Johnson didn’t like to lose, and his sons were always the best. Since both Johnson boys were able to throw, Buck had them in football, basketball and conditioning camps. Their skills were expensive. And both Reed and Jason could have easily played for one of the big Division I schools in the city. But they wouldn’t have stood out as much, and maybe would have only started their senior years. By leading the Coolidge Bears, the Johnsons were sure to be a constant feature of local newspapers. Local heroes, leading a team back from the dead. College scouts love that kind of character. And Buck Johnson knew how to close a deal. And the sizeable donations he was willing to make never hurt.