Try-outs for the varsity lacrosse team were on Friday. They promised the roster would be posted today by noon. I’m sitting here, pretending to eat my lunch, waiting for the results. It’s rare that a freshman makes the varsity team. I know that. Still, I have hope. My friend, Aki, and I are both freshers this year. I bet he’ll make it. He’s one of the top underage attackers in the state.
“Don’t worry, Alex” Aki says, shoving almost a full sandwich into his mouth. He talks around the bread and meat. “Even if you don’t make varsity this year, you have three more, yeah?”
It’s hard to argue with a guy when he’s spitting his lunch on you.
He drinks a long swig of chocolate milk. “Plus, we’ve got athletic scholarships. They already think we’re white-hot gold. Why would they hold back on us now?”
“Alright. Alright,” I say, throwing up my hands. As if to prove my defeat, I take a tiny bite out of my chicken quesadilla. The lunch ladies really didn’t out-do themselves today. It’s hard to swallow, but I chug down half a bottle of apple juice.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see one of the teachers approaching the announcement board. A wave of heads turns expectantly toward him. As if on command, he looks at us and shakes his head from side to side. Then he pins up the announcement for the spring formal.
“Hey,” Aki says, no more sandwich left to spit at me, “are you going to that?”
“Why not?” he asks, as if I’ve already disappointed him. “I’m not going by myself to the school’s last dance of the year.”
I sigh. We’ve been over this a hundred times this week. It’s only Monday. “I don’t have the money to buy a ticket-” Aki tries to interrupt me with an offer to pay, but I continue over him, “-because I’m saving for summer lacrosse camp. Remember? They need the second half of the deposit on the 30th.”
“Fine,” he says. I turn back to see his shoulders sag a little bit. “Be that way. I’ll go by myself and score a hot senior’s number. Then I’ll hang out with the Minties and you’ll be begging to be my friend again.”
I laugh at this. “Why would I ever want to hang out with a Minty?”
“Don’t lie to me,” he smiles. “Every Skints’ dream is to be discovered by a group of Minties and taken into the secret fold.”
“Urgh,” is the best thing I think of to respond. Mostly because I know he’s right. Being a scholarship student, a Skint, is bad enough, but we’re completely ostracized from the rest of the school because of it. We know we’re only here because of our academic or athletic prowess. For some of us, like Aki and me, we’re here for both.
A group of girls walk past our table, not even bothering to look at us. I recognize all three immediately. That’s the upside of going to a small private school, everyone knows everyone. It’s also the downside.
Aki groans. “Oh, look, it’s the three dwarves: Sleazy, Tease-y, and Easy.”
He says it loud enough for the girls to hear him. Like the good Minties they are, they continue talking and laughing and ignoring us. From the sound of it, there was a rave or something in the East Village that “practically everyone was at”. Vomit.
Except, I have a little crush on Easy. Actually, her name’s Maya Prajna, and she has the most gorgeous eyes I’ve ever seen. Aki doesn’t know I like her. It’s one of the few things I can’t tell him. He’d call me a traitorous Skint. Even though, like everyone else, he wants to sit with them too. To belong or something.
A bunch of seniors get up and run to the announcement board. This is it. All of the spring sports positions on one board, so it could be a while before either Aki or I get close enough to read the results.
Aki pretends to bite my shoulder. “I can’t handle the suspense!”
I flick him in the ear. “Good luck, man.”
“You too,” he says, flicking me back.
Cheers are intermixed with groans as people find their names on different lists. The musical cast must also be posted because a bunch of choir geeks are hugging each other and singing really loud. I’ve never gone to a school that does musicals before, sure, but it’s weird. They’re weird.
Aki grabs my arm and drags me. He’s not a very tall guy. He makes up for it in persistence and quickness. I, on the other hand, am six feet tall. Sometimes I wonder how I manage to walk around school without knocking down books and cheerleaders. Well, we don’t have cheerleaders, so they’re easy to avoid.
“Oh. My. Buddha!” Aki exclaims. “Second string attack!”
I knew he’d make varsity. “I don’t see my name at all.” The tension rips through my insides like a knife.
“I don’t see you either.” Aki runs his finger down the varsity list. He does it twice. “Maybe they forgot to type–”
“Jesus Christ!” A couple of people around me cross themselves. Another funny thing about Catholic private school is that everyone curses — some of us like weathered sailors — but everyone knows better than to do it on school grounds. We especially know not to take the Lord’s name in vain, even if most of us aren’t Catholics to begin with.
“Alex Veran,” says a voice behind me, “go to the Head Master’s office at once!”
In my head, I’m cursing so much it would make a weathered sailor blush.
“I found your name on the JV list,” Aki whispers. “Third string midi.”
Great! I almost didn’t make any team, and now I have to go to the Head Master’s office to explain why I used profanity in the sacred halls of our school. Why I shamed my classmates. Blah blah blah. I’m so angry right now I could punch the stupid list.
“You’ve got five minutes to report to Ms. Trice,” continues the voice. I turn to see stupid Mr. Muuja, the school’s assistant librarian, staring at me. He’s always turning in someone for something. We all think it’s because he wanted to be the head librarian instead of the assistant. Too bad he’s a total loser.
I nod in submission. What else can I do? “Yes, Mr. Muuja. I’ll get my backpack and meet you there.”
He eyes me, like he thinks I’m going to make a break for it. The sad truth is that I could outrun him on his best day. My mom would disown me if I got suspended from St. Thomas of Aquinas Day. Actually, she’d beat me with my lacrosse stick and then disown me. I’m weighing the options as I walk to get my bag.
“Apologize a lot,” Aki offers. “Maybe you should cry. Ms. Trice really hates it when students start crying. I heard Joel got out of a week’s detention by crying.”
I roll my eyes. “Aki, you’ll believe anything. Joel got out of a detainer because his mom’s a lawyer. She threatened to pull her money out of the school’s scholarship fund.”
He stops walking to think it over. I laugh. “Fine. Maybe it wasn’t Joel. Maybe it was someone else.”
“Don’t worry,” I say.
“I’m not worried,” Aki replies. “But you’re such a bad liar. I’m not sure what kind of excuse you should use for shouting out the hallowed name in vain.”
Grabbing my bag, I start walking toward the cafeteria exit, Aki at my side. “I’ll tell her the truth: my scholarship’s at stake if I don’t make a spring sport. My mom can’t afford tuition here without it, and I know they’re not going to up my academic money just because I’m a crap player. I’ll tell her I fell to the temptations of sin.”
“You’re not a crap player,” that’s my best friend talking, “you had a bad try-out. It happens. But they’re going to wish they put you on the varsity roster once they see you play in a game.”
“Thanks, Aki,” I say. We’re in the long corridor that leads to Ms. Trice’s office. My knees are starting to shake a little. What if I have made it impossible to continue going to school here? They’d be happy to get rid of another Skint if they could get a Minty in my place. And the waitlist’s a mile long.
“See you after study hall,” Aki says. He waits for me to open the door before hurrying down the corridor towards the computer room. I hold up my hand, like I’m going to wave, and then drop it at my side.
“Yes?” Ms. Trice’s secretary asks me when I close the door. She’s an older woman. Much older than my mom, and she’s almost forty. The woman’s nails are painted a blood red color that doesn’t help the quivering in my legs. “Can I help you?”
I take a deep breath. This is going to suck. “I’m here to see Ms. Trice.”
“Please state your name and the reason you’re here.”
“Alex Veran.” I pause, not sure what reason to give. I could say that I was caught using vulgar language in the cafeteria, but that implies that I use it when not in the presence of teachers. I could say that I was pissed off, but that means using another bad word.
“Reason you’re here?” The woman is terribly thorough, isn’t she.
“I’m here to see Ms. Trice.”
“Yes, I know that much. Why, specifically, are you here, dear?”
The suspense of my award-winning speech is cut short as Mr. Muuja opens the door. “I’m glad you came here straight away instead of messing about with your classmate in the hallway.”
I’m glad he didn’t have some book emergency that could have taken him away from getting me into trouble with the Head Master. I almost say it aloud.
The secretary looks at him. “What’s the reason for sending this student to see Ms. Trice?”
“Alex used a very un-Christian term in the cafeteria,” Mr. Muuja says. He doesn’t pause to think how to word it or anything. It’s off his tongue, and the secretary is scribbling it across a small yellow card.
She pushes a button on her phone. “Ms. Trice, I have Alex Veran and Mr. Muuja to see you.”
A disembodied voice crackles from the speaker, “Send them in, please.”
The secretary stands up and gestures us to follow her. Everything’s going too fast. Why can’t we all sit and wait for Ms. Trice to end her lunch, or make a few quick phone calls, or, I don’t know, forget how to run a school for the next hour? Instead, I’m walking a very short distance to an imposing door that must lead to Ms. Trice’s office. The wood’s dark and old. If I wasn’t almost an adult, I might be scared.
The secretary knocks once and then opens the door, announcing us again. I wonder if Ms. Trice ever had a really bad secretary who barged in without knocking. I want to laugh. I bite my tongue and follow Mr. Muuja through the big wooden doorframe.
I’ve only met Ms. Trice once or twice. She walks the halls of the school and steps into classes to observe, but we’ve only talked a few times. Once when she told me how pleased she was to offer me both an academic and athletic scholarship. Now, everything’s in jeopardy.
Ms. Trice stands up from behind her desk and reaches to shake my hand. Her hair sweeps neatly behind her in a tight bun, and her grip matches the style: quick and strong. She shakes Mr. Muuja’s hand as well. “Let’s sit down, shall we?”
I don’t know what protocol is, so I wait for her and Mr. Muuja to sit before slipping into a black leather chair. It’s so comfortable that I imagine melting into its softness and becoming invisible.
“What can I help you with?” Ms. Trice looks at me. Of course, Mr. Muuja’s there to pick up the conversation right away.
“I caught Alex using the Lord’s name in vain in the cafeteria,” he says, all business and seriousness. The pretender. “As an example to the other students, I made sure Alex was sent to your office, madam.”
Wanker! Wanker! Wanker!
Oddly enough, I notice that Ms. Trice’s eyebrows don’t rise in shock and alarm. She doesn’t cross herself and throw holy water at me. “Thank you, Mr. Muuja. That will be all.” She nods to him.
He grins down at me like it’s a job well done. He gets up, makes a dorky looking bow, and then leaves.
“Alex, how could you?” Ms. Trice says. Her face tightens; all traces of laugh lines gone. “Of all the offensive terms out there, and you choose the one that Mr. Muuja has on his radar.”
I’m not sure how to answer. She waits, deeply concerned with her hands folded on the desk in front of her. I can’t help but think she’s mocking Mr. Muuja. I stutter. “I-I-I’m not sure?”
“I swear that man feels it’s his duty in life to report every infraction of every student,” she says. She sits back in her chair with a grin on her face, and I know I’m safe for another day. “Now I have to put on my Head Master hat, so please repeat after me. Ready?”
I nod. I’m totally dreaming right now.
“I, Alex Veran, promise never to swear within twenty feet of Mr. Muuja, or any other teacher of St. Thomas of Aquinas Day, for as long as I am a student here,” she says, her hand pressed over her heart. I put my own hand on my chest and repeat the entire thing.
“You’re dismissed. Don’t be late for your next class, or you’ll have to return for being tardy, and I’m not ready to forgive tardiness so early in the week.”
I get up to go, then hesitate. “Thanks, Ms. Trice.” As I walk toward her door, I hear her breathe in. Okay, this is where she tells me she’s trying out for some Broadway play and now she’s got to give me a real punishment.
“Alex?” she says. I turn to look at her. “I’m sorry you didn’t make the varsity team, but JV doesn’t mean your scholarship’s at stake. You’re part of the S.T.A.D. family now, and we take care of our family.”
“Thanks,” I repeat. I’m a little shocked that she knows, really knows, who I am. My year alone contains fifty students, and another fifty in each level. She must have the best memory in the entire state of New York. Maybe even the tri-state area.
I leave her office and hurry towards the biology class I have with Aki. He’ll be shocked there were no tears!
Stay tuned for Julie’s No Rules Friday next week.