32. The Question
“That’s a pretty nasty burn,” Coach Straw observed when she saw me
on the stairs leading to the locker room. I pressed my arm to my side
to conceal the deep red streak that stil had blisters along it.
“I guess,” I mumbled, not looking up at her, wishing I had long sleeves
to pul down over it.
Coach Straw paused to look at me. Her scrutinizing glare made my
stomach turn anxiously. She slowly nodded her head with a “Hmph.”
“I’l see you outside,” she declared dismissively, passing me on the
I hesitated, considering her stoic response.
“Are you coming?” Sara questioned, sauntering past me.
“Yeah,” I said, snapping back from my paranoid thoughts.
“I cannot tel you how relieved I was to get your text yesterday,” Sara
announced on our way to the track.
“I told you not to worry.”
“Yeah,” she teased, “and you saying it makes it that easy too.”
I laughed, recaling the years I must have aged in the two minutes it
took to escape my room. I shared the late night’s adventures with Sara
while we jogged our warm up laps around the track.
“Wow,” she responded slowly. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that
he’s had sex. But were you?”
“Sort of,” I admitted. “It shouldn’t matter. It’s not like he has a list or
anything. But it’s stil strange to think of him with someone else.”
“You don’t think he feels the same way thinking about you and Drew?
And he has to see Drew every day.”
“I know,” I replied, overtaken by a swarm of guilt. “But I was never going
to go that far with Drew.”
“Do you think you wil with Evan?” she asked, grinning in anticipation
to my answer.
My face flushed just thinking about it.
“You’ve thought about it, haven’t you?” Sara accused when I didn’t
I shrugged and pressed my lips together, fighting to conceal my embarrassed
“We haven’t been together that long,” I replied when I found my voice
“But you’ve known each other just about al year,” she argued.
“And just because you didn’t admit it, you were stupid for each other
from almost day one. So even though you’ve been dating for a couple
of weeks, you’ve been each other’s person for a lot longer.”
I didn’t respond. We jogged in silence until the coach blew the whistle
to have us gather around for further training instructions. I was distracted
for the remainder of practice. Sara’s question folowed me to
bed that night, causing me to lie awake in the dark, contemplating the
“Hi,” Evan greeted me the next morning when I slid into his car.
“Hi,” I said quietly, my cheeks effortlessly turning a shade of red. I
looked out the window when he drove away, hoping he hadn’t noticed.
“Bad morning again?” he asked in response to my silence.
“Mm mm,” I declined, trying to clear my head of the pressing
“Okay,” Evan replied, baffled. “Did I miss something then?”
“No,” I said quickly, trying to bite my lip to keep from smiling. I forced
myself to look at him so he could see that I wasn’t upset. My cheeks
felt like they were about to burst from grinning. I redirected my gaze
back out the side window as the heat crept up my neck.
“ I am missing something,” Evan concluded, examining my comical
expression with narrowed eyes.
I let out an uneasy laugh, begging my brain to think of something else,
“But you’re not going to tel me what,” he added. “Does Sara have
something to do with this?”
I laughed again. “Sort of. Don’t worry, I’l get over it.”
But I couldn’t. As much as I wanted to be relaxed and not think about
what fate had in store, I found myself staring at him in class, wondering.
I was convinced that it wasn’t happening soon but would it…
could it… with him? I couldn’t deny how I responded to him when we
were near each other. I felt his presence in the room even when he
wasn’t next to me.
Evan didn’t kiss me openly in school or hold me in a way that obviously
indicated that we were a couple. Our affection was subtle. It
didn’t mean my heart wouldn’t flutter when he brushed against me or
that I didn’t shiver from the warm tingling along my spine when he
whispered in my ear so close that his breath tickled my neck. He didn’t
need to touch me. His attention alone, recognizing my existence, sent
a flurry of sparks through my body. By the time we could steal a moment
alone, my body was pulsing with an electric charge, built up from
being exposed to him al day. I tried to contain my enthusiasm when I
touched his lips or ran my hands along his back. But it was hard to
fight the excitement and desire to be closer to him.
So when Sara sunk the impending question in my head, I suddenly
found it difficult to breathe when he stood too close to me. I hesitated
before touching him, fearing my eagerness would reveal the thoughts
that were consuming me. The distraction lingered the entire week, regardless
of how much I tried to push it away. But then I found it was
easily forgotten when Carol walked into the room.
“Shut the refrigerator, you fucking moron” she snapped.
“Huh?” I glanced around the kitchen, realizing I had the refrigerator
door open in my hand. I quickly grabbed the milk and closed the door.
Carol scrutinized my absentminded action while she leaned against
the counter, drinking her coffee.
“Why is the screen open in your room?”
I swalowed hard, trying not to spil the milk as I poured it over my cereal,
suddenly remembering that I never closed the screen after I snuck
“Um,” I said, clearing my throat. “I had a spider in my room, and
opened the window to dump it outside. I must have forgotten to close
the screen. Sorry.”
I scooped a spoonful of cereal into my mouth, avoiding her eyes.
Besides saying, “You realy are an idiot,” she didn’t inquire about it
“I have some boxes in the back of my car that you need to bring in the
house before you leave this morning. You can put them in the dining
“Okay,” I mumbled with my mouth ful. I shoveled in more spoonfuls
of cereal, needing to escape her presence before she could ask any
more questions or read through my lies. I rinsed my bowl and placed it
in the dishwasher before heading out the back door to unload the
boxes. When I opened the back of the Jeep, I found three large cardboard
boxes. I had to use both arms to pick one up. The huge box
blocked my view when I lifted it, but it wasn’t as heavy as I feared.
“Be careful with them,” Carol demanded supervising from the deck.
I tried to ignore her as I passed by her into the house. She just stood
on the deck, watching me struggle with the awkwardly oversized box.
By the third one, I thought she’d finaly disappeared into the house. I
should have been paying better attention. I stepped up onto the
second step with my right foot, but when I lifted my left to folow - it
met the slightest resistance. With the giant package in my arms, it was
enough to set me off balance. My right knee buckled beneath me and
slammed into the corner of the next step with al of my weight behind
it. I colapsed to my knees. The box landed firmly on the board above
me, stil clutched in my hands.
I clenched my teeth to keep from yeling out as the jagged fire shot
through my leg.
“You fucking klutz,” Carol scolded from behind me. “I hope you didn’t
break it or else you’l be paying for it.”
She slipped past me and entered the house without looking back. I folowed
her with a seething glare, tightening my jaw to hold back my
I pushed the box onto the deck and tensed when I puled myself up by
the railing. My knee streaked with pain the moment I straightened it. I
yeled out through my clenched teeth, instinctively shifting my weight
onto my other leg. I hobbled up the steps, picking up the box to bring
it into the house.
I tried to shake off the throbbing pain. I knew Evan was going to be
here any minute, and I didn’t want him to see me limping. I grabbed
my bags and hobbled out, leaving Carol upstairs getting the kids ready
for the day. I was hoping the tenderness would ease up by the time we
got to school.
I reached the end of the driveway to find Evan waiting. I made every
effort to walk as normaly as I could, but my knee wanted to crumble
under my weight, and I wanted to scream out in frustration.
“What happened?” Evan questioned in alarm, stepping out of the car.
I shook my head with my lips pressed together, unable to hide my anger.
“I’m fine,” I replied dismissively, sliding onto the passenger seat.
He ducked back into the car and closed the door, staring at me with
his brows drawn together.
“Em, realy. What happened?” Evan demanded. I knew he was worried,
but there was an agitation in his voice that made me uncomfortable.
“I fel on the stairs,” I explained. “I was carrying a box into the house
and couldn’t see where I was going. I tripped and hit my knee on the
step. I’l be fine. I must’ve landed right on my knee cap, so it kils right
“You tripped?” he confirmed suspiciously, finaly driving away from the
“Yes. I tripped.”
I wasn’t lying. I didn’t say what or who caused me to trip. I wasn’t certain
he bought my explanation, but I wasn’t about to volunteer that
Carol probably tripped me. I puled up my pant leg while sucking the
air through my teeth to examine my knee. Evan peered over, trying to
see for himself.
There was a red mark at the point of contact, but nothing else
– not yet.
“See,” I presented my knee, “I just hit it funny. It’l go away.”
But it didn’t. I had to grit my teeth to fight through the debilitating
pain as the morning progressed. By the time I saw Evan again, I was
unable to support my weight on my right side.
“You’re not okay,” he insisted, examining the pain in my eyes.
“Fine, I’m not okay,” I agreed reluctantly. “I’l go to the nurse to get
some ice. I think it’s starting to swel.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“Evan, you don’t have to. It’s not that big of a deal, honestly.”
“We’l see,” he replied sternly, taking my books from my arms. I knew
he would’ve carried me if I’d let him.
When I gingerly puled up my pant leg for the nurse to examine it,
Evan groaned behind me.
“Ooh, honey, that looks like it hurts,” the woman with the short white
hair and kind eyes stated at the sight of the large purple circle on my
knee. It was so swolen that my knee cap could no longer be identified.
“I’m going to have you ice it for a while and keep it elevated.”
I raised my eyes to get a glimpse of Evan with his lips pressed together
as he stared at the purple nightmare growing on my leg. When the
nurse left to retrieve an elastic wrap from the trainer’s office, he inquired
ardently, “You swear you tripped?”
I looked up to connect with his troubled blue eyes and affirmed, “I
The nurse instructed me to ice it on and off for the rest of the day. To
my horrified dismay, she insisted I keep my weight off of it and use a
pair of crutches that she removed from the closet. Evan and I made
our way back to catch the end of Trigonometry. Our entrance was, of
course, a blush inducing spectacle with everyone gawking at my condition.
I prepared myself for the whispering.
“You tripped?” Sara confirmed with the same doubt that I’d received
from Evan. My leg rested on a chair next to me at the lunch table with
a bag of ice on my knee. Evan sat down across from me with a tray of
food for us to share.
“Why won’t you two believe me?” I questioned in an agitated tone.
“Because, I know you’re lying,” Sara shot back, just as aggravated.
Evan’s head shot up, looking between Sara’s face and mine.
“You’re lying?” he uttered in disappointment.
“Of course she is,” Sara answered for me. “She’s not that clumsy. She
usualy has help.”
“Sara, stop,” I insisted, observing Evan’s flickering eyes. “I did trip. I
don’t know what I tripped on, because I couldn’t see over the box. She
was around, but I have no idea what made me fal. I can’t say she
wasn’t thriled to see me on my knees on the stairs, but I did trip.”
Evan’s jaw tightened. Sara shook her head in frustration.
“You don’t have to cover up for her with us,” she retorted. “So that
means she’s paying attention again, doesn’t it?”
I shrugged, suddenly unable to eat my lunch.
“Let’s see if you can stay at my house tonight since we have to get up
so early for the SAT’s,” Sara suggested. “I’l cal my mom during study
and have her ask Carol.”
The thought of seeing Carol gloat as I hobbled in on crutches made my
“You tripped?” Coach Straw repeated as she and the trainer examined
my purple, almost black, knee.
Why did everyone keep asking me this?
“It doesn’t appear to be broken,” the trainer concluded after maneuvering
it slightly. “The ice should help with the sweling. Stay off of it for
the weekend, and if it’s stil swolen or you can’t put weight on it by
Monday, go to your doctor to have him order scans.”
I needed it to be better by Monday. Just the thought of visiting the
hospital made me queasy; forget about asking Carol or George to drive
“It looks like you won’t be part of practice today,” Coach Straw declared.
“Are you going home with Sara?” Her knowledge of my life outside
of track was a little disturbing.
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Wel,” she thought for a moment, “you can sit on the bleachers and ice
your knee while you watch the basebal game if you want.”
“Realy?” I tried to suppress my grin. I hadn’t had the opportunity to
see Evan play yet. Our schedules never worked out so that either of us
was free on a day the other had a meet or game.
“Doesn’t your boyfriend play on the varsity team?” Coach Straw confirmed.
How did she possibly know so much about me?
“Yes,” I answered quickly. “Thank you.”
“So?” Sara demanded when I exited the office.
“I am watching basebal today,” I announced with a wide grin.
“Great. But are you okay?” she reiterated impatiently.
“I need to stay off of it, ice it, and see what happens on Monday,” I
“You’re al set to stay over tonight, but I have some bad news,” she
stated, pressing her lips together. “My grandfather’s back in the hospital,
so we’re going to New Hampshire to see him after the SAT’s.
That means you won’t be able to stay over tomorrow night.”
“Oh,” I replied softly. “I hope he’s okay.”
“He’s fine,” she assured dismissively. “He probably ate the wrong
thing that backed him up or something. It’s never anything serious.
I’m realy sorry.”
“That’s fine,” I returned, trying not to appear disappointed. “At least I
don’t have to deal with her tonight.”
Sara and I continued outside and then went our separate ways. She
agreed to find me after practice if the game wasn’t over. I hobbled over
to the bleachers next to the basebal field. The teams were stil warming
up when I sat on the first row of the bleachers. I settled onto the hard
seat with my leg resting on the metal plank, excited to watch the game.