The Linebackers Club: Chapter 1

football cat

The Linebackers Club.  I’m proud to say that it was totally my idea, even though my friends Molly Ringman, Lane Eto, and Stevie McQueen worked it out with me.

I got the idea the first Wednesday of ninth grade. I’d finally made it to gym, my favorite class– except now I only had it three days a week, because, I don’t know, teenagers don’t need exercise anymore? My mother swore I was talking more at dinner the first night of school because of all my pent-up energy.  I just thought I had a lot to say, because, you know, starting high school and all. No biggie.

(Okay, so I may have jumped onto the couch a bit too hard when we started watching Jeopardy after dinner. The spring broke, but is that really my fault? We’ve had the couch for my entire life. But nooooo. Mom doesn’t consider that maybe the thing might be on its last legs, just a bundle of rust inside.  She rolled her eyes and said, “Katie. Really. You make me think I have a teenage son.” Which is ridiculous, because, A) She has two teenage sons and B)Why are boys the only one who get to roughhouse? Sigh.)

So we changed out for gym class, and I was ready to get moving around. I was secretly hoping for dodgeball– I wanted to take Josh Baker out, after some unfinished business the final week of eighth grade– but I could be happy with a game of soccer or field hockey. But when we lined up in front of the bleachers, Coach Stein stopped in front of us and yelled out, “Girls over there. Boys over there,” and pointed at either end of the gym.  I noticed that some other gym teacher, a woman, stood at the end where he directed the girls, surrounded by a bunch of Junior and Senior girls, all in fashionable leggings with matching tank tops, sneakers, and hair ties.

Gag me with a spoon.

We wandered in the direction, and the new teacher waved.  Unlike her students, she was wearing shorts, and her calves were so sharp you could cut a diamond on them. Her biceps were like glorious, tan softballs. I was willing to suspend my concern for the separation from the boys, but the upperclassgirls (I mean, it’s kind of ridiculous to call them upperclassmen if they’re not men, right?) all gave us the side-eye, as though to say, “What are these dorks doing here?” I was pretty sure I saw one sigh and mutter something to her friend, hiding her mouth with a manicured hand.  There were maybe ten of them and fifteen of us.

The teacher clapped her hands. “Hey! Let’s quiet down for a moment.  Coach Stein’s girls, we’re having you join the Flexibility and Toning class today so the boys can play football.”

I raised my hand. “What if we want to play football?”

Somebody laughed. I looked over, and it was the same girl who was whispering to her friend before. She had so much lip gloss on it looked like her lips were made of resin, and I wasn’t sure her eyelashes were even real, they were so long and dark. I guessed she wasn’t planning to sweat. I mean, I liked lip gloss as much as the next girl, but who puts on make-up right before gym class? Seems like a recipe for skin disaster.

“Well, unfortunately, there aren’t enough girls to make two teams.”

“Why can’t we just play with the boys? Aren’t there like thirty of us in our class? You only need eleven per team. That’s more than enough, even if some people want to–” I paused. What the heck were we doing anyway? “Tone.”

“Well,” the teacher trailed off. “That wouldn’t be very fair.”

“Why?” I asked. But she just clapped her hands together again, and instructed us to grab beat-up blue mats and jewel-toned weights from the equipment closet.  I sighed and watched the boys tramp out the doors at the opposite end of the building. Sun sparkled through the crack of the door, and then it was quashed out, leaving us in the glaring fluorescent lights. There weren’t even windows.

The period passed slowly, and I guess my arms felt something after all the curls and kicking back and raising, but, frankly, it was kind of boring.  At some point, the teacher said, “Feel the burn, ladies!” and I was pretty sure I had been dropped into one of the exercise videos my mom had from the 80s, except there wasn’t any music, just the buzz, buzz, buzz of the lights overhead.

Finally, the bell rang after we complete the last of something like one thousand crunches, and I ran into the locker room, grabbed my backpack, and bolted.  I found Molly Ringman waiting for me outside the door to the locker room.

Molly is my best friend. We live next door to each other. We even look a little alike– we’re both short with shoulder-length brown hair and brown eyes and freckles. That’s pretty much it, though. I’m a bit of a “firecracker,” according to my mother, and Molly is, well, generally polite.  She doesn’t talk much, but those of us who know her really well, like Lane and Stevie and me, get to see the inside of her, which is pretty fun.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” she replied.  “What’s wrong?” The bonus of Molly being super quiet is she usually can tell what I’m thinking or feeling before I do.

I shrugged. “I’m just annoyed. The boys got to play football in gym class, but the girls just had to do stupid arm exercises and squats and crunches.”

Molly frowned. “Yeah, that happened with us, too. I wish we’d gotten a choice.”

“Really?” Molly was many things, but sporty is not one of them. Like, I wasn’t sure she knew the rules of football. Or could pick a football out of a lineup of various sports equipment.  Or knew our state’s team.

“I mean, isn’t that the point of gym? To learn how to play sports? And even if I’m no good, at least the fact that there’s a game is distracting. It’s way better than counting.”

“Oh my gosh. I know. I think I’m going to be counting to fifteen in my sleep.”

Molly gave a tiny smile.  “Well, hopefully it’s not what happens all semester. I mean, when am I going to learn how to throw a football?”

“I can show you,” I said.

“Oh, well.” She pursed her lips.  See? I said she wasn’t really into sports. She was probably just trying to make me feel better.

“Come on,” I pleaded. “I feel like I haven’t done anything all day. My legs hurt from sitting so much. Do your legs do that? It’s like they’re aching all the way from the back of my knees up.”

“Um. Shouldn’t you see a doctor about that?”

I bounced up and down, and grabbed her arm. “Come on! It’ll be fun. You can’t have that much homework yet. It’s the first week of schooooooooool.”  I swung my arm back and forth and her smile grew broader.

“Okay, fine. Let me go call my dad and tell him I’ll be at your place.” Molly’s dad was pretty strict.  Her mom died when she was really little, and she doesn’t have any brothers or sisters. She has to tell him where she is all the time. She can’t even ride her bike anywhere there isn’t a sidewalk. It’s a little annoying sometimes, but whenever I complain, my mom just points out that Molly’s all Mr. Ringman has, and vice versa.  Apparently we don’t count, even if we’ve been their friends pretty much since Molly and I were born.

She added, “I’ll meet you in… fifteen minutes?”

“Fantastic!” I exclaimed and practically skipped home.

Have I mentioned I really hate sitting still for seven hours a day? Miserable. Just miserable.

I rummaged through the boxes in the garage where all our family’s sports equipment lived. I have three brothers, two older and one younger, and I’ve belonged to pretty much every sports team possible, so you can guess we have a lot of equipment lying around. The only catch is that a lot of it is broken or not inflated properly or just not where it should be.

Thankfully, I found a regulation football that seemed to be totally inflated (unlike Mr. Tom Brady’s, am I right?) (Molly wouldn’t get that joke, either), and headed out to our front yard. Molly was just exiting her house.

“Here!” I yelled and lobbed the football at her.  She shrieked and jumped to the side. “Oh. My. Gosh. Please do not do that again. You must at least try to catch the ball when I throw it to you.”

“Sorry!” she exclaimed. “Sorry, sorry.”

“Now you throw it to me.”

She picked it up off the ground, holding it slightly away from herself like a grenade that she didn’t want to detonate.  She pulled one hand back, and tossed it at me, underhand.  The tips of the ball wobbled around, more gyroscope than spiral.  It flopped on the ground three feet in front of me. “That’s a start,” I said, trying to stifle a laugh. “It went through the air.”

“I told you I didn’t know what to do.”

“It’s good. It’s good. You’ll be a quarterback in no time.” I held up the ball, my fingers in between the laces.  “The first step is you hold it like this, and then you step back with one foot, so your legs are hip width apart.” I stepped back. “Then throw it overhand–” I lifted the ball up to my shoulder and tossed it in her direction. She held her arms out this time and caught the ball, only flinching a little this time.

We kept throwing the ball back and forth for a while, until our friend Lane, who lived across the street from us and we’d known as long as each other, got home from art class. She didn’t even bother to put her stuff away, just trotted across the street.

“Whatcha guys doing?” she asked.

“Just throwing the old pigskin around. Want to join?” I thought she would say no. We’d been friends as long as Molly and I had been, but over the last year, things had changed. She’d always cared more about clothes and make-up and stuff– part of being an artist, I guess– but she was also way more into boys and dating, and, frankly, had gotten a lot more popular than Molly and me.

“Awesome!” she said. She dropped her bag– a huge, silver hobo that was almost reflective as a mirror– by the mailbox. Her high top sneakers matched the bag, as did her belt and headband, which held her silky black hair in place.  She wore a rather modest black tunic shirt, but her leggings had a robot tyrannosaurus rex on one leg and a unicorn, exploding with rainbows, on the other.

When I threw the ball at her, she caught it with ease. She threw it back in a graceful arc.  “Where’d you learn to do that?” I exclaimed.

“I’m a woman of mystery,” she replied, one corner of her mouth turning up. “So you were bummed we couldn’t play football today, either?”

Until then, I honestly would have though Lane only wanted to play football to be with the boys. I was glad, though, to get more time to hang out with her when it seemed like we were just drifting further and further apart.  “Let’s see how you run, Eto,” I yelled, then tossed the ball a few feet to her side.

She leapt and grabbed it from the air. “Think fast!” she yelled, and winged it back.

We kept throwing the football around, back and forth like that, until our parents pulled up in our respective driveways, done with work. “That was fun,” Lane said.  “Maybe the coaches will let us play with the boys sometime.” Then she rolled her eyes.

“I know, right?” I replied. Then I got my fabulous idea.

That was the moment the Linebackers Club was born.

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