Last chapter recap:
And then I read my last message from Austin.
Austin 11:29 P.M: dude. we need to talk. call me when you get this.
He knew. I don’t know how he knew, but he knew.
If hide-and-seek were an Olympic sport, I could win a gold medal. I’m not even joking; I might go into that after I graduate from college. Needless to say, I successfully avoided Austin for the next three days. That’s a legitimate accomplishment, since we’re in most of the same classes, we’re on the same soccer teams, and he knows where I live.
Finally, on the fourth day, he cornered me in the locker room after school, only moments before what was arguably the most important soccer game of my high school career. I was shoving my cleats into my grimy, Gatorade-stained duffle bag when he sat on the long, wooden bench beside me. There were guys changing and moving around all over the room. Carter was wiping off his shin guards just a few lockers away and I really hoped Austin wasn’t going to inadvertently create some tension between Carter and me right before the game. It was against Littleton-West, our school’s rivals, and we really needed a win. If we won today’s game we’d be eligible for the Eastern-Division League Tournament. (EDLT) All the contenders for the state title would be there, and Coach Sullivan would personally murder every member of the team if we weren’t entered in that tournament.
“My house. 9:00. Tonight.” Austin’s tone was sharp and full of warning, like he’d kill me if I didn’t show. He was giving me an ultimatum: Austin is a great friend, and I knew he would tell Carter about Eliza, so either I would go to his house tonight and give him my side of the story before he told it to Carter, or I wouldn’t go to his house tonight and he would tell Carter what exactly what he’d seen. I could imagine that he’d seen a lot. Neither option would help me keep my relationship with Eliza a secret, but I knew which one was better.
I cleared my throat and looked at my best friend. His expression was surprisingly stoic, an emotion I’d never seen him wear. It was like he knew something I didn’t know, like he had an extra piece of information that made the Eliza situation even more complicated than I’d realized. “I’ll be there,” I told him, trying my hardest to look him in the eye. I knew there was no point in avoiding him any longer.
“Good,” his voice was soft, like I’d given him the right answer. Then he nodded and went to the other end of the locker room to start his pre-game routine. Ever since Coach Sullivan gave us a two-hour long lecture on sports psychology, every player on the team has his own ritual – a series of steps he consistently takes before every game. For some of the guys it’s nothing more than wolfing down a Snickers bar or putting black lines under his eyes like we’re in the NFL or something. For some guys, it’s considerably more complex. Carter, for example, has a specific motivational quote (that he’d found on the internet) for every piece of his uniform. He’s really secretive about it, so I have no idea what they are, but once I heard him say, “You have a choice – you can either thrown in the towel, or use it to wipe the sweat off your face,” when he was putting on his jersey. I’m pretty sure that’s a Gatorade ad, too. He also has a special playlist that he’d put together on his iPod just for the Littleton-West game.
My routine is to drink one of those 10 fluid-oz cartons of chocolate milk from the school cafeteria. I also do that before every practice. The locker room after school is pretty much the only time I ever drink chocolate milk, - It helps me transition out of the school day. I know that as soon as I throw away the carton, it’s time to play soccer. I read in a magazine somewhere that doing stuff like that helps athletes focus. The article was right.
I washed down the chocolate with a mouthful of water and tried to focus on our soccer game. It was hard, since Austin had just given me something much more invigorating to think about, but if I closed my eyes and exhaled, I almost forgot about Eliza. There was a pit in the bottom of my stomach, like every ounce of my physical being knew something bad was going to happen today. No amount of telling myself to man up and quit being nervous was going to shake the looming, ominous build-up in my gut. Think about soccer, think about soccer, I repeated over and over again in my head. Think about beating the crap out of Littleton. Think about playing striker. Think about shooting the ball. Think about the ‘swish’ of the net as the ball crashes against it. Think about the cheering. Think about the look on Sullivan’s face as he nods to you and you jog back to the half- line while the team shakes your hand. Think about soccer, Nick Maguire. Goddamn it. Think about soccer.
|Zac Efron||as Nick Maguire|
|Julianne Hough||as Eliza O'Connor|
|Lucas Till||as Carter O'Connor|
|Drew Roy||as Austin Banks|
|Dwayne Johnson||as Hank|