Copyright© 2015 by Lumpy
Like clockwork, I drifted out of sleep just as the sun started coming up. I was lying on my side and realized I could feel a body against me. I guessed Zoe had changed her mind after all. I reached an arm across her stomach and pulled her to me. It took about ten seconds for something to register. Everything felt different. One, stuff wasn't where it should be. My arm was much closer to her waist then it should have been. The hair was coarser and shorter, and the body pressed against me was much softer then I had previously experienced. Clearly, this wasn't Zoe.
My brain was still a little sleep addled so it took almost thirty more seconds to realize this was Tina, and not Zoe. I could feel her waking up from my contact and quickly pulled my arm away.
"What are you doing here?"
"I saw Zoe cuddle with you the other morning, and it looked nice. I wanted to snuggle with my big brother. Is that okay?"
"Yeah, it's fine. You just surprised me. I need to get up. Why don't you go back to your room and get a little more sleep."
"Nope! I'll get up, too. I have a job to do this morning."
"Zoe said if she isn't over here, it's my job to help you pick out clothes."
"Come on, I'm fifteen years old! I can dress myself."
"That isn't what Zoe and the other girls said. They said 'Boys need our help. If we left it to them it would be t-shirts and shorts every day.' She made me promise to take charge when she wasn't here."
"What's wrong with t-shirts and shorts?"
She finally got up, laughing as she said, "See, I guess they were right. You go run. I will lay your clothes out on your bed."
I have to admit Tina did a good job with my clothes. Even my feeble teenage brain could recognize I looked pretty good. I gave Tina a big hug on the way out the door. I did a lot of thinking about Tina on my run and even more on the walk to Zoe's. I hadn't realized how much I wanted a real family. The change between Tina and me since last night was really noticeable. Even Margret made a comment about it this morning. This might be new but I think I am really going to like having a little sister.
This time I did knock on Zoe's door. Mrs. Bell answered, and I was able to go find Zoe once I recovered from her hug. Man! That woman's stronger than she looked. I got half way across the entranceway, when Zoe came flying down the stairs and leaped into my arms. It was all I could do to stay on my feet.
"Well, that's a good way to say good morning!"
I put her down and got a slug on the arm. "Don't get cocky. I just missed you is all."
"Hey, I don't know what you said to Tina, but thank you. We had a really good conversation last night."
"Yeah, and I see she did her job this morning. You are looking good."
I did a little twirl for her, and got a laugh.
"Yeah. She informed me that you and the girls agreed I was hopeless and needed a keeper."
"See, it worked out. You no longer look like a slob."
I stuck my tongue out at her as I commented, "Although it was weird to still have a visitor this morning."
"Tina said she thought the way you cuddled looked nice, and she wanted to try it. She was there when I woke up."
"That little hussy is trying to steal my man."
Her words were angry but her eyes and voice were not. Also, the fact that she called me her man did not go unnoticed by even someone as slow as me.
"'Your man, ' huh?"
I was rewarded with another punch to the shoulder.
"Don't get cocky. Let's go. Time for school."
On the way, Zoe informed me she had cheerleader tryouts after school, and I was required to stay and support her and the rest of the girls from the lunch table. Mrs. Bell took the opportunity to comment on how nice it was for Zoe to have a pet. They both thought the joke was much funnier than I did.
School went pretty well. The girls were all pumped about their tryouts, and the guys were all talking about the JV tryouts. Apparently, freshmen were not eligible for varsity. By 3:30 I was standing off to the side of the field, watching Zoe, Amanda and the rest of the cheerleaders from our crew jumping and tumbling under the watchful eye of a teacher/advisor, and a couple of seniors who I would guess led the varsity squad. Zoe was pretty good, but I was amazed by Amanda. The stuff she was doing didn't seem possible, of course I have never really watched cheerleading or gymnastics before, so my knowledge base was pretty limited. It took about an hour for them all to cycle through and do whatever the requirements were. The whole time one of the senior girls was marking stuff off on a clipboard.
Out in the field, Josh and his crew were doing some kind of scrimmage against other kids. I cycled between watching the girls and watching the activity out on the field. Like any kid in Texas, football held my interest. They seemed pretty good and I was really impressed with Josh and his crew. Josh seemed to be a pretty good leader and kept everyone focused.
Finally, Zoe came bouncing over to me, bubbling over with energy.
"So what did you think?"
"You guys are really good. I am amazed by all the flips and stuff."
"I wish I were as good as Amanda. She has been doing gymnastics since she was like three years old. If they didn't have a 'no freshman in varsity' policy, she would be varsity for sure."
"Yeah, she was pretty impressive. But don't sell yourself short. You were really good."
That earned me one of her big smiles and a hug. I have to remember to compliment her more often; it sure did pay off for me.
She was turning to yell something at one of the girls when a shout rang out across the field. I looked up and a ball was headed right for her head, and she was just starting to react. Now, I have never played football and only passed the ball a few times. It is tough to play group sports when you are a loner. So my reaction must have been pure instinct. Her head made the agonizingly slow turn and the ball was inches from her face when my hand snaked out, gripped the ball, and pulled it to my chest.
Zoe stood stock still, in shock. That was a near miss. A second later and she would have had some serious injuries. It was surprisingly quiet all across the field.
Zoe let out a whisper, "Holy shit."
I grabbed her shoulder as I asked, "Are you okay, baby?"
It was weird that I chose that moment to use some kind of affectionate nickname. My brain was still playing catch-up.
She looked at me and fell into my arms. "I am thanks to you. You keep having to save me. How did you do that?"
"Catch the ball with one hand like that. I barely saw you move. You were so fast."
"Umm, I don't know. I just sort of reacted."
"Whatever. I swear I am going get myself surgically attached to you. You need to never ever leave my side."
I laughed, more to ease her tension then at the joke.
"You're okay. It was a freak thing."
Just then, a bunch of the girls and the players from the field came running over. The girls pulled Zoe away and I guess they were checking on her. It was hard to keep up with them, at the speed they were talking. They seemed to fall into some kind of female secret code that involved a lot of squealing. The guys started pounding my back and used the words 'Dude' and 'Awesome' a lot.
There was a shout and the crowd around me sort of parted. I recognized the bigger of the adults from the end of the fight the other day.
"You're Caspian Grey, right?"
"Why aren't you out on the field trying out?"
"Why would I try out? I don't play football. Never have."
"Son that was a textbook reaching catch and your speed was top notch. How about this. I want Troy to throw you some passes for you to catch. They will talk you through running the routes." I got a nod from Zoe when I looked at her, so I shrugged and agreed, "Sure, I guess I can do that."
"Okay. Troy, take him out. First try a couple of short cuts then do a couple of long down the middle passes. Let's get a feel for how he does." Walking back Troy ... who was a senior, and the varsity teams QB ... was trying to get a read on me.
"How much do you know about plays?"
"I know some. I watch a lot of football. I kind of like the stats, but I also pay attention to the plays."
"Okay. We are going to start with two short cut routes. On the first one, I want you to run ten yards, cut left, and keep an eye for me. I will hit you with the ball. On the next one, I want you to do the same thing, but cut right."
I nodded and stopped at the point he indicated. He started the down-set thing and when he said hut I sprinted off the line and turned at the right point. When I looked over, I could see the ball sailing right at my chest, where I pulled it in. The other pass went about the same way.
I tossed the ball to Troy as I jogged back. "Not bad. Good catches and your speed seemed okay. Next is a long pass. I want you to haul ass straight out, but keep an eye out for the ball. You need to watch your position, keep an eye on other people on the field, and an eye on me and the ball."
"That has me trying to look two directions at once?"
"Yeah, it kind of does. No matter how it looks on TV, football isn't easy."
I took off at my mark. I really piled on the speed, and looked over my shoulder. I could see the ball sailing my way and in my head worked out the angle. If I kept this pace, I would intersect it with no problem. It seemed that my ability with math, in some ways helped out here. Who knew that could happen?
I pulled in the ball easily, and jogged back to them.
"Damn, you have some speed, kid. When we are done here, the coach needs to time your sprints. Let's do one more."