“Let’s just get this over with,” I mumbled as I walked out of our classroom. As promised, Billy was standing just outside the room, leaning up against the cave wall.
“Hello beautiful,” he said, flashing me another grin.
“Don’t call me that,” I hissed.
“You’d rather me call you ugly?”
“I’d rather you not call me anything.”
“Ouch, Em. Ouch.” He gestured down the hallway with his chin and I followed him after a moment’s hesitation.
Billy rambled on and on about his day and we soon found ourselves in the commons. It was abuzz as people scurried around. Some were on their way to do evening chores while others were meeting up with friends to just hang out. I spotted the hallway that led to my room and nearly made a break for it, but Billy turned down the hallway too. On and on he talked, as if I cared about everything “Billy”. When we reached my room, he stood to the side of the doorway and waited for me to go inside.
“Was that our date?” I asked hopefully, still standing in the hallway. Please, oh please let that be Billy’s idea of a date. I could handle listening to him yammer about himself if it just lasted a few minutes.
That hope died as he narrowed his eyes on me. “No, I’m letting you drop off your things.”
I looked down, noticing that I was still holding my books. I stepped inside my room and set them down on my bed. Billy stepped inside as well, not caring that he wasn’t invited.
“Nice,” he said with appreciation. “I see that you still have some things that I brought back from our supply runs.”
I faced him, not trusting him for one second. Number one: I didn’t like him in my room; Number two: I didn’t like the two of us being so close to a bed. Knowing Billy as the upstanding gentleman he was (Riiight), I shouldn’t worry about him attacking me.
“Are you going to change?” he asked after looking dubiously at my clothes.
“No.” Like I would change for him. Like I would change for any of them.
“Pity,” he said, flashing a half-smile. “I would have offered to help.”
Oh I was sure he would have. I rolled my eyes. “What are we doing Billy? I thought you said you didn’t want to waste one minute?”
“You’re right,” he replied. He reached out and grabbed my hand and held it so tight that I couldn’t wiggle free. We were out into the winding hallway the next second and Billy had resumed the one-sided conversation about his entire life up to this very minute. I tuned out and let him lead me, nervous about where he was taking me and what his plans were.
“Football?” I asked a minute later, my mouth gaping open. “We’re playing football?”
Billy laughed and finally released my hand as he made his way over to his buddies. “Yeah, see? You won’t find a better date,” he said. His chest puffed out and he appeared every bit as cocky as he could get. Travis, Blake, Clay, and James looked over at me, and if I had to guess, they were a lot happier to see me than I was them. Travis, Blake, and Clay were Billy’s age. The three of them had been nearly inseparable since I could remember. James was a few years younger, but his larger build gave him the perfect “in” for what I liked to refer to as the Brute Squad. I never did understand why he hung out with them, he seemed a lot nicer than the others.
“You better mean that you guys are playing football. I’m not getting in there with you,” I said, glaring at Billy as he fist bumped the others.
“Oh, you most certainly are, Davenport,” he said. His tone was anything but joking. “You’re mine tonight.”
My teeth gnashed together. “I’m no one’s,” I growled.
This only seemed to make him laugh.
They more or less ignored me while they decided on teams. Billy, of course, wanted to be on the team opposite me. Being that I’d never played football, it was a certainty that my team would lose. My “date” chose his team mates, which consisted of Blake, Clay, and of course Billy. I was on Travis and James’ team. Each team split up for a quick huddle, so the other guys went to the far end of room, near where the cows and chickens were safely tucked away in their corral. Travis and James stood by me.
“You ever played?” James asked quickly.
“No.” I shook my head.
“Okay,” he said, as though he though that had been the case. “I think we all know what game Billy is playing, and it only partially has to do with the ball.” He said this pointedly at me.
I know my eyes widened, but it really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
He looked over his shoulder and I followed his gaze, seeing that the others were already breaking from their huddle. He faced us again and gave me what must have been the fastest rundown of the game ever.
I pretty much nodded along, trying to remember the rules and terms, and just before we split up, he added, “Em, you’ll play football just like I explained. Trav and I will be playing too, but we’re also going to try to keep them away from you. You ready?”
I nodded, but my uncertainty was plain on my face. He stepped in closer and put his hand on my shoulder, eyes burrowing into mine. “Don’t be afraid to let me know if you get hurt, okay?”
“Kay,” I said lamely, giving him an answering smile.
He broke his hold and stepped away. The three of us met the other three in the middle of the room. Someone had already drawn lines in the sand for where the goals were. I knew I could catch a ball—not that I’d ever tried to catch a football—so I hoped that wouldn’t be a problem. If I caught the ball, I knew I’d have to run like hell.