The music blasted through the overhead speakers as I scanned the ginormous gym, my gaze landing on the herd of girls who practiced in front of the bleachers. Their cartwheels, handsprings, and aerials reminded me I had no idea how to flip or flop.
I stood there and watched them, tugging at the bottom of my black shorts that kept creeping up over my hips. They drove me crazy. I’d never worn such short shorts before. And if wearing short shorts was any indication of what being a cheerleader was going to be like, this would be the worst year of my life.
The music shut off and the judges took their seats behind the folding table at the back of the gym. The middle judge examined a piece of paper and then called our names.
“Ready?” Summer mouthed. Jenn and I nodded simultaneously, but I didn’t mean it. I kept going over the cheers in my head, but I couldn’t keep them straight. The only thing I remembered was that every one of them started with “Ready, Let’s Go.”
We shuffled across the wood floors to the back of the gym where the judges sat, our arms entwined. As we approached the judges, I noticed the State Championship banner that hung to the left of the basketball goal, courtesy of my older brother. Elbowing Summer and Jenn, I whispered, “That’s where mine will be,” and pointed to the right side of the goal.
Summer groaned, and rolled her eyes. But Jenn giggled, and then squeezed my arm and whispered, “You’ll be great. You know every move.” She smiled, let go of my arm, and took her place on her X taped to the gym floor, and I took my place on mine.
Summer was in the middle, of course, flanked by me and Jenn. I stared down at the recently waxed floor, rubbing the loose piece of tape with the sole of my sneaker, and attempted to steady my breathing.
The only reason I agreed to do this in the first place was because Summer and I had a falling out over break and she insisted if the three of us made the Three Trees cheerleading squad it would somehow return us back to bestie status. I wasn’t so sure it would work, but I really hoped so. I missed her.
After a long pause, the middle judge finally smiled and nodded.
“Ready?” Summer asked again, this time out loud so everyone could hear as she glanced from me to Jenn and then back to me, her blonde ponytail swinging from side to side. “Smile,” she hissed through gritted teeth and then returned her gaze to the judges, hands on her hips.
I reminded myself that along with saving my friendship, being a cheerleader just might finally convince Carter I was girlfriend material. So I peeked down at my “Fearless” Taylor Swift t-shirt, which made me smile, then placed my hands on my hips, and stared straight ahead.
“Ready Let’s Go!” Summer shouted.
My arms moved automatically, and my mouth moved instinctively. I wasn’t sure what I was doing or saying, but I appeared in sync with my friends. Then Summer jumped up for a pike, Jenn bounced up for a toe touch, and I thrust my body into the air for a herkie, spreading my arms out wide. Then halfway in the air, I tooted.
I landed firmly on the gym floor, my cheeks blazing hot, took a step, and stumbled. I turned to Summer, as she continued on with the cheer, and attempted to get back in sync. But when she held out her right arm, I held out my left. When she turned, I swiveled in the opposite direction.
“Wahoo!” I finally heard Summer and Jenn squeal as they jumped up and down, signaling the end of our cheer. “Yeah!” I managed unconvincingly as I hopped around a little, my cheeks still burning.
“Thank you ladies,” one of the judges said, her voice strained. She was controlling her laughter, I’m sure.
“Thank you,” Summer said to each of them. Then turning to me, she quietly hissed, “Thanks a lot, Darcy! Now I’ll never make the squad.” She spun on her heels and stomped off.
I stared at her in disbelief as she picked up her bag and left the gym. We had only been friends again for like two seconds, and she was already mad. But it was me who looked like I was half ninja and half swatting off angry bees. Not to mention my mid-air surprise, which was not lady-like in any way. More like something my little brother proudly claimed.
“Don’t worry about her. She’ll get over it,” Jenn reassured me, but I had doubts.
“Did you hear my shoe squeak?” I asked.
“I didn’t hear a thing,” she winked.
“Yeah, me either,” I winked back.
“Hey, let’s get out of here,” she insisted, looping her arm through mine as we passed several girls waiting in line for their names to be called. The only ones not nervous were the Triple C Triplets, Caroline, Cora, and Carli, who had more cheerleading ribbons than my older brother had basketball trophies. Even though they were practically legends in the town, they were also super sweet.
They smiled in unison as we passed, and we wished them, “Good luck.”
Entering the locker room, we walked by the lime-green lockers and Jenn headed for the mirrors. I plopped onto the wooden bench and sighed as I unlaced my sneakers. Why was Summer always getting so mad at me? It was like she thought I purposefully tried to sabotage her cheer, even though I practiced relentlessly for the last two weeks of vacation. All to restore our friendship, but that wasn’t working out so well.
I changed into my long maroon basketball shorts, slipped on my flip flops, and glanced up at Jenn as she stood in front of the mirror. She pulled the hairband out of her ponytail, and her golden blonde hair fell around her shoulders.
I touched my hairband, planning to do the same, but then opted to leave my hair alone. If I took it out, people would probably think I stuck my finger in a light socket, and Albert Einstein was not the look I was going for.
“Ready?” Jenn came towards me and picked up her pink gym bag.
“Yup,” I said, as I swung my worn dark green backpack over my shoulder, and clutched the strap with both hands. “My house?”
“Where else?” she replied with a look that said, “Duh!” and then put on her sunglasses.
It didn’t surprise me since Jenn rarely wanted to go to her house. Her step-mom Bentley drove her crazy. And me sometimes too. Mostly because she’s perfect, her house is perfect, her miniature schnauzer is perfect, and she expects Jenn to be too. I couldn’t imagine being perfect. It seemed exhausting.
“So did you see Carter today?” Jenn asked, as we approached my drive, clapping her hands together like she had some sort of secret.
“No, he was supposed to come over to practice for basketball try-outs, but he texted that he can’t because his dad’s in town. Why?” I asked skeptically. She’d never been so excited to talk about Carter, so something was definitely up.
“Well, he is totally hot now,” she said, nudging me with her shoulder while we walked. “I know you always thought he was hot, but well, now everybody thinks he’s hot,” she continued. “Even the Triple C Triplets.”
She said all this like it was good news, but this was worse than my cheerleading disaster. I always liked the fact that Carter wasn’t obviously gorgeous. He was one of those whose personality made him cuter. When I first saw him, I didn’t even really “see” him. He just kind of blended in with the rest of the boys in homeroom, except for that he popped a little because of his red hair.
But once we started to play ball together, I got to see there was more to Carter Morgan than most boys I knew especially after his parent’s split. And I wasn’t really ready for him to be hot like everyone thought Mitch and Miles were. I liked him how he was.
We climbed the steps to my front porch, and I sighed as I opened the screen door. “Hey, Mom,” I said, as the door slammed shut behind Jenn. She sat on the beige couch, sifting through mail.
“Hey, Sweet Pea! Hey, Jenn!” She glanced up as her bangs fell over her black-rimmed glasses. “How was your first day of school?”
Before I could answer, my five-year old brother, Ethan, raced into the living room, sliding across the wood floors, and interrupted her. “Give me an F, give me an R, give me an O, give me a G, and give me an S! Go Three Tree Frogs,” he chanted, as he waved his arms around wildly, clapping like a mad man, which made his curly brown mop flop around on top of his head. “How did it go? How did it go?” he asked, jumping up and down.
We all busted up laughing. “You have a better chance of making the squad than me,” I said, rubbing his head. Ethan had practiced with me for weeks in the backyard. Not that he was all that much help. He mostly just ran around in circles and pretended to be Superman.
He was so active these days, it was hard to believe only two years ago he practically lived in a hospital. I was thankful every day to have him home.
“But we practiced a lot! What happened?” he asked. His expression was about as pitiful as the time I told him there really wasn’t a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not my finest big sister moment.
“Yeah, what happened?” My mom pushed her glasses to the top of her head and eyed me.
“Well, let’s just say I managed to make Summer mad and botch up our entire cheer in about three minutes,” I said, landing on my bean bag.
“More like two,” Jenn giggled.
“Okay, more like two,” I agreed with a tiny smile.
“Sounds like there’s a story there,” Tyler, my older brother by three years, said as he entered the living room and collapsed on the couch next to my mom. His Varsity basketball practice began before school had even started back up. The Coach was obsessed with the team winning State again, and by how wet Tyler’s floppy hair appeared, I figured the Coach was already working them hard.
My dad came in behind Tyler and tossed his keys onto the table, which made a loud clanking sound. “What’s going on in here?” he asked, as he glanced around at each of us.
“Darcy was just about to tell us about how she botched up their group cheer,” Tyler responded with his slanted smile.
I reached over for a pillow and threw it at Tyler. “Not going to happen, ever!
“So you didn’t make it?” My dad asked, sounding hopeful.
He didn’t want me cheering anyway. He knew I wouldn’t have time to practice for basketball. And if I was ever going to win a State Championship trophy like Tyler, I had to keep my head in the game. Or at least that’s what my dad always said.
“There’s about a one in a million chance, Dad.” I knew that would make him happy.
“Well then let’s go get ice cream to celebrate,” he chuckled, picking the keys up from the table.
“Wow! I should screw up more often,” I said, as I got off the bean bag and headed towards the door.
When we got upstairs to my room after getting ice cream, I darted over to my nightstand, swiped my iPod screen, clicked on “Our Song,” and fell backward on my green bedspread. This song was the only thing that would make me feel better after my disastrous first day.
Jenn settled onto the plaid chair next to the window and pulled her knees to her chest. “Are you excited to see him tomorrow?” she asked the second she heard the first note blast through my speakers. She’d only had to hear this song a million times over the last two years, especially after it became my theme song for Carter and the debut track on the very first Taylor Swift soundtrack I ever created.
“Yes, it’s been for-ev-er,” I said as I sat up. I couldn’t believe I had to wait another day to see him either. Two months was long enough, and now one more day felt like an eternity. But for some reason, listening to this song made me feel like he was only two feet away.
Every time I heard those lyrics, I drifted away and imagined Carter and me sitting on my porch after a round of basketball, finally a couple. I would turn to him and casually mention, “We seriously need a song.” He would look at me and say, “But we already have one,” as he broke into singing…
“Our song is the slamming screen door, sneakin’ out late, tapping on your window, when we’re on the phone and you talk real slow, cause it’s late and your momma don’t know. Our song is the way you laugh, the first date ‘Man, I didn’t kiss her, and I should have’…”
Then he would stop mid-song and surprise me with our first kiss.
Even though that dream seemed more like something out of a musical than real life, it always reminded me that one day Carter Morgan would be mine. And I couldn’t wait for that to happen.