Authors: Abigail Graham
my hood down to hide deeper within its depths. My nerves are afire. We have never done anything this risky before. Nervously, I scan the crowd, expecting to be recognized.
A football game.
My best—that is, only—friend, Deidre, sits beside me on the bleachers. So far, Dee has been the only person to reach out to me despite this being my second year on campus.
She's the one who talked me into this.
what's going on. As far as I can tell, there's just a group of men standing in the middle of a great rectangular field. I know enough to tell who is on what team. The Honey Badgers wear brown with gold lettering. The Knights, "our" team, wear yellow with blue lettering.
They flip a coin, then leave.
I haven't seen a ball yet, much less what this has to do with feet.
"What's happening?" I whisper to Dee.
In answer, she passes me a cheese dog. I hold it in both hands in its little paper boat, a greasy sausage covered in alleged cheese on a thick, crusty bun.
"Where is my fork?"
Dee snickers. "Your what?"
"My fork and knife. How can I eat this without utensils?"
By way of demonstration, she lifts hers and bites off the end, then gulps it down. Despite the roll, she still gets cheese and chili on her hands.
I glance down at mine and gingerly lift it, flinching when warm, gooey cheese touches my skin.
When I look up, the players have taken the field. The Knights have placed the ball on a tee. One man holds it while another dashes across the field, ignoring the oncoming rush of opposing players.
He kicks the ball and it goes soaring away.
"Why did he kick the ball away? I thought they were supposed to
"They are. They have to get it back from the other team. The Knights lost the coin toss, so the other team got to pick. They want the ball first."
The ball lands and bounces crazily in different directions before one of the brown-wearing players grabs it and runs hard across the field. My head turns to follow him, until a Knight rams into him and knocks them both off their feet.
"They're trying to get the ball into the end zone," Dee explains. "The Knights want to get the ball back and run it into the other end zone."
I take a bite of the cheese dog while the players set up again. It leaves a smear of warm, sticky cheese on my lips. I sink into my seat, growing more anxious by the moment. I'm going to be recognized, I just know it. We pushed it too far this time.
As I dab "cheese" from my mouth, the next play unfolds. The Honey Badgers push deeper toward the end zone, carrying the ball farther with every play. There was a drizzling rain earlier and the field is slick and slippery, and a wind kicks up, as if it wants to push the ball a little farther.
The Badgers finally make it to the end zone, and there is much booing and shouting, much of it from my friend Dee.
"You shitball cocksuckers," she screams, standing in her seat. "Get your ass back to Baltimore!"
There is a traditional rivalry between the De la Warr Knights and the Rochester State Honey Badgers. I'm not sure what that means, except both teams and fans fervently hate each other for no readily apparent reason. The Honey Badger visiting fans cheer from the far side of the field.
Dee slumps down next to me. "We're off to a bad start."
"They're six points ahead. It'll be seven in a minute. They have to kick an extra point."
"That doesn't seem very fair," I observe.
The teams line up again, and the Honey Badger kicker easily sends the ball through the squared posts at the end of the field. I finish my cheese dog and lean back to eat the nachos Dee bought me. This is a lot of cheese. I have to eat everything with my fingers as well. It seems odd.
The Honey Badgers kick the ball back to the Knights, and it starts again. They make it only to the thirty-five yard line before they're stopped, still having another sixty-five to traverse to reach the goal.
The Knights line the field on our side of the stadium. One of them turns to face our way and scans the crowd idly. He looks ill at ease but unconcerned with us.
Until he sees me.
He's tall, made bulky by the oversized pads that swell his shoulders, but with his helmet off he's quite handsome, with an open, friendly face, bright eyes, and reddish-brown hair.
He's also looking right at me.
I slink down in the seat and tilt my head, trying to hide under my hood. The hoodie I borrowed from Dee makes me into shapeless blob.
He was looking into my eyes, I swear it. He saw me.
"Dee, he saw me," I whisper.
"Stay calm, just act natural. Eat casually. Everything's fine. We're all friends here."
"If I get caught—"
"If I get caught, If I get caught," she parrots. "Calm down. What are they going to do, send you to princess jail?"
I sigh. I like Dee, but she assumes, the same as everyone else, that it's easy.
Being a princess, I mean.
Princess Anastasia Carolien Jacobina Katrien de Vries, Princess of Jyvaslka, Duchess of Karin. Foreign exchange student.
When they take the field, I realize the player that was staring at me is the quarterback. That much I understand. There's a quarterback, who receives the ball from the man in front of him and commands the field by calling the play and either running or throwing the ball.
I jump when they play starts. I was barely paying attention, but now I watch intently, dread coiling in my stomach as gargantuan Honey Badgers surge toward the quarterback.
He throws the ball, and I snap my head around to follow it.
Wait, where did it go?
He still has it!
The quarterback weaves through the opposing line, breaking out into the open as the other players swarm another player, who feigns catching the ball. The quarterback runs two-thirds of the remaining distance all in one go, surging down the field so fast I can barely keep track of him.
It's all over in about fifteen seconds. I bob in my seat and clap as Dee cheers beside me. The shouts and cries of joy and yells of encouragement all around me sweep me up in their tide, and I call out and whistle through my fingers.
"What's his name?" I bellow at Dee, over the roar.
"Jason," Dee shouts back. "Jason Powell."
"Jason," I yell at the top of my lungs, and then, "Woooo!"
I couldn't think of anything else.
Standing on the field, he pulls off his helmet and looks right at me again, as if he heard my voice amid all the others. I snap back down into my seat and fold my arms, trying to disappear. I didn't seem to get anyone else's attention.
He's still looking at me. I can't shake the feeling that he saw me.
I should be panicking, but he's so handsome. The swelling in my chest fades when he covers his face with that cumbersome helmet.
The players line up, and the Knights crunch through the Honey Badger defense and shove their ball into the end zone.
I leap to my feet and cry out.
It wasn't the quarterback, Jason, who carried the ball into the end zone, but he ends up there anyway, celebrating with his teammates, but briefly. They are only tied now.
As he runs to the sidelines and rips off his helmet, he looks up again, scanning the crowd, before he looks straight at me. Again.
My eyes snap away. I can't have him recognizing me.
. She called my name.
She called my name.
I never expected to see the princess at the football stadium. Yet there she is in a sea of people watching the game, though she got good seats, close to the fifty yard line. I've seen her around campus, but I would never in a million years think I would spot her up there, watching me.
One person out of thousands shouldn't be so easy to spot, but it's like she's the only one with any color to her in a drab world, a single flower painted in watercolors against a gray sketch. Even with her hood up, I can see unruly strands of platinum-blonde hair. I swear she looks right at me with her mismatched eyes, one blue and green, and it's like a spark between us. A static shock, a rope around my chest tugging me a step toward her.
Fuck, I have to play football.
I turn away from her and get my head back in the game. This isn't going well. I'm tired and battered and so is the rest of my team. It's a drizzly, dreary day, and the grass is slippery under my feet. My jersey is soaked and weighing me down, and it feels like I've been rolling around in mud all afternoon, which I suppose I have. The field is getting torn up.
I call the play and the snap comes. I throw but the ball is wet and tumbles badly. Izzy, my wide receiver, makes the catch but is immediately tackled, gaining us only a few yards. He takes a bone-crunching hit and I watch with dread, expecting to see him injured and out of the game, but he gets up and brushes himself off.
For some reason, no one seems to be feeling it today. The mist drizzle into a light rain as the next play starts, and I start to shiver under my pads. I try to warm up, but the cold sinks into my bones. Before the setup, I find myself watching the princess again.
I whack my own helmet with the side of my hand, trying to knock her out of my head. The Honey Badgers are trying to kill me. That's what it feels like, anyway. One more hit and they might just rip my arms off. I feel like I got in a fistfight with a freight train and he called in his buddies for help.
We can't even make a first down. The ball stops in the middle of the field and we end up punting. I retire to the sidelines while the Badgers try to ram the ball in our end zone. Somebody, somewhere, is laughing at the way we describe these things.
When Ransom Kaye takes the field with his offensive line, he looks at me and smirks.
Rage heats my veins like iron wires pulled through my muscles. I want to run out there, rip his helmet off, and bash him to death with it. After what he did, the simple fact that he walks around a free man is insult to the very concept of justice. I hope our line breaks his damn legs.
Somehow I look past him and lose track of the game. The princess is watching intently. She must not know much about football—Dee is bouncing in her seat and gesturing as she explains it all to her while they share a pile of nachos dripping with cheese. I swear she sees me looking and our eyes lock for a moment again before she turns away.
She's so damned pretty. Her features are somehow sharp and soft at the same time, her eyes large and liquid. The faint pink tinge in her cheeks from the unseasonable chill makes her even cuter. Her eyes find me again, and she turns to talk to Dee. Are they talking about me?
I shake my head. No way she'd even notice some hick football player. She's a princess; I grew up in a trailer.
Doesn't stop me from thinking about her.
I've been catching glimpses of her on campus since I started school—she started the same year, I think. She's like a beautiful phantom, something otherworldly and ethereal that brings light and color into the world in her passing.
Oh for fuck's sake, Jason, get your head out of your ass. You've never even met her and you're not going to. Besides the fact that she is way out of my league, if I try anything her bodyguards will tear me apart.
Of course, I can't see any bodyguards now. Usually they're hovering behind her like big Viking-esque shadows, ready to pounce on anyone who so much as looks at her. It's sort of an unwritten rule on campus that you don't approach the princess.
I wonder if that's lonely. She doesn't look like she rejects the crowd around her now. In a hoodie and jeans and sitting with Dee, she could just be an ordinary, average student.
Except there's nothing ordinary or average about her. The most I've ever seen her is in class, and every time I do something tugs in my chest, urging me to try talking to her no matter what her apelike bodyguards say about it. I have this throbbing desire to at least
, and yet….
There's a place in this world for guys like me, and princesses don't fit into it.
The game comes back to me like a bomb dropping. Possession of the ball has changed hands once more, and we have a chance to score again before the third quarter ends.
Ransom is still on the field as I run out. He grins at me.
"Get ready to taste turf, Hayseed," he yells.
That fucking name. Who calls people that? Really?
I point at him and grin. You'll get yours one day, you miserable puke.
Head in the game, Powell. Focus. Get that ball down the field.
We're down a touchdown. We need to tie it up.
I glance over and see the princess, and the thought she's watching me—even if she's just watching the game—lights a fire in my chest, and I eagerly await the snap.
should have thought
to wear sunglasses. I must get a pair of sunglasses. I have a condition called
. My right eye is blue, and my left eye is green. It makes escaping notice difficult. My eyes are the first thing most people see, and when I look anyone in the face, I know I'm announcing myself. I may be the only girl on campus with this trait.
It makes me easy to pick out of a crowd, as if being myself didn't make it easy enough. Everyone on campus knows what I look like. There's less of a commotion now than there was when I first arrived as a freshman, but now the incoming students have to gawk at me when I walk from class to class or eat in the cafeteria, until they grow bored.
If only someone would talk to me instead of stare. So far, only Dee has been brave enough. She was the first person to just walk up to me and, as the Americans do, say, "Hi." Somehow my bodyguards were willing to let her sit with me in the cafeteria while I picked at lukewarm spaghetti and greasy meatballs one afternoon late last year.