It was the last block of my first day as a senior in high school. I was sitting in the second row of Mr. Helmsley’s physics class taking notes on his discussion of velocity. “So, what is a velocity?” he asked the class. Most people said “speed” and he benignly shook his head. “Almost, but you’re wrong! A velocity is any change in position over a change in time, that also has some kind of direction. Remember when we talked about vectors a few minutes ago? That’s what velocity is: a vector whose quantity – or speed – also has a direction applied to it.” Normally, this kind of stuff was boring, but Mr. Helmsley was an excellent teacher. His dynamism and sense of humor made any of his physics or chemistry classes more than complicated exercises in monotony. I actually looked forward to them, though it was hard mentioning that in public without running the risk of being called a “geek.” “Give me a speed,” he said, facing the blackboard. “Light speed!” someone called. “How about ludicrous speed?” He said grinning. “They’ve gone to plaid!” I said, and a few people chuckled. Helmsley gave me a helpless slook. “Guess no one’s familiar with Spaceballs, Jason. Philistines. Okay, so we have light speed…give me a direction. Left? Alrighty, lightspeed to the left, and voila! We have a vector. Of course, it would be more accurate to describe directions with degrees, like you’re going to have to do in your homework.” Most of the class groaned. Everyone enjoyed Helmsley’s lectures, but he was notorious for giving out tough homework, even on the first day of school. He waved down the noise. “Relax, you’ll be able to finish in class.” Just then, Mrs. Harris poked her head into the room. “Oh, Stephen!” she cried in a shrill singsong. “My projector’s broken again…do you think you can fix it?” “Again?” Mr. Helmsley said, exasperated. “You need seriously need a new one. Class, go ahead and start your homework; I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He took off with Mrs. Harris. The assignment turned out to be pretty easy, as it involved little more than picking out the speed and direction in the problem and writing them together in “vector notation.” I began doodling in my notebook to pass the time. I drew a Velociraptor and labeled it “Velocity Raptor. Speed: insane, Direction: at you!” As I admired my handiwork, I noticed the girl next to me had noticed my doodle. Her eyebrow was arched as she gave me a little smirk, and I had to give her a guilty little smile of my own. She was new here, and now she was fully aware that I was in fact a huge nerd. I decided I might as well introduce myself. “Katrina, right? I’m Jason, as you probably know.” Of course she knew; we had six classes together, but had sat meek and alone in all of them. Stillwater was not a big high school – everyone knew everyone else – and it was natural for new kids to be left out until they had established themselves in one clique or another. “Yes, but it’s nice to meet you anyway. I think you’re the first non-teacher to not call me ‘hey new girl.’” “Texas. Abilene, Texas. And please, don’t call me cowgirl. I hate that.” “What about ‘Hurricane’?” “That’s even worse. They just had to name that particular hurricane with my name.” I nodded solemnly. “Well, sounds like I’ll just have to call you ‘hey new girl’ then.” She rolled her eyes, but grinned a little. “Oh, whatever. Then I’ll have to call you dinoboy.” She gestured at my drawing. “You win. I’ll call you Katrina if you call me anything but dinoboy.” “Deal.” She was quiet for a moment, but then spoke again. “I’m kind of worried about this class. I’ve never been good at this stuff.” “Really? But you’re in my calculus class, so you at least know how to handle numbers. I think you’ll be ok.” “I hope. I had to pick between this or microbiology, and I tried to pick which would be less hell for me. Physics won, because I hated biology.” “Well, Helmsley’s a fun guy, so even if you flunk, you’ll at least have a good time in here.” The bell rang and we got up to leave. My best friend, Trevor Ryan caught up with us on the way out. He sat on the other side of the room, so we couldn’t really talk. “What up, J-bird?” he extended his hand for a five. “You know how it is, Trev. This is Katrina, she’s in a bunch of our classes. Katrina, this is Trevor. We play football together.” “You play football?” Her eyebrow arched again. “Oh, snap! New girl’s callin’ you out!” Trevor looked shocked beyond belief. He always was one for theatrics. “Yeah. Surprised?” I asked her. “A little. Where I came from, football players weren’t exactly into physics and calculus.” She grinned again. “Or drawing dinosaurs in their notebooks/” “Well, Kat – can I call you Kat? Where you come from, football players probably weren’t as cool as my man J-bird, here.” Her smile didn’t fade. “Guess not. At least he’s not a dumb jock, anyway. I’ll see you boys tomorrow.” She waved and headed for her locker. Trev looked at me, a toothy grin spreading across is face. “Dawg, you were totally flirting with new girl in physics. Don’t think I wasn’t watching you.” “I was just talking to her because she looked lonely, Trev.” “Naw, man. C’mon, I know you think she’s cute.” Katrina was actually a good looking girl. Her brown hair hung loosely to her shoulders, and she had soft brown eyes that shone a little when she smiled. I wouldn’t be a self-respecting high school boy if I hadn’t noticed her curvy body, but I was tactful enough that I tended to keep those observations to myself. “And, she was diggin’ you too, man.” “Ah, whatev Trev.” That was my favorite thing to say to him when I thought he was making crazy talk. “Look, J-bird. Girls love you, but you don’t ever have a girlfriend. You gotta have confidence, bro.” “Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll talk to her a little more and if I think she starts getting into me, I’ll ask her out.” “Hey, that’s what I like to hear, J-bird!” Easier said than done, I thought to myself. Confidence was natural for Trevor. He was our star running back; colleges from all over the country had been recruiting him since last year, and towards the end of the season, even some of the bigger Division-I schools were giving him calls. He also had the distinction of being one of three players on our team who had straight A’s, including me and Danny Clark, but he was only a sophomore. Trevor’s grades didn’t come from his “star player” status; he had an iron work ethic and legitimately earned his marks. He was preparing himself for med school, if a career as a football player didn’t pan out for him. But the most remarkable thing about Trevor Ryan was his humility: he was a perfect athlete and a perfect student, but didn’t let his talents go to his head. We entered the locker room, and saw some of our teammates were already getting prepared for practice. “What up, guys?” Trevor said, giving out fives or other complicated handshakes. I went to my locker and started gearing up. “Hey, J-bird, it’s Monday. You know what that means.” “Yup, first one of us to score in the scrimmage gets a smoothie.” “Yeah, and you better not bribe Martelle to throw nothing but passes til you score like last week.” I laughed. “Hey, man, just trying to keep it a little fair.” I hadn’t actually bribed the quarterback, Jimmy Martelle, but he did throw eight passes in a row when I had scored and won the smoothie. I wouldn’t have bribed Martelle anyway; he wasn’t a very good quarterback and I had about the same chance of scoring whether he was trying to help me or not. “It’d be nice to go two in a row for once,” I said. Since we had started this little tradition sophomore year, I had won eight times to Trev’s twenty. And later that evening, after Trev juked four defenders out of their shoes and ran for an eighty-six yard touchdown, I was again buying the smoothies at FrosTop.
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