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
"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
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
"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.
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
"Yes, but it's nice to meet you anyway. I
think you're the first non-teacher to not call me 'hey new
"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
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
"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
"Well, Helmsley's a fun guy, so even if you
flunk, you'll at least have a good time in
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
"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
"Yeah. Surprised?" I asked
"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
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
"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
"Look, J-bird. Girls love you, but you don't
ever have a girlfriend. You gotta have confidence,
"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,
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
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
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