The wind was knocked out of Keveo completely as an unknown attacker ran into him at full speed, forcing their shoulder into his stomach and bearing him down to the ground. It was only for a few moments, though, as he immediately scrambled to his feet and threw himself back into the mass of swinging arms, thrashing legs, and barely-audible swearing.
He took a deep breath and launched himself against the first guy he saw. Uttering a sharp cry of surprise, pain, or both, the other guy immediately went down with Keveo sprawled across his back.
Keveo reminded himself yet again that this was a football game, not a fight, but in all honesty it was impossible to tell the difference at this point. Lawndale High was playing its most hated rival, Oakwood, and neither side was holding anything back tonight. Already there had been more penalties called than Keveo could count (not that that was very high, anyway), and several players on both teams had been taken out of the game with serious injuries. The game was now in either its third or fourth overtime--he'd lost count of that, too.
As he got back on his feet, he glanced over just in time to see his teammate and best friend, Mackutio, get tackled by three Oakwood players. He winced at the pained look on Mackutio's face but didn't have time to do anything before he was himself knocked to the ground again. I hope he's okay, he thought before getting up once more. And I hope Dad didn't see that.
His father, Doug Thompague, had been the quarterback for the Lawndale High football team when he was Keveo's age, and he hated Oakwood more than anyone. He also had no patience for players who didn't keep their head in the game at all times, even if that player was his own son.
C'mon, focus, Keveo reminded himself. Crap, where's the ball?
"He's got the ball!" Julibritt shrieked to the other Oakwood cheerleaders. She pointed excitedly at Sam Stybalt, the quarterback for their team, and added, "Yay!"
"Not one of your best cheers," one of the other girls pointed out.
"Oh! Yeah." Julibritt tilted her head to signal the cheerleaders and began one of the cheers she'd written herself. The others joined in soon after.
"Come on! Go, Oakwood Taproots!
This game is not a crapshoot!
Go, go, go! Fight, fight, fight!
You'll beat Lawndale tonight!"
"We should never have let her buy that rhyming dictionary," one of the cheerleaders muttered, still smiling and waving her pom-poms enthusiastically.
Julibritt didn't hear her, as she was too engrossed in the game. Sam Stybalt still had the ball and was running toward the goal. One of the Lawndale players moved to intercept him, but was knocked down flat. Sam stopped only just long enough to "accidentally" stomp on his opponent's chest as he continued toward the goal. Julibritt wondered if anyone else saw the look of malicious glee on Sam's face as he did it.
A flag hit the ground. Yet another personal foul had been called. Julibritt sighed, raised her pom-poms, and prepared to start the "Hey, he had it coming!" cheer again.
"Oh, give me a break!" Steve Taylulet screamed. "He barely touched the guy!"
His wife Ashley-Amber, who had no idea what was going on, patted his arm reassuringly.
Oblivious to her comfort, Steve continued his tirade. "I mean, I've seen ballets that were rougher than that!"
"Steve, honey, you hate ballet!" Ashley-Amber interjected.
"Yeah, but not as much as I hate goddamn referees that don't know the difference between unnecessary roughness and a little scuffle on the field!" He fumed silently for a moment. "And that's nothing compared to how much I hate those goddamn Lawndale assholes!"
"Did you forget that you used to be one of those 'goddamn Lawndale assholes' before you scurried away to Oakwood like a freakin' pansy?" a voice behind him demanded. Steve turned to see Doug Thompague taking a gulp from a beer and glaring at him. "So now I guess you're just a goddamn Oakwood asshole instead."
Steve was only vaguely aware that he was rising up out of his seat so he could turn and face Doug. "At least I cheer for a winning team, unlike some losers I could mention."
Doug snorted. "Did you already forget that Lawndale kicked your sorry asses last year? Too bad you'd already given up on them and moved to Oakwood long before, just because you lost a little money on that lousy bet."
"A little? It was practically a fortune! But I made it back and then some, thanks to Oakwood wiping the floor with your team two years ago!"
"Pfft." Doug waved his hand dismissively and rolled his eyes. "My boy Keveo was only a freshman that year; then he made varsity and now Oakwood doesn't stand a chance against us!"
"Looks like Oakwood's doing a pretty good job of kicking Lawndale's ass right now!"
"How about I kick your ass right here and now?" Doug bellowed.
"Go ahead and try!" Steve shouted back, jumping over the back of his seat to stand nose-to-nose with him.
Doug had just pulled his arm back, ready to connect fist with face, when both men were startled by an announcement over the loudspeakers.
"Due to the excessive number of overtimes as well as the unfortunate amount of penalties, the officials have decided to call this game a tie. A rematch will be set for next weekend."
"Tie?!" both men exclaimed at once. They looked at each other warily. "Rematch?"
"Rematch?" Timothy "Friar" O'Neill, the school counselor for both Oakwood and Lawndale, echoed nervously from his seat next to school superintendent DeMartino. "Are you sure that's wise, given how many players have been injured?"
DeMartino glared at the microphone in front of him for a minute before growling to himself in frustration. Switching it back on, he added, "In addition, any player caught using unnecessary force against an opponent in next week's game will not only be thrown out of the game but also expelled."
Switching the microphone off once again, he slumped back in his seat and grumbled, "And possibly fed to rabid wolves, depending on my mood."
"Keveo, dude, where was your brain tonight?" Jeffy demanded of the quarterback in the locker room. "You got taken down more than any of us put together, but usually you're, like, impossible to catch."
"Yeah," Joey chimed in. "Plus there was at least one time I threw you the ball and it practically bounced off your helmet before you noticed."
"And you weren't even paying attention during some of the plays," Jamie added.
Looking up in surprise, Keveo blinked for a minute and then sighed. "I dunno, guys." He peeled off his jersey and studied the mix of mud and blood stains that covered it, unsure whether or not it would be better to just throw it out and get a new one.
"I know what it is," a voice broke in from the other end of the room. Everyone turned to see Mackutio, the team captain, looking slightly amused at Keveo. "Chicks."
A few players laughed or joked as Keveo shrugged and began untying his shoes. "Shut up," he finally said as the jeers only increased.
"Who is she this week?" Mackutio asked, coming to sit on a nearby bench.
Keveo sat up and gave his teammates a pitiful look. "Angie."
The others began groaning and calling out variations of "Bro, she's not worth it!"
He sank his face into his palms. "You guys don't know her like I do, okay?" He lifted his head and grinned. "She's, like, ridiculously hot, you know?"
"Come on," Joey argued. "There's a ton of hot girls at this school. You could get any one you wanted!"
"Not like Angie," Keveo sighed. "She had it all. The hair, the face, the legs...."
"...the tendency to cheat on you," Mackutio finished.
"Hey! Not cool!" Keveo protested. "You can't prove that!"
"Need I point out--again--that she had some other guy's underwear in her car, you found a very suggestive text message on her phone, and she called you by no less than three wrong names in the same night?"
Keveo glared. "That's, uh, circumference evidence."
Mackutio stood up and took a deep breath. The room fell silent, realizing that he was about to utter something deeply profound that would stun them all into awe and wonder.
"Dude," he said. "You need to get laid."
The announcement was met with wild applause. "Great idea!" Jeffy called out. "Keveo, you gotta come with us to the Oakwood party we're crashing tonight. It's gonna be sweet!"
Keveo looked at the guys, all nodding their agreement, with disbelief. "After all the punishment we took tonight, you really want to go looking for trouble?"
"We're not going to start anything," Jamie assured him. "We'll be incognito."
Keveo frowned. "I thought you said the party was in Oakwood."
The doorbell rang just as Julibritt was pouring the last bag of chips into a party bowl. She checked to make sure the flat ones were completely separate from the ridgy ones and went to answer the door.
The party guests began to flood in, and the house quickly filled with boisterous teenagers having fun. A few times Julibritt saw a face she didn't recognize, or one she thought she recognized but couldn't remember seeing at Oakwood High, but she shrugged it off.
Until she saw him.
It wasn't exactly the most romantic moment ever. The stereo was playing "Who Let the Dogs Out?" and someone was puking into one of the antique vases. But as soon as she saw him smash that beer can against his forehead, she knew her heart was gone forever.
She grabbed one of her friends as she was passing. "Who's that guy?" she demanded, unable to take her eyes off him.
The other girl looked and snorted in disgust. "Ugh, who let Keveo Thompague in? He's the QB for Lawndale!"
Her friend walked away, and Julibritt stood in stunned horror. "Oh, no!" she squeaked, twirling one ponytail around her finger. "I can't go out with a Lawndale player! Our uniform colors will clash, we won't have the same favorite hangouts...oh, and our schools totally hate each other's guts!"
Letting out a single choked sob, she turned and ran in search of a private place to calm herself down.
Keveo watched the blonde girl hurry away, looking really upset about something. He nudged the guy next to him. "Dude," he said, "who was that chick?"
"Seriously?" Joey asked. "That's Julibritt Taylulet. She's hosting this party. It's her house, genius." He pointed to the large family photos hanging on various walls, all featuring Julibritt. "She's the head cheerleader at Oakwood."
"Oakwood? Aw, man!" Keveo cried. "The party's hottest girl goes to my school's biggest rival." He smiled, remembering the sight of her. "And she's got the world's biggest...." Realizing he was still talking out loud, he decided to shut up and go look for her.
He was just checking the kitchen for Julibritt (and the fridge for beer) when he saw Sam Stybalt swagger into the room with half of the Oakwood offensive line. "Oh, crap," he muttered, realizing that if he was recognized he would probably wind up being carried out of the party on a stretcher. He turned quickly and started looking for a good hiding spot.
He made his way down an empty hallway until he reached a closed door. He opened it and, hearing Sam's voice coming nearer, ducked inside and closed it behind him. Turning around, he saw a washing machine, a dryer, and some piles of laundry. He also saw a girl with very familiar blond ponytails standing with her back to him.
"Oh, Keveo, Keveo!" Julibritt sighed. "Wherefore art thou Keveo?"
Sweet! She's totally into me! "I'm right here, babe!" he called out cheerfully.
"Eep!" The girl whirled around, startled, and saw him. "Oh, it's you!" she exclaimed. "Is it true that you play for Lawndale?"
He nodded, grinning. "I'm the QB!"
"Ooooh!" Julibritt groaned. "But that means we hate each other!"
"Naw," Keveo argued, taking a step toward her. "It'd be way more fun to date each other!"
She gave him a small smile. "Well...I guess it's okay as long as nobody finds out, right?"
"Definitely! I mean, it's like fate or something that we met. And fate stuff always turns out okay, right?"
"Oh, Keveo," she sighed. "You're so...so...deep!"
"You wanna make out?"
Her only reply was a happy squeak as she pounced on him, sending them both falling backward into the dirty sock pile.
"Babe, I feel kind of silly."
"I know, Keveo, but it's safer this way."
The couple was sitting at a table in Chez Pierre, wearing disguises to make sure no one would recognize them. Keveo was wearing a Groucho Marx disguise, complete with oversized glasses, fake nose and moustache, and bushy eyebrows. He'd added a neon green cowboy hat and a blue-and-red plaid blazer with huge lapels that he'd found in the attic in a box of his dad's old clothes.
Julibritt had made up her face with pale foundation and then went overboard with bright blue eyeshadow and deep purple lipstick. She'd covered her hair with a bright red wig with long, wild curls. She was wearing a tie-dye T-shirt paired with a fluffy pink tutu. "Anyway," she continued, "I think those eyebrows make you look reeeeeally cute." She leaned in close and winked.
"Aw, babe," Keveo said, turning his face away in embarrassment. His gaze fell on a table on the other side of the restaurant, where a frowning Mackutio was looking in their direction. "Oh, no!"
"What's wrong?" Julibritt asked, eyes wide.
"There's a guy I know looking at us," he whispered, hiding his face behind a menu. "I don't think he recognized me, though."
"Hey, Keveo." They both looked up to see Mackutio standing next to their table, looking at them with amused curiosity.
"Who?" Keveo said, trying to make his voice sound deeper than it was. "I don't know who you're talking about. My name is, uh...um...." His mind flailed in search of a name that wasn't his. "...Mackutio! My name is Mackutio!"
"Right." Mackutio sighed and rolled his eyes, sensing bad things ahead. "Look, Keveo...whatever you're doing, just try not to let it blow up in your face, okay?" He walked away, shaking his head.
"Whew!" Keveo breathed. "I think he bought it!"
"Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream!"
Julibritt gave a mildly annoyed look to the singing animals as they serenaded them. "Why did you pick this place?" she demanded.
"Because we don't have to wear any disguises! No one we know ever comes here!" Keveo replied proudly.
"And now I know why," she muttered, resisting the urge to cover her ears as the animals launched into an enthusiastic chorus of "Three Blind Mice."
"Come on, babe," Keveo argued, grinning at her. "The important thing is that we're together. Just the two of us." He glanced at the animals. "And them."
"Oh, how wonderful!" a voice gushed. A man pushed his way between the badger and the woodchuck, revealing himself to be Friar O'Neill.
"And him," Julibritt added, recognizing the counselor.
"Uh, hey, Friar O," Keveo greeted him nervously.
Friar O'Neill was bouncing on his feet with excitement. "This is great news!" he cried. "Two students from rival schools, meeting together to put aside the bitterness and hatred that's spanned several generations! It's an inspiration! It's a miracle! It's--"
"It's a date," Julibritt interrupted with a glare. "A private one."
"Oh, of course," Friar O'Neill replied with a nod. "Still, it's all such a--"
"--See how they run! See how they run! They all ran after the farmer's wife.... " Desperate to shut the man up, Keveo joined in the animals' song, singing at the top of his lungs.
"...Who cut off their tails with a carving knife!" Now Julibritt jumped in as well. The animals, delighted to finally have an audience willing to participate, continued the song with them as Friar O'Neill backed off and left them in peace at last.
They all reached the end of the song and the animals finally wandered off to bother someone else. Julibritt reached across the table and grabbed Keveo's hands with her own, smiling warmly at him.
"I just realized," she murmured. "Now 'Three Blind Mice' is our song!"
"Okay, this time I'm sure we're not going to see anybody we know!" Keveo announced as they walked into the Suds Laundrymat together.
"Maybe so," Julibritt replied, looking around, "but what are we supposed to do here?"
"Uh, laundry," Keveo answered with a condescending smile. "Duh."
"We didn't bring any laundry," she pointed out. "And anyway, laundry is boring."
Leaning casually against a washing machine, Keveo grinned. "That's not what you thought the last time we were in a laundry room."
Julibritt blushed and giggled. "Oh, Keveo. The night we met? You're so romantic!" She wrapped her arms around him and they both forgot all about the other people in the room.
Ten minutes later, the couple was firmly escorted out of the building with strict instructions never to return.
"And what's that supposed to mean?!" Julibritt shrieked.
Keveo blinked in confusion at the furious girl sitting next to him in the Jeep. "Uh...whatever you want it to mean?"
"Oh, and what do you mean by that?" she demanded.
He tried to think. It didn't go well. "Nothing?" he offered.
"Nothing?!" Julibritt's voice became so high-pitched, it was almost inaudible to human ears. "Is that what I mean to you? Nothing?"
"But, babe...." Keveo had no idea what had happened. One minute they were talking and laughing, and then suddenly Julibritt was madder than he'd ever seen. Something in the back of his mind said that it might have to do with the comment he'd made comparing her to his ex-girlfriend, but he was sure that couldn't be it. His verdict been overall more favorable toward Julibritt than Angie, and if Angie happened to be a few pounds lighter than she was, that was hardly his fault, right?
"Take me home. Now."
"Aw, man." In hindsight, the bra size speculation had probably been a bad move, too.
Julibritt faced straight ahead, crossing her arms and refusing to look at him. Keveo sighed and considered mentioning that Angie was also generally more easy-going than Julibritt, but decided against it at the last moment. Instead, he angrily started up the Jeep and began driving toward Oakwood.
"Oh, Ashley-Amber!" Julibritt sobbed, running straight to her stepmother after school. "I miss him so much!"
Ashley-Amber looked up from the Cashman's sale ad in surprise. "Julibritt, honey," she cooed. "Your father's just at work. He'll be home in a couple hours for dinner!"
"I don't mean Dad," she explained. "I'm talking about Kev--um, this guy I'm seeing. Who goes to my school. Oakwood High School. Not any other schools." Tears filled her eyes again. "And now I'll never see my true love again!"
"Poor thing!" Ashley-Amber set aside the ad and hugged her stepdaughter. "That's not true," she said with a sudden flash of brilliance. "You'll see him in school tomorrow!"
Julibritt pulled back and shook her head. "I mean we had a fight and I think it's over."
"Well, of course the fight's over!" Ashley-Amber exclaimed. "He's not here now, so you can't be fighting."
"The relationship is over," Julibritt corrected. She was starting to wish she'd gone to someone else for comfort. Anyone else. Like maybe the bathroom sink.
"Really?" Ashley-Amber put a hand to her mouth in surprise. "That's so sad!"
Yes!" Julibritt cried. "I'm sad, and I don't know what to do!"
Her stepmother sat in silence for a few minutes, lost in thought. At last she smiled. "I know! Let's go shopping!"
"Maybe later," Julibritt muttered before turning and walking away.
"Yo, Mackutio," Keveo greeted his friend sadly after school.
"What's up with you?" Mackutio asked. "I know you're not still bummed about Angie, because I saw you with some other girl the other day at Chez Pierre."
"I told you, that wasn't me! That was some other guy who looked like me, and anyway, it's none of your business what I--I mean he--was doing there!"
"Whatever, man. Just snap out of it before Friday, okay? We need you to get it together in time for that rematch against Oakwood."
At the word "Oakwood," Keveo groaned. It reminded him of Julibritt, although lots of things reminded him of Julibritt now. Seeing a girl with blond ponytails made him think of her hair. Hearing the cheerleaders giggling together reminded him of her voice. Seeing a pair of oversized balloons...well. Keveo shook his head and tried to focus. "Sorry, bro," he finally said. "I've just got a lot on my mind right now."
Mackutio looked doubtfully at him. "That'd be a first," was all he said.
Julibritt was trying to concentrate on her homework when her cell phone buzzed, letting her know she had a text message. Giving up on algebra for the time being, she picked it up and read the message.
sry 4 wat i sed meet me @ the big strawbery at 8?
"Aww!" Julibritt hugged the phone and grinned. "I can't stay mad at you! My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both, like, go on for a really long time." She looked at her phone and, remembering that Keveo couldn't hear her, texted back a reply that she hoped would convey the depth of her feelings for him.
Keveo glanced nervously around the Big Strawberry just a few minutes before eight o'clock as he waited for Julibritt, but didn't see anyone from either high school there. As usual, there were only a handful of tourists taking pictures and gawking at Lawndale's biggest--and only--attraction.
At last he saw her walking toward him. "Keveo!" she cried, running forward.
"Julibritt!" he exclaimed back, moving forward to pull her into his arms. After a few enthusiastic minutes, they came up for air. "I wanna ask you something," he told her seriously. Taking half a step back, he got down on one knee and, pulling something out of his pocket, held it up and asked, "Julibritt, will you...be my babe?"
"Ooooh!" she breathed, eyes wide with excitement. "Of course I'll--wait, what kind of ring is that?"
He looked at the neon-green plastic ring admiringly. "I got it from one of the vending machines in the gift shop over there," he explained. "Look, it glows in the dark!"
"You got me a cheap plastic ring?!" Julibritt demanded.
He stood up and gave her a pleading look. "Don't be mad. What's in a ring? That which we call a diamond by any other name would still be way more expensive than I can afford."
Julibritt thought it over, and her angry expression melted into love again. "Oh, Kevvy," she sighed.
"Aw, babe," he replied happily. "Now nothing in the whole world can ever come between us!"
Keveo heard the referee's whistle and began moving forward on autopilot. Friday had arrived and, with it, the much-anticipated rematch game between Lawndale and Oakwood. The ball flew into the air, but before he could even see who caught it, he'd been knocked to the ground by an Oakwood player running past him.
He got back up, and his gaze fell on Julibritt. She looked at him, worried, but he gave her a quick thumb's up to let her know he was okay. The anxiety didn't leave her face, and her eyes suddenly widened in surprise. Keveo turned around just in time to see the football bounce off his helmet and hit the ground. The whistle sounded again, signaling a dead ball.
Mackutio groaned as he approached him. "Dude, focus!"
Keveo shrugged apologetically. "Saw-ree." Ignoring his teammates' glares, he glanced back at Julibritt one more time. It's just not important anymore, he realized. Who cares about a game when you've got a super hot chick?
Smiling dreamily, he continued to go through the motions of the game without caring about the outcome. His blissful indifference lasted until partway through the second quarter, when he looked over just in time to see Sam Stybalt launch himself at Mackutio with a snarl. Even from several yards away, Keveo could hear the sickening crunch.
He ran to his teammate as Stybalt was pulled away, and saw Mackutio's face. It was contorted with pain, and his arm looked all wrong.
The coach shook his head sadly. "That arm is broken," he told Mackutio. "Just hold still for a minute and we'll get you taken care of."
Keveo took a step back, horrified. This is my fault, he realized. If I'd been paying attention, I could have stopped him from getting hurt. I could have stopped--
He looked over at Sam Stybalt, who was snickering with a couple of Oakwood players.
At that point, Keveo snapped. He was acting purely on rage and impulse, with no thought to consequences, or the game, or Julibritt, or anything except for revenge for his fallen teammate. Lunging forward, he tackled Stybalt and began throwing punches. The other boy's helmet and pads protected him from some of the assault, but he was unconscious and bleeding by the time Keveo had been dragged off him.
By the time rational thought (or what passed for it in Keveo) returned, he found himself face-to-face with Superintendent DeMartino. The superintendent was saying a lot of very angry words, many of them very loudly, but the only one that Keveo really heard was "expelled."
As he numbly walked out, the full impact of his expulsion finally hit. No more Lawndale classes. No more Lawndale friends. No more Lawndale football team.
The horror and despair welled up within him, overwhelming him to the point that he couldn't hold it in any longer. "Aw, man!"
Julibritt leaned her head against the bus window as it carried her and the other cheerleaders and football players--aside from Sam--back to Oakwood. Everyone was gleefully swapping rumors about how badly Sam had been injured, but all she could think about was Keveo.
Expelled. She tried to picture what that would mean. Keveo won't be going to Lawndale High anymore, which is kind of good because that means we won't be at rival schools anymore. But he beat up Sam, which I guess is bad because now everyone at Oakwood hates him even more than before. So I don't think anyone's going to be thrilled if they find out we're dating.
She closed her eyes and sighed. So nothing's really changed. We still have to see each other in secret.
The bus dropped everyone off at the school parking lot, where Julibritt waved goodbye to the others and climbed into her car. She drove home and walked into the house, where Steve had arrived well before her.
"Hey, Julibritt!" he cheerfully greeted her as she entered the living room. "Come over here; there's someone I'd like you to meet."
She turned to see a red-haired boy about her age lounging in one of the armchairs. He was leering at her, and as they made eye contact he gave her a wink that made her recoil. "Um, hi," she said with a half-hearted wave.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, fair lady," the boy replied with a faint growl in his voice that was probably supposed to sound seductive but came out like he needed a cough drop. "I'm looking forward to getting...better acquainted."
Every word that came out of his mouth made Julibritt feel like she wanted to take a shower. She gave the boy a polite but brief smile and looked at her father. "Dad, it's been a long day. I should really go to bed early tonight."
She could swear she heard a faint snigger when she said the last part, but kept her attention on Steve, who gave her a disbelieving look. "It's not even ten o'clock yet!" He pulled her aside and spoke quietly, so the boy couldn't hear them. "Listen, I thought you and Uparis might go get some pizza or something. I'll buy, okay?"
"Ugh, you set me up on a blind date?!" Julibritt demanded before making the connection. Uparis? As in Uparis Ruttheimer, Jr.? The guy Dad's been obsessed with lately--the one who has lots of money and connections and his own island in the Mildews or whatever. So this boy must be his son...and that means my dad is probably trying to...oh, ew! "No way!" she exclaimed out loud.
Steve gritted his teeth. "Look, you don't have to marry the kid," he said, although Julibritt didn't miss the delight in his eyes as he said it, "just go on a date with him. One date."
Julibritt looked back at Uparis, who was now smirking and shameless staring at her body. She crossed her arms, both to hide the view and to emphasize her determination. "I'd rather die!"
"Feisty!" Uparis purred, overhearing them. "I like that in a woman."
"Ooooh!" Julibritt cried, turning and storming away.
"Julibritt!" her father called after her. "You get back here right now!" When she began heading up the stairs, he added, "You're grounded! For at least three months!"
Her only response was to slam the door of her room shut. She leaned against it and held back a sob. Grounded? That means no leaving the house except for school, and that means no seeing Keveo! For three months? I'll be...old!
She heard muffled voices downstairs and the sound of the front door closing. Although a small part of her was relieved that Uparis had left, mostly she just felt dismayed. No Keveo. Oh, I just want to die.
As Julibritt was leaving her last class the following Monday, Julibritt was feeling even worse than before. Not only was she forbidden to leave the house except to go to school, her father had taken away her phone. That not only meant that she was unable to talk to Keveo, but she now had to wait until she got home to check Twitter.
"It's not fair," she groaned, walking down the school hallway with a scowl.
"Is everything okay? Is there something you need to talk about?"
Julibritt whirled in surprise and found herself face-to-face with a concerned-looking Friar O'Neill, standing outside his office. "Oh!" she squeaked. "Um...." Her first reflex was to shake her head and continue on her way. It's a secret relationship, she reminded herself. But...he already knows. He saw us at Pizza Forest. So he's the one person I can actually talk to about this. Before she could change her mind, she nodded her head and hurried past him into the counselor's office.
Practically before the door had closed, Julibritt began talking nonstop and barely stopped for breath until she'd reached the end of her story. "...and now I can't even talk to Keveo, and my whole life is totally ruined!"
Looking slightly dazed by the verbal onslaught, it took O'Neill a moment before he was ready to respond. "That sounds very frustrating," he said soothingly.
"It is!" Julibritt sighed. "But what can I do?"
"Hmm." O'Neill leaned back in his chair and thought. "Have you considered sitting down with your father and explaining all of this to him? 'Lay all the cards on the table,' as it were?"
Julibritt gasped in horror. "No way! He'd ground me for the rest of my life!"
"I see." He thought some more. "All right, how about taking the next three months as kind of a vacation from all of this stress? You could spend some of the time meditating, or learn some relaxing yoga? I could recommend a few books that might help the healing process--"
"I don't think so," she replied, looking utterly confused.
O'Neill frowned slightly at the rejection. "Well, I'm afraid I'm out of ideas. Unless," he paused and chuckled before adding, "you want to fake your own death and create a new identity."
"That's it!" cried Julibritt. "Perfect!"
"What? No, I was just--"
She leaned forward eagerly. "So how do we do this? Do I need to find some fake blood or would ketchup be okay? I think my little brother has one of those trick knives where it looks like you've been stabbed but really the blade goes into the handle. Or at least I think it does. Maybe I should test it on someone first...."
"Um, I really don't think this is a productive direction to go in," O'Neill interrupted.
Julibritt glared at him. "Hey, this was your idea. Now, are you going to help me or do I have to do this all by myself?"
O'Neill briefly calculated the odds of Julibritt trying to fake her death while not actually getting herself killed and didn't like the outcome. He sighed, stood up, and walked over to a cabinet. Pulling a small bottle out of it, he showed it to her. "I drink this occasionally in small doses to help me sleep. In larger doses I'm told it can mimic death."
Peering at the dark liquid inside the bottle nervously, Julibritt asked, "Is this safe?"
"Um...I think so. It does contain Echinacea, so it can't be all bad, right?"
"Uh huh." Julibritt didn't sound convinced. "So I go home, drink this, and...then what?"
He shrugged. "I haven't really figured out the rest of it yet."
"What?! But this was your idea!"
O'Neill seemed to consider arguing on that point, but let it go. Instead, he lowered the hand holding the bottle and gave her an imploring look. "On the other hand, you could just go on a few dates with this Uparis boy to appease your father. Surely it wouldn't be that--"
Julibritt thought about Uparis's sleazy grin and slimy voice and shuddered. "Gimme that," she snapped, grabbing the bottle from him and stuffing it into her teddy bear backpack.
After fretting briefly, O'Neill dropped back into his desk chair, resigned. "Are there any people you think you should inform about this plan ahead of time, to prevent them from getting upset when they hear that you've...you know...passed on?" He chuckled nervously. "I mean, aside from Keveo, of course."
She gaped at him in surprise. "Oh! I guess I should tell Keveo about this, shouldn't I?" She reached instinctively into her bag for her cell phone, then frowned. "Um, do you have a phone I can borrow?"
He passed her his cell phone and she rapidly began sending a text message.
hey babe ur gonna hear some crazy stuf like me being ded or whatevr but its NOT TRUE ok?
Handing the phone back to O'Neill, she smiled with relief. "There! Now nothing can go wrong!"
"GO GO GO GO GO! YES!!! Touchdown!" Keveo shouted at the TV, tuned to the Pigskin Channel and turned up so loud he hadn't heard his phone's text message alert (a few seconds of "Tubthumping") go off earlier that day. As he began enthusiastically bouncing in place on the couch, the phone gradually slid from its spot next to him to the space between the cushions.
"Whoooo! You rock, dude!" Keveo cheered, oblivious to his phone's fate as he stared at the television. Just then, the football game abruptly switched over to news report.
"We interrupt this program to--"
Keveo immediately sighed and stopped paying attention, until he noticed that Julibritt's face was staring at him from the screen. He leaned in and began listening to the announcement again.
"...found dead at her home earlier this evening. Her body has been placed in the Taylulet family tomb pending her funeral, to which only the really, really popular kids will be invited. In other news...."
"What?" Keveo cried, eyes widening in horror. "She's...she's... dead?!"
Bolting off the couch, he raced out of the house with only a brief pause to grab his car keys on his way out the door. His cell phone remained forgotten between the cushions.
The tomb was eerily quiet as Keveo entered, having just broken in. It was even more eerie when he thought about dead people, which was hard not to do while walking into a tomb. He tried to shake off the creepy feeling as he shifted the many plastic bags weighing down his arms so he could switch on his flashlight.
He walked along, shining the light in every direction, until he found what he was looking for. Lying there, still and silent, was Julibritt.
"Aw, man!" he moaned, letting the bags fall to the ground. He knelt down and looked closely at her face and body, hoping maybe there'd been a mistake and it was really someone else. It took only seconds to confirm that he really was looking at his long-term girlfriend of over a week.
Resigning himself to the truth, he sighed and turned to the bags sitting on the floor next to him. "Well, at least my trip to Tom's Liquor wasn't a waste." He reached into one of the bags and pulled out one of the many six-packs of beer he'd bought using his fake ID. He took one can from the pack, opened it, and poured half of the beer down his throat in one gulp.
He eyed the bags with concern. "Hope I brought enough," he muttered. "I wonder how many cans of beer it would take to drink a guy to death?" He took another gulp. "Guess I'll find out tonight. See you soon, babe."
After he'd finished off a few more cans, he was feeling tipsy but still focused on his goal. "Ninety-six bottles of beer on the wall," he sang to himself as he popped open a new one. "Ninety-six bottles of beer...."
"...take one down an' pash it around, eighty-one bottles of beer on the wall!" Now Keveo was singing at the top of his lungs, and had gotten so drunk he failed to notice when Julibritt abruptly sat up and crammed her hands against her ears.
"Stop singing! I hate that song!" she cried.
"Hey, thish song--hic--rules!" Keveo protested. "Oh, you're alive! Cool!" He blinked bleary eyes at her, and gradually began to sober up as realization dawned.
"Well, duh," Julibritt replied in surprise. "But you already knew that. You got my text, right?" She stared at him with confusion. "Wait...you didn't get my text?"
"I guess I forgot to check my phone," he said, embarrassed. "Saw-ree."
"'Sorry'? You totally ignore your phone during one of the biggest crises our relationship has ever faced, and all you can say is 'Sorry'?!"
He tilted his head as the drunken fog continued to lift. "Um...I'm, like, really sorry?"
"Ooooh!" she cried. Taking a deep breath, she launched into a rant punctuated by ear-splitting squeaks and shrieked obscenities.
Keveo watched her blankly for awhile before sighing and pulling another can out of his bag. "Eighty-one bottles of beer on the wall," he sang quietly as he opened it. "Eighty-one bottles of beer...."
Thanks to RLobinske for beta reading.