The Second Encounter — Finding It: Chapter 20

Before leaving the gymnasium floor, Coach Friske took my trophy and medal into safekeeping for the bus ride home. But as I was following him, Dawn was there with open arms offering me a hug. “I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks. Did you see the size of that trophy?”

“Where are you going to put it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe on the TV set in the family room. I just hope it fits inside my little car.”

“I’m sure it will. If not just shrink it.”

I laughed, but then noticed she was serious. “I don’t know how to do that.”

She shook her head. “You have so much to learn.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t have the benefit of growing up around a witch.”

“True.”

“So, what did you want to tell me?”

She waved her arms and everything around us slowed to an almost imperceptible crawl. Only within the bubble where the two of us stood did things progress normally. “Are you ready for this?” she asked.

“Yeah, I guess.” Still looking around at the stillness, finally, I turned to focus on her. “What is it?”

“Jen and I are getting married!”

It wasn’t entirely a shock except that I wasn’t expecting to hear it just then. “Do they allow that in Pennsylvania?”

“No, but that doesn’t stop us from making our vows to one another and having family and friends there to witness it.”

“So, Jen’s going to be faithful to you, now?”

“She says she’s made her choice.”

“And you believe her?”

“I guess we’ll see.”

“You don’t sound too confident.”

“I’ve been disappointed before, Brent.”

“Then why do it?”

“We’ve talked about it for a while and it’s an arrangement, more than anything else. And we’re almost always together anyway. We had a close call a couple of weeks ago. Some serious, life and death shit.”

“What happened?” Now, I was concerned for her safety, even though she was probably better equipped to handle situations than I would ever be.

“Craziness, really. What I was warning you about before. They know who we are, Brent. Sooner or later, they’re going to approach you because you have hunter skills. They’ll want to enlist your aid. So, for your safety, it’s probably better we don’t see each other, anyway. Especially now that you’re doing the sorts of things that will likely pop you up on their radar. But in the interest of delaying that for as long as possible, I don’t want to be the reason their attention is drawn toward you.”

“You mean the hunters found you and Jen?”

“More like we ran into them. But, yeah, they nearly captured us. It was touch and go for a while. Jen was exhausted after saving our asses.”

“You’re okay, though. I mean — both of you are safe now, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. We’re both fine. But surviving that led both of us to the same conclusion. Life’s too short to take chances on there being enough time later on.”

“Live for today,” I said.

“Exactly.”

“So, we’re having a ceremony. Something for everybody who knows us to cling to. That’s the reason you have weddings in the first place.”

“I’m sure there’s more to it than that.”

She shrugged. “Anyway, we’re going to take our vows on the vernal equinox — or close to it.”

“When’s that? In March sometime, right?”

“Yeah, the 20th, but we’re doing our ceremony on the 23rd because a lot of people can’t make it except on Saturday.”

“Congratulations are in order, then.” I opened my arms and she fell into them for a hug. Then, when she pushed back, she asked, “You’re really okay with it?”

“Why wouldn’t I be? It’s what you want. Right?”

She nodded. “I was a little worried like maybe you’d be jealous.”

“Well, I am, but what can I do? It makes you happy; that’s what I want.”

“I didn’t want to hurt you. You know? For a while, it felt like we had a few things going on, and I — ”

“Maybe we did, but after our conversation about compatibility, I gave it a lot of thought. If you don’t believe we could make it, then we’d never be able to succeed as a couple. Yeah, it sucks because I like you a lot and you’re fun to be with. But all that compatibility stuff matters a lot to you, more so than it does to me. But what do I know? Anyway, it’s pretty clear where things stand.”

Dawn wiped away a tear as she nodded. “I’m sorry… about everything. You probably feel like I was leading you on, but I wasn’t. I didn’t intend to, anyway. We were in the moment and we shared some things, you know?”

“It wasn’t too subtle as letdowns go,” I said. “Look at what you’re missing out on.” I struck a pose with my arms raised flexing my muscles.

She laughed. “Yeah, you really are turning into quite the hunk. The wolfcat in taking over.” She pounded my chest, then raked her fingernails through my hair. “I’m pretty sure Jen wouldn’t mind us doing a little something extracurricular on the side if you’re game.”

“Maybe in May.”

“Yeah, your birthday present.”

“As much as I’m enjoying the mental image of you wearing nothing but a bow, that probably will never happen.”

“I don’t know. Never’s a long time. And for the record, it’s also a place.”

“It is?”

“Yeah, people get trapped there. It’s not somewhere you ever want to be, not even in your thoughts. That’s where the expression ‘never say never’ comes from, just the people with no discernable magic coopted it as a motivational thing, completely distorting its meaning.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. I try not to use absolutes or superlatives.”

“So, anyway, if you’re free on March 23rd, the ceremony is at noon. You know how to find us.”

“I don’t know if I can make it. That’s during the state tournaments. Of course, that would be at the end. So, likely as not, I won’t be tied up.”

“You never know. You just beat the guy who won it last year, right?”

I know I was grinning. “Yeah, I did.”

“It could happen. Just make sure it is what you want to do. ’Cause that will put a bullseye squarely on your back.”

“What do you mean?”

“The Society? Remember? That sort of accomplishment is a clear sign of something they will need to check into.”

“Maybe they won’t notice.”

“I wouldn’t count on that,” Dawn warned. “But if you decide to go for it and you get to the top… and if that is why you miss the wedding, it’s okay.”

“We’ll see what happens. March is a couple of months away.”

“It’s closer than you think.”

I shrugged. “Look, I gotta shower and get dressed.” I looked around, noting that the other wrestlers from my team and some of the others who won awards were still semi-frozen on their way to the locker room. “I appreciate you coming to watch me wrestle and for telling me in person — sort of.”

“It felt better this way.”

“Definitely. Take care, Dawn.” I leaned into her, and we kissed.

“You too, Brent,” she said as our lips parted. Stepping back and with a wave of her arms, both she and the bubble vanished as all motion around me resumed its normal flow. I turned toward the locker room, but I paused as I felt her intentions, saying goodbye.

When I finished showering and dressing in my street clothes, I was one of the last wrestlers to leave the locker room. There was a group of people congesting the corridor just outside the locker room door. As that was not all that unusual, I pressed through trying to get to the exit and board my team’s bus. I was tired and in no mood to talk to anyone. My impatience grew as the crowd slowed me down. All I wanted to do was get on the bus, collapse into my seat at the back of the bus, close my eyes, and maybe catch a nap.

A couple of people who recognized me from the match wanted to shake my hand and congratulate me. Another patted my back as I squeezed by, offering his congratulations. Then, from behind, someone addressed me by name. I turned.

“So, it’s my new friend. Or are we still strangers. I forget how we left off.”

“For the record, this is the second time we’ve met, so we’re not strangers anymore,” Pam said with a broad smile.

“Are you sure about that?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s in the rule book.”

“Which page?”

“Page one.” Pam fluttered her lashes. She did that well. Then shaking her head, she added, “You actually did it!”

“Yeah, I get lucky like that sometimes.”

The crowd around us forced us closer together for a moment. Wrapping my arms around her, I pulled away from the crush and off to one side, closer to a wall and out of the flow of people pressing toward the exit. But as I still held her and our eyes met, I felt something like the spark I felt with Dawn, but different. It was like the power emanating from her invited me. She had to feel it too. How could she not?

“Are you sure the rule is on page one?”

She nodded, slowly, while our eyes were still locked.

“I must have glossed over that,” I said after a few moments’ pause, but was finally able to break away, diverting my eyes from hers, glancing around, feeling strange, like I’d lost time.”

“You should read more closely,” she said.

“Yeah, I need to pay better attention to the details, I guess. That’s the trouble with speed reading. Anyway, guys aren’t good about reading rulebooks and instructions. You know?”

“Yes, I know. I have two brothers.”

“So,” I drew a deep breath, but once again, our eyes met. “Now that we’re friends — ” Did I dare linger, getting drawn in again.

“It’s official,” she interrupted, looking away. “It’s always good to make a friend, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“I was a little concerned that since you defeated the State Champion and won the tournament, you’d think it is beneath you to talk to little ol’ me.”

“Well, because we’re friends and all, I shouldn’t need to tell you that’s not me at all.”

“I’ll have to remember that. That’s good to know.”

“I think I need to confess something, though.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“A while back, Mike Smith told me your name. I guess you know him?”

“So, are you telling me you really can’t read?” Partially, she opened her coat to expose the name on her sweater. “‘Cause, you just said you speed read.”

“I struggled with reading when I was younger. I taught myself how to speed read. I still have trouble reading out loud, though.”

“Interesting.”

I looked around, not seeing anyone from my team I kind of panicked until I saw our bus still parked outside the glass doors.

“Let’s just say, I’m challenged sometimes,” I continued.

She laughed. “Yes, I’ve met Mike.”

“I’m sure it was more memorable for him than it was for you.”

“He asked me out, but I said no. I was dating someone at the time.”

“The captain of your football team. Mike told me.”

“So, what were you doing, researching me?”

“Much of that information Mike volunteered. I don’t know why. But I have a good memory, especially when the subject interests me.”

“So, you’re interested in me?”

“How could I not be?”

She smiled. “Still, I’m amazed I was the subject of conversation.”

“You were only one of four cheerleader groups at the Western Invitational. Yours was the best, by the way, and you’re the leader. So obviously, you’re the best of the best. Why would I pay any attention to anyone else?”

“Why, thank you for saying that.” She grinned.

“There’s no need to thank me for telling the truth, but you are certainly welcome.”

“It means a lot to me because we work hard at learning our routines.”

“Well, it shows. Your routines are attention-getting.”

Her smile grew in response.

“My school doesn’t have cheerleaders specific to wrestling. At home meets, our junior varsity basketball cheerleaders fill the bill, but they don’t travel with the wrestling team to away meets, obviously.”

“Our school was that way too until the team started to win league titles and perform well in tournaments. And we started gaining a following, so the attendance at our matches increased. That helps pays for stuff like our uniforms.”

“Now that some of our wrestlers are doing well, maybe some of that will happen for our team too.”

“You can hope.”

“It was a good day for my team,” I said.

“Especially you.”

“I have really only had a handful of matches. There was a good deal of luck involved,” I said. “But I like being lucky.”

“Now, everyone knows you.”

“They do for today, anyway.”

She leaned in closer toward me. “You’re too modest.”

“No, I think that’s being realistic.”

“Well, thank you.”

“For what?”

“For being honest.”

“Look, there is nothing I’d love more than to stay and chat, but if I’m not on the bus when the coach decides to leave I might have to walk home. And that’s a long way.”

“Countryside’s in Springfield, right?”

“Outside of town on the south side.”

“I see. Obviously, I’ve never been there.”

“I don’t think our teams have ever competed outside of an invitational and the district tournaments… our basketball and football teams never play one another.”

“We are Division 3 A.”

“That’s the reason; we’re Division 2 A,” I said referencing the student population and how the state divided schools for major sports.

“We’re in the same district for wrestling and tennis, though.”

Ralph, one of my teammates, passed by, tapping me on the shoulder. “We’re leaving really soon, big guy.”

“Thanks, I know.” Starting to walk toward the exit, I turned back; our eyes met again. “It’s great talking with you, Pam. But I really gotta run. I can’t get left behind. Plus, I have a bit of a drive after I get to school. I live fifteen miles from the school.”

“Why so far?” she asked as she continued walking alongside me.

“I moved back home for my senior year.”

“Moved back home? Where were you living before?”

“In an apartment so that I could attend Countryside.”

“Okay, that begs for an explanation.”

“I’m afraid it’s probably a longer story than I have time to tell. And it’s probably not all that interesting.”

“Wait!” She reached out, tugging at my sleeve to halt me. She fished around inside her clutch and came up with a slip of paper and a pen. Hurriedly, she jotted down her information. “This is my number. I have my own phone line.”

“Nice.”

“Well, my dad and mom do business out of the house. So, they can’t afford to have me tying up the line all the time. It used to be a phone that all us kids had to share — more like we fought over it. But since I’m the last one home — ”

“You’re the youngest child, too.”

She nodded. “So, you know something about it.”

“Definitely.” Silently requesting the pen from her, after she gave it to me, I jotted down my parents’ number on the same paper. Then, as I was folding it to tear it in half, I explained, “This is my folks’ phone. I don’t have a line of my own anymore, not since I moved back home. This way you can call me as well.”

“If I call you, will you tell me the whole story?”

“Yeah, sure. It’s not all that interesting like I said, but yeah, we can talk.”

“It’s long-distance, though.”

“I figured that.”

“Your parents won’t think it’s weird if I call you?”

“My parents think everything teens do is weird.”

“Brent, come on!” Jason held the door open and called for me to join him.

“Look, I’ll call you tomorrow,” I promised. “That way you don’t have to worry about my parents thinking it’s weird, or about the long-distance thing. My band has a rehearsal all afternoon. I’ll not be home until after eight.”

“Your band?”

“Rock band. I play bass, some guitar, and I sing…”

“You got a lot of things going on.”

“You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”

“Maybe I would. You can call me around nine then?”

“Yeah, that should be perfect. My parents are usually in bed by then. They’re farmers. You know how it is. The fringe benefit of that is they wake up early. So, I’m almost never late to school.”

Pam laughed.

Jason had come to physically collect me. “Coach Ellis is threatening to leave you behind.”

“I gotta scoot,” I directed to her.

“Remember, tomorrow around nine.”

“I will.” I walked backward, waving to her in conclusion.

Jason spun me around. “Come on, Romeo.”

“I’m coming.”

He led the way outside and onto the awaiting bus, speaking as he hurried me along. “Honestly, the coach has never left anyone behind. In your case, he would be concerned that you would walk all the way home and lose so much weight in the process that you could not wrestle in the unlimited class for a while. Now that you’re on a hot streak — ”

“Now that you mention it, other than forfeits, I have only two losses, both were wrestlers who I just defeated in this tournament.”

“Yeah, you have a decent winning percentage now. That’s all that matters, regardless of how it was accomplished. No heavyweight for Countryside has ever had a winning record this late in the season.”

“I kind of get that stat by default since there’s only been one heavyweight recently and before him the wrestling program was new and for a while, there wasn’t even a heavyweight.”

“Thanks for the history lesson,” Jason said sarcastically.

“And I missed a lot of the season.” I followed him to the back of the bus.

“I don’t think that matters much since you just slew Goliath,” Jason said to me over his shoulder. Then once he was in a seat that also contained some bags of equipment he continued, “Maybe it hasn’t set in yet, but you are going to be the subject of sports articles in every major paper throughout the state. People who have been following Heath’s career usually write the article in advance, anticipating his victory. All that has changed.”

“I’m a journalist… well, sort of.” I settled in at my usual seat across the aisle.

“Then you know.”

“I doubt it will be anything past the perfunctory mention of my name as the one who defeated him.”

“Jeeze, Brent! Are you really that dense?”

“It’s a big deal for tonight and tomorrow — maybe all the way into Monday. Then it will all be forgotten. I’ll be back to being ‘Brent Who’, same initials, nothing more.”

Jason shook his head.

“Look, not to be rude or anything, I’m really tired and after I get back to school, I have a twenty-minute drive home. You know?”

“Yeah, take a nap.”

“Thanks, Jason”

I recall thinking about sleeping and waking up startled a couple of times as I was launched into the air when the bus went over a bump in the road. All the same, when Jason nudged me to let me know we were back at school it felt surreal. “I guess I slept.”

“Yep,” Jason said. “Snored, too.”

“I’ve been known to do that. You and Kenny need some help getting the equipment inside?” I asked as I began gathering my things together.

“If you’re offering, yeah, sure.” As the bus stopped close to the fieldhouse, Jason stood.

“It’ll be like old times.” I joined him. “Just let me stow some of my stuff where it belongs, and I’ll be right with you.”

When I returned from my car, Jason and Kenny were already carrying in the boxes. I grabbed the last few and brought them off the bus, staging them by the fieldhouse door. Then I returned to the bus to grab my trophy and the poster board containing the bracket chart showing who wrestled one another and the names of those I defeated on the way to the championship.

“Is that it?” the driver asked.

“Let Jason check quick, ’cause it’s his butt, not mine.”

“No problem. So, I see you got one of the big trophies?”

“Yeah one of five, six if you count the team trophy.”

“The coaches are pretty happy.”

“Yeah, they are.”

By then Jason came back outside and thanked me for the help. He boarded the bus to make one final check. By the time he emerged, I had made it to my car.

It was cold, so I had already started the motor and left it running to warm up for the drive home. I stowed the trophy, which barely fit behind the seats, and my bags and the bracket chart before I climbed inside. I sampled the air from the front vents. It wasn’t warm yet, certainly not enough to thaw the ice that covered the windshield.

“It must have sleeted earlier,” I said to Jason as I rolled down my window and drove my elbow through the ice that remained where my window had just been. Jason approached his car, which was parked close to mine, started it, and hurried over to my car, tapping on the passenger side window wanting in. I leaned over and unlocked it for him.

“Yours has gotta be warmer.”

“Not by much.”

“I’m glad I live close. I’m pretty beat,” he said as he settled into the passenger seat.

“Tonight, I wish I still lived over on Crabill Road.”

“So, you have a date for tomorrow night?” Jason asked.

“Me? No. I’m currently unattached, which has been my natural state of being for just about forever.”

“I thought you were an item with that magician’s assistant.”

“We’re friends. That’s all.”

“What about that other one, the one who wore that gold dress at Homecoming?”

“Renée?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s busier than I am. We talk sometimes. Again, we’re just friends. I think she’s at an indoor tennis tournament in Columbus this weekend. Actually, I’m supposed to call her tonight.”

“I saw you flirting with that pretty blond cheerleader. I figured the nine o’clock tomorrow was a date.”

“Pam?” I chuckled. “She is pretty, isn’t she?”

“You could do worse.”

“Unfortunately, that was nothing. Completely harmless.”

“It didn’t look like nothing to me.”

“I told her I had to run to get on the bus. I hadn’t finished explaining something to her. So, we exchanged numbers and I’m going to call her tomorrow after I get home from practicing with my band, so I can tell her the rest of the story.”

“Doesn’t it strike you as being even the least bit odd? She’s a cheerleader from another school, Brent. Why is she talking to you?”

“It’s sort of odd, but I don’t know. We were having a pretty good conversation.”

“That’s how it begins. A little harmless flirtation and the next thing you know you’re eloping.”

“Jason, the expert on the subject of women.”

“Hey, a read a lot.”

“I doubt Xaviera Hollander’s column in Penthouse offers a serious commentary about relationships with women.”

“I read some other things.”

“Let me explain it to you. Women want friendship first and foremost. Then they wait to see if feelings develop. In the process, they like being appreciated and told they are pretty, but they don’t want to be patronized and definitely don’t want to feel like they’re just a toy or something,” I said.

“At least you know that much.”

“I’ve learned a few things here and there. But this whole thing with Pam is completely innocent.”

“So far. You find this cheerleader attractive, don’t you?”

“You saw her, Jason. She’s attractive. She’s smart and self-confident, which are things I find appealing.”

“Does she have a boyfriend?”

“Had a boyfriend.”

“So, you found that out, but it’s nothing serious?”

“I knew it from before. Mike Smith told me. He knows her, sort-of.”

“So, she’s on the rebound. That’s dangerous territory. I think she’s trying to get in with someone who could be an up-and-coming wrestler ranked in the state.”

“I seriously doubt I’ll be ranked in the state after this.”

“No, but if you keep going like this for another month… anyway, she would have never approached you had you not just defeated Heath.”

“For the record, I hung on for the victory. You know it as well as I do. Mark Heath had a very bad night and for some reason, I was able to capitalize on it. Even so, Pam spoke to me yesterday, when I defeated her team’s wrestler.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, it was more of a growl at first and I said something to her that struck up a conversation.”

“The phone number thing for tomorrow: you know, that’s almost a date as far as she’s concerned.”

“A phone conversation with someone you have just met is not a date, old boy.”

“You don’t think it’s a date, but I’ll bet she does.”

“She just wants to hear the conclusion of a story, okay? It’s nothing more than that.”

“And you have this thing about telling stories.”

“I’m a writer.”

“A writer wannabe.”

“Well, I’ve not published anything except for articles and editorials in a school newspaper — and a few things in the monthly lit magazine. But none of that counts officially.”

He reached across the console and slapped my knee. “Your car is all thawed out, now. So, I’ll bet mine is, too.”

“Drive carefully going home, Jason.”

“You too, Brent. And go buy a Sunday paper in the morning to read all about yourself.”

“I will,” I promised as he closed the passenger door behind him.

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ElgonWilliams Author

ElgonWilliams Author

Professional Author & Publicist @Pandamoonpub #FriedWindows #BecomingThuperman #TheWolfcatChronicles