In Texas, two things are cherished above all else—football and gossip. My life has always been ruled by both.
“This is a bad idea, Stella.”
Stella straightens her shirt. And by straighten, I mean she pulls it down to reveal what little cle**age she has (which is about twice as much as me).
“We’re in college now,” she says. “Bad ideas are the goal.”
“Maybe it’s your goal. You don’t have a parent on the faculty. If this gets back to him—”
It’s Friday night, our first on campus, and she stops just before the walkway of a frat house that hums with pent-up music. More than a head shorter than me, Stella reaches up and forces me to look at her. “Okay, sister. Let’s nip this in the bud right now. No one is telling anyone anything. There are like ten thousand people on this campus. You, my dear, are finally a small fish in a motherfucking ocean. Loosen up and enjoy it. This isn’t high school anymore.”
Could it really be that simple?
Loosening up has always been easy for Stella. Her mom is a bigger party animal than she is. She’ll probably get a high five if we get caught. Me . . . well, I’m a little scared to think of how my dad would react. What little freedom I have would disappear faster than the hot water in my dorm on days that end in a y.
For one glorious month, I had entertained visions and fantasies of what college would be like. Rusk wasn’t my ideal school, far from it, but it was something. I could finally make my own decisions and not have to worry about them migrating to the coach’s office before lunchtime. I had ached for high school graduation day like there was a knife in my gut, and I couldn’t pull it out until May. Then my dad was offered the open position here at Rusk, and I feel like I’m still gasping for breath around that knife.
Maybe we aren’t in high school anymore. But it’s the same damn misery with a different name.
Unless I do something about it.
But it’s easier to be miserable, so I shake off Stella’s grasp. “All it takes is one person to say something to someone, who tells someone else, who mentions it at church or practice or anywhere, and I’m dead. Stick a fork in me and dip me in hot lava. Dead.”
“God, you’re so overdramatic. Sooner or later, you’ve got to stop being scared of your dad. If you don’t, you’re going to graduate college a virgin with half a dozen cats, some dumb-ass degree he wants that you couldn’t care less about, and only professors and academic journals for friends.”
I wince, because she’s right about almost all of it. She would be furious if she knew I wasn’t a virgin and didn’t tell her. I’d always meant to, but it isn’t exactly my proudest memory, and the longer I’d put it off, the easier it had become to pretend that it wasn’t a thing. I refuse to let it be a thing. Instead, I roll my eyes and say, “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Hey, I’m just being the voice of reason here.”
“More like the devil on my shoulder.”
“I accept that role.” Stella cackles and nudges her elbow in my side like she’s just said the funniest joke ever. And in spite of myself, I crack a smile.
I stare up at the Delta Sigma house. All the frat houses on campus are old colonial-style mansions with creeping ivy and pearly white columns. They look so presentable . . . probably in an effort to hide the absolute debauchery that happens inside.
God, I just thought the word debauchery. Stella’s right. I am going to end up a lame cat lady, probably yelling at people from my front porch and waving my cane around like a madwoman.
It just isn’t fair.
College is supposed to be a time to break free, to start fresh. You would think being the football coach’s daughter would be a benefit. I know more about the sport than half the guys at our school, knowledge that should make it easy to land a date.
If they weren’t all petrified of my father.
Or even worse . . . panting after him like he’s bacon dipped in Nutella wrapped in more bacon. I could probably walk into this party wearing only my bra and underwear (slathered in some of that Nutella), and some idiot would bumble over, completely unaware, to ask me about my dad, what his plans were for the season, or how many high school state trophies we have lying around the house.
Stella’s slim fingers snap in front of my face.
“Earth to Dallas. Are you actually frozen in fear right now?”
I roll my eyes, a habit of mine, especially around Stella. “I’m not afraid. I’m just . . . not optimistic.”
“Don’t tell me . . . you were brainstorming all the ways you could be a killjoy tonight.”
I give her a playful shove. “I was contemplating covering myself in Nutella, actually.”
“Now, that is what I like to hear! Ten points for creativity.”
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s just get this over with.”
Stella skips off ahead of me, and I have to mentally remind myself not to drag my heels. I love the girl, and she is my best friend in the entire world, but I honestly don’t have any clue how. She is outgoing, and I (frequently) prefer the company of books to people. Or movies to people. Anything over people, really. I’m easily self-conscious, even more easily irritated, and she blows through the front door of that frat house like we’re seniors instead of lowly freshmen.
And perhaps our biggest divide . . .
Stella loves football.
I’m talking majorly fanatic groupie. She goes to games and watches it on TV and reads the blogs and follows a bazillion players on Twitter. I’m convinced that if she weren’t a five-foot-tall little Asian pixie that she would be out there playing herself. Hell, maybe one day she will be. She’s a force to be reckoned with.
I go to games and watch it on TV, too. I know the players names and can rattle off the different plays and positions and whatever else you want to know.
But that’s not because I love it. I’ve just lived it. Every day of my life for as long as I can remember. Through every new town and new school and new friends, football was the one thing that never changed. And when you spend that much time with something, you either love it or loathe it.
One guess which category I fall into.
I step inside the house behind Stella, and the manic grin she shoots me over her shoulder lets me know she’s just stepped into her own personal heaven. A dozen or so people near the entrance glance up, and their eyes slide right over us. My shoulders relax their stone posture just a smidge.