“Yeah, the theme is carnival. Don’t eat all the cotton candy again.”
“If your dad didn’t want me to enjoy myself, he wouldn’t have supplied endless cotton candy.” Jackson pouts.
“Okay, but when you’re on the floor of my bedroom with a stomachache, don’t make me call your mom.”
“That only happened twice, and you know it.”
We laugh as we turn our attention back to the crowd.
The band begins to play, and Principal Nolan comes out with a microphone.
“Good afternoon, Craven Cove students,” she says, and her voice echoes through the large space.
She talks for a little while about what’s expected of the students this year and how she’s looking to the seniors to represent the school with the best behavior. On the far side of the gym, I see our school mascot, the Craven Cove Eagle. The guy who wore the suit last year graduated, so I don’t have a clue who it is now.
I see the Eagle come running across the gym as Principal Nolan finishes her speech. The crowd begins to cheer as the band plays our school song. It’s got lots of drums and saxophones, so the music drowns everything else out.
I see the crew coach talking off to the side with Principal Nolan as the Eagle gets the crowd hyped up. He’s launching T-shirts, the band is performing, and then someone brings out a trampoline. He runs from one side of the gym to the other while bouncing on the thing, and I’m actually kind of impressed.
“Holy shit, he’s actually decent.” Jackson says, echoing my thoughts.
“Anything was better than Aaron.” The most that guy ever did was clap his hands.
The whole school is watching as the Eagle grabs a basketball and begins to dunk with the help of the trampoline. Shortly afterward, he’s ready for his next trick as they wheel out a huge paper-maché statue that’s shaped like a torch. The crowd is so jacked up everyone begins booing. The torch is painted to symbolize our rival school East Bend High and their mascot, the Mustang.
The band is playing so loud I can hardly hear my own words as I lean over to Jackson. “What the fuck is he doing?”
The crowd erupts as he climbs on a ladder above the paper flame carrying a huge bucket of water. I’m assuming this is a way to show how we’re going to put out the competition, but what the Eagle doesn’t realize is that the safety bar on the ladder isn’t all the way down. As soon as he gets to the top with the heavy bucket, he begins to wobble.
There’s movement on the other side of the gym next to the bleachers, and I see her. It’s the girl from the coffee shop the other day, the one that disappeared on me. Her dark hair is braided over one shoulder, and she’s got on a white tee and cut-off shorts. She’s come in late and doesn’t realize she’s about to be in the direct line of fire as the Eagle begins to tip the bucket.
My muscles flex to run, but it’s no use because she’s too far from me. The only thing I can do is gasp as the crowd roars. The Eagle tilts on the ladder and loses his grip on the bucket as he falls. He misses the flame altogether and the entire contents of the bucket go directly onto the girl.
I’ve only taken two or three steps, but even from this distance I can see her thin white shirt was no match for the gallons of water poured right over her head. She’s completely drowned, and there’s a moment when the whole gym goes silent.
It’s like a nightmare that’s all happening in slow motion.
The crash of the bucket to the floor is loud and seems to shock me out of my frozen state. Thankfully, the Eagle landed on the safety mats someone had the good idea to put down. All eyes are on the girl, and before I can think of what else to do, I race over to Principal Nolan, grab the microphone, and yank off my shirt.
“Who's ready to kick East Bend’s ass?!” I shout, taking the attention away from her.
Everyone in the bleachers erupts, and I hear girls screaming my name. I feel completely naked as there’s wolf whistles and guys yelling over the crowd. This is embarrassing, but I try not to think about it as the band takes the lead and begins to play again.
Jackson follows my lead as he pulls his shirt off and runs out of the tunnel to join me. The crowd gets even louder as the rest of the rowing team do the same and join us in the middle of the gym.
Principal Nolan is scowling at me, and I know I’m in deep shit. I’ll deal with that fallout later. Right now, I just want to make sure the girl gets out safe, and when I glance over to where she was, she’s gone. The only thing that’s left is a puddle of water, and someone is already over there with towels to clean it up.
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