The Rising(5)

But she wasn’t a cheater in the fantasy. There was no place for cheaters at NASA.


Sam saw that in her head now, her whole life ruined by one stupid mistake because she wasn’t brave or strong enough just to say no. Maybe she could tell Cara she’d lost her backpack, and thus the test.

Maybe she should just tell Cara to go to hell. A year from now, she’d be at Harvard, or Brown, or MIT, or Stanford. But they didn’t accept cheaters, either, much less give them the financial aid Sam needed with her overgrown-hippie parents too busy making pesticide-free products to make any money. Setting up “grow” communes for anyone who paid them a small deposit, with the balance almost never paid in full. No money, but a fridge full of tomatoes and a nook full of homemade jellies and jams. Wonder if one of my schools of choice might accept those in lieu of tuition? Strange how all Sam could think of was growing up while her parents never seemed to have grown up at all. Her father still called people “dude.”


Now they had taken to growing medical marijuana, having secured their grow license for a local dispensary. It had made her very popular in school once word got out, since any number of kids who’d never said a single word to her thought it would be no problem for her to clip a few buds off the plants for them. Sam reminded them that constituted a crime; “Just say no,” the saying went, and that’s what she did.

To distract herself as much as anything, Sam turned her attention back to the game, seeking out Alex, who was calling the signals from behind center. At least when she tutored him, she got paid. Even though she would’ve done it for free. And there was at least one good thing about being at the game tonight, at field level, no less: she got to watch Alex play, the crowd cheering as he threw a perfect strike over the middle for a thirty-yard gain that put the Wildcats in easy range of the Granite Bay end zone. The crowd leaped to its feet en masse, pounding the stands so hard the ground actually shook. In front of Sam on the sidelines, the CatPack bounced as if their sneakers were equipped with springs, pompoms shaking in rhythm.

That’s when she felt a man squeeze into the flat bleacher seat behind her. Sam smelled something like motor oil combined with fresh tire rubber and figured he must be an auto mechanic. But a quick glance revealed him to be well dressed all in black, the hands pressed atop his knees looking so clean the skin seemed sprayed on. Their eyes met but the man’s didn’t really regard her, and Sam turned away fast, trying to figure out why she suddenly felt so unnerved.



“HEY, STAY DOWN, FOOL! Come after me, and that’s how you land!” Alex Chin taunted, as the running back he’d drilled into the turf from his free safety position on defense was helped back to his feet and moved woozily toward the sideline. “Yup, yup, time to leave the field and don’t bother coming back!”

The other team’s trainer came out onto the field to help number twenty-four, as Alex summoned the defense back into the huddle. They were taking the game—but he didn’t like the way it was going, just one score up late in the fourth quarter after a glut of penalties called on the home team had kept the game close. Maybe the ref was still pissed at Alex for stealing the game ball prior to kickoff.

He hadn’t thrown his flag once for all the hits after the whistle Alex had taken while in at quarterback. Alex had the feeling that the coach of the visiting Granite Bay Grizzlies had put a bounty out on him or something—free pizza for whoever knocks Alex Chin out of the game. Even on defense, the fullback hadn’t just tried to block him on the last play; he’d tried to elbow-jab him in the back between the ribs. The blow had stung and stolen his breath, but Alex showed no response at all, didn’t even complain to the ref. There were better ways to get even.

“This is our house,” he told his teammates, back in the defensive huddle. “Fourth quarter and they’re still trying to play dirty. Let them. One stop to go for the CCS championship. We own this field. Let’s send them home! Let’s go to state! What are we?”


The defense clapped in cadence and fanned out to take their positions, then rapidly shifted about as Alex called out defensive signals. Pretty much the only television he’d been watching lately had been the opponents’ game films, something he was much better at studying than his senior year subjects. Every time he resolved to pay more attention to this or that subject, there was an offensive tendency to be studied or defensive weakness to be exploited. That was the thing about calling signals on both offense and defense. You had to know your opponent on both sides of the ball, instead of just one.

“Forty-three Juke!” Alex called out, as the quarterback backpedaled from center into the shotgun set. “Forty-three Juke!”

He could tell from the tight end going into motion that Granite Bay was going to run a screen to that side, hence his defensive signal to shift the Wildcats’ outside linebacker into a slot where he could disrupt the play. Alex rotated toward that side at the snap, saw the screen taking shape, and outside linebacker Tommy Banks, all 150 pounds of the legendary Tom Banks’s son, propelling himself toward an offensive lineman who looked twice his size, moving out to block.

Alex heard the bone-jarring impact as he rotated into position and charged the line, the crackle of helmets and shoulder pads crunching against each other. Tommy Banks disappeared under a sea of churning feet and black pellets kicked up from the turf field, as Alex knifed in through the gap Tommy had created and tackled the running back, who’d caught the screen low, for a five-yard loss. Then he bounced back up and moved straight to Tommy, who’d just made it up to his knees.

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