As a guy who appreciates pranks, I’m impressed. This took some serious thought and effort. Retaliation would be fun to plan. But Ashtyn’s breathing hard, like a dragon about to spit fire. She’s not amused or impressed. She’s pissed. I grab a garbage can next to the garage and start untying tampons from the branches.
She yanks the can away from me. “What are you doing?”
She’s managed to get ketchup on her face and hair. She pushes stray strands out of her face, but that only makes it worse. “I don’t need your help.”
I glance at the tampons waving in the air above her. “Come on, Ashtyn. You know it’ll take you twice as long to do it yourself.” I pull a tampon off a branch and wag it at her. “Let go of that big ego of yours and let me help you.”
She grabs the tampon out of my hand and tosses it into the trash. “I don’t think you’d find it funny if this happened to you.” Turning her back, she drags the can out of my reach. “Why don’t you get brownie points by helping my sister or nephew, because you’re so good at that? You’re not earning any with me, so you might as well go back in the house.”
If that’s the way she wants it, fine. I hold my hands up in surrender. Let her deal with the mess. I know from past experience that getting mixed up with girls like Ashtyn, who take life way too seriously, is more trouble than it’s worth. “You are one bitter girl.”
“What’s going on out here?” Gus demands, then turns to me. “Did you have anything to do with this?”
Ashtyn keeps ripping pads off the trees.
Gus huffs and looks at Ashtyn as if this prank is the worst thing that could possibly happen. “I’m calling the police.”
“Dad, no!” Ashtyn gives her father a pleading look. “If you call the police, everyone will accuse me of being a weak girl who can’t handle being team captain.”
“You are a girl, Ashtyn,” Gus states matter-of-factly. “Why don’t you let some boy be captain? Have someone else’s family deal with vandalism to their yard.”
“Gus, it’s not her fault,” I say. Maybe they need to hear the voice of an unbiased third party who doesn’t think getting pranked is the end of the world. “It’s just a prank.”
Gus turns on me. “Just a prank, huh? Pranks are not funny.”
“It’s not a big deal, Gus. Instead of yellin’ at her, why don’t you—”
“Derek, stay out of this.” Ashtyn stands in front of Gus, demanding all his attention. She stands tall, shoulders back and head high. “Dad, I promise I’ll clean everything up before you get home from work. Don’t call the police. Please.”
Gus shakes his head, completely frustrated as he eyes the yard again. “If your mother were here, she’d never allow you to be on the football team. She’d sign you up for cooking classes or dance classes or something like that.”
Ashtyn looks like his words are a slap in the face. “I like football, Dad. I’m good at it. If you’d come to a game or practice and just watch me . . .”
Her voice trails to a whisper as Gus dismisses her words and walks to his car. “Make sure the yard is clean before I get home, or I will call the police.” He gets in his car and drives off. After he’s gone, Ashtyn takes a deep breath to compose herself, then goes back to taking pads off the trees.
I start pulling tampons off branches too high for her to reach.
“You know,” I say as I reach around her and toss the tampons in the trash. “Just because you can deal with bullshit on your own doesn’t mean you should.”
“Yo, yo, anyone home?” Jet’s human-bullhorn voice booms through the house. Jet never rings the doorbell. If our door was locked, he’d knock so loud he’d put a dent in the door.
I rush down the stairs, hoping I’ve washed off all the fake blood. It took Derek and me over an hour to clean the front yard. By the end, we looked like victims in a slasher film.
In the living room, Jet makes himself comfy in my dad’s favorite chair while Trey and Monika sit next to each other on the couch. Victor stands in the doorway with his hands crossed on his chest. I know what’s bothering him, but I’d never reveal his secret.
I’m still thinking about what I’m going to tell the guys about the prank when Jet says, “We know your house got tamponed and padded last night.”
I was hoping the prank happened late enough and I’d cleaned up early enough that word wouldn’t spread. This morning, only a few cars passed our house and only one slowed to check out the scene.
“How’d you find out?”
“Every guy on the team got pics e-mailed to them anonymously.” Trey holds out his phone, showing me picture after picture of the tampons and pads all over my yard . . . and my driveway with the words that still make me cringe.
“They’re also on the Internet,” Jet adds as he sweeps his hair to the side. “Time to plan revenge, ’cause I’m not about to sit back and do nothing.”
Monika taps Trey on the knee and urges him to tell me something they’ve obviously been discussing before they came here. “What we’re trying to figure out is how they got all our e-mail addresses,” Trey says. Monika nods in agreement.
“Sounds like an inside job,” she adds.
“You two have been watching too many crime shows,” Vic tells them.
“It wouldn’t be hard to get our team roster and e-mails. Some people who live on the south side of Fairfield go to Fremont.” Jet moans. “I’m fucking starving. What’ja got to eat?”
“Not much,” I tell him, but he heads to my kitchen anyway, stating that he can’t think without eating first. The guy eats a ton and is the leanest and fastest guy I know, burning off calories with his endless amount of energy. One of his dads is a chef, so why he’d want to eat something from my house is beyond me.
We all follow Jet into the kitchen. Derek is sitting at the table, typing on his laptop.
“Hey.” Derek gives a short wave to the guys.
Victor eyes Derek suspiciously while Jet asks, “Who’re you?”
“He’s Derek . . . my sister’s stepson,” I explain before rummaging through our pantry and pulling out random crap to feed the guys. My teammates don’t care if I feed them healthy food or not . . . anything fuels them.
I can almost hear the wheels turning in Jet’s head. I wish I could tape his mouth shut to prevent him from talking, but that would require me having the strength to hold him down long enough. “Wait. Ash, that makes him your step-nephew.” Jet laughs, completely amused. “That is hella fucked up.”
“Tell me about it,” Derek mumbles.
Jet grabs a handful of the purple Skittles still in a pile on the table and pops them into his mouth. “We gotta come up with a plan, Ash,” he says, munching. “Those motherfuckers at Fairfield gotta know not to screw with us.”
My sister walks in with her big hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun. She glances at the guys. “What plan?”
“Retaliation,” Jet chimes in before I can give him a signal not to mention anything.
Brandi wags her finger at Derek, something my mom used to do to us. “Don’t you even think of getting involved,” she tells him. “Remember what happened the last time you pulled a prank?”
“What happened?” Trey asks.
Derek shakes his head as my sister prepares to give us the scoop. “He got expelled for letting pigs loose during the senior graduation.”
Expelled? When I saw Derek in his Regents Academy shorts yesterday, the last thing I expected to hear was that he got kicked out.
Jet laughs heartily and gives Derek a fist-pump. “That’s epic, man.”
My sister turns to Jet with her hands on her hips, looking more like a mom than a girl who used to be a pothead and dance around the house in her underwear on a daily basis. “It’s not epic. It’s, like, not okay at all.” She directs her attention to Derek. “Don’t do anything stupid with my sister’s friends.”
Derek gives her a two-fingered mock salute.
“I’ll bet that dude Bonk was the mastermind,” Vic says after my sister grabs a cup of coffee and leaves the room. He’s still eyeing Derek as if he’s some superspy who’s not to be trusted.
“Just so we’re all clear, my man isn’t fighting anyone,” Monika says. She lovingly cups Trey’s cheeks in her hands. “Nobody’s gonna mess up this gorgeous face. Right, baby?”
They start to kiss and do some baby talk.
Vic looks away.
Jet rolls his eyes and pretends to gag. “Seriously, guys, get a room.”
I nudge Jet. “Leave them alone. When you fall for a girl, you won’t be any different.”
“Thank goodness that’ll never happen. If it does, shoot me and put me out of my misery.”
Victor gets a text and swears under his breath. “I gotta go.”
Jet holds up his hands. “Am I the only one ready to come up with a plan to kick some Fairfield ass?”
“Maybe we should, you know, not retaliate and show we’ve got more class,” I offer.
“Who said we have class?” Jet asks. “Not me. Ash, you’re delusional if you think our teammates voted you captain because they expect or want you to act classy. Let’s face it, if we voted for the best-looking guy on the team I would’ve won.”
Monika raises her hand, but keeps her eyes locked on Trey. “I disagree. My baby’s the best-lookin’ guy on the team.”
Jet laughs. “You’re biased. Yo, Parker, you really wanna know why you were voted captain?”
“Not really.” I’m sure Jet’ll say I’ve got the biggest boobs or something crude like that. Or say that he rigged it like Landon claimed, which would make me feel awful and undeserving. I want to know the truth . . . I just hope the truth isn’t what Landon thinks it is.
“I want to know,” Derek chimes in.
Jet puts his arm around me and pulls me close, squeezing me like a stuffed doll. “She got voted captain ’cause she’s the best-lookin’ chick on the team.”
“I’m the only girl, Jet,” I say.
“I’m not done. She also got voted captain because she’s got major balls for a girl. She doesn’t give up or cry every time she gets bruised, cut up, or roughed up on the field. She brings her A game every fucking time. She motivates us, that’s for sure.” He looks at Derek and says, “This girl here tried out freshman year. There were bets made that she’d quit within a week. I should know because I was one of those people who lost money on that bet. I’m not sayin’ some of the guys didn’t try to make her quit, yours truly being one of them, but she never gave up. She earned our respect.” He eyes my chest. “And she’s got the best set of tits on the team.”