A Game of Risk Chapter 1
“Up there?” I asked, pointing up the ladder.
“Can you think of another way to get the crepe paper up?” replied Shawn.
“But I’m wearing a skirt,” I protested again.
“Your problem,” Shawn answered, and walked away with her clipboard.
“Can you think of another way to get the crepe paper up?” I muttered to myself as I mounted the ladder.
“Problems, Murphy?” My best friend, Jack, teased from the neighboring ladder.
“That girl is evil when she’s got the clipboard,” I whispered.
Jack snorted. “Don’t let her hear you say that.”
I secured the end of my roll of crepe paper to the basket ball hoop, and started back down the ladder.
“Nice shorts, Gwen,” Jill—my other best friend—called up as she walked past.
“Whatcha got on?” Jack asked from a few rungs higher.
“My Little Pony,” I said, lifting the hem of my uniform skirt just enough to show off the romping horses on my boxer shorts. The only way to survive wearing a wool uniform skirt is to wear boxers underneath.
“Classy,” Jack nodded.
“And you?” I replied.
“Tazmanian Devil.” Jack tugged the waistband of his own boxer shorts out just slightly.
“That doesn’t look like working!” Shawn’s voice sailed across the gym.
“Oh my God,” I muttered.
“Let’s get this over with.”
We slid their ladders across the floor to hang the rest of the paper. By the end of the rolls, we had developed a rhythm: I held both rolls and twisted them together as we walked to the next hanging spot, Jack climbed the ladder and taped up the decorations. Finally, the last of the roll was ready to go up. It came up just short of the Halloween banner on the wall. Jack came down and we eyed the display for a moment. I glanced over both shoulders.
“Let’s move the banner. She’ll never notice.” She was Shawn of course, self-appointed Social Director of Saints Agnes and Andrew High School.
“All right, quick.”
We hurried back up the ladders. I unhitched one end of the banner, and Jack the other. We attempted to slide it over, but it was clearly secured in the center as well. I eyed the distance between the ladders and decided to go for it.
“Here I come,” I announced and stretched out one foot. For a moment I was falling through thin air, then my foot caught the backside of Jack’s ladder. “Sweet!” I said, just before my ladder jarred slightly from the altered weight. I found myself doing the splits eight feet up two ladders.
“Grab the middle,” Jack said.
“Got it.” I freed the banner and Jack managed to slide it down to meet the crepe paper. We slapped our palms against the tape to keep it in place.
“All right, let’s get the heck out of here,” Jack started down his ladder, and I tried to shift my weight back to one ladder. I couldn’t move.
“Jack, I’m stuck!” I whispered, laughing.
“You are not.”
“Yes, I am! I can’t get back.”
Jack appeared below me, looking up. I squawked, trying to cover my exposed boxers.
“Oh, relax. I’ve seen it before.”
“Not since we were five!” I protested.
“That’s what you think.”
“Get me down so I can smack you,” I hissed.
“All right, all right,” He tried pushing one of the ladders toward me, but the opposite one just pushed away.
“Aaahck! Stop it!” I pin wheeled my arms, trying to stay balanced. My shriek finally caught the attention of the other students in the gym. Jill immediately started laughing.
“Jill, shut up!” I hollered, not even needing to see my best friend to recognize her laugh.
“A little help here,” Jack called. Matt and Mark came to his aid. “Hold the ladders still.”
Jack appeared below me again and started up the ladder that held my left foot. He nearly toppled me as he got the right height.
“Careful!” I said, wobbling.
“Yeah, yeah.” He reached out and curled his hand around my waist, gripping the waistband of my skirt. I shuddered when his thumb tickled my skin. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“Just get me down.”
With a grunt and a frightening moment of weightlessness, I was safe on one ladder again. The small crowd below clapped.
“You okay?” Jack asked.
“Just a little…stretched.” Actually, my thighs felt like jelly, but I didn’t need to share.
“Let’s get down.”
Jack left me clinging to the ladder while he climbed down first. I was working myself into an internal froth about the lack of chivalry as I climbed down, but as I stepped onto one of the last rungs, I felt Jack’s hands on my waist. He guided me to the floor and I disgusted myself with a little heart thump.
Here’s a secret: I am a hopeless romantic. I dream of being a tragic heroine, like in the classic romance novels. Give me a love song and I am lost. A romantic movie? Please; I will have the dialog memorized after one viewing. But, this is my little secret, because it would totally destroy my cool-girl reputation. I am supposed to be the girl you can count on for a sarcastic comment, a laugh at a dirty joke, and to always go along with a prank. So, I hide my secret moments of romantic thinking. Such as this one.
Jack and I have been neighbors since we were born. Literally. We have the same birthday. Jill lives around the corner of the same block. She is four months younger than Jack and I. She didn’t move into our neighborhood until she was eight, but we became friends right away. The three of us have always been like peas in a pod. I am absolutely against romantic thoughts about Jack. But, even he can inspire my hopeless heart. That’s how much of a sap I am. Disgusting, isn’t it?
Anyway, back to the story.
The small crowd assembled around us applauded when I was safe on the ground.
“What is going on over here?” Shawn demanded, pushing her way into the circle.
“You missed it.”
“Jack saved Gwen,” someone said.
Shawn rolled her eyes. “Whatever. We’re done here anyway.”
A small chorus of cheers rose up.
“I’ll see you all tomorrow at the dance.” Shawn did a quick turn and walked away without another word.
“Ugh, that girl!” Jill muttered when Shawn was out of earshot. She imitated Shawn’s purposeful walk, earning a few snickers.
“All right, who needs a ride?” Jack asked.
I put my hand up along with Jill, and three other people who live in our general direction.
When we hit the parking lot, I noticed the weather was decent for October. “Top down!”
Jill groaned, “My hair.”
“Oh please. Who are you trying to impress?” Jack said.
“You never know.”
“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Jenny said.
“Fine.” Jill crossed her arms while the rest of us worked on securing the top of Jack’s ancient convertible down. As soon as we were done, she called, “Shotgun!.”
“Back seat!” Jenny said at the same time as her boyfriend, Eric. Eric climbed in over the side before anyone could open the door. He held out his arms and called, “Matt, I’m open!”
Matt, a rather huge athletic type, seemed to know what this meant, because he picked up Jenny—who shrieked—and tossed her up to Eric, who caught her easily. Jenny is a teeny little Vietnamese girl, but I have never considered her even remotely tossable. Boys are very strange. Matt jumped in after Jenny, leaving me with the undesirable seat in the middle of the front. Great.
We managed to squeeze in with all backpacks in tow, and Jack somehow managed to shift the car into gear around my knees.
Jill twisted sideways, squishing me further, to talk to the passengers in the back. “What are you wearing to the dance?”
“I’m going to be a fairy,” Jenny announced.
“Criminal,” Eric said.
“Interesting couple,” Jill said.
“He’s always a criminal,” Jenny elbowed Eric in the ribs.
“It’s comfortable!” he protested.
“What about you Matt?” Jill asked, eyelashes fluttering ever-so-slightly.
“Gag me,” I mumbled to Jack, who laughed. We loved to make fun of Jill more than almost anything. Since puberty, Jill has been boy crazy. I’m starting to think it’s chronic.
“Ooh, I’m going to be an angel!” Jill practically jumped over the seat to tackle him.
“Oh brother,” Jack mumbled.
“What about you guys?” Jenny asked us.
“That’s top secret,” Jack replied.
“No it’s not,” I retorted.
“Just because you know doesn’t mean everybody has to,” Jack said.
“Oooh,” Jenny said, “now I’m intrigued.”
“I’m gonna tell,” I teased.
Jack let go of the wheel with one hand, and wrapped me into a headlock with his hand over my mouth. He had me so tight I couldn’t even open my mouth enough to lick his palm. That would have made him let go right away. I pulled at his hand, wheezing laughter through my nose.
“Real mature, guys,” Jill said, but she was laughing too.
To my shock and horror, Jack managed to keep his hand over my mouth all the way to the corner where we dropped off Jenny, Matt and Eric. Matt and Eric lived around the corner from each other, and Jenny was headed over to Eric’s house.
“See you guys tomorrow,” Jenny called as they headed off.
“Impressive dedication, Evans,” Matt saluted Jack.
“Thank you,” Jack acknowledged with a nod. He maintained his death grip on my head until we were a block away.
I gasped when he let go. “Jerk!” and I gave him a good punch in the shoulder.
He laughed, but rubbed his shoulder.
“What is the big secret, anyway?” Jill asked.
“There isn’t one,” Jack said.
“Then what’s with the headlock?” I demanded.
“I thought it was funny.”
And for some reason, it struck me as funny then, too. I laughed hard enough to get my eyes watering, and Jack laughed right along with me.
“You guys are demented,” Jill declared when Jack rolled to a stop in front of her house.
“My neck totally hurts!” I laughed.
Jack broke into fresh giggles.
“Whatever,” Jill got out and slammed the door. “I’ll see you idiots later.”
I jerked my thumb in her direction. “She thinks we’re idiots.”
“She doesn’t get it,” Jack laughed.
He pulled into his own driveway. Within 30 seconds, my sister Efa was on our front porch.
“Hi! Hi Jack!” she waved.
“Your girlfriend’s here,” I whispered to Jack.
It was a well-known fact that Efa had a raging crush on Jack. She was only 13, and the poor child just could not grasp that a 17 year-old guy was not interested in her. Jack has a brother in Efa’s class, Brahm, but Efa thinks he’s “gross.” This is kind of true. But, in my experience, all 13 year-old boys are kind of gross. Maybe she’ll transfer her affections in a few years.
“Hi Efa,” Jack said.
She beamed at him. “I got the Killers CD you told me about.”
I thought her face might split she smiled so big.
“I think mom’s looking for you, Ef,” I pointed to our mother’s face in the window. She was clearly just checking what had caused Efa to run outside, but it worked.
“Okay, I’ll see you later. Bye,” she waved again and went inside.
“Omigosh, Jack you’re so cool,” I gushed. “Can you tell me everything you like so I can go out and get it too?!”
“Ah leave her alone,” he said. “She’ll get over me…eventually.”
“Oh brother,” I sighed.
“Come over later,” Jack ignored me. “We still have a game of Risk going.”
“Oh whatever, I am clearly winning that game! I don’t know why you bother playing.” I poked him in the ribs. “Besides, you’ve probably been messing with my armies while I’m gone.”
“I haven’t touched them.”
This was true. He hadn’t touched them. We have this conversation all the time. We’ve had the same game of Risk going for over a year now.
“Okay, I’ll be over later.”
After dinner, Efa and I watched the end of Moulin Rouge, which had been playing when I first got home. That movie has some great romantic moments, but the end always depresses me.
“That’s so beautiful,” Efa sighed.
“It’s too sad!” I protested. “Why does she have to die?”
“Their love wasn’t meant to be,” Efa answered, sounding way too wise.
“All right, I’m going to play Risk.” I got up.
“No fair!” she pouted.
“What’s your problem?”
“You always get to go over by Jack.”
“It’s no big deal. We’re just playing Risk.”
“You never play Risk. You probably just say that so you guys can be alone.” She jumped up on the couch, shouting over the back as I headed for the back door. “You probably just go over there to kiss him.”
“Okay, eww,” I said. “Ef, he’s my friend. That’s it. We like to hang out. There is no kissing.”
“Yeah, right.” She flopped onto the cushions again, disappearing from sight.
“See ya, kid.”
I cut through the yard and entered Jack’s house from the patio.
“Hey Brahm,” I greeted the Evans child that I could see at the computer in the family room.
I stuck my head into the room. “Hi Mom and Dad,” I greeted Mr. and Mrs. Evans.
“Hi, honey,” Mrs. Evans waved.
“Hey girls,” I called to the sisters Zoe—age 12—and Annie—age 10—who were absorbed in something on TV. They each raised a hand, but didn’t look away from the screen. The fifth Evans child, Cassie was nowhere to be seen.
“Yup. Who’s winning?” Dr. Evans asked.
“Me. Of course.”
“Am I ever getting my ottoman back?” Mrs. Evans asked.
“Probably not tonight,” I gave my standard answer.
“Give him hell,” Dr. Evans said.
“Yes, sir,” I saluted him. Dr. Evans had been a Marine for 10 years, and there is just something about him that demands respect. Both Dr. and Mrs. Evans are from the South originally, Mississippi I believe, and require their kids to be very respectful. All of the Evans kids are super polite and say ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ when they talk to adults. It kind of makes me laugh.
I trooped upstairs to Jack’s room. The lights were off in the hall, but I knew the way by feel, smell or sound. I’d been finding my way here since I was about 5 years old. I popped the doorknob open and gave the door a swift kick.
“What up, J?” I adopted a ridiculous gansta stance as the door swung open.
“Hey, check this out,” Jack said, ignoring my pose. He was under his loft on a beanbag, watching TV. Dr. Evans and my dad had built the loft when we were 10, I think. It used to hold a virtual city of Matchbox cars and Legos, but once we got to high school, the toys were cleared out and a mattress took their place. Now there was a small sitting area beneath it. The old, tiny TV was hooked up to a DVD player Jack had inherited from his grandfather when he had upgraded to an easier-to-use model. There was a huge green beanbag in front of the TV with easy access to the stereo and the old Playstation that had been replaced by a Playstation 2 in the family room a few Christmases ago. Apart from the usual bedroom furniture, there was an ottoman, confiscated from the living room to hold our Risk board at a comfortable height. The Risk board had actually started to gather dust where it sat in the corner. We hadn’t even rolled the dice in about two months, because we were forever getting distracted by something.
I flopped onto the beanbag beside Jack and looked at the screen. There was a black and white movie on.
“Young Frankenstein,” he announced.
We watched in silence for a while, passing a bottle of water between us.
“Oh, by the way, you suck,” I told him at a commercial.
“My neck totally hurts from your headlock.”
He grinned at me. “That was awesome.”
“Like I said, you suck.”
He gave me a half-hearted, one-handed massage for a few seconds.
The old movie ended, and we surfed channels for something more exciting. Jack found a more recent horror movie on one of the cable channels. “Oh, this is a good one,” he declared. He has a strong stomach for fear, apparently. I however, sat with my stomach in my throat.
“Hey,” he said suddenly, and I jumped. He laughed.
“You scared me!”
“What did you want?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. Are we going to the dance together?”
He sighed. “This is my nonchalant way of asking if you have a date.”
“Oh. No. Why?”
“I don’t either, so are we going together?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I mean, yeah. I just assumed we were. We are, aren’t we?” He’d never asked me to a dance before; it was just understood that we would be riding together. There had been a couple of dances that one of us had dates for over the years, but we’d still carpooled. He was making me nervous all of the sudden.
“Yeah, of course, forget it.”
“Okay.” After a moment I added, “Good.”
We fell into an awkward silence until Jack joked, “We’re gonna look funny together.”
“The cowboy and the princess?” I laughed.
“Rapunzel,” he corrected, giving my long ponytail a tug. “You’re such a girl.”
“I thought that’s what you liked about me.” I batted my eyes at him.
“Yeah, it’s a little uncomfortable sitting on the bean bag with Mike,” he said. I laughed at the idea.
He surveyed the room for a moment. “Someday we’ll have to finish that game.”
“We should at least dust it,” I agreed.