May 23, 2014

Slip Excerpt

Slip, by Leslie J Portu

And so it begins...Boy Meets Girl

Vivien heaved open the gym door to be greeted by the thunder of bouncing balls. Kids were running in all directions, shrieking and shouting at each other. She stood uncertainly, her eyes sifting through the chaos for any sign of an adult in charge. By sheer luck she managed to dodge an errant basketball just before it collided with her face. At last, near the center of the gym, she spotted a bald man wearing an ID badge and she made her way toward him.
“Excuse me!” she shouted, extending her hand. “I’m one of the volunteers. Vivien Allen.”
His hand gripped hers in a firm shake. “Another one. Fantastic! Wonderful! We’ve got a nice-sized group this fall. Excellent!” He spoke every word without ever losing his broad grin. “I’m Mr. Peterson. Bob, you can call me. Where would you like to start?” He gestured toward the basketball nets. “We’re about to get a game going in a minute here.”
She hesitated, eyeing the net with suspicion. She knew nothing of the rules of basketball. In fact, she avoided all sports whenever possible. To say she was unathletic was putting it kindly. As her gaze dropped, the sight of a small boy crying caught her eye. One of the volunteers was crouching before him, his back to Vivien. He appeared to be listening thoughtfully as the child sobbed and pointed his finger at the accused (another small boy who, upon being singled out, promptly split the scene). Slowly the volunteer rose to his feet: faded jeans, cardinal-red Eastbrook Lacrosse sweatshirt, perfectly tousled dark hair. Oh no. She sucked in a breath. He remained still, hands on hips. Then at last, Declan Mieres turned and looked straight at her.
She swallowed, eyes darting away, but not before he’d caught her staring. Great. “Um…are there any other choices?” she asked.
Bob managed to reveal an even more spectacular view of his back molars as he nodded and signaled for her to follow. She trailed along behind, flinching every now and then as a basketball whizzed past her ears. At the opposite end of the gym were another set of doors through which they passed, ending up in a small cafeteria. Here she saw three rows of long tables set up for various arts and crafts. Much better, she thought.
“Jules is in charge of this room,” Bob explained, indicating a frazzled-looking woman cradling a large tub of crayons. “She’ll get you situated.”
Before she knew it, her two hours had gone by and she was letting Jules know it was time for her to leave. Most of the afternoon had been spent showing a second-grade girl how to make cootie catchers. She’d been drawn to this particular girl when she saw her sitting glumly, methodically kicking her foot against the table leg. None of the other children sat by her or paid her any attention whatsoever. She seemed in dire need of a friend.
“See you next week, Dashayla,” Vivien promised as she headed for the door. But Dashayla protested her departure by wrapping her chubby arms around Vivien’s thigh and clinging to her the entire length of the cafeteria. Gently she peeled the fingers off one by one. “You better go back before you get in trouble.” Dashayla put on a pout. “Don’t worry. I’ll be here every Wednesday.” Vivien bent down and gave her a big hug.
Smiling to herself as she headed toward the front office, she couldn’t help but marvel at the easy affection of her newfound friend. Everything seemed so simple in elementary school. If you liked someone, you showed it. Had she really been that way once? She couldn’t remember at what point she’d begun to tuck away her true feelings…just in case.
Her head in the clouds, she failed to notice the three Eastbrook seniors as they crossed paths exiting the office.
“Oh!” she gasped, stumbling backward. “Sorry!”
Directly in front of her, Declan stood gaping, as if he’d just come upon a perplexing riddle.
“Dude!” Nathan shouted over his shoulder. “Watch where you’re going. You almost ran right over this fine girl.”
Vivien returned Declan’s stare. Never before had she been this close to him; he traveled in packs made up of lacrosse players and the most attractive senior girls. Now at last she had a golden opportunity to see for herself what all the fuss was about. He was nice-looking, she gave him that. Yet his striking presence failed to induce rapid heart palpitations, as all the other silly girls claimed was the case. Maybe he did have soft brown eyes, the kind that looked like pools of melted chocolate. And maybe they did go flawlessly with his olive skin and his wavy dark hair. And he wasn’t exactly hurting physically, either; his muscular body towered over hers by a good twelve inches (she’d inherited the “short genes” from her mother’s side of the family and was finally coming to grips with the fact that she was never going to be much over five-foot-two). But none of these things could make up for the fact that he was nothing but a player.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I’m fine.”
“Don’t you go to Eastbook?” Declan asked, still gawking. “You look…familiar.”
She nodded, trying with difficulty to pull her gaze away. And then, strangely, absolutely nothing happened. The four of them stood trapped in an uncomfortably prolonged moment. A moment of complete and utter silence. The spell was broken at last by Thomas as he cleared his throat, and time was permitted to resume its natural progression.
A self-conscious dance variation followed—a simultaneous shuffle in one direction, then the other as the four bodies attempted to navigate the narrow confines of the doorway. She managed at last to slide past the three leering Neanderthals, stomach sucked to her spine as if it was essential to create as much space as possible between their species and hers. Despite this superhuman effort, she felt the tiny hairs on the back of her neck rise and stand at attention as she and Declan shared the intimate space of the doorframe.
“Nice set of DSLs,” she heard Nathan mutter once she was several feet away. She had no idea what this meant, but coming from Nathan, the king of crass, she was certain the comment was hardly complimentary. She made a beeline for the sign-out sheet, fighting the urge to look back. The sound of laughter drifted in as the three boys headed out to the parking lot.
It took a minute before she’d regained the mental capacity to sign her name. She didn’t know how they’d managed to fluster her so badly. Why should she care about them? She had nothing but contempt for the entire lacrosse team and their social circle. They breezed through the halls like they were some kind of royalty. And she was only a minor character—the lowly chambermaid—in their star-studded cast.
One thing was for sure: hell would freeze over before Miranda could talk her into going to Nathan’s Friday night.