The stadium was full, the band played the Landry Longhorn’s fight song and people began taking their seats. There was excitement in the air and the metal bleachers vibrated with the noise. Jovi and Opal found a group of classmates to sit with behind the band. Opal sang along with the fight song and they both clapped.
Jovi scanned the crowd and found her family in their usual seats. The twins were on their feet, dressed in cheerleader uniforms and shaking pompoms. Sassy and Grant sat in the seats on either side of the girls and both checked their phones. Jason and Analise faced each other, their foreheads touching. Jovi felt self-conscious and looked away, embarrassed as if she had been peeking through closed curtains. But her heart warmed with the knowledge that her brother and his wife were so deeply in love.
She watched as her Dad made his way up the stadium steps with a small bag of popcorn in each hand. He took a seat between Cora and Clementine. The twins abandoned their pompoms and dove into the popcorn. Jovi’s Mom was at home, and probably already asleep. Everyone being accounted for, she turned her attention to the field.
The boom, boom, boom of the bass drum brought the fight song to an end and the crowd roared as the ball was placed on the forty-yard line and Landry prepared to the receive the second-half kickoff.
Jovi knew very little about football. She was there to show school spirit, see some friends and family, and to cheer for Graeme. From listening to him talk during their date last weekend, he played offense, was a running back, whatever that meant, and wore jersey Number 22. She studied the scoreboard and saw that the Longhorns were ahead 7-3. Then she scoped out the field and spotted Graeme, in the familiar orange and white uniform, standing on the sidelines. A warmness filled her heart.
The next hour flew by and Jovi saw and understood very little of the game. There was so much going on in the stands that it was difficult to focus on the boys running up and down the field. There were trips to the concession stand, members of the band throwing candy and gum at the crowd, and the cheerleaders performed too many back flips to count. When the score was 14-6 and there was ten minutes left to play, she stood and told Opal she’d be right back.
“Aunt Jovi!” Cora and Clementine chimed in unison, and rushed to give their aunt a hug.
“Hey you little cheerleaders, who’s gonna win?”
“The Longhorns!” they cheered loudly.
She hugged her Dad and Sassy, then Jason and Analise. Everyone was talking at once. Grant stood a few feet away, in the aisle, having a conversation with someone Jovi didn’t know.
Dark hair framed amber eyes. His features were strong and he stood at least 3-4 inches taller than Grant, who was six feet tall. His handsome face and imposing stature disturbed her sense of balance. She couldn’t look away, and met his rugged gaze head-on, freezing her in place. His eyes raked her with a fierce possessiveness. A sudden warmth crept across her cheeks and, flustered, her eyes darted to her feet. She could still feel the power of his gaze and her heart raced.
“…. Cross-country meet in the morning?” Sassy asked.
Thankful for the distraction, she turned to face her sister. Her head felt as if it was detached and floating. “Um, yeah, Marble Falls,” Jovi managed to find her words. Opal is spending the night and she’s going with me.”
Then she turned her attention to her father, still lightheaded. “Oh, Dad. After the meet in the morning, Opal and I are going to Austin so she can shop for a homecoming dress. We’re going to stay the night with her aunt, then drive home Sunday morning. I’ll be back in time for dinner. Mom said it was alright.” She rambled. Hands clammy, her stomach churned.
“So you won’t be around to help in the orchard.” His gray eyes turned stormy.
“Mom said it was okay. I promised Opal…” Her voice sounded hollow. She felt faint. Why was she lying to her family?
“Well then. You do what you think is right,” he said.
Why had he chosen those words? He could probably see right through the lies. She gulped in a much-needed breath. “Yes sir.”
What a mess. Why had she agreed to take her best friend to the audition? Opal kept things from her parents all the time. But lying to her Mom and Dad was new territory for Jovi. Her stomach twisted in knots and she felt a strong compulsion to run.
From the corner of her eye she saw Grant and Sir Hotness move toward her. She was in no condition to meet the intriguing stranger. “Well, I gotta go,” she blurted, then turned and bolted down the bleachers.