There's nothing that Trent High cherishes more than a strong, hard working football team. The strongest eleven are chosen for the starting team a week before school starts, and the other fifteen or so, are used as second string. Every year, dozens of guys line up for both the Junior Varsity and the Varsity team, but only a small few get the honour of wearing the purple and white jerseys. I remember when I'd made the team in my freshman year. I had lied on my bed after tryouts for hours tossing a football in the air, while catching glimpses of the gold crown in the centre of the jersey, with the number one written inside it under "G. Fuentes".
Now, all the same guys from freshman year are on the senior team with me. It's been a strong fight to get where I am now. Being quarterback forces me to be in top shape and it is an unspoken rule that the QB is always captain.
Coach Reyns stands in the sidelines, occasionally yelling at us to pick up the pace or to tighten our defence. Across the field, the cheerleaders are practising their routines and I can spot Nicky's awesome figure from here.
"Can you be any more obvious?" Justin Smith teases me after practise is done and the guys are slowly heading inside. His reddish-blond hair is stuck to his sweating forehead. Several freckles decorate his arched nose and his bright green eyes are squinted jovially. He's one of my best buddies and we've been close since we were ten when he moved here from New York State.
I down my water and toss the now empty bottle into my sports bag before walking in the direction of the lockers. "What are you talking about?"
"Dude, I'm saying that you've got it bad."
I shake my head and smile, knowing that he's right. "Yeah, but honestly, who wouldn't?"
He slaps my back and we start changing when we get into the loud lockers. Several guys are heading straight out with their muddy uniforms still on, while others get ready for the showers. Any mud in the Cadillac and I'm a goner.
Thirty minutes later, I arrive with the guys at my house. Even though it's six o'clock the sun is still relentless. Mike Hollows, Kyle Louise, Trevor Levy, and Justin, race out of the car as soon as I park. They start tossing the ball to each other while waiting for me to join them. The normally loud fountain that sits in the centre of the front yard is barely heard above the hooting and taunting of my boys.
"Pool?" Kyle juts his chin at me. He's not much for words, instead he prefers to say what he wants and if we hadn't all been close since we were kids then we wouldn't understand him.
"Yeah man, you know where the towels are," I instruct them and they rush into the house. I don't worry about mom hearing them. She once told me that she likes hearing others in the house. I think she gets lonely with just the two of us sometimes.
I close the door behind me and strut towards the laundry room where dozens of towels are stacked up in neat, colour-coded piles. When I see the mess of towels all over the floor I quietly hope that Anna, the housekeeper, won't be too upset. These guys are animals, she must know that.
I drop my bag in kitchen and grab a bag of chips from one of the cupboards. Mom calls the cupboard with boxes of sugary cereal, various flavours of chips, and tons of energy bars, my oasis, which it truly is, since all the sugar keeps me energized for when I work out. I grab a bottle of blue Powerade from the fridge and walk to the glass doors that lead to our spacious backyard, a bright green towel tossed over my shoulder.
My nose takes in the scent of salty water, like the ocean, coming from the pool. In the far right of the backyard is the pool house where we have the changing rooms and a spare bedroom. Under protective covering is some of my workout equipment that doesn't fit in our gym. Speakers are propped up in random places to emphasize sound when I have parties, and reddish-yellow Spanish tiles cover the hot ground.
I walk out of the cool, air-conditioned house and into the hot, sunny afternoon. I pause, one chip a few inches from my mouth, when I see the guys talking to my mom. She's in the hot tub with her curls pushed up in a messy bun and several papers from her latest manuscript on the small table she had installed so she could get her work done. She is speaking to them just like she would talk to me, especially since they could all be her sons, but that's not what I'm worried about. She's not some perverted rich mother who likes to flirt with guys way below the legal age like those other gross moms in our gated community. It's the guys I'm worried about.
My mom, with her warm brown eyes and her natural tan, is gorgeous. I don't mean it in some Oedipus complex type of crap either. She's a genuinely sweet person who adores those who love me and her smile has always attracted attention.
"Mom," I say after finally recovering from my shock. I know the guys always like to talk to my mom, especially on the rare occasions that she wears a bikini. "What are you doing?"
My mom smiles at me. See? No guilty looks, no apologetic words. She doesn't have those kinds of thoughts about guys my age. "Hey, Hun."
"Why are you out here?"
Her face flashes with embarrassment as she takes in the situation. "Right. Sorry, I didn't know you'd be home so early on the first day. I was just working on the manuscript before you boys got here."
"It's pretty cool guy, she's working on some action story this time," Trevor pipes in, unaware of the fact that he's still checking out my mom's cleavage.
I shoot him an annoyed glance before smiling at my mom. "Okay, did you get any of it done?"
"Almost," she says while getting up from the hot bubbles popping around her. "Just need to find a way to connect the chapters better. Don't be out here too long, remember we've got dinner and I've really got to discuss something with you, okay Gabe?"
I nod and try to ignore my buddies as they ogle my mom. After she's gone back inside they immediately start making inappropriate comments. I never make any such comments about their moms, so for once I'd appreciate them not saying such crude things.
"Are we going swimming or what?" Justin asks before chucking his shirt on one of the pool chairs decorating the sides of the rectangular pool. He always has perfect timing for his endless questions.
Seconds later, my worries are gone as we all cannonball into the pool.
Mom and I started the dinner ritual when I entered grade six in junior high. She told me then, just like she tells me every year: "Another year of choices and chances," before bringing our glasses together for the toast, hers full of white wine and mine full of whatever pop I’m into at the time. It's always been at the same restaurant in down-town Trent. The day that we had dinner for the first time, we'd driven around looking for the perfect place. "Vida, Mi Cosita" stood out from all the other Italian or Greek or fast food places that haunt Trent. My mom, a second generation Cuban, explained that "Vida" means life, and "Cosita" means little thing, a term of endearment. She told me that it literally means, "Life, my little thing", which is where our toast to life came from.
The food is Cuban and it never changes, which is awesome with me since I've loved it from the get-go. I always get the same thing too, just like mom: congrí con trozos de carne de puerco (rice with beans and spices, and chunks of pork meat). Every time our meals are brought to the table, her eyes flash with the sadness that she always expresses when recalling memories of my grandparents, who have both passed.
"So what's this thing you wanted to talk about?" I ask after our annual toast and our orders have been taken. Root beer is my choice drink this year and I gulp down what's left in my glass.
"Look at you, a man already," mom says, making me blush. She always does this; always reminisces about the days when I was a kid running around covered in mud with Trevor or Mike. "I can hardly believe it."
I laugh softly, trying to control my blushing. "Mom, c'mon, you know I'm still a kid in your eyes."
"Very true, but every day you look more and more like your father."
"Except for my hair."
Mom nods. "Except for your hair."
We're quiet for a minute while the waiter, a new guy since he doesn't recognize us, pours another root beer in my glass.
"Do you remember my friend Lisa Trinity?" Mom asks me once we're alone again.
I think back to the vague image of a blond woman chasing me and an even blonder little girl around a yard. "Barely, but yeah."
"Well, you know she lives in Toronto."
"Right, that’s where you grew up before coming here with dad?"
She nods again.
"Okay, what about her?"
"She's going to move in with us until further notice," mom is quiet for a beat, letting this information sink in. "She's been having some problems... back home and she needs a safe place to start over."
Our food is placed on our tables. Large plates of rice and meat and home-fried banana chips welcome my rumbling stomach and enamoured nose. Mom is still staring at me so I wait patiently as she finishes what she has to say.
"Is that all right with you?" She finally asks, wringing her hands together. I don't get why she's so nervous, isn't she the one that always wishes that there were more people living in our house?
I shrug, my eyes skirting every few seconds to the steaming plates in front of us. "That should be fine," I admit. What's so bad about having some woman stay with us? Especially when mom will finally have a friend to gossip with since she doesn't get along with the other women in the gates. She's friends with my buddies’ moms since we've all known each other for so long, but none of them are from the gated community. "I mean, what's the big deal anyway? It's just one of your best friends right?"
"Actually," mom says and I immediately tear my eyes from the food. She sips some of her white wine, making me even more nervous. "Err, Gabe, do you remember Lisa's daughter, Kris? She's around your age--"
"Mom," I try to interrupt, but she continues.
"--and Lisa says she's very smart and pretty--"
"They really needed a place to stay and start afresh so I said come on over to our place, yeah it's far, but we've got more than enough room."
I swallow back my nerves, suddenly not hungry. "What did she say?"
"She said yes, so they should be here this Friday."