The bell rang, cutting their teacher off mid-sentence, and the students began stuffing books and papers into their backpacks. There was a sense of urgency in their movements, as if somehow the clock might change its mind if they dallied.
“We’ll pick up from where we left off on Tuesday,” Mr. Simmons called out over the noise. “Everyone please read pages two hundred forty to two hundred fifty-six in the text, and have a nice long weekend. Don’t work too hard!” This last he said with a smile, knowing that the likelihood of anyone actually reading pages two hundred forty to two hundred fifty-six were just this side of zero. Besides, not working too hard was advice he planned on taking – he was headed into the backwoods to go fishing.
“So are you going to come, or no?” TJ Keller flashed his lopsided grin at his best friend Allison Duggan. “You know you want to.” He added in a sing-song voice, “You know it will be funnnnnnnn!”
Allison, a scrawny strawberry-blonde girl, tried to not smile back, but failed. “No, I really don’t want to. In fact, I don’t think I can possibly explain to you just how little I want to. I don’t care what you say. Getting all dressed up like wizards and sleeping out in the woods doesn’t seem even remotely like a fun thing to do.” Despite the smirk, T.J. could tell she was serious.
“Aww, come on,” he pouted. “First of all, not everyone gets dressed up like a wizard. That’s only me. A party of wizards would never survive very long. You need some tanks to melee, and a healer, and if possible a rogue to pick locks and disarm traps and stuff. Otherwise, we end up having the barbarian just triggering all the traps we find and he soaks up all the damage. That’s hardly an elegant solution.” Allison raised her eyebrows and he trailed off. “Yeah well, anyway, other people have different costumes.” He paused, and then added with a sly look. “And Simon is coming!”
“Woah. Simon? As in Simon Williams? Really? What would he be doing at one of your geek fests? Doesn’t he have a football game this weekend?” Simon was the starting halfback for the school’s team. As a sophomore, he should have been sitting on the bench, or playing Junior Varsity, but an injury to the starting senior promoted him to varsity. He was tall and handsome, and all of the underclass girls – and most of the upper class as well – harbored secret crushes on him. Allison was no exception, and TJ knew it.
TJ shouldered his backpack and swiped a few stray eraser shavings off the top of his desk. He flourished an “after you” motion with his arm and followed behind as Allison headed toward the door. “Team is off this week because of the long weekend. Plus, they want to give students the ability to rest and recharge a bit before No Child Left Behind tests start up next week.” No one – including the teachers and administrators – looked forward to the week of standardized tests that occurred three times a year. Freeport Central High School wasn’t a failing school by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t one of Western Massachusetts’ star performers either. “I guess they figured we could use all the help we can get. Maybe they think it will prevent a few concussions and that will help keep scores up.”
Allison snickered as they walked to their adjoining lockers, “But I mean, what’s he doing hanging out in the woods doing all that magic stuff? No offense, but that hardly seems like a football playery sort of thing to do.”
TJ heaved an exaggerated sigh as he spun the combination on his locker and opened it up. Inside were several pieces of artwork from last year’s Tolkien calendar and a little figurine of a dragon with a ruby crystal in its mouth. “First of all, have you ever noticed that when someone says, ‘no offense’ they’re about to say something really offensive? Just saying” Allison chuckled again and punched him in the shoulder. “Anyway,” he continued, “some people had lives before high school. It just so happens that before he got all tall and handsome and buff and athletic, he was something of a geek, too. His big brother came home from school with a Dungeons and Dragons rulebook one day and he was hooked. I’ve seen him at some gaming events from time to time over the years, but since freshman year when he started playing football in the fall and running track in the spring, he’s kinda dropped out of the scene.”
“So why is he getting back into it now?”
“You got me. I just saw his name on the list of people who signed up for this weekend’s event. From what I understand, the storyline is going to be pretty epic. Maybe it was just too good for him to pass up. If you come, you’ll be able to ask him yourself.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. Who else is coming?” TJ could see Allison was beginning to waver. As they walked down the hallway to where her own locker was he began ticking off names.
“Well there’s Jimmy, of course. He’s been talking about it for weeks, even replaced most of his equipment and added a few pieces of armor. I bet he’s going to look pretty slick.” Allison’s eyebrow was cocked again and he shot her a wry grin. “Yeah well, take my word for it. He’s big into the details, no joke. So yeah, there’s Jimmy. Chuckles will hopefully be putting in an appearance, though I haven’t confirmed with him yet. If we don’t have a thief handy, and end up in any dungeons this weekend, we are going to be in some deep trouble.” He grinned at his pun, and Allison rolled her eyes. TJ shrugged, “Well, they can’t all be winners. Oh, there’s this guy Stu whom I haven’t met, but Jimmy says he’s pretty cool. His mom can sew really well, and she made him this full costume in forest greens and browns so he’s all camoed and stuff. I think that’s it.”
Allison stopped in front of her locker and began working the combination lock. “So what you’re saying is that I’m going to be the only girl?”
“Well Leslie Tiller is going to be there. She’s really nice, but not your type.” Leslie also played for the football team. As starting nose tackle. TJ gestured to the inside of Allison’s locker, in which hung her first pair of pointe shoes and a photo of herself posting with a counsellor at the performing arts camp where she spent much of her summers.
“Gotcha. Well fair enough.”
“And those are really the only people that I know are coming. There are always lots of other folks who show up that I’ve never met before. People from other areas who travel about. Newbies coming for the first time. There aren’t going to be many, but are you going to be the only girl there?” He shrugged. “I doubt it. And anyway, look at it this way. That’s fewer girls around Simon this weekend. Maybe you guys could really hit it off.”
“Yeah, right.” She didn’t sound convinced.
TJ shot her his best winning smile. “Maybeeeee…”
Allison gave him a long-suffering look and sighed as she shut her locker. “Oh, ok. I’ll come, though if it’s not fun, I’m blaming you. K? And you have to come to “Bring a Friend” day at the dance studio this Spring. In a tutu.”
The grin on his face faltered slightly as images of ballet flashed through his mind, but he recovered quickly. “K! What are best friends for?” They turned from the lockers and headed out to where the busses waited. “My gear is all packed already. I’ll come home with you and help you get your stuff together. You wouldn’t happen to have a bedroll, would you?” The incredulous look on her face answered the question. “Though I guess a regular sleeping bag will do the trick,”he blurted. As TJ rattled on about the advantages of wool over cotton as a fabric for cloaks, Allison wondered if she knew what she was getting herself into.