Simple Physics

Chapter 7 - Pressure

“Football?? You call that football?!? I’ve seen road kill play better than that! That was pathetic! That was beyond pathetic! You’re all-”

About there, Dash stopped listening. Sweat stung his eyes. His thighs burned, his shoulders ached, and his whole body felt like it had been run over by a herd of stampeding rhinos, or, in this case, the East Bay High yellow-jacket linebackers. Carlos, his best running back, had twisted his ankle on their last pass, and they were back on offense, Casper High Ghosts down, twenty to nothing. It was only the first quarter.

“Dash! Are you even listening to me?”

Lifting his head blearily, Dash tried to focus on his coach, squinting through the sweat and stadium lights and coming up with little more than a foggy blur. Just as well. He’d seen all too many puffy-faced men, red with fury, exploding behind their beards as they tried, in vain, to scream their teams to victory.

“Yeah?” he replied. Even he had to admit it didn’t sound very convincing.

“I’ve heard more convincing retorts from dishtowels, Baxter. You’re the quarterback, for God’s sake! At least pretend to be paying attention! You think you can manage that for me?”

“Sure.” Whatever. Dash loved this game. He fucking loved it. But he hated to lose. And all his team did was lose. He grimaced, trying to will down his headache and wondering why he bothered, why it mattered so much.

“You look like mud on that field, Baxter. Quit running the damn ball and take a hit every once in a while, alright? Your legs are mush and the team can’t take any more flack.” Dully, Dash nodded, only half listening, and the coach gave up on him, turning back to the team. More shouting ensued, and then they were up.

“Just remember,” came the final shout as players were issued out onto the field, “if we want to have any chance against these guys we have to run them into the ground! Now!” And so went the final call to get the team screaming, but the answering war cry was half-hearted, and as Dash stepped out onto the field, he felt the first drops of rain.

They faired better the second quarter, but not by much. Enrique “Richie” Pamelo, the only other Hispanic on their team aside from Carlos, filled in as a runner, and played better than he ever had. They took fifty yards within the first few minutes back in before the yellow-jacket defense finally brought them down. After that, the line teeter-tottered, ending with the yellow-jackets holding still at twenty, and the ghosts up seven, for a final score of twenty to seven at halftime.

As he sauntered back, exhausted, to the sidelines after the final horn blow, Kwan met him with a look that meant something was up, and he was about to hear about it. Dash sighed, snatching a towel from the nearest bench and promptly collapsing.

“Do I really have to hear this now?” he asked, draping the blessedly damp cloth over his neck and palming his throbbing left shoulder with a wince. Kwan frowned.

“You look awful,” he said.

“Thanks,” Dash muttered, but he accepted the offered bottle of water. After popping the cap and downing half in one go, he wiped his mouth on the back of his arm, then eyed Kwan more speculatively. “So,” he began at length, “what’s up?”

“You look awful,” he repeated, and Dash rolled his eyes.

“So you’ve said,” he grumbled. “Got something new?”

Kwan shook his head. “No, man, that’s not it. I mean…you look like…” He rubbed the back of his head, then scowled, dropping down to the bench beside Dash. “You like you don’t give a shit anymore. You look like you don’t care about this team, like this doesn’t matter to you.”

Dash tugged the damp towel off the back of his neck, letting it flop lifelessly to the seat beside him. “You coach now?” he muttered glumly.


“Of course it fucking matters!” Dash snapped, standing and scowling at the world in general. Maybe he’d feel better if he had something to pound on. “It’s just…what’s the point, huh? Can you tell me that? This is me. This,” He threw his hands out to indicate the field, now receiving it’s fair share of rain, “is me. It’s what I do. It’s what I can do…maybe all I can do. And even then, it’s…” He sighed, losing drive again and shaking his head. “It’s the only thing that could ever get me anywhere, and I’m not good enough for it to make any difference.”

Kwan eyed him. “And you just now decided to get all philosophical on us?”

Dash frowned, opened his mouth, then shut it again.

His best friend sighed. “You need to beat something up, man…or get laid.” Dash gave him a sharp look and Kwan threw his hands up in surrender. “Hey, look, all I know, is you seem a bit out of it, okay? When was the last time you relaxed and hung out with the crowd, huh?”

Dash contemplated this.

“You’ve been working too hard, man. People are starting to wonder.”

“Wonder?” Dash looked almost threatening. “Wonder about what?”

“Well, ever since you started that tutoring thing with the geek kid-”


“Foley, right. You just haven’t been the same. I haven’t seen you around. You’ve been missing practices-”

“I have tutoring.”

“Every day?”

“Yeah, Kwan, every day,” Dash repeated, suddenly a good deal more pissed than he had a right to be. “Look, if I don’t keep my grades up, I can’t be here at all, alright? From what I can see, the team hasn’t leapt ahead of me in skill after all those practices, so I really don’t see what the big deal is.”

Kwan waited a moment, then finally said, “It’s just your reputation I’m worried about, man, alright? You’ve never been this dedicated to school. Since when does Dash Baxter spend an hour and half, five days a week, after school locked in a physics lab studying, huh? People’ll think something’s up.”

“So I care about football.”

“Not the way you’re playing tonight, you don’t.”

Dash grit his teeth, willing himself calm. “Nothing…is up, Kwan. Okay?”

Kwan eyed him dubiously. “Come to the beach tomorrow,” he said finally, making it a statement as opposed to an offer. “Six o’clock.”

Dash scowled, dropping his head and palming his temples. “Isn’t it cold for swimming?” he asked.

“Bonfire, Dash,” Kwan corrected. “Bonfire, food, chicks, and the oldest chaperone is twenty-six. Talk to your teammates, loosen up a bit…and forget that tutoring for once. It’ll be good for you.”


“You’ll thank me later for this.”

“Right,” Dash muttered, and he watched Kwan push up off the wall, eyes on the half-time pizza, courtesy of the PTA.

“Just say you’ll go alright? And talk to that tutor of yours…”


“Foley, yeah,” Kwan reiterated. “See if you can’t arrange to have sessions like, only every other day or something, so you can make at least some of the practices. It feels like you’re driftin’, Dash, and I don’t wanna lose you, you got it? Six.”

“Six,” Dash repeated. “Right. I’ll see what I can do…”

Twenty four hours later, he was standing alone on the shore, moonlight glistening over a glassy ocean, highlighting every ripple and dip in a shimmering display fit for the cover of some cheesy romance novel. He glowered at it. Why had he come again? Stooping down, he gathered a small stone from the sand, palming it several times over before finally tossing it out and watching it plunk without a single skip into the murky depths, momentarily marring the picturesque perfection. This wasn’t how he wanted to spend his weekend.

“Here you are,” said a feminine voice, drawing him from his thoughts, and he glanced back. “I wondered where you’d run off to.” Paulina’s figure was a shadowy silhouette against the crimson glow of the bonfire behind her. “Care for some company?” she asked.

Dash watched her approach, dark hair billowing like a heavy cape as it caught the wind, slender arms folded across her chest for warmth, and he frowned. Company was the last thing he wanted. Instead of voicing that, however, he just shrugged, keeping his mouth shut and turning back to the ocean.

“It is beautiful, no?” she murmured, and he looked down to find her beside him. When he said nothing, she glanced up, eyes a soft aqua-blue that caught the moonlight. He wondered what Tucker’s eyes would look like in the moonlight. Then, frowning, he pushed the notion away—not a safe train of thought. “The ocean,” she clarified, and Dash mentally shook himself back into reality.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s…nice.”

She sighed, a soft sound that caught the breeze, and he watched her shiver. Paulina was a girl, he reminded himself. If he threw his coat over her shoulders, it would be just as smooth and chivalrous as it was in all those corny black and white movies. It was odd, he thought, realizing that he didn’t want to.

“I’ve missed you, you know,” she said quietly after a time, and he figured it was pointless to point out that he hadn’t gone anywhere. “I barely see you anymore, and you seem so…distant.”

But I’m right here, Dash thought. Right here.

“I…” Her voice wavered, eyes glistening, and Dash’s gut clenched.

Don’t cry, he prayed silently. Please don’t cry. He hated it when girls cried—always so wet and messy and red and puffy—and so much drama to boot. If they cried around a guy, they always seemed to feel obliged to spill their life story right then and there, all through the sniffles and tears. But she didn’t cry.

“Would you kiss me?” she asked.

Dash almost wished she’d cried. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He realized then, with painful clarity that he didn’t want to kiss her, and it was a groundbreaking moment for him. At the same time, though, he knew he had no choice—not if he wanted to retain any semblance of his reputation, that is—and he swallowed an awkward lump in his throat. Part of being king of Casper High was tending to the wishes of the queen.

He caught her chin in his fingertips, but her skin was too pale against his—a beautiful, light bronze, but not nearly dark enough—and when he dropped his head, bringing their mouths smoothly together, her lips were warm, but too compliant, and far too thin. He tried to encourage participation, but instead of returning his efforts, she went soft in his arms, nothing but meek, meager submission—like kissing a doll. Even her hair—sleek and smooth as silk—felt wrong.

When they broke, he nearly groaned aloud in frustration. He had a cheerleader pressed to his chest, warm, willing, and wanting, but all he could think about was a stick skinny techy with sharp green eyes and a grin to make gods fidget.


“Dash…” His name was a moan on her lips, breathy and beckoning, but it sounded off, unsettling, and his heart stuttered with something oddly close to panic as she caught his hand, drawing it up past her waist, over her stomach, and finally to the heartbeat in her chest. “No one will notice,” she murmured, “if we disappear for a little while…”

Dash glanced sharply back to the bonfire with sudden desperate longing. “But-”

“Come on, Dash,” she cooed. “Relax. It’ll be…fun.” And her hands were small in his, leading him off down the beach, into the darkness, until the mighty bonfire was nothing but a dim red firefly in the distance.

Fun. Right. Dash shut his eyes, swallowing his pulse as they sank into the sand. He racked his brain for something useful to say, anything to defer her, but nothing came to mind that wouldn’t send his reputation spiraling into murky oblivion in about two seconds flat. Sadly enough, all he could think of as she pulled his body atop hers, was how long it was going to take to get the sand out of his clothes, and that the situation might have been slightly more bearable if she wore glasses. He sincerely hoped Tucker was having a better night than he was. 



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