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“Guys Do Not Do Secret Santa”
Junior Year Following the Event that Shall Not Be Discussed:
Me Blowing the Tennessee State Championship Football Game
(Nine months before the events of CATCHING JORDAN)
“I know you want them.”
“I know I want them,” Henry replies, rolling his eyes at the laptop screen. “But they’re $99.95. Why don’t they just make them $100? Really. Why would anyone think saving five cents would be a deal?”
“I’ll buy them for you.”
“You’re not buying them for me.”
I lean against his shoulder and stare at the picture of the gloves. They’re perfect for a wide-receiver, and well, Henry’s a perfect wide-receiver. Maybe I could tell his girlfriend, Carrie, to buy them for him for Christmas. He’d never accept them if I bought them for him. It would hurt his pride too much, even if we are best friends. He needs a great pair of gloves if he expects to play well next season. I’m hoping he’ll get a scholarship.
Henry goes on, “I could find five cents in JJ’s ass –”
“Gross,” I reply, elbowing him, knocking him over to his side of the bed. “I’m exhausted. Let’s pass out,” I say with a yawn.
He shuts the laptop, sets it on my bedside table, and moves to lie down next to me.
“We have to sleep head-to-toe. You know Mom’s orders, man,” I say.
“But I can’t sleep with your feet in my face tonight. I might get fungus up my nose.”
“Asshole,” I say, kicking him. He shoves me back and we wrestle and laugh until I collapse onto my pillow. I’ve been putting in extra hours at the gym since I threw the interception. I’m surprised I can hold my eyes open.
Henry snuggles under the blankets at the other end of my bed and yawns. “Goodnight, Woods.”
Lying there, I think about how I have this huge house and plenty of money and Henry’s been wearing clothes from Goodwill for as long as I can remember. I wish he’d let me give him something – anything, once in a while. I bet he’d accept the gloves if JJ gave them to him. But not me. Maybe I could give them to JJ to give to Henry? Naw, Henry would never buy that JJ bought them. JJ’s poorer than Henry is.
Maybe I can put an anonymous gift in Henry’s mailbox?
Nah – he’d figure that out too. He’s too damned smart.
What about a football team Secret Santa exchange?
“You want to do what?” JJ narrows his eyes at me, staring like I’ve just said I purposely threw that interception, causing us to lose the State Championship. I have to win it next year. I just have to. Or no college will take me seriously.
“I want to have a Secret Santa gift exchange. It’ll be just us on the team,” I reply.
“Guys do not do Secret Santa,” JJ replies, biting into his Monster burger. “I had hoped your first act as captain would be to get us a hot tub in the locker room, but no. You’re arranging a gift exchange.” He chews his burger, clicks his pen on and hovers over his crossword puzzle, furrowing his eyebrows. He scowls.
The door to Jiffy Burger opens, the little bell dinging, and Matt Higgins, Drew Bates and Corndog, the captain of the baseball team, saunter over.
“What’s wrong with JJ?” Higgins asks me.
“He’s mad because I want to plan a Secret Santa thing for the football team.”
Higgins and Corndog exchange looks, probably thinking I’ve gone mental, but Bates blurts, “I’m in.” He smoothes his hair back. “I’ve got the perfect gift.”
“If it isn’t season tickets to the Predators or a year’s supply of condoms, I’m not interested,” JJ says, ripping into the burger again.
“What if it was a lifetime supply of condoms?” I ask, leaning across the table toward JJ.
His head perks up as he chews. “You’d buy me a lifetime supply of condoms?”
I lift a shoulder. “Maybe your Secret Santa would.”
“If you can guarantee that someone will give me a lifetime supply of condoms, I’ll do your Secret Santa thing.”
“A three-day supply,” I counter.
Higgins, Bates and Corndog stare back and forth between me and JJ.
“A month,” he says.
“Two weeks,” I reply.
“You got screwed, man,” Bates tells JJ. “A two-week supply wouldn’t last you four days.”
“Tell us about the girl,” Henry says to Carter.
The five players on the team willing to participate in my Secret Santa exchange are lounging in my basement while we watch the Steelers-Vikings game on Monday Night Football.
“She’s just some girl,” Carter replies. “I’m taking her to the Christmas festival at the Grand Ole Opry this weekend.”
“How’d you meet her?” JJ asks.
“My cousin, Deb, set it up.”
“You’re going on a date with your cousin?” Bates blurts.
“Shut up,” Carter says, hurling a couch pillow at Bates.
“Don’t throw my mom’s decorative shit,” I say. I set the bowl holding slips of paper with our names written on them on the floor. The plan is for each of us to pick a name, and we have to buy a gift for whoever’s name we pick. Before the guys got here, I folded the paper with Henry’s name on it in a special way, so I will be sure to pick it.
“It’s a good thing she’s not your cousin, or you couldn’t do her,” JJ says to Carter.
“I’m not gonna do her,” Carter replies. He picks up the remote control and turns up the volume way loud. I snort. As if that could distract JJ.
“You gotta lose it sometime, man,” JJ says.
“Let me show you how it’s done,” Henry says, crawling over to Carter. Henry tackles Carter to the carpet and starts pretending to feel him up, and Carter is kicking and punching at Henry but Henry won’t get off him and we are all howling.
“Henry, you need to be gentle!” Bates says with a laugh. “Girls don’t like it that hard.”
Henry grabs Carter’s butt and that’s the final straw, I guess, because Carter pushes Henry, launching him like a missile. Henry flies through the air and lands right on my bowl of names.
The slips of paper go everywhere.
“Aw, come on,” I say, throwing my hands in the air.
Seeing that I’m pissed, Bates and Higgins scurry to clean up the names, dumping them back into the bowl.
Carter straightens his shirt and jeans. “Assholes,” he mutters, but I can see a smile edging under his anger.
“Are you done?” I ask Henry.
“No,” he says, smiling. “I didn’t get o –”
“Okay who wants to draw the first name?” I say, interrupting Henry and his gross comments.
“Me!” Bates says. He seems more excited about Secret Santa than I am. He dips his hand in the bowl and whips out a sheet of paper, opens it and smiles.
I go next, because I need to find the sheet of paper that I folded specially. I dig in the bowl, trying to find it. All of the guys except for Bates are focused on the TV, so I keep digging. I can’t find the paper. All of them are wrinkled now.
“You’re cheating,” Bates says.
“Nah,” I say, picking the paper that feels the most mangled. I pull it out and read the name. But it’s not Henry’s name. It’s JJ’s.
Now I will have to go to the store and buy two weeks’ worth of condoms. How will I explain that one to Mom and Dad when rumors get around town that I need shitloads of condoms?
Now how will I get the gloves to Henry?
My entire plan got screwed up when Henry was pretending to screw Carter! Ugh.
I’m walking down the hallway at school on Tuesday, heading to my locker. There I find Henry and Carrie making out up against it.
“Can’t you use your own locker for this?” I ask, interrupting them.
Carrie pulls away from him, and wipes her mouth, smiling. “Sorry, Jordan.”
“What’s good, Woods?” he says, leaning against my locker, dragging a hand through his blond curls.
“Can you go buy me, like, ten packages of condoms after school?” I ask him.
Carrie’s mouth drops open. “Um, what?”
“They’re not for me, I swear. They’re for JJ.”
“I don’t even want to know,” Carrie says. She kisses Henry bye and leaves.
“So what are you getting her for Christmas?” I ask Henry, as we walk toward class. He’s got calc this period and I have woodshop.
“Mom said I should get her a sweater. Or some perfume.”
“As if you’d like that stuff.”
“I wouldn’t, but I know Carrie will.”
He smiles, and ditches me for calc.
In woodshop class, I approach Higgins. “Yo, whose name did you get for Secret Santa?”
“None of your business. It’s a secret. That’s why it’s called Secret Santa.” He goes back to playing with his birdfeeder.
“If you got Henry’s name, I need to know. I’ll get his gift for you.”
Higgins’ head pops up. “Go on.”
“I want to buy him these receiver gloves. You know, the Nike Hyper Jet ones?”
Higgins’ whistles. “Those are expensive, right?”
“Yeah. I want to give them to Henry but he’d never accept them.”
“And you want me to give them to him? That’s fucked up, Woods. He’ll think I have a hard-on for him.”
“He knows you don’t have a hard-on for him.”
“Why don’t you just give them to him?”
“He won’t accept them.”
“Forget it, Woods,” Higgins replies. “I’ve already got the perfect gift for him anyway. I found this old Playboy at my grandpa’s house. It’s like, from the 1970s! The articles in it are great.”
“The articles are great, my ass,” I mutter, and get to work on building a breadbox for Mom.
The backdoor creaks open. I quickly mute the sound on iTunes, so whoever it is doesn’t catch me listening to Christmas carols. The music is my favorite part of Christmas, but my dad and brother don’t need to know that. Neither do the guys on my team.
My brother Mike and his pervy friend Jake Reynolds enter the kitchen while I’m browsing for football gloves online. They’re each carrying a McDonald’s bag.
“Where’s mine?” I ask.
Jake stretches his arms out, and looks down at his body. “You know, Jordan, McDonald’s isn’t the only thing that’s supersized.”
My brother rolls his eyes and heads for the stairs.
I throw the cap from my water bottle, hitting Jake on the cheek.
“Ow,” he says.
“Poor baby,” I reply. “Do you cry when you take a hit on the field?”
Jake smirks, and comes to look over my shoulder at the computer screen. I open his McDonald’s bag and pull out a fry.
“Those are nice,” he says, nodding at the gloves. “I’m wearing that brand this season.”
“I want to get them for Henry, but he won’t let me get them for him.”
Jake eats a fry. “He needs a good pair of gloves. Your brother showed me some of your film from last season. Henry’s got game, but he needs to step it up if he wants to play at the next level.”
“I know.” I look down at my lap. I don’t think there’s any way Henry’s family will be able to pay for college. Not one cent.
“Listen,” Jake says. “I’ve got a few pairs of gloves left over from training this past summer.”
I jerk my head up. “Yeah…?”
“I’ll give Henry a pair of them. Tell him what I said about his film. He’ll accept them.”
“Thanks,” I tell Jake with a smile. “It’s a good idea.”
“You know what else would be a good idea?” He wraps a hand around the back of my neck and leans down to kiss me, but I shove him away. He tries this at least once a week.
I shout, “Mike, get your horndog friend off me!”
Jake laughs. “I’ll get you the gloves by tomorrow.”
“You know,” Joe says as he refills my water glass. “I might have to change the name of this place. I can’t afford to feed y’all anymore.”
I’m on my second plate of spaghetti at Joe’s All-You-Can-Eat Pasta Shack. Henry and Carter are each on their third. JJ’s on his fifth. His face is so red he might spontaneously combust.
Everyone ignores Joe, because he says that line, like, every day.
“Okay, who’s ready for Secret Santa?” I say.
“I am!” Bates replies. He motions at a large silver box sitting at the next booth. The huge gift is perfectly wrapped. Everyone else grumbles and puts their gifts on the table. JJ wrapped his in newspaper and Carter’s is still in a plastic Walgreen’s bag. Higgins put his present in a Saltines box. Henry pulls an envelope out of his back pocket, and flashes a grin at me. We all exchange gifts.
“Awesome, a two-week supply of condoms. Thanks, Woods!” JJ punches my shoulder and goes back to shoveling spaghetti in his mouth.
Carter gives Bates some ice trays that will make football-shaped ice cubes. JJ gives Higgins a rubber chicken. Higgins gives Henry the ancient Playboy. “The articles are great, man.”
Henry’s eyes grow large as he examines the centerfold.
Bates gives Carter the large silver box. He opens it and pulls out a naked life-size inflatable girl. Everyone at the table is cracking up at Carter. His face wears a look of pure horror as he inspects it. The doll’s leg knocks Henry’s water over, spilling it on the table.
“That’s hot,” JJ says to Carter, chewing. “I’ll give her a good home if you don’t want her.”
“Put that away,” Joe hollers from over by the cash register. “This is a family establishment.”
The doll crowd surfs over our table as Carter passes it back to Bates. While Bates struggles to get the plastic doll back in the box before Joe calls the cops, I rip open the envelope Henry gave me. The candy cane card reads: Meet me at the football field at 10:00p.m. tonight.
I look up at Henry, but he’s focusing on Carter as he talks about how his date went last night.
“She wasn’t into me,” Carter says, shredding his napkin. “I could just tell.”
“Cool. Leaves you free to date someone better,” Henry replies.
I smile over at him, wondering why meeting him at the football field is a gift.
It must be less than 30 degrees outside. I step out of my truck and trudge up to the football field, my hands shoved deep inside the pockets of my North Face coat. The entire stadium is dark. Flurries fall from the sky. The air is silent. Eerily silent. Is this some kind of trick?
A few juniors on the team were pissed that I was made captain instead of Carter, but they wouldn’t dare pull a prank on me. Would they?
I walk up to the main gate, where a note is taped to the metal. It tells me to head inside and sit in the front row behind the fifty-yard line, on our side.
As soon as I take my seat, the stadium lights come on.
What the hell?
Coach is gonna be way pissed if he didn’t know about this.
Whatever “this” is.
Right then, the big double doors that lead to the locker room open, and the marching band pours out. Dressed in their band uniforms, they march over in front of where I’m sitting. The drum majorette lifts her baton. The band begins playing the Charlie Brown Christmas song.
I cover my mouth with both hands, laughing.
I love it.
Only Henry would know how much I secretly adore Christmas music. He must’ve noticed what I’ve been listening to on my iPod.
When the band is finished with the song, I clap loudly. They bow, and lift their instruments to play another. This time it’s “Silent Night” and it’s gorgeous.
During the second verse, Henry plops down in the seat next to mine. He passes me a paper cup.
“It’s hot cocoa,” he says.
“Thanks.” I carefully take a sip. “Great gift.”
He grins to himself, not taking his eyes off the band. “Do you like it?”
“I love it. How’d you convince the band to do this?”
He nods at the field. “Promised the majorette a date with Higgins.”
I slap his shoulder. “You didn’t.”
We crack up. “Henry?”
“Yeah?” He turns to face me. Fog spills out of his mouth as he breathes.
“Thanks for the gift. It means a lot to me.” I pull the wide receiver gloves that Jake gave me out of my back pocket. “These are Jake Reynolds’s. He wore them this summer and doesn’t need them anymore.”
Henry sets his hot cocoa down and takes the gloves. He pulls them on, one at a time, and flexes his fingers. He glances at me, and his mouth slowly forms a smile.
He wraps an arm around me, and squeezes my shoulder.
The band launches into “Deck the Halls,” and I sip my cocoa, enjoying my own winter wonderland.