The Spirit of Things
Publisher: Rebel Ink Press
Publishing Date: May 3, 2012
Length: Novelette (~15,000 words)
Maximum Heat: 3 out of 5 torches
A romantic comedy--Nikki Stacy is a middle school math and science teacher. To make ends meet she advises her school's rag-tag cheerleading squad for the extra paycheck supplement. When the squad's antics lead to a girl's injury, Nikki butts heads with squad dad Charlie. Frustrated, Nikki seeks a job that will really make her happy, but Charlie won't let her move on without tidying up the loose ends she left behind.
The ligaments holding my jaw to my skull cracked and popped as I mouthed my instructions to Luz with dramatic emphasis. She cocked her little head to the side and squinted at me. I couldn’t hear her from where I sat in the bleachers, but it was easy enough to tell from the way her lips were pulling away from her teeth that she was asking “What?” I forced out a long exhale and slumped in my seat. She was really trying to make me shout it. Luz looked cute and innocent at four and a half feet tall, seventy pounds soaking wet and wearing a dark bouncy ponytail on each side of her banged head. But I knew she had an evil streak. I’d personally witnessed it several times that semester and had been on the receiving end of it a time or two. Guess what? If you leave your coffee cup uncovered on your desk and step out to pee while your students are taking an open-book quiz, one of them just might squeeze hot sauce into it… And you might spend most of the afternoon on the toilet.
I grunted, forcing my favorite administrator to turn around and look at me quizzically, and erased my big “SMILE” block lettering from the whiteboard I carried to football games. The woman beside her, a cheer grandma named Sarah, gave me an apologetic smile that made me look at the squad once again to see Gabby Mitchell weaving a dandelion flower bouquet into one of her pom-poms. I groaned and uncapped the black dry-erase marker I kept in my sweatshirt pocket with my teeth and quickly scribbled my message: “SHAKE THEM HARDER.”
I held up the sign and regretted it instantly as the girls on the dirt track clustered around their captain in the center of the formation and giggled. They knew damn well I meant the pom-poms, which co-captain Luz in particular had been flicking around like wet spaghetti, but they couldn’t keep their dirty little heads out of the gutter. Or should I say ditch? That seemed a more appropriate location given our geography way out in the swampy boonies of northeastern North Carolina.
“Maybe you ought to show ‘em who’s boss.” I looked over at the source of the deep voice and found it two seats to my right immediately behind Sarah. The gray-eyed man under the backwards camo-print trucker cap was leaning forward and smirking at me. Sarah elbowed his shin to silence him. If I'd recognized him, I would have told him to shove it so it was probably a good thing that Sarah handled him on my behalf.
Annoying as the interloper’s suggestion was, it was still a good one. I wedged my board against the bench and worked my way to the edge of the row so I could access the steps and the track. As I approached the bottom, rather than form a huddle at the middle for me for a cheerleader time-out, the little brats took up the longest cheer they knew in order to subvert me: roll call.
I stood in front of them in my Cottonmouth sweatshirt and silly Cottonmouth “spirit necklace” (which was a brown, black and white felted thing in the shape of a snake eating its tail one of the cheer moms made for me) with my arms crossed, scowling at every one of the eight girls in turn. Had it been any other squad, I would have said my presence was distracting them and forcing them to perform badly, but the truth was they just sucked and I’d inherited them that way. These girls could take what was supposed to be a synchronized cheer and turn it into something looking like an off-the-cuff Soul Train dance line. Clap-stomp-shimmy-shake.
When the clock clicked down and the officials blew the whistle for halftime, the girls were still going, only three-quarters through their messy cheer. The crowd wasn’t sure if they should move around to go to the restrooms or get concessions or if polite decorum indicated they should wait until the girls were done. The opposing team’s cheerleaders were confused, too. As the visitors, they were supposed to take the field to do a cheer for the crowds first, but since our rag-tag group was still howling on the track, they stood frozen at the opposite sideline. I could see their advisor all the way on the other side of the field shaking her prim head. Damn townies and their well-justified smug superiority.
When my girls finished, I hissed “Get to the line and take a knee!” and waved the other team on. As the twelve visiting girls cheered and turned back handsprings onto the field, I envied the advisor of their well-funded Elizabeth City squad. Their girls’ new uniforms were well fitted and pressed and each donned a perky curled ribbon creation in her high ponytail. My girls were also supposed to wear ponytails with simple black ribbons, but most of the time as long as they didn’t show up wearing tiaras and fascinators, I didn’t give a shit. I was out of shits.