The weeks leading up to Homecoming were as exhilarating as they frenzied. It was impossible to not get caught up in the enthusiasm and school spirit. The Cheer Squad had designed the most incredible Float that Lincoln had ever seen. It was a Hollywood Themed Float complete with a Red Carpet, cameras, plenty of lights and best of all the Football Team in tuxes and the Cheerleaders in their formal gowns.The excitement and general sense of camaraderie surrounding the Homecoming events was infectious. Even Brad and Johnny had worked together to make giant Academy Awards figurines for the float.
Lincoln demolished the winless Jackson Jags 34-3 to ensure that their homecoming game would be played on their own field against neighboring rivals Lisbon Leopards.
The excitement was so overwhelming that when Natalie recalled it in years to come it would be hard to focus on anything else but that euphoric on top of the world feeling that you get when you are having a great day and you are certain that it is only going to get better. It was a fantastic day to be a Football player, a Cheerleader and a resident of the small town of Lincoln.
Lincoln handled their business under the Friday night lights defeating Lisbon with a final score of 31-29, narrowly edging out the Lisbon Leopards with a 30 yard touchdown with 7 seconds on the clock in the 4th quarter, winning the game to a cheering hometown crowd.
Lincoln played their kind of offensive game with relative ease. Brad was not overly efficient on the ground, but Johnny had a bit of a “throw-back” game. He caught Lisbon a bit off-guard. He scrambled for his first rushing touchdown of the season on a read-option run. He ended up leading the team in rushing with 64 yards.
More importantly was the effective passing game. Although the wide receivers did not come together as they hoped, Johnny was able to make plays in the passing game, showing excellent touch.
The final score did not really reflect the Lincolns defensive effort. Brad had a great catch and run with both starting safeties out of the game. Lisbon added a couple of late touchdowns but this game was all Lincoln and the hometown crowd was wild. Lincoln made stops as needed, but claim they were never really threatened.
The reward of course was the final score and an exciting hometown win.
Long after the crowd filtered out and the moon began to take its place in the darkening sky, Natalie found Johnny before he left the field. He had already shaken a plenty of hands and rumour had it that there were some College scouts in the stands keeping a close eye on him during the game. He had played impeccably and the smile on his face spoke more than words ever could.
“Can I have an autograph?” Natalie asked jokingly as she approached. Johnny scooped her off her feet and held her in the air above his head. Apparently the excitement had not faded. He let her down slowly, her body sliding down the length of his before her feet touched the ground.
“Congrats,” she said, embracing him. “That was exciting!”
“That felt great!” he exclaimed, squeezing her ” Sorry I am a sweaty mess”
“Are you kidding” she joked playfully, “after that performance they are selling Johnny Miller sweat on Ebay!”
He laughed and flashed her his heart stopping smile “Don’t worry it will always be free for you!”
“I feel so special, she claimed, rubbing the back of her palm across her forehead and feigning a swoon.
“It’s been a great week. Wow.” he shook his head in disbelief.
“I am dying to tell you something that is going to be the icing on this sweet cake” she began.
He looked down at her in her pretty cheer leader uniform, her bouncy ponytail moving excitably as she spoke. He imagined her saying she had broken up with Brad and several scenarios filled his teenage brain. He wanted to pick her up again, swing her in the air, then hold onto her forever. They would walk off the field hand in hand and she would proudly wear his jacket around her shoulders. He would bend to kiss her before they went to their prospective locker rooms and when he looked back she would still be smiling at him and he would still feel the heat of her lips on his.
“Did you hear a word I said? Natalie asked, playfully punching him in the arm.
“I’m sorry. You have great news.”
“Focus Johnny. The man with Blanche tonight is an old friend from high school, he is the head couch at Alabama State. He couldn’t take his eyes off you. Can you change and meet us at the diner?”
Johnny looked like he was going to faint, “Alabama Crimson Tide is the top ranked University football team in the U.S.”
Natalie roller her eyes “Uh huh. Now go get changed”
Johnny made his way to the shower through a sea of high fives but even as the steaming water fell over him it couldn’t wash away the feel of her against him. He was nerved up about meeting the coach from Alabama. His coach had told him to expect some calls in the next couple of days from college scouts, apparently it was becoming more common for them to scout the smaller areas for hungry talent and Coach Jones had offered to help prepare him. Tonight he would be thrown into an impromptu meeting with a Coach he would never have dreamt of meeting and he couldn’t think clearly because thoughts of Natalie crowded into every spare inch of his brain.
The very smell of her intoxicated him. If asked to describe it he could only think of happiness. She smelled of sunshine, the soaring mountains, ocean waves hitting the rocks, a crackling fire, cloudless skies and lullabies, and her eyes, as green as fresh mowed grass and always so wondrous. Being with her gave him the same comforting feeling one would get when waking up and realizing it was the weekend and being able to close your eyes and sink into the soft warmth of your bed but at the same time his heart beat faster than a child during playground skip rope. He was nervous and conflicted but more excited than he had been about anything in a long time.
She looked up when he walked into the diner. It was for a brief second before she looked down again, desperately trying to conceal what her eyes were saying.
” The windows to the soul, always a certain giveaway to what the heart is speaking to the mind”, Blanche would often say.