Cicadas screeched in the Louisiana dawn as the sound of shoes slapping the pavement echoed through the quiet suburb. Trees rose on both sides of the street, shadowing well-manicured lawns that led to homes that would be a social media influencer’s wet dream.
The cadence of the runner’s strides beat a frantic, but consistent rhythm, only interrupted by the shifting plates on the weight vest he wore. The latest AirPods sat in his ears and provided the soundtrack for his run. A beep sounded from his smartwatch as it ticked over to his tenth mile just as he turned down a street ending in a cul-de-sac.
A lone house sat on the street. It rose above the trees on the sidewalk, the only link it had to the neighborhood’s other homes. Cars lined a long winding driveway, each one more expensive than the last.
The runner jogged to a stop at a side door and pressed his thumb to a keypad along the wall. He waited a spell before stepping into a kitchen that was bigger than some people’s houses. Inside, an older man held a plate out to him. The runner took his AirPods off and the rap music he’d been listening to was replaced by the man’s voice.
“Today, you eat quinoa honey and yogurt parfait,” the man said in a heavily accented voice. “I do not hear any talk of quinoa is for hipsters and yuppies, okay? You have water on the table. Your mother wants you at school on time today, Caesar.”
“I won’t tell her I was late if you won’t, Pierre,” Caesar nudged the man with his elbow and winked as he walked toward the dining area.
“No, no. I cook. I do not lie.” Pierre waved his hands and turned back into the kitchen and began cleaning the counter.
“Welcome back to the Bayou Sports podcast. We got the sports people don’t care about out the way already so that leaves one thing, Jeff.”
“Mais, I know you talkin’ football.”
“Yes, my friend, the holy grail of athletics. Football is king, baby. And down here on the bayous of Terrebonne Parish, some of the best of the very best have forged their careers and the semester starts this week which means the lights will be shining bright on Fridays once again. The story this season, in not only the parish and the area but the entire state, is the LHSAA decision to do away with the select non-select split and bring back the days when the private schools lined up against the public schools to decide who was really the best on the gridiron. What do you think about that, Jeff?”
“There’s only one thing to feel about that. We’re goin’ to finally see Deion Jenkins’ kid play against all the state’s best players. I can’t tell you how excited I am, me. They got they heads together and goin’ to give us what we all want. Is this kid the real deal or is he just ridin’ on his daddy coat?”
“That’s a good team they have done there at Vandebilt. They’re coming off a semi-final appearance last season and a state championship two seasons ago. The aforementioned son of Deion Jenkins, Caesar Jenkins, is coming into his second year of high school ball and if this growth spurt talk is right, the kid is standing 6’2” at 16. I just don’t see how high school corners are guarding a 6’2” receiver, Jeff! Especially one that was number one on the depth chart of a championship-caliber team as a freshman.”
“So, she’s looking at me, right? And I see her, but I’m trying to figure out if she sees me or is just looking in my direction. The cat comes out of nowhere and just jumps on my fucking pants. Claws out and all. Next thing you know, I’m screaming. She’s screaming. The cat’s screaming. It’s like a fucking war zone in there. I jet out there with Fluffy hanging on for dear life. Little shit stayed with me for at least six blocks. I don’t think I’m going back there again.”
A group of boys, all wearing the blue lettermen’s jackets of Vandebilt, burst into laughter.
“You’re lucky it was her mom who came home and not her dad,” Caesar said. He leaned on the hood of an expensive roadster behind him. While most of the cars in the school’s student parking lot were newer, his was by far the most luxurious. “Ron met pops and he pulled the shotgun out the closest for his ass.”
Ron cringed at the memory before shaking his head. “It’s not my fault that his daughter goes around looking for dick. I didn’t even ask her. She came onto you, too, B?”
“Sure did,” B, or Britton, nodded. “I was just sitting in the grocery store doing my shift and the next thing you know she asked me to swing by after practice the next day. I’m not swimming in it like Caesar, so I couldn’t turn it down even though I know she’s run down.”
“Look on the bright side,” Caesar said.
“You’re not Kaden when it comes to getting bitches.” Caesar pointed at the last of the four. “I don’t think he’s even gotten any from his hands recently.”
“Fuck you, man,” Kaden said. “That shit gets old.”
“I imagine so does jacking off. Jesus frowns upon that, you know? Puts hair on your palms like Sister Boudreaux says.”
The quip drew laughter from Ron and Britton. Kaden flipped Caesar off and stalked away toward the school, his hands shoved in his jacket.
“He’s going to kick your ass one day. You know that, right?” Ron asked as he reached into his pocket and pulled a bag of sunflower seeds out. He ripped the package open and dumped a handful into his mouth.
Caesar shook his head as he had to move his shoes out of the way of the seeds Ron spit out. “I’d like to see that day.” His eyes roamed the parking lot and he saw a leggy blonde getting out of a car a few rows over. He stood up with a smile. “But for now, gentlemen, I think I have some business to attend to. I need to get some help with Bible Studies I.”
A teenager walked through dimmed halls, dodging between people who weren’t paying him any mind. At the end of the hall, a rotund sheriff’s deputy barked at the students to keep moving and get to class before the bell rung or they’d receive a write-up for being tardy.
He turned into a classroom that still had an old school smartboard and a projector that had seen better days. Dragging ass, he made his way to the back of the class and sat down in a desk with an easy view out of the window. Bayou Terrebonne wasn’t a great view, but it was better than listening to the teacher drone on about world history.
Pulling a pen from his pocket, he poked at the fake wood paneling on the desktop that had begun to peel away. Underneath, students had written everything from their ex-girlfriends’ phone numbers to what set they were claiming. He thought about adding something of his own, but that was too cliché – and too much of an acknowledgement of how shitty the desk really was.
“Continuing with our power rankings in the Bayou District, we have number ten. Bottom of the barrel. The worst of the worst. A school so bad that my dead grandmother could beat them by herself. Terrebonne High School.”
“Bo, I get the frissons for them boys. They have Vandebilt the sixth week of the season in a non-district game. They’re not goin’ to win any games, but it’s not goin’ to be nothin’ nice when those boys match up against that juggernaut.”
“Well, that’s something we see every year. The powers that be want us to believe that this is a rivalry because the two schools are down the street from one another and it is the case of the haves versus the have-nots, but it’s not a contest. It’s not even close.”
“Now, ya know they have a famous kid on their team, too. Don’t know much about him ‘cause I don’t follow junior high ball, but Devin King goes to Terrebonne now.”
“Devin King? How many of them are there? Five, six, seven? I’m not going to lie. I didn’t know about the kid.”
“I think he’s the fourth. Plays corner. We gon’ pray for his soul in a few weeks when he’s lined up across from Caesar Jenkins.”
Devin shuffled through the lunch line, tapping his fingers against the straps of his backpack. The vile smell of the food attacked his nose with a vengeance, but he needed to put something in his stomach before practice that afternoon. It didn’t help that he’d been in a rush to get to school and had forgotten to grab a Pop-Tart on his way out of the door.
“Pizza or chicken,” the lunch lady asked him when it was his turn in line.
The old woman reached into a warming container and pulled out a rectangular slice of bread with congealed cheese and triangle chunks of “meat” on top of it. She slapped it into a tray before tossing some French fries in along with the pizza before sliding it over the spit shield to Devin.
“This looks disgusting,” Devin mumbled, looking down at the pizza.
The lunch lady grumbled having heard him but didn’t say anything.
Grabbing a small carton of apple juice, he made his way to an empty table and plopped down on the chair. He stared at the food before him and struggled to figure out how he was going to convince his taste buds that it was worth choking down.
Just as he was able to delve into his first attempt to eat, two other students sat down at the table with him. He looked up at them, pizza still hanging perfectly straight in his hand. Both were teammates of his on the football team.
“Yes?” he asked.
“You know we play Vandebilt in a couple months, right?” Thaddeus, or Trigga as he was called, asked. “You sure you even want to keep playing until then?”
“Don’t know what you’re trying to get at here. Is playing Vandebilt now somehow different than any of the other times Terrebonne has played Vandebilt? We haven’t beaten them in what? 15 years?”
Bart, real name Shawntoine, ran his hand through his dreads and sighed. “We’re trying to save you, man. You’re not… good. And Caesar Jenkins… is. I’m not trying to see you get murdered out there on the field, man. We a family-friendly team.”
Trigga nodded. “Just quit now and save face. No one is going to call you a coward or nothing for not wanting to get embarrassed.”
“Is this supposed to be a pep talk or something, because I have to tell y’all that it’s not working. It actually might be the worst pep talk I’ve ever heard,” Devin said.
“Truth is, we just don’t like yo square ass. But real talk, we’re going to get smashed anyway, I’d rather make sure coach don’t got no choice but to put a better corner on Jenkins, so we only lose by 14, 15 instead of 30.” Bart shrugged before reaching across the table and grabbing a fry from Devin’s tray.
Devin dropped the pizza back into the tray. “That doesn’t even fucking make sense. If I’m starting over the guy you want to play, doesn’t that mean that the guy you want to play is worse than I am?”
“No, it means we like him unlike you,” Trigga said. “We ain’t winning shit no time soon. We might as well get some camaraderie going ‘round here so we can actually have fun.”
“Camaraderie, nigga?” Bart asked.
“Yes, motherfucker. I’m educated, nigga. Anyway, you ain’t never comin’ up PC with us. You don’t be on Morgan or Stovall. We can’t fuck with you ‘cause you don’t even belong here, my nigga,” Trigga said to Devin. “Just go on and quit.”
Devin paused for a moment before reaching back into the tray and picking up the pizza that had suddenly become a magnitude colder than it was when he was given it. He looked from Trigga to Bart and back to Trigga. “Y’all going to let me eat in peace or y’all going to sit there and watch me do it? Either way, I’m going to eat my lunch now.”
Trigga and Bart stood up from the table, both shaking their heads as they walked out of the cafeteria.