Down Deep Excerpt

Football players possess the ideal combination of strength and endurance.

And the best asses of any other athletes.

At least, that’s what Sheila, Camille Pollert’s best friend, once said. Sheila’s cousin Mindy had thought Sheila was crazy. She’d claimed no one could beat soccer players for sheer sexiness.

But with her gaze focused squarely on #24’s ass, Camille was definitely calling the play in Sheila’s favor.

Of course, since Camille had been in love with the boy currently wearing the #24 jersey since freshman year, she supposed she was a bit biased.

Football players grunted and tackled each other, and the shrill sound of a whistle filled the air. She quickly took a few photos before wandering around the outskirts of the field. Always looking for the perfect shot, she hardly even noticed the screams and shouts of the students in the bleachers or the off-key blaring of the marching band.

A senior in high school, she had been part of the yearbook staff since ninth grade, but this was her first big assignment. But she wasn’t just taking photos for the yearbook. Some of the photos she was taking for herself, to hide away in her box of photos documenting her crush on the most popular boy in school: Heath Dawson, player #24.

Camille heard one of the coaches yell something at the ref, and the ref warned him to back off. He didn’t. She walked over to the long bench where some of the home team was sitting, all of them watching the ref and coach argue. She took a photo, liking how the shot radiated the edginess that she could feel coming off the team in waves.

Finally, the ref made an offside call against the visiting team and instituted a five-yard penalty. The players on the bench cheered while those on the field began to huddle up for the next play. Camille stayed at the bench, snapping photos.

At one point, Heath jumped into the air to catch the ball. Turning upfield and toward the end zone, he weaved agilely around the cornerback. Out of nowhere, the free safety came in, lowered his shoulder pads, and hit Heath square in the chest, causing the ball to fall.

The defensive cornerback scrambled and fell on the ball, recovering it for the defense.

The angry screech of the whistle sounded.

Camille held her breath as Heath lay on the ground, unmoving, but then finally, he shook himself off and stood. Looking both angry and crestfallen, he jogged back to the sidelines.

She blushed, her heart picking up speed when she realized he was headed right toward her where she stood by the water table. He was still several feet away when he took off his helmet. He shook his head, his sweaty dark locks brushing across his forehead, and he smiled gamely when a teammate slapped him on the shoulder. But his expression grew cloudier when he glanced up into the stands at an older man—Camille had seen them together enough to know it was his father—glowering, yelling something that she couldn’t catch.

Heath walked right by her without even noticing her, which unfortunately wasn’t anything new.

Even though Camille’s father had coached Heath when he was just starting to play football, she’d never actually met him until ninth grade. That day, however, was forever burned into her memory. Their lockers had been next to each other, and when she’d been trying to reach up and place her books on the top shelf, Heath had stepped in and helped her. “Having trouble there?” he’d asked with a grin. His hand had brushed hers, and she had jumped away with a bright blush. He had looked her up and down, as if trying to place her, but when she was too tongue-tied to say anything, he had shrugged and turned back to his conversation with one of his buddies.

Heath smiling at her and helping her had made her heart beat so fast she was surprised she hadn’t passed out. Not many girls got to be so close to him, and her appreciation for his help quickly blossomed into a fully-fledged crush. She snapped photos of him around school, she dreamed of him asking her out and telling her he loved her, and she blushed every time she heard his loud laugh in the hallways. As locker buddies, she had the opportunity to see him almost every day, although she never had the courage to talk to him. Just being close to him had been enough for her.

Sadly, the next year they were no longer locker buddies, but she’d always looked for him. She’d wanted to see his smile and hear his laugh, even if he didn’t know she existed.

She was so preoccupied thinking about her history with Heath that she hadn’t realized he was standing right next to her until he shoved a water cup into her hand. “Dude, refill this for me?” he asked, his gaze on the field.

Camille stared at the cup, nonplussed, before stammering, “I’m not the waterboy.” She thrust the cup back in Heath’s direction.

His gaze jerked to her face, and for a moment, he looked embarrassed before he grinned. “My bad. You’re definitely not a waterboy.”

Amused more than insulted, Camille glanced down at herself—jeans and an oversized football jersey with stained tennis shoes—and she shrugged. “I can see how you’d think that.” She refused to apologize for being a tomboy or for how she dressed.

Heath squinted at her. “No, it’s not the clothes. It’s the hair. It’s too short. You should think about growing it out.” He returned his glance to the field, waving at a teammate before glancing back at her. “Have we met? What’s your name?”

Not surprised he hadn’t recognized her as his silent locker buddy from ninth grade, she fingered her hair.  She had always worn it short—at the moment it was about chin-length— because she didn’t know a lot about hair or make-up. Her mother had died when she was five, and her single father wasn’t exactly into fashion. Plus Camille’s naturally wavy hair could be so temperamental. But maybe Heath was right. Maybe she looked too much like a boy with short hair like this. Then she bristled, annoyed with herself for even considering his suggestion. What right did he have to give her style advice? When he looked at her again, though, an eyebrow raised, she blushed and stuttered, “I’m Camille.”

“Well, Camille, you should eat something, girl.” Looking her up and down, Heath added, “You’re too skinny. You’d look great with some curves.” His gaze landed on her breasts—or lack thereof—and Camille crossed her arms over her chest. She knew she was flat-chested and scrawny and didn’t look like the kinds of girls Heath dated—curvaceous and blond and tan—but she couldn’t believe he was being such an ass.

He had no right to talk to her like that. He didn’t even know her! What kind of guy told a girl she needed to eat more because she was too skinny? Camille ate as much as any person.

Heath was still watching her, and a frown had overcome his expression.

Camille wasn’t quick to anger, but when she was truly pissed, her friends and family knew there’d be hell to pay. She opened her mouth to tell him to go to hell when a harsh voice barked something from behind her, making them both jump.

“Would you stop talking to the waterboy and concentrate for once?” a man yelled.

Camille spun around, and saw Heath’s dad stalking toward them. He looked so incensed she immediately took a step back, bumping into Heath.

He put a hand on her shoulder and gently moved her behind him, as if he was actually trying to protect her from his father.

“What the hell was that out there?” Heath’s dad ranted. “When are you going to get it into your thick skull that without a scholarship, you aren’t going anywhere?”

Heath glanced back at her, concern and something darker overtaking the frown on his face. While part of Camille wanted to rush to his defense and tell his hateful father that Heath was the best wide-receiver in the state, she was too humiliated given Heath’s father, just like his son, had mistaken her for a boy.

She clutched her camera close to her body, like a shield. Heath said something she didn’t catch, and his dad replied, “You’re a girl?

It was too much. She skittered off the field and even though she thought she heard someone call her name, she didn’t stop. She hid out under the bleachers for the remainder of the quarter, glad that no one bothered her as tears poured down her face. She felt silly for being so hurt by what Heath and his dad had said, but sometimes the barbs about her appearance became too much.

After the tears had dried up, anger took the place of her humiliation. Hatred for Heath completely eclipsed any kinder feelings she’d had toward him, and her crush on him disintegrated almost as quickly as it had started. So what if he’d helped her that one time and smiled at her? So what if he was the cutest boy in school and made her heart pound? She had no interest in being in love with a guy who was such a jerk, and if she’d known he was that awful, she’d never have fallen for him in the first place. He’d been the star football player, unattainable and handsome and popular, and she had idolized him from the moment she’d first seen him.

Now, though, she wanted to go straight home and tear up her journals where she’d doodled his name and hers in hearts across pages and pages of notebook paper. She wanted to burn the MASH game where it was predicted that she’d marry Heath and have 100 children and live in a mansion with him. And the photos she’d taken of him around school would go in the trash, too. All of it. She was done with Heath Dawson.

“Hey, what’re you doing down here?” Camille turned to see her best friend Sheila climbing in next to her, her bright red hair unmistakable. “I thought you had to take pictures tonight?”

Camille wiped her face of any tearstains, hoping Sheila wouldn’t see she’d been crying. “I was. I did. I’m taking a break.”

“Underneath the bleachers, below the marching band?” Sheila glanced up as one of the drummers dropped a stick and swore.

“It’s as good a place as any.”

“Uh huh. I’m supposed to believe you’re taking a break in the final quarter when you’d been wanting this assignment since you joined yearbook?”

Camille glared at Sheila, but her friend just smiled. Sighing, Camille rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’m hiding out. Happy?”

“Not until you spill the details of who, what, when, where, why, and to what extent.”

“Heath Dawson is a jackass.”

Sheila’s eyebrows rose until they disappeared below her bangs. “Did he say something to you?”

Camille really didn’t want to have this conversation, but she also knew Sheila wouldn’t leave well enough alone otherwise. Caving, she recounted what Heath and his dad said about her, feeling the hot press of anger in her chest once again when thinking about it. “Who says stuff like that?” she asked in a huff.

“Jackasses like Heath Dawson, for one. And quadruple jackasses like his father. The guy’s so hard on his son, I almost feel sorry for him. But I always told you Heath wasn’t worth your time. Would you listen to me? Noooooooo.” Sheila gestured toward Camille. “And now look at you. Heartbroken, discarded, a shell of your former self.”

Camille pushed her friend lightly, smiling for the first time. “You’re stupid. And I’m not going to let this destroy me. He’s not worth it.”

“Atta girl! So, did you get some good shots?”

Camille picked up her camera and began going through the photos, seeing if she had enough to give to Trevor tomorrow in yearbook or if she needed to get back out there and take some more. Most of the shots were mediocre, although Camille found a handful that were definitely nice enough to be featured in the yearbook. And then when she landed on the set she’d taken before Heath had insulted her, she burst out laughing.

“What is it?” Sheila scooted to Camille’s side and then hooted with laughter. “Oh my God, is that Heath? Why is Jason in Heath’s crotch?”

It was an action shot, and Camille had somehow taken the photo so it looked like Jason had his face buried in Heath’s groin. Camille and Sheila looked at the photo at all angles until they were red in the face and almost coughing from laughing so hard. “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen,” Camille said between giggles. She looked back at the photo, and the laughing fit started all over again.

Sheila gasped suddenly. “You have to publish this in the yearbook!”

“What? No. Mr. Andros would never allow it.”

“So what! You can swap it out for another photo and he’ll never know. I know you help design the pages and send it to the printer.”

Camille bit her lip. The temptation was almost too strong: it would be a great revenge on Heath to publish this particular photo. Camille, though, wasn’t as daring as Sheila, and she knew Heath would be humiliated if she included it.

“I don’t know, what if I get in trouble?”

Sheila scoffed. “For what? Including a picture you took at a football game in the football team spread? Last time I checked, you don’t get expelled for stuff like that.”

“Yeah, but still.”

“You’re way too nice. Heath humiliated you today and you’re worried about his feelings? Come on. He deserves this and worse.”

Camille looked at the photo again. Sheila was right: Heath did deserve to be taken down a peg, and he’d had no right to talk to her like he had. Heath always acted like he was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and having people laugh at him would be a sweet kind of revenge. Plus, he’d never know for sure who had taken the photo or who’d put it in the yearbook.

“I’ll do it,” Camille said, emailing the photo to herself to make sure she had a copy of it. “I’ll include it in the yearbook and Heath Dawson will wish he’d never been born.”