Read an Excerpt
Love at First Click
This shot was going to be fabulous! Of course, many of the bodies in my viewfinder—all of them belonging to our high school football team—came as already, premade, just-add-flavoring fabulous. But aside from that, the sky was amazing—it looked almost painted—with the sun slicing horizontally through clouds. Muscular arms in every shade from white to dark brown shimmered with sweat. It was late August, hot and humid, a preseason practice. I knelt on the sideline, poised for a series of shots, aware that I was pushing my luck with Coach.
Coach Siefert doesn't like girls, banned them from practices, and would have banned us from games if he could have. He considers "females" a major distraction; so maybe I should have been insulted that he allowed me to get as close as I did, as photographer for the school paper.
Of course, I dressed in a nondistracting way. My dark, wavy hair, which falls about six inches below my shoulders, is always braided or somehow tied down. I couldn't have it blowing in front of the camera lens. And I wore the same kind of clothes to practice and games: plain shirts, khakis pants, and athletic shoes. I love dressing girly, but on the job, I'm a professional. So it seemed to me I had earned my right to kneel on the chalky sideline—okay, maybe I was edging over it just a bit—to take the perfect shot.
I pressed the toggle switch on my digital, frowned, and tried again. "Oh, no! Nooo!"
A drained battery. How could I have let this happen? I looked over my shoulder to see where I'd left my equipment bag.
"Heads up! Heads up!"voices shouted.
I heard the thunder of feet coming in my direction, but I knelt there like a lawn ornament, glaring at my equipment. Suddenly, the camera was flying over my head. My butt landed first, then I was flat on my back. I saw the sky shining directly above me between the red helmet and padded shoulders of the heap of body sprawled on top of me. The heap was breathing hard. Sandwiched between us was a football.
The player on top of me casually rolled onto his back and stood up. He didn't seem to notice he'd landed on a body. All that padding, I guess, or he was just keeping the focus that Coach was always screaming about. I didn't blame him—I was focused on finding our very expensive school camera. Spotting it just behind me, I picked it up and cradled it in my hands like a baby, praying it wasn't damaged.
"You okay?" Jared Wright hollered. I recognized his voice; as quarterback he called all the plays. And he regularly called my sister.
"Sure," Flynn Delancy replied, tossing back the football he had just caught, grinning at the defender who had failed to bring him down.
"Not you, you moron," Jared replied, and the rest of the team laughed. "Hayley," he called to me, "are you okay?"
Flynn looked back and seemed surprised to see me sitting on the ground. "Oh. Sorry! Sorry, buddy," he said, taking a few steps back, extending his hand, pulling me to my feet in a single motion, like I was his teammate.
Between the red of his helmet and the metal face mask, I glimpsed the famous eyes. Gray, but a gray that could turn mystical blue. Sometimes, they were the color of the night sky when it first lightens to silver; at other times, they were a stormy ocean.
How would I know this from shooting sports? Hey, I do close-ups! There is nothing that grabs your audience like a tight shot. And, actually, I photograph all kinds of school activities—dances, concerts, fund-raisers, and everyday moments by the lockers. With a camera in my hand, I don't feel shy. It's not me everyone is looking at—it's the eye of the camera; it's the people who they imagine will be admiring their photos. I like it that way. Usually.
The glimpse of Flynn Delancy's eyes was no more than a glimpse, couldn't be, not with Coach Siefert yelling like a maniac. The guys were told to "keep your focus," and I was asked, not very nicely, to leave.
As I gathered my stuff, one of the assistant coaches trotted over to ask if I was all right.
"You know Coach," he said, with an expression that was half smile, half grimace.
"I know Coach. I'll be back tomorrow."
I saw another half smile, half grimace on the assistant's face, this one about me, I thought.
As I headed out of the stadium, I heard a pair of feet shuffle up behind me.
"You've got grass stains on your back."
I turned around. My friend, Gabriel, who covers sports for The Courier, and who'd been working on the other side of the field, had followed me.
"There goes my designer shirt," I replied with a laugh.
"That's a designer shirt? I've always wondered how you can tell."
"Gabriel," I said, shaking my head, "it's a shirt just like yours, from L.L. Bean."
"It's Gabe," he corrected me, for the millionth time.
I love my friend's name, Gabriel Milano. It goes perfectly with his curly gold hair and strong features. But he has this thing about being called Gabe—it sounds tougher, I guess, more like a sportswriter, less like an Italian fashion designer. He is the best writer at Saylor Mill High, even though he's only going into sophomore year like me—he has that much talent. He could write anything, but he loves covering athletics.
During freshman year I started hanging with him, trying to soak up his knowledge of sports. He spent hours teaching me on the sidelines and in the gym bleachers, so that I could better anticipate the shot that would be the big one, and we had become good friends. There was nothing romantic between us, never would be, but as his good friend I knew his gentle heart, which made him Gabriel to me.Love at First Click. Copyright (c) by Elizabeth Chandler . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.