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Adrenaline fueled me, and I sucked in a calming breath before running at full speed toward the Astroturf, clapping and grooving to the beat as I got into formation for our homecoming halftime show.
I quickly scanned the crowd, searching for my own personal cheering squadmy mother, my little sister, Cory Murphy, my best friend, Sabrina Davis, and some of the members of my celibacy club Worth the Wait. As usual, my dad was nowhere to be found.
"Go, Courtland," someone yelled, and the grin I had pasted on my face grew wider even though I didn't think that was possible. I threw them a wink, since I was forbidden to wave, then blocked everything out in order to do our routine.
The music started and I did a mental countdown, then we launched into a series of flips and stunts unlike anything our school had ever seen.
It was my junior year, and as co-captain, I was determined to show the student body of Grover High School in Birmingham, Alabama, that this year's cheerleading squad was going to be different. In the past, squads did these regimented, boring routines that had people in the stands yawning and looking at their watches, ready to get back to the game.
After we had been elected co-captains, my teammate Candy Harris and I, along with our new squad adviser, Coach Wilkins, had agreed it was time for something new. In addition to funky routines, we had decided to compete in regionals, and if we won there, we were gonna try and make it to the national competition in Orlando. We were gonna bring it like it had never been brought before, just like that black squad in that movie Bring It On, only better.
The beat of Chris Brown's latest remix featuring Lil' Wayne filled the packed gymnasium, and Candy and I grinned at each other when we saw the audience members smile with delight.
We started breaking it down and the crowd jumped to its feet, cheering us on. The song faded out, and we launched into the cheerleading portion of our routine, doing chants and toe touches that had people slapping high fives at our creativity.
I mentally prepared myself for my backflip, which would land me on top of a five-person pyramid. When a roar ran through the crowd, I made the mistake of looking up just as my secret crush, basketball phenom and star forward Allen Benson, started working the stands, slapping hands and bumping shoulders with everyone within his reach.
I took in his neat cornrows, the sexy tattoo on his bicep and his dimpled smile just as I took off running. Before I could stop myself, I tripped and went rolling like a bowling ball into my teammates, toppling the well-constructed pyramid.
Oooh, the crowd groaned.
By the time I was helped up from the bottom of the pile, laughter surrounded me and my honey-brown face was tinged with embarrassment. I had never been so mortified in all my sixteen years.
I tried to smile and keep eye contact with the crowd, but my face was flaming, and it seemed like Allen was staring right at me.
I tugged at my short cheerleader skirt, trying to cover my thighs, then reminded myself I wasn't the overweight girl I had been two years ago, which still didn't help my embarrassment.
As we were heading back to the locker room, I immediately started apologizing.
"I'm sorry, guys," I said. "I don't know what happened."
"You should be," Rene White said. She was my least favorite squad member because she always found the negative in everything. "Obviously you didn't know the routine as well as you thought you did. You had us out there looking crazy. I can't believe you are co-captain. You can't lead yourself. How are you gonna help lead a squad?"
I started to roll my eyes at her, but changed my mind when I saw our team adviser, Coach Wilkins, headed our way.
"Give her a break," Candy said. "Accidents happen."
I knew she was just trying to be nice. I saw the disappointment in her eyes, even though she looked away to try and hide it.
"Yeah, you'd have messed up, too, if you were about to do a backflip and Allen Benson walked in," one of the other squad members said.
A few of the girls laughed, and I tried to join in, but I was faking.
We made our way back to the sideline just as our archenemies, the Baldwin Eagles, finished their routine. I took a few minutes to glance at Allen again. He was looking really sexy in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt that revealed his muscles. He smiled at someone, and my heart sped up when I saw the dimple in his right cheek. One of his friends said something to him, and he looked in my direction.
My heart skipped a beat. I smoothed my hair and tried to play it cool until he burst out laughing. I tugged at my top, trying to cover my belly, knowing he was laughing at me.
"You guys were terrible," a voice said, and I stopped focusing on myself long enough to stare at the girl who had spoken. It was Emily Arrington, a member of the Baldwin squad.
"It was just a homecoming show," I said. "We'll beat you at regionals."
"Don't count on it," she said, tossing her shiny blond hair. Her butt was bigger than a lot of black girls I knew, and she didn't have any problems shaking what her momma gave her whenever she had the chance.
"Is that a threat?" I asked.
"No, it's a promise," she said, getting in my face like she was going to do something, then walking away.
"You know she's right," Rene said. I saw her mouth moving, but I didn't hear the rest of what she was saying because at that moment, Allen Benson was walking toward me.
"Hey, Courtland," he said, giving me a sexy grin.
I gulped, shocked he knew my name.
"Hey," I squeaked out.
"Are you okay? I was really worried when I saw you fall."
"I'm cool," I said, glancing at the floor and hoping my cheeks weren't as red as they felt.
"Hey, I was wondering if you wanted to get together sometime."
I looked up at him in surprise, then gulped and tucked my hair behind my ear. "Okay," I said.
"Why don't you give me your number, and I'll call you later?"
He had just reached for his cell phone when suddenly a stray football came flying toward me. I tried to catch it, but I stumbled over someone's football helmet and landed on my butt.
My life just couldn't get any worse.
"Courtland, Momma said get up so we aren't late for school," my eight-year-old sister, Cory, said, shaking me awake. "Why are you on the floor?"
"What?" I said. I glanced up at my messy bed then down at my pillow, which was clutched in my arms like a football. I had been in the middle of the best and worst dream of my life, and Cory had just ruined it.
"Come on," she said. "We don't want to be late."
I groaned, until I realized what day it was.
It was the first day of junior year, and I was so excited it had taken me forever to fall asleep the night before. I had been waiting for this year for what seemed like all my life.
In a few short monthsChristmas Day, to be exact I, Courtland Murphy, would turn seventeen and be able to date. Most of my friends had started dating when they were fifteen or sixteen, and although I had begged my mother, she insisted I had plenty of time for boys and that I had to wait until I was seventeen.
Since I had started Grover High School, I had become pretty well known, but I was still getting used to my popularity. I had been overweight the entire time I was in junior high school, and the summer before freshman year, I had decided to make a change. I had started working out, and by the time school started, I had lost twenty pounds and grown a couple of inches.
There were only a handful of kids at Grover who had attended junior high school with me, and a couple of them didn't even recognize me on the first day. I hadn't expected that, or for guys to be checking me out. Honestly, I still wasn't used to the attention, although I'm not gonna lie, I enjoy it. Who wouldn't want fine guys speaking to them?
A couple had asked me out, but since I couldn't date, I had to pretend I wasn't interested. I had gotten a reputation of being stuck-up, but I had decided all that was going to change this year as soon as my birthday rolled around.
Being a cheerleader had given me a chance to meet a lot of the hottest athletes at school, and being co-captain this year was just the thing I needed to get me one step closer to hooking up with Allen Benson, the finest guy at Groveractually in the state of Alabama.
I had landed a place on the varsity cheerleading squad two years beforethe only freshman to do soand our squad had come a long way over the past two years.
Cheerleading wasn't really my thing. I had been a member of the peewee squad when I was little, and even though I was overweight back then, I was good at it. I had stopped when I started junior high, but once I got to high school, Momma encouraged me to try out, saying it would help me make friends.
I didn't really think I had a shot at making the squad since it's pretty competitive, but to my surprise I had. It wasn't until we were halfway through the season that our old cheerleading adviser, Ms. Caldwell, let it slip in front of everyone she and Momma used to be best friends in high school, and that's how I had ended up on the team. Thank God she moved to Michigan at the end of last school year.
I started to quit, but instead I figured I had to show my squad members that I deserved to be there. I spent the whole summer before sophomore year training, and my hard work paid off. Not only was I an even better cheerleader, thanks to my workouts, I was sporting six-pack abs that put the singer Ciara to shame.
My father didn't like the fact that I wore those short cheerleader skirts and that we had a couple of guys on the squad who often had to lift me, but I figured that was his problem. It's not like he had ever seen me cheer since I started high school. He was never homeusually working at the police precinctbut Momma and Cory were at every game.
I checked my purse to make sure I had the essentials pen, lip gloss and moneythen grabbed my backpack, pom-poms and a change of clothes for cheerleading practice, and I headed downstairs. As always, Momma had a hot breakfast waiting for me and Cory. She was the secretary at our church, First Baptist, Morning Heights, and it kept her busy, as did running around with me and my sister. Cory wasn't as involved in extracurricular activities as me. She had tried sports for a while because Daddy wanted her to, but she quit after the first soccer game. She hated the way Daddy yelled at her from the sidelines, and I guess I couldn't blame her. It had been horrible. People were staring at Daddy like he was crazy, and at one point the referee had even threatened to kick him out. He had calmed down a little, but Cory had still been embarrassed, and she refused to play again. Momma had signed her up for tae kwon do, and she was active in the Girls Scouts at our church, so she was happy.
Daddy wasn't. He was a total athlete in high school and college, and he didn't like the fact that he only had girls. I was supposed to be a boy, and Momma said he was so excited when he found out she was pregnant.
My aunt Dani told me once that Daddy was sad for days after he found out I was a girl. He still wanted to pretend I was a boy for a long time. I remember he used to spend time with me, taking me to play basketball and doing other stuff together. We grew up really close, and I became his shadow, following him everywhere. That all changed the summer before freshman year. He would promise to spend time with me then never show up, so after a while, I stopped expecting anything from him. I really liked basketball, and when I was little I used to dream of playing for the WNBA. I got so sick of Daddy riding me that I pretended to lose interest so he'd leave me alone. I figured cheerleading would at least get me close to sports, but it wasn't really the same.
When Cory came along, I got to witness for myself how excited Daddy was about having a boy. When she turned out to be a girl, too, he was depressed for weeks, and I started to realize being a girl wasn't good enough. He made it seem like Cory and I were such disappointments to him, all because we were girls, something we had no control over.
Daddy still couldn't understand why we weren't interested in all things sports.
Momma was the total opposite. Although she was strict, she wanted us to pursue whatever interested us, and she supported us wholeheartedly, shuttling us back and forth to practices and meetings and attending all our events. The only thing she insisted upon was that we be active in church, which I didn't mind because First Baptist has a fantastic youth department. We are always doing somethingplays, dances, trips to Six Flags in Georgia or Alabama Adventure amusement parkand I really enjoyed Bible study every Wednesday night, as well as our celibacy club, Worth the Wait, which met every other week.
"Good morning, Momma," I said, planting a kiss on her cheek. She was standing at the stove flipping pancakes, and she turned to me and smiled.
"Hey, Miss Junior," she said. "How does it feel?"
"Good," I said, taking a seat at the table next to Cory, whose eyes were glued to her Game Boydid I mention she's addicted to it? "It will feel even better when we win regionals and after my first date."
Momma rolled her eyes. Every chance I got, I mentioned dating so she didn't forget her promise I could start going out once I turned seventeen.