Spades - A Venison Short

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“Hey, Jeremy!” The blonde’s feet pattered against the school floor, echoing the existence of the raindrops that had finished falling only hours before. She came to the locker at the end of the hall, Jeremy’s locker. Jeremy paused his rummaging and caught her in his embrace. She laughed as he tickled her.

“Stop that! Hey, a few of us are going to Marty’s house later since the storms look like they’re clearing out.”

“Sounds good, babe. Who knows - maybe you’ll get lucky!” He winked at her and she shoved him off with a half-disgusted, half-endearing look in her eyes.

As Jeremy shut his locker and turned toward his class, he nearly collided with a shadow of a teenager. The dark clothes and hair might have allowed Daniel to blend into the background scenes of the school, but didn’t help when a collision was imminent.

“Hey, watch it, freak!” Jeremy shoulder-checked Daniel into a locker. Daniel’s backpack slid down his arm and almost fell to the floor, but he caught it at just the right moment. The pair of star-crossed lovers made their way to class while Daniel was left to recover himself. His cheeks flushed red and, if only for a moment, he indulged the thought of giving into that primal rage. Dismissing the fleeting emotion, he opened his locker and pulled his science project from his bag.

“Still intact…” he muttered under his breath. Daniel turned the small frame over in his hand to orient the egg upright, then placed it gently back in his backpack. Drop an egg from the roof of the school without breaking it. Those were the rules for the project. Daniel knew from his research that eggs were strong because of their near-spherical shape, so Daniel drew upon that fact and designed his frame to have a similar shape. He could let nature do the work for him. All those years of evolution should count for something, he had told himself.

Daniel shuffled the books in his locker, looking for his next class’s textbook. He had to move his black leather jacket out of the way to get to it. From behind him, he heard “Hey Dan-Dan the freak-a-zoid man!” As Daniel grabbed his science book from inside the locker, another student slammed the door shut on his wrist and Daniel winced in pain, knowing he would bruise from that one.

To himself, Daniel muttered, “It’s Daniel, not Dan.” He hated the nickname. It always seemed to him like ‘Dan’ would be the ice cream guy just down the street or the mechanic that everyone trusted. Daniel had bigger dreams than being an ice cream guy.

Just a few more hours and the weekend would be here. The weekend was one of the few things that kept him sane in this tiny town. His favorite thing about weekends was Saturday dinner with his parents and grandparents. His grandfather was a Vietnam veteran, and Daniel held immense respect for the man. Whenever he got the chance, he would spend time with his father and grandfather, and their favorite pastime was playing Spades. When he wasn’t getting schooled on why he should or shouldn’t have gone nil, he was working on his college applications.

He needed to focus on his applications since this weekend meant one less week as the deadlines approached. It also meant one less week before he could get out of Oklahoma, out of the tiny little town he’d grown up–no, the tiny little town he’d rotted in–for the last eighteen years. Daniel turned and headed to class, smiling inside.

The teacher met the students at the door and pointed them to the stairwell at the end of the hall. Daniel scaled the steps of the rooftop access stairway two at a time and opened the door to the roof where several students were already gathered. A bright, sunny day in Depew greeted him, along with the students who noticed his entry from below. The AP Physics students this year didn’t really form cliques, Daniel noticed–they seemed to understand the value in differences, and the class seemed to flourish because of it. He waved at a girl on the roof and gave a slight smile, though from her distance, she wouldn’t have seen the corners of his lips curl up.

Marla broke from the circle glided from the group gathered by the edge of the roof. She broke spades in the conversation first, and Daniel was glad for it, because he only had the Two of Spades when it came to talking to beautiful women, and Marla was an Ace, for sure.

“Hey, Daniel! Let me see what you came up with!”

Daniel complied almost unconsciously, withdrawing the egg-within-an-egg from his backpack.

“Wow, that’s so cool! I’m sure it’ll do great!” She admired the complex frame, turning it over in her hands, and Daniel watched her hands–not because he was concerned for the egg anymore. If she shattered the egg in its frame, he wouldn’t have cared.

It was Daniel’s turn to say something. “Hey, um...did you hear back from MIT?” A seven of clubs, to draw out her high card.

“Who knows? I might have heard back, I might not. Maybe I made it, maybe I didn’t?” Marla said coyly. A four of hearts. She’s out of clubs, Daniel surmised. She turned the egg frame over in her hands and tossed it back and forth. Daniel jumped a little. Maybe he cared about the egg a little bit.

Daniel was going to pry more but was interrupted by the teacher as he erupted onto the roof with the last few students. Mr. Albright, the ultimate trump card for ending any conversation with a beautiful woman.

“Alright class, how many of you still have intact eggs?”

Marla held up Daniel’s frame while the other students hoisted theirs into the air. Daniel chuckled and shook his head, holding his hand out for Marla to return the egg. She did, and he was relieved to have it in his control once more.

Dozens of egg yolks and pieces of contraptions littered the sidewalk on the north side of Depew High School. Daniel stood at the edge of the roof and looked over. This was higher than any of the drops he’d done in testing, but he trusted his design.

The rest of the students stood behind Daniel while he looked over the edge and prepared to drop his egg. He held it out at arm’s length and whispered, almost inaudibly, a line from his favorite poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” He closed his eyes, exhaled and released the frame. Marla rushed up behind him to watch how it fell.

When the truss structure surrounding the egg hit the ground, it distributed the sudden acceleration into the frame, absorbing the energy of the impact. Some of the energy dispersed into the shell of the egg, but it was not enough to break the egg. It did, however, permanently damage the wooden frame. Several beams were shattered, but the egg never broke.

Marla screeched in excitement and wrapped her arms around Daniel, who was just as excited, though not just as exuberant. They both peered over the edge and watched as the frame below continued to disintegrate as it rolled. Eventually, the egg popped out onto the concrete and rolled. It followed the natural cut of the sidewalk until it came to a curb. Almost in slow-motion, the egg rolled over the curve and shattered on the road.

Mr. Albright had watched the entire scene. “Excellent design, Daniel. Yours is the only egg so far to have survived the fall, though it seems it did not survive its encounter with gravity on the whole.”

“Hey,” Marla caught Daniel as he was leaving school. She opened the conversation with a leading card, lobbing a five of hearts on the table.

“Hi.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say. He couldn’t even beat a five of hearts.

“I found out a few days ago that I got accepted.” She said, looking over to gauge his reaction. A jack of diamonds. A solid play–she wanted to see what he had.

“No way! That’s great!” Daniel was excited for Marla, but a seed of fear had been sown in his heart. If he didn’t get into MIT, that would probably be the diverging point of their lives. In his mind, the MIT application moved to the top of the pile.

“My family wanted to celebrate, have a bunch of my friends over for dinner tonight. Can you come? Mark and Amy are going to be there, but I wanted to make sure you heard about it before you left today.”

“Yeah, definitely.” Daniel tried to hide his embarrassment and his excitement. He just wanted to seem chill, and he thought he was failing miserably. His hand was full of twos, threes, and fours, no spades. He should have gone blind nil with this miserable hand but decided to play it anyway. “Do you need me to bring anything?” He asked.

“No, my parents are making deer chili with some meat that my dad got a month or two ago, and I think we have everything that we need.” She smiled at him. That was her ace of spades. She won every conversational card game with that smile.

A thought materialized in his head. There was something he read a week or two ago about deer herds in Colorado, but he couldn’t quite pin the memory down. It wasn’t physics or math, so Daniel hadn’t committed the article to memory. Regardless, he would never dare to miss an opportunity to spend an evening with Marla and her friends.

“Awesome, I can’t wait! See you then!” He folded. Even though folding isn’t allowed in Spades, he did it, because he knew she’d beaten him with her smile. And she would beat him every day of his life if she would let him.