Young Blood Cassius Carlisle
By Sean Trolinder
The boys from the yard call Cassius Carlisle “Young Blood,” mainly because he made Trent Soter bleed his own blood before Thanksgiving Break.
As the story goes, Trent kept harassing Rachel Worthington for her lunch money during recess. One boy claimed that Trent yanked on her ponytails, called her a witch, and twisted her elbow until she gave up three dollars. We didn’t pay attention to what happened beforehand, since we were too busy playing “Pilgrims and Indians” around the jungle gym. Rachel’s scream alerted us to the exchange and we sprinted over. She is one of us, a member of Scout Troop #443, and she was our best cookie seller at the time. Before we ganged up on Trent to lay a well-deserved smack down, Cassius barreled through, kicking Trent in the knee. As Trent collapsed, Cassius grappled the fat kid’s neck, gripping him so hard that his face turned purple and blood gushed out of his nose. Immediately, Trent gave up the lunch money before Cassius let go.
When Trent jogged away, crying and screaming for Mrs. Wriggleton’s aid, the boys hoisted Cassius’ hands in the air. The boy with freckles, George, declared, “Don’t mess with Young Blood. He’ll tear off your head!”
With the winter dance approaching, we all spend our recess pretending to play hopscotch, but we each step on the lines. Our eyes zone in on Young Blood, his body lanky, but with shoulders broad. We dream of him doodling our names with glue over construction paper, peeking at old yearbook photos of us, and even picking flowers to deliver us at the beginning of school. He grabs a basketball, trying a hook shot. It bangs off the rim, so we all sigh.
“So cute,” says Tammy Quinn. “He almost made it this time.”
“He’ll try again,” says Lydia Volk. “He’s not a quitter.”
“Back off, girl,” says Rachel. “He’s my knight in shining armor.”
“All’s fair in love and war,” says Lydia, which is something that she heard her older sister say over the phone when gossiping about boys.
When the boys from the yard jog over to the basketball court, they point to Trent hugging a tetherball pole, acting as if he’s ballroom dancing. Trent lays out his left hand as he twirls around, one foot in the air. We think it’s ridiculous. There’s no way he can dance better than Young Blood. We dread the idea of Trent asking any of us to the dance. No. We have our eyes on Young Blood—the prize.
Young Blood waves off the boys and sways to the chin-up rack, pulling a set of ten. “Swagger” is the phrase Lydia’s sister once used and we notice it in him. His pants sag, showing off some underwear. We imagine he’s wearing Calvin Klein. As he launches himself five feet forward, dismounting perfectly on a patch of sand, some of us swoon, but others giggle. Kimmy Johnson sits on a patch of grass, knitting “Young Blood” into her Girl Scout sash.
“Yo, Young Blood,” shouts freckle-faced George. “Who you taking to the dance?”
We slap each other and lean forward. The school announced the dance two weeks ago and with it approaching, we wondered what was taking Young Blood so long. The anticipation kills us, so some of us demand silence. George salutes us, so we scatter like bees flying around a hive. It’s obvious that Young Blood can take anyone, but he yells, “I ain’t going unless someone goes with Trent. I feel bad for ruining him. Just look at him.”
Trent continues to swing around the pole, his tongue flapping in the air. He’s a dirty dog who steals money from girls. We shiver at the prospect of him kissing us with that thing.
Rachel steps forward, ready to stake Young Blood as her man, but we jerk her shoulder. In Mrs. Wriggleton’s class, we learned that in democracy, problems such as these demand focus, attention, and careful planning. Our government gets nothing done without it. For the good of the group, we decide that someone has to be the sacrificial lamb and take Trent to the dance. The problem is that no one volunteers.
“You should take Trent, Rachel,” says Lydia. “He was clearly flirting with you when he demanded your lunch money.”
“No, he was torturing me,” says Rachel. “That’s not love.”
“You take him, Kimmy,” says Lydia. “You’re the biggest of us.”
“And you’re the skankiest of us, Lydia,” says Kimmy. “I’ll gouge out your eyes if you touch him.”
“Psycho,” says Tammy.
The boys from the yard walk to us, their heads hanging down, all cowards. Clearly, they discussed which boy would pair with us, as if we have no say in the matter. Kimmy face palms them, marching toward Young Blood. She shimmies a bit, smoothing the wrinkles in her khaki skirt before reaching the sand pit.
“He’s so courageous,” says Tammy, “unlike the rest of you dopes.”
“Yeah, he knows how to protect a woman’s honor,” says Rachel.
“Where’s the woman?” asks one of the boys from the yard. “If you’re saying Mrs. Wriggleton, then you’ve got to know he’s not interested. She’s too old.”
Tammy steps to the boy, crushing his foot. “Then tell us which one of us Young Blood likes. We ain’t going with any of you fools until we get answers.”
Though a bold tactic on Tammy’s part, we still didn’t get anywhere. The boys from the yard made a pact to protect Young Blood’s secrets and the status of this dance hung in the balance for everyone. Young Blood needed to choose one of us, but that meant someone getting the prize and someone settling for Trent. We thought about the math term “the least common denominator” and we called Trent that behind his back.
When Kimmy walks back, we breathe a unified sigh of relief. Young Blood turned down her proposal, but the news that she has rattles us to the bone.
“He says that the first person to get Trent’s number will be his date to the dance.”
The boys from the yard laugh and George joins them. Feeling overconfident in his prospects, George asks Kimmy to the dance, saying, “Just accept. Trent’s not giving you his number and Young Blood’s already told you no.”
Kimmy shoves him aside and marches across the playground to the tetherball pole. Trent stops dancing and scoots back. As they talk about God knows what, we discuss what would happen if Kimmy succeeded. She’d wear a gown two sizes too large, Young Blood would wear ripped jeans, and he’d swap Trent in as the date last minute. The joke’s on you. We giggle and some of the boys from the yard sneer. They wonder why any of them are interested in us, but we know why. We’re the most bad, awesome Girl Scout Troop in five counties. These morons worship the ground we walk on.
For some reason, Trent plays tetherball with Kimmy, but she’s sick of it. She punches the ball so hard that the rope wraps around his neck. Crying, she returns to us and utters, “He wouldn’t give me his number, even if it meant his dog dying. What does that say about us if the ugliest boy in school turns us down?”
“Speak for yourself, girl,” says Rachel, flipping her hair. “I’m fine and got this. Maybe he needs encouragement from a real woman.”
We remain skeptical that Trent ever meant to flirt with Rachel. The consensus is that he wanted the lunch money to invest in something nerdy, like comic books or a bottle cap collection. The boys from the yard give up on waiting and race to the soccer field, finding the ball more engaging than us. Forget them.
After five minutes, Rachel hands over three dollars and Trent takes out a pin. He scribbles some digits on her arm and waves goodbye. Tammy stomps her feet, finding it insulting that Rachel paid for the number.
“Why didn’t I think of that?” asks Kimmy.
“Because you’re dumb,” says Lydia.
“And you’re still a skank,” says Kimmy. “I bet you go the dance alone.”
It suddenly dons on us that with Rachel being the winner that one of us would have to be stuck with Trent, so we begin shoving each other and race toward the remaining candidates. The boys from the yard kick their little soccer ball around, taking aim at the goal and missing widely. We’re disappointed that these guys lack Young Blood’s athletic talent, since he at least hits a basketball rim, but anything beats settling for Trent.
“Take me,” says Lydia. “You’ve wanted me forever.”
“You wish,” says a boy from the yard.
“I’ve seen how you watch me in class,” says Tammy. “You’ll get to dance with me for one night.”
“Not worth it,” says another boy from the yard.
After every boy from the yard turns us down, we see Trent sitting next the pole, carving rocks off the soles of his shoes with a pencil. In the distance, Rachel hugs Young Blood and they make small talk before the attention turns towards us. They nudge their heads toward Trent. With three of us and one of him, we shrug and roll our eyes. We couldn’t believe that one of us would go with Trent and the other two would remain dateless.
We skip to the tetherball pole. Once there, our hands plant against our waists, posing as models. Tammy twists, giving Trent a side profile. Lydia offers her back, just to give a different perspective. As for Kimmy, she stands there, folding her arms. Getting rejected by this guy twice is not in the cards.
“Who’s it going to be?” asks Tammy. “We kind of need to know soon, since the dance is in a few days and you need time to get a tux.”
Trent forks his hands into his pant pockets and stares up at the sky. “I already have a date.”
“Rachel’s going with Young Blood,” says Kimmy. “No one wants you. She was just pretending to win a bet.”
Trent’s lips quiver for a moment and his hands yank out of his pants. They clench as he stands up, kicks grass, and marches away.
As we walk to Rachel and Young Blood holding hands, we decide that the dance is for dateless losers and we’d just throw a slumber party at Lydia’s house, where we would raid her older sister’s makeup. Watching episodes of The Bachelor and The Gilmore Girls while spooning ice cream sounds better, anyway.
“So, who’s going with Trent?” asks Young Blood.
“We’d never go with that jerk in a million years,” says Tammy. “Anyway, you beat him up. Why do you care?”
Young Blood releases Rachel’s hand, raises her arm, and copies down the number on a bubble gum wrapper. The bell ending recess rings, so he nods, says, “I guess he’ll be needing a wing man,” and marches into the school.