I trust everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I did…it was great to take a break with family. But now, on with the show!
Today on Monsters and Mayhem, I thought I’d talk about a different kind of monster. Growing up is tough business, but when you have an overbearing, high-pressure parent, it’s nine-thousand times harder. There’s a scene from Matt Archer: Blade’s Edge that I really loved, but ended up cutting, that shows this kind of monster in action. If anyone thinks Matt’s best friend, Will Cruessan, has it made…sometimes a gilded cage is still a cage. Take a look:
The state football championship was held in Billings the weekend before Thanksgiving. I snuggled with Ella under a fleece blanket, puffing out little clouds of mist with each breath. The night was clear, the stars glittering cold in the dark sky. Even if the metal bleachers felt like ice-blocks under my butt, it was the perfect night to watch Will prove to Helena West that Greenhill High wasn’t a bunch of suburban posers.
Mamie sat on my other side, huddled in her own blanket. She’d crammed a red watch-cap over her pigtails, but her teeth still chattered. “W-w-what am I d-d-doing here a-again? I thought I was f-f-football free after Brent left home.”
“Rooting for the football team one last time,” I said. “Next year you’ll be holed up in the college library and can skip as much football as you want.”
“S-s-sounds like heaven.”
Ella laughed. “You know what, Mamie? We need to find you a boyfriend to cuddle up with. That’d make it more fun.”
I gave her an incredulous look. “I don’t want to hear about my sister cuddling with anyone. She’s not allowed to do that until she’s twenty-five. And married.”
“Y-you’re an idiot,” Mamie said.
“And a hypocrite,” Ella murmured, slipping her hand onto my thigh under the blanket.
Oh, yeah, I was a hypocrite, and I liked it. How far was Ella going to let that hand drift? I never found out, though. The fun was cut short because Will’s dad came plowing our direction and Ella folded her hands in her lap, rather than mine.
Mr. Cruessan looked exactly like Will, just forty-five years old. He had massive shoulders, thick dark hair, and a broken nose. So far, Will’s schnozz was still straight, but if he played college ball, that would probably change. Then he’d be an exact replica of his old man.
“Matthew!” he boomed. He was the only man I knew who could out-shout General Richardson. “Good to see you, son. It’s been a while.”
I refrained from saying I was at his house more than he was. “Good to see you, too, sir.”
He nodded politely to Mamie as he settled on the bleachers in front of us. “Hello, Marguerite.”
Mamie’s face flushed bright red. No one called her by her real name. Mr. Cruessan didn’t seem to notice her reaction, though, and he didn’t acknowledge Ella. When he turned to face the field, Ella tossed her hair as if to tell him he wasn’t important to her, either. That made me smile.
Mrs. Cruessan and Will’s housekeeper, Millicent, followed in Mr. Cruessan’s wake. Millicent had on jeans and a Greenhill sweatshirt underneath a tan coat, and her hair was wrapped in a scarf. Will’s mom had on a mink coat and heels. She’s the only woman I knew who could pull off wearing fur without getting chased down by PETA. Her gray eyes flicked my direction, then she smiled. Her smiles were funny. It’s like they pained her or something. When I was in second grade, I called her Miss Frostybritches behind her back. Things hadn’t changed much since then.
“Matthew, so nice to see you,” Mrs. Cruessan said, her voice soft and cold.
I smiled at her, then waved at Millicent, who gave me a thumbs up and called, “So how’s out boy gonna do?”
“School record,” I said. “Five sacks.”
“Oh-ho,” Mr. Cruessan said. “We’ll see about that.”
It killed me sometimes, the way Will’s parents were. If Will got five sacks, his dad would tell him he missed two. His mom would’ spend the game on her phone with the hospital, talking about a patient, or reading medical journals, not knowing or caring how well he did. At least Millicent and I gave a damn.
The teams ran onto the field. Will had a look on his face I associated with battle. I’d seen the same look the night he tackled a She-Bear in the woods. Man, he was fired up. This game would be one for the history books.
When Will got three sacks and recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the first half, I wasn’t surprised. He ripped off a huge, growling yell as the team ran into the tunnels for halftime. There was so much energy buzzing around the stands, my nerves felt a little ragged, too. Listening to Mr. Cruessan dissecting all of Will’s mistakes didn’t help. He’d made three sacks, but you’d think he’d rolled over and played dead based on what his dad was saying. What a butthole.
Mr. Cruessan must’ve been sending bad mojo down to the field because in the third quarter, it all started to unravel. Will missed his route on the first play and the quarterback ran in for a touchdown.
Ella squeezed my arm. “Look–he’s so upset.”
She was right. Will stomped around the sidelines like a caged bull. The assistant coach pounded him on the shoulder, but Will shook him off and everything went downhill from there. Will missed three more crucial tackles, two of which resulted in touchdowns.
“Well, we’ve got some things to work on this spring,” Mr. Cruessan said, standing up. “He needs to get off the line faster. Think I’ll hire a coach to work on his explosiveness and his ability to cut upfield…”
I tuned him out while we waited on the stadium concourse for Will to come out of the locker room. Will’s Mom drifted off to her Mercedes, phone glued to her ear, talking to someone about aneurysms. Millicent stood silently by, her expression soft.
Ella and I leaned against the brick wall of the concourse after Mamie bolted for the car with the excuse that she’d warm it up for us. A few people from school hurried by and a familiar blond head came into view.
“Hey, Ella,” Carter said. He was flanked by a couple of his basketball teammates. He knew not to come around without backup or a room full of witnesses.
I stood up straight, looking him dead in the eye. He smirked. “Sorry about the game, man. I’m sure Cruessan is feeling it, huh?”
Carter said it in a sympathetic tone, but I could see the glee in his eyes. I balled up my fists, wishing I could siphon off whatever frustration Will had and pound it into Carter’s pretty-boy head.
Ella tensed up beside me. “Carter, you of all people should understand how disappointing this is for Will, right?” She nodded at his posse. “All four of you were wrecked when you lost in the first round of the playoffs last year.”
I could’ve kissed her, right then and there. Those punks deflated, sagging like day-old balloons. It was a thing of beauty.
Carter ground his teeth before saying, “Of course. It sucks to lose like that. Um, yeah. I’ll see you around.”
He gathered up his friends, turned tail and slunk off.
“You know what?” I whispered, pulling Ella close. “You’re amazing sometimes.”
She smiled. “Only sometimes?”
“All the time.”
We hugged each other with our foreheads touching and I didn’t feel the cold anymore. If anything, I was burning up. When Will finally made his way through the locker room door, Ella took a few steps away from me, arranging her face in a sympathetic pout. I did the same—it wasn’t hard. One look at the pain in his eyes put a lid on some of my happy mood.
“You okay?” Ella asked him.
Will was about to answer her, but Mr. Cruessan and Millicent walked over. When Will saw his dad, he swallowed hard and dropped his eyes to the ground. “Sorry game, wasn’t it?”
Mr. Cruessan sighed. “We’ll just work harder, right?”
“Yes, sir,” Will said, still staring at the concrete.
Ella squeezed my hand so hard one of my knuckles cracked. I couldn’t blame her. I’d never seen Will look so whipped. I stepped in between him and his Dad. “Dude, you look like you could use a burger. Want to come with us?”
“Yes, go out with your friends,” Mr. Cruessan said. “We’ll talk more tomorrow, when things look better.” He gave Will an awkward chuck on the shoulder. “Be home by midnight.”
As soon as Will’s dad headed for the car, Millicent glanced over her shoulder, then pulled Will into her arms. “I’m sorry, honey. You did so well! I was proud of you—three sacks! And you know, your linebackers weren’t giving you any help tonight. Small wonder you got exhausted in the second half.”
You’d think the man who’d played pro-linebacker would’ve seen the same thing, but it took a housekeeper to point out the real problem. Millicent gave him one last pat and hurried into the parking lot. Will watched her go, then stared at the ground again.
Ella caught my eye. “I’m a little chilly. Think I’ll go hang with Mamie.”
When we were finally alone, he looked up. “Do you think my parents had me because they wanted a new accessory?”
Headlights washed across the brick stadium walls as the Mercedes glided out of the parking lot. Maybe it was a blessing my dad ditched us right before I was born. Better to have nothing than never being good enough for one parent, and an afterthought for the other. “No clue, man. But I do know one thing. You’ve got Millicent and you’ve got us. We care what happens to you, okay? We do, and always will.”
He blew out a long, shaky breath. I knew he didn’t want to cry in front of me, so I walked to the car, hoping he’d follow me when he was ready.
Anyone else ever had this kind of experience? I was very lucky not to, but I’ve known a lot of friends who did. There are times when you have to stop and say, it’s just a game.