Five high school seniors. Two different roads. One life-changing decision. For fans of Tommy Wallach and Patrick Ness comes a “must-have coming-of-age story” (School Library Journal) that explores what happens to five teens when they choose the road…and the road not taken.
Should Brian play in Friday’s football game, even though his head really hurts? Should Allegra commit to college now that her mother’s illness has returned? Should Cole cheat on the SATs for a chance to get into his dream school? Should Nikki go all the way with her boyfriend? Should Wiley tell his best friend that he loves her and risk losing her completely?
These five seniors are about to have an opportunity people only dream about: to experience two potential outcomes of a life-altering decision. When it’s all over, will they still recognize their futures?
Two Roads from Here BRIAN MACK I sat outside Coach’s office with a feeling like my brain was about to give birth to a radioactive midget. The vibration was dull but intense, throbbing as hell and steady, too. Whomp. Whomp. Whomp. Whomp. The pounding was so hard I could almost hear it. It was like the little fetus was trying to speak. Like it wanted to tell me something.
I had to get my mind off my head before it drove me insane, so I stared at the stuff outside Coach Dent’s door—the pennants, team pictures, and plastic trophies.
Mostly, the space is a shrine to Coach’s golden boy and not-so-secret crush, the best quarterback in the state and the worst human being in the world: DeSean Weems.
There’s a photo of DeSean leaping over a linebacker with his arms stretched out like he’s Sexy Teenage Jesus. Here’s one of him with some smoking-hot dance team chicks and some off-brand cheer babes. There’s a pic of him slopping chowder at the old folks’ home like a friggin’ community service angel. Here’s DeSean in the locker room, hoisting his league MVP trophy to the sky. You can see part of my ass cheek in that last shot.
There are other pics on the wall too, from way back in the day. These were the Dos Caminos teams that went all the way and won California state championships. The Bulldog glory years, my dad always says.
In the team photos from the eighties, everyone has hair down to their shoulders, back before those manes shriveled up into those skulls and those guys became assholes forever. Coach Dent is in the back row, pushing three bills and rocking about seven chins, which are stats even I can’t dream of putting up. My pops is in the center, holding the team ball and wearing the grin of a dude who just got laid, probably by not-my-mom.
The last CIF title team is up there too, the miracle kids from ten years ago. My brother’s squad. Kyle is kneeling in the front row, all rigid and robotlike, with the dopest diabolical Ivan Drago flattop that I tried in vain throughout my whole childhood to re-create until I realized my hairline was beginning to disappear at age thirteen.
There’s no pic up from last year. I wasn’t able to finish the season last year. No one likes to talk about last year. Not Coach Dent, not my dad, not Kyle, not DeSean. They’re locked in on now. We all are. This is my senior season. This is my last chance.
My head hurt looking at the photos. And not just my head. My stomach felt gurgly as crap, like Taco Tuesday meets the Tea Cups at Disneyland. My eyes stung from how burningly shiny everything was around me, I mean the glare was hella bright, like my-thighs-during-winter white. And my ears were still ringing. My temples were still thumping. The baby midget in my skull was screaming. It wanted to die.
“Big Mack!” Coach called out from behind the door. “Come on in, son.”
I took one last look at the DeSean wall, flipped it off because why not, and got out of my chair. I felt the world spin for a moment, forced myself not to puke, and took a deep-ass big-boy breath. Then I did it. I walked right into Coach’s office, right into my future, straight toward my date with density.
Destiny. That’s the word I want. Destiny.
Well, considering the sheer girth of mine and Coach’s asses combined, I guess density makes sense too.
It was lunchtime. Five hours before Coach’s office, way before my date with fatness. I was in the Greek Amphitheater, smack-dab in the middle of the stage. Everyone at school was surrounding me, cheering their heads off, losing their minds.
I was about to have the most badass moment of my life.
I bumped chests with Ernesto. I dominatrix-smacked Tua across the man titties for good luck. Then I turned to the crowd, and I gave them a freak show they’ll never forget:
I slapped my thighs and did a couple of high stomps, like in one of Tua’s Polynesian dances. I flexed my guns, which I’m guessing put some freshman honeys straight through puberty. Then I ripped off my “#69 MACK” football jersey, and when everyone saw what was underneath, they got ridiculously hype.
On my fat white belly, I’d had some rally girls paint a big-ass blue bulldog along with the words “SENIORS, BITCHES.” It was our school logo, but way fiercer-looking, plus kinda sexy too, just like yours truly. And when everyone saw me take that dog for a walk, when they saw me jump up and down and side to side and jiggle that nasty tummy beast all around, they all went crazy, and they loved me. They loved me so hard.
It was time.
With the crowd still climaxing, I turned around and gazed up at it, all twenty-five feet of it. All twenty-five lathered-up, death-defying, legend-making feet of the object of my dreams:
The Grease Pole.
Dos Caminos is the only high school on the Central Coast—probably in all of California and maybe in all of America—that has the Grease Pole tradition. Basically there’s this huge pole with a bell at the top. Every year in October, during every Homecoming Week in our school’s history dating back to, like, farmers-doing-it-with-cows-because-they-were-so-bored-and-lonely times, the pole gets all smothered in Vaseline and crap. Then the whole school comes out to the Greek at lunch to watch as teams of three twelfth graders climb on to each other’s shoulders to try to ring that bell.
No one’s actually done it in a decade, not since my brother and his buddies made history back during his senior year. Every single year it’s supposed to finally happen, and every year it doesn’t. It’s like the Messiah coming back, or Tua learning how to read.
But this was it. This was our time.
“Nesto,” I said, “Remember, when you’re up there, don’t look down. And, Titties,” I said to Tua, “when you’re on my shoulders, keep your knees locked. I don’t want your butt all in my face.”
“Aww, yes, you do, cuz,” Tua said.
“Only if we ring the bell,” I said. “If we do that, you can put your butt wherever you want.”
“Okay,” Tua said, grinning. “In that case, I’m rubbing it up on Nikki Foxworth.”
I mean-mugged him dirty. “You shut your obese, illiterate mouth,” I said. “Nikki is mine.”
Tua nodded and mouthed the words “my bad.”
“Anyway,” I finished. “Enough about your bloated ass. It’s time to kick the Grease Pole’s ass.”
“Come on, boys!
“Let’s get it, Dawgs!
With everyone in the whole school still shrieking like horny baboons, me, Ernesto, and Tua stepped across the safety padding and up to the pole.
The whistle blew and I got low. The three of us decided I’d be base since I’m slightly fatter than Tua, and also because bottom dude seems like the most important dude on the team, and look at me, just look at me, look at my effing belly dog—I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man.
Tua got on my shoulders and I held steady, even though he’s built like the most depressing Weight Watchers “before” picture ever. Then, using the pole for leverage, he slowly stood up straight, and while he did stumble for a sec, which blocked my entire field of vision and gave me a total eclipse of the moon-crack, I somehow kept my balance because I’m the patron saint of cool friggin’ shit.
Ernesto had problems getting up too, but I kept barking orders at him, and he scrambled up my back, and eventually Tua’s as well. I couldn’t look up because I didn’t want to strain my neck, but I knew he was close to the bell. I could hear everyone around me getting loud, like real loud, like louder than they got when we advanced to CIF semis last year, like louder than whenever DeSean flashes his fake asshole smile at a pep rally, like so loud it felt like time was slowing down, so loud I knew my life was about to change—
And I heard it! I heard that angelic sound. I heard the ring of that goddamned glorious bell, and I heard everyone going crazy, and I got the biggest life boner, and I felt like a gladiator superhero porn star god—
And in that moment, come on, I had to do it. I had to gaze out and see my people—
My backup linemen, Cody, Hector, and Ian—aka Grundle Boy, Chalupa, and Scrotum Face, aka Scrotes. They were all so into it, and Scrotes was humping the air for some reason, which is so Scrotes—
The rally girls, the cheerleaders and dance team chicks, they were so stoked too, especially Mona Omidi—aka the Moaner—who was staring at me eyes all wide, mouth all open, ready to lick her lips and taste the Big Mack, but I’m not going anywhere near the Moaner as long as I have a chance with—
Nikki Foxworth, my personal rally girl, not to mention my special lady of the moment, who I didn’t spot sitting with the other girls, which meant she was probs behind me, snapping pictures of my ass, which she called cute the other day—true story, haterzzz—
And speaking of haterz, where was DeSean Weems, because I had to peep the look on his face, I just had to, so I turned my head, more to the left this time, and I saw the back row of benches, and I didn’t see him at first, but then I spotted him, but it was kind of annoying, since DeSean was turned away from me, because he had someone next to him—a girl, big shocker, a brunette I think, and he was getting kinda handsy with her, and it looked like—wait, punch me right in the diddle—was that—?
And that’s all I remember for the next few minutes.
That’s when five hundred pounds of offensive lineman came crashing on my head.
I must have spaced for a sec there, watching DeSean, and when I lost my focus, I guess my body just gave. I staggered backward, and that little hitch made Tua lose his balance, only instead of falling back, Tua fell forward, because all of Tua’s weight is located in his tits, and so with Nesto tumbling on top of him, Tua and his dirty pillows came crashing onto me, and as all that double fatness plummeted my way, Tua kneed me in the forehead.
I didn’t wake up at first. Not for, like, ninety seconds. Nesto told me everyone held their breath the whole time, because what if I was dead—or worse, given the big game—injured.
And when I eventually came to, some rando adults made me answer basic math questions, like a special needs turtle from a stupid app for babies.
And in fifth and sixth period I couldn’t pay attention, because everywhere I looked I saw fuzzy little stars, and I kept hearing this weird-ass rumbling, like God had tummy troubles.
And after school at practice, I missed five or six easy blocks, and I poured my Gatorade on my chin instead of in my mouth, and DeSean tattled to Coach Dent about how I’d done the Grease Pole without team permission, that goddamn glory boy snitch.
And that’s the story of how I ended up in Coach’s office this afternoon.
That’s how my Concussion Baby was born.
• • •
“So . . . you think you can suit up Friday?”
“I dunno,” I said. “I dunno.”
“Well, how are you feeling?” Coach said. “Because that’s the most important thing, son.”
I shrugged. “I dunno. I—”
“But you know,” Coach continued, adjusting his visor and leaning forward. “This here’s a crucial game. Lagunita’s only a game behind us in League, so we need this thing if we want a shot at CIF.”
“I know,” I said. “And—”
“And it’s quite a moment for DeSean, too. He’s going to have scouts there from USC, UCLA, and Oregon. You realize that? USC, UCLA, and Oregon. It’d sure be great if he had his Big Mack out there, protecting his blind side.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah—”
“And you remember what happened last year, of course. You making that whole big deal out of one little hammy tweak. You choosing to sit out semis even though the doctors said you were good to go. I’m sure you, ah, remember how that went for us.”
I didn’t say anything. I just sat there in the office, surrounded by all that memorabilia, Coach staring lasers at me, my brain throbbing like a mofo, my mouth hanging open like a fool.
“So, what’ll it be, son? Don’t you want to redeem yourself?
Teddy Steinkellner is the author of Trash Can Days: A Middle School Saga and its sequel, Trash Can Nights: The Saga Continues. He lives in Stanford, California. Two Roads From Here is his first novel for young adults. Visit him at TeddySteinkellner.com.
"Destiny or decision? The answer may be unknowable, but Steinkellner gives readers something to think about."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Will pique readers’ interest."
– Publishers Weekly
"Those who enjoyed Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It or Emery Lord’s When We Collided will be captivated by this title’s alternating character views and dramatic plotlines. A must-have coming-of-age story that will resonate with all types of YA readers."
– School Library Journal
"The book is compulsively readable and unfailingly well written, and the characters are nicely individualized. Impressively original."
"[Steinkellner] delivers an impactful plot encouraging readers to think seriously about how their choices affect themselves and others. Readers will be able to easily relate to the struggles of these high school seniors as they make life-defining choices."
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