Happy 13th Birthday, Rowen!
This has been a best-ever, best friend birthday; and Rowen is all smiles as I’m writing this and we’re snuggled under the covers of the bed in our hotel room.
I’ve had so many favorite moments today, but let’s start with Rowen’s first birthday surprise at the Inn during the breakfast buffet. The football news that everyone else in town cares about most today can wait.
Rowen was sure that going out for breakfast was entirely because her parents couldn’t do anything else with her while working the big sale day at the computer store, so watching her open that first card from her parents with the gift of a ticket to the championship game and spending money was priceless. That surprise quickly moved to number two on the best gift list for the day with Tim’s gifts. She loves the necklace a lot, but it was the ‘One Boyfriend – Your Choice’ coupon in his card that won the best-gift-ever-so-far prize.
I thought that was fairly romantic coming from a thirteen-year old boy, and while that could mean that Michael helped Tim out with that part of their surprise; the ‘fine print’ was likely all Tim. “This offer is exclusively for Rowen Emerson, and is redeemable only on her thirteenth birthday. Terms and conditions are negotiable. Some conditions apply. Attending Championship football game is mandatory.”
Just for the sake of wondering, Rowen; what do you think Tim would’ve done if you’d tried to redeem that coupon but told him you wanted him to get you some other guy – like Jake Stone? Yeah, probably not a good plan – especially when you’ve waited this long for Tim to come to his senses. I do want to be there when you show that coupon to your mother tomorrow, though; and drop the boyfriend news on both of your parents – if that news doesn’t reach them before we get back.
Rowen liked the rest of the gifts she opened while we had breakfast, but nothing could top the boyfriend gift – even though she didn’t technically redeem that coupon until we were on our way to the football game. I think that they were both waiting until we were out of town before trying out things like holding hands in public. They’d moved along to cuddling in hotel room beds by the end of the evening – just a little while ago – so I’d say they’ve made decent progress in that department since this morning; but I’m getting way ahead of the story.
The breakfast buffet was a bit of a rush for us – and then some for Michael. He’d come to the Inn with his parents to help out for a while before joining us for Rowen’s birthday breakfast when the first waves of food were delivered to the buffet tables. While other members of our collective families had to hurry through their meals for other reasons, we needed to eat; have Rowen open her gifts; and be on the road by shortly after eight o’clock.
Since word wasn’t out yet, I’m sure that anyone who saw Rowen and Tim leave with his Aunt, Uncle, and Carolyn assumed they were going for the ride together so that Michael and I could be together while getting a ride to the game with Sally, Joshua, and her parents. While they weren’t holding hands or cuddling during the trip, I’m sure that Rowen and Tim were both happy about spending that time together; and Michael, Joshua, Sally, and I all had fun too during the two and a half hours it took to get to the Central State stadium. Sally and Joshua weren’t in on the entire birthday surprise, but we were able to talk about the post-football plans; and their parents didn’t have a problem with them joining us for Rowen’s birthday dinner and a play evening at the sports entertainment center.
We were at the stadium with lots of time to spare before the game, but Lee needed to be early enough for the pre-game pep talk that he was doing with our team; and Sally’s parents wanted to wish her brothers good luck again before the game too. Once we were in the stadium, Sally was given a cell phone; and the six of us were set free to wander around, pick up some souvenirs, and eventually buy some drinks and snacks before meeting up with a group of parents and going to find our seats. Rowen and Tim were both all smiles while finally getting around to holding hands while we did a tour of the stadium. That tiny little change was the difference between being there as six friends and hanging out as three couples; and I can assure you that it was a big deal for Rowen – especially since it was her first time being one half of a teen couple.
There were a few souvenirs that we all wanted to get, and it’s amazing how much customized gear the organizers can come up with in just one week. I’m sure they have things like player’s photos and bios, team logos, and the season stats; but that still means everything from programs to pins and wearables are put together in under seven days once the competing teams were decided last week. Of course, for our game, Clairmont may have been added early since this was their fourth trip in a row to the big game; but our team getting here for a second year was only slightly less shocking than our surprise run last year – at least to anyone who hadn’t seen Kyle play yet.
So we’re ready for the championship game part of the recap.
Mom and I didn’t ever go to any stadiums for either sports or concerts, so Central State’s facilities seemed very big to me; though I also know that they have a fairly modest building compared to the really big colleges or professional team buildings. ‘Our’ little block of seats also seemed small even compared to where the Clairmont fans were sitting on the other side of the field from us; but then we’d have needed to pretty much empty Witch Falls to use up all of the seating that we could have reserved – and about half of the Ridge River District too. There were several thousand spectators, but most were not supporting one team or the other. There were media crews, college scouts, and fans, family, and players from other teams; along with mostly local residents or college students looking for some cheap sports entertainment for the afternoon.
We didn’t get a warm, balmy weather day for the game, but it was nice out; and enough above freezing to not be seriously uncomfortable. Since holding hands and cuddling was now an option for Rowen and Tim; I don’t think they’d have cared if it was below freezing this afternoon. One good thing about high school matches like this is that we had great seats just to one side of the fifty yard line. We weren’t the only teens in the Witch Falls contingent, but the six of us had quite a few adults between us and the next closest kids or teens; and Sally and Joshua were only with Rowen, Tim, Michael, and me because of a seat switch so we could sit together.
Even for a championship game, there isn’t all that much pre-game fanfare at the high school level, so it wasn’t much past noon when the opening kick-off was booted by the Clairmont kicker to our team. This was our first playoff game of the season where we were the ‘away’ team, and while Clairmont won the coin toss and chose to defer and get the ball for the start of the second half; I’m not sure if that was normal for them, or if there was a particular reason why they chose not to start the match with what was the better half of their team according to the stats – their offense.
Whatever the reason, it looked like a good decision when our offense only managed to pick up twenty-three yards before needing to punt on our first drive. The Clairmont players and coaches all looked very happy with that result – and stayed happy right up until Kyle flattened their quarterback on their second offensive play; scooped up the fumble; and then bulled his way into the end zone for our first touchdown.
Clairmont was a three-time champion, and I’m not going to take anything away from them because they played like champions through the entire game – even when there wasn’t any reasonable chance for them to make up the points deficit in the fourth quarter. They came right back from that mistake and managed a field goal on their next drive; and a touchdown near the end of the second quarter. Those were the only highlights for them, though, and there were a lot of bad moments. Kyle led the way, but the entire defense really stepped it up; and if they weren’t scoring touchdowns, they were leaving our offense with great field position. We were ahead thirty-one to ten by half-time.
Our cheerleaders took to the field next, and while Jenny and the other girls had fun, did their best, and looked good out there; their little routine seemed very small in that big stadium – and compared to the show the much larger Clairmont squad performed a few minutes later. I know their school is bigger than ours too, but I’ll guess that having a winning team more often than not helps with the cheerleader recruiting as much as it would for the players.
Getting the ball first in the third quarter didn’t work out at all for Clairmont. Kyle sacked their quarterback on the first play; and then we got another interception on a hurried throw when the poor guy was trying desperately not to get pounded into the ground a second time in a row. Our offense may have averaged less than twenty-five yards per possession, but that’s not a problem when half of your drives start in your opponent’s red zone.
Kyle followed that up with a defensive takeaway and touchdown on the next Clairmont drive, and with a forty-five to ten lead at that point; we started kicking field goals for the rest of the game – one before the end of the third, and three in the fourth. As I mentioned, Clairmont didn’t give up, and played hard right to the end. They managed to earn ten more points, including a touchdown on a busted play at the start of the fourth quarter; but there was no doubt which was the better team this year. The final score was fifty-seven to twenty; and Kyle was the easy MVP pick with five defensive turnovers, three touchdowns, and six sacks. That didn’t even include tackles, tackles for losses, or passes he broke up but didn’t intercept. Other guys on our defense had good numbers too, but in most cases; they had Kyle to thank for the opportunities.
Kyle got a fair bit of media and scout attention after the game, but the scouts at least were disappointed to find out that he planned on playing ball for his father’s college. The press loved that, and at least some of them were probably searching for Lee’s old college football records to add to the ‘small-town-kid plays big’ story.
There was about an hour available in between each championship game, and while some of the members of our Witch Falls group had other plans – or were even heading home again after the game; we had tickets for the next match – as did all of the players, coaches, and cheerleaders. We had enough time to wander around, stretch our legs, and get drink and snack refills before moving to another set of seats. Most of the parents, including Sally’s and Joshua’s, were still with our team when the next game started, so there were some empty seats around us until about mid-way through the first quarter. All of our players earned cheers when they joined us, and though that was out of place and not timed with any action on the field; nobody seemed to mind. Maybe that happened regularly at these championship events.
Tim didn’t get to spend much time with his cousin, but Kyle did talk with us for a couple of minutes before going to sit with Erin and most of the other guys on the team – and their girlfriends. Jason obviously didn’t have his girlfriend there, but I have no idea how he felt about that because he completely ignored Michael and me.
With all of the older teens around, Rowen started going into shy mode, but Tim stayed close; and kept hold of her hand when she tried a few times to let go and avoid drawing any attention to them. I know that some of the girls noticed, but if any of the guys did; it was only after hearing about it from a girlfriend first. I don’t blame them for that – after all, they’d just won a championship; and there was also a football game in progress that was way more interesting than who was holding hands with whom in the junior teen ranks.
I’m going to completely skip the second game re-cap; since I didn’t know anything about either team. Michael, Tim, and Joshua were as into the game as the rest of the guys; but Rowen, Sally, and I mostly just chatted quietly and enjoyed being there with our boyfriends.
That’s right, Rowen, you’ve joined the club. Give it a little time; and you’ll get used to the idea.
Before I wrap up the football news, I should back up a bit and mention that Sally and Joshua had some celebration time with their brothers during that second game. Sally’s older brother, Alex, is in his second year on the team, so this win was a bigger deal for him – just as it was for all of the guys who had lost to Clairmont in the game last season. Sally’s other brother, Mark, and Joshua’s older brother, Ray, are both in Grade Ten and this is their first year on the team, so while they don’t have the history; they’re very excited to now be part of Witch Falls football history. They each spent a little time with us too; but were nearly as busy as Kyle was. Finally, we obviously know all of the players, but didn’t get a chance to talk with all of them this afternoon – or congratulate them.
We talked to Caleb and Erica, and they may have made a point of checking in with us after spending the afternoon together on Thanksgiving. Jeff Morris talked to us too, but that was because he was with Carolyn after the game when she came looking for us to get Tim and Rowen for the ride over to the hotel. Cody Carter was the only other guy to talk to us; and he actually sat down for a few minutes at the start of the third quarter. That little moment was fun because we talked horses more than football; but then he was off to hang out with the other, older teens; and we were on our own again.
We headed to the hotel after the ‘bonus’ game, and while someone had already done the check-in for the players, cheerleaders, and coaches; most of the families that were staying overnight needed to do that before going to our rooms. Sarah Landry needed to do that for Rowen and me; though our bill was going onto Mom’s pre-authorized account. Once we were in our room, Rowen and I only had time to freshen up a bit, do our hair, and get dressed for dinner before needing to meet up with Michael, Tim, Sally, and Joshua. Since the players, their girlfriends, and most of their parents were attending special dinners and league events; we were on our own for Rowen’s birthday dinner – though Sally was given a cell phone again in case of emergency; we had hotel transportation to the restaurant; and pre-arranged pick-up from the sports entertainment center at eleven o’clock for a ride back to the hotel.
That said; the six of us felt like we’d been set free in the big city for the first time ever. The good news for our parents is that we also took the trust being shown to us seriously; and didn’t take the opportunity to get into any trouble – no matter how much Tim joked about doing just that. We’d picked out a surf and turf restaurant that was nice but not in any kind of budget range that would have shocked our friends. Then again, Sally and Joshua were surprised to find out that I was buying for all of us; though they probably assumed that some parental support went into my bank account ahead of time to have that kind of money available on my debit card. My perspective on that is different for sure; but then I spent about fifteen million dollars this week on some family business work; so that isn’t really fair comparing my view on money compared to most kids or teens.
Dinner was still really good, though not on the same level as Thanksgiving dinner was yesterday. We had a couple of extra presents for Rowen; and there was a small birthday cake for dessert. We were at the restaurant for a bit more than an hour and a half; and then we walked to the sports entertainment center – ready to play for a few hours. Michael and I had really loved our visit to SportsFusion in Crystal Springs when we went there with his family for that last play day before Jake and Stephanie left for New York, and while this place wasn’t as big and had some different activities, it was the same type of fun center; and we all had a blast tonight.
I knew exactly how my best friend would react to some of the extreme games, and while Sally and Joshua were right there with us for everything we tried; this was their first real experience with seeing that side of Rowen – except for maybe if they saw our bike routine during the Fourth of July parade. They were in the parade too, though, so they might not have caught that act. There was a rock climbing wall and Laser Tag here, just as there was at SportsFusion; but no giant zip line or trampoline basketball. They did have a pair of large trampolines with bungee cord harnesses that allowed a safe way to try some pretty cool tricks; an indoor beach volleyball court; and a massive arcade, where collecting tickets to win prizes. I won’t comment on how lame those prizes were; since we went through a lot of tokens to win a few of them.
Tim needed to joke about why Rowen won so many games tonight, with the top excuse – I mean reason – being that he and the other guys were taking it easy because it was her birthday. I’m sure that her birthday – and best gift of the year – did have something to do with why Rowen was so motivated and fired up; but Rowen also has that thrill-seeker part of her too. Since she doesn’t let that side of her out to play very often; Tim just keeps forgetting that it’s there – and seems slightly astonished when she does things like climbing a rock wall while leaving him scrambling to even keep up. Rowen loved the trampolines too; and she and I were good enough at that to draw a small crowd of spectators while we did flips and somersaults for a few minutes. Tim won our games of Laser Tag, but with all of their practice with video games; the guys had a distinct advantage for that.
That blast of fun was over too soon, but we were outside with a few minutes to spare before our hotel van service arrived to take us back to the hotel. Sally and Joshua met up with their parents then, but Tim could only check in with his aunt and uncle because they were still out and celebrating with some of the other parents and teens. Michael and Tim’s room has two double beds, so we opted to end our evening with watching a movie in their room – possibly because the guys would have thought that all four of us in the one bed in our room was too weird.
I’m not sure whether Rowen would have been that daring if our parents had been at the hotel too, but cuddling in a bed with Tim tonight when they wouldn’t even have held hands in public this morning really is a big step; and for the parents reading this – we didn’t do anything more radical than cuddling while watching the movie. Well, there were some kisses too; but I wouldn’t classify that as radical either. Sarah checked in on us when their group got back to the hotel; and we were still in the boys’ room then; so I’m sure that news will make the town news network over the weekend. We obviously weren’t still in the beds by the time Tim opened the door, but it was also obvious that we had been, and Sarah didn’t even attempt to hide the smile and laughter as she advised us that it was time for Rowen and I to go to our own room and for all of us to get some sleep. She didn’t wait around to make sure that happened, and while it might have looked suspicious when Michael walked me to my room so that Tim and Rowen could end her birthday with a first goodnight kiss with her first boyfriend; he only stayed with me until Rowen joined us, and then he went back to his room again.
Yes, we took advantage of that time too, Rowen; but I’m sure you knew that we would – and I did mention already that this has been my best-ever, best friend’s birthday; so a spectacular goodnight kiss should be a given.
We took turns in the bathroom; got ready for bed; and have been talking and surfing the web since then. Sleeping in – at least from my usual morning routine – is an option; but Michael and I are going to meet for Tai Chi early enough that we can do that and still be ready for breakfast at nine o’clock. Rowen is still on cloud nine, and it may be a while still before we’re able to sleep, but that’s really all I have for tonight; so I’m going to tuck my computer into its case for the night and maybe we’ll be able to talk ourselves to sleep. There’s a really good chance that we’ll both have some very happy dreams to look forward to; so we really should get to that sooner instead of later.
Live long and prosper, fellow Magi of the Light!