“The Beginning “
The Outlaw’s Back Story Part 2
Elise Thompson was the kind of girl who caught and held the eye. Not because she was off-the-charts beautiful, although in Jesse’s mind, she definitely was that. It was because she lived life with a smile, relishing whatever was happening at the moment. She also had a kind heart, was a friend to all, and was enthusiastic under the most grueling of circumstances.
Not that the Forest’s camp program was all that grueling—Jesse would admit there were far more grueling ways to spend one’s summer than playing sports all day. But when the going got tough, Elise Thompson got going, spurring her team on with positive reinforcement, chants, and cheers. Over the course of Jesse James’s eighteenth summer, it was Elise Thompson who caught his eye.
Jesse was the counselor for the oldest group of boys that summer, and Elise was three years his junior and one of the pretty young things his campers kept their eyes on over in the corresponding girls’ group. During a ten-minute break, while his guys grabbed Gatorade and snacks from the small post office/general store situated in the center of their summer community—next to the tennis courts, across from the first tee, and behind the softball field—Jesse waltzed himself over to the badminton courts to have a conference with his counterpart counselor, Sanny Bradley.
Sanny and he went way back. They grew up and had gone through the camp program together. Like him, Sanny took her job seriously. Rounding up and keeping randy fifteen and sixteen-year-olds on the straight-and-narrow was harder than their own previous camp counselors made it look. Jesse and Sanny had banded together at the start of the summer, determined no scandal would develop on their watch.
They had come up with a keep-them-out-of-trouble-in-the-evenings plan. A Broadway-number-styled jitterbug routine that the two groups would perform together for the end-of-season talent show. Not everybody wanted in, but Jesse knew how to put the screws to his guys so most capitulated and actually showed up for the first rehearsal. Once his dudes figured out what Jesse had learned long ago, that dancing was a completely legit way to get their hands on the opposite sex, they stopped complaining and had fun with it. Not that even half of them were any good. You’d think the most gifted athletes would have some sort of rhythm, but sadly that was not the case. It took a few extra practices alone with his men just to teach them to count the beat.
But things were starting to come along and he wanted to share that with Sanny, make a plan to get the girls and guys back together, and continue on teaching the full routine. That’s when little Miss Thompson caught his eye and stole his heart.
She was involved in a seriously energetic game of badminton. The girl had reach for being on the shorter side. She had speed for being on the curvier side. She had hops for being on the white-men-can’t-jump side, and she had a slam-dunk of a shot that would have detonated his game every time.
And her opponent was even better.
“Damn, these girls can play,” Jesse commented, getting caught up in the competition.
“They’re the best. Every week battling it out for first and second place on the championship ladder.” Sanny handed over her clipboard so he could see.
“Margie Harvey? I’ve never seen her at our talent show practices.”
“She’s too cool,” Sanny said using air quotes. “Refuses to parade on stage as she puts it.”
“Hmmph. Her loss,” Jesse said, handing Sanny back her clipboard. “My guys are ready. Figured out how to count the steps, have the song memorized in their sleep, and are ready to put it all together with your girls. I can book the clubhouse stage for practice tonight. You all in?”
“Sounds good. I need to eat something first so don’t make it right after camp.”
Jesse smirked. “This is our evening activity so the rails don’t fall off all the good clean fun we’re providing here. Let’s make it an eight-to-ten thing. Wear them out so they’ll just want to head home to bed afterward.”
Sanny gave him a quirky look.
“You weren’t a bad kid. Why are you so worried about this crowd?”
“My mother–the judge. My father–the defense attorney. I hear the stories, the shit stupid kids get into. Even here in the Forest. I don’t want any part of that.”
All of a sudden their conversation was interrupted by a Hang on! Hang on! Both Jesse and Sanny’s heads snapped toward the boisterous demand. Elise was sauntering to the net, pointing her badminton racquet at Margie. “That’s your problem, right there. Margie! That’s your downfall. After the fifth volley you stay on the side and don’t head back to center. Every time!”
“I keep thinking you are going to hit it there,” Margie shouted back.
“Right, but like, I haven’t in the last four points. Four points! How are you going to win this if you don’t figure it out and move your butt back to center?”
Jesse couldn’t help himself. His competitive nature unable to keep quiet. “How are you going to win this if you tell your opponent what she’s doing wrong?” he yelled. What this chick was doing was literally scrambling his brain. “Why would you give up your edge?”
Elise turned her pretty freckled face and strawberry-blonde braid in his direction. The smile she sported was not that of a cutthroat or killer competitor. It was simple joy. She pointed her racquet at her opponent and stated simply, “She’s better than me.”
“Not if you don’t tell her how to play you like a fiddle.”
A bubble of laughter burst out of Elise as Margie took a moment to come to the sideline and grab up a water bottle.
“It’s not like her to let me be up by four points. I wasn’t comfortable taking advantage of her lack of focus.”
“Her lack of focus is her problem. Not yours. You focus on your game. Let the chips fall where they may.” Jesse’s watch buzzed indicating he had to get back to his boys. He pointed at Elise. “Finish strong. I want a report tonight at practice. And Margie”—he pointed at her opponent—“she just gave you a gift. Use it.” Then he high-fived their counselor. “Sanny, tell your girls eight to ten unless I text you differently. See you tonight.”
Elise Thompson had hit Jesse’s radar hard, and that night at rehearsal he realized he wasn’t the only person circling her orbit. She wasn’t the best dancer, although she could totally dance. She wasn’t the boldest of the girls, although she could totally hold her own. She wasn’t the quietest by any stretch of the imagination. She was chatty and lively and spoke to every kid in attendance. It didn’t appear she had a bestie. It appeared they were all her besties. And when they called the rehearsal at ten sharp, he made a point to call Elise over and ask her about the outcome of her badminton match.
“I won.” She gave him a toothy grin.
“So you didn’t give away all your secrets to your opponent?”
“I tried. She didn’t listen.”
“What the heck? Why would you do that? Why would you give her any edge?” They began walking toward the doors and she waited while he locked the place up.
“She’s better than me. She wasn’t playing up to her potential.”
“And you didn’t think let’s take advantage of that?” Jesse asked as they strolled across the porch to the main steps.
“I did. At first. And then it sort of felt like I was cheating. You know?”
“No. I do not know. I know winning. I know strategy and exploiting your opponent’s weak spots. That’s what I know.”
Elise laughed. “That’s probably why you’re very good at lacrosse. I’ve seen you play.”
“And I’m good at softball, and tennis, and wrestling.”
“You’re good at wrestling?” Her look of awe made his mind reel, wondering why this chick was totally into wrestlers.
But her frosted-green eyes, lit up in fascination, were the final ingredient to draw Jesse in. He stood there, still as could be, falling for a fifteen-year-old do-gooder he could not touch, could not pursue, could not date unless he wanted to be the focus of the scandal he was trying so hard to avoid.
“Yeah.” He took two steps back, but was hard pressed to squash his smile. “I’m very good at wrestling. Good night, Elise.”
To be continued …