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Chapter

One, Page 1
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- vocabulary
Chapter Two, Page 1
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Chapter Three, Page 1
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Chapter Four, Page 1
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Chapter Five, Page 1
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Chapter Six, Page 1
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Chapter Seven, Page 1
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Chapter Eight, Page 1
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Chapter Nine, Page 1
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Chapter Ten, Page 1
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Chapter Eleven, Page 1
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Chapter Twelve, Page 1
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Chapter Thirteen, Page 1
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Chapter One

Page 1

“You guys! You know what I just realized? It’s the penultimate Thursday of May!”
Tamara Glenn announced, stepping out into the sunshine with two huge, whipped-
cream-topped iced mocha lattes. “Do you realize what that means?”

Drew Benson looked at his friends, amused, and a couple of them rolled their eyes.
Tamara was always psyched up about something. In fact, a lot of Drew’s friends found
her constant optimism irritating. But Drew kind of liked it. It was nice to have
someone around who was always looking on the bright side. Plus, Tamara was not bad
to look at, with her perfect dancer’s bod and her long blond hair. Drew hadn’t been
interested in her that way since they’d gone out back in eighth grade (back when
everyone called them Ken and Barbie), but she had always been a good friend. So he
decided to humor her.

“No. What does that mean?” Drew asked, kicking back in his chair outside
Washingtonville’s very own Starbucks. The sun was shining as it started to dip toward
the horizon, and half the school was either loitering on the sidewalk in the center of
their quaint Pennsylvania town or hanging out inside the coffee shop. In the warm air,
Drew could practically taste the impending summer and all the delicious freedom it
would bring.

“It means that in exactly six weeks, graduation will happen, and we will officially be
seniors,” Tamara announced.

That got the entire table’s attention. Drew and his friends whistled and cheered, lifting
their iced teas and lattes toward the sky. Drew reached across the table to slap hands
with Jason Szonyi, his best friend and fellow football player, enjoying the
camaraderie of the moment. Every time Drew thought about being a senior, he felt a
lightness in his chest that he’d never experienced before.

Senior year. The entire social hierarchy of Washingtonville High was going to
change, and Drew Benson, as president of the senior class and starting quarterback of
the football team, was going to be on top. He and his friends were going to rule the
school and dominate on the field. Best of all, Drew’s older brother, Trey, would
finally, finally, be gone. The great Trey Benson was actually going to be forced to
abdicate his throne.

“Yeah, everyone except me,” Sally Chou lamented with a sigh. Sally was Tamara’s
sophomore friend and the new girlfriend of Clay Carradine—a defensive lineman from
the team. She rested her chin on her folded arms and pulled her long, black ponytail
over her shoulder to chew on the end.

“Hey. Don’t be harshing my vibe,” Tamara joked, shoving her lightly.

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“Dude, I cannot wait,” Clay said, leaning his elbows on the table, causing his massive
lineman’s biceps to bulge. “A whole new flock of freshmen females to plunder.”

“Ew! Clay! That is so not what I meant,” Tamara said, whacking his hulking
shoulder.

“Yeah, man. Have a little respect,” Drew said.

Drew’s friends jeered, but Tamara shot him a thankful look. Drew smiled back but
then, the second her back was turned, wagged his tongue at her comically. All the guys
cracked up.

“She’s right, though, guys,” Drew said, lifting his red and white Washingtonville High
baseball cap off his head to scratch at his blond hair. “This is big stuff. Senior year. We
have to make sure that we don’t waste a second of it.”

“Yeah,” the guys muttered in agreement, nodding and looking around.

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Chapter One

Page 2

Drew felt a rush of adrenaline. For a second he thought of his brother. This must be
what Trey felt like whenever he made his captain’s speeches before taking the football
field. This was how Drew was going to feel every Saturday next year.

“No matter what, we have got to make sure that this is the best year ever,” Drew said,
standing, enjoying the attention that was riveted on him. “From the first day of the
first practice, we have to—”

“Hey. Isn’t that your brother?” Clay asked, looking through the plate glass window
into Starbucks.

Drew’s jaw dropped in indignation at having his very first speech truncated so
abruptly. But sure enough, there on the TV screen behind the counter was Trey
himself, smiling and chatting with the hot reporter woman from the local news.

“Hey! Trey is on the news!” Tamara shrieked.

And instantly, every single kid on the sidewalk crowded through the doors and into the
tiny coffee house. Unbelievable. The adulation these people heaped on Drew’s
brother was simply unbelievable. Drew’s shoulders slumped as he reluctantly followed
the throng inside. Part of him wanted to stay out in the sun, away from the Trey
Benson love-in, but he didn’t want to appear perfidious. Because he wasn’t. Drew
loved his brother. He truly did. No matter what triumphs Trey achieved or how many
accolades were heaped upon him, his brother was always both humble and
magnanimous. An indisputably good guy. But Drew still could not wait for Trey to
get his butt in the car and move out of the house. He had lived in Trey’s shadow for far
too long.

“Turn it up!” Tamara shouted to the kid behind the counter.

He did, and just then the cameraman gave the world an extreme close-up of Trey’s
handsome, smiling face. The whole Starbucks crowd exploded with cheers.

“Shhhhhh!” Jason scolded.

Everyone fell silent to listen to Trey’s response. The whole shop was captivated.

“Of course I can’t wait to get to Penn State and get to work with the team,” Trey said.
“But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss all the people back at Washingtonville
High.”

More cheers. One of Drew’s friends slapped him on the back. Little did he know
Drew’s heart felt nothing but sour.

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“Well, I’m sure they’re going to miss you, too, Trey. You became a sort of paragon
for that team last season,” hot reporter lady said.

“Well, I don’t know about that. But I do know that I’m not leaving the team totally
bereft of talent. They’ve got a ton of returning starters, and, in fact, my brother Drew
is gonna be taking over as starting quarterback. And let me tell you, the rest of the
league better watch out,” Trey said, looking into the camera and winking. “They won’t
know what hit them.”

This time, the place erupted in an even bigger cacophony, and Drew couldn’t help
smiling. Trey’s mention of him assuaged his jealousy a bit. The guy really had a
penchant for saying the right thing. It was as if he knew Drew was watching and
knew exactly how he’d feel.

“There you have it, former Washingtonville High football star Trey Benson, future
quarterback for the Penn State Nittany Lions . . . as humble as ever,” hot reporter lady
said. “And now for a story that could have a major impact on Trey’s alma mater,
Washingtonville High, we go back to Jane in the studio. Jane . . .”

“Omigod! This is it!” Tamara cried.

“Everyone shut up!” Drew shouted.

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Chapter One

Page 3

The place went deathly silent as Jane Grady, the news anchor, faced the camera. “It’s
a story of slashed budgets and broken hearts, a story that may reach its conclusion this
very evening,” Jane said seriously. “It was announced in January that, due to budget
cuts, the state had decided to close the doors of Corinth High School in Corinth,
Pennsylvania, for good this coming fall. But the question remained, where would the
students of Corinth High wind up?”

“Not at our school!” Clay shouted, earning a round of cheers.

Tamara glared at him and rolled her eyes, but Drew held his breath.

“It was believed that one of three local schools would absorb Corinth’s students. Either
Jefferson High, Plainsboro High, or Washingtonville High. Well, tonight the school
boards of Washingtonville and Corinth are meeting to decide whether their two
schools would make a good fit. There has been no official decision as of yet, but we
will be keeping an eye on the story and let you know as soon as anything new
develops.”

Groans abounded, and Drew and his friends headed back outside to reclaim their
table.

“How could they even think about combining us with Corinth?” Marisa Wise whined,
shaking her black curls back from her face. Marisa was a cheerleader and daughter of
one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ assistant coaches, which basically made her one of the
richest girls in the already wealthy suburb of Washingtonville. And the most popular.
“We’re too different. We’d never coalesce.”

“It’s never gonna happen,” Drew said confidently, even though he felt anything but
confident on the inside.

“Uh, I hate to break it to you guys, but if the state decides that Corinth is going to
Washingtonville, there’s nothing our school board can do to preclude that event,”
Jason said. “My mom and dad were up all night talking about it.”

Jason’s mother was president of the school board, and Jason had, therefore, been the
students’ eyes and ears ever since this whole noisome mess had begun.

“Our school board will find a way to circumvent the system,” Drew said testily. “Let
those losers go to Plainsboro. They’d fit in better over there anyway, and everyone
knows it.”

The guys muttered their assent as they pulled out their chairs.

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“Oh, why? Because they’re not as affluent as we are? Because they don’t all live in
ostentatious houses and get their own cars for their sixteenth birthdays?” Tamara
griped. “You guys can really be so obnoxious.”

“Whose house is ostentatious?” Marisa asked defensively, knowing full well that her
own McMansion on the outskirts of town was one of the showiest homes around.

“Look, all I know is, if they come to our school, our senior year is gonna be a
calamity,” Drew said. “They’re gonna want to take over everything. Our clubs, our
student government—”

“Our starting positions,” Jason mumbled.

Drew felt a dart of pain through his heart. This was, of course, what he was really
worried about. Everyone knew that Corinth High’s Samson Hill was one of the best
quarterbacks in the state. He’d been starting since he was a sophomore and had led his
team all the way to the state semifinals the year before. If he came to Washingtonville,
it would mean that Drew’s dreams would be over before he even had a chance to
realize them.

“Well, I think it could be beneficial,” Tamara said, sipping her iced coffee. “You guys
could use a little mind opening, if you ask me.”

“Yeah, you won’t be saying that when they swoop in here and take half the spots on
your precious dance team,” Clay snapped. “You could be bilked right out of your spot,
and you were one of the people who founded the damn thing.”

Tamara’s blue eyes widened for a split second, but then she remembered herself and
scoffed. “I can hold my own.”

I hope I can, too, Drew thought, his fists clenching under the table.

Just then, a black Jeep Wrangler came zooming around the corner and careened to a
stop right in front of the cafe. Jackson Lyle, the editor of the school paper, put it in
park and jumped out. He ran through the door and stopped just inside, all out of breath
and blotchy. Drew’s stomach clenched.

“Jackson? Are you okay?” Tamara asked.

“They voted yes,” Jackson said. “We’re absorbing Corinth.”

Everyone gasped in shock. Drew felt as if his chair had just been yanked out from
under him. “No way.”

“It’s a ruse,” Marisa said, forcing a laugh. “One of your lame-o jokes, right
Jackson?”

“Sorry, guys. It’s true. I was covering the meeting for the paper,” Jackson said,

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pushing his glasses up for a second to rub his eyes. “It’s over. It’s done. Our school is
no longer our own.”

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Vocabulary Drill

Chapter One

abdicate · step down from

abounded · prevailed

abruptly · suddenly

accolades · praise

adulation · flattery

affluent · rich

assent · agreement

assuaged · calmed

beneficial · helpful

bereft · lacking

bilked · cheated

cacophony · din

calamity · disaster

camaraderie · friendship

captivated · enthralled

circumvent · go around

coalesce · meld together

conclusion · end

deathly · deeply

dominate · prevail

hierarchy · ranking

hulking · massive

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humble · unpretentious

humor · indulge

impending · close at hand

indignation · anger caused by injustice

indisputably · unquestionably

jeered · heckled

magnanimous · generous

massive · huge

noisome · troublesome

optimism · hope

ostentatious · showy

paragon · standard

penchant · fondness

penultimate · second-to-last

perfidious · treacherous

preclude · make impossible

quaint · charming

riveted · fixed

ruse · trick

scoffed · exhaled with contempt

throng · crowd

truncated · cut off

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Chapter Two

Page 1

The morning of the Washingtonville Eagles’ first summer practice was marked by a
blue sky and a brilliant sun. It was going to be a hot one, Drew could tell, and he could
only hope that Coach Davidson would get in most of the tougher drills before noon.
Heart pounding with nerves and dread, Drew shoved his gear into his big black-and-
red duffel bag and hoofed it downstairs. If at all possible, he wanted to get out of the
house before his father even came out of his bedroom. The last thing he needed this
morning was an elucidation of his many flaws by his old man. He was tense enough
as it was, thinking about Samson Hill and the Corinth team invading his field.

“Good morning, hon!” Drew’s mother greeted him the moment he stepped into the
open, airy kitchen. “Grab a plate! I made you breakfast.” She was fully dressed in her
workout gear and had a pan full of scrambled eggs working on the stove. Drew’s heart
dropped. So much for a quick getaway.

“Actually, mom, I was just gonna grab an iced tea,” Drew said, reaching for the door
of the stainless steel fridge.

“Oh, no you don’t. I know you’re all hyped up, but that’s all the more reason to eat
some real food,” his mother said, patting him on the back.

“Mom—”

“Consider it mandatory,” she said, her blue eyes serious. “You’re not leaving here
without some breakfast in you.”

She turned him around and pushed him down into one of the kitchen chairs.

“You really are freakishly strong,” Drew said to his mother.

“Where do you think you boys get it from?” she asked with a smirk. “It’s certainly not
from your father.” Drew laughed, and his mother pointed her spatula at him. “But if
you tell him I said that, I’ll deny every word.”

Drew nodded as she placed a plate of eggs and toast in front of him. He could hear his
father moving around in his room, closing the closet, turning off the morning news.
Any second the man was going to join them in the kitchen, and the very thought made
Drew feel morose—a feeling he did not need on a day when he had to be at the top of
his game.

He heard the bedroom door close, and his heart skipped a beat. At that very moment,
the phone rang. Drew dove for it.

“Hello?”

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“How’s the Eagles’ starting quarterback?” Trey’s jovial voice greeted him.

Drew was flooded with a mixture of relief and trepidation. “I’m not the starter yet.”

“Don’t deprecate yourself. You will be,” Trey said confidently. “I just called to wish
you good luck.”

Drew smiled, rocking back on his feet. It meant a lot to him that his brother had gotten
up early, taken time out of his own ridiculously busy schedule, just to call him.
“Thanks, man. I’m gonna need it.”

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Chapter Two

Page 2

Trey blew out a sigh. “Look, man, I know that Samson Hill is a reputable quarterback
—”

“Reputable? Try renowned,” Drew corrected. “You should see the coverage he’s
getting from the papers. It’s like he’s a golden god.”

Drew heard his father’s footsteps on the stairs. He turned his back toward the kitchen
door as his dad entered.

“He’s not a golden god,” Trey said. “You can be just as good as he is. All you’ve got
to do is delineate your goals. Make sure you know exactly what you want to do, then
go out there and execute. Show him what you’re capable of. Get under his skin. The
guy’s not impervious. Work hard, be diligent, do your thing, and you’ll throw him off
his game.”

“You think?” Drew asked, feeling a flutter of hope inside his chest.

“Dude, I know you can do this. You totally have it in you to foil this guy,” Trey said.
“I know it sucked having to play backup the past couple of years, but you were the
best JV quarterback the Eagles ever had, don’t forget that.”

“Thanks, Trey,” Drew said. He could feel his dad watching him, and he turned toward
the wall to hide his smile. “That means a lot coming from the paragon of the
program.”

Trey laughed. “You gotta get off that bandwagon, man. Don’t forget, I’m starting over
here, too. I’m nothing but a neophyte now. Last night the seniors grabbed all the frosh
from their beds and hosed us down in the middle of the field. The Trey Benson era is
officially over.”

“You’re kidding me,” Drew said, stifling a laugh.

“I wish,” Trey said. “Listen, I gotta get to practice, but just remember: Immerse
yourself in your game. Live it, breathe it, and you’ll be fine. Confidence is
paramount, Drew. I can’t stress that enough.”

“Thanks, Trey,” Drew said, feeling more confident than he had in weeks.

“You got it, man. Good luck,” Trey said.

“You, too,” Drew replied.

They hung up, and Drew felt a smile forming on his lips. Trey was right. He could do

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this. Samson Hill couldn’t be that deft a quarterback. It wasn’t like he’d been recruited
by any big schools yet. As long as Drew showed fortitude and focus, he had a shot.

“Was that your brother?” Drew’s dad asked, sipping at his coffee.

Drew glanced at his father’s hulking frame, pressed into his dark blue suit, his neck
straining at the tight collar of his shirt. His father’s brown hair had gone iron gray on
the sides, which somehow only made his overall look even more intimidating.

“Yep,” Drew answered curtly. He didn’t want to invite a conversation, even though he
knew he couldn’t avoid one. He sat down again and started shoveling scrambled eggs
into his mouth.

“He didn’t want to talk to me?” his father asked.

“Nope,” Drew replied, enjoying the pang he knew this would give his father.

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Chapter Two

Page 3

“Well, I’m sure he’s got to get to practice. That boy is focused,” Drew’s father said,
checking out the newspaper on the counter. “You could really take a page out of his
book.”

Drew felt the color rising in his cheeks. So much for his good mood. Highs were
always ephemeral when his father was around. “I am focused, Dad.”

“I sure hope so, because you’re really going to have to step up your game this year,
son,” his father said. “That Samson Hill is no joke.”

“I know this, Dad,” Drew said, shoving his plate away. He stood up and grabbed his
bag, more than ready to make his escape.

“Don’t you snap at me,” his father warned.

“Can we not do this today?” Drew’s mother begged. “I mean, really. Can we have one
morning of peace, please?”

“I’m sorry, Claire. I just want to make sure that your son understands how important
this is to this family,” Drew’s father said, squaring off with Drew. “You have a legacy
to protect, Drew. It’s up to you not to debase your brother’s good name. We cannot
have a Benson playing backup.”

Drew felt as if his father had just punched him in the gut. Did he not understand how
much the things he said hurt? Was he really that oblivious?

“We already did have a Benson playing backup, Dad, remember?” Drew said. “I
played backup to Trey last year. And, by the way, led the JV team to an undefeated
season. Or has that just slipped your mind?”

“There’s that tone again. Where does this penchant for effrontery come from? Your
brother certainly never gave me this kind of attitude,” Drew’s father said.

Yeah, well you certainly never gave Trey so much crap, Drew thought.

“Look, son, I just want to make sure you understand what you’ve gotta do here,” his
father told him, holding up a hand. “You go out there and show this Hill kid what this
family is made of.”

What this family is made of. Not what I’m made of. It has nothing to do with me and
my talent, Drew thought. But he knew there was nothing he could say to get his father
to back off. His father was implacable on this particular subject. Until Drew actually
performed on the field—actually showed his dad that he was just as good as his

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brother—the man was never going to get it.

“Don’t worry, Dad,” Drew said through his teeth. “I’m on it.”

He was on his way out the door when his mother yelled after him. “Drew! Your
breakfast.”

With a groan, Drew came back, grabbed the toast, kissed his mother, and walked out.
After all, she was the one who actually cared about him. There was no reason they
should both be crushed right now.

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Chapter Two

Page 4

Considering the dark cloud of doom that was hanging over Drew’s head that morning,
he wasn’t sure what kind of locker room he was going to be walking into. Would it be
a jubilant scene, full of laughter and the voices of his teammates recounting their
summer exploits? Or would everyone be lethargic and down, feeling the same sense
of dread Drew was harboring? Were the Corinth guys already in there, staring down
the Washingtonville guys, making trouble? Drew’s heart pounded as he approached
the locker room door. He took a deep breath. This was it. The moment of truth.
However he came off in the next five minutes could determine his position on the team
for the next four months. Would he be a leader or a pushover? Drew knew which one
he wanted to be. He squared his shoulders and shoved through the heavy door.

Instantly he was surrounded by the familiar laughter and mirth. He stepped into the
wide room with its red lockers and white cinderblock walls, and his tension was all but
quelled. There wasn’t an unfamiliar face in the group, aside from the skinny, servile
freshmen who were already fetching water and oranges for the seniors. For a split
second, Drew imagined that he’d dreamed up the whole Corinth thing, that everything
was back to the way it should be. Then Jason walked over to him, pulling on a brand
new set of shoulder pads over his head.

“Whaddup, Drew? Where’s the evil empire?” he quipped, glancing around.

“Their absence is salient, isn’t it?” Drew said, tossing his bag down on the nearest
bench.

“Maybe they decided not to show,” Clay suggested, lowering his huge girth onto the
bench. He was already completely suited up and looked like a block of cement in all
his pads and his workout jersey. “I bet the idea of competing with us for the starting
spots scared the little buggers off.”

I wish, Drew thought. But he said nothing. He wanted to give off an air of placid
indifference.

“If I were them, I’d jump at the chance to play for us,” Jason said, rolling his shoulder
under his new pads, trying to get comfortable. “Corinth was struggling, man. No lights
on their field, been wearingthe same hand-me-down helmets for the past five years,
all their equipment was pretty much obsolete. Coming here would be a wet dream for
those guys.”

Clay laughed at the crude joke, and the two of them slapped hands. Jason winced and
adjusted his pads.

“Although I wouldn’t mind having my old, broken-in pads. At least they were

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