Home > Head to Head (Nerds vs Jocks #3)

Head to Head (Nerds vs Jocks #3)
Author: Eli Easton

 

Chapter One

 

 

Philadelphia

 

 

Rand

The elevator doors parted and—

Whoa. A sea of nerds.

I took a step into the hotel lobby, dodging a flow of people, most at least a head shorter than me, sporting khakis, plaid shirts, Star Wars and Marvel T-shirts, glasses… Jesus, there was even a Darth Vader costume. They carried books, tablets, and every variety of super-tech phone invented, and all of them surged in one direction—exactly where I needed to go. To the final Quiz Bowl matchup between Harvard and U of W, Madison. My team. Well, sort of.

One guy in a blue knit beanie, who automatically made me tense because he reminded me of my least favorite person, sported a T-shirt that said, I could explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you. He glanced up at me like I came from another planet. That about summed it up. Rand Charles, jock stranger in a strange geek land.

Taking a breath, I plunged into the flow of humans and let the river take me.

It wasn’t that I didn’t understand or appreciate intelligence. Hell, I hadn’t made Dean’s List and Summa Cum Laude on my looks, plus some of my fraternity brothers, the Alpha Lambda Alphas, were damned smart. It was just that we also happened to be athletic and didn’t wear our brains on the outside. In addition, we tended to hang out together. Did that mean I’d been living in a bubble? The immediate evidence suggested yes.

I scooted out of the crush and slid into the back door of the room where the finals were happening in time to hear somebody at a head table saying, “This mathematician names a homology sphere which results from +1 surgery on the right-handed trefoil knot.”

Holy crap. Total immersion.

I pressed back against the wall, squeezing between two guys clutching phones. The huge room was filled with people gripping their pens and gazing at the two teams seated at the tables up front as if they could transmit the answer to the question telepathically. As if getting it right would result in world peace and the salvation of baby seals.

My belly clenched with tension, which was clearly catching. Hell, I liked seals.

I caught my breath as Dobbs, the head of “my” team, slammed a hand on the buzzer and said, “Jules Henri Poincaré.”

An official at the head table said, “Correct.”

And I yelled with half the people in the room, “Yes!”

I didn’t know much about Quiz Bowl, but I did get that we just scored a point in a super-tight match in the finals. I clapped loudly. Even more important, I knew that winning this championship would not only fulfill the agreement of my fraternity with Dean Robberts to cooperate with our rivals, the Sigma Mu Taus, it would also mean we won the bet that half the school was invested in. The bet was that our two ALA frat brothers, who’d been placed on the Quiz Bowl team, were just as smart as the SMT nerds and would be able to help them win the finals. Booyah. Sweetest of all, it would also prove, once, for all, and evermore that Jax Johnson, president of the SMTs was a big-mouthed, untrustworthy Poindexter who thought he was god’s gift and couldn’t lead his fraternity to lunch.

Winning sounded damned good.

But we hadn’t won yet.

I focused on the four UW Madison guys at the table, three SMTs plus one awesome ALA jock, aka Jesse Knox, who I was there to support. Jesse was not only my fraternity brother, he was also my friend, to the extent that the super-private Jesse ever made close friends.

Of course, he had one other close friend now. Jesse’s arm snaked around Dobbs’s shoulders and gave a squeeze as the team leaned their heads together for what I was figuring out were the bonus questions. Other people watching might assume that Jesse’s gesture was just an “attaboy” from a teammate, but Jesse and Dobbs were newly minted boyfriends, lovers, sex slaves, whatever. It still surprised the shit out of me. Maybe it shouldn’t have since I was also gay, but those two seemed like such opposites. Honestly, though, not as different as another of my frat bros, Bubba, who was now dating one of Dobbs’s Sigma Mu Tau housemates, Sean. While I had to admit, the Poins had a certain brainy appeal, the trend was still highly disturbing.

Our team answered their first bonus question for ten points, and people around me said “Yes” and “Good” under their breath. It was something about the Republic of Imagination, which I’d heard of but couldn’t answer the question about.

Another bonus question. They got that one too. And then the third bonus question was up. I caught my breath. Getting this one right would put Madison ahead.

The moderator looked at a card. “Among the three American novels discussed in Nafisi’s The Republic of Imagination is this 1940 book, in which John Singer—”

Jesse hit his buzzer, then leaned in to the microphone. I felt my lips saying with him, “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.”

“Correct. Ten points.”

I fucking cheered. Seeing Jesse nail it in this brainiac company was damned sweet.

The score was now 90 to 60 with Madison ahead. The Madison supporters clustered on the right side of the room gave subdued claps and high fives, while the large group from Harvard on the left sent worried glances our way.

As I was looking over toward the Harvard side, a big guy in one of the front rows stood up and made his way to the aisle. I froze, my fist in midair.

Even in a sea of beanies, somehow I’d recognize that beanie instantly.

Sitting in front of the seat the guy had vacated was Jax Johnson—President of the Sigma Mu Taus aka the Poindexters, and the one dude among all humans destined to enrage me on sight, the arrogant, know-it-all, fake, flaming asshole. He’d just given his own fist pump and was knocking shoulders with another guy beside him. Heat filled my chest and I couldn’t help it. My fists clenched—like always. Damn the man. Damn. I should have expected him to be here, but that didn’t mean I liked it.

The Quiz Bowl game continued, but I couldn’t see it because I kept staring at the back of Jax’s head. Maybe the dude’s bald and he just has hair in the front attached to the beanie? Could be that’s why he always wears the hat. Just the thought made me laugh, but it sounded loud in the quiet room. The guy standing next to me gave me a look, and I crossed my arms over my chest to keep my heart from beating so hard.

I should leave, but no way I wanted to bail on Jesse. The team was huddled again so they must have won another toss-up.

Jax leaned over to the guy beside him and whispered something to him that made him laugh. I recognized the guy as belonging to SMT. I thought his name was Jorge. He had dark hair, was kind of chunky, had glasses, and the word “nerd” practically flashing on his forehead. Was he Jax’s boyfriend? Yeah, that’d be about right. Jax was a hipster type, and I knew all about them. They fucked anything that moved. The thought made me catch my breath.

Quit it, Rand. You’re obsessing.

I needed to get out of there, start driving to the flag finals. Somewhere, anywhere Jax wasn’t.

At that second, everybody in the room freaked, some cheering and others moaning. Since I’d lost track of the game, I looked at Jax and he was standing applauding like crazy. That had to mean Madison had just won this round, so I cheered, too, and added a piercing whistle for good measure. That did, however, mean I couldn’t leave Philadelphia yet. Madison was still in the game. No point coming to Quiz Bowl if I didn’t watch the final round.

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