Everything was great between Rajesh and me. Until last year. After I introduced my new debate tactic, if you can call it that, at the Auburn Invitational and ended up losing to a guy who had to keep stopping to puke in a bucket due to food poisoning, Rajesh has gone from my best bud to avoiding me as much as he can. He takes my behavior as a personal affront, like I'm trying to bring him down. Maybe he thinks my failure is catching. And maybe I am hurting his chances to get into Harvard.
The truth is, I miss him. But I can't change what I feel in my gut is right.
"It's actually more complicated than that," I tried to explain, but he shook his head.
"Play the game!" He wiped his hands on his pants again, then turned and walked away. "That's why we're here. If you can't do that, maybe you shouldn't be here at all."
I guess that's why I remained blissfully ignorant to the presence of Millicent Moot Point Chalmers until Rose Powell brought over the list of first-round assignments. Rose was new on the team, a junior who'd transferred from a high school near Columbus, Ohio. She'd done Model UN there, and our debate team was the closest thing she could find to it. She had a nose ring and a streak of purple in her hair and didn't seem to care much what anyone thought about that or anything else about her. I'd liked her immediately.
"Isn't this the girl everyone's terrified of?" she said, pointing to the name paired with my own. Which brings me to &
4. The matter of Millicent Chalmers. How lucky can one guy get?
Her middle initial was M. If you believed the rumors, it stood for "Machete" or "Machine" or "Milkshake" or "Misandrist." Some of the lesser evolved of my male peers claimed it was for "Manboobs," and I'm pretty sure (1) that's not even a word that you use when referring to women, and (2) she did not have manboobs. Not that I'd looked. I'm not that kind of guy—at least, I try not to be.
Millicent M. Chalmers was the quintessential debate nerd, a robot created in a laboratory to do this thing we did after school and on weekends and, if we were really committed, at camps in the summer, too. (She was exactly that committed.) She was well spoken. Impeccably dressed: junior corporate associate at a law firm or high school debater, who could say?
She carried a briefcase while most of the rest of us slouched around with overstuffed backpacks. She was infinitely prepared: She didn't even use the prep time, four minutes to allocate as you needed, built into each debate. Her rebuttals were already prepped, and they were that good. This made her a darling to adults while super annoying to most of her peers on the circuit, who were jealous, sure, but also, she was so damn smug.
She had reason to be. She'd won state every year she'd competed, and about a million other debates in between. Probably had to rent a storage unit to keep all her trophies in.
It wasn't exactly fortuitous that the first round of the debate tournament where I'd been ordered to try my best—to win, that is, with a not completely veiled "or else" attached to it—would pair me against her.
Or that Millicent, who'd been assigned the affirmative, would be arguing the side I believed in.
When I saw my opponent, this lanky kid in a wrinkled button-down and a pumpkin-patterned tie, he looked at me and he smiled. This big, goofy smile, like we were old friends and not about to debate each other in a Nationals-qualifying tournament.
I decided then and there I didn't just want to win. I wanted to destroy him. Win so hard he wouldn't know what had even happened. Not that he seemed to have a solid awareness of what was going on in the first place.
His dark hair swooped over his glasses and in front of his right eye, almost completely blocking his vision on that side—I was amazed he didn't bump into things as he walked around. He was from this progressive private school that's about forty-five minutes from my own public hellhole. I'd heard they let you roam free and create your own classes, which you could then grade yourself on. Perhaps that explained things.
His name was Taggart Strong, but the Strong felt ironic. I had a vague recollection of wiping the floor with him last year. Had he worn that tie then, too?
They have a great debate team at Taggart Strong's school, for the record. They're well funded, and a lot of them win regularly. There are a bunch of girls on the team, and their coach is a woman, this former debate star from up north.
This excerpt is from the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book YOU ARE A CHAMPION by Marcus Rashford and Carl Anka.