Authors: Cassie Mae,Jessica Salyer
Copyright © 2014 by Cassie Mae and Jessica Salyer
Sale of the electronic edition of this book is wholly unauthorized. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part, by any means, is forbidden without written permission from the author/publisher.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Cover photo courtesy of Rachel Schieffelbein
First Edition: October 2014
To those of you who need “happily ever after” and were forced to read Romeo and Juliet.
I lost my mouth guard.
It’s out there somewhere on the field, and it was on its last limb anyway, but still, if I get hit as hard as I did during the last play, I’m going to bite a hole through my tongue. Not exactly how I want to get my first piercing.
“Red fifty-seven!” our quarterback and captain, Daniels calls out. I inhale deeply, getting ready to launch. Of course they change the play to a run with the way the Skyhawks set up their defensive line.
I exhale on the snap and rocket down the open center. The ball’s gonna come to me. I know it will. Jacoby blocks while Daniels spots my position on the twenty yard line. Daniels hits me about seven out of ten throws, and I’m hoping this is one of the seven. It leaves his hand on a wobble as he gets sacked by red forty-nine.
“You got it, you got it, you got it…” Jacoby chants as he runs next to me. And I have it, I know I do, but there is always that one percent doubt that creeps into my vision—the ball would slip through my hands, and I’d fumble the thing in front of two different schools.
I shake the doubt away and dart a little left to get in line of the throw. The ball lands right in my gut. I cover it and charge my way to the end-zone without another thought but crossing that line before I get pulled into the turf.
The crowd gets louder as I close in. Jacoby shouts, “Watch your right!” just as he’s plowed into the ground. A sickening crack echoes through my ears followed by a collective gasp from the stands.
I’m less than ten yards from the goal line, but I turn to see Jacoby on his back on the ground, breathing hard and heavy as red number forty-three presses his knee into what looks like Jacoby’s ankle. Only it’s facing the wrong way. The ref tosses a yellow flag on the field and blows his whistle, but number forty-three won’t get off Jacoby. He tosses his helmet and digs a fist into Jacoby’s shoulder, shouting something at him, but I can’t hear over the noises of the field.
“Koontz!” One of my teammates shouts at me, but I can’t tell who it is. All I see is my teammate on the field getting his ankle twisted backward. I drop the ball and run, yanking my helmet off so I can see. I don’t play defensive tackle often, but I sure do a great job taking down number forty-three so he gets the hell off Jacoby.
“Damn it, get off me! Get off me!”
I don’t know number forty-three, all I can see is his last name—Nolan—and number, but I shout back at him. “Calm down!”
The dumbass takes a swing at me and adrenaline takes over. I dodge his right hook and land him with one of my own. If I hadn’t just seen my football season go out with his lights, I probably would’ve been a little cocky about knocking him out with one hit. But as I stand, shaking my knuckles out, I know Coach won’t let me set foot on this field for a while. If ever.
“Tyler, my leg,” Jacoby croaks. “Shit, my leg.”
The rest of the offensive line finally gets to us and they hover over Jacoby. Things blur as both teams collide, half yellow half red. The guys from our defensive line and the bench form a circle around me as the Skyhawks try to push their way through, probably to pay me back in full for knocking number forty-three out, but the coaches are on the field, the spectators make their way out too. Whatever fight they wanted stops before it starts right as Jacoby’s mom plows over Young, one of our linemen, who doesn’t expect the miniscule old lady to shove him on his ass, but that’s exactly what happens.
“Evan!” Ms. Jacoby pushes her way to him, but unlike the rest of us who look like we’re ready to shit a brick, she gently pulls his helmet off his head and wipes his sweaty hair from his forehead.
Everything goes in slow motion, then picks up lightning speed. Number forty-three wakes up from the nap I gave him, and the EMTs take him along with Jacoby. The game is called, and since I didn’t cross into the end-zone, we lose. Spectators are now fighting, on the field and off—normal for a Skyhawk/Trojan game—and refs and security have to break up everything before the EMTs get really busy. Coach Bean gives me a glare and nods toward the locker rooms where we all trudge our asses before we end up in another stupid rivalry fight. No one’s saying much, the air thick and tense. Who knows if or when Jacoby will get back on the field, and with all the glances sliding in my direction they have the same fear in their minds as I do. When is my football expiration date now that I got in a fight on the field?
I yank my jersey over my head and pull off my equipment. The only sound is the
of lockers and
of helmets hitting the floor, which is bizarre after a game, win or lose. I grab my towel and head for the shower hoping the water will pound away the night.
Last year Hamilton got in a fight on the field, and we haven’t seen him since. Coach kicked him from the team for busting Daniels’ nose. It was a set rule…keep the damn drama out of the game. But when Hamilton found out Daniels’ nailed his sister, it was drama central. Like straight out of those shows my mom watches.
I hit a guy on another team, and not just any team, but our rivalry, and I panic over what Coach’ll say to that.
Forty-three swung first. He stomped on Jacoby’s leg. He started it. But all of that won’t matter, because I was the one who finished it.
The hot water stings my knuckles. A huge slice runs between my bird and my ring finger. I want to say it was worth the war wound, but I have no idea what the hell happened out there. It all blurs together in hindsight. Did he really swing first? Or was it all me? I don’t even know anymore.
I shut off the shower and towel off on my way back to the lockers. The guys are talking now.
“Does anybody know what the hell that was about?” Gunderson, our backup wide receiver asks the room when I sit on the bench and swipe deodorant under my pits.
“Which part?” Young says with a smirk. “Jacoby getting his ankle snapped in two by that bastard… or Koontz doing what we all wanted to do?”
A half chuckle comes out my mouth, and I shake my head as I towel off.
“Seriously, dude. None of us expected that from you. I think Bean’s in shock.”
I rest my elbows on my knees, watching all the guys look at me like they want some explanation. What is there to explain? Jacoby is like a brother. They all are.
Shrugging, I say, “I had to get him off.”
“One hit…” Daniels smacks me on the back and plops next to me on the bench. “Shit, remind me not to get on your bad side.”
“Yeah, who knew he had it in him.” Woods, Gunderson, and Levenstein start pushing each other, and they pull out their towels for a whip war. Daniels shakes his head and slides his shoes on while I bend to tie mine.
“Hey, listen,” he says to the ground, low enough for only me to hear. “Coach may not sack you for this. You did what any one of us would do. And honestly, we can’t lose two of our best players in one night.”
He nods, scratching his elbow, leaving pink lines across his dark skin. “I’ll back you if needed.”
I hear the slam of Coach’s office door, and my stomach hollows out. Football is so much of my life that I can’t imagine not going to practices. Not hanging with the guys. The field is where I feel
. If Coach takes it away… I mean, it was one punch. One.
He turns the corner, scratching his greying hair and clearing his throat. The locker room goes dead silent again.
“The ankle is snapped, but it’s a clean break. Jacoby won’t be back this season, but with physical therapy and training, he’ll… play next year.”
A small wave of relief hits the team, but it still hasn’t released the tension in my gut. Coach’s eyes float to me, and he clears his throat again.
“Koontz, my office once you’re dressed.”
He disappears to the back, and the room doesn’t get rowdy anymore. I think everyone’s all thinking about Jacoby—maybe me—and how one play, one minute…hell, one
can change things.
I tug on my hoodie and slam my locker shut, hoping it’s not the last time I’ll be able to put on that jersey.
I get three fist bumps on my death march and a whole bunch of nods. But it’s still deadly quiet.
The offices line the opposite side of the showers. I pass Rivera’s—defensive coach—and march straight to Bean’s head coach office. His door has a white board covered in plays and a large penis Fredrickson drew just to be a smartass. I can’t help but sort of laugh at it as I knock, then my laughter gets sucked back in because I don’t want to think about not seeing dumb shit like that.
“Come on in, Tyler.”
Damn it, I know it’s bad now. I got the first name.
I shuffle in and wait for Coach to motion to the chair before I sit. Not sure if I should say anything, so I don’t.
“I don’t like fighting.”
It’s all he says as he swivels in his chair to make eye contact with me.
“What happened out there?”
I shake my head, because I still can’t figure out what the hell happened.
“I pushed him off Jacoby because he wouldn’t get off his leg. I wasn’t planning on hitting him, but he took a swing at me. Guess it was just… instinct.”
What a lameass excuse, but it’s the truth.
Coach studies me for long enough sweat forms along my hairline. Guess that shower didn’t take.
“You know my policy…”
His brow furrows, and he leans forward. “This isn’t about some girl, right?”
“Not that I know of, sir.”
“Just the rivalry?”
He sighs, picks up a pen, and taps it on the desk. “Okay…one month suspension from the game. Let me be clear… you’re not suspended from the
. I want you at every practice. I want you at every game to warm that bench and support your teammates. But no playing time.”
My stomach starts to piece itself back together. “Yes, Coach. Thank you.”
“Don’t get overexcited. I have to make sure this is approved by the board. If the other team or the family of the Skyhawk player wants to take this further, I’ll have to—”
His lips purse together, and he nods toward the door. “You can go.”
“Thanks, Coach,” I say again. I can’t believe my luck. He was my worst fear—now let’s hope the rest of my stars align.
“Hey, Koontz.” He stops me before I get to the door. “I don’t condone fighting, but if you hadn’t gotten Nolan off Jacoby, I probably would have.”
I smile at that, nodding as I leave the office. The guys will want details, but I’m not sure if I want to talk or get razzed. I kind of want to get to the hospital and see how Jacoby is. Instead of walking through the locker area, I dive out the emergency exit that leads to the parking lot and beeline it straight into someone.
“Whoa, I’m sorry,” I sputter as I help her up. She sort of bats my hand away, but I take her arm and get her standing. When her red hair moves from her face my stomach hollows out again.
Does this girl go to my school? Because if she does, how in the hell have I not noticed her before now? She’s tall, maybe a few inches shorter than me, long legs peeking from her cutoffs. She’s wearing a Nirvana T-shirt that stretches over her boobs and hangs loose around her stomach. I gulp and move my eyes back to her face. Her mouth is pushed in an amused tight line.
“I’m fine. You can let go of me now.”
“Oh!” I drop her arm and take a step back. “Right, sorry.”
She bends over and picks up a purse or bag or something and grips it in her hand. “I’ll just watch out when I walk past a door next time.”
I nod and let out this totally lameass chuckle, but she’s already walking away.
Letting my gaze drop to her backside, I try to find where my stomach went and why I suddenly don’t give a shit about what happened on the field tonight.
Just when I think my vision has gone blurry from staring at her ass for so long, she turns around, and I have to dart my eyes back to her face.
“Nice right hook you got there, by the way,” she calls out to me, walking backward. She smiles before turning back around, and damn…That smile will be stuck in my head for the rest of the night.