Authors: Tillie Cole
“Hell, she ain’t going to touch him. She’s a nine. He’s…
. I’d just be giving my money away taking that bet.”
Jimmy-Don shuffled forward on the couch, hand held out. “Hey now, give him a chance. He’ll be first-string QB next year. Heck, Rome, he’ll be you! I’ll take the bet… from you
The three of us sat back and watched Reece as he strutted up to the blonde, cocky as all shit. She glanced over his shoulder at me, but whatever Reece said had her slumping where she stood and her “fuck me” smile falling off her face.
He worked the talk good, whispering in her ear, touching her cheek and her bare arm with his fingers.
Austin gaped at me, clearly thinking the same thought: the little fucker was in.
The blonde ran her hand down his chest, then, taking his hand, began leading him out of the room. Reece glanced back at us, the biggest damn grin on his face, and then disappeared upstairs.
I knew it!” Jimmy-Don howled and, facing Austin and me, said, “Pay up, bitches!” with a shit-eating grin.
Shaking my head, I reached into my pocket, pulling out a fifty, Austin doing the same, and we each slapped it into Jimmy-Don’s outstretched hand. “I never thought I’d see the day when he scored on his own.”
“He’s been watching you—on the field, off the field—like a damn hawk. He’s gonna be friggin’ dangerous next year,” Jimmy-don said jokingly and moved off the couch to join some of our teammates heading to the backyard for food.
We were at a house party courtesy of one of the players’ cousins from the Hogs. It was the usual—pussy on demand, liquor flowing—but what was
was that I didn’t have an ounce of fucking interest in any of it, too busy wondering what Molly was up to back home, too busy wondering if she’d seen my shit show of a game.
I’d just about given up trying to rid her from my mind.
Austin got up to get more beer, and a few minutes later, the couch cushion dipped next to me, signaling his return. Tossing me another bottle, he asked, “You okay?”
I nodded, biting off the cap with my teeth before taking a long swig.
“You’ll get your form back, you know. You’re just having an off start to the season.”
“Off start? Fuck. I can’t
no more. Nothing I try goes right. I overshot my pass to you today by about five yards,” I muttered sullenly.
“Shut up, Rome. You’re the best damn player in the state, hell, the
. You’re just going through too much and can’t leave that baggage outta the game.”
“How do you know what I’m going through?”
Austin shrugged. “Seen you like this before, when you took the football scholarship at UA. Your daddy almost beat you into hospital, and you, the sadistic fucker you are, just let him.”
That memory was hard to forget. I’d gone home straight from my game to tell my daddy I’d accepted a scholarship with the Tide. Coach had been coming to some of my senior games in high school and when we took state, he offered me a place at UA on the spot. It was one of the happiest days of my life. That was until I told my daddy. I think he’d always assumed I’d eventually come around to his way of thinking, would eventually give up all the football crap and follow in his footsteps and go into the family business. But he didn’t understand the passion I had for the game, never did, and that’s where our present issues began.
The minute I told him I’d gotten a full scholarship, he’d snapped. I remember realizing at that moment that he was never going to let me lead my own life. And fuck knows why, but I stood before my irate father, the stocky man throwing punch after punch… and I took every one. Smiled at him through each blow. Then, bloodied and beaten, packed my shit and slept on Austin’s floor for several weeks before having to go back home to wait out the rest of the year. I avoided my folks for months, stayed well out of their way, living mostly in the old cabin on their land, then left for summer training camp with the Tide and never looked back.
Snapping back to the present, metal music booming through the speakers, I said, “There was no point in fighting back. I’d learned that just made it worse.”
“So what’s up now? He still trying to stop you from entering the draft?”
“Yeah, nothing new there.” I huffed out a tired laugh. “But now he wants me to marry Shelly. I refused, of course, haven’t spoken to him since, but I know he won’t give up.” I glanced at the bottle in my hands and said, “Nothing ever changes for us, eh, brother?”
Shaking his head, Austin said, “Sometimes, Rome, I wonder how we both got such shit lives. You with all the money in the world but with the worst parents on Earth.” I actually laughed at that. “Or me, a piece of trailer trash nothing, with two dickhead brothers and a saint of a mother who can barely walk anymore.”
I tilted my bottle of beer in his direction and he clinked his against mine, no more words needing to be said.
The party carried on, most of the players scoring chicks for the night, and Jimmy-Don came back into the room finding Austin and me still on the same spot. “Guys! A group of us are heading out to a bar, you coming?”
“Your girl not going to be pissed at you if you do?” I asked with a teasing smile.
Jimmy-Don was crazy about his new girl, never shut up about the damn Texan blonde all the way to Arkansas. Apparently the chick was adventurous as all hell in bed, which I discovered after the seventh detailed explanation of their top ten sexual positions. What the fuck’s
Othello’s Back Grove
“Hell no! Cass’d probably kick my ass if I
go out and drink, and she knows I wouldn’t stray.”
I believed him. He was a good guy.
“Gonna pass,” I said. “I think I’ll just head back to the hotel.”
Bending down, Jimmy-Don pressed his hand against my head once again. “Seriously, Bullet, are you sick? For real? First, no women in weeks and now, refusing to go to a bar? You’re
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
deal is scaring the shit outta me!”
Laughing, I stood, patting him on the back. “I’m just sick of it all, man. Need to get my head down and focus. Catch you later.”
Austin came back with me, something clearly bugging him too, but we knew not to pry into each other’s problems and instead talked football all the way back to our rooms.
Once in bed, I closed my eyes, and it was Molly’s face I saw, her kiss I tasted, and sighing, I began counting down the hours until I could see her again.
I was so fucking screwed.
* * *
As soon as the plane hit the tarmac, the texts started. My daddy writing that he wanted to see me,
to see me, warning me that I’d
better fucking see him!
Then at six thirty in the damn morning, he called. Deciding to just answer and get his lecture over with, I greeted with a reluctant, “Daddy.”
“I’m almost at the grounds of your school. I suggest you meet me immediately. Don’t make me come looking.” My fists clenched and I almost crunched the bastard cell in my hands.
“I’ll meet you at the quad.”
Picking up my keys, I quickly left my room, almost sprinting to the quad, still wearing the same clothes I’d just traveled in. The place was deserted, too early for students to be up, but the sun was already burning hot, the campus eerily still.
Rounding the corner, it didn’t take long to spot my father’s treasured Bentley—silver, ostentatious—and I stopped on the sidewalk, right at the hood of the car.
My daddy opened his door, his suit slightly disheveled and his brown eyes tired. For a moment I faltered, thinking he was here to deliver some bad news, until I saw him grinding his teeth and knew he was here about me.
“Rome,” he greeted, folding his arms across his chest.
I hated that he was this calm and collected, his voice quiet and low. I could never predict his mood when he was like this, never knew whether to brace for a hit or if I was about to be blackmailed into doing some shit I didn’t want to.
“Daddy,” I said cautiously.
“You’ve been ignoring my calls, texts, emails.”
“I needed a break. Football has been intense, and school is only getting crazier the closer I get to graduation. And I know you still want me to marry Shelly and didn’t want to argue about it anymore.” His eyes ignited some at that.
“Damn right I want this marriage.” He took a step closer, but at six foot three, I towered above him. “Look, I need you to marry her. I need to keep the business between the two families.”
My father was acting strange. I could sense the desperation in his voice, see it in his stance, the way he was constantly running his hand through his hair. My suspicions were through the roof. Something other than the marriage was clearly bothering him, but hell if I could guess what. My daddy would never tell me if I asked. No way would he ever show weakness in front of me, but I had to try.
“Tell me why are you pushing this so much,” I demanded, seeing the anger in his tight features at my line of questioning. That was one of many things that were forbidden—questioning my father’s instructions. Curling his lip with annoyance, he prodded a finger to my chest.
“Do what you’re told. Carry out the duty we kept you for!” And there it was. The not-so-subtle reminder that I wasn’t ever wanted.
I held my ground. “You know what, old man, screw your arranged marriage. Nothing has changed. Nothing
change. Give it up already.”
His rage took hold and the man I’d grown up with showed his ugly head, fake politeness forgotten as he gripped my shirt in his fists. “You insolent shit! Why must you defy me at every turn!” His eyes were skittish and that only confirmed my suspicions. Something bigger had to be behind this. He hadn’t been this physical in years.
I didn’t fight him, but bit back, “Because I don’t want this life for myself. I don’t want to be you!”
Leaning up to my ear, he said in a low voice, “You were never good enough for this family!” and on instinct, he drew back a hand but stopped, clearly trying to restrain himself from his old form of punishment. I could fight back now that I was bigger, stronger, and the old bastard knew it. I was seventeen the last time I’d let him hit me, but he never touched me in public. There was no way he would risk his perfect reputation. But here he was, lashing out in broad daylight, his composed persona unraveling.
“Do it!” I growled, tipping my chin in offering.
“Don’t tempt me, boy!” He threatened, and I only smiled in response. I’d learned that if we got a good hit out of the way, it would buy me a few weeks of quiet. I needed a few weeks of quiet.
Desperately needed it.
I pushed at his chest and shouted, “
Hit me! I know that’s what you want!” His lips tightened as he decided what to do, so I smiled again, really goading him, and that was the moment he snapped. He pulled back his fist and in seconds it collided with my face.
He immediately dropped his hand and, walking backward, assured, “I won’t stop until you are walking down that fucking aisle. It is imperative that you marry Shelly Blair!
” And with that he jumped back in his Bentley and drove off.
The blood from my lip dripped down my chin, but I let it. My cheek throbbed and my jaw ached, but it reminded me why I couldn’t marry Shelly, couldn’t live this life forever, eventually turning to liquor to cope like my momma and being trapped in the suffocating world of society dinners and duties.
I headed straight for the nearest tree and hit the bark until my hands grew numb, my muscles ached, and blood spilled from my knuckles. The heaviness of my breaths exhausted my body and I slumped to the floor, staring unseeingly at the grass before me.
Fuck! I couldn’t keep living in this constant hell, this darkness.
How the hell had everything all gone to shit so quickly? I could feel the weight of it all pressing down on me—my folks, football, school—and I could barely breathe or think. I wanted to curl into a ball right here on the ground, not really caring who would find the great
reduced to a bleeding, hurting mess.
I heard the sound of a dry twig snapping next to me, and when I lifted my head, Molly stood before me, hands shaking, tears in her eyes, whispering, “Romeo, God…”
She looked like a friggin’ angel.
Dropping to her knees beside me, her golden-brown eyes softened in sympathy. She set to cleaning up my cuts, but none of it really registered; my mind was lost in a thick fog.
“Does this hurt?” she stopped to ask, but I could only manage to shake my head.
She edged closer still, her small body snug between my legs, and she pressed a pink scrap of material to my lip. Still, I could only stare.
“Swill your mouth out, Rome. That blood can’t taste too good.” She handed me the bottle, and I did as she said, spitting the water onto the ground, the dried soil laced with red.
Then she surprised me, gently taking my hand and sitting beside me. As I stared at her small fingers wrapped around mine, I realized this girl was turning into everything I needed but never dreamed of being able to get. On the surface, she was my exact opposite, but deep down, she was getting me like no one ever had before.
Feeling her hands squeeze mine in support, I snapped out of my daze and croaked, “Hey, Mol.”
“How much did you see?” I asked, dreading the answer.
Moving in closer, her arm brushing mine, and tucking her head into my neck, she replied, “Enough.”
Someone had finally witnessed my daddy in action, and, feeling like I was eight again, I dropped my head against the tree, feeling humiliated that she’d seen me like that, still stupidly a victim to my father.
“Who was the man in the Bentley?”
“My daddy,” I admitted after a few seconds of silence.
?” That shocked her, and those eyes tensed with anger, her body curving toward me protectively. That was definitely a first. I couldn’t speak at the gesture, a moment of happiness seizing my voice. I’d never had anyone comfort me before, never had anyone
enough to comfort me before. Being around Molly made me happy…
… She actually made me