Tarnished Stars : Pagosa Cliffs Book 1

All Rights Reserved ©


Filling the Hurt between elusive moments of Happiness with amber and ice, is never the solution.

Tank hit the tackling dummies at full speed every time. The other guys took it easy in the off season but not him. He worked harder than he ever had, he worked his muscles until every night his whole body hurt. Rather than staying for massages from the medical trainers or time in the whirlpools, he always took a quick shower, and left. On the way home, he stopped and bought two bags of ice, a bottle of Gatorade, and two bottles of Walker Red Whiskey. All of which he toted upstairs as soon as the garage door closed behind him. The ice went into the giant jacuzzi tub he’d chosen for Irene, and the bottles went in with it as cold water began to fill bath.

His body was already stiffening up by the time his dinner delivery arrived. He paid the boy, who grinned and said ‘see you next week, Mr Tanner’. Every Thursday was baked pasta and chicken Parmesan or Lasagna. He still ate according to the meal planning schedule Irene had put them on in college to save money. Everything he did was exactly like it was before she left. He had even kept every room in her house the same except their bedroom. He had destroyed it in a drunken rage one night. He just kept the door closed and locked so his son couldn’t see his shame. Tank ate without tasting the food then got into the ice bath, turning the jets up to high.

It was agonizing, but he made himself sink down until only his head rested on the edge of the tub while he drank whiskey straight out of the bottle. When it was gone, he drank the Gatorade, then started on the second bottle of Red Label. Once the ice was melted, he got out, numb and barely able to stand. He wrapped a towel around his waist and went across the hall to the room she had slept in and passed out. In the morning, he woke up, hungover and sweating.

He never used the air conditioner, letting the Houston heat and humidity cook the alcohol out of his system every night. He’d shower and leave for the team training center. He couldn’t bare to be in the big house alone in the daylight and feel his fool’s hope that she’d come back someday, but he couldn’t bring himself to sell it either. He had bought this house for her. On the way to the training center, he drank a triple espresso with his morning steak and eggs rolled in tortillas, then drank another Gatorade as he worked the weights.

The head trainer had given him his own key because it had begun to seem like the left tackle was always the first player in and the last to leave. His coaches had noticed the change too. Gone was Thomas the Tank who laughed and joked, he had been replaced by a man driven to give and take the hardest hits. The only time he seemed anything like his old self was when he was with his son. Pre-season came and went like a blur, Tank got more penalties than he ever had. It was starting off as the worst season of his career.

For Tank, it made worse by the fact that every single game he had to protect the man who had ruined his life because at left tackle, he was the only offensive lineman who could keep up with the wide receiver. The coaching staff tried him at playing halfback but Tank didn’t want to carry the ball, he wanted to hit and be hit. He wanted to be hurt.

One Sunday a month into the season, Wide Receiver Mike Simons was playing hungover again and got plowed by a giant cornerback. When Simons got up he punched the player in the chest in the chest and got knocked back to the ground, Tank got between them.

“You stay away from my brother’s wife, Simons, or I will fu*ck you up!” The giant Latino shouted at the wide receiver.

“Back off,” Tank ordered, pushing him away.

“Oh you’re not gonna fu*ck me up, taco truck, I’m gonna fu*ck her and your wife too,” Simons taunted, posturing over Tank’s shoulder.

Turning suddenly, Tank elbowed Simons hard, knocking him back to the ground then stood there glaring at him as whistles and flags flew around them. He held out his arm in front of the cornerback, saying in a low voice, “He’s just a drunk who couldn’t keep his own wife so he’s trying to ruin every marriage he can. Don’t let him get to you, he’s not worth it.”

“Whoa, man, he’s your teammate,” Salvado was surprised, staring at Simons who was laying on the ground trying to catch his breath, then the receiver rolled over and vomited.

“So, I still hate his fu*cking guts for setting me up to ruin my marriage. He doesn’t like interracial marriages. Tell your brother, Simon’s is just a petty hater, and to walk away, he’s not worth it.” Tank repeated, then turned and pushed the cornerback back toward his teammate, “It’s fine, it’s fine,” he yelled at them. Then he yanked Simons up to his feet, “For fu*ck’s sake, walk off the field like a man, you drunk.”

Simons began flailing and punched the side of Tank’s helmet as Tank dragged him over to the sideline, an official running after him while a member of the turf crew was trying to clean up the mess.

“What are you doing, Tanner?” The line judge demanded as three of the Texans’ staff hurried over.

“He’s sick, sir.” Tank said to the referee and coach.

“Sick how?” The ref demanded.

Tank looked at the line judge and then coach and trainers, then at Mike who was so mad he was spitting as he cussed incoherently at him, then finally back to the official.

“Russian flu, sir...”

As the disbelieving referee walked away, shaking his head. Tank said in a low voice to the trainer, while Simons vomited again, “He’s drunk, get his ass out of here before the team gets fined.”

Tank dropped him in the trainers’ arms, and walked back out onto the field while one of the coaches and two medical trainers got Simons out of sight. The team managed to get back the fourteen points the wide receiver had fumbled and tie the game, only to lose by a field goal in overtime.

Tank was the first to head out of the locker room after hearing the offensive coach say, “Tanner had to help Simons off the field because the wide receiver was playing with the flu. He didn’t want to let his team down, but Tanner realized Simons was too sick to continue and had started hallucinating due to a high fever. Simons is getting IVs and we’ll be monitoring his condition closely. Next question.”

When a reported had asked him in the hall why he did it, Tank repeated the lie, “It is part of my job to make sure all of the offensive line players were at their best. Simons was sick tonight. Dedication is admirable, but playing when he wasn’t in any shape to play, puts himself and our fellow players at risk. Sometimes athletes need to take sick days too and we, his teammates, are hoping he gets better soon.”

Monday morning, he was sitting in the GM’s office getting chewed for humiliating the franchise player, but also complimented for how he handled the situation and answered the press. The GM and three of the coaches waited for his response.

“He was drunk and never should have been on the field.” Tank said firmly. “I am done protecting him, sir. I love my job and I don’t want to leave Houston because my son is here, but I am done.”

The GM scowled. “Well, I am sorry you feel that way, Tanner. But he has a year left in his contract, and you have three. Do you think you could handle the rest of the season and the next one?”

“No,” Tank answered honestly; not assaulting his former friend was a daily battle.

“Rick, let me ask him something before you fire him, he’s a good player, an All-Pro and All American. The other players really look up to him.” The head coach studied Tank. “Tanner, would you be willing to switch to special teams, we need an experience tackle as a jammer and you’ve got the speed and stamina we need. I know we’re mid-season, but that’s where we’re weak.”

Tank pursed his lips. “And I wouldn’t have to protect Simons?”

“You would only be a two-way player for running downs,” The coach offered.

The GM nodded, “Don’t let him ruin your career the way he ruined your marriage. Simons is a talented fu*ckup and if you couldn’t straighten him out, no one could.”

Tank thought about it, then suggested, “Will you make Duncan left tackle in my place? He’s got the instincts for it, he just needs experience.”

The coaches nodded and the GM stood up and held out his hand, as they shook, he said, “I’ll have my assistant send the new contract to your agent. I think you’ll be happy with the terms.”

“Thank you sir, coach, I won’t let you down.” Tank walked out feeling as if a great burden had been lifted. Down in the weight room, the rookie Duncan McCosky or Costco as everyone called him because everything with him was about in bulk, from how much he ate to his size. The Rookie was benching two hundred in sets of ten reps.

Tank waited for him to finish then he said, “Costco, coach wants me to teach you my position, you ever played left tackle?”

The younger man sat up so fast Tank feared he would hit his head on the bar. “Sir, no sir.”

“Well, I’m going two-way so you’ll be taking half my snaps on offense, we’ll start tomorrow. Be here at 6AM.” Tank ordered.

“But the rest of the team doesn’t have to come in till 8,” Duncan looked confused.

“The rest of the team isn’t learning a new position before midseason.” Tank pointed out and he walked out to the track to run.

Later that afternoon as the team watch the film, several guys laughed when Mike vomited on the field and Tank hauled him to the sideline. Simons glared at Tank like he hated him, but Tank couldn’t care less. Then when the coach announced the new positions and shifts in the plays. Simons was the first to complain. Tank knew it was just because Mike was mad about learning the new routes and having to remember them when he was hungover. After the meeting, Simons walked up to Tank fuming.

“Are you trying to fu*ck up my career the way you claim I fu*cked up your marriage?” Mike demanded hotly.

Tank just looked at him, calmly reminding himself that if he killed the man in front of him, he wouldn’t see his son on Friday. “I’m just playing where the coaches put me, it’s about what the team needs, Simons, not you needing someone to pick up your slack. You should be thanking me today. I lied about you having the flu so the world wouldn’t know you were too drunk to play yesterday.”

“Fu*ck! You! Tanner!” Mike spat as he punched Tank in the chest with every word. The room was suddenly quiet and everyone waited to see the broad shouldered lineman’s reaction to the leaner wide receiver.

Instead Tank smiled, “No thanks, I’m not on the down low like you.”

Predictably, Simons threw a punch at his head. Tank caught his fist, spun Simons, and had him in a choke hold before anyone could react. Tank counted slowly in his head until Mike ceased struggling and then he dropped him on the floor.

Calmly, Tank announced to the room, “And that, gentlemen, is how someone trained in law enforcement deals with an unruly drunk. Nothing to see here, move along.” Tank knelt on one knee next to the wide receiver, who was gasping for breath, and added in a low voice, “By the way, if you call my ex-wife again, I’ll break your neck next time.”

Friday afternoon, Tank parked his big dually in front of T.J.’s school. His son ran out and climbed in.

“Hey Dad! Where we going tonight?”

“Well, it’s the by-week and your mom said we could go camping till Monday.”

“Dad, I have school on Monday,” T.J. folded his arms as if chastising his father and Tank wanted to laugh.

“Nuh uhhh, Monday is a holiday, Columbus Day, there’s no school. We get a four day weekend, lil’ man.” Tank declared.

T.J. whooped and cheered, if he wasn’t belted into his car safety seat, he would have been jumping around the cab. Grinning, Tank drove them northwest to Lake Somerville and the cabin he had reserved over a month before. They would be on the lake and there was a boat he could use and stables that rented horses for the twenty miles of trails. It was going to be a good weekend.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.