Just What I Needed
It’s fourth quarter, a minute left, and I’ve yet to get a touchdown. We’re losing badly. There’s no hope for catching up. All I can do is pray for a change in possession, get on the field, and make one last attempt.
Calvin paces along the inbound line, rubbing his hands together, clapping and shouting, “Let’s go, D!”
Angus stands beside me, looking slightly hunch-backed in his uniform.
“W-we’re not g-gonna w-win,” he says.
“No,” I sigh, “We’re not.”
“And it’s-s-s our las-s-st game.”
“Yeah. It’s sad.”
Turner puts a hand on Angus’s shoulder, chiming in on our conversation.
“Cheer up, Parrot!” he says. “You’ve got nothing to do with it. You didn’t even play.”
“I know, I know, I didn’t p-play - ”
“See, Stephanie under-performed. If she was as good as everyone thought she was, we’d be winning - ”
“You’re looking a little green tonight, Turner,” I interrupt, grinning smugly. “Your jealousy is showing. How many touchdowns have you made this season? Exactly. Didn’t think so.”
“Whatever. At least I don’t suck.” He sulks away.
"At least I don’t suck,” Angus mimics in an obnoxious voice as soon as Turner’s out of earshot. I laugh.
“Hey! Good job!” I say, sticking my hand out for a high-five. He slaps it with surprising force. “You’ve been practicing the comebacks I taught you!”
Angus smiles bashfully.
“Yeah,” he says.
“Next time, though, make sure you do that when he’s here. People hate it when you mock them to their face.”
Whistles blow, and the defense jogs of the field.
“I’m up,” I say to Angus. His smile droops. His eyes turn sad.
“G-good luck,” he says. “H-have fun.”
I don’t think the kid has played a single game all season. What the actual hell. That’s not cool, Coach.
I stare at him for a moment, biting my lip, debating if I should do it. In a split-second decision, I head to Coach instead of the line.
“Hey,” I say, breaking his concentration from his clipboard. “Put Angus in.”
He glances at me.
“Are you kidding? Hell no I ain’t.” He resumes writing. I snort in frustration, put my hands on my hips.
“Why not? He hasn’t played at all. There’s no way we’ll win this game. Just put ’im in for the last thirty seconds. There’s nothing to lose.”
“What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” He glares at me, jaw set in a scowl. I glare back. It’s a glaring contest. Who will crack first?
“Fine,” I say at last. “Then I’m out. If he don’t play, I don’t play.”
I stalk to the bench and plop down, crossing my legs and arms.
Coach grimaces, makes a strangled back-of-the-throat sound.
"Alright,” he growls. “Jefferson, off the field! Collins, you’re in!”
“I’m in?!” Angus lights up. “I’m in?!” He’s beaming as he sprints to the huddle Justin’s leading. I smile and head there, too.
“Okay,” Justin says, “plan is to get the ball to Stephanie and let her run it down. Get as close to the endzone as we can. I need everyone else keeping the path open for her. Stevie, you’re gonna fake left and cut across to the deep far right. I’ll hit you there. Everyone got it?”
We nod, then break.
The ball is snapped, and I do my thing just like Justin directed. It works, and I easily snag his pass, running it down about thirty more yards until swerving out-of-bounds to avoid a tackle.
We’re making progress, moving down the field just like we’d hope. On the next play, Justin calls for the opposite of what we just did - fake right, then go deep left. It’s another success, and I gain another dozen yards. The endzone is within reach. Ten seconds left on the clock. The other team calls a timeout.
We huddle up, jogging in place to stay loose in the cold.
Coach is talking, but I’m not paying attention. I look over at Angus, jittery with excitement. He’s been shoved out of the huddle by his teammates. He’s standing on the outskirts, clearly not “in” but still joyful.
If there’s anyone who deserves a moment to shine, it’s him. He needs to show those motherfuckers that he’s worth something, because they’ve only ever seen him as entertainment, the butt of their jokes, that annoying kid brother they can play pranks on and feel no guilt. He’s never done anything to anyone. He never retaliates. He just laughs it off, confused. He couldn’t hurt a fly. He just takes it, over and over and over, for way more years than I ever have.
He deserves to be the hero for once.
Time-out ends, and we’re back in the game. I fall in step with Angus, just out of earshot from the rest.
“Hey, Angus,” I murmur, “follow me on this play. I’m gonna hand the ball off to you after I catch it. Once it’s in your hands, you just go right into the endzone.”
“Shhh, yes, but it’s our secret. Follow me, remember? When the ball snaps, follow me.”
He nods so vigorously his helmet flops.
“Great.” I pat his shoulder blade. “See you down there.”
We get into formation - I’m on the far right, he’s on the far left, and all our teammates are between us. Justin calls a play that I will not be following. He yells “Hike!” and I sprint to the five-yard line. Angus hasn’t caught up yet, but I spot him lumbering towards me.
Justin sends the ball sailing to me. There’s a defender on his way, running at me to take me down. Angus swoops in on my right just as I make the catch. He’s standing there calmly in the midst of the action. The defender is steps away from us. He leaps toward me.
“Here!” I shout, shoving the ball into Angus’s hands. I push him into the endzone just as the defender hits me, toppling me to the spongy, sopping ground.
“TOUCHDOWN PANTHERS!” Kenny Chen screams over the speakers. “SCORED BY NUMBER TWENTY-SEVEN, ANGUS COLLINS!”
The metal stands clang with gunshot-loud stomps and clapping. They’re mimicking the beat to Queen’s “We Will Rock You”. The clock runs out, and my entire team rushes onto the field. They scoop up Angus, carrying him with a butt-cheek on either shoulder of two linemen. The whole team is chanting his name and fist-pumping. I join in. I can’t lie; there is a hollowness in my heart because I didn’t make that last TD. But what I did was the right thing. And if I can end suffering for just one person, even if it’s not myself, then I guess it’s worth it.
I stay on the field and watch them carry Angus back to the locker room. I stay on the field and watch the bleachers clear out. I stay on the field as the stadium becomes a graveyard and it’s drizzling again and I’m freezing and they shut the lights off one by one. Everyone else is in the gym at the dance. Still I stand, completely alone. I don’t know what I feel.
Suddenly, one of the stadium lights - the one directly above the bleachers - flashes on, bathing half of midfield. Then, over the speakers, music - “If You Leave” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, in fact - starts playing, filling the frosty air.
“What the hell...?” I speak my thoughts out loud.
A shadowed figure makes their way down the press box steps and skirts around the bleachers, at last stepping into the light.
It is Calvin.
In a tuxedo.
Holding a small plastic box like a take-home container.
He approaches me slowly, a shy smile creeping up his face. His cheeks and nose are pink. His long hair is soaking wet and slicked back like Leonardo DeCaprio’s in Titanic.
“Calvin?” I titter. “What is this?”
He closes the space between us, and suddenly he’s standing before me, holding out a clear plastic box with a flower in it. He clears his throat, jams one hand in his pocket.
“It’s a corsage,” he says. I look at it in his extended hand, my eyes flickering up to his. A smile spreads across my face. Butterflies are tickling my insides.
“Put it on me,” I say, my lips parting and teeth showing in an unconcealable grin. He takes his hand from his pocket, pops open the lid, takes my left hand and slides the flower-strewn bracelet onto my wrist. Yellow roses. He looks at me from underneath his long lashes.
“Stephanie Rogers,” he murmurs, his voice husky from shouting all day, “will you be my homecoming date?”
“Depends,” I say, beaming. “Do we have to go into the dance?”
“No,” he says, “We can stay right out here the whole night, if that’s what you want.” He places his hands on my waist and steps in close. “Anywhere you go, I go.”
I hook my arms around the back of his neck and pull in close, too. We start to sway and step side-to-side, keeping time with the song. I’m sweaty and soaked and covered in mud and still in my football uniform sans helmet, my hair pulled back in a messy ponytail and black stripes of warpaint marring my cheeks. But when I look into his sparkling hazel eyes, I’m not self-conscious. I’m home.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Jacquelyn Eubanks, authorWrite a Review