HIS BLACK-EYED MAGNIFICENCE?
In a dark room in Everton’s state-of-the-art athletic training facility, Jesse laid belly-flat under a white towel on a metal bed while humanoid robots massaged his lower back. He peered at the royal-blue lit cabinets of climate-controlled drugs and supplements to pass the time as he was administered The Ten, a procedure in which one’s muscles are frozen for ten minutes to treat or eliminate muscle aches or cartilage injuries.
As minute ten arrived, the lights switched on, and the interior temperature returned to normal. Jesse twitched his arms and legs to shake the frost that had formed on his skin. He dismounted from the bed and donned his official Everton tank top and navy blue shorts. Afterwards, the door opened. With his back turned, he assumed the head athletic trainer had entered the room.
“I hope my atrophy score is perfect this time, doc,” Jesse quipped. “99.9 last Sunday was unfair.”
Silence followed, but footsteps on the marble floor were growing louder and heavier.
No answer. Jesse turned around, and when the bold-font holographic image displayed before him, he gasped.
HIS BLACK-EYED MAGNIFICENCE?
The headline of the New York Publisher Sunday Edition dissolved, and Pete Harrison appeared in Jesse’s view.
“You’re not the doctor,” Jesse squirmed.
“Hilarious, Mr. Maith,” Harrison, in an Everton white polo shirt and brown slacks, sternly remarked. “No more wisecracks are necessary. That’s your cousin’s job.”
“Matt’s in Room C. He’s probably on his Ten as we…”
“I know where he is!” Harrison snapped. “I only care about one thing: what the hell happened to you, and why aren’t you alarmed that your black eye is all over the tabloids?”
“First,” Jesse replied, calmly, “it wasn’t my fault, and second, I try to ignore that stuff.”
“Well, I just spoke with your coach, and honestly, we’re both concerned you can’t handle such media scrutiny!”
The burly coach Lowe entered Athletic Training Room A. “He’s correct, Maith,” he growled through his bushy beard and mustache. “We have Alpine coming up Friday; our first genuine test of the season after these two patsy victories! I need your head in the game …”
“If we win,” Jesse interrupted, “the press will focus on that, right? But if we lose, the headlines will be about my eye. So what?”
“You’d better be ready, Maith. We won’t be defeated!”
“Yes, sir,” he mumbled.
“What’s that?” Lowe implored.
“YES SIR!” Jesse screamed, feigning enthusiasm, hoping Lowe would leave him alone. “I assure you I’ll be fine, coach. I never read the papers.”
“Mr. Lowe,” Harrison said, “Mr. Maith understands his commitment to winning a national title.”
“Pete, I don’t tell you how to do your job, okay?”
“May I borrow your star quarterback for a few minutes?”
Lowe left, and Harrison glanced at Jesse like the sharpened edge of a sword. “Let’s take a walk,” he said.
Jesse and Harrison exited Room A, then entered the window-encased narrow hallway that connected the training facility to the central courtyard. As bright sunlight peeked through the windows, Harrison deliberately stalled his walk while Jesse attempted to scamper ahead.
“So, do you want to talk, or do you prefer to intimidate me again?” Jesse sardonically asked.
Harrison continued to stare at Jesse silently.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Jesse scoffed. “Yes, I’m happy we’re winning games. Yes, I’m grateful to be here. And no, I’m not grateful for being all over the tabloids. Oh and thank you for not expelling me!”
Harrison creased his mouth. “You just gave me a marvelous idea, Jesse,” he mocked.
“I…” Jesse stammered, feeling trapped.
“Because,” Harrison continued. Jesse’s insides clamored in anticipation of the next response. “I’m going to help you,” Harrison continued in a shocking display of benevolence.
A confused Jesse recoiled. “Um… why?”
Harrison’s previous response naturally surprised Jesse, but what he heard next would shock him.
“Because I knew your father,” Harrison said. “We were in the Bergen Boys together.”