STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.
The football sailed over the outstretched hands of Devon Jackson and helplessly crashed into the ivy beyond, and ten thousand plus in Pioneer Stadium groaned in agony. On the forty yard line, Jesse collapsed to his knees while the Alpine High team gathered in jubilant celebration nearby. Feeling morbidly curious, Jesse glanced at the scoreboard.
Matt, Wes, and Luis helped Jesse to his feet as the rest of his teammates began the lonely walk back to the tunnel.
“Cuz, get yourself together,” Matt pled.
“Jess, there’s a mob of people running towards us,” Wes said.
“Bro, they look angry!” Luis added.
Jesse glanced upon what appeared like an oncoming truck in the dead of night: blinding lights, loud commotions steadily increasing in volume, and a glut of ultraphones and microphones waving.
“C’mon, let’s move,” Jesse pled to his cousin.
It was too late. Before they could reach the twenty-five yard line, a throng of at least fifty reporters ambushed them.
Then the questions started.
“Jesse, were you distracted tonight?”
“What happened on that last play?”
“Do you think you’ve lost national title hopes?”
Jesse began walking and attempted to ignore the media. But as he, Matt, Wes and Luis crossed the end zone and were a few feet away from the tunnel, a question rang out that caused Jesse to snap.
“Did your cuts and bruises contribute to this loss?” asked a reporter.
Jesse stopped, looked in all directions and shouted: “who the hell asked that question?! About my face?!”
“I did,” said a shoulder-length-haired blonde with bright red lips, approaching Jesse from his left. “Did your facial injuries affect your preparations?”
“Who do you represent?!” A bloodshot-eyed Jesse snapped.
“CEN,” the reporter calmly replied.
“The entertainment channel?! Have you ever watched a football game in your life?”
“Well, I just…”
“We lost, plain and simple! Give Alpine credit! They were the better team tonight! Why in the world is a cut or bruise on my face the reason we were defeated when I took bone-crushing hits for forty-eight minutes?!”
Shouting amongst the reporters ensued, drowning out the retorts from the blond reporter. Primal fear overtook Jesse’s mind. He held the desire to charge into his prey, to knock them down like bowling pins to get to the tunnel. He pled for the mob to disperse with demonstrative hand signals, but to no avail.
Luckily, before he could make a bone-headed decision, a trio of security guards in black polo shirts with the Everton logo stitched on the left chest arrived like giants about to stomp on the helpless specs below.
When they opened a path toward the tunnel, a surprising face emerged, shouting and pointing at the reporters: Uncle Bob. “Leave them alone, you vultures!” he screamed. “Give them some space!”
As they scampered past the security guards, Matt and Jesse stopped in front of Bob.
“Thanks, dad… my hero!” Matt beamed, then patted him on the shoulder.
Jesse, meanwhile, looked his uncle in the eyes while catching his breath. Bob looked at his nephew with a nod and a smile. “Thank you, uncle Bob. Just… thank you,” Jesse stammered, then creased his lips upward before he disappeared into the tunnel.
An hour later, Bob and Jesse exited Pioneer Stadium together. Bob shielded Jesse with his jacket from another hoard of bloodthirsty media stationed on either side of the steel barriers flanking the concrete walkway that leads to the parking lot.
After they embarked into Bob’s Kehoe, they sat silently for a minute, until Jesse stunningly started a conversation.
“I, um…” Jesse began without initiating eye contact, “I wanted to thank you again, for what you did for us earlier.”
Bob then gritted his lips and slowly exhaled from his nose, then removed his glasses and took a somber look at his nephew. “Jesse,” Bob spluttered, “that’s very kind of you, but… I wanted to say: you know we have agreed little, well, in quite a long time.”
“Tell me about it,” Jesse retorted.
“Well,” Bob replied, continuing to attempt eye contact with his nephew, “whether you want to believe me, I’ve always tried to do everything with the best interest of you, your aunt, and your cousins in mind. Before you rightfully snap back at me, though, I realize that I haven’t earned enough trust for you to believe such a thing. So, I hope that me shielding you from those media savages tonight and back at the house the other day will serve as at least a semblance of proof that I’m trying.”
Jesse huffed, seemingly disinterested in Bob’s mea culpa. “Can we go home, please? I’m exhausted.”
“You don’t want to go to the party?”
“There won’t be one. There never is one after a loss.”
“Oh, I see, well, then… sure!”
The Kehoe then glided away as Jesse folded his arms. He wasn’t interested in a deep and long conversation with his uncle, but he also felt as if his recent gestures earned him at least a few minutes of his attention.
“Would you mind if I ask you an honest question, uncle Bob?” Jesse asked as, for the first time, he looked at uncle.
“Is your den more important to you than your family?”
Bob sighed. His chest tightened. In normal circumstances, Bob would deflect such a question by either posing another or ignoring the inquisitor, but he knew he had to provide a rational and heartfelt response. “Look,” he exasperatedly replied, “I know you won’t believe me when I say this, but no.”
“Then, with all due respect, how can I, or even Matt and Mary take you seriously when your first instinct after dinner, and your first when we get home, will be for you to retreat there?”
“You’re right. It’s very complicated, though, especially when you have the position I have.”
“So, you never thought to ask your wife for advice on work-life balance?”
Bob sighed. “Again, you’re right. Look, I can’t expect you to understand the pressure I face every day in my role as a CEO. Complicated issues come up at all hours of the day, some of which you wouldn’t believe. Perhaps, one day, you’ll understand. But for now, I understand your anger.”
“Is that also why you spent most of the game in the concession area or away from the stands?”
“So, you see my point.”
“Jesse, I’ve always sought refuge in my work, and I’ve never taken moments to enjoy time with my family. I realize this, and I want to change that. I hope it’s not too late for us to at least salvage some respectful relationship.”
“No offense, but you’d probably have to quit your job in order for that to happen.”
“Well, I can only hope my actions from here on out change your mind. I know that protecting you from the media is only a slight step in the right direction.”
Suddenly, Bob’s ultraphone rang with a simultaneous buzz and fire alarm-like sound. Jesse scoffed.
“Well… there’s a confidence inducer if I’ve ever seen one!” Jesse snarked as he thrusted his hands skyward.
Bob clicked DECLINE on the LED dashboard. “It can wait,” he said. Seconds later, the phone rang again.
“Just answer it,” Jesse growled.
Bob clicked DECLINE again.
Then another ring.
“You’ll take it in the den when you get home, won’t you?” Jesse languished.
Bob took a morose look at his nephew, then silently refocused his eyes on the road.