He blinks. “That sucks. My mom is tuned in to every game. She can’t afford to fly in from Florida, but I’m getting her tickets when we play the Gators. She’ll be there wearing my jersey. You should see her twerk when I score. She’s badass.”
My chest pangs. My dad didn’t come to any games last year because of his new family. Mom didn’t either.
“Plan on going out early for the draft?” I ask, needing to change the topic.
“I have to look out for myself.”
“Yeah? I’m here for my team. Those guys have been my rock, my family for three years. Ryker could have been drafted early but chose to stay and grow stronger.”
“Really tired of hearing about your friendship with Ryker and how great the team was before I came.”
I scoff. “Do you know what the difference is between a thermostat and a thermometer?”
He rolls his eyes. “Lessons with Dillon. You are so fucking boring.”
I ignore that. “A thermostat sets the temperature, decides the tone for the room, for the team. A thermometer simply records the temperature of a space, nothing more. It takes more than skill to be a quarterback. A thermostat is a confident voice, a leader who isn’t only thinking about how good he looks. Also, you can’t read a blitz for shit.”
“Then why aren’t we looking at game tape to figure it out?”
“I like seeing you puke, rookie.” I take off in a run and he jogs up next to me, edging ahead. I push myself, my chest burning as I pump my arms and pass him. “Try to keep up.”
He calls out a juicy curse and attempts to run ahead. Sure, he manages it for about twenty seconds—until my longer legs and better conditioning leave him in the dust.By the time the game rolls around the next day, I’m wound up as I take the field against Auburn with my offense. Unlike us, most of their older guys have returned, and it’s a seasoned team we’ll be facing.
It’s a balmy September afternoon when I snap the first play then throw to Sawyer, and he dodges the defensive lineman to get our first down. Inch by inch, we move the ball against a beefy team, and everything flows like silk, every pass tight and sure. By the end of the first quarter, we’re fourteen points ahead, and by halftime, when they still haven’t scored, we celebrate as we walk back to the locker room.
“Badass game, McQueen,” one of the coaches calls to me, patting me on my pads.
“Way to read the defense,” Alvarez says with a rare smile.
When we come out of the tunnel for the second half, my eyes go up to the press section near the fifty-yard line. Serena is there, sitting next to the guy from WBBJ. She’s laughing at something he’s saying, her full lips curved up in a smile. My throat tightens. Why can’t I say the right things in front of her? All the way back to the bonfire, I acted like an ass, assuming she’d be interested in me.
As if she feels my gaze, her head turns and our eyes cling, that familiar humming starting up in my chest.
“Yo! Let’s kick Auburn out of our stadium,” Sawyer calls as he runs up and slaps my ass.
Yeah, let’s. I pull my eyes off Serena and imagine Myles in the stands cheering me on, giving me his wide grin as he waves a foam hand. I gaze up at the blue sky. “This one’s for you, bro.” I kiss the tops of my hands.
This is going to be my year to shine. It has to be. Football is all I have left.10I send a wave to Neil from my balcony at the top of the stairs before I head inside my apartment. We had dinner after the game with a few other reporters and then he gave me a ride home. Just as I shut the door, my phone pings with a text from an unknown number.
Hey. I saw Bigfoot earlier. He was wearing an Auburn football shirt and tried to mow me down. Had more hair than a grizzly.
Dillon. Has to be.
Hey yourself, I reply as I smile. Congrats on the first win of your senior year.
Thx. I saw you there. Want to text me questions for your story?
Text? Not really. Using my phone, I FaceTime him two times before he picks up.
He’s in a bar, probably Cadillac’s, the loud murmur of voices echoing through the phone. He looks freshly showered, his diamond-cut jawline filling up my screen. He’s walking through a throng of people, several of them slapping him on the back. “Serena, hey,” he says.
I plop down on my bed, scooting my pillows up and leaning back as I hold the phone up. “You’re celebrating your win.”
He glances away again as someone squeals his name—a girl I can’t see. “Yeah. Sorry, I can’t really talk in here. I just thought, you know, if you text me the questions, I’ll reply to them later.”