“Too bad Ryker ain’t here. He made it more fun,” says the LSU lineman as he gives my leg a kick the refs don’t see. Eighty-four. Douche.
“McQueen—my fault, man,” says my offensive lineman. He hauls me up. “He beat me. Won’t happen again.”
I give him a pat and take a step toward the sideline. My knee twinges as I put weight on it, testing it. Nothing broken or sprained, but I have to limp off the field.
Trainers run up, help me to the bench, and push and pull on my knee.
“Just took a knock,” I insist.
Coach Alvarez comes over and pulls off his headset. He doesn’t look at me, but at the trainer.
“How is he?”
“Fine,” I mutter.
The trainer nods. “He’s okay. Nothing’s torn. He may have strained some ligaments. We should put some weight on it before he goes back in.”
I stand and pace the sideline. “No. I had worse in prep school.”
“Keep checking him out. We’ll go with Sinclair,” Coach says into his headset and turns away.
I am fine!
“Coach, I’m good!” I protest.
He lets out a gusty exhalation. “So you say. Walk it off for a few plays and we’ll let Sinclair take a shot.”
He leaves and I hunch over, pretending to test my knee as I suck air in.
This isn’t happening.
Sinclair already has his helmet on, and I grab him by his jersey.
“Hands off, Grandpa.”
“Don’t be a little shit for five minutes!”
His eyes widen.
My jaw pops. Emotion claws at my throat, disappointment in myself, that I’m not enough for this team. “Watch that line. They’re changing directions and pushing our own guys in my face. They’re fast, better than the last teams we played. Watch DeMarco—eighty-four. He plays dirty.”
His throat bobs. “Alright.”
He nods and turns to go, and I snag his sleeve. “Remember the basics. Don’t be a superstar. Play safe. Take control of your men and play—”
“Nothing fancy. Got it.”
“You’re learning.” I slap his helmet. “Go. Score. Win.”
The trainers have me running around the sidelines to keep my body ready to go, and my chest burns to get out there. By the time the clock has run down to the fourth quarter, my eyes keep darting to Coach. I’m here, I’m ready.
The clock is ticking down to three minutes when LSU scores a field goal, and I groan. 21 to 24. I tug at my hair. We can’t lose!
My eyes flit up to the stands where Serena sits with the press. She’s bent over her seat, her face stark and eyes wide. Our eyes meet for a moment and she holds her hands up in a praying motion. Yeah. I swallow thickly.
At a minute left, Coach calls a time out. My trainer pulls him aside and gives an update on my situation. “He’s good.” I hear, and Coach motions for me to come over.
“I’m pumped,” I say. “Put me in.”
“No,” he tells me quietly. “I make decisions for the team. I’m going with Sinclair. You’ve played a good game, but just take a breather.”
“I can win.”
He ignores me and calls the team over. “McQueen’s knee is still a problem. Sinclair’s going in for the final drive and overtime if we need it.”
Sawyer and Troy and a few others give me questioning looks, but I shake my head. I’m not going to disrespect Coach. He’s letting me save face by saying I’m injured. He wants Sinclair.
I rouse the offense and yell, “We came to LSU to beat them. Their defense is kicking you in the teeth. Show them who we are!”
The team replies in unison as they run out onto the field.
I’m pacing the sidelines, pissed at Coach, angry with myself, and anxious that Sinclair isn’t going to score. They’re stuffing the run at every turn, and his passes are too short. He’s not close enough for a field goal.
I clutch my helmet as the seconds pass. Ten, nine, eight—
The snap comes and Sinclair drops back; he throws a tight spiral down the left side to Sawyer. Impossible to catch—but he does, jumping up and snatching it out of the air. He runs like a fucking gazelle.
I yell in relief. Exhilaration erupts from our side as we rush the field. When I see Sinclair getting Gatorade dumped on him, part of me wants to punch him for taking what was mine. It feels like a lead weight in my stomach. But, we won. I can’t deny that. Grinding my teeth, I battle down my insecurities and give him his due.20The flight home is quiet. I can’t see Dillon from where I sit, but I remember his face when I boarded the plane. Hard like granite, inscrutable, yet he flashed a smile if anyone looked. He’s pretending he isn’t reeling from the game, but I sense he is. Our eyes met as I walked by him, me trying to see underneath. He took my hand, brushing his thumb over the top, but dropped the clasp when he saw the Don’t do that on my face. Neil was right behind me, and the last thing I want is more questions about my love life.