The guys all had strange expressions when they exited the locker room. I knew I must look a mess with mud and grass covering my clothes, and my hair falling out of its braid, but some of them seemed almost angry. What did I do?
They shuffled out one by one, defeated, helmets in hand, glanced at me and either shook their heads or chuckled. Then they shoved their helmets on their heads and ran onto the field. When Aiden walked out, he strode right over to me and pulled me into his arms.
A hug? During a football game? What the heck? He released me with a grin and put on his helmet, then ran onto the field.
Skyler was the last guy out of the locker room, and he trudged over to me, a resigned expression. His eyes searched my face and for a moment I thought he was going to kiss me. Instead he pulled me into an embrace, holding his helmet in his right hand and it bumped against my back.
“Sorry I lost my temper, babe.” His choked near whisper contained more emotion than I’d heard him express since I yelled at him during the homecoming dance.
I wasn’t sure how to respond so I just wrapped my arms around him, my helmet bumping against his back.
“They all know,” Skyler said. He was still holding me. I was aware that where we stood, the whole stadium could see us, should anyone be paying attention.
“I didn’t say anything to anyone.” I pulled back in a panic, wondering if he was mad at me. “I mean, Aiden sorta figured it out, but I didn’t tell him.”
“No, no, it wasn’t you.” He shook his head and lowered his gaze. “They can just tell.”
“What are you going to do?” I asked, shaking with a mixture of dread and excitement.
“I guess I’m gonna have a talk after the game with my soon-to-be ex-girlfriend.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “That’s gonna be a tough conversation.”
“You have nothing to be sorry about.” He held my gaze, took a deep breath, and squared his shoulders. “And it’s long overdue.”
“Come on,” I said, looking across the field at the clock, less than thirty seconds until halftime was over. “Let’s go finish this game and we’ll deal with the rest later.”
We both donned our helmets and ran together over to our sideline where the rest of the team waited. The huddle opened to make space for us, and Skyler looked up to Coach Bryant. “Your team, coach.”
“That was a tough first half but it’s time to move forward,” coach said. “We’re gonna take the high road on this, right?”
There were nods of agreement around the huddle and some grumbling.
“If there’s an issue with targeting, I will calmly speak to the refs, and there will be no more fighting. Is that clearly understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Skyler mumbled, chastised. The rest of the team nodded in assent.
“Your team, captain.” Coach Bryant stepped back and the huddle closed the gap.
“You heard coach,” Skyler said. “I’m sorry I lost my temper, but I will not let my team be targeted. I will also not back down or be bullied. This is our field, our home turf. We own this field. Now let’s go out there and show them what it means to own this field!”
We received the kickoff and took the field, Skyler offering one more last huddle for just the offense.
“Logan and Jayce, take out forty-five and get a hole open for Jonnie. While she’s running for the end zone, I’m gonna fake to Doug and then throw a hail Mary to Jonnie. By the time their cornerback gets free from Logan and Jayce—and he will; he’s bigger than both of you combined—she’ll be far enough downfield that he won’t be able to catch up, not enough to target her anyway. The rest of you, guard me like your life depends on it so I can hold the ball long enough for Jonnie to get down the field.”
We broke huddle and lined up in a split screen formation. The trick play Skyler had decided on was risky, but we had revenge and retaliation on our side. Doug and I flanked Skyler equidistant on either side, lending no clues which of us was the target. Because Skyler had been avoiding me during the first half, the defense wouldn’t necessarily assume I’d be the intended receiver.
The play started off fine. I relied on my blockers to hold the defensive cornerback long enough for me to get past, and they did. I flew down the field, knowing forty-five would be hot on my heels. At the five-yard line, I hooked toward center, trusting the ball would be at my shoulder at exactly… the… perfect… moment.
Skyler’s aim was perfect. My run was perfect. My catch was perfect. A few more steps to the endzone. My heart pounded as I raced that last few yards not turning back to see if the cornerback was on my heels. I just ran. Two yards. One yard. Touchdown!
My heart soared. We’d done it! We’d gotten past him, and I’d caught a thirty-yard hail Mary against the odds!
As I spiked the ball in celebration I was hit from behind by a truck.
The world went black.