“What was that mess I just witnessed?” Coach Bryant threw his clipboard to the floor of the locker room. “Who gave you authority to change the plays at the last second and not tell your receivers?”
“It’s my call when I’m out there looking around at the defensive lineup and decide to change!” I yelled right back, knowing I was risking retribution if I talked back to coach.
“It is not your call if you don’t pass the message all the way down the line!” Coach stepped around the bench that was anchored to the cement floor with bolts.
My cleats found no resistance as I backed away, thinking coach was going to shove me into the lockers, but I barely lessened my tone. “The message got as far as it needed to get.”
“You kept your receiver in the dark during key plays at a time when she was being threatened by the opponent!” His massive form hulked over me and fire sparked behind his eyes.
“I was trying to protect her!” I yelled right back.
“You left her defenseless,” Coach accused. I cringed at his choice of words.
“No…” My voice wavered. “I was—I was trying to protect her.”
“By keeping her in the dark you made her more vulnerable.” Coach Bryant took two steps back and shook his head at me with disgust.
“You need to take her out.” I pointed out the door. “You need to bench her. That guy is too big, too fast. She’s gonna—she’s gonna get hurt…”
My voice trailed off and I stumbled, my back against the wall of blue and gold lockers, the entire team staring at me, helmets in hand, covered in mud and grass stains.
If a cornered puppy dog could have donned a football jersey and pads, that would have been me.
Aiden smirked and shook his head. “Dude, when are you finally going to admit it out loud?”
I kept my mouth shut. There was no correct answer to that question. My eyes darted around the room, never locking gazes with any of them.
“Ah, man, seriously?” Connor asked.
“Not that I blame you, dude,” Jayce said. “She is smokin’ hot.”
“It’s not like that,” I choked out. “She’s my best friend.”
“Best friend with benefits,” Doug mumbled.
“I would never,” —I started after Doug and Logan stepped in, holding me back.
“Sky, dude, come on, step back.” Logan had me by the shoulders and pulled me away from Doug. His voice was calm, soothing. “We’re on your side, man. You’re our brother. We’re here for you.”
“Does Amberlyn know?” Jayce asked.
“That is none of your business, Jayce,” I yelled, agitated more. Logan pulled me back again. I didn’t fight him.
“We’re not gonna deal with that right now,” Logan said, locking eyes with me. “The only thing we can help you with over the next hour is to get you through this game. What you choose to do after that is not our concern.”
Logan turned his head to Jayce and glared at him. Jayce was the first to look away.
I tried to slow my breathing and stop my body shaking. The locker room packed with hulking, sweaty, muddy football players was pressing against me from all sides. I stepped over to the adjoining restroom and splashed water on my face then stared at myself in the mirror.
I knew Logan was right. I needed to calm down and get through this game. After that, it was time to make some changes. I couldn’t put this off any longer. But we had a more immediate problem. I pulled myself together and squared my shoulders, then confidently entered the locker room again.
“What are we going to do about forty-five?” I growled.