My heart broke. It shattered. There were a million pieces on the ground by our feet.
I didn’t say a word. I grabbed him, pulling him to me, and I wrapped my arms around him. There was a hot dog squished between us. I was hoping there also wasn’t a drink. I knew there was a bag of chips somewhere, probably his pockets. I heard the squish.
I just hugged him harder.
“I made a decision two days ago that as soon as I could medically travel, I was coming to you.”
He stiffened, asking in my other ear, “Really?”
I just hugged him tighter. This boy. He was mine. He was Gail’s. Gail had been mine. She’d been my dad’s. We were family.
“Really,” I choked out. “Only reason I didn’t was because Stone said you guys were coming here. Today’s the first day I could’ve come with the concussion.”
“Oh.” His head bent down, almost shyly. “And I do want to stay with them. I’m sorry I said that.”
He was confused. So was I. He wanted me, but he wanted them. He was still a kid. Everything is overwhelming when you are seventeen. But I could do this. He could do this.
I framed his face, my forehead falling to rest on his. “You and me.” I made sure his eyes were looking in mine, even as I had to pull him down since he was so much freaking taller. “We’ll figure it out, but I got you. You got me.”
He hesitated, then nodded with me. “Okay. Yeah.”
Another hug. This one I had taken Georgia’s role and I just wanted to hug him for the rest of his life. I wanted to shield him from everything, take care of him, protect him, love him, guide him, challenge him, but most of all, I just wanted him to be okay. That was job number one.
He pulled back, flicking his hand up at his eyes, his head turned away. He flicked his hand a couple more times before the crowd sat and we went with them. He nodded toward the field. “You and Reeves. He good to you?”
I was having another ‘oh, boy’ moment, but it was more like an ‘oh, shit.’ And a laugh pulled from me, hitching up a note. I patted his knee. “He and I… Yeah. We’re… Yeah.” I noticed the best distraction ever. “Look! They already scored!”
Apollo shot over Jared. “Your boy got the ball and ran it all the way in. One fucking play and touchdown!” He tipped his head back. “YEAH, REEEEEEVES!”
A collective cheer went up around us, but Jared was grinning and laughing with Apollo a second later, and for a moment, just that one moment, all seemed right in the world.
I vowed to have more of those moments with him.
We had three minutes to score.
Kings were down seventeen to twenty-one. Belves scored three touchdowns with the extra point scored for each, and Kings only had two with a field goal. They had possession, but were only at the fifty-yard line. It’d been mostly a running game. We needed something extra.
“We won’t get down there if they don’t throw the fucking ball!” Jared had been saying the same gripe for the last period. His hands were permanently attached to the top of his head. He kept looking from the game to the scoreboard and back again.
As for me, my heart was permanently stuck in my throat.
Stone kept getting tackled. Over and over again.
A few weeks ago, I would’ve cheered. Now I wanted to tackle those guys who kept taking him down.
It was our possession.
The ball was snapped back. Colby looked like he was going to hand it off. Their halfback was going past him, and it was a fake! A fake. Cortez, their halfback, tucked it in, but he didn’t. He didn’t at all. Wait. Where was Stone?
He was breaking through, running down the middle.
NO ONE WAS ON HIM!
He was running, head down.
I jerked my gaze back to Colby. He was looking.
The defensive line was going after Cortez.
It all happened in a split second.
They realized he didn’t have the ball. They were looking… Colby’s hand went back. He launched the ball.
It was a beautiful spiral and everyone was on their feet. I mean, we were already on our feet, but if we could all jump to our feet again, we were doing it.
The ball was soaring, going, going, going, then going down. And…
Finding his target!
Stone looked back, NO ONE WAS ON HIM. He jumped up, caught the ball, a perfect cradle to his chest, and he was back down and sprinting.
A Belves player was zeroing in on him. Their safety saw the play and was coming in fast and hard.
I was screaming. Everyone was screaming.
The safety was right there, angling right at Stone.
He had his arms open. He was readying to tackle Stone, but Stone stopped, pivoted, rotated his hips, and he dove in just behind the safety.
I was going nuts.
Everyone was going nuts.
Kings won. There was no time. God. Was there time?
Yes. They had time. Just over two minutes. Anything could happen.
They were lining up. The kick went in. Kings were up now twenty-four to twenty-one.
Jared was groaning, bending over. His hands still attached to his head. I did glance once to make sure he wasn’t pulling his hair out without realizing it, but no. His hair was still there. He was saying now, “If they get close enough for a field goal, we’re fucked.”
We wouldn’t be fucked. We’d just go into overtime.
I patted his back. “We’ll be okay. It’ll all work out.” Truth be told, I was as close to vomiting as he was.
They had to hold them, and spotting Jake running out, I was back to screaming.
They lined up. There was the snap, and they pushed it forward, only getting an inch. They repeated this each time, getting a first down, but they were running out of time. They needed to do something. Kings defense was holding them for the most part.
“They’re going to throw. They have to throw.” Jared now had his ballcap in his mouth. He was chewing on the back strap. “They can’t throw.” His hand suddenly grabbed my arm and he held tight. “Bolston’s been shut down most of the game.”
He stopped talking.
The Belves’ quarterback dropped back.
Bolston shotput forward, running right up the side. He looked alone… I was scanning the field. He was alone. No. He wasn’t. Sprinting to catch up was Bilson.
I tracked back to the quarterback, the ball was already in the air.
Bad déjà vu was filling my mouth full of bile.
No, no, no. Miss. Or interception. Either of the two.
Then it was going down. Just like Stone had done, Bolston turned, read the ball, and reached for it. It connected…bam! Jake slammed into him. The ball bounced off his hand, then fell to the turf.
The clock was winding down, and as it was nearing the end, Jared heaved a huge sigh of relief. They did a snap, but it was done. The clock ran out. The game was over.
The Kings had won.
Jared used his hat to mop the sweat off his face. “That was a good game.” His grin was sloppy, his eyes a bit dazed. “Stone ran in all three of their touchdowns. He’s gonna be MVP for this game.” His sloppy grin beamed a bit brighter. “He’s so fucking awesome.”
Yeah, but, “Don’t curse.”
He only grinned at me.
“WE GET TO GO DOWN TO THE FIELD!” Apollo launched himself onto Jared’s back.
Laughing, Jared caught him and they were bouncing up and down. Apollo’s fist was in the air.
A staff person came over, showing us to the field.
I felt the attention from people around us. They were assessing who I was, and recognition flared in one person’s eyes. He nudged his friend, but I was moving to the aisle. The back of my neck was already hot, and it was only getting hotter.
We were going down there to see Stone.
Cameras were down there. Journalists were down there.
He wanted to give Jared some attention, but there’d be some on me, too. Jared. I saw how excited he was as he moved past me with Apollo. Angie was half asleep, her dad was holding her. Georgia’s eyes were dilated from the excitement, too, and she gave me an impulsive hug before following the rest.
My heart fell out of my chest for my brother, and I was just following behind it, trying to catch it back up, but it was now Jared’s. Totally.
We were taken to the field. It was how I knew it’d be. Chaos.
Interviews were happening in almost every corner.
A large crowd had formed, and Stone was in the middle. A woman’s microphone in his face, the ESPN logo attached. He was nodding, talking, then he looked up, and seeing us, he began grinning.
That wasn’t from Stone. I was turning.
“HOLY FUCK!” Jared couldn’t breathe.
It was Colby coming over with his helmet on his side. He nodded to me, smiling, and gestured to Jared beside me. “This the brother?”
I couldn’t talk.
I was starstruck again. Just like the kitchen, but on steroids.
“Hmmm-mmm.” That squeaked out of me.
Laughing, Colby held his hand out. “Met your sister yesterday. You’re Jared?”