December 20th, 2014 | By Clint Foster No Comments



When the season finished, Ben had a conversation with his parents about not playing football the next year. They told him that they respected his decision, and that they always loved him regardless of athletic prowess or sport affiliation. They did, however, make sure Ben was the one to turn in his pads and shake the coach’s hand, thanking him for the guidance and letting him know that he wouldn’t be coming out for football the next year.

The coach had looked him in the eye and thanked him for the good, hard work this year. He expressed regret that Ben wouldn’t be coming out again, and reminded him that there’s always a place on the team if he changes his mind.

Ben was glad when it was over. It was uncomfortable to quit something, even if it didn’t feel like quitting since the season was already over. His mother had been very proud, she said, that he’d stuck with it as long as he did. They stopped at Baskin Robbins and he got a double scoop of mint chocolate chip. He felt a smidge better after that.

After making the varsity basketball team last year as a sophomore, Cassie knew her junior year would hold high expectations. Her coach had the customary one-on-one meetings with all of the players, making sure they knew where they stood on the team, what their responsibilities were, that they needed to keep their grades up, and so on.

Coach Shelley, nicknamed “The Shell” for her callous appearance, was a surprisingly tender woman when it came to her players. Not on the court, of course, but in their confidence, or when telling them tough news. Her meeting with Cassie had been very different from the previous year’s.

“How do you feel like practices are going?”

Cassie always felt like this was a trick question, and tried her best to guess what The Shell wanted to hear. “They’re good. Tough, sometimes, but we’re learning a bunch of stuff right now so it’ll be kinda iffy for a while.”

The Shell nodded. Once. “Do you expect to start this year?”

“I expect to work myself hard enough to earn a starting spot, Coach.”

A smile cracked through the craggy face of Coach Shelley, “Well said. Go on and get ready for practice.”

There were still a few weeks of practice before the first games, so no roster had been set, but Cassie found herself practicing with the varsity team almost every play. After all, she’d earned it.

Carlos and Mick made an odd couple in the weight room. Mick, thin as a rail and pale as an eggshell, took confident strides on the treadmill. Carlos, a touch pudgy and darker-skinned, sweated and strained with the clanking weights.

“Wanna trade?” Mick grinned at his companion.

“Please … your puny muscles cannot match mine.” Carlos did his best Schwarzenegger, flexing for emphasis.

“Maybe, but I’d love to watch you run further than the couch-to-fridge dash.”

Carlos ticked the treadmill up a notch to make sure Mick had to concentrate more on running and less on trying to be funny. “Is track even a sport?”

“I think it’s more like a hobby.” Mick answered, face screwed into focus as he tried to run and think at the same time. “You don’t play track, you don’t go to a track game. You don’t even meet people at meets.”

“Maybe you don’t. The throwers are all pals.”

“And all competing for second place, from what I hear.”

Carlos blushed. He’d been somewhat of a prodigy at the shot put and he still wasn’t sure how he felt about the praise he’d received. “Yeah, yeah.”

He sat back on the bench, checking the dusty clock in the corner. It read 12:15, the same time it always said. His phone, however, showed it was 3:30. “I gotta go, bro. Enjoy your jog.” He ticked the treadmill up again as he scooted towards band practice.

Ricky hobbled into the weight room shortly after Carlos had left. “’Sup, Mick?”

“My heart rate.”

Ricky grinned, posting his crutches on the wall and hopping toward the dumbbells. He’d torn two ligaments in his knee the game before the playoffs. He watched the play on film and criticized himself over and over on how differently it should have gone. If he’d read the play better, he would have been somewhere else. If he were faster, he would’ve been out of the line of fire.

None of his frustration mattered now. The doctor had told him it would be at least six months until he could do anything without the brace. So here he was, sitting in the weight room with one leg completely stretched out, lifting the dumbbells and already focusing on next year.

“Ricky, bro, you alright?” Mick’s voice shook him from his self-pitying reverie.

“Yeah, just … frustrated, you know?” The playoffs had already started, and his team had won two games without him. He was proud, but it stung that he felt like they didn’t need him to win.

“Just think how tough and manly you’ll look with all that beach-body lifting you’re doin’ though, eh?” Mick tried to prod his friend. He knew Ricky had been hurting other places than his knee. His grades were slipping this year. ‘Sports brain,’ was Mick’s name for it, and he’d tried to tutor Ricky whenever he could. They’d made some progress at least. It was a start.

“I’ll be back.” Ricky’s Arnold impersonation was significantly closer to the real thing than Carlos’. “With my huge biceps and disproportionate back muscles.” He posed.

“And speedo.”

The two shared a moment of levity that helped ease their workouts. Mick finished up his run about the time Ricky gave up trying to do single-leg squats. They walked out into the cool afternoon together, cracking jokes until they went their separate ways.


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