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Authors: Mercy Celeste

Sidelined (9 page)

BOOK: Sidelined
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“I’m not stupid. Rodney is an asshole. And Cindy. I’ll let you figure out how to tell her.”

“There’s nothing to tell. Really,” he added when she cocked her hip and placed her hand on it in that you’re in trouble now pose she did better than anyone. “We’re just messing around, Brit. It’s nothing.”

“Yeah, well, the jealous eyes you’ve been giving him all night says it’s something. And I’ll tell you this, looking at those girls who think they might be underage candidates for all his money, you might better give him a tour of the property if you get my meaning.” Tracy followed her nod to the group of girls, all incoming seniors from one sport or another. A couple of them were looking at Levi as if they were sizing him up for a wedding ring.

“Oh, fuck, what the hell is it with people in this town? If it were just the girls, it would be one thing, but damn, okay, this needs to be winding down anyway. It’s coming up on ten; some of these kids have curfews.”

“We’ll get them sorted. Just take Levi home or somewhere else before the fireworks start.”

“Shit, I forgot about the fireworks. They all pair off for that. Fuck. Okay. Gone.” He leaned over and kissed his sister. “See you at school Monday.”

“Gah, don’t remind me that my summer is over.” She shoved him away laughing. “Go rescue your man. Oh my god, I did not just say that.”

“You did. I heard you.” Tracy shoved her back. Gently. Then turned his attention to the girls and the hand on Levi’s arm that was drifting higher up his bicep. “Yo, Brody, move your ass and help me out, will you?” He shouted over the music, waving to get Levi’s attention.

“Sure thing, boss.” Levi called back. He deftly extricated himself from the knot of girls and half jogged across the patio. “What’s up?” He leaned in and whispered. “Oh, thank you, thank you. That one chick seems to be on something, and what the fuck is in the water around here? I’ve met sophisticated man-sharks in my time but not a freakin' sixteen year old.”

“Guess you don’t remember the girls we went to school with, then. It’s about the same near as I can tell. Grab that box, will you, and follow me out to the Jeep.” He hefted a cooler full of beers onto his hip and grabbed another cooler by the handle. “Be back in a bit, Brit.”

“No rush, Tracy, just take care of that…thing…and see you after the fireworks.” His sister busied herself with cleaning up one of the tables and throwing away discarded paper plates.

“There’s fireworks?” Levi followed him out to the Cherokee, the box of what looked like leftover food in his arms as he glanced skyward.

“Yeah, Dad’s down setting it up. We shoot them off over the mill pond and everyone goes home afterward.” Tracy opened the tailgate and placed the cooler and food inside. “Get in.”

“After all this, I don’t even get to stay to see the fireworks? Figures. We’re always in the locker room and never get to see the celebration. Just perfect.” He complained, but it seemed to be good-natured as he climbed into the passenger seat.

“I didn’t say I was taking you home.” Tracy slid into his seat and started the engine. “We’re getting the best seats and the best view. Unless you want me to take you home?”

He looked over to Levi in the dark of the cab, his face unguarded for a moment. The almost childlike look in his eyes made Tracy’s stomach flip-flop. The smile that followed disconnected it from his body, and it plummeted to the floor. In love? With him? Oh hell no!

“No. I’m not going to turn into a pumpkin or anything any time soon…unless you have other plans…I could get a ride, or call Jude or…”

“Shut up, Brody.” Tracy let the smile that spread across the man’s face infect his own. “And while you’re at it, buckle up. You’re in for a bumpy ride.”

*

Tracy maneuvered around the truck that blocked a narrow two trail lane leading, Levi guessed, out into the vast acreage that surrounded the Wright farm. “What do y’all grow?” He was curious, never having been on an actual working farm before, despite where he grew up.

“Big crops are corn and peanuts. But we grow vegetables and watermelon too. Since I signed on as assistant coach a few years ago at Hillsborough, I’ve had the team out chucking melons each summer. It’s a good workout. Keeps them off the streets and puts money in their pockets. Since Alabama passed its illegal resident law, it’s been a farm saver.” Tracy rambled on as they drove over rutted roads, going from flat farm to dense underbrush.

“It sounds like something that worked out for everyone. But I take it you took some shit for it?”

“We were accused of using the boys as slave labor. We paid better than they would have made at Wal-mart or McDonalds. Some of the parents were upset. Yeah, I took some shit. And then the boys working part-time jobs over in Summerville quit and came to work for us, and the other farms started calling up looking for help. They learned about work and made good money. And football and the heat didn’t kick their asses when we started practice again.” He tapped his thumbs on the steering wheel, his eyes straight ahead. “Even some of the dads started coming out to help. After the plastic factory closed down, well, there’s not much left around here. Service industry or commute down to Mobile is about all that’s left. We lost the sewing factory years ago. We’re dying.”

Levi let that comment sink in. Bitter regret seemed to be about the only emotion he could dredge up. “I hated living here. Going down to Mobile was a dream. Anything to get the hell out of the trailer park. Watching my mom deteriorate before my eyes. Raising Jude on my own. Fucking sucked to be from here.”

“You got a football scholarship out of your time here. And that let you go on to the NFL. You’re the only one ever to do that. You’re the reason no one can wear the number five now. So don’t give me the bullshit poor boy been wronged story.”

“Yeah, sorry if I didn’t have the perfect life, two parents who didn’t try to beat the hell out of each other. Food on the table. I worked my ass off. Morning practice, afternoon practice, then I worked as overnight stock boy at the grocery store. They paid me under the table so that my mother wouldn’t lose her welfare, because God only knew she couldn’t lose that. My dad came to town when it suited him and took whatever he wanted and left again.”

“And you drove a classic car and paraded yourself like the king of the freakin' town.”

“I drove my grandfather’s car. He left it to me, and I did the work to keep it going. Until my old man decided he needed that too. And then I walked. Some king of whatever… You didn’t know me. I don’t know why you think I had it easier than you or got something you didn’t. I don’t even remember you. Besides being that bastard number fifty-eight with the purple fucking panther on your jersey who damn near put me in the hospital senior year, I don’t remember shit about you. Because you didn’t exist to me.”

The Jeep came to a lurching halt. Complete dark surrounded them. The sound of insects and amphibians and other nighttime creatures sang loudly. Clammy fear crawled over Levi’s skin. His heart raced.

“You’re right, Levi.”

“Damn right, I’m right.” Levi tried to see into the dark, to just see something that put him at ease. “Is this where you bring out the chainsaw and tell the local law enforcement that I went for a walk and never came back? What am I right about?”

The low rumbling laugh was the only warning he got before big fucking Viking King pulled him over the console, the light from the dash making him appear eerily green and maniacal.

“I’m going to take you apart. And you’ll be screaming my name. But in a non-slasher movie kind of way. And you’re right. I judged you, harshly, I guess. Maybe it’s jealousy. I don’t know. I’m just a farm boy with a college degree. I chose the degree over football. I don’t know if I could have made it in the pros. Maybe I just thought you could have done more for Summerville. I don’t know. I judged you, and I’m sorry.”

Levi turned his head when Tracy tried to kiss him. “I’m not interested in being your punching bag, Coach. Whatever chip you’ve got on your shoulder is getting old. I might be a slut, but I have some respect for myself. Not much but some.”

Tracy let him go, and Levi moved back to his seat and leaned against the door. “Fair enough. I guess. A couple weeks and incredible sex does not a relationship make.”

“What are you talking about? Sex? All we’ve done is hump each other. There’s been no sex that I actually remember. And just because your name is Mr. Wright doesn’t make you Mr. Right, you know. And where the actual fuck are we?” Levi popped the door open, trying not to think about the fluttery giggle thing that stuck in his throat when Tracy said relationship. He’d had one relationship in his life and look how fucking bad that went.

“Just grab a cooler, and you’ll find out soon enough.” Tracy let himself out of the Jeep and took a case of something out of the back. A flashlight in his free hand, he led the way along a narrow footpath and into a clearing.

Levi stumbled on a root, catching himself by hooking his arm around Tracy’s waist. Tracy didn’t say anything. He turned off the flashlight and hooked his arm over Levi’s shoulder just as a boom rang out in the night air. Rainbow lights lit up the sky, the mirror-like water reflecting the fireworks and the moon.

“You have a pontoon boat.”

“I thought we’d catch the fireworks from here. It’s quiet and no prying busy bodies who might take offense when I do this.” Tracy’s mouth connected with his, landing half on his jaw in the dark, but Levi didn’t care. He corrected and opened his mouth for more. “Watching you dance…Levi, you’re dangerous to be around.”

“Is that a compliment or a complaint?” Levi forgot he held a cooler and turned to face Tracy. “I’ve been told I dance pretty good for a straight boy.”

“No straight boy dances like that. How exactly did you keep all of you contained? Or am I missing the mark?” Tracy held him tight, the flashlight pressed between Levi’s shoulders, warm breath ghosting over his cheek.

Levi stepped away at the question. He didn’t want to fight. “Same way you keep it contained…tell me there’s beer in this cooler.”

“Beer, yes, beer is good. I start back to the daily grind on Monday, there damn well better be beer in here.” Tracy grunted, and with his arm still around Levi, he started for the dock that led out over the water. Another blast of fireworks lit up the sky.

Levi could hear the ripple of shouts and applause from the house. “After all the driving, we went absolutely nowhere.”

“We’re secluded and far enough away that no one can slip up on us. If that’s what you’re wondering.” Tracy stepped onto the boat and held his hand out for Levi to follow him.

“I wasn’t before, but I am now. Tell me, Coach, is this part of your plan? Are you trying to seduce me?” Levi stowed the cooler on the floor beside a small table and found a seat on the vinyl lounge that circled around the rear of the craft. Tracy placed his burden in the same place and set about lighting candles. “Oh yeah, I’d say this was planned. Candlelight is a nice touch. But a little inside information—I’m a cheap date. All you have to do is smack my ass and tell me to roll over.”

“The candles are citronella, smart ass. Unless you want your ass to be eaten alive by mosquitos.” The soft glow from the candle in his hand illuminated Tracy’s face for a brief moment.

“You know, when you smile, it’s like you’re a whole different person. Less stick up the ass. Makes you look almost human.” Levi flipped the lid off the cooler and reached into the melting ice for two bottles; he offered one to Tracy. “Come sit with me, Coach, take a load off.”

“You put
stick up the ass
and
load
in the same thought, and you’re accusing me of seducing you?” Tracy laughed, the sound a rumble of thunder that made Levi’s entire body tingle. “Don’t make me smack your ass.”

“Mmm, with lines like that, I’ll be your center, baby, any time,” Levi purred the words as best he could as he shifted on the seat. Legs up, head resting on the cushion, he stretched out. Tracy took the beer and sat beside him. Straight, one leg crossed over his knee. Overhead, the fireworks became more frequent. The scent of cordite drifting across the pond mingled with the citronella. “Seriously, Tracy, why are we out here?”

Tracy turned to face him, knee bent on the seat between them. He leaned on one elbow and tipped his drink back with the other. The moon and candlelight illuminating his face but not enough for Levi to read his eyes.

“Would you rather I took you back to your trailer?”

“Five yard penalty for evading the question.”

“You speak in football puns, it’s cute. Now cut it out.”

“When you answer the question.” Levi rolled onto his hip, he cocked one knee and arranged the cushion behind his head so that he could look up at Tracy.

“Fine, I wanted to be alone with you. But didn’t know where to take you. And this is public sort of, so no chance of impromptu sex.” Tracy hooked the cooler with his foot and pulled it over to prop his feet up on. Leaning back against the cushions, he stared up at the fireworks exploding almost overhead. His face blue and green with red thrown in. And then dark again.

“So like a date?” Levi bumped his shoulder as he drained the last of his beer.

“Maybe. It seemed like a good idea at the time.” He sounded embarrassed.

“Aw, the Viking King wants to date me.” Levi felt the thrill of that clear to his toes.

“Viking King? Dude, you are seriously deranged. Why didn’t that ever make the media outlets? Star quarterback is off his rocker.” Tracy held his hand up as if reading an invisible billboard.

“Because I was busy keeping my gay light under a bushel barrel. Being all tough and grunty for the reporters. And have you looked at yourself? You have this Nordic god thing going on. Cross your arms and lethal ice stare and those boys are quaking in their cleats.”

Tracy snorted as he stretched his arm over the back of the seat. His elbow ending somewhere in the vicinity of Levi’s ear. “Gotta be tough or they eat you alive.”

“Story of my life.” Levi shifted so that his head rested on Tracy’s shoulder. “Seriously, it’s sweet. The date thing is. I’ve never been on an actual date before.”

BOOK: Sidelined
12.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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