Coach Harris was a dick. Sure, he was new to Providence University, but that didn’t give him the right to act like everything we’d worked so hard for in the last three years meant nothing. He started the season telling us we were in a “new administration” and shouldn’t expect the same “special treatment” we’d received in the past.

As if. Coach McMillian was never easy on us. At least he respected us.

I took in a deep breath, the chilly February air filling my lungs, the smell of freshly cut grass invading my senses. Usually, it was a welcome sensation. I loved baseball practice.

Scratch that, I used to love baseball practice. Until Coach Dickwad took over the team.

I was on the mound, ready to pitch, when the coach blew his whistle. What the hell?

“What’s the problem?” I asked, feeling my anger rising.

It had been a long practice already, and I was ready to get the hell out of there. I was drenched in sweat and the cold air was chilling me to the bone.

“Your form is off,” Coach complained. “Are you trying to give the opponents a home run?”

“I’m trying to finish this damn practice,” I mumbled under my breath.

“What was that, son?” Coach reprimanded. “If you have something to say, be man enough to say it to my face.”

“Alright, Coach Harris,” I said in my best condescending tone. “I think you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Our team has consistently performed for the last three years, and you’ve come in and screwed up our rhythm.”

I heard a few low whistles and groans from my teammates. They all felt the same way, but apparently none of them were man enough to say anything.

Coach Harris smirked at me, getting right up in my face.

“Is that so, son?” he asked, his voice low. “Because the way I see it, it’s you spoiled-ass rich kids who keep screwing up. Money can’t win you a championship, but my coaching will.”

“Not if we’re too tired to play,” I told him, maintaining eye contact.

Who did this prick think he was, talking to me like that? He had another thing coming if he thought I would just stand there and take his verbal abuse.

“Tell you what,” he said, louder so that everyone could here. “Mr. Hammond makes a good point. You’ve all put in some great effort today. Why don’t you hit the showers and we’ll reconvene on Monday evening?”

I looked around to see my teammates in their various positions. Some were on bases, others in the dugout. Their faces were tired and dirty, and they all looked incredibly relieved. I’d probably be drinking for free the rest of the semester.

I started walking toward the locker room, but Coach put a hand on my chest to stop me.

“Since you’re so concerned about the well-being of the team, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind raking the field for us tonight,” he said with a gleam in his eye.

Bastard. Raking the dirt after the game was usually reserved for one of the rookies or a JV. A senior varsity player never had to do that kind of grunt work. If I refused, though, I’d be the spoiled asshole he was accusing me of being.

“My pleasure,” I responded through gritted teeth.

I walked over to the equipment shed and pulled out the rake and drag mats. My rage toward Coach propelled me through the task. It took me an hour, and the lights went out halfway through. Asshole.

When I’d finally finished and showered, I headed over to Merskys to get my usual post-practice drink with the guys.

“Hey, there’s the man of the hour,” my teammate Ryan called out when I walked through the door.

“We’ve been toasting in your honor all night,” Henry called out, happily sloshing his beer around.

Damn, they were way ahead of me already. I needed to catch up and fast. I ordered two beers when I sat down, but Ryan already had a shot for me.

“To the founder of our feast,” he slurred.

“I’m not paying for this shit,” I complained.

“No, no, that’s not what I meant,” Ryan said, scrunching up his face and concentrating hard.

He looked like he was going to hurt himself.

“What he means,” Aaron chimed in from the other side of the table, “is that if it weren’t for you, we’d probably still be on that field.”

Ryan snapped his fingers. “Yeah,” he confirmed, a goofy smile on his face. “You’re our hero!”

The guys broke out in a chorus of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” much to the chagrin of the other patrons. I downed the shot in front of me, feeling the warmth trickle down to my toes. I needed that.

Someone slid me another and I downed that one too. Then my beers appeared before me, as if by magic. I was vaguely aware of a pretty young waitress smiling at me, but I was already feeling too good to care.

Tonight wasn’t for girls. It was for getting shitfaced with my boys.

“What’s the deal with Coach Hardass anyway?” I complained before draining the beer in my left hand.

“He’s got your number.” Henry laughed. “He’s had it in for you since day one.”

“You think Coach McMillian put something in my file?” I asked, feeling irritated.

I’d done nothing over the last few years but play my goddamn heart out. Coach Harris had no reason not to like me, nor did Coach McMillian have any reason to leave notes about me. I’d taken us to all of our championship games since our freshman year.

“Don’t even worry about it,” Ryan said.

He grabbed my left shoulder and shook me hard. I felt dizzy and shook him off.

The room was starting to spin. I needed another shot, ASAP.

I vaguely noticed a hush fall over the guys, and I turned to see what they were all avoiding. A few tables over was Talon Jackson, on a date with some miserable girl.

Her arms were crossed and she was pouting at him. He didn’t look much happier than she did. A match made in paradise. It made me laugh.

“Dude’s been a mess since his brother died,” Ryan whispered to me.

Well, he tried to whisper. It was more like a very quiet scream.

“Brody was a dick,” Aaron said, just loud enough for us to hear. “I’m not saying he deserved what he got, but—”

I saw Talon’s head shoot up and I kicked Aaron hard under the table. Brody Jackson had been a huge asshole, but nobody deserved to die in a car accident. And I knew Talon had been having a hard time.

He used to be a sweet kid. He was all bright-eyed and worshiped his brother. When Brody died, it was like a switch had flipped. He became a belligerent asshole. Just a few weeks ago, he had tried to drown my sister’s new boyfriend at our frat house. The kid was completely unhinged.

Still, I couldn’t imagine losing a sibling that way. If my sister, Abigail, died, I’d probably be just as much of a dick.

“I think you’ve had enough,” I told Aaron.

He’d clearly lost control of his social graces. Maybe it was time for all of us to call it a night. I flagged down the pretty waitress and she brought our checks. As suspected, the guys paid for my drinks. I was their king. Their king who had to stay late and rake the field.

When we were all paid up, the group of us made our way out the door on shaky legs. One of the younger guys even stopped to puke in the bushes. Amateur.

I noticed a couple of the guys’ girlfriends standing by their cars looking annoyed. I thought about how nice it must be to have someone to call at the end of the night, but I quickly batted the thought away. I was happy with my life as it was. I didn’t need that sappy shit.

“You need a ride, man?” Henry called to me as he got in the passenger side of his girlfriend’s sedan.

The look on her face was murderous. She clearly didn’t want to be there to pick up her man, let alone her man’s drunk teammate. No way was I going to get involved in that mess.

“Nah, bro, I’ll be alright. I don’t live far,” I told him. “You had a whole hour to pregame before I got here, remember?”

He laughed and nodded, and his girlfriend looked equally relieved and annoyed.

I stumbled over to my car, fumbling with the key fob. I was okay. Okay enough to get to my frat house anyway. This was hardly my first rodeo. I was just reaching for the car door when something pulled me away.

What the hell?

“You’re not getting in that car,” a voice said.

The voice probably belonged to the hands that were holding me back from my car. I shook the person off and whirled around on them, ready for a fight.

In front of me stood Talon Jackson, looking calm. Scary calm. Ready to commit murder calm.

“Get off me, Talon,” I bit back. “You’re not the boss of me.”

I turned back to get in my car, but Talon grabbed me again and pinned me against the door.

“This isn’t a good idea, Thomas,” he said in that scary calm voice.

If I weren’t so shitfaced, I might have actually been afraid of him. As it was, I mostly felt anger. Who the hell was this kid to tell me what I could and couldn’t do? I was tired of assholes telling me what I could and couldn’t do today.

I took a swing at Talon, but he easily moved out of my reach. My reflexes definitely weren’t up to par. That was okay, though. He couldn’t stop brute force.

I lunged at him with my whole body, knocking us both to the ground. Talon managed to knock my keys out of my hand, but I managed to reach for them and get them back easily. We scuffled on the ground for a minute, but I kept the upper hand. Talon may have been more sober, but even inebriated I could take him on easily.

Keys in hand and car unlocked, I landed a swift punch into Talon’s stomach. He groaned and I managed to stand up without his interference. I made it to my door and opened it. I quickly shoved the key into the ignition, but when I turned to look at Talon, he was back up with a knife in his hand.

“What are you doing?” I asked, suddenly terrified.

Talon approached me slowly, a look of pity on his face. I was sure he was going to stab me, but instead he turned toward my front tire and slashed it. It was a sickening sound, and a light dinged in my car, telling me that I had a flat tire.

My head fell back against the headrest and I groaned out in frustration. I wanted to get out of the car and kick Talon’s ass for that stunt, but I just didn’t have the energy. Between practice, raking the field, and that altercation between Talon and me, I had nothing left. My eyes closed and I sank into my seat.

“You’re lucky I’m beat,” I murmured out, not even sure if Talon was still there. “Remind me when I’m sober to kick your ass.”

“At least you’ll be alive to do it,” Talon responded from somewhere nearby.

My mouth quirked, and I imagined myself going another round with the punk. I won, naturally. He didn’t even stand a chance. I opened my eyes halfway and realized I was still in my car, the wind biting me through the open door.

Ah well. This was just as good of a place to get some sleep as anywhere else.


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