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HUGE PLAYERS: Chapter 12

Red has already called Sara to invite her to practice this afternoon. That dude didn’t waste any time. So the football practice that I was avoiding has now become an event that I absolutely must attend. Sara wants a wing-girl, and I guess I’m it. So much for trying to maintain a little distance.

It’s already in full swing when we arrive, find a seat in the stands, and look around to see if we can work out who is who. With their helmets on it’s hard to work out anything other than the fact that they’re huge, angry men intent on crushing each other to death. I have no idea how the game works so I have no idea if they’re doing it right. It’s just a whole load of crunching sounds and grunting mixed with the odd bit of running and tossing the ball. They don’t seem to be able to move more than two feet without everything grinding to a halt. I know this is one of the most popular sports in the country but I just don’t get it.

Sara does, though. She’s bellowing out pointers that sound pretty good and when Red hears her voice, his head comes up like a meerkat’s, looking around until he finds us in the stands. Even from a distance I can see that his smile is broad and genuine.

He mutters something into the group and more heads pop up. I can definitely see Kyle and Kameron now. They’re sweaty and dirty but they still look sexy as fuck and ready for action. Then I pick out Jameson, Joshua and finally Jessie, and for some strange reason I get a thrill of pride in seeing them this way. I’m like a proud mom, and that is a thought that is weirding me out.

“I love this game!” Sara shouts. “It’s so exciting.”

“And so violent,” I add. “I saw that movie Concussion. I can’t believe that people still want to constantly crack their heads like nuts, knowing the damage it can be doing.”

“That’s the same with a lot of sports,” Sara says. “Look at horse riders…they can be paralyzed, and boxers end up with facial deformities and potential brain bleeds. All athletes can end up with injuries.”

“Yes,” I say, watching as Kyle tosses the ball between his legs and it’s caught by Jameson who starts barreling toward the end of the pitch. “But those are all when the sport is taken too far. The damage with this game comes as much from practice as it does from competing. I don’t know. I just worry about them getting hurt.”

Sara grins and squeezes my knee. “I know you do, honey. I’m just surprised you’re okay with admitting it to yourself.”

“It’s a sisterly concern,” I say, but it doesn’t sound convincing even to me.

“Three days ago you couldn’t stand them and now you’re worrying about their heads. I think that’s what’s called progress.”

I shrug but Sara is right. A lot has changed in my mind about how I feel, but nothing about what would or could actually happen in real life. It’s one thing to have thoughts, but another to translate those thoughts into actions.

Jameson is suddenly caught by one of the other players, who manages to stop his acceleration and bring him down to the ground, but there is something awkward about the way he falls. Even as a novice to watching this sport I can tell that a leg isn’t supposed to do that. It takes a few seconds for Jameson to react — he’s probably still winded from the tackle — and then he grabs at his leg and howls. Oh my God, the sound is excruciating and his team mates are scrambling to get up and check what’s happened. I’m on my feet, craning to see but when my view is blocked, I’m jogging across the field with Sara hot on my tail. Joshua has his hands clasped to the back of his head in distress and Jessie is down on his knees next to his brother. Kyle and Kameron are waving at the coach to get over there. “We need an ambulance!” Kyle shouts. “Now!”

Their coach pulls out his cell and starts dialing as I slow beside Joshua and stand helplessly by.

“Fuck,” Jameson groans. It’s definitely his knee and I don’t know whether to be relieved or scared. I know a break would put him out of the game for a while. There’d be the cast and bone healing and none of that is quick. But knee damage…well, that’s tendons and cartilage and both of those can tear. Joints can be permanently weakened. Could that be worse? I just don’t know. What I do know is that I need to try and get hold of Dad and Janice.

“I’ll call our parents,” I say to Joshua and he nods, then I’m dialing Dad’s number and getting no answer. Shit. Where the hell are they? I leave a message on Dad’s phone, asking him to call me. I don’t have Janice’s number. I don’t think she’d want me to have it, even if I asked and none of the boys are in any state to start reeling off numbers. There’s more commotion as a medic arrives and starts to examine Jameson, and I wince as he cries out with pain again.

Everything is a blur of worry and activity that I just don’t understand. But when the ambulance arrives and Jameson is stretchered off the pitch, I know it’s bad.

Kyle jogs over to me, putting his hand on my arm. “Can you go with him?” he asks me. Is he serious?

“I guess…won’t Jessie want to go, or Joshua?”

“We’re in all of this.” He pats his helmet and I get it immediately. “We’ll go put our clothes back on and grab the truck. We’ll meet you there soon, okay? I just think he should have some family with him.”

Family. There’s that word that feels so good. Does he seriously think of me as family? Do his brothers? And if they do, how do Kyle’s other feelings fit with that?

“Okay,” I say. I call to Sara to that I’m going, and run back to our seats to get my bag. By the time I’m at the back of the ambulance the paramedics have already loaded Jameson’s stretcher inside. “I’m coming,” I say. “I’m his stepsister.”

The paramedic nods and I scramble inside, looking around awkwardly for somewhere to sit. There is so much equipment in here and I don’t want to disrupt anything. The doors are closed and I’m told to sit at Jameson’s feet so the medic has space to work if he needs to.

I think they must have given Jameson some pain relief because he’s calmer than he was on the field. As the ambulance bounces its way back onto the street, Jameson winces again.

“You feeling okay?” I ask.

Jameson blinks slowly as though he’s trying to steady himself. “I’m fucked. This leg, it’s not going to heal. I’m not going to play anymore.” The panic in his voice makes my heart ache.

“You don’t know that,” I say. “Lots of athletes get injured and make full recoveries.”

“I know my own leg,” Jameson says.

The medic starts to fill out some paperwork and asks for Jameson’s name and address. When he’s finished I can see that Jameson is starting to get worked up. He’s thrown an arm over his eyes so I can’t see his facial expression but both his hands are balled into fists. Shit. I really don’t know what to say that can help, so I do the only thing I can think of and I rest my hand on his good leg and give it a reassuring squeeze. It feels alien to touch him this way. We’ve never been affectionate with each other. The most he’s ever had his hands on me was yesterday by the pool.

His leg is solid and warm and I keep my hand there so he can feel some reassurance. I don’t know if he likes it but he doesn’t tell me to take it away. After a minute or so, his fists relax a bit.

The paramedic keeps talking about football. Jameson isn’t responding and I don’t have anything to contribute. It’s a whole load of Greek to me, but it sure makes the journey to hospital pass quicker. Silence would have been awkward and I know I would have tried to fill it with reassuring platitudes that wouldn’t have helped at all. Jameson is locked in his own world of pain and dread and I don’t think I’m the girl to bring him out of it.

He’s wheeled into the hospital on the stretcher and taken into emergency care. I follow, trailing because I don’t feel close enough to Jameson to be pushing my way in as next of kin, but, as he’s being moved over onto the bed, I catch him looking around for me. When his eyes settle on mine, I see a look of relief pass over his face. He’s glad I’m here, at least.

The paramedics hand over to the doctor, describing the medication they’ve given Jameson and when. Then the doctor takes over and begins to order tests. I go to Jameson’s side and I can see his chest is rising and falling fast. It’s as though he’s having some kind of anxiety attack. “Hey,” I say, grabbing his massive hand and holding it between mine. “It’s okay. You’re in the right place now and they’re going to find out what it is. Just take some deep breaths, okay? It’s going to be fine. Jameson’s green eyes are filled with panic, but he does what I suggest and he’s calmer. He doesn’t let go of my hand, though. Even when a nurse comes to take him for his scans, he asks if I can go with him too.

They let me walk as far as the door and then I have to let him go.

He’s so big and strong but in this moment, my stepbrother is uncertain and vulnerable and it breaks my heart.

As they close the door, my cell phone begins to ring. “Dad,” I say. “Thank goodness.”

“What is it, Maisie? Is everything okay?”

“Jameson was injured in training. I’m at the hospital with him now. It’s his leg.”

“Oh my God,” Dad says. “What happened?”

I fill Dad in with what I know and then he hangs up to call Janice. I wouldn’t like to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. I’m pretty sure that micromanage-mom is going to hit megawatt status.

I pace outside the door, praying that it’s not going to be as bad as Jameson thinks. Football has been their dream for so long and I don’t know what he would do if he was out of the game. It makes it so much worse that his brothers are all involved too. He’d have to watch them take opportunities that he has been imagining his whole life. That would just tear him up inside.

When the scan is over, Jameson is wheeled back into his bay and they draw the curtains around us while they wait for the results. I take a seat on the chair next to the bed. “Dad called. Your mom is going to be on her way soon…and I’m sure the boys will be too.”

“I don’t want anyone here,” he says. “Not when they’re going to tell me my career is over. I need to deal with this shit alone.”

“You want me to leave?”

Jameson shakes his head. “Just tell them when they get here, okay. Tell them that I’m good but I need some space.”


I can hear when Jessie, Joshua, Kyle, and Kameron arrive. I know the sound they make when they walk together. It’s like a herd of elephants stampeding in the Serengeti. I stand quickly and duck out through the gap in the curtain, intercepting them before they get to their brother.

“He’s okay,” I say. “He just wants a bit of space. He wants to be by himself.”

Joshua looks like he’s going to ignore me but I move to stand in his way. “He’s worried about the news and how he’s going to react. Just…could you wait in the waiting room and I’ll come and tell you when we hear results.”

“He wants you to stay?” Jessie asks. I nod and put my hands out because I can’t explain why either. “Okay,” Kyle says. “We’ll go sit out here, but you let us know as soon as you hear anything.”

“I will.”

“But I’m just warning you, I don’t think Mom is going to be as understanding,” Kameron says.

I think he’s right.

When I go back around the curtain, Jameson has his arm over his face again. I think even hearing his brothers’ voices at this time is too much for him. I don’t want him getting worked up and if he goes into his own little world again, then I think he will. I take hold of his wrist and gently pull his arm away. He turns his face from mine and I can see how much he’s struggling. I don’t want to see him cry…and I don’t want him to feel this bad when his mom arrives, but I don’t know what to do. “It’s going to be okay,” I repeat because it’s my new mantra. “You just have to believe.”

“Don’t start giving me praying advice right now, Mais. I don’t have it in me to ask for what has already been taken away.”

His hand starts to tremble in mine and he goes to snatch it away but I don’t let him. “You listen to me, now Jameson. No one ever got anywhere by giving up. Giving up is what you do at the end of the fight when everything is lost, not at the start when you have a chance at getting back up again. Positive thinking, Jameson. You’re young and big and strong…you’ve got this.”

His eyes find mine and despite the worry that is still etched onto his face, I can see softness there too. “Thanks for the motivational speech, Coach.”

I chuckle, feeling extremely self-conscious. “That’s okay. Any time.”

He takes my hand between his two giant palms and examines it. “Anyone ever told you that you have tiny hands?”

I shake my head. He presses my palm against his and the contrast is ridiculous. “Look at that,” he laughs. “You’ve got hands like a little girl.”

“Not a little girl anymore,” I scoff, trying to snatch my arm back, but he isn’t having any of it.

“No,” Jameson says with a definite hint of husk in his voice. “You went off and came back all grown up.”

“Well you didn’t exactly stay the same. You guys have tripled in size since I last saw you.”

“Some parts of me have grown even more than that,” he chuckles.

And here we are again on dick talk. What is it about guys? They’re obsessed.

“Maybe you need to keep that news to yourself, buster,” I laugh.

Jameson strokes the inside of my wrist and I shiver, unable to control how his touch makes me feel. “Good news should be shared, don’t you think?”

His eyes find mine and I can’t look away. All the stress and tension has left his face and now there’s just desire.

“I…I…” I stutter and inhale a shuddery breath. “I should go check if your mom is here.”

I tug my hand away, grab my bag and start to flee.

“Maisie,” he calls behind me. “Looks like I’m going to be around to put more lotion on your back. Just give me a heads-up.”

Oh Lord.


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