Home > The Troublemaker

The Troublemaker
Author: Claire Contreras


Chapter One






The hushed chatter carries through the campus, spilling over to the county beyond. Athletes are being arrested and charged. Evidentially, there’s been a long-running drug ring that’s just now being exposed. If the extra police cars parked around campus hadn’t given it away, the FBI jackets running around surely would have. I locate my phone in my bag and recheck the news to find that two more athletes have been arrested. I stop breathing as I scroll, bracing myself to see if they’ve given any names. It’s not like I know every single athlete in town, but I know two who I can only hope aren’t involved in this. Since the news hasn’t revealed names, I call my sister. She answers on the first ring.

“This is insane,” she says.

“I know.” I bite my lip. “Have you heard from Mitch or Mav?”

“Yeah, they’re shook.”

“But not involved, right?” I brace for the answer.

“No,” my sister shouts, then lowers her voice. “God, no. They would never.”

“Yeah, I know, but you never know.” My words are as at odds with themselves as my thoughts. I just can’t grasp any of this.

“Are you on campus now?”

“Yeah.” I sidestep a bike rider and start walking on the grass. “Are you house touring today?”

“Yep.” She sighs. “This is exhausting. I’ve already seen three properties, and they’re all so beautiful, but I don’t even know what I’m looking for anymore, you know? Do I want an apartment so I don’t have to deal with a yard, or do I want a house?”

“Well, that depends. Are you going to have kids any time soon?”


“Do you and Jagger want to stay in Charlotte even after his contract with the Panthers is made?”

“I don’t know. I mean, we love it here, but I don’t know. I guess it depends on whether or not he retires as soon as he says he wants to retire.”

“I don’t see how he wouldn’t after he’s made such a big deal about it,” I say, half joking, but it’s true.

“Tell me about it,” Jo mumbles with a laugh.

My soon-to-be brother-in-law, who also happens to be my ex’s brother, has been making a big deal out of this forever. He signed an NFL contract with the Panthers but stated that he would only play for three years from the get-go. The agreement is so good that I can’t imagine ever living in a reality where I’d pass up that kind of money, but he says he knows what’s best for him, his brain, and his body. I guess I can joke about it since I’m not the one taking a beating every time my cleats hit the turf. I respect him for knowing when to walk away, and I’m grateful he chose Charlotte, which is only a couple of hours away from me, so I can visit my sister any time I want.

“I have to go. I just pulled up to a mansion,” she says. “This is a definite no. I’d have to have a cleaning lady here every week to maintain this number of windows.”

“God, Jo. I really can’t imagine having such a hard life.”

“Shut up, smartass.” She laughs. “Keep me posted on your internship stuff, and let me know if anyone we know gets arrested. Have you checked on Bobby or Dylan?”


“Maybe you should.”

“You think they’d sell drugs?” My eyes widen. I stop walking when I get to the school paper building, where I’m taking my last journalism class.

“I don’t know. Would they?” She pauses. “I have to go. Love you.”

I drop my phone back into my bag and think about that as I walk into the building. I don’t even know how to categorize Dylan’s and my relationship. A relationship isn’t one way, that’s for sure. We went on three casual dates, which ended without any significant hooking up. We kissed twice, the second leading to light petting over clothes. I’d been the one to make a move to stop it from going further. He was my ex-boyfriend’s teammate, and that made things weird for me. Not that Mitchell was someone I’d get back together with or anything, but I didn’t know if they’d talk in the locker room about me, and the idea was making me doubt myself and my actions too much, so that was where things died down.

After that, our frequent texts became once-in-a-blue moon texts. So, did I think he’d sell drugs? I wasn’t sure. Would a white, handsome, athletic, twenty-three-year-old from a well-to-do family need a side hustle? It was something I couldn’t wrap my head around. I was a brown, beautiful, athletic, twenty-two-year-old from a well-to-do family, and I didn’t even need a main hustle. I’d gotten a job at a coffee shop near campus, mostly because I wanted to buy myself some overpriced designer sneakers I’d seen, loved, and couldn’t ask my parents to buy me without it being my birthday. Was I spoiled? Absolutely. Was I a brat? No way. I didn’t take anything I had for granted.

“Nice to have you in here, Misty Canó,” Professor Eugene Madison calls out when I step into the large meeting room.

“Always a pleasure, Professor.” I shoot him a smile as I take a seat beside Soleil.

She beams me a smile when she looks over at me. We’ve been in most of the same classes since we started here and hit it off rather quickly. Soleil is an international student from France, which I think is the coolest thing ever. I couldn’t imagine leaving the country to study abroad, but now I can’t imagine Soleil going when this semester is over.

“We’re discussing what everyone is going to write about for their final project,” Professor Madison says, filling me in. “This is in conjunction with what you’re already writing for the school paper.”

“How much of the grade will rest on this project?” I ask.

“All of it.”

“All of it?” I blink, looking around at my seven peers, who look as nervous as I feel.

“It gets better,” Professor Madison says, with way too much excitement in his tone. “They will be entered in a contest, and the winner will be published in a sports journal.”

“What?” My jaw drops. I look at Soleil, who’s nodding enthusiastically. “That’s huge.”

“The seven of you have been assigned to a specific magazine, journal, or newspaper. You’ll find the name written inside the envelope set in front of you. We’ll get to those later.”

“Aw, come on,” Ricky says. “You know we’re dying to know.”

“Yes, but first, I think we need to discuss the elephant in the room.” Professor Madison shoots him a look. “We’ve all seen the FBI running around campus. They’re also all over the UNC campus—”

“Who cares?” one of the guys says, making a few people laugh.

“We should all care.” Professor Madison shoots them a look. “We may have a rivalry, but both of our schools are facing serious allegations. That’s why we’re partnering up with the UNC newspaper to highlight each other’s athletes, the ones not involved in these crimes, the ones who will take a fall for something they didn’t commit.”

“What does that mean?” Soleil asks beside me.

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