Home > Kiss and Tell (St. Francis U # 1)

Kiss and Tell (St. Francis U # 1)
Author: Maya Hughes








Covered in sweat, barely able to catch my breath, I chugged the lime green sports drink from my bottle with my name scrawled across it in big block letters, “REID”. It was the only way to ensure I wasn’t gulping down someone else’s backwash.

Not even the much needed drink slowed my pounding pulse. I had yardage marker paint crisscrossing the back of my jersey, and I’d be picking grass out of my teeth for the next week.

Our first practice had been a nightmare. Where the hell was Trevor? He was a senior and one of our most solid performers.

The August heat was no longer beating down on me, but the tension in the locker room still made it feel like I was trapped in a pressure cooker. Western Pennsylvania summer wasn’t blistering, but after hours of practice, the heat sweltered under my uniform.

With the sweat soaking through my pads and into my jersey, I looked like I’d been sprayed by a firehose. Felt like I’d survived a battle, but the war was still undecided.

All around, my teammates streamed into the locker room that was bigger than some college gyms. Welcome to Division I football. The huge open space with the gold and orange bulldog printed on the carpet still smelled new even through the nearly impenetrable sweaty haze of sixty guys still panting hard after our first official practice. It was a locker room although there were no lockers.

We each had a cubby with our name on it, a padded seat, and storage above and below. Benches were placed around the main room with towel bins near the showers. Large glass windows overlooked the coaches’ offices and the physiotherapy rooms. Ice baths, cryo tanks, physiotherapy tables, Icy Hot, ace bandages and athletic tape were neatly organized by the coaching and support staff that rivaled the player count.

“Riddick, do you need PT?” One of the physiotherapists checked in with me.

“No, I’m good.” The aches and pains were part of the job, and I knew there were others who needed it more than me.

He nodded and moved on to another player. The whole place was a hive of activity. Only there was no honey in these combs—they were filled with blood, sweat and tears.

Training camp was only the beginning of Coach Mikelson’s torture. But if I wanted to go pro, I had to be the best. If I wanted to buy my dad his own garage, I had to be the best. If I wanted people to scream my name, wear my jersey and never go back to being that scrawny kid who got tripped in the cafeteria, I had to be the best.

Coach Mikelson marched into the room, and everyone quieted. Even the guys in the showers turned them off while we waited. His eyes locked onto mine, and I steeled myself. Weakness was a liability. I’d gotten my spot as a starter and I didn’t want him to have a doubt.

“It’s your future, not mine.” Coach scanned the room with a scowl and a glare. “I’ll be here long after you’ve been shipped back to your no-name town where everyone will have forgotten how great you were in high school. I’ll start over with another team in a few years, and you’ll be nothing.”

I swallowed past the thickness in my throat strangling me. I couldn’t be nothing again. I wouldn’t be. I’d clawed my way onto this team, and not winning wasn’t an option.

“This is the last shot some of you have at ever being something. At anyone even remembering who you are. The championship is ours to lose, and I expect perfection out there!” He pointed in the direction of the field.

Now, determination flowed through me, and I clenched my fists, feeling the throb of my pulse in my veins.

After every losing season, he only brought the hammer down harder on us. If our best wasn’t good enough, he’d push our bodies to the limit until we were faster, stronger, better. I scanned the room, looking for Trevor. Maybe he was injured, but he wasn’t near any of the guys on crutches or nursing other pre-season damage.

One of my roommates and one of our linemen, Griff, stood a little in front of me. His hands were locked at his sides, and his face twitched. He scrunched his nose. Now wasn’t the time for a sneeze attack. Griff slammed his eyes shut, muttered “fuck” under his breath and began his rapid-fire sneezing, which would probably burst a blood vessel in his head from holding them in.

Mikelson reached peak pissed off, whipped around and grabbed an orange and white water cooler. He launched it through the air toward the just-finished-sneezing Griff.

Guys jumped out of the way. My heart rate spiked higher, and I gripped Griff’s jersey and yanked him out of the way of the flying cooler.

Griff and I stumbled but recovered, knowing not to say a word throughout Mikelson’s speech. The water cooler slammed to the ground, and what little bit of Gatorade left inside spilled onto the carpet.

I snapped back up straight and tried to get my heart rate under control. In some ways, it made all the shit he put us through easier to endure. He didn’t normally single anyone out. He was an equal opportunity asshole.

Mikelson continued. Our movement hadn’t drawn his attention away from his not-so-inspiring speech.

A hair of the tightness in my chest lessened.

“Thanks,” Griff mumbled over his shoulder.

I leaned in and kept my lips as still as possible. “I’ve got your back, not just on the field, but in the face of incoming flying objects.”

Gaze trained on the man who was supposed to be our god, Griff stood tall, and his lips twitched. A small sound escaped from his sealed mouth.

Beside me, Ezra’s shadow loomed over us with a noise rumbling in his throat through his clenched teeth. His way of telling us to shut the hell up while we were in the middle of Mikelson ripping us a new asshole. Once we got back to the house, he’d probably lay into us both about the completely normal biological function Griff had been trying to suppress.

The almost imperceptible shake of Ezra’s head was his version of punching Griff and me for talking. He—out of all my roommates—took the game most seriously and considering how determined we all were said a lot. It made him a beast on the field.

The veins on Coach Mikelson’s neck throbbed a deep red. “If you’re not going to pay attention, I don’t know why you’re here. This is a dictatorship,” he shouted. “You want to know why?”

No one was dumb enough to speak. He told us when he wanted to hear from us and not a moment before that.

“I have more trophies up on my wall than most of you will win in a lifetime. Do the work, follow my rules, and never stop giving me everything you’ve got, and maybe I’ll keep you from wasting your talent and killing your future. But if you make a mistake, if you fuck things up, you’re done.”

Being benched, cut or—in the case of the staff and support team—fired, happened at least a few times a season for actual or perceived insubordination. But we all put up with it. It’s what it took to be on a top team. We wanted to win.

Mikelson marched over to the table of clipboards and tablets all the coaching staff had laid out. “I will not have another failure this season.” In a move we all saw coming, he flipped the whole thing, sending electronics and packets of paper flying. “Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Coach.” The entire eighty-player squad shout had to be louder than the marching band blaring the fight song on game day.

“Today’s practice was a disgrace, and we will not lose to Fulton U or anyone else again. Do you understand me?” He launched his clipboard, sending it sailing through the air.

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