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I felt dizzy. Nick hovered above me, one hand on my shoulder, so close I could smell his fading cologne, overpowered by the sweat of the game. “Nick,” I murmured. His blue eyes met mine and he leaned closer, his drenched hair hanging in front of my face.
“What’s the matter Jayce?” he asked quietly. I swallowed hard. “You ok?”
“I’m dizzy,” I gulped. “Really dizzy.”
“Here,” he said, handing me his water bottle. I took a few tentative sips before he took it from my hands and poured the rest of the water over my head. “Better?” I shook my head, taking a deep breath. “All right. Just relax.” His large calloused hand returned to my shoulder and rubbed gently.
It’s loud on the sidelines of a high school football game. The cheerleaders were shouting a few yards away and the coaches were yelling and the crowd was screaming and the benched players were cheering, all as loud as they could. Nick never cheered or yelled; he was always quiet. So was I. I didn’t particularly like football, nor was I spectacularly great at it, but I played because he played. He was amazing.
“The game’s almost over. I’ll drive you home,” he assured me softly. I nodded, my heart hammering in my chest and my head swimming around my knees.
We won the game. We always won, but everyone was acting like it was a God-sent miracle. I rolled my eyes and Nick, smiling, walked me quietly to his car behind the bleachers. He resisted the popularity that had been thrust upon him at every given opportunity. “You played really well,” I said nervously as he unlocked the passenger side of his car for me.
“It was all right,” he shrugged. “You’ve really shown improvement.” I smirked and he grinned; we both knew I was awful. “How are you feeling?”
“Better, now that I’m away from all that chaos,” I breathed. Better, now that I was alone with Nick. He nodded, motioning for me to put my seatbelt on before he pulled away.
We always started out awkwardly, not knowing what to say or how to act. But as the music inched its way upward and Nick slouched a little in his seat, things got better. We ended up at the house he shared with his older brother, sitting in the living room. We kissed, as we always did.
He slept on the couch, as always, and drove me home at first light.
I quit football. My dad cursed and my mom sighed, but I was finished with the whole sport. All sports.
Nick was the only one to ask me about it.
“You quit?!” he ranted, storming toward me down the empty hall before lunch period. “You quit football? Before the most important game of the year?!”
“Because the team needs me so much?” I scoffed. “Yeah, I quit. What’s it matter?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of integrity? You made a commitment to the team, Baker!” His face was red and every muscle in his tight, lean body tensed.
“Don’t call me that,” I hissed. “You never have before. Don’t start.”
“I can call you anything I want to call you,” he growled, pushing my chest with both hands. I didn’t consider not hitting him for a second before my hand smashed into his leering face.
Nick’s nose bled hard, staining the front of his American Eagle shirt. But the red seemed to drain from his face and the anger left his eyes immediately. “Nick,” I sighed, lifting my hands as though to reach for him, even though we both knew that I’d never touch him in the daylight.
He turned and headed quickly for the bathroom, both hands covering his streaming nose. I followed. “What?” he demanded harshly when I opened the door.
“I’m sorry,” I said. He stared determinedly at the mirror, mopping up his face. “I don’t even like football.”
“Then why’d you play?” he snapped.
“Why do you think I played?” I replied harshly. “You know there was only one thing I wanted out of that team and since I know I’m not getting it I quit.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, whirling around on me.
Tears welled in my eyes. “Nothing,” I said, turning to the door. His fingers closed around my arm hard enough to leave bruises and he yanked me back, making me stumble against him. “Why did you kiss me?” I asked sharply.
“Why would I? That never happened,” he growled through clenched teeth.
“I have better things to do than to spread rumors about the star football player,” I scoffed. “I just want to know why. Did you catch it on camera to blackmail me with?”
His eyes grew wide with frustration and he looked around before replying. “I liked you! I still like you, Jayce,” he whispered urgently. “I could have sworn I made that pretty clear!”
“Chrystal clear,” I shot. His eyes went even wider and his teeth caught his bottom lip, chewing sheepishly and gluing his gaze to the tiled floor. “I saw you two, and its fine, whatever. I have no claim over you.”
“I wasn’t trying to—“
“I don’t like being led on,” I interrupted. “You like me, yeah, whatever, but you won’t see me in public and you kiss girls between classes. You’re not my problem, Nick.”
He was quiet for a second, balling his hands into angry fists. “And you’re not mine,” he snarled finally. He slammed through the bathroom door with his nose still trickling blood.
I went to class late, having obviously been crying and by the end of the day everyone believed my mother had died, without me saying a word.
Jeremiah was the baseball player that beat me up after I kissed him in his car. He’d been giving me all green lights, even putting his hand dangerously north on my thigh, but the moment our lips touched he decked me hard in the jaw and shoved me out of his car onto the road and drove off. The next day the baseball team found me in a bathroom and proceeded to let me know how sick I was.
There were no consequences, except for me. I was sent home to explain why I’d been so brutally jumped by an entire sports team; the answer should have been obvious.
That night my phone rang and Nick was on the other end. “Hello?” he asked after a moment of silence. “Jayce?”
“What?” I asked coldly.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“It was your friends,” I said. He was quiet and I sighed. “I’m ok.”
“Come outside,” he said. I glanced out the window and saw him leaning against his car parked outside my house. I hung up and started downstairs, stupidly, ignoring my parents questioning stares. I slammed the door.
When I came close Nick hugged me tightly, his hand brushing through my hair. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “You didn’t deserve this.”
“I know,” I said. He kissed the top of my head and opened the door for me. “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” I muttered as I got into the car.
“Because you know I care about you? And that I’m sorry?” he suggested. I stared forward and he sighed again, closing my door.
When he got in the car I attacked him, my bruised and sore lips crashing into his. The kiss he returned was soft and gentle, and it made me cry.
Months pass like days in high school, even though to me it felt like every day dragged without him. I was forever known as the gay kid, and he was forever remembered as the beloved football star who I’d corrupted.
I’m starting college in the fall, and there’s a gay football player on the team.