“Five dollars.” A man with foggy glasses was sitting in front the opening with a tin box by his left hand. He wore a mock football jersey and matching cap to cover his balding scalp.
“It costs five dollars to get in. Either you have it or you get out of line.”
Amalia looked hopelessly at Gina just as a young boy ran up behind them. A uniform was wrinkled up in his hand, a helmet under his arm, and a duffel bag over his shoulder. A half eaten chocolate bar was in his mouth. He reached in the side of his bag and pulled out a crumpled five dollar bill. The chocolate fell to his hand and he added. “That’s for them.”
“Mason, you can’t possibly know them.”
“That is none of your concern. They paid now let them through.” Mason took a bite of the last piece of chocolate and walked through the gates confidently. Amalia and Gina followed.
“I had that covered!”
Mason spun on his heels and smiled. “You know, normal people say thank you not yell at someone who just saved their butt from public humiliation.”
The teen groaned. “Thank you.”
“What was that?”
“Sorry, I didn’t hear you over the crowd.”
She shifted her shoulders and thanked him as loud as she could manage.
“Jeesh! You don’t need to yell. I’m not deaf.”
Gina tugged at the bottom of her cousin’s sweatshirt. “Can we go?”
Amalia remembered that she had a guest. “Yes. That would be best.” She turned and walked up to the bleachers leaving Mason on the cracked tar. Gina ran to the very top and waited. “Here?”
The little girl nodded excitedly and sat down gripping the bench. Her green eyes watched the players running back and forth before turning to her cousin. “Who was that you were talking to?”
“A really annoying kid from school.”
“He was at the house, right?”
Gina opened her mouth again, but closed it as the players lined up. The national anthem began to play and everyone stood. Amalia looked around not used to the custom and accidently locked eyes with Mason. Fear filled his face yet he smiled weakly. As the song ended, he held up his wrist, which was taped. She mouthed some things without Gina noticing. Then the game began.
Van Buren scored the first touchdown about five minutes into the first quarter. They held their lead six to zero until the final quarter had two minutes left. All tied up. Mason called a timeout and Van Buren huddled up. 1:42. He threw a whiteboard to the ground and ran out to the center of the field. The others followed. Van Buren pursued down the field leaving Mason to decide where to pass it. 1:03. But, Mason didn’t move. He stood there with the ball in his hands staring. 0:56.
“Mason! Move! Not enough time left!”
But he didn’t move. He was staring at something way out behind the goalpost. The whole crowd was standing and chanted his name now. Gina tried standing on the metal seat, but her boot slipped. Straining her wrist, Amalia caught her and noticed Mason was waiting for something. The other coach began filing new plays to tackle him. The defense was creeping forward. But not close enough, she thought. Her eyes shifted to the clock. 0:21. Impossible for sure. Just as the clock hit twenty, Mason took off. With all the defenders close, he blew right past them and sprinted as hard as he could into the endzone. Three feet, one second. The Hyle boy took a couple more steps just as the timer went off. Touchdown, Van Buren!
The crowd erupted into cheers. But Amalia simply wrapped the blanket around her and Gina while watching the people make complete fools over themselves. Through the mobs, she saw Mason being lifted in the air and helmets being slapped. Eventually, everything settled down and everyone began dispersing. All the players hit the locker room except one who walked up to the top of the bleachers.
“Congratulations. You won another game.” The Romanian shifted her cousin onto her lap and didn’t look up at the player.
The player removed his helmet and ran his fingers through his sweaty hair. “Yeah. Made things good with my father now.”
“I could care less about you and your family troubles.”
Mason smiled and looked down at Gina to avoid Amalia’s death glare. “Is she a good cousin?”
“She’s not a nasty witch like she is to me?”
“Amalia is the best person I know. If you hurt her, so help me.”
The Hyle boy grinned. “How old are you?”
“Four years old and talking like that. Is your whole family messed up?”
“Not as bad as yours. Come on, Gina.” Amalia nudged the little girl to get off her lap, but she wouldn’t budge. “We have to leave now.”
“I’m gonna go over there, Mali so you two can talk.” The girl climbed down and walked over to the opposite side of the bleachers.
Mason and Amalia both began at the same time.
“You go first.”
“Oh please, when have you ever had manners? Go.”
“Age before beauty.”
“Hey! Watch it. There are kids present.”
“Truth hurts, does it not?”
“You mean like the fact you were living in misery? Or the fact the train killed your mother and there’s absolutely nothing you could do to stop it? Or…”
“Stop!” Mason looked up at his classmate and noticed she had tears running down her cheeks. “Please.”
The Hyle boy put down his helmet and removed his jersey revealing a numerous amount of padding. He moved the blanket to drape over her shoulders before leaning in. His cheek brushed against hers as he put his mouth right to her ear. “You can’t keep running from it.”
Goosebumps ran over her skin, but she ignored them and pushed him away. “You think I am running?! You think I wanted to be sent across the world?! Away from everything I ever knew! You think this is just fun and games, do you not? Well, I do not. This is my life!”
If that bothered him, Mason didn’t show it. He took a swig of water and then grabbed her uninjured hand. When she tried to pull away, but he only held on tighter. “Amalia Roxana Benito-Arcos, I know your life hasn’t been all that great. Back then, the only person you could trust was your mother. Now that she’s gone, you don’t trust anyone. I get it- I’d do the exact same. But...you have to trust someone with all of this. If I know you like I think I do, then it won’t be your aunt or uncle. Am I right?”
She managed a small nod.
“Listen, I apologize for disrupting your space. Really. And if you knew me- the real me- you’d know I’m not lying.”
Amalia looked straight into his eyes. “But I do not know you.”
“Then, why don’t you find out?”