The sun shines brilliantly for a spring day in the Pacific Northwest. The warmth is surprising but welcome. The natural grass sparkles as bright and beautiful as a well-manicured golf course. The field’s just waiting to be torn up by a bunch of football-playing foster kids. I’m a little nervous. Not sure what to expect since I’ve never done one of these events. Coach Daily said I’d have a lot of fun, and the kids are great. So here I am.
“Irus, my man! How you been?” A portly black man named Walter advances on me, his cultured Southern accent out of place in the northwestern environment.
“Not too bad,” I say.
“Tough watchin’ those Pirates steal that championship, eh?” Smooth. Dig where it hurts, Walt.
Yeah, we all know Walter Park. He’s been around football for a lot of years. No one takes offense at his blunt remarks. The man tells it like it is and sometimes brutally. Today he’s being kind. Sort of.
“Well, you know how it is, shit continues to happen,” I say. “We’ll get ’em next season.”
Walter is a big former defensive lineman. When I say he’s big, I mean he’s gotten larger than when he was playing. I make the mistake of offering to shake the man’s hand. Two sweaty slabs of meat engulf my lone hand. He pumps wildly and leaves me feeling like I’ve got rhino cum all over my palm. When he’s not looking, I swipe my hands down the side of my sweatpants.
“Well, we got some great kids for you to work with, Irus. A great bunch of boys.”
“I’m gonna hook you up with one of the organizers of the event. He’s a wide receiver. Give a defense/offense kind of perspective. Just teach the kids some fundamentals. How to hold the ball, a little pass and catch, nothing too in-depth. Mostly, we need you guys to be role models. Help inspire these kids. Lift them up. Some come from sketchy backgrounds.”
Walter gives me a look, like I’d understand, but my home was never sketchy. The neighborhood maybe, but not the home. A rock-solid foundation. Not traditional, though. Two parents who still love and cheer me on but had nothing to do with the raising of me. My Auntie Linda and Uncle Clyde raised me. He’s a high school football coach, and she’s an English teacher. The summers were spent with my Auntie Beulah in the city. She got me out of the dusty suburbs and introduced me to a whole new way of thinking. Beulah’s the reason I don’t judge people. Well, I try not to judge people. I certainly don’t blame my parents for giving me up. They gave me to Linda and Clyde, who wanted kids but couldn’t have any of their own. Auntie Linda said it was God making everything right. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a loving family.
“I’m just waiting for your receiver to show up. Then I’ll take you to your kids.” Walter peers around, looking for someone.
I follow his glance, not sure who I should be on the lookout for, when I see Jackson McCoy. Lord, why do you always have to test me here?
Damn, McCoy looks fine.
Blond hair reflects the sunlight. The strands lift lightly in the breeze. He’s laughing, joking around with some people from the charity organization. He’s always laughing. I see him on the sidelines all the time. A smile. A laugh. Even when they’re down on points. My gaze wanders to his ass, snug in faded, torn blue jeans. Tattoos peek out of short sleeves and muscles stretch the thin fabric of his T-shirt. Butterflies hatch in my stomach. No, this isn’t good. Not here in front of all these kids. Jesus, he makes me antsy.
When I’m antsy, I get angry and stubborn. Auntie Linda says so all the time.
Jackson McCoy turns my way. Big aviator glasses hide his eyes, but bruises form halos behind them, and his nose looks broke. He looks like he’s been playing against the defensive line and someone’s earholed him. With a nod to the guy next to him, he makes his way over to me and Walter.
“Hey, Walt,” he calls.
“Jackson, my boy, glad to have you back. You know Irus Beaumont? It’s his first time here. I was hoping you’d help him out with the kids. You know their trust issues.”
“Hey, Iris, how you doing?” My reflection plays in his mirrored aviators.
“It’s I-rus. Rus. Man, do you have a problem?”
A shining grin breaks his face. I feel awash in it, and it pisses me off.
“Come on, boys. Let’s work together all nice like, okay?” Walter gives me a stern look like it’s all my fault this guy continues to antagonize me. He double-checks me, waiting for a response, before he feels comfortable turning away. I get the feeling he’s in a hurry.
“Sure, Walter. I’ll play nice.” The words nearly stick in my throat.
“Good, good. All right now, boys, I gotta run and hook up some more players. Jackson, you know your group. Show Irus here the ropes. Bye, y’all.”
Walter takes off at a good clip for a fat man, his dark skin sweating in the sunlight, absorbing all the heat. Jackson begins to walk in the opposite direction, and I rush to catch up, getting a nice shot of his ass once more. I resist the urge to smack his ass. Instead, I drop a bit of a shoulder into him to check him up. Just like I do on the field. He takes the impact and rolls with it, not taken off his feet.
It was just a baby hit. Just saying hello. His lack of reaction irks me a little.
“What’d he mean by trust issues? You know these kids?” I ask.
“Don’t you? I sent you a packet with their backgrounds. Didn’t you get it?”
Shit, that’s what that was, damn.
“It said Jackson McCoy on the envelope, so I stuffed it down the garbage disposal.”
“I hope it plugged up your sink.” Again he hits me with his sparkling smile.
“So you gonna tell me about these kids before we meet them?”
“I’ve met them. I work with these guys a lot. Most of them come from broken homes. Some of them have parents in prison.” He looks at me. “Moms and dads. Some are in foster care, and others are stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
“A rock and a hard place? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jackson stops walking. There’s a group of boys, white, black, and mixed race, who see us coming. There’s recognition on their faces. They all seem to know Jackson, who gives them a small wave, letting them know he’s coming, but it’ll be just a moment.
He turns on me, his voice low and tight. “It means these kids love their parents no matter how hard they hit. They’re not gonna say anything against them.”
“Abuse? Why doesn’t someone step up?”
“We are, Iris. Right now.”
Jackson spins away, and I get a waft of his scent. God, he smells good.
This shit isn’t helping. Golden Boy shines so bright in the sunshine. I can’t ignore him. The way his ass moves beneath his jeans. Small and tight. The rigid line of his back. The thin T-shirt revealing the wings of his shoulder blades. I’d love to run my tongue down his spine. Taste the sweat collecting in the furrows of his muscles.
. I hate that he has this effect on me.
The urge to make the bastard miserable today overtakes my better judgment. I’m gonna have to get under his skin. Mess his shit up good. Rattle his cage a bit. Can’t seem to fluster him on the field. Maybe outside the game I can rankle him. Make him feel as discombobulated as he does me.
Good Lord, if he wasn’t so fine.
A few little kids run up, wrapping tiny arms around Jackson’s legs, and for a moment, I wonder why these kids take to him so well. Jackson drops to his knees, getting grass stains on his faded jeans, and starts talking to them on their level. Seems like he remembers every kid’s name. Asks them questions about school and family members. They talk to him or shrug their shoulders.
An older boy stands off to the side, smoking a cigarette, and he’s clearly the subject of discussion from one or two of the boys. The kid’s a pretty big boy. A redhead with pasty, freckled skin and squinty eyes.
“I’ll take care of it, guys. First I want to introduce you to Iris Beaumont.”
I wave a little. “Irus. Just call me Rus.”
“I know you! I told my momma I want dreads just like yours and to hit as hard as you.” The boy must be about ten or twelve, skinny and dark just like I was, and long-legged.
“Oh, yeah? You run fast?”
“Think you can take McCoy out if he goes after the ball?”
The boy looks at Jackson and grins. “Oh, yep.”
Jackson laughs. “All right, Kyler, you get to be on Iris’s side. You go play corner. Get on your island.” Jackson lowers his glasses a bit and winks at me. A thrill surges through my body, but I keep my angry mask in place. Gotta have my game face on whenever he’s around.
Jackson divvies up the rest of the children, some of them jumping around to be on his side because they seem to trust him more than me. I realize he’s already established himself with these kids.
“I’ll be right back,” he says. “Gotta get Jared on board with you. He doesn’t like new men.”
I get the footballs out and let the boys horse around for a while as I watch Jackson out of the corner of my eye. He approaches Jared, who’s almost as tall as him, and points to the cigarette. The kid hands it over, thinking Jackson wants a hit, but Jackson snaps it in half. Jared lashes out, knocking the aviators off Jackson’s face, but that’s about it. Jackson outmaneuvers the kid easily. I rush over, but just stand there staring at Jackson’s face along with the kid.
The kid kneels down and picks up Jackson’s glasses. “I’m sorry, Jacks. Who hit you?” His face is still stern, petulant, and angry. His squinty eyes shift to me. Color burns hot in his cheeks.
“Jared, I’ve talked about you hitting first and asking questions later. What’ve I told you?”
“Only on the field.”
I chuckle. I’m thinking D-line for this kid. I can see him taking out a quarterback. Jackson must be thinking the same thing.
“This guy right here is a defensive player. I’d like you to work with him today,” Jacks says, clapping a hand on my shoulder. The heat of his palm sizzles through me. I fight to not shift under his grasp.
“No. I asked you a question. I’ll work with him if you answer me.”
“Jared—” Jackson starts, drops his hand from my shoulder, and leaves me desperate for his touch.
“How many times you make me talk when I don’t want to? About my mom? My dad? He’s outta prison you know? Comes to take me for visitation. Leaves me to watch his other kids, and you want me to talk about how it makes me feel? You won’t even answer one of my questions? Fuck you, Jacks.”
“Hey now,” I say.
Jackson sighs. “You’re right. You know I’m always here, kid. I’ll always be here.” He glances at me and continues, “Truth is, I got in a fight with the D-line of my team.”
A fight? With the whole D-line?
“Why?” Jared demands.
“Sometimes, people don’t like folks who are different. You gotta admit, I’m different.”
Different? How? Like gay, different?
Isn’t that what Els said? Shit.
I’ve heard a few ambiguous remarks myself… Fuck, jumping to wishful conclusions here. Now my fantasies are gonna shift into overdrive. The ghost feeling of his warm hand on my shoulder tingles with renewed electricity. The sensation goes straight to my gut. Focus, Irus!
This isn’t the time to go all mushy over a pretty blond wideout. No football players. Never.
“Different how?” Jared asks.
“Well, I’m small. I’m always cracking wise—”
“And that’s irritating as hell. At least he gets your name right, Jared,” I interject for some levity.
The kid sort of laughs. “I’m different.”
“Naw, you’re just a redheaded stepchild. They make good offensive linemen,” Jackson says.
“Oh, no, you don’t. This kid’s D-line for sure. He almost sacked your ass.”
Now Jared does laugh. Jackson looks from him to me and back. “Fine, go get ’em, kid.”
Jared shuffles off to join my other D-liners. After I watch him go, I turn back to Jackson. “Fighting with the D-line? You think that’s smart?”
“I fight with you, don’t I? I think it’s rather fun, making you all flustered.” He looks me up and down with an unmistakable heat in his gaze, slips on his shades, and walks away.
* * * *
The day warms up nicely. We have the kids gathered along the sidelines. Some are sitting still, while others are like vibrating mechanical monkeys unable to keep all their parts in one place for too long.
Jackson grins at me, clearly entertained by their shenanigans. “We need to get these guys on the field soon.”
“What’re they all
Jackson chuckles. “No, they’re just excited. It’s hard to sit still and listen to me explain the game, but some of these little guys are new.”
The kids are jumping around, making tons of noise. Jackson settles them down as a tall figure strides across the field. It’s Big Terry Branson, McCoy’s quarterback.
“What’s he doing here?” I ask.
Jackson turns to look and shrugs. “Don’t know. Last time I talked to him, he wasn’t going to be able to make it.”
Jackson spins around to meet up with Branson about ten yards from where the kids are sitting. They talk for a minute or so. There’s something dark in McCoy’s expression, but when he looks at me, he smiles. The smile that gets under my skin. He and Terry Branson walk up to me. I shake hands with the big man.
“Nice to see you again, Branson.”
“Yeah, sure. Who are you?”
“Terry, don’t be a dick. You know Irus Beaumont.”
I’m surprised McCoy says my name right almost as much as I’m surprised he calls Branson on being a dick.
“Oh, okay. Yeah, nice to meet you, Beaumont. You play for the Highlanders, yeah?”
“That’s right.” I bite my tongue on what I want to say but only because the kids are in earshot.
McCoy introduces Branson. Some of the kids are excited because they know Branson by reputation as the most legendary quarterback in the game. Jared’s less than thrilled. He remains unimpressed with everyone, except maybe McCoy. I get that he trusts McCoy. I just don’t get why.
“Thanks, Jackson. Hey, kids, it’s a beautiful day for football, yeah?” Branson asks.
“Yeah!” they holler as loud as they can. Some of them jump up in their excitement. Man, kids are funny. I can see why McCoy looks so happy when he’s interacting with them.
“Okay, well, why don’t you all sit down, and we’ll go over the fundamentals here,” Branson says. “Now—“
“Terry?” Jackson interrupts. I think he’s trying to stop Branson from going over all the material we just covered.
“Hold on.” Branson looks at him. “Just let me take control here for a moment. All right?”
McCoy shrugs. “Knock yourself out.”
“Okay, kids, let’s talk football.”
This is where he loses half the boys. These guys are savvy. They’re picking up on some sort of tension between Branson and McCoy. The way Branson uses his massive height to hover over McCoy. I’m betting the kids side with McCoy over Branson. Just a hunch. Maybe it’s Branson’s annoying drawl?
“The object of football is to get this ball”—Branson gets one of the kids to toss him the ball—“into your opponent’s end zone for a touchdown. Now, a touchdown’s worth six points. If you get a touchdown, you get a chance to score a PAT. Point after touchdown. It’s a point-after kick through the goalposts.”
Some of the kids look bored, while the younger ones are all ears, still absorbed in Big Terry’s aura, his hero status. I take the time to check out McCoy. His glasses hide much of his expression, but his lips are flat, held tight together. He catches me looking, and instant sunshine in the form of a smile bathes me. Goddamn it.
I mean-mug him and turn back to the kids. I hear him laugh. Branson, too into himself, doesn’t even notice.
“Now, you get the ball downfield through a series of downs
, the ten-yard increments from the line of scrimmage where the ball and offense lines up against the defense. The defense tries to stop you. If you’re an offensive player, you have to do everything in your power to keep a play alive and make it succeed.”
“How many downs do I get?” a boy in front asks Terry.
The man gives a slight twitch, like a gnat’s buzzing around his head, and continues. “You get four downs to move the ball ten yards. If you don’t by the third down, you punt the ball on the fourth, kicking it away so the other team has to come back deep out of their own end zone. If you succeed in moving the ball on third down or on any of the downs past the line to gain, you get a first down and another chance to move the ball.”
Branson cuts McCoy off. “You’ll get your turn.”
Jackson steps up in Branson’s grill and whispers, “I thought you were too busy for these kids.”
“I had a change of heart. Now move out of the way.”
McCoy holds his ground.
“Jacks?” Jared stands up.
“Sit down. It’s all good. We’ll scrimmage soon, okay?”
Jared nods and sits down. McCoy’s face is flushed. He’s pissed. This ought to be interesting. I’ve never seen McCoy lose his temper. I know how I’d like to see him lose it. Writhing beneath me with my dick buried in his ass.
Man, I need to quit thinking about his ass.
Branson sweeps Jackson out of his way and continues yammering at the kids. “The football field is one hundred twenty total yards. Of that, the end zones are ten yards deep. It’s set up in a grid of five-yard increments. Six feet surrounds the field, and on either side is a series of benches for the players outside that six feet. Inside the six feet is only for situational substitution players and the coaching staff. Between them is the chain gang who keeps track of the ten yards with a length of chain, and the officials who make sure the game play is legal. Then there’s nothing but field with either natural grass or artificial turf. The artificial turf is more durable, but hurts like a son of a gun.”
“What if you can’t get a touchdown?” Jared asks. There’s a tinge of mockery in his voice. I think I like this kid
. Branson seems oblivious to the ridicule. Doubtful this man is used to people, let alone children, questioning him.
“If you can get close enough for one, you can split the uprights for a field goal, which is worth three points. If not, you punt it away on fourth down so the other team has to start from deep in their own territory.”
“Split the uprights?” A tiny little blond kid shifts around as if his ADHD meds have worn off.
“The goalposts are in the slingshot design with a crossbar and two uprights. Goalposts are painted yellow.”
“Those ones are white,” Jared says.
Branson stares at him. “Sometimes they’re white.”
McCoy smirks a bit, and Jared grins. He looks like a rat baring his teeth, yellowed from smoking.
“Now, if you’re at first and goal, which means you’re in the red zone and could potentially score a touchdown, you have three chances to score. Second and goal means you’ve failed once but have another shot. After third and goal, the coach has a decision to make. Does anyone know what that is?”
I shoot my hand in the air, making the kids laugh. “I know. I know.”
“Pipe down, Beaumont.”
Jared stands up. “You either kick a field goal, go for it on fourth, or you punt. Look, Jacks already taught us all this shit. Are we gonna scrimmage or not?”
Branson ignores Jared again. This guy’s just making all kinds of friends. Jared looks at me and shakes his head.
“McCoy. Beaumont. Line up and show these kids a little bump and run.”
Well, all right. I can get behind this shit.
I’d love to get my hands on McCoy. Branson tells McCoy the call and waits for us to line up opposite.
“Green eighty. Green eighty,” Branson hollers. “Hut. Hut.”
McCoy explodes off the line.
Nuh-uh. Not so fast, man.
I get my hands all over him. I press him. Hit his chest, which is hard, and he swings his arm down over mine, sweeping away my hand. Then he’s off downfield, running straight ahead, and I’m with him every step, my arm around his waist as he turns to look for the ball. He jumps, and I go with him, trying to get my hand between him and the ball.
Somehow that sneaky bastard snatches the ball outta the air. I drag him to the ground, landing on top of him, our breaths temporarily knocked out. The feel of his body beneath me, no pads between us, just T-shirts, jeans, and, for me, thin-ass sweats, is exhilarating. Which means I’ve got this shit bad, and I need to step back a bit. Yet I’m looking forward to the next ball to be lobbed downfield. Fuck me. I could do this all day.
“You see how Beaumont had an arm around McCoy? That’s okay as long as he doesn’t turn him away from the ball.”
“He’s trying to disrupt the play,” Jared says, clearly annoyed.
“Right. That’s called defense. It’s pass interference if Beaumont turns him or holds him or, without looking for the ball himself, prevents McCoy from completing the catch. A defensive player must be looking for the ball too, if he’s going to intercept it.”
We run a few more plays, and the kids are amped up, but they’re like a pack of monkeys wanting to take over the field. Branson just won’t let them for some reason.
Once more, Branson sends us downfield. It’s a curl route, meaning McCoy turns around and comes back to Branson for the ball. It’s a short-yardage throw, maybe twelve yards, and I hit McCoy the minute his hands are on the ball, coming over the back of him, trying to punch it out. He holds on to it, sure-handed, and rolls me into a tumble with him. He gets up grinning like a kid.
“That was fun, but we gotta get these kids out here to play.”
“Whatcha gonna do? Tell Branson to take a hike?”
“If I’ve got to, Iris.”
“I-rus! Rus, boy. Rus!”
He grins and jogs upfield, the ball still in his hand.
Damn, if he just wasn’t so pretty.
We get back to Branson, and he’s already running off at the mouth. “We have passing routes, or patterns. Hook: A tight end releases downfield and makes a turn back upfield. Post: a long pass, maybe forty yards or so, where the receiver runs a vertical route and at the last minute cuts a forty-five-degree angle toward the post.”
“A what?” asks the kid scratching his nose with one eye closed, presumably blocking out the sun. His face is screwed up in a look of confusion. These kids are
“Goal post, kid. Goal post.”
“Hey, Terry,” McCoy calls.
Branson jogs over to meet us. “What?”
“I think Walt wanted you to spend more time with the other groups too. You know, spread the wealth type thing, and give other kids the benefit of your expertise.”
“Are you sure?” Branson sort of leans in to him. “I kind of wanted to talk to you later.”
“Give me a call afterward, okay?”
“Hey, kids. Tell Mr. Branson thanks for helping out!”
“Thanks, Mister Branson,” the younger ones chime in, but Jared and a few others simply glare as Branson gives a little wave, running off to ruin someone else’s day.
“Thank God you finally ditched him,” Jared says.
I’m right there with the kid, but Jackson shuts him down. “Show him some respect. He’s a great quarterback.”
“Was a great quarterback. Because of you,” Jared says with a fair bit of disrespect toward Big Terry Branson.
Michele M. Rakes