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For The Fans: Chapter 6


CarpetburnCarl: The only time I’d kick you out of the bed would be so I could do you on the floor.

4 Months later…

(Sophomore Year, Boston College)

A lot of great athletes have their own superstitions or rituals leading up to big games.

I know guys who refuse to eat anything for twenty-four hours before game day. No matter how much Coach gets on them about fueling up, they just won’t eat. They say the hunger sharpens their focus, as if their bodies’ need for sustenance directly correlates with their hunger to win.

I know guys who abstain from sex the day before a big game… I mean, they won’t even jerk off. And I also know guys who insist on blowing their load, like minutes before we hit the field.

I don’t practice any of that stuff, but I definitely get it. Keeping yourself sharp is mental and physical. But the emotional aspect… that’s where my superstitions lie.

Times of high stress have a tendency to trigger me. It’s something no one in the world but me knows about, which is a very good thing. I feel like keeping it hidden is the main reason I’m able to focus so well. The control I have over my emotions teeters… It’s unavoidable. But pretending everything is fine is where I excel, especially when it comes time to lace up and run out onto field in front of hundreds, even thousands of cheering fans.

I’m used to having all eyes on me. The Somerville High football team did really well, and our senior year, we brought home a championship. That’s what got me my scholarship to BC, and cemented me as the freshman quarterback. They put me in on game three of the season last year, and we ended up crushing one of our biggest rivals, forty-one to seventeen. After that, the eyes on me began to multiply, and now I’ve heard the BC stadium tonight will be packed.

A full house, first game of the season.

Boston College football is a huge deal. The Eagles have been an NCAA division name for as long as I can remember, and they’ve made it to the ACC finals the last four years in a row. But no National Championship in those runs… Not yet.

This need inside me to overcome my emotional hang-ups is what drives me. It’s a ravenous hunger to rip apart my issues with bared teeth and show them that they don’t control my life. I control my life. Which is why when everyone else is listening to Coach Matthews give his first pep talk of the season to rile us up and motivate us to kick some Cardinal ass tonight, I’m zoned in on my hands.

Call it my own superstition… Call it a nervous tick or a habit, call it whatever you want. But I have this thing where I’ll stare at the lines on my palms and imagine them as roads I know. Sometimes I’ll even envision little cars driving up and down them, cruising the highways and streets I’ve been driving and walking on my whole life.

I’m not sure that I really remember where this coping mechanism came from, or what started it. And if I do, I’m sure I don’t want to think about that right now. Right now, all I’m concerned with is the backed-up traffic on the Mass Pike of my hand.

It’s being caused by literally nothing. People can’t drive for shit on the Pike.

“Harbor,” Coach shouts my name, and my eyes fling up to his. “You good?”

“Better than,” I grunt, pulling on my gloves, covering up the lines of my own personal road map.

“That’s what I like to hear,” Coach says. “I want your heads in the game tonight, boys. We’re gonna hit ’em so hard it’ll make their tails spin. Now let’s get out there!”

The room erupts in cheers, and we all jump up, gathering ourselves to head out onto the field.

“Eagles bitin’ the heads off Cardinals tonight, playa.” Guty shoulders me, and I grin at him.

Samson Gutierrez is our wide receiver, and also my roommate. He’s one of the best dudes I know; an awesome football player, with an infectious laugh and one of those personalities you can see like a glimmering aura. We hit it off immediately last year, and our on-field chemistry is something Coach is banking on to bring us to the finals again this year.

Only this time, I’m not leaving without that championship trophy.

The team files out, through the halls within the stadium that lead us to the field. My nerves are rattling with adrenaline, but that’s to be expected. It’s a big deal, after all. First game of the season after I made a name for myself freshman year. Coach already had the talk with me… about scouts and where I see myself going. To me, it felt a little premature, but I guess it’s not, all things considered.

Guys who live and breathe football are thinking about this stuff since they’re old enough to hold a ball, and I totally get it. I’ve known since I was a kid that I wanted to play for the NFL someday.

This is you…

Chomping the emotions back one last time, I step through the entryway, taking in the Friday night lights and the loud, bellowing cheers of fifty thousand people.

Fifty thousand… Holy shit. That’s a big number.

My eyes scan the stands, a sea of maroon and gold on our side. I would have no idea where my father is sitting, but I’m sure he’s here. He comes to most of my games… The only thing he does for me. Still, I’m not sure it’s really for me

The music is blaring from the speakers, but I can barely hear it over the noise from the stands. Our cheerleaders are out there, doing their thing; shaking butts and pompoms in tandem. I spot Lexi right in the middle and she blows me a kiss.

“If we win, you’re gonna get so laid,” Guty laughs.

“Got that sock on the doorknob already.” I wink at him, and he cackles, grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me around.

Helmets go on and Coach gathers us for our pregame chant.

“Eagles on three,” he shouts fast. “One, two, three—”

“Eagles!” we all roar, hands breaking up out of the circle.

Coach pats me on the back while we all run out onto the field, the crowd bellowing for us. The entire stadium is bumping like a dubstep festival. There are signs and people with painted faces. It’s a madhouse.

But I can’t focus on any of that. Because it’s game time.

We win the coin toss, and punt first. Guty retrieves the ball, and we’re starting at our twenty-five-yard line.

Here we go.

The first drive gets us in field-goal range. Our kicker, my friend, Theo Reeves, sends the ball sailing right down the middle of the goal post. And less than four minutes into the game, we’re already ahead.

On the bench, I whip off my helmet to grab some water, my eyes fixed on our defense taking the field. Coach is quiet, which makes sense. He doesn’t tend to get loud until the second half.

“Oh my God!” Guty lets out one of his booming laughs. “I love that guy.”

“Who?” I have no idea what he’s talking about, because I’m too busy watching Jenkins, our cornerback, who looks like he’s about to move before the snap. He doesn’t—thankfully—but still, my eyes are narrowed in on him.

“Baldwin,” Guty keeps cackling. “I wonder why he’s named that… It’s like Alec Baldwin. 30 Rock… Amirite?!”

“What the fuck are you rambling about??” I whip my face right, where Guty is sitting next to me, watching the team mascot and laughing like it’s the funniest thing he’s ever seen.

I can’t help but squint at the dude in the eagle costume. He’s pretending to lean up against the giant tub of Gatorade, but then he elbows it by accident and the whole thing almost comes toppling over.

“He knows he’s not a mime, right?” I tilt my head in amusement as the character frolics around on the sidelines.

“I don’t even care, man.” Guty sighs out his chuckles. “That dude is on point. I’m gonna hire him for my nephew’s birthday party.”

Suddenly, the crowd erupts, and I spring out of my seat.

“Interception!” the ref calls, and we all begin shouting.

“Fuck yea, baby!” Guty high-fives me, stuffing his helmet back on.

“Let’s do this, Brutus.”

I cast one last lingering glance at Baldwin the Eagle, shaking my head as I cover it with my helmet and jog back onto the field.

Half-time. And we’re up by one.

The score is twenty-four to seventeen. Not a cushy lead at all, but I’ll take it for now. As long as our defense follows Coach’s instructions and tightens it up.

We come back out for the tail-end of the cheerleaders, and all the guys are swooning. We have some stupidly hot girls cheering for us, one of whom I’ve gotten to know sort of well…

Lexi and I are a thing, I guess. She’s trying to lock it down, and I’m not really interested in getting serious, so at times it’s a bit awkward. Honestly, I think she likes the attention she gets from being seen dating me more than she actually wants to be in a relationship with me, which isn’t a big shocker.

We hooked up a few times last year, then she kept showing up at training camp over the summer, so I kind of fell into it out of boredom and convenience, a deadly combination. Part of me hopes that if I just ignore her incessant texts about us being exclusive, she’ll get the hint and back off. But then I’m also aware it never really works out that way.

My head is in the game, mentally running plays and visualizing how the other team is going to move, when the dancing eagle catches my eye once more. He’s strutting around in front of the cheerleaders, and I have to laugh. I don’t know the guy who was Baldwin last year… I think his name was Brian or Bobby or something. I have to assume it’s the same dude in there, though his moves are certainly more extravagant than last season.

The crowd cheers as the girls and Baldwin finish up their dance, and Coach huddles us together.

“Lock up the formation,” he yells over the noise. “They move, you move. Harbor and Guty, I want you two together as much as possible. Everyone else, pave the way.”

We shout and break, and as my head lifts, I see through the wall of my teammates that Baldwin the Eagle has removed his head.

He’s standing off the sidelines, getting a drink of water. And the sight of shaggy, jaw-length black hair and unmistakable dimples has my eyes widening and my stomach clenching up like a fist.

Avi… Is that… fucking Avi??

“Harbor!” Coach roars at me, and I snap back into focus, rushing after the guys.

Get it together. There’s no time for any of that.

But even as I’m preparing for the snap, I can’t help how my eyes are sliding off the field again… To my goddamn stepbrother wearing an eagle costume.

What in the holy fuck is he doing here?!

I’m distracted. I don’t want to be, but I just am, and I end up hesitating and getting my ass sacked.

“Harbor!” Coach hollers at me again from the sidelines.

“I know…” I huff, shaking off the ache of being tackled, nodding at him.

I’ve got this. Who gives a fuck that Avi is the mascot right now? It’s weird, yes, but I can’t think about it. I have a game to win.

I pull my head out of my ass, and on the next drive, I send the ball sailing all the way to Guty for a thirty-yard first down. The crowd goes wild.

I’m struggling not to, but I glance over to the sidelines once more, where Baldwin… aka Avi… is doing the Moonwalk.

Jesus fucking Christ, take the wheel. Please.

I think the stupefied irritation of seeing Avi at a football game—the place that’s supposed to be mine, not his—is actually helping me right now. I’m raging so intensely, my entire body is keyed up, which, in turn, seems to be sharpening my focus. By the time there are only sixty seconds left on the clock, the score is thirty-four to twenty-seven, with the Cardinals trailing us by only one touchdown.

On our final drive, I get us up to their thirty-yard line. That’s when I spot my in; the perfect opening to solidify our win.

Launching my arm up, I shoot the ball into the air, in the direction of where Guty has managed to break away, and is sprinting his legs off into the end zone.

Time is standing still. The crowd is silent. Everyone’s eyes are on the ball as it spirals…

Right into Guty’s arms.

Boom. Win.

The Eagles take our first game of the season.

Everyone freaks out after that. The stands are thumping, my teammates are attacking me with roars and cheers and slaps all over my body. And I’m celebrating… But also itching to get off the field and confront our mascot.

When I finally slip free, my feet bring me stomping in his direction. People are shouting congratulatory comments at me from all sides, but my narrowed gaze is stuck on the dancing eagle.

I reach him fast and give him a hard shove from behind. “What the fuck are you doing??” I shout over the ruckus.

He spins to face me, still wearing the eagle head, so I can’t see his face.

“Umm… celebrating!” He starts raising the roof. “Good game, bro. You really—”

I rip his head off to reveal my stepbrother, hair sort of slicked at his temples with sweat, and giving me a very wide-eyed stare. But also, still grinning awkwardly, because this is Avi we’re talking about.

“Thanks…” he sighs, blowing a strand of hair away from his eyes. “It’s hot as balls in here.”

“Avi… What the fuck are you doing dressed as Baldwin the goddamn Eagle??” I growl at him again, losing my patience for his constant fucking around.

I should be celebrating right now, but instead, I’m dealing with his goofy ass.

Avi’s dark eyebrow cocks, and his head slants right. “I’m the mascot. Duh.” He chuckles. “What do you think… I snuck in here and stole the costume to be funny?? Although…” He rubs his chin. “That would be pretty funny. I hope no one does it to me…”

“Avi!” I crowd him, and he backs up. “Why are you the mascot? Is this some kind of sick joke?? Why are you fucking with me like this?!”

He blinks over eyes that are sort of shiny. The stadium lights bring out the blue in their gray, a note I shake my head at because I don’t give a fuck what color his eyes are… He’s ruining my life!

“Kyran, I’m not fucking with you,” he grumbles and rolls the foggy blue. “I saw the flyer, filled out an application to be the mascot, and they gave me the job. What’s the big deal? I thought it might be fun…”

“Fun to intrude on the one thing you haven’t taken from me yet?!” I roar in his face, backing him up until he hits the Gatorade thing again.

What?? No…” His brows furrow. “What are you talking—”

Suddenly, arms wrap around my waist from behind, a feminine whine cutting into our heated conversation.

“Babe! You crushed it!” Lexi squeals, hugging onto me while I shift to find her fluttering lashes up at my face.

She has maroon and gold sparkles all over her face in the form of elaborate cheerleader makeup. It’s sort of excessive, but I guess I appreciate the team spirit.

“Hey, Lex… Thanks,” I mutter, trying to pry her off of me. My eyes flick to Avi, who raises a brow and smirks. “Can I meet up with you later? I’ve got… team stuff to do.”

She nods, kissing my jaw. “Sure! Of course, sexy.” Avi snorts, and her face tilts in his direction. “Who’s this now?”

“This is, uh… the mascot. Baldwin…” I mumble, my jaw setting as I shoot Avi a scathing look.

His bright-white grin widens at Lexi. “Avi Vega. Kyran’s stepbrother.” He does a little wave, and she giggles.

I’m gonna fucking kill him.

“Ooh… Stepbrother,” Lexi swoons, the two of them exchanging flirty looks and smiles, and it’s too much for me.

Spinning Lexi away from Avi, I give her a gentle shove. “Alright, enough of that. I’ll see you later, okay?”

“Wait! Not without a picture from your first win of the season!” She pulls her phone out of somewhere. “Will you take it, stepbrother?”

She hands the phone to Avi, but he simply glances at it, then holds up his mitts. “Can’t, sorry. Bird hands.”

“Fine,” Lexi sighs. “We’ll do a selfie.”

She angles the phone to snap a picture of the two of us. I’m not even paying attention in it, I’m too busy glaring at Eagle-boy and his shit-eating grin.

“Perfect,” she cheers anyway, then kisses me once more on the cheek. “I’ll see you in a bit, hot stuff.”

She scampers off, and I let out a long exhale.

“Say what you want, but that girl’s got charisma,” Avi hums.

“Shut up,” I growl, all patience for him and his antics having now completely dissipated.

I turn my body to attack him, but he’s already running away.

“I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve gotta flyyyy like an eagle!” he sings while literally dashing up the sidelines to get away from me.

Expelling a rough breath, I run my fingers through my damp hair.

First win of the season… So why does it feel like a big fat L?


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