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The Foxhole Court: Chapter 12


When Neil’s alarm went off at one the following morning, it took a minute of groggy staring before he remembered why he was getting up. He stuffed his alarm clock under his pillow, wished Kevin and Wymack both an early death, and dragged himself to the edge of his bed. Matt’s alarm sounded when Neil was halfway down the ladder. Seth grumbled something rude across the room when Matt didn’t immediately turn it off. Matt’s pillow muffled whatever he said in response but his tone was unfriendly.

Neil stopped at the bottom of the ladder to scrub sleep out of his eyes. Matt finally found his alarm and silenced it. Seth huffed, noisily rolled over, and started snoring again right away. Matt glowered blearily across the room at him before looking at Neil.

Matt looked as miserable as Neil felt. Wymack warned them last night they’d have an early start today, but there was no way the Foxes could start the season without a small party. Andrew’s group predictably sat out of it, but Neil and his roommates had ended up hanging out in the girls’ room. The upperclassmen put away most of a bottle of vodka even without Neil and Renee helping them. At the time they all thought it would be worth it. After getting less than an hour of sleep, Neil wasn’t so sure.

Someone pounded on their suite door. Neil went down the hall to answer it. The hall light was brighter than Neil expected. Neil rubbed his eyes again, both to get the spots out of them and so he wouldn’t have to look at Wymack. It should be impossible for Wymack to look so awake at this hour, but there he was looking completely refreshed.

‘Stop yawning and get moving,’ Wymack said, clapping his hands in Neil’s face. ‘We’re on a schedule. I want everyone on the bus in five.’

Neil shut the door in his face and went to get dressed.
He was still dead tired when he left his room a minute later, but his mind was waking up to survival mode. Renee gave him a tired smile and half-wave in greeting. Dan stumbled over to Matt, looped her arms around his neck, and fell asleep against him almost immediately. Andrew’s group was the last to show. Neil took one look at the wrist braces Kevin was wearing and instantly felt more awake.
Wymack pointed at Kevin. ‘How the hell did they wake you up?’
‘They didn’t let me sleep.’ Kevin sent Andrew a sour look, but Andrew ignored him.
‘Smart,’ Wymack said, and waved them toward the stairs. ‘Let’s go.’
Abby was out back by the team bus. It was Neil’s first time seeing the bus, since it was usually locked in a gated compound to prevent vandalism. It was painted to match the stadium, orange trim and paw prints against a white background. On the inside, instead of the traditional two rows, the bus had only one. The cushions were big enough to comfortably seat two athletes or let one curl up and nap. In his tired state Neil thought it was the greatest bus ever invented.
Andrew led his group all the way to the back. Abby took the first row. Matt and Dan went in behind her, and Renee sat alone behind them. Neil left an empty row between Renee and himself. He leaned against the window and stared at the seatback ahead of him as Wymack got settled in the driver’s seat. He heard the engine cut on, saw the dorm disappear in his peripheral vision, and then tilted over to sprawl on the cushion. He was asleep before they reached the highway.
It was almost six when they reached Raleigh, North Carolina. Wymack stopped at the next fast food joint he passed. Abby and Renee went inside to buy the team’s breakfast and coffee. As soon as they left, Wymack stood in the aisle to face his team.
‘All right,’ he said, then promptly forgot what he was saying when he got a good look at the back of the bus. ‘Damn it all to hell. Hemmick! You were supposed to wake them up ten miles ago.’
‘I don’t want to die,’ Nicky said.
Dan tried to pass her laugh off as a cough. Wymack wasn’t fooled, and the look he shot her as he stomped to the back of the bus was annoyed. Dan was undeterred and grinned at Renee. Curious, Neil halfturned in his seat to watch. Wymack went all the way to the last row, pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, and threw it at Andrew. Judging by the resounding thud, Andrew woke up as violently as always.
Wymack put his hand out in a demand. ‘Give it back.’
Leather creaked as Andrew moved. Andrew sat up a couple seconds later with Wymack’s wallet in hand. Wymack stuffed it into his pocket once more and went up a row to Kevin. He planted his shoe against whatever part of Kevin was closest and started pushing him.
‘Up,’ he said over and over, getting louder each time until he was almost shouting. ‘Get your ass up and moving!’
Kevin’s hand darted into view as he tried to shove Wymack away. Wymack grabbed his elbow and hauled Kevin out of his chair into the aisle. Before Kevin could fall over Wymack pushed him back, dropping him heavily onto his cushion. Kevin slumped against the back of his chair immediately, looking for all intents and purposes like he’d nod right back off. Wymack smacked the back of his head to wake him up.
‘I hate you,’ Kevin said with feeling.
‘Breaking news: I don’t care. This was your brilliant idea.’
Andrew leaned to one side to rest against his window and looked out at the parking lot. ‘Are we here?’
‘Close enough,’ Wymack said. ‘You know what to do.’
Andrew didn’t answer, but Wymack didn’t push it. He was distracted by Kevin, who was already drifting off again. Wymack gave his shoulder a rough shake. Kevin slept through it, so finally Wymack dragged him out of his chair and sent him on laps up and down the length of the bus. Neil watched him pass. Kevin was walking, but his eyes were barely open.
‘Morning, sunshine,’ Matt said with exaggerated cheer.
‘Fuck you,’ Kevin said.
Dan yawned into her hand. ‘Glad to see you’re still a morning person.’
‘Fuck you too.’
Kevin turned at the driver’s seat and headed to the back of the bus. He tried to sit down again, but Wymack turned him around with a hand on his shoulder. Kevin got the hint and kept making laps. Walking kept him awake but just barely. He looked half-asleep every time he passed Neil’s seat.
‘Kevin,’ Andrew said, moving for the first time since he’d slumped against the window.
Kevin was only halfway through his lap, but he pivoted at the sound of his name and went back. Wymack moved out of the way so Kevin could get to Andrew’s seat. Kevin dug Andrew’s medicine out of his pocket and handed the bottle over. He and Wymack watched as Andrew tipped a pill into his hand and swallowed it dry. Neil halfexpected Andrew to give the bottle back, but Andrew shifted in his chair as he stuffed it in his own pocket.
Odd, Neil thought, that Kevin would have Andrew’s medicine at all. Kevin had it at Sweetie’s, too. Neil wanted to ask why Kevin held onto it, but he didn’t think either of them would explain.
Abby and Renee were back a minute later with bags of food and trays of drinks. The Foxes munched on sausage biscuits and Dan’s promised doughnuts. The coffee helped wake them up, as did the reminder they were about to meet one of the highest-rated talk show hosts in the nation. Dan, Matt, and Renee buzzed with excitement as the bus got on the road again.
It was fifteen more minutes to the two-storey building that housed Kathy Ferdinand’s daily show. Wymack parked by the security gate and got out to talk to the guard. Neil watched out the window as he and the guard checked IDs and paperwork. Wymack was back on a couple minutes later with a parking tag and a pile of guest badges. The gate squealed as it opened and Wymack drove them to the employee parking lot.
Wymack was the first off. He stood to one side of the door and handed out badges as the Foxes passed. Abby followed them out and locked the bus doors behind her. They were halfway to the building when Kathy herself came into the parking lot to greet them. She looked more awake than even Wymack did. Neil hoped it was just her makeup, because that couldn’t be possible or natural.
‘Kevin,’ Kathy said, reaching for him. ‘It’s been so long. I’m so glad you could make it today.’
‘It’s good to see you again,’ Kevin said, and smiled as he took her hand.
Behind Kathy’s back, Dan feigned swooning into Matt’s arms. Neil understood the mockery. In the four long months he’d known Kevin, he’d seen Kevin smile only once or twice before. Kevin’s smile was a brittle and bitter thing. In Neil’s files he had pictures of Kevin smiling alongside Riko, but most of those shots were taken after games when the pair looked more triumphant and condescending than anything. This smile was something else; this was Kevin’s public face. It was meant for interviewers and fans who were better off not knowing the arrogant, ruthless side of a world-class champion. Kevin looked every inch a charming celebrity. Neil found it horribly disorienting.
Kathy turned her smile on the rest of the team. The morning sunshine glinted off perfect teeth only money could buy. ‘You were amazing last night. Kevin, you have the magic touch. This team has been doing so much better since you transferred.’
‘They were already on their way up,’ Kevin said. It was the first positive thing Neil had ever heard Kevin say about the Foxes. Usually Kevin only cared about their shortcomings. He listened for the lie in Kevin’s tone, but Kevin was too good an actor to show Kathy his real feelings about his team. ‘They deserve their Class I status. This year will prove it.’
‘Brilliant,’ Kathy said, distracted. She’d just spotted Neil. The look in her eyes was hungry. ‘Neil Josten, good morning. I suppose you’ve already heard the good news? As of eleven o’clock last night, your name is the thirdhighest search string for NCAA Exy strikers. That puts you right after Riko and Kevin. How does it feel?’
Neil’s stomach bottomed out. ‘I didn’t need to know that.’
‘Did you talk to him?’ Kathy asked Kevin.
‘I didn’t think we needed to talk about it,’ Kevin said.
‘About what?’ Neil asked.
‘I want you on my show this morning,’ Kathy said.
Neil had to have misheard her. He stared blankly at her, waiting for the punch line.
‘Everyone wants to know who you are,’ Kathy said, spreading her hands in a grand gesture. ‘You’re a mystery addition to the Fox line, a rookie out of a tiny town in Arizona. Coach Hernandez says you picked Exy up in a year by reading a guidebook and showing up to practice. Kevin says you’re going to sign with the US Court after graduation. Such ambitions and dreams from such a humble beginning, don’t you think? It’s time for your debut.’
‘No,’ Neil said. It was her turn to stare at him. Neil shook his head. ‘No. I’m not interested.’
Her smile twitched a little. She reached out as if to pat his shoulder, but Neil backed out of her reach. Abby gestured at him, silently warning him to watch his manners. Neil ignored her.
‘Don’t be shy,’ Kathy said. ‘If you can play in front of sixty-five thousand fans in a game ESPN2 picked up and broadcast live, you can sit on my stage for ten minutes. This is the easy part. I’m just going to ask a couple questions about why you started playing and where you hope to go from here, that sort of thing. It’s all written down so you can think on your responses before you step onto the stage. Your fans deserve answers from you.’
‘I don’t have fans, and they don’t want my answers,’ Neil said.
‘Be smart, Neil.’ She spoke with the air of one who’d seen far more of the world than a simple teenager had. Neil wanted to hit her for it. ‘You can’t spend this season running from the press when you’re playing with Kevin Day.’
‘I said no.’
Impatience finally worked its way into her expression. ‘You’re not looking at the big picture. This year can make the world for you. If you want to get anywhere, you need our help. Everything has fallen so perfectly into place for you. Don’t let it collapse so early in the game or you’ll regret it the rest of your life. Kevin, you understand, don’t you?’
‘He’ll do it,’ Kevin said.
‘It’s not your decision,’ Neil said in venomous French. He didn’t realize what he’d done wrong until he felt Wymack’s piercing stare. Andrew’s lot knew Neil spoke French. Neil could explain it to the upperclassmen later and they wouldn’t think twice about it. But Wymack, like Andrew, had also heard Neil speak fluent German. Neil ground his teeth and refused to return Wymack’s look. ‘I’m not going on stage with you.’
Kevin’s smile never faltered, but his French response was cold. ‘You are being an idiot.’
‘I can’t be on TV.’
‘You already were,’ Kevin said. ‘You will do this today, or you and I are finished. I will wash my hands of you on the court and you can struggle your way through mediocrity alone. You can return your court keys to Coach when we get back to campus. You won’t need them anymore.’
It was like getting punched in the chest. ‘That isn’t fair.’
‘Did you or did you not promise me you would try?’
‘But this isn’t—I don’t want—’
‘Did you or didn’t you?’
Neil thought he’d choke on every argument and protest he didn’t say. He was sure his breakfast would come back up in another second. The thought of getting on stage and letting a camera get a good look at him was nauseating, but not as frightening as Kevin cutting him off. Neil only had until mid-October to play with the Foxes, and then he’d lose Exy forever. Every time he saw a calendar he died a little on the inside. He couldn’t give it up any earlier than the Raven game. He wouldn’t survive.
Kevin nodded to Kathy and switched back to English. ‘It’s settled.’
Kathy’s smile returned immediately. ‘Brilliant.’
She motioned for them to follow and led the way toward the building. Kevin caught Neil’s shoulder and pushed him after her. Neil twisted out of his grip and swatted at Kevin’s hand. Kevin made a second grab at him, but Matt reached over Neil and shoved Kevin back. Abby hissed at them to behave, but Kevin and Matt were too busy glaring at each other to notice.
With Kevin pushed back a step, Andrew was now in Neil’s line of sight. Andrew tipped his head to one side as he considered Neil, and Neil made the mistake of looking at him.
Apparently Andrew’s drugs were already kicking in, because Andrew’s smile was bright and mocking. ‘You’re so stupid.’
Andrew was right, so Neil didn’t waste his breath defending himself. He turned and started after Kathy.
Dan caught up with him in a couple strides. ‘Neil? You don’t have to do this, you know.’
Neil only shook his head, too angry to speak.
Kathy handed them off to a couple aides. One man read a list of rules regarding appropriate studio behavior. The Foxes went one way to find their seats, and Neil and Kevin were led another way. They went down a hall and around a corner to a dressing room. Their escort took a couple quick measurements of their bodies and disappeared.
Neil’s temper only worsened when he realized the dressing room was a one-room place with nowhere to hide from Kevin. One whole wall was a vanity lined with mirrors and lights. Six stools were pulled up against the counter. An empty clothes rack stood in the middle of the room. Neil folded his arms over his chest, trying to squeeze himself hard enough to drive his scars under his skin.
The aide returned to drop off clothes, promised the makeup artists would be by in ten minutes, and left again. Kevin’s smile disappeared the second the door closed. He thumbed through the hangers and tossed an outfit at Neil. Neil let it land on the ground at his feet. Kevin pointed at it.
‘Get changed,’ he said. When Neil made no move to obey, Kevin said, ‘I’m more worried about you making a disaster of this appearance than I am about your scars. Get over yourself.’
Neil glared until Kevin started to change, then grabbed his clothes and turned his back on Kevin. He pulled his new shirt on over the one he was already wearing and wrestled the bottom layer out from underneath. It took a bit of work, but he managed to keep most of his skin hidden. Changing out his pants was easier, since most of the damage was on his upper half. Neil smoothed his shirt down obsessively, and then carried his discarded clothes to the counter. He stood as far away from Kevin as he could.
‘Stop acting like a child,’ Kevin said.
‘I shouldn’t be doing this.’
‘Yes, you should, and you are going to make a good impression somehow.’ Kevin checked his reflection and tugged gently on his shirt sleeves. After a moment’s consideration he undid his braces and set them aside. ‘Follow Kathy’s leads, but don’t let her dominate. This show is about us, not her. She is the enabler, not the star.’
‘Smile and lie,’ Neil said to his reflection.
‘There is no reason to lie,’ Kevin said. ‘She’s only going to talk about Exy.’
‘No reason to lie,’ Neil echoed. ‘Says you, who just lied to her face about how much the Foxes are worth, who told the ERC—’ Neil faltered, unable to say the words. He tipped his head forward and pressed his forehead to the mirror. He counted his breaths to keep from panicking, but his gut was trembling so hard it ached. He clenched his hands around the corner of the counter and willed himself to stillness.
‘Who told the ERC what?’ Kevin asked.
Neil closed his eyes. ‘Why did you tell the ERC I would make Court?’
‘Because when you stop being impossible and do what I tell you to, you will.’
Andrew hadn’t lied. The articles hadn’t lied. Despite Kevin’s angry words and rude impatience, Kevin believed in Neil’s potential. Kevin wanted to train Neil. He wanted to play with Neil, and he wanted to shape Neil into the star he’d once been. Kevin would never forgive Neil for vanishing on him without warning this fall, and Neil hated that. As complicated as Neil’s obsession with Kevin was, one truth was undeniable: he didn’t want Kevin to hate him.
‘So what are you going to tell Kathy?’ Kevin asked.
‘That I hate you,’ Neil muttered.
‘You don’t.’
‘How would you know?’
‘Because if you did, Andrew would not let you anywhere near me,’ Kevin said.
Neil opened his eyes and turned his head to look at Kevin. ‘Right. I almost forgot about your guard dog. How did you win him over, anyway?’
‘When you know what someone wants, it’s easy to manipulate them. Case in point,’ Kevin said, gesturing from Neil to the room they were standing in.
‘I was under the impression Andrew wants nothing.’
Kevin didn’t bother to explain. They waited in silence until the makeup artists arrived. Kevin let them in when they knocked. He was all smiles and polite charm as the artists set to work. When the two were ready, they were escorted to a lounge to wait. A widescreen TV showed the stage, which was currently empty. Neil checked the clock on the wall and saw they were ten minutes out. He passed time looking at the questions laid out for him. Most of them were basic, the same sorts of questions his teammates had asked him at the beginning of summer.
An aide came to collect Kevin when it was almost time for the show to start. Neil watched him leave, then looked back at the TV. At seven on the dot the show’s opening music started and Kathy waltzed onto the stage to applause. She stopped in the center to bow and wave at her morning crowd.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, good morning! I know it’s a little early for most of us to be awake on a Saturday morning, but we’ve got a fantastic show in store for you today. Our musical guests are the four extremely talented men from the up-and-coming Hobgoblin’s Thunder.’ She paused for the resulting cheers. ‘But let’s start the morning with last night and the start of the NCAA Exy season!’
This drew even louder cheers. Kathy beamed as she slowly paced the front of her stage. ‘How many of you had a chance to go to a game last night? Oh, wow! How many, like me, watched the game from the comfort of your own home?’ She raised her hand and laughed at whatever response she got from the crowd. ‘Some of you are probably already taking bets on the season’s rankings and spring contenders. Right? This year has potential to be the greatest college season we’ve seen yet. Think of all the changes, all the amazing possibilities. We’re going to talk a little about that today, but to do that, I’m going to need a couple special guests.
‘It’s been a year since you saw him here last and nearly nine months since his last public appearance. I present to you our first guest of the day: former starting striker for the US Court, the Baltimore Wildcats, and the Edgar Allen Ravens, current starting striker for the Palmetto State University Foxes, Kevin Day!’
She almost didn’t make it through her introduction. At ‘nine months’ the bigger Exy fans in the crowd caught on, and halfway through his titles the entire audience was cheering. The camera followed Kevin as he stepped out of the wings onto the stage. With the studio’s expensive clothes on and his smile in place, Kevin looked every inch the adored idol Kathy was selling him as. He took her hand as he reached half-stage, leaned in to kiss her cheek, and turned with her to face the crowd. Kathy threw her hands up, a million-watt smile on her face, and Kevin waved hello to the audience.
It was an endless minute before the crowd calmed down, and by then Kathy had retreated behind her desk. There were two couches on stage with her, one to either side of her desk. Kevin sat on the one to her right, half-turned so he could see both Kathy and the audience. Kathy leaned over her desk to smile at Kevin, looking impossibly pleased with herself. Neil guessed she was already imagining her ratings.
‘Kevin, Kevin, Kevin,’ Kathy said, shaking her head in time to his name. ‘I still can’t believe I talked you into this. I hope you’ll forgive me when I say it’s surreal to see you back here alone! I still think of you as one half of a whole.’
‘At least I have room to stretch out now,’ Kevin said, neatly avoiding a real answer. ‘I might have to do so in a minute. I can’t believe you expect us to be awake and presentable after last night’s games.’
She laughed and lifted her hands. ‘I suppose you’re right. But you clean up nice, as always.’
Someone in the audience cheered in approval, and Kevin laughed. ‘Thank you.’
Kathy poured them both water and set a glass down on the edge of her desk where he could reach it. ‘So let’s talk about last night. First, what it means, that the NCAA season started and you’re wearing orange. Please don’t take offense to this, as I mean no slight against your new team, but why did you transfer to Palmetto State? I understand you came as an assistant coach, but once you knew you could play again, why sign with the Foxes? I’m sure you had choices. Why would you go from the top of the ladder to the bottom?’
‘Coach Wymack was friends with my mother. As I’m sure you know, she taught him how to play. Even after she died and Coach Moriyama took me in, Coach Wymack kept in touch with me.’ Kevin studied his left hand with a removed look on his face. ‘Last December I thought I would never play again. I was a wreck. Coach Wymack was the only one I could think of turning to, and he didn’t disappoint me. He and his team took me in without hesitation. I enjoy working with them.’
Kathy reached across the desk and clasped his left hand. Kevin forced his gaze up from his scars to her face and smiled. Kathy smiled back at him and said, ‘I admit I expected you to return to Edgar Allen this fall. Regardless of where you are, it’s amazing to see you back in action. You deserve a round of applause for that.’
The audience was happy to oblige.
Kathy squeezed Kevin’s hand and let go. ‘Kind of unfortunate that your first game back was against Breckenridge, isn’t it? You took three points last night, fifthyear senior Seth Gordon bagged two, and your newest teammate scored two. Let’s talk about Neil Josten for a moment, shall we?’
‘Of course.’
‘You really know how to upset things around here, don’t you?’ Kathy said. ‘What were you thinking, recruiting someone as fresh as Neil?’
‘Neil is exactly what the Foxes need right now,’ Kevin said. ‘His inexperience is inconsequential. We went through a hundred files looking for a striker sub for this year, but Neil is the only one we approached. We knew as soon as we saw him we needed to sign him. We’re just lucky we got there before anyone else did.’
‘You went to great lengths to get him, I hear,’ Kathy said. ‘Refusing to even give the ERC his name, is that right?’
‘Our primary concern was keeping Neil safe,’ Kevin said. ‘Spring was very difficult for Palmetto State. Announcing him as ours would put a target sign on his back. The ERC was initially hesitant to fly blind on him, but they eventually sided with us.’
‘You didn’t think the ERC could keep his secret?’
Kevin didn’t answer that immediately, likely figuring out the most tactful way to respond. ‘Let me put it this way: ‘Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead’. I mean no offense by that, but let’s be honest. Sixteen people are assigned to the ERC and one of them is the coach of a fiercely competitive team. Even gossip shared in confidence can get out and destroy a man’s life.’
It was a lesson Kevin learned the hard way, Neil knew. ERC chatter led to Riko and Kevin’s violent fallout.
‘So much work and effort for a single player,’ Kathy said. ‘I can’t wait to see what you make of him.’
The lounge door opened and an aide leaned in to motion at Neil. ‘One minute. It’s time to move.’
Neil got up and followed the aide down the hall to the wings of the stage. A woman waiting for them had a radio linked to Kathy’s ear bud. She looked Neil over, checking his appearance, and sent Kathy an okay.
‘Why don’t we all take another look at him?’ Kathy said. ‘Let’s see the man who replaced Riko Moriyama at Kevin’s side. Introducing Neil Josten, the newest Palmetto Fox!’
Neil clenched his teeth, then forcibly relaxed his expression. The audience clapped in anticipation and Dan cheered his name. Neil buried his reservations deep and crossed the stage to Kathy’s desk. She stood up to shake his hand, then motioned at the cushion beside Kevin. They sat at the same time. Kathy poured him water, and Kevin passed the glass to Neil.
‘Isn’t this an interesting picture?’ Kathy asked the audience. ‘Kevin is paired again.’
She propped her chin on her hand and leaned over her desk to smile at Neil. ‘I’m not exaggerating much when I say you’re the talk of the nation, Neil. You’re the amateur who caught a national champion’s eye. This kind of thing should only happen in fairy tales, don’t you think? How does it feel?’
‘Undeserved,’ Neil said. ‘I gave Millport everything I had because I knew it was going to be my only chance. Kevin was the last person I expected to see in Arizona.’
‘Lucky for us he found you,’ Kathy said. ‘You have a natural talent for the game. It’s a pity you started so late. Imagine where you’d be today if you’d started a couple years ago. Maybe you would have been snatched up by Edgar Allen or USC, if Kevin’s right about your potential. Why did you wait so long?’
Neil thought of his little league team and lied through his teeth. ‘I was never really interested in team sports before. I only tried out at Millport because I was new in town and thought it’d help me get to know people. I didn’t mean for things to turn out this way.’
‘If it bothers you, I’ll take your spot,’ Kathy said with a wink. ‘I don’t mind cozying up to Kevin.’
‘Would you really come between two strikers?’ Kevin asked.
‘Is it possible?’ Kathy asked. ‘It’s no secret there was hostility between you and the Foxes’ strikers last year. Last night made it obvious there are still problems to work through with Seth. That doesn’t seem to be the case with you two.’
Neil slid Kevin a sideways look, but Kevin didn’t bother correcting her. ‘Seth graduates in May, so there is less a chance or need to rehabilitate his style to mine. Neil, on the other hand, is just starting out. We have all the time in the world.’
Kathy pounced on that wording immediately. ‘That implies you see this as a permanent gig. Do you really have no plans to return to Edgar Allen? Does it depend on how well you adjust to playing righthanded this season, or do you intend to graduate from Palmetto State regardless?’
Kevin’s pause rang too loudly in Neil’s ears. ‘I would like to stay as long as Coach Wymack will have me.’
Neil flicked Kevin another look, not liking that vague response.
‘Ahh, the Ravens must be sad to hear that,’ Kathy said. ‘I imagine Riko misses you.’
‘We will see each other again this fall.’
‘Indeed you will. They’re in your district now,’ Kathy said. ‘Why the major change?’
‘I don’t presume to understand Coach Moriyama’s motivations.’
‘You mean they didn’t tell you?’ Kathy’s surprise looked genuine.
‘We are all very busy. It is difficult to keep in touch.’
‘Well then.’ Kathy recovered with a bright smile. ‘Have I got a treat for you!’
Music blared from the speakers, a dark melody with heavy drums. The crowd jumped to its feet and started chanting in unison: ‘King! King! King!’ Neil looked out at them, recognizing the music but unable to place it, refusing to believe what the crowd was saying. He spotted the Foxes easily, as they were the only unmoving bodies in the crowd. They sat blank-faced with shock. Neil looked back at Kevin’s pale face.
Movement in Neil’s peripheral vision brought his attention back to the wings of the stage. The man who stepped onto the stage wore the same outfit Kevin did, save his version was black from head to toe. When he reached for Kathy’s hand, his sleeve billowed around his arm like the wings of his school’s raven mascot. The number one tattooed on his left cheekbone told everyone in the audience who’d just walked onto Kathy’s stage.
It had been nine months since Riko Moriyama and Kevin Day stood in the same room together, nine months since Riko destroyed Kevin’s hand, and now they were reunited on live television. The audience cheered their hearts out, delighted by Kathy’s surprise, but they weren’t quite loud enough to drown out Kevin’s soft voice at Neil’s side.
The words sounded like a desperate prayer.


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