Paper Walls - 3. Chapter 3
Finally, the week from hell is over. I head out of the locker room and catch up with Garret.
"Sup man?" I ask, shaking his hand and bringing him in to a hug.
"Nothing, got anything planned?" he asks.
I shake my head and leftover water from the shower shakes off as well. "Nah, was it me, or was Coach kind of pissed at us today?"
Garret just shakes his head no. "I mean, not that I really paid attention. I mean, did he talk to you? Where was the superstar today?"
"Not really. Coach just told me to get my act together. I have no idea where Superstar is. He told me he was quitting the team yesterday. Dude, you’re right, he isn't human. He got over two hundred up-downs before I lost count," I tell him, shifting on one foot.
“Well, he is the coach. Besides, you were playing like shit today! Where is your head, man?” he asks, giving me a playful shove. I shove him back, not so playful, and he gives me a look.
“I’m already thinking Ryder’s a fucking psychopath, the way he snapped in the weight room. I had no idea the little punk could move so fast. Now, I’m starting to worry about you, too.”
I take a breath and let it out slowly. “I don’t know, man. I’m just stressed. And Ryder’s just lonely. No one even talks to him here.”
“Well, if he didn’t act so cut off from other people, the team would actually talk to him. Is it your mom again?”
I just shrug. "Hey, you think you can drop me off at coach's house?"
Garret just looks at me. "What about your brother?"
"He'll be fine for a little while. He should be going to a friend's this weekend. So you gonna give me a ride or what?"
"Yeah, get in man," Garret says, motioning to his truck.
I get in, and he fires it up. "You think Coach is even home yet?"
"Yeah, he left awhile ago," I tell him.
"Why do you need to go over there?" he asks.
"I just need to," I say, not meeting his eye.
He laughs, "You feel bad about yesterday, don't you?"
"Yeah, man, it was kind of a shitty thing to do to Ryder," I say.
"He's the one that blatantly said you needed tutoring on how to be a quarterback!"
"Come on, Garret, you even said I wasn't on top of my game! Maybe I do need help. His dad's plays are so much different than last year's!" I say, getting frustrated.
"Okay, maybe you are right, but what, we just let him in? Be all buddy, buddy with him knowing he secretly wants to take your place?" Garret fires back.
I run my hands through my hair. "You know damn well Ryder is better than me. If he wanted the position, he would have it, but that's not what Coach wants. Garret, I'm not saying you need to be best buds with him. I got to know him a bit before I got pissed. He isn't that bad of a person. He's young. It sucks having all this pressure on you. He wants to be accepted. What would you do? I bet you'd act a little cocky, too."
He puts a hand up in surrender, "You’re right. I wouldn't just act cocky. I would be the most cocky son of a bitch there was."
I just give him a look as we pull up to Coach's house. "Thanks bro," I tell him.
"No problem, man. If you need a ride home, let me know," he says.
"Thanks again, I should be ok," I tell him, getting out of the truck.
I walk up the concrete path to the door. I go to knock, but I stop myself, opting to ring the doorbell, instead. I think I can see someone coming to the door, and it opens to reveal Ryder. He is wearing a tank top and compression shorts. His eyes go a little wide. "What do you want?" he asks defensively.
"Whoa, man, I just came to talk to your dad. Why weren't you at practice?" I ask.
"Because I felt bad this morning, not that it's any of your business.," he says.
"Well, I am captain of the team and you are part of the team, so it is my concern," I tell him, and he just glares at me.
I take a good look at him. His bright green eyes are so bright today, he has a nice tan, and I can see he is in better shape than I thought. My eyes reach the part where his chest is bare from the shirt, and I can see the bruising, and I feel fifty times guiltier.
"I'll get my dad," he says.
I stand in the doorway, not knowing what else to do. I see Coach walking down, scratching his head with his hat, and he walks up to the door. "You gonna stand there all day and let the cold air out of my house or you gonna get your tail in here?"
"Uh...um yes, I mean no, sir." I say nervously, entering the house and shutting the door.
"Follow me out back. I am firing up my grill," he says, motioning to me.
I follow him out to the patio, where he resumes cleaning the grill. "Where was your head at today?" he asks, not looking up.
"I'm not sure, sir," I say, shifting from side to side, not sure what I should be doing.
He grabs a towel and wipes his brow, "Well, I'll tell you one thing, it wasn't out there on that field. If you cannot give one-hundred percent to the team, to me, to yourself, then what are you doing out there?"
"I'm sorry, Coach. I just, a lot is going on at home and I wasn't sure how today was going to play out," I tell him, not meeting his eyes.
"What do you mean, how today was going to play out? What do you have going on at home?"
"Well, after yesterday and the stuff with Ryder. Just my mom, she never seems to get her act together."
He laughs, "You are all teenagers, and a bunch of dumbasses. It’s my job to keep you in line and turn you into gentlemen. You are going to do dumb things, and you will be punished for them, and then we forget about it, because tomorrow is a new day. Is your mother something I should be concerned about if your head is going to be places other than on that field?"
"Thank you Coach. I just wanted to apologize for yesterday - it was a dumb thing to do. Plus, I really think it would be a mistake to suspend Garret for the first game,." I tell him, looking up into his eyes.
He lets out a sigh, "You’re right, it was, but I am not the one you need to apologize to. You need to apologize to your teammate and your team for letting them down. You are the captain of this team. You lead by example. Get Garret's head out of his ass and he can play the game. "
"Yes sir. I guess I will go apologize to Ryder."
"Shawn, if you ever try to injure my son, or any other player on my team, it will be the last time you ever pick up a football. I can guarantee that. Now, are you staying for dinner? We are having steak. I need to know so I can call Mrs. Kessler and let her know."
"I don't want to be a burden or anything," I tell him, not knowing how to decline.
He looks at me. "How do you like your steak cooked?"
"Medium well, sir," I tell him.
He takes out his cell phone to make a call and turns his back to me. I guess this is my cue to leave. I make my way back into the house and I find myself at Ryder's door. I knock a few times, and I hear someone move around and the door opens.
I can see a bit of confusion cross his face. "What do you want?" he asks, but it isn’t defensive or anything, just kind of tired sounding. I look at his eyes and I can swear he had been crying.
"I wanted to apologize for yesterday," I tell him.
"Yeah, ok, you apologized, anything else I can help you with?" he says, not looking at me this time.
I shift uncomfortably. "So, your dad asked me to stay for dinner. If you don't want me to, I can make up an excuse."
He shrugs his shoulders, "No, it's fine. Do you want to come in?"
"Sure," I tell him, walking into his room, and I see he still hasn't unpacked anything. He picks up his phone and puts it back in his pocket.
"Still haven't unpacked?" I say, looking at the boxes that are now piled in the corner of his room.
He looks at them and shrugs, "No, just haven't felt like it, I guess."
"Are you ok?" I ask, eyeing his chest.
"Yeah, I had x-rays this morning. Nothing is broken, just bruised."
"Look, I am really sorry about that, man. I feel like such an asshole. I talked to Garret, and he said he would back off," I tell him.
"Just stop, please, you're not helping me any. I asked my dad to be put on the JV team," he says.
"Dude, no, you can't go to JV!" I say.
"Why not? At least I will be appreciated, and not made to feel like I am worthless or made fun of because....just forget it man. My dad already told me no, anyway," he says and looks defeated.
"You are really good, man, and you know that! What if something happens to me - I get injured or I can't pull up my grades?" I ask him.
"You won't fail," I tell him.
"How do you know man? Your dad has laid down some strict ground rules for his team," he says, sitting on my bed as I take the floor.
"Yeah, and you have a tutor," I tell him, and look at my cell phone, wishing I could hear from my best friend.
"So, you would still help me out, even after I didn't stop Garret, and was a huge asshole?"
"Yeah, not helping out would hurt the team, and the team isn't as good without all its players," I tell him.
I see his shoulders hunch, "So you're just doing it for the team, then?"
"Yeah, I mean, let's be real here. I know for a fact that you, Garret and the rest of the team don't like me. Which is kind of crap ‘cause I haven't done anything to anyone of y’all, because we all know damn well I could have come in and put you and Garret in your place, because let's be honest, I can run circles around both of you! I pretty much proved that yesterday. Now, if you could enlighten me on why you all hate me?" I tell him, getting frustrated, and feeling a whole lot more confident in myself again.
Shawn looks a little shocked, "Dude, it's because you are kind of this football maniac. A lot of guys say they see you on the side lines. They hear you when you talk about things that went wrong before some of the coaches can even figure it out. No one hates you, Ryder, we just don't know you outside of the field. You haven't once said anything that you enjoy doing or what you like to do for fun. It's all football to you, man, and that's it, like you don't offer anything up that's actually personal and that bothers us man. You aren't even going to tutor me because you like me or even want to be friends with me. It’s because it's good for the team. Yeah, I understand there is an age gap with us, and I understand it's going to be hard, man, but I am sure underneath your football exterior, there is a really cool guy. But you won't let anyone see that side of you, so yeah, I told Garret to back off, and maybe you can offer up some details as to who the hell you really are."
I am actually shocked he let loose. "I had no choice but to be a football maniac or I wouldn't be where I am today!" I snap at him.
"What does that even mean?" he asks.
"You wouldn't understand."
"Dude, I understand you're the coach's son and you want to be liked. I get it, man. So, how about I help you set up your room, ‘cause, dude, this is just sad!"
I laugh, "I guess it is, isn't it?"
He starts helping me unpack, stopping to look at a picture of me and my best friend. "Who is this?"
"That's Jeremy! He's my best friend back from my old hometown!" I tell him, grabbing the picture frame.
"Jeremy Sykes?" he asks.
"Yeah, how'd you know?" I ask.
"Dude, who doesn't know him? He is like the best wide receiver in the state of Texas. I can't believe he was your best friend. I mean, if you two had actually stayed together, there wouldn't have been anyone that could have touched you guys!"
"He still is my best friend!" I tell him.
"How'd he get so good?" Shawn asks.
"He listened to my dad, man. Don’t worry, he needed help in school, as well," I tell him. I see him visibly relax. "I really miss him, man," I tell him and look back at the picture.
"Must have been hard leaving everything, huh?"
"You have no idea, man, he was like my big brother. He was only a few years older than me and he's a senior this year, but he never treated me bad. We were thick as thieves, man. He pretty much lived at my house most of the time. "
I can see this piques his interest, "Why?"
"He and his old man didn't see eye to eye that much, but I don't know, one day his dad just woke up, and it changed," I tell him.
"Did y’all just play football all day?" he asks with a smile.
I roll my eyes, "NO! He wanted me to teach him Russian." I tell him.
"You can speak Russian?" Shawn asks.
"Yeah, I am fluent in it," I tell him.
"How?" he asks.
"Think you can bring that box over here?" I ask, trying to change the subject.
"Dude, you can't change the subject like that!" he says.
I walk past him and he grabs my arm, and I look back at him. "Let me go, please."
"Tell me, dude, this is the first actual real information I have learned from you."
I let out a sigh, "I'm adopted."
"Wait, you’re adopted?" he asks.
"Yes, I was adopted from Russia," I tell him.
"So you're from Russia?"
"Yes," I say, looking at him.
"Sorry," he says, letting go of my arm, "So Coach adopted you?"
"Do you remember what it was like in Russia?"
"Look, I know you find it crazy, but I really don't want to talk about it right now. Can we please just keep this between us?" I ask.
"Yeah, man, but you got to promise me you will speak Russian soon."
I laugh, "Yeah, I will."
I hear his phone go off and he grabs it.
"What's up, Dylan?" He asks.
"Wait, where are you? I thought you were going to Jacob's," he says.
"Dylan! Come on, dude, why the fuck would you do that? Yeah, I will be there soon. I have to call Garret!"
"What's wrong?" I ask.
"My brother, he is hurt. He messed up his ankle from skateboarding. I have to go."
"Let's tell my dad. We can go get him, man."
"No, I don't want to bother Coach with this.
"Bother me with what?" my dad says, as he opens my door.
"Nothing, sir," Shawn says.
"His brother is hurt and he needs a ride," I say.
Shawn gives me a look. "Sorry," I tell him.
"Let's go, boys."
"Coach, you don't have to!"
My dad raises his eyebrows. "Let's go!"
I hope you all enjoyed reading this chapter! I really do enjoy talking and interacting with everyone!
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