Jay's Loelife: A GA Exclusive Epic-logue - 5. Building New Traditions
Building New Traditions
Christmas morning as a parent is far more exciting than I remember as a child. At eleven months, the girls don’t care about gifts, nor do we have many waiting for them, but it is their first Christmas. An emotionally charged event. I can’t help but compare it to the saying, “which weighs more: a pound of rocks or a pound of feathers?”
I flip over, only to find the bed empty. As expected. I’d be more surprised to see Loren sleeping.
It doesn’t take long to find him. He’s sitting in front of the fourteen-foot Christmas tree, staring at the video monitor of the girls sleeping, looking adorkable in his Christmas pajamas. They’re adorned with T-Rexes wearing Santa hats. He looks at me, a beautiful smile uplifts the corners of his mouth. “They’re moving around.”
I drink coffee with a smile while Loren runs around frantically, making final adjustments to the light machines and queuing up the music. By the time everything has been double and triple-checked, the girls are babbling happily in their cribs. Loren hands me a Santa hat and we head upstairs to their room.
“Merry Christmas!” we sing as we burst into the room. Maeve and Maci startle in surprise, a different kind of Christmas trauma. They stand along the cribs railing and bounce excitedly in their own T-Rex-a Claus pajamas. After a quick diaper change, we put Santa hats on their heads and race downstairs.
Maeve hates being dressed up or dressed down, but she stops tugging at her hat when she sees the laser lights dance wildly around the living room, perfectly synchronized to Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo.” We swing the girls around the room and dance to the Christmas morning rock concert. Maeve laughs hysterically as Loren uses her belly to nail the guitar solo while I play the piano on Maci’s back. When the song dies down, the girls keep banging their heads and begging for more. We go again and again, laughing and dancing around the tree while the lights and music rival that of an actual concert.
There might not be many presents for them under the tree, but that was never the goal. Loren wants Christmas to be more than wrapping paper and bows. It’s only the first year, but I think we’re succeeding.
That doesn’t mean they get nothing. We make it to Wisconsin in time for Christmas dinner. We barely have the girls out of the car seats when the front door opens and Mom and Dad come running out, all but jumping off the deck in their pursuit of the girls.
Maci smiles at the stampede while Maeve watches with great concern, clinging to my shirt as Grandpa skids to a stop in front of us. She looks at me with wide skeptical eyes and a please-don’t-hand-me-over lip tremble. But then Dad pulls a peach Dum Dum from his pocket and poof! Suddenly, there is no fear.
I laugh as I hand her over to Dad. “With everything going on, you’d think we of all people would have ingrained the phrase ‘stranger danger’ and taught them against being lured with candy.”
Dad rips the wrapper off with his teeth and puts it directly into Maeve’s mouth. He smiles when her eyes light up. “Good thing we’re not strangers, eh?”
Taylor and Derek are inside with their families. The stars have aligned, allowing us a Christmas together. No football games.
While Mom watches with tearful eyes as the kids run in circles through the living room and kitchen; Maeve and Maci watch with envy. They’re barely waddling, a few shaky steps at a time. It’s not enough to keep up with bigger kids. It doesn’t stop them from trying, and it’s not long before they’re in the thick of it, laughing as their cousins run circles around them so fast they get dizzy and tip over like tiny drunks.
Loren goes to Mom and puts his arm around her. “Need help in the kitchen?”
She pats his chest affectionately. “I would like help in the kitchen,” she shoots back. “And as it happens, I have just the dish for you.”
Loren looks back at me and winks, before disappearing into the kitchen behind my mother.
It’s not long before giggles, football, and the smell of good food fill the home.
Two days after Christmas, we fly from Wisconsin to Washington. Loren has never been a holiday person. It’s like pulling teeth to get him to my parent’s house. Most of the time, we do things at home. I don’t mind. But since the girls were born, it’s changing.
I watch as he shuffles things around the backseat, straightens Maci’s clothes, double checks the diaper bag, and generally procrastinates going inside.
“They’re happy you’re here.”
“I know,” he answers without looking up.
“Then what’s wrong?”
He pauses, then looks at me with an insecurity that could cut steel. “I feel guilty. They did so much for me and the second I was old enough, I took off. I felt like such a burden. And no matter how many times they invited me, I never came back for holidays.”
“You think they won’t let you back now?”
“I know they will.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“I feel like an undeserving asshole showing up after all these years.”
I take the diaper bag from him and push him toward the house.
Mike and Julia are waiting at the door, allowing Loren to come to them. They’ve never made him feel guilty or pressured him to visit, but it’s obvious by their smiles that they’re happy he’s here.
“Merry belated Chris—” Before Loren can finish, he and Maci are engulfed in a Mike and Julia super hug.
Maeve and I are next.
Julia kisses each of the girls on the cheek. “Look how big they are! Mike, do you see how big they are?”
Mike puts his hands out, asking permission to hold one of the girls. He’s imposing, only a few inches shorter than me. Maeve immediately retreats and throws her arms around my neck for safety, but Maci is everyone’s friend and happy to be passed around like a batch of goodies.
“Do you like Christmas cookies?” he asks Maci, but smiles when Maeve perks up at the offer. Maci nods and touches her belly. A cute new thing they do when they want food. Mike carries her to the kitchen for a treat.
Once they’re gone from sight, Maeve girl panics. She squeezes her legs around my waist and points to the kitchen. Get along now.
“I resent being treated like a horse,” I tell her as I do what she’s instructed.
Julia laughs, wraps her arm around Loren’s waist, and leads him to the kitchen. “Mike hasn’t met a kid who doesn’t love him. He’s magic.”
“Oh, I remember.” Loren gaze finds Mike, who has the lil beans’ full attention as he waves a perfectly decorated sugar cookie in the air. Loren smiles wistfully. He watches the scene play out like a memory. Maybe twenty-some years ago it was a sopping wet and hungry Loren in Mike’s arms, watching and waiting for his own cookie. A happy distraction from his crumbling life.
Whatever played out all those years ago, it has Julia on the brink of tears as she watches her husband with the girls. She squeezes Loren even tighter and rests her head on his shoulder. “I’m so glad you’re home.”
Twenty-four hours isn’t enough time with Mike and Julia. We could have stayed an entire week, but Park City, Utah, is calling our name. Another big house, another white Christmas for the crew. Thanks to Loren’s yearly dedication, the nieces and nephews barely drop their bags in their rooms before they’re going through Loren’s big box of goodies like it’s their last meal. I laugh as I watch the feeding frenzy. It wasn’t long ago that their parents, my dear friends, were doing the same thing. Instead of snow gear, it was trendy kitchen appliances and gaming consoles.
Once everyone is dressed in the latest snow merch, courtesy of Burton, and their bindings are tightened, the kids hit the slopes. The twins are too busy crying, their tear-soaked faces pressed against the patio door as they watch their cousins scatter to notice Loren bringing out a very special box just for them.
“Lil beans! I got something for you,” he sings. “Come check it out.”
Maeve cranes her neck to look at us. Giant tears cling to her lashes. A moment later, she throws her head back and starts screaming. Maci, on the other hand, lightly bangs her head against the glass and sniffles quietly.
Loren huffs and throws his hands up. “This is not how I saw it going.”
I open the box for Loren. “Show me. I want to see what you got ’em.”
He fights it for a minute, but soon his frown morphs into an ear-to-ear grin as he dives into the box, much like the kids just did. He pulls out a tiny little snowsuit. “How cute is this?” Without another breath, he dives back into the box, and out comes a matching jacket, snow cap, gloves, goggles, and even matching skis. One set is neon yellow and one set is neon green.
I pick up the crying girls and drag them to Loren. Maci gets dressed with little more than a few tears. Maeve, as is her custom, is like dressing an octopus that refuses to part from the sea. Once we’re outside, they can’t get enough. They are every ounce of Loren when it comes to the snow. Natural as can be. I mean, they can barely walk, but by the end of the week, they can take the bunny slope faster than I can.
“Their center of gravity is lower,” I grumble to Courtney as the girls slide to the bottom of the slope once again while Loren circles them like an Australian Shepard on skis. “They barely have to do anything.”
Courtney, obviously holding in laughter, pats my bicep. “Skiing just isn’t your thing.”
She’s got that right. I have mastered almost every sport that exists except skiing and snowboarding. It’s frustrating to the point I barely try anymore. Aidan loves it. He mastered a flip last winter, and he’s spent the last twenty-four hours taunting me about it. Loren helped him make a reel about it, a montage of Aidan shredding hardcore followed by a compilation of me on my ass. It’s currently going viral.
When the girls near the house, I pluck them up by the back of their jackets, skis and all, and march toward the door. “I’ve had enough of this,” I tell them as they giggle.
Loren skis past me, grabbing one of the girls as he passes. Without stopping, he tosses Maci on his shoulder and keeps going. I hear her squeals as they disappear into the distance. I flip Maeve over and set her on my hip. She’s all smiles and rosy cheeks and frozen snot smeared across her cheek as we head to the house.
Her eyes light up and her lips curl into a mischievous smile. “Mmmm. Haw co!”
Lars appears out of nowhere. “Did I hear someone say hot chocolate?”
Maeve kicks her feet and reaches for her favorite uncle. He takes her, proud of his hold on her, and leads the way to the kitchen where the other kids have already found the cocoa. Chocolate powder, mini mallows, and whip cream everywhere.
Their firsts go straight from Christmas and skiing to their first birthday. We have a huge party at our house and invite all of our friends and family. The girls have a blast. With a month of walking under their belt, they spend the entire day hell-bent on chasing after their cousins. It goes better than planned, only two total meltdowns but enough aunts and uncles to dote on them that Loren and I hardly notice.
When the girls finally pass out on the living room floor with cake smeared across their faces and frosting clumps in their hair, everyone tiptoes out of the house with barely a sound. The entire day is only a prelude to the main birthday event. The Super Bowl.
When they finally rouse, the house is empty. Maci blinks a few times before she pushes herself up and gives us a bashful smile.
Maeve looks around the room like she is a moment away from smiting everyone and everything that has wronged her.
Loren crouches next to her. “Is my little mung bean still sleepy?”
She shakes her head stubbornly and unconvincingly but doesn’t complain when Loren burrows next to her. With her signature angry brow, Maeve lays her head on Loren’s chest and glares outward. A warning to anyone brave enough to approach.
While Loren waits for Maeve's icy exterior to melt, Maci climbs on my back and we head upstairs to finish packing. She goes straight to her dresser and throws all the clothes onto the floor.
“We’re only gone for two days,” I remind her.
She smiles and continues to toss all the clothes about. Then she spots the yellow and blue Chargers jersey. Custom made for her, courtesy of Taylor. The trade was unexpected, but going well.
Maci squeezes the jersey. “Tah!”
“Yep, Uncle Taylor can’t wait for you to cheer for him.”
She wraps the jersey around her head like a bonnet as she tries to put it on. I grab the rival black and silver jersey Derek sent for Maeve girl. I’ve never been more excited about a Super Bowl than I am now. Not even when I was playing. Nothing beats watching my brothers oppose each other with my husband and my kids next to me in the stands. It’s a dream come true.
Maci and I pack everyone’s bags while Loren coaxes Maeve into a better mood. Then we’re off to Tampa. The girls are professional travelers and champions on the flight. A far cry from their disastrous first flight. Once we touch down, the schedule is nonstop. The rivalry between my brothers and me is still going strong. Even in retirement, the journalists want to pit the three of us again each other. This is a monumental event from a PR perspective and I’m here to do what I do best: work the crowd for myself and my brothers. Plus, we have the girls, and everyone loves the girls. They love the attention and know how to work the camera.
There is also the small matter of Rob Stone unraveling the strings of Loren’s past, episode by episode on his podcast. Which brings a new level of notoriety for both of us.
The girls sleep hard but are up early and ready to rock and roll. Maci helps decorate the rental home in blue and yellow. Maeve shows off her design skills with black and silver. By the time my brothers arrive, the house is split down the middle.
“Hello?” Taylor yells out as he comes through the door, flanked by Niki and an eighteen-month-old Henry.
The girls run full bore, almost knocking him over. He lifts them both and squeezes their guts. I put my arms out for Henry, but he runs straight to Loren.
“Does Uncle Loren give you candy?” I ask my nephew. “Is that why you love him more?”
Henry giggles. A moment later, Loren turns their backs to us so no one can see as Henry sneaks the piece of candy Loren pulled from his pocket.
Derek and his family arrive in a similar fashion a few minutes later. Niki and Danielle take pictures of the kids together, divided by team loyalty.
Derek’s gaze follows Cole, Isaac, and Corey as they walk around the house with cameras, catching everything on film. “Isn’t that weird? That they’re always filming.”
“They’ve been doing it forever. I hardly notice anymore.”
“I think it’s cool you have personal videographers,” Taylor says. “If you ever die, you’ll have one hell of a video montage.”
I glare at my baby brother. “Thank you for that.”
Taylor ignores my deadpan tone and struts across the room to help his wife wrangle the kids, happy with his dig.
As far as pre-gaming goes, this is among the best. Mom and Dad show up in time for lunch. We feast, we have fun, and most importantly, we make memories.
Then it’s time for Derek and Taylor to head to the stadium.
When the kids wake up from their naps, we get ready. The girls sport their custom jerseys with cute cheer skirts, curly ponytails with shiny tinsel, and a sparkly bow representing their team colors.
Mom holds out a glittery gift bag for each of the girls. “I thought they might like these.”
Loren tenses. We’re about to be pictured at the biggest game in the world. He’s spent the last four weeks curating our outfits. The last thing he wants is a surprise ‘gift’ from my mom. I touch his lower back and give him a calming look. I will let her down. He doesn’t need to worry.
We open the bag and pull out pom-poms. Pint-sized, awesome pom-poms with glittery strands and wooden handles.
“I had each set engraved with the girls’ names and the Super Bowl logo. I thought it would be a nice way to commemorate this special game.”
Loren ignores Maeve, who whines and reaches for her poms. He stares at the one-of-a-kind gift. “These are great. Like, wow.” He looks her in the eyes. “Thank you.”
Mom preens at the sincere compliment, emotion welling up in her eyes. “Of course. I just wanted to do something special for the grand-girlies.”
Ozzy and Henry get custom snapback hats. Also very cool. Loren tries to steal them for himself, which sends the boys into a screaming tailspin. He eventually admits defeat and gives the hats back. The boys eye their uncle skeptically, even as we leave the house and head for the game. Any time Loren comes near, they clutch their hats to their heads. Just in case.
While Mom and Dad take the girls to the van and start buckling them in, I tug Loren’s shirt, pulling him to me. It’s obvious his mind is getting out the door with two kids while thinking about the game and what we’ll do once we get there.
I cup his face and wait for him to focus on me. “You’re a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.”
Loren laughs, his brown eyes sparkling with amusement. “I love you, too.”
“Good grief,” my dad says with an exaggerated eye roll as Loren and I take off our jackets. “All these years and this is what it comes down to? I thought I taught you better.”
I look at my shirt and smile. Cartoon caricatures of my brothers in their team uniforms; I just want both teams to have fun. “I think it’s perfect.”
Dad looks at Loren, the gears turning in his head as the joke brews. His lip curls. “I always knew Loren was a bad influence.”
Loren and I groan. We’re not convinced Dad fully understands what Loren does as an influencer, but it hasn’t stopped him from trying to work a pun in when he can.
Loren pats his shoulder. “You’ll get there one day. Don’t give up.”
My parents, along with Niki, Danielle, and the kids, head straight to the suite while Jay and I take the girls through the parking lot for a little surprise tailgating.
Everyone loves the shirts, and the girls with their giant shiny bows and glittery pom-poms, cute smiles, and little wannabe one-year-old words. The girls love all the food, slobbering on treats with one hand and gripping their poms with the other.
The moment Derek and Taylor won their respective conference championships, Loren started planning this day and all the things he could give away. While Cole films, Isaac and Corey follow behind Loren, lugging totes of goodies. Sold-out products from the latest launch, electronics, cash money, and signed memorabilia from Derek and Taylor. Loren never does things by halves.
Most fans do what they can to get front and center while others wait their turn. In the midst of the mania, there is always a person who wants to meet you, but they hide in the crowd for whatever reason. Loren and I love to find those people.
I watch as a younger guy, in his early twenties, keeps tabs on Loren. He’s got that expression, the one that hits different. I elbow Loren. He casually makes his way toward the guy, cutting through the crowd nonchalantly. When they make eye contact, Loren holds out his hand and grins. “Hey, man.”
The guy’s eyes go wide and he looks like his heart is about to jump out of his chest. He stumbles for a second, then collects himself and sticks out his hand. “Holy shit. I’m Geoff.”
Loren laughs. “Nice to meet you, Geoff. This game isn’t easy to come by. How’d you score tickets?” It’s a question he’s asked dozens of people. It’s a shoo-in question, and it’s all but guaranteed to have a good answer.
“Oh, I won tickets on No Stone Unturned’s podcast competition last week.”
“No shit? How’d Rob get tickets?”
The guy grins. “He’s Rob Stone. No stone goes unturned until he gets what he wants.”
Loren rolls his eyes. He knows damn well who hooked Stone up with the tickets, but he’s not about to tell the kid.
“So, what did you have to do to win the tickets?”
“I was the first person to guess what television show was based on his life.”
“What show is that?”
Loren starts laughing. He didn’t know this about his friend and finds it hilarious that a teenage drama starring Kristen Bell was actually based on little Robby Stone.
He and his new friend talk for a moment longer. As they do, the guy begins to relax. Before Loren pulls away, Geoff stops him.
“I want to tell you how much I admire you for the courage you have every day when you show up in front of millions and share your life. I knew who you were before, but when Rob’s new season began airing a few months back, I looked you up. I didn’t go through what you went through, but I went through my own hell. A hell I never shared with anyone until a month ago. Because of you, I found my own courage. Life is beginning to look up for me and I owe part of that to you. So, thank you.”
Loren is still for a moment, then leans forward and hugs Geoff. “Remember, however life ends up for you, no matter how good or bad you think it is, there’s an alternate reality that didn’t play out for a reason. Enjoy this life because it’s the one you have. It’s the one that matters. Your past contributed to who you are, but don’t ever let it define you. You’re bigger than any situation, and you have the power to change your future.”
Geoff nods. “I know. If you can overcome it, so can I. I just needed to see it be done, so thanks again.”
They shake hands again, but then it’s time to go for real. The pre-game hoopla is winding down. Kick-off is in a few minutes, and we need to get to our suite. I squeeze Loren’s hand as we carry the girls up the stairs. Once we’re out of earshot, I give him a proud smile. Geoff was right. Loren is courageous in everything he shares. He owns his platform and uses it to show people what they’re capable of. He’s incredible.
Loren smiles as he watches the girls investigate their new surroundings, though I can tell his mind is elsewhere.
I’m the one who needed convincing for Loren to do the podcast. Loren knew what was on the line. But if he needed a reminder, Geoff gave it to him.
We don’t know Geoff’s story, and the details don’t matter, but Loren gave one person the courage to bring their darkness to the light. For that alone, everything we’ve gone through is worth it.
We’re settled in the suite as the game starts. The teams are evenly matched and the moment the ball goes into play, I’m out of my seat, screaming with thousands of other fans. Loren is by my side through the first quarter, cheering when I cheer. The twins, too. By the second quarter, their enthusiasm wanes.
“Jay, look at the girls. Aren’t they cute?”
I glance over. The girls are sitting on the ground playing with a football. “So cute.”
The stadium roars to life. Shit. I look around the field. “What happened?”
Dad is clapping proudly. “Derek intercepted the ball!”
I missed it, but fist pump the air as Derek now passes the ball. His teammate runs it all the way to the end.
We throw our arms in the air and whoop. Loren comes to my side with a little bean on his hip. “What just happened?”
“The Raiders scored.”
He smiles and lifts Maeve’s hand in the air. “Did you hear that? Your team got a point!”
“Six points,” Dad corrects.
Loren rolls his eyes at me and wanders away. Just before halftime, in a tight play, Taylor sacks the opposing quarterback two yards from the line. The Chargers take the ball and run it across the field. If they play it right, they could tie things up before halftime.
Maci tugs on my pants. I lean down and grab her without taking my eyes off the game. “C’mon…” I mumble as the Raiders hold their ground. Then little arms wrap around my other leg. I lift Maeve up just as Taylor’s team gets the ball into the end zone. Then the fight for the two-point conversion.
The girls giggle as we jump up and down. It’s halftime. With the game tied up, the air in the stadium is electric as we head out to give more stuff away.
When the game starts back up, I’m buzzing. It’s too close. There is no telling who will win. I lean against the railing with my gaze fixated on the game.
“Do you know where the diaper bag is?” Loren asks. “I can’t find it.”
I wave impatiently in the direction I last saw it.
He comes back a minute later. “Can you hold Maci?”
I take her. She’s squirmy.
“Here, feed her while you're at it.”
I cradle her in my arms and stick the bottle in her mouth, all the while watching Derek smash through the other team.
Then Loren takes Maci and hands me Maeve, who ends up falling asleep in my arms.
“How’s the game going?” Loren asks. The play is tense and I don’t have time for silly questions. I point to the scoreboard. “Still tied?” He groans. “Do you think it’s going into overtime?”
“Who do you think will win?”
“The guys and I want to go into the stands and see what’s happening. Can you watch the girls?”
I blanch. “There are seven minutes left in a tied game!”
Loren rolls his eyes. “Maeve is sleeping and Maci is so fucking tired. I can’t take them with me.”
I glare at him for having the audacity to ask such a thing during the most insane game I’ve watched in years. I don’t have time to go toe-to-toe with him. He’s too stubborn and I don’t want to miss any more than I already have.
I lean back and look past dad. “Mom,” I whine.
She grins and takes the fussy bean from Loren and rocks her back and forth until Maci’s eyes start to blink closed. Her humored, all-knowing gaze finds me. “Is being at the Super Bowl with two little kids everything you dreamed it would be?”
Taylor and I wait in the garage with our backs pressed to the wall and guns ready. Five days of meticulous planning, and it all boils down to this moment. We have one shot. I glance at my watch, and when the time is right, I hold out my hand and count backward from five.
Taylor eases the door open. I enter and he follows. We make our way down the hall silently and pause just before the living room. Voices carry on their conversations, oblivious to what’s in store. Taylor slowly peeks from his cover of darkness, then nods.
We burst into the living room, simultaneously pulling the triggers. Confetti explodes everywhere. I grab the next gun, stashed in a fiddle fig tree, while Taylor grabs the one he hid in the bookshelf and continues shooting. The guys on the sectional scramble for safety while we reach for the next stash of paper-spewing weapons. I do a clumsy forward roll, scrambling for the gun under the chair, before popping back to my feet and blasting confetti in Derek’s direction.
The chase is on.
The players scatter throughout the house, but Taylor and I are hot on their tails with enough confetti guns stashed around Derek’s house to give his house cleaner an aneurysm. There is not a single room left untouched as we weave between them, jump over furniture, slide around corners, and take the stairs four at a time.
It’s not until every inch of the floor is covered in enough confetti to put New Year’s Eve in Times Square to shame, and everyone is sliding around like wet seals in an oil spill, that the ambush is over.
Seven professional NFL players lay on the ground, breathing heavily. Derek brushes multicolored bits and pieces from his hair and laughs. “I did not see that coming.”
I grin proudly at the ceiling. “That was the point.”
“I should’ve known you two would crash my day with the Lombardi.”
“It’s your own fault you didn’t,” Taylor says. “You never were the smart one. All brawn, no brains.”
Derek tries to get up and attack his brother, but his foot slips on a layer of shiny paper and he crashes back to the ground, sending the rest of us into a fit of laughter.
“I wish we got that on film,” Derek’s teammate says, still laughing at Derek’s faux pas.
I smile and point to a small camera pointing right at us.
“Are you kidding me?” he laughs. “Fucking epic!”
“There’s more where they came from,” I tell them. “Loren set up a dozen nanny cams.”
Derek sits up. “Wait a second. How long have you been spying on me?”
“Oh, calm down. He installed them the day before yesterday. We haven’t peeked. I’m not looking to emotionally scar myself. Thanks, but no thanks.”
“Speaking of Loren,” another teammate says as we carefully get up off the floor and make our way to the sectional. The teammate, Gerard, flops down, confetti puffing into the surrounding air. “I just caught up with the podcast yesterday. Damn. That’s some crazy fucking shit.”
I nod. It is crazy. It’s even crazier for anyone not directly involved. It’s my belief that being abandoned at seven set the bar for disappointment a long time ago. Loren hasn’t reacted the way one would think. The hardest part is fielding all the inquiries. Loren’s link to child trafficking is the only thing people want to talk about, which is normal. I would be curious too. It opened my eyes to a world I was unfamiliar with.
“Luckily for Loren, it’s just a crazy story that never came true. For others, it’s a very real, and very unfortunate, life-altering experience. The most frustrating part of the entire thing is realizing that, no matter how hard you try to keep this as front-page news, it continues to get buried because people would rather know the latest celebrity gossip than continue to be hit with the harsh realities of children being sold and abused right under their nose.”
“What can be done?” One of them asks. “Can we do something?”
“Keep the light on it,” I say. “Keep talking about it. Talk about the missing kids and the people who are under investigation. More importantly, give money or raise money. There are several nonprofits that dedicate countless hours to finding these kids, but they need money to do it. When these things aren’t in the news, the money stops flowing.”
“What if—” Taylor pauses as he considers his words carefully. “What if we put on a big game? Like a celebrity bowl? Something to continue to raise awareness year after year. Players would pay to play, plus all the money from ticket sales and concessions. Not to mention merchandise. It could be a huge fundraiser.”
“I’m sure we can find stadiums willing to waive fees,” Derek offers. “We can invite current and retired players.”
Taylor grins brightly. “We can all finally play for the same team!”
Everyone nods enthusiastically, expressing interest in the idea.
I swipe at my eyes. These players, some of whom I don’t know very well, are willing to do whatever needs to be done to help support Loren and me. This is how real change is started.
Derek rubs my back in a moment of solidarity, then punches my shoulder. “We’ll start brainstorming this game idea. Until then, you assholes need to help clean up this mess. I have no doubt Danielle enabled you, but she won’t be excited to come home to it.”
We all get up, stepping carefully over the slippery paper, and start cleaning up. Taylor tugs my sleeve and nods toward the back door. As quietly as we came in, we slip out, bolting to the rental SUV as soon as we close the door behind us.
The last thing we see before peeling out of the driveway is Derek running towards us with a broom in one hand and flipping us the bird with the other.
“You know he’s going to get us?” Taylor says.
“Nah, he doesn’t have the balls.”
Taylor laughs hysterically. Derek had vasectomy before the season started. “You’re right about that.”
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