“I thought you’d catch it,” Marcus said with a chuckle.
“Really, Marcus. I’d have to know you were going to throw it. I didn’t even see you there. What are you doing anyhow?” Joey asked.
“Waiting for someone to throw the football around with, I got to get some practice in before the big game this week.” Marcus picked up his football and looked at Joey expectantly.
Joey sat down, flipping open his 3DS. “Oh no, don’t look at me. I hate playing football with you. Ever since we were nine and you started telling me where I could stand, how I had to throw the ball, and how I had to catch it to make it count. You ever notice how many stupid rules there are in football? If you catch the ball, then you caught it. Why do people have to make things so complicated?”
Marcus tossed the ball at Joey again, a little slower this time. “Quit your whining and come practice with me.”
Joey dropped his 3DS as he caught the ball and threw it right back. “Not a chance, go find someone else to rules lawyer.” With that said, he picked up his game and turned his back to Marcus.
Marcus glared at Joey, then turned and left the room. He passed Caylin in the living room and didn’t even stop. He knew she would never play football with him. What if she broke a nail? Marcus kept going toward the office, hoping to find his dad there. The door was cracked open and he could hear his dad’s voice. It was gruff and abrupt, indicating a business deal going south. Now was probably not the best time to ask him to throw the ball around.
Marcus dropped the ball, shoulder’s sagging. It didn’t look like he was going to get anyone to play football with him today.
Deirdre ate her cereal in the kitchen and watched Marcus go from one person to the next. Football was very important to him. His plan since third grade has been to play football through high school, hopefully get a scholarship, play through college, then get drafted in the NFL. He took his first big step toward that goal this summer during practice when he had been chosen to be the starting quarterback for the middle school. He didn’t want to let the team down on their first game, so he’d been throwing the football through the tire hanging in their back yard every day this week. Obviously he didn’t feel like that kind of practice was enough.
Seeing his shoulders sag with the ball at his feet tore at Deirdre’s heart. She couldn’t stand to see anyone in her family hurting. Dropping her bowl in the sink she sauntered down the hallway and scooped up the football. “I wish someone wanted to play catch with me,” she said tossing the ball in the air. “It’s like nobody in this house even likes football, and it’s like the coolest sport ever.”
When Marcus looked up she was rewarded with a big grin. “Nobody likes a smartbutt, sis.”
“They do if that smartbutt is going to play football with them,” she said, tossing him the ball. “Come on, let’s go.”
“I think that red hair makes you sassy,” he said, following her out the door with a smile.
She ran routes for him all morning, practicing all the plays in the playbook they could do with only two players. “Uncle, uncle,” she said catching the ball on a screen play and dropping to the ground. “I’m exhausted,” she panted. “I can’t run anymore.”
“Finally,” he said, laughing and dropping down in the grass next to her. “My arm’s getting a little tired too, and I’m hungry.”
“You’re always hungry,” she said dropping the ball in his lap. “Let’s get some lunch. We can watch Invincible with Mark Wahlberg while we eat. Some football for you, some Marky Mark for me, a good time for all.”
Marcus stood up and gave her a hand. “Has anyone ever told you you’re kind of an awesome sister, a little gross maybe, but awesome?”
“Yeah, I get that all the time,” she said, wrapping her arm around him as they walked toward the house.
With the play clock counting down Marcus could hear the fans cheering. Family, friends, faculty, and classmates, all eyes were on him. The bright lights of the score board illuminated Visitors 21, Home 17. A field goal wouldn’t do it, they needed a touchdown to win the game. The ball would have to cross 37 yards to make it, unlikely with a run, but the right pass play might do it in the time they had left.
“Blue 32…blue 32…hut, hut, hut,” Marcus shouted over the crowd noise.
The ball snapped, it was in his hands. He looked down field, backing up as the defensemen closed in on him. Nothing good up the middle. Johnson was to the left, but he didn’t have a clear pass to him. Reed broke free on the right near the 10 yard line. Marcus pulled back and hurled the ball down the field. His eyes tracking the ball, he never saw the defensive end that laid him out, nor did he see what happened with the ball.
Reed saw his chance, juked right, then turned hard in-field shedding his coverage. He knew the second Marcus spotted him, and the ball was in the air. The coverage on Marcus was heavy and the ball left his hand a little high. Reed pushed his legs to go faster. His lungs couldn’t get enough air, the sweat was pouring down his face, but the pace paid off. He reached for the ball, pulling it close to his chest, and kept running toward the goal line. He crossed it untouched. The play clock hit zero, and the crowd went wild. It was an awesome come back to win their first game of the season.
Marcus sat up in time to see Reed cross the goal line. He was on his feet in a flash. “Yeah!” he yelled, fist pumping in the air. The whole team rushed the field, swarming Marcus and Reed, chanting their names. His breath came in short gasps, his head was swimming with the adrenaline pumping. It was the most exhilarating experience Marcus had ever had. Today he was a champion, on the way to achieving his dreams.
The noise died down as the crowd left the stands, the players and their families the only ones left on the field. Marcus could see his family still in the front row of the stands, and headed toward them. His parents looked happy, Caylin and Joey were bantering amiably about something, but Deirdre looked ecstatic. Her eyes were shining, cheeks flushed with excitement, the biggest smile just for him. He could tell she was proud of him.
“Hey, Malone, wait up,” Jason called, jogging over to him.
Marcus was a little slow to respond. Jason Bram was on the varsity team, and the best wide receiver their school district had seen in over a decade. “Hey,” Marcus stammered.
“That was a pretty awesome throw kid. You really did good the whole game. That was a tough team, number 2 in our division last year,” Jason said.
“Thanks.” Marcus couldn’t believe Jason was talking to him right now.
“You got potential. Maybe you could practice with…” Jason broke off mid-sentence, the smile leaving his face. “Wait, Malone? As in Deirdre Malone, the screamer. Is that your sister?”
Marcus looked over at Deirdre, then back to Jason. He was glaring at her. Jason had called her ‘the screamer’. He really seemed to hate her. Marcus had always thought Deirdre’s screaming episodes were a little weird, but it was just part of who she was, most of the time he thought she was really cool. If he admitted that to Jason though he could lose the respect of the varsity team, at least Jason for sure.
Deirdre was his sister, but football has been his dream for years. It didn’t take long for him to choose. “Well, she’s adopted,” Marcus said shrugging. “There’s no telling what you’ll get when you bring in a stray.”
“Ha,” Jason laughed. “Yeah, you guys really got screwed on that deal, didn’t you?”
“What can you do?” Marcus replied, smiling.
“Right, well, I’ll check you out next game. Keep up the good work kid, and maybe we’ll let you practice with us sometime.” Jason patted him on the shoulder and headed back over to his friends.
Marcus rushed over to his family. He was excited about Jason’s offer and what that could mean for his football plans, he couldn’t quite keep the smile on his face though. His family greeted him happily with hugs and congratulations, but the light had gone out of Deirdre’s eyes, her skin so pale against the night. She had heard him, he had hurt her for sure.
‘Was it worth it?’ he wondered.