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Nick (Sequel to JP)
|To Brandon, it had all happened in the blink of an eye; there was nothing he could do about it. He could see the one linebacker heading straight toward him, but the other came out of nowhere. He tried desperately to throw the ball away but he couldn’t seem to move his arm fast enough. The two huge football players smashed into him simultaneously, sending him into the turf. As his body hit the ground, a white light flashed in his eyes and a tremendous pain shot through his legs. Then…nothing.
“Brandon,” the trainer yelled over the commotion that was gathering around his still-prostrate body, “can you feel anything at all in your legs?” Brandon , tears streaming down his face and smearing his reflector paint, could only shake his head – he was mute with terror. Immediately, his whole life flashed through his head like a sped up movie. He saw his dad throwing him a Nerf football in the living room as a toddler, he saw himself winning his first pee-wee game, the smiling faces of his parents…it was all over now. He’d never be able to play football again.
“Brandon,” the voice of Coach Palmer floated through the fog to him, “stay with us!” That’s when Brandon realized he had been on the verge of passing out from the flood of emotions that rushed through his head. But he wasn’t in a lot of pain – actually the opposite. It was surreal as he felt himself – or really his upper body – being moved to a stretcher. There was some dull pain right above his hips, but nothing below.
“BRANDON!” a familiar voice shouted from a short distance; Brandon suddenly felt warmer as he heard it. It was Greg. Then, he saw his boyfriend’s angelic face thrust itself into his view, his long hair dangling in front of his eyes. Brandon smiled weakly as he looked up into them. God, they were beautiful. “You’re gonna be alright,” Greg assured him…and Brandon believed him. How could he not?
“Son, please get out of the way,” one of the medics said as he wrestled Greg away from the stretcher. The boy’s bulging muscles flexed in his form-fitting color guard uniform as he tried to resist; Brandon quickly lost sight of him as he was wheeled to the waiting helicopter.
Nick stared in shock as the small group of medics and security personnel made their way through the stadium tunnel, the sound of the helicopter’s blades whirring in the distance, ready to take the star quarterback to a nearby hospital. This cannot be happening, he thought, not now!
“Angelakis!” Coach Palmer bellowed at him as he jogged off the field. Nick instantly snapped to and joined his teammates along the sidelines. “This is what we gotta do,” he continued, “Evans, you’re taking over, so Angelakis and Raver, start a little closer to center, Jackson and Nucci, switch spots. We can still win this thing!” Nick focused the best he could on Palmer’s eyes. As back-up quarterback, Peter Evans was going to be filling in…and that meant they had to readjust their playbook slightly as Peter didn’t have the arm Brandon did. “Evans!” Palmer snapped seriously. “Come back down to Earth!” Peter blinked a few times as if he had just come out of a trance.
“Sorry, Coach,” he muttered. Palmer looked around at his players and sighed.
“Guys, I know losing Brandon like this is tough,” he said more softly. “But we can’t let that affect us. We’re only down by three points and there’s still a minute and a half left on the clock.” Once the huddle broke, Nick immediately went over to Peter and slapped him on his shoulder pads.
“You’ll do fine,” he shouted into his ear. “Just like B taught ya!” Peter gave him a grin and shoved his helmet onto his head.
“Let’s do it!” he growled, smacking his fist into his hand. With the score 17-14 Falcons, the Spartans started on their own 38-yard line. They got a first down and change fairly quickly; the Falcons must have not expected them to change their playbook so smoothly – they were still defending as if Brandon was leading the offense. But as the clock ticked below the one-minute mark, they wised up. Every time Peter would go for a long pass to Nick, the Falcon defense would read the play perfectly and block them. Then on 3rd down, Peter was sacked around the 50.
“SHIT!” Nick yelled, flapping his beefy arms in frustration. That made it 4th and long; the game was probably over. He knew it was wrong to think that, but a part of him couldn’t help it.
“Too bad your boyfriend ain’t around no more,” the Falcon cornerback taunted. Nick clenched his fist as the player laughed. He wanted to pummel him – he knew he could easily – but now was not the time. Ignoring him, he ran to the huddle.
“We’re not ending this,” he stated simply. His teammates looked at him.
“Are you kidding me?” Andre Jackson, one of the running backs spoke up. “It’s 4th and 20 on the 50-yard line with 30 seconds left. How the fuck are we going to score?” Peter looked down and swallowed.
“We have nothing to lose,” he said. Nick gazed at him in awe. The kid had fire in his eyes; he could tell he wanted to make the Falcons pay for what they did to his teammate…just like Nick did.
“What do you have in mind?” Nick asked, subtly telling the team Peter was in charge.
“Chinese rocket,” he answered quickly. “It worked before, they won’t expect again…and if it works, Statue of Liberty for the TD.” Andre shot his head up.
“Statue of Liberty?” he shrieked. “We haven’t even practiced that with you.”
“I know,” Peter returned, “but Brandon showed me how to do it. I know exactly how he moves it.” Suddenly, the referee blew his whistle and the huddle broke. Butterflies filling his stomach, Nick lined up, Peter’s play-calling reaching his ears. Instantly, Nick launched his body forward, blasting past the cornerback and nearly knocking him to the ground. The guy actually stumbled as he tried to regain his cover, but it was too late for him. Nick was already tearing down the field, eyeing the soaring football as it spiraled through the air. He heard nothing else as he caught the ball safely in his massive arms; the only sound was the pigskin hitting his chest. Every muscle flexed as he charged toward the endzone, seeing nothing but the goal line. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a Falcon tackled him at the 3-yard line, but the play had worked…they were right where they wanted to be.
“Come on!” Nick shouted, springing to his feet as he rushed to his position, Peter and Andre running up next to him in line – they hadn’t any time to even celebrate the gain, the clock was running out. The Falcon defenders shifted in preparation for the final play of the game. Nick could almost see them trying to guess how they were going to go. The cornerback eyed Nick with fierce eyes; Nick grinned to himself. He thinks Peter’s going to pass to me again, he thought.
Then, the play started…and it happened fast. Nick ran around and into the endzone, turning to act like he was about to receive. Peter stood up and acted like he was going to pass to him, but then secretly handed the ball off to Andre who rushed forward. The roar of the crowed was deafening. The referee blew the whistle and ran over to the scene as the other officials pushed bodies off of the pile.
Then, he raised his arms to signal the touchdown.
Immediately, Nick jumped up and down in celebration as the stadium erupted in pandemonium. The Spartans had won the state championship. It had worked; the Falcons had fallen for it and were now walking toward their bench dejected. Peter ran over to Nick and jumped into his arms, his helmet already off, tears streaking down his face.
“We did it!” he screamed. “We did it!”
“No,” Nick corrected him. “You did it!”
Brandon slowly opened his eyes, the soft white light of the hospital room bathing him. The incessant beeping of the machines floated dreamily through his head as he stirred his shoulders against the pillows. Somehow, he felt calm and at ease in all of this. But then, he turned his head and saw the reason why. Greg was sleeping in a chair next to his bed, his hand touching Brandon’s forearm. That was from where the warmth was flowing. Brandon gazed at his boyfriend’s ethereal face, his muscular chest moving up and down with his breathing.
“You’re still here?” Brandon spoke up softly, his voice slightly hoarse. Greg shifted in the chair as he woke up and fixed his eyes on Brandon. Wordlessly, he moved his hand to Brandon’s and smiled. Brandon smiled back, his heart beating.
“I could never leave you,” he whispered. He moved his body forward and leaned closer to him. Brandon could smell his boyfriend’s scent as his long hair hung across his cheek. Instinctively, Brandon lifted his other arm and brushed it out of the way. He wanted to see his flawless face. “Don’t worry,” Greg went on, “my mom knows I didn’t go home with the rest of the marching band.”
“You’ve been here all night?” he wondered out loud. Greg nodded. Then, he bent down and planted a soft kiss on Brandon’s lips. Brandon closed his eyes, letting his boyfriend’s touch strengthen his entire body. He almost thought he felt it reach his legs, though they were still paralyzed.
“You’ll get through this,” Greg murmured, gently placing his hand on top of Brandon’s muscular chest. He could feel it through the flimsy fabric of the hospital gown. Yeah, I will, he thought to himself.
“Mr. Jones?” Dr. Besson walked into the room, a clipboard in his hand. Greg looked up briefly at the doctor, not seeming to want to take his hand off of Brandon…but he did anyway. “How are you feeling?” Brandon shrugged.
“Alright,” he muttered. Dr. Besson smiled.
“I have some good news for you,” he said. Brandon lifted himself up a bit, his eyebrows lifting hopefully.
“What is it?”
“The tests came back,” the doctor continued, “and it looks like the paraplegia will be going away within the next 48 hours or so.”
“Seriously?!” Brandon yelped, his eyes widening. He looked over at Greg who was beaming brightly. He was going to get feeling back in his legs again. “That’s great!” However, the doctor only smiled slightly. There was more…
“The human body is an amazing thing,” he went on, “especially yours. You’re in fantastic shape and your body fights quickly. At first we thought you had damage to your thoracic spine—”
“That would’ve made him a paraplegic for the rest of his life,” Greg interrupted. Dr. Besson looked over at him with some surprise. “Sorry,” Greg grinned and lower his head, “I kinda want to be a doctor.”
“Yeah, that’s right. But when you were hit, you only damaged a vast part of your peripheral nervous system, only the nerves that supply your legs.” Brandon tried to follow what the doctor was saying, though Greg seemed to understand every word.
“It’s rare,” he explained, “but it’s easier to heal.”
“That’s true,” Dr. Besson smiled. “With physical therapy and a lot of time and patience, you can gain most if not all of the strength in your legs again.” Brandon sighed with relief; maybe his athletic life wasn’t over after all. “You will probably be in a wheelchair for a month or so and then on crutches for a long time after that.”
“So I guess wrestling is out of the question,” Brandon thought aloud.
“Yeah, sorry,” the doctor answered, his eyebrows raised in concern.
“And what about next football season?” The man breathed in deeply and sighed.
“Well, it really depends on how quickly you recover,” he said, “but I wouldn’t count on it. We really don’t know exactly how much damage you suffered.” He paused, thinking for a moment. “Think of it this way. Your lower body is like…a computer that crashed. It has to be re-booted and then all the programs have to be re-installed. It just needs time.”
“But I will be back to normal eventually,” Brandon asked. “Is that what you’re saying?”
“Eventually,” Dr. Besson answered. He looked over at Greg for a moment; it was apparent on his face that he could tell the relationship the two boys shared. “I’ll leave you two alone and let you get some rest,” he said softly.
“Thanks,” Brandon muttered as the doctor left the room. He knew it was going to be a long journey, but he also knew Greg would be there with him every step of the way.
“Yo, B!” Nick’s voice suddenly boomed from the doorway. Brandon glanced up to see his hulking teammate advancing toward him, his green eyes sparkling brightly. God, he looks even bigger from here, he thought as Nick towered above him.
“Hey, Nick,” he gushed. “What are you doing here?” They clasped hands, Brandon watching Nick’s shredded forearm twitch with muscle.
“We came to see how you were doin’,” he answered. We? Nick turned his head behind him, directing Brandon’s attention to the group of football players gathered outside his room. Jesus, it looked like the whole team was here. The nurses – dwarfed by most of the guys – tried desperately to keep a path in the hallway open.
“Dude!” Peter pushed his way inside, the grin on his face broader than was humanly possible.
“Pete!” Brandon laughed. “Congrats on the win last night, man!”
“Did you get a chance to see it?”
“One of the nurses got me a tape of the game,” he answered. “I’ll watch it later.” He naturally had heard about Peter’s gutsy play-calling in the final seconds. “See, just like I taught ya!” he added.
“I heard the good news,” Nick continued. “You’ll be walking again.” Brandon shrugged.
“Well, in the mean time,” Peter got this sudden look of mischief on his face. Uh oh, Brandon said to himself. “We don’t want you to get all fat and flabby just sittin’ on your ass all day.” Then, the other guys pushed an empty wheelchair into the room and Brandon rolled his eyes, knowing exactly what they had in mind. “Betcha can’t beat me?” Peter grinned. He knew Brandon could never pass up a challenge.
After a few minutes of helping him out of bed and into the chair, Brandon was wheeled into the hallway where Peter was already hopping into his own wheelchair.
“OK,” he began, “from here to the nurses’ station. Loser has to eat that orange Jell-O in the cafeteria.” Brandon shook his head, laughing. “On your mark…get set, GO!” The two boys tore off down the hallway, orderlies dodged them left and right, their wheelchair drag race the focus of attention on the otherwise uneventful hospital floor. Brandon pumped his arms with all the strength he could muster; Peter was really getting strong. He almost had to try hard to stay ahead of him. When they reached the nurses’ station, the boys put on the brakes. “I won!” Peter yelled through hysterical laughs.
“Yeah, right,” Brandon protested jovially. “Only because you stuck your leg out. You know I can’t do that.” But then, he got completely silent. That’s when he saw him…his dad, nervously asking questions to one of the nurses behind the desk. Brandon’s smile quickly fell away. After a moment, Peter caught his expression and traced his gaze.
“I’ll see you later, man,” he said, getting out of the wheelchair and pushing it back down the hall. Brandon barely heard him as he maneuvered his chair toward his father.
“Dad?” he squeaked, not sure he had said it loud enough for him to hear. But his dad turned; he did.
“Brandon,” he said plainly. There was little emotion in his voice, but his eyes were a different story. They were soft, sad. An awkward silence fell between the two that his father hurriedly broke. “When I heard what happened, I drove down here as fast as I could…” His voice fell away, not knowing what to say. Then the sight of his son paralyzed, in a wheelchair seemed to hit him and he looked away uncomfortably, biting his lip.
“Dad, sit down,” Brandon nudged his head toward a couch and wheeled himself over to it. His father followed him and slowly lowered his body into the cushion. They were pretty much face-to-face now; they could talk more quietly, though neither knew how to begin. “I’m glad you came,” Brandon finally started.
“I talked with your doctor,” his dad answered, happy that he didn’t have to be the first to speak. “He told me about what happened.” He looked out the window and then back at Brandon. “I’m sorry,” he suddenly blurted. Brandon knew immediately what he meant. He wasn’t apologizing for his injury…
“Dad, please,” Brandon tried his best to keep from losing it. He blinked back tears, flexed his jaw, his fingers playing between the spokes of the wheels.
“No, Brandon…” he sighed, looking down at his hands, at his fingernails picking his cuticles. “It’s been too quiet at home…too empty.” Brandon leaned forward, his elbows against the armrests of the wheelchair. His father bit his lip again. “You’re all I have left,” he went on. “I was wrong to make you leave.” He raised his head to look straight into his son’s eyes. “You’re my son…no matter what…you always will be.” A single tear rolled down Brandon’s cheek; he didn’t bother to wipe it away. He no longer cared if his dad saw him crying. They didn’t hug, they didn’t even touch – his dad had never been that type of person – but Brandon could tell what his father said was absolutely true.
SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! The high-pitched slaps echoed off the concrete walls of Nick’s basement gym. He gripped the chin-up bar, his face grimaced, as Ian punched his abs over and over and over again. Nick was beyond pain by now…but he knew it would be worth it.
“Exactly why are you putting yourself through this?” Erin asked with sickened disbelief as she distractedly worked through a set of dumbbell curls herself.
“Rest,” Nick grunted, immediately prompted Ian to stop and back away. Nick relaxed his torso as he lowered his arms.
“I’ve put on weight during football season,” he answered his girlfriend’s question expertly. “I need to cut fat before wrestling starts.” Ian scoffed with a slight grin.
“Where?” Nick peered at him.
“I’m trying to get as close to 275 as I can,” he explained. “I’m wrestling heavyweight this year.” Erin gave a puzzled look.
“So why don’t you just bulk up?” Nearly all the heavies were mostly fat anyway. Nick rubbed his fingers painfully over his corrugated six-pack.
“’Cause I feel another growth spurt coming on. I wanna cut fat so I don’t have to worry about being too big.” He caught Erin’s smirk. He knew what she was thinking; he could never be too big for her. But what he said was true, though it may have sounded weird to them. For the last few days, since they got back home from UVA, Nick had been feeling the dull pains in his shoulders and legs…and that only meant one thing…he was going to sprout. But he didn’t want to lose any of his strength. “Alright, do the other side, now,” he ordered Ian.
“Dude,” he protested, “my hands are killing me.” He wiggled his fingers as his knuckles were wrapped in layers and layers of hard gauze. “It’s like hitting a brick wall, you know.” Nick looked over at his buddy and sighed.
“I guess we could finish for the day,” he said. He sometimes forgot how much he pushed himself when he was determined. Plus, he wanted to save at least a little bit for tonight…for Erin…
“Is it time for calf raises?” his girlfriend suggested. He grinned. God, she was good.
“Yeah,” Nick nodded. “Start loading it up.” He knew it would take a while to do so. He had long since lost count how much weight he could do on that machine.
“Anyway, I’m gonna go,” Ian spoke up. “I got a coupla errands to run.” Nick wrapped a massive arm around his friend’s shoulder.
“Seeya tomorrow in school,” he said with a smile.
“You, too,” Ian answered.
As Ian walked out of Nick’s house, he sighed. God, the guy was an animal when it came to training; he worked his ass off and then worked some more. Why couldn’t I be like that, he thought, instead of a lazy asshole that took the shortcuts? None of this crap would have happened then. He climbed into his GTO and peeled out of the driveway, blasting his radio. It always made him feel better when he did that.
As he made his way through the neighborhood, Ian briefly checked the little slip of paper he had written directions on. He was supposed to meet someone. It had been set up through Luke. They were going to get back at Travis and Brionna; and not just get back at them…finish them. They needed to pay for the lives they had ruined. As he pulled into a parking lot, he looked around. Why the hell did Luke tell him to go to the country club? He knew that his dad owned the place, but…
Then he saw a familiar head of blond hair walked toward his car…he got out, puzzled.
“Kim?” he said. She looked equally as surprised to see him. Luke apparently hadn’t told her she was meeting her ex-boyfriend; she probably wouldn’t have come otherwise, Ian thought.
“First, let me just say this,” she remarked sternly as she came up to him. “My brother told me you wanna get back at the people who screwed with our lives. I do too.” She sighed, her eyes softening as she did. “I’m willing to put our past behind me.” Kim looked away briefly, not sure how to continue.
“But why are we at your dad’s country club?” Ian asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
“Luke won’t be up for parole for another couple of months yet,” she went on, glancing over her shoulder at the imposing structure of the clubhouse behind her. “That’s why I’m here.” She paused. Ian peered at her, waiting for more. “My dad has several connections, certain members of the club here who can help us.” Kim swallowed, a nervous look suddenly appearing on her face. “My dad just can’t know about any of it, alright?” Ian nodded, feeling the nervousness spread to him.
“What am I supposed to do?” Kim looked up at him, turning serious again.
“What do you know about caddying?” she asked.
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