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A View From the Fence
I'm sitting out here in a barren tree, holding back tears and ruining my teeth in rage and anguish and pain under the heartbreakingly clear October sky.
* * *
And then, I again realize that I am not alone. Hours may have passed. Days, perhaps even, except I haven't seen the sun come up. Not that I'm expecting any sunrises any time soon.
Regardless, for however long it's been, I've been sitting up here in Kim's Tree, growing increasingly pissed at the world, mainly because I've come to realize how much of a dumbfuck I've been. The scouts weren't interested in the outcome of the game, primarily. They were interested in me as a _player._ Yes, I missed my chance to be a hero in the last critical seconds. But my performance for the remainder of the night, up until that point, had been stellar. And they would have had to have been blind or stupid or both not to recognize that Christasion's final run was something _way_ out of the ordinary. Had I left it at that, gone over to him and shook hands in the grand sportsmanlike fashion, my reputation would have been salvaged and I might be talking to bigwigs in the Tide right at this very moment.
Instead, they saw me botch a play and utterly freak out. Hitting after the buzzer is one of the more frowned-upon violations of the rules that there is, and I didn't stop with a hit. I was trying to beat the shit out of him. Right there, in front of maybe a thousand dumbstruck fans.
I am _damning_ Jake Christasion in my mind. Because I can't stomach the thought of damning _myself._ And I'm the one who deserves it.
I can't face my father tonight. Not after what I've done. Not after I publically humiliated him in front of the entire school and his friends from Alabama to boot.
I can, quite possibly, never face my father again.
And that is why I am sitting here in Kim's tree, trying in some strange and metaphysical way to figure out where the hell things went wrong.
I _did_ lose the pads, by the way. I kind of tossed them into the equipment locker after everyone else had departed and slammed the door shut, caring nothing for proper maintenance and upkeep, not at this point. By now, I've slipped back into my warm-up sweats, a far more comfortable set of clothes. In fact, the only point of disturbance about them is the maddening presence of Dad's lighter in the lower left pocket. I almost want to just toss the damn thing away and be done with it, but I don't have the energy. He'll probably demand it back when I next see him for my overwhelming insult to the family name. I don't even care anymore. Idly, I run my thumb over the gold-embossed representation of the Hawk. The goddamn mascot. The team that I've utterly shamed.
Damn Jacob Christasion. Damn Kim. Damn Skippy, while we're at it, just for the hell of it. Damn them all.
And these thoughts go round and round in circles, spiraling in black helices towards the core of my being.
And so there I sit. And sit. And sit.
Until I realize, as noted, that I am not alone.
"J.R.?" Comes the soft voice from below. I blink and peer downwards, searching for the source of the noise. It's quickly locatable. There, standing at a point nearly beneath my branch, is Brian Stockmann. He's out of uniform too, wearing a pair of jeans and a crisp windbreaker. He looks, of course, immaculate.
"Hey." He says, quietly.
"Hey." I croak in response.
"What the hell you doing climbing trees this time a' night?"
"Thinking." I mutter.
"Know what you mean," he replies, cryptically. "You missed Garrick tonight. He was gonna have your ass but good."
"I know." I say. "So, what. Am I off the team, or something?"
He shrugs. "Maybe. Maybe not. He'll probably keep you benched for the next game or two."
"W'nerful." I mutter.
"Could be worse." He says.
"I know." I say, suddenly. "Look, I _know_ it could be worse. Jesus Christ, Brian, I threw the goddamn match and dirtied the reputation of the entire squad. I'm surprised you guys aren't arranging to have me drawn and quartered at dawn."
"Naw." He says, grinning his impeccable grin. "That comes tomorrow _evening._ Tight schedule, ya know."
Despite myself, I grin.
"Seriously, Jor. _You_ didn't throw the match. One person doesn't win or lose a game. We all were a little bit t'blame."
Good. Someone saying that it's not my fault. I need more people like this. Sooner or later, I might even start to believe it.
"You're just saying that."
"It's true, Jay. I meant what I said at halftime. You were fucking brilliant out there today."
"'Til goddamn Christasion showed up."
He nods. "Yeah. That's another thing. You _should_ have made that hit, Jor. Anybody but Christasion you would've stopped cold."
"Damn straight." I say.
"That wasn't even fucking natural, y'know."
I perk up. From my position on the lower limb, I raise myself to my elbows. "So you noticed, too?"
"Mm hm." He seems to pick his words carefully as he speaks. "I know what people are capable of, Jordan. I know the limits a' what a guy can pull off. Even given the best and most intensive training in the world, there are just some things a guy shouldn't be able to do. And that run was one of them."
"Whaddaya think?" I say, curious as to how far he's gotten.
"Weeeeeell," he says, "Me an' Heldeghast got together for a little while after the game, and we're thinking he's... ah... well, this might sound kinda stupid to you."
"No." I say. "Go ahead."
"We were thinking the guy must be SCAB. Goddamn bunny rabbit or something."
"Yes!" I say. "Yes! That's it. That's _exactly_ what I thought."
"Pretty fucking unfair getting weaseled out of a win just 'cause some jerk-off had some delusions of grandeur after getting bunny-fucked." Says the ever-eloquent Brian.
"Shit right." I say. "Some guy told me this was Christasion's first time on. The shit probably didn't even train or anything. 'S not fair for bastards like him to just waltz onto the field and blow everybody away just cause they're genetic mutants. I mean, the rest of us have to _work_ for it..."
Brian Stockmann nods.
"I mean, Christ, Brian, I was gonna go to _Alabama,_ for crissake. Fucking _Alabama._ Fucking Crimson Tide. Had the folks from the school watching and everything. And what does Christasion do but show up and run like piss on a fucking griddle and screw over any chance I had of looking good out there."
Brian Stockmann nods again. And smiles, faintly. I'm too caught up in my own thoughts to notice.
"It's not fucking fair..." I say.
"Exactly." He says. I am looking out over the campus, continuing to destroy my teeth by grinding them silently together. I can hardly hear him. "Exactly."
"Brian?" I say.
"What time's it?"
He consults his watch. "'S'like.... oh... one or so."
"Fuck." I say.
"You not going home tonight?" He asks.
Silently I shake my head. I'm squeezing my eyes shut again. Don't break up. Don't break down. Must be stoic, must be strong. After all, we are _guys._
Brian seems to make up his mind about something. "Listen, Jor. 'Couple of us are getting together at my place in a while. Heldeghast'll be there, I think. Maybe one or two other guys. You... um... care to join us? We're just gonna crash. Do a little... you know..." He gestures helplessly.
"Commiserating?" I say, blandly.
"Yeah. Commiserating." He smiles. "Interested?"
Almost unthinkingly, I nod. The prospect of someplace warm to sleep other than my father's house sounds too good to pass up.
"All right. I can drive, if you want."
I nod again. There is a brief pause.
"You gonna get the hell out of that tree?" He smiles. I extricate myself, slowly, from the branches and drop to the ground. I dust myself off.
"Ready?" He says.
"Good." He says, as we start off towards the distant parking lot. "Y'know something, Jay, you and me are gonna have a little fun tonight..."