Home > Defining the Rules

Defining the Rules
Author: Mariah Dietz

1

 

 

Arlo

 

 

“Ten more,” Dr. P says from the short stool on wheels, her eyes focused on my form while mine focus on the ugly purple scars dotting my knee, promising to ruin my future as the starting running back for Brighton University here in Seattle, Washington.

“There. How does that feel?” she asks.

I grin. “Isn’t that the question I should be asking you?”

Her cheeks flush a deep red. Dr. P is young, but the ring on her left hand confirms she’s either married or engaged—a detail she never talks about, though she’s told me the rest of her life story. “You’re already getting stronger. You’ll be back to normal in no time.”

“You know what I want to hear, Doc. Tell me I’m going to be playing football in the fall.”

Dr. P winces, her cheeks staining once again, and this time, it’s from discomfort rather than my flirting. I keep insisting she give me some clear understanding of my next steps—if I’ll be able to continue playing football (which my scholarship depends on). But each time I prod, Dr. P becomes a shy mouse and pushes her glasses up a bit higher like it will hide her flushed face, and instead focuses too hard on my next workout, successfully killing my hope a little more each day.

 

“Hey. You got it? You need help?” Paxton, my team captain and roommate, asks as I swing the front door open while trying to keep my late lunch from falling.

I grab the plastic bag of takeout I’d placed between my teeth and hand it to him before gripping my crutches and hobbling into the house. I don’t look to catch his reaction because, like many things, it’s hard to give a shit right now.

He follows me to the living room, where I clumsily lean my crutches against the wall and fall to a heap on the couch. One crutch slides slowly down the wall and then drops with a bang. Paxton’s stitched brows hint at unease, but like Dr. P, he doesn’t say anything. He pulls the coffee table close and sets my bag of food on top. “You need something to drink?”

“Only if you’re pouring whiskey.”

“Fuck, I’ll day drink with you,” he says, disappearing into the kitchen. If I could reach the remote, I’d turn on some sports highlights and wouldn’t waste brainpower on why Paxton’s agreed to drink with me. Unfortunately for both of us, the remote’s across the room.

A cupboard bangs in the other room, and then another one, followed by a muffled train of curses.

“You okay in there?”

Pax appears in the doorway. “We’re out of alcohol.”

“Out?”

“Out,” he confirms.

I’m not surprised. Paxton, our previously straight-laced quarterback, has been struggling with denial and acceptance after a rough fall that included his dad having an affair and his little sister Raegan dating our teammate, as well as roommate, Lincoln.

“Beer?”

“Gone.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve got tacos. Fuck the beer. You want some? They had a special going.” I dig into the bag.

“You want a Coke?”

“The powdered variety or the drink?”

Pax ignores me, disappearing back into the kitchen where I hear him open the fridge. He returns with a stack of napkins and two chilled cans.

“Remote,” I say, pointing to where it sits on the TV stand so he’ll grab it before sitting down.

“How was physical therapy?” he asks.

“Comparable to getting a blowjob from a girl with the mouth of a piranha.”

He flinches. “That’s not a mental picture I want.”

I nod, pushing the tab of my Coke back. “Me either, but it’s becoming my daily fucking routine.”

“This is just a speed bump,” Pax says, flipping on the TV.

I raise the reclining portion of the sofa, forcing Paxton to move the table once again. Without it being elevated, my knee starts to swell, and once it starts swelling, I can feel each of my fucking heartbeats like sharp lacerations in my knee.

“What did you think of the new offensive set?” Pax asks.

I dig into the bag, separating the tacos and burritos and the plate of nachos from the bottom, before offering Pax to take his pick. He grabs a taco. “I think Tyler Banks looked a little too comfortable in my position, but aside from that, it seemed like a strong start.”

“Coach has been riding Tyler because he’d rather you be out there, but I think he would be moved into the starting lineup regardless since Stone is graduating this year. Carson’s the one who’s playing for you right now, and Coach hates him. Once we get you up and dancing again, Carson’s ass will be riding the pine, don’t stress about that. You just have to focus on getting your…” he swallows, his lips teetering with a smile, “…fang-like blowies that sound so … enjoyable, so you can get strong enough to get back out onto the field.” He laughs, unwrapping his taco.

“What am I walking into?” Lincoln Beckett, nicknamed the president by most, steps through the front door, carrying an armload of groceries.

“Not a conversation you can join,” Pax announces. “Since you began dating my sister, sex is not a discussion we can have.”

“Blow jobs aren’t sex,” I tell him. “Candace has clearly been lying to you about many things.”

Lincoln chuckles. Paxton glares at him.

“Tell me you picked up booze,” I say to Lincoln.

He shakes his head. “Are we out again?”

“It’s all right. I have to go out tomorrow. I’ll pick some up.” I scrounge through the mostly empty bag my food had been in, finding crumpled napkins and a tiny hole, but none of the hot sauce I’d asked for. “Son of a bitch,” I say on a sigh.

“Did you take your meds already?” Pax asks, giving me a confused look. “You already took your food out. It’s over here.” He points at the stack of wrapped food with his taco.

“They forgot my hot sauce.”

“I think we’ve got some in the fridge,” Lincoln says, heading toward the kitchen.

“It’s not as good as this shit.” I sound solemn, which is pretty fucking ridiculous, but this isn’t about some damn hot sauce. For the past four weeks, my luck has been shit. It’s as though I walked under a tunnel of ladders or opened a hundred umbrellas inside because everything that can go wrong has and continues to do so.

Lincoln reappears with a bottle of chilled hot sauce. “What are you guys watching?”

“Game tape,” I say. “If you want in, I’ve got extra food. Burritos or tacos, just leave my nachos.” I reach for the plastic-covered tray.

“I’m actually heading out soon. I’m going to make some dinner to bring to Raegan.”

Paxton and I both turn, shock likely written across our features.

“She’s got you whipped, man,” I tell him.

Pax blinks slowly as if unsure where he stands on this thin line.

Lincoln laughs, shrugging his shoulders as he shakes his head. He doesn’t say anything. I knew he wouldn’t, in part because Paxton is here, and the situation is still similar to an elephant walking over a frozen pond, and because Lincoln’s not one for sharing his feelings. I could go on, rag on him for all the times he’s stood us up in the past couple of months to be with Rae, but the fact I like them each separately and even more together stops me. I take the hot sauce from him and apply a liberal amount across my nachos as Pax starts yelling at the game, swearing at a fumble. “That shit can’t happen next year,” he says.

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