The Fall season in Southern California bears no resemblance to the Fall in most of the Eastern and Northern states. Dylan dearly missed the Autumns from his childhood in Connecticut, where the trees would turn a million different shades of fiery red, gold, brown, and amber. The winds picked up, the temperatures dropped, and the days grew short as the months led up to the rains and early snows of November.
In LA, he mused,
it was as if there were just two seasons: a blisteringly-hot summer,
and a rainy, cold winter, with precious little mild weather between them. And
most of the trees never changed at all. This particular California Autumn was
turning into a real scorcher, with the hot Santa Ana winds blasting down from
the North, and temperatures still soaring into the 90s. The once lush-green
hillsides were now dry, brown, and brittle, making them "the worst fire-risk
in decades," according to local newspaper reports.
But Dylan no longer cared.
He was in love, and all was right with the world.
By early October, his friends slowly began to notice that Dylan was changing. Little things, like unexpectedly breaking out into a broad grin and laughing at the slightest provocation. Or singing along with the radio, something he'd almost never done before. And he almost never seemed to be in a bad mood anymore. His temper-tantrums had dramatically diminished. Something was different about Dylan.
"So what's up with you, bro'?" asked Kyle, as they tooled down to Burger King in Dylan's BMW during lunch hour. They had to make it fast, since it was technically against the rules to leave the high-school campus during lunch hour, and they only had 40 minutes until their next class began.
"What's up with what?" said Dylan, with an innocent smirk.
Kyle gave him a quizzical look, then began to grin ear-to-ear as realization set in. He wagged his finger in his friend's face. "You dog!" he said at last, laughing and pounding the BMW's dashboard. "You finally closed the deal! You fucked her!"
Dylan rolled his eyes. "Oh, shaddup, asshole. I told you before -- me and Tracy's done some stuff... but I promised her I wouldn't talk about it."
That much was true. But the reality was he'd only gotten about a half-dozen hand-jobs and a few half-hearted BJ's from Tracy -- and even then, those relatively-innocent activities had taken hours of begging and negotiations. Dylan had never known the kind of happiness he'd had with Angel over the past few weeks. For the first time, he understood what all the love songs ever written had really been about. He smiled to himself.
"You get third input
with her?" Kyle wiggled his eyebrows comically.
Dylan, who hadn't been paying attention.
"You know -- third
input! Hershey highway! Butt-sex!" Both boys laughed as they pulled up
to the drive-in window.
"Yeah, I wish,"
Dylan said, chuckling.
"Two double-Whoppers with cheese, two fries, and two chocolate shakes. That'll be eight seventy-three," said the female window attendant. The woman looked across at Kyle, who was pantomiming a blow-job, pushing out his cheek with his tongue, and she laughed out loud. Kyle looked up and immediately froze, his face beet-red with embarrassment.
Dylan smiled and handed her a ten-dollar bill. "Keep it," he said, taking the bags and putting them behind the driver's seat.
"Thanks. I'd keep
my eye on your friend, if I were you," warned the cashier, still chuckling.
"Aaaa, he's just
a homo!" yelled Dylan as the BMW roared out of the exit, swerving to miss
a UPS van making a lane change.
Kyle reached back and
idly munched some fries. "Hey, it was my turn to pay," he
complained, while reaching for his shake. "You got it last time."
Actually, Dylan had paid
for their meals about the last 196 times, and they both knew it. It was a running
gag that Dylan always caught the bill for his friend, though he never made a
big thing about it. It didn't matter to Dylan. He was grateful to Kyle. He'd
owed him so much; maybe he owed him everything.
Dylan pulled the BMW up
to the curb behind the school on a side road, and they ate in silence while
one of the local rock stations blared out of the car's speakers. He looked up
at his friend and grinned. It hadn't been that long ago when he had first moved
to town. Kyle had sat next to him in his very first class in 9th grade, and
somehow, they struck up an unlikely friendship.
It didn't seem to make
sense -- the scrawny newcomer hanging out with the blond-haired, blue-eyed athlete.
Kyle was already on the junior high school baseball team, and was itching to
try out for football the following year. He'd been instrumental in helping Dylan
learn how to run and throw -- skills Dylan's father never seemed to have the
time to teach him -- and he also taught him what it took to be a winner.
Dylan proved to be an eager student, and quickly ate up every lesson Kyle taught
him -- and then some.
By the following year,
just before their 15th birthdays, both boys were regularly pumping iron and
taking steroids. The drug was readily available from several of the older players,
who made frequent trips down to Tijuana, just a quick 2-hour drive down the
405 freeway. Steroids were still legal in Mexico, and as long as you didn't
make any stupid-ass mistakes while coming back over the border, it was nearly
impossible to be nailed by the border guards. Between their frequent workouts
and the drugs, they'd both managed to make incredible gains in their size. By
the ripe old age of 17, Kyle had made it all the way to 185 pounds, and Dylan
was close to 200. The young, muscular athlete was almost unrecognizable from
the frightened little 13 year-old nerd that sat in Mrs. Sumner's World History
class at Phoenix's Deer Valley Middle School, a lifetime ago.
"What're you thinkin'
about, Dyl'?" asked Kyle, as he slurped the last of his drink and crumbled
the empty food wrappers back into the bag.
Dylan looked up and smiled.
"Just remembering how this started. You know -- you gettin' me interested
in being on the team, and all that stuff." He shook his head sadly. "I
never thought I was gonna be anybody. My dad thought I was a total
"Aw, c'mon, dude...
You know that's not true!" insisted Kyle. "You're always goin' off
about your stupid old man. Give it a rest."
"No, no," said
Dylan, looking at his friend right in the eye. "He was right. I was
a total loser. If it hadn't been for you..."
"Oh, shaddup, man," laughed Kyle, punching Dylan lightly in the shoulder. He'd heard it all before.
In the distance, the school bell rang.
both said simultaneously, vaulting out of the convertible and tearing across
an open field to a nearby hallway. "See ya at practice!" yelled Dylan
as he vanished in the distance.
* * * * *
At 3:25PM, the last bell of the day rang. Dylan scurried down the crowded hall from his Sociology class and out to the "L" wing, which housed the enormous Phys Ed building.
"Damn," he muttered to himself, as he entered the locker room. "It's hot as hell, even in here."
his usual locker, #19, and greeted several other players, each of which was
pulling on his practice uniform.
called a familiar voice to his right. He turned and to see Kyle leaning against
a concrete pillar, grinning from ear-to-ear.
Loverboy's ready for practice! That is, if you have any strength left after
givin' it to your girlfriend."
his eyes. "Cut it out, man. I told you before -- I can't even talk about
the team's center, pulled his jersey over his head. "Hey, I heard Tracy's
finally spreadin' her legs for ya, man. It's about fuckin' time," he said,
Dylan shook his head. Was it that obvious?, he thought. I'm finally gettin' laid, and everybody knows it, without me saying a word.
"Looks like our lil' Dylan is finally gettin' him some-some," called out a loud, booming voice.
Dylan turned to see Latrelle Washington -- at 6'5, 290 pounds, the team's biggest
player, and arguably the guy with the biggest heart. He grinned at them from
ear to ear, and erupted with a loud, hearty laugh.
grinned and slapped Dylan on the back. Dylan had to catch himself from falling
my man," chuckled Latrelle. "That Tracy is one fine lookin' bitch,
"You call her that to her face, man, she'll whup your ass. She'll slap
the taste out yo' mouth."
black teen roared with laughter and raised up his hands in mock surrender. "Sorry,
man! Jes' wanna give you both your props'. She's mighty fine -- no doubt, no
nodded. Tracy was unquestionably one of the best-looking girls in school. She
and Dylan had clicked immediately almost a year ago, and had been voted "cutest
couple" at the sophomore dance back in June.
won't ever happen with me and Angel, mused Dylan to himself. But part of
him still loved her -- her smile, her sense of humor, and her sunny disposition.
Dylan tended to be very moody, and Tracy always had a way of calming him down,
even at the worst possible moments.
dudes!" called Latrelle, as he headed into the restroom.
got anything goin' on after practice?" asked Kyle casually, as Dylan finished
tying up his football shoes.
for a minute. "Not much," he said.
seen Angel the night before, when they had made love for over two hours at the
boy's house. He'd managed to find time to see him at least every couple of days,
and Angel had been energetic, enthusiastic, and unrestrained; he'd even taught
Dylan a few things.
kid's definitely been around, he thought to himself, shaking his head.
Dylan walked into the restroom, stepped up to the urinals, and unzipped.
use a hand with that World History paper due on Friday," said Kyle, as
he shot a stream against the porcelain bowl.
already done," replied Dylan. "I found a place on the Net that's got
a buncha papers you can download for ten bucks."
said Kyle. He shook off a few remaining drips, zipped up, then turned and sniffed
and made a wry face. "Latrelle!" he yelled, looking under one of the
stalls. "That you in there?"
muttered the player, in some distress. Seconds later, a loud fart echoed against
the tile walls.
man!" yelled Kyle. "Give us a mercy flush out here, okay? Smells like
somebody DIED in there, dude!"
After a moment's
pause, they heard a flush. "Sorry. See ya outside," he mumbled.
Kyle trotted outside to the water fountain. Dylan pulled a small capsule out
of his pocket and put it in his mouth.
exclaimed Kyle. "It's fuckin' 95 out here! You're not gonna take a Ripped
Fuel in this kinda weather!"
and took a quick swig of water, then swallowed. "Got to. I was up late
last night. I've been yawnin' all day as it is."
Most of the
players routinely took these legal over-the-counter "herbal uppers"
to perk them up and give them an extra edge on the field. They were supposedly
as safe as coffee, and were widely available, even at 7-11 and supermarkets.
They worked great, but everybody knew not to take more than one or two a day.
Their only real benefits were giving you about a six-hour rush of energy --
perfect for bodybuilders, athletes, and even harried housewives on the go. But
they also made you piss like a race-horse and elevated your heart-rate and respiration.
Kyle rushed out to the field and caught up with the rest of the squad. The practice
went on as expected. Despite the sweltering heat and the brutal regimen, Dylan
felt exhilarated. Over the better part of forty-five minutes, he nailed every
practice exercise and passing routine Coach Highland ran him through. There
was no question, he was in peak condition; his arm had never felt better.
jogged up to him. "Damn, son!" he said, grinning. "If I didn't
know better, I'd say you've finally been listening to what I've been sayin'
for a change. You're really comin' along, Dylan."
He grinned. "So, now am I good enough to put in the game, Friday night?"
Coach Highland shook his head. "Well, that's not up to me," he replied thoughtfully. "But lemme talk to Coach Wilson about it, and see what I can do."
I'm not promising anything!" warned the coach, as he jogged off towards
the other players.
his watch. Only ten minutes left for practice. Maybe he should call
Angel later on, just to see what he was up to.
"Good pass, man!" called Kyle, running up alongside him. "I think you already matched Charlie for distance. But you gotta keep up the runnin', dude. He's got mad skills on running plays."
Dylan nodded. "Yeah. You up to doin' laps again in the morning?"
"Same as always. But be on time for a change, willya?"
laughed, then turned as they heard an anguished cry behind them.
It's Latrelle! I think he's got a problem!"
Washington lay on the ground crumpled in a heap. His large arms and legs were
twitching spasmodically. Six players ran up, and one removed the large boy's
whispered Dylan, as they ran up to help.
black player's eyes had rolled up into their sockets, and his mouth was open,
trying to speak.
on, son. Don't try to move," said Coach Wilson, soothingly. "Highland,
call an ambulance. Tommy, bring us some water. I think Latrelle's overheated."
One of the
boys nodded and ran off to grab the large iced container off to the sideline.
Coach Wilson quickly pulled off the injured boy's jersey. It was soaking wet
with sweat, and Latrelle's chest heaved up and down. Kyle looked down at the
player. Latrelle had been the biggest player on the team for two years running,
but he seemed almost... indestructible. It seemed impossible for him to look
so weak, so frail.
Latrelle twitched once more, then stopped. His head rolled to the side, and
his eyes stayed open. A line of drool trickled from his open mouth.
"Hurry UP!" yelled the Coach. C'mon, son, he thought. Hang in there!
* * * *
John Meyers sighed. Only two other students had died on campus in the six years
since he'd worked at Chatsworth High. One of those was a suicide; the other
was a drug overdose in one of the bathrooms. That was still two too many. And
now in his first year as principal, he already had a blight on his record, only
four weeks into the school year.
at the phone. He dreaded this moment. Latrelle Washington was a good kid. Never
caused any trouble, no gang activity. The coach admired him, even praised him
as "the team's 17-year old 'Refrigerator Perry'." Now the principal
had to call Latrelle's parents and tell them the news.
tell them their son was already dead, of course -- just that there had been
an accident. A terrible accident. Before he left for the hospital, he'd make
sure the County Supervisor got all the facts, about Latrelle's weight, his possible
drug use -- anything to give the school system some ammunition. They'd already
found diet pills and herbal stimulants in the boy's locker. Meyers felt confident
he could avoid any kind of lawsuit. But the way lawyers acted nowadays, these
things were impossible to predict.
shook his head, and dialed the number. After two rings, there was an answer.
Washington? Hello, this is Principal Meyers from Chatsworth High School. I'm
sorry, Mrs. Washington, but there's been an accident with your son Latrelle.That's
right. Yes, I'm sorry, I think it's serious. He'll be at the hospital any minute
now. Yes -- Holy Cross, on Rinaldi Street over in Granada Hills. I'll meet you
there in fifteen minutes. Thank you so much, and I'm so very sorry about this."
his eyes and hung up the phone. Godammit, he thought, idly rubbing
his forehead. I really don't need this kind of crap right now.
* * * *
"You knew this guy at school real well?" he said, lying on his side.
He and Dylan were on the fold-out convertible bed in the pool house. Even at
10:30 at night, it was still hot, and their bodies were moist with sweat.
said Dylan. He stood up and pulled up his underwear. "He was a good dude.
Great lineman, too. Built like a brick shithouse."
The boy giggled
softly, then stopped when he saw Dylan's face.
okay. I just can't believe he's dead." Dylan sat on the bed and sighed,
staring off into space. "He was only six months older than me."
Angel sat up, then leaned forward and put his arms around the older teen and tenderly kissed him. "But you're alive," he whispered.
glad it wasn't you."
then turned to kiss the boy. Their kiss became more passionate, more intense.
just the thing to take Dylan's mind off his troubles. He put his hand up against
Dylan's hard, muscled chest, then moved down lower to his stomach, then his
groin. He slipped his hand into the waist band. Dylan immediately moaned.
li'l dude," he protested. "I gotta... I've gotta get to bed. And your
mom's gonna be home in less than an hour. You gotta go, too."
"Just enough time for a quickie," he giggled, then pulled down Dylan's
back over to the bed and began passionately moaning, their hands blurring as
they roamed over each others' bodies. In seconds, both boys were fully erect,
and their hearts pounded with desire. Their lips locked together, and Dylan
moved his hand down to the boy's groin. They began to wrestle in unison on the
Outside the pool house, Yolanda Hayes stared through the window, her mouth agape. She took a step back, then leaned back against the stone wall for support. Oh my dear lord, she thought to herself. I can't believe it.
She quietly walked back to the kitchen and opened the door. She made herself a cup of decaf, then sat at the table. "Dylan, child," she said softly to herself, shaking her head. "Please don't let that boy hurt you."
* * * *
the next morning, Dylan was uncharacteristically quiet. Lady looked in expectantly
through the glass doors, desperately hoping for a spare morsel.
alright, son?" asked his father, looking up from his LA Times.
Dylan nodded, then took another bite of waffle.
"Honey, Dylan knew this Lonelle boy very well. It's so sad," said his mother reassuringly.
"It was Latrelle," muttered Dylan. He was still tired from his run with Kyle half an hour earlier. He looked up at the clock. Shit -- 8:15 already, he thought. He grabbed a large chunk of sausage off the table, walked over and opened the patio door a crack, tossing it out to Lady. She eagerly gobbled it down in two gulps, then softly barked her thanks. Dylan petted her head, then closed the door again.
paper says your coach should never have been pushing you boys so hard yesterday.
What was it up to? 95? A hundred?"
was always one of the hottest parts of the LA suburbs, due to its location in
the northwestern-most corner of the San Fernando Valley. That made the area
particularly vulnerable to the scorching Santa Ana winds, part of the current
El Niño weather pattern for Southern California, which had been even
hotter than usual.
his head. "It doesn't matter now. Look, I gotta go, folks. So long, Mom,"
he said, hopping up and giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.
careful, son," called his father. "And try not to think about your
As if you really give a shit, he thought, shaking his head as he ran to
* * * *
the news had spread all over school like wildfire. Head football coach Wilson
had been suspended -- "pending further investigation" -- and defensive
coach Wayne Highland would be taking over in the interim, until a decision had
been made on Wilson's fate.
totally sucks," muttered Kyle, as he slammed his empty lunch tray
in the receptacle. "Highland's a fuckin' moron!"
He knew that most of the players had never really liked Highland. But he'd said
good things about Dylan's abilities the day before. Maybe the new head coach
would give him a chance to actually play for a change. In the four games they'd
played so far this season, Dylan had spent the entire time "riding the
pine," sitting patiently on the bench in the sidelines. The only difference
between him and the spectators was his uniform.
Dylan replied, clearing off the food from his plate. "But maybe the moron
will give me a break. Unless Stephenson drops dead from heat stroke today, that's
the only way I'm ever gonna play. Charlie's got QB locked up for the whole season."
Dylan an angry look. "That's not funny, dude," he snapped. Kyle had
always liked Stephenson, and knew he was a better player than Dylan.
man," Dylan said, apologetically. "You're right. I'm just... I'm just
still freaked out about Latrelle."
emptying their trays, then silently trudged over to the cafeteria door, each
lost in their own thoughts.
shrieked a female voice on the steps outside. They turned, startled at the sound.
over and gave her boyfriend a hug. "I'm gonna be on the news tonight!"
she said, grinning. "Can you believe it? Channel 2 News just did an interview
outside the school about Latrelle, and they picked me!"
Dylan rolled his eyes. She never even met Latrelle, he thought. She probably thought he was just another guy in the line. "Great, Trace," he said, trying to sound enthusiastic. "Look, we gotta get to class."
The beautiful blonde pouted. "I thought you'd be excited."
you give me a ride home today? Please?"
his head. "Sorry. We got..."
she said, exasperated. "I should've known. Always that stupid football!"
waved her finger at him. "Then Saturday night for sure."
"You got a date."
and kissed deeply, and Kyle looked away, slightly embarrassed. Just then, the
3-minute warning bell sounded.
run! So long, guys!" she chirped, then scooted down the hall.
Kyle watched her happily skip away. They looked at each other, both rolled their
eyes, and laughed.
muttered Kyle. Dylan shook his head, and they continued walking two doors down
to their next class.
* * * *
the 62 members of the Chatsworth High School varsity football team crammed their
way into the main gymnasium building. Few of them spoke. They knew that meetings
like this rarely resulted in any good news. And they were right.
as coach Wayne Highland strode confidently onto the court, clapping his hands
for attention. Highland was a tough, wiry man of about 40. A whistle hung around
his neck, and he wore the standard-issue staff school-logo white polo shirt
and shorts. As head defensive coach, Highland was the number two man on the
team, just under head coach Wilson. He'd only been with the school for two years,
and was looked on as being pushy and argumentative.
all of you share in our grief at the loss of Latrelle Washington yesterday at
practice," he began, slowly pacing back and forth in front of the bleachers.
"There'll be a funeral announcement tomorrow, and we're anticipating the
service will be in Baldwin Hills sometime over the weekend. It's not mandatory,
but I'd like to see all of you there, to support Latrelle's family."
Some of the
players nodded. Latrelle had been a good guy, and a real team player. His loss
would be keenly felt, especially against the upcoming game Friday night against
their arch-rivals, King High, who had trounced them every year for the past
as many of you know, the school has suspended Coach Wilson, and Principal Meyers
has temporarily appointed me to take his place for the interim."
murmured. They'd expected this, of course, but each player winced at the thought
of the younger man taking over permanently.
paused and eyed the boys. "The police department is conducting a thorough
investigation, and if any of you are contacted, it's important that you give
them your full cooperation. You know that the school system has a strict no-drug
policy, and I for one will not tolerate the use of anything beyond aspirin and
caffeine without a doctor's prescription."
his eyes and shot Kyle a look. Kyle had to stifle a laugh. They knew the reality
-- that 90% of the team routinely used the "juice" to help pack on
muscle weight and size. And Dylan doubted he could get through the day without
at least a Vivarin or a Ripped Fuel to keep him going.
What about Creatine?" called out one player.
turned to the boy. "I personally have no problem with the over-the-counter
supplements, but don't use 'em on school grounds, son."
called out Jordan Chandler, team center. At 5' 9", 180 lbs., Jordan was
one of the smaller members of their offensive squad.
still gonna play King this Friday?"
been talk of rescheduling the game in honor of Latrelle's death. Even the local
papers had speculated what would happen, in the wake of the accident and Wilson's
nodded. "You bet. I discussed it an hour ago with Latrelle's parents, and
they were insistent that we not change our plans. They told us that football
meant everything to their son, and that he would've wanted us to play."
his eyebrows. He'd thought for sure the game would be cancelled. The other team
members murmured with surprise.
Highland raised his voice. "And I want us to kick King High's ass! Let's do this one for Latrelle, boys!"
They applauded and hooted, stomping their feet with approval. As the cheers died down, Dylan stood up.
he called out.
The boy hesitated.
"Do you know if... I mean, when Coach Wilson will be back?"
Dylan's question even surprised himself. He'd fought bitterly with Wilson for the past year, since he and Kyle had been on JV together, but somehow, he'd forged a grudging respect for the old man.
Highland shook his head. "That's not for you or me to say, son. The last time this sort of thing happened, at South-Central High two years ago, the head coach took early retirement, and the city had to settle a big lawsuit with the boy's parents."
Dylan dimly remembered reading the newspaper accounts, which had awarded the family more than $2 million in compensation. All because the athlete, a top sprinter, had collapsed on the track and died after taking ephedrine pills just prior to a meet.
paused and eyed the athletes. "If that's all, let's get out there and play!
I want all of you to stay sharp and keep focused! Practice will go to 6PM
today! Let's hustle, hustle!"
A chorus of groans erupted from the players as they stepped down from the bleachers and squeaked across the gym floor. 6PM was an hour later than normal, and most of them had erroneously anticipated that today's practice would be cancelled.
"Stupid fuckin' asshole," muttered Dylan under his breath, as he and Kyle pushed their way through the metal doors leading outside.
"Don't let him hear you say that, bro', or you're never gonna
get to play," he warned.
his eyes and both players jogged out to the practice field.
* * * *
The team's workout had been particularly brutal today. The LA heat wave was still in full force, and wasn't expected to get down to even the 80s until next week.
Dylan tooled his BMW down Winnetka through the main entrance, then took a left
to the road that led to his family's estate. As he pulled into the curved driveway,
his eyes caught a reflected glint off something leaning on the side wall. It
was his old Trek bicycle, the one he gave to Angel.
he thought with a sigh, as he pulled the car into his underground parking space.
I told Angel to always call me before coming over.
his books and jogged through the door and down the long winding hall that led
to the kitchen. Yolanda looked up from reading the newspaper at the dining table.
Dylan. That's such sad news about that boy on your team. You okay, baby?"
she asked, concern in her voice.
"Yeah. Latrelle was a good guy." He turned and looked outside to the
patio. "Angel's out there in back?"
I told him he could use the pool while he waited for you."
She didn't want to cause Dylan any embarrassment. "Hon'," she said
quietly, "your mama doesn't know he's here. She's gonna be home soon. Maybe
you should -- you know... be careful."
her a quizzical glance. Did she know? It's not possible, he thought.
"Yeah. I'll make sure he calls before coming over next time."
Dylan ran outside to find Angel lying on a chaise lounge by the chair. The boy was wearing a small black bikini-style bathing suit, and was covered from head to toe with tanning oil. A can of Pepsi was on a glass table beside him. Nearby was a towel and a small pile of clothes. He looked up and grinned.
"Hey," he said, sitting up and taking off his dark sunglasses. "I thought we were gonna get together today," he said, shyly.
"Yeah. Practice went late. Today's not a good day. Listen, Angel..."
The boy stood
up and walked towards him. His skin glistened in the hot sun, and his pale skin
was starting to take on the beginnings of a tan. A tear of sweat rolled down
his skinny chest, which led to his narrow waist and hips. The swimsuit was small
enough to leave very little to the imagination. Angel grinned at the older boy's
in his breath and felt a surge in his loins. As tired as he was, he felt like
he could take the boy now, right by the pool. He looked up and saw Yolanda staring
through the kitchen window, giving them both a disapproving glance.
Angel said, softly.
back. "Listen, lil' dude. I... we gotta be careful with this. My folks...
they wouldn't understand. Y' know?"
for a moment. "Look -- I got an idea. Wait here."
back into the kitchen and rummaged through several drawers. After several moments,
he found what he was looking for and trotted back outside. Angel was sitting
at the pool steps, his feet dangling lazily in the water.
over and handed him a small plastic package. "I want you to have this.
You can call me anytime."
open the case and grinned. "A cellphone? Cool."
It's a spare. The number's on the back. Just don't use it to call China or somethin',
The boy nodded
and carefully examined the phone's buttons.
time, call me before you wanna come by, and I'll make sure the coast is clear.
Here's my cell number," Dylan said, jotting it down on a napkin and handing
The boy looked
disappointed. "So today's out?"
"Yeah. I'm totally beat, lil' dude. This is gonna be a tough week. Look,
gimme a few days. Maybe Saturday you can come by, okay?"
I guess." Angel grabbed his towel and clothes off the table and headed
forlornly across the patio to the pool house.
sank. He stared at the large pool, which looked cool and inviting. Inside, he
knew he liked Angel -- a lot -- but sometimes, he could be such a needy little
pest. He chuckled to himself. I guess I was the same way when I was his
age, he thought.
over to the pool house and opened the screen door, just as Angel was pulling
up his short pants. Dylan sat down on the couch.
call me first, the next time you wanna come over. Okay?"
then pulled on his T-shirt and shoes. "I gotta go. Saturday, right?"
"Yeah. I'm really lookin' forward to it. Hey, I got a game Friday night
at school. They might even let me play. You wanna go?"
The boy smiled,
and Dylan's heart skipped a beat. God, he thought. I think I do
be real cool, Dylan."
get ya a free ticket."
He put his hand on the boy's shoulder. Angel leaned forward and gave him a quick peck on the lips.
Dylan jumped back and looked around nervously. "Hey! Be careful, man! I don't want anybody to see us."
fell. "Sorry. See ya."
As he got
to the doorway, Dylan stopped him. "Hey. I love ya, lil' dude."
around, Angel nodded, then continued out the door and to the side exit, which
led to the front door.
Dylan sat on the couch. I can still smell him in the room, he thought to himself, as he closed his eyes. He thought about Angel's face, his body. He had to find a way to make more time for the little guy. But he also had to make sure nobody found out. If his secret got out, it would be...
No, he thought with a shudder. I don't even wanna think about it.
* * * *
Friday night at the Chatsworth High field was jammed to capacity. Both teams
were already 4 and 0 for the season, and they were very evenly-matched. Coach
Highland was ecstatic; by the 4th quarter, Chatsworth was already 12 points
ahead, and had successfully sandbagged their opponents for well over an hour.
He beamed with satisfaction. Finally, he had a chance to prove himself. Highland
felt certain that his more-modern approach to coaching would lead the team to
victory, and this win would cinch his chances of keeping the job for at least
the rest of the year. And who knows -- if they'd kept up the winning streak,
maybe he'd wind up the permanent choice as Wilson's replacement.
Charlie Stephenson glanced over at the coach and shook his head. He knew the
team was winning -- not because of Highland, but in spite of him.
From the bench on the sidelines, Dylan stared out at the field. Fuck this, he said, wiping the sweat off his forehead. I'm still ridin' the pine, just like always. He glanced over at the scoreboard. Less than two and a half minutes to go, and we'll win the game.
Coach Highland crossed in front of him, clapped his hands together and yelled out at his players. "That's it, men! Keep 'em on the run! Good one!"
Dylan stood up and touched the coach on the shoulder. "Coach?" he said, timidly.
is it, Callahan?" snapped Highland.
his nerves and continued. "Coach, ah... is there any chance you could,
y' know... put me in? Like we talked about at practice on Monday?"
The man sighed.
He stared hard at Dylan, then looked up at the clock. What the hell, he
thought. Maybe putting Mike Callahan's son in the game wouldn't hurt my
chances of keeping this job. He grinned and nodded.
"Alright, Callahan. You're in." He turned to the referee and called a time-out. The other players hurried over.
"Listen up, men! Stephenson, you did great. This game's won. But for now, I want you to take it easy and let Callahan go in as QB for the rest of the quarter."
I'm feelin' okay. I can finish the game," the boy protested.
son. This is my decision! Let's give some of the other guys a chance
to play, alright?"
shook his head and headed off the field. The other players trotted back to their
positions. Dylan grinned, put on his helmet and started to walk over, but the
coach put his hand on his shoulder and stopped him.
one thing, Dylan," he said, quietly.
it easy out there. No heroics. Just keep control of the ball. All you need to
do is just run out the clock for the next couple of minutes, and we got it in
the bag. Don't take any chances -- okay, Dylan?"
looked at him solemnly. "Go with a Fullback dive on 1. Keep it simple,
it, coach." He ran out to join the huddle, his heart pounding with anticipation.
speakers blared. "Chatsworth High number nineteen, quarterback Dylan Callahan,
going in for number eleven, Charles Stephenson."
a smattering of applause in the bleachers.
you could join us, man!" laughed Kyle, who slapped him on his back as he
joined the huddle. "I thought you were gonna fall asleep on that bench!"
My ass was gettin' pretty flat," he replied, sheepishly.
said you had a nice ass, Callahan!" called a voice to the right. He looked
over to see the smiling face of Lionel Wilson, one of their tight ends, and
also the team captain.
said Dylan, laughing. "You too, man. Listen up, guys. Let's go with Shotgun
2. Strong right, Y post."
blanched. "But coach said to just wait out the clock!" objected Buck
Johnson, one of the team's linemen. With Latrelle Washington gone, Buck was
now the biggest player on the team, at well over 260 pounds.
But just go with it, okay?" snapped Dylan.
his shoulders. "You the man."
know what to do, right, Kyle?" Dylan asked.
got it, bro'."
this move a million times. Now, for the first time, they were gonna make it
The players broke the huddle and scrambled over to formation at the 30-yard line. At the snap, Dylan rolled to the left, then tore off to the right and sent the ball spiraling out to Kyle.
Kyle caught it deftly and shot off like a bullet. A split-second later, he narrowly avoided a tackle by one of the King players. Seconds later, another player made a lunge but missed him by inches, falling with an angry grunt at the 15 yard line. Kyle glanced over his shoulder and grinned, slowing down to a trot just as he crossed the goal line. Touchdown!
The crowd roared and the speakers erupted with the announcer declaring the new score: Chatsworth 32, King 6. The high school band struck up a rousing fanfare, and the Chatsworth audience yelled "charge!"
"GODDAMIT, CALLAHAN!" yelled the coach.
to see the coach frantically waving him over. The referees blew their whistles
as another time-out was called. Highland met him and Lionel at the sideline.
the fuck are you doing, kid?" the coach barked. "I told you
to just run out the clock!"
"I thought I was tryin' to win, coach," he said, sarcastically.
him a glance.
The coach shook his head. "Just take it easy, Callahan!" he pleaded. "To be a good quarterback, you gotta learn how to take orders. We're not tryin' to steamroller the other team. I told you, we already got this game won! Don't try any theatrics, alright? Just go for the kick."
Dylan nodded and ran across the field back to the huddle. He looked up at the clock: only one minute remained.
we go for the kick?" asked Jordan.
for a moment, then shook his head. "No. Let's go for the two points."
players stared at him. This boy was crazy, thought Buck.
"But coach said..." began Lionel.
"Fuck coach!" spat Dylan, angrily. "Coach Wilson always went for two. You with me or not?"
The players nodded and trotted back to formation. At the two-yard line, Dylan called the play, then at the snap, launched himself like a rocket up and over the center, tumbling down in a heap over the startled King High players. Three lineman crashed on top of him, but it was too late. The whistles blew -- his gamble had worked, and the score was now 34 to 6.
his head groggily as the defensive players got off him, and Kyle helped him
to his feet. The crowd roared their approval.
realize you're outta you're fuckin' mind, right?" whispered Kyle.
CALLAHAN!" screamed the coach from the sideline.
then turned just in time to see Highland angrily slam down his clipboard to
the grass, sending a dozen pieces of paper flying.
was nearly beside himself. He prided himself on running a tight ship, and he'd
be damned if this boy, this fucking millionaire's son, made a fool out of him
on the field.
blew their whistles as the kickoff teams took the field. Dylan ran over to the
coach and started to protest, but Highland seized him by the shoulders and shook
TO ME, YOU LITTLE SHIT!" he yelled. "I'M IN CHARGE HERE!"
his jaw and stared at him, not saying a word.
sighed, then shook his head as he forced himself to stay calm. "Listen,
son. We're not tryin' to pound the other team -- that's unsportsmanlike.
We've already won the game."
He glanced over at the scoreboard and pointed.
"Look, there's just 30 seconds left in the clock. Just wait it out. Use your head, Callahan! There's no way they can score four touchdowns and beat us. Just relax."
"But coach..." Dylan began.
"NO BUTS, BOY!" the man bellowed. "Get out there and do what I say! Or you're cut! You hear me?"
He glanced over at Charlie Stephenson, who shot him a grin and gave him a thumbs
up. At least Charlie understands, he thought to himself, giving the
boy a nod.
signaled the end of the time-out, and the players ran out to formation at their
own 30 yard-line. Dylan turned and called out to Jason Blake, the team kicker.
Jase -- do an on-side kick," he said, quickly.
at him as if he was insane. You never did an on-side kick unless you were desperate
to get control of the ball and were losing. And they were already winning.
"C'mon, Dylan..." he began.
"Just do it!" Dylan ordered.
Jason winced. Coach is gonna kill us both, he thought, shaking his head.
At the start of the play, Jason moved as if he was going to kick the ball all the way to the goal, then pulled back and kicked it just a few feet up in the air. Dylan ran forward and caught the ball just 12 yards away, then tore down the field like he was shot out of a cannon.
eyes nearly popped out of his head.
the forty... the fifty. To his left, three of King High's finest were barreling
towards him at top speed. His feet pounded the turf at top speed, and the lines
below were blurring.
Now two more
men were at his heels. Dylan pushed himself harder, suddenly taking a sharp
left and angling diagonally across the field when he hit the next forty-yard
behind him were almost at him. He suddenly darted to the right and the player
behind him fell to the turf with a bone-crunching thud. The crowd's roars were
At the thirty,
one of the King High players stood, waiting to pounce on him like a panther.
Dylan barreled right through him in a blur, knocking him on his back as the
boy cursed him.
twenty-five more yards to go, he thought.
Just then, another player caught him from behind and grabbed his jersey and jerked it down. Dylan nearly stopped, then managed to wriggle out of his grasp, spun sharply, then crossed the twenty.
He looked up just in time to see two more rival players running towards him. He quickly zig-zagged, then clipped the player on the right. The boy sprawled to the ground, tripping up the second player, who fell forward and cursed.
With just ten yards to go, two players careened into his left side at top speed. He careened through the air, but came back to the ground on his feet, stumbled and kept his footing. Dizzily, he glanced up at the scoreboard. Five seconds to go!
to the absolute limit of endurance, he shot ahead to the goal line. At that
exact moment, almost in slow motion, three more King High tacklers leapt on
him and dragged him to the ground. His shoulder hit the ground with a sickening
crunch, and he cried out loud with the pain.
horn sounded ending the game, and a deafening roar shot out from the crowd.
The referees held their arms up. Touchdown!
on his back, completely exhausted, then rolled over just in time to see the
bright yellow scoreboard lights flicker and blink from 36 to 42. He'd done it
again. He smiled and let the crowd's cheers wash over him like a soothing rain
on a hot summer night. Those cheers were all for him.
yelled a voice. Dylan looked up to see Kyle's welcome face peering over him.
and Kyle helped him stagger to his feet. One of the King players walked over
and stuck out his hand.
fuckin' play, man," he said, shaking his head. "You're the craziest
motherfucker I've ever seen."
and shook the other boy's hand. "Thanks."
screamed a voice on the sidelines.
player turned. "Looks like your coach don't appreciate you too much."
"No, I guess not. Take it easy, dude."
half-limped to the end zone and leaned up against the rail for support. The
coach ran over, red-faced and trembling with rage. Half the team was with him.
IT!" he bellowed. "I warned you! You're history, Callahan!"
for the opportunity, coach," Dylan said, quietly.
that's the LAST fuckin' opportunity you'll ever get at this school!" the
and looked him right in the eye. "At least until Wilson gets back,"
he said, smiling wanly.
face was nearly purple. He grabbed Dylan by the shoulders, shook him, and screamed
in his face. "Get outta my sight! I won't have any showboats on this team!"
With that, he shoved the boy away. Dylan staggered back a few feet and glared
players stood in shocked silence. The coach turned to them. "And that goes
for the rest of you, too!" he barked. "Any of you clowns wanna join
Callahan on the cut list?"
of the team was silent and watched Dylan as he shook his head, then limped off
glumly at his friend. What the fuck were you thinking, man? he thought
But Dylan was elated. He nonchalantly tossed his helmet behind him, letting it crash to the ground, then ripped off his jersey and shoulder pads and stuffed them in a nearby trashcan.
He'd proved his point. He was just as capable as Stephenson ever was. Sure, maybe he took a few risks. But that's what it took sometimes to be a winner.
Dylan limped the rest of the way across the nearby baseball field, through a fenced doorway, out to the street and over to his BMW, parked beside a telephone pole. Just as he reached the driver's side, a voice called out behind him.
and Angel ran up and hugged him.
was totally cool, man," he said, grinning. His green eyes glinted from
the light of a nearby street lamp.
and stroked Angel's head. "Yeah. But Coach kicked me off the team."
"Yeah. Fuck him."
He leaned over to kiss the boy, then another voice called out.
"Hey! Dylan! Wait up!"
quickly stepped back from each other as Kyle ran down the sidewalk, his metal
cleats scraping on the sidewalk.
up to them and shook his head, grinning. "Dude, Coach is still screamin'
about you in the locker room," he said.
Guess I was pretty stupid, huh?"
But it's the kinda thing Wilson liked. He always liked guts. Highland's got
him," said a voice to their right.
curiously at Angel, who was leaning against the BMW. "Who's the kid?"
is Angel -- Angel Thompkins. He's a friend of mine. He goes to Chaminade, down
the street from the house."
Angel," he said, with a wave. "I'm Kyle."
Yeah, Dylan's told me about you."
down, uncomfortable. "Listen, uh, Kyle... do me a favor, and get my stuff
out of the team locker room, OK? Call me tomorrow. Maybe we can get together
over the weekend or somethin'."
"Don't forget, we got Latrelle's funeral service tomorrow at noon."
Dylan said, rolling his eyes. "I'll go, but I'm gonna sit as far away from
Coach as I can."
Otherwise, we'll have two more people to bury. You two assholes looked like
you were gonna kill each other!" Kyle said, laughing.
into the car, and Angel hopped in the passenger side.
dude!" called Kyle, trotting off. "Nice to meetcha, Angel!"
long!" yelled Angel, as Dylan pulled the car away.
As they reached
the intersection, Angel put his hand on his shoulder and gave him a gentle squeeze.
Dylan immediately winced and sucked in his breath.
Angel mumbled, quickly pulling his hand away.
okay, lil' dude," Dylan said. "I just got some bad bruises there when
I got nailed."
"You were really cool out there, man."
he replied with a weary sigh. "But now I'm off the team."
The boy gingerly
reached over and kneaded his arm. Dylan sighed with relief.
continued across his leg and gave him a gently squeeze on his groin.
no bruises down there," Dylan said, laughing.
"My mom won't be home until midnight. We got forty minutes. You wanna...
Dylan nodded. He revved the engine and made his way down DeSoto, over to the shortcut that led to Angel's house.