Falling into Us Read online

Page 31

I gritted my teeth and stood up. “Tape…my f**king…ribs. ” I growled the words at Doug, flexing every muscle in my body, clenching my fists, letting adrenaline surge through me.

  I let my anger at my dad take over, brought up every memory of his fist crashing into me, every demeaning word. I felt myself swelling up, heat radiating from my skin, anger from my eyes.

  Doug paled. “Okay, man. Okay. It’s your career, not mine. ” He snagged the role of tape from the counter and stuck the end to my sternum and pulled it taut around my body, stretching it so it bound my ribs together.

  I ground my teeth and clenched my fists, staring at the wall over his head. He rolled it around my torso again and again, pulling it tight and smoothing the edges together. When he was done, the agony of each breath was intense but more manageable. I donned my gear, slid my gloves onto my hands, and pulled the straps tight.

  Doug stopped me with a hand on my shoulder, pale blue eyes on mine. “Jason, I’ll say it again: You shouldn’t play. I’m gonna tell Coach Payton you’re playing against my recommendation. You don’t have to prove anything. Whatever’s driving you right now, it’s gonna get you injured. Season-ending, possibly, or worse. A broken rib can puncture your lung. ”

  I pushed past him, my shoulder jostling his and sending a brief bolt of pain through me. It was going to seriously suck to get tackled.

  Becca was waiting for me. She saw me in my gear, saw the expression on my face. I didn’t stop for her, though, even when she called my name. Ben’s babbling voice stopped me, though. I turned back and glanced at him, his innocent face lit up with excitement as he reached for me, and then I looked up to Becca’s eyes, which was my undoing.

  I moved back to the stands, and Becca switched Ben to the other hip so she could reach down and take my hand. “Don’t let him push you anymore,” she murmured to me, barely audible over the noise of the stadium. “He’s not here. I’m here, and I’m proud of you. ”

  Her words pierced through my self-induced haze of anger-fueled adrenaline. I kissed her fingers and then continued on to the sidelines, taking my place next to Coach Payton.

  “Ready, Dorsey?” he asked without looking at me. “We stopped their drive. You’re up. Let’s win this. ”

  I glanced back at Becca, who was watching me with a pleading expression on her face. She knew exactly what was driving me, and she hated it.

  I’m here, and I’m proud of you.

  When Dad had been injured, he’d been warned not to play, but he had anyway. His ankle had been f**ked up by a tackle, and if he’d let it heal, he would have gone on to play again. Things could’ve been different for him, I realized. The trainer who’d been working for the Jets at the time had recognized me at a training camp in Florida a few weeks back, since apparently I looked exactly like my dad had back then. He’d told me the story, shaking his head ruefully and bemoaning the stupid loss of what could have been a damn good career.

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  All this flashed through my head in the split second that my eyes met Becca’s.

  Coach’s voice shook me out of my thoughts. “Dorsey? You’re up. ”

  “No, sir. Put Jarred in. ” The words tumbled out before I could stop them.

  He glanced at me. “Sure, son?”

  I nodded. “I’d rather not take the chance. It f**king hurts, man. ”

  He peered sideways at me, glanced at his clipboard, then nodded, clapping Jarred Fayson on the back and pushing him toward the field. “Good choice. Go sit. ”

  Fayson ended up making a game-winning touchdown. I went home with my wife and son rather than party with the rest of the guys. They expected this from me already, though, and a few guys ribbed me about being pu**y-whipped, but they all respected me for it.

  Becca showed me how proud of me she was that night, using just her sweet mouth and soft hands in ways that had me groaning with pain-tinged bliss.

  EIGHTEEN: Our Forever



  Jason had his arm around me, and beyond him were six of his teammates and their wives and girlfriends, all of us crammed into a roped-off section of the club. The boys were rowdy and the girls loud, most of them having been drinking in the limo we’d all ridden in together. Jason and I were nursing beers, the first either of us had had since before Ben’s birth. My parents had come down to visit us in New Orleans, and they were watching Ben so we could have a night out together. Ben was seventeen months old, walking and talking and charming everyone he encountered. He reminded me all too often of his namesake, my brother, in the way he laughed, in his smile and certain angles of his face.

  The stage lights dimmed and the crowd in the bar quieted a bit as an MC strode on stage, a mic in his hand trailing the black thread of a cord. “Hey y’all. Welcome to Circle Bar. I’m Jimmy, and it’s my great pleasure to introduce tonight’s act. Some’a you may know ’em, but after tonight, you’ll all love ’em, I can guaran-damn-tee you that. Please help me welcome…Nell and Colt!”

  The entire bar rose to their feet when Nell crossed the stage, a guitar slung over one shoulder to hang at her side. Cheers filled the bar, shaking the floor beneath our feet. Colt was right behind her, his guitar held by the neck in one hand, no strap. They sat side by side on stools, settling their guitars on their laps and adjusting the microphones.

  “Hey y’all,” Colt said, shifting the mic closer so his voice boomed over the fading applause. “Am I allowed to say that? I’m not from the South, but it’s okay, right? Cool. So yeah, I’m Colt, and this is the love of my life, Nell. ” He turned to face her, keeping his mouth near the mic. “Say hey, babe. ”

  Nell smiled at him, then addressed the crowd. “Hey, guys. Thanks for having us here. I guess we’ll get started, huh? This first song is a cover that Colt and I got permission to rearrange. It’s called ‘Breathe Me’ by an amazing artist named Sia. I hope you like it. ”

  She strummed a few chords, paused to adjust her tuning a bit, and resumed strumming, finding a rhythm. Colt waited a few beats, then began picking a counter-melody, filling in the spaces around her rhythm with a more complex tune. After a few bars, Nell began singing. The song was at the upper end of her register, but it fit their sound perfectly.

  I’d never seen Nell perform before, and I was in awe. When she’d mentioned, so long ago, that she was going to a school for the performing arts, I’d been stunned and not a little skeptical. She’d never expressed an interest in music before, never shown any particular talent or enthusiasm for performing. Her declaration then had come out of left field for me. It showed me just how out of touch with my best friend I’d been. When she’d left the hospital after her miscarriage, she’d talked about going back to New York with Colt and playing some gigs with him, but she’d never played anything for me. We’d hung out nearly every day for over a month while she recuperated and took some time to find her equilibrium emotionally. She’d told me more about her relationship with Colt, how they’d met and the integral role music had played for them.

  She’d eventually gone back to New York with Colt, and we’d seen little of each other over the next year. She’d come to my wedding, of course, but had to go back pretty much right away for a series of shows she and Colt were playing in the New York area. I’d heard from her off and on since then, and she’d emailed me links to articles written about her and Colt highlighting their rising fame as a singer-songwriter duo. They had a knack for covering songs in a unique and unforgettable way, the articles all said, and they would cover anything from classic jazz and swing numbers to indie folk songs, as well as some of the more popular rock and pop radio-play songs.

  Nell and I had made plans over and over again to meet up, but after Jason got drafted by the Saints, our lives had entered a whirlwind period of frenzied activity. We’d moved to New Orleans, and I’d applied to and been accepted into LSU’s speech language pathology graduate program. Sports media had followed Jaso