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Linebacker’s Second Chance

By:Imani King


“Renata Young,” I say to my cousin, Wingate. I’m sitting on the brick wall in front of the dorm at Brooks University. Football has started up, which is fine by me. It gave me a full scholarship, and it’s something I love to do. But I could have played football at a hundred universities in the United States. I had offers from every place I applied—and some I didn’t. My whole career has been planned out for me—college football, then the NFL. And after that, a cushy retirement in a big house somewhere with a great view. Yeah, it didn’t matter where I went to school. So I chose Brooks—because Renata did.

“I thought you were over trying to convince her to go out with you, Mack?” Wingate is lying back on the wall, one leg crossed over the other, dark sunglasses covering his eyes. He’s already burned twice from being out here in California, so there’s a big dollop of sunscreen on his nose. “She went with you to prom, but that was all she did. Said we were all best friends, and that was enough for her.” Still lying down, Wingate shrugs. “It probably freaks her out that you followed her here.”

“She’s going to be my wife and my manager. Or else I don’t have a single chance of succeeding in the NFL. Renata is my reason, man.”

“You keep telling yourself that, cuzzo. I’ll get you to the NFL if it’s the last thing I do. You just have to survive four years of college and not go insane on all the women chasing you.”

“I don’t notice them much,” I mumble. There are plenty of girls. Older ones, freshmen like us, girls in my dorm, girls at parties. They’re chasing after me at all times, asking me for a date, to go to sorority formals, to take them out to the bars even though I’m only nineteen. It helps that I’m tall, and Renata did say once that my face made me look like a male model. I didn’t take it as a compliment at the time, but right now, I’m getting the picture. Not only am I on the college team, I’m the best damn linebacker they’ve seen in a generation. I’m also pretty.

But it doesn’t matter.

“She won’t say yes, Mack. It’s not that she doesn’t like you. She just doesn’t want to fool with you because you’re a prima donna football star, and she doesn’t have time for that. She’s in the business school, and she’s got a lot of shit going on at home with her family. Apparently her dad has roped your dad into doing something with the farms. Call me crazy, but I think they’re both insane. And I think Renata’s insane for caring about any of that farm stuff. If she wasn’t making straight As on everything, I’d have a sit down with her and tell her not to pay any attention to what’s going on at—” Wingate stops and looks up at me, tilting his dark sunglasses down. I can’t help but grin as he looks up at me. “What’s that look on your face?” he asks.

“She finally said yes,” I tell him, kicking my heels against the brick. One of the freshmen girls from my hall passes by and waves at me flirtatiously. I give her a thrill and wave back, but she’s not my type. There’s only one woman who is.

“Yes to what? Yes to going steady with you or—whatever y’all say?” Wingate still has his sunglasses tilted down on the end of his nose.

“It’s not the 1950s, Wing. No one is going steady with anyone, anymore. She said yes to a date. One date. I’m taking her out to Michael’s for dinner, and then we’re going to meet up with Kaden and whichever girl he’s seeing right now. He’s been seeing a lot of women recently and you know, I feel bad for him because he keeps mentioning this girl from back home and—well the girl I want is right here.”

“You feel sorry for him? I don’t understand straight people. And I don’t understand football people. Y’all in those fancy dorms and shit, with women falling all over you. Seems like you’d get the idea to live the big life, but I keep meeting these fake players like you. All you really want to do is settle down and have like a zillion kids with your high school sweetheart.”

“High school sweetheart isn’t quite right. Renata is more like—”

“The girl who never wanted to take it farther than friendship, yet somehow you’ve got her convinced that it’s a grand old idea to try for something more now that you’re king of the campus and have like sixty women following you wherever you go?” Wingate pulls his sunglasses back down over his eyes and crosses his arms. “I don’t know man. Doesn’t sound like a good idea. She’s serious about her life. About her job. About everything.”