The six packed buses pulled into the school parking lot, and the behemoths formed up in line in the space that had been kept clear for them since the previous afternoon. One by one, the throbbing engines of the modern transports were killed, and out of the smoked glass windows, Luke could see curious faces peering. It was still chilly, though with bright blue skies it looked like it was going to be a glorious day for the ASSF. He and Simon had only just arrived at school themselves, though nobody was hanging around much that Tuesday morning—there was a lot of sport to get through!
The ASSF (Alpharetta Schools Sport Fest) was colloquially known in their neck of the woods as the Ass-Fuck Fest—an annual encounter between themselves, Creek and Alpharetta High. Sometimes it was held at the end of the summer semester when exams were over, but more usually, as on this occasion, within the first month of the Fall semester when football season was well underway. Year by year, they rotated it around the schools, and this time around it was the turn of the Academy to play host.
Many more Academy students were gathering at their vantage point where Luke and a group of his friends were watching at the edge of the parking lot. He had no idea where Simon had pushed off too, and just then, he didn't care.
With a hiss, the first door opened, ending the restless anticipation, as a man with thinning hair stepped out into the sunshine. Luke recognized Mr. Dodds, Creek's head football coach, from previous encounters.
He'd heard that the Academy had tried to poach Dodds numerous times; he and old Milton were cut from the same cloth. Appearing from nearby, Coach Milton immediately stepped up and gripped Dodds as an old friend. The battle was about to commence and these generals knew how to respect the opposition.
On cue, the five other buses hissed, spitting out more staff from their gullets. Behind them, the doors swung closed keeping the remaining contents from straying while their captains held conference. Other adults arrived in packed cars in the wake of the buses and joined the briefing as instructions were given. Decisions were quickly made and the bus doors opened once again.
Finally, the buses spilled their full, excitable contingents.
"Six buses?" At his shoulder, Ryan seemed bemused. "Does Creek have that many teams?"
Todd smirked and pointed. "By the looks of it, that last one is like the whole cheerleading squad!"
Luke grinned too as a flock of girls emerged in skimpy costumes, all waving pompoms. They weren’t something you usually got to see at the Academy…girls or pompoms!
"Can anyone see Trish?" Kieran demanded as the parking lot filled with both teens and the staff who struggled to keep it orderly. Kieren continued to scan the sea of faces. "She's running the hundred meters and the relay."
Ryan pointed. "There she is."
Luke peered in that direction and saw that Trish had spotted them too, and was waving. Near her, he also noticed the slightly-built girl with Asian features who—rather more coyly—was waving as well. Just not at them. He followed her line of sight and somehow wasn’t surprised to spot a beaming Joe Wong!
But what really got his attention was neither Trish nor…what was she called...?
Why was he so crap at names? Jenny! That was it...Jenny.
No, it wasn't Jenny, nor was it even the trendy wheelchair just behind her, or the Welsh teen that pushed it, that caught his eye. Rather, it was the cheeky grin that had just spotted him, and its owner who shouted his name above the heads of those around him.
"Who the hell’s that?" Ryan asked as both he and a number of others turned to gaze in the direction of Elliott Carter.
Luke waved in Elliott’s direction and said, "Oh, just a guy I know—"
"Well hey—look at that! That's Elliott Carter!" Todd cut Luke off and cast a curious eye at him. "He used to live not far from us, but how the hell do you know him?"
Luke shrugged without making it look evasive. "I only met him recently. He said he went to Creek. I didn’t know he was on any of their teams though."
Playing what, he had no idea.
The buses were left parked up, and the big group was herded in the direction of the fields and the locker rooms. It wasn't long before the number of buses was multiplied by the arrival of the Alpharetta buses, but Luke and his friends didn't stay to watch.
More lambs to the annual slaughter!
"Let the fucking begin!" Mitchell’s tone of was gleeful as they moved away. And on this occasion, who could disagree with the bastard?
Hosting the ASSF was a big deal and took a lot of organization. Staff from all three schools were supplemented by hired-in officials—mostly students from the local universities—to help run the competitions and keep order. Knowing that the changing rooms were going to be chock-a-block, there were few of the Academy students that hadn’t made sure they were already changed. In fact, with no lessons scheduled, most of those who were competing had arrived ready to for action, with a change of clothing in backpacks for afterwards.
At a squeeze, the Academy Sports Hall had enough changing facilities to accommodate the guys, but the other two schools naturally had girls in their squads. For them, a well-guarded marquee-style tent, flush with portable showers had been erected; no expense spared by the deep-pocketed private school, which expected, like most years, to pretty much sweep the board on anything important!
And ahead was a day of multiple competitions.
The big draws were always the team sports; flag football, volleyball, hockey, basketball and baseball. Those were the ones everyone wanted to see—and win. Alongside those there would be some track and field, and tennis of course. Indoors, the big sports hall would host the basketball and volleyball gamesl as well as wrestling, badminton and table tennis. Squeezing it all into one day was no mean feat, and most of the competitions were significantly shortened to accommodate the timeline. The schools had been doing it for quite a number of years, so there was a well thought through schedule to fit it all together.
The fields were already milling with bodies from all three schools, anxious for the games to begin.
For the Academy, it was one of the few days in the year that the whole school was released from the normal schedule and allowed to let down their regulation-cut hair. Even the middle-school kids were given the day off their classes to come and watch the fun. They didn’t compete, but the word was out; there were GIRLS about—most in skimpy clothing—and nobody wanted to miss a minute of it!
Without a moment to lose, the games got under way. There were so many concurrent competitions, it was impossible to see everything, and you just had to pick and chose from the mass-distributed schedule.
Academy students, if they weren't actually participating, were still required to be in school uniform, but those who were competing sported the white and maroon colors of the school kit. Mixed amongst them in discreet clumps, Creek's green and white, and Alpharetta's black and red, spotted the grounds on what was becoming a glorious autumn day.
In his backpack, Luke carried all his stuff. Security was tight on a day like this. Most of the main buildings were either locked or out-of-bounds to any but those wearing Academy colors, and with the place awash with strangers, only an idiot would leave stuff lying around unattended. The school cafeteria also knew a good thing when it was dropped on a plate in front of it and was open all day, selling snacks and meals to ravenous competitors and spectators whose teeth were bored—and making an absolute killing!
Eagle eyed, Luke next spotted Elliott Carter strolling towards the tennis courts. He checked his watch to see that it was just after nine, so, hefting his backpack onto his shoulders and stuffing in another mouthful of his bacon sandwich, he began to head that direction too.
According to the schedule, Ryan would probably be playing soon, a fact that was confirmed as the PA system announced the start of the tennis singles. Nearby, Ass-Fuck Central was wired into the school PA along with a couple of hefty speaker stacks covering the fields. Updates, sent in by walkie-talkie, were announced on the fly, adding to the occasion.
Out of nowhere, a wheelchair crossed his path and Luke narrowly missed becoming roadkill.
“Hi there!” The muffled voice came from next to the chair, and Luke did a double take. While it sounded like Owen, it wasn’t so obvious at first glance as the owner’s voice was obscured behind a hockey goalkeeper's padding and helmet.
“Bloody hell, Owen…I didn’t know you played?”
"The first hockey match, between The Academy and Creek, faces off in ten minutes. Teams please assemble immediately." The speakers blared the update from nearby.
Owen wrenched off his bulky helmet. He was red faced and seemed a little fraught. “I don’t. Well, not much, anyway. Which way is it? I think I’m meant to be on!”
“The hockey field?” It seemed the likely destination and Luke pointed to the right of the Sports Hall and towards the AstroTurf. “That way.”
Without a word, Owen turned on his heels, and with surprising speed and agility, raced through the crowd.
Luke was left with Olly, who studied him through hooded eyes. As if to explain why he happened to be there on the squad, Olly spoke in a flat monotone, “I’m the official Creek ball boy." With that, he turned his chair and scooted off in the direction of the hockey field too, leaving Luke wondering whether it were actually true.
By the time Luke reached the tennis courts, Ryan was waiting on one side, getting ready to play. The competition was limited in how it could be run. All the players—and there were quite a few fielded in each age set and gender—got to play a single match consisting of one set. There just wasn’t time for more. Wins got added to the running tally.
Players could get paired against anyone, though it was still guys against guys and girls against girls, and the coaches tried to make it fair by matching the players against equals. Ry was up against a tall, gangly African-American teen from Alpharetta who looked like he had attitude to spare. Luke’s own singles match wasn’t until the afternoon. There were also doubles to play.
“What the hell happened to you?” Ryan eyed Luke speculatively before going back to studying the warm-up routine of the guy from Alpharetta. Games were already being played around them on the six courts.
“I needed a pee.” Luke pushed the remains of the bacon sandwich in his mouth and grinned. “And I was hungry!”
Ryan grunted and returned his attention to his opponent who was limbering up not far off. "Wish me luck."
"You got it!" Luke knew he wouldn't get much more out of Ryan as he entered into the zone that separated how the two of them approached the importance of winning the game. Instead, he looked for somewhere to sit—or more likely, stand. There were a couple of bleachers, but that mediocre seating was a drop in the bucket that day. Most who were watching stood around the perimeter, squeezing in where they could. He was still looking for a good place when a short whistle caught his attention. He turned towards the source and spotted a hand waving.
Luke grinned and headed towards where Elliott was standing.
As he approached, he couldn't miss the olive-skinned girl standing close beside Elliott. She'd also been at his side when he'd got off the bus. Dark eyed and pretty, Luke wondered who she was. A classmate? A friend? A girlfriend? He realized how little he knew about Elliott Carter.
"Hey there! How's things?" Elliott’s cheeky, energetic smile greeted him as Luke ambled up.
"Hi!” Luke’s grinned. “I didn't expect to see you here today!"
"Estela, this is Luke Summers." Elliott turned to the girl on his right and surprised Luke by making the introduction with a flourish. "Luke, this is one of my closest friends...Estela Garcia Fernandez."
Girlfriend was sounding more likely.
Estela studied him. Her eyes lit up and, in a thick Spanish accent that seemed not that comfortable with English, said, "Ahhh...Luke. I am pleasing to meet you."
"Pleased to meet you," corrected Elliott. He spoke to her in Spanish for a few sentences and Estela nodded. Around them, a few heads turned. Mostly Academy guys, the looks on their faces being caught between 'how the hell can you speak Spanish?' and 'where did that beauty come from?' as they gave her the once over.
Luke grinned and quipped, "Well I don't own it, but yes." He stretched out his hand politely.
She took it with a formal grip. "It's nice," she replied. He wasn't sure if she got his joke, but she seemed genuinely impressed anyway.
She added, "Is this your friend?" She looked to where Ryan was taking to the court.
"Ryan? Yes—we're in the same class."
"No se parecen a Alejandro?" she said to Elliott; the flurry of Spanish flowed like sweet honey.
Elliott smiled and nodded, then translated. "Estela was just saying how much he looks like someone we know where she comes from."
"Sorry." Estela pulled a face, then smiled. Her face lit up. "I need to speak English. Elli says it is only way I learn!"
She called him Elli too, Luke noticed immediately.
"So how long have you been here?" he asked, raising his voice amidst the excitable chatter around them.
"One week. I stay one more then I must go home to be studying."
Estela rolled her eyes at the patient correction, and Luke chuckled. The two seemed very at ease together and he wondered how they had met.
Before he could ask, they were interrupted by cheers, so gave their attention to the court where the players had just been introduced. They watched as Ryan and the Alpharetta player were given a minute to warm up together, and then everyone quietened down as play started.
Alpharetta served first, and there was no doubt that Ryan's opponent was good. He had legs, he had reach, he had a passable serve...he just had the wrong person on the other side of the net that day. Even Luke, who knew Ry's game pretty well, was astounded by the devastating serve-volley technique that seemed to have developed over the summer.
To be fair, Ryan also had a lot of support, and The Academy being the host for the year had its advantages, as every point—particularly that early in the day—was greeted by an uproar of Academy fervor. But there was no doubt that the Nike camp had made its mark on Ryan's game. Alpharetta played good tennis, but still went down 6-2, clinched by a final thundering ace, right down the center line. The wry grin that crept on Alpharetta’s face showed a defeat well taken, and Ryan wasn't slow to come to the net to clasp hands.
Beside him, Luke suspected that the word Elliott breathed was a Spanish expletive. He followed it with, "Well, that didn't take long!"
Luke smirked. Elliott was right, Ry hadn’t seemed in any mood to linger on court that morning! A thought suddenly occurred.
"Are you playing too?" he asked. Elliott had once said he'd give him a game, though he’d also said it wasn’t his thing. Other than his own opponent, Luke hadn’t really checked the rest of the match combos.
Elliott shook his head. "Volleyball for me. We're not on till later this afternoon."
"Ah...right…" Luke left it at that. He felt a tinge of sorrow for the guy. There wasn't really much that he could say that was going to help, and he already felt embarrassed for the humiliation Elliott was about to be landed with. The Academy volleyball squad and the basketball team, were two of the school's centerpieces. They trained hard and rarely lost. Basketball and volleyball came at the end of the afternoon, and wiping the floor with the opposition was the usual perfect finish to the traditional Ass-Fuck Fest.
A remarkably un-sweaty Ryan pulled into the conversation and Luke made the introductions.
"Great match, Ry!"
Ryan grinned as he accepted Luke's high five.
"You are very good,' agreed Estela. She paused, frowned, and glanced at Elliott. "Felicitaciones?"
She brightened. "Yes, it is so. Congratulations!"
"You won’t believe it, but I saw Owen earlier," Luke said. "Packed into a hockey keeper's padding. Olly's here, too."
"Oh my God!" Ryan grinned. "In his chair? Someone better get the school nurse to break out the ankle casts!"
Elliott burst out laughing. "I’m guessing you've had that, too!" he said.
His knowing laugh calmed to a chuckle and he drew one of the schedules out of his pocket. "Well, according to this, they should be playing anytime now. Wanna go watch?"
"Sure,” said Luke immediately. He still couldn’t believe that Owen even played.
"Not me," said Ryan. "I've got a doubles match paired with Jacko coming up in a bit. We just need to go through some stuff. Todd’s up soon, too."
Luke felt he should try to be there to cheer on Todd, but doubles weren’t until later in the morning, and he definitely wanted to see those. Both Mason and Jacko had been at the Nike camp, and naturally, Ry was partnering Jacko. Luke wondered if Mason had come on as well over the summer, as he was pairing up with big brother Todd in the doubles. He wanted to see both those matches, and once more checked the schedule and then his watch. There should be time to get back for Todd’s playoff.
"Okay…we'll just run over and have a quick look. Be back soon."
As they turned to leave, Elliott paused and raised his eyes to Estela. She brushed him off with an imperious grin.
"Go! I'm not running all over after you." That grin turned mischievous. "I will stay here and —how you say it —chat up the boys. To help my English, of course!"
"You're bad!" Elliot shook his head as he swung a backpack off his shoulder. "But if you're staying here, can we leave our stuff with you?"
How weird, Luke thought as he gave Estela his bag, too. A series of chance meetings that started when he agreed to help his dad get glasses had him about to trot across the field with Elliott.
And Estela was quite a looker, too! Her creamy Mediterranean skin was flawless and she had a near perfect aquiline nose. He knew any number of guys—even a few drooling kids from middle school—who would be more than happy to help her with her split infinitives!
By this time of the morning, the fields were awash with activities. On their way to see Owen, they passed by the track, where a number of field events were in progress, though not everyone appeared to be happy.
Luke heard a smattering of polite applause for an Academy senior he didn't really know. The guy had a look of frustrated disappointment after he knocked the high jump bar off in what looked like the end of the line for his day.
Ah well, some ya win, some ya lose!
He turned his attention back to his friend. It had been several weeks since those days in the hospital. In the days afterwards, his mum never did get around to making contact with the Carters, not with everything going on with Simon. Then, Ryan was back, and Elliott had kind of drifted from Luke's mind. He picked around in his head to find where they'd left off.
“So how’s Sam? Still going out with Becky?”
“Oh, those two?” Elliott rolled his eyes. “They’re not talking to each other at the moment. That means it’ll probably be back on by the end of the week!”
They pushed in with others through the bottleneck of the gates at the entrance to the AstroTurf cage—an enclosure that held the all-weather pitch, marked out for field hockey amongst other sports.
"Anyway, Sam's good," Elliott added, raising his voice. A lot of people had got there before them, and from the sound of the shouts and cheers as they got closer, a game had already started. "He's not here today, though he'd have been running track if he was."
They skirted the crowds along the sidelines looking for a reasonable spot. "And how’s your brother?"
Simon? That was something Luke was wondering, too.
"Si? Oh, he's around here somewhere." Gesturing generally, he didn't really want to get into any more detail with Elliott. "He's more into sailing."
"Sailing? Cool!" Elliott seemed genuinely interested as they finally broke through into a space at one end, enough to see what was going on. “He’s recovered now?”
“Kind of…” Luke frowned. “A bit up and down at the moment…just stuff…”
He changed the subject. "Estela seems nice," he ventured as they strode on through the milling crowds toward the end of the pitch furthest from the gate.
"She is. I've known her for years."
"Is she...?" Luke stopped. It was an awkward question that was none of his business.
"Is she what?" Elliott asked after a few moments waiting for him to continue. He had an amused expression on his face.
"Nothing" Luke shrugged uncomfortably, guessing he was being a bit obvious. "It doesn't matter."
"Is she my girlfriend, you mean?" Elliott seemed to read him easily enough. Elliott shook his head and chuckled. "Oh my gosh, hardly! She's great, but it's not like that. She's just a friend."
Elliott continued to grin and Luke felt a bit of an idiot. Here he was on his own home turf, and almost at once he was becoming tongue-tied!
To their right, the crack of ball on wood and shouts of the two teams indicated a field hockey match that was being hard fought. Finally, they squeezed into a space on the sidelines to see for themselves. Not far away, Luke spotted Owen crouching in the middle of one goalmouth of the hundred-yard pitch, garbed in the heavy-duty leg pads of the goalkeeper. He was a big guy anyway, but with the padding, he had the appearance of impassable granite! Yet, despite the earlier tension as he tried to find his way around the grounds, Owen seemed at ease and focused as he studied the action in front of him. Unsurprisingly, not far away was a wheelchair.
"What's the score?"
"We're behind," said Gabe Larsson as a solid crack sent the ball sailing down midfield. Luke wasn’t surprised that Gabe was there, and his older brother, Nate, the captain of the Academy over-16 squad, deftly picked up the ball, running it forward before he got closed down in the corner.
Behind? That was new!
Gabe looked glum and he didn’t take his eyes off the ball. “Their keeper’s new, but nothing gets by him."
"Really? Him?" Stupid question really—Owen was the only one in the goal!
"Aha..." Gabe remained distracted as his brother managed to sweep the ball back towards a supporting player. Immediately, Gabe perked up.
Finding space again, the Academy squad passed frequently, edging it around the center, looking for an opening. A defensive mistake opened up a glaring gap and Nate pounced, whipping the ball with jarring force to the left of the keeper. It looked like an unstoppable winner.
"Oh—so close!" muttered Gabe joining the communal groan coming from the majority crowd of Academy supporters as Owen was right there to block the sizzling drive.
"Come on guys!" Gabe bellowed. It wasn't as if the Academy team were lacking support, and Gabe was joined by a renewed fervor from all around the enclosure, urging them on to snatch victory.
"He's good isn't he!" noted Elliott, standing out from the immediate crowd by the color of his kit.
Luke nodded, not able to tear his eyes from the action. It was an outstanding game. "To be honest, I didn't even know he could play." And he was meant to be a friend!
"You know him?" There was a note of surprise —or maybe it was awe—in Gabe's voice.
"Yep. He's Welsh."
He's Welsh? Luke cringed at his own comment. As if that made the slightest bit of difference.
Gabe, however, seemed immediately impressed. A few moments later, he was passing on his new tidbit of knowledge and it spread. If you were going to lose to anyone, perhaps they felt it better if it was to be to a famous Welshman!
Luke really wanted to go back to see Todd’s tennis match, but he couldn't tear himself away from the gameplay in front of him. It was electric! Owen was good, though even he couldn't keep them all out. Creek still managed to keep their nose in front enough to clinch it by the final whistle. Even the Creek squad seemed amazed that they'd actually won this time, and the relatively small number of supporters went ape with their team's unexpected victory.
"I'm going to go back to find Estela," said Elliott, once he'd settled down. "I’ll see you later."
"Yep. I'll come and get my bag in a bit," Luke replied. He’d missed Todd’s game by now, anyhow. "I just want to see Owen."
Elliott trotted off and Luke stood back to wait while Creek finished celebrating, enjoying watching the priceless look on Owen's face at finding himself the center of it all. As Owen dragged off his helmet, grinning like a cat, Luke called across to him. "Bloody hell, Owen…that was pretty good!"
The melee of Creek supporters had begun to break up and, at the sound of Luke's voice, Owen turned. His face was red and sweaty, and he grinned. Alongside him in his chair, Olly looked smug.
"I played a lot of ice hockey at home. It's not so different." Owen's shrug as Luke came across was typical British understatement, but he still couldn't hide his delight. "The goal's a different size, that's all. If you can stop a puck, this is actually easier."
Owen flicked his head towards the chair, his face flushed with the realization of victory. "And this git makes me go running every night for training! I didn’t actually think we’d win, though!"
"Told ya!" Olly remained smug.
Owen dumped the helmet on Olly's lap and started to push the chair clear to the sidelines. Then Olly's voice dropped. "Ooops…here comes some losers!"
"Olly!" Owen's low voice held a veiled warning.
"Hey, Luke..." Nate Larsson nodded a greeting as he approached, but Luke didn't think he was the one either Nate or his brother had come to see.
"He's Welsh," whispered Gabe.
"Good win. You guys kept it tight this year." Nate's tone was a little grudging as he turned his glint on Owen, but Luke could see he meant it.
"It was pretty close." Owen seemed uncomfortable with the accolade. "And it's not over yet, is it? If you beat Alpharetta and we don't, it'll come down to goal average."
Nate brightened slightly, as both teams had yet to play Alpharetta. He stuck out his hand. "Good luck then." It came with a wry smile, and Luke had to agree; if that last performance was anything to go by, the likelihood that Creek would bomb out to the scrappy Alpharetta squad was slim to zero!
* * *
The morning passed quickly, and the wins for all three schools began to mount up. Lunch was an open-ended affair, and people ate when they could or wanted. The kitchens worked overtime to feed all the extra mouths and raked in the bucks from the visitors for anything over a basic lunch.
Luke didn't get to see the remaining hockey games with Alpharetta, but heard that, flush with their earlier victory against the Academy, Creek trounced them not long after, leaving the final match as a play-off for second and third.
Oops—that wasn't going to go down well!
Straight after those matches, the AstroTurf turned into a field for girls Lacrosse, though Creek and Alpharetta were on their own on that score! Even so, competition had been tough all through the morning, though for the most part, the Academy was living up to its reputation for being a class above everyone else.
At lunch, Luke sat with a group of friends in the school cafe and only picked at his simple sandwich. His own tennis match had been scheduled for straight after lunch. He was beginning to feel edgy, and wished it was already over and done with. Most of the rest of the squad had done well and the pressure was on.
"When are you on, Luke?" asked Jacko, in a great mood as he and Ryan had swept all comers before them in the doubles.
"Me?" Luke shrugged trying to sound nonchalant. "Just after lunch."
Great—the last thing he needed was anyone watching!
He was saved from having to go into any more detail when Mitchell breezed in, a self-satisfied smirk on his face.
"I just heard," he declared, slapping his tray down with a clatter and pushing other's drinks out of the way, "that there's gonna be a scout in this afternoon."
"Football or basketball?" Todd asked blandly, pushing Mitchell's tray out of his space. Everyone laughed. It was obvious he was baiting as Mitchell didn't care a flying fuck for either of those.
Mitchell let it slide, and snapped the ring on his Coke with a hiss. "That's funny, dickhead...laugh it up! I heard you crapped out today?"
It was true, Todd had lost his match—a hard fought 9-8 that could have gone either way. Todd remained above it. "You win 'em, you lose 'em."
Mitchell's sneer remained. "Yep, you'd know." Taking a deep swig from his can, he was in a smarmy mood that day.
Mitchell captained the Academy Junior volleyball squad, many of whom, like him, were pretty good at the sport, but hadn't yet learned to be nice people. Their motto tended to be along the lines of 'losing is not an option' and went about that goal with ruthless nastiness. Several others from the same volleyball clique pushed onto the table too, lapping up the attention the day was giving them.
"So your old man needs a scholarship now?" Ryan eyed Mitchell in amusement as the new arrival stuffed food into his mouth. "Times must be hard."
Again there were open grins around the table. Nobody thought for one moment that Mitchell senior needed free money to put his son through college.
"And fuck you too, Alexis." The lidded eyes were hostile. "You won't be so fucking smug when it gets me into Stanford!"
"Sure!" Todd chuckled dismissively. It sounded like even he’d had enough of Mitchell that day. "And pigs might fly!"
Eating silently, Luke had the feeling that, for people like Mitchell, with all his connections and money, pigs would sprout a second dick if needed, and then happily fuck you over with it to get what they wanted! He gave up on the sandwich and snuck out, planning to take a wander to stretch his muscles before his match and walk off what little food he'd eaten.
He hadn't gone far when a wheelchair drew alongside. This time Olly Wyeman was alone, and Luke eyed him warily. Normally Olly was full of it, but this time, his face was lacking in expression as he said, "I need help."
"Help?" Luke repeated. That in itself was an eye-opener. Olly Wyeman asking for help? "Why? Is something wrong?"
"I need a pee." Olly glared at him at last, and his voice became brisk. "Either I find a restroom for disabled spastics like myself, or I just sit here and piss it out in my pants. Your choice!"
Before Luke could decide how badly to react, Olly put up his hand and back-pedaled.
"Sorry," he muttered, and shook his head as if trying to dislodge a nasty bug. "Owen would slaughter me if he heard me say that! I'm trying to learn not to keep coming out with crap stuff...he calls it verbal diarrhea! But I could do with a pee if you could point me in the right direction…?"
Luke was surprised. There was absolutely no doubt that the remorse was real, and actually Olly became suddenly human—an ordinary kid who needed help. He eyed the guy speculatively.
"I can do better than that. I can take you there...it's not far," he said, racking his brains to think where one of the restrooms for disabled people disabled might be.
"Cool—but don't touch the wheels," said Olly, pulling a face that became a grin as Luke put out a hand. "Owen hasn't beaten that one out of me yet!"
Luke actually found himself liking the guy as they chatted on the journey to the main buildings, the nearest if not the only place he could remember ever seeing a disabled sign on a loo door. They arrived at one of the entrances, this one being guarded by one of the seniors, who'd been well bribed by the school to act as security for the day.
"Hi Josh," Luke said pleasantly. He nodded at his charge. "We need the disabled bathroom here."
Josh Mallam stood aside without a fuss and they went indoors. Once Olly had peered into the doorway of the toilet that Luke opened for him, he seemed satisfied and said, "I'm good," and went in alone—which was a relief as Luke wasn't sure if anything was expected of him. The door closed, yet he could still hear the normal kinds of sounds that might come from any normal kind of person.
Normal? Whatever that was!
Still, he mused, it had to be a pretty crap life if you had to hang on to a bar just to take a wizz. With nothing better to do while he waited out the time to his allotted doom on the tennis court, he hung around until Olly reappeared.
Olly seemed surprised. "I thought you'd be well gone," he said as he shuffled in his seat, straightening the khaki shorts that covered well-tanned legs.
Luke shrugged. "I've got a tennis match soon." He checked his watch again. "To be honest, I'm just trying to keep my mind off it."
"Meaning you’re pissing it as much as I was!"
"Something like that." Luke grinned as the humor found its mark.
"Come on," Olly added. "Let's go over there and you can show me who it is you're up against. I can easily take him out in this if you like!" To show his skill, he upended on two wheels and spun around on the spot with practiced ease.
"You're on!" Luke laughed, feeling more upbeat as they went back outside into the bright sunshine.
"So what's with Owen, then?" Luke asked as they began to cut across the grass. He was still trying to get his head around the block of granite they'd all watched standing between the goalposts. "When did he suddenly kick into gear?"
He expected some banal, giveaway reply, but Olly was quite reflective as he thrust against his wheels, keeping an easygoing, walking-pace momentum.
"Actually," Olly said. "We made a deal."
A rather knowing sly smirk crossed Olly’s face as he replied, "He agreed to stop being a looser, to get fit and lose weight, to pack in smoking, to stop going on about Wales, and…” He stopped and looked like he was crossing items of on his fingers. “Oh—and to try out for the hockey team.”
His face was a picture of solemnity, and then he burst into a grin. “To be fair, I added that last one after.”
Luke chuckled at the very British understatement. It looked like Olly had learned a thing or two. Still, it was a hell of a list to agree to, and he didn't even know Owen was a smoker! Did his mother know?
“Okay,“ Luke grinned. “Not much then…and you? What was your part of the deal?”
Olly set his wheels in motion again, though his expression was distant as he replied, “I told him I would walk.”
“You what?” Luke stopped in his tracks.
Olly pushed on for several paces before turning and waiting. His expression was calm and absorbed by whatever was going on in his head. Then he seemed to come back to the present and shrugged. “I said I would walk.”
He spun in the direction of the tennis courts once again and his voice drifted over his shoulder. “Time will tell…”