Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/books/entry_id/1037399-Chapter-Nine
by Seuzz
Rated: 18+ · Book · Young Adult · #2204735
The description will be updated when I've figured out what the story is.
#1037399 added September 6, 2022 at 1:12pm
Restrictions: None
Chapter Nine
AUNT HEATHER WAS THE FIRST TO REACT. "Oh!" she gasped, and fell back with her hand over her eyes, like I'd punched her in the face.

My dad didn't falter, but he did look a little taken aback, and he darted some querying glances at Hill and Scalise.

But neither of them looked surprised, though their expressions were keen as they looked back at me.

For a minute or so, no one said anything.

Then Scalise touched Hill on the knee, and leaned over to murmur something in his ear. Hill frowned and his jaw worked. Then he nodded curtly, and he and Scalise got up. My dad scrambled up to join them.

"Thank you for your time, Mr. Tyler," Hill said. He seemed to be bottling up an emotion that looked to me a lot like anger, and he kept his eyes down as he put his hand out to my dad. "We're sorry to have wasted it."

"Now, wait a minute," my dad said as they shuffled for the door. "Just because the kid said—"

"I'm afraid this interview was, in part, a character test," Hill told him. "And it seems— Well, it appears we misjudged what we saw out on the field today. Good day and good luck, son," he said as he shot me a reproachful look. They left my dad with his mouth hanging open as they let themselves out.

No one said anything after the door shut, and because I didn't want to look at anyone else, I turned to watch through the curtains as they walked out to their SUV. They were talking, but they didn't look back, and neither of them paid any attention to the house before driving off.

And I was still staring out into the empty street when Aunt Heather said, "Oh, I always knew you were a stupid one, Charlie, but I never knew you could—"

"I'll talk to him, Heather," my dad interrupted.

"To tell him what? Some bullshit about how his future is up to him and he can do what he wants, and you'll support him—?"

"We'll talk about this later, please." Because we nowhere else to go, my dad could never talk to her the way I knew he sometimes wanted to talk to her, but he was coming awfully close now.

"Why we can't talk about it now," she said, her tone turning very steely. "This is my business, too, Tim, and I—"

"Yeah, it's your business," I interrupted, turning to glare back at her. "I think they were a couple of scam artists. I think they were trying to scam you."

Her mouth fell open, and the blood rushed up into her face.

"I know how I played today," I went on before she could start yelling. "I hardly played at all. I ran out the clock at the end after Cole got hurt, that's all. I didn't score us any points. So what they were saying, it was all bullshit." I looked between her and my dad. "I didn't do anything special out there, so how come they came out here to tell everyone I'm something special?"

"They were giving you the chance to be something special!" Aunt Heather practically screamed. "They told you—!"

"If you were running a super-special private college," I yelled over her, "would you try recruiting me? Would you give me a scholarship if you were running someplace like that?"

Her eyes bulged, and it was like something had lodged her throat. Because what could she say? Yes, I was special? She could never say that. No, I wasn't? Then why was someone trying to treat me like I was?

"We should talk about this later," my dad said, "after we've all thought a little bit and calmed down. Charlie, how tired are you?" I shrugged. "Think you can handle the lawn mower?"

"Sure. I can take care of the lawn now."

"Who are you calling?" Aunt Heather demanded as I took out my phone.

"I'm texting my friends to tell 'em I can't do anything with them now," I said as I walked from the room. "On account of I have to do some stuff for you."

I actually felt pretty serene as I fired up the mower and tackled the lawns. Well, "serene" would be a little much. I mostly felt numb, and was glad to have something brainless I could concentrate on. I put all my focus into cutting straight lanes across the yard, and being careful not to hit any little dips or bumps that would jog the mower and make it chew a gouge in the lawn. I was also glad of the chance to put off seeing Madison, even if it meant putting off seeing her cousin, too. (But that was probably a good idea too.) While emptying the cuttings I would pause to deal with texts that were coming back, and it felt good to tell them I was busy. The only person I didn't like telling that to was Georgina, and of all the people I had on my mind—Madison and Alex, Derek, my dad and Aunt Heather—she was the one I kept thinking about.

She had texted me the night before from Terry Pierce's place—where Madison had sent her, when she was sending out invites using my phone—asking where I was, and I'd had to pretend that I'd changed my mind and had gone out to Cole's instead because it was a "team" party. But I didn't ask her to come out, I just hoped she would, and when she didn't it left me worrying that she was mad at me. But she'd smiled at me at the game, and given me those thumbs ups, which made me feel better. But now those worries came back.

So after I finished mowing the back yard and was getting ready to do the front, I took out my phone to call her. But my dad came out just then with a beer, which he shared with me.

"You know, kid," he said, and he had that distracted squint he'd get when he was trying to talk around a problem instead of tackling it direct. "When you're on the field, it's all a mess. Just chaos. You don't see the pattern, you sometimes don't even see what you're doing. You're in the mud and everything's flying around you, and you're just going on instinct. And you can't even see how good your instincts are, because to you it just feels like you're flailing."

I grunted, and took a swig of beer. "Are you trying to tell me," I answered, "that I was a lot better at the game than I think I was? Dad," I said as he started to reply, "it was a normal game. Nothing special happened while I was down on the field, and it wasn't more 'chaos' than usual. And my 'instincts' weren't any better than Cole's."

He winced a little. "But not any worse, either, I bet," he said while looking down at his feet. "But I was talking about myself. Back in there with those guys. I was the one with the ball, on the field, and you were up in the stands, you saw what was going on." He looked up at me. "And it really did look like a scam to you?"

I shrugged. "I don't see how they could'a been interested in me. For any kind of football program, or for a school like that. Doesn't it seem kind of crazy to you?"

He shrugged. "Maybe it does now. Your aunt and me, we got kind of caught up in it." His brow furrowed. "But if it was a scam, how do you figure it was going to work?"

"I dunno. If it was like an email scam, though, they'd ask us— They'd ask you or Aunt Heather to kick some money their way. I dunno. Registration fees, shit like that. And they'd tell us I was going to get reimbursed through the scholarship or like that. And then we'd discover that there wasn't a school or a program or something, and they'd be gone with the 'registration fees'."

"Mm. Still—" He glanced back at the house. "I kind of wish your instinct had been to keep quiet until they asked for something like that. That way we'd know—"

"It might'a been too late by then, though, right? They could'a got us all excited, all prepped to go, made all kinds of arrangements. Aunt Heather would be all over, telling her friends and posting it to her accounts. Then, when they got us good and hooked—"

"You sound like you know how these things work."

I winced. "It was all in one of my Life Experience classes. Phishing and email scams. Mr. Mendes also showed us some movies, talked about how, kind of, things like that work. So we wouldn't get taken by some new kind of scam we didn't study."

"Huh. Well, you're never going to convince your aunt. I won't either. The best I've done, I've told her not to bring it up anymore, that what's done is done."

"It's still going to eat her out."

"Oh, I know that. That can't be helped either. But don't bring it up with her."

We stood a moment. Then he gave me a fast hug around the shoulders. I took a last swig of beer, and handed him the bottle back. He went inside, and I went around front to mow. After that I cleaned up and changed and told Madison I'd be over in a bit.

But despite everything, Aunt Heather just couldn't leave it alone. I was in my bedroom, just getting ready to call Georgina, just to talk to her so I'd know she wasn't pissed off at me, when she barged in and shoved her Tablet in my face.

"There!" she exclaimed with a kind of vindictive triumph as she showed me the web page for Saint Athanasius University. "Does that look like the kind of place a bunch of scam artists would be running?"
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