LOVE IN THE END ZONE
© Carina Rose 2022
“Playoffs bound!” my center yelled as he thrust his fist into the air. I smiled at him right before taking off my helmet. As soon as it slipped off, the sound of jubilant fans amplified, despite not being in our home stadium. The thing was, we were close enough in proximity and there were more Rockets jerseys than Thunder ones in the crowd.
When I looked up, a gorgeous blonde stared at me. Our eyes connected, and the seventy thousand screaming fans seemed to vanish. It was as though we were in a tunnel, just a pretty girl wearing the home team’s colors and me. Her eyes narrowed into a glare. I almost turned around to see what or who she was tossing darts at. Rather than do that, I turned on the charm and blew her a kiss right before I winked—a move I’ve perfected and most women liked. Much to my surprise, she lifted her hand and flipped me off, causing my mouth to gape. I’ve had adverse reactions from opposing fans before, but generally they had a beer gut and facial hair. The female population tended to like me. Well, all but this one.
Knowing reporters would be waiting for an interview, I turned and headed toward the sideline. “Who was that?” Jackson, our tight end and my closest friend, chuckled. “Don’t tell me there’s someone in the DC Metro area who hasn’t fallen for the charms of the Trent Archer?”
I shoved him and laughed. “Dude, whatever. We’re going to the playoffs!”
“Damn straight we are!” Jackson jogged off. I couldn’t help but look over my shoulder to see if the mystery woman had returned—she hadn’t. I hustled past a couple of my teammates being interviewed, smacking them on the shoulder pads as I jogged by. It was great to see them all so happy.
A reporter stopped me. I didn’t recognize her, but she had credentials hanging around her neck. “Trent, Veronica Tate, from the Chronicle, do you have a minute?” she asked, holding out her mic.
This was what players thrived on. Celebrating. Talking up the team and our season. Not giving some chick in the stands who was bitter about a loss any attention. Granted, I understood the feeling. To feel so passionate about something that you spout off to the first person you come across. No one liked to lose. Still, her reaction irked me.
“Of course, go ahead.”
“Thank you. First, congratulations on your win.”
I nodded. “Thank you so much. The team worked really hard, and I’m just happy it all paid off. The Thunder is a tough organization. They had us on the ropes today.”
“Yes, well, I’m going to jump right in and ask the question everyone is clamoring to know.”
I bent at the waist to bring my ear closer to her. I didn’t want to miss what she wanted to ask. Although, questions and answers to the obvious were already filtering in my head.
Veronica nodded to her cameraperson, who took a step closer. “What did you do to the woman in the stands to provoke such a . . . well . . . greeting?”
I straightened and stared at Veronica. How did she see the woman in the stands? And that was her question? I shifted my focus to the camera and smirked. “Well, I guess that was her way of telling me I was number one in her book.”
The man behind the lens chuckled. Veronica gave me a weak grin. “So not an ex?” Was she writing a sports’ article or a gossip column? When I didn’t answer, Veronica wrapped up what she called an interview. “Good luck next week.”
“Thanks,” I said dryly and did my best to hide my annoyance before moving on to a couple more interviews about the game and not an opinionated blonde.
Jackson and I sat in my living room relaxing with beer and watching the Sunday night game between the Austin Stars and the Nebraska Lightning. The outcome didn’t matter, since Nebraska was in a rebuilding year. They had a great organization, and I almost signed with them, but I wanted to play on the East Coast.
“Stars look good,” Jackson said, taking a pull from the longneck bottle.
“They do.” I observed their defensive lineman barely missing a sack.
“Look out for him.”
We watched the first half, taking notes and coming up with a few plays we would run by the coach on Tuesday since we had tomorrow off.
The whistle signaling halftime blew and a commercial came on. I pushed off the leather chair and stood. “Want another beer?”
Jackson lifted his bottle, drained it, and nodded. “Sure, thanks.”
The doorbell rang. “That must be the pizza, I’ll grab it.”
“Okay, I’ll get our beer.”
With our dinner and drinks, we plopped onto the sofa just as my face popped up on the screen.
“There’s our pretty boy,” Jackson crooned, chuckling around a piece of pepperoni.
Ignoring him, I went to take a bite of my slice when an image appeared. No, not really an image, a meme. A meme of the girl flipping me off, with the Thunder’s logo over her finger on one side, and me on the other. Despite her crassness, she looked gorgeous. I, on the other hand, looked dumbfounded. Wide eyes, mouth in the shape of an O, and the caption, “Are you talking to me?” scrawled across my chest.
Jackson’s laugh had me scowling. “Oh my God. This is too good.” Then he paused. “Wait . . . what did they just say her name was?”
“I don’t know, jackass, you were too busy laughing.” I grabbed the remote off the coffee table, and rewound the broadcast.
“Thunder’s owner, Charles Reese’s granddaughter and namesake, Reese Parker, seemed to have a message for America’s favorite quarterback.”
Everything started to sound like a mess of blurred words. “Granddaughter?” I whispered. That wasn’t Reese’s granddaughter. I met her. She was a brunette, worked in the front office with her husband.
“Looks like you pissed off a part of his family,” Jackson offered as an explanation. “But wow is she gorgeous. And practically football royalty. Great job.”
Jackson knew I had almost signed with the Thunder. He also knew how I struggled with the decision that was made for me. That withstanding, obscene gestures caught on camera weren’t my thing. Still staring at the screen, I shook my head and used my pizza slice as a pointer to the image in front of us. “Dude, I’m a meme. This is the last thing I need before playoffs. Do you know what this means? My social media is going to be blowing up.”
“Don’t let it distract you or coach will flip out.”
Flip out? He was going to lose it. One thing Coach Mark prided himself on was his players keeping their noses clean. Despite any fines a league could impose for behavior unbecoming, he had his own set of rules. None of this was my fault, but still, he might not see it that way. “You’re right. I need to put a stop to it.”
Jackson nodded and took another bite out of the slice in his hand. After swallowing, he asked, “How do you plan on doing that? Looks like the media loves her.”
When I glanced at the television, images of Reese at the local children’s hospital, volunteering at a school in the city, and then serving dinner at one of the shelters on Thanksgiving flitted across the screen. In each image she had a tray of cookies in her hand.
“Yeah, and she loves sweets.”
“Are you not listening?”
“To what? I’m watching this just like you.”
He bobbed his head up and down. “Then you know she works at a cookie bakery.” Well, that made sense. Weird that she didn’t work for her grandfather, especially being so passionate about the game. “So, now what?” he asked, knowing me well enough to realize a plan was formulating in my mind.
“Looks like it’s time to satisfy my sweet tooth.”
“What are you going to do? Order cookies in hopes to get in her good graces?”
“No, I’m going to ask her out on a date.”
“Pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but I don’t think she likes you.”
He was right. Except Reese Parker didn’t know me. But after tomorrow, I’d make sure that wasn’t the case.