Perfect Couple

Page 66


"You're still in high school?" he asked. "That's impressive work. I expect you'll go places."
We chatted for a few more minutes about my camera and his camera, and the best shots he'd taken of Tropical Storm Debby a few years ago. As I conversed with him, my eyes stole over to Brody, laughing with a local policeman who stood guard every game at the gate onto the field.
I wondered if Brody and I might be back here in five years or ten years or more, me photographing the game while he kept it safe. This wasn't necessarily the future, but it was a future. And a nice one to dream about. One I never would have considered if it hadn't been for a botched yearbook election mistakenly telling us who we were, and helping us find out the truth for ourselves.
The photographer moved off in search of a better angle as the other team punted and Brody ran for the center of the field, tugging his helmet on as he went.
And then, on the first play, he got sacked. I had a telephoto view, because I was shooting pictures of him when it happened.
I dropped my camera. The weight of it jerked the strap around my neck as I slapped my hands over my mouth in horror.
Five thousand people in the stadium hushed at one time. Every coach ran onto the grass. The entire football team and the visiting team took a knee. The paramedics from an ambulance parked beyond the end zone wheeled a stretcher onto the field.
I was sure he was paralyzed until Noah, huge in his helmet and pads, jogged toward me. He put both hands on my shoulders. "Brody's okay," he panted.
"Brody's okay?" I shrieked.
"I mean, he will be. He didn't hit his head. Coach ordered a stretcher as a precaution because of Brody's concussion in the summer. This time he only got the wind knocked out of him."
"Thank you," I sighed.
"I couldn't let you freak out over here," he said.
"Thank you, Noah." I wrapped both arms around his wet jersey.
"And I didn't even fall on him this time." Noah put a gloved hand in my hair. "I've got to go." He disentangled himself from me and ran back onto the field with the rest of the offensive line plus the second-string quarterback. Ten men surrounded the stretcher rolling off the field toward the ambulance. The stadium gave Brody a standing ovation.
Blinking back tears, I walked over to the ambulance and stood a few yards away, out of the commotion. Paramedics busied themselves around Brody. Coaches climbed in and out of the truck. Brody's mom appeared from the stands, the tracks of her tears visible through her makeup. I recognized her from a million elementary school parties, and from pictures of her in her own house at parties Brody had thrown when she wasn't home .
I waited, heart racing.
One by one, the coaches went back to the team on the sidelines. But I didn't believe Noah was right, and Brody was okay, until his mom jumped down from the ambulance, smiling and wiping her eyes. She walked around the fence to climb into the stands again.
I heaved one huge sigh of relief, then walked over.
"No pictures," said a paramedic sitting on the bumper of the ambulance, watching the game. He eyed my camera.
"I'm his girlfriend."
"Oh." He moved aside for me.
I climbed into the back of the ambulance, my heart beating harder and faster. No matter what Noah had said, it was terrifying to see Brody lying on a stretcher that wasn't quite big enough for his body, surrounded by sinister equipment. His helmet and jersey and shoulder pads lay heaped in a corner. He wore an athletic shirt with high-tech pads sewn into the sides. With his arms crossed on his chest, he looked slender and young and vulnerable. His long, wet hair had escaped from his headband and stuck to his forehead. His eyes were closed.
I took his hand and squeezed it.
He squeezed back, opening one eye to look at me. He closed his eyes again. "I'm okay. I couldn't breathe for a minute."
"Is that all?"
He laughed shortly. "Did you see the guy who got me? He must have weighed five hundred pounds."
The guy hadn't been that big, but football players probably looked a lot bigger to Brody when they were about to sack him. I decided to delete that series of pictures.
"I was just lying here"-he took a deep breath and exhaled slowly-"doing the relaxation exercise you taught me. I think I'm ready to go back."
"Are you sure?" I asked. The alarm from seeing him flat on the field, not moving, was too fresh.
"The paramedics already cleared me," he said. "I didn't hit my head."
"If you did," I said, "would you know?"
"Maybe not," he admitted.
I let go of his hand and held up seven fingers.
"Seven," he said.
"Who's your best friend?"
"How long have you played football together?"
"Since third grade." He answered every question with no hesitation. His brain was working fine.
"What are you doing after the game?" I asked.
"I'm going to the Crab Lab. With you. We haven't talked about what we'll do after that, but I was planning to get you to your granddad's beach again and show you what a perfect couple we are."
"Oh, really," I said archly. "Are you looking forward to that?"
He crooked his finger at me. I leaned closer. He whispered, "This is going to be our best night yet." His mouth caught mine in a sexy kiss.

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