by Rick Beck

Chapter 2

Johnson's Crush

Some players accept the change faster than others. Casterbrook had friends on the Grant Lion's team, but as long as Grant kept winning, no one complain too loudly.

There was a championship on the line.

Maybe Bonner would be OK.

Bonner quarterbacked the Grant Lions after the Central game. Coach Winger wasn't sure what he had. He intended to find out by letting Bonner run the offense at practice.

The team needed to become familiar with how Bonner played the game. The team needed to know what Bonner could do. Coach Winger needed to know what he could do. That way he'd have a better idea of which plays to run.

After that, Coach Winger needed to do was pray that a two hundred and fifty pound linebacker didn't land on Bonner. After it was all said and done, Bonner was still too small and that truth was apparent.

The other truth for Coach Winger, Bonner was the only quarterback he had.

The team took surprisingly little convincing, once Bonner pulled the rabbit out of his helmet at Central. They wanted to believe in fairy-tales and Bonner. They wanted to win. If they couldn't do it with Casterbrook, they were more than willing to win with Bonner.

Casterbrook didn't come to practice until Tuesday after the game in which he tore his ACL He was on crutches.

Casterbrook stood on the sidelines watching Bonner moving his offense up and down the field. He handed off to Scott, to Carlos, to Scott, and he threw passes to Johnson and Taylor. Once he used them all, he started all over again.

Coach Winger blew his whistle, yelled instructions, and he let Bonner run his offense. He'd seen Casterbrook hobble out to the football field. He wanted Casterbrook to watch for long enough to process that it wasn't his team any longer.

This was the cruel truth about football and most sports. No matter how big a star you are, once you can't play any longer, the game will find a way to go on without you.

When Coach Winger called a break, the offense crowded around casterbrook. Bonner steered clear. He wouldn't add insult to injury. He knew how he'd feel if the roles were reversed.

Johnson said hello to Casterbrook. He wished him well. Then he went to stand by Bonner. Other players followed Johnson's lead. Casterbrook's closest friends wanted to stay around him as long as possible.

Having an injured player hanging around practice served no purpose and players didn't need to be reminded that football was a rough game and some of them would get hurt. Casterbrook's season was over.

Coach Winger let the team stay with Casterbrook for as long as they wanted. The players got it out of their system. One by one they went to stand next to Bonner. Practice wasn't over for another hour and they had work to do.

Casterbrook watched. He never spoke to Bonner. He knew he was the quarterback now, but the Lions were his team, and he had nothing to say to the boy who replaced him. It was a difficult pill to swallow for a player with high hopes of having his dream season.

Coach Winger stood next to Casterbrook, once he was alone on the sideline.

"They need to practice with Bonner calling signals. You need to go home and heal up. Maybe you'll get back before the season ends and it'll be your team again," Coach Winger told him.

Unconvincingly Casterbrook said, "Yeah. Maybe."

The coach knew he'd be lucky to be ready to take snaps by the beginning of his freshman year in college. He'd seen other boys with the same injury. A year was optimistic, and some players never played again after tearing their ACL.

It was a long way from winning the second game at Central, but after 8 games, Grant had 8 wins. Bonner was playing quarterback like he was born to play the position.

Coach Winger still tried to limit him and keep the ball on the ground, but it was the passes from Bonner to Johnson that won most of the eight games. He didn't encourage Bonner to pass but he knew the inevitability of a boy doing what his instincts told him to do.

Bonner was fearless under pressure. With the opposing team determined to take him down, Bonner could almost always manage to get the ball to a receiver and if he couldn't do that, he'd pass the ball out of bounds, but he was most dangerous to the opposition when they had him under pressure. Coach Winger understood that too.

Most of the time his receiver of choice was Tad Johnson. Taylor caught his share when he got open, but Tad had great hands and he was the fastest receiver around. He was also tall and an easy target for Bonner to find. The combination kept the Grant Lion's undefeated.

Maybe Bonner's size was an advantage, because of how he played the game. He could stop on a dime, change directions, while ducking under an all out rush. Teams had begun to defend against Bonner's passes.

Once Bonner saw the opposition putting two players on his receivers, he answered by running Scott, Carlos, and then Scott again. He controlled the game by keeping other teams off balance.

When Casterbrook was injured, the students wrote the Lions off for another losing season, A team with so many losing seasons behind them didn't inspire optimism. Not until Bonner, a complete unknown to everyone, rescued Grant's football program.

By the time Grant was 5-0 the student body was filling the stand at Grant and when there was an away game, caravans formed in front of Grant High to carry the fans to where ever the away game was being played.

It was Bonner's team. Casterbrook didn't reappear at practice. The new kid became the quarterback and overnight Bonner became one of the most popular kids in school.

Even the Grant students decided winning was better than losing, and the boy who rescued Coach Winger's football program had become a very big deal.

Bonner's hoarse whisper of a voice, the result of being hit in the throat by a football playfully thrown by one of his brothers, sounded like the bark he used in the huddle when he spoke over the microphone to the student body. He was the player who spoke for his team, but Bonner didn't have much to say. He preferred to do his talking with a football.

After the fifth win, and again after the eighth win, there was an assembly to honor the Lions. After the eighth win, the most wins for any Lion's football team, the assembly was a celebration with only one regular season game left.

Coach Winger told the student body, "We'll bring you the league championship if you'd like."

They liked and they gave Coach Winger and his boys a standing ovation. The school was a buzz with talk of winning the league championship in football for the first time.

"Woodruff next week," Coach Winger said. "It will be the toughest game of the season. If we beat Woodruff, we'll be playing for the league championship."

The assembly had been on Monday. It was the day that he found the note in his mailbox at lunch. The morning assembly had the school talking about football.

The Grant Lion's season had gone from dream, to nightmare, and back to a dream again.

Now there was that note.

Sitting at his desk, remembering a season lost and found, he opened the top drawer to look at the note one more time.

So much promise and only two games left to play.

If anyone asked Bonner, 'What have you done for me lately?'

He could say, 'Win!'

Ask Tad Johnson, 'Who would you rather throw you the football, Casterbrook or Bonner?'

He'd answer, "Bonner.'

Once Bonner took over as quarterback, Johnson didn't understand what was happening to him. At seventeen football was his one true love, but now, a few months before he turned eighteen, Tad had developed strong feelings for Bonner and he'd become protective of him.

Tad liked Bonner in a way he never liked a boy before. Bonner was on his mind all the time. Even before Bonner took over at quarterback, Johnson had his eye on him.

Bonner treated Johnson's feelings as if they were no big deal. Their relationship was built around football. There was still work to do and games to win.

After the season, there would be plenty of time to see where their relationship might go.

Bonner understood how his favorite receiver might become infatuated with him and he didn't mind. The closer Johnson got the more Bonner liked him. What wasn't to like about the tall handsome receiver?

Whenever Bonner got into trouble, Tad bailed him out by getting open down field. He'd wave his long arms over his head until Bonner saw him and he got off a quick pass.

Bonner knew there was nothing wrong with liking another boy. With the season almost over there was plenty of time to build on their friendship. After the season they were free to let their feelings for each other blossom.

There was a chance that Tad's feelings might change once they no longer had football between them. While Johnson was going on to college and a career as a dependable receiver, Bonner knew this was the end of the line for him. College football was out of the question for a diminutive quarterback, no matter how accurate his passes.

Johnson falling for the quarterback wasn't Part of Bonner's game plan, but you never knew how a football game, or life, was going to turn out. For now he'd go with the flow and let whatever happened happen.

A six foot two inch receiver makes an easy target. Having open field running speed college recruiters salivate over, Johnson's boyish good looks and his easy going style makes him everyone's favorite Lion, and he's comfortable standing next to the school's star quarterback.

The only fly in the ointment, Tad Johnson is sure everyone knows his secret, but regardless, he couldn't stay away from the boy who threw the passes.

When talking about meeting after practice or on weekends, their plans include a place far from Grant High.

The jokes about how close they are has Tad on defense. He knows how it looks when he follows Bonner around like his pet poodle. While he can't stay away from Bonner, when they go out, he doesn't want to risk anyone from school seeing them together.

Having difficulty accepting his attraction to Bonner, it was what it was but his feelings were not like any feelings he'd felt before. They went far beyond friendship.

By the time Grant won games 6-7-8, Bonner and Tad were becoming accustomed to their away from school meetings, and Bonner found himself becoming anxious when Tad was late, and Tad was always late.

When Bonner had time to think, he always thought about his brother's influence on him. It was their devotion to football that had him wanting to play the game. He idolized his four brothers and they included him in games they played with the neighborhood kids as they progressed through a high school twenty miles away from Grant.

His older brothers all played football in high school. Bonner played football with them when he was significantly smaller than he was now. His brothers never gave him a break. They hit him hard and often, and Bonner always got up. Only a football thrown playfully at his face left a lasting impression on his voice. Bonner liked his voice. It made him sound more masculine than he was.

As he waited for Tad after game eight, he remembered his plan. He went through great machinations in order to get to go to Grant. He was a walk-on at summer practice. He had gone to Grant because he thought he could make the football team. It was the kind of thing that would make no sense to ordinary people, but Bonner wanted to prove he was as good as his brothers. He wanted to make the football team. That's as far as his plan went. Being small had him thinking that making the team was his goal. He'd never envisioned a starting role on the Grant Lions.

Bonner realized that once his plan was set in motion, momentum took over. Had he thought about being called on to be the starting quarterback before he walked onto Grant's practice field, he'd have run like hell.

Now he was not only on the Grant Lions, he led them to victory seven times in the seven games he'd played.

Coach Winger learned long ago to ignore the gossip young men invented to embarrass, gross out, and impress his teammates.

There was no end to the lengths teenage boys would go to get a laugh, or better yet, to get a disgusting grown out of his buddies and teammates.

Even so, there was something that had been said more than once about Johnson being linked to Bonner in more than a casual way. Could there be something in that. Did Tad Johnson know the truth?

Coach Winger wondered, do I want to talk to Bonner or Johnson, and then he shook off that idea of bringing the note up at all. If he didn't know anything, why would he be questioning his players about Johnson and Bonner.

He needed to be cautious. He needed to think it through before taking any action or no action.

There were two games left if they beat Woodruff and went to the league championship game. Woodruff was the perennial favorite in the western division. In the last ten seasons, Grant had beaten Woodruff twice. With them ready to face off, they both were 8-0 and the winner of the game they played against each other went to the championship game. The other team went home.

Bonner wondered if he was in over his head. Everyone thought he was after Casterbrook got hurt. He was the only one who believed he could be Grant's quarterback, but it was getting a bit rich. Bonner wondered if he could play well enough to beat Woodruff. Woodruff had always been tough on the Grant Lions, according to the past copies of The Lion's Den, the Grant school paper..

Tad read more into their meetings than Bonner did, but Bonner knew he liked Tad the first time he saw him. Who didn't like tall dark and handsome? The trick was to keep their minds on football until the season was over. Then they could work on what they felt for each other.

They were both seventeen. There was no rush.

Johnson had plenty of friends on the Lions. As a junior he was the team's leading scorer, He was Casterbrook's favorite target, because he had sure hands and fast feet.

As a junior, Grant won half its games, finishing 5-4. Casterbrook to Johnson in their senior year was a combination that would carry them to the championship game, ...and 'The best laid plans of mice and men.'

The championship hopes now depended on Bonner.

Passing and catching weren't the only thing on Tad Johnson's mind. The first time Tad scored a touchdown pass that Bonner threw, he felt it what Bonner hugged him after that score.

Tad looked into Bonner's baby blue eyes and a twinge of something joined the rush that came from scoring a touchdown. He'd caught a lot of Casterbrook passes and he never once thought the hug that went with it was anything but part of the game.

It was way more than that now. With Bonner it was stimulating in a way that had nothing to do with football and everything to do with feelings he'd never felt before.

Tad liked a boy. That came as a surprise to him. He'd had a lot of teammates and some became close friends, but he never thought of kissing one, until the first time Bonner and him hugged.

Tad loved football. He was a natural. He was quick and sure handed. He'd developed a knack for knowing where to go when a play fell apart. Even with Bonner scrambling, Johnson knew where to be for Bonner to find him.

The Grant Lions won two games because Johnson knew where to go for a hail Mary pass that he caught for a score.

Bonner and Tad have become closer than most high school athletes would comfortably be. They take advantage of any time they can get together, but most of their time together is on the football field after school.

Whenever possible, they meet in town for a few hours of off the field friendship.

It was on his way to such a meeting that Tad examined how he'd developed a crush on Bonner. He still found the concept difficult to conceive, but as contrary as it was to anything he'd encountered before, it wasn't something he had any interest in walking away from.

If he was gay, so be it, he'd need to accept it.

As Bonner sat waiting for Tad, he'd run it all through his mind too. Like becoming the starting quarterback, his feelings for Tad simply happened. He didn't expect to fall in love with his number one receiver.

Bonner thought that Tad was number one in more ways than one. Since the day he walked on at Grant, his luck had only improved in ways no one could have predicted.

Life was a trip and Bonner didn't want to miss a thing.

"Hi, Tad," Bonner said. "You're running late again."

"Yeah, chores. I was ready to leave when the old man wanted the garbage cans taken down to the curb. Sorry, Bonner. Didn't mean to keep you waiting again."

Bonner's hand went up as the waitress passed behind the counter a few feet away.

"Ready, hon?" she asked.

"Yeah, he finally made it," Bonner said in a raspy reply.

She brought her pad to the table.

"What will it be, gentlemen?"

"Double Header and your big Coke. Do you have fries?" Tad asked, not having eaten since dinner two hours before.

"Sure," she said. "Bucket or barrel, hon?"

"Better make it a barrel," Tad said. "I'm starved. Sorry, Bonner. It's been hours since dinner. Two at least."

"Double banana split, barrel of fries, Coke giganticus, and what would you like, cutie pie?"

"One scoop of strawberry ice cream," Bonner said.

The waitress smiled, looking at Tad and then looking at Bonner. She shook her head at the discrepancy.

"You on a diet, hon? You look pretty slim to me," the waitress said.

"Can't keep my fleet feet if I gain weight. Goes straight to my hips. My pads are tailored to fit this body, not a larger version. I need to be fast," Bonner said before the waitress walked away.

"Maybe Carlos will start running better. He was quicker off the ball last season," Tad said.

"I could run Carlos and Scott every play. The opposition could catch on to that," Bonner said. "We'll need all our weapons to beat Woodruff," Bonner said. "They were champions last year and they've had their way with Grant for years."

Tad looked around the nearly empty restaurant.

"Why don't you have more? I look like a slob eating so much in front of you. Order a burger. I'll pay for it. You need your protein."

"I can wait to pig out at some later date. For now I need to be cautious about what I eat," Bonner said.

"You look fine to me. In fact... you look way better than fine," Tad said, looking around to be sure he wasn't heard.

"I'm treating you, because you deserve a treat. You had a great game Saturday. It's the least I can do for you. Besides, it gives us a chance to spend time together. The more you eat the longer I get to look at you."

Tad blushed.

"I feel guilty. Eat something, Bonner. Please."

"I am. One scoop of strawberry. You're slim. You burn more calories eating then you consume. I put on weight if I look at the wrong food for too long. Only two more games. I'll eat once the season is over."

"I'll hold you to that. You look fine to me."

"Thank you, Mr. Johnson. You don't look bad yourself."

"Cut it out, Bonner. Someone called me the F word in the locker room after practice today."

"They called you a frog, Tad? That's not polite."

"That isn't funny. You know what I mean. They called me a faggot. I've got a reputation. I want to play college ball. That gets around and I'm toast."

"Who called you that, Tad? Give me a name. I'll kick his ass for you. The recruiter from State loves you. You've got a full scholarship sewed up."

"I don't know who. Someone yelled it," Tad said. "I knew who they were talking to. I'm the one who follows you around like a puppy."

"Some of those Neanderthal call each other names all the time. You've got a guilty conscience, lover boy? They weren't talking to you, Tad."

"You know how I feel about you, Bonner. They were talking to me. I'm not stupid and they aren't blind. I don't know how to hide my feelings. Not these feelings anyway."

"Look, Tad, you've got two games left. Then you go down in Grant history as the best receiver ever. You're the most popular player. Just because we love each other doesn't change anything. That's if you don't take an ad out in the school paper saying you love me. We'll be fine."

"I told you what I did so you'd stop worrying and you're still worrying. There's nothing wrong with you. There's nothing wrong with loving someone."

"I know. I know, but I don't understand it, Bonner."

"It takes work, Tad. I can't always make sense of it myself. I know what I feel. How and why, not so much."

"I was just coming to grips with the idea that I'm gay," Tad said. "Now I'm more confused than ever. I'm not sure what I am."

"What you are is the best receiver in the league, not to mention one of the best in the state. That's what you need to remember. As long as you keep catching passes, no one at Grant will care what you do or who you love. When we win the championship, you'll be a star. That's what you are."

"When you say it, I believe it, but I can't help but worry about people thinking I'm odd, you know."

"Nothing else matters, Tad. We'll win the championship and you'll have a hundred colleges to pick from. After that you have a lifetime to work on who you want to be and what you want to do. There is no rush."

"I get that. What I'm saying is, Just when I think I know the score, it all changes, and I find out I don't know anything, or everything I do know is wrong."

"You think too much. Stick to football, Tad. Once the season ends, we get to do what we want."

"I've never felt like this before. I think about you more than I think about football and I've never thought about anything else. Ask my teachers."

"We have two more games. Forget about distractions. Concentrate on the game. We'll deal with this later."

The food arrived.

"Here's the tub-a-fries, Coke, giant split, and one scoop of Strawberry ice cream for you," the waitress said, dispensing the tray full of food.

"Bonner, eat something. Have some fries," Tad begged, finishing his first fist full before digging into the double banana split.

"They're poison. One of those suckers and I gain five pounds. I'll watch you eat. I won't gain as much that way."

"Cut it out. You look good."

"Not half as good as you look, banana man. You need to keep up your strength for later."

"Bonner! Cut it out. Someone will hear."

"They'll have to get their own banana man. You're taken," Bonner said.


"You're going to have ulcers, Tad. No one knows anything and they aren't likely to find out. Everything is cool. Enjoy your snack."

Bonner took small spoons of ice cream as Tad devoured the ton of food in front of him, while worrying about Bonner not eating more.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead