by Victor Thomas

Chapter 7

Mark and Ryan had been standing up for me, but they really showed what great friends they were the weekend after I was outed. Our team was playing in a regional game against the Trojans , and if we won, we'd be getting close to earning a spot in the state championship game. Needless to say, everyone was excited about the possibility. We were traveling farther than ever, so the whole team would be staying overnight in a motel. It was quite unlike our earlier away games, however; that became clear very fast. I was about to sit next to Steve on the bus when he objected.

"You're not sitting next to me, faggot," he said, loud enough for everyone to hear.

Coach Benson walked back, looked at me and yelled, "Scott! Not there! Find another seat, Tinkerbell!"

The homophobic crowd snickered at that, and my face immediately reddened in embarrassment. Coach Benson had never been a favorite of mine. He was way too obsessed with winning at any cost. He'd been a real jerk ever since my dad called him and outed me. I'm sure he would've kicked me off the team if he wasn't so obsessed with winning, but he knew as well as anyone that without me, the team didn't stand a chance. I know that sounds conceited as hell on my part, but it was true.

I glanced around for a kind face, but most of the guys were avoiding my gaze. The few who were looking at me were openly glaring at me in contempt. Those guys had been riding me all week, but with the coach's backing, they were bolder than ever. They were like a pack of wolves, drawing strength from each other. My apologies to wolves for the comparison. As I walked down the aisle, it was amazing how many of the guys had to cough, and how much those coughs sounded like 'fairy' and 'faggot.' I was so humiliated.

Just a short time before, I'd counted every last one of those guys as friends. We were a team, almost family. All that had changed now. Most of them were too uncomfortable to even talk to me, and a few hated me with a vengeance. It had been a really tough week. My nerves were frayed and it was almost more than I could bear.

"Hey, Scott! Over here!" said Ryan, getting up out of his seat.

I smiled my thanks and took his place next to Mark. Ryan walked up and dropped into the seat next to Todd. Coach Benson gave him a glare for that, but Ryan just glared right back at him until the coach knocked it off. The Nazis didn't like it either. They tried staring Ryan down as well, but he shrugged them off and they immediately backed down. I tried not to let those guys get to me, desperately convincing myself that it didn't matter, but my heart was breaking inside. Only Mark saw the single tear that ran down my cheek.

He was a real friend. He smiled at me wanly, patted my knee, and then plunged into his analysis of our upcoming game. He jerked my mind away from my troubles and onto football. He knew how much I loved the game, hell everyone on the team knew. I glanced over at Ryan and he smiled at me. I relaxed, at least somewhat. I was lucky to have such good friends. I wouldn't ever forget what those guys had done for me. I know I keep repeating that, but that's how important their friendship was to me. I could say it a thousand times and it still wouldn't be enough. One never realizes how important the support of friends is, until it's gone.

Coach Benson didn't play me during the entire first half. During every preceding game, I had been on the field for nearly the entire game. Coach only took me out when I was ready to drop. That had changed. Now he subbed everyone else in but me. I kept waiting for him to call my name, but he never did, not once. Now that he knew that I was gay it changed everything. It seemed like he wasn't going to play me at all. I doubted that however. If he wasn't going to use me, he would've kicked me off the team. That's the kind of person he was. Maybe he was just punishing me for being gay.

Our teammates noticed my lack of game time, too. Mark and Ryan were annoyed and angered by it. Ashton and his Nazis smirked in triumph and patted each other on the back for keeping the 'queer' out of the game. Most of the guys just took their places on the field with discomfort. Kolton actually apologized to me as he ran onto the field. I know he felt genuinely bad about what was going on, but it made me feel like crap. I didn't want to be the object of pity, and I was hurt and mad as hell.

Coach was sabotaging the entire team just to get at me. By half time we were down 0-14. The team we were playing wasn't even all that tough! The Trojans had a reputation as a hard team to beat, but what I saw on the field didn't impress me all that much. Again, I don't mean to sound conceited, but I was a kick ass player, and our team would've definitely been in the lead if the coach had played me.

Mark and Ryan were complaining loudly for him to do just that, and a few of the 'neutrals' were beginning to murmur as well. Things were getting ugly on the bench and the field. I felt responsible for a few moments, but it wasn't my fault. It was the coach who couldn't deal with my sexuality. It was his problem and he was inflicting it on the entire team. Still, being at the center of yet another conflict made me sick to my stomach. I looked at Coach in disgust. That was what he was after. He was intentionally trying to hurt me. He knew that when he put me in, I'd win the game for him. He could make me feel like crap, and then use me to win.

I was pissed. I had half a mind to refuse to play when he finally did put me in. I didn't want to play for him! But no, it wasn't just the coach, I'd be hurting, it was the team. True, some of them deserved to be hurt, but most of them didn't. I wasn't going to sink to coach's level. I'd play and I'd do my damndest to win. I wouldn't do it for him or the Nazis. I'd do it for me, Mark, Ryan, Kolton, Cody and all those other guys on the team who didn't hate me because I was different.

The murmuring quickly grew into complaining. The Nazis didn't like this, because it was a show of support for me. No, they couldn't have that!

"Guys, quit complaining," said Todd. "We'll kick their asses! We just need to punch up our defense and get aggressive."

"We can't do it without Scott," said one of my teammates who had so far remained silent about me.

There were a few muttered, "yeahs' from the neutrals. That lit a fire under Ashton.

"We don't need the fairy playing on our team! He might get hurt and start crying."

His voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Shut up, Ashton!"

Mark stalked over to him. He was enraged. I'd never seen him that pissed before. His muscles bulged. If Ashton had any sense at all, he would've shut his mouth.

"No! Why the fuck are you always taking up for him? What are you, some kind of faggot lover?"

That was exactly the wrong thing to say. Mark grabbed him by the throat and punched him so hard in the face that at first, I thought he'd killed him. Ashton hit the dirt, unconscious. Our entire team, our opponents, and most of the crowd just gawked. Coach grabbed Mark and sat him down on the bench.

"You're out of the game, asshole!"

Jesus, Coach always knew just what to say. I thought Mark was going to jump up and kick his ass, but he controlled his temper. It was a good thing for Coach, too. Mark could've beaten the shit out of him if he'd started. Mark definitely wasn't someone to fuck with. He was sitting on the bench, seething with fury. Ashton's friends were keeping as far away from him as they could, and even the neutrals had drawn back. Only Ryan dared to draw near.

Coach Benson and one of the referees carried Ashton off to a nurse's station. He was out cold. The whole fight had involved only two hits; Mark's fist hitting Ashton, and Ashton hitting the ground. I covered my face with my hands for a few moments. I couldn't believe what was happening. What had gone wrong with my life? I felt so wound up that I was ready to explode.

The second half continued and things went from bad to worse. Our team couldn't make a touchdown to save their lives. The Trojans ran the score up to 0-21. With less than ten minutes left, coach finally relented and put me in the game. He put Mark back in as well. He held out as long as he could, but in the end, he had to play me. I was beginning to wonder there for a while. I really thought he might blow his shot at a championship just so I couldn't play. I was right the first time, however. The only thing more important to him than his vendetta against me was winning. He had always been obsessed with winning. Nothing was more important to him than that. He'd cheat, lie, scream at his players, do anything it took to win. He did win a lot of games, but he was still a loser in my eyes.

I knew he was just using me, but I was playing for the team, not him. I hadn't been on the field two minutes before Brendan passed the ball to me and I ran thirty yards for a touchdown. I was so pumped up with emotion that no one could stop me.

We managed to stop the Trojans when they had the ball, and on our next possession, Brendan handed off to Mark, who ran for fifteen yards before finally being stopped. He then passed to Kolton who ran the ball into the endzone for another touchdown. The score was now 14-21, with less than three minutes left in the game.

With two minutes to go, Ryan intercepted a Trojan pass and ran it fifteen yards into the end zone for another Hornet touchdown. The game was now tied 21-21, with forty-five seconds to go.

We kicked the ball to the Trojans and their player was running it back when he was tackled by Cody. The Trojan player fumbled the ball as he was going down and I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I quickly scooped it up and ran thirty yards to the end zone, scoring my second touchdown of the game. With twenty seconds left on the clock, Randy kicked the extra point and the score was now 28-21 in favor of the Hornets . We had managed to overcome a twenty-one-point deficit in less than ten minutes and actually win the game. And I had scored two touchdowns!

Our team went crazy. The Trojans were crushed. I looked over at Coach Benson. He was elated with the win, but he was intentionally ignoring me. He didn't even want to give me credit for the winning touchdown. Mark, Ryan, Kolton, Cody and I had saved his sorry ass, but I knew we'd never hear a word of thanks or encouragement from him. Ashton's little crew actually looked pissed that I had made the winning touchdown. The hatred those guys had for me was unreal, especially the hatred coming from one of my former friends. Without me they would've lost for sure. There was no way they could've failed to realize that, and yet they scowled at me in anger. They just couldn't give it up, not even for a few minutes.

We piled into the bus for the short ride to our motel. To offset our bit of well-earned happiness, Ashton's crew toiled at making my life a living hell. He stepped onto the bus with a major bruise on his face. There was hatred in his eyes when he looked at Mark, but he didn't dare say a word. He'd learned his lesson. His fear of Mark didn't stop him from leaning over and whispering in my ear, however.

"I'm gonna get you fuckers. Just you wait," he hissed like some wild lunatic.

He shouldered me as he went on and sat with his little group of followers. They whispered, looked at me, and laughed. I never could hear what they were saying, but they made it clear they were cutting me down. I tried to ignore them and talk to Ryan, but they were hard to ignore.

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