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Another season, another chance for victory. Brett Wallace snuck a peek at his football stadium as he pulled into the parking lot behind Northeastern high school. It was early evening, but thanks to the long summer days the late July sun showed no signs of surrendering. The faculty-and-staff lot looked almost full, with teachers getting into their classrooms to decorate, organize and plan ahead of schedule and parents registering their children for school at the last minute.
When he stepped out of the icy cool interior of his SUV, the humid air wrapped around him like a soggy blanket. Beads of sweat ran down his chest and back, making his T-shirt stick to his torso. After locking the door to his Escalade, he pulled the cotton away from his sticky abdomen, waved it a few times to let air in. Didn't help.
He made his way to the group of football coaches sitting at the picnic table to the side of the cafeteria entrance. It was the same table where he and his gridiron teammates used to sit before school when he was a student. The group tonight was a little older, a little wiser and a little wider.
"Hey, Wall!" Arnie, the newest addition to their staff, was twenty-three and fresh out of college. He wasn't old enoughjaded enoughto know it was uncool to reference Brett's time with the New York Liberties by using his old nickname. Brett "The Wall" Wallace. Arnie's worshipful attitude was flattering more than annoying. And a constant reminder of the responsibility he carried now.
He plopped down next to his assistant coach, Steve. "What's up, guys?"
James, the offensive coach, put down the notebook he'd been scribbling in, twirled the pen between his palms. "Shootin' the shit before we go in."
"Any reason you're shootin' the shit in the heat?" Brett dragged the notebook his way.
"Sure you can have the pad. No problem." James made a face.
Brett gave him the finger and kept perusing the pattern of X's and O's.
"Janitorial staff didn't get the memo about the meeting tonight, so they're still cleaning the auditorium," Steve offered. "Didn't wanna get in their way, decided to chill out here." He scoffed. "Chill. Right. Melt is more like it. The other coaches were smart. They all retreated to the teacher's lounge. Where there's air." He cast a sideways glance at T.J., the special teams coach.
Brett grunted and held out a hand for the pen James still held without looking up. After making a few quick scratches, some arrows and dots, he pushed the notebook back across the table. "Not bad. Put it in the possibilities for this year's playbook."
James's face split into a grin, and Brett caught the hint of a blush before the guy ducked his head to fold the notebook back up. Brett understood. He didn't often add in new plays, preferring to stick with the tried-and-true offense. Adding to the playbook was something to be proud of.
Brett swiveled around so his back rested against the table's edge, folded his hands over his still-damp stomach. A light breeze rustled through the trees, and he tried the T-shirt trick again. Didn't help. A car door slammed and Steve mumbled something next to him.
"What'd you say, Steve?"
He heard James mutter, "Not too bad. Not too bad at all."
"What's not too bad?" He turned, then someonea female someonecaught his eye.