Matthew Collins pulls back for the snap. This kid has an arm on him and is going to be in the Super Bowl someday. As he throws the ball to wide receiver Al Jennings, he goes down.” The announcer tells the world watching the game. “Oh no. It was a late hit with a penalty against the away team. Collins isn’t moving. The referees surrounded Collins after Jackson ran for thirty-two yards. This doesn’t look good folks. The medical staff is now on the field evaluating Collins. They’re bringing in the gurney. Oh, look at this kid’s face. He’s in a lot of pain, tears coming down his face. This is breaking my heart.” “They’ve stabilized his left leg, and he’s off to the locker room to get checked out.
We will keep you updated on the situation.” “Tom, this doesn’t look good. If he comes back next year, it would be a miracle. His knee has to be trashed the way the players landed on him. We will have to watch the replay to see what happened, but it isn’t good.” I turn the tv off as I lay in the hospital bed. He was right that it wasn’t good. This is my third surgery to repair my leg. The defensive end and one of the linebackers came at me from two different directions, and my leg went snap, crackle, pop. And now my career is over.
I can’t stop getting frustrated then pissed off all at the same time. My teammates, my brothers, have all been by, and my coach is coming over to talk to me about my options. I don’t know what I’m going to do now without my football scholarship. The nurse comes in to check my vitals and look at my leg. They didn’t put it in a cast yet because they might need to go back in. The ACL is torn, kneecap is shattered, and I’ve got rods in my shin. I’m a mess right now. There was a psychiatrist who came in on the advice of my coach. I’m thankful for that, but not ready to talk. “Are you in any pain? Do you need anything?” Tina, the nurse, asks me.
I run my hands through brown hair as I flop my head back onto the pillow on my hospital bed. “Yeah, I’m in pain.” I tell her. “Can I get something?” She tells me that she’ll be right back. I’m looking around my room and it’s flooded with flowers and balloons. My mom is flying in from Florida. She saw it happen on the TV, so she booked her flight right away. My dad said the last time he talked to her, she was on her last connecting flight and should be here around tomorrow morning at one. The nurse finally comes in and gives me something in my IV to help with the pain. “There’s the champ.
” Coach walks toward me and sits down in the recliner. “Hey Coach. So what’s the word?” “The football scholarship is gone because you’re done for the season.” Coach avoids eye contact with me. “Fuck. What am I going to do now?” “You still have your academic scholarship. You’re a smart guy. What do you want to be if you can’t be a football player?” “Nothing. I’ve always wanted to play in the NFL.” I slam my fist down on the bed.
“Now I have nothing. I might as well go back home to Florida.” “Don’t talk like that. You could do anything. What are you majoring in right now?” “My grandfather always taught us that sports is a wonderful career choice but it can be taken away at any time, so you need to make sure that you have something to fall back on. I declared a history major so when I retired, I could teach history.” “You need to think about it.” “I want to play football. It’s the only thing I’ve ever dreamed of doing.” I cry and am not ashamed of doing it either.
This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever faced. “Okay. Calm down. I don’t want to get your blood pressure up. It isn’t good for you. What if you continued with your history degree while maybe trying to see what you need to do to be a coach? You’re talented, and the kids at the youth center love when you come over to teach them how to play.” “I’ll take that under advisement.” I stare at him. “Okay, enough talk about that. How are you feeling? What is the doctor saying?” “I need to do some more testing to make sure everything is set right, then I can go home.
I need to do physical therapy over the summer once it’s completely healed. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing for classes. Will they offer online, or am I done for the year?” “Let me talk to admissions and see what we can do. You’re too bright not to finish school. Are you going to go back to Florida?” “I think so. My dad is a physical therapist. I’m going to see if I can transfer my credits there, so I don’t miss anything.” Coach doesn’t seem to understand. ”No. You need to stay here, because if you go back there then you’re done.
I know you.” “I can’t be here knowing I can’t get on that field ever again. I’m nothing if I can’t be on the field. It’s where I belong. I’m a god there, and I don’t mean that I’m the best and people are beneath me.” I raise my voice. Coach stands up and leans over me with one hand on the bed rail. “Now you listen to me.” He stares in my eyes. “You belong on that field either as a player or a coach.
You are something even without football. You’re a man who dedicates his life to making sure others are happy, especially kids. Now you’ll stay in school, I’ll drive your ass to physical therapy, and I’ll find new housing for you since you can’t climb the stairs.” “Coach, this is my life and I need to decide what to do with it.” I turn away from him. He grabs my chin so I’m staring at him. “This isn’t an option. Matt, you’re too talented and smart to sit at home on your ass moping about how wrong your life is.” Coach is making sense. “You’re thinking about your injury and how it ended your career, but you’re not looking to the future.
Give it time. Don’t make any rash decisions right now. I’ll start working on things on my end, and you rest and heal up. It’s the only thing you need to do right now.” Coach sits back in his recliner. He puts his feet up on the bed and grabs his phone from his pocket. He starts typing fast. I know what he’s doing. I roll my eyes as the pain meds start to make me sleepy. He eyes me.
“Sleep. I’ll be here for a while.” What the hell am I going to do now? That’s the last thought before the meds kick in and I’m dreaming of football. In my dream, all of my wishes come true. I’m an NFL quarterback. 1 KRISTINA WEST Present Day “Oh my God. Jesus fucking Christ.” I yell out loud to myself as I toss the third frisbee from my gutter into the pile of garbage on the ground. I never knew that buying an old house could be so frustrating. I’ve been up on this ladder for five hours already, and I can finally see the end of the line.
“How’s it going up there?” I hear my mom’s voice coming from below. She’s standing on the porch with two glasses of lemonade in her hands. Mom and dad came up to bring my stuff which has been a huge helpful. “I have enough frisbees to find a beach so I can throw them at hot guys and start my own harem.” “Why don’t you save your looking for a harem until later? Get down here and drink this lemonade?” Mom chuckles. The sweat pouring down my forehead is making my eyes sting. I sigh, finally giving up and taking a break. I know there’s about a foot to go, but I’m too frustrated. The roofer is coming tomorrow, so I need to get this done. I don’t want them to just toss everything into the garbage in case there’s buried treasure up here.
“You’ve been working since seven this morning. It’s lunchtime. I’m going to head to the diner to grab us something. Your dad is in the kitchen on the phone with your uncle.” I step down off the ladder. Mom rolls her eyes as she hands me the lemonade. My dad and uncle run a hardware store together. Dad is there every day, while my uncle comes in when he feels like it. So when we would go on vacation, Dad was always on the phone because my uncle doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing. “The roofer is coming tomorrow so I need to get the gutters done.
I’m not sure if they need to be replaced or not.” I shrug as I take a drink. This lemonade is just what I needed. It’s so good. “There’s so much to do yet.” I graduated college with my degree bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and am working online to get my master’s in education. I searched online for jobs for about two months before I found this job in a small-town Tennessee. It’s forty-five minutes south of Nashville. When I got the job, I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to start my life.
I walked the town to see what it was like. I love being so close to Nashville, as I’m a country music fanatic. I met with a realtor the next day to find me my house. She had some really cute ones to show me, but they just didn’t feel right. So, we decided to go back to the drawing board, as my grandpa used to say. I was walking through the town, enjoying an ice cream cone, when I saw a for sale sign on this porch. The house is located just out of town with two acres of land which includes a little pond. It’s within walking distance to school and downtown, so I’ll be getting my exercise in. I called the realtor up and told her I found the perfect home. She tried talking me out of this one, as no one has lived in it for years and it needs a good bit of work.
After a lot of haggling, the owner came down to a price that wouldn’t break my bank. I went home the next day and told Randi, my best friend and cousin, all about it, showing her the pictures. At first, she was nervous about how much work needed to be done, and that it was just me doing it. When she saw my excitement, she couldn’t contain herself. We started shopping for paint colors and decorative things. She got even more excited when I told her she has her own room in my four-bedroom farmhouse. My mom clears her throat, bringing me from my thoughts. I smile at her. “Sorry. I was thinking about when I bought this place a month ago.
I’m lucky that I found it.” “You are lucky. This house is a dream. Or could be. I’m afraid it’s going to be a money pit.” My mom always has a way of telling me things I don’t want to hear. She’s usually right. “When you go to the diner, can you grab me a burger and fries? I want to keep working on the gutters. I should have it all done by the time you get back. Do you think I should power wash it now or wait?” When my mom is around, I tend to question myself more than usual.
“Power wash it now. God only knows when the last time those gutters were cleaned.” My mom mutters as she walks back into the house. I laugh at her antics. I have the best parents in the world. I finish my lemonade. “Let’s do this.” I try to pump myself up to finish this work. The hot sun is beating down on my fair skin. I’m going to be sore tonight when I stop and realize how burnt I really am.
I love my fair skin, red hair, and hazel eyes. My dad is always teasing me that I should’ve been born in Ireland. I turn on my 80’s country playlist from Spotify so I can entertain myself while I work and climb the ladder. As I get to the final stretch of the gutters, I see something red. Another frisbee? I dig it out of the muck of at least three layers of dead wet leaves. It’s so slimy and gross. It’s not hard like a frisbee. I tug harder, but it’s caught on something. I grab the gutter, so I don’t fall off the ladder. “A balloon? What the hell is it doing in my gutter? I start to toss the balloon on the ground when I noticed a string attached to it.
There’s a card lying in the gutter with a hole punched through it. I read it out loud. ”If you find this balloon, text me at 432-555-9983 and let me know where my balloon ended up. Matthew.” H m m. I rip o ff t h e c a r d a n d p u t it in m y b a c k p o c k e t. S h o uld I m e s s a g e him o r le t it g o ? 2 MATTHEW “Thanks, man, for letting me crash with you until my place is ready.” I clap my friend Al on the shoulder. Al Jackson has been my best friend since we started college and became roommates. When I found out that he was a teammate as well, that made our friendship even stronger.
He helped me when I stayed at the campus. He moved into the new room with me, and when I couldn’t do things, he never complained. “No problem, man. Now that I’m a Titan, I don’t mind carrying your lazy ass around.” I chuckle at him as I throw a pillow at him, which he dodges. “Seriously, stay as long as you want. I hate that you’re even going to another place. I like knowing my house is looked after when I’m on the road.” “I can call the landlord and see if I can get out of my lease. I thought you’d be sick of me.
” “Nah. We’re both homebodies, so it works for me.” I text my landlord to let him know that I won’t need the apartment after all. “There. Sent the message. What do you want to do?” I rub my calf. It’s sore tonight. Once in a while I still have pain from the accident. The coach convinced me while I was laid up to think hard about what I wanted to do with my life, and I became a sports physical therapist. I’m working at the local hospital five days a week and every other weekend.
I did orientation, and now I’m getting ready to start next Monday. I had so much fun learning about things and it challenged me. There’s also a local high school near where Al and I live that’s looking for a high school football coach. I’m so happy to be interviewing there. I’m no longer angry about losing my career, but I struggle with depression. Especially when Al talks about football camp, traveling, and playing on the field. I miss it. “Let’s check out the nightlife. We’re both single, good-looking guys. Well I am.
” Al laughs as he puffs out his chest. “Sounds like a plan. Let me go get ready.” I stand up and start to take a step when my leg gives, and I topple over the coffee table, smacking my face off of the end table. “Son of a bitch!” Al runs over to help me up. He sits me down on the coffee table. ”Dude, you need stitches.” My head is bleeding like a mother fucker, and my face hurts bad. It throbs like somebody yanked off their helmet on the field and beat me with it. The bleeding is spraying like a hose when you’re watering the garden.
“Yeah, I do. I smacked my head pretty hard.” Al hands me a towel with some ice in it to put on my face. “Drop me off and I’ll get a cab when I’m done. Go out have some fun.” “No. I’m not going to leave you alone.” His words remind me exactly why he’s my best friend. “It’s going to be hours before I’m even seen, so go get some lady action.” I punch his shoulder with my left arm as we walk out of the townhouse.
We live in downtown Nashville, so the hospital isn’t too far. I could even walk home, depending on when I’m done. After navigating through the traffic, Al gets me signed into the hospital. It’s a weeknight, so it’s not too bad yet, but happy hour is starting up. “Are you sure about me leaving? I don’t want to leave you in the lurch.” Al stands by the nurse’s desk looking around the waiting room. I know he’s been wanting to get out and explore more. He doesn’t need me there all the time crimping his style. “Yes. I’m positive.
Go.” I smile and then groan. “Call me if you need me.” I remind him. He walks out smiling. I know I made the right choice. They call my name to head into triage. I glanced at the nurse through watery eyes. “I was wondering if I could have another towel. This one is completely soaked.
” The nurse grabs the wheelchair for me. “Oh my. They said you had a cut on your face, but not like this. We need to get you back now.” I flop down in the chair. I’m starting to feel weak. I close my eyes when the room spins and my stomach does a roller coaster. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent Al away so fast because when I’m feeling this sick, I hate being alone. “We have a twenty-three-year-old male with significant blood loss from a laceration to his forehead. He’s drifting in and out of consciousness, pulse is tachy.
” I hear the triage nurse speaking to another nurse who met us on the other side of the double doors leading into the emergency department. My eyes roll into the back of the head and all I see is darkness. Not sure how long it’s been, but I’m now awake, in a gown, with beeping all around and wires and tubes coming out of me. “What happened?” I ask the nurse taking my vitals and touch my hand to my face. I’m covered in bandages. The nurse smiles. “You passed out on us for a little while.” She recorded something in my chart. “I’ll go get the doctor and he can update you.” He came in after just a few minutes.
“You passed out from blood loss. We had to give you a transfusion. Your roommate gave us your mother’s number when he checked you in, and she granted us permission.” “I just moved to the area, so I don’t have anyone but my roommate here yet.” “We’re keeping you overnight since we had to give you blood, but if there aren’t any issues, we can release you in the morning. What exactly happened?” I explained about my football injury and how I fell. He nodded. “Okay. I’d suggest you contact your orthopedist to get it looked at. Just to make sure there aren’t any new issues.
” He leaves and the nurse comes back in and tells me that the room is ready and she’s just waiting on transport. They have my clothes in a bag near me. I grab my cell phone to ask Al to bring in my charger and Kindle so I can at least read. I’ve never been one to watch TV, especially after being stuck in the hospital for a month where that’s all there was to do. The transport came to take me up to my room, and he’s making small talk about what I need to see in Nashville. When I told him that I’ve never listened to country music until I moved in with my roommate, he seemed shocked. I spent the next two hours answering question and, having tests done. Every time I drifted off to sleep, someone was there to interrupt me. My phone went off with a text message from an unknown number. Unknown Number: I found your deflated balloon in my gutter.
I smile. I’d forgotten about that. I’d been in Nashville for a day and saw this video on TikTok where this guy met this woman that way, so I thought that I’d try it too. I’m not looking for a relationship, but maybe a friend in this new city. It’ll get lonely when Al goes on the road. Me: That’s awesome. Where did it land? I sit back and wait for a response, then I notice that it’s almost two a.m. I better get some sleep. A thought hits me.
Damn, what’s my face going to look like for my job interview? I close my eyes, knowing that in an hour someone will be coming in to check on me. So far everything is looking good. I should be able to get out of here in time for my interview. My phone beeps. Maybe Al is returning my text. I see it’s the unknown number again. Unknown Number: It landed about forty-five minutes from Nashville. Unknown Number: Picture of deflated balloon going up in smoke. Unknown Number: It cooked my marshmallows pretty damn good. A picture comes through and I laugh, then wince when the cut on my head pulls.
Me: I see that. I’m glad that I brought you warmth on this hot summer night. Unknown Number: LOL Me: Thanks for letting me know. I just moved to Nashville and thought this would be fun. Unknown Number: I’m new to the area too. Did you see the TikTok video of the guy doing this? Me: I did. Unknown Number: I’m Kristina btw Me: Matthew Kristina: Well I need some sleep because I have a long day of painting with my mom while my dad works on getting the appliances in. Me: Thanks for replying back. Do I ask her if we can continue talking? I look down at my phone to ask her but she messages me first.