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The Final Catch - A Sports Romance by Cate Faircloth (1)

1

Lowell

Homecoming Game, Senior Year

If we don’t win this game, no one will be surprised. But if we do win, everyone will be talking about it. We are six points down in the last quarter with two minutes left on the clock. The play starts, and in a blinding fast moment, I decide to run it into the end zone, and we win. Since then, everyone has been talking about me.

“You just couldn’t give anyone else the glory.” Jacob is messing around when he grabs me in a headlock on the way to the locker room. I know he is joking because he has been my best friend since freshman year, and like everyone else, he knows it was my only choice when both receivers were blocked, and the offense left it wide open for me. The opposing team had a bad defense, and that’s why we were able to get ahead.

“Nope. Couldn’t bear it.”

We don’t have much time to talk since the field is rushed soon after. It’s a homecoming tradition where all the students rush the field, and those of us on the team either try to get away from them or join in. Jacob and I are sandwiched in, so we don’t have a choice. He’s the wide receiver, so both of us were in the same place when the play ended, and the kicker set it off. I spot Coach Briggs by one of the news circuits going around. Usually, it is one or two networks, but this game had seven different ones plus the school’s broadcast network.

Jacob and I pull through the crowd and onto the fifty-yard line. I finish shaking hands with the other team, thinking to myself it’s the last homecoming game of my college career, and soon it will be the last game of my college career, period. Scouts are already lined up in talks with the agent I got only because my name has been in the front of the Big Twelve since my sophomore year.

“Jacob, can you answer a few questions for us?”

We pass by the student broadcast network, and Jacob ignores the voice asking him for an interview. He never liked doing them even for the Big Twelve networks and All-Star reps.

“No, thanks.” He brushes by me, his shoulder pads hitting mine when I turn to see who it is. I’ve seen every one of them because I don’t mind the interviews, but this person is new.

“Lowell Blake, can you please answer a few questions for The Student Chronicle?”

“Yeah, right, like the quarterback will answer your questions.” Someone wearing a shirt from the other student paper follows her question, and the irritation in this girl’s voice makes me pay attention to the other.

Standing under one of the floodlights on the sidelines, I can barely see her under its brightness until I sidestep Jacob and get around to her. I ignore what he says—something along the lines of ‘leave her alone.’ I glance at the other girl. I’m pretty sure they’re called journalists even though they haven’t graduated, and she’s staring the other girl down when she sees that I am paying attention to her.

“I’ll answer your questions.” I smile, and she blinks me the prettiest brown eyes I have ever seen, but if I tell her that, I have a thought that it will piss her off.

When I get close enough to get a good look at her, I notice she is much shorter than me— most everyone is—and she bites her lip like she is nervous. Maybe it is her first rodeo.

“Really?” she stutters. She glances off to the side, and I find it cute how she wants the other girl to eat dust but doesn’t want to make it obvious before she looks back at me.

“Yeah.” I try not to laugh. I pass my helmet off to one of the players walking by, and he takes it. Not because I’m above everyone else or anything…

“Okay, um.” She waves to the person behind her with her hand, and the guy fumbles to turn on a small recorder and hold it my way. She clears her throat before she flips through a notebook and starts, “This is, um, Charlotte Belmont, reporting for The Student Chronicle Sports Edition…” She goes on, but I don’t process most of it.

Charlotte Belmont is as pretty as I am an amazing football player. She’s not like the other girls I’ve come to know in college and even some outside of college and nothing like the vapid exteriors I see every day, probably the crowd I hang with. But enough of that, I stare at her like I’ve lost my mind.

Maybe I have.

She is smiling, and even though it’s a nervous one, it’s still gorgeous. Her eyes still twinkle, and I struggle to listen to what she is saying. Her russet skin shines under the lights which are usually unflattering but not with her, she’s gorgeous.

“Sorry, what?” When she pauses long enough, I find my brain and stop practically drooling over this woman.

“I said what have you learned in your past four years as the only freshman to ever be a starting quarterback for this team?”

“Oh. Well, first of all, I didn’t know I was the only freshman to do that back then. But now I feel like I learned how to be a better team player because I wouldn’t be able to do anything without my team.”

“Seriously? Um, I mean… that’s amazing.” She gathers herself, and I find it hard not to laugh but not at her expense. I watch her every movement like it’s the only thing I know how to do, and I find it funny because I have never been that person.

“Thanks.” I move closer to her, trying to ignore the chaos going on behind us. A photographer runs by and takes a photo of me talking to Charlotte, and I notice the other girl has left with some of the other reps. There are other players they can beg for an interview.

“If you could change one thing not only in your collegiate football career but in your college career itself, what would it be?”

“First of all, I would major in something more expensive since the NCAA was paying for it,” I joke, glad she gets it when she starts laughing. The other guy doesn’t, but I’m not paying attention to him.

“For football, I would probably work on following directions better,” I start, knowing the coaches don’t like when I don’t listen to them, and all the drama that has surfaced probably prompted that question, “… and I wouldn’t have been so vapid as a student sometimes. I would have tried to take better classes. But it’s a ‘what-if’ question, so I can’t do anything about it now.” I chuckle, and she finds it in herself to giggle back. I was a history major. People say I did it because it was easy, which is a lie. I did it because I always wanted to be the cool history teacher in high school who also coaches the football team.

“That’s great, Lowell. Um, one more question.”

I would otherwise be getting antsy, but this is one interview I didn’t mind. Charlotte tries not to look at me, and I don’t know if it’s because she doesn’t like me, or if she feels as struck by this meeting as I do.

“What are your plans after graduation?”

I smirk. “Is there a time limit?” She smiles and shakes her head.

“I’ll play in the NFL for a while, and when I get old or injured, I’ll retire and become a teacher. I also want to give back to the community, too, and do some charity work and such. I don’t know… Who knows what will happen? I’m along for the ride of my life.” I grin, and she freezes, stopping her nervous blinking and lip chewing to stare back at me.

And I think I knew then that Charlotte would be the only woman I could ever look at like that.

I spent the rest of my senior year proving that true. And no matter how many tries it took, from our first date to our last, I tried to be as serious with her as possible. Somewhere along the way, my future got in the way. I don’t know why I never tried hard enough, why the fun we had together, and the memories we made, didn’t make me turn around when I decided to walk away.

* * *

“Lowell Blake, can we ask you a few questions?”

“Press tour is tomorrow.” My agent is behind me when I leave the locker room like he always is.

But every once in a while, these games remind me of the one best interview I have ever had. The professional ones are worse.

“Sure.” I annoy my agent and make the young reporter happy. A woman with auburn hair and eager eyes asks me every question in the book, which I understand since this was the last game of the regular season, and since we won, we are headed to the playoffs. And we haven’t been there for over ten years. It’s different now being the quarterback of such a high-profile team in a record-breaking era—all eyes are on me—but they have been since I took the field professionally five years ago.

My football life hasn’t been the same since college except for Jacob, who has been on my coattail since freshman year as a wide receiver. We come as a package deal, and the media eats it up. I go over it while I half listen to the interview, and my agent, Donnie, trying to hurry it along.

“Just one last question, Mr. Blake. Looking at your career since college and until now, how would you change things not just professionally but personally as well?”

A bit shocked and lost for words, I stare until I feel myself looking stupid. But there isn’t much else I can do, not when I feel this disillusioned.

Because there is no way I can tell her or the national press that I would have never left the girl I loved behind.

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