Three more reps.
I grunted and then pushed for a fourth.
Then a fifth.
My biceps burned, but I’d learned a long time ago that in the space of pain is where growth lies.
“Sean! Sean! You’re on the TV!”
I let my muscles slacken and put the weights back on the rack. Sweat poured down over my eyes, and I wiped my forehead with the back of my hand, managing to redirect most of the streams to my cheeks.
Casper Taylor was pointing with his good arm to the television above me. I smiled. I remembered that day.
“The Boys and Girls Club can’t even begin to repay Sean Miller for his incredible generosity. He was always an empathetic child, and we’re so proud that he’s grown into such a philanthropist as a man.”
My eyes stung. Probably the sweat. My cheeks hurt as I grinned even harder.
Nico Langetti slapped me on the back as we stood around watching the news, showcasing the gift I had presented to the Boys and Girls Club yesterday. “You’re making us all look bad.”
I laughed. “Not hard in your case.”
He put a hand to his chest in mock offense. “Ouch!”
“That’s the one you went to as a kid?” Casper asked.
I nodded. “If it hadn’t been there, I would’ve been in so much trouble. Probably wouldn’t even be here,” I said soberly, remembering the relief I had felt each time I’d walked through those doors. It was like going into a sanctuary.
Growing up in the part of town where people’s houses weren’t behind gates and police rarely patrolled, kids were the most susceptible to negative influence. The Boys and Girls Club did what they could, and I wanted to be a part of them continuing to make a difference in the lives of those kids.
“That’s awesome, man,” Nico said before growling out dumbbell fly reps.
I saw myself shaking the hand of the location administrator and then being surrounded by children for photographs.
The newscaster returned to the screen. “Sean Miller is a local hero. From growing up on the south side of Richmond to becoming a Heisman Trophy winner in college and now the Richmond Rhinos’ first-string running back, that young man has had quite a life, and he’s giving back so others can have the same. Well done, Mr. Miller. And we’re rooting for our team, the Rhinos.”
Cheers went up from the gym as other team members shook my shoulders, gave me congratulatory slaps on the shoulders, and high-fives. My stomach twisted into tiny knots of embarrassment. I hadn’t done it for the attention; I just knew what it was like to have a safe place to go, and I wanted to make sure that legacy continued.
“Yeah, congrats, Sean.”
I turned at the sound of Landyn Gallagher’s bullshit acknowledgment. “Thanks,” I said with equal snideness. “But I didn’t do it for myself.”
His jaw was set. “Sure you didn’t.”
“When your goal is to give back, it shapes how you act and what you do.”
Landyn stepped forward. “Right.”
I held my ground.
Casper’s worried face came between the two of us. “We’re all on the same team, guys. We graduated college months ago.”
“Yeah, the enemy is who we’re playing this week,” Nico said. He dropped the weights onto the rack. “We gotta have our heads in the game for this one. It’s the rookies against the division lead. If we lose bad, we’ll look like idiots.”
“What makes you think we’re going to lose?” Landyn barked the question.
“You never think we’re going to lose, Landyn,” Bat said with a frown. “But the last one didn’t exactly go our way.” He leaned over the bench he was working on and worked on his triceps.
Bat had every reason to be worried. His matchup would probably run circles around him on the field. He was a good wide receiver, but his opponent was one of the best.
“It’s called a champion’s mindset.” Landyn looked at us with eyes wide and looking half-crazed. “And you guys better have it by the time we run out onto the field. ’Cause I’m not carrying your asses.”
“You’re so full of yourself,” I shot at him.
Landyn faced me. I hated that he was a few inches taller than me, but whatever. He might’ve punched me in the face at that nightclub when he was looking for his sister, but he wouldn’t jeopardize hurting his hands, not when we were days away from probably the biggest matchup of the season. If we won this game, we’d take the lead.
Oh yeah, he punched me in the face.
My hands formed fists by my sides.
I’d put that scene out of my mind for weeks, for Lacey’s sake. She’d been drunk and totally out of it because her dad had been a real dick on television, and she’d given me that lap dance.
I was getting hard just thinking about that.
And then Landyn had punched me in the face. I was the one that texted him to come get her!
“But I’ve got the Heismans to back it up,” he hissed into my face.
I showed him my teeth. “Yeah, but not the character. Where’s your manager? Don’t you have to visit another charity and fake care?”
The whites of his eyes grew as did the veins in his neck. I had to admit, I enjoyed pissing him off.
“Break it up, you two!” Coach Hicks’s voice yelled from the doorway. He rushed forward, his naturally pale skin going red as a stop sign. “I don’t want to see the two of you in each other’s faces for the rest of the season, is that clear?” His hands gripped our shoulders and shoved us apart. “I don’t care what it’s about, drop it.”
His eyes vaulted between the two of us before landing on me. “Sean, just saw the news spot. Was coming to congratulate you.” He shook my hand. “That was a good thing you did. We’ll be happy to host them here one day if you’d like.”
“I have a team that I help coach. Middle school. Maybe they can practice here one day?”
Coach Hicks’s brows went up. “Really? Absolutely, they can come. I didn’t know you coached.”
I shrugged. “Just something I like to do. I’m only the assistant coach.”
“Either way, proud of you, Sean.”
Coach Hicks was one of the reasons why I’d picked this team over the others that had phoned me before the draft. I’d been offered more money with other franchises I’d only dreamed about.
But Coach Hicks…
I had followed his college career and his work ethic stood out the most—that and how his team rallied around him like he was some sort of god. It was like having a father; and I had no idea what that was even like, or even who the man was. A boy, probably. A man would’ve stuck around.
Coach Hicks made being on the Richmond Rhinos sound like a real family. Like a team that prided itself on excellence even though it hadn’t been proven yet.
I wanted to be a part of that.
And it meant I didn’t have to move the person who’d first taught me about goals and succeeding—my grandmother. She wouldn’t want to leave her home anyway. She was too important a figure in the community. Always remember where you came from, but keep your eyes forward up the mountain. It’s okay to leave home.
I’d made the right choice.
And on Thursday, I’d prove it again to all the kids watching and wanting something—or someone—to believe in.