“Hut!” Tim said, tossing the football back to the person behind him.
Cyrus didn’t know the name of the kid who caught it, but waved to him, calling, “Here!” He hoped he was doing the right thing; the thirty second lesson that Hayden had given him didn’t exactly cover all the details. As soon as he drew attention to himself, someone from the other team stepped in front of him, blocking his view. Cyrus sidestepped, jogging a little ways until he was open again, and the quarterback threw to him.
The ball soared through the air as if in slow motion, and somehow Cyrus managed to snag it before it hit the ground. So shocked by the fact that he had actually completed the catch, Cyrus just stared at the ball for a second.
“Run!” Tim encouraged, trying to get around the person blocking him.
Cyrus blinked, then took off down the field. The rules, as he understood them, were to get to the other end with the ball and without being tagged. It shouldn’t be too hard, he thought, as he zig zagged around someone headed for him. The boy tried to stop, stumbled, and went down. Cyrus didn’t even slow.
When he was about a hundred feet away, Cyrus began to think he would actually score. There was nothing in his way to prevent it, or so he thought before someone barreled into his side, sending them both crashing to the grass in a tangle of limbs.
As Cyrus regained his bearings, he realized it was Hayden who had tagged him with both hands, his momentum sending them both sprawling. He hovered a few inches above Cyrus and grinned. “Caught you.”
Cyrus grunted, and Hayden let him up. “Whatever,” Cyrus grumbled, fighting a smile.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Cyrus said, brushing himself off. “Though I thought this was touch football, not tackle.”
Hayden looked apologetic. “I kinda lost track of my momentum. Sorry.”
Shrugging off the apology, Cyrus looked around at his teammates on the field. “What happens now?” he asked.
Hayden cocked his head for a half second before answering, “Well, we do it all over again. And this time, there’s no way I’m letting you get that far.”
“This time, there’s no way you’re going to stop me,” Cyrus shot back.
“We’ll see about that.”
In the end, it was Cyrus who was right. He ran as fast as he could, dodging whoever stepped in his way, and planted the ball in the end-zone. Cyrus’s team cheered for him, but he felt no need to engage in their victory dance. It was satisfying enough to send a smug, gloating smile Hayden’s way, and to see the annoyed scowl of defeat that he got in return.
The game passed rather quickly, progressing to the point where the teams were close in score, with Cyrus’s in the lead by just a few points. It was nearing dinner time, and Hayden’s team had the ball. The play began as normal, and when the quarterback passed to Hayden, Cyrus was immediately after him, sprinting across the field. There was no way he’d let the game end without a tag of his own.
Feet flying over the grass, Cyrus closed in on Hayden, who glanced back at him and grinned in challenge. But as soon as he turned his head, a redheaded boy slammed into Hayden’s side, and he went down hard.
Cyrus knew the game was over as he rushed to Hayden’s side where he lay unmoving. “Hayden?” Cyrus asked urgently. Hayden groaned and rolled onto his back. Cyrus glanced up at the boy who had collided with him, but he he was already gone.
“My shoulder…” Hayden moaned, pulling Cyrus’s attention back down to him.
“Is that the only part of you that’s hurt?” Cyrus asked, helping him into a sitting position as the other boys came jogging in around them.
“Yeah,” Hayden said, seeming a little more focused. “Might be a little bruised, but nothing else hurts too bad. I thought this was touch football not tackle.”
Cyrus frowned. “Yeah. Come on, let’s get you to the nurse’s. There is a nurse here, right?”
He nodded. Cyrus offered a hand, that Hayden took in his good right arm. He cradled his left to his chest carefully.
“Guess the game’s over, then,” one of the boys commented.
“Sorry, guys,” Hayden replied.
“Nah, don’t be,” Lee said. “It was good we ended before your team could come back. Now we won.” He grinned.
Cyrus walked off the field with Hayden, who was leading the way to the nurse. “Does it hurt much?” he asked.
“It’s not terrible,” Hayden replied. Cyrus couldn’t tell whether he was lying. “I think it’s just dislocated,” he dismissed.
“Oh yeah, just dislocated,” Cyrus breathed.
Hayden went to shrug, but cut himself off with a wince. “Well, it was a pretty good hit. It could have been worse.”
Cyrus felt uncomfortable thinking about the look on that boy’s face. “Speaking of,” he began slowly, “that kid that hit you just disappeared. He didn’t say sorry or anything. Does that seem weird to you?”
“Who was it?”
“I don’t know,” Cyrus replied. “He had red hair. About as tall as me.” Something flickered over Hayden’s face. “You know who I’m talking about?”
“‘Course. That’s Clay. He gets unnerved easily, that’s all. I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Hayden said.
There was something in his tone that prompted Cyrus to question, “Are you sure?”
“I know him. I’m sure,” Hayden said firmly. “Let’s walk faster,” he said. “My shoulder may be dislocated, but it’s not worth missing dinner over.”
Well, at least getting injured didn’t affect his mood, Cyrus thought. He had also managed a smooth shift of subject, but Cyrus didn’t push it. He was no stranger to wanting privacy. In just a few more minutes, they reached the nurse’s office, which consisted of a room with three cots and a cabinet of medical equipment. The nurse herself sat at a desk in the corner, a stack of papers in front of her. Cyrus knocked on the doorframe to let her know they were there.
“Oh!” came the little exclamation as she turned. “My apologies; I didn’t hear you come in.”
A wiry older woman, she came hurrying over to Hayden, putting a hand behind his back and guiding him to the nearest cot. Cyrus got a glimpse of her name tag, which identified her as “Nurse Hillen.” She pushed Hayden onto a cot, then appraised him with a critical eye. “My, an injury already? It’s been less than a week.”
“I was going for a record,” Hayden joked. Nurse Hillen shot him a look, and he shut his mouth, chastised.
She prodded Hayden’s shoulder and he winced. “It’s dislocated,” she confirmed. “Mind telling me what happened?”
“Football,” Cyrus said by way of explanation.
“Oh,” the nurse replied, nodding as if that made perfect sense. “I really wish you boys wouldn’t be so rough with each other.” Glancing up at Cyrus in the doorway, she added, “Well, are you just going to stand there, or are you going to help?”
“Uh…” Cyrus replied. “How can I help?”
“Go to the freezer and get an ice pack,” Nurse Hillen instructed. “I’ll bet your friend here will need it by the time I’m done with him.”
Hayden gave a shaky laugh as Cyrus moved to the freezer. “Go easy on me, will you?” he asked.
“Trust me, it’ll be a lot better once it’s over,” she assured him. “But I won’t lie - it will hurt. You know what they say about things having to get worse before they get better? This is one of those things.”
“Great,” he muttered. Ice pack in hand, Cyrus came around to the side of the cot as Nurse Hillen lowered Hayden onto his back. She gripped the hand of his injured arm in her own.
“On three, alright, dear?” Hayden nodded. The nurse straightened his arm out. “Ready, one…two…” She pulled.
“AH!” Hayden shouted, his good right hand shooting out and latching onto Cyrus’s wrist. His face twisted in a grimace of pain, and his hand was so tight that his knuckles were white. Slowly, he relaxed a bit, eyes fluttering open. “Ow. Ow. My god, woman, what happened to three?” Hayden demanded. Glancing down at his hand around Cyrus’s wrist, he let go without comment.
“Sorry,” Nurse Hillen said with an apologetic smile. “It’s generally better received when it’s abrupt.”
Hayden scowled, moving his shoulder a little. He winced.
“Here,” Cyrus said, handing him the ice pack, which he took gratefully.
“Let me get you a sling for that arm, alright?” the nurse asked. “You’ll only have to wear it for four days or so, and then it should be healed.” As she bustled around the room, she added, “And I’ll also give you some pain medication. If it starts to hurt and you’d like an ice pack, just stop by.”
Hayden let her wrap the thin white strap around his neck and slip his arm into the flimsy material. “Will do,” he said. As soon as she was done, he hopped off the cot and snatched up the ice pack, pressing it to his shoulder again. “Thanks, Nurse.”
“Be careful,” Nurse Hillen warned. “No strenuous activity. No football for a while, okay?”
“Gotcha,” Hayden said. He waved his ice pack at Cyrus and said, “Come on. I think they’re having burgers tonight.”
Cyrus followed him out of the room and towards the dining hall. The red marks on his wrist were fading, not that he minded particularly. Cyrus couldn’t imagine how much that had hurt. “How’s it feel?” he asked conversationally.
“Better. I can move it now without wanting to die,” Hayden said with a weak smile. “I’ll be back to normal in a day or two.”
“Yeah, just…don’t do anything stupid,” Cyrus advised.
“Stupid like, I dunno, lifting heavy objects. Or, uh, pull ups,” Cyrus said with a shrug, aware of how stupid that came out. “I don’t know.”
Hayden looked amused. “I’ll be sure to avoid those, Dr. Angeles.” Cyrus flushed and rolled his eyes, and Hayden laughed at him. “Come on, it’s not like I’m prone to doing stupid things.”
“Oh no, not at all…” Cyrus muttered.
Cyrus grinned and shook his head. “Well, at least it’s your left arm that’s injured.”
Hayden frowned. “Why’s that matter?”
“You’re right handed, aren’t you?” Cyrus asked. Hayden nodded. “Good,” Cyrus continued. “That way you can still participate in our Calculus study session tonight.”
With an audible groan, Hayden closed his eyes. “You know what, I’m feeling a little woozy. Must be that pain stuff she gave me. Maybe I’d be better off just taking a nap.”
Cyrus nodded, pulling a mock serious face. “Oh, yeah, you probably would. In fact, why don’t we just skip dinner, and you can go back to the dorm and lie down.”
Hayden glanced comically at the dining hall just a few buildings away, then back at Cyrus. Cyrus had to hold back a smile as Hayden changed his mind. “Well, what do you know? The meds are kicking in already; I’m feeling better now. Let’s go eat, huh?”
“That’s what I thought,” Cyrus said with a knowing nod.
Hayden glared at him. “Jerk,” he said.
The insult didn’t even sting; it was all in good humor. Cyrus grinned, saying, “Sounds like me. Come on, let’s go meet up with everyone so we can gloat over our victory.”
Cyrus trudged off, not missing the grudging half smile on Hayden’s face as he followed. It hadn’t even been a week since Cyrus had agreed to give Hayden a chance, but he was beginning to get the feeling that their potential friendship was no longer quite so up in the air. Instead, it seemed more inevitable than anything. And Cyrus, for one, was completely on board.