42: Tyler

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42. Tyler

"Coach!" I yell as I run unsteadily down the small hill that leads to the football field.

Coach looks up and walks over to me, hand shielding his eyes from the sun. I come to a stop in front of him and take in a deep breath.

"What do you need, Ty?" Coach asks.

"Can you help me get onto a football team outside of school? I know you sometimes help train one and all I need is a tryout and that's it. If I don't get in, then I'll stop for good."

"Ty . . . "

"Or I can come back for another year here and help you coach the team," I say and Coach looks at me before letting out a long breath.

"Trying to come onto a football team at your age and this far into the season isn't easy," Coach says slowly.

"I know." I nod. "And I know that it's practically impossible—"

"I said it wasn't easy, not impossible," Coach corrects me.

"Wait, so you'll help me?" I ask.

Coach pats me on the shoulder. "I always said I'd help you. Luckily, this is something I can actually help do."

A relieved smile falls across my face and I nod. "Thanks, Coach. I won't let you down this time."

"Keep saying that and you'll jinx it."

***

Walking around the back of the school where most of the druggies usually hang out, I find Ethan sitting against a wall, cigarette in his mouth. He looks up when he notices me and gives me a small smile.

I give one back and he gestures towards the ground beside him. I lower myself down and sit up against the wall.

"What are you doing here?" I ask. Ethan gives me a lopsided grin.

"Nothing else to do," he mumbles.

"You can get kicked off for being on school property when you're not a student," I tell him.

Ethan shrugs. "I look enough like one."

He blows out some smoke and I watch as it fades into the air. "Can I ask you something?" I ask.

"Already did," he mumbles and I roll my eyes. "Yeah, sure."

"What are you going to do when the school year is over?"

Ethan huffs and puts out his cigarette. He reaches into the back pocket of his jeans and throws a piece of paper at me. Catching it awkwardly, I open up the folded pamphlet and frown.

"Army?" I ask incredulously. "So you were really serious about that?"

"Have been for a while now, actually," Ethan admits. "Even got off drugs to get in."

"You've already been accepted?"

Ethan reaches over and takes the paper out of my hands. He crumples it up and shoves it back into his pocket.

"Look, I need to do something with my life and the army feels kind of right," Ethan says.

"Yeah but the army is different. It's dangerous."

"So is dirt bike racing," Ethan points out. "And that never bothered you."

"But no one's gonna shoot you while you race," I try to reason.

Ethan sighs. "It's not as bad as it sounds. Honestly. I've thought about it for a while."

"You couldn't just work at the garage?"

Ethan laughs, crossing his arms over his chest, and shakes his head. "No. This is what I want to do now. It feels right."

"And what if you're wrong? What if you get there and it isn't what you want?" I ask.

"Then I'll have to just figure that out for myself."

***

Franny is at her locker when I head over in the morning just as the first bell rings for class. She looks up at me from where she is grabbing her binders and smiles slightly. We haven't talked too much about what we're doing after graduation, which is slowly approaching. The day we have to decide what we do.

"Hey," she says.

"Hey," I reply.

"Not long now," Franny says. "Soon it's prom and then . . . "

"Graduation," I finish.

She nods silently and empties the binders from her bag into her locker. I want to reach out and put my arm on her shoulder. Or hold her hand. Or kiss her head. Just touch her. But how long will this last? Are these touches just a countdown until they no longer exist?

"Franny," I begin hesitantly and she looks up at me, wide eyes and an open face. I falter. I look at her and I fucking falter. "I . . . "

"I know," she says quietly. "We have to talk about it." She runs a hand down her face and lets out a long sigh. "I was hoping we wouldn't need to. That somehow things would just, I don't know, fix themselves."

I step forward and place a hand on her shoulder. I run the hand down her arm until her fingers cling to mine.

"But things never sort themselves out," I say.

"No," she whispers. "The longer you leave it, the worse it gets."

I tug at her hand and pull her from her locker which she closes up. "Come on. Let's go somewhere private."

The bleachers are empty as we walk over and climb to the top. Sitting on the bright yellow bench, I look out at the football field, remembering the days when I would play a game with the lights glaring down on me and rain dripping from the ends of my hair. Franny's shoulder touches mine and she drops her head down on my shoulder.

We sit in silence for a few moments before Franny lets out a long, sad sigh.

"I don't want this to end," she whispers, hand gripping my sleeve.

I rest my head on top of hers and clench my eyes shut. "I don't want it to end either," I admit. "But I'm not too sure a long-distance relationship will work for us."

Franny sits up and wipes at her cheek. "We could try . . . maybe."

"Franny," I sigh, cupping her face. "You're going to college in a whole new place you've never explored before. I'll just hold you back as much as you would hold me back. We can sit here and say it will work but let's be honest, it won't, will it?"

Franny's gaze locks with mine and she puts her hands over mine. "No. No, it wouldn't work. But it doesn't mean it can't one day."

I nod and stroke my thumbs over her skin. "One day. But it's not going to be today, or tomorrow, or the day after. Just sometime in the future."

Franny's eyes well up with tears and I feel mine blurring over too as I lean forward, kissing her on the forehead.

"Don't make me cry," I mumble against her hair.

Franny gives me a watery smile and presses her lips to mine gently. "We're not breaking up today."

"Franny . . ."

"We're just going to take it day by day," she says. "And when it doesn't work, it doesn't work, and it ends. We'll both know when it ends. And it will be okay, it will be okay."

I kiss her again, marking her to memory and imprinting her hand against mine. "I love you," I breathe.

"And I love you," she replies. "And I'll keep loving you even when you can no longer say it to my face."

- Ellie x

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