The Foxes are a fractured mess, but their latest disaster might be the miracle they’ve always needed to come together as a team. The one person standing in their way is Andrew, and the only one who can break through his personal barriers is Neil.
Except Andrew doesn’t give up anything for free and Neil is terrible at trusting anyone but himself. The two don’t have much time to come to terms with their situation before outside forces start tearing them apart. Riko is intent on destroying Neil’s fragile new life, and the Foxes have just become collateral damage.
Neil’s days are numbered, but he’s learning the hard way to go down fighting for what he believes in, and Neil believes in Andrew even if Andrew won’t believe in himself.Books in Series:All for the Game Series by Nora SakavicBooks by Author:Nora Sakavic Books
It looked like Halloween outside, only two months too early. Last week Palmetto State University was covered in orange and white streamers to celebrate the start of the school year. Over the weekend someone had replaced all of the white ribbons with black ones. It gave the impression the campus was in mourning. Neil Josten thought it a cheap tribute, but that might have been his cynicism talking.
He forgave himself for being jaded. At eighteen years old, he’d seen more people die than he could comfortably count. Death was unpleasant, but it was a familiar and tolerable ache in his chest. Seth Gordon’s unexpected overdose Saturday night should have meant something more to Neil since they’d been teammates and roommates for three months, but Neil felt nothing. Keeping himself alive was hard enough most days; he had no time to linger over others’ misfortunes.
Rock music blared to life, temporarily filling the silence in the car, but it vanished as quickly as it’d come. Neil dragged his attention away from the streamers and looked up front. Nicholas “Nicky” Hemmick let his hand fall away from the dashboard with a quiet curse. Across the backseat from Neil, Nicky’s cousin Aaron Minyard shoved the back of the driver’s seat. Whether it was admonition for trying to pretend things were okay or a silent show of support, Neil wasn’t sure. The cousins’ relationship was a tangled mess he wouldn’t live long enough to figure out.
Nicky reached for the radio again. Kevin Day was sitting shotgun, so he saw Nicky move first. He pushed Nicky’s hand away and said, “It’s fine. Let it go.”
“I don’t want to do this,” Nicky said, low and miserable.
No one else answered him, but Neil thought they all agreed. None of them were looking forward to today’s practice, but they could only take so much time off when the season was already underway. At least Coach David Wymack was calling them back to the court on a Wednesday afternoon. Andrew Minyard, Aaron’s twin brother, had his weekly therapy sessions on Wednesdays.
Generally Andrew’s wild mood wasn’t a problem, but Andrew’s cheer didn’t make him at all friendly. An excitable Andrew confronted with the death of his least-favorite teammate was a recipe for disaster. The team should have come together Sunday morning to grieve their loss, but Andrew and Matt got into an ugly brawl instead.
Wymack forcibly separated the team after that. The upperclassmen moved in with team nurse Abby Winfield, and the cousins and Kevin were banned to the dorm. Neil would have stayed at the dorm, too, but Wymack didn’t want him alone in the room he’d shared with Matt and Seth. Instead Neil spent a couple nights sleeping on Wymack’s couch. Neil thought Wymack’s concern was misplaced but he knew better than to argue.
Seth died Saturday night and was cremated Monday afternoon. From what Neil heard, Seth’s mother signed off on everything but didn’t even show up at the crematorium to collect her son’s ashes. Allison Reynolds, Seth’s on-again off-again girlfriend and the Foxes’ defensive dealer, kept his urn instead. Neil didn’t know if she planned on burying it or keeping it in her dorm room the rest of the year. He wasn’t going to ask. He still didn’t know what to think about the role he might have played in Seth’s death. Until he sorted that out he’d rather avoid Allison altogether.
Allison wouldn’t be at practice today, but the others would. Neil hadn’t seen the upperclassmen since Sunday morning and he knew the reunion was going to be rough. They were only two days away from the second game of the season, though, and they had to pull together somehow. The Foxes had never had particularly good odds, but this upcoming year was looking bleak. They were already the smallest team in NCAA Class I Exy. Now they were the smallest a team could be and still qualify to play. They’d lost their only fifth-year senior, and their remaining offense team consisted of an injured national champion and an amateur.
Orange glinted at the edge of his peripheral vision. Palmetto State’s Exy stadium was hard to miss, built to seat sixty-five thousand fans and painted with the brightest orange and white paints the school could find. Giant fox paws marked each of the four outer walls. The black ribbons extended all the way here: every lamp post in the parking lots and every one of the twenty-four gates was covered in streamers. The Foxes’ locked entrance was covered in silent tribute. Pictures of Seth with friends and scribbled notes from teachers were taped to the door.
Nicky pulled up to the curb but didn’t kill the engine. Neil climbed out of the backseat and looked over the hood of the car to count squad cars. Kevin’s presence on the team meant the Foxes needed full-time security, but the numbers had doubled over the summer when Kevin’s former team transferred to the southeastern district. Neil was getting used to seeing campus police everywhere he went, but he would always hate the sight of them.
Nicky pulled away as soon as Aaron and Kevin got out. There was no point in him changing out for practice yet, since he’d have to get Andrew from Reddin Medical Center in a half-hour. Neil watched his car turn out of the parking lot onto the road, then looked to his teammates.
It was no secret everyone in Andrew’s four-man group hated Seth, but Aaron and Nicky were still human enough to be rattled by his sudden death. Kevin’s initial reaction to the news had been heartless, but he’d also been completely wasted at the time. Neil didn’t know if he’d scrounged up any remorse since sobering up.
Neil was curious which one of them would cop to apathy first, but he was only so patient. When thirty seconds passed and neither had moved, Neil gave up on them and went to the Foxes’ entrance. The code was supposed to change every couple months, but with the Ravens in their district Wymack now changed it every week. This week it was the last four digits of Abby’s phone number. Neil was starting to think his teammates were right about Wymack and Abby’s invisible relationship.