The League

The League by Thatcher Heldring

Book: The League by Thatcher Heldring Read Free Book Online
Authors: Thatcher Heldring
was reclining against a log, staring at the trees, waiting for his nose to stop bleeding.
    “Let’s go, rookie!” José yelled.
    I stood up, shook the dirt off my shorts, and hurried to the huddle.
    “Welcome to the game,” said José. “I’m José, the quarterback.”
    “Call me Planet,” said one of the big dudes.
    “Ox,” said the other. “We’re the offensive line,” he added, gesturing to himself and Planet.
    “You know me,” said Aaron. “I’m the wide receiver. I catch passes and score touchdowns.”
    “Only because I get the ball in your hands, pretty boy,” said José.
    “And only because we block for José,” said Planet, gesturing to himself and Ox.
    “So what can you do?” Ox asked.
    “I’m pretty fast,” I said. “Maybe I can be the running back.”
    “You think you can run through them?” Aaron asked, pointing to the other team.
    I took one look at Spencer and Herc and realized Aaron had a point. Julian was the smallest guy on the Morons and even he was bigger than me.
    “I tell you what,” said José. “Why don’t you run some slant routes underneath? Maybe the defense will lose you in the crowd. Cool?”
    “Okay,” I said.
    “In that case,” said José, “it’s twenty-one falcon on two. Got it?”
    Planet, Ox, and Aaron nodded confidently as we broke out of the huddle.
    “Where do I go?”
    “Just stand here,” José said, walking me to a space a few feet to the right of Aaron. “When Ox hikes it to me, run diagonally and look for the football. If I throw it to you, catch it.”
    José jogged back to the center, leaving me face to face with Julian.
    “Looks like I drew the
short
straw,” he said, with a familiar look on his face. It was the look that said he knew he was bigger, faster, and stronger than me, and there was nothing I could do about it. I used to see it every day when we were on the same baseball team.
    But now it was different. Because compared to Spencer Randle and the other Morons, Julian was a shrimp. It almost made me laugh to think that I was ever afraid of him.
    A few seconds later, Ox snapped the ball to José, starting the play. I darted ahead five feet, pushing past Julian before turning in toward midfield. Julian tried to follow me but got screened by Aaron coming in the other direction.
    My worst fear had come true on the first play. I was wide open. I looked back at José. He spotted me. I saw his arm go back and he released the ball. It was coming toward me like a bullet, but so was something else, something bigger. I glanced up to see Spencer charging at me with his head down. I forgot all about the football. I hit the deck like I was ducking a fireball.
    When I opened my eyes, Spencer was staring at me. “Boo,” he said, laughing. Then his face wentcold. “Next time I’m going to let you catch it,” he whispered. “So I can blow you up.”
    I got a lot of dirty looks back in the huddle. José didn’t pay attention to me after that. Even if he had thrown it to me, I don’t think I would have caught it. I was too worried about Spencer. I always knew he was out there, waiting for a chance to lay me out as soon as I had the football.
    The Morons won that day, 35–28. I walked away from the field wondering if I should just quit. But Aaron caught up to me. “You better find a way to play better,” he said. “Because that was embarrassing. I can’t believe you intentionally fell down so you wouldn’t get tackled.”
    “Gimme a break,” I said. “It was my first play.”
    “That’s no excuse.”
    “What did you want me to do?” I asked. “He was going to crush me. When you think about it, I was actually doing the best thing for the team. I mean, if I get hurt, what are we going to do? There’s nobody left on the sideline. Derek and Luther are both hurt.”
    “The way you played, we’d be better off with four guys instead of five,” Aaron said, grabbing his backpack and heading for the trail that led away from the

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