“… Chad?” The assistant whispered as she edged open the cracked door.
“I’m up, I’m up. Rise and shine,” she heard the response from within, catching a glimpse of that million-watt smile.
He rose from his bed—if you can call it that. The solid ivory throne was draped in crimson and gold linen over a thin bedroll, and he eased his tired body from its frame.
Every other surface was covered by peacock feathers—the walls, ceilings, even the inside of the doors. Their azures and electric greens shimmered despite the half-light of the darkened room.
Chad draped himself in his bathrobe, Future H.O.F., 20?? shouting from the back, the ironed-on lettering beginning to peel. He gingerly toed toward the waiting assistant, grasped the waiting cup of coffee—no cream, three sugars—with both well-worn hands.
“Thank you, beautiful,” he intoned warmly with a smile.
The assistant breathed an internal sigh of relief. The petite brunette didn’t know what to expect these days. There were good stretches and bad. Chad could be intimately warm, caressing in his magnetism, even still, or frighteningly cold.
The receiver was in high spirits today.
“3-2, 3-2. Back above .500. Heading for the top of the charts, baby. We’re coming up. Swatting the Pats like the overhyped fly that they are.”
He bounced on the balls of his feet like a boxer, the caffeine alighting the already burgeoning excitement of the fresh morning.
“Did you send Carson my notes? We’re heading in the right direction, but excellence never pauses to reflect on excellence. I haven’t heard back from him in a while, but I know he’s got a lot on his mind. Never could relax, that boy. Don’t press him,” Chad squeezed the assistant’s shoulder with fatherly affection.
She managed a smile. She could never fully figure out his delusions, frozen somewhere between the past and present. He was simultaneously reliving the playoff glories of a begotten age and funneling his ambitions through the current team.
“Breakfast, sir?” That was a rare constant, egg whites and three pieces of 9-grain-wheat toast without crust.
“No time, kiddo, gotta stay sharp. Let’s go run some routes.”
She follows him out through the kitchen, its vaulted ceiling and uniformly ivory countertops, stark white after the shimmering dimness of the bedchamber, stopping to pat Ocho the pitbull on the way out.
He was already working through his stretching exercises, high knees back and forth across the sloping grounds in his satin boxers and flowing bathrobe.
She shielded her eyes against the sunlight. It was going to be another beautiful day, not a cloud dotting the sky.
“Red right 47,” he barked, tossing her the ball and lining up in a phantom slot position.
She didn’t say a word, but he broke on his own command, strides still graceful despite years of rust. Five yards in, a quick break toward the outside.
Her arm had improved markedly in her time working for Chad but could still use some work. The pass fluttered to the ground at his feet.
“That’s OK, baby, coming in cold. Just get that golden wing warmed up.”
Chad resumed his position, stopped to drive home a point.
“They think they can stop me? Just wait. You saw that catch last weekend, right? I told you to DVR it. We should watch it together later. 3rd-and-5, game on the line. Carson throws a ball to the back shoulder. No man alive can make that catch. But Chad ain’t just a mere mortal, baby. Fingertip catch, drive alive. Three plays later, game winning score.” He was buoyant, waiting for a response.
She mumbled something, but he wasn’t listening. Chad was in that zone, the one that once made him such a formidable foe.
It was contagious, even in these serene surroundings. She could picture it, caught up in his vision.
The towering centaur hedges turned into the Cover-2 safeties, a roaming Ocho the pitbull was a growling mike ‘backer. The gurgling of the tiled fountain was drowned out by the roar of a far-away crowd.
“Green 17. You know this one by heart. We could complete this in our sleep. Corner is shading me inside.”
They went back to their positions; she hammered out a hard count. He broke on the third “hut,” shimmied past the bump-and-run.
Her throw arched across the lawn, seemingly a beat too far. But Chad accelerated, corralled it with an outstretched hand, juked past the greenery.
She was momentarily flushed with excitement, color flooding her pale cheeks. He spun the ball, spread his arms toward the heavens. Ocho bounded around him, barking approval.
“That’s how we do it, baby girl. Get Carson on the line, tell me we got that missing link.”
Chad ambled back into the kitchen, practically trembling with adrenaline. He strolled straight to the fridge, pulled off the attached Sharpie.
He carefully shaped out a check mark, making sure it was just right. Four clear smudges were already filled in.
Chad stepped back to admire his handy work, the box checked off next to the name “Aqib Talib.”
“3-2. New York here we come.” A smile spread across his weathered face.