Striped Fiction: Familiar Territory

Where am I to go now that I’ve gone too far…

 

 

Here he was again.

In the sauna, eyes closed in the sauna.

This was supposed to be a different year—Andy had convinced himself that it was a different year. New year, new money. New weapons, new opportunities. This was Andy’s fourth season, his senior season. In college, it had been his best season. He had thrown 27 TDs against only six picks. By early September, he’d become the school’s all-time wins leader. By the New Year, the Horned Frogs were 12-0. They finished one better than that, one of only two perfect teams in the nation, No. 2 in the polls if only for that damned computer system. His first three years in the league weren’t perfect—even Andy would tell you that. But he’d gotten better, year by year, learning, absorbing, picking up tendencies. Game by game, things slowed down. Game by game, he got more adept at reading coverage schemes.

Senior season, his best season. For most of it, his team topped the division. Yet here he was again.

In the sauna, eyes closed in the sauna.

Running back a highlight reel, a painful highlight reel. Andy tried to relax in the steaming haze, let it seep into his pores and start to cure those painful bruises creeping up both his arms. He’d finished with only 18 completions for 155 yards and not a single touchdown. Royal-blue jerseys were in his face, always in his face, woofing and clawing. In his mind, he looked for A.J. as a life preserver, his salvation from drowning in this blue wave. A.J. wasn’t there—neither was Jermaine. Both of them had been knocked out a week earlier by an old foe, leaving Andy to fend for himself. But nobody wanted to talk about that. They only wanted to talk about how Andy was the problem, that he was a human glass ceiling, that he’d taken this group as far as he ever would.

Another playoff berth, another one-and-done. Here he was again.

In the sauna, eyes closed in the sauna.

Trying to convince himself that this was just a setback, just another setback. That next year, he’d be back and better than ever—a fifth-year senior who’d only improved with age. In the steam, Andy tried to will in into being. He tried to conjure roaring crowds and perfect long balls, winning streaks and trophy ceremonies. This time, though, something felt different.

Not even Andy could delude himself into thinking that nothing had changed.

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